Friday, October 29, 2010

The RPG Effect on Life

It occurred to me that, as an avid gamer and fiction writer, I put a lot of myself into the works I undertake and the characters I create. This is true for almost the entirety of writers, gamers and artists as we can rarely (if ever) make a character that is truly irredeemable or totally unlikable. This was made startlingly apparent to me as I played Fable 2 one day and found myself in a situation that struck straight to the bone.

I had spent a good few hours scouring the city of Bowerstone for a villager, housewife, etc. by the name of Katie and had finally succeed. Unfortunately at that point I still had 80% of the main plot to take care of including "The Spire". For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it's pretty much a near 10 year time-skip where you're imprisoned in this monstrosity and semi-brainwashed into being an officer in the main villain's army. Back onto the plot of this post...

We had a little girl together named Abigail and I made sure to keep them as happy as possible: I visited every chance I could, I bought gifts, I upped their 'home allowance' and things were doing well until the 'glitch' as I call it. It was after I had completed one of the more major parts of the campaign (the Hero of Will arc) and I decided to head home and visit my wife and daughter. I fast-traveled to Bowerstone Market and was greeted by my wife in the town square, not by our house like usual. She gave me a short dressing down and said she was leaving me. This was dramatically opposed to what I saw on the family tab in the menu which still showed all 'happy' in the three categories. I tried everything from gifts to expressions to standing in her way, but nothing worked. When she finally left the district I received the standard notification and renown loss, but I felt a cold shiver run down my spine. At this point I had completely forgotten that none of this was real. It felt real.

I ran to the house, knowing what I'd find in the back of my mind and refusing to believe it, and barged up the steps looking for the crib holding my infant daughter. It was gone; she was gone. Through the mechanics of the game, once your spouse has divorced you and taken the kids they're deleted from the game altogether. No reunion, no second chances, nothing. I snapped; I literally saw red and started slaughtering villagers in the street. I had taken out the entire district and all of the re-spawning guards before I realized what was happening. I shut off the system and brooded for the next few hours. Looking back on the event I can easily distinguish why it hit me so hard.

To me, family is everything because my family is so close. Sure we may have our disagreements or butt heads occasionally, but in the end we'll always have each other to fall back on. The thought of part of my family being ripped away from me without just cause (or any cause, really) just flipped a switch inside of my brain. I know that it was just a game and that none of it actually happened, but the concept of loss is a strong thing; especially when you invest yourself in the character as I had. Video games have a way of revealing bits and pieces of our true character by putting us in situations where, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the character, wouldn't be as clear cut as hitting a button.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Then and Now

The world has changed, there's no doubt about that. War has changed, our reality has changed, even our dreams have changed. As time passes it is inevitable that all things will change, for better or worse, and it is our actions (or inaction) that facilitates these changes. To me, it seems as if with every generation we lose more and more of the values that our elders held dear in order to become more tolerant and accepting towards everyone.

As a society, we seem to place more emphasis and interest in the dark rather than the light. No more are comics about saving the day and changing lives for the better, but dealing with the devil both within and without. Now, sometimes this can be used to great effect, but more often than not it ends up like this. Perhaps it is the way I personally see the world, but I just find it hard to believe that this is more questionable and wrong in this day and age than this.

One of the killers of modern heroism is the movement for more politically correct speech, stories and actions that's it's gotten ridiculous. We try so hard to pad and cushion and censor our world so that no one will get hurt, physically or emotionally, that it is killing the world beneath it as a tarp kills the grass under it after several days. We have the obsessive need to tag everything and go to extreme lengths to be as correct as possible... for nothing. People are going to whine and complain no matter what you do, so why bend over backwards to meet their demands? Personally, I think it's high time we all got a large dose of common sense.

In the end, I think I identify most with Captain America's assessment of the change in times.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Concept of Heaven and Hell

What is Hell? Many will tell you that hell is a pit of fire and ash where the souls of the damned and unrepentant live and are tortured until Judgment for their sins. Others will tell you that hell is the life they're living, crushed under countless burdens and regrets. There are even those who will say that it is a place they deserve to go when they die; seeing themselves as unforgivable for whatever events happened to them in the past. Perhaps they are right, perhaps they are not; my question is how do we know that our perceived notions of the Abyss are correct?

