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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Contest/Halloween Origins

Hello everyone.  This post, I will admit, is blatantly an attempt to get myself a few votes for a short story of mine on a halloween contest!  I would greatly appreciate your vote for "Medical Power of Attorney" here.

However, just pushing my work leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.  I want to provide a little something for your time.  So, here is a brief history of Halloween!  I know that plenty of people who do not hail from the United States simply do not understand the purpose of this holiday.  Is it just an excuse to dress up, make a fool of yourself, and get candy?

Well, in a sense.  But it has a much more devious origin.  Now, I'm no expert, and I'm sure you could do some research and prove that what I'm saying here is wrong, but this is my understanding of its origins.  (Yes, I know, I usually actually research this stuff, but I'm a bit pressed for time here.)

Halloween is a sort of portmanteau of "All Hallow's Eve" (Hallow E'en = Holy Evening).  Why is it Holy?  Well, because...  maybe a little more background is needed.

Originally, the Gaelic peoples celebrated the end of harvest at Samhein, which is halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice (that is to say, the change between number of daylight and night time hours is greatest at this time of year).  Samhein, pronounced "s-ow-in", was supposed to be the day when the world of the spirits was closest to ours.  Often the dead would return home. Feasts would take place where they were beckoned, with places set at the table for them.  This is where mummers started (which continues into Yule/Christmas).  Mumming is, essentially, dressing up and acting out certain scenes in exchange for food.  That's right, Christmas caroling and trick-or-treating are two parts of the same practice.  They would often decorate gourds or dress up inanimate objects to scare away the evil spirits, which was sometimes symbolized by the mummers.

When the Christian church was trying to take hold in Western Europe, it decided that it needed to adopt certain major festivals as its own, or at least put religious festivals near the gaelic ones so that it would be easier for the people to convert.  To be a counterpart to Samhein, they created All Saint's Day on November 1st and All Soul's Day on November 2nd (both of which are still celebrated).  Now, back in that time, it was common practice for the day to begin when we would consider to be the night before (the eve).  This is why we HAVE Christmas Eve!  So, All Hallow's Eve is essentially the start of All Saint's Day.  The customs of the gaelic, however, were strong enough to leak into All Saint's Day's customs, so Halloween has held onto some of them.  The modern version of halloween is, however, fading.

Nowadays, most kids go to the mall or to "trunk-or-treat" in a sort of "gimme candy" mentality.  The spirit of going to neighbors to scare away the evil spirits in exchange for food (trick-or-treating) is mostly gone in some areas.  We *do* still carve pumpkins, which are tastier and larger than gourds (and more distinctly American).  And there are still parties, though bonfires aren't that common.  There has been a recent resurgence of Samhein in some areas.  I can only hope it spreads.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


In case you were not aware, I have a mirror profile over on Deviant Art.  I post up my short stories on there in an attempt to increase my audience.  In fact, I've also started posted to Tumblr, so combined with Facebook, FridayFlash.org, Google+, and Twitter, I have a pretty decent internet presence.  Over time I hope to see my audience increasing to even greater numbers!

Deviant Art has some communities which will accept submissions and show them off.  It's a good way to get your art out to a larger audience.  But they also have something similar that's sort of built-in to the system: Daily Deviations.

There are moderators, or judges, for each type of artwork (all of literature is lumped together to be judged by one of 4 people).  If you or someone else submits your art to them, they will look it over and determine whether or not to feature it for a day as a DD.  Most art doesn't make it, and a few times the judges will give you some feedback.  If you make it, lots of people will get to see your art (but you won't be eligible for a DD again for 6 months)!

Today, Sunday the 27th of October, my story was one of the Daily Deviations.  In particular, this story.  Suddenly I go from having at most 10 views a day to nearly 100!  And comments, glowing comments that have me grinning from ear-to-ear!  I swear, this is dangerous; it'll give me a big head!

So, I wanted to thank neurotype for accepting Three in the Morning, as well as everyone who enjoyed reading it!  It is one of the most thrilling and joyous things for me to know that other people like my work and are entertained by it!  If you are here on my blog because of DA, welcome!  I hope you will stay and watch me pick at my brain for a while!

