The black sheep of art and entertainment

Throughout the history of the video games industry, there have been many instances where the industry has been unfairly vilified or looked upon with suspicion or disapproval, and where its consumers are also unfairly vilified or looked upon with suspicion or disapproval. The video game industry has been around for well over 40 years, but only relatively recently have video games become more widely accepted.

In the 1980’s, video games were seen as market that only appealed to children. This is just one reason why Nintendo in 1985 had to market their Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) and its peripherals (like R.O.B.) as toys rather than as games systems. The other reason was the notorious games market crash that happened in 1983, which caused games to be viewed as commercially non-viable and most stores were unwilling to carry games systems until the NES became as successful as it did. The perception that games were played only by children continued to be perpetuated until at least the mid-to-late 1990 when it was clear that the industry was catering to a more mature audience, or an audience that has grown out of the games produced by, say, Nintendo when they were younger. Even before the 1980’s though, when games as a general medium tended to be associated with controversy over violence, there was an arcade game released by Exidy in 1976 called Death Race, which became controversial because the object of the game is to run over “monsters” that flee the vehicle and scream when hit. Then in the 1990’s, games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat became the centre of hysteria over violent video game content. As the decade drew to a close people began to blame video games for the Columbine Massacre because the media reported that the perpetrators of the massacre played Doom and created death match maps that supposedly resembled Columbine High School, and people have been trying to video games for violent crime ever since – of course, their attempts are in spite of the significant reduction in violent crime that coincided with the rise of people playing video games, along with the general lack of evidence that video games cause violent crime in the first place. Not to mention, the media never got bored of a chance to paint gamers as psychopaths, such as in the controversy that surrounded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 over the airport level. There was plenty of whipped up hysteria over violence in video games and usually it came from social conservatives.

When video games weren’t accused of making you violent, they were accused of being bad for your health. Back in 2009, the British government released a poster which insinuated that video games were the main cause of obesity and that children who play video games may die early by playing video games. This poster was released as part of the government’s Change4Life campaign which was, surprise surprise, their attempt to tackle obesity. Not only that, but the poster referred to playing video games as basically doing nothing. Apart from the premise just being inaccurate and misleading, what was really egregious this campaign was that this poster was released at a time when the video game industry was responsible for boosting the economy during a time of recession. And in general, this and similar accusations are generally based on the stereotype of gamers as fat nerds who don’t have a life.

And more recently, when games weren’t accused of causing violent crime or being bad for your health, they were accused of being misogynist, and their consumers were accused of being savage, racist, sexist and generally backwards. It’s significant that around this time we started to see the gaming press being infiltrated by feminist ideologues. This combined with the revelation in 2014 that Zoe Quinn, the creator of a text-based choose your own adventure book style game called Depression Quest, had sex with gaming journalists, apparently in order to get her game promoted, led to the online revolt known as Gamergate, and the controversy that ensued. Those who supported Gamergate did so because they were tired of what they saw as corruption, cronyism and a lack of journalistic ethics within the gaming press, along with its collusion with feminists like Anita Sarkeesian who were basically out to convince the press that gamers were sexist and misogynistic in order to advance their own agenda. But the mainstream media – even the gaming press – dismissed Gamergate as a hate mob concerned primarily with harassing women, even though only a few Gamergate supporters were actually guilty of doing so. As a result, there were now those who shunned gamers collectively and denouncing them as backwards individuals, thus effectively siding with the feminists and the mainstream media narrative.

A visual illustration showing exactly how things have changed for gamers.

There’s a certain aspect of this mistrust and ignorance that extends to game designers. Not many people understand game design as a discipline, people still tend to ask “what do you actually do?”. This is illustrated by Scott Rogers in his book Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design:

Let’s talk about making video games. To most people, making a video game is a mystery. The average party conversation goes like this:

“So you program video games? Is it hard to write all that code?”

No. I said I design video games.

“Oh, so you draw the characters? That must be fun.”

No, I don’t draw them. That’s what an artist does.

“I don’t get it. If you don’t code the games or draw the games what do you do?”

Apparently nothing.

At this point in the conversation, I tell the person that games are made by elves. (Sometimes it’s just easier to tell someone a fantasy than explain what I do for a living.)

–  Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design(page 28) by Scott Rogers

Also, when we were having our talk about what to expect of the third year, we were introduced to the third year space and the lecturers had to explain a few things about the space. We were encouraged to put content on the walls such as concept artwork and research, but we were warned about putting up anything that was too violent on the walls because of the possibility that such imagery would be noticed by passersby (some of whom are apparently women in their 50’s) and by the lecturers’ boss, which would mean that the lecturers have to fight for the right to keep that space for us third year game design students. You have no idea how lucky the third year students are to basically have their own space where they can just work on their projects, and apparently there are people who would do anything to take that from the game design course, and any thing that convinces them that games students don’t deserve that space is enough to make them feel that they can take it.

To be honest, regarding my university, I feel like there’s envy coming into play. The game design course I study under is a course where you can potentially learn a wide pool of skills. You need to know not just how to make a nice 3D model, but how to do it efficiently, up to standard and in a way that you can get your computer-generated asset to actually work in the game engine. You need to know how to rig the characters you make for your games. You need to know how to animate them. You need to know how the game engine works so that you can import your assets into the game, or if you’re going to actually manage the content in engine in order to make it work as a cohesive whole. You need to be able to communicate effectively with the rest of a given team, and even how to operate as a team – which also means you’re going to have to balance working with others with your own individuality. You have to figure out how to tell a good story, design good characters, and design levels. You to learn how to organize and plan effectively, because good game design really needs good planning. You might even have to learn skills involving leadership and even entrepreneurship. You learn and grow as a designer and as a person.

