September 28, 2004

Game characters come to life!

Game characters come to life!
Posted by Hello

One of the most endearing and frustrating aspects of Japanese culture is their obsession with "cosplay". In the picture above, two people are dressed up like Lineage II characters and one of them is sitting atop a lifesize plastic model of a "Stryder", a kind of dragon pet available in the game that players can ride. Now, these two girls happen to be professional models hired by NC Soft to appear as part of the display in their exhibition kiosk at the 2004 Tokyo Game Show, but not ten feet away from where they stand are half a dozen more girls dressed in similar outfits who did so because they love the game and wanted to become their characters for a day. There was more cosplay at this year's Game Show than at any Tokyo Game Show I have ever attended. It was insane, and great fun for the participants!

I don't know whether I envy their freedom or despise their childishness, and I suppose it doesn't really matter either way.

September 27, 2004

Gamer's heaven revisited

Last year, as usual, I went to the Tokyo Game Show (please see: "Gamer's Heaven"), and it was there that I discovered Lineage II, which has since become my favorite addiction. Naturally, I went this year as well. (Pictures will be up later on.) This year's game show was unlike any that I have been to before, which is not necessarily a good thing.

One of the really interesting things about the Tokyo Game Show has always been how many couples and young families there are wandering around the various booths and exhibits. There are couples dressing up like their favorite game characters, couples staring worshipfully at life-size cardboard cutouts of those same characters, along with couples taking endless pictures and hours of video tape of themselves standing next to cardboard cutouts, professional models in character costumes, and so on. The Tokyo Game Show has always been both a hot date event and an annual family pilgrimage. It is the mecca of gaming couples all over Asia.

But not this year.

There were still many couples and families, thousands of them, but for the first time in my experience a much larger percentage of the crowd was composed of small groups of three to six same gender friends that went to different game booths, sampled different products, and generally ignored each other.

Huh? Adolescent and college age young people with raging hormones who'd rather spend their Sunday at an annual event with a group of friends than with their favorite heart-throb? Tens of thousands of young people without a real date for the annual game show? Girls only interested in girls' games and boys only interested in boys' games? Okay, maybe not many girls are holding their breath anticipating Gran Turismo 4, and maybe a lot of guys aren't all that thrilled with the new version of Disney's Kingdom Hearts, but in the past the Tokyo Game Show provided the ideal time for guys and gals to travel together to check out the latest versions of the games they love to play! So why not this year? What's up with that? Has the internet driven us so far from one another that the only dates people go on are the ones they arrange through online dating services?

If I were young, you'd better believe I'd be dragging my favorite girl to the game show! By gosh and by golly, if she's gonna force me to sit through the latest Neopets promotion video, then she can wait ten minutes for me to sample Everquest II before we run over to EA to check out the latest expansion for The Sims Online. At which point I'm sure she'd be more than happy to watch a Lineage II Chronicle 2 promotion video before having dinner and heading home.

The important thing, of course, would be that we would wander together from booth to booth and exhibit to exhibit, and spend more time talking about the games than sampling them. And that chance to communicate, those hours spent discussing priorities and preferences, those are the times that intimacy is truly built between two people. Why on Earth would anyone not prefer to spend that time with a lover rather than a buddy?

I suppose this would be a good time to point out that the whole "guys vs. girls" thing has never made any sense to me, not even back when I was in elementary school, so it deeply disturbs me that the Tokyo Game Show provided one more glimpse into a general trend I've seen developing over the past three to five years: adult gender separation. Why, in this era of unprecedented communication opportunities, are men and women drawing further apart than ever? I thought we'd abandoned all this "war of the sexes" stuff halfway through the 20th Century, why has it recently experienced such a revival?

I do not want to live in a world where men are men, women are women, "and ne'er the twain shall meet!" Do you?

September 22, 2004

Little red guys

Little guys mean big trouble
Posted by Hello
Card image copied from Wizards of the Coast
Card art, text, layout and name are property of Wizards of the Coast and are protected by copyright.

As the three people who regularly skim over these random chatterings already know, I love games. One of my favorite games of all time is Magic the Gathering. Every October Magic the Gathering comes out with a new expansion. Three hundred brand new cards to collect, play with, sort through, add to old decks, or inspire new decks. Two weeks before the release date they have a special tournament called a "pre-release" where players can get a small assortment of the new cards (technically, one tournament pack and two booster packs), build a deck and try them out in one of the few truly casual tournaments on the annual schedule. I love pre-releases and have been to many of them. On September 18th & 19th, I went to the pre-release tournament for the new Magic the Gathering set: Champions of Kamigawa.

