Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas

I've finally joined the club of prestigious PS4 owners...but I have not joined PS Network because it's convieniently down at the moment. (Shocking) I will most likely share my thoughts as I delve deeper into the system that I can't wait to spend the next 'X' number of years with. Also look out for my opinion on the games I got to accompany this amazing gift: Far Cry 4 and I will diving back into the world of Assassin's Creed after about a two-year break...or boycott...but that's a story for another time. In the meantime have a very Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah, or just Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"The Game Encouraged Me To Do This"

So today while not paying attention in my environmental science lecture, I stumbled across an article about beloved Grand Theft Auto V being banned at Australian retailers for "encouraging players to commit sexual violence against women." I was baffled...partly because this game has been out for a year already, but mostly because never in any of the 5 Grand Theft Auto games I have played was I ever explicitly told, "Mission objective: sleep with prostitute, then brutally murder her to get your money back." The game never encourages violence on women, unless that woman happens to be in the police force, the army, or a gang that you must fight and/or defend yourself against. What a player chooses to do with the large amounts of pedestrians scattered about the world is exactly that, the players choice. Therefore, the problem does not lie with the game, it lies with the player.

It is absolutely possible to go through the entirety of GTA V without ever harming a pedestrian or soliciting a prostitute. And if only it weren't Trevor's headquarters for the latter half of the game, you would never have to enter the games strip club either. That is the beauty of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, everything you do outside of the games main missions is completely up to you. You can explore every inch of the worlds gigantic map. You can drive or fly around the world in every car, plane, or helicopter imaginable. You can explore the depths of the games oceans with a submarine and full diving gear. You can hunt wildlife in the forests below Mt. Chiliad, and then climb to the top and jump off with a parachute. You can search high and low for every little Easter egg left by the developers. You can blaze through the story and spend as much time as possible with each incredible protagonist. can go on murderous rampages gunning down civilian after civilian and pick up thousands of virtual prostitutes and then kill them to get your virtual money back. The possibilities are endless, and the number of incredible non-violent things to within the game world far outweigh the violent bad ones, yet those are the only things talked about in mainstream media.

Now I'm not condemning those who do these questionable deeds, because we all have. It's fun to see how the world reacts to your rampages, the physics when a pedestrian is punched is satisfyingly hilarious, and trying to survive a six star wanted level is probably the most challenging and one of the most fun aspects of the game. Are you forced to do these things? No. Are you encouraged to do these things? No. It's the equivalent of trying to sneak a peek at Christmas presents as a kid, it's fun but you know what you are doing is morally wrong.

The argument also put a focus on the age old argument of corrupting our youth. But, if these petitioners bothered to look at the very front cover of the game they would see the big M for mature rating. If you flip the cover over, you get to see all the reasons this game was rated mature. The reasons for GTA V are: Blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs, and use of alcohol. If you feel your youth would be negatively influenced by anything listed in the rating, then the ultimate answer is not buying your youth the game. Why must it be banned for mature adults who want to play out the fantastically written story and perfectly polished game mechanics?

Ultimately, what most people don't seem to realize is the satire in it all. Nobody buys a GTA game
expecting to be a hero. You are an anti-hero thrown into a spoof of a real American city, surrounded
by the worst people society has to offer, and surrounded by social commentary and radio ads that draw parallels with some events in the real world. It is not a game for the easily offended.

However, if you must play a mature rated game with a sympathetic hero and strong female characters then look no further than another incredible Rockstar Game, Red Dead Redemption. It tells the story
of John Marston, who like almost every GTA character is out to turn his life around and leave the life of crime. Only difference is he's actually done it, he has a family and a ranch making an honest living when the government comes knocking. But unlike Michael in GTA V where you can tell pulling heists and other things is where he is truly happy, Marston's one a only goal throughout the whole game is his family and getting to be with them again. Along the way you meet strong female characters like Bonnie, Luisa, and Abigail. You can not sleep with prostitutes because you are a faithful married man. And what you do with pedestrians, whether it be help or harm them, has an affect on your honor and reputation. It is almost the exact opposite of everything Grand Theft Auto is about, but still just as good as their most popular franchise, if not better.

Ultimately, my point is after 16 years of GTA being an established, well-received, and widely publicized franchise, shouldn't we know what we are getting into by now. If you are offended by the content, don't play it. There is no reason to ban a huge, expansive, incredible, award winning game over something that is entirely optional to the player.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Studying My Life Away With Video Game Soundtracks!

