Categotry Archives: Video Games Killed the Free Time

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Twisting the Night Away

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Marching to New Orleans, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , ,

For more of my life than I care to admit, I was an avid player of Dark Age of Camelot, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG for, well, long). Dark Age, for the uninitiated, was basically the precursor to World of Warcraft (WoW), which you’ve definitely heard of, except the graphics were better (far less cartoony) and the game was harder. Much harder. When a former family member got me WoW for Christmas (perhaps the last thing I wanted at the time), I remember playing it and marveling at how little work everything took. Dark Age felt like work and, thus, in its weird way, was kind of rewarding.

In Dark Age, I primarily played a bard, who I named Fiver Mep, whose task was to sing and play songs to aid, comfort, and heal his friends. Bards in Dark Age were (I should say “are” because the game still exists and I still occasionally play the free months the remnants of the game offers me to try to get drawn back into the addiction) equipped with three particular songs: one providing power, one endurance, and one speed (of movement, not amphetamines). The intent was that only one of these could be played a time – it’s pretty hard to imagine that multiple songs offered by a bard simultaneously would be of any real value. However, at some point early in the game’s inception, a bard discovered that two songs could be played at once to mutual effect. This strategy came to be known in the gameplay parlance as “twisting”.

Because each task in the game was initiated by a keystroke, twisting entailed constantly pressing two buttons in a row, in a vaguely frenetic rhythm, permanently during the game. This while also peppering in other tasks such as, for instance, typing to chat with other players or pressing buttons to heal or conduct other magical activities entailed in the game. I tried twisting for an hour or two one night and quickly found that it wasn’t for me. Playing just one song didn’t involve any repeated keystrokes at all – just a single button to start the song, which would play indefinitely until you decided to stop. This differential in gameplay experience was easily the distinction between enjoying a game that still felt a little like work sometimes and working very hard indeed at a job that was supremely boring. Many players disregarded or refused to adventure with Fiver when he informed them, emphatically, that he did not twist. Others, who had actually played bards in other lives, were more forgiving.

I offer all this as a little metaphor, though one that most may find inscrutable, for the experience of simultaneously driving for Uber and Lyft. I have now been an Uber driver for just shy of nine months (!), but only recently finally got around to signing up for Lyft. The primary motivation was the emerging #DeleteUber campaign sweeping the nation in the wake of the startling discovery that a corporate CEO was not, in fact, a good person. While I myself was not about to delete Uber, I had long been wondering if Lyft was better in some way and was eager to not lose all my business, or at least all my business that hated Donald Trump (read: basically all my business). Plus, it felt like essential research for my book: it would be weirdly neglectful to write a whole book about driving for Uber and not even mention Lyft or detail the rival’s pros and cons. So a couple weeks ago, I began peppering in sessions of Lyft.

The word on the street has always been that Lyft pays better (including and especially because they enable tipping through the app), while Uber keeps you busier because many more people use Uber. I have since been told that this last part is a regional difference – there are apparently some US cities where Lyft is actually the primary service and Uber is struggling to catch up. But in New Orleans, Uber is completely dominant, or at least was before the advent of the Trump administration. In my time with Lyft so far, most of the stereotypes above have demonstrated themselves to be true, though the better money is somewhat inconsistent. There is a $1.25 fee built into each fare with both services – Uber pockets this, but Lyft splits it with drivers. Thus the minimum driver compensation for a ride is $3.75 with Lyft and $3.00 with Uber. For about six weeks, Uber actually upped theirs to $3.75 (for min-fares only, keeping the difference for all longer rides) in New Orleans and lowered the airport pick-up bonus to try to stop 80 people at a time from waiting 60-90 minutes in the airport lot for a single trip. Apparently, this brought about heavy backlash from the seeming majority of NOLA Uber drivers who just want to be airport shuttles and they reversed the change. No amount of praise for the change from me could stop it, so I was pleased to see the extra 75 cents a ride from Lyft, which really adds up when you’re doing short runs in the Quarter.

Tipping, however, has proven to be a bit of a red herring. While it is true that a much higher portion of Lyft riders tip than Uber riders (I would say roughly 40% choosing to tip as opposed to the 12-15% I’m used to), the tips tend to me much smaller. With cash tips, $5 is customary (people actually apologize for tipping less even though everyone tipping me exactly $1 per ride would yield more in total tips than I currently receive) and $20 is not terribly uncommon. It helps, I suppose, that it’s usually 2:30 AM and people are drunk out of their minds. Whereas the cold sobriety of the app, plus the option to decide on a tip up to 24 hours later, yields a ton of $1 and $2 tips. Now, don’t get me wrong, $2 tips are fantastic! But it’s not quite the difference of tripling my tip total vs. Uber that was purported. Additionally, of course, all the Lyft app tips are reported to the IRS, so that can be a difference depending on how you treat your cash tips (relevantly, many waitstaff and bartenders still give cash tips on Lyft). Though as I’m realizing doing my taxes this year, the US has lots of ways to make it basically impossible for anyone who claims to be in business to pay any taxes whatsoever. The horror stories and fears I had about a significant Uber tax liability have been pretty well put to bed by a quick tax session Uber hosted and a newly thorough understanding of Schedule C.

The really tangible potential differences in money break down as a comparison between Uber’s surge and Lyft’s Power Driver status. Uber’s (in)famous surge pricing squares up supply and demand and offers a real opportunity to make bank when driving during, say, Halloween weekend, or, as I can hardly imagine, the upcoming weekend featuring a full slate of Mardi Gras parades and the NBA All-Star Game. When demand is high, during such times or at the end of a game or concert, then Uber drivers can make a normal night’s worth of fares in a good few rides. This is definitely slightly over-rated as part of the income of Uber driving, especially with recent efforts by the company to nerf surge by making the zones much smaller and rebound on each other more slowly. But it can add up on Saturday nights and holidays and during events. Lyft allegedly offers PrimeTime as their corollary to this, but there’s only one problem. It is, apparently, a lie. When you agree to do an Uber pick-up, they tell you the value of the surge the fare will carry. I have done hundreds of surge rides and they’ve all added up to the total promised. When you agree to do a Lyft pick-up, however, they do not tell you if it has a PrimeTime value. And despite picking up many riders in the thick of a pink-shaded PT event, not one of my 88 Lyft rides to date has been deemed a PrimeTime fare. Some preliminary Internet research reveals widespread belief that PrimeTime is somewhere between a scam and a myth and my experience certainly correlates to this. More disconcertingly, many drivers attest that their riders have said they were charged PrimeTime for pick-ups that did not pass such bonuses on to the driver.

This would make Lyft super problematic were it not for the Power Driver status, which is almost enough and possibly quite enough to forgive them for lying about PrimeTime, if they in fact are. (It’s possible that it just doesn’t work somehow, given Lyft’s other technological inferiorities, below.) If a driver accepts 90% of their offered Lyft rides in a week, while completing at least 15 rides during peak hours (a narrow band of afternoon rush hours plus Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights) and 40 rides total, one gets an extra 10% of the total fares, getting 85% instead of the normal 75%. Bump those last two numbers up to 20 and 60 and you get another 10%, meaning you keep a full 95% of the fare charged to the rider (less whatever lying about PrimeTime may be happening, of course). For those of you used to Uber rates, this is the equivalent of getting 1.26x surge on every single ride for the whole week. That’s pretty great. The one week I made the grade here, it was worth an extra hundred bucks. Not enough to compete with surge during Mardi Gras, perhaps, but certainly something to boost a lot of Tuesday nights.

The problem, of course, is that Lyft is often slower than Uber, and more problematically is not afraid of sending you on a wild goose chase for a fare. Uber often strands riders with their requirement that every pick-up be 10 minutes or less from a driver’s current location. (Surge gets triggered if no riders are available within 10 minutes.) Lyft, on the other hand, has given me multiple requests that are 25-27 minutes away. Which is insane. Especially in New Orleans, where you’re always 15 minutes from everything. 13-20 minutes away is a regular occurrence. Of course, most Lyft riders don’t want to wait this long, so 85% of my requests that are that far away get cancelled within 3 minutes. Which just doesn’t smack of efficiency. And because acceptance rate is such a core part of Lyft’s access to the coveted Power Driver status, then you really can’t just turn your nose up at a 20-minute trek. With Uber, I often have enough work that I decline something 8-10 minutes away as requiring too much unpaid gas.

As a result, twisting becomes the norm, especially not on weekends or during events that are busier. In this instance, twisting entails keeping both apps on simultaneously and ready to go, then switching off one app as soon as a request comes in on the other. As I predicted when I first heard about this, this process is hectic and stressful, especially when you remember that you are also, y’know, driving while this happens. Usually driving just involves hitting the phone screen once and then a second time to navigate – not hard when the phone is mounted to the air conditioner or some equally accessible spot. But all the opening and closing of apps is challenging. Already, I’ve had two instances of basically simultaneous requests and had to cancel one (usually the Uber one because acceptance rate –> Power Driver) and just take the other. It’s not quite playing power song and endurance song at once for hours, but it’s not the easiest either. And at least that only impacted fake or simulated people, er, magical creatures?

Of course, the problem is that just choosing one of the apps now creates this insidious FOMO effect whenever one doesn’t immediately have a ride request. I am driving around just trawling for a ride, but I could have both apps on, my brain tells me. I bet there are constant requests on the app you have closed! Is it really that hard to twist?

