Video Games Hate Me

My daughter loves video games. She’ll play anything from little critters flitting over sweet little carnival lands, hopping into pipes and running away from little mushrooms (the Mario series) to mercenaries losing their arms and still fighting (Metal Gear). I sit beside her, occasionally commenting on her manual dexterity and focus as things explode and little angels hover about the screens. My challenge: video games hate me. I can’t manipulate the controller the way I am supposed to. I move my head sideways instead of the A or B button (or is it #1 or #2?) and my fingers don’t work correctly when I’m trying to jump and punch/kick/toss/eat/whatever.

The first time I played a Mario game, I kept dying in a pit of molten lava. Not only did I not advance beyond level 1, I doubt very much I made it past the first frame. I was laughing at my daughter’s good-natured remonstrations. I love it that she thought I’d learn from practicing. Nope, kept dying. Then I realized she had accidentally let me borrow her controller so I wasn’t killing Mario on my name. I quietly passed the controller back to her and left the room. She eventually made up for my mistakes.

We tried again, this time with MarioKart. I loved choosing my racing vehicle and the scenes as they unfolded. The problem: the game went too fast for me. Just as I was rounding the first curve, all the other drivers had passed the finish line. In fact, my daughter’s character lapped me twice. Rather than being upset by this, it was a great achievement when I finished in second to last place. I was told to hold the remote just so and not turn it. In other words, I finished in second to last place because I didn’t do anything but press the “go” button.

One of her greatest attributes is that my daughter is patient. We tried again, this time with Shovel Knight. I love this game: the knight has to shovel its way through terrain, leap on top of dragons, gather bags of money and more. Does this game accept me any more than anything else I’ve ever played? Nope. Not a bit. Player 1 kept losing life points because instead of hopping over the bubbles, I thought I should shovel my way through them. That was incorrect. Player 1 wanted to whack me over the head with her shovel, but she refrained. Oddly enough, the game started becoming interesting much more quickly when I wasn’t a player.

I’m happy enough to observe. Video game graphics and story lines are multilayered, complex interfacing systems that entice and then assimilate the player into an alternate experience. I admire the daylights out of people who can actually play – and win – a video game. It takes an incredible amount of strategy and skill to unlock a level, achieve a goal, raid the castle and save the (dragon, princess, insert character here). Or in all fairness, an equal amount of skill to strategically blow things up. I just wish I could play one and not kill my character within the first five minutes.


Carrie Fisher is My Superhero


There are no spoilers here, so no worries to anyone who hasn’t seen Star Wars yet. I grew up watching the original trilogy and as an adolescent me-in-training, I loved Princess Leia’s kick-ass qualities. Now as a full-grown version of me, I still love the Princess Leia archetype. She still kicks ass, she’s the founder of the Resistance and she still has a soft spot for Han Solo. I’m in. Her character has also suffered, which mirrors actual life for those of us not blessed with long hair that we can wind round our ears in cinnamon-bun fashion.

Carrie Fisher has come under scrutiny for the fact that she is older. Really? Because anyone thought that she’d stay exactly the same? She has aged, my friends, and maybe I should have warned you to sit down before I started typing, but this is the quintessential difference between celluloid (movies) and cellulite (real people’s bodies): actors age. People age. We’re all getting older. I didn’t think this was particularly newsworthy, but evidently it is.

Since when did superheroes have to be young? I’m sorry to the people in their 20s out there, but you’re going to age too. My favorite superheroes have a bit of time, gravity, and life under their polymer-enhanced costumes. Wonder Woman probably wears a Wonder Bra now so that “the girls” don’t sag all the way to her starry briefs. Iron Man has weathered and Tony Starke is still sexy as all get out.

I remind us that we’re talking about works of fiction here. The reason for the archetypes is so that we can identify with a particular character trait and then, through suspension of disbelief, ride their adventure as if we were the ones holding the reigns. It’s called “let’s pretend,” not reality.

In reality, Carrie Fisher, brilliantly reprising the role that made her famous, is older. She’s gained a bit of squish around the middle, and a couple lines around the eyes. All the better to quip with, my dearies. If we haven’t already cross-stitched this into our psyches, it’s time: we are all getting older.

In response to critics mentioning her aging person, Fisher recently texted, “Please stop debating about whether or not I’ve aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 [sic] of my feelings. My body hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.” Of course, this was done with emojiis that I haven’t included here. I don’t know her personally, and probably won’t have occasion to meet her. My life’s goal isn’t to meet the people I see in movies anyway, though I’m grateful for their talent.

