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    • Video Game Review: American McGee’s Alice
      After the recent release of “Alice: Madness Returns,” I  picked up a copy. With each copy, console gamers also got a free download of  the original “American McGee’s Alice.” Before playing the new Alice, I had to  go back and beat the original again. While many things were just as I had  remembered, I’m glad […]
    • Video Game Rant: Donkey Kong Country Returns
      One of my favorite games of all time is Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2. When I heard they were making a new one, I was super excited, but also somewhat skeptical. So a few months ago, I picked up a copy of Donkey Kong Country Returns to try out the new game. My fiancee also joined […]
    • Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Movie Review
       (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to […]
    • Good Kitty: WoW Feral Cat DPS Rotation
      ***Note: this information is from before Cataclysm. There have been major changes to the class. See my sources below for more updated information.*** When I rolled Druid on the first character I legitimately got to level 80, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I leveled Feral Cat, and when I hit 80, I realized […]
    • Finding a Job
      This is a digression from my usual topics, but I wanted to share some of my strategies with other unemployed or soon to be unemployed people out there. My job search has been the focus of my free time lately, so I figured it would be the perfect topic for my next post. 1)      Assess […]
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How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse


So you’ve finally accepted the fact that one day zombies will overthrow humanity. Now you want to learn how to not become zombie food. Fear not! The expert at surviving zombie apocalypse simulations is here to share some useful tips for your survival.

1)      Go watch Zombieland.

2)      Create a plan.

Now that some of the common zombie myths have been dispelled and you’ve acquired a basic knowledge of what will happen after Z-Day, you need to figure out a plan of survival. Keep a stockpile of basic things like nonperishable food, water, first aid, and essentials at all times, and make a kit for quick evacuation. You should also communicate with friends and family and designate a meeting place. Don’t forget to include your pets in your escape plan too!

3)      Assess your environment.

Does your house have large windows? Or a fire escape? Do you live on a hill? Plan your defenses accordingly. Be prepared with some planks of wood and other fortifications, or prepare to relocate to a more appropriate fortress. Keep in mind your work place too, or other places you frequent.

4)      Equip yourself.

Buy a baseball bat or a shotgun and keep it in an easily accessible location. Get something easy to use for decapitation or push-back. You’ll also need appropriate clothing; no baggy or loose clothes with things to grab.

5)      Prepare for life among the undead.

Do some more research so you’ll be able to identify signs that the initial outbreak is imminent, symptoms of zombification, and the first signs of widespread panic. You should also consider life after Z-Day. No more traffic, no more fast food, no new tv shows… life is going to be very different, so you’ll have to adjust to being a minority in the new zombie culture. Luckily, you still have some time to prepare for your new life!

Looking for even more info on the zombie apocalypse? Check out this awesome link: http://zombieresearch.net/ Thanks for the contribution, JT!

Games in Pop Culture


As video games have become more popular and accessible to everyone, they’ve been featured in more tv shows and movies than ever. No longer do people plug away at the Nintendo GameBoy “brick;” now Grandma’s got a Wii in her living room (and has no idea how to use it). Yet the changes in the way games are depicted in popular media have largely been superficial, and often make certain implications about games and the people who play them.

When people play games in movies or on tv, it’s usually a teenaged or young boy with a handheld device that makes the same sounds as old arcade games. Yes, the same stereotype that men are the only ones who game prevails quite often, though sometimes young girls play games too (Gaz from Invader Zim kicks way more gaming ass than her brother). Perhaps the reasoning behind the beeps and pews is because the earliest games for the masses were games like Space Invaders and Mario, and that’s the only exposure many people have had to games. The GameBoy is certainly one of the most recognized symbols for games even after the switch to the PSP and DS, though now it’s more common to see a PSP-like handheld in the media.

Haven’t games moved beyond 8-bit graphics and music? For that matter, most people mute games when playing in public, and to always assign annoying beeps and pews to every game not only assumes games lack finesse in musical qualities, it also assumes that gamers are thoughtless, selfish, and undiscerning. This is not to denigrate Mario, with some of the most often played video game music of all time; this is simply to say that not all games look and sound like Mario. Games now run the gamut from racing and puzzle to FPS and RPG, all with a variety of music, and tv and movies have not changed to reflect this.

Popular media sometimes features people talking about or playing Xbox, or maybe Wii. But the 360 is usually a symbol for the hardcore gamer, or someone who has no life (see Grandma’s Boy). The computer is a more commonly seen console now, although many interface elements are eliminated for the sake of the uninitiated viewer (World of Warcraft is featured in Zombieland and a recent episode in South Park). It’s rare to see people playing racing or shooting games, and when people play DDR in movies they look like “retards trying to hump a doorknob” without regard for actually hitting the buttons (–Dodgeball).

