Elizabeth Witmer (Waterloo North)’s Battle for Video Game Rating

It’s funny how things are all connected. I’ve lived in KW all my life and so it’s nice to see connections to my hometown through my research. Brief aside before I begin my post, researching government documents is really fun and also insanely difficult. Also, my french is not nearly as good as it used to be.

Elizabeth Witmer served as an Ontario MPP for 22 years from 1990 to 2012. She served first for the Waterloo North riding before it transitioned into the Kitchener-Waterloo riding in 1999. She is now chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. She was a Conservative MPP, although if I’m being honest, I’m not sure there was really a division when it came to the topic that she fought for in the early 90s so her party allegiance is likely moot. What makes Elizabeth Witmer important to my research is that she was one of the key members leading the charge in Ontario’s Parliament for the regulation of video game ratings.

It’s important to set the stage here a bit as obviously this didn’t come from a vacuum. In September of 1993, Mortal Kombat was released on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The game was immensely popular to say the least but also managed to get the attention of Senator Joe Lieberman and in December of 1993, congress held a joint hearing to discuss with Nintendo and Sega representatives, the violence in video games. Night Trap released in October of 1992 was another game that caught the attention of political figures where young girls were depicted getting attacked at a slumber party. There were threats of banning games but eventually things died down after the industry implemented the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

These debates extended into Canadian political debates and Elizabeth Witmer was one of the most vocal opponents to violent games in Canada. In July of 1993 she brought up the issue to Ontario’s Parliament. She states, “[i]n the past year, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of video games that capitalize on violence against women.” She spoke out specifically against Night Trap as an example. There were even-handed responses. Another MPP Margaret Marland pointed out that there was a rating system in place from the publisher and that Toys R Us had already decided to not carry Night Trap.

The debate was mentioned again throughout the month but it seems very little came from it. In November of the same year, Witmer again brought up the issue. Her fixation with video games actually stems from a larger issue, violence against women. She brings up video games again in November as part of her larger discussion of violence against women. She says, “[l]ast July I called on you to take steps to deal with a disturbing trend and increase in video games that capitalize on violence against women. So far, we have received no response.” Her cause for concern is quite fair but the links she makes are unfortunately weak, but this is only known because of more recent studies about violence and video games but in light of the times it is understandable that she responds in this way. She pleads her case:

“We know there is similar demeaning and brutalizing entertainment everywhere. We see it on TV, we see it in the movies and now we’re seeing it in video games. Although we can’t say this causes all violence, we now recognize that there is a link between media violence and what is happening on our streets, in our schools and in our homes. We can’t expect to give people a steady diet of violence and not expect that they won’t in some cases follow through, because violence has become glamorized.”

Her position inspired others particularly Diance Poole of the Eglinton riding who brought up women violence and video games just a few weeks later. These two ministers would bring up violence against women and games again in the following months.

Having not gone through the records between this period, I am uncertain if there was a resolution or act that worked on the larger issue of violence against women but by April of 1994, Elizabeth Witmer’s focus shifts just to regulation of video games. The Theatre Amendment Act 1993 or Bill 135 (which seems to have never been implemented) was a proposal to give further classification power to the government. Over the rest of 1994, Elizabeth Witmer brought forth petitions on nearly half a cozen occasions. Her push to amend the Theatre Act was overall never successful and the whole cause lost steam after 1994, much like it did in the United States.

What Elizabeth Witmer’s cause shows is that the fear and misunderstanding of video games and violence in the early 90s extended deeply into Canada. National parliament and other provinces held similar discussions in this time frame. In the end, video games were able to manage and regulate themselves but this was not a certainty in 1993, as it could have likely gone the other way where video games could have ben regulated by the National or Ontario Film Board. Violence in video games is still a topic today (albeit much smaller) but it is fascinating to see the discussion and battle that took place in the halls of parliament.

Shoutout to my partner Hayley who continues to stand by me despite how much this project is taking up my life.

