America’s Mental Health Crisis

2 Apr

Anyone who pays attention to the news media scene is well aware of the coverage the scientific battle against cancer gets. This is understandable; especially if you’ve lost a loved one to this disease, as cancer.org argues over thirteen million Americans have cancer as of 2010. Research and funding of cancer does not suddenly spike and then decline following every diagnosis or public instance of cancer, but this is the case with mental illness. In a report published in 2010 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 20% of the United States population is afflicted with mental illness, which comes out to nearly sixty three million mentally ill citizens, or fifty million more patients than are diagnosed with cancer of any variety. Given the wide range of mental illness it should be noted that a mere 5% of the United States population or fifteen and a half million citizens struggle with severe mental illness, once again a figure out doing the figures of cancer patients.

But alas the numbers are far from the whole story when it comes to mental illness. In wake of Aaron Alexis’s bloody rampage at the Washington Naval Yard and Adam Lanza’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary there was much talk about violent video games, gun control, and mere whispers of mental health reform. In the immediate aftermath of these tragic events the discourse of the public sphere was composed homogenously of hyperbole, but reality is a stark contrast to the popular narrative concerning the mentally ill. As previously mentioned 20% of the United States’ population lives with mental illness with a mere 5%-10% of violent crimes being perpetrated by the mentally ill, additionally this mentally ill sector of the popular is five times more likely to be murdered than the other 80% of the population.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy national news outlets eventually got to small special interest pieces on “success cases” of the American mental health system. These successes mainly focused upon young white males who were afflicted with debilitating illnesses such as Schizophrenia who were medicated into oblivion to the point they more closely resembled comatose zombies than the mentally sound. The issue that deserved to be discussed at length following these atrocities was the structure of the mental health system, not gun ownership and certainly not the content of the newest installment of Call of Duty.

As someone who has navigated America’s mental health system, the mentally ill are forced to fight their way into mental health facilities, which proves to be problematic seeing as many of these would be patient suffer from extreme apathy. Furthermore the difficulty of securing a spot in the facilities that can literally save the lives of these sixty three million Americans literally relies upon ‘beds’ or the physical space to house these patients. Due to funding and the length of time treatment takes the beds patients live in while institutionalized stay full too long to aid in the recovery of new patients. The fact that a mental hospital more closely resembles a hotel with a No Vacancy sign is extremely disheartening to those attempting to literally save their lives in these hospitals.

What the issue at play in these mental health settings is clearly up for debate, but the next step is not. We need action now. People are dying every day at the rate of one suicide every seven teen minutes. If we ignore every other possible painful outcome of mental and focus on the extremes here, the facts are quite clear: one out of five Americans are mentally, the mentally ill are five times more likely to be murdered, and three times every hour an American ends their own life. If Cancer or AIDS statistics were this stark, outlets such as CNN and Fox News would be losing their minds so why is this any different. The answer is clear: America needs to mobilize and force our leaders to discuss this epidemic at the highest level. This is an election year also known as the perfect time to demand action from your elected representatives. Demand reform of the mental health system before anyone reading this looses another loved one. Contact your representatives on the state and federal level and beg them to examine the state of mental health care, funding, medication, and all related government regulated areas of mental healthcare.

Do I see a day waking up when suddenly there is a national debate on mental healthcare due to a burgeoning crisis? No, mainly because we are in crisis and we need our leaders to realize what is happening. If you’ve gotten this far just please contact your representative here (http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/) and your senator here (http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm) and please remember two things: we can save lives today & if you are struggling with any form of mental illness get help, please. 

Where does the PS Vita stand?

19 Jul

Fans of Nintendo would call it DOA, whereas Sony fans would call it niche; however, the true state of the PlayStation Vita lies somewhere in the middle.  Before we dive into dissecting the current standing of this handheld I should first say, for ethical sake, I do own and love a PS Vita.

Now where does this heavy handed criticism of this handheld derive? Simply said: sales. Now the commercial failure of the Vita has been over blown in fact it does regularly outsell the Wii U, and has on rare occasion outsold the beloved 3DS in Japan. Unfortunately these claims of lack luster sales aren’t without merit and the facts are the install base or ownership of the PS Vita is far less than that of the PlayStation Portable or PSP and decidedly lower than its competition the Nintendo 3DS. Many have put forth the argument that this failure to sell is due in large part to the irrelevance of a handheld gaming device in the age of smartphones and tablets, an argument easily rejected by the staggering continued sales of the 3DS.

