Xbox To The Rescue. Microsoft To Acquire the Troubled Activision Blizzard.

“Holy Crap! Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard!” I screamed out loud to my daughter as she ate her breakfast before school. She did not share my enthusiasm and was annoyed that I yelled over her cartoons.

I could not believe these words when I read them. I had to read several other sources, including Phil Spencer’s blog post, before it really hit me. I don’t know about you, but I have been skeptical about purchasing recent Activision Blizzard games due to current controversies. Maybe, just maybe, Xbox is the Super Hero Activision Blizzard needs right now. 

Here is the breakdown

Head of Microsoft Gaming, Phil Spencer, has revealed that Microsoft agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard via the Xbox Wire blog. Activision Blizzard is the publisher for some truly massive franchises such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Diablo.

This surprise move by Microsoft comes less than a year after the acquisition of Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax Media in March of 2021 for $7.5 billion. When the ink dries, all Activision Blizzard games and properties will be under the umbrella of Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios.

“Holy Moly” were my words as I retweeted Phil Spencer's Tweet. And here I was thinking the Bethesda purchase was huge.

Until this transaction closes, Activision Blizzard and Microsoft Gaming will continue to operate independently. Once the deal is complete, the Activision Blizzard business will report to me as CEO, Microsoft Gaming,” says Spencer.

Meaning effectively, after the deal has been finalized, Spencer will oversee all of Activision Blizzard's games. This may allow many to breathe a sigh of relief. Hopefully, it will turn things around for what was a lot of negativity for the publishing giant and their CEO Bobby Kotick due to allegations of sexual harassment. Spencer had recently stated that Xbox was reevaluating its relationship with Activision Blizzard. Who knew this is what he meant?

To The Rescue

Given the state of Activision Blizzard’s public view, this makes me wonder if a deal like this would have ever happened otherwise? Is Microsoft bailing them out or saving them from themselves?

I see this as both. Activision Blizzard is in trouble, their stock is down, and they are experiencing a lot of negativity. I feel Microsoft stepping in can help Activision Blizzard from being their own worst enemy and clean up their mess.

With the stocks down, this is a good time for Microsoft to get ahold of some of the largest IPs in gaming and keep them from falling prey to the potential Mount Doom of death they may be facing.

Personally, I hope this creates a better culture for the employees at Activision Blizzard. There are hundreds if not thousands of passionate employees across Activision Blizzard creating incredible experiences. After reading about employee walkouts and employee layoffs, I had lost some faith in the company responsible for some of my favorite games. It brought me to the point of questioning whether or not to buy games from the publisher. At the same time, I wanted to support the people pouring their souls into making the games.

Phil Spencer has brought tremendous change to Xbox and its brand since he took over as head of Xbox in 2014. You cannot deny that Xbox has come a long way since then, and Game Pass now has over 25 million subscribers, which will now include Activision Blizzard games. Phil Spencer and his team at Microsoft will ideally bring about a massive culture change to Activision Blizzard and create a better, more positive work environment for its employees.

Whether you like it or not, Xbox is on a roll right now, and Game Pass is crushing it. You can read our Head Soup Man Drew Lewis’s article Pop-Culture Predictions #1, where he discusses why he believes the Xbox will outsell the PS5 in 2022. This big news may be the nail in that coffin.

All of the major IPs that will come under Xbox

“Upon close, we will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalog.” - Phil Spencer.

The deal will be for $68.7 billion, according to The Verge. Purchases of this size take time, and Microsoft does not expect it to finalize until the end of the fiscal year 2023. Possibly as early as July, Activision Blizzard will start reporting to Xbox, so we may have a while to wait before we see Game Pass full of CODs.

Including last year's grab of Bethesda, I see this as a move on Microsoft's part in an attempt to be the largest western developer in the world, much like Sony and its dominance on the Eastern market.

Are you excited by this news? Or do you see this as the beginning of a Blade Runner style dystopian and cyberpunk future?

Pop-Culture Predictions #1

Hi, I'm Drew, a big nerd who happens to run a hybrid marketing and production company. I lead content and brand strategy and use data to build insights that inform our clients' business decisions. In this weekly series, I'm going to pick a couple of pop-culture IPs and make a bold prediction based on past experience, real-time data, and a boatload of moxie. Here we go...

Prediction - The Uncharted movie will underperform in ticket sales.

I want to be wrong here. I'm a big fan of the games, and I think the world could use a fun, light-hearted adventure film. But no one is talking about Uncharted online, and it looks like it is destined to underperform. Take Tom Holland's last tentpole film Spider-Man: No Way Home. If you do just a simple Google Trends analysis on searches for Spider-Man vs. Uncharted, the differences are striking. Uncharted is basically flatline compared to Spider-Man. Even at its highest search peak in October (see chart below), Uncharted still didn't match Spider-Man. More surprising is that even after the Uncharted trailer drop, the peak is still lower than October's search. Interest seems to be going down, not skyrocketing up as Spider-Man clearly did when that film launched.

According to the New York Times, the Uncharted movie reportedly cost $120 million to make. So this needs an opening weekend of over $90 million and have enough legs overseas to warrant a sequel. In comparison, before No Way Home's insane $260 million opening haul, Venom had the highest pandemic opening weekend at $90.1 million.

Uncharted Interest vs Spider-Man Interest over the last 5 years

Bottom Line: Uncharted needs an incredible marketing push in these last few weeks to drive an insane amount of buzz towards this film to drive people to theaters. Otherwise, I suspect people are Tom Holland-ed out and are willing to wait till this hits the streaming services in 90 days.

Prediction - God of War Ragnarök will not release in 2022.

God of War Ragnarök was originally announced to be released in 2021 (note, it wasn't) and is now rumored to be releasing in September of 2022. Let me be clear: there is no way this game comes out in 2022. COVID variants will continue to plow through the vaccinated and non-vaccinated developers who will need to take weeks off to recover, slowing the production of these AAA game titles down to a crawl. The good news is this can often lead to a slower pace and better working environment for devs and writers alike. It will likely be pushed from September to late November before finally letting everyone know that this will be a March 2023 release. Overall, more than 40 games were delayed last year. Here's a quick list of some of the bigger games that got delayed in 2021:

Bottom Line: COVID isn't going away, and, for the foreseeable future, it will continue to have a tremendous effect on game studios' ability to deliver on their promised launch windows.

Prediction - Xbox will sell more consoles than PlayStation in 2022.

Sorry, Sony, but this next generation might belong to Microsoft. I personally believe that Sony, and specifically PlayStation, makes better hardware that plays nice with more developers. But Xbox understands gamers better. Their Game Pass is a far superior fishing lure to get gamers to switch to Xbox and stay there, with constant access to new games for no extra cost. Couple that with the smart pricing structure on the elite Series X and the cheaper Series S console, and it looks like Xbox might have a winner on its hands. You can see in the chart below that in the last 12 months more people in the US have searched for Xbox over PlayStation by a large margin, especially during the holiday season. The big X-factor here (pun intended) is the global chip shortages and Microsoft's ability to get their next-gen consoles into people's homes faster. The demand is there for both platforms, but the delays in availability may make people choose to buy whichever next-gen console is available once they've got the saved up cash to buy.

Search interest of Playstation vs Xbox over the last 12 months.

Bottom Line: Halo Infinite, Xbox Game Pass, Smart Pricing, and better advertising are clearly winning the day for Microsoft and Xbox in terms of interest but supply issues may make this a closer race than it appears.

