Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Only Thing to Fear, is Fear Itself"

Fear. Fear is an intricate and confusing thing. It can destroy relationships, dreams, or even lives if you let it. We all fear something. It could be something small (or at least what others see as small). It could be huge. It doesn't matter. It is okay to be afraid sometimes, but it is incredibly important to manage your fear. Without doing so properly, you are not only hurting yourself, but those around you.

During my 20 years on this earth, I have allowed fear to dictate my actions. Whether it is fear of failure or rejection, it has always been there to hold me back. Fear has forced me to never learn some things, forget other things, miss opportunities, and allow potential friendships/relationships to crumble (that is, if fear ever let them begin in the first place). Fear is a tricky thing that I have struggled to control in life. I thought that I had it on a tight leash, but I might be the one on the leash.

At times I have encouraged myself to step up, at other times I have failed to address the issue; this is not one of those times. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith and believe that someone (including yourself) will be there to catch you. I have never allowed myself to make that jump. Right now, I vow to myself to regain control of my actions. Starting right now, I will work to manage my cluster of continuous fears that hold me back. After all, "the only thing to fear, is fear itself."

I’m Excited, But Should I Be?: Part 3 Yes . . . and no

Alright, so I’ve had Battlefield 3 in my possession for a full week and when I was in Iowa City over the weekend, I played it quite a bit. It is everything that I thought it would be. Multiplayer is where it is at and it is great. BF3 is possibly the most intense and most exhilarating first-person shooter I’ve ever played. The maps are ginormous, the vehicles deadly, the weapons varied, and the battles epic. Despite all of this, BF3 simply isn’t as fun as a Call of Duty game . . . which is why I’m excited for Modern Warfare 3.
By no means will I trade in BF3 anytime soon and I’m not going to spring for MW3 as soon as it comes out (patience my friend), but BF3 simply isn’t as fun as Call of Duty. It is a phenomenal experience, but it isn’t the kind of game that I can casually play with friends. The game is so intense with craziness going on somewhere at all times. It is great to have something fresh added to the current FPS scene, but I still crave more.
Once again, the over-hyping continues and nothing is ever enough. We’ll have to see if MW3 can cure the itch. 

"What Does This Mean?"

Everyday, we listen to music that we don’t know the meaning of. It could be that we know the lyrics, but don’t understand the message (if there is one) of the song. More often than not, we are jamming to a song on the radio, in the car and we have no idea what words are being sung. That can lead to trouble.
Okay, here are lyrics from the choruses of two different songs:
“All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, outrun my gun
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, outrun my gun
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks 
You'd better run, better run, faster than my bullet”
“I'm someone else
I'm someone new
I'm someone stupid just like you
I'm someone else
I'm someone new 
I'm someone stupid just like you”
One of these songs is about a school shooting. One of these songs is written by Marilyn Manson. Manson didn’t write the school shooting song. 
The new song by up and coming rock band, Foster The People, entitled “Pumped Up Kicks” is a song that most parents wouldn’t want their kids to listen to. Many are offended (to say the least) by the likes of Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga and they make it known. “Pumped Up Kicks” is a song that has been getting a lot of radio play lately and is considered by many to be a catchy tune. Very few have had anything negative to say about it and even fewer still have pulled it from the airwaves. 
You don’t have to lookup the lyrics to every new song that comes out (some people mess up the lyrics anyway), but I think that before you sing, or dance to, or download a song, it would be a good idea to find out what is being said. It may change how you feel about the song. Then again, it may not.

