The Robin Hood Complex: Hacktivism

Stealing from the bad and giving to the, well, not so bad seems to be the top agenda for Hacktivism group Anonymous. Infamous for their protests and DDoS attacks, the Anonymous identity is often adopted by various individuals around the world. However, when a hacktivist gets more jail time for revealing the truth than an alleged rapist, is the justice system going a step too far?

Ten years was the proposed sentence for hacktivist Deric Lostutter after he revealed information condemning the perpetrators of the Steubenville rape case. He posted posts from various online social media including Twitter and a video found of the attack in order to bring the crime to light. He also spoke out against the schooling and justice system that seemed to be attempting to cover it up.

While Lostutter did no physical crime, his punishment is likely to be even more severe than the perpetrators of the Steubenville case. Ma’Lik Richomond, one of the 16 year olds charged with the crime, had been released from imprisonment around the time Lostutter’s sentence was proposed. How is a crime of online vigilantism worse than that of a physical rape?

After multiple cases with whistleblowers and hacktivists, it appears to be time for the justice system to revaluate the gauging of sentence times according to the type of crime committed.

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Don’t you wish you could just live in a Crystal Palace Space Station?

How much do you think is a reasonable amount to spend on a game? A dollar on a crane machine? Five dollars on the latest app?

What about $300,000? Most people would consider spending that much money on a house, let alone any form of entertainment. However, in the rise of online gaming, people are willing to spend over hundreds of dollars to play these games to their full potential. Is this willingness to turn money into virtual credits (which, in most cases, cannot be exchanged back into legal tender) an element of problematic use?

Online gaming communities such as DotA 2, Counterstrike and League of Legends encourage spending money in game to purchase cosmetic items, weapons and added skills. According to an article on World Record Academy, the most expensive online gaming item ever to be purchased was sold at a huge $330,000. The Crystal Palace Space Station was sold to a well-known member Buzz “Erik” Lightyear, who believes the item is “amazing” and better to be owned by “a very active, and very old player who loves Entropia Universe”.

If you heard a story of someone spending $300,000 on a fruit machine, you would assume that their gambling habits were getting out of hand. The study of video game addiction and its definition is somewhat of a volatile subject in the academic and media worlds. This sort of excessive spending definitely is an element of problematic use, and should be studied in connection to how video game “addiction” works.

These sort of games are ridiculously easy to get involved in. In my own personal experience, I found myself involved in the world of Habbo Hotel. Habbo features a similar item purchasing system: in order to decorate your room, and in turn earn major status, you must put in real money for “coins” which buy “furni”. At the age of 13, I had pocket money to spare and this seemed like the perfect outlet for me to do so – only it doesn’t stop at pocket money. Instead, I was beginning to ask for Habbo giftcards for birthdays and Christmas, and started investing hundreds of dollars into a virtual game. Eventually, I must have invested over $600 of money into the game only to have lost interest and grown out of it. That is $600 that will never be redeemed, and sits on the internet in virtual items that no one else can touch. However, at the time, it seems absolutely worth it.

Part of the problematic elements of these games is the social identities that an individual gains within them. In order to be respected as a player, it is considered mandatory to invest real money and purchase skins, items and weapons to make your heroes unique. With that added peer pressure, and the basic human need to fit in, these online games’ encouragement to spend such money has potential to lead into problematic gaming.

It appears that along with money, the social aspects of online gaming should also be included in the study towards problematic use and “addiction”. If we continue to look at the effect these games can actively have on our ‘real’ lives, relationships and living standards, then a definition will be easily attained.

 

 

Mouse versus Start Button: what plays better?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that PCs are the superior gaming platform. Or at least, that’s what my boyfriend seems to think.

The debate between lovers of PCs and those loyal to console is rapidly becoming more apparent the more I fall into the gaming universe. The rivalry between consoles has always been there. Microsoft and Sony are in a constant battle to outdo each other, while Nintendo releases cute little next-gens in their wake. Now, PCs headline as a favourite and everyone is out building their own custom gaming machine instead of lining up for a new Playstation.

Don’t get me wrong – consoles are still held high up on their pedestal, but with virtually every game available on Steam, who needs multiple boxes cluttering up the TV cabinet?

After some (admittedly rushed) googling, it seems clear to me that both side of the argument remain stubbornly in place. Two articles, both from digitaltrends.com and published in November 2013, stand on either side.

Matt Smith’s piece, titled “Why I Cancelled My Playstation 4 Pre-Order (It Wasn’t To Get an XBOX One)” pushes for PC gaming’s superiority, putting it down to better quality graphics. He also touches on the disappointing development of both the Playstation 4 and XBOX One from their immediate unveiling to their actual release. Using examples of new release games, Smith discusses how consoles are restricted to limited graphics quality – particularly the XBOX One, with it running Call of Duty: Ghosts and Dead Rising 3 at only 720p resolution.

He includes this video to show another comparison between console and PC platforms. There seems to be a pattern where newly released games are playing better on a computer. It certainly seems easier too – no numerous game cases hanging around, no disks to remember to eject, no controller cables threatening to wrap around your ankles. PC gaming, and programs such as Valve’s Steam, offer a convenient all-in-one place for the average gamer to enjoy.

However, as I mentioned before, consoles are hardly going out of fashion despite having their flaws. Ryan Fleming, countering Smith’s argument, believes that the gaming market still belongs primarily to console producers.

