Matt Chat 36: Starcraft and the RTS Genre

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In this week's episode, I review Blizzard's 1998 masterpiece Starcraft, widely considered the best real-time strategy game ever made.

I imagined a few people might respond to my claims that most people online are jerks, but all I can say is that's my perceived experience. In reality, there are probably mostly good people online, but they tend to get overshadowed by the cretins, and if a "good guy" is just standing around as jerkwads trash the noobs--how "good" is he, anyway? I've never had much patience for either behavior, and that's probably why I don't last long in online games.

As I mentioned in the video, I was easily able to meet a friendly player who gave me lots of tips and talked to me about why he liked the game. However, the first time I played, it was with a group of jerks. They kept calling me "noob" and one of my own teammates attacked and killed me while the others encouraged him. I was having trouble figuring out how to use the chat function, but it's probably a blessing I didn't communicate with them. If that had been my first and only experience, I wouldn't have played it again. In general, though, I just haven't been at all, and I mean *at all*, impressed with the maturity and pleasantness of online gaming. It feels like most of the time I'm playing with very badly behaved kids. I suspect a lot of my impatience might stem from my job as a professor; if you had to deal with that kind of behavior on a daily basis, you sure as hell wouldn't want to throw yourself into it during your free time.

Only very rarely do I find the sort of folks I'd like to hang out with in real life when I'm playing online games. That's another reason I'm sad that we've never been able to assemble any kind of online group here at AA; I'm sure I'd like that much better than playing with random strangers. I remember a few weeks ago someone here had made a comment about how we should be lucky AA is as small and intimate as it is--at first I thought, nah, I'd still rather have a few hundred more members and a lot more participation. But if that "participation" amounted to the kind of trash I see in online games, then I should be careful what I wish for. I would 1000 times rather have a forum with 5-6 good folks than 500-600 kids who couldn't write a coherent sentence (in any language, mind you) and whose "mommies" had never so much as raised their voice (except to apologize that the grocery store ran out of their favorite juice box). Heheh...Yeah, I'm becoming an old fogey before my time.

I apologize for the boring still shot for this video. I still haven't mastered the art of timing the video in such a way as to get decent still shots for the video links, and all three were just like this. Grrr...It's definitely one of Youtube's big limitations (other services I've used will let you choose from a much wider series of thumbnails or upload your own!).

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Chris Kennedy
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My thoughts on negative online experiences

Hey all -

Enjoyed the Matt Chat, Matt. Once again, I haven't really played the game you mentioned - Starcraft. My ego continues to drop - At this rate, I will never be able to consider myself a videogame historian. My RTS experience is based on the original Warcraft and its sequel, Warcraft 2. Despite my interest in sci-fi and space, I never latched onto Starcraft. Perhaps RTS was a genre I would simply babble in from time to time.

My thoughts on online gaming personalities -

I don't game much online. I remember buying Dead or Alive 4 for the 360, recognizing I could play online, and never playing online at all. Why? I didn't want to get beat. Ha! It didn't matter if I could beat others - I knew there were highly competitive people out there that had mastered fighting games, and I just didn't want to face them and lose. I guess I fall into one of the Matt Categories(TM).

But what about the social aspect of online gaming? I have a few thoughts on this. Specifically, I have some thoughts concerning the jerk-types one might encounter. In short, I consider them to be an evolution of the traditional playground bully. For the online incarnations of a bully, there are actually two parts to this - 1: That of the bullying and the typical reasons behind it as well as 2: Bully Revenge - Children that would be bullied on a playground can use online gaming as a way to "bully back" in a forum where they have more control and are not subject to physical harm.

How often does physical violence create bonding among children in schools? More often than we'd like. Eventually, those playground bullies and their followers could turn into gangs. I believe that in the same way, those that interact in online games find community with the online bullies - People get online, bring the smack, assert their "online strength" (perhaps regardless of gaming skills), and develop a following. It is the same thing as that playground bully that develops followers - perhaps they aren't physical like he is, but they would rather be with him than against him. I would give an example of this, but it seems like Mark pretty much did that already!

The revenge idea makes perfect sense to me - If you are physically pushed around and cannot defend yourself, online gaming is the perfect forum for pushing back by flexing your muscles in something that is on your turf.

I do not believe this phenomenon is intentional for those involved. Sometimes it is, but I think it is mostly subconscious. Much like the playground bully and victim, certain aspects of one's life contribute to them becoming an online bully. It could be a kid that is a victim on a playground, it could be an adult that WAS a victim on the playground in the past. It could also be an adult with a hostile boss or abusive spouse or goodness knows what.

It could simply be a jerk being a jerk.

My point isn't really to say that all of these online types that come off as jerks have some sort of major problem in life. Rather - The online community is a way for people to vent, attack, and build their own ego while destroying the ego of someone else without any consequences. It is no surprise that many might generalize the online community as jerks.

