Currently residing in Portland after attending Portland State University and earning a bachelors degree in communications with aspirations of working in the videogame industry in some capacity, preferably as a writer. I've always wanted to work in the industry, but I'm really not into the idea of 70 hour work weeks while on the development side of things, so I'm looking for alternatives. I'm 24, a big Portland Traiblazer fan, and I've been enjoying my newfound post graduation freedom quite nicely. My all time favorites include Metroid Prime, Yoshi's Island, Sonic CD, and Metal Gear Solid (The whole damn series). I haven't really been involved heavily in a gaming community for a few years now due to a crazy schedule, and I look forward to getting to know all the fellow uber nerds here. Come to my blog for high quality reviews and the occasional rant.
The goals I have set for myself are not easily attainable. If they were, we wouldn't be living in the middle of something as ludicrous as an obesity epidemic, and it's blatantly clear why we are: Our existences have become increasingly sedentary, with most of our jobs and hobbies involving a lot of sitting and staring at a screen. Meanwhile, mad scientists in secret underground lairs have scientifically formulated the food we consume to be as cheap and addicting as humanly possible, which means deep frying beef, potatoes, and various corn products, then injecting them with as much salt as possible. Frankly, I'm amazed the situation isn't worse when you consider you can get your entire caloric intake for a day from your goddamn brunch in this country.
This is especially true in a place like Portland, where men on the street try to sell you things like deep fried hamburgers and chicken & dumplings housed in an ice cream cone. I had all of these things working against me when I was at the peak of my weight problem. I was a pizza delivery driver at (ugh) Papa John's, which meant 90% of my job was sitting. And when you're a broke college student, free pizza four days a week doesn't seem too bad until you have to start shopping for new shirts. Also losing weight kinda puts a damper on that whole “socializing with friends” thing, especially when bar food is slightly above nuclear waste and slightly below swamp mud on the list of things you should probably avoid digesting.
The point I'm trying to make is that this isn't a matter of me turning on my Kinect four times a week and magically turning into Channing Tatum by June. It's just one part of the lifestyle renovation that needs to take place for the dramatic results I hope to achieve. No more late night runs to the 24 hour hotcake house with my roommate for eggs Benedict. No more permanently stocked mini fridge full of RC cola in my room. No more free pizza. Missing a workout is off the table. My current post-college existence of flingin' pie, playing videogames, and debauchery fueled evenings is far too kush to not be able and squeeze in a run. It's simply inexcusable.
So this is to help you get a better idea of everything else that is going into this outside of the videogame itself. I'm a little more than two weeks into my current program with Nike+ Kinect Training, and the next entry in this series will begin the dissection of its still beating heart to laud its fantastic highs, its puzzling quirks, and one simply infuriating bug. This is more about my diet, and the smart decisions I try to make on a daily basis to maintain a well balanced lifestyle.
But before that, I feel I should put forth a disclaimer: I ain’t a nutritionist, or a doctor. Nobody in the fields listed above were consulted in any way on my diet or regiment, and I pretty much made it up by doing some research online and simply thinking about healthy things that I like to eat. So please don't sue if you choke on a grapefruit.
When I decided to map out my food intake, I wanted to stick with a couple of themes. Firstly, it had to be relatively inexpensive. Now I say relatively because, after changing my eating habits to almost completely remove take-out food, the amount I’m spending on food has dropped dramatically. Wanna get pissed at yourself? Get receipts for every meal you eat not from the grocery store and tally it up at the end of the week. You may be somewhat surprised and revolted. Even when I buy mostly organic products, at the most my food is costing me around $60 a week compared to the $100 or so I was dropping when I was eating at the thai place across from my house every other day. Those meals add up fast.
The other main theme is one of simplicity. Not just in the types of food, but in how easy they are to prepare, handle, and transport. There's a very primal feel to a lot of the food I'm eating. Fruits, veggies, beans, rice, chicken, milk, oats. IE: shit that comes out of the ground that we've been eating for thousands of years for a reason. They're easy to produce, all house vital nutrients, and are, for the most part, delicious. Also you don't need a cookbook for a banana. I'm big on foods that only require hands to properly eat.
Then there's the protein powder.
Protein is super important for muscle generation and maintenance, but unlike fats and other nutrients, your body doesn't have a way of storing it, so daily intake is key. The average adult male needs about 50 grams of protein a day, but if you happen to be 6 foot 2 inches tall with a big frame and you're working out six times a week, that number is probably closer to 70. You'd need to eat around eleven large eggs to get 70 grams, so my low calorie, high nutrient diet isn't exactly conducive to meeting or exceeding that number on its own. Whey protein shakes are a super efficient way to insure your body is getting enough protein, and unfortunately the bro culture that surrounds them has clouded how people look at them. I still feel this slight jolt of douche run down my spine whenever I head to the check out counter with two drums of this stuff. The MuscleTech jug in the picture above is the brand I use the most because its the right mix of price with quality, as the cheap brands tend to taste like cement sprinkled with cocoa powder. It's probably the most expensive aspect of the diet, as a month's supply of brotein works out to around $36, but it's vital.
The day always starts with a pink grapefruit. It's stocked with vitamin C, antioxidents, and it supports strong joints and can dramatically lower the risk of heart disease and prostate cancer. And, as a kid who grew up on mega warheads, I find their intense sourness to be quite dilectable. Then I'll have some Total whole grain cereal in fat free organic milk, which is all kinds of good for you. I also take a daily multivitamin
LUNCH Sometime after breakfast is usually when I end up working out, so lunch is usually where the brotein gets involved, as I'll usually down a double shot of it immediately after a run or a Kinect session. The shake works out to about 340 calories and 60 grams of protein, so it's fairly substantial. I'll usually accompany it with a banana and an apple, or I'll grab the oat silo and get some oatmeal in.
