Waving a New Banner

Every now and then, people feel the need to change their image to reflect their personal growth. For me, today is one of those days. I’ve been gradually rewriting and reorganizing the different sections of my site, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve updated one of the very first things my readers see: my banner.

This is the old one:

cropped-pkgbannerfixed.jpgIt has a retro game style, complete with a pixelated font and the classic Heart Container and Coin icons from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario Bros. 3, respectively. I also added the words “punch,” “kick,” and “game” in katakana, because I was studying Japanese as an elective when I was in college. I guess it was kind of cool. People like cool things, right?

This is the new one:

pkgheaderfinal1.jpgI wanted to make something that would directly relate to my career. In this case, I decided to go for a realistic look that had a basic map drawn on graph paper. Many visual design documents have simple maps blocked in on paper, with one notable example being the original Pac-Man arcade game. Additionally, I needed to make it clear that this is a portfolio (not a blog), and I also added contact info for future career opportunities. It’s still a bit plainer than I’d like it to be, so I’m going to continue experimenting with it and tweaking it.

I’m glad that I finally got around to updating my banner. I like homages to my favorite series, but I don’t want to use other people’s creations for my own site. After all, I’m perfectly capable of designing my own art and games, and I have already done so.

In the near future, I hope to provide more research and design-oriented articles. I’m versatile with my writing and design, so I’m not going to limit my opportunities. Maybe making a new banner isn’t that big of a deal, but it feels like a step in the right direction.

Animal Crossing: Cattail Chronicles – Nightmare in Dream Land

acccfinalIn this edition of Animal Crossing: Cattail Chronicles, we take a look at how the town of Cattail has evolved over the course of a few weeks.

I Dreamed a Dream

The Dream Suite was one of the most expensive public works projects. I was relieved when the donation phase was over.

dreamsuitecomplete

I think that the main reason they’re so exuberant is that I paid for the vast majority of the project. Moochers!

A tapir named Luna greeted me when I walked into the suite. She explained that I could check out other people’s towns from around the globe. After I laid down on the couch, she gave me my Dream Address: 5000-2383-5926.

dreamsuiteexplanation

Dreaming is hard work.

Although the couch was comfortable, I really wanted to snooze on the bed. Luna gave me some pajamas and lulled me to sleep with her mysterious relaxation techniques. When I woke up, I was in a town called Nintendo.

dreamsuitesleeping

I can choose when to return to the “world of stress,” you say? I’ll think I’ll be vacationing here…permanently.

I set off to explore the town, which I’m assuming was an official town from Nintendo itself. Unsurprisingly, the town was themed with Nintendo designs. There were also some familiar faces. The town even had some rare items, so I tried pilfering everything I could.

dreamexploration

Luigi has proven himself to be a competent mayor. It looks like the Year of Luigi prepared him well for the job.

Unfortunately, although items can be put in the inventory, they disappear upon waking. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty realistic portrayal of how dreams actually work…

wakingup

I’ll be back in five minutes with my memory foam pillow.

On another note, I realized that as a tapir, Luna seemed to share the theme of eating dreams with Drowzee, a Pokémon whose design is based off of the intriguing animal. A quick bit of research revealed that in Japanese folklore, there is a tapir-like spirit that eats dreams.

Tapirs: Eating your dreams since 1996.

Tapirs: Eating your digital dreams since 1996.

Buzz Off, Bugs

The Bug-Off is a monthly event in the summer that tasks villagers with capturing the largest bug. Nat, a chameleon that makes, er, interesting facial expressions hosts it.

bugoff

As an entomologist who just happens to be a chameleon, Nat is prone to making terrifying faces when confronted with a “specimen.” During these moments, one would be wise to remain still. He appears to sense movement.

I won both the June and July Bug-Off. Then again, maybe Nat was the real winner for suckering us into giving him free meals.

bugoffresults

Your sacrifice was not in vain, oak silk moth. Thanks to your bravery, I got a shiny trophy! I display it on my bookcase at home.

