Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Real or Make Believe?

I spend a good amount of my timing gaming, as one might expect based on the posts I make.  But whenever I get really lost in a game, it reminds me of ‘The Illustrated Man’ by Ray Bradbury, and a short-story found within, called ‘The Veldt.  It is safe to say that I’ll be spoiling the ending of the short story. 

In the story, the main characters, the adults, are concerned after their children, who have fallen into some sort of fantasy world after the parents bought a virtual system that controls everything in the house.  The parents seek advice from a medical professional and he advises that they turn the system off immediately and leave the house for good.  As you may expect, once this news is broken to the children, they are less than pleased and convince their parents to stay just a little while longer.  When the parents go to investigate what is taking so long, they realise the children have turned the system on and have turned it into Africa.  The story comes full tilt when the parents realise that the strange noises they’ve been hearing are screams from people being killed by the virtual system in place, as the kids have activated it to have lions appearing and devouring anyone who passes through the virtual system except them.

An extreme example, I know, but it does beg the question, at what point are people so completely engaged in a game, or virtual world, that they can’t break away?  Recent legislation about video games seems to always trend towards curbing the most violent games away, but is that really what should be controlled?  I think you could argue that the 3DS and the evolution of 3D gaming could begin to bring the concept from the referenced short story to life.

As each new technological advance comes to the gaming world, new doors are opened and technology stretches the limits of what we can handle.  It started simply enough with a joystick and a fire button and has evolved to a controller that has a multitude of buttons and combinations of said buttons.  The boundaries continue to be challenged.  At first games were just displayed on regular TVs, now, games are designed for either hand-held devices or HD TVs, challenging the way the games are both designed and viewed.  It isn’t any wonder that people are finding themselves more and more likely to be pulled into a game and unable to turn it off.

How many times have you said, or overheard, the words, ‘I didn’t realise how late/early it was, I was so into my game.’  This is a by-product of the gaming industry creating games that are impossible to turn away from.  The gaming industry is embarking on another horizon, breaking free from 2D representations of games to 3D representations of games and continuing to forge forward.  But is there any responsibility for this?  Should there be parameters around how much further gaming should go?

Most creators never see a limit to anything they create, but an opportunity to expand, and a consequence of that is not having the foresight to stop, sometimes, and think about what effect this will have on those using your creation.  In the scope of video games, we all enjoy being a ‘different’ person and being able to do things that defy logic or physics, but most would also realise that those things can’t be done in the real world.  But as the next wall is broken, once games begin to be fully interactive, at what point does the gamer realise that he/she are in a game at all?

The point is illustrated much better in the short story by Ray Bradbury, and it is an extreme example, I agree, but that doesn’t mean it lacks merit.  Virtual gaming is on the horizon and even now my PS3, though not my XBOX 360 sometimes recommend that I take a break.  But if a gamer is so heavily involved in a game, would a passive warning really get their attention?  More and more I think that games are both amazing and dangerous.  It isn’t the content that worries me, but the detachment to reality.  The onus is truly on the responsible gamers and gaming companies to make the right choices, which may not always be either the most popular or profitable choices.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sucker Punch, A Review


This movie was made by the same people who created 300 and Watchmen - so that should set the stage for you. While both 300 and Watchmen had something to fall back on, history and a graphic novel, I am unaware of anything that SuckerPunch fell back on, and it showed. While visually stunning, they used special effects to their greatest, the story fell flat. In many ways, the story was rather tired. Great tragedy, leads to greater tragedy and then the story devolves for the main character further.

The casting was spot on, really, the young women that were cast were perfect, all of them assuming first delinquents, then psyche cases, then finally reluctant call girls. The story within the story within the story didn't have the cool Inception feel to it. I think the idea was to have the main character, we never learn her real name, but in the most in-depth dream, Baby Doll, loses her mother, then her sister, by her own hand, and then gets committed to an institution by her step-father. Although tragic, the formula has been done before. She ends up in there, and finds out her step-father has arranged to have a lobotomy done on her, and so the stories begin.

In her mind, she meets a man who tells her she can escape from the psyche ward, but she must find certain items to do so. When she begins to search, she floats into yet another plain of existence, where she's lost her family and has been sold to a brothel, there she delves into yet another plane where she is a warrior, possibly fighting in Nazi controlled Europe, it was unclear. As she goes through each dream/sub-dream, the group acquires the items needed to escape, but as they progress, they pay heavy prices.

