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Subtle Geek Chic

Film & Movies, Gaming, Life

So, the other night I went with a friend to go see Expendables 3 (which, unfortunately, wasn’t as great as I would have hoped for as a fan of the first two, but I attribute that almost exclusively to them wiping out Terry Crews in the first fifteen minutes. Um, spoilers, I guess. Yeah – Wait for that movie at the dollar theater.).

But there was a fun little Easter egg that ended up in the movie that kind of pulled us out of the experience.

ExpendablesN7

When Barney (Stallone) and the “new kids” are interrogating Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) in the van, it’s supposed to be an intimately difficult scene. Stonebanks is goading Barney into just killing him right there, taunting him and getting him angry. I’d imagine the scene was rather intense.

Or, it would have been, had I not been so distracted by two “N7″ logos on a couple of hats hanging behind Gibson.

For those unaware, the N7 logo is associated with the Mass Effect games series. From the wiki:

N7 is a vocational code in the Systems Alliance military. The “N” designates special forces and the “7” refers to the highest level of proficiency. It applies to marines who have graduated from the Interplanetary Combatives Training (ICT) program.

The little logos made me laugh, especially for the inside joke that was clearly the work of some set worker who was able to sneak this by everyone. Clever, clever.

I’ve always enjoyed items that I’ve taken to calling “Subtle Geek Chic,” or things which don’t look extremely out of place in any context, but for those “in the know,” carry a little extra meaning.

As an example, on my car are three logos which look like any number of random car-aftermarket vinyls that you might see on a tuner car. That is, except the logos look like this:

These logos represent three of the main weapon manufacturers of Borderlands, and though most people don’t give them a second glance, those who are aware of what they mean usually make a comment.

I’ve seen Aperture Science polo shirts, and I keep eyeing this satchel with the “New California Republic” logo emblazoned on it (that seems perpetually out of stock!), along with numerous other examples.

There is a difference to me, I think, between these kind of “second layer” references to things that are more interesting than simply a surface image. As a big Captain America fan, I have a number of items with the shield logo emblazoned on them, but I wouldn’t classify these as “Subtle,” if only because of their purpose and notoriety.

The purpose of the shield, as well as the bat-symbol, the Superman “S,” etc, is to shine forth as a symbol, which is a little counter to the idea of Subtle Geek Chic.

Conversely, a t-shirt with “Citadel Custodial Services” on it, or a twisted pendant of “The Marker,” those both fit, as they are subtle without proclaiming their purpose overtly.

This is also why I’ve never been much into cosplay, I guess. Not because I don’t find the concept awesome – There’s some really impressive work out there, and I was sorely tempted to try building out a Dead Space 2 Advanced RIG at one point – But more because I’ve always enjoyed the “secret language” of fans, especially when those references can be passed by others without them knowing that they’ve missed anything.

It’s similar to inside jokes. When it’s just between you and a select few, then it carries a special meaning. It carries with it a wealth of shared experiences and moments that only those “in the know” remember. But when everyone’s already heard the joke, then the joke gets stale, and it loses some of its special-ish-ness.

On another (sidetracked) note, I think this may also be why people are so averse to spoilers – Those who know about something want to connect with others who have also experienced the same – the inside joke. They even want to bring others into the joke, but not really at the expense of the joke itself, so they encourage the “outsider” to have the experience for themselves in order to then become “in the know.”

While the whole thing may seem a little exclusionary, I actually feel like it’s kind of the opposite. When I’m asked about something that I wear, that I carry, or whatever, I’m open to explaining what it’s about, but it’s really just a matter of “getting it.”

That said, though, sometimes it’s nice to be part of your own club, and that’s okay, too.

Bienvenidos a la fiesta, amigos!

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Arcade

Insert Coin

Gaming, Life, Rants

Back in the game!

No matter how long its been since I jumped into a game, I can always seem to jump back in and figure it out after a little bit. Doesn’t seem to matter how long it’s been, either. The muscles, the mind, they remember these things, and how to do them, even if the skills have been sitting dormant for a few months, or even a few years.