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Matt Barton
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Excellent summary, Chris,

Excellent summary, Chris, and I couldn't have said it better. Bullying is definitely a key dynamic here. I was mercilessly and ruthlessly bullied until about 7th grade or so, when I finally hit a growth spurt and reached the height I am today (until then I had been the shortest guy in the class by far). Even then I had to put up with harassment and was basically alienated from everyone but two other outcasts.

However, did I ever feel the urge to get revenge by picking on smaller kids? Never. Indeed, I came to despise bullies and everything they stand for. I guess I might get "revenge" in the sense that I came to see them as intellectually inferior to myself; being so stupid that the only way they could feel better about themselves was to physically harm others. Do you remember Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, when Mel knocks the helmet off the big gladiator guy and discovers he's just an innocent retarded man? That's basically how I feel about all bullies (of course it didn't help that in rural Louisiana, some of them actually looked like that). However, if they aren't properly controlled, they can pose a real threat to anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths. In any case, I certainly don't intentionally "bully" anyone either intellectually or physically. It would be very easy given my position as a professor to "strike back" or whatever, but I personally despise people who abuse their power and would never condescend to do it myself.

In any case, though, these "cyber bullies" or whatever you want to call them are certainly engaging in the same type of behavior as a playground bully. Undoubtedly most of them feel insecure about God knows what, and it feels good to them to be a master of a domain where others look up to them. That *should* be enough, but I guess the truly abusive ones have to take it a step further and try to hurt people's feelings as much as possible to puff themselves up. I wish it were possible to get good enough at these games to put them in their place, but of course that's all but impossible. Sadly, the ones that most need a beat down are untouchable. I think that's what makes it the most humiliating--you want to beat the snotty punk, but just can't do it--and he knows that and rubs it in your face. In that sense again it's very much like playground bullying.

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Mark Vergeer
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Well spoken Chris!

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Mark Vergeer
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Bullying = having low self esteem

People feeling rotten about themselves/low self esteem tend to bully others if they sense that their mood/self esteem increases when they do. Literally pushing others down makes your rank higher and thus your self esteem.

Having been at the receiving end does increase the risk of bullying yourself if you have low self esteem. If you don't have a low self image why would you bother being an arsehole and bully others?

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Matt Barton
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For Us Losers

One of my fellow professors today said it best: "I hate doing anything that I'm not good at." I know I hate to lose. I don't mind a challenge, but I hate when it comes to the point where I simply lose, have to admit failure, and eventually realize that I'm just not good enough to hack it. Indeed, I think one reason I'm drawn to certain games is that I'm good at them and can actually beat them with a reasonable amount of time and effort. But if there was a game that I simply could not muster up the skills to beat, I'd avoid it with a passion.

There are very few modern games that are so difficult that a reasonably skilled person simply could NOT beat them (or at least achieve a respectable performance). This was far more common in the past, when games were designed to either kill you off quickly, or were simply so poorly designed that only someone with inside knowledge (or incredible luck, or inhuman persistence) could ever hope to beat. I recently completed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and was able to get through each level on normal difficulty with only a few deaths. Even when I died, the game resumed shortly before I died, so it was relatively painless. Did this "ease" make the game less fun? Hell, no. I enjoyed it very much! If I had so chose, of course, I could have played it on the harder difficulty and died a lot more often--but that would have been less fun for me (on the other hand, I avoided the "easy" mode since that would have made me feel like a wussy or that I would become bored by the lack of challenge).

Online gaming knows no "difficulty level." It's simply cranked up to "insane," often to the point where many of us assume that the other players must be cheating. No one could possibly be that good without some sort of code, cheat, hack, or whatever. I realized early on that in all online games, you simply aren't going to win or get anywhere close to the championship level. The top positions are reserved for people who have basically dedicated their lives to it. The lower positions are filled by people who dedicate large, large amounts of time to carefully studying and emulating that top tier. Below that are people who are emulating them. Somewhere beneath all of them are casual players such as myself, who may have basic knowledge of the game but no clue as to all the expertise, physical conditioning, and insider knowledge that's been worked out at the top and filtered down.

As someone who likes to win, I prefer games that I know I can win. I know I cannot win at online games--at least not without investing so much time and energy into the endeavor that I'd undoubtedly lose interest before hitting the top. With something like WoW, you keep running up against the cold, hard fact that "you suck." No matter how many hours and hours upon hours of time you invest in it, there are countless people all around who can annihilate you with virtually no effort. Many people aren't bothered at all by this fact, but it definitely bothers those of us with a competitive streak who hate losing.

