A number of short essays on a number of subjects follow.
- Yeah, I picked up Grand Theft Auto IV. I’ve played other games in the series and despite its reputation for being vile, its primary objectionable content comes from two things: One, it has a very colorful approach to dialogue with most if not all characters taking the Quentin Tarantino approach to phrasing and two it has a sense of humor I’d commonly associate with thirteen year old boys in medium sized groups who think there aren’t any parents around. My interest in the franchise is rooted mostly in the oddly compelling way in which the game’s story unfolds considering the developers take great pains to allow you an enormous degree of freedom at any given moment. You can certainly play the game as if it had no plot to speak of (and it’s actually only the last two or three that have really made the narrative effective) and many people do. But when you experience the game as if it were a long, meandering Godfather-style crime drama, it shows some remarkable resilience as an escapist bit of entertainment.
I said once that I thought GTA would be better if they discarded the juvenile fledgling criminal premise and since then other games have come along and done precisely that, following GTA’s loose blueprint for open-ended environments with optional narrative elements woven throughout. Last year’s unexpected marvel Crackdown, for example, flipped the tables and cast the player as a superhuman crime fighter ridding the city of its seedy underbelly in a sort of destructive, Dirty Harry fashion. The equally surprising Gun also did something similar with a wild west theme making the player a kind of bowlegged stranger moseying in to clean up a lawless frontier.
If you wonder why I continue to play GTA despite its environs not being precisely my cup of tea, understand that these other games lift their playbook directly from the most recent Grand Theft Auto game so they hold an appeal largely due to their genre innovation. Except something I noticed playing IV is that even in open-world games (called “sandbox” games by hobbyists) where you are cast as a good guy, there is always a sort of anti-hero edge to the proceedings. I think this is because these games are equating freedom with the ability to be a pill in their created worlds. If you think about it, the open-ness these games are providing isn’t really from the fact that you can re-order the missions you accept (you could do rudimentary variations on that theme as far back as the NES days) and it isn’t about just wandering around a large but defined space. Adventure games have given us the wandering ability for decades. Instead the freedom, whether in Crackdown, Gun or any other sandbox-style game lies in your ability to torment AI-controlled characters of no consequence. It’s in the way you can blow things up that don’t require destruction. It’s in the fact that the developers put options in the game that aren’t devoid of consequence but that give the (perhaps mistaken) impression of mischief. Even as a super-cop in Crackdown, you spent most of your “freedom” either terrifying civilians with your destructive power (ostensibly only to be directed at the criminal element, but you were of course free to blow passerby apart as well, if you didn’t mind being “reprimanded” by your virtual employer) or climbing up onto buildings where no human should be able to reach.
Some people like to point at this controlled mischief and say it encourages real-world emulation. I can’t say I agree but I also don’t exactly ruffle my feathers to defend the games because the cop-out standard party line of “it’s only a game” conveniently ignores the truth which is that if there weren’t some perverse joy to be had in the ability to whack a virtual pedestrian with an SUV because he’s wearing a dippy shirt, the games wouldn’t have much of an audience. In effect the mischief is the hook, even if the most recent game finds a certain zen by making the option almost more appealing than the act itself and framing a well-told story within the confines of that premise. No one who wasn’t already nuts would play these games and think, “It’s on my TV so it must be an okay thing to do.” But anyone who says the potential for senseless carnage isn’t significant is lying to themselves about why they play.
- I missed the San Jose Sharks game on Friday. It was purely accidental; my TiVo has difficulty handling the hastily-scheduled playoff games and the several-hour HD broadcasts are too taxing on my limited disk space to make the typical set-it-and-forget-it principle of TiVo worthwhile anyway. Plus, I enjoy experiencing the games as close to real time as I can anyway. But on Friday I simply lost track of the time and when I did finally remember, the game was long over.
I was relieved to see that they had won in OT, something they seem to have a hard time doing in the playoffs as a general rule, but it was a tempered relief.
When the team dropped game three, I groaned and made some remarks about their lack of drive and determination. Nik took me to task at the time, saying how poor of a fan I was for not believing in them despite the long odds. “Isn’t being a fan rooting for them no matter what?” she asked, pointedly. I conceded at the time that she had a case but inside I felt it was coming from someone who didn’t really understand. She hasn’t grown up as a sports fan in the Bay Area. She hasn’t been pulling for the Sharks since their inaugural season. She hasn’t watched the Giants find spectacular ways to lose just on the brink of ultimate victory.