Resisting pizza while working at Papa John's was probably the most difficult part of the whole ordeal when I went through this last year. Literally piles of free pizza with managers begging you to take it home with you. Granted, my roommates were very thankful, but it was extremely annoying to deal with. Luckily, my college degree has enabled me to finally break away from being a driver at Papa John's. Now I work as a prep cook at a local, far nicer pizza establishment. Hey at least I upgraded jobs! Most recent college grads can't even say that.
The free pizza bit is true here as well, but unlike the corporate pizza factory I worked at before, I now work in a fully stocked kitchen capable of making much more than pizza. So, after looking at the potential health benefits of every ingredient in the store, I came up with the super salad you see above. It's mostly spinach (superfood), with carrots (iron), onions, chicken breast (protein), garbanzo beans (great fiber source), apples (superfood), almonds (superfood), and cuccumber (negative calories). Furthermore, I'm in charge of making the salad dressings at our restaurant, so I'll make a little batch of our spicy Asian dressing without the oil just for myself. It's super tasty and it gives me something to eat at work that isn't pizza. You can taste its goodness. Best of all: it's free. Every time. It's a lot easier to stomach eating the same dinner over and over again when it doesn't cost you anything, and my non workday dinner of baked chicken, steamed broccoli, and brown rice mixes it up when I need something different.
How To Snack While Gaming
Hey man just because I'm dieting doesn't mean I don't value the importance of having some grub handy while in that extended XCOM session. But it doesn't have to be a bag of Doritos, a 6-pack of Mountain Dew, and a pizza. May I suggest some carrots? A bowl of grapes, perhaps? That's a little bit of a stereotypical diet answer, so how about something you probably like: Popcorn. Specifically, air-popped popcorn, which has tons of antioxidants and fiber, and a giant bowl of it probably only contains 200 calories or so. Furthermore, it's insanely cheap. You can buy popcorn kernels in bulk for about as much as dirt, and you can get an air-popped popcorn machine for under $20. But don't destroy your healthy snack with a half stick of butter! Instead, sprinkle nutritional yeast and cayenne pepper all over it and douse it with some soy sauce for a super tasty and guilt free dose of game fuel. The cayenne pepper actually speeds up your metabolism.
The Mountain Dew may be the hardest thing to replace. I drink a lot of green tea, and the theanine in tea will lower your stress level after you stupidly kill your captain by blindly running into the alien crash-site. Really, other than brotein and occasionally tea, I drink tons of water, which brings me to quite possibly the most important tool at my disposal during this process:
The Big Ass Water Bottle (BAWB)
BAWB has been tethered to me since January 1st. It's actually a two quart juice dispenser ideal for kool-aid consumption, but its proven very useful in my goal to drink 100 ounces of water a day. It's big, sturdy, the cap doesn't pop off easily so it doesn't spill, and I don't have to fill it up every fifteen minutes. It's with me when I play games, it's with me when I work out, and it's next to me right now while I type this. Instant refreshment within arms reach nearly at all times. It's a good way to control cravings too, as a swig from BAWB could save you from an aimless trip to the kitchen. In short: BAWB has my back.
The thing I want to stress about changing your diet is that it's easier than you think. People often cite the convenience and speed of fast food or already prepared meals as their primary reason for eating them, quite frankly that's a bunch of hogwash. It doesn't take a lot of time to start throwing down on some fruit and vegetables, and other than the chicken dinner which does take some time to cook and prepare, most of the food I eat takes no time to prepare at all.
This is the most important part of the process. All the work I do on the road and in the basement would be for nothing if I ruined my workout with a cheeseburger afterward. Also it feels great knowing your putting in such great fuel for your body after sending it through the proverbial meat grinder. Like I said, no scientific studies were conducted to check the validity of the nutritional statements listed above, but hopefully someone could pull out a few nuggets of wisdom and start down the path of better health. Anyone else here have a specific diet they follow? Let us know how you fuel yourself and maybe what I could be doing better in the long run.
I'm pretty sure that's the noise that came out of my mouth the morning of Janurary 2nd after day one of this grandiose experiment. I fondly remember the act of actually rolling out of bed onto the floor because my legs hit the snooze button when the rest of my body started to wake up. My shoulder started to make noises that I'm not sure a shoulder is supposed to make. My stomach, starved from a whole day without some sort of greasy sandwich or a packaged snack with wonderful flavored powder substances sprinkled on top, demanded sustenance.
And that was just day two.
Anyone who has recently started to work out somewhat seriously after an extended period of general slothery will probably remember how much the first week sucks. Imagine every muscle in your body at the office, getting coffee, bragging to each other about how great their fantasy team is going to be, then getting a sound kick in the ass as word comes down from the boss that it's time to be productive for the first time in years. Needless to say that there's an adjustment period for both sides.
Nevertheless I was excited to get back on the wagon and wore my aches like badges of honor while I tied up my shoes ready to hop back in to Nike+ Kinect Training. Last week I laid out my plan towards a better-er version of myself, and how I hoped to accomplish this by primarily playing a video game. I'm sure my mother would be so proud.
DAY ONE: Meeting Mr. Molden
After redesigning my basement and lighting setup to create a more perfect Kinect play area (which is something you shouldn't be forced to do and probably isn't feasible for most of the people reading this), I thought it was best to get everyone's favorite camera controller thingamawhatsit calibrated and make sure it can read me properly. In my previous work out escapades, the Kinect sat about five feet off the ground atop of my TV, but since then I've upgraded to a very flat flatscreen, so perching it back up there wasn't an option. Now it's underneath the TV about three feet up, so the viewing angle needed a slight adjustment. Then, figuring this game was going to potentially be played four times a week for the next six months, I went ahead and installed the game to the hard drive to maximize performance and keep the console quiet (ish?).
