#WeAreGamers

#GamerGate.

I’m a straight, white, cisgendered man which means I can pretty much say whatever the fuck I like about these people and still fly under their radar because their farcical “movement” is solely dedicated to the mass intimidation and harassment of women and professional journalists. #GamerGate’s arguments have an antagonistic relationship with logic, morality, reality, and basic common sense. They allege, that a vast conspiracy of feminists and “SJWs” (Social Justice Warriors, which, as a tip, if you are calling your archenemies “Justice Warriors” you just might be part of the Legion of Doom) control the games industry, control games journalism, and are using their nefarious vaginae to manipulate millions of people into unwittingly destroying the art form they love most.

That is what #GamerGate actually thinks. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

#GamerGate is not an activist movement. It is not about journalistic integrity, it does not have the best interests of the games industry or indeed any industry at heart. It is a hate group, a lynch mob. This is not difficult stuff.

To call the position lunacy, is to put it mildly, but it isn’t insane as much as it is diversion. The movement’s concerns have nothing to do with the quality of video games, or the content of them. The true goals are simple: Silence Women. Deny them their rights. Drive them from their homes, threaten them with rape, violence, murder. Actively conspire to drive women with opposing viewpoints to suicide, and at the end of the day, when confronted with evidence of your actions, scream “False Flag!” shroud yourself in noble intention and ignore criticism because fuck those people, they’re not us. They’re “Others”. They’re Feminists, they’re SJWs. To call it troubling is insufficient.

Where did this begin? How did it get so far? Why are we still talking about it? Well, as many of you will know, it all started when a man named Eron Gjoni posted a massive amount of highly personal and private information in what might be the single most massive breach of trust by any jilted ex I have ever seen on the internet. His novella-length tirade, which I will not under any circumstances link, is filled with screenshots of private conversations, along with his own editorializing. Whether his claims regarding his relationship with Zoe Quinn are true or not is entirely irrelevant. There is no justification for his actions in publicizing intensely private details out of pure malice.
Anyone who’s spent five minutes on 4chan knows what posting this screed there will result in. Instant lynch mob. Gjoni maintains he only posted this information because he wants people to “know the truth” about who Zoe Quinn is. Which is, of course, utter bullshit. He was, transparently, seeking revenge. Now, I don’t doubt that the man feels some degree of remorse now that he can behold the full form and horror of the monster that he unleashed on the world, but it is his monster. A monster adopted by those consumed by their own insecurity, self-hatred, and misogyny to rally around.

Hatred of feminists and those percieved as “SJWs” is sadly nothing new to the video game industry. It is an industry notable for its many and frequent fuckups on just about everything to do with gender politics, sexuality, and the general existence of women. That so many women have remained in spite of these unforced errors on behalf of developers, publishers, journalists, and consumers is testament not to how much they seek to destroy video games as #GamerGate would have you believe, but rather proof of their deep and abiding love for video games. That this is not more obvious is a sad reflection on ourselves as a culture.

Today, The Escapist ran an article  purporting to share the opinions of “Game Developers” regarding #GamerGate. The developers they dug up to comment, all male, were, oddly enough, not exactly what you or I might think of when we hear the term. Namely, they were prominent, hardline #GamerGaters. The article was originally run with the headline “Game Developers on #GamerGate”. When this was publicly contrasted with the title of the preceeding article, “Female Game Developers Share Their Views on #GamerGate” by Alex Lifschitz  it was eventually changed to the slightly more representative “What Male Game Developers Think About #GamerGate. Another telling comparison? The first article, found here, is credited to the byline “Anonymous Female Game Developers) while the later article is attributed to “The Escapist Staff”. This simple shift indicates a publication’s support for one viewpoint over the other, as do their unchanged original URLs. The earlier article, from the Anonymous Female Game Developers has a simple URL reflecting its content. The article that ran today, however, has a URL that reads “Game Developer #GamerGate Interviews Shed Light on Women in Games.”

It is clear that this article has not only been revised after publication following the deserved outcry but was potentially revised prior to initial publication, suggesting an earlier, even more biased and incendiary version. As it stands, the article is little more than an open platform for #GamerGate supporters to spew their toxins and false premise with a veneer of editorial legitimacy. Want to see what #GamerGate is really about? Go to the mentions feed of pretty much any woman working anywhere near the games industry. Here, I’ll even help you out.

That’s today. That’s just a few hours ago. Brianna Wu, of Giant Spacekat and Isometric Podcast, a person entirely uninvolved in the events surrounding The Escapist article, was doxxed and threatened in extremely specific terms.

“I’ve got a K-Bar and I’m coming to your house so I can shove it up your ugly feminist cunt”

“Your mutilated corpse will be on the front page of Jezebel tomorrow and there isn’t jack shit you can do about it”

This is #GamerGate. We as modern human beings, men and women of conscience, cannot afford to stand by and hope it goes away anymore. As Zoe Quinn herself has put it, “There is no ‘both sides’ here. People against GG’s actions are not organized, or campaigning, or using a hashtag. There’s a mob, and their targets.”

