Busting out the “H” Word – Hate Speech in Game Communities


One only needs to load up a quick game of Halo or… well, anything really, to get a fine taste of anonymous Internet hate speech. Homophobic twelve-year-olds. Muslim-hating mini-fascists. Racists of every imaginable stripe. Women-hating, boob-shooting misogynists. They’re all there, spewing whatever sort of throwaway caustic crap they can get away with.

How you feel about this probably depends strongly on who you are. Some folks laugh it off, while others (usually those targeted by the aforementioned groups), understandably, get pissed off about it.

I’m a strong believer in freedom of speech, and an even stronger believer in the general “don’t be a jackass, respect other human beings” rule, so I read this post from MIT’s Gambit GameLab with great interest. As part of the university’s presence at PAX, there will be an exhibit highlighting the pervasiveness of full-on hate speech in game communities.

From the post:

“At PAX East this weekend, we will be introducing an art project led by some of our staff and students regarding their observations of hate speech in online game communities. We have put together a video that examines forum posts and in game chats that marginalize different groups: Muslims, African Americans, gays, and women.

Some of the interactions we noted were outright hateful and confrontational, some were much more subtle and insidious, and some were positive. Our aim is not to demonize the individuals spouting examples of hate speech; none of the content reveals any personal information. Our goal is to show how commonplace it is.”

I applaud the effort, and fear that the folks who need to see/hear this the most will be the ones who ignore it entirely.

The post does mention the “Dickwolves” controversy, which I’ll not go into, save for this simple statement: you are 100% free to say anything on earth that you want to, but the flip side of that is that you are also 100% responsible for everything you say.

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance Trailer

So, Diablo 3 isn’t here. Torchlight is the rage and you don’t play PC games and despise the thought of getting an Xbox 360. Well, there’s always Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter: Alliance, a game that looks to borrow all sorts of gameplay ideas and slap ‘em on the PSN this April.

This from Jen Kye, Social Media Editor of Gameloft as seen on the PlayStation Blog:

Our dev team is quite focused on making sure the gameplay is engaging enough for the hardcore audience, while still accessible to newcomers. What does that entail? Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is focused on providing a real quest to complete either solo or with others. This unique campaign experience spans over 30 levels with a immense world of dungeons, villages and forests to explore, including areas that are randomly generated.

Check out the PS blog link for more, mostly PR speak, but it does look colorful, doesn’t it?

UbiSoft Chooses Truth

This story is silly. OK a quick recap:

UbiSoft releases a trailer for its Wii party game called We Dare. The game portrays four adults basically playing this game in what appears to be a prelude to a full on sex orgy. Even the cartoon characters above look like they are five minutes from pulling out the camcorder. Internet eyebrows raise, pulses quicken, public outcry begins, “What about the CHILDREN!?”

The trailer is pulled in North America because UbiSoft doesn’t think we Yanks can handle it. It’s true; we Americans don’t know anything about Internet sex. But Brits? Brits are famous for their wild, free wheeling ways and everything was a go to release the game in Europe, the U.K. and basically anywhere except in Ohio.

So, then PEGI (Pan European Game Information) rates the game a 12+ and people in the U.K. collectively flip their lids (by people I mean like six guys) and cry out that in no way should 12 year olds be allowed to have full on sex orgies while playing their Wii. This is the machine that Mario built, after all. So now the game is banned in the United Kingdom, too. Well, not “banned” as much as Ubisoft has decided not to release it there.

Europe is standing firm, though! We all know that Europeans are completely in favo(u)r of Wii sex orgies.

That is, unless this is all wildly blown out of proportion and people are jumping to conclusions based on a marketing ad trailer and that the game really isn’t anything like that. But come on…that’s crazy talk.

“Conclusions by press and commenters have been based exclusively on the online commercial, whereas the conclusions of PEGI were based on the game experience. It was correct to give the game a 12 rating. The content of the game and the interaction that the game itself implies do not warrant a higher rating. Marketing may have implied something else, but PEGI does not rate advertising, it rates game content.”

Yeah…this was such a better story before PEGI screwed it all up.

iPad 2 Review Round-up

No High Scores

The review embargoes for the soon to be released iPad 2 expired last night, so there’s a slew of hardware reviews out there for Apple’s latest ploy in personal computing dominance. Who has the time to read through all of these reviews? I do! Well, I don’t, but I do it any way because I care.

