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Nerds Without Pants   

Nerds Without Pants Episode 6: Vice City

Winners Don't Do Drugs.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have our inner demons—those things that we do even though we know we shouldn’t. That’s what this episode of NWP is all about: vices, and how they work into our video games. Since this is technically the second part of episode 5, we skip what we’ve been playing and jump into the discussion.

First up, Patrick brings up the subject of gambling, and how prolific it is in our games. Even at a young age we’ve been exposed to this vice in gaming, and we look at how it’s affected us, even without our knowledge. We gamble all the time, including crafting in MMOs or just taking a chance on a game we’ve never played. We also look at the insidious rise of “mystery items” in games—random virtual goods that cost real world cash.

Next, Rob takes us into the slippery slope of substance abuse. We look at games that glorify drugs and alcohol, such as Narc and Catherine, and Julian tells a personal story about how GTA IV ensured he would never drink and drive…ever. Then we get onto an amazing discussion about how technology is the new dangerous addiction, especially since it’s totally legal.

Last but certainly not least, Julian makes us atone for our sins and talks about death in video games. Does the fact that death is used as a failure mechanic take away from the impact of story related character death? What about that Aeris death, anyway? When we lose a character in a game are we sad because a friend is gone, or because we lost a valuable battle asset? What are the benefits of permadeath?

We hope you enjoy this episode, and that it was worth the wait. We have another topic you’ve been waiting for in two weeks, when our special guest Lisa Eadicicco comes on to talk about our favorite ladies of gaming. Let us know your favorite digital femme fatales either in the comments below or at our Facebook fan page.

Featured Music:

Grand Theft Auto Vice City- Theme

Kenny Rogers- The Gambler

Third Eye Blind- God of Wine

Melissa Williamson- Room of Angel

Kavinsky- Nightcall (featuring Lovefoxxx)




09/15/2012 at 09:17 PM

Financial Gambling - I rarely ever gamble with money in games. I'm a stingy Jew with my cash. I beat Mass Effect 1 again recently but with my new character, and before the game was even over I already had the maximum 9,999,999 credits. I bought all the best gear for my crew and I still couldn't get rid of all that money. Same thing happens with me in Fable 2. The first time I played the game I worked some jobs, bought up some real estate, and in no time at all I had 6 million gold pieces, all the best equipment, all the property in the world, and I felt completely disconnected from the world and grossly wealthy. I didn't have to be corrupt to do it either, I made sure nobody paid any rent, I let the stores sell for the lowest prices, I'd give the maximum allowance to my family, and I still couldn't make a dent in my loot. I ended up giving almost all of the 6 million to the church of light just to get rid of it and make myself feel like a real person again.

I don't even do the gambling mini games in Fable either. I tried some of them out but I got into debt one time and the game told me something like, "If you rack up enough debt and don't pay it, guards will hunt you down to punish you for the crime." I just stopped gambling after that because I'm not good at it, I don't want to rack up debt, and the last thing I want is to have johnny law hunting my character down for something that stupid. There's plenty enough to worry about in Fable between taking care of your family all the way to slaying giant monsters, so getting in gambling debt is a pointless risk.

Life gambling - In FPS games I always gamble with my character's life in combat, but when I play games where I'm in control of other unit's lives I think it's irresponsible to gamble with them. I'm extremely protective of my team mates in Gears of War and when somebody is crawling and needs to be revived, I start taking whatever risks are necessary to get to them and revive them, sometimes it only gets me killed, but the team mate is able to run away to find cover. In Halo I fully embrace the purpose and ideals of the Spartan II program, and I treat the success of the mission as top priority. When you're a Spartan you don't have children to worry about, a fish to feed, bills to pay, or any normal things to worry about, you just have to win battles and make the impossible happen. You were abducted as a child, indoctrinated by Halsey and Chief Mendez to believe that Earth and its colonies are counting on you to save them. You learned how to work as a team, cope with death, cope with killing others, sometimes kill other kids in training, sometimes kill your handlers in order to achieve the goal, bend the rules, create new tactics, and make the impossible happen with brutal teamwork and efficiency. In the Halo universe the only things Spartans know is how to be with their team mates and fight wars, separating them or putting them into non-combat situations makes them uncomfortable and awkward. The only time I'm afraid of dying in Halo is when the result of me dying means it would make it harder for my buddy. When I play co-op with my friend in Halo 3 or Reach we always go balls out and try to work independently to achieve the same goal.