I sometimes like to think of life as a big arcade. Every game is new, and you certainly have some preferences, but all of the machines are there, ready for you to try them out.

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Of course, every machine has a cost to start up – some of the classics are easier, just a quarter. Others may be a little more – fifty cents. The new ones, now those cost the most. Sometimes two, three, or even five dollars to try something truly cutting-edge. And there you stand, in the middle, looking at all the cabinets, and having the sights and sounds wash over you in a cacophony of digital input.

Inadvertently, you often start with your old favorites. You find a cabinet you’re familiar with, and rest your hands on the cabinet, the button positions instantly familiar to you, and the joystick settling comfortably in your palm. You toss in a quarter, and off you go. Sure, you may fail a couple of times, but you quickly figure it out, getting back into the saddle, impressed with what you remember.

Throughout the arcade, though, are other experiences. Some look more difficult and you don’t know if you’re up to it, some look unfamiliar, and you’re unsure if you’d even enjoy it, though it looks as if those who are playing those cabinets are certainly enjoying themselves.

Problem is, you don’t want to look like an idiot. You don’t want to put two dollars into the machine just to fail quickly and then have someone else make fun of you for it.

So, you just stick with the machines you know. You wait until that cabinet is clear, and no one else is watching, and then you give it a shot. You try it, you fail. You try again, and you fail. You try, and then succeed! You start doing well!

You notice that a couple people are watching you play out of the corner of your eye, and it starts to be a little distracting. You suddenly fail.

Up comes the screen “Continue? Insert Coin.”

If you want to try again, it’s going to cost you, and now, there are people watching. Are you going to put up the cost and try again?

– – – – –

Of course, the metaphor is a little strained, but here’s the point – How often do we talk ourselves out of trying something because it’s difficult? Because it’s unfamiliar? Because we might get ridiculed, or we’ve never tried it before? Or maybe because the cost to start was a little more than we were ready to give?

Fact is, the arcade of life doesn’t care whether you play or not. Someone will, because others are always playing. There’s always another quarter right there on the screen, with someone else ready to play when you fail, and they’re chomping at the bit to get in on the game.

To stand in the middle of the arcade and just watch others play – That’s the worst. You may only have a few quarters, but there are games that you can play. Get out there and try.

There’s always going to be games you don’t get a shot at. Experiences that you’re going to miss out on, but you’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to take a step towards one of the machines, and drop a quarter.

Gotta insert the coin, and press start.

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Foul

Calling Your Own Fouls

Gaming, Life

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of basketball. Mostly pickup games at the gym. Now, I’m not the most spectacular player by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m often reminded by my teammates that I’d probably fit in better on a football field than a basketball court, but I’m still learning.

The nature of the pickup game, though, is such that there usually isn’t a referee. Most often, there’s nobody whose job it is to make the calls, enforce the rules, and make sure that everyone’s playing fair. Because of this, it’s really left up to the individual players to call our own fouls, track our own out of bounds, and watch for travelling, keep track of the score, and decide what is and isn’t “fair play.”

It’s a raw version of Huizinga’s magic circle, especially considering that, regardless of the individual players’ full, half, or even just partial understanding of the rules is generally just submitted to whomever the players believe best understands them.

Put another way, I often have a hard time with the intricacies of basketball rules: Three in the key, hand is part of the ball, proper screening, hand on the back when you’re defending, boxing-out techniques, foul rules on rebounds… There are just so many things that I don’t completely understand the specifics of, and so I generally try to take what more-experienced players on the court tell me as truth.

All players, upon entering the court’s magic circle, agree to abide by the group’s consensus of calls on the court, for most anything, except for one rather specific instance.

Fouls. Everyone is expected to call their own fouls. When you foul someone, you’re expected to say something, so that the offended player/team can get the ball back and everyone can start playing again.

Maybe a Foul.

Maybe a Foul.

