Catching Fireflies

So whaddaya know. Between speculations of ArenaNet launching a first GW2 expansion, Heart of Thorns (an event that would certainly bring me back to Tyria) and ESO going buy-to-play (an event that most certainly will not bring me back), I managed, with a little help from my friends, to re-instate my decrepit Square-Enix account and jump back into FFXIV:ARR on Cactuar, where bloggers roam.

For now I am happy to smell the roses and enjoy watching my Lalafell Arcanist study her book as she hurls mighty spells at the enemy. I have trusty Carbuncle to keep me company and a world of brooks and windmills to explore. SE got as many things right with this MMO as they got wrong – it’s up to the individual to make it work or not. Leaps and bounds from its predecessor, there is still a cleanness and arrangement to this world that bothers me sometimes, the way the same texture is stamped all over big areas and never alters or how there’s ten paths cutting through green plains when two would do just as well. I miss secrets too, little things to find off the beaten path instead of invisible barriers. Alas, Final Fantasy attracts us by familiarity: the well-known names and places, the quirkiness of its characters, the style of clothing, beautiful animations and of course music.

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And fireflies. In the middle of the night, illuminating the sky. The promise of high adventure is like a lighthouse in the distance, always calling and spurring me on to discover what may lie beyond the next bend of the road. Eorzea or Tamriel, Azeroth or Tyria – Magic is only ever a glance away.

Wot I Read: A New Golden Age of Videogaming

“Wot I Read” is a new category on MMO Gypsy because I needed another one! This is where I spotlight smart stuff written elsewhere and that needs to be passed on to my fellow bloggers and readers!

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One of the very few online mags I read regularly on all things life, politics and culture, is the Montreal-founded VICE network which among many other things, features outstanding (sometimes highly risky) independent journalistic work in the field of video news reporting and cultural series on their youtube channel. While not dedicated to gaming in a big way, the Tech section of VICE regularly delivers commentary to popular events happening in the world of videogames, as well as musings on meta topics or the industry as a whole.

In the wake of the new year, videogame columnist Mike Diver whom I have come to appreciate greatly for past articles such as “The Importance of Aimlessness in Gaming” (yes!), shared his optimistic view of the industry’s future while putting our rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia under heavy scrutiny:

I’d argue that, right now, video games are at the cusp of a new transition, another positive shift in public perception. And that’s entirely down to the wonderful variety that the industry can offer to its audience—through myriad devices both games-exclusive and multipurpose, a fantastic array of game types and challenge levels to suit all. Gaming today is the healthiest it’s ever been, and if we’re going to assign the banner of “golden age” to any era in gaming history, now might be a good time to pin up the bunting and get a cake baked: 2015 could be amazing. [source: 'We're in the New Golden Age of Video Games' by Mike Diver, VICE]

The entire article is a comprehensive and most earnest appreciation of this fantastic era of tech we live in. Needless to say I agree completely – gaming has never been more advanced and diverse than it is today, more widely accepted, independent or exciting in terms of technical possibilities. If there was ever a “golden age of video games” it is the one we live in right now and the one that is yet to come for future generations.

Games, in 2015, can and will mean many different things. Perhaps by the end of the year we’ll all be playing in blissful isolation, virtual reality headsets supplying all our sensory needs. Or we’ll be down the bar, playing Mario Kart between beers, a big screen showing competitive gaming after the soccer matches. But however we play this year, we should do so with eyes on the future. Mindless celebrations of dead technology will always hamstring the pursuit of new heights of artistry in an industry that, with the huge possibilities afforded by current hardware, is only limited by a lack of imagination. Dream golden dreams, and let’s leave the yellowing systems of our past where they belong: in the loft, beneath the guest bedding. [source: 'We're in the New Golden Age of Video Games' by Mike Diver, VICE]

Other recent articles at VICE you might enjoy:

 

Crowfall: False Modesty is for Nubs

Today, after an update by the ever-timely folks over at massively, I was made aware of a title I had never heard of: Crowfall. A new MMO with very little to herald its coming, potentially exciting given the genre’s current outlook. Of course that warranted further research and so I ended up on their fledgling webpage, eagerly looking for a vision or mission statement which turns out, is impossible to miss -

WELCOME TO CROWFALL.

