Social media has “ruined” games journalism.

I follow games journalism too much. I say this as a person who followed sites like GameSpot and 1UP back in their heyday, and still support places like Idle Thumbs and Giant Bomb to this day. I like their stuff. I listen to the podcasts. I follow the majority of them on social media like Twitter and Tumblr. But I think social media has “ruined” games journalism, and here’s why.

Over the past several weeks, the internet has been increasingly abuzz over two major issues. First, Zoe Quinn of noted game Depression Quest suddenly has a blog from an ex-boyfriend leaking out details of their past relationship. Said event lead to constant internet harassment on Twitter and other social media, including her Tumblr getting hacked by anonymous hackers, even going as far as to reveal her personal information – known as “doxxing” – to the public. While Quinn denies the statement and many others associated by the ex-boyfriend have denied the claims, there are still groups of people going to Quinn’s Twitter account and verbally abusing her over accusations that were never proven, most of them associating her alleged sexual encounters with the restaurant chain Five Guys. It’s gotten to a fever pitch, people using #gamergate and #notyourshield hashtags on Twitter to continue the barrage of harassment, so much so that noted female games writers Mattie Brice and Jenn Frank decided to leave the games criticism industry, leaving many years of wonderful writing behind them.

The other is a long-brewing one with “Tropes vs. Women,” an internet series started by one Anita Sarkeesian, whose Kickstarter on “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” got over $120,000 out of her initial $6,000 goal in response to harassment she got for it. Over the past two years, Sarkeesian and her company Feminist Frequency have been intermittently putting out videos in the series, with each new video receiving extreme criticism and anger from various people of the internet, mostly male. So much so that two men, Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini, decided to make a crowdfunded movie called “The Sarkeesian Effect” to point the “truth” about Sarkeesian’s actions. Sarkeesian’s newest “Tropes vs. Women” video got so much venom that people sent death threats, while people such as noted writer Joss Whedon vehemently defended Sarkeesian’s work. That’s not counting notable internet personalities such as Philip “thunderf00t” Mason going to great lengths to discredit Sarkeesian’s work, even as much as pointing out a single section in a video to prove her opinions were flawed and that we were – in his words – “baited, hook, line and sinker.”

Why did I mention those two women? What do they have to do with social media ruining game journalism? Because let’s face it, 20 years ago, these two would not have gotten nearly as much attention, if it weren’t for the internet and how Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are so accessible that the average person could easily spout out their rhetoric without any consequence.

When you think about it, it wasn’t always this way. Back in the ’90s, you didn’t know much about game critics except whatever you saw them write in their respective magazines. You didn’t know much about people like Nick Rox, Dan Elektro or Steve Harris outside of what they wrote in the magazine (or their real names, even!). They didn’t have a personal newsletter, a TV show, or any other way of knowing what they like, except for their taste in games every month without fail. Websites really didn’t take off ’til the early 2000s, and even then you probably weren’t well-versed in the staff unless you watched their content constantly.

Even for me, I only followed the personalities at places like 1UP and GameSpot was because their content was available at their website. If I wanted to know more about them, I had to dig around the web or hope you could by chance chat with them on a forum, either the website’s forum or a more notable one like NeoGAF.

When Twitter started becoming a thing around 2007-08, suddenly the journalists whom you just saw on videos and podcasts now had their own personal soapbox to talk about stuff, what they’re doing, even what kind of bar they’re chilling at before a major event. Before, these people were relative unknowns, known only by the games they like. Now, they’ve opened almost their entire life into your internet world, finding out things about them you didn’t know previously.

However, this comes with a consequence of knowing TOO much about these people. This is something I realized when I was babbling some inane trivia about a former games journalist to a bunch of friends while playing Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Even though I met said person twice before at PAX and he seemed super-chill. But that’s just how my brain absorbs information, but I started realizing that by following the social media they did – their blogs, their videos, what else they’ve done over the years – that I was stalking them by proxy. Perhaps not to a creepy degree, but certainly unsettling to myself. Needless to say, I kept that sort of stuff to myself after that, and I feel embarrassed about knowing that information because the last thing a critic needs is having the equivalent of a creepy fanbase.

