Quarterly Report

Those of you who follow HeelsFirstTravel.com (and that should be all of you, because it’s a great site) should be familiar with Keri’s posts on Birchbox and Glossybox. I’ve always been kind of jealous of the idea of getting packages full of random goodies in the mail, but although there are versions available for men they still focus on personal care products and other things I have zero interest in (but if it sounds like your cup of tea, visit the links above and sign up; Keri deserves the referral credit for turning you on to it).

A few months ago I discovered the online service Quarterly.co. They have a different take on the “random package of goodies” concept. They have a list of contributors who “curate” packages every three months (hence the name of the company) based around a certain theme. The themes range over a wide territory, with everything from the generic “Technology & Toys” or “Travel & Adventure” (curated by Quarterly directly) to more specific mailings from contributors such as Style Girlfriend (a blogger who brings her fashion advice to the real world with her care packages) and Jesse Kornbluth of HeadButler.com, who “sends overlooked gems in film, music, and literature.” There are also some more esoteric offerings, ranging from advice and tools for entrepreneurs from True Ventures (a venture capital firm) to themed mailings like the one from Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D., who sends mailings based on “curiosity”.

I signed up for the aforementioned Technology & Toys mailing as well as the Laughing Squid package, but what with the timing of the shipments (the name sort of gives it away) it was a bit of a wait before I finally got my first package, and I’d been eagerly awaiting it ever since. Once it finally arrived, I tore it open and found some curious items inside. It seems the theme of this month’s mailing was “physics”, and all the ways you can play around with it. Here are the goodies I received. First, the Airzooka:


Not as menacing as it looks.

Looks cool, right? Well, it was “some assembly required”.

Some assembly required

“I fall to pieces…”

And here’s the final product:

Exactly as menacing as it looks.

Exactly as menacing as it looks.

When I finally got it together (which only took about five minutes and a small bit of help from My Not So Humble Wife), I did get some fun out of it. It’s a nifty little toy, and I will probably play with it some more in the coming weeks off and on. Still, not the coolest thing ever. Let’s see what else I got.


Not pictured: an actual Australian.

Yes, that’s a Roomarang. As in a boomerang you can throw inside. And yes, it does work about as advertised. It was fun for a few minutes, and I found myself coming back to it a couple times (and might again), but once I finally caught it on the return trip it wasn’t nearly as compelling as it was at first. Next up was the kite.


Things I won’t be doing: impersonating Benjamin Franklin. Starring in Mary Poppins. Thinking of a third kite-related joke.

You will notice it is still in the sleeve. There are a couple reasons for this. First is because it’s summer in Virginia. That means the weather comes in two flavors: hot and humid with no wind or hot and raining. In a couple months if I can still find it the weather might be right for flying a kite. I won’t know because when I was ten I realized I will never be one of those guys who can do cool tricks with kites. I also realized that cool tricks with kites don’t actually impress girls. There may be a correlation there. Either way I won’t be flying a kite again anytime soon.

Next up was a funky lens for my iPhone camera.

Fisheye photo lens.

This lens wasn’t the only thing getting the fisheye.

You will notice this is also still in the box. The reason for that is before taking the pictures for this blog post, I hadn’t taken a picture with my phone in weeks if not months. I’m just not that kind of guy. I may not be the norm in that regard, but it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you. I have no idea where they got the idea I would enjoy this, but at least they were kind enough to send me a postcard when they got there.


“Just like anyone else who sends you a postcard, we clearly have no idea what you like.”

To summarize: 50% of the toys in the box got played with for a couple days, and the other 50% never made it out of the box. That means that I paid $25 each for the Airzooka and the Roomarang. To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. I was expecting bells and whistles, gadgets and toys. Instead I got a physics lesson, a postcard, and a couple of toys.

I’m not giving up on them yet, because I still have high hopes for this mailing, and even if the next one is disappointing there are several others I’d like to try (such as Netted by the Webbies, Joshua Foer, and Alexis Ohanian). If those crap out on me, I’ll just start buying myself $50 worth of random crap off Amazon every few months. Either way I win.