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for something.

Something deeper than a virtual amusement park. More impactful than a virtual sandbox. More immersive. More real. A game where decisions matter.

We are, too. We’ve been looking for years, and we still haven’t found it…. because it doesn’t exist. Yet. [source]

…Now, not so eager anymore. BARF? Quite a mouth full for something that hasn’t even begun to earn some street cred. And look I get it, creators need to market their games with big words that inspire even the most disenchanted and cynical audience to new hope, but promising weathered MMO players a game that is deeper than any themepark, more impactful than any sandbox and erm, more immersive, real and meaningful than anything that was before (because of course no one has really tried hard enough yet!), that’s not just an amazing summary and quasi denial of almost every persistent MMO conundrum ever – it’s setting yourself up for failure in the most comical ways. This introduction speech just made me feel ancient.

Virtually the only proof this is even a game.
Virtually the only proof this is even a game.

Of course there’s nothing to back up the astronomical claims as the front page goes on to explain how Crowfall is “not THE game; the name of THIS game is “rampant speculation” – I don’t even know what that means. Is THE real game called Rampant Speculation….? AND WHAT’S WITH THE CAPSLOCK? But fret not, if there’s any reason to doubt the developers sanity at this point, there’s a few heavyweight industry names at the forefront which is all you early adopters require to know, anyway.

If such a thing is possible, I am now even less interested in Crowfall than I was before I heard of it. Maybe I am just having a very grumpy day – or maybe going bigger isn’t always better.

The Great Videogame Chibi Challenge! (Win three Steam games!)

UPDATE: This quiz has already been solved! If you wish to take it anyway, don’t read the comments!

So maybe you know that I do quizzes on MMO Gypsy from time to time, from MMO rebuses to poetry scrabble, and every time my audience was way too fast to guess the correct answers. That’s cool though because this time around, there shall be little help from my side!

Maybe some of you remember too, that I had some fun creating blogosphere avatars a while back with this chibi maker. Well, I didn’t just make avatars, I also tried to recreate some of my most beloved videogame characters of all time, along with some new faces from popular games.

That’s where a new quiz comes in!

The Great Videogame Chibi Challenge!

The rules are simple: Below you’ll find an expandable image with a lucky number of 13 videogame-related chibis I myself created (one or two may not be strictly originating from a game but have definitely starred in one or several). They are in a set order. You will also find a cryptic string of numbers belonging to each chibi. And that’s almost all I am going to give you, besides two more things -

  • The correct answer is a sentence (or quote) delivered in the comment section of this thread. Do not post incomplete or dubious answers unless you wish to help someone else win the prize. The sentence is of course in English.
  • In case you might feel you actually know the answer halfway through the riddling and skip figuring out the rest: don’t.

First correct answer obviously takes home fame, glory and a wicked prize!

chibiriddle
Guess THIS! (click to expand)

The Prize!

The winner of this illustrious challenge shall not win just one but three randomly selected steam games (that they do not own yet) from my ever growing key library! You’re bound to love something and/or expand your backlog! (So yeah, you require a steam account.)

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The game starts now. Good luck!

(P.S. If you really like any of the chibis, feel free to use it for whatever.)

Gaming in 2014, Worrying Trends and Great Expectations!

One more for #listmas before it’s too late! Looking back on a year of gaming, I realize that 2014 was for the most part, a year of small releases for me or rather a year of indie gaming and digging through my steam backlog. There are no blockbuster titles to list, no Bioshock Infinite like last year and no new MMOs I enjoyed save one. If there’s something that has changed in 2014 for me personally, then that MMOs are more and more taking a backseat and not for lack of trying. Generally, there are three industry trends that have me concerned right now and that are expected to continue:

  • This era of the classic MMORPG and AAA-MMOs is over
  • Early Access gaming with a wide range of definitions is here to stay
  • Console exclusivity is back with a vengeance

While online coop and multi-player games are thriving at least, it is especially that third trend which is both surprising given the state of console gaming only two years ago and annoying in an age of digital gaming and connectivity. If you’re browsing 2015 previews on any major gaming site right now, you will find a large amount of releases exclusive to either XBOX One or PS4, not to mention the usual Nintendo IPs (which have always been insular). Heck, even franchises that were born on PC, such as Tomb Raider, are going console exclusive in 2015.

