Welcome back to Level Grinding, RPGamer's news industry editorial column. For those readers new to this column, each month I cynically dissect the video game news stories I find most interesting and try to expand on their implications and industry relevance. This month, we'll be discussing the newly popular gamer trends of swatting and public shaming while also mulling over the importance of the Duke Nukem IP and the PlayStation Vita. It will bring joy to all the girls and boys.
In terms of personal updates, I've been too busy to even enjoy my off time. In fact, playing video games has almost started to look like a chore. Is anyone else drowning in games? Between new releases and an annoyingly large backlog, I've had to download an app just to track what games I'm playing and which I have left to complete. I have honestly never had such contempt for myself as a gamer. Let me know if you're in the same boat.
Oh, and it's my birthday today. Best believe I feel old.
As always, we'll be starting with some interesting videos I've been keen to share with you:
Were you a fan of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon when it came out? Do you like neon, robots, Kung Fu, and wicked rad synth-inspired soundtracks? You'll probably love KUNG FURY. It was Kickstarted not that long ago and is all kinds of ridiculousness. The full movie (above) is available for free on YouTube.
Treesicle is a YouTube channel that I've only recently found and fallen in love with. They producers run a series called "The Story You Never Knew" that breaks down the origins and motivations of your favorite video game characters. This is an in-depth video chronicling the life of the Witcher himself, Geralt of Rivia.
Last week a seventeen year old British Columbian gamer admitted to 23 counts of extortion, public mischief, and criminal harassment. His weapon of harassment was swatting, a variety of hoaxing that has grown popular as of late. Basically, someone contacts emergency services, such as 911, and tricks them into dispatching emergency response based on a false report of a critical incident. The services dispatched, often police, bomb squads or SWAT units, then show up on the doorstep of the victims of this hoaxing and typically will spend hours interrogating the victim(s) and their family while also often searching the premises for drugs, explosives, and/or weaponry.
Swatting has been used against fellow gamers over in-game disputes, video game activists, politicians, and (of course) unpopular journalists and developers. I have read over thirty accounts of swatting and in each case the victim seems to be somewhat traumatized by local or federal law enforcement aiming guns at their parents, siblings, children, and even neighbors. Not to mention having every element of their personal and professional lives being carefully examined to determine if they are a threat to public safety. In short, this activity has negatively impacted the lives of many people and it reflects poorly on gamers in general.
In the case of the seventeen year old, the media has been given more credence to run with the narrative that gamers are creepy, socially inept people who don't know how to handle rejection. During a hearing last week the prosecutor in his case detailed the gamer's lengthy harassment of numerous women who happened to play League of Legends. The teen would attempt to make contact with these women, and when his advances were met negatively would seek retribution. He determined the home addresses of each girl's family, faked pizza orders to their houses, tried to shut down their internet, publicly doxxed the family members (including posting their credit card information online), hacked their social accounts and emails, signed them up for expensive phone contracts, and called in a number of phony crisis situations to the police. One woman in Arizona experienced so much harassment that she dropped a semester at university due to the trauma of dealing with her father and infant son being removed from her home at gunpoint by a SWAT team.
It's obvious that we should be pissed at this teenager and all swatters like him, but the fact that they are so closely associated with the online gaming crowd does a great disservice to all of us. We gamers get lumped into the same box as this abusive individual and the swatters he associates with. It perpetuates the myth that we are basement dwelling misogynists who would prefer to weaponize the internet rather than calmly resolve disputes or move past rejection. So, how to we change that narrative? I suspect that asking them kindly to stop wouldn't work. What we should do is press our federal agencies for tougher laws on swatters and repercussions for their activities to ensure that these people are unable to access video games or the internet in the future. After all, that's what you do when a child acts up; you take their toys away.
Approximately 30,000 people have been banned form Daybreak's H1Z1 for cheating. Daybreak president John Smedley tweeted some choice words aimed at in-game cheaters. "Want to get rid of the banned people's stuff. Purge their existence." He went on to call them "cockroaches" and to suggest that their repercussions will be relentless and public. Basically, that anyone shooting through walls, using aimbots or instant kill weapons, removing gun recoil or fall damage will lose all access to the game. Well, unless they are willing to apologize — publically.
Last week, Smedley announced that the correct way to regain access to the game was not admitting to your actions in an email sent to customer service or a tweet directed to him. It was to post a public video on YouTube and then email him the link. Of all those banned only three (3) individuals have been allowed to rejoin the H1Z1 community, and it looks as though one of them is about to get banned again for since making the video private. It's an interesting approach to dealing with people who cheat the system, but I don't stand by it and neither should you.
I believe that everyone should be accountable for their actions, but public shaming? I don't know if I can get behind something that is so socially dangerous and irresponsible. Public humiliations, like the kind Daybreak has formally endorsed, often incite mob justice among spectators. It's not uncommon to see groups of people that would have otherwise ignored the situation doxxing the people involved or bullying them as a form of collective social justice. There is no regulation to protect them, there is no grey zone as far as their critics are concerned, and the people being humiliated are often treated as though they are sub-humans. Spectators feel justified in throwing hate at them, and that fosters a hostile environment that I don't think anyone should be proud of — much less the president of a prominent video game company.
