Category Archives: Video Games

The Trouble With Portraying Sexuality

There’s something that’s been sitting on my mind for a while now, and I wasn’t really aware of the cognitive dissonance until I had a recent discussion with a friend of mine. In feminism, a movement apparently in its third wave according to academics, yet still struggling to find a unified front on many issues, there is a bit of an issue when it comes to the public perceptions of female sexuality.

Basically, it boils down to two views. First, you have the idea that sexuality should not be shameful. Sex isn’t something to shame people for having. Doing such can cause all sorts of psychological problems, first off. It’s a completely natural process that, unlike most animals in the world, is enjoyable for recreational purposes and is not solely a procreational action.

Unfortunately, when it comes to shame over sex, women get the worst rap. We all probably know the double standard by now… men who have multiple partners are conquerors. They’re virile. They’re manly. They can hold their tally like a trophy, the quantity of their conquests far outweighing their abilities (or inabilities) in the bed itself. Meanwhile, women are to keep their sexual lives quiet. Women with multiple partners are sluts. Shameful. Dirty. Broken. In a weird twist, sometimes people that want to help protect women from being sexual victims apply the term “victim” all over the place, even when sex is fully consensual… because it’s inconceivable for some people that a woman might seek out and desire sex. So, there’s the faction that wants to eliminate sex as a dirty word and deed, particularly for women. If a woman wants to be a stripper, let her. If she wants to be a prostitute/escort (when legal), why not? If she wants to dress provocatively, she should be allowed without being called names, or seen as “asking for sex.” Consent is different from how one dresses one’s self.

But then, there’s the other faction. The faction that says they’re tired of women being objectified and seen as sexual pleasure units. That’s tired of cleavage and boobs and butt on every single advertisement. That’s tired of having products directed at women (and men) because of their chromosomal makeup. Tired of the media using tired, false gender narratives and tropes, like the damsel in distress. But, mostly, tired of just being deemed as sexual, being boiled down to physical bodies and sexual performances. Tired of being “Hot Girl #3” on the TV.

Now, some of these things are shared by both groups, like being tired of the tropes and the gendered products. But sometimes, even those things find fractions between the factions. Because, despite being feminists and desiring an equality between all genders and sexualities, there’s just too many problems and not enough solutions.

It is definitely a problem that women exploring their sexualities are seen as sluts and looked down on. It is also definitely a problem that society demands sexual performance from women. It’s a hypocrisy that continues to harm our social makeup where men expect sex from women, and women have the choice of either being degraded for complying or degraded for not complying. And then possibly being raped and blamed for it by society. It’s not exactly a kind world for women today (and the scary thing is that it seems like it might be kinder than it once was).

I’ll give an example of the disparity. In the BBC show “Sherlock,” a show I find to be quite fantastic, in season 2 we were introduced to what is perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous female character, Irene Adler. Appearing in “A Scandal In Bohemia,” she is the one woman Sherlock Holmes has shown obvious affection and admiration for. To quote,

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. […] And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

In the BBC show’s re-imagining of the character, she was recreated as a dominatrix, using her wits and dominance in the bedroom to put powerful people in compromising positions and obtain information she hoped to use to her advantage. In her first meeting with Holmed, she introduced herself in the nude as an attempt to throw him off his game. It worked. …but this portrayal exemplifies exactly the difference in the factions.

On the one hand, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman willingly working in the sex industry. (We’ll skip the discussions of abuse and slavery for now to make the discussion simpler, but I wouldn’t count anyone coerced or forced into that industry in any fashion as working in it willingly.) There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman using her body or sexuality for any (legal) reason, even to win a battle of wits against a certain private detective. However, some feel that being portrayed as a sex worker diminished the focus on Adler’s mental acuity and ability as written originally by Doyle. It felt like a cheap gimmick, a typical jump in today’s media to make the woman a sexual being, an object of pleasure.

This is, of course, not helped out at all by show-runner Steven Moffat’s rather well-documented casual sexism and poor treatment of female characters in his other show, “Doctor Who.”

Personally, I think the Adler character (unlike many of the women in “Doctor Who”) was well done. The sexuality wasn’t really a focus the way I saw it. It was never portrayed in a gaudy, ridiculous fashion. Rather, it was run as a counter to Sherlock’s discomfort with the sensual, as sensuality requires physical and emotional responses that he has spent years ridding himself of for the sake of logic and reason. Others, like my friend, disagree.