There was a window early into the turn of the millennium, when the rise of online gaming seemed to finally overcome the boundaries of systems; multi-platform titles were all the rage and had the gaming community united. Now, the future bodes ill for multi-platforming and anyone sticking to just PC. Certainly anyone with a smaller budget. Meh?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
The stunning vistas of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

My “GOTYs” of 2014

I am putting “GOTY” in quotation marks because I don’t really have one best game of the year – much rather, these are the games I had most fun with in 2014 and that I poured the most hours into, in no specific order (and not necessarily 2014 releases either):

  • Wildstar; My MMO of the year for what its worth!
  • Warlords of Draenor; A pleasant surprise and fuzzy feels.
  • The Wolf Among Us; A must-play for any Fables and Telltale fans.
  • Papers, Please; You may call yourself queen of multi-tasking afterwards.
  • Cook, Serve, Delicious; I am wildly proud of my five star restaurant!
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter; A dark horse, original and very sad.
  • Child of Light; A beautiful, poetic, otherworldly journey despite Uplay.
  • Rayman Legends; The greatest classic J&R/platformer I have played since the 90ies.
  • Don’t Starve Together; Already lots of fun in coop despite being beta.
  • 7 Days to Die; A solid building and survival game (with zombies!), alpha.

I could also list some disappointments of the year, such as ESO or Destiny, but let’s not dwell on low lights and move straight to great expectations for 2015 – of which there are many!

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Fun and games in Don’t Starve Together

My Most Anticipated Games of 2015

I cannot recall the last time I looked forward to new releases as much before a new year! The line-ups for 2015 are packed and fingers crossed, we got an awesome year of new games ahead of us for every preference. Definitely on my radar in 2015 (mostly available on PC):

  1. The Witcher 3; NO WORDS! I am taking holidays for this one!
  2. The Division
  3. No Man’s Sky (eventually on PC)
  4. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  5. Black Desert
  6. Everquest Next(?)
  7. The Long Dark
  8. Evolve
  9. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)
  10. Minecraft Storymode
  11. Overwatch
  12. [Insert too many small indie/KS gems to name here]

With two MMOs still among my picks, I realize that I have never branched out as much in terms of genre as I do nowadays. I enjoy coop titles a great deal no matter the setting and look forward to more online multi-player in the future. This last quarter of 2014 has also re-lit my love for survival and building games, so along with classic exploration mode, I hope there will be some surprises on that front in 2015!

Not a bad way to start a new year! What are your most awaited games of 2015?
Oh and happy New Year, everybody!

Tunes of Magic VIII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2014

It’s that time of the year again and like in 2013, I am publishing my personal VGM winners of the year under the official #listmas banner of the “United We Game” initiative.

2014 was a year of ups and downs as far as new releases were concerned, with some down times in Q1 especially but definitely not a bad year for gaming and music overall. As MMO players, we got at least four new high-quality OSTs to enjoy and like in previous years, the world of small gems and indies has contributed to an overall great year of videogame music. What also remains unchanged is my general rule of thumb: the best games tend to also have the best soundtrack (exceptions verify this rule!).

Without much further ado, I present this year’s “Top VGMs of 2014″-teaser compilation for all of you who would like to reminisce a year of VGMs the easy and most effective way: by listening!

To remove all doubt which were my favorite OSTs and SOTY (soundtrack of the year) in ascending order, here’s the tracklist of all the games included in this year’s round-up:

10. Dragon Quest X 3DS (Koichi Sugiyama)
DQ X was in fact only released for 3DS in September 2014 which is why I hadn’t heard of it earlier. This soundtrack is packed with classic theatrical and fun music and I highly recommend checking it out!

9. Cinders (Rob Westwood)
Cinders caught my eye on Steam one day and while I’m not big into romance novel click-adventures, the spooky fairytale vibe of the soundtrack is right down my alley.

