Ellie, Overwatch and the need to stick together

Every so often a news story crops up that keeps running and running, getting worse with every twist and turn revealed through gaming journalism websites. Unfortunately we’ve already had our first one for the new year and we’re only a couple of weeks into 2019.

You’ve probably already heard about Ellie, the talented female Overwatch player who was signed to Second Wind on 21 December 2018 and didn’t want to reveal her identity out of fear of harassment. She resigned from the team just weeks later after receiving doxxing threats and the story continued to snowball; Second Wind admitted they hadn’t completed due diligence because of their need to ‘desperately find a substitute’, and Blizzard eventually confirmed her account was a fake.

The rollercoaster didn’t stop there however. Overwatch streamer Aspen then took to Twitch to claim Ellie was actually a top-500 male player, saying: “The whole situation was meant to be, in a way, a social experiment. Ellie is actually Punisher, and he told me yesterday, so there you go.” Punisher himself hasn’t come forward with any kind of statement (at the time of writing) but further information has been released about his motive, and it’s thought that perhaps the ‘social experiment’ excuse was nothing but a cover to save face after being caught.

On one side we have those involved in the story: they all appear to be accountable in one way or another, and there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on as to who’s to blame. On the other we have the journalists and commentators: they all seem to be trying to use the story to prove different points about the state of gaming, twisting it as necessary to suit their arguments. Then there’s me: entirely confused about the whole thing which just seems like one big mess that has done nothing to help the community.

There’s already evidence of the division this situation has caused on social media. Some say the original harassment of Ellie probably wouldn’t have occurred if the player had been portrayed as an anonymous male, or at least it wouldn’t have blown up in the way it did. Their opponents are hitting back by saying it’s nothing to do with sexual discrimination; people were suspicious of Ellie for not wanting to hand over her personal details, and not because she was a woman. Argh.

If this was indeed a social experiment designed to make a point about women in eSports, it backfired spectacularly. There will be some out there in the dark corners of the internet who feel future attempts to expose female players using doxxing are now justified because of what’s happened here – even though a female player wasn’t caught cheating, the whole thing was created by a guy and Ellie never played in Overwatch Contenders anyway. Argh again.

There’s also the fact that we’re now going to have to put up with endless ‘is she even real’ memes thrown at any skilled female gamers who legitimately want to break into the industry. The Overwatch eSports scene was starting to head in the right direction when Kim Se-Yeon joined the Shanghai Dragons and became the League’s first female player last year, and unfortunately the Ellie story has set back that progress somewhat. One final argh.

There’s always going to be another controversy that blows up our news feeds; differences of opinion between sections of the community; and certain members online who want to increase their reputation by facilitating dumb social experiments. But I’m tired of the drama, the disagreements and the divisions. Will we ever be part of a group that stops hurting itself, where individuals join together for their love of gaming rather than knock each other down?

I really do hope so. Perhaps 2019 is the year when we start to see that happen, if we all stick together.

I’ve not provided links here to the Twitch channels for Aspen and Punisher as I’m sure they’ve received more than enough clicks already as a result of this situation.

Insomnia63: the trouble with Fortnite

My current obsession is Guns of Icarus Alliance. It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually play as I tend to shy away from anything competitive; but after getting roped into a match at Rezzed, I purchased a copy and have been hooked since.

So does this obsession mean I’d make a beeline for the stand if Guns happened to be on show at the next expo I’m due to attend? As much as I’m enjoying it and look forward to spending a few nights each week as an Engineer, probably not. I might wish to visit the developer at some point to give positive feedback about their project, but it seems strange to spend time queuing up for a ten-minute session on a title I could switch on as soon as I got back home to the comfort of my own sofa.

This hopefully explains my confusion when entering the NEC Birmingham last weekend for Insomnia63. After a short tour around the exhibition hall, we counted five separate areas dedicated to Fortnite: two full rows in the PlayStation zone, a couple of stands from Nintendo, a line of computers in the middle of the show and two merch sections where it was playable on gaming laptops available for purchase. And that’s not to mention the fact it also made several appearances on the BYOC timetable for the weekend.