Leif Turns Over a New Leaf

After a long period of shopping at the gardening store, Leif informed me that he would be merging his shop with the Nooklings’. The next day, the two buildings were under construction.

leif

Even though Leif’s shop was only closed for one day, it was difficult to cope without him for that period of time. I need my daily dose of sloth adorableness!

The following day, the stores were rebuilt and sectioned within the same building. The store sizes and selection of items greatly increased.

Does Tom Nook offer a platinum credit card yet?

Does Tom Nook offer a platinum credit card yet?

Part-Time Mayor, Full-Time Barista

After drinking several cups of Brewster’s brew, I was offered a job as a barista. Being mayor doesn’t exactly bring home the Bells (it doesn’t pay anything), so I kept the offer in mind.

job

Aw, sweet! Do I get free pastries, too?

I returned to the café on another day and served four customers. The first three were regular village residents, and the last one to stop by was Dr. Shrunk. Brewster was pleased with my results, so he paid me in fancy coffee beans and expressed his desire for me to work alongside him again.

Go with the flow, and you shall make your customer the perfect cup of joe.

Go with the flow, and you shall make your customer the perfect cup o’ joe.

Fantastic Fireworks

On every Sunday in August, there is a fireworks show. This year, the first show was on the 4th. I could see and hear the fireworks from all over town.

Animal Crossing, you light up my life.

Animal Crossing, you light up my life.

Redd runs a stand during the event and offers fortune cookies for 500 Bells each. Some of the fortune cookies will give rare prizes. I kept buying them until I got all eight special items.

prizes

Redd must’ve been inspired by those Happy Meal toys at McDonald’s. Collect ‘em all, kids!

Certified Comedian

I visited Dr. Shrunk at the club every day and brought him a pear each time. He’s always grateful when someone brings him a snack, and he’ll give a free comedy show to those who sate his hunger. Each show taught me how to emote at will. Eventually, Shrunk taught me all he had to teach, so he officially proclaimed my status as a “certifiable emotion comedian.” He also gave me a snazzy suit.

comedian

I wasn’t joking when I said I wanted to become a comedian.

Upgraded Upgrades

Back in July, I came across a toolbox being carried in the air by three golden balloons. Knowing what the reward would be, I eagerly popped the balloons with my silver slingshot. Inside the toolbox was the golden slingshot, which shoots three pellets at once.

goldenslingshot

I hope this doesn’t give the Villager from the upcoming Super Smash Bros. any ideas…

At the end of July, I had managed to buy enough saplings to earn yet another “happy bonus.” Trusting my gardening gusto, Leif bestowed me with the golden axe.

Beauty in motion.

As a sloth, Leif is especially sensitive about deforestation. Think before you chop!

Recent Renovations

With the addition of two new rooms, I was able to make a separate kitchen, bathroom, and gaming room. I’m close to paying off another home loan, so my next home project will involve the expansion of an existing room (most likely the gaming room, of course!).

The basement is where I conduct scientific experiments and do my laundry.

The basement is where I conduct scientific experiments and do my laundry.

My museum exhibits received some new items. The Video Game Items exhibit is now almost completely filled up, and the Gyroid Army exhibit reached its maximum capacity. The remaining Gyroids had to be placed in the other room.

If you clown around in my army, you'll get sent to the balloon room! That's not a bad thing, though; it just means that I think you're a silly goose and would make an excellent clown/balloon twister.

If you clown around in my army, you’ll get sent to the balloon room! That’s not a bad thing, though; it just means that I think you’re a silly goose and would make an excellent clown/balloon twister.

Animal Crossing: Plaza Party!

Today’s Nintendo Direct announced the release of Animal Crossing Plaza for Wii U. Check it out in the video below!

More Isabelle and Leif can never be a bad thing!

Animal Crossing: Cattail Chronicles – The Cattail Café

acccfinalThe town of Cattail continues to improve, thanks to the ever-changing world of Animal Crossing.

Coffee Break

As one of the most expensive public works projects, the café took a bit longer to fund. The day after all the donation funds had been accrued, Isabelle excitedly informed me that the completion of the café was enough to put my town into the “most awesome place to live” category.

satisfaction

The Kitty Committee seems to be a fan of my work.

