Thursday, August 27, 2009

229 Days UP - "You're a few years overdue, I spent them waiting here for you..."

Update: Literally seconds after publishing this post I walked out and lo and behold the UPS truck was three doors down! I'm back baby! And Re: Batman: Arkham Asylum, all I can say is: believe the hype!

I'm sitting here at my desk growing more and more anxious every minute as I await the belated arrival of the Gatekeeper, as I sit here angrily staring at the Keymaster.

Let me back up for a second - my Xbox 360 died at the top of the month, so I've been sort of "Re-Paused" ever since then, though that is of course a misnomer because I have plenty of other systems and games that I've dabbled in during this hiatus. But my 360 is my main gaming hub - case in point: the most anticipated game of the year was just released, and I bought it the day it came out, at full price - something I haven't done in years.

So I'm waiting for UPS to get me my system back so I can play the game I've heard literally nothing but glowing praise about. And after two annoyingly late delivery attempts that I wasn't able to make, right now UPS is sitting squarely at #2 on the Matt Shafeek Shit List. Why the 2nd, when clearly they are the ones keeping me from achieving my long awaited gaming euphoria? Because last night, when GameStop sold me my copy Batman: Arkham Asylum, they firmly placed themselves right at the top.

I ran to the GameStop in Herald Square last night between shows at my theater, and after waiting on the wrong line for 5 minutes (oh, there's an Xbox floor?), finally met with the clerk who was holding onto my reserved copy of the game, who was just telling another customer that he simply HAD to get the new Batman game, but quickly clarified to him that of course, no one could get it now unless they had a reservation, obviously. "Haha, sucker!" I thought. How the tables would soon turn.

I handed the clerk the receipts from the games I traded in towards credit for Arkham Asylum, and he nodded and went over to the shelf with about 4-5 copies of the game box on display. He grabbed what was obviously an open, empty box for the game and informed me that since they sold out of the "regular new" copies of the game, he was going to have to sell me a display case copy, that looked a little something like this:
So wait, is it NEW or not? And why won't someone tell me what this COSTS!??!

While the disc was new, the box and inner sleeve looked and felt like they'd been handled way more than I'd have liked. The salesman sensed my frustration and explained that since poor mega-corporate retail game giant GameStop isn't given any display boxes for new releases they are thus 'forced' to use copies they intend on selling instead, propping them up on the counter until such time as they are claimed. They had sold out of the nice, factory sealed and legitimately NEW copies, and these were all they had left for suckers* like me who sauntered into their store with a pre-order and a foolhardy sense of entitlement a FULL 20 HOURS after the game's release!

I have a few glaring problems that in hindsight I'd wished I'd asked at the time:
1) Why do you NEED display cases for a game you've established is currently sold out? Do you just need 'general awareness' of the title in your store, besides the giant posters, the lifesize cardboard standees, and the playable copies on EVERY PS3 AND 360 DEMO STATION IN YOUR STORE?
2) You want something to show up to the counter, maybe to get people thinking they can buy it, and then, once rejected, maybe they decide then to reserve for your next batch or something, fine. Why do you have to attached THREE DIFFERENT PRICE STICKERS to a copy of the game you know will be out of your store in less than 48 hours, either by the reservee or by the person you sold it to instead (as is your policy)?
3) After he put the disc in the already opened case, you know what he did? He RESEALED IT WITH ANOTHER F-ING STICKER! This one clear, at least, but right over the crease where you open the box, so that I guess it feels kinda-sorta new-ish when I bring it home, and have to remove it again? Are you kidding me? This is the equivalent of opening a banana, getting a nice lick in, and then reclosing it up, twist-tying it, placing it in a shopping bag and then SELLING IT TO YOU AT FULL PRICE.

GameStop had earned some brownie points with me recently with some nice deals, but last night reminded me why I stopped going to them in the first place. Keep your stickers and your display cases, GameStop, I'll stick with BestBuy and Amazon from now on.

-Matt

(U)PS: WHERE ARE YOU!??!??!?!?!?!!?