This is a course that offers several skills, some of which can be transferable in that you might find a way to use them outside of game design, and our course is apparently home to some of the hardest working students in my university. So if you’re a game designer or game design student and someone asks you “what do you do?”, you may actually have to respond with “what don’t we do?”. Some art and design courses are, by contrast, geared towards more specific areas of work, which may offer less skills.. The animation students, from what I understand, are just learning 3D animation, possibly geared towards the film industry. Then you have photography students who do, well, photography in an artistic context. Fine art students make visual art under a nebulous category that includes painting, sculpture, and everything else. Illustration and graphic design students, to be fair, actually might have a number of profitable jobs going for them, with graphic design students finding work in advertising for major companies and illustration students designing covers and illustrations for books (sometimes children’s books) and magazines. Then you have the glass art people who seem to me like they spend their days making stained glass windows and other stuff that exists mainly for show. I could go on. The way I understand it, other art and design students may have less options open to them because there are quite the few art courses where you’re basically just an art student without much transferable skills. And from what I hear from my course’s program director, there are students from other courses who complain that they don’t have what we game design students have.

In our course, we’re the black sheep of arts courses probably because what we are working on is not purely artistic and passive media, we are very much learning how to make entertainment. Video games are not a purely artistic medium, like a painting, a sculpture or generally anything passive. Video games are a medium of entertainment fundamentally defined by interactivity and whose primary goal is not artistic consumption but simple enjoyment by a player. There is certainly artistic and intellectual merit that can be found in video games, but it’s important realize that fun and entertainment – and functionality I might add –  come first when designing the game. In other words, we’re an art and design course that isn’t purely about making “art”, so we’re looked upon a little differently by people of other art and design courses. Again, at least that’s going from the program director. And I’ll tell you what, I am glad and also pretty lucky to be studying under the tutelage of lecturers at my university who understand video games as they are and clearly appreciate the medium accordingly. Going back to Gamergate, it seems that other academics did not understand this, and wanted video games to serve a role that it might not need to serve by turning it into a more “artistic” or even social medium. It should come as no surprise that these academics were rejected by actual gamers. But for this, they have been vilified by those same academics and their allies in the mainstream media.

To me, it’s telling that games and game design students have had this reputation of being the black sheep in culture, even as video games are already accepted in the mainstream and have been for years now. It’s also telling that video games give people what they might want in a very powerful way, and in turn provide happiness and entertainment to people in a powerful and direct way. It just feels like there are individuals and interests who are very much against such a thing.

If you meet Krishna and Rajan Zed on the road…

As a Megami Tensei fan, I’ve been following news of the most recent game – Shin Megami Tensei IV Final – ever since it was announced in October of last year. But there’s one recent bizarre story about the game that unfortunately I completely missed until this week: the story of how Hindus have apparently gotten pissed off that game.

There’s a Hindu “statesman” called Rajan Zed who doesn’t like the fact that Krishna appears as a major character in the game. Specifically he doesn’t like that Krishna looks very different from his traditional depiction, pointing out that his fedora and brown skin (particularly the fedora), and the fact that in the game Krishna is one of the deities and demons that you can summon and thereby command within the game, which of course contradicts the beliefs and tenets of orthodox Hindu tradition. The fact that there are other Hindu deites in this game and previous games that you can summon and control seems to have missed him, as has the fact that there are two games in the series with heavy Hindu themes that have you play as characters who can turn in into versions of Hindu deities and wind up fighting major deities and eventually kick the ass of Brahman (the Hindu concept of the Absolute, or God) itself. In this game, Krishna is the leader of a new faction of polytheistic deities who interrupt the conflict between the forces of Law and Chaos and oppose both in order to “save” mankind by manipulating humans and having them relinquish their souls to basically use as ammo against both factions.

Naturally, Zed demanded that Sega (who currently own Atlus, the series’ developers) not include Krishna in Shin Megami Tensei IV Final. Considering the game has already been released in the days after he began complaining, with Krishna still in it, that’s an impossibly tall order for Sega to fill, as if they care about what some religious butthurt who isn’t even part of the game’s target audience thinks.

That’s Krishna as depicted within the game.

A little something about Rajan Zed: this guy tends to get butthurt over depictions of Hinduism and Hindu entities in non-religious entertainment media. He’s previously protested the depiction of the goddess Kali in a game known as SMITE, he’s protested Angels and Demons because of it’s age-rating and for playing with religious beliefs (which is odd considering the movie has nothing to do with Hinduism), he’s protested the bomb of a movie known as The Love Guru by waging a spam email campaign, and more recently he’s complained about how the villain of the upcoming film X-Men Apocalypse compares himself to Krishna. He even tried to appeal to the state of Arkansas to get a statue of the Hindu deity Hanuman built on the grounds of Arkansas State Capitol in response to the Ten Commandments being erected in Oklahoma. Also, much has been made of Zed’s status as a Hindu statesman, particularly back when he was at the center of some kind of controversy about a Hindu prayer being invoked at the US Senate, but the Indian Embassy states that Zed has never held any sort of diplomatic office at all. And for all his talk about Hindus in general being outraged at entertainment media for their Hinduism-related content, and about his biggest gripe being about supposedly playing the sensitivities of believers, other Hindu leaders suggest that all the commotion is coming only from Zed himself and his Universal Society of Hinduism in Nevada.

