Category Archives: Gaming

The Crack Seen Round the World

Two days ago one of my gamer friends forwarded me a link that was making rounds in the Magic the Gathering community.  Odds are good that you’ve seen it as well.  Apparently a man went to a high level tournament, found people with exposed “plumber crack” and posed next to them.  He then posted the results to Reddit where it jumped to Buzzfeed, Kotaku, and… Jesus, is that Time.com?  And it has shown up on my Facebook feed about 5 times in the last few days.

crack photoLooking for the link?  Well you won’t find it here.  Your Google skills are masterful enough.  Looking for a better picture?  Again, I’m sure you’ll have no problem seeing it once you Google it.  The picture I’m including just shows the man and what he was intending to ridicule, and protects the identity of just about everyone else caught in the picture.

Wondering why?  I’m absolutely furious that someone would do something so cruel and invasive, and in the name of the game that I love.

Whether it’s motivated from a truth or a cultural bias, throughout my life I have had to be on the defensive about my love of RPG’s, video games, tabletop games, and Magic the Gathering.  I clearly remember the time as a 15 year old I was accosted by a group of boys while entering a comic store and asked if I was going to “jerk off to the comics I was buying.”  I played the RPG Vampire the Masquerade in dark basements where we never spoke about the campaign outside of that safe space.  I have gone through relationships in which my partner told me I was too old to play Magic.

I even remember a time recently when a fellow Magic player and I were at a bar and someone asked us how we knew each other.  Before I could say anything, he blurted out “we play cards together,” and changed the subject.  Apparently “cards” can be interpreted as “poker” which is much more socially acceptable.  Even though I never call up my Magic-playing friends and ask to play “cards.”

Vampire

Vampire the Masquerade circa 1994

Maybe that’s why some of my closest friends are those I met through gaming.  We had to endure isolation and potential ostracism to do this thing that we loved so much.  I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but it’s true.  The picture to the right is of 4 people in my gaming group from high school, and I still am in touch with them all today.

Over the years I have acquired 20 or so close friends who play Magic the Gathering.  They are a diverse group: men and women, large and small, socially awkward and smooth.  I have friends in this group who follow every sporting event and others who just don’t care.  I have married friends, single friends, polyamorous friends, straight friends, gay friends.

And this is why I get so angry and sad when an article like this goes viral.  Because instead of seeing the diverse group of fascinating, empathetic, and unique people that are allured by the complex game of Magic, they see a bunch of overweight slobs who dress poorly.

Let me get this out of the way too: in no way do I blame the victims in this situation.  There have been calls of “well if they had found clothes that fit, they wouldn’t have been in this embarrassing place.  Maybe this is a wake up call for them.”

Sorry, you don’t get to dress your cruelty as a public service message.  Even if this was meant as a PSA (which the creator alleges was part of his inspiration), this is a terrible way to do it.  Publicly embarrassing strangers for how they look is absolutely unacceptable.  The photographer specifically chose to focus only on these people, thus this is the perception that outsiders see of who a Magic player is.  Way to make a PSA that hurts the community as a whole.

Remember that these are actual humans with lives that go beyond the unfortunate fame they unexpectedly acquired. In an email thread, a friend of mine posted the following:

“Having been ‘that guy’, I don’t find this funny. It was pointed out to me once and a large production was made out of it, really fucking juvenile and I wanted to punch people, hard. Yes, I own a belt (several actually) and always try to wear baggy enough clothes to cover up, sometimes it just happens.”

And there’s this this tweet:

"I know someone who's crack is pictured here and he is extremely embarrassed. He wishes this had never been posted." on FB

Yes, the people exploited in these photos might have had the option to be more on top of how they were exposed that day.  But the guy who posted it also had the option of whether to post it or not.

So what do I want to get out of this?  Why am I writing?  Mostly to explain to the people who are sharing this on the Internet why I don’t think it’s funny and why they might want to think twice before perpetuating this story.  I also want to defend this game that has brought me so much happiness.  Not from the people experiencing a temporary wardrobe malfunction, but from the large population that desperately wants the stereotype of what a Magic player is to be true (sadly including the man who posted these pictures).  Unlike the two dimensional snapshots taken at this tournament, each of us is a human with a detailed, complex life.  If we could only get our fellow gamers to treat us as such, maybe the rest of the world would see that too.

