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?

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.

Pop-Tarts & Beer

I had an eye infection today: I just couldn’t see doing anything.

Now, keep in mind, my normal “I Hate Humans” Monday involves a hike of somewhere around 16 or 20 miles. Occasionally, more.

Today?

Today, I went four miles and stalled out for a picnic lunch. Sat in the shade and stared at a meadow.

I even pretended to write for a while.

Then pretending to write began to feel too much like work, so I decided some napping was in order. Remember that backpack hammock I mentioned a couple of posts ago? Yep, in that. Hey, if I can’t see the bears, they can’t see me…right?

Now, I’m sitting in front of the store to do some actual — err, well, semi-actual — writing. And, yes, I did extend the hike a bit…but ten total miles is still more of a stroll than it is a real hike.

But, and this is important bit, I have to call it a hike…if ain’t a hike, I don’t get my favorite post-hike snack.

And, if you’re wondering, today’s snack is strawberry-flavored, washed down with a nice pale ale. The people behind me are having granola bars and water…I feel so much better about myself as a human being!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pretending to do…

Knob Polishing: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Norovius

“Honey, how was your day at work today?”

“Just peachy. I had to polish everybody’s knobs.”

Okay, so I probably shouldn’t find this as funny as I do. Ah, hell…who am I kidding? I found today hilarious…mostly because I was off work and didn’t have to actually experience any of the miserable crap.

A bus load of tourists, you see, came in carrying norovirus. Now, if you don’t know that particular little bug, it is…umm…pretty damned unpleasant. Take Montezuma’s Revenge and strip away all the fun and laughs and you start to get a picture of the results of norovirus. An optimistic picture.

And apparently this thing is passed by, well, pretty much everything. Just touching a surface can pass it to the next person who touches that surface…

So, today, every single employee at the store has been basically bathing in hand sanitizer from head to toe every two-and-a-half seconds. In between those baths, they’ve been wiping down every square millimeter of the store…including having one person clean every single latch and door handle in not just the store, but also the dining room and the dorms – hence my (juvenile) joke above.

I should point out that I took a random, extra day off today. And, yes, I did schedule it before this whole thing hit…even I’m not that cheesy!

As soon as my boss came into breakfast wearing gloves, and telling the kitchen that they had to go to “norovirus protocols”, I grabbed my pack and decided to go spoon with amorous bears instead.

I’m a goddamned history major, what the hell do I know about “protocols”?! I’m pretty sure the guy who does the prostate exams is a protocologist…and I don’t need that, thank you very much.

Keep in mind, I’m also the idiot who ignores common sense, and perfectly good trails, so I can go see what’s on the other side of that big hill over there… That means, of course, that I am currently sitting out in front of the store, at a public picnic table, and typing away.

I think tomorrow might suck…

A Full-House

“Your bet…” prompted the transgender girl slowly turning into a boy, looking to the left.

A shake of the head and a quick reply from the big, straight guy in that next seat. “I need another beer, first.”

“I’ll get it.” This from the rail-thin gay kid on the other side of the table as he stood and stepped over to the ice chest.

“Keep betting like that and you’ll need more than beer,” laughed the blonde, tougher-than-she-looks ex-cop.

In the background, a tall and aging server – head shaven to hide receding hair – is still throwing his all into hitting-on the pretty girl from Romania. She laughs and shakes her head; she still has a boyfriend back home.

College is a long time ago for me…err, both stints are a long time ago. It has been, over the years, hard to remember the semi-forced intimacy of that period. That period when boundaries are expanded, when preconceptions are shattered, and when new ways of looking at life are learned. That time when you well and truly grow up.

Six months ago, most of my friends looked like me. Most thought like me. Some even acted like me.

Now?

Now I play games with a transgender girl-turning-into-a-boy. Now I have real, meaningful discussions with a rail-thin gay kid. Now I feel avuncularly protective of a tougher-than-she-looks ex-cop. Now I laugh (with all the empathy and understanding of the fellow-aging) at a trying-oh-so-hard server*.

Six months ago, not a single one of us would have spoken three words to the others. Hell, none of us would’ve so much as entered each other’s orbit, let alone become friends. I’m a straight, white guy who is addicted to hockey and writes in brewery taprooms…what the hell do I have in common with any of these people?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

*Note: there are far more characters – and friends! – up here. The cast above, however, illustrates better than anything the variety…and the chasms crossed.

Torches And Pitchforks: An Angry Village Finally Wins One

The hulking shape hunched at the reins while the white wagon lurched and creaked under his great weight.  A look of anger on his face, and of resentment, as he fled the village once prey to his tyranny.