The first thing I did in the game was sync my Nike+ account so that I could track my Kinect Training activity alongside my runs, which my iPod keeps track of, then syncs to the site when I plug it into the computer. You can then go onto the Nike+ website and set goals, compare your stats with others, and keep track of personal milestones. This extra layer of connectivity is easily the neatest part of the whole process. As of this writing I've earned 2,571 Nikefuel points (whatever the hell that means) with 1,223 coming from my runs and 1,348 from Kinect Training.
Right from the start, it's clear that Nike+ Kinect Training, from a production standpoint, is leaps and bounds above the other Kinect fitness games I have played. EA Sports Active 2 was a port of a Wii game, so it wasn't exactly fun to look at, the music was horrendous, the menu's were clearly designed for a WiiMote in mind, and its “pristine desert locale” reminded me of some sort of lame fat camp in suburban Phoenix. THQ's UFC Personal Trainer was another game I burnt some calories with last year, but its extreme emphasis on all things bro almost turned me off of it completely.
Very little of that can be found here. I actually grew up about three miles from the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. It was always kinda jarring as a kid growing up in a small suburb knowing the home base of one of the biggest corporations on the planet was tucked away behind a wall of hills and trees right by the Costco on Jenkins. I remember taking a school field trip there and playing soccer in the big field by the front gate. As a delivery driver in college, I hauled $100 worth of pizza to the Bo Jackson Sports Fitness Center inside the main campus. While collecting the money, I'll never forget walking by some sprinter running on a pristine, white treadmill from the future with a baker's dozen cords and hoses attached to her, making her resemble some sort of strange science experiment.
This game makes me feel like I am at the Nike campus. Everything from the modern look of the environments to the font used in the menus has the shoe giant's prints all over it. The music is a pleasant blend of uplifting but never obtrusive beats that fits the decor of the game perfectly. The game is also filled with professionally made live action video to show you many of the game's features. There's a distinct goofiness to other games of this ilk that is completely gone here, and it shows that everyone involved from Microsoft to Nike to British developer Sumo Digital were on board with the idea of creating an authentic, slick, consistent, and polished mystique.
Once you decide it's time to get moving, the first step is to select your trainer. Your two choices are former NFL cornerback (and former Oregon Duck) Alex Molden or Nike Master Trainer Marie Purvis. This is another section where Nike+ is, so far, excelling over its competition. I cannot tell you how much I hated my trainer in EA Sports Active 2. I can still hear his medicated, Canadian voice slowly telling me the benefits of cooldown exercises. Both Molden and Purvis are both obviously exceptional personal trainers who know how to properly motivate and play the part, so both of them come off as enthusiastic, prepared, and extremely natural. Furthermore they are also exceptionally well rendered, as their in game avatars are easily the most impressive character models in any fitness game to date.
So being a dude who likes football and finds the idea of ogling at digital interpretations of women to be kinda creepy, I went with Alex. I figured a guy who had to chase down Jerry Rice for a living has to know something about staying in shape. The next step is setting up your personal plan. Nike+ runs on four week cycles, and at the start of each one, you'll select if you want to get strong, get lean, or get toned as a general guide for the coming weeks. Wanting to lose some of the gut earned from the holidays and start my regiment with improved cardio, I decided to get lean.
It's at this point where you assume the role of guinea pig, as Nike+ then sets you through a series of tests to check your mobility, flexibility, and general fitness level. My mind was somewhat blown when the game informed me I tend to favor my left side, which made sense given how I recently avoided using my right arm for just about anything over a four month recovery period. This is the kind of precision that helps to make this game feel as right as it does. After the tests and your initial fitness exam, the game shows you your first Fuel Print. It's a 100 point scale that measures overall fitness and athleticism. The day one results pegged me with a rating of 44 on the fitness side and 55 on the athleticism side, which felt pretty good considering the current average of a male age 18-25 is a 36/44.
Day one wrapped with me implementing my schedule for the next month. The plan is to play the game on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday while running Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday is my day of rest (if you count working in a busy kitchen for eight hours as “rest”) where I'll also occasionally bend the rules of my diet. If I want a some pizza or a coke on Saturday, I'll have some. Moderation is the name of the game here.
Nike+ certainly left a great first impression. It's clear that Microsoft was obviously shooting for a next level fitness game and everything from this first encounter made me excited to hop right back in the next day (until I rolled out of bed, that is). I wanted this entry in the series to focus mostly on the introductions, so I'll be talking far more in detail about the workouts themselves and how well Kinect reads my movements next time. I also plan on giving a full rundown of my current diet in that entry, so watch for that too. For now, know that I am optimistic. I see a goal that I feel is attainable and well worth the trouble, and I look forward to the upcoming challenges. It's not going to go perfectly. I'm going to miss a day, or I'm going to give in and get some sort of blue cheese bacon burger at a bar one night with some friends (Which is going to be sooooooooooooo damn good), but I'm confident that I have the tools necessary for success.
John F. Kennedy once said, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I look forward to the hard part.
