The end of the world: video game apocalypse

Think of all the games you’ve played. It’s highly likely that the situation in most was depicted as bleak and hostile: gangs rioting in the streets, looting for the best gear and decorating their settlements with kitty pictures. But would we really abandon our moral compasses so easily in the face of oblivion? (not that there’s anything wrong with cats, mind you.)

According to researchers, this might not be how things would actually turn out. It’s hard to study how we’d react to Armageddon without convincing us that the world is actually about to end so instead, a small international team turned to video games for the answer. I can’t say I blame them – we gamers have known they hold the answer to everything for a while now.

The team conducted an experiment with a large group of volunteers in a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called ArcheAge by developer XL Games. It’s a little hard to tell from the Steam page what this title is about because the description is so open but that’s the whole point: players can build houses, have parties, learn a trade, spend money and advance through the ranks of guilds. They’re essentially able to do as they please, and this is what made the release so well-suited for behavioural analysis.

Upon joining the server for the fourth closed beta test, volunteers were advised that everything they accomplished would be wiped out in 11 weeks. All evidence of the virtual world and what had occurred within it would vanish, so the outcome or penalty of any in-game behaviours lost their meaning. This allowed the researchers observing 270-million of them anonymously to see how the people behind the avatars would behave when they knew that the clock was ticking down.

So did everyone resort to rioting and killing sprees when confronted with the apocalypse? In actual fact, no: players acted more nicely towards each other, banding together to work as a team rather than focusing as much on their individual success. The researchers found that rather than wreaking havoc, most chose to spend their time hanging out with fellow virtual comrades. The majority of players stopped anything to do with character advancement or progression and instead became more social.

Of course, there were a few outliers intent on causing mayhem who resorted to anti-social behaviour such as murder. But the report states that for the most part, the virtual world became a calm and peaceful place. As said by team-member Dr Jeremy Blackburn from Telefonica Research and Development in Barcelona:

People don’t really go off the deep end, they just stop worrying about the future.

It’s impossible to say whether such an online test would truly mimic an Armageddon experience, and we’ll never know what we’d actually do unless impending doom actually hit us. But research has shown that the behaviour exhibited by players in an online world isn’t very far from human behaviour in the real world – so the experiment could be a good approximation of an end-times scenario.

Don’t you think that’s kind of comforting, that people might prioritise friends and community in the face of an impending apocalypse rather than going nuts in some kind of mad free-for-all? With all the negativity and hate in the world today, perhaps that’s what we need to keep reminding ourselves of.

Rezzed 2017: indie games galore

Tomorrow morning sees the start of the Rezzed 2017 in London’s Tobacco Dock. The event is hosted by the team behind EGX and features many playable pre-release games on both PC and console with a strong focus on indie titles.

I’ve gone to Rezzed every year since 2013 and the thing I love most about it is the atmosphere: it’s kind of like the EGX expo but different. It’s not so noisy, there aren’t as many publishers trying to push their wares into your face and there’s a real vibe of support for independent developers. Everyone is really friendly and open for a chat, creators and gamers alike, and it’s possible you’ll come away with some new friends (this is how I first met Tim from GeekOut South-West).

I’m due to be at the event on all three days and will be spending Thursday and Saturday morning volunteering on the stand for SpecialEffect. If you haven’t yet heard of the charity (or our Gamely Giving efforts) check out their website: it’s an amazing UK-based organisation which supports people with physical disabilities by helping to play video games. Last year we showed attendees how to play Rocket League with their chins and Minecraft with their eyes, and this time I think we’re playing with Abzu and Towerfall Ascension.

Rezzed, video games, gaming, event, expo, SpecialEffect, stand, charity

I’m only volunteering for half a day on the Saturday because we’re bringing my stepson to Rezzed for the first time! We’ve held off on doing it previously as we felt he was a little too young for the experience but, as he’s due to reach the grand-old-age of ten and is really getting into his gaming, it seems like it’s now appropriate. We haven’t told Ethan yet in order to make the day out a surprise for him – he can hang out with his dad in the morning and do ‘boy stuff’ before I join them both in the afternoon.

They’ll likely be some Rezzed-related content from me over the next couple of weeks depending on what I find and the games that impress me. I’d also like to write a piece explaining why you don’t need a press pass to get the most out of events like this in my experience… more on that another time.