In addition to the revelation of Cattail’s awesomeness, Isabelle put together another celebration. Although it was the 10th celebration of its kind, it was also one of the most important — after all, 298,000 Bells (almost all of it being donated by me, of course) is nothing to sneeze at.

cafe1

Now everyone can have their daily dose of caffeine. Just remember to drink responsibly, citizens! Our police force only has one officer, and he can only handle one jittery animal at a time.

A soft-spoken pigeon named Brewster owns the café. He’ll give you a cup of freshly brewed coffee for 200 Bells. I was given the option to sit at the counter and enjoy it with company (I’ve only encountered Brewster and Kapp’n so far, but Isabelle assured me that she’d visit) or order it to go.

For my first cup, I decided to drink it at the café. Brewster carefully poured me a cup of his finest virtual java and gently slid the saucer across the counter and into my waiting hands. The digital drink did not disappoint.

cafe2

Sophistication flows through my veins.

Pass the Fleas, Please

Sometimes, you can obtain certain creatures through unconventional means. While most insects are caught on trees, in the grass, on flowers, or in the air, the humble flea needs to be scooped up from a villager’s fur or feathers. I hadn’t realized that I could do this, but after more than a month of playing every day, it somehow occurred to me to see if something would happen if I swung my net at an itchy villager. I was surprised to see what happened next.

flea1

Teenaged humans worry about acne and unflattering outfits. Animal villagers of all ages worry about not being able to catch their own fleas. While the situations are markedly different, both are terribly embarrassing and, like, waaaayyy not cool.

Since the flea was a new specimen, I donated it to the museum. Currently, it roams the insect habitat, hopping along and probably waiting for an unsuspecting snack to walk by. You can see the little bugger in the bottom right picture, marked by the red arrow.

flea2

Whose bright idea was it to allow a blood-sucking insect to move around freely?

Go for the Silver

After shooting down enough balloons, a toolbox attached to two silver balloons appeared in my town. I popped both of the balloons and was rewarded with a cool gift: the silver slingshot. Unlike the regular slingshot, the silver slingshot can shoot two rounds of ammo at once. I found yet another one later, though unfortunately, Animal Crossing: New Leaf won’t allow me to dual wield.

silverslingshot

Did the police establish a law that says that villagers can only wield one slingshot at a time, or is it merely a limitation of the game’s code? We may never know the answer…

Leif, the local garden shop owner and sloth, gave me a special bonus gift for buying so many flowers from him. I am now the proud owner of a silver watering can. It can water multiple plants at the same time.

silvercan

Now I’m responsible for making both my fauna *and* flora happy? A mayor’s work is never done…

The Best (Toilet) Seat in the House

After paying off yet another home loan, I was given the choice to expand my upstairs or basement or construct another separate room. I went with the latter and picked the back of the house as the location for the new room. Since the kitchen furniture was too large to fit into an unexpanded room, I began putting together a small bathroom. It’s still incomplete, but it’s a start.

bathroom

The next addition to my bathroom will either be new wallpaper or one of those fancy bathroom attendants that hand out warm towels and mints.

More Museum Madness

Though there haven’t been many new recent additions to my collection of video game items, there have been two major changes to the Video Game Items exhibit: the floor and the wallpaper designs. I think that they provide a distinctly retro feel.

vgmuseum

The coolness continues.

Following My Dreams

Yes, there will be more public works projects in the near future.

dreamsuite

I dreamed that my villagers would donate more of their money to the public works projects. Unfortunately, that probably won’t become reality.

Animal Crossing: Cattail Chronicles – Hometown Improvement

acccfinalI’ve officially been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf for a full month since its release date. My tiny town, while still rather humble, is changing and growing. New neighbors have moved in, more stores have opened up, and my museum collection is becoming quite extensive.

