Friday, May 30, 2008

Bang Your Head

Although this particular topic has been blogged about and commented on ad absurdum, I thought I would give a stab at arguing with a few of you who seem to have nothing better to do than complain about a few of us.

I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday with a few friends of mine, when the subject of getting together for a “Rock Band” night was discussed. For those of you who don’t know what “Rock Band” is, you might want to consider yanking your ill informed head out of the sand for a few minutes to glance around at the culture surrounding you. For those of you who know the game, and maybe, have played it a few times, can relate to someone posing the statement that was posed to me.

“I’m opposed to that game! I play the guitar, and it doesn’t make sense to me, why won’t people just pick up an instrument and play?”

For those of you who have posed this argument in Internet forums and amongst your friends, I suggest that you not only find more interesting things to argue about, but let it go. The game isn’t going away any time soon, you aren’t going to convince anyone not to buy the game in lieu of an actual guitar, drum set, or microphone. Besides, you are missing the point of video gaming entirely.

Gaming, like any form of entertainment, is a mode of escapism. It is a way for us normal, everyday plebes, to experience things that we normally wouldn’t experience. In other words, entertainment, in all of its forms, is a channel to live out our own personal nerdish fantasies, without the messiness of things like shark bites or prison sentences.

In the case of “Rock Band”, we get to pick up and play a guitar, drums, or microphone without the complete embarrassment or frustration of incompetence though six months of practice, lessons, DVD’s of Esteban, and sour versions of “Three Blind Mice”. It’s simply a grown up version of ‘let’s pretend’, especially for some of us who might just be musically retarded (me), to the point where even watching colored bars scroll down the screen and banging on a fake drum set is an impossible task. (I have had the game since launch, and as of yet, am still unable to complete any tracks on the drums - on easy). I’m not a musician, I know this, I’ll never be a musician, I have no inclination to put the time and money into something that I will suck at for years, and I’m totally ok with this fact.

Neglecting the fact that the game is, in fact, inspiring people to go out and pick up real instruments, the argument doesn’t make any sense when held up as analogous to other examples. Military shooters such as “Call of Duty 4” and “Rainbow Six: Vegas” are as popular, if not more so, than games like “Rock Band”. These games are reality-based simulations, situations that are more plausible and easier to experience in the real world than starting a successful band from scratch. I play and enjoy the hell out of these games often, but I have yet to hear anyone suggest that I should join the military and ‘experience what it’s like first hand’.

Simply put, these games we play are experiences, but not necessarily things to which we want to devote a good portion of our time or lives. We want to see, feel and enjoy the exciting and fun things we see in them, without having to make certain sacrifices. This is the fundamental reason we play games, watch movies, TV, and read pieces of fiction.*

One thing that I find as troubling as the statement in whole is the choice of wordage used. I understand ‘not liking’ a fictional piece of entertainment, I even understand ‘hating’ a movie, but being ‘opposed’ makes no sense, especially in this particular context. Being in opposition of something implies that it makes a statement or takes a position that you are adamantly against or find offensive. Unless there is another cut of the game with cut scenes that make political or moral statements that I am not aware of, there’s nothing in the game to oppose. Saying that you are opposed to a video game that makes no statements, implicit or implied, is akin to saying that you are opposed to a color. You may think that hot pink is horrific (and you should), but no one is going to protest.

For those of you who think that people who play “Rock Band” or “Guitar Hero” should just go out and get an instrument and learn to play it if we want to know what it’s like, I suggest taking a look at your shelf. Gloss over your DVD’s, books and games to see which experiences you simulate or passively watch from the comfort of your living rooms. Count the number of these things that you can do in real life, but are extremely difficult to accomplish.

For those of you who enjoy these games, I only have three words…

*Exceptions, of course, would include bowling and fishing games, which are just plain stupid.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

'I Don't Carry Cash'

Culturally, there are quite a few things, both good and bad, that one will notice when they move from a town barely large enough to have its own university to one whose university is the size of their hometown. Some are beneficial, museums, restaurants, and 24-hour stores-a-plenty tend to litter larger towns. Not having to go on wild goose chases every time you are looking for something specific makes life simpler. The ethnic diversity found in larger places is enlightening.