I'll be back every few weeks with some more predictions. The value of a prediction is not accuracy (though it is better to be right than wrong), but the reasoning and conversation that the prediction catalyzes. Let me know if you think I'm right or wrong in the comments below!

These Free Game Playthroughs are a Great Alternative to TV

Leftover pepperoni pizza, and something good to watch. That's the perfect way to spend an evening! Tonight's cinematic classic is Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. I am on the part where Luigi is "ghost busting" his way through the abandoned clock tower. (Here's a clip from my perspective.) It's a good thing I wear a seatbelt because this story has kept me on the edge of my seat! (A little wheelchair humor.) 

Yes, my fellow Couch spuddies, I do realize that it is a video game. Still, it's a great story! The animation is dated, but it still holds up, and I never had a NintendoDS, so it's all new to me. (For more about my gaming background, read my article I Am Not A Gamer, But I Am A Replayer.)

Pizza and playthroughs!

Of course, I know all about the major streaming services: Hulu, Netflix, DisneyPlus, and so on. However, there's one thing that stops me from having any of these services and their wondrous content… money. When you're disabled like I am and living on a fixed income, you have to prioritize. I say to myself, “Do I buy groceries this week or buy another month of service to see Henry Cavill with his shirt off? Do I pay the power bill or watch baby Yoda swallow a frog whole?”

Yes, young spuds, even at level 45, adulting is hard!  

Since joining this community, though, my eyes have been wide with wonder at all these wonderful games and their stories. Most of them are, I'd venture to say, far superior to what Hollywood has offered lately. And my way of seeing all these things is through playthroughs: people who are streaming their gameplay on Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. There's great content whether it's a playthrough with the player's commentary or just a video of someone playing the game without commentary.

So far, my favorite playthroughs have been in these games:

Uncharted 1 and 2 - There's a live-action film coming soon for Uncharted, though, personally, I think the games themselves would make great films! Here's one of many available on YouTube with no commentary:

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - I love everything about this game! The world is so colorful and immersive, even in the dark moments. Kena is a very strong and, at times, a fierce young girl who fights corrupted spirits in order to set them free with the help of some little friends known as Rot. THEY ARE SO STINKING CUTE! Special thanks to Dan Morris of Deadpan Gaming for sharing his commentary-free playthrough playlist here:

Unravel - I love this game because it has the feel of a Pixar film and it has yarn! Check out this playthrough on YouTube:

In addition to playthroughs, I have seen a ton of creator content within our Couch Soup community. Those streams have kept me laughing on those days when I need it! Here are some of my favorite moments over the last year:

"I'm on fire" from the Chaos Crew:

"Worst Pirates: Dan & Brandy Play Dead Space" from Deadpan Gaming:

"First time in Dead Space! (Spoiler: IT'S TERRIFYING!)" from Pagan Plays:

Well, my spuddies, I hope my story and these samples show you that watching playthroughs and other creator content can be a great alternative to what's on TV.  

Have you found yourself watching people play games instead of binge-watching the latest HBO Max series? What game or content channels would you suggest I add to my playlist?

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Game and Why It's So Flarking Fun

When I first saw the trailer for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game, I'll admit I was a bit underwhelmed. I had played the Avengers game, and while fun initially, I quickly lost interest (I honestly feel kind of bad about that as it’s a gorgeous game). I truly felt that Guardians would be no different. Both are published by Square Enix, and while Avengers was geared towards multiplayer, Guardians is a single-player game. 

Initially, I was worried about the single-player aspect as I have grown very fond of playing multiplayer games with my friends. I quickly realized that you are never truly alone even though you play by yourself. You can have your companions help out in specific scenarios, but you play as Peter Quill (Star-Lord). Most people refer to this as a companion RPG, which is not what I would typically play. I have to say I was almost not willing to spend the money to play it, but seeing player reviews, I just had to give it a shot, and flarking hell, I am happy I did. The dialogue is a masterpiece. Rocket likes to use the word “flark” when he swears, which is quite a lot, and the others have picked up that habit throughout the game. It is pure Guardians gold. The banter and the bickering between the characters are what you would expect from the Guardians tales. Quill and his typical optimism even in the worst of times, “If we are going to smell like butt, we will smell like butt together!” to Drax and his usual dry but hilarious responses, “I will smell like butt with you, Peter Quill!” 

The soundtrack is absolutely amazing, which we should expect from Guardians. There is an 80’s rock band called Star-Lord that was made up for the game. Peter Quill obviously takes his name from that band in this storyline. With other entertaining 80’s songs like Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” you can’t help but have a blast while blasting bad guys in the face!

 As usual, in my first playthrough, I am playing the game on easy difficulty (nicknamed “You got this” in the menu) to get the complete feel of the gameplay. I’m happy I did because learning the combat techniques took a little getting used to for me. There are a lot of adjustments you can make in the controls menu to tailor your experience to meet your own needs. Quill has certain moves to get around most opponents, and you find upgrade material throughout the levels to upgrade abilities. He has his super fancy blasters that gain elemental power throughout the game. Rocket always asks to “borrow” his magic blasters (luckily, Quill never obliges). Quill also has jet-powered boots that allow you to literally kick the crap out of enemies. Ability points are gained for Quill and his companions as you level up. Different outfits can be found throughout the game to change the look of each character. 

As you engage in combat, your “huddle up” meter fills. This is like a super meter concept in most fighting games where as you take or give damage, the super meter increases. Once that meter is filled, you can “huddle up” with the other Guardians. Depending on what your companions are saying (and it’s different every time), you choose how to inspire them. If you choose incorrectly, it does affect how well they do in combat. You can direct your companions to do specific moves or special abilities to overcome more challenging fights and obstacles. Quill then blasts some fantastic 80’s tunes from his walkman while battling opponents, and it makes it so much fun even if it is challenging at times!

The story is terrific, and each character's backstory seems a little different from the movie. I never read any of the graphic novels, but I wonder which is more faithful to the story of these characters. Does anyone know? Shout at me in the comments! 

I love the interaction between the characters. When you get a little stuck on what move to make next, your companions will usually say something helpful that points you in the right direction (if you pay attention). You can make choices throughout the game that lead to different outcomes. I am tempted to do another playthrough to see if anything drastically changes if I make another choice. One option I chose turned into a complete “flark” up, and all hell broke loose (but honestly, isn’t that typical Guardian fashion?). I wonder if things would have been a little smoother had I made a different choice? 

At one point, you are arrested by Nova Corps. I giggled for a solid 15 minutes because apparently, Quill had allowed Rocket to fill out paperwork during a previous dust-up. Rocket, of course, let Groot help, so to Nova Corp, they are on the record officially as “Gardeners of the Galaxy” which embarrasses Quill greatly. The bickering between them all while standing there in handcuffs in front of the Nova Corp arresting officers was pure comedy. 

Rocket is his usual grumpy and pessimistic self, and Gamora and Drax constantly insult each other. Quill has to quickly get MUCH better at the whole leadership thing to hold the group together, and your choices throughout the game help with this. There are times when Drax asks if he can “toss” Rocket to get through an obstacle, and you can decide to let him or find another way around. There is ALWAYS another way around, so I have yet to throw Rocket. I have seen other gamers who have, and trust me, I don’t think Rocket will soon forget that. 

At one moment in the game, I was afraid I messed up a decision because they all bailed on me. But again, in typical Guardians' fashion, they all show up at possibly the worst or best time. You decide. Oh, and they save a weird space llama. I mean, why not?

"What the flark is that!?"

There are occasional glitches, and while it’s not the smoothest, it is so much fun to play. I have not quite finished, but I am looking forward to picking it back up soon because the story is fascinating. 

The Mind stone

The mind stone (the yellow infinity stone) plays a role in this version of the tale. I accidentally “finished” the game at one point because I made a wrong decision, but thankfully it lets you change your mind. It takes an average of 15 to 20 hours of gameplay which isn’t too bad for those with limited time. It will probably take me a little longer because I’m stopping to look at EVERYTHING, and it takes me a little longer to get through the fight scenes. I bought this game soon after its release in October 2021. I have been slowly working through it and enjoying every minute of it. I can honestly say that I am glad I tried something a little out of my comfort zone. I am happy the game was nominated for Game Awards in several categories. The fact that it won the award for best narrative should tell you that it’s worth checking out for the story alone. 

Has anyone else been curious about this game and wondered if they should try it out?

Bugsnax: Cute Adventure for Kids or Soft Entry into Horror Games?

There are so many great horror games out there, across all consoles and generations. If you're new to the genre, it's hard to know where to begin. You want something that will ease you into the genre and show you how amazing horror gaming can be. Well, look no further than Young Horses' latest game, Bugsnax, which is perfect for just that.  

If you're new to the game, I highly recommend you play it with absolutely no knowledge of what's coming. That makes it all the more mind-blowing! Or you can read on for a peek at what to expect. Just, be warned, there are some major spoilers ahead!

In their short life so far, Young Horses have developed a knack for creating funny, memorable, and downright unsettling video games. After all, they are the Octodad creators that, in 2010, had the entire internet asking, "How does an octopus have a family with a human?” They really got me pondering the important questions in life. And, as if Octodad wasn't weird enough, their second game was about to blow it out of the water.

Octodad (2014), an earlier game from Young Horses

The announcement trailer for Bugsnax sent a wave of collective confusion across the video game community. I was absolutely baffled by the trailer but, at the same time, so desperate to play the game! After all, it's not very often that a trailer opens on a strawberry with googly eyes. But the trailer was nothing compared to the full game that followed. On the surface, Bugsnax looked like a cute, colorful, and quirky little game. Not to say that's an incorrect assessment - it's definitely all of those things. But that's just the sweet sugar coating on a much darker and more disturbing video game. 

As an investigative journalist who seemingly specializes in cryptid stories, I was invited to Snaktooth Island by Elizabert "Lizbert" Megafig, who wanted me to share the story of Bugsnax with the world. I arrived to find that Elizabert had gone missing and all of the Grumpuses, the race of colourful characters that make up this game, had left the small town of Snaxburg. It's pretty clear from the get-go that something isn't quite right. But my quest to bring everyone home and unravel the mystery of missing Elizabert began.

The seemingly quiet and quaint town of Snaxburg

From the get-go, the game gave me serious horror vibes. My ship was struck down, and I was dropped onto an unfamiliar island where a storm was raging above me. The ground rumbled, there was movement in the trees around me and I was looking for a way out. Soon, however, I met the new light of my life, Filbo. He took away the fear, made the world seem joyful again, and showed me the ropes. He taught me how to lure, catch and consume the creatures that resemble familiar snack foods (like bananas and cheese puffs) that give the game its name - the bugsnax

I didn't even bat an eyelid when I discovered that the grumpuses ate bugsnax. I mean, why would I? But that was my first mistake. They seem innocent enough. Wildlife to some, pets to others, but food to all. That doesn't seem too dissimilar to our own way of life... until you see what happens when the grumpuses eat them. Once a Bugsnak is consumed, it changes the appearance of a body part of the grumpus that ate it.

The unsettling thing about the game is how easily I accepted this as the norm. Even when I had completely transformed a Snaxburg resident into various different bugsnax, I didn't question it. The only Grumpus that questions this is Gramble, and the game quickly frames him as the only weirdo that doesn't follow the crowd. Even when Floofty gave me a gadget that let me select which body part I wanted to turn into which bugsnak, I just went along with it. Because why wouldn't I? Even when I met Triffany, who is digging up the remains of the previous residents of Snaxburg, I just didn't question the kind of place I had come to investigate. 

Snaktooth Island is bad to the bone

In spite of this, I soldiered on. Transforming grumpuses, catching bugsnax, completing quests and, eventually, as the mystery unfolded, I found myself in the Undersnax, the seedy underbelly of Snaxburg. I traversed along gunk-filled tunnels, occasionally bumping into the elusive Snaksquatch. Which, in case you weren't aware, has been watching you this entire game. You can spot him in various places watching you as you go about your daily life. This added a whole new level of creep to the game when I played it a second time around.

As I fell into the depths of the Undersnax, I met the horror villain to end all horror villains - Elizabert!  Or, if you'd prefer a more horror-esque title - The Queen of Bugsnax! Her creepy cake-hydra appearance very quickly brought me up to speed on the true nature of the seemingly innocent Bugsnak. They were never really wildlife, or pets, or food... they were parasites taking over the body of any grumpus that chose to eat them! A change in a body part after consuming a bugsnak was not a simple little side effect, it was actually the bugsnak starting to take over the grumpus.

The ultimate horror villain

If you've spent this entire game feeding all of your new friends bugsnax and completely transforming them, now would be the time to panic. On Elizabert's orders, while she was able to control the island, she urged me to get everyone off Snaktooth Island. She threw me back to Flavor Falls and the creepy horror opening repeated itself, but now with the knowledge that the horror is very much real and a threat to me and my friends. Arriving back in Snaxburg I met with every Grumpus that I'd helped so far, who were now all trying to escape the island. It was my job to protect them from the bugsnax, which were coming in thick and fast, and they were out for blood! 

I had completely transformed my grumpus friends, which made them more likely to die if the bugsnax reached them. And yes, they can actually die. They literally crumble in front of you, turning back into bugsnax parts with no sign of the original grumpus in sight. You can escape with everyone alive, or you can lose a few grumpuses along the way. Together, we all watched Snaktooth Island burn to the ground, hoping that the looming bugsnax threat was gone forever. But that's not how horror stories end, is it? A sneaky end credits scene suggests that the horror is far from over.

What started out as a cute little catch-em-all style game very quickly became a psychological horror with a strange Last-of-Us-parasite-driven-zombie vibe. Did you really see the teaser trailer and the colorful style of the game and not expect that parasites would consume everyone and the sunny island of Snaktooth would burn to the ground? Or that it was all because of a missing grumpus who is now a hideous cake monster that has power over all the local wildlife? Shame on you. You should give Young Horses more credit for their twisted minds.

Have you played Bugsnax yet? What did you think? A fun romp with cute characters, or a creepy psychological horror? Or both? Let's unpack our "snax" experiences in the comments!

Monthly Gaming Update: January 2022

Another year has come and gone during a pandemic that has taken a toll on all of us, in one way or another. That's especially true for gaming, but for the better. Video games have never been more popular, and this, along with the very real chip shortage, has made it incredibly difficult to acquire the latest generation of gaming gear, be it PC components or a PS5 or Xbox Series S|X. 

Were you able to get a hold of a shiny new console that you have been waiting oh so patiently all year for? No? Me either, but that's ok, as the start to 2022 is thankfully a bit slow. There are a few notable entries like an all-new Pokemon game, a full game based on a seasonal event for Rainbow Six, and Kratos making the jump to the realm of PC. I was personally looking forward to Weird West this month, but, sadly, my fantasies of killing cowboys with tornadoes will have to wait since it has been delayed until March.

If you are a fan of indie games, there are a slew of them making their way to Switch, and now may be the time to play them. February will be a monster of big releases, so suspend any mid-pandemic Valentine's Day plans you may have. For now, use this time to play some smaller releases or catch up on the backlog.

January’s Highlights

God of War - Jan 14th (PC)

Kratos and boy—ahem, I mean Atreus have traveled to many a realm, and now they have found themselves on PC after almost 4 years. As part of Sony’s PC initiative to port PlayStation exclusives to PC, God of War (2018) joins the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone. Hopefully, we won’t see more videos of die-hard fans smashing their controllers and consoles over this latest release of the beloved PlayStation exclusive, which many believe to be one of the best games ever made. The PC version comes with similar enhancements as the PS5 upgraded version, but it also supports true 4K resolution, ultra-widescreen aspect ratios, a swath of PC enhancements through NVIDIA Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), and controller support for a wide range of gamepads, including the PS4 and PS5 DualSense controller. If you are a PC gamer who's been waiting to see Kratos be best Dad, now you can on January 14th.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Extraction - Jan 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC, Stadia, Luna)

Extraction started life as a limited-time event in Rainbow Six Siege, where players had to fight monsters instead of other players. Now it is a full stand-alone game where (gasp) aliens have invaded earth and it’s your job to stop them. It might not be the most original idea, but it's nonetheless fun. You will pick from a roster of operatives that are part of REACT (Rainbow Exogenous Analysis & Containment Team), each with unique skills and perks. Unlike Siege, Extraction will have a deep progression system to unlock new gear, improve abilities, and boost the stats of your operator. In an extra twist, Ubisoft has decided to offer Extraction at a lower price point of $40, and anyone who purchases the game will get two Buddy Passes that allow friends to play the full game with them completely for free for up to 14 days. Plus, all future DLC and planned content will be free! A little hard to believe, I know! This new PvE Rainbow Six looks akin to Back 4 Blood with its focus on teamwork, but with a much more tactical approach, and, it supports Cross-Play on any platform, which is a big plus. Drop-in and fight the hordes of Archaeans on Jan 20th.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus - Jan 28th (Switch)

Are you tired of catching Pokémon yet? Does anyone tire of it? Assumingly not since the 50th entry in the series is here. (Well not literally the 50th, it might be, I don’t know, there are a lot of them.) Anyway, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first new mainline Pokémon game in some time, and it looks to have gotten the Breath of the Wild treatment as it is now a large open world with a very similar visual style. Acting as a prequel to the series, Legends takes place in the Hisui region, in a time before people and Pokémon lived in harmony. As in all Pokémon games, you play as a young girl or boy who sets out on an adventure to study and collect Pokémon for the Survey Corps. Collect Pokémon and battle on your journey to complete your Pokédex and take on fierce Alpha Pokémon. Unlike previous Pokémon games, this entry has only one title as opposed to the normal release of two simultaneous games, which have some slight differences. Choose your starter and see the world on Pokémon Legends: Arceus coming to Nintendo Switch on January 28th.

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection - Jan 28th (PS5)

Nathan Drake is swinging on to PS5, but not in the way you hoped. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: Lost Legacy are getting the upgrade treatment with improved frame rates and visuals for PlayStation 5. This version will also have DualSense features so you can now feel things like “rope tension and vehicular traversal…”. OK. Sure. More importantly, the games will now offer Fidelity, Performance, and Performance+ Modes to experience these great adventures in the best way possible. They will be upscaled to 4K in Fidelity mode at 30fps or up to 120fps on Performance+ Mode. This package will be available for $49.99 or for an upgrade fee for those that already own the PS4 versions of the games. Sadly, the amazing multiplayer experience will not be getting any upgrades. But you can get a voucher for a free ticket to the upcoming Uncharted movie! A PC release was expected to hit around the same time as this PS5 release, but as of this writing, is still TBD.

January 2022’s Release Schedule

Sorcerer Knight - Jan 1st (Switch)

Biker Garage: Mechanic Simulator - Jan 3rd (Switch)

Crumble -  Jan 3rd (Switch)

Arcadia Fallen - Jan 5th (Switch)

Dead Cells: Road to the Sea Bundle - Jan 6th (PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Justice Chronicles - Jan 6th (Switch)

Sword of Elpisia - Jan 6th (Xbox, PC)

Super Sami Roll - Jan 9th (Xbox)

Mushroom Wars 2 - Jan 12th (Xbox)

Astroneer - Jan 13th (Switch)

Dual Princess - Jan 13th (Switch)

Eternal Radiance - Jan 13th (Switch)

Headland - Jan 13th (Switch)

The Last Friend - Jan 13th (Switch)

God of War - Jan 14th (PC)

Pinball Jam -  Jan 14th (Switch)

Labyrinth Legend - Jan 18th (Switch)

Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom - Jan 19th (PC)

Strategic Mind: The Pacific - Jan 19th (PC)

Vivid Knight - Jan 19th (Switch)

Animal Revolt Battle Simulator - Jan 20th (Switch)

Expeditions: Rome - Jan 20th (PC)

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Extraction - Jan 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Windjammers 2 - Jan 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Blackwind - Jan 25th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Chicken Range Bundle 2 - Jan 25th (Switch)

Death's Gambit: Afterlife Definitive Edition - Jan 25th (Switch)

Super Street Racer Bundle - Jan 25th (Switch)

Train Sim World 2: Rush Hour Deluxe Edition - Jan 25th (PS5, Xbox)

WWI: Tannenberg - Eastern Front - Jan 25th (PS4, PS5)

WWI: Verdun - Western Front - Jan 25th (PS4, PS5)

COGEN: Sword of Rewind - Jan 26th (PS4, Xbox, PC)

Unforeseen Incidents - Jan 27th (Switch)

Human: Fall Flat Anniversary Edition - Jan 28th (PS5)

Pokemon Legends: Arceus - Jan 28th (Switch)

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection - Jan 28th (PS5)

Miss last month's update? Check out December 2021’s releases right here!

Are you planning to get or currently playing any of these releases? Let us know what you think of them in the comments!

LET'S ROCK! Aliens Fireteam Elite Review

Beep...beep..beep..beep. It’s the only sound that I hear on my screen. My hands are gripping the controller, sweating, and I’m trying to stay calm when letting my teammates know where the enemy is coming from. You’ll get the adrenaline pumping with every emotion rushing through you when you play Aliens: Fireteam Elites.

Before I start reviewing the game, let me take you back in time for a brief memory lane moment. In May of 1979, one of the most successful horror movies to come out was Alien. A space miner crew is pitted against an unknown lifeform that is taking them out one by one. Then let’s jump to 1986 Aliens, which to me is the greatest sequel of all time. Survivor Ellen Ripley is forced back to face her demons on a planet that spawned the godforsaken Alien (now known as Xenomorphs). This time she is not alone. She will be riding along with the Colonial Marines, who are absolute badasses with the weapons and gear that should have evened the playing field...or so they thought. If you haven't seen any of the movies, I highly recommend them.

Based on how successful Aliens was, toy lines and video games were coming out the wazoo. There have been crossover games Aliens vs. Predator where you can play as the Marines, Aliens, or Predators. Some were good, and some were bad. So the question of etiquette is, is THIS game good?

The game’s primary storyline is that your platoon has received a distress call from a Weyland Yutani (WY) space station hovering over a restricted planet that is also owned by WY. With the advanced weaponry you and the rest of your ultimate badass marines have, you are tasked to scout the area. You can unlock so many more Alien universe mythos in the game by completing missions or finding secret items, even though the game story gives away nodes from Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus. That being said, the story is not the driving force of the game. The game’s main attraction is the Co-Op feature, where you and two of your friends can jump in the fray and start blasting every Xenomorph. Aliens Fireteam: Elite has that Left4Dead feel where you and your squad will feel overwhelmed after waves and waves of xenomorphs. If you play solo, the game will give CPU synthetic allies; however, they are as useful as a concrete parachute on the highest difficulty.

In the main game, there are 3 different types of enemies you’ll face. The obvious ones are the Xenomorphs. The unique thing about this game is that they have the common easy-to-kill ones to the acid spitting variety. Aliens that explode on impact to the annoying prowlers that come out of nowhere to pounce on you. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!! With Elite at the end of the game’s title, you face Xenomorph elites that have heavy armor with their health. The types you will see are the warrior type from Aliens, a tank-type alien that does serious damage, to the praetorians who are the royal guards to the queen.

The second type you’ll see is the WY synthetic army. Some of them have steel shields, other’s you’ll see are special armored snipers or heavy machine gunners. One of the most annoying things that can happen when you take a synthetic down is that some of them self-destruct, which can cause major damage to your character if you don't pay attention.

The third type of enemy is the most interesting one. They are called the Pathogens. They came from the Bioweapon you see in Prometheus and Alien Covenant, made by the Engineers (I’d check out Prometheus/Alien Covenant if you want more info). Whatever the goo touches, it will transform into either a walking corpse or a mutated beast. The best way to describe them is that they are the Halo Flood type enemies.

Now let's get down to the best part of the game, your marine.  At the start of the game, you can customize your marine from the different hairstyles, colors, and voices. You can choose from six different classes. The classes have specific perks that should help your squad survive. The classes are Gunner, which can temporarily boost the rate of fire and damage for the squad. Demolishers can have shoulder rockets to clear the room, The Technicians can set their special sentry turrets to help control the flow of battle. The Medics can lay down a trauma station to heal all nearby teammates. The Recon can send out little drones to scout out hidden enemies. 

 A recent update added the Phalanx class, where they have a shield against the frontal assaults of the enemy. A unique feature the game has is the leveling/perk system grid. Depending on which class you choose, you can upgrade the abilities such as longer damage boost as a gunner, making your technician have a flamethrower sentry gun instead of the machine gun, or you can add stats to have better stabilization or faster reload speed for your class.

After the season one update, there are 35 total weapons you can choose from, the iconic pulse rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, flamethrowers, smart guns, or even sniper rifles!  You gain new weapons from completing levels at a certain difficulty; the uniqueness is that you can level up each weapon up to four stars. As you gain a star on a particular weapon, it can add a  5% damage output boost, range, or stabilization. However, there is a catch with these weapons; depending on what class you are, you can only carry two specific weapons. For example, gunners can only use rifles or close-quarter weapons (CQW) such as shotguns or submachine guns. Demolishers have rifles and heavy weapons that range from the classic smart guns or rocket launchers. Technicians use CQW or pistols. One of the pistols I like using is a burst-type pistol that makes me feel like I’m Robocop.

The game has four stages with three levels in each stage, so in total, 12 levels of teaming up with your buddies to kill some Xenomorphs! It may sound short for most people, but there are replay abilities. You can try out the harder levels to prove that you are the ultimate badass marine that can handle anything, or you can play around and use unique challenge cards before the start of each level. Challenge cards can make your life a living hell, from having 80% of your health be gone to having a 50/50 chance of your medkit being empty. The helpful ones can either double your ammo count or double the amount of health. There are some cool aesthetics, where you can play the level in black and white or make it look like you are playing through a VCR on a tube TV. Another fun feature they have is after you beat the game, you will unlock horde mode. This is a feature where you try to survive endless waves of Xenomorphs to unlock extra items or gain experience points.

There are three seasons waiting to be released through this year and next year. The interesting aspect of the future season updates is that the paid season pass is only cosmetics and some new weapons. As I mentioned above, the free updates have rumors of free extra story missions and hopefully another horde map with different enemies to face.

There have been some issues with the game, where the frame rates seem to drop from time to time, or your character’s arm doing weird things and cannot fire your gun for some odd reason. However, the small studio, Cold Iron Studios, has been working on weekly updates to fix the next issues that persist. They recently added the most requested feature, the quick play option, so you can find random players to team up with, bypassing the old way of picking a random level and hoping someone is playing the same one with the same difficulty.

Even with the bugs, I actually have fun playing this game. All of my friends have seen me play this game since the release date of August 24, nonstop. I have upgraded all my classes and am about 90% done in upgrading all my weapons to four stars. For a $40 base game, you really cannot go wrong with playing with your buddies and coming up with a plan to defeat the Aliens on the harder difficulty.  This is based on the fun factor with friends, the price point, and my love of the Aliens universe. The details in the levels that are based on the Prometheus prequel or the amazing sound designs of the aliens and the iconic pulse rifle sound make this a game that I totally recommend playing.

Let me know in the comments below if you have played this game or what you love about the Aliens universe.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare deserves a firing squad for lack of story and gameplay

Recently, I managed to finish the single-player campaign for the latest Call of Duty reboot, Modern Warfare (after I was finally able to download the necessary data packs that I had already downloaded when I originally installed the disc—nice one Activision). As the credits rolled, I had plenty of time to reflect on where the last six hours of my life had gone.  

Call of Duty’s campaigns have gotten pretty formulaic over the years. For all of developer Infinity Ward’s claims they were aiming to create a modern retelling of the landscape of war, I had my Call of Duty bingo card full within the first hour.

The main villains of this game are evil Russians and Middle Eastern terrorists. The heroes are Brits and Americans. There are chemical weapons being stolen and innocents threatened, just like there always is. So yeah, they’re not so much leaning on series conventions as lying down next to them, blowing raspberries.

The plot puts you into the shoes of two different playable characters throughout the campaign: SAS sergeant Kyle Garrick (Gaz from the original Modern Warfare) and CIA agent Alex. They’re accompanied by Captain John Price and rebel leader Farah Karim who are there to lead the player along by their nose through the typical linear missions, which is good because half the time the environment was so muddled that I had no idea where to go. But let's set the gameplay aside for a bit and talk about the characters and the campaign's plot.

The playable characters you pilot in the game are so one-dimensional that they still have packing peanuts stuck in their hair from the cardboard cutout factory. Kyle has a few less peanuts in his hair, but only because we inherit his body early on when most of the audience is still paying attention to the story. This is before the mindless successive set-pieces dull their interest until the story’s little more than the static you get when your TV aerial (antenna for all my US friends) starts acting up.

And "mindless" really is the word for these "snore pieces." The game hits the same reliable beats as a blindfolded drummer. Here’s the bit where you snipe, here’s the bit walking through the forest picking off oblivious enemies, here’s the bit where you bomb enemies with a drone using itty bitty god vision.

It really represents nothing more than the holding pattern that the series has been in for years now. The moment-to-moment gameplay may have been retooled to feel weightier and more grounded, a move I actually like. But when the core gameplay loop is essentially shooting the nasty man and the nasty man falls down, it’s like organizing your filing system only to launch it into the sea.

The plot kicks off—well, lurches to a start—with our white-bread CIA operative Alex infiltrating a base to steal shipments of dangerous chemical gas before they are shipped to today’s thinly veiled representation of the Middle East, Urzikstan. However, before they can complete their objective, terrorists appear, gun down Alex’s team and steal the gas right out from under his nose. With no further provocation, possibly because the enemies called ‘no backsies,’ Alex heads straight into Urzikstan and joins up with the local resistance, led by Farah Karim.

Captain Price is sent in to recover the gas and deescalate the situation with Russia because, yeah, Russian forces are also in Urzikstan. Price finds Farah and Alex quickly enough, and they all agree to recover the gas, get the Russians out of Urzikstan and end all terrorism in the world forever and ever. Don’t be fooled, this game's story isn’t the complex literary accomplishment that the press interviews purported it to be. I ignored the story for the final two thirds, slogged my way through the rest of the campaign and then read the Wikipedia article to see what I had missed out on (somewhere between stuff and all). The team saves the world, and Alex sacrifices himself for some cliché reason that the game can barely summon the effort to rationalize.

Now let's talk about the gameplay. The game doesn’t provide you with choices, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Well, I tell a lie, there is a choice. You can choose to keep playing the game or close the game and go do something more fulfilling, like organizing your sock drawer.

The gameplay itself might keep you trudging through just to see what military hardware the game will let you use, but the gameplay isn't what comes back to you in quiet moments.

Yaeger, the developers behind one of my favorite games Spec Ops: The Line understood this. The gameplay is the standard third-person cover shooter stop and pop gameplay loop, so far so generic but, it isn’t the gameplay that Spec Ops is remembered for, it’s the story. Throughout the game, the player character, Captain Martin Walker has a clearly defined arc that develops as he and his team of Delta operators descend into the hellscape of a ruined Dubai.

Just one of the harrowing moments during the descent into hell in Spec Ops: The Line.

As the story progresses, the mental states of the entire team begin to unravel as they are confronted by morally challenging situations, like one moment late in the game where you have to choose between scaring off civilians by firing into the air or gunning them down.

That simple choice highlights the difference between the two games. Modern Warfare gives you the illusion of choice and gives you a game over if you choose the "wrong" option. Spec Ops gives you the choices, lets you pick whatever choice you decide, and moves on. It just lets you and the characters deal with the consequences of your actions. It doesn’t whack you across the knuckles for making a choice they didn’t like; it just lets the choices develop the characters and story organically, keeping the player invested.

Easily the most affecting moment in COD history.

I think the fact that I had to read the Wikipedia summary of Modern Warfare's plot shows just how painfully generic and stale the plot feels. Thirteen years ago, the original Modern Warfare killed off the player character with an apocalyptic nuclear blast in a highly effective moment that still sticks with me all these years later. Infinity Ward had the confidence in their story to pull off this move while the rebooted Modern Warfare is toothless by comparison.

A good story is engaging, makes you think, and exposes you to differing worldviews that you may have never considered before. It covers themes and emotions, and it can help start discussions about important issues like mental health and climate change. Good gameplay keeps you engaged in the moment, but it's ultimately empty without the vibrant engine that is the story.

So, while the gameplay for both Spec Ops and the Modern Warfare reboot is generic and safe, Modern Warfare's reboot story has nothing behind it to keep people engaged: no choices, no character arcs, no development of characters, or discussion of anything other than whether it's better to use the M4A1 or the MP5.

In contrast, the Spec Ops story forces you to make decisions in the heat of the moment and makes you live with those decisions. It gives the characters clear arcs so we can sympathize with them, even up until we are committing horrific acts right beside them, making us question whether Walker and, by extension, the player themselves are in control of their actions. It fosters discussions about the horrors of war that games like Modern Warfare always seem to dance around in favor of gunning down more angry foreigners for the freedom of America.

That's the beauty of a game's story. It can take a game with basic gameplay and give it a depth and moral complexity that can lead to wider discussions about many topics that need to be discussed.

The fabled half court dunk is only talked about in hushed whispers

When’s the last time you played a game with your mates and didn’t walk away with some crazy story about a clutch victory or crushing defeat? 

Sometimes that story isn’t strictly dictated to us and, instead, comes organically from us just playing the game. It’s just a shame that the Modern Warfare reboot can’t even summon the effort to try.

What did you think of the Modern Warfare reboot? Are you tired of seeing the same old Call of Duty formula, or are you excited to see what they bring out next? Let me know down below.

Monthly Gaming Update: December 2021

November is past and our bellies are full. It’s the end of the year, and we can't avoid hearing that dang Christmas song everywhere we go. You know the one I am talking about! November was packed full with some of the biggest releases, and we even got Halo Infinite’s multiplayer three weeks early! December is a lighter month as most of the major titles have landed or been delayed into next year, but we get Halo Infinite’s campaign, and who knows what other surprises may pop up! December may still have some contenders to ..erm contend with.

December’s Highlights

ANVIL -  Dec 2nd (Xbox Game Pass, PC Early Access) 

ANVIL is a top-down sci-fi roguelike action shooter where you control characters called Vault Breakers to explore various galaxies that are crawling with monsters. Find relics inside Vaults to increase a Breaker’s ability to survive and fight on this godforsaken galaxy. ANVIL will be hitting Xbox game preview, and the developer (Action Square) has stated that they intend to spend the next year finishing the game and adding tons of entertaining content. ANVIL looks like Hades meets Anthem as you select a class of Breaker and choose from over 100 customizations to drop planetside with up to 2 friends

Chorus - Dec 2nd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC, Stadia)

Chorus is a space combat game where you play as Nara, a wanted fugitive on a quest to destroy the dark cult known as the Circle. Pilot Nara’s sentient starfighter, Forsaken, and unlock mind-bending abilities and devastating weapons. Explore the galaxy engaging in exhilaration zero-g combat, venture beyond reality as you seek redemption, and destroy the dark cult that created her. The team behind Chorus says that they love sci-fi and grew up playing space-combat shooters like Star Fox, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, and Eve Online. They wanted to capture the magic from those games to make Chorus the best space-combat shooter to date.

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Endwalker - Dec 7th (PS4, PS5, PC)

The fourth expansion for the beloved MMORPG, which was supposed to release in November, was delayed and is now releasing on Dec 7th. Final Fantasy XIV has become one of the most popular MMOs available, and the game has already seen a massive spike of new players prepping for the launch of this newest expansion, joining the existing base of 22 million players. If you haven’t played FF 14 before, or it has been a long time since you last tried it, the game is better than ever and now may be the time to play it. Experience the climax of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story, and encounter an even greater calamity than ever before as you travel to the far reaches of Hydaelyn, even to the moon. You will have to play to know what all that means.

Halo Infinite - Dec 8th (Xbox, PC, Game Pass)

Easily the biggest release for the month of December, Halo Infinite is the long-awaited continuation of the beloved Halo franchise of games. It has been six years since the release of Halo 5, and 343 Industries has been working diligently to make Halo Infinite the largest Halo game ever made. An all-new story that follows Master Chief as he explores the vast open world of Zeta Halo to find clues to what happened to his ex AI companion, Cortana. Master Chief now faces the Banished, an army of ex-Covenant troops that want to eradicate the human race. Halo’s free-to-play multiplayer is already getting heavy praise since its early release and the campaign is looking and sounding better with every new trailer. Grab your assault rifle and finish this fight on December 8th.

The Gunk - Dec 16th (Xbox, PC, Game Pass)

The Gunk is a new game from the developers of the award-winning SteamWorld franchise from Image & Form Games, developed by Thunderful. You play as Rani, a space hauler looking to make any money she can. Rani and her partner discover an untouched planet full of valuable resources. There, you will use your trusty Power Glove to remove a toxic gunk parasite to heal the planet, reveal secrets, and find treasures! With an intimate narrative and moving performance by Fiona Nora as Rani, The Gunk is a deep and moving exploration and discovery game. For anyone that loved playing Luigi’s Mansion and sucking up all the dirt with the Poultergust, The Gunk looks to fulfill that ever-so-satisfying sensation of clearing up space.

Coming exclusively to Xbox and Game Pass on Dec 16th.

Among Us: Crewmate Edition - Dec 21st (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

The massively popular Twitch betray-your-friends game is getting its official console release so you can lie and betray your friends on your console, too. For those that don’t know of this game’s existence, Among Us is a multiplayer game where you and several other players assume the role of crew members. Randomly, certain members are selected to play as imposters and their mission is to sabotage and kill all the other members. It boils down to a game of “Who’s the best liar Amongst my friends”. Get it?... Yea. Well, you get to do that on December 21st, just in time for Christmas.

December 2021’s Release Schedule

ANVIL -  Dec 2nd (Xbox, PC Early Access) 

Century: Age of Ashes - Dec 2nd (Xbox, PC Early Access)

Chorus - Dec 2nd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC, Stadia)

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Dec 2nd (Switch)

Grim Dawn: Definitive Edition -  Dec 2nd (Xbox

Miracle Snack Shop - Dec 2nd (Switch)

The Kids We Were - Dec 2nd (Switch, PC)

Ghost Sync - Dec 2nd (Switch)

Solar Ash - Dec 2nd (PS4, PS5, PC)

Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain - Dec 3rd (Switch)

Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp - Dec 3rd (Switch)

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Anniversary - Dec 3rd (Switch)

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Anniversary - Dec 3rd (Switch)

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Anniversary - Dec 3rd (Switch)

Disney Magical World 2 -  Dec 3rd (Switch)

Happy’s Humble Burger Farm - Dec 3rd (Xbox

The Jackbox Party Pack 7 - Dec 3rd (Xbox, Switch)

After the Fall - Dec 6th (PS4)

Beyond a Steel Sky - Dec 7th (Switch)

Ever Forward - Dec 7th (Switch)

Gang Beasts -  Dec 7th (Switch)

FINAL FANTASY XIV: Endwalker - Dec 7th (PS4, PS5, PC)

Grand Theft Auto: Trilogy - The Definitive Edition (Physical) - Dec 7th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch

Halo Infinite - Dec 8th (Xbox, PC)

Dam & Max: Beyond Time and Space - Dec 8th (Switch)

Transient: Extended Edition - Dec 8th (Switch)

Loop Hero - Dec 9th (Switch)

Monopoly and Monopoly Madness - Dec 9th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX - Dec 9th (Switch)

Super Impossible Road - Dec 9th (Switch)

RICO: London - Dec 9th (Switch)

The Eternal Cylinder - Dec 10th (PS4, Xbox) Delayed from last month*

Wild & Adventure Pinball -  Dec 10th (switch)

My Universe - Doctors & Nurses - Dec 13th (Switch)

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon - Dec 13th (Switch)

Clockwork Aquario - Dec 14th (Switch)

Gear Club Unlimited 2: Definitive Edition - Dec 14th (PS5, Switch)

One Hand CLapping - Dec 14th (Switch)

The Smurfs: Mission Vileaf Standard Edition - Dec 14th (PS5)

Murder Diaries 3 - Dec 16th (Xbox

The Letter: A Horror Visual Novel- Dec 15th (Switch)

Dinosaur Jigsaw Puzzles - Dec 16th (Switch)

Hashihime of the Old Book Town append - Dec 16th (Switch)

The Gunk - Dec 16th (Xbox, PC, Game Pass)

The Wild at Heart - Dec 17th (PS4, Switch)

Carebotz - Dec 20th (Switch)

Among Us: Crewmate Edition - Dec 21st (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Miss last month's update? Check out November 2021’s releases right here!

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part IV - Featuring Lisa Geelen & Michelle Holstine

I had a great conversation with Lisa and Michelle about their passion for gaming and if changes within the gaming industry have affected their overall habits when approaching one of their favorite hobbies. Lisa, from the Netherlands, had her interest in gaming piqued by one of her brothers who let her watch as he gamed in their younger years. This has led her to continue watching other people game through streaming services, such as Twitch, and opening her horizons to new and different games. 

Michelle, who hails from Texas, USA, has grown up on gaming with her sisters. Gaming was a family activity, so she never took note of the gender gap in gaming while growing up. This will give us a great new perspective of women in gaming! 

Let’s get a little history from Lisa and Michelle: 

How did you become a gamer and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

Lisa: I don’t really consider myself a gamer, to be honest. It is just something that I really like to do, but I’m not particularly good at it. I started gaming when I was 14, and I had my own PC. Before that, I mostly watched my brothers play games like GTA San Andreas. I really like watching other people play games. According to my parents I was too young to play that game, so I snuck into my brother’s room to watch it. I was always jealous of my brothers playing all these games, so as soon as I had the chance, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I was immediately hooked. I love watching YouTubers play games too, so people like Pewdiepie and Jacksepticeye have played a big role as well. The streamer Loserfruit comes to mind as well.

Michelle:  I have been a gamer since before I can remember correctly.  My sisters and I always fought over the original Nintendo we had (I always lost to the older sisters), which morphed into the N64, and then landed on Playstation when they came out. I really remember the game time with my sisters.  Even though it was sibling rivalry, it's a lot of fun to look back on now and remember the old games we used to play and how we used to help each other through levels. That old Star Wars Nintendo game still remains one of the hardest I've ever played (the level where you have to climb up the Jawa desert vehicle.  UGH). Once we got the Playstation, we moved the gaming system from the playroom to the living room, so it turned into a family affair any time anyone wanted to play.  Even my parents would get in on the action! I would say that was my influence in getting into gaming.

Watch the original trailer for the SNES Star Wars game:

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, or do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to them? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Lisa: Pokemon blue, yellow, and silver on the Gameboy color are the first games I ever played. One of my favorites is Jazz Jackrabbit 2. I finished that game multiple times and it had a multiplayer option which was always loads of fun to play with my brothers. GTA 2 and San Andreas come to mind as well. San Andreas was the first story-based game I really enjoyed. Age of Empires II is one that I grew up with, and I still play to this day. Gaming is like jumping into a new adventure every time. I like that it tells a story that I can totally lose myself in and forget all the worries of the real world. It helps me relax. Gaming was never social to me because none of my friends played games. Only one of my brothers. It changed in the last few years because it's not taboo to say that you are a gamer. It became cool all of a sudden. I got a few friends of mine into gaming now as well. Since I’ve met the Replayers/Spuddies, the social aspect of gaming has become one of the main reasons why I keep gaming.

Michelle: Oh gosh, so many to choose from!  We loved Tomb Raider and Silent Hill growing up.  Lots of fond memories playing those.  Once Crash Bandicoot came out, we really got onto the Naughty Dog train and played all of those and Jak and Daxter.  My favorite other than Tomb Raider is Midnight Club.  My sister and I spent so long playing that game that when I finally went to London for the first time, I actually recognized streets from the game!  I also loved Jetmoto and MediEvil.  One of the most fun things we would get were the demo discs from Playstation that had one level of multiple games on them.  Those were a blast! I always find this question so interesting because the answers always vary so widely!  I am specifically a linear, campaign-based player.  I like stories that are very linear and not as open world.  A perfect example for me is Uncharted 4.  You can explore more than in other Uncharted games, but it's not a completely open world.  I LOVE challenges and puzzles.  If I sit down to play, I want to feel like I accomplished something.  I play a decent amount of Destiny, which is interesting because it is a huge and absolutely open-world game.  It gets a little too overwhelming for me and my style of play.  I enjoy playing online as a social aspect but have not had many good experiences with that as a female, so I tend to keep to myself and play the campaign games.

Tomb Raider I on Playstation: The nostalgia is strong with these pixels 

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Lisa: Up to 5 years ago, I literally knew no women that played games. I never dared say anything about me liking games. Even on YouTube, there were only male gamers, like pewdiepie, jacksepticeye, markiplier, etc. I've noticed that since female gamers get in the spotlight more these last 5 years or so, more female friends of mine want to play games. People who first played games secretly now play them openly, and I think that that is a really good change. We still have a long way to go, though. Throughout the years, you see that more female characters in games appear and it is nice that the female can be the badass for once.

I also notice that when I play with random people online and say that I’m a girl, people never believe me. They think the account is fake, or I’m pretending to be a girl. Even when they hear my voice, they still won’t believe me. It shows that girls still aren’t allowed too much in the gaming world yet.

Michelle: YES, absolutely!  Women gamers have become more and more in the forefront than an afterthought.  I absolutely adore that the younger generation, such as our own adorable Amelia (shout-out, babe! <3 ), has an interest in gaming and one they actively pursue.  It helps that in some games, the environment is more welcoming now than in the past.  On the other hand, it is also incredibly intimidating.  My very first experience playing online with strangers was so bad; it has intimidated me ever since.  I think it's a beautiful thing that so many women gamers now can be outspoken about the fact that they are gamers.  I also believe it is led by the fact that so many women-based roles in video games exist, and on a large scale, perpetuated by the women in voice acting doing these roles.

Have there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Lisa:  If you talk about female gamers that have influenced the gaming industry, Loserfruit is one of them. She is an Australian streamer that plays Fortnite mostly. I think she played a big part in getting more women in games. I like her because she doesn’t really talk about the subject but just has fun playing the games she plays. She shows the girls with her actions and not with words.

Caption: Loserfruit, an Australian streamer, gets her own avatar in Fortnite.  

Michelle feels empowered by our double Uzi-wielding female lead, Lara Croft.

Michelle: To be honest, I didn't start paying much attention to voice actors and who did the characters until Nolan North became such a prominent figure.  However, I would have to say that Lara Croft in Tomb Raider was an inspiration for me.  She has gone from the fantasized, cartoon-drawn female Indiana Jones to this legendary, badass babe who people actually respect.  Growing up playing a character that could shoot double Uzi's, swim in tropical waters, run through an obstacle course in her own mansion, and defeat whatever challenge came her way, was a way for me to escape into that reality and realize that women (or rather I ) are just as capable as the male Indiana Jones and can do precisely what is needed. 

Michelle feels empowered by our double Uzi-wielding female lead, Lara Croft. 

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Lisa: Yes. I think gaming was a thing mostly men did, and therefore games are made for men with men mainly in the leads. Now that more women play games, I definitely do see the shift. Games like The Walking Dead, where Clementine becomes the lead in season 2, have gotten it right. She is a very relatable character. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female for that. She grew from a scared little girl to a badass zombie fighter. The game doesn’t seem to try too hard to push on female leads. It is not forced. In my opinion, some games force it a little bit, like The Last of Us Part II. They purposely chose some very strong female leads, and that seemed a bit forced to me. “Look at us being very inclusive.”  On the other hand, I think it is necessary to overdo it a bit now so that it evens out all the male leads in games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having these strong female leads and emphasizing that. It is necessary to make it more equal and to make that change. The result of that is that it can feel a bit forced at times.

The evolution of Clementine from the Walking Dead, from scared little girl to apocalyptic survivor. 

Michelle:  As mentioned earlier, I didn't pay much attention to voice actors or even the specific gender of a character in the games we played.  I was not raised to see, or rather I didn't notice, any discrepancy in the lack of female representation in gaming.  I knew, as a female, I was fighting an uphill battle in equality to men, but I didn't think about it in a gaming aspect.  As an adult, if I think about it, I still don't feel there was an underrepresentation simply because the times are different.  Now, we have several female leads and lots of female voice actors, but I could also be showing my ignorance on the topic.

Some of us are streamers: 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Lisa: First of all, I am not a big streamer or anything, but I do it just for fun. It is fun to do, and it goes back to the social aspect that I like about gaming. You can engage with your audience and talk to people while you play games. I grew up watching other people play games, so I thought it might be interesting to turn that around and let people watch me play games. I also quickly found out that streaming is quite exhausting. I never knew gaming could be this tiring. Haha.

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things? 

Lisa: Favorite thing is whenever you win that boss battle or get a shot right or whatever, you get to celebrate with the viewers. It makes it way more fun. My least favorite thing is the pressure of doing well or being funny, etc. When you see your views go down or see no one commenting, you start doubting yourself. Letting that part go is hard at times.

Streaming on Twitch, Lisa nails a headshot from far away and celebrates! 

And if you wanna talk about part of being a female streamer, I sometimes notice people in my stream say things like: “You look good,” “You’re hot,” etc. It is, of course, nice to receive those compliments, and I’m not bothered with it. But I do wonder why I never see that in the streams of a male streamer. If you look at the bigger picture, I think that too often, women are judged more (and maybe get more views) on how they look, and men get more judged on how good they are at the game or how funny they are.

Back to gaming:

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached, or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Lisa:  Interesting question. I don’t look at games like that: something I achieved. I play for fun, and if I had fun, then that is the achievement I got out of it. When I had my first Fortnite kill, I was really happy, though! I really suck at aiming, and I think it took me 30 games to get the first kill. Maybe the real achievement in gaming is that I can tell my friends now without any shame that I game and that it is something to be proud of, instead of something that is a bad habit.

Michelle: Honestly, beating Lazarevic in Uncharted 2 on Crushing has to be on the top of that list.  That boss fight was SO HARD.  I play games for the enjoyment of escaping reality and haven't focused much on trophies.  I enjoy the feeling of getting into a new game and finishing it in general.

Lazarevic’s boss battle in Uncharted 2 is brutal on the Crushing difficulty. 

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Lisa: I think it needs to keep changing to show every aspect of diversity until everyone finds everything normal. That it won’t be something extraordinary when, for example, a transgender person is the main character. I think we have a long way to go in order to achieve that. Until then, I think we need to keep talking about the subject in articles like this to make people aware.

Michelle:  I would actually like to see more acknowledgment of the achievements of the voice actors.  Also, the developers and those who spend their lives perfecting the mechanics, environments, and stories that we as a population dive so deeply into need more recognition.  Gaming is such a unique experience for every person, depending on so many factors. The resounding constant is that they are a fantastic escape from reality that these engineers create, and we need to be able to know who they are and thank them for our endless hours of fun and enjoyment.

 Wow! Talking with Lisa and Michelle has given me a new perspective on a few things about being a female gamer. Being online, whether playing competitively or streaming, can be exhausting and intimidating at times. Lisa definitely has a great, well-rounded view of streaming as an extension of the fun she has while playing the games she enjoys. She can share the experience with her friends as her brother shared those experiences with her that led her to gaming. 

 Michelle didn’t notice the gender gap or feel that women were underrepresented in games since she had her sisters as fellow gamers and had icons like Lara Croft to play as growing up. She enjoys the challenge of beating games like Uncharted 2 on the hardest difficulty, which gives her a real sense of gaming accomplishment. Bringing acknowledgment to the people who drive the gaming industry and create these fun escapes from reality is something we all wish to see more of in the future. 

 Keep an eye out for the final part of our series with two more Replayer/Spuddies!