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ESRB Rating Implications – Player Vs. Developers

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Player –

As a younger player I always thought of the ESRB implimintation as something that was oppressing the creativity and innovation uniquely associated with  video games and its players. One of my favorite franchises in the arcade renaissance was Mortal Kombat. Despite my enthusiasm, parents and just about any adult I met during this time seemed to think my opinion was largely unimportant in how I viewed Mortal Kombat and other video games at the time. Make no mistake Night Trap and Mortal Kombat were not the only games getting public and political heat, nearly every “gamer” and “developer” during this time was being belittled and ashamed publicly. Times have sense changed and video games do not hold the same negative connotation they use to, largely because all the studies that have been published to scapegoat and vilify games have failed. Thanks in part to the passionate and active internet community that supports and protects the video games industry from all corners of the world. Personally I enjoy video games that push the boundaries of society and ask harder questions for the gamer to personally answer for themselves. Video games have been and still are much different than movies, music, and books. While there is a tremendous push in the video game industry to make more AAA games cinematic in appearance, it is important to look at some of the important milestones games have made in the past and build off those accomplishments. The ESRB must be considered a tipping point for when video games deservingly entered the stage of politics and in light of scrutiny held on to industry independence. I am proud as a gamer of how far the players, developers, and the industry as a whole has come sense these times.

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Developer –

The ESRB is much different to me now, I do not view it as an oppressive system but as the contractual bridge that keeps very real and depressing restrictions and limitations on games federally. Thankfully there are so many avenues that games have entered now that it would be nearly impossible to regulate them any more than the ESRB already does. It is very important for parents to have a basic understanding of the themes and struggles their child may experience while playing a game and right now they can. I always advocate for parents to watch some small gameplay videos or look up user reviews before purchasing a game for their child, but that is the parents job not the developers. The ESRB enforces consumer awareness and has continually lowered the ability of minors to obtain inappropriate games every year. With the threat of federal regulations looming, all the major game publishers at the time including Acclaim, EA, Nintendo, and Sega, formed a political trade group to debate self-regulatory frameworks for assessing and rating video games. This cooperation between bitter business rivals paved the way for all future video game development, while protecting all developers for the forseable future. Developers now have a choice of targeting certain ratings to be placed on their games and have a neutral party to send them back any critical areas that might have been overlooked. I must admit though paying fines for easter eggs seems like a shady and under the table kind of deal. Perhaps in the future the ESRB will find a more savory ways to communicate with developers regarding this area of production. I think the ESRB offers the perfect amount of limitation for developers and has bred true mastery from those who abide by its regulation.

catch me on Twitch for more walkthroughs, comedy, and discussions http://www.twitch.tv/dirksteel

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Donkey Kong Vs. Space Invaders

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Donkey Kong is the first example of a complete narrative told in video game form, and like 1980’s Pac-Man it uses cut-scenes to advance the plot. The game opens with Kong climbing a pair of ladders to the top of a construction site. He sets Pauline the damsel in distress down and stomps his feet, then moves to his final perch and sneers. This brief animation sets the scene and adds context to the gameplay, a first for video games. Upon reaching the end of the stage, another cut-scene begins. A heart appears between Mario and Pauline, but Donkey Kong quickly interrupts by grabbing the poor maiden and climbing higher. The narrative concludes when Mario reaches the end of the fourth stage. Mario and Pauline are reunited, and a short intermission plays. The gameplay then loops from the beginning at a higher level of difficulty. The game is divided into four different single-screen stages. Each represents twenty-five meters of the structure Donkey Kong has climbed, one stage being twenty-five meters higher than the previous. The final stage occurs at 100 meters. The name of Jumpman, a name originally chosen for its likeness to popular brands Walkman and Pac-Man, was eventually changed to Mario in likeness of Mario Segale, Nintendo’s office landlord. The game was a breakthrough effort by Nintendo, successfully attracting the North American market. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s president at the time, assigned the project to a first-time video game designer named Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto himself had high hopes for his new project. Donkey Kong spawned the sequels Donkey Kong Jr, Donkey Kong Country, as well as the mega popular franchise spin-off Super Mario Bros.

