Saturday, November 8, 2014

One Last Song

Now that I've found that tumblr is a better vehicle for posting videos and text together I am going to abandon the song inspired format for this blog and find a new focal point for my rambling ( shouldn't be hard ). So with that said I offer you one last song inspired soliloquy, or is this a soliloquy that inspired the song selection? It's hard to tell sometimes.

Eisley is one of those bands I wasn't looking out for, and didn't expect to like as much as I did. Nevertheless I ended up being a fan.  Was it timing, circumstance?  Maybe a little, but mostly, it was their talent and ambition.  You can only hope the sky is the limit for some bands, so when they grow and improve it's  a wonderful surprise that renews your interest.  For me, the Deep Space EP was evidence that process was ongoing with Eisley.  

Each album was captivating and had songs I liked more than the featured tracks on the previous release, but the two songs that were played live prior to the release of Deep Space were immediate favorites.  I was initially taken with Lights Out, which had its genesis in the turmoil the band had experienced in the summer they recorded the EP. It was an anthem to lift the spirits of everyone despairing at that time.  One Last Song was a serenade, not unlike a lullaby, similar to the song that drew me in and made me a fan initially, Marvelous Things, distinguished by One Last Song's musical creativity, which saw the band slipping into a smokey groove just shy of the dark side of the moon, in a way, playing themselves out.  That's what I call going out in style.  I can only hope to have a little of that rub off here as I transition to:

I'm not sure what will inspire the rambles over here, but it won't be music.  Hopefully it won't be any further confusion about the condition of my affections and capacity to actualize them.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Fix is in.

Working in my field, and in the hobbies I have, there is always a new device or application touted to solve a problem or add functionality to resolve a known issue.  These things are said to be "fixed" .  The sales pitches focus on how these fixes work "In Theory".  Implementation usually focuses on how long you are willing to wait "In Cue" for tech support because the fix broke something or revealed a flaw somewhere else.

In life there are two kind of fixes:

One that repairs what did not work
One that guaranties a particular result

I love this song, and I love that it invokes both fixes, as well as a desire to make the two one and the same.  Then I project my own observations about my, and other people's propensity for self-fulfilling prophecies and the potency of the lyric hits home even more.  And of course this song came out right at the end of the 10 Year's Prophecy and I saw it performed live with my partner in that ill-fated, elongated figure 8 waltz we called love, that had entered its final spiral down.

Video Games

Since I am not feeling well I am going to give voice to text a shot starting in 1 2 3: so starting last spring I began playing video games regularly for the first time since maybe the turn of the century. I had spent the majority of my free time focused on music primarily since then. I pretty much stopped playing video games after my freshman year of college and spent most of my time from that point forward buying and listening to music. I also read comic books in my free time, but after a year or so of being college poor I stopped reading comics too. Music had become the dominant preoccupation for me outside of my personal life and academics. So much so, that within 3 years of beginning the shift of focus in my life from the visual and literary arts to the appreciation and collecting of music, I decided to take up an instrument.

Taking up an instrument led me to writing songs, learning how to record music, and eventually taking up other instruments and also joining bands. Along the way, after college I did manage to spend a little time playing PlayStation 1. There was an action role playing game, Alundra 2, that I invested some time in. It may have been the first game of that sort that I had ever completed. Prior to that my most enjoyable experience playing a video game had been Toe Jam and Earl. The value of this game wasn't in the mechanics or the graphics, it was just a great game to play with a friend. It was fun because of the way it allowed you to interact with each other.  The humor and goofy excitement was otherwise hard to create with a friend. It wasn't that friendships were hard, it was that whatever it took to get a person to let down their guard and be ridiculous seemed to be too hard for the average person at that time in my life. People were very guarded and insecure.

Adolescence is a time when you find yourself withdrawn, emotionally volatile, and struggling to relate. At least that was the experience I shared with my closest friends, so that game embodied a lot of what it was to be younger and less inhibited.  It allowed us to be carefree, but it prevented us from doing so in ways that could get us in trouble, where we might have to deal with consequences we were not equipped to negotiate.

It was a harmless game, literally.  You didn't really kill anything per se, and you really didn't die in the conventional sense because if you did you could "bum a life" off a friend. The amount of emotional depth in the game was lacking.  It was purely whimsical and that's why it was fun. There wasn't another game that captured that sense of fun until Ratchet and Clank came out. Now this was a game that I didn't own myself, it was a game my friends owned, and if I played, it was after enthusiastically watching friends play, in an attempt to try and help them get past an obstacle or take a break after playing a long while. It wasn't a cooperative game, so that element was missing, but it was just as fun to watch friends play and suggest things to solve problems and see them execute things to achieve the goals in the game. But you know, time moves on you find different ways to occupy yourself.

My appreciation of music led to me endeavoring in journalism, primarily as a service to the musicians and artists I appreciated but I felt were relegated to relative obscurity. I enjoyed sharing my experiences at concerts and writing about the music itself, since I let it consume so much of my time in place of all those other things that I made hobbies of in my younger years. But,  as fate would have it, things change in culture over time and now the mainstream pop culture has embraced the different interests of my youth that I would have relegated to juvenile activities that I grew out of.

