Wow, Internet

Admittedly, I’ve been a little out of the loop this past week so I’m just starting to catch up on some things happening in gaming news. But even a caveman like myself knows that last week, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto V, the latest game in its long running Grand Theft Auto series. The game has been ridiculously successful, with sales north of $1 billion (a record for any entertainment product) and a near flawless critic rating on Metacritic.

Of course, no GTA title is without some controversy, and GTA V continues that trend. This time though, it’s fan the reaction to a reviewer’s critique of the game that has garnered a lot of attention, and is really reflective of the ugliness of the internet.

The target of the vitriol is Gamespot editor Carolyn Petit, who was among the many critics who gave the game high praise in her review last week. She awarded the game a 9 out of 10, citing the game’s “innovative three protagonist structure” and that it “raises the bar for open-world mission design in a big way and has one of the most beautiful, lively, diverse and stimulating worlds ever seen in a game.”

However, it was Petit’s comment about what she perceived to be misogyny in GTA V that has caused so much backlash. In her review, Petit states, “Characters constantly spout lines that glorify male sexuality while demeaning women, and the billboards and radio stations of the world reinforce this misogyny, with ads that equate manhood with sleek sports cars while encouraging women to purchase a fragrance that will make them “smell like a bitch.” Yes, these are exaggerations of misogynistic undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones.”

A lot of Gamespot users took issue with Petit’s words, and many used the comments section of her review to spew some rather vile attacks on her. I knew something was amiss when I saw her review had over 20,000 comments attached to it, and when Gamespot UK’s Johnny Chiodini covered her review during an episode of his show Feedbackula, which lampoons some of its users’ comments. I didn’t see that episode, but I did hear Petit speak about the response to her review last week during an episode of Gameplay, a Gamespot podcast.

It wasn’t until Wednesday when I saw the latest episode of Gamespot UK’s Danny O’ Dwyer’s show The Point that I discovered how bad things had gotten. On the show, O’ Dwyer showed a clip of Ben Parfitt’s article from MCV, which stated that there was a petition (which thankfully has since been removed) on Change.org to fire Petit because of her review. Furthermore, people were personally attacking Petit rather than (and sometimes in addition to) critiquing her review.

Having not played the game myself, I can’t speak on whether or not I’d feel it is misogynistic but that’s not the point. My issue is the resulting outcry from those who personally attacked Petit and for all those who signed that silly petition for her to lose her job. Whenever it gets to that point, people really need to step away from their keyboards.

Sadly, this is the second time Petit has had to deal with this type of nonsense this year. Back in August, Petit came under fire because of her review of Gone Home, which she gave a 9.5. Several users commented (and more are still commenting) on the review with harsh words for Petit, questioning her abilities and even insulting her for being transgender. If you’re a level-headed person and you dare read some of those comments, prepare yourself.

I should make one point clear. Although I’m critical of the manner in which many Gamespot users responded to Petit’s review, I’m in no way suggesting that gamers shouldn’t criticize reviewers. That would be foolish of me. Part of what’s great about the internet is the ability to quickly communicate with others (often in real time) from various parts around the world. This affords us access to many different people with many different ideas, allowing the potential for great discussions and debates.

Of course, any dialogue can potentially go south when passionate people have discussions. What should be conversations in which people challenge others’ ideas based on actual facts can descend into ugly name calling and personal attacks. All too often these internet conversations degrade into shouting matches of sorts, with common phrases such as “Go die!” and “Ur gay” littering comment sections and message boards. It’s no wonder Gamespot has recently revised its terms of use policy as well as its method for moderating the site.

Honestly, I believe that we gamers as a whole are better than this and we need to be. Sure, we all have our moments of frustration, and sometimes when pushed to the brink we may respond in a coarse fashion. We’re human and it happens. There’s nothing wrong with heated discussion, but this puerile, mean-spirited banter needs to be checked, and I’m not talking about site moderation so much as I am calling for more self-restraint.

