Wednesday, November 25, 2009

319 Days UP - "Baby seasons change but people don't..."

A few months ago while I was at PAX I was lucky enough to be interviewed by one of my favorite new gaming podcasts, A Life Well Wasted - which, I've coined the This American Life of video game podcasts. It's less about current events, and about game culture itself, and the people in the industry/gaming world who eat, sleep and breath games. The latest episode is entitled: 'Help,' and I'm the 2nd of three segments. Like many people I hate hearing the sound of my own voice, but I think I come off intelligent enough, eh? Leave a note in the comments if you've given it a listen!


PS: Isn't the poster for the episode awesome? And not just because my name is on it in tiny letters at the bottom! I bought it the second it went on sale (admittedly, mostly because my name is on it in tiny letters at the bottom).

Friday, November 20, 2009

314 Days UP - "The mood is right, the spirit's up, we're here tonight and that's enough..."

AMNY (apparently my new favorite source for material) had an article yesterday on how the service industry stands to lose a lot of money this year on seasonal tipping. Another tragic victim of the economy, blah blah blah. Anyways, the highlight of the whole thing comes in a quote from Patricia Fitzpatrick, head of the Etiquette School of New York, who "advises clients that if cuts have to be made, it's gifts for friends and family that should go first, because service providers can earn 10 percent of their annual income through the year-end bonuses."

Man, would I HATE to be that woman's relative and/or close friend:
"Billy, Mary, Jerry, George, Cathy, Uncle Greg, Aunt Lisa, little Derrick, Gem-gem, I just wanted to let you know I've cut back this year on the gifts, because as you all know the service industry is struggling, and it's up to each of us to prop them up during this tough economic climate. So everyone dig into this box of assorted teas - whatever you can grab is your present for the year..."

Blatantly copying from an old improv friend, I'm starting a new feature in my blog where I'm going to highlight some of the great moments from my most recent improv show with Phooka, which I perform with at the Magnet Theater every Wednesday night.

What you missed from this week's Phooka show:
-11/18/09 @ 10:00PM-

-A Communist themed toy shop, complete with self-propelling yo-yo
-A film director and his brother fascinated by a story (an immigrant toy shop owner, her sister, and a laundry list of sexual encounters) that writes itself
-A David Lynch feel running through the entire show, complete sporadic non-sequitors, nonsensical moves, and a collapse of the 4th wall. Oh, and Lynch himself emerging from the body of another to end the show.
-Pro-Nazi Agenda Themed Cards
-Lesbian sibling sexual experimentation (with a creepy cymbal monkey watching) in the attic of an Anne Frank-esque hideout
-Finally, my favorite line of the night: "When they came for the toy shops, I said nothing. When they came for the high-end yogurt shops, I said nothing. And then, they came for me."


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

311 Days UP - "It's time like these, time and time again"

Just try and unlock me!

Hoo-doggy! I just had one of the greatest, most nostalgic, multiplayer-based gaming weekend of my life, and boy are my thumbs tired*!

Friday night I spent some time playing Street Fighter IV with an old high school friend. This particular friend - whose name is Ryu, believe it or not - and I met in high school, and soon after we met we both discovered we had an affinity for Street Fighter II, the most popular (well, only) fighter of the time. We spent many a night shooting fireballs and dragon punches back and forth. And this Friday night was no different. We actually invested most of our time into unlocking one of the final secret characters, (a character speculated about as far back as Street Fighter II, but never seen) which was awesome.

Saturday I hit a milestone I don't think I've hit before, and it was thanks to two close friends of mine who amazed me with their passion and dedication to both purchasing (we waited on line for nearly two hours to get the game a day early from the Nintendo World Store in NYC) and playing (we immediately went back to said friends' home and played from 5:30pm - 12:30am) New Super Mario Bros. Wii. As crazy as I am about video games, I rarely cross the 4 hour mark in any one sitting. But minus brief beer, chinese food and bathroom breaks, we powered on through all night long. We even wore the free, bright Mario-red colored t-shirts we were given when we bought the game to rehearsal the next morning, proudly showing off our dedication to...looking like total dorks, I guess.

It's-me-Ma--ah, surely you-a know by-a now..

It's almost cliche to mention my love of classic Mario games, but it was really was the first Super Mario that solidified my current love if video games. My dedication to playing and beating that game easily surpassed all my other friends, which should have been an early sign how much this stuff was going to take over my life. And each Super Mario sequel got me more and more excited for what the creators had to offer.

