The longest day for gaming

Today is officially the longest day of the year. Here in London, the sun rose at 04:43 this morning and is due to set at 21:21 tonight. That gives us a total of 16 hours, 38 minutes and 20 seconds of daylight – so what better way to use it than cramming it full of video games?

Unfortunately for most of us, we’ll be stuck at work and so there’s very little chance of that happening. Bosses seem to frown upon you skipping out of meetings to find a quiet room to play your Switch, for some reason. But what if you’d been prepared and had arranged to take the day off: which games would you be spending it with? Here’s a breakdown of my own longest day.

04:43 to 05:00:

Just enough minutes to make a cup of tea and gobble down some toast. If you’re going to do an extended gaming session, it’s a good idea to get some breakfast before you start.

05:00 to 07:00:

Time to warm up with The Elder Scrolls Online. After recently purchasing the PC version so my other-half and I could play with Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West, we’ve become hooked all over again and reached just under 50 hours in our first week alone. This time I’ve gone for something completely different and am aiming for a tank build; in the past my characters have tended to focus on magic and healing. It’s a change I’m liking though, because I love being able to run into battle and feel like I’m immovable.

07:00 to 10:00:

At the time of writing I’m partway through Lamplight City and think I’ve only got a few hours left, so what better time to finish it. I tried the preview build back in August but it’s taken me a while to get around to playing the full version. If you like detective stories it’s definitely worth a go: certain gameplay elements are like L.A. Noire and going down the wrong line of questioning can close parts of your investigation or cause you to accuse the wrong person. It’s pretty ambitious for a point-and-click.

10:00 to 13:00:

Draugen has been on my radar since March 2014, when Red Thread Games shared the world premiere of its trailer during a developer session at EGX Rezzed. I adore the Dreamfall series (even though I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to finish Dreamfall Chapters) so the thought of playing another narrative-driven release from the team makes me excited. While investigating the disappearance of the protagonist’s sister in a remote village called Graavik, I’d made a quick sandwich to keep me going.

13:00 to 15:00:

Now for something completely different. Steam’s recommendations can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss but occasionally it does throw out something interesting. El Tango de la Muerte is a quirky little rhythm game where you have to learn the tango to win the heart of your loved-one. Inspired by the best Latin American soap operas and with a touch of melodramatic humour, I can see myself spending a couple of hours on the dancefloor and throwing a few shapes (digitally-speaking).

15:00 to 21:00:

Next up would be Observation. Stories Untold turned out to be one of my favourite games of 2017 so I’m looking forward to playing No Code’s latest release. The idea of uncovering what happened to Dr Emma Fisher and her crew through the lens of the space station’s artificial intelligence (AI) sounds intriguing – and there are bound to be a few surprises if the developer’s previous title is anything to go by. During these six hours of investigation, I’d also take delivery of a Chinese takeaway for dinner too.

21:00 to 21:21:

Maybe there’d be time to fit in a quick quest in The Elder Scrolls Online before the end of the day? I know what would happen though: my other-half, Tim and Jake would already be online and we’d end up playing for several hours.

So there you have it: the video games I’d spend the longest day of the year with. Now how would you spend your own?

Living forever through video games

I’ve always preferred video games to films. The latter present a plot which can’t be changed but with the former, there’s always that feeling of being able to affect the outcome even if it’s just an illusion of choice. We may ultimately arrive at set-points determined by the developer but those choices we’re presented with along the way change it into our own story.

Narrative in gaming has come on a long way since the days of rescuing princesses from castles. And we now have access to a wide range of protagonists which aren’t always the stereotypical white male hero, and it’s far easier to find one we can relate to and admire. Each character is fully developed with their own backstories, intentions, strengths and weaknesses, and the conflict they encounter drives the story forward in a way which makes the player care about their journey.

Think of all the protagonists you’ve stepped into the shoes of in all your years of gaming; how many have there been? I’ve broken all the rules and battled mechanical beasts throughout Mother’s Heart as Aloy. Taken on zombie-ghost-pirates with nothing more than a bottle of root beer as Guybrush Threepwood. Struggled with depression and been helped by good friends (as well as getting up to mischief with them) as Mae Borowski. And that’s just the start of a very long list.

