Thursday, May 26, 2011

Discourteous Rousing



It was a lazy Wednesday afternoon and I was napping, dreaming peacefully of a group of a cappella singing sea turtles or some such nonsense, when, suddenly, the universe decided to drop a monstrous tree branch onto the roof of my house.

It landed directly above my bed. For a moment I thought I was a real-life Donnie Darko, soon to have my world ended by a random misfortune. The thunderous crash and thud that woke me was short lived, though, and somehow the roof held strong. 


We went out to assess the damage and get the branch off the house, and I took the above picture. Not quite a jet engine, but those branches were quite hefty; I theorize that the larger branch took the smaller down with it. 


We discussed what it would’ve been like if it crashed through the roof, broke my window, etc. I think I would’ve assumed the Ents were going to war (A la The Two Towers), and that I was a marked man for not printing on both sides of the paper.

Maybe it was an assassination attempt by the cadre of squirrels that operate above my house. I'm going to keep my eye on them, just in case. Devious little acorn eaters.

Never Trust a Squirrel

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Game of Thrones: My Perspective


I decided to begin rereading my most beloved fantasy series of all time last night, "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin. I’m not usually one who rereads books, even those I love, but in light of the new HBO series, Game of Thrones, I couldn’t resist.

Let me begin by saying that I am a monstrous fan of the show and have been tracking its production for some time. I tell everyone who will listen that they should be reading this series, or at least watching the show if they are not book lovers (readers). As I started my reread, I was immediately struck by how much closer you feel to each character from experiencing the story through their points of view. I understand that I am splitting hairs with the medium, and not the material, but there it is. 

My worn copy. And no, I don't abuse my books, it has been out on loan more than once.
The show is being handled beautifully. It has been overwhelmingly true to the books and even the added scenes have felt as if they actually occurred between the pages. The hardest thing to convey on screen, I think, is the character’s motivations for doing what they do. George R.R. Martin lets you in on the process that leads to their actions. If you add that to the minutia of detail, the myriad of intricate histories and customs, and the more thorough conversations between characters, then you will arrive at the same conclusion I have: If you enjoy this show, and are capable of making your way through a novel, then do yourself a favor and pick up the source material.

One of my best friends is new to the series and sent me a happy email just this morning, saying he had gone out last night and purchased all four books and that his favorite character is the dwarf. That’s the way to do it.

All this has inspired me to try my own hand at fantasy again, after having spent most of the last few years focusing on writing literary fiction alone. My roots are in fantasy, so I suppose it is a return to form of sorts. Wish me luck!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Small Talk and Heartburn

I’m back from an eventful weekend at home with my family celebrating my little sister’s High School Graduation.Here is a list of things I learned:

Outdoor, summer graduations should be illegal in Florida

1. High School Graduations make me feel old.

2. If my interactions with my extended family were graded, I would get an F+.
      
3. When you mix three generations at a party, everyone feels out of place. 

4. If someone overhears a conversation about Call of Duty: Black Ops between you and one of your friends, they may assume he is an Iraqi war veteran. 

5. Plunging a stopped-up toilet for an embarrassed child means you are a real adult.

6. Some frosting-covered brownie cakes aren’t as delicious as they should be.

7. Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides is a terrible movie that should have never been made. Shame on you, Johnny Depp.
         
8. Banks hire security guards to make sure their 95% empty, massive parking lots are safe from desperate parents looking for a place to park to see their child graduate high school.

9. "Here’s to the Night" by Eve 6 should be retired as a viable class song. Also, it should never be attempted by a high-school chorus.

10. I can no longer fill up on hors d'oeuvres and still eat a gigantic slab of pork without feeling sick.



See you guys tomorrow!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ahhh! My Leg!

My sister and I created him on Doodlebuddy, so I hope I'm safe . . .
Copyrights have been on my mind a lot lately, and I worry that I've been too cavalier with my image selections so far. I fear a ravaging by the copyright-infringement sunflowerosaur. I'm not exactly sure what is and isn't fair game. I'll be sticking to mostly original images until I learn the intricacies of the law. 

