Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 358 - "A long December, and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last..."

Not pictured: Me shaking in the corner

At less than 10 days to go, I've officially hit the real home stretch. Above is a picture of what's awaiting me in T-minus less than 9 days. You could say I'm more than a little excited. Not only that - a lot of funny thoughts have begun entering my head recently. Namely:

1) For the first time in my life, I've played less games than everyone I know. And yes, odds are, unless you don't own or have access to phone, a computer, or someone you know with Wii Sports, you've played some form of video game this year. And for the first and only time in my life, I can be that total snob that goes: "Oh...that's cool. No, I don't really play games at all. I guess I'm just busy, you know, doin' more important stuff." Of course, I won't. More to the point - I can't, without looking a real big tool come January 6th.

2) This time next Sunday I will be THIRTY YEARS OLD. How the hell did that happen?!?

3) I went on a run outside yesterday and found myself being extra careful when crossing streets, entering traffic, etc. I think there's a part of me that not-so-subconsciously afraid of getting seriously injured or even dying just before I reach the finish line. How tragic would that be? I'm sure at my funeral, they'd mention how I was so close to my goal, and that now I'm probably playing video games up in heaven
*. Maybe they'd even bury me with a video game controller. Heh, that'd be kind of cute. But no! This story will have a happy ending! One where I'm alive playing games again! That, or I die heroically saving the (soon to be) President by jumping in front of a hail of bullets and my name become synonymous with "taking a bullet" for someone - i.e. "Dude, I totally pulled a Shafeek for you yesterday when I told the boss it was my fault the files didn't arrive in time..."

4) The extra free time from the holidays, combined with the lack of any new, good tv and movies, and the fact that I'm ever so close to my goal have created the perfect storm of boredom and frustration. FFFAAAACCCKKKK
*!

5) The other two fears I have is that either A) I will have somehow overhyped video games in my own mind, so much so that after a day or so of playing I will lose interest again (another tragedy), or B) that after not playing for so long I'll have lost all my former ability, and I'll be that controller fumbling, button mashing, gaming noob I've made fun of for years! Oh, the shame. Death would be preferable to such travesties. Well, at least, you know...the cool death I mentioned before.

Boy does not playing games give you a lot a time for self-reflection!

8 days, 7 hours, and 57 minutes...

-Matt

Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: Though I realize that RPG's are going to the hardest thing to get back into come 2009, games like Fable 2 are the also some of the highest rated, well received, and thus hardest to resist games out there:


*This assumes a lot about the place. Would they get new releases past the point in which I died? Does everyone get their own tv, or would it be a shared common room kind of situation? And I hope there's no filter or ban on any M-rated titles. Not in my heaven.
*For the record, not a curse word. Just a sound of frustration.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 353 - "Begin Again. You're no calendar, you're no concrete plan..."

This coming Christmas is going to be weird. My immediate family members all know what I want (see below), and hopefully they'll get me one of the many options I've given them. But I'm seriously going to have to go into a self-induced coma for the next 11 days afterwards, because the sight of any and all games and gaming related paraphernalia is starting to drive me mad.

And yet I cannot stop. Amazing deals are popping up left and right, and for games I've been salivating over for up to 12 months, the temptation is nearly impossible to contain. Devil May Cry IV for $12, Ninja Gaiden 2 for $15, or Grand Theft Auto F-ing IV for $20?!? And finally, the purchase I wound up regretting halfway down the long walk along Times Square back to my job - ROCK BAND 2 SPECIAL EDITION (the one with all the instruments) for $85 from Toy's R Us!!! As I was walking out of the store, I felt like something was wrong. To this day I feel like when I open the box, something's going to have to be missing.

I'm a guy who follows a game for months before it comes out, gets super excited for it, and who's in line to purchase it the day it is released - sooner if I can find a vendor willing to break a street date. So actually scouring the internet for deals on games that have been out for a while is very unfamiliar territory for me. And - combined with my To Play list, it's slowly become a very costly venture.

I should probably post the list at this point, to give you an idea of what I'm hoping to somehow be able to dive back into come January 6th. I carry the double-sided list in my wallet at all times. It's a handy little thing to bust out at parties and place whenever I meet someone new. I happily show it to anyone who any interest in gaming or my year off (it's half the reason I carry it on me in the first place), and I'm especially happy to present it to someone who has no interest in gaming just to see what kind of reaction it gets out of them. Either way, it's a wonderful litmus test for telling someone's general opinion of games and gamers. Within about 3 seconds it's written all over their face.