I’m probably not alone on this. You too probably follow a critic very closely, because social media has gotten you more personally attached to their work. Previously, at most you’d read their column or a review by the person, but now you’re digging into their personal lives, by whatever they show publicly. This doesn’t just apply to games journalism, it happens in other mediums too: I didn’t know Roger Ebert was really into rice cookers until he started praising them on Twitter among the thousands of other posts of whatever movies he critiqued that week. Then he wrote a book about rice cookers that I found out through his Twitter. Had I not followed him on Twitter, I probably would’ve known him for just his movie reviews and his long stint working with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper.

Basically we get emotionally attached to these people, the people whom you may have talked to once or twice, as if they’re close friends or family. Sometimes this can lead to new friendships, but it’s not guaranteed. This can be used for good, but in some cases it can be used for evil, much like Quinn and Sarkeesian suffered the past few weeks. This is what social media has done to us: We know too much.

That’s why when you see people wanting to talk about “integrity,” in reality they’re saying “I don’t want to know about social issues, or drama, or anything like that. I just want you to write about video games in a simple way, just like it was before.” These people are basically wanting to go back to the “good old days” where all you knew was what E. Storm had to say that month, and didn’t know much about the person’s other views. When they say they want “unbiased games journalism,” all they really want are the facts, not the writer’s opinion on something. With social media being so prevalent these days, it’s impossible to revert to just spewing bullet points of stuff that’s on the back on the box.

The kind of people who are criticizing people like Quinn and Sarkeesian likely use video games as escapism from their personal lives. Anything that bucks the trend and makes people think about something, such as Gone Home, are met with increased hostility because, again, they play games to escape life, not live it. Because video games are starting to make people feel and understand parts of life by playing them, and are doing what other entertainment mediums have been doing for decades or centuries before it: personal experience. It just took us 40 years of video games to finally reach that point.

Keep in mind, I am not saying you should not follow notable people on Twitter or Tumblr and leave it only to following your close friends. I am saying that when you follow someone like Patrick Klepek, you’re not following a fan club, or a corporate Twitter ran by some lackey for peanuts, you’re following the man himself. Thus you should expect them to be personal to a public audience, and that includes disclosing their interests. If you’re not into that sort of thing, it’s okay to not follow them through those channels and stick to the videos and podcasts. We were fine with that ten years ago, and I bet some people are fine with just doing that.

A new year, a new computer.

Okay, technically it’s still December 31st, but it’s New Years somewhere. Just thought I’d make one last blog post for 2013.

Christmas came and went quick this year, and I got a bunch of games, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops IIDead Rising 2: Off the Record, and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist among many others. But that’s just gravy, because I got this thing a few days after Christmas:

Cue Also sprach Zarathustra…

This wonderful beast here is my new PC. I was long overdue for a new one, my previous PC was an HP Pavilion PC that had an AMD Athlon 64X2 4400+, 2GB of RAM with a 250GB HDD running Windows Vista. I got that PC in 2007 as an emergency replacement PC, as the previous PC died due to a fried motherboard. While it was serviceable for the first few years, over the past 2 years it’s been less than stellar. Even with a Radeon HD5770 in the box, the old computer struggled to run anything. Crysis ran in single digits even on low settings. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive would suffer from hitches, unusual texture glitches and random crashes. I’d have to lower graphical settings on games constantly to keep a decent framerate. Other games I didn’t even bother to try because the hardware was just woefully underpowered. Even Chrome and other programs would just start freezing randomly for no reason. It was a mess, and I suffered with it for years.

After some prodding from my dad over the year, I decided to finally get a new PC. This one’s considerably more powerful: An Intel i5 4570, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD running Windows 7. After taking my HD5770 out of the HP and putting it in the new box, the differences were obvious. Games ran faster, loaded quicker, and ran smoothly.

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The difference between the old and new machines are obvious, even with 2011's Saints Row the Third. It's literally night and day. The difference between the old PC and the new PC are pretty obvious, even with an older game like 2011′s Saints Row the Third. It’s literally night and day.

Since I got the thing I’ve been throwing many games at it to see how they run. From recent games like Borderlands 2 to older games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV.  GTAIV was surprising, considering I heard the game wasn’t well optimized for computers. Even running Doom under the GZDoom source port and playing resource-intensive levels like Scythe with the Terrorists mod were not a challenge for this new PC.

and yes. I did test Crysis under this machine. Though, Crysis 2 or 3 would be a better benchmark in this day and age.

