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I like to say that the couple that games together, stays together. I'm not alone in that sentiment, either. I'm sure there are tons of couples who integrate gaming into their day-to-day interactions and manage to get along just fine.
But just because I like to say it... well, that doesn't make the statement true. Unfortunately, I only know this through first-hand experience.
My husband and I met online, like a lot of people do these days, and he liked to say that he fell in love with me on that very first date.
I have a habit of hiding behind a gaming handheld when I'm really nervous with someone new. It wasn't long into that first meeting when I dug into my purse. I pulled out my Nintendo DS, and just kind of fell into it for a couple of minutes before closing it and going back to him. He swears that that moment, right there, was the moment he fell in love with me.
I still don't know what he saw in me at that moment. Was my nervousness merely indicative of the sort of unshaped person he was looking for? Did it make me look more submissive, perhaps? Maybe he just wanted someone who played more games than he did. I haven't really gotten an answer, and that's okay. I'm not looking for answers these days.
This year, we separated, and the divorce process has yet to really get underway, despite the fact that we're both pretty happy with other people at this point. What I realized most recently about our separation is that the way we played together this year said a lot about where we were in our relationship.
Two games managed to show me it was all over. There wouldn't be any turning back. No rolling a new character for a fresh start, no "maybe I'd be a lot happier in this marriage on ‘Very Easy.'" These games, which were very different from one another, weren't the problem, but they were certainly illustrative.
I wasn't an idiot. I knew when the snowball started rolling down the hill. After one of our (increasingly common) serious talks that left me bawling, I told my husband that we needed some time to ourselves. We needed a couple of hours away from the distractions (read: other people) just to see if there was anything to salvage. I wanted to make it a weekly thing, even.
Okay, so I wasn't an idiot then, but I sure was stupid to think that a couple of hours was going to do a lot for us. Maybe hope kills brain cells.
I wanted counseling. He said no. So, us being us (or perhaps me just being me), we picked a recent downloadable PlayStation 3 release to play together—The Simpsons Arcade. He'd played it a lot as a kid, since he could visit an arcade on a semi-regular basis. I hadn't ever managed to play it before, but the show, as well as the game's genre, are among my favorites. The best part (to me, for this occasion) was that it was all co-op. No fighting each other allowed, only working together.
In a sense, going back to this kind of game was the perfect thing to do. We were going back to basics, trying to figure out the essence of "us," whether that was particularly painful or not.
Here, the pain was minimal. We actually finished the game in about half the time that was allotted in our schedules, but we didn't want to go back and do it again so soon, so we perused the menus and that was really just... it.
I don't think playing something together really "worked," but then again, I don't know what I expected. We came, we played, we went back to our (increasingly separate) lives. Honestly, we never even spoke about the nothing that happened again.
And playing together weekly never happened, either. That time would be the next-to-last.
The absolute last time we played a game together was the Diablo III launch. He'd been waiting the better part of a decade for this game and I'd only been waiting the better part of a year. The way he talked of high school LAN parties made its predecessor sound like the ultimate in companionship gaming. Bonds were forged, and loot was had. I wanted in on this.
I got my chance during the game's press preview for the beta. I could finally get a real sense of what the game was like (and find out just how well it would run on my MacBook Pro). I installed the game and started playing while my husband watched, and man, it's like something was just weird in that room all of a sudden.
I didn't deserve to play, he said. Mostly because of the fact that I'd never touched a Diablo game in my life. Does that really compute? I'm not sure. I offered him my computer and told him about that last open beta push before the game's release, but I don't know if he ever went for it.
In any case, we finally made it to release night, and after his late-night gym excursion, which could bring him home well after midnight most nights at the time, we booted up, avoided error messages (perhaps due to blessings from Deckard Cain himself), and went for it.
I made my gal a Demon Hunter named Ariadne (named after my similarly-classed WoW toon), he got started with a Barbarian, and off we went.
Since I'd already done all of this before, I was directing things pretty well, but trying not to be too overbearing about it. It was, in my opinion, so, so cute to see my husband so excited about exploring New Tristram. We went on for about an hour, and then it happened.
He let me die.
In co-op, enemies scale with you and the size of your group. When I'd played before, there wasn't much of a problem (with the exception of that damn Skeleton King) because my enemies were scaled for a single-player game.
