Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition Review

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Juan Aguacate is a simple man. He spends his days as an agave farmer, toiling in the fields of Pueblucho, and pining for the daughter of El Presidente’. After helping a local holy man he gets invited to a fiesta by the very apple of his eye, only to be cut off while on his merry way by Carlos Calaca and his troupe supernatural ne’er-do-wells. Amidst the resulting fire, Calaca escapes with the young lady and Juan is no more. That is just the beginning of Juan’s journey. After Juan awakens in the death-realm version of his hometown, a female Luchador named Tostada meets him. She is the guardian of the mask that Juan now wears, empowering him to right the wrongs in the world of the living.

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In this era of “what is old is new again”, the 2D side scrolling platformer has made a wonderful comeback. The newest jewel in this crown in Gucamelee!: Super Turbo Championship Edition. This Metroidvania champion is the love child of DrinkBox Studios, a Canadian firm best known for smaller titles “Tales from Space: About a Blob” and its follow-up “Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack”.

The combat in Guacamelee! is tight and fantastic. As you progress through the story, you are presented with a wacky goat-man who teaches you new fighting maneuvers, but only after smashing his comically-named (and blatant tip of the hat to Metroid-named) Choozo statues. For every destroyed piece of art, you get one new wrestling move that will help you not only destroy your skeleton enemies, but also opens up new areas for you. As you progress and gather abilities, your goatly pal Uay Chivo gets tired of naming them so you go from impressive-sounding attacks like “Rooster Uppercut” to the lackadaisical-sounding “Dashing Derderp”. Don’t let the name fool you though, each attack has its merits and will help you along your path to face-punching your enemies.


The story is a twist on the classics, but with a Mexican flair. Rescuing El Presidente’s daughter is the main motivating factor of Guacamelee, and as usual she is always in another castle. What really sets the story apart is the brilliance in its writing. The characters are all (clears throat) fleshed out and very much individuals in their own right. The scripting is tight and funny and if you are like me, you will have some laugh-out-loud moments along with a few poignant ones to even out the comedic foundation. You will want to know more about Juan and by the end you are rooting for his victory.

Guacamelee is fun, beautifully maddening, and a joy from beginning to end. The crispness of the controls are only matched by the impeccable art and writing that leaves you wanting more. The Super Turbo Championship Edition also includes new powers (Intenso is a sight to behold), a new boss, new music, and every piece of DLC from the previous versions.

I highly recommend you play this latest version and ask you this question: Will you be able to save your love with your new powers? Take on Calaca and find out for yourself.

We give Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition a



Reviewed on Xbox One

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The 7 games this year that got us in the mood for Kwanzaa

NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS!!! We don’t reveal everything but we discuss major plot elements for some of the games. If you were wondering if you should play any of the games on our list maybe this feature will help to sway you.

“Do you celebrate Kwanzaa or Christmas?”

You’ve probably either asked or have been asked this question at least once during the holiday season. No? What the hell is Kwanzaa anyway?  We’ve ALL asked that question at one point in our lives. We here at TSP have got the answer!

Kwanzaa is one of the only uniquely American holidays. The seven day festival stretches from December 26th through January 1st. It is traditionally celebrated by black Americans, each day highlighted by a singular Swahili worded principle meant to empower and unite. The principles are collectively called the Nguzu Saba and  each  day you greet your fellow  celebrant  with  the phrase “Hbari Gani?”, Swahili for  “What’s the news?”.  Do you wanna know something? These principles are not exclusive to black Americans. They’re for all of us, including gamers. So without further ado, we present to you…

2013’s Kwanzaa Gaming List!

 Umoja (Unity)

The first principle of Kwanzaa is about unity – unity within your family & community. No matter how much we deny it, all people are connected. The more aware of the world you become, the more this truth becomes self-evident. This is a very sophisticated and nuanced revelation that I’m happy to say was well represented within the narrative of games during 2013.  The Umoja game of 2013:

Bioshock Infinite


Set in the fictional floating city of Columbia, 1912, Bioshock Infinite tells the stories of Booker Dewitt & a young woman named Elizabeth. The relationship begins manipulatively, but soon they both find themselves taking on the role of a parent, making decisions in the best interests of the other even to the detriment of themselves. Throughout the game you begin to discover that the seemingly random task of abducting Elizabeth initially given to Booker was more an inescapable eventuality of fate, that their lives, while very much their own, were inexplicably linked. For the entirety of your Bioshock Infinite experience, you find that many of the citizens of Columbia, and the world around them, are completely connected to time, space and each other.

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Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

Perserverence. Stubbornness. Never say die. Whatever you call it, self-determination is a trait to which we should all aspire. Having a goal is great, but having the intestinal fortitude to follow it through to its completion is something else entirely.  Today’s principle is all about making us focus on the follow through. In the gaming space, there was one clear game that best exemplified this attribute. The Kujichagulia game of 2013:

Tomb Raider


Lara Croft has been an iconic, empowering, and controversial character in gaming since her introduction in 1996. When we were initially introduced to her in the aptly titled Tomb Raider, she was essentially “bad ass sexy British Indiana Jones, the woman”. In the current title, also called Tomb Raider, we find Lara on her very first adventure. In search of a legendary treasure on an island off the shore of Japan, Lara and her expeditionary crew’s misfortune begins as a storm leaves them shipwrecked on said island. This is the most benign thing that happens during the game’s campaign. Those who have played the game can attest to the sadistic manner in which developer Crystal Dynamics has decided to kill Lara should you miss a jump or a branch. Beyond the deaths, the story often leaves the inexperienced Ms. Croft in the most dire of straits, killing off confidants and destroying burgeoning friendships with reckless abandon. Throughout it all, however, Lara never gives up. In fact, it seems as every obstacle only strengthens her resolve. Every ally lost makes her more determined to save the ones that are left. By the time we end our first adventure with the British bombshell, we’re completely convinced that she can take down a T-Rex.

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Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

Each one teach one, and it takes a village… These are two proverbs that I heard as a child that best encapsulate today’s principle. The understanding that a group working towards a similar, singular goal can accomplish a magnitude more than an individual working alone. Additionally, we all must make ourselves aware that working together is an imperative to success. The Ujima game of 2013:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


Assassin’s Creed IV finds us in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century, following the exploits of Edward Kenway, a pirate and ancestor to the two protagonists of AC III. While some would call Edward and his ilk criminals, I believe you could argue that many pirates were just trying to provide a measure of success for themselves that otherwise wouldn’t be afforded them working through the “proper” channels. As Edward makes his way through the beautiful waters of the Atlantic, he fights his way through the Templars, aristocracy, and other pirates. Along the way, he continually adds to his crew and armada. His crew loves him. They cheer his arrival upon the ship every time he returns, but not because just he’s their leader. You gain the sense that they feel that he’s fighting for them and their success as well as his own. Captain Kenway was instrumental in the formation of a pirate government in an attempt to become self-sufficient, and although ultimately unsuccessful, it definitely galvanized the people of the Caribbean. The fulfillment of the dream of rising to prominence is seen in the Freedom Cry DLC, which sees Adéwalé, Edward’s former first-mate, in command of his own ship purchased with the spoils from his time on the Jackdaw.