A week before Saturday, I even was double-apping on a Saturday night, something I swore never to try because of how busy Saturday nights are ’round here. But that promise was so quickly broken the second I’d gone five minutes without a request.

As far as other empirics, there’s not a lot of difference. There seem to be more women traveling alone on Lyft, which is a big part of their marketing strategy for both drivers and riders. (Lyft actually conducts an interview, which Uber does not, though I would not exactly describe it as much of a screening process from my experience.) Lyft riders have disproportionately talked about how they don’t want to use Uber, or are trying not to, but many find it hard in New Orleans given the dominance of Uber in the market. Lyft riders seem much more diligent, on average, about being ready for their ride right away when I pull up, though this may be a product of the significantly longer wait times involved in sending drivers long distances to pick-ups. When the GPS or rider mess up on the map, Lyft automatically starts the ride when you leave to go to the right location. While this theoretically is to help the driver get compensated, it empirically just creates cancellations when the rider freaks out that they’re listed as riding in the car when, in fact, they are not. Lyft won’t let you text riders for some reason, which Uber insists is what riders prefer. Most riders on both platforms cannot remember which service they’ve used to hail me, which is something I definitely remember from just doing Uber as well. Though the ones that do remember and are not strongly anti-Trump have usually just had a bad experience with Uber, which seems weird to me knowing that so many drivers use both platforms interchangeably.

Many people in the cultural imagination, including a guy out front of a bar last night who saw both my signs in the windshield and asked me incredulously how such a thing was possible and wasn’t I a traitor to both companies, seem to not realize that one can do both, much less at the same time. For companies that brand themselves with such contrast, black vs. pink, businesslike vs. whimsical, pro-Trump (now not-un-pro-Trump?) vs. anti-Trump, the reality is basically the same. You are in a person’s car and they are taking you where you want. No matter how much corporate veneer and artifice we put on things, we remain, unflinchingly, just people in all that we do.

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That’s Entertainment!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Problem of Being a Person, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , ,

Trumpemon

When I was in high school, I had a discussion with my father about a long-prior discussion he’d had about the state of the world in the mid-1970s. He mentioned, in passing, that his conversational partner of the time had said what people really needed in the world was to laugh more. He then echoed this sentiment, circa 1997, as an obvious truth of the universe. My mind immediately went to the somewhat moderate bullies of my high school, the jocks and the idiots, and everyone I knew who seemed to make laughing a key priority of their existence. I thought laughter was, if anything, overrated in a very serious world. Being a bit stubborn and prone to engaging wherever possible in a keen argument, I intimated that the great problem with the world is that everyone needed to laugh less.

I raise this issue now not to pick or resurrect a generational fight two decades in the making, nor to pick on my Dad, with whom I agree about more things than I’d argue most of my (or any?) age agree with their fathers. But I think this moment of discord speaks to a larger perspective on the world that has changed, perhaps since the 60s or 70s, perhaps even more recently, about the nature of entertainment and its influence on our world, or the world of contemporary America as it now stands, embarrelled in choppy waters and facing what almost everyone can universally regard as a rather steep cliff, with barely any water in the fall to soften the rocky crags below. Far more recently than 1997, my father predicted that this summer would look a lot like the summer of 1968, the least stable of his lifetime to date. Halfway through the summer, that seems like a pretty safe prediction, as news of attacks, shootings, coups, and executions compete for headlines daily as we rush headlong into an election where the major party candidates make Nixon and Humphrey look like popular young gentlemen you’d want to bring home to the parents.

So what’s trending? Pokemon Go!

It is a sign of age, diving into my late 30s, that many of my friends have taken to the waves of the Internet to literally decry the children gathering on their lawns to play this latest video game to capture the American imagination. And also a sign of my generation that a nearly equal quantity are regaling us with stories of their own particular lawn catches. I am not here to moralize about the perils of Pokemon Go. While I am not playing (I just missed Pokemon as a phenomenon the first time around, entering college when it hit the streets. And the last thing I need is another excuse to haul out the smartphone [begrudgingly purchased for Uber] in public.), I definitely understand the appeal. And more importantly, it’s the first video game since Dance Dance Revolution that is getting its players off the couch and into something resembling physical shape. And the first ever (unless you count its natural predecessor Ingress, and nobody but Brandzy does count Ingress) that gets people out of the living room and into the real, living, breathing world where they might interact with other real people.

So, is Pokemon Go a giant scheme designed to replace our outrage with police killings, mass shootings, and an endless upward cycle of violence against seemingly everyone with, well, the digital equivalent of dogfighting? Or, perhaps more accurately, a dogfighting-themed scavenger hunt? Is the timing of its release sufficient to mollify a public fomenting with the desire to rebel, replacing the revolution with the placid need to “catch ’em all”? After all, the game is insidiously embedded in a very real and very corporate world, wherein savvy companies have already latched onto their geographic placement in the game to win friends and influence people.

I am inclined to believe that the release of illusory pocket monsters into the world is largely coincidental with the second coming of 1968 as it arrives on American shores nearly a half-century later. But I’m also inclined to believe that there are no coincidences.

Pokemon Go is just another aspect of our cultural obsession with entertainment. There was a time, I believe, when art was separable from entertainment in a real way, when politics also enjoyed a distance from the desire for laughter. It is hard to imagine what such a separation would truly look like at this moment, when the entire orientation of Internet culture around social media has turned us like plants toward the sun, seeking fulfillment and sustenance purely from the notion of being amused. Our educational system is rapidly trying to catch up, bringing games and electronics into the classroom by the armload in an effort to compete on the giant entertainment battlefield. Maybe everyone in the 70s really did decide that we all just needed to laugh more and they spent the next four decades making it so, ensuring that the concept of entertainment seeped into every element of our waking life, so we would judge each decision by how much comic relief it brought to our brain.

No wonder, then, that the major popular outlets of news in the last 15 years have all become comedy shows. That the nightly anchors of my childhood: Rather, Jenkins, and Brokaw (admittedly problematic in their universal conservative white maleness) were replaced with the guffaws and antics of Stewart and his many descendants. That Obama himself gets the most attention for the White House Correspondents Dinner, far more widely beheld than another boring dramatic turn at memorializing victims of a mass shooting. Indeed, I think the main reason so many of my friends are missing the fact that Trump should be considered the runaway favorite in the 2016 general election is that he is so much more entertaining than his counterpart Clinton. Since televisions became widely held items in American households, this is the metric that explains most every choice the general election populous has made at the quadrennial ballot box. I guess one could argue that Dukakis was more entertaining than Bush the elder in 1988, but in retrospect that was mostly at his own expense, so perhaps doesn’t count. And I don’t know exactly what to do with either of Nixon’s victories – his runs against Humphrey and McGovern were surely races to the bottom in terms of entertainment. But there are no other imaginable exceptions since the Nixon-Kennedy debates opened the television era: the more entertaining candidate always wins, which I think does more to explain the success of all the two-term Presidents since Nixon than any other single theory. Say what you will about Reagan, Bill Clinton, Bush the younger, and Obama, but they are all highly successful entertainers.

There’s a reason I have total confidence that Trump will win this November, barring assassination or other unforeseeable but still seemingly almost predictable upheaval. He is, like Reagan before him, an entertainer by trade. More than anything else that Donald Trump is or isn’t, he is a showman. And whatever the truth value of her given statements may be on a given day, the most salient and consistent critique that can be leveled against Hillary Clinton the candidate is her inability to entertain. Her most ardent supporters have tried to turn this into a strength in recent months, with a cascade of thinkpieces on how her wonky, unaffectionate demeanor is exactly what we should want in the White House. Little good this will do her after debates against Trump when the latter could literally roar, a la Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, a fitting avatar of our contemporary culture, “Are you not entertained?!” You can practically see the thumbs turning down on Clinton in the crowd, condemning her to political death at the hands of the latest champion of a very amused mob.

It is perhaps some small solace to my readers that I go on to believe that Trump is not the second coming of Hitler so much as the second coming of Vaudeville. Or, at worst, I guess L. Ron Hubbard, who called his shot about making a fortune on an invented religion and then put it into practice. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf as his declaration of intention. Trump said he’d try to run as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal on a ticket with Oprah Winfrey. No, the meme about him saying Republicans were dumb and easy to persuade isn’t true. It seems believable because he knows everyone is easy to persuade with enough money and entertainment value, even the Clintons themselves, as he will bring up even more in future debates.

Please don’t confuse my adamance about the future Trump presidency with support. I have no interest in seeing a Trump presidency, though I also have no interest in seeing a Clinton presidency. As I told Alex’s mother the night before last, I think either president would make the first six years of the Obama administration look glorious and I think those years were truly awful. I am not reveling in the future success of Trump, but I am trying to understand and explain its potency so others might harness that understanding to do some kind of counterbalancing good.

This struggle with entertainment as the dominant currency of our society and its potential battle with more serious, sober reflections on change is one that has impacted key aspects of my own life, and especially this website. While I never came up with the idea for Pokemon Go (like Uber, these ideas required a level of accuracy for GPS technology that doesn’t really predate the last five years and I think few people knew would be a certainty until then), I have concocted some virally entertaining quizzes over the years, the first couple of which were extremely well timed with the advent of Web 1.0 media like blogs, MySpace, and GeoCities. These quizzes first hit the scene when I was trying to promote my first novel and write my second, as well as make my way through life with day jobs in the so-called real world. Tired from my commute and the stresses of work, I would contemplate writing fiction that would be read by a few hundred or a quiz that would be seen by more than a million people within its first year. One would be laden with meaning that I found important to impart, the other would be infused with what little meaning I could stick between the layers of entertainment. My choice was usually clear: at least the entertainment would be absorbed by the masses. It wasn’t until quitting jobs entirely in 2009 that I could really get back to writing fiction seriously. And if my life hadn’t fallen apart at the end of that period, maybe I would have found some success then. At the same time, most of the folks who read American Dream On agreed on its biggest critique: too dark, not entertaining enough. My mother observed that I have a great talent for making people laugh in real life; why couldn’t I bring that over into my writing?

