contentgrrl

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Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

13 elements that appeal to this gamergrrl

Posted by contentgrrl on November 28, 2007

I ran links to a gamergrrl’s manifestos in my post about misguided gift shopping lists of games. But what appeals to gamergrrls about actual gameplay? Developers and fellow gamers, I can offer my own likes:

  1. I love customizing my avatar. Oblivion has some great tools to customize facial features and other characteristics that make up the personality. Even the Tiger Woods game did a fair job with avatars, and gives you the option to buy new clothes. The faces, hair, and physical proportions still need work, and the wardrobe is definitely appropriate for the golf course (not in a good way). My dear husband recreated himself, me, and our young sons in his game. I kick total butt on all courses onscreen, even if I refuse to pick up a putter in real life.
  2. I love building a well-rounded character. In Baldur’s Gate, I hated when my husband focused on one characteristic like strength to the detriment of charisma and agility. That may be the influence of my time management training, between Franklin-Covey and the Paul J. Meyer system. Even though Diablo II had a rather limited set of characters, I loved building up points so I could use some of the treasures. Lara Croft seemed fairly well-rounded already (;^), but I would have liked to build more than just quest stats, and build skills. A well-rounded character should be rewarded; I think Oblivion did this well, as did Torment.
  3. I love an intuitive interface. I keep seeing these getting better and better: navigation through movement and physical skills, interaction with the environment, talking with other players and non-player characters, selecting spells and weapons, and shopping for stuff. Oh, and thanks for letting me customize the keys I use. Now if only I could use those Lara Croft or basketball moves in real life.
  4. I like beautiful gamescapes, but not to the detriment of gameplay. It’s another thing that makes a game immersive. I won’t say I love beauty and art and graphics, because lately a lot of engines favor looks over substance.
  5. I love clever music. Portal’s closing credits are a hoot (see it on YouTube). Diablo’s themes for various levels haunted me all the time.
  6. I love allies. In Planescape Torment, they gave me much more than your standard fighter/wizard/archer mix of allies. I could actually have conversations with these allies, learn more about the world, discuss the pros and cons about what our troop was doing and could do next. I could even learn new skills (like thievery, weaponry, magic, eloquence, and so on).
  7. I love a story with a good plot. I want to immerse myself in a story. Again, I’ll use Elder Scrolls Oblivion, Longest Journey, Dreamfall, and the Myst series as good examples. Actually, Star Wars Academy was another. You move the plot forward by the choices and actions you make.
  8. I love both laughing and crying. This may be an extension of plot, but it comes up with dialog as well. Planescape Torment actually moved me to both laughter and tears, and not just because I’d been awake for far too long. (BTW, laughing and crying are my litmus tests for a good movie, and extremely rare in a game).
  9. I love dialog that moves the plot. Not the “Wait, I’m a Medic” or “Thanks” and “You’re Welcome” of the new Crysis that Morgan reviewed last night on G4TV. I have to admit that I like the multiple-choice dialog from Baldur’s Gate II, where you made friends and enemies and affected your charisma points by the dialog choices you made. And I’ll say again about Oblivion, while I love using humor, flattery, boasting, or coercion to win over non-player characters, I’d much rather have a good Whedonesque screenwriter write the actual banter, which would give me some better examples that I might want to try out in real life. Oh, and the voice acting has to be good. Sure Lynda Carter (of the original WonderWoman) can do well as an Orc in Oblivion. But some sound bytes are downright annoying.
  10. I gotta touch everything. I want to explore every square yard/meter of a level or landscape for treasure, and clean it up by killing all the Big Bads and their minions. In that, I differ markedly from my husband (and young sons). Have you seen that comedian, Defending the Caveman? It’s the difference between Hunters and Gatherers, and I am the latter.
  11. I love puzzles that make me think and apply what I already know in new ways. Go Portal. Go Myst. And, to some extent, go Tomb Raider, in terms of using Lara’s skills to get to where she needs to go. But most games are still limited when it comes to what you can pick up and use in the environment; a recent exception is Half-Life, where you could break all sorts of things, lift them, push and pull, with a very user-friendly interface.
  12. I love when the game’s karma rewards or punishes moral choices. Baldur’s Gate punished you for selfish choices by dropping your Charisma so low you couldn’t get anybody to give you information or sell you stuff. Oblivion lets you explore being a thief, an assassin, a soldier, a mage, and so on, all in the same game, but completing each faction’s quests definitely has its rewards, and I’m not sure I want immorality rewarded so much; I’d like to see something decremented like your ability to restore life force or mana when you disrespect property, life, or earth. As much as I like Grand Theft Auto as entertainment, it puts a knot in my stomach for how rude Tommy & CJ are, the foul language they and their NPCs use, the disrespect for women, and oh, yeah, the stealing, killing, and outright destruction. There are games where you get to play the cop, but he’s usually an anti-hero, one who’s out to get speeders or break all the rules. Are there any good detective or FBI profiler or spy games? I haven’t really looked.
  13. I love learning something that reflects real life. I’ll say again, my absolute favorite RPG is Planescape Torment (1999) for its exploration of philosophies (such as anarchy, hedonism, entropy, chaos, order, freethought, cabalism, and so on) through gameplay, dialogue, and plot. I also learned about biology and ecology in an old Gaia simulation. I actually learned a thing or two about using golf clubs from Tiger Woods. I’ve even learned a few things about combination shots and English from the old Virtual Pool. It’s too bad that Guitar Hero is only a dumbed-down version of the Dance steps. It doesn’t actually teach you how to play chords. If it did, I’d be all over that. I could really get into a sim for learning how to sail or fly a small plane. I was even lucky enough to be involved in developing simulation training for telecom field network troubleshooting for SBC, now at&t.