Personally, my idea of hell is having no physical body to perceive sensations; no sights, no sounds, no feeling... With only your own thought and conscience to keep you company for the rest of eternity. That is a punishment I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

Now, The concept of Heaven (in a collective term) is an idea of the ultimate reward. It is the grand prize for making it through life living by a certain code of conduct or by seeking enlightenment and bettering yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. Each person's idea of Heaven (as with Hell) is radically different. For some it is being reunited with their loved ones who had passed on before them and living in peace and harmony for the rest of existence. For others Heaven is more personal; being given a personalized heaven that can be crafted and changed according to the soul's wishes.

As I have shared my Hell, I shall also share my Heaven. My idea of heaven coincides with the latter example given above. In it, I have a large wooden house in the middle of a tranquil forest. A winding dirt path leads into a small community several miles away. The house is filled with bookshelves crammed full of booms, a full kitchen and entertainment room, a plush office and several comfortable bedrooms. The house would be busy and hectic with the sounds of my children getting ready for school, playing games, eating snacks or just talking. I would be able to be around them and watch them grow; helping them through tough times and laughing with them during the good. But I have gone on long enough, let me get back to the point.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that either the concept of heaven or hell hold any modicum of truth to them as both realms are available to those who have passed beyond the realm of the living and are no longer attached to the mortal coil. Who's to say that these views are correct, or even at all accurate? For those who don't know, I do not subscribe to modern religion. It is not that I believe that the various religions are flawed or that those who follow them are wrong, it is the fact that I have my own view of how the universe works, and I will continue to believe in it until I am proven wrong. My view of the universe can be summed up into "The Force" from the Star Wars series. I believe that there is a uniting force that connects all living things through an invisible, immaterial bond. It isn't good or evil necessarily, more like it simply is and allows us the choice between the two extremes for one cannot exist without the other. As I have stated previously, humanity is capable of both good and evil, and it is this Force that allows us the ability. Then again, perhaps I am completely wrong; I'll be the first to admit that I simply do not have all of the answers. But until I have been proven wrong, this will continue to be my world view.

I suppose in the grand scheme if things, it is these concepts that will ultimately consume us for better or worse. Until that time, however, I will continue to live my life as I always have and continue to strive to be a better person. Like the saying goes, "Don't take life too seriously, no one gets out alive anyway."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just a Thought

Recently I've been thinking about a lot of things and watching the world pass by. It's interesting what you notice when you see beyond what's directly in front of you. For example, I was eating lunch with my mother earlier today and she commented on my silence. She admonished me for not speaking and asked what was on my mind. No matter how many times I said "Nothing" she didn't believe me, even though that was the truth of the matter. Have you ever had one of those blessed moments where all was quiet in the mind and spirit and you were content just to watch others live their lives? This has been happening more and more often to me and I'm not quite sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

People are... Have you ever heard the expression "Truth is Stranger than Fiction"? (Exchange Truth for Reality and you've come close to what I mean.) I watched and listened in on those sitting around my table: one table was filled with day laborers who were speaking quickly in Spanish, another had a young couple with their little girl who were about to go meet the girl's parents to visit, yet another table had a group of friends who hadn't seen each other in a while (I could tell by the way they spoke, testing the waters with old jokes and remembrances). There was one table that interested me most of all; a few tables down from mine there was a man who was sitting alone. It was apparent that he'd been sitting there for quite a while by the way he fidgeted and the waitress's frequent check-ins. His eyes flickered towards the entrance of the restaurant every so often, as if he was waiting for someone to arrive. After a while, he gave a sigh and placed some money on the table, paid his check and left.

A thousand scenarios filtered through my mind as to why he was there, who he was waiting on and why they never showed... but they were swept away in the face of a personal epiphany. No matter your age, gender, ethnicity or location we all want someone to be there for us when we need them. We want someone to interact with yet we're seldom willing to put ourselves out into the world to do so. When you're young it's easy to make friends; you're forced to be around a myriad of people your age for (on average) 7 hours a day for 8 months. This kind of environment forces bonds to be created and both friendships and rivalries flourish in this constant interaction. But what happens when you graduate and your friends all go off to pursue their dreams? Everyone goes on their own ways; to college, to work, to lounge... but when you're out in the world, your friends are reduced to those who stuck around where you live and those you interact with on a semi-frequent basis. For the worker, this is their coworkers and employees. For the collegiate, this is their fellow students. It is rare that we keep the same friends after such a schism.

And that's the major problem; because we know such events are on the horizon it causes us to do one of two things, both of which hasten the eventual departure. The first is that we cling hard onto them and try to keep in touch (at least) every few days and act as if nothing has changed when it is so glaringly obvious that it has. The second is that we start to drift from them, trying to lessen the eventual blow when you realize one day that several months (if not years) have passed and you can't even remember the last time you two talked, both of you thinking the same thing...

