Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Bulletstorm (Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC)

Bulletstorm is a new first-person shooter from Electronic Arts that combines the grittiness and testosterone-fuelled gameplay of Gears of War and the overly stylized world of Borderlands, however it brings some new ideas to the table to give both newcomers to the genre and seasoned veterans something to relish. Considering the current oversaturation of the genre, it’s easy to dismiss Bulletstorm as another cookie-cutter FPS, but the extreme violence coupled with the pre-release controversy ensures solid sales for this title. Looking past the hype, does Bulletstorm deliver? Read on to find out.

Assuming the role as main character is Grayson, a loose cannon mercenary who thirsts for revenge against his general, the vindictive and maniacal Serrano, after a previous mission in which he and his men were forced to commit unspeakable atrocities. The revenge mission is doomed from the start and Grayson soon finds himself marooned after crash landing on the planet Stygia, a hostile environment crawling with murderous natives who want nothing more to skin you alive. Serrano has also crash-landed and the quest for revenge continues proper. Accompanying you on your journey is your fellow merc Ishi, who was badly injured in the crash and is now a half-man, half-robot who reminds me of a cross between a potty-mouthed Spock and Harold from the “Harold and Kumar” movies. He is at odds with his own personality and the one that his robotic parts afford him, and some of the internal duality is rather hilarious. Grayson himself is the quintessential “meathead with a heart of gold”, loyal to his friends and haunted by past wrongdoings, but this can be lost amid his endless profanity, sexual innuendos and frequent drunkenness. Bulletstorm is over the top in every respect and the characters are presented accordingly.

Gameplay at first seems deceptively garden variety for an FPS, however you will quickly notice that the objectives in combat differ dramatically from other games in the genre. Most gamers tend to duck behind cover and wait for enemies to pop up, or spray bullets at everything that moves, neither of which is particularly effective in Bulletstorm. The objective of the game is to effectively and creatively kill enemies by utilizing “Skillshots”, specific attacks that provide you with Skillshot Points (SP), the game’s currency for obtaining weapons, upgrades and ammunition. Spraying bullets and killing enemies in a sloppy manner provides a paucity of SP, so you are expected to get creative in how you dispatch enemies in order to maximize how much SP you accrue. The Skillshots themselves are very fun to pull off and littered with dirty innuendos. For example, killing an enemy by shooting him in the buttocks gives you one called “Rear Entry”, killing someone with a hotdog cart gives you “Sausage Fest” and so on. Your weapons are the usual array of assault rifles, pistols and shotguns, but the biggest asset is your “Leash”, a bionic tether that is used to grab objects, enemies and manipulate the environment, similar to the bionic arm in the remake of Bionic Commando. Each weapon can be upgraded and given additional abilities, and each one has it’s own unique Skillshots tired into it. The SP you are given for pulling these off varies, but the bigger rewards come from combining Skillshots into combos, which are immensely satisfying when you finally pull them off.

The pacing of Bulletstorm requires you to constantly be on the move as there is no cover system to speak of. Ducking behind walls and barriers only affords you a small degree of breathing room, which can lead to some tense moments where you’re near death and frantically trying to find cover. Compounding the challenge is the fact that the enemy AI is extremely accurate and they will kill you very quickly if you are not employing skill during gunplay. As such, using all weapons, upgrades and environmental objects to your benefit is essential to survival, as ammo can only be purchased through the pods you find scattered through the game and ammo drops are infrequent. Perhaps sensing that the levels can get stale quickly, the game switches it up by employing on-rails shooting segments and various other set pieces that both add variety and another element of fun. My personal favourite is a section where you take control of a large, dinosaur-like creature and use it to blast enemies into oblivion. The pacing and variety in Bulletstorm makes it a cut above many other titles in the FPS genre.