I can’t think of any singular object associated with videogames that has had a more profound effect on my life than the Kinect. Just typing that seems preposterous. People hate the damn thing, and for good reason. It was gutted right before launch by its corporate overlords to cut costs, which crippled many of its features. The library consists of countless examples of hastily put together mini game collections, very few of which are entertaining, and much of that entertainment probably stems from it being broken and you having a good laugh about it with your friends. Furthermore, the handful of games marketed to suckers as the “Hardcore Kinect experience you’ve been waiting for!” have ranged from mildly entertaining but still kinda obtuse (The Gunstringer), to some of the most vile, busted, infuriating, and downright deplorable games of the last few years (Steel Batallion: Heavy Armor). It’s ugly, It takes forever to start up, and Microsoft’s need to make everything Kinect Friendly has made the XBox Dashboard into a cluttered mess.
And through all of the bullshit associated with this thing, it still managed to change my life.
On December 31st, 2011, I weighed 255 pounds. Years of playing videogames as your primary hobby and a diet consisting of the cheap nuclear waste most college students eat on a regular basis will do that to you. It was starting to effect my back, I couldn’t run more than probably 150 yards, and my arms were about as toned as my grandmothers. I’d show you a picture, but frankly, I don’t have any. I hated how I looked, so I avoided photographs like the plague, and it was starting to get to me emotionally. After an…ohh lets call it an enlightening experience on a basketball court, enough was enough and it was time for a change, so I cut out soda, cut out fast food, kept the diet simple, and set a course for better health.
However, as someone who, for better or worse, tries to find all the answers he seeks within videogames, I bought two Kinect titles to facilitate this endeavor: EA Sports Active 2 and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved. Gym’s aren’t my kind of place, and the Kinect still intrigued me a great deal a year ago, so I wanted to see if a video game could indeed help you lose weight. It turns out the answer is a resounding yes, depending on a few factors. If you commit to playing them six days a week for six months while also eating a lot of broccoli and baked chicken breast, then yes you can. The secret to weight loss is that there is no secret: do a bunch of aerobics and don’t eat like shit is pretty much all you need to know. Your success is based entirely upon your commitment and personal discipline, and by mid June, my commitment had paid off in the form of a scale that read 198 pounds. I was under 200 pounds for the first time since I was eleven, and it felt incredible. My confidence got a huge boost, I felt fantastic, and for the first time in a long time, I was proud of myself.
Then this happened:
That bitchin’ scar is the aftermath of a bicycle crash that left me with a shattered collarbone. Frankly, it could have been a lot worse, but the severity of the break required a titanium plate be fused onto my clavicle so that it would heal and function properly, which pretty much ended my workout routine. My entire upper body was damn near useless for two months, I couldn’t work, and my doctor wouldn’t clear me to even run for three months. In short: it was devastating. Not to mention my previous plans for a Summer filled with all kinds of debauchery got thrown into the wood chipper. Then the old habits started to reform. My new job at an upscale local pizza restaurant meant I was given all the free pizza I could eat, and when you’re beyond poor after a prolonged stint of unemployment, you’ll take whatever scraps one will throw at you. Then I started drinking soda again, and sure enough the scale read 210 pounds a couple weeks back. I was told you can gain it back just as fast as you lost it, and seeing that unfold was demoralizing.
Now the last thing I’m going to do is let myself fall back into the same hole because of a bump in the road. my collarbone is fully recovered, the doctor has cleared me for physical activity, and now I’m ready to take it to the next step. I’m no longer fat, but I’m hardly in optimal shape. The gut is still there, as are those ever-present man boobs, so there’s clearly room for improvement. But now I’m going to do the thing I should’ve done last time: Tell the world of my excursion. I used to write as a freelancer in college for a couple of video game websites like GamesRadar, and I had grandiose visions of working in the video game enthusiast press full time, but I pretty much stopped writing after I got sick of being forced to play such well executed and fun titles as The Fight: Lights Out and the Wii port of Sid Meier’s Pirates! I’d like to think this dream could still become a reality, so this blog will also serve as an archive of my writings and general musings over gaming at large. Losing weight and getting into shape was last year’s resolution, and since that was so successful, this year I will work to instill the same level of discipline I used to lose weight towards becoming a better writer.
And this is my first project. Nike+ Kinect Training has been heralded as the finest fitness videogame ever created, and while this may be true, I’m still skeptical. This skepticism doesn’t come from the game itself, but rather the fact that I find any review of a fitness game from a traditional gaming media outlet to be patently absurd. It took me months to form concrete opinions about EA Sports Active 2 and the other fitness games I played, and reading a review written by a guy who most likely played it for five days max and went back to his cheetos binge just seems incomplete. That’s not what you’ll find here. I plan on running Nike+ through all its courses for months on end, and only by seeing the real world results and comparing it over the long haul to my other fitness game experiences will I be able to tell if this game is indeed the one fitness game to get. I’ll be updating this project on a weekly basis while tracking my weight loss and reporting my findings. But there were a few things that needed to get done before that could happen.
DAY ZERO: PREPARATIONS
That room right there is where all the magic happens. I live with two roommates, and as anyone with a Kinect will tell you, space is a premium. Luckily they don’t seem too keen on hanging out much in our cold, creepy basement, so I kinda turned it into my game room. But it didn’t used to look like that. It was a mess a few days ago, and while I still had an adequate amount of space to play Kinect fitness games, it wasn’t quite enough. Nothing like stubbing your toe on a table or tripping on your sofa while jogging to remind you of the technical limitations of the Kinect hardware. So for round two, I did a little renovating, moved some stuff into the garage, moved the couch to the back wall, and hopefully that will give me more freedom.
For the record, the Grim Reaper and the Unicorn posters were there when I moved in.
