Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Call Me an Elitist...

    Go ahead- I don't mind. It's the truth, and I won't deny it. And I do my best to surround myself with others of the same exclusive breed.
    I am an elitist because I require a lot of those I choose to roleplay with, at least for more than a moment, and when I have the choice. I'm an elitist because I am easily perturbed by roleplayers with very bad habits, and I don't mean the obvious ones- godmodders aren't tolerated by anyone with an ounce of gaming sense, and it hardly marks one as Elitist to refuse to have anything to do with them. Conversely, I'm not troubled much at all by what one would call "power-gamers".  You know the ones- Those guys whose characters must have the biggest, the baddest, the best, and the most, they min-max, then twist and cheat until the characters they play are unbeatable, or close to it. Those guys don't trouble me, because their badassery has little impact on my Rp. I'm not "in it to win it", as the saying goes, so I don't really care how powerful other pc's are. Honestly, though I don't condone that kind of behavior, those people can be a delight to play with, for several reasons. First, they are usually astonished to interact with someone who isn't even trying to one-up their power. Second, they're also often delighted to find someone who doesn't feel the need to argue that power with them. Both of these things leave them in a surprisingly good mindset to actually roleplay.  So I'll call power-gamers a strange little guilty pleasure.

    What do I like to see in a roleplayer then? First and foremost, a reasonably strong grasp of the English language, and the ability to write (and speak) fluently therein. There are things I consider pet-peeves, of which many Rp'ers are guilty, and which I do my best to accept, despite how very raw they may rub my fussy, elitist sensibilities...
    Matters of tense drive me quite mad most often- those who insist on couching their descriptive scenes in the past tense, or worse, who slip back and forth between past and present, within a paragraph, or even within a single sentence- this makes me scream. Yes, I am shrieking at my screen when you do that, people, but I try very hard not to complain. 
     Consistent abuse of homonyms and homophones is another that will have my molars grinding, and steam rising from my staring eyeballs. I don't object to the occasional slip- we all are guilty of them now and then, and there is also the horror of auto-correct which imposes this nonsense on us from time to time. But one who cannot seem to actually learn the difference between a plural-possessive, a locative noun, and a contracted verb are indeed likely to eventually send me into a homicidal rage.  Still- I do try to afford patience and overlook these things.
     Typos, for the record, hardly rate a mention. No one is innocent on that score, no matter how elite.

     The habits which will send me packing- and mostly incline me to avoid interacting, are more behavioral.  Any repeat of any of these offenses is likely to get an elitist stamp of extended or eternal disapproval. The player who monopolizes my time actually falls into several categories- those who enjoy interacting with me so much that they stop playing with others, and will actually sulk, complain, or even leave, when I am busy with someone or something else. (I'm flattered, but seriously. Share the love, people.)  The player who will make every effort to box my character in by the end of a scene, so that I am obligated to wait for their return before I can continue to play the character in question- this can be anything from a casual arrangement which leaves me dangling, (ie; Sorry, man, I gotta go- can we pick up this conversation next time?) to one which uses actual tangible means to confine the character in question, (ie; leaving a character imprisoned, bound, or otherwise without any means to contact/interact with other characters.

     The player who takes IC interactions way too personally, and/or, way too seriously. It's a game, in the end, however much we may adore it, and it's a game in which we play roles. Hence the term, "role-play" after all.  If I am playing a druid who hates fire-weilding elementalists, then I'm likely to hate on your fire-weilding elementalist. And if you and I frequently play characters who are diametrically opposed, then we are likely to be at odds more often than not. That's not personal, it's the nature of the game. Likewise, if my impressionable young priestess bats her eyes and blushes a few times at your Fabio-haired paladin, it doesn't mean I, as a player, want to play house, or doctor, for that matter. Now, I do understand that occasionally, that kind of interaction leads to more serious character relationships, and I can see how some players might get overly attached in such situations. Never the less, even were my blushing priestess to marry that paladin and build a house, and a family, (another personal pet peeve- just me, but it's not likely to ever ever ever happen- just sayin'-) it would not for one moment mean that I was planning my real, non-game life around that character's player. Folks... learn to draw lines between what's real and what's fiction- however interactive- for everyone's peace of mind.