Sci-fi action shooters are a different breed of FPS since they tend to weave intricate stories to tie the action together, unlike the Call of Duty games which are relatively light on story in favour of set piece battles with the story giving a light glue to hold everything together. Bulletstorm does a bit of both, giving us a character-driven story, albeit an absurd one, and numerous battles that range in setting and style, enough to give us variety but not too much as to feel like the game is scattershot in it’s design. The campaign is predictably short, clocking in at 6 to 8 hours depending on difficulty and the time spent exploring the environments. Another way that Bulletstorm bucks the FPS trend is with the exclusion of a competitive multiplayer section, which seems odd since a game like this screams for it. Instead, we are given a cooperative mode called “Anarchy”, in which you and up to three friends fend off waves of enemies utilizing your best Skillshots. It’s fun but unremarkable, so people expecting a grand multiplayer experience should perhaps look elsewhere. Another supplement to the campaign is Echoes Mode, which allows you to play through segments of the campaign, with points awarded for speediness and Skillshots utilized. These mini episodes of the game are surprisingly fun to play repeatedly and I can see this being the past of the game that has more replay value.

For all it’s strengths, Bulletstorm has a few relatively small weakness, some of which are subjective to the gamer. The dialogue, with all it’s crude humour and constant profanity, can get tiresome after a while and some of the one-liners are absolutely cringe-inducing. For some, this will be the main appeal of the game and I have to admit that some of the dialogue was laugh-out-loud funny, but I think this should always be tempered to avoid redundancy. Graphically, the game looks fantastic, however I did run into a few glitches that either involved my character getting stuck in the environment or the game not registered that I had completed an objective, resulting in my having to restart the game from a previous checkpoint. Depending on what you’re looking for, the lack of competitive multiplayer might also be a turn-off, but I rarely play online shooters due to my admittedly low skill level and the unfair advantages more seasoned players tend to have, so I don’t consider this a weakness personally.

In the end, Bulletstorm delivers exactly what it promises; a balls-to-the-wall shooter that revels in it’s ridiculousness and juvenile sense of humour. The over-the-top nature of this game might hit the wrong chord with some gamers, but it’s a pure joy for others who don’t take games or themselves too seriously. The addition of Skillshots adds a good depth of strategy to the firefights, and the cooperative multiplayer and Echoes missions will give you plenty of reasons to revisit this title after the credits roll. If you’re looking for a great shooter, or a stopgap between the next Gears of War or Call of Duty game, Bulletstorm might just be the game for you.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, PC)

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a classic example of a great game that was released at a bad time, since gamers were either flocking to Red Dead Redemption (released the same week) or writing it off as a tie-in to the Prince of Persia movie released around the same time. This is rather unfortunate because people are missing out on a great game that is both a return to form for the Prince of Persia series and one of the hidden gems of 2010.

The Forgotten Sands is neither a remake or a sequel/prequel, but rather it's placed in the seven year gap between the events of The Sands of Time and The Warrior Within, the former game being an undisputed masterpiece and the latter being rather lackluster by comparison. You assume the role as the titular prince who, upon visiting his brother Malik's kingdom, finds himself caught in the middle of an enemy invasion in which the kingdom is being destroyed for a treasure the army wants. His brother knows decides to raise an undead army to aid him
in his fight, but as we all know, raising such evil is never a good idea and the kingdom is soon overrun with all sorts of creatures made out of sand. The game is comprised of two essential acts, the first involves finding your brother to reunite two pieces of an ancient seal that can vanquish the evil, and the second part involves chasing down larger enemies. As stories go, The Forgotten Sands is fairly predictable and somewhat heavy on the cliches, but it's serviceable for the game and it sets you up for some amazing platforming sections. Just don't expect the strong narrative and emotional connection that we got with The Sands of Time, as this is fairly "by the numbers" and somewhat flat by comparison.