Now back to Shin Megami Tensei IV Final. There’s something odd about this whole thing. The Christians and Jews have pretty much not caused a fuss about the Shin Megami Tensei games like Zed has, despite the notable presence of YHVH – the Jewish and Christian God – as a major antagonistic force and as an extremely negative personality, with Lucifer having a comparatively positive role. A lot of religious people managed to be cool about it enough not to throw a hissy fit and urge Atlus to change the games to suit their religious sensitivities, so why’s Rajan Zed been urging Sega to change Final to suit Hindu sensitivities (or rather his own)? I’m a Satanist/Luciferian and I don’t necessarily agree with the way I know that Lucifer, and Satan, are depicted in the game, but I don’t give enough of a rat’s ass to complain to Sega or Atlus about it, partly because I actually like the games and generally find myself forgiving of the developers anyway. I think it never occurred to Zed that the game is not about Hinduism, and has little to do with Hinduism (at least alone) other than the inclusion of Hindu deities and demons as characters whom you can summon or fight. The games are not really about any of the religions of the world either, despite the presence of major themes from those religions. They are about the gods and the demons of those religions and other mythologies to be sure, but they are moreso about mankind’s relationship with them, particularly the relationship of the individual, and about the never-ending competition between deities, demons, religions, philosophies, and ideas. Those concepts ares more important in the games than what hat Krishna is wearing. But more importantly, it’s about taking names and kicking ass with gods and demons. What’s not to like?

An interesting exercise for the holidays

With my winter holidays less than a week away, I’d like to talk about an exercise that one of the lecturers suggested for us in university that could be done over the holidays. This exercise centers around a question that all good game designers are meant to answer: what does the player do? The question itself is not necessarily about what the main character does in the context of a story, but chiefly concerning player actions within a game, what the player is able to do within the game world.

This exercise consists of the following steps:

  1. Take a game idea you have and the main protagonist, and write down some answers to the general question.
  2. Look at the challenges you want to design for primary gameplay, beginning with basic, low-level challenges that tend to be encountered by the player on a regular basis (like defeating enemies for instance).
  3. Consider the intermediate and then higher-level challenges in gameplay, and whether or not they can be met by previously defined player actions or whether or not they require additional actions for the player.
  4. Consider options unrelated to gameplay that you may want to make available to the player.
  5. When a comprehensive list of actions has been created for the primary gameplay mode, repeat for all other gameplay modes.
  6. When a comprehensive list of actions has been created for all modes of gameplay, you can user interfaces for each mode.

My plan is to do this for a few game ideas that I have, including the subject of a game design document to be made next semester (providing all goes well after my assessments at the end of this semester), as well as do this for my alter ego character and his universe. May or may not post the results of the alter ego character going through this process. I think it might be interesting to go through this exercise and see how my understanding of constructing game ideas develops, and how it could potentially affect their future development, or how it generally affects my understanding of imagining characters.

The problem with the video games industry, and the possible bright side of all of it

Currently the video games industry makes billions of dollars, and video games themselves are played by millions of people the world over. In America alone, there are 150 million people playing video games according to the Entertainment Software Association. Anyone can tell that these are huge numbers, and the video games industry is a big deal. But it goes without saying also that this industry has a lot of problems, but a lot of people probably don’t give a shit about it. Or they do, but they misunderstand and misrepresent parts of the problems.

In the past 14 months or so that I’ve started my games design course in university, I’ve been made aware of the fact that, for all the prestige the industry receives, the biggest, most well-recognized, and most successful games companies have themselves gotten away with generally bad game design. That’s not to say the games they release are all inherently unlikeable, but they can often exhibit examples of bad game design, and the designers within big companies can get away with it.

Increasingly, there is a demand for realism in video games, and more movie-like presentation and story-telling in video games, and the industry is responding in the form of the kind of triple-A games being released. In one of the lectures we got shown Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on an Xbox One so that we can see a part of the game where you start a mission, you have to sit through a scene where you wait in a helicopter to arrive the location of your mission, during which time you don’t get to do anything over than look around until you arrive at a location, and only then can you actually play the game. While one of the lecturers did comment that he actually liked the game when he actually played it, another pointed out that in spite of that it was guilty of bad game design because there is too much time where you are forced to sit and watch the game before you actually watch it. We also talked about the prominence of cutscenes in general, and how too often they interrupt gameplay for the sole purpose of conveying cinematic narrative. Almost as though video games were just becoming interactive movies.

In addition, the demand for realistic visual style and better-than-Hollywood cinematics can only mean demand for more highly skilled employees, but this also goes along side the industry’s demand for employees who can turn out very high quality work within a short timeline. Game designers can probably guess that this is highly likely to lead to crunch time, which is when a development team works above and beyond normal hours to the detriment of personal life as a deadline or milestone draws closer. I believe all of this is down to the expectations we have of video games today, we somehow want video games to join the ranks of classical symphonies, timeless movies, great literature, and revered works of art, but this just devalues video games for what they are and instead prizes them for assuming a role they are not meant to assume. But that’s not the only problem. Another problem is that people in the games industry often look only at the money. They see what’s done in popular or commercially successful games, even if it’s a textbook case of bad game design, and think what they’re doing is the way to make tons of money, and so they want a slice of the pie. Or, like in other industries, companies often don’t like to do anything original for fear of taking risks. And I doubt this is going on only in the world of triple A games produced in the West.

Also, games companies sometimes simply release downloadable content and patches as means of fixing the games they already released, and it’s patently obvious that the games should have been fixed and debugged before they were released, or just create downloadable content as a means of making more money (like when Capcom had you purchase and download the true ending of Asura’s Wrath).

Part of the problem is that we treat games too much like fine art, or too often think of them as art instead of as entertainment, part of the problem is that people in video games companies view games only as a commercial product to make them money, part of the problem is that  part of the problem is that some people think of games only as a technology, and that games are only a matter of programming, and part of the problem is that everyone else thinks so little of video games at all. The last part is especially dangerous because ignorance is what allows companies to continue doing the same thing, and make more games that exist simply as polished products with little originality to back them up. Again, this can’t said about all games.

