God of War continues to kill all competitors for end of the year game awards. As of yet GoW has taken home Best Studio Game Direction / Best Action/Adventure / Best Game at the The Game Awards, it’s won an Achievement in Game Writing from the Writers Guild of America, and now it’s swept all the major awards at BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts) which is arguably known as the most prestige game award ceremony.
God of Wars swept the five top prize at the BAFTA, winning for Audio Achievement, Best Music, Performer (Jeremy Davies), Best Narrative and Game of the Year. The only other year BATFA handed out that many top prizes to a single game was back in 2014 when The Last of Us won for Audio Achievement, Story, Performer (Ashley Johnson), Action/Adventure and Game of the Year. Which, looks to be similarly what God of War took home this year. And since I LOVE The Last of Us, I think it’s high time I gave God of War a chance, too.
As for some of the other big stories at the BAFTA: Rockstar’s heavily favored Red Dead Redemption 2 lost in all six of the categories it was nominated. Microsoft Studios’ Forza Horizon 4 was named best British game, Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn (unplayed by me) took home Artistic Achievement and Game Design, while Subset Games’ Into the Breach was named Best Original Property (also unplayed by me but now I’m totally interested!). Annapurna interactive Florence wins Best Mobile Game. And by the way, Florence is a very well done slice of life about the “possibilities in vs. the realities of” falling in love. Florence is very lovely, and very heartbreaking. I suspect adults will get far more out of it than kids. But, on the other hand - the kids will love Gods of War, so it all works out. Just sayin. And, despite just having English parents and leaders proclaim that Fortnite is too addictive (and that - someone should do something about that!), Fortnite takes home the BAFTA for Best Evolving Game.
Which, to be fair - Fortnite could be both, right? I mean it could certainly be a great Evolving Game and also be very addictive. Of games can be addictive. You know why? They’re fun to play! If the game wasn’t fun to play it would be a bloody failure of a game!
Anyway, I don’t entirely buy into the recent WHO Gaming Disorder Classification, which parents are trying to use to ban their kids from all games ever. But, even in the actual WHO classification it says:
“Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities. However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behavior.”
Basically, they're saying, “Um, yeah - well, not many … and by “not many” we mean “hardly any gamers at all, ever” will actually have gaming disorder. But, you know - just watch out for how much you play and maybe do other things once in a while.
Fair enough. But then, do you really need to classify it as a "disorder?" *shrugs*
For more about "Gaming Disorder" check out a 2017 article I wrote: The “Gaming Disorder” Dilemma: Game Violence, Obsession and Addiction.
Meanwhile, in the gaming community there has been some controversy about an upcoming game. Well, actually it’s been more like a huge fight. You see, there is a game developer called, “Desk Plant” and they are planning to release a game in April called “Rape Day.”
If you think the name of a game Rape Day means that you get to play a game where you … you know, rape women. Well, then you’d be right. That’s right - some douchebag company honestly thought it would be a great idea to market a game where you could rape women.
But who would be dumb enough to release such a game (you might ask)?
Enter Steam. For those that do not know, Steam is website developed by Valve Corporation. The site is used to distribute games & related media online and provides the user with installation and automatic management of software. Steam has a lot of games. And I mean - a lot. I use it all the time. In fact, 90 million active members use Steam every month, just to give you an idea how big the game site is.
Steam is no stranger to controversy. They sell a huge variety of games that cover a huge variety of topics up to and including - controversial topics. There has been game drama. Which led Steam to come up with an official response and, they kind of washed their hands with policing games they sell on their site. They feel that folks should be able to tell stories and create games about any and all controversial topics. It’s the free speech argument. Which is totally fair, so they basically said that unless the game is illegal - we’ll sell it. From their official June 6th, 2018 blog post:
“...we've decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”
Okay. Fair enough. The “straight up trolling” comment is the interesting part because that could mean … well, a lot of different things.
Cut to Rape Day. The developers call it an interactive graphic novel. What this means is the game is not a traditional animated movement game as your characters walk around, interact with objects and fight bad guys. Instead of that, it’s more like you (the player) are flipping pages of a comic book and get to make choices in order to reveal specific drawn pages.
The premise of Rape Day is simple: it’s a zombie apocalypse. And in the zombie apocalypse you play a sociopath. And you get to kill zombies. You also get to murder survivors and rape any and all women you encounter!
As you can imagine, the ridiculous premise brought the gamer social media house down. Multiple petitions and almost ten thousand emails flooded Steam Sales owner Valve Corporation with a universal cry of “WTF?”