Some things, however, are disturbing. Increased crime rates, pandemic idiocy, the sound of gunfire and police helicopters will keep new residents up at night. Nothing seems quite as disturbing as the rampant homelessness and panhandling that seems to take place more in the city than in a town.

My first experience with Tucson upon moving from the village that is Flagstaff came in the form of a quick walk to a Circle K that was conveniently located within walking range of the dorm in which I was moving. When approaching the front door of the building, a gentleman of unknown ethnic origin asked me for a small amount of change. Like the naïve schmuck that is every 18 year-old, I gave him a handful of change I happened to have cluttering my right pants pocket.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a fairly sympathetic person to the blight of the truly unfortunate ones who are trying to get themselves back on their feet, but there is only so many times you can watch a sympathetic mother of three, trying to buy food for her brood, get harassed by a beggar for some change, only to come out of the store ten minutes later to find the same man concealing a new bottle of ‘Premium’ vodka and sucking it down when he thinks no one is looking. My sympathies only go so far.

The fact is, that if you are truly looking for help, you can’t walk into a state, local, or federal government facility without tripping over an agency whose sole purpose is to feed, clothe, and shelter hardworking people who have hit a string of bad luck. Not to say that these agencies aren’t abused as well, but that’s a subject for another blog altogether. The fact is that my good, hard earned, money is already going into social programs and non-profit organizations to help these people. Call me heartless, but the last thing I feel a compulsion to do is to give my money to a stranger so that he could use it to vomit in an alley behind a convenience store.

Compassion only goes so far. I’m certain that mine turned into annoyance over a period of a couple weeks, shortly after moving to Tucson. Amidst meandering back and fourth on campus, going from dorm to dorm a gentleman in his late thirties approached a friend of mine and asked him for a few dollars to get a bus ticket home. A good friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, drunkenly felt sorry for the man and gave him a $20 bill. The man appeared to be grateful, and left us to go about our business.

Over the next few weeks, walking about with different friends, I repeatedly passed over the same part of campus to find the same man with the same story, simply trying to get a bus ticket to Texas. Considering how long he had been perched at the same location, I am willing to bet that he had garnished more than enough cash from loose-pocketed college students to get a plane ticket to Tahiti, had he felt like traveling. More than 6 times, he approached my friends and I, every single time, my friends gave him money. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the man was more likely than not simply a fraud.

A few months later, as a sociology experiment, a group of U of A students bought a handful of clothes from Goodwill, messed up their hair, threw some dirt on their faces, and sat on the medians of busy intersections across Tucson, begging for money. To the surprise of the students, they were able to collect more, on average, than they were earning in their real part and full-time jobs. Some of the students actually considered quitting their real jobs in favor of panhandling. Shortly after the experiment was publicized, Tucson Police Department heard of the results, and panhandling on the median of busy intersections was outlawed.

Aside from the one or two occasions when I was on a date and wanted to make myself look like I was the sappy caring type, I learned to simply give the panhandlers nothing more than a, ‘sorry, I don’t carry cash’ and go about my business.

Being polite and turning these people down worked wonderfully, that is until I dragged my crap back to my hometown of Flagstaff to find some of the most aggressive, blatantly intoxicated, assholes I have ever met in my life. These aren’t the ‘politely asking you for change as you walk in or out of a store’ types that I encountered while living in Tucson. I have, on more than one occasion, been followed into and out of stores, to my car, approached getting out of my car, and out of all places, in front of a restaurant that is literally across the street from a soup kitchen. In not once instance, was there any reason to believe that they were simply trying to get enough money for a meal. Every single one who has approached me in Flagstaff was staggering, slurring, and had alcohol on their breath.