However, I like to think this situation in the games industry presents its own opportunity.

One of the lecturers tells me that the games industry is need of good game designers, now more than ever, precisely because of the fact that makers of triple A games still get away with rookie game design mistakes and basic ignorance about what makes games great. And with that in mind, I feel like maybe I have my own ideas for how to shine a light in the industry. Learning about game theory, and being able to relate it to my other personal interests, has given me hope about doing game design in university. If I do well this year, I’ll be motivated to reach for a higher standard in order to improve myself and become a great game designer, whereas before I only wanted to prove that I was a competent designer (how foolish to think such a thing back then). Hell, I’ll probably be motivated if I can see I’ve done better than before this semester. And if I complete my course, or perhaps complete the masters course afterward, I will be able to utilize game design theory to not only give life to any ideas I have for games, but also to rebel against the conventions of the video games industry by showing that great games can be not just original and creative, but fun for the player, all without the need to conform to the ideal of that all the best games have to be equivalent to movies and naturalistic paintings instead of just being great games.

In addition, it feels to me like there is still room for some measure of artistic conviction in games. In Game Design Theory and Practice, Richard Rouse III devotes a section of analysis to game called Myth: The Fallen Lords (which I’ve not played), and here’s some notes I’ve compiled from that section.

Myth is game designed by hard-core gamers for hard-core and makes no apologies about it. Far from trying to capture the mainstream or ‘casual’ gamer market that so many companies have tried to court, Myth is a game that would quickly frighten away anyone who is not already familiar with other RTS [real-time strategy] games, and who does not have the quick-clicking skills required by Myth. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, and it is pleasing to see a game that has the artistic conviction to know its audience and to stick to it.

Often when hard-core gamers try to make a game that the mythical casual gamer will enjoy, they end up making a game they themselves don’t like very much, and that the casual gamer does not care much about very much. It is hard for an artist to make art that appeals to sensibilities that are at odd with his/her own, the end result often being works that are without appeal to any group or demographic. But Myth did not have this problem, its developers created a game no casual gamer would ever be able to pick up.

Game Design Theory and Practice (pages 302-303) by Richard Rouse III

I’ll continue to accumulate knowledge of game theory, and I think I’ll post more about it in the winter and spring holidays when I complete my lecture notes, especially considering my last post about game theory was great and well-received.

A selection of Xbox 360 games on sale at a game store.

Luciferianism, game design, and the reasons we play video games

This is a post I have been wanting to write while I was still completing my first year of university. I know this must seem like a strange pattern of subjects to write about, but as a games design student, I attended lectures on game design and the history of video games and can expect to attend more in the next two years, and I felt a strange insight about video games from these lectures in relation to human nature, Luciferianism, and my own desires and beliefs.

To get started on this post, let me tell you about some important reasons why people play video games. Here are the reasons as I have learned:

  • The desire for challenge: A common motivation for playing single-player games, but is not limited to solitary gameplay. Video games have a way of forcing players to think actively and try a number of solutions in order to overcome problems and beat the game. Players can also go through learning experiences and benefit from them, even if only within the context of a game. People enjoy the learning process in games so long as it’s fun and helps them attain some kind of mastery. Often times, people define themselves by the challenges they face and overcome, and in a way video games fulfill the desire of humans to test themselves, face adversity, emerge as victors, and attain mastery.
  • The social experience: This is especially true with the rise of both casual gaming and online play, but even back in the days when playing video games wasn’t usually considered a valid social activity, people could still come and visit friends to play video games with each other, often in competition with each other. Multiplayer gaming has always been endearing ever since its early days, and the chief reason is the opportunity to interact with and compete with other people. It’s important to remember that human players are less predictable than artificial intelligence, so human players provide a different kind of challenge than playing against the game alone.
  • The solitary experience: While some players like the experience of playing video games with other people, other people prefer to play by themselves. They may be seeking a dynamic experience that they can engage, and in this regard video games are unique in the ability to provide a form of interaction with the medium itself that simply can’t be obtained from reading books or watching movies.
  • The emotional experience: This is something that people who play video games sometimes want out of games for the same reasons as the solitary experience, and something that video games have become much more capable of in different ways, and the emotions evoked from playing video games can be just as strong as from other media, if not more so. This is because video games are simply more immersive and more personally involving than other media. Unlike other forms of artistic media, you as the player are centrally involved in the experience that you have chosen to invest in.
  • The desire for bragging rights: Competition is an important part of why we play games, and not just video games either. The desire to win respect or brag about your achievements is also a part of playing video games, just as it is with sports. In the days of arcade gaming, kids could work towards getting the highest score possible to show to others and earn respect and the right to brag about it, and when fighting games got into the arcades, kids would learn to execute special moves within the games that required the input of complex sequences of button commands, and when they learned to do so they could show it off to their peers. Showing off has always been a part of playing video games with other people. It provides a sense of accomplishment and pride, which also induces a significant sense of self. Hell, where would hardcore gaming be today without it? In online and mobile gaming, that’s the reason leaderboards exist. In the seventh generation of console gaming, the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Steam let you earn achievements (termed trophies in Sony’s consoles) on your account for completing certain objectives or challenges, and these also serve as a form of bragging or showing off to others. It’s not just about getting certain achievements, but also about how many achievements you get.
  • The desire to explore: Exploring new spaces is a key reason for playing video games, particularly single-player games, and is the most important element of adventure games and role-playing games. This gets taken to a whole other level in games like Minecraft, which let you create a world of your own within the game and explore it. However not all games let you explore fantastical settings or simulations of other parts of the world. In general, games as a medium can let you explore any environment that would usually be inaccessible to you, even in a familiar setting, and it’s that desire, to see what the unknown might be like, that games also thrive on.
  • The desire to fantasize: Video games offer a form of escapism for most people from the world in which we live, and because they can be more immersive than movies and books and allow the player to get involved in the world they present, they have the power to really bring the player into a fictional world and allow them to fulfill fantasies within that world that they might not be able to in real life. Games allow people to engage in various forms of activity that the bounds of their social environment would normally never allow within a safe environment and without any negative consequences for the player. Some games put the player in a historical setting (or at least loosely historical) and allow the player to make choices that differ from the actual historical sequence of events, which would also alter our reality if they actually occurred, and in general allow the player to see history from a more fantastical viewpoint or potentially through their own eyes. Not all fantasy fulfillment involves violence or exotic settings: in a basic sense it means letting you do things you normally wouldn’t or can’t do even in familiar or real-world settings (like with skateboarding games for example; I guarantee you they can let you do things that no skateboarder can ever do in real life). Another aspect of fantasy fulfillment is content creation, particularly character creation. Games that let you create a character of your own let you truly extend yourself into the game and view the game world from your own eyes.