Although I’m certain Petit was aware of the possibilities of such a backlash, I am still sorry that she experienced it. My hope is that in the future, people will be more mindful of how they interact with others on the internet, and make attempts to be more respectful. Considering that some of the conversations in comment sections resemble an episode of his show, I guess it’s appropriate that  I close with a quote from Jerry Springer.

“Until next time take care of yourself, and each other.”

Peace & Pixels

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Hiroshi Yamauchi Passes Away at 85

1927-2013

It’s a sad day in the video game industry. Hiroshi Yamauchi, former president of Nintendo, has passed away at the age of 85. Yamauchi helped turn Nintendo into a video game powerhouse, and was once even the majority shareholder of the Seattle Mariners.

Yamauchi joined Nintendo in 1949, after his grandfather (then president of the company) suffered a stroke. During that time, Nintendo was still making handmade playing cards. Yamauchi helped to expand Nintendo’s portfolio to include electronic entertainment, a move that led to forays into the arcades and eventually the home video game market.

Aided by future industry greats such as video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (who joined the company in 1977) and game hardware designer Masayuki Uemura, Yamauchi oversaw the production of several Nintendo systems, among them the Color TV Game series, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, and the grandest of them all, the Nintendo Famicom, known elsewhere as the Nintendo Entertainment System.

It was during Yamauchi’s run that the industry received the legendary characters, games, and systems that we know today. Characters such as Mario, Donkey Kong, and Link all debuted in games and for Nintendo game systems while Yamuchi was president.

In 2002, Yamauchi stepped down as president and was succeeded by Nintendo’s Head of Corporate Planning Division Satoru Iwata. Yamauchi joined the company’s board of directors as chairman, a position he held until 2005. He was one of the richest men in both Japan and the world, with an estimated worth of $2.1 billion as of April of 2013.

Mr. Yamauchi is survived by his three children.

 

 

 

 

 

The North American Sonic Cartoons Turn 20

I nearly forgot about this, but I’m glad it didn’t slip too far off of my mind. Last Friday, the first of the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons turned twenty. Produced by DIC and Sega, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog aired on Channel 50 here in Chicago as a part of daily cartoon lineup. It starred the titular Sonic (voiced by Jaleel White) and his buddy Tails as they battled against the nefarious yet clumsy Dr. Robotnik and his army of mechanical miscreants.

The show had a light-hearted tone, and featured slap stick comedy and childish antics. Sonic and Tails were basically two kids themselves (with Sonic taking the role of older brother), and enjoyed eating chili dogs as much they liked foiling Robotnik’s plans. The show’s theme song was even slightly based on the tune of the original Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Twelve days later, another Sonic cartoon debuted, this time with a darker ethos than the first one. Again produced by DIC and Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog aired on ABC (Channel 7 here in Chicago) as a part of its Saturday morning lineup. The show starred Sonic as a member of the Freedom Fighters, a group that opposed Dr. Robotnik as he attempted to take over the planet Mobius. One of the best things about the show was its opening theme, which eschewed the orchestral playfulness of its predecessor in favor of guitar riffs and keyboards.

Unlike Adventures, this Sonic cartoon featured much less screwball comedy. Dr. Robotnik was much more sinister (his voice was deeper and more intimidating) and the show had a feeling of desperation that its predecessor lacked. About the only thing it had in common with Adventures besides the Sonic license was voice actor Jaleel White, who reprised his role as Sonic for the show.

Adventures lasted four seasons while Sonic lasted two. From what I remember, the two shows’ storylines never crossed over despite being run concurrently. Perhaps what was most impressive about the shows was the fact that a video game character had two cartoons on air at once (with Sonic being on a major network). Not even Mario had that.

Furthermore, voice actor Jaleel White was drawing quite a few paychecks for his endeavors back then. At the time, White was most famous for his portrayal of Steve Urkel on the hit television show Family Matters, which also aired on ABC. Now that’s hustle.

Posts like these tend to make me feel ancient, but perhaps I should feel fortunate that I lived long enough to feel that way. Whatever; I’m going to go drink my prune juice.

Peace & Pixels

Tuesday Treasures: Metal Gear Solid Turns 15

Happy Anniversary!

