Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 239 - "We are the same blood..."

The Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, is happening right now. It's become a regular event over the past 4 years, with a massive exodus of gamers flocking to Seattle each August. And it's expanded tremendously since it's inception. Created by the guys over at the immensely successful webcomic with the same name, it's a three day festival of music*, cosplay, sneak peeks, and of course, tons and tons of gaming. I don't really know why* but I've never really realized how badly I wanted to go to it until today. I've made up my mind, I'm going next year.

I know I was a bit hard on my fellow fanboys back when I went to ComicCon back in April, but I really just need to shed this 'better than' blanket and realize there's no place I'd rather be than with all my fellow video game afficianados at a festival devoted to the greatest f-ing hobby on the planet.

I'll see you in 2009, PAXies...


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing:
On a Little Big Planet!

*If you recognized the song above, and enjoyed it, you and I need to hang out more!
*Well, ok, maybe I do

Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 233 - "Attention, attention, may I have all your eyes and ears to the front of the room..."

Altruism is definitely not in my genes.

They say donating blood is supposed to be a classic example of a truly altruistic act, since the donor sacrifices time, comfort, and well, life fluid for the sake of someone he'll most likely never meet. It's also anonymous, and after about 6 hours when the bandage is removed no one would theoretically ever know of your good deed. Should you choose not to speak about it.

Despite my best intentions, I always choose to speak about it (look no further than this blog!). And the second I do, with every smug comment and look of sheer egotistical joy I share with friends, family and coworkers takes away the true hypothetical selflessness of the deed. But how do you not casually mention to people what you're doing after work today? Am I supposed to tip-toe around the discussion of how I'm probably going to be saving thousands of lives during a much needed blood shortage from 6-7pm? Am I supposed to just casually deflect people asking me about the bandage on my arm? The arm where they stuck the needle?

Good deeds usually wind up being a way for me to feel better than other people in some small, usually trite way. Today at lunch two friends were discussing their respective sex lives, of which I had nothing of note to report. "Well, that's fine guys - keep on enjoying all that non-reproductive sex you're having. Guess who's making a difference in this world, with bodily fluids that actually have a purpose!" I just realized how cool it would have been if I had actually said that.

The way I see it, if no good deed goes unpunished, then I gotta squeeze whatever the hell I can out of them before I regret doing what I did! I guess that's just the kind of person I am. The kind of person who gives up his car*, raises close to $2000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and who nursed a cat back to health from either cancer or a nasty ear infection, depending on who you ask. All in one year!

This all makes me sound a little insecure, eh? Well, you can't judge me...I donated blood today.


Yeah, but I'd still rather be: Castle Crashing!!!

*Yup, it's true. I decided to go GREEN. I traded my vehicle for 11,000 GREEN bills. Hey-yo!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 232 - "You're still wasting time, yeah, every time..."

My friend and I got into a funny argument the other night. We were discussing a book I recently finished (number 8* for the year - take that, lowered expectations!), "The Time Traveler's Wife," and how I enjoyed the vast majority of the story, but had some major problems with how it ended. I felt like the author could have ended the story in dozens of different ways, given how she set everything up, but she chose one of the least interesting possible choices. After giving my whole lengthy speech, my friend turned to me and said:

"So, if I asked you whether you liked it or not, what would you say?"
"Well, I liked it up until the end..."
"You have to give me one or the other, did you like it, or did you not like it?"
"I...don't think I can answer that question."

Then the whole conversation broke down to my friend arguing that I have issues with offering up more of a (or a different) response to questions proposed to me than is asked for (something he claims is a pattern he sees regularly, but couldn't offer up other evidence of...hmm), and my response was that his question was purely hypothetical, and in 99% of the conversations people have about any sort of review of something, they want more than a simple "yes" or a "no." I said to him:

"I would be doing you a disservice by answering with a blanket 'yes I liked it,' or a 'no I didn't' because the answer isn't that black and white for me..."
"Ah, but you're assuming I want something more than that from you."
"Why wouldn't you? Who wouldn't want a fully fleshed out review over a boring nod of my head? If I asked you how you enjoyed a movie, like say, Tropic Thunder, and you just said "I liked it," I'm going to follow it up because I'm curious to know your specific thoughts."
"Well not everyone's like you."
"Well, then how about this? My answer is: I don't feel comfortable answering that question."
"That's entirely your right."
"But then nothing gets said at all!"
"Then so be it..."

At this point, everything broke down, and I vowed from then on to only asking him yes or no questions, which my friend quickly responded would only further his point. He reminded me that in order to frustrate him, I'd actually have to only ask open-ended questions to actually frustrate him, relative to our conversation. To which I told him I hated him. Which is pretty much how I end any argument I don't win. Or that ends in a tie. Yes, I believe we tied that one.


