Insert Joystick Joke Here

We gamers have spent many’a year attempting to break the stereotype of a gamer as a a pale fat dude in his parent’s basement, wearing a headset and corpse camping 13-year-olds until 3 a.m., after which he turns on some tentacular hentai and masturbates furiously while sobbing and snotting in the dark, giving himself a classic case of Cheeto dick.

I mean, some of us don’t even have dicks. Come on, people.

I kid, I kid. But, while it becomes ever more evident that gamers are a diverse collection of individuals, that stereotype of the lonely, sex-starved basement dweller remains.

And Japan is totally not helping.

A few years ago, a Japanese company released the SOM, which seems fairly innocuous when you first see it:

Kind of reminiscent of a microscope in shape/design, this thing does not do science. I cannot stress that enough. This is not a science device.

It’s a wank machine.

And not just a wank machine. Oh no. It’s a video game wank machine. Bundled together with a game named Cross Days, the SOM is supposed to introduce ‘next-gen reality’ to their naughty video game. The machine apparently moves in real time to corresponding onscreen movements at certain points in the game. Essentially, as you fuck something onscreen, the machine fucks you.

But wait, it gets better. Because if that setup looks just a little too… clinical for your masturbatory needs, never fear. The good folks who created the SOM can give you a hand… literally:

Because who hasn’t wanted a creepy doll-hand-fused-to-cylinder gently caressing their dong?

And ladies, the creators of the SOM want you to know that you are valued customers as well. This isn’t just for the gents. There’s a SOM attachment that will piston your lady bits to pleasureville as well:

But Japan wasn’t content with this monstrosity. Oh no. Why make the dick secondary here? Why not let the dick control the entertainment?

Presenting the Ju-C Air, the dick powered controller:

The Ju-C Air (the name makes me giggle every. damn. time) seems to function in a similar fashion to LovePalz (which we’ve covered before), but instead of pleasuring your partner, you’re pleasuring… a digital anime maid. See, the Ju-C Air is bundled with Custom Maid 3D, a game in which you, the “hero”, are told by your estranged grandfather that he’s willing to turn over the reins to his gentleman’s club to you… if you meet certain requirements. You have to join the club as a member, make nice with (which I assume means “make sex with”) the maids in the club, and train up your own maid to service you and the other customers.

…I found a gameplay video with English translations, okay? I was curious.

So, you build your very own maid from, at least what I could see, a truly impressive array of options in terms of appearance and clothing. And you get to set up each sexual encounter with your maid, choosing what services she performs for you. For the record, one of the tabs on this selection screen was marked Perverts, and I find I’m curious what hentai game makers consider perverted. Where’s the line for them?

Now, this is as much as I could really glean from the video, because then the English translation went away and everything was censored, so I went over to their main page. Which, of course, is in Japanese, but I’m gonna guess from the pictures as the bottom that you can special order a pirate lass as well. I’m not sure if that means you expand your gentleman’s club and add on a naught nautical option, or if some down-on-her-luck former ship captain (who can no longer pillage and plunder due to an economic downturn and an inability to afford ship repairs caused her to sell the junker for salvage) wanders in to your club and offers up her salty young booty to your gentlemen customers, but either way, pirate wench.

Now, what nobody’s telling me is whether your dick also controls the cursor I saw moving around on the videos. Dicktwitch, the cursor’s up here, then dicktwitch, the cursor’s down there. Because if so, there are going to be some guys out there who learn some finite fucking dick control, let me tell you.

Oh Etsy, You’re So Sexy

ATTENTION: Standard disclaimer blah blah NSFW blah blah don’t click the links in the presence of children blah blah MAY CONTAIN COCK. Or, at least, cock surrogates. And ponies.

Galleons, Etsy is… well, Etsy is really a mixed bag. There are some truly interesting, unique little shops present on the site, and I’ve found a handful of great items (including my favorite, ever-present-’round-my-neck locket) on their site. But for every one thing I find that I’d like to own, I find 127 other items that range in quality from utter crap to abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous. And occasionally horrifying.

But I think that’s part of what keeps driving me back into the arms of Etsy (along with many of the shady back-alley areas of the web)- morbid curiosity. And it was during one of those random Etsy wanderings that I had an idea.

Etsy is wonderful. And fucking horrible. And everything is on it. So, I knew, I just KNEW, there would be sex toys. Oh yes, my galleons. It’s a sex toy post. I have plumbed the depths of Etsy for you, dear galleons, to find the best (worst) the site has to offer in this arena.

And boy, did Etsy not disappoint.

Carved Bangsticks

Far and away the most popular option in, uh, unique labial lovin’ is the oh-so-finely handcrafted dildo. And not just any ol’ dildo. No, these are special. Sculptures in silicone.

AND YOU HAVE SO MANY CHOICES!

Aliens (both of the traditional and chestbursting varieties), gargoyles, pussy cats, the rotting phalanges (the phrasing of which is reminiscent of this) of zombies, snakes, gnomes… even our old friend, the squildo!

Now, those are all fairly standard sculpted-to-please fare. Hell, we’ve featured similar in some of our sex toy posts in the past. But it just wouldn’t be Etsy if things didn’t get… stranger.

First up, for the geek crowd (what up, my peeps… goddammit Sam, phrasing), the Dark Invader dildo, which is obviously not infringing upon any copyrighted material because the name is totally different:

“Ohhhh, your helmet is SO big!”

While looking more like Rick Moranis’ Dark Helmet than the infamous Darth Vader, this little guy is obviously for the sci fi fans.

But hey, I’m just saying that it bears a passing resemblance to the famous Star Wars character. I mean, he’s not called Darth Vader. The creator isn’t calling him Darth Vader. And any parts of the description that sound like movies quotes? That’s a coincidence. Don’t jump to any conclusions, Etsy staff.