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Arcade games often have short levels and simple intuitive control schemes with rapidly increasing difficulty. This is due to the environment of the Arcade, where the players essentially rent games for as long as their in-game avatar can stay alive.  Competitive video gamers and referees stress Donkey Kong’s high level of difficulty compared to other classic arcade games of the Golden Age. Winning the game requires patience and the ability to accurately time the accent of Mario carefully and methodically. The 22nd level is known as the kill screen similar to Pac Man, due to an error in the game’s programming that kills Mario after a few seconds, effectively ending the game. The game became massively popular in the early 80’s thanks in part to Twin Galaxies national scoreboard where pop culture celebrity and E-sports innovator Billy Mitchel self proclaimed himself “The King of Kong” because of his specialty in this specific game.

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Space Invaders is a two-dimensional fixed shooter game in which the player controls a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at descending aliens. It was the top selling video gaming of the 70’s and helped expand the video game industry from a novelty to a global industry. Tomohiro Nishikado designed the game and developed the necessary hardware to produce it in a year. While programming, Nishikado discovered that the processor was able to render the alien graphics faster as the player destroyed them. Rather than design the game to compensate for the speed increase, he decided to keep it as a challenging gameplay mechanic.  Despite its simplicity, the music to Space Invaders was revolutionary in the gaming industry. The music interacts with on screen animation to influence the emotions of the player. The music popularized the notion of variability the idea that music can change in accordance with the ongoing narrative. This innovative concept influenced every video game to follow it. The space thematic of Space Invaders was inspired by the Star Wars movies as stated by Nishikado.

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Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto considered Space Invaders a game that revolutionized the video game industry; stating he was never interested in video games before seeing it. So without Space Invaders, Donkey Kong would have never existed, and likely Nintendo would have not invested in further video game production. Space Invaders showed that video games could compete against the major entertainment media at the time: movies, music, and television. Its worldwide success created a demand for a wide variety of science fiction games, inspiring the development of arcade games, such as Atari’s Asteroids, Williams Electronics’ Defender, and Namco’s Galaga, which were modeled after Space Invaders’s gameplay and design.

Author: Gavin Johnston

catch me on Twitch for more walkthroughs, comedy, and discussions http://www.twitch.tv/dirksteel

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Mechanized Gender Disadvantages

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New or old-school, hero or side-kick, female video game characters like Princess Peach are too often designed as stereotypically feminine. We most often see female video game characters featured in dresses, skirts or skimpy clothing, wearing bows and make-up, and maintaining dainty, delicate, or over-sexualized dispositions. These features make any character disadvantaged in race or combat. Such stereotypical signifiers, which were specifically drawn into the design of the characters, are then mechanized as disadvantages. These characters not only stereotype women, but also send the message that qualities specific to females are limitations to a character’s ability. The lack of strong female characters present in video games is due to the fact that there’s a sense in the industry that games with female heroes won’t sell. However, it seems that this is only true because of the manner in which female video game characters are designed. It is less the female character that wouldn’t sell, but what is currently designed as the female character. The predominantly male community of game developers designs their female characters as weak, distracted, and as having vices. Male or female, it is obvious that such a hero would never sell. By ignoring the ‘damsel in distress’ connotation from female video game characters and designing female characters that are as capable and badass does work. Women could easily take the role of the hero and could absolutely sell video games in new uncharted territory. My favorite recent example of a strong female protagonist comes from the Sep 4th 2014 release, Velocity 2X starring Lt. Kai Tana.

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GamerGate has opened the debate for gamers and developers everywhere to speak their opinions on the matter. There has been some negative and positive results from this and game makers continue to try and open up the market to more users globally. The connotation of women in the video game industry is a polarizing issue that perpetuates itself. With more awareness on the issue than ever it seems like there will be some dramatic shifts in the industry to address the prominent issue. Myself as a developer take all of these allegations very seriously and hope to bring more maturity and acceptane in the workplace. While women in the workforce is an issue in itself, creating exciting and innovative female protagonists should be the first goal. If developers can create dynamic characters for people to latch onto, this will inturn create an environment where women want to work and support the corporate vision. Video games can be anything so it is important that some big companies begin to support this stance and speak out on the manner actively and aggresivly. Gamers will never be the same after the implications of GamerGate but perhaps that is for the best. Like Anita Sarkeesian says in each of here videos “remember that it is both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy medi while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernacious aspects. Video games must be treated in the manner going forward in all regards and I applaud Anita Sarkessian for her bravery and dedication to stand up and lead the charge on this issue.

Author: Gavin Johnston

catch me on Twitch for more walkthroughs, comedy, and discussions http://www.twitch.tv/dirksteel

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