If you haven’t yet bought your tickets and would like to attend, there are still some available for all days (at the time of writing). And if you’re going to be at the event, let me know in the comments below – and make sure you stop by the SpecialEffect stand to say hello!

Step right up: a video game theme-park

Have you ever played a video game you’d love to experience in real-life? Nintendo fans will have something to look forward to after the company announced at the end of 2016 that themed-areas will be coming to the Universal theme parks in Japan, Orlando and Hollywood over the next several years. But what about the rest of us?

There are so many games that would make an excellent theme-park or at least an attraction within one. The lovely Luna from the GamersUnitedGG Blog posed this question to her nominees for the Mystery Blogger Award recently and this post is dedicated to her: here’s what I’d do if I was going to build a pleasure ground dedicated to the world of video games.

The planning stages

Theme Park, video game, snake, slide, visitors, planning

This one may be obvious but what else would you use to plan the layout for a new theme-park? Bullfrog’s construction and management simulation enabled players to design and create their own attractions with the goal of making money and expanding across the world. I’d use Theme Park to give a visual representation alongside my business case for a profitable amusement park, which I’d take to the bank and convince them to give me a huge loan so I could start the building work. Simple.

Sonic Boom rollercoaster

Sonic the Hedgehog, video game, Green Hill Zone, palm tree, rings, blue hedgehog

A rollercoaster would be the perfect way to recreate Sonic the Hedgehog’s speed: imagine hurtling round the track to the music from the Green Hill Zone in a train of blue cars. Cliff-drops and vertical loops through palm trees would have your stomach flipping over and screams being let out involuntarily. You know how Sonic looks when he loses his rings after taking damage? That’s exactly the look I want to see on visitors’ faces when they get off the ride – before promptly throwing up.

The Ishimura’s Dread ghost train

Dead Space, video game, monster, alien, necromorph, Isaac, astronaut, space suit

Imagine a trip through the USG Ishimura, the necromorph-infested space vessel from Dead Space. Live actors would take on the role of these mutated antagonists so the experience is slightly different each time and the fear-factor is amplified. Isaac Clark would make an appearance to ‘save’ the visitors just in time at the end of the ride – and also provide an excellent opportunity for autographs, signed t-shirts and photographs upon exiting. For which of course you’ll be charged an over-inflated price.

Welcome to Rapture log flume

BioShock, video game, Rapture, 1959, sign, New Year, rubble

Step onto my log flume for a tour through the wondrous underwater city of Rapture. See the amazing sights of BioShock’s setting: Neptune’s Bounty, Arcadia, Big Daddies and Little Sisters. The ride would grow gradually darker as it progresses and scuttling will be heard in the shadows as robotic Splicers draw closer… before you’re thrown over the edge in pitch-black and plunged into a pool of freezing cold water. You may have to spend the rest of day wearing soggy clothes, but it’ll be worth it.

Bowser’s Bash bumper-cars

Mario Kart, Mario Kart 8, video game, racing, cars, race track, Bowser, Mario

The bumper-cars are one of the most-loved attractions at any amusement park so how about combining them with one of the most-loved racing games, Mario Kart? But let’s give our visitors a proper race-track rather than a square plot to drive around. Optional plastic cagoules would be handed out before the start of the ride to protect your clothing from squid ink; however, it should be noted that the park management cannot be held responsible for any injuries resulting from wayward shells and stray banana skins. Thank you.

Aperture Science educational area

Portal, video game, GLaDOS, robot, eye

Most of the theme-parks here in the UK have an area where school-trip kids are taken for some ‘learning’ – usually as a way to stop the teachers from feeling so bad about their class going somewhere fun as part of their education. Que the Aperture Science room, where tutor GLaDOS teaches the little darlings about physics through the wonders of high-tech virtual reality. She may have them crying by the end of the lesson but at least they’ll be rewarded with cake on the way out. Or is that a lie?

The Uncharted: Live show

Uncharted, Uncharted 4, A Thief's End, video game, Nathan Drake, explosion, jump

What do you get if you combine a cheesy Nathan Drake lookalike, appearances from Sully and Elena, pyrotechnics, vehicle crashes and plenty of climbing action? The Uncharted: Live show! Audience participation would be highly encouraged with selected volunteers taking on the role of pirate hostages, so our hero can rescue their butts and save the day. And of course there’s the additional perk of another autograph and photo opportunity – just watch your mum around Drake and make sure she keeps her hands to herself.

