DiGRA, LonCon, Utrecht, cosplay, travel, etc…

Soon I leave for the USA and DiGRA, then I’ll be off to London for WorldCon/LonCon3, then Utrecht to teach Summer School! Should you want to see me at any of these events, this post is to outline when/where I will be speaking… and also to give you a sneak peak at some of my talks. Prepare to be underwhelmed by feeble, but well-intentioned, attempts at creativity gone horribly awry (a gamebook to teach qualitative methodology-whaaa?).
Anyway, a-here we go!

DiGRA

3-6 August 2014
Snowbird, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
I present the day before my birthday... w00t!
I present the day before my birthday… w00t!

Should you happen to be headed to Snowbird, Utah for this year’s DiGRA, be sure to come on 5th August and see me talk about Georg Simmel’s ‘adventure’ and how this pause in identity development can be applied to erotic role play in games. For those of you who saw me speak in Tampere in 2012, this presentation/paper is a continuation of the ideas discussed there. I try to tie in adventure games, location, wilderness/beauty of the natural world, into discussions about aesthetics, identity, and player desire. Yeah. It gets messy. I recently re-read the paper and determined I achieved moderate success, but then I went to make the PowerPoint and this hot mess emerged…

What is... I don't even....
What is… I don’t even….
So, yeah, come along, tell your friends, bring your smartphone to keep occupied on Twitter, and prepare to witness what is sure to be the neutron star of my budding career!

LonCon3

14-18 August 2014
ExCeL, London Dockland, UK
LonCon is going to rock. So far I am set to moderate/ participate on the following panels. Locations are TBA, I think, but if you are lucky, you might get to see me cosplay (Scroll down for pics).

Queerbaiting (Mod)
Thursday 19:00 – 20:00
Fanlore, the wiki of “The Organization for Tranformative Works”, describes queerbaiting as “the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans by introducing a character whose sexuality seems, early on, to be coded as something other than one hundred percent heterosexual.” Coding queer characters and relationships has an ancient history in literature and art of all forms and has often been a positive and necessary means of representing queer people when censorship and conservative moral norms would deem it (practically) impossible. Today, genre shows such as Lost GirlPenny Dreadful,Orphan BlackGame of Thrones and Defiance prove that same sex relationships do not have a negative impact on genre television viewership and are readily accepted, and invariably welcomed, by the audience. With this in mind, we question the practice of hinting at characters being queer and developing queer relationships. We ask exactly where the boundary lies between fan service, ship-teasing and queerbaiting and whether queerbaiting is homophobic.
Love in Games (Mod)
Thursday 21:00 – 22:00
How do we design love in games, and what does this mean? Creating meaningful relationships in games is becoming something of a holy grail, and there are many ways of representing love in, for and around games. From the heart symbol that empties as Zelda dies, to giving Morrigan presents in Dragon Age, love is a difficult thing to understand, let alone simulate it within games themselves. Yet we ‘love’ games – sometimes too much, and this is key to our relationship with them. Here, we look at the importance of representing and expressing such a complex concept within games.
The Love Games Game
Friday 16:30 – 18:00
We’ve written a book about love in games! But during the course of it, we evolved a game about love, which talks about our love for games. What would a zombie reincarnation of the Zelda franchise be like? How about Super Streefighter II with cupcakes? Come along and play this silly mash up game where we invent some lovely games from the games we love.
Being a Fan of Problematic Things
Saturday 13:30 – 15:00
“I know the writer is a sexist, homophobic bigot but I really love this show and I can’t stop watching.” Statements like this are common refrains but it, and others like it, cause very strong reactions. It causes many fans to feel insulted that their idol or favourite television shows are being accused of some pretty harsh things, yet others feel offended that the fan is still watching despite these things. In this session we ask how it is possible to still enjoy television programmes, movies, books and the works of controversial creators when we as individuals or community groups consider the subject matter or means of representation problematic. We also ask why some fans react so badly to this criticism and if there is a way to make the bitter pill easier to swallow.
Playing with Diversity: Games and Speculative Fiction
Saturday 16:30 – 18:00
Three academics each give a 15 minute presentation followed by a joint 30 minute discussion with the audience.
  • Mika Loponen and Markus Montola, “Speculative Games: A Ludological Analysis of Fictional Games”
  • Jaakko Stenros & Tanja Sihvonen, “Out of the Dungeons, onto the Meadows: Queer Representations in Role-Playing Source Books”
  • Ashley Brown, Elves are from Venus, Dwarves are from Mars: Diverse (sexual) relationships in speculative fictional worlds
  • Diane Carr, “Weird Spheres, Bursting Bodies and Peculiar Tools: Disability, Masculinity and the Monstrous in the Dead Space Series”
Lizard Wizards in Space! Bethesda vs Bioware
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00
Panel examining the impact of Bioware and Bethesda videogames on recent gaming experiences. Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Skyrim have all advanced player experiences in games, providing us with rich worlds, exciting possibilties and diverse characters to play. Both companies pride themselves on allowing the player to choose their own pathway through the game, and to experience each world on their own terms. This panel investigates the strengths and weakness of these games, and looks at the ways they are influencing play.