I’ve been on adventures both big and small with so many digital people and although their story has become my own, it’s also become that for so many other gamers around the world. Thousands of other players have taken on the role of the same character and walked those same steps. Each of us may have experienced their tale in a different way, been affected by different elements or learnt different lessons from the encounter, but we’ve all felt what it’s like to be that protagonist and live in their world.

Video games give us the chance to live multiple lives in hundreds of ways. One day you can be a Dragonborn, going up against Alduin and an army of flying beasts raised from the dead; the next you can inherit your grandfather’s old farm and spend your time peacefully tending to crops and livestock. You might vow to end the Reaper threat, sailing through the stars and visiting distant planets. Or you might decide to go home after being away from your family for a time and find out what’s happened to your sister.

You could almost say that games can grant us a certain kind of ‘immortality’ when you think about it in this way. Although our time here is limited, the characters we’ve played as throughout our years never really die and their influence is felt in future releases and narratives, and even in the lessons they’ve taught each player. A protagonist’s tale becomes our own during those hours we spend alongside them; and as soon as another person picks up a controller, it becomes their story too.

Of course, it’s possible that at some point a game may be forgotten or the servers might be switched off once popularity wanes. But each character is never truly gone. They will always remain a digital possibility somewhere, waiting for someone to relive their tale – and ours – once again.

The circle of gaming life

Lately it seems as though there isn’t a week which goes by where I don’t come across gaming news which inspires a discussion. Last month was no exception: this time it was an article on the Metro website entitled Survey hails rise of ‘granny gamers’ with one in four over-65s playing video games.

The research was apparently commissioned by Ukie’s Must Play May, a campaign designed to bring families together to play the most appropriate and enjoyable releases. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down the original source and see the findings for myself but according to the Metro, a survey of 2,000 adults revealed that as many as 27% of over-65s claimed to have played a video game in the past five years. This increased to 85% for under-35s, and I’ve gathered the following figures together.

  • Under-35s – 85%
  • 35- to 44-year olds – 75%
  • 44- to 54-year olds – not stated
  • 55- to 65-year olds – 42%
  • Over-65s – 27%
  •  

    I’m a little shocked these figures have come as a surprise to many people. Individuals included in that oldest classification above would have been around when the first home PCs and consoles became available, so if they got into the hobby back then it makes sense that at least a fraction would still have an interest in it now. Take my own dad as an example: I can remember him getting a Commodore 64 in the 1980s when my brother and I were very young, and us sitting either side of him so we could watch him play titles such as Ghosts ‘Goblins and Paperboy.

    If you follow this train of thought, it therefore also makes sense that a high percentage of people in my own age group play video games too. Our parents occasionally played them, they were a part of our lives growing up and we became accustomed to them. Picking up a controller and turning on a game with a partner feels as familiar as sitting down together to watch a film; and some of us would rather do the former because of their interactivity. As I wrote in March, we may ultimately arrive at set end-points determined by a developer, but the choices we make along the way transform a plot into our own story.

    Keeping this thinking going, it’s understandable then why as many as 85% of under-35s play video games in one form or another. They’re now a part of everyday life and younger generations have seen their parents regularly participate in the hobby, even playing together as a family. For me personally it was a way to bond with my stepson when I was first introduced to him five years ago. It’s still a big part of our lives now: you’ll often find us chatting about new releases, hanging out at expos, or taking our PlayStation VR to family parties to rope everyone into having a go.

    I think the nature of video games has changed also for this youngest group and they no longer operate as simply entertainment. They’re also a kind of ‘social space’ and the lines between gaming and social media platforms are blurring. Part of the reason for this is online multiplayers and cooperative titles where it’s necessary to work together to achieve a goal, along with the ability to share screenshots and gameplay straight from your console. For example, my stepson doesn’t like Fortnite – but he still signs in on Friday nights so he can ‘hang out’ with his school friends.

    PlayStation VR, Christmas, Pete, Patricia

    These youngsters will be the grandchildren of the people in the over-65s group so let’s take the discussion back to them now. According to the Metro’s report, 31% of the oldest people surveyed said they used video games ‘as an excuse for interacting with them’ and ‘more than half said they were interested in playing with younger members of the family’. The variety of releases available nowadays is huge and there’s something both suitable and enjoyable for absolutely everybody, so what better way to make everyone feel involved than by handing them a controller.