*Oh, so the tables have turned, have they? Well I guess puts them at #3 on my shit list!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

228 Days Up - "This fire is outta control, we're gonna burn this city, burn this city..."

This blog post's for you, Mr. Sedaris...

While sitting in the waiting room for what felt like my 700th job interview recently, I picked up a copy of The New Yorker and read a great piece by my longtime favorite author, David Sedaris. In it he described a metaphor given to him by a tour guide in Australia involving a four-burner stove. Each of the burners on the stove represents a section of your life: Career, Family, Friends and Health. According to this tour guide, in order to be successful in any one area you had to turn off one of the other burners. And in order to be REALLY successful, you had to turn off two. The woman telling this story had apparently been a great businessperson, managing her own company and being able to retire at 55. But she said she turned off the 'Family' and 'Health' burners as a sacrifice in order to achieve this.

This part of the story really stuck with me, because instantly my mind went to my own personal stove, which quickly expanded to 14 burners: "Exercise! Improv! Cats! My Netflix Queue! Cooking! Curing Baldness! My Facebook Page! My Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game that I still haven't beat!," and so on. And speaking of video games, they are easily the largest, most consuming burner of them all! You simply can't play every awesome game out there and be a functioning member of society. Loving video games as much as I do, and wanting to play them all thoroughly is the equivalent of turning down every other burner.

However, the bigger issue was that for every other burner I've managed to keep active, I've definitely kept 'Career' on a very low flame, much to my (if nothing else, financial) detriment. I've fought so hard against being the trapped in a cubicle/dead end job/other work-related cliche that I wound up running all the way in the opposite direction, to Funsville, where you get to pursue all the hobbies you want, keep 10 TV show season passes on your DVR, and generally sleep more than most people, all the while your friends and colleagues are looking at houses to buy, and you're just barely making rent (though the lack of job for 6 months thing is a big factor in that). So, given all of this, the scary question I've been asking myself since reading the article is: "It's been 30 years, and I've had a great time in Funsville. What burners am I willing to turn off at this point to focus on my career?"*

This mentality carries a certain morbid association with work. I know the dream is to make a career out of something you already enjoy doing, thus enabling one to 'merge burners,' as it were, and and make better utilization of your flames (yeah, I think I've used that metaphor fully by now). I guess there's a certain fear in making that conscious decision to shift focus away from anything I'm currently enjoying doing with my time, for fear of missing out on something. Even silly things I've come to pride myself on, like being the guy who's great at keeping in touch with old friends. But unfortunately the metaphor, when taking literally, is absolutely true: splitting yourself in 14 directions just makes you 1/14 as dedicated to each area as you could be, if my crappy math is correct.

At the end of the day, I've been down this road before, and the name of that road is also the name of this blog. So maybe it's time to do something like Paused again on an even bigger scale. Pick a direction, and just run with it. Go to business school. Really focus on that job in the game industry. Get serious about my writing. Start going on auditions. Or...you know, I could also just win the lottery. That would also work pretty well.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The aforementioned simple action of reading the Sedaris article in the New Yorker actually led to a moment where I realized that sometimes I really am honest to a fault (or perhaps just stupid). During the interview proper some time later, the interviewer, who thus far seemed to be fairly impressed by me, left an opening for me to get a bit philosophical with her. Since I had the four-burner article fresh in my mind, I started to tell her the story I started this blog post off with, about how I grabbed a copy of the New Yorker from the lobby while I was waiting, and she instantly interrupted me, saying:

"Oh my GOD! I LOVE the New Yorker! It's the only magazine I read!"

To which I could (or probably, should) have responded: "Totes, yeah!" or something perhaps a bit more business-like but equally agreeable. Which isn't even a lie, it's just me not revealing to her that I actually only pick up the New Yorker once in a blue moon, and when I do, I do a quick scan for David Sedaris articles, and if he hasn't written one for that issue, I quickly put it down, which is basically what I said to her in response:

"Actually, I don't really read it as much as I should...I'm just a big David Sedaris fan really."