The sad thing is, there’s not really a way I can see out of this sort of conundrum. It seems perfectly obvious to me that both factions have absolutely correct and poignant points. Both of these hypocritical philosophies of our society (particularly American) are damaging. On their own, they’re bad enough. Combined, they are a maelstrom of harm and sexism. And that’s just for the women. It damages men, too, as does our portrayal of men in the media. So, should one aspect be focused on more than the other? Can both be fixed without a complete reset of social norms and ideals? Or is this something we will constantly be fighting against, one way or another?

I honestly have no idea what should be done about these problems, save this: We need to talk about them and realize they’re problems. While we may not agree on the solutions, as long as we agree something is wrong, we can start to work toward answers. And since the world is full of people smarter than me, maybe the answer is just waiting for someone to mention the problem to the right person.

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8-Bit Pleasures: “Demons Vs. Fairyland”

…I may have been spending just a BIT too much time playing this. As in, wasted nearly an entire day off just playing this. Oy vey.

Armor Games is easily my favorite place to find free online gaming entertainment of the non-quiz variety. Sporcle is the supreme ruler of internet quizzes. But this isn’t about quizzes. This is about a tower defense game that has been eating away all my free time.

The game is called “Demons vs. Fairyland.” As I said, it’s a tower defense game, and I am just awful at those. Every once in a while, there will come a tower defense game that just clicks for me, that has mechanics much more easily manipulated or strategy I can more easily utilize. This game is one of those few.

In the game, there are three different types of land that support different towers. Cemeteries support Haunted Cabins, which summon skeleton warriors. Archer Training Camps support Watchtowers, which host archers. Energy Wells support Puddles of the Beast, which fire balls of energy that do splash damage. At later levels of the game, you unlock the ability to place land where you desire, instead of starting with it in a fixed position, as well as level the land up for various effects. You also unlock level ups for the towers, which do things like increase fire rate, increase range and/or increase damage. Later tower upgrades can add special powers as well.

You also have a pool of mana that constantly grows after use to whatever your max mana is. This gives you access to three spells: A mid-range damage area of effect fire spell, a heavy damage lightning spell that only hits a maximum of four people at its fullest upgrade and a zombie summon spell. As I mentioned with the lightning spell, there are upgrades available. Every battle gives you experience based on how many enemies you killed. Every level you go up, you get three skill points to put on a skill tree. There are three separate trees for the different towers and spells, and each skill point used in each tree gives a bonus percentage to an associated stat, like fire rate or range.

The goal of the game is to protect the babies at the end (or wherever else on the map). As different maps give different twists and turns, different splits and paths, this isn’t always as easy as it may look. It gets easier with leveling up, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s completely easy. You can always repeat levels you did poorly at, or repeat levels you want to try at a higher difficulty. At the normal (easy) difficulty, you get bronze stars for completion. The stars are ultimately meaningless beyond pride and the badges you get, which are also meaningless beyond pride. But you want to get them anyway. You always do. You’re able to manipulate the stats of the enemies, giving them bonuses to different categories, changing the level of difficulty, as well as increasing the percentage of experience points you get.

There’s twelve different levels, each with an easy, medium, hard and very hard mode that can be arrived at in a variety of ways (except for very hard, which must be done by increasing all five states to plus 50 percent). Really, there’s not much more to it that you can’t discover on your own. The music’s fun and the graphics are nice, while the units that fight look like little 8-bit creations, which is neat. The game froze on me a couple of times, but that’s mostly because my computer’s an old pile of mess, and the game always started itself back up without jumping within a few seconds. If you have some time (if you’re an addictive personality, make that a couple of days), you should try it out.

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8-Bit Pleasures – “Too Many Ninjas”

I haven’t done one of these in a while… probably because I don’t play too many games, be they free internet games or otherwise, these days.

However, I do have a tab on my favorites bar on Firefox that leads to a game called “Too Many Ninjas.” If you’ve hung around the internet for a while, you’ve possibly heard of “QWOP,” the ridiculously awkward yet magically addictive game where you must utilize the keys Q, W, O and P to control the leg muscles of an Olympic runner and make it to the finish line. Seriously, it’s awful. I’ve beaten it before, though. By getting my guy to kneel and drag himself inch by inch with his front leg. This is by the same people.