So, here we are, fighting our way through the very beginning of Act I and we separate and all of a sudden I manage to aggro everything in a pretty large radius and I don't know how that happened and they're attacking and oh my god sweetie I don't wanna die hey can you help me they're killing me um seriously can you help because I can't get range and I'm mostly good for range attacks and... dead.
He let me die. In a room where we would often simultaneously play our respective MMOs with chairs sitting literally next to one another and desks that were touching, he let me die.
With me verbally asking for help, he still let me die.
Yes, it's just a game. Yes, I could come right back to life and keep going (and I did). But I still cried that night before I went to bed because he. Let. Me. Die.
Yes, he was wearing headphones, but he heard me. I confirmed as much later, when we were done for the night. Oh, "it's just how you play," he said. Oh, so it was normal to ignore your partner. It's just "normal" to not even deviate from your loot-grabbing activities to save your wife from monsters. I gotcha. (Except everyone I've ever told this story to who has any Diablo experience is always as shocked as I was.)
I guess it's too much to expect "‘til death do you part" to extend to the virtual world, to avatars that aren't even programmed to express the sentiments behind such vows.
While Ariadne came back again, prepared to handle the onslaught alone, part of me didn't. We were over. Really over, and nothing could save us. It wasn't until after this moment, though, that I really accepted that as fact. It wasn't just that He Let Me Die, it's that he was so nonchalant about it, even while tears ran down my face.
I left our home the next week. I've spent the majority of this year in the kind of depression that you really only seem to get after someone very close to you dies and there's nothing left to take its place. Once I left, things got better, but I've really only been replacing one kind of sad with another.
There is a spark in my life, thankfully. If there wasn't, I probably wouldn't have made it to today, to be honest. I have a boyfriend now (and I've had him for over a year now, so you do that math—I'm a cheating cheater (my husband had been, too), and while that isn't the only thing that made us fall to pieces, it certainly is among the reasons).
I'm not like Patricia Hernandez, who wrote not too long ago that she just plain doesn't list gaming as a thing she's into on her OkCupid profile anymore. It's there, it's something I'm open to talking about, but if you're creepy as hell about it, I'm just going to ignore you. My guy... he's not a gamer. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. He's pretty "meh" about most games these days, despite still fitting in the occasional Age of Empires game (and this is the very first version of the game). He has a Wii, but who doesn't? The thing's ubiquitous.
So, okay. He doesn't play a lot of games. That's fine. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. But when we first started getting a little more serious, or at least as serious as an online long-distance relationship can get while you're still married, he did mention having a copy of Portal 2. This, by the way, was the best thing ever.
I'm a Portal maniac. I love GLaDOS' acerbic humor more than almost any game character as a whole. She may be what amounts to a sentient operating system, but still, my point stands. Best character. Oh, and the part of Portal where you play with portals is pretty good, too.
So I knew Portal 2 pretty well by this point. Hell, after my town was flattened by a tornado and I used the game as a bit of a way to return normalcy to my life, I wrote to the game's co-writer, Erik Wolpaw, to thank him. (His response was to say thank you, "but you didn't actually say the game was any good." For the record, sir, it's excellent.) I had been through the co-op campaign with someone else, but I didn't know it like the back of my hand yet.
So it was only natural that I bugged him to play it with me. After a lot of IMs, he finally installed the game and it was on. Part of the beauty of online play is that despite having about 1,300 miles between us at the time, it only felt like mere inches.
We stumbled, together, through it again. What struck me most was the fact that this time, it felt truly cooperative. My first partner, to whom I'd lost my co-op virginity (gasp!) was smart enough and well-versed in game design, so if we were stuck, he almost always figured it out. When I tried to play with my husband, it fizzled out after about a half-hour, because the portal mechanic just isn't his thing. I get that. (Sort of.) Also, I don't think he liked taking too many directions from me. (It's possible that this theme may have existed for a while.)
You know, he and I hadn't even met in person yet. But here we were, handing off edgeless cubes and hitting buttons and being willing to try things even if they don't work. I was able to actually teach him some things about the game—no, you can't carry things through the emancipation grids—and, as a bonus, the game did feature voice chat. So it was a fantastic Skype replacement, too.