Insomnia63, video games, Fortnite

Let’s get one thing straight before we continue: this post isn’t now going to turn into me ranting about how terrible a game Fortnite is. Yes, I’ve played it and no, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. But I’ve actively defended the title in the past when it has been the subject of outraged news reports and I don’t believe it’s going to bring about the downfall of our children (bad parenting will be able to do that on its own without too much help).

What I feel irked about is it being given so much coverage that it’s then turned into the ‘highlight’ of a show by proxy. I noticed the same thing done with Minecraft at Insomnia61 last year, along with other past events: row after row of monitors displaying the same badly-pixelated pigs. Although there may be a competitive element to these titles which doesn’t appeal to me, it strikes me as discouraging that so much floorspace is devoted to games which are readily available and most attendees likely already own.

Maybe I’m being cynical but it just seems like a cheap and non-creative way to fill empty areas in an exhibition hall. Tickets for myself, my other-half and stepson for Insomnia63 cost around £80 (including booking fee) so to part with that much and then be greeted with so many machines running Fortnite was a disappointment. And it’s not just the cost in terms of money: it’s also that we made a six-hour round trip and spent half of our weekend together at an event which promoted a game we could have stayed at home to play.

Seriously though, I think the worst thing about expos resorting to existing titles like this is the fact that new and unique projects then get overlooked by a good portion of attendees. Indie developers put so much time and effort into the games they’re working on, and those I’ve spoken to previously about the subject have revealed just how much commitment and organisation it takes to appear at a show. I can only imagine how disheartening it is to finally get there and realise you’re competing with 20 instances of the latest fad.

Attendees should be free to discover their own highlight of an expo rather than having something like Fortnite or Minecraft foisted upon them. Let’s hope we get to EGX next month and don’t find more than few machines dedicated to either of them.

Come fly with me

I‘ve never been a competitive gamer. Adult responsibilities mean 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 free hours I do have being slated by my teammates for not being good enough.

This was something I pondered over in March last year last year after reading an article by a blogger about whether you could still enjoy gaming if you ‘sucked’. In that post I concluded that yes, you could indeed have fun but your teammates may make it extremely difficult if you’re playing in a competitive environment. 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.

It’s therefore understandable that I was hesitant when asked to step in for a round of Guns of Icarus Alliance while at Rezzed in April. My stepson had first encountered the game at the PC Gamer Weekender back in February and had fallen in love with both it and the guys from Muse Games straight away. They’d been extremely kind to him that day, taking the time to guide him through their project and giving him loads of trading cards which he keeps in his wallet even now.

They appeared again at Rezzed and, despite already having the game at home, Ethan made us go back to their stand six times over the course of the weekend. During the final match, my stepson and two other attendees sat down but they needed a fourth before they could start; and after being asked by the developer if one of us would mind stepping in (and my other-half nudging me forward), I found myself in front of the sort of title I wouldn’t normally touch.

Fortunately one of the team was on standby and told me what I needed to do to steer our airship after being put into the most difficult role of pilot. Once I had the dirigible in place to enable my teammates to blast the enemy from the skies, I dashed around bashing things with my trusty hammer to repair our equipment before leaping back to the steering wheel. The developer told me I’d not done too badly for my first go despite Ethan cheekily telling me I’d been rubbish.

The following weekend, he spent the entire evening playing Guns on my PC with us spectating from the sofa. A weird sensation took over as I saw him listening to his pilot’s orders and firing the ship’s weapons: I remembered what it had been like playing the game at Rezzed and had to admit I’d actually enjoyed myself. My other-half was watching me and asked me what I was thinking – and was amazed when I told him I thought I might buy a copy for myself.

A few days later I ended up installing it on our PlayStation 4. The developer had told us it had taken an awful lot of work but they’d managed to sort out cross-play, so I thought it would be cool if my stepson and I could play together. Obviously I needed to get some practice in first so he’d no longer think I was, so that’s what I’ve been putting hours into for the past month. And I’m not going to lie: I’m completely hooked. I’ve not even touched The Elder Scrolls Online for ages.

I’m currently a level nine Engineer for the Anglean Republic and, although I prefer the co-op play mode, I’ve participated in a few PvP matches and even managed to win on a couple of occasions. There’s something about working as part of the team, focusing on my role of repairing our vessel while listening out for their commands and doing what I can to help, that’s strangely addictive. Women are in the minority but there are more female characters than I expected to see so I feel at home.