I think it is time to change that. Yes, it is depressing, it is saddening, it is maddening. We are rightfully ashamed of #GamerGaters and afraid of what they are capable of. We have seen their organization convince the world’s largest manufacturer of microprocessors to pull advertisments from Gamasutra. We have seen them drive Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian from their homes. We have seen them threaten the lives of pretty much every woman who works in the industry and doesn’t keep that fact as secret and safe as the fucking One Ring. Perhaps the best essayist to ever work in games writing, Jenn Frank, was convinced to abandon the industry altogether. Simply put, they are not going away and they are getting what they want. And their charade of standing for honesty and integrity and a great many other noble-sounding things has earned them enough support for sites as formerly-prestigious as The Escapist to pretend as if there is actually a debate going on here.

We are gamers. Our silence must not continue. #WeAreGamers. Pass it on.

Additional Information:
Timeline of today’s lunacy as regards The Escapist.

Thanks to commenter Avalon for providing the link to The Verge’s story on Intel caving to #GamerGate’s pressure.

Am I The Problem? A Reaction to Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames

The following is a reaction to Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs. Women in Videogames series.  It is written by a white, cis male, which I recognize is possibly the worst thing to be in writing any critical response to the series as presented so far.  I am not denying the points the series makes, and I am certainly not denying the industry’s huge problem with gender, stereotypes, and women in general.  Sexism is real, and it is entirely possible for someone to not be sexist and still benefit from its deeply entrenched roots in modern society.  I have no doubt that I benefit from sexism in ways that I cannot enumerate, though given the quality of my life and the fact that the most recent major event in it was getting a type of cancer that it is physically impossible for someone of the female sex to get and the subsequent loss of my ability to procreate, I will admit I find it hard to see exactly how I benefit.

I am going to be honest about my reaction to the series and it is my sincere hope that nobody hates me for it.

Tropes vs. Women in Videogames makes me feel like a bad person.  Really, really bad.  Downright evil, and no, I’m not exaggerating for comic effect like I normally do.  I know that this is likely not the case and that part of the point of the series is to target people like me, straight men who consider themselves feminists and make us uncomfortable with the state of affairs.  Well, it succeeds.  Forgive me if this is oddly disjointed, most attempts to play hop-scotch in a minefield are.

The series, if you haven’t seen it, is presented as a very matter-of-fact lecture, and seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, which, given the deranged and disturbing response to Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter I entirely understand.  Many of the people most in need of education on this subject have not exactly shown that they are capable of understanding complex, nuanced subjects such as this.  Honestly, I’m impressed they’ve managed to attain even a limited grasp of human language.  While I understand that I am not the lowest common denominator that lashes out and makes threats if someone dares to challenge something that I like, I do feel like I am being patronized and talked down to while watching the videos.

Maybe I need to be talked down to, though.  Again, I’m serious, maybe I am part of the problem.  But am I?  How broadly do you define the problem?  I’ve supported dozens of the games specifically called out in her three installments on Damsels in Distress.  I’ve supported them with my money, and I’ve enjoyed playing them, and I haven’t really given a tremendous amount of thought to the implications of this.  I’ve also played and greatly enjoyed Beyond Good & Evil, the game most praised by Ms. Sarkeesian in her series for its general excellence in both quality and positive portrayal of women.

“Isn’t it enough for a game to just be fun and well made?” I thought to myself at one point.  Well, that depends.  If games are just toys, diversions, distractions with no deeper meaning, I’d say yes, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  If no one will ever take them seriously, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  That’s not true, though.  Perhaps the hidden point of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is that games not only are art, but they have always been art.  There was no magical threshold crossed in the mid-90s or early millennium that transmuted them into art.  The ideas presented in games have always mattered, even if the creators did not necessarily have that intent at the outset.

Still, I wonder, “Am I the problem?”

If Ms. Sarkeesian’s method of presentation bothers me, and if I am bothered by the implication that my taste in games does include, but is not limited to games called out as problematic, is that not my conscience telling me that I am a bad person, and deserve to feel bad for it?  Especially considering that while after viewing and carefully considering her points, I have no intention of more carefully vetting the games I buy for their portrayal of gender?  I will certainly be more aware of it, yes, but if some future game employs this trope to some extent and is otherwise excellent, will I still buy it?  Yeah, probably.

