A gateway to classic rock: how Guitar Hero and Rock Band kept rock alive

I can still remember my first time playing a Guitar Hero game pretty well. I couldn’t have been more than 11 years old; I was at my childhood best friend’s house and after days of him talking about how fun it was, he finally booted up Guitar Hero II on his PlayStation 2. Little did I know that that one time playing would have had such a long-lasting impact on my life.

From the moment that I saw the stylized animated intro that featured the likes of in-game playable characters and rock stars Axel Steel and Judy Nails, I was completely immersed. As we scrolled through the menu, with a guitar strum indicating every confirmed selection we made, we got to the list of songs, and it’s a list that greatly impacted the music that we consumed through the years following.

A lot of people probably can’t confidently tell you where they first heard Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” or classics like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” or even Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name,” but I can — sitting on that couch, next to my best friend. We played and played, becoming acquainted with some phenomenal music as we tried our hardest to hit every note (well, as someone who hadn’t played yet and didn’t have the guitar peripheral, my “medium”-est).

Guitar Hero II and its successors, as well as the Rock Band series, may not have introduced me to classic rock, but they were definitely the catalyst in pushing my interest in the genre further. I think this is a pretty common feeling among people who are in my age group.

Obviously, a lot of the songs included in these games were staples in CHOM’s rotation, and as a kid in Montreal, that was a station I was familiar with through the adults in my life. But what made me really take interest in these songs, was the repeated listens that came with repeated attempts at perfecting them in these games. 

What started as a single gaming session with a friend soon turned into me being an avid player of the games that followed, which kept me diving into decades of some of the greatest music ever produced. As a kid who grew up primarily being a fan of hip hop as well as listening to a lot of the popular alternative, punk and emo acts of the time, these games were game-changers. I don’t know if I ever would’ve taken the plunge into the hundreds of albums I’ve listened to since that first time playing.

These two series are what piqued my interest in several of my favourite artists of all-time. From Black Sabbath to Nirvana to David Bowie, and many more, all of these artists have had a tremendous impact on me and the way I view and consume music. I mean, they’ve even impacted the way I dress, considering that I wear shirts that display some of these bands literally all the time.

This was the real beauty that these games held. Sure, they were polished and fun games, but beyond that, they opened the eyes of many kids/teens like myself to the fantastic music that came before us. They were a way of bridging a generational gap that existed within music, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

It’s not unusual for a video game to leave an impact on someone who plays it, but the lasting impact that the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games have had in my life, and many others’, shouldn’t be overlooked. The games may have come and gone pretty quickly, peaking and tinkering off within a few years, but their impact outside of gaming can’t be understated, and can still be felt today.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


The intricacies of a full-time career in streaming

Everything you need to know about the people behind the screens

The evolution of electronic sports (eSports) in the early 2010s coincided with the popularization of online streaming. While an eSports event will typically offer high-level gameplay in a competitive atmosphere that caters to many spectators worldwide, gaming streams can offer an exclusive viewer experience that varies by content creator and channel.

Richard Blevins, better known by his online alias Ninja, burst into mainstream pop culture in March 2018 when he played Fortnite Battle Royale on the streaming platform Twitch, with highly touted hip hop artists Drake, Travis Scott, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. More recently, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed Among Us on Twitch in order to reach out to the younger American population to vote, playing alongside well-known streamers such as Pokimane, HasanAbi, and Myth.

As a result of the growing demand for live content, streaming has become a viable career option for individuals who are proficient in video games. However, while a career in the industry is seemingly simple on the surface, making an adequate living requires incredible commitment and effort in developing a personal brand that is both captivating and unique.

“I think people do not realize just how time consuming it gets,” said Michael Luker, a professional Hearthstone player and full-time streamer on Twitch who uses the name of Luker on the platform. “In my case, I stream for roughly five hours regularly. On top of that, I’m editing videos to post on YouTube, actively interacting on social media, and collaborating with other streamers and partners.”

Hearthstone is a free-to-play digital collectible card game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment in 2014.

According to Luker, the most successful streamers are constantly promoting themselves beyond the scope of their streams while offering a healthy dose of entertainment and skill on air. He added that despite playing the game for hours on end while broadcasting live, he must put additional time into independently developing his skills as the upkeep of his stream and the ongoing distractions make for unfavourable conditions for improvement.

“At the end of the day, I’m still doing what I love and get to play video games for a living,” Luker said. “These are good problems to have and I’m grateful for that.”

Luker was amid a school winter semester during his third year at Champlain College when he was able to qualify for the 2017 World Electronic Sports Games (WESG), an international tournament held in Haikou, China.

Luker was one of seven North American qualifiers for the event and finished runner-up in the respected competition that saw him earn $60,000 USD for his efforts. Upon returning to Canada, he officially left college in favour of pursuing a career as a professional Hearthstone player.

Luker started streaming full-time in April and has since devoted a substantial portion of his time towards his steady community of fans. His self-made platform allows him to indulge in his passion while serving as an informative hub where viewers with similar interests can interact.

“If there are 50 people talking to me in my chat, I am reading everything and having 50 conversations at a time,” Luker said. “Meanwhile, I’m simultaneously focusing on the game at hand.”

Streaming has found an entirely new meaning for some individuals during the pandemic. Brian Kim, known as brianyokim on Twitch, has always considered himself a casual gamer at heart but made the leap to streaming his gameplay to make the most of negative COVID-19 circumstances.