Good, properly designed video games grant the player the sensations of enjoyment, pleasure, involvement, wonder, challenge, accomplishment, mastery, and victory. From a Luciferian standpoint, these are all not only valid sensations, but they are all cherished, just as much as they might be in Satanism, or for that matter any truly life-affirming philosophy. I feel Luciferianism particularly prizes individual mastery for the self, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with video games inspired mastery in the individual.

Now, I’m not going to settle simply on why people play video games. I’ll tell you what I know about game design itself. Game design itself isn’t for the faint-hearted and the path of game design will challenge the commitment and intellect of potential designers. Making a good game, let alone a great game, means you have to understand why people play video games, why you play video games, and what players expect when they’re playing games, and how to design a functional, structured, and consistent game world, and you’ll also need to learn things outside of video games as well for the sake of design. You also need to overcome adversity not just in the actual workload, but in dealing with other people. For me, group work can be a horrible thing to deal with in game design. In fact, a lot of times I feel it could one day turn into a death sentence for my ambitions in that line of work. But I feel that there’s a balance to be cultivated: you have to realize that one person can’t design a great game alone (at least a game that’s going to sold anyway) and that you will have to work with others in order, and since you’re working with others then you’re working on a project that everyone has to be interested in, but you can’t give in to pure group mentality all the same. I feel a skill worth cultivating might be the ability to work with other people and communicate with them while still not being weighed down by the when others lack the effort and instead focusing on your skills, your talent, and what you feel you can do within the group to make something great. Understand that you have a role in designing the game, and it is your talents that contribute to the whole, without feeling sublimated by the group. I suggest trying to think of it as though you are a member of a band: in a band, you’re in a group of people who have to work together in order to make music, but your talents are important to the band all the same and you’ll be recognized for your talents, and if you were any good then it’d be you those talents people seeking to do your thing will have to learn from. It’s a balance that I guarantee most people might not see themselves achieving, especially if their among the people who just plain hate dealing with people, and I don’t even know if I will prove to be good enough to cultivate that, but if you want to be a game designer you have to learn this. If you’re a Luciferian, then take this as a form mastery, and embrace the glory that comes with that success. I feel a Luciferian can also greatly appreciate the learning process, the balance the individual has to achieve between remaining an individual and dealing with the group (and the challenge of keeping that balance), and the thought that they are creating something that stokes the desires of the individual and inspires their imaginations. Even if not everyone who plays games will think deeply about the motives that drive them to play games in the first place, we may inspire others to become game designers and lead them to discover this themselves, or better yet we may teach them ourselves.

I’d also like to go an record stating that the true talent of game designers is exercising the powers of order and intellect to create a structural game world governed by rules of play and bringing that world to life with the chaos of creativity and imagination. It should be obvious what we try to bring together by doing so, and I feel that in Luciferianism we strive to do the same thing. And in our future careers, we will enter into a world that reflects the natural world: a world ruled by competition and ambition, where designers must try and come out on get their work seen, bought, and played in order to succeed and make a living. I think survival in that world takes knowledge, talent, creativity, and the same burning desire that motivated the history of the industry as a whole: ambition. Throughout the history of video games, companies have started out with the goal of making money by creating video games, and they have survived by trying to do something of their own, something unique, something different from what everyone else was doing, because they really wanted to make video games and because they knew that doing something different meant potentially gaining a competitive edge over every over company.

The history of video games also has a few lessons to teach in general outside design: it enticed me early in my course because it showed me the exciting power of competition that fueled video games as a medium, with different companies each rising to become a dominant force. It almost felt like reading about historical warfare. But the early days of video games were also full of lawsuits, with different companies suing the other companies in for various reasons (often over copyright infringement, and other because some companies feeling the other companies were unfairly cutting into each others’ profits). I devoted a whole report to the subject of the legal battles that frequently happened between video game companies from the 1970’s right up to the early 1990’s, simply because I was enticed by the themes of competition and conflict that such legal battling between early video game companies represented to me. It’s important to remember, however, that these were tumultuous times for the games industry. Companies we know today, such as Nintendo, Sega, and Activision, were butting heads at each to come out on top and suing each other sometimes for petty reasons, costing all these companies a lot of profit in the process and generally creating a hectic climate for the industry. In fact, all the heated legal rivalry that happened in the early 1980’s was one the important factors that eventually led to the notorious video games crash of 1983 that almost destroyed the young video game market. Thinking back, the moral of that state of affairs is one I’m quite familiar with: that competition is a force that drives us all forward, but if it’s uncontrolled then it can go haywire and lead to disorder and turmoil. In Luciferianism, we see greed, pride, lust, indeed all the natural drives that are feared as sinful as natural motivators of the individual, but we also know that we cannot let them become unbalanced and destructive so we embrace the power of order, reason, and honor within ourselves reign in and bring balance.