I really, really care…

So, the good things about the iPad 2 are that the battery life is still stellar, it’s quite thin, the processor is snappy and GarageBand appears to be better than hot, buttered sex. On the negative side, the cameras suck ass, the display is unchanged and some of these new, sexy apps have some significant bugs that have yet to be worked out.

The bottom line appears to be that Apple has once again made the iPad the definitive tablet experience, however the changes brought to the iPad 2 probably aren’t enough to make you upgrade from the initial iPad unless you’re the kind of person that has WWSJD tattooed on your forearm. Me, I really like the idea of an iPad but 500 bucks is too much to spend on an idea even if it’s less than Android tablet ideas. Granted, I’d happily take one as a gift should any of our readers be a multimillionaire with nothing else to do with their money, but I can’t see what hole it would fill in my computing life to justify the cost. Still, it’s a gadget and I looooooove gadgets. This is one of the rare cases where I’m glad that Apple doesn’t lower the prices on their items or have sales because as long as the iPad starts at 500 bucks, I can safely stay away. Until the iPad 3, that is.

Here are some quotes from the various reviews:

Engadget:

For owners of the previous generation, we don’t think Apple’s put a fire under you to upgrade. Unless you absolutely need cameras on your tablet, you’ve still got a solid piece of gear that reaps plenty of the benefits of the latest OS and apps. For those of you who haven’t yet made the leap, feel free to take a deep breath and dive in — the iPad 2 is as good as it gets right now. And it’s really quite good.

TechCrunch:

For existing iPad owners, things are a bit murkier. If you have the disposable income, it’s a no-brainer to upgrade. Again, this is everything you like about the iPad 1, but better.

But if you just bought an iPad 1, or you don’t want to drop another several hundred dollars, it’s not like the iPad 1 will be out of date anytime soon. Sure, it may feel like older technology to the touch, but again, it largely looks and acts the same. My advice is just don’t visit an Apple Store or play with a friend’s iPad 2, or you’ll be tempted.

NY Times:

But you know what? The iPad will still dominate the market, because it dominates in all the most important criteria: thinness, weight, integration, beauty — and apps.

Macworld (How hilarious would it have been if Macworld hated it? So hilarious!):

Though the iPad 2 is an improvement on the original iPad in numerous ways, it’s still an evolutionary product, not a revolutionary one. If you’re happy with your current iPad, there’s no reason to dump it just because there’s a shinier, newer one. (This is not to say that millions of people won’t do just that. I mean: shiny!) If you’ve invested in iPad accessories such as a dock or case, keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to use them with the new iPad.

Of course, if there’s someone in your family who has been clamoring for an iPad, now might be the time to buy an iPad 2 and hand down the old model to them—or, if you’re really nice, give them the new iPad while you soldier on with the classic model.

PC Mag (this review is worth reading in full as it’s the only one that gives serious comparisons between the iPad and the Android tablets):

Overall, the Apple iPad 2 is the best tablet you can buy right now, so it’s our Editors’ Choice. Currently, the Motorola Xoom shows tremendous promise and even edges past the iPad in a few areas (cameras and multitasking to name a couple). But even without the advantage of far more apps, the iPad 2 simply provides a better user experience and operates more gracefully and seamlessly with your media than Android devices. If you live happily outside the iTunes ecosystem, an Android tablet like the Xoom is certainly worth considering. But if you’re in the market for a new device now, and have no loyalty to a specific manufacturer or operating system, the iPad 2 is the tablet to get.

SlashGear:

For everyone else, though, Apple has put together a superbly capable, class-shaping tablet, which can now legitimately take on not only other slates but lighter ereaders such as Amazon’s Kindle. The iPad 2 benefits from Apple’s cohesive hardware and software development together with the vast third-party developer support of the App Store, consistent and simple to use in equal measure. Apple’s vision of the post-PC world isn’t quite here yet – the iPad 2 still works best with, and at times demands, integration with a “proper” computer – but when it comes to tablets the iPad 2 maintains its position at the vanguard of the market.

Wall Street Journal:

As new contenders move into the field, Apple isn’t likely to keep its 90% share of the booming tablet market. But the iPad 2 moves the goal posts, by being slimmer and lighter, boosting speed and power, and holding its price advantages, available apps and battery life. As of now, I can comfortably recommend it as the best tablet for average consumers.

