Grand Theft Auto 101

Let’s get controversial.

Before we begin, I do not condone or endorse the acts depicted in Grand Theft Auto. This article is for the education and understanding of professionals who work with young people and gamers.

As always with these… this game is clearly not for kids. Video games are a medium like cinema or books, and each game should be considered as such. However, some kids I’ve met do enjoy this game series, and I’ll go into the why of that later.

Grand Theft Auto, or GTA, by Rockstar Games, is one of the most infamous video games ever made, and was the subject of much media notoriety for its depiction of crime and criminals. There was public outcry and various petitions were raised to have the game banned. 

Simply put, the players take control of a fictional career criminal who is working towards their characters’ goal, whether it be retirement, the next big score, or getting their brother out of prison. The games take place in an open world full of diverse and larger-than-life characters and activities, set in fictionalised versions of existing locales in the United States:

  • Liberty City (New York)
  • Vice City (Miami);
  • Las Venturas (Las Vegas)
  • Los Santos (Los Angeles)
  • San Fierro (San Francisco)

Players can walk, run, or steal vehicles to navigate these cities. Later games include vehicles legitimately owned by the player character, but car-jacking one’s way across the city is still pretty standard.

GTA began its life as a top-down game on the Playstation 1, with limited graphics, but a large, if superficial, open world to travel about in. The game series became a hit with the release of Grand Theft Auto 3 on the Playstation 2, with a full suite of 3D graphics, voice acting and cinematic cutscenes.

It sprang back into the media spotlight with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, when a previously blocked activity in the game was unlocked by game modders, allowing players to download a mod which enabled the activity. The mod was called Hot Coffee, a reference to the character’s girlfriends asking the player’s character inside for “coffee”. In the mod, the player controls the lead character, CJ, as he has sex with one of his girlfriends after a date. Rockstar would later release versions of the game, and game updates to existing versions, which removed this activity entirely.

The games have all been set in different eras, with the first two games not having a particularly driven or notable plot; GTA 3 is where the story-driven elements of the series began, and is set in Liberty City in 2001, following the lead character Claude, who gets embroiled in gang warfare after a prison break. GTA 3 draws inspiration from The Sopranos and other Mafia films and series. GTA Vice City is set in the 1980s and draws inspiration from Miami Vice and Scarface, with a vibrant pink, purple and blue aesthetic. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, possibly the most well-received game of the franchise, is based on urban street gangs rather than the Mafia focus of previous instalments. It draws heavily from Boyz ‘n the Hood and gang violence in the 80s and 90s. This game had a really strong narrative with a genuinely good story; Carl “CJ” Johnson returns to San Andreas to bury his recently deceased mother, and gets dragged into the gang feuds within his family and neighbourhood. Meanwhile, he is also blackmailed and threatened by corrupt police officers into doing dirty work for them. 

Running from the police in GTA is a pretty regular activity. See pictured, Niko Bellic, the protagonist of GTA4.

Grand Theft Auto 4 brings players back to Liberty City in the mid 2000s, playing as Eastern European immigrant and war veteran Niko Bellic, who sought to escape the troubles in Eastern Europe and live the American Dream in Liberty City, inspired by stories from his cousin, Roman. Unfortunately, Niko arrives to find that Roman has been wildly exaggerating his wealth and status in the USA, and Niko is quickly forced to evade loan sharks and crime bosses whom Roman had crossed. 

The franchise has mostly been released on Playstation consoles, with more recent titles receiving a release on the Xbox and PC.

There are sixteen entries in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, with the most recent being Grand Theft Auto V, and its online component, Grand Theft Auto Online. This game is set in San Andreas, a fictionalised version of California and includes the city of Los Santos and the desert region beyond the hills. The game follows three protagonists; Michael, a bank robber and film enthusiastic in witness protection, Franklin, a former gang member who wants more out of life than to fight and die for the ideals of a street gang, and Trevor, a former accomplice of Michael’s, who is an unrepentant murderer, torturer and meth dealer. Trevor actually fills a role in the game as being a mirror for the player – he gives words to the urges and actions of players, and often suggests mass murder or other criminal acts as solutions to problems, much to the dismay of his colleagues. Trevor’s words and actions mirror that of how GTA is played; with no regard for road rules or firearm safety.

From left to right; Michael, Franklin and Trevor.

The three protagonists rob banks, break into military facilities and pull the heist of all heists on a location analogous to the Federal Reserve, all while under pressure from crime lords, movie executives, and corrupt agents from the “IAA” and “FIB”, parodies of the CIA and FBI respectively. 

Grand Theft Auto Online has been Rockstar’s focus in recent years, providing cooperative heist missions for groups of players.

The games are loaded with references to crime history, pop culture and current events. In GTA V, players are tasked with placing a device on the phone belonging to the CEO of “LifeInvader”, a mobile app and smartphone creator hybrid of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. The device turns out to be a bomb, and he is killed on live television. This triggers a series of missions where players kill businessmen in order to manipulate the stock market, which players can invest large sums of money in. This act is seen as just by an affiliate of the protagonist, as he sees LifeInvader as an insidious force which harvests and markets users’ personal information.

Jay Norris, a parody of tech-industry figures such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, presents the new LifeInvader phone. Unbeknownst to Jay, the phone is a bomb, to be detonated by the player during his keynote speech.

There’s a lot to talk about.

Video games aren’t completely for kids: There are franchises and genres that aren’t for kids. Just because they’re seen as an immature pastime, doesn’t mean they’re exclusively for kids. This series is one of them.

Subversion: This game is all about enjoying doing the things you probably shouldn’t do in real life. Driving on the sidewalk, evading police, storming military bases, chasing celebrities down a busy street while trying to get a perfect picture to sell to the tabloids… there’s very little pro-social behaviour here. The game is pretty honest about itself and rarely pretends what they’re doing is morally justifiable. Ironically many players report that they have, if only once, tried to adhere to road rules within the game to varying degrees of success. There’s something odd about a game where prosocial behaviour can be seen as amusingly subversive.

Social Commentary: The game series is full of commentary on social and political issues, taken to bizarre and irreverent extremes. See above, where a parody of Facebook is literally called “LifeInvader”, and the CEO, a satirical depiction of Silicon Valley tech-bros, announces new devices and new ways of stealing personal information, much to the orgiastic glee of a screaming crowd. Multiple references are made to various government agencies’ involvement in organised crime and drug activity. Celebrity culture is mocked ruthlessly, with a side-story in GTA V involving protagonist Michael’s attempts to prevent his daughter becoming exploited and humiliated on camera by men in Hollywood, in her attempts to become famous regardless of cost.

Laszlo, a recurring character in the series, is a former radio host who has fallen out of celebrity favour and now works in reality television, exploiting young women’s aspiration for sexual favours.

Crime is dangerous: “No plan survives contact with the enemy” is an old soldier’s maxim. Many times throughout the entire series, characters are betrayed—sometimes to their death—in a heist, robbery, assassination or other form of criminal activity, by associates hoping to reduce the number of witnesses or loose ends, or merely to heighten their own take. One side-character in GTA V dies in a setup, and the police shoot him dead instead of an accomplice. One character in GTA V is not as cunning or charismatic as he believes, and this results in constant attempts on his life from people he thought were his loyal friends, because he is seen as an expendable liability. Thankfully he has allies in the form of Michael, Trevor and Franklin to pull him out of danger. 

