Christmas Events in Video Games Bring Me Joy!

To my surprise, I have discovered that the Christmas events in video games bring me joy. This was unexpected, considering that I haven’t celebrated Christmas in years, and have some really bad memories attached to the holiday.

One excellent example in-game Christmas events are the ones offered in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Every year, there are new Christmas items (and wearables) that the player can collect just by completing quests. Missed something from a previous year? You can probably pick it up if you have enough of the items that are required in order for you to craft it.

Pocket Camp is a low-stress game. I have filled my campsite with as much Christmas related items as I could stuff into it. The ones with glowing lights are my favorite. This is not something I would want to experience for very long in the real world, though.

Seekers Notes is an app game where the player must find hidden objects in a number of locations. There is always an interesting story to keep the player motivated to finish the quests and discover how the story ends.

The main concept of the game is that the town has been “stuck” with no way to get out. It is an ongoing mystery that the player – who becomes the Seeker – must help the townspeople solve. It has just the right amount of creepy, and that includes the Christmas quests.

When I used to play World of Warcraft, I found myself amused by the Christmas quests. My favorite quest was the one where your character had to wear an ugly Christmas sweater and then go to the main city of the opposing faction and sing. It was a challenge that was later made easier for those who had a flying mount. Park yourself on a rooftop and /sing where no NPCs are likely to find you!

Kitchen Scramble is a game where the player serves food to the customers that visit her food truck. I find it comforting because the foods in the game aren’t real and cannot give me an allergic reaction.

The game has several towns for the player to visit, serve food, and level though. Players are limited by the amount of “energy” the game gives them (but there are rewards to help keep that going). This year, I tried the time-limited Christmas town. It is a bit of a struggle, since the appliances I’m using aren’t the best ones. I’m hoping to finish it anyway.

There is something about the Christmas events in video games that make me happy, and I have no idea why. Perhaps the video game Christmases will someday desensitize me from the real world version.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp Runs on Barter

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp is an app that you can play on your phone or tablet. It is a smaller version of previous Animal Crossing games. Your character has a campsite in which different items can be placed. Animal friends that are invited to you campsite will interact with those objects. They also sometimes ask you for things, and at other times give you things.

The majority of the interaction between your character and the animal friends runs on barter. Every animal friend you encounter wants something that you could – potentially – give to them if you happen to have it.

There are four (small) locations in the game that your character can travel to in order to interact with animal friends. Each location has something useful that the animal friends want – but appear unable or unwilling to obtain for themselves. Each location has fish, or bugs, or fruit.

When you encounter an animal friend in one of the four locations, a bubble appears over their head that shows what items they want. If you have those items, they will gladly accept them. They will give you some resources you can use to craft items for your campsite. If there is an event going on that involves growing a specific kind of flower, the animal friend will give you some seeds in exchange for what you gave them.

The animal friends don’t have gardens, so they can’t use the flower seeds. Your character has a fairly large garden at their campsite, and needs the seeds in order to complete goals for a current event (and receive prizes). Your character is easily able to catch fish, or bugs, and can pick fruit. The animal friends can’t do that on their own, so they give you something for your efforts.

There is never a point in the game where an animal friend you visit hands you a bunch of Bells (the in-game, easy to obtain, currency) in exchange for the fish, bug, or fruit you gave them. Instead, the game gives you some Bells each time you give an animal friend the items they want. The animal friends at your campsite sometimes hand you Bells for upkeep of the camp.

This has more to do with game mechanics than anything else. Nintendo wants players to have currency that they can spend on interesting items that can be crafted, or to upgrade some of the bigger items that they put in their campsite. Currency makes the game work – but the majority of the animal friends use barter.

Fallout Shelter Reflects the Real World

Fallout Shelter is a game created by Bethesda. It appears to have been released in 2015. I’m just getting around to playing it now, on my Xbox Series S. What I did not expect was how much the game has an eerie resemblance to the real world.

The basic idea with Fallout Shelter is that you are the “Overlord” of a Vault. The outside world has become a nuclear wasteland. The first thing that happens is a line of people arrive at the door of the Vault. It is too dangerous to be outside.

In the real world right now parts of California are on fire. Louisiana is experiencing hurricane Ida. In other places, there are droughts or flooding. The delta variant of covid is out there, making some people sick and killing others.

With all that in the back of my mind, I decided to accept all who came to the Vault door. Once inside, the people are given identical uniforms to wear. This makes them look interchangeable. It becomes harder to tell the people apart from each other.

The people in the Vault have conversations. Most of it is small talk as they go about their work. They ask trivial questions to coworkers. What kind of pet would you have if you could have one? One person wants an iguana, but worries it would be all weird due to the radiation.