Okay, so I plan to do a huge cosplay faux pas and re-use my DragonCon Night’s Watch outfit from last year for at least one of the days, but I promise my outfit for the Masquerade (viewing-not participating) will be so lavish you won’t even notice.
viking
I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children, have no fun, etc, etc.

Utrecht Summer School

16-31 August 2014 (I will be there from 25-27 August)
Utrecht
I am very excited to be giving a lecture about my passion- qualitative methodology. Better yet, I get to host a 3 hour workshop on the topic. Woo hoo!
I promise I'll make epistemology fun!
I promise I’ll make epistemology fun!

Unfortunately, my workshop is limited to only 15 students. That’s because I’ve made my own Choose Your Own (Methodology) Adventure gamebook. That’s right. A CYOA gamebook for qualitative methodology. By the end of the course, my goal is for students of all levels to have a working research design with solid justifications for their choice of methods. If you’re new to qualitative researching, consider this a crash course. If you have already done your fieldwork, come along for the section on the relationship between theory and analysis. Just about to hand in your thesis? No worries, come along for a last-minute tune up and make sure you have the vocabulary you need for your defence.

I hope it is as informative as it is accessible and fun. Also, dragons.

A sneak peak! Can't wait to get these printed. :>
A sneak peak! Can’t wait to get these printed. :>

There will be time during the workshop for Q&A as well as a discussion of preference, controversy, and ethics. I’m super excited for this!


I hope to see you all very soon,

Ashley

Tampere, Skövde, and Liverpool oh my!

(Apologies for the inconsistency of font regarding umlauts.)

In my last post I promised you a more in-depth account of the Critical Evaluation of Games Studies conference. Then I went to Sweden to give a guest lecture, so… Yeah. Things got a little busy.

presentation
There is always time to coordinate your outfit with your co-author, however.

So since I can’t offer you a full run-down of the Tampere conference, I can recommend some clever people who have! I thoroughly recommend that you check out Jonne Arjoranta‘s blog post which not only gives a action-by-action replay of the event, but also uses the Twitter feed to illustrate the types of discussions which happened. Here is the only Twitter screenshot I was able to find about my presentation:

twitterpopularity

Anyway, Frans Mäyrä has pulled together an overview about the bigger picture of the seminar and the current state of games studies as a field over on his blog. Both blogs are fantastic accounts and do the conference a justice I simply cannot. 

Now onto Skövde. Last week on the 14th May I was fortunate enough to be invited to give a lecture to students and a presentation to staff at the University of Skövde. I was amazed at how well the students responded to the lecture, how happy they were to approach me and their thorough engagement and curiosity. They were very keen to deepen their understanding of how sexuality might be implemented in game design and what this might mean for society/culture overall. They were also kind enough to leave me Twitter feedback. 🙂

studentevalskovde

And to wrap up this recap, an interview I did with Rami Sihvo about my research is now up and available to read in both Finnish and English over on the perliraati.fi blog. I am very humbled at being published (sorta) in a language other than English. It is really special for me to get my research out to a larger audience and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do that.

perliraati
I’m super enamoured with reading myself in Finnish… even if I can’t speak it… or read it. Ahem. Thanks, Rami for your translation work!

And now I am off to prepare for an impending trip to Liverpool to give a talk about erotic play and spatiality/location. Phew, this summer is a busy one.

Until next time,

Ashley

Images from Finland

A quick note: I was able to snap lots of photos over the past week I spent in Tampere and Helsinki which I am keen to share along with some musings over language, food, airlines. Although I was there for a conference, and thus didn’t have too much time to have a look around, I had enough time to snap a few things to think about. I will be back soon with a more ‘official’ account of the conference. In the meantime, languages fascinate me!


