Short attention span gaming for the minimalist

Last week I got tired of my usual games. There was a monster I just couldn’t defeat in Drakan, so I took a break from that. I could only play Counterstrike for an hour or so before my eyes started bugging out because my monitor is too small. My Sims family had stagnated because they couldn’t buy any more stuff and they had somehow alienated all their friends, and I wasn’t giving them the attention they were demanding from me (they’re worse than the cats!). I found myself playing Minesweeper for entertainment, but that quickly lost its appeal once I had high scores in every level. I needed to find something new to entertain myself with, so I went on a quest for the ultimate in short attention span internet gaming.

Long ago (well, actually four months ago) when my computer was a Pentium 100 and couldn’t handle most of the games on the market, I had to find alternative forms of entertainment. I had a small collection of classic games released on CD that would run fine on a 486, but I went through those relatively quickly. I also had a net connection… and that’s what saved me from playing Minesweeper until it got burned into my retinas. I became a master at finding java and shockwave games of every imaginable genre – short attention span gaming at its best. There are people online who have a lot of time on their hands, and use that time to entertain anyone who might be interested.

This past week was spent revisiting some of my old favorite sites and checking out new ones for games that I could play without having to download anything. Not everyone has a fast computer up to the standards of some of the new games on the shelf, so I tried to limit myself to games that I might have been able to play on my Pentium 100. The first site I visited was one that I first discovered in 1996, the year I ‘got connected’ – The Centre for the Easily Amused, or C*E*A*.

C*E*A* is basically a jumping point to other sites, and it’s always offered me minutes of entertainment with their lists of Sites that Do Stuff: Games, Random Silliness, and Short Attention Span Site of the Week. Within each category (and there are more than these three, these are just the ones that I visit most often) is a list of various forms of absolutely silly but generally amusing games, giving you amusement at the expense of celebrities, strange versions of classic arcade or paper games, quizzes, trivia challenges, and anything else that people have come up with and posted on their homepages somewhere. C*E*A* has too much for me to even try to describe it all… everything from links to the Alanis Morrissette Lyrics Generator to an Air Traffic Controller game, and whatever you can imagine in between. I can’t vouch for the quality of the games individually – you’ll find some gems, but they’ll be hiding in with plenty of complete time-wasters. Half of the entertainment I got from visiting the Centre for the Easily Amused was the chance I took clicking each link – that I could either be thoroughly amused by a site, or completely unimpressed. I’ve been going back to C*E*A* for four years now so they must know something…or it just proves that I’m easily amused.

When I tried to play a shockwave game, my computer was kind enough to let me know that I needed an updated version of the shockwave plugin. Logically, the next place I went on my quest for entertainment was the one that would supply me with that nifty plugin – Shockwave. It was there that I found retro heaven…also known as Frogger. It was half an hour before I tore myself away from Frogger and took a look at the other games available on the site, and I was impressed. Classic arcade games that I hadn’t seen since my Atari days, sports games, card games, adventure games, game shows, jigsaw puzzles, I didn’t know where to start once I’d got Frogger out of my system. I drifted from game to game, sampling them all like a trip through the food department at Costco on a Saturday afternoon. Shockwave had something for every mood I could possibly be in, and more.

My next voyage in the quest for cheap gaming took me interactive. I wanted to be social and play against other people, so I went looking for something simple – card games. It was Yahoo! Games that came to my aid. Armed with my Yahoo login name I entered the social lounge for Euchre and sat down at a table that looked like it needed a fourth player. Not having played Euchre since college, I had to relearn the rules, but it wasn’t long before I was playing as well as I had back in the college cafeteria (which isn’t necessarily saying I was good in college…) After a few nights, I phoned my mother in Vancouver and asked her if she wanted to play a game of Euchre with me. Her response? “What’s Euchre?” So, over the phone and online, I dragged her into the games lounge, sat her at a table across from me (across the country), set up a couple of Robots to play against, and taught her how to play. I think after about an hour and a half of it, she was getting the idea, but I haven’t played her since… (*note to self, email mom a request for a game sometime soon – see if she remembers how to play, or if I traumatized her for life…)

