Gaming With A Cause: Spent

Today’s Game of the Week relates to recent topics that I’ve discussed on Gastrogamer. If readers will remember my admiration of Jane McGonigal, then you’ll see why I think this game would fit fondly into her game design forte. McGonigal is all about the development of humanity through gaming, and Spent gives a player to experience a part of the human society that I think sometimes we can overlook. Spent was developed by the Urban Ministries of Durham and a company called McKinney. Urban Ministries of Durham help in serving homeless shelters and providing for food for impoverished families in Durham, NC. The goal of Spent is to give players a chance to see if they can deal with the same hardships that many people go through daily.

Can you live for a month on 1000 dollars?

The game is pretty simplistic as far as mechanics go. The game only requires a mouse click to choose options, but what makes this game unique is that each choice you make is important to your survival and completion of the game. You log on and immediately you are thrown into an interface that challenges you with a premise:

“Urban Ministries of Durham serves over 6,000 people a year. But you’d never need help would you?”

“PROVE IT!”

The immediate human response that we get when challenged is to prove to others, as well as ourselves, that we can do the scenario that’s been posed to us. Spent forces the player to be in the position of an alternate scenario as if it was their own life. Each decision you make is met with trivia that expresses the hardships of low-income families. This game touched me emotionally, because it gives life a different perspective and makes you value every humbling reward of your life. You value your families successes, your financial security, your insurance, etc. You learn to appreciate your own life as you play through this game. This is why I recommend at least viewing it.

People often need aid from others, thus the Facebook attachments to the game, provide an even more realistic view to this simplistic game. Everyone, on occasion, requires the need to lean on other people for assistance. This game teaches us that we can’t always rely on ourselves to make it through our struggles, but sometimes we need to look to our friends and family for aid. It really opens up our eyes to the value of friendship and love and how hardships can bring individuals together.

I think the best portion of this game was the music though, because it gives a foreboding suspense to every decision you make throughout the game. This game is enlightening and gives an eye-opening experience that I feel like movies and television can’t even begin to grasp. Movies and television only allow us to visually experience a scenario, but given a game that puts us in the position of poverty, Spent gives us an even deeper understanding of the seriousness of our financial crisis and poverty.

I recommend this game, because games like this give us a deeper view of the world going on around us. It may seem like a depressing, dark, and foreboding game, but overall, the emotional impact of the gameplay is worth taking the challenge for. You can learn more about the Urban Ministries of Durham here:

http://www.umdurham.org/

Hopefully more games like this will come to fruition in the future, so that we can clearly see challenges that happen every day in our human society. We may sit at home and feel so secure, but in an instant, anyone can become unemployed, homeless, or living paycheck to paycheck. I feel so passionate about this movement, especially since the designers come from an area close to where I grew up. I would love to see more games discuss real human difficulties.

Please don’t give me more zombie apocalypses, or space warfare. These games are unrealistic and give me, and many players, fantasy realms to escape our dire realities from. If we spent more time as designers focusing on human hardships, relationships, and struggles ; then perhaps we can find cures, aid, and suggestions for some of our societies biggest problems. How many hit-points does my orc’s armor have in World of Warcraft? – I pray is not someone’s end-all-be-all lifetime concern for this world. If so, I really hope they consider the many struggles others are going about life with before they see their lack of proficient raiding armor as “a struggle.”

Now does that mean that all games should be ultra-realistic and I want to see all fantasy games destroyed? No, not at all, but I think a lot of games can take a page out of Spent’s playbook by giving players problems to solve and decisions to make. Bioware, Blizzard, and many MMO companies have been good at trying to implement these aspects into their games, but the truth is, they’re only aiding in solving fantasy problems.Where is the game where our fantasy hero is a person, not some fantasy Spartan, or some inhuman fantasy character who can tinker his, or her, way out of everything?

I want to feel like my choices in a game make a difference, teach me something that I wouldn’t have learned without playing it, give me a deeper understanding of the world around me. These are the types of games I look forward to going forward in the history of our world, and I believe that Spent is only a small trinket of gaming goodness that can be used to create even more meaningful and commanding experiences for us to learn from as human beings.