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Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

There are times when you have to blaze a trail for others instead of walking the established path. There are times when the idea you have is one you believe in but one you are having trouble getting others to believe in enough to support financially. Do you give up when that happens? NO! You make it happen anyway. Now you’re not confined by constraints of anyone else but you. I’m sure the myriad independent game developers within the gaming space can relate to these obstacles and triumphs. As gamers, we’re better off because of them. The Ujamaa game of 2013:


resogun gameplay

The Playstation 4 exclusive, Resogun, is from developer Housemarque, developer of Super Stardust HD and Super Stardust Delta. Like the Super Stardust series, it’s a twin-stick shooter that keeps you confined to a certain world though this time it’s more a cylinder than a globe. You choose your ship, each with different attributes, to fight off waves of invading alien ships while trying to save the galaxy’s last surviving humans. Think of this as if the arcade classic Defender and the aforementioned Super Stardust were mashed together into a beautiful masterpiece, something gorgeous, challenging, and fun. This is a game that should not be missed!

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Nia (Purpose)

“What do you do?” It’s one of the first question we ask someone we’re meeting for the first time. What we’re really asking is, “How are you supporting yourself?”. What ARE we doing? Once we hit a certain age, our purpose in life is a question we invariably ask ourselves. What if the world as we know it has come to an end? What would your purpose for life be then? Would you cherish all other life that you find, or would you selfishly destroy everything to preserve yourself? The Nia game of 2013:

The Last of Us


Regarded by many as an evolutionary step in storytelling and visual fidelity, Sony owned studio Naughty Dog’s Playstation 3 exclusive The Last of Us begins by introducing us to our male protagonist, Joel, on the day after his birthday. A bacterial fungus has turned most of civilization into infected, violent “not humans” (I refuse to call them the “Z” word). The Infected force Joel and his daughter from their home. Racked with fear, guards shoot and kill Joel’s daughter as they seek refuge in one of the quarantine zones.  Fast forward 20 years – Joel has become a smuggler and, through a series of unfortunate events, finds himself tasked with bringing 14 year-old Ellie to the renegade group The Fireflies. It’s believed that she’s one of very few people immune to the bacterial infection that has ravaged the world. Their year-long journey takes them from Boston to Salt Lake City, making and losing friends and enemies as they travel. The superb acting succeeds in immersing us into this very believable world as Joel and Ellie come face to face with the ugly truth that the surviving humans, and not the infected, are the true monsters. The lengths that both of our heroes go through to not only survive but to complete their task is very telling. It becomes clear that, in Ellie, Joel sees the daughter that he lost, which gives him some semblance of the life he once had. His love for this surrogate daughter makes life worth living and ultimately changes his perspective on what’s most important in this new world.

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Kuumba (Creativity)

Taking what’s in our heads and turning it into reality, creativity is one of the defining attributes of humanity. Our capacity to turn the seemingly ordinary into extraordinary knows no bounds. Games like last year’s console release of Minecraft have continued to allow our imaginations to roam free. We waited 5 years but the Kuumba game of 2013:

Grand Theft Auto V

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Also on most people’s game of the year shortlist, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is the sandbox game to end all sandbox games. It’s a story of redemption, loss, and friendships, both old and new. The main campaign’s narrative tells the story of three lifelong criminals, two of whom are just trying to making their way in the world. Then there’s Trevor Philips. Trevor’s a psychopath and degenerate, but ultimately, he just wants to be loved. The game follows many GTA mission tropes but culminates in multi-staged heists; with each one being summer cinema blockbuster worthy. While these things make the game great, what keeps us coming back is the flexibility GTA gives gamers. Yes, the story is there, but there is no sense of urgency to complete it immediately. I’ve spent many a session not completing a single mission but just seeing what I can do. Skydiving from a chopper into one of the Los Santos resident’s pools? Do it! Body surfing a dirigible? It can be done. An entire work day can be spent on YouTube watching GTA V stunt videos without seeing duplicates. The possibilities are truly endless.

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Imani (Faith)

“It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” That was Obi-Wan Kenobi talking specifically about the Force, but he could have easily been talking about faith in general. Belief in something, or someone, even in deference to logic, is what faith is all about. We find strength in our beliefs. Our favorite sports teams and our most altruistic superheroes are part of the foundation of our moral compasses. What would happen if your heroes turned to villains? Would your faith be stirred? The Imani game of 2013:

Injustice Gods Among Us


Developer NetherRealm Studio set out to create a fighting game that takes place in the DC comics universe. They were successful in their task but then went the extra mile by creating a story that justifies why it’s okay for The Flash to fight Aquaman. Like any good bizarro story, Injustice Gods Among Us is set in an alternate universe where the Joker has convinced Superman that using  a nuclear bomb on Metropolis was the right thing to do, killing Lois Lane and their unborn child in the process. Instead of showing contrition and being remorseful for his foolhardiness, Kal-El murders the Joker and decides that it’s time for a new world order, a Regime. In shock and out-manned, Batman’s Insurgency discovers a portal to an alternate universe finding the Justice League and beseeches them for aid. The Justice Leaguers are given the opportunity to peer through the looking glass to see the ‘goateed’ versions of themselves. They’re given a view of just how corruptible the power they wield truly is. It helps to galvanize their belief in one another and to the cause of being a positive example for which humanity can draw.

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So there you have it. 7 days for 7 principles using 7 games. What did you think? Did it make sense to you?  Do you agree with our list? Do you think we’re full of crap? Let us know in the comments below. Come say Habari Gani or any colorful phrase of your choosing.



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Without An Iota of Doubt, You Must Play Tearaway.

When Media Molecule first came on the scene with Little Big Planet in 2008, they pushed the creative boundaries of user-created content in a way that was never seen before on console (as well as introducing us to Sony’s de-facto mascot Sackboy). Fast-forward to 2013 and we are again treated to another masterful game by the Surrey, England based developers in the form of the papercraft-themed Tearaway.

Tearaway Monster

I can easily say after completing the game that it surpassed my already high expectations, provided numerous memorable moments, and absolutely should be in the running for one of the best games of 2013.

Tearaway opens a story-book world in which your character is a whimsical paper puppet envelope named Iota or Atoi.  Figuratively and literally you are a message being sent to you the player.  In a continued effort to engage the player, the world casts you as the other major character in the narrative. You play the role of the sun and are shown in the world via the Vita’s front camera.

tearaway kah sun

Small ideas like this wrap the world around you and at the same time ground you in it. Tearaway’s characters and enemies are absurdly cute. New gameplay and puzzle elements are introduced over the game’s five plus hours. Locales and environments evolve and are stunning to play in.


I really don’t know if I have enough adjectives to describe how gorgeous Media Molecule’s take on papercraft is. Colors are vibrant and pop off the OLED screen, intricate touches are all over the game. The ways paper elements bend, crumple and fold give everything in the world a faithful and tactile feel. Background and foreground elements animate with an almost stop-motion feel that gives things like the blue uncurling paper of a waterfall, or the origami shape of a squirrel, a very stylized look.

