Monday, January 16, 2012

Animated Stories

A few months back, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, I heard about a show that a friend and fellow performer named Todd Bieber was putting together called "Animated Stories," in which audience members can volunteer to tell a five minute story of their choosing, and the best story of the night actually gets animated and shown at the next show. So I went to the show on a whim and dropped my name in a hat. I was picked fourth (I think) out of six storytellers that night, and I told the same story I told during my recent storytelling class about my experience as a hardcore Atheist dating a devout Christian girl at Williams college.

Long story short, at the end of the night they chose my story as the winner! It was an exhilarating moment - I'd only just started doing live storytelling, and to have my story win inspired me to continue telling live stories.

One month later, at the December show, the animated version of my story debuted, and just this week the piece got posted online, so I can share it now with all of you. I think it came out great - hope you enjoy it:

If you're in the New York area and interested in telling a story of your own to potentially get animated, Todd's show go up once a month at UCB East. Check the calendar for the next scheduled show.

Finally, as a sweet little bonus, here are some of the other stories from previous winners/special guests of the show. The first one's by Dave Hill, a hilarious musician/artist who tells of his experience with a fancy Japanese toilet:

I heard this one live at the same show I did, a great story about a tragic, smelly subway experience by Anthony Atamanuik:

And this one's from a guy who sort of killed a girl in elementary school. Tragedy + time = comedy gold, folks:

My friend Jon Bander actually wound up getting his story animated a month after me:

Finally, a story by writer/performer Chris Gethard, who was apparently an evil, evil baby:


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The High-Functioning Gameaholic

Pictured: Matt Shafeek, as represented by Jeff Winger
We have a problem here.

You see, I’m kind of a High-Functioning Gameaholic. I have a serious problem that’s lurking right beneath the surface, but I get by just well enough that no one has to say anything.

Last time I wrote on this blog, I labeled my iPhone gaming habits as “finding my new drug,” and the more I think about it, the more literal I think I was being. I recently found myself in an endless gaming cycle on my iPhone, to the point where I’d play/update one game and be ready to play/update the next one. I was on a steady dopamine drip of mental pleasure, but for a man with excessive gaming habits who once gave up games for a year to try to find other things to do with his time, this seemed like I’d gone all the way around the ride and come back to the other side, ready to start a more advanced questline where the monsters are tougher but- ah, geez, there I go again.

Not embarrassing
The first game in this loop is Words With Friends, which started off as a handful of games of virtual/mobile Scrabble that I’d get around to in my spare time, but quickly snowballed into over a dozen simultaneous matches with different people, which might sound like a low number, but just imagine you’re walking around a beautiful park on a lovely day trying to take in the majesty of your surroundings, but in this park are more than a dozen people sitting at a Scrabble board (and some of them are at two), screaming your name, and telling you its your move. Now try and enjoy that lovely park, I dare you. Are you going to look at that rare black squirrel you just spotted, or are you going to try to find out if QADOXEF is a word?

Somewhat embarrassing
The second is Hero Academy, a recent release from a company I like, that was put out for free, and so naturally I had to try it. It plays like WWF, only this time instead of putting silly little letter tiles on a boring little board, you’re hacking away at your opponent’s crystal with knights, wizards and ninjas. You know, the kind of stuff that’s actually worthy of your a five year old.

True shame
And finally, there’s the game I’m frankly embarrassed to even admit I got addicted to (and this is coming from the guy who’s not embarrassed of his enjoyment of Hero Academy), called Tiny Tower. Tiny Tower is an insidiously simple tower building sim where you slowly build the world’s most illogically constructed tower, one floor a time. You construct a ridiculous combination residential floors and commercial floors, where the residents you put in have their jobs at say, the Vegan Food shop or the Putt Putt floor(?). In other words, you’re creating a sort of bio-tower, where everything everyone needs is in one location, and once you come in, you never ever have to leave. Your build upward is seemingly endless, unless at some people the tower gets to heaven and your tower’s residents take the elevator to the pearly gates and you’re finally released from the game’s unrelenting stocking and construction updates.