Ultimately, I think the psyche ward was the only 'real' world, but I'm still not sure. The story in the sub-dreams were only slight more creative, but if anything, this was, like 300, more of a souped up video game than a movie. Overall, I'd say I was disappointed, more interested in my movie nachos than in the movie itself. While I won't say I wasn't happy to see it, if I had to do it again, I'd probably see it during the day and probably not in IMAX.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

To the Bitter End

All things must come to an end.  There was an incident at home and the cup I've been using for years, has seen its best days.

makes me think of this song from the Dixie Chicks, feel free to play while reading, but the volume is kinda low on it...

My mom knocked the cup into something, and now it's done for - final pics taken...

I've had this cup before I started my Masters in 2003.

I've had this cup through four different jobs.

I've had this cup when we moved from the house I grew up in to our new house.  I've had this cup for ages.

I've had old bluie for about 7 or 8 years...since before I left NAPA (the National Academy of Public Administration) which was in 2005.  I started there in 2001...so it's been years.  This was from an old conference they had, some Performance Conference, they stopped having them after a couple years due to the economy.

But isn't it funny how you get so attached to something.  I mean, I have an old umbrella, also blue, that I adored and it broke.  Now my cup is down for the count too.  Thankfully I have another one in black, *phew*, crisis averted...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How I Met Your Charmander

I had a rare treat this past weekend, getting to travel with a stuffed charmander - a gift for my 2-month old niece!  Apparently there was some confusion on the plane, but I digress.  I bought the charmander on e-bay for her, and was surprised that I had a bidding war going on with someone (so I'm not the only one crazy about bidding on charmanders).

I didn't buy him his own seat, but as circumstance would have it, there was an empty seat between me and an elderly gentleman sitting next to me.  You should always be sure to keep your charmander in an upright position, securing him using a safety belt across his lap.

I was able to safely secure him in his seat.
He didn't fuss once, but sat quietly in his chair enjoying the flight.  Once we got close to landing, I wondered what a charmander would look like hanging out of an over-head bin.  This is not a safe location for charmanders.

I'm still surprised no one on the plane really said anything to me about this.
The air host did comment that apparently the flight crew was commenting that there was an 'animal' in 9B - I was sitting in 9C.  I also appreciated that the guy next to me never really minded that he was sharing a row with the orange guy.

Once I got to my destination, the Crowne Plaza in Glendale, AZ, I thought he might be tired after a long trip.

I was also giving my niece her own Cookie Monster, everyone needs one of those too.  Once we got the rental car, again we made sure to secure the charmander in the vehicle, especially while driving with the top down.

Thanks goodness for safety belts!!
Once we finally got to my sister's place, charmander had to have a look around at his new surroundings.

Charmander saw my niece in this, but soon realised he wouldn't fit...

Charmander is, right now, just a little too big for my niece's things, but she should grow into having her very own charmander.  So, lesson learned here, make sure your charmander has enough room to sit comfortably in an aeroplane and convertible car, but also make sure he understands that all things for babies aren't for him too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not Quite the Boycott I Had Hoped For and Generosity

I managed to go about a half a day without going to the ESPN site, but I did glance at the channel once before flipping away.  I think I didn’t get too far in my boycott, but at the same time, their coverage hasn’t amped up, really.

The Caps had their 9-gaming winning streak snapped last night, it made me sad, but at the same time, I felt like the pressure was getting to be too much and the Caps were also playing in their second consecutive night, which made for tired legs.  Valiant effort, but in the end, it was all for naught.  I really think hockey just does not get fair coverage, I know, another rant about hockey.  But I’m telling you, it is so much fun.  The ice, the collisions, the violence, it’s like football on ice!  And who doesn’t really like football?

Live games are much better, but really the point of this post was to talk about my not boycotting ESPN for as long as I thought I could and also a little but about the Tsunami.  I was really floored yesterday when I was watching the news, yes, I know, me watching the news period is news, but there was a statistic about Japan receiving $50 million in four days after the tragedy, but Haiti and Katrina victims got 3 times that, $150 million in that same time period.  How is that right?

I mean, my first reaction was, well, of course, Japan is more affluent than Haiti, but what about Katrina?  I mean, those were US citizens.  I realise they aren’t, as a whole, probably as well off as Japanese citizens, but both are from very well-to-do countries.  How is it possible that people can’t sympathise with the Japanese who are affected, but can with Haiti or Louisiana?

Is the devastation somehow less severe?  I think we can all agree that pictures don’t lie, and that isn’t the case either, Japan is decimated and is continuing to go downhill, with their nuclear reactors going into overload or what-have-you (is it bad that I keep picturing Homer working there as the Safety Specialist?).