However, there are those out there who will complete you. They will make your life so wonderful and precious... the problem with this is that you need to find them. More often than not, you put yourself and your happiness on the line, only to receive a consolation prize. After so many of these 'prizes' and rejections... well, it's not hard to see why the world is so cold and bitter. But even with these detractors, there is still hope.

In the end all we want someone to hold at night; to stay with for the rest of our lives. In the immortal words of Captain Henry P. Crowe: "You will never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole!" Fitting words, if you ask me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

RPGs- Good LARPing

Roleplaying Games, one of my favorite topics to talk about. For me (and many like me) it is an awesome escape from this realm of possibility into one where magic exists and adventure is around every corner. Now while I rarely take it beyond the table at a friend's house or online, there are those who feel that talking about what they want to do isn't enough; they want to go out and do it. To each their own, I suppose, but it is a special breed that can make it look this cool. (Especially this guy.)

LARPing, or Live Action Role Playing for those who don't know, is the art of dressing up in time-appropriate costumes, grabbing either realistic or foam weaponry and armor and gathering in places with other like-minded individuals to live out a second life of your choice. For example, most medieval LARPs take place in the woods and around campsites to simulate that reality and to place themselves away from technology. Modern LARPs, on the other hand, can be happening around you without notice unless you're one of the 'players'. (Sorry, sorry, I really meant this one.)

There are many different levels of commitment to these sort of gatherings. Many groups meet once every two weeks for an extended weekend of revelry and storytelling. Some dedicated groups meet once every week, but most fall between these two example. Some members show up to every meeting possible, while others can go missing for two months without notice. Some put little into their costume either out of laziness or lack of resources while others go to amazing lengths to recreate the image of their character in perfect likeness. (Another picture of that guy because he's so awesome.) Even something as simple as body paint can be used to great effect.

Like almost anything popular with a non-mainstream group, the LARPing associations have received a lot of bad press because of their activities. Back when tabletop RPGs were seen as satanic and leading children to the devil, this activity would have been considered 'creating soldiers for Satan'. Even today many people who've wanted to try their hand at the hobby hold back due to the how they believe they will be perceived by others; videos like "Lightning Bolt!" don't help the matter either. While their is a lot of dark imagery and themes in some groups, it should not condemn the entire hobby for the actions of a few.

Well, that's all I have to say on the matter, but here's a few more awesome pictures to highlight the greatness of this pastime at it's best.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Idiots, One and All

This next post is very important so I want you all to read it carefully; it'll help you out immensely in life. It is a fact of life that humans are programmed to notice flaws in others far quicker and more readily than noticing flaws within their own character. This is because humans, over a period of thousands of years, have developed in self-centered selfish little pricks who have the 'kill or be killed' instinct so ingrained that it influences every your every little decision and action. How do I know all of this? It's because I still regress into outcast-mode even though I know better.

As stated before, people are programmed to see the flaws of others first before looking inward at themselves. It is a never-ending cycle of nastiness and heartbreak that few are willing to break. We grow up learning the golden rule and believing that if we're nice to other people that they will be nice to us in return. Then that illusion is violently broken again and again due to the sheer ugliness that runs rampant in the world ranging from childhood bullies to a serial killer's rampage. So we grow up bitter and guarded, finding it easier to be rude and like everyone else than to stand out and be kind. Why put yourself through that kind of hurt over and over when you see every day just how horrible people can be to each other?

This is yet another of today's countless problems that seemingly no one wants to fix. We all say we want everyone to be friendly to each other and want to work towards a better society where kids can play in the streets again and no one is afraid to walk the streets at night... but do we ever do anything about it? No. Humanity is a selfish creature and we never want to give something if we're not sure we'll get something back in return. No one wants to be nice to everyone they meet because more likely than not, the other person will either be rude or dismissive of them. Why try if nobody is going to cooperate? The fear of rejection is just as powerful a deterrent as hostility or rudeness. When you sit back and think about how bad our society has gotten for a moment; it can almost be to much to handle.

This, personally, is why I consider humanity (as a whole) to be the stupidest creature in existence. Many would argue and say that our ability to think and feel emotion makes us smarter than any other creature found in history, but all of that is useless if we use it to destroy others of our species. Think about if for a moment, what other animal actively seeks out to destroy its own kind because the other doesn't agree with it on something? What other animal will kill another, not because it's hungry, but just because it can? What other animal has the capacity for good and evil as we do? What other animal would destroy the land around it to make itself more comfortable? What other animal would share it's food and shelter with a sick/dying animal? What other animal would risk it's life to save another of it's kind from imminent death? What other animal would come to the aid of another in a fight that did not concern it?