Driving around aimlessly is fun: GTA was doing open world exploration in the 1990s before other big franchises like Far Cry and Assassins Creed in the mid-late 00s. GTA has a lot of world to explore, and it can be fun to find the wreckage of alien spaceships, climb the “Vinewood” sign and see references to films and other videogames out in the world.

This map directs players to opportunities to carry out stunt jumps, exciting tests of driving ability, followed by a satisfying, safe landing, or a possibly explosive crash. It’s win/win.

What leads people to crime: GTA V did try to make its characters more relatable, although the San Andreas game does a great job of this too. Michael is a self-described “washed-up jock whose football career never took off”, and who came from an abusive household. Michael became a professional robber because it was the only thing that he felt good at, and eventually began to utilise his leadership skills as a heist leader. Franklin was born in the lower socioeconomic parts of Los Santos, based on Compton and South Central LA, and only ever knew gang life. However, he has bigger dreams than fighting in endless gang wars, and chooses to join Michael’s team as he sees it as his way of making real money. Trevor admits to having grown up in an abusive household, and claims to have grown up in “five states, two countries, fourteen different homes, eight fathers, three care homes, two correctional facilities, one beautiful, damaged flower of a mother”. These characters have complicated backgrounds and come from disadvantage, resulting in a cycle of crime and incarceration that is mirrored in real life. I’m sure our friends in forensic psychology and criminology would have some deeper insights than I.

Cooperation and team play: A plan needs a team to make everything come together. Heists in GTA V are well-planned, with all involved clearly aware of their risks, roles and rewards. The team acts as a team, and gets away with the big bucks, because of well-organised leadership and delegation of tasks.

Players prepare for a casino heist! Planning and preparation is required for things to go smoothly.

You aren’t always someone else’s friend: Trevor repeatedly refers to himself as Michael’s best friend. Trevor is incredibly mistaken in this, as Michael views him as a volatile and dangerous liability. This is a great look at complicated relationship dynamics.

Adaptive behaviour: You can use this as a platform to discuss behaviours which might be adaptive or maladaptive, but also understandable in context. Most of the criminal behaviour in the games might not seem reasonable, but in Michael, Trevor & Franklin’s shoes, arson and gunshot wounds just might make sense.

There’s a lot to explore, in terms of subversive fun and the allure of the forbidden and the taboo. They’re entertaining enough games and are huge worlds to explore. Some folks just like driving around getting into mischief and doing stunts! 

GTA is controversial and popular. It’s not to everyone’s tastes but it’s an iconic series of quality games. Sure, they’re not for kids and they definitely don’t depict prosocial behaviour, but we don’t make that demand of other forms of media either. Consumers and parents need to make informed decisions with their media content. 

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.

Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

The Nerd Therapist is proofread and edited by Mandy at SeeMeAfter Editing & Proofreading Services, and she can be reached at nerdeditor@seemeafter.com

World of Warcraft 101

World of Warcraft is likely the most famous and recognisable Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). The game first launched in 2004 and eight expansion packs have subsequently been released on approximately a two-yearly schedule. The game is set in the fantasy world of Azeroth, a land ravaged by conflict in the aftermath of invasions by demonic forces of the Burning Legion, the Orcish Horde, and the Undead Scourge. World of Warcraft is available on PCs and Apple computers, and is currently played by approximately 4.8 million players worldwide.

Shadowlands is the most recent expansion and was released in 2020. The storyline is still unfolding but one of the antagonists claims to be attempting to end the cycle of life and death.

The game is massively multiplayer. Generally speaking, a multiplayer game will involve 4-12 players. World of Warcraft involves multiple servers (263!), with thousands of players per server existing together in the same world, feeding an economy of time and material goods in the game. Servers are their own community within the game, with each having differing economies, demographics, attitudes and even memes. Within every server, you also have guilds—unions of players who have banded together to socialise, take on obstacles too challenging for a single player, and provide each other support in the game.

World of Warcraft can take up a lot of time and effort, with some items and accomplishments taking days or weeks of play. The Nether Drake, for example, a rideable dragon within the game, requires completion of two weeks’ worth of daily missions to attain.

The Time-Lost Proto Drake is a dragon which, when killed, will return in up to 28 days. It is incredibly rare and highly valued, but will very often lead to hours spent searching for a creature which is not there.

The players of World of Warcraft belong to one of two factions: the Alliance, or the Horde. These factions are locked in a tenuous cycle of war and peace, barely able to put aside their differences to battle far greater foes. The Alliance were the protagonists of the Warcraft franchise of strategy-based video games with the Horde playing the villains, although portrayals during World of Warcraft have complicated such simplistic perspectives. Originally, the Alliance’s core member races were Humans, Dwarves, Night Elves, and Gnomes; the core races of the Horde were Orcs, Trolls, Tauren (essentially humanoid cows), and the Forsaken, undead who broke away from the Scourge. The Burning Crusade expansion saw the introduction to the Alliance of the Draenei—blue-skinned, hooved and horned humanoids originating from the broken world of Draenor—and to the Horde, the Blood Elves; worldier, arcane magic-addicted, and generally tawnier of complexion than their more nature-oriented Alliance kin. The Cataclysm expansion further introduced the inexplicably Cockney werewolf race, the Worgen, to the Alliance, and the tech-savvy Goblins to the Horde. The Pandaren, a species of anthropomorphic pandas brought in with the Mists of Pandaria expansion, remain neutral during their starting zone but are then forced to choose between the two factions before progressing further into the game’s world at large.

The leaders of the Alliance’s racial factions; Draenei, Night Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Goblins and Worgen.
The leaders of the Horde’s racial factions; Blood Elves, Tauren, Orcs, Trolls, the Forsaken Undead, and Goblins.

Players may create up to 50 characters across all servers, and can choose one of twelve playable classes, which are then further broken down into specialisations to tailor the player’s character to their preferred play style. Players begin at level 1, and gain experience through killing monsters, gathering resources, completing quests, exploring the world, and participating in dungeon challenges. The current maximum level is 60, having been reduced from 120 in the most recent expansion. 

I honestly contemplated re-subscribing during the first lockdown in Perth, in 2020, but decided instead to dedicate that time to establishing a practice and undertaking CPD. 

The villains of the game have ranged from the forces of the evil undead Lich King, to the demonic Burning Legion, the Iron Horde of Orcs, Old Gods, dragons, and most recently, the ruler of the afterlife: the Jailer. And when all else fails, the Alliance and the Horde have always been perfectly content to fight each other.

The Alliance and the Horde put their differences aside to maintain a tenuous peace during the war against the Lich King, the ruler of the Undead Scourge. They did compete for resources and territory in proxy conflicts comparable to The Cold War

What is there to talk about?

Second chances: Prior to the events of World of Warcraft, the Orcs were under the sway of demonic influence. This curse was broken during the events of Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos. Since then, the Orcs have been working to get back in touch with the spirits of their old religion. Similarly, the Blood Elves and Nightborne Elves are working to break past cycles of tyranny.