I almost feel like there is something more to all these catastrophes too.  I realise I’m not usually the paranoia type, but doesn’t it seem a little odd that so many catastrophic events have happened in so short a time period?  Science notwithstanding, it seems like the Earth is really pissed, but given the unrest in the world as well, Egypt and Libya, is that all there is?  I wonder if I shouldn’t brush up on those Nostradamus prophesies.  Although, as with all things, you can read into those what you like.  But doesn’t it seem odd?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Turn off ESPN

I think we should all have a national turn off ESPN day.  I’m not even kidding.  I realise that I’m anti-ESPN lately just because of their lack of hockey coverage.  The GM meetings are going on right now and there is hardly a peep about it on SportsCenter, I mean, come on!  But barring that, something that bothers me more is really linked to ESPN.  I realise they are the messengers, but in this instance, I think they’re making a bad situation worse with too much press coverage.

The NFLPA has requested that all college students planning on attending the draft this April should boycott and not attend.  At first I didn’t think much of it, with no season in the works, it’s unlikely that those players selected will actually suit up and play.  But, I was listening to a radio talk show this morning, Elliot in the Morning, and he said something that hadn’t full sunk in for me, this is ‘their moment,’ the one they’ve been working for all their lives.  And for some no-name organisation to stand up and say, ‘you shouldn’t go to this,’ doesn’t seem fair or right.

Yes, the choice was theirs to give up their lives to this industry, there is no arguing that.  But to tell someone that they shouldn’t attend something with an organisation they want to be a part of seems a bit too much to me.  I think of it this way, you’re a kid, you grow up wanting to be a super-star.  You give up everything for this one dream.  When you finally reach the pinnacle, your moment in the sun, a situation that has nothing to do with you comes to the forefront.  Everything you’ve worked for, that moment in the sun, is gone.

This to me is the one of the great travesties of this situation.  No one, I mean no one, is winning.  The owners have set money aside for a rainy day (ie next season), the players haven’t.  The players have to work for the owners to make their millions, but the owners want more of that share.  The kids who haven’t been drafted are the ones that are really going to suffer.

I agree that rookies do get paid too much, but that has been, for decades, a right of passage.   That isn’t to say that things that have held in the past should just continue.  But to change the rules of the game so suddenly does make things difficult for all involved.  I could digress here, but I won’t.

The fact of the matter is the NFLPA and the owners are really pitting the new rookies into a corner.  No matter what decision they make, the repercussions will be immediate.  If a player chooses to attend the event, then he is spurning the NFLPA, who will be the one to ultimately protect him going forward.  If the player boycotts, the owners will remember that and perhaps pony up less cash to have them play on their team.  Either way, it’s a losing situation.

Beyond that, there is a more subtle commentary on the American culture.  The largest, most popular sports channel, ESPN, has been covering this news very, very closely, almost to the point of overkill, making things worse instead of better.  I’m sure we’d all like to admit that they are just doing their job reporting on the news, but I think there may be more to it.  This sensationalisation of this situation is really making it hard for kids to make the right choices and for the American public to move on.

Yes, we may not have NFL to watch this Fall, but is it really noteworthy that a bunch of rich white men can’t get along or give a fair share of the pot to the people putting their lives on the line.  I understand that the owners have taken the financial risk, but the players take a physical risk that lasts a lifetime.  I don’t see anyway to really solve this issue.

I feel so furious with the NFL, both owners and players, right now: its nine billion dollars.  You can’t find a way to cut up nine billion dollars and make everyone happy?  They’re like children.  That’s what this really is, take my toys and play in another sandbox.  And do you know what makes it worse: all of us watching it.  I think we all need to take a step back and stop paying attention to this.  With the economy in the crapper, disaster around every corner, the NFL is just looking like a spoiled little rich kid and I’m not having any of it anymore.  I’ll stick to hockey, baseball and basketball if I need a fix.  I wonder if it wouldn’t be worthwhile for me to cancel my NFL ticket too.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Intention Should Count for Something

As an avid hockey fan, it was hard to avoid the tumult that came from the hit Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins put on Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.  As expected, the entire nation of Canada is in an uproar.  The commissioner of the NHL has not seen fit to suspend Chara for literally sending someone off on a stretcher.  Chara has no history of ever being a dirty player, and that shot was very much a dirty play.  Chara checked Pacioretty into a section of the player benches that had an unusual opening and Pacioretty hit the opening and then the ice extremely hard.  He lay motionless on the ice for some time.  He was seriously injured, but the real question is, did Chara do it with the intent to injure, or just to clear space on the ice?