I'm back home this weekend for my younger sister’s high school graduation, so I will be posting less frequently for a few days. I hope to take some interesting photos, though—ammunition for the blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Artistic Fringe

I am changing this blogs purpose, if only slightly. I am widening the lens. I have focused so far on gaming alone, but in truth, it is only one of my interests. Basically, I want to include all of the art forms I am interested in, not just video games. Television, cinema, literature, music and what they all have in common. So I am renaming my blog: Don't Fear the Fringe. This will also give me a wider variety of topics to select from when writing my posts, so there’s that.

Dictionary.com defines fringe as: an outer edge; margin; periphery. Most of my favorite things exist on the fringe of the mainstream. Each of the following are under appreciated and misunderstood in our society; I want to give them equal footing. It is my hope that changing of my mission statement will help my blog hold greater interest for more of you, because everyone dabbles with the edge, but I love it here. I want to encourage people to branch out. My topics will span the following:


Contemporary Literature

There is this unfortunate misconception out there that the last meaningful literary writer died somewhere towards the beginning of the 20th century. It just isn’t true, there are a lot of amazing writers out there, and a hundred years from now it is my expectation that many of them will have elevated themselves to household names. It is unfortunate that it can take so long, but some people never consider literature truly great until it has passed the test of time. I’m not one of those people and you shouldn’t be either. You miss out on the voices of our generation by only reading authors dead a hundred years or more, you miss the power of literature that is current and speaks to your everyday life.

Fringe Music
These people got the memo

It is the sound of the fringe. It deals with the material and emotions that people would rather overlook, much like good literature. It is music that makes you feel alive and reminds you that you are not alone, that there are others who feel your pain. Music, like life, doesn’t always have to be bright and shiny, doesn’t have to exist for the dance floor as something you should want to shake your ass to. Music can help you with times of pain, of strife, of stress, of anger, of loss. Music can be intricate, unexpected, and every bit the genius that someone like Beethoven would admire. Some pop music tries, but the sad truth is that for something to make the mainstream, it has to worry much more about being catchy and radio-friendly than anything else. 

Fantasy

It is my genre of choice. I say genre because a good work of literature cannot be categorized into genres. I believe there are redeeming qualities to all kinds of genre fiction, and there are often failings. Ultimately, there is a certain expectation that a person who reads any particular genre has when he picks up that book, and on some level, those expectations must be met. Fantasy, to me, is about imagination. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I will let George R.R. Martin explain why. 
  
Television / Cinema
I hope he isn't watching Jersey Shore
I must say, I think our society is headed the right direction in this area. More often than not, if a smart, edgy, well-written, and well-executed piece of film comes out, the people of our society actually enjoy it. That isn’t to say that some fantastic shows and movies aren’t operating under the radar, but at least they are getting made, and people actually know about them.

Gaming 
Grandpa knows all of Scorpion's Fatalities


And yes, my original area of interest, games. I consider them to be an art form all their own, and I will continue to talk about their impact on my life. 

I look forward to our chats.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Top Ten Video Games of All Time

Today I am going to slow things down a bit and keep it light with a list of my all-time favorite video games. Let me emphasize that this list is a list of my favorite games, not an attempt to comprehensively list the best games of all time. If you are interested in that sort of thing then check out these sites: here for a full spectrum report, and here for a top 100. What does it take for a game to make my list? I had to have played the hell out of it. I’m talking countless hours. It had to be fun, innovative in some way, and memorable. 

10. Resident Evil 5 

This game makes my list because it is so unique. It's a cooperative horror game in the most complete sense. You can play through the entire story with someone else, in fact, that is how it was designed to be done. The best part? The second player is every bit as important to the story as the first, they participate instead of just being a silent, tag-along witness. You add that to the beautifully rendered, brilliantly dark, wonderfully gory, and captivatingly horrible world of an Umbrella-ravaged African nation, and you get a masterpiece. 

9. Call of Duty: Black Ops  

This shooter makes this list only because it is the most recent in the Call of Duty franchise. It seems like each new game is my new favorite first-person-shooter. Historically, I suppose, it was the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare that began the trend of playing online FPS for me, but when I look back at that game, and even its sequel, it just didn’t hold my attention like this new one has. I think I might just be a sucker for the ability to stamp my customized emblem and clan letters onto my gun.




8. StarCraft 

Blizzard did it again with this title, and it is a completely different kind of game then their ultra-successful World of Warcraft and Diablo games. It is a futuristic RTS that was all about macro and micro managing interspecies battles. I was part of a pretty powerful Zerg-Zerg partnership in my day that was quite fearsome.