Style isn’t just about your surroundings, here. Iota/Atoi have a bundle of customizable parts that you can mix and match to make the character you’re playing entirely unique.

atoi cat

At some points, you are tasked with making your own accessories for Atoi, with construction paper, pencil and scissors. Or, you can purchase from pre-configured options for facial features and accessories, using confetti, the in-game currency.

Confetti is everywhere: you can earn confetti by picking up pieces that are strewn around the world, opening up hidden gift boxes, or using your camera to bring silhouetted papercraft characters and objects back to life.  The camera also plays into the confetti system, allowing you the ability to purchase different lenses and filters.

Tearaway Camera

I found camera inclusion extremely fun and don’t think the game would have been the same without its incorporation. You can tell that in the development phases of the game the team put a real emphasis on uses of the in-game and Vita cameras, and those implementations. I found myself stopping everywhere in the game to take pictures of the world and selfies of me with grazing elk in the background. To my surprise at the end of my playthrough I’d taken almost 100 pictures.

The game’s soundtrack is another highlight. Genres run the gamut from ska to celtic with a dub step beat to straightforward orchestral score, all without skipping a beat or ever sounding out of place. And a pro-tip: play the game with headphones on, as the environmental sounds are amazing as well. Massive kudos goes out to the sound team on this one.

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Tearaway is by far the most compelling reason to buy a Vita, and the best game you could own for the system. It utilizes all the functions of the system in ways that are inventive and fun, and is ripe for replaying. Throughout the whole experience you never feel like the game asks you to do something that doesn’t make sense or asks too much of the hardware itself.  Use the front touch to draw an item on the craft table? Done. Press the rear touch pad to move a puzzle element into place? Gotcha. Take a picture of your real world environment to apply as a skin for a character? Bam! Again it seems like intense thought went into how best to mesh the user experience and hardware to make the Vita an enjoyable device to use—and it all works flawlessly.

If there was ever a love letter to a piece of hardware, Tearaway is it. It is very rare that a game pulls off all its proposed ideas with such a deft hand, and it really makes you wonder why Sony didn’t have MM working on Vita games before Little Big Planet Vita.


I know I’m gushing but I absolutely loved the time I had with this game. Everything from traversing the levels to collecting the papercraft figures (that you can print out online), to taking pictures of the world made me again appreciate the genius that runs through the Media Molecule team. Tearaway, like Game-of-The-Year Journey, was an experience for me, more than just a game, and one that I will have fond memories of for a lifetime.

tearaway friend

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Inviting Regulation: The Sportsification Of Video Games

I recently came across an amazing article that hypothesizes the possible governmental regulatory aspects of the competitive gaming community adopting sports-ified language and how that usage can actually be a detriment to those involved. I’ve shared that below and think everyone should check it out.

This topic is fascinating and hopefully will spark some discussion amongst everyone in the FGC, tell us what you think in the comments below and also let UltraDavid know as well.

The following article is a repost from David Philip Graham, he is a entertainment and video game attorney with significant expertise in the world of competitive gaming. A link to the original article can be found here and check out his website here.


The US State Department made news recently by granting P-1 athlete visas to a brand new set of qualified foreign players, allowing them to compete and work in the United States for up to five years. The visa process is rarely newsworthy, but this time things were a little different. This time the athletes weren’t sports stars. They were League of Legends video game players.

Riot Games, developer of League of Legends, had worked for months to secure visas for its players so that LoL players could lawfully work in the US. Under the law, P-1 visas are available to athletes who compete at internationally recognized levels of performance or to athletes, coaches, or other members of teams located in the US who are also members of certain foreign leagues. There are similar visa allowances for entertainers, circus actors, and even people who perform in theatrical ice skating productions, but there’s nothing on the books like that for video gamers. In part due to necessity and in part out of its belief that video games can be sports, Riot decided to pursue visas by claiming its players were athletes. The government agreed.

Riot is one of the leaders of the many video game companies, media groups, tournament series, community organizers, players, and spectators working to develop competitive video gaming. After two decades of growth, these efforts have begun to pay off.

Already, professional and semi-professional competitive video game players number in the hundreds. There are professional gaming coaches, managers, and team support staffs. Large tournaments and established seasons welcome thousands of live attendees, broadcast to hundreds of thousands of viewers online, and offer payouts in the millions. There are dedicated live media and news organizations, a player and talent agency, and even specialized attorneys (…hi!). It’s a multimillion dollar industry with roots in the last millennium and a hefty dose of optimism in this one.

Riot didn’t create competitive gaming, but it does believe strongly in gaming’s future and in the idea that competitive gamers are athletes playing real sports. And in pushing for P-1 visas, it may have taken one of the most important steps in competitive gaming’s development: it got the government involved.

Most current legislators, judges, and bureaucrats have little reason to think about people who play video games in tournaments. No American legislatures and few courts or government agencies have had to deal with the competitive aspects of video game play. But Riot’s work in securing P-1 visas for LoL players may signal the start of more direct government involvement, whether at the government’s own volition or at the continued behest of private parties.

What might this involvement look like? The answer to that has a lot to do with whether the government believes it’s involved in video games or sports.


There’s a strong push among some parts of the competitive gaming world towards using sports terminology. Competitive video gaming is sometimes called electronic sports or “esports.” Players are sometimes called “cyber athletes.” Organizations like the Cyberathlete Professional League, the Electronic Sports World Cup, and Major League Gaming hold esports events for video game athletes and fans.

The sportsification of video gaming terminology may seem like a simple rhetorical issue, but to the law words can be everything. The terms we use amongst ourselves and in bringing our issues to the government could have a strong impact on what the ultimate legal regime governing competitive gaming looks like. The State Department endorsed the idea that video game players are athletes not just because Riot identified an easier legal route to obtaining visas for its players but because Riot’s representatives speak about video gaming usings esports-style terms.

But will other parts of the government come to agree that video gamers are athletes? It’s hard to say. After all, this phenomenon is only now coming to a head in the US.

By contrast, other countries have been dealing with competitive video gaming for some time. The Korean eSports Association, or KeSPA, has been an official South Korean government-related organization supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism for over a decade. In Taiwan, esports has been officially established as a national sport eligible for government aid in cultivating talent. The Swedish city of Jonkoping offers cheap hotel and transportation rates as well as logistical and financial help for the massive Dreamhack esports festival it welcomes every year. On the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, the government backs a video game event group called the Video X Games in an effort to encourage tourism from the video game inclined.

These governments, forced by constituents and enthusiasm to consider the question of whether to provide more official support for video gaming and for gaming as sports, have already answered in the affirmative. The visa decision may show that the US isn’t far behind.

The biggest reason to expect more encounters between American governments and competitive video gaming is appeals from the people involved. People who back the idea of games as sports, whether for financial reasons or because they believe in it or both, won’t stop asking different parts of the government to agree. Riot got athlete visas for its players by figuring out how to approach the government and how to convince government workers that gamers are athletes. Riot and others can continue to apply those lessons in the future. And over time, as newer, more video game-friendly generations of people take control in government, pro-esports terminology may find increasingly more willing ears.


A legal regime in which video games are sports can be helpful, as in the case of visas for LoL players. But it could also result in an avalanche of regulation across a host of different areas.