Nope, she just became my superhero because she is a kick-ass person. Lots of ass-kicking in a few short paragraphs, but I’m not inclined to edit them out. Fisher’s older, with a little more life to her eyes and a little more wisdom in her noggin. Do I care whether she can still rock the cinnamon-bun hair and flowsy warrior princess costume? No, I decidedly do not. She has a Resistance to lead, after all.

Bookstores: For those who live out loud

Picture a hazy Saturday morning spent with a dear friend browsing through books at the book store, the only sound punctuating the happy silence the occasional turning page. Then there’s me: laughing out loud, tossing my book in my daughter’s lap to point out a particularly colorful turn of phrase or swear-laden pledge, and her patient response of, “I’m just reading this text, right here. You know, the one in my lap, not yours.” Well, sorry my progeny, momma shares her literature (though occasionally I apologize for interrupting her tranquility).

For those of you who don’t find a book store to be an exciting adventure of awesome, you haven’t gone with me. Where else can you go to find freshly repurposed elephant or rhinoceros poo transfigured into notebook paper? Or refrigerator magnets featuring Jean-Luc Picard face palming his oh so sexy forehead? Or bookmarks that don’t look like my used up envelopes, spoons, pens, or the other flotsam I usually use to mark a page? Bookmarks are cool and all, but I don’t use them. I just admire them. Oh, yeah, then the books.

I don’t care why or how you actually find yourself in a book store, just get yourself there. Used book store, brand-spanky-new bookstore, commercial bookstore – I don’t care, just go. There’s some happy stuff hiding out on the shelves, lining the floor, and adorning the wall space of a bookstore. Do you miss the 60s? You’ll find them again at the bookstore. Love comic books but hate to admit it? Own your personality and get yourself over to the bookstore, where there’s these zany things called graphic novels: kinda the adult version of comic books, but quite a bit more R-rated and much sexier than I remember the Archie comics of old.

The beautiful thing about a bookstore is that nobody is going to judge your nerdy/geeky/sports-enthusiast behind for the fact that you entered it. We’re all there together. I had a great conversation a couple weeks ago with a guy whose political opinions were remarkably different, and we got along just fine. Because, you know why? We’re not jerks, and we were after the same book. Yesterday, I found a fantastic vegan cookbook. I’m not vegan, but I eat food and the recipes were amazing. Sign me up. Though I have never seen this nooch stuff in my life, I’m ready for an adventure.

Those of you intellectual superiority types, get over yourselves. If we’re at the bookstore together, chances are we have something in common. Oh, yeah: printed material. I don’t care if you want to read the 500,000 best novels ever written and I’m over in the home improvement section wishing I cared enough about painting my walls to make them gloriously harmonious, we are in this environment together for a reason, so share some space with me please.

I am not quiet at bookstores, not complacent, not minding my own business. There’s all these happy words bounding through various mediums and you expect silence? Nope. Not happening. I will make eye contact with you and I will ask you what you like about the book you’re holding, not because I want to date you, but because I want to know what you think. For real.

Bookstores are fantastic gathering places of all the personalities and thoughts we have smashed together with greeting cards, tshirts, print art and what-nots. If you haven’t been in a while, go. You’ll find all the food groups in one place: the snack food group, the beverage food group, and the good-for-the-soul food group. See? Bookstores are good for you.

Celebrating Free Spirits and Sports

I live in Tampa, FL, proud home of the Tampa Bay Lightning and annual host of MetroCon. To be fair, I’ll describe both: The Lightning is a fantastic hockey team. With all due respect to my hometown Blackhawks, there’s an approachable quality to the Lightning and its fans that grabbed me by my inner fangirl when I first moved down here and held on. I have been to very few hockey games in my life, but all of them have been Lightning games. I love the crowd, the energy, and the grit of my chosen team.

MetroCon is Florida’s largest annual Anime convention. Anime enthusiasts can choose to represent their favorite characters, often creating costumes that defy gravity and require feats of engineering. It is absolutely acceptable to wear a costume that looks, to the outside world, like an overgrown cow and have said cow run and hug a cosplayer who, again to the outside world, looks like a series of strategically placed strips of duct tape. The costumes are vibrant, the people friendly, the event energetic.

I sew clothes from patterns. To an Anime enthusiast, I am probably the equivalent of a single-celled organism of creativity. They create remarkable costumes that I would argue are every bit as fantastic and elaborate as the costumes in movies. Sometimes they actually look a little better. I have seen people dressed as Loki in more Loki-esque attire than Tom Hiddleston himself. As a fan of both Hiddleston’s grin and his acting ability, this is high praise.