After a few days of deliberating, Steam released this as their official word on the matter:
"After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think Rape Day poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won't be on Steam. We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that."
I’m fine with Steam’s decision here. Now, this doesn’t mean no one will be able to find the game anywhere. Desk Plant will probably just sell it off their own site, or something. But not getting on Steam will certainly restrict its findability, for sure.
BUT .... like all controversial things … controversy breeds sales. And I know I am part of the problem here. For example: It’s highly likely that, had I not written about this game - you may have gone your entire life without ever hearing about it. And I wouldn’t have ever heard about it had several game sites not written about it. Had the game just been released on Steam it might have come and gone and the overwhelming majority of us would have lived in blissful ignorance. Which, probably, would have kept sales for Rape Day, very, very low. And then the game and the company that developed it, probably would have come and gone and faded into obscurity.
Alas, now it’s out there. It’s not even just on the game sites any longer as Variety, Business Insider and Fortune all have articles about it. What probably began as some legitimately concerned women and/or parents sending a message or two to Steam asking them, “Is this seriously what you want to sell on your site?” has now blossomed into free advertising for a game that most folks would have never, ever heard about in the first place.
Which makes me a little sad. I mean, technically, these guys aren't doing anything illegal (as far as I am aware) but the idea of trying to "normalize rape" (that's the game developer's words, not mine) frankly, is kind of disgusting.
So, while Rape Day, as a game, might be legal - at least it won’t easily accessible and found on Steam. And I'm okay with that.
Although, I am suddenly playing Devil's Advocate here and thinking, "But if it remains on Steam, you could see which of your friends are playing it and then you could sit them down and be like, "Dude - WTF is wrong with you!?"
Nah. I guess I'd just rather just have it off Steam, go find it somewhere else, Incel Troll.
If you’re a gamer you are already well versed in Twitch and know the name Ninja like the back of your hand, but for most folks, mentioning either will make them say, “What, who?” and “Ninja’s are cool.”
Well, I mean - obviously that’s what they’d say because ninjas are cool (and by cool I mean, totally sweet!). And also, because - Ninja’s have real ultimate power!
But I digress.
So, what is exactly is Twitch and how does one make $10 million dollars on it?
Well, according to Wikipedia:
“Twitch is a live streaming video platform owned by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon. Introduced in June 2011 as a spin-off of the general-interest streaming platform, Justin.tv, the site primarily focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to music broadcasts, creative content, and more recently, "in real life" streams. Content on the site can be viewed either live or via video on demand.”
Um, okay. But where exactly did this Twitch thing come from?
Well, Justin.tv used to be a site where anyone could broadcast a video about … well, whatever they wanted. They idea was supposed to be - broadcast about life. And people did. And Justintv kept adding new content, eventually expanding and including all the good and bad content you can expect when you allow anyone to broadcast anything they want. Then, in 2011 Justintv added a “broadcast about your gaming experience” section, called - Twitch.
And Twitch was popular. I mean, hugely, mind bendingly popular. Far more popular than anything else on Justintv. Suddenly, Justintv exploded upwards of 45 million unique monthly viewers. The company saw opportunity and rebranded as Twitch Interactive and most of (if not all of) the content outside gaming - was shut down.
And then, megacorporation Amazon snapped up Twitch Interactive for a measly $970 million. Now, Twitch has about 27 thousand partner channels, approx. 2.5 million broadcasters, approx. 15 million daily users with about 100 million monthly viewers.
Which means it was probably a $1 billion dollars well spent.
Okay. But how does it work?
Well, you or me, or anyone - create an account on Twitch and then you play games and stream them online. And Twitch broadcasts the game. Live. And folks can watch. And then folks can choose to give you money - so you play more games. Online. So that folk can watch. And give you more money. So you can play more games. Online. On Twitch. So folks can watch. And give you more money. So you can play more games. Online - you know what? I think you see where this is going.
Basically, Twitch provides the platform for you to stream games online. And if you’re good enough, or entertaining enough, or cute enough - you can build an audience. And your audiences pays you. Or not.
And you become a success. Or not.
But that’s how you make money (or not). And Ninja (Tyler Blevins) just happens to be the number one earner on Twitch. At one point Ninja had almost 250 thousand subscribers to his Twitch account. Most of which paid him $5. To watch him play games. Some quick math tells me - that’s $1,250,000. After Amazon and Twitch took their fee Ninja still cleared over $800,000.