Public Property

Since I’m the mayor, I can choose to build public works projects. Some of them are functional, such as the campsite, which allows new animals to visit your town (and, in one case, I persuaded a camper to become a permanent resident). Others, such as the fire hydrant, are merely decorative (unless the canine characters are taking advantage of it while I’m not looking…). Each completion of a project warranted a special celebration with the villagers.

celebrations

So…who’s in charge of sweeping up the confetti?

I’ve built several public works projects, most of which I had to fund entirely with my own Bells. Although the animals will donate a little money over time, I was stuck footing most of the bill. However, I’m currently working on constructing a café, and I haven’t yet spent a single Bell of my own money. It might take a while to complete the café, but at least I can continue spending my Bells on house upgrades. I want my digital mansion!

homeloans

When do I get to the “mansion” part, again?

An Eruption of Construction

Main Street, the main shopping district, is occasionally under construction to receive upgrades and new places to visit and shop at. Each time I saw and heard construction taking place, I eagerly awaited what was to come.

construction

Who needs malls when you have Main Street?

Timmy and Tommy, a set of young twin business moguls, have upgraded their tiny shop into a convenience store, followed by a supermarket.

shopupgrade

I wish real stores could expand this quickly. Animal Crossing: 1. Real life: 0.

In addition to the general store upgrades, Cattail now has a gardening shop, shoe store, salon, and club.

newshops

I wish real stores could be operated by adorable, cuddly animals. Animal Crossing: 2. Real life: 0.

In the case of the club, I had to gather signatures and deliver them to Dr. Shrunk, an axolotl comedian who tells jokes and teaches facial expressions if you give him a snack. My villagers were cooperative and quickly gave me all the signatures I needed to help the good doctor open up his club.

clublol

Note that the club does not, in fact, cater to old curmudgeons.

Totakeke, a traveling musician, plays as a DJ and singer/guitarist at Club LOL. Although listening to the rad beats of DJ K.K. can be a blast, Totakeke’s Saturday night acoustic performances as his other alias, K.K. Slider, are a true treat.

totakeke

Totakeke, a.k.a. K.K. Slider and DJ K.K., is a musician of many talents. He’s also a dog. Animal Crossing: 3. Real life: 0.

A Cocktail of Culture in Cattail

A month’s worth of digging for fossils, catching bugs and fish, and purchasing art has turned my museum into a lively place. It’s educational, too!

museumAt one point, Blathers, the museum curator, requested a museum store and personal exhibit space as a public works project. I currently have three out of four of the rooms rented for my personal use. The first exhibit room is where I am storing my Nintendo-related paraphernalia.

videogameexhibit

This is probably the most fun, nerdy museum you will ever go to.

My second room is just temporary storage. My third exhibition space, however…

gyroidarmyexhibit

As their numbers grow, so does my power.

Cool Costumes

Aside from the small handful of regular outfits I’ve worn, I’ve also been putting together a wardrobe of special Nintendo costumes. I’m already prepared for Halloween!

costumes

It’ll be hard to decide who to go as, so I think I’ll switch between costumes each time I fill one bag of candy.

Superior Interior

I’ve paid off several home loans, and I get more space, rooms, or floors with each upgrade. Spending my first night in a tent was rough, and the initial tiny house I was given didn’t provide enough space to allow me to fill my house with neat furniture. Thankfully, I eventually got a much larger first floor, followed by a small upstairs room, and then a basement.

Currently, my basement is a gaming room, my upstairs is a bedroom, and my first floor main room is a living room/kitchen hybrid. I plan to make a dedicated kitchen and bathroom when I add more first-floor rooms.

house

It’s no mansion (yet), but it’s still home.

A Tree Grows in Cattail

My memorial tree is getting bigger. It’s a symbol of growth; as my town grows, so does the tree. Although Cattail is only a month old, it’s shaping up to be a fine virtual village.

HNI_0099 (7)

Happy one-month anniversary, Cattail! I didn’t get you a present, but I promise to keep bragging about you to all my friends.