     "Trigger" players. These are people with lots of no-go areas, which they don't make clear well in advance. These are folks that will suddenly flip out because someone did something that was perfectly reasonable to expect- and see coming well in advance, but they fail to mention, and rather than simply politely bowing out of the interaction, get some level of hysterical, often pointing fingers of blame at other players, and stomping conspicuously out, as soon as they've made certain the interaction has been thoroughly ruined for everyone else who was involved.  As above, people- know your boundaries, and be prepared to find new ones now and then, without a lot of the wrong kind of drama.

     All-In-The-Family players, AND It's-All-About-The-Sex (-or the-Love) players. These two deserve their own categories, really, and they will get their own descriptions- but they're kissing cousins, and deserve to be referenced together as well.

     All-In-The-Family players, or Soap players, are folks who seem obsessed with building family relationships with everyone they know and interact with. These are the ones who walk into the local tavern or town square, and must greet more than half the people there by nickname, like to use words like Honey, Dear, Sis, Mom, Dad, etc. These are the folks who are inclined to stage in-game weddings, and worse, to have in-game extended pregnancies, because we all need to know that they and their in-game-wedded-bliss is bearing familial fruit, don't we?  I realize that this is a very LARGE part of the gaming population, especially in virtual settings. This is why I'm an elitist. Because that annoys me, and I'm not afraid to say so.  Relationships in rp are lovely, within reason, and maybe I'm just a maladjusted sociopath or something, but I just do not, and will never, see the fascination with such mundanity.  Your mileage may vary, I suppose. But this is my list. ;)

     It's-All-About-The-Sex players.  I should say right up front, I have absolutely zero problem with adult interaction when the rp happens to lead there. But with these folks, it's always going to lead there. And pretty much only there. These folks are often quite competent rp'ers apart from this bad habit, so they aren't always easy to spot.And worse, once they know that another gamer isn't offended by adult interaction, then they don't even bother to pretend they're actually about anything else. Get off. Seriously. Go play on the internet. Porn sites abound. Some of us have better things to do. 

     All-About-The-Love players are looking for true romance, and, much like the -Sex players, aren't really interested in anything else... except possibly evolving into All-In-The-Family players.

  Enough Elitist pet-peeves for now, but I fully plan to revisit this list, because there are categories as yet untouched. Still, if any of the above categories seem familiar and annoying to you, you might be an Elitist yourself. If so, then hopefully, I'll see you in a tavern someday, or we'll meet over the steaming corpse of a mutual foe!

Monday, November 17, 2014

What is an immersive gamer?

Immersion is a collective term for all the things within a game (or movie, or book, or theme-park attraction,) that contribute to the suspension of disbelief. The things that help you forget you are playing a game. When you play a shooter game, and numbers scroll off the top of your character's head every time you lose life, that breaks immersion. It reminds you that this is just a game. If there are circles on the ground around your character and his or her party, or a conspicuous heads-up display (unless of course, you're playing a cyber game and have robot eyes, or feedback-enabled goggles or something,) or funky sound effects every time you use a tool or draw a weapon- all those things remind you that this is just a game.  An immersive gamer seeks to remove or avoid as much as possible anything that will have this reminding effect, and will seek out games and mods which eliminate such distractions.

Immersion gaming is not about realism- although realism can strongly contribute to immersion, in fact, in a sense, realism and immersion are complimentary sides of the same coin. Immersion is about what you DON'T want to see or experience, whereas realism is about the things you DO want to see or experience. While immersion contributes to realism, and vice versa,  they are distinct concepts, and immersive gamers span the spectrum as to precisely how much realism they desire from their gaming experience. Some just don't want basic game mechanics to distract them. Others want to walk from place to place on the game map in real time, and experience the very blisters on their virtual feet.