What other animal has the capacity for good and evil as we do? We have the ability and resources to save countless other of our kind and improve their standard of living and yet we'd rather spend it on creature comforts and frivolous things like suing one another because of minor disagreements and infractions. When the chips are down, however, we show an amazing capacity for comradeship and unity far outshining any pack bond found in nature. This is why I consider humanity a stupid creature; a stupid creature with the capacity to learn.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beating the System

Do you remember the days where the American Dream actually meant something? It seems that as time passes people turn more and more towards underhanded and subversive techniques in lieu of proper channels and procedures. In some cases this can be a good thing (such as cutting out bureaucracy) but most often it's the everyday person trying to beat the system... but why do it? Why devote precious time to creating a way to scam coin-machines? Why shoplift an item you can afford to buy? Why would you even consider embezzling money from a company you work for? It's because we live in a system that's designed to grind the last dime out of you if you're not smart.

There are many, many sites on the web which will teach you the more mainstreamed (and decriminalized) offenses that, if caught, won't get you more than a slap on the wrist. Things such as how to hop fences, how to pick locks and even how to make your own coupons. There is no end to the amount of instructional videos, pictures and web pages that are available to you if you know where to look. The problem is that as the world changes, these skills are needed more and more to get around redundant, outdated and inexcusably bad legislature. While I do admit that there are some very strict limits that shouldn't be crossed, the material available usually falls within 'acceptable' limits. However, as I mentioned in my first post, you can literally find anything on the internet from how to make homemade guns and explosives to a guidebook on poisons and assassination techniques. (I would post links but I'm on enough government watch lists as it is. *grins*)

Why are all of these things available online when it's known for a fact that most (if not all) of these are illegal in whatever part of the world you live in? It is because the internet is not owned by one company or one nation or even one person; it is one of the last truly lawless areas in modern society. It is a place where the everyman can go and be, do and say nearly anything he wants to without fear or reprisal; why do you think I write this blog? Do you think anyone is going to condemn me for anything I say on the internet?

Back to the point, these scams and shortcuts serve two purposes in my opinion. The first is to stay a step ahead of the system; the problem is that once you start outrunning the system you have to stay ahead of it or the consequences will be far more dire than if you stayed in step. The second reason is to fulfill that adrenaline-seeking rush that we all need, whether it's racing full speed downhill on a bicycle or taking a five finger discount on a few snacks from a convenience store. The problem with this reason is that eventually the thrill will become mundane and will need a bigger and bigger 'score' to feel the same rush; an addiction to theft runs parallel to an addiction to drugs. That's not to say that all of these things are illegal or even theft. A lot of it is restricted knowledge that not many 'normal' people would know about; the hopping fences link from earlier is a great example. Though, I can see why some people don't feel bad at all about their crimes...

There are those of us who think that the government is benign and only wish to help it's people continue to live as freely as possible. There are those who think otherwise as well. In any case, it is up to the people to decide what is right for them and how to go about their lives and for many... well, a few shortcuts never hurt.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Concept of a Hero

The knight who rescues the princess from the clutches of the evil dragon, the volunteer who works all through the night to provide care to those who are suffering, the fireman who saves you from a burning building, the superhero who saves the day just in the nick of time; all of these can be considered heroes in their own right, but why?

The definition of a hero, according to is "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities". While this is very true for most pre-modern heroes, does it hold true to the heroes of today? For the most part, yes it does. There are thousands of everyday heroes that put others before themselves with no hope of reward or recognition because it is the right thing to do. But (like everything else in life) there is a gray area that falls between the cracks.

What of the man who saves his friend from suicide
? Though he technically falls outside of the strict definition of a hero, he is considered one regardless. The man who anonymously donates a large amount of money to rebuild the church destroyed in an arson fire? He does it not for any recognition or reward (obviously), so is he considered a hero? Of course he is; one of the countless unknown heroes of our day. Popular media has done a surprisingly good job of portraying the modern hero through song, comic and show.

Take the song 'Hero' by Skillet for example. The lyrics show that a hero does not have to be the demigods of mythology or the superheroes of comics and television; a hero is one who is willing to show courage in the face of opposition and has the will to do what is right. He doesn't need the ability to move things with his mind or face down hoards of enemies willing to tear him limb from limb; he just needs the ability to stand up for what he believes and put the good of others before himself.