Video Games and Columbine in Globe and Mail Coverage

I’ve spent the last few days scouring the Globe and Mail database using terms like “video games”, “Bioware”, “entertainment software”, etc. So far, I’ve collected a ton of articles and am starting to see some serious trends. I outlined some of these in my last post. I’d like to take the opportunity in this post to talk about one point in particular which is the reaction and video game blame that came after the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999. It should be pointed out that these pages and ideas are rough, especially the conclusions made at the end but I’m hoping that by getting them down on paper (digital albeit), that I can begin to make sense of everything I’m collecting. Enjoy.

After the deadly attack in Littleton, Colorado which claimed the lives of 15 including the attackers, the coverage in the Globe and Mail was immediate and lasted for months. Like in the United States, many blamed a culture of violence, which included violent video games and film. Sweeping statements were made about what video and computers game were teaching. Marcus Gee for example said that “[i]n computer games, players are encouraged to act out their violent fantasies” (04/28/99, “Littleton and the Culture of Violence”) citing games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom as examples of the medium at its worst and ignoring the positive games that existed. Others took a more balanced approach. John Barber in “Trying to Make Sense of Senseless Violence” (04/24/99) gave no real answers as to why the killings occurred but rather pointing at all the warning signs that existed before hand, pointing out that a number of reasons existed for why these boys were so damaged. The media pointed out that the parents were to blame, still citing video games that they played as ‘red flags’ although the arsenal they collected and videos they made about what they were planning to do in the future may have been a bigger warning sign. The same comments that were made about video games were made about music and TV but with video games, the congressional inquiries into violent video games were still only a few years old and this view that games had desensitized the youth of North America had been held for most of the decade if not longer.

In the summer months after Columbine, articles more pointed towards video game violence appeared. The W.R. Myers school shooting less than two weeks later in Alberta, Canada brought violence to Canada’s doorstep, prompting similar inquiries about violence in media. The boy charged in the school shooting in Taber was naturally compared to the Columbine shooters as one author pointed out that “[the shooters all] played computer games and used the internet” (Mahoney, 05/03/99, “Taber Doesn’t Want Attention Littleton Got: Mayor”). In this article, a fear of video game violence is included with a fear of what the Internet offers. The Internet was a fearsome thing to many in the 90s and early 00s, unknown how it would affect youth or others and here we see it lumped into a reason why these assailants were considered at risk or dangerous. What is lost in the articles I read is that it is likely that many of these youth’s classmates (some of whom may have been victims) also used the Internet and played violent games.

Frank Lenk attempted to dismember this public perception in his review of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, where he leads with “[t]here’s a public perception, heightened in the wake of several recent tragic incidents, that computer games are all about shooting, killing, and fast-action blood and gore. Yet some of the most popular games of the past few months are quiet, cerebral and even educational.” (06/03/99, “Fighting Factions Vie For All Of Civilization) His works are a revelation for the time period in popular media, as while many of the articles I referenced above toss aside the notion that games were to blame for the shootings, this article actively combats the notion that all games are bad or evil. Games like Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and other violent games were quick to be pointed out as examples of what all games have to offer in the 1990s, but this is also an era of Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Sims, and many more games that are much more relaxed and non-violent than video game haters would like to believe.

Two months after the Littleton shootings, violent video game sales maintained. (Kerr, 06/25/99, “School Killings Have No Impact On Violent-Game Sales) The industry helped parents as best they could by trying to give better rating systems but were also the first to point out that mature rating games only represented 7% of games on the market. (Kerr) The overall reaction from the industry was focused on greater education for parents on how to know which games are appropriate for children. While this was a great step in the right direction for the games industry and public perception in Canada, this was not the end of it. Kerr’s article continued to argue that games were still violent, pointing at games like Metal Gear Solid as games with a Teen rating that contained to much shooting and violence. Her article ends with a surprised parent wondering why so much game violence exists in games at all.

