Monthly Archives: May 2005

Familar Strangers

The elderly lady that walks her grey poodle in the morning. The two kids that run school, ten feet ahead of their mother. The woman who always collapses her side mirror when she parks her car before having a cigarette and can of pepsi for breakfast as she walks to the Metro.

They are strangers that I see every day, and they’re almost like temporal landmarks. For instance, I know I’m late to work if the car with the collapsed mirrors is already parked.

Sometimes you hear about them secondhand, like the Korean on the Red Line that used to sing Christian Hymns in between stops, although I haven’t heard about him lately.

I never knew his schedule, either.

'da Hood

Back in the neighborhood. Things were a little different. Playtime was on the street, with frequent shouts of “car!” I wasn’t there, but I heard that Denver once broke the tree in the Ruiz’s front yard. They had hit a tennis ball into the lone, spindly tree. Despite their best efforts, the tree refused to let go of the ball. Denver, in his exasperation, started shaking the tree violently. It broke at the trunk (it was a young tree) and the ball managed to stay in the branches, even though Denver was now holding the remains of the Ruiz’s tree horizontally.

“Uh oh.” I imagine Denver there, the only one of us that had to shave on a regular basis, holding a tree in his hands. The image makes me laugh, on the inside.

When he turned around, everyone was gone. Of the dozen or so kids playing in the street, they had all managed to turn into ghosts. Denver turned around in time to see one of the garage doors closing, the ankles and feet of his friends disappearing beneath the lower edge of the garage door.

I never did find out what happened after that. I never got around to stopping by the Ruiz’s place since they were further away. That, and I might be forced to tell them what I knew about the incident.

There was another time, I almost lost an eye. One of the older kids had rigged up a rock throwing rifle out of a dowel, a loose board from his fence, a clothespin, and a lot of rubber bands. All I remember is turning around and a small piece of gravel hitting me just above my right eye. I think it was the same kid that taught us all how to make switchblades out of three popsicle sticks and two rubber bands. I don’t know why we sharpened sticks on our concrete. We just did.

We had knife fights with those sharpened sticks then, saying that we’d stop as soon as someone drew blood. Nobody got hurt though. At least not that I know of.

Vegas, baby.

It was a little odd coming back from the desert. Disembarking the plane, I found the air cool and damp, even what little I could feel from the tiny gap between the plane and the platform. Dulles airport seemed quiet, and it’s not quiet at all.

I found that I missed neon lights and ringing slot machines. I missed outlandish, near stereotypical representations of real world places. I missed television screens six blocks long. I missed buffets.

Where were the pirate ships? The indoor canals with singing gondoliers? The fountains of chocolate? The floral displays in my lobby that change daily?

On the other hand, I’m now far, far away from men who wear too short shorts with black socks and middle aged women that bare their midriffs. Far from the masses of poorly highlighted hair, miscreant children, and people that proudly wear mullets and mesh ballcaps.

On the other hand, perhaps not so far away.

At least Vegas had that chocolate fountain going for it.

Just so you know

Here’s the stuff you want to see about the xbox 360:

Short Gist video from Our Colony. If you have five minutes to spare, this is a good watch.

Official fact sheet. This is the scary part.

Three 3.2 Gigahertz core processors.


Xbox live for free out of the box. Every single console.

With these specs, it’s hard to argue that it has the brute processing power to make things look nice. The user interface you see in the video doesn’t look horrible either. Notice that the specs point out that the hard drive is upgradable. Maybe we’ll see an 80 gigabyte drive down the road.

MicroSoft is selling the 360 as the Unified Box of Entertainment. They want you to do everything with this box. Listen to your music, watch your movies, and play your games. Then, you can get game invitations when you’re doing any of the other things.

Videogames are already a push technology. Every single game on the 360 supports HD Televisions. The push to HD television looks like it’ll be led by MicroSoft.

Also, kudos to MicroSoft for wireless controllers as the standard. It’s about time.

A Gamer of Some Import

I’m walking down K Street at quarter to ten on a Tuesday evening. It’s cool for a DC summer night, and the walk back to the hotel is a brisk one.

I’m alongside Constance Steinkuehler, a researcher who focuses on learning and cognition. Of late, her research focuses on MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) and the forms of learning, thinking, and social interaction within the context of those games.

Tomorrow, we will be presenters at the Online Computer Library Center’s Annual Meeting.

Tonight, she’s geeking out about God of War with me.

“Did you play the sex minigame?!”
“Of course I did!”

We’re walking alongside a few other people from the OCLC. Some of them pause and ask us about what we are talking about. We start to explain the scene, and the gameplay elements. More than a few giggles escape when we talk about rotating the analog stick first one way, then another way, then all the way around.

Someone jokes about the sex minigame and her husband.

Constance and I continue talking about God of War. We rave about its unapologetic faithfulness to the spirit of Greek mythology, and its place as possibly one of the best morality plays, ever. Kratos is a morally ambiguous protagonist.

He is definitely not a hero.

We talk more about the blood and the nudity.

“This is probably not the sort of thing we should show at the presentation.”
“Probably not. But I have the sanitized trailer.”

We talk about how the game reminds us both of Prince of Persia with better implemented combat. We move on to other games. She chides me about the fact that I’m playing Jade Empire.

“I’m surprised you like Jade Empire. That game is really girly.”
“Tell me about it. Whenever Dawn Star gets angry at me because I haven’t talked to her in a while? Please!”

But then we go back to God of War. I almost spoil it for her, and she tells me that she’s only three or so hours in. She may have been stuck at one point, but she’s going back to it. I mention the fact that it’s only about eight hours, but it’s a good eight hours. I complain about single player games that are longer than 40 hours.

“I will suffer the worst abuses in MMOGs, you name it—grinding, crafting, whatever. But as soon as I’m in a single player game and I come to a stopping point, forget it. You’ve lost me.”

She makes an interesting point. I’ve quit a lot of single player games at around the eight hour mark, unless they had something spectacular about them. MMOGs, I play for a ridiculous number of hours. Sometimes I get nothing done, but I still put in the hours. It has to be the social aspect.

Too soon, we reach the Hamilton Crowne Plaza and everyone heads into the hotel. It’s an early start tomorrow, and there’s plenty to talk about.

I reflect for a bit on on our conversation on cab ride home.

I remember that in a conference call two weeks earlier, Constance approved of my game choices, specifically pointing out that I was most definitely, “a gamer.”

Now, I return the favor.

Videogames are fighting against an outdated perception. There are people who only see games as violent, morally corrupting, time wasters with no redeeming qualities.

These people have never felt the music in Rez, never watched Aeris die, never used a bomb to find a secret door, never dance danced, never fought their way back from the brink of defeat with a crash gem, never had an impressive KO streak against their best friends, never leveled an assassin only to lose them by not logging in, never read how a particular super hero ended up in Paragon City, never helped two young orcs find their way back to Orgrimmar, nor have they ever, ever in their entire life—rolled a Katamari.

And I do feel sorry for them.

Certainly, there is still a long way to go before videogames are as accepted as books, cds and movies.

But as a person who enjoys videogames, it’s good to see a gamer like Constance fighting against this outdated perception.

It’s a good thing she’s on our side.