The Rise and Fall of Imagination in Gaming

As a novice pen-and-paper RPG (D&D) player and a casual video gamer, I was recently presented with a quandary from a fellow player regarding the relative social status of gamers as viewed by the general public: why is it that people who play D&D are caricatured as nerds living in their mothers’ basements, drinking gallons of Jolt or Mt. Dew and quite literally living in a fantasy world, whereas video games have become a popular medium through which many people–including college students, families, and professionals–communicate? My wife, for example, would much rather play Final Fantasy–a game which, as much as I appreciate it, is a copy of thousands and thousands of others just like it–as opposed to trying out the pen-and-paper style RPG, which requires only a minimal monetary investment and a vivid and active imagination. At the core my question comes to this: Why has society decided that using one’s imagination to create a shared world among a group of friends, which requires actual human interaction, socialization, and cooperation, is inferior to and is less socially acceptable than video games, which, if you want to play multiple games, requires a relatively large monetary investments (at least $200-$300 for a new console, or far more for a decent gaming computer, $20-$60 per game, plus more for accessories)? To play D&D, one need not even invest in a rulebook, though those usually only cost around $20-30. One might spring for some nice dice, but can usually find decent sets for less than $20. The game itself has infinite replay value and is never the same twice. I wish I could say that about most video games. You know why I didn’t finish Skyrim? Because every time I played I wound up getting sidetracked by a goal, such as upping my armor skill, or I went on a random side quest that yielded little reward.  It got old pretty quickly. Sure, I could’ve finished the main story with relative ease, but I could never make myself do it, and even if I had, there would be no reason to keep playing. Such is the finality of most video game RPGs.

The aforementioned friend who first posed this question offered one answer of which I’m not entirely convinced. He suggested that the stigma or taboo surrounding tabletop RPGs might stem from a time in the 80s when D&D became (mistakenly) associated with satanism. At a time when censorship was a top priority and Tipper Gore had parents worried that Twisted Sister was going to turn regular kids into devil-worshiping, murderous psychopaths, the idea of the use of “magic” and its association with witchcraft and wizardry (themes that are more accurately appropriated to the entire genre of fantasy in both literature and gaming) apparently had much of the world convinced that D&D–or almost any tabletop RPG for that matter–was a training ground for unsuspecting youth, initiating them into mysteries of the occult and subsequently sealing their entrance to eternal damnation. Nobody stopped to think that players’ better natures, deeply ingrained personal beliefs that ran quite contrary to the occult, or pure common sense might keep them grounded in the real world, understanding that these are games played in a fantasy setting. It also seems that those who believed this nonsense ignored the fact that, by this logic, Gandalf, (I think we can all agree Gandalf was a good guy) being a major character from Lord of the Rings who happens to be a wizard, must also be associated with evil SINCE HE WAS A FUCKING WIZARD,  thus branding Tolkien–the father of modern high fantasy literature and a devout Catholic–a peddler of anti-Christian, occultist smut.   But I digress.

I will hand it to my friend. He did hit on something. I remember a time in my adolescence when I first mentioned to my parents that I wanted to learn about D&D. They told me that it was evil and satanic and that I should stay away from it. This was in the early-to-mid nineties. That stigma created by religiously-fueled panic lasted for years, and I’m sure that remnants of those assumptions are still present today. I never brought it up to my parents again, so maybe I should ask them what they think about it now. Either way, the idea itself–that D&D is associated with the occult because of the use of magic and wizardry and the like–is in itself pure misconception. It confuses the player with the character. Those who make this assumption obviously do not understand the whole point of the phrase “role-playing.” It is, essentially, acting. So unless we’re going to condemn actors who have taken on roles that involve the same themes, I think we should put this case to rest.

