Eye Catching, 29 September – 4 October 2013

Gamers giving back

To many gamers out there, it won’t come as a surprise that the gamer community frequently gives up their time and money to raise money for some fantastic charitable causes.  This week, two causes and upcoming gaming events have caught our eyes.

It’s no secret that today’s soldiers, living and working in protracted combat lasting multiple tours of duty, come home with physical and mental scars that can take years to heal.  Katy Goodman’s editorial “How Video Games Help Soldiers Deal with the Horrors of War” brings to light the work of Operation Supply Drop, a non-profit charity founded by Captain Stephen Machuga, an Army veteran who served in Iraq.  Machuga sought a way to help his fellow soldiers still overseas in active warzones, and wounded warriors now home trying to rebuild their lives.  His answer was to use video games as a way to help soldiers de-stress quickly and resume activities that helped them reconnect with some sense of their normal, civilian lives.

Some of the comments to Goodman’s article show that we, as a society, still misunderstand PTSD, how it manifests, and what veteran, military and civilian organizations can do to help our troops.  Being trained and paid to be a soldier does not prepare people for the traumatic realities and consequences of combat, and the sooner we recognize and accept that truth, the sooner we, as a society, can get to actually helping our returning soldiers deal with anxieties the stress and fatigue of combat engender.  The anecdotal evidence in Goodman’s article proves what the studies on PTSD have shown for several years now: helping veterans to connect with fellow veterans, and with communal and therapeutic activities like video games, can help improve our veterans’ psychological quality of life.

For more on what the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Defense knows about PTSD, and are trying to do to help our troops, please visit the National Center for PTSD, or check out the VA’s PTSD 101 Course to learn more about this disorder and its consequences.  If you’d like to get involved with Operation Supply Drop’s 8-bit Salute to Veterans happening next month, click here. ~Sandra

* How Video Games Help Soldiers Deal with the Horrors of War | Kotaku.com

I’m not sure what it is about video games, but over the last few years, I’ve been truly touched by the online gamer community and their generosity of spirit.  Take for example, the upcoming  Extra-Life Guild Wars 2 event.  Extra-Life is a charity event raising funds this November 2nd for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (celebrating its 30th anniversary this year).  The guild, War is Hell [WAR], which plays on the Tarnished Coast server, is currently organizing their team for the Extra-Life event.  Drop on over to their forum post, linked above, for details.  Or, if you’d rather, check out Extra-Life’s website for details on how you can get involved in your own charity marathon play.  GTA V for charity anyone?  Perhaps a little Don’t Starve?  Oh!  Or Civilization V!  Conquering the world for charity! … But I digress.

The only real question this November is, do I donate, or do I play.  Oh!  No, Wait!  To Stream, or not to Stream…that is the question.  ~ Star

* Coasters for the Kids | War is Hell Guild Wars 2 guild

Gamer talk

When I read about games and gamers helping people, whether individually or through marathons and charities, the thing that comes to my mind is SpeedDemosArchive.com and their Awesome Games Done Quick events.  It was through their charity event that I first stumbled upon Twitch.tv and, subsequently, eSports.  Say what you will about Twitch chat, gamers who stream their gameplay online are awesome and one of my favorite viewing pleasures is a Starcraft tournament.

A recent article by Ben Popper on The Verge, explored the history and amazing growth of eSports on Twitch.  Popper delves into the history of professional video game tournaments and touches on game play streaming.  He asks, ” Will the audience for watching other people play video games really develop into a meaningful business to rival television?”  An answer, in part, may be found in the history of gaming itself.  Video games have always been competitive and they’ve always been communal.  The growth of eSports and the viewership of these events, along with organized leagues, tournaments, and prizes, are a natural offshoot of this.  Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of today’s eSports is the central role of Twitch.tv.  It’s the corner arcade of the 1980s transmogrified by the communal, global, space of the internet. ~ Star

Field of streams: How Twitch Made Video Games a Spectator Sport | The Verge

Equally fascinating are the story elements within the games that make them compelling viewing for so many people.

Well-written characters can make a story just as poorly written ones can break one.  Ever have to sit through a really crap movie because the characters were flat, boring, or unrealistic?  (Those of you who’ve endured the Twilight movies are probably nodding your heads right about now.)  Adam Barsby’s piece, “How Vital are Compelling Characters in the Modern Game?” takes a look at how poor characterization can pull a player out of the game experience just as good characters can keep players in.  Now, in my day job, I’m a teacher—an English teacher at that, but before your think, “Oh man, I better not leave comments on this blog,” let me say I love literature more than grammar.  It’s the characters that pull me into a story, learning about them and what makes them tick, and why they care about what they do (sure, typos in their dialogue might make my eyes bleed, but we don’t need to go there).  This is one reason why I like MMORPGs; I can create a character and make up their backstory, and figure out where their tale fits into the larger game world’s story.  If they meet interesting characters along the way, I’m more likely to keep playing; if they meet stale, uninteresting characters, though, I’m more likely to skip past cinematics or story explication because I don’t care to know what “Bozo” is talking about.  Still, not all games need good characterization, and not all players want that.  If you want a more immersive experience, though, Barsby argues that it’s best to start with the characters.  This gamer agrees. ~Sandra

* How vital are compelling characters in the modern game? | Gaming IQ

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