A Curious Mind

Lately I’ve been flooded with projects, and it has been glorious glorious glorious!  I’ve been cramming about as much gigging as I can into my 40 work week and the weekends.  I’ve had the opportunity to play with 20’s trad jazz bands, 2nd line wedding bands, orchestras, and impromptu jams.  I also started a polka band (Polkadelphia!) and have been busy learning and playing a whole new style and repertoire.  I recently recorded a new song I wrote about Dungeons and Dragons to be used as a Kickstarter reward for my friend’s project, Kobolds At My Baby… in color!  I have been teaching piano lessons and developing a songwriting class for teenagers.  I have been honing my design skills and am currently working on revamping a friend’s website.  I’ve been taking (c)old projects out of storage and working on finding viable venues.  I’m about at the end of my wits, and I’m loving it!

On a parallel track, ever since I graduated from college in 2000, I have been absolutely terrified of going back to school for “formalized” education.  Many of my friends went for their masters degrees, and I went off and did my own thing.  For the past 6 years I’ve worked at a university with free tuition benefits.  Yet, except for a semester of German, a music and technology class, and an audited yoga class, I have eschewed using those benefits.  Many friends and colleagues think I’m crazy for not taking advantage and getting a free masters degree.  But I have my reasons, the biggest being that I don’t want to commit myself to classes and projects that may become a burden over time.

While I know it’s not a direct parallel (and frankly, what is?) I look at these two areas of my life and see some incongruity.  In one, I am tearing up my free time and immersing myself to be as busy as possible.  In the other, I am fiercely guarding my free time from waste.  Let’s debunk a few things here too.  It’s not a fear of learning new things, because in my current projects, I’ve learned more than I have in my whole life.  And it’s not that I perceive formalized education as a waste of my time any more than my projects might turn out to be.  It’s entirely possible that I commit myself to a project of my own devising that turns out to be draining and lackluster.  I think the biggest difference between the two for me is the quality of self-direction in my own projects.

Before any academics get in a huff, I do believe that when someone enters into a program for a graduate degree, there is a significant amount of self-direction required and encouraged, as opposed to undergraduate degrees which tend to be a bit more cookie-cutter.  I’d also like to point out that while my experiences with graduate degrees are second-hand, I have spoken to a lot of people who have gone through such programs.  However, at the end of the day, there are prerequisites to finish, auxiliary tasks to perform, and a standardized finished product to turn in.  It all seems pretty externally directed to me.  My many friends who have advanced degrees also attest to the bureaucracy and the “old guard” of the system that detract from the learning process.

It’s true that any industry has its old guard and bureaucracy, but I’ve been finding that approaching my projects with a degree of experimentation and innovation helps to dispel some of the feeling that I’m playing the game.  It’s kind of like that moment as a songwriter when you stop trying to write songs in the style of people you admire, and start to really focus on your own modes of expression.  All of a sudden, there’s this sense of newness and genuine connection.  When done in the right circumstances, people really sit up and take notice.
Perhaps I’m being naive, but the naivete is part of the joy of it.  I’m approaching the parts of my life that I want to change with many ideas and few expectations.  I’m learning about the things that matter to me, and while I’ll never feel in control of the outcome, I do feel quite confident about the direction I’m going.

Metroid with Tuba

TUBA – BAILEY

I’m also really enjoying how each new morsel of knowledge opens up new avenues.  It reminds me of classic NES games like Metroid; after you get certain items, you can unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible.  Likewise, with a CD pressed, I get access to venues I couldn’t play before.  With Polkadelphia, I get access to a new market, and the people who manage that market.  I can see these webs spreading out before me as I go.  Also like Metroid, I can choose the order in which I make these discoveries.  And also like Metroid, it’s pretty fun.

At this point, I don’t know necessarily what the take-away is for this post.  Certainly you should try to be in touch with what it is you want.  It’s both fun and fulfilling to explore what it is you want from a variety of different angles.  I suppose what I would impart is that you don’t have to give up the process of self-directed exploration just because you are an adult (or because you are a child).  It increasingly seems to me that only by continuing to explore and expand the parameters of our lives in directions that we choose can we truly live a life that is glorious glorious glorious!

Minecraft: Starting from Scratch

Last week at work, I was at a meeting about gaming in education.  No, we’re not talking about Number Crunchers and Oregon Trail, as awesome as they were (AppleII IV eva!).  Our particular subject was the game Minecraft.  I only caught the tail end of the meeting so I missed a lot of specific applications, but we were each given a free trial of the program to try it for ourselves.