As you would expect, the centerpiece of The Forgotten Sands is the platforming segments which are very linear but also provide plenty of excitement and challenge. In the beginning of the game, you learn the basics of wall-running and combat, but the difficulty ramps up once you are given a variety of powers that allow you to manipulate the environment and get from point A to point B. These powers include the ability to rewind time to recover from a misjudged jump or a brutal hit from an enemy, the ability to freeze water and use it as surfaces to climb on, the ability to fst jump through the air and take down enemies, and the ability to restore pillars and ledges that have been destroyed. You are eased into using these powers, but the latter stages of the game
require you to use all of them in tandem in order to progress through the environment. This makes for some challenging and immensely rewarding platforming, though the game has it's fair share of trial and error as well. The 2008 "reboot" of the series was extremely easy, since you had a partner who prevented you from dying, however that has been abandoned in The Forgotten Sands. You do possess the ability to rewind time and correct mistakes made, but this is not in infinite supply and you are guaranteed to die a lot, especially in the more complicated stages where mistakes are easier to make. Still, with risk comes reward and you feel accomplished when you get through a particularly difficult area.

Combat also plays a big part in the game, as you will often find yourself slashing through seemingly endless waves of enemies and a few boss fights thrown in for good measure. The combat is hit and miss, since you can use a variety of fighting moves and powers to brutal effect, but the combat is fairly easy and the same enemies turn up over and over again. Those looking for an intricate combat system and a wide variety of enemies might be disappointed, but using the powers given is beyond satisfying when it all works out. As the game progresses,
you unlock the ability to use ice, fire, wind and stone armor, all of which can be upgraded as you earn kill points. The impression laid down by the first levels in the game leads you to believe that the combat is strictly button-mashing, however this only works on the easier enemies and strategy becomes essential to survival. Some enemies have shields, others are impervious to basic sword blows, and you will need quick dodging reflexes to survive in some areas. The combat, while being unremarkable, is still fun and occasionally thrilling.

Visually, The Forgotten Sands is a departure from the cell shaded graphics of the 2008 game and it returns to the realistic look of The Sands of Time. Some have claimed that the graphics look dated and uninspired, however I felt quite the opposite and I think the game looks fantastic. The environments and character animation are intricately detailed and the cutscenes are gorgeous to look at. The game is very cinematic and linear, and the graphics and level design were made with this in mind, so don't go into this expecting an open world experience. The sound is equally good, with a wonderful orchestral score adding mood and feeling where appropriate, and the voice acting is also first rate with the voice talent from The Sands of Time returning. Prince of Persia games in recent years have had a reputation for being stunning in both the audio and visual departments, and this game certainly doesn't disappoint. I did notice some graphical stutters, camera issues and the occasional audio out of synch, however this is not frequent or severe enough to be a concern.

While it's not the masterpiece that The Sands of Time has proven to be, The Forgotten Sands is a worthy entry in the Prince of Persia series that I think more people should check out, especially those who are hungry for more platforming titles like the Uncharted or Assassin's Creed series. The game is a solid mix of platforming and combat that balances very well with a fun, albeit unremarkable story that provides some intrigue but is mainly there to transition you from level to level. If the above sounds good to you, your time with this game will be very well spent indeed.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Life After CDs - Will there ever be another physical format?

This blog post will only appeal to the relatively small group of people who think buying music in it's physical format is still worthwhile.

An interesting question was posed on one of the Last.FM boards I frequent recently, and it got me thinking to the point that another blog entry was justified; what will be the successor to my current format of choice, the compact disc? With CD sales on a meteoric downward slide, the whole landscape of music retail is changing to the point where the brick and mortar music shops are becoming an endangered species, and it seems like the CD is now living on borrowed time. But that leads to the inevitable question of what will succeed the CD format. Vinyl gave way to cassettes, and cassettes gave way to CDs – are MP3s and digital files the all-encompassing future of music? Will there be another physical format?