“Through streaming, I’ve been able to get social interactions that are hard to come by while working at home,” Kim said. “I’m still an amateur, but I love the idea of not only networking with old friends, but also making new ones in the process.”

In these trying times, Kim believes the relationships he’s already been able to forge with other streamers in the community thus far greatly outweigh the financial incentives to stream his gameplay. You can catch both Luker and Kim streaming regularly on Twitch.


Photo courtesy of Michael Luker


The 2020 League of Legends World Championship is on

A primer to the biggest esports event in the world

On Sept. 25, the 2020 League of Legends World Championship Play-In Stage began in Shanghai, China. This year marks the 10th edition of the biggest esports event in the world, and features the top teams from regional leagues around the world in a battle to earn the title of world champion. With one week of action wrapped up and many more to come, here’s everything you need to know before the championship’s main event.

What is League of Legends?

League of Legends is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) video game, developed and published by Riot Games in late 2009. It quickly became one of the most popular video games in the world, and is one of the most recognized esports games to this day.

It’s a five-on-five team game where players assume the role of a “champion,” each equipped with a unique set of abilities.

Gameplay can often be tough to comprehend, as chaotic skirmishes ensue across Summoner’s Rift, representing the map and settings where every match of the 2020 World Championship will be played.

Unfamiliar viewers looking to catch some action should know that the objective of each match is quite simple: destroy the enemy base before they can destroy yours.

What’s the format of the tournament, and who is competing?

The tournament began with the Play-In Stage, wherein 10 teams were split into two groups of five. Each group played a single round-robin cycle, where the top two teams from each group advanced to the Group stage.

For a recap of the first week of Worlds 2020, check out the Weekly Rundown provided by Riot Games.

On Oct. 3, the main event began with the Group Stage where 16 teams are split into four groups. Each group consists of one Play-In team, and three other teams that earned their spot in the Group Stage based on regional ranking. Groups are randomly selected, but balanced; the top seed from the four major regions earns the right to be separated in the group stage.

On Oct. 15, the Knockout Stage will transition to a single-elimination bracket consisting of the top two teams from each group. All matches will be played in a best-of-five format that will conclude on Oct. 31, where the team that comes out on top will be crowned the 2020 World Champions.

A region’s seeds are earned based on past international performance. A strong region will send most, if not all, of their seeds straight to the group stage, whereas weaker regions receive fewer seeds and/or must start in the Play-In Stage. The four main regions are China and Europe, who have a total of four seeded teams, as well as South Korea and North America, who have three representatives. Twenty-two teams will be competing this year.

What teams should I look out for?

There are new faces looking to set a new standard for competitive esports; regional legends looking to re-write history and cement their names in international League of Legends lore; and multiple Canadian players to watch. Here’s a brief rundown of teams to look out for whether you’re a die-hard consumer of esports or a casual fan looking to get your feet wet.

  1. Top Esports (#1 seed, China) and G2 Esports (#1 seed, Europe): Top Esports (TES) has a dynamic duo in Knight and Karsa in the mid-lane and jungle respectively, and is the top seed from the top region in China. If you’re looking to watch the highest level of gameplay, look no further. G2 is coming off another year of regional dominance led by their star mid-laner Caps, who continues to raise the bar for his team by displaying calculated aggression and IQ at all stages of the game.
  2. Team SoloMid (#1 seed, North America) and Fnatic (#2 seed, Europe): Two of the oldest franchises that have been around since the dawn of League of Legends, Team SoloMid (TSM) and Fnatic have some of the largest fan-bases in esports. Both teams enjoy regional success on a regular basis, but have failed to obtain international success as world champions, except for Fnatic’s Season 1 Worlds victory in 2011.
  3. FlyQuest (#2 seed, North America): FlyQuest has two high-profile Canadian marksman players on their roster in Toronto’s WildTurtle and Mississauga’s MasH. The team uses both players interchangeably, giving FlyQuest additional flexibility that most teams cannot match.

Where can I watch?

The event is taking place in Shanghai, but all Worlds matches can be watched on-demand on the official League of Legends esports site.

Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Gun laws and who to blame

Australia had Port Arthur. Since the swift response by Canberra to restrict gun use, there has been one mass shooting in 2019.

New Zealand witnessed a gunman kill 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch. According to NBC news, lead Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to announce plans to ban nearly all military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles on the Thursday six days after the unfortunate event.

The United States has had Dayton, El Paso, Parkland, Las Vegas, Columbine, and more. The United States’ response? The Independent reports that Walmart has removed video game advertising.

For years, the American public has grappled with the reality of mass violence. It came in many forms; in schools like my high school, Columbine, to the more recent hate crime in Texas and the random attack in Ohio.

Since Columbine High School just over 20 years ago, the general tendency was to blame video games. The link is not completely insignificant, but not a sole factor either.

“But the story isn’t that Republicans are blaming video games,” according to “It’s that they’re blaming anything other than lax gun laws and the huge number of firearms in this country.”

Kean University assistant professor Allison Paolini wrote an article on pointing out the role of mental health in gun violence. Every human being is at risk of mental health problems, and yet, according to Paolini, America is the only recipient of routine mass violence.

Politicians in my home country will cry every species of wolf before addressing the real problem: easily accessible guns.