Anyways, Nike+ recommends an 8×8 square play area, but hopefully that rug will provide enough space, because slipping and falling onto bare concrete is not my idea of a good time. The room is quite large and dark, so lighting was also a major problem the first time around. So I changed out the dead fluorescent bulb and equipped my lamp with high wattage natural lighting bulbs to alleviate this problem. I say problem like this is my fucking fault, but this aint a me problem. It’s a Kinect problem. I’m already sucking down the kool-aid Microsoft is serving due to my dramatic weight loss, but I’m guessing around 10% of the people reading this have the space and capability to properly play these games. If I hadn’t hit double sixes on the housing dice roll and ended up with this kickass basement that nobody in the house was using, this whole project would have probably never happened. Lemme know if this is feasible to do in your household in the comment section.
Then I started to spend money.
For another record, one of my other new years resolutions is to be a little more frugal with my money, but the actual outfit was a gift from my grandparents. They gave me $100 to get a new workout outfit, and after some thrifty shopping, I got the shoes, socks, shorts, and the shirt for $99.88, which made me feel like I had won some game on The Price Is Right. My old, cheap shoes were just that, so they needed to be replaced, and I decided that if I was going to keep down the workout path that it was time I started to dress the part. The clothes are durable, lightweight, unobtrusive, and very comfortable. The thermal underpants were $20 and actually were suggested to me by my testicles, who really got sick of going into hibernation every time I went on a run in the middle of February. The game itself was on sale for $35, so overall things weren’t too pricey.
But I then made the wonderful decision that, yes, going without much food for the last half of the month and endangering my ability to pay rent so I could buy an iPod was in fact a good idea. In my defense, I found my new 7th gen iPod Nano on sale and I had some gift certificates, so with the armband it only came out to $125. Also my last MP3 player broke two years ago, and since then I’ve been using a PSP as my primary music player, which I wouldn’t recommend anyone attempting. However, while running with some proper tunage is always better than going without, the new Nano also has built-in Nike+ support, so I can track my runs alongside my activity in the Kinect trainer. This is fantastic, as one of my biggest pet peeves was there not being any way to track runs with the previous Kinect fitness games.
The last bit of prep that was needed is also the most important. I’ve been living for the past 18 months practically without a bed. At the last moment, my new landlord told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to use my water bed when I first moved in, and since I was broke after moving, all I could afford was a six inch thick piece of foam that I folded over to give me about three feet of width to lay on. How my back is not completely and permanently fucked from this is a miracle of modern science, so I figured it was time to have a bed. Best $230 I ever spent, and every time I lay onto its greatness I am astonished at the sheer lunacy that was going on in my head to allow me to go this long without a proper bed. You spend a third of your life asleep, so being comfortable during it is important, but I’m sure you all know this since you’re probably all smarter than me.
Today was a nice sneak preview of things to come. I ran for the first time in five months this morning. Well, “ran” may be a stretch. There were a few more stops than usual, so I can already tell I’ve lost some endurance, but it felt fantastic. The memories of empowerment and knowing that, yes, you can improve yourself were enough to fill me with excitement over what’s to come. It won’t be easy, but if it was, we wouldn’t be living in an obesity epidemic that I was once a part of. Goal #1 is to be under 200 pounds by February, and I can’t wait to get started. Also if anyone reading this feels like joining me on a mission of self improvement, I would greatly encourage you to do so. Let us know what your plans are or even simply what your New Years Resolution is.
I don't feel like talking about videogames today. Really its the idea of laughing, smiling, or having any kind of fun after reading some of the details about the unspeakable acts against humanity that some piece of shit unleashed in Newtown, Connecticut this morning. It's the kind of thing that makes you question the nature of life, and how different we actually are from the primates we are descendants of. Unless you make your living spouting hate speech on news channels, truly a most noble profession. Sure enough, it only took about an hour, but Fox News brought out some schmuck that made the connection we were waiting for.
(On a side note, this chode actually used the term “computer games”. When was the last time you used that phrase? Anyone out there still playing Zork or Red Baron with that particular bit of vernacular still in their back pocket?)
And that was all we needed. The internet is sharpening their pitchforks ready to go to the mattresses in defense of their media of choice. “Shame on them!”, we say! “How dare you use an atrocity of this magnitude to attack our innocent video games!?”, we also say! But it seems in our fervor to lambast the grandstanding done by our favorite cable TV talking heads for their incredibly ignorant and archaic arguments used to capitalize on a national tragedy, there's one question that never really gets asked in our circles:
What if they're right?
So lets be clear: yes, you're right, Grand Theft Auto did not somehow magically brainwash the aforementioned asshole into gunning down an elementary school. That is a patently absurd argument, and the millions upon millions of people who lead perfectly normal and law abiding lives on top of playing copious amounts of videogames are proof of that.
But, man, I gotta tell you, I spend a LOT of my day killing people. Or aliens. Or mutants. Or tigers. Or Zombies. I spend more time looking down the barrel of a gun than the president of the NRA. The list of people I've gunned down without batting an eyelash is large enough to inhabit a small country. And so have you. No, it's not the same as taking the lives of 20 children and 6 fine educators, but the act of aiming a gun at a persons head and pulling the trigger is something we are all too familiar with. And it's our hobby. It's what we do to have fun. To unwind after a long day's work.
This was witnessed during my leisure time.
How this has affected me in real life is something I do not know. It's impossible to tell because I have no reference to the kind of person I would be if videogames didn't influence my life in some small way, as they have certainly influenced yours. If someone was shot in the face right in front of me, would my reaction be different after seeing endless virtual renditions of the same act thousands of times? I've never picked up a gun before. Am I a better shot than a novice who doesn't play videogames? If I was the sick fuck who did this in Connecticut, and I was as obviously disturbed as he was, would I have found the actions he took today easier to perform because of the digital blood on my hands?