Now, of course, because it’s a bunch of human beings playing, as opposed to robots, this opens up the system to abuse, as players are allowed to self-determine what is and is not a foul. The system’s effectiveness is determined by honesty, which can sometimes be difficult to ascertain when both individuals in a situation are in conflict, each with a stake in the outcome of a decision.

So, we appeal to sportsmanship, and the desire for fair play, in the hopes that our own common decency will allow us to look a little past our personal gain towards the greater goal of everyone getting back to the game and playing again.

Granted, the stake and the repercussions may not be all that high in a pickup basketball game, and so generally things go relatively smoothly. But not always.

On Facebook, forums, and message boards, or even in random conversations in real-life, I feel like we similarly enter into a “magic circle” when we offer an opinion. We agree to allow for others to look over something that we’ve stated, and respond to it.

Much like a game of pickup basketball, we tend to pick teams quickly, deciding for or against a given opinion, with those who don’t care choosing not to enter the circle. What is interesting, though, is how quickly we end up in a foul situation, with two or more individuals battling over a “call” that was made.

The desire is not to get back to the game, instead, the game is transformed into “winning the call,” and we pride ourselves on our own moral victories over another individual simply because we were “right” and they were “wrong.” We delude ourselves into believing that the “call” is what’s important, when the reality is that even when you have a referee, sometimes the wrong call is made. Sometimes it doesn’t come out in your favor, but you’ve got to keep on going, and keep on playing anyway.

But so often, we don’t do that. Instead, we focus on the call, we let it boil inside of us. We get angry, bitter, or spiteful that someone would dare make the call against us. Or, on the flip side, we instead make the call pre-emptively, assuming a foul before the play has even occurred. We call foul when, in fact, the play was clean to begin with.

Now, of course, the metaphor is starting to get away from me here, but I’d just like to leave it at this – We, each of us, are either playing the game, or we’re standing on the sidelines watching. Each time that we engage someone else, each time that we decide to share our thoughts with others, we consciously decide to take a shot.

From that point in, you’re in the magic circle, you’re on the court, and you don’t always get to decide who’s going to be playing with you. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t show a little good sportsmanship. Play the game.

Because unlike basketball, there’s not always a clear winner. But if we don’t learn to call our own fouls, you can be sure there will be plenty of losers.

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Something

The Deafening Silence

Life, Rants

“If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.”

– Dave Kovic, Dave

My life, especially for the past few months, has been consumed in the not-so-glamorous work of job hunting. Each day is a malaise of cover letters, resume adjustments, application searching, emails, phone calls, and searches of every job listing service under the sun. It’s a routine that’s taxing, not only on time, but more often on confidence, on self-worth. Every job is another hope ignited, and every morning is a search for a response, for a reply, for some sign from the universe that I’m doing all that I can, and eventually it’s going to pay off.

But each morning I wake, I open up my email, and the only consistent responses that I seem to get for anything is a bit more junk mail to sift through because that job site has placed my email onto yet another mailing list for something else I don’t need or simply can’t afford.

It’s a maddening endeavor, with very little light in a tunnel that doesn’t seem to have an end, and when you express the frustration of it to someone else, their response is always the same – “Yeah, it’s tough.”

All of that, though, is just part of the process. It’s part of the “way it is,” and it’s awful, but there is a single, simple thing about it that bothers me more than everything else in this job-searching system combined.

enjoy-the-silenceIt’s the silence. I can’t stand the silence.

Email after email, application after application, the most common response that I get is just no response at all. I’ll often get an automated “We’ve received your Application” message when I apply at a company’s site, but there’s no common courtesy of responding back, even as days, weeks, or even months go by. Some companies have an automated system that changes from “Application Received” to “Please Check for Other Opportunities,” but there’s not even an email letting me know why I wasn’t considered for the position.

Do I not have enough experience? Too much education? Am I too old? Too young? Too male? Too articulate? Not articulate enough?