In this paper, I’ll discuss the impact of the sportsification of gaming terminology on Title IX in collegiate athletics, how student athletes join the pros, athletic training and coaching, player unemployment benefits, media coverage, and player agents. I suspect there may be additional issues in things ranging from sports betting to advertising, performance enhancing drugs, video game company standards of care, player health benefits, team insurance requirements, taxes, and more. I am only one man. I can’t get to everything.

In addition, knowing in advance how video game pegs might fit into traditional sports holes is a tricky business full of unknowns. But as a lawyer, part of my job is to consider potential issues before they happen. So let’s do that!

Lemme just… invent an alternate future world where the government has adopted esports terminology and considers competitive video games to be sports… ok. Now, journey into my legally-informed imagination and discover what esports is like… in 20X6.

“Earth. The imaginary future. The year is 20X6, and sport… has changed. Thousands of players across many video game genres make their livings playing professionally. Some have rich endorsement deals negotiated by powerful agents. Dozens of professional teams commanded by wealthy owners support fully developed ecosystems of players, management, staff, lawyers, secretaries, and more. Extensive broadcast networks and media organizations show live video gaming events, news, analysis, and tabloid stories, while traditional sports outlets like CBS, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated have long since added shows and sections dedicated to pro gaming. Professional tournament series around the globe routinely sell out gigantic stadiums to tens of thousands of fans. Viewers numbering in the millions watch in private or in bars while wearing merchandise from their favorite teams and players. Competitive gaming, known in 20X6 as esports, is an international craze, a multi-billion bitcoin industry, and one of the world’s great pastimes.”


“In 20X6, many American colleges and universities support esports teams. There are intercollegiate, interscholastic, club, and intramural teams for all the biggest esports games in the world, from Duke Nukem 8 to Skullgirls vs Divekick 3. Although different teams receive different amounts and types of aid, they’re all allocated some amount of money, scholarships, faculty help, facilities, or other support. But esports athletics of 20X6 are still as male-dominated as competitive video gaming was in earlier days. For athletic directors, balancing Title IX in esports has become a major concern.”

Title IX is a major piece of US federal legislation meant to balance out opportunities in educational and athletic programs and activities for the underrepresented sex, which is almost always women. Programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance must provide similar assistance to both sexes; provide equal treatment, benefits, and opportunities to both sexes; or effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of both sexes.

Legislation and the courts have provided handy guidelines for finding whether a school is in compliance with these regulations. A school can satisfy Title IX by apportioning money to the two sexes in proportion to how many male and female students are participating in athletics or by ensuring that the numbers of males and females actually participating in athletics is substantially proportionate to the general enrollment ratio. A school can also show that even if it hasn’t equalized its numbers yet, it’s at least continually expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex and has a history and continuing practice of expansion that responds to developing interests and abilities of that sex. And where the percentage of the underrepresented sex participating in athletics is disproportionately low, a school can get off the hook if it can show that it’s meeting that group’s existing interests and abilities.

If a school isn’t in compliance with Title IX requirements, it can add activities or money for women or use a combination of cutting men’s programs and adding to women’s until it smooths out the numbers. This has happened quite a bit, actually. It’s worth noting that Title IX doesn’t care whether a sport can be played by both men and women but just whether enough women are playing in total. So while some college football teams have had women players, in the end football adds much much more to the tally of male players than female.

Because the law applies to any program that’s federally funded, and because almost all American colleges and universities receive some federal funding, Title IX applies to just about every institute of higher education in the country. And because, again, we’re talking about any athletic program or activity, this isn’t limited to only NCAA sports but to any interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic program. At Cal, Title IX applies to both softball, which is an official intercollegiate program, and ice hockey, which is a club team.

Right now video games aren’t considered athletics under Title IX, so there are no requirements that video game clubs factor into this balance between men’s and women’s athletic programs. Overwhelmingly male clubs like the Fighting Gamers at the University of California Irvine and the University of California Berkeley’s collegiate Starcraft team don’t factor into Title IX considerations because they aren’t athletics.

But what if video games were esports and the government thought esports were athletic sports? Well, then the Fighting Gamers at UCI and the Cal collegiate Starcraft team would factor into Title IX calculations. Because they’re overwhelmingly male, they would add significantly to an athletic sex imbalance that would have to be addressed in some way. Maybe the schools would raise tuition or fees to pay to bring on new women’s teams? Maybe other men’s athletic programs would get cut? Or maybe the ones to be cut would be the Fighting Gamers at UCI and Cal Starcraft?

In short, if the legal system were to accept that video games are sports, collegiate athletic and video game teams would be forced to cannibalize each other until they’re sufficiently balanced with respect to sex. Considering that competitive video games are, at least for now, overwhelmingly male, there’s a strong possibility that video game teams could force the destruction of athletic teams… or alternately that athletic teams could kill video game teams.

“In order to square intercollegiate esports teams with Title IX, college athletic directors have been forced to make some creative decisions. After decades of ineptitude and embarrassing fake girlfriend scandals, Notre Dame scrapped its football program in favor of its overwhelmingly male Boong-Ga Boong-Ga 2 and Call of Duty 200: Black Ops 73 teams. The University of Washington was forced to raise student fees by 20% to afford its Crazy Simpsons Taxi teams. At the University of Alaska, student demand for both men’s and women’s teams in Pokemon: Molasses & Salsa necessitated the end of men’s water polo and women’s beach volleyball. And at Florida International University, administrators unwilling to reapportion funds from their #1 ranked football program denied all requests for male-dominated esports programs.”


“Like their athletic sport brethren, esports student athletes of 20X6 have the option to end their collegiate careers early to pursue professional ones. They can declare their eligibility for recruitment by professional teams and they can hire an agent, but their decisions are more complex and more dangerous than they might expect.”

One of the most heavily regulated parts of a student athlete’s career is the end of it. Multiple states closely govern the transition from a collegiate career to a professional one.

In Texas, the Participation in Intercollegiate Sports Contests Act declares student athletes ineligible to participate in intercollegiate sports contests if the athlete declares his or her eligibility for professional sports recruitment. In other words, if you make yourself available to the pros, you can no longer participate in collegiate athletics regardless of whether any pro teams even want you. And if you do get drafted or signed to a pro team, well, obviously there’s no return to college sports from that either. Other states have similar laws.

In Indiana, a student who enters into contract with an agent, signs an endorsement deal, or gets a professional sports contract must alert his or her athletic department head at least ten days before the contract is executed. Included in this notice must be the name and business address of each party to the contract, the date the contract will be executed, and whether the contract is for an agent, endorsement, or professional sports services deal. If the student athlete fails to do this, he or she has engaged in a Class D felony punishable by six months to three years in prison. Again, Indiana is just an example of this.

Implications are easy to see for college students with dreams of playing video games professionally in a world where video games are sports. Decide between playing for your collegiate video game team or going professional, because you can’t do both. And if you do decide to go pro, well, better make sure you alert the appropriate authorities!