It is very easy to write this off as a preposterous notion, especially right now when you feel that videogames, this wonderful medium that has enriched our lives, may have inspired us in some way to do something more with our existence, may have even dictated a career path to some of us, is under attack. And you should be defensive. You turned out okay, right?
One of the unfortunate byproducts of the horrendous news coverage we see in the United States is peoples need for someone or something to blame, and these bumpkins targeting videogames is as tired as it is shallow. But, if I were to play the role of cable news pundit and find one arbitrary reason why these events unfolded today, the answer is simple: America's gun culture. A culture that romanticizes, worships, and fetishizes a machine that does unspeakable destruction throughout the world on a daily basis. What just happened in Connecticut is a byproduct of this mindset. I hope someday we grow out of it, because I sure as shit don't see how a culture that perceives the #1 source of pain and misery across this planet as a cool part of their identity is supposed to lead humanity to a better future. But for now, our media is dominated by firearms. Guns are represented as the ultimate means to an end in our society, and we experience that definite end on a daily basis in the media we consume.
And if you don't think videogames are part of that gun culture, and in some small way contributed to this calamity, you're fooling yourself.
As I sit down to type out my thoughts on the total Gong Show that is the Spike TV VGA's and the fervor that ensues every single year from unhappy members of the gaming press and community, I'm still questioning if I should even write anything. For almost a decade now, the VGA cycle has continued unabashed: Geoff Keighley gets on the media train a couple weeks before it airs and promises the show will be better, then it airs, its still awful, then people bitch, then you forget about its existence until the next year when it starts back up. However, nobody had ever been teabagged on stage up to this point, so the incessant complaining about the show's format has hit critical mass this year with seemingly every blogger denouncing the shenanigans that continue to piss off just about everybody on the internet.
For the sake of full disclosure, let it be known that I didn't watch the VGA's. I decided going to an ugly holiday sweater party and drinking too much would be a far better use of my time, and even the raging hangover I had this morning didn't sway my belief that I had made the right decision. Today was spent mostly watching Tim Tebow go all Tim Tebow once more and the Cowboys shitting all over themselves (again), but I did manage to check out the results of the show. I must say that if your only experience with the VGA's was reading which games won what and watching the trailers, it's not so bad. While I can't say that I agree with some of the winners, I didn't find any of them to be particularly egregious, and even games like Bastion and Portal 2 won multiple awards. Plus the trailers for FortNite, Metal Gear Rising, and Alan Wake: American Nightmare certainly have me interested.
Holiday sweaters make life worth living
So why am I writing this? I'm not exactly angry that this show is balls considering I knew that already, and I'm sure whatever points I make here have probably already been made elsewhere by more talented individuals. Am I writing this at 2AM because I believe that video games deserve a better spotlight than the one Spike puts forth? Is it because I believe that the industry needs a De Facto awards ceremony to highlight the years achievements? Does it have something to do with the Eggs Bennedict induced coma I was in off-and-on all day while I watched football on the couch that has thrown my sleeping habits out of whack for the evening?
No, I'm unfortunately here to give the people who continue to demand better from this show a harsh reality check. As the great American thespian The Rock once said: it doesn't matter what you think.
To me, the most obvious point as to why this debate is rather unnecessary has already been made by Jeff Gerstmann on Giant Bomb where he argued that television sucks and you should adjust your expectations accordingly. But while Jeff attempts to soften his points by going out of his way to not sound elitist (On that subject: If you predicate what you are about to say by saying, “Its hard to describe that without sounding like I'm some sort of elitist snob, but...”, you are about to sound like an elitist snob.), I don't have any problem sounding elitist: American television is a fucking abomination.
To be fair, one could argue that we are currently in a golden age of TV, as shows like Mad Men, Dexter, Breaking Bad, South Park, Boardwalk Empire, Game Of Thrones, and The Walking Dead show that some of the finest television content ever produced is currently on air. However, for every one of those, there's a landfill's worth of shows like 2 Broke Girls, Teen Mom, Fox & Friends, True Life, and (ugh...) Toddlers & Tiaras that are meticulously designed by the Big 4 media conglomerates to be as mentally deflating to the viewer as feasibly possible in order to inject their cynical worldview into the American psyche. The purpose of television in the United States is to keep people scared, distrusting, uninformed, and to get you to buy shit you don't need at the expense of Malaysian slave labor. If that makes me an elitist snob, than I'll go ahead and keep partying with James William Bottomtooth III.
So with that in mind, instead of asking the people who demand a better video game awards show what their expectations of “better” are, I instead propose a challenge: Find me an example of American television, on ANY TOPIC, that covers that topic in the same way you want video games to be covered on TV. Good luck. Video games are presented in a shitty fashion on TV because EVERYTHING is presented in a shitty fashion on TV. What makes you think the evil fucks who turned the news into reality television gossip rags, who spend more time talking about Kim Kardashian's wedding cake than they do about government run Syrian death squads, have either the ability or the desire to present your entertainment of choice in a rational or fair manner?
And to the people clamoring for a video game equivalent of the Oscars, may I ask what exactly is it about these awards shows that you would like in the VGA's? Want Todd Howard to rip the Bush Administration during his acceptance speech? Do you want real celebrities? What, was the Hulkster not good enough for you, brother? Sorry to tell you this, but Jack Nicholson ain’t leaving the front row at the Staples Center to present the Most Addictive Game Presented By Mountain Dew award any time soon, nor will Hugh Jackman be leading an extravagant musical number while fighting Captain Price on stage. Also, how many of you have actually sat down and attentively watched all three hours of an Oscars ceremony? I think I would rather pay $90 for Duke Nukem Forever again.