Yes, I did test Crysis on this machine. Though, Crysis 2 or 3 would be a better benchmark in this day and age.

I went with a local shop in Portland called ENU. There are reasons why I did this instead of building it myself or going to a place like iBuyPower:

  • I don’t feel super-confident in building a PC without breaking something in the process.
  • I didn’t want to order a custom-built PC from out-of-state because I’ve heard of too many horror stories of people’s machines getting damaged in transit.
  • I want to support local businesses, and it’s easier to order a machine from somewhere local and it prevents the above situation from happening.

The machine cost $840 overall, drastically more than an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 with all the trimmings but this setup means I won’t have to upgrade for the next several years. The only thing I waited on was a new video card, because the card I want (a GeForce GTX 760) is a bit out of my price range at the moment.

This new PC helps me out in many ways: I shouldn’t have as much trouble capturing and rendering videos now. This’ll give me an incentive to play more of my PC games. Maybe this will give me the push to write more things, who knows? But this is something I definitely needed to do, because that old PC was nearing the end of its lifespan, and I’d rather have a new PC ready than wait for the old one to die. My previous PC lasted me six and a half years, and I hope this machine lasts that long.

As 2013 winds down, my goals for next year will be to write more. I was doing well early in the year, but it tapered off as the year went further along. Yet surprisingly, I’ve been updating the Secret Area at least once a month since its inception. I will push to write more about my travels and experiences next year compared to this year’s, among many other things. And if I start slacking off on that, feel free to yell at me to write more. Maybe that’s the motivation I’m missing. :P

Reflecting on the Million Second Quiz.

As I’m posting this, Night 10, the final night of NBC’s nightly game show experience, The Million Second Quiz, has concluded. Questions were answered, people won cash, and the touted “Biggest cash prize in game show history” – Greed from 1999 would like a word with you – was won. I sat through all ten nights, playing along. Hell, I even have the GetGlue stickers to prove it. Now that it’s over, I wanna look back on this whole ride.

I had not heard of the Million Second Quiz until about a week or two before its premiere. Funny, considering the game show nut that I am, you would think I would have known about it months beforehand. I remember seeing an ad for the MSQ app while at PAX Prime in Seattle, which is baffling considering the average age of people who go to PAX are likely in their teens-early twenties. I don’t see them vying to download an iPhone/Android app and try on a game show.

The only other thing I remember about MSQ was talking with my friends on Skype about it. They’re big game show fans and even host their own versions of game shows on the air. Opinions on Night One from my friends on the East Coast was mixed, whereas my west coast self was mildly anticipating it.

Then, the show went live. The set, adorned with a several-story-tall hourglass, had a ticker on the top with the million seconds ticking down. Inside the hourglass set were three podiums, one of which had a seat with a round circle showing a cash value – the amount of money the person playing was winning at that moment. The moment a contestant was in that money chair, they accumulated $10/second, which suddenly reminded me of a different game show. The big-ass hourglass shows the New York City skyline in the background. Unless it’s raining like hell, in which they move the production to a smaller, closed stage that looks like it was done on a local NBC station.

While the camera sweeps down, host Ryan Seacrest greets the viewer for watching, and gives a recap of the player’s quest in the money chair up to that point. A random audience member is chosen to face off against the contestant in the money chair, and the game begins. Questions are asked, correct answers get points, most points wins and takes the money chair to make cash. At any time a contestant can challenge their opponent to answer to double the points, but they could double them back for four times the amount. Each game is timed, which is from 300-400 seconds depending on the bout.

Of course, there’s more to the game than that, but it seems to the average viewer that it didn’t click with them too well. They broke one of the simplest rules of a game show: Explain everything quick and concise. On Night One, they went right into it as if the show had been on the air for years, and only three game shows can get away with doing that: Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy!. I would’ve treated the first few nights a little more slowly and explain things more clearly, then streamline it as the show progresses. Think of many classic game shows, a lot of them started a bit slower to explain things to new viewers, then went into their more traditional format after a period of time on the air.

Even though the show ended at 9PM sharp, segueing into shows like The Voice, Seacrest exclaimed “The show continues at NBC.com!” …unless you lived on the West Coast like I do, in which case I saw the Winners Row players sleeping, or seeing a “stream will be back shortly” message like I did constantly. They continued to do online games with an off-screen host, for 500 seconds, each question equaling a point, and no doublers. It’s dumb to change the rules for the online streams compared to the TV broadcast, because in this bare-bones format, all it takes is two screw-ups and you’re done.