It's already happened too. Look at any of the videos that have been posted by former H1Z1 cheaters and all you will see is an ocean of volatile comments and thumbs down. These gamers who are trying to own up for their actions are being met with scorn, disdain, and targeted attacks. In as much as I believe in justice, this is not it. This is not fair or reasonable — it is reprehensible. Daybreak should be ashamed for standing by this policy of public humiliation. The company has created a community that embraces online bullying as a form of corrective action and it is John Smedley that should publicly own up to his actions and apologize.
Gearbox Software, 3D Realms, and Interceptor Entertainment have been fighting over the rights to Duke Nukem for some time now. Last February Danish developer Interceptor teased that it was working with 3D Realms on a new game tentatively titled Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction. Gearbox, the company that had supposedly purchased the rights to the IP in a deal used to publish Duke Nukem Forever, filed suit over the rights to the IP's use. Mass Destruction has since been reworked into Bombshell, whose main protagonist happens to hate bubble gum. While we don't know the results of that legal battle, we do know that it has finally come to an end. The bigger question, as far as I'm concerned, is "who cares?"
Duke Nukem Forever wasn't a great game for a number of mechanical and design reasons, but I think the most interesting thing that came out of the game's release was how very past his prime Duke had become. Just like Guns N' Roses after the release of Chinese Democracy, his character was looked upon with a sense of mild nostalgia and grandiose disappointment. The personality many once adored was a remnant of another era, and Duke ultimately was little more than a walking action hero stereotype with a knack for throwing out catchphrases he stole from popular movies. And while that "beer and babes" mentality might have been somewhat edgy in the mid-90s, today Duke himself isn't much more than a walking punchline — one that is only made worse by juvenile poop humor and alien titty-slaps.
Why fight over Duke Nukem? It's not even worth the effort. Any respect or reverence that Duke Nukem might have had before Forever's fifteen year development cycle hung over the franchise like a dark cloud has since dissipated. The man and the franchise that bore his name have both lost stock with the gaming public, and it was well deserved.
I don't think it's healthy for anyone to cling to the past. That applies to video games as well. Plenty of iconic characters and franchises have come and gone for good reason. Anyone remember Earthworm Jim, Rampage, Legacy of Kain, Syphon Filter, Ultima, Lunar, Turok, or Battletoads? I do, but does that mean they should be exhumed from their respective crypts? More to the point, would those franchises prosper in today's world? Duke and his attitude now fit in the nostalgic, but dated box. I hope he stays there and no one bothers fighting over his rights in the future.
According to GamesIndusty International, SCEI president Andrew House threw some shade towards the Vita and PlayStation TV at Investor Relations Day. While he suggested that they were both "strong and vibrant" in Asia, particularly Japan, House was reported to have called the two "legacy platforms" while discussing a write-off of hardware components. That doesn't sound great, does it? According to Sony's post-comment spin, however, House was simply referring to previous models of the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation TV. That their components would be written off and that the company remains committed to portable gaming. Sounds great, but I don't buy it.
In the West, the PlayStation Vita is already a legacy platform. In fact, the handheld meets in a legacy support group every month with the Wii, Xbox 360, PS2, PSP, and Nintendo DS. All of these systems were once amazing, but now have one critical thing in common: a firm lack of support. AAA games are not made for these systems, consumers are not buying them in any great number, and production of hardware units has either been reduced or put on ice. Mark my words: the Vita is legacy.
It's no secret that the PlayStation Vita has not made the impact that Sony had expected. The reasons for which have been discussed ad nauseum; it has always been too expensive, game releases have oriented the device towards niche markets, the memory cards were proprietary and pricy, the system was bulky, and the third-party support (not including indie developers) was atrocious. So, it isn't as though the Vita was well supported from the get-go, but this recent "legacy" slip is telling — regardless of whether Sony's PR team stands behind House's comment. If the Vita is a legacy platform though, what exactly was its legacy?
Some would say that the system's legacy has always been the hardware's potential. The original model had an OLED multi-touch screen that was five inches big, front-and-back facing cameras, dual analogue sticks, a rear touch-pad, a quad-core processor, three-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, built-in GPS, stereo speakers, and the ability to act as a PS4 controller and second screen. There is no doubt that the system had potential on its tech specs alone.
Perhaps, however, the greater legacy it will bear will be the cold way Sony left the device to die. Some systems never have a change of achieving true market success, but instead of allowing the platform to wither and die its company does have the ability to work twice as hard to bring players in. The Nintendo Wii U is a good example of this idea, as though it might be considered one of Nintendo's greatest failures it is still a well-supported device with an engaged community attached to it. That effort makes all of the difference, and it seems as though Sony has made the unfortunate choice of throwing in the towel when it comes to the Vita.
Indie games will continue to be released for the Vita and with time more PSone classics will be available as well, but that isn't enough to keep a console alive. I wonder how much longer it will be before Sony actually admits that the Vita was a failure and ceases support for the device, full stop. It may already be on borrowed time, but at the very least I feel comfortable saying that its legacy has already been written in stone — and it's not a flattering one.
At this point, I'd like to thank my Editor-in-Chief, Michael Cunningham, for his continual support, our beloved readers for taking the time to indulge my abrasive opinions, and of course all of the commenters in RPGamer's forums for engaging in the conversation. I'll now ask that you do the same.
If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:
What are your thoughts on swatting? What should happen to swatters?
Is it acceptable for H1Z1 cheaters to publicly apologize in order to regain access to the game?
Does Duke Nukem have a future? Can he make a comeback?
What do you think the Vita's legacy really is?
I'll see you next month. In the meantime, stay tuned to RPGamer for all of the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.