Category: Video Games

This is a post about meritocracy, reviews, and Game of the Year

Posted on January 23rd, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 2 comments

We don’t live in a meritocracy. The most sublime, the most aesthetically pleasing, the most culturally rich works don’t always attain commercial success or even above average recognition.

We must, however, recognize that merit is not the same as market value, nor should it be. True market value is determined by individuals exercising free will in voluntary exchanges. Essentially, something is “worth” in market value whatever free people decide it’s worth, assuming freedom from any force, fraud, or other coercion. This is not the same as merit.

What merit is exactly, is beyond the scope and aim of this article, but for now we can argue that merit is the extent to which people find something to be worthy of praise. An item’s merit, in whatever amount, isn’t guaranteed to match its market value.

As an example, the most expensive piece of art ever sold is a piece from The Card Players, a series of paintings by a French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. It sold for $259 million. Those who study art would say it is a highly meritorious painting, but they might also argue that it is not the single greatest piece of art ever. Despite their arguments — which may … Read More »


This is a post about games, guns, and politics

Posted on January 16th, by Jordan Rivas in Liberty, Politics, Video Games. 1 Comment

The vice president of the United States is not interested in video games, or what video game industry leaders have to say. He’s interested in politics, and appearances. And he’s interested in using both to further manipulate a frightened constituency into placated acquiescence.

Vice President Joe Biden didn’t meet with industry leaders across a wide spectrum of businesses and interest groups because he’s interested in cooperation and enlightenment that will lead to less gun violence, he held these meetings to give the appearance of cooperation and enlightenment. That doesn’t entirely preclude anything useful from happening, but to comment on the situation without an understanding of the underlying motivations of the White House is to reveal a startling naivete about Washington politics.

Whatever issues about violence and media are crying out to be discussed, and whatever arguments to be made about how, where and with whom we should be discussing them – when commenting on whether or not game industry leaders should have met with Joe Biden, you have to first understand the context of politics inside the Beltway.

When you take a meeting with the Vice President (or anyone in Washington, D.C.) and someone takes a picture, you’ve made a statement. When you … Read More »


This is a post about Dark Side, Renegade, and demanding refunds

Posted on January 2nd, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 3 comments

I don’t like to fight.

I don’t become angered easily. I don’t get aggressive quickly. I don’t relish arguments, or even winning them. I feel guilty about “beating” people, even in verbal spats, if I win handily.

I’ve never pushed a mercenary through a thin pane of glass to a multi-story death drop. I’ve never executed a runaway mage who was begging for their life. I’ve never run the hot, glowing edge of a crimson lightsaber through the neck and spine of an adversary on their knees.

At least not in real life. In video games, I’ve done all of those things. And I had emotional reactions to all of them. The concerns are that these acts of violence in games are cavalier and committed without rational thought, but in these examples I thoroughly considered my actions, and found it entirely rational to send people to their death.

I did those things because I was playing a character, and sometimes the characters I play are really mean. It wouldn’t make sense for me to do those things in real life, but it does make sense for my characters do them occasionally, depending on the characters.

My personal beliefs and morality system don’t always come with … Read More »


This is a post about driving games and Deathless Days

Posted on December 19th, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. No Comments

There were no deathless days on Texas roadways in 2011.
Texas Dept. of Motor Vehicles Crash Highlights Report, 2011

No one ever dies in driving games. Not even the fake kind of death we’re used to with a respawn afterwards. No one ever gets injured. In driving games we’ve taken more care to simulate vehicle damage than we have to depict people damage. People damage doesn’t exist in driving games.

Death is seldom depicted in a way that causes us to contemplate it as anything more than a bothersome indicator of a failure state. “I died,” in games means, “I lost.” Avatars respawn in seconds or minutes, players are reverted to a checkpoint back in time where the character is magically alive again, or at most a character is allowed to die and the player simply gets a new character to play.

Even if it’s dealt with in passing, death is still included. But in driving games, death or even injury is never mentioned. Even for video games, it’s an eerie omission considering how many people die in traffic related incidents.

Everyday someone driving in the state Texas dies. According to most statistics, approximately 32,000 traffic related deaths occurred in the … Read More »


This is a post about shooters, Katy Perry and Pop Culture

Posted on December 12th, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 5 comments

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 sold over 7.5 million copies in the US, but I don’t think we take its kind seriously anymore. I find that lamentable.

It’s a massively consumed entertainment product that’s scoffed at in the corners of the room that shelter the enlightened, the particular consumer, the astute observer who is either pained or confused when the artistically unambitious and flawed resonate with so many. Like Transformers movies, Justin Bieber, and Barbie dolls – the Call of Duty series has attained commercial success and general popularity that, according to its critics, isn’t consistent with its artistic quality.

They aren’t even necessarily saying the game isn’t enjoyable, or that there aren’t any interesting observations to be made concerning design or storytelling in Call of Duty or other shooters, but that among a niche group of thoughtful gamers, we find the genre less compelling than the general population which, according to sales, finds the genre more compelling than any other in video game history.

It isn’t a disparaging distinction exactly. Certain observers are trying to offer honest observations and analysis about a medium that hasn’t always gotten that treatment. In doing so, they’ve found that it’s the subtle works, the ambiguous … Read More »


This is a post about Call of Duty, Ego, and Pumping Iron

Posted on December 5th, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 4 comments

There is a person who’s half downed a Monster XXL, is sitting in a beanbag, with a pair of Triton’s on, and their eyes are bloodshot. They’re playing Call of Duty and they’re good at it.