He’s so popular- he has advertisers. Lots of them. He has merchandise. Lots of it. And he’s sponsored by Red Bull. He’s Red Bull’s official gamer.
Now, Ninja is an extreme example. Not everyone is as popular, or makes as much money as Ninja. But still. There is actually a thing now, that’s out there where you, or me, or your kid - can make $$ - by playing video games. And, I kind of love that.
And that's not ALL because of Twitch. But it mostly is.
From their website:
“Welcome to Twitch. We are a global community of millions who come together each day to create their own entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable, never-to-be repeated experiences created by the magical interactions of the many. With chat built into every stream, you don’t just watch on Twitch, you’re a part of the show.”
Need a last second holiday gift? Looking for a way to spend that Christmas Google Play or itunes gift card? I have just what you need -- awesome, cheap games for your phone!
Everyone has played Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and Limbo (but if you haven’t you should totally check them out) so I went a different route. Normally I play games on a console or PC, which tend to be more story based than traditional point and click phone games. But it occured to me that many of the story based games I love and play are probably available for your phone.
So I checked. And I found some!
Here are a few of my favorites presented alphabetically:
The Banner Saga 1 & 2: I really love this game. It’s a great mix of storytelling and turn based tactical combat. The art is gorgeous and the story choices are sophisticated enough to keep you guessing. From the website of game designer Stoic Games:
“Epic role-playing Viking saga where your strategic choices directly affect your personal journey. Make allies and enemies as you travel with your caravan across a stunningly beautiful, yet harsh, landscape. Carefully choose those who will help fight a new threat that jeopardizes an entire civilization. Every decision you make in travel, conversation and combat has a meaningful effect on the outcome as your story unfolds. Not everyone under your banner will survive, but they will be remembered.”
Playing time: Approx. 10ish hours to complete the main quest in Banner Saga 1 with perhaps 15ish hours to complete Saga 2. Additional hour can be spent in game play through Survival Mode - a series of increasingly difficult battles! (I just got killed in battle 32 of 40. Must start over. Arggh!)
Repeat playability: High. Adjust game play to a higher difficulty and try a second Saga or play Survival Mode after completing the main story.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: $5 -$10
Beholder: A really fun game set in a grim dystopian future where an oppressive totalitarian State controls every aspect of private and public life. And it’s your job to root out anyone who speaks our or acts against the State! Of course you can rage against the State and hide the on going deeds of your tenants, if you wish -- just don’t get caught. Warning - this game is hard! From the Warm Lamp Games game designer site:
“You are the State-installed manager of an apartment building. Your daily routine involves making the building a sweet spot for tenants, who will come and go; however, that is simply a faced that hides your real mission … spying on your renters! Your primary task is to covertly watch your tenants and eavesdrop on their conversations. You must bug their apartments while they’re away, search their belongings, and profile them for your superiors. You must also report anyone capable of violating the laws or plotting subversive activities against the State to the authorities.”
Playing time: Several hours to finish the main story with an additional 20ish hours in order to unlock all possible endings.
Repeat playability: High.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5
Heart’s Medicine: Time to Heal: A super charming point and click time management game -- that happens to be a touching medical based drama. What sets it apart from many point and click games is the tender storyline woven between game goals.
Game designer Blue Giraffe says:
“Heart’s Medicine - Time to Heal is an intense medical drama tied into a casual game this is moving people to tears. The game has a gripping and unique storyline, original singer/songwriter music, highly detailed artwork and animation, cool addictive gameplay and an insane amount of heart … Become a doctor in a romantic medical drama and join the life of aspiring surgeon Allison Heart as she works her shifts at Little Creek Hospital. Experience love, intense action, realistic drama, crazy funny moments and the beauty of celebrating life!”
Playing time: Approx. 20 hours.
Repeat playability: Medium. Once the story is over you can repeat gameplay but without the darling story it becomes a standard diner dash game.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5
The Silent Age: A clever little point and click drama that bounces back and forth in time. This game is more story driven than game driven. Solving the puzzles won’t be much of a challenge for most savvy game players but the story writing is strong and the plot becomes more compelling as it moves forward. The game is downloaded as five separate chapter so make sure you get chapter one!
Game developer House on Fire says:
“Help Joe as he travels between the groovy present of 1972 and the apocalyptic future of 2012 to discover the truth behind humankind’s extinction - a quest entrusted to him by a dying man from the future. Use your portable time travel device to solve puzzles that bring you closer to answers and saving humanity. Winner of the 2013 Causal Connection Indie Prize.”