You can predict where I’m heading with this: culture clash. The events of the busiest day of MetroCon collided with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. As I drove to pick up my daughter and her friends from the convention center, the only thing I was concerned about was traffic. I forgot that some sports enthusiasts, especially after a game, are a bit on the rowdy side, and inclined to judge people dressed in Anime awesomeness – shall we say, unkindly?

As people left the game and the convention center, I heard the occasional shout of “Freak!” getting tossed at the cosplayers. Where, I wondered, were the cosplayers tossing the word “Freak!” out at the sports enthusiasts? Of course that question is rhetorical. No arguments broke out that I saw, but still. Why did anyone have to judge? From an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it every bit as ridiculous to be walking around with a sponge #1 finger pointy thing or long noisemaker doohickey as it is to be dressed as the character from an Anime show?

We are allowed to choose how we represent ourselves and we are definitely allowed to choose what we will do in our free time. My beloved cosplayers are no stranger than my beloved sports enthusiasts. Just saying.

A Noble Quest

The idea of a quest is appealing: overcoming obstacles, fighting foes (real or imagined), emerging victorious. It’s a noble prospect, this idea of seeking that which is difficult or fraught with danger. I am, however, more Don Quixote-like than King Arthur-esque, so any form of actual questing is somewhat foreign to me. Until recently.

To fulfill a promise to my daughter, I went on a quest to obtain a prerelease order for a small action-figure doohickey. I understand that these figurines fetch an attractive sum on eBay, and I had heard that the method of releasing them was creating a buyers’ frenzy of sorts. Not to worry, I assured her, mom is on the job.

I learned from previous stories of prereleases gone sour that one should arrive well before the store opening. I thought it would be sufficient – more than sufficient, actually – if I got to the store three hours before it opened. Based on the information we had from other prereleases, this was probably optimistic, but like all good Don Quixotes, I was ever hopeful.

On questing day, I packed the car with a folding chair, charged my e-reader and phone, filled a thermos with coffee, and rode (okay, drove) out in search of windmills to fight – I mean, action figures to preorder. I expected to be alone by my big girl self when I arrived. I was wrong. A trio of early-bird enthusiasts was comfortably ensconced in their chairs, typing away on their tablets. I greeted them with a perky, “Hello!” That might not have been correct questing etiquette, but they all offered, grumbled, or otherwise muttered their return greetings. By 7:00, there were 10 of us in line. By 8:00, the line had doubled. By 9:00, the line had doubled again, and our souls had been saved by a cheerful Jehovah’s Witness who was as interested in our quest as in the potential of our eternal spirits.

At 9:30, the penultimate moment, a disgruntled member of the toy emporium came out with the preorder slips – a noticeably thin stack. She passed out her entire stack of 10, only 10, slips. I was shocked. Less than a third of the line received this most precious paper slip. I began to fret; visions of Black Friday stampedes ran through my head as I held my preorder slip tighter in my grip. Memories of fistfights in parking lots during the holiday season flashed in my mind, the time of year and the behavior of otherwise well-mannered adults standing in stark contrast to each other. Still, I held on to that preorder slip.

I watched many of my line companions trudge away. A confused grandma’s shoulders sagged as she hoisted her bag, muttering that she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about anyway. The gentlemen ahead of me in line boasted to each other about how they had the whole collection and were planning on making a mint on eBay. I decided I didn’t like them much. The girl behind me had been waiting all this time for her brother. I decided she was my questing partner.

When the doors to the store opened, I got in line to pay for my preorder. When it was my turn, the computer crashed. Quests, in case you haven’t heard, are not for the weak of heart. I wasn’t out on some fantastic imaginary battlefield swiping at windmills; I was in line getting ready to swipe my charge card. Access denied? Oh. My. After at least an eternity (or five minutes, take your pick), the red-faced clerk resuscitated the machine. I paid for the preorder, and walked quickly out of the store before some cranky computer entity could change its mind and undo my order.

I was ebullient, truly joyful. Not only had I managed to do a kindness for my daughter, I had achieved a specific goal. Passing time with a group of strangers who had a likeminded goal was, I admit, kind of fun. I was not part of the “in-group” who actually understood the value of the object, but I was part of the spirit of the moment. I could have failed in my quest, I could have become like the bucketheads in front of me and been all arrogant, but mostly I was just grateful. I texted my daughter with an update, and she responded WITH JOY AND EFFUSIVE CAPITALIZATION. I then went to work and returned Don Quixote to the land of imagination and fable.