Yet You Live in a Society

Social media exposes some of the deep issues in the gaming community

The day started well enough. I woke up early for a change, had a lovely cup of tea then left the house to take care of all my errands. By the time I came back and sat at my desk I had bought some freshly baked croissants from my favorite bakery alongside a can of cola, my only guilty pleasure. All in all, quite a good morning. Then checking Discord notifications I found out I was tagged in one of the servers I acted as a staffer on. Curious, I checked the message and kissed my pleasant morning goodbye.

The message was quite short; a simple taunt of “hey dumbass” and a link to a reddit thread concerning Apex Legends. I didn’t dig too deep but apparently there is a current controversy regarding the newest season, its monetization and the way its community team and lead developers had been addressing community dissent. I say these things because I really, really, and I don’t know how I can stress this enough, really don’t care. I don’t care because I’ve already been burnt out from the previous season and am currently not playing Apex Legends. Since the end of that season, I have been alternating between cRPGs (Pathfinder:Kingmaker) and grand strategy (Hearts of Iron IV, Europa Universalis IV and a bit of Stellaris) games and haven’t kept up with things.

I don’t hide the fact I love Apex Legends. It is my favorite game in the battle royale genre. I like the characters (especially Wraith), mechanics, feel and visual of the game. I enjoy playing it; alone or with friends and though I haven’t touched it in months, I may go back to it at some point in the future. That said, that doesn’t mean I agree with or have to defend the game and its creators, especially when they misstep or are just plainly wrong.

Like I stated above, I haven’t dug deep into this new controversy. I just read the titles of some of the videos I saw in my feed and listened to one or two of them briefly. Since I have no interest in the game at the moment, I have no interest in hearing about it either. From what I did gather, Apex Legends’ playerbase is up in arms after being squeezed for extra dollars during the current season since Electronic Arts is desperate for some cash and Respawn Entertainment is getting the much deserved backlash, prompting its lead developer to rant about entitled gamers. Am I right? Am I wrong? I don’t really care as I wrote before. It doesn’t really interest me at the moment and I don’t have much of a voice or influence to do anything about it. Sorry folks, I have other things on my mind.

So why was I tagged? Well, I’d assume part of it was because in that discord server (which is an EVE Online discord server mind you) I’m known both for loving Apex Legends and being a salty asshole who often calls out people for well-deserved reasons. I am not going to defend myself. I wish I was a nicer person but I am quite the unpleasant individual when it comes to EVE Online and its byzantine politics and tribalist mindset. I’m certain the individual saw an opportunity to piss me off and frankly succeeded. I did tag them back later on and wrote a litany of profanities just to clarify my stance on the subject. Setting that aside, this whole event made me think a little about the reasons behind tagging me to begin with. What was their grand design?.

I am guessing the person thought linking the reddit thread would act as a “Gotcha” moment, that rare proof that obliterates the opposition – the smoking gun, the vial of poison, the killer’s gloves. The reality though, is quite different. There was no “Gotcha”, since I didn’t read the story nor was in the loop. It did annoy me enough to illicit a response but not a constructive one and my stance regarding Apex Legends hasn’t really changed. I enjoyed the hours I put into the game so far. Whether or not the game developers are literally idiots who don’t understand how to foster good community relations is not going to change my mind about my past experiences. So why link it? Why try and antagonize me? The question kept bothering me.

I pointed out before the tribalistic nature of EVE Online, but in reality the same can be said for gaming in general. Many people will have their favorite games, games they may not be good at, but still feel are part of their identity. They build communities around them and incorporate them into said identity. I read and often hear “I am an X or Y player”. This denotes their “allegiance”, their “loyalty”. This declaration will often precede a defense of a game or an attack on a competitor or some other game that perhaps encroaches on the territory of their chosen game. That identity is important to them after all, and they must protect it.

In a way it does seem silly. After all, a game is a game, not real life. Yet these people derive some of their self worth from those games. After all, they are key parts of their identity. They are gamers who in the gaming culture are part of a “tribe” be it first person shooters, grand strategy players, or your run of the mill fast clicking simulators also known as real time strategy games. Some of these games though can be quite bad. Some of them, especially due to the state of game development and publishing in our current time, can be downright broken. Fallout 76 and Anthem are just two recent examples and there are sadly more I could probably find if I tried looking at previous years. I don’t think it’s a crime to love these games. After all people like The Room and that is a terrible movie whose appeal I never understood. Some people can like bad art. It’s a matter of personal taste and if they can derive enjoyment from it. I don’t see a reason to look down on them for liking such games.

