Thursday, December 9, 2010

I am Featured! Huzzah!

I have been picked up by Lordkat of Lordkat.com
I will be posting all game related articles on there, but I will still use my blog for anything not related to games. I will also post updates for whenever I do write an article for Lordkat.com!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

World of Warcraft and the New Social Dynamic

World of Warcraft has over twelve million subscribers (“Subscriber Base Reaches 12 Million Worldwide” 1). The population of Azeroth is that of a small nation and it’s still receiving new immigrants daily, or are they refuges? Video games, after all, have always been thought of as a form of escapism, but how much escapism is in a game where the majority of game-play revolves around interacting with other people? These interactions aren’t always shallow either. People who first met on World of Warcraft have ended up forming lasting relationships and, in some cases, even marrying. While few people would think of games as the hobby of recluses and the socially inept anymore, how many people would be willing to believe that such strong relationships can be formed through a video game? Ignorance of the nuances of this trend could lead to turmoil between friends and family that could otherwise be avoided. That is why this growing form of social interaction can’t be ignored or defined by simple stereotypes any longer.

            This idea, that video games can spark and even nurture relationships, is an unusual idea even to people who play video games. The reason for this is that different games support different types of communication. Games that don't require as much time and dedication to play have a distinctly different social experience than those that do, like World of Warcraft, Second Life, etc. The latter games tend to have several features that encourage or require social interaction between individuals (player-ran markets/economies, guilds/groups, and dungeons/levels that require the collaborated effort of several people to complete). People tend to have interactions with the same people as a result of these factors. This provides the groundwork for people to get to know each other and do things together on a regular basis. This makes the idea of friendship sound possible, but how can this relate to face to face interaction?

         Dr. Mark Kline is a psychologist who writes articles for a website called The Escapist, a website devoted to the video game community as a whole. An individual recently sent an email asking why his parents seem to think it's impossible to have a deep, meaningful relationship when most of the interactions in said relationship take place over the internet or within a video game. In response, he said “I think you're absolutely right that people of your parents' generation (of whom am I probably one) have an instinctive discomfort with this. It seems inadequate and alien to us. How could you really know or trust someone who lives hundreds of miles away that you may have never met in person or in some cases never even laid eyes on? We are also constantly regaled with horror stories about pedophiles and murderers who find their victims through the internet. While these risks are real, and I certainly advise caution in developing online relationships with people you don't really know, I think they are highly over-emphasized by a media hungry for sensational lurid stories that attract a lot of eyeballs” (Kline 2). In another article, he stated that “Parents are naturally skeptical because they don't see how playing a game on the internet could really be "hanging out with your friends," but for growing numbers of kids, that's just what it is” (Kline 1). So, to a number of kids, meeting up with their friends after school in the city square of Stormwind (a major city in World of Warcraft), is no different than meeting up at the local Taco Bell.

     Then why not meet up at the local Dell Taco? What is the appeal of going to a video game for social interaction? What makes it unique? Mr. Kline remarks to an email “This is a nice statement about the tremendous benefits the internet and gaming can offer to people who find themselves isolated socially or geographically. You can find people elsewhere on this planet with whom you might have something in common and you can build meaningful and significant relationships with some of them“ (Kline 2). First off, people who meet while playing these video games already have something in common, the video game. This promise of common ground is very appealing to those who find it hard to find people who share their hobbies. It can also be appealing for those who have a history of hardships in relationships or suffer from anxiety, providing for them a comfortable environment to ease back into the social setting. It also provides an activity for friends and family to take part in when there is a great distance between them. 
 
          It wouldn't be fair to only focus on the positive aspects of this growing social trend. One of the most glaring flaws is that these long-distance forms of communication lack the subtle nuances of expression and verbal tone present in face to face interactions. Many gamers communicate verbally through programs like Vent out of the necessity of quick responses in dungeons, thus allowing for nuances in tone to be heard. Some games allow a player's avatar to portray simple expressions, but this can't replicate the depth of expressions produced by the human face and body. Another complaint is that video games don't provide the variety of activities available in close-distance relationships. After all, there are only so many ways you can kill a computer program. MMORPGS have this covered. Many MMORPGS are built around universes that are very deep and complex. This results in many MMORPGS having holidays, as the World of Warcraft Lunar Festival (“Events Calender” 1), fairs, and other events to provide a variety of activities for friends to enjoy. A creative group can even create their own events if they so wish.