Well, I recently accidentally hit the tab for “Too Many Ninjas,” and it sent me back briefly into a hate spiral of “beat my last record, daggum it!” It’s like hackey sack, where you’re just constantly trying to one-up yourself. Made by the people of Foddy.net, I found this game when Foddy.net was only “Too Many Ninjas,” “QWOP” and “Little Master Cricket,” which I had no idea about how to play as I have no idea how cricket works. One must, after all, know what a crumpet is in order to understand cricket.

…bonus points to the person that understands that reference.

Anyway, this game is exceedingly simple. No joke. You use the arrow keys, and that’s all. You’re a samurai besieged by too many ninjas. They jump in from all sides, throwing shuriken at you. You use the arrows to move your sword around and block shuriken and kill ninjas. For every shuriken you block and ninja you kill, you gain a point. Every ten points, things get faster. And if you think it sounds easy, you’d be wrong. Sometimes, you will lose before you hit 10. My crowning achievement in gaming, in ALL of gaming, is reaching 99 on this game. Seriously, it’s my profile picture on Steam. 99 is nearly impossible.

If this game sucks away several hours of your life, I refuse to apologize. I will simply laugh at you when I have time and am not playing the game myself.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Wreck-It Ralph”

“Wreck-It Ralph” is Disney’s newest computer animated movie, spawned out of Walt Disney Animation studios, as opposed to Pixar. Yes, I believe Disney owns Pixar, but there is a difference. Pixar makes Toy Story, and Disney’s last CG movie was, I believe, “Tangled,” which was actually really good. And “Wreck-It Ralph” is certainly no exception to the trend. You can view the trailer here.

The movie takes on a now seemingly archaic concept: Arcade games. In an almost “Tron”-style plot, the main question behind the film’s premise is: What happens to the video game characters when the lights go out at the arcade?

The main character of the film is the titular character, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the villain of the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. It’s the 30th anniversary of the game, and while Felix (Jack McBrayer) and the residents of the condominium Ralph wrecks during the game are celebrating, Ralph is left at his home, a giant pile of bricks and a tree stump, on the outside looking in. After 30 years of being treated as evil or lesser, being shunned by the other people in his game, Ralph has grown tired of being the bad guy. He wants to be treated like a hero and win a medal, just like Felix.

To do so, Ralph jumps from his game to “Hero’s Duty,” one of the $2, big screen, high-definition first person shooter arcades. Stealing the military suit off of a drunk fellow arcade game character, he sneaks into the game and retrieves a medal. Unfortunately, due to a couple of literal missteps, he ends up careening away through Game Central Station in a rocket, accompanied by a villainous bug from “Hero’s Duty,” finally landing in the childish racing game “Sugar Rush.” There, he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a cute, haphazard and childish character from the game who steals his medal to use as a gold coin and enter the race King Candy (Alan Tudyk) has banned her from entering.

While Ralph is on this adventure, one of the arcade patrons notices the lack of Ralph in the game, and the arcade owner marks it as out of order. Felix, in order to save his game from being unplugged and forcing the residents of the game into homelessness, goes to search for Ralph. He and “Hero’s Duty” commander Calhoun (Jane Lynch) join forces to find Ralph and prevent the bug that escaped from “Hero’s Duty” from breeding and destroying every game in the arcade.

The movie doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table from the point of view of storytelling. It follows the rather typical pattern of good and bad, failure and redemption, the ups and downs of most stories that have been around since the dawn of time. It does, however, carry a far greater emotional punch than I was ever expecting, creating characters that you can really grow to love and care about in a brief amount of time without even noticing you’ve done so.

The film also has a lot of goodies for classic video game fans and classic movie fans. There are a couple of references to classic films, like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars,” but the video game references abound. Somehow, Disney got permission to use many classic characters, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Zangief and M. Bison from “Street Fighter,” Pac-Man and Bowser, all throughout the movie. Even Q*bert and the Pong paddles make appearances. Fortunately, their use of those classic characters never takes away or distracts from the new characters, who should be the focus of the film.