As a happy owner of a PS Vita the issue is simple, yet has no easy answer in sight. Clearly a $250 price tag in addition to expensive memory cards, which are required, and a deceptive game amrket. Although quality games are only release every few months, the time since the system’s launch has created an environment that new Vita owners will be greeted with a library of games in-excess of fifty entertaining games, which would equal out to around one thousands hours of game time, in my estimation.

At this point Sony has three options to jump start the sales of the Vita. First Sony could offer a PlayStation 4 Vita Bundle for $599 or less and move a few hundred thousands units. By grouping the Vita together with an already pricey piece of hardware the sticker shock will be lessened and one thing the numbers do show is a decided favor towards the Vita once the consumer owns it.

If Sony is adverse to breaking new ground as the first handheld to bundled in with a console at launch, they could sweeten the deal of a Vita by itself. This can be accomplished in two way, the first of which is an outright price cut. If the PS Vita is old sub-$200, in then neighborhood of the 3DS’s price the consumer will have to judge them off of one another, and in my estimation the robust beauty of the Vita will work wonders for Sony’s bottom line. The final potential plan to boost Vita sales this year could be a new bundle.

Sony has already announced that much of the Tokyo Game Show and Gamescom in Germany will focus upon the PS Vita and with the sure fire hit Killzone: Mercenary being released in less than two months Sony would be wise to offer a $200 & $250 PS Vita bundle with a copy of Killzone Mercenary included along with a memory card.

Personally I believe Sony will go ahead with this final plan, as an outright price cut would look like a weak attempt to move units whereas the Killzone Bundle and potentially a Tearaway Bundle would just seem like a fancy box for a great game.

My Long Overdue Review of Borderlands 2

15 Jan

Now that we’ve moved on from the potential political scapegoating that was this past week we can focus on what is really important: the games, and I finally finished one I’ve been playing for the last four months…Borderlands 2, and damn was it worth the time.

After running through the plot once as Maya, the Siren I was able to play as Gaige the Mecromancer, a truly  amazing experience. Let me start off by saying that Death Trap is the greatest ally I have ever had the good fortune of utilizing in a game, but as any player of Borderlands 2 knows well the star of the game isn’t your character or even a recurring ally. No, the star is Handsome Jack and if you haven’t played the game Handsome Jack one of the top ten fictional villains of my life time. Brilliant backstory that explains the crap plot of the original Borderlands, hilarious passive aggressive death threats and to top it all of some of the most brilliant voice acting I can recall.

Without ruining the plot for anyone who hasn’t played it yet the heroes from the first one are back and in many ways more interesting and natural as NPCs than they ever were as your character.

The real reason why you’ll find yourself dumping dozens of hours into Pandora even after you’ve reached the level cap is the gameplay. Between the RPG elements of leveling up within a class specific skill tree, strategy elements with the utilization of a timed action skill, and some of the best combat any first person shooter on the market can boast, there really is something for everyone here. Luckily even the countless enemies that will come to fall at the metaphorical feet of the countless weapons the game has to offer not only differ in style, shape, design, and benefits, but the very enemies you kill more around in a realistic manner with varying weapons and tactics to make sure the smooth combat is never boring nor comfortable.

The only area of the game that falls short are some plot twists later in the game that every Borderlands junkie will see coming hours ahead of time, but really did you return to Pandora for the story? I didn’t think so. Taking all of the beauty and polish this game has to offer in addition to the still coming, high quality DLC that Gear Box traditionally delivers with this series, I’d have to score the game a clean 9.0.

Video Games Go To Washington

11 Jan

In my past posts I have been calm, collected, and analytical, but this one will be different. This one is personal. With the end of the week the Vice President Joseph Biden will meet with the National Rifle Association and the Entertainment Software Association in an effort to drum up a politically viable answer to the gun control answer, which mostly likely will be a blind blaming of movies and video games.