I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, myself, and often drift around inside it, prefering more or less realism from my game on any given day.

The single biggest reason for wanting to immerse this way is for the sake of roleplay. For the hours during which I am playing a character within a game world, I want to be that person, in that place. You might say it's much like method acting, in that respect, but of course, it's generally for our own pleasure, rather than the benefit of others.

Immersing in a game changes it fundamentally. The objectives change. You are no longer trying to win, to level up, to earn achievements- instead, you, as the character you play, are trying to survive, to overcome an enemy, to solve a mystery. Beating the game becomes irrelevant. Being the game becomes everything.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Where to Begin?

Let's get something straight right at the start- I could not care less about your DPS, your DoT, your build, your guild, or your PvP score, and you won't be finding discussions of that stuff here. I value different qualities in the games I play. I'm pretty sure the things I look for in my games are things that everyone, or at least a lot of people, want- but for me, they come first. I'm not here to kick the crap out of a dragon. Okay- I am, but long before I get to that dragon, I want to create, and become, someone new. I want to take in the scenery of a glorious, graphical world. I want to immerse myself in lore and culture. I want to find my place and experience it.

Here's what I consider critical in the games I choose to play, somewhat, but not precisely, in order of importance:
  1.  Glorious graphics. This used to fall lower on my list, and can be upstaged by other qualities, but in a world with incredible designers and amazing graphics engines, it's just stupid to expect less than incredible and amazing. Also? I revel in the wonder of screenshot art, and pointy polygons just don't cut it for me anymore.
  2. Moddability. Why is this so close to the top of the list? Wouldn't it make more sense to expect games to be awesome WITHOUT a ton of help from the modding community? Well, sure, but my expectations are ridiculously high. I'm a mod-spoiled brat. Besides, no game is ever going to be perfect right out of the box, and no game is going to be perfect for everyone's playstyle. Game companies make ridiculous amounts of money, but their coffers are not bottomless, and they do have time constraints. As long as a game CAN be modded to fuck and back, they don't have to be perfect. The companies can concentrate on building a solid foundation for modders to beautify and fine-tune. 
  3. Custom character creation. No, I don't just mean what color my character's eyes are, either. I mean, give me a blank slate. Let me devise my own reasons for following the quest your game offers. Let me decide how I want to play your game. This probably belongs at the top of this list, because I don't generally play games that don't allow me to do this. (There have been a few very rare exceptions.) It's a deal-breaker for me, for the most part, but I also recognize that it's one of the hardest criteria to meet, or at least to meet well. For me though, it's critical both to my enjoyment of a game, as well as to that game's replay value. When you play as I do, it's all about the story, and if I have to play a pregenerated character, I might as well read a book. (Not that I'm knocking reading books- but it's a very different medium!)
  4. Brilliant writing. Tell me a story. Tell me a dozen. Make me CARE that the end is nigh, and that I and my ragtag band of heroes are the only ones who can save it. Better yet, give me doubts. Make me question my reasons for saving it. Offer me alternatives to saving it. Give me henchmen who can hold their own in a conversation, as well as in a fight. Surprise me. Fool me. Lead me on. If you've made it this far into this post, then I don't need to explain why. You know how to read, and you're not offended by or afraid of words. Also, hopefully, you're curious about what comes next.
  5. Quality voice actors. Not every game uses voice actors at this point, but unvoiced characters are fast becoming a rarity. That said, if a game uses them at all, it should do it right. Doing it poorly is worse than not doing it at all.
  6. Beautiful and compelling design. Design of the UI, design of the world, (landscape & architecture,) design of the characters, design of the creatures, the clothing, the armor and weapons. If I want FF VII, then I'll play FF VII. If I want Morrowwind, that's what I'll play. Skyrim is not Oblivion. Dragon Age is not Guild Wars. Show me something I've never seen before. 
  7. Fluid animations and the ability to interact smoothly with the world around me. Again, this doesn't need much explanation, really. I absolutely adore the Dragon Age games, but even after hundreds of hours of play I forget that, while I can slay an undead horde, I can also be completely barricaded by a six-inch curb. Jumping is a good thing.
  8. A compelling game system. Game mechanics ARE still important to me, even if they fall wayyyyy down here at the bottom of the list. For me, the best thing a game system can offer is options. More is better. Give me archery, melee, and magic. Give me stealth and style. And give me the room to blend those elements into something your game's designer might not even have foreseen. 
There's more, but that's the real core. Do I expect a lot? I do. How many games have I even found that fill all of these expectations? Exactly... none. But the moddability factor counts for a lot, and with that, there are, so far, only a handful. But it's a big future ahead of us... So much to look forward to!