If you watch the replay, I think it looks like a regular hockey move.  Players get checked into the boards all the time.  But in this instance, a sound-bite from Carey Price of the Canadiens sticks with me.  He alluded to hockey players, at that level, knowing exactly where they are on the ice at all times.  It seems like an innocuous comment, but thinking of the book ‘The Tipping Point,’ it sounds reasonable.  In that book, the assertion is that to be an expert, as all professional hockey players can be considered, you have to put in about 10,000 hours worth of time in your respective craft.  Is it unreasonable to say that Chara has done that?  I have no doubt that he’s got well over that amount.  If that is the case, then Price’s comment holds a lot of weight.

If Chara is an expert hockey player, knowing his way around the ice, then there really are only two eventualities to come to: Chara knew what he was doing, and intended to injure Pacioretty or Chara knew what he was doing, but didn’t accurately estimate all the variables to his action.

I know most would like to think the former is true, but I am more prone to think the latter is true.  As a die-hard Washington Capitals fan, I am not a Boston Bruins fan, but less so than a Montreal fan, as they bounced us from the playoffs last year.  However, Chara has no history of dirty hits, and even the dirties players (with a few exceptions) would do something quite like what Chara did.

I honestly chock it up to thoughtlessness.  He knew where he was, he knew what he was doing, he just wasn’t thinking.  That is how serious accidents happen in real life, why not in hockey.  Chara is an unfortunate example of someone who has, for the most part, been a good example of a decent hockey player. 

What happened was an accident, it really was.  Air Canada threatening to pull support for the NHL is childish.  Do two wrongs make one right?  I’m pretty sure that math doesn’t work.  Chara is apologetic, though it only seems slightly.  To me, it almost seems like he doesn’t fully realise what has happened and what he’s done.  I think he’s going through his own mental trauma as Pacioretty is going through a more physical one.  Watching the scene on the ice that day was really jarring.  One can only hope that in the future, Chara will be more aware and the NHL will be less lenient.  While Chara’s hit may not have deserved a stiffer punishment, it probably would have served all parties involved better.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Let Saner Heads Prevail

As an avid sports fan, I have to say I'm both happy and sad to see the NFL decide to prolong their discussion for another week.  While I am sad that it has come to this, by the same token, with so much money at stake and the economy down the tubes, it isn't any wonder that this is coming to a head.  But is this really the answer?  Will the right thing be done?

The main issue here is a lack of communication and lack of compromising.  I wonder if a small child wouldn't make more headway than the owners and players have over the course of these discussions.  I think that this is a classic situation where a rock meets a hard place.  The issues that are really hobbling the discussions involve money (of course), extending the season and benefits after you're done playing.  While I can certainly appreciate that the onus is on the players for making better decisions, I think there still has to be something said about the ownes using, abusing and throwing players away.

Do I think the players are paid more than they should be?  Yes, of course, who wouldn't.  But by that same token, would you want a super star in your world be making the same amount you would?  No.  The reason most people idolise players and movie stars is because they make cuckoo money (as my father would put it) and live excessively.  And some would argue that the young players are coached and counseled, but let's be honest, they're all having Lindsay Lohan like moments, and who wouldn't.

I think the real issue here is how the young players are brought up and how they view reality.  A great example of that is the much-hated (by me) Tiger Woods.  I mean, yes, he can play, but what makes him a better person or human being than anyone else?  We've no learned its next to nothing.  He's an awful example of a human being, but is it entirely his fault.  Sadly, I have to say now.  He was brought up in a world where he was elevated over everyone else and told he was better.  Sure, we're all 'special' in our own way, but do your parents tell you that you're God's gift to golf?  I imagine not, so if that's in your head all your life, can you really be blamed for thinking you're above it all?
I'm not absolving people of guilt, but what would make this world a better place is people not exploiting each other, but helping each other.  In this instance, the owners are the ones that have the knowledge, the players have the skills.  You can't have a league, of any sort, if you don't have players.  If the players wanted, they could go the SouthWest route and buy a stadium and host scrimmages - I bet people would show up and watch.  If you don't like how the system works, either change it within it or go outside of it.

In this instance, both sides are neither right nor wrong, but what is wrong is to not recognise that no matter what, in this economy, it is in poor taste for either side to lament a billion dollars her or there when others can hardly pay to live these days.  I think they both need to stop being greedy.  How about a donation to someone that needs it.  A billion dollars could do wonders with cancer or AIDS research. How about they shut their pie holes and get over themselves

This lockout, if it happens, will be a testament to all the things that are wrong with capitalism.  People need to remember their passion for why they do what they do and stop bilking people for every dime they have.  Maybe the NFL and NFLPA should agree to play for nothing for a year and see how it feels and then stop complaining.