Why on earth did she need to know that? More importantly, why did I feel the need to come forward with this information? Was I concerned that this small, seemingly inconsequential lie - or more accurately, 'non-revealing of truth', would somehow snowball into a cataclysmic event years down the line? Did I think she would come over to my desk one day, and just before finally giving me that big promotion I had worked long and hard for, reference a recent non-Sedaris article in the New Yorker that I had no idea about, and when I looked at her, mouth agape and a clear look of panic in my eyes, would she stand up suddenly with a seething sense of betrayal and fire me on the spot?

Well, I didn't get the job. So I guess I'll never know. But rest assured I didn't fudge a single detail of that story, loyal readers!

-Matt

Currently Playing: Almost nothing, since my 360 died. Managed to blow through Flight of the Conchords Season 2 (hilarious), and Dexter Season 3 (fantastic) to pass the time though. Both are highly recommended by yours truly. Tomorrow, if all goes well at the end of the night I'll be home with my repaired 360, and a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Oh, and also Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, a serendipitous release I'm excited to bring with me to PAX. I'm totally going to make friends (lady friends?) using the tricky puzzles in that game as an ice breaker, just you wait and see!

*The answer: ANYTHING but my Netflix Queue. I've worked far too long and gotten way too far to give up now. But...it just...keeps getting LONGER!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

213 Days UP - "Come sit next to me, pour yourself some tea..."

I just hit an exciting milestone in my goal to become the world's biggest internet celebrity: I have my own url - with my very own name in it! Yes, now on top of my facebook page, bio on my improv theater's website, amped gaming staff page* and twitter feed I finally feel like I'm finally starting to have a web presence, you know?

Go check it NOW!

http://mattshafeek.com

No, don't come here, go there!

Ok, ok, you figured it out. It just redirects you here, 'cause this essentially my main site right now. But who knows what the future holds for that sexy sounding website!

I'll end this masturbatory/self congratulating blog post with something fun, so it's not a waste for everyone by me - Episode 2 of the EXTREMELY LOCAL NEWS*!:



-Matt "King of the Internet" Shafeek

*Not much to show there yet, eh?
*Yeah, it was really just another thinly-veiled piece of self promotion. Fooled you!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

211 Days UP - "Now maybe I didn't mean to treat you bad, but I did it anyway..."

I know Showalter, I feel the same way.

I'm gonna go on a bit of a rant for a minute here. About a month ago, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black's new show Michael and Michael Have Issues debuted on Comedy Central. I was semi-excited for it, having gotten tickets to see a live taping of a few sketches about a month earlier, and also having just taken a walk down memory lane with some of their best work on The State, which recently came out on DVD. I watched the first few episodes, and I wasn't really blown away. In fact, I was kind of disappointed. Nevertheless, I decided to give the show the benefit of the doubt, and power on through. Having just finished The Wire, I figured, "I'm not gonna let myself become a TV snob. Not every show can be such a compelling, engrossing, thought-provoking masterpiece that redefines the genre." But after this past week's show, I threw up my hands in frustration. I was done.

In the most recent episode, MMHI successfully managed to not only fail to elicit a single laugh from me, but it also managed to convince me it broke every single rule in the book on what makes for good television/comedy. One of the first things you learn in improv is "yes, and..." a simple rule of thumb that lets you know that any scene is generally going to work better if you and your scene partner get on the same page and begin agreeing to each other's ideas, for better or for worse. If you come on stage pantomiming playing with a dog, and your partner thinks (or decides to mess with you and say) you're building a Play Doh replica of the baby you lost to a horrible fire a few months ago, you can either drop your dog idea and see where this Play Doh fire baby thing takes you, or you can argue with him/her about how she's crazy, blind or just being retarded. 99% of the scenes in the latter category will ultimately fail.

MMHI centers its entire premise around an argument scene. The two main characters apparently "have issues," and you the audience need to seem them aired for about 18 of the 22 minutes of each episode. The show was promoted as a sketch show, which it's not at all. It's more like a Studio 60 or a Sports Night where you're "treated" to a behind the scenes look at the making of a sketch show. This idea is inherently boring of course, so to spice it up they made the two Michaels absolutely horrible human beings that none of the other people working on the show would ever put up with. They come late to work, they act entitled, they demean their coworkers, and they basically undermine their own show for the sake of putting each other down.