My E3 Experience at Nintendo World

nwlogoEver heard of or been to Nintendo World? I was fortunate enough to be able to take a magical trip there last week on the second day of E3 2013. I explored the store, bought some souvenirs, received many StreetPasses, played some games that are currently in development, and imitated Link from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

skywardswordme

Thou must thrust thy sword skyward. Also, thou must make sure that people don’t linger in the background.

The store has two floors, with the first floor primarily being devoted to software and the Pokémon Center. Nintendo World actually used to just be the Pokémon Center, but it become its own section within Nintendo World. Regardless of the merge, the selection was anything but disappointing: there were cards, figurines, and, of course, a plethora of plush toys. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much Poké Paraphernalia in one place!

How's my Skitty impression?

How’s my Skitty impression?

The second floor was like a mini-museum. Judging by some other photos I’ve seen, Nintendo World may change their displays every now and then. Currently, the largest one chronicles various consoles, games, and paraphernalia spanning across several generations.

Aside from the inclusion of successful and well-known systems, Nintendo was not shy about displaying some of the more controversial relics of their past, such as the failed Virtual Boy console and items relating to 1993′s infamous Super Mario Bros. live-action film. I believe that acknowledging both successes and failures is crucial to staying alive and healthy, so kudos to Nintendo World!

nintendohistorydisplay

From Nintendo’s hanafuda days in the late 1800s to 2012′s Wii U, the display was a sight to behold. Above is a mere sample of what Nintendo World is currently showcasing.

The majority of the merchandise on the second floor was dedicated to the Mario and Zelda series. I got myself a Nintendo World mug and a Mario drawstring bag, both of which are decorative and practical! Some of the most expensive merchandise, such as the statues of Samus’ gunship and Twilight Princess’ version of Ganondorf were available and, uh, expensive.

No, Mario. Even your cheerful, smiling visage can't take the $480 pain away from people's wallets.

Even Mario’s cheerful, smiling visage can’t take the pain away from spending $480.

Next, I’d like to give a brief overview of the games I got to preview. The games that were being demoed were Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Mario Kart 8Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. I played the first three, and I can say with confidence that they are shaping up to be excellent additions to the Wii U library. I hope to try out the latter two in the near future.

Super Mario 3D World comes off as a spiritual successor to 2011′s Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, though there also seems to be some Super Mario GalaxyNew Super Mario Bros. WiiNew Super Mario Bros. U, and Super Mario Bros. 2 thrown in for good measure.

I had three co-op partners, and we all played through through World 1-1 and a boss fight stage. For World 1-1, I played as Peach. For the boss battle, I played as Luigi. Akin to Super Mario Bros. 2, each character has their own trait or ability; Luigi has the highest jump, Toad is the fastest runner, Peach is able to float, and Mario is the all-around character with no outstanding abilities and no major drawbacks. Although I love the idea of choosing between four different characters, I’m already gravitating toward Peach. Her absence (in playable form) in the New Super Mario Bros. games for the Wii and Wii U were disappointing, so I was ecstatic to find out that she was making her triumphant return, and she is incredibly fun to play as in a 3D platformer.

sm3dwcatsuitAlso, Super Mario 3D World introduced a cool new power-up: the Cat Suit! When Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach don the domesticated feline costumes, they are granted the ability to climb on vertical surfaces, pounce on enemies, and run on all fours. I can see it being used for a lot of interesting puzzles and environmental obstacles.

Pikmin 3, like its GameCube predecessor, has both co-op and competitive modes. First, my co-op partner and I tried the Mission mode, which required us to work together as a team to gather treasure before the timer ran out. Since I had only played Pikmin and Pikmin 2 for the GameCube and not the Wii “New Play Control!” version, I had to learn the Wii Remote controls as I played. I managed to adapt quickly, and I found the motion controls smooth, accurate, and superior to the traditional control setup of the first two. The game even allows players to lock onto treasure or a particular enemy, which reduces any potential frustration. It’s motion control done right.

pikmin3bbI hadn’t known about a competitive mode called “Bingo Battle” before the demo attendee mentioned it, and other than the first word hinting at it being Bingo-themed, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. As it turns out, players compete against each other to fill out a row of a card. However, while regular Bingo has letter-number combinations, Bingo Battle has cards depicting images of various treasures and enemies. Players must take these treasures and enemies back to their team’s ship, with the idea being to prioritize the ones that would build a link within a row. The first player to fill out a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the battle.