There are several problems with the Million Second Quiz. A lot of the questions are based on current events rather than pure trivia, which reminded me of The Challengers. There’s a boatload of sponsorship, from Hota Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford on Today to Carson Daly on The Voice to Steve Harvey’s talk show – not surprising since they’re all NBC/Universal shows. The inconsistency between the online games and the TV broadcasts. Finally, the rules constantly being glossed over or explained poorly for the sake of having more fancy camera pans and dramatic music cues. Surprisingly, Ryan Seacrest was not bad, he did fine with what he was given. I’ve seen bad game show hosts, even ones that could tell you the rules down pat but had the personality of a dull knife. Seacrest did fine as a host. Then again, I never understood his hate besides “He’s everywhere.” If that’s your argument, I take it you hated it when Dick Clark was hosting American Bandstand, Bloopers & Practical Jokes, The $25,000 Pyramid and a radio show at the same time as well?

Despite that, I couldn’t stop watching. I downloaded the app, playing along with the show and random strangers across the country. While I amassed enough points to qualify as a contestant, nobody from KGW (my local NBC station) was knocking at my door. Funny enough, the concept of “play along at home” game shows reminds me of my brief experiences playing along with lesser known game shows like Paranoia and webRIOT almost fifteen years ago. Maybe I’ll talk about those some time.

Million Second Quiz is a weird concept. It’s a generic quizzer focused on large sums of money, with added social interaction thanks to Twitter, Facebook and GetGlue. NBC wanted this to be their version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – that game show that gets a lot of buzz and gets people talking. Alas, the show’s several faults turned people away, and likely won’t be returning for a second season. It’s sad, too, because I thought the idea was sound, just needed more polish. I’ve seen worse game shows in primetime – Identity, Set for Life, Show Me the Money – and the Million Second Quiz sits firmly in the middle: Not amazing, but not memorable either. At least Ryan Seacrest got to host another game show, even if it took him 14 years to do so.

Meeting Ken Jennings.

I know I update this blog about once every six months at this point, but it’s because I usually have nothing interesting happen in my life that’s blog-worthy. Wednesday changed all that.

I heard Ken Jennings was coming into town at Powell’s Books to talk about his new book, Because I Said So!, which talks about myths and legends that you might’ve heard from your parents. For those not quite in the loop, Jennings was the guy who went on Jeopardy! back in 2004 and won over $2,500,000 thanks to the show’s then-new rule of staying a returning champion until you were defeated. Since then, he’s wrote a book about the experience — Brainiac — as well as a trivia almanac and a book about maps titled Maphead, so he’s been keeping busy with telling his trivia knowledge to the masses. One of these days I need to pick up Brainiac just so I can do a compare-and-contrast with another book written by another former Jeopardy! contestant: Prisoner of Trebekistan by Bob Harris. Never finished Trebekistan, but it’s still a great read.

So, the event was mostly Jennings repeating stuff from the book and interjecting with a good amount of humor. I follow the guy on Twitter, so I’m used to some of his jokey, sometimes groan-worthy humor, but there were plenty of laughs here and there. After that, there was a book signing in which I snagged a copy and got him to sign it. As well as a picture.

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Normally I usually don’t do photo-ops with famous people, especially since a picture in 2009 with a games journalist-turned-game designer looked painfully uncomfortable from his point of view. But I really couldn’t pass this one up, since it’s Ken freakin’ Jennings. Afterwards I hopped on a train and went home — it was pretty late, and I’m usually not out and about at night.

I don’t really give myself time to read books, but I’ll likely read Because I Said So! in the near future and maybe write about it. We shall see.

Football.

So yesterday, me, my dad, my aunt visiting from Las Vegas, my uncle and my cousins piled into a rental van and drove from Portland, OR to Seattle, WA for the football game in CenturyLink field. The Seattle Seahawks vs. the Green Bay Packers. I’ve to sporting events in the past: A few Portland Trail Blazer games, a Mariners game in middle school, even a minor league game in Wisconsin a couple years ago, but never to a football game. So this was going to be a fun experience.