“The famous Indiana University E-Hoosier Johnny Johnsington, for three years the most dominant collegiate BaraBariBall player in the country, decided to make himself eligible for pro BBB teams with a year remaining in his college career. After a short bidding war, he was quickly snapped up by a professional team. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to tell his Athletic Director about the deal far enough in advance. He is currently serving a three year prison sentence and will be eligible for parole in 20X8.”


“In 20X6, esports coaches and trainers are common. Professional, semi-professional, and collegiate teams employ entire coaching and training staffs with significant compensation. Elementary, middle school, and high school coaches help their students better adapt to new releases by having them study esports theory and competitive classics like Combatribes, Infinite Crisis, and Chex Quest. E-thletic trainers work with players who encounter game-related physical issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical radiculopathy, and morbid obesity. But not everyone can be a coach or a trainer. These professions are closely monitored by state and athletic association regulators to ensure quality among their ranks.”

Athletic coaching and training are complicated, precise professions whose practitioners have a significant impact on the health and in some cases even the survival of their patients. A poorly recommended exercise can exacerbate a problem; a mistake in traction can cost a patient his life. Just as with other highly impactful professions like medicine and law, athletic coaching and training are closely regulated to better ensure the safety of those who hire trainers. Athletic trainers are typically required by law to meet certain education levels, obtain specific certifications, and develop their skills throughout their careers with continuing education. Let’s look at some examples.

The Illinois Athletic Trainers Practice Act sets up an entire legal regime surrounding athletic training. It decides who can be an athletic trainer, codifies what an athletic trainer can do, creates a licensure requirement, lists qualifications for that license, vests power in an Athletic Training Board to administer the law, and so on. Only people who have graduated from an accredited athletic training curriculum, have proof of certification, and have passed an approved examination can be licensed. Athletic trainers are defined as people who carry out the practice of prevention and emergency care or physical reconditioning of injuries incurred by athletes participating in an athletic program conducted by an educational institution, professional athletic organization, or sanctioned amateur athletic organization. Their duties include supervision of selection, fitting, and maintenance of protective equipment, provision of assistance to the coaching staff in the development and implementation of conditioning programs, counseling of athletes on nutrition and hygiene, provision of on-site injury care and evaluation, and determination of when an athlete may safely return to full participation.

In West Virginia, the Coaching Authorization Regulations were enacted in 1997 to decide who can be a school athletic coach. A coach must have obtained at least a high school diploma or GED, be at least 18 years old, be physically, mentally, and emotionally qualified, be of good moral character, be employed with a board of education as a coach, complete approved training, and receive the recommendation of a county superintendent that he is the most qualified candidate for the position. Ohio, California, New York, and other states have similar rules.

In short, coaching and training are very well regulated professions. In some states only those who work in schools with children of certain ages are regulated, while in others anyone professing to be a trainer regardless of school, professional organization, or amateur organization is regulated. The exact rules depend on where you live, but most states have something to say about this.

Today these regulations apply only to those who work with traditional sports athletes. But a government that views competitive video games as sports may decide that only qualified persons can hold themselves out as video game coaches and trainers. After all, such people could have nearly as significant an impact on their patients as traditional athletic trainers have.

Inspired by the idea of healthy body healthy mind, a video game coach or trainer may prescribe exercises that overlap with a traditional athletic one. What if a patient following poor weightlifting advice worsened an already injured wrist? What if a player with cervical nerve issues suffered an even more severe neck injury when placed in traction? What if a trainer’s practice guidelines exacerbated a patient’s repetitive stress injury to the point that the patient could no longer play or work? A state could make compelling arguments for regulation here.

“In 20X6, the American Evil Geniuses esports team proudly announced its hiring of a famous Brazilian Samba de Amigo coach. When he reported for work, it was discovered that he had never been licensed in any state and was therefore ineligible to act as a video game coach in the US. Instead, he would go on to lead Complexity’s Croatian division to four consecutive SdA world championships.”


“Although some American players in 20X6 earn millions of bitcoins per year, most are not so lucky. As in traditional sports, esports salaries range the gamut from fabulous wealth to bare subsistence. And as in traditional sports, there are more players in semi-professional, development, and exhibition leagues than in the majors. For these players, getting by on esports alone is impossible. During the offseason, they are forced to pursue other work in order to make ends meet.”

Of course, sometimes work simply cannot be found. In order to keep unemployed people off the streets, federal and state governments offer unemployment benefits or unemployment insurance. Not everyone is eligible for such benefits.

In some states, unemployment benefits are off-limits for certain athletes. For example, Texas bans anyone whose income came from an athletic sport, athletic event, athletic training, or preparation for an athletic event from receiving benefits during the offseason if that person is reasonably assured to do so again in the next season. In other words, if you worked as an athlete or athletic trainer last season and will probably do so again next season, you can’t get unemployment benefits between seasons. The federal government and states like Illinois and New York have very similar rules.

If esports were treated as sports under the law, the same problem could confront cyber athletes. Teams participating in Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series receive a lot of money for the season and can qualify to win a whole lot more. But each team splits the pie among a half dozen or more players, alternates, and even managers, meaning that some players may have difficulty supporting themselves during the offseason.

Players with trouble paying bills could try to find jobs, but that may not be successful. A bad economy, underqualification, overqualification, and an unwillingness by employers to hire people for short periods of time could all hurt chances at employment. But as athletes who expect to work as athletes again next season, they would be ineligible for unemployment benefits as well. What would they do?

“Esports work in 20X6 can be grueling, and although the very best players live comfortably and enjoy long careers, others sometimes struggle. Jimmy Chen Jr. never quite managed to live up to his father’s fighting game prowess, but nevertheless carved out a steady semi-professional career. Unable to survive solely on his esports income, he grew accustomed to working elsewhere during the Road to Evo Circuit’s offseason. With the recession of 20X5, though, he could no longer find work. With six months until the next Evo season, he filed for unemployment benefits. His application was rejected.”


“Through its early adoption of online video game streaming technology, Twitch became the country’s largest broadcaster of esports events. Combining its many internet channels with its move into local and national cable television allowed it to show all levels of local, national, and international esports matches, news, and analysis. In 20X6 it is wildly successful, but it’s not the only game in town. And its competitors owe their survival as much to the law as to the marketplace.”

The most prominent federal agency tasked with media and communications regulation is the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC. The FCC governs interstate radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable communications and can regulate media delivery and some content.

In order to foster competition and survivability among cable and satellite providers, the FCC created the so-called program access rule. This rule forced cable operators to sell certain programming to certain competitors. Although most of this rule was scrapped in 2012, it remains in effect with respect to local sports programming.

Let’s look at Comcast as an example. Comcast is a cable television operator that owns its own local cable sports channels called Comcast SportsNet, or CSN. It sure would suck, the thinking goes, if a sports fan who switched from Comcast to Dish Network could no longer watch his local team just because Comcast refused to let Dish buy and show CSN. So Comcast has to sell CSN to Dish.

If the government viewed video games as sports, and if Comcast had local Comcast Esports Network channels, then Comcast would have to sell CEN to Dish as well. And what if esports broadcasters like Twitch and Ustream got into the tv market? Well, same thing: Twitch would have to sell its local esports channels to rival Ustream so that esports fans on Ustream could still watch. Yep.