I was very fortunate to spend this past week in Finland- even if the last day was a bit of a surprise. This trip was a very special one. In addition to seeing a diverse group of friends I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with (because of geographical issues), I also was able to reflect on several issues- both personal and professional. There really is nothing quite like a language barrier to create a smothering feeling of difference which calls to the mind the politics of language on a very basic level.

aiport
Language is present on the front of the pack, but culture is also present.

These jelly beans are a small example. The purchaser is informed in four languages that these pink beans are Hello Kitty’s favourite flavours. Not to go full-Saussure on ya, but there is something symbolic in a fictional character having favourite flavours. Particularly when we consider the fictional Japanese character is being used to sell sweets in the United Kingdom which were manufactured in the United States by German immigrants. Furthermore, that a friend requested I bring these because she cannot source them in Finland (and Finnish is not one of the languages on the pack) brings forth several points about culture, values, capitalism/globalisation, and taste which I cannot get into here. Suffice to say, some things are lost in translation. Like reindeer sandwiches.

reindeer
My attempts to buy a tomato and mozzarella sandwich were thwarted by smoked reindeer. PS- It was delicious.

Unlike the Swedish subtitles beneath this particular sandwich, the Finnish name is incomprehensible to those only familiar with English. Sure renkött doesn’t look much like reindeer, but there is at least a resemblance in letters- a likely leftover relic from Middle English. Fascinating to trace the history of language through sandwiches. Om nom nom…

 

donkey
What is… I don’t even know…

More so than language, this little gem represents an odd way to sell sweets. I don’t quite understand why the donkey is blonde with breasts, or indeed why the sweets are the same colour as the aforementioned breasts, but hey ho. I very much doubt the package for these sweets has anything to do with Finnish culture and everything to do with a …’creative’… marketing director somewhere, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me in the comments. 🙂

cybershop
A nightclub called Fat Lady, along with Cybershop which, as far as I could tell, was a bit like Cyberdog. I prefer to think instead that they sell cybersex.

The problem with not being able to read the language of the country you’re in are multi-fold. Particularly as when you do find words in your language, they seem to stand out ten times more. In fact, I bet the only word native English-speaking readers will remember from the donkey sweets pack is the word ‘Lady’ because it was the only word in English.

Anyway, I laugh at the Fat Lady nightclub every time I walk down Hämeenkatu. Although I have never been, a review calls Fat Lady ‘classy and sophisticated’. Huh. As much as I hate to admit it, the interior is well designed and they have a Spotify link to their playlists- shockingly cool for such a crude name.

weinercoffee
Heh… wiener coffee…

Likewise, when you see something which is slightly rude in English, but used in a totally innocent way, it is also giggle-inducing. (I know it means Viennese coffee, but I can’t help it!)

From the set of Star Trek: TOS.
From the set of Star Trek: TOS.

As I mentioned before, a airline error meant I had to spend an extra night in Helsinki. The airline put me up in a rather modest hotel which featured the ugliest chair I have ever seen and this lift which looks like it was built in the 1960s and left to rot in its avocado glory. I have to admit, it has an aesthetic appeal, which is why I’m including it in a blog post mostly about language.

The ugliest chair ever.
The ugliest-chair-ever-and-airline-pyjamas-selfie.

I had to take a selfie with it in my airline-issued-pyjama glory. Yeah, they also lost my luggage. But no matter! Totally worth it to spend the night with early 90s chairs.

gross
Because claustrophobia of lifts is better when combined with the claustrophobia of a plane.

The interior of the lifts were a cool idea, but unfortunately freaked me out a little. Anyway, enough pictures for now. Expect a proper conference run-down soon.

Until then,

Ashley

I accidentally’d a game at Update Show and called it #selfiequest

This past Saturday Esther MacCallum-Stewart and myself gave a talk about the state of games education and research in the United Kingdom at Update Show. (There was, of course, a particular shout out to the newly formed DiGRA UK chapter.) I have been informed that the videos of the talk are being edited and will be uploaded shortly.

IMG_5320

As soon as the talks are available, I’ll be sure to link them. This post, however short it might be, is about how I accidentally made a game during the Update Show afterparty. The game, entitled #selfiequest is detailed below. I hope to see some of you playing it this summer!

The Birth of #selfiequest

There is always a strong digital presence at in-the-flesh networking events. Whether this presence takes the form of carefully printed links on business cards, Facebook posts about the event, or quickly snapped selfies, everyone is connected online as they try to establish connections offline. Especially when the bartenders offer free wifi passwords along with free drinks. After 20:00 on Saturday night, my Twitter feed started to flood with pictures like this one:

BlDBB2XIAAA-tgg
I happened to take this picture (and forgot the flash was on, ahem), so I am as guilty as everyone else.