So without further ado, I present to you the most recent draft of my To Play List:

Click Us To Make Us Legible!

The above list is separated into three sections, pre-2008, when I first started the list (I had already begun falling behind before I even decide to give up games), 2008, and post-2008. Every game is broken down by title, system, whether or not it is currently owned, whether or not it has been released, and what I've coined the "DTP Index" or "Desire To Play," on a scale of 1-10. It's a very detailed list, and it's constantly evolving, which is the other half of the reason I carry it on me at all times. I am very much looking forward to crossing off some titles next year.

Now, let's be perfectly honest here - I will never have the time to play all of these games, unless I am unemployed for a long period of time, become very ill but not ill enough to turn on my television and use a controller with my hands, or placed under house arrest. But still, I take solace in having it. I think of it as the equivalent of the picture of the soldier's wife that he carries on him while he is fighting a bloody brutal war oversees. It's what calms him, and reminds him of what he's fighting for.

Did I just equate not playing video games with being a solider on an actual battlefield, and a list of video games I'd like to play with an actual loving, living, breathing wife? Yes. Yes, I did. And I stand by my statement.

13 Days, 3 Hours, 17 Minutes to go...

Happy Holidays!
-Matt

Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: I told myself I wouldn't even think about 2009 games with all 2008 has to offer me in just a little while, but I'll be damned if some of these titles haven't piqued my interest. I'll start with the obvious one that's been on my radar for some time, Resident Evil 5:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day 346 - "I thought I knew you well...oh well"

Ok, so Spike TV's 2008 Video Game Awards were on the other night. And my good friends over at Joystiq (can I say that now? Too bold?) already put up an article going over ways to fix the VGAs. I think they're pretty much on point with everything they've said, but I have a few more things I think really need to be done before I stop being ashamed of this so-called awards show*, and start actually looking forward to seeing it:

MATT'S WAYS TO IMPROVE THE VGAS:


1) HAVE SOME ACTUAL GAME PLAYING!: You guys set aside at least 20 minutes of time for music acts, why not make a nod to one of your awards and have a little musical competition in there, via Rock Band or Guitar Hero? Have two gamer "bands" compete against each other on stage, or else have a real band play their version of their song, and have some amazing gamer play a video game version of it on Expert. And then the crowd can cheer for who they enjoyed the most.

OR - have some actual game competitions. Halo, Gears, Call of Duty, or less intense games like MarioKart, Smash Bros., or Wii Sports. I know some of this stuff is hard to follow/watch, but you'll find something entertaining in there, I'm sure. Even if it's not competitive - it could even be someone going through a perfect run of Mirror's Edge (when I'm told the game looks its best). I'd love to watch something like that.

At the end of the day, wouldn't all of this be more entertaining than watching Kevin James on a mother f-ing Segway?

2) AUDIENCE (GAMER) PARTICIPATION! Look, video game themed TV is hard, I know. When you put something on television that is about video games, you're basically competing with my desire to just play games instead. And unless I have some investment in what you're putting up, nine times out of ten I'm going to just choose playing over watching. Truth be told, my hiatus from games is probably the only reason I stuck it out and watched the VGAs this year (I'd never seen more than 5 minutes of it in the past).

So how do we change this? How about, on top of each award you hand out based on whatever fantastic panel of judges you have deciding who should get what, you have a second category devoted to "Viewer's Choice?" Gamers can vote on who they think should win online, or on their Xbox, Wii or PS3s, and the results will be picked live. It doesn't have to be for every category (maybe just one for each specific system, since I can't see the companies wanting to list competitor's products), but even a single award given out based on people at home voting à la America's favorite reality singing show could get a lot of us more invested.

3) STOP EMBRACING THE NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES OF GAMERS! The live portion of the show opened this year with Jack Black being attacked by the video game devil and "fending off" human incarnations of things like "books (or reading?)," "exercise," and "healthy relationships." Nice. Two of those things I personally gave up games for this year, and the other is something that I hope to be in one day. The 'bit' was that Jack Black fought them off by pointing out the video game/gamer thing that apparently countered these so-called attacks: The story in GTA IV was apparently good enough to beat the book guy, Wii Fit girl's sexy tush fought off the forces of exercise, and then Ms. Healthy Relationship was defeated by....Kyle Gass. And of course, crotch fireworks:
Better than love and tenderness?