“Following a series of mass shootings in the US in recent years,” according to the BBC, “there has been little in the way of sweeping gun-control reforms.”

This disturbing trend has to stop. The blame has been thrown every way, and yet nothing has changed. Attributing these actions to virtual reality’s effect on human beings enables people in power to properly handle the situation.

The recent societal outrage towards video games has happened before, to no avail. The link between video games and violence has been proven by Oxford and the National Center for Health Research to be nominal — both found that games contribute insignificantly towards aggression but not towards violent and criminal acts.

The American Psychological Association found opposing results, finding a link to “increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior.” However, most other studies verified the former statement, not the latter.

It’s one thing to place blame, but there are powers at play that avoid even banning games as a potential solution. Not that legislation against video-games will do anything except potentially infringe on first amendment rights of game makers.

Large capacity magazine ban, assault weapons ban, bump stocks ban, or even universal background checks; all solutions the New York Times stated has been debated and shelved by lawmakers. Any of these are viable options to slow down these attacks; yet none have passed.

Until we see some remote semblance of action to save lives, be it in better rating systems for entertainment, improvement in mental health screenings, or the gun control that my country has clamored for, the counter will continue to roll up. There is no one solution, but inaction is certainly not the answer.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Student Life

Diversity and inclusion in video games

Game Curious Montreal aims to break stereotypes about dominant gaming culture

The purpose of Game Curious Montreal’s events is to “build bridges between different communities … and create a space for people who feel excluded or marginalized in dominant gaming culture,” according to Carolyn Jong, a collective member of the organization.

Attendees of the latest event, held at Café Aquin on Sunday, Jan. 28., played video games and munched on snacks, but the conversation quickly became a discussion about how the games they played addressed real-life struggles, such as oil mining and the loss of native languages due to colonialism.

In the video game Idle No More: Blockade, for example, players fight stereotypes about Indigenous people rather than physical monsters. “It’s empowering because it shows counter-arguments and ways to push back against those stereotypes,” Jong said. “[The game is] about gathering people to fight back against a corporation that’s trying to put a pipeline through Indigenous lands. I think that’s a good model and message to be shown through games.”

Game Curious Montreal is a working group of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) at Concordia, a resource centre for student and community research that promotes awareness of grassroots social and environmental activism, according to the QPIRG’s website.

Gersande La Flèche, another collective member, pointed out that Game Curious Montreal events also aim to eradicate stereotypes about gamers. “We are trying to reach out to people who don’t consider themselves ‘gamers’. We want people who don’t know what video games can be or should be,” La Flèche said, emphasizing the importance of keeping an open mind. “Even if you think you’re bad at games, you’re probably not,” they said. “You just probably haven’t found the game that’s made for you.”

Similarly, Jong advises students and gamers not to give up if they feel constrained or excluded from the dominant gaming culture. “You’re not alone. There are lots of other people who probably have felt that way,” she said. “It’s the culture that’s trying to enforce the boundaries. There are a lot of different kinds of skills when it comes to games. Being good at games doesn’t matter.”

La Flèche said they believe supporting video games about resistance is a concrete way to fight back against colonialism. “The game My Grandmother’s Lingo is about [a native language] that colonialism was trying to eradicate,” they explained. “Sharing a game about your grandmother’s language and sharing words is a step of resistance as well as bringing awareness to the issue.”

However, La Flèche encouraged people to show support for Indigenous communities in the real world as well by volunteering and making donations to Indigenous resource centres and homeless shelters. “Supporting murdered and missing Indigenous women is also a big one,” they added. “[We have] women’s marches that draw so many people, so why aren’t we drawing the same amount of people to marches for murdered and missing Indigenous women?”

For Moustafa Chamli, another Game Curious Montreal member, it’s important to support video games that fight against oppression by giving representation to minority groups. “In video games, you rarely get the First Nations or black person perspective,” he said. “The barometre of standard media has been set as cis-hetero-white-male, so any differing view becomes anathema or too different.”

Chamli emphasized the necessity of giving Indigenous people space in society and the gaming world. “They have things to say. They have an anger and sadness that need to be expressed,” he said. “Understand that other cultures deserve to exist and help them grow, not by taking their space but by giving them the space that they should be having.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Research through video game design

Concordia’s Technoculture, Art and Games research lab brings new ideas to digital life

It is as if you were doing work is a video game that starts on a retro, Windows-like desktop computer interface. It asks you to write a bunch of seemingly productive emails and accomplish easy tasks. As you complete them, you earn points and eventually get promoted. Inspirational work-related stock photographs pop up every few minutes. It can go on forever or until you, the player, die.

This video game is a work of speculative design, a field of academia where researchers design hypothetical futures, explained Pippin Barr, the game’s creator. Barr is also the co-director of the Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) research lab at Concordia, a place for researchers, professors and eligible graduate students from diverse faculties to research video games and design them collaboratively.

According to Barr, in an automated future, computers would replace workers, and humans would be free to do whatever they please. He was left wondering: What would we be doing if we didn’t have to work anymore? Maybe we’d always be “Netflix and chilling” or spending our time creating art?

What Barr speculated, however, was that we might feel the need to play a video game where we accomplish work to feel productive again. Instead of writing an essay about the idea, he designed and programmed a game around it.

The TAG lab hosts 57 students—13 of whom joined in 2017—and 21 faculty members. But when Barr and I met on a Thursday morning, the lab was empty.