Any other manifestos around?

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scoop on new parent site reviewing games kids play

Posted by contentgrrl on November 9, 2007

Yesterday, LA Times reporter Alex Pham asked (LinkedIn members click here for all answers), “As parents, do you ever wonder what exactly is in those video games your children are playing? How do you go about finding whether a game is appropriate for your child?”

I responded as follows:

I wouldn’t leave my kids completely alone to do whatever they wanted on their computers. Parents are responsible for their children’s welfare, offline and online.

There are cyberstalkers who may show up in online games sometimes known as massive multi-user games (MMUGs), which include online chat functions. Some of those deviants can persuade a child or teen to reveal information that could result in dangerous consequences.

Also, keep in mind that in addition to whatever the original game designers released, there are folks out there who offer skins, hacks, and cheats for download. I remember one first-person shooter where you could change the monsters into snacks like ice cream cones. I think I remember a story about another hack that allowed the San Andreas guy to see more skin than clothes on his “dates”.

Otherwise, I agree with most of these comments: Read others’ reviews, check the ESRB rating, and play it, or at least watch while your children do so. I rely heavily on Amazon.com’s reviews, as well as Gamespot.

Pham followed up with a few questions:

Q: Do you think that there are adequate resources out there for parents to make informed decisions about games their children play?
me: For all the games on the market, there are a multitude of resources. Perhaps not all in one place, which may make it difficult for parents. Opportunity may knock here.

Q: Do the ESRB descriptors tell you much of what you need to know as a parent?
me: I wouldn’t rely wholly on ESRB. ESRB is not likely to review anything outside of the game per se. But since cheats, hacks, and skins are not always tied to the game producer, it’s difficult to monitor them to standards. There is a lot that remains out of the control of the ESRB.

Q: Are traditional game reviews informative in that regard?
me: To an extent. Most reviewers follow a certain structure of software or game review, and most modern review sites offer community features such as user ratings and comments.

After that, it turned into a phone interview for an article on a site Pham said was called What They Play (I now have the link), to be launched Monday by (correction: former) executives of Ziff Davis.

I’m a long-time fan of ZDNet’s reviews for all sorts of software and technology products. They already have a site, 1up.com, that includes the latest game reviews, news, previews, codes, cheats, contests, guides, and q&as. But 1Up is mostly geared for the gamer.

Apparently, What They Play is for the parents. I’d say it’s also good for grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, and other caregivers. Anyone who may be concerned about objectionable content and other details that would help them make decisions about whether to buy a particular game for a child. Anyone who wants more detail than what they find on the ESRB label on the retail box.

I’m hoping it will include information about the educational value of certain games. Sure, I’ll watch for objectionable content for my nephews aged 8 and 12, but more importantly, what will they learn? Will I find everything I need to make a decision in one place? Will games be filtered or categorized according to content appropriate for different age groups? Will that be more detailed than E for everyone, T for teen, and M for mature?

I’m also interested in more specific violence statistics or descriptors. On Buffyverse‘s episode synopsis, you could see how many humans, vampires, and demons were killed, as an indicator of just how violent Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel the Series was. I know that a game is not that static, but some kind of rating for each kind of violence would be helpful. Assume it’s more disturbing to see a human killed than a big Bad. Is bad behavior rewarded in various quests, as in Grand Theft Auto, Thief, and Oblivion? Or is heroism rewarded, as in Spider-Man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Is it easy to find games that encourage reading, moral decision-making, applications of what you learn in school, creative problem-solving, environmental stewardship, and political activism?

I wonder, who else has heard of What They Play? I’m looking forward to the launch, and to the LA Times story on Monday.