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: As Ratchet on a Quest For Booty!

*The List So Far:
-I Am Legend
-The God Delusion
-The Geography of Bliss
-Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me
-The Funniest One In The Room
-When You Are Engulfed In Flames
-The Time Traveler's Wife

Did I like them all? Why don't you ask me for the full review!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 218 - "These are the things I think about, when I'm alone without you..."

I just spent the better part of an hour waxing nostalgic over a 16 year-old video game. It was called "Laura Bow in: The Dagger of Amon Ra" - part of a series of murder mystery games put out by Sierra, the reigning king of adventure games back in the late '80s through the early 90's. They were responsible for all the games in the (all excellent in their own right) "King's Quest," "Space Quest," "Hero's Quest," (later renamed Quest For Glory) and "Police Quest" series. You might be thinking that the Laura Bow game doesn't quite fit in with the pattern you see in all the other games. The first game in the series was actually called "The Colonel's Bequest," believe it or not. It sounds like a dare that someone (or someones) at the company just took way too far.

Anyways, so yeah, this game came out towards the end of Sierra's heyday. It featured fancy 16 bit graphics, eventually came out on a CD-ROM (bye bye floppy disks!) and was one of the first games I remember featuring voice acting. I must have played it through it probably at least 10 times. Because I won't be able to write or remember a better synopsis than wikipedia, I'll just copy and paste it:

(from Wikipedia)
"The game is set primarily in a museum circa the 1920s, and reflects the Egyptology craze of the period. The protagonist is Laura Bow (a pun on Clara Bow), a Southern belle who has just graduated from Tulane University and moved to New York City, where she has landed a job at a prestigious newspaper. For her first assignment, she is asked to write a straightforward, lightweight story on a benefit held at a local museum to celebrate their new Egyptian exhibit. When a murder occurs during the party, however, she is locked inside with all of the other suspects. As other guests begin dying one by one, Laura must solve the numerous crimes occurring before the culprits escape or kill her."

Now I won't go in plot details beyond what's listed there, mostly because I vaguely remember any of them, but what I do remember is the incredible sense of wonder and curiosity I got while playing the game. For anyone who's ever enjoyed a really good murder mystery novel, movie, show, or anything, I would like to state for the record here and now that the experience of playing this game trumps that of just about any narrated story, through any medium. And here's why: I experienced the mystery as an active participant, and it was actually MY job to solve it. I started off here (and please, remember this was cutting edge back in '92):

...and from there took off into an exciting, intricately layered plot involving murder, deception, danger and of course, a little bit of romance. The environments, the characters, such a wonderful world created for me to explore. And explore it I did - even if it was simply the size of a museum. Think about how much fun you could have if you had the halls of any museum to yourself to explore and examine. I even remember a lot of the music from the game, though video game music (especially in the MIDI days) is almost always best simply remembered, and not looked up and re-listened to. Doing that just kind of...sullies the memory.

The first time I went through the game I was an exceptionally poor detective. I coasted through the entire story, investigating only what seemed obvious, and by the end I actually had no clue who the culprit was. You see, at the end of the game you pull off the villain's hood but don't see his/her face, you're then asked a series of questions by the police asking if you (the player) have pieced things together. Which I hadn't. So I guessed, got everything wrong, got the bad ending where poor Laura Bow is killed in her sleep by the now freed killer with a tommy gun, and I restarted, with the resolve to get things right next time.

All the clues were there for me to find, if I was willing to dig. I could interrogate everyone, ask them questions about everyone and everything (to - as my investigation and inventory grew - an increasingly ridiculous degree - "Dr. Carrington, what do you know about this corned beef sandwich I've been carrying around since Act I?"), investigate every inch of the museum, grab everything that wasn't nailed to the wall, and when I took a wrong turn and wound up getting my head chopped off, reload an old saved game and see if I could get things right the next time around.

Even death was part of the experience. Like those great "Choose Your Own Adventures" back in the day, these adventure games were all about taking risks and seeing where they would take you. To say nothing of the action! In your average detective story, at some point the exhausted, overworked investigator is going to get "too close to the truth" and someone's going to try to take him out. Well, the whole final act of the game has you attempting to escape the masked killer - and now, say what you want about what I'm about to say*, but by the end of this game I was fully invested in this experience - Laura's Bow life and safety was my own, and I was tense as all hell as I ran through the halls of the Museum of Natural History circa 1926 trying to save my hide.