Some folks, researchers included, are troubled by this reliance on digital media- particularly when it seems to supplant ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ methods- such as talking to people face-to-face. My personal philosophy is that online and offline interactions are two sides of the same coin which blend together to make a cohesive social experience. Saying that, there is always the danger of the formation of cliques.

Perhaps more prevalent in-the-flesh (as people tend to pick a spot in the room and sit there the entire night), there are power structures, hierarchies, fears of rejection, awkwardness, and small talk over who sits where and when and for how long. Sometimes this works out for the best and a former group of strangers sit together, dig their roots in, and form a brand new social group. Often what happens instead, however, is that people coalesce around common contacts and the room quickly turns into a high school cafeteria. This annoys me far more than selfies ever could. So, to fix this, I made a game.

#selfiequest

The Goal

To find an anonymous Twitter user at the same event as you and take an awkward selfie with them (if they consent). Also, to make contacts in-the-flesh as well as through Twitter.

What You Need 

  • A Twitter account
  • A smart phone/tablet with camera
  • An event with 25+ people. This can be a conference, convention, concert, etc.

How to Play

  1. There are two roles: The Quester and The Tweeter. Any time someone tweets a picture of an event, they become The Tweeter (whether they realise it or not) and the game starts. So, log into Twitter and follow the event organiser and/or search relevant hashtags to find the first photo- or become The Tweeter yourself by taking the first photo!
  2. Using only the tweeted event photo, The Tweeter’s user photo/background image, The Quester must embark on an epic mission to find them in the flesh. Use strategy! Use the setting/décor found in the photo to locate the general area The Tweeter might be at or ask random people if they happen to know the user by showing them the tweet.
  3. Once found, the ritual must be completed and the magic circle closed. The Quester must take a selfie with The Tweeter (as long as they consent), and tweet it to show others playing the game that a point was just scored. If The Tweeter does not want to be in the photo, then a simple “I just met The Quester” tweet is sufficient.

The Rules

  1. At any time The Quester may ask anyone at the event for help locating The Tweeter– but The Quester must ask them one-on-one and in-the-flesh. Tweeting for help or shouting is forbidden.
  2. When The Quester asks someone for help, they must introduce themselves and explain the game. This not only widens social circles, but also spreads the game to new players. The more folks playing, the merrier!
  3. If you have played the game before and are approached by a Quester asking after someone you don’t know, you must respond (regardless of gender) “I’m sorry, but your princess is in another castle”. This indicates that you know of, and have played/are playing the game and thus don’t need it explained. Expediency is valuable in the game of tweets.
  4. Once The Quester has found The Tweeter and completed their mission, they must tweet to score points. 1 point is awarded for a confirmation tweet from The Tweeter. For example, “Quester @_____ just found me! Well done!” -OR- 1 point is awarded for a selfie which features The Quester and The Tweeter.
  5. The game ends when the event does. Scores are added by going through past tweets. The winner wins… well, the most new contacts!

Final Thoughts

This game has only been played once, so I’m sure there are a few bugs to work out, but I think the overall concept works well. I hope to see some of you playing #selfiequest during your summer conference and festival adventures. If you do decide to play, tweet me, k? I’d like to see my game-baby grow.

Until next time,

Ashley

TESO Launched! And it has the same problems it did in beta…

No, I don’t mean glitches, bugs, or crashes. I was in game for a shocking 8 hours yesterday with only 2 disconnects and 1 user interface error. I’m quite impressed. As far as launches go, this one has been smooth.

The problem I’m talking about is language-based. Just as I blogged about last month, Deutsch was a source of contention for players on the EU server. And just like last time, this occurred around 4 hours into launch. With a sufficient level of mastery achieved, and part of the new game smell faded amongst fumes of energy drink and frozen snacks, players turn to in-fighting to amuse themselves through the grind of quest after quest. Unfortunately I couldn’t stick around to see the drama fully unfold (as it was well past my bedtime) but I did manage to grab some screenies of the conflict which you will find below.

‘Zone’ or general/area chat appears below in white. This is text anyone in the vicinity can read and it is public. The interspersed green snippets are from one of my guilds, and for the purposes of this post, should be ignored. The multicoloured bars are used to protect the identities of those chatting as I took these screenies covertly. Each colour indicates an individual player- repeated colours are thus multiple comments from the same player.