We’ll leave to the side, for now, that perhaps the primary theme of American Dream On is that our obsession with entertainment, along with the pursuit of money, is literally killing everyone.

I don’t think Trump or Pokemon Go will literally kill everyone, nor will terrorists nor the police. Though all four will probably take their cut of lives, with Pokemon Go being by far the most innocuous. And not even all the pokemon in the world will be enough to distract us from the blood taken by other forces in the world, at least not for more than a few hours at a time. And unfortunately, the structural differences between Trump’s eventual killings and the police’s ongoing murders and the terrorists’ showy acts of slaughter and Pokemon Go will continue to fade. It’s all packaged entertainment, destruction put out like a press release, neat little explanations and video and unfolding mystery to unravel like a video game. What is this latest killer’s motive? Where will Trump bomb next? Which terror group will claim responsibility for the latest attack? How did the police try to cover up their latest racist execution?

And the slew of reporters will trail after, with their graphics team and sound folks making it all as polished as the latest app to hit our phones. And we’ll take it all in, and I’ll try to write about it in a way that is just flippant and distant enough to be entertaining too. It’s not just our currency anymore, it’s our literal language, because every use of time, every decision to read or watch something is in competition with catching another Pokemon or playing a game on Facebook or downloading something more amusing. And increasingly the only way to change anything might be to win the entertainment wars first and use that to do good. Because holding the mirror up to society isn’t getting people to take things more seriously these days – it’s reminding us of selfies.

If you’ll excuse me, I should probably go work on another quiz. I wonder if “Which police shooting victim are you?” is still too macabre to be entertaining. Maybe it’s the best way we can get more people to say their names.

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My Life with (Ms.) Pac-Man (or 84,400 Points Can’t Be Wrong)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Marching to New Orleans, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , ,

My record-high Ms. Pac-Man score, set earlier this week.

My record-high Ms. Pac-Man score, set earlier this week.

Ms. Pac-Man has played a major role in my existence.

I think I first played the arcade classic in the early-mid 1980s, probably just after it had come out. My father was a big fan of the early Pac-Man tables that came to the world about the same time I did and he would often bring me along for long lunches and early dinners with his sales associates in his various cable-selling and/or entrepreneurial efforts of those heady Reagan years. Often these meals were at establishments that had a couple video games making a trial appearance at the front entrance, competing with the cigarette vending machines, the dirty old bubblegum-dispensers, and occasionally the clucking chicken prize machines that I absolutely adored.

(Given Alex’s incredulity at seeing her first cigarette vending machine at Harrah’s New Orleans a few months back, I expect similar puzzlement about the last kind of machine from those not around in the early ’80s, though it may also have been a localized thing. In which case, behold:)

These things were everywhere.  And they were AWESOME.

These things were everywhere. And they were AWESOME.

I don’t know exactly when my father first hoisted me up to a proper height to be able to reach the controls of Ms. Pac-Man’s hectic voyage through her haunted maze of dots, but it may have been at one of those bar-style tables that would have been decidedly more accessible to my short childhood frame (not a redundancy – I was really short for my age until I shot up to my current height around ages 12-13). It was sometime after we’d seen Tron in theaters as my first or second movie-going experience* and I almost immediately remember connecting the experience of the character I was remotely controlling with the lives of those mono-suited and harrowed drivers in the film. It was thrilling. I’m sure I died quickly and had no idea why, but I also carefully watched my Dad and his associates play over time and soon Ms. Pac-Man would join Halloween and Watership Down as inextricably magical portals in my consciousness.

Thereafter, Ms. Pac-Man would always be my go-to game at arcades and pizza parlors in my youth. I didn’t frequent these places often, but birthday parties or other outings in Seaside, Oregon made them a common location to test out the skills of evading ghosts and eating fruit. I played a safe survival strategy, eschewing the big points to be gained from eating lots of ghosts and preferring usually to gobble the unguarded dots while they went through their mollified blue phase. NBA Jam certainly made a run at my heart for the top spot in the world of video gaming outside the computer, but nothing could knock the hungry yellow circle off her perch.

Then the obsession really kicked into high gear and got some reasonable attempts at practice when we moved to New Mexico and I fell into the habit of bowling with my friends on an at-least weekly basis. Holiday Bowl on Lomas at ~Louisiana remains there and became our third or fourth home and had a big Ms. Pac-Man machine right in the front of the various video games adorning the entrance. Jake and I were the biggest fans, but most everyone took a turn or two at the big yellow-and-blue box, with the crowded semicircle of onlookers cheering or groaning at every turn. It was here that I honed more risky strategies, emerging as I was from a highly risk-averse youth into a still disproportionately risk-averse teenage-dom. I went for the full 1600 (3000 total) points of eating all four ghosts. I went for the fruit from time to time, learning the valuable lesson that it’s there, especially in the early levels (up to peach) mostly to distract you and get you eaten. I learned to hate Red, or Blinky as it is named in the game, for its cunning and speed, especially in sometimes trying to get eaten early so it could fly back out of the gate when no longer vulnerable.

I remember a particular national debate trip in high school where we ate somewhere that had a Ms. Pac-Man machine (or maybe it was in an airport?) and I dropped everything to get out some quarters and give it a spin. My debate teammates had never seen me transformed by the effects of the twists, turns, triumphs, and tragedies, and were thus mostly amused. Jess Hass told me she had never seen me that animated and that it was like another person had come out of my shell. It’s probably somewhat like what people who’ve never seen me dance think when they first see me at a party or wedding.

Then there was a bit of a lull. Brandeis lacked a Ms. Pac-Man machine on campus and Pelta-Heller taught me to play pinball instead. That and laundry scooped up my extra quarters and my skills lapsed a bit. I’d still jump at the chance to gobble some dots and ghosts when presented with the opportunity, but the chances became less frequent as aging machines were taken out. A brief renaissance ensued when Gris and I discovered a table Ms. Pac-Man sublimely sitting in the middle of an Ethiopian bar and grill in Oakland, though. I distinctly remember playing after his birthday party there to console him upon having his car stolen that day (it was recovered two days later not much worse for the already heavy wear).

And then my Dad called and said he’d found an affordably priced Pac-Man table machine on the Internet and did I think it would be cool if he bought it and put it in the basement? This is a bit like a lifetime soccer fan being called on a casual Tuesday night by a relative who is weighing in on whether he or she should choose to buy Manchester United. I got done with my gleeful incredulity about four minutes later and could only calm down enough to make my approval truly clear another four minutes after that.

This elation was only mildly dampened when I came home the first time to discover that he had not just short-handed the game’s title by calling it “Pac-Man” but that it was, in fact, an original, not the Ms. Pac-Man that had stolen my heart over the last two-point-five decades. But I quickly grew to love the simpler and less prolific original, though the cut scenes were not something I’d memorized the tune to ages before. The ghosts were a bit more plodding and logical, but the overall game ran slower and had less variation with the lack of different boards. That said, it was very hard to argue with being able to fish the quarters back out of the till unspent, nor the camaraderie of playing against my father.

The Pac-Man machine has been dormant and is being considered for re-sale, but my Dad and I got it up out of the basement and plugged it in upstairs last visit, when Alex and I went out for Balloon Fiesta in October. And she went from very new to pretty darn good quite quickly, an echo of her childhood playing Super-Mario (I always had a computer for games instead of a Nintendo). And shortly upon our return, we discovered that the arcade at our favored local movie theater, the Elmwood 20 in Harahan (same parking lot as the only NOLA-area Chipotle!) has a back room. We’d been playing air-hockey and occasionally gambling away dollars in the claw machine (curse you, Kurt Falk!) when especially early for films, but guess what was sitting in the back the whole time (I mean, all of four months, but we see a lot of movies…)? Yup, Ms. Pac-Man.

With our honed practice on the arguably harder original game in Albuquerque, we suddenly started tearing up the field on this machine. To the point that it was only a couple weeks of two-a-movie-each play before we were each setting individual records. After nearly 30 years of play, an individual record! I was pretty sure that about 60-65,000 was my personal best prior to discovering this machine, and soon I was over 70k. I made the fourth board design, the dark blue one, for only the second time in my life, edging past the “Junior” cut-scene. And then I was consistently getting deep into the prior dark-brown boards, or getting through the first four levels without losing a life. The picture up top is from our last session, when we each played three games, and two (2!) of mine were personal bests, back-to-back. Alex also set a personal best with 44,560 points.

It has only been after the last two sessions that I connected my most lamented fact about this particular Ms. Pac-Man machine with my favorite. You see, the sound basically doesn’t work on this machine. Once in a while, there’s a scratchy murmur of a sound trying to escape the otherwise broken speakers, but that’s it. I have actually sung the music for the first two cut scenes most every time we reach them as I miss dancing to it so much. I have missed (or thought I missed) the satisfying power-up bloops of consuming ghosts or the anguished disintegration noise that so poetically echoes the frustration of the reverse.