In my humble opinion, the answer is no. The trend is moving towards the digital, and based on how music labels are releasing albums on iTunes, Myspace and other virtual sites, I doubt that another physical format will catch on as CDs have. Despite the grim outlook, there have been some attempts to create a superior product, all of which have failed to live up to their perceived potential. Let’s explore some of these “enhanced” formats that will be remembered largely as failed experiments:

DVD Audio

In theory, this sounds like a good idea; a medium that offers super-high quality music that benefits from the strengths of a DVD player over a conventional CD player. In tech-speak, the audio resolution is substantially higher than a CD, and the “bit depth” of a DVD audio is 24 bit, as opposed to the 16 bit that a CD offers. So what’s the problem? The difference is negligible to all but those few who have state-of-the-art home theatre systems, and even then, the improvements do not really justify the purchasing of an album again. Even more off-putting is the fact that it will not work in your CD player, so you’re up shit creek if you want to listen to it in your car or on your standard Hi-Fi. The fact that DVD Audio is a more sophisticated format has no doubt had an impact on the price of the individual albums, which are ridiculously high; a DVD audio album will typically cost over $30. And speaking of which, that extra money seems like a waste when you look at the oddball titles that they chose to release in this format; are “Reptile” by Eric Clapton, “Tigerlily” by Natalie Merchant, and “Away From The Sun” by 3 Doors Down such amazing albums that they demand to be heard in super-high fidelity? Draw your own conclusions on this one, but it’s no mystery why the DVD Audio section of the music shop is always the smallest and least-frequented.

Super Audio CD (SACD)

SACD has been in a format war with DVD Audio, which is funny because neither has been particularly successful. The only benefit of SACD over it’s competition is that it can actually play on your CD player, so it is not as prohibitive to consumers. Explaining how it actually works is a bit like trying to read haikus in a foreign language, but it’s main selling point is something called “Direct Stream Digital”, or DSD for short, which apparently makes the music sound even more awesome than a conventional CD. I own one SACD (Depeche Mode’s “101 Live”) and it sounds exactly the same as the old copy I once had, even when played in a tricked-out stereo system.

The same issue of price comes into play here; the albums are way too expensive, with most albums being over $25 and some being over $35.

MiniDisc (MD)

I'm not surprised that many people have never even heard of this format, since it's time in the North American market was brief and, mildly put, unsuccessful. Bridging the gap between my CD Walkman and my iPod, I owned a MiniDisc player and was quite happy with it until it met a violent end on the stairwell of a subway station (lesson learned: zip up your coat pocket before you run to catch a train). I liked having a music player that did not skip on me when I was running, and I especially liked the extra storage capacity of the MDs, but the booming market for MP3 players soon rendered MD players obsolete. I think the biggest drawback to this format was the price of both the players and the media – a player/recorder would cost around $400 and the blank MDs would be more than triple the price of CDRs. Additionally, I don’t remember seeing any albums released commercially on MD in North America (they were widely available in the UK at one point).

With upgrades to conventional CDs not faring so well in the marketplace, I can only surmise that there will be no physical formats that catch on in the future. We live in an age of emerging and expanding technology, so digital music and movies that can be obtained at the click of a button are likely to be the standard in 10 years. Despite the obvious benefits of owning a CD as opposed to having sound files on a computer, I don’t see this trend reversing, and downloads (both legal and illegal) will continue to slowly take over. It’s sad for people like myself who love CD shopping, but the tide is turning and it’s difficult to swim against it. But I’ll continue to try, damn it.

However, I am optimistic that there will always be a market for the physical formats; vinyl is still widely purchased and has actually seen a comeback of sorts in recent years, and I think CDs will still survive in independent shops, second-hand stores, and through internet retailers. Big box retailers like Best Buy, Future Shop, and Target all sell CDs, but finding an album that you want (or a sales associate to help you) is a fiasco at the best of times. These days, I stick to my select stores and online retailers, which I hope will still be around when digital music has completely dominated the industry.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (Xbox 360, Playstation 3)

It’s hard to play “Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom” without thinking of the 2010’s excellent “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West”, since both games encompass and emphasize cooperative gameplay in which two characters make it through the world and must work together to find items, solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Both games provide a solid story-driven experience, but Majin is one of those games that falls into the “good and almost great” category, excelling on many levels but ultimately falling short of being a landmark title.