I also would like to welcome anyone and everyone from the South Bend NaNoWriMo group who has discovered me here.  I'm very grateful to have the chance to write with and get to know you all!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Medical Power of Attorney

"I bet you're wondering what you're doing here," the voice said.  Mark tried to open his eyes, but his world remained enveloped in darkness.  The only sounds he heard were the familiar sounds of a hospital room: the rhythmic beeping of a heart monitor, a respirator, and of course the indistinct, male voice.  "Well, it's simple, Mark.  You're now my patient."

He tried to remember what had happened.  The shifts in the ER all started to run together year after year.  He recalled waiting on a car accident victim to arrive and then… nothing.  He was here, listening.

"It's amazing what a little medical knowledge can do.  Just a little bit of drug A can cause a seizure.  A little of drug B and you lose complete control of your skeletal muscles.  But you know what's really amazing?  Lawyers."

Mark tried to open his eyes again.  A hazy light slowly filled his vision, but everything appeared to him as blurs.  The voice was more distinct now.  Mark realized that whatever had happened to him was starting to subside, whether that was a concussion or something more sinister.

"Do you remember, Mark?  Ten years ago, when you killed my mother?  Oh, sure, you said she was a lost cause, but I know my mother.  She was strong, she was a fighter."

Mark's head rolled to the side.  He vaguely became aware of waves of pressure on his chest.  He'd never felt what it was like to be on a respirator before.  And there was something else.  Pain.  It started as little more than a tickle, then sank into a deep ache in his bones.

"Oh, you're finally coming to, hmm?  Well, that's good.  I don't want you to miss any of what I have in store for you.  You see, I've been learning ever since that day.  I knew that someday I'd have you.  The years of schooling, the debt, it would all be worth it.  And befriending you, oh that was the best part!"

Mark felt a sharp pain in his belly, followed by warmth flowing into his chest.  His side began to swell.  But now he knew it was friend of his.  This wasn't an accident.

"I never expected you to actually sign over your Medical Power of Attorney to me.  That was truly my finest hour, though I have a feeling this next one will be up there, too."  The voice was clear as a bell now, and very close.  Mark wanted to cry when he realized who it was, Jonathan Bieser.  Jon was a groomsman at his wedding and a sympathetic ear at his wife's funeral.  Jon was the kind of guy everyone loved.  They had worked together for years.  Jon was often his anesthesiologist.

"First, I knew I had to get rid of Ellie.  So I experimented on her with the same drugs I'm using on you.  That's how I learned how much to give so you still feel everything, and how much to give you so it'll look like a heart attack.  But I'm not going to give you a heart attack, Mark.  That's too easy.  What shall I do with you, hmm?  Let's look at your medical charts."

The pain from his belly took second stage to the unbidden fear Mark felt.  He tried to move an arm, an eye, a finger, anything, but his entire body felt like it had been detached from his brain.

"Oh look, it says here you have appendicitis," Jon said as he scribbled something onto a paper in Mark's chart.  "Tsk tsk tsk, that could be fatal, especially for someone in a coma like you.  I guess we'll just have to take that out.  Oh, and of course I'll approve of the surgery.  As your medical attorney, I'll approve any and all surgeries to save my dear friend's life.  Oh, and look here, we won't even need to anesthetize you.  It seems you've already been prepped."

Mark's heart started to race.  He put all his concentration into moving his arm.  There was an emergency button somewhere next to the bed.  If he could just get someone to see that he wasn't in a coma, he'd be safe.  His arm moved and fumbled with the small beige controller beside him.

"Oh, no you don't!  We can't have you waking up now, can we?"  Jon plied his hand away from the controller.  A moment later, another sharp pain, this time in his arm, told Mark that he had lost.  "There we go.  It'll be time for your emergency surgery soon, doctor.  You go have fun while I think up of more ways to torture that body of yours.  So many organs to play with."

Sunday, October 20, 2013


It has been a while since I've made a religious post, but as a religious person I feel I should be able to write about my faith on my blog.  This post is also about grammar and etymology, so I'm pretty certain I just lost the rest of my audience.  C'est le vie.  I completely understand if you do not wish to read on, and I am in no way evangelizing.  If you do read on, I hope this piece helps you in your own spiritual journey, whatever that may be.  (Also, my religious posts will likely remain rare.)

If you are a Christian, you (with a few exceptions) should believe in the Holy Trinity.  The Holy Trinity states that there are three distinct persons in one God.  This is one of the Mysteries of Faith, because we do not completely understand it.  But there are some interesting doctrines and dogmas that may shed some light on the relationships between the three.