All-Hallows Eve

Once a year it is socially acceptable to dress like your favorite movie character, cross-dress, or wear almost nothing at all. And that night is tonight. What motivates us to dress up? We aren’t kids anymore. As comedian, Lewis Black, has pointed out; grownups don’t need to ask for permission to dress up anymore. You can walk into work on Monday dressed as Batman. It might not go so well, but you can do it. So what drives us?
Maybe some people are saddened by their own reality and use this one night to escape to another world. Maybe some whom may be considered prudish, decide to dress as a playboy bunny for one night to show another side of themselves. Of course, it’s possible that many people just use Halloween as an excuse to drink or smoke (as if they wouldn’t have done that anyway).
It is a simple question of little importance, but nonetheless, it is still a question that I have for our society and I don’t think that it will ever be answered. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Car, Monica

I currently own a 2001 Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 that my grandparents bought me about a year and a half ago. Her name is Monica (yes, I named my car). She has a green exterior with a silver and bronze pinstripe on one side (it has faded off the other side) and a light gray interior with uncomfortably “firm” leather seats. In little over a year's time I have added about 10,000 miles to this car. I’ve flown across interstate 80, skidded over ice, and gotten lost in the rain. I have had some good (and bad . . . but mostly good) times in this car, but if I knew what I know now when I was looking for a car, Monica would still be sitting at the dealer.
Right now, I am somewhat knowledgable about cars. You may even call me a “petrol head” if you will. I haven't always been this way. Back in May of 2009, I felt like a deer in the headlights when I was looking for a car. I needed one fast (I had about two weeks) and it was just me and my mom looking around town. We went to a few dealers and test drove several cars. Some of these cars were nice, but were ultimately out of my price range. Others spewed smoke out of the air vents and smelt putrid. After several days, I settled on Monica and I was just glad to have my own set of wheels.

At the time, she seemed like a great buy. We were told (several times) that she hadn’t been in any accidents and were shown her “Carfax” to confirm that. She had some scratches and scuffs, but was in good shape. The interior was nothing special to speak of, but it was solid. Besides the price (somewhere around $4,000), she had low mileage for being almost 10-years-old (about 55,000 miles). Everything seemed just dandy. 
Within a week, the power seats on the drivers side broke. A month later, one of the rear windows jammed. Winter break that year, Monica had costly transmission problems (literally). By April, the same problems returned, but this time her transmission had to be completely replaced. The radio bugs out, her check engine light is on, and the speakers on one side of the car don’t work. Actually, as I am typing this, she is sitting in a shop here in Ames that is working on her transmission again. 
This past spring, I found out that I had been deceived. I found the real Carfax and it showed that my car had been in an accident within two years of being on the road. She had also had electrical problems multiple times and was frequently in the shop. It also came to my attention that she was onto her third transmission in 10 years and that there is a chance that her odometer has been rolled back (meaning she may have more miles on her than I thought). It is a mess. Since I have owned Monica, over $3,000 has gone into fixing her. I could have bought another cheap car for that.
I don’t think that everyone has to be a car freak; you don’t, but when buying a car I urge you to be smarter than I was. Get to know a thing or two about cars, take your time looking, ask questions, have a trusted, third-party mechanic inspect the car before purchase, etc. Don’t be me. Don’t spend your money on a car that will shrink your bank account and cause too many headaches to count. Don’t buy a “Monica.” And on that note, does anyone wanna buy my car?

The "Suck For Luck" Campaign

There is a current fan phenomenon for those out there supporting winless NFL teams and those close behind. It is called “Suck for Luck.” Andrew Luck is currently the starting quarterback at Stanford and is considered to be the closest thing to a sure draft pick. Barring injury, Luck will surely be the number one overall pick in next April’s NFL draft. Fans are rooting for their teams to “suck”, so they will lose enough games to garner that coveted pick. Many are against this idea, but I am all for it.
I, too root for my team to “suck.” I have placed my allegiance with the Chicago Bears (mostly because I am from the Chicago suburbs), but I want them to lose every game they play unless they are in the playoffs. Personally, I have felt for years that the current coaching and front office staff are incapable of winning a Superbowl. 
Just yesterday, I suffered a let down when Tampa Bay quarterback, Josh Freeman, threw another interception to the Bears defense late in the game. The Bears dominated Tampa for three quarters, but I was given a glimmer of hope when a potential fourth quarter comeback was launched. With less than two minutes left in the game, Freeman started slinging the ball around to receivers all over the field. Then, fear set in as I could see a pass miss the intended receiver and head towards a defenders hand. The pass was intercepted, the game was over, and the Bears won.
My thinking is that the more the Bears lose, the closer head coach, Lovie Smith, and general manager, Jerry Angelo, come to searching help wanted posts. NFL job security is directly related to victories (or lack of). For several years, the Bears have fluctuated from being bad to surprisingly good, but have remained dysfunctional throughout. They have won just enough for everyone to keep their jobs.