The story of Majin is rather simplistic but it’s engaging enough to keep you interested. A once prosperous kingdom has been enveloped in an evil force that has thrown it into darkness and chaos. Many have tried to save the kingdom and none have prevailed, and this is where you come in. You control a young man known only as Tepeu and he is charged with the quest of freeing the kingdom from the darkness. His first order of business is to awaken the Majin, a mythical monster who possesses the power and strength to free the kingdom and vanquish the monsters that have overtaken it. Sadly, when we first meet the Majin, he is a shell of his former self; his powers have been taken away and placed into magical fruits scattered throughout the world. As you progress through the game, you will find these fruits and the Majin will gradually get his powers back, which includes the ability to use wind and lightening to great effect. That’s the story in a nutshell, unremarkable but still fun and serviceable.

The gameplay is a mixture of the cooperative platforming of Enslaved and the environmental puzzle solving of Ico. With the Majin to command at your beckon, you can use him to knock down walls, manipulate parts of the environment and bead down enemies. It’s that latter part that is integral to the gameplay because your character is abysmally underpowered in combat, so commanding the Majin to pummel enemies is the only way short of running that you will survive the waves of enemy encounters. Having the Majin collapse a wall onto a cluster of enemies or executing a cinematic finishing move is very satisfying, but combat ultimately feels half-baked. Your character only has two combat moves and you never improve to the point where you feel powerful, so the Majin will do the lion’s share of the fighting and this can make battles feel drawn out and tedious at times. Having said that, combat is not the main objective of the game, so you can sneak by enemies and avoid combat on most occasions. In terms of controls, Majin is a pleasant and responsive platformer that is not overly complex, so novice gamers should find this relatively accessible, while there is enough depth in the puzzle solving to give more seasoned gamers some challenge. The puzzles are a mix of flipping switches, manipulating the environments and using the Majin’s strength to access impassable areas, and some of them are very challenging and well designed.

Visually, the lush environments and well-designed levels look great, however people looking to nitpick will find plenty to dislike as well. The environments look good, but a close-up reveals plenty of pixilation and rough textures, and the character animation (especially the voice synching) is laughably bad at times. Personally, the above doesn’t bother me as I care more about gameplay and story than I do about the visuals, so I can easily forgive any technical imperfections. If the game has a serious deficiency, it’s definitely in the voice acting. Imagine the hammiest voice acting from a bad children’s television show and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect here, it’s beyond terrible. The Majin himself comes across sounding like the Abominable Snowman in Looney Tunes, and his constant cave man talk (“Majin fall down. Majin sad”) will your nerves after a while. The other characters you meet along the way fare little better, so if there is one area this game really falters, it’s in the voice acting.

At the end of the day, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a good game that provides a solid experience for people looking for a quality puzzle-based platformer. Neither the gameplay or the story are innovative on any level, but the gameplay is solid and the controls are responsive, which is what I look most for in a game. Some people will find the visuals, story and especially the voice acting to be below-pay for a next-gen title, but Majin is a game that’s better than the sum of it’s parts. There is enough charm and challenge here to hold your interest, so I recommend picking up this game if the above intrigues you.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Let's Hear it for the Ladies! Girl Gamers in Today's Gaming Culture

When you think of the stereotypical gamer, what image comes to mind? It’s usually something akin to the Comic Shop Guy from The Simpsons, or the merciless troll in the “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode of South Park. As much as stereotypes are somewhat based in reality, the example above is the exception rather than the rule, since every gamer I know is a normal person with a life outside of video games. On the flip side, gamer culture is highly social and highly competitive, and like all communities, discrimination and lack of acceptance is commonplace. One particular demographic is often stereotyped and underestimated, and that is female gamers.