Am I too brash? Too friendly? Is it because I live out of state? Or is it because you didn’t like my last name? My first name? My hair color?

Is my resume too colorful? Not bright enough? Not outlined like you’d personally prefer it to be? Do I take things too seriously? Do I not take them seriously enough?

Did you need someone more mold-able? Or someone more established? Did you need more passion? Or was I just too intense?

All of these things – Any of these things… They all could be reasons why I’m not getting a response. Why I’m not getting a call. But I’ll never know. It’s not as if I’m applying to things that I have no experience at all in doing. I’m familiar with the requirements of each position, and I always apply to those jobs that look to be something I could fulfill, so why is it that my effort in applying doesn’t even merit a response?

I am very much aware that the world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t.

But, the world asks for effort, and, (unless I’m very much mistaken), companies are looking for people to fill the positions that they are putting out listings for. So why is it that my efforts don’t even merit a reply of “We’re sorry, but you don’t quite meet the criteria that we’re looking for. Please gain more experience in [BLANK] and apply to us again in the future.”

Perhaps that’s unbelievably unrealistic of me. Perhaps I’m asking too much, and it’s not reasonable to expect an HR individual to respond to every email and application they come across. I get that.

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But to receive nothing, especially from those with whom I’ve had personal contact with, those whom I’ve had conversations with… It makes me think that putting my head through a wall might be a better way to gain some notoriety. (At least I can be fairly certain there will be a  tactile and tentative response!)

Ah well. At least each day is a new opportunity, and if anything, this is a great lesson to keep in mind for myself – If the tables are ever turned, you can bet that I’ll make sure to respond. I don’t know when or if that’s ever going to happen, but this lesson in frustration is definitely something that will be sticking with me for the rest of my life.

Don’t mean to be so negative, but everything’s an opportunity to learn, right? One day at a time, take a deep breath, and try it again. There’s gotta be something out there!

– K

PS – Hey, anyone need a producer/project manager/film guy/graphic artist/writer/designer? I know of a good one!

Gamer

Are you the Protagonist? Or just an NPC?

Gaming, Life

[Alright, I’ve got these thoughts in my head, and I need a chance to ramble. I wanted to go over a few talking points, and as I read through this after the fact, I realize that I’m all over the place. Sorry if this is a little unfocused, but it’s been driving me crazy thinking about it all, so I just wanted to get it onto the post. My blog, my show. Here we go! – K]

Back during my “film days,” I remember often writing down an adage that seemed rather catchy:

“Each of us is an extra in someone else’s movie, but we get to decide if it’s a speaking part.”

I considered myself rather profound. (My unbelievable modesty notwithstanding.)

But as I’ve gone into games, the medium in my head has shifted. I see games everywhere, and there are a lot of comparisons to be made.

I now see a more clear distinction between different types of “characters” in a game. There’s always the protagonist, whom the player controls. There are supporting characters, who are sometimes there to help, sometimes there to annoy, and sometimes there to even backstab you later on down the line. As you continue on through your quest, this group of yours grows as more and more people shift to your cause for differing reasons.

But throughout games you, as the player, are the motivating factor. Yours are the actions that change the world, save the land, and defeat the great evil threatening everyone. In games, you are the central, pivotal figure in everything that is happening.

That’s why I love this video – Gamers will get it. Even partners of gamers may get it. Others probably won’t, but it’s an awesome video, so I’m going to include it anyway.

Is it any wonder why games often feel so addicting? Who doesn’t see themselves as the center of their own world? Now I’m not talking about the center importance of the world, you understand, but we all contextualize the importance of something by how it affects us. Whether our reaction is to help, to hinder, to hug, to hold, to hurt, or to hassle, we react to the world in very personal ways, with our very personal selves.

We get to choose how our journey continues. We get to choose if we’re going to go out and start gaining XP and get better at skills to eventually take down the dragon, or we get to choose to spend our time just fishing at the pond.