C'mon guys. I can actually see you guys in writers room coming up with all of this, and at the point when you get to "healthy relationships" you guys sit in silence for for about 30 seconds thinking about what could counter that. At which point, someone shrugs their shoulders and says: "Crotch fireworks?" you all have a laugh, and then collectively decide that, yes, this is probably the best answer you're going to come up with. Then you call your wives and tell them you're going to be staying at work a little late that night and you completely miss the irony.

You don't see the people in charge of Little League trophy ceremonies (probably the only place I can think of besides school where I actually was awarded anything, ever) starting the show by bashing Pee Wee Football, spelling bees, or guidance counselors, right? By acknowledging things like books, exercise and loving girlfriends, and how much we apparently hate them, you don't just look ignorant, but you're also just reinforcing the stereotype of the sad, out of shape, and kind of pathetic gamer. And that's not what we are. Well, not most of us at least, I'd like to think.

Yes, deep down inside we all know we're probably choosing games over some of those things at least some of the time, but there's no reason to bring that to the forefront during a show celebrating achievements in gaming. How about this novel idea - instead, let's acknowledge some of the amazing things gamers have accomplished this year?

Or just keep doing what you're doing, since I probably won't be watching next year anyway...

-Matt

Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: This is breaking my own rules a bit, but this video was just too funny to pass up. It's from Soul Calibur IV, featuring my man Voldo, and it's brilliant:


*On a so-called television station. Zing!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 344 - "Every game you play, every night you stay, I'll be watching you..."

I discovered at a fairly early age that I wasn't meant to teach. I just don't have the patience for it. Now, there are very few things that I'm actually good enough at doing to even justify attempting to teach them. But the bottom line is the knowledge of how to do any of those things is simply not going to be passed on by me.

The best example of this is with video games. I am incredibly impatient with all but the quickest of learners when it comes to teaching anything related to my favorite hobby. Incredibly adorable children or attractive women aside, I generally won't even try. Actually, believe or not - I'd rather work with kids since they're more likely to be into it, and genuinely want to learn and get better at the game. Whereas with most women I've encountered, I can usually feel the judgment coming from their eyes while I'm giving a tutorial on how to get the monkey in a ball across the stage.*

Now, while I have no desire to teach the art of gaming to people, I actually love side coaching people who are already playing games. It's one of the oddities I've discovered in this year off - I always assume I'll hate being in the room with other people who are playing (and other people generally assume the same, looking at me with those sad, puppy dog eyes as they fling the Wiimote around poorly and lose dozens and dozens of easy points in Wii Tennis), but as it turns out, I get really into it. Because while I don't enjoy people needing my assistance when it comes to figuring out the basics of how to play a game, I very much love offering up my own personal advice when it comes to how to play a game right. Does that make sense?

Once people are getting into their games, they've gotten their bearings, and they're kind of having fun say, driving Yoshi into a piranha plant while Lakitu floats down and tells them they're going the wrong way - this is when I feel the need to intervene. Because yeah, they might think they're having fun, but they're not. Not just yet. I'll show them the way to fun. Which, first and foremost, starts with turning the fuck around and learning how stay on the fucking track. Some might call me a "killjoy," or a "backseat gamer," or "kind of a douche." But look - papa knows best. I'm only trying to do right by people, and show them the proper way to play. If people on the streets can tell me what they think is the path to eternal salvation, I'll be damned if I'm not going to speak up and let you know how to properly reload your weapon*.

I think the proper term for people like me is "Unsung Hero." Hmm. I wonder if Activision has started working on that one yet. Zing!

***
Joystiq interviewed me and ran a little article on my year off this Friday, which was pretty flattering. I was actually just emailing them to get mentioned on their podcast, which ironically didn't wind up happening. And while I've gotten a ton of praise for the blog and what I'm doing (and seriously, thank you to all of you who started reading and who've written me) part of me was most excited to read the negative feedback I knew I'd inevitably get. Some highlights, from the comments section of the post:

"The guys a fucking idiot. You may as well say "i'm going to quit relaxing!" or give up comfortable chairs, or reading, or something. So games waste your life, he's saying. Yeah, i'm sure all the time he spent watching TV instead were SO productive."

This guy clearly wasn't a fan of my proposed plan for 2009: Giving up pillows, mittens and kittens.

"What a douche bag, I bet he can't give up materbation as easy."