Video games, comic books, and music are now part of the popular lexicon. For the most part young adults, most mature adults, and almost all children have these things as a regular part of their entertainment. The mainstream culture has incorporated all these things to the point of ubiquity.  You might share an interest in the daintiest, most pristine, beautiful piece of music, work of literature, or work of art with someone and come to find out they share a common interest in something that is disparate, like campy comedies, horror/ gory movies, whimsical TV series, or an action video game that involves all manners of tasteless humor, extreme violence and things of that nature. Such are the times.

So for me, the compartments I put things and people in have dissolved.  I can share more things with more people, whereas in my childhood, these same things isolated people and were the source of ridicule. It's a real life Revenge of the Nerds I guess?  The funny thing is, though the last console I had in my possession up until now was a PS1, I did, at my previous job, work in a building with a small arcade.  Tekken was always an escalator ride away.  I worked with legitimate Professional Level Gamers, so I was leery to spend too much time on the machine before one of them came by and shut me down.  Even if I was feeling good about my chances, I never really shook the stigma competitive gaming had in my mind because of the things it brought out in my character in the past that I didn't like.  I preferred co-op gaming whenever possible.  Again, this is why I loved Toe Jam and Earl.

As a console gamer in the pre-online gaming era, co-op gaming was uncommon and clunky.  Enter the 21st century and suddenly the sky is the limit, and games are designed exclusively for multi-player experiences.  Computers of some sort or another have become as commonplace as TVs, and cellphones have evolved into handheld computers that can play games.  It was that development that moved me towards gaming again, single player, and multi-player.  Meanwhile my nieces and nephews grew up playing games, and that was their primary past-time, so any game they played that I had any measure of skill at, was a chance to share an activity with them on their level.  Those sorts of things are priceless, and that was the reason I liked gaming in the first place as a kid.

What's really a trip, is now my niece's children play games, my eldest great nephew starting when he was 3, with Angry Birds, and moving forward to Web Games on the PC.  At 6 years old he has already developed such a fascination with gaming that he will sit at the computer for hours playing. I honestly couldn't relate to his fascination because my attention span wains so quickly.  I can scarcely commit to watching a movie, but then, I wasn't conditioned to watch movies as a kid, I was conditioned to watch 23 minute cartoons interspersed with 3 minute commercial breaks every 6 or 7 minutes. Regardless, games are a part of everyone's lives directly or indirectly.  We use them in school to teach our children the basic fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic so the experience is ingrained early on.  For adults who weren't raised on gaming, the advent of the mobile computer experience through cellular devices has brought them into the fold.  So they are everywhere in one shape or form, and most people have some sort of gaming experience.

The reason I am even writing this is because of the impact venturing back into full-blown gaming has had on the last 6 months of my life socially.  Gaming was always a social experience,  but as time went on games got longer, more involved, nye all-consuming as developers sought to make the most captivating experiences for consumers.  The bottom line is making money, and money is made by having positive reactions and repeat customers.  Addicts are the best customers.  The trick is selling a product that creates a sort of addiction.  Most addictive substances impact our brain chemistry via chemical reactions, but you don't need to ingest a chemical to trigger a chemical reaction in your brain, you just need an experience that triggers the natural chemical reactions that already take place, like Dopamine or Adrenaline.  Games tap into these and take you on a sensory and emotional roller coaster ride, and the feelings are no doubt addictive in nature if taken to an extreme.  That was not my experience these last six months, but the neurological impact of gaming did play a part in why I was curious to see how I would take to playing modern video games.

When I was gaming younger, it was a shared social experience, with competitive games being something I was more likely to share with strangers, and cooperative games reserved to my closest friends.  The advent of role playing games and games with long campaigns necessitated having a commitment to finishing it with whoever was playing with you, and since this was prior to online gaming ,what that meant was spending hours with a person playing a game, in your home, for days, if not months, and ultimately years if you kept playing more games.  Gaming buddies were like relationships.  There are a lot of people who have had relationships end because they were more committed to gaming with their friends than coupling with their significant others.  The flip side is there are people who have never been available to be in relationships because they have that sense of companionship from friends they game with.  Now this isn't hardly exclusive to gaming, but at this stage in development, most games have as many hours of gameplay required to finish them as a 3 credit college course (20-30 hours for one play through).  That's a lot of time to spend having funny and sharing laughs and thrills, and even the occasional moving moment in a game, with someone.  These games can and will move you to tears if you are immersed in a deep narrative.  Stories are stories no matter how they are presented, and the best craftsmen in any field of entertainment know it's beneficial to tug at the heart strings to draw people in.  We are emotional by nature.

The question that emerged was this: Can a person balance a conventional, non-gamer lifestyle, and entertain being a gamer again?  Can I balance the two?  Can I share those immersive and exhausting gaming experiences with someone that isn't as close to me as my friends were?  Will sharing those experiences create a friendship anywhere near the bonds I had with those friends in the past, with online gaming as the foundation?