We’ve got a good one for you folks. Fifteen years ago to the day, Hideo Kojima’s seminal third person stealth action game Metal Gear Solid was released exclusively for the Sony PlayStation. Published by Konami and written by Kojima and Tomokazu Fukushima, Metal Gear Solid is the third title in Kojima’s Metal Gear series, and the first game of the series to transition to 3D graphics, allowing for a more cinematic experience than the first two titles–Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2— which were both 8-Bit games.

Set in the year 2005, Metal Gear Solid centers on the exploits of Solid Snake, a highly trained soldier who specializes in espionage. Snake is sent to a remote island within Alaska’s Fox Archipelago (code named “Shadow Moses”)  to investigate a terrorist plot carried out by members of FOXHOUND, Snake’s former unit. Led by Liquid Snake, FOXHOUND (along with its biologically enhanced genome army) has taken refuge in a nuclear weapons disposal facility, holding DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and president of ArmsTech Kenneth Baker as hostages. FOXHOUND demands that the remains of legendary soldier Big Boss be given to them in 24 hours or they will use the bipedal tank Metal Gear Rex to launch a nuclear weapon.

Metal Gear Solid was one of the biggest releases for the PlayStation, earning acclaim from critics and gamers alike. The game sold six million copies during its run, and received high marks from critics, earning many near perfect or perfect ratings. In 1998, the game received the Excellence Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival. Last year, TIME named it as of the top 100 games of all time and it was featured (along with Metal Gear Solid 2) in the Smithsonian American Museum of Art’s exhibition The Art of Video Games.

Metal Gear Solid eventually became a series in itself, with several sequels and spin-offs being released over the years. The first game has seen re-release on several systems, including the Game Boy Color, Windows PC, and Gamecube. Digital versions of the game have been made available for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.

In celebration of Metal Gear Solid‘s fifteen year anniversary, we’ll look at the top fifteen things I love about the game. For those who haven’t played or completed MGS, know that this post contains some spoilers. If you’re fine with that, read on.

15. The intro

When MGS debuted back in 1998, video gaming was beginning to fully embrace the 3D graphics movement, allowing for more cinematic gaming experiences than before. Being the movie fan that he is, Kojima embraced 3D graphics to create an experience that can best be described as playing through a high budget action film.

Even now, it’s still stirring to hear the dialogue between Snake and Col. Roy Campbell as Snake prepares to enter Shadow Moses. Furthermore, it makes me appreciate the work of David Hayter, who was the American voice actor for Snake for over a decade. That role now goes to Kiefer Sutherland, who should fit right in after playing Jack Bauer in the TV series 24.

14. Entering Shadow Moses Island for the first time

Before MGS, I (and perhaps many other gamers) wasn’t used to playing a game in which your primary method of survival was to stay hidden. The first time I entered the weapons disposal facility I had chills all over me. The score, the ambiance, and the whole digital environment were all so compelling I had to pause the game just to settle my nerves.

13. Calling Meryl

If there’s one Kojima has been known for as a video game designer, it’s his knack for innovation. At one point in the game, players are tasked with calling rookie soldier Meryl Silverburgh with the Codec. It seems simple enough, but you’re not initially told what her number is, only that you should contact her.

Got the digits!

If you call Col. Campbell, however, he’ll tell you to look on the back of the MGS case, where you’ll see a shot of the Codec screen showing Snake and Meryl during a call. The number “140.15” is seen on the Codec, and “Meryl” is typed just below that number. The light bulb suddenly turns on inside your dome, and you realize you’re looking at Meryl’s Codec number. Genius.

12. Death of the DARPA Chief

This is one of those disturbing moments in video gaming that just won’t leave my brain.

Snake and the DARPA Chief Anderson are having a chat about spy stuff when suddenly, Anderson yelps and begins to tremble as a horrid gurgling sound emits from his innards. Anderson begins to severely convulse, shaking as though he might rip apart from the inside. An instant later, he unleashes a blood curdling scream, hand clutching his chest as his digital heart gives out.