In August, further fuel was given to the fire as a former U.S. colonel turned psychologist warned that “violent video games may be turning a whole generation of young people into killers.” (Baillie, 08/25/99, “Video Games, Movies Teaching Young To Kill, Psychologist Warns) The Columbine shooting is mentioned, of course, and is used as an example of what can happen to kids who play too many violent games. This article is a classic case of 90s video game paranoia where no concrete evidence exists to substantiate peoples fears and yet they are still given validation. The article points out near the end that “[s]ome experts say it’s misleading to assume a direct cause-and-effect relationship between screen violence and real violence” but only after giving plenty of voice to the psychologist it mentions in the title and others that claim that violent video games are harmful. It also finishes by pointing out that many parents aren’t taking chances before finishing with a parents quotation stating “‘the First Amendment… shouldn’t protect the rights of five-year-olds who learn to blow people’s heads off at the arcade.'”

The fallout of the Columbine and Taber shootings brought the issue of video game violence to the forefront in Canada and the United States. The fear that had existed throughout much of the 90s was given another issue to use as ammunition in their fight against violent media. This is a debate that still rages in Canada today, although with a much smaller voice as experts and public opinion seem to have swayed towards accepting of violent games with more research and the maturation of the Nintendo Generation. However, the months following April 20, 1999 show the skepticism of video games that existed in this period in Canada.

The Year The Globe And Mail Came Onto Gaming

Today I finished a huge step in my literature review. For the last three days, using ProQuest, I scoured the Globe and Mail archives using the search term “video games”. A simple enough search but one that I used to find some fascinating information on the reaction to video games in Canadian media over time. My timeframe was broad, from the first time it was used all the way until the present, although I set my own artificial boundaries ending at 2005 because anything newer may be considered too representative of the present. With this I’ve reached some tentative conclusions:

1) The industry in Canada is hardly mentioned until the late 90s

It took a while before I found anything on Radical, Acclaim, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts or any other studios in Canada. The national industry has existed since about the mid-1980s but I found no mention of them in the Globe until more than ten years after. This was a little startling but likely speaks to the other points I will bring up.

2) The fear of video games, arcades and media was well documented in the 80s and 90s

Obesity, violence, joint problems, desensitization, poor parenting, bad grades, lack of culture. Video games were linked to all of these things in these decades. Some were founded in research but much of it was just based purely on heresay and the fears of politicians.

3) Video Games were popular amongst youth in the 80s and 90s

Nearly every Christmas shopping season summary from the late 80s on mentioned video games in some capacity, including 1993-1995 when the industry struggled greatly.

4) By the early 00s, video games were recognized differently in the Globe

In 2004, the globe gained a gaming section. By the late 90s, articles were making mention of Vancouver studios and by the 00s this extended to Montreal and Toronto studios and the game makers that the country was producing. Game fears never truly went away but it was balanced out by positive coverage including game reviews, how surgeons were using games to gain better motor skills, and how the IQs of children were higher in those that played games.

5) The Columbine Massacre led to a number of articles that both condemned and defended video games

Especially in the wake of the Senator Joe Lieberman inquiries into violent video games, many were quick to point the finger at violent games for what happened at Columbine. However, some, including a letter to the editor, in the Globe said that it was an easy cop-out to point at video games for the world’s problems but that the issues were either some else or beyond this issue.

6) Female gamers have been an issue for some time

The gender divide in STEM and video games was documented in the Globe as early as the mid-90s, which is perhaps one of the most interesting finds of my inquiry. This issue is obviously far from resolved but it was fascinating to see how Lara Croft and other game moments led to some sort of response as to the lack (or perhaps unnoticed body) of female gamers and how games were (read: are) primarily targeted towards male audiences.

This is just a hot-take from my findings today, I hope to have more as the days and weeks of my research go on.

 

Goodbye Future Shop

“Good Morning Everybody”

“Gooooooood Morning”

“How is everybody doing today?”

“Fannnnnnnnntastic”

Future Shop was not my first job but it was the first job where I felt like anything I did mattered. I first began my Future Shop career during the holiday season of 2008. Over the next four years I worked in four different departments in two stores. I worked with two general managers and eight department and operations managers. I can’t name everybody that I ever worked with or all the people that I knew through the years but I can honestly say that it was perhaps the most important workplace that I had in my life because it taught me some of the most valuable early lessons on how to work at a big company, dealing with customers, learning everyday and so much more.