What I discovered is that gaming online, much like any social activity on the internet, is what the individuals make of it.  It can be an escape from reality to lose yourself in, or a means to simply find a human connection through shared experiences so you can relate.  It can be a cheap thrill to get your blood pumping.  It's a medium.  People make the experiences, and in that you can find out bits about the depth of their humanity outside of games if they are willing to share.  Even if they aren't, the experience of gaming will reveal things about who they are based on how they react to the authored experience the game developers provide for you.  In the end everyone's reaction to this kind of sharing/ socializing is subject to their own temperament based on their own experiences.  There are definitely cultural and generational inconsistencies that can cause a lot of confusion if people aren't coming from the same place and able to create a comfortable understanding of expectations.

Having been pretty close to marrying someone, and having my own use of recreational time to pursue music performance, and gaming with my bandmates draw the ire of my significant other, I know that for me, in the past, my recreation put a strain on my ability to advance my personal and romantic life.  This go around I found out that hasn't changed.  When you spend a lot of time sharing experiences with someone, platonic as they may be, that's time and experiences you are not available to share with someone who may share romantic intentions with you.  If the feelings are mutual, and the pursuit one that isn't doomed for failure because of one circumstance or another, reducing the amount of time you give of yourself to pre-occupations that might detract from your pursuit of romance is the right call.  On the other hand, having those social experiences with someone you have no romantic involvement with, but enjoy spending time with, does raise the standard on what will make you happy in a relationship, for better or worse.

I found myself thinking, "Will I be as happy in a relationship if I am involved with someone who doesn't like to do the things the people I game with do?"  and, "If the people I game with are not interested in romantic relationships will I end up in the same boat if I allow my desires for companionship to be influenced by the satisfaction I have from sharing the gaming experience and social relationship that comes from it with them?"  Those questions forced me to be introspective about any romantic possibilities I thought I had to explore in the past few months, and whether I would pursue them if I was getting a facsimile of companionship through online gaming and social networking?  When I thought about what would have to change in my behavior to allow me to pursue a romantic interest, it became obvious to me that I had been using gaming as a way to measure my feelings towards potential romantic interests.  If I wasn't as excited and fulfilled trying to develop a connection with them as I was building my gaming based friendship, it probably wasn't worth pursuing.  I was turning gaming into a means by which I could withdraw, an emotional crutch to support apprehension and avoidance strategies ( music and faith served the same purpose for a while in my life ).  Once I realized what was happening I started writing this.  It's been a few months in the making.  In the meantime I set some goals with my games, or better said, I embraced the goals they set for me, with achievements.  That made it easier to determine a stoping point where I could renegotiate how I spent my time and chose my social and emotional investments.

I used that time to learn if I had developed any different sensibilities about what engaged and entertained me in games and found out it hadn't.  I still love accomplishing things, and absurdist humor, but I definitely still don't enjoy having my buttons pushed or being terrorized by shocks and thrills.  I like excitement, but don't really care for excessive pressure or being overwhelmed.  Sensory deprivation and foreboding feelings are triggers for unease and I get turned off when they are invoked, and don't feel obligated to complete an experience if it requires enduring those things for more than a few moments.  Those are definitely times when I recognize that I am choosing to play the game, and continuing to do so is totally elective.  Most of all I learned that the types of games I do like, are more fun with friends who have the same sensibilities, and the reward for sharing those experiences is rarely matched outside of having a deep personal relationship with someone, as a tried and true friend, or romantic interest.  In the perfect world for some of us, you can find all those things in one person and thus eliminate the conundrum of balancing time between recreational activities with friends and having your standards met for companionship.  I have never been able to have my cake and eat it too, especially when it comes to friendships and relationships, but who of us has?  There are always one or two things that create some measure of distance.  I'd like to think that this has made me ( and most people ) more empathetic and thoughtful, aware that my perspective is one of many, each valid in their own context.

The real challenge is, has been, and will always be, communicating honestly and openly about what people want, expect, and are willing to accept.  If we can't be honest with ourselves about these things, or someone else, communication fails and we are left with actions based on whims, hunches, second-guessing, and in some cases, ambivalence. Those kinds of circumstances can leave you feeling compromised or cornered, frustrated and confused, which aren't the kind of feelings you associate with entertainment, fun, and friendship.  It's fair to say those types of complications have no place in online gaming, if that's all it is. I can respect and honor that.  But then I ask myself, is that all it should be?  Is that somehow reducing my humanity, leaving me encapsulated by what I can allow myself to think and feel?  I think the truth is that life is about mutual respect and our limitations are defined by interacting with each other.  In that way freedom is an illusion unless you are willing to embrace solitude and isolation, so you don't have to consider anyone else's boundaries.  As luck would have it, most games have solo campaigns with their own sets of achievements. So does life, but you'll never achieve all there is to explore and enjoy if you don't know how to make the most of both solitary and social living, making each rewarding.  These last 6 or so months have been a sea change for me in that regard because I have let myself embrace both solitary and social experiences.  Now I am trying to bring them all together, and finding out that it's a skill I never was able to develop, and failing when I try at this point, results in the end of the opportunity.  Sometimes you just have to save your progress and quit because it's not a game you can win honestly.  More importantly, life is not a game, it's a tapestry you weave.