Outside of my aunt, everybody, including me, was wearing some form of Packers garb. A shirt, a jersey of Clay Matthews or other supporting members of the team, all that jazz. Our family are Packers fans, we got team shirts, a blanket when they won Super Bowl XXXI, even a big Packers bobblehead that features a soundbite of the Hank Williams Jr. Monday Night Football theme that’s kinda funny now. Personally, I like both teams for different reasons: Green Bay because of their skill and past victories, Seattle because they’re the closest football team, but I had my Packers Super Bowl victory shirt from a year or two ago for the game.

We arrived in Seattle around 3:00, and didn’t take long to get through the large crowd and get inside. Unfortunately we were in the nosebleed section, where we walked up lots of stairs. It was a good view of the field from above, but somewhat of a pain to go up and down in to get to the restrooms or snack bars.  Regardless, we snagged some drinks and snacks — $10 for fries and a root beer? Ridiculous — and sat down for kickoff around 5:30.

It was interesting to see the pre-game events where they grab audience members to win prizes, which I’ve seen in the other sporting events I went to. They also had sponsor offers if certain events happened at the game. For instance, if the Seahawks had 3 QB sacks in the game, you could show your ticket stub at a Jack-in-the-Box for a free Jumbo Jack. Funny enough, we walked by the Jack-in-the-Box after the game to see it was closed for the night. Clearly they didn’t want thousands of Seahawks fans flooding the place, and I couldn’t blame them.

Now, if you follow football in any capacity, you may have heard about the bad judgement call by the referees at the end of the game, where they gave the Seahawks the win despite it being an interception/safety by the Packers. Alas, we really couldn’t see it from up there, but when I saw it when I got back, I have to agree: it’s quite bullshit that they decided to stick with the call, even after the fact when they said “Yeah it’s true, it should be a safety; but we ain’t changing the results.” Despite that and getting a few words of encouragement from random Packers and Seahawks fans, we all piled up in the car and got home around 1:30AM.

Would I do it again? Certainly. It’s infinitely better than watching it at home, though it can be deafening to those who aren’t used to the loud noise, like me.

Me, the tour guide.

Oh hey, I’m not quite dead. My apologies, there hasn’t been much going on in my world to really justify posting a blog article. Unless people wanna know what I bought off Steam’s recent Summer Sale. (Saints Row: The Third, PAYDAY: The Heist and Just Cause 2. total cost of about $21.) But stuff did happen a few days ago, so here we go.

I found out my friend Elizabeth was briefly visiting town for OSCON, to accept an award. Elizabeth and I have known each other online for about a decade, starting with an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 chatroom back in its heyday. (I still keep up with a few friends from that chat every now and then.) When I found out she was visiting, I was excited to finally get to meet her in person. So we met on Saturday morning and went to a few travel spots. My apologies for no pictures this time ’round, I only took one due to the poor quality of my phone.

First was a Rogue Ales restaurant in downtown. I’m not a beer drinker (most of them have a strong bitter taste I’m not used to), but she wanted to check this place out. We both got a sampler tray of beers, which were all pretty good despite some of them being a little strong. After a little cajoling afterwards, we hopped on the MAX train to go to the Oregon Zoo. I’ve seen the zoo many times but never actually been to it, so it was a unique experience, at least. Most of the animals were in hiding due to the heat (it was about late 80s or so), but what we did see was pretty darn cool. At one point we bought tickets for a train, but realized the trip would take too long and we were kinda pressed for time, so we didn’t get to do that. Maybe next time when it’s not as hot.

Granted, during the whole zoo trip I was kinda exhausted and worn out, though I didn’t say a word because I thought it would’ve been rude to complain. After all, I’m not a kid, I’m a grown-ass man. Despite the heat it was a cool experience and I wouldn’t mind going again someday.

Afterwards, we head back downtown and wait for another internet friend of ours to meet up. However, by the time he showed up it was 4:30PM, and she had to get on a plane in an hour or two, so we couldn’t catch an early dinner. I said my hellos and goodbyes, then headed back towards home, where I bumped into another friend on the way there, as we conversed on the way home.

It wasn’t until the following day did I realize that this wouldn’t have occurred without the internet. I know people are bound to say the internet rots your brain and all that goofy jazz, but I wouldn’t have as many friends in this world had I not discovered it. The internet made this more possible for me, and I am grateful for it.