      This trend will continue to gain momentum, but this isn't a bad thing. Indeed, this trend will provide several possibilities that were not as available previously, such as allowing our friends who live thousands mile away to stand right beside us as we battle goblins, gnolls, and gorgons. It would be a waste to look at this as intrinsically inferior to other social settings, and to avoid it outright. Instead it should be seen as a unique social setting, with unique advantages and disadvantages. We should take advantage of all the possibilities this new social avenue provides us. Now raiding the Icecrown Citadel (“World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King” 1), can stand alongside grabbing lunch at Denny's and going to see the Dodgers as something to be enjoyed by friends and family, strengthening relationships and sparking new friendships. 
 
Works Cited

n.p. “World of Warcraft Subscriber Base Reaches 12 Million Worldwide” http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/press/pressreleases.html?101007. Blizzard, Oct 7, 2010. Web.
Kline, Mark. “Ask Dr. Mark #2”. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/ask-dr-mark/7747-Ask-Dr-Mark-2.2 . Escapist Magazine, 1 Jul 2010. Web.
Kline, Mark “Ask Dr. Mark #8”. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/ask-dr-mark/8147-Ask-Dr-Mark-8 . Escapist Magazine. 23 September 2010. Web.
n.p. “World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King”. http://www.wowwiki.com/World_of_Warcraft:_Wrath_of_the_Lich_King. WowWiki, n. d. Web.
n.p. “Events Calender”. http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/events/calendar/. World of Warcraft. n.d.

Cigarette Smoking and Mental Illness: A Casual Relationship?

Issue: Is the evidence sufficient to conclude that there is a casual relationship between cigarette smoking and the onset of mental illness symptoms?

Research: Forty-one percent of individuals with a current mental disorder are smokers, as compared to the 22 percent of people who have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder (Lasser 2000). People with a mental illness are more likely to be heavy smokers, consuming a pack of cigarettes per day or more (Lasser 2000). People who have been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders have higher rates of smoking and smoke more heavily than people with fewer mental disorders (Lasser 2000). Forty-four percent of all cigarettes smoked in the United States are consumed by people with one or more mental disorders (Lasser 2000). The lifetime prevalence of developing major depression is strongly linked to the number of cigarettes consumed (Breslau &others, 1993, 1998; Kendler, Neale, & others, 1993b). People who smoke a pack of cigarettes or more per day have a 50 percent chance of experiencing major depression, while nonsmokers have about a 17 percent chance. Three separate studies focusing on adolescents fond that cigarette smoking predicted the onset of depressive symptoms, rather than the other way around (Goodman & Capitman, 2000; Ohayon, 2007; Windle & Windle, 2001; Wu & Anthony, 1999). In a study of patients with bipolar disorder, the prevalence and severity of cigarette smoking predicted the severity of psychotic symptoms during manic episodes (Corvin & others, 2001). A positive association was found between smoking and the severity of symptoms experienced by people with anxiety disorders (McCabe & others, 2004). In a study of people with schizophrenia, 90 percent of the patients had started smoking before their illness began (Kelly & McCreadie, 1999). This suggests that in vulnerable people, smoking may precipitate a person's initial schizophrenic episode.
Application: If both premises were accepted, that cigarettes were smoked to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, but they in turn exasperated the symptoms themselves, then we are presented with a vicious spiral. People with mental disorders are more likely to smoke to alleviate anxiety and to relax, but they are in fact worsening future trauma caused by the mental disorders, while also putting them at risk for other disorders. Is the evidence sufficient though? Most of the evidence simply shows that smoking cigarettes followed the onset of mental disorder or visa versa. They don't show how smoking alleviates the symptoms or how it exasperates them, the physiological effects of smoking. I'm afraid that claiming the this particular group of evidence shows a casual relationship between smoking and the onset of mental illness will be committing the post hoc fallacy.

Conclusion: I do not believe that the evidence provided is sufficient to prove a casual relationship, as most of the evidence simply shows a correlation between smoking and the onset of mental illness symptoms, but not how smoking relates to the onset of mental illness symptoms.

