Two can play that game

As well as declaring our love for our backlogs this week, it’s also Valentine’s Day: that time of year when we show our loved-ones just how much we care about them. And seeing how I managed to bag myself a new husband last month (it still feels weird writing that), I guess I should be pulling out all the stops to show him just how special he is to me.

I don’t do red roses, boxes of chocolates and cards bearing statements of everlasting love however. The idea of Valentine’s Day has never held any appeal for me and I find it counter-intuitive: you can show someone how you feel about them on any day of the year rather than waiting for a particular date in February. So I’ve chosen to forego the traditionally-soppy stuff and instead devote today’s post to him, all about the video games we’ve played together over the past few years.

Street Fighter

After moving to a different part of Essex in 2014, someone overheard me having a conversation in a pub about Street Fighter. He introduced himself as ‘Pete’ and started trying to guess my favourite character; and during a conversation over a couple of drinks, we realised we’d grown up in houses on parallel streets and had moved to the same town as adults but never met before. Not long afterwards we visited The Heart of Gaming, where we went head-to-head on the title and I kicked his butt (there’s a chance he may have let me win).

Alien: Isolation

For our first Christmas evening together, the most festive thing Pete and I did was eat an entire tub of Quality Street. The rest of the night was spent playing Alien: Isolation, creeping around the Sevastopol space station in search of Ellen Ripley – and being unable to make our way past a dark corridor because that damn Xenomorph kept dropping through a vent in the ceiling and onto our heads. In a fashion which has repeated itself with horror games since, he was in charge of the controller while I hid behind a cushion.

Journey

In an effort to introduce them both to the indie side of gaming, I re-installed Journey for my other-half and stepson – and Ethan fell in love with it as soon as we handed the controller over to him. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the final cutscene, he said: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.” Getting that opportunity to show him that video games don’t have to be about violence and the fact that he understood that so well made me very proud.

Guild of Dungeoneering

Pete had never been to a gaming expo before so when Rezzed rolled around in April 2015, I bought him a ticket to go with Ben and I. His favourite game of the show was Guild of Dungeoneering; a strange choice for him because neither of us are particularly into card games. The quirky hand-drawn art-style won him over however and we played this title together for a number of weeks afterwards, and even now he bursts out into song because the catchy theme tune has suddenly popped into his head.

Overcooked!

Ethan really enjoys titles where all three of us can play together so Overcooked! seemed like an obvious choice when it was released in 2016. We haven’t managed to complete it yet though and gaming sessions usually end up with my stepson running around blasting the fire extinguisher; but it’s an awful lot of fun and encourages plenty of yelling. We’ve tried increasing our team to four members by including my mother-in-law when she stays with us – but it usually has hilarious, if disastrous, consequences.

To The Moon

Although it’s not the sort of game he’d usually enjoy, Pete was happy to sit and watch while I played through To The Moon once again last year. He may have teased me a little when the tears started falling towards the end but he could see how much this game meant to me. When it came time to pick the music for our marriage ceremony, Everything’s Alright by Laura Shigihara therefore seemed like the perfect choice for one of the songs; and the piano version we went for left our guests unaware that it was a track from a video game.

The Elder Scrolls Online

If adventuring through the Elder Scrolls lands was fun before, it’s even more fun now having Pete there by my side as explained in a post last week. We’ve been levelling up alongside each other and completing all the quests together; and when a solo one comes up, we’ll wait for our comrade by the exit once we’re done. It’s nice having someone there to explore the world with, celebrate in-game accomplishments with, and trade loot with – and it’s an added bonus that he’s sitting right next to me on the sofa.

A Way Out

Pete has participated in the GameBlast marathon stream with me ever since we met, although the event this year is going to be a little different. The other members of our usual crew will be tied up with spouse’s birthdays and new babies so it’s just the two of us next month! The game I’m most looking forward to playing is A Way Out because I love a good couch-coop – and if both of us have a controller, there’s less chance of us falling asleep. You can find out about our 24-hour stream schedule in this post.



With a new year of gaming ahead of us, hopefully there’ll be many more games Pete and I play together during 2019. Are there any titles you’d recommend for couples and friends; and which releases have you played with your loved-ones? Let me know in comments below so we can share the love this Valentine’s Day.   ❤

Love hearts and levels

Following on from the Secret Valentine event earlier this week and my declaration of love for William from Willtendo, we’re still feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Thank you to Ian from Adventure Rules for hosting yet another awesome community project!