It was all so crazy it was somewhat comic. Didn’t stop me from shivering myself to sleep that night, though.

11. The backtrack

During the encounter with boss Sniper Wolf, you find yourself enmeshed in a sniper battle after Wolf wounds Meryl and uses her as bait to lure out Snake. Unfortunately for Snake, he has no way to retaliate because he doesn’t have a sniper rifle. Defenseless, the only way to proceed is to go backwards; you have to retrace your steps and get to an armory to find a sniper rifle. Of course, this is all easier said than done. First off, you’ll again have to deal with the dogs in the cavernous area just outside of where Wolf is hiding, and then you’ll have to deal with laser trip wires and the guards protecting the armory. Fun times.

The first time I got to this scenario, I swore that was enough. Those wolves terrified me, and I didn’t want to deal with them again. I later manned up and got through it, but I’ll never forget how initially surprised and frustrated I was about the task.

10. Torture sequence

During the game, Snake gets captured by the Russian gunfighter Revolver Ocelot, who places Snake in a device that delivers electric shocks. Ocelot informs Snake that to regain his health, he must repeatedly press the Circle button and if he wishes to submit, he can press select.

This is a brilliant sequence in which Ocelot is made to break the fourth wall, acknowledging that Snake is in a video game, while maintaining the stakes of Snake’s “reality” as a captive soldier. Perhaps the best part about this moment is Ocelot’s admonishment against using “auto-fire” (a common feature on many advanced controllers) with the words “I’ll know.” The very idea that a video game character could know anything about something outside of the game is wild in itself, and Kojima and crew played that notion perfectly.

9. “Rookie eyes”

First impressions can go a long way, and in the case of Snake’s first encounter with a disguised Meryl, it probably went a few miles.

Snake first encounters Meryl after the DARPA Chief dies. Thinking that Snake is an enemy, Meryl holds him at gunpoint and attempts to intimidate him. Bad idea.

In a speech worthy of an action movie, Snake intimidates Meryl, asking her if she’s ever shot anyone and telling her she has the eyes of a rookie. The proverbial tables now turned, Meryl begins to shake as the war weary Snake shows her the value of experience.

8. Otacon

Otacon (short for Otaku Convention) is the nickname of Dr. Hal Emmerich, the brilliant but skittish engineer who becomes an ally of Snake’s. Otacon is first seen as he is trying to hide from the Ninja (more on him later), after the latter has sliced through a gang of genome soldiers.

Upon seeing the Ninja, Otacon is understandably terrified, and woefully wets his pants. When Snake intervenes, Otacon becomes even more confused, and utters the now classic line “It’s like one of my Japanese animes!”

Otacon is no warrior, but he’s surprisingly brave and undoubtedly sincere. He later risks his life to help Snake, and shares a heartbreaking scene with Sniper Wolf later on. One of MGS‘s finest.

7. The Game Over screen

Earlier this year, I did a compilation of all the MGS “Game Over” screens to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Snake. The MGS games have become famous for their melodramatics when Snake dies, which usually consists of one of Snake’s colleagues frantically yelling “Snaaaaaaaaake” at the top of their lungs. MGS was the first game to introduce this type of game over screen to the Metal Gear series, and it has been a staple of the games ever since.

6. Tank fight

Anyone who has played a Kojima game knows to expect some plot twists and turns, but even for him it was a stretch to go from sneaking around to fighting a tank.

MGS wasn’t the first time I had fought a tank in a video game. That experience came in ljn’s The Punisher for the NES. In that game I at least had extra lives, but that wasn’t the case in MGS. Snake is pit against Vulcan Raven and his massive M1 tank, and takes all of your wits and mobility to avoid getting blasted. Of course, this being an MGS things get crazier later on, but boy wasn’t this a change of pace.

5. Encounters with the Ninja

Ninja are awesome. That’s just a basic fact of life.

In a game with such an emphasis on stealth, a ninja wouldn’t be out of place, even if (or perhaps especially if) nuclear warfare is involved. Kojima must have thought this through because the Ninja of MGS is about as stealthy, deadly, and eerie as they come in a video game.

