Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Grind

Two unusual games are on my current playlist, games that I have simply been curious about. If my tastes and preferences for games have never been revealed, then let me say this: I love doing the impossible. Those games that thrill and excite me, that strike that amazing balance of unreal existence and epic environments, I could play those games for hours on end. I play games like Pyschonauts, Fallout 3, or Mirror's Edge for the thrill of unreal worlds. To be in places that are beyond the realm of my hometown. There are enough beautiful moments in reality, enough vistas to make life wonderful. A game hits me when I know that within my lifetime there is no chance I will experience such wonder.

Likewise, games like Max Payne, Mirror's Edge (again), or Shadow of the Collosus are games to be experienced. To play with, to enjoy the fact that, as a player, I am capable of things that would never ever be possible in real-life. Situations that are not feasible. Climbing astride a beast hundreds of feat tall, clinging to its fur, and then climbing further up, that is worth my money. Or how about a gun-duel with multiple enemies? I will never in my life be in a gun duel. And I'm okay with that, because Max Payne gives me all of the joy with none of the reality of me getting shot and dying.

Many games these days are not what I really envision as games because they seem to no longer embrace the fun or the challenge. So out of curiosity I am currently playing Lord of the Rings Online and Farmville. I have wanted to know why people would play Farmville, so I joined the ranks in an effort to determine whether or not Farmville is even a game. After probably an hour of actual playtime I can announce that it is not a game. The premise is to farm a plot of land and to raise money to farm more land and add more types of crops, add random visual flair to your farm, to add neighbors, and to add, add, add! As far as I have been able to discern, there is no negative element to the game. You cannot lose, there is no series of interesting choices, it is merely the progressive collection of elements that may or may not exist on real farms anymore. I have come to the conclusion that Farmville is not a game, it is a tedious chore.

So yesterday, after harvesting my soy crop and planting a new round of seeds, I tried Lord of the Rings Online for the first time, and was slightly disturbed how similar it felt to Farmville. "Oh please, Tinuriael! We need to kill 6 of those Blighted Insects!" "Oh thank you! Here is some experience and silver!" "Oh but this man wants to see you about killing 3 Rustling Mugwumps!""Oh grand happy day! Have an old leather shoe! Now there are 8 Goblin shoes to be collected down the road which we'll trade you 6 more silver for! And if you find any vegetables to pick... Off you go, please!"

I have never really been into MMOs, but I thought I would give LOTRO a try, because I was told that it was a beautiful game with lots of exploration elements. Frankly, it is a beautiful game, and I was pleasantly surprised by the well designed environments, but was this slow grinding going to kill me? It destroyed WOW for me very quickly. LOTRO does have grinding, but at least it's not Farmville. Why not? Because you can die! You can fail, lose, get hurt, have to run away from too many enemies. It contains the very real possibility of failure, and I like that. My accomplishments in Farmville are not many, but they feel like even less, because every step I took put me closer to the accomplishments, whereas LOTRO contains steps that carry me backward, further from one destination in my efforts to seek something new. I visited Bree quickly after the world opened up to me, because I wanted to see Bree. I was quickly out of my level-safe area, but it was fun because I felt like I was giving up one quest for my own personal quest of exploration. What has Turbine done with Middle-Earth? I am finding the answers to that.

I enjoy games that give me thrills, and LOTRO has a beautiful thrilling world, but unless I can soon escape the tedium of its action, I might have to give up on another MMO. Perhaps I just don't appreciate the subtlety of MMO action, but games are my hobby, I play what I want, and I want a game that not only gives me an unbelievable world, but one where my actions are also impossibly awesome. However I can say for sure that Farmville (like too many Facebook apps) is not a game and is definitely not something I want to deal with anymore.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Okay, I'm all for clever thoughts and witty commentary and yadda yadda yadda.... BUT sometimes I find that people are trying to be clever without any actual understanding of how or why they might be clever.

Take the title of this post. This is a new bumper sticker that I've been seeing around Berkeley, that most wonderful eclectic town where half the residents still believe we live in the sixties and Priuses roam unchecked and unchained. You might have seen the E(ART)H bumper sticker as well, because clearly a few years ago someone thought that would make a great sticker, it would strike people as clever and awesome and a declaration of their love of the environment. But I don't accept it. Unless of course this is actually all a ploy by theists to show us that the earth is a great piece of art created by God. That's an argument I can understand and accept.

But I guarantee the majority of people say, "Oh looook, it's art AND earth!" It does not make any sense to me for those two, although both nice things, just don't really have any reason to be stuck together, or one extrapolated from the other. Maybe someone can explain it to me, perhaps I'm just being narrow-minded. In the end, someone is making some nice money off that bumper sticker, and that guy does not care in the slightest whether the earth is art.