Bibliography:
Lasser, Karen; Boyd, J. Wesley; Woolhandler, Steffie; Himmelstein, David U.; McCormick, Danny; & Bor, David H. . (2000) Smoking and mental illness: A population-based prevalence study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 284, 2606-2610
Breslau, Naomi; Kilbey, M. Marlyne; & Andreski, Patricia (1993). Nicotine dependence and major depression: New evidence from a prospective investigation. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 31-35.
Kendler, Kenneth S.; Neale, Michael C.; MacLean, Charles J.; Heath, A.C.; Eaves, L. J., & Kessler, R.C. (1993). Smoking and major depression: A casual analysis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 36-43.
Goodman, Elizabeth; & Capitman, John. (2000). Depressive symptoms and cigarette smoking among teens. Pediatric,106, 748 – 755.
Ohayon, Maurice M. (2007, April – June). Epidemiology of depression and its treatment in the general population. Journal of Psychiatry Research, 41(3-4), 207-213.
Windle, Michael; & Windle, Rebecca C. (2001). Depressive symptoms and cigarette smoking among middle adolescents: Prospective association and intrapersonal and interpersonal influences. Journals of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 215 – 226.
Wu, Li-Tzy & Anthony, James C. (1999). Tobacco smoking and depressed mood in late childhood and early adolescence. American Journal of Public Health, 89, 1837-1840.
Corvin, Aiden; O'Mahony, Ed; O'Regan, Myra; Comerford, Claire; O'Connel; Craddock, Nick; & Gill, Michael. (2001). Cigarette smoking and psychotic symptom in bipolar affective disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 179, 35-38.
McCabe, Randi E. ; Chudzik, Susan M.; Antony, Martin M.; Young, Lisa; Swinson, Richard P.; & Zolvensky, Michael J. (2004). Smoking behaviors across disorders, Anxiety Disorders, 18, 7-18.
Kelly, Ciara; & McCreadie, Robin (1999). Smoking habits, current symptoms, and premorbids characteristics of schizophrenia patient in Nithsdale, Scotland. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 1751-1757.

Truman Show Review


The Truman Show is not a comedy. It may seem like a comedy, with its jokes and its pratfalls, but is really a psychological thriller. This is a large scale and elaborate Skinner's Box, with our Truman as the pigeon. Everything has been structured, planned, and scheduled. From his job to his sex life, everything has been planned for Truman to follow. The worst part? Society, like a bunch of perverse voyeurs, tunes in day after day to see this man run around the maze that has been set for him. Now you may think that I'm engaging in hyperbole, but consider this. As a way to stop him from escaping, they've conditioned him to be so traumatized by the sight of open water that he can't even make his way across a small bridge. How did they do this? The director, a Mr. Christof, had his “father” die in a boating accident with young Truman in the same boat! We are dealing with some severely sadistic people, or so it seems.

The lead role of Truman (his first name is Truman), is played by Jim Carrey, a man who can quite easily snuggle himself in the upper lip of the uncanny valley. While not being uncomfortable to watch, there is something surreal about most of his performances that don't seem quite human. This works to his great advantage in this film. The awkward sterility and artificiality of the town is accentuated by Truman's not-quite-normal mannerisms. It's quite brilliant. It's really hard to criticize him for behaving in any way that might seem artificial since the whole world he inhabits is artificial. It could be equated to his reactionary development as he grew up in this city. He does manage to keep his manic energy under control, at least to the extent that he can manage. This is one of his more sublime performances.

A man who easily combats Mr. Carrey for the spotlight however is Ed Harris as the director, Mr. Christof. He plays the role as a subtle intellectual, a private and introverted individual. He ends up being something of an antithesis to Truman. While Mr. Christof is presented as a very private, introverted, and controlling individual, Truman is forced to develop into a much more extroverted individual, with no hopes of privacy and little to no control over his life. He pulls off the role of a puppet-master brilliantly, but manages the almost impossible task of being human too. We get a sense that he honestly cares, even loves Truman as a child of his. He represents the theme of the controlling parent, wishing to construct the perfect world for their child while robbing said child of all freedom. Spiting his curiosity and pushing him to accept the status-quo presented to him, but doing so all out of love. Misguided, obsessive, controlling love, but love. Every moment he's on screen you feel the tension brewing inside this man, and it's quite infectious. Ed Harris was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for his performance.

The plot of The Truman Show is a bit of a mixed bag. While the final scenes of Truman losing his wits are gripping, suspenseful, oddly comedic, and all that jazz, the 'coincidences' that spark his curiosity are contrived. These string of events, from a prop light falling from the sky, to the set falling apart, to the radio signal getting intercepted by Truman's car stereo, all come off as exceedingly forced. My suspension of disbelief was stretched severely thin when they presented these coincidences as freak accidents and not the meddling of some 'freedom fighter' or something. While it might be acceptable if these events happened over a series of several years, these seem to happen within weeks or even days of each other. Did their set technicians go on strike? Admittedly, it becomes harder and harder to hold onto these gripes as the film progresses. I'd lie though if I said I wasn't gripping my chair during the finale, a great show down of wits and determination.