The morning cheer (outlined above) that I heard on more mornings that I can count and even led a handful of times was always an excellent way to start my day and both got me fired up and raised my spirits on days that I thought I was really off. I had many bad experiences at Future Shop and even saw some of the darker sides of the sales industry but overall was really pleased with my time there and can honestly say that I will miss it.

The death of Future Shop comes at a time when Canadian retail is seeing a lot of tough times, highlighted by this and the cut-and-run of Target. I’ve heard and read a lot of reasons why people think that Future Shop died out, most on the lack of support for commission sales, the competition and the economy but I think it stems from a bigger change in Canada retail.

Canada is one of the most connected countries on the planet and thrives in connecting to the internet. Online shopping is taking a stranglehold on Canadian retail. Malls and stores are closing at an unprecedented rate. Working at Future Shop and interacting with people in the company, it is clear that over the last few years, the online marketplace has grown incredibly quick. The online store (especially when it came to daily budgets) was an after thought to Future Shop back in 08 but over the following five years, it grew more and more until it was pulling in more money daily than all but the most successful of FS stores. The Future Shop store was mostly garbage for a very long time until over the last couple of years it improved substantially. It was probably too late though (at least in this author’s opinion) as Amazon had already won the hearts and minds of consumers. Walmart’s store is excellent as well.

Regardless of why it died, the loss of Future Shop is a sad moment for my nostalgia alone. I watched many friends and good people make a living there and rise the ranks into manager positions. I also saw many move on into bigger and better things and I wish the best to those that were still there when this all happened. I hope that you find something next cause you deserved it.

R.I.P. Future Shop

The Power of Video Games

I wish I knew how to begin this post. I’ve had the ideas I’m about to write, swirling in my head for several years but never knew how to say them. This is the most personal I have ever been on the internet while being open about who I am. This post will change the way some of you know me, for better or worse, and in a way it terrifies me. So here it goes.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I truly believe that there are moments in our lives that define us. They are the end of our character arc, to steal the film and literature term. Two years ago today, I had mine. I can count the number of people that know this story, so all I ask is that you don’t use the information you’ll learn from it against me.

This story is not happy but it is important. This story shows the true power of emotional connection. How video games, in the right situation, can resonate with parallels in your own life. The emotions that these moments create are amazing and I’m sure that there are examples of these that aren’t sad but happy. I hope I have one of those moments myself.

My relationship with my father has always been tumultuous. I am incredibly close with my mother and so when something goes down, I usually side with her (mainly because he’s usually being a douchebag or something). I never found him to be someone I looked up to or admired but he was still my father and so for some reason, I kept humoring the idea that he actually provided something substantial to my life. I never had a real reason to go up against him. So I kept playing this part.

On December 27th, 2012 I was spending time with my dad’s extended family when I received a call from my mom. My family’s world was crashing down. My dog had been sick for a few weeks and I could kind of see the end and where it all was going but didn’t expect it so soon. My mom explained that she needed to be put down now and we needed to come together as a family to do it. My brothers and I were going to be coming home that night anyway so that was all okay but my dad wouldn’t let my little sister come with us. My mom gave me the task of bringing her home. She told me I didn’t near to bear the whole weight of this, that I should tell my four brothers and we could all act in unison on this. In a way, I wish I had done that but I felt, and still feel, that this was finally a moment where I could stand up and be a man about this. Prove that I knew myself well enough to stand up for what was right.

I took my father aside and told him that I was taking my sister home with us cause we needed to do this. The ensuing 20 minutes or so were…. I’m struggling to find the word. Horrific I guess would be the most appropriate. My father broke the news about our dog to my sister when he had no right. I sat there crying with her, telling her that she needed to be brave and that our family needed this. It was around then I realized that whenever I talked about my family or our family, it was implied that I wasn’t referring to him. It still breaks my heart to think about how much my sister has gone through at such a young age. She is going to grow up to be such an amazing woman and it will be in spite of him but that story is for another time.