The Orcs had been tricked into consuming demonic blood, which enslaved them and led to acts of terrible evil. The modern Orcs are seeking to return to a more peaceful state and connect to their shamanic roots.

Pandemic modelling: In 2005, a disease in the game, used on players by a challenging “Boss” monster, managed to escape the specially contained “Raid” area where the creature was fought. Typically, these disease effects only last the duration of the fight, but something went wrong, and the Blood Plague was unleashed upon the in-game world. The United States CDC took data from this incident and applied it to projections about behaviour during COVID-19 measures. This is referred as the Corrupted Blood incident.

Corpses litter the streets of Orgrimmar during the virtual pandemic.

The value of online social activity: World of Warcraft is as social a game as players wish it to be. Guilds are groups of players who come together in order to overcome dungeon challenges, wage war between players, roleplay, or just have a group of people to talk to in the game. Guildmates can form long-lasting friendships; I’ve personally travelled interstate to meet guild members who I’ve known for the past thirteen years, and the Nerd Editor has several married-couple friends who first met in-game.

Originally, the big raid battles in WoW required forty players! Now down to twenty-five, going on raids is still a considerable feat of organisation and scheduling.

Grief: The current expansion story, Shadowlands, is set in the afterlife, and I am hoping to see a grief-based storyline emerge from it. Despite considerable losses during the course of the game’s storyline, non-player characters (NPCs) propel the player character through a story of acceptance and commitment. There’s a lot of focus on meaning in the aftermath of tragedy, especially in parts of the Legion campaign where prominent characters are killed.

Acceptance: Many of the racial factions undergo tumultuous times and changes, and a level of acceptance and meaning-making is required of them to continue. The Worgen of Gilneas, as an example, were Humans whose kingdom was beset by an army of werewolves due to a wizard’s curse. Gilneas was overrun, and the citizens had to accept their unchangeable circumstances and find a new identity in the face of those changes.

Values: “What role do you most engage in during WoW?” “Why is it that you prefer the Paladin class over others?” There’s a lot of values- and strengths-based work available here. Some classes, such as Paladin, Druid or Monk, can take on different roles according to their player’s style preference: they can choose support roles such as healers, who use magic to restore the health of other players; tanks, who protect vulnerable party members from damage; and damage-dealers, who must regulate their damage output in order to prevent gaining the exclusive attention of foes, while still doing the majority of the offensive combat.

Values-focused thinking like this actually influenced my decision to become a therapist! I thought about the kinds of roles I like to take in the game, and found myself often healing others as a paladin—a Knight who works with Holy magic to heal and protect others, often found wielding a book in one hand and a warhammer or mace in the other. Given my history in railway construction, which still uses sledgehammers, and my current career as a therapist, I identify strongly with paladins!

A Human Paladin, wielding a hammer used to focus her spells, and a book of rituals, supports her team from the front.

Pride and accomplishment: Some challenges in the game are hard. Others require a long-term effort. Regardless, World of Warcraft is designed to make players feel good about their time spent in the game, and isn’t above using flashy lights and noises to celebrate the completion of a simple task. 

Time Management: It is easy to get pulled into a gaming session of World of Warcraft. The in-game clock is small and not in a part of the screen players’ eyes are drawn to. Between immersion and the time spent engaged in tasks, there are many jokes about World of Warcraft being a “second job”. Indeed, a healer from my guild used to play for 14-18 hours every day, but hid her habit with secret accounts and characters not known to her partner or guildmates. This is a critical case of gaming addiction, a controversial issue which can have significant impact on personal wellbeing. 

Addiction: There is also an element of addiction within the game’s broader lore. The Blood Elves, formerly High Elves, once lived in the presence of the magical Sunwell, a powerful source of arcane magic. When the Sunwell was destroyed by the villainous Undead Scourge, the Blood Elves found themselves stricken by horrible symptoms of withdrawal. Part of their storyline in the Burning Crusade expansion is about managing their addiction to sources of arcane magic, and finding new and meaningful ways to sate their thirst. Elements of this are stigmatising towards people who live with addiction, however, as some of the villains within the story are “Fel” (demonic) Blood Elves, who have chosen to use pacts with demons to satisfy their addiction to arcane magic. There is a section of the game in the Blood Elf area known as “Eversong Woods”, where players must kill gangs made up of Blood Elves who have become lost to addition and turned feral.

World of Warcraft is a huge game, full of different quests and regions to explore. A player may engage in the game for years and still be having new experiences, thanks to the size of the game and the constant updates from the developer, Blizzard Entertainment. While there are mixed opinions of the game, this is an engaging and very social game for fans. 

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.

Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

The Nerd Therapist is proofread and edited by Mandy at SeeMeAfter Editing & Proofreading Services, and she can be reached at nerdeditor@seemeafter.com

Among Us 101

Among Us is the hit social deduction game which reached peak popularity in late 2020, despite being released in 2018. The game’s cute, cartoonish graphics offset the horror concept and theme. A space station’s crew must complete a series of tasks aboard their vessel, but among the crew is an Impostor; an alien entity posing as a member of the crew. There may be as many as three Impostors in a single game, with a maximum of ten players total. 

It’s pretty simple! A player at random is designated as “the Impostor”. The Impostor must sabotage components of the ship to trap and hinder the Crewmates, whom the Impostor is tasked with killing. The Impostor must find a way to stay hidden in plain sight. They can traverse air vents throughout the ship, and players cannot; being nearby to a vent is a common ‘tell’ that a player may be an Impostor. 

After this screen, players are given the role of Crewmate or Impostor.

When a Crewmate’s body is found by another Crewmate, an Emergency Meeting is called. Everyone’s character stops moving and a chat box is opened. The players must then make their accusations or plead their defence. The Impostor may use various strategies such as outright lies and misdirection, or simply silence. I’ve seen Impostors accuse members of the Crew of being the Impostor, only to have this backfire on them. At the end of a time set by the host at the start of the game, often two minutes, the players vote on who they think the Impostor is. That player is then thrown out of the airlock to die. It is then revealed whether or not the Impostor has been ejected from the ship, or a Crewmate. The next round of the game begins. 

Among Us is one of those wonderful  cross-platform games, meaning that players can engage with each other via Nintendo Switch, PC, Android and Apple devices. Viewership on Twitch, the premier game broadcast platform, is in the decline, but it’s still placed at #17 on the Most Watched Games chart, beating Twitch favourites Overwatch, Rocket League, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and the brand new survival game Valheim, which I’m really keen on getting a look at, as I’ve heard it’s bringing welcome changes to the survival genre. 

I was killed by the Impostor! My ghost remains on the ship to carry out my tasks.

The main concern for parents is the game’s chat function. As with all multiplayer games, the level of anonymity and generally short game length means that the chat can sometimes be incredibly explicit, containing sexual or abusive content. I haven’t come across this myself, but I have encountered a handful of people advertising various Twitter pages. To what end, I can’t say. (Since writing this article and posting it to the page, I have been removed from a game by a host who wanted personal information from me.)

I can’t remember who the Impostor was, I think it was Blue. Or am I inclined to think so because Cyan has accused him? Oooooh.