I hope the next time Elizabeth comes in town that it’s for more than a day, there’s a lot of interesting locales in downtown Portland alone, and that’s not even including stuff like Forest Park and the rest of Washington Park we didn’t see. Even Lloyd Center is an interesting tourist attraction. :P

My issues.

I crossposted this to my old Livejournal, because I felt like writing an entry there. But then I realized it’d be helpful to post it in both my old and new blogs, for anyone who cares.

I will say with all honesty that Livejournal has been completely phased out of my life for the past year and a half. I never check it, and most of the people I knew on it have since abandoned it for greener pastures, usually of the Facebook/Twitter/Google+ variety. I’m on all three and check them almost hourly.

When I placed a link to my new blog spot on WordPress, it was more for me to end a chapter of my internet life and start a new one. Plus Livejournal is a remnant of the past, a past that at times I’d love to forget because of stuff I’ve written about myself on there — relationship problems in high school, personal problems, posts that are embarrassing in retrospect — is less than stellar. It’s of a past that still haunts me to this day.

Starting this WordPress blog was me wanting to start anew, to forget the past. Writing stuff about TV shows, suggestions from my internet colleagues, and eventually writing about other stuff I like. Most of the short entries I wrote on LJ are almost perfect Twitter fodder these days. Everything else usually appears on the WP blog because the things I find are interesting enough to write about. I even started a new WordPress blog dedicated solely to goofy gaming stuff, because I felt there wasn’t a big field for such stuff.

The only thing I worry about is failure. Unfortunately, I keep thinking that I have failed. Failed as a writer, as a humorist, and more importantly, as a person. Let’s put it this way: In my father’s 55+ years he’s been on this planet, he went through many personal turmoils but eventually persevered as one of the most important contract estimators in shipyards in the Pacific Northwest for over 25 years. I turned 26 about two weeks ago and I’m still a High School graduate who’s never had a job. I even dropped out of community college. I partially blame it due to laziness but also because of reluctance.

I want to “feign independence” so to speak — have a job/career, a place of my own to live in, and a steady income — but I feel like I’m not quite “ready.” I have to second-guess everything because I’m convinced once I make a choice it cannot be taken back, and if it’s the “wrong choice” it leads to “failure.” It doesn’t help that there are times where I say something and it doesn’t come out right, leading to a humorous but unintended outcome that sticks with me too much. I hesitate because I want it to sound “right.” I don’t want to make a mistake.

This also applies to my writing. There are times where I’ve gone “What the fuck was I thinking writing this?”, subsequently rewriting almost everything I had written so that it sounded like I wasn’t a babbling retard mashing on a keyboard. Or outright not posting it anywhere. There’s times where I’ve written comments and then removed them instead of posting them, for fear of how the person may react. It’s because of misinterpretation. One time I pissed off a high school friend on LJ because I made a sarcastic comment about what to do with her boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, trying to use an in-joke from a completely different community. Needless to say she didn’t like that very much. It’s stuff like that makes me go “No, no, can’t say that” and end up deleting stuff I say before I even consider posting it.

This is one of the things I don’t mention much on the internet outside of a handful of people I know and trust. The last times I mentioned stuff like this, I was called an “emo kid” and an “ungrateful cunt.” That’s why I never mention it on the blog, and barely mention it on Twitter or the other social media sites. There are times where it’s justified to act that way, but when I even slip up on simple things and get mocked for it, I can’t help but hide my head under a pillow. I’m one of those emotional people, you see.

Needless to say, my life has been less than satisfactory. And it’s my own damn fault. Not anyone else’s. I think I need to see a therapist.

You Found a Secret Area!

Okay, maybe this isn’t a secret, but I’m plugging my brand new blog called “You Found a Secret Area!”. You can find it at http://youfoundasecret.wordpress.com/. It’s a site about the obscure and goofy aspects of video games. Wanted to find out about terrible budget PC games? Want to find interesting game mods for your favorite video games? Want to reminisce about the horrors of MTV2′s Video Mods? That’s where you go to find that stuff.

I actually started this about a few days ago but wanted to hold off on the launch until I had a good amount of content, and I think this is good enough. Give me your feedback on the site so I know if there’s anything to improve or write about. Normal blog stuff continues in a few days, I just wanted to plug this baby.

Game shows and gaming the system.