Today in church our priest was talking about the stewardship committee, which has decided to address stewardship in terms of Imagination, Inspiration, and Ignition.  Imagine what we can do together.  What inspires you?  What is it that gets you going, that you are passionate about?  Each of these words, Imagine, Inspire, and Ignite, has an interesting root, but "inspire" is the one that interested me the most.  Spirare is latin for "to breathe," so inspiring is breathing into, as in breathing life into.  Other interesting words that share this root?  Conspire (to breathe together), expire (to breathe out), perspire (to breathe through), aspire (to breathe on or after).  It's a pretty awesome word.  In a sense, breath is life.

Two other words share this root.  The first is "spirit."  Now, I've heard it told that the Holy Spirit is the love that the Father and the Son share for each other.  It is the Holy Spirit that breathed life onto the Earth and inspired the Apostles at Pentecost (thus mirroring God giving Moses the 10 Commandments, as they are both celebrated on the same day and both celebrate the new life of their religions).  Catching any themes here?  In 325, the Council of Nicaea had to combat a growing number of doubters, gnostics, blasphemers, and sacrileges.  To do this, they created the Nicene Creed, which sums up the core beliefs of the Christian Faith.  And in this, they claim that God the Father is the Creator, that God the Son is Begotten (not made) of the Father, and that the Holy Spirit (the giver of life) Proceeds from the Father and the Son.  "Begotten" and "Proceeds" are very specific terms, chosen to show that the Son and Holy Spirit were in the beginning with the Father, that they are not dependent on the others, that they are not created.  There is another word that they use to describe the relationship between the Holy Spirit and his counterparts.

Spiration.  Spiration is defined as the action of breathing, that necessary thing to life.  It is also defined as both the act of God in breathing life into others and the manner in which the Holy Spirit is related to the Father and Son.  So you could say that The Holy Spirit is the breath between the Father and Son, the life between them.  Their conspiring.  So, put together, the Holy Spirit is the breath and life between the Father and Son, and the love shared between them.  Love and life and breath all together.  This may  give you a glimpse into what God means.

The Holy Spirit is not as venerated, it seems, as the Father and Son.  After all, the Father is the one who created all things, rained down fire and brimstone, and gave us the 10 Commandments.  The Son is the one who gave us new life, who raised himself from the dead, and who opened the Gates of Heaven.  The Spirit...  put tongues of fire on the heads of the Apostles, but that is about it.  It seems the Spirit isn't very active, or at least he is subtle in his actions, so there's less to attribute to him (even though it could be argued that we are currently living in the time of the Holy Spirit).  Sure, April is the month dedicated to him, and 1998 was  an entire year dedicated to him, but I feel the Holy Spirit is underrated.  He is the breath that stokes the fires of our hearts and minds, who tempers our thoughts and wills, and who inspires us to do God's work.

So, I urge you to think on this, pray, and take a moment to Breathe.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Three in the Morning