In the same vein, Batz here is obviously not a Batman ripoff. Obviously.

Our next Super Awesome Etsy Find is the Island Explorer:

Butt (hah, COMEDY) this little guy isn’t going to be exploring islands so much as… caverns. Crafted to look like a Polynesian moai, and while I don’t see the appeal of shoving a replica of my (or someone else’s) ancestors in any hole on my body, I guess that’s someone’s idea of a good time. And if so, hey, Etsy’s there for you.

Because Etsy cares about your bum’s ancestor fetish.

And finally, my favorite (and by my favorite I mean the one most like to ruin sex for me for the rest of my life), Tricky Willy:

Tricky Willy might seem innocuous enough, but he disturbs the shit out of me. Perhaps because I imagine the creator of this toy once had a major acid trip that was supposed to end in a blowjob and instead ended in him having a prolonged chat with the cock gnome bouncing in front of his face. Which was probably a hilarious scene, but I worry that, after seeing Tricky Willy, I will never be able to look at a dick again without imagining a unique little face under the corona.

Your Run-of-the-Mill Fuckwands

We may have discussed the dildos carved to look like… well, a variety of strange creatures, but there are plenty of more normal cooch pleasers available on Etsy.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of them. After all, I’ve got mad mockery skillz, yo.

First, we have the hand crafted wooden models. Smooth, nicely curved, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to a table leg:

Listen galleons, I understand that people get rather creative in the use of common household items as pleasure devices. I do. We’ve all been there. But I can honestly say that I haven’t been sitting around one day, so horny my labia feel like they are ready to Hulk-out of my panties and attack the nearest cock, and thought to myself, “Hey, I could turn all my frustration and Hulk-tendencies onto that there table leg and give myself some sweet, sweet relief from my crotchal woes.” Destroying furniture to get off?

…Okay, well, to be fair, I have done that, but it was accidental. And I got a black eye from it. And… MOVING ON.

Actually, most of the Etsy dildo selection is of the glass variety. I’m never going to be able to overcome my pretty glass objects = pipes mindset, so I always think of smoking pot when I see glass dildos. And then I get the munchies. So it goes.

But this one doesn’t make me think of pot:

THIS one makes me think of sex. Particularly, of sperm. Of procreation. Of “oh sweet jaysus, why is there a giant red sperm in that butt plug?!” It’s like minotaur sperm. Or Satan’s sperm. And it’s called the Wandering Red Shroom. Where the fuck is it wandering, Etsy? I’ve seen this goddamn horror film. Some naïve young girl gets this at a curiosity shop run by some mysterious dark haired woman, and the girl uses it, and suddenly her name is Rosemary and she’s pregnant and, PLOT TWIST, it’s Satan’s. Not me. No thank you, Etsy. That girl always ends up horribly dead or insane/brainwashed to love her little Antichrist.

Fuck that shit.

So, let’s move over to the far less terrifying silicone beasties, shall we? Oh, wait, no. Things are still terrifying over here. Because we have stuff like this little pink number:

Which might look innocuous enough by your standards, but to me, it looks like a goddamn hand plane from a woodshop:

And I’m just not that into putting woodworking tools near my intimate bits, thank you very much. Also off-putting about this product? It comes with this weird user’s diagram, which looks more at home in a textbook than in the bedroom.

I am also a fan of this particular piece, simply for its name. Two times a lady? Yeah, that puppy’s real ladylike.

And if neither of these tickle your fancy, how about you design your own? Oh yeah, don’t be put off by the fact that they kind of look like those water tube toys. It’s part of their, ah, charm.

Paddles and Crops and Whips… OH MY!

Now, when I say Etsy has ‘any paddle or crop you could possibly want’, I don’t mean ‘a wide variety of paddles and crops’, I mean ‘ANY PADDLE OR CROP YOU COULD POSSIBLY WANT’. And if you can’t find exactly what you need, I’ll bet all you’d have to do is contact one of the kindly shop owners and they’d make one to your exact specifications.

Don’t believe me? Then prepare yourselves for a parade of paddles, a cavalcade of crops, a festival of flails, a… oh, you get the idea.

There is a wide array of punishment tools on Etsy, made of anything from yarn to feathers to aluminum to boot soles. From the simple to the ornate, the silly to the elegant. And for all tastes, from the leather lovers to the steampunk crowd to the… well, to the folks looking for something a little more unique.

There are hand painted paddles for all fandoms. Hello Kitty (which makes way too many appearances in the sex toy market, let’s be fair). Portal. The Discworld series. Transformers. Mass Effect. Internet cat memes. Final Fantasy. Legos. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pacman (those holes… god damn, that’s gotta sting). Super Mario Bros. Nightmare Before Christmas. Weird, swaddled bears. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Game of Thrones. Invader Zim.

And some fandoms are very popular, drawing in multiple shops and a variety of products. For example, the Doctor Who fans. They have TARDIS everything. TARDIS paddle. TARDIS flogger. TARDIS crop. Hell, there’s even a sonic screwdriver crop. But my absolute favorite bit of Doctor Who sex gear is this Dalek paddle:

YOU WILL SUBMIT TO DALEK RULE. WE ARE SUPERIOR. YOU WILL BEND OVER AND SUBMIT. YOU WILL OBEY OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED.

But Doctor Who sex toys? Eh, they’re really not so weird. My Little Pony, on the other hand? What the fuck, people?

Yes, there is a complete line of MLP paddles by an Etsy shop. Each lovingly crafted to look like one of the mane (MOAR COMEDY) characters on the beloved children’s show. Because bronies are fucked up.