The Truman Show is a classic that deserves watching. It's an 'art film' without being an acquired taste. It is an intellectual mainstream film, a crowning achievement in my opinion. Is it perfect? Not at all. I don't think, however, that perfection is the most important factor of a classic anyway. The Truman Show has the originality, thematic depth, and subtle performances that provides new discoveries upon each viewing. It also defies genre, and in that appeals to fans of several genres. You get a comedic film, a psychological 'art film', an action thriller, and few subtle hints of a romance all mixed into a wonderful casserole. You can shovel spoonful after spoonful, or accept the subtle nuances of flavor and still enjoy it either way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ugh, what to do what to do.

I've recently realized that I haven't done anything outside of school for the past month or so and it's bothering the hell out of me! My creative drive is down the toilet and I am completely confused as to why. I need inspiration, a muse, something! I'm desperate. I think I'm going to try a few ideas on how to spark creativity. Perhaps sleep deprivation might allow my thoughts to wonder, but I don't know. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tips for Making a Let's Play

Tips for Making a Let's Play


Commentary is a very stylized medium and this essay is going to focus on a particular type of commentary, the video game walkthrough, or the Lets Play.

Production


When producing a Lets Play you must be conscious of your recording equipment. You may be incredibly funny and informative, but if there's a glare on the screen and constant pops in the audio recording people will be focusing on that instead.

I've noticed that quite a few people record footage from a camcorder. I must admit, I think that doing so should be completely avoided unless absolutely necessary, but I realize that sometimes it can't be helped.

Some tips for recording on a camcorder...

  • Know how lighting effects the video quality, set up lamps and adjust shutters so that the screen is lit up as equally as possible. Avoid lighting that will produce a glare on the screen.
  • Audio quality on most camcorders is very low. It would be best to avoid recording commentary audio until you're at your computer, where you can use a headset or condenser microphone instead.
  • Avoid background noise. Don't record in areas of high foot traffic. We don't care to hear what your dog has to say about the game.

The better option is to buy av cables and hook them up to the audio and video output and input ports of your camcorder and television screen. This will greatly increase the video and audio quality and avoid any background noise. With this method, however, you can't record the commentary until later.

Recording from your computer also provides its share of pitfalls, but they generally lie in the details. These can be harder for a novice to realize, but nonetheless can still be very distracting if present.

In regards to your screen capture program...

  • If you are using a program that allows you to adjust the size of your recording space, avoid recording the game window's border. This applies to emulators too.
  • Be sure that the recording program can record enough frames per second without bogging down your computer. Nobody wants to watch a video game at half speed. (A potential remedy for this is to speed up the footage in editing).
  • Make sure to remove any benchmarks from appearing on the footage. We don't care about how many frames per second you're recording and if we do it means something is wrong.
  • Make sure that your cursor does not appear in the recording. Most recording programs allow you to toggle whether or not it appears.

In regards to audio recording...

  • Few things are more annoying than pops and feedback. Adjust the placement of the microphone so that you can avoid both of these.
  • When recording game audio and commentary simultaneously, be sure to adjust the volume so that your voice is loud enough to not be droned out by the in-game audio.
  • Update your audio drivers so that the audio quality is as high as it can possibly be. This is important for both in game audio and commentary.


Final Notes
A good program for recording game footage is Fraps, which can be found here. http://www.fraps.com/buy.php
A good program to use for recording and editing audio is Audacity, which can be found here.http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

Sound levels can be adjusted by clicking the speaker icon at the bottom right of the Windows screen and going to the volume control window.
A lot of problems can be solved in editing, it's a good idea to watch all of your recorded footage before posting.

Commentary



The content of a person's commentary is solely up to the author. This is where the appeal lies, the commentator can choose whatever style of commentary he wishes: informative, comedic, or a mixture of the two. However there are a few things that should generally be avoided...

  • Avoid filler. Anecdotes can be both funny and informative, but try to avoid rambling about how your day was or some particular commenter that pissed you off if it doesn't apply to the game.
  • Try to avoid constant screaming and yelling. No matter how funny it might initially be, nonstop yelling will eventually strain our patience as much as it strains your vocal chords.
  • Randomness can be funny, but random does not, by itself, equal humor, remember that.
  • Avoid a commentary style that makes your natural voice come off as grating or abrasive. (If you have a high pitched, nasal, and sharp voice perhaps a dramatic delivery with constant yelling might not be the best style for you).
  • Avoid voice acting text boxes. This can be taken with a grain of salt, but unless you're a good actor I'd save it for a joke at the character's expense or something similar.
  • Don't record if you can barely stay awake. Tiredness and exhaustion will come across in your voice. This doesn't apply to sounding tired or exhausted as a stylistic choice.

Now I will go through a few general styles and their characteristics...

