Facebook Bought Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift was one of those things that made me feel like a revolution in gaming was on the horizon.  I admit that lately, I’ve been feeling a little unenthused by what’s out there. I haven’t felt a compelling reason to buy any of the new generation of consoles. I’m mostly playing MMOs, one of which originally launched in 2004. Everything coming out lately just feels like it’s been more of the same old thing.

I wrote about the Oculus Rift before and how excited I was by the potential. The prospect of a true VR experience is still the main reason to be excited even though I haven’t yet been able to play with the machine without getting terrible motion sickness. I’m hoping the final product with correct that. Almost as exciting, though, was the way the Oculus Rift was brought into the world: it began through Kickstarter. It was funded by the excitement of its fans and developed on the back of that grassroots-level enthusiasm.

And then Facebook bought them.

I understand how the developers could be willing to sell their baby to the megalithic Facebook. If somebody waved $2 billion dollars in my direction, I would do the same thing. I might even do it for less, like say . . . $1 billion. There’d be room to negotiate, is my point.

Less exciting, however, is the idea that the Oculus is now in the hands of Facebook.

Yes, I use Facebook. This blog will get a large portion of its traffic from the automatically generated link that appears in my Facebook feed. I use it but I don’t love it. I don’t even like it.

I use it because that’s what’s there and it’s where people are. It functions for its purpose and it has enough inertia behind it to prevent other, better products from gaining much ground (Google+ would get my vote, even though nobody uses it very often, including me).

Notch, the creator of MineCraft, sums up his own feelings about this disappointment quite well:

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

I should note that this doesn’t mean the Oculus Rift is ruined forever. It might still be a great platform. It does mean that I’m considerably more skeptical now than I was before I read this announcement. Facebook isn’t a company that inspires a lot of confidence in me. Like Notch says in his post, their motives are unclear and shifting, their platform has been unstable, and there’s nothing about their history that says “yeah, I trust them to get this right.” Every indication of Facebook seems to indicate that it’s been a wild success in spite of itself.  One needs only look back at the Facebook IPO debacle for a reminder.

The fact that the Oculus Rift sold for $2 billion dollars before it even hit the shelves sits poorly with me for another reason. Let’s go back to 2006.

The Nintendo Wii hit the world with the force of a hurricane. I was still working at GameStop at this time so I endured the full wrath of desperate consumers looking to buy the system for the holidays. I remember how motion controls were suddenly the thing in gaming and Microsoft and Sony scrambled to have their own answers.

But eight years later, what’s the state of motion control? A gimmick past its prime, if sales of the Wii U are any indication.

What happens to VR if the Oculus Rift doesn’t live up to its $2 billion worth of expectation? Will any of the competing products on the horizon be there to take up the crown or will the disappointment set VR gaming back another decade?

I think it would have been better for gaming, for VR, and for the Oculus Rift itself is this hadn’t happened. It would have been fun to see how far the grassroots momentum generated by the Kickstarter could have carried this thing.

I guess we’ll never know.

One Word At A Time

After yesterday’s post, I spent the rest of my time thinking how do we fix this problem? Game culture, despite how tongue-in-cheek we might use the phrase, is a real thing now. It’s as real as popular culture in its ability to influence. We have cultural conventions now. We have cultural language.

It’s hard to describe how game culture came to be without resorting to dramatic, overblown language describing the strife that it emerged from. While the “violence in video games” discussion won’t ever truly disperse, I think we’ve come a long way from the days of Jack Thompson and his ilk. They’re not gone, of course, but for the moment, they’ve been defeated. Someone will be along eventually to take his place, but hopefully not for a while.

We won that round, at the low cost of developing a reflexive siege mentality that is one of the causes of the dickwolves thing I wrote about yesterday. We’ve traded one problem for another, which isn’t as cynical as you might think, because that’s basically how progress works. The only people who don’t have problems are dead. Dead people might have problems, too, that we just don’t know about.

So, you know, we’re doing okay, really.

Regardless of my inability to commit to a side on the dickwolves debacle, there are plenty of other instances of misogyny and rape culture in game culture itself. Nobody can rationally dispute that fact, regardless of where you come down on the dickwolves issue. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, as I said above, how do we fix this?