The way people play games on tv is often mindless. It is the same attitude people take when playing Mario Kart; concentrating and competitive. They never seem happy or smile; their eyes are glued to the screen as, emotionless, they go about some noisy task.

Games in commercials are completely different. Players are usually only featured in Wii games, because the focus is on the player and less on the game. Nintendo wants people to see people having fun doing traditional activities in new ways, like cooking or bowling. They have people of all ages, races, and genders enjoying playing trivial games together, or fit women exercising. This is partially because many Wii games are for casual gamers, and it doesn’t really matter to these people if they’re playing Wii Lacrosse or Wii Luge, as long as they perceive that they are “having fun.” Most other game commercials simply feature the game, because they are targeting people who actually know something about games.

Gamefly ran a funny game commercial with people freaking out, screaming, crying, throwing tvs and controllers, and generally carrying on. Their tag was ‘never buy another bad game again.’ This is a pretty accurate depiction of how frustrated gamers can get if they lose their save, die and have to redo everything, or generally are playing a bad game. I think this commercial also reflects how engaged gamers get in the virtual worlds they temporarily inhabit.

Stereotypes are powerful things. The more people are aware of these stereotypes, the more they’ll use them. Sure it’s funny to watch people leaping furiously at a game of DDR, but it may offend the true gamer in its complete inaccuracy. All of these depictions reflect a different kind of genre/gamer. Playing Mario Party with casual gamers can bring the kind of laughter so common in Wii commercials, and playing Bejeweled or Peggle may turn you into a zombie, but I believe it’s more common to see people getting engaged in games for their own sake. Maybe years from now, when the current gamer generation grows up, we will see middle-aged moms on tv  playing Final Fantasy, or old men reminiscing about the Wii’s great retro games. The landscape of gaming is changing, and media has a lot of work to do to catch up.

Can Video Games Tell Stories? Excerpts from my Senior Study


As video games have grown up from arcade shooters and text based adventure games to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and motion-detecting games of all genres, so too has the field of discussion on the subject. Writers world wide are theorizing on what games do, how they do it, and what they should be doing.

Academia is beginning to develop a sizable body of opinions on video games, moving far beyond simply addressing the violence associated with playing games. The big scholarly issue many people are addressing is whether or not games can tell stories, and if they do then what kind of narrative it is, or in what way is it told, a complex discussion situated amongst conflicting sources and academics.

So why study video games? Are they even worthy of academic thought? Do they produce anything meaningful? These are questions that have been debated since the birth of video games as an innovative mode of entertainment. Yet when watching someone play a game, it is obvious that the player is not simply seeing units in a program.

Games are not simply a form of entertainment either. Games are a mode of interaction, of expressing something about ourselves, both for the player, designer, and onlooker. They shape how we see the world by looking at how others see it.

Reading a book can make you laugh, cry, and forget it’s only a story. Watching a movie and playing a game can produce the same reactions, a game arguably even more so because of the high level of audience participation. Playing a game can make you think ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way.’ Playing a game lets people literally get into a story and even help tell it. Finally, digital technologies represent a growing medium for storytelling, and they may be the future of narratives.

TBC!


Hello readers, I just got back from vacation and I’m working on a project currently, to be posted later this week! Stay tuned.

Also, let me use this post as an opportunity to gauge reader interest. What topics do you want to read about? Gender, language, story, reviews, retro games, etc.? Post your suggestions/comments please; I like to give my readers what they want!

Best of Video Game Music


Games nowadays are made more like movies. It’s pretty much mandatory to have a compelling storyline, voice actors, special effects, and, of course, music. Game soundtracks, like movie soundtracks, can either be strictly instrumental background music, or they can sometimes have powerful songs in their own right. Here are a few game soundtracks worth a listen, beyond the popular Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy tunes.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If we’re lucky, they’ll keep some of the music from the games for the upcoming movie, because this game has some spectacular and unique music. It matches the theme and time period, but with kind of a modern flair, like mixing traditional Middle Eastern singing with electric guitar.

Stubbs the Zombie

Stubbs is a 1950s retro-futuristic zombie game. It’s Fallout 3 meets Fido, where you actually get to play as the zombie starting the zombie uprising. I won’t spoil one of the best parts , but I will say this: “You dance like Shirley Temple… with her legs chopped off at the knees!” The music is appropriately poppy and tongue in cheek, with covers of songs like “Strangers in the Night,” “Earth Angel,” and “If I Only Had A Brain.”

