Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for November 2007

Ghostbusters, baby!




Who you gonna call? Sierra games has announced Ghostbusters: The Video Game — a beautiful series of words. Strikes that perfect note of nostalgia and anticipation. Ghostbusters was one of the best movies of the 80s, a great idea that quickly lost steam in the sequel and died an early death.

Now it's back, on the only platform that might be able to handle it, with a story written by its original creators.

One can't help but wonder, what other Bill Murray hits might make good games? I want to play Rushmore: The Video Game — managing a massive aquarium project while dodging cruel traps from my teenage rival.

Or how about The Game Aquatic with Steve Zissou? Lots of action in that one. Shooting pirates, tracking sharks, equipping speedos with different stat bonuses.

Or even Lost in Translation: The Video Game. Work your way through a minefield of dialog as you manage a platonic love affair with Scarlett Johansson. Too cold and she'll wander off. Too hot you'll come off like a creepy old man.

I'm picturing a relationship temperature graph with warning animations at both ends. Manage it right and the game will grant you a no-fault divorce.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 19, 2007 at 12:46

Posted in Games, Movies

Duff: Confessions of a gender-switch gamer

Duff: Confessions – and Explanations – of a gender-switch gamer

My name is Michael Duff, and I am a gender-switch gamer.

That means although I am a man, I frequently create (and play) video game characters who are female.

I can imagine an army of amateur psychologists now, nodding their heads sagely as they smirk. “He’s a guy who likes to pretend he’s a chick, and we all know what that means.”

But it’s not quite that simple. Most male gamers have “crossed the digital divide” once or twice, for a variety of reasons. The stock answer is to blame it on aesthetics, in a way that reinforces the masculinity of the gamer. Most video game characters are viewed from the back, so men naturally prefer looking at female backsides while they play.

This is a great answer, because it throws the insinuation back on the questioner. “So you really like looking at male buttocks all day? Maybe you’re the one with the problem!”

Although the majority of game players are male (84 percent according to one World of Warcraft survey) the character distribution is much more even. So for whatever reason, a lot of men are out there playing female characters.

I can’t answer for all of them, but I’ll tell you why I do it.

The first thing to realize is that I don’t think of my character as me. My character isn’t really a stand-in for Michael Duff. I don’t picture myself doing all these cool things as I play. It’s more like a story I’m watching, the same way you’d watch a movie or a play. I think of my character as an actor in need of direction. I watch her about her the same way you’d watch Luke Skywalker or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

My character isn’t a costume I wear; it’s more like a car I drive. And just like a car, I want my character to look cool, move fast and run over anything that gets in my way. I pick out equipment and fine tune all kinds of settings to make my character perform better.

So when you ask me why I prefer female characters, it’s kind of like asking why do you drive a Corvette instead of a Jeep?

On one level it’s a pure aesthetic choice, and on another level, I like watching female heroes kill stuff. Probably the same reason Joss Wedon writes “Buffy.” You don’t have to be female to appreciate female heroes, just like you don’t have to be male to enjoy “Star Wars.”

I don’t have any deep psychological reason for choosing female avatars, but I’ve certainly learned a lot. All the stereotypes are true. Male players treat you better when you’re wearing a female face. I’ve had random strangers whistle at me, flirt with me, invite me to groups and give me free stuff, just because I was playing a female. I still get very uncomfortable when this happens. Usually I just say, “Sorry, I’m a guy.”

I’ve been hit on while playing a male, too, but this is much less common.

World of Warcraft has been widely criticized for the way it presents female avatars – with exaggerated body types and revealing clothes. As you climb up in levels you realize the more powerful the armor is, the more skin it is likely to show when you put it on.

I always thought people who complained about this stuff were nitpicking, until it happened to me. The first time I took my female warlock to Outland, I got some outstanding quest rewards that were much better than my previous equipment. I put on my new magic pants and looked like I was adventuring in a piece of sexy lingerie. My regal, dignified warlock character was walking around with her hips exposed, attracting whistles and catcalls from all across the zone.