Playing with him just felt right. I don't know how else to explain it. Maybe I should just say it was like having the knowledge that there's someone out there in the universe who just understands you. Maybe this means more to me as a woman, but if things weren't clear, he would wait for me to explain them and ask questions until he completely understood whatever task was at hand. Like, oh my god. Dream guy.
It wasn't long after that first play session before he decided to ask me something. This something was prefaced as a "weird" something, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
He wanted to know if I would have his children.
And perhaps this sounds stupid, or like an uninformed product of lust and at-the-time completely unfulfilled sexual tension, but I... uh, I said yes.
I said yes not just because I love him, but because while we were playing, I literally had the thought, "Huh, this feels like real teamwork. I honestly think I could have kids with this guy if this is how well we interact."
It'll be quite a while before I have to live up to any of that, sure. That is, if both us as a couple and the plans for everything that happens before kids shake out. But over time, I've felt like a game—a silly game about screwing with physics—is really a better litmus test for relationships, having children with someone, and other serious endeavors than anything else I've encountered (you know, aside from actually doing any of these things). It's puzzling, challenging, and occasionally you just want to throw up your hands and give up. All of that sounds like parenthood to me. Except for the part of parenthood where you don't get to sleep. I hear that's a thing.
Ultimately, I think we can learn something about ourselves and our relationships with others when we take the time to play with other people instead of against them. Maybe you don't always like what you see, sure, but it's worth the effort. How's that competitive personality going to work out with another person? Are you the sort who gives up control too easily on a shared screen? Does that translate to you giving up control in your life? It's something to examine, for sure.
As for me, well... I'm ready to learn some more about the people I love. Just as long as it doesn't involve Diablo III. That one still hurts a little.
Tiffany Claiborne is the former news editor at GamingAngels.com. You can reach her on Twitter at @kweenie, or by email at email@example.com.
We chatted with film director Guillermo del Toro at the New York Comic-Con earlier this year, and he told us one of his dream jobs would be to make a movie with Valve.
Turns out the feeling's mutual.
In an interview with New Rising Media, Valve writer Marc Laidlaw outlined three directors who, for varying reasons, he thinks could all do a great job bringing Gordon Freeman's sci-fi adventures to the big screen.
"If Paul Verhoeven returned to science fiction films, he would do something insane with Half-Life… maybe something objectionably insane, but at least not boring", he says. "Peter Jackson has proved himself an amazing purveyor of faithful adaptations. Guillermo del Toro has the horror vibe that I think a lot of people miss out on when thinking about a Half-Life movie. Half-Life is essentially horror after all. The science in it barely passes as hand-waving, but when a headcrab jumps at your head, it's a precisely engineered jolt. There are probably a lot of good potential directors, but I think most of them are busy pursuing their own visions."
Man, a Paul Verhoeven—he of RoboCop and Total Recall fame—Half-Life movie... what a thing that would be.
Interview With Marc Laidlaw: The Writer Of Half-Life [New Rising Media, via PC Gamer]
I finally saw Wreck-It Ralph over the Thanksgiving break. It was heartwarming, delightful, charming. It nudged at some big-name titles in ways that made me giggle and nod in recognition. It covered the bases of a handful of video game tropes. It made jokes in the form of clever puns and cute character behavior.
But my favorite part about Wreck-It Ralph was an admission. An admission that, hey, sometimes what's unintentional in a video game is what's best about it.
Let me explain. If you don't know, Wreck-It Ralph brings the arcade environment to life. I don't mean that the film resuscitated the dying era of quarters used in exchange for playing games amongst fellow gamers in a public setting. I mean that video game characters come to literal life in the film, all connected to one another in this arcade world.
[Minor Wreck-It Ralph spoilers follow]
One such character is a little girl named Vanellope, living in a made-up racing video game called Sugar Rush. As a glitch in the system, she's been shunned from the rest of the game's community of characters, fated to live out her virtual days in some hidden cave she can glitch her way into. She's not allowed to race with everyone else—for fear of her pixlexia (as she calls it) having a negative impact on the game—even though racing is what she wants more than anything.
But being a glitch makes Vanellope a unique racer. She can jump and blip in and out of place, acting sort of like a power-up boost and in effect confusing everyone around her. Is that a heinous crime against the game's programming, though? Flat-out cheating? Or is that just a nifty, granted unintended feature when used properly?