I don’t know if I’ll still end up on the path of game design in the future even after having written all this: it is a hard road ahead and I have a whole 3-year course to survive before I can feel I’m good enough. But I do feel like this understanding may turn out to be an excellent solution to the challenge of coping with the course as it gets harder to deal with and complete.

Let violent video games be violent

Just today I was at my regular lecture about games design and history, it was about what players want out of video games when they play them, and among the reasons we talked about was that people want to fantasize. They are also attracted to some kind of escapism, to do things they will most likely not get to do in real life and all free of negative repercussions, and this includes behavior that would normally be unacceptable. And then I thought about violence.

Video games that allow for violent actions within the game allow people to indulge in fantasies of violent activity, and not always violent activity that can theoretically be justified if it happened for real, without repercussions towards the player and without actually killing anyone in real life. There is a violent part of our nature, as there has always been, and modern video games make it easier for us to keep actual violence in check because they allow us to indulge some of our more violent and aggressive tendencies without actually harming anyone. It’s the same for any games that, while not having gore, do let you use weapons.

The guardians of false morality do not realize what curtailing the violence of video games would do to us as human beings. Without any enemies to fight, all we have is our own kind to be violent towards, and unless people have a way of indulging violent fantasies within the realm of fantasy, humans will get violent in the real world and it would be terrible for all concerned (except perhaps the guardians of false morality, who would exploit like the opportunistic bastards they are). So let violent video games be violent, for the sake of the people who like to play them as a means of venting their aggressive side, lest they start channeling their violence into full blown immoral or unlawful conduct.

Final reflections on Shin Megami Tensei IV

After playing Shin Megami Tensei through to my 4th cycle (the 1st was Chaos, the 2nd was Neutral, the 3rd was Law, and the 4th was Chaos), I have been reflecting on the game. And I have grown closer to the idea that in that game Chaos isn’t all bad in this game if you take it allegorically. What the game is trying to show you that whatever ideals you follow you ought to be prepared for the consequences of your choice. Whether you want to preserve the status quo and destroy the old order, the consequences are your actions are heavily, and if you are truly committed to your ideals you must face them. Granted the same then must apply to Law, but those who support Chaos don’t have to worry about that.

That said, however, this is undone for the Neutral path. In order to unlock the Neutral path, you have to precariously balance your alignment all the way to the last alignment-related choice in the game, and when you pick one of the few middle choices in the game Burroughs accuses you of being unable to form an opinion. I mean why? And at the final alignment choice, you aren’t even given a third option other than “I don’t know”, which basically does nothing other than take you back to the selection of choices (“Will you return the world to naught?”). Rather than allowing you to stand up for a third ideal besides Law and Chaos that you believe in, you have to be wishy washy with both Law and Chaos and make sure you stay on the fence until the end, and the only way to do that is to deliberate your choices, and then after the alignment lock you have to do a series of Challenge Quests in order to activate a plot device The Great Spirit of Hope. I get that they wanted to make Neutral harder to achieve, but what was the point of doing it that way. What purpose does it serve other than make the Neutral path frustrating?

I agree that Neutral might be the better ending path, but I prefer Chaos from an allegorical standpoint. As far as the game’s story is concerned, you’re still doing for more for the cause of freedom than the Chaos path in Strange Journey. You’re taking the path of freedom, and there is a price to pay for that. Are you willing to pay for it?

One problem with MegaTen’s alignment wars

I’ll fully admit, with Shin Megami Tensei there is a problem with the Law-Neutral-Chaos axis with regards to story and what you are doing within it, and the problem I speak of mostly relates to the general crapsackiness of the universe of these games (anyone who’s played the main games knows full well what I mean).

If you side with Law, you bring to the world dictatorship founded on intolerance, blind obedience, and genocide. If you side with Chaos, you destroy all social order trying to bring freedom but it soon degenerates into a state of lawlessness where no crime is punished and you have to prove your might every day or die. If you go Neutral, you stop Law and Chaos from having their way with humanity, but you don’t create any long-lasting peace or freedom and just delay the inevitable: Law and Chaos are just gonna fight each other again, and humanity will be caught in the middle again.

There’s nothing wrong with believing in the central tenets of any of the alignments so long as they suit you personally, but in the games you’re generally a tool for whoever represents Law and Chaos. In the case of Law, you take orders from “God”, the angels, and/or the Messians. For Chaos, you take orders from Lucifer or the Gaians. In Neutral, actually it tends to vary with Neutral. In the first and second games you actually are going your own way by following the Neutral path, and some characters like Masakado or Taijorkun just help you along the way. But in SMTIV you’re doing what Stephen wants, and in Strange Journey you’re continuing the mission you were sent to do for humanity (but your comrades pat you on the back for it). There’s nothing wrong with believing Law or Chaos tenets, but the problem is that you’re basically just imposing your will on mankind by joining a side, or no you’re not you’re just helping somebody else impose their will on mankind.

By contrast, in Raidou Kuzunoha versus King Abaddon, the alignments are about Raidou’s actions reflecting who he is as a person, which is determined by your own actions/choices in the game, therefore you can be Lawful or Chaotic without needed to join the sides of Law or Chaos and help them impose their will on mankind. The only problem is this system was low-key in that game. I don’t know how you can implement that system on a grander scale without it basically just being the same alignment system as before other than you get a different ending after beating the final boss and that ending might affect the individual more than the world, but then that might deviate to far from the core of the main series.