After a long war against my challenger, I managed to claim victory. It was a very intense battle, but my strategy and strong troops managed to overcome the opposing team. It was then that I knew that I was enamored with Pikmin 3‘s Bingo Battle. It was one of the main highlights of my demoing experience, and I can see myself continuing to play this twisted version of Bingo as a senior.

Mario Kart 8 is the eighth installment in the bestselling Mario Kart series, which may lead some to believe that it’s simply more of the same. While it certainly has the feeling of the previous games, it introduces a major new gameplay element for the series: anti-gravity vehicles. Players can now drive on walls and ceilings, which will undoubtedly give us some fantastic new course designs (and maybe even some old ones that are reworked with the new anti-grav mechanics). And for those of you who may be wondering, yes, you can choose between motion and traditional controls on the Wii U GamePad. Just keep that old Wii Wheel handy if you plan to use the Mario Kart Wii-style controls with the Wii Remote.

While it’s still too early to judge an entire game based on four courses in a two-player grand prix race, the game didn’t seem to rely as much on item luck. I don’t recall seeing a single Blue Shell, which means that skilled players won’t be punished when they manage to stay in first place. In fact, the items that I got to use were meant to protect oneself (by holding an item behind one’s kart) or trip up another player (by aiming and throwing in front of one’s kart). It was a fair, clean race (well, as fair and clean as it can get in Mario Kart, anyway).

If you’re a Nintendo fan and ever find yourself in New York, I highly suggest treating yourself to a visit to Nintendo World. It’s one of the best places for gamers to go to in the city that never sleeps.

Credit for the photos goes to Omar “BigNTasty” Radwan, who will likely become my biggest rival in Mario Kart 8.

Animal Crossing: Cattail Chronicles – Enter the Cattail

acccfinalThe North American version of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS was released today, June 9th. Being an eager beaver, I downloaded a copy via the eShop at midnight. The last Animal Crossing game I played was the GameCube version, and the experience so far has been both comfortingly familiar and refreshingly new.

AnimalCrossingNewLeafNABoxartComing up with a town name sounds easy enough, but it’s something that many of us have to mull over. Before I bought the game, I wanted to go with a plant theme and looked up names of various plants. Eventually, I decided on “Cattail.” Not only is it a plant, but it’s a plant that references an animal. Pretty clever, eh?

cattailsDespite the fact that I just moved into my virtual town, I’ve been making a lot of progress. I’ve been picking fruit (my native fruit is the pear, which is the same type I got in the GameCube version), catching insects, digging up fossils, making donations to the museum, selling items, buying items, talking to neighbors, composing a town theme song, and…well, I’ll just stop there for now.

Actually, I would like to take this opportunity to mention that I made my first down payment toward my dream house. Tom Nook gave me a tent to sleep in for the first day, though I won’t have an actual house until tomorrow morning.

When asked what color roof I wanted, I requested green, the color of, y’know, leaves. Regardless of my excitement to see my house and its lovely chlorophyll-pigmented roof, I do occasionally worry about a Frisbee or tennis ball getting stuck up there. Maybe I won’t run into this problem too often if there aren’t many canine citizens. I didn’t call my town “Dogwood,” after all.

The main draw of New Leaf is that you get to be the mayor. Tortimer, the series’ previous mayor, is now semi-retired, so we, the Animal Crossers, get to take on the mayoral duties of the town. To commemorate the event, I got my own memorial tree near the train station. As we all know, that means that this gig is legit.

memorialtreeOf course, being a mayor has its challenges. Currently, my mission is to get a 100% approval rating. To do this, I have to improve the town and make my citizens happy. I can’t say for sure how long this process will take, but my secretary, Isabelle, a fluffy, absent-minded dog, assured me that I should be able to reach this goal soon.

