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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Games: Call to Duty



Libya is a country in northern Africa. Sudan is to the south, Egypt to the east, Tunisia to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Libya's flag has three solid colors running horizontally across its length, red on top, black in the middle, green on bottom. A white crescent moon and star sit center in the black bar. Its capitol is named Tripoli, the locals pet name for the city is, "The Mermaid of the Mediterranean."

In 1969 Muammar Gaddafi was a Libyan military officer that didn't like how the government was running things, so he convinced his military buddies to take over the country with him. He assumed office September 1st, 1969. Right after his inauguration he abolished the Libyan Constitution of 1951, deciding instead to make laws up as he went along. His hobbies include wearing silly clothes, hanging out with other famous dictators, and making people that don't like him go away.

The citizens of Libya got tired of putting up with Muammar's shit on February 15, 2011. They got together in downtown Tripoli and walked around holding posters on sticks that briefly described things they didn't like about him and the shit he pulls. Muammar was confused as to why they mad. Nobody ever said bad things about him to his face, so he figured he was a pretty good dictator. He chalked it up to a miscommunication, but just to be on the safe side he ordered his military to shoot or arrest anybody that had something to say.

The bad eggs had a feeling this would happen, so the next time they got together they made sure to bring sticks, rocks, or whatever else they had laying around. But the Libyan military didn't sweat it much because they were strapped. They told the bad eggs to go home, and when it became apparent the bad eggs weren't going anywhere, the military went ahead and shot or kidnapped anybody that had something slick to say about their boss. The bad eggs in turn started tossing stuff at anybody that still liked Muammar enough to do what he told them to do.

One day both sides said fuck it and began killing each other, because talking was taking too long. And that’s been going on for a while now, but is winding down because other countries heard about what the bad eggs were going through and decided to help where they could. They always thought Muammar was a dick, but didn't feel it their place to say so until someone that lives with him said it first. The bad eggs found out where Muammar's sons were hiding with the help of their new friends and arrested them. Most of Muammar's army has stopped helping him. Mummers must have been over his family and country though, because one day he grabbed everything he could fit in his car and dipped out, but they found him later and killed him violently in the streets without a trial. But I get where he was coming from, he was running a perfectly fine dictatorship for decades, then all the sudden everybody gets their feeling hurt.

The citizens of Libya will soon own a country, which means they have options. They may decide that everybody should be able add their two cents. They could decide that gods’ decisions are better than peoples, or they could just let somebody else like Muammar clean up the mess. Nobody knows what's going to happen because Libyans haven't had to make their own decisions for a long time and may have forgotten how to take care of themselves.

A video game about Libya will happen sooner or later. It will probably be first person shooter, but video game people also have options. A deity could hover above a bustling Tripoli, laying asphalt over dirt roads and clearing rubble from downtown streets. Replacing mortar shelled husks with farms, libraries, and schools. Maybe the deity populates the homes and roads with people that enjoy doing stuff that needs to get done. It could descend parallel to its project from time to time, taping citizens on the back to ask how they are doing or how they feel about the way things are going.

Or a rebel could sneak into military compounds to gather information, ducking military and sympathizers at every turn, searching for people stolen in the night by asking questions, doing favors, and deductive reasoning. Or a high ranking Libyan officer could talk his way into Muammar's inner circle, sowing dissent through speech option castle gossip, and misdirecting troop movements while pointing the rebels in the right direction, ultimately guiding them to their prize.

But it will probably be an first person shooter. Some buff dude with a pointy beard and ray ban shades to conceal his baby blues will stroll up Shari an Nasr shooting skinny guys in hipster scarves and beige camouflage onesies. He'll befriend this local cat that knows what’s going on and where everything is, but the local gets himself killed when he runs out of ways to help the big dude. About six hours in the caricature of a gay African prince shows up during a firefight to make a big speech. Bang, Bang, Bang, two to the chest, one in the head. Problem solved.

