Monday, December 5, 2011

Stumbling Through Skyrim: A Non-Gamer’s Game Review

Skyrim for XBOX 360
I probably shouldn’t make sweeping statements about video gaming as a male-dominated pastime. But for my roommate Kim and I, it really seems to be consuming every waking moment of our boyfriend’s lives when we are not around. Kim remarked, “Sometimes, I just leave [him and his friends] alone to have their boy time, but they always just end up watching someone play Skyrim for, like, hours on end.”

Before The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out, my boyfriend Jeremy (as well as his friends and little brother Jacob) warned me that I would likely not see much of my boyfriend for the next few months as he tackled the game. I could never have predicted the extent this pseudo-absence was about to take. I was essentially faced with two choices: harbor hatred for the game that stole my boyfriend or give it a chance in order to find a way to like it. Seeing no real benefit from the first, I opted for the latter. A minor epiphany ensued.

This is what Skyrim should look like, epic and (granted) blurry because there was just too much action for me to handle:

The 4-Step Process of Understanding and Accepting my Boyfriend’s Video Game Bingeing

Step 1: Understand what the big deal is and what is going on

First, I had to learn the basics. To do this, I elicited the help of an expert—Brian Bentley, Senior Editor of He affirmed my boyfriend’s claims (which were usually eloquent variations of, “Skyrim is going to be so epic!”) with some legitimate reasons. First of all, this game is huge. Like, huge. The world of Skyrim is populated by over 130 actual points of interest like towns, shrines, ruins, or caves with countless unmarked houses and ruins to explore as well.

Map of Skyrim with major cities
I assumed that the game was going to be some annoying collaboration of all things male—exaggerated female forms, violent battle scenes, minimal emotion. I really don’t know why I made that assumption. Brian informed me that the game’s story is not even gender-specific. You create your own character, so the option of gender is available but does not alter the game in any way. Similarly, the whole basis of the story is universal.

Brian summarized this concept for me: “The very first thing in the game is waking up riding in a cart heading to an execution. You are a hero of fate caught in the middle of a war for independence. The issue is that of freedom and having a homeland. Having pride and patriotism is something both men and women can relate.” However, my small survey found that women were drastically underrepresented in the sample I polled.

Gender of Skyrim Players
(Data collected through SurveyMonkey survey)
Click image for link to interactive graphic.

Skyrim character fighting a dragon

Oh, and did I mention that there are dragons? Yeah, one of your many jobs in the game is to figure out where they’re coming from, determine why they’re coming back to life, and eventually stop this from happening. In the process, you get to fight these overgrown lizards as they invade the towns through which you travel. On the subject of gender-based interests, dragons are universally interesting.

Step 2: Rack up some experience (under the radar)

Have you ever watched a sporting event with a fan, particularly a non-athletic fan? For me, this is my mom and Steelers games. My mom has never in her life played football. In fact, I would not even be surprised if my mom has never even thrown a football. But when she watches football, she is constantly yelling at the players, telling them what they should be doing as if it were so obvious and easy she could have reached in through the television and done it herself.

Watching someone play a video game is quite similar. As my boyfriend Jeremy’s virtual health began plummeting, I adopted the fan persona of Captain Obvious, much like my mom. “You’re going to die!” I would yell in a fit of pseudo-adrenaline. “Kill him! Use the sword! Heal!” Unfortunately, Jeremy did not appreciate these comments. I can only imagine that the Steelers would feel similarly if they could hear all of the things my mom shouts…

I resolved to remedy this awkward situation by sneaking in some game play of my own when Jeremy wasn’t around to judge my utterly horrendous video game skills (with the understanding that I would likely never get better as playing time tends to correlate with character skill level): 

Average Session Time by Character Level
(Data collected through SurveyMonkey survey)
Click image for link to interactive graphic.

After dying approximately 20 times in the first hour, I learned to appreciate that the one time during which Jeremy died the entire night was the result of some well-developed gaming skills. Therefore, he did not need any hasty advice I had to offer. 

Step 3: Emotionally connect with 1 of the characters

What makes a good television show or a good movie into a great one? The characters. Plot doesn’t mean much if you can’t connect with and feel for the people it involves. Since I’m stuck watching this video game instead of great television shows and movies, I don’t see why I can’t employ the same thought process. In fact, it’s actually quite common to relate to a video game character.

Presence of Emotional Connection to a Video Game Character
(Data courtesy of The Escapist Magazine)

Click image for link to interactive graphic.

In fact, this connection was likely supplemented by the customization capabilities that Brian Bentley cited as one of the important aspects of Skyrim as a revolutionary game. He summarized this as such: “There is nothing more frustrating for a person that plays video games than having a very linear, generic path that (s)he feels they have no control over. Skyrim takes players in a very opposite direction. From your looks, your name, your race and your character’s development, Bethesda puts you, the player, in control.” 