Furthermore, what's wrong with the Interactive Achievement Awards that the AIAS puts on every year? Publishers, developers, and the gaming press all hold it in a high regard that's probably about on par with how people in Hollywood view the Academy Awards at this point. It's a mostly button-up affair, the winners are given time to talk, and the people running the operation clearly take the subject matter seriously and give the medium the respect it deserves. Hell, Jay Mohr isn't half bad as the host either. Sure, it's a little dry, but because its on the channel featuring constant Cheaters and Cops reruns means it's not as important as the awards show on the channel featuring TNA Impact and 1000 Ways To Die?
Who the fuck cares what channel it's on? On that note, why the fuck should we care IF it's on TV? The idea of being on Television as a measure of importance went out the window around the time TV channels reached the 500 or so mark. People in gaming communities have been striving for cultural acceptance of video games for years now, but the truth is that we achieved that some time ago. The problem is that this isn't readily apparent when you watch TV because of televisions warped morals. If you go by what your TV says, EVERYTHING stinks, so why are video games going to be any different? You expect Bill O'Riley to go on TV and start his show with, “hey, you know what? Video games are alright in my book. Man, Bastion sure is cool!”? These people make their living off of sensationalistic grandstanding, making huge deals out of little deals. and creating false controversies in hopes of getting people to stay glued to the screen. Their negative world view doesn't allow them to say nice things about their own grandmother, let alone video games.
Now here's the part you may not like, because we need to accept the fact that we are not the target demographic for the VGA's. Whether you want to believe it or not, the same 18-34 year-old Call Of Duty/Madden playing, monster energy drink chugging male audience many of you rail on for “ruining” the industry happens to be exactly the demographic Spike TV caters almost exclusively to, and they also happen to outnumber us by a great deal. Remember how G4 first started out? How it was all video games all the time? Hey if that was financially successful, Judgment Day would still be on the air. The television executives in charge of the VGA's, whose soul purpose in life is to make as much money as possible with minimalist effort, do not give a fuck what you have to say on the matter, because they tried banking on you once before and it blew up in their faces. They see you as statistics, and they are ignoring you for the bigger statistic, and apparently that statistic likes Charlie Sheen and teabagging jokes.
So why should we give a shit? An awful TV channel put on awful programming for the sake of pandering to their target audience. Like the Fox News debate, it's a complete waste of time because they people in charge of Fox News are completely aware of how deceptive and horrendous their programming is, but they don't give a fuck because it makes piles of money while appeasing their target audience, so it's not going to change anytime soon and they could care less about your objections to it.
Above: The scene outside of my window as I finish writing my small novel
So, like many people have already said: Fuck the VGA's. But, more importantly, fuck the scumbags that put on this crap on air, because the VGA's are just a very small part of the astonishing structural problems associated with American television. Remember that you, as a consumer, still have options. The VGA's are only the be-all, end-all video game awards ceremony because we make it so, and if you want to stop being so pissed off at its existence, I suggest ignoring it altogether. I assure you I had a better time at the ugly sweater party than anyone watching a fucking awards show on a Saturday night.
My relationship with the Disgaea series has been an odd one over the years. I picked up the first game for $10 (before the reissue brought the price way down) at a thrift store attached to a church in the small town of Loyalton, California. How a game like that ended up where I found it is a mystery that I still ponder on occasion to this day, and I've probably spent more time pondering that strange find than I have actually playing it. That's at least more than I can say about Disgaea 2, which I haven't actually played, but the crazed collector in me demanded that I spend money on it so I would have the entire series. Really the only game in the series that I've spent a significant amount of time with before I undertook this endeavor was Disgaea 3, as I got about 25 hours in before hitting a wall, but it also holds the high distinction of being the only video game to ever get me fired from a job.
Like many of the people reading this, I was at one point convinced that working at a video game store would be the coolest job this side of being a cocaine dealer for rock stars, and when a local Game Crazy (hey remember those?) called in reference to an application I must have dropped off years beforehand, I instantly jumped at the chance to dump my well paying pizza delivery gig to go work minimum wage at a place with terrible hours and a habit for scheduling their employees during their requested time off for college. It didn't take me long after the fifth crackhead looking to sell old Nintendo gear for their next fix to realize the job sucked, as the high pressure sales environment created by clueless corporate assholes helped to ensure that every sales associate would be stressed out and miserable, but I was determined to make the best of it.
Imagine actually watching the legendary training video as part of your ACTUAL training!
One of the ways I would do this was to try and push games I wanted to push. Granted, I wanted to avoid being that guy at the game store who berates people for having different tastes, but I was successful at getting some people who wouldn't normally try something like Disgaea 3 to check it out. I'll never forget the night of the Gears of War 2 launch when one of the customers whom I sold on picking up Culdcept Saga thanked me for showing him that awesome game, as he finally found something he and his wife could play together. It was a rewarding moment in a job that didn't have very many.
So one of the things you had to do at Game Crazy (just like at GameStop) was give the same little spiel over the phone whenever customers would call. There was a little script on the computer that read, “Thank you for calling the Aloha Game Crazy where you can trade your old games to pre-order (insert whatever AAA game they were pushing at the time), this is Jarrod, how can I help you?”. There would be a little list on there with games like Madden, Call of Duty, Gears of War, etc., but I decided to do a little improvisation. On a fateful day in October, I answered the phone by saying, “Thank you for calling the Aloha Game Crazy where you can trade your old games to pre-order Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, this is Jarrod, how can I help you?”. The man on the other end replied, “What the hell is that?!”.