“Ten in the morning is a bit early for graduate students,” he explained. “But I’d say, on average, you might see at least 10 or 15 or 20 people in here. There is always a nice buzz around.”

Located on the 11th floor of Concordia’s EV building, the lab is a large, open, well-lit space with computer stations lining three of its four walls. A chalkboard bears the marks of a past brainstorming session, and there’s a small DIY workshop bench with a 3D printer.

In the lab’s entrance, various gaming machines are plugged into a TV. There’s even a fake fireplace to gather around. “We make games and playful things,” Barr said.

“In Quebec [and Canada], there is a thing called research creation,” said, “which is the idea that creative or artistic practice—so for instance making a videogame—can be a form of research and knowledge production. That’s a very big part of what TAG does.”

As Barr explained it, research creation involves developing ideas about the future, but “rather than writing an essay about it, […] you can convey the actual experience of that future by creating a game.”

Another game produced in the lab is a game called rustle your leaves to me softly. Created by PhD students and TAG members Jess Marcotte and Dietrich Squinkifer, the game asks players get to know a fellow living creature: a live plant. When the player touches a real plant connected to a computer through sensors and wires, the plant responds with soothing sounds and poetry. It is an attempt to let a plant communicate.

“We also have completely just straight-up scholars [in our faculty] who write these amazing books, like Mia Consalvo, for instance,” Barr said. “She is extremely well-known in the field of game studies.”

Consalvo is a professor and the research chair in game studies and design at Concordia. Her latest book, Atari to Zelda: Japan’s Videogames in Global Contexts, studies Japan’s video game scene and the aesthetics of Japanese video games. “She writes in this extremely scholarly mode,” Barr said.

So how can graduate students become members of the lab? According to Barr, “students who are planning on doing a graduate degree […] have to choose a supervisor, who is going to be the main person who advises them in their process. If that supervisor is a member of TAG, then as an added bonus, they become a member of the lab if they want to.”

The lab does try to make exceptions for students with special projects, Barr Said. “If it seems that being at TAG would be really good for that project and they could contribute back to TAG, then they can propose it to us.” But access is limited. “We try to have as many people as we can without accidentally completely overstraining our resources.”

Photo by Olivier Sylvestre


Break it down for me: Video games

Concordia professor says academics need to start paying attention to the growing industry

According to EEDAR, a gaming industry analytics firm, 65 per cent of the United States population played video games in 2016. In 2015, consumers spent a total of $23.5 billion on video game software, hardware and accessories.

The gaming sector is rapidly becoming a juggernaut in the media industry, and academia is starting to pay attention.

Carolyn Jong, a contract instructor and PhD student at Concordia University, designed and teaches “Video games and/as Literature,” one of the few undergraduate courses at Concordia where students look at games from a cultural perspective. The Concordian met with Jong so she could explain why academics should pay attention to the industry.

Why do games matter? Why is it important to study them?

They’re a test case, an example, for where our economy is heading and where our culture is going. You should pay attention to it for the same reason you pay attention to any major medium that plays such a significant role in both our economy and our culture.

Mainly, there are two reasons: one is economic and the other is cultural. Economics and culture are interconnected, and it is really important to look at how they interact with each other in relation to video games.

Let’s start with the economic side.

There is a shift in what we call the “First World” or western developed economies towards a focus on immaterial labour. There is a lot of focus on the cultural industries, on technology, on communications, logistics, all that sort of stuff—and the game industry is obviously part of that. From that, you’re seeing a shift in how work places are being organized and in how and where capital in our society is being invested. It’s important to pay attention to those shifts. A lot of us [in the developed world] are employed in these industries, or want to work in them, so they have big implications for all of us.

Also, video games are always pushing for technological development. It’s sort of an arms race where, between game developers, they are constantly trying to improve the technology, like graphics. The gaming industry pushes for technological improvements. Every year or so, new graphics cards, new processors, new consoles come out. That pushes for the consumption of more hardware, like fancier computers and new consoles. We need to look at how the gaming industry is driving the consumption of computers and other digital technologies and the impact it has on the environment and the people working in those industries.

Can you give us some examples?

A lot of the raw minerals used in computer chips are mined in Africa. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a really well-known supplier of coltan, which is a mineral mostly used for making electronics. The working conditions in most coltan mines are terrible. It’s pretty much slave labour. But a lot of the consumption of electronics isn’t happening in those countries. It is getting shipped out, usually to China or to other manufacturing areas, and then that gets shipped again to wealthy western nations.

Without [the exploitation of these people], there would be no game industry. We wouldn’t have the devices that we need to make video games, let alone play them.

How do video games affect us culturally?

Video games are such a big part of culture that it has an impact on people’s general sense of who we are. It does pay to pay attention to how games might be influencing the way that we think about ourselves. Often, it happens at a subconscious level—it’s not an explicit part of the message that is in the game, but it’s just part of the logic of the game or how the game works. You are not realizing that you are internalizing some of these things, but you learn to take certain things for granted or accept things as normal because you are participating in those games. For example, you can internalize through video games stereotypes about socially-constructed gender roles or racism.

Let’s talk about something we can learn from all that. You did research on “Gamergate,” when prominent female and trans game critics, developers and journalists who wanted change in the industry were harassed by a group of male gamers. There were death threats and rape threats. Is gaming part of an identity that some people are afraid of losing?