    Gaming can be a means of both social interaction and keeping your mind active. For anyone who’s no longer able to continue with their previous hobbies because they don’t have the stamina or capability, video games can provide a way to relate to others and be a member of a community. As said by 97-year old Joan Low in an article about the Must Play May survey on The Telegraph’s website: “I used to play with my family and enjoyed the company and playing them. So now when you’re on your own, I found it interesting to do and I can play against the computer. It gives me a challenge, in fact I think I’m addicted!”

    We’re now seeing a generation of parents who grew up playing video games themselves and are passing their passion and knowledge onto their children. I think that’s awesome: it’s like a circle of gaming life.

    E3, Microsoft and Fable 4: totally bogus

    The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), takes place in Los Angeles Convention Center every June. Developers, publishers and manufacturers attend to advertise their upcoming projects to over 15,000 attendees over three days – and many more thousands of people view their presentations from the comfort of their own homes through the magic of the internet.

    E3, Xbox briefing, stage, lights

    I must confess that I don’t watch the event regularly myself, and the last time I did so was before the release of the current generation of consoles. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the hype before and after tends to kill any excitement I could have; similar to the overkill surrounding Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption in late 2018, the month of rumours leading up to E3 along with the number of news articles about the ‘shocking announcements’ for weeks afterwards really grinds my gears.

    The second is that I find most of the presentations by the big names don’t cater for where I fall in their audience. I’m not what they’d call a ‘hardcore’ gamer before I don’t care about the specifications of upcoming hardware – I just want my consoles to run the games I’d like to play. But I don’t necessarily come under their ‘casual’ classification either, because I play video games four or five times a week and they’re my main form of entertainment. As I’ve written previously, I actually prefer them to movies.

    But this year was different. This year even I’d not been able to avoid all E3 news and I’d seen a couple of articles about those recent Fable 4 leaks. On 04 June 2019, Twitter user Nibel spotted a Reddit post which allegedly detailed information on the unconfirmed game including the demise of Albion and time-travel. Although such things should always be taken with a pinch of salt, if any of the details contained are true then we’re looking at an instalment which is going to be a lot different from what we’ve come to know from the fantasy series.

    Fable has held a special place in my heart since its original release in 2004. It was the title that managed to get me back into gaming after the point in my teenage years where I suddenly realised that others didn’t view my hobby in the same way I did. After trying to change to fit in and becoming very unhappy as a result, getting the chance to play it made me see I still wanted to go on adventures, believe in fairy-tales and become the hero – and there was absolutely nothing wrong with me because of that.

    I booked time off of work when Fable II was released in 2008 so I could buy it as soon as possible and spend the entire day playing it. It turned out to be everything the first game was and way more: here was sequel which surpassed the original and remains on my list of favourites even today. But sadly, the same couldn’t be said of Fable III in 2010. It went downhill not too long after the opening credits and I came away from the experience disappointed, wondering whether my beloved series would ever get back on track.

    That’s why I found myself putting down the controller and firing up Twitch last Sunday evening, ready for Microsoft’s E3 presentation stream. Surely there had to be some details about Fable 4 after those leaks and last year’s news that Playground Games were working on something? I settled on the sofa full of anticipation as the clock slowly counted down towards the start time, before the screen filled with a cheering audience in front of a huge stage and far too many spotlights.

    There were some highlights during the next 90 minutes. Although the majority of games revealed seemed to be standard Microsoft fare of shooter sequels and remakes, there were a couple of titles that caught my eye. 12 Minutes, an interactive thriller about a man caught in a time loop by Luis Antonio, has an interesting top-down style and looks as though it would be right up my street. And although I won’t be brave enough to play it myself, I can see me making my other-half play Blair Witch by Bloober Team so I can watch from behind my hands.

    But there were also some lowlights too. Double Fine Productions is the latest Xbox Game Studios acquisition (which may turn out well for them because they’ve struggled to secure funding in the past, but we’ve seen bad things happen to small teams who get bought out). Microsoft are pushing the Xbox Game Pass at every opportunity to the point where I’m sick of hearing about it. Few details about Project Scarlett were shared. And everybody forgot about the games when Keanu Reeves made an unexpected appearance on stage (a ‘totally bogus’ publicity stunt).