While I’d love to say I came upon the solution in a flash of brilliance, the truth is this was a comment made on yesterday’s dickwolves post. From my friend therationalpi:

Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

This. This is how we start fixing things. Small changes. A piece at a time. I believe this will work, because this is exactly analogous to my own experience.

Confession time: I wasn’t always the male-feminist-ally-vegetarian-idealist that I style myself as today. I was a gamer a lot further back than I was any of those other things. I engaged in my share of smack-talk. I used the word “rape” in video games liberally and I used it as recently as 2005, when I was deep into the PvP scene in World of WarCraft.

I remember the first moment somebody called me out on using that word. It wasn’t much, just an admonishment that what I was saying was pretty insensitive. Because this admonishment came from a person that I admired and respected greatly and because it was done gently, it made me think. It made me reflect on the power of the words that I was using which was something I should have done all along. I was studying Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree; you’d think I would have been more sensitive to the power of certain words and their effects.

I realized what my words had the potential to do to another person and I changed my vocabulary. I stopped saying “rape” in the context of playing games. I don’t use it in any context other than its actual definition and even then, I use it carefully, knowing its potential harm.

It doesn’t take much to change your vocabulary. It’s a small change to start saying “yeah, we owned them” or “we pwned them” or any other permutation. Pwned is nice, albeit in an abomination-of-English-sort-of-way, because it’s a true “gamer word.” It’s part of the cultural lingo.

Why is “owned” acceptable when “raped” isn’t? Certainly, the idea of “owning” another person is offensive, if you really think about it. But that’s the thing about smack-talk in competition, isn’t it? You want it to be a little bit offensive. A polite taunt is no taunt at all. The trick is to find something that can make for good trash talk in a way that doesn’t bring up a real problem that people are dealing with and are dealing with in a culture that doesn’t treat their situation with the gravity it deserves.

Sure, “owning” is offensive. But it doesn’t trigger the same harm, in my opinion, the way the word rape does. I don’t know anybody in my life who has ever actually been “owned.” I know a few people that have been raped. I know that for those people, the former is just a word and the latter can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Choosing the word you uses matters. Telling somebody “hey, that’s not cool” isn’t always going to work. It might only work 1 time in 10, or maybe 1 in 20, or 1 in 100. But it did work for me, as it worked for my friend in the above quote.

It won’t fix the current game culture. But think about how many games of Call of Duty or Halo or StarCraft that you’re going to play in your lifetime. Think about how many times you will make the choice to either use the word “rape” without regard to its effect and thus perpetuate rape culture or choose a different word and enact a small amount of change.

It doesn’t cost much to make this change. It doesn’t take away the games we enjoy or the competition that brings out the trash-talk that’s so much a part of competitive game culture. It does, however, move things ever so slightly in a better direction.

That’s how change happens.

Tabletop Gaming Weekend: Friday Recap

If you came looking for more religious rants or gun control laments, scroll down a bit. This is going to be about something else. I had sort of a “tabletop gaming binge” over the last few days. I hadn’t planned for that to happen, which is probably how all binges are explained after the fact. Anyway, here’s a brief recap on what I played and what I thought about it, broken down by day.

Friday: I played two different games on Friday, one that was a new experience and one that is quickly becoming a classic favorite in my book.

kot_box

The first game was King of Tokyoa game that can only be one of two things: a Japanese monarchy or a Godzilla-esque game about rampaging monsters fighting each other. I’ll save you time: it was the latter. King of Tokyo played a lot like Zombie Dice, in that you’re trying to roll a handful of dice to get preferred combinations like Attack, Healing, Energy, or Victory Points. The tricky part comes from the game’s battle system: you’re either “in the city” or “outside of the city.” Whichever monster is in the city accumulates points each turn, but is also the target for all the other monsters. It’s like a dice version of ‘King of the Hill.’ The game, not the Mike Judge cartoon.

I had a great time with the game, although I never managed to pull off a win. The mechanic is easy to learn and the monsters are really fun with names like Meka Dragon, Giga Zaur, the Kraken, and others. There are cards you can buy with the energy points to give your monster special powers which also provided more strategic depth.

