That shiver inside

•March 7, 2009 • 2 Comments

What do you do when you’ve been honest and yourself in every way you know how, only to find someone questioning your honesty?

I don’t know, nor do I know how to squash the hurt that sprung forth because of it. I think tonight it is early to bed.

Either way, I miss the catharsis of using this blog, and hopefully I can provide more frequent, more varied updates, rather than reserving it for times of sadness. Here’s hoping I can do just that.

The Political Machine

•October 29, 2008 • 5 Comments

I haven’t posted much in the way of blogs in recent months, and I need to change that. However, a video I saw today caught my eye.

Last year, I posted a blog about National Coming Out Day. This year, that day came and went during the Tokyo Game Show, so it wasn’t on my radar exactly. Instead of posting more thoughts about it this year, I decided instead to post this video. I am not a political individual. I have never carried a picket sign, and I vote privately without making much of a fuss. I have strong beliefs but as a rule I keep them close to my chest and I am not vocal about a great many things, nor do I expect I would change any minds if I vocalized them. I say this because this video is related to Proposition 8, a referendum that, if the majority of the public votes “yes” on, will amend the California state constitution to prohibit gay marriage.

As a gay man I have deep feelings on this issue, and I don’t think I need to detail why that is. But in case you don’t know why I would care, perhaps the following video will help explain it. If you want more information on the circumstances of this video, please see the camera operator’s thoughts here. She decided to start filming a group of Prop 8 supporters as they picketed in Oakland, CA, These are the hateful results.

**Edit: The embed doesn’t work from Vimeo for some reason, so I apologize for lack of embedded video. But by all means, click to the page above. It’s shocking.**

If you live in California, please vote no on Prop 8. Please.

Managing The Heart

•August 14, 2008 • 5 Comments

I’m loathe to post much here of late. This isn’t because I don’t have events occurring in my life, but because many of them are so personal that I need to keep those events guarded. Work has been manageable; my personal life, not so much. It’s very hard to talk about these things as a blogger at times, not because I couldn’t type endlessly, but because I need to be conscious of who reads what I write. Perhaps I need a secret blog, but maintaining one would feel like an odd compromise. One one hand, I fear what the creeps of the Internet could do with the information I type here; and on the other, I despise that I would have to erect walls out of necessity. I like the idea that I could communicate the innermost thoughts of my heart and soul, and have them be meaningful, without worry of emotional, professional, or social repercussions. Sadly, a reality like that doesn’t exist. Not in this virtual universe, anyway.

But those fears themselves point directly to my very soul, and all the things I dislike about owning that soul. At the heart of all recent sorrow is my wish to be cherished, nurtured, desired, and protected. When I look at it as an outsider, these needs feel very childlike, and perhaps they are. But they are at my core, for better or for worse, and unfortunately, they drive me to search for that special someone to share life with. Not long ago, I thought I found that person. I shared my hopes and dreams, my sorrows and my joys, and I heard something I think most of us long to hear, consciously or not: “I love you. You are my everything. I want to spend my life with you.”

Such wonderful words when they are genuine, and such hurtful ones when they aren’t. And as it turns out, they weren’t, and were retracted less than a day later. Imagine climbing the highest peak, only to fall into an unfathomable valley within moments of each other. My heart made that fall, and it has yet to recover. There are days, still, where the idea of healing feels remote, if not impossible. Most days, the hurt is just as strong as the day it happened.

It’s ironic that the strong desire to love and be loved in return so often leads down a road more lonely than others. I’ve alienated several people that were important to me because my thoughts were so focused on finding that someone at the expense of friendships and other possibilities. What a contradiction I’ve become: I look for something that is better to let come naturally, while I push that which is real aside to make room for simple possibilities. And yet while I learn from the mistakes, I can’t seem to change, in spite of it all.

So perhaps this entry will bring catharsis, or be a catalyst for change. Emotionally, I am a highly expressive person. I think for people like me, expressions of sorrow are our attempts to relieve our hurts and instigate personal change and growth. At least that is what I believe for myself–and I believe that I can only heal if I communicate that pain. I suppose in this life, the pain of love lost, and the fear of being alone, are universal. Perhaps even insignificant. But I know that I feel these things so much more intensely than most do, just as I feel most things more intensely than others do. This may never change–but I sincerely hope that I can be more happy with myself as a lone soul, rather than be so conscious that it isn’t shared with another.

Nevertheless, and against all odds, I hope that at some point, another wonderful individual joins me on my path. And I pray that whatever happens, that I do not hurt more than I already have, and that I bring joy to those whose lives I cross.

Music Update

•May 18, 2008 • 10 Comments

So I am one of three people that own Zunes, but you know, I am quite happy with my machine. I like its interface, I like the Zune store, and I rarely miss iTunes now that I am used to the alternative. I don’t know why I am mentioning this, but I am.