But by far the greatest moment in the game came when you extract that final nugget of information you need to solve the big mystery. And it doesn't come about like it does in the movies - where the protagonist suddenly stares into the distance for a second and pieces everything together, and you, as the audience member, have the blinders removed, allowing you to see the truth for the first time (unless you make the choice early on that it was totally Gary Sinise* the whole time). You do the sleuthing, so you really do figure it out on your own. In theory. In reality, maybe you're 13 years old at the time, and maybe you get stuck, and maybe you feel like you're never going to figure it out on your own and so you maybe decide to consult a strategy guide. But I totally figured out some of the smaller, inconsequential mysteries on my own!

Sure, the game is set up in such a way that you have to go through certain motions in the plot. You can't start the game, immediately accuse the murderer (even before he's done the deed) and complete the game in 10 minutes, although that would be kinda fun. But even with those kinds of limitations in place, I honestly think that video games are THE perfect medium for truly immersive entertainment experiences like these. There's no better feeling than solving a mystery/puzzle/humdinger on your own, especially in a fully realized, fleshed out world that the creators have clearly spent an enormous amount of time orchestrating.

Laura Bow in: The Dagger of Amon Ra was a fine example of why I truly love playing video games, and will continue to play them starting in....god, 148 more days!??! That many still?!?!


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: Braid, a cerebral spin on the classic platformer. They say it involves a time-altering twist:

*Dork! There, I said it for you.
*Is it just me, or was he the "starts off as an ally/friend, but by the end is the villain" in an inordinate amount of movies in the late 90's/early 00's?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Day 211 - "What's my view? Well how am I supposed to know?"

I recently realized that although I'm a fairly confrontational person when it comes to expressing my views and pressing the views of others, I'm also very quick to back down in the face of any evidence (hard, or even say, anecdotal) that doesn't support my theory or point of view. This also leads to my being swayed by "popular opinion" in a lot of cases.

Now, don't get me wrong - there are certain things that I'd like to think I'm "un-swayable" on - I pretty much lean left on all political issues, I have yet to hear a compelling reason to abandon my long-held lack of faith in a God or any form or organized religion, and to this day I stand firm that the Super Nintendo was a better system than the Genesis, catchy marketing slogan or no.

But there are definitely times where I go into a conversation being fairly certain I know how I feel about an issue - and I quickly find myself back-peddling or I hear myself saying: "well, that's a good point," or "oh, I never thought about it that way." While it doesn't bode well for my debating skills I am actually am not unhappy at the realization that I do this. In fact, the reason I think I behave this way is because there's nothing I hate more than someone who engages in an argument and is completely unwilling to see an issue on any side besides his own. While I can safely say I would certainly never make it in the world of politics, I think there's something to be said for concessions in heated dinner table debates.

The funny thing is sometimes I surprise myself on issues I didn't know I cared much about. The other day a friend mentioned that she had never dated a black man before, and how she didn't think she ever could because she "doesn't know that they can be monogamous, given their culture." That statement took me by surprise, because it was a stereotype of black men I hadn't even thought much about before. I'm also not exactly perfect when it comes to avoiding stereotypes - to this day I assume that all lawyers, investment bankers, and generally successful career-types are all secretly miserable, with their 'all-work-and-no play' existence slowly draining their souls of all that is truly meaningful until all there is left in their lives is a six figure income and a gorgeous apartment near Central Park. This is perhaps due to my insecurities at not being part of that stupid worky worky club, but at the same time it also makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Anyways, so rather than nodding my head and choosing to just move on to the next, hopefully more comfortable topic or saying something along the lines of "yeah, I guess you do hear a lot about black women being left by black men..." I said something I rarely find myself saying:

"I disagree with you on that."

I went on to say that, even if there is something to be said for infidelity for minorities versus whites, or even within certain societal circles (lower, middle, upper class), odds are that any person she would consider dating would probably fall into a certain category of men that were probably A) in a certain age range and of a certain level of maturity, and B) living stable lives, with jobs and their own apartments or homes, and are all therefore equally likely to cheat on her and break her heart. To this point, she fully conceded. To which I responded with a nice little victory dance.

I think as a video game loving, cat owning, bald-headed (and proud!), atheist 5'4" 29 year-old hispanic male living in Bed-Stuy (do or die!) who prefers Red Mango and an episode of Veronica Mars over beer and the Yankees game, I'm naturally going to come to the defense of most male stereotypes since, well, I pretty much put all of them to rest. Or at least, jumble them enough so no one all-encompassing theory holds true.


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: Played some pool this weekend, something I did almost every weekend back in high school. I forgot how much I loved it. I even have my own cue. Probably the only sport* I ever competed and competed well* in. So yeah, I'd love to be playing more of this:

*hey - more so than Poker, right?
*Williams College Doubles Pool Champion '98 and '00!