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Welcome back to the second update of my Xcom 2 challenge. Last time I was 24 hours in with a game I felt was on the right track. So what happened? XCom happened and one of the story missions went horribly wrong a turn away from winning it. So with a costly failure and a total wipeout of my team, it was back to square one and starting a new game.

Moving forward to today, I’m now 51 hours in and I think well on my way to finish the game with my current playthrough. Before getting there however, I had a lot of messy games where I was experimenting and/or where the RNG was kicking me in the teeth but with my current game I’m more confident. I’m done with research, got a great A-team on the way, full equipment upgrades and now I’m just trying to finish story objectives. It might sound like everything is under control but the aliens are out in full force and the timer missions are getting absurd for the simple fact that with multiple high health/armor aliens going around, it’s hard to move forward quickly. So I’m trying to be super-efficient now and rush to endgame before it gets out of hand.

On the good side of things, I actually had a full team wipeout followed by a failed mission and I was able to recover nicely so I’m not in mortal danger anymore of losing the entire run due to a failure and that’s real nice.

Blog and life things

For the past few weeks I’ve been going through a phase of soul-searching when it comes to my life and gaming in general. Maybe it’s me getting old or something in the air but I’ve been thinking about where I am right now in my life, where I want to be heading, am I truly happy with my choices and so forth. I’m not done with all the thinking and I know I’m not giving up gaming or anything similar but this blog has been on my mind about what to do with it. I don’t exactly want to give it up but this blog was made at a time where I had strong opinions about MMOs and the game industry and I’ve sorta made my mind and my peace with a lot of what annoyed me before. This blog has been very quiet in the last year and it’s due in no small part to this.

I’ll figure out exactly what I want to do soon I expect and I’ll make sure to keep everyone updated here.

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Ok, so today I’m taking up the NBI talkback challenge and I will speak about how the famous GamerGate has affected me. By doing so I will be breaking a lot of my own rules about blogging, namely to not engage in issues in which I feel I have no real say and issues which are virtual landmines fields. I will likely offend people with this post and I do apologize for it but if you chose to not ever talk to me again then so be it. With that preamble out of the way, let’s get to offending people.

So the question is: “How did Gamergate affect you?”. The short answer is, I was terrified to death of it and did all I could to not be dragged into it. The long answer has a lot to do about my own personal experiences with volunteer work, past involvement in social movements and life philosophy. If the long answer interests you, read on!

Once upon a time…

… I was a teenager, had excellent grades and was a major nerd. My good grades got me in an International Education program which offered more advanced classes to us since they assured us we were destined to be future world leaders. The whole program was overseen by the UNESCO and as part of the plan to make us great humanists; we had to take part in mandatory “volunteer” work in our local communities.  Over the years I’ve served meals to the poor, spent time with terminal patients, shifted through piles of old clothes, cleaned shores and many other tasks all in the name of involving us in our communities and helping our fellow man.

I’ll give it to the program; it was a life changing experience.  It opened my young eyes to a lot of social issues and problems that plague our societies that most often we have no idea about. I’m still haunted by the week I spent with a lady dying of lung cancer who only wanted some company, I listened to an abused wife try to justify her husband actions because she was afraid he might go after the children next and I’ve been thanked by 6 years old children for giving them soup because their family couldn’t afford it.

We all know or heard of these stories but to experience them firsthand is something else entirely.  It grips you, makes you sad and angry at the same time, it changes your values and the way you look at the world. Mind you, volunteer work wasn’t always perfect and there was often some petty politics among the volunteers but overall I felt it was worth it because we were helping.

Amnesty  and true horror

I was about a month away from high school graduation when I was approached about volunteering for Amnesty International. I was doing volunteer work at a food drive at the time and someone I was working with was also volunteering for Amnesty and thought I’d like it there. It would also be the first time I’d be volunteering on my own and not as part of my school program so I was pretty excited.  After the first few orientations meetings for new volunteers I was assigned to the group whose task was to greet newly arrived refugees. Set them up with a place to live, food, facilitate contact with the authorities, etc…

And this is where I met true horror.  Every time a refugee would come in there would come a moment during the first few days where they’d  tell their story. Stuff of nightmare that I don’t even want to write down on this blog. It’s one thing to read about genocide and another to have someone sitting across the table from you at a McDonald tell you about how his entire family was murdered in front of his eyes.

The reason I’m writing about this is because I want to get across that it made me acutely aware of how privileged and lucky I was to live in my small Canadian town where my worst problems where about my grades, finding a girlfriend and getting a well-paid summer job.  I didn’t learn the lesson right away but over time it drove the point that I have no right to speak about problems that don’t directly concern me. Who the eff am I to go stand on a soapbox and talk about refugee and immigration issues when I never even had to really fear for my safety? I have no right, none at all and anything I will say is ultimately the speculations of a privileged North American white boy who had it pretty easy all things considered.