Those unintended features sometimes make games even greater. Take Left 4 Dead 2, also known as one of the most addictive games I've ever played. Seriously, I've played every DLC, every mode, and every special event that game had to offer. And then I replayed it.
But one of my best discoveries in Left 4 Dead 2 is a particularly awesome glitch that completely lags out the game.
Why would you want to intentionally lag your game? Because Expert difficulty is damn hard. Or at least that's why a group of Xbox Live friends and I first decided to do it. Before it evolved into one of the most fun, community-created unofficial modes.
Here's what you do. Grab dual pistols, find a melee weapon. Swap between dual wielding the guns to quickly grabbing the melee weapon. Being crammed into a corner usually helps. Eventually you'll start to create a huge mass of duplicated pistols spawning hilariously out of your back.
When enough duplicates are made, your game will start to lag out. As a bonus, I liked to play the Mutation DLC that grants you unlimited chainsaw fuel (known as Chainsaw Massacre). Lagging the game out feels like you're skipping through the map, generally keeping to the main path and trying to avoid zombies, stopping only to slice your way through any that happen across your immediate path. The goal is to rush through each level straight to the safe room.
But what's fun about that? Besides cheat-winning your way through each map on Expert mode, you'd be surprised how much this glitch impacts the way you play the game. I mentioned that it's best to speed through to the end of each level, avoiding bumping into zombies as much as you can. You can essentially run at your normal pace, while the flesh-eating creepers struggle to catch up to you. Playing with unlimited chainsaws is optimal, because you can easily tear through zombies even at the Expert level.
But what about tanks? Oh man, let me tell you about the tanks. Tanks are sort of terrifying in Left 4 Dead. The music starts and you know you're in for some shit. You'd figure all lagged out, the tank wouldn't be nearly as terrifying. But you'd be wrong in thinking that.
If you've followed my advice and play using chainsaws, you'll have to get in super close to strike the Tank down with it. Which means you're at risk of getting Hulk-smashed and immediately knocked out. That Tank is a mean one on Expert. But you can't quite tell when he's about to get a hit in, because his lagged-out animations certainly won't be an accurate indicator. You get hit before you see yourself getting hit. So fighting a Tank becomes a game of guesswork, trying to identify when it's safe to go in for a slice before he can get a swing in. It goes: run in for a slice, run the fuck out, repeat. You're always just one fraction of a second away from getting hit, which, if that happens, you're likely to be left behind by your teammates. It's an unspoken rule that getting through Expert on a lagged-out, all chainsaws round of Left 4 Dead 2 necessitates that you don't linger around for fear of getting incapacitated by a nasty special infected. The adrenaline throughout fighting this lagged-out Tank is, as you might imagine, pumping vigorously.
A new, still incredibly fun way of playing Left 4 Dead 2 was born. And all because of one simple duplication glitch. That's the beauty of the unintended in video games: you can discover new ways of playing your favorite games. Whether that's a hidden corner, an unintended use for a grenade, or something that's a complete game-changer, it doesn't matter. Because it's fun to discover what you can and can't do in a virtual world that's effectively your playground.
Obviously some glitches are bad. They can ruin the experience. Old school Counter-Strike comes to mind, where players would bounce on each other's heads for an aerial view of the map where they were essentially untouchable. No one has fun with that (except maybe for the glitch-cheating player).
But sometimes glitches involve awesome discoveries. And that's exactly how Wreck-It Ralph portrays Vanellope in the film. She's misunderstood and mistreated. But when you finally understand what she can do within the bounds of reason, she's reasonably everyone's favorite character.
Supremely talented custom toy builder Jin Saotome is back with another masterpiece, this time featuring the Half-Life series' most sharply-dressed bad guy, the headcrab zombie.
Standing 7" tall, the headcrab comes off to reveal a zombified skull inside. He's also got a busted-open chest and some great blood detail.
The good news? He's for sale! The bad news? He's up on eBay, so the bids might get a little out of control.
Since the release of Skylanders Cloud Patrol for iOS last year, fans of Activision's toys-meet-games franchise have been clamoring for a more direct way to interact with their precious plastic playmates than entering in a cold, impersonal numeric code. Tomorrow's release of Skylanders Battlegrounds finally gets a Bluetooth summoning portal into players hands, along with a game that puts it to excellent use.