BUT WAIT. Apparently, there are a lot of people who are fans of both Doctor Who and MLP. There is this whole fandom for Doctor Whooves, some kind of pony version of the good Doctor. I don’t… I can’t… WHAT THE FUCK?!

And so, for those Doctor Whooves fans, here’s your very own paddle of the pony Doctor’s flank. You’re welcome.

Comic book fans have a lot of options (probably thanks to all the comic films hitting theaters over the last ten years), including (but not limited to) Iron Man, Storm, Mystique, Rogue, Harley, and Superman.

For you Star Wars fans, how about a little Imperial justice? And for the rare double dom relationship, a set of floggers that allow you to battle for galactic (and bedroom) dominance every night. You’re a Sith, they’re a Jedi. WHO WILL WIN?

And Trekkies, Etsy didn’t forget about you. Don’t you want this sexy Borg-inspired number? Resistance is futile, baby.

Potter fans, you can reenact all your Snape and Hermione spank fantasies with these gems. The Hogwarts crest paddle. Or, if you’re feeling wicked, a Death Eater paddle. Or how about a crop modeled after Narcissa Malfoy’s wand?

Or you can have a real console war: Sega vs Nintendo. FIGHT!

This is listed as a ‘beautiful aluminum paddle’:

But I’ve seen it before. That is an exact replica of a Dead Island machete:

I don’t really think Dead Island is a sexy-type game, but I guess it does involve a lot of bodily fluids and half-naked people running around on a tropical island, so eh. Go for it, you crazy kids.

And here’s a whole subset of sex tools for people with no sex life: THE WOW NERDS! Pick your side and get a paddle! And because we all know the Horde is the best (for the Horde, motherfuckers), some additional Horde goodness. And finally, a little Dalaran-inspired flogging action. Oh yeah.

Then there’s this, for when you’re feeling like a modern Prometheus.

And this, for when you really need to teach someone a lesson.

And finally, for those who like their sex served up with a side of fear:

…Listen, anyone who’s read Stephen King’s It has a very real, very healthy, very logical fear/aversion to clowns. Don’t judge me.

Wearable Goodness

The sexy section of Etsy is so much more than just sex toys, galleons. It’s got sexy apparel, too! Oh yeah.

Sexy underwear with a pocket to hold the cash after the gentleman pays you? Etsy’s got you covered.

Crocheted strap-on harnesses? Etsy’s got you covered.

Fancy steampunk bondage cuffs? Etsy’s got you covered.

Rainbow dick pendants, to show your love of queers and cocks? Etsy’s got you covered.

And how about shoes with dildo heels for the foot fetishists out there? Etsy’s got you covered here, too- a whole shop of dilettos!

Furniture for Fuckin’

When outfitting a sex dungeon, it’s important to find only the best pieces. You have to look everywhere. Comb the net, search the best shops… and sometimes, go to Etsy.

That’s right. Etsy’s home to your sex dungeon needs. They should really advertise that better.

I mean, look at this fine piece of dungeon furniture, the bondage horse. Ebony stained birch, burgundy faux leather padding, heavy duty hardware, and it folds right up, so you can tuck it out of sight when the in-laws come over.

And how about a sex machine for that sexy lair you’re crafting? A dark walnut stain, 19 inch bar. “Adjustable speeds from slow to OMG!” How can you resist?

But this next piece has to be my favorite. At first glance, it’s your average St. Andrew’s Cross. But this bad boy is a motherfucking transformer!

Sexy dungeon furniture by night, totally vanilla plant pedestal by day. That is some quality sex gear, there- functional and fucktional.

Dirty Decor

It’s not just about sexy furniture, though. Everyone knows that it’s the little touches that really make a house a home. Or a house a sex pad.

Touches like a lovingly embroidered rabbit vibe sampler. Just like grandma used to make.

And what about these artful magnets? Cover your fridge in the genitalia of a young British girl, because even vaginas are classy if they have a British accent.

For the kids’ room, what about these colorful dinosaur wall pieces? What? Even the king of the lizards gets lonely sometimes.

This majestic sculpture shows off your love of both cocks and the black power movement. Or fisting. Black power or fisting.

And for a touch of undersea whimsy (guess I wasn’t the only one who made the connection), this happy little mirror.

But I think my favorite thing is this sculpture, Silver Seduction:

Like a 3D representation of the finest in bathroom stall graffiti, this piece will really bring a ‘filthy truck stop restroom’ vibe to your love shack.

Various and Sundry Other Goodies

In my Etsy wanderings, I came across many things that are, well, sex toys in the very real sense of the word. And so, I’m giving them their own category in this list, because I think some of them are hilarious and I can’t not share them.

You’re welcome.

First up, we have a game called Spin the Wank:

Spin the Wank is a variation on Spin the Bottle, only instead of spinning some bit of glassware, you twirl a little ceramic cock. How fantastic! You can only imagine how the rules of the game change when you switch out bottle for dick. Let’s just say, that’s going to be one hell of a party…

And here’s a little sperm plushie. That is, apparently, signed by the creator? Like, the creator of sperm? I really want this to just have GOD scrawled across the back.

…Yes, I read the description. I know it’s signed by that Bethann woman. My version was better.

What about this 1967 sexometer? I enjoy the fact that ‘sex starved’ is both a sexiness rating AND rates above ‘heavenly’. Sense, this product makes it.

Here’s a Christmas ornament/key chain sculpted to look like a blow up doll. I don’t have a snarky comment for this, I just think it’s funny.

For the well dickerated bathroom, how about some Mr. Penis soap? Though if you’re calling him Mr. Penis, you could at least give the guy a top hat. I mean, honestly.

Now see, these guys know how to make a cock look classy. Those are some sharp dressed dongs right there.