My dad and I got into a yelling match. He guilted me for not trusting him and getting angry at him. My brothers were forced to watch from afar as everything went down, not knowing how they could help. My father told them about our dog while I was in the other room. My mom would later tell me that my brother wrote down in his journal the next day that it was so wrong of him to tell them and that he had no right and that that fateful day was the worst day of his life too. I hope I didn’t do an injustice to them with all this but… it’s so difficult for all of us to talk about it that I’ve never asked what they felt that day and what they went through. Finally, after my sister essentially locked herself in her room to cry while my dad and I jousted words, she came out and said that she wanted to go with us.

The car ride to my mom’s was silent. 20 minutes of full silent where my sister and I held hands and I thought about how horrible a human being I had let be in my life for so long. When I got to my mom’s I broke. I saw my mom sitting on the couch with the dog we’ve had for nearly a decade and how sad my mom was and what a horrible event my family had just gone through. It was, and still is to the this day, the worst day of my life.

I haven’t spoken a word to my father since and I don’t plan to anytime soon. In January 2013, I sent my father a letter explaining that I would never speak to him again. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I became a mess. I turned to alcohol and weed to cope. I also turned to games, often in combination with the first two vices though. It was a tough time but the good of this story is I realized how powerful video games can be. I’m sorry that I had to share such a dark story from my life but I think it really will drive home how impactful my experience with a game was.

Later that month, I treated myself to Assassin’s Creed III. I’m a huge Assassin’s Creed fan and hadn’t gotten the chance to play the new installment. I am not oblivious to Assassin’s Creed III’s flaws. The game is glitch, the open world is boring and the story is a little hokey. Connor’s story hit home for me though. His love-hate and eventually fatal relationship with his father redeemed the game in my heart.

Connor’s father, Haytham Kenway, is a wonderful character. Sophisticated, brash and in the right scenario’s, deathly menacing. He shared so many parallels with my father. Haytham’s blind faith and narcissism make it apparent as to why Connor and his relationship will never work. Connor struggles for the whole game to figure out how they can stay close, if that’s even possible.

Upfront, I’m sorry for the spoilers but they’re necessary. After much of the is spent with a give and take between Connor and Haytham, their paths crossed for one final time.

Killing Haytham was more to me than just an in-game objective. It was this remarkable triumph. I have never been so emotional after doing something in a video game. It was amazing. I can’t recall if I cried after that moment but if I didn’t, I certainly came close. It was like I was able to embody everything that I was feeling into that one moment.

That’s what makes video games so powerful: interactiveness. Movies and television have the ability to make us emotional but only because we are witnessing emotional moments. That’s what makes games so scary or happy or sad or whatever because we are experiencing when we play, not witnessing.

I wish I could say that this moment in the game turned my life around and got me out of my funk but unfortunately my battle with myself was a much deeper fight, one that would result in only more loss. That’s not the point of this post though. It’s not to give a happy ending or some such bull**** but rather to help realize that the storytelling capabilities of games are strong. There have only been a few games that I’ve found to do a good job of it. However, the potential is there.

An Appreciation for Emulation

OoTEmulationBefore I begin on my tangent for today, I want to quickly show my appreciation to some folks who provide a lot of content to my week. I listen to a lot of gaming podcasts. When traveling between Guelph and Waterloo (where a good group of friends are and where I live, respectively) especially I enjoy listening to banter on games as opposed to spending 45 minutes spinning through country, punk rock and classic rock songs.

The wonderful folks at IGN make some excellent podcasts. Ryan McCaffrey’s Podcast Unlocked is great. I’m not much of a FPS guy anymore and even though they tend to focus on that sort of game more often, they still provide excellent content and McCaffrey has one of the best voices in the business. Meanwhile, on the other side of the console war, Colin Moriarty and Greg Miller run the excellent Podcast Beyond (Beyond!). It was from the latest episode of podcast beyond that I found the inspiration for this post.

When discussing porting The Last of Us to Playstation 4, Moriarty said, “The Last of Us is really a truly special game and I’m sick of Sony porting all these games over… but The Last of Us is one of those examples where I’m like, ‘fine.’ That should be in as many places as you can possibly get it.” (My emphasis added)

Back in the early 00’s, I played more games on emulators than I did on actual consoles. I hadn’t quite purchased a Playstation 2 or XBox and beyond Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Kart: Double Dash and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, I didn’t find very much to play on the Gamecube my family owned. I also had the problem of needing to share my console with my three brothers. I particularly took to playing Super Nintendo games. I replayed A Link to the Past and finally beat it in those years. I played Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI for the first time ever (although it took me until 2 months ago to beat Chrono Trigger and I’ve still yet to complete FFVI).

