Life on the Citadel

This may be the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Ok, not really, but it’s up there. The question is, which video game or movie universe would I pick to live in? After some very critical thinking (and some coin tossing) I’ve decided that if  I had to choose a video game universe to live in, it would be Mass Effect’s.

Mass Effect is set in the indeterminable future where an “Element Zero” has been discovered. This element created a negative mass field, meaning that a particle (or vehicle) affected by this element can be accelerated past the speed of light. With FTL travel, colonizing distant planets became easy for humans. Also, several alien races are introduced in these games. A main trading post for all races is the citadel, pictured below.

I personally feel this would be an amazing place to live. Each of the 5 “arms” are actually huge cities, and the ring in the middle houses the government and a lake. Gravity it artificially produced by rotating the entire citadel. because this produces a centripetal force inward of velocity squared over radius, the normal force would act like gravity. Enough science (for now), so why is this world so appealing?

First, I want to be a physicist. And as a physicist, if humans somehow figured out how to travel faster than light, it would open up a whole new realm of scientific exploration. Imagine the advancement possibilities of lengthening human life and meeting new races (in the mass effect universe of course). But there is a more selfish reason I would enjoy this universe scientifically. I love space, and am utterly fascinated by it. It has always been a dream of mine to be able to ride through the galaxy looking at the magnificence and beauty of Creation.

Another factor that made my choice clear was thinking about how freaking awesome it would be to be able to meet Commander Shepherd. Or even if I didn’t get to meet him, if I was able to experience his amazing salvation of the citadel. While he doesn’t have “superpowers,” Shepherd is freaking awesome. He is a true leader and a hero that, I’m sure, everyone envies. I mean all in all what’s not to love about the Mass Effect universe? You get to meet aliens, be saved by Commander Shepherd, and fly around space.

But I must admit now, that my conscious is torn. I feel my heart truly lies in a very different world. One where science has been replaced by a much more mysterious force. This is the world of Harry Potter, Hogwarts, and magic. While it is true that the video game world I would live in would be Mass Effect’s I couldn’t possibly not take time fictional universe I truly yearn to be a part of. From first seeing The Sorcerer’s Stone up to reading the last words of The Deathly Hallows, Hogwart’s magical world has captured me. I long to go to Potion and Transfiguration, to talk with Professor Dumbledore, to meet Hermione, Harry, and Ron.

But alas, I suppose that’s why we have video games and books and movies. In order do, in some degree or another, experience a place like no where on earth.


The Language of Posture

In a graphic novel, I think that body posture has to make up for a lot, considering less words are you to describe how a character feels. In the pane below, taken from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I believe the author tells the reader quite a bit about the character based on how their bodies are positioned.

For instance, in this strip, Quatermain and the invisible man both look quite relaxed. The author put them in comfortable chairs, possibly signifying that the two characters  take life less seriously than others in the picture. Although we can’t see the invisible man (obviously) we can tell he is holding a cigarette and dressed in very comfortable clothing, including slippers. Perhaps this is coupled with his extremely nonchalant attitude toward morals to further his image of not-giving-a-crap.

Dr. Jekyll, on the other hand, looks extremely nervous, which lines up perfectly with what his dialogue reveals about his character. The way he is sitting all scrunched up makes it look like he doesn’t even want to be seen. He’s is also sitting in a very unforgiving looking wooden chair, in stark contrast with the pompous chair Quatermain is sitting in.

Wilhelmina looks like she is in charge, just like always. Her straight posture and focused glare give the impression of someone who wants to get something done, NOW.  She is looking at maps, which may signify that she is the only one who actually is planning on working out what the group will do. The drawing of her also suggests she is comfortable sitting at Nemo’s head desk, where others might feel intimidated with the captain right behind them.

Speaking of the captain, His demeanor shows one main emotion: annoyance. From his use of the word fancy, to the fact he is standing right over Wilhelmina’s shoulder shows that he doesn’t like what is going on. He is holding a weapon in his left hand, possibly signifying that he doesn’t trust these people on his ship.

Just in this short analysis, I think it is clear how effective pictures can be at displaying emotions.


Video games as art, or making art in video games?