In appropriate ninja fashion, the first time the Ninja appears you don’t actually see him. He shows up during the initial gunfight with Ocelot and stealthily chops off the Russian’s right hand while using a device called “stealth camouflage” to remain hidden. Only after Ocelot flees does the Ninja deactivate his camouflage, revealing himself to be a slender figure in a blue and orange colored cybernetic suit.

The Ninja’s most iconic appearance is his first battle with Snake, which happens right in front of poor Otacon.

During the course of MGS‘s story and each appearance is more spectacular than the last. To reveal any more would ruin the fun, but he’s one of the best characters in the game.

4. The ending

Sometimes after having a great start, it’s hard to finish strong. Fortunately, MGS doesn’t have that problem.

The final movements for MGS are exhilarating, and will likely keep your heart racing. From the fight with Liquid as he pilots Metal Gear Rex to the shootout with Liquid in a jeep, there are great action sequences leading up to a thoughtful (albeit somewhat homiletic) and powerful conclusion.

3. The death of Sniper Wolf

For much of her time in the game, Sniper Wolf is portrayed as a cold and ruthless killer, which she is. As you later learn, things are more complicated than that.

Upon defeating Wolf, she reveals some of her past to you. A woman of Kurdish descent, Wolf says she was born and raised on the battlefield. Much of her youth was spent just trying to survive as her people were hunted. As she grew older, she went from hunted to hunter, becoming a sniper under the guidance of a man named Saladin (believed to be Big Boss). Even with her ability to protect herself as a soldier, peace eluded her. It didn’t come until Snake, a warrior himself, ended her life.

The death of Sniper Wolf was one of the few times I was affected by a game. It actually made me think about the consequences of war, and what it does to human beings. Sometimes that’s a lesson that seems to be taught too few times in media. Last thing I expected was to be taught while holding a controller.

2. Psycho Mantis boss fight

Let me be frank: this is one of the best battles ever.

Well? Do you?

In a normal game, a boss has a discernible pattern which, depending on several factors (the game, difficulty) may be easy or difficult to read. Few titles, should they even attempt to place you against a psionic soldier, would actually make you think that character could actually read your mind. With Mantis, that’s exactly what happens.

First, he claims he can “read your mind” and proves it by telling you what video games you like. What he’s actually doing is reading your memory card to see if you have any Konami games on it. For example, if you have Castlevania: Symphony of the Night save data on your memory card, Mantis might remark about it.

Second, Mantis claims he’ll look deeper into your soul, commenting on your in-game actions. If you have been spotted a lot Mantis might call you reckless, but if you’ve been quiet, he’ll speak on that.

Third, he makes your controller move. That’s right; he says he’ll make your controller move by his will, so he activates the rumble feature on the Dual Shock controller. Gimmicky? You could say that. Freakishly innovative? Definitely.

On top of all that, your main method of beating Mantis is to unplug your controller from the Controller 1 port and place it into the Controller 2 port in order to prevent Mantis from “reading” your mind (though an alternate method is available). This battle was crazy then and is crazy still. It’s no wonder that in 2008, the Guinness World Book of Records awarded this battle with the “Most Innovative Use of a Game Controller” record.

1. The cardboard box

U can’t see me!

Were you the type of kid who, when she or she received a gift that came in a big box, you played around with the box? I was one of those kids, and I often turned a cardboard box into anything I could imagine, whether it was Maverick’s F-14 fighter jet or an Indy Car. Imaging myself as an elite solider in a cardboard box during a top secret mission scarcely crossed my mind, but thankfully it crossed Kojima’s enough that he put it in a game.

The first time I found the cardboard box in MGS, I was elated because I had read about it in some gaming magazines. Nothing in MGS, not the boss battles, the plot twists, or the gunplay compared to sneaking around a nuclear weapons facility in that box. It seemed completely absurd to be a deadly soldier scurrying in a box, but it made sense within the game’s context (the box does hide you). In a way, it was like being a toddler all over again.

Here’s to fifteen great years of a great video game and a great series! Until next time.

Peace & Pixels