As you can tell I am, in many ways, a deeply insecure person.  Is it a good thing for the world that I won’t even theoretically be able to reproduce?  Would the world be better off without me?  Am I even a man anymore?  These are common refrains.  Experience shapes and forges us all, and my experiences have directed my critical gaze more inward than most.  I’m not a stranger to being on the wrong side of debates.  I’m sure I’m still on the wrong side on a great many things, life is about learning and adapting, becoming better in the process.  In recent years I’ve found myself arguing out of ignorance on the topic of rape culture, something that the modern, more educated variant of me is rather ashamed of.  Likewise, while I respected transgenderism, until Lana Wachowski’s brilliant and revelatory speech on the subject, I held some rather ignorant views on it.

Open and intellectually honest debate is of course worthwhile, and that’s what I’m attempting to do here.  If I’ve failed, I apologize.  I’m trying to respond in an honest fashion.  I do not consider myself a sexist, I consider myself a feminist.  Have I been a bad person, though, in not speaking out more, not doing more, not attempting to in some way repay those whose oppression I benefit from?  Is my patronage of certain media harmful, and if so, aren’t I morally obligated to stop supporting it, even if I otherwise enjoy it?

I don’t know.  Maybe there’s more point in the question than the answer.

A User’s Guide to Media Reviews

Editor’s Note: This is a companion piece to my previous article, “An Objective Review of Dragon’s Crown”  Read it here.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of people who seem to be confused about the purpose of reviews. Specifically video game reviews, but you can apply them to movie reviews, book reviews, really anything involving art. Mostly this confusion stems from the perception that reviews must be “objective”.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Andrew, you sly, sexy thing, reviewers should be unbiased in their work!”

This is wrong. Reporters should be unbiased in their work. Reviewers entire job is bias. There are acceptable and unacceptable biases for reviewers, though. A good reviewer will not allow their review to be unduly affected by any previous perceptions they have about the work, positive or negative. That includes, for example, their personal opinion of the creator, or the system the game is released for. A good review is based entirely on the reviewer’s opinions and observations of the work that they accumulated during their experience with the finished art.

Reviews are objective by nature. This isn’t a problem, this is in fact why they are a useful tool. If you have determined whether or not you like something, or are going to buy something before reading any reviews of it, congratulations, you do not need to read the review. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, I read reviews of things I like, dislike, or have no intention of buying regardless of the quality all the time. It is a form of entertainment, and it can enrich your experience by providing a different perspective from which to appreciate art. A good review of good art will enhance your appreciation of that art.

What you shouldn’t do is use reviews to try and confirm your own biases. We’ve all done it and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice either. Who doesn’t love reading an awful movie being eviscerated or a horrible game being pilloried by such masters of the negative review as Jim Sterling and Yahtzee Croshaw? This isn’t what reviews are there for, though. Its a bonus, a treat, and can serve as a validation of your own good taste.

Where people get hung up though is that disagreeing with a reviewer doesn’t make either of you wrong. It just means you disagree. That’s why it is important not to just look at Metacritic aggregates, but to seek out individual reviewers, individual voices who you agree with. Not on score, mind you, but on observation. Different people appreciate different things for different reasons. One reviewer may appreciate a certain kind of game more or less, or a certain style greatly. Find reviewers who appreciate the same things that you do, and if you are unsure as to whether you should or shouldn’t check something out, seek out their opinions.

“But what if the reviewers I usually agree with disagree with me, MSK?”

Well Strawman, it still just means you disagree. Maybe you should think about what you disagree on. If someone who thinks a lot like you do dislikes something that you don’t, odds are you’ll be able to understand their point quite easily. This can improve your enjoyment! Understanding not only that you enjoy something but why you enjoy something is itself enjoyable. Being able to love art not just despite but because of its imperfections is great.

This is why the late lamented Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were so highly valued, not just for their own skills at reviewing movies, but for their wildly different preferences. “Two Thumbs Up” really meant something, because it meant that two colleagues who think differently enjoy the same thing. It was a double positive review, if two people who disagree vehemently on a regular basis like the same movie, odds are it is a really good movie.

All this is not to say there isn’t such a thing as a Bad Review, however. This comes down again to bias, in the case of video games it also involves skill. If someone has made up their mind about something before they have seen it or played it, they have no business reviewing it, and thankfully you can usually tell, because the people who do this are not professionals, but rabid lunatics zero-bombing things on websites that allow for user reviews pre-release. Likewise, if someone just plain isn’t good at a particular game genre, they never play them personally, what have you, they have no business reviewing those games.

Sports games are the most common example, here. For me, its certain 2D fighting games. I am BAD at them. All-Caps BAD. I can’t beat more than three or four levels in Street Fighter IV on the easiest difficulty. That bad. When I see dozens of positive reviews of Street Fighter IV, though, I don’t get upset at the reviewer, though, of course not. I know its not for me, and I can still appreciate their observations with no intent of acting on them.

Which brings me to the current debate going on in the commentariat over at Polygon over their Dragon’s Crown review. A lot of people are going to really enjoy this game and would likely give it a score above 6.5 themselves. That is fine, but it doesn’t mean the author is weighing down the score with her own personal baggage. Some people do not like hypersexualized women and male power fantasies in their games. That detracts from their enjoyment.