A big debate topic today (among those who like to sit around and argue about things that don’t really matter in the long run) is whether are not video games should be considered an art form. Legally,  the Supreme Court ruled on June 27, 2011 that video games are a form of art and therefore protected by the first amendment. In addition to this, in March 201 the Smithsonian American Art Museum will be displaying an exhibition called “The Art of Video Games.” Honestly, these decisions made by major institutions are enough to strengthen my view that video games are, in fact, art.

Now that we have that issue out of the way, I’d like to comment on something I’ve noticed about the artistic means and ends of a video game.   I think that there are fundamentally two types of games when dealing with art. The first type would be a game that presents fully formed, ready to be appreciated art. An example of this would be L.A. Noire. This game combines beautiful graphics, an extremely well designed world, and a gripping story that rivals any blockbuster. L.A. Noire is a perfect representation of a work of art that is given to a player, where interactivity and post-release design are limited.

The second type of game is one where, while the character may or may not be presented with a story, they are presented with both art in the form of an environment and an empty canvas upon which they can create their own art. No other game I can think of illustrates this idea better than Minecraft. Minecraft is a simple game. The world is made of blocks that you can dig up and place where you want them. Basically it equates to being able to gather materials and build whatever you want. This takes time though, and lots of it if you want to make something that looks good. For instance, pictured below is a building that is made in Minecraft. The player made this in the same way an artist would take clay and mold it into a sculpture. I think this shows that some video games are not only an art form, but they are a canvas, a medium, much like clay, that allow those who interact with the game to create something that is strikingly similar to objects that are considered art  by the general public.


Billy Mitchell and Dolores Umbridge.

Once every so often a person or literary person will come along that absolutely gets under your skin. They have the ability to make the reader/watcher absurdly angry, without meeting the observer, or possibly being real! I believe these previous statements apply to both Billy Mitchell and Dolores Umbridge in my experience. While watching King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, there where probably ten to fifteen times when I just wanted to punch Billy Mitchell. Understand I’m not an angry person normally, but the amount of pure disrespect and pride that was radiating from Billy’s attitude made me want to rage. I don’t believe I’ve ever met or observed a more arrogant person. However,I’m not sure what provoked me more, Billy’s complete lack of humility, or when most everyone in the movie tries extremely hard just to suck up to him. Fortunately, Billy’s personality was somewhat equaled out by Steve Wiebe.

Speaking of Steve Wiebe, my feelings toward him changed throughout the movie. I believe it went something like this (bear with me):

“Oh cool, a guy who is looking for a hobby since in he got laid off.”

“There’s no way he’s taking it this seriously.”


“Ok, he’s ruining his family.”

“I hate Billy Mitchel so much I’m going to root for Steve Wiebe, if only to see Billy get taken down.”

I believe my like of Steve is proportionately inverse to my amicability towards Billy. However, after finishing the movie and letting my emotions settle down, I feel almost depressed for Steve Wiebe. I really think he could have been happier if he would have just let go of the Donkey Kong ambition and spent more time with his kids. Steve illustrates perfectly that success requires sacrifice. In this case he lost time with his children and wife. Hopefully after getting the high score he settled down and reordered his priorities.

I suppose one of the main things I’ve learned from this movie is never let gaming  grow to be so important that I disregard my family and friends. Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe really did give us a perfect difference between gaming and playing video games.

Green Red Yellow Blue Orange!

If you are familiar with the Guitar Hero franchise, then it will be clear that the title of this blog represents the five buttons on a Guitar Hero controller. While in the end I chose Guitar Hero 3 as my favorite game of all time, the process was not easy. It took some real soul-searching to present to you one game. Therefore, I would feel ashamed not to at least list off my top 5 choices: Guitar Hero 3, Ocarina of Time, Halo 3, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and Gears of War 2. Now that I have that weight off my chest, let me explain why Guitar Hero is so special to me.

One of the main reasons I think Guitar Hero 3 captures my affection so effectively is due to the fact that I had never been the best in the world at something until I played Guitar Hero 3. Now before anyone freaks out, I just mean I have the highest score on the song “Lay Down” on expert. In addition to that, my friend Cory and I have held first place on three co-op songs on Guitar Hero 3. However, if I only enjoyed Guitar Hero because I am good at it, it would be a shallow connection indeed. The real grounds I believe establish Guitar Hero 3 as my favorite game are its deep ties to music and practice. I’ll explain both of those in a bit deeper detail.