The Evolution of Job Skills and Electronic Media

When I was a kid, I loved playing video games (ah, Atari 2600, I knew ye all too well). My parents were absolutely convinced this would do precisely nothing to help me land a job, and they were for the most part right. (There you go Mom, I said it. You can mark the date in your calendar. It’ll be another 30 years before it happens again.)

But (you knew there had to be a “but”) the time I spent wasn’t completely wasted. While I may not have become a professional video game player or even a game designer, I did pick up some skills that translated into the modern work environment. No, I’m not speaking of my twitch-response that more closely resembles ADD than reflexes, nor am I talking about my astounding hand-eye coordination. I am talking about my ability to interact fluidly with a GUI, as well as my ability to quickly pick up new technologies such as HTML.

So why do I bring this up so many years after the fact (other than to play a rousing game of “No really, I was right”)? As I look around at what the kids are doing these days (and I have to admit I get a small thrill out of not falling in that category anymore, since I have long equated “kid” with “dumbass”), I see a lot of hyperventilating about social media. Do a quick search on Google about “dangers of social media for college students” and you’ll see all sorts of stuff ranging from common sense advice (some of which I’ve even discussed before myself) to what can only amount to pearl-clutching inanity (like this article which discusses a woman who walked off a pier into Lake Michigan while texting, and another who walked into a fountain.) Seriously, if you’re going to blame texting for people who can’t NOT WALK OFF A PIER, you and I don’t live in the same world. (When I was a kid, Mom would tell my sister and me to take a long walk off a short pier. Even then we knew she was kidding. At least we hoped she was.)

Meanwhile, back here in reality, there are people who get paid to handle all of a company’s social media, covering Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. They tend to be very smart, very creative, and very good at their jobs. They have to be, because everybody wants to do that gig, and only the ones who are good at it survive. And the best way to be good at it is to understand it like you were born to it. That means using it every day, understanding what the trends are, where they’re going, not just what’s hot this week but what’s going to be hot next week and beyond.

The people who are going to have those jobs aren’t the ones who are being told they need to be afraid of social media (or if they are, it’s because they ignore the voices that warn them to be afraid). Cautious? Perhaps, but balanced with a greater amount of daring and willingness to take calculated risks. Holding back, or worse being held back, will damage them far more than any foolish things they may do as they explore all the possibilities inherent in these new technologies.

The Value of Anonymity

When I was younger, into my mid to late teens, I was introduced to the world of BBSes. For those of you born into the internet age, these would be something like little local versions of the internet that primarily consisted of what would amount to a few to several discussion groups (somewhat like Slashdot with less tech, or 4Chan with fewer trolls, although some boards defied even those generalities) and turn-based games, with limited email capabilities between BBS users.

One of the interesting features of the BBSes I frequented (and to the best of my knowledge all of the boards at that time) was that all the users signed up using pseudonyms. These were often silly, occasionally very personal handles that most users would carry with them from one board to the next and would keep for years. Changing one’s pseudonym was in essence to change one’s identity, for within that community you were known in many cases only by that name you had given to yourself (or in some cases a derivation thereof, if a nickname developed naturally).

It never occurred to me much at the time, but there was a particular use to those false names that seems to be lost on a generation that has grown up with social media. In the rare event that someone was stupid enough to admit to having committed a crime on one of these BBSes (usually hacking, because hey, it was that kind of crowd), there was no way to identify them to the police unless you happened to know who they actually were. Even if they had shown up to an in-person meet up (yes, even in the dark ages we did that on occasion) the chances are they went by their online handle rather than trying to explain “Hi, I go by Death Kitty online, but my real name is Billy.” Aside from the cognitive dissonance of trying to keep two separate names straight, it didn’t even matter. You knew them by their online name and personality, and that was the important thing.

So what happens when Death Kitty admits to hacking the local branch of Bank of America? Do you call the cops and say, “Hey, I’ve got a tip for you, there’s this guy, I don’t know what he looks like, but his name is… um… Death… Kitty… I have to go now.” Yeah, not gonna happen.

