Moms, Get Your Game Face On!

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I played over thirty video games while I was at PAX East last weekend. As I predicted in my previous post, most of them were disappointing clones of other games. Also as predicted, there were a few great new games on offer at the convention. It would be exhausting to review everything I played, but what follows may be taken as an introduction to some of the most (and least) GeekMom-friendly video games coming out in 2011.

Snapshot, by Retro Affect, handily claims my “Best Game Overall” award. Its unique photography-inspired game mechanic is interesting enough to set the game apart, but Snapshot manages to be challenging and family friendly, too. Because this puzzle-platformer is gentler and more creative than most video games, I strongly recommend Snapshot for ALL AGES.

Bastion, by Supergiant Games, easily wins “Best Art”. This game is gorgeous! Bastion also has exceptional adaptive narration and between that and the art, it’s very easy to get engrossed in the story. Apart from those high points, it’s a standard – but highly enjoyable – fantasy RPG. Some mild cartoon violence prompts me to recommend this game for players AGES 5+.

Warp, by Trapdoor, is my “Favorite Underdog Story” because players help an alien escape from captivity. This game has that ‘cute-but-deadly’ combination I’m such a sucker for, but the cartoon violence in it is just a little too bloody for all players. My recommendation: AGES 12+.

Swarm, by Hothead Games, is the hands-down winner of my “Catharsis” award. You get points for directing empty-headed little minions to their doom – what’s not to love? This side-scrolling sci-fi adventure is a bit gross, and definitely not for everyone, but I think it’s harmless for players AGES 12+.

Dyad, a beautiful abstract tunnel-shooter, wins my award for “Fastest Game.” Dyad is a ‘tunnel-shooter’ in format alone because there is no actual violence in the game; there are no antagonists or weapons, just obstacles and tentacles. Because of the skill and speed involved, I recommend Dyad for players AGES 7+.

Afterland, from the experimental game designers at MIT, gets my “Thinker” award. This game takes all the trappings of conventional video games – from health meters to inventories to ‘enemies’ – and turns them upside down. The gameplay is non-intuitive, but figuring it out is half the fun. After all, Afterland was designed to make players think. Recommended for ALL AGES.

Firefall, by Red 5 Studios, is the only MMORPG to get an award from me: The “Ooh, Shiny” award for being the most interesting new or updated MMORPG at PAX East 2011. This game is light on story and heavy on team-based shoot-em-ups, but at least the art style is out of the ordinary. Unlike other games of its type, the art of Firefall has strong comic book appeal instead of all the creepy realism and chibi-adorableness we’ve grown inured to. Because if its anti-environmental militarism, violence, and the standard risks associated with playing MMORPGS, I recommend Firefall for fans of the genre AGES 14+.

It wasn’t all fun at the gaming convention. Plenty of games bored and annoyed me and most were just not worth commenting on. However, there were a couple of games bothersome enough to deserve remark: Brink, by Splash Damage and Shoot Many Robots by Demiurge.

Brink has art in its character customization, but it’s otherwise like every other first-person shooter around. Maybe worse. Just think about the setting for a minute: How can a near-future sustainable society ever occur without women? And at the rate the men kill each other in Brink, the place would be a ghost town overnight. I suppose that’s great if mayhem is all you want in a game, but if you like a little substance in your playtime, you can easily find better developed games than Brink. Not surprisingly, I rate this game FOR ADULTS ONLY, but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Shoot Many Robots wins my “Worst Game at PAX East 2011” award for having no redeeming qualities. The concept is vapid to start; there isn’t even gratifying catharsis to be had from destroying mindless automatons until you develop a weird aversion to nuts and bolts. Speaking of weak euphemisms for male anatomy, this game is best described by paraphrasing its trailer thusly: “Grab some nuts and learn absolutely nothing!” I really wanted to have a sense of humor about that, but it’s just too lame. Rating: FORGET IT.

After three days of searching PAX East, I came to three conclusions:

The most interesting games tend to have genderless Player Characters. This is true of most of the games described above, and many beloved classics (Centipede, Frogger, Q*Bert, etc.). Ask me why this is so, and I could go for hours. Instead, I leave you to examine the games we play – with and without our children – and question how and why they make use of gender, and whether and how that affects us and our kids.

Games with the best character customization tend to be the least interesting to play. This seems counterintuitive, but I’m having a hard time finding an exception to the rule. I enjoy MMORPGS like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and so on, but eventually the quests all blur together and the grind becomes… Well, a grind. And yet every time I spot a new MMORPG on the horizon, I start to drool. Why? I love character customizers. I’m sure not all gamers feel the same way, but I think it’s worth figuring out why we like what we like, and whether that bait is really worth the hook it leaves in our wallet.

Finally, non-violent video games are rare and generally bland and violent video games are far too common and usually disappointing. This means that I don’t buy many games, but that’s probably for the best. In a way, I’m glad there are so many lousy video games made; they give me no excuse to play indoors if I don’t have to.

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5 thoughts on “Moms, Get Your Game Face On!

  1. Just a thought: what about racing games?

    Non-violent, but competitive, significant level of skill (especially on simulations) but adaptable to younger ages, and fantastic for developing not only motor control (as all games are) but with a wheel, start to demonstrate awareness of traffic, physics, and again, in simulators, can be researched to set the car up to work best (camber, gear ratios etc)

    The reason I mention it is that there were no less than six brand new racing games: I could understand if you wanted to knock NFS:World off (running from police, doing intentional property damage) but the actual simulators (F1 2010,, NFS:Shift2, etc) seem to hit a lot of the ‘wants’ for family friendly gaming, if looked at in a somewhat abstract way.

    Just food for thought.


    1. I love racing games! And you make some good points. The only trouble I have with racing games is the same one I have with sports games: If I wanted to play sports or drive on a track, I would go do those things in real life (I grew up a couple miles from a test track, so it’s a bit of ‘been there-done that’ for me). I definitely agree that most racing games are better family fare than most games of any other type, though. This was an oversight on my part and I’m glad you pointed it out.

      You’ve also given me a great idea for a certain young someone’s fifth birthday. Thanks!

      1. No problem!

        It’s a superbly worthwhile discussion: I’m a big fan of FPS’s, RPG’s, and racing games a like, but there is a level of ‘what do I provide to a child (especially) who I don’t necessarily want playing Left 4 Dead at ten years old’.

        I will be hitting the track for the first time, for real, this summer, it’ll be great to see how I measure up vs my ability on Forza3. 🙂

  2. Really? Shoot Many Robots was the worst game at pax east? Not the booth right next door that housed Duke Nukem Forever? That game has more blatant innuendo, misogyny, blood and violence than any other game on the floor. Sure the game is mindless, but it is co-op and the violence is against robots, not people or people-like aliens. Calling it the worst game at Pax shows gratuitous ignorance on the part of the author.

    1. Duke Nukem F* is probably worse, but it wouldn’t have been fair for me to judge it without playing it. Whereas I thought Shoot Many Robots might have been fun in spite of first impressions, so I gave that one a try. Of the games I played, Shoot Many was the worst.

      There was one game at PAX East that I would have loved to try and I’m pretty sure playing it would have upset some of the games I ranked above. However, I wasn’t going to wait two hours to play a demo, even if the line was for Portal 2. I may not have made it clear in my post, but I wasn’t really interested in reviewing sequels.

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