HistoryThroughGamesBack in those days, backwards compatibility was scarce. Nintendo has just switched to disc based gaming and so didn’t offer any sort of backwards compatibility and when I did finally get a PS2, I didn’t own any old games that could be played on it. The digital stores that offer old games of now weren’t even thought upon. There was very few legal opportunities for someone to access old games beyond buying them from vendors (who overpriced them) or garage sales (which were hit or miss).

The difficulty in acquiring old games left many turning to emulators in order to experience the classics. This is where the problem with the video game medium arises. With books, there is no problem with how they can be experienced. Film has a similar benefit where as long as it can be transitioned to a newer data format (i.e. transfered from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray) then it will also seemingly last forever. Video game preservation, on the other hand, is never simple. There will be a time when the parts in the old Nintendo Entertainment System consoles will fail. Slowly NES console numbers are dwindling leaving games like The Legend of ZeldaSuper Mario Bros.Duck Hunt and many more in limbo. Emulation provides a means to extend their lives. Recently, games for the Game Boy Advance (it terrifies me that the GBA is almost 15 years old) were made available on the Nintendo store for the Wii U, meaning classic games like Advance Wars could be played by a new generation of gamers.

Colin Moriarty in the same aforementioned podcast stated that he hated all the other games that were being ported over by Sony like FlowerJourneyJak & Daxter Collection, and others. For me, providing these games on as many platforms as possible is the best possible thing for all generations of gamers. My experience with emulators in the early 00’s came right around the time of Kazaa and Limewire after the death of Napster and the copyright implications of using Roms led to several nasty emails and some lawsuits for people online who simply wanted to play classic games that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access.

 

Valiant Hearts: The Problem (and Solution) of Historical War Video Games

This post will also appear at Playthepast.org

Something that I’ve written significantly about recently is the glorification of the Second World War in video games. Games like Call of Duty 2 attempt to portray the war with a sense of realism but the final product often ends up muddled with ever-to-common tropes of heroism and sacrifice with no deeper meaning. The Second World War video game relies on these themes because that is how the Western world remembers this war. Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada are reinforced with video and commentary of the brave boys that stormed the beaches and helped liberate Europe from the oppression of the evil Nazis. This narrative fits the unfortunately too-often simple storyline that video games follow. Because it is so easy to follow this narrative, the Second World War has been overrepresented in video games while other 20th century conflicts like the First World War has been largely ignored by the medium.

Unlike the Second World War, the Great War has no obvious villain. There is no clear reason for the conflict, as even 100 years later historians still debate the blame of the conflict. 16 million people died in the Great War and yet a century later we are left with no proper explanation for why. How then can a video game accurately reflect the confusion and deadliness of this war?

The most recent attempt at covering the 1914-1918 conflict is Ubisoft Montpellier’s Valiant Hearts: The Great WarValiant Hearts is made from Ubisoft’s new game design engine UbiArt Framework, which gives the game a unique art style not found in any other game set in war. However, this cartoon gameplay does not playdown the reality of the First World War.

Emile using bodies as cover from machine gun fire

Emile using bodies as cover from machine gun fire

Very early on the player controls a French soldier, Emile, as his unit is wiped out from machine gun fire and he himself is wounded and captured as a prisoner of war. At the start of the charge, the mood is upbeat but slowly but surely the scene of French soldiers charging alongside Emile are replaced with dead bodies. Once captured, Emile is forced to cook and clean for the German soldiers only to watch as the base his is held prisoner at is destroyed by a British artillery barrage.

