Posts Tagged ‘games’

Three Fold

25 February 2011

Dear J-

Lately I’ve been playing a good deal of LEGO Harry Potter, which is emblematic of my life I think: ersatz reinterpretation in a mute form of expression. Between TV and library books I really have all the entertainment bases covered so games end up being a way to eat up sleep time I don’t have room to give up. Smart, right? I think this is why I got sick and theVet didn’t — your immune system doesn’t work so good on little sleep. Let that be a Friday lesson to the wise. The game itself is filled with little in-jokes that, for as expressive as the minifigs get, would be nearly incomprehensible to non-fans of the series. Aside from that and the occasional help I got early on (hey, it’s been a long time since I played a game to completion) it’s been an entertaining romp through that world, and true to the movies.

The van is full this morning and I’m back in the third row again after having ridden shotgun yesterday. I don’t mind, honestly; there’s almost more footspace back here. I get to lean my head on a corner of the van which, come to think of it in crash terms is a terrible design, and there’s no one behind me I have to concentrate on keeping happy. Six people fit in lazy comfort, a seventh squeezed between the two of us, small as we are, would be intolerable for all three back here. Hard to think that the already-large van could stand to be a little bigger, huh? Personal space is the new luxury, no more station wagons plying their way down the highway filled with kids atop kids and luggage, no more “he’s touching me” games. If they’d had a minivan like this thirty years ago folks would have been amazed.

figgy provides her own interpretation on songs we sing to her and lately “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as well as “Teenage Dream” are in heavy rotation. “Rudolph” gets an extra chorus of “HOW RUDE!” following the line about reindeer games and there’s a heavy emphasis on DIE (“We can dance … until we DIE”) in the Katy Perry cover. It never fails to crack me up, some of the things she comes up with and considers important. What it’s really telling me is that between the way she listens and she talks we not only have to be careful about what we say, our actions are getting questioned now too (“Oh, you’re not LISTENING” is a current favorite if we don’t snap to her commands crisply) so it’s impossible to not be hyperaware of everything we do. We are better people for it but so exhausted from being wary.

Mike

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Welcome Home

15 November 2010

Dear J-

It occurs to me — in retrospect, while we were all sitting on the new seat (every time you get new furniture, do you, like we do, marvel at how comfortable it is and how you could sit on it forever?) — that this is all I nee. I remember the duplex we moved into in Davis, not only because we lived there for two years, or that was the place we were living when we got married, or even because that’s how* we got into a car accident, but because there were three tiny rooms: a bedroom, a bathroom (technically a half bath, as there was only a shower, but it was a luxuriously large one, and the bath itself was fairly huge as well), and a living room/kitchen which combined dining, studying, television, and shelving into a cozy whole. We had to be efficient — no other choice, mind you — but we didn’t exactly rattle around between two dogs, two cats, and two foster kittens (who would stare uncomprehendingly at the mice running across the floor).

Meanwhile here we are last night with our fifteen hundred square feet house echoing all around and we’re all sitting on the same ten square feet of real estate in a room probably no bigger than a hundred fifty. figgy’s having a grand time, having dragged a step into the room and climbing up onto the sofa and back down again in that familiar last burst of energy** before bedtime. And I’m pretty sure that everything was okay with the world; it was a weekend for moral victories all around, sports-wise***, sure, but that wasn’t the secret sauce. Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back — is that how it goes? It’s not a smug self-satisfaction last night, just a reassurance that this is right, all this is right.

That was it again, that feeling of being home together, no matter how small the space, that I didn’t recognize but felt in Davis. That little duplex was next to the train tracks and we’d see all kinds of stuff out in front in the mornings — my tires got slashed once (I think by kids who thought they were trying to prove how hard and tough they could be in Davis, gracious lovely Davis), ducks would live in the seasonal puddle-ditch-pond, there was a Pizza Hut in walking distance who started to recognize my name — but inside was always bright and welcoming. The plan this week is to have the surgery on Thursday, after dropping figgy off at daycare. Following that I’ll be single-parenting it for two days until theVet comes back either on Saturday (fingers crossed) or Sunday — I get to sleep, though, as I won’t be staying in the hospital at night. So we’ll be dividing the family to conquer the end of the week, and then comes the big welcome home scene; I can’t wait.

Mike

* The car accident happened because we were going to look at the space — theVet had gotten a hot tip from the current renters, who were about to move out and back out-of-state: it’s hard to find pet-friendly rentals, especially for folks with big dogs. We came to an intersection that we thought was a four-way stop but clearly was not and got T-boned for our misunderstanding.

** When kids get tired, they perversely expend the last of their energy in a kind of frenzied mania. But perhaps our results are not typical.

