The Pre-Thanksgiving Reckoning

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, which means that I need to start thinking about organizing my year-end lists.

I’m gonna be honest with you; right now everything’s a bit of a mess.

My games list is basically trash; I bought a lot of games but barely finished any of them, and there were long stretches this year when I was utterly disinterested in anything I was playing.  I’m kinda-sorta back in the swing of things now, but it’s doubtful that I’ll finish – or even get close to finishing – the stuff that will appear on everyone else’s lists.

Music-wise, well… I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but as I have no short-term memory and since this is my own personal blog and I can talk about whatever I want, please indulge me if I’m repeating myself:  I simply don’t listen to music the way I used to.  My commutes are too short to properly digest albums, and now that my day job has turned off access to Spotify, I don’t really get to listen to music during my down time.  Most of what I’ve listened to this year is my Discovery playlist, which continues to have a very high batting average; my Favorites From the Discovery playlist is currently 120+ songs deep, and that’s pretty much all I listen to.  Some of my favorite artists released very good albums this year, but I couldn’t tell you what they were.  (Indeed, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have released four (4) albums already this year, and they’ve promised a 5th before year’s end; I feel tremendous shame that I still haven’t finished my album, which is almost 3 years old at this point.)

As for books – I can probably do a pretty good Books list this year.  I have found that the most effective and most enjoyable form of escaping the news is to get lost in really good books, and as such I’ve enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read this year, and I’ve managed to read quite a lot – far more than I expected to, at any rate.  I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do the Goodreads challenge next year, although I should note that setting the bar artificially low removes a great deal of self-imposed pressure.


On that note, I just want to give a brief shout-out to John Hodgman’s “Vacationland”, which I devoured yesterday and which I can confidently say is one of the best books I’ve read all year.  Rather than the very funny fake-trivia books that he’s famous for, these are memoir-ish essays about middle age and parenthood and home ownership and nostalgia and they are all very funny and they ring very true.  Hodgman is not just a funny writer – he’s a very good writer, which makes his comedy that much more effective; he crafts his prose with pitch-perfect pacing.

In other book news, I finally finished Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal and the White”, which was absolutely brilliant except for the ending.  Not that the ending is bad, from a narrative standpoint – it’s ambiguous and unresolved, and that’s OK – but rather it’s very sudden, as if Faber simply ran out of gas and decided he couldn’t write another word.

had intended to start the new Brandon Sanderson, but instead I read this LA times review/overview of John Crowley and decided I needed to read everything he’d written.  I’ve been missing David Mitchell’s fiction something fierce, and it sounds like this might be a suitable stop-gap.  So I’m at the beginning of Little, Big, and we’ll take it from there.


My son and I beat Super Mario Odyssey last night.  Which is to say – we defeated Bowser, skipped past the credits, and now we are back in the Mushroom Kingdom, ready to do whatever happens next.  I’m not sure who was more excited.  Every time we found a moon, he’d jump up and give me a high five.  We evolved our play sessions over time; at first he’d control Mario and I’d be the hat, and eventually we decided that every time we landed in a new area, he’d get the controller and run around and see what there was to see, and when it was time to actually do stuff he’d give me the controller, and then when a moon showed up he’d grab the controller back and collect it, and then we’d high five.

Lots of high fives in our basement over the last week or so.  It made me very, very happy to be able to share that experience with him.  I know I’ve said it a zillion times here, that I inadvertently skipped over the classic Nintendo era in my childhood, and so I’m glad that Henry gets to make up for it, and that I get to participate.  Indeed, he wants me to participate.  For the last week, you can tell that he starts getting excited as he gets closer and closer to finishing his dinner, because he knows that as soon as he brings his empty dish to the sink we get to go downstairs and play.

I never had that.  I didn’t expect it, of course – video games were a new thing when I was a little kid, and I never expected my parents to be engaged with it.  (Nor did I particularly want them to, for that matter.)  But I’ve loved gaming since I was 5 years old, and now that I’ve gotten Henry interested, it’s something we’re going to be able to share together – just the two of us, a father/son thing – for a long time to come.


At some point I’m going to write my thing about idle clickers.  Because I have a thing for idle clickers, and I appreciate that it’s somewhat ridiculous to have a thing for idle clickers.  In any event, I just wanted to link to this thing about the upcoming Clicker Heroes 2, and how the developers decided to do away with the free-to-pay / pay-to-win thing specifically because it bothered them, ethically and morally, and I think that’s pretty amazing:

Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused. In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress. Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.

We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. They are known to the industry as “Whales”. Great. If you’re rich, please be my guest. But we don’t want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. Unfortunately, those who have a problem are usually in denial about it, and would be too ashamed to ask us for a refund. We would give the refund in a heartbeat. It’s not like we have artists drawing each ruby by hand. It costs us nothing but payment processing fees.

We really don’t like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that’s what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite very few of our players having complained, it felt wrong when we started doing it and it still feels wrong now.