In any case, I’ve been voraciously craving new music, so amongst other recent purchases (Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs, Jason Mraz’s We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, Ryan Cabrera’s The Moon Under Water), I picked up Foals’ Antidotes, and I am rather impressed with it. Check out this clip:

Here’s the opening track from Mraz’s album, which I think is terrific, partially because it reminds me of a great song by Jon Brion that my friend Carolyn turned me on to some years back.

Reading Between The Lines: “Hidden Depth”

•May 16, 2008 • 5 Comments

I’m writing this here because I like to think that those that will see it will have a greater understanding of where I’m coming from than in my work blog, where voices of reason are likely to be drowned by the average fanboy who assumes there’s more to a game review than absolute face value. When I write something in a game review, that’s the only value you should assign to it. I’m not indicting or promoting a console, or a download service, or a genre when I write a review. It simply exists, right then and right there, very much on its own terms. I’m pretty blind to the apparent console war. I prefer to think of any machine that lets me play quality games as a gateway to entertainment, art, and possibilities.

When playing and writing about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, I already had virtual naysayers squabbling in my head. This was WiiWare’s first appearance, and the Final Fantasy brand has loyal followers. I had misgivings about a $15 game that charged fees for additional content like buildings and costumes, but value is about more than just an arbitrary number, but about the the proportions between the money you spend versus the quality of the entertainment you receive. Of course, there’s no magic formula. If there were, we’d all immediately know if a car was worth buying, or if that $35 entree is $35 worth of culinary satisfaction.

Unfortunately, My Life as a King isn’t very good, but as a launch title for the Wii’s new download service for original content, attitudes were cheery and outlook was bright. For a $15 title, the game looks nice, and it moves along smoothly, with nice animations and a general sense of charm and wonder. It’s a Square Enix title, so of course that kind of polish isn’t surprising. (Internal standards don’t allow us to use that cliched term, but in this case it aptly describes the game’s general sparkle.) But it’s overall level of quality is the antithesis of the more common circumstance of a game that burgeons with potential and suffers under its own ambition and flawed execution. Instead, it is a fundamentally imbalanced city builder that hides its shallowness and major core issues with a hard candy shell that should be commended, but called out for exactly what it is: a mask. It’s the gaming equivalent of those Elizabeth Taylor White Diamond commercials, where Liz is photographed with a lens so smeared with Vaseline that an uneducated viewer might assume she’s attractive. All you have to do is remove the filter to see the–ahem–less appealing reality.

I think it’s easy for me to see through that because I’ve been playing city builders and strategy games for so long. But a game with four types of houses, a tiny number of other building options, and a linear path to a singular goal isn’t a strategy title. There’s a major missing component: player choice. The game is so limited that you have relatively few meaningful choices, and the ones that do exist are so exploitable as to be almost meaningless. You know how SimCity games give you all that information about your city, so much that it can make your eyes bleed? You can actually make meaningful decisions using that information. In My Life as a King, a good amount of it is window dressing. There is no underlying web of tightly bound connections where fiddling with one stat can have repercussions on multiple levels of gameplay.

Not that any of these aspects have to be present for a game to be entertaining, but that brings me to my next point. I’ve heard a couple of friends describe the game as having “hidden depth,” which strikes me as a new buzz phrase that I hereby publicly vow to never use in a review from this moment onward. I understand its connotation, and I may have used it in the past to describe a few lighter games that have a tight sense of strategy, even if that strategy is purely top-level stuff. Games like Desktop Tower Defense and PixelJunk Monsters jump to mind, because they’re fundamentally simple but do have a more complex layer of cleverly-planned mechanics that don’t directly involve the player on a moment-to-moment basis, but instead engage the player on a broader scale.

So I get the phrase, but what worries me here is that really, depth isn’t hidden. A game isn’t an underground tunnel buried a few meters under your backyard, left undiscovered as you mow your lawn directly above it. This is a game, and there’s a difference between a spreadsheet with statistics, and actual depth. And in terms of your average city builder, My Life as a King has none of this stuff we call depth. It is, actually, shallow at its very core. Square knows this. It’s the very reason why the game has so few buildings, no complex relationships between multiple aspects of player decisions, so few standard city building mechanics. It’s because the house of Popsicle sticks holding the game together would topple over from the weight of it all. You know all those stats you can look over? In other city-building games, did you know that this information carries a lot of weight? In My Life as a King, you can safely ignore these numbers and succeed quite nicely. That’s fine, but don’t call it hidden depth, because it isn’t–it’s actually quite blatant shallowness.

I’m quite fine with simplicity. Simplicity is the shmup formula, the success of Katamari Damacy, the joy of Bejeweled and Tetris. I’m no enemy to lighter fare. I have played so much Bookworm on my cell phone during my trips to the city that I see letter grids in my head. But I think there’s this “casual gamer” fallacy at work that I don’t believe gaming journalists should cater to; that is, that standards don’t apply.