Like a panther, I slink my two-hundred fifty pounds of taut, well-toned cellulose along the dark hallway.  Even the slightest noise may rouse suspicion and lead to my untimely demise.  My wife is, after all, a light sleeper.  She was expecting me home from the bar hours ago, but I couldn't call her and tell her I'd be late; I left my cell phone at home.  Of course, John's phone was dead, and the last time I saw a pay phone it was on display at a New York art museum.  So all that's left for me is to spend 15 minutes creeping past dusty memories hanging on the wall towards my goal: the door.
            BONG.  BONG.  BONG.
            I nearly jump out of my skin as the tell-tale grandfather clock on the other end of the hallway lets the world know just how late I am getting home.  A brief pause at the door gives me time to take a deep, silent breath and calm my nerves before turning the handle.  I have to be patient, to take my time, perhaps even hours.  A gentle push, hardly more than a nudge, really, and the door gradually opens to the blackness beyond.
Oh God, that door needs oil.  I wait, poised, listening for any movement.  All I can hear is my own heart pounding in my chest.  Then I move.  Every step must be carefully placed.  First the toes.  Test the ground.  Press.  Press harder.  Shift my weight.  Creak!  I duck, but no blow comes.  The next step.  Creak.  Creak.  Creak.  Lord, even the curtains are creaking.  Now if only I can slip into bed, I'll be home free.  I can just claim I'd been there since-
"And where have you been?"  The light flicks on.  My wife is sitting up, arms crossed.
Caught in headlights.  "I, uh…  I was at the bar.  John was there.  I meant to call-"
"Sure you were.  You know it closed an hour ago," she says.
"Is it really that late?  I guess we lost track of time talking."  I have to act nonchalant, like nothing's wrong.  I pull off my shirt and pants and crawl into bed beside my wife.
"Remember, we have to get up for church tomorrow," she says and leans over to kiss me.  Instead, she sniffs my breath.  "At the bar, huh?  You don't smell like you've been drinking."
"What?  Well, I stopped early.  I mean, I had to drive home."
"And if I call the bar, they'll say you were there, right?"
"Uh, sure, I guess they will."
That look.  She knows something's up.  "Then how did you pay for it if you left you wallet here?"  It's a trap!  She pulls my wallet out from her cleavage.  How long did she have it in there?
"My wallet?" I ask, patting my side as if I still had on pants, despite that fact that it's right there in front of me.  Crap.  "I didn't.  Well, I… I ran into an old friend the other day.  Sharon, that girl I dated in college.  I was at her place."
"Sharon?  You don't expect me to believe that, do you?  You were at John's place, weren't you?  You were having a LAN party again."
"No!  Of course not!"
"It's written all over your face.  You were playing that Diablo game again, weren't you?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you brought your laptop."
"No, I, I was having a torrid affair with Sharon."
"Oh please.  No lipstick, no perfume…  is that Cheeto powder on your cheek?  You know I'm going to have to confiscate your laptop for a week," she says.
"Because you lied to me.  And we're still going to church."
I heave a defiant sigh and lay down.  The light turns off.  "At least I don't spend hours on Candy Crush."
"Want me to withdraw sex, too?"
"No dear."

(Audio pt 1, Audio pt 2)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Music to Write By

When I am writing, I tend to plug in.  It removes the outside world, distracts that ADHD part of my brain that needs something else to cling to, and helps me focus on the task at hand.  Taking a break from writing is good as well.  It becomes easier when there is music to help.  However, depending on my mood, the music I select can vary greatly.

I like to write in busy places - at a coffee shop, in a restaurant, at a mall.  I find that the ambience is relaxing (likely due to my many years waiting tables).  The noise of ambient conversation can sometimes be enough to keep my mind on writing, while providing the necessary distraction that will help me take a break once in a while.  It is also good to note that I am much more likely to not waste my time while I am out in public, as I'm sure everyone can see if I'm on Facebook or playing some game.

Sometimes the ambience is too much - or not enough.  The most common music I select for writing is meditative in nature.  This is an example of a very good group called Dead Can Dance.

Likewise, one of my favorite albums is excellent for writing (except when it gets really good and I just have to "conduct" like an idiot in front of a bunch of onlookers).  Gladiator is also one of my favorite movies (and subjects to study).  If you think the singer sounds familiar, you are right.  Lisa Gerrard is the vocalist for both Dead Can Dance and the Gladiator soundtrack.

Another favorite composer of mine is Karl Jenkins.  If you like these two selections, you will love his work under the name of Adiemus.  I am sure you will sense some similarities.

The nice thing about these selections is that the words are not real.  They are, for the most part, a made-up language (though some DCD songs are in English).  I find that if I am in a meditative mood, lyrics are not good.  But sometimes this style is not what I am in the mood for.  In that case, I will go for instrumental guitar, classical guitar*, or just plain classical.  
(*yes, that is a 10-string guitar.  At some point, I expect some talented youtube artist or comedian will mock this trend of many-stringed guitars and finally make a video of someone playing a 100-string guitar.  It will be epic.)

All-too-often, however, meditation is not what I am after.  My mind is excited, busy, loud.  I need excited and loud to keep it in check.  This is when I personally turn to progressive rock, progressive metal, and other similar styles.

If I am not in the mood for words, or at least not many, then I tend to listen to Ozric Tentacles.  This band is on the line between meditation and the heavier stuff, as you can hear for yourself.

A similar group that leads closer to the heavier things is Porcupine Tree.  This is their more meditative album, though I warm you, the subject matter is not exactly kid-friendly.  But I have written quite often to it.  For their more mainstream and less meditative fare, click the link here.

