Keeping In Touch

This week’s GameOverGreggy show featured one of Colin’s best friends, Ramon, as the special guest. Colin and Ramon met in college, which for them was over 10 years ago, and though they live in different cities and have different careers, they have managed to keep in touch. For Ramon’s topic, he decided to ask the guys their opinions on keeping in touch—have they found it harder as they’ve gotten older, or has technology made it easier to keep in touch.

This topic resonates with me, and I’ve actually thought about it quite a bit these last few years. Personally, I’ve found that getting older has made it difficult to keep in touch with people. It seems that every year, my life is changing, my priorities are changing, and I just don’t have the time to keep up with everyone, even though I would like to. And that sucks, because there have been people in my life that I wanted to keep in touch with, but life pulls us in different directions and it gets tough.

It’s also hard receiving a message from someone you used to be close with and they want to reconnect, but life and time seem to make that impossible.

I was very interested in something Nick said about the role social media has played in our ability to keep in touch with people. He said that social media has kind of become a veil to keep people at bay rather than be in touch, because we aren’t actually keeping in touch with people anymore, but we still know what’s going on with them. We no longer have to phone someone up and chat for an hour, or make plans to get dinner. Instead, we’re able to drop a quick message on Facebook, or simply check out their profiles for updates and pictures of their current lives.

Nick also talked about life before social media, where you would graduate high school or college, and would leave behind most of those people for good, save for (perhaps) your close friends. But now, you can pull up all those people at the push of a button and see what they are up to because of social media.

I actually think that’s a great thing about social media. Sure, it may just be the illusion that you’re keeping in touch with someone simply by having them on your friends list. But social media does make it easier to reach out to people if you so desire. And messaging back and forth can be just as valuable as a telephone call. I have some friends that I only keep in touch with thanks to social media, but we are able to get together a couple times every year, and we message back and forth online. I’m very happy with those relationships, and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them if it weren’t for social media.

I am coming to terms with how difficult it is to keep in touch—it actually feels like the natural order of things. Life gets in the way, and we just don’t have the time to keep in touch with everyone. I am grateful that I’ve been able to keep up relationships with my closest friends, but I know that the fact we all still live in Winnipeg helps. I’ve wondered what would happen to our friendships if some of us moved away. Though, like Colin and Ramon, I think these friendships would last, despite distance and life’s obstacles.

I’ll leave you with a thought from Colin. He talked about relationships running their course, and though it pains me to know that some people aren’t a part of my life anymore, or won’t be in my life in years to come, I understand this notion. Some relationships are only meant to last for a certain period of time in your life, and that isn’t a bad thing.

Enjoy the company you keep while you have it, and work hard to keep in touch with the people who matter most. For most of my life, I’ve been surrounded by a group of best friends whom I consider to be brothers, and I’m grateful we still make the effort to keep in touch.

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Criticizing Video Game Reviews

The Kinda Funny crew spent last week live-streaming from GDC (Game Developers Conference) and they had their former co-worker Vince Ingenito on the Gamescast. I’ve always liked Vince on IGN. I think he’s a fantastic writer and you can tell he has a wealth of knowledge about games. Recently he’s been taking some flak for his review of “Tom Clancy’s The Division”, which is very popular right now. Topic 2 of the Gamescast is all about criticizing game reviews, and why people react so strongly to negative reviews of games (or things in general) that they love.

I think that reviews are very important. Whenever I’m looking forward to a new movie, video game, TV show, or album, I almost always check out a review before I buy. And there are a lot of times where the outcome of a review is the deciding factor to whether or not I buy/watch/listen, especially in regards to movies and games. If I see that a movie or game has received a particularly low score (below 7 out of 10 is a red flag for me), I might pass on it entirely. If I’ve been looking forward to a movie or game for awhile, I usually decide to go for it and come to my own conclusions, but a low review score is disappointing. Batman v Superman is a great example of this right now—critics are hating it, but I’m definitely still going to see it.