8. Transistor (Darren Korb)
A must-have for Bastion fans, Transistor comes with an equally brilliant sound fusion of western, folk, electric and experimental. Also: for Buckethead fans!

7. Ethan Carter (Mikolai Stroinski)
The saddest game by far that I have played through in recent months, the beautiful music by Mikolai Stroinski is a perfect match to the overall sombre mood of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

6. Destiny (O’Donnell, Salvatori, Johnson, Mc Cartney)
Some games never deliver on their big promises, but the Destiny soundtrack at least is definitely one of the big must-haves in 2014!

5. Bravely Default (Revo)
Much to their fans’ delight, SE re-discovered their classic fantasy JRPG roots with Bravely Default. The entire soundtrack by Revo is a joy to listen through, producing gem after gem!

4. Child of Light (Cœur de Pirate)
A visually stunning, poetic journey deserves a special soundtrack and Cœur de Pirate, aka Béatrice Martin, has managed to elevate Child Of Light to an unforgettable experience that instantly reminded me of the very french movie Amélie.

3. Blade & Soul (Taro Iwashiro)
Released in Japan and Taiwan this year, Blade&Soul has yet to honor us with a western release. Until that time, it’s well worth checking out this very flavorful and diverse MMO soundtrack.

2. Warlords of Draenor
Listing all the composer involved in WoW soundtracks has become a real chore (Hayes, Stafford, Brower, Bajakian, Cardon, Guidotti…) but I’m glad the outcomes still seem to work out! WoD is one of my favorite OSTs of the year and has brought back countless memories of our early vanilla days. If I had to name a single favorite track overall, that would be “Wolf at the Gates” no question.

1. SOTY: Wildstar (Jeff Kurtenacker)
My soundtrack of the year easily, Wildstar has brought us all kinds of awesome music in 2014. This soundtrack is vast and vastly diverse, ethereal, creepy, whimsical and fun! We don’t often get to see fusion work off so well but Jeff Kurtenacker has done one remarkable job at composing for the Nexus! Must-have, folks!

My top 10 aside, this year’s honorable soundtrack mentions go to Valdis Story, Castlevania Lords of Shadow and Beatbuddy which came out in previous years and much later to my attention.

Annual disclaimer: videogame music does still not receive the attention it deserves from many publishers and developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase official soundtracks and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) on board as possible. Thanks for sharing this post and here’s to another great year of VGM!

[WoW] How to Unlock your Pet Menagerie the Quickest Way (for Noobs)

So, you are late to pet battles but would still like to activate that pet menagerie in your garrison? Then like me, you will require a little help!

I used to be a pet collector in WoW up until WotLK and only now that I am back for Draenor, did I start looking into the pet battle feature. I’ll be honest, I might have disregarded this entirely had it not been for that empty spot in my garrison, where 5 of my collected pets could be running around the menagerie. Well, it so happens that where there’s a will, there’s a way! I am in no rush to get to any endgame in WoW these days, so I might as well start working on that achievement. The following quick guide is based on my own research on how to  -

  1. get you started with pet battles in WoD
  2. get your first lvl 25 pet(s) quickly
  3. beat the pet menagerie quest “Pets versus Pests

I am on the second stage myself still and have managed to get several lvl23 pets now within over an hour (give or take, depending on your luck in Kharazan). For step three I have spent the evening reading up on wowhead in order to find pet options for players who don’t have any “fancy beat-all” pets like Pandaren Water Spirit or Chrominius. I’m sure you could look into those but I’m generally quest-lazy and would rather just work with what I have got or can capture!

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How to unlock your Pet Menagerie the Quick & Dirty Way

Step #1:
Talk to the first pet trainer in your capital city (for alliance that means Stormwind next to the Cata portals, for horde Orgrimmar) to get you started with pet battles in WoW. After this, the pet menagerie quest will appear in your garrison and you will also start seeing lots of green pet battle markers wherever you go. Choose mechanical pets for your first team because they tend to take less damage and are more beginner-friendly (some of them are dirty cheap on the AH).