Informative
  • Focuses on aspects of the game that might not be obvious: secrets, strategies, bugs, and glitches.
  • Includes information about the game's development and release.
  • Makes comments about how the game, or certain events regarding the game were received and how you agree or disagree with a particular opinion or the general consensus.
  • Includes information about how certain events in the game are similar to events in other games. (Tropes) 
Overly Dramatic
  • Manages a fine line between comically hammy and horrifically annoying by overreacting to certain events in the game.
  • Puts an emphasis on a certain personality traits (short-tempered, cowardly, snarky, etc.), to create a persona that's in many ways similar to a cartoon character or professional wrestler.
  • Can focus on glaring flaws, bad A.I, horrible voice acting, glitches, etc.
  • Has a sharp volume dynamic, shifting from loud to soft and from clear to whisper/growl.
Deadpan
  • Focuses on sharp, dry wit instead of comedic overreacting
  • Comments on mellow-drama, hammy/bad voice acting, idiotic game play aspects
  • Makes witty jokes toward the fan base, other characters, or other individuals surrounding the game.
  • Generally makes heavy use of sarcasm.

Of course these archetypes are simply some of the several available and you can mix and match different characteristics for different situations or to create a wholly unique persona.

Final Notes
Generally speaking, developing a persona that's close to your own personality is the best option as it will be the most natural for you. You might not need to develop a persona at all, but you will probably have to exaggerate your personality somewhat.

Scripting or Improvisation?

This is the place where innate talent seems to be the most relevant. Choosing whether to use scripting or improvisation depends on a few factors...

  • Are you the type to makes jokes without thinking or is your humor very methodical?
  • In general, are you spontaneous or plan oriented?
  • Do you stumble over your words or can you speak with clear diction most of the time?
  • Are you the type who frequently runs out of things to say or can you recall information relevant to a conversation without missing a beat?
  • Do you prefer continuity over control or visa-versa?

Both scripting and improvisation have their advantages..

Improvisation
  • More reliant on reacting to the content at hand than methodical comments
  • Allows for train of thought commentary, which may produce a funny off-hand comment
  • It's easier to sound natural due to the fact that you're in the moment
Scripting
  • Allows for running gags, motifs, and themes better than improvisation
  • Since recording footage and recording commentary happens separately it allows the commentator to do multiple takes of a joke.
  • Easier to edit because footage and commentary is separate.

Final Notes
While it's uncommon, some commentators choose a combination of scripting and improvisation. They might outline a general theme for their jokes, make note of how to react to a certain event, or dub over jokes and lines that were done improperly or weren't funny.

Final Statements

I sincerely hope that this helps all aspiring commentators to make the most informative and funny videos that they can. Lets Plays have something of a stigma as generally being easy, poor quality, and unfunny. I hope that overtime, this changes. The only way that this will change though is if the bar is raised and the status-quo is excellence.

If anyone would like for me to comment on their Lets Play, or talk to me further about Lets Plays, feel free to send me an PM on my Youtube account (http://www.youtube.com/deathcomesx). I will always be more than happy to give my advice. Of course, if you want to comment on this essay you can send me a PM too, I would love to know what you thought.


Special Thanks to:
Copper Chocobo



Monday, October 4, 2010

Pitiful Child Part 2 (I Needed a Shave)

“I needed a shave, a haircut, a breath mint, and a bath,” I muttered to myself, running a hand through my hair, feeling the slickness of my oily mop. I turned on the sink and gave my face a few splashes of pristine gas station water, straightening my hair with my fingers and parting it to the right. Looking back in the mirror I gave myself a look of bemusement; I didn’t look like the Unabomber, but it wouldn’t be hard for me to frighten little children. After finishing up with the rest of my bathroom activities I headed out. I walked up to the attendant. “Is there a pay phone near here?” “I don’t know, there might be a one few streets down that way,” he pointed to his right. “Thanks.” I exited, going around the corner and picking up my coffee, my nectar of life for this little adventure.

As I headed down the street my mind was free to introspect. Something tells me I shouldn’t be taking this in stride. Something tells me I should be losing my fucking mind. Something tells me I’m out of shape. I sat down on a bench to catch my breath, casually waving a bus on by as it drove past the stop. Not ten seconds after I did, a man in a business suit comes scrambling past me, his hand frantically waving at the bus as it turns the corner. I guess today isn’t my day to be a saint. I looked down at my coffee, my source of power. As I drink from it I can’t help but raise my cheeks into a smile. God, I love this stuff. I reached for my wallet, pulling it from my pocket as I began to thumb through it once again. Perhaps there was something else to help me out. I had a five, three quarters, and a nickel. I guess that’s something.