Do you have finals coming up? Do you need to study? Do you have a focus problem listening to music with lyrics while trying studying? Do you need to drown out those bitches in the library listening to Taylor Swift without headphones? that last one just me? Anyways, I've got the solution for you! Video game soundtracks!

They are not distracting and awe inspiring. They can range from beautifully solemn to perfectly motivational. A few of my personal favorites to study to are the Journey soundtrack by Austin Wintory, the Assassin's Creed II soundtrack by Jesper Kyd, and The Last of Us soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla.

Have you ever tried to perfectly match a soundtrack to whatever is going on in your life just like a movie? Oh...that's just me as well? Anyways, the Journey soundtrack goes along with studying perfectly. As soon as the first track starts you immediately feel calm. The stress fades away and you begin the long Journey through your studying. The darker tracks in the middle perfectly sum up how you feel in the middle of assignments, and then you end with the two magically inspiring tracks "Apotheosis" and "I Was Born for This." Ending your homework on those notes is almost equally as beautiful as the game itself.

What is there to say about the glorious game that is Assassin's Creed II...I would argue there is even more to say about its glorious soundtrack. With beautiful vocals and subtle electric guitar riffs, the soundtrack is what made those standout moments in the game so memorable. And listening to the soundtrack while studying makes studying just a little more bearable.

The Last of Us soundtrack perfectly encapsulates that sinking and solemn feeling that comes over us as we sit down to study for those dreaded finals. So no surprise then that the incredible score put together by Gustavo Santaolalla is an amazing soundtrack to keep you calm and get you through finals week.

And those are just a couple of my favorites that are getting me through this last stretch of the semester. Go support these amazing composers, all game soundtracks are available on iTunes....but since I know we are college students on a budget, most all are available in full on YouTube. Happy studying!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Negative Connotations That Come With Being a "Gamer"

These images and news reports have become synonymous with video games in the last decade. When one person does a horrible deed that results in multiple lives lost, the first questions asked are never what was his state of mental wellness or how did he get his hands on these weapons of mass destruction, it is always how many video games are sitting in his home miles away? Scapegoats have been around for hundreds of years, people blame things that millions of people enjoy and that one person enjoyed and then happened to commit a crime. First it was books, movies, music, and now video games. And although millions of people game around the world, we are still stuck with this mantra of being socially awkward shut ins. In my experience, when someone finds out I love video games they are incredibly surprised, mostly because when most people think of "gamers" they picture something like this...
Ah yes, the South Park WOW guy. And while I'm sure there may be somebody out there right now baring a striking resembelence, living off pizza and Rockstar energy drinks, (or Doritos and Mt. Dew according to Microsoft) going into their 10th straight hour of ____ game, bottom line is this isn't an accurate depiction of the gaming culture anymore. Unfortunately, the only depiction the gaming industry gets in the mainstream media is mass murderers, children yelling obscenities and threats online on Call of Duty, and death threats against game developers in the recent stories of #GamerGate.

I am in a sorority, meaning that every Fall I must endure the mental and physical exhaustion that is sorority recruitment. Basically, it is 3 days of non-stop talking, or rather yelling, because when 100 women are in one room together it is physically impossible for us to talk at a normal volume. So I am in a room, yelling in some poor girls face, question after question, desperately trying to remember her name, and the conversation eventually turns into what is my major and what do I plan on doing with it. Every sorority always says, "Be yourself." For the most part, people appreciate you being honest and being yourself...for the most part. However, when I go on to tell them I'm a journalism major with plans of writing about and reviewing video games, I get a look that closely resembles this...
I then introduce her to another one of my sorority sisters and hope to god my personal hobby hasn't scared her away from the amazing group of women I call my sisters.

So how did we get to this point? Maybe it was the 80's and 90's movies and TV shows that portray us as awkward zit-faced teenagers un-ironically wearing suspenders and taped glasses. Or maybe it's the mainstream media like Fox News desperately trying to find a link between violence and video games. However, if there truly was a direct link between violence and video games the world would look a little bit like the movie The Purge, considering games sell millions of copies, particularly games like Grand Theft Auto V which has sold 32 million copies and counting. 

I hate that my personal hobby and something that I'm truly passionate about is never shown in a positive light outside of the gaming community. I hate feeling ashamed of playing video games because people then see me as "weird." I hate telling people my aspirations of working in the gaming industry and then being looked down upon in my journalism classes and asked, "Why are you even getting a degree?" 

