Month: June 2014

Certain Age Gaming for June 15th, 2014 “In a Towel From the Waist Down”

James and Kody are trying to get over their post E3 hangover by playing a bit of Civ 5 together. Kody also played Luftrausers and the Destiny Alpha. The news is mostly about how totally awesome a Sonic the Hedgehog movie is going to be and a bunch of wrap up from the Expo last week.

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Certain Age Gaming for July 6th, 2014

CA Gaming final


Certain Age Gaming for June 10th, 2014 “Imagine if They Made Some of Them Plushie?”

We have a special guest tonight on this special post E3 wrap up episode! Taryn’s joining us for the first time (@dust__bunny on Twitter and Twitch) and she plays DOTA2 way more than me or James. She also plays some mobile games like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga. James played Sniper Elite V2 and more Payday 2. Kody played some Playstation Now beta and more Final Fantasy X Remaster. All the news is on E3 and our reactions to what we saw.

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Certain Age Gaming for June 10th, 2014

CA Gaming final

Therapy’s Stigma Expressed via Rise of the Tomb Raider

 Writers need to stop using psychological health as a narrative crutch and start presenting it as just normal mental maintenance

On Monday, gamers were treated to a trailer for the upcoming Square Enix title “Rise of the Tomb Raider“. In the trailer a bedraggled and hooded Lara Croft is silent as some older male therapist is droning on in Therapy Trope speak about making progress and flashbacks. Lara, in direct opposition to what her therapist is saying, soundlessly grips the arms of her chair as the trailer shows what we can only presume are flashbacks of her time Raiding Tombs. At the end they have an exchange:

Therapist Guy: For many people these traumas become a mental trap… they get stuck, like a ship frozen in ice. But there’s another type of person. You know what happens to them?

*long pause*

…Miss Croft?

Lara Croft: We become who we’re meant to be.

Okay probably not what Therapist Guy wanted to hear…

Anyway, I think the intention is to humanize Lara Croft a bit and ground the reality of the Game World inside familiar tropes of Our World. There’s a bit of an Anti-Authoritarian streak to the whole thing as well because Lara is obviously impatient with these sessions and doesn’t want to be there. The whole session is just a way for the viewer to be interested and then surprised when they reveal that it’s Lara Croft at the end.

Why are you surprised? Because Video Game Heroes don’t need Therapy. It’s not something we ever see expressed through this medium. I don’t blame developers, therapy is something that’s hard to make interesting in a narrative. We don’t have time to sit around and chat about our feelings when there’s a world to save or a tomb to raid. The setting of a Therapist’s Office is altogether alien to Video Games so our reactions are going to be just as alien.

It probably doesn’t need to be mentioned but this trailer caused a bit of a firestorm in certain circles. Leigh Alexander’s most recent article encapsulates the type of visceral reactions that spread all over the internet. She justifiably is perturbed by the continued portrayal of women who kick ass in Video Games as being broken and traumatized while men are not only free to wantonly kill and be killed with little psychological effect, they are only emotionally effected by the death or removal of a woman in their lives.

Self-actualization through peak experiences usually doesn’t involve violent sexual assault or mass murder

The problem with this critical analysis is that Lara doesn’t seem broken or traumatized. She seems bored.  The Therapist practically has to wake her up to get a response and when he does it’s obvious that she’s unmoved by his calming and fatherly speech. The subtext is she isn’t seeking therapy out of psychological necessity.

We, as a gaming public, see a therapist and automatically interpret that as weakness. Therapy is a narrative short cut for emotional conflict or weakness when it should just be a part of the background radiation of setting. Normal, everyday people go to therapists without having to had survived a traumatizing experience or killed scores of drug dealers. Writers need to stop using psychological health as a narrative crutch and start presenting it as just normal mental maintenance.

I can understand why people would see this minute and a half trailer as one that perpetuates tropes of weak heroines in media and Leigh correctly surmises that our nuance needs to increase in order to portray these woman as more than just broken dolls… but Lara Croft and her new trailer are not a catalyst for feminist action. The exchange at the end of the trailer highlights the problems with presenting mental health issues in escapist media.

