Voice acting has become a staple in gaming that helps flesh out characters and setting. Abandoning the text-box provided a more intimate way for the game to connect to the player by expressing emotion and ideas in a way that they are more familiar with. The quality of voice acting in games is, of course, an area of contention, but when done properly, it adds brushstrokes to the aesthetics of the game. This is especially true for settings that benefit from characters having accents to imply nationality. The cultural politics that voice acting implies, however, often escape analysis. The default English accent is General American and deviations from this tap into a subtext that assumes an American player. How accents communicate information to the player exposes the subliminal effects of American ethnocentrism.
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Which game was the biggest disappointment this year? Many gamers (me included) would answer with Dragon Age II by BioWare. With recycled environments, combat void of tactics, and a meaningless item system, BioWare seemed to do quick work of unraveling the success of Dragon Age: Origins. After completing the game, I read some criticism that changed my mind. So much, in fact, that I count Dragon Age II as not only superior to its predecessor but one of the best games that I’ve ever played. This turn of my dissatisfaction into fervency led me to reflect on how game criticism enables such changes in perspective.
In “Games Aren’t Clocks,” Michael Abbott challenges the preoccupation that critics have with judging a game’s value mostly around its gameplay (“Games Aren’t Clocks”, The Brainy Gamer, 11 September 2011). Abbott’s take on the issue implies that gamers will put up with lackluster results in something like narrative as long as the gameplay is good enough, but not the other way around. This doesn’t excuse Dragon Age II its many negatives, which have been fleshed out by many critics. However, the complaints focus on gameplay and sre spare in commenting on a character drama rarely seen in games. Good writing is rare to come across in gaming, and Dragon Age II engages with the conversation on how to imbue a game with meaning through its narrative elements.
I should establish right up front that it’s not that I don’t seriously value Wikipedia. Quite the contrary.
Those that do not—I suspect—are mostly people not old enough (or perhaps not trivia-loving enough) to remember back when gathering info on the most picayune of subjects involved a race to see if you could get to the library card-file drawers before the mice did. At least, you hoped it was mice.
If you didn’t actually feel like playing “name that mystery stain” that day, and you wanted more than the most cursory People profile on your latest pop-cult obsession, you had to go inquire of a person whose body language totally blared “I just got out of the convent, and what do you want?!” in giant neon letters. Then, of course, it turned out—once the first computerized catalogues sputtered into greenish pixilated life—that the convent had not offered IS courses.
Trust me, kiddies, it was awful.
These are days when I wish everyone followed the Google-popularized mantra of “Don’t Be Evil.” The concept of the pre-order bonus is not a new one: buy the game early, get a little something extra for being so darn sure of your purchase. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, and despite the after-the-fact howling of the terminally wronged, it makes sense from a business standpoint to throw in an incentive to get people to buy a given product at a specific place. Time was, you’d pre-order a game, or a CD, or a DVD, and maybe you’d get a poster, maybe you’d get an action figure, maybe you’d even get a little bonus CD with some exclusive (or, at least, timed exclusive tracks). The huge fans pre-order it to make sure they get the prize; everyone else just gets the product when and where they feel like it. This has recently become something of a phenomenon in gaming arenas—Atlus has the pre-order business down to a science, what with soundtracks, plushies, posters, and all manner of other bonuses awaiting the Atlus Faithful, and the just-announced Guitar Hero: Smash Hits pre-order bonus extravaganza features everything from drumsticks to discounts, depending on where you order it from.
In the aftermath of the tragic shooting by Tim Kretschmer in Germany, politicians in both America and Germany are rallying behind the event to once again call for tighter restrictions on video games. Germany already has the strongest censorship laws in the EU, which short of outright banning all or most video games means there is not much left to lock down. Here in America, games are already actively not sold to minors and the video game industry has the highest success rate of any media for keeping mature rated content out of the hands of minors.
Particularly troubling is the continuing coverage of the incident which insists on the connection between playing games and violence. Politicians and ignorant parents are one thing, journalists should be held to a higher standard. The Times’ connection of the incident to Far Cry 2 (their description of the game is factually inaccurate) barely qualifies as tenuous. Kretschmer played Far Cry 2 the night before the event along with several other FPS titles. The expert consulted in the article to establish the link is Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, the man who coined the term “murder simulator” for games, and he bases his accusations on a connection between training tactics used by the military and video games. Specifically, the need to simulate the effects of shooting a person more accurately on targeting ranges (such as having targets that go limp or flail) is echoed in games. A game controller is otherwise considered the equivalent of holding a gun and firing it. The article balances out the coverage by consulting other experts on the topic who rely on psychological studies and a growing majority that have found that there is no link between video games and violence. Elements such as the father owning numerous guns, teaching Kretschmer to use guns at a young age, and a troubled childhood are all referenced as contributing factors to the crime.
Mark David Chapman obsessively read Catcher in the Rye before shooting John Lennon. Does reading Salinger make people want to kill celebrities? Timothy McVeigh’s favorite flavor of ice cream was Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Chip. Does eating it make people want to blow up Federal buildings? Jeffrey Dahmer’s favorite horror film is Hellraiser III. Does watching it make people want to murder and eat one another? Ted Kaczynski was obsessed with Joseph Conrad and the novel, The Secret Agent, in which a professor abandons his job, lives in seclusion, and decides to bomb a scientific lab. Are other people who read the story going to act it out?
As the growing problem of youth violence and school shooting continues, perhaps the press will eventually want to stop and ask why there are so many people who play these games that don’t exhibit similar behavior.