Nowadays any video game involving a gun is first person. Developers have a hammer so designers draw nails. Nails are a popular choice for any job because they are easy to make and come in a wide selection that all do the same thing. They plunge headfirst into any surface regardless of depth, and when the job is done the hammerer can recline secure in the knowledge he muscled up a construct anyone may enjoy at face value without forcing his end user to shoulder the burden of learning why the disparately complex pieces that form its whole go together. 
Ya did good, Libyans, best of luck.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Games: Arcades



It was only a matter of time until we became what we played. The arcade at its peak was both sanctuary and battlefield. You would walk in with your five dollars, do a lap around the dark room, taking in the sticky floors and soaking up the flashing lights and jarring sounds of bleeps, bloops, punches, tire screeches, and coded messages shared between fellow game players. They chat about everything from fighting game fatalities to rumors of your favorite company finally releasing your favorite game on console. Because after all, the arcade did what game journalists and the internet do now before anyone even knew that there was a need. It got us all together in one place and told us what we needed to know.

You would feed your dollars into the weird little box that would only work about 40% of the time. And if it didn't, there was always a twenty something guy milling about, ready to fulfill the task that the ugly machine had failed at. You could tell him by the half apron that constantly jingled when he walked, and the look of disdain he had when you made eye contact with him, because that meant that he had to work, and the only reason he took the job in the first place was to be around video games. not feed little kids quarters.

You grab your loot and once again look around the area, even though you know exactly what you want to play. So with your head down you slowly saunter toward the wall of people that circle shoulder to shoulder but quietly entranced behind two guys standing in front of a video screen that flashes harder and screams louder than all others around it. There is a fight happening. You have read about this fight, and practiced it yourself a few times in the arcade late at night when no one else was around, but never when it meant something. Your hands start sweating and your heart starts racing as your legs begin to move themselves close enough to get near the machine. Your arm shakes as you stretch out your hand and place a quarter at the base of the screen, next to five others in a line. Then you wait. 

Darwin would have you believe that Lan parties and online play would be the natural evolution of the arcade. People say that the arcade never really died, but that with the introduction of these tools we were all were rid of the hopelessly archaic need of "seeing each other" that plagued us in the stone ages of gaming. To this I would only ask that a person one day take the time out to visit any medium or large game company and ask where to find either the "code dungeon," or the "tester pit." Then visit a large Lan party like the one pictured above and walk those dark corridors.In both these places I believe you will see what Ebenezer Scrooge was showed by the ghost of Christmas future. Some fucked up shit.

They are all dark warehouses illuminated by rows and rows of video screens reporting the same images. And next to them sit rows of rows of expressionless kids with faces invisible to the darkness. Not really playing games,just manipulating those images for a response. As long as something, anything happens on screen its ok. It doesn't mean nothing.

Arcades were places of anticipation and excitement because you were under constant audit by your fellow game players. At anytime during play a person could stand next to you, put their money in the machine, and test your skill. And if you won you could look the other person in the eye, say "good game," and have that guy walk away knowing that you beat him in a fair fight. Or you could be a D-berg, just walk away from the machine and allow the peon to finish your round because you were, "bored." 

I am sure its all relative, and the future of online play will introduce something to entertain or inspire me enough to forget how much I miss the true social aspect of the games we play. But as of now I feel that technological advancements have taken us from playing the games we play for enjoyment, to constantly De-bugging the games for companies prepping the next release, patch, etc... We now just sit alone in a room, accountable to no one, accepting challenges from funny 1337 tags with no soul.








