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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Column: The Blue Key

Column: The Blue Key: Gaming with your Significant Other Pt. 2

October 29, 2010 12:00 PM |

left4dead_zoeyandluis.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch exclusive column from Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture – where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. This week, the second of a two part series exploring the potentially difficult and potentially rewarding act of gaming with a romantic partner.]

In the first part of this piece we took a look at some of the joys and challenges of gaming with our romantic partners, and how we should probably watch what we say in both cooperative and competitive gaming.

We also saw one example of how developers can address the issue of multiplayer gaming with a skill disparity by designing mechanics that help foster a fun experience for all the players involved.

In the next case study, we will look at the difficulties and delayed gratification of introducing a partner to not only a new game, but to an entirely new type of gaming, and see how online gaming can make a couple feel closer when they live far apart.

Case 3:
Long Distance Left 4 Dead

My friend – who we'll call Tara – is a big fan of Left 4 Dead, so we played together fairly often over Steam. Both Tara and her girlfriend – who we'll call Jaymie – were trying to balance school and work while living over an hour's drive away from each other and attending different colleges. They didn't get to spend a lot of time together in person.

So Jaymie, who you could call a casual gamer, decided to get her own copy of Left 4 Dead so they could play together even when they didn't have time to visit. Tara was excited and set Jaymie up with a new mouse and a headset, and before long they were trying to survive the zombie apocalypse side by side.

Column: The Blue Key: Gaming with your Significant Other Pt. 1

October 14, 2010 12:00 PM |

supermariowii.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch exclusive column from Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture – where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. This week, part one of a two part series exploring the potentially difficult and potentially rewarding act of gaming with a romantic partner.]

Many of us have tried to get our loved ones involved in our favorite hobby by introducing them to gaming. On the surface it seems like an absolutely fantastic idea. What a great way to spend some quality time sharing a fun experience with your significant other without spending a lot of money.

However, there are many potential difficulties in this that we may not foresee. So what follows will be an examination of playing video games with your girlfriend or boyfriend in the form of four case studies, and hopefully the lessons learned below have some universal application.

We will see that playing with a significant other can be quite a bit trickier than playing with your buddies, but there are a few things we can do to avoid some of the potential hazards, and ensure a positive, healthy, and rewarding experience. Additionally, there are steps that developers can take to promote gaming across the experience gap, and our first case is a great example of a developer that successfully addressed this issue:

Column: The Blue Key: On Legacy

September 24, 2010 12:00 AM |

papermario.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch exclusive column from Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture – where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. This week, he discusses the strengths and weaknesses of games that have a lofty title to live up to, and the emotional impact these games can have on gamers.]

Your shiny game mag of choice shows up in your mailbox, you flip through and find a preview for, let's say, Zelda: The Skyward Sword. Your brain quickly skims through the hours and hours that you've spent in your lifetime playing various other Zelda games. Understandably, you become giddy with anticipation.

What is it about a new installment from a beloved series that makes our hearts beat a little faster? That makes us feel like a little kid again, running down to the game store with a pre-order receipt and butterflies in our stomach? There are many legacies in the video game world, some have retained their status as juggernauts, while some have fallen from grace and continue to limp along in the periphery. But in either case, we often still feel a surge of emotional nostalgia when we hear about a new title from one of these legacy series.

But as much as a legacy title can be a huge cash-cow for developers, it must also be handled with care. Because of gamers' highly emotional attachment, a disappointing iteration can cause gamers to become extremely bitter, as if the developer has just profaned a sacred memory. In other words, its greatest strength – the emotional attachment of gamers – is also its greatest potential weakness.

This poses an interesting challenge for developers. They must find a way to keep a series interesting and original, while simultaneously remaining true to the series' traditions. If the new installments lack any innovation gamers might feel ripped off, like the same game was thrown in a new package and sold to them a second time. On the other hand, if the studio strays too far from tradition they risk losing the essential elements of nostalgia and familiarity.

Column: The Blue Key: The Aggressive Instinct Pt 2, Addressing The Counter-Point

September 8, 2010 12:00 PM |

M-rating.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a new biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture -- where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. This is the second of a two-part series exploring the violence in modern gaming -- the potential benefits as well as the potential problems. This week, opposition to the recent California legislation and support for the ESRB.]

In part one I defended violence in gaming as a healthy outlet for our natural but socially unacceptable tendencies toward aggression. However, there is another side to this issue, and it would be unfair to ignore the often valid concerns of parents and educators and the like who worry about kids being exposed to violence and graphic imagery.

The famous California court case regarding video game ratings and minors has recently brought this issue to center stage under the public spotlight. To address the issue, I have chosen arguably the most extreme example of gratuitous, unwarranted violence that has ever been portrayed in a game.

Now, I never picked up Modern Warfare 2, and somehow I missed the initial fervor around the notorious airport massacre scene, but a friend of mine recently showed it to me.