Games I consider worthy, that I've had the pleasure of playing thus far:  
(In order of my experience, not necessarily quality.)

  • Neverwinter Nights. Yeah, it falls a million miles short of graphically beautiful, and animations are clunky and sad. But for moddability, and for game mechanics, it does not get better than NWN. 
  • Neverwinter Nights 2. Bioware took steps in the right direction- the graphics improved incalculably, and they kept most of the brilliant game mechanics, although sadly, the moddability factor plummeted. the toolset offered with NWN2 was complicated and unwieldy, and the modding community suffered for it. Still, entirely worth playing, and though the modders were fewer, they still produced a vast collection of game improvements and customizations. Both versions of NWN still have dedicated and thriving player communities, even today, and both games breach the wall into multiplayer more smoothly than any MMO to date.
  • Skyrim. What do I need to say? It's freakin' SKYRIM. To be fair though, it's far from perfect. All who have played it know, it's console-skewwed, and doesn't translate as well as it should into PC format- problems the modding community are hard at work cleaning up. 
  • Morrowwind. I have yet to play this one all the way through. The game mechanics are a bit awkward for me, and the moddability factor isn't what it could be, but it's glorious for it's time, and compelling enough that I hope to one day get comfortable with it.
  • Oblivion. As above- still to this day trying to get comfortable with the system, but the moddability improved measurably in the wake of Morrowwind. As predecessors to Skyrim, both Morrowwind and Oblivion are quite compelling offerings, and more than worthy of my collection!
  • Dear Esther. Okay, NO character customization. And NO interaction with the world. It's more interactive art than an actual game- but it's so freaking beautiful that it still goes on my list.
  • Fallout 3/Fallout New Vegas. Not classic fantasy, but every bit as beautiful, customizable, and epic as Bethesda's other offerings.
  • Guild Wars 2. Yeah, I know- it's an MMO. The only one I've ever really played. (okay, I admit, I've played a little Neverwinter Online, but I'm not proud of it.) GW2 is excellent. Fits most of my criteria, though as an MMO, it's non-moddable. It doesn't need to be. It's brilliant and beautiful.
  • Dragon Age: Origins. And I'm back to praising Bioware, it seems. It's not perfect, it's not as sandboxy as I tend to prefer, and I can't freaking JUMP... but the writing, the acting, the graphics, the UI, the story, the possibilities, the interactions... I had barely heard of it, a friend pointed out they were having a free giveaway, (probably to stir up fresh interest for the upcoming Dragon Age:Inquisition,) so I took it for a spin- and here I am, gaming like a junky, like I haven't since my early NWN days. 
  • Dragon Age II. Well after the way DA:O shook up my happy little gaming world, I just HAD to have it, right? Even though there were so many bad reviews, and so much shit was talked about it, and from outside, the interface looked wretched, and... and... I had to have it. And ... I was more than pleasantly surprised. It's got problems, it's true, but in many ways, it's one of the finest games I've ever played. Well worth the cover price, now that it's $20 instead of $50.