||The Firing Line 14
September 18, 2003 Brett Todd
Summary: Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
Monkey orgasms and Half-Life II
OK, make what you will of THAT Firing Line heading. I'm not touching it with a ten foot pole.
| The Pleasure Principle of Gaming||Page:: ( 1 / 4 )|
Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
Monkey orgasms and Half-Life II
According to an article in the October edition of The Atlantic Monthly, researchers probing the mysteries of the brain once equipped a male monkey with electrodes prompting responses of pleasure and pain. One of these electrodes was attached to a switch that produced instant orgasms. I probably don’t need to add that the monkey hit that particular button every three minutes until the device was removed. It isn’t mentioned in the article, but I’d assume that they had to pry the control box out of the monkey’s cold, dead fingers.
Which makes you really wonder about the pleasure principle in general. We’re conditioned for instant gratification, to plunge headlong from one experience to another in search of momentary entertainment. Although the monkey’s story comforts me that this trait is ingrained, that we haven’t been turned into attention-deficit drones by two decades of quick-cut MTV videos and Coors Lite ads, it still underscores our unfortunate hook on the quick fix.
Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie could describe every aspect of popular culture these days. We consume so much so fast that we don’t appreciate what we’re doing in the moment. And I’m not just talking about fatties and their Klondike bars. Everybody’s so focused on what we’re going to entertain ourselves with next that we don’t pay attention to what we’re entertaining ourselves with now. Network execs key on this trait, to the point where they bookend top shows like Friends with crap in the knowledge that people are too damn lazy to turn the channel. How else to explain the mystifying endurance of shows like (shudder) Veronica’s Closet and (double shudder) Just Shoot Me through much of the 1990s?
But gamers make even the mouthbreathers who follow Kirstie Alley’s career look positively simian by comparison. They at least do nothing but slump on the couch, watching whatever dreck that NBC has decided to air at 8:30 on Thursday night. We actually go out and spend $50 a pop for every game that we play, buying so fast that actually finishing them all is out of the question. We spend a few hours with one game, get a little bored, and need the thrill of buying and installing something a bit newer and a bit shinier to get us going again.
Purchasing games has become more of a hobby than actually playing them. Don’t believe me? Look on your shelf and count the number of games you’ve completed in the past six months. If it’s more than a third of the games that you’ve bought, you have to turn in your hardcore gamer credentials and leave this web site immediately. Every serious gamer that I know finishes no more than one game in three. Even the ones that they like are routinely left behind—just for a little bit, mind you—in order to sample a game that just hit stores, that everybody is talking about. Then something else shows up. Then something else. Soon enough, the first game in the pile gets completely forgotten. There’s no going home again, either in Our Town or in computer gaming.
SIDEBAR: The monkey reference comes from an article about torture written by Mark Black Hawk Down Bowden. Apparently the CIA was interested in using these monkey experiments to get information from Reds during the height of the Cold War.
What makes me think about these things right now is both that curious monkey tale and the simple fact that we’re about to be inundated with big games. This fall and winter are shaping up as the busiest seasons in computer gaming in recent memory. Jedi Academy, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Homeworld 2 have just hit stores. Medal of Honor: Breakthrough arrives next week, along with NHL 2004 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004. X-Com wannabe UFO Aftermath will be out at the end of the month. Halo, an Age of Mythology expansion pack, and Etherlords II show up the following week.
| Monkeys||Page:: ( 2 / 4 )|
Then comes Max Payne II, Commandos III, XIII, Railroad Tycoon III, NBA Live 2004, Hidden & Dangerous 2, Lords of EverQuest, and add-ons for RollerCoaster Tycoon II and Dark Age of Camelot in a two-week span in October. November features Lords of the Realm III, FIFA 2004, Final Fantasy XI, Gothic II, Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament 2004, Knights of the Old Republic, and Deus Ex: Invisible War. I’m afraid to even look at the December schedule, though you can expect Half-Life II before Christmas—maybe a lot sooner if the never-say-die rumors about September 30 prove to have a kernel of truth to them.
Whew. Anyone who loves games will want to play at least a dozen of these big titles between now and the day we celebrate the birth of Santa. But who will have the time for them all? Of that massive list I just typed, there are seven or eight that are must-plays for me, yet I can’t see where I’ll come up with the time to actually play them the way that the developers intended them to be played. Meaning to completion. It just ain’t gonna happen. Even if I were somehow able to get rid of all other commitments in my life for the next three months, I still wouldn’t be able to play these games. There aren’t enough hours in a day. And I’d have to come up for air and food sometime.