7. Fallout 2 

War. War never changes. This game was an apocalyptic RPG gore-filled turn-based action game with an immense world filled to bursting with a winning combination of black humor, allusion, and social satire. Fallout 3 was a worthy next-gen revival, but I have to give it up to Fallout 2 as the better game for its time.

6. Super Mario Bros. 3 

I know a lot of people will argue with this one, people seem to like Super Mario Bros. World more, and I really can’t argue with them, that is an amazing game as well. I just like this one better. There is a simplicity to the design, an elegance to the gameplay, and a consistency to the length and layout of each of the levels that appeals to me. Maybe I just like the raccoon tail more than the cape.


5. Diablo II 

It was dark, gritty, and bloody. It was a clickfest dungeon-crawl about grabbing loot and grinding out levels. And it was horribly addictive. This game paved the way for blizzard's success with World of Warcraft. I remember tying up the phone line for hours on end just waiting for that golden unique to drop.

4. Socom II: US Navy SEALs

When it comes to sheer hours of gameplay, this game might just take the cake. The game itself wasn’t for everyone, it was slow paced by today’s standards, it was a much more strategic shooter than a quick twitch one. The main reason this game makes my list is its online interactions. I joined a clan called Deadly Tactics and I formed my first online friendships with people that I had never met in real life. My brothers and some other friends of mine even took a trip up to North Carolina to meet up with some of the clan in real life, but that is a story for another day. 

3. GoldenEye 007

The shooter that defined all shooters. While some would offer up Doom for this category, I would argue that Doom was much more influential to the Horror genre than the FPS multiplayer variety. Goldeneye started it all for me. I still remember the day I brought my N64 console into class for game day and my friend and I put on a clinic, putting all our big-talking classmates to shame.

2. World of Warcraft 

I think it has been well documented, this game is like crack. It becomes everything to the people who play it. It can usurp the real world, it can become the only thing you care about. How in the world does it do that, you ask? It is pure genius. It is a fantasy world inhabited by real people, and it is amazingly fun. I am currently abstaining from this game, because it can become a black hole that sucks all your free time into it. That’s not to say I will never go back, it is a living thing, and it is almost unfair to compare it to any other game when it has become so much more than a game. Until we colonize Mars, The World of Warcraft is the only planet that human beings leave earth to live on.

1. Chrono Trigger 

This game has a  unique, special place in my mind. To me, this game was like reading my first fantasy series. I was immersed in a story with characters I cared profoundly about. The game was masterful, enchanting, beautiful, and its soundtrack was all that and more. I have never seen its like again. Please, please, please, somebody find a way to get the rights to this game and make a worthy next-gen revival. If you have a Wii or a Nintendo DS and you have never played this game then do yourself a favor and download it right now.

Honorable Mentions:  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Doom, Mortal Kombat 3, Fallout 3, Bioshock

Let me also point out that my list is colored by my selection of consoles over the years. I was a Nintendo guy, so I didn’t play much SEGA. From there, I went to Playstation. I have played some Xbox games, and while some were pretty good (Fable, Halo 2) I chose my side when Playstation 3 came out against Xbox 360 (I couldn’t afford both) and I haven’t looked back.

Feel free to leave a comment with your top games!

P.S. Check out my friend Dani's blog on fitness and food, but be warned, it will make you hungry!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sports Vs Non-Athletic Gaming

Since my first blog post yesterday, I have been overwhelmed with this feeling that there is a terrible rumor floating around about me and worst of all, that I started it. I admitted to an ongoing gaming addiction, not a heroin addiction, so why is it I feel like my friends are already planning an intervention? Is non-athletic gaming (hereafter referred to as NAG) really so far removed from the widely admired varieties of athletic gaming (AKA sports)? Let’s stop and think about this for a second. I’m going to lump all kinds of NAG together, card games, board games, pen-and-paper role-playing games, etc. since I don’t want to focus this blog on video gaming alone. 

In the following comparisons I am going to leave out things that I consider to be based in perception, social bias, etc. (glamour, prestige, popularity) and stick to the more tangible similarities and differences, since the whole point is to try and debunk some of the societal biases. I am awarding either 1-3 minuses for things I consider cons or 1-3 pluses for things I consider pros.