Saying that, it might be a moot point anyway. The whole point of the games is that you’re supposed to decided between ultimately imperfect choices per your values system, and, as Kazuma Kaneko himself once said, “everyone carries his or her own criteria for victory”.

Thoughts on the Neutral route of SMTIV (and other MegaTen subjects)

Behold Masakado, guardian of Tokyo. A flaming head.

Last weekend, I got the Neutral route in Shin Megami Tensei IV after a first cycle under the chaos route, and I can honestly say that, while I still have issues with the Neutral ending, it’s actually better than the Chaos ending this time.

Think about it: Instead of going with the plans of the Archangels (who then fuse into Merkabah), Lucifer, or The White (a quartet of spirits born from the despair of mankind), you instead work with Isabeau, who is now the only one of your friends who’s still alive, and you summon the guardian of Tokyo, Masakado, defeat the forces of both Law and Chaos for another generation, and lift the ceiling that covered Tokyo for 25 years, thus bringing sunlight back to Tokyo (although the rest of the world still suffers from the nuclear onslaught carried out by the angels before the game’s events). In the Chaos ending, all you end up doing is taking over the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and lead an invasion of demons who then attack the people of Mikado, but the ceiling is not lifted and Tokyo remains in darkness never to see the sun again, with demons still running wild and attacking people in Tokyo, and the Law path sees you destroy Tokyo with a black hole, leaving only Mikado and letting yourself and Merkabah get destroyed by it.

There’s more. After you defeat Lucifer in the Neutral route, you can still do Challenge Quests before triggering the ending, which leaves room to wait for downloadable content you haven’t accessed yet and time to finish Challenge Quests you haven’t done yet, which can mean unlocking demons for fusion if you haven’t done so already. In the Chaos route, after defeating Merkabah, you enter Mikado, and can explore parts of Mikado and even rest in the barracks one last time, but you can’t do any more Challenge Quests and there’s almost no point since you’re just supposed to go to the rooftops and watch the ending unfold. And if you do decide to explore Mikado before activating the ending, you might find that demons are already eating and terrorizing innocent people, people mention demons attacking people and demons talk of hunting and devouring or just killing people (there’s even a scene where a group of Halphas corner a woman and make her choose between her eating a red pill to become a demon or them killing her). You even find your former commander, Hope, lamenting and asking himself if he had forged the worst threat to Mikado with his own hands by training you, and Hope was actually a nice guy.

However, there is a downside to the Neutral route in this game. For starters, to get it you have to carefully balance and calculate your alignment, which you’re probably gonna need a guide for because your alignment is pretty much invisible in this game, with the only indications being what the “cynical man” at the bar tells you, and who you meet up with at Monochrome Forest (you meet Jonathan and Gabriel if Law-aligned, Walter and Hikaru/Lucifer if Chaos-aligned, and Stephen if Neutral). But even after you do that, you don’t just go on to fight the Law and Chaos forces right away. No, after the alignment lock and finding Masakado, you first have to do Challenge Quests until you get Rank 1 on the Hunter Association billboard and then go around being greeted my mobs of people in four districts of Tokyo until you fill a chalice with the Great Spirit of Hope (what?), and THEN curbstomp the forces of Law and Chaos in order to extract the Great Spirits of Goodwill (from the Law forces) and Spite (from the Chaos forces). That explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense to me (what good will does Law have, honestly). Not to mention, you’re supposedly pursuing your own path in the Neutral route, but aren’t you doing that in any of the paths? That said, are you really? How do you know you aren’t just doing favours for Stephen, and for that matter, why does he care about reviving the goddess of Tokyo (and why is a little girl the goddess of Tokyo anyway?), what does he know, and who the hell is he? For all the game’s exposition on Law and Chaos, there’s not a lot of exposition about Stephen and his background, and not much more about the goddess of Tokyo other than he modelled Burroughs after her. As undeniably positive an outcome the Neutral route offers, it doesn’t really add up a whole lot. Or maybe I’m missing something.

Because you totally think of Stephen Hawking in an orange suit when you think of the goddess of Tokyo.

Going back to the Chaos ending, I have actually done some thinking about part of the ending where Lucifer invites you to become king of Mikado, and it actually does make me think of a part of Shin Megami Tensei II’s Chaos path where Lucifer mentions creating a new order over the corpse of YHVH and his rule. So could it be that you’re actually doing the same thing in this game’s Chaos route, and if that’s the case it’s really not so bad. That said though, I must wonder if it’s really worth creating an order with this game’s Lucifer after he kills Walter to fuse with him and callously disregards Isabaeu’s death at the hands of the player and himself, and then you watch as the demons indiscriminately attack innocent people rather than living in harmony with people, which is what the game leads you to thinking with the Chaos path through Lilith and Blasted Tokyo’s Akira. At the very least it can’t be much worse than Strange Journey’s Chaos route, in which you kill Commander Gore, sport an evil laugh, and then the half-demon Jimenez sends a horde of spirits to brainwash the rest of the crew into being bloodthirsty savages, as opposed to the Law route where your crew is brainwashed into being mindless worshippers, then Mem Aleph uses the Schwarzwelt to create a world where strength rules over anything else and there is no more order. So in other words in the Chaos path you fight to create a world of freedom, by brainwashing your crew and making the new world so harsh and frenetic than you can’t have any rest, calm, peace, or luxury (you can tell by reading up what the sectors of the Schwarzwelt all mean). Do you see that problem with that yet? Even if the Neutral ending in Strange Journey is the worst Neutral ending in the series and epitomizes the idea of restoring the status quo in these paths, I’d rather do that than brainwash my crew into being almost like demons. What’s the point of fighting for freedom if you’re gonna do that?