That man turned out to be the district manager, who didn't like me going off script too much. You see, game companies pay good money to make sure their games get top billing at game stores, and these contracts are part of the putrid lifeblood that make up video game retail. Odds are if the game isn't buying ad space in the store or if it doesn't have some kind of retailer exclusive pre-order incentive, the store brass doesn't give a fuck about it. They only want their employees to push games under contract so they can go to companies with various spreadsheets that show how successful their partnership was to get bigger, more expensive contracts, and Persona 4 wasn't on the list.
This phone kerfuffle caused the DM to actually go through my sales records to track what I was selling. He noticed I had sold a disproportionate amount of games like Tales of Vesperia and Culdcept Saga compared to other associates, and apparently I was responsible for selling 40% of all the non pre-order copies of Disgaea 3—which I would estimate at around seven copies—in the entire district, a feat which I am still somewhat proud of to this day. This caused him to give me a stern talking to in front of my boss, and on top of calling JRPG's, and I quote: “stupid ass crap”, he would also inform me that “our market doesn't care about the games you like”.
This demoralizing experience was followed up by a 20 hour reduction in my work load on the next weeks schedule (during the holiday season. Merry Christmas!), and that just about wrapped up my time with Game Crazy. A couple of months later, Game Crazy, along with its parent company Movie Gallery, went kaput, so he was out of a job, and I was still in college well on my way to becoming far more successful than that astounding douchebag ever was, is, or ever will be.
I didn't put many presents under trees that year thanks to the Henry F. Potter of video game retail management...
The original intention was to give Disgaea 4 a go after the Cowboys game on Sunday, but Tony Romo's incessant need to continue and shit all over himself caused me to drink a little more heavily at the bar, so by the time my drunk ass waddled back to my house, I was hardly in the desired state needed to play a strategy RPG. Luckily I had Monday off, so it was finally time to dive into the insanity. Not that there's anything wrong with insanity. Games like WarioWare and Katamari have thrived on insanity, and Disgaea 4 wears it like a badge of honor just as its forefathers did.
Monday served as a nice introduction to the game. The protagonist this time around is Lord Valvatorez, and he seems perfectly contempt ditching his horrific vampire overlord ways to become the sardine loving head of a prinny training facility in Hades, which serves as the prison of the Disgaea netherworld. The first thing that will jump out to long time fans of the series is the overhauled sprites. The first three entries in the series could have easily been done on a PlayStation 1, and now I would like to congratulate the developers from NIS for making the jump to PS2 quality sprites. This is far from a detriment, as the sprites are as lively and expressive as ever with lots of nice detail, but it's still a little strange playing a full priced PS3 game in 2011 that looks like this. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Why don't American advertisers use fire as much as their Japanese counterparts?
Then Tuesday came along, and after a shift at work, it was time for another meeting of the Fuck Yeah Lets Fucking Do It Club (FYLFDIC for short). The club was founded on the premise of midweek camping trips, as the five founding members would all cram themselves into my tiny Hyundai Accent along with all our camping gear, go camping for a night, drink a metric ton worth of cheap beer, eat good food, and be back to Portland in time for Yohhei to get to work at the yakisoba food cart before the lunch rush the following morning. The beauty of Portland is that it's a short drive to so many awesome parts of nature, and the seven camping trips we've conquered over the summer have unleashed our inner hippies in ways the FYLFDIC could have never anticipated.
By the way, here's a helpful camping trip tip for all the Oregon campers out there: Get on Powell going towards Government Camp until you hit the small town of Zigzag. Make a left on Truman road immediately following the Zigzag mountain store, and you'll see a bridge. Right before the bridge should be a tiny path blocked off by three rocks. Move the rocks and drive about 150 yards down the overgrown path (if my Hyundai Accent can make it, your car can too) and park when you get to a small clearing. To your left should be a little trail through two trees, and laying before you will be a badass little campsite right by a river (with firepit) that we're pretty sure was once the home of a hobo given the makeshift tent made out of branches, some old PBR cans, and some porno strewn about the site. Don't worry, we picked up the cans and burned the porn, and it's a far cleaner area for your enjoyment. Best of all it was free, which is what FYLFDIC is all about.
I'm not quite sure what this has to do with Disgaea 4, but hot damn do I love me a good camping trip. I highly recommend it to anyone who is over the legal drinking limit.
The rest of the week left me with a little more time to start grinding. There's an amazing, trance like groove that one can find themselves in while playing A Promise Unforgotten. Hours tick away from the clock as you constantly level up, grind, acquire money, buy new equipment, then try out said new equipment to start the process anew. I've yet to find many levels of satisfaction in gaming above the feeling you have when arriving to a pivotal battle only to lay waste to the entire armada due to all that extra work you put into grinding your characters.
Of course, one of the main reasons I've maybe had a fairly easy time sliding back into a game like this is because I've played it before. The fresh coat of paint is great, but not much has changed from Disgaea 3, which wasn't too different when compared to Disgaea 2, which shared an odd similarity to the first Disgaea. This isn't too big of a problem for me, as I kinda knew that going in. Plus I haven't invested hundreds of hours into this series like others have, so it's still pretty fresh to me, especially considering all of the linear corridor shooters I've been playing lately.
So far my pledge to make Disgaea 4 the only game I play until it's done hasn't been broken, but the copy of Deus Ex that I purchased two days before buying A Promise Unforgotten keeps taunting me. Valvatorez and his merry gang of political activists just wrapped up Act 3 with Lord Val leading the way at level 28. The final battle of act 3 required me to level up a weapon to level 10, and the common sword I was told to do it in was weaker than the Bloody Dagger I was using at the time, but I was still forced to use it in a puzzling situation. Item World was something I've pretty much avoided during my time with the series, so I think I'll maybe work on that Bloody Dagger sometime next week. Until then, I'll be in the basement giving The Wall the finger while I continue my quest.