Playing time: Approx. 6 hours.
Repeat playability: Low. Once you know the story -- you know the story.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: Free -$5
This War of Mine: This absolutely gorgeous black and white shaded game is a gut wrencher. A survivalist war game unlike anything I’ve played. After several times (about ten hours game time) I’ve yet to survive to see the end of the war. I’ll let the folks from 11 Bit Studio, the game designers, explain it for you:
“In This War of Mine you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city; struggling with lack of food, medicine and constant danger from snipers and hostile scavengers. The game provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle .... The pace of the game is imposed by the day and night cycle. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout: crafting and trading and taking care of your survivors.At night, take one of your civilians on a mission to scavenge through a set of unique locations for items that will help you stay alive … Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them for longer-term survival. During war, there are no good or bad decisions, there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.”
Playing time: The game is won when the war ends which is randomly decided each time you load a new game. I would say approx. ten-ish hours to finish the story once.
Repeat playability: High. Each play through will bring completely different challenges.
Platform: Android, iPhone, most tablets, PC and Mac.
Cost - depending on platform: $4-$14.
GenCon. Sixty thousand attendees. Several thousand unique role playing games, table top board games and PC and console computer games. Several hundred vendors & dealers from all over the world running free demos of their games and selling more bloody games than you can shake a stick at. GenCon is the largest tabletop game convention in the world and this year marks its fiftieth anniversary.
But it wasn’t always the behemoth game convention it is today. In fact, Gen Con’s origin story is quite humble. And it all starts with the father of Dungeons and Dragons himself -- Mr. Gary Gygax.
Gen Con 0 - 1967 - Location: The home of Gary Gygax, Lake Geneva, WI. Approx. Attendance: 12
Gary Gygax is the co-creator of the well known role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons but a few years before he helped write D&D, he was known in the small, but fierce, miniature tactical war gaming scene. I don’t want to get bogged down detailing too much Gygax history, instead I want to focus more on the history of GenCon. But they do intertwine. Here is an excellent piece detailing Gygax’s life and the history of D&D -- Wired’s, Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax.
GenCon, was named after Lake Geneva, where Gygax lived. To my understanding there are no known pictures of GenCon O where Gygax invited some friends over to his pad, and they played miniature tactical war-games. For those unfamiliar with the idea -- a game involving two six sided dice and a whole bunch of miniature soldiers. Players took turns moving the miniatures closer to the opposing player and then using dice rolls to determine if a soldier “hit” or “missed” with its attack. This process repeats until one side has no soldiers left.
The following year Gygax decided to shell out fifty bucks and rent a room in his hometown’s Horticultural Hall, charging folks $1 to attend. The first official GenCon was born! Gygax made just enough money from attendance to cover the cost of renting the hall.
(GenCon 1, 1968)
From then on GenCon increased in attendance -- almost every year. There was a dip in attendance here and there but for the most part, a steady incline. Through word of mouth, people came from all over WI and then from near by states -- to game. For almost the entire first decade of GenCon it was at the Horticultural Hall in Lake Geneva, but once or twice was held elsewhere.
It wasn’t until Gygax and Dave Arneson co-create Dungeons & Dragons, that the convention really took off. D&D wasn’t a typical miniature tactical war game. It had a lot of similar aspects - you roll dice to determine specific outcomes and there was a lot of strategy involved in the combat but there was a huge, important distinction between the two -- in D&D you got to create and play -- a character. You could create an elf, or a dwarf or you could become a warrior or a rogue or a magic user. And the more times you played your character, the tougher that character became! This idea of "a character" and the advancement of your character become the core of all role playing games to follow.
Gygax formed Tactical Studies Rules (TSR, inc) to publish the smash hit D&D, modules for D&D, supplemental material and even a magazine about D&D called, "The Dragon" -- later changed to "Dragon." D&D sold out again and again and again. And more people kept coming to Gary Gygax’s GenCon to play D&D. GenCon quickly outgrew the Horticultural Hall and for several years was run at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside. The attendance of the convention had grown to two, sometimes three thousand people. And not just to play D&D, there were other role playing games (RPG) that appeared -- Boot Hill (a western RPG co-created by Gygax), Champions (super hero RPG), Gamma World (post apocalyptic RPG), Star Frontiers (Space opera RPG), Top Secret (spy thriller RPG) and many others. (Yes, I've played them all!).
But D&D was always the largest, the most well know and, sadly, the most targeted. Religious organizations all over the country spoke out against D&D claiming it was the work of the devil and that it taught children how to cast magic spells and consort with demons and / or would possess your child. Fear mongering, religious silliness, all of it.
