DIS­PATCHES JUNE

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Head­set abuse

This is a con­tentious is­sue that I feel has been poorly ad­dressed by de­vel­op­ers and the me­dia. Af­ter all, how harm­ful could VR be?

It’s easy to dis­miss such a ques­tion as an­other ex­am­ple of some­one rail­ing against games; maybe a gamer who’s been ‘turned’ by anti-game pro­pa­gan­dists. And yet…

I was pretty up­set at en­act­ing the tor­ture scene in Grand Theft Auto V. I’ve com­pleted that game twice. The first time, I was hor­ri­fied. The sec­ond time, the knowl­edge of the scene hung over me like a dark cloud. I’m not sure I can do it again.

And I cer­tainly couldn’t have com­pleted it if I’d played GTAV in VR. If I tor­ture a man in a videogame, I see the edge of the TV screen. I know I’m not re­ally do­ing it. Re­move the frame and we’re in­side the game – a mag­nif­i­cent achieve­ment. But is re­mov­ing the TV frame stop­ping us from ground­ing our­selves in re­al­ity?

I won­der what faces peo­ple will make as they pull out Ke­r­i­mov’s teeth, hear him scream, feel his hot breath on the back of their hand through ul­tra­sound hap­tics, sense his head re­sist­ing the pull, see­ing his eyes plead.

VR is awe­some: it is cy­ber­punk made live. I’m a big fan, and I want to work with peo­ple who make VR ma­te­rial. But I worry that the in­dus­try is rush­ing ahead blindly on this one. We got so much flak for vi­o­lence in con­sole games. Can you imag­ine the re­ac­tion to vi­o­lence in VR? If I stab a man in GTAV, I get some rum­ble feed­back. If I stab a man in VR in maybe two years’ time, I ex­pe­ri­ence it slid­ing in, hear it pass­ing through him, I see his eyes widen, feel the weight of him as he falls for­ward…

I’m not say­ing we stop mak­ing vi­o­lent games, or stop play­ing them. But it makes sense to de­velop our aware­ness as we de­velop our tech­nol­ogy, rather than go­ing into a knee-jerk fuzz when the wider me­dia crit­i­cises our con­tent. If we want vi­o­lence in VR we have to con­sider the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects it will have on us as play­ers, as we phys­i­cally en­act scenes of grue­some vi­o­lence as though they were real. Ash­leigh Al­lan With VR gam­ing, we’re living through the in­ven­tion of some­thing that chal­lenges deeply rooted prece­dents – which is partly what makes it so ex­cit­ing. We’re keep­ing open minds for now, but pre­par­ing to face up to some pos­si­bly awk­ward chal­lenges.

Maybe hate the player?

I was pleased to see you run a piece on Campo Santo’s Fire­watch in E279. I’ve been fol­low­ing the game’s devel­op­ment, and the emerg­ing com­bi­na­tion of ex­plo­ration, style and story-driven el­e­ments couldn’t be more promis­ing – but it has got me won­der­ing: as the lines be­tween videogame and art blur, where does that leave the re­la­tion­ship be­tween de­vel­op­ers and play­ers? With the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia and crowd­fund­ing, play­ers are more in­volved than ever in the early stages of games, and the mid­dle stages, and the late stages, and af­ter re­lease, and – well, you get the idea. I’m sure I’m not the only one who still wakes up in a cold sweat over Mass Ef­fect 3’ s end­ing and the In­ter­net-wide strop that fol­lowed. While it was heart­en­ing to see a stu­dio re­spond to fan in­put, I’m not sure it was ben­e­fi­cial.

We wouldn’t dream of stomp­ing into an artist’s stu­dio and com­man­deer­ing the brush, nor of smear­ing paint over the fin­ished cre­ation, so why do some play­ers con­sider it ac­cept­able to im­pinge on the cre­ative process, be­fore or af­ter re­lease? There is a ten­sion be­tween games as cre­ative works and as con­sum­ables de­signed to gen­er­ate rev­enue: if the play­ers don’t like

“We should make peace with the fact that age­ing does take its toll on our favourite hobby”

it, they aren’t go­ing to buy it, but pan­der­ing to the fickle, of­ten con­tra­dic­tory de­mands of con­sumers risks dam­ag­ing, rather than im­prov­ing, a game.

Campo Santo have done a won­der­ful job of cre­at­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful and unique, while still keep­ing in touch with their grow­ing fol­low­ing. They are, how­ever, in a mi­nor­ity. It would be detri­men­tal for us all were videogames to be­come di­vided be­tween those that strive for sales and su­per­fi­cially pleas­ing play­ers, and those that have artis­tic and nar­ra­tive merit. Here’s to find­ing a happy medium.

Amy Reeve

As with VR, the rules here are still be­ing drafted, but the line be­tween em­pow­er­ment and en­ti­tle­ment is def­i­nitely finer than we once thought. Can any game stu­dio ever be cer­tain of pleas­ing ev­ery­one, though?

