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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In Praise of Low-Stakes Video Games 

I've been playing a lot of Socom 3 lately. It's got some truly hideous politics -- one scene features a rabid Arab leader (we don't know exactly which country) executing a foreign emissary in front of a cheering throng of terrorist-looking people. Basically, the thing's a recruiting tool for American hegemony and the US Navy SEALS. (And since that's the case, it probably got funded by the US Navy, which means my tax dollars went to make it, so it should be free to all US taxpayers. But I digress.)

The thing I love about Socom 3 is that it's a low-stakes game. Online play (which is really the only reason to buy it) features a neverending series of short games. At the end of each, one side is declared the winner -- and that's as far as it goes. (If you play with the respawn option, which of course I do.)

In contrast, my last online vidgame fix -- Battlefield 2: Modern Combat -- sports a ranking system, whereby every game is factored into a constantly-updated score. You can never just relax and play the game -- you must constantly win points by capturing flags and eliminating the enemy. This is a problem in BF2MC, because sometimes things need to be done -- such as guarding a stronghold even though no one's around -- which will not earn you points. The player must constantly worry that his/her PPH (points per hour) isn't being maintained -- which can demote you in a hurry.

The low-stakes nature of Socom 3 means that the game can be purely recreational: there is no impossibly difficult boss to defeat, no supreme objective which must be completed. As a result, the game is much less stressful. (Sargeant at arms, please make that young lady in the silver bicycle helmet stop laughing. (It's true that a stream of foul language and frustration-indicating interjections still flows from my chair when I play.)) Star Wars Battlefront 2 was similarly low-stakes.

This phenomenon represents an important new page in the history of video games. The term "game over" no longer applies -- that's a pretty revolutionary turning point. It means that those of us who are terrible at these games (and while I am getting better, I'm still not a very good Navy SEAL yet) can measure ourselves against our last round, or set a self-applied goal (finish in the top 5) rather than trying to meet some objective criteria.

Along with the open-world model game (pioneered by Grand Theft Auto), this is the most important advance in video game theory to come along since Myst. I had no idea how much my gaming life would change the day I bought that PS2 online adapter.

Speaking of video games, in case you've never read (or heard) it, be sure to check out my classic post "Confessions of a Video Game Addict", complete with wicked old-school music and sfx!

In Other News

PW Botha gets the gas face. In this case, "gets the gas face" is code for "has died". If you have no idea what I'm talking about -- and I think that probably there's only one or two who will -- read these lyrics.

All of you -- but especially Jon Broad -- should check out Nietzsche Family Circus. A drawing from Bil Keane's comic is paired with a quote from Frieddy himself. Glorious stuff. This is why the internet exists.

And speaking of that sort of thing, thanks to Mimi Smartypants for linking us to Marmaduke Explained.

Guess what's the first result when you Google "belgian farting pig wiki"? That's right -- the 'Napse, baby! (What, did someone think there'd be a wiki about the Belgian farting pig?)

Have you played Line Rider? It's a fun gamelike thing where you draw a line and then a dude on a bike rides on that line. If you've tried to make a decent course on it, then you'll appreciate the incredible amount of work which must have gone into LineRider Jumps the Shark, which is just superb.

Speaking of video games -- check out Game Evolution, where a fan has posted screenshots from different games through their various generations. Nifty!

Spontaneous Wikipedia Existence Update

Some time ago, I reported that I had been listed on the WP page about Noam Chomsky Criticism, since I wrote all that stuff about how George Shadroui is a Dork. (Which he most certainly is.) Well, it's been deleted.

But despair not! I have been added to the nebulae-pedia once again, this time for my 3D Go Art. If you visit this page, you'll see all the pages which link to a tiny version of my gogame image, indicating that the page is a go stub. I exist!

Well, that's enough drivel to make up for two weeks of bloglessness. (I have other news about bloglessness, but I'm not allowed to blog about it. Ask me in person.)


Think you're good at geography? (I'm looking at you, Chagrin!) GeoSense is a superb online game. You get a city name. You click on the map where you think the city is. Then it shows you how wrong you are. Then you feel stupid. (Until it asks you for Kupang, Indonesia -- which is very close to East Timor, a nation you've worked in solidarity with for over a decade.) I was very surprised to see myself totally nail Seoul, South Korea.

Today I'm listening to: Loop Guru!