And then politics happened

Getting involved in student life and committees was a natural extension of what I felt at the time was my duty to make the world a better place. We didn’t call it as such but there was a group advocating for just about every single social justice issue out there and I got involved with a lot of them. I had good intentions like most of the others but we were all a bit headstrong in our arguments. We thought we knew better and we wanted to let everyone know about it. Often time a bit too forcefully. The old ones are probably smiling a bit right now because it’s a phase I think most of us go through around college time when we want to change the world.

But I found out at the same time that I’m good at making arguments and winning them. So good in fact I was spotted by a few political parties. I learned that for the political parties recruitment begins in college and I had a lot of positives going for me. I came from a good family, had great education, lots of volunteer work to my name and I could win arguments. I didn’t know it back then but I had been marked as a potential and the gears started turning.

This was when I was introduced to the awful world of backroom politics. I was invited behind the curtain and told that we, the students, needed to make sure this or that manifestation happened because it’d be good for a certain politician. About how to avoid certain issues or how to push for others, how to manipulate a student assembly so the vote would turn out a certain way… It disgusted me. Worst, I found out that a lot of the people responsible for groups I had volunteered for where part of the system. Sure they helped out but they would also make sure that certain parties would benefit from it.

Food drive needed? Sure, but let’s hold it in a certain part of the city that happens to be a friendly politician neighborhood. Also, let’s buy the things we need from our friends to thank them for the help during last campaign.

It disgusted me, still does and ultimately it drove me away from anything that has politics involved in it. I might have been naïve but to see how people turned very real issues into opportunities for personal gain just… it still makes me go insane. How can someone dare to take a problem like someone not being able to eat and make helping them conditional to whether or not they profit from it?

And we get around to Social Justice

So here’s the thing, I do not trust people who take it upon themselves to be social justice warriors, doubly so when the issues don’t concern them directly. I’ve seen firsthand just how often there’s hidden agendas behind these issues and how ultimately the real goal is not about how to solve anything. When I look at Gamergate, I can’t help but see politics on both sides of the argument. There’s a very real issue that needs fixing but yet again it’s been hijacked by people with agendas.

I’m not arguing about the existence of the issues, I’ve seen their effects firsthand. I’m questioning the people arguing about them, whether for or against. I do want to help get them solved but I don’t believe arguing about them in a public space like the internet is the best way to go about it, especially when it’s issues that don’t concern me directly. I’m doubly suspicious whenever broad generalizations are made or when someone tries to solve all the world problems in a blog post.

You can’t solve every gender issues in less than a thousand words. It’s impossible, it’s stupid and if you try to do so I’m going to be reading real close to see what’s the real message you’re trying to get across, who are you working for?

And now Gamergate

So why did Gamergate terrorize me? Because I value my blog as this place where I can nerd about games. Just like Belghast it’s a happy place, somewhere I share my passion for games. Issues like Gamergate too often have this way of polarizing people. I respect that some people feel they have to fight for a cause whenever and wherever they can.  More power to them but like I said, I can’t help but feel that there might be a hidden agenda.

In the specific case of Gamergate, I simply have nothing relevant to say about it. I’m an outlier in this case. I’ve read and listened to both sides of the argument, made up my mind where I stand but I won’t share it with you.

Why? Because I’m a privileged white boy who has no idea of what women really go through so instead I’ll share my passion about gaming and leave it at that.

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I swear I don’t make these things happen on purpose but it seems the topic of the hour is game development and game critiquing (is that even a word?), both being topics that are near and dear to my heart so I feel compelled to write. I’ll get back to my resolution to be more positive soon I swear.

Before delving into today’s post I want to take a moment to lay out precisely where my critic lies today. My issue is not with the people (dev, QA, artists, etc…) actually making videogames who are doing an extremely hard job in incredibly stressful environments.  When I read stories about how developers worked 70hrs weeks for months on end and poured all their heart into a game only to see it butchered by some producer crazy demands my heart break for them.

My critic today targets a particular defense I’ve heard too often used, the “you don’t know! Cut us some slack!” defense. There’s many reasons why I hate this particular line of defense in an argument, it’s dismissive, it insults the intelligence of the person making the critic, it doesn’t solve anything… but more than anything it warps the relationship between a customer and the company selling the product.

So before continuing on, I suggest you go read this article on Kotaku.

I might not know you but I know myself

I too have to deal with harsh critics, big budgets, limited time and though customers in my line of work. One of the things that was drilled into me and that served me really well was the following:

“The client isn’t always right! But he always know that he is.”