Once I have moved past these, I usually need something loud and completely distracting to, well, keep me from getting distracted.  I often listen to Dream Theater.  This is a fine line I tread, however.  For instance, I adore Arjen Lucassen and everything he does, but Ayreon (his "group") is too distracting for me to listen to it while I am writing.  I simply get into it too much.  No, if I need more than this, I have to go all the way.  If your parents would complain that it is just noise, that's what I would like.  That noise is too much for my mind to latch onto, but just enough to keep it searching for something.

However, in the end, when I am truly in the mindset, when the words are there, ready to pour from my fingertips onto the page and all I have to do is guide them into place, when I cannot stop myself from writing, then music is my enemy.  I will put on my large, noise-blocking headphones (I really do swear by Sennheiser), and leave them unplugged.  Then, I will let my inner monologue create my music.

What do you listen to when trying to write?


I've never been fond of competitions.  Deep down I think I suck and that I'm wasting my time and life and that all of this I've done is for nothing.  I think of the people who are more successful than me, who have several published books and may not necessarily have even taken any writing classes.  I think of my friends who have done more with their lives, or they have done what I want to do but better.  Perhaps I am worried that I am still the consolation prize winner.

This is not just about writing, but writing most certainly applies.  When I was in Tae-Kwon Do, I remember seeing other kids my age, or younger, get favored by Master Lee.  They got to tell the story of how they kept an egg with them and safe for a month in order to earn their black belts, while Master Lee just glossed over my brother and me.  The one time he asked me to demonstrate something, it was a kick I had never been shown nor had I heard of it.  He then let Danny (his 10-year-old star and lead of the Demo Team) do it in my place, again.  In school, I stopped going to the "award ceremony" at the end of the year because I knew none of the awards were for me.  I always have felt like I was a step behind my peers, while at the same time I was being told I was smarter than they were.

Even now, as an adult, I cannot help but feel behind.  No one is here to tell me I'm smarter or better than anyone else, and it's not about being told anything.  It's about results.  As a blogger, I have a small following and I lack the artistic skills necessary to make my blog truly successful (though, yes, I'm sure I could practice with my eons of free time).  My short stories are not often commented on or shared.  I still have not been published, and part of me is afraid to try.  I have come to terms with the fact that I simply do not have the time to become an accomplished guitarist and will have to make do with being a mediocre one.  I am trying to make friends, but most of the people I meet are academics and it is easy for me to imagine them looking down at me.  Those feelings you get when you're a kid don't really go away, they just hide until an inopportune time.

Now I'm taking part in this Dark Crystal contest and I am... nervous.  What makes me most nervous is the fact that I am really putting effort into this.  I'm working on characterization at the moment, and next I will flesh out the plot lines more deeply and make them interlink.  I've determined 5 separate themes that I feel should be maintained in order to truly be a Dark Crystal novel.  I've read 3 of the 6 supplementary books (I'm awaiting a 4th, and hope to find the 5th soon).  I'm taking part in the forums (my ID there is Skekspeare).  I've even looked at some of my competition.  In November, I am having the story critiqued by fellow writers.  I have put aside my own novel, as well as other interests of mine, to pursue this.  And, of course, there is absolutely 0 guarantee that I will be in the top 5, or even the top 500.  I am nervous now that someone else, who may not have put in this much effort, will be a better fit for them.  I'll even admit that I'm worried a friend of mine will win.  I know of at least 3 who are participating.

It is wrong of me to wish that my friends do not do well, to be jealous of their success.  My brain knows that, although my writing may be fantastic, it is not the only factor determining the victor.  They are looking for style, for someone to expand their world in a vision that excites them.  But my mind does not know this.  It has become Bitching Betty, screaming "Pull Up!" in my ear and telling me to eject.  I've always been led to avoid things that are hard and risky.  I remember when I first showed an interest in playing the guitar.  My mom told me that the music industry is difficult and there really isn't much money in it.  So, I didn't play again for 15 years.  I wish now that I had never stopped.  Since I'm putting a part of myself into this story, I am truly afraid that it is not worthy, that I am not worthy.