Conventional wisdom says that gamers are usually men and that girls lack the understanding or tolerance for video games, and if they do get into them, it’s usually party or “casual” games that require little time or dedication. Like all hobbies, the truth is not always black and white. As a child weaned on Atari and tempered with Nintendo, video games were a big part of my life and I had several female friends who regularly came over to play, many of whom were able to achieve higher scores and get farther into games than I ever could. These girls also enjoyed “girly” thinks like skipping rope and collecting dolls, but the gender roles that apply to so many other hobbies never seemed to apply to video games. Flash-forward to my teenage years, where the girls I dated were into “nerdy” hobbies like video games, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic cards, and believe it or not, they were not the outcast “geek girls” that you see on TV. I remember having friends over to play Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64, and the girls usually mopped the floor with the boys, so there was never this concept of video games being a “boy’s thing”. Sadly, this point of view is not shared by a lot of people. There are some girls I know today who think that video games are a kid’s hobby and a complete waste of time. Some are in relationships and they do nothing but complain about their partner’s enjoyment of gaming. However, I think this represents personal taste rather than being indicative of an entire gender’s attitude towards gaming.

Girl gamers today face a variety of challenges, most of which surround the stigma of their aptitude games and the attitude that other games have towards them, especially in multiplayer gaming. Many of my female friends have told me that other gamers, usually young men, either make rude comments about them or get downright abusive when they play online. This is usually the result of bruised egos that result from being beaten in a game by a girl or just plain immaturity, something that shouldn’t be taken seriously but it gets rather hurtful when it happens enough. Sometimes, the comments are simply trolling by saying things like “I want to bone you” or “woman, make me a sammich!”, but I’ve been in game matches where people used the C-word openly and threatened violence and rape. For this reason, some of my friends hide the fact that they are female because they just want to enjoy some gaming, or they limit their online play to people they personally know and trust. I think abuse and immaturity is something that anyone should be prepared for when going online, but it seems especially problematic for the female gamers I know.

Worse yet, there seems to be this prevailing image of girl gamers either being sex objects or butch and unattractive. Doing an image search for “Girl Gamer” on Google brings up a variety of misogynistic images of naked girls with video games and peripherals strategically covering their parts, while other images show girls who are overweight or stereotypically nerdy. It is true that a search for “male gamer” brings up equally unflattering images, but these are more comical than offensive. Funny enough, there is also a sub-culture of female “gamers” who are not really into gaming, but they take pride in being “nerd bait” and acting up by posting sexually suggestive pictures and videos for guys to “get their nerdy rocks off” to. I have absolutely no respect for these people and I don’t think they represent gamers or should be taken seriously in any way.

Here’s the reality check when it comes to numbers and demographics. According to a study done by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), 40% of gamers are female. Another interesting myth debunked by this study is that most gamers are children or teenagers, because the average age of typical gamer worldwide is 34 years old, but that’s a topic for another article. While the slim majority of gamers may be male, females make up an impressive percentage of the gaming population and they are becoming a more formidable presence. Being an active follower of the Youtube gaming community, I see regular videos by female gamers where they openly discuss their passion for video games. Such “Youtubers” include Stephs2Def, Charassic, Doginmylense and GameMeetsGirl, among others. They all bring a fresh perspective and intelligent opinions to the community, and I gain a lot of gaming knowledge from their videos and I have bought many games on their recommendations. They all have impressive game collections that they clearly take pride in, and I watch their videos without the fact that they’re female being in the front of my mind. A gamer is a gamer to me, regardless of gender. I have also gotten to know some female gamers over Xbox Live and the Playstation network and their Gamerscore/trophy count is higher than I could ever hope to achieve, and as I’m fond of saying, one of my best friends is a girl and she can kick my ass in any game of her choosing.

In closing, just like the stereotypes surrounding male gamers are largely untrue, the same applies to female gamers. As a gender that’s been considered less apt in certain areas, I think that girls have had a harder time gaining credibility in the gaming world, but thankfully the tide is shifting and these pointless gender roles apply less today. A gamer is someone who loves video games, and I would measure a gamer by their passion and knowledge rather than something like their gender, age or personal background. People who hate on girl gamers are often trying to pump themselves up and compensate for their own insecurities, which I think is not even worth taking seriously. Girl gamers are equally valuable and equally skilled as their male counterparts and I find it laughable that some people are still stuck in the 1950’s mentality of gender inequality, so hopefully these people will eventually grow up and learn to respect others.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Video Game Addiction: A hard lesson and a cautionary tale

Thanks in part to the internet expanding our knowledge and the popularity of shows like “Intervention” and “Hoarders”, people today are better education on addiction and all of it’s complexities. Even in this arena, video game addiction is one of the most misunderstood and underestimated addictions and it’s a growing concern among a population of gamers who are unable to balance their passion with their priorities. This is rather topical for me, since a friend of mine was a video game addict in the past and I am saddened to hear that he’s potentially fallen off the wagon again.