The animation is great, showing a distinct difference between characters from older, 8-bit games and the more fluid motion games. They skip the consistency of the jerky movements for Ralph and Felix, as that would have just been hugely distracting, but it’s some fun flavor added in. For arcade junkies like me, the movie was filled with nostalgia that will likely be lost on most young people today. Arcades have been going out of style as the home entertainment video game consoles have become more and more popular and wide-spread over the years. Still, the movie conveys the feeling of being in an arcade well, whether you’ve been in one or not, and crafts some really entertaining video game worlds in its original video games, especially in “Sugar Rush.”

The movie also starts with an original animated short, like Pixar movies do, though this one is done with hand-drawn animation. It’s called “Paperman,” as I recall, is mostly in black and white and has no speaking during the short. It’s a very sweet little feature, and you should be sure to get to the theater early enough to watch it.

The movie is sweet, uplifting, funny, charming and maybe more emotionally powerful than you’d expect. This has been a rather good year for movies from what I’ve seen, and I really think you should watch this one as soon as you can. I watched mine in 2-D, so I can’t comment on the quality of the 3-D version… But after you see it, maybe go find an arcade that’s still open and play a game. For old time’s sake.

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A Treatise On Geek Culture

Recently, Felicia Day retweeted a post by author and geek John Scalzi. In this post, he writes a rather forceful, but sensible, post on who gets to dictate what makes someone a “geek.” This post, somewhat emotional, is a response to a column written on the CNN website by a guy named Joe Peacock.

In Peacock’s post, he claims that there are women out there who are not “true geeks.” There are women out there who go from convention to convention and dress up in some form of geek-related outfit to garner attention for themselves. Scalzi disagrees. Perhaps a bit intensely, but rightly so.

I’m not going to say there aren’t attention-mongers in the nerd world. Nerds are people, too. There are geeks that will try to talk Klingon to you, or show off their mint condition original holographic Japanese Charizard. People sometimes like to show off. But to attempt to segregate the “true geeks” from the “false geeks” seems rather disingenuous to the entire culture.

Reading Scalzi’s article reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a few friends about the definitions of and differences between being a geek or a nerd. It was a very clear, logical, intelligent conversation that I’ve since forgotten most of. I will try to remember how it went as best as I can.

On the outer level of the entire culture, consisting of concentric circles, is “dork.” This one’s a bit hard to define and is not that much bigger than the next level, but it can really be defined in two ways. First, it can be defined in relation to people existing outside the circle. A dork, or someone being dorky, is someone who is slightly socially misfit. They do something a bit “out of place” from the social norm, typically in their action. The second way is defined by the people being dorky. In that sense, they do something somewhat out of place or silly… but they’re okay with it. It’s not a negative, and something that someone can be a bit proud of sometimes. Other times, it’s a moment of slight chagrin, but nothing massively crushing.

The second level, a slightly smaller circle inside of dorkiness, is nerdiness. In the level of nerd, there is a massive gamut of topics and possible inclusions. You can be a history nerd, a science nerd, a video game nerd, a theatre nerd, a movie nerd, et cetera, et cetera. For any category in which there is information to know, you can be a nerd. Nerds are people who proudly wield a library of knowledge on some subject or another. A history nerd, for example, would likely be able to tell you some interesting facts about the Normandy Invasion during World War II. How there were five beaches the Allied troops invaded, Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha. How the majority of the German military heads felt the Allied forces would come across the shortest distance on a day of good weather, and only Erwin Rommel predicted they would take the longest path on a rain-soaked, crappy day. They could tell you which beaches were invaded by which country’s forces, which beaches held the biggest losses, et cetera, et cetera.

…I have a bit of history nerd in me for some things.

Still, the nerd has information that is not so unbelievably outside the subject’s knowledge. It’s understandable that they could have garnered this knowledge through some focused study. The more specific the subject, the more understandably specific the knowledge. The nerd will fall under the realm of dork at times when the nerd produces this information at the slightest provocation, but the nerd is most distinctive in being somewhat more academic than the next level.

That level is geek.

The geek is a smaller group, a subset of nerd. A geek takes some subject, some category, and becomes slightly obsessed with it. They will be able to tell you extremely specific information about certain subjects. These are the people that can tell you how much specific Pokemon weigh, or can rattle off exactly what feats are best for a summoning-focused cleric in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, 3.5 edition. These are the people that will spend hours on end looking at mods for “Baldur’s Gate,” or the people that will meticulously watch every single available episode of “Doctor Who,” then watch them with commentary, then watch them again. They will make timelines for the Zelda franchise and write fanfiction for “Chrono Trigger,” making a sequel better than that awful thing people pretended is a sequel, “Chrono Cross.” Geeks can be terribly opinionated and extremely defensive about the things in their fandoms. FFVII versus FFVIII. D&D 3.5e versus D&D 4e. Star Trek TNG versus Star Trek DS9. Batman versus Superman.