I suppose I should say that by not quitting, I am making myself worthy.  But when your head is in the game, it's hard to see past the game.  Only time will tell what I shall think of this experience.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dust and Ignorance

In 51 years, I have never put anyone's needs before my own.  I was 7 when war came to our farm and uprooted us.  My father was killed in the first Nigerian offensive, but to be honest, I was glad that the man was dead.  When I was 8, my brother contracted kwashiorkor.  It wasn't long after he had been weaned that we noticed him looking like a balloon.  The doctors were not allowed to help us.  Red Cross did not come.  I stole away into Col. Adekunle's camp and took supplies, but I never shared them with my family.  I didn't want the same thing to happen to me.  My brother died during our move East.

Our small family spent what seemed like a lifetime as refugees, but scraped by with our farming.  Before I went to bed, my mother would tell me that I could not let anyone tell me what to do, that I had to do what was best and right for me.  So, when I was 11, I left mother.  She could not give me the education I knew I needed.  And she was too poor.  I told myself I was a drain on her, but I truthfully did not care.  4 years later, I had been accepted into a school in England as part of an exchange program.  I never returned.

England had so much to offer me.  I had never seen such abundance, and I loved it.  Running water was not a luxury; it was ubiquitous.  The first week, I left the sink on all day and night in my dorm.  I'd have kept it that way had the school not shut off the water supply to it.  I gladly took more food than I could eat.  And I studied.  I learned things I never would have known about had I stayed with my mother.  When it was time to return to Eritrea, I ran away.  I traveled to Scotland, to France, to Germany, and to the Americas.  I was no longer a boy, but a young man.  Citizenship was easy, but I never felt welcome in the States.  After I earned my degrees, I realized the West had taught me all it could, and I left.

Years flew by.  I was recognized as an authority in agriculture.  I taught at Universities in Brazil and Guatemala, for a price, of course.  With money, I could do whatever I wanted.   I was still young, I was brilliant, I was foolhardy.  I never took a wife, but I am sure I have turned many young women into mothers.  As soon as I was done with a place, I moved on.  That was how I found myself in Afghanistan.

Potato farmers had been having a difficult time with their crops.  I was contacted by IFAD, the International Fund of Agricultural Development.  Nearly 24 hours of travel later and I found myself standing in the dusty streets of a village off Hamun Lake.  Droughts from years ago were still leaving their mark on the land and the people.  The sun was hot, but the marketplace was busy beneath the faded fields of fine fabric that were hung just overhead for shade.  Gunshots broke the peace, followed by screaming and an exodus.  I moved with the crowd, but no matter where we went, there were the boys, still children, armed with foreign guns.

I did not want to die, so I smashed a door in and hid under a table that was covered in books.  There was already a family there, cowering in fear.  They must have thought I was one of them.  I lifted a finger to my lips.  I thought, if they are afraid of me, they might stay quiet.  But their little girl just screamed.  The boys heard her and ran to the doorway, shouting at the family and waving their guns.  One of them came in and took hold of the girl.  She was clutching a book, but the boy tore it away from her.  I could not understand everything he said,  but I remember hearing him shout, "no school," "girl," and a few obscenities that I will not repeat.

He did not see me under the table.  No one noticed me pick up the thick book.  The boy was pushing his rifle at the girl's mother when I struck him with the spine of the book in the back of his head.  Before he hit the ground, I ran out the door and pushed past the other boys.  They shot me in the leg and arm, but I managed to lead them away from the girl and her family before they captured me.  I do not know why I did it.  It is likely that I will never see freedom again.

I never believed in God.  Everything I had, I took.  No one ever helped me, not God or man.  All I can reason is that, in that moment when the girl stared at me, I saw myself watching my father get shot in the head, watching the Red Cross vehicles leave our village.  If someone helped us then, I might have had the one thing I never found on my own: happiness.  Perhaps God sent me to her.  I am sure I will know soon enough.  If anyone sees this letter, know that what I did find was my pride, not pride in how I lived, but in how I died.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gamer attitudes

As an ex-gamer, I have experienced a very wide range of attitudes coming from fellow gamers.

Now, the predominant attitudes that board gamers display are friendliness, competitive concentration, and hubris.  These are not bad things. In fact, chess has been used to help people learn how to attain a deeply focused mindset.  As I stated earlier, social games (that involve face-to-face interaction) are a great way to make friends!