Image

Now, I’m not sure anyone here was trolling, or at least that this fiasco was started for the purposes of trolling. From reading various forum posts, there seems to be an agreement amongst most EU guilds to set English as the (informal) primary, unifying language to be used in chat and communication*.As far as I can tell, this English ‘rule’ (see what I did there?) goes largely unquestioned.

Also, there are in-built chat functions in the game to provide separate channels based on language. As commenter Blue notes, /dezone is the command prompt to access the German chat channel. After Blue informs Red and Pink about this channel, the two German-speakers each insist they have a right to chat in their preferred language in general zone. Red even goes as far as citing the EULA (End User License Agreement) to defend their developer-given right to chat in German. Blue repeats their request that Deutsch be taken elsewhere, and then the conversation begins to slide off track.

Red makes reference to the US-based History Channel– infamous for its obsession with Nazis**, very little actual history, and this guy– to perhaps highlight the origin of Blue’s request. If we notice above, Yellow makes a comment in French and this is completely ignored. No one tells Yellow to go to /frzone. Hmm… Interesting that German seems to be a trigger. The conversation is already skidding along the rails when Orange body-slams it over the tipping point. Orange highlights the irony in the refusal to speak English in chat is happening in English… in chat. Surely that means Blue has won? After that, well, it got pretty chaotic.

Although the word ‘Nazi’ wasn’t used in this case, or at least not whilst I was there, the conversation brings up equally pressing and controversial issues about online gaming and society at large. Why did no one tell Yellow to go speak French elsewhere? Why is German so inflammatory? How immersed can we be if tensions and histories are so easily called forward? Is it right to have one big European server? Is English-as-universal-default-language a form of virtual world imperialism? Does it say anything of our colonial past? Is it just convenient? How do we ensure comfort and equal participation in online communities? Are alternate zone chats a form of sectioning and isolating?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I hope someone undertakes this as a research project and figures them out.

Until next time,

Ashley

 

*There are, of course, German-speaking guilds, and French-speaking guilds, and even some Spanish-speaking guilds, but (oddly?) most Scandinavian-based guilds insist on using English. Perhaps so the Finns won’t feel left out?

** There are literally 10 pages of search results for Nazi documentaries on the History Channel’s website. 10!!

Come see me speak at Update Show!

Your regularly scheduled programming has been interrupted to bring you this bit of shameless self promotion…

You, yes you, have the glorious opportunity to see me (and loads of people with actual talent) speak in-the-flesh! For FREE!

All you have to do is register for Update‘s event in Media City, Salford. Everything kicks off at 11am on Saturday, 12 April 2014 and the party keeps going till 19:00. There will be loads of developers showing off new games, software, and apps all day in addition to industry (and academic!) talks, tournaments, and networking opportunities. If you’re still standing by 19:00, there will be an afterparty.

You can check out Update’s website for a full list of exhibitors and presenters to whet your appetite and don’t forget to register!

Until next time,

Ashley

Why Game Reviews Are Useless: A game review of reviewing games and then a real review

I give this game 3 out of 4 mudcrabs.

Warning– Hmm, I suppose a trend for this blog will be to open with a warning, but yes, be warned that this post contains an unusual amount of large images which may eat up data allowance on mobile devices. I have tried to make them a reasonable size for the purpose of conserving precious data, so if you find you can’t read my sardonic-Photo-Shopped-text, then simply click on the image and a larger version should open in a new tab.

Additionally, please be advised that whilst there is nothing explicit or graphic (in terms of depictions of sex/violence) in this post, The Elder Scrolls Online does have a ‘Mature’ rating from the ESRB. Much of the content in this post, including the screenshots, feature vulgar language and innuendos which may not be suitable for all audiences. Also, there are puns. No one should have to suffer puns.

As always, read at your own risk.

_______________________________________________________________

I spent my weekend a little tied up.

This weekend was the third Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) beta test I had the privilege of taking part in. This was also, technically, the first beta in which Zenimax Online encouraged users to document and share their experiences by lifting the non-disclosure agreement. Presumably because I have blogged about the game and the beta in the past, I received several requests through social media to do a review of TESO- something which I had previously stated I would not do.

As you may recall from my previous posts, beta tests are generating controversy within gaming communities. What was once seen as a special privilege selectively handed out to a few lucky, loyal fans, is now seen as a sneaky viral marketing scheme designed to, essentially, crowd-source advertising. I, personally, am of the opinion that blogging/ sharing/ reposting/ tweeting about a game before it comes out not only chucks wood on the hype steam train (which is just plain obnoxious), but also spoils some of the excitement for those not selected for the beta who morosely idle their days away, staring forlornly at the ceiling wondering what to do with the empty void in their lives which the game will eventually fill.