The developers of video games know how important reviews are, but it’s not always about the review doing well. Just having your game reviewed gives it coverage, and companies know that some consumers who were interested before the review will still purchase the game to decide for themselves if it’s good or bad. I think the claim that big video game websites get paid off to give good scores is completely ridiculous.

I understand why people feel upset when something they love gets a bad review. I’ll admit that when I love a game, I like seeing reviews that share that love, and seeing comments from other fans that love the game too. There is something validating about other people sharing your opinion, and it’s nice when someone you respect (like a critic) shares your view. On the flip side, when a critic or group of people hate something that you think is awesome, it’s almost unfathomable—how could these people be so blind to the greatness that you experienced? But that doesn’t objectively mean that the critic is wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and the great thing about reviews is that there are usually lots of them, so it’s easy to compare and decide for yourself who you think is right—I usually go with the opinion I trust or respect the most.

I’ve written a few reviews this year, and I plan on writing many video game reviews in the future. From what I’ve experienced, reviewing is not an easy job. I have a newfound respect for people that do it for a living, because there is a certain pressure and accountability to having your name on something and putting it out for the world to see. On a website like IGN, these critics play a game, write a review, send it to their editors, and then it becomes a sort of representative opinion of what the entire site thinks of the game, regardless of other staffers who think differently. Even though it’s just one person giving their opinion and picking a score, that score becomes representative of the company. That’s a  lot of pressure. But perhaps we as consumers should try to remember that a review is just the opinion of one person, and that the company they work for simply supports the opinion. It’s possible that not everyone agrees with the review, but instead everyone supports said person’s right to their opinion.

How much do reviews affect your decision to consume media? How does it make you feel when a reviewer knocks something you love? Let me know in the comments.

What 5 Games Best Represent Video Games?

I’m taking on Topic 3 of the Gamescast this week: choose five essential games that best represent video games in general. This is a very tough question to answer and the guys struggled with defining it—is it about genres? Or do you show the history of games with your choices? Or do you pick five games based on modernity?

I liked Greg’s criteria best, which is putting together a video game sampler to give to someone who has never played a video game before. Greg’s idea with this is to show someone all the different experiences you can have with video games. The experiences are what I like best about games, and that is how I’m going to form my list.

1) Super Mario Bros. (NES)

I think a Mario game has to be on this list, and I think it might as well be one of the originals. This is one of those games that even if you’ve never played a video game before, you can jump into this one and have fun. The number one thing that video games should be is fun, or why else would anyone play them? Super Mario Bros. is a shining example of a game that is fun, and it definitely belongs on this list.

2) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I’m including an Uncharted game on my list because I think that it possesses a few qualities that represent video games today. Uncharted 2 is visually stunning and is a game worth showing people for that “wow” factor. It also tells a compelling story that rivals those of movies and books. Uncharted is an action movie in video game form and it really shows how far video games have come since the days of Mario.

3) Heavy Rain

When I got back into gaming a few years ago, Heavy Rain was one of the first games I was really curious about. It’s defined as an interactive drama adventure game, and I think it is worth including because it represents a genre I’ve grown to love. I also think that these types of games are very accessible because they appeal to movie and television lovers, and story lovers in general. It’s this powerful storytelling yet simple gameplay that I would want to show to people who are intimidated by playing games.

4) Final Fantasy 7

This is my list, and I have to include a Final Fantasy game. In my mind, the Final Fantasy series represents the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) genre, and Final Fantasy 7 is a gateway game to the rest of the series and to JRPGs as well. Final Fantasy 7 is one of the reasons I fell in love with video games as a kid, and though it looks dated today, I think it’s an important game to show newcomers.

5) Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve never really played any Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games, and yet, I have to include this newest installment of the series on my list. I feel that the GTA series is a good representation of open-world games, where you can jump in and do anything you like. That’s really the only way I’ve played them—on the couch with friends, running around and raising hell. GTA V was one of the best selling games (if not the best) of the last few years, and I think its overall popularity and representation of an open-world experience merit its place on my list.

