9/21/2012: Vote or Die Edition

Since I’ve had my registration form filled for weeks, I’ll need to go ahead and drop it off at my specifically-designated Voter Registration location!  The registration location!  You know, for the hilarious YouTube parody the South Carolina government will make to encourage young adults to vote.  Haha, just kidding, I’m not sure my government knows what a internet is.

You’d think that I have interest in determining which politicians are elected office, but that’s not exactly the case.  As the presidential election draws nearer, I simply lie awaeke in a cold sweat every night, worried Mary J. Blige is going to smother me with a pillow come November.  Alright, well now that I think more about the Citizen Change group, I can’t imagine them being any less effective than “Home Taping Is Killing Music.”  These impetuses for social change only work if there’s enough reason to believe them.  Illegal piracy was happening because the prices of music were uneven with the actual breadth of music available.  Now that we have iTunes and Amazon, much less socially-funded projects via Kickstarter, the gap is narrowing and it’s less cool to brag about how much you pirate.  Anyway, in the same thought process, there’s nothing morally lax about refusing to vote in an election, pending said election is influenced by electoral colleges or Super PACs (the Super Nintendo variant of PAC).  I have a good idea of whom I’ll vote for, but the result should be fairly inconsequential.  Rather than threaten our friends with violence for not playing the game, we should examine why the rules of the game are the rules of the game in the first place.

People today view the 21st century’s technology as a significant leap in human history, but I sincerely hope that our eventual singularity has less to do with mind-Twitter.  I tend to romanticize the past, at least the bits of past that haven’t already been co-opted by college students wanting to justify their drug addictions, but walking around campus without checking my phone for the latest video game news really does remind me of everything under the sun and its age.  My life is not far removed from my parents’ or my grandparents’.  Sometimes I sit on a wooden bench under a tree, and sometimes I look across the yard to see a circular fountain spewing a waste of water and a road of cars zipping past kids tempting fate.  No part of this vision would be absent in the 1940s or the 1970s.  All that’s changed in seventy years is that I carry a miniature computer in my pocket, one with which I can send and receive letters in the same fashion anyone in the past had done.  The technology changes, but the human condition remains the same.  Here’s your diary, your bulletin board, your business card, your newspaper, your shopping catalog, your library of motion pictures, your collection of alternative takes on chess, your secret stash of pornography.  These are all so essential to life that I’m positive they would have biblical equivalents.

“I am living in the past,” is what I should say to myself.  This will all be romanticized in three decades or seventy and some young man will wear my clothing at his college and use his Neural Impulse Actuator (or “Nia”, which will sound perfectly reasonable to the kids) and perhaps forget that all he’s doing with his time is reading and sending inconsequential post-it notes between his friends.  Advocating technological change, or even a total flip of the economic system, will only contribute to a false sense of progress and accomplishment if the heart of mankind isn’t altered.

The only significant advancement I’ve encountered is that of children too busy staring down at their phones to realize they’re about to walk directly into me.  I try not to alter my path, opting instead to completely bowl them over, just so they can be educated as to when and where it’s appropriate to gawk over Brad getting together with Trish.  So, I suppose my final conclusion is, uh, God bless you, Steve Jobs?

9/11 Thoughts Written On 9/11, But Not Really About 9/11

I feel like the overdue library book, silently accruing fees until a stone-faced government employee demands thousands.  Or I feel like I had once again been called into the counselor’s office, being intensely questioned over an errant, laughing remark at a lunch six months ago that included the words “school” and “fire”, picked up by a few paranoid girls, convinced that a metal detector would stop al-Qaeda from flying planes into their two-story high school.  I feel like the CIA is looking up all my information for typing the words “al-Qaeda” into Google to find the correct spelling.  Right now, my life is good.  Too good.

I became used to telling friends “Oh, no, my grandparents are all alive.”  Three years ago, I couldn’t say that any more.  He went and died on me while I was too busy being sick and skipping work.  The last time I saw him, he had dropped an enormous amount of weight.  He called me into the den to give me some keepsake, because he knew he was dying, and I knew he was dying but I wasn’t so eager to state it.  The trinket is a small, wooden carving, no larger than your typical Lego, of a boy playing with his dog.  I believe he stated it was from Holland.  Holland?  Somewhere around there.  He and his wife had been travelers.  But that carving, so relatively unimportant that I had never noticed it in the house, was what he decided to give.  It was nothing fancy, though a homespun fanciness is exactly what I’ve come to know him for.  That’s the one keepsake he left me with, directly.  I’m still not sure what to do with it, but it sits on top of my DVD shelf.  That feels ridiculous.  The toy needs an empty glass case all its own, but I’m not spending that much money.  He told me to just use it to remember him.  The toy isn’t a stack of money, it’s not a plot of land, it’s not a valuable piece of furniture.  It’s a nothing representing a something that was really a nothing.  Some people don’t have trinkets.  I went twenty years saying “Oh, no, my grandparents are all alive,” and I can’t say that any more.  I can say “Oh, yes, well, I have this trinket.”  That knocks me off my high horse.  That makes me stop feeling so special.  That reminds me I exist in this world where grandparents don’t live to see great-grandchildren.

