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Sorry for the delayed absence. I've been moving and beginning work at a new job and it's crazy how little free time you find yourself with during major life changes. Now that that's out of the way there's something that's been on my mind for the past few weeks. What makes a good story? Before I get too far into this I feel obligated to point out that this whole topic is very subjective and what makes a good story for me may not be the same for you. We're all drawn to certain things. I'll cover that briefly as well.

I love an anti-hero. For me I feel that in life there are very few choices there are clearly black or white. I feel like the "White Knight" is a myth we create to convince ourselves (as a species) that we're capable of something that we really aren't. We feel like if we idolize a paragon that the world somehow begins to look like a better place. Now don't misunderstand me; This isn't some kind of "life is pain, we're all terrible people" rant. There are many genuinely good people out there who enjoy helping others. I simply feel like motive is everything. Someone who donates large sums of money to women's shelters seems like a great guy. Your perception of him might change though when you find out that the reason he donates isn't because he cares but instead is because he wants the positive recognition it'll bring him. We're all terribly flawed people and I feel like that's the key.

Characters need flaws to not only be interesting but also to be believable. When a character is flawed we're able to better relate to the character. For example, I love Max Payne as a character. On the surface he's just an alcoholic middle aged guy with a pill addiction who somehow manages to stay an absolute killing machine no matter how fucked up he is. When you peel that layer back though, you see a deeply wounded man who blames himself for not only the loss of his wife and daughter but also for the death of Mona Sax. He feels he's failed as a man to protect the ones he loves and he hates himself for it. So he poisons himself himself nightly with pills and alcohol and consistently puts himself in situations that threaten not only his own life but also those around him, often with tragic results. This feeds the cycle and causes him to see himself as a sort of cursed man. The tragic irony is that he is so busy wallowing in self pity that he's unable to see that he is, as are we all, often the designer of his own curses. He is a textbook example of the Tragic Hero. Many character's stories are about the transition of bad luck to good, while the Tragic Hero's is of the transition from good luck to bad. Of course, a character doesn't need to be this tragic to be interesting.

Sleeping Dogs was without question one of my favorite games of 2012. I've always been a sucker for the Heroic Bloodshed subgenre. So naturally Sleeping Dogs was perfect for me. Movies like the A Better Tomorrow series, Hard Boiled, or A City of Violence are some of my favorite films. Sleeping Dogs had great martial arts action, fun gunplay, great driving physics and a surprisingly moving story with top notch voice acting. The protagonist, Wei Shen, is the glue that held it all together for me. Without going into spoiler territory, Wei Shen is an undercover cop in Hong Kong tasked with infiltrating the Triads and assisting HKPD with dismantling them from within. He walks an incredibly thing line. He must not only gain the trust of Winston Chu, a red pole with the Sun On Yee Triad, but he needs to also fulfill his obligations as a police officer and never allow thing to go to far. As the story progresses Wei begins to value the friendship of Winston. He also wants to protect a childhood friend, Jackie Ma, from the not only the police but what he sees as an impending war Winston and Dogeyes, rival red poles. He has many tough choices ahead of him and he doesn't walk the line as gracefully as some. He is a man more driven by revenge for things that happened in the past than he is by a true desire to see the law bring criminals to justice. While tragic events do take place over the course of the game, the game itself is not a tragedy as is evidenced by the ending. Since the game has only been out for a couple years now I wont get into further detail to avoid spoilers. Wei does gain some semblance of satisfaction from the way things end and so he is not left a broken wreck like Max Payne is.

The common theme here are flawed characters. Flaws lead to personal growth within a character, not just victory over their enemy. It changes a character from being the center of a power fantasy into a character that we truly care about on an emotional level. We can see a little of ourselves in that character.

I think this is the section that I'm going to draw the most heat for. There are certain characters in gaming who have no real flaw aside from being mortal. Characters who are fun but not moving and relate-able. Master Chief, Gordon Freeman, and Nathan Drake are three easy examples. Now i'd like to go on saying that I enjoy the Halo, Half Life, and Uncharted series very much and their stories CAN be interesting. The difference is that, in the case of Halo and Half Life, the story isn't about the character but is instead about the world they inhabit. Half Life is not the story of Gordon Freeman. It's the story of a science experiment gone wrong which leads to the world being controlled by the autocratic Dr. Breen and the human soldiers of the Combine who stand as proxy for a mysterious alien species and the resistance that rises to defeat them. Freeman is simply the method by which the players inject themselves into the story.