Typical town in Skyrim
As you progress through the game, you can choose to utilize and refine whatever skills you please, creating a unique character with unique abilities. This character further reflects a personalized experience as you are given the option of taking different quests in which you can sometimes even determine different outcomes based on moral conundrums. As Brian puts it, “This gives the player a truly unique experience they themselves fabricate for their own enjoyment.”

Jeremy’s character is very intimidating. When given the option, he rarely wastes his time persuading his way through a situation. Jeremy chooses to sneak around and attack anyone or anything in his way. When it comes to moral conundrums, however, his character is a little less hasty. He tends to think twice before stealing or pick pocketing without a clear motive. When selling items from his inventory, he is also inclined to give items away to vendors when they run out of money. I like to think of this as a subconscious balancing of his character’s karma.

Step 4: Sit back and enjoy the movie

There are many layers to this game; it does not adhere to the stereotypical format of game play like a traditional first-person shooter or war-themed game would. In Skyrim, there are characters, subplots, theatrical cut scenes, emotional peaks, and cultural conventions. It plays out a lot like a movie, so I resolved to treat it like one... like a long, drawn-out, months-long, nightly marathon of a movie. One that averages around 3.27 hours a night:

Average Session Time in Hours by Age
(Data collected through SurveyMonkey survey)
Click image for link to interactive graphic.

For Jeremy, his brother Jacob, and some of my other roommates as well as our expert Brian, three to four hour binges are not entirely uncommon. Brian is averaging about 25 hours a week in addition to his full-time job, while Jacob is averaging enough hours for Skyrim to constitute as his full-time job. My boyfriend will not admit how often he plays, but in addition to the nightly two to three hour block that he puts in, I know that he plays for the entirety of his days off when I am not there. 

Average Session Time in Hours
(Data collected through SurveyMonkey survey)
Click image for link to interactive graphic.

In the end, Skyrim will not last forever. I reminded Jeremy that he would eventually run out of things to do or become sick of the game, and he would then come running back to me. His response? “Yeah, but I’m hoping the downloadable content will be out by then.” Oh, Skyrim...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Visualization Project

So I had to make a survey and do some investigating related to my blog. I was mostly curious how many people actually use I guess I consider it to be pretty commonplace since all of my friends are addicts, but it has not yet exploded in popularity like Facebook or Twitter have. So I collected some information and this is what I found.

I wondered if gender played a role in usage. Through my mini-survey, this is what I found:

Link to Visualization

One stereotype is that younger people, like teens, are more likely to use or other Internet- and social media-related websites than adults. My data supported this stereotype, but not as drastically as I anticipated:

Link to Visualization

Another common stereotype of is that this website is used solely as a distraction from other more important things, like school or work. However, sometimes this kind of distraction is healthy. However, most people didn't label it either way:

Link to Visualization

Finally, I just recently stumbled upon, so I was curious how many people have been users for what can be considered a longer amount of time (in Internet terms, at least). For those who did use the service, longer term users outnumbered newer users like myself:

Link to this Visualization

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stumbling on a Budget

You know those commercials for online survey panels that supposedly compensate you in massive amounts of cash? Yeah, those are probably scams. But when you're working well above full time hours between 2 jobs and still strapped for cash, you have to start getting creative. Through a slightly risky process of trial and error, I scrounged all corners of the web for some legitimate survey sites.

Online surveys seem like a real simple way to scam you for your information and rip you off. If you're cautious and educated, I've found that this is simply not the case. In face, legitimate survey sites will never ask you for more than your zip code. Furthermore, legitimate surveys always offer the option to refuse any question at any time.

But the best part of online surveys? The sweet opportunities to try new things and be brutally honest about them. In the past year, I have tried the new flavor of a famous carbonated beverage, tested several name-brand and top-shelf acne creams and lotions, as well as screened several blockbuster movie trailers before they came out. And I got paid for all of it.

There's three basic sites that I use. typically screens for larger-ticket surveys, and they reimburse in checks with $20-denominations. does a variety of tester, opinion, and lifestyle surveys for as little as $0.50 and as much as $35. They pay in credits for popular websites and stores. With their Amazon credits, I managed to pay less than $10 for an entire semester of books last year. is like the big sister to Valued Opinions, and works on a points system. After you accumulate a certain threshold of points, you can redeem for various items, charity donations, and restaurant gift cards.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stumbling on Sims 3

 In honor of the Sims 3 Pets expansion pack coming out today, I thought I’d share something I stumbled on the other day. As an avid follower of the Sims franchise from its earliest games, I have been repeatedly amazed by the endless expandability and advancement of each new series in the Sims franchise. With the release of the third Sims, the franchise became the best selling PC game worldwide, according to an Industry Gamers article.