Posted in community, culture, games, heroes, heroines, learning, persuasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

get published in business, trade, or industry magazines

Posted by contentgrrl on November 6, 2007

Can you can write? Do you have some interests and passions that you can work up into articles of various lengths? If you have something to say worth reading about trends in your industry, you can probably get published.

What trade or industry magazines do you read now? Nestled among their list of editors’ names and advertising sales contacts, each magazine usually has an editorial calendar and an authors’ or writers’ guidelines for submitting article ideas. Some of this information may actually be in the Advertising section of the magazine’s Web site, but as you research your target publication, it will be useful to determine if you can write to fill their needs.

As a former trade rag editor, I know that all editors love useful content that meets their guidelines. Call up the editor of a magazine you’re reading, tell ’em you’re a big fan, and offer to write up something to fill the gaps in their editorial calendar, or contribute a sidebar or viewpoint opposing what they already have slated.

If you can come up with highly readable tips, guidelines, research statistics, book reviews, and analysis of current trends or events (for example, in business, mergers & acquisitions, international investments, and so on), you’re more likely to be paid.

Of course, some business magazines already have interns and editorial advisory board members who provide or review much of the content. But if you can write better than they can, and pass the gatekeepers, you’ll do fine!

Posted in community, marketing, publishing, reading, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

starting and running a reading group

Posted by contentgrrl on October 29, 2007

After I graduated Baylor into my adult life, I no longer had to study all night between my internship, my student teaching, my community service, partying, and classes. I also no longer had most of those activities to fill my time. When I started my first full-time job, I would plop down on my couch, and stare at the wall. Eight hours in one place was exhausting. Those were the days.

Eventually I found a restaurant (Max’s) that welcomed poetry readings, and of course there was Barnes & Noble and a couple of new friends in the office. We started a book group, where we met weekly over Mocha Valencia Grandes. We would each bring one question, comment, or passage for the group to discuss. We did Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, where I marveled over the recurring antiseptic theme, and then my very religious colleague made it obvious that C.S. Lewis was writing about Armageddon at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, and then my activist colleague had us reading about life in the inner city, which made me so angry that I have blocked out the author and title (I still feel impotent about the rampant homelessness, drug abuse, child abuse, gang violence, and inequalities for which I can find no solution). Sometimes, just catching up would take us hours, but we had flexibility back then. If I hadn’t relocated to another city, I might still belong to that book group.

Then again, I might not. I appreciate the broad range of perspectives in that particular gaggle of gals. We were certainly not of one mind. On the other hand, I think I might be interested to find people who share more of my interests and values.

If you’re starting a book group, BookMuse has some great resources for starting and running a book group, including groups for kids, recommendations and reviews. I wish I had a reading group when I was younger. A kid’s reading club, around a neighborhood, would be a great opportunity for socialization and for learning new things.

My friend Karmon (one of my unsung heroines) was a big proponent of The Reader’s Place, which has an excellent forum for online reading groups, lists, and polls. Also through Karmon, I’ve found Reader2, where you can build your personal reading lists, export your latest read books or recommended books to your site or blog, find readers with similar interests, and track friends’ readings.

Of course, I rely heavily on Amazon’s customer reviews, Listmania, and So You’d Like To… . And they’re starting topical community forums, which you can find if you scroll down on some book pages. So far, Amazon’s forums remind me of only slightly more well-read versions of the message boards on IMDB.com (Internet Movie DataBase). There will always be trolling idiots.

I’m currently reading a public relations writing book, a couple of parenting books, and a couple of religious history books. I’m still recovering from devouring two Robin Hobb epic fantasy trilogies. If you’ve gotten this far on my blog, maybe I’ll see you around!

Posted in community, heroines, learning, reading | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

7 elements of a good book review

Posted by contentgrrl on October 29, 2007

Looking for elements of a good book review? Try the folks at Scholastic (How to Write a Book Review by Rodman Philbrick). Seven elements for book reports include:

  1. Identify title, author, genre, and theme.
  2. Share your personal reactions (what it made you feel and think).
  3. Summarize what happened and what it meant (but don’t spoil the ending for the rest of us!).
  4. Note characters or points that you loved or hated and why.
  5. Describe the writer’s style (descriptions that pulled your senses into the story, the moral, character or argument development, dialogue, etc.).
  6. Reflect on the time, culture, or perspective in which is was written or set.
  7. Conclude why it is or is not worth reading.

These tips work whether you’re writing for school, for your personal journal, or for widespread publication (such as a print magazine or even blogging). I’ve been a fan of Scholastic and its selection since I was in school. It’s nice to see some really good resources from this company online. Philbrick starts with an example to elicit discovery, then lists some excellent, concrete writing tips, some questions to elicit deeper thought, guidelines for revision or checks for success, and how to publish it.

Posted in learning, publishing, reading, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »