The Internet Archive has tanked the world’s productivity by re-releasing almost 2,400 classic PC titles, all playable within a web browser. With that many games, you can bet there’s a lot of bad ones, and sadly, some of the best titles don’t work. But these 10 favorites not only function, they’re still tons of fun.
Check out the biggest Microsoft-exclusive games coming to Xbox One in 2015
Here’s a look at the year’s 10 most anticipated games for Microsoft’s Xbox One console, excluding rumored 2015 projects with as yet indeterminate timeframes (hello Crackdown, Gears of War, Scalebound and Phantom Dust!)
Screamride is how you take a boring-sounding (albeit popular) older franchise (Roller Coaster Tycoon) and transmogrify it into a madcap, stomach-upending, gravity-bending, structure-exploding jamboree. Want to cobble together jet-propelled rail rides so G-force intensive they eject shrieking riders mid-loop? Lob wrecking balls at towering structures that collapse in gloriously intricate detail on horrified passerby? This is the American Society for Testing and Materials’ worst nightmare.
Available: March 3
Quantum Break is studio Remedy Entertainment’s next big thing after bringing us Max Payne and Alan Wake: a third-person adventure about three characters who gain the ability to manipulate time in various ways, say examining the future to better inform present choices, or freezing temporal activity entirely.
Available: Q2 2015
While the 2013 E3 trailer for “Halo on Xbox One” was about cinematically teasing Halo 5: Guardians, 2014’s “your journey begins” was all about the forwards-looking-backwards Master Chief Collection. Having remastered the series, Microsoft and developer 343 Industries will take the next inexorable step in Halo’s second trilogy, though experienced through the eyes of a new protagonist, Spartan Locke, searching for the missing-in-action Master Chief.
Available: Holiday 2015
Like Turtle Rock Studios’ asymmetric shooter Evolve, Fable Legends is a 4 (heroes) vs. 1 (villain) cooperative roleplaying game that borrows lightly from Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper. Up to four players tackle quests orchestrated by a villain (also optionally a player), including the battles, in which the villain can deploy creatures against the heroes in realtime.
Available: TBD 2015
Developer Playdead’s Limbo was a lovely little chiaroscuro-friendly puzzle game that sort of collapsed the second you went probing for deeper import. Their followup, Inside, looks to be a far more elaborate vamp on the dystopian platforming trope, at times appearing to take cues from Delphine Software’s groundbreaking Out of This World.
Available: TBD 2015
Moon Studios’ otherworldly platforming adventure has so far trafficked exclusively on its sublime Miyazakian look, but if the sidewise leaping, clambering and puzzling live up to the set design, this could easily be one of 2015’s finest.
Available: TBD 2015
Studio Crystal Dynamics’ followup to 2013’s Tomb Raider is technically a timed exclusive (meaning it’ll eventually land on PC and PS4), but that may be all Microsoft needs to move systems in 2015 given the plaudits accorded the reboot.
Available: TBD 2015
And now, something totally different: a platforming game–emphasis on run-and-gun with elaborate boss battles–that looks like an early 20th century cartoon. Cuphead sports hand-drawn visuals, mono-mastered (original) swing tunes and a protagonist with a candy cane drinking straw stuck in his porcelain brainpan. Who knows how it’ll play, but I could watch for hours.
Available: TBD 2015
The characters and creatures in Capybara Games’ Below seem awfully tiny, but assuming you can zoom in (so you won’t go blind playing this thing), exploring a new, highly dangerous, permanent death-threatening game world designed by the studio responsible for Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is more than enough to draw my attention.
Available: TBD 2015
The glib-sounding pitch for Space Engineers seems to be “Minecraft in space.” That’s not my takeaway from the trailer (or the formal description, which sounds much narrower than Minecraft‘s freeform LEGO riffing, focused as it is on the “engineering, construction, and maintenance of structures in space.”) But I’ll grant this: it does look considerably nicer than Mojang’s opus.
Available: TBD 2015
Warning: This trailer's graphic+ READ ARTICLE
There’s a new trailer out for the upcoming Mortal Kombat X game, and it is not for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach).
The trailer is more extensive than the first, released in June. While that one was just a teaser, this one’s intended to show players what real battle is going to look like. It features a preview of one of the uniquely gruesome “fatalities” that made the franchise famous. Be warned: Kano gets his head cut off and his brains spill out, all in state-of-the-art graphics.
The game is currently in development by NetherRealm Studios, and will be released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on April 14.
Nintendo's newest gaming handheld features control tweaks and a significant performance boost
Nintendo’s newest handheld gaming device will be available in the U.S. on February 13, 2015, the company announced Wednesday. The New Nintendo 3DS XL — “New” is formally part of the moniker — is faster, has a second joystick and fixes a longstanding problem with its 3D screen.
Nintendo announced the console’s release date at its first Nintendo Direct of 2015, a 46-minute barrage of information ranging from surprises like a new Fire Emblem game (for 3DS) to an outpouring of new amiibo figurines to long overdue Wii U tweaks that stand to improve the console’s backward compatibility.
But the pièce de résistance came toward the show’s end, when Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime stepped in to confirm recent rumors that the company’s next handheld will launch in less than 30 days. And like the existing 3DS XL, it’ll run $200. (Nintendo didn’t announce a price drop for the current 3DS XL, but I’d wager one’s imminent.)
The New Nintendo 3DS XL (hereafter NN3DS) doesn’t wow at first blush. Save for the new grayish nub poking from above the face buttons and some nominal switch realignment, you’d probably mistake it for the old 3DS XL. The size, weight and frame appear unchanged. But in theory, the upgrades beneath the hood could be significant.
The handheld’s new righthand C-Stick feels a little late to the party (Sony’s PS Vita finally landed dual thumbsticks in 2011, and games that benefit from left/right sticks have been mainstream since the 1990s), but at least it’s finally here. The game that’ll arguably benefit from it most, Capcom’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, will launch with the NN3DS alongside Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3DS remake on February 13.
Nintendo says it’s also improved the device’s 3D gameplay — its technological raison d’être — by using the front-facing camera to track where your head is, adjusting screen output accordingly. I’m still not sure that’s enough to justify stereoscopic 3D as either a novelty effect or gameplay component, but in theory, this rectifies the existing problem where shifting your field of view even a little warps or distorts the 3D screen image.
Other improvements are subtle but important: the NN3DS includes amiibo and NFC support (you have to buy an attachment for this if you own an existing or older 3DS). Nintendo also says it’ll add amiibo support to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS by February 13. A new light sensor automatically adjusts screen brightness based on ambient lighting, thus providing some battery relief. And the battery itself lasts “slightly longer,” per Nintendo.
Nintendo’s added a second set of Z-trigger shoulder buttons, bringing the control layout nearly to par with a standard console gamepad (and, notably, superior in this regard to Sony’s PS Vita). The new internal layout required Nintendo to downshift from standard SD cards to the micro SD format. Nintendo says each NN3DS will include a 4GB micro SD card (Instructions will be provided how to transfer data from older 3DS systems). And the handheld will come in “New Red” and “New Black” colors at launch.
The most potentially significant (albeit intangible) upgrade: a faster processor, which Fils-Aime touted as analogous in magnitude to the leap that occurred from the DS to 3DS back in 2011. Nintendo was vague about how that’ll parse on the gaming side—the screen’s individual resolutions haven’t changed, still a lowly 400 by 240 pixels (upper) and 320 x 240 pixels (lower)—but the company says the interface should be zippier, citing improved surfing performance and faster download times.
Weirdly, the NN3DS will be the first Nintendo handheld in ages to ship without an AC adapter. Nintendo says you can use your existing adapter if you already own a 3DS, which either means the company’s pitching this thing at current 3DS owners, or it’s poised to befuddle potential new owners accustomed to mobile devices coming with all the essentials (you can purchase an AC adapter separately).
The rest of the presentation focused on firming up known product release timeframes. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for Wii U will arrive on February 20. Splatoon, the company’s clever 4v4 paint-gun shooter, will be available in May. The company’s amiibo figurines are ramping up big time, including a new Super Mario series (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser and Toad) that’ll arrive on March 20 with Mario Party 10. A Xenoblade Chronicles port for the NN3DS is coming in April. And Xenoblade Chronicles X, the Wii U game topping all others for me personally (including the new Zelda!), is still just “2015.”
Lastly, Nintendo is adding native Wii game support to the Wii U, allowing select titles to live in the Wii U ecosystem without having to boot into Wii mode. It looks like it’ll require title by title support, so it’s not a blanket reprieve for all Wii games off the block, but rejiggered Wii titles that supported the Wii’s classic or pro controllers will also (finally!) support direct control with the Wii U GamePad.
And you don’t have to wait for that last improvement: Nintendo says you can grab select Wii games from its eShop today, starting with Super Mario Galaxy 2–each runs $10 for a week, shifting to $20 thereafter–followed shortly by Punch-Out!! (Jan. 22) and Metroid Prime: Trilogy (Jan. 29).
Update: Some are wondering why Nintendo hasn’t announced a non-XL version of the NN3DS stateside, a version already on the market in Australia and Japan. Wired‘s Chris Kohler speculates helpfully about the why here.
I’d add this: I wonder how much it’ll impact the NN3DS’ appeal to younger players with much smaller hands and an age-dictated ergonomic preference. I’ve seen no studies or reports indicating how those demographics have played out with 3DS vs. 3DS XL sales, but assuming there’s a certain age group that might actually prefer the smaller system (to say nothing of the extra price relief), and given Nintendo’s traditional focus on younger players with its handheld systems, it’s a curious omission.
Check out the biggest Sony-exclusive games coming to PlayStation 4 in 2015
Here’s a look at the year’s 10 most anticipated games for Sony’s PlayStation 4 console, excluding rumored 2015 projects with as yet indeterminate timeframes (hello Final Fantasy XV, Tearaway Unfolded, Rime and Gran Turismo 7!)
Imagine The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by way of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, staged in Victorian London, with dollops of Lovecraftian horror. Wrap all of that around a third-person shooter that’s like a gothic Gears of War, and the only question’s whether the gunplay–criticized as ho-hum in hands-on demos–can live up to the visually ambitious set design.
Available: February 20
Revered Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls developer From Software’s latest vamp on the existential abattoir maintains the concept’s combat-focused, risk-reward core, but refines how you do battle, lending you more agile combatants and Victorian-styled weapons capable of transformations that let you vary melee tactics to counter a broader range of combat scenarios.
Available: March 24
In your imagination, open universe ambler No Man’s Sky really is as infinite as developer Hello Games keeps boasting, giving you an endless, procedurally generated cosmos to plumb (and enough to do that you’ll never tire of doing it). In reality, no one has the faintest idea whether all the game’s random-seeded vastness is going to be beautifully significant, or astronomically shallow. Fingers triple-crossed, then.
Available: TBD 2015
Developer Atlus’ fifth “high school shindig plus dungeon reconnoitering” roleplayer has enormous shoes to fill, after Persona 4 made just about everyone’s “best roleplaying game in forever” list. All we know about Persona 5 is that–weirdly but also intriguingly–director Katsura Hashino’s been pitching the game as an interactive self-help experience.
Available: TBD 2015
Since Uncharted series mainstay Amy Hennig abruptly left developer Naughty Dog last year, I’ve been worried about Nate and Sully’s fourth tour of duty. The game looks as terrific as you’d expect it to in preliminary gameplay videos, so the question’s whether the series’ conventions–another “lost treasure” adventure, clambering over elaborate scenery (mostly on autopilot in the prior games) and relentlessly gunning down hordes of foes–haven’t overstayed their welcome.
Available: TBD 2015
End of world stories are as cliched as Adam and Eve potboilers (we’re nothing if not species-obsessed with alpha/omega narratives). But this one’s by Dear Esther creator The Chinese Room (they’re actually located in Brighton, U.K.), and so worthy of notice–an existential “adventure” examining the lives of six people living in the English village of Shropshire as the apocalypse unfolds.
Available: TBD 2015
Jump to the 4:25 mark in the video above to see developer Capcom Online Games’ original tease for Deep Down back in 2013, an extraordinary-looking dungeon crawler (even then) with optional multiplayer elements. It’s had to endure a barrage of presumptive comparisons to Dark Souls, but there are worse things, right?
Available: TBD 2015
Grander than any Disgaea game to date, developer Nippon Ichi Software’s recalibrated tactical roleplaying adventure will reportedly feature bigger battles (up to 100 characters on screen at once, courtesy the PS4) and new combat wrinkles, including team-up maneuvers.
Available: TBD 2015
Thought it metamorphosed from one game (Lily Bergamo) to another at E3 last year, developer Grasshopper Manufacture’s original hack-and-slash, extreme action, online-focused premise appears intact. The difference appears to lie in the way death works, prompting dispatched players to trade roles as they transition between sessions, and culling non-player characters from players’ deceased avatars.
Available: TBD 2015
Alas, Sony has released neither a trailer nor screens of its upcoming Ratchet & Clank reboot (until then, you’ll have to settle for the film trailer above, first shown at E3 last year). What do we know about the game? That it’s essentially a remake of the original, released back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2, updated to take advantage of the PS4’s oomph and coincide with the film’s arrival sometime later this year.
Available: TBD 2015
That initial projection of $200 million is looking optimistic
Kim Kardashian’s once wildly popular mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, is not so popular anymore.
The socialite’s app has dropped to the 19th spot in Apple’s App Store and showed a similar plunge in the Android market, Yahoo Finance reports.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood lets users create their own Kardashian-style star and ascend, after completing various quests, to A-list status. After its release in June 2014, it immediately shot to the top of the charts, following which analysts predicted it would net $200 million.
However, the game only earned $43 million in the third quarter, and although publisher Glu Mobile won’t release fourth quarter earnings until early February, the $200 million mark seems out of reach.
Not that Kardashian minds. She apparently gets 45% of net profits.
Try Powder, a super-relaxing endless ski game
Looking for some fun new games to play on your iPhone? Here are five favorites TIME rounded up this week. Enjoy!
The Princess Bride
Although arguably less remarkable than the film that inspired it, The Princess Bride iOS game can only be described as “long expected.” A charming series of well-animated backgrounds combined with stills from the film set the scene for four small mini games. Among others, players can climb a cliff with a castigating Wally Shawn, or duel Inigo Montoya. Although nothing can surpass the magic of The Princess Bride, the game is a pleasant way to relive some of it.
The Princess Bride is available for $3.99 in the App Store.
An amazingly animated iOS game, Space Marshals is the outer space equivalent of Cowboys and Aliens. Don a space-age 10-gallon hat and hunt down criminals. The game involves a surprising amount of strategy, with options to flank criminals, or lurk in the shadows until the moment is right to strike. Weapons and kits are just as sophisticated—choose the right body armor and blast enemies away with specialized grenades or assault rifles, shotguns, or pistols.
Space Marshals is available for $4.99 in the App Store.
1-bit Ninja Remix Rush
The most amazing aspect of 1-bit Ninja is its ability to fuse the most two-dimensional, basic, flattest gaming technology with the elegance of 3D iOS gaming. Hop around in a streamlined, retro landscape in order to fight the clock and destroy as many enemies as possible as an agile ninja character.
1-bit Ninja Remix Rush is available for $1.99 in the App Store.
Squirm around as a squid-like triangle with tentacles and navigate a basic but increasingly complicated landscape in order to avoid obstacles and platforms. Survive as long as you can and crush your high score. The higher you go, the more you can unlock, which means accessing new triangles of different colors and an array of adorable faces to match. Zoidtrip is a good way to pass a moment or two of spare time.
Zoidtrip is free in the App Store.
One of the most calming iOS games ever developed, Powder is a ski simulator that allows users to slowly go down an endless slope, slaloming around trees and obstacles—but never too challenging in pace or landscape. A great game to download if you’re prone to stress or angry outbursts in the middle of your work day. A digital stress ball.
Powder is free in the App Store.
Activision's first online-only Call of Duty goes into public beta today, but only for gamers in China+ READ ARTICLE
The biggest experiment in games magnate Activision’s history is underway right now. No, it’s not Bungie’s Destiny, nor Blizzard’s latest World of Warcraft expansion. And it’s not a resurgent live-streaming version of Guitar Hero, nor is it the world’s first toy-game (Skylanders) MMO.
I’m talking about something bigger still, and, ironically, something most of you reading this can’t play at all.
It’s Call of Duty Online, a bona fide free-to-play, PC-only multiplayer version of Activision’s popular Call of Duty shooter franchise that’s shifting from open beta to what Activision calls a “public open beta” today.
The catch: it’s for China, and China only.
Surprised? Don’t be. China is a gaming behemoth. The country is home to an estimated 368 million video game players. That’s more than the entire population of the United States. The surprise would be a company as affluent and internationally beholden as Activision not launching a major project like this in China.
Call of Duty Online isn’t “World of Warcraft with guns,” nor is it a geographically continuous first-person shooter drawn from predominantly fresh content.
Instead, longtime Call of Duty developer Raven Software and Activision Shanghai have cobbled together material from the Black Ops and Modern Warfare series subsets, folding them into a kind of multiplayer anthology. Imagine the top competitive maps and modes from the Black Ops and Modern Warfare games rolled into a single package and flavored with localized content, then shoehorned into a free-to-play framework with connective character-building tissue.
And the game’s local network host? Shenzen-based Tencent, the fourth-largest Internet company in the world after Amazon, Google and eBay.
Not that moving from West to East could have been simple. Consider the Western obsession with shambling corpses in books, films, TV shows–and in several of the Call of Duty games.
“We discovered a few interesting differences along the way,” Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said when I asked him to list some of the cultural challenges in making the game. “For example, zombies play a big role in Call of Duty in the West, but culturally, characters that are undead have a very different cultural meaning in China.”
In the West, zombies are generally depicted as brainless, shambling husks. In China, the undead, or “jiangshi,” are rigor mortis-stiffened corpses that ambulate by hopping. The solution for Call of Duty Online? Zombies are out, cyborgs are in.
What about China’s so-called “anti-fatigue” system? This is China’s state-mandated watchdog approach to limiting how much time players can spend playing games, rolled out in 2007. An Activision spokesperson confirmed to me that yes, in fact, Call of Duty Online is fully compliant with Chinese playtime requirements (a curious requirement that presumably impacts Activision’s revenues).
Chinese gamers have had access to the game for at least a year, of course, making this more of a transitional event. What’s the difference between an “open beta” and an “open public beta” anyway?
“This is the first time it’s really out in the wild,” said Hirshberg. “Everything we’ve done up to now has been for more controlled, finite audiences.”
So why tease Western gamers with a game they can’t play? Hirshberg says it’s simply because there’s been a lot of curiosity in the West about the new title. Not that anyone’s saying Call of Duty Online won’t eventually visit other regions. As Hirshberg himself noted a year ago, speaking about what his company stands to learn from a Call of Duty game spun in microtransactive form: “[There] are a few other regions where that would be very relevant.”
These 10 MS-DOS titles load up in your browser — no floppy disks required.
In the 1980s and 1990s, before Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis invaded our living rooms, PC games earned the highest scores with gamers. And while classic titles like Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog have been re-released, until recently classic computer games were only available to those willing to download emulators and track down files (or people somehow still sporting floppy drives).
Earlier this week, the Internet Archive tanked the world’s productivity by re-releasing almost 2,400 classic PC titles, all playable within a web browser. With that many games, you can bet there’s a lot of bad ones, and sadly, some of the best titles don’t work. (I’m looking at you, Pool of Radiance—there’s no way I can “Insert Disk 3” in 2015!)
But these ten favorites not only function, they’re still fun:
AD&D Eye of the Beholder: Roll the dice in this 1991 Dungeons & Dragons role playing game that was among the earliest titles to offer character creation. Sure, a lot of today’s games have this, and have leveled up to modern graphics, but there’s nothing like the nostalgia of being a chaotic good paladin roaming the dark passages beneath the city of Waterdeep. Look out, Kobolds!
Burgertime: Move over, Candy Crush, here comes the main course. Guide Peter Pepper in this hamburger assembling action game as he tries to build the biggest mouthfuls while being chased by enemy eggs, pickles and hot dogs. Back those bad guys off with a blast of pepper, chef, and stack those burgers as high as you can.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Riding the wave of Indy’s last adventure (because we all agree that the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull never happened, right?), this 1989 title was a Holy Grail for gamers, because it gave you control of one of the 80’s coolest characters. Among LucasArts’ earliest games, this browser version is easy to play using a keyboard, but it’s difficult to beat because Dr. Jones is a bit of a pushover.
The Hobbit: Open door. Go East. Enjoy game. Sure, after six movies, you might be sick of those tricksy little hobbitses today, but when this game was released in 1983, Tolkein fans only had the books, a 1977 cartoon, and some Led Zeppelin songs to tide them over. This text-based game barely has graphics — and if you want to go really old school you can even play without them, as you guide Bilbo through Middle Earth using only your imagination as your eyes.
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards: Back in the day, Sierra games were some of the most popular 8-bit adventures around. Today, through some copyright craziness, you can hardly find the old classics anywhere. (King’s Quest, the company’s first and biggest hit, is missing from this archive, for instance.) But this adult-oriented title follows the exploits of Larry Laffer as he strolls the city of Lost Wages, looking for love. Tame by today’s standards, it was the Grand Theft Auto of its time.
Lemmings 2: The Tribes: For some reason the original Lemmings didn’t make the online arcade, but this sequel still scratches the itch for people looking to save as many suicidal critters as they can. A cute puzzler, the object of this game is to lead the little rodents to safety, using lemmings’ specialized digging, blasting, and building skills to navigate the landscape of each level. Or, if you were a wicked child, you can still just guide them to elaborate, untimely demises.
Oregon Trail: B-A-N-G. Nostalgia for this stalwart of elementary school libraries has never faded — probably because they’ve relaunched the game so many times. Originally released in 1971, the Internet Archive’s edition is from 1990, but don’t worry, you can still die of dysentery in it. Some players have reported it freezes up, but others say claim if you load the page using the Firefox web browser, you’ll be on your way to the Willamette River Valley in no time.
Prince of Persia: Today’s kids will know this as the game that launched a Jake Gyllenhaal movie, but children of the 1990s fondly recall this as a top-notch adventure game, with great graphics and gameplay (at least for the time). Sure, it’s your typical rescue-the-princess plot, but the run-and-jump platformer has one thing that never gets old: infinite lives.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?: That’s a great question, but here’s an even better one: How come Interpol needs entry-level detectives to locate a woman wearing a red trench coat and hat? Regardless, this educational title rocked elementary school kids’ worlds back in the 1980s, putting their geography and history smarts to the test. Perhaps the best part of this game is its throwback sound effects, which you can hear in the browser without having to install a Sound Blaster card.
Wolfenstein 3D: The game that ushered in the first-person shooter category, this 1992 title was the precursor to Doom, Quake, and many of the gore-fests roaring across consoles today. Rated “PC-13” (for “profound carnage”), Wolfenstein has you, as allied spy B.J. Blazkowicz, racing to escape the Nazis’ clutches. Want a real challenge? Beat it using just the pistol, or even better, the knife. Guten tag!
Some players live for crapping up someone else's gaming experience for no other reason than because they can
Picture this: After a long day at work, you come home to relax, unwind, and play a video game where you pretend to be a science fiction soldier playing capture the flag for the next four hours. At some point during the evening, the game’s auto-matching program assigns you to a team with a player whose online username can’t be repeated in polite company. Then another teammate uses the in-game voice chat to preach views on “those dirty Mexicans.” Rather than play the match, your team grows tired of the rants and decides to “go Jew for a while.”
What exactly happened here? All you wanted was a few hours of mindless entertainment before bed and another day at the job, and now you’re wondering if the entire human race lost its mind in the meantime. You think about reporting the ugly behavior of your former teammates, but they’ve since vanished into the online ether. You grumble to yourself, but rejoin the game, hoping the players in the next match aren’t complete airheads.
I’ve played online games since the late-’90s and watched similar problems happen with each of them: Developers focus their time on fixing problems that affect playability, not the player base. Someone won’t play a game because the players are sexist, racist, and otherwise bigoted? Someone untroubled by such prejudice will eventually log on and play.
Many online games state on their boxes and splash screens that their online content is not rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, informing players about the no-man’s-land of online content they’re about to enter and (more importantly, from a business standpoint) protecting the parent company from potential lawsuits. The content delivery services that host these games have boilerplate anti-harassment policies, yet the overworked and understaffed game company can’t keep up with anything but the most flagrant of problem players. A “snitches get stitches” culture takes root. Eventually, the players are left to police themselves.
According to Xbox Live’s EULA, a player can’t “use [Xbox products including Xbox Live] to harm, threaten, or harass another person, organization, or Microsoft.” Sony Entertainment’s EULA lists a plethora of activities players cannot do on the Playstation Network: “You may not take any action, or upload, post, stream, or otherwise transmit any content, language, images or sounds in any forum, communication, public profile, or other publicly viewable areas or in the creation of any [username] that [Sony and its affiliates]…find[s] offensive, hateful, or vulgar. This includes any content or communication that SNEI or its affiliates deem racially, ethnically, religiously or sexually offensive, libelous, defaming, threatening, bullying or stalking.” Even the family-friendly Nintendo Wii comes with an EULA stating its online services may not be used “for commercial or illegal purposes, in a way that may harm another person or company, or in any unauthorized or improper manner.”
For personal computers, three companies dominate the online-gaming content delivery market: Valve’s Steam service, Electronic Arts’ Origin service, and Blizzard Entertainment’s Battle.net. Steam’s subscriber agreement contains a list of conduct rules players must follow, including a clause saying players must not “defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others.” EA’s EULA prohibits users from “Defaming, abusing, harassing, threatening, spamming, violating the rights of others and/or otherwise interfering with others’ use and enjoyment of [Origin and all related software, services, updates, and upgrades];” or “Publishing, transferring or distributing any inappropriate, indecent, obscene, foul or unlawful conduct.” Blizzard’s EULA states that players will not “use or contribute User Content that is unlawful, tortious, defamatory, obscene, invasive of the privacy of another person, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful, racist or otherwise objectionable or inappropriate.”
For now, content-delivery services for mobile devices come without the social networking options available for similar services on consoles and computers. Google’s Terms of Service states that available content “content is the sole responsibility of the entity that makes it available. We may review content to determine whether it is illegal or violates our policies, and we may remove or refuse to display content that we reasonably believe violates our policies or the law. But that does not necessarily mean that we review content, so please don’t assume that we do.” Apple’s App Store EULA states: “You understand that by using any of the Services, You may encounter content that may be deemed offensive, indecent, or objectionable, which content may or may not be identified as having explicit language, and that the results of any search or entering of a particular URL may automatically and unintentionally generate links or references to objectionable material. Nevertheless, You agree to use the Services at Your sole risk and that the Application Provider shall not have any liability to You for content that may be found to be offensive, indecent, or objectionable.”