“But MSK, if they don’t like sexy babes in their games, they shouldn’t review games with sexy babes in them! That’s your logic!”

No its not, Strawman. That’s a perversion of my logic. Dragon’s Crown is a beat-em-up, a brawler, with a heavy emphasis on its art style as a primary selling point. Naturally, critique of the art style is not only fair game in a review, but a necessity in a review. We’re not talking about someone who just hates brawlers, here, and besides, Strawman, and since I created you, we both know that isn’t your actual problem with the review.

This is the nature of criticism, people will always disagree. I have never had a problem with a little cheesecake here and there, but to me, Dragon’s Crown seems to be rather obnoxious with the way it presents its particular flavor. That’s my opinion. Is yours different? That’s fine with me.

And it should be fine with you, too.

An Objective Review of Dragon’s Crown

I’ve been seeing a lot of controversy regarding the new Atlus/Vanillaware game, Dragon’s Crown.  Specifically, many people are unhappy with the review posted by notable gaming website Polygon which can be found here.  Personally, I found the review to be well-considered and fair, and it has not diminished my interest in the game.

However, we here at The Chaos Fold always seek to please you, dear reader.  So to make up for the perceived “bias” and lack of “objectivity” I have crafted the following, a completely objective review of Dragon’s Crown.

*ahem*

Dragon’s Crown is a piece of interactive software designed for the purposes of recreation and entertainment. It is available in two formats, one for the Sony PlayStation 3, and one for the Sony PlayStation Vita. It has been released in the Gregorian calendar year of 2013 AD/CE. Each version has slightly different controls, and while the PlayStation 3 version has higher resolution graphics and higher quality sound reproduction, the PlayStation Vita version can be played in a wide variety of locations and does not require the ownership of a “Television Set” peripheral.

Dragon’s Crown features combat between belligerents of varying shapes. These shapes are generally inspired by various western fantasy archetypes, and have a wide array of colors in them. Some of these archetypes are humanoid. Others are non-humanoid.

There are also animations, and visual effects generated by these characters. Sometimes this animation takes place during combat. Sometimes it does not. Sometimes this animation is triggered by player input, other times it is triggered by unseen scripting.

The game contains audio, some of which is represented in the form of sound effects, and some of which is musical in nature. There is also a good deal of text, which can be informative of gameplay systems or mechanics, or related to the game’s storyline.

The game has a storyline, with a beginning, middle, and end.

There is multiplayer, solo play, and solo play with AI-controlled allies. Allies, both AI-controlled and human-controlled attempt to be helpful. On occasion, they do not succeed.

The storyline is progressed by initiating combat with multiple enemies through a variety of environments, and succeeding in this task. There are various missions through which you can advance the primary storyline, and various other tangential missions that do not directly advance the primary storyline. Successfully completing missions will provide the player with rewards. Many missions culminate with combat against an enemy significantly larger and/or more powerful than previous enemies.

Players will use inputs on controllers to affect change within the game world.

Upon completion of the game, the game can be replayed.

Editorial note: The Chaos Fold’s review of Dragon’s Crown is based entirely on facts that literally anyone can acquire with or without playing the game.  No code was provided by Atlus or Vanillaware for this review and I am not being paid by anyone for this, or indeed for anything else.  If you require more detailed analyisis and critique of this game, we at The Chaos Fold urge you to seek out a professional video game reviewer whose opinions have historically aligned well with your own.  Note that any review obtained in this manner will not be objective, as media criticism is an inherently (and entirely) subjective.  Please see the companion piece, A User’s Guide to Media Reviews.

The Tomb Raider walkback begins

Tomb Raider Creators Are No Longer Referring to Game’s Attempted ‘Rape’ Scene As an Attempted Rape Scene.

Now as much as I detest Kotaku’s editorial practices this isn’t about them, this is about Crystal Dynamics and their latest escalation of double-speak. As I said in my previous post, Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg, as part of his now-infamous “You’ll want to protect her” interview stated quote “…she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island.  They try to rape her…”

Well that seems pretty clear, Ron, not that I didn’t pick that up in the trailer.  Scene by scene lets break that sequence down a bit more.

2:15 into the trailer, Lara has her hands bound behind her back, and is trying to sneak out of this camp.

2:18. creepy voice saying “Noone escapes!” as Lara slips into a little hidey hole.

2:20. Her attacker discovers her, heavy breathing.

2:24. Now is when you can tell that this has definitely been selectively edited, as Lara is out of the hidey hole, and her attacker has one hand on her shoulder preventing her from running.  Her hands are still bound.

2:25.  Cue dramatic tension in the music as her attacker examines her lecherously.

2:26. The attacker’s arm wanders down from Lara’s shoulder to her hips before being kneed in the groin at 2:28.