But what if I’m setting records… because there’s no sound?

What if I’m not better at all at this point in my life, but just less distracted than usual? It certainly follows that, like the early-level fruit, the sound proves to be as much an impediment to success as it does a boost. There’s already a ton of mental multi-tasking required for stellar Pac-Man play. One must develop a planned route, re-route the route continually when it is blocked or dangerous, line up ghosts for quick eats after eating a big dot, and constantly strain peripheral vision to be aware of all four enemies on the board while also processing blind tunnels and, in the later levels, game-making 2,000-point pears and 5,000-point bananas. All that and try to anticipate when the ghosts will randomly reverse and throw the whole thing off. Could sound be the fourth dimension that keeps concentration impossible? And its absence indicate an opportunity to master the game as never before?

I won’t know, of course, till I can test my newly honed skills on a fully-operational machine somewhere else. Though I’m nervous to play anywhere but this dingy back-room in Harahan after getting remarkably close to the fabled six-digit threshold. Until then, I’ll have to wonder, like with so many pursuits these days and always, how much of my success is the unadulterated improvement that so often follows practice and how much is the sheer luck of unpredictable circumstance.

As, no doubt, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man must wonder as they traverse those three vaunted and normally musical cut-scenes. Was it destiny that prompted them to meet? Or were they the only two Pac-(wo)M(e)n in the world and lucky enough to bump into each other? How much credit can they claim for the little family they forge?


*Much debate persists in my family about whether I saw Tron or E.T. first in theaters. I loved the experience of the first and was terrorized for years by recollections of images of the protagonist in the latter. E.T. was released on June 11, 1982 and Tron was released a month later, on July 9, 1982. But admittedly E.T. was a blockbuster that stuck around in theaters for months after Tron‘s debut. That said, the earlier release seems to correlate better with my theory that E.T. was actually my first movie and that part of what scared me was the strange new experience of being in a really dark yet crowded room. If you think about it, going to a movie theater is intensely bizarre and disconcerting for a new human.

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For the Love of the Game

Categories: A Day in the Life, Know When to Fold 'Em, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Problem of Being a Person, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

Me, a little after midnight on the Sunday/Monday border, after winning Event #3 of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Me, a little after midnight on the Sunday/Monday border, after winning Event #3 of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi.

I like competing. I like games. I like situations that produce winners and losers with high regularity. I like this stuff a lot.

But why?

After I posted about my first-ever tournament win of a large poker tournament on Facebook Monday (I won Event #3 of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship, though the prize money ended in a 5-way chop for just under $5k apiece), old friend and Rutgers debater David Reiss queried about how I could reconcile a love of gambling with my political views about equality and the unimportance of wealth. It’s a good question and one that I wrestle with a lot as I try to embark on a run at playing poker more or less full-time.

My first run at a response was this:

“It’s complicated, and probably not entirely resolved like any of the myriad compromises innate to living in this society. A thumbnail sketch is probably that money is pretty much always zero-sum and thus any pay is coming out of someone’s pocket and at least poker is upfront about that fact as opposed to cloaking it. 90-95% of the people who play poker regularly, especially tournaments, can afford to lose what they’re playing with. There are definitely exceptions and I definitely feel bad about that. But I’ve made money off of student loan debt most recently, as well as donations that people intended to go directly to the poor/homeless, so I don’t think you can make money in this world as structured without it carrying some burden of guilt.

And I don’t think it’s a mystery how I feel about competitive strategics being the main basis of how well one does as far as a professional use of time.”

I could certainly write a treatise on the first and primary paragraph of that comment and probably will at some point – the challenges of being a human being in a society structured like modern America and aspiring to do good and not feel guilty all the time are things I explore with regularity internally and, when people will listen, externally. But this post is mostly going to tackle how for-granted I take the latter statement, the love of strategy and competition for their own sake and how competition seems to be its own reward.

There are plenty of semi-rabid type-A people for whom competition as its own reward seems like the obvious order of things. And while I certainly spent much of my youth being a Very Serious Person and extreme grade-skipping had a huge impact of my world-view of myself relative to others, I think I managed pretty well to avoid being a type-A bulldog. I was known during my collegiate debate career as one of the least competitive-driven and forceful people of the top tier of debaters on the circuit, the one far less likely to make novices cry in a round and even less likely to gloat over said outcome, which was seen as a near-virtuous norm for most of my rivals. I still wanted to win, I just didn’t want to make other people feel bad about me winning and I also valued things like discourse and people enjoying the round.

But for a believer in equality, I still get an awful lot of utility out of winning things. To the point that I can look at my middle twenties, between graduating college in mid-2002 and starting coaching college debate in mid-2009, as this kind of desert where I was constantly craving competitive outlets. I took my adult-league kickball team far too seriously in the Bay Area for a couple years, played online video games for vastly more time than I should have, and made a reputation for myself at poker night with friends or game night with the Garin family as the sorest winner and the trashiest talker. Just as Emily was craving the approval of grades, I was constantly seeking ways of winning things or at least riding the roller-coaster of winning and losing that competition breeds. Coaching RUDU felt like this sweet relief, partially for the intellectuality of APDA, but certainly partly just to be on the weekly run of W’s and L’s.

One outlet for this competitive angst that was a constant during that part of my life and dates back to the late 80’s is, of course, my love of baseball. And specifically the Seattle Mariners, another kind of irrational output of energy and emotion and competitive spirit for me. I have wrestled with this part of my personality a lot. Being a sports fan is kind of an objective waste of time in about twenty different ways. These teams are chosen more or less arbitrarily, have no innate value, and the presence of sports in our society puts jocks on a pedestal above those who probably objectively deserve more respect and takes massive amounts of resources away from nobler pursuits. But I absolutely adore baseball and the Mariners and I don’t know how to stop. There is real beauty in the game, there is real love in my heart for the symbols and pageantry and presence of the Mariners and all they represent, their history and their struggles and their logo, and I can’t really justify it any more than I could explain to you why I like cucumbers but not pickles. And I feel bad for it, sometimes, especially when I think about what baseballs are made out of, but I can’t help it. I truly deeply love the Mariners and baseball and will probably never stop watching, no matter how socially dubious the impact of sports is on our society.

I mean, sure. Sports are a place where diversity is celebrated, especially baseball as probably the truly most diverse sport, and ideally and eventually sports should replace wars, and there is a social outlet and recreational outlet for people and I guess sports-consciousness fights obesity in theory, though probably not in practice. I guess it’s not like holding on to some sort of love of weaponry or slaughterhouses, quite. But all of those are probably pretty flimsy justifications in the face of cities who fund huge stadiums for millionaires to cavort in but won’t build more housing for their homeless.

Now obviously being a Mariners fan since 2001 has been heartbreaking (as though 2001 itself weren’t heartbreaking enough, when the M’s set an American League record for wins and then couldn’t even make the World Series) and this leads to another aspect of competition that bears questioning. Why voluntarily put so much emotional energy into the hands of something out of one’s control? And why invest so much time into observing something that will result in upsetting you at least 40% of the time and often, with the M’s, closer to 60% of the time? Isn’t that definitively crazy? I know “fan” is short for “fanatic”, which sort of implies some instability, but why put so much of your mood in the hands of something so iffy? Is it just because everyone else is doing it?

I thought about this a bit in that mid-twenties period and really even experimented with letting go of baseball fandom and the Mariners a bit more, even while still wearing M’s jackets and hats more days than not. It didn’t take. I still wanted to watch most of their games, even in the down seasons, still followed their players like they were friends of mine. And it’s not like I was raised on this from an early age. My Dad gets a little competitive when playing Risk, but both of my parents kind of blinked at me when I told them I wanted to play Little League. They carried this “Sports?? Really?” look around for about a year or so, while still being supportive of my interest, until they’d gone to enough games to kind of fall in love with baseball along with me. I went out and found and chose this all on my own and now it’s just deeply embedded.

I don’t think this post ends with a neat little bow, some tie-in conclusion that explains it all or offers up just the right balance of reflection and thought-provocation. Truth is, I got nothing. I feel like competitive outlets are somewhere between water and food in my daily priority list, but I have no idea why. And I know that a lot of what I most loved about debate, both as a competitor and a coach, is found in poker as well, which is the strategic aspect. The constant intellectual stimulation, the dynamism of all these different personalities and perspectives vying for the same goals and taking different routes to it, and trying to outsmart everyone and get as much control of the situation as possible. This is found in good board games as well, in most of the competitive outlets I have. It’s entirely absent in baseball, of course, except vicariously. Real players and managers get to enjoy the game on that level, but the rest of us can only watch. Then again, despite my clear preference for intellectual pursuits to athletic ones, I still mostly wanted to be a major leaguer from early Little League to late high school. The competitive drive is deeply ingrained and fierce.

Obviously, if I can keep winning tournaments at poker, this monstrous competitive drive within will be sufficiently quenched that I don’t need to keep finding more things to feed it with. That said, one of my first thoughts upon winning and internalizing how much money had been at stake was that I could now seriously consider flying to Seattle if the Mariners make the playoffs this season for the first time in 13 years.

Maybe it’s all just a form of love. If I’ve learned anything in three and a half decades on Earth, it’s that love is the most irrational thing of all.