Yes, some of those specific examples are me or people I know.

Geeks can be just as varied and numerous in category as nerds. And they are extremely passionate. Nerds will get academic and factual. Geeks will get specific and excited and will tell you all about some random factoid they noticed.

For example, have you ever noticed how the Star Trek and Stargate franchises followed the same path? …I can geek out about that later, if someone asks. I’ve been writing for a while and don’t want to lose you all as I get to the crux of my point.

Geeks are an inclusive culture. They are a culture filled with people just as strange and varied and different as every other group of people. The great thing about geek culture, however, is that you can make it your own. You can be a geek about whatever you can be a geek about. Whatever you want to be a geek about. So, like Scalzi says in his article, people can geek about cosplay and costuming without necessarily having intimate knowledge of the character they’re dressing as. I have a friend I went to high school with that competed in costuming and now goes to conventions dressed in home-made, high-quality costumes. I don’t know how much she knows about Wonder Woman. I know her costumes are well made and something she should be proud of.

So, to agree with Scalzi, there is no litmus test for being a geek. There is no litmus test for being a nerd. There is no litmus test for being a dork. There is no one who can say what makes anyone a true geek, nerd or dork. There is only what a person is, likes, loves. Perhaps, instead of attempting to segregate a community that is all about being free with the things you love, we should try to get others to love them, too.

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8-Bit Pleasures – “Dragon Age: Origins”

…huh. When I check Wikipedia, this game isn’t nearly as old as I thought…

Okay, so, remember how I mentioned a few (two) days ago that games are the bane of writing? Well, that’s still true. Thanks to a combination of my playing video games and my having a big pile of deadlines at work, I’ve not found much time to read or keep up with the political world. What I have noticed in the political world, such as Mitt Romney getting booed at the NAACP speech he gave today, hasn’t really been terribly intriguing… and my mind has been too distracted to come up with my own poignant subjects and discussions… So, instead, I’m going to talk about the thing that’s been distracting me.

Not nearly old enough to be an 8-bit game, and not so old that I can say something like “I know this game has been out forever, leave me alone,” “Dragon Age: Origins” is a Western-style RPG that was created by BioWare in 2009. For those unaware of any difference, there are generally considered to be two styles of role playing game. First is the JRPG, the Japanese role playing game. They tend to be defined first off by being made in Japan, but characteristically by having a set plot and character set. Conversation options are not always as expansive and the main playable character is predefined in accordance with the plot. The Final Fantasy series is perhaps the most well-known set of JRPGs. Options are available, but customization like alternate outcomes are often considered to be second fiddle to the plot and gameplay.

Then there’s Western RPGs. Western RPGs are pretty much Gary Gygax in video game form. Usually finding themselves quite similar to Dungeons & Dragons (particularly in the case of the Neverwinter Nights series of games), Western RPGs tend to allow for more customization in games to be made. There is an overarching plot, to be sure, but exploration and personal decisions, particularly in conversation, are often far more expansive than in JRPGs. Further, the main character is usually built by the player of the game and through their decisions. Whereas Cloud in “Final Fantasy VII” will always be the same person in every playthrough of the game, no matter if he takes Aeris, Tifa, Yuffie or Barret on that date in the Golden Saucer, each playthrough in most Western RPGs can find themselves vastly different.

Which, for people like me that like exploring every possible option, means hours upon hours upon hours of playing the game and, inevitably, never actually finishing. Sorry, “Neverwinter Nights Platinum Edition.” And “Neverwinter Nights 2.” One day, when I’m old and in a really awesome nursing home somewhere, I’ll get around to finishing you guys.

Anyway, BioWare, the generally undisputed king of console Western RPGs, made the first game of the Dragon Age series back in 2009, like I said. As part of that customization stuff I mentioned, you get to play as a human, elf or dwarf, male or female, and rogue, warrior or mage. I, as my friends might be able to guess, picked a male elf mage to start off. 30+ hours of gameplay later, I’m still an elf mage. And not that far in the game.