For the most part, this is how the player experiences the Great War in Valiant Hearts. Not as a triumphant warrior but as individuals forced to come to face with death, wounds, disease, civilian casualties and other horrors of war. Other unsettling experiences that the player finds themselves in include amputating a soldier’s arm with a saw, watching soldiers and civilians die from chlorine gas exposure and using a pile of corpses as cover from German machine gun fire. One particular moment that stuck out for me was set at Vauquois in underground warfare. After becoming trapped underground, Emile saves a German soldier stuck under rubble. The German and Emile find their way out of the tunnel and the German soldier helps Emile escape. Later, Emilie helps the French plant TNT underneath the German tunnel system before blowing it up and killing the Germans trapped including the one who aided Emile earlier.

The end of the Vimy Ridge mission with the Vimy memorial represented in the clouds

The end of the Vimy Ridge mission with the Vimy memorial represented in the clouds

By the end of Valiant Hearts, the player has no clearer understanding of why the Great War happened. What is meant to be shown in this game is the horror, uncertainty, and confusion of the conflict. Characters in the game fight on both sides of the trenches and sometimes that the enemy is not who is across no mans land but rather the commanders within your own ranks. The game is not without flaws. Sometimes Valiant Hearts is guilty of falling into habits of other historical war games by returning to battles of great glory. As a Canadian, I found myself rolling my eyes at the end of the Vimy Ridge scene, where as Freddie and two Canadian soldiers raise the Canadian flag at the top of the ridge, the clouds in the background create two vertical columns designed to look like the Vimy memorial in France. However, what Valiant Hearts is representative of is a new way of recreating past wars without entirely falling victim to the First Person Shooter glorification. It shows that games can recreate war in all its barbarity.

For more from the Gaming Historian, comment, like, subscribe, or follow me on twitter @Dave_Hussey.

What the Death of Gamespy Means for Video Game History

wallpaper_9226At some point in the near future, Gamespy’s online services will be shut down. This affects a number of high profile PC games from the last 10 years (Full List Here). Of particular interest to myself, Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 1942‘s online play will be shut down. I played the hell out of Battlefield 2 when I was younger and developed my first online gamer code from that game. Battlefield 1942 is one of the best online shooters ever.

Both of the Battlefield games don’t support a single player campaign. There is a single player mode but it is just multiplayer matches with computer AI rather than human players over the internet. However, for the most part, the way that these games were enjoyed was in multiplayer matches with other players. With the death of gamespy, these games will no longer support online play. I would assume that Local Area Connection games will still be available but this still significantly limits what a player can do with these Battlefield games.

Video game archives and collections are being kept in various locations of North American and likely worldwide. The video game archive in Ann Arbour, Michigan is but one example of this. Even with these collections, how will the games be recreated for individuals to study years from now. With no online gameplay, will the interactions of Battlefield 2 or 1942 be lost forever?

Online play has put a wrench into the preservation of video games. For the most part, a player today picking up a game like Chrono Trigger and have the same experience that a player in 1995 had. This has changed drastically with online gameplay. Even year to year with series like Call of Duty, the experience changes as players leave the old games for the newer versions. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released in 2007 and sold more than 9 million copies on the XBox 360. The game had a massive online presence but now with 5 new instalments having been released since then, the online community is much sparser than it was 6 years ago.

Is there a way to combat this? Probably not. This is just the way that online games progress. But it does bring to light the problems in preserving these games for the future.

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Concept Artist Gives Gaming Community TLOU Blue Balls

The Last of Us Concept Artist Teases: “It’s Coming” http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/05/05/the-last-of-us-concept-artist-teases-a-reveal-with-an-older-ellie

The link above, via IGN, contains an image leaked via Facebook from the account of Marek Oku, a concept artist from Naughty Dog. The image appears to be an older Ellie (she looks to be in her mid-to-late twenties in my opinion) holding a guitar.

This imageand corresponding tweet set off a mild s***storm, for lack of a better word, prompting many to wonder if The Last of Us 2 could be in the works. I honestly was very content with The Last of Us not becoming a franchise but I understand why Naughty Dog would work on another game considering how amazing the first one was received.

The notion of an older Ellie being the lead character actually intrigues me though. I was hoping that their story might come to an end but Joel and Ellie’s adventure was one of the most magical stories I’ve ever played and it could be fun continuing it but 10-20 years later.