I knew a kid in middle school who had a dare to get a girlfriend by the end of the day, and he did.  He just walked up to her at her locker and got her to say “yes.”  It might have lasted only a couple of days.  They probably didn’t even do anything.  Even in my most misogynistic thirteen year-old state, I knew I wanted anything more substantial.  I would always be too romantic or too distant, and it didn’t help that, like a lot of teenage guys, life was more “fish in the sea” than loyal friendship.  Some girls would hit on me and I wouldn’t notice because my mind was past the being-hit-on stage and at the living-together-in-an-apartment one.  Sometimes I would try to pick up the crushing girl’s best friend.  One time, my own grandmother had to tell myself and two of my friends that those girls at the beach weren’t just getting closer to our bogey-boarding idiocy because of ocean currents.   When I caved, when I kissed, life moved as briskly as I had imagined.  With it came chaos.  Those years those high school boys spent moving from one woman to another, as unsympathetic though the actions may have been, at least prepared them for understanding others.  I didn’t go nineteen years without a significant other because I was “prepared” or “substantial”, but because I was awkward and incorrectly self-righteous.  When everyone else tried to figure their lives out in how they relate to others, I kept to myself.  It helped as much as it hindered.  The chickens came home to roost.

I’ve fainted at the sight of grisly, medically-detailed gore.  I don’t have the stomach for walking into a room where my mom has Discovery Health on the TV.  The only real wounds I’ve received have been entirely self-inflicted.  I’ve never broken a bone.  I’ve never had surgery (outside of wisdom teeth removal, of course.)  I’ve gone to the nurse for what feel like torn muscles but are really the results of sleeping funny.  But my friend…my friend breaks his back.  He floats in the water till his own family has to drag him out.  We don’t get that equal share.  He doesn’t break a pinky while I break a big toe, he shatters his spine while I get bothered by an itchy butt.  My friends go to the hospital for surgery and I’m the one letting them borrow my Star Wars VHS tapes.  I was in the hospital when I was born.  I can be in the hospital when I want to be.  While tubing behind a boat, a cord came flying my direction and struck the very spot below my neck.  If it were an inch higher, I would have been decapitated.  But now I have a badass scar for no other reason than “God’s good grace”, while my friend has to learn how to walk for the second time.  I feel as if the chickens will be coming home to roost.

When I think about your basic Biology 150 course’s description of intrinsic controls, I think of war.  We talk about territoriality in wolves, but not people.  We say that deer, when uncontrolled, destroy their own food supply, but people do the same thing.  You talk about intrinsic controls for survival and I think of The Road.  I’m increasingly convinced that war is natural.  Or that destroying the environment is more natural than the environment itself.  Ants do it, and it’s natural.  People do it, and they’re monsters.  When you externalize evil, when you say it’s a thing other people do but you don’t do, you’re shooting a gun up into the air and believing gravity won’t bring the bullet back to the ground.  Ward Churchill is a stupid ass, but he’s not necessarily wrong.  Life isn’t fair, we say when we try to get away with some awful stunt.  Maybe life isn’t fair, but I’m inclined to wonder if it really is.  I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe that my life has to be fairly unnatural for me to go so long without physical or emotional pain.  I need to pass classes within an inch of my life, I need to experience unrequited love, I need Kenta Kobashi to chop my chest until it bleeds because I don’t seem to be getting enough of nature’s true force and that makes me feel left out.  You don’t go to war because you’re defending anything or anybody.  You go because you’re bored and your body needs to make some excitement.  You don’t fly planes into buildings because it sets a moral standard, you’re just itching for entertainment.  You don’t give trinkets to your grandson because you believe your name and memory will last millennia, but you want someone right here to understand emotion right now.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  My soft bones have to break someday, right?  My drug-free, alcohol-free lifestyle has to give me cancer someday, right?  I have two more grandparents than some people do.  I have twelve fewer breakups than some people do.  I’ve been enlisted in less wars, been subject to less murder and rape, been able to afford food in the packed grocery stores, and I’ve faced significantly less parental nagging.  But I worry every time I’m reminded of the greater world that exists outside my purview.  Somebody has a heart attack on live television and I suddenly remember that’s a thing that can happen to me, to anyone I love.  You fall down some terrible rabbit hole of watching air show accident footage on the internet and suddenly recall all the air shows you went to yourself, and you start questioning how they went versus how you’re going to go.  Your friend breaks his back and you wonder why you’ve never broke anything.  We should’ve split it.  You could argue I’ve already had problems, but they are so internalized that they don’t feel real.