So, why am I reviewing the game if I am so against feeding the hype-monster? Namely because I was asked to and I’m a good little cog in the propaganda machine. Also because I wanted to point out the futility of game reviews. Guess what, folks?

THEY ARE SUBJECTIVE!!!

Chances are, what you look for in a game and what I look for in a game are going to be vastly different. Game scholars have chalked this up to a number of different factors- from play styles, to individual psychology, to socialisation, to conditioning- and I’m not about to address those here. Suffice to say, asking why people often develop such strong emotional attachments, preferences, and opinions about their game of choice is like asking why some people prefer pinot grigio to sauvignon blanc. And I like both, for your information.

Don’t believe me? Okay, I’m going to go ahead and review TESO and I’ll show you how the things I liked/didn’t like don’t actually matter to whether or not you will buy the game and all you have to do is keep reading.

_______________________________________________________________

How I Rate Game?

Like any good scholar, I decided I first needed to conduct some research on how game reviews are done before I set off to do one. After a few lazy Google searches, I came to the conclusion that there is no one best way to ‘jugde‘ a video game. IGN makes an effort at quantifying how pleasurable or ‘painful’ a game is to play using a vague numerical system, but what’s the use in that? Besides the fact there are some terrible games which are fun to play precisely because they are so broken (see Emily Flynn-Jones’s work on kusoge ),  one gamer’s 8 could be another gamer’s 8.2.

Fortunately, a Wikihow article gave me guidance. In just 13 easy steps, you too can become a videogame reviewer! The categories the Wikihow suggests (yes, I am seriously using a Wikihow in a flagrant disregard for all that is holy in this world) are: Game play, controls, challenge level, and ‘how fun it is’. The article also encourages you to proofread before submission. Pro.

Right, using these categories, let us begin!

_______________________________________________________________

Game Play

The first thing I will note about game play is the combat. I made a furry lolcat Khajiit Dragonknight (aka warrior-class-archetype) for the purposes of this review. I should note that I also have a Templar (healer) and Nightblade (melee DPS) of various other races.

The first encounter is a doosey.
The first encounter is a doosey.

The primary starting zone, Coldharbour (shown above), is common to every faction. It is a relatively safe zone, despite being located on the Oblivion plane, with very few low-level baddies to sharpen your blades on. Your primary goal here is to escape the underworld and return to Tamriel where your true destiny awaits.

Spoiler alert: You don't get to fight the big bad yet.
Spoiler alert: You don’t get to fight the big bad yet. Also, there are no fishy sticks in Oblivion. 😦

The most interesting thing about this early gameplay is the iconic 3 stats-system. Prevalent in previous Elder Scrolls titles, a character’s health, magicka, and stamina are also prevalent here. Depending on your view of TESO (and whether or not you think it should be more like an MMO or more like an Elder Scrolls game) depends on how we can rate this system (subjectively, of course). The fact that ‘warriors’ use magicka and stamina to power their defensive/tanking abilities surely adds another layer of strategy to the tanking-class system, but whether or not players want this strategy- or can find an easy work-around for this strategy- is another kettle of fishy sticks.

fallingtomydeath
The only real risk in the starting zone is falling to your death. And even that is kind of amusing.

I should also mention that no time is wasted in busting out the celebrity voice cast Zenimax and Bethesda so dearly shelled out millions for. One of the first NPCs you run into is voiced by John Cleese. And he has a pot on his head. We can but approve.

John Cleese, ladies and gentlemen.
John Cleese, ladies and gentlemen.

After you escape Oblivion and are spat out into Tamriel, the true questing begins. Gone are the huge, daedric beasties- sadly replaced with bugs, skeletons, and devious members of spurned factions. Your character is filled in on the current political state of whichever faction you happened to join and it doesn’t take long before you encounter an arrow to the knee.

This is the first and last time I'll bring this up. Promise.
This is the first and last time I’ll bring this up. Promise.

For MMO players, this is standard fare and, (un)fortunately, TESO doesn’t deviate much from it. Other than a compass bar at the top of the screen which shows you where your current quests are rather than a minimap, the game play follows the standard formula:

1. Talk to an NPC.

2. Follow dot on compass bar to location on map.

3. Touch stuff, kill stuff, read stuff, look at stuff.

4. Return to NPC (who may have moved around the map).

5. Gain XP.

Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this formula- it certainly appears to be successful- but it just hasn’t changed. If you were expecting TESO to be a second-coming which revolutionises game play, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. However, if you enjoy questing and like to get stuck in a good grind, then you’ll be quite pleased that many common MMO-complaints have been addressed. 

