Saturday, 1 November 2014

Whatever Happened to the Wizard?

There are, perhaps, three significant stalwarts of wizardry in fiction - relatively evenly distributed across time, they are comparable in a number of characteristics: wisdom (typically they are advisers and guides, trusted by less experienced characters), great big white/grey beards (almost, some might say, essential) and most significantly for this article they are similar in their extremely advanced age. They are Merlin from the stories of King Arthur, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and most recently Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter. 

Its the advanced age (and general wizenedness) which I want to focus on. All three are immensely powerful beings, venerated across the lands and respected as such. There is the implication that their immeasurable power was gained through many years of learning, training and reading dusty scrolls on the arcane arts. So much time and effort has to go into developing their skill that they presumably forget to shave for a couple of decades, leading to impressive beards. Similarly, with time being of the essence, they don't want to waste precious seconds unbuttoning or unzipping flies, so they all go for cloaks and cowls which allow just a quick lift and you're ready to roll. My point is that their training consumes decades of their lives, and by the time they reach the kind of power where they might legitimately call themselves wizards they at least appear to be very old men.


So where on earth is this trusted archetype in modern gaming? The Guild Wars elementalist, the Warcraft Mage, the Diablo Wizard, Amadeus in Trine, the wizards in Magicka... all fresh faced youths in the prime of their lives. Have they even had half the time to develop skills through which they might call themselves spellcasters of note? I say nay. Some games (like Skyrim) give you the option to change the appearance of age of your character, but this is for appearances sake only - to all other agents in the game you will still be a youth of relative inexperience.
In fact, the old wizard archetype is often employed as a secondary character to your own: the greybeards in Skyrim being a good example. Again, they are elderly bearded advisers - though their wisdom could be somewhat questioned. But still I miss the chance to play that character - a character whose staff is not only a deadly weapon, but also an essential walking stick to soothe his aching back! In the future I want my RPGs to include in character creation a slider for "hunchbackedness" and the further I slide it to the left, the more broken and bent my character becomes. Instead of dodge rolling, he could shift or phase out of the way, instead of fizzing out puns like no tomorrow, he can dispense golden nuggets of wisdom ("a wizard arrives precisely when he means to!").

Power does not necessarily need to be communicated through vim and vigour, the kind of boundless energy which the Guild Wars elementalist seems to possess in spades - shooting around, throwing out wise-cracks and one liners like no tomorrow. Power can be like Yoda - old and immense, but with the appearance of being small and inert. These old characters, Merlin, Gandalf, Dumbledore were thoughtful in their movements, slow and steady, their calm masking their immeasurable power because when required to act they act swiftly and decisively, I understand that there are certain examples (I believe the wizard character in Gauntlet is old and beardy) but rarely are we given the chance to factor age into a game which allows character customisation and certainly in MMOs the robe-wearing bearded wizard seems to have been superseded by the young spell-slinger type.
I get that game developers want us to identify with the characters we create, and its easier for us to identify with a character who appears to be of a similar age to the standard gaming demographic. Perhaps I'm getting a little more advanced in age now and with my back I can't see myself dodge rolling much in the near future. Instead, I'd rather play a character who is as immobile as I am, but still gives me the feeling of being old and powerful. 

There is a whole other article about how wizards are venerated, but witches (until the Harry Potter franchise at least) got the shorter end of the stick and largely still do. That's a topic for another time and one I'm sure which is tied up with various cultural views on power and femininity.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

[GW2] Here's your feedback - The Gem Store [UPDATED!]

For a TL:DR (and particularly if you are an ArenaNet dev) see the bottom of the post.

The Guild Wars 2 gem store has always allowed players to convert their in game gold into "gems" which they can use to buy items from the gem store.
This system has worked in tandem with the ability to buy gems with real money.

Before this latest update players could choose the amount of gold they wished to spend to buy items.

Need a key for 125 gems? Then buy 125 gems! Need an outfit for 700 gems? You guessed it, buy 700 gems!

The new system works like this:

Need a key for 125 gems? Buy 400 gems and have 275 left over! Need an outfit for 700 gems? Buy 800 gems and have 100 left over! Because reasons!

Players can now only convert their in game gold to gems in increments of 400. Once again ArenaNet's justification for this change has been: new players found it confusing and as veteran players we wouldn't understand. 

"Hey there,
Here are a few tidbits from the team:
  • A lot of newer players had trouble with the interface. That doesn’t apply to you, you’re veterans who have been around the conversion block a time or two. But newer players will benefit from the updated system.
  • The goal was to make the Gem Store more like other shopping experiences, and if you think about it, there is more of that feel to it now.
  • You may be surprised to know this (I know I was) but very few people bought gems at smaller denominations than the first one offered in the new system. That’s not to say they never did, nor that there wouldn’t be the desire to do so. But overall, the current options were selected based on player purchases in the past.
  • The team is going to listen to your feedback and, if and when it’s practical and desirable, they can look towards adjusting the new system to better meet your needs.
So please keep your thoughts coming on the new system. Feel free to make suggestions but please, keeping them constructive would be very much appreciated."


This is an argument they've used before, and I've written about here.

As one eloquent redditor quite rightly put it: "Bullshit". First off, if the interface is confusing players - then change the fucking interface. This has nothing to do with the ability to convert however much gold you need. The interface is just the way the player interacts with the system, not the system itself.

Second, which "new player" has the gold stashed away to be able to convert gold into 400 gems anyway!? At the current conversion rate that equals 75 gold! I played for a good 6 or 7 months before I had that kind of currency lying around, and even then I wouldn't have thought of converting all my worldly possessions into gems to buy a cheap looking outfit! There is nothing about this update to this system which is helpful to new players, in fact it isn't even a system which new players will have the option to use because they simply will not have the gold to buy the required 400 gems.