And on the face of the poor horse pulling that wagon? A look of equine resignation that did nothing to hide his misery and depression. Reduced to pulling a troll…where had his life gone so wrong? His mother had been right, he should have become a plow horse, like his father and grandfather.

Behind that wagon, the villagers cheered and danced. Maidens with flowers in their hair glanced shyly at the young men clustered near the ale keg, hoping for a dance and a kiss. Those same young men, however, could not tear themselves away from the nearby cluster of village elders.

Having drunk deeply of the ale, and of the sweet wine of freedom, those elders were busy regaling each other with tales of the troll’s vicious wickedness. Every one had a story, every one had felt the sting of the troll’s evil. Something else all shared, however, was a common refrain: the nightmare was over! The troll was gone! Salvation and freedom had come finally to free them from fear and dread!

Separate from the others stood one woman. Beautiful and strong, she had faced more of the troll’s wrath than any other. Now she stood alone, at the end of the village street, and waved a mocking goodbye to that white wagon as it slunk away. No words did she speak, no sound did she make, but forever would her laughter of joyous relief ring bitterly in the ears of that giant, bloated figure.

Umm…yes, it’s metaphorical. And, no, I won’t explain. Nope, not when I have to go back to the ale keg and continue telling stories…

WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! COMPLETELY STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS WRITING AHEAD!!

I’ve already hiked-out a pair of boots. No, really: I bought brand new Timberlands last October, and I noticed today just how destroyed and falling-apart they have become.

I’d make some joke about things not being made like they used to be, but let’s be honest…I’ve put those boots through a metric ass-ton of abuse over the last three months. There are A LOT of pretty hard miles on them…

The more hours I spend in the backcountry, the harder it gets to think of Connor and his world. I find myself thinking more and more about the two or three fantasy stories/series I have floating around the back of my mind. Hell, I’ve written six or seven snippets for those stories, if only to explore the main characters, and their world/society.

It’s amazing just how much your surroundings impact the work…hell, how much they impact the vision and imagination. When I’m “home”, working on sci-fi isn’t all that hard: I can see and feel Connor and his world. Okay, so, in all honesty, I’ll admit that I don’t exactly write hard-sci-fi. My college physics experience was most definitely proof that C’s do, indeed, get degrees…I couldn’t write hard-sci-fi if you held a gun to my head. My stuff is as soft-sci-fi as it gets…and as character-centric: Connor’s bitter, cynical world of contrast and strife is fairly easy to come to when I’m surrounded by people and concrete.

But what happens when those give way to trees and dirt? Different story. No, literally: I have a completely different story in my head. Different tone, different meaning, different message. When I’m bushwhacking through spaces that haven’t seen a human in years – if not decades – I can’t help but imagine what life must have been like a millennia ago.

Hell, hiking-out those boots illustrates to me one of those concepts that has really changed over time: that of distance. 8 miles is nothing to us, it’s a trip to the convenience store for beer and munchies at midnight. 8 miles is also, however, about the maximum that your basic, out-of-shape tourist can walk in a single day. Put Betty the Cubicle-Dweller on the trail, and after 8 miles she is completely done.

Hell, even I struggle to do much more than twenty miles in a day, and I hike more in a month than most people do in several years.

Just to offer a contrast: the Roman legions marched thirty miles a day, rain or shine, road or no road, just outside of Rome or in hostile territory. Then they built a fortified camp at the end of that march. Every single night.

THAT is the concept we have lost: just what a day’s walk really is.

You think London and Canterbury are the same place? Walk them. No, honestly: get out and walk the road…your understanding of distance will change rapidly. And, no, horses don’t really change the math. Sure they can run, trot or jog much faster than us…but only for short distances. For a long-haul journey, it’s time to walk, and a horse walks only about one mile an hour faster than a human.

Okay, that’s enough of this entire digression…

Maybe I should point out that I, literally, just got back from my hike. Instead of laying down for a nap, I decided to try and pound out a post (since I didn’t have one ready for this morning). That may have been a mistake…

On the other hand, I have another huge load of pictures for later this week. Yay!

Eat, Drink And Be Merry…

Hmmm…you go several hundred miles. You try to “get away from it all”. Then what do you do?

Well, if you’re like me – completely submerged in the world of craft beer – you forget that you came up here for a change, and you do what you would be doing if you were back home: you go to a beer festival.

I took a few friends down to one of the surrounding “cities” (ahem) in order to expose them to something better than the limited selection we have at the store. They were all excited, they were all happy to go.  Me, I was actually trembling with excitement.

