Increasing Human Happiness Through Video Games

Donald Trump. At best, he’s a bit like Marmite. Some love him, and some wouldn’t put him anywhere near their morning toast.

Whatever your feelings towards America’s current president though, it’s hard to ignore his recent attack on the world of video games, and his misappropriation of big titles as a scapegoat for gun crime and violent attacksThe issue of video games and violence is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to Trump. It’s a debate that’s been raging for years, and while there are certainly games that have pushed things too far in the name of entertainment (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I’m looking at you), these are in the minority.

The ‘No Russian’ mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, while optional, took things too far, forcing players to mimic a terrorist attack in an airport, killing countless innocent civilians

There is a huge catalogue of games that bring joy to people around the world in a variety of ways, many of which don’t resort to violence, or at least not the excessive and gratuitous violence you might associate with the world of gory horror films.

But just because a video game is violent, doesn’t automatically mean they make people violent. This has even been proved by German scientists, but that’s a bigger debate for a different blog.

At Unity, we’re all about increasing human happiness, and we firmly believe that video games are one of many entertainment mediums that provide this. Here are just some of the ways we think that video games promote happiness, encouraging play and learning in our increasingly busy lives.

First and foremost, video games are a form of escapism, allowing people of all walks of life to forget about the stresses of work, helping many relax after a long and taxing day at the office. You could even argue that, despite the misconception that video gamers hole themselves up in a dark room away from the real world, they actually help us make friends.

What’s more there are genres available to meet all needs. Do you wish you could command your own space fleet and visit distant worlds? Then why not fire up something like Mass Effect for some sci-fi antics, harvesting vital materials from planets and moons. Have you always wondered what it would be like to run your own farm? Well, indie farming simulator Stardew Valley may hold the key as you calmly tend to your crops and livestock on a daily basis, balancing crop cycles and weather patterns to your advantage. In fact, they should really use this game as a stress and anxiety therapy tool, it’s that peaceful.

To some, the idea of running a virtual farm fills them with nothing but boredom, but for others, it’s a chance to escape to a different life, and practice time management and even budgeting

I remember as a young gamer, wishing that I could one day escape the real world and transport myself into the life of a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG), losing myself in the rich and beautiful landscapes that seemed to go on for miles, and save the world from evil. I know now that this isn’t possible, unfortunately, but playing the hero in these JRPGs offered me the ultimate feeling of escapism, and they still do.

Outside of the luscious environments, these games teach players key skills in strategy, tactics and team management, without making it feel like hard work. Facing off against the three giant dragons that make up Final Fantasy XIII-2’s final boss-battle made me rage-quit several times, but the feeling of winning once I’d re-evaluated my tactics is one of the best feelings in the world.

Big and scary? Yes. But no match for the right tactics

Under the umbrella of play, video games teach us skills that many don’t realise. Even the simplest of games, such as restaurant simulator Diner Dash, teach us time management and multi-tasking, while appealing to our competitive human nature. Even real-time strategy favourite Age of Empires teaches us team planning and strategy, while also educating us on key historical dates and landmarks.

Morality is also used as a creative plot device and fun gameplay mechanic in video games, with titles such as Fable physically transforming your character based on your good or bad decisions, and novel-style games from developer Telltale present us with difficult choices that will impact the ultimate outcome of the story. These are similar challenges we may face in our daily lives, but they’re presented in such a way that makes them fun and rewarding.

Will your character look like an angel, or more like a devil? Only you have the power to decide

Games also provide joy to people with physical disabilities. Thanks to the fantastic work of organisations such as Special Effect, games of all genres are being made accessible to everyone, and you need only watch one of their YouTube videos to see just how happy playing games makes people; I make no apologies for the inevitable tears of happiness.

Lastly, games are a creative platform that don’t always get the credit they deserve, allowing people to express themselves and tell their stories in unique and interesting ways. They are full of emotion, with titles like That Dragon, Cancer offering an outlet for the creator as he went through the unimaginable grief of losing his young son to cancer. Even first-person adventures games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture evoke a certain level of emotion through their unique storytelling, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Yes, this is a video game, and yes, it’s beautiful

While some games are violent, and we can’t escape that, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day they’re not real. Instead of focusing on the amount of blood and gore in them, we should be giving game creators across the globe kudos for the ways they help us relax, the happiness they bring, as well as the key skills they teach us.

So, keep playing Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty if it makes you happy and helps you switch off after a long day, but if you feel yourself getting too angry, perhaps try something more soothing, like Stardew Valley, or even Candy Crush, and hone your life skills in a fun, and playful way.

This piece was originally published on the Unity blog, here.

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Murasaki Baby is all I wanted, and more

Murasaki Baby was released yesterday, and I picked it up for the more than reasonable sum of £6.39 with PS+ discount.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Murasaki Baby for quite some time, as it looked like just my kind of game. It looked dark, creepy, and involving. It really reminded me a lot of LIMBO, which is one of my favourite games on the Xbox 360.