What this phrase illustrates is that ultimately, whether the client is right or not is irrelevant. What will decide whether or not he buys you product is his perception of the product and people do know what they think.

How does this play out? Let’s say I play a game and as I play the second level I really hate my experience. I have no fun and I end up quitting the game altogether and uninstalling it. Then if I have to give my opinion on the game I’ll say that level 2 was so awful it caused me to quit and if asked for more details I’ll say the I felt the level felt badly designed and that the controls were poor causing me to struggle unnecessarily.

Now, that is an opinion. It’s my perception of the level and by extension the game. There could be really good reasons for why the level turned out the way it did and why it felt like it was badly designed. Do any of these reasons really matter to me?

No! If I paid 40$ for that game I will feel like it was a bad investment. I didn’t enjoy the experience and that’s it. The why and how doesn’t matter, I didn’t like it.

Let’s keep going with our example. I didn’t enjoy the game and I make it known to the developer. I tell him why I didn’t like the game (bad controls, poor second level) in the hope that they either fix things or at the very least acknowledge me and work on these issues for the next game.

Instead I get this answer “Well, we had limited budget, lead dev left to run naked in Africa  and we ran out of money.” Okay…. That sucks but how does this addresses my problem? It doesn’t make the controls better, it doesn’t fix level 2. You’re kinda saying that you agree there’s issues but according to that answer I should be understanding and be grateful for my bad game experience? Really?

Let’s go forward a few years when they release Game, the second chapter, how likely is it that I’ll buy it or recommend it? Last time I had a bad experience and the dev didn’t really acknowledge my issue and didn’t fix it either. Chances are pretty high that I’ll be way more suspicious, that I won’t spend my money and that I’ll tell people to stay away… sounds logical no?

Don’t give me excuses, give me solutions

So this is what it boils down to. When people make critics of games or elements of games, acknowledge the issue and explain to us how you plan on fixing it or why you don’t agree with us. If you think the feature is well done then explain to me why you think it is and then it becomes a matter of opinion.

But don’t give me excuses. Don’t tell me that it’s hard to make games or that you had issues during development. It doesn’t do anything for me and it doesn’t change how I felt when I played your game.

And if like the article author was saying you had to make tough choices to publish on time then be ready to suffer for these though decisions. You cut the ending quality to launch? Then chances are that the ending is going to be critiqued no? A though choice does explain why the ending sucks, but it doesn’t justify it.

In closing

I want to close on a more positive note though by agreeing with, and repeat one of the major points of the Kotaku article. No matter what, please try to be respectful of the people working in the games industry. Calling someone an idiot because a game doesn’t live up to your standards isn’t helping anyone. Lay out your issues, explain why you feel X or Y isn’t working and leave it at that.

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Goodbye Massively and dissociation

Let’s talk about blogging today. As most of you must be aware by now, AOL has decided to close down most of their blogs which affects big names like Joystiq, Massively and WoW Insider. This blog has been featured a few times on WoW Insider and Massively and I know a few of the people who worked there through blogging and just playing with them. Even though I also had a few disagreements with some of them, it still sucks and the way AOL has handled the whole thing is just awful. I wish them all the best, I truly do.

Continuing in the same vein of thought, it seems my time as a semi-pro blogger over at Journal De Montreal is also coming to an end. While they’re not dropping blogging altogether like AOL did, they’re moving away from blogs and we can already tell that it’s a matter of time before they let go of us. In my case it was more of a hobby and a way to get to meet devs and get a few demos so I’m not losing much but it still sucks. I remember reading not so long ago about how the trend these days is to move away from blogs and if anything these events seem to go in that direction.

Since we’re on the topic of blogging, I had someone ask me during the weekend what server I was playing on in FF14 and to my surprise; I hesitated a lot before answering. Recently I was reminded that as you blog you will eventually offend someone and that some people hold grudges for very long time. Hell, I’ve had some people in the past assume things about me just because of what they read on this blog or what people had told them about me. It’s a very weird feeling to find out someone doesn’t like you even though you never even met them but it happens.

On the other hand, I met the awesome gang from Eff the Ineffable through blogging so it’s not always negative and in the end I had more positive come out of meeting people through this blog than negative. Still, I’m debating whether I should make a conscious effort to dissociate this blog from whatever game I’m playing so that I can avoid whatever preconception people might have.

Food for thoughts I suppose.

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Heading into 2015

It’s 2015 and tradition demands that I make a few resolutions. I used to laugh at people using New Year as an excuse to finally do something, my reasoning being that if they really wanted to do something, they wouldn’t have waited until the New Year to get started.  But these past few years I made resolutions of my own and it did help me to get started on stuff I’d been putting on for too long. This year, I want to make a conscious effort to eat better and also get back on the blogging train.