The intro quests are fast after which the trainer will send you off to beat several other trainers in Elwynn and Westfall, as well as Redridge and Duskwood (as alliance). Around the Duskwood stage, your pet party should be roughly around lvl 5-6 which is enough to continue to step #2!

Step #2:
Continue using this excellent guide on how to obtain your three Arcane Eyes in Deadwind Pass and two Dragonbone Hatchlings in Dragonblight. The pets in Karazhan are found around the entrance as well as on all the upper balconies and terraces of the fort. They are not rare spawns but if more players are looking for the same thing, you might need to check back several times. Also, note the Hatchlings will come with two additional allies per fight(!) but you can still definitely do it, even if it means some of your Eyes will die and will require a rez after the fight.

A few tips: if you struggle beating the Hatchlings, aim for lvl 22 ones rather than lvl 23. Heal up after every fight (cooldown ability and stable master if you have no more bandages). Once you got a victory, start using your new pet right away!

After obtaining two Hatchlings, head straight to Pandaria for the Eternal Striders in VoEB. Continue to level up your lvl 20/21 Hatchlings (when you capture them, they lose two levels!) as well as the Arcane Eye and don’t trust the time frame in the guide – it will definitely take longer than 10mins to level 25 (maybe more like 2 hours)! Try not to let your pets die or they won’t get any EXP and keep in mind only the ones actually active in battle will gain experience. The stable master in VoEB is Jaul Hsu (I alternate between visiting him and using my own pet healing cooldown).

Step #3 (in progress):
After you got at least two pets to level 25, you can start boosting a third. There are several boost guides around the official forums but so far, I haven’t found one that doesn’t require you to already own very specific other battle pets as boosters or to be on certain parts of a questchain (if you have any other info, let me know!). This means I am likely to boost my next pets the normal way, by battling for EXP in Pandaria. Since I can battle almost all high-level pets at this point, this means I will try capture lvl20+ pets of the pet families I need instead of boosting any low-level pets.

The three encounters in “Pets versus Pests” require specific lvl 25 pet abilities to beat them. You can spend some time on that wowhead link like me to check if there’s any comment that includes pets you already have. For my own mundane setup, my picks against each boss will likely look as follows:

  • Carrotus: A frog and any water striders (capture some of those you are fighting as part of the first lvl25 pet).
  • Gorefu: 2 moths and any other pet.
  • Gnawface: 3 spiderlings of any kind

It appears that for some fights you’ll only require two appropriate pets and maybe any third to finish off. As for the rotations to make this a success (each pet has 6 abilities of which you can only choose 3), check the comments in the links I included.

I obviously haven’t tested this stage of the guide myself yet but it’s been verified by other players and should lead you to success in a few hours. Most importantly, it will let you skip all the other pet battling business and trainer questlines in order to unlock that lvl1 pet menagerie the quickest way! Good luck!

Bloggy Xmas Day 14: Transcontinental Kinship and the International Language of Music

Gaming and community is a very wide and open subject which is why I chose it for the #bloggyxmas event. Depending on whom you ask and where they come from, people have very different stories to tell but almost without fail, gaming folk will name the internet as the one big game changer, that amazing space of connecting across geographical boundaries and finding kindred spirits with more ease. A lot of geeks are lonely as far as their interests are concerned and living in a place that is all about stability and pragmatic productivity, I found myself in a fairly isolated spot too before the world wide web happened.

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Ever since getting involved in a blogging community, my ride has been almost entirely a positive and enriching one: I’ve been able to find and talk to people who love the same things I do and worry about the same things. I’ve written about difficult subjects like geek pecking orders and gaming stigma, only to find my sentiments echoed by others. And I’ve been educated by smart and brave female and male bloggers on social issues I was struggling with myself in the past.

Besides this inner journey, I’d like to believe I have grown as a writer and thinker thanks to all the critical feedback and countless comments I have received over the years. I started out as a rather self-conscious second language blogger in this international but English-speaking blogosphere and few years later, I find myself confident enough to write long articles in one sitting and invited as a vocal participant to podcast round-table discussions. I never dreamed of making youtube videos or podcasting when I started writing but so many fellow bloggers have shown me nothing but support when it came to finding my voice (with the “funny accent”!). For such unexpected kindness I will always be thankful.