I wrote last year that games which inspire extreme competitiveness and players who take winning incredibly seriously weren’t my idea of fun. There’s some of that in Guns, but on the whole everyone has been lovely to play with and supportive of their team. There are some who drop out as soon as the match isn’t going our way, similar behaviour to that I picked up on with Rocket League, but an AI immediately replaces them and so you don’t feel at a complete disadvantage.

If it hadn’t been for Rezzed and the developer needing an additional person to be able to start a match, I’d never have realised that maybe I can find a competitive game enjoyable. I’m not sure I’ll ready to move on to another any time soon (despite Pete regularly teasing me now that next I’ll be taking on Call of Duty), but I’m content cruising the skies with my teammates. I can imagine how much fun it would be to play with a group of friends rather than strangers…

…if anyone wants to fly and needs an Engineer on their crew, you know where to find me.

I don’t like Destiny 2 (and that’s ok)

Destiny 2 was released back in September and, as you may have seen from my tweets over the past couple of months, I’ve lost several friends and family members to it. My other-half and Ben have been meeting up online at least once a week to play it together, which means I have to relinquish control of the PlayStation 4 and give up valuable The Elder Scrolls Online time.

They’re not alone: Activision hasn’t yet revealed how many copies of the game have been sold but it’s fairly obvious to say it was ‘a lot’. Over 50,000 units of the PS version were shifted within the first week alone in Japan and it took the number one spot in the UK sales chart. Although it has been criticised by some gamers as being ‘more like Destiny 1.5 than a sequel’, critics have been positive and the title holds a score of 85 on the Metacritic website.

Alastair Stevenson from TrustedReviews called it a ‘must-by’ because of its stellar single-player campaign, excellent combat and class mechanics, and enjoyable cooperative multiplayer. Kallie Plagge from GameSpot claims it has ‘a much stronger foundation’ and is a ‘significant improvement over the original’. And Alex Hern from The Guardian said ‘shooting aliens in the head feels good in this game, and when you start receiving exotic weapons in the latter half, it feels even better.’

Ben and my other-half echo their sentiments. When I asked them to explain why Destiny 2 is so awesome, they said: “It makes you feel like you’re progressing whether you’ve played for 30 minutes or three hours. The shooting is top-notch – guns feel ‘right’, there’s a good level of variety in them and the impact on enemies is spot-on. And it’s great with mates.”

But me? I just don’t get it.

The boys bought the game as soon as it had been released and after hearing them rave about it for over a week, Pete decided he’d teach me how to play. I’m not great at first-person shooters (FPS) and was worried the experience would potentially end in tears; however, he was so excited about the possibility of bringing me into this world that I couldn’t say no. It was therefore with some trepidation that I picked up the controller one evening but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

Saying that though, I put it straight back down again an hour later. I couldn’t understand what they found so entertaining about Destiny 2: to me the action felt repetitive and the story didn’t come across as anything particularly special. The most fun I had during those 60 minutes was creating my character (she had extremely cool hair), although it seemed strange that she was completely silent.

I’ve written before that I don’t really enjoy FPS titles or multiplayers because of their potential to inspire extreme competitiveness, and there are some players who take winning incredibly seriously. Adult responsibilities mean I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to an adequate level 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.

This wasn’t the reason for me not enjoying Destiny 2 though because I didn’t experience anything like that – I just simply didn’t like it. I guess in some people’s minds that would make me one of those ‘filthy casuals’. You know, those horrible people who call themselves gamers but aren’t interested in the latest hardcore release or queuing up for it outside a GAME store in the rain at midnight.

Would I refer to myself using that term? No: I play a range of video games as often as my schedule allows; I write about my gaming experiences on a blog; and I’ve attended six expos so far this year, even volunteering at a couple of them. Would I refer to anybody using such a term? No: we’re all purely ‘gamers’ regardless of whether we choose to play the newest shooter, a retro point-and-click or a quick mobile game on our daily commute.

