All posts by carlyncrouse

Mouseless gaming: Play your way

As a female gamer, I’ve been asked on multiple occasions how often I get harassed or deal with sexism in video games. While it does happen and is certainly a problem, I’ve actually found that I get discriminated more about the way I play–without a mouse.

I’ve been playing computer games for most of my life now and always had a laptop with a trackpad. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I was playing games the “wrong” way. As a competitive World of Warcraft player, I can do everything just as well with my mouseless set up. And yet, people joke and look down at the way I choose to play.

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Playing WoW my way–mouseless!

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I’ve dabbled in getting a gaming mouse for years now and still haven’t. Yet, in my searching it has become clear how little options there are for gaming setups. The standard is a mechanical keyboard and right-handed gaming mouse, with only limited option for a left-handed mouse.

But why do we play with WASD? According to an article by Tyler Wilde on PC Gamer, “The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can’t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis “Thresh” Fong.”

Keep in mind this “new movement” was over 20 years ago. Since then, WASD has dominated most games as the way to play. But our brains aren’t all “coded” the same. Why should we all play the same?

It even says in this article that gamers played a different way before this method came out. How do we know this is the only way? And better yet, why should we care how other gamers choose to play? It’s just yet another unnecessary judgment in a world with too many already.

I say, game on and play your way.

Horizon Zero Dawn: Anything but disappointing

According to most reviews currently circulating, Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) is the game to play, especially with the recent release of the DLC expansion The Frozen Wilds. However, I stumbled across a review by Julian Benson on the Kotaku UK website that claims otherwise.

Benson states, “I’m about 40 hours into Horizon Zero Dawn. I’ve completed the campaign, explored most of the world and am a good way to collecting all of the game’s hidden objects. Yet, ultimately, I’ve found it disappointing.”

Disappointing?! After 40 hours, I was completely entranced.

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Tallboy at sunset in Horizon Zero Dawn

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Horizon Zero Dawn is a well-crafted masterpiece. From the intricate storyline where players weave through the life of the outcast Aloy and her journey of self-identity in a machine ridden world, to the unparalleled combat mechanics, this game leaves the player wanting to complete each side quest and every achievement.

Reading further into Benson’s article, he makes the claim that the game is disappointing, but only really details one place in particular where this is evident. He details the use of traps and trip wires that can be used during combat and says, “The problem is that all these tools are best employed preemptively, setting them up before the machines you want to kill even know you’re there – you don’t want to be trying to lay down tripwires when a five-metre tall robot bull is already charging at you.”

While it is best to plan ahead and set these traps down before entering combat, it’s still fairly manageable to do so during combat, especially if going the route of adding points into stealth abilities.

But the best part of the game (and this is something Benson even agreed to, while still calling the game disappointing) is the world and the story.

The moment I stepped foot into this world, I was immersed in geographical beauty in every direction. Not only are the surroundings breathtaking, but the physics are incredible. Moving through snow or water leaves perfectly imperfect trailing marks. Light cascades through cracks in the ceiling. Aloy even stumbles a bit while running over uneven ground.

And the story? (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it.) Machines scour the earth and wreak havoc on the tribes. But why? And why is Aloy, an outcast to the Nora people, so important? Where did she come from? Better yet, where did the machines come from and can Aloy stop the machinery before it’s too late? All these questions are thoughtfully and meticulously unveiled at a natural pace that leaves the player craving more at each turn.

The true gem to this story is Aloy herself. She’s strong and sassy, yet curious and sometimes cautious. Relatable in nature, players easily root for her to win every competition and show others that she belongs. Game mechanics allow players to choose how Aloy reacts to a situation, either with her heart, head, or fist. Even so, her deep-rooted personality dictates each choice, making her personality well-crafted and realistic.

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Aloy posing like a boss in Horizon Zero Dawn

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As a writer, I was drenched in lore and completely immersed in the twists of the storyline. And as a gamer, I was enthralled by the combat experience and enticed into every fight encounter.

Horizon Zero Dawn is anything but disappointing.

Why must we rank things?

The other day, my husband sends me the link to an article that ranks “the sexiest–and least sexy–accents in the United States.” This article claims that the Texas accent is the sexiest accent, followed up by the Boston accent.

Now, my husband is from Texas so he’s already a little biased, but seeing how they have ranked the Minnesotan accent way down at #48, I’m a little sad. But that’s besides the point.

This information was gathered from 1.5 million people who were surveyed by the travel agency Big 7, a company whose “About Us” page is currently broken. While 1.5 million people sounds like a lot, there are currently over 327 million people living in the United States.

So this survey is based on 0.4% of the current population. To me, that is a pretty poor survey sample to make this assumption.

But more importantly, what’s the point?

Why must we rank things? Why, as humans, must we distinguish things as better or worse than others when in reality they are as arbitrary as what our accents are?

If you think about it, accents are slowly dying out anyways. Thanks to the internet and other global innovations, we interact with people around the world. Starting from a young age, we begin to hear how other communities of people speak outside of our house or neighborhood.

In fact, my accent is a wish-wash mixture of a lot of things. I was born and raised in Minnesota, but my parents are from Indiana. This already made my weak Minnesotan accent a little odd. Adding in growing up influenced by the internet and building connections with people from across the globe, my accent can twist on the drop of a dime or simply blend in unnoticed.

At the end of the day, everything is constantly changing. Our society is constantly shifting. Not everything is black and white or binary anymore. We should strive to discover the possibilities of individual uniqueness instead of placing people into categories and ranking them.

Textbooks should be included in student tuition

The problem

I don’t know about you, but I spend an enormous amount of money each semester on textbooks. Sure, there are options to buy used or rent, but I still end up spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks.