Less than a second later she is trying to flee but caught by the arm and pulled back.  At 2:30 Lara is forced against a wall by her attacker, who then proceeds to fondle her and nuzzle her neck.  Her terrified face blocks any view of what he’s doing, the repeated smash-to-black edits further serve to obscure the events.

I have to point out that the editing is so jarring in this sequence, with noticeable gaps between logical progressions of events.  Lara eventually struggles on the ground against her attacker at 2:35 with gun in hand, fighting his grip to turn it on him and fire.  Note that they do not show how she escapes from her bonds, as her hands have until this point been tied behind her back and she has been unable to use them to fend off this attacker.

The pace of editing and smash-cuts in this particular sequence tells me whoever cut the trailer is an idiot seeing as this style of editing trailers with several smash-cuts to black every second is terrible, but also that they are hiding the full sequence of events from the viewer.

In other words, this sequence is much longer in actual gameplay than depicted.  Based on the events shown, and the manner in which they are timed I think I am safe in the assumption that there is a quick-time-event around which this entire sequence is based.  Which means it is not just brutal, it is interactive.

Today, the head of Crystal Dynamics released a statement saying the following:

“…Unfortunately we were not clear in a recent E3 press interview and things have been misunderstood.  Before this gets out of hand (Too fucking late! -ed), let me explain.

In making this Tomb Raider origins story our aim was to take Lara Croft on an exploration of what makes her the character she embodies in later Tomb Raider games.  One of the character defining moments for Lara in the game, which has incorrectly been referred to (by your own employee, the executive producer on the game -ed) as an ‘attempted rape’ scene is the content we showed at this year’s E3… This is where Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time.  In this particular section, while there is a threatening undertone in the sequence and surrounding drama, it never goes any further than the scenes that we have already shown publicly.  Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game. (emphasis mine -ed)

…We’re sorry this has not been better explained, we’ll certainly be more careful with what is said in the future. (again, emphasis mine -ed)”

-Darrel Gallagher, Studio Head – Crystal Dynamics

Well fuck me sideways, Darrell, that sure clears that up, thanks!  Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game.  Well I guess that footage was from another game because there was some pretty clear sexual assault in it!  And how could it possibly go further than what you showed, what with a good chunk of the sequence being excised for the trailer.  I guess its non-interactive as well, seeing as that would be “going further” as well.

I’m not saying a game cannot use these themes to profound effect.  They can, and I’m sure one day they will.  To say that Tomb Raider has no sexual assault in it, when high-ranking members of your production staff have said that enemies will try to rape Lara Croft in this game, and video evidence exists to the contrary, certainly takes some balls, I’ll give you that one.

So what was that attacker doing in that scene if not sexually assaulting the protagonist of the game?  Did his hand wander down her body as he leered down her shirt because his arm was tired?  Did he pin her against a wall and begin necking her because she got bit by a snake and he needed to suck the venom out, quick?  It’s not rape, its a struggle-snuggle!  Give me a break.

This is cowardly, dishonest, and leads me to believe that whatever the intent of the developers, they have tarnished their efforts and their names with this increasingly absurd PR carnival.  First there’s attempted rape.  Then, there’s lots of attempted rape!  It’s edgy, it’s cool, buy our game!  Now there is no attempted rape nor sexual assault of any kind, and shame on you and the media for perpetuating the myth that there is!

I know there is an internet furor with many forum and comment fights between both defenders of the game as presented and those who find its content objectionable.  I defy you to find any defender of this scene, however, that has denied the existence of sexual assault and attempted rape as part of the trailer.

So I have some advice for you, Darrell, given freely by someone who wants to see your game come through and have the solid narrative I imagined it could carry.  Don’t just be more careful with what is said.  Be more careful with what is done.  Start by putting a gag order on every member of the development team.

Then, since the scene is all about when Lara is forced to kill another human for the first time, rework the scene.  If that is the narrative impact, the defining moment you are going for, why complicate it?  Have Lara be caught in her hidey hole, tossed out onto the ground, QTE to wiggle out of the rope in time to grab the gun and turn it on her attacker.  All that juicy gore and character definition, no pesky rape!

Crystal Dynamics must in any circumstance be honest with their fans and those who wish to see this game succeed.  If they cannot justify the scene as is, it should be changed not just to avoid controversy but to avoid detracting from the story of the game.  That’s not “political correctness” that is good design.

As it stands, they’re simply making fools of themselves, and showing how little they really think of the intelligence of the gaming community.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a Quasi-Review

Note: some spoilitos for all three Deus Ex games lie within.  You have been warned.

When Deus Ex was released I was thirteen years old.  Now, maybe that’s not an appropriate age to play Deus Ex, some may think.  I don’t know many early-teens who could appreciate the freedom and breadth of storytelling that game provided.  It was the first game to ever truly blow me away.  It was the game I couldn’t shut up about.  Long before the cake was ever a lie, I was spouting “I wanted orange!  It gave me Lemon-Lime!” at my console gamer friends, to their utter bewilderment.