For anyone who is looking for an at home version of this experience, and plays games such as I do, rent or buy the game Assassin’s Creed for the XBOX 360 or the PS3. Start walking around the poor district of Damascus and try to get anything done without being constantly assailed by beggar women asking for money. This is the only comparable experience I can imagine, except in real life, there are consequences for throwing a panhandler in a wall, or shanking them and leaving them for dead.

My personal tolerance for the situation reached critical mass one morning last week. I was minding my own business when a visibly drunk man (marked by his inability to stand up straight and a brown jug in his right hand, labeled with three X’s) proceeded to place himself directly on a path between my intended location and myself. The man probably wasn’t privy to the fact that I was already 10 minutes late to work, and already in a mood. I can’t fault him for that. Something that he should have picked up on however, was that the path he was standing on was in fact, a street, and I was in my car as I tear-assed down the icy road trying to get to work.

The light was green, and as I approached, I honked and waved in an attempt to get him out of the way. He refused to move out of the crosswalk, so I eventually had to slow down. I waited for him to approach my door then drove off again. Not particularly attached to a random stranger, I had no intention of seeing him injured, no matter what I thought of him. Plus, aggravated vehicular manslaughter tends to raise your insurance rates.

I may be cold at times, but I’m not cold hearted. The thing that disturbs me most about people who would rather drink their lives away than becoming a functional member of society is the lack self respect. No thoughts as to the family and friends that worry about them, no desire for greatness or even so much as a name for themselves. Nothing but lost potential, and a parent’s lost dream of their child having a better life than their own.

Friday, August 31, 2007

...'Cause I Wrote Something and Thought Someone Besides My Prof Should Read It...

For as long as I can remember, I have heard varied opinions from teachers and professors regarding the subject of what literature is. I always understood their points of view, but never quite agreed with them. Although I agreed with most readings that they considered being literature, I rarely agreed to why they were. To me, there always was far too much emphasis in analyzing nuances between the lines, and trying to determine if the author was making a political or social statement. To me, what makes a book a piece of literary work is much more subjective, and much simpler.

In the morning, when we get into our cars and turn on our radios to begin our commutes, we often hear meaningless songs. They might have a catchy tune, but they are superficial in nature, meant for no more than monetary gain. Less often, we happen across a song that reminds us of a family member who has passed, a girlfriend who cheated on you, or a missed opportunity. We feel a connection to the musician, we can relate to things they are singing about. We feel emotions, not as a society, but as a person. Some might argue that literature discusses politics, society, religion, or the human condition. In my eyes, literature is about the condition of being human.

For me to consider something a piece of literature there is no need for iambic pentameter, no need for rhyme or structure. Quite simply put, I want to feel. I want a book that will make me forego much needed sleep to finish a chapter. Not just because I want to know what happens next, but because I can sympathize with the main character, and I want to see him or her thrive. I want to be excited when I know that the protagonist is going to pull through, and I want to be depressed when he or she doesn’t. I want to resent the antagonist, but still relate to them in some way.

Literature doesn’t need to be analyzed. It gratifies instantly. I can’t put it down, because it makes me laugh out loud. It makes me sad on a personal level. Literature isn’t limited to stories, or people and places. When reading scientific texts, I often find myself in awe of discoveries being made, and imagining the possibilities.

The difference between literature and any other text is the difference between a blues song and a pop song. When listening to a blues song, you know that the artist feels his music. When reading literature, you know that the writer feels his words. Literature creates a deep and emotional connection between the reader and the writer, using the printed page as the medium.

What I read isn’t a political statement. It has no moral or societal implications, nor should it be a judgment of my character or who I think should be in charge. What I consider literature is a reflection of the way I believe that most people see the world, not as nations, cultures, societies, or any other types of groups. We see the world as a large place that’s hostile and often isolates us. It is a foreboding place, where humans, despite our best efforts, repeatedly make the same mistakes. When I read, I want to know that others feel the same way I do. It makes life easier, and makes me feel less alone.