What’s funny about Tiny Tower is it's clearly made to be addictive, and there’s very little “game” taking place. Everything happens at a snail’s pace and you need to have “Tower Bucks” to build faster. You’ll gain a tower buck every now and again from the game, but if you happen to have a few real life dollars to spare, you can be swimming in Tower Bucks in no time (for the record, I've thankfully not purchased any, though doing so would have simply swapped the embarrassment of putting money into the game with the amount of time I put into it). The game has all the appeal of completing a To-Do list, with none of the actual work. Which is great and all, but I have an actual real life To-Do list I’ve managed to find myself neglecting all week, and it’s becoming a problem.

Pictured: Matt Shafeek, as represented by Jeff Winger
I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of game addiction, and I’ve always wondered how close I am to being a genuine addict. I play a ton of games, but I feel like I've never crossed that line. I’ve never had an all night gaming session. I’ve never skipped a day of work in order to play a game (or worse, lost a job due to playing one). And I’ve never had issues in any of my relationships - with families, friends, or significant others due to gaming. And yet, I haven’t finished reading a book since I got my iPhone, and I’ve written far less than I’ve wanted post NaNoWriMo (thank goodness I’m able to enact some kind of manual override when I plan things like that), and I find myself feeling generally mentally handicapped by the loss of attention I’ve had lately.

All of the iPhone games I’ve been playing capture a few seconds of genuine fun and, with the help of technology, either allow you to play them with anyone else who’s willing, or, have a perpetual updating system in place that keeps you coming back in the name of an endless grind. Either way, they’re all incredibly addictive for someone like me, and frankly, it’s a little scary.

Pictured: Matt Shafeek, as represented by Jeff Winger
I’ve never played an MMORPG like World of Warcraft specifically because from the description I thought I might get addicted to it. When EverQuest first came out some 10 years or so ago, I actually bought it, and had a genuine moment of clarity where I thought: “I’m already playing too many games as it is...I don’t think I can afford to get hooked on this.” I think I’m having a second moment of clarity right now.

Like I said before, I feel like a high-functioning gameaholic. I get by well enough with my addiction, its not causing any serious problems at the moment - but 'well enough' isn’t sitting well with me. So I’m going to have to give most, if not all, of my iPhone games a break for a while. My Heroes will not be graduating from their Academy, my Tower will remain Tiny, and the Words I will have with My Friends* will be in person (or more likely, via text or instant message).


PS: I'd like to imagine Jeff Winger on Community is struggling with a similar problem.

Pictured: Matt Shafeek, as represented by Jeff Winger
*Ok well, I may still keep a few WWF games going. It's fine people, I can handle it!

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Favorite Gaming Moments of 2011

Well, 2011 is behind us. Personally, I'm very happy with how the year went. Among many other exciting, wonderful experiences, I also had some fantastic new gaming moments, which, like last year, I'm going to share with all of you now:

Finding My New Drug
The Natural Side Effect Of Getting My First Smartphone

Hmm. Can I have an 'Even More Games!' folder in my 'More Games!' folder?
After having some great portable gaming experiences early in the year with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and Radiant Historia, I put away my Nintendo DS and told myself I was going to be good and try to read more during the rest of the year.

Then I got my first iPhone.

Minutes later, I was downloading all the games I'd heard my friends talking about. And then I downloaded all the highly rated games I'd read about online. And most other games were only like, a buck, so it didn't take much for me to check out anything else that caught my eye. I came close to maxing out my 16GB of memory in a very short period of time, and I easily had more games for my iPhone than for any other system I owned. I officially had a new drug. And it was in my hand or pocket twenty four hours a day.

Though I downloaded and played a ton of games, only a handful got me truly addicted. Like our good friend Alec Baldwin, I immediately got hooked on Words with Friends, starting way to many games that really once started, amount to a everlasting back and forth experience until one person one day decides to cut ties. I also had plenty of 'nearly missing my subway stop' moments with Game Dev Story, Jetpack Joyride, Fruit Ninja, and perennial favorite, Angry Birds as well.

I was an early critic of a lot of these smaller mobile phone games, citing lack of depth and overall simplicity, but all of these games make these perceived weaknesses into great strengths and I can honestly say I've had some fantastic and downright addictive gaming experiences on iPhone this past year.