The game is rather extensive. Throughout gameplay, you can gather up a small, personal army through various side quests, some easier and more brief than others. No matter what, you will have two people in your party after the major events of the first act are through: the mage Morrigan and the warrior Alistair. You three, and any other of the 7 (technically 8, my reading ahead has told me) potential party members are off to defeat the darkspawn and their hideous taint spreading across the land. Along the way, you can do side quests, earn money, earn loyalty from your crew, make with the sexy times with certain people in your crew… et cetera. The options are practically limitless, and with every action you take, there can be a consequence. Some more desired than others, for sure.

Now, I’m sure the warrior and rogue have their own options in battle, but every time I switch to another party member, those classes confuse me. Probably because they’re kind of simple: attack it with a pointy thing. I prefer having many several options: Should I burn it, freeze it, zap it or drain its life blood?

Probably my biggest problems with “Dragon Age: Origins” are the time and the leveling. You can often find yourself taking long periods of time simply trying to enter or leave a town. It would be great if the game had a quick exit option for the town. Especially in that stupid Redcliffe Village. I swear, it takes forever to climb that mountain. As for leveling up, personal leveling up isn’t so bad. My problem with a game so expansive and choice determined is the apparent lack of world leveling. Certain events are just at certain levels, it seems, and if you’re not high enough of a level to match that, then you’re in trouble. Which is unfortunate, because some things are triggered by things you can do at a relatively low level. For example, I kept ending up in a semi-random battle when on the map traveling from town to town, fighting a load of bad guys and assassins. This event was triggered by my asking my party member Leliana questions about her past, something you kinda have to do if you want her loyalty. And bedtime company. Anyway, my party kept getting all sorts of murdered all the time for a while. Could be that I’m not using the party tactics system very well at all, but other battles have told me that there are just certain levels you have to be to do certain things. I feel like, perhaps, it would have been better for the challenge rating of battles to be oriented to your group’s current level. Battles could still be quite challenging, but not so impossible so often.

Still, minor nitpicks aside, I’m enjoying the game. Even if I can’t seem to work out my love triangle between Leliana and Morrigan just yet. We’ll make it work, though, I’m sure. The fact that I’m still playing, however, should tell you that the plot is at least intriguing, the subplots (like the romance) can be easily invested in, and the exploration and possibilities are vast.

Oh, the other thing that annoys me… SAVE YOUR GAME A LOT. The game will keep telling you it’s saving content, but don’t ever believe it. It’s a dirty rotten liar. I had to go back and play a full hour or so of game over again because I didn’t save and thought the autosave would have caught a much later part. Talk about tedium. Oy vey.

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Games Are The Bane Of Writing

No joke. I took the day off from work to attempt to recover from a lengthy, travel-heavy weekend, something like 621 miles or so in just three days. I know there are many who travel more than that, but as I’m not a trucker, that sort of travel is pretty draining for me. Add in that audition that, despite my constant time in auditions and nearly non-existent hopes for success, still made me nervous when that time came and you get a very draining weekend.

Anyway, I took the day off, figuring I could get some extra rest and a little personal work done, such as writing my play (seven scenes remaining) or doing some laundry… Instead, after waking up this morning, I ended up playing a little “Dragon Age: Origins.” And by a little, I mean I’ve done that practically the whole day. It’s a bit distressing, really.

It’s a good game, though. Been forever since I’ve played a western-style RPG. Or any video game RPG, for that matter. …or, really, any video games at all, assuming we’re excluding online flash games. I just need to remember to stop thinking like it’s a choose your own adventure book and just start a new game when this one’s done to get all the goodies.

…which will take approximately forever. There’s probably a reason I never finished an entire “Neverwinter Nights” campaign in any form. I feel like I’m a wholly undedicated nerd.

So, because of this game, I’ve not gotten much of anything accomplished. Well, except in game. I’ve gotten an okay amount of that stuff accomplished. At any rate, hopefully I’ll be more aware and mentally conscious tomorrow, allowing for a better post. Surely something political will happen…

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Not Much To Say Today

I always hate posting these posts. But it’s true. I don’t really have anything to say. Ray Bradbury died, which is no good, but that’s about all I have on that. In political news, the one thing I saw that caught my eye through the day was a teenaged radio host being a prat about gay people and likely being ultimately hypocritical… but I feel I’ve covered that topic a lot in the past month. Or week. It’s been brought up several times is my point.