For Valentine’s Day last year, I roped a few of my >blogging buddies into sharing their favourite partnerships in video games. But what about real-life relationships and the connections formed through gaming? Continuing the loved-up vibe this week, here are some heart-warming stories to make you put down your controller for a moment and feel all soppy inside.

Cameron from Dragon In The Castle

Dragon In The Castle, blogger, Cameron

“My girlfriend at college asked me to teach her how to play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. Said girlfriend is now my wife of 13 years and mother of my child, so something must have gone right after passing on my ollie skills.”

Luke from Hundstrasse

Hundstrasse, blogger

“I was wooed by my now-wife through the medium of Dead Island… Not that we ever completed it, we didn’t get on with those sewer sections! All the best romances start with zombies, right?”



Megan from The Dragon’s Tea Party

The Dragon's Tea Party, blogger

“I met him at a party but when I found out he had a PlayStation 4, I pretended I didn’t know how to use PS Plus and asked him to add me and show me how it worked so that I’d have an excuse to talk to him again. After that I interviewed him about World of Warcraft for my dissertation and seduced him with my impression of a hag in a Dungeons & Dragons game.”

Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews

Falcon Game Reviews, blogger, Shelby

“I walked into my wife’s work wearing an N7 hoodie and Cerberus cap from Mass Effect 2. She recognised both and said, ‘Mass Effect huh?’ We hit it off and have been together since 2011.”



Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate

Sheikah Plate, blogger, Teri Mae

“When I was a freshman in college, I would hold regular Mario Kart 64 tournaments. My husband and his friend were the two who came the most often. Eventually it was just the three of us nearly every weekend and the rivalry between he and I allowed some pretty fun flirtatious banter. Though we were in the same freshman dorms and had met previously, this was one of the things that really allowed us to bond. Cut to ten years later and we still love gaming together.”

Zach from Beard and Curls Gaming

Zach Bowman, blogger

“My wife and I met very early on as kids, but we are avid gamers and it’s a big part of our relationship. Discovering a good cooperative game is an awesome thing for us. Diablo III is one of our favorites.”



Kim from Later Levels

Kim, Later Levels, blogger

“My other-half and I met in a local pub after he overheard me talking about Street Fighter to a friend and then started trying to guess my favourite character. In a conversation over a couple of drinks, we realised we’d grown up in houses located on parallel streets before moving to the same town as adults but had never come across each other before. He’s been my player 2 ever since and I wouldn’t do without him.”

Have you got a story you’d like to share? Leave your tales of gaming and love in the comments below so we can all have an ‘Aah!’ moment.   ❤

Favourite games tell a personal story

Video games aren’t just about saving loved ones, blowing stuff up or grabbing as much loot as possible. Whether it’s that classic you played as a child and bonded with family over, or a newer release which made you change your outlook on life, there are titles which hold a special meaning for each of us.

Megan from A Geeky Gal very kindly nominated Later Levels for the Mystery Blogger Award last month and I’m incredibly grateful! One of the questions put to her nominees stood out for me: which TV show, book, or game has most impacted you personally? The following post is dedicated to this lovely blogger, and it has been wonderful being able to to talk about the titles which have had a positive impact and brought amazing people into my life.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush Threepwood, pirate, man, surprised

Admit it: you knew this was going to be the first entry on the list, didn’t you? It would be impossible to talk about video games which have influenced me without mentioning The Secret of Monkey Island. Although this wasn’t the first title I ever played, it was the first I played for myself after receiving an Amiga 500 as a kid. This was the game that started my lifelong love of the adventure genre and a crush on wannabe pirates.

You can read more about that story here in a post which was created for the first Charming and Open event held by Ian from Adventure Rules last year. This was a great way of getting to know the host a little better as well as meeting other bloggers who have since become friends. It was Guybrush who got me into gaming in the first place; and it’s events like Ian’s which remind me just how brilliant being a member of the WordPress community is.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

I first experienced The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the late 1990s after a boyfriend had cruelly broken my heart. My younger brother invited me to play it with him to take my mind off things and it worked; we spent countless evenings up in his bedroom just running about the fields of Hyrule and fishing in Lake Hylia. It was the first time we hadn’t had a sibling argument in ages and I didn’t give that boyfriend a second thought.