Euchre isn’t the only game at Yahoo! Games, though. Blackjack, bridge, poker, and go fish are some of the other card games they have, as well as crossword puzzles (great for breaks at work), chess, checkers, go, mahjong, and the incredibly addictive (or so I’m told, I’m afraid to try a game when a friend tells me that they’re already addicted to it…) Yahoo! Towers. There’s more, but I’ll stop listing them off now. All of the games I tried were Java based. And I thought Yahoo was just a search engine…

It’s a known fact among my friends that I am a wellspring of useless information, so my next experience quite simply had to be trivial. I looked for a web-based version of my favourite restaurant trivia game, NTN trivia, and was rewarded with BuzzTime. To my delight, it was the same as NTN from the restaurants, only online, and you played against people online instead of the ones sitting at the other tables. The site isn’t done yet though, there are only a few sample games to try out, so I’ll have to wait and see what else they have when they launch. Until then, there’s always the old standby, the You Don’t Know Jack netshow at Bezerk – this site also hosts Acrophobia (fun with acronyms!), Get The Picture, and Cosmic Consensus. I ran out of time before I could try Get the Picture and Cosmic Consensus (okay, I admit it, I fell asleep at the keyboard), but I’m going back to try them this weekend because they looked like fun. For the Bezerk games you need to download some stuff and install it, so make sure you’ve got hard drive space – I didn’t, and didn’t realize it until I was 3/4 of the way through downloading.

And so it was that I had a week of minimalist gaming. Great fun was had by all (well, by me anyhow), and I found some entertaining sites for when I’m sick of the games I own, am between paychecks, or waiting endlessly for a much-anticipated game that keeps getting pushed back. Not only that, but I can play a lot of these games with one friend of mine who I never get to play games with, because she won’t complain about her computer not being good enough to deal with them! Of course, now she’s teaching me how to play (and subsequently getting me addicted to) a strategic card game called Sanctum… but that’s a story for another day.

The nice girl’s guide to gaming etiquette

One of the things that kept me from getting into multiplayer gaming for a long time was the way players treated each other. The utter lack of respect that people have for each other under the cover of anonymity appalled me, initially… and it still does. The fact that there were more insults flying around than at my family reunion picnic left me speechless and wanting nothing to do with the multiplayer gaming scene as a whole.

When I asked a friend of mine if she would want to play online games with people who insisted on being obnoxious, she replied, “I would definitely be discouraged. I would want to go somewhere where I could have fun. Not somewhere where I would get annoyed and frustrated. I would leave and try to find somewhere else to go – or just stop playing on-line in general.” Considering the state of most multiplayer gaming, I didn’t take that as a promising sign that she would be online playing in the next week. It took me a while to learn that the only way for me to enjoy these games was to learn how to deal with it myself. I had to face facts… the most vocal members of the multiplayer gaming world are the ones who love smack talk – taking frequent, nasty stabs at other players.

I started speculating on the origin of the term smack talk, but didn’t really find much info about it beyond articles pertaining to the social impact of it in gaming communities, and plenty of examples of it on gamer bulletin boards. It’s the nature of slang to adopt whatever meaning for words which is current and popular, however, so I suppose the origin isn’t really relevant. Let’s just accept that smack talk is, at this point in time, a sometimes frustrating and unfortunate part of multiplayer gaming. I’ve seen evidence of it in all genres of multiplayer games, from online euchre tournaments to trivia games to first person shooters. No game is completely devoid of it, they all seem to have it to some degree.