I'll avoid the easy target and acknowledge his typo and say yes, I couldn't have given up masterbation as easily. But I bet I could go longer without self-pleasuring myself than he could without cobbling together and posting another gem of a comment like this.

"I don't get it. You only played around an hour a week, but when you "stopped playing games" all of a sudden you have all this time to travel and run and shit. Sounds like your priorities suck. I probably game about 2 to 4 hours a week at most. I have to manage my time between playing guitar, band, reading books and comics, work, drawing, and now I started a project with my friend to make a movie and am writing the script etc. I can do all these hobbies and game (mind you they get switched around and multitask like playing guitar while waiting for whatever etc.)"

Ok, this commentor has a legitimate (if somewhat antagonistic) concern, so I'll address it. First of all though, let's get the numbers right - I said in the interview I was playing just a few hours a week, which I said (and I think was cut from the interview) was about 5-6 hours a week. That's significant, if you add it up week by week. And yeah, this included the train ride to and from work, and portions of my weekends and weeknights. When I was down to that number, I was already pretty busy, working two jobs, writing and performing improv, etc. So I was already managing a decent balance.

The main trades I made for my gaming time were reading, writing, and exercising. I hadn't been to a gym at all since college, the only thing I had written in the past two years was the script for my one man show, and I read one book (although it was an inspiring one) the entire year. And now all that's changed. So maybe I'm also managing my time better, now that I'm more aware of it. And, as I said in the interview, the goal for 2009 is to continue doing all of that, and still find time for gaming. It's going to be a tricky little balancing act, but yes Sidebuster, the true accomplishment will come when I'm pulling that off.

Now - to all of my new (and old) friends who are counting down the days with me, I'll see you all in a little over 3 weeks. Find me on Xbox Live - RC Jester (and for those of you watching the account, be aware that other people have access to my 360!) and let's play some games together. Just be sure you know what you're doing before you hop in a game with me, ok? I have a hard time coaching and playing at the same time...

-Matt

Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: I don't know that I'll ever get to this game, but it sounds hilarious. MINOTAUR CHINA SHOP!:

Minotaur China Shop Trailer from Flashbang Studios on Vimeo.


*Look, just pretend Aiai is uh, Carrie, and she's trying to get over there to get to, uh, an awesome sale on a new pair of Manolo's - does that help??
*Right trigger and B. No, you have to hold both of them. No no - hold the trigger first, then press B. OH GOD! Just give me the controller, I'll take over from here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Day 336 - "I've got a hunger twisting my stomach into knots..."

As I approach the last few weeks of being 'Paused,' (less than a month left as of 12:01 AM today!) I've begun to reflect on what this past year has meant to me.

There were things I knew I wanted to do this year: starting the blog, running the half marathon, traveling more, doing some serious reading, etc. And while I went through the list of my goals, I felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, along with the obvious accompanying benefits of exercising, reading, writing, performing, and seeing the world. In simpler terms, I spent time acquiring Experience Points (EXP), and I scored a +1 bonus to my Strength (STR), Defense (DEF), and Intelligence (INT).

Now... how do I raise my Luck???

But there were a few secondary benefits to my year off from games. Some things I didn't know would happen until, say, I found myself sitting on my couch at four in the morning staring at dusty controllers in my living room, mouthing the words to Glory Days, and weeping silently to myself*.

Here are some less embarrassing self-discoveries:

1) I can really put my mind to something, and get it done. Disney was trying to tell me this for years, but it took this event for me to really realize it. If I can give up my favorite hobby on the planet for an entire year, and replace that time with (arguably) more productive habits, then I'm fairly convinced I have the discipline to accomplish anything I'm remotely serious about. Goonies 2* script, here I come!

2) I'm much more excited about being single than I realized. A year ago I was going on all kinds of dates, some of them of the Crazy Blind variety, in a fairly dedicated attempt to put myself out there and meet someone. Now here we are a year later, and I started looking at all of the things A) I managed to get done with my time during my year off from games, and B) I'm looking forward to doing next year, when I'm obviously going to want to play games, but I'm still going to want to continue doing all the awesome things I started (or restarted) doing recently. And I realized I couldn't have done a lot of this if I wasn't single.

Now, I don't begrudge all of my friends who've paired up. But up until recently I was always a bit jealous of anyone I knew who was in a relationship. And now I know that I have a certain level of freedom that many of them don't. So does that mean I'm going to overlook potential mates should the opportunity arise? No, of course not. But let's just say I'm in a pretty sweet win-win position. Also - to all my secret admirers out there: if you're biding your time to make a move on me - you're probably going to want to wait until at least February...