IsabelleAnimal Crossing is a compelling simulation game, and it’s the type of series that is best played in short bursts every day. The game’s world is much like ours: citizens move in or out, plants grow, seasons and the time of day cycle (the insects and fish that you can catch depend on these factors), and there are even region-specific holidays. Oh, and interior decorators and fashion designers beware: you will be spending a lot of time customizing your digital abode and crafting clothing patterns.

Thanks to the game’s online features, players from other countries can even share special items that are only available in their region. I, for one plan on visiting foreign towns and trading some North American items for other regions’ items. Anyone up for a trade?

BalloonSo…just what is it about Animal Crossing that makes the mundane seem exciting? As a game designer and longtime gamer, I hope to come up with some new answers as I continue to play this upgraded entry in the series. What I currently know is that it’s a living, breathing world that can — and should — be played for a year or more to experience as many wonders as possible.

I’m already questioning when I’ll be able to buy a fishing pole so that I can start catching fish and adding more to Cattail’s museum and gifting them to other people and displaying the creatures in an aquarium in my house and…

fishingStay tuned, Animal Crossers!

343 Industries Says “No” to Sexism and Other Discriminatory Behavior in Halo 4 on Xbox LIVE

Update: Microsoft will not be doling out lifetime bans after all. However, the topic is still open to discussion.

As a woman who plays and makes games (and, of course, communicates with others on the Internet), I know what it’s like to be bombarded by sexist behavior online. For those who are unfamiliar with the issue of the harassment of girls and women online, just take a look at some of the documented behavior of some particularly sick individuals. To be frank, I can barely recall the last time I played on Xbox LIVE or wore a headset when anonymous players were involved. What I do remember is that it almost always made me anxious. In fact, seeing or hearing any sort of racist, homophobic, or other discriminatory behavior disgusts me and tarnishes my online experience.

343 Industries, the developer of Halo 4, has decided to step up and publicly speak out about the issue. In an interview with GameSpot, studio head Bonnie Ross and Halo 4 executive producer Kiki Wolfkill expressed their concern about discrimination and nasty behavior on Xbox LIVE. Ross and Wolfkill believe that developers “have a responsibility to stamp out sexist behavior by putting more thought into how their games will be perceived.” Originally, it was thought that 343 Industries and Microsoft would make harassers subject to a lifetime ban from the online community, but this has since been refuted.

Despite this revelation, the issue is, of course, still one worth mulling over. Although I am a staunch supporter of free speech, I think that online harassment is despicable. It’s cowardly and downright pathetic. Worst of all, it ruins the experience of others. Even if it’s “only the Internet,” as some people argue, it serves as a bigoted message that certain people “don’t belong” in the community. It’s a form of hazing, and it’s completely unnecessary.

We have standards in society, and many gaming communities are essentially digital societies. If some delinquents in the real world were ruining other people’s experiences in a movie theater, in a restaurant, or in most other public spaces, they would be kicked out by the staff or security. Of course, rowdy concertgoers also shove each other around in mosh pits, so there are still places where such behavior is considered appropriate. Using this analogy, I believe that developers have the right to decide to mold their community into anything from the equivalent of an upscale restaurant to a mosh pit, or even somewhere in-between.

Personally, if I were to assist with the upkeep for an online community, I would have something akin to a three-strikes rule; I would discourage and disallow harassment (but not necessarily friendly trash-talk) and give the offending players one more chance to sort their behavior out. I would also give the players a temporary tag that would label them as a breaker of the code of conduct (this would be removed after a certain period of decent behavior). Perhaps there could even be a “wall of shame,” and offenders could be given the opportunity to issue a public apology to the rest of the community. If the behavior still persists after being given two chances, I would permanently remove them from the community.

To me, this seems like a fair way to give players a chance to redeem themselves before getting kicked out for good. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to implement a system in a community as large as Halo‘s. Maybe developers should start considering giving people the tools to prove when players are harassing others (such as allowing others to record people’s speech during a match). After all, if it’s a public community, people should be prepared to deal with the consequences of their harmful behavior.

Sources: Fat, Ugly or Slutty, GameSpot, and Destructoid.