I am one of those “whales”, and I’ve had to reckon with that quite a lot over the years, going back at least to the halcyon days of Farmville.  Even as recently as a few weeks ago, I’ve forced myself to delete a ton of apps off of my phone in order to resist the temptation to buy boosters.  (Needless to say, I didn’t even bother taking Battlefront 2 out of the rental envelope, loot boxes or no.)   So I’m grateful that a game developer is, at the very least, cognizant of this phenomenon, and that they’re directly changing their development philosophy because of it.  I should also mention that I still have Clicker Heroes running in another tab at this very moment, because – as noted above – I am insane.


Have a wonderful holiday weekend, everybody; eat, drink, be merry, sleep late, and don’t discuss politics.

 

Weekend Recap: Dismantling the Patriarchy and Playing With Expensive Toys

Well, it took a little while, but I’ve finally caught the cold that’s been running around my house for the last week, and I’m very fortunate that I’m out of sick time and vacation time at my day job and also that my day job is now suddenly extremely busy with very time-sensitive stuff and the acceptable margin for error is even more nil than usual.  The timing couldn’t be better.


So I’ve been reading Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which is an absolutely gorgeously-written book about some rather unfortunate subject matter, given the recent news developments about how all men are trash.  I don’t mean to be flippant about that, by the way – men are fucking trash, and if there’s one good thing about the disastrous Trump presidency it’s that the patriarchy might finally come crumbling down, and good fucking riddance to it.

I don’t think my own actions have been as horrific as, say, Louis C.K., but that doesn’t necessarily get me off the hook; I was a shithead in my 20s, and I didn’t know that I was a shithead at the time, and it sucks.  Facebook has that little “memories” thing and it was almost exactly 3 years ago today that I went back and re-read my college diary and was simply aghast at how shitty a person I was, and the whole thing still makes me nauseous.  All I can do, now, is raise my son to be a better man than I used to be.  I’d like to think that I’m at least a halfway decent man now, and that’s really only because of a concerted and conscious effort and my eternally patient wife straight-up telling me when I’m unconsciously mansplaining or being a jerk.


As noted above, I’ve been kept away from writing here for a while.  I’ve been wanting to pop in here and write about, oh, I don’t know, my new Xbox One X and how my son and I have been playing Super Mario Odyssey together, which is really all I’ve ever wanted to do with him.  Let’s start with that, then, because it’s wonderful.

Henry loves Super Mario Odyssey.  We’ve been playing it in 2-player mode, where he’s Mario and I’m the hat, although he’ll hand me his controller when he needs help getting to a tricky place or when there’s a boss fight.  And more often than not he’s just happy to watch and show me where to go, and when we collect a moon he goes “YES!” and gives me a high-five, and it’s like, man, this is the best.  I’ve said it here a million times – I never had a Nintendo system in my house; I had an Atari 2600 when I was a little kid, and then my younger brother had a Sega Genesis, and so I’ve never had the Nintendo nostalgia that everyone else in the world has.  But seeing my kid go nuts over Mario is awesome.  I’m so happy to be able to share this experience with him.   (In fact, when I was getting him dressed this morning, he told me he had Mario dreams, and he couldn’t wait to play some more with me tonight.  Plans = made.)

As for the Xbox One X:  well, look.

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I don’t (yet) have a 4K TV, but I can tell you that the difference between the OG XB1 and this new XOX is night and day.  It’s much quieter, everything loads much faster (even the stuff that hasn’t received “enhanced patches” perform better – The Witcher 3 loads at least a full minute quicker than before, and it seems to perform much smoother too), and the stuff that has received updates is even more pronounced.  Wolfenstein 2 on XOX, in particular, makes the OG XB1 look last-gen.

I’ve been spending the most time with Assassin’s Creed Origins (heretofore AssOrgy), and yeah, that game looks really nice.  I’m still in the early going – I’m only level 15 or so, and I’ve just gotten to the Hippodrome – but it has a wonderful sense of pace to it.  Feels a lot like Witcher 3, actually, in all the right ways, and this game’s open-world structure seems to suit the nomadic player character quite well, in that it makes sense for him to be wandering around and picking up missions here and there, helping out where he can.  I’ve seen some chatter on Twitter that while people like AssOrgy, it’s not necessarily a great Assassin’s Creed game; I suppose that’s a fair assessment, given that the “assassination missions” feel a lot less scripted than they used to, but overall I really like the direction this game is moving in.  In fact, the only bits that I’m finding myself missing are the environmental puzzles, though supposedly that element starts to show up a bit later, once you reach Giza and the Pyramids.

I understand that there’s a fair bit of confusion as to who the Xbox One X is actually for.  I can tell you this:  it’s for me, the Xbox fanboy who has been disappointed by the performance of the Xbox One and wants a comparable experience to the PS4.  And who also has a little bit of extra cash (or doesn’t care about excess credit card debt).  Is it necessary?  No, probably not, but I don’t regret my purchase in the slightest.  It makes my existing library look and perform drastically better than it did, and so I’m all for it.  If you’re looking to take the plunge and upgrade, I would highly recommend buying an external hard drive and backing up your current Xbox One and moving all your games over to it first, as it makes setting up the X1X a twenty-minute breeze.  (For whatever it’s worth, this is the one I have, and I bought it because Major Nelson uses it too, and it was on sale at the time.)

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