By the way, did I mention the new one is fantastic? Fans of old school Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 3 in particular (a personal favorite of mine), will absolutely adore this game. Plus, 4 player co-op, with the ability to help (or if you're feeling naughty, hinder) your fellow players, as well as drop in and out at any time make it a really great game to play with company over.


Finally, Sunday, as well as several chunks of time surrounding the weekend, before and after, I invested quite a bit of time into Resident Evil 5. The Resident Evil series has been a staple in my gaming diet since college, when I discovered RE2 my freshman year of college, and obsessively played it over and over again (in the dark, just to solidy my presence in my dorm as someone not to be socialized with) to discover every little secret waiting to be unlocked.

Though I mostly wound up playing this sequel alone as well, I did spend a little bit of time busting caps in zombie's heads with friend of the blog (read: reader) Will Claiborne, whose companionship informed me that despite all the glaring flaws the game may have, the co-op play, the game's one incredibly strong addition (well, two - the game is gorgeous in HD) makes you forget just about everything else.

This weekend was amazing because 3 nights mostly spent indoors in front of a television is, objectively speaking, not usually considered a particularly exciting one. But sprinkle in a few friends and a heaping dosage of nostaglia to my video games, and Christ on a cracker, there was nothing else I'd rather be doing!


Currently Playing: (See above)

*Just kidding, that never happens to me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

297 Days UP - "I know I say that I'm just fine, but I hope you wonder from time to time..."

Leafing through a recent AM NY, I saw an article on wellness that listed a few simple steps that were supposedly small, preventative measures that go a long way to long term health. As I've gotten older I've noticed - in a narcissistic, self-esteem boosting, completely unscientific way - that I tend to get less sick than most of the people my age that I know. And while I've always truly hoped it was because I was born with the same healing power mutant ability as Wolverine, every time I cut myself shaving I am forced to concede that it must in fact be something else. Apparently that something else is haphazardly falling precisely in line with the six small steps listed in this article that lead to an overall healthier lifestyle, which I'll take the time to co-opt and re-list here as if I came up with them on my own:

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #1: Take A Walk
One of those obvious ones (as most of these are), I wound up walking a lot more simply by being a NYC resident. And those life-extending steps wound up getting even higher once I sold my car when it become more of a financial burden than I wanted almost two years ago. The article claims '10,000' is the minimum you should aim for each day, which is about 5 miles apparently. I walk about a mile during my commute to and from work, and while I have absolutely no idea how much walking I do during the rest of the day, (and I refuse to buy an pedometer to find out) I'm going to say right now that it's probably close.

Hmm, it's thicker than I remember...

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #2: Nix Soda
Soda actually wound up playing a pivotal role in stopping a HUGE amount of weight I wound up gaining in college. Throughout high school I was ridiculously skinny - I graduated weighing around 90-95lbs, but that was the MOST I ever weighed. I won my high school pull up contest not so much by being stronger than the other guys in my class, but by simply having so little to lift that it made the contest a little unfair.

Anyways, in college I wound up gaining the 'Freshman 15', which for me was totally welcome (the day I broke triple digits I did a little dance). I was eating 4 desserts a day, and gaining the weight I'd wanted for so long! Then I wound up gaining the lesser known 'Sophomore 20' as well. Ruh-roh. Around the time my junior year rolled around along with a paunch and even some chin fat (!), I realized something had to give - besides my belt! Badum-tish.

Up until this time in my life I drank soda with most of my meals (not breakfast, but believe me there was sugar to be found in morning beverages as well). A turning point in my life came when I woke up in the middle of the night incredibly thirsty with no soda or juice in my fridge and I wound up walking around campus in the middle of the night in the dead of winter in a small college town in Western Mass (I'm trying to emphasize here that it was COLD outside) in my pajamas, desperately searching for a soda machine.

After that day I decided maybe I'll a little too dependent on sugar in my drinks. I stopped cold turkey and started drinking water with almost everything, and it actually wound up being a pretty easy transition. Diet soda disgusts me, and I didn't give up dessert or any other treats, but along with some moderate exercise I immediately noticed some great results. Also, drinking tap water at most restaurants must have saved me hundreds of dollars over the years.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #3: Strengthen Muscles
Hmm, well - I've belonged to/attended gym for probably less than 2 years of my life, so I really can't say I totally do this on my own without any even realizing it. Truth is the gym has traditionally been an active choice - BUT I will say that I do miss the days of being younger living on a block with tons of kids who during any given school night would be running around outside playing a block spawning game of hide and go seek or freeze tag, where I'm sure I burned more calories in a night than I ever have during a trip to the gym.