The problem starts when people attack others for highlighting the flaws in those games. Fallout 76 is a bad game on every conceivable level, and yet some people defend it so vehemently to a worrying degree. They dismiss any criticism as being biased or unprofessional. They refuse to reckon with reality because it doesn’t just threaten their enjoyment of the game, but their whole identity. They invested their self worth in the game, being fans of the series and accepting its awfulness would be tantamount to admitting their own diminished status. They can’t accept it so they attack the sources of criticisms. When you don’t have a defensible claim, attack the legitimacy of the critics. It’s laughable, for sure but sadly all too commonplace. I see it everywhere in the gaming space. Because in gaming, you must have a winner and a loser.

This is the other part of the equation. Identity and self worth are derived from the game, but that game is in competition with others in its genre and the general gaming landscape. It’s an artificial competition created by publishers who wish to sell more copies of a game. Seeing these nascent communities, publishers and their public relations firms recognized their potential and hijacked them. They turned them into marketing ploys, supercharging the player base by using the games themselves against them. Skinner boxes and achievement bars, collectables and collector’s editions, not to mention the foisted sense of competition with other big named franchises. They created rabid fans by rewarding the most loyal, the most determined, and released them to the wild.

It’s no wonder these fans now see attacking one another as acceptable. The woes of the fans of one game is the joy of the fans of its rival. Especially in oversaturated markets, often in popular genres like battle royale currently is, the rivalry is quite mean and destructive. I remember playing Playerunknown Battlegrounds and seeing many deride Fortnite players as being children or childish due to its flashy graphics and cartoony art style. Even though Playerunknown Battlegrounds is a grey buggy mess that for me at least, was a tedious and frustrating game to play. Not that Fortnite enticed me either. In fact, I wrote the whole genre off until Apex Legends arrived on stage.

This brings us full circle. Apex Legends, let’s be fair, combined the hero shooter genre with the battle royale one to make a unique game that had plenty of energy and style. Unlike some of its competition it was free to play and launched in a perfect technical state which had sadly become an outlier rather than the norm. It was fun for me to play and I even reviewed it favorably. Do I regret that review? No, I stand behind it. At the time it was exactly as I described it and the memories I have of it are filled with tense firefights and hard won victories. That said, I can love a game and critique it. I can enjoy it and acknowledge its developers’ abhorrent behavior.

This is the crux of the matter. After showing my love and devotion to the game, it became, at least for others, embedded in my identity. They never asked me if I defined myself by the game, instead they assumed so. The moment the opportunity presented itself they couldn’t stop themselves from trying to “humiliate” me for my preferences.They thought they were “showing” me how hypocritical I was for liking a game whose developers and monetization had gone out of control. In their mind, admitting to this, accepting this was tantamount to betrayal. It was conceding defeat and thus making them morally superior to me because their games, thus their identity, wasn’t tarnished by a recent controversy. It is as childish and infantile as it sounds. Which is what really infuriates me.

Because it is these people whose fanboy mentality helps maintain the status quo in gaming, one where publishers hold all the cards and us players are but cattle to be exploited for the real customers – the investors. It’s those people that engage in fanbase wars that help no one and only further entrench developers and publishers into certain niches to peddle the same game over and over year after year. It’s those people who tried to silence critique of their favorite games by claiming various things from media bias to reviewers not being “good” at the games. It’s this slavish devotion to franchises that helped normalize many a horrible practice in video games. From microtransactions that “support the developers” (citation needed motherfuckers), the explosion of useless tat in collectors’ editions that themselves became tiered, incomplete products that would be patched later but were forgotten because “road maps” (ask the Anthem fanbase how is that working out for them, the whole two that are left) and so forth. Any criticism, any dissent and you were labeled anti gamer. You had to accept these practices or else these frankly inferior products compared to previous generations would cease to exist (good!). If all else failed, if all the excuses were brushed away for the flimsy webs of deceit they were, they’d turn the responsibility back to you. How can you critique the industry if you take part in it, by either consuming its products or earning money from writing about it. How can you critique society if you are part of it?

This conjured in my mind the famous comic strip. It is infamous to say the least and often used to bash anyone whose defense against a critique of a system is the fact those who levy that criticism participate in it, either blinded or willfully ignoring the fact that there is often no alternative to that system. I’ve seen it plenty on social media, and sadly in real life as well. Time after time these people think themselves clever for pointing out that since we participate in broken systems just to survive or enjoy the few things in life that can actually give us joy, that any critique meant to improve them is meaningless because “You live in a society!” like the clever kids they are. It is a self-assuring nihilism. If you point out such things, then nothing can be better and thus doing nothing is justified. Why struggle when the result will be the same regardless? A sickening justification of doing nothing.