Contrast that with the recent trend of social media crime-braggers. Seriously? I can create 10 fake, anonymous email accounts in as many minutes, and email didn’t even exist when I was born. I can follow that up with a few false social media accounts tied to those accounts, and then I can finish it off with NOT BRAGGING ABOUT CRIMES I COMMITTED. Not that I’ve committed any. That’s my story, Your Honor, and I’m sticking to it. (See how it’s done, kids?)

I understand that social media is everywhere these days. It’s as unavoidable as the nearest computer or cell phone. But this odd compulsion to share everything with the world is something I don’t get. That’s what priests and therapists are for. If you have to put it out there, do yourselves a favor: do it under an assumed name.


The Gaunt Man

Free Spoiler Zone

I am the internet’s worst nightmare.

The other night I was listening to Marketplace on NPR (I love Kai Ryssdal, I may have mentioned this before) and I heard a fantastic commentary on the issue of spoilers. Beth Teitell made an excellent case about how we’re all setting ourselves up for spoiler disappointment while at the same time becoming more sensitive to spoilers.

I am the worst of the lot.

Just the other week I finally watched Jekyll (2007) from the BBC on Netflix. Note the year on that one. If someone had told me any of the salient plot points before I watched it, I would have been beyond infuriated, but really, it’s been around for over five years. How could they know? More importantly, why should they care?

This is typical for me. I watch movies months after they leave the theater (with rare exceptions), and I’m usually several weeks behind in my TV show watching. I’ve been known to run away from conversations I’m not even party to with my hands over my ears screaming “NO SPOILERS!” like a lunatic, and that’s just in real life. On the internet I’m far worse.

But the truth is we can’t avoid spoilers, nor can we reasonably expect to. Part of the fun of pop culture is that it’s popular (hence the “pop”), and we want to talk about it. Denying people that just so we can enjoy things on our own schedule is selfish. At the same time, expecting everyone to be able to invest their entire lives in keeping up with everything worthwhile all the time is just silly, too. It’s not like we’re still in the age of single-screen movie theaters, three TV channels, and nobody to talk to but the people in our small towns.

Therefore, I am declaring a Free Spoiler Zone.

It works like this: there is a statute of limitations on the right to declare “NO SPOILERS!” Once the statute of limitations has passed, it is incumbent on each individual to either be in the know or to guard themselves; prior to that proper decorum requires the asking of “Have you seen…” or a similar inquiry before discussing anything, as well as a reasonable warning to anyone joining the conversation. This should help alleviate the distress being caused by our over-saturated, media hyped world, and allow us all some peace.

The rules I suggest are as follows:

1. An absolute moratorium on any communications within 24 hours of an event. Don’t even talk about it; you don’t know who is in earshot. I don’t even want to hear “OMFG THAT WAS SO GOOD!” or “Meh, this week’s episode was okay.” Let me find out for myself, especially if I’m in a different time zone.

2. Barring sporting events, reality TV, or  other “real time” entertainment, any electronic communication for the first week must be preceded by the phrase “SPOILER ALERT”. If it’s real time entertainment, after 24 hours you take your chances, but please, don’t be a jerk; if you know someone TiVo’d it, don’t ruin the big game.

3. For all other TV shows, every in-person conversation must include “Have you seen…” or some other socially acceptable form of spoiler alert for one month. After that, you need to either clear out your DVR or climb out from under the rock.

4. For movies you get one month of nobody says nothing. Then all bets are off.

5. Actual news events are exempt from these rules. News should be shared.

6. Feel free to share political shows, commentary, debates, et al to your heart’s content. You deserve what you get.

While I am willing to negotiate on the length of time involved in each rule, I truly believe that following these rules will improve our lives. Everyone will have a free and fair chance to enjoy their quality entertainment without fear of having it ruined, while at the same time encouraging and enhancing the sort of interpersonal relationships we’re losing for fear of not being able to share our love of the great and diverse culture we all enjoy.

However, I am declaring one category of entertainment completely off-limits to spoilers (by special request from My Not So Humble Wife): books. I actually have to agree with her on this one, for a lot of reasons. People read at different speeds, borrow books from each other, and most of all we want to encourage more literacy, not less. Besides, I haven’t finished the Illiad yet, and I can’t wait to find out how it ends.