Mother’s Heart Zero Zoo safari

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, robots, beasts, animals, dinosaurs

A lot of theme-parks have a zoo or safari-type attraction but in this day of eco-awareness and conservation, perhaps using real animals isn’t the best way to go. That’s where Horizon Zero Dawn comes in: mechanical beasts are the future! No need to feed them or clean-up their mess, just turn them on and watch them go. Of course, the park staff will need to be watchful for unexpected murderous stampedes; but at least visitors can take home their very own blaze canister as a souvenir.

The Big Whoop restaurant

The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island, video game, Scumm Bar, pub, inn, pirates, Guybrush

A sure-fire way to rake in money at theme-parks is to have a restaurant complete with mascots, and Monkey Island fits the bill perfectly. Imagine Guybrush or Elaine showing you to your table in a place decked out like the Scumm Bar, undead pirates serving up ‘meat with condiment’ and cheese squigglies, and a three-headed monkey showing up halfway through your meal? With root beer for the kids and grog for the adults, there’s something on the menu for everyone – plus complimentary breath mints.

Tingle’s Treasures gift shop

The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, video game, shop, Hyrule Market

Following on from the restaurant above, no pleasure ground can do without a gift shop – how else are you meant to claw those last few pennies from exhausted parents trying to drag their screaming offspring out of your theme-park at the end of the day? With the music from The Legend of Zelda’s Hyrule Market shops playing on repeat without a pause, visitors will be all too eager to hand over their remaining cash for some overpriced toot so they can get out of there and away from the annoying assistants who keep telling them to ‘listen’.

I feel a Kickstarter campaign coming on… anyone want to be my first backer?

(A big thank you to Tim, Kevin and Nathan who helped me out with the names of some of the attractions!)

If video games have taught me anything…

We’ve been fortunate enough to be nominated for seven blogging awards since the beginning of the year. We can’t thank our followers enough for their support! We held our first blog party on Friday to show our appreciation (look out for the next one in the summer).

A common theme of many of these awards is helping new bloggers find their feet and giving those that have been around for a while a bit of well-deserved acknowledgement. Nominees are usually expected to give one or two pieces of blogging advice they feel their readers may benefit from; but what about the life lessons we’ve learnt from playing video games?

I asked several friends about the most ‘useful’ things they’ve ascertained through gaming and here are their responses*. This post is dedicated to DJMMT from DJMMT’s Gaming Blog, who nominated Later Levels for the Blogger Recognition Award earlier this month.

Tip 1: ask anyone nicely enough and you’ll get what you want

BioShock, video game, would you kindly, writing, wall, photographs, paperwork

Manners are important: they’re a sign of courtesy and professionalism, and having them will go a long way to increasing success in both business and life. Ask someone to help you with something in the right way and they’ll be more willing to give you a hand. Just take a look at BioShock for instance: add a ‘kindly’ into your question and you’ll have people bringing down planes, heading to specific destinations, killing your enemies and generally eating out of the palm of your hand in no time.

Tip 2: the government are totally in cahoots with aliens

Beyond Good & Evil, Jade, alien, DomZ, eye

Tim from GeekOut South-West says: “The world can be a truly terrifying place. To make it even more frightening, how about if I were to say that the government is looking to hand us all over to our alien overlords for a boatload of cash? What if I told you that all it would take to overthrow said government is a camera? Well, that’s exactly the lesson I learnt from Beyond Good & Evil: our leaders are going to sell us out to the DomZ. We’re all pretty much doomed.”

Tip 3: the more ridiculous something is, the more likely it is to work

Saints Row, Saints Row IV, dupstep gun, dancing, twerking

Chris from OverThinker Y: “If games have taught me anything, it’s that there’s a direct correlation between how ridiculous something is and how likely it is to work. For example, I struggle no end to overcome foes in Saint’s Row IV using a pistol or rifle, but give me a giant dildo bat and a dubstep gun and I’ll be laughing. Or Portal: overwhelmed by an angry AI? No problem; just warp it to the moon! I do try to apply these valuable lessons in life, but there are sadly few opportunities to do so.”