Red Faction: Armageddon Presents Ruin Mode

Today THQ sent out a press release touting its new Ruin mode for RF:A. For those heading out to PAX East this mode will be playable at the show.

THQ and Volition are thrilled to announce a exhilarating new gameplay mode to be featured in Red Faction: Armageddon, called Ruin.
Red Faction: Armageddon’s Ruin mode will be playable in THQ’s booth (#956) during PAX East this weekend, where attendees can compete for prizes and bragging rights at the top of the leader boards. If you’re in Boston for the big event, be sure to stop by!

The terraformer has been destroyed, and the once peaceful surface of Mars lays in Ruin. It’s about to get a whole lot worse. Introducing Ruin, Red Faction: Armageddon’s mode dedicated to pure destructive mayhem. Choose your weapons, enter the arena, and unleash hell (shoot at buildings.) Chain together explosive combinations for bonus points, and compete with your friends’ high scores on the online leader boards in Challenge Mode. Or engage in untimed Free Play rounds in which you explore the surface and seek out its most destructive secrets. As you destroy all that you see around you, your creativity will be rewarded. (Before anyone asks, no, I have no clue what that means.)

**

Now, understand, I loved — loved — Red Faction: Guerrilla. Brandon, too. I think Barnes, too. (Todd not so much because it lacked a good “story”…man’s such a literate snob, isn’t he?) I’ve seen this game at trade shows, read articles, etc. — I STILL don’t know what to think/expect from it.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Trailer

Lots of trailers this evening it seems and this one from another franchise that while popular, I still question its appeal at the moment. Just like the LEGO post below I ask — are you LOTR’ed out?

I will say this — an M rated LOTR game? I am admittedly intrigued, but it’s still a ways off — August at the moment.

You can check out more info here behind the impenetrable age gate: http://www.warinthenorth.com

Thanks Blue!

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean Trailer

Are you LEGO’ed out? Just curious.

Look for this to drop May 10th.

Europa Universalis III Chronicles Announced

Paradox has announced another game in the EU series, this time a big ol’ jumbo pack of EU3 goodness. If you have yet to take the plunge into this staggeringly detailed history sim, here’s your chance. This is EU3 with all the expansions in one tidy package.

PR ahead with the usual edits.

NEW YORK – 9th of March 2011 – Paradox Interactive is proud to unveil the ultimate Grand Strategy collection with Europa Universalis III Chronicles, releasing on the 22nd of March. Containing the award winning epic strategy game Europa Universalis III where players take control of a nation and guide it through the ages to become a dominant global empire, Europa Universalis III Chronicles also contains the four expansions Napoleon’s Ambition, In Nomine, Heir to the Throne and Divine Wind, a colossal package of historical Grand Strategy spanning the years 1399 to 1820.

FEATURES:
- Play any historical nation between 1399 and 1820 to build your Empire through the use of exploration, trade, warfare and diplomacy
- Co-operative multiplayer over LAN or online for up to 32 players
- Engage in the thriving Europa Universalis III online community: downloads mods to add to the gameplay, find friends to play online
- Augmented province and unit production
- New Economy and trade

Kinect Captures Guinness World Record

Kinect is “officially” a record breaker.

Guinness World Records – the global authority on record-breaking – has recognized Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 as the “Fastest Selling Consumer Electronics Device”. Between November 4, 2010 and January 3, 2011, the company sold an average of 133,333 units per day for a total of 8 million units in its first 60 days on sale. These sales figures best both the iPhone and iPad for the equivalent launch periods. Kinect’s “Fastest Selling Consumer Electronic Device” record will be included in next year’s Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition.

So if you want to know why Microsoft says that there’s more Kinect games a-comin’, this is your reason. Apparently, a whole lot of people own them.

Damn it I was really hoping this was going to be a fad.

Dragon Age 2: The First 8 Hours

No High Scores

New DA2 screenshot! Yay! (Now Bill can ease up off my back about it.)