I have appreciation for music at this time in my life that never would have developed without Guitar  Hero 3. As lame as it may sound, I really just didn’t enjoy or listen to music much before playing this game. But after completing career mode for a total of what must have been 20 times, I feel Guitar Hero broadened the range of music  I appreciate an immense amount. Before playing, I never would have listened to songs such as “The Way it Ends” by Prototype or “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson.

On a totally different note, no pun intended, I love Guitar Hero, because you can get better and better and better by practicing. You might say this is the case for any game. Well, you are both right and wrong. I can think of no game where playing it more won’t result in becoming better at the game. That being said, it seems that most games have a natural skill factor. For example, I know people who have picked up a strategy game and been naturally good at it. But with Guitar Hero, I feel it is much like a real instrument in regards to practice. The more you practice, the better you will be at Guitar Hero. Therefore, Guitar Hero has a more even playing field, where dedication translates directly into skill. In my opinion that means that someone who has skill in Guitar Hero has earned it through time spent playing, instead of simply being naturally good at the game without devoting any time to it.

Any finally, Guitar Hero 3 is my favorite game because I find it fun. More than any other reason, this is why I play it. I love the feeling of getting a new high score on a song. I love playing at Guitar Hero competitions (there’s a story for another day) and trying to win prizes. But most off all, I love having all my friends gathered around two people facing off , with everyone cheering and laughing. Guitar hero, at its heart, is after all a social game.



Gamers Unite!

I have always been a gamer. Though no one believes me, I think I was born with a NES controller in my hand. While I also enjoy playing sports and participating in other activities,  my heart will always lie with the fantastical worlds and excruciatingly frustrating challenges of video games. Fortunately, upon entering high school, I found myself located in a gaming “safe-haven,” a place where you had no reason to fear that someone would label you uncool or judge you for being a gamer. I count myself among the lucky to have such an experience.

My high school, GCA, has very few students. The graduating class of 2011 claimed only 60 people and the entire high school only enrolled 240 students (with a rather even distribution between guys and girls.) That being said, we were a very close group of kids. Because our school was so small, it seemed everyone had to play a sport in order to keep the teams populated. That fact erased any sense of division between the “jocks” and the non-sports folk. And then there was the odd case that around 80 of the 120 guys who attended GCA high school owned an Xbox 360.  So imagine now, a community of friends where the majority play sports at a varsity level, AND where the majority play video games. This rare concoction of circumstances resulted in an environment where there was no enmity between hardcore gamers and “normal people.”

I remember a specific circumstance that occurred Sophomore year that shows the level of camaraderie that games provided at my school. I had been playing Gears of War 2 with a group of friends when our party joined someone else’s game. I was soon told we were going to play with Phillip. Now please understand, Phillip was a senior, as well as a star of the football team. Therefore, I was a bit intimidated. Anyway, We joined the game, and I proceeded to absolutely own Phillip’s team. At the time, I couldn’t figure out if that would be a good thing, or a bad thing, socially speaking. Fast forward through the weekend to Monday morning Spanish class. Phillip strolls into class, promptly strides directly toward me, and stops about 2 feet away, staring at me for a few seconds. This short amount of time seemed like an eternity to me of course, with the rest of the class quietly observing why on earth Phillip would be confronting a underclassmen.

After what was probably a few short seconds he said, “That was some ridiculous shooting you did last night.”

Being completely caught off guard by that remark,  I simply mumbled, “Thanks, you too.”

Little did I know that within the next four or five months, Phillip would become one of my best friends. We still game together to this day, whether it’s getting a character to 85 in World of Warcraft, or patiently struggling to survive until Gears of War 3 is released. I suppose that my main point is, gamers aren’t always social outcast. In fact, at GCA, people who didn’t game often times had trouble keeping up socially. Gamers aren’t lifeless beings who can’t function in society. I would say one of the main reasons gamers have trouble fitting in is because non-gamers won’t give them a chance. They won’t look past a hobby that is frowned upon to see that us gamers are quite like everyone else.

I am so thankful I grew up in an accepting society for gamers. My whole life, the people who are closest to me see that gaming done in healthy amounts is fun and engaging. They have looked at gaming with a non-biased eye. They judge gaming for what it really is. A mean that can be applied in many ways to reach many ends.