Hopefully, this ends after this season, so I can go back to cheering for Bear’s touchdowns instead of booing them. Until then, I will remain stagnant in the crazed state of disappointment and confusion I am guaranteed to be in on gamedays. 

I'm Excited, But Should I Be? Part 2

As I mentioned in a recent post, I am psyched for Battlefield 3. This epic shooter of colossal graphical proportions will be released tomorrow and many of the reviews came in today.

No one believes the game is perfect, but everyone says it provides a stellar online multiplayer experience both on consoles and PCs. Of course, I don’t love every game that gets rave reviews and I have spent countless, mindless hours enjoying games I was told to stay away from.

Originally, I had pre-ordered Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but I allowed my enthusiasm for the planes, tanks, and destructible environments in Battlefield 3 to dictate where my money went. I cancelled that pre-order and immediately pre-ordered Battlefield 3 instead (the only other time I have done that is when I cancelled my pre-order for racing simulator, Forza 4, for Modern Warfare 3; ironic.). 

Sometime tomorrow between an early lunch and my afternoon classes, I’ll be heading over to Gamestop. Minutes later, I’ll be staring at my TV screen, watching the Battlefield logo appear. Soon I will find out whether my excitement will be dwindled or my expectations matched.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Look Into the Mirror and See Half a Face

Far too often, a story of significant tragedy is brought to my attention. In this case, the same women that has experienced far worse than anyone ever should, has displayed greater strength and courage than most people are capable of (link to article). Twenty-two-year-old, Evelyn Apoko, was abducted from her Ugandan home by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) before she was a teen.

During the three years she was held captive by the guerrilla group, Apoko witnessed terrible acts of violence and suffered tremendous physical, mental, and emotional pain. Apoko did what she had to to survive. She knew that if she didn’t listen to the LRA, she would be killed. 

Apoko was often caught in the midst of a firefight. One day, planes flew by, leaving bombs in their path. The child Apoko had been carrying was killed, Apoko suffered life-threatening injuries, and was left without a jaw. The LRA “spared” her because she could walk on her own. She couldn’t eat, so she drank. Eventually, she escaped when she said she was going to use the bathroom, then never returned. She made it back to Uganda and has had treatment there and major operations in the U.S.

The LRA abducts boys and girls between 9-12 years old to keep their organization alive. Girls become mules, wives, or sex slaves while boys are left to “choose” between fighting or being left in a mass grave. The LRA is always moving and floats between several nations. They have been in existence since the 1980’s and are led by Joseph Kony. 

The group had failed to be in the public eye until recently, President Obama decided to sent 100 military advisors to central Africa to hunt down the leaders of the LRA. What brought greater attention to the issue was conservative radio personality, Rush Limbaugh calling out Obama and coming to the defense of the “Christian” LRA. Apoko herself has responded to Limbaugh in a video, exposing the LRA for who they are and providing her side of the story. Limbaugh has left her waiting for a response.

Media attention is only the beginning. For Apoko and other survivors to heal and move on, much will have to be done. Child abductions must be stopped to spare the lives of many and to stop the growth of the LRA. This is not the only case of “humans” doing unspeakable acts to others that should be too sadistic to imagine, let alone carry out. Inhumane acts are a global issue. We have to do more than write or talk, myself included. We need to act. As Apoko says, "Every human being deserves peace in their life. We all deserve to live life without fear."