My friend Justin is great with any weapon you give him and he just carpets the encounter-space in chaos and explosions. I'm more surgical because I will sneak off, flank enemies, assassinate people, use the DMR to get headshots (the thing I'm best at in Halo), and try to kill enemy forces from the inside out, starting with elite generals, hunters, and brute chieftains so that it puts the lesser Covenant troops into disarray. Justin and I work independently doing our best strategies, but we actually have a really sharp awareness of how the other is doing, and we will fight to get to each other if our individual strategies aren't working by themselves. We will come up with something new if the strategies aren't working.

I take a ton of risks in shooters where I'm not in command of anybody, but when I play a strategy game like Civilization Revolution, I never want to gamble with my units and I never go to war with anybody. I always use a Swiss strategy of "armed neutrality" where I build a strong military and only use them for defense, and I never get involved in other Civ's wars and disputes. I'm a terrible diplomat in Civilization because I don't give a shit what the other Civ's are doing. I don't let them intimidate me, I don't sell them technology, and I don't negotiate with anybody. I just focus on protecting my cities so that my science, economy, and culture can grow and get me a non-domination style victory. In Halo I gamble every second of my lifespan and I'm always on the offensive, but in Civilization I think war is a complete waste of lives, money, and time. I guess it has a lot to do with the context. I explained the context of what the purpose of a Spartan II is and how important they are to stopping the Covenant. In contrast, Civilization is like real life. War and "saving the world" isn't the point of Civilization. And just like in real life, peace is a lot cheaper. Sending armies out all over the world and trying to conquer/assimilate/liberate your neighboring Civs is a waste of everything. It's a quick way to bankrupt your Civ, weaken yourself, and open your capital up to invasion.

Permadeath - Permadeath doesn't work in combat games very well. It's better suited for adventure stories, Heavy Rain style games, or anything that doesn't have combat as the core gameplay. In combat games whether it be an FPS or an RPG the whole point is to fight, and an inescapable part of going into encounter spaces and fighting somebody is the possibility of loosing and dying. Players will loose, and they will die occasionally, and squad mates will die so there's no point in breaking the game or the pacing just to rub it in their face that they were in a room and some guy got a couple more bullets into you than you got into him, or that a dragon pinned you in a corner and used fire damage to take down the HP of you or a party member. I don't think it fits in very well in combat games.

When permadeath happens in combat games during a dialogue sequence or cut-scene, like the Kaiden-Ashley decision in Mass Effect 1, I'm not sure if it acquires the desired effect. For me it wasn't about loosing somebody I love, it's about loosing whoever is least important to the mission. It wasn't an emotional thing at all for me, it was utilitarian, it's a combat game. It's not a matter of ethics, in fact ethics are removed from the equation alltogether because you are forced to abandon somebody and kill them with a nuke either way. With ethics removed the only things to weigh into the equation are functionality and likeability. The game is progressed by combat and shooting/using magic to take down enemy health bars is the core gameplay, so it's a decision of function and likeability. Kaiden is a person I don't like and everybody else is much better at their roles than he is, so he dies because the game forces you to make a permadeath choice. If the game gave me a choice I would save them both and keep fighting on Virmire till everybody got out. That's a choice of ethics. You don't have that choice in Mass Effect, they just shove a "one or the other" permadeath choice down your throat. The permadeath choices you make during the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 were done better than the permadeth choices in Mass Effect 1 though, so it did improve in my opinion.

Permadeath would be more useful in games that were completely story based, games that aren't progressed through combat, and that have branching narrative and options to accommodate the loss of characters. It makes a lot more sense that way.

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