Lara obviously isn’t getting any help here and the implication is that there are only two options when dealing with a psychologically traumatic experience. You either stop working as a human or you become who you were meant to be. Self-actualization through peak experiences usually doesn’t involve violent sexual assault or mass murder (as what happened to Lara in the first game).

There is no third option of properly dealing with the experiences and moving on in your life without them defining you or psychologically haunting you. In order for these stigma to be changed, we have to have more and varied representations of mental health in games from here on out, from both men and women.

Lets have Shepard regularly go to therapy, cause lord knows he needs it.

Certain Age Gaming for May 26th, 2014 “Transistor Sister”

Lets face it, this week they only played and talked about Transistor. There may have been other stuff but it was way less interesting so just forget about it. James played it, Kody played it, and they talked about it. News includes Steam In Home Streaming actually releasing and the guy what made “Papers Please” is making a new, probably bad game.

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Certain Age Gaming for May 26th 2014

CA Gaming final

Transistor Reivew

Don’t Let Me Go

Transistor is, ostensibly, a love story.

There will be light spoilers in this review, by the way.

It’s about two people in love with each other and with their home. There’s this other stuff that’s surrounding the story. Like, for example, it takes place in a cyberpunk victorian world that doesn’t take itself too serious. The people in this world order sandwiches. Not ‘Meat Injections’ or ‘Sustenance Pills’, just sandwiches. Most cyberpunk can tend toward an exclusionary style of prose that relies on very specific cliches because they strive so very hard to ape the original Gibson style. Transistor avoids most of these tropes by doing what any good story does. It focuses more on the characters than the setting.

The city of Cloudbank is at the center of the world and is a fully realized setting, make no mistake. There are references to eateries, local politics, and even long-standing traditions. For two main characters though, it’s the place where they live. They aren’t aware of you, the visitor, watching over them as they struggle to save and restore it. This leads to a very detached storytelling that requires the player to focus if they want to piece together the various threads given to you. Not because it’s language is dense or it contains made up words and technobabble but because it’s so utterly indifferent to your presence. As you enter new areas the Transistor will lament the loss of some snazzy jazz bar or talk about the view from this specific landing, but he will never rely on straight exposition to catch you up on what you’ve missed.

Or… you know, don’t piece it together. The interactions between Red (your player character) and “The Transistor” (her sword) are more than enough to keep anyone engaged. The game drops you right into the action too, there’s no opening cutscene or tutorial level, just Red and her sword and the Process who are your enemy. As you progress through Cloudbank you’ll figure out your role in the events and who the real enemy is, but this is all presented to you through dialog between a sword and a mute. Though later there is a character who has a bit of a big mouth…

As much as I loved it’s lackadaisical approach; the story isn’t the thing that blew me away with this game. Combat in Transistor is sublime and ruined only by a low difficulty in the last hour of the game. You have abilities, called functions, that you can slot into one of four ability nodes. These nodes in turn have two augment slots that affect only their specific node. Lastly there are four passive ability slots that affect all the main 4 abilities in different ways.

Any one of the 16 functions you get throughout the game can be put into any of these 16 different slots to create a wide variety of combat effect and mechanics. For example:

You get an ability fairly early on called “Jaunt()”. If you put Jaunt into one of the four main ability slots you will be able to teleport in combat. If, however, you decide to augment an ability with Jaunt then you will be able to use it even when your Turn meter is depleted OR you can put it in one of the four passive ability slots to recover your Turn meter more quickly. What is “Turn” you may be asking? Turn is the other half of the combat. Whereas all the abilities can be used real-time, combat quickly gets dangerous enough that you will have to pause and program your moves. You do this with “Turn”. By pressing the right trigger the action stops and goes turn based. You can program a set number of combat actions based on your Turn Meter which depletes for every step you take and ever attack you make.

These intricacies might at first be overwhelming but you should be able to wrap your head around them fairly quickly and come to realize it’s actually the best combat system in an RPG ever. Possibly. More than likely.

Transistor took me quite by surprise. I didn’t expect the story and combat to be so wonderfully implemented. It is, so far, the best game I’ve played all year and I highly recommend a playthrough and then another playthrough.