In the end though, the reality is that these people had surrendered from the start. They weren’t, and still aren’t willing to fight for what is right because that is troublesome, risky not to mention unpredictable. They either benefit from the system (their so called status and mediocre games) or learned to tolerate it like the sheep they are and any danger for this status quo threatens them as well (how will I be an elite gamer otherwise!?). They are the worst part of the community for telling the rest of us to stop struggling, stop complaining, critiquing and striving for better video games, better work conditions for developers and actual legal oversight on lootboxes.

To these people, sorry but I am part of society, which is why I fight to make it better, because I care about it since I participate in it. This is why I’ll keep critiquing, keep calling out things and obviously support any action that teaches Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts that they can’t abuse their community with shitty monetizations. If you aren’t going to help me then stay out of my way because I have no time for your cowardice. Why don’t you go and buy more lootboxes, maybe one of them will contain your balls/ovaries. Also next time explain WHY YOU TAGGED ME TO BEGIN WITH. Maybe then I won’t have to write 2000 word articles like this!

Featured image taken from The Nib and is the property of Matt Bors

Apex Legends

So I’ve decided to make a first impression rather than a full review of Apex Legends for several reasons which are: 1) The game only came out recently so I’d need a few weeks/months to play it before I could reach what I’d call a thorough conclusion. 2) I’ve been unable to write anything else. 3) I’ve been playing Apex Legends non stop since its release which might’ve been a contributing factor for second reason :thinking:.

In all honesty, I wasn’t going to play Apex Legends, let alone give my impressions of it, but after seeing a couple of reviewers giving it positive scores I thought I might as well try myself. God knows that I have been looking for a good shooter ever since Battlefield V decided it wanted to appeal to… I have no idea what crowd to be honest, and I’ve never been a huge fan of Call of Duty series. As for Playerunknown Battlegrounds, I have uninstalled it a year ago and have been quite happy with that decision.

Thus I did one of the most horrible things I could do to my computer and installed Origin… Eew. After downloading the game I booted it up and was hooked in from the start. For those still in the unclear, Apex Legends is a first person squad based battle royale game, courtesy of Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind the Titanfall series and luminaries of Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty. Already there is quite a pedigree behind the title, ruined slightly by being published by Electronic Arts, the most evil major game publisher, except for all the rest.

Okay, another battle royale game, its not like we have a shortage of them these days, so what differentiate Apex Legends from the rest? Quite a lot to be frank. It feels to me like Respawn Entertainment played several battle royale games and went item by item on what frustrates players or slows down the gameplay and simply fixed them.

The first thing that defines Apex Legends is mobility. The game is built for free running, shoot on the move action. There is no fall damage, almost every surface can be climbed, there are zip lines strewn all over and certain characters can even make their own, you can even slide across the battlefield shooting from the hip before face planting into a boulder. Movement is key which makes gunfights all about maneuvering rather than sitting still behind cover, popping over to shoot a few rounds before ducking back in.

The second change are the heroes. The game currently has a roster of eight heroes, six unlocked from the start, which have unique abilities. Each hero has three abilities which I’ll demonstrate with my favorite one, the Wraith. You have a passive skill, which in the Wraith’s case allows her to know when she is being targeted by hostile players. There is the active ability, which allows her to become ethereal for a few seconds (basically a free get out of jail card) and an ultimate which creates a dimensional void that connects two points on the battlefield and is usable by her squad (or anyone who stumbles upon it to be frank).

This in effect means that every squad will synergize differently depending on the type of heroes chosen. To make sure there are no fights on who will be x character, the game makes a squad choose its heroes in a randomized order before each match, meaning no one can hog the same character if someone else wants to have a try.

Okay, so its Playerunknown Overwatch or Overwatch Battlegrounds? Yes and no. The heroes are just one part of the puzzle, you still have the loot. Looting itself is quite fast and convenient. You get fixed spots that can be increased via backpacks, you have your guns, your armor and your utility items. So far so good. That said, the game automates a lot, meaning you don’t have to spend time managing your inventory or dragging attachments to rifles. You want to change rifles but you have attachments? Simply swap the guns and the mods will be automatically transferred to your new weapon (if its possible, if not it just goes back to your inventory).

You have the usual range of weapons such as handguns, sub-machine guns, shotguns, assault rifles, snipers and so forth. All come in various shapes and sizes all slightly futuristic in one way or another. Thankfully ammo is color coded and the game will tell you if the ammo you pick is the right one.

Of course, what is loot without tiers? Here too, Apex Legends conforms to the mold while surpassing it. You have white, blue, purple and yellow loot. White is most common with basic stats, while yellow is legendary and is hard to find. But what happens if your nice purple body armor gets damaged in a fight? In other games, you’d need to replace it with another, in Apex Legends you simply use energy cells to repair it. This is a huge change in my view because it removes the problem of needing to loot new body armor after a firefight and being at a disadvantage compared to other squads.