If you haven’t heard of it, Minecraft is an open-ended game with an emphasis on exploration, construction, and problem solving.  It is referred to as a sandbox game, in that there is no particular plot and no direction in which the players are pushed.  You essentially roam a massive world (either your own private world or a multiplayer world on a server) collecting resources that you use to craft tools and build structures.  As you dig deeper into the earth, you find more valuable resources that allow you to craft stronger tools and further customize your world.  If you are killed, you respawn back at your starting point or back at your house if you built one.

minecraft with tuba

No pigs were harmed in the making of this block sousaphone.

I’ve known about the game for a long time, and the idea of it really didn’t appeal to me.  As a friend recently described it, it sounded just like playing with legos.  After I started messing around in it, though, the appeal became quite clear.  The amount of things that you can create in the world is huge.  I spent some time finding materials to make my two story house with a glass enclosed bedroom and a tree growing out of the roof.   I harvested wood and spider silk to make a fishing rod.  I made a furnace out of stone and baked some bread.  I found diamonds at the bottom of a deep mine shaft, which I then used to make a strong pickaxe.  I found the remains of an ancient tunnel covered in cobwebs and with remnants of mine cart tracks.

Perhaps the most exciting moment for me was when I tunneled to the bottom of the earth and found a vast pool of lava.  Next to it, I found an underground spring.  As a lover of explosions and “what-if” moments, I had to know what happened if I directed the flow of water into the pool of lava.  Liquids in Minecraft follow their own laws of physics that are different from real-life physics, so I began experimenting with placing blocks to control the flow of the water.  Sometimes the results were the opposite of what I intended, but after some trial and error, I was able to turn a huge swath of lava into a field of obsidian.  The 8 year-old in me who used to love mixing different chemicals in a big bucket just to see what happened was absolutely elated.

It was at that point that I slipped and fell into the remaining lava, incinerating myself as well as all my possessions.

This wasn’t the first time I would have to start from scratch in the game.  While I was learning how the game worked I had fallen off a giant cliff, starved to death, and been mauled to death by a zombie.  Yes that’s right, there are zombies and skeletons and a really creepy thing called an Enderman that all come out once night falls.  I eventually had to turn off the monster component until I knew what I was doing.  Each time I started from scratch, I knew a little more about the world I was in and how I could make it as engaging as possible.  I learned the things to craft earlier and the ways to build a house quicker.  In some ways, I’m actually excited when I have to start from scratch, because I get a clean canvas upon which to imprint my vision.

In real life, the idea of starting from scratch is terrifying to me.  Whether it’s a project I’m working on, a work process, or fundamental shifts in the way I live my life, stepping outside of the prescribed method and exploring new options is something I rarely attempt.  While all the fears I have about starting from scratch are negative (I’ll be wasting time, people will look down on me, I won’t be able to support myself), there are also positive potentials as well (I could save time, people will respect me, I’ll be able to support myself better than ever) that I conveniently ignore.

However, it’s too easy to become mired in the same processes continuously when we’re working on a project.  At some point it can be useful to scrap the safe approach that has produced adequate results and pioneer into uncharted territory with a bold new vision. We still hold onto the knowledge from each new attempt, even if we’re using it in a different way or within a different discipline.  As I’ve noted multiple times, many of the skills I’ve learned playing music have been useful in my office life, and vice versa.

In a way, we never really start from scratch.  When the skeleton shot me in the head with an arrow while I was starving to death, I lost all the wood I had harvested, the coal I had mined, and the chicken eggs I had found.  The next time around, I was able to build a shack before falling off a cliff into a ravine.  After I consulted a Minecraft expert named Ned, he gave me pointers as to where to keep my house, how to construct some of the basic necessities for survival, and how to build certain structures.  That iteration was the one in which I died in lava.  However, I continue to learn from my failures and grow from the experiences.  Even though I start each time with no possessions, I retain the knowledge to better survive in the next world.

I am quite aware that this analogy is not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.  Certainly trying something new and different from what we are accustomed is a scary experience, but it’s also an exhilarating experience.  My “demises” in the various facets of my life are less grisly, but they retain the same impermanence that I’ll encounter bouncing back from endeavors that may be unsuccessful.  I can embrace the change, embrace the exploration, and even embrace the metaphorical (I hope) fear of being eaten by monsters.  Minecraft may be a “sandbox” game, but I’m loving discovering how useful it is on the playground as a whole.

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