In a capitalist system, we are encouraged to identify ourselves through the clothes we wear and through the things we buy—through consumption. If you play games, you are a gamer. That’s part of your identity, right? And you start to be on the defensive if someone is being critical of the thing that you like. For example, if someone is critical of a TV show that you like, it feels almost like a personal attack on you because part of who you identify as comes from your consumption of that thing.

There was a shift in the 80s and 90s in the video game industry to find a target market; it turned out to be young men and teenage boys. It made sense, because they tend to have the most disposable income. But it shaped the culture around games. All of a sudden, publicity only showed white boys and men playing games. For decades, you had women and girls playing games who didn’t really feel it was theirs. They felt it wasn’t something they were supposed to do. It was a boy’s thing. We ended up with a video game culture that, by and large, privileges straight white middle-class cis-men.

That ended up with a toxicity in the culture. There was an understanding from these men of: “we own games” or “games are ours.” It’s not that conscious, but that’s how they think about it. They were hostile to anyone who wasn’t a straight white man. They saw them as outsiders.

You’re doing a PhD on video games at Concordia. How is it going? How is it viewed in the world of academia?

It depends. Right now, there is a lot of focus in the government about promoting video games, because it brings jobs and some other economic benefits. There are huge subsidies in Quebec that go to the major companies in the industry. That’s influencing academia as well; as government policy shifts in that direction, that also means there’s more funding for projects that look at digital stuff in general, and at games in particular.

But it’s still slow. There is a fear in academia that, if there’s money going into studying games, that means there will be less funding for studying literature or for film or for other stuff. But that is just a reflection of the way the institution works. We need to look at what is creating that lack of funding in the first place, instead of fighting each other for what gets studied at the university.

Also, academics are used to being experts. I think it can be scary to be presented with something that you might not be familiar with, and then reject it or not pay attention to it. But again, that’s institutional. In academia, you have to pretend to be an expert because, if you’re not an expert, then what value do you have for the institution?

But with younger people who want to work in the industry and who are coming into university, there is a huge demand to study games. So that change is going to happen, one way or another. I just hope the critical aspect of game studies doesn’t get left behind. A lot of people are coming into it looking for a career in games, and often the programs that are set up to cater to that aren’t about teaching you to be critical of the medium or to think about it deeply or reflect on it. They turn you into a cog inside a machine. You just learn the skills to gain a job in the game industry.

Increasingly, universities are moving in that direction. I’m a bit concerned by that. But that’s not just a problem with games, that’s a problem everywhere. It’s just very obvious with games, because it’s happening very quickly.

“Break it down for me” is a series of articles where The Concordian meets with experts from our university to learn more about pressing issues in our society.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Olivier Sylvestre


A brief look at Montreal’s video game music

The city’s game developers compose music that feels retro yet futuristic

Montreal has an abundance of video game developers who have created huge franchises, like Assassin’s Creed, and small, independent games, like The Shrouded Isle (2017) and SuperHyperCube (2016). The soundtracks of these games are outstanding, perfectly reflecting Montreal’s unique identity—vibrant and eclectic. The music ranges from cyberpunk synth to whimsical orchestration and retro-inspired beats.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), by Eidos Montreal, depicts a dark, neon-lit world polarized by augmented humans programed to wield special abilities. The game is set in the year 2027 in Detroit—home to a new technological boom—and the orange-tinted streets of Singapore. Michael McCann’s soundtrack further enriches the cyberpunk world of Deus Ex.

McCann balances high-octane tracks, like “Everybody Lies,” and moody, atmospheric pieces, like “Detroit City Ambient.” Tension is created during strategic combat sequences, which are amplified by the game’s clever use of music. Although the soundtrack takes inspiration from Vangelis’ Blade Runner (1982) soundtrack, as a lot of sci-fi media does, the world of Deus Ex is dramatically augmented by McCann’s stellar music.

Several years ago, French developer Ubisoft released a succession of experimental and artsy games, starting with Rayman Origins (2010). Out of that initiative, Ubisoft Montreal’s Child of Light (2014) was born. Hand-drawn, impressionistic art brought the game’s fantasy world to life. A palpable difference from the formulaic fare of other Ubisoft creations could be felt throughout the game, which was a decidedly new direction for the developers. It was a distinct change from the high-budget games Ubisoft is known for, like the Watch Dogs series. The soundtrack was no different.

Composer Cœur de pirate, a Montreal-based singer-songwriter, melded melody with whimsy, which can be heard on the track “Aurora’s Theme.” The song features lush cello instrumentation and a gorgeous piano sound. Unlike other Ubisoft games, Child of Light’s soundtrack is more subdued and has the ability to create transcendent moments for players.

Montreal indie developer Polytron released its hit game, Fez, in 2012. The game fell somewhere between retro and modern. The developers created a bright and colourful world, reminiscent of games made in the 90s. And yet, the game pushed the aesthetics and gameplay into territories that would never have been possible in that era. Navigating the world of Fez requires curiosity, a motivation to explore and the ability to think spatially in order to solve complex puzzles. Composer Disasterpeace also straddled the line between retro and classic.

The soundtrack was composed of familiar chiptune sounds—the crunchy electronic synths found in older games—but with a modern twist. For example, the track “Compass” fuses wavy electronic synths with a rhythm typically heard in classic games. “Majesty” features a chiptune melody combined with ambient synth pads and a drum machine—a sound so familiar yet so mystifying. The soundtrack felt inventive, yet it gave the game a warm sense of nostalgia.

Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch Dogs 2 is a game about hacking, dismantling big tech corporations and revealing the corruption of these conglomerates. The game is set in San Francisco, home to Silicon Valley and hundreds of startup tech businesses. A CTOS (Central operating system) controls the city and its inhabitants. The developers satirically portrayed the culture of Silicon Valley, skewering the pretensions of the corporate higher-ups. Despite how mediocre the game turned out, the soundtrack was phenomenal.

Composed by producer and DJ Hudson Mohawke, the music was influenced by contemporary electronic music. Mohawke used sampling, synths and a drum machine to produce a danceable and exciting soundtrack. “The Motherload” features distorted synth beats and an off-kilter drum sound, accompanied by a choir and handclaps. While the track “Cyber Driver” could have been a Run the Jewels beat, it harnesses a lovely synth sound that reminds me of the opening Playstation tune. This is one case where the music is definitely superior to the game.

Music is an essential part of the way people experience games. The more inventive composers get, the more memorable the soundtrack becomes. The aforementioned games took on a unique approach to music, showcasing the ways sound can affect the whole vibe of a game. And each of them exemplified the spirit of Montreal—a city caught between two cultures, a city of awe-inspiring art and architecture and a city that integrates old and new.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


A beginner’s guide to video game music

Chronicling an evolution, from primitive to a seminal artform

Video games and music complement each other harmoniously. Many people have specific memories associated with the music that plays during a particular video game level, especially if it was a more difficult one. With each new generation of video game systems, sound chips, sampling fidelity and storage capabilities have influenced the sounds and textures that can be produced in a game.

Originally, video games had no music. Games like Pong (1972), Space Invaders (1978) and Breakout (1976), only had sound effects. According to a Gamespot article chronicling the history of video game music, Donkey Kong (1981) is one of the earliest examples of music in games. In 1983, with the release of the Famicom — known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America — video game music started to develop its own style. The opening minutes of Super Mario Bros. are iconic, partly due to the chip-tune music composed by Japan’s Koji Kondo. Many classic Nintendo games owe their sound to Kondo, including The Legend of Zelda (1986) and Punch-Out!! (1984).

My favorite tracks from that era are DuckTales’ The Moon Theme,” composed in 1989 by Jake Kaufman, and Mega Man 3’s “Intro,” which was composed in 1990 by Harumi Fujita. Both tracks pushed the capability of the NES’s sound chip — which controls the way game systems output sound — to produce dynamic music that was melodic and atmospheric.

Competition was brewing as the 90s approached. Sega released a gaming system called Genesis in 1989, at the tailend of the NES’s popularity. The Genesis’ sound chip, the Yamaha YM2612, produced crunchy and grungy sounds, and gave composers more tools to work with. Sega’s whole aesthetic during that era was more “cool” and “punk,” and the music produced on the Genesis helped them achieve an edgier aesthetic.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) was the game, many fans will agree, that defined the Genesis and Sega — it was all about coolness, speed and amazing music. Even Sonic’s design took inspiration from the fashion sensibilities of Michael Jackson, particularly the buckles on Sonic’s shoes. Each level featured the rad compositions of Masato Nakamura, who had a background in Japan’s rock scene. Sonic’s soundtrack played a huge role in conveying the style the developers were going for. The dreamy bells and funky bassline of “Star Light Zone” make it a highlight from the soundtrack.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), or Super Famicom in other parts of the world, was released that same year. Nintendo tried to distinguish the SNES from other competitors; music played an important role. While Sega was all about attitude, Nintendo was more like 90s Disney — family friendly, yet experimental. The SNES’s sound chip (S-SMP) had a cleaner, crisper sound and better sampling capabilities. Amazing soundscapes were composed on the S-SMP. David Wise’s compositions for Donkey Kong Country (1994) were ambient and atmospheric, utilizing the sound chip to produce uniquely ambient and melodic music. “Aquatic Ambiance” is one of my favorite tracks from the game. Other games around that time, like Chrono Trigger (1995), Super Metroid (1994) and F-Zero (1990), ambitiously used music to convey grandeur, isolation and speed.

The later half of the 90s was all about 3D graphics and CD roms. Sony entered the market with the Playstation, a console that could fully render 3D objects. Therefore, it needed more storage. In order to store all the data, the system used CD roms. This allowed games to have better sounding instrumentation and the ability to use real instruments. Games started to become more cinematic in this era.

Games like Suikoden II (1998) showed off the newly available possibilities of CD technology. Tracks from the game, like “Reminiscence,” feature an orchestral sound that wouldn’t have been possible before. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997) has one of my favorite soundtracks of the Playstation era. Composed by Michiru Yamane, the music stands out because of its unique gothic-rock sound.

Meanwhile, with the release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, Nintendo decided to stick with cartridge technology. Although this decision caused some problems for the company — game developers preferred CD technology — some great music was made on the 64. The soundtracks for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) and Majora’s Mask (2000), composed by longtime Nintendo composer Kondo, have both become iconic.