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I’ve stayed away from reviews mostly, as I wanted to form my own opinion of Murasaki Baby. I did manage to see that it only lasts about three hours, and a lot of players thought that the touch controls get in the way of the graphics. I’ve only played the game for a short period of time, but I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and while I appreciate what many reviewers are saying about the touch controls, it’s nice to find a Vita game that actually makes good use of both the front and back touch screens.

The back touch screen is used to change the environment you’re in. Some environments scare monsters away, while others may produce rain or wind. Each environment serves its purpose, and it’s a nice little extra, and as I said, a welcome use of the back touch screen. It also really helps bring colour into a game that otherwise could be quite bland by default.

The front touch screen is used to control Baby, and her balloon with simple finger swipes. It’s not just Baby you have to look after; her balloon is just as important. If her balloon pops, then you’ll have to start again from the last checkpoint, and believe me, there are so many things that can pop that balloon. You will shout, and you will swear if that balloon pops. Not just because it’s frustrating, but because Baby will start to cry, and it’s just heartbreaking.

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The lack of any actual voice acting, aside from the odd creepy exclamation of ‘Mummy!’ from Baby every time she thinks she’s getting that little bit closer, make it a really unique experience. This is why I compare it again to LIMBO. LIBMO didn’t need voices. It didn’t even need a soundtrack, and the story came across beautifully.It really is a challenge to create a story with no voices, and Murasaki Baby does it just as well as I was expecting.

I for one am loving the innovative idea of Murasaki Baby, and don’t regret spending the money I did on it. It looks stunning, plays well, and makes you think about what to do next without frustrating you too much and making you rage quit.

If you’re not a PS+ member, you can grab Murasaki Baby for £7.99. It might seem expensive for an indie game, but if we don’t support the indie devs, we’ll never get anything different.

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Rising Star Games Haul

I see a lot of beauty bloggers writing about their clothing and make up hauls. While, as a woman, I do still have these hauls, the ones I am most proud of are my gaming hauls. See, while most women are always on the lookout for the biggest and best deals on their favourite make up or clothing brand, I’m currently on the lookout for the biggest PSN sales. And this week, that was the Rising Star 10th anniversary sale.

I love Rising Star. I love their games because they’re just so damn addictive. Their sale on PSN was just too good to miss, so here’s what I bought, and what I make of each one so far:

Harvest Moon Innocent Life  (£2.40, PSP/PS Vita)

This is actually the one I wasn’t convinced about, but the one I’ve been enjoying the most so far. I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of a futuristic Harvest Moon, and it’s not exactly as futuristic as the synopsis would lead you to believe. I won’t spoil anything, but it maintains a focus on farming, along with various other bits and bobs to do. My favourite thing is definitely that it appears there is little need to bond with the residents. There’s no giving gifts to your object of affection, when that time could be spent harvesting crops and tending to your livestock. While I am enjoying it though, it really does just leave you to it, which is both good and bad. I’ve had to check online several times to see what I’m exactly meant to be doing for any form of progression. I’ve killed a good 8 hours on it so far though, and is quite nice to play before I start work in the evenings.

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Futuristic farming never looked so…traditional?

Harvest Moon Hero of Leaf Valley (£3.60, PSP/PS Vita)

I was actually a little disappointed with this one. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the console attempts at Harvest Moon as they just never translated well from a handheld, and this feels like a console game on a handheld. The movement of the character is very slow, and the focus has been taken away from farming, and is more focused around building relationships with the residents, which is something I’ve never been keen on. For me, a Harvest Moon is about farming. It’s about making enough money to get more upgrades, more equipment, and getting enough materials to build an extension on your house. This just feels like a poor attempt if I’m honest. I will give it another chance though. Just as soon as I’ve stopped being addicted to Innocent Life…

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A lacklustre modern attempt at a classic

Virtue’s Last Reward (£8.25, PSP/PS Vita)

I have to be honest, I haven’t played Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and I really should, but I might just brush up on the story online unless I can grab a cheap copy in town. It’s something I always looked at and thought ‘I’ll buy that one day’ and never got round to it. I’ve not had the opportunity to play Virtue’s Last Reward yet, but I’m excited to get stuck into it. Apparently it’s more like a visual novel, where you make choices that affect the gameplay, and some of those choices sound like they might have some dire consequences for some characters. Sounds like my kinda game.

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A dark visual novel

Rune Factory Oceans (£7.20, PS3)

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this. The critics slated it, calling it boring. However, the general gaming public seemed to love it, so I thought I would give it a go. The voice acting is a little bit grating so far, but I can get used to that. Cutesy animation is never going to have stellar voice acting to go with it in my opinion. Anyway, from the looks of it, it’s going to take a while for me to sink my teeth into this one as I’ve only just acquainted myself with all the residents, so no farming or adventuring has really happened so far. I’m looking forward to getting home from work in the evenings though and having a nice relaxing session on this little beauty.

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Cutesy farming, with a side of action

Half Minute Hero (£3.00, PSP/PS Vita)

I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the concept of this game. To be honest, I knew very little about the game, but at £3.00, I couldn’t say no. I’ve had a bit of a dabble, and it’s actually a really good idea. It’s a nice little game that I can jump into for a short period of time due to the time constraints on the game, but a nice little challenge.