Tip 4: The Legend of Zelda has all the answers

The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, video game, Link, dungeon, chest

Kevin from The Mental Attic says: “There are so many things that can be learnt from The Legend of Zelda. Such as the quiet ones are usually the chosen ones. Or if you see a Gerudo man, you should kill him because he’s probably evil. Faeries are crunchy, and there’s always time for a harp solo. Lost in the woods? Then follow the music! It’s called Death Mountain for a reason; villains laugh in surround sound; and finally, most importantly of all: it’s dangerous to go alone, so take this.”

Tip 5: think outside the box to solve life’s problems

Metal Gear Solid, video game, Snake, box, cardboard box, sneak, hide, enemies

Nathan says: “Metal Gear Solid has taught me how to get creative in order to get out of sticky situations: whether it be using a Japanese model magazine to distract your foes whilst hiding in a locker, or using a cardboard box to sneak past enemies. This game and many others like it encourage you to think outside the box to solve life’s issues. When you walk down the street and catch the eye of someone you don’t fancy, pull a box out of nowhere and watch an exclamation mark appear over their head – problem solved!”

Tip 6: hooking up with work colleagues is never a good idea

Mass Effect, video game, Kaiden, man, male, topless, muscles

Getting it on with one of your co-workers is never recommended: one moment it’s all flirting by the water-cooler, and the next staplers are flying across the office in an all-out war. The space dating-sim Mass Effect teaches us about the dangers of conducting a romance in the workplace. Have an illicit encounter with a colleague and they’re more likely to bite the bullet – and there’s always the chance that a horde of highly-advance killing machines will be unleashed by the Human Resources department. It’s far easier to just stay away, regardless of how hot your co-workers are.

Tip 7: it’s good to be bad

Dungeon Keeper, video game, vault, casino, demon, devil, roulette

Tim from GeekOut South-West says: “Dungeon Keeper was a game that allowed you to be as bad as you wanted and rewarded you with points for it. This meant you’d be compensated for imprisoning fairies and knights, wizards and even the lord of the land. You were really aiming to be as bad as you could be – and it’s a-okay to do so. I guess it’s time to go slap some imps, dig some rooms up, make casinos and rig them so my minions spend all their money in their work time. It’s good to be bad!”

Tip 8: girls act all nice and then WHAM!

Mario Kart 8, video game, Princess Peach, racing, car, go-kart, motorbike, track

This piece of advice actually came from my stepson Ethan and was the inspiration behind this post. After a particularly difficult race in Mario Kart 8 where Princess Peach had got the jump on him at least once in every lap, he said: “Girls act all lovely and nice and then WHAM! They hit you over the back of the head with a blue shell.” This boy is wise beyond his years and has offered a life lesson that many a man may wish they’d paid attention to.

* Later Levels and its associates cannot be held responsible for any monetary losses, bodily harm or other unforeseen consequences arising as a result of taking our advice. Thank you.

Competitive gaming: teams and tantrums

Last month while I was browsing through the WordPress reader, I came across a post on the Lyte Bytes site entitled Fun vs. Competition: Can you enjoy gaming if you suck?. The author started by writing that he felt as though there was a limit to how much enjoyment could be had with a video game due to the presence of competition in certain types.

This got me thinking: is my dislike of first-person shooters (FPSs) and multiplayer online battle areas (MOBAs) more to do with competition than the genres themselves? It wasn’t something I’d considered before. But having never really been a competitive player, and owning hand-eye coordination of a level that would make that incredibly difficult anyway, it was a point that made sense.

I wrote recently about local multiplayers and how I miss the joy of such games. Battling it out in digital wars with family and friends in the same room created a shared social experience, a personal event which brought us together when I was a kid. The competition stayed friendly (most of the time) and regardless of who won and lost, it was something to laugh about and a way of making lovely memories.

EGX 2014, event, expo, convention, Call of Duty, video game, gamers, crowd, queue

Take it online however and it’s a whole different game. For example, titles like Call of Duty and League of Legends have the potential to inspire extreme competitiveness and there are some players who take winning incredibly seriously. Adult responsibilities mean that I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to an adequate levels to be able to compete; and I don’t want to spend the little free hours I do have being slated by my teammates for not being good enough.

In February last year, game analytics consulting practice Quantic Foundry published a report on how gaming motivations vary by age. This found that competition – that is, ‘the appeal of competing with other players in duels, matches or team-vs-team scenarios’– declines over time. There are many interesting comments on their blog post but this one left by James Lee stood out for me:

I wonder to what extent older players are put off competitive play simply because of the perception that it’s a young person’s arena. Many gamers who are 30+ may want competitive games but weigh up the ideal scenario of playing with peers against the perceived likelihood of playing against sweary teenagers.