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Time in the Seat’s Not Neat

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , ,

People ask all the time why kids love video games but generally seem to hate going to school. Why people will spend a lot of time diligently devoting themselves to baseball statistics or the arcane rules of a particular game or even Angry Birds or how their cell phone works, but not apply the same steadfast energy to chemistry or the latest novel they’ve been assigned to analyze. It’s often not a question people investigate seriously or intellectually; more often, they’ll simply throw up their hands and say “kids these days” or decry the collapse of attention spans and young minds.

What they often overlook, as is becoming somewhat trendy to observe, is that there’s actually a lot of effort and even intellectual curiosity going into these alternate pursuits. There’s creative problem solving and collaboration and sometimes almost obsessive dedication. It just happens to be to the “wrong” things. Or as I’ll explain in a minute, I don’t think it “happens” to be to that at all. I think it’s obvious and measurable exactly why some things get attention from the younger generations of our era and others get ignored to the aghast gasping of old-school academics and their ilk that everything is about to collapse.

Video games and other time-consuming pursuits of the genre are structured around motivating a certain series of behaviors. And many of them, especially the best ones (e.g. the much-maligned Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMORPGs [e.g. World of Warcraft or WoW, which you’ve almost certainly heard of]) do an almost insidious job at motivating their player to achieve the goals desired at the expense and detriment of everything else in their life. The rewards are frequent and satisfying and there are always more goals and rewards to unlock, all amidst a fun and interactive environment to partake in. Contrast this with traditional classroom learning or the traditional workplace, where the main goal to achieve is simply putting in hours, regardless of accomplishment or function. There are goals and rewards to unlock, potentially, but the main goal and reward is being at an appointed place for an appointed time when expected and surrounded by others doing the same thing.

Indeed, this motivation, something my Dad and I have called “time in the seat” since my first serious rebellions against education in the late 1980’s, is the fundamental core of the modern Western life. People are not recognized or acknowledged so much for what they do or even how they do it, but when they do it. And not even when they do it so much as for how long. The person who works 60 hours a week is automatically respected more than the person who works 40 (let alone 20 or 30), no matter what they’re actually doing with that time. They could be surreptitiously playing eight hours of Minesweeper while no one is looking over their shoulder at their computer screen, but people will nod sagely and say that this is a better worker than someone putting in 20 hours of brilliantly focused work and otherwise out living their life.

Thus we see that Minesweeper itself, unlike our school and work places, actually motivates people to minimize how long it takes to complete a given task. And one ends up spending a long time, or long enough, mastering and perfecting that task in order to complete it more minimally the next time around. While school and work actually motivate and incentivize people to maximize the amount of time it takes to do a given thing, because that will prolong the time in the seat and fill the hours or enable one to work longer and thus get more respect and/or money.

It’s no coincidence that pay is traditionally doled out by the hour in our society and those like it, or that schools are paid for the number of full days of attendance logged by their students. And even for the increasing army of “exempt” non-hourly-paid employees, their respect and prestige tends to correspond to how long they can be seen “slaving” away at the office, yet only an excellent supervisor or trained eye will be able to see the person actually working smarter and harder, not just longer and longer. These incentives and motivations are precisely backwards, and among the best and brightest actually create a very common and extremely pernicious impact.

This impact is to actually sandbag productivity in the effort to make something challenging or interesting or actually push oneself to develop. Almost everyone I know will recognize this from their own college days, but I’m sure many have also done this during high school and work. The phenomenon is centered around procrastination of a given task or duty, not because one is lazy or disinterested, but because the procrastination itself builds a sort of excitement or pressure around then having to complete the work in a short period of time. And that pressure supplants the lack of excitement or push to learn or grow or exert effort normally found in a school/work environment, building a learning curve and a thrill of challenge that the work would otherwise go without. And almost universally, inevitably, the work completed under such circumstances is better than that completed over a slow plod or mincing hours of working laboriously. It’s fresher, it breathes with the passion of a looming deadline, and it reflects the rise to the occasion so often seen as a result of a human pushed to their capacity.

So what’s the solution? Is Storey just railing again with another problem and no fixes? Or is he going to suggest something absurd like having us all play MMORPGs instead of working? Fear not, friends, for I have the most obvious solution in the world.

School is the easy one – work’s a tiny bit trickier. But we need to unleash school students of all ages from their annual fixed rate of progress. Graduation from high school – not a GED or quick-fix substitute, but actual full graduation – should have no implied age. One should be able to complete the full work of high school assignments at any pace they so desire. Maybe people have to get kicked out of high school by 22 or 25 or something to keep things moving along, but there are otherwise no restrictions on pace of work. Assignments are available to be taken on at any point – the only catch is that when an assignment is given, it comes with a fixed deadline X number of days thereafter. But if you want to do three grades’ worth of work at a time and graduate at 11, you’re welcome to try.

Suddenly under such a system, which would take roughly the same resources as status quo, just more open-minded teachers and a more flexible attitude overall, everyone in school would be motivated. Don’t like high school? Get out quick! Bored with a subject? Finish it in days! Your motivation would be not just to play a game for grades or to goof off in the back of class for a diversion, but to actually absorb material, demonstrate mastery, and get moving with your actual life. Even if this system took more resources to try to deal with all the people flying around at an individual pace, the job satisfaction and ease of work increase from dealing with people who want to be learning would be exponential. You’d basically turn school into a video game with checkpoints that can be completed faster and better with more obsessive play.

Work can be trickier because there’s sometimes the need for people to have meetings and, worse, committees. But I think the same basic rules apply. Release all hourly requirements and restrictions. Have each job assigned a pile of tasks. These tasks must be completed by X time and short of that, however much or little you have to work to do that well is done. This even works for construction and ditch-digging and some of the worst jobs imaginable, because you’d suddenly be incentivized to complete projects faster rather than take your time and milk them for hours. Lawyers would no longer be limited to billable hours, but freed up to try to streamline the efficiency with which tasks were completed. About the only thing I can’t figure are certain service jobs where a place is open for X amount of time and people have to be there to anticipate that. Then again, outside of maybe restaurants, most of these jobs are being replaced by online retailing. And I think that’s great, because most of those jobs being replaced are no fun at all.

The human mind was not meant to pursue things for fixed amount of hours every day. It craves creativity, spontaneity, new thinking, innovation. It is not greed that motivates us to such things, but flexibility and our own internal motivations of wanting to get things done. If the motivation were to speed up this process, then synergies and opportunities would continue to rise exponentially. Instead, our society languishes in the doldrums of clock-watching. No wonder we’re disproportionately overweight, saddled with back problems and stress and all the other collateral damage of life glued to chairs for fixed amounts of time. We need to get up, get out, get going, and get faster. And we can’t do that with the number 2080 (or a larger one) around our necks like a stone collar.

Free your time and the mind will follow.

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In the Money

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , ,

This past weekend was a good one. As always, you can check out the Rutgers Debate blog for details on how things went for the team. They neither disappointed nor went over the top this weekend, though they were frustrated with their octofinal decision. The disappointment was somewhat mitigated by watching Brandeis run to victory… I gave their floor speech before their 9-4 Opp win.

On Sunday, the much-ballyhooed “APDA Mini-Cup” was held at Harvard, featuring a Harvard-heavy pool of eight teams comprised of fifteen former elite debaters and one current one. This evolved from an earlier idea to hold a year-long “APDA Cup” that would be one giant tournament taking place over the entire season and culminating in one final weekend of out-rounds. Despite widespread interest, that never got off the ground last year, so this idea was implemented instead, perhaps as a lead-in to a future year-long Cup. To sweeten the pot, there was a $1,000 cash prize allotted to the winner, garnered from local teams who wanted the event to be a success (and apparently got first crack at the tapes of all the rounds in return as well – it’s like a basic incentive argument in an APDA round).

Anyway, I was paired with BU’s Jake Campbell, one of the nicest guys ever to grace the circuit and a mutual believer in the power of crazy philosophical opp-choice cases. We wound up in a Harvard-light pod, consisting of a GW team, a Brandeis team (Zimmy & Joel), and a hybrid of two 2010 National semifinalists (one finalist – and TOTY to boot) from Harvard and Amherst. The format was round-robin with the top team advancing straight to Finals.

I really enjoyed our rounds – hopefully they will post the videos sooner than later and I can feature each of them on the blog a la my posting of the Stanford rounds over the summer we moved out to Jersey. I wrote two cases for the festivities, but we only ran one, being handed Opp by GW and flipping Opp against the full ‘Deis team. We ran the table, though each round was by exactly one ballot, so we apparently just squeaked in to a 3-0 record. I had felt pretty confident about all of our rounds, which was apparently warranted and unwarranted. They’ll also be posting the RFD’s (reasons for decision) online, so I’m really curious to see those.

Finals was somewhat disappointing for me, though I guess not for the others, all of whom proved to be BU debaters. We were matched against the only current debater and his partner from two years ago and were given Gov, though we would have grabbed it if we could have, since Jake had wanted nothing more out of this tourney than to run the case we did. It was supposed to be a round about whether ethical systems ought derive from human nature or not, but wound up being a round about how differently people interpret human nature and, ultimately, that most people think everything in human history has derived directly from human nature, which certainly isn’t my understanding of that concept. So it goes. We dropped, 8-3, setting up this weird Lincoln/Kennedy type thing where four years ago I lost to a Harvard team in BU Finals and then just lost to a BU team in Harvard (Mini-Cup) Finals, both running crazy opp-choice cases on Gov. Unlike the BU tourney, though, I don’t have the solace of knowing I put on a real showcase Final Round. I also don’t have my half of a thousand bucks.