That's My Song, Don't Wear It Out

Its no secret that I Love music. Music is one of my greatest passions and I listen to it A LOT. I listen to music on my way to class, when I’m playing a game (that doesn’t require sound), when I do homework. I’m even listening to music as I’m typing this right now. However, there is one problem with listening to this much music; I wear it out.

I suffer a constant internal struggle between listening to a song too much and not listening to it enough to truly appreciate it. Every single time a new album comes out that I love, I listen to it over and over and over again. I tell myself, “live in moderation,” but I keep my ipod on “repeat.” I think to myself, “Hey, Linkin Park is awesome. I should listen to some Linkin Park . . . nah.” Then suddenly, I just stop. I don’t dare listen to a single track on that album for weeks, months, or in extreme cases, years. I move on to the latest album I added to my itunes library and allow myself to get lost in the guitar riffs and vocal melodies.

I’ve experienced this same cyclical problem since middle school and it has only worsened over time. Currently, my ears have been glued to my headphones, listening to Mastodon’s latest album, The Hunter. The album has been out for several weeks now and since then it has accounted for about 90% of all of the music I’ve listened to. I simply can’t stop listening to it. It is just a matter of time (no longer than a month from now) before I stop listening to the album and possibly, the band, for a stretch of time. I’m sure that by that point another album will be out to take its place (there are actually three albums coming out soon that I want to listen to [“I’m Excited, But Should I Be?]).

For years and years, this has been going on like clockwork. The only occasional hiccup is when multiple albums come out close together. Then, I can’t just listen to one album because others get ignored. At the same time, sometimes an album does get ignored only to be resurrected when I have grown bored with my current music and no new music has filled its shoes. 

I don’t know what it is about my personality that causes my brain to conform to these cycles, but to whatever you are, “well played sir.” 

I'm Excited, But Should I Be?

On seemingly a daily basis, I am excited about something. It may be an upcoming cd, movie, or video game, but whatever it is doesn’t matter. I will constantly over-hype things to myself, setting myself up for future disappointment. This is a constant, never-ending cycle that I tell myself I will break, but I only ever make it stronger.

As soon as I’ve traded in or returned that game that was supposed to be the game, I immediately look for the next great thing. Recently I have hyped up Battlefield 3 as being God’s gift to first-person shooters. I spent a few too many hours playing the open-beta (where the public gets to play-test a small snip-it of the game), I watched every trailer and interview I could find, I’ve read preview upon preview, and sadly, I have even wasted time watching in-game footage, with no commentary; just some lucky gamer running around shooting things.

Should this DICE developed game fail to meet my exceedingly high expectations, my attention will move onto Modern Warfare 3 or Mass Effect 3 or Pillow Pets (just kidding, but that’s actually a game). If the new KoRn album disappoints, my ears will be waiting for more music by Papa Roach or Atreyu. If The Avengers movie stinks, I will stalk movie theaters until the inevitable Avengers 2 premiers, hoping it will somehow be better. Eventually, I will be forced to ask myself the question, “when will this end?!”

Why I Fail at Zelda

I love Zelda, I really do. I follow news about the latest games,  look at screenshots, and watch trailers. I even show all of these things to my girlfriend, who first played Zelda back on her gameboy color while in elementary school. Despite all of this, I have only ever owned one zelda game before and I was bad at it, really bad.

Back in middle school, I got The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker for Gamecube. I liked the art style, the gameplay, and even managed to put up with having to sail around on a boat for long stretches of time with little to do. I loved the game, but I never got very far and I died ALL THE TIME. Eventually, frustration set in and I never played the game again.

Currently, my girlfriend has The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for her DS. I have only tried playing twice and failed each time. I got stumped in a stealth sequence where you have to sneak past some guards and escape a castle. Ten-year-old kids could handle this, but I couldn’t. Of course, occasionally my girlfriend gets stuck and feels lame when she has to refer to a game guide to get help, but she doesn’t know that really, I am the lame one. 