Online gaming is a different beast altogether.  There are friendly online gamers, there are rude ones, there are old ones, there are young ones.  Some online games tend to draw a certain type of gamer, let's call them the douchebag (warning: language).  Usually these are action games, something where violence is inherently part of the game.  The more "hardcore" the game, the nastier the gamers can get.  Their anonymity gives them a sense of empowerment and immunity to social norms.  They feel they are entitled to be better, and that if they fail it is not their fault.  I will admit, I have fallen for this a few times in the past.  In fact, I stopped playing some games because they made me too angry.  But something I never have and never will do is turn around and insult my fellow gamers.  "Griefing," profanity, and pejorative language have always been a major issue on the XBox, for instance, which tends to have a higher percentage of these kinds of games than other consoles.  But don't get me wrong, it is present on every game system.  The best things to do when you find someone like this is to report them, ignore them, and then move to a new server/game.  Don't stoop to their level.

There is also a sense of entitlement in MMOs.  Griefing (doing whatever you can to annoy another player, from cursing at them to blocking their way to killing lower level characters to cheating/hacking) has had a rich history in just about every MMO out there.  There are some exceptions.  In general, the older the audience, the fewer douchebags there are.  Lord of the Rings Online has a fairly mature audience and a very low level of griefing.  Games themselves often try to reduce griefers through regulations and updates or reduce the ways in which they can grief.  For instance, if you have been in an epic battle with a major boss, and then I run in at the last second and deal a few blows, some games would award all of the experience points to the person who dealt the final blow (called kill-stealing).  But this is largely a thing of the past.  LotRo awards experience points to the party that attacked first.  City of Heroes used to award points to everyone who helped bring it down.  It is, after all, about cooperation and not competition.

Something I have noticed, however, is that the kind of game makes a difference.  City of Heroes was a very special game.  It became family-oriented (many times I fought alongside kids as young as 6).  The purpose was to stop the obvious bad guys, so those who played it often wanted to BE heroes.  There were zones designated for cooperative play between Heroes and Villains, and zones designated as PvP (player versus player) zones. which were very carefully regulated.  One of my fondest memories was of my brute (a villain) meeting a tank (hero) in a PvP zone and, after a prolonged fight, decided we would rather talk character creation and the like than just duke it out.  If you ran into someone griefing or abusing the game in some way, the devs arrived promptly and took care of the situation.  There were a few cases of griefing, particularly in the beginning, but the community started to change and soon became just that, a community.  Players would spend hours in the Pocket Zone (a dance club) roleplaying and talking and having fun.  Forums were very active.  People helped each other all the time.  We never let things get boring.  Player -generated content was strong and had big names contributing.  Games where actual roleplaying takes place tend to be friendlier.

Now, City of Heroes is dead.  NCSoft decided that it would make more money killing the game (I believe they needed to do it for a tax break) than keeping it up and running (and it was a lucrative game that had just announced a new major update).  They didn't tell their employees until the day they announced it to the world, and did so by handing them pink slips.  They lied about "exhausting" all their opportunities to sell the game (it was discovered that many people state-side wanted to buy it, had the money, made offers, and were outright rejected without any discourse).  They told players to try their new game, Blade and Soul (rated M for Mature due to graphic violence and gratuitous T&A).  They ignored their audience, and as such have taken a HUGE hit to their bottom line.  Whenever I see an ad for an NCSoft game before a movie, I stand up in the theater and decry their poor business practices.  City of Heroes/Villains isn't the only game they have purchased and then killed to the sounds of angry player protests.  But all is not lost.

The Phoenix Project came out of the ashes of City of Heroes and decided to start designing a game for the community, a "spiritual successor" to City of Heroes.  The more time they have to work on the game, the better they get at it and the more details emerge.  It is not run by a massive corporation, but rather fans and volunteers.  This game, City of Titans, is starting to look promising.  They have, in fact, begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, and it is wildly successful. As of this writing, it has 27 days to go and has already raised $311,000+ from over 2,000 backers.  Its goal is just 320k.  This is a game I would like to get behind.  I just don't know if I have the time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


A long, long time ago, I was a gamer.

I was not a video gamer, or a hardcore gamer, or an import gamer.  I was a gamer.