There is another person who’s doubled up on their creatine monohydrate and whey protein, hit a couple of magnesium pills, and every muscle in their body looks ready to burst out of them as they squat twice their weight. They’re working out, and they’re good at it.

These two people have something in common, and it’s that they’re both feeding their ego.

They aren’t often associated with each other because their methods are so different. Nevertheless, the motivation, payoff, and psychological drive is similar. I’m not directly comparable to either of them, but I’m similar enough to each of them that I can share some insight with you.

I work out everyday. I like to do it. It makes me feel good, it gives me energy, and I like the challenge. It’s not that I don’t ever struggle to get started (I do), but I enjoy having such a disciplined area of my life.

Four days a week I do free weights (on “off days” I do intensive cardio). … Read More »


This is a post about SWTOR and Micro-transaction Immersion

Posted on November 28th, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 3 comments

I used to joke that I’d never try Star Wars: The Old Republic, because as a gaming Star Wars geek, I was the perfect example of someone who’d have their life taken over by a Star Wars game with no ending.

I’m decent at telling jokes – most of the time they don’t come true.

When I started, I tried to ease into it. That didn’t work. The game, like any MMO, is geared towards driving you to a primary objective – more. But not too much more; that would be daunting. No, specifically, one more. One more quest, one more loot grab, one more armor piece, one more group operation, one more level – always just one more.

But what SWTOR adds to that medley of more, unlike most MMO’s, is story. Story is crucial to my experience with a game. One more story, I’d tell myself at 2AM, eyes already drooping, bloodshot and Sith-like. That’s what every MMO I’ve ever played was missing – deep, pervasive, cinematic storytelling.

Although not a “pure MMO” in the eyes of critics, SWTOR has opened a branch of audience that World of Warcraft and others have always been shut off to – the single-player story lover.

Read More »


This is a post about Skyrim and Self Deception

Posted on November 21st, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 10 comments

Ulfric Stormcloak, a true Nord and the Jarl of Windhelm, stormed the city of Solitude. I helped him do it. I charged in at his side, as we burned and murdered a path to the Imperial fort inside the city. Our thu’um combined to shake General Tullius to his knees in surrender. I took Ulfric’s sword; I beheaded a kneeling general and leader of the empire in Skyrim.

I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

My second character in Skyrim is named Ruhon (rOO-awn), a Nord. He’s hardy, wields the battleaxe Wuuthrad, leads the Companions, sports a mohawk, and can become a werewolf at will.

Like your character in Skyrim, like every character in Skyrim, he is Dovahkiin — dragonborn. He ventured to Sovngarde to vanquish the oldest dragon, the world eater Alduin. But like your character, that’s not what makes him unique.

The protagonist in Skyrim is one of your choosing — gender, race, size, shape, skill, and name are all yours to determine. How they behave, where they go and when is at your whim. Your character doesn’t speak audibly; he or she isn’t colored through any actor’s inflection. You have to fill in those blanks. … Read More »


This is a post about Assassin’s Creed 3 and Jingoism

Posted on November 14th, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 3 comments

In Assassin’s Creed 3, you don’t kill native Americans. Or at least, you mostly don’t kill native Americans.

Ratonhnhaké:ton, an Assassin ancestor of series protagonist Desmond Miles, serves as the main character for Assassin’s Creed 3. He’s a member of the Kanien’keha:ka — which means People of the Place of Flint. Not long after the game begins, Ratonhnhaké:ton (called Connor) sees his village burned to the ground by the game’s fictitious version of Charles Lee, a ruthless Templar who sees the native Americans as standing in the way of colonial progress.

Years later, Connor learns that George Washington has ordered his village destroyed once again, this time because of reports that certain natives are fighting with the British.

When Connor learns of the plan to use his tribesman as fodder, he rushes to stop them. As I led Connor into the forest in a careful dash, the optional objective flashed on my upper left screen — “Stop the Kanien’keha:ka with non-lethal methods”.

In the one moment when it could be argued that the native American portion of the cast in Assassin’s Creed 3 was as open to a bloody exit as anyone, the game still emphasizes the non-lethal approach.

AC3 does an admirable … Read More »


This is a post about Dishonored, Monarchies, and Non-lethality

Posted on November 7th, by Jordan Rivas in Video Games. 12 comments

Spoilers ahead. Thanks for reading.

Corvo Attano, the protagonist of Dishonored, is not a good guy — but I tried to make him one. I’ve always tried to play characters honestly. I enjoy stories, and whether a game is labeled role-playing or not, I require honesty in order to be fully immersed.

Because video games allow agency within story and characters, I bare some of the responsibility for ensuring honesty in the narrative. I have some control over how Corvo behaves, and in Dishonored I also have some control over how the story concludes. That’s why when I started playing Dishonored, I was determined to choose non-lethality whenever possible.

I surmised that as a bodyguard, Corvo would value life enough to avoid killing whenever possible, and only kill with no other alternative. That was the premise, but it  fell away quickly, replaced by something more concrete, but subtle.

I realized Corvo is not a “good guy”, and that the cast of Dishonored is mostly deficient of virtuous characters. This makes the fiction more authentic, cynical; it makes the characters less sympathetic. It disrupted my motivations as a player, and my ability to relate to Corvo.

I ascertained I … Read More »