It was still a great weekend and it was awesome to spend so much time with Stina and Dav and Zimmy throughout, as well as to see Drew on Friday night. When I finally got home, bleary and punch-drunk from a hilarious car-ride home with Dave and CBergz, I slept for half a day. But then I got up and it was soon time to listen to the Giants-Braves game on the computer and, as I often do when I want to focus on an audio-only experience, I decided to play a little online poker. I’ve mostly avoided things that can loosely be termed as video games since Emily returned from Liberia, preferring to focus on dealing with our stuff and then trying to focus on moving and dealing with my new life in Highland Park. But since the time was already budgeted for the game and I couldn’t watch the game, I found myself a tournament.

Within minutes of entering, I was facing a tough dilemma with KQ and a high-card Q on the board. I decided to push in all my chips, save one, a fun intimidation move that’s shy of going all-in and is the kind of thing that would never happen in a live game. The other guy called and flipped up AQ. So I had my chip and was going to be out of the tournament, with the 100-chip big blind coming around the next hand. I sighed and berated myself for overvaluing my hand, trying to determine whether to sign up for another tournament immediately since it was only the second inning and my same entertainment interests applied.

Then a funny thing happened. I tripled up on my 1-chip auto-all-in. Okay, great. I was still forced all in with my 3 chips on the small blind. But then I quadrupled up. Twelve chips. And two hands later, I went all in and quadded up again. Forty-eight chips. Soon I was forced in by another big blind, but this time I tripled up once more and could finally see over the top of the big blind. There was something almost like hope, after this many consecutive wins.

Five hours later, I finally got knocked out of the tournament, 22nd out of 2,666 entrants, having at one point amassed 223,000 chips. The ballgame was long over, long since won by the Giants. I’d listened to the whole post-game show and its litany of champagne-sodden interviews with understated players. I’d listened to hours of music on Pandora, rising and falling with the moods of the music I used to like. And I’d made about sixty bucks. A far cry from the multi-thousand-dollar top prize, but a miracle after facing such an early elimination on the decision to hold back one chip instead of go all-in.

It occurred to me somewhere in hour four or five of the 381-minute run through the tournament that I might make more playing poker that night than I stood to gain in the APDA Mini-Cup. Which I found kind of hilarious, because while poker is a hobby I’ve periodically been successful at, debate is a profound passion where I’m extremely confident in being in a top echelon. Of course, 99.9% of the debates out there don’t pay at all, while every poker tournament save for a very few low-level ones pay something to the winner. So the Mini-Cup changed the incentives in some strange way. Or at least my perspectives on them. It never would have occurred to me to compare a poker payoff to a debate round without the random financial carrot tacked on to the showcase event.

Perhaps the larger issue is the one that Russ pointed out when I shared the results of the tournament with him, just before sleeping hard this morning as well. He observed my one-chip miracle as a metaphor for my larger emotional state of being. Which, remarkably, for all my emotionality of late and patternistic vision in general, hadn’t hit me at all. Of course as soon as I read it, I had to begrudgingly admit that he had a real point. I was at death’s door and found a way to survive again and again when the odds were clearly against me. I was already mentally resigned and found a way to carry on. I wound up doing quite well.

It’s the doing quite well that I just can’t be sure about. Except, of course, in the context of debate. It’s funny to look at the Mini-Cup performance as almost the reverse of the poker run… I had soaring confidence about rounds I was just barely winning. And then grand anticipation for a case that sort of ran aground. Which I really shouldn’t put too fine a point on, because I had a great time debating. And it was nice to be judged by so many current and former (but still far younger than me) debaters. There’s a feeling of invincibility that dinos often bring to the circuit, of having paid their dues and being above reproach. Events like the Mini-Cup are good if only for their ability to remind former debaters that they are still capable of being judged. And when the seasoned aged dinos judging me are people like Jon Bateman, who I judged in National Finals five years after my own last Nationals, it really puts the whole thing into perspective.

Then again, maybe I just like the concept of judgment in all its forms. Or less than people perceive, as my current Rutgers debaters found out from spending a weekend hearing crazy stories from ‘Deis of old. Who knows? More and more, I think that Judgment may end up being the key watchword for my life. Part of a larger theory about everyone having a watchword – a singular concept that sums up the dilemmas, tests, and challenges that seem to recur in their life. As though we all were put here for one reason, one purpose, and our respective uniqueness makes bridging our gaps harder than might otherwise seem necessary. I’ve perused this concept before, though perhaps never in public. My Dad’s word is Survival. My mother’s is Motivation. Emily’s, I think, is Expectation. Mine… mine is almost certainly Judgment.

Don’t spell it with an extra e.

Miles walked today: 3.5

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Western Civilization

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Strangers on a Train, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , ,

On the train ride into work this morning, I wasn’t able to get a seat. The train was running just late enough to pick up enough stragglers to sell all the seats just before Downtown Berkeley. I had to stand and observe instead of read and recede.

Almost immediately, I noticed the middle-aged man two rows up and to the left with a laptop. I noticed him not because of his balding head or tall stature, but because he was playing Civilization III on his laptop. It took me a few minutes to determine, from my vantage, which version of Civilization he was playing, but the menu screens gave it away.

Before I could definitively determine that it was Civ III, it occurred to me the man may work for Sid Meier in some capacity and that he may just be heading into the office early by loading up the laptop. But realizing the version confirmed my actual suspicion, that this man was simply trying to prolong the delay before his workday really began and he had no time for games.

There was something profoundly resonant about this man’s experience and the fact that it occurred to me fairly soon after this that I should try to get a closer view so as to vicariously play and thus get some leftover utility from his game to make up for what I was losing in not being able to read. Then the question: would trying to closely follow a Civ game over the shoulder of a stranger give me the same headache I would otherwise get from reading while standing in a moving BART car? Sigh. It simply wasn’t worth it.

But watch I did, from long range, just enough to determine the man’s general approach to gameplay – he seemed to espouse the quick expansion and massive city-building that has always been a hallmark of my own approach through ownership of all four Civilization editions, plus the esoteric unsanctioned alternative Civ 3 that came out about a year or so before Sid Meier’s actual release of same. My vision isn’t what it used to be, so I could only make out terrain and general unit types, but nothing too specific (or headache-inducing).

Back when my vision was more like 20/12, my friends and I infiltrated the brand-new computer lab at the Albuquerque Academy library with freshly minted pirated diskettes of the original Civilization. The librarians were about to get an extended lesson in the first rule of computer lab setup: always face the computer monitors (screens) toward where the lab monitors (people) are going to be. One’s initial inclination is the opposite, because one thinks of a computer lab like a classroom. Students should face the front and the teacher and the monitor all at the same time. And for a full-time classroom, it might work, but not for a free-range computer lab.

It was of course forbidden to play games (let alone install them on the hard drive) in the library lab, perhaps even more evocatively so than it was illegal to copy the game in the first place. But the librarians there were all too stereotypical: lonely overweight women pushing sixty with all the technical savvy of John McCain. They were slow and lumbering and suspicious and you could see them coming in plenty of time to save your game and quit and open a Word document while trying to feign that ponderous, vaguely constipated look that signifies being stumped in the first paragraph of a paper.

It should be noted that this was just before the Internet age, about 1994-1995, so there was none of the alt-tabbing and massive multitasking and assumption of illicit Internet activity that pervades modern education with computers. Hence the naivete to set up the monitors facing the back wall and the incredible innocence of allowing students write-access to the hard drive. The computers were immensely expensive pretty new toys with capabilities entirely unknown to their adult overseers. Keep in mind that this is the school where, about this same time, I would join with a co-conspirator and a classroom full of willing amused accomplices to successfully convince a teacher that she was using a voice-activated VCR.

Eventually, out of sheer boredom or a truly teenage desire to constantly push the envelope, we got less diligent about saving and closing games every time a librarian would pop their head in (can you believe they only came by once every 20 minutes or so?). We would line up in the back row, sometimes four of us in the back and two more in the next-to-last, all playing our various games (my kingdom for network multiplayer in those days!). We would often laugh too loud or curse too much and draw more frequent visits from the stern gray-hairs. And look up innocently, making eye-contact only with that perfect blend of “I-have-nothing-to-hide” and “what-are-you-so-suspicious-of?”

I forget how it all ended exactly – a couple people got busted from time to time, but they really never punished them much (it was outside of school time, after all), sometimes suspending them from coming to the library for a couple days. They didn’t really comprehend the depths of Civ’s infiltration on the computers until much later, maybe after a year and a half or so of our reign over the lab. They locked up the hard drives from student access and we moved on to the Mac labs and text-based Internet (!) RPG’s that were harder to detect as anything other than scrolling word processing.

On the return trip on BART today, I got a seat and chose, since I was getting off early, one in a four-plex of facing seats. Next stop, at Montgomery, two noticeably overweight young women, just on the border of high school and college, piled in diagonally across from each other, each flanking me laterally (one across, one next to). The third empty seat they reserved for… their shopping bags. And they more than occupied the seat. The instigator of the dump-bags-on-seat plan kept having to tamp down the pile of colorful plastic.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been on BART in rush hour out of the City, but it is no place for bags on a seat. Not that people don’t try this occasionally, with luggage or their feet or a bike. But the withering peer pressure and angst of so many crammed unseated passengers coveting one rest-worthy surface that isn’t even being occupied by a sentient being – let’s just say it’s not something one generally wants to subject oneself to. Inevitably when confronted, people’s reactions for overtaking this space are huffy, defensive, and entitled, as though they know such a front is the only reasonable-seeming response to being called on being so downright unreasonable.