Other questions are more serious. A person asked a coworker if they would ever be able to go outside again. It reminded me of the lockdowns that were put in place in an effort to prevent the spread of covid. I remember the uncertainty of it, worrying about being able to get enough food and toilet paper.

A few of the people are super happy to be working. One claims he is the G.O.A.T. at his job. Another hopes there is a chance to get some overtime. Not everyone feels that way. A worker in the diner told his coworker that “the Overlord is always watching us”. It sounds like a conspiracy theory – but he is right. I was watching them.

Since none of them can safely leave the Vault, they are given living quarters. The game recommends you increase the size of the living quarters, so I did. Now, several people can share the same one. They have absolutely no privacy at all, and can be called back to work at any time. Jobs are interchangeable, and there is no guarantee what task they will be assigned.

The situation reminded me of news articles from 2020 that pointed out that workers were being monitored by their employers through their work laptops. This sounds incredibly violating, especially considering that all of these workers were in their own homes. One cannot have work/life balance with that going on.

How is my newly created Vault going? We’re constantly running out of food, water, and energy. I’m hoping the workers will drink more Nuka-Cola because the bottle caps are currency I can use to build more rooms. The water processing plant keeps catching on fire. Everything is fine!

Xbox Adds Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech Features

Xbox posted information in its June Xbox Update that focuses on newly added features for Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. The Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech features can be used in party chat.

At Team Xbox, we believe that gaming should be inclusive, approachable, and accessible to everyone. That includes making it easy for gamers to play and communicate together. Party chat, used by gamers around the world to talk to their friends while playing, now supports converting speech into text and text into speech. Each of these features can be used to help games who are deaf or hard of hearing and/or cannot or choose not to speak.

This is a wonderful decision because it makes gaming more accessible. People who are deaf or hard of hearing will now be able to see what is said in party chat because those words are transcribed into text.

The Speech-to-Text feature, once enabled, will automatically turn all words spoken by the people in a party into text. A transcription will be displayed in an adjustable overlay on top of gameplay.

A person who uses American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary means of communication can enable the Text-to-Speech feature. The text posted will be read by a synthetic voice to the rest of the party. The Xbox June Update says that there are several voices per language that a person can choose from.

The Text-to-Speech feature will also be useful for people who are selective mutes and who do not want to use their voice in social settings. People who are nonverbal can use Text-to-Speech. It can also help autistic people (and other neurodiverse people) who may feel overwhelmed by the sensory experience of a video game and having to try and participate in verbal conversation at the same time.

Another great thing about the Text-to-Speech feature is that it can be used by transgender people who happen to dislike the sound of their voice. The ability to choose a synthetic voice can make gaming with strangers a safer, more comfortable, experience.

The Speech-to-Text feature can be useful for people (like me) who have chronic illnesses that cause exhaustion and/or pain. A person who is having difficulty typing can communicate with their party just by speaking. Pain can affect a person’s voice, so the option of using a synthetic voice could make communicating easier.

App Games are Underrated

phone being usedThere are those who will only play a video game if they can do it on their computer. Their gaming world starts and ends there.

App games are seen by many as inferior. There is this perception that those who play app games are not “real gamers”. The problem here is that this concept is presented by people who don’t play app games and have a strong bias against them.

A vivid example of the strong bias some people have about app games happened at BlizzCon 2018. Diablo Immortal was announced by Wyatt Cheng, Lead Designer of the Diablo Immortal Team. It was completely unexpected. The moment it became clear that Diablo Immortal would be an app game – and would never come to PC – the crowd reacted negatively.

App games are underrated. Everyone who attended BlizzCon 2018 had the opportunity to play Diablo Immortal. I found it to be incredibly fun, and fast, and could not wait to find out what lore this game would reveal. Those who didn’t try it – because they don’t play app games – were missing out.

Pokémon GO is an app game that can only be played on a phone or tablet. It is an extremely popular game, worldwide. Nostalgia plays a role in this, as people who played previous Pokémon games when they were younger want to relive that experience. The game is fun, can be played without making any real-money purchases, and (before COVID-19) encouraged people to go outside and get some exercise.

D&D Beyond launched the D&D Beyond Player App. It enables players to view all of the characters they have on D&D Beyond. Players can manage health stats and spell slots, make skill checks and attack rolls, track conditions, and more. I can see how this app would be useful for players who are away from their computer on game night.

App games aren’t inferior to games played on a computer or console. The purpose of gaming is to be entertaining, to give the player an interesting world to explore, and to make it easy for people to play with their friends. The best app games provide all of that.

(Image credit: Ketut Subiyanto)