There are certainly times when it’s satisfying and fun to brag about your prowess at a game, or to throw a friendly taunt at someone you’ve just fragged. It’s when that taunting degrades to insults designed to make someone angry, accusations of cheating, or all around tasteless flaming of other players that it takes the fun out of the game. And games are supposed to be fun. That’s the concept behind playing them, last I checked, and that’s why we play them. I wondered what I could do to avoid that entire aspect of gaming, and realized that my options were either to deal with my own reactions somehow, or leave the game. I can’t hope to change the course of multiplayer gaming by myself, after all – that’s definitely a group effort. Not wanting to quit a game I enjoyed playing, I went on a quest to learn how to deal with my own reactions to smack talk, since that’s the only thing I have ultimate power over.

The first thing I did to try and keep myself from reacting to the insults that were being directed at me was take a close look at who they were coming from. Most often, the deliverer of the too-cool-for-you comments was portraying immaturity in every way imaginable – accusing someone who is a good player who continually beats them at the game of cheating, questioning a player’s parentage, whining and complaining about their connection speed, or your connection speed, taking stabs at your team if you have one, and so on.

I found that, with this sort of situation, there are a few basic options. If you want to play their game, egg them on some more and really get them riled up, call them kids – a lot of them seem to really hate that. If you’re more creative and can insult them intelligently it might confuse them, but be ready for retaliation from that because it will most likely just make you more of a target. If you’re up for the insult game and not taking it seriously, then by all means go ahead, although I don’t think that this really helps my personal campaign to put an end to smack talk, so I’m not 100% willing to sanction this particular method… but sometimes I’m having a bad day, and being polite just doesn’t cut it.

Another choice, and the advice I was most often given when I asked for it, is to ignore them completely. Don’t react, don’t respond, don’t even acknowledge their existence. They will get bored and find someone else to target, if they really need to have someone to bully so that they feel more powerful. I seem to remember my mother telling me to ignore bullies back in grade school, and it didn’t work then, but I think the effective difference is that the only way an online bully can know if they are bothering you is if you respond actively – getting angry and talking back to them – where in school at recess they could keep following you around and harassing you. Most of the bullies in public school grew up, though. I’m hoping to see the same in gaming communities.

It’s not always easy to ignore the insults and comments. The other night, I was playing against a guy who spent half of the game making comments about my complete lack of talent. He was right in saying that I wasn’t very good, but I’m still learning, and it took a lot of control for me not to respond emotionally – either by fighting back verbally (which, incidentally, I’m really not good at) or by quitting the game. I didn’t want to quit – I wanted to play and have fun – but he wasn’t making it a very fun environment for me. I was seeing red. I finally just ignored him entirely after yelling at my monitor for a couple of minutes, and enjoyed the rest of the game.

That said, not all taunting and teasing is totally out of line. Good-natured teasing between gamers is a social experience, and it’s part of the fun. Usually, the friendly taunts are balanced with compliments about other players or teams, which is far more satisfying than beating someone down. I would suggest taking each situation individually, since there are plenty of different ways to react, each one having it’s own consequences. Here are some examples and suggestions, if you have any more, feel free to add them.

The Nice Girl’s Guide to Gaming Etiquette
Types of situations:
Immature insults
Accusations of cheating
Attacks on your abilities
Reaction Positive consequences Negative consequences
Laugh it off. Laughter is good for the soul, and the person may start to like you or leave you alone if you’re laughing at yourself as well. No really serious negative consequences, to my knowledge, although there is potential to hurt someone else’s feelings if you’re laughing at them. (remember, this is a nice girl’s guide…)
Ignore Whoever is trying to bug you. They’ll get bored and find another target who will react, since you won’t. Potential for the insulter to find people to gang up on you with, if they’re really determined. Also, sometimes they will push the wrong (or right) buttons with you, and ignoring them becomes an ordeal.
“Eye for an eye”. Satisfying in the short term, and effective if you’re creative about it. Why bother lowering yourself to their level of immaturity?
Quit gaming. Never having to deal with immature gamers again. No more Gaming?? Are you Crazy???
Be nice.
Compliment them.
Shows your maturity, and might start a new trend in gaming – respect. This also makes an impression on other players who are annoyed by nasty insults. Impact of your maturity may well be lost on those who have none of their own.
Beat them at the game. Satisfaction of winning. If you gloat, you’re not being nice. They’ll know that you won without you telling them so 25 times over. If you aren’t that good at the game yet, keep playing, and you’ll get there.
Never start gaming in the first place. Never having to deal with immature gamers at all. No Gaming?? Ever?? Are you Crazy???