There’s even a faithful remake of the game on the Roblox platform, called Impostor, which is free, which may be handy for some. Despite this, Among Us isn’t a pricey game, sitting at only AU$7.50 on Steam, or $6.25 on Nintendo Switch. 

What is there that we can talk about?

Protective Behaviours: It can give language to protective behaviours. A common term in the game for someone who may be acting suspiciously, like an Impostor, as “sus”, as shorthand for suspicious. An accusation may go as simply as “blue sus, vent”. Meaning that the blue player had been near the vents. Explore what it may mean if someone is acting sus. 

Medbay Scan: Use the visualisation of the game’s Medbay Scan to carry out a Body Scan meditation exercise.

Intrusive Thoughts: Unwanted thoughts are just like the Impostor. Sneaky, full of lies, and always there when you don’t need them. They’re sus! I saw them come out of the vent! And they’re just trying to sabotage your day, and your crew.

Luck: I got through a whole game without seeing another player outside of meetings. The Crewmates won the game, and we voted to toss the Impostor out of the airlock in the second meeting. Sometimes simple luck; being in the right place at the right time, is what gets a player their win.

During an emergency meeting, we voted on who the Impostor is. It was me, and I would be promptly ejected.

Among Us isn’t the kind of game I’d usually expect to be as successful as it is. In an era where battle royale shooters such as Apex Legends, Call of Duty and Fortnite dominate the landscape, and games such as Minecraft, Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley have carved out their own space for relaxation, Among Us provides a different kind of game, where the enemy is hidden, and finding them is a case of deduction and rationalising. Your fellow Crewmates can be misdirected by a clever Impostor, and fooled into ejecting other members of the Crew. I didn’t find the game that stressful, which I think is a nice change from the common multiplayer experience. In chats with a local gaming group, though, I have learned that some of them find the game stressful, and have even become concerned about their capacity for deceit! What a powerful insight.

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.

Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

The Nerd Therapist is proofread and edited by Mandy at SeeMeAfter Editing & Proofreading Services, and she can be reached at nerdeditor@seemeafter.com

Cyberpunk 2077 101

Cyberpunk 2077 is the long-awaited first-person shooter & open-world role-playing game from CD Projekt Red, developers of the wildly successful dark fantasy series The Witcher. Cyberpunk 2077 is an all-in love letter to the cyberpunk genre, and embraces the themes and tropes of the genre: highly militarised mega-corporations who own government officials; normalised police brutality; rampant antisocial behaviour; and an increasingly blurred line between humanity and machines. “Low life, high tech”, is an understated, yet easy way to describe the genre.

Cyberpunk 2077 is rated R-18+ here in Australia, for high-level violence, coarse language, sexual threats, nudity and sex scenes. It clearly isn’t for kids—but, of course, the young folks’ll play it. I’ve played this game through to the end, and done a bunch of side missions. This game has more than earned its “R” rating, as side missions involve the drug trade, war trauma, human trafficking and non-consensual pornography.

This post also may get more political than you’re used to seeing from me, but that comes with the genre. It’s cyberpunk, meaning that politics and countercultures are part of the overall theme.

The game was announced in 2012, and a series of delays were met with the mockery and memes expected of internet culture.

Cyberpunk 2077 has been met with widespread controversy right out of the gate, as it was not only released with programming errors, but poor performance on some last-generation games consoles, with CD Projekt Red admitting that they ignored signals that further development for older consoles was needed, and deliberately concealed gameplay footage. It has since been removed from the online Playstation store for Playstation 4 consoles, and stores in Australia have allowed returns on it beyond their established returns policies.

Bright neon lights illuminate the dank streets of Night City, a city with a murder rate comparable to nations ravaged by war.

The game takes place in Night City, a fictional city in North California, a dense urban jungle with a neon Japanese aesthetic. Players can roam around Night City and visit the differing boroughs and neighbourhoods. Gangs are locked in constant conflict with the Night City Police Department, who are under so much pressure they subcontract work out to mercenaries, such as our protagonist.

Male- and female-presenting versions of our protagonist, V.

Players take the role of V, a gun for hire, who becomes involved in a handful of conspiracies when a heist goes bad. V’s character is customised on creation by the player at the start of the game, when one can choose from a number of backgrounds, gender identities and physical appearances. I’ll be using she/her pronouns for V as I continue on in this article, as I played the female version of V.

During the heist, V is forced to insert the objective of the heist, a digital chip, into her cybernetic components. Unknown to V, this chip contains the digitised essence of Johnny Silverhand, a rock star and anti-corporation fighter, who was condemned to a digital purgatory for crimes against the Arasaka Corporation five decades before the current year. Johnny’s personality is overwriting V’s brain, and V is soon to die as a result of it. Johnny appears as a digital ghost, angry at his death and enraged at how nothing seems to have changed since. 

Johnny Silverhand is brought to digital life using the likeness and vocal talents of Keanu Reeves.

Cyberpunk 2077 has been the subject of controversy (and memes) over its character creation process. In the process of creating V, the protagonist, players can choose one of three personal backgrounds (Corporate, Street Kid, Nomad), and then customise V’s entire appearance. Hair colour, skin tone, facial structure, presentation of cybernetic implants, piercings, scars, breasts, tattoos, even down to V’s genitalia. Size and appearance are customisable. Additionally, a female V may have a penis and a male V may have a vagina. What affects the pronouns used to refer to you is the player’s own decision. 

Character creation screen for V. Pre-prepared appearances are on the left.

V’s pronouns are chosen by the player’s selection of voice – a masculine voice yields he/him pronouns, and a feminine voice leads to she/her. There is currently no option for non-binary pronouns such as they/them available. 

Cyberpunk 2077 is fun, engaging and immersive, but also rather brutal and confronting at times. Missions given in the game provide players with moral choices to make, with varying outcomes based on those choices. In one mission, V requires information from a “ripperdoc”, a cybernetic prosthesis surgeon, somewhere between a mechanic and a surgeon, which is a regular service in the game. However, this particular individual works for human traffickers, and is responsible for sickening crimes against a character the player meets. Players may choose to engage professionally and calmly with the man, or beat him up, or even murder him in a rage. 

What is there to talk about? I mean, there’s a lot. This is a game for adults, and cyberpunk as a genre is rife with philosophical and political questions and statements. Dystopian futures reflect modern concerns, as author Lauren Oliver says.

Sex and gender: Given that players can alter V’s genitals, secondary sex characteristics, pronouns and outward presentation, there’s an opening to explore exactly what makes someone a man, or a woman. There’s a lot of freedom to play V as trans or cis, with whatever backstory you can imagine for them. There are also heterosexual and homosexual romance options available, as well as sex workers.

The Trans-Human of Theseus: A futuristic spin on the identity thought experiment; how many computer parts can you graft onto a human body and still remain human? This is a common cyberpunk theme, however, I consider it to be rather ableist. 

Intrusive thoughts: Bugs in the software and annoying pop-ups sending you messages you don’t want might be a way to explore these. Otherwise, the character of Johnny Silverhand is a great example of an angry intrusive thought or voice. He is cynical and furious, and only acceptance has helped to make his appearances less disruptive.

Choices: The game provides players with choices to make—how they engage in the world, their approach to problem solving and combat.