Travel time between quests, for example, is minimal with towns and cities being big hubs for quests which take place in the town or city. There’s no need to grab a quest, run 30 minutes into the middle of nowhere and collect 20 buzzard asses, then run back to the quest giver and have another NPC ask for 20 boar asses- which were right next to the buzzards.

Also, interestingly, the game doesn’t seem to reward XP for killing baddies, so there’s no need to stand in the middle of nowhere killing buzzards and boars for hours on end till you hit level 16 and can finally move on to the awesome-looking zone to the south- I’m looking at you, Westfall. Depending on your subjective view, this can be either a positive or a negative thing. In order to level, you need to do quests and progress through the game’s narrative, which is far more time consuming than rampaging through the wilderness and decimating local flora and fauna like a zombie at a Mensa Society conference, which I actually quite liked doing. I was a bit sad that my master plan to hit level cap by killing mudcrabs was thwarted before it could come to fruition. 

On the plus side, however, the quest text is usually entertaining and the quest giver’s voice acting is quite good. The best part is that their facial expressions change to fit their tone of voice/mood (unlike the dead-eyed-cast of Guild Wars 2 which creeped me out!). See the following example:

+15 to poop-jokery.

One of the things I look for in games is a sense of humour. I need a reason to read the quest text. I need a reason to, for the 500th time, kill a load of mindless skeletons. I need something to keep me hooked, entertained. In my subjective opinion, humour is one of the key elements which made WoW such a hit. It is also what Guild Wars 2 lacked.

They have academics down pat. "Are you talking about my pet research interest? No? Then leave me!"
They have academics down pat. “Are you talking about my pet research interest? No? Then leave me!”

I was pleased to find rather subtle and refined jokes, silliness, and morbidity laced throughout the early quests of TESOA common complaint amongst many ex-WoWers on the TESO forums is that Mists of Pandaria tipped the game over the silly-cliff and left it spiralling to a pre-teen market. The general sentiment I get is that WoW had become too cartoony-both in terms of graphics and in humour.Whilst there is nothing wrong with the occasional meme reference (as I am sure you will find many in this post!) it does tend to go stale after the 200th Night Elf mohawk joke.

Perhaps for differentiation, or to be true to the Elder Scrolls franchise, TESO has gone for a more subtle art styling with a more sober sense of humour. In addition to overly-cerebral-elves, there are jokes which feature a morbid edge I imagine will go down well with the Northern European player contingent. Take this campy twist on the ol’ evil necromancer trope:

campyskele

campyskele2

campyskele3

Never has a threat to wear my skin been so amusing. I actually heard ‘Goodbye Horses‘ playing in my head as the NPC’s mandible rattled away.

Unfortunately, the beta has a level cap- which is to be expected. I’m unable to comment on whether or not this humour carries throughout the game. Likewise, I am unable to comment further on the quality of game play. I tried out PvP but spent about an hour running around aimlessly without seeing another player. Yeah, Cyrodiil is huge. I tried to get a dungeon group together but, surprise surprise, no one wanted my melee DPS and my healer and tank weren’t 1337 enough. Sigh… Onto the next criterion!

_______________________________________________________________

Controls

Whilst many of the controls are the same as their Skyrim-counterparts, certain crucial commands are different- like selling stuff. Bewildered by my first interaction with a merchant, I ended up spending 300 coins on a useless, and might-I-add flavourless, soup not realising there are separate tabs for buying and selling items.

Gold is the root of all evil.
Gold is the root of all evil.

This minor annoyance will be avoided by most of you, I am sure, which once again points out the subjective nature of reviews. The game isn’t broken, this particular feature just wasn’t intuitive for me. Several other features, however, were.

On behalf of role players everywhere, I am pleased to report that the emote system is awesome. Unlike The Secret World in which you needed a cheat-sheet to remember any of the 400 commands, the emote-able actions in TESO are relatively straightforward (for me, anyway). If you want your character to lean back, type /leanback and they will do a wicked cool pose like this:

Even Fonzie wasn't this cool.
Even Fonzie wasn’t this cool.