    And the biggest frustration: no news about Fable 4 at all in that hour-and-a-half. Not even a hint. Maybe the news of a series resurrection was a little premature; or perhaps there were so many other games to unveil during the presentation, that Microsoft decided to hold onto the next Fable instalment until there’s more progress to show off. I’m guessing that we’re going to have to wait until this time next year for any real information, when the company might reveal it as a Project Scarlett launch title at the next expo.

    My disappointment is my own fault for listening to hype leading up to the event. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of hearing about a title you’ve been waiting for, then only to be let down. Next year I think I’ll go back to my previous tactic of staying away from all news, and play video games on those E3 days while other people watch presentations about them.

    What came first: the female gamer or the problem?

    Video games do not stop boys making friends – but girls who play struggle to make pals. That’s the headline from an article from a month or so ago. It was based on the results of a Norwegian study published in April 2019, for which 873 youngsters aged six to 12 were assessed to see whether gaming had an effect on their social development.

    A quick internet search to find out more revealed a number of lengthy and similarly ‘shocking’ announcements. Here’s just one example taken from the Daily Mail: Boys can play video games for as long as they like without suffering any harm but girls who join in struggle to make friends, study suggests. Most of the headlines making up the results highlighted how young females who participated in gaming found it difficult to socialise and were harmed more than boys by their hobby.

    Hands, video game, controller, gamepad

    This got me thinking about my own childhood. Did video games have a negative effect on my social development as a kid? It certainly doesn’t feel like it, although it’s possible the haze of 30 years’ worth of nostalgia may have altered my memories somewhat. Was it a case of me seeking out games because I found it challenging to make friendships then? This statement doesn’t feel right either. I played them because I enjoyed seeing their stories come alive, and that’s still a big factor for me today.

    I was a quiet kid who didn’t have a huge group of mates when I was young, but I was very close to those I did have. Not much has changed now that I’m an adult: I’m still an introvert and much prefer a smaller social circle made up of ‘my kind of people’. Far from being an obstacle though, video games have given me an avenue to both be creative and meet a whole bunch of awesome bloggers with similar interests. In fact most of my real-life friends are people I’ve met through gaming and blogging over the years.

    The headlines revealed by my internet search had piqued my interest though and I wanted to find out more. With a little further digging I unearthed the original source along with an article on the ScienceDaily website, to which the Postdoctoral Fellow who led the study had provided some comments. I was relieved to read it had actually found that ‘playing the games affected youth differently by age and gender, but that generally speaking, gaming was not associated with social development’.

    It seems like this is yet another case of video game chicken-and-egg. News outlets want to report that they’re the cause and harmful to young females, because that’s what grabs their readers’ attention. But the research indicates gaming may actually be a symptom, and that ‘girls who play video games may be more isolated socially and have less opportunity to practice social skills with other girls, which may affect their later social competence’. What came first: the video game or the problem?

    The worrying thing about the situation here isn’t so much the one-sided reporting and poor choice of headlines – although that’s definitely an ongoing issue – but the impact these have on the walls within our community. We’ve been working so hard on knocking them down and claiming an equal place for women, but salacious articles create an imbalance among gamers because of their sex. It gives confidence to less-accepting members of our group so they feel justified in building those divides back up.

    Check out the comments left on that Daily Mail report to see what I mean. Among those calling the study ‘sexist’ and ‘BS’ (presumably added by people who’d read the newspaper’s coverage and not the research), here’s one from somebody called ‘a-male’: “They’re desperate to pour criticism upon anything guys enjoy doing. Some girls seem to enjoy video games, too, but that doesn’t stop the feminists from trying to have video games completely done away with (no, I don’t play them, but I don’t think others should be stopped from playing them if they wish).”

    I’m not sure what I dislike the most about it. The implication that video games are for guys and women only seem to enjoy playing them. The incorrect assumption that the research’s conclusion is the recommendation they should be ‘done away with’. The belief that feminists are once again behind it. Or that all of this wisdom comes from someone who admits they don’t game themselves, and are therefore unlikely to understand the benefits and enjoyment that playing can bring.