Physical Activity

It is the number one difference and the source of most of the hoopla, so let’s talk about it first. Sports are good for your body, they build muscle, improve heart health, burn calories, etc. etc. There is no denying it, sports are good for your health. The only thing I can say that counters this is that there is a small chance that you could get seriously injured, left with permanent, chronic pain, or in some extreme circumstances paralyzed or killed. Overall, the vast majority of people who play sports do so with either the occasional minor injury or none at all. Non-athletic gamers do not generally get any exercise from what they do, well, unless the fridge is at the other end of the house. There is a whole variety of Wii games that encourage movement and activity, however, so I will knock off one of the three minuses I was going to slap NAG with.

Verdict: Sports +++ NAG --
No one ever looked like this after a match of Mortal Kombat
Fun


Boil it down to its most basic function and you see that the point of it all is to have fun, enjoy yourself, and compete with others. No one side can claim they do this better. Therefore: 

Sports +++ NAG+++


Social Interactions


Sports wins this round sure, but it isn’t the first round K.O. you might expect. People who play online games interact with people from all over the world and sometimes form friendships with a diverse collection of people. There are gatherings at local card shops, and video game stores that host tournaments and game nights weekly. These events offer real-world interactions. But while Dungeons and Dragons breaks the competitive mold, most NAG is about solo performances against others. In sports, more often than not, you are forced to learn to play well with others, and this can even lead to breaking down racial barriers. 

Final Verdict: Sports +++ NAG +

Mental Health 


I argue that NAG is at least as beneficial to its participants mentally as sports are physically to its players. NAG involves intellectually challenging activities such as problem solving, strategy, and understanding complex concepts. Due to all the reading involved in many roleplaying and text based games, NAG can build vocabulary. Games like DND use mathematics and encourage the players to cultivate their imaginations. Sports has its own strategy of course, but I think that is counter-balanced by the hits to the head and lack of reading. Verdict: 

Sports N/A NAG +++

Career Opportunities

In both cases, these chances are rare, but I would argue more so for sports. Both can mold our career paths, but in general, NAG has a larger and more easily accessible job market. It also teaches more useful skills for the working man in our increasingly white-collar society.

Sports + NAG ++

Stress Relief

We all want to step outside ourselves, get away from our lives, and focus on something else every now and then. Both NAG and sports have this going for them. Both can relieve stress, both can help keep us content with our lives. 

Sports ++ NAG++

Accessibility

My last point is probably considered minor, but those who know me well know that it is more important to me than most. I will get into why more as we go along in this blog, it is too long a story to cover here. Sports can be extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for people with even minor physical limitations. NAG is accessible to virtually everyone. 

Verdict: Sports – NAG+

                    Final totals: Sports 11 NAG 10

My goal here is not to claim that either activity is a better way to spend your time, I just wanted to point out that the two are not so different.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From Game to Grave

The word “Gamer” is a pejorative in our society. I’m not talking about the Lebron-Miami-Heat-superstar kind of gamer, or that socially dexterous friend that can’t help but get the girl—you know that one you thought you had a shot with—no, I’m talking about the Gamer who plays video games, strategy games, card games, role-playing games and board games. Not the girl who owns a Wii for Wii-Fit and occasionally puts in Mario Kart at social gatherings. I’m talking about a gaming chair, worn in with a perfect ass print:

You know, soda and potato chips, headsets and strategy guides. I’m talking about shoe-boxes full of Magic the Gathering cards, multicolored polygonal dice, and subscriptions to Game Informer magazine.


These social pariahs are everywhere. I’m sure you know one or two, I can almost guarantee you know more than you think. You see, gamers generally don't brag about it. They hide it. It is a dirty, shameful thing. Being a proud gamer is like being a proud masturbator. Rare.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am talking from firsthand experience. 

I am starting this blog as an excuse to mix what I love to do, play games, with what I want to love to do, write. I am not here to denigrate gamers, because despite everything I just said, I love gaming. 

I want to explore what it means to be a gamer. What do we get out of it all? Why do we feel good about meaningless accomplishments? Is the social stigma fair? It is expensive, bad for our health, our social life, cancerous to our romantic life, and erodes our self respect. But we still do it. Day after day. Year after year. I'll probably game until the day I die.