Maybe one day video games will be looked at as an art form outside of the industry. Maybe one day the mainstream media will recognize the incredible stories, the incredible satire saturated commentary, and the incredible originality that come in games like The Last of Us, the Grand Theft Auto series, and Journey. Maybe one day video games will be recognized as equal in the ranks of movies, music, and television shows when it comes to popular culture. Maybe one day the media will stop comparing a huge community of normal people with a video game hobby to one deranged killer. And maybe one day I can tell someone my aspirations of working within the video game industry without getting a look of concern and judgement. Just maybe.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Retro Gaming Expo, Las Vegas

If only I brought more money for merch.
This past weekend I attended the Retro Gaming Expo at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. It was the
first gaming expo I had ever been to and I certainly hope it won't be the last. I saw the fliers around campus and immediately gathered some sorority sisters that I then forced to go with me, and even though my poor friends would have rather had been anywhere else, I had a blast.
Couldn't find Sonic 2, so Sonic 3 will have to do.

It was a small convention composed of small booths full of handmade merchandise, old school gaming consoles, and retro games for nearly every console ever made. The most popular were the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis. I could have added several games to my old collection of only Sonic 2 if I knew where my old Sega Genesis was. Merchandise ranged anywhere from the hand beaded characters you see above (a hand beaded Pyramid Head that I unfortunately didn't get a picture of was the highlight,) to fan art posters, to Mario hats, and a necessity at every expo; Link's shield and sword.

Being the stereotypical broke college student, I only bought one thing at the expo...buttons...
And as pathetic as it may sound I tried to pick them so they would have sentimental value. Not only are they my first pieces of merchandise from my first convention, they all have meaning in my gaming heart. During my long Nintendo DS gaming life an embarrassingly long amount of time was spent in the world of Animal Crossing. I explored every inch of my little town, visited my friends towns who also had the game, tried to keep every animal neighbor in my town from moving, and tirelessly tried to work off the never ending debt to the bastard Tom Nook...what a dick that guy was...Anyways, when I saw the Animal Crossing character I just had to pick it. I picked Princess Peach specifically on her Mario Kart because that was another game I spent countless hours on and she was always my character of choice. The Pac-Man ghost, well who hasn't played Pac-Man. And finally the I love my Playstation 3 button because I do. It was my very first console where I played a game to completion the very first time and one day it will be a showcase at some Retro Gaming Expo and I will be telling kids my nostalgic memories of good ol' 2000's.

By far my favorite part of the expo was the game room. They had all kinds games in all kinds of consoles hooked to every kind of TV imaginable. On the outer walls there were arcade games and pinball machines ranging from South Park to even a pinball machine based on the movie "Twister." The popular games in the middle of the room were one of the many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, the original Donkey Kong, and Mario Kart 64. Considering the fact that Mario Kart had so many people gathered around in the hopes to play that they decided to create a tournament, I gave up and sadly walked away and then stumbled on Mortal Kombat II. I immediately grabbed the controller and threw the other into the hands of my friend who has almost zero gaming experience. I chose Scorpion and tried my best to coach my friend through it but then I realized my only coaching instructions were "just hit the buttons...button mash." It was a disaster of epic proportions as our characters swung and kicked away at mostly air, only sometimes causing damage to the other player. But I didn't care, it was the first time I had played a Mortal Kombat game in years and I had a blast, no matter how terrible I was.

All in all I had an excellent time and I will certainly be on the lookout for more gaming expos to hit the Las Vegas area. And one day, maybe very soon I will save up the money to travel to Pax Prime up in Seattle, or maybe I will just go for the big guns and hit up San Diego Comic-Con or go for the ultimate dream of going to E3. One day...I'm determined.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Love For Video Games: A Retrospective

Hello blogging world! My name is Ashtyn, I'm a junior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, (UNLV) a member of the sorority Alpha Xi Delta, and I spend a majority of my free time playing games on my Playstation 3. I love games, I love talking about games, I love writing about games, and one day I hope to make a career of it. This confuses most people, like my parents and peers, and in class when my professors ask what we plan to do in the journalism field, when I answer with "I want to review video games, travel to conventions, and interview game developers!" It is usually met with a look of concern and mumbling "...mmm...yes...interesting..." I am often asked how I got into video games and I've never really thought about it myself, it just kind of happened. So now it's time to take a trip down memory lane to where it all began.

Time Warp

This journey begins way the early 2000's. My dad was moving from my small hometown of Tonopah, Nevada to lovely Las Vegas. In the midst of packing and unpacking a wild Sega Genesis appeared. It was my older brothers and it somehow found its way into my room with a copy of Sonic 2. Being a child of divorced parents, my time with Sonic was limited to the few times a month I got to visit. But oh, did I make that time worth it. Often times I would play the game over and over until I could see the first glimpse of the hot Las Vegas sun rising over the valley. I don't quite remember how long this went on, but eventually my dads lease ended and he once again packed up to move back to the hell hole that is Tonopah and that was the last I saw of the Sega Genesis.