*** Cal stopping the Oregon juggernaut for one. Can we have the Big Game at Memorial Stadium this year? SDSU hanging in close to TCU for another. The Browns nearly taking one from the Jets.

Informed Gamer

30 November 2009

Dear J-

I got the 200th issue of Game Informer in my mailbox over the weekend; they list the 200 greatest games of all time, which are of course like any other game review completely subjective and subject to scrutiny by fans objecting to their favorites’ ranking.  Unusually, instead of counting down, it starts from number one, which leads you to start flipping the pages, musing that surely this game — ah, there it is.  For the most part, the scope is limited to NES games and newer, with the odd arcade title (Donkey Kong, #103; Pong, #158) and early computer titles as well (Zork makes it (#66), but over another Z-Machine game like Planetfall? And no Archon?).  For my part, I have sampled more of the games than I care to admit, especially in the shmup and RPG genres.

GI went through a magazine makeover a few issues back; I wish I’d saved some of my ten-year-old titles just for comparison, but it’s almost as though they poached the design team from play — content has become heavy on graphics and screenshots, lighter on content.  Perhaps that’s indicative of the industry as a whole; instead of innovation, franchises and sequels (hello, Madden and Rock Band/Guitar Hero iterations) are the money-makers:  each year brings much of the same, only in a different wrapper (to be honest, you could say the same thing about most jRPGs:  lone hero gathers companions to fight evil hoping to destroy the world; rinse and repeat).  As the rag with probably the highest circulation (due in no small part to their position as the party voice of the ubiquitous GameStop), they could probably afford to experiment with their look at will.

Thing is, I remember when they were called Funcoland, a Minneapolis-based chain of stores offering pretty much only what you saw on the shelves; the industry was smaller and more diverse then — multiple publishers, niche genres, and no great eBay equalizer driving prices.  Maybe I’m just getting too old for this; you spend too much time thinking about the way things were, you start to cherry-pick the good (man, you had so many compelling stories to choose from) from the bad (games weren’t any less expensive then, and you had to perform ritual cleansing of cartridges on a regular basis) without realizing it.  Life is good — downloadable content, multiple sources of help — and the annoyances are just that:  nothing heart-stopping.

Mike

Short Order

19 August 2009

Dear J-

If what they say about familiarity and contempt is true, then the time off from movies and video games has done wonderful things:  every movie we’ve watched this week, from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist to The Rocker has been engrossing; every moment spent grinding levels in Dragon Quest has been worth it; well, mostly.  I still have the nagging suspicion that killing time via video game is only slightly more worthwhile than watching television (and there is that small matter of trying to prepare for the PE exam, however many years later than my peers it may be).

Yet there’s something oddly familiar with all of these things; the movies are unique in that we haven’t seen them before, but the plots could have been lifted from any number of movies people like and mashed together into a new familiar form.  Likewise I might as well be playing any generic fantasy game (even my favorite Indiana Jones games never have quite measured up to the delight I had with the Infernal Machine) and trying to save up enough money to buy equipment upgrades, that next sword or helmet, strikes me as a Sisyphean task at times — when I get home it’s the last thing I generally want, more work.

Mike

Old Themes

20 February 2009

Dear J-

Something familiar struck me as I puttered about the house this morning, doing a few chores and killing time; when your plans for the day include beating a game, whether you are or not, it’s that feeling of unemployment again.  Maybe it’s fine if you’re in school — maybe not, as I remember there were nights it was more important to journey with Cecil and Rosa in Final Fantasy IV than it was to finish my thesis — but there’s something desperately lonely there I never recognized until my mother-in-law pointed it out to me one visit in 2002:  there I was, fat, dumb, and lazy, with my biggest ambition to finish the side quests in Front Mission 3, and how exactly was that going to get me a job?

With the way the economy is going, or not going, as the case may be, I should be grateful that we not only have jobs, but are generally busy out of our minds when we are at work.  It doesn’t assuage the rumors that as part of the get-well plan, this or that or your or my group might be outsourced — we’ve seen a steady parade of consultants come through.  And I like to joke that no matter how hard things get, folks will always want to flip the switch and see their lights go on, but really, doesn’t everyone have a case that they’re irreplaceable?  We’re all above average, we all bring unique skills, we all can’t go, can we?

Mike

China’s Games

8 August 2008

Dear J-

The Olympics start today — it’s now twenty-four years since I started watching the Olympics in earnest, as the Lake Placid games meant little to me besides collecting the Chiquita banana stickers, and the Moscow games later that year were boycotted.  Nope, LA was the first ones I can remember well, particularly the American heroes Mary Lou Retton and Carl Lewis.  Although there’s always a ton of events, our summer viewing always seems to revolve around gymnastics, track, swimming, and diving.