Enjoy folks! – and here’s your question: Can you Prove It?

http://playspent.org/

Tech Talk: Gastronomical Opinion: The Used Game Controversy

Well, here we are, in a world populated by games of all shapes and sizes from apps to PC mods – all of them are relevant and fun, but there’s an eerie foreboding option rearing it’s ugly head lately. This option comes in the form of two aspects: Online passes and the inability to play used games. Now, why in the world does this matter to us gamers? Well, I see this as a Gastronomical Opinion moment, and thus, I begin:

I’m all for gaming companies having to make money, honestly, I understand the inner workings of finance when it comes to the game industry. You have developers, publishers, licensers, console companies, manufacturers, and retail sellers all looking to be in on a piece of the gaming action. 60 dollars doesn’t seem like a ton, when we look at how the finances are divvied up. Here’s my problem though, I’m not opposed to game prices [ Alright, maybe a little, if Steam can make it happen you can too. ] but I’m opposed to the loss of a vital gaming staple: The used game market.

IGN.com released a personal debate via their podcast on the issue, that was posed via a rumor that the rumored upcoming  “XBox 720” would eliminate the ability to play used games upon it’s console, also Kotaku.com released an article on the subject:

http://games.ign.com/articles/121/1217464p1.html

http://kotaku.com/5879439/why-an-xbox-with-anti+used-games-tech-makes-perfect-sense

This, to me, makes absolutely no sense at all, same as how I felt when PS3 decided that the PS3 “Slims” and upgraded versions would take out backwards compatibility. Why, oh why, would you proceed to alienate your core players, your supporters, by altering your hardware to be inefficient to what your consumers desire? It makes no sense, and I hope to the sweet Lord that Nintendo has mercy on us with the upcoming Wii U and takes note that gamers like two things: Convenience and Compatibility. They don’t want to have to keep 5 consoles in their home, nor can they afford it in this economy [ unless they’re collectors and have money to burn.]

Logically, it doesn’t seem that Microsoft would do this. The retail companies carrying their games would ultimately drop their ties with the massive platform of Microsoft. This would be a horrendous notion and it would kill their profit completely because, if retailers refused to carry games due to this, then they’d have an even deeper loss of revenue. The games market is a huge profit business, and unfortunately in our industry, the market is expensive to create. This is a sad killing blow to most consumers, due to the fact that this economy has sucked a lot of expendable revenue that typical gamers use throughout the year to purchase new games out of their unfortunate pockets.

I have tons of used games that I have purchased over the years, and granted, I’m primarily a Playstation user, but I still don’t think this will float – nor do I want it. I’m vehemently opposed to this. I’m a huge indie supporter and I’m sorry if it seems like I’m ranting, but it’s just confusingly offensive to think that a massive corporation would screw their fans over with a massive used-game overhaul. Microsoft, please be nice to your fellow gamer. We’ve been nice to you with all of the success of Halo and Gears of War – why in the world would you do this?! Here’s a list of functions I suggest that ALL consoles take into consideration as this used game debate concludes:

1. Backwards Compatibility:

Seriously? Playstation destroyed this lovely convenience to many gamers, when they developed the new PS3 Slims. This is ridiculous and, sure I have my original PS2 and PS, but why should I have to toss my old games because it’s a revenue savvy for you? I’m an avid gamer, and hopefully designer, and so I understand the need for funds – but do you consider that players own old games from past consoles? Backwards Compatibility is a must have, and it helps so much for players like myself, who have a plethora of games on different consoles. I, and I’m sure others, don’t want to have to pay ___ amount of dollars for a game I already own to be digitally downloaded.

2. Streaming Games:

I was thinking about this today, that with all of the success with Netflix, why in the world hasn’t the gaming industry caught on with streaming media? Sure. We have some free-to-play downloadable games out there: Lord of the Rings: War In The North, DC Universe Online – but there are days where I go onto the console services and witness that I have to pay ___ dollars to play a great vintage game. Now I’m not asking for game developers, publishers, and console families to stream new and modern games, but I’m sure that the vintage games: Mega Man, Mario, Capcom’s Street Fighter, etc. These vintage staples that I love could probably be easily streamed via a service. The ball is in your court though console families, take it into consideration please.