The Sims 3 is light years ahead of the first Sims. Every single item in the game is customizable and interactive. Every character has an individualized personality and heritage, all created and influenced by the gamer. In short, it’s amazing. However, no game is perfect, and the initial release of the Sims 3 resulted in many glitches and bloopers that are quite funny, if only because the game is so closely based on our reality. I thought it was all too appropriate that I stumbled on this re-postof a Sims sponsored blooper reel of screenshots.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stumbling Through Literature: A Review!

Understanding eastern religions from a western perspective is, in a word, impractical. However, since the 1960s counterculture movements, eastern religions like Buddhism have been on the rise in the western world. Enter Brad Warner, ordained Zen monk, admitted potty mouth, and tongue-in-cheek commentator on all things Zen.

Warner’s book Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between plays on both personal experience and extensive research, some of which was first-hand, to help delve into the issue of “sin” in regards to Buddhist principles and beliefs.

This is where the western problem came into question; “sin” is an inherently western concept that just does not come up in most eastern religions, especially in Buddhism. Yes, the Buddha advised in his eight-fold path that people should choose a life according to certain principles of “right livelihood” and whatnot, but he refused to elaborate on what these concepts were specifically because he knew that they would vary from person to person.

Eliminating the concept of legitimate “sin” from one’s western consciousness is no easy feat, and Brad uses his writing to show the way by which such an idea basically does not even cross the mind of eastern Buddhists. They simply act according to what is suitable to them in a given situation.

Brad’s book was page-turning good, both because of the intriguing new concepts that it introduced about sin as a western concept as well as because of the utterly weird and outspoken subject matter that he boldly discussed. Although he peppered in a lot of his own opinion, he was never shy to admit that his ideas also had their faults.

Would I recommend this read? Yes, even if you aren't a Buddhist or aren't familiar with Buddhism. It will refresh your mind with a viewpoint that is not entirely Christian- or western-based. And it’s hilarious. And it talks about some strange, strange things that are borderline common in America. And it gives a refreshing Buddhist critique on sex and sin within the religion that does not come from a traditionally trained celibate monk or nun.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stumbling Through the Daily Grind

Taking a second job has proven to make my stumbling career a tad bit difficult. Although I still attempt to appreciate everything around me, I no longer have a spare second during which to do so without my grades suffering. For example, if I don't read while walking home, I will get behind on my scheduled reading assignments. As a result, homework has become a dangerous endeavor.

Working and attending class from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for up 6 days a week has made me further appreciate what little downtime I do have. Because I wasn't scheduled to work and no one was home to distract me or wake me up, I slept for nearly 13 hours today. Without risking sounding lazy, this was by far the best stumbling I've done all week: stumbling through sleep! Unfortunately, the only thing that I dream about is homework or work since that's all I have time to think about during my waking hours.

Even though I rarely get a chance to sleep my suggested 6 to 10 hours throughout the week, that doesn't mean that I don't see the benefit in a good night's sleep. Here's a tool I stumbled the other day: the Sound Sleeping Generator. It's definitely healthier than leaving the TV on in the background, and it can help you make the most out of what little sleep time you do have.

On that note, take a nap, and happy stumbling when you wake up!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stumbling Through Downtown

So I was walking through downtown Pittsburgh on my way to class, and a pigeon walked out in front of me, nearly tripping me before it sprinted into the street. "What a stupid bird," I thought aloud, to which my friend Kim replied that she had once heard that crows could remember your face for almost a decade, especially if you rubbed them the wrong way.

So I decided to do some research, and I discovered some pretty strange things that I think every downtown-dweller or downtown-worker should know about the birds that they ignore and shoo away every day. They're smarter, more valuable, and more useful than you think.

Everything You Never Thought You'd Need to Know About the Life of Pigeons

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stumbling on an Empty Stomach

They say you should never go grocery shopping hungry—this should probably apply to blog writing, too. Living in downtown Pittsburgh can get to be pretty expensive, especially on a college kid’s budget. As a result, I’ve taken to stumbling around downtown for delicious dinners at even more delicious prices. I’m starting to get everyone at my dorm hooked on my latest stumble: Mamma Lucia’s Wednesday Lasagna Special.

For the ridiculous price of $4.50 (plus applicable tax), Mamma Lucia’s gives you two huge heaps of meaty lasagna smothered in sauce and accompanied with a sizable chunk of garlic bread and a cup of Parmesan cheese. In downtown, you simply cannot beat that price. Not to mention it is absolutely melt-in-your-mouth just-like-Grandma-makes-it delicious. In fact, it’s so good that Pittsburgh’s own Tribune Review thought it necessary to pay them a visit. You can check out their review here.