Sticking a tag on someone suggests they’re somehow in the wrong for playing the games they like or in the way they do. That’s totally ridiculous: there are so many wonderful things going on in the world of gaming today and there are new experiences to suit everyone. Wouldn’t it be silly for us to not take advantage of that?

Destiny 2, video game, ship, space, fight. Ikora Rey

As I’ve said before, a title receiving high-ratings from critics doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should buy it, will enjoy it, or will see it through to the end. As long as we’re open to new experiences and give them a decent chance when they come along, there shouldn’t be any guilt felt at putting them down in something else more fulfilling of our spare time.

So there, I’ve said it: I don’t like Destiny 2. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine.

Guilty pleasure: The Typing of the Dead: Overkill

Wikipedia defines a guilty pleasure as ‘something, such as a film, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard, or is seen as unusual or weird.’

That statement doesn’t mention video games but all gamers have one: the title you love to bits but are too scared to admit in public. Maybe it’s that annual EA Sports release you’ve denounced as a blatant marketing ploy but then go home to play and win the World Cup. Or perhaps that new release you’ve joined in with the bashing of on an online forum before quietly collecting every hidden item throughout the remainder of the evening.

The House of the Dead: Overkill is a first-person rail-shooter developed by Headstrong Games and originally published by SEGA in 2009. The story takes place in 1991 when Special Agent G is sent to Louisiana to investigate a series of disappearances and hunt down crime lord Papa Cesar. Just when you think it can’t get any more clichéd, along comes partner Detective Isaac Washington who’s out to seek revenge for the murder of his father – and don’t forget about the infestation of mutants.

What if you kept the B-movie plot and zombies, but replaced the guns with a keyboard and bullets with random (and often crude) words? It sounds pretty bizarre but what you’ll end up with is Modern Dream’s 2013 release The Typing of the Dead: Overkill, and my very own gaming guilty pleasure.

Opinions of the game are somewhat mixed and it currently has a user score of 7.7. Some people praise it for its sense of innovation and comical wisecracks, but others criticise it for its juvenile humour, excessive use of the F-word and lack of gameplay. For example, take a look at some of the negative comments on the Metacritic page:

  • “There is no setting to alleviate the constant barrage of F-bombery. There are single sentences with three or four curses. It’s really just a lack of imagination.” – ebinary
  • “Having made it through the first two levels, I’ve already been exposed to tasteless cripple jokes, completely unnecessary levels of swearing, and a vomit-inducing fight against two zombified strippers. I’m no stranger to adult content in games, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the exploitative tone of this game.” – titlebreaker
  • Animations are poor, environments bland and uninspired and its just a whole bunch of horror clichés being thrown together. Meh.” – DFCZE

  • I really shouldn’t like The Typing of the Dead: Overkill as much as I do. It features Varla Guns and Candi Stryper as two of its protagonists, described as ‘the hottest stripper on the Bayou City club scene’ and portrayed as the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype respectively. Bosses such as mutant strippers Coco and Sindy bring the tone down even further – and I haven’t even mentioned the gratuitous boob shots yet.

    Considering all of this, I should be shouting ‘Sexism!’ from the roottops. But I love it because it’s just so damn camp. The B-movie grindhouse style and vintage soundtrack encourage players not to take the title too seriously and I can’t seem to stop myself from laughing at the parade of scantily-clad mutants and F-bombs. I know that’s possibly a little hypocritical of me considering my thoughts on females in gaming – and yes, I can laugh at some pretty immature stuff – but I just can’t help but get sucked into this game.

    The Typing of the Dead, Overkill, video game, boss, cow, Meat Katie, cleaver, food preparation

    I mean, come on. You’re fighting a boss called Meat Katie, a grotesquely-mutated butcher woman with a cow skull and udder attached to her body who uses a giant meat cleaver in battle. You’re confronted with phrases such as ‘udderly delightful’, ‘sirloin surprise’ and ‘food preparation’ until she’s forced backwards into a meat grinder and dies with a moo. How can you not laugh at that?

    Nintendo Power apparently once called The House of the Dead: Overkill ‘one of the Wii’s greatest guilty pleasures’, so The Typing of the Dead: Overkill is worthy of being mine. There may be a stream coming soon…

    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.