But I do appreciate the sentiment she offers. How can I not be considered a fair weather fan if I let my cynicism born of years of disappointing seasons color my encouragement of a team that certainly carries within its roster the skill and talent to pull off the nearly impossible? Yet I continually find it a challenge not to fix my disdain directly on the team itself. The truth is they do have the talent, so why have they gotten to this unmanageable position of requiring a herculean four-game winning streak just to forge ahead? You can say they’re halfway there, but you also can say that they didn’t do it in a convincing manner. I see the glass, I see that there are equal parts liquid and empty space, but it’s difficult to fixate on the remaining contents and discount the void.
My brother suggested via Twitter that should the Sharks win on Friday he suspected they could go all the way. At most all I can say for now is that I hope he’s right. I desperately want him to be correct, but then I think of the facts. Only two teams have ever rallied from 0-3 series deficits to emerge victorious and the last case was 33 years ago. Put another way, such a feat has never occurred in my lifetime. Also, this mandatory win in game six must take place in Dallas but more significantly the final and crucial game seven has to be won at home, a place where other than Friday the Stars have essentially owned the Sharks for the better part of two seasons, including these playoffs. And finally, I understand that the teams are painfully equal in terms of talent and drive. I wish I could hope for a 5-1 massacre tonight or Tuesday but I fear the best case scenario is another 3-2 nail-biter or at best a 2-0 defensive showcase. But that equality leaves precious little room for the unknown variables: Officiating, momentary lapses of concentration, lucky bounces, hot opposing goalies, you name it.
I know they can do it. I’ll be pulling for them to be that team, to enter the history books. I want them to make it happen, I’m just not quite ready to believe that they actually will.
And maybe that’s the problem.
- I think about my career sometimes. Through an unexpected series of choices, curveballs and luck I’ve arrived at a position where I make a comfortable living despite not having the most impressive educational background. I’m competent at the job I’m asked to do and I generally make a favorable impression, mostly through subterfuge I fear, with my employers. But I work as hard as anybody who, you know, sits down for a living and I can’t complain too loudly about most of it.
The only thing that trips me up sometimes is the fact that while I do well and feel good for the most part about my working life, none of it is really what I feel like I’m meant to do. I started with a short stint in an accelerated occupational school for graphic design, hoping at the time to put my interest in artistic endeavors to some kind of practical use. I did okay at it but quickly found that it was a hard way to make a living and transitioned semi-naturally into an unexpected area of interest with web design. The step from web design to web development (focusing more on the technical side of building web sites than the artistic) was fairly smooth and from there I found an endless well of fascinating challenges along the lines of programming, system administration and technical support.
But I find that here in this unintentional place I’m encountering the same basic stumbling block I did toward the end of trade school which is that my natural ability has hit its peak and further development would require a level of interest and a desire for enlightenment that I cannot feign. As with graphic design I have just enough raw ability inherent to be a so-so field journeyman but not enough drive to hone my skill to the point of being a true asset to anyone, much less myself.
I find myself at a bit of a crossroad. On one hand my primary marketable skill is an ability to glean a surface level understanding of any complex system fairly quickly. I also have a pretty broad background in technical and design work so my self-evaluations have resulted in thinking that I might be decently suited for management. There is some interest in me to pursue that avenue; it allows me to maintain my current course and use the skills and experience I already have while furthering my career without demanding a huge commitment of time and resources. But on the other hand it doesn’t necessarily address the fact that my main source of job dissatisfaction comes from being in a field that interests me in a vague intellectual sense but doesn’t offer a lot in the way of personal enrichment. It will only ever be, I fear, a mere job.
On the other hand, I’m so well entrenched in this sector that any course re-direction would require the aforementioned resource dedication be it schooling or blind transition with the almost certain financial implications. I’ve toyed occasionally with pipe dreams of magical wishes coming true and having unlikely dream jobs like novelist or musician or freelance weirdo essayist. But when I switch off my wandering daydreams and examine reality I find that what I really want is to provide for my family which suggests that I may be happiest just where I am. I also find myself asking from time to time whether my creativity hits a roadblock when evaluating myself. Perhaps, I think, there is a job out there that meets all my criteria for perfection that I’ve never even considered. I certainly didn’t entertain the notion of being a NOC Engineer ten years ago. Maybe I’m missing something.
Or maybe, I’m not missing a thing.