Smack talk isn’t going away in the foreseeable future, but there is hope: always remember that the nice people DO outnumber the obnoxious ones… they’re just not as vocal.

Forty-nine days to addiction

The first person shooter (or fps) is the bane of my existence. When Wolfenstein 3D was the coolest new game out there, I was the un-coolest kid I knew because I loathed it. The next big thing was Doom, and the only way I would play it was with ‘God mode’ on and full weapons and ammo. I avoided fps games for years before I tried Quake 3 Arena. I’m sure I would have enjoyed my experience with Q3 much more if I hadn’t freaked out, thrown the mouse across the desk to the floor where it came to rest on my cat’s sleeping body, and viciously hit alt-F4 until the computer was completely shut down. (I admit, I really should have been nicer to the computer – it wasn’t at fault, after all – and the cat didn’t even wake up.) I just couldn’t deal with the pressure. The game made me dizzy and my hand-eye co-ordination was less than impressive when I played in the first person perspective. Maybe, just maybe, I overreacted a touch, but I went for a walk on the beach to calm down, and decided to leave the world of first person shooters to my boyfriend Jay.

I think that would have been the end of my exploration into first person shooters, considering how traumatized I was by the Quake incident. That is, until I discovered Counterstrike, an online counter-terrorism modification for Half-life. This is how it happened…

Week One, Day 1 12:43 p.m.
Went to bed an hour ago listening to Jay play Counterstrike again. I think I was somewhere in that space between awake and asleep when I started seeing what I was hearing from his computer. I remember dreaming in Counterstrike at that point. Still don’t want to play though, too hard a game for me, and besides I hate first person shooters. Woke up and asked Jay to turn the sound down so I could sleep. I guess I’ll try again now.

Week One, Day 5 7:21 p.m.
Sat on the bed and watched Jay play Counterstrike for an hour or so. It looks interesting, and at least it’s team play instead of deathmatch. Oddly enough, I didn’t get all dizzy like I did when I tried to play Quake, so it’s less disorienting. I like the team aspect of it, even though half the time the team wasn’t listening. When they did listen, they won more… you’d think they’d learn from that. Oh well, what do I know – it’s not one of my games. I just watch.

Week Two, Day 12 5:15 p.m.
I watched Jay play a whole lot more Counterstrike this week. He’s really good at it. He plays it a lot though, so I guess he’s had time to get good at it. Still, if he’s any indication of regular Counterstrike players, then even if I did want to play I’d get myself blown away (fragged) within ten seconds of connecting. That is, if I wanted to play. But I don’t.

Week Five, Day 32 1:39 a.m.
Jay’s really good at this. I work in the morning, I should be sleeping instead of watching him play. Am I addicted to watching him play now? I kinda think maybe I want to play… but not really. Because I’d be really bad at it. I hate when I’m bad at a game. Jay thinks I should try anyhow, because everyone’s bad at it when they first start. Maybe I’ll think about it… I don’t know.

Week Six, Day 38 4:30 p.m.
I told Jay today that I maybe want to try playing. He got all excited and happy (“Woohoo, a game we can play online together!”) Now I just have to go buy my own copy of Half-life, so that we can both play at the same time.