It got so bad I actually sacrificed some attack power and put on a weaker pair of pants, just so I could cover myself.

I’ve always been a quiet supporter of women’s rights, but I didn’t really understand the issue until I put myself in a woman’s shoes. The game experience has made me more careful about how I talk to women online and made me more conscious of women’s issues in real life.

Don’t believe me? Roll up a female blood elf and walk around Orgrimmar for a while. You’ll see what I mean.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 16, 2007 at 13:48

Posted in Columns

Confessions of a gender-switch gamer

My name is Michael Duff, and I am a gender-switch gamer.

That means although I am a man, I frequently create (and play) video game characters who are female.

I can imagine an army of amateur psychologists now, nodding their heads sagely as they smirk. “He's a guy who likes to pretend he's a chick, and we all know what that means.”

But it's not quite that simple. Most male gamers have “crossed the digital divide” once or twice, for a variety of reasons. The stock answer is to blame it on aesthetics, in a way that reinforces the masculinity of the gamer. Most video game characters are viewed from the back, so men naturally prefer looking at female backsides while they play.

This is a great answer, because it throws the insinuation back on the questioner. “So you really like looking at male buttocks all day? Maybe you're the one with the problem!”

Although the majority of game players are male (84 percent according to one World of Warcraft survey) the character distribution is much more even. So for whatever reason, a lot of men are out there playing female characters.

I can't answer for all of them, but I'll tell you why I do it.

The first thing to realize is that I don't think of my character as me. My character isn't really a stand-in for Michael Duff. I don't picture myself doing all these cool things as I play. It's more like a story I'm watching, the same way you'd watch a movie or a play. I think of my character as an actor in need of direction. I watch her about her the same way you'd watch Luke Skywalker or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

My character isn't a costume I wear; it's more like a car I drive. And just like a car, I want my character to look cool, move fast and run over anything that gets in my way. I pick out equipment and fine tune all kinds of settings to make my character perform better.

So when you ask me why I prefer female characters, it's kind of like asking why do you drive a Corvette instead of a Jeep?

On one level it's a pure aesthetic choice, and on another level, I like watching female heroes kill stuff. Probably the same reason Joss Wedon writes “Buffy.” You don't have to be female to appreciate female heroes, just like you don't have to be male to enjoy “Star Wars.”

I don't have any deep psychological reason for choosing female avatars, but I've certainly learned a lot. All the stereotypes are true. Male players treat you better when you're wearing a female face. I've had random strangers whistle at me, flirt with me, invite me to groups and give me free stuff, just because I was playing a female. I still get very uncomfortable when this happens. Usually I just say, “Sorry, I'm a guy.”

I've been hit on while playing a male, too, but this is much less common.

World of Warcraft has been widely criticized for the way it presents female avatars – with exaggerated body types and revealing clothes. As you climb up in levels you realize the more powerful the armor is, the more skin it is likely to show when you put it on.

I always thought people who complained about this stuff were nitpicking, until it happened to me. The first time I took my female warlock to Outland, I got some outstanding quest rewards that were much better than my previous equipment. I put on my new magic pants and looked like I was adventuring in a piece of sexy lingerie. My regal, dignified warlock character was walking around with her hips exposed, attracting whistles and catcalls from all across the zone.

It got so bad I actually sacrificed some attack power and put on a weaker pair of pants, just so I could cover myself.

I've always been a quiet supporter of women's rights, but I didn't really understand the issue until I put myself in a woman's shoes. The game experience has made me more careful about how I talk to women online and made me more conscious of women's issues in real life.

Don't believe me? Roll up a female blood elf and walk around Orgrimmar for a while. You'll see what I mean.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 16, 2007 at 09:15

Posted in Games, Warcraft

Duff: Got a friend playing too much Warcraft? Here’s how you can help

Got a friend playing too much Warcraft? Here’s how you can help

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about Eloy, a well-known Warcraft podcaster who forced himself to play the game 10 hours a day for 30 days. Eloy gave up his experiment after 17 days after suffering anxiety, depression and a variety of physical pains.