In any event, these did not exactly strike as BART neophytes, but bag-tamping was underway. And despite the Walmart-on-Black-Friday throng of boarders at Embarcadero, the last SF stop, not one person asked that the six (yes, 6!) bags be removed from the seat in their favor. Perhaps because it looked like it would take the length of the Transbay Tube to even undertake such extrication.

It was only midway through my incredulity at their audacity and selfishness that another amazement struck: what person age 16-20 is buying six bags worth of stuff? Who are these debutantes with their obliviousness and their functioning credit cards?

Being wedged very much into the center of their conversation, I was able to learn a few answers. They were very involved in a health or science class of some kind, where they’d each just completed a final project on a different disease. Indeed, the non-tamper was waving around a 10-pager with a cover sheet that simply read “Herpes” in eighty-point font. (I mean, really, did I imagine these people could have a lick of self-consciousness when one of them is animatedly waving the word “Herpes” in the air?) Amazement at the ease of transmission methods of a particular disease whose name eluded me (perhaps the aforementioned manifest on text). Mutual reassurance at the virtual lock on securing an A in this class. Detailed analysis on how to adjust double-spacing and margins to reach 10 pages.

Just before my stop, the non-tamper hauled out a cell phone and started calling home (a good indication that they were pre-collegiate). She rolled her eyes and half-gasped and mused on why she ever calls home in the first place, since everyone has cell phones. She informed her comrade that she had, in fact, just cancelled caller ID and call waiting on the home line, since no one ever used the phone anyway. She was waiting for someone to notice.

With savings like that, you could bring home a whole extra quarter of a bag. But who would notice that either?

They were overly gracious in moving their legs aside so I could pass out of the train, up the escalator, and into the night.

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Tuesday Roundup: Takin’ Care of Business

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

Just because I don’t write Introspection anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t often think in terms of quick updates. This blog format affords the luxury of doing both short blippy quips about my life like the old days, as well as the longer, more thoughtful pieces…

One of the grand ironies of the American experience is that some of our greatest themes and anthems for revered concepts are actually songs lambasting said concept.

The least subtle example of this may be Peter, Paul & Mary’s “I Dig Rock-n-Roll Music”. This is a more obscure case, but it remains PPM’s only really fully legitimate radio song. With lines like “But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it, between the liiines,” it’s not really hard to see exactly where this song’s loyalty lies. And yet it made the radio and remains there to date as a sincere tribute to rock-n-roll (as opposed to folk music, which PPM were actually advocating). I’m sure the even crueler irony of this being their one radio hit when it complains that the radio won’t play folk music… yeah.

The most damning example may be Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. This tune has become third only to “Proud to Be an American” (a song guaranteed to induce vomiting within 30 seconds) and the national anthem itself as the theme music to flag-waving jingoistic American patriotism. And yet the song was written as an indictment of American hypocrisy and the Vietnam War. The non-refrain lyrics are just hard enough to understand and the chorus is just loud and brash enough to ensure that this song will always bring a smile to the face and a cheer to the voice of those who are unaware they are celebrating an anti-American tune. “So they put a rifle in my hand, sent me off to a foreign land, to go and kill the yellow man.”

But the song that’s stuck in my head from this category today is “Takin’ Care of Business”. Office Depot or a related office store has become the latest in an unending string of businesses using this anthem to explain how productive you’ll be when using their products. “It’s the work that we avoid and we’re all self-employed, we love to work at nothing all day.” Yeah. This song is about quitting your job and starting a rock band, which is explicitly stated to be a lazy sort of scam on those who actually slog away at day jobs. Business indeed.

The song is stuck in my head because it’s one of the rotating theme songs for my baseball video game of choice these days, the 2007 mod of the greatest baseball game of all time, MVP Baseball 2005. My Mariners are getting massacred in this game on a regular basis, but any time I win makes it all worthwhile.

And speaking of the Mariners and winning, last night offered a glimpse at the best inning of the year for the (real-life) Seattle Mariners. Raul Ibanez had 6 RBI in a 10-run seventh inning that catapulted the M’s from a 6-1 deficit to an 11-6 win. When I tuned in around the fourth or fifth inning, it was 6-0, Twins. I wasn’t even sure why I tuned in when the score was already that lopsided. The M’s haven’t exactly been specializing in comebacks this year. But Ibanez hit a grand slam that made it 6-5 and the M’s proceeded to tack on and on and on, all the way to bringing up Ibanez again in the inning as the 14th man to come to the plate, and again with the bases loaded!! He only smacked a single up the middle to plate two and the inning only ended because Willie Bloomquist tried to score too on a throwing error and got barely tagged out.

It’s funny how just an inning like that can redeem a mood and a perspective for a day or so. Even in a hopelessly lost season.

It’s the sun that’s hopelessly lost here in San Francisco, and it’s looking like my trip to Las Vegas (Thursday evening departure) couldn’t be coming at a better time. The 10-day forecast in San Francisco does not get above 65 degrees (high temperature). The same 10-day forecast in Las Vegas does not get below 81 degrees (low temperature). I am a little nervous about “Florida Syndrome” in LV, wherein people will air-condition casino interiors to the point of being as cold as August highs in San Francisco, but then I may just cancel half the poker to go sit outside on the Strip and bake. I desperately need to feel the illusion of some sort of summer.

Meanwhile, my job continues to be my job. Slightly more livable than two weeks ago, ebbing and flowing, constantly leading me on only to crush my spirit. If nothing else, it’s giving me great fodder for future books and stories, future tales of how the American work model fails its people on all levels. And I know that where I’m working is better than 95% of what else is out there. We’re not even driven by a profit motive.

And speaking of profit (and even prophet), is it too early to declare the End of Capitalism? Today, Wall Street wants to think so. It’s just so exciting to have a negative net interest rate! To just feel that money devaluing in your pocket. I mean, how often does your pocket burn a hole in your money? That’s just nifty. Let’s buy financial stocks before they fail.

What surprises me is not that people are revealed to lie, cheat, steal, cut corners, and fabricate in pursuit of almighty profit. What surprises me is that people are surprised by the revelations.

Work out.

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Wasted Weekend

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , ,

I am so frustrated. With myself.

I often think that the answer to everything is time. Time heals all things, right? Wrong, I know, but at least time should give one the time to do things. This seems almost tautological.

But I surmise that the way time is distributed prevents one from using it properly or effectively. There’s that old issue of distribution again. And honestly, I don’t have much to say beyond a reaffirmation of that last post. I don’t think time in the seat and working are values. I think that we should all be thinking. But when so much time is consigned to the proverbial seat, it gets very hard to want to do anything else with the rest of one’s time. So it gets overly wasted.

This is a common pattern, and one that I usually dig myself out of. After all, I just got things together to put out a quiz about 2 weeks ago. I shouldn’t be riding myself too hard. I think that I was telling myself about that productivity in justifying my utter squandrance of time yesterday. And now it’s Sunday night again, late. Very late. And we know all about Sunday night.

Is this blog getting too self-referential? I think it’s part of the larger story of this telling. It’s all related somehow. It’s all interwoven, interconnected. Like this overwhelming series of tubes.

Emily and I made a list of to-do’s today, though we only really got going into the day around 2:30 in the afternoon. We knocked off several, even got a Christmas tree and put it up. We cleaned the house. Got cat food. Washed and put away the dishes. Figured out where we’d be going to the dentist.

But the most important things remain uncrossed from this list. And just the idea of making a list, let alone a list as long as this (30+ tasks) of bland duties for the maintenance of life (very few are at all creative or interesting) is exhausting. I get run down very quickly by life’s repetitions and mundanities and upkeep. I think I kept my spirits up today, but the list is sitting there, making me a little nauseous.

And yet I waste so much time. So much. Utterly thrown away. I mean, yes, we all need recreation, but do I really need to play so many hours of video games? Really? How much does it take to recoup what work has taken away from me? Why does it seem like I never catch up?

It’s worse in December and late November. ‘Tis the nature of my current employ. I know it’ll be like this for a while, and I can get through it. Who starts a project in December anyway? But still, it’s got me down tonight.

This is chaff. But it’s important to put it on the board. Some day, I will have methods of discipline that do not compromise my need to avoid spending too much time on rote maintenance. Until then, this is how it is.

Future me, I hope you’re kicking me now for not knowing the answer, not because I remind you of you.

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Uncollected Works

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

While you’re waiting for the Country Quiz II to be out (maybe tonight?), here are some random assortments to tide you over. And if you’re wondering why there hasn’t been anything big, it’s because the CQII is about to come out. Latest calculations have it that it takes me an hour to write 8 answers, fully coded. There’s also the question tree (done a while back), the image collection (done more recently), and getting all the merchandising ready to go ahead of time (a significant time-suck). So it sort of saps the creativity. Non-stop writing and coding will tend to block out other writing.

The 2007 Mariners (in my MVP 2005 season) are 9-2 (.818) since switching back to All-Star level. One of the losses was a heartbreaker where Travis Blackley coughed up two solo homers in relief in the 7th inning of a 1-0 lead. They also lost the first of the 11 games on All-Star, so they’ve won 9 of 10. This is looking most auspicious, but admittedly most of these games were on a tour of NL Central ballparks – not exactly stellar competition. The sweep of the Pirates just completed was the first sweep of the season – in the second week of June. Just before, RJ took a no-hitter into the 7th in Milwaukee. Thus, the playoffs are looking at least like a longshot instead of an impossibility.