Talking about squads, the game is set at three people per squad and 20 squads per match, meaning the servers cap at 60 players. You start the match on a dropship and each squad launches when it wants to. The major difference is that each squad gets a randomly assigned jumpmaster that decides when to launch and navigates the squad in the air. This means squads can’t disperse, that is unless players decide to willingly disengage and fly their own merry way, before landing near a full squad and getting butchered. Of course the role of jumpmaster can be relinquished and passed along like a hot potato in the squad.

The emphasis is on squad work. A lone player will rarely be able to fight off a full squad considering just how mobile it is. Firefights are not static in the least and players can find themselves easily flanked. To facilitate squad work, the developers created a wonderful ping system that helps player communicate even without talking. Spotted an enemy? Use the middle mouse button to report him. Found a good piece of body armor but already got one yourself? Use the middle mouse button to report and mark it for your squad. The game really helps people like me that are shy in online matches to still communicate efficiently without using the push to talk function. Oh I forgot, the game’s default is push to talk and has a dedicated key. Bethesda, take note!

Of course another innovation the game brings is respawning. I swear Respawn Entertainment just played a match of Playerunknown Battlegrounds and got frustrated when half its team got wiped out and had to sit out the rest of the match. Respawning goes like this, after a player is downed, if they bleed out or are killed, they leave a banner in their container. If a teammate picks it up within 90 seconds, they can then bring it to one of the respawn beacons strewn across the map. After a few seconds of inputting it in, a shuttle will come around and return the deceased player to the battlefield. A squad can respawn up to two members at the same time (I mean if all three died that is a wipeout). The only catch is that freshly spawned players have no equipment on them, which makes sense. There is no limit to the amount of times one can be respawn yet each respawn beacon is only usable once. This solves the problem of players dying then forced to sit out most of a match. It also gives them an incentive to remain at their desk and wait for a respawn.

Talking about core mechanics, gunplay is important in any first person shooter. Sadly, I am no expert in first person shooters so I can’t tell you objectively how good or bad it really is. What I can tell you is that I had fun with it. It feels closer in my opinion to Call of Duty’s style, with some recoil, bullet drop and satisfying sound.

The game does a good job of creating conflict zones. While all battle royale games rely on the shrinking map to force players into conflict, Apex Legends is a bit more active about it. The start of a match there is a random “Hot Zone” where you can find better quality loot but everyone will be gunning for it. The loot crates are replaced with supply ships which will drop randomly within a circle. They offer a lot of weapons, ammunition and some rarer items but can only be accessed via zip lines and are basically floating structures so firefights within them can be hectic and fun. Each match by the way starts with one of them already present and a few squads will always try to land on top of them.

Graphically the game looks good, it looks Titanfall and it feels in certain ways like Titanfall (though sadly no wall running or double jumping). There is currently only one map out but it has varied biomes, different structures and many barriers creating effectively “rooms” that are interconnected with many paths. There is never a feeling of being bottlenecked but at the same time there is a certain feeling of safety from your “neighbors”, at least if you landed far enough. Verticality also plays a part, with plenty of valleys and cliffs. Rivers are also present and wading through them is a great way to advertise your presence.

So it looks good, has solid mechanics and interesting innovations, but how does it hold up on the technical side? Very good. It is a horrible indictment of the current state of gaming when I remark to a friend how stable and polished the launch feels. I didn’t experience any lag or rubberbanding throughout my countless hours of gameplay and the few stuttering I did get were sadly client side rather than server side due to my internet provider being an utter s#*t. There were no hard crashes, no missing textures or animation fails. It was polished to a frightening degree. This launch was basically the opposite of Fallout 76’s.

We get it, its great, but does it have flaws? Sadly yes. I mean, for starters its published by Electronic Arts and is on Origin, so that is a gigantic flaw right there. Secondly, the game has loot boxes. True, they are for cosmetics only but still, its loot boxes and I hate them for what they represent. Thirdly there is quite a bit of grind needed to unlock the two remaining heroes, but you can chuck it up as giving players goals for game progression.

Summing up, Apex Legends is a first person shooter battle royale with locked three person squads, an emphasis on mobility, hero characters and a few other innovations that make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Oh and its free but has loot boxes and forces you to install Origin.

If you like the battle royale genre, you’d like this game. However if you were never a fan in the first place this game isn’t going to convert you. Suffice to say I’d save my recommendation for battle royale fans only. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to play more Apex Legends.