Eloy is careful to avoid generalizations when he tells his story, and I want to make sure I don’t fall into that trap. I’m not saying all gamers are addicts, but these games are designed to be addictive, and because of that, time spent playing them must be managed, the same way people manage gambling habits and alcohol consumption.

Michael Duff

Last week, I talked about the peer-pressure aspect of guild membership, about how encouragement from guild members can keep people playing the game when they might otherwise be inclined to stop.

No one wants to deny the role of personal responsibility here, but at what point should the group get involved? Eloy says the first step is simple awareness. When you see a friend logging on more than usual, don’t just blindly pat him on the back and praise his dedication.

Think of the character as a human being for a minute and ask if there’s something wrong. Ask if he’s eating right. Ask if he’s getting enough sleep. And cut him some slack if he wants to bow out of raids or group activities. Let your guildmates know it’s OK to take time off when real life calls, and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you see someone spending extraordinary amounts of time in game.

In his June podcast, Eloy says, “If these people are your friends, if these are honest-to-God viable relationships, then people need to be willing to occasionally call their friends out when they see them doing things that may be harmful.”

He says the situation demands responsibility, not just from potential addicts, but from the community that plays with them.

“Step forward and care,” he says. “If you say you care, care all the way.”

But I agree with Eloy’s co-host, InfernalBill, who says caring may not be as easy as it sounds.

Gamers like to brag that Internet interaction is just as real as real life, but the truth is, online interaction happens in a very limited context, and people don’t always feel comfortable crossing the boundary between discussing the game and discussing real life.

And for that reason, Eloy says it’s very hard to counsel someone about game addiction from inside the game itself.

“There is no accountability when everyone is addicted,” he says.

The most effective interventions come from outside. Don’t just walk up to your buddy and say, “You’re playing the game too much.” He’ll get angry and defensive and you won’t accomplish anything.

Instead, ask him to go out to dinner or go see a movie. Maybe even play another game. People can get addicted to anything, but console games don’t require as big a time commitment. They don’t reward long-term loyalty, so they’re easier to put down.

If you want to help somebody, don’t just lecture him about the virtues of real life. Take him out and show him, one meal, one concert or one movie at a time.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 9, 2007 at 14:06

Posted in Columns

Saddest Cubicle Contest

Think you're having a bad day at work?

Check out the “winners” of Wired Magazine's Saddest Cubicle Contest.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 7, 2007 at 09:42

Posted in Humor

Duff: When a person is flirting with addiction, praise can be harmful

Duff: When a person is flirting with addiction, praise can be harmful

This is the third installment in my continuing series about gamers and game addiction. You can find previous columns, along with links and supplemental materials at the Internet Buzz blog on Lubbockonline.com.

Last week we talked about Eloy, a well-known podcaster who, inspired by Morgan Spurlock, forced himself to play Warcraft 10 hours a day for 30 days.

Eloy won’t use the word addiction to describe how he felt in the second and third weeks of his experiment. He thinks of addiction as “something you can’t walk away from” and ultimately, he did walk away.

After 17 days of constant play, Eloy gave up. There was no single moment of clarity here, no grand event that made him quit. Thinking back on it, Eloy says it may have been as mundane as looking in a mirror.

Eloy had always been an active person – running, hiking and exercising regularly. The sedentary gamer lifestyle caused rapid weight gain and took a real toll on him physically. Eloy suffered headaches, backaches and muscle twitches before he decided to quit.

That’s what drew me to this story in the first place, the notion that a group of active, healthy people – people who didn’t necessarily fit the gamer stereotype – could devote so much of their time and energy to a video game.

Everybody expects this behavior from introverts and computer geeks, and Eloy is quick to defend his nerd cred. He’s proud to be the kind of guy who can discuss both “beer and Star Trek,” crossing between worlds that most people get stuck in.

So with all this going for him in real life, how did Eloy get stuck in the game? There was clearly a point in the latter stages of his experiment when the goal (leveling a character to 60) took on a life of its own. What started out as a matter of scientific curiosity started to consume his life.