3. Touch-based gaming

Now this is something that I’m fond of, because at Gastrogamer, I’m concerned with accessibility of games. Nintendo seems to have gotten a jump on you Playstation and Microsoft – as usual. They’ve dropped the gauntlet of the Wii U. A touchscreen peripheral which will, hopefully, expand the accessibility of their games beyond what it used to. I would love to see this technology implemented into the future of games. Microsoft you’re already discussing the capabilities of a Kinect 2, why not see what sort of other accessibility applications you can grab from it?

I’ve clearly witnessed that Mass Effect 3’s audio command program is a possible game changer. Awesome. You did it, now go further. You’ve given deaf gamers an ability to play the game, but remember that you’ll probably want to include subtitles into games if this is going to happen. I’m by no means a troll looking to call out my fellow companies and rant about what I hate. I love a lot of the decisions that are being made, but what needs to be focused on is accessibility. Accessibility and technology both physically and financially. If you conquer all of these portions:

You’ll have a happy gamer! These are my two cents – use them as you will.

Inspirational Gamers of the Week: Jordan Verner & Roy Williams

Good morning folks! My apologizes for taking a little downtime from updating the site. I’ve caught a bit of a bug, and thus, it’s been slowing my writing time down. With that being said though, let me introduce you to a wonderfully heartwarming story I’ve found.

Now this event occurred almost two years ago, but to me, the meaning behind it is still relevant. Today’s Inspirational Gamer of the Week is actually a culmination of two people: Jordan Verner; a blind gamer from Ontario, Canada; and Roy Williams; a fellow gamer who lent a hand to Jordan’s gaming needs.

This story touched me so much that I felt I just had to post about it, even if the event is old, the story is still filled with emotional connection. Jordan expressed his desires to complete the Nintendo game ” Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time“, arguably one of the best in the vast saga of Zelda lore. Jordan posted out to the world, via Skype, his overwhelming desire to receive help beating this game, and low and behold, an individual miles away from him took it upon himself to help Jordan beat the game. How was this accomplished?

Well Roy went about writing a transcript for Jordan with the aid of some friends and it basically entailed every timed move of the game, every treasure chest, every turn of a joystick, every sound cue, everything was detailed down to the n-th degree.

This is a story that I’m ecstatic about, because it shows that there are gamers out there who do appreciate the desires of gamers with disabilities. They recognize a players limitations, and instead of chastising them for being different, wish to aid them in succeeding. Roy and Jordan are a true example of the friendship and camaraderie that the gaming universe can have. The online universe isn’t filled with strictly twelve year old potty-mouth tools who only want to own you within a game just so they can brag to their friends like some troll on Youtube.

Every once in a while you’ll find wonderful cases like this – where one gamer reaches out to another so that an impaired player can receive the same amount of satisfaction and accomplishment as any abled player could. I think, especially now, that we need to look at these aspects as designers, not necessarily to promote games just for the blind, but to start thinking in a generous manner. We need so start examining the design of our games as a whole and ask ourselves: Who does this game cater to? – is our audience broad enough? How can we make it broader?

We should look to design games that give players the opportunity of compassion and love for their fellow gamer. Games that become accessible on multiple fronts, and games that can be shared and played by all people. Gaming is vastly becoming a premiere mix-multimedia that allows individuals to express their goals, beliefs, and ideas out to the world.

If Roy and Jordan can use Ocarina of Time to show and express the power of compassion and friendship, can’t we then use this knowledge going forward to help build games that provides that sense of teamwork and interconnection with our fellow man – regardless of the struggles and difficulties each of us have to overcome? We are all human, and for those of us who enjoy games, it’s a way for us to escape to a sense of accomplishment that we wouldn’t get anywhere else – so why shouldn’t it be able to empower us to share this feeling with everyone?

Thanks Roy and Jordan. Your story inspired me to keep aware of the different types of gamers I’m designing for, and you’ve given me faith in a loving, caring, and beautiful gaming society. Thanks again – and I hope others take your wonderful triumph to heart.

– Chad K.