Likewise, if you want to show off your musical talents, you can type /lute, /flute or /drum and your character will play a tasty jam for you. The best part? The bardic rocking is accompanied by in-game music. The worst part? That music doesn’t vary. Its really only a matter of time before you go AFK in a raid and return to your friends /flute-ing en masse to deafening volumes. This might be TESO‘s train set.

You can't tell, but my Khajiit is totally shredding to Kiss's 'Love Gun'.
You can’t tell, but my Khajiit is totally shredding to Kiss’s ‘Love Gun’.

As a side note, the game is ‘pretty’. I say ‘pretty’ instead of pretty because, in my opinion, it lacks style. Bethesda is known for going for ‘realness’ and, to some extent, they have achieved that with TESO- well, as much ‘realness’ can be achieved with cat- and lizard-people running around. The problem is, they don’t employ top-notch graphic engines to see this plan through. Rather than marvelling at the awesomeness of Tamriel, we are distracted by the shitty rendering of barnacles on a ship hull because TESO wanted to snare as many players as possible into their net. And why not? Isn’t that what made WoW successful over EverQuest II– that more people could play without breaking the bank on a new gaming rig?

Personally, and this is just a subjective preference, I would much rather see a game compensate graphical showmanship with a consistent and fantastical style any day. But that’s just me.

The final aspect of gameplay I’ll include in this review involves its sandbox, interactive world design. Elder Scrolls fans will be thrilled that there is plenty of shit to click on. Yes, I realise this is the second time I’ve used the word ‘shit’-whoops, third- in this post, but there is a good reason. Most of what you can click on is, in fact, shit. Unless you are obsessed with provisioning (cooking), there is little reason to click all 34 crates in a room… unless you are like me and have been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. (I’m not trying to be funny here. I do have OCD and this did trigger me.)

LOOTALLTHETHINGS

There is something unfortunate about a history of RPG-playing which has filled me with the unease that if I miss a single clickable, I’ll miss either an essential quest item or the epic to end all epics.

All those yellow arrows? Clickables. I spent 20 minutes clicking, and I’m not even exaggerating. It felt like every time I emptied an urn, the one next to it refilled. I’m fairly certain, that if I hadn’t broken myself away with the promise of seeing more content before the beta ended I would still be in that room clicking away. The need to complete everything is strong with this one.

Mouse-hovering is a skill.
Mouse-hovering is a skill.

It certainly doesn’t help that some items look like they will be useful (glowing paper), but aren’t, and other items which look like a part of the environment (bottles), are filled with an essential crafting component for alchemy. This is why I have yet to hit the level cap, folks. I just can’t stop exploring and clicking! I’m actually thinking about clicking now…

Anyway, since I have yet to experience other aspects of game play, such as PvP and dungeoneering, its time to move on to the next Wikihow-suggested rating.

_______________________________________________________________

Challenge Level

I got to play through the first 3 zones of an MMO. What do you think the challenge level is? If you answered face-roll, ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Next!

_______________________________________________________________

‘How Fun It Is’

Judging only from the beta, I have to admit the game is fun. Many of the elements of WoW which I had missed, such as community, crafting, collecting, and achievements are all well and present in TESO. Whilst I hate comparing new MMOs to WoW, as it is often like apples to oranges or Playstations to Xboxes, there is something to be said about the fun-standard it set. As I detailed above, the main element of fun in WoW (for me) was always its humour. TESO has that, at least in early days, which gives me hope.

Moonsugar with 99% purity.
The famous blue moon sugar with its 99% purity.

There are several potential fun-killers on the horizon, however, and so I am withholding my fun-ranking until I’ve had the opportunity to mount up, do a dungeon run, and frag a n00b in PvP. (Note: I’m not being derogatory, I honestly can only kill n00bs. My PvP skills are renown for being terrible.)

Since I am reserving further judgement, pending further content, it is time for the final ranking category- and for this long-winded review to finally end! Let’s wrap things up with a final overview of my impressions of the game, shall we?

_______________________________________________________________

Overall

Because every subjective game review seems to employ a subjective-disguised-by-numbers-thus-science rating system, I have made the choice to include one in this review as well. Taking into consideration all the factors listed in this review, I have decided to give TESO 3 out of 4 mudcrabs.

rating
Yes, this is photoshopped. But also yes, mudcrabs are thankfully in-game.

No, the mudcrabs don’t mean anything. No, this rating system doesn’t have an associated qualitative value. I just like mudcrabs.

So, there you have it folks, if you like Elder Scrolls games and you like MMOs, chances are you will either like or dislike this game. Go on, try it for yourself.

Until next time,

Ashley