Classical Liberal, New Media

Last semester I had the good fortune to take a class on Digital Rhetoric and New Media. It was a fascinating class, and it offered me the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of new concepts, particularly among them the idea of media specific analysis. To some degree most of us have had some exposure to this, as we don’t analyze movies quite the same way we do books, but we went into it in much greater depth and detail in the class, as well as trying our hands at doing digital art projects.

Coming out of that class, one of the concepts I was introduced to was the idea of “twitter novels” or “twitter stories”. The idea is somewhat flexible (as social media seems to be), but one version of it is taking an existing work and adapting it for Twitter. I was inspired by the idea and decided to try my hand at it. I selected as my source the essay “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read, working off the 50th anniversary edition published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

The experience was interesting, to say the least. First I went through the entire essay, trying to break it down into individual tweet-size pieces. This wasn’t as simple as just writing it out 140 characters at a time, because I wanted to accomplish several things with each tweet: I wanted them to seem “real”, I wanted them to be interesting in themselves, and I wanted them to be re-tweetable. Part of making them seem “real” was adjusting the voice of the essay, which is very formal, and making it less so. While I didn’t succeed everywhere, I do think I managed to make it more casual overall. One of the things I discovered in this process is that I am not very comfortable with Twitter; it was only just before I moved into the launch phase that I realized I hadn’t really made use of hash tags, and I had to go back through and find places they naturally fit. I did manage to incorporate bits and pieces of the web here and there, so I feel pretty good about that.

Actually scheduling the project was more of a challenge. Considering the work totaled over 100 tweets, I obviously wasn’t going to be sending them all manually. I had originally planned to send them in half-hour increments (give or take), and after talking with a coworker who is more versed in the use of social media than I am I decided to use Tweetdeck. Now, unless I am missing something, Tweetdeck could be a lot more user-friendly. My original schedule would have stretched out for at least a week (I only intend to have tweets go out between 10 am and 4 pm so I can monitor them for issues), and I had to adjust the schedule. Even being able to keep track of what I had already scheduled was a hassle, as Tweetdeck kept shuffling my pre-scheduled tweets out of chronological order, which does not fill me with confidence. When I tried to reschedule some, it looked like the program has just duplicated rather than rescheduling the tweets. Finally I tried to clear them all out, and upon refreshing things looked fine. Then I deleted that whole column, set it up again, and a whole set of tweets showed up again!

Once I finally got past those difficulties, I started over. I put all my tweets in a spreadsheet and set up a schedule there. I then copied them over and scheduled them rigorously according to the timetable I had established.  At the time of writing this they sit queued up, waiting to launch. Over the next few days I’ll see how well the process turned out.

For those who are interested in trying a project like this, here is my advice:

1. Write your tweets in advance. This will give you time to think about what you want to say, make adjustments as needed, and have a cohesive story to present. Don’t think of Twitter (or any other social media platform) as your creative medium; it is your presentation medium. George Lucas doesn’t write the script as he’s filming, neither should you.

2. Think about the medium you are using. What makes it distinctive and unique? Why are you using this medium to tell your story instead of another? In particular familiarize yourself with the conventions of the medium. That’s not to say you can’t break convention (many artists have done so quite successfully), but do it deliberately.

3. Plan, plan, plan. It’s not just the writing, it’s all the tools you will use. If I was more familiar with the ins and outs of Tweetdeck, Bit.ly, and Twitter in general, I would have had an easier time, but just knowing Word and Excel and having a good vision for the shape of the project (I spent weeks working it out in my head) saved me when I hit roadblocks.

4. Have fun with it! In the end this is still an experimental medium, which means there are few if any rules, and this is the chance to do something truly new and innovative.

If you’d like to see my experiment in Twitter writing, it runs this week starting Jan. 7, 10 AM EST at @IPencil2013. If you have your own digital works, please share them in the comments below!

Crowdsourcing My Angst

I have a problem with crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter.