He begins his argument in a slightly unusual fashion – by agreeing with some of Matt Smith’s points. He acknowledges the obvious facts; that PCs “better graphics, can be upgraded, and years ago began offering the social integration that is just now reaching console fans”. However, it is with much conviction that he finishes his statement “consoles are, and will remain king for the foreseeable future”.

His reasoning? Money and convenience. Where having all of your games on one platform may be less clutter, consoles are generally much easier to access. Most people know how to handle a generic game controller from an early age – I was three the first time I played Resident Evil on my chunky Playstation 1 – but trying to work WASD keys is like losing control of your fingers. Personally, I like to attach a mnemonic to the keys – “What? Ahh! Stupid – (I’m) Dead” – because those are most likely the things coming out of my mouth. Consoles are universal; for all ages, and all skill.

When it comes to money, Fleming argues that game production companies are most likely to invest themselves in consoles due to their ability to gain massive profit. In 2012, he claims that all three major console producers (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) had software sales that “topped 331 million [units]”. The producers are hardly going to drop out of the console business when games such as GTAV sold 25 million copies on console alone.

So, what difference does the platform make to playing the game? Other than graphics, price and accessibility, is there any evidence that different platforms change the way a game is played or interpreted? Do we get any less immersed on a PC in comparison to a console?

What I feel it comes down to is a gamer’s personal identity and representation. PC gamers are considered elite due to their hardcore, “true” gamer personas. Due to their accessibility, consoles are demoted to being a common, “everybody” platform, which translates into “casual” in the video game ‘verse. This doesn’t mean PC gamers won’t use consoles, or vice versa. I think it just means that when it comes down to it, what is better depends on what each individual wants to gain from playing. As for me, I’ll stick to my ol’ fashioned Spyro and Ratchet and Clank on Playstation – then at least I’ll know which buttons to press.

LIMBO: Arachnophobes need not apply.

Merely minutes into the game, I turned to my boyfriend and hastily shoved the mouse towards him. “It’s going to eat me!” I said, shaking my head.

Picture yourself waking up in the middle of a forest. There’s only one direction to go and you have nothing to defend yourself with. Then, you meet it: the biggest spider you’ve ever seen.

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(See those giant spindly legs? Yeah, watch out for those.)

There’s a reason that Playdead’s LIMBO won multiple awards, including IGN’s “Best Horror Game”; it’s a horrifying concept. The way agency and affect work together in this game is carefully crafted to create a suspense that would have the average arachnophobe in tears. It involves problem solving, and risk taking, hosted on a good, old side scrolling platform. The most interesting thing about this game is how it makes you face your fears. To play the game, there’s no decision to make in order to avoid the spider. It’s how my boyfriend eloquently puts it, “If the game wants the spider to eat you, it will.” Don’t get me wrong, there are opportunities to get back at that eight-limbed beast, but they take a bit of figuring out. Otherwise you might find yourself impaled.

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(Whoops!)

LIMBO is a prime example of how video game creators use their talents to manipulate both elements of affect and agency within a story. Unlike the popular first person shooter horror games, this indie game explores a different angle than full frontal aggression. Gamer’s Temple describes LIMBO as a game that “shows that there is salvation for an industry stuck in sequel hell.”

No matter what I do, I still can’t bring myself to continue in the game. I just know it’s going to get me!  Even though it isn’t real, and that you respawn within seconds, you can’t help but feel jittery whenever you see one of those sharp, black points in the corner of the screen. It’s incredible to think how something nonphysical can affect someone so much.

Paying in, and getting back: The Compendium

It’s no secret that gaming, particularly eSports, thrives through its community base. Forums, livestreams and a massive online following bring together fans from all over the globe. In fact, the gaming community has such an impact, it often offers significant financial contributions.

Since August 2011, Valve Corporation have hosted an international DotA 2 tournament, (aptly named) The International.  This brings professional DotA 2 teams, such as Natus Vincere, Invictus Gaming and Alliance, together to compete for a grand prize of $1 million. While this prize was set for the first two tournaments, 2013 would see Valve add an extra element of community interaction to the event.

The Compendium was announced as a “virtual book that will keep you fully up to date with the state of The International”. For $9.99 (USD), the Compendium allowed DotA 2’s massive online community to closely participate and enjoy The International 3 from an angle like never before. This is where the community begins to play a financial hand.

Along with its announcement, Valve revealed that 25% of the proceeds would be added to the tournament’s total prize pool. Not only that, they also set up a goal system that in which each monetary stage reached, the community contributors would earn in game rewards. For example, upon reaching a total of $1,700,000, Compendium purchasers were given a 125% Battle Booster that could be used until the tournament had ended.

In total, Compendium sales increased the total prize pool by $1,247,380 (in comparison to the previous pool at the International 2). The overall first place price went from $1,000,000 to $1,437,190 – an increase of nearly 50%!

This is something that came to mind when considering the differences between the video gaming and film industries. Video games are potentially the most immersive media, not only in playing but also in contributing to its development. It is rare to see a Hollywood film to be funded by its fans*, but Valve has managed to solidify the continuation of The International financially and still offer benefits to those who cared enough to pay. That is one of the greatest appeals of the video gaming industry – its ability to give back.

Here are a few articles on the announcement and success of the Compendium:
http://www.shacknews.com/article/79086/dota-2-10-compendium-accompanies-the-international-3
http://www.gosugamers.net/dota2/news/24897-compendium-sixth-goal-breached-an-extra-million-to-ti3
http://www.gamespot.com/articles/dota-2s-the-international-3-reaches-2m-prize-pool/1100-6408442/

(*Disclaimer: With the exception of recently successful Kickstarter project for a Veronica Mars film.)