Eloy gave up his active lifestyle, stopped returning phone calls from family and friends, and kept himself rooted to a chair, even when back pain caused him to take handfuls of ibubrofen.

What could make a person do something like this? Eloy says the games are designed to be addictive, and they are designed very well. World of Warcraft is a perfect feedback loop, a perfect balance of effort and reward.

The game is set to give you exciting new rewards, just when you start to get bored. In Warcraft, there’s always a pot of gold over that next rainbow. The victories come fast when you play fast, and with a guild, those victories are shared.

There’s always a comrade to congratulate you when you reach a new level, always a well-meaning friend who will urge you to clean out one more camp or earn one more bar of experience. This culture of shared accomplishment can be very powerful, and very destructive.

The congratulations come from genuine affection and goodwill, but when a person is flirting with game addiction, that praise can be the hook that keeps them in. Words that are meant to be lighthearted cheerleading can lead a person deeper into denial and self-destruction.

Eloy is careful to draw a line here and make a distinction between group and personal responsibility. People are ultimately responsible for their own decisions. The game has an off switch, and no one can force you to turn it on.

But there’s a strong group component here, and a player who falls behind the curve or misses an important raid can feel like he’s letting his friends down. Ultimately, Eloy thinks people need to keep a closer watch on their friends, and be willing to call them out when their gameplay seems to be excessive or destructive.

Next week we’ll talk about how Eloy’s experiment affected his friends and about what you can do if you suspect one of your friends is developing an addiction.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 2, 2007 at 14:07

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

Sorry I lied to you that time

A couple days ago, I posted this article by Vin Suprynowicz citing the origin of G.I. Joe, claiming the doll was inspired by Medal of Honor winner Mitchell Paige.

Now Jason Rhode writes to tell me that's not true:

I don't want to ruin anyone's party, but I think that guy's got his facts wrong. It's not the case that Hasbro or Paramount are screwing them on this. If this Las Vegas Review-Journal dude had like spent five minutes Googling this stuff he would have known.

This research isn't mine. Most of it comes from here: http://joes.propadeutic.com/pre82.html

“G. I. Joe began in 1962 in the mind of Stanley Weston, who suggested that the Hasbro toy company produce a line of twelve-inch figures based on his television show, The Lieutenant. The goal was to create a toy line for boys as successful as Barbie had been among girls.

“The television tie-in was ultimately rejected, but Hasbro's creative director Don Levine approached Hasbro president Merrill Hassenfeld with the idea of a “movable soldier” (not a “doll”). The figure was designed by Walter Hansen and Phil Kraczkowski and marketed with uniforms of the four branches of the service under the name G. I. Joe. The name was inspired by the 1945 movie “The Story of G. I. Joe.”

“Mitchell's face was used for a Classic Remake “Medal of Honor” model in 1998. But G.I. Joe is no more based on Mitchell Paige than Barbie is on Lucille Ball. Those were special edition dolls designed decades after the originals.

“G.I. Joe was a Hollywood creation from the start. He was inspired by a TV show, and named after a movie. Each military branch had a version, not just the Marines. Included in the product line was “Soldiers of the World” (apparently with a Russian soldier!)”

It's not a big deal, I just wish this guy had checked his sources. I wouldn't have caught this, except, as you know, I have my weird obsession with Eighties pop culture. I'm sure it'll be “Thriller” that I'll be mailing you about next…

So, what does this mean? Obviously it means Jason Rhode is an evil commie who hates America. Also, I have seen him kiss men.

I finally get my hands on an authentic tale of American heroism, then you have to come along with your facts and ruin everybody's good time. Way to go, hippie. You gonna take on Santa Claus next? Maybe dish some hard dirt on Betty Ford?

I'll think of you first, buddy, next time they talk about bringing back the draft.

P.S. Jason Rhode is a friend of mine and he knows I'm kidding. I wouldn't be that mean to a normal reader. Well, maybe I would, but he'd have to be a real jerk.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 1, 2007 at 15:23

Posted in Politics