The International Language of Music

For my personal Bloggy Xmas post, I want to talk about Battle Bards and how this global neighbourhood has opened up new avenues for a very niche interest of mine: videogame music. Gamers are used to be counted among niche geek culture and certainly, MMO players have always been regarded as niche by the gaming mainstream. World of Warcraft has had a positive impact on this image but the way things are going, traditional MMOs are disappearing next to a mass of next-generation online genres.

Battle Bards, the brainchild of the inimitable Syp from Biobreak, is an oddity among gaming podcasts, no doubt a niche inside the niche. For someone like myself who has collected videogame and movie soundtracks since the early nineties, sometimes with a tape recorder, our podcast is in equal parts an enthusiast’s dream and labor of love. I was already happy to know of a handful of MMO bloggers who shared my musical interests, writing about them every now and then. But it is off-the-charts amazing that such a thing as Battle Bards exists and that I am a part of it! I enjoy each of our shows and recordings in the full knowledge of how special an opportunity this is and the fact that we have a die-hard core of listeners is, well….hard to believe and very humbling. With 400 downloads on average per episode, Battle Bards may be a tiny podcast compared to many others but it’s waving its geek flag loud and proud. We’d be doing it just for the three of us but knowing there’s somebody out there who shares our passion, makes our time spent all the more rewarding.

Our listeners have made us laugh, think and consider the things we share on our show. We’re not just talking amongst ourselves but to an audience that is as international as we are and who will hear our voices on their way to work, while preparing dinner in the evening, killing time on yet another airplane ride like Rowan or when in the car with their family, like my friend Redbeard. Knowing Red and his three musically gifted kids tune in to Battle Bards regularly because they love videogame music as much as we do, makes me want to put all the more effort into our podcast. For Christmas in 2013, I got a Xmas card with the three of them on the cover playing their instruments; I still keep it on my desk like a token – a reminder of all the great things that have come from gaming, blogging and connecting with other people’s lives since publishing my first post in 2010.

This is community for me. It’s a micro-cosmos, a niche inside the niche. It’s the people we let into our lives, select individuals whose strength is not in numbers but in the way they touch our life and give us hope. We all need to know we are not alone.

Thanks to all of you who have been interacting with me these past few years in the blogosphere and via other social media, all the readers and commenters of MMO Gypsy and my fellow bloggers and friends! Thanks to everyone who has supported Battle Bards and TGEN this year – we know you are there!

The Year of Un-Deception: A 2014 Pre-Recap

As the articles on “2014 – the worst year for videogames” are piling up (gotta love sensationalist headlines), I am contemplating my personal year of gaming. I usually start preparing my best games of the year-post around this time, as well as a round-up of the greatest videogame soundtracks. I have no plans to deviate from this course at present and when it comes to the actual games at least, my 2014 really wasn’t half as bad as apparently some people’s. But more on that another time.

Of course it’s gamergate that has marked 2014 as a black year for gaming and on a more personal note, it has impacted on bloggers, podcasters and people I call friends from this here MMO blogosphere. This is something I eye with much concern because if there’s something that gaming needs more of, it’s the type of diverse and welcoming community that has been established within the micro-cosmos of my blogroll. I am down when my friends are down and especially when one of them is taking their leave. However on a very personal and direct level, I am still evaluating my own feelings in regards to how gamergate has affected me. And it’s almost chilling to admit that I don’t feel particularly anything over all the ugliness that has come to light since August 2014. It’s too familiar – so unlike this tiny blogging niche that I inhabit and which is special in so many ways.

Is this really the darkest year for gaming or is it not much rather the year where some rotten dams broke and a lot of taboos were finally (and in some places aggressively) challenged and put on the spot? Did parts of the gaming community get toxic all of a sudden or were they not much rather always a hostile place for anyone not bowing to the established, unspoken norm? What gamergate stands for is that greater societal issues which are very much alive in gaming too, have finally been given a prominent voice and are receiving mainstream attention (time they caught up). That is threatening and it’s only when a status quo is truly challenged when things get ugly. But this also means that things are finally in motion.