The movie Gamer starring Gerard Butler has been a strange fascination of mine ever since I saw it. The movie has some really interesting things to say once you get deeper into it, especially about our own lives. I don’t want to go too deep, (mostly because others have already done so), but I wanted to discuss a few things that seemed interesting to me.

In the movie, players are controlling these death row convicts for two reasons: 1) It’s the biggest “game” in the world, and 2) If the “avatar” survives 30 rounds, he gets his freedom.

Gerard Butler’s character Kable has, at the beginning of the film, survived 27 matches, which is more than anyone ever has. This has made him, as well as the kid who “plays” him, rather famous. As well, he’s a man who was wrongly convicted, and so has the “not-really-being-a-killer” going for him, which doesn’t mean much in the gunfight, but plays out later in the film With that set-up, here’s the scene (Take note – This is definitely NSFW):

Despite the uber-violence throughout the scene, with all the bullet, explosions, death and destruction, (as well as a gamer-inspired “teabagging” around the :42 mark), I wanted to focus just on a couple of small things.

At the 1:18 mark, you see two people exchanging monopoly money back and forth. This is because, for minor offenders, there is an option for them to act as pre-programmed “NPCs” in the fight (Non-Player Characters). If they survive that round, they are set free. (Hint – They almost never do.)

What’s poignant to me about that little part, though, is the thought that these people are doing this on a gamble for freedom. It’s a risk/reward system to be sure, but at what cost? How often have we, in our lives, stood by while something happened, hoping for no one to notice us, even though the world around us us out-of-control? We see the insanity around us and yet we are still compelled just to keep our heads down, and exchange little pieces of paper like they’re worth something.

What’s most telling to me, though, is when the guy flinches as blood splatters his face, and yet he keeps right on going. He reacts, but doesn’t act, if that makes sense. Do we?

(There is, of course, SO much more to consider in those little situations, but that’s beyond my scope right now.)

At around 1:55, Kable hears glass as it’s stepped on behind him, and he whispers “Turn me around.” Now, in the film, Kable can’t actually talk to the player, so the whisper is more of a plea, but do we do this in our own lives? We get that nagging feeling to “turn around,” to do something, and then we don’t? Perhaps we only write a Facebook post about it. (Or, we write a blog post about it – I’m not above the irony.)

Who is controlling you?

Think back about your own life as a game. In most games, the player controls the main protagonist. As I said before, this individual is the driving force of the game, the mover, the shaker. Nothing occurs except where this person roams, and nothing changes except what this person decides and is able to bring into being. Are you that protagonist in your own life? Or are you simply an NPC, doing only that which you’ve been “programmed” to do – Saying what you’re “supposed” to say, going where you’re “supposed” to go, and being who you’re “supposed” to be?

Are you just an avatar in someone else’s game? Or are you really in control of your own life? Are you a mover and a shaker? Or are you just going along a pre-determined path?

One of the creepiest scenes in Gamer (among several) is a scene starring one of my favorite actors, Terry Crews:

What strikes me here is a correlation between what “freedom” is believed to be, and what “freedom” really is. In this scene, Kable is still scheduled to play another game. In that game, he’s not in control – someone else is dictating his actions. But the killer? The person who is really out to get him? He doesn’t follow the rules. He doesn’t care about the laws. To him – One who already disregards the rules, more rules will not affect him, and he knows it.

In a world where each person is absolutely controlled, fenced, and convinced to do things in a specific way, is the free man really just the one who chooses not to follow the rules anymore? What does it say about a society when the homicidal killer is the one who seems the most “free” in it? Of course, he’s still in the game, and he’s still in the system, but he has no question – when he chooses to move his hand, it’s him who is in control of that decision.

Anyway – Just weird thoughts. Food for thought, I guess, or perhaps just nonsensical ramblings. I guess there’s just one question that it call comes down to, that is really the only thing I wanted to ask all along – In this game of life, as we build up our inventory, gain XP, and strive to “win the game,” there’s just one thing that you need to ask yourself:

Are you the Protagonist? Or Are you an NPC?