Week Six, Day 39 5:48 p.m.
I went to the store this afternoon with a friend of mine. When I asked the salesguy about the game, he gave me that perplexed “why do you want that game?” look. Left the store annoyed and disappointed, since they didn’t have the version that I wanted anyhow. I’m also in the process of infiltrating Jay’s clan, Jedi With Guns, [JwG] for short. I just visit their IRC channel, I figure it can’t really hurt, it might even help when I start playing… you know, instead of ‘Gang up on the Newbie,’ they might actually show me some tactics (like how to buy a weapon, to start off with.) They seem to like me… they could just be humoring me because I’m Jay’s girlfriend, though.

Week Six, Day 40 7:02 p.m.
Staring at my computer, no Half-life, no Counterstrike. Getting frustrated and sick of waiting. Going to bed.

Week Six, Day 41 8:30 p.m.
Defragging my hard drive and finding space for Half-life. Ever notice how hypnotic watching a defrag actually is? When it’s done I going to install Half-life (finally) and the Counterstrike mod then I can start fragging instead of defragging. (yes, I know… that was a really bad pun. I apologize.)

Week Six, Day 42 3:26 a.m.
When I finally got Half-life and Counterstrike installed and was connected to a game server, it was midnight. After all the waiting and trying to get everything working, I decided to play for a little while instead of going to bed. That was over three hours ago… I think I lost track of time. Before I go to bed, here is the screenshot of my first game – my name is Zith. Congratulations go out to Scout-Sniper for being my first three frags (hmm… did he say something about wanting his name changed to protect the guilty?) and to Laughing Boy for being the first to frag me. It’s more fun when you know who you’re playing against, I’ve decided.

Week Seven, Day 45 11:30 p.m.
[insert profuse amounts of expletives here]
My sound card died tonight. Granted, it was an ancient 16 bit sound card, probably not even a brand name, and it had to go sometime… but tonight we have a clan match. Oh, Jay’s clan voted me into Jedi With Guns two days ago. I feel like the girl on stage playing tambourine who’s only there because she’s the lead singer’s girlfriend. They assure me I’m not, but I’m not entirely convinced, since I’m really bad at the game.

Week Eight, Day 49 3:43 a.m.
I took a few days off, since trying to play without a sound card was beyond frustrating – it’s a whole lot easier to locate the enemy when you can hear where they’re firing at you from. Unfortunately, the addiction has its tentacles attached to me, and I broke down tonight after watching Jay play for about five minutes (gotta love my willpower…) With only the echo of Jay’s computer telling me what was going on in his end of the game (more disorienting than helpful), I tried to play again. Considering the relative silence I was playing in, I don’t think I did too badly… I’ve actually improved since my first night playing. This isn’t saying I was good, rather, I’m far from good, perhaps somewhere below average. But I am better. It’s taken me half an hour after playing to wind down enough to get to sleep… this is better than working out!

I could tell you that I play games for the fun of it, and I wouldn’t be lying. I could also tell you that winning doesn’t matter… but then I would be lying. No matter how much I play for the enjoyment of it, the adrenaline rush and the challenge, there just isn’t much more satisfying than fragging someone who I know for a fact is a far better player than I am. I play against people who are good so that I will learn and play better. Jay happens to be among the best players I know. Some of our other clan mates are equally as good. Pretty much all of them are better at the game than I am… but they’ve been playing longer. And if I claim that it’s not a big deal if (when?) I get a better score than they do, then I’m lying through my teeth. I’m actually trying pretty hard not to gloat, because that’s bad form, and they’ll only get me back. (shh, don’t tell them I said that!)

Oh, wait… I’m a nice girl. I’m not supposed to be telling you that. I’m supposed to graciously accept when the other players are better than me, right?

I don’t think so. And the day my frags outnumber Jay’s, even if it only happens once, can’t be too far off… all I need is to regain my hearing (get a new sound card), and maybe get about 50 more frags per round and I’m on my way. It could be a long trip, but now that I’m in, I don’t think I’m able to get back out…. Oh, gotta run, we’ve got a clan match in 20 minutes and we’re discussing strategy on IRC before we play, and I haven’t played in over ten hours…