Game shows are a fascinating thing to me. Ever since I watched those huge 6-to-8 hour blocks of game shows back on USA before they became “The Law and Order: SVU Network,” I’ve always loved them. Jenn Frank wrote a wonderful article on Infinite Lives about gaming the system. While largely about gaming in general, she mentions Roger Craig and his history from being a computer scientist to Jeopardy! champion, even mentioning his system on choosing subjects and categories. J.P. Grant wrote a fantastic response to her article about that incident on The Price is Right where somebody made a perfect bid on the showcases, only to find out that a former contestant gave him the exact price. (Interestingly enough, Ted, the guy who gave him the exact bid, later went on Price is Right fan site golden-road.net the day that it aired, slightly bragging about him giving the perfect bid.) These two articles made me think about the other ways game shows have been used to “game” the system.

Before I continue, I recommend you read Frank’s original article on Infinite Lives first, as well as J.P. Grant’s response that mentions the Price is Right incident. They’re both great reads.

One immediate thought of “gaming the system” on a game show came to a lesser-known example: A man by the name of Neil Bines appeared on the short-lived NBC game show Caesar’s Challenge around 1993. Caesar’s Challenge was an anagram game: A word of 7-9 letters appeared scrambled. Correctly answering a trivia question gave you a choice of a letter to place in the right spot. The player then had to guess what the word is, based on what letters are in place and the category associated with it. One of the letters was also designated “the lucky slot,” choosing the letter that fell into the lucky slot gave a chance for a player to win a jackpot that started at $500 each day and increased by $500 for each word it went unclaimed. Bines gamed the system by choosing the letter that’d go in the lucky slot, correctly guess the word, win upwards of $1,000-$2,000 for each successfully guessed word.

It’s more interesting during the bonus round. Letter balls rolled around in a cage and were chosen one letter at a time until a certifiable nine-letter word could be formed with those letters. The winner would then place one letter — more if they were a returning champion — and have 10 seconds to solve the word. Successfully solving it won you a car and retired you from the show. Naturally, Bines pulled it off. He walked away with over $38,700 in cash and prizes in a single day. Knowing his way around anagrams made him a big money winner on a simple little show. It’s a really fascinating watch, however the only video to surface is a highlight reel presumably by Bines or a friend of his.

There’s another one involving an 80s game show called “Wipeout.” (Not to be confused with the current game show with the big balls.) In the bonus round, a player had to choose six correct answers out of twelve to win a car. The player had 60 seconds to choose six of the answers they thought were correct, hit a button, and find out how many they have right. If they had all six, the car was theirs. This guy used a system of hitting six in a certain pattern, regardless of whether or not they were actually correct. He’d find out how many he had, go back and change only one, and either change it back if the number was lower or move on to the next one if it was higher. Note this wasn’t always foolproof, this guy was lucky they chose the six right answers in the right pattern. Likely if somebody tried the same strategy it wouldn’t be as perfect as this guy did it.

The last one is the famed incident on Press Your Luck featuring Michael Larson. Larson, a former ice cream truck driver, found out that the “random” board patterns on the giant board were actually predetermined, thus giving him an edge by knowing exactly when to hit the button and stop the board, on two important spaces that gave cash and an additional spin at the board. He ended up amassing $110,237, a staggering amount of cash in 1984. As a result, the producers were unsure if it was fixed or just dumb luck. They aired the episode in two parts, complete with host Peter Tomarken giving an interstitial between the two parts. Once Larson got the money however, he continued to scheme and scheme. One incident was him taking out all his money in $1 bills just to match a certain code on the bill that would award him a trip. With several bags of money in the house, someone broke in and robbed him of about $40,000. Years later, Larson got involved in illegal lotteries and thus was on the run from the IRS and the FBI. Larson died of throat cancer in 1999.

Larson’s trickery ties in very much to Frank’s article talking about “losing” the system. Larson thought he could get away with making more money after winning over $100,000. Unfortunately he lost the game when he tried again and subsequently was a fugitive of the law as a result. The episode where the incident occurs is an exciting moment to watch, but to know what happens afterwards makes it a depressing tale. Instead of a man that could be mentioned in a game show legacy in a positive light, he ends up being no better than the cheaters that Frank mentioned.