Deus Ex hit with the force of a revelation, seemingly from nowhere.  It has parallels to System Shock and Thief, understandably, but the storyline, steeped in conspiratorial lore and existential questions about the true nature of humanity.  There’s an old internet saying that every time someone mentions Deus Ex in a forum thread, someone will reinstall it and play through again.  I’ve lost count of how many times I gazed through the nano-augmented eyes of J.C. Denton, cutting through the labyrinthine schemes of the Majestic 12, the Illuminati, FEMA, even sentient computers with their own conflicting goals.  I have never played the game the same way twice, and I doubt I ever could.

When I first heard that a newly-formed studio, Eidos Montreal was to take the reins and make a sequel to a game that borders on the sacrosanct in the pantheon of development, I scoffed.  We all remember what happened when Warren Spector left the team and Invisible War was rushed out the door, the first installment in a hallowed PC franchise to truly, with no disrespect to my console-playing brethren, be “dumbed down for the console ‘tards”.  I knew they’d fuck it up, it would be akin to the Jonas Brothers trying to write a literal sequel to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Invisible War’s endings were all so dystopian and bleak that you not only wondered why the hell you played this mediocre sequel but why you didn’t take your character and go dancing in a minefield, instead of screwing the world up.

Against all odds, however, Deus Ex: Human Revolution manages to not only prove worthy of the name, but even takes steps toward redeeming Invisible War’s many faults.

For those who don’t know, DX:HR places you in the surprisingly stylish floral-print trenchcoat of Adam Jensen, a gravelly-voiced ex-SWAT leader now working corporate security for Sarif Industries, a leader in the science of biomechanical human augmentation.  In the years leading up to the game’s events in 2027 the world has seen some changes, perhaps none more significant than the semi-renaissance brought about by the radical advancement in prosthetic design, for the first time allowing people to replace their natural body parts with improved biomechanical versions.  The transhuman has arrived, and not everyone is thrilled at this.

The fundamental moral question that Human Revolution asks of Jensen, and of the player, is “What defines human to you?”  After nearly being killed at the hands of radically-augmented supersoldiers, Jensen himself is brought back from the brink of death with all the hardware that the bleeding edge of technology at Sarif Industries can muster.  Like previous Deus Ex protagonists J.C. Denton and Alex Denton, you didn’t have a choice in becoming more than human.  Unlike them, Adam was born a regular man.

The gameplay has been criticized by some for lacking the total immersion of the original, though realistically, the alterations to the formula that people complain most often about are simply the result of progress in the art of design.  A third-person cover system allows the stealthy player to remain more aware of their surroundings.  Takedown animations are just bloody cool, as are the deployments of the Typhoon and the Icarus Landing System.  The visual style of the latter two jaunts into the third person are especially evocative of The Matrix, slowing to bullet-time so you can see the augments fire in all their splendor, and who can blame them?  I defy you to drop from a ledge into a pack of enemies, your Icarus suite slowing your descent and violently throwing your enemies backward, seeing them stumble to their feet just in time for Jensen to drop down and fire an explosive hellstorm from his back, only for the camera to pull back in so you can view the results of your devastating assault and not feel like a transhuman badass that would shame the trenchcoatiest of the other trenchcoated cyberpunk badasses in the world.

My criticism goes straight to where all the true criticism goes.  The boss fights.  I don’t mind having to kill, even in a game where you could potentially play without killing a single person other than a boss.  I know that sometimes a situation arises in which it truly is kill or be killed.  The problem arises in how these fights are executed.  Every single boss fight takes place in, and stop me if this sounds at all familiar, a square or circular arena with various pickups strewn around for your convenience, some  chest-high walls and other sporadic cover elements, against an antagonist you know next to nothing about.

It is the last part of this that really gets to me, because Deus Ex had boss fights of its own, as did Invisible War.  Sure, in Deus Ex you could run away, or win without firing a shot, simply by uttering the phrase “Laputan Machine”.  Those are things I miss and I’ll get to the technical faults with the boss fights next, but the biggest problem is that you are not fighting characters.  Gunther Hermann was a character, over-augmented and spiteful over the obsolescence that the nano-augments like Denton promise to bring.  He’s human.  He likes orange soda and thinks the maintenance guy has it in for him because he keeps getting lemon lime.  If you dig around enough you even find out that he’s right.  He genuinely cares for his partner, Anna Navarre, and he doesn’t attack you for betraying his organization, he attacks you for killing his partner.  He’s enraged, he’s tired, he’s a bad speller and goddamnit he wants a skull gun!