Dawn of The Nintendo DS

It was early middle school and everyone on the volleyball bus had the holy grail that was Nintendo DS.  We were tending to our virtual NintenDogs, expressing our immature adolescent minds with obscene drawings on the chat, endlessly co-oping our way through Super Mario Bros., and battling it out on every level of Mario Kart. The Nintendo DS was awesome...and I might have just asked my mom to find mine and mail it to me, cause the mere thought of the fun I had with this system has me itching to play some Mario Kart DS. This was the only time in my life when I didn't get crap for my gaming habit because everyone was doing it. But like all fads, it came to an end and Nintendo DS' all across Tonopah began to collect dust. Luckily for me, this was only the beginning of something greater.

The Wonderful World of Grand Theft Auto

I was a fresh little 13 year old when I first drove through the neon drenched streets of Vice City. My best friend and I would spend hours driving, running, rampaging, cheating, running from cops, picking up the occasional prostitute, and going on murderous killing spree's. After typing that sentence I'm a little worried for my sanity, and I have to wonder if my parents really knew what they were getting into when they started fueling my gaming hobby. As you have probably realized by now, I was a bit of a late bloomer to the world of video games. I had only roamed the world of Vice City and had never touched San Andreas when Grand Theft Auto IV was announced. But, for obvious reasons, I just had to have this game. I immediately began selling the idea of buying a Playstation 3 and a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV to my mom and step-dad. When they asked why on Earth this sudden obsession and what is so great about this game that I just have to have, my little 8th grade self answered, "It's great, you run around the world and kill people!" Just typing that sentence makes me question my parents sanity because that argument worked. They brought me outside like one of those kids on My Super Sweet 16 about to get a custom car revealed. Only this was better than any custom BMW embellished with nothing but diamonds. There in the backseat sat my brand new perfectly packaged PS3 and a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. I played the game vigorously, I explored every little corner of the map, stole every car, soaked in every little detail in every little mission, and felt a little lost when those credits started to roll and I realized my time with the cold and calculating Niko Bellic and the cast of interesting characters had come to an end. The game was near perfect, though that is an unpopular opinion nowadays. Though I had played many games before that, GTA IV was the first to start my love affair with everything video games.

The Dark Days of High School

It's a universal fact that everyone hates high school, right? Wrong. In my small hometown of Tonopah with only about 2,400 people it seemed I was the only one who couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. Not too say my high school experience was awful, it was far from it. I had great friends, I was voted part of homecoming court, and classes were so easy that I stayed home and played video games for nearly 80 days out of the 180 day school year and still managed to graduate with a 4.0...let that sink in. 
In Tonopah the big thing is sports. To hear some of the people talk in town you would think we were living in Dillon, Texas from the show Friday Night Lights. If that were the case I would have enjoyed living there much more.

Seen this image around the web recently?
Yep, that's my hometown
Our high school was classified as 1A having only about 150 students in the entire school! The big thing every year was bringing home a state championship as if it was the greatest accomplishment in life and that the whole world would take notice. However, in a state with schools like Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep recruiting and producing world class athletes, no one knows or gives a shit about this school in the middle of no where. Do I sound bitter? I suppose I am, because I was cut from the volleyball team my Senior year after having played since 6th grade.
Every weekend my friends would leave town to play various teams around the state while I sat home. This was the time I played the most games for the most hours. I may have broken world records at this point. I played to completion all 3 Uncharted games, Batman Arkham Asylum and City, Bioshock, Journey, Flower, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, World at War, Black Ops, GTA Episodes from Liberty City, Assassin's Creed through Brotherhood, L.A. Noire, and my favorite game of all time Red Dead Redemption. I'm sure there are more but that's all that comes to mind now. These games were my escape, a virtual world to explore that was much more interesting than what was going on in my reality at the time. I had finally found something I was good at.

10 Years & Counting

So there you have it, the humble beginnings of what became an addiction. With a large and still growing library of games, free space on my PS3 slowly dwindling, struggling to find time to play between college classes, homework, and sorority functions, and patiently waiting for the funds to get a PS4, I don't see this little hobby of mine ending anytime soon. And thanks to this lovely day and age I can now document every moment of my gaming life for all the Internet to see. I hope you can bare with me through all the grammatical errors, (I'm sure there are a lot) and enjoy the journey with me. For more gaming ramblings and more of my everyday thoughts feel free to follow me on Twitter @AshtynMarlow