And I’m also trying to devote some time to the final drive toward finishing my play. I thought it’d be done last Saturday, but that doggone internet game “Paladog” distracted the mess out of me. Still, I like the symbolism of finishing tomorrow or Friday. I looked it up on Wikipedia… The 63rd Tony Awards were held on June 7, 2009. That was the first (and only) Tony show I watched all the way through. It was a Sunday, and the next day was Vacation Bible School, which I was volunteering for at my church. That was the day the idea of “Camp Gethsemane” hit me, and on June 8, I started to write the characters and plot.

It’s been three years, pretty much to the day… and I’m definitely going to finish this first draft either tomorrow or Friday. No doubt in my mind about that. If not tomorrow, then I will cut myself off from the internet on Friday until it’s complete.

It will still need polishing, I’m sure. I have no idea if it’s any good. When you read William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen plays, you tend to doubt your own writing abilities. Plus, this is my first play. There will be editing needed. Things cut. It sits at almost 80 pages, which may be waaaaaaaaaay too many when everything is said and done. Possibly. But the first draft is almost done. After that, I can hold a workshop/reading of the play, allowing me to hear it from the mouths of others and get a sense of timing for the show. Get some opinions as well. And then I work it and work it until it’s production ready.

After that? We’ll see. So goodnight for now, friends. Hopefully, tomorrow I will have some happy news.

…and if not then, then Friday. I refuse to let the significance of the date pass me by.

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8-Bit Pleasures – “Paladog”

That’s right. New segment! Woo. Because… well, I can’t really think of anything else to write about right now. Sorry. I’m sleepy.

Anyway, “8-Bit Pleasures” would be a segment in which I talk about a video game or flash game of some type that I’ve played. Kind of a review thing, I suppose. More often than not it’ll likely just be a “This game is fun!” thing. And, more often than not, it’ll likely be a game that’s been out forever if it comes on a console. The only console I own is a PS2, so… Yeah.

“Paladog” is a complex, flash-based strategy/action game I found on Armor Games. It can be downloaded for the iPad (or other iProducts, I’m sure), and the iPad version has a few special things, like achievements and ways for the game makers to ask you for money. Oh, and a survival version of the campaign, as well as a second character to play as. I know this partly because the game keeps telling me, partly because I just got a friend hooked on it about… 2 hours ago, and he downloaded it for his iPad.

This game is the reason I’m only ALMOST finished with my play. I swear, I would almost certainly be done were it not for “Paladog.” It’s an addictive little game. The story is simple enough. Humans suck. God killed them off. Animals evolved to sentience and ruled the planet. Being pure of heart, demons had trouble corrupting them. So, instead, they attack en masse. Paladog must rise as a heroic warrior and fight them off.

The gameplay is simple, and yet can get complex. Paladog attacks using wands. Different wands have different attacks and use up different amounts of mana, which gradually generates through time during a mission. He can also summon animal helpers, but must do so with food, which also gradually generates through time during a mission. Paladog emits an aura within which his minions can do special attacks, and he can wear up to two rings that give him varying bonuses. Animal helpers can be upgraded, and must be bought to be unlocked initially, with exception of the first one. Usually, the game presents as a side scroller wherein you must defeat the monster generator at the opposite end of the map. There are four other mission types during each 12-level segment, appearing every three levels.

First is the one where you are randomly given cards that represent wand powers and animal companions (which you need not have yet unlocked to use). You don’t move, you just fight until all monsters are dead. Second is the wagon trail, where you guard a wagon until it reaches the endpoint. Third is a little more board game-esque, where your enemy sends out troops one by one in five rows. You can summon animal companions to different rows, or, with enough mana, send out randomly generated (pre-unlocked) animal companions in a selected row or across all of them. The goal there is to get a certain number of your guys into their territory before they do the same to you. Finally is the boss fight. It’s just like the normal play, except once you’re done, you have a boss two kill. So it’s like two levels back to back with no healing.

