A Summer of Gaming

It’s hard to believe, it’s been more than 6 months since my last post! It has been a busy summer.

One of the projects this summer was to dip my toe into the world of gaming.
As you know, I have spent a lot of time with Minecraft (as a sandbox game) and Minecraft editing software. Many years before that (in the late ’90s, when my son was a baby!) I played Myst and Riven. I even read the novels that went along with the games.

Myst series

Those games seem so primitive now — there was no motion, they were just a series of stationary slides with a few rare cut scenes. Nonetheless, I became deeply immersed in those worlds. When I listen to the the soundtracks now, I feel such a sense of nostalgia for those places I had visited. The fantasy / science fiction basis for the games’ storylines was, if someone learned the art of writing “linking books”, they could link to other worlds. (It was left unanswered whether these worlds had been created by the writer, or if the worlds had existed previously!) Myst centered on the character of Atrus, a creator of linking books, and his two problematic sons, Sirus and Achenar. Riven continued the story of Atrus, added his brave and resourceful wife Catherine, and Atrus’ deeply disturbed father Gehn. I loved the grumpy but well-intentioned Atrus, and (spoiler) cheered when Atrus and Catherine were reunited. Part of the fun of it was that I identified with Atrus — a slightly paunchy middle-aged geek (played by Rand Miller).

Atrus and Catherine Riven


THIS summer, I decided to try something completely new. I had been listening to the excellent podcasts of Alex and Sharon Shaw  http://digitaldrift.podbean.com/?source=pb

They have deep, thoughtful (and often hilarious) discussions of favorite movies, games, and other topics in the geek world. When I tried some of their movie recommendations, I found that I often liked the same sort of things they did. So I decided to take a stab at one of their favorite games, Bioshock Infinite.


Here are my impressions. Like Myst and Riven, Bioshock Infinite had an excellent science fiction storyline and characters I came to care about. The graphics were spectacular and the world was “immersive”. However, unlike Myst and Riven, there were many scenes of blood and violence. It wasn’t gratuitous violence (it was a very important part of the story), but it was shocking and stressful. I never did get the hang of using the weapons. Times of exploration were constantly interrupted by tedious combat episodes. I needed my expert gamer son to take over, in order to reach the end of the story!

Now I have moved on to another favorite of Alex and Sharon, the Mass Effect series. I am playing as a female Commander Shepherd — or as she is sometimes known, “femshep”. It was so cool to be able to personalize my character by choosing her appearance and background story.

femshep blue eyes

I also get to choose (from moment to moment) her way of treating the people she meets and the situations she finds herself in. The “Paragon” approach is one of diplomacy. Paragon Commander Shepherd works to win crewmates’ loyalty with compassion and attention. Renegade Shepherd has a brusque approach and will give the crewmates a (usually metaphorical) smack upside the head to spur them into action. Some people respond well to this form of leadership, and so a Renegade Shepherd can also end up with a loyal crew. Paragon calm

I have started the Mass Effect series by jumping right into Mass Effect 2 because (as Alex and Sharon have said), its combat system is simpler. I still find the combat boring and frustrating, and I die a lot, even on the easiest mode. However, I’m enjoying the game SO much more than I did Bioshock Infinite. There’s a higher fun / tedium ratio — more things to do that don’t involve getting shot at — such as chatting with my crewmates, mining planets for resources, learning about alien species, even poking around sleazy marketplaces for bargains. When I went to a scrap shop and found the T6-FBA coupling that my ship engineers had been wishing for, I literally shouted in delight.

I’m currently working on the mission to Omega station to find the infamous “Archangel” — who (spoiler) turns out to be a good friend and comrade from Mass Effect 1. So far I have died and seen the following screen half a dozen times.



How I hate combat!! But — I’m looking forward to meeting and interacting with all the Mass Effect characters (whom Alex and Sharon Shaw have talked so much about in their very spoilery podcasts)!

Mass Effect characters


Top Score podcast — interviews with game composers

I just found out about the podcast Top Score, which discusses the music composed for, and used in, computer games. The woman who does the interviews has a classical music background. The following video talks about how the podcast interviews are made. Cute scene at 8:55 where they’re editing out the vocal flubs.

Learn the process behind Top Score, the podcast from Minnesota Public Radio that features interviews with the composers behind the world’s biggest games.


Girls and Minecraft, a quote


Later in the discussion Tyler also brought up a story she heard on public radio about how playing video games at an early age causes kids to be more interested in computer science when they get older, and how Minecraft in particular is drawing an exceptional number girls because of its focus on creation and world-building. “The more girls that play Minecraft,” she noted, “the more girls get really curious about how these worlds work and how they’re composed.”

Controversy in the gaming world

I just read this article over at Salon.com…

Over the past few weeks, the video game community has erupted into a full-blown culture war. On one side are the gaming journalists and developers, circling the wagons around feminist activist Anita Sarkeesian and feminist game developer Zoe Quinn, and on the other side are legions of self-proclaimed “gamers,” outraged that the games they love are being criticized….[snip]

… Sarkeesian has been deluged with sexist hate of all stripes, from virtually every gaming community on the Internet. It reached a peak when she actually had to leave her home following particularly detailed threats made on her by a Twitter user who knew her address and parents’ names… [snip]

The sexist gamers are the ones who feel most strongly about the issue, and are so loud about it you’d think Anita Sarkeesian had personally gone around to every male gamer’s home and smashed up their “Call of Duty” discs.

Anita Sarkeesian’s videos can be found at her YouTube channel, The Feminist Frequency. Note that some of the videos come with a warning –“This educational episode contains graphic sexual and violent game footage.”

Two videos that I especiallyenjoyed were the ones about Legos — how they were originally marketed as toys for the entire family, but gradually separated into “pink” and “blue” versions.


I think Minecraft is now what Legos used to be; there’s a whole spectrum of ways that you can play the game.

Thanks Anita Sarkeesian for your thought-provoking videos; stay safe!