Years later, my other-half and I had the pleasure of introducing my stepson Ethan to the game and it even managed to cure him of his Minecraft obsession. You can read more about that tale here in a post which was created for another event: The Legend of Zelda retrospective hosted by NekoJonez. It’s one more example of how hard the writers around us work to produce amazing projects and bring the community together.

Street Fighter

EGX, video games, expo, event., gamers, Kim, Pete

Speaking of my other-half, it was Street Fighter that first got us talking four years ago. Pete and I met in a local pub after he overheard me talking about the game to a friend and then started trying to guess my favourite character; and in a conversation over a couple of drinks, we realised we’d grown up in houses located on parallel streets before moving to the same town as adults but had never come across each other before. It’s a small world.

He’s been my player two ever since and I wouldn’t do without him. It would be hard to encapsulate just how awesome he is in a couple of sentences here (and I know it would make him blush) so let me just say that he plays video games, can cook a great steak and makes me laugh every single day. Pete and Ethan are top of the list of things which make me happy and I love them both to bits.

Journey

Ethan, Pete, Duxford Air Museum, hangar, planes

Gaming has always played a part in my relationship with the boys and it’s something Ethan and I bonded over when we were first introduced. He was surprised to find that ‘girls play video games’ and there was an initial period when I had to prove my credentials, but we now sit down together with a game every weekend as a family – one such title being Journey.

We decided to get him to play it as part of an effort to teach my stepson that video games don’t have to be about explosions and guns to be fun. When he reached the end, he said: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the star of their game. That’s cool.” That’s exactly what we wanted to hear and it was that line which inspired me to write one of favourite posts last year.

To The Moon

One of the first indie titles I ever played after being introduced to this side of gaming by a friend was To The Moon. It absolutely broke my heart and I was in tears by the credits; and it taught me that video games are more than just entertainment or pixels. If there’s anything we should take away from this one, it’s that life is too short to have regrets so if there’s something you want to do, do it right now.

After coming across a piece of music by Chris from OverThinker Y on his site early last year, we started talking and realised we’re both massive fans of Freebird Games’ project. We had to wait a long time for the sequel Finding Paradise, and now that it’s finally here we’re planning to play at the same time and then have a long chat about it afterwards. Expect a post about that in the near future!

Gaming for good

This entry on the list is dedicated to all titles instead of an individual one to highlight the good that gaming can achieve. SpecialEffect is an amazing UK-based charity which puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games. Using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control, they find ways for individuals to play to the very best of their abilities.

I’ve supported the charity since meeting their team at EGX five years ago and have volunteered on their stand at various expos since. Seeing their work closeup in these situations makes you appreciate how easy it is to take the joy of gaming for granted sometimes. That’s why we’re taking part in their annual marathon GameBlast18 later this year; find out more about the event and how you can get involved here.

Thank you once again to Megan and congratulations to all of her nominees! If there’s a video game which has had a profound impact on you, let me know in the comments below or write your own post on the subject; we’ve all got a story to share.

Question of the Month: November 2017 edition

The question of the month is back and will see us attempt to answer a quandary that has been puzzling the gaming community since it first found itself standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. We’re going up against our friends and blogging neighbours in order to find the ultimate response in less than 100 words – and we’re asking you to choose the winner by voting in our poll.

But first, let’s take a look at last month’s question and find out who won!

Results: if you needed a mercenary, which video game character would you hire?

We received 21 votes in our September poll and you lovely people voted for the following…

question of the month, QOTM, votes, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Devil May Cry, Grand Theft Auto IV

Congratulations to Athena from AmbiGaming and the Iron Bull from Dragon Age: Inquisition for being our winners! A big thank you to all of our competitors for taking part and to you amazing people for voting. Now let’s see the competition start to heat up for the next question of the month

November’s question: which game character wears the least appropriate clothing for the activity they’re doing?