As soon as we walked through the gates, what did I do? I saw the booth for “my” home brewery and I headed straight there. I heard these little voices in the background, calling out for me “wait up” and “slow down” but I still don’t know what the hell they were talking about: I wasn’t walking fast, they were just slower than shit!

That first damned beer from “home” went down far too easy. And the second.

Then I had to pace myself – my friends had caught up by then, and I had to lead them around the festival! As much as I love living up here in Yellowstone, it was freaking Heaven to be back in my natural element.

A porter here…a lager there…a chile beer over that way…. There was even a couple of breweries I had never tried before! That, sadly, is a rare thing nowadays…and you have no idea how much I miss that kid-on-Christmas-morning feeling of trying a new brewery for the first time.

Wait, writing? Work? The stuff I’m supposed to be doing?  What the hell are you talking about? I have me a growler of the good stuff from home, the rest of the universe can damn well wait.

Okay, okay…I did grab a couple pictures. No, literally, just a couple: I had beer to drink, dammit!  And, yes, I know they are crappy pictures.  Once again: there was beer demanding consumption.

My “home” brewery, all the way up here in Cody, WY at the Yellowstone Beerfest: IMG_0562

A couple of my friends from up here…the other five are back in line waiting (im)patiently while these two got their drinks already:

IMG_0559

PBR’s Revenge

I drink good beer. I don’t think that fact will surprise anyone: I spend a great deal of time in microbreweries, and I’ve developed a pretty good appreciation for real beers. My brewer friends may mock my palate, but…well…they taste shit in beers that no sane person would ever find without hints from the “experts”.

There are, thank heavens, good breweries up this way. Actually, there are numerous good breweries: Bozeman alone has 8 craft breweries, of which 4-5 are well worth a visit. But…and, yes, here’s the inevitable but…

…but: we run out of the good beer pretty damn fast around here. Remember, there are 800 trillion people in the park at any given moment, and they drink through anything and everything we have in stock.

You know what that leaves?

Yep: PBR…or Miller High Life.

*shudder**

No, really: I shudder just to think of that shit!

But I’ve been drinking it.

I hate myself for it…I know my “sin account” is growing exponentially, and I’ll pay for my foolishness in the afterlife…I know I’m not even drinking actual beer…but, shit, I can only afford so much scotch and a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do!

When I get back home, my “home” brewery isn’t even gonna let me in the door without some serious level of atonement.

The worst part is that I’ve been teaching the kids up here about good beer. Preaching about it, actually. Hell, I’ve even run a couple of beer tours to Bozeman for the staff! With that in mind, what nickname have they given me? High Life.

I feel so dirty. I hate myself right now.

Oh, and the title of this post is a…well…it’s a clue to something in Silence.

What, did you really think I wouldn’t write about my personal shame?!

 

Bears Are Nicer At Night, Right?

Dr. Doolittle ain’t got nothin’ on me.

I walk with the animals…I talk with the animals…

Err, well…I’ve sorta convinced them to not eat me, anyway.

You remember that bison that turned me back the other day? He and I made friends this morning, and I finally completed that hike. Well, completed it and then some.

The bears were all sleeping-in, and Billy (the Bison) had better things to do than contemplate what meat tastes like (thanks, Mrs. Bison!!), so it was a nice, peaceful walk.

I needed it.

I’m pretty much a complete introvert. All of the time I spend with others…all of the time surrounded by people…all of the time schmoozing and chatting….yep, I’m pretty much faking it. I hate crowds.

No, really: tie me up and leave me to the damned mosquitoes instead, because people suck. After four days of dealing with staff who are even needier than the tourists, I was ready to strangle someone. But, still, I plastered on the fake smile and mustered the ersatz-enthusiasm needed for one more day on the job (Sunday nights are always the hardest). I needed the scotch I drank last night in celebration of the end of my week.

I do, however, fake it very well….hence my former career in sales & marketing.

At any rate, Mondays are my “special time”. It’s the first day of my weekend, and – no matter how bad the hangover – the first thing I do is get up early and grab my pack. Screw the trails and the various sights around the park, I don’t want to see another soul.

I was off the trail and cruising by 7:30 this morning. I didn’t get back to “civilization” until 1:30, and even that was too damned soon. In between I saw nothing but streams and trees and landscapes to make your jaw drop.

In spite of the crap that goes with it, I love this job.

The only reason I came back from my hike this early is because, well…it’s writing time. I’m supposed to go out for a moonlight hike tonight (“Hi there, Mr. Hungry Bear!”), so if I don’t write now, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Oh, and if the bear does happen to get me: no, you can’t have my stuff…