This is not to say two or more people who are despicable and/or hate but are forced to be around each other can never be funny. Once you get past the basics and become a better improviser you discover you can have a great fight scene with your scene partner, as long as it's based on agreement. A great example of two classic characters who hate each other are Newman and Seinfeld. Every time they come across each other on Seinfeld, they have the brilliantly telling exchange: "Hello Jerry." "Hello Newman." It's never explained, nor does it need explaining. They hate each other, and they want nothing more than to see the other fall/fail. But guess how many episodes of that show were centered around Jerry and Newman doing their best to bring the other down, while George, Kramer and Elaine sat around and watched everything unfold, occasionally exchanging awkward glances? That's right, zero. Because you can only get so much of out of pure hatred in a comedy - at a certain point it just becomes sad and pathetic, and you lose any connection or basis in reality with the characters.*

This past week's episodes theme was "Michael Ian Black is lazy, and is not pulling his weight." The entire episode has Michael Showalter getting more and more frustrated with Black until the point in which he gets so frustrated he decides to get back at him mid-sketch. This is, as far as I know, the first time in television history that a sketch is interrupted for the sake of an "argument" between two characters*. Showalter makes Black perform a running sequence over and over until the point in which Black faints (which was kind of funny in an ironic way - Black winds up running the equivalent of maybe 2 city blocks before collapsing).

The show ends with Black in the hospital exaggerating his condition (near death, when it was actually mild dehydration), and the characters leaving him in disgust. No lesson, but more importantly for a COMEDY show, no punchline. The full version of the aforementioned sketch, which I saw in its entirely at the taping, was mediocre at best, but funnier than the alternative that aired instead. So we get one and a half full sketches, and 18 minutes of Black being a jerk to everyone, the payoff to that being that all of Black's coworkers leave him alone at the hospital in the end. Brilliant, huh? The fact that Showalter's mid-sketch flip-out was also incredibly distasteful is never addressed either. Which, in an otherwise hilarious episode would be inconsequential. Here it's just another infuriating detail.

Sketch is hard, I know this, probably moreso than the average person (see my previous post). All of the current sketch shows out there right out are seemingly disliked by the general public, from what I can gather. Even the best episodes of SNL, The State, Kids In The Hall, etc. still have less-than-brilliant moments, and this is somewhat inevitable. I still have yet to see the perfect improv/sketch show, live or otherwise. But MMHI seems to have given up before even getting out the gate. It's as if they shot a few sketches, were less than pleased with the results, and decided instead to scrap the original idea for an even worse one: A fake show about really really awful, unfunny people making "comedy."

Oh yeah, and Funny People was kind of meh, though that's a story for another day.

/Rant
/Matt

Currently Playing: Nothing on my 360 because it is currently DIRTED! I did play Wii Sports Resort for the first time last night. As a bit of an anti-Wii game snob I'll be the first to say it's incredibly fun, and worth picking up if you love your Wii at all. It's being added to my To Play list as we speak!

*The closest thing you have on Seinfeld is something like George's episode-long attempt at a comeback to his coworker telling him: "The ocean called, they ran out of shrimp," after seeing George gorging himself during a meeting. But that episode was more speaking to George's desperate need to save face in front of his other coworkers, and one-up the (otherwise nameless) person who insulted him. And it was maybe 5 minutes of episode time, tops.
*Maybe that classic Andy Kaufman fake flip out mid-taping that they showed in Man On The Moon? It's safe to say MMHI was not on par with that!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

206 Days UP - "Her life was magazines, and faithful TV screens..."

Did I tell you guys I finally found a job? I'm now a local T.V. news reporter covering the streets of North Chelsea with the finest crackpot news team in the business:



This is Matt Shafeek On The Street, returning you back to your regularly scheduled lives...