Game apps come with their own Terms of Service. Zynga, creator of Facebook apps like FarmVille and mobile-device apps like Words with Friends, states in their community rules where users agree not to “post any content that is abusive, threatening, obscene, defamatory, libelous, or racially, sexually, religiously, otherwise objectionable or offensive; or violates any applicable law or regulation.”
So if all of these prohibitions are in place, why are you still reporting offensive user names like RapeFace and flagging users referring to earning in-game currency as “jewing”?
First, what can be considered “offensive content” can be debated ad infinitum in a courtroom, costing companies money. Second, staffing shortages lead to prioritization, and actively policing user content usually ends up at the bottom of priority lists, as it’s a problem without a concrete deadline. These two situations combined to form the user policing system used by nearly all of the aforementioned services: It’s up to players to notify company staff that something is amiss, from flagging content as inappropriate to filling out a Web form akin to a police report, describing the situation and providing screenshots and timestamps when necessary.
At the moment, Halo 4 is the only mainstream multiplayer game to take a zero-tolerance policy in regards to sexist behavior. Halo’s server host, Xbox Live, has the funding to support a team of live humans enforcing its online-content rules. Other online games have in-game monitors or forum moderators in reactive roles, fixing problems on case-by-case basis like overworked Wild West sheriffs.
Some players live for crapping up someone else’s gaming experience for no other reason than because they can. After all, the EULA doesn’t cover intentionally dropping the captured flag, opening your base to the other team, or other forms of grief play. Some players see it as their divine calling to find the line between permitted and unacceptable behavior and cross it — or better yet, troll someone else into crossing it, and reporting that player for rule-breaking. A recent case of griefing — intentional game disruption meant to harass or annoy — during team events in Lord of the Rings Online caused both players and LOTRO’s developer Turbine to reexamine its definition of in-game harassment.
Understandably, when reporting a bad player can take longer than playing a game session with said bad player, the path of least resistance is to put up with whoever it is until the sessions end or the players change. Platforms like Steam and Battle.net encourage users to mute, squelch, kick, or otherwise dismiss problem players from their personal gaming sessions as a means to solve the problem, rather than such measures acting as a first line of defense. Not every online platform has a paid team of employees specifically hired to enforce the rules, and because of this, online gaming culture sees such systemic problems as subjective, even victim-blaming.
In the online gaming frontier of the ’90s, EverQuest and Ultima Online and the earliest incarnation of Battle.net hosted live human moderators, but as scope grew, their roles shrunk. Now that gaming’s problems with sexism, racism, and homophobia have been laid bare thanks to GamerGate, it’s time to take these problems seriously instead of pushing them aside. Hiring staff dedicated to solving these issues shows that gaming companies won’t tolerate prejudice.
However, this behavior can’t be curbed by user policing alone. As in real life, there’s a fair amount of enabling in the virtual world. Most online gaming groups (clans, corporations, etc.) have at least one player who is an abominable human being yet plays the game like the Pinball Wizard. Other players justify his or her inclusion by stressing the problem player’s skills, abilities, or knowledge, dismissing personality problems with “he’s just like that, you’ll get used to it” or “she’s a great player — we’ll put up with her crap if it means she’s on our team.”
To fix what the game can’t, stop playing with such players. Easier said than done, right? If there’s an in-game group or clan that promotes acceptance and good sportsmanship, join it. Join communities like the Rough Trade Gaming Community and RPG.net. Lurk on subReddits like Truegaming. Or simply investigate the in-game community for players who fit your play-style. I’ve been playing games online since 1998, and the few times I haven’t found a BS-free group, I’ve started one, and never was I short on teammates.
So until the online gaming world gets its act together, I’ll hang out with my gaming group, where the foremost rule is “Don’t be an airhead.” If you’re ready to give gaming one more try, look me up by my Disqus name on Steam. Hope you like space ninjas.
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