Castle Crashers

This is a great soundtrack to work out to. It’s all fan-made instrumentals, and the songs in this side-scrolling RPG include an eclectic mix of heroic, upbeat, creepy, and techno, reflecting the diversity of the levels.

Silent Hill

Slow, mellow, and somehow disconcerting when it’s not hardcore verging on emo, the music of Silent Hill matches the unbalanced and tense atmosphere and mental state of its characters. It’s not warm and fluffy music to listen to on a roadtrip; it’s better if you want a sad ballad to sing to or something different for background music.

Overclocked Remix

Finally, the next time you’re feeling nostalgic, look up retro games like Final Fantasy or Super Mario World, or some of those old games you used to play like Zombies Ate My Neighbor or Monkey Island, on OC Remixes. Chances are good you’ll find a remix of some of the songs. They vary from techno versions of Zelda songs to piano renditions of Donkey Kong Country songs, so take a peek and I’m sure you’ll find something neat.

Top 5 games to play as a couple


Plus there's always rhythm games like Rock Band.

Play video games for the health of your relationship. It’s a great activity to do together—a fun, relaxing, competitive, addictive, bonding experience. It may be a habit or a hobby, a shared passion, or something you’ve never thought about before. Either way, here are some suggestions for games to play with your significant other.

Left 4 Dead

L4D is a quick and dirty zombie FPS. High customizability is a plus: choose your difficulty, play campaign or versus, play for 30-60 minutes or more, etc. Because it’s co-op, you can practice teamwork, cooperation, and communication. Isn’t every guy’s fantasy to save his girl from a Hunter pounce, the whole knight in shining armor thing?

Dokapon Kingdom

For more on this underlooked party game, click here. A little healthy and fun competition can be a good test of your sense of humor. And you can play two player versus bots. Monopoly plus RPG equals win.

Borderlands

For more experienced players, Borderlands is another good co-op that is a bit deeper for the more narratively-inclined, and is a nice combo between the shooting fun of L4D and the overwhelming details of WoW. Check out a review of Borderlands here.

You can easily make Mario Kart a little more interesting.

Mario Party & Mario Kart

Mario games are classics; most people have played them in some form, and can easily transition into the newer versions. There is also a ton of Wii shovelware games that may serve the same purpose, such as Wii Fit or Wii Sports.

Fatal Frame

It’s like watching a scary movie, only SCARIER. In this single player survival horror, players use a camera to capture the souls of ghosts. With plenty of atmospheric tension and jump moments, you can turn the lights off and snuggle up when you get scared (then laugh when your partner screams like a girl).

Games for Guys


Hope: Because she just might want to hear about your 12th level Paladin.

I keep coming across articles about women in gaming, and a repeated topic is how to introduce women to games. What’s with the supposed hordes of guy gamers who lament their girlfriends’ unwillingness to pick up a controller or keyboard? ‘How to get your girl into gaming’ sounds like a bad romance movie to me. Should women try to get their boyfriends to start scrapbooking and sewing, since those are girl hobbies and gaming is a man hobby? ‘How to get your man to do yoga’ will be my next article. Or maybe ‘How to get your boyfriend to play video games’ would be more appropriate, considering women now outnumber men in online gaming.

Lots of sites have beaten me to gaming for guys, including WikiHow, though it seems to have been written before the joystick was invented. Wiki says: “Find a few games he likes and play the ones he is better at. Mix it up, but always go back to the game he is good at. Racing games are generally easier for you to lose at without showing it.” Purposely lose at a game just because he’s a n00b? Men are our equals, so we shouldn’t go easy or treat them any differently just because they button mash and haven’t learned any combos yet.

WikiHow has more to say: “Consider your girlfriend’s personality when picking out a game. Some girls may prefer the brightly colored, all-ages games like Katamari Damacy, Bust A Move, Lego Star Wars, Sims, or just about any Mario game. But remember that your girlfriend is an individual who could just as well go for Halo, Resident Evil, or Grand Theft Auto.”  This is exactly right. The ‘games for girls’ like Cooking Mama or Barbie Horse Adventures are just recommended based on gender stereotyped hobbies. I like cooking but would much prefer Fallout 3 over Cooking Mama, and I’m sure there are guys who watch football but aren’t Madden fanatics and love Viva Pinata.

So remember, anyone can be a gamer; you don’t need a Y chromosome to hit the Y button. A follow-up on games to play as a couple will be posted next week. Readers, what are your thoughts on introducing men (or women) to gaming?