I’ve got about eight hours into Dragon Effect, excuse me, Dragon Age 2 (PC version), so it’s time to post some impressions. These are in no particular order, but represent a fair sampling of the good and bad so far…

- I’ve got a solid DX11 video card (Nvidia GTX460 from EVGA) and I cannot run on Very Hight detail with all environmental effects enabled. I can run at High detail, using the high-res textures Brandon posted about yesterday. It looks really, really good. That said, if the magnetic weapons across the back thing bothers you, that’s still there, and yes it looks silly when a character with a huge staff on their back can just sit down in a chair. Whatever, that doesn’t bother me near as much as Sheperd drinking his Mr. Coffee through his helmet. (There is an option to hide your PC’s helmet, unlike Mass Effect.)

- Leveling in this game is pretty darn quick. My player character, Crow (yes, Crow Hawke), leveled up after the first battle and again before I reached Flemeth and is already, I think, level six. I noted this in the demo, but I was kind of hoping it was just accelerated because it was a demo. One of the things I didn’t like in Origins is that you put so many points into character attributes that leveling up meant less and less as you went on. All sense of scale to the numbers are lost and leveling becomes a chore. Looks like that will be the case again this time around.

- Your sister’s breasts are bigger in the “make believe” version of the champion’s escape from Lothering than in the “actual” telling and they’re plenty generous in the actual telling. This is exactly what I don’t want to see from the “unreliable narrator.” Do something cool with it; don’t just use it as an excuse to be juvenile.

- I have real issues with some of the “streamlining” they’ve done with this game, but there is good streamlining here too. I like that health and mana/stamina potions have a permanent quick slot at the bottom right corner of the screen. In Origins, having to drag five healing potion variants to your taskbar for every single character was annoying. There’s also a new Junk category for inventory. Items you never actually use (gems, incompatible armor, etc.) and will only sell end up here automatically, but you can also assign other items to it that you no longer want. When you go to a merchant you can then click one “sell all” button to get rid of everything in the Junk category. Wonderful! This is simplifying gameplay in a good way.

EDIT: Mr. Brandon says Origins had a trash option on the 360 version. 95% sure, if that’s the case, it wasn’t there on the PC. Or I’m getting senile. Assuming I’m not, I’m glad to see it here for the PC now.

- Inventory items use icons and not art. Not a big deal, but it’s a bit of added, cool detail from Origins that is no longer here. (Or am I remembering this wrong? Suddenly, I’m not sure.)

- Friendly fire for area of effect spells and items (AoE) is only available on Nightmare difficulty. In Origins it was a part of Normal difficulty (half damage, I think) and above. This is crap. Crap, crap, crap. The game is really easy on Normal and very difficult on Hard. I don’t want any piece of Nightmare. Just because I don’t want all my adversaries to be damage soaking tanks doesn’t mean I don’t want to have to think tactically when dropping a meteor shower on them. Why is this not simply a check box you can enable or disable at any difficulty level? Let the user choose. Also, there’s a Dalish Elf Mage NPC that says about her magic, “I try not to hit anyone.” Does it matter? (Nitpicking I know, but this irritates me.)

- The loss of the overhead camera, as I said about the demo, is significant. You can pull back some and, if you stick to controlling just one character during combat, it’s not a huge loss. But if you, say, want to play on Hard or higher where you pretty much have to stop and control characters all the time, it really, really sucks. Switching the character resets the camera behind that character; sometimes it’s a convenience, sometimes it’s a real pain. Example: My melee guys are getting slaughtered while my mage hangs back from a safe distance. All I want to do is select her, fire off a spell in the middle of the group, and get back to my guy. Selecting her shifts the camera to her distant position away from the battle, a position completely unsuitable to actually targeting the right spot for the spell. I then have to reposition the camera as best I can (not easy from a distance), cast the spell, switch back to my guy, reposition the camera again and continue. Annoying.

- In Origins if a party member’s health hit zero they dropped unconscious and sustained an injury. There were a variety of different injuries and the effect varied based on what it was. One might affect health, another dexterity or damage. It was really cool, especially because you knew some injuries you could live with for awhile. Your mage loses some dex? Save the injury kit for someone who really needs it. Injuries would also stack and better injury kits could remove more ill effects. This is gameplay. Really good gameplay. Injuries in DA2 are now a straight reduction of max character health; I don’t think they stack, but it’s hard to tell since the character sheet doesn’t seem to tell you exactly the extent of the effect (there’s just a note on the main UI screen by their portrait).

- Did you kill Flemeth in Origins? Not sure what you’ll think of how they handle that. (I’m fine with it, but then, I didn’t kill her.)