We’ve all made a dodgy fashion choice at least once in our lifetime: greying socks with sandals; brightly-coloured velour tracksuits; shell-suits that rustle when you walk. But there are video game characters who dress even more inappropriately for their job! Let’s reveal our contenders for the November 2017 trophy…

Answer 1: The Xanthous Set from Dark Souls

Kevin from The Mental Attic says: “It really doesn’t matter how skilful a warrior the chosen undead is, or how many souls they’ve acquired and consumed, because wearing a cloth armour with a headpiece that looks like a gigantic yellow lollipop (or a giant wooden spoon) is bound to get in your way. It has to mess up with your balance at the very least… it also offers no real protection to speak of and try to get up after falling, your massive head will make sure you can’t! The Xanthous Set, look at it and laugh.”

Answer 2: Alice from Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

Want to know why Ian has chosen Alice as his answer this time around? Go say hello to him over at Adventure Rules and read his argument for this character.

Answer 3: Donkey Kong from the Donkey Kong series

Head over to Power Bomb Attack to visit Imtiaz, where he’s discussing why he’s chosen Donkey Kong as his answer this month.

Answer 4: Vega from the Street Fighter series

This month, Luke from Hundstrasse has decided to go for Vega as his answer. Head over to his site to read about his reasons why.

Answer 5: Jack from Mass Effect 2

Kim from Later Levels says: “Jack from Mass Effect 2 was way ahead of her time when the game was released in 2010. Seven years later, it’s estimated that a third of the UK population have at least one tattoo; and celebrities such as Kate Hudson and Cara Delevigne are making the buzzcut popular. But wearing just a set of thin leather straps to cover your modesty? It’s surprising that someone as private and troubled as Jack could wear such an outfit. Forget her being wanted for crimes including piracy, vandalism and murder – what she should really be banged up for is crimes against fashion.”

Answer 6: Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog says: “There is an armor piece that explains my point: how does this protect Link against the heat of a desert?! While the armor sets in Breath of the Wild have a nice look to them, they seem unpractical to carry the huge inventory you can carry in the game. You would think that he has a carrying bag or something, but he seems to put it all in his side pocket. Why does Link have no survival outfit?”

Answer 7: The Boss from Saints Row IV series

Chris from OverThinker Y says: “The Boss of the eponymous Saint’s Row crew gets up to a lot of fun things over an illustrious career. Gang leader, bank robber… oh, yeah, President of the freakin’ US of A. When we join the story in Saints Row IV, the Boss is wearing a hilariously bad suit, as befits a ridiculously unqualified leader of the free world, but pretty soon events conspire to trap them in a simulation world run by evil aliens. Once you’re in the simulation, you can change the Boss’s appearance and wardrobe as you like, meaning that you can quite easily create a POTUS who’s beating up aliens with a dildo bat in full gimp gear, a panda suit, or naked as the day they were born. Fitting accouterments for a ninja superhero gang boss alien murderer, less so for the most powerful person in America.”

Answer 8: Violette Summer from Velvet Assassin

Athena from AmbiGaming says: “Really obscure, but Violette Summer from Velvet Assassin, who is a character based on WWII British spy Violette Szabó. During special bullet-time sequences, all her clothes fall of and she becomes inexplicably more powerful. I mean, it ‘makes sense’ in the game insofar as it’s given an explanation but, when playing the game it’s really weird.”

Answer 9: Ada Wong from the Resident Evil series

Adhiraj from Gamers’ Nation says: “If you love survival horror games then you would have definitely heard of Resident Evil. For us this is definitely one of our favourite franchises. Part of this very franchise is the character Ada Wong who is by all means a complete and total badass. However we feel she has to be one of the most inappropriately dressed characters for the task she is doing, considering that most of the time she is fighting or killing zombies, monsters or some weird combination of the two. Ada is always dressed in cocktail gowns and hot V-neck blouses, like she has to go to a ball but needed to kill zombies before going. Now of course we don’t know what the real reason for her dress sense really is and we may not find it appropriate for the task, but you won’t find us complaining while paying the game.”

So who’s got it right, and who’s got it so wrong that they deserve to wear armour that barely covers anything for the rest of eternity? Place your votes in the poll opposite or give your own suggestion in the comments below, and we’ll reveal the most popular answer on Friday, 01 December 2017 along with the next question.

Got a question you’d like to see us struggle over next month? Or would you like to join in and add your own answer into our polls on a regular basis? Leave us a message or get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!



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.