Take this photo as another example of this mentality; superman giving hugs to a line of people. Why is he doing this? What does he hope to gain from it? What does he hope it will do? The answers (respectively) are 'because he can', 'nothing' and 'make people forget about their insecurities and instill a sense of harmony'. Superman is considered by many to be the epitome of a hero, modern or ancient. He fulfills both the warrior-protector role of old and the modern savior that we all need at one time or another, as exemplified by this comic page.

This next set of comics are actual events that happened in China and each shows the sacrifice and determination of an individual to be save another's life at the expense or risk of their own. It shows how teachers, rescue workers and policemen can be real heroes. I'm not ashamed to admit that reading through these again has me on the edge of tears.

Why do they do this for us? Who do they risk their life and happiness for the ungrateful masses that want nothing more to see them as miserable as the rest of us? Do they do it out of some personal code or sense of righteousness? Unfortunately, I don't have an answer; but I do want to say one thing.

To all our everyday heroes: Thank you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The 4chan post- Discuss

Recently I was browsing 4chan's infamous board (which can't be referred to by name) and came across an 'inspirational' thread. Now, I've been browsing many of the boards for a few years and have seen many things (some better left unseen), but one image caught my eye. While it was not necessarily 'inspirational' it did make me think.

"Since writing on toilet walls is done neither for critical acclaim, nor financial rewards, it is the purest form of art. -Discuss"

Ah, the 'discuss' topics; usually cancerous and troll-ridden, but this one I found to be enlightening. Why do people write on toilet walls, spray paint abandoned houses and bridges and carve questions into trees? Not the gang sigil and territorial markers but things that, when you look at them, make you think. That is because the traditional channels of expressing yourself have fail-safes.

Censors, even though they are seldom called that, still exist in this day and age operating through legal means and controlling what most people know. Media such as television, radios and the like are strictly regulated on what they can and cannot show or talk about. Newspapers, books and magazines all have editors who's job it is to weed out personal opinions, dangerous truths and unfavorable articles to keep readers entertained and (most importantly) continuing to buy their product.

And that's the problem with all of this. We are not a society driven to get the truth to the people; we do not care if the average person knows just how bad the local gang problem is, or what actually happened during the war; we've become a nation of pleasure-seekers who are happy to live (if you'll allow me the expression) in cubicles of our own making. We don't want the truth, we want a smooth polished lie that fits in with our notion of the world. We don't care what you actually know as long as you keep buying our paper, or watching our program, or reading our book, or whatever the product may be. And I know all of this because I fall into this category myself, but I know I have a cubicle in which I am confined.

Getting back to the point, the last bastion of freedom of information is the Internet; and this (above all else) is the most censored of all. Everything makes it's way to the internet at one point or another; everything from sport scores to the latest news to how to make a bomb to you and your significant other's amateur porno. One of the major problems of the internet... is that everything makes it's way to the internet at one point or another. With all of that information passing through daily, compounding upon itself in a horrifying amalgamation of pieced-together info, pictures, videos and all else. And, because of this, the internet has become the equivalent of a hell pit; millions upon millions of souls screaming out to whoever will listen, hoping that they'll be heard above the awful din.

Perhaps a better analogy is that of a spider's web. Each new page linking it to similar pages, crossing over and merging with others of its kind while spiders (such as Google and Yahoo) spawn hundreds of new strings each hour. With each of these new threads, thousands more fall into obscurity and disrepair; losing valuable information and replacing it with the newest 'thing'. That, along with moderators and administrators on every site available limit the already fragmented knowledge available.

So that leaves graffiti and other acts of 'defacing property'. The beauty of this form of expression is in its simplicity. These acts are meant to be attention-grabbing and are usually very hard to ignore. One example that comes to mind is that of the famous 'Good morning, Lemmings' picture. Imagine yourself as some stuck in that kind of traffic, able to see that message scrawled across the bridge as traffic is at a stop. At that point, you'd really start to think hard about your life and if anything you did was worth doing. As traffic crawled forward like a dying man towards an oasis you'd start to mourn all of the time you wasted working instead of living your life, but in this materialistic society our values have changed from 'people are important' to 'things are important'.

These acts cannot be ignored and the only way to moderate them is to destroy them entirely. They are put both in places that everyone can see and places that are meant to be stumbled upon. They range from personal messages to the world, to over-arching statement of worth and values, to a shining pearl of wisdom unmoderated by those who would want to keep it a secret.

Are they the truest form of art? Perhaps, perhaps not. Are they the truest form or knowledge unbound by fail-safes? That, I can agree with.