Category Archives: Video Games

Birth, School, Work, Death

OK, so my reference to the Godfathers’ song from 1988, is a bit melodramatic, but what is teenage existence if not melodramatic? Plus, it’s my solemn duty to reference anything 80s, anytime I can.
My kid had a crash course in adult life this week. First he got yelled at by yours truly for not handing in assignments and a lecture about doing what you are supposed to, even if you don’t feel like it. Senioritis has reached an acute stage, and I can use that word because I work at the hospital.
A few days later, our beloved hamster, Marble, who has gotten me out of more than one blogging jam with his cuteness, decided on Wednesday that his allotted two years were up. As one friend said, Marble has moved on and will  forever be remembered with his cheeks stuffed with seeds and carrots. Even though this is hamster #3, the kid was still sad. I am too, truth be told. But we didn’t have too much time to mourn, because at the end of that day, we got word that the kid had received a local scholarship, and we’d find out details at a ceremony next week.

Thursday started with a visit to the vet for Marble’s cremation and ended with a 2-hour wait to get the kid fitted for a tux for the prom. Yes, my gaming, independent kid decided to go to the prom on his own to see what the fuss was all about. On the way to the fitting, he confessed he was nervous and wasn’t sure what he was doing. He also knew the ticket had been bought and the tux rented and there was no going back. If that’s not a “welcome to adulthood” situation, I don’t know what is.

The next day he got dressed up, looked awesome, and I drove him to the prom fashionably late. We agreed he could call me at anytime to come rescue him, and it took him a few minutes to get the courage to open the door after a brief strategy session. I then headed home and sat waiting though the next three hours like a firefighter waiting on the next call.

When I finally got the call at the end of the night, I was jubilant, or perhaps slightly delirious — it had, after all, been an intense week. I thought, “He stayed until the end, he must’ve had a good time!” Of, course, this is my kid we’re talking about, and he tends to lean more to the glass half empty way of viewing the world. I picked him up, and he proclaimed the experience, “Meh.” However, we did have a good discussion about his expectations, and that not everyone has a fabulous time at prom or in high school for that matter. I argued that the main takeaway should be him giving himself credit for facing his fear of going to prom on his own and going. He seemed to feel bad that he probably wasn’t going to have any nostalgia for his high school days, and he compared it to my nostalgia for 80s music. I explained that my love of 80s music and the memories I have of say, my friends and I hunkered down watching this new, amazing thing called MTV — 20 minutes of moon footage interspersed with the Buggles singing “Video Killed the Radio Star” — had really nothing to do with high school. Except that I was a high schooler during that time. I pointed out to him that his nostalgia would be around the video games he’s played with his friends. His spirits seemed to brightened at that idea.

Which is good — growing up means getting your own nostalgia and appropriating anyone else that’s interesting. Long live the 80s.

 

 

Nerd Nirvana at PAX East 2015

This past weekend was our annual visit to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the Boston gaming convention. This is my fourth year taking my son who is now 16. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—my hand-eye coordination was formed before gaming was popular, and I don’t work well under pressure, even when it’s supposed to be fun. However I can do credible damage with Ms. Pac Man.

This year we pulled out all the stops, logging in 13 hours on Friday and 12 on Saturday. Most of that was due to the screening of the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) movie on Friday night and then waiting two and a half hours to have the filmmaker and You Tuber AVGN James Rolph sign the PAX East badge and the movie poster. It was an Olympic-level test for both me and Lucas: I was making a monumental effort not to clock the only annoying person in the line who would NOT stop talking loudly, and Lucas was battling the leg pain from standing for 12 hours (they are called muscles, he should use them more). We both survived.

This year brought more people dressed up as game characters, although I only recognize Mario and Zelda. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. We saw a couple of panels of well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. Some parents spend many hours over a season watching their kid play sports. I efficiently get all my hours logged in over a two-day period. Seems like a nerdy good deal to me.

A Nerd by Any Other Name

“You’re not a geek, mom,” said my teen son in the same tone a snooty maître d’ would use to dismiss a commoner. I had made the cardinal mistake of using “geek” and “nerd” interchangeably. “Well, then I’m a nerd,” I countered, ready to flash my Vulcan sign and attest that I had attended a Start Trek convention featuring Gene Roddenberry in the mid-70s. And don’t make me break out my version of the “I walked 20 miles in the snow to school” story:  I belonged to the Math League and my friend and I were the only two kids who ever carried books on our high school bus. We often feared for our lives among the pot and cigarette smokers, which included the bus driver.

My son gazed back at me, unimpressed. It’s bad enough that I struggle to keep up with technology, have to eat better and exercise more just to keep my middle age body the same, but now I couldn’t even keep up with being a nerd? What the hell was happening to the world? And more importantly, how could I lose my nerd status now that it was cool? Back in my day, you just had to dress up like a Star Trek character for Halloween and be smart, and bam, you were a nerd. Granted most people tried to avoid that label, but for those of us who couldn’t, we tried our best to embrace it. Now, according to my son, there are different rules and distinctions to being a nerd vs. a geek. He went on to patiently explain them, but it was my turn to glaze over. At some point there was a whole subsection about his group, being a hard core gamer. Since he was eight or nine he has loved video games—playing them, reading about them, watching videos about them, and following the industry news about the companies that make them. But by then I just nodded my head and smiled: a nerd by any other name is still a dorky cool person outside of the mainstream.

Which brings us to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the annual gaming convention that was in Boston this past weekend. We started going when he was 13 and it’s his third year. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—when I was a teen, only the rich kids could afford gaming consoles, and I was not one of those, nor did I especially want one. Occasionally I would mess around with Ms. Pac Man, but I was more into reading books and watching Star Trek. Yeah, that’s how old school nerd is done.

Sadly there were no Star Trek characters at PAX this year, but some people dressed up elaborately as video game characters. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. One cool one we saw was on how to curb hatred in the gaming community—the anonymity of online gaming allows people to say some pretty nasty things. The panel talked about how positive gamers need to step up and set a better example. That panel and others feature well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. I’ll wait a moment while you digest that. Ok, ready to go on? You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, and lord knows I can’t play anything, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. As one You Tuber commented, “My family still doesn’t understand what I do for a living.” Many artists and writers and other creatives can relate to that. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. For a few years when he was younger, I hung out on soccer fields and little league bleachers to cheer him on. In the cold spring weekday evenings. The chilly fall Saturday mornings. In the rain. In the wind. During playoffs that always seemed to happen during a scheduled vacation. I definitely prefer supporting the out-of-the-mainstream activities, especially if they are indoors. If that isn’t proof of my nerdiness, then I’ll meet you at the Boston Star Trek convention in June. I know my Spock ears are around here somewhere.