This is probably the best toy on the whole site, both for sheer WTF factor and for the horror factor:

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this little guy shags his lady when wound up. Deliciously crass. But then you see their faces:

HOLY SHIT. What is… what the… *whimper*

The horror.

Moving on… to decorate your notebooks, love letters, sex toy box, etc., why not get a set of dildo stickers? Add a little naughtiness to everything.

And for when you try a position you really should have stretched before and end up a little sore the next day, here’s a lovely little hot/cold pack to ease the pain. Also, it smells like lavender, like a good cock should.

And finally, we have the prick cushion. And while I could try to come up with something clever to say about it, I think its description is just too good to attempt to top:

This Prick Cushion is one Hot Pink Rod. He rides like a roller coaster, purrs like a kitten and moves like a hot knife slicing through butter.

For scorned lovers, and women with penis envy, a present for a secret spinster sister, the perfect bachelorette gift for the crafty girl who has everything or the pin cushion you will never lose (but hide from your mother-in-law).

Need I say more?

***

I hope you’ve had fun on our tour of Etsy’s sexier side, my galleons. I really do. Because now that we’ve had fun, I’m going to scare the shit out of you by taking you to the darkest area of Etsy.

Welcome to hell, galleons:

WHAT THE FUCK?! What is this shit? Who would put this near their genitals? This is the stuff of nightmares. I will sleep poorly for weeks after seeing this. And you want people to fuck these monstrosities? WHAT?!?!?!

And that’s Etsy for you, galleons.

Cute or Horrifying? You Decide

Now galleons, I’ve been very clear about my feelings regarding sex toys that look like children’s toys (see this if you don’t remember). But, despite my grumpy fist-shaking at people making these bizarre, cutesy fuck toys, they just keep churning them out.

My latest find has me utterly baffled. They are so cute, so childish, that there is no sane person on this fucking planet that should feel comfortable letting these happy little guys anywhere near their genitals.

Galleons, meet the Buxxxor Collection:

I mean… damn. These little guys are not only adorable, they have names.

The little blue guy with the fucking beauty mark (or, as Animaniacs taught me when I was a child, a cutie mark) is an intimate massager…

Okay, wait, time out. Why the fuck do we call things “intimate massagers?” It’s a clit stimulator. That’s what it fucking is. It’s being marketed as a goddamn sex toy, it can at least drop the PG descriptor.

Anyway, the little blue guy (girl?) is Geena. Which… well, frankly, I’m not sure why it’s named Geena.

The pink fella is the one actually being called a clitoral stimulator, despite the fact that it’s shaped like a G-spot (and clitoral) stimulator (see this if you don’t believe me):

Because that fucking makes sense. Its name is Clitt, which is a sufficiently dirty name, I suppose. I maintain that this one should be Geena (G-spot) and the blue guy should be Clitt (for obvious reasons), but hey, I’m just trying to make sense here.

Silly me.

And finally, the yellow bloke is Woody. And he’s basically just your run-of-the-mill fuckstick.

Naming snafus aside, can you honestly imagine letting these little fellas near your lady bits? They are like the little prince guy in Katamari Damacy… is their purpose to roll my vagina up into a ball until I orgasm?

This whole thing makes me intensely uncomfortable. I’m just saying.

Before the Mass Effect 3 Ending Debacle: The Dragon Age 2 Disappointment

I’ve already gone into excruciating detail on my feelings regarding the fan backlash to the ME3 ending, so the fact that, after staunchly defending BioWare’s product, I’m about to turn around here and bitch about the failings of one of their other games might seem a bit hypocritical. Perhaps even worthy of some disdain. I’m going to ask you to roll with me here, galleons. Give me a chance to prove that my criticisms are justified, not just mindless whinging (yes, I think I’m British).

If I fail, you are allowed to mercilessly tear me apart in the comments. I’ll deserve it.

***

I really looked forward to the release of Dragon Age 2. While I didn’t enjoy Dragon Age: Origins as much as my beloved Mass Effect, I was still quite fond of the title. I will acknowledge that there were problems with it (particularly centered around combat), but what made the title so enjoyable was its throwback nature. Origins felt like the high fantasy games I’d grown up with, like Baldur’s Gate (which, given the developer, only makes sense). One hero, with their ragtag band of followers, out to slay the dragon/demon and stop the big nasty evil from overtaking the land. It was full of haughty woodland elves and misguided mages trafficking with demons and underground dwarven cities full of small bearded warriors/smiths. I fought ogres and golems and spiders and dragons and even some giant rats. I traveled with the bastard heir to the throne, the reformed assassin, the kindly healer, the drunk dwarf. It was just classic fun- nothing too new, nothing too special, just a solid, enjoyable game.

So, when DA2 was released, I expected an expansion on the sword-and-sorcery goodness of the first. What I got was… well, it was disappointing. It didn’t feel like the same series at all. And, upon playing it again now, I still feel the same way.

Here’s how DA2 failed me.

The lack of a grand scope/sense of the epic/any solid plot for a good chunk of the game.

It is basically a staple of high fantasy that there is some huge, overarching goal the main characters are striving to complete. Slay the dragon, save the princess, toss a ring into a volcano. You know, that sort of nonsense. In Origins, your character was a Grey Warden, part of a special order of warriors with the job of defeating the rise of the darkspawn (orcish creatures) every few ages (known as a Blight). You and bastard princeling Alistair are the last Grey Wardens, set out to gather a mighty army from the scattered races of Ferelden to march against the darkspawn horde, slay the Archdemon that leads them, and maybe have cake afterwards. Pretty standard fantasy goodness. So, your character travels across the kingdom, aiding the dwarves and elves and mages and men in order to gain their support for the final battle. And, in the end, your army marches to battle, you defeat the Archdemon, and the Blight is over.