Cyberware: Explore values and interests by asking clients what cybernetic upgrades they’d give themselves. Perfect memory? Super strength? High-fidelity internet connection?

Subjectivity: After playing through some of Johnny Silverhand’s memories, players learn that the scenes they have experienced are only Johnny’s perception of the events, and have been warped to give him a favourable recollection of them.

Memory sharing: There’s a neural-synchronisation technology in the game which allows people to share memories with each other. Which memory would you share with people around you? 

Cyberpunk 2077 really captured me in a way a video game hasn’t for a long time. Possibly since 2011’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This game has been engaging and fun, and at other times, a gut-wrenching experience as V is faced with the nastiest side of a city written as being nasty.

Certain sections of Cyberpunk 2077 pose a serious risk of seizure to those with epilepsy. For more information on this, Liana Ruppert has explored the phenomenon in depth at gaming publication Game Informer.

If you’ve got questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.

Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

The Nerd Therapist is proofread and edited by Mandy at SeeMeAfter Editing & Proofreading Services, and she can be reached at nerdeditor@seemeafter.com

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout 101

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a multiplayer video-game inspired by television obstacle course game shows like Total Wipeout, Gladiators and Takeshi’s Castle. Up to 60 players compete through a variety of challenges until one contestant or team of contestants remains.

Chickens, crocodiles, pineapples, witches. The variety of colourful outfits in this game is part of the appeal.

This article marks the first game I’ve actually bought for this project. I was asked to look at it by a few people, and when I watched a stream of it, I decided I had to try it. 

It’s vibrant, colourful, madcap fun, and is proving to be a popular game both for participants and spectators. Fall Guys is available on Playstation4 and Windows PCs, but cross-play is not yet available (although it’s rumoured to be a planned feature). PS4 owners will need a Playstation Plus (online service) subscription to play. The developers have said they are interested in bringing the game to the Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

I feel like there’s not even a lot to say here. The majority of us will be familiar with the inspirations for this game. Players cross hazardous obstacles as mascot-style characters dressed in wacky food or animal costumes. This takes the zany fun of obstacle course shows and gives it an aesthetic to match. I’ve wondered for awhile if Total Wipeout could be made into a video game without being repetitive or boring, and it seems like Fall Guys has answered that question.

A player spins their camera around to look back on the course. Here we can see the rubber bumper pillars strafing across the field, as well as the gigantic wrecking balls in the background.

I will say this though—it’s nice to see a game like this, and nicer to see that it is well-made. In an era where battle royales, gritty shooters, remasters of retro games and games featuring complex moral decisions have dominated the landscape, a goofy, high-energy romp like this is a breath of fresh air. 

This game really has come out at the perfect time. Much like Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave players a wholesome hobby game to enjoy in the opening weeks of COVID-19 containment measures, Fall Guys gives players a cooperative and competitive multiplayer game to enjoy together that isn’t based on guns or violence. 

Tail Tag. Everyone has a tail, you have to steal the other team’s while safeguarding yours.

This is a fantastic option for parents in lockdown-affected areas who’d like for their kids to have a game to play online with their friends, but aren’t big fans of Fortnite or other games where the game mechanic is violence; see also Rocket League, which has recently gone free-to-play.

This round is a memory game, players will be shown a fruit after the countdown and stand on the tile which matches the fruit on the board.

In Fall Guys, players have to put balls in baskets, dodge obstacles in uphill runs, navigate a maze with false floors, or just play tag. It’s good, silly fun, and they can share this with their friends by jumping on voice chat. It can be frustrating at times as some matches sort players into teams, but that’s a risk of online play. 

What is there to talk about?

Colourful, random, and zany: Modern senses of humour adore absurdity. This is an absurd game, where strange jellybean creatures wearing ridiculous mascot costumes scurry about performing feats of teamwork and athleticism. It’s silly, colourful and weird, and also tremendously good fun.

Good-natured competition and sportsmanship: It’s competitive: players are knocked out over the course of the game and there is a clearly defined ladder of winners and losers. Talk about how to properly respond to winning and losing, and the value of participation.

Sometimes things outside our control happen: There is an element of chaos in each game in the form of boulders, obstacles, and other players. We can’t control these, and it’s on us to respond to them appropriately.

Wholesome fun: This goofy game shows both players and critics of video games that gaming, especially a mass multiplayer game, can be fun and nobody has to get hurt.

Resilience: If a boulder flattens you, or a big wrecking ball knocks you away, you get back on up!

For parents and skeptics: Online play has its issues, but right now, it’s a potentially critical form of social engagement. Players can share an activity with their friends, and in a time of lockdowns, quarantine and pandemic containment that may be closing local parks and play spaces, that’s invaluable.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a fun meeting place between old-fashioned, topsy-turvy play that many video games just don’t do anymore, and the more modern mass-multiplayer, last-competitor-standing battle royale-style games. It’s the kind of game that would have likely been a very mediocre single-player rhythm game in another time, or been seen as just a cheap Mario Party knockoff.

Honestly? Give it a try if you can, it’s great.

If you’ve got questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or in consulting your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and creating resources for work contexts.

Good vibes and victory

Mike.

Let’s Plays (Video Game Broadcasting) 101

I love video games for this reason over all other art forms. They do a thing that no other art form does, right. No other art form does. You cannot be bad at watching a movie. You cannot be bad at listening to an album. But you can be bad at playing a video game, and the video game will punish you, and deny you access to the rest of the video game.”

                – Comedian Dara o’Briain

And I feel like that’s a great way to introduce today’s topic—Let’s Play videos, and other types of game broadcasting.

Let’s Play is a style of video where a player will record themselves playing a video game, then upload it to YouTube or another video website. The player will add commentary as they play through, often humorously, or talk about strategies and concepts in the game. Some of the more prominent content creators can be quite exuberant and attention-grabbing. There are a variety of content creators, with a list of iconic gamers for every popular game. Famous names include Markiplier, Pewdiepie and Ninja.

Let’s Plays, and Pewdiepie in particular, are parodied ruthlessly in an episode of South Park

Other styles of video include full walkthroughs and tutorials, showing viewers how to solve puzzles, find secrets and overcome other challenges. 

Markiplier, a famous YouTuber, commonly plays horror games and entertains viewers with over the top reactions to startling occurrences. Here he is playing a game from the Five Nights at Freddy’s series.

Some players will stream games in live sessions, often ones that involve competitive play—as of this post, Fortnite, Call of Duty and League of Legends are the top viewed games of the past seven days. All are popular multiplayer games from different genres, and are played by streamers of world-class skills. Streamers will often use a website called Twitch as their platform for delivery and hosting, and viewers can use Twitch to watch them. 

ESPN for videogames..

YouTubers, Twitch streamers and other folks who broadcast gameplay are popular with kids and adults alike, and to those unfamiliar with the concept, it can sound like a really strange idea. Watching people play video games? Sounds absurd! It draws a lot of eye-rolling from people who don’t watch, or get why anyone would. 

There is a whole celebrity culture surrounding the various content creators on different platforms. I’ve seen people snort when a kid confesses to wanting to be a YouTuber, but how many of us wanted to be actors or rock stars at that age? Its the same thing, without a requirement to move to LA or go on long tours in dive bars.