Time ex­tend

The topic of grow­ing older, and how chang­ing cir­cum­stances in life af­fect how we play, is of­ten touched upon in Edge’s Dia­logue sec­tion. As a gamer my­self through two decades I can eas­ily re­late to how one must adapt to mar­riage, hav­ing chil­dren, hav­ing a full-time job, and so on. Lack of time due to th­ese changes is of­ten used as an ex­pla­na­tion for why we change our gam­ing habits: “Now I play on the low­est dif­fi­culty”, “I mainly play to see the story through – I don’t have much time”, and so on. But we live in a sort of de­nial, where we con­tin­u­ally blame lack of time for th­ese changes. I think we need to em­brace the fact that, as we age, neu­ro­log­i­cally speak­ing, we’re get­ting slower, and that many of us can’t keep up with the de­mands of ‘Hard’ modes. It may be that games have got­ten more dif­fi­cult, but I feel that in gam­ing my brain’s re­ac­tion time has in­creased to a point where the change is tan­gi­ble. Th­ese days I al­ways play on the eas­i­est mode, as I of­ten feel that even ‘Nor­mal’ is de­signed for a younger, speed­ier brain.

Of course, all brains age dif­fer­ently and some can keep a keen edge for longer, and some games are turn-based and are there­fore nat­u­rally slower. It might also be that my brain is slower than av­er­age, but there is, none the less, a rea­son that the best pro­fes­sional gamers usu­ally aren’t in their 30s. My point is sim­ply that we should make peace with the fact that age­ing does take its toll on our favourite hobby, no mat­ter how we try to cover it up. With that be­ing said, though, I’m still firmly con­vinced that I could un­lock in­vin­ci­bil­ity in Gold­enEye at any time.

Bo Mai­bom Petersen

First, thank you for dis­patch­ing the car­rier pi­geon. Ob­vi­ously it ar­rived safely. But, hey, Daigo Ume­hara re­mains one of the best

Street Fighter play­ers in the world, and he’s an­cient – like, 34 or some­thing. We’re not feel­ing ready for the glue fac­tory just yet.

Gran prix leg­end

I found my­self brows­ing through some back is­sues re­cently and was in­spired by your 20th-birth­day cel­e­bra­tions to make a com­par­i­son be­tween two Sun­day af­ter­noons, two decades apart:

1995: Af­ter wolf­ing down our roast din­ner, my younger brother Dave and I are hud­dled in front of our small por­ta­ble TV tak­ing turns for best laps with Vir­tua Rac­ing on our Mega Drive. We had owned the game for a year but were wring­ing out ev­ery ounce of play due to it cost­ing £70 plus the bus fare to Elec­tron­ics Bou­tique. I’m hav­ing trou­ble on a hair­pin, Dave is about to show me where to brake, but he’s late for foot­ball prac­tice so leaves me to tackle the cor­ner my­self. I could maybe find what I need in Sega Power’s game guide, but it’s not in the shops for an­other two weeks. Gran puts down her teacup and says, “Give it here”. She deftly turns in a storm­ing lap, dabs the brake and pow­er­slides round the hair­pin for a best-lap record. I glance across at gran; she hands the con­troller back say­ing, “What, you think I spend my af­ter­noons knit­ting?” I hit save but an er­ror mes­sage ap­pears. The data is cor­rupted and I’m prompted to cre­ate a new game. Damn! Well, no­body at school would have be­lieved our best lap times any­way. Just then my el­der brother Tim comes in from wash­ing the pots. “Never mind, bro, you can try to beat me at Sen­si­ble Soc­cer”. Some things never change. I smile and stretch my arm out for the re­set but­ton…

2015: Dave and I are loung­ing in front of a plasma screen, hav­ing a first-time play of Grid 2 which my PS3 had au­to­mat­i­cally down­loaded for free via PS+ over a year ago. Af­ter hav­ing fun beat­ing one an­other’s best lap times, Dave leaves to pick up his son from foot­ball prac­tice and I’m left play­ing alone. Af­ter sev­eral fence col­li­sions on the next track (tough hair­pins are still my down­fall), I switch on my PS Vita and quickly con­sult a track guide on GameFAQs, then suc­ceed in putting in a fast lap and trig­ger a PSN Tro­phy. Hur­rah! I glance across to the photo of gran on the man­tel­piece. Some things do change. My phone beeps – it’s a text from an old school chum who just saw my tro­phy award pop up and is spit­ting feath­ers. I hit save but an er­ror mes­sage ap­pears: File Cor­rupt. No prob­lem, I reload last night’s auto backup and quickly put in an­other win­ning lap. Just then the top-right cor­ner of the screen says that Tim, who now lives in Swe­den, has come on­line. I send him a quick text ask­ing if he fan­cies get­ting whupped at

Street Fighter IV. I smile and nudge my thumb over the PS but­ton…

Lawrence Pick

The cor­rupted down­load is the new mailorder par­cel lost in the post; the in­struc­tion man­ual is now a wiki full of spell­ing er­rors and plas­tered with ads for skinny pills. And they call this progress. Let us know where you want your New 3DS XL to be sent and we’ll put it in the post. OK, now we’re ready to be shipped off to the knacker’s yard.

Is­sue 279

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