Huzzah.

Then the expansion, Awakening, comes out. Your Grey Warden is now working in the province given to the order by the new ruler of Ferelden. You are dealing with increased darkspawn activity, something that shouldn’t happen with the Blight being over and all. You find some talking, weirdly sentient darkspawn who try to get you to help in their plan to free their people from the magical slavery of the Blight, so that the darkspawn race might prosper and eventually work with the rest of the races of the world. You can either agree to help or not, but it sets the stage for some very interesting future developments with the darkspawn.

And then DA2 comes out and… nothing. You aren’t a Grey Warden anymore- in fact, you are a completely different character from who you were in the first game. You are living up in another city-state as a refugee from the events of the first game. You don’t seem to have any more pressing goal than surviving and maybe reclaiming your family estate (which your uncle lost to pay a debt).

…I’m sorry, what the fuck just happened?

Da2 is split into three “acts,” three different years in the city of Kirkwall. Each year has a completely different kind of mini-goal to it, though the “goals” for the last two years are less “goals” and more “situations you accidentally become embroiled in over the course of the year.” If you were to tell me, upon starting the game, what the final battle dealt with, I would have been confused. Hell, you don’t even really meet the two people who become the two final bosses until Act Fucking 3. They have no real presence in your game until the final third of it.

The game just feels woefully cobbled together. Act 1 has you running around trying to scrounge up enough gold to go on this adventuring expedition that will (hopefully) secure your fortune and let your family reclaim their estate. Okay. I can get behind that, I suppose. Then Act 2 rolls around. You have your estate. So…? You kind of just run around doing a bunch of pointless quests because… you want the gold (even though you’re rich)? You want to help people (even if you’re choosing the mega-douche dialogue options)? There’s no fucking motivation for your character’s actions. Eventually, because of a few random quests you’ve gone on, you somehow end up involved in the big qunari (race of big dudes with demon horns who want to convert everyone to their religion/lifestyle or else slaughter them mercilessly)  vs. citizens of Kirkwall fight. You bring an end to it, everyone is happy, you gain a fancy title… Then, Act 3 happens. And, once again, you are kind of slowly, half-assedly dragged into this big war between the mages and the templars.

What. The. Fuck.

Everything feels so pieced together and tacked on. There are a few really interesting, rewarding side quests, but there is no real main quest. It’s not a sandbox, where you kind of build your own game experience, you just go around getting letters and doing jobs for people for seemingly little or no reason. Considering the game is an RPG, this is a major problem for the title.

And the game has next to nothing to do with the events of the first game. You can import your Origins save in, but all it does is influence whether or not a few cameos happen. Nothing that even remotely influences the actual story… because there is no fucking story. It takes one of the small areas of contention in Origins (the templar and mage situation) and eventually blows it the fuck up (literally) after 2/3 of a game full of shuffling your feet and misdirection and tries to pass this off as some grand story.

It’s not. It’s really, really not.

Take Mass Effect (I can’t help but compare the two series because they are both BioWare creations… sorry). Imagine Shepard had managed to defeat the Reapers in the first game. And then, instead of any continuation of the Reaper/Shepard story, the second game has you playing as a survivor of Eden Prime who, I don’t know, becomes a merc and fucks around in spaceland for a bit, eventually ending up involved in some kind of human coup on the Citadel, and finally accidentally ends up hardcore reigniting the human/turian war. You’d have been… disappointed, no? Confused, maybe?

I think the fact that the story from Origins didn’t directly carry over to DA2 would have bothered me less if they hadn’t pulled that “keep your save files, they’re going to matter” bullshit on me. My Origins decisions impacted less than nothing in DA2. Honestly, the idea of having different protagonists having different adventures across the same world is fine and dandy. But don’t bother with having me import a save if it doesn’t mean anything. The Elder Scrolls does it right- they set each game in different provinces (and at different times), you never import a save, you are playing isolated heroes. Lore grows and continues from game to game, but your old characters have no impact. And it totally works. Nobody’s complaining. Play it one way or the other, but don’t do this half-assed import bullshit, BioWare.

I know this is their story and their world and I feel kind of cheap complaining about it when I so harshly judged people for doing the same to the ME3 ending. I feel like I really have less issue with where the story went and more issue with how they got there, painfully limping along until they decided to make a point.

Speaking of the “point”…

The story got WAY too political WAY too fast.

This is a high fantasy series. At least, that’s what it had been touted as. We’ve already discussed some of what one expects when that term is tossed around. And that’s what the first game was.

And then holy shit, DA2 tries to jump into a completely different direction. By Act 3, when the thing finally decides to come up with some semblance of a plot, they’ve decided to just blow the whole mages/templars thing into a full-blown war.

In the Dragon Age world, mages are taken from their families at young ages and locked away in the Circle of Magi, a tower or something in every province where mages live and study under close watch of the templars, guards from the Chantry who are there to make sure the mages toe the line. Throughout history, mages just fucked with shit, calling up demons and using blood magic and making everything fucking awful with their sparkly magics. So, the templars keep them in check, killing the ones who show signs of possession or blood magic dabbling. The mages are essentially imprisoned. If you don’t want to live in the Circle, and you have magic, you are known as an apostate, and templars will kill you or haul you off to the Circle if they catch you using magic out in the world.

So, the mages are bitchy because they are locked in a tower their whole lives with horrible sword-wielding guards breathing down their necks and waiting to run them through, and the templars feel like they have to crack down harder as more and more mages escape/call on forbidden magics to try to escape their prison.