Crowdsourcing has not only turned funding for artistic endeavors on its head, it’s removed one very important part of the equation: the people taking a big part of the risk don’t get to share in the rewards. Oh, I understand that the reward is that they get to see a product or piece of art they otherwise might not have (and please don’t say they definitely wouldn’t have; at least half the stuff on Kickstarter these days is things that existed before that site did in one form or another), but they also paid for it. In many cases they overpaid for it, especially compared to the old model.

Consider: I’ve personally kicked in on a couple games and considered kicking in on a few books. The rewards are pretty standard for these things. Below a certain threshold you get a thank-you somewhere, usually on the front page (maybe the welcome screen), although maybe it’s on the back page. Once you get up to the effective retail value of the product, you get a “free” copy. Imagine that. Sometimes around the $15 mark they throw in a t-shirt, which gets rolled in as you hit the next mark that exceeds “current prize retail value + $15”. After a certain point the costs get exceptionally high and the rewards get extremely intangible,  such as “lunch with the creators”, but I’m actually okay with those; you can’t really put a price on something like that beyond “whatever the market will bear”, so let ’em get what they can. But here’s one thing they don’t offer: a piece of the action.

Here’s the thing that writers, artists, and lots of other creative types don’t seem to understand. It’s not just that publishers are putting forward the printing presses, the marketing machine, and all the other work they do on your behalf to get your work sold that you think you don’t need them for anymore, and hey, maybe you don’t. The other reason they get a cut of the profits is because of the advance – they loaned you the money you already spent so you could keep body and soul together, and it wasn’t the kind of loan you get from a friend and “I’ll pay you back whenever”. This was a business loan, and it accumulates interest. The interest gets paid in profits, and if there are no profits, you lucked out because they are willing to eat the loss – this time (although they probably won’t take your calls next time).

I understand that at least for Kickstarter there are rules against allowing people to buy into the company, and if I understand the situation correctly this has to do largely with government regulations (no, I am not just trying to sneak in my favorite hobby horse, you can look this up). It has something to do with FTC regulations, unless I miss my guess entirely. But even if there were no government restrictions, I’m not sure the folks who run the site would even allow that sort of thing, because from what I have read (not that I’ve read a lot about them, but there was one article in Time) it would violate their philosophy; the site is there to promote art, not business. Which is fine as a philosophy, but impossible to maintain in reality once you introduce filthy lucre into the equation.

I’d also be more okay with it if their definition of what was an acceptable creative project weren’t so expansive as to be effectively meaningless. Everything from 24-hour dance projects to video game controllers to a bike tire pressure system are projects on the site, in addition to comic books and novels and music and just about anything else. Some of this might never be able to achieve funding if it had to prove being profitable, but some if it easily could, and either way I almost feel like some of it should have to. We already have enough junk products (does the world really need another Slap Chop?), and I can’t help but believe much of the manufactured pieces coming through here will end up being the same. Is it so much to ask that the people who throw in their hard earned dollars get more than a virtual thank you card while the people who make the product get to use someone else’s money to see their dream through?

Maybe it doesn’t seem like much – $1 here, $5 there – but it adds up. And if I could get ten thousand random people across the internet to kick in just $5, I could take off the next year and finally write that novel I’ve been dreaming about, My Not So Humble America. I’d even offer an autographed picture of myself at the $20 level. And just like that, even if I never sell a single copy, I just made enough money to live on for a year in one of the most expensive cities in the world. If the book takes off, I’m even richer, and all it cost me was a few autographed photos.

You know what? Forget everything I said about Kickstarter. It’s the best site ever. And be sure to keep an eye out for my new Kickstarter campaign, coming your way soon.

How the iPod is Killing Political Discourse

I was discussing gun control with My Not So Humble Wife the other night, and something strange happened. She’s mostly libertarian like me, but unlike myself, she actually believes in putting certain limitations on gun ownership. Tanks, for example, are straight off her list for private ownership (no, I am not kidding, this was a serious part of the discussion). I personally see no problem with it for several good and sundry reasons that I won’t get into now, so she upped the ante to nuclear weapons. I couldn’t name even a theoretical reason why someone might want a nuke (self-defense? sport? cocktail party conversation starter?), and I had to concede that even my tank argument didn’t apply. Let’s face it, if you need a nuke to defend yourself against the government, the situation is already well beyond salvageable.