There are probably countless other incidents in game shows of people gaming the system, such as Charles Ingram, but I think what I’ve mentioned is enough. It’s really interesting to see people attempt gaming the system on a game show, and even find ways to master it. Hell, I own two books — “How to beat the Wheel of Fortune” and “How to get on Jeopardy! and Win” — that talk about professional game strategies for those respective shows. Despite the simplicity of game shows today, there is a way to use them to your advantage and basically “master” the game. But I think it’s more fun when somebody wins a car on The Price is Right by blind luck. That’s more interesting than somebody making that exact bid.

Shop finds 12/30/11: The last finds of 2011, and a strange curiosity.

Alright, so the last time I did a Shop Finds on WordPress was several months back. Since then I was posting them on Tumblr because they were relatively small finds — Blur and Singularity for $7 at the same Goodwill on two separate occasions — but I don’t think that’s panning out so I’m gonna lump them back here. Plus what I got for this occasion is too large for Tumblr.

Game haul 12/30/11 - complete

Here’s the whole kit and caboodle. Two magazines and three games. Well, technically three games, I’ll explain in a second.

Game haul 12/30/11 - Magazines

First, the magazines. One is a recent issue of PlayStation: The Official Magazine (PTOM) from October, covering Batman: Arkham City (the RAGE picture shown is an advertisement). I got this because it was dirt cheap (50 cents!) and it was the fiftieth issue of PTOM. Technically the actual issue number is much higher, they used to be known as “PSM: Unofficial PlayStation Magazine” to distinguish themselves from the original Official PlayStation Magazine that Ziff-Davis ran a few years back. But when they got renamed to PTOM, the issue numbers reset, so I’m guessing this is the 280-ish issue of the magazine.

The other is Official Xbox Magazine (OXM) from September 2007. Talking about the then-unannounced Grand Theft Auto IV, as well as a comparison of the hotly contested music game battle of 2007: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock vs Rock Band. Again, more for nostalgia’s sake, and this was after I stopped buying these randomly around 2006. This was the cheaper of the two, it was also 50 cents, but the thrift store had a sale where anything with a white tag was 75% off, so it was like 12 cents.

Game haul 12/30/11 - Games

Now the three games. First up is Hexen, which is a Raven Software action game on the Doom engine. Originally billed as a sequel to Heretic — until they actually made Heretic II anyway — it was different in that it was a hub-based game where you went back and forth between various areas, rather than just going through each level one at a time like Doom did. I got Hexen II several years ago and I honestly couldn’t play much of that, so I’m hoping the original is better.

Next is  WWII Iwo Jima. Famous internet website Something Awful dot com covered a game similar to this called WWII Normandy, presumably by the same developer. Since the guy who reviewed Normandy thought it was a steaming turd, I bet Iwo Jima isn’t any better. I’ll be surprised if it even runs on my Vista box.

The last one is the real interesting one of the lot. The spine calls it Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3 Companion Demo Disc. Featured are demos to Rainbow Six 3 (sans the “Raven Shield” subtitle the PC version had), Ghost Recon, Ghost Recon: Island Thunder and Splinter Cell. The demos aren’t the appealing part of it. It’s that the bottom of the cover mentions “new missions for Ghost Recon Island Thunder and Splinter Cell.”

Back in the days before we were downloading digital games through our 360s and PS3s, downloadable content for games on the PS2 and Xbox was very scarce and usually required demo discs or other assorted means to acquire these since not everybody had high-speed internet (some still don’t!). The original Splinter Cell came with three additional downloadable missions available for the campaign mode. These were not available on the PS2 and Gamecube versions (although the PS2 version did get a unique mission not available in the other versions), and the PC version only got it by special means. Since Microsoft shut down the original Xbox Live in 2010, all the original Xbox DLC is now lost to the bowels of time, barring any that they released in disc bundles like this. Since this happened, there was only 3 ways to play these bonus missions:

  • Hope to god you downloaded them onto your original Xbox (or 360) before the service shut down
  • Find a copy of the Collector’s Edition of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory for the PC, which had a special 1.3 patch that reinstated the missions for the PC Splinter Cell
  • This companion demo disc.

Of course, I could be wrong and this may require Xbox Live to work, but I don’t have Splinter Cell on the Xbox to check. That’s gonna be something I’ll have to look into soon. (EDIT JUNE 27: And I did, a few months later. You find the entry here, on my other blog.)

That’s it. This is probably the last shop finds of 2011, and I hope to find more goodies in 2012.

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