There are few things in life more fun than a deck of cards with colorful pictures!

Champions of Kamigawa features 306 new cards, many of them are extremely powerful and will change the way people of all skill levels approach the game of Magic. One of the cards I got at the pre-release is the card above, Zo-Zu the Punisher. In all honesty, at first glance this is one of the more unimpressive cards in the set. Probably very few people will use this card in professional tournament decks. However, at the pre-release I found it to be one of my most powerful tools. This little guy is responsible for at least two of my wins and all of my ties. Two things stand out from every game I lost, and one of them is not drawing this card in the first few turns. When he hit the table every single one of my opponents was forced to re-evaluate their strategy and playstyle. Over the course of two days playing I learned to love this little guy and although I am no pro, I am strongly tempted to build a deck designed to bring out his strengths and shore up his weaknesses.

However, the real lesson from this past weekend has nothing to do with Zo-Zu. The one thing I took to heart was that no matter how old I get, for better or worse, inside I will always be an eleven year-old kid who'd rather play games than chase girls or worry about where his next meal is coming from. Sad but true, I still haven't grown up and probably never will.

September 17, 2004

Once a fool, always a fool

Playing cards have been part and parcel of the Western world since the 13th century, and possibly even longer. The history of tarot cards, in turn, is even more difficult to pin down. When we stop to consider that even in humanity's oldest cities games of strategy and chance were part and parcel of daily life, trying to assign a beginning to something as ubiquitous as a card game becomes even more difficult than it already is. However, for some games finding the beginning is actually quite easy. Magic the Gathering, for example, was introduced to the world July, 1993. Over the past eleven years there have been many expansions, rules changes, and other improvements, but the game still features cards printed in one of five colors along with artifacts and lands. True to the spirit of the original game, the most important part of Magic the Gathering is building a playable deck with just the right selection of strategies to reduce your opponent's score to zero before they can do the same to you. Magic the Gathering is a cutthroat game built from artistic cards with a wide variety of different powers, influences, and rule-bending attributes. "It's all in the cards," is true of Tarot, and it's also true of Magic. And so it is that when skimming over the list of childish, idiotic, fanciful and fantastic quizzes at Quizilla, I was both enchanted and amused to find a quiz associating personality with tarot cards. To no one's surprise, I'm sure, I am The Fool!

The Fool Card

Image by Mary DeLave
You are The Fool card. The Fool fearlessly begins a journey into the unknown. To do this, he does not regard the world he knows as firm and fixed. He has a reckless disregard for obstacles. In the Ryder-Waite deck, he is seen stepping off a cliff with his gaze on the sky, and a rainbow is there to catch him. In order to explore and expand, one must disregard convention and conformity. Those in the throes of convention look at the unconventional, non-conformist personality and think, "What a fool!" They lack the point of view to understand The Fool's actions. But The Fool has roots in tradition as one who is closest to the spirit world. In many tribal cultures, those born with strange and unusual character traits were held in awe. Shamans were people who could see visions and go on journeys that we now label hallucinations and schizophrenia. Those with physical differences had experience and knowledge that the average person could not understand. The Fool is God. The number of the card is zero, which when drawn is a perfect circle. This circle represents both emptiness and infinity. The Fool is not shackled by mountains and valleys or by his physical body. He does not accept the appearance of cliff and air as being distinct or real.
"What Tarot Card Are You?" -- Brought to you by Quizilla!

September 08, 2004

The role of history

Bakalicious has a beautiful entry today about the writer's trip to Nikko. I have heard many wonderful things about Nikko, but despite having lived in Japan for almost twenty years, I have never been there. I'd like to go, but whenever the opportunity arises, something else with greater importance comes up as well. I have been to Nara many times, Kyoto half a dozen times, Nagoya more times than I can count, Osaka once or twice, and Hiroshima once. I also spent three months teaching in Nihonmatsu, which is a small town in Fukushima prefecture. Shinto remains one of the few aspects of Japanese culture that never ceases to amaze me in terms of diversity, individual expression, and uniqueness of character. I have seen and photographed hundreds, maybe even thousands of shrines ranging from a single stone in the middle of an open field to a huge edifice of such elaborateness an Egyptian Pharoah would probably be amazed. History is alive and well in Japan, but that is not necessarily a good thing.