Since the release of the Playstation, the trend has shifted to create more cinematic soundtracks. The Metal Gear Solid franchise even hired film composer Harry Gregson-Williams to compose soundtracks for several games. Now, soundtracks are more reactive to gameplay, changing according to the actions of the player. Nier Automata (2017) recently used an adaptive soundtrack, crafting dynamic action sequences that add and remove sound layers as the player fights a variety of enemies.

Despite technological evolution and changing industry trends, unforgettable music has always been produced by the video game industry — music that has been enmeshed in our memories. Just like the timeless games it soundtracks, video game music has so much more to explore.

Graphics by ZeZé Le Lin


Exploring Concordia’s competitive Overwatch team

Students around campus are proving eSports are more than just video gaming

When reading any eSports article by mainstream sports media, you will see a range of opinions. Some argue eSports are legitimate sports—others not so much. But the fact is, eSports is a growing industry and will likely stick around for a while.

Universities are committing to eSports. There are diverse leagues, tournaments and scholarship opportunities popping up to support and fund competitive video gaming. For the past five years, Concordia has been developing an eSports association for those who want to play competitively against other universities.

The Concordia University eSports Association hosts different games, but is currently focusing on their Overwatch roster after earning favourable results in a couple of tournaments since the beginning of the school year.

This begs the question—what is Overwatch? The game is a team-based objective first person-shooter, which basically translates to two teams of six, composed of various characters, trying to win an objective over their opponent. The game came out in May 2016 and is still new compared to other competitive games, like Counter-Strike. The Concordia team was formed in September 2016.

On the weekend of Feb. 10, Concordia’s Overwatch team competed at LAN École de Téchnologie Supérieure (ETS), an eSports tournament held at Place Bonaventure. They placed in the top eight out of 41 competing teams.

“I loved the game and thought maybe making a team would let me enjoy [it] even more,” said Camilo Perez, the captain and coordinator of the Overwatch team. He and teammate Johnny Mak met in CEGEP and managed to get students of the same skill level together to create a competitive gaming team at Concordia.

Concordia’s eSports team made it to the top eight at LAN ETS a few weeks ago. Photos by Sabrina Ahn.

When building the team, Perez said it was important to take players’ personalities into account. If someone is toxic in the game and to their teammates, he explained, they would not be accepted, even if they play at a high skill level. “Having someone like that in the team wouldn’t make for a good environment,” Perez said.

“It’s really a team effort. So at our level of play, if someone makes a mistake, the whole team suffers,” Mak said.

Support player and shot-caller Alex Patton agreed. “We really have to trust each other,” Patton said. “Mistakes are heavy. Especially against good teams, any little mistake that we make we get punished for it.”

Their first tournament was the Tespa Collegiate Series, a web-based intercollegiate competition where participants can win up to $20,000 in scholarship money. “We played against other universities in the [U.S.], and that tournament is what sparked my interest in making the team more competitive,” Perez said. The team finished among the top eight of all the participating Eastern universities.

Since there isn’t a university league like U SPORTS for video games, the Concordia Overwatch team only participates in tournaments, such as LAN ETS or Tespa. To stay at their best and to build team chemistry, they practice two to three times a week.

Perez is the one who schedules scrimmages and practices for the team. “I set up a schedule for practice and everyone shows up. And that’s the law,” Perez said with a laugh. These practices are mostly against other Overwatch teams, such as their Université de Montréal rivals.

Yet, even when they’re not practicing, they still play the game. “We don’t necessarily have to always play together,” Perez said. “Even when we’re not practicing, we play by ourselves.”

“We [have substitute players], but we’re usually available,” Patton said when asked if the team has any backup players in case of absence or illness. In one of their tournaments, the Concordia University eSports Association vice president, Dimitri Kontogiannos, had to sub in for one of the players who was at a curling tournament.

Overall, the team has had their fair share of success in the short amount of time they’ve been together. They placed among the top eight twice in different tournaments, and won a series at Meltdown, a Montreal gaming café.

“I guess we can confidently say on record that we’re probably the best university in Quebec for Overwatch,” Perez said.

Going forward, the team has plans to stream some of their games online for fans to watch, once they find someone to voice the games. The Concordia Overwatch team is now focused on the Ligue Cyber Espoirs, an intercollegiate Montreal-based tournament in April, hosted by the Fédération québécoise de sports électroniques.


When sexy does not necessarily mean sexist

Here’s a video game female character that won’t fall under the usual typecast

Sometimes, it feels like women in video games might as well be oil and water. No matter how much you stir and stir, you’ll always see them ever-so-slightly separate. If it’s done right, it doesn’t sell; and there’s seemingly no consequences if it’s not.

Recently, a game with a female lead has been gaining a lot of attention, for all the wrong reasons. Bayonetta 2, the highly-anticipated sequel to the action game Bayonetta, stars the titular witch Bayonetta as she fights off demons and angels alike to save her fellow witch comrade Jeanne from the depths of hell. We have a female protagonist literally fighting heaven and hell, and kicking ass while doing it. So, what’s the problem?

Bayonetta is—to put it mildly—a sexual character.

Her clothes are tight. She licks her lips. The items that give her boosts are lollipops. And perhaps most damning is that Bayonetta’s power comes from her hair, and all of her powers are centred around it, including her clothing. The more powerful the attacks, the less clothes Bayonetta will have.

And as I write it, I realize that to an outside observer Bayonetta probably seems like a disgusting male fantasy. Let me tell you why you’re wrong.