And I really do enjoy running on a nice day. I wouldn't have done the half marathon last year if I wasn't able to derive some pleasure out of the training that it required.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #4: Chill Out
Ah, here we go. If I ever write any kind of "Health & Wellness" book at some point in my life, it will be probably be best summarized by the above two words. I'm truly the king of making time to just chill out, and while it's kind of hard to smugly sit back and acknowledge that the many hours sitting around playing video games, watching television, and browsing the internet have been beneficial to my overall health, it is something I've been telling myself more and more these days to offset the growing guilt that comes along with it. Relaxation is a choice, and when done in moderation, is as valuable as other use of your time.

I guess I've also made a lot of 'anti-stress' choices throughout my life that some may see as lazy, which I'm sure is a factor. Graduate school? Nope. Financially rewarding career choices? Negatory. Children? Ha, as if! I guess I'm incredibly lucky in that even before I get home and unwind, I'm barely all that wound up to begin with. Before this starts to seem like bragging, note that I am also very poor, and as of right now my DNA will be passed on to no one.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #5: Eat Out Less
By now you've started to notice that my relative stages of poverty throughout life have led to an amazing side benefit, which is that I am apparently to have a longer, healthier life of eating dinner out of cans. As I mentioned recently, I made learning to cook a big project this year, and it was 100% exacerbated by my 7 months of unemployment. The large increase in available time, along with the large decrease in income created the perfect storm of forcing me to abandon my ritual of rotating through every item on the Chipotle menu each week.

Mmm, this looks like Tuesday!

For a long time I made the argument: "cooking for just yourself is boring, and it doesn't really save you that much money!" but once I set my mind to it, the opposite was soon proven to be true. If you're comparing a Wendy's value meal to a fancy home cooked meal, then yeah, that night 'eating out' might have actually been cheaper. But when you buy a packet of chicken, rice, beans, vegetables, and you cook ALL of the food, save the leftovers, and make multiples nights of dinners/lunches out of it, there's really no comparison anymore, health-wise or money-wise. Plus, plug in your iPod, turn on a podcast or some tunes and no task seems boring anymore!

This, combined with my relative awareness of caloric intake from the time I gave up soda has made me a very much haphazardly healthy eater. Actually, that's not super true - I probably still don't eat the well balanced diet that would REALLY keep you feeling healthy forever, but I'd like to think that keeping a relatively svelte figure and never getting more than a mild cough and the sniffles is a sign that I'm not doing SO bad.

Matt Shafeek's Haphazard Step To Wellness #6: Be Social
I've always been really shocked by people who up and move to a new city/new life because I really can't imagine myself ever doing that. And its not just because I live in New York, the greatest f-ing city on the planet. My entire social network is here. College friends, high school friends, family, the improv community, scores of ex-lovers*. How could anyone just give all that up, right?

But here's the revelation I made recently -while it would truly pain me to leave all my friends and family behind, I should be incredibly confident in the knowledge that wherever I go, I can and WILL make tons of new friends. Because that's what I do. I put that time in to socialize without even really thinking about it. I'll invite new coworkers to come see shows, new acquaintances to a party at my place, and really just about ANYONE with an inkling of interest in video games to come play with me anywhere at any time. I need people in my life more than almost anything else. And apparently, according to the article:

"...research has shown that joining a club, group or sports team or keeping in constant contact with friends can create a sense of identity that can help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia. 'Loneliness breeds both illness and early death,' according to the MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging In America."

Stop f-ing around and play the game right! Your health is on the line!

So there you go, Matt Shafeek's Co-Opted, Haphazard Steps To Wellness. It's the wellness guide I somehow didn't know I was making with my off-beat lifestyle! In hindsight I didn't actually offer any tips on how to start doing those things yourself, but hey, that's time I could be spending 'Chilling Out,' so I'll leave the rest up to you, dear reader!


Currently Playing: I've finally managed to secure all those cores in Defense Grid, and I've started putting in some serious and enjoyable playing time in my new favorite XBLA release, Shadow Complex. I also snagged a cheap, used copy of Resident Evil 5, which I've just started playing as well (Side note: I NEED a partner - find me if you're down to play the game, again or for the first time!), (Side note to the side note: I kind of hate that I NEED a partner to fully enjoy a video game!), and last night I checked out the demo for Left 4 Dead 2. I could definitely see myself enjoying that game, and between that, Modern Warfare 2, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it's looking a bit like the season of multiplayer, eh? Too bad I still have so much of a back-catalog that I won't be enjoying those games anytime soon...

*that's right, I said SCORES!!!