Each game goes quickly, so you can fit in several rounds inside of an hour. It’s great as a starter board game or something to play between more complex ones, but it doesn’t have the legs to last an entire evening. It’s still a great buy and one that I’ll be adding to my collection when I get the chance.

cards-against-humanity2

The second game we played was one that doesn’t need an introduction beyond its own description: it’s the party game for horrible people. Cards Against Humanity is your basic free-association card game in the vein of Apples to Apples. You have the black deck for your prompt, which will be something like “Science is now embracing the healing power of ____” and it’s up to you to fill in the blank with the cards from the white deck, which are all words like Explosions, Assless Chaps, or Apologizing. Whoever played the black card chooses their favorite and the person who played it gets a point. That’s the entire game.

This is the kind of game where you’ll learn a lot about your friends. I’ve been playing it for a while now and I’ve found that figuring out my friends’ respective “humor types” in a sort of Myers-Briggs-esque fashion seems to be the key to victory. Some of the humor types I’ve noticed are dark humor, scatological humor, word humor, and horribly inappropriate humor. I might elaborate on these brilliant insights in a later post.

It should go without saying that this is a game enhanced by alcohol. It’s also a game where you need to leave your inhibitions at the door. If there’s anything, and I mean literally anything that offends you on a deeply personal level, you may wish to consider other games, because there’s nothing off the table here. From Auschwitz to date rape to zoophilia, it’s all out there. Ye be warned.

The game will last as long as your friends do. I’ve found that we never play towards a set limit but rather reach a natural breaking point usually around midnight, which is usually three hours later than I meant to play. That should tell you something about how engrossing this relatively simple game can be.

Cards Against Humanity is a must-have in a gaming collection as long as you don’t mind the horrible, horrible humor. It’s the ultimate flexible party game: it can be played with four people just as easily as fourteen people, which isn’t something a lot of games can do. It also can make you wonder about how screwed up you are as a person, based on the things that you’ll laugh at. I found these revelations to be useful at dispelling any myths I might have had about whether or not I’m a decent person. Turns out, I’m not.

Let’s Talk About Video Games!

I’ve been trying to put my thoughts into words regarding the Boston bombing. It seemed like something I should comment on, given how opinionated I am on things and stuff. Not writing about Boston seemed to me like a way of saying that I don’t care about what’s going on, when nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve realized, however, that I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said by every person with a decent heart and has been said in greater eloquence than I could hope to achieve. I still believe Rousseau was right; for evidence of that claim, you need only look at any of the pictures of the first responders and those who did what they could on behalf of their fellow human.

I find that in moments of remarkable tragedy, it’s best to cleanse the mind by ranting on something completely trivial. I won’t justify my decision to talk at length about toys beyond that sentence; you’ve been warned.

Let us turn our attention to this sorry example of “game journalism.” The quotes, by the way, are made with the wink-and-nod towards the idea of there actually being any such thing as credible video game journalism in the first place.

Posted on Gaming Illustrated (the definitive source for gaming information?), Mark Adams takes us through an “editorial” about how the PlayStation 3 won the console war. Console wars, if you didn’t click the Wikipedia link, are an invention of marketing that was created in the 90’s to prey on the insecurity of young nerds. In essence, back in ye olden days, young geeks such as myself lacked the necessary capital to procure more than one video game console (the capital of which I speak is the willingness of our parents to make even one such expensive purchase, usually for Christmas). Simply put, you can’t get both video game systems available that holiday season (  or, god forbid, all three).

Thus, while a great deal of my youth was spent playing video games, an equal or greater amount of time was spent rationalizing my decision to myself and to my friends. The idea that I wasn’t playing the best video games on the best video game system was such an anathema that I literally stopped being friends with a kid over the vehemence of “Nintendo vs. Sega.” After all, what could be worse than realizing that the toy had was inferior to somebody else’s toy? I had to be secure in the knowledge that I was playing the very best games and that there were no games of redeeming quality on that other system.

Although, holy shit, you guys, did you ever play Jurassic Park for the Sega Genesis? YOU COULD PLAY AS A FUCKING VELOCIRAPTOR AND IT WAS SO COOL. That sole fact was the source of many of my darkest boyhood memories, because the Nintendo version was lame in comparison to that singular fact. Other than that, however, Mario and Donkey Kong made the Super Nintendo pretty fun and I enjoyed what I had.