That worries me. You might hear one journalist deplore the ever-growing supply of shovelware on the Wii one moment, and then glowingly praise a Wii game that wouldn’t get any attention on another platform. I am thrilled that we are welcoming new game players into our fold, and am thrilled that the Wii and DS have been at the forefront of this movement. But we’re not doing anyone a favor by lavishing praise on games that aren’t due any, and it worries me that we’re so quick to proclaim journalists that do so as champions of the “casual gamer,” a phrase that I despise and is, by nature, pejorative. Standards have been evolving; just because the newest owner of a Wii hasn’t been paying attention doesn’t mean we must ignore those standards.

I don’t know that this is an issue that can be worked out, and I think we do need to change to adjust for our growing audience. But I think dismissing progress is the worst possible thing we can do. It’s a scary tightrope to balance on, but I am not ready to assume that every puzzle game, or every title that features Wii waggling or stylus tapping, should be reviewed as if I am your 70-year-old grandmother. It’s hard to call Boom Blox a casual savior when fantastic game like Puzzle Quest, Lumines, and Meteos are better ways to spend money.

And in the end, reviews don’t matter to many of those folks, no more than Rogert Ebert’s opinion matters to my mom when she’s buying her ticket. Of course we want that audience, but we let them down when we recommend mediocre games; pandering to them is the ultimate betrayal. So yes, I do worry that misguided efforts to appeal to the supposed “new gamer” only hurt us and that audience in the long run. But I worry even more that the same “new gamer” will render gaming journalism irrelevant.

Overheard in Grand Theft Auto IV. Part 1: Existentialism

•May 2, 2008 • 4 Comments

“It’s physics, that’s all. It’s physics. Biology doesn’t exist—it’s a lie. You are a probability wave… in space!”

______________________________________________

I am also adding this clip to this post for no apparent reason.

Misgivings

•April 23, 2008 • 16 Comments

I got another pretty horrible piece of hatemail today over the Condemned 2 video review, which l found odd, since it makes one private message and two emails all in a 24 hour period on the subject. I am not very good at taking this stuff in stride, though I am much better at it than I used to be. This one in particular said the following: “I hope you aren’t being paid for this. Please, spare me the agony I suffer from every night thinking to myself that people like you are getting paid far more than someone like me who works their ass off. Or gets paid at all.”

I know that the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy for people to say awful and hateful things like this, but the nature of Kevin-ness is to take words at face value. I write for a living; I know the power that words have over people. In the large scheme of things, my words are quite insignificant, but I know that they still wield power over those that read them, in this case, by helping them decide whether a product is worth their money. In the case of charismatic heads of state, words can lead to genocide. I am neither very charismatic, nor am I a head of state, but I do take what I say in written form very seriously.

Not everyone feels the same responsibility, nor do many people care how their words affect others. It’s always surprising to me, no matter how much hate mail I get, because direct hatefulness is so foreign to me. Sure, I get angry at people, or I question the quality of their work from time to time, but statements like the one in my email today are so outside of my core being that I wonder what kind of awful blackness must drive someone to communicate it.

In the midst of negativity, the part that bothers me is the suggestion that I could get paid for doing what I do, when this guy is “working his ass off.” I suppose it’s pretty wondrous that anyone could be paid to write about video games, but there you have it. Indeed, I am lucky to do what I do. But at this stage, work is all I do. I play games for at work and write; I play games at home and write. I have spent numerous overnights at the office in the last few weeks, working as hard as I can and delivering the best work that I can. Not that I expect any random GS reader at GameSpot to know that, but it amazes me that anyone could take this one piece of content and make such an assumption about the overall quality of my work, or even worse, to assume that I am not working hard at what I do.

I wish I didn’t feel this occasional need to defend that work. Overall, I’ve managed to let go of most of this stuff, but over time, insecurities creep in. Some guy somewhere is getting his rocks off sending the fatass GameSpot reviewer the middle-finger in email form. He doesn’t think about what affect those words have, or worse, he enjoys the possibility that a human being on the receiving end could be bothered by it. The weirdest factor in all of this is that the video review wasn’t my brainchild, though I thought the idea was brilliant and I went along with it. And honestly, I enjoyed the result, and a hard-working video producer was up until midnight cutting that video. Questioning the video’s creative value is one thing, but questioning the integrity and worthiness of the individuals that made it is another thing entirely.

It’s possible that I will never be truly used to this kind of thing. Maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t know that ambivalence to hatred is a quality I want to possess. And Lord knows that having my grandfather kick me and my lover out of his house for bringing sin into it, and being beaten up in a rural Pennsylvania bar for being gay, were far more hateful things, and a lot less anonymous. But I suppose all these sentiments come from the same awful place in people’s hearts. I can’t imagine treating others with such contempt.

All in all, I feel I am good at what I do, and work has become the center of my existence right now. But my emotional nature isn’t always a good fit with the shit that gets lobbed my way. Gaming journalism and emotional sensitivity aren’t a very good pair, but it’s me. I won’t lose any sleep over it now, though six months ago, things like this would consume me. But they won’t ever stop bothering me, though I hope that they bother me less over time.

It’s the nature of the beast, as they say. My coworkers have generally harder shells than I do. My shell is more like that chocolate syrup you pour over ice cream and then hardens. All you have to do is tap it with a spoon to make it crack.