Video Games As Art

Sooo…I’m trying to convince this raven that, even though I’m not at the top of the food chain up here, I’m higher than he is.

It ain’t working.

Damn this bird. He’s reminding me just how little control I have over the critters around here…

At any rate, as you can guess from the late posting today, I have once again failed to go with my “Yellowstone Practical” theme.

Nope, not gonna do it today, either. Ah well, so goeth most of my plans…

I was watching podcasts last night with a friend of mine, and I got to thinking. As a general rule, “getting to thinking” is dangerous for me.  I should probably add, these were video game podcasts…and, yes, my friend (Billy) and I are very much nerds-of-a-feather.

Two things I miss up here, more than just about anything else: cooking and games. I love to cook…I live for cooking…and yet I have to eat three meals a day prepared by other people. I already have about three weeks worth of meals planned for when I get back…

Just below cooking, however, comes video games. I miss playing games…especially good games.

So, at any rate, Billy and I got to talking about games…and especially about games that mattered, games that had something to say. And, to those of you that scoff, I’ll reissue a challenge I gave a year or so ago: go play This War of Mine. Better yet, go play That Dragon Cancer. Only after that can you try and tell me that games don’t have anything to say. The first of those made me well-and-truly uncomfortable (in the best literary sense of that word), while the second made me cry like a broken-hearted six-year-old.

Now, look…I know that most games are mindless trash. I know that most games have no message beyond, “Me mash button…me kill…rawr!”  But – and this is the important bit – not ALL games are that way. In fact, as a writer, I have to admit that there are things a game can do that a written story cannot.

There is an immersion to games that no book, no matter how good, can match. With a book, you (the reader) are simply too far removed from the circumstances. In a game – err, in a well-made game – it is very much a personal, intimate thing. Think about it: as writers, we use dialogue and action to carry and move the story. Hell, most of the time, we use them for exposition and set-up just as much as we do for action.

In a game, however, you can use many, many other things to carry that message. Lighting, “set” design, color scheme, character design…

“But, but, movies!” I hear you scream. Nope, not the same. Think about it: in a movie, we need movement and action and dialogue in order to create tension.

Try this exercise: imagine a scene with one single, lone character walking down a dark hall. Pretty simple, when you get right down to it. In a book, I would need to have certain things happening in order to create tension. Whether those things were internal, like flashbacks or internal thoughts/monologue, or external like noises or movement, it would be something that was NOT integral to the scene itself, something “beyond” the dark hall.

In a movie, that problem gets nothing but worse. I would have to have a great deal of “external” stimuli in order to maintain the audience’s interest. Whether those stimuli were music, or dialogue with an off-screen companion, or sound effects, it would have to be (like the book) something external to the dark hall.

But in a game…but in a game…but in a game, I could put you walking down a dark hall and, if the perspective and set-up were right, do nothing else. With the intimacy and immediacy of the player experience, the simple tension of walking down a dark, unknown hall can make the experience terrifying.

I have, I should add, written for video games in the past, so I am not completely objective in this discussion. I love long-form writing. I love, especially, novels. Shit, you all know enough about me, by now, to know that I’m a wordy bastard, so novels are about the only way I can really sink my teeth into writing a story. But, and this is a big but, the options and imagination that game-writing opened for me were some of the best training I have ever had.

Apologies to all of my professors from college (err, both colleges), but I learned more about writing from those times I wrote for games than I did over all the years it took me to earn two liberal arts degrees.

Got paid better, too.

And, yep…if you haven’t guessed…we’re well into real-time, drunk-bloggin’ at this point. Just deal with it. I haven’t done one of these in a loooong time, and I needed the outlet. Returning to the the real world is right around the corner, and I’m pretty fucking sure I’m not ready.

Seriousness and business and work? Paying attention to shit over which I have no control?

I would much rather be heading off for one of my solo, off-trail hikes. When I’m off-trail, I own everything. Which, in the end, really just comes to the most simple of facts: if I survive, I did it right. If I die, I fucked up.

When you get right down to it, that’s what life is all about…isn’t it?

What Could Be

I had this great plan to put up some details about various hikes I like, to keep going with the “Yellowstone Practical” idea. I even started a post on that for today…

As you can tell from the lack of a morning post, I didn’t really follow through. Not because I couldn’t have, but because something else rose in my mind last night. Now, I’ve mentioned before one of writing’s primary rules: when an idea comes to you, YOU WRITE IT!

Last night I, err, did not write it. I didn’t quite forget the thought, but I did have to spend the better part of today reconstructing it while I worked in the store.

At any rate, here goes:

I spent some time reading the news on my day off. I know, I know…that is always a mistake. You’d think I would know better by now, but nope.