Dave Arneson, co-creator of D&D had a charming response to the controversy: “Invite parents to play. They’re going to be so bored. They will understand that anything this nerdy can’t possible lead to devil possession.”
Dave Arneson for the win.
But the bad publicity only got more kids interested and in the mid eighties D&D was so popular the number of folks attending the premiere D&D convention in the country, GenCon, doubled.
The University of Wisconsin, Parkside was unable to house so many attendees. A new venue had to be found. STAT!
Gen Con 18 - 1985 - Location: MECCA (Milwaukee Exposition & Convention Center & Arena), Milwaukee, WI. Approx. Attendance: 5000
Throughout its early years GenCon expanded into other states - GenCon South (FL), GenCon East (NJ), GenCon West (CA) and even to other continents but none of them lasted more than a few years. GenCon Midwest kept growing.
Enter MECCA. An actual convention center for a convention that started, figuratively speaking, in Gary Gygax’s basement. Now, with room to expand at the MECCA, attendance rapidly doubled from five to ten thousand.
By 1992, GenCon’s twenty-fifth birthday, I had finally heard about it. I had been gaming since kindergarten -- approx. 1978. I started with D&D, then moved on to the superhero role playing game, Champions, and then later in high school was introduced to the horror themed role playing game, Call of Cthulhu -- based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.
By 1993 I was attending GenCon. From that point on, year after year, friends and I would make the drive to beer scented Milwaukee for a week of games. It was glorious. Attendance at the con was now fifteen to twenty thousand strong. Then, in 1997 a company called, Wizard’s of the Coast bought GenCon from TSR.
By then, Gary Gygax was old and very ill and had not been in charge of TSR for a long time. So, he really had nothing more to do with the convention he created.
Wizard’s of the Coast was the company that created the extremely popular customizable card game, Magic: The Gathering. In 1999, Hasbro bought Wizard’s of the Coast. So now the multinational toy and board game company that created the iconic Monopoly board game, owned GenCon. BUT THEN -- in 2002, Peter Adkison, former CEO of Wizard’s of the Coast, buys GenCon from Hasbro. So the convention is back in the hands of a gamer. A very, very rich gamer. (Adkison continues to own GenCon).
The convention continued to grow and by 2002 it was clear that Milwaukee no longer had the hotel capacity to house the twenty-five or thirty thousand attendees.
It was time for GenCon to move. Again.
Gen Con 36 - 2003 - Location: Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, IN. Approx. Attendance: 25000.
GenCon moved to Indianapolis. The very same city home of the Indy 500, which boasts one hundred thousand attendees so, of course the city should be easily able to absorb GenCon’s "meager" thirty thousand gamers. And then GenCon expanded. Suddenly it was not only at the Indy Convention Center, it’s was also at all the surrounding hotels and halls and expo centers and every single scrap of open building space within a several block radius of the ICC.
GenCon Indy quickly went from thirty thousand attendees to forty and now sixty. Every August, sixty thousand gamers descend on Indy for one week to hang out with other gamers and play games. Sixty thousand people have put tens of billions of dollars, possibly more, into the Indy economy.
And it’s all because Gary Gygax started GenCon 0 in 1968. In his basement.
Gen Con 50 - 2017 - Location: Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, IN. Estimated Attendance: 65000.
Which brings me to the end. I am packing and will be off to GenCon soon. I have games to play. I have friends to see. Friends from other states that I only get to visit with once a year, at GenCon. In fact it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of friends I have is because Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created D&D.
Most of the long term friends I have -- I met at gaming halls, or game conventions, or game days in the basement of a VFW, or in the gaming section at a bookstore or at an actual game store. Perhaps role playing games would have evolved, without Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Perhaps they would have evolved another way from other people.
It’s very likely. But, it doesn’t matter because it did evolve from Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and Dungeons and Dragons. And it's because of those three names that I’m a gamer. And that’s why I’m going to GenCon.
Gary Gygax died in 2008, Mr. Arneson in 2009, both from complications of cancer. I never met either one. But their legacy lives on. D&D is now in its fifth edition. It's published in dozens of languages all over the world. And it will be heavily featured this year at GenCon 50.
And I will be there, at GenCon -- where it will be just me -- and sixty five thousand of my closest friends.
Mr. Gygax, Mr. Arneson -- rest in peace.
And thank you, for the imagination. And the stories. And the memories -- past and future.