The criticism of video games as it relates to video games from the National Rifle Association center upon older games and first person shooter that impressionable children are playing, but this is not the fault of video games or their developers and publishers. The blame her is to the retail stores that sell the games and the parents that help with the buying and don’t bother to examine what they are allowing into their home.

Before I delve into this, no I am not a parent, but this is irrelevant.

As a former child my parents did not buy me violent video games, because they paid attention to what I was doing as an impressionable child. If you spend a dozen of hours with a video game, it is indeed effective in altering the understandings a child forms about social norms and for a parent to ignore this is on par with not knowing who your child is spending his afternoons with.

But I can’t completely blame parents for this, after all some honus must fall back upon the retail store chains, such as Best Buy or GameStop. The fact is you need to prove your age in order to purchase Mature rated material, but very few stores put an emphasis on this. But alas a private enterprise cannot be held accountable for not abiding by their own volunteer standards.

The true and complete blame for video games’ correlation lands solely upon the National Rifle Association. First off, there is no evidence that there is a neurological change in gamers, unlike those who own and fire firearms. Second, the Supreme Court held no liability with the video game industry when the Supreme Court struck down the California Law prohibiting the sale of violent games to children in the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, which completely debunks the NRA’s charges that video games need to be patrolled by the government.

Furthermore, if we must blame some group for gun violence it is the NRA. The NRA after all advocates the owning of assault weapons, weapons used in Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine. But this is not a political ranting, it is a blunt call to real action, not scapegoating. The Entertainment Merchants Association, NRA, gaming retail workers, and parents must act responsibly and protect the children from content that is not intended for them. This call has been a long time come, and hopefully our leaders will look these powerful lobbyists from guns to video games in the eye and tell them to calm down and make real contributions to society this time, without hiding from the blame they all share.

Revisiting Mass Effect: What I Learned

10 Jan

Often in major reviews you read about replayability, but what is this really? My answer is Mass Effect.

Why is this? Well, if you follow me on Twitter (@johnsvgmusings) you are already aware that I have been enjoying my replay of the original Mass Effect, this time on the Playstation 3 via the PSN Store. But why am I so enthralled with this old game, after all old game is indeed old.

First off it looks a lot more fresh than its 2007 release date due to update of the engine to that of Mass Effect 2. Furthermore there is a slight upgrade in length of autosave and elevator times, which is an infamous sticking point of the original.

But the real reason why I am enjoying this so much has nothing to do with the upgrades or even the chase of new trophies, its everything that made it legendary back six years ago. Between the mechanic of character evolution through dialogue and the iconic hollywood destined story that pit the strange John Shepard character taking down this strange alien named Saren, this game will last in the pantheon of other games that have aged like wine from generation to generation.

Right now I am playing as a biotic trying to garner as many trophies as I can while trying to soak in what makes a western RPG great, and this is probably the best western RPG to learn what a great game is. In saying this, the largest fault that Mass Effect has (load and save times) in combination with the current abysmal speed of the Playstation Network, or the lack therein, it is hard to stay locked into the game and suspend disbelief.

In saying this I have a hope for future western RPGs and Mass Effect 4 in particular. My hope is developers remember what they are trying to do. Action is all well and good, but if I want that I’ll just download the latest escapades of Nathan Drake. I am playing Mass Effect to develop a character that I design and I mold to use over three games, as of now, to create a truly personal journey. This movement of RPGs and even Horror games to action/adventure games is solely driven off of money. The facts are, as a lover and player of RPGs I am in the minority, so in order to play RPGs I have to search and hope my favorite series stays true to its mechanics and doesn’t dumb down conversation based character evolution into a quick trigger pull as Bioware did to the Mass Effect trilogy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, as a somewhat picky gamer, the games I love aren’t the ones what mammouth cut scenes, but the ones where my choices evolve my character into who I would want to be in that situation. To sum up my revisiting of Mass Effect I guess I would say that this game was a beautiful flash of what RPGs can be followed by what happens to successful niche games: their sequels are perverted into another $60 disk to sell to the Call of Duty crowd.

God of War Ascension Multiplayer Beta

9 Jan

Before beginning the review lets get this out of the way: Yes, I understand this is pre-release, but I’ll review it exactly like it isn’t, because that is what it deserves. Also, I realized early on I am not very good at the God of War Ascension multiplayer.