I played board games of all sorts (with a particular love of German-style board games).  I played video games (role-playing games, first-person shooters, platformers, RTS games, turn-based strategy games, action games, fighting games, stealth games, massive multiplayer online RPGS, puzzle games, music and dancing games, arcade games).  I played collectible card games.  I played strategy games.  I played table-top role playing games.  I played word games.  Party games.  Card games.  Dice games.  Story games.  All games.

I love games, and for many reasons.  They can keep your mind and reflexes sharp.  They can teach you etiquette, the value of losing, how to be a gracious winner.  They can actually help you succeed.  Learning a new game can be stimulating, fun, and challenging.  There is something to be sad about the thrill of a hard-won victory.  But what I love the most about games is the socialization.  I've made great friends over a game of Catan and learned more about my friends through a card game than I ever would have learned otherwise.  We would develop inside jokes all around different games that we love.

This is, however, mostly in the past.  I just have to admit it.  After the move, I don't have time to play games, and I haven't been able to find people to play with.  I have to focus on writing in my sparse free-time.  Part of me is very sad to realize this.  Knowing when to put things aside is part of being an adult, and putting my kid's needs and wants before my own is part of being a parent.  But I feel that part of who I am is being suppressed.

I am an avid ex-gamer.  I still keep up with what is going on in the gaming world, but I keep my distance.  I know that I do not have the time or money to spend on games, even games I would not only love to play, but to work for.  I browse the game section of stores and go into game parlors.  There are a few games I will hopefully still be able to play once in a while, but for the most part, this is something, like anime and slap bracelets, in my past.  Perhaps when Addy is older I will show her how to play Carcassonne or Agricola.

Or, perhaps, I will be able to find friends here by looking for other gamers.  I'll never be as prodigious as I once was, but that's alright.  To me, writing is like a game of solitaire, so a few social games once in a while would be a good way to balance things out.  I am realizing that time is a precious commodity that you never have enough of, so I need to be picky about how I use my free time.  All I can really do is learn to roll with the punches life sends my way.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Social Sleep

"What do you mean, 'it's been 10 years?'" Gerald asked.  He winced in the intense light of the sun as equinox leaves fell around his pale, middle-aged body.
"Dad, you've been gone for 10 years.  I mean, you were there but... you weren't.  We don't know if you remember anything since you… fell asleep."  His son heaved a sigh as he watched the kids playing on the swing-set.
The younger man shrugged.  "It's the best way we could describe it."
"Billy, I…"
"It's Will, now."
"Right, Will.  I… I don't know what to say.  It's hard to believe I've been… gone for so long.  It still feels like I'm in my 40s," Gerald said.   "Sally is…"
"She's 5, dad.  We all wish you were there to help, to see her grow up.  We could have used a grandfather."
"I'm here now.  I don't want to lose another minute.  10 years…  has this happened before?  To others, I mean?"
Will nodded.  "Yeah, but it's pretty rare.  I… Sally, don't put your tongue on that!"
"She looks like you," Gerald said with a half smile.
Will laughed.  "Yeah, but she gets her attitude from her mother," he said.
A chuckle rose from his dad., followed by a pregnant stillness, made even more poignant by the laughter and joyous squeals of children.  Gerald had to change the subject.  "So, Dave's been getting me up-to-date again, you know, with things.  He got me a new phone and set me up on the Facebook.  Are you on the Facebook?"
"Yes, dad.  Everyone's on Facebook," Will said, rolling his eyes with a hint of a smirk.  "Twitter, too.  Sally, don't throw things at the other kids!  I swear, she's part baboon."
"Twitter, huh?" Gerald asked as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and started to type onto its screen.
A moment later, the cherubic child ran up to them, arms spread.  "Daddy!  Can grandpa go get ice cream with us?"  She didn't wait for an answer before she threw herself into Will with a grin that could melt the heart of any Ebeneezer.  Gerald looked up and smiled, raising his phone in front of his face.  Ker-chick!
"Awww… that's a great pic.. I've gotta share that one," he said and quickly lowered the phone back to his lap as he resumed tapping the screen.
"Of course we can get ice cream.  C'mon, let's go back to the car," Will said, but before the words had finished coming out of his mouth, he was being pulled away.  They we already at the car when Will looked up to see Gerald still at the park, staring at his phone.  "Dad!  DAD!!"
Gerald looked up only when Will had returned and put a hand on his shoulder.  "What?  Ice cream?"
"Dad, stay with us.  Don't make this just a brief awakening."