Meanwhile Uncharted is less about Drake's growth as a person and more about his relationship with those around him. He's a fun character who surrounds himself with other likewise enjoyable and fun characters but no one ever seems to grow from their experience. This is further evidenced by the cryptic line between Drake and Sully about Elena still wearing her ring. We're led to the conclusion that Elena and Drake married but because Drake is incapable of growing as a character they did last. At the end of U3 there's mabe 15 seconds of dialogue that is supposed to lead us to believe that things are going to work out between them but a similar scene happened at the end of U2 where we see that they love each other. So nothing has really changed for either Drake or elena as characters. In fact Elena shows more personal growth over the course of the games than drake does. In U3 we can see that she still has deep feelings for him but recognizes that while she is his wife, adventure is his mistress and there's nothing she can do to change that. Meanwhile Drake is like "LOL whatevs. Adventure Time!" Don't get me wrong. the games hit all the right notes to be a memorable and fun game. Drake just isn't a very interesting character.

This piece is much longer than I originally intended for it to be so I'm going to draw this to a close. As I do I'd like to remind everyone that I realize these are just my opinions. All of that being said, I feel like in order for a character to be truly interesting they MUST have flaws. Without them, I may enjoy the game but I'll never care about them as a character.

What is a game?

This topic has been covered in several other places but I feel like we as a culture have never really come to a solid decision on what constitutes a game.

Webster defines a game as "a physical or mental activity or contest with rules and that people do for pleasure". This gives us a pretty good starting point on this topic. It's something we do that has rules and that the participant finds enjoyable. I think it's important to note here that it's up to the person performing the action whether it's fun to them or not. I greatly enjoyed Gone Home but many people seemed to have very strong feelings that opposed mine. To quote my favorite user review from Metacritic "This 'game' is not actually a game, [sic] it's a very short interactive movie." What this person fails to consider is that the player's progression through the story of Gone Home is tied to a tried and true mechanic. I'm not entirely sure which game first put locked doors into level design to block progression and then required that players search for said key to progress but Gone Home shares a close ancestry with this mechanic. The difference is that you're not looking for physical keys but are instead looking for journal entries that might give you a locker combination or tell you of a secret hiding place that you can go through. Also, while there are no enemies to kill while searching for these "keys" the game uses the lack of action to give the player glimpses into the personal lives of the family members, giving the player a chance for some introspective thought on the events that took place before the player arrived. The fact that the game requires players to explore the environment in search of the "key" to progress and that someone might enjoy the process of doing so makes Gone Home a game by it's very definition. Though I suspect that the backlash aimed at Gone Home has less to do with it "not being a game" and more to do with certain story elements.

In my last blog post I wondered if Viscera Cleanup Detail was really a game and if so would that make cleaning my apartment a game as well? Using the definition of "game" that we got from the dictionary we can apply that to VCD and determine that it's a game. The game's rules require that you clean a facility until it's spotless. Along the way there are more rules that cause the player to have to analyze the situations that are presented to them and find the most effective way to clean the area without making an even bigger mess. Once you feel like you're finished and try to clock out the game will score you based on how you performed. However when i clean my apartment there really is no rule set that governs my actions. I mean, true, the overall goal is to clean things up but the only standard I'm held up to is my own. No one is scoring me and there is nothing in place to make things more interesting. I simply clean until I stop because I'm either satisfied with the work I've done or I'm just tired of cleaning.

What if I have a job that I find fun? Every job has rules that governs our actions, so what if i have a blast doing my job? Taking inspiration from my time playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 recently, let's say that I'm a truck driver. DOT regulation and traffic laws control what I can do and I'm penalized for "cheating" so that meets the rule requirement and it's already been established that I have fun performing the act. So would my job be a game? There's one massive difference between ETS2 and actually driving trucks for a living. That's the ability to simply stop the moment I feel like i don't want to play anymore with out consequence. If I've been playing ETS2 for a while and I'm only halfway to my destination but I'm tired of playing, i can simply save my game and leave it for later. If I drive trucks for a living and I simply tire of it so I pull my truck over and abandon my rig on the side of the road I'll end up facing some very real consequences. With this in mind I feel like the ability to stop participating with no consequence to the player should be part of the definition of what a game is. If you're performing an action which carries a consequence if you stop before the designated time to do so, you're no longer playing a game but are instead working. I feel like at that point whether you have fun with what you're doing or not is irrelevant in factoring whether you're actually playing a game. If you face consequence for stopping early then it's no longer a game. By that new addition I suppose you could also say that Professional DOTA2 or League players aren't gaming anymore when they're in a tournament or practicing. They're working. If they just walk off in the middle of a tournament they lose out on potentially making money. If they simply stop practicing they might lose their place on the team that they worked so hard to be able to join. It's interesting to see how how many activities stop being or become games when held to these standards.