My friend, let’s call him “Rick”, is a great guy with an enviable intelligence and a natural charm that people warm to instantly. Admittedly, he is not my closest friend but someone I respect and enjoy hanging out with, but I’ve always known him to have an addictive personality. Compulsive shopping, sex addiction (no kidding) and heavy drinking were always addictions that he went through bouts of but always seemed to pull himself out of, but the most destructive in his life has been video game addiction. Back in 2005, at a time when he found himself in personal turmoil, he bought himself a Playstation 2 and got into Final Fantasy XI. Being a gamer myself, and having little knowledge of MMORPGs, I encouraged this and shared in his joy at the game he found a new love for. Unfortunately, his addictive personality took over and long story short, it got even further out of hand from there. He started cancelling on friends and family, missing classes, and putting other obligations on the back burner in order to have more gaming time. He accrued a large amount of debt, due to maxed out credit cards and a high-interest student loan, and he was unable to hold down a job for any length of time. The other shoe dropped and he lost his apartment, moving in with his sister and her husband because he had nowhere else to go. I lost touch with him shortly thereafter, but I heard from mutual friends that he came to the realization that he had a problem, dealt with it, and was back on his feet.

Flash forward to 2010, where we reconnect through Facebook and start a friendly dialogue as if the time had never passed. He is working full time at an insurance company, is in a committed relationship and is slowly paying down his debts and is planning on returning to school. He remembers his time playing games as “the dark days”, and while he owns a Playstation 3, he avoids the addictive RPGs and sticks to simple games that require little time commitment. By all appearances, he is putting his priorities first and he has learned from his past mistakes. Well, old habits die hard. I found out a few weeks ago that he received a gaming PC for Christmas and he bought both the Diablo and Warcraft “Battle Chest” collections (which contain the original games plus the expansions). Last week, I see his Facebook relationship status has changed to “Single”. Could this be the start of another downward spiral? Past experience has taught me that it’s likely and I have warned him about it, but he insists that he has it under control now and is not going back to his old ways. I am less optimistic, but fingers crossed.

Overall, I think gaming is a great hobby and it’s a big part of my “wind down” time. I love getting hooked on a game and spending hours just enjoying the experience, but I am also aware that there is life beyond gaming and one needs to keep their priorities in check. People are generally unsympathetic to video game addiction because the stigma surrounding gaming culture is generally negative, since people often view gamers as lonely social outcasts who will never amount to anything in life. Nothing could be further from the truth, since people I know in both real life and in the online gaming communities are some of the smartest, funniest and most down-to-earth people I’ve met. All of the gamers I know are responsible people who work, have social lives, and in some cases, are married with kids of their own. When one of these people gets addicted to video games to the point where it negatively impacts their life and others around them, it makes me question this hobby and why it can be destructive for some. My conclusion is that anything taken to extreme can be a bad thing, so the actual hobby of gaming is not to blame, rather it is in the personality of the individual to get hooked on it. People need to realize that video game addiction is a real problem, and like any other addiction, it can ruin lives in so many ways. If you can relate to any of the behaviours mentioned above, think long and hard about how gaming is contributing to your life and what it might be holding you back from. I love video games and I go through periods where I am heavily into them, but I always ensure my bills are paid, my job is secure and my friends and family have me around when they need me. My advice to anyone is to find that balance and ensure that you’re not falling into a pit, and if you feel you need help, seek it sooner rather than later.