I like nature, when I get out in it, but I’m not sure I want mankind’s interpretation of nature.  Cannibalism is “natural” when a man is pushed far enough.  Perhaps we should view ourselves not as beings tainted by the stench of death, but creatures who embody that stench ourselves.  Make it our goal to quell that intrinsic control, and find another way to deal with these problems.  Find another way to make sure idiots don’t shoot at each other for shooting at each other, another way for bones to be stronger and another way for loved ones to stay alive.  My life is good.  Too good.  I want everyone else to have too good a life, too.  Give up on every silly notion of vengeance, even if we believe it justified.  Stop protesting others and protest yourself.  I do this, and they do this because of it, and I do it again.  “The world eats your wife.  Eats your friends.  Eats all the things that make you human.”  Sometimes, nature is the enemy.  And I’ve always wanted to be a perfectly-realized character in a book: your Captain America or Jesus Christ or Lloyd Dobler.  Don’t let the chickens come home to roost.

Uneven Robots

In light of the backlash, it should be said that Half-Life 2‘s tone is what helps that game succeed, not the specifics of combat.  While Half-Life is generally regarded as a great series, the overenthusiastic, almost hyperbolic, reaction of fans desperate to find any material relating to the third game has caused many journalists to become more open about their lack of interest in the franchise.  That reaction may be just as hyperbolic.  “Half-Life 2 was too long and unevenly paced” is the go-to byline.  Let me speak pretend-authoritatively on the matter, as I recently replayed the game.

Half-Life 2 is too long and unevenly paced, but the high points are so exceptionally high that they overshadow whatever ratings we can attribute to our imaginary “perfect” video game.

When I was fifteen (“oh, you like everything when you’re fifteen”) the primary draw of Half-Life, to me, was not pacing.  Unless the effect was egregious, like replaying the same level in Bebe’s Kids a thousand times over, I had no problem with the length of a hovercraft sequence.  Because even while you travel on water/sand/empty roads for hours, it’s not as if the game becomes a tedious chore, and it’s not as if nothing happens.  Tone must be established in all great work, and Valve always does a brilliant job of crafting it.  The storyline beats in Half-Life 2 are simple and sparse, but they do not capture the imagination like the tone does.  When I look at that game, I don’t remember the frustration of a few jumping puzzles, but I remember picking up that can.  I remember walking around City 17 in awe of the decaying world around me, and I remember moving up as closely as possible to the grimy textures representing newspapers.  I remember filling in my own blanks for what the Seven Hour War was, but not the limited number of ways to take down headcrabs.  Half-Life isn’t about stretching itself thin and being all things to all people, but making what it does the best the best it can possibly be done and riding that to stay in peoples’ memories forever.

My playthrough also included Episode One, which I found myself, like many others, disappointed in.  The pure content of the episodic-not-really add-on was perfectly normal Half-Life fun, but it lacked power.  For all the crap the original game got for having little plot, Episode One had such crap in spades.  Aside from a thrilling beginning where Dog launches you back into the citadel and the new, up-close models of horrendously modified human beings (with laser eyes!), the game was mostly vent-crawling, and the plot of “Get outta here!” never moved.  It was good and nonessential, answering questions that never needed answers.  “How’d they get out of the citadel?” is about the same as “When does Batman go to the bathroom?”

Of course, the one episode I’ve played (the second will be my next endeavor) continued to create that dreadful atmosphere the series has known.  While the initial entry in the series, your basic ol’ 1998-ass Half-Life, put its roots in a hybrid of theoretical physics and the Waco siege, Half-Life 2 moves things nearer and dearer to my heart.  It explores the unnamed territory that might as well be Eastern Europe that might as well be Soviet Russia.

If we ignore that whole terrible Otaku fantasy, I think the coldest part of Siberia would be my favorite place to visit.  In reality, if I were there it’s likely I’d find nothing to do but either freeze to death or be eaten by a tiger, but Half-Life 2 scratches my espionage itch.  It, along with Fallout and Metal Gear Solid, have me wanting to believe that there’s some gigantic deserted robot from the Cold War just out there, turned off but still ready to destroy the world.  Hell, let’s go find the Dead Hand controls!  Or someone please let me go and be killed as soon as I discover the truth behind UVB-76.  There won’t be aliens, I think, and I’m not sure I’ll find any toppled citadels.  However, the use of pseudo-reality always drives me to stay up late and read Wikipedia articles till I’m late for my morning class, and that’s the best possible reaction a work of art could give me.

Through all this stupid ranting, what I’m affirming is that Half-Life sure sets up one heck of a tone.  It lets you breathe in this horrible world it constructed, and not enough games are so willing to take time.  Other games want you in and out quickly, and they don’t give you environmental scenery set to instrumentals.  Valve gives you the quiet moments, whether they’re delightful or frightening.  You are allowed to look at every detail no matter how constructed or destructed it may be.