Making Rules Fun For Everyone
Participating In Some Epic Board Game Nights

The future of our relationship depends on your reaction to this photo.
When I quit video games for a year in 2008, I never had to consider whether or not board games needed to be included as well, since I really wasn't playing anything other the occasional game of Taboo or chess. Since then I've been lured into the sprawling world of what I've dubbed "epic" or "non-party" board games. I've referenced plenty of them here before, but between the two groups I play with semi-regularly, (in addition to my time at PAX when I discovered even more games and got to play a fantastic mini-AD&D adventure) I've had some amazing game nights with friends that I'm not sure I would have been able to give up 3 years ago.

Super nerdy games like Munchkin, Road Kill Rally, Last Night On Earth, Invasion From Outer Space, Ninja Burger, Battlestar Galactica, Arkham Horror and Dungeon Lords and many more all made their way into my weekly rotation this year, and like improv, its the kind of thing I can't see myself ever going back in. Board games rolled a natural 20, and scored a critical hit on my heart. Which is the nerdiest possible way to say I'm hooked.

Saving The World With A Friend
1 + 1 Makes Fun in Portal 2, Gears 3, Castle Crashers & More

The most adorable robots ever.
Some truly fantastic games came out in 2011, and I was lucky enough to play most of them (though Skyrim has been reserved for 2012 experiences), but as incredibly well written and engaging as games like Portal 2 and Gears of War 3 are, joining up with a friend for a full co-op campaign will always elevate the experience for me. I don't think I can spend more than a handful of hours in a row playing any one given game, and I rarely will find myself playing a game until the wee hours of the morning. But if a friend joins up with me, and is as into (or more into, which always amazes me) the experience, its easy to lose entire days or nights solving just one more room, or clearing one more wave of baddies before calling it a night.

I would probably not even enjoy playing XBLA games like Castle Crashers or Microbot alone, but with along with a friend or significant other I couldn't think of a better way to spend my time.

"I Think I Just Peed My Pants A Little"
Ridiculous, Hilarious, Competitive Games of You Don't Know Jack, Telestrations, Etc.

Games (and my quest to play them) are neither bound by boards or walls.
Noticing a pattern here? A lot of my favorite gaming moments of the year were spent in a room with friends. This moment may seem similar to some of the others, but here I'm specifically referring to the many laugh-out-loud moments I've had playing party games like You Don't Know Jack, Werewolf, Celebrity or Telestrations, all I've which I've spent some time talking about on this blog. Lighthearted (though those who know me know I'm always dead serious about winning) competition combined with games that are themselves funny (YDKJ) or that inevitably lead to silliness (everything else) lead to what what are easily some of my favorite moments of the year, period.

Creating A Controller Symphony
Reaching A Zen Moment Playing As The Dark Knight

All in a Bat-day's work.
Though most of my favorite gaming moments of the year have been spent with others, this particular moment was only possible through a necessary period of time alone - say about two, two and a half hours - which I spent angrily clenching my controller, restarting the same encounter over and over again attempting to get a five point achievement that exists solely for bragging rights. So please, read on while I commence said bragging.

This video is not me, but this is basically what I eventually accomplished. It may or may not look simple to you, but trust me, it is incredibly difficult:

If you've never played either the Arkham games before, the combat system is one of the best parts of being Batman. And this is in a series that truly captures everything that's awesome about being a totally badass superhero. Hand to hand combat involves precise button presses in conjunction with a careful assessment of the crowd of thugs you're attempting to pummel into the ground. I've dubbed it a kind of "Controller Symphony." I liken it to trying to play the piano while little ferrets scurry along the keys trying to bite your fingers. Except really addicting and fun, if that makes sense.

The experience was entertaining enough that while frustrating, I was never so annoyed that I ever considered stopping. And finally getting that tiny little ping, the acknowledgement and acceptance from my Xbox that I had finally done what I set out to do led to a shameless moment of pure pride.

Picture above: My finest hour.
I can't help but shake the feeling that I've lost a lot of my gamer cred since the days when I could wipe the maps in online shooters or wipe the floor in a Soul Calibur or Street Fighter 3 match. Little moments like these satisfy me enough to enjoy the rest of my life with the knowledge that, on some level at least, I still got it.

That'll do it for 2011. Happy New Year everyone! Looking forward to all the awesome gaming moments yet to come.