But I will buy them all. I’ll snap up everything, even second-tier jobs like UFO Aftermath and Hidden & Dangerous II, just because one of the lesser lights might turn into the surprise hit of the year. And I’ll make sure that each and every one is ensconced on my hard drive. That all are represented by colorful icons on the main Windows desktop, even if I’ve no plans to click on them anytime soon, even if the extent of my interaction with them is watching the opening cinematics and thinking how cool it will be to actually play the game beyond.
And so will you. Developers and publishers know that this is the silly season, that we’re going to cram as many games into our budgets as MasterCard allows for the simple fact that they’re new, they’re hot, and we want ’em. Yeah, it would make more sense to hold off, to buy only what we can play now and save the rest for a bargain bin somewhere down the road. That ain’t gonna happen. Buying hot games after the buzz has died down is akin to watching a tape-delayed Super Bowl, or catching a summer blockbuster on DVD in October. A big part of the fun is being right there when it happens, when everyone is sharing is experience. That’s lost six months down the road, when the cool people on message boards have moved on to the latest and greatest.
Which really gives me pause for thought. At least the monkey’s desire for immediate gratification got him some orgasms. We’re getting brightly colored boxes, the chore of installing software, a few hours of killing bad guys, and massive bills at the end of the holidays. Yet somehow I still wouldn’t trade places with that monkey. At least, not until I finish—er, play—Half-Life II.
SIDEBAR: It’s been so long since I finished Half-Life that I can’t remember anything about it save the cool opening and jump-happy ending. I’m excited about playing the sequel, though I don’t know why.
The Alex Rodberg/Homeworld II message-board fooferaw that Tom wrote about last week is remarkable only in that people are discussing it. This incident warranted a lengthy thread on a private forum I frequent, along with much hand-wringing about the rudeness of hardcore gamers. Why? Interactions like this are the norm, not the exception. Has any forum, anywhere, been friendly to a developer or PR representative for longer than a few weeks?
| Return Fire||Page:: ( 3 / 4 )|
Usually, whenever someone in the know arrives on a message board or a usenet group, the initial response is ecstatic. Everyone thanks the person for coming out, for having the guts to face the frothing mob, etc. Then he or she takes a little too long to answer a question. Rising criticism then begins courteously but soon descends to a level where everyone is calling the company rep a PR shill just trying to drum up sales. Cue the expletives and the immediate disappearance of the rep to greener pastures.
I agree with Tom that the hardcore types are largely to blame for this, though I also cut them some slack. Tom says that buzz is mostly conducted by word of mouth, by friends, and by the press. All of this is true to some degree, although it’s often the few hardcore nuts who get the ball rolling. Yeah, these are “the guys with the loudest mouths,” but they’re also the ones with the power to drive the industry. Especially concerning smaller games from little-guy developers. Sometimes we owe a debt to the lone goofballs who can’t shut up. Where would Serious Sam be if not for Old Man Murray, for instance? Even Homeworld, big-budget title song by Yes notwithstanding, needed a lot of hardcore support to get off the ground, since it wasn’t exactly the friendliest game of 2000.
Because of this, I think that Tom needs to seriously reconsider the way he commends company representatives for posting on message boards. Alex Rodberg and others may be fantastic people, but they’re still only doing their jobs. They aren’t there out of common courtesy, or a desire to build a hearts-and-flowers game community, or to do Q-and-As with guys named twitchtastic. They’re there because they want to spread the good word about their game to people who matter, so that sales stay high and they get to keep their jobs. And they’ve gotta learn to take the roses with the brickbats, no matter how obnoxious some zealots can become.
SIDEBAR: I’ve seen at least four developers chased out of the PC gaming usenet groups over the past few years. Does anyone sane post in those groups anymore? Every time I venture into the comp.sys.ibm.pc.games hierarchy these days, I see nothing but polemics from people who think the Jews are responsible whenever their toilets clog.
| Shot of the Week||Page:: ( 4 / 4 )|
Warrior Kings: Battles
It may not have wowed the world in its initial incarnation, but Black Cactus is going back for another kick at the can with Warrior Kings: Battles. It’s a good thing, too. While the game is in some ways just another fantasy/medieval RTS, there are some interesting quirks here. The AI generals add a lot of color to the campaign, which is pretty enthralling even without those lifelike opponents. Look for it in stores at the end of September. In the meantime, here are a couple snaps of the game in action.
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Just exactly why is Brett reading about monkeys that pleasure themselves? Honestly people, this is the question we should be asking ourselves! Forget about all that impulse-buy-feels-good stuff. Speaking of impulses, don’t you feel you have one to Sound Off! in the news comments?
SIDEBAR: A fantasy medieval RTS like Warrior Kings: Battles really gets me stoked to play a medieval RTS that’s a little more down to earth. I’ll be first in line for Lords of the Realm III when it hits stores this November.