The only stipulation: they tend to run out, so get there quick, especially when it’s around lunchtime. This week’s stumble was definitely one worth stumbling into on a regular basis.

(Side note: Their website can be found at, but it has been down for maintenance for the past few weeks.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stumbling on the Boulevard

I found this little gem at a bus stop on the Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh. It was supposedly advertising an African Arts in the Park art festival that happened on August 13, 2011. I'm not sure if it is racist or just entirely adorable.

That's surprise stumbling at its finest.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ranting on Social Journalism

As a class assignment, I was asked to delve into the following topics of social media and journalism. Here’s my take on some of the hot-button issues on this subject:

Facebook is a treasure trove for journalists – with the ability to message almost anyone and search for people based on location, college, employer and interests, it’s a great platform for finding sources.

While this is definitely true, Drell’s point is also an over-simplified version of the truth. Based on her observations, I imagine source-searching on Facebook to be similar to a leisurely stroll through the magical apple orchard of sources in which all of the ripest apples are hanging low and within reach. The reality, however, is that this rarely happens. Now I’m not about to trade source-searching on Facebook for an old-fashioned phone book, but here’s some of the real-life glitches I’ve encountered in almost every source-search I’ve done on Facebook.
  1. Duplicate profiles. I don’t know why so many people feel the need to have three profiles from which I can never discern their primary. Either I send a message to the one that looks most legitimate and risk a reply delayed by two months because I messaged the wrong profile, or I send messages to all of them and risk looking like an absolute buffoon.
  2. The that-kind-of-looks-like-him-but-I’m-not-positive effect. So many people take advantage of the privacy features available on Facebook profiles, and I don’t blame them. Nevertheless, when all of your information is hidden and your profile picture is dark or eight years old, don’t expect me to be able to find you on Facebook. 
  3. False experts. It seems that for every legitimate source on Facebook, there are twenty random fakers pretending to be someone they aren’t, a feat that is much more easily accomplished behind the anonymity of the Internet. 
  4. The fruitless search. There is nothing more frustrating than trying every combination of search terms you can possibly think of, only to come up with nothing but an hour of your time wasted. 
(And that’s just an abbreviated list.)

From Facebook’s own Journalist Program Manager Vadim Lavrusik’s “How journalists can make use of Facebook Pages
The bigger platform, of course, has not been limited to journalists alone, and that has resulted in many more voices, and also more noise. But that makes a journalist’s personal brand even more important. If you write it, they will not necessarily come.

Just as there are a million and a half illegitimate sources through which to sift, there are also a million and a half wannabe journalists with their wannabe editorials through which to sift on the Internet. In his article, Lavrusik attempts to lend some advice to the starving journalist on how to make their brand and their content stand out from the run-of-the-mill wannabes that are flocking to the Internet’s most popular mediums every day.

I must admit, the idea behind the new journalist pages does indeed allow for a little more legitimacy in creating and searching for a professional Facebook profile. But unlike the original premise behind Facebook, there is no level of exclusivity behind the new journalist pages. Anyone, from your twelve-year-old cousin who reports on the break-ups of her classmates to your eighty-year-old great aunt who details every little thing her cats do, can create a journalist page. Although anyone can be a journalist on the Internet, this just makes it that much harder to determine who the real journalists are—the ones who adhere to strict ethics, who use and validate multiple sources, and who sustain from or admit to any form of personal bias.

From the “Facebook and Journalism 101” article on Scribd
If content is king, then distribution is queen. Because if your content isn’t being distributed to an audience, then who is being informed?

Given the constant sifting involved for both journalists and readers, here comes a moral conundrum: how to reach an audience. And so I ask myself, do I want to sacrifice that limited niche audience that would be composed entirely of appreciative listeners for the numbers and publicity of a wide-range audience composed mostly of people who skim and ignore? While the former would be intrinsically pleasant, the latter allows for expansion and the potential for profitability.

In this blog I’ve created for class, the question answers itself. I don’t anticipate—nor do I feel like dealing with the moral and ethical implications that would follow—any sort of notoriety or profitability that could come from a large following. Nor do I honestly think that a student-level blog of my capacity is worthy of either of these at present. But as for my personal blog——the question has presented itself many times. I have, for the most part, decided to tailor my content to the small following of extended family members that I have amassed. However, the question of expanding upon this following to include my Facebook friends or fellow Point Park students or even new college students in general has several times crossed my mind. Maybe I will take on that journey at the close of the semester when I am both endowed with more time and experience.