Omissions

This list definitely doesn’t represent some major genres today, and that’s because I wanted to focus on the experiences that games provide. With that said, I think you could plug in an FPS (first-person shooter) like Call of Duty or Halo, because these are important franchises to the FPS genre.

I also think the sports game genre deserves to be represented but it would be too difficult to choose any one sport to put on my list. I think Madden, Fifa, MLB, NBA and NHL could all be recommended to sports gamers, it just depends on their favourite sport. These franchises all do a great job of representing their sport and providing a video game experience for sports fans.

MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) are played by millions of people and definitely merit mention in terms of what games are today. I personally don’t play these types of games, so I couldn’t tell you what is best. I would suggest League of Legends as the top MOBA, and World of Warcraft as perhaps the most important representation of MMO’s.

Finally, I’d like to give a nod to fighting games and racing games, as these represent a niche-competitive genre of gaming. I think a Street Fighter game is a good representation of fighting games, and Gran Turismo for racing games. Although, I think the Nintendo counterparts of Smash Bros. and Mario Kart are appealing options to consider as well.

So that’s my list and explanation of things I did not include. Let me know in the comments what five games you would choose to represent video games. I think it’s also interesting to hear how you approach this question when selecting your games, so let me know your thought process  as well.

 

Anxiety

I’m dipping back into a GameOverGreggy show topic from two weeks ago that I didn’t get a chance to cover when the guys discussed it. Colin opened topic 1 of episode 115 talking about anxiety and what it’s like for him to live with anxiety. I think it’s an important topic that millions of people can relate to, and I want to give my two cents.

It was really enlightening to hear Colin talk about his anxiety and he gave me a better sense about what it is and how it affects people. Personally, I know that I don’t suffer  from anxiety on a daily basis, though I have had days where I’ve felt anxious and off, and I couldn’t explain why. There’s been times where all of a sudden I’ve felt strangely anxious and when I get those feelings all I want to do is go home and not be around anyone. And I’ve found that those feelings are triggered randomly and they’re awful. I’ve had some days where I’ve woken up feeling this way, other times it’s happened in the middle of the day, and every time it happens I can’t explain what is bothering me or why I suddenly feel anxious.

Whenever I’ve tried to verbalize these feelings to someone else, all I’ve been able to say is “I feel off today”, but after hearing Colin talk I think it’s more than that—I think that every now and then I get minor bouts of anxiety. On those days, I feel overcome by a strange sense of dread, and my thoughts begin to race, and I can’t get out of my head. I find that the only thing that make me feel better on these days is being alone and away from everyone.

It’s really difficult to explain how it feels, but I can say that those days feel awful, and one of the biggest feelings I have when I’m dealing with these bouts is wanting to be closed off from the world.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to lessen anxiety by likening it to “feeling off”. I don’t know what it’s like to deal with anxiety every day, and I don’t envy anyone that does. It’s my understanding that people’s anxiety is triggered differently and it affects people differently so I wouldn’t begin to say I understand how people with anxiety feel.

What I am trying to say is that dealing with anxiety sucks, and if anything I’ve felt is close to that, I do empathize with anyone who has chronic or crippling anxiety.

I appreciated hearing Colin talk about his anxiety and I’m definitely more understanding of it now. In the past I’d heard stories of friends dealing with panic attacks or anxiety attacks and I didn’t really get it—I thought that it must just be in their heads and that it probably wasn’t as bad as they described. I know now that that isn’t the case, and I truly empathize with people who struggle with anxiety.

If you’ve experienced any anxiety attacks or panic attacks and you feel like talking about it, leave me a comment. For me, hearing someone explain what it’s like to have anxiety has given me a better understanding of it, and I think that’s important.

 

Ranking Forms of Entertainment

For Topic 3 of this week’s GameOverGreggy show Colin wanted to know how the guys would rank various forms of entertainment. He asked the guys to list them from most important to least important, and with the idea that if they could only keep one or two of them, which ones would they want.

