Op-Ed

Op-Ed
The Escapist's Holiday Buyer's Guide

The Escapist Staff | 8 Dec 2009 05:00
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Second Skin

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If you're a gamer - or even if you aren't - there's a good chance that you know somebody who plays Blizzard's mammoth MMOG World of Warcraft. While WoW is certainly the most popular online game, it's by no means the only one - but despite being played by millions of people worldwide, MMOGs are often impenetrable and difficult to understand for the people who don't play them. Why do so many people spend so much time in places that don't actually exist?

Second Skin, a documentary by director Juan Carlos PiƱeiro Escoriaza, attempts to answer that question, exploring MMOGs and those who play them. Alongside the statistics and expert commentary, the film provides an intimate look at three stories - a couple who fell in love in EverQuest II, a quartet of friends and gamers who all play together, and a man whose life was consumed by a WoW addiction - and how these games have changed their lives for better or for worse.

At times it's intense and uncomfortable, at others it's touching and heartwarming, but from start to finish it's an utterly fascinating exploration of society, escapism, and the bonds we build and break in online games. Second Skin can be appreciated by gamers and non-gamers alike, and will give you plenty of stuff to discuss - or just to think about.

Torchlight

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At $60 a pop, buying the holiday season's biggest titles for the special gamer in your life can be kind of expensive - which is why Torchlight is such a rare gem. A hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler in the style of Diablo or Fate, Torchlight tasks players with venturing into the caverns beneath the mining town of Torchlight to unravel the secret behind a mysterious corruption plaguing the lands. But that whole "plot" thing can wait, because what you're really after is the acquisition of sweet, sweet loot and treasure.

With a charming cartoonish art style and a fluid rapid-click combat system that feels incredibly intuitive and natural - not to mention endless randomized dungeons - Torchlight nails what made Diablo and Diablo II so addictive, and throws in a helpful (and adorable) fuzzy companion to boot. It's a relentlessly good time, it's scalable enough to run on the lousiest of computers, and at $20 you can pick it up and order a pizza to eat while adventuring, and still be well short of what a "regular" game would cost you. With Torchlight, your favorite gamer and your wallet will both be thanking you.

Gunnar Optiks PC Gaming Eyewear

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If you're anything like most of the staff here at The Escapist, you probably spend a lot of time sitting in front of a PC monitor, whether you're chopping up zombies in Left 4 Dead 2, killing dragons in World of Warcraft, or just browsing Wikipedia. If you're anything like many PC users, you may get headaches or blurred vision from the eyestrain of looking intently at a bright artificial light so close to your face for so long. And if you're anything like Escapist staffer John Funk, you're probably scoffing at the idea that a pair of sunglasses could do anything to help the problem. I was incredibly skeptical when I agreed to try the Gunnar Optiks MLG Legend out, but - as strange as it sounds - I found that the sunglasses actually work as advertised.

There's some scientific mumbo-jumbo about how the shape of the lens helps your eyes relax (though it's hard to get used to at first) and how the reflective tinting blocks artificial light, but beyond all the science-speak, the glasses made it much easier to spend long stretches of time staring at a PC monitor for work as well as play. I don't usually suffer from eyestrain, but I did notice a difference - if you do (or someone you know does) end up squinting in discomfort after a hardcore session of PC gaming, you'll probably get even more out of them.

At last, you don't have to feel silly about wearing sunglasses inside!

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