While speakers don’t realize it anymore in everyday language, the German word for “disappointed” has a rather intriguing, literal meaning: it’s to be “un-deceived”. If we feel disappointment, it is generally because we were let down on our expectations – our hopes, dreams, illusions maybe. In any case, there was a deception of some kind involved and quite often it’s a self-created one as much as the other way around. [source]

We keep reading about or preaching how change hurts but when we find ourselves in the middle, we can’t stand the heat. Societal change of any magnitude is tough and no eye will be left dry – no, not the advocate’s either. Yet, gamergate and all the disappointment and pain it has caused is preferable to illusions we may have allowed ourselves to live in and which lulled us in treacherous passivity. There is nothing worse than a false sense of security while the years go by with nothing truly improving.

So, this year we’ve established that gaming and gamers aren’t a better society than any other – tadaa? What is there to be had other than working with and from within our very own, tiny and handpicked communities anyway?

It always gets worse before it gets better

International media have recently exploded over police violence in the US against black citizens. It’s easy to get involved and upset over cases like Eric Garner’s because for once, they are getting attention and are being widely reported on. That doesn’t change the fact that this reality has been many people’s reality always – or that black men are disproportionally more often ending up in jail or getting killed resisting an arrest compared to white men, on any given day. This isn’t news, yet right now everyone is up in arms about it. The fact that there’s been demos and in some places not-so peaceful riots, well…you don’t get to choose the face of change. If riots seem ugly to you, think of the ugly reality some people deal with every day of their lives that drives them to such extreme and dangerous (for them as well) measures. I don’t condone violence but it’s hypocritical to shake your head over Ferguson when you probably never even knew about the place beforehand and about everything that pushed so many marginalized people to a breaking point. Condemning riots is the tone argument of the privileged. It is also a tool of maintaining the establishment when ironically, violence has so many way more harmful and insidious faces.

"Whatever you do, don't swear."
Whatever you do, don’t swear.

Social change isn’t about making you feel comfortable, it’s about changing things. This brings me back to gamergate and all the ways it’s been uncomfortable but also, all the ways it heralds progress if we manage to perceive it that way. I’ve said it on a related CMP podcast before, the fact that so many people have started to talk about gaming culture or in support of women in gaming this year, is bewildering in a fantastical way. And yes, it also brings the most toxic of our non-community to the table but they have always been there, driving individuals out of this hobby. Did we believe they would welcome more and more diverse forces claiming games for themselves with open arms?
Thankfully, gamegate has brought new allies to the table too and like Liore started vetting her twitter community more closely, mine has not just seen people removed over gamergate but many join as well. Things have been moving and becoming clearer.

On an recount of my gaming background on Gameskinny a while ago, I talked about how I was driven out of a male-dominated gaming forum I had been active in for a decade. The type of treatment and in some cases harassment (not detailed in the article) I’ve received over the years cannot be compared to what some female developers and journalists targeted by the 4chan gamergate crowd went through, but there are all too familiar parallels. I know perfectly well how it feels not to be accepted as a legit member of a community you are contributing to because of your gender. I know how it feels to be scared because the usual rules of online life versus offline don’t apply in your case. This has been my reality and many other female gamers’ always, just as it’s been the reality of women professionally involved in the games industry. It’s just that nobody ever talked (much) about it and the topic certainly didn’t make it into the Colbert Report.

Only when I discovered this small community of MMO bloggers I barely dare call myself a part of, for fear of finding this fragile butterfly shatter too, did I realize there is still a place for people like me – women like me, gamers like me.

You gave me hope and hope was a change. Now change gives me hope. So no, for me personally 2014 is far from the worst year in gaming; a tough year for sure but also a year of more discussion, critical debate and alliances than ever before. And if the “community” has gotten more polarized over it in the long run, that too is part of the process that leads to inevitable change. I live in a country whose relatively consensual and pragmatic way of handling a rare form of representative democracy is in fact not grounded in consensus but on polarities so far removed and so established, that they cannot deal with each other in any other way but with compromise. If radicalization is how it’s gonna be, best get it over with.