Now let’s talk about the internet. The FCC’s claims to regulatory authority for the internet, especially with respect to net neutrality, are actually being challenged right now by Verizon and others. We’ll find out who wins eventually, but in the meantime all we can do is speculate. So let’s speculate, baby!

If video games are sports, then Twitch is in the process of broadcasting sports literally 24/7. And if the FCC can regulate the internet, what would happen to Twitch’s broadcasts? Would the FCC enforce the program access rule online, whether as part of net neutrality or for some other reason? That is, would Twitch be forced to sell some of its broadcasts to Ustream or YouTube?

The comparison with TV kind of breaks down with Twitch’s current business model because there are no restrictions on watching both Twitch and any other streaming website and no exclusively local programming. But the program access rule might restrict Twitch’s potential business model choices. Recall the common practice by some content delivery websites to make exclusive deals with certain internet service providers. Remember when NBC wouldn’t let you watch most of the Olympics online if you didn’t have the right ISP or didn’t live in the right areas? If that kind of deal isn’t restricted by other FCC rules, the program access rule might do it under a legal regime where games are sports.

“Although Twitch dominates esports broadcasting as both a cable provider and an internet portal available to certain ISP subscribers, it’s never quite been able to kill off its rivals. In fact, FCC program access rules require Twitch to sell its local TV programming to competitors like ESPN and Dish as well as its local online programming to competitors like Ustream and YouTube, who have deals with different ISPs. Twitch’s own content has effectively kept these rivals alive.”


“Esports agents have become powerful and rampant in 20X6. They represent players in million bitcoin deals with professional teams and endorsements. Some agents work alone; others work within major agencies. Power players like Drew Boras, Scott Rosenhaus, and David Graham snatch up the most promising young esports stars just before they go pro and have made a habit of securing impressive deals for them. As in other sports, these agents exert significant influence on leagues and teams through their control of player contracts. But these hidden moguls cannot escape the power of government regulation.”

A total of 42 United States states and territories have a law on the books called the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, or UAAA, that regulates the conduct of athlete agents. The remaining states have similar laws, as does the federal government. In fact, athlete agents are among the most heavily regulated participants in the sports world.

The UAAA requires, among other things, that an athlete agent register with a state authority in order to act as an agent in that state. The athlete agent must provide the state with important personal information, both professional and criminal in nature. The state authority has the power to ensure that agents act appropriately and may revoke an agent’s license if the agent doesn’t act in accordance with the law.

There are other rules, as well. Agents must put money earned by players into separate trust fund accounts to ensure that agents don’t use players’ money. Agents must retain certain records and may not enter into any monetary or gift relationship with schools or student athletes. Additionally, agents may make no false or misleading representations or advertisements.

Although professional video gamer agency is in its infancy, there are already some examples. Esports Management Group, or eMG, represents some of the world’s greatest esports players, commentators, and other personalities from its base in Las Vegas, NV. I myself have represented major fighting game players and esports media personalities in capacities ranging from professional gaming contracts to sponsorship deals. If competitive gaming was a sport, all the regulations on agents would make my working life a lot more complicated than it is now.

“Although 20X6 is a time of plenty for esports agents, there is nevertheless a lot more work to maintain compliance with athlete agent laws. Oh, uh… you don’t care? Well look, this is my invented future and this could totally impact me, sooooo, just go with me on this. It’s a big deal I tell ya!”


To some degree, 20X6 is already here. As above, the US State Department and several other world governments have endorsed the idea that video game players are athletes engaged in sports. There are pro gamers, pro teams, pro gaming seasons and series, hardcore and casual fans, dedicated media groups and agents, and so on. Many of the significant differences between the present and 20X6 are in degree.

As for the regulations themselves, it’s hard to know how they’d be applied to video gamers in reality. Maybe some of the more draconian regulations in 20X6 would be ignored or applied differently in the real world. On the other hand, such ill applied regulation would hardly be novel phenomenon in government.

The survey of 20X6 in this paper is only meant to be an introduction to potential regulations, not an exhaustive list. On top of collegiate gamers, video game trainers and coaches, unemployment benefits for gamers, video game media outlets, and video gamer agents, there may be regulations in sports betting, advertising, sponsorship, performance enhancing drugs, player benefits, team insurance, gamer and game company standards of care, taxes, and so on.

The risk of esports terminology in government application isn’t just the above regulations. Perhaps an even bigger risk is regulation in areas we don’t or can’t expect. After all, unknowns are often scarier and certainly harder to plan for than knowns.


Visas like the ones granted to League of Legends players aren’t available only to traditional sports stars. Remember, theatrical ice skating performers are explicitly eligible for them as well.

How did such a specific group of people as theatrical ice skaters find themselves written into the law? They might have been able to fit into the regular athlete category, but whoever wrote or lobbied for the law must have wanted to guarantee that such skaters could work in the US without being called athletes. Maybe the lawmakers wanted to avoid sports terminology. And maybe they had good reasons for that.

A better known example of this is American pro wrestling. Back in the 1980s, the public still wasn’t sure whether pro wrestling was a real sport or whether it was just “sports entertainment.” When called to testify in front of the New Jersey State Senate, pro wrestling spokesmen surprised some people by claiming that their business wasn’t in sports but entertainment. They’d realized that if they could avoid classification as sports, they could avoid licensure requirements for wrestlers, referees, and promoters; physical exams for wrestlers, doctors near the ring, and insurance requirements; taxes on television rights; and more. Pro wrestling disclaimed sports terminology because it wanted to avoid the regulation that comes with being a sport. It worked.

Of course, some of these regulations might have been beneficial to the wrestlers themselves. It might cost more for pro wrestling leagues to require physical exams for wrestlers before wrestling, but the potential health benefits to the wrestlers are obvious. Not all regulations are bad.

But pro wrestling and theatrical ice skaters can still teach us a couple important lessons. One is that we should think about potential regulations in advance and openly discuss whether we think they’d make sense. The other is that if we’re willing to lobby in the right ways, it’s possible to convince the government that it should help us out without having to call ourselves athletes. That way, we can procure benefits without risking the unexpected regulations that can come with being sports.


I understand the attraction of sports terminology in video games. It’s a way to borrow a certain legitimacy from the sports world that can be used in lots of different ways. Maybe sponsors could be better convinced to support a sporting event played by athletes than a video game tournament attended by gamers. Maybe a jock can avoid feeling nerdy when playing video games or maybe a nerd can feel cooler. Maybe a video game company whose revenue comes from continued player use and microtransactions can better convince people to pump hours into a sport than a video game.

But are these advantages worth it? Is the rhetoric of esports worth the potential regulatory picture of 20X6? That’s something we need discuss, because it doesn’t just affect players or teams or leagues. It affects everyone with an interest in competitive video gaming.

Part of my duty as an attorney is to represent my clients zealously within the bounds of the law. If I can help my clients avoid unintended costs or regulations, I believe I need to do so. For some time now, I’ve advised my clients in video games and competitive gaming to avoid sportsified language and esports terminology as much as possible, just in case.