People: Over there by the bowling alley


A long time ago I was new to the city, so I relied on my buddy and roommate to show me the sights. He worked over on University in that office complex between the library and the bank. He grew up on Dale right where it blends into Upas and then into Pershing. I drove down Pershing everyday on my way to school.
On my way down Pershing I'd catch glimpses of Frisbee golfers, bouncy castles, joggers, and sunbathers in the park. Through holes in a fence I'd see dudes in funny clothes root through bags full of metal clubs looking for something to save par. It was my favorite part of the day because the ride felt like a theme park attraction highlighting the benefits of living in the beach city I used to see in movies and listen to my moms friends brag about when they came back from vacation.
My buddy and I lived on the corner of Louisiana across the street from a restaurant that made Georgian food, Russian Georgia, not America Georgia, I found out later. It was a second story two bed one bath that provided modest living at an indecent price. We called our landlord the terminator, he was about six five, two hundred fifty pounds, had frazzled blond locks and a wrinkled sun pocked face. His frigid baby blues seemed able to ascertain your current fair market value down to the change in your pocket and potential earnings if you were foolish enough to keep his gaze.
We learned to set our watches to his rent collection, and did so not to be there for them. We began doing this after the third month there when upon walking to our apartment from the back alley we stumbled onto what we thought to be another exciting installment of our downstairs neighbors weekly play titled, "Domestic dispute."
It turned out to be our newest neighbors, two pretty girls that had moved in a month earlier. They had found offence in the terminators monthly practice of going door to door collecting tithe like a Nottingham sheriff, and decided to tell him as much. This turned out to be the first month we had failed to scrape enough together to pay the man, and decided it a perfect time to explore the neighborhood.
So we started down El Cajon, stopping at this bar shaped like an adobe house and painted blood red. While my buddy was showing his ID to the bouncer I sat on a bike made of metal to smoke a cigarrette. My buddy ended up going in while I sat outside to finish up.
I watched young dudes and chicks with asymmetrically teased hair hop out of reasonably priced sedans wearing t-shirts with names of bands I had never heard of on them. A few that were waiting for the bouncer to let them in would ask me for a smoke and we would make conversation about music or art or the weather. Some asked me how I liked my bike. I told em that its safe enough but dosen't handle the turns so well, most got the joke.
Later we walked back up El Cajon near where it crosses Louisiana and went into this bar set into the right side of a hotel. The hotel looked like it was assembled from the cleanest parts of southern plantations and the bar looked at first glance to be a rally point for ex patriots and jazz musicians. We muscled up next to a fossil that had fallen asleep on the stool a few years ago without being noticed. A piano played old sad standards in the back by the booths, and I could smell a steak somewhere. When we left my buddy remarked that the vibe seemed like "A better episode of twin peaks," which isn't a good thing I guess.
We figured that even the terminator would have given up the search for us by then, but made one more stop to be sure. We walked across the street to this place that had a fancy liquor glass on its sign but inside everything smelled like beer and body spray. The floor was sticky and the TV's were full of big dudes throwing stuff at each other. I swam to the bar and asked for a drink, the bartender said, "Hold the bleep up, champ." So I decided to go out and have a smoke while I waited.
While I was out there a chubby middle aged guy in a blue sweater with a lightning bolt shooting across the middle swayed toward me and stopped about a foot from my face. He told me he had noticed my hat, I assumed he noticed because I like to wear hats with the initials of my home town sports teams on them. He let me in on a rumor he heard that many homosexual people live in the city my hats initials represent, and asked if I count myself among their ranks or am native to the city we were in.
I verified his rumor by stating that I am of the hats city and in fact many of those, and I leaned in close here and he did the same in kind, "homosexuals," do indeed roam free there, and although I am not of their honorable tribe I suggested in so many words that he may in fact be, seeing as he was interested enough to question complete strangers about them. He pushed and yelled and carried on after that, but nothing much came of it. My buddy came out during the ruckus and suggested we go home, so we did.
Much later I ended up falling in love with one of the girls downstairs that stood up to the terminator, and surprisingly she loved me back. We moved few blocks up El Cajon to an apartment on the corner where Illinois intersects thirtieth, where we still live to this day. Its a second story one bedroom one bath with a patio that provides modest living at a kinda silly price. The landlord is a old guy with short grey hair that drives a Buick regal and laughs at his own jokes a lot, we don't see him much. I told my buddy where we had moved, he said, “oh nice, so you live over by the bowling alley?”
I told him I hadn’t seen any bowling alley as far as my exploration had taken me. He explained there used to be a popular bowling alley on the corner of Meade and thirtieth. He said that back in the day the alley would host parties and music events there. He said one night it would be a scene where guys with spiked hair painted green and tight fitting clothes with steel spikes jutting out of them would bounce around off tune to live music, and the next night it would be filled with students full on beer and hormones groping each other hidden by black lights and the crashing of seven ten splits.
He said they demolished it a while back because homeless people would give everyone a hard time, and patrons got so drunk they would forget that people lived around there and had to go to work the next day. Later I passed by where he said the alley was and saw a condominium for old people with a big chain coffee shop sticking out the bottom of it, but sure enough farther down and stuck in a walkway of the condominium was a sign that said “BOWL” in an old seventies drive thru font and another sign above it shaped like an arrowhead. In the middle was a guy wearing a headband with a feather sticking out.
She and I have been living here for a while now and we like it well enough. She works as a chef at a restaurant over on Adams across the street from the park. I work way up in Miramar helping to make video games for little kids. I like where we live because it’s easy to get on the eight oh five in the morning. I can make a left on Meade then a right on thirty second to a freeway onramp only locals seem to know about. I drive by this guy walking his daughter to school across the overpass every morning and if I don’t see them I know I’m late.
She always seems to be telling him the most exciting story ever and he just walks with her book bag slung over his shoulder smiling and responding to her with his hands as if he is helping her finger paint. I never had occasion to talk to him but I assume he is walking her up the block to the elementary school wedged in between Oregon and Idaho. Seeing them do this everyday makes me feel like I used to when I rode down the hill on Pershing that spit me out downtown, but different because I never saw myself in the people down Pershing.
I felt they were able to lazily stroll the city's bounty, picking and choosing the freshest and most savory portions, while us foreign surfs shanghaied by promises of sun and sand toil away in heat day in and day out preparing their feast. But watching those two happily go through this ritual every morning gives me the feeling that the city’s epidermis pales in comparison to its innards. We surfs live warm and slow and happy even when everything seems all about the people just passing through. One day his daughter will get old enough to walk alone, or we will move again, and that’s ok.