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My tower of textbooks

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Even though Metropolitan State University prides itself as being “Minnesota’s most affordable university,” the costs of textbooks can easily be a fourth of a student’s bill for a semester.

According to CBS News, “Despite growing online markets for discounted books, the average cost of college textbooks has risen four times faster than the rate of inflation over the past 10 years. That has caused 65 percent of students to skip buying required texts at some point in their college career because of a lack of affordability.”

That is a lot knowledge that students miss out on.

There are some professors who understand this problem and use other options such as online PDFs or even scan the textbook for students. While this is a step in the right direction, I believe that the university should take their own words to heart and include the price of textbooks in student tuition.

The short-term solution

While there is a lot of drive to get tuition to cover textbooks, it is still a long ways out. In the meantime, here are some short-term fixes.

On the student’s end, the library is always a great resource. As long as they have what you need in stock, it’s fairly easy to obtain a library card and keep access to a book for a long period of time. As an added bonus, it might promote healthier study habits since the student is forced to read ahead and return the book faster.

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A library card that even I can't lose

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On the side of the professors, they should be aware of the problem and try to use every resource available to lower this cost on students. If professors wish to assign six texts, they should either be very cheap or available for free somehow.

The long-term solution

Simply put, the long-term idea here is that the cost of textbooks will be lumped into student tuition.

I remember the days of elementary school, or even through high school, where the school would assign a set of texts each semester free of charge. The student was in charge of returning these before the end of the year or else they would face a penalty fee. Why can’t universities do this as well?

Adults need playtime too

How many of us adults get caught up in every day responsibilities? How many of us get lost in to-do lists of chores? Sure, we all have hobbies, but how many of us simply have playtime? Not enough.

Studies have shown that adults need playtime just like children do. Dr. Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play, claims in an interview with NPR that, “Play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

But why?

We can all agree that humans are social beings. One of the must crucial ways we connect with others is by playing. You can see this in children and animals as well. Basic social behaviors are learned through simple acts of play. And then in adulthood, these acts of play build social bonds.

Dr. Brown says, “It helps us maintain our social well-being. And it’s not just board games that do this, but soccer leagues, or playing paintball in the woods. And not just after-work recreation, but team-building exercises in corporate offices. Playing is how we connect.”

But how?

In her blog Daring to Live Fully, Marelisa Fabrega lists “10 Ways to Have More Fun and Play More As Adults” which I think are all excellent ideas for us adults in need of a little playtime. Visit her blog for more comprehensive information, but she lists the following for her 10 ways:

  1. Set the Goal of Playing More
  2. Decide What Fun Means to You
  3. Set a Fun Minimum
  4. Put Fun in Your Schedule
  5. Create a Play Drawer
  6. Combine Fun With Other Activities
  7. Have More Fun at Work
  8. Have Play-Dates With Your Significant Other
  9. Befriend a Fun Person
  10. Hang Out With a Kid

Get started on the fun with this easy list!

My playtime this week

For me, baking can be playtime. Just as Dr. Brown lists as his criteria for play, I find baking voluntary, pleasurable, engaging, and it takes me out of time. So for my playtime this week I found a Dirt Pudding Cups With Gummy Worms Recipe. I guess technically this isn’t baking, but I tend to associate any dessert preparation with baking.

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My tastebuds refuse to grow up

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I can easily say this was one of the most enjoyable activities I did this week. It allowed me to take a break from classes and work by pulling me into this “playtime out of time” idea, not to mention it was a very tasty treat for me and my significant other who absolutely loves gummy worms. He is the true child-at-heart who understands the importance of play.

I’m still working on it, but I now plan on using Marelisa Fabrega’s list and take more time to play. I hope you will join me in this goal. Have fun!

Gamers, let’s change the world

Fellow gamers, let’s talk about how gaming can change the world.

Game designer and author Jane McGonigal has a lot to say on this subject. In fact, she has written an entire book on the subject: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. In this book, McGonigal provides “happiness hacks” by using games to improve our lives instead of escaping from them.

In the past, I always considered my time spent gaming as a way to escape the drudgery of life. School was boring, life was somewhat unfulfilling, and I never cared much for social engagements growing up. But in games I could experience what I craved in life: social interactions on a topic I was incredibly interested in, cooperation to achieve hard goals, structure that came with the rules and bounds of video games, and achievable goals that made me feel productive. I never knew how much games were doing for me.

In her 2010 TED talk, McGonigal claims, “Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is, they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world. That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.”

Even if this is true, I believe that games are already changing the world simply by changing our minds. In class, we learned that you can’t change someone’s behavior, but you can attempt to change someone’s mind and therefore help them to change their own behavior. Games are showing us the importance of working together, achieving small tasks in order to accomplish big goals, and how strongly we crave feeling significant.

For an example, let’s talk about Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (2004) since I’m a huge WoW nerd. In the world of Azeroth, my charater (the fluffball chicken monster in the screenshots below) is pretty powerful, but even I can’t take on a huge skeletal dinosaur monster all by my feathery self.

If I tried to defeat this by myself, I’d probably end up looking like that dead guy on the ground to my right. Lucky for me, World of Warcraft has millions of players. I’m not alone even if I am playing by myself.

Within minutes, I can find fellow players who are striving for the same goal and willing to work together to achieve it. Even if this momentary connection is fleeting, the important takeaway from this interaction is the understanding that I am not alone. No matter what I want to accomplish, there will always be people to work with as long as I reach out to find them.

This is just one example, but I believe this idea and countless others etch into the minds of gamers subconsciously to create a new generation of people with altered mindsets ready to work together and improve the world. Now when people encounter hard goals in real life, their brains are structured in a way that makes them want to tackle hardships and take on daunting tasks because their minds have been trained through video games.

McGonigal is right to believe gamers are capable of changing the world, but I believe it is already happening.

So game on and let’s change the world.