I mean, yeah, it’s a shitty situation. And I feel really bad for the mages.1 But they go from mild discontent in the first game to full-on claw-your-face-off-with-lightning crazy in the second. And the templars go from being stern guards who at least attempt to be fair to religion-crazed-sword-happy lunatics. It was a situation I’d have been happy to play through and resolve, except that the two factions became so fucking insane that I didn’t want to side with either of them. Kind of just wanted to firebomb the lot and run off with the pirate wench.

Instead of gathering a giant army to face a demonic invasion of the land, I’m playing errand-boy/girl back and forth between these two whiny, completely batshit groups. No matter what I do, I’m about to help someone ignite a giant war across the world between these two factions. Try as I might to minimize the damage, in the end, everything goes to shit. I’m trying to be diplomatic and political when all I want is to go stab stabbity stab a dragon in the eye.

The game is incredibly claustrophobic.

The entire game is set within one city and a few small, surrounding areas. Mostly, it’s just this city. You don’t get to go anywhere else. Hightown. Lowtown. The Docks. The Gallows. Darktown. The coastline around the city. The mountain summit by it. A mine nearby. That’s it. So, you’re just running back and forth between different parts of the city. Again. And again. And again.

You spend the whole time feeling closed in and like you’re going nowhere (which is greatly exacerbated by the lack of cohesive plot). It’s fucking maddening.

Another facet of this is…

HIDEOUS FUCKING MAP RECYCLING

I have no idea who thought this was a good idea, but let me at ’em. I’m gonna bitch slap them so goddamn hard. There are, like, 5 (maybe) different dungeon maps that just keep getting recycled. They’ll close off a section one time, make you run it backwards the next, but it’s the same thing again and again and again.

This is one of the biggest complaints from the fan community. And with good reason. For a game that’s isolated to this one city, you feel like you could go nuts making gorgeous/interesting/complex/unique dungeons to keep things fresh. Instead, you have a handful of small, boring, shitty little maps being used again and again.

By the third time you’re canvassing the same map, you’re ready to strangle someone. By the tenth, you just want to cry in frustration. It’s the worst.

The Stamina/Mana and Cooldown Fuckery

Okay, so you have a stamina bar. That’s fine. You can only use talents until you are out of stamina, with the bigger, more powerful attacks using more stamina.

Or, you have cooldowns on your talents. You use one, then it takes thirty seconds or something for that one to be useable again. The more powerful the attack, the longer the cooldown.

But you don’t have BOTH. This is actually a carry-over issue from Origins. Not only do you have a stamina bar that depletes as you use your talents, but they all have cooldowns. Plus, your heath/stamina/mana potions all have a damn cooldown. It can make it fucking impossible to do anything in intense combat situations.

It would be like having both the weapon overheat system from ME1 and the thermal clips from 2&3. Together. At the same time. Just redundant bullshit making it unnecessarily harder to fight.

The romance options are incredibly one-dimensional.

I know this is a silly concern, but I’ve been spoiled by the ME games. Garrus. Liara. Tali. Thane. Ashley. They are all so interesting, with real personalities and humor and stories. They all feel like real, flawed, wonderful people. So, I expect BioWare to be able to create some really memorable characters like that for me in the Dragon Age games as well. And in Origins, they did. Leliana. Zevran. Alistair. Morrigan. They were all layered, interesting characters.

Then DA2 happens. I have Fenris, the broody elf with the sexy voice who is super emo and tortured because he was a slave and single-mindedly hates magic and mages. There’s Anders, the once-playful healer who is super emo and tortured because he’s an apostate and single-mindedly hates templars. Sebastian, the prince-turned-priest (sort of) with the Scottish accent who is super emo because of his complete, pathetic inability to decide whether he wants to stay a priest or go back to being a prince. Isabela, the skanky pirate wench who, bless her, is just a skanky pirate wench constantly trying to get in your pants. And Merrill, the totally naive elf mage who is actually stupid enough to think blood magic and demons are okay. The characters do not grow or change or have any real depth beyond this.

I forgive Isabela, because her wenching is hilarious. There are various scenes where she’s hitting on everyone and having to go to the healer for her STDs. She’s an unabashed tart. I can’t help but tip my hat to her.

But the rest… god, it makes romancing any of them a fucking chore. I get to the point where I want them all to just shut the fuck up. I’d rather romance the dwarf- he’s the most interesting companion of the lot. I romanced Fenris last go round and if I so much as tried to be a decent human being to a mage, he got pissed.

There’s a scale of friendship/rivalry for each character and you need so much friendship/rivalry to successfully romance one of them. Yes, that’s right, you can romance them as their rival. They hate everything you stand for, but man, then just can’t wait to jump your bones.

Most of the time, rivalmances make no sense. Then again…

Playing as one of the major classes doesn’t make any sense.

I thought about playing a mage on the play-through I just started, but I had to stop because it makes absolutely no sense that Hawke, who gets into fights all over town (including right in front of the templars at the very beginning of the game), could get away with being a fucking mage when the templars supposedly kill/imprison anyone who even smells like a mage. It would be completely unbelievable to play the game as a mage. There’s no way they’d constantly turn a blind eye to you, I’m sorry.

Then again, if I can’t figure out the motivations for my own character’s actions, how can I figure out the motivations for other characters?

***

So, okay, that’s a lot of bitching, I know. And it probably makes you wonder why I’d ever continue playing the game. Thing is, on its own, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever played. As broken as many aspects of the game feel, there are other areas where it shines. It’s 100% BioWare in that the party banter and much of the dialogue is just great. And you have more varied options in conversations than you do in the ME trilogy- I love that sarcasm option like mad (it makes Hawke a smartass who makes really bad jokes only he/she thinks is funny… sound familiar?).

And I just really, really love slashing things to death with my daggers.