The categories he laid out were reading, watching TV, watching movies, listening or playing music, and playing video games. Though the reading category was intended to be about books and magazines, the other guys lumped Internet in there as well, explaining that reading articles or other things online should count.

With Internet thrown in there it was no surprise that reading ended up on top, with only Greg picking video games as his number one, though Colin and Nick cited books as being their reason for picking reading as their top entertainment choice.

I’m going to leave the Internet out of my rankings. I mentioned in a previous post that I, along with millions of other people, use the Internet every day, so there really is no contest. I sincerely doubt that most of us could live without the Internet these days. With that said, I enjoy all five of these activities so this is an extremely difficult task.

1. Reading

I thought that by leaving the Internet out of these rankings I would have a different top choice. But as I stared at the options, I realized how much I love books and I wouldn’t want to give them up.

2. Music

Music has always been a part of my life. I used to spend some time every day listening to music, and often I would listen to music before bed. I’ve been so busy these days that I don’t spend as much time listening to music, but it’s still one of my favourite things to do when I want to relax. I also always have my iPod on me, so I get my fix while I’m driving. I definitely couldn’t live without music.

3. Movies

It was a tough choice between movies and video games. I love good stories, and though I believe video games are capable of telling stories in ways that movies and books can’t, I still appreciate the traditional storytelling found in movies. A great movie can be like a great book, in that it offers the viewer an escape into another universe. I think that is what I love most about both these mediums—getting lost in a different world for the duration of the story.

4. Video games

I was surprised at first that I put video games this low on my list, but because of how busy I am these days, I’ve essentially given up games already. As much as I love video games, I know that I could live without them. And really, I have only been super invested in games over the last couple years. I played casually as a kid, mostly sports games, but the last two or three years I’ve played a lot of games. Still, I would sacrifice video games before giving up reading, music and movies.

5. TV

TV is a tough one for me. On one hand, I don’t watch live television anymore, though I do follow some shows and stream them on my own time. I also occasionally watch TV on Netflix.

The big thing for me is that I’m a huge sports fan, and TV is still the primary medium to watch sports. Still, It seems to me that people are gradually moving away from TV, and eventually I should be able to watch sports in HD online, so I’m listing TV as my lowest ranking. I can live without TV, I just can’t live without sports.

Those are my rankings, but I certainly wouldn’t want to give up any of these things, as they are all important forms of entertainment in my life. How would you rank ’em? Let me know in the comments.

The Best Video Game Music

I love music, and some of my favourite video games have amazing soundtracks featuring originally composed scores or licensed tracks. Topic 2 of the Kinda Funny Gamescast is all about video game music so of course I’m going to weigh in. I’ve talked about many of the games below in previous posts, so I’ll keep the discussion brief, but I’ve added a little taste of the music each has to offer.

Hotline Miami 1 and 2 features synthwave/electronic music from various artists, and its music is as addicting as its gameplay. These games require you to spend a lot of time figuring out each stage, so good music that doesn’t get boring or annoying is essential—this pairing of music and gameplay is perfect.

Final Fantasy VII is widely regarded as having one of the best soundtracks. Period. The Final Fantasy series in general is known for having great music, a lot of which was composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy music is so good that live orchestras have played it, recorded albums of it, and have done tours of it. Final Fantasy VII is one of the first games I ever played and still has one of the finest soundtracks.

I am such a big The Last Of Us fanboy, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’ve never  been so obsessed with a game before. I played the game twice, watched every behind the scenes video on YouTube, watched the full-length making of, bought and played the DLC on day one, watched the Teens React playthrough (all 20 parts), watched the live reenactment special, and downloaded the beautifully composed soundtrack. So ya, obsessed. I don’t normally study or do homework with music playing because it can be distracting, but sometimes instrumental stuff puts me in the zone, and Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for The Last of Us is awesome. Fun fact for all you Making a Murderer fans: Santaolalla did the music for that too.

I just recently talked about To the Moon, and one of my big selling points was the soundtrack, so check out both these videos.