As my friend strolled through the bloody mess of an airport (the character is forced to calmly walk, making it that much more disturbing) I wracked my brain trying to figure out why Infinity Ward would put this in their game. As more and more shrieking, pleading, unarmed civilians were gunned down, the only conclusion I could come to was this: At best, it is supposed to disturb you and make you disgusted with what you’re seeing and doing, while at worst, they did it for shock value in a shameless attempt at publicity.

In the above linked article, author Tom Chick describes a scene at his local GameStop on MW2’s launch day: “A lot of children were there with their parents. One kid with his copy ran back to the car ahead of his grandparents. He was literally leaping into the air, clutching the box, kicking his legs out eagerly, like a gymnast or a spazz.” To be completely honest, the thought of those kids playing the infamous level is more than a little unsettling.

Column: The Blue Key: The Aggressive Instinct Pt. 1, Violence in Video Games

August 21, 2010 12:00 PM |

rage.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a new biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture -- where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. This is the first installment of a series exploring the violence in modern gaming -- the potential benefits as well as the potential problems.]

You are a man alone in the wilderness with only your carefully tended fire for company. Your clothes are made of fur and hide, and you have become separated from the rest of your hunting party. It looks like you have to spend the night alone— A twig snaps in the woods behind you. You turn around baring your teeth and tense up for a fight.

In this particular scenario, the aggressive tendencies of masculine nature are priceless assets. If that happens to be a predator sneaking up behind you, you’re ready to defend yourself; on the other hand, if it happens to be prey you may have just found dinner. However, in modern civilized culture those very tendencies that used to save our lives have become—for the most part—social liabilities. No matter how much we might want to, we are not allowed to beat our chests and throw feces at a crappy boss.

In video games we have a safe and healthy outlet for this aggression, we can transfer everything into the game and just vent—a kind of interactive catharsis. This is why you’ll often find the most mild-mannered geeks suddenly bright eyed and giddy at the sight of an exploding skull a la Fallout 3, or laughing maniacally while playing GTA and enacting schemes worthy of moustache-twirling villains. It is the purging of everything negative that we suppress in our daily lives.

Column: The Blue Key: The All-Important Ending

August 3, 2010 12:00 AM |

theend.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a new biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture -- where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. In this article, he discusses the importance of endings, and considers the strengths and weaknesses of a few specific examples.]

(Spoiler Warning: The first half of this article speaks generally on the topic of endings, the second half will examine a few specific endings and will contain spoilers – there will be a game-specific warning before each paragraph that contains spoilers.)

The end of a game should make you feel like you worked for something that was worth working for. At the very least it should make you say “wow” in one way or another. That conclusion can take many different forms, it can be eye-candy, it can be heart-wrenching, it can be mind-blowing, or it can simply wrap up a story in a really satisfying way. A disappointing ending can destroy an otherwise good game, no matter how much fun you had getting there.

Modern games tend to require a significant time commitment if you actually intend on completing them. Even finishing a “short” game like Darksiders (averaging 10 - 20 hours) can take a few weeks’ worth of free time for someone with a busy schedule. Now, when I was a kid I never thought twice about dropping over a hundred hours into a game, but when you grow up you invariably start looking at your free time differently.

After spending 40+ hours on a game, we don’t want to feel like Hans Moleman when he gets stuck in the Kwik-E-Mart: ”You took [40+ hours] of my life, and I want them back.”

Column: The Blue Key: For My Entertainment, Or How Assassin's Creed 2 Taught Me To Make My Own Fun

July 20, 2010 12:00 AM |

Assassins Creed 2[“The Blue Key” is a new biweekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Connor Cleary that explores the wide arena of gamer culture -- where it's been, where it is now, and where it might be going. In this article, he discusses the importance of balancing logistical necessities with emotional engagement in gaming.]

I have heard several people complain that the combat system in Assassin’s Creed 2 was too boring. Anyone who has played either iteration will understand what I mean when I say that you can win any fight with one hand. But if you haven’t played them, here’s a quick explanation: you have the option of simply holding the block button and activating a parry against any incoming attacks, since parries are also automatic counter-attacks there is no need to fully engage in any battle.

But it should be noted that Assassin’s Creed 2 offers a very wide variety of weapons and gimmicks and tactics to choose from which, if utilized, can produce some really interesting and epic battles. The drawback is that making use of that variety is not the most efficient way to fight.

So you might take some damage if you decide to try breaking the enemy’s arm to steal their spear, or if you try to jump up on a ledge and rain throwing knives down upon your pursuers. These are more risky than the simple block, parry, block, parry, block, parry—but they are also infinitely more fun, and making your own fun is important.

So where exactly does the division of responsibility lie between the game studio and the gamer in creating an entertaining experience? Clearly the game studio has to produce a quality title, no amount of personal engagement can save a terrible game. But is it reasonable for us as gamers and consumers to expect every iota of entertainment to be served up on a platter with absolutely no involvement on our end?

The short answer is clearly “No.” That is not reasonable. Games are not movies, we are supposed to get involved.