Cute graphics, engaging gameplay, it’s a fun little game. My only problem, perhaps, is that some levels get quite difficult seemingly at random. It could be that I just suck at it. Also, there is some luck involved. At every level up, you get to choose one of three randomly generated powers. Sometimes, the three are all awesome. Sometimes, they’re all powers you could not care less about. So one play through, your aura may be maxed out at level 5. In another, you may wait until level 30 for that to happen.

I suggest giving it a try. And if you’re writing a play… Well, I’m sorry, but this might distract you a bit.

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The Obscenity Of Art

Yesterday, PixelCon was pretty much a success. I don’t know exactly the number of people we had show up, but I know several events were extremely crowded. And if we happen to have more money and time to organize bigger events, maybe even get guest speakers and such, I can only imagine it being huge. This year was put up essentially in 6 weeks with about $250-$500 on the budget. And eventually, we may be able to afford fancy new equipment, like controllers, specific for PixelCon use only! …a guy can dream, right?

And then, that night, the Alpha Psi Omega Gamma Gamma Cast pledge class of 2012 put on their Guerrilla as APO members, and it was an excellent Guerrilla. It was filled to the brim with talent, humor, drama and emotion. I still wish I’d managed to perform at it, but I do feel a bit guilty thinking that, as my being in Guerrilla would have meant one of those talented people not being in it. Pretty much solid all around.

Even so, as I left Guerrilla, I heard one girl comment, “That was the most offensive Guerrilla, like, ever!” My first thought was, “Really? I don’t think so. I can’t be the only person that still comes to Guerrilla that’s old enough to remember the Aristocrats Guerrilla.” If you don’t mind being offended/possibly grossed out, look up the Aristocrats joke. The people that performed it at that Guerrilla had to make an apology and everything. …but that was back when things were a bit less well organized, too.

Though, after thinking about it, there were a couple of acts that were guaranteed to offend at least a few people, if those people weren’t standard Guerrilla attendees. The performance of either full or cut down versions of the songs from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” was certainly one of those acts. I thought it hugely delightful, simply inspired theatre. Turning a cartoon film into a 10-minute, entertaining stage musical isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world to do, and I rather enjoyed to movie. But it can’t be said that the film isn’t massively crass and obscene. I mean, it is South Park. The addition of a David Mamet scene which discussed in crude terms one man’s method of getting laid by treating a woman like crap certainly didn’t help. And there were perhaps a couple of other things that could have been thought of as less than politically correct.

Now, I’ve grown accustomed to crude humor. And when done right, it can be excellent. And the Mamet piece evoked laughter from the crowd not just because of it’s proximity to the South Park sketch but also because it was so shockingly extreme (the actor had some excellent physicality as well) that it evoked a laughter of incredulity. Surely no one could actually think that. But I tried to actually ignore the urge to laugh and listen to the themes and ideas offered in the piece, finding it to be a disturbing commentary on the way some men treat sex and the opposite gender. And it was still a compelling piece.

Earlier that day, I had a (regrettably under-attended due to timing) panel discussing morality and gaming. The first half, a real barn burner, discussed morality within video games. Specifically, the moral choice system dynamic many video games have. What their purpose is, if they’re necessary, what the differences between different specific ones are and if that matters… et cetera. But the second half (briefly, as we were rushed) discussed video games and their impact on real world morality. Things like obscenity and the semi-recent Supreme Court case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association.

See, there is a First Amendment free speech element to the obscenity of art. While some people don’t consider video games art, I find they’re just as artistic a medium as any story-telling event. They’re also entertainment, sure, but you could count art as entertainment that is usually not as interactive as video games, so again. Not really much difference in my mind, generally.

Sometimes, obscenity and offense are meant to garner extreme reactions out of the audience. Those reactions can be a visceral joy, a rush of adrenaline and excitement, horror and disgust, deep thought, or really any other emotion that comes out in non-obscene and non-offensive fashions. But the offense and obscenity has the added value of tapping in to our ability to react strongly, in some way. It’s not often that people have non-reactions to such content.

And, really, life can be obscene. Can ride the extremes. Entertainment/art isn’t always about escape. It’s sometimes about reminding and paving the way to certain thoughts. Discussion about real world topics.

Are some people obscene and offensive for the sake of being obscene and offensive? Sure. And do some people take offense to every little thing? Unfortunately, yes. This post would likely offend someone. This blog certainly would at some point.

But offensiveness and obscenity have their values. The question becomes, should there be a limit? Or is art to be free of all convention to be pure?

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