PS: Isn't the intro awesome?
PPS: THIS JUST IN! My first ever official video game review!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

204 Days UP - "What's going on, is there where I belong tonight..."

Hey jerk - I needed that!

I received what was quite possibly the nicest rejection letter of all time last week. It was for a job I recently interviewed for, and it went a little something like this:

"Hi Matt,


Utterly fantastic photo
* and note. I'll be honest, yours was the interview we enjoyed the most and you are by far one of the most intriguing people I've met in a long time - and in my line of work, I really do get the opportunity to meet quite a lot of spectacular people.

It makes it that much harder to have to say that we won't be asking you to come and interview with [The Executive Director of the organization]. We wanted to. We really really wanted to but we knew it was because we adored you as a person and not because we were picking the best possible candidate for the job, someone who is both best qualified for the position and who probably would ultimately enjoy the role and stay with the company for the long haul...."

You can pretty much imagine the rest from the there. It was like the most earnest sounding version of every note from every cute girl I got scribbled into my high school yearbook. They all insisted they didn't know what they would do without the hilarity I brought into their lives every day. "K.I.T.!" they begged. And K.I.T. I did. But did they K.I.T. back? You're goddamn right they didn't.

As disheartening as it was to get that email, I'll admit it simultaneously made my day. I take no pleasure in my continuing unemployment, but man, that letter pretty much had the most kick-ass series of compliments ever, right?!? I went out that night with some friends - one had recently gotten a job promotion, one had put down a deposit on their first home, and one had recently lost a fair amount of weight. After all these announcements, I boldly added:

"Well, that's all well and good, but I was recently told in a post-interview rejection letter that I was: 'the most intriguing person' the interviewer had met in a while. Yup. And apparently this is coming from a woman who meets 'a lot of spectacular people'!"*

I said it in such a way that it couldn't be considered anything but a joke. But in all honesty, at that moment, I was only half kidding. Partly because of my desperate need for attention and one-upmanship, but also because there really is something very rewarding in the knowledge that I can sit down in a room with one or two strangers, talk about my life, my experiences, and my goals, and make a honest to goodness lasting impression on them. That's something I know for a fact wasn't true even as of a few years ago. And a big part of it is Paused.

It's funny, but Paused has become the story that really encapsulates who I am. I didn't come to this realization until recently, but the simple line: "I decided one day to take a year off from one of my favorite hobbies" says more about me than I'd have ever thought. It was a personal trial that I set up and overcame, and not only that, but it lead to some true moments of growth and exploration. It's a story of one passion being traded for the discovery of others. Also, it's a little bit ridiculous. Even people with zero knowledge (and possibly even disgust) of video games can appreciate the story, how difficult it was, and even little things like my crazy "To Play" list. And hey - it's just a fun story to tell!

Now I just need to find the right job. Which, in this economy, is obviously much easier said than done. Obviously the second big lesson I need to take home from that letter is that personality can only get me so far. Every job I've gone in for I've proven myself to be competent, personable, and passionate. The final part of the equation is being the elusive 'best possible candidate,' - something I know I will be when I find the job I'm looking for. That, or I find a way to make money simply being intriguing. Hey, maybe I can become the video game equivalent of that really interesting guy hocking Dos Equis right now...

"I don't always play video games, but when I do, I prefer TONY HAWK RIDE"

Stay addicted, my friends,
-Matt (Just K.I.T.-in!)

Currently Playing: Thoroughly addicted to Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and I'm stoked the sequel's just about to come out this month! Beat Prince of Persia including the epilogue, and would love to play something new, like the copies of Street Fighter IV or Devil May Cry 4 that I got new for $20(!) and $15(!), respectively, but it seems like my 360 is on it's last legs, with the video cutting off intermittently! Not a good time for this to happen!

*I sent them a 2nd silly photo of me in my thank you letter post-interview since the kind woman let me know right away the 1st one was part of the reason I was called in in the first place.
*Don't think I haven't thought of the possibility that this was simply the template for every rejection letter this company has ever sent out. In order to preserve any semblance of my ego (as well as this blog post), I need to at least plausibly deny such a scenario.