A lifetime ago when I was young, enthusiastic, pious, and naive, I attended a revival meeting at a local Baptist church. The visiting evangelist had been to the Holy Land numerous times and claimed to be one of the few Christian missionaries allowed to preach openly in Jordan. At the time, of course, I didn't know that Jordan boasts one of the oldest, most well-established Christian populations in the entire world. One thing the evangelist said that day has stuck with me for almost thirty years, "I have been to the holy nation of Israel many times in my life and I have seen many changes. Security, peace, and stability are wonderful goals, but I miss the old days when the streets of Jerusalem were filled with wooden carts, bedouins and sheep, and it felt like the one place on Earth where time had stopped and the days of Christ our saviour still lived."

A place where time had stopped? Is that really what we Americans are searching for? Is reliving history so important to us that we are willing to sacrifice our modern world for the "comforts" of a Franklin Stove, homemade jelly, and fresh-baked bread? Do we really want to relight our stove every ten minutes, break our teeth on fruit seeds, and spend all day making toast? Does the preservation of history and tradition mean reliving the past on weekends and then slaving away during the week to make money for stockholders living in Florida? History is a wonderful thing. The more we study history the more we learn about who we are, where we come from, and how we got here, but that does not mean that sometime in the misty past people were happier, healthier, more spiritual, or more advanced in any other way, nor does it mean they were less advanced.

The multitude of notes, messages, grocery lists, and memorandums left to us by the Sumerians clearly show that in many, many ways, they were no different than we are. These people lived 7,000 years ago. They invented writing, built the very first cities, erected the first grand temples, developed a commercial economy, and created the foundations that the modern world is built upon. While the Egyptians were still drowning in the spring floods, the Sumerians were constructing irrigation works and organizing small cities with a temple in the center. While the Chinese were slaughtering each other in endless civil wars, the Sumerians were teaching their conquerers (the Akkadians) how to run, organize, and manage an empire. History is a wonderful teacher that we too often ignore. Instead of fantasizing about a glorious past, we need to learn the lessons of Waterloo, Hiroshima, and 9/11.

The real lesson history teaches us is neither the glory of heroism nor the greatness of humanity. Sadly, the real lesson history teaches is that the only time society moves forward is when we find a way to preserve our individualism while still working together for the common good. In every single instance, as soon as one person or group gains the power to dictate the dreams and ambitions of their society, that society implodes. There are no exceptions!

There is no golden past. However, if we pay attention to the lessons history teaches, we might have a golden future.

September 01, 2004

What does "pathetic" look like?

Maybe it's the economy, or maybe it's the political climate, but the last week or so it seems like everywhere I turn I'm running across people who feel completely dissatisfied with themselves. "I'm tired of being so pathetic," Piro cries out in the most recent Megatokyo, and right about now it looks like a whole lot of people are echoing that sentiment.


There have been many times in my life when I felt deeply depressed but never once in my life have I looked in a mirror and said to myself, "Brian, you are so pathetic!"

I'm not "pathetic". I've never met anyone who is. I've met people who are down on their luck, I've met people with emotional, physical, or intellectual disabilities, or even some combination of the three, but I have never met a person I would label "pathetic". Perhaps my English is not quite up to par. Most Americans, after all, are far from literate. So maybe the problem is I don't really understand the idea of "pathetic". I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but my definition has always been really simple: unwilling to free one's self of an undesirable situation!

I've met a lot of "challenged" people, as we say in today's world, but all of them were either fighting hard to get along despite their limitations, or using their limitations to explain away their failures. All of them were more than willing to change their circumstances, but they couldn't. There is nothing pathetic about being socially deficient, emotionally immature, or even intellectually impaired. If the world will not let you spread your wings and fly, it is not your fault, so why would you call yourself "pathetic"?

There is nothing wrong with being less than perfect. Reality is never perfect, even though there are some people who would like you to believe they are somehow closer to perfect than you are, and therefore you are less human than they are, that does not make it real. Generally speaking I don't listen to those people, it's too depressing. I've beaten a few of them bloody, been beaten bloody by a few, yelled at some, been yelled at by some, humiliated more than my share, and been humiliated by more than my share. In many cases, they have passed on while I am still here, even though they were undoubtedly "better" people than I could ever dream of becoming. They were richer, prettier, taller, stronger, smarter, more insightful, or whatever, but they are now six feet under while I am still above ground kicking, screaming, causing a fuss, and every once in a great while, being fussed over.

So, tell me, what does "pathetic" look like? I know it doesn't look like me, and I can guarantee you this: it doesn't look like you, either!