David Philip Graham is an entertainment and video game attorney with significant expertise in the world of competitive gaming. He can be found via his website at and contacted by email at

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Gamer wife's inspiration

Gamer’s Wife Sees the Light

by Jill Adams

I am from the elitist camp of bookworms that might have avidly played Super Mario 3 from start to finish in 1988, but then happily went a decade without owning a television, right up to my late 20s. Post-Mario, my understanding of video games evolved via media stereotypes: Guns!! Rape!! Sedentary, mind-poisoned, racist tv zombie bros!!

Then I was swept off my feet by a gamer. This charming, adorable, hilarious man with a devotion to making me happy pranced in, and we now live happily ever after. With a very big television. And two gaming consoles. A PlayStation Vita (handheld gaming system, for the uninitiated), Trittons (advanced headphones with a built-in mic, meant for gaming in groups), at least 7 controllers of various shapes and sizes… you get the picture. Never in my life would I have imagined emotions other than disdain for this sort of thing, but much to my gamer’s credit, I enjoy a nuanced appreciation for what I now understand is an emerging art form. Or, an emerged art form, little did I know.

So this post is to explain my conversion experience: how I went from hearing “gaming” as “slobbering nerds or douchey guys shooting stuff,” to being genuinely impressed.

Amazing Technology
L.A. Noire came out in 2011, and was very highly anticipated in my house. Set in 1940s L.A., you play as a detective working his way up through the ranks by solving cases around the city — stolen trinkets, jewelry heists, missing starlets. The art style is solidly film noir, and does a lovely job of putting you in full Sam Spade mode. The art style alone was enough to impress me, but L.A. Noire’s biggest accomplishment was that it brought humanity into the game in a way that completely surprised me.

The developers employed a new technology called MotionScan, which turned the game’s characters from plastic Ken dolls into people — people who could lie to you. Convince you. Evoke a sympathetic response. The game is all about solving cases by reading the clues, including reading the witnesses and suspects. You are asked to assess people’s truthfulness, in order to make progress. Seeing someone squinch their eyebrows at the wrong moment, or shift weight in an untrustworthy manner — these added a real twist of intrigue that I didn’t expect to ever get from a video game.

Not to mention that the MotionScan technology is completely amazing.

Snark Factor
It always seemed to me that there was no place for irony or cleverness in gaming. I only ever heard about machismo and a kind of sardonic cruelty, or alternately, puffy silly games for kids. It didn’t seem like there was any place for my inner snark — a world that would correlate to “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “Napoleon Dynamite.”

When my gamer got his Vita a few months ago, Escape Plan was the first game he had me play to understand why this $300 toy was worthwhile. In a black-and-white factory universe, this game features Lil and Laarg, two herpaderp characters that bumble along, doop-a-doo.

Your job is to help them through the gauntlet of factory dangers to escape from level to level without being sliced, squashed, imploded, or brained by any number of blades, traps, or other dangers. (Remember Happy Tree Friends?) I am convinced Escape Plan was developed by a dry, evil wit of British origin, down to watching Lil’s drunken, bubble-induced hiccups float the character over a lethal threat.

Another mention in the strange humor category goes to Frobisher Says. Frobisher is akin to a Monty Python skit gone even more mad.

Frobisher says: Scratch my back!

Frobisher barks absurd commands in a British accent, faster and faster, demanding that you “Deliver my pudding!” “Fight this bear!” “Poke the otter with a stick!” The Vita has both front and back touch screens, joysticks, arrow controls, trigger controls, and each task uses different means of accomplishing the command. Meaning that you begin to look like a crazy person, waving, whacking, and wielding the Vita in whatever way necessary to keep Frobisher from mocking you when you’re too slow, in order to receive the coveted, “Splendid!”

Community Investment and the Artistic Process
There are lots of anti-gaming arguments to be made in favor of moving your ass off the couch and having a real conversation with other humanoids, in an effort to be a viable member of society. That said, it’s very easy to discount the real bonds that are formed in the gaming community.

For me, the most impressive example of this to date is Sound Shapes. TheSpawnPoint has done some extensive coverage on this game recently, for good reason. The basic principles are about levels and music. A player moves through a screens of a level, collecting little coin-like symbols. The faster you complete a level, and the higher the percentage of coin-things you collect, the higher you’re ranked. The muscial element comes in from the creators — each coin-thing represents a musical element, perhaps a percussion sound, a synth riff, or a melodic hook. So, as you go along playing the level and collecting coins, you build a song.

But Sound Shapes has a dual purpose: both to play levels, and to make levels. Players are provided with some pre-programmed sound bits and graphic elements, which with my creative juices would stay pretty basic. But the community has gone wild, using these elements to create elaborate soundscapes and story lines, and even stop-motion animations that the Sound Shapes developers didn’t realize were possible.

A little sample of what’s possible starting with geometric shapes and small sound elements, from maker Daftbomb.

Watching my gamer interact with the developers and level makers has brought on a wholeheartedly positive vibe. All these guys genuinely appreciate the labor and focus that go into the creative process, and spend a lot of time commending each other and talking about method and process. It’s akin to watching friends in design discuss typography or collage, and deeply centered in the art of the experience.

The Art of Place
This one was a real conversion point for me. It’s one thing to have a generic battlefield, or an outerspace outpost with an alien war underway. It’s another thing to show beautiful crumbling mosaic tile murals in Istanbul (Uncharted 2), or climb some historically-accurate buildings in 15th century Florence (Assassin’s Creed II).

Nighttime parkour in 15th century Medici-controlled Florence

The attention to detail is astonishing, both as a consumer, and from the perspective of art direction. Not to mention historical accuracy, as the makers of Assassin’s 3 are about to demonstrate.

And then there’s the idea that gaming can be an existential contemplation. Journey is hard to describe — imagine being a faceless, robed, monk-like being, traveling the desert alone. Your destination: a mountain in the distance. Your means of travel: floating along on a mystical drift, or the occasional flying carpet or draft of magic sparkledust. Along the way, you pass through ancient stone cities… Perils appear, mirages and oases shimmer in and out of reality, and occasionally you bump into another lonely traveler. With only a speech of singing bells to help you, you can help each other gather more energy, in the form of a rune-covered magical scarf that grows. And in the end, you arrive at the mountaintop nirvana (*spoiler alert*), to be transfigured by a ray of cosmic shooting light into a sparkling comet.

It was so beautiful, so uplifting and magical, that both my gamer and I nearly wept at points.

A classic Journey-scape

Which is all to say: given the choice between watching reality tv and playing a game like Journey or Sound Shapes, my husband chooses gaming. And I’m glad.

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Videogames…Stop Making Me Feel Things

Late last year I wrote our “Coming in 2012” article that culminated with my declaration that Journey from thatgamecompany was my most anticipated title of the early gaming season. After playing through it the other day I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was the right choice. Journey has come at a very interesting time of my life. I am getting married in a month and just this past week started writing my vows. Now, I am pretty good at expressing my feelings but having to actually write them down gave me pause and made me choose very measured and thoughtful words when deciding what to say to my future wife. It made me think about many things: promises made and kept, future and past mistakes and most importantly life, death and all the small moments in between. Journey is about all those things and more, and this is what has both drawn me to it and has also made it one of my all-time favorite games

Jenova Chen, one of the founders of thatgamecompany, once said in an interview that every game they make revolves around evoking a feeling. Journey seems like the personification of that statement.