Bayonetta (left) and Jeanne (right) are the main protagonists of the Bayonetta 2 video game

First of all, let’s look at the problem with women and video games: sexuality is often forced upon the characters. We have characters that are clearly not outwardly sexual in their actions—warriors and princesses, average women and superheroes—who are boiled down to nothing but their sexuality. Chainmail bikinis are standard, and often women are introduced with a long shot on their chest or their behinds. Even their pain is sexualized: when they are hurt they don’t scream, they moan—sensually. I’ve seen more than one game where a woman is hurt or in a fight, and comes out of it with far less clothing than they went in with.

Contrast that to Bayonetta. Bayonetta doesn’t have anything thrust upon her; she owns her sexuality, and she chooses to show it off. The game very rarely resorts to unsavoury camera shots, and when it does, you can tell Bayonetta is almost aware of it, usually with a small smile or a wink in the direction of the viewer. For perhaps the first time, a female character has been made sexual without being a sexual object.

In any other game, even if there was a sexual character, she would not be the hero. Bayonetta even has a stubbled, white male adventurer character named Luka—and they make fun of him constantly. He’s shown to be a dork living out the male fantasy, more than once swooping in to “save” Bayonetta, only to fall flat on his face. Bayonetta, simply put, is never in a position where she is to be saved.

Bayonetta owns her sexuality, and even better, she has weaponized it. She’s placed guns on her high heels, and when Bayonetta loses her clothing—which is never a focus, through the camera or otherwise—you know you’re about to be in for a world of pain. She actively fights men who represent heavenly ideals (known as Lumen Sages). As if this weren’t enough, there’s plenty of evidence that Bayonetta lies somewhere on the queer spectrum, especially where Jeanne is concerned—and did I mention that two people of colour are her comrades-in-arms in Bayonetta 2? Or that the character was designed by a queer woman? The entire game is a subversion of the traditional video game dynamic of the male power fantasy.

I am firmly of the opinion that if there were more female protagonists, Bayonetta wouldn’t be a problem. It’s admittedly unfortunate that one of the first popular female protagonists is sexual, but this does not make Bayonetta sexist. If you want strong female protagonists that don’t need to be sexy to kick ass, then support games like Beyond Good and Evil, Remember Me, Mirror’s Edge and Hyrule Warriors (which, out of a playable cast of 16 characters, has a female majority of nine women).

If you want more women in video games, great! But that responsibility doesn’t lie with Bayonetta’s creators: it’s on you, and your wallet. You need to put your money where your mouth is.

Student Life

Game on Concordian video gamers!

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Looks like gamers now have a reasonable excuse to play video games — apparently they’re good for your health!

According to a new publication by researchers at the University of Utah from the journal Science Translational Medicine, video games can be therapeutic and beneficial to one’s health; helping patients with cancer, diabetes, asthma, depression, autism and Parkinson’s disease.

Carol Bruggers, the lead author of the paper “Patient-Empowerment Interactive Technologies,” featured inthe journal, told Science Daily that “a growing number of published studies show promise in effecting specific health-related behavioral changes and self-management of obesity, neurological disorders, cancer or asthma.”

“We envision interactive ‘exergames’ designed to enhance patient empowerment, compliance and clinical outcomes for specific disease categories,” said Bruggers.

The University of Utah has even created their own video game specifically targeted towards patients called the Patient Empowerment Video Game  or PE Game.

According to the researchers, “video games can act as nonpharmacological interventions [that] may enhance patients’ resilience toward various chronic disorders via neuronal mechanisms that activate positive emotions and the reward system.”

Who knew this day would ever come? Before the news of this research surfaced, most people believed that video games had the opposite effect. I mean, it’s easy to see why. A person can just plug in a game on their computer or television game console and lounge on the couch for hours without realizing how quickly time passes; hours they could be spending outside moving and being active.

Concordia computer science and software engineering professor, Peter Grogono, shared his thoughts on the rise of the so-called exergames: “there are plenty of games for couch potatoes.  However, it is certainly possible to design specific games that encourage physical activity and that improve coordination skills.”

“Some games have been shown to help people with various medical conditions, both physical and psychological,” he said.

So, how is it possible that playing video games can be good for you? With the help of advanced computer technology, that’s how. Let’s take a momentary glance back into video game history and refresh our memory on the facts.

The first video games that came out were 2-D games such as Pong and Pac-Man in the late 1970s, typically played at an arcade which for the most part required a person to stand while playing. A somewhat healthy way to keep yourself entertained. The years progressed, technology started booming and it seemed as though the standing obligation came to a sudden stop.

When home game consoles were introduced, such as Atari, Nintendo and Playstation,people were able to play comfortably sitting alone for hours on end. Not such a healthy activity anymore.

In 2006 Japanese designers created a game console that brought back the standing element of gaming, in the form of the Wii: the latest Nintendo game console that runs off of sensory movement.

Suddenly gaming has become a healthy activity again, starting with the Wii console using games such as Wii Fit and Just Dance, forcing all players to get up off their couches and move in order to play. Other gaming companies like Xbox and Playstation recognized the growing popularity of the so called “exergames” and created sensory consoles of their own, which the University of Utah has now also done.

Thanks to computer engineers, video games have evolved from people having to stand, then sit and now move in order to play, allowing entertainment and exercise to coexist harmoniously. I think it’s safe to say that video games are literally taking a step in the right direction.

Exit mobile version