I believe in inevitable, bumpy progress. Most of all, I hope to see everyone who is, with an open heart and mind contributing to gaming culture, back in 2015! To my fellow bloggers, podcasters, streamers, commenters and twitterers: your voice matters, more than ever. The only way this 2014 could be the worst year in gaming is if niche communities like ours went quieter and lost faith in their power to reach kindred spirits and change the face of gaming for somebody out there. Somebody like me.

A good Friday to all of you – the un-deceived who are struggling, the un-altered set to alter and all those who will find their strength renewed. Thank you for being my company.

[WoW] Where Meters Reign Way Past Their Glory Days

In her latest blogpost “Living by Numbers”, the ever-enthusiastic Mistress of Faff deplores the meters game and status quo of hunter DPS in Warlords of Draenor. This struck a particular cord with me because ever since returning to WoW, I perceive this dissonance more strongly than ever – a dissonance between what is essentially a very casual-friendly game and a rabid, vocal group full of stat zealots. Naturally, the latter is hardly new: WoW has been heavily modded and then datamined, optimized and cookie-cut from the get-go. Yet, having been away for three years and finding things unchanged in that last department strikes me as more incongruous than ever.

I’ve been playing my shadowpriest since the expansion, mostly because I am over healing in WoW and so far it’s been very enjoyable. I run no mods whatsoever and until yesterday, I had not looked into shadowpriest state of play or rotations for Draenor. What I have noticed however is that my DPS seems lower than some people’s I met during quests and dungeons, that it’s hard work for me to get all my DoTs running before everyone else has already killed half of our enemies and that getting silver in Proving Grounds at ilvl 600 wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for my untrained DPS muscles (I did it on third try but without much time left).

meandrag
Me, looking damn sexy in shadow. Anything else I should know?

And that’s okay. Or should be, but it didn’t stop an overeager ingame buddy of mine, coincidentally a MM hunter, to comment on my damage during an Auchindon heroic run, where my DPS was apparently around 10k when his was at 22k. This was a contrast to all the PuGs I have run since returning to WoW and that have been shockingly friendly, successful (not a single disband) and meters-free, to a point where I am tempted to declare the state of PuGs today a 180°-turnaround since I shared my passionate “no-pug policy” on World of Matticus in 2011. The continuous changes that have made this a way more flexible and accessible game over the years have clearly helped turn things around in LFG, color me impressed.

Yet, meter culture persists in some corners of the player base. WoW oldtimers especially and grumpy veterans who have never left the game or never smelled the meter-free roses in other MMOs like GW2 sometime, are clinging to an era where WoW endgame was firmly ruled by numbers and raidguilds. I hate to break it to all the elitist jerks and e-peeners out there but: meters are over. For anything outside minuscule, competetive top-tier raid content, optimizing specs and rotations are not a requirement in order to beat anything in WoW. Players can play whatever spec they enjoy. They can run whatever rotation feels most natural. They don’t require epics with enchants and gems (thankfully both abolished) in every slot of gear. Welcome to World of Wacraft, 2014 edition! Maybe it was time Blizzard did away with these mods altogether? What purpose do they serve exactly?

On the bright side, my brief brush with the meters-nostalgia in WoW has benefited me in two ways: I went to check out current shadowpriest guides and realized that there’s nothing I am “doing wrong”, not even according to those that spend copious amounts of time on numbers. Draenor or not, priests remain late bloomers early into an expansion (as it ever was), struggling with ramp-up time in fast 5mans and versus single-target and multi-phase encounters. I simply don’t compare unless I unleash risky AoE on every single occasion. On the bright side, I never die and make the healer’s job a lot easier.
The even more important realization for me was that I really don’t give a toss. This is a trap that I am simply over. Thanks to so many experiences with other games and communities, I am a better and smarter player today than I ever was and most certainly a happier one. I am playing this for myself and that’s what an increasing number of players in WoW, be they in PuGs or elsewhere, have come to realize as well (shocking truth that it is).

It’s okay WoW players, you can have fun already! Maybe it’s time we re-defined our idea of success.