There's a reason Battlegrounds was selected to be included as a code in the Skylanders Mobile Starter Pack. The first two mobile offerings, Cloud Patrol and the recently-released Lost Islands, use the Skylanders toys in a fire-and-forget fashion. Players need only place their figure on the portal once to register it, and that's it.
Skylanders Battlegrounds, on the other glowing circle of plastic, is an board-meets-action game. At any given time the player can have two different Skylanders in battle. The Bluetooth portal allows those two Skylanders to be swapped out at will.
One can certainly use the portal as they do with the other iOS Skylanders games, registering their toys and then putting them back on the shelf. The creatures under your control are always just a menu away. Using the portal actively just adds a deeper level of interaction to the game, bringing the experience much closer to that of its console cousins.
The portal can also be used to port your figures into Lost Islands and Cloud Patrol, perfect for stupid folks like me that threw away their web codes after opening their toys.
The Battlegrounds game itself isn't too shabby either. The player maneuvers about a hex-based map, clearing it of treasure and enemies before moving on to the next map. Entering the same hex as an enemy unit transports the players' Skylanders to a battle map where they fight waves of enemies in real-time. Players manuever their champions around the map, tapping enemies to begin auto-attacking. Each Skylander has special powers they can learn through gaining experience, adding some depth to the battle system.
It's fun. It's even more fun with the Bluetooth portal.
Skylanders Battlegrounds will be available tomorrow on iTunes for the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch for $6.99. The Skylanders Battlegrounds Mobile Starter Kit comes with the Bluetooth portal, three figures and a code for downloading the game for $49.99.
Now that the world has moved on from making giant sharks float around by the magic of fancy air, we can move onto more interesting things like Portal personality cores.
Thinkgeek are selling two variants of the item you see above, Wheatley or Space, for $20 each. Sadly, they're not remote-controlled. They're basically glorified balloons. But they're glorified Portal balloons.
Last month Runescape creator Jagex promised to bring fast-paced combat racing to Facebook. What they've actually delivered in Carnage Racing is better than that, and it's all thanks to portals.
The game call it phase shifting. I call it portals. As you do laps around the various tracks in Jagex's social racer, performing tricks and shooting powerful weapons at the competition, a gauge slowly fills on the right side of the screen. Once you're full you can drive towards one of the many warp spots scattered about the track, press the space bar, and whoosh.
Whoosh is the official sound of going through a portal.
Suddenly you're way ahead of the pack, unless of course they use portals, or hit you with the Warp gun and create a personal portal ahead of you. It's complicated.
Pressing the space bar with a full phase shift meter is also a means to avoid enemy weapons. It turns the world a pleasant shade of blue as well.
This nifty phase shifting mechanic also means that the developers didn't have to worry about making circular tracks. Just place a warp at the end that takes you back to the beginning and presto! Lazy, or brilliant? Yes!
Carnage Racing has a goal-oriented single-player mode to help get players up to speed, but the real meat is in multiplayer. Players can take on random opponents, challenge their friends in real-time or post their score and give their contacts a day to do better. Win in-game cash, customize your car, upgrade your weapons — all the fun bits of console combat racers are right here, for free.
It might not be Need for Speed Most Wanted, but Carnage Racing is definitely miles ahead of any other racing-type games on Facebook. Indeed, it might be too hardcore for the average Facebook gamer to handle, but I'm sure you folks will do just fine.
Carnage Racing [Facebook]
Valve has opened the voting for the second annual Saxxy Awards, celebrating cinematography in Team Fortress 2, and a winner shall be crowned on Nov. 30. Why so soon? Well, because the best overall winner is going to be announced at the Spike Video Game Awards on Dec. 7, and the video is going to be shown live.
In that case, my vote is for this four-minute, 45-second retcon of the history of the Saxxy Award (above), and the revelation of its creator, mostly because the whole shebang is 15 seconds under the 5 minute limit and would require Spike to devote 1/20th of its broadcast time to a fan film. The voting page is here. Get to it.
Saxxy Awards [Steam]
Master Source Filmmaker user Zachariah Scott returns once again with an amazing piece of work, this time crossing the world of Team Fortress 2 with that of Godzilla.
It's... look, I'm starting to think Zachariah Scott isn't one man, and that he's instead a complex computer program nestled beneath Valve headquarters, devoted entirely to designing and rendering terrific movies at record speed.