As to why I slowed down blogging last year it’s because mainly I made a choice some time ago to try to avoid being negative when I can avoid it and also, I know “better” when it comes to how videogames are made. This blog and my writing on a French newspaper blog opened a lot of doors when it comes to talking to industry people and after talking to many involved in the industry and after being told why certain decisions came about it gets harder to criticize. Don’t get me wrong, there are still quite a few things that I find unacceptable, especially when it comes to monetization of games but I want to be more constructive about these things going forward.

Lastly my attitude toward MMOs has shifted a lot in the past two years. I feel that I’ve finally found my footing and know what I want out of these games. If you’re curious, Dark Legacy really captured my journey of the past decade. http://www.darklegacycomics.com/471

So where am I right now? I raid in WoW with Business Times because it scratches my raiding itch and they have a great team over there that I enjoy raiding, add a few friends playing the game and it’s just a great game to mess around in with friends. I play FF14 because I love the setting and the old school rpg vibe it gives. I might be weird but I enjoy the grinds and the fact that combat is more about choosing the right abilities and less about hitting keys as fast as you can. Plus the content is more accessible while remaining challenging so that’s a big plus. Lastly, I’m playing a lot of World of Tanks recently and that takes care of my PvP itches.

One game to raid with friends, one game for the story and mechanics and one more for PvP. I’d love it if one game could do it all but until that magical unicorn appears, I’d rather be cherry picking than raging and just feeling miserable.

On that zen note, I wish you all a great 2015 and I hope to be around more this year.

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Random bloging tidbits

I feel like doing some late spring cleaning today and cover a few different random tidbits I wanted to address. This is going to be more of a train of thought post so feel free to ignore it if this kind of thing bores you.

First I want to get back more into blogging for reasons I tried explaining in this post but it turned into a 3000 words essay so I’ll keep that one for another time. For now, let’s just say I want to talk again about the meta of MMOs but I’d like to be more constructive and talk more about what I’d want to see and less angry ranting.

Second, this blog is going to be a bit less structured. At some point I started worrying too much about hits and this led me to worry more about the format than the actual content. Which is bad… at least for what I want to do. I mean this blog is about opinions and I’m not trying to make money out of it and I’m not secretly applying for a job with it. Not saying that I don’t want to do things right but first content and then I’ll think about the rest.

Third, Wildstar is pretty awesome and I hope it really takes off and reminds everyone that quality is still the most important factor. PS: secretly hoping that Wildstar keeps being great.

Lastly for reasons still unfathomable to me, there are people out there who like my drivel. So for all of you, I hope you’ll keep enjoying this blog.

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Hello there deadish blog (pokes with a stick). First, I am not dead, second, I have not been interned in a zoo despite dubious photo proof from a reader. That said, this blog has been growing very quiet and I think it merits an explanation.

It’s not a “The end” post but it will be a “It might be quiet for a while post”. Long story short is as follows. When I created this blog it was with the aim of talking about MMOS and what happened in them first and foremost. Over time I talked about a lot of things but first… MMOs. And after more than three years of talking about them I feel like I’ve run out of things to say. I’ve bitched and moaned about everything, made a few smart posts that I’ve been told have made the rounds in some developpers offices and a lot of random stuff in between. But I don’t like repeating myself and right now I don’t know what else I can talk about.

Adding to the issue is the current MMO offering which is more or less WoW-clones as far as the eye can see. I like WoW, I still play WoW from time to time but not like I used to before and it doesn’t generate the same kind of excitement and wonder it once did. Maybe I’ve burned myself forever but for now… my interest in the genre is at an all time low. Which again… doesn’t do wonder for blogging material. While I’m on the topic of MMO interest I’ve noticed it’s not just me. A lot of MMO bloggers have either quit or talk a lot more about other types of gaming.

I could be doing the same but… I’m already doing it for a group blog that talks about gaming at large, but in French. Tousdesgamers was launched last January by a small group of nerds inspired by the likes of Massively or Destructoid. We’re not professional by any stretch of the imagination but it’s good fun.

So what happens with Screaming Monkeys? I don’t know to be honest. While I might not be in a MMO blogging mood I don’t want to close shop on something that brought me so much. I’ve met people that I now consider real life friends through this blog, talked with developpers, been interviewed and all sorts of awesome stuff. And I don’t know.. maybe I’ll get some inpiration going again sometime or maybe I’ll just want to vent here…

So.. not shutting down the Monkey but I wanted to let you all know that things might remain quiet for the foreseable future.

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