Most of the crap I was able to ignore, but something stuck with me: the whole damned NFL-anthem-flag controversy. How the hell is this still a thing?

Look, I realize I am not the most grown-up person in any room (including a room full of kindergarteners), but even I can see how stupid is this whole thing. And by stupid, I mean everyone involved. I know we’re talking about the confluence of politics, culture and sports here, but isn’t there someone who can be the adult in the room?

Apparently not.

So, what the hell, I’ll throw in my two cents. Actually, I’ve got two opinions/thoughts here, so I’ll round it all up to a nickel.

First of all: I am a sports guy. All of my life I have been a sports guy. More than that, I have been a team sports guy. Team sports are the everyday embodiment of self-sacrifice. Well…at least…they should be. In all of the bullshit, dating back to last year, I saw very little conception of team-first. I saw an awful lot of “me-first”, but not much else.

I will, however, call out for credit those that did put team first, that acted like the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. I think the Seahawks nailed it last year when they linked arms as a team. Much as I detest Jerry Jones, the Cowboys this year got it right, as well.

Those teams that had no unity? Truly sad.

And the cowardice of those that simply hid away in the locker room and hoped to bury their heads? Beyond sad, beyond weak, and well into the territory of truly pathetic.

Right or wrong, at least the other guys picked a side. I’ll always take someone who picks a side, whether I agree or not, over someone who tries to ride the fence and please everyone.

Okay, so that’s the first bit. The less important bit. Now comes the second part…

By definition, no society, no country, no people is perfect. To dredge up an old quote, “All are judged and found wanting.” The United States is anything but perfect. The flaws in our society today are manifold…and, in many cases, obvious.

Hell, I write about many of those flaws: about the exploitation of the weak, about the vast, indefensible chasm between rich and poor, about the evil one human can do to another for the smallest of reasons, about the suffering and despair that suffocate so many lives…

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think and dream of better. That doesn’t mean I think we as a species, as a society, as a country are irredeemable. If I thought that – if I bought that deeply into cynical nihilism – it would be time to just plain give up, and that I refuse to do.

To redeem ourselves, however, we need aspirations. More importantly, we need aspirations that can pull us together. We need symbols, and dreams, that we can all share.

I cannot comment on other countries, nor other peoples, but to me the dream of what the US could be is one of those aspirations. But to get there we have to value in common the effort and work it will take to get there.

The American flag is just a bunch of fabric stitched together, in one sense. It is nothing more than a glorified bed-sheet tied to a stick. In another sense, however, it is something very different: it is a symbol of what could be. It could/should be, when you get down to it, something to unify, something to symbolize all of our aspirations.

See the problems…speak out on the problems…give your time and your money and your life to fixing those problems…but dream and aspire together. Value what could be together.

You and I don’t have to agree. We can argue and debate and oppose each other all we want, IF we both believe in and value where we’re going…value what could be.

If, however, we hold nothing in common – if we share no aspirations or dreams – then we are doomed to strife and discord. And, eventually, to the disintegration of the little that still holds the many, many different strands of the US – as a nation and as a people – together.  In the end, all we will have left is the regret of what could have been.

Yellowstone Practical: Hiking

Two weeks…that’s it. Just two weeks left. Now, besides all the other crap involved with going back to the real world, that means it’ll soon be time to turn this blog back to it’s original focus on writing.

Err…

Well, at least I tried to have that as a focus. Didn’t always do all that well.

Having the opportunity to talk (a bit) about Yellowstone itself has been a nice change for me. Even if my current surroundings have taken away from the focus and time I need to write, it has been well worth it.

So, in the interests of getting back to basics, I’m going to not talk about writing once again.

Nope, I figured I would do a “public service” bit for the next couple of posts…talk about some of the best hikes/outings that are near to where I “live”.

One thing, however: although a great deal of my hiking has been off-trail, in places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), I am NOT going to talk much about that. Off-trail hiking (and camping) can, frankly, be extremely dangerous if you are not experienced and prepared. I have friends up here – friends who are serious hikers & campers – who think I am completely insane for my little solo little excursions into the wilds, so I am not going to lead anyone else into my own life of…err…sin.