3) I'm now very serious about having a career in the game industry. This one's a little less surprising to me, but I've never been as sure of it as I am now. I've always want to work in the game industry on some level, and truth be told, I've already held two jobs that fall under this category. But I wasn't ever really sure if it was just because I enjoy playing games so much that I was forcing something that really wasn't meant to be or not. I've loved cookies just as long as I've loved games, why not get a job in the cookie industry?

I was at video game career fair recently where I heard from a few small game company CEOs describe their ascent into their current positions. I took a minute to look around the room full of college students, gamers, and maybe a few people who just didn't know what they wanted, and I finally stopped and thought about myself for a second. I had an ipod on my lap with 5 different gaming podcasts on them, and list of all the games I want to play sitting in my wallet. I'm obsessed not only with games but gaming culture - reading every bit of news on the industry I can get my hands on. I know the names of, or at least can recognize, the heads of most major game companies, along with a bevy of major gaming journalists. Finally, I've revolved a year of my life around the challenge of simply not playing them. And despite not playing anything - video games remain a huge part of my life.

Clearly gaming is more than just a hobby to me. And I need to - rather, I'm going to turn this energy and passion into something substantial.

-Matt

PS: As an added bonus to the year off, I got myself totally psyched to turn 30. I made this usually depressing milestone - considered to be the end of one's youth, the point in which I can go back to being a kid again!

Yeah, but I'd still rather be: Ghostbusting!


*This actually hasn't happened to me...yet.
*I may or may not decide to keep the mermaid.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Day 332 - "I do the best imitation of myself..."

I read an article recently that discussed a mental illness that is being discovered in people where they believe they're secretly on a reality television show. They're calling it the "Truman Syndrome" after the Jim Carrey movie. This is is all well and good, but the truth is, I had this so-called "paranoid delusion" when I was just a little kid, before I'd ever heard of the movie.

Thinking back, I was such a little narcissist. My fantasy was that my entire life was being video recorded secretly by cameras all over the place. And of course, it's easy to reinforce this thought at a young age, since when you often find yourself pretending to battle Octoroks in a department store, you're bound to have some eyes on you at any given time. Now, this collection of video recordings that were being made of me were essentially being played back in real time (you can either say I had very little understand of the film making process, or that my thoughts of live streaming video were way ahead of its time) at various local movie theaters all over the country.*

I distinctly remember two memories about this thought process. One was that I was often "hamming it up" for the cameras everywhere I went. Wherever I went, in public or alone, I would assume someone somewhere was watching me, and as such, it was my job to be entertaining. I would run everywhere, just being running is infinitely more exciting to watch that walking. Plus I would get to my next scene sooner. And I would do all kinds of crazy poses at random times, poses that I knew would look bizarre to anyone who wasn't aware that I was the star of my own lifetime-length feature film.

Second, I remember when I went to sleep at night, I imagined the giant theater that was filled with audience members on the edge of their seats thinning out slowly to take care of various personal matters. Logically speaking, I couldn't expect them to not have to sit through 7-9 hours of my inactivity. Presumably they had jobs, spouses and children, all of which could be dealt with during this time. But of course, not everyone left. There were the diehards who knew at any time I could awake suddenly and do something incredibly exciting and/or hilarious. Those were my real fans.

I don't remember when I gave up the dream/delusion of grandeur. I do know that when I saw the Truman Show I kicked myself at having missed out on making my silly fantasy into a Jim Carrey vehicle. And to this day I have a tendency to be a bit more flamboyant and loud when I'm in public (much to the chagrin of my close friends) since I know there's actually a legitimate chance that anything I do while out could wind up on YouTube.*

-Matt

PS: One last thought about the article - in the first sentence it references a man who went to "a federal building asking for release from the reality show he was sure was being made of his life." I don't mean to belittle someone with a legitimate mental disease, but A) what made the man choose that particular federal building of all places? Was it the post office? A police station? Where would you assume they had the paperwork? B) Hasn't he seen the movie? They wouldn't ever acknowledge it, unless of course you take your boat all the way to end of the set and wear down the possessive, controlling, dictatorial director. C) Why would you ever want to be taken off the show? Who doesn't want to be a STAR?!?

Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: with his royal highness, the Prince of Persia:


*I guess I figured I hadn't quite reached international fame yet.
*Which, while fun, would be a distant second to my true desires.