People: The Bomb Farm


A medium time ago I worked for the navy on an aircraft carrier. I was an aviation ordnance man, we dealt in bombs, guns, pyrotechnics, rockets, missiles, and torpedoes. But mostly we dealt in bombs.

We assembled bombs, moved bombs from place to place, or guarded bombs until ordered to put them on something leaving the boat. I spent my entire naval career hanging around explosives.

A completed live round had two yellow bands painted around its nose. Two blue bands meant the bomb was inert. Basically just a big rock that would never be anything else.

Live rounds included a complex system of safety blocks, and required an insane amount of applied pressure to trigger a reaction. If assembled and maintained properly there was an astronomically small chance they would blow up prematurely, even though they had the potential to do so. They were designed to sit around until it was time to get to work. A very specific pattern of mistakes were always the culprit if a yellow band bomb went off before it was supposed to, or not at all.    

The last stop on the boat for live explosives was a flight deck staging area called the bomb farm. During combat operations the bomb farm became a sea of yellow bands. The only difference in them being size, shape, color, and kinetic potential.

I assembled, protected, and drove around most of the bombs that ended up there. And now it was time for them to leave the nest. But I was more nanny than father. I played midwife, babysat, then put the kids on the bus. Luckily at that point in their development they were very low maintenance, so my job was pretty easy. When they left the boat they became someone else's problem.

One day a pilot told me the bomb I loaded on his plane had successfully neutralized the bunker a high ranking general was hiding in. I asked him if the bunker was in a populated area or out in the desert. He responded, "Why the fuck do you care? We didn't hit Homoville."

Homoville could have been the target for all I knew. He might have been mad at me because the bomb was ordered to destroy Homoville but hit the ground like a lazy rock instead. He figured since I raised the bomb its on me, I made a mistake somewhere down the line and the bomb failed at the only thing it was ever taught to do. I tried to stay positive about the situation, at least the general and his bunker are neutral because I managed to raise one bomb right.

I never knew what was going on there, e-nothing squids were only told enough to get the job done. The internet, laptops, and cellphones were regulated, and ship television only aired sitcoms, sports, or highly edited music videos. This was done so external influences wouldn't make us angry enough to kill someone prematurely.

Out to sea when not at work I hung out in the ships arcade playing the Soul Calibur or Marvel vs. Capcom coin ops, or in the library reading books left laying around. As in when a bookshelf tipped due to bad swells the fallen books would stay in a pile on the deck until someone came along, dug through the pile, and took one away.

I spent my entire naval career around bombs and don't remember seeing any cool explosions. But at least life was simple, bomb goes on the plane, plane comes back empty. Bravo Zulu.


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