My first impression was astonishment of how original and beautiful God of War can be without a petulant murderer as the protagonist. I, as many others did, thought this might just  be a tacked on brawler style hack and slash Free For All or Team Deathmatch multiplayer, but Sony Santa Monica went in a totally different direction.

Over the last twenty or so hours I’ve tried to soak in every aspect of the PS Plus exclusive beta, and my overall feel for the game can be summed up in one word: Original.

Its quite clear Sony Santa Monica is intent on reviving the God of War IP into a PS4 mainstay, which can be seen through the evolved combat and refreshing teamwork mechanics in the aforementioned Beta. When you download the beta and the subsequent update the first time you control something is you generic multiplayer warrior dude which teaches you the basics of movement and combat as well as combinations and an introduction to the alliances with Ares, Neptune, Zeus, or Hades which all grant individual benefits. Bare in mind only Zeus and Ares are available in the Beta. When the full game launches in the spring I would put my money on being able to have four independent multiplayer characters.

As far as the game modes available in Beta, we have Favor of the Gods (team style also available) and Capture the Flag. Capture the Flag isn’t a bad mode, but it is exactly what you picture and for that reason I’d like to focus on my favorite mode, Team Favor of the Gods (TFG).

In TFG, two teams of players each are grouped either Trojan or Spartan and race to 8000 points or Favor as it is known in game. You are granted larger amounts of points for combat, mainly kills, but this is not the only means of garnering Favor, players can also set traps for the enemy or open chests for fifty points a pop, and at the end of match the winning team uses a divine weapon to slay what I believe is a titan.

The fact that this needs an entire paragraph to describe is refreshing, as most multiplayers are simple ports of prototypical Call of Duty modes. In between matches you are brought back to a lobby menu where you can use the XP you gained to buy better armor, weapons, abilities, and magic for your Ares or Zeus allied warrior. The menu is oftly similar to that of the single player upgrades in the original God of War, so I hope they make them a little more conventional as far as multiplayer menus go, because the cluttered nature of the menu makes the minute or so between matches seem way too short. As long as we are changing things, the only other tweak I would suggest would be the respawn system. Often I would pound away with the X Button when prompted, but I would remain in spectator view, and I for one don’t quite understand why respawn is not just automatic, and allow the user to tweak this in the lobby menu.

In levying these criticisms one detail must be highlighted: For a Beta to have these be the only issues, and be marginal ones at that, Santa Monica did one hell of a job. In playing this, I never once felt any lag or any other server related issue. This is, by far, the single most impressive Beta I have ever played topping the Gears of War 3 Beta.

The presentation is simply beautiful, a true pinnacle of what a hack and slash game can look like in this generation. The gameplay is astoundingly fluid as all God of War games, which is mightily impressive that the gameplay is so seamlessly transferred from single player to multiplayer on their first try. With the exception of some simple menu tweaks this is what multiplayers should aim for.

My final verdict on the God of War Beta is 9.25. Good on Sony Santa Monica for putting this on Playstation Plus, because I know I will be preordering this next time I am at GameStop, making this the first God of War preorder of my life.

If you want to play the Beta with me, my PSN ID is DinkMonger.

PC Games on Consoles

9 Jan

This CES talk of the Xi3 Steam Box has spark my interest in PC Games on my living room television. Unlike many interested in this possibility, I want this on my Playstation, not another computer.

Although I would most likely purchase a reasonably price Valve produced console, the whole idea of trying to play point and click loot based RPGs such as Torchlight or Diablo with a keyboard and mouse while trying to be comfortable on a couch or in bed seems a little ridiculous to me. Instead, it is my hope that Blizzard is successful in porting Diablo 3 to the PS3 and 360, and hopefully the port is cleaner than that of DC Universe Online.

With this in mind in addition to the success of XCOM as a new console IP, it got me to thinking: What titles would be instant successes on consoles from the PC sphere?

First off we must start with Blizzard titles, all of them. A Diablo Collection (remastered, of course), and full collections that allow you to play up to the level cap in Warcraft and Starcraft.

In the spirit of Warcraft I would also hope that the Torchlight and Guild Wars series would come over as well.

What PC games would you play on your console immediately?

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