You guys have heard my thoughts on this but I'd love to hear yours. How do you feel about the current definition of what makes a game? What do you think of the addition of the requirement of being able to stop without consequence to the definition? Do you have your own definition of what makes a game? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Why I Love Viscera Cleanup Detail Or: How I Discovered That Tedium Can Be Fun

So I'm in love with Viscera Cleanup Detail. This baffles me because it's not really the type of game I usually enjoy. While I have an eclectic taste in games the one constant theme among all of my favorite games is that I need some sort of action or strategizing to be constantly happening.

If you're not familiar with what Viscera Cleanup Detail is, it's a game where you play a janitor at a facility that has the very unlucky job of cleaning up after the hero has fought back some alien menace. The game is early access at the moment so not much is known of the story. Even then what is known of the story is only discovered in the form of PDAs with mission objectives left behind after the hero or soldiers have left the area, leaving behind the bodies, blood spatters, and bullet casing in their wake. All of that is irrelevant though. You're not the hero, just the janitor. So the game consists of you retrieving empty bio hazard bins and buckets of water to dispose of the blood and bodies. There's no foe to fight or puzzle to solve; just mopping. As you play the game more and more you start to devise strategies on how best to approach cleaning the area you're in. Walking through blood will leave bloody boot prints behind you, which you'll have to cleanup. To complicate matters human and alien limbs have some how worked their way into the machinery which disburses your water buckets and waste bins to you. So if you pull waste bins or buckets of water too frequently from the machines you run the risk of having those limbs come out of the machines instead of the desired item. This further complicates matters because now you have to clean those up as well. If that weren't enough you have to dispose of the bodies in an incinerator that isn't always next to the rest of the machinery that you use, causing you to need to plan your path through the facility around where it's located. Did I mention that the aliens and heroes made a huge mess? Sometimes the mess is so large that the blood seeped under the floor panels or splashed up to the ceiling (which you usually can't reach). So you need to remove floors panels looking for stray puddles of blood or stack crates to get up higher to reach the ceiling. Oh! Be careful carrying filthy buckets of water around because if you accidentally drop it you'll be stuck re-mopping up all that bloody water. Cleaning the average map will take you two to three hours and you better get every speck up. If you clock out before the job is completely finished you will instantly fail.

Why the hell would I want to play that? Even being someone who really enjoys the game, just reading about it makes me think the game wouldn't be fun. The answer is that it's the only game I have that fills a niche that no other game I own does. That niche is mindless tedium. The game take very little thought to complete and is tediously repetitive and that's exactly what I love about it. Sometimes I'm not in the mood to play a game that's going to require actual brain power or skill. Sometimes I want to play a game simply for the act of doing something. I'll just tune into Pandora or start up a podcast and just focus on that while I engage the rest of myself with mindless repetition. I suppose the real question is whether VCD is actually a game. I believe we could all agree that cleaning the place you live couldn't be called a game. So why is VCD different? That's a question for another day. In the meantime, I have some alien remains to mop up.

It's been a while.

About 7 months, actually. When I started doing 2Nerds with Lonrem I'm not entirely sure what I was looking for. In the end life sort of caught up with us and there just wasn't room in either of our lives for 2Nerds anymore. I worked a full time job while being a full time student who also had a kid to take care of and a marriage that was falling apart. Lonrem had his job and acting as CM for Anook, which isn't as easy as he makes it look. I never stopped thinking about it though and always knew I wanted to pick it back up again. Well this is me picking it back up. It'll be mostly in the form of blog posts (to here) and the occasional stream for a bit. Eventually I plan to start back up with the videos though. So if you're interested, keep yours eyes on this space.

What Happened to Sportsmanship?

There's a video (linked below) that I just saw that's travelling around, saw it on Kotaku, most recently and it just brought this topic to mind. Seriously, what happened to sportsmanship? The video shows pro CoD players screaming obscenities at each other, smack-talking, and just being (to borrow the term from LoL) toxic. I don't fall for this business of 'psyching out' your opponent or trying to 'get in their head'; that's just excuses for bad attitude.

Obviously CoD isn't the only place where this happens, you can go find rage videos for any game that utilizes online communication, voice or text. WoW arena and raid rage, LoL players screaming at their teammates, CoD players using the foulest (albeit most creative) language I've ever heard. Starcraft is one of the few places I've not seen a lot of rage from, but then again, who knows what happens in those post-game messages?

This is one of the major reason I happen to love Anook. We treat this place like home, a place where you can relax and be comfortable, not have a bunch of vitriol and elitism shoved in your face. Anyway, short little blog, because I had to get that off my chest.