Anyway, unnecessary tirade over. I still maintain I’m not a total hypocrite. I’m allowed to dislike a game and/or portions of it. I’m not going to go around bitching and demanding BioWare change everything to make me happy. I’d like to hope they take some of their failings into account in the future (like never doing the map recycling thing again), but at the end of the day, I’m not going to love every game I play or even every game BioWare puts out. So it goes.

If you don’t buy my “I’m not a hypocrite” logic, I am more than happy to face the full brunt of your rage/disdain. I still am not sure I don’t deserve it.

1 DA2 makes it a little difficult to feel truly sympathetic for the mages’ plight, seeing as 99.9% of the mages you meet either become demon-possessed abominations or use blood magic at the slightest insult. The mages are more likeable in the first game- you meet abominations, sure, but you also meet mages who don’t run around with demons, who feel trapped in the Circle even though they are totally good guys.

In Which an Irrational Fear is Made Rational (This Post Has Nothing to Do With Bunnies, Just So You Know)

Oh galleons, this morning the great and terrible Xbox gods decided to play a most distressing trick upon me, their humble devotee. I stumble in the door from work, exhausted, frustrated, needing a sword-and-sorcery fix like some people need coffee or crack. I turn on my Xbox, wander into the bathroom, and take my contacts out… only to return to the living room to find my screen sporting a message about a disc read error.

What fresh hell is this?!

For those of you who are unaware of my previous Xbox escapades (Xcapades, if you will), I have owned a total of three 360s now. My first was unceremoniously stolen while on loan to a friend. The second suffered a hideous, drawn out death last year that culminated in the dreaded Red Ring of Death. And the first symptom that Xbox the second was going tits up? A disc reading issue.

So, when I walk into the room this morning and find that message on my screen, my blood goes fucking glacial. Not again. You have got to be fucking kidding me. This system is less than a year old, for fuck’s sake.

Then there was a bit where I dash over to the Xbox, muttering “No, no, no,” under my breath like some kind of healing mantra. I’m stroking the thing, caressing it, whispering sweet nothings and pleas as I eject the Dragon Age 2 disc inside it. A cursory glance at the disc reveals nothing, and it had been running just fine the day before, so why on Earth would there be anything wrong with it? No, this was the Xbox. It has to be. My truly terrible luck with technology has struck again.

I ease the DA2 disc back into the Xbox, practically begging the system to work. There is nothing more pathetic than a gamer on their knees in front of their system, all but praying for it to work.

The disc spins.

Nothing happens.

I can feel that bubble of despair/frustration/terror welling up in me. My Xbox is my de-stressing device, my primary source of entertainment, my geeky life’s blood. I can’t be without it again. I just can’t.

The rational side of my brain kicks in slowly, fighting its way to the surface through the sludge of my sadness.

Try a different game, it says. Listlessly, I comply.

The disc spins.

And the game starts right up. No problem at all.

At this point, I’m staring at my system, slack-jawed. What miracle is this? What divine blessing has been bestowed upon my poor console? I take out this disc and insert another.

Another successful read. That must mean…

I examine the DA2 disc closer. From the very center of the disc spreading out to halfway to the center is a very fine crack. Not a scratch, a fucking crack. No wonder the game couldn’t be read- I’m surprised my system managed to read it yesterday.

I’ve always hated the cases DVDs and video games come in. You have to apply just enough pressure to get some of the discs out of their cases that the disc itself bends a bit. I have had a long-held fear I’m going to snap a disc in half with my mannish hands and freakish strength one day.

Turns out my irrational fear was less irrational than I thought. I must have cracked that disc removing it from its stupid case yesterday.

Leave it to She-Ra, right?

Anyway, after a quick trip to the store to purchase a new copy of the game, I am once more on track to make my sarcastic, bearded rogue sex up the broody, tattooed elf with the leg-weakening baritone. Oh yes, this is going to happen:

It can be a lot to take in, I know.

Hur hur.

The Story of Lydia

Oh, Lydia. Even if you’ve never played Skyrim before, chances are you’ve stumbled across some mention of that damned Lydia. Because all of us have our Lydia stories. Our woeful, amusing stories of our love for/irritation with/bizarre attachment to Lydia.

In Skyrim, you can have one follower travel with you across the province. For most players, the first follower you come across is Lydia. If you do the first few steps of the main questline, Jarl Balgruuf names you Thane of his hold and grants you a personal housecarl. Lydia.

When I got Lydia, I had her follow me everywhere. Lydia was like the bitchy, sarcastic, passive-aggressive best friend my character never knew she wanted. I had a habit of imagining her chasing my character around, trying to teach her to act more like the Dragonborn of legend. You know, a lot of “Stop stuffing dragonflies in your mouth, my Thane, and slaughter that dragon attacking the townsfolk” kind of nagging.

Bitch had no respect for my alchemy.

Then, Lydia outlived her usefulness. See, once I’d joined the Companions, I ran off and married the tall, dark, growly-voiced Farkas and started hauling him around with me on my adventures. That left Lydia to mope around my house in Whiterun, slumped sadly at the table, wishing she was out there teaching me how a real Nord woman was supposed to act.

Poor Lydia. All alone in that house for weeks at a time, waiting for me to come back from my adventures to drop a few things off and probably have loud sex with the husband while Lydia stuffed a pillow over her head and tried to pretend like she wasn’t there. And then I’d be off again, and I could just see that puppy-dog sparkle in her eye. Take me with you, that sparkle said.

And every time, I’d saunter out of the house, hulking husband in tow, leaving Lydia alone. Again.

I really did feel bad for the woman. She’d slayed dragons and draugr and bandits with me. She’d been by my side at High Hrothgar, where those old bastards taught me that Nordic yelling magic. And I’d just cast her off. But it seemed wrong to leave my badass warrior husband behind while I traipsed across Skyrim, having adventures and slaying hagravens and slaughtering bunnies (oh, such bunny slaughter there is). So, it was Lydia who had to stay home.