Despite my struggles, I recognize the series as being instrumental to Nintendo’s success over the years and I know it has brought joy (and frustration) to millions of people. I remain excited about everything Zelda, but I have accepted that it is not my cup of gaming tea. Perhaps one day, my future kids will experience the joy of winning a Zelda boss battle, something which I have never felt. Only time will tell. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stop Hatin' on Gamin'

For years the video game industry has been seen by politicians and other public figures as being a scapegoat for violent behavior and acts. I believe that games are not the problem and they are only an easy scapegoat because gamers are believed to be a minority.
Politicians that attack the video game industry often times do not understand the industry and place undeserved blame on those that are a part of it. CNN's William Bennett has blamed video games for men being unemployed and unmarried (link to article here). He urges men, in particular, to stop playing video games. Bennett, who was the U.S. Secretary of Education under Reagan, says that the increased percentage of women in the job market is a direct result of men “wasting” their time playing games. This is in complete disregard to that fact that gender inequality has come a long way. He uses statistics that date back to the early 1970’s, before the first game console was even invented. He also does not seem to be a credible and reliable source, as he has been outed for making racist remarks on his radio show (link to article here).

If you were to ask someone what social class they belong to, they will probably say that they are a member of the middle class. People making $30,000 and $300,000 a year often claim to be a part of the same class because the middle class is also a state of mind; gamers are the same way. 
Most people that play games do not consider themselves to be “gamers” because society places a negative connotation with the word “gamer.” To me, if you consistently play a video game of any kind, then you are a gamer. You don’t have to own a game console or even a computer to be a gamer. Everyday, 30 million people play Angry Birds, but many would probably deny being a gamer (link to article here). If all of these people admitted to being a gamer, then we would no longer be considered a minority. If we were no longer a minority, then we would no longer be a scapegoat.
Gamers aren’t going to go away, in fact, we are growing. 91 percent of kids in the US game, which is a nine percent increase over last year (link to article here). This brings to mind the phrase, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” 
Video games inspire and motivate people, allowing them to do great things. Planet Hunters, an online collection of public-release NASA Kepler data, used gamers to discover two new planet candidates (link to article here). 
Similarly, players of the online protein folding simulator, Foldit, found the structure of a specific enzyme believed to have an important role in the spread of the AIDS virus, bringing scientists closer to curing the disease (link to article here).

Next, Patrick Campbell suffered a stroke when he was 14 that stole his two biggest passions from him: video games and drawing. He is now 21 and over the years he has gained back some of his strengths and abilities. Before his stroke, he had naturally been right-handed, but he has never regained the use of his right hand. This has pushed him to write and draw with his left hand. Traditionally, gaming has required two hands, but Campbell didn’t let that stop him. He has perfected ways to play video games using his left hand, as well as other body parts, and he plays well enough to beat many of his friends (link to article here). There are many more examples of gamers that accomplish great things.
It is true that people are influenced by games, sometimes in a negative way. Some people do allow themselves to get lost in a virtual world that they believe to be better than the real one. In 2000, China banned video game consoles, hoping its citizens would spend less time gaming (link to article here). While preventing people from playing console games, the Chinese have turned to PC games. Further, this December, China’s first gaming console is going on sale (link to article here). 
Also, although games could push people to do bad things, games aren’t necessarily the reason why people do bad things. It's been rumored that if you have naturally violent tendencies, then violent video games may magnify your existing behaviors. I have played video games since I was 2-years-old and played my first shooter when I was in elementary school and it hasn’t negatively affected my behavior in anyway. If you are naturally a creative person, video games can help push your creativity. It all depends on the individual playing the game.
Games are not the only medium that can influence people’s behaviors; movies, television shows, music, and books all play a role as well. It has been highly publicized that Mark David Chapman, the killer of John Lennon, said that the book The Catcher in the Rye pushed him to murder (link to article). The media isn’t an innocent bystander either. Everyday, the news relies on violent acts (riots, wars, homicides) to make headline news. So when it comes to scapegoats, society should stop pointing fingers at gamers.