I definitely feel this way about bodybuilding. The hardest part for me is realizing that I can't lift even a fraction of what other guys can lift with ease. Sure, I can try to convince myself that I could reach that level with enough time, energy, effort, etc., but I know deep down that it's not going to happen. Same thing with playing the guitar, or whatever. You could study the guitar for years and then walk into any guitar store in the country and meet a dude there who can make you sound like you've never touched the instrument. It's humbling, and I'm plenty humble enough already without seeking it out as "entertainment." In my "entertainment," I want to be the champ, not the loser.

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Mark Vergeer
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Difficulty level....

I don't have any problems loosing again and again from an almost impossible arcade game or other type of game genre, even online gaming if the experience is a positive one.

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Bill Loguidice
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Makes me mental
Mark Vergeer wrote:

I don't have any problems loosing again and again from an almost impossible arcade game or other type of game genre, even online gaming if the experience is a positive one.

It's a psychological thing with me as well. I don't mind losing to a machine as long as I don't feel it's been programmed to cheat (NBA Jam and Mario Kart 64, I'm looking at you!), but I don't like losing to a human online. I feel extra pressure and have extra incentive to win. Of course not being able to dedicate myself to most games, I'm often on the receiving end of an ass-kicking unless it's a mostly non-action game (trivia, board games, etc.), then I can usually at least avail myself reasonably well. Things do take on a different dynamic as well when you're part of a team versus one-on-one online.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Matt Barton
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Hehe. Well, maybe it's how

Hehe. Well, maybe it's how you look at a certain difficulty. If you think of the game as "insane" and think that it's not expected for you to win, that's one thing. If you feel like you really ought to be able to do it, but simply fail for whatever reason (unpreparedness, bad design, bad luck, etc.) that can sting more--especially if there is "punishment" for failure (such as having to replay an entire level). I guess it's kind of stinky to regard someone else's gloating or elation as "punishment" for losing, but it does suck when that kind of thing happens again and again.

I take chess as a good example of what I'm talking about here. When I was a kid and teenager, I always considered myself a good chess player. I could play just about any of my friends (or anyone I knew who liked the game) and win most of the time. I was proud of that. Then one day I was on Yahoo and noticed that I could play chess online. Of course I leaped at the opportunity. The way it was set up, you had to start at the lowest rung and work your way up.

I lost the first game. I lost the second game. I lost, lost, lost. I never won a single game. And this was supposedly the bottom of the pile!

This caused me to question many things. How could it be that I seldom lost in all my past experiences, but a complete loser online? Were these random people from the internet really just that good? Secondly, I couldn't actually see these other people. Were they cheating, somehow? I started thinking about ways to cheat, and decided that it was entirely possible. They could have had a program like Chess Master running in the background, and were simply using it to guess the best moves to use against me.

I eventually got determined enough to start doing some research on chess strategies, and figured out some things I had been doing badly. However, I continued to lose, lose, and lose again. I finally gave up in disgust after weeks of gameplay without a single win.

On a positive note, the stuff I researched made me an even better player "in real life," though I'm probably rusty now. There for awhile I was really giving the smackdown to some folks--including two who claimed they had never been beaten. :P Yeah just try Yahoo chess!

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Bill Loguidice
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Chess - a favorite topic of mine

Chess is a peculiar beast. I love the game, but have no particular talent at it, have trouble thinking more than a move or two ahead, and certainly have not taken the time to learn strategies. This of course means that I'm often easy to beat. I occasionally dabble in chess online (most recently on two games I have for the Xbox 360), but am typically content playing against the computer on lower difficulty levels, since I can be challenged, yet sometimes still win. It's probably not enough to make me a better player, but it is enough for me to enjoy it, if that makes sense.

I'm particularly fond of the Chessmaster series of games and have many versions, including for the 360 and Nintendo DS. I like how they have different players (even a chimp) of varying skill levels, play styles and back stories. That really makes a big difference to me. I also enjoyed the stuff that Sierra used to do, with the Hoyle games and their unfortunately short-lived Power Chess series, which sadly are very OS specific (100% requiring Windows 95 and Windows 98 specifically, respectively). They really gave the impression of playing against an animated/personable opponent, something that is missing in most chess games (and even Chessmaster could do more of).

Also, I've rarely liked any 3D chess boards. I find the classic 2D view by far the easiest to tell everything apart. It's probably also why I like traditional sets when playing in the real world. I don't want to have to struggle to figure out what bizarro piece z is supposed to represent as I have enough of a struggle with the game itself.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Mark Vergeer
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Online chess...

Matt, it could simply be that you were at the receiving and of habitual grand master chess players. I know quite a few grand masters who will always have a couple of browser windows open dedicated to simultaneously playing chess games. For Grandmasters it can be quite intriguing to play against foreign elements or beginners as their chess play can be rather unpredictable and it can be quite hard to win from a very concentrated and cautious beginner!

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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