But this is really pretty equivalent to watching mic’d-up sports—outside of specific levels of professional play, viewers are going to be entertained by player commentary, anecdotes or banter between multiple players. At professional levels, there may be an actual commentator or commentators providing insight into strategies, backgrounds and discussion.

It’s not even something I’m really into, but I will occasionally watch clips from professional StarCraft play, one of the founding eSports, and one of my favourite childhood games.

Activision Blizzard Inc., develop games that become popular eSports. Pictured above is StarCraft 2, whose latest professional season has a US$1.8 million dollar prize pool

It’s a great way to see if you want a game. Reviews are great, but they don’t always give a complete picture, and may overly focus on either the negatives or positives of the game. This might mean that something that’s a big deal for you is glossed over or simply not mentioned.

Competitive play can be stressful: In certain game communities, online play can be hostile, and certain levels of competition can be more stressful than enjoyable. “I stopped playing League because I wasn’t having fun anymore” is a statement I’ve heard a few times. This allows an option to spectate in an area of gameplay you may be passionate about.

You can’t afford new games and don’t want to be excluded: Video games can be expensive. And when your circle of friends is heavily into gaming, it can feel quite isolating if for whatever reason you’re not able to pick up the shiny new game. Fortunately, there’s going to be a bunch of folks who will be showcasing gameplay online, and you can keep up with conversations in an accepted way.

Learning: Strategies for competitive play, puzzle solving or even deeper looks at the storyline and lore of a game are all common and popular types of video. 

Access: Say your internet isn’t good enough for competitive play, or you get motion sick during fast past games. Again here we see Lets Plays and Twitch Streamers reducing barriers preventing consumption of a game.

This is a relatively new form of media that erupted into popularity in the 2010s. Minecraft tutorials, unique Pokemon challenges, World of Warcraft adventures and competitive team games such as Overwatch are a small list of examples of the way video games have become an activity for spectators as well as participants. It may seem bizarre to grownups, but for some it may be considered on par with professional sports, performance art and creative works. 

As I’ve mentioned on the Facebook page, I am currently setting up to run live demonstrations of certain video games and give clinicians, teachers and parents an idea of what gameplay may look like.

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

Good vibes and victory!

Mike

Roblox 101

Roblox isn’t what I expected it to be when I first looked into it. I expected to be presented with an off-brand, free-to-play Minecraft. What I was presented with was rather different—in a fun and overwhelming way. 

The range of games is more diverse than even this assortment of character types suggests.

Roblox isn’t a game as much as it is a mixed social platform and system where users can create, share and play games together. It’s free to play and easy to sign up to. Robux is an in-game currency, which can be used on upgrades and cosmetics.

Roblox provides users with tools to create games, to play them, and then share them with friends. Players can create an in-game avatar who will represent them in all Roblox games. It’s easy to make an account and get cracking.

The graphics of the platform are stylised, looking like a world of LEGO blocks. With a diverse range of genres and games to play, Roblox may be popular with children who are aware of money worries in the household and may hesitate to ask for new things. Roblox caters to that need, knowingly or unknowingly, and for that, I really appreciate it.

Affectionate remakes and mashups of popular games are on Roblox, as well as adaptations of popular television or book series.

Fortnite has been recreated in Roblox with mixed success, as has Among Us.

Games rise and fall in popularity, with top-lists by genre available on various fan sites and YouTube videos. It’s always worth doing a search online for “popular Roblox games” with a listed age group or genre, as any advice I give you will soon be outdated—if it isn’t already. 

Kids—heck, everyone, really—love a chance to be creative, and share that creativity with friends. Roblox provides that, and is accessible because it’s available on a variety of common devices: both Android and Apple mobile devices, Microsoft’s Xbox One, as well as Windows and Mac PCs. 

“I made a game and my friends and I played it and we had fun!”, or “my friend made a game and we played it and it was lots of fun!” These are the kinds of statements you’ll often hear from Roblox players, at varying levels of expressiveness. It’s amazing to get to see kids exploring creatively and celebrating each other’s accomplishments.

I loaded this game – a first person shooter where players compete for the most kills, and are granted a better weapon with each kill.

Much like D&D, Roblox isn’t an actual game but a way of making and experiencing games. However, there are important points worthy of consideration.

It’s online: For better or worse, Roblox facilitates user interactions. Friends may link up in the game’s social network and play together. Less well-intentioned parties may also do so. Cyberbullying, or worse, via Roblox is a very real issue, and parents need to be active in their conversations with children around their online interactions. This is a fantastic opportunity, however, to introduce them to the concept of e-Safety. Consult your region’s e-Safety agencies or office for more. Or contact me, and I’ll see what I can refer you towards.

As a note—there are parental controls available, and you can restrict who can make contact with your account in security settings.

Reduced barriers to access: It’ll run on most mobile devices, home computers and the Xbox One. That’s pretty decent coverage. It’s also cross-platform like Minecraft and Fortnite, so friends don’t even need to play using the same devices.

Coding: The skill of the future. Roblox allows game design via a programming language called “Roblox Lua”. Coding and the logical thinking that comes with it are skills that can be nurtured into a variety of careers—from professional game design or entrepreneurial app development, to cybersecurity and intelligence, or website development. Learning how to create with digital technology rather than merely use it is an increasingly vital skill in the marketplace. 

There are a bunch of YouTube channels dedicated to accessible tutorials for Roblox game making.

Tailored social play: I know some play therapists use Roblox for telehealth sessions, and other, more savvy practitioners might come to see the value of a familiar platform that can be used to create safe spaces or games with explicit or implicit therapeutic outcomes.

Mindful engagement: With 40 million games listed, there will be a vast diversity of genres to play. It’s a great chance to talk about what users are engaging in, and why. 

Roblox is a large, flexible platform with a lot of options for entertainment and creative expression. There’s opportunities for social play, which is fantastic for kids who might not be getting to socialise at the moment. For parents, guardians, carers—a kid’s assigned grown-up—as always, use supervision and parental discretion, and build a relationship with your kid where they can feel comfortable to come to you with their worries.

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

Good vibes and victory,

-Mike.

Call of Duty 101

Another one that isn’t strictly for kids but engaged in pretty routinely by younger audiences, Call of Duty is a first person shooter centred around special forces operatives. Call of Duty, though still popular and successful, occupied the top tier of multiplayer gaming before the battle royale trend swooped in with Fortnite.

The title screen from the Black Ops game – a Cold War era shooter set in the 1960s.

As a games series its existed since the early 00s, finding its origins as a World War 2 game. The series hit new heights of popularity in 2007 with its release: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, engaging in themes and style of contemporary world military units, as opposed to the trend at the time, which was WW2 games. The United States Marine Corps and British SAS are the protagonist organisations, as they fight against terrorist organisations and rogue ex-Soviet military forces.

Call of Duty is a war game, but more in the style of Michael Bay movies or Tom Clancy novels. Call of Duty isn’t about man’s inhumanity to man, or the horror of war, or the relentless juggernaut of the military-industrial complex. Call of Duty is about just that – the call of duty. The series started with World War 2 games, and the modern installments of the series are about professional operators with a mission to accomplish. There are political reflections and some commentary, but it isn’t a satire or attempting to make a statement. This isn’t Apocalypse Now, this is more along the lines of Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan – still quite brutal and gritty at times, but less emotionally devastating or politically critical as some war media can be. Many thanks to my friend Alex, an actor and writer, who helped me narrow down a good list of films for these comparisons.