I'm afraid the actual motivations for this change are very thinly veiled. Before you might convert a small amount of gold into gems to buy a Black Lion Chest Key from the store, now you are far less likely to have the spare change required - so instead you BUY the gems with real money. That's the reason this change  has been made - the only thing confusing is why ArenaNet are so brazen about it. It is mind boggling.

So, just to spell it out for ArenaNet - feed this back to your team:

There is absolutely no way that a new player will have the in game gold to buy 400 gems, so they will spend real money instead. This is NOT a system which is friendly for new players, it is absolutely the opposite. This is a system to rinse more real money out of new players. You. are. fucking. it. up.

Update:
Kotaku (I know, ew, but bear with me) are claiming that ArenaNet will be reversing the changes to the gem system in light of our "ranting". They don't actually give any source for this announcement but I anticipate a statement from ANet soon if its true. The system works. Rant for justice. All haile the rant.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

[HS] Seatstory Cheerleaders Tarnish the Event

One of the first big flashy Hearthstone tournaments ever held was the ESGN Fight Night series first held in January 2014. It was run like a big-budget TV show, with a colourful studio set up, interviews, animated player profiles and, most controversially, boxing style "card girls" who would saunter across the stage at the start of each match with the "Game Number".

The girls were an effort on the part of the organisers to inject a flashy sports-style professionalism to the broadcast, but what it ended up being was an embarrassing mess. Viewers and players broadly criticised the decision. Dressed as "sexy schoolgirls" (a still relatively unnerving, though not uncommon trope) aside from the actual gameplay, the girls were the element of the broadcasts which attracted the most attention.

The whole debacle was not helped at all in that there was not a single female player in the whole event. I don't believe that is unheard of - whatever stats you believe about the percentage of gamers who are female, it can't be argued that they are relatively underrepresented in pro-gaming. During and after the event, criticism ranged from "they don't add anything to the show" through "they didn't even speak to the players" and up to "its pretty much straight up exploitation". 
I was a little disappointed when a number of the players, talking on the popular "Turn 2" podcast after the event, did not seem to recognise the sexism argument and as Wunder (at Liquidhearth) recognises:

"It doesn’t help that Ek0p, one of the members of Dogehouse, said on Turn 2 that you should consider them “decorations or something, to make the show prettier”. Now, he goes on to say that not all women are decorations but that was the purpose of those two girls’ existence."

Wunder goes on to note that though the girls were only a very small part of the show, if that was the case, then why include them at all? Why alienate such a large section of the Hearthstone community? It's only anecdotal evidence, but Hearthstone does seem to have a large proportion of the playerbase who are female (perhaps more-so than other games) - so why risk it? Its simply the most blatant form of objectification, the girls existed simply as an attractive sign-holder, nothing more.


It didn't even achieve the purpose of making the event seem professional and sexy - all the players looked awkward and uncomfortable. It would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been if the sign-holders were muscular gentlemen in hot pants and crop-tops. Perhaps the male members of the community who defended the girls' inclusion as being "all part of the fun", would re-evaluate their opinion if they were faced with some well-toned man meat in between each round.

Regardless, as good as the gameplay was (and, to be honest, aside from the girls the event was a lot of fun) ESGN eventually ran out of money and had to shut down. But thats another story.

Fast forward to the past few days and the Seatstory Cup. And exact same arguement emerges. Seatstory is a different beast to the Fight Nights. It's a house cup: taking place in a single apartment rather than a sprawling studio. It still feels just as slick, but the ambience is much more laid back and I believe its an event which many of the players were very much looking forward to due to it being a nice social occasion as well as a competitive tournament. 

Unfortunately, Seatstory (and TakeTV on whose Twitch account it is being broadcast) seem to have learned nothing from the debacle of Fight Night - including scantily-clad pom-pom wielding cheerleaders alongside the exclusively male cast of pro-players. 


The exact same arguments as with Fight Night emerge - perhaps the disbelief is even more prominent here as its hard to believe someone would think it appropriate given the ambiance of the event doesn't seem to fit, and the backlash which emerged as a result of the Card Girls at Fight Night. There has been some suggestion that the girls are an ironic nod to the mistakes of Fight Night itself - but I believe that's a bit of a longshot, and even if that is the intention, the effect is still to alienate the same female audience which occurred in January

Its a huge shame and is astoundingly misjudged especially considering that sexism in gaming is just about as hot as a topic can get at the moment. And this all comes on the heels of a smaller event cast by Kripparian and Reckful where they were accused of sexist remarks towards the female players in the event.

Poorly placed as I am (being male) to effectively communicate how crap a decision this was by the organisers. I thought I'd just post a quote by /u/Shavri on Reddit (emphasis added):

"As a girl who watches HS regularly, this was a 10/10 facepalm moment. I thought maybe after the backlash from the signholders on ESGN people in the community might have realized this is pretty cringe-worthy. I understand that I'm in the minority for the e-sports community, but can you at least pretend there might be some women watching. From an advertising standpoint I think it was pretty insulting to the guys watching too---or maybe I'm wrong. inb4 women-hating/jealousy comments"

Viewers, players, casters and event organisers need to recognise that even "jokey" casual sexism is not acceptable. Not only is it unprofessional, but its damaging to the Hearthstone and gaming community at large. It just continues to reproduce the perception of the gaming community as male dominated, chauvanist and unwelcoming to girls.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...