I have to say though, at least the alignments are more ambiguous in Shin Megami Tensei IV (although Law is by and large the same as ever just with an ending that might be considered positive for some this time around), because even Neutral has its problems. Like in Strange Journey, Neutral is very humanity-centric. Traditionally Neutral is meant to be amount balance and human willpower. The problem is that all too often this stops meaning individual willpower and focuses on the potential of humanity as a species, but it’s a way of forgetting that humans are flawed. Neutrality is actually a fine position for the individual to align him/herself with, but lets face it, Neutrality has never really offered a solid, permanent solution. Granted, in the SMT-verse Law and Chaos aren’t shown to be permanent outcomes either, but at least they’re, well, outcomes. Also, the idea of Neutral preserving the status quo is does not ring well to my ears because it means preserving this world as it is, and we all know how much I like the world as it is don’t we? It should be noted however that Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei IV seems to mean both preserving and upending the status quo and tolerating both preservation and destruction, but while the latter makes sense, the former does not in terms of actions since you can’t both destroy and preserve the status quo, and even if you could that’s not what happens in the Neutral routes anyway.

I kinda wish there were a MegaTen game that has a path that’s either a mix of Neutral and Chaos and a mix of Neutral and Law, but to be honest I can also see how that might undermine the Law-Neutral-Chaos dynamic of the games as it stands.

How the end of SMTIV’s Chaos path disappointed me

WARNING: This post contains some endgame spoilers

And Lucifer’s new design in this game isn’t even the star.

I gotta be honest, I meant to write and post this yesterday but I was far too busy with university-related tasks. But now here it is nonetheless.

Anyways, don’t get me wrong, playing the Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei IV was great, until I left Monochrome Forest that is. After me, Walter, and Hikaru/Lucifer returned to Tokyo, Hikaru/Lucifer gets ready for us to storm the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, but after mentioning that the Law forces would bring out the chariot of God, Merkabah, she tells us that she needs to be at the full power of the Demon Lord. Unfortunately, she can’t do this fusing with a “son of man”, which basically meant either me or Walter (but actually, it just means Walter), and when you fuse with Lucifer, your consciousness becomes merged with his/her’s, a process described by him/her as “basically dying”. Even after Walter’s final speech, there’s something unsettling about seeing Walter, who was a very good friend for me in the game, die and get fused with Lucifer.

All I can do to show you that is through this video (though its in Japanese), or you could just play the game and see.

Believe it or not, Lucifer’s extraterrestrial design isn’t the thing that irks me the most. The first sign that something might not be right is the fight with Isabeau, namely after the fight. He doesn’t show a whole lot of respect after her death, treating her as nothing more than someone without power seeking dreams beyond her grasp, never mind her accomplishments as a freaking Samurai. Yes, she wasn’t the best of characters, but she was a helpful ally, and despite her indecisiveness she wasn’t all bad to be around. Lucifer on the other hand, while he is a great ally in battle, he invariably takes away the human touch in the game, and while his demonic voice is seriously cool, it still has that lack of human touch going on here. But that’s not the worst part.

In the last stretch of the Chaos path, you visit Purgatorium, which is now the space between Naraku and Mikado, Lucifer’s personality does still shine amusingly, and he seems to feel disdain for the angels parroting the same words repeatedly without personality, but also sorrow for their submission, and he only gets more admirable a character during the fight with Merkabah. However, this changes after Merkabah’s defeat and during the actual Chaos ending.

After defeating Merkabah, you’ll find that Lucifer is now in female human form Hikaru again, saying the power of the Demon Lord is no longer needed, and we arrive at Mikado. She then sees the ruined statue of Aquila, who she refers to as a puppet of God who only allowed one god to be worshipped by the people. All fine and dandy, but then she tells you to go to the rooftop. The weird thing is that this part is actually interactive. You can still go to the Barracks and heal, and visit everything in Merkabah including the Terminal (so I assume, I haven’t done anything at that point other than rest in the Barracks), and save your game before going to the rooftops, but you can’t do side-quests at this point anymore. All that aside, you go to the rooftops, and you’re treated to an ending cutscene. The player and Hikaru look on as Mikado is sacked by demons, and as the vision shared by her, Walter, Lilith, and presumably the Chaos-aligned player, of a world where the strong can shape it as they see fit, but then says that the people would only murder each other and deep down seek order and a king, and invites the player to be their king.


Seriously? For all that talk of freedom and the laws of man being arrogant and unnecessary you’re treated to on the part of Walter, Lilith, and Lucifer, this right here really renders that whole thing undone. What’s the point of going on about “God’s order” spoiling the universe and then inviting the player to rule the people? I thought the Chaos path was about creating a world where individuals could create their own order and shape the world without anyone ruling over them, albeit if they are strong enough to do so, not about a goddamn power grab with liberation as a mere cover. And I know that if you were king you could do whatever you want, including seeing that vision through, but why go on about liberating mankind and then go on about ruling mankind under the cover that they will only murder each other otherwise. It’s just like Vergil in DmC Devil May Cry opposing Mundus’ tyranny, only to talk about ruling mankind himself!

You probably know where this is going if you’ve played DmC Devil May Cry.

All that’s left for me now is to take the Neutral path on my second cycle and see if that ending is any better. I know it’s hard, you have to balance your alignment and complete a set of side-quests, but will it be worth it? Only time will tell for me.

One last thing: in the “Chaotic” Infernal Tokyo, why does the demonoid Akira go on about power shaping everything, only to do nothing but have you and your party do his work for him? Shouldn’t he be doing his own dirty work if power shapes things? Why do the Gaeans in this game go on about the importance of power and then when you go to the Ginza 4th District Crosswalk you find them going on about proving your power by paying increasing amounts of Macca? What the fuck?