Many of my friends and I could be placed in this bracket of ‘older gamers’ so I asked them what they thought about this. Most agreed, with Nathan saying that his ‘mum is filth’ according to some of the people he has played online with and Kevin describing the abuse he’d received. An entire post on the subject can be found over on The Mental Attic and here’s an excerpt:

As it tends to happen with Overwatch competitive, you sometimes have amazing matches, where even if you lose, it’s an intense fight from start to finish. And sometimes, you have a team filled with abuse-spewing nincompoops who focus on themselves and not the overall team effort yet find ways of making everything other people’s fault. I know I screw up, a lot, and I can accept that and move on, learning from my mistakes, but I’m continually shocked at how people refuse to accept their parts in a loss, opting for just vitriol to hide the fact.

So in answer to the question posed by Lyte Bytes: yes, you can have fun even if you suck at gaming; but in a competitive environment your teammates may make it extremely difficult. It’s not the games or the genres themselves that are the issue but the people we play with and our own attitudes when it comes to winning and losing.

There are so many wonderful things going on in the gaming world today. There are new experiences to suit everyone, regardless of their tastes; we have the opportunity to step into the shoes of a wide range of diverse characters; and strong female protagonists are now not such an uncommon occurrence. Yet there are things which still let us down and are a poor reflection on our community.

The next time you pick up the controller for an online match, try to remember that it’s not about winning or losing: it’s about enjoying a video game and having fun. And if you have the time to speak to the teammate who seems to be struggling, to offer a few words of encouragement or pass on some tips which might help them improve, then even better.

Game on, little sister

At last month’s GEEK expo in Margate, Replay Events converted the Hall by the Sea into a retro gaming heaven. It was good to see older gamers smile at the classics from their childhood while their young kids picked up the controllers with the same level of enthusiasm.

While my stepson was taking on my other-half at Street Fighter, I noticed a family standing nearby. The son was competing in a Halo tournament as his parents looked on; and his younger sister had decided to sit down as a nearby PlayStation while they waited for him. She was happily playing Street Fighter V and had set up a match between R. Mika and Cammy when I saw her.

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, girl, Street Fighter, monitors, PlayStation

On one hand, this was lovely to witness: it was obvious the family had got their GEEK tickets primarily for the son, but the daughter was getting stuck in too. She didn’t care who was watching, or that she was a girl, or any of that other stuff which usually bothers you when you’re eight-years old. She was simply there to play and you could tell she was having a good time doing so.

On the other hand however, it kind of struck me that the only female characters she had to choose from were all of a particular… type. She clearly wanted to play as someone the same sex as herself and her options were limited: did she go for a wrestler whose special moves made her butt the centre of attention; or a member of the British special forces team whose thong looked as if it was about to cut her in half at any moment?

The situation made me realise just how few female role models – and even fewer appropriate ones – we had to choose from in video games when I was a kid. It wasn’t a reflection on Street Fighter alone; the then-iterations of the helpless Princess Peach and triangular Lara Croft weren’t particularly better than the scantily-clad fighters. If girls wanted to game back then, the most they could hope for was a protagonist who either needed a man to rescue her or who showed a certain amount of butt-cheek while wielding her weapon.

There are many gamers out there who say that we haven’t progressed far from this point, and even more bloggers who still write about poor depictions of females in video games and other forms of media. It’s not that I disagree entirely; show me a protagonist like Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, or tell me that a character has been removed from Assassin’s Creed Unity because she’s too hard to animate, and I’m going to get as irate as the next woman.

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, female, woman, character, warrior, mountain, view

But sometimes you need to take a step back to see what’s been achieved, even when there’s still so far to go. In a recent post about cosplay I wrote that diversity is everywhere in gaming today. Characters such as Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Faith from the Mirror’s Edge series, and Lee Everett from The Walking Dead are pushing the boundaries and giving us ever more to look forward to.

Yes, there’s still work to be done. But knowing that little girl at the GEEK expo will grow up knowing some amazing female protagonists, while depictions like those in Street Fighter V will become relics of the past, is a pretty great thought.

Game on, little sister.