Today is mainly some equipment notes, specific to hiking at this altitude, and in this kind of terrain:

1) Water, water, water – you’re gonna dehydrate at eight thousand feet just sitting on your butt. If you go for an eight or ten mile hike? Yeah, running out of water sucks donkey balls. On easy terrain, and in mild weather, I plan on one liter of water for every nine or ten miles. If the day is hot, or the terrain difficult, I increase that by at least fifty percent.
2) Water addendum – even when you’re not hiking, have water. I use one liter Nalgene bottles so I can keep track of how much I drink in a day (three to four liters, on average, when I’m not hiking). Also, keep in mind that water does wash out salt and other minerals you need. I do not recommend Gatorade or other sports drinks…just make sure to bring food along that includes a few things that will help put back what you’ve lost. Even a simple handful of trail mix can make a big difference.
3) Boots – I recommend good, over-the-ankle boots. The stability and protection you gain can make a big difference in rough, uneven terrain. For on-trail travel, those aren’t quite as important, but folks should know that even the “maintained” trails here can have rough sections (downed trees, creeks & streams, rocks & boulders, etc…).
4) Daypack – get a good one, and make sure you set the straps right. Nothing sucks more than aching shoulders and neck ruining your hike. Trust me on that, it is fairly miserable. Also, make sure you have a pack that’s fitted out to carry a camelback. Having your water integral to your pack, rather than in bottles or canteens, makes things a lot more comfortable. Make sure, also, that you have enough space for all the shit you need to carry (more on that below).
5) Food – for a day hike, you don’t need to go crazy here. A couple of granola bars and a sandwich can be just fine. That being said, it can be a lot of fun to spend a while picnicking and relaxing at your hike’s destination/midpoint. I don’t usually snack while I walk (bears, you know…), so a nice lunch is a good thing for me. DO keep your food in sealed, airtight bags…and DO haul back out any remainder, as well as trash, in those airtight bags. Throwing open food and/or trash into your pack makes you nothing more than a mobile snack stand for the wildlife you didn’t think was right next to the trail.
6) Small, important things – a decent knife (no, you don’t need to go all freaking Rambo with some huge “survival” knife), something warm to wear just in case (sweatshirt, flannel, etc…), a decent map of the trail you’re on, and bear spray. No, bear spray is not a scam…I’ve had a bear walk past ten feet from my window. You need to have it with you.
7) Small, optional things – backpack hammock, camera, spare socks (far more important on longer hikes: there are creeks and streams that you can only cross by fording), and anything else you can’t bear to do without. Keep in mind, weight is not your friend when you hike – that pack that seemed so light when you started, can weigh a million pounds when you’re done.
8) “Oh, shit” kit – kinda optional, especially for trail hikes…but for my more aggressive treks, I always have this with me: waterproof matches, flashlight, compass, first aid kid (a tiny one) and small tarp.
9) Firearms – touchy subject to a lot of people. Back home, in the Rockies, I carry a pistol whenever I hike. Here in Yellowstone (or any National Park), carrying a firearm is perfectly legal…it’s just firing it that is illegal. If you carry a gun, and do fire it, you better damn well have a very good (read: life threatening) reason why. The rangers take that very seriously, and any ticket or criminal charge inside a National Park is a federal offense.
10) Cell service – just don’t count on it. No, really…you’re gonna run out of contact real, real fast. A cell phone is not a valid safety net up here. I know this is crazy talk in today’s world, but use common sense and preparation, instead.

The Social Event Of The Season

It’s the end of the season up here. We’ve lost half the staff already. Over the next week or so, we’ll lose just over half of those who remain.

We’re pretty much gonna be down to…well…not enough people after that. I think I’m gonna have to start cooking for everyone…

We opened the season with some, umm, interesting evenings, so it’s only fair that we close it with one. With the best party of the year.

Now, keep in mind, in the dorms alcohol is technically allowed only inside the individual rooms themselves. Not in the halls, not in the lobby, not even on the pseudo-patio outside. And, no, please don’t get me started on the futile insanity of that particular regulation. Suffice it to say, that little rule is not the most well-obeyed one in the universe.

But, for our party, we decided to obey it. Hell, we decided to build the evening around it!

Six rooms, each featuring two or three different cocktails…and a whole lot of people who have lived and worked in close proximity for five months now.  And, no, I didn’t serve beer…well, not just beer.  Nope, I channeled my old bartending days and made limoncello bellinis.  It was a good decision.

Now, as to the party – there are pictures. Worryingly, there are pictures. There might even have been a “dick-wand”.

Ahem.

It’s back to work today, with a surprisingly mild hangover. Worse, it’s back to the real world in less than three weeks.

I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

I’ve written less than half what I wanted (let alone needed) to write up here…I’m just plain freakin’ done with tourists…I want real, honest-to-God internet in the worst way…I miss my friends and family…and…and…and I don’t really want to leave.

Hey, I’ve told you before, consistency is not one of my (many) failings!

Real life? Real cities? People? Traffic? Bills and the stress of everyday living?

Gah…I need to go on another hike.