This is when things got weird: we talked it out and came to a reasonable solution we could both be okay with. She conceded that the government didn’t need to have gun registration laws (it’s no business of theirs who owns which guns), and I conceded that certain classes of people (namely felons) shouldn’t be allowed to buy guns, so background checks are acceptable. I couldn’t get her to budge on non-violent felons, but my big beef there is with drug laws, and that’s a different issue anyway, so I was willing to concede the point. We also both agreed that waiting periods should be abolished, because the technology exists to do immediate background checks, and those checks should be done everywhere, including gun shows.

What’s so weird about all of this? Watch fifteen minutes, or even five minutes, of political television and then ask me that question again. Granted, we came from roughly the same starting place, but we still had some strong views that we disagreed on, and we both gave a little to get to something we could agree with. It’s called “compromise”, for those of you too young to remember what it looks like. And I blame the iPod for its absence in contemporary politics.

Sounds crazy, right? Bear with me for a little while and you’ll understand. When I was a kid, we had one TV in the house (well, two, but the one in the basement was tiny, black and white, and got crap reception, so it doesn’t count). It got exactly two channels: whatever my sister and I could agree on, and whatever Dad decided to put on when he got home. Occasionally, when I was very lucky, my sister would be at a friend’s house before my folks got home and I would have a few hours of TV to myself, but that was a rare luxury and one I didn’t count on.

Growing up like that I had to learn the art of compromise. Granted it usually involved a lot of yelling, screaming, cursing, and more than a little hitting, but that’s politics for you. What I didn’t learn was an attitude of entitlement, one that said I could have whatever I want whenever I want and everyone else could go suck an egg. That all changed when the iPod came along.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPod was and remains one of the greatest inventions in human history. The chance to have your music, your way, whenever you want wherever you want is a glorious thing. But it shapes expectations; people become accustomed to having what they want, without having to negotiate with others. It’s not like the boom boxes and ghetto blasters I had as a kid, when “sharing” music was a very immediate and sometimes involuntary experience. Facebook and other social media have only exacerbated the phenomenon; people choose the stories they want to hear, and they shape the media they are exposed to before and as much as the media shapes them.

This sort of “a la carte media” has expanded into all aspects of life. If you can’t find a cable channel that caters to your specific tastes, there’s a YouTube channel that will. Streaming radio will introduce you to new music, unless you skip past a song you decide you don’t like in the first few beats. And there’s a website out there dedicated to every conspiracy theory known to man, and a few that aren’t.

What is the net result on politics? The politicians we elect reflect the media of our time. It used to be that politicians were like mass media: they appealed to broad demographics, even to the point of being criticized for chasing “the lowest common denominator”. But hey, at least they were accessible to everyone. Now every politician is like a personalized playlist, narrowly targeting key demographics with a hyper-partisan message, and who can blame them? The electronic graffiti that litters the walls of our social media pages screams for it, begs for it, demands the same hyper-partisan rhetoric they are only too happy to deliver. If we aren’t getting the politicians we want it’s only because we’re getting the politicians we’ve been asking for, and maybe deserve.

Thursday Bonus Post: I’m Internet Famous!

Looks like my plan for world domination is right on track. You can find my advice on how to get ahead in business  over at the LibertyGuide Career Advice Blog today, along with a lot of other great bloggers. Apparently they liked my ideas on how to succeed in the workplace (which isn’t surprising, given that’s where I work). While you’re there be sure to take a look around at the intellectual and career resources they have available, particularly if you or someone you know is looking for a job in the liberty movement.

That’s one blog down, the rest of the internet to go…

Tuesday Bonus Post: The Dark Side of the Wall

For those who might be interested, I’m taking a class on rhetoric and digital media, and as a class project had to create a piece of digital art. I decided to do a digital poem that was a riff on Taroko Gorge by Nick Montfort. It’s my own mash-up of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, rather appropriately titled The Dark Side of the Wall. Fell free to have a look, critique it, love it, hate it, just tell me what you think in the comments.