I suggested she take up a hobby. Learn to cook or pop next door to hang out with the blacksmith. Fucking knit.

I found myself a little surprised the first time I returned to my home and went inside to find a strange man exiting while Lydia just looked on. But hey, it’s not like I’d sent a courier ahead to tell her I was coming home. And really, this was more Lydia’s home than mine. She spent more time there, after all. I just owned the place and used it as a place to crash once in a while and as storage for a bunch of cool shit I found on my travels. If she wanted to have a man over, that was her business. I did tell her to pick up a hobby, right?

But after the fifth time I came home to find a different strange man exiting my house, I started to imagine this self-satisfied smirk on Lydia’s face. She was whoring herself out, making a mockery of the Dovahkiin by turning my hard-earned house into a goddamn brothel. Probably tarted herself up in my old armor and pretended to Shout for them, too.

What. A. Tramp.

So, I did the only thing I could do. I left Farkas at home, and invited Lydia out for a trip. Her excitement held a touch of wariness, because she knew I was unhappy with her antics, but I suited her up in some truly magnificent gear and headed out of Whiterun. She followed along behind me, happily swinging her sword, glad to be back out in the world.

We headed to an old ruin, inside of which lay a grand temple. I led the awed Lydia inside, and walked over to Delphine, smiling all the while. Told Delphine I’d found her a new recruit for her little dragon hunting gang of Blades. I could feel Lydia’s stunned stare, the hurt and betrayal in her eyes. Still smiling that same cruel smile, I turned to her and made her swear an oath to the Blades. A pledge to serve the order until she died. A pledge she had to make because I had told her to, and she was sworn to my service. I looked her in the eye, and on my face she could read the truth. The Blades might claim to be dragon fighters, but they never left their sacred little temple. And then I turned and walked out of the temple, leaving Lydia alone with Delphine in the nunnery I’d banished her to.

Nobody fucks with the Dragonborn’s rep. Not even Lydia.

Anyway, my story is nowhere near as funny as this one.

…And nowhere near as disturbing as my friend Ronnie’s. He kept referring to Lydia as his wife and taking her everywhere… until he found out he could actually get married in the game. A few days later, he came in claiming he’d accidentally killed Lydia in the middle of a civil war quest. It was almost believable (those are some big battles and Lydia has a habit of running in front of your sword like it’s her job), but the timing was too good. I called him out on it, but he fervently denied my accusations that he’d murdered Lydia so that he could run off and marry that bloke in Windhelm. For two weeks, he said it was an accident. And for two weeks, I called him a liar.

Finally, in the middle of work one day, he came up to me and said he couldn’t lie any longer. The truth had to come out. He had viciously murdered Lydia so he could be with Caldur. But he still respected Lydia and didn’t want her to be alone in death. So, he dragged her body to a nearby burnt-out shack and made her spoon with the burnt corpse in the house.

What can I say? We’ve all got our Lydia stories.

Training Your “GoldenEye”: The Impact of Video Games on Brain Activity

There’s an ongoing (mostly unsubstantiated) idea that violent video games lead to increased violence in children and adults. There’s no solid, empirical evidence backing up these claims, just circumstantial correlations here and there. Indeed, the purported cases of video games causing increased violence could just as easily be turned around to argue that individuals with dispositions of a certain sort might be more drawn to violent games. And, in either case, the “evidence” does not hold true for all gamers (or even a majority).

And so, while uptight matrons battle pasty-skinned nerds over the moral implications of violent entertainment, few have bothered to really study any other impact of video game play on the brain. We gamers boast that the rapid button clicking and finite joystick control give us superior hand-eye coordination, but is that rooted in scientific fact?

Turns out, a recent study out of the University of Toronto has found a solid link between playing first person shooters and enhanced activity in certain areas of the brain.

A team led by psychology professor Ian Spence had 25 test subjects (individuals who did not play video games) attempt to detect a target object among a sea of distractions in a wide visual field while their brain waves were recorded. Of these 25, 16 went on to play an unidentified FPS for ten total hours (in one or two hour sessions), while the control group of nine played some casual puzzle game for the same amount of time.

After their ten hours were over, all subjects once again performed the visual attention task while their brain waves were recorded.

The results?

Subjects who played the FPS performed far better on their second visual attention task, and their brain waves also displayed significant changes. The control subjects, on the other hand, showed no significant changes in visual attention or brain waves.

“After playing the shooter game, the changes in electrical activity were consistent with brain processes that enhance visual attention and suppress distracting information,” said Sijing Wu, one of Spence’s PhD students.

This is the first solid demonstration that playing video games (even for a mere ten hours) can actually change brain activity. And visual attention, the focus of this particular experiment, is important in one’s day-to-day life, from driving a car to avoiding obstacles when walking through a cluttered or crowded room.

Seems video games do impact the lives of the players, though not through the flipping of a violence switch in their brains.

Obviously, this research requires further study. It will be interesting to see how other types of video games (not just FPSs) impact the brain. Would a sword-and-shield game generate similar activity to a shooter? And what about RTSs? How long does it take the increased visual attention activity to slide back to how it was before, and does regular gaming maintain and/or solidify these changes within the brain? And is there a cap to how much FPS gaming can impact these areas of the brain, or does increased difficulty/variety of games allow one to increase this activity level still further? Does brain activity change between single player gaming and the often more complex task of multiplayer interactions?

Questions, questions. One thing’s for certain: I look forward to seeing us delve deeper into the neuroplastic changes gaming brings about.

…I also volunteer as a test subject.