Artifacts of the Past in The Last of Us

the-last-of-us-shot-oneI recently purchased The Last of Us as a small reward to myself for finishing my undergrad. I had already beaten the game last summer after borrowing the game from my friend but I couldn’t resist playing it again.

First things first, SPOILER ALERT: THE LAST OF US SPOILERS AHEAD

I was captivated and amazed the first time I beat The Last of Us. From the first scene where you played as Joel’s daughter Sarah to the infamous ending, which I wouldn’t dare spoil, I was enthralled and entranced by this game. I wondered if playing it again after nearly a full year away from the game might change my view of the game. It hasn’t. The Last of Us is one of the best games that I have ever played.

I don’t want to go too in depth into the reasons that The Last of Us is in my gaming top 10 (I should hopefully be including that information in a series I’ll run in the summer) but what I will speak to today is the artifacts of the past that can be found throughout the post-apocalyptic United States.

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Trevor Owens while writing for Play the Past this past year and his work at the site is consistently excellent. One piece that always gets excellent traffic even several years later is his “The Presence of the Past in Fallout 3.” In this piece he displays how artifacts in the game allow the player to reconstruct the fictional past of Fallout 3.

This same type of gameplay is included in The Last of Us. Joel and Ellie’s adventure through Boston, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Salt Lake City and other cities contains numerous artifacts. These artifacts are diverse and include diaries, lists, voice recorders, maps and many more. Some serve the purpose of gameplay by giving the player safe combinations or locations of enemies. However, most merely provide some insight into the events of the outbreak.

The back story to The Last of Us is never explicitly stated. The game begins in the present for the prologue when the outbreak of a new fungal virus hits the world. After the game’s prologue chapter, the remainder of the game takes place 20 years after the outbreak. The game’s opening credits in between this provides some clues as to what happens in the interim. The United States government responds to the outbreak with a dissolution of government and implementation of martial law. A rogue civil group called The Fireflies fight against the military in an attempt to return the world to order.

One of the first locations that the player visits after leaving Boston is Pittsburgh where Joel and Ellie are attacked by a group of militants that have taken over the city. As the pair moves through the city, they find clues as to how this group of “hunters,” as they are called in the game, came to control Pittsburgh.

These clues paint the picture of how these group of survivors became sick and tired of the military hording food and decided to take back the city for themselves. Graffiti on walls and notes (as seen below) show the desperation and frustration that took hold of these people before finally reaching their breaking point and fighting back.

Grafitti found in Pittsburgh

Grafitti found in Pittsburgh

A note written, presumably, by a soldier after being attacked by rebels

A note written, presumably, by a soldier after being attacked by rebels

Near the end of their time spent in Pittsburgh Joel and Ellie come across a former firing line with 4 dead military soldier still slumped over from their execution. This begins the painting of a darker picture of the hunters, which is culminated by the following note. After taking the city, a small contingency of the group hunted down a group of “tourists” and looted them for supplies. The leader of these people then proclaimed that this practice should continue. A pair of individuals who protested this were killed and so the rest of the group followed their lead.

The "Trial" artifact

The “Trial” artifact

The Last of Us uses these artifacts as a storytelling device. Explaining how far humanity will go in order to survive. Joel and Ellie act as archeologists, uncovering the past in this dark and uncertain world.

Later, as the pair are passing through a sewage tunnel system, they find they inadvertently uncover the life of a man only known as Ish, a former fisherman who washed up ashore near Pittsburgh and created a small community with a group of other survivors.

The story of Ish (which is explained in full here), like much else in The Last of Us, does not end well. Joel and Ellie never meet Ish but the remnants of his community are discovered in the form of infected members and dead bodies. The life of Ish is even more archeological than the story of the hunters in Pittsburgh because these people are long gone.

The Last of Us ultimately tells the tale of Joel and Ellie and their struggle but it also contains deeper stories of humanity’s fall in a post-apocalyptic world. These stories are not mandatory but unlike the treasures of the Uncharted series (also a Naughty Dog creation), they truly add to the experience and make The Last of Us a truly special experience.