The Life Is Strange soundtrack is mix of licensed music and originally composed music by Jonathan Morali of the band Syd Matters. It’s a phenomenal collection of music that adds to the atmosphere of the game, which follows two teenage girls and feels like an indie movie. The YouTube video above is actually a video I posted years ago (well before the creation of this game), because I loved the song so much and noticed it was not on YouTube. The song is call Obstacles by Syd Matters and is one of the major songs in Life Is Strange. I also quite enjoy the originally composed stuff, and I think Jonathan Morali composed a phenomenal score.

Telltale’s season two of The Walking Dead featured some licensed music while the credits played and this song was one of the best. The music throughout The Walking Dead is sombre and dramatic—I didn’t pay attention much to it while I was playing (and perhaps that’s the hallmark of a good soundtrack for this particular type of game), but the music during the credits was often beautiful and I was particularly taken with this song.

Honourable mentions: 

Mega Man

-I’ve only played Mega Man 9 and I love the music from it. I’ve heard the others have amazing soundtracks as well.

Final Fantasy X

-As I said above, the Final Fantasy series as a whole has great music, but my two favourites for music are VII and X. I’ll admit now that I haven’t played VI, but I’m looking forward to it, and maybe its soundtrack will dethrone one of these two behemoths.

Flower

-Thatgamecompany makes games that are interesting experiences and couples them with great music. I’m sure you gamers who know them are wondering why I listed Flower instead of Journey. Well, I haven’t played Journey yet… I know I know, so little time right? But Flower’s soundtrack is nothing to scoff at either.

NBA 2K Series/Madden circa 2000s

-The NBA 2K series always has awesome licensed music—a couple of the soundtracks were put together by Jay-Z and Pharrell. Madden in the 2000s used to have soundtracks of licensed music. These days they use their own football scores. I kind of miss the old days.

I’m the kind of guy who hears a song in a movie or video game and later looks up what it was. I love music, and I especially love being shown new music, so leave a comment with any video game soundtracks you love, or any songs you love that you heard in games.

 

Brothers

This week on the GameOverGreggy show the guys were joined by Nick’s brother Matt Scarpino. Everyone at the table has a brother except Greg, so for topic 3 he wanted to talk about what it’s like having a brother. I particularly liked Nick’s comment about knowing that a brother will always be a part of your life. He talked about the friends he has lost touch with over the years, which is natural, but unlike some friendships, he knows he will always have a relationship with his brother.

I am a brother to two sisters, but I unfortunately don’t know what it’s like to have a brother. When I was younger, I thought having a brother would be so cool. I wondered if he would be like me, if he would like sports and video games, or if he would be a completely different person—either scenario would be fine by me. I wonder too how different the relationship is if you’re the older brother or the younger brother?

I do have a twin sister and we have a close relationship. Having siblings at all is a great thing, but I think there is a different dynamic between having a sister versus having a brother. When I was a kid, I used to look up to my older sister, but being a boy, I think I would have looked up to an older brother differently. I imagine I would have wanted to be just like him— unless he was a jerk or something. And if I had a younger brother, I would want to be a role model to him. I would share with him my interests, maybe teach him things, and most of all I’d look out for him.

I may not have any brothers in my family, but I’ve always considered my best friends to be my brothers. I’ve known all of them since we were teenagers, and some go back even further. These are the kind of friendships where you know you’d do anything for any one of those guys, and vice-versa. I wonder how different these close friendships are from actually having a brother? But back to what Nick said, I think he’s right about knowing that a brother will always be in your life versus friendships that might deteriorate. As our lives change, some of these friendships might grow apart, but I like to think that these best friends will be in my life in some shape or form. Maybe that’s just a phone call every now and again, a Skype chat, or a Facebook message, but we’ll still be interested in each others lives and we’ll still be friends.

Do you have a brother? Let me know in the comments what that’s like. And if you don’t have any siblings, let me know what it’s like being an only child. I’d love to hear about it.