You start off in the desert as a cloaked figure and you can’t speak, but have the ability to make audible “chirps”. These chirps not only are necessary to snag cloth (which when illuminated in your scarf gives you the ability to fly) but also symbolizes your character in the world. You go from stage to stage adding more cloth to your scarf while exploring all these extraordinarily beautiful vistas. Journey has some of the best art direction ever put into a game. People thought that the sand in the last Uncharted game was amazing but Journey uses it in such smart and interesting ways that it blows you away. The movement, the lighting and sound all combine to make a feast for all of your senses.

Your main objective is to get to this mountain in the distance. None of this is explained explicitly but you are drawn to the beacon of light that it’s emitting. I don’t want to ruin any of your 2-hour gameplay experience so I’m glossing over it here but I will tell you about the part of the game I found most intriguing: its multiplayer aspect.

Multiplayer is amazing and done in a very interesting way. There are no lobbies and you can’t invite your friends to explore with you. At first hearing about this I was doubtful that I would want to play that part of the game but after having played it now 5 times through, I’ve found the multiplayer to be its most rewarding and compelling component. You may find yourself in a stage and see another person off in the distance. You can decide to go with that person and continue your quest or pay them no attention at all, the decision is all up to you. If you choose to take someone along, you engage in this audible ping pong of chirps and leaps. I found that every time I played with someone, the experience was different. My first couple of play-throughs had me in the role of explorer/student–my companion would help me recharge my scarf and lead me to hidden glyphs and areas. In the later bunch of play-throughs the roles seem to be reversed and I would be the one leading people to all the hidden spots in a stage. I found that there was a very clear balance between letting the person experience the game for themselves and guiding them to things that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. That was what kept me coming back over and over again: the feeling like I was an entity of that world. I felt like I was an usher to all the magnificent sights and sounds that the game had to offer. My experiences being with another person and wondering if they had the same emotions during certain parts was exhilarating.

The gameplay is simple, the graphical fidelity is both void of clutter and also filled with gorgeous visual density. Journey’s soundtrack is delightful, whimsical and poignant; the texture it adds envelopes you and gives you an appreciation of the orchestral score.

I want to personally thank Jenova Chen, Kellee Santiago, thatgamecompany and Sony for being extremely brave for bringing a game like this to market. Their commitment to making games that leave you with both something to talk about and require emotional investment is something that I believe gaming sorely needs. The payoff at the end of the game not only wrapped up an amazing experience but also left me feeling like there was some hope that our gaming medium can do more than provide XP boosts, leaderboard climbing and braggadocio behavior. That it can be used to resurface feelings that  humanize us and bring us all closer as people.

Journey is now in my list of all-time favorite games. I implore you to play this game, share your experiences with your friends of all stripes–gamers and non-gamers–and although it’s short, take time within the gamespace to enjoy the hard work and courage it took to get this game made.

If you’ve played it, please leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you.

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On The 2012 Horizon

Christmas is less than a week away, people have stuck their gaming gifts under the tree, and we are still playing through the glut of games that came out during 2011. The only logical question to ask is “So, what are you going to play next?” The crazy amount of awesome games we all got to experience this year was pretty mind-blowing. There was so much to choose from and play that there are still things that I haven’t had the chance to tinker with, but we as gamers are always looking for the next best new thing. So I thought now is a great time to look at what the industry has in store for us for 2012 by giving you our “What, do you think money grows on trees? Ok here is my money most anticipated 2012 games list”.

First up is a game that intrigued lots of people back when it was announced in 2010 and really got a lot of buzz going after its trailer at the 2011 VGA’s. This game is Bioshock Infinite, set in the dystopian floating city of Columbia where raging factions are fighting for control. The protagonist Booker Dewitt and his newly found sidekick Elizabeth are stuck in the middle and need each other to survive. The game has a number of good things going for it, beautiful graphics, engaging fast-paced gameplay and lots of new interesting systems going on at the same time. The best thing it has is Ken Levine, he has been making thought provoking games since System Shock and with him again behind the helm of the Bioshock universe, it can mean nothing but good things for Infinite.

Next up is Ghost Recon:Future Soldier. Now I’m sure someone just looked at their screen and gave this article the side-eye. I can understand why, they had a pre-alpha showing and a Kinect demo that left a lot to be desired; BUT I can say with the latest couple of videos Ubisoft has shown they might have a really awesome tactical team-based, third-person shooter on their hands. The game seems to have all the cover-to-cover, flank your opponent gameplay plus all the tech you would want from a game based in the not-too-distant future. There was an awesome article on Popular Mechanics about some of the tech in the game. Check it out here.

A game that I think will be on people’s radars is pretty awesome because it’s both a re-imagining and a reboot of a popular decade long franchise. Tomb Raider with a totally new and updated lifelike graphic style, new gameplay elements like broken bones affecting movement and using scavenger survival tactics will hopefully take the game in a totally new direction. The one glaring issue for most after watching the trailer was all the QTE’s. Trust me, although I love Heavy Rain I hope this game is not super QTE heavy.

Grand Theft Auto V is hopefully coming out this year as well. Little is known about it besides the fact that you are goin’ back to Cali. It looks like they have made big strides using bits and pieces of the GTA IV and L.A. Noire engines. For open world gamers this might be all you need in 2012.

Last but not least is my most anticipated/wanted game. It’s something that for me and many others seemed to have come out of nowhere and has captured my imagination; this game is called Journey. From ThatGameCompany creators of Flow and Flower, this game is just honestly one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. I usually don’t heap praise like that upon games unless it deserves it and this totally does. The amazing use of scale, desolateness, subtle nuanced music and minimalist gameplay elements combine to make what I hope is a huge success for those developers. I hope it’s a success because it would prove that games that don’t require you to be a guns-blazing meathead can prosper in today’s gaming market. The game drops you into a world with no direction but shows you a huge beacon in the far off distance. It uses human intuition as a gameplay mechanic to a certain extent–you see things and you go and explore them. By exploring you gain fabric to extend your scarf, the longer you’ve been playing, the longer your scarf will grow and obtaining fabric also lets you open up new areas to explore.

The scarf mechanic really becomes interesting in terms of how multiplayer works. The trick is that you can’t pick who you play with; you will always play with strangers and that is the best part. You will have to use “body language” and audible chirps to coordinate how to progress during the game. Also you can’t start a game with someone, there are no lobbies so if you come across another person you can decide to follow or go it alone. This provides the player the chance to have a totally different experience every time you play. After playing the beta earlier in the year and seeing the gorgeous vistas, this has to be at the top of my list for next year.

There are also some honorable mentions that I won’t go into detail about now but will later when more information is released. Some of them are The Last of Us, The PSVITA games Sound Scapes and The Escape Plan. These are just a taste of the games that will be or should be released this year and should provide massive amounts of gaming goodness for all of us. If there are any games that you think I might have missed or want us to cover for your list, please drop us a line or shout it out in the comments below.

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