Likewise, Anna Navarre is a ruthless agent who genuinely believes that the ends justify the means, and that what she is doing is right, despite being horrifying.  She’ll applaud you for efficiency and lethality in the field, and lament your incompetence if you take your time and resort to non-lethal tactics.  She’s in your face and when the time comes to fight her or not to fight her, you have to make some pretty tough choices.  Walton Simons is a snake-like manipulating bastard from the very opening cutscene, as the game progresses you hate the guy more and more.  Bob Page is most complex of all, the prodigal mastermind whose humanity has all but entirely slipped away.  These are people, people who you feel something for.  Lets take a look at the bosses of Human Revolution.

First comes Final Fantasy VII reference, I mean Barrett.  Guess what his main weapon is.  This gun-armed good ol’ boy waits for you to walk into the Arena and have a good old fashioned fight to the death, with guns and grenades aplenty.  He is also the only boss in the game it is possible to beat without attacking directly, as you can, with patience, circle-strafe around his constant grenade throwing and let him kill himself with the splash damage.  We know nothing about him as a person, we have no reason to care who he is or what he knows other than the fact that he was part of the attack on Sarif HQ.

Yelena Federova, or as I should say, Mohawk Girl because the only reason I know the character’s name is I looked it up on the damn Deus Ex Wiki, is the second boss.  This is a woman you’ve seen kill innocents, and yeah, she probably has this coming.  Does she get any dialogue?  None that I can remember.  Her death is like the turning of a key that allows an altogether different character to provide you with assistance.  This is the only reason you fight her.

Namir, Creepy Muscle Guy, is the third and penultimate boss fight.  His character design may as well have been taken from BODIES – The Exhibition, which I have no doubt is the one and only place where his designers looked for inspiration.  I can at least give a minimal amount of praise to the atmosphere of the arena in which you fight Namir, as it does mimic his art design and aesthetics, even if Adam does come off a bit thick for not noticing the one muscle-sculpture with Murder-Augs all over him is posing directly over his right shoulder while he has a nice chat with Token Evil Bitch.  Namir has some interesting dialogue that could potentially humanize him, and create more conflict in Adam’s life, but all of this is immediately forgotten as soon as you loot any gear you want and leave the room.

The final boss is the only one with whom we have had any genuine interaction with over the course of the game.  Sadly, however, it is a bit of a rehash of the ultimate showdown in Deus Ex 1.  There isn’t any particular reason for it to be and there are some more missed narrative opportunities with the (insert sinister machine project name here).

I’m only giving them so much shit because they were outsourced from the main developer and there game is built entirely around systems that would allow you to potentially avoid Always Fighting On Their Terms.  Jensen never once has the tactical advantage or fights in a place of his choosing.  The first boss in particular is said to be moving around the entire level while you are progressing.  A stealthy player might be able to find a hidden perch from which to snipe his escorts, and even him, from a distance.  A hacker could lock down doors to direct him to a different confrontation room, one where that same hacker might be able to turn some sentry turrets against the boss and win the fight while hiding behind a desk.  All the bosses in the game have similarly simple ways that they could be outwitted.

Thankfully the rest of the game is a spectacular showcase of art design, characterization, tension, and concludes in an ending that is more brilliant than most will ever give it credit for.  Deus Ex is one of the first games to really embrace the “Multiple Ending” design.  the first game had three, Invisible War and Human Revolution both have four.  They all have one thing in common, you, the protagonist have sole power over what the entire outcome of the scenario that has just unfolded will be.  And this is the brilliance, its been here since Deus Ex 1 but it took Human Revolution’s gorgeously simple method of choosing the outcome to truly make me see it.

Heavier spoilers after the jump.

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The Epic Legends: The Beautiful Game – Part Two

The next cycle saw great changes in the guild, the ancient ancestral ties to 1up and the Legendary Thread podcast were severed, I became pretty well liked.  I didn’t beg for officer status, well, not much.  Eventually I even got it, though the person who promoted me was drunk beyond reckoning at the time.  Drunk Vent Saturdays became a thing.  Raiding, endgame content, actually was within our grasp.  We had our bumps along the way, some people left the game, some people left for greener pastures in more hardcore raiding guilds.  CQY endured, though.

Online communities founded by those with “internet fame” have a curse, I’ve noticed.  The people who join them initially will all be there out of common purpose, which is mostly to slob the knobs of whoever created the thing.  As time goes by people get to know each other, and the founders lose interest, seeing as they usually are internet famous for a reason that doesn’t involve wrangling hundreds of nerds into behaving. They can flame out in a glorious dramabomb, tearing themselves apart until the adults in the room leave and all that remains for them is the strong notion that anonymity is priceless.  More often they simply slow down until nobody cares anymore.

CQY was different.  The spirit of our foundation, to be a support group, the anti-guild guild, endured long after Andrew Pfister, known as Okonoko in the guild, had left.  He himself never did take that character all the way to level 60.  What he created, though, changed my life.  Even saved it.