This summer seems to have brought a slightly abbreviated fill-in season of shows:  short runs, smaller build-up; folks know enough to get out of the way of watching the Olympics.  Much has been made of Chinese politics and atmosphere lately, too.  There are those who’ve called for a boycott of the games on the basis of high moral principles, but I believe those views are rooted in perceiving China through 19th century lenses.

Setting the stage, for roughly 100 years, 1840-1949, China descended into ever-growing chaos with the ending of the Qing dynasty and the rise of treaty ports and concessions.  The government was unable to exert any sort of force over the country; industrialization was a farce, and so the modern perception of China as a decadent backwards society was set.  Now, it seems as though the Western societies have promised much (“Look, if you just followed our example, you could be just as modern as us”) and delivered little (“Don’t copy us — and you can’t pollute like we did.”)  Small wonder that there’s frustration over the direction China may take; no one yet considers the momentum — consumer, intellectual, innovation — of a country with over four times the population of the United States.

I’m not going to defend China’s involvement in human rights violatons except to note that they are not the first, they are not the only, and they will not be the last.  We’ve laid down an example of how strong countries act, and we need to accept the consequences of that.  But it’s not to say that they’re blameless for following that precedent.  The Olympics are a chance for China to flex its muscles on the world’s stage and demonstrate that 2042 will be nothing like 1842.  There’s a sort of unintended patronizing tone here:  gee, China, you sure are doing great; at some point all kingdoms rise and fall.

Mike

Outside and About

8 June 2008

Dear J-

I’ve inexplicably received a subscription to Outside magazine. I suspect that it may be due to renewing a discount card at the local used video game store and, in response to the list rattled off by the bored-looking clerk (“Uh … there’s Official Playstation Magazine, Official Nintendo Magazine, Official XBox Magazine, …”) I responded that I didn’t need any of those, so clearly, they gave me the magazine targeted towards twentysomething slackers and video game folks. Either that, or I’m mis-representing a nice gift someone got for me.

As magazines go, it’s not bad, but not terribly memorable either: the last magazine I consciously subscribed to was Games, with many fond memories of hours spent poring over the different clever puzzles and game reviews it contained. Well, forty bucks later, I was having flashbacks again, but this time because the magazine was running, in lieu of new content, what they termed “Classic Games Puzzles” — which I recognized from twenty years ago. Plus I started to remember something distinctly less pleasant: I wasn’t very good at the puzzles then, and still wasn’t very good at the puzzles now, preferring (thanks, Mr. Larson!) to stick with what I call whodunits — logic puzzles, which showed up maybe once every quarter in Games. The next time I was at the newsstand, I invested five bucks in a book of logic puzzles and have since concluded that was an excellent buy, having lasted me nearly as long as a full year of Games.

But this is about Outside, a study in contradictions. On one page you have spiritual transcendence: the world is both bigger and smaller than we think it is, its natural wonders overwhelm and awe us; yet on the next, gear reviews aimed mainly at separating fools and money (if I’m spending $2 000 on binoculars, they’d damn well better go out and get the sights for me — while I sleep — download them, and put on a slide show when I get back, Nikon ED glass or not). So I note with some amusement how Marc Peruzzi’s (the resident grump) column (“The Big Idea”) in the July issue decries the ubiquity of surf culture, focussing on the money (selling out) and hypocrisy (how can surfing be so noble if it’s neither risky nor mellow?) of it, like that of any other sport. There are those (in other words, the majority) who feel that the NBA Finals were rigged in a way — Kevin McHale, GM of the Timberwolves, pulling a blockbuster trade of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics (McHale’s former team) and forming them into something formidable, just as Jerry West, formerly of the Lakers, retires just before Memphis sends their best player, Pau Gasol, to the Lakers, who promptly rip back through the playoffs following a few years of aimlessness with Captain Kobe at the helm.

What bothers me more about Peruzzi’s column is not so much the content (or malcontent, if you will), but the sneering attitude behind it. The whole thing faintly reeks of holier-than-thou (it’s a sweet, cloying odor) and of being able to pass judgement because, somewhere, somehow, someone’s decided he’s more hardcore than you, or whomever he criticises. It’s not the facts he cites, which are sufficiently compelling, or the advertisers he skewers, but the personal anecdotes he brings in just make him look like an ass and detracts from the overall tone of the essay. Oh, and note to the editor — putting this at the end of the column:

EDITOR’S NOTE: See page 110 to get styled for summer’s coolest sport. Shakka-gnar, brah!

only serves to prove that either you don’t actually read the content and/or you’ve missed the point.

Mike