For the sake of relevance, I’ll only be talking about the games after Modern Warfare. The series has managed yearly releases since then, focusing on the multiplayer portion of the games. They do have single-player campaigns, but are notoriously short in length – the real product is the multiplayer.

First-person meaning we see it through a characters eyes, contrasted with Fortnite where the game is played from a third person perspective, behind the player character. The games story modes can be quite fast-paced and cinematic.

There is also a mobile game which was released in 2019, which has traditional multiplayer elements and a Battle Royale playing mode – reminiscent of Fortnite or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.

Call of Duty games tend to be referred to as “CoD” (like the fish), or by the subtitle of that particular game – Black Ops, Modern Warfare, Warzone, Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare. The last two are science-fiction games but still rely heavily on military themes and characterisation.

Call of Duty Warzone is a recently released, free to play battle royale game, presently notorious for taking up a lot of hard drive storage space. Like other free to play games, it draws profits from character customisation options and cosmetic items. Call of Duty Warzone presents a more grounded, realistic competitor to other popular battle royale games like Fortnite or Apex Legends, but is more stable and has better brand recognition than Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, a predecessor to the above.

The multiplayer mode has a variety of game types;

  • Team deathmatch, where two teams play to get the most kills. Upon death, players re-appear in the game after a short duration. Points are awarded for killing enemy players.
  • Free for all – like team deathmatch, but with no teams.
  • Domination is a king of the hill mode, players fight in opposing teams for “control points” around the map. Holding these areas earns points.
  • Capture the flag – a classic mode, two opposing teams try to capture the enemy’s flag while protecting theirs.
  • Hardpoint is similar to Domination, except there is one point to capture and it constantly moves.
  • Kill confirmed is a grim take on the team deathmatch, where upon killing an enemy, you only achieve points by taking a trophy from downed foes – their dog tags.

There are more depending on the exact game being played, but those will give you a good idea of the kind of game being played.

Call of Duty Mobile Characters: Here's why they are so popular
The main characters tend towards being commandos, or from elite military units. The game may appeal to people with interest in military procedures and themes, but may draw criticism for inaccuracies.

Call of Duty’s appeal lies in playing multiplayer with friends, being a little bit more grown up than the likes of Fortnite, and having a skill curve that rewards quick thinking and quicker reflexes. It can be a incredibly frustrating game but also quite rewarding to players who enjoy competition.

The online play can be tricky, especially with voice chat. Learning new and exciting curse words is almost a rite of passage for online gamers, and can escalate to very nasty comments made rather quickly.

Badges can be earned through in-game feats of skill or luck. They can be a matter of social status and provide bragging rights in some friend groups.

Of note, Call of Duty is an e-sport, with professional leagues and championships where players compete for money and fame. Players can stream their play to Youtube, Facebook or Twitch, as ‘streamers’, which can become a profitable endeavour. Many children I’ve worked at aspire to be streamers one day – a position which may seem odd to you, but spoken of in some circles with the same admiration and appreciation as traditional athletes.

But CoD has a lot of stuff you can unpack with enthusiasts. There’s values and ethics involved – and those of you who have any experience with armed forces professionals may know what I’m getting at. There’s no specific lesson or after-school special “moral of the story” here, but you can really lean on military values and competitive gaming experiences.

Values such as professionalism, honour and integrity. A lot of the military guys I’ve met in my life have been quite spiritual, and quite romantic in their values. The works of Steven Pressfield come to mind – The Warrior Ethos, as an example.

The spirit of competition. It’s a multiplayer game with a league system – there’s rankings. You can get into topics like competition, and good-natured winning and losing.

Co-operation, communication, teamwork. Armed forces teams, squads, units, are all encouraged to think at a team level. You can use these mindsets to lead conversations on co-operation with each others, effective communication, and quality teamwork.

Mindfulness. Elite military units are trained in mindfulness strategies for cognitive performance – decision making, focus and memory function. There’s a link to research here, but for those of you who work with veteran populations, ensure you apply trauma-sensitive practices to your mindfulness.

Call of Duty isn’t exactly a wholesome after-school special with explicit moral lessons or public service announcements. But it’s not meant to be – it’s a fun, invigorating, mature team game . But as therapists – teachers – support workers – parents, we work with what we’re given – and the kids we work with at least deserve to be met at their level.

I cannot possibly overstate how thrilled I am at the response and feedback I’m getting for this project. It’s really validating and encouraging to be met with such enthusiasm. I’m excited to be working on projects that go a little bit deeper than what I’ve presented so far.

As always, please feel free to ask questions, send requests or comments either here, on Facebook, or via e-mail. The 101 courses will be steered by the feedback I get, my experience in the topics and my time to research them.

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

Good vibes and victory,

  • Mike.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 101

Five Nights at Freddy's on Steam

Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNaF, and people will call it f’naff) is a horror game that picked up a really strong following – especially among kids. It started as a five dollar game on PC gaming platform “Steam”, made by Indie developer Scott Cawthon. It was a massive success, aided by the popularity of its Lets Play videos (ooh, next topic!), and quickly became a franchise, with novels, activity books and a planned movie. Various FNaF games are available across all major platforms.

I don’t care if its for Fortnite, it still works.

I didn’t really get into this series, but my younger brothers loved it. Its creepy as heck, with a truly disturbing aesthetic, and jumpscares, yay.

Remember the Itchy and Scratchyland episode of The Simpsons? Now you work there.

In the game you control a night watchman hired to patrol a restaurant on an overnight shift. The restaurant, Freddy’s, is based on American chains like Chuck E. Cheese, which has performances by animatronic animal characters. Except because this is a horror game – they’ve come to life and are going to kill you. The player character has to solve puzzles and survive the night shift.

Rather than fighting the robotic monstrosities out for your blood, you need to protect yourself in other ways. The player character must use tools provided, such as a torch, security cameras and doors, to ward away the rampaging robot animal mascots.

I am profoundly uncomfortable right now. That’s horrifying.

The game has various spin-offs, including a Business Management game called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza Simulator, which blends themes from games like Restaurant Dash, and incorporating the horror elements of the FNaF series.

This is also an example of a franchise which wasn’t explicitly made for children, more for teens, earning a PG-13 rating in the USA and an M15+rating here in Australia, but has regardless found a massive audience in children.

This game helps highlight something I’ve been saying for years. Kids love horror stuff too. They want a chance to feel grown up, to get scared, and catch a break from the panderingly juvenile movies and games aimed at them. Other than 2006’s Monster House, I can’t actually think of many scary movies for kids.

Taking the “spooky house down the street” and “scary old loner” themes of children’s ghost stories, this was a pretty standard horror movie format aimed at older children.

I really enjoyed horror movies as a kid. A lot of the kids I work with love horror movies. I wholly believe there is a small market out there for children’s horror. That won’t be a popular opinion, but it might spare kids from watching gruesome stuff like Stephen King’s IT, or The Human Centipede. I haven’t seen either, they just don’t appeal to me.