During that same drunken saturday chat on our vent server, the guild leader and his wife made plans to host a number of friends from the guild in New York City.  Given the blood alcohol level of that conversation I doubted it would ever happen but one day I logged on and, holy shit, they were all getting together in Brooklyn.  I’d risen in stature quite a bit.  So much so that one of the earliest members, Garu, was now my roommate.  He was working an internship near where I lived, and I had a spare room.  Another member of the old guard was going to be driving up from North Carolina and picking him up to go to New York for the weekend.  My first feelings were of slight bitterness, after all, I was a member too, and my apartment was a stop on the way, there was no reason for me not to be invited.

Well, except for all that bad behavior.

I took a chance, and I asked if, seeing as my roommate was going anyway, I could tag along.  I was permitted on two conditions: One, I bring extra pillows and towels.  Two, I bring liquor.  Happily obliging, I took a leap of faith.  It wasn’t without risk, I was very wary of how I would be received.  The hosts themselves, were in fact wary as well.  It had all the makings of a disaster.  The party-crashing guy who no one really liked would ruin a really good vacation for a lot of people he wished he was friends with.  The closer we got to New York the more that fear ate at me.

When we arrived, late at night, blasting “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” (though that might have just been me, in my mind) the drinking had already begun, for the second night in a row.  Garu, Button, and myself arrived after most, who had been there the day before.  I remember hauling pillows and a bag up the stairs, presenting some liquor (note: at the time I tended to go for quantity of alcohol not quality of drink) which was immediately ignored and put by the dog food.

“Oh shit” I began to think, “This is it, any second now the damn guild leader is going to take me aside, tell me I need to get a cab and go home”.  I felt disaster.

Nervously, I stepped onto the patio where everyone was gathered, shyly introduced myself, and began to be awkward.  And then a funny thing happened.  Nobody cared.  I knew that at least a few people were worried in the back of their minds, but I stood mostly off to the side at first, trying not to get in the way of the party.  As time went by I joined in the conversation more and more.  I found myself jumping at chances to joke with everyone.  I was even a bit smitten with the human incarnation of the Draenei Priestess I would often joke around with in game.

We learned that my roommate’s tolerance for alcohol was practically nonexistent.  We learned that our raid leader was similar, and his state of inebriation could be calculated entirely by how many shirt buttons had come undone.  Through the night he went from fully-clothed, to shirt open, to one arm out, to struggling to free his other arm, to wearing his shirt as a sash, scarf, a babushka, and even a hijab.

At the end of a very long, very drunken, very funny night in which many, many things were learned by all, I was given a hug by a tree druid.

“I’m glad you came.”

The next morning I would observe as our fearless raid leader woke up, slowly walked to a computer, updated his facebook status with “I am never drinking again.  a man was not meant to ever feel this kind of pain” and crawl back to sleep.  He would awaken again to a much larger audience, shouting out “Fuckin’ Yogg with One Keeper!”  Another moment etched into my mind in the Halls of Goofy Shit.

We would later discover in the pictures of that night, him licking the ear of my roommate.  It was a weekend I didn’t want to end.  In fact, it wouldn’t have if my roommate didn’t have a stupid job.  I still say Button and I should have put him on a bus back to Washington, pin a note to his jacket telling my father to pick him up, and drive back later, ourselves.

The guild transmuted into something more then, more than the ideal that I respected from its beginnings, rather an extended family.  We were marching down the streets of Brooklyn with people calling me Magic Sword King, it was bizarre.  My digital persona had collided with my actual humanity in spectacular fashion.

I was allowed to keep my drunkenly-granted officer status.  I had many new people I could legitimately call friends.  Some of them had a falling out, which I consider a great tragedy.  I visited New York again, though I was the only one.  My roommate is now the roommate of the woman I consider the big sister I never had, and he has since taken over leadership of the guild.  Hell, I’m his second in command, even holding the reigns briefly, myself.

Of the people in New York only my former roommate and I remain members in full of Cant Quit You.  The guild has shifted westward in vitality, with new faces rising to prominence, the old guard still remembers, though.  We still watch, sometimes we play.  The ideals that founded the guild transformed it into something better.  Even though we’re long past the support group stage of existence we all remember, and in our own ways remain.

Cant Quit You became more than a jokey name, it became truth.  People come and go, but those of us who really took to it remain close friends to this day, attending conventions together, helping each other professionally and personally.  Even the people who no longer play haven’t left.  Not really.  Because you can’t quit.  The bonds formed since 2007 have been there to strengthen me, guide me, and even save my family from homelessness.

In absence I will cheer those who are active.  In activity I will help those who wish my help.  In life, I will keep these friends as long as the ways of the world allow me to keep them.  It didn’t have to be World of Warcraft to have such an effect.  It did, however, have to be CQY.