It’s not like I’m some sort of newb: my first gaming console was an Atari 2600. I’ve played most of the consoles since then, and I’ve owned every iteration of Playstation and Xbox that has ever existed, as well as most of the Nintendo consoles. I’ve had a computer since x86 was even a designation, and “baud” was a word. I get gaming. Believe me. I’ve loved it, hated it, and been thrilled and frustrated by it. I just don’t think gaming gets me anymore.

For those of you who only started playing video games in the mid to late nineties (or heaven forbid, since Facebook and cell phones made video games acceptable), let me describe to you what gaming used to be like. You would sit in a room, usually by yourself, and you would put the game in. It would start up, you would play for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days (depending on your endurance and the size of your bladder), and then you would pass out. If you were really lucky and you were playing the right kind of game, you might have a friend to play with. If you were unlucky, you had a sibling you had to share with (hi, Jen). That was about it.

Somewhere along the line somebody got the idea of creating multiplayer games in a very real way. I’m not clear on exactly when this happened (I blame Doom), because they didn’t dominate the world of gaming for a long time. They coexisted, out there but not overshadowing traditional gaming. At least to the best of my knowledge not before Everquest came along (colloquially known as Evercrack). I lost a lot of good friends to Evercrack, mostly because I just never saw the appeal. It seemed more like a job than a game, spending all of your time “grinding” (that would be doing senseless and boring tasks for in-game currency to buy in-game items or achieve other in-game objectives) so you could get to a point where you could, I dunno, play the game. And it was always a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

Then I discovered City of Heroes. This is a massively mutiplayer online game in which you get to play a super hero, and it was tailor made for me. My wife became a gaming widow for about a year. She finally got me back when she lured me into World of Warcraft, which had taken over from Everquest as the fantasy MMO equivalent of crack. She got tired of it; I didn’t. At least, not for a long time. It took a lot of grinding, foul language, and downright immaturity that I would be shocked to hear from an 11-year old boy to finally get me to quit. Two years of that later I finally went cold turkey. I’ve been clean for about six months now, and I’ve discovered something: there’s no games left for me.

See, here’s the problem. I never liked first person shooters (Doom, I’m looking at you again). I just never got the whole “twitch-twitch-flinch-twitch-this is fun!” thing. And I’m done with MMOs. It’s not the games; it’s the players. I just can’t tolerate their bullshit. For the right game I’ll pay every month (although that did grate on me, I won’t lie), but as City of Heroes found out, the free to play model isn’t enough to keep you going when the content isn’t there and the jerk-to-fun ratio is jacked up to 11.

But when I go to look for a nice, simple game, something like the games of my youth, they all seem to be gone. Note I didn’t say “easy”. Anyone who wants to claim that Metroid or even Super Mario World was easy has either a short memory or way too much time or their hands. But I don’t want to have to invest three days learning the control scheme. I don’t want to have to do mental and physical gymnastics to control my character (Wii, Kinnect, I’m looking at you this time). Even the franchises I used to love have confused added complexity for improvement. I loved Civilization. Civilization II may well have been the pinnacle of game making. Civ III was so convoluted and confusing I couldn’t even finish a game on the easiest setting. I hear they’re up to 5 now. Good for them. I wouldn’t even give them 5 bucks for it.

How about a basic platformer with some deep story? I’d love to see a great RPG that I can sit down and play for hours, not sit down and watch for hours a la Final Fantasy 13, which was so painful I couldn’t get through the first two hours, which translated to roughly fifteen minutes of actual gameplay. How about instead of adding bad multiplayer, you take the time to program the game such that I can choose between playing it FPS or strategic (Fallout 3, I’m talking to you).  How about just once, you deliver a game experience that maybe isn’t all about the hottest graphics and coolest sound, and instead rewards me with gameplay so compelling, so rich, so intuitive and fun that I want to come back again and again, and I’m actually willing to pay twenty dollars more for extra content, because the original game was JUST THAT GOOD?

Oh, and how about not forcing me to be online just to play a single player game, Blizzard? ‘Cause, yeah, that’s bullshit.