02 December 2011

Submission: The Indoor Kids

Found on Gearspedia.
Update, 12/12/11: Great googily-moogily, I was awarded something for my efforts. The Indoor Kids just emailed me to let me know they'd selected me for one of their prizes - The Art and Design of Gears of War. It's a book, which is probably better for my brain than an Xbox.

To find out how I acquired this prize, read on...

Recently, one of my favorite podcasts - The Indoor Kids - announced a contest, the prizes for which include an Xbox 360. The theme of this contest is Gears of War, a third-person shooter game with which I have limited experience at best. Still, since I had played the game a bit and I'm on something of a gaming kick again (see 3/23/09 & 1/31/07) I thought I'd give it a go with that most powerful and not-at-all-cliché medium: The Personal Narrative. Enjoy.

Dry Spell

I don't own a console system, for a few different reasons. I haven't had one since I was about eight or so, when our dad brought home a knock-off Colecovision bought from some shop on one of our trips to one of the many membership campsites we attended along the East Coast. The thing had an integrated keyboard - though for what exactly I never discovered - the kind that had the keys just printed on overlaid, pebbled plastic so you had to jam your knuckles again and again to even get it to acknowledge a keystroke or two.

I remember the display was various shades of orange, and that we had to change the dial on our old TV with a clenched fist to access its feed. We played a knock-off Pole Position (my personal favorite, though I kept wishing the cars could shoot, like a knock-off Spy Hunter), a knock-off Pac-Man, a knock-off Asteroids, and the television barked those electronic grinding noises that passed for sound simulation at the time. It was magic, even if I knew it wasn't the genuine article. That machine cast a spell that kept me coming back to it and trying again, in spite of whatever serial programming or Technicolor cartoon might be on.

The main reason that I don't own a console system is a similar one to why I don't buy Chewy Chips Ahoy! at the grocery store (unless I'm drunk). If it's in the apartment, I will wring it dry, 'til I'm dehydrated and there are rings around my eyes. My awareness of my own lack of self-control saves me from many things (unless I'm drunk). Video games are among these, kept company by puppets and baked goods.

A few years ago, however, I rediscovered an antidote to this approach. When the Knock-Off Console kicked it, which couldn't have been too long after we first exposed it to actual electricity, my dad resolved never to buy another. He'd seen the mountaintop, and was satisfied there'd be no greater heights; particularly if it was going to continue plumbing the depths of his wallet. In desperation, I left the house, and found my friends. Here an actual Colecovision, there a Nintendo. This guy had a VGA monitor, that girl could afford Super Mario 3. But piecemeal gaming was bound to make me fall behind, and by the time I went away to school the trickle had dribbled out completely.

Still found money for Chewy Chips Ahoy! somehow, though.

Anyway, a few years ago my sister moved in with her boyfriend, a nascent stand-up with a love for comicbooks and video games. Once I got over the idea of him being some kind of stealthy, geek Lothario, I started hanging out. I fell into that familiar pattern, but with a new twist: co-op play. The game of choice for this was, of course, Gears of War.

I'd never played anything like it, even when sampling the latest fare at one of those kiosks at Virgin stores, edging my way around familiarly eager eight-year-olds. In terms of co-op, GoW has a dynamic that's particularly rewarding, and Dom is a great character to play when you're kind of fresh to the whole thing. I still think sometimes of that duck-and-cover motion out of nowhere, like I used to see Tetris shapes in every building and street sign. We would play with those tremendous senses of frustration and accomplishment that let you know when you're really in a game. I hadn't felt that compelled to "try again" when we bombed on a mission since Commander Keen; and that, my friends, is saying something.

All good things end, and eventually my sister and her boyfriend broke up. I'd be lying if I said I considered any part of that break-up more tragic than the sudden clamping off of my GoW supply. I can't complain - I got a good year of GoW and the first few scenes of GoW2 out of it. That probably seems like scraps to live on, but they were some tasty scraps. It's probably for the best, but I can't help wondering if I'll get to experience how GoW2 ends someday. If I'll get to try again.

01 December 2011

Dream Log: Church of Improv

Found here.
It's rare that I remember my dreams.

I woke up this morning in the midst of a very vivid one. I was taking an improv class from Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh, founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was taking place in an elementary school in my old town. In fact, I believe in my mind it was supposed to be the same elementary school in which my church used to convene, before they raised the funds for their own building. Though in retrospect, it looked more like a cross between a smaller school (right up the hill, in fact) that my mom once substituted in and the ConEd educational facility in Long Island at which I occasionally work.

I got there early; so early that I had no one to guide me to the right room. But soon enough Amy and Matt came along and I was nervous to be there, and didn't know anyone at first. Matt asked me to help him set up, and suddenly started giving commands with urgency, moving desks and opening blinds, etc. Somehow I knew I was helping him with an object lesson, which he soon revealed to the class. Something about energy and agreement. I was happy to have provided a good example.

After not too long in that class, someone pulled me aside. It was a 50-60 year-old woman from my mom's current church, in fact. She and I stepped outside the building, and she started giving me keys - two sets of keys. I was given to understand that they were the keys to everything she needed keys for: her house, her car, everything personal. She was giving them to me because she couldn't go back home, and wanted me to keep them safe for her.

While she was doing this, my actor friend strolled up, blithely unaware of the seriousness of the situation. He was there for the class. I shooed him away with a look, and the woman never really knew he was there. I assured her that I'd take care of her keys, but that she'd be taking them back soon enough. We parted, and I set off to look for my friend, who had wandered off around the side of the building. I had been really surprised to see him there, and really wanted him to join the class.

After not too long I found him inside, in a different part of the building. It didn't take any convincing for him to join - he seemed just to not know where it was. As I walked him back to class - now a bit concerned that too much time had lapsed for me to return to it - we came upon two more of my friends who were there for the class (Friends Patrick and Melissa, in point of fact) and we all went in together.

It was fine to just jump back in, and class continued apace.

And then my alarm went off, the cat jumped off the bed and I think I elbowed Wife Megan before awkwardly knocking myself out of bed like my limbs were on fire.