The CQ2 has 32 of 64 answers completely written. Full merchandising of about 80 items per design will be available at launch. Additionally, a new advertising strategy is going into place with the launch of this quiz. You wouldn’t want everything to be just like the original, would you? I briefly thought about holding the launch till the day of the 5th anniversary of the original (it would be 18 January 2008), but timed launches of quizzes have never exactly served me well. It’s going up this month, and probably within minutes of me finishing it.

After a few months of notable average improvement, I’ve gotten beaten down with the migraine stick this month. Maybe seasonal changes have something to do with it. I’m also noticing a November pattern, given how concerned I got about these things last year at this time. Still, overall severity seems down big in 2007.

After the longest-ever 4-day week last week, it’s hard to get as excited as I’d be inclined to be about a 3-day week upcoming. Who knows how long those 24 hours can be? But there’s reason to believe they’ll be relatively straightforward, a brief lull between twin storms of last week and the entirety of December. In other news, there is no news yet, but there will be by ’08.

Finally, Free Rice is perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

This is my 62nd post in StoreyTelling, in its 48th day. Duck and Covers count for exactly half (31) of those posts.

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What are the Odds: a statistical analysis of the last post

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Upcoming Projects, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , ,

Okay, so I got to thinking. And I can’t just leave the last post where it ended.

You might be wondering, for example, what the statistical probability is of me making the playoffs after switching to an easier difficulty after just 57 games (35% of the season). Maybe this doesn’t sound very challenging to you.

Last season (2006), my M’s went 101-61, for a .623 pace. Assuming that same winning percentage greets my next 105 games in 2007, I’ll go 65-40, for a final record of 72-90. Which will NOT make the playoffs. For an indication of how much I’ll miss by, the Angels are on pace to win 101 games (sound familiar?) and the A’s 94.

Now, you might say that after playing 57 games on Impossible Mode, I’ve improved over 2006. I sure hope so. But I’ve also set my players back a notch. And if this baseball game is like any other, the player progressions for the season are at least partially impacted by the start the player gets off to. So one would think this might mitigate any improvement.

For example, Ichiro is hitting .186 with 3 HR, 5 RBI, and 16 R. Last year, he hit .271 (yes, last year’s difficulty was hard) with 78 R. It’s unlikely that he’ll suddenly bounce back to hit .271 or score runs on that pace for the last two-thirds of the season.

Similarly, Randy Johnson is 0-11 with a 6.13 ERA in 12 starts and 3 relief appearances (61.2 IP). Last year, he was 11-8 with a 1.70 ERA in an injury-shortened season (22 starts, 158.2 IP). Staff ace Mark Mulder is 1-8 with a 6.47 after going 20-6 with a 1.71 (in 247 IP!) last year. Only Eddie Guardado is within 2 points of last year’s ERA of anyone significant on the staff. And he won the Cy Young Award last year, with a 2-0 record, 54 saves (in 54 chances), and an 0.61 ERA in 59.1 IP (64 appearances). He almost won the MVP Award. This year, he’s only managed to get into 9 games so far (8.2 IP), but has posted a 1.04 ERA, no record, and converted all 6 save opportunities.

What to conclude from all this? (Besides the fact that I’m a tremendous dork who loves baseball, statistics, and video games?) That this will be mighty difficult. Assuming the A’s go on to a 94-68 record, which is a very standard mark for a Wild Card team, I will need to compile an 87-18 (.829) record to catch them. In my Pro-level (3rd hardest of four levels) season in 2005, I only went .722. And that year, Ichiro hit over 30 HR.

Good luck.

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Greatest Comeback Ever? (or: 7-50)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Upcoming Projects, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , ,

I’m well aware that I haven’t posted in a while, and this isn’t really a “real” post anyway. The holiday season is hitting full stride and people have been crazy at work and at home. It’s a three-day weekend, but Em will be spending most all of it in Sacramento as the powerful at the capital try to play “Deal or No Deal”.

So hopefully I’ll have some time to update various parts of the webpage, catch up with my life, and maybe even do something meaningful.

But not yet.

Saturday mornings are some of my biggest video game times, when the whole world of possibility with free time unfolds and I can just let my mind go and relax a little. And of course I can’t stop playing MVP 2005, despite my aforementioned growing hatred of its hardest difficulty level.

So I’ve decided, in the 2007 season, to attempt the greatest comeback in the history of baseball. Rather than languishing on my 20-win pace for the season, I’m switching back to All-Star difficulty for the last 105 games of the season. The goal is to make the playoffs.

Here’s a testimony to my abysmal performance so far:
7-50 (.123) record
28.5 GB (Angels) in the AL West
26.0 GB (A’s) in the AL Wild Card
112-363 (-251) Run Differential
2-27 Home, 5-23 Road
.188 BA, 6.18 ERA
3-16 vs. West, 0-18 vs. Central, 4-15 vs. East, 0-1 Interleague
35 HR, 54 SB

And Ichiro is hitting under .200.

Can this band of scrappy Mariners, defending champions for the past two seasons (who broke their own AL record for wins with 117 in 2005) add to their accomplishments with the greatest seasonal turn-around in the history of sports?

Stay tuned…

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5-36

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , ,

It’s in the game.

MVP 2005 is widely recognized by those who are obsessed with baseball video games (most of my friends) as the best baseball video game ever made. The only reason that we have not gone on to anoint EA-constructed games MVP 2006 and MVP 2007 as eclipsing this game is because they weren’t made. After the 2005 season of games, MLB sold their baseball license exclusively to 2K (for the next decade, I think), and we’ve been left to play 2005 forever. It’s fine, though, because MVP 2005 lets you play through 120 seasons and that’s enough to keep one plenty occupied. Plus, savvy people are releasing roster updates for the computer version every year.

I, however, play on the PS2. And until recently, I’d been following a very predictable and stable pattern of sports video games. In the first season (in this case, obviously, 2005), I win the World Series on a relatively easy (but not the easiest) level. For 2006, I upgrade to the next level and, again, win the WS, but winning far fewer games. For 2007, I upgrade to the highest difficulty (in this case, the eponymous MVP level). Normally, I would expect to make the playoffs barely or just miss them, and probably have to wait till 2008 to return to a world title.

However, my ’07 Mariners, built into grandeur by the reputation of back-to-back championships and intelligent front office management (I’m coming for your job, Bavasi!) are 5-36.

It’s not even like I’m getting better. After a dismal 4-22 (.154) April, I am 1-14 (.067) in May.

I have tried everything. I have tried taking almost every pitch, not swinging till I have 2 strikes. I have tried starter-by-committee, where no one is allowed to pitch more than 3 innings. I have lost plenty of 1-run games, including a back-to-back 2-1, 1-0 set of losses that were so profoundly frustrating because the pitching was actually good. Loss #36, incurred this morning, extending a losing streak to 10 games, was 13-5. 5 runs would have been good enough to win any of the 4 previous games.

I even get thrown out of about 25-30% of games lately (usually in very late innings), which is consistent with a real situation in which defending champions who brought their same starting 5 pitchers back for the next season (in this case, Mark Mulder, Randy Johnson, Joel Piniero [but good], Curt Schilling, and Gil Meche) would be like. I just got an e-mail from my front office warning me of a possible firing if I don’t turn things around. After all, my team is rated to be the 5th-best in the majors, with the 3rd-best pitching and the best speed.

This is mind-numbingly frustrating in a way that video games almost never are. I adore this video game, putting it in an echelon with Civilization and SimCity, maybe DAoC, and trumping all prior baseball video games. This is the baseball game I always wanted to be playing, from the days of the Miller Associates all-text adventure and my hand-held 2-player game I used to play with friends on car rides to Seattle. It has everything, from detailed general management to management to stunning graphics. It has taken out most every other video game for the better part of a year, even securing the cessation of my addiction to Dark Age.

And yet, I hate it. I hate playing it. It is really not fun to lose 88% of the time. Even the Mariners never did that in real life.

So I now go through this weird Pavlovian shocking situation every time I want to play video games. I immediately want to play MVP (even after exactly 365 regular season games, plus 6 rounds of playoffs), but then recall how aggravating the experience has been. I usually end up turning it on, only to wonder why when I contemplate breaking my controller over my knee after swinging at a terrible pitch, or screaming swear words after giving up another homerun that was barely a strike deep in the opposing hitter’s cold zone.

I hit up Russ, grand guru of this game, for some advice, since he has been winning championships on MVP mode while having 5 players break the home-run record in the same season. He gave advice that was good at getting most games down to being close, but still not being enough to, say, win more than one game out of 15.

At this point, I am cleanly torn between trying to reap the benefits of hating my favorite video game (more time for other more productive pursuits) and switching back to the last level at some point in the season to see if I can claw my way out of this colossally deep cellar.

But video games usually take up free time when I wouldn’t otherwise be productive (probably like drinking-alcohol-time for most people). And if I hate this enough, I will find another one to play. So when is the right time to switch back? I was originally going to wait till the All-Star break, but I somehow think hitting the halfway point with 11 or 12 wins is going to be questionable. Even by switching to the easy mode, it would be hard to salvage respectability from that point.

Maybe at 50 losses. If they don’t fire me first.