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Pixelated, chibi fun

In summary, I got all these great games for a really good price, and if you like the sound of any of them, you have until 12am GMT 18-09-2014 to get your hands on them. The full sale can be found here.

Changing Teams

Well, it’s been a long time again, and that’s been for a multitude of reasons. First of all, I informed you all in my last post that I was going on a week-long work placement with a certain official console magazine, and I can reveal now that I went to work with the wonderful people at the Official Playstation Magazine. It was a great week, full of lots of research, writing and general journalism goodness. I actually got a feature published on the website which can be read here, so please go and give it a read.

There may also be several articles I assisted with, and news articles being published in the next issue, so if you’re a PlayStation fan, pop down to the shops on the 27th and pick up a copy. I won’t know until it comes out, so it will be one big surprise.

Then I had a nice long week with the man who I hadn’t seen in two months, so unfortunately blogging was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even really do any gaming that week if I’m honest, and the lack of new games, and my ever decreasing funds aren’t helping.

I downloaded Puzzle Quest because it was on offer on XBLA and that’s keeping me going, but it’s an old game, and will only occupy me for so long. As always, I crave a JRPG, but they just don’t appear to be out there. I might have to raid the Classics library on the PSN.

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Simple and fun, an instant winner

Anyway, I have been thinking about the new generation of consoles, and which one I”m going to be getting, but also thinking about what’s on offer from the current generation. I’m sure that many Xbox 360 owners feel my frustration at the mostly un-inspirational Games For Gold. I’m downloading them all because they’re free, so don’t get me wrong, I’m taking advantage of it, but this months first release leaves a lot to be desired and I just feel a bit let down by the whole ‘offer’.

I’m intrigued by card games, but I can’t confess to be very good at them. Baten Kaitos is one of my favourite JRPGs, and that featured a bizarre battle system utilising cards, and I enjoyed that. I appreciate anime such as YuGiOh for its use of cards, but I really can’t get my head around Magic The Gathering. Personally, I think card games belong on tables, not on consoles. The tutorial completely baffled me, and because it was so long-winded I basically just pummelled the A button just to get through it. I managed to beat about 4 opponents and then I got stuck because there was so much to remember, and so much tactics involved that I simply gave up.

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Too many stats make this a confusing experience

The thing is, when I look at PlayStation Plus, and all the free games they get, it makes me wonder ‘What am I paying my Gold subscription for?’. I don’t do online gaming. When I do, I’m just racing around a track with the man in my life, and that’s once in a blue moon. It seems pointless to me now to even have a gold subscription, I don’t appear to be getting much out of it, aside from some games I’ve already played, or are so old that you’d have to give them away anyway.

I am seriously considering taking on a PlayStation Plus account in the future, not only for the free games, but also for the decent discounts. Sony just appear to be so much more clued in to what people actually want. Sure, if you cancel your PS+ subscription, then you can’t play the free games you downloaded, but that’s just an incentive for me to keep a subscription going. I have no reason (unless someone can give me one) to keep my Gold subscription on the Xbox 360, so it may be time for a change of allegiances.

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What are your thoughts? Are you thinking of changing teams, or are you sticking with your first choice?

Ponderings on The Walking Dead 400 Days

I downloaded The Walking Dead 400 Days a while ago, and completely forgot to put down my thoughts on it.

As a reluctant fan of the episodic gaming genre that The Walking Dead adopts, I was excited, but still slightly anxious about what 400 Days would hold. I knew nothing about it, other than it would act as a bridge between seasons. So when I fired it up for the first time, I was slightly taken aback by the bizarre, yet interesting gameplay they had chosen.

The cell shaded animation remains in tact, letting you know that you’re still playing the game series, and it retains all of its original beauty, but takes a bit of a twist on the original gameplay mechanics. As you make a start on 400 Days, you notice that you can choose exactly which character you want to play as. You work your way through the stories of five new characters, all with their own back story, by picking their pictures off a noticeboard. This was a bit of an odd choice gameplay wise considering the more than linear first season of The Walking Dead, but I liked it.

I’m still a bit on the fence with how I really feel about it if I’m honest though. It seemed more like an introduction to five new characters than anything else. I know that’s probably what it’s meant to be, and that is by no means a bad thing, but it just seemed a bit thrown together and didn’t really feel like a full episode. I probably managed the finish off the whole thing in an hour which was a little bit disappointing.

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In true Walking Dead style, each of the characters have their own obstacles to overcome, but nothing really seemed to alter the eventual ending. Most of the characters I had no affection for whatsoever, so I’m hoping this will be improved upon later. It seems like these are the characters that we’re going to see in season 2 though, as well as Clementine returning hopefully. The end of 400 Days is its saving grace in my opinion, finally wrapping up exactly what it is you’ve been doing with that noticeboard, but I can’t say I’m more excited for season 2 after playing 400 Days.

The first season was never truly resolved, and that ending just left it open for so much more, so I’m really hoping Telltale have a lot more to offer us after 400 Days.

The Walking Dead 400 Days will set you back 400MSP on XBLA or £3.99 on the PSN.