Two of my favourite movies as a kid – Starship Troopers, which I still adore as an adult but for different reasons, and Scary Movie, which was a horror / teen movie parody loaded with sexual content. If anything, scary movies for kids could be considered harm reduction.

I came for the space soldiers fighting evil insects and stayed for the satirical portrayal of a fascist society

Anyway I’ll get off my soapbox and back to what you came here for. FNaF is a way in to talking about fear, and creative problem solving.

Fear and the panic response! The game uses jumpscares and I can’t think of a better way to introduce the amygdala and the fight/flight/freeze/fawn/flop response. You can talk about what strategies they can use to make good decisions when they get startled.

Non violent problem solving: using violence to solve your problems is entirely off the table in FNaF, requiring creative thinking and use of unconventional tools. Players have to use an assortment of items provided, such as torches and cameras.

Five Nights at Freddys is just a new way of experiencing something a lot of us got into as kids: exploring scary content outside of our age range.

But its quite disturbing and startling, so be mindful of nightmares and sleep disturbances in younger kids who engage in this.

This series never occurred to me as I set this resource up, but its an obvious next choice, thanks to Michelle from the Facebook page for making the request!

I’m really grateful for all the interest this is getting! Please feel free to reach out, leave questions or comments. This is a resource for you, so you can steer the direction of it.

If you have questions, comments, or requests; are interested in seeing me as a therapist; or wish to consult your practice on deeper topics within popular culture, please feel free to reach out via my Facebook Page, or by my Contact page here. I’m currently developing seminars for in-depth looks at popular franchises, and am creating resources for work contexts.

Pop Culture Competence is an ongoing resource project by Mike Keady, a counsellor from the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is currently developing Roll for Growth, which uses Dungeons and Dragons as a group therapy tool, as well as Minecraft Therapy.

You can find him on Facebook at Counselling with Mike – The Nerd Therapist.Pop Culture Competence can be found on Facebook at Pop Culture Competence by the Nerd Therapist.

Good vibes and victory.

Mike.

Minecraft 101

Coming in after Fortnite as most-recommended coverage is Minecraft. Minecraft is a cross platform game, like Fortnite in my previous post, meaning it can be played together across all current generation game consoles and computer devices.

Minecraft was created in 2009, officially released in 2011, and purchased by Microsoft in 2014. Minecraft has changed a lot since its inception and is a growing multimedia franchise, containing spin-off video games, books, TV series and a yet to be released film, as well as a South Park episode lampooning parents’ lack of knowledge of Minecraft, leading to the parents of South Park receiving instruction in the game from a child.

The Minecraft world is almost entirely composed of cubes, called Blocks. Water comes in cubes, so does dirt, iron, trees, grass, stone, and dragons. By necessity some items and animals are not cubes, but are often still quadrilateral shapes.

Minecraft is whats called a sandbox game. You’re given a whole randomly generated world and left to your own devices. The game requires creativity, experimentation, persistence and curiosity to fully explore. There is an “end goal” you can achieve, killing the “Ender Dragon” but its not really the point of the game.

There are two game modes. Creative, and Survival. In creative mode the player characters are unkillable, have infinite resources, and can landscape the land without tools. Its been likened to a LEGO set on a computer and that’s not really inaccurate.

This is Kings Landing from Game of Thrones, recreated in Minecraft by FireRockerzstudios. Its a full city you can walk through and explore. Find the video below.

With Creative mode, players are limited really only to their imagination, and players are still pushing the limits of what was thought possible in the game at release.

Survival Mode is the alternative. In Survival Mode the player character must eat food, can be harmed by enemies and falling, and has to gather resources to achieve their ends, limited by the tools they can make. In survival mode, if the player dies, they reappear without any items in their inventory, at the place where they first entered the game – or a Bed, if they have slept in one already. There are commands which can prevent the loss of inventory upon death, which some players use

There is a day/night cycle, and a full twenty-four hour cycle ingame takes twenty minutes of real world time. The passage of time allows plants to grow, and the difficulty of Nighttime to increase. At Nighttime, monsters come out to patrol the world, and will hunt for light sources or the player character if they are in the vicinity. Zombies, Skeletons, Giant Spiders, Creepers, and Endermen will slowly come out. Unread creatures perish in daylight, however, Giant Spiders will need to be killed.

Left to right: Creepers, who explode in proximity to the player, destroying anything around them. Zombies, slow and easy to avoid. Skeleton Archer, very frustrating in versions of the game that don’t have shields. Giant Spider, who can climb walls and drop valuable items upon death. The Enderman, who will only become aggressive if you attack him, or make eye contact with him. Otherwise he’ll just steal blocks at random and be more of a potentially-deadly nuisance rather than an overt aggressor.

As characters progress through the game, they can build objects of increasing complexity, starting with wood tools, from wood gathered by punching trees, to stone tools. Later, ores become available and the player character can smelt Iron and Gold. Precious gems become part of the game. Emeralds are an ingame currency with travelling traders and the rare ingame village. Lapis Lazuli is used in enchantment. Diamonds create the best tools, weappns and armour in the game and are accordingly rare. Gold creates weak tools but can be enchanted with the most magical effects.

Redstone is a magical substance that works comparably to circuit boards, allowing players to use skills very similar to coding, to create ingame circuit boards to program trapdoors, drawbridges, or whatever their skills and persistence bring them to. One player even managed to use redstone to get Windows 95 running in Minecraft so he could play Doom.

Players can create a portal to The Nether, a dreary hellscape of zombies and demonic creatures, and lakes of lava. The Nether is incredibly dangerous and requires potions and strong equipment to explore. However, it yields high reward items.

The Nether, and the Nether Portal, constructed of Obsidian.

Players can work towards exploring the third and final world – The End. It is an eerie world, containing endermen and the Ender Dragon, the game’s final challenge.

Minecraft is a wonderful game for its flexibility. Players can construct… whatever they like. From hobby farms, to sprawling cities, towering forts and, through specially made modifications available online, can explore outer space. Then they can invite their friends to see what they’ve created. Or they can play together! Or they can play in the same game competitively or even being nuisances to other players (called griefing).

Minecraft is limited by your imagination and interest in the game. I like building self-sustaining farms within the walls of a fort that keeps the monsters at bay.

Theres even an Education Edition of Minecraft, which I don’t have experience in, so I have provided a link. Microsoft are supposedly making this more accessible to educators during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minecraft is a world of possibilities. From action and consequences, logical thinking, problem solving, cooperative play, to simply embracing creativity and exploration, there’s a lot of potential for engagement in topics.

Action and consequences, as some blocks will collapse if you step on them or remove their support.

Coding, using Redstone, as mentioned.

Emotional regulation, when a creeper explodes and destroys the labours of the last hour.

Social skills, get people playing together on joint projects.

Creativity, this game oozes it. It’s been out for 11 years and people are still building and creating amazing things.

Minecraft is fun for the family, has a lot of applications in professional and personal time, and really facilitates non-directive creative play in a way no other game does. It can, however, suck you in for awhile, so be mindful of the time.

If you have comments, requests or want to talk therapeutic interventions that use Fortnite imagery and themes, leave a comment below, or reach out through the page.

Good vibes and victory

– Mike