- Threat reduction, the degree to which enemies focus on stopping a specific character, seems a much bigger deal in this game and there are more ways to manage it. I like this. Playing Origins on Normal, I didn’t have to worry that much about who was drawing the most aggro from enemies. The tanks could take it and the ranged characters I would just reposition. That’s harder here, even on Normal. You want to use your skills intelligently to keep your more vulnerable party members in relative safety. Good stuff!

- Character equipment is seriously class-limited now. I know Bioware wanted to more clearly define the classes, but this goes a bit far. I’ve got a rogue, for example. I can dual wield daggers or use a bow. Done. No sword. No shields. Just done. Maybe there’s some other options later, like a short sword? Not sure. This is overly restrictive and limits the how you can build your character in ways that I think are completely unnecessary. Also, you cannot apply armor for your NPCs unless it is specifically for that NPC (something I haven’t found yet). Found a bad ass new set of plate for your warrior? Too bad, it’s only for Hawke. Wait. Your Hawke is a mage, you say? Ah well. Guess you’ll have to sell it. Lost. Gameplay.

- I mentioned before I see no character skills that don’t relate specifically to combat maneuvers. No dedicated skills for: tactics, speech, crafting, survivalism (or whatever it was), etc. More lost gameplay. (I sense a theme here.) You can argue the systems didn’t work well enough in Origins. That’s fine. Then improve the systems. Bioware school of design lately is retreat, retreat, retreat. I can’t tell you one new system they’ve added. They’ve replaced (in good ways) and taken away. That’s it. Stop assuming your players are too stupid to figure things out or at least muddle through and still be happy. Origins was a game first and a movie second. Don’t run from that. Challenge us.

- Again, several spell effects sound and even look like laser blasts. This just sets absolutely the wrong tone for the game. But there’s other stuff I don’t care for either in terms of how abilities are reflected. Again, I’m playing a rogue. I have a backstab skill. I was fine with the days where I had to actually position my rogue to execute a backstab. Bioware wants to do this for me as soon as I click the button. Fine, I can live with that. But do it in a way that makes sense. You could show my rogue charge and backflip over a guy to stab. You could show him deftly swirl around a guy, lashing out with a backhand swing to the back. I’m sure there are other things that would look both cool and physically possible (reasonably so). Instead, my rogue literally sinks into the ground and then rises back up behind the target. What am I? The Mole Man? C’mon. You simply cannot insist you’re not making Dragon Effect and do stuff like this.

EDIT: Brandon also indicated to me your character is using a smoke bomb to disappear from the screen when backstabbing. I went back and looked closer -the combat is really frenetic, so it’s hard to see- and he’s right. The rogue doesn’t sink so much as kneel and disappear. But then, to disappear right in front of somebody is bizarre to me too; a thought I already had about the stealth skill. Must be magic stealth, I suppose.

Now, all that bellyaching said, if you’re okay with playing Dragon Effect, you absolutely are going to like this game. The production value is outstanding. The voice work is very good. I like the story so far. I like the characters. These are all things that will keep me playing and enjoying the game. If you liked Mass Effect more than Origins, there’s a real good chance this game is for you. I’m upset because, although I liked Mass Effect 2, I thought Origins was the superior game. Origins showed there’s room in the market for a fair marriage of so-called old-school sensibilities with modern day design concepts and technology and Bioware has run from it. I really don’t know why that is and it’s disappointing.

It also doesn’t help that the PC version is $60, which only adds salt to the wound, especially in combination with the Day 1 “DLC” extortion tax they’re levying against anyone who didn’t pre-order the game two full months ago. I bought the DLC because I want to see how much it feels like core content, something cut out so that EA/Bioware could specifically charge extra. I’ll let you know what I think when I get to that point. Note too that this is different than Stone Prisoner in Origins. That was core content to be sure. If you didn’t bring Shale to the Deep Roads, you totally missed out. It was fine, though, because Stone Prisoner specifically incentivized buying new instead of used. You bought new you got the content. Period. There’s some fairness to that notion I can understand. This is something else entirely. People want to drink what EA and Bioware are selling, but the companies are poisoning their own well with stuff like this (the DLC, not the streamlining). I drove home from the store angry about purchasing the game. I’ve never experienced that and were I not reviewing it, I likely would have left it on the shelf. I hope they turn back from this path, and soon.