    Whenever an article about a new video game study is published, it’s important to take the time to really understand its results and trace back to the original source if you can. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on a badly-written headline, or make assumptions according to what a slow-news-day is telling us. And when we read BS, it’s up to us as bloggers to use our voices to highlight it and continue the discussion in a thoughtful and constructive way.

    Don’t be a chicken – or an egg, for that matter – and keep knocking down those walls.

    Falling out with obsession

    Fallout is a franchise many people adore. I’m not a fan myself, primarily thanks to the oversaturation of news and blog posts around the time of the latest release, but I know a number of gamers and bloggers who feel it’s one of the best created.

    I think the first time my stepson heard of it was when he found my other-half playing something on his laptop in late 2015. He asked his dad what it was and Pete informed him it was Fallout 4; and in usual Ethan fashion, he then asked hundreds of questions for the next hour. This is a normal occurrence with our kid when it comes to video games. He may not care about the title itself or even want to see it but if you’re playing it, he’ll want to know the ins-and-outs of the world, the characters within it and their stories.

    Despite not playing the game and only viewing a brief and carefully-controlled section on Pete’s screen back then, Ethan has been obsessed with the Fallout series since – and this isn’t an exaggeration. He might have been in love with Minecraft when he was younger, subjecting us to tantrums we eventually came to refer to as ‘Minecraft behaviour’ after less than an hour at a time with it, but that crush was nothing compared to his continuous three-year infatuation with Bethesda’s project.

    He’s read every book on the series that he can get his hands on. He spends his pocket-money on framed posters and bobbleheads, showing them all proudly around his bedroom. The line of Funko Pop! Vinyl figures featured on a shelf is set in a specific order, and his prized possession is a Pip Boy we found at the London Gaming Market. And if he’s not wearing a too-big Tunnel Snake hoodie I got him from Loot Crate, you’ll find him in a festive Fallout 76 jumper that my brother gave him at Christmas. Yes, even in June.

    It’s several things that attracts my stepson to Fallout. First is the apocalyptic setting; after all, what 11-year old doesn’t enjoy an end-of-the-world scenario with the potential for zombies? Next is the fact that he’s a bit of a lone-wolf who enjoys his own company, and this has caused him to identify with the protagonists. Then finally it’s the soundtrack. He’s always enjoyed an incredibly varied range of music, often preferring far older stuff than the usual pop other kids his age are into, so the 1940s songs get him singing along and his feet tapping.

    In the paragraph above I mentioned Ethan’s relationship with the protagonists, and it’s worth pointing out here that this isn’t necessarily the character who appears on-screen. The majority of everything he knows about the Fallout series comes from things he believes to be true. Most of his knowledge started off as a point of interest picked up from a book or discussion with his dad; then evolved with leaps logic and a touch of imagination into my stepson’s very own version of the Fallout world.

    London Gaming Market, Ethan, Pip-Boy

    His obsession hasn’t caused any major issues so far but we can see the start of some possible frustrations since he joined secondary school last year. He doesn’t seem to understand why nobody else there is interested in the franchise, even when we try to explain that Fallout 4 is almost four years old and everybody has moved from the poor release which was Fallout 76. We’re sadly getting the impression that he’s beginning to believe he’s ‘the odd one out’ or as that he doesn’t fit in.

    The pre-teenage years are awkward enough without you wanting to talk about a franchise your friends view as ‘ancient’, while they’re all playing the ‘latest thing’ which doesn’t interest you in the slightest. On one hand I’m kind of proud that Ethan doesn’t like Fortnite and wants to devote his time to a video game that’s detailed, atmospheric and story-rich; but on the other, I get that the preference makes it more difficult for him at this stage in his life.

    So what’s a dad and a stepmum to do? Pete and I have always tried to have an open communication channel with Ethan, and regularly discuss video games and their responsible use with him. Right now I guess that’s all we can keep doing. Maybe one day he’ll find something to replace his Fallout obsession, the same way The Legend of Zelda eventually did with Minecraft, or perhaps even find himself a friend who shares the infatuation so he has someone to keep him company in the wastelands of Boston.

    Let’s hope so.