Anyway, let’s go back to Mark Adams and his “PS3 RULES!!!1” article. I went back to the article just now to pull out some quotes to illustrate my next point, but literally every single sentence proves my next point. It’s almost impossible to choose. Here, look:

Quality is always far more important than quantity, and with Sony’s approach to quality software, it has left gamers with a mind-blowing choice of top-notch games that will suit everybody’s taste. Even as this generation comes to a close, Sony and developers writing for the machine are pushing out titles that are proving that there is still plenty of life left in the system.

Does that actually sound like something written by a real person? Note that I am defining a real person as “one whose paychecks are not signed by Sony Corp.”

Another quote:

Also on a cost versus cost basis of each console, many people see Sony’s machine as the perfect choice because of its huge hard-drive, great game library, free internet access and so much more. In some territories there are also various coloured consoles available, which of course attract more customers.

Some territories? Who uses language like this other than opinionated jerks like myself with WordPress blogs? I doubt most actual people are aware of such nebulous concepts as “territories” when it comes to consumer electronics. Certainly, there’s a vague understanding that a video game bought in Japan probably won’t play on a system purchased in the United States, but you’re never going to hear discussion about “territories” or the performance of NTSC compared to PAL.

Last quote, before I get in trouble for reproducing the entire article:

Thankfully, Sony did not mess too much with the controller either. The PS3 Dualshock controller still remains a favorite with gamers, with its perfectly formed shape to enable hours of endless gameplay.

This brings me to the crux of my argument. How is it that we are living in a world where this obvious corporate press release is being presented as a fair editorial review of a consumer electronic? This isn’t the kind of language that exists in the real world. You’re only going to encounter it if you’re unlucky enough to work in Marketing or if you’re sitting in the board room deciding how best to leverage the message of robust brand identity. Or if you’re reading Dilbert in the Funnies section. Does anybody still read Dilbert? (I won’t even ask about the newspaper, I already know the answer).

Okay, I lied. One more quote:

There are territories where the PlayStation 3 is not doing as well as the Xbox 360. However, even in these areas the PS3 is selling extremely well. Around the World, the PlayStation brand is as popular as it has ever been, and the success of the PlayStation 3 has shown that you just cannot keep a good console down if the games are there that players want to play.

There’s that strange reference to “territories” again. One other note: I don’t care if Games Illustrated is an actual video game blog or a Sony puppet, please do not  support the erosion of persuasive writing by paying people to write sentences like “there are territories where it is not doing well. However, even in these areas it is doing extremely well.” My god, man, you’re supposed to be a professional. A professional what, I’m not quite certain, but a professional nonetheless. Why are we seeing sentence structure that would lose points on a freshman composition assignment?

That brings us to the end of the article and the comments section which is filled with the typical mind-numbing baying of hungry young pups. Peruse that section at your own risk.

There are two things that make this whole thing kind of pathetic. The first is the obvious corporate shill job that’s being passed off as “journalism.” I think I’ve already made my case on that point. The second issue, however, is the one I alluded to above in regards to the “console war.” How is this is still a thing? How is it that there is still a perception of “brand loyalty” and “sides in a war” over toys that are all being produced by massive, multinational corporations? It’s completely ridiculous to turn console sales into some kind of competition with “winners” and “losers” and “my side, your side” bullshit. You know what matters to the companies? Profit margin. Bottom line. CASH MONEY. Certainly, selling more things than your major competitor who is also selling similar things is important, but to call it a war? Let’s try to keep it in perspective here.

Back in the day, I remember being very concerned about proving that the SNES was better than the Sega Genesis. This is because at the time, I was eight. Now that I’m just a little bit older, the entire thing is so very silly. I’ll buy as many or as few of the goddamn toys as I so desire. I didn’t get a PS3 this time around not because of some brand loyalty to the Xbox, but because the goddamn thing was 600 dollars at the time and that’s ridiculous. Whatever. At this point, I’m going to rationalize my decision not by whether or not my toy is as cool as somebody else’s toy, but “was this a good purchase for me” and “can I still afford my rent?”

I would say that this is the mark of adulthood, except that I know people for whom the value and newness of their car vs. the cars of other people is of the utmost concern, so maybe never mind.

It’s like watching the really hardcore sports fanatics talk about “them and us” when it comes to their hated and beloved teams respectively. The only thing that makes sports fans even remotely understandable is that at least the team you profess to love is based in your home city or state. You’d want them to do well on behalf of your home, right?

Unless we’re talking about Yankees fans who live in Arizona, or whatever. Then I’m back to having no idea.