But there still remains the question of stigmatic stereotypes. I’ll admit that, even when I hear “D&D,” I think of some fat guy with no wit, class, or game, living in his mother’s basement, who doesn’t bathe often and lives on a diet of Doritos and Mt. Dew. Sure, he has friends, but those friends are all like him. I know better than this because I play D&D, and I’ve seen others who do. Sure, I’m a nerd; I have a master’s degree in English, I love sci-fi and fantasy books, and I love to play all sorts of games,  but I also have a full-time job, I live on my own, I’m married, and I have numerous friends from all walks of life. So what gives with the negative stereotypes? Why do I think of Cartman from South Park and his addiction to World of Warcraft or the nerdy kid from from the Robot Chicken skits? I don’t think there’s a single, completely satisfactory answer to this question. I think a lot of it, though, is based purely in assumptions, some of them left over from the 80s, and some of them that are such deeply-ingrained stereotypes in American culture that they may never change.

I think part of America’s biggest problem with D&D is a lack of imagination or mental lethargy on the part of our culture. Why create a world when there are so many hand-made universes made for you? Sure, you might be able to interact with your friends and go on quests and use magic and level up in an MMO such as World of Warcraft or Everquest, but the fact remains that nobody but the game creators made that happen for you. You merely drove your character through the more or less linear path that the designers set out for you. Nothing happened on-the-fly. If you get killed, there’s no starting over. You have a saved game or character and you can pick up from the last checkpoint. There’s no danger in going back to level-one character creation and rolling for stats or permanently losing a party member (unless there’s an Aeris moment-spoilers!). The fact remains that D&D demands that players flex their imaginative (figurative) muscles. It’s like a workout or jog for the brain. It relieves stress while requiring concentration and creativity. The same could be said of only a few video games, especially RPGs.

Video games are mainstream now. They are in almost every household. Kids play them, parents play them, and video games are a multi-billion-dollar, worldwide industry. They are here to stay, and they are taking over living rooms. The new generation of video gaming consoles is trying to position itself at the center of our lives, and I’ll admit, I will almost definitely own one sooner or later. I won’t stop playing video games.

But I won’t give up on D&D either, and I refuse to be ashamed to play it. I almost always have a blast improvising, acting out, ROLE PLAYING.  It’s a lot of fun, it’s entertaining, and it’s a chance to socialize with a different crowd.  I only wish others were more open to it. Perhaps that is, sadly, a fantasy.

Quitting Facebook, Living the Dream, and Other Musings

Living the Dream

As the few of you who follow me may notice from the dates of my posts and from the content of the posts themselves, I haven’t been very consistent in terms of the content or frequency of my writing on this blog. The reasons for these inconsistencies are numerous. First of all, I work full-time as a lecturer of composition at a university (I’ll avoid using names and such, although any stalkers could easily find me, I’m sure). Yes, it would seem that a man such as myself with a Master’s degree in English should find the time to write–to stay in practice, if you will–on a daily (or at the very least, weekly) basis. Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever taught full-time, but keeping up with 80+ students was a new and challenging experience for me. Granted, I was a T.A. an had the fortunate experience of having already taught the classes, so I knew what to expect on a smaller scale, but I found myself woefully prepared for the deluge of daily assignments, major essay assignments, and constant lesson planning that filled my daily life as a newly-hired university employee. It was enough to drive one mad, I tell you! But I survived the first semester, and this semester hasn’t been quite as bad, as I am teaching two classes instead of four, with the rest of my time spent at the university’s writing center, helping students one-on-one in 30-minute increments–a nice change of pace. I am doing exactly what I spent a quarter of my life preparing to do professionally. Plans don’t often work out that well, so I am grateful for the opportunity that I have.

Thus, I finally have time to figure out what the whole purpose of this blog thing is. I cannot and will not guarantee better consistency in terms of the content I post or the frequency with which I post it, as this semester will inevitably bring with it some of the same challenges as the last, but I can honestly say that I haven’t given up on writing more often, and that I will try a bit harder to post more often–not for anyone reading this, but for myself.

Having said all that, I cannot help but wonder what the whole purpose is with this blog thing. Obviously, I don’t have a major purpose or theme. So far, all I’ve done is find things I thought were interesting or amusing and posted them, along with some (hopefully) mildly amusing commentary. This will be the first post in which I’ve just rambled on, and quite honestly, I don’t think my rambling is all that great, so I will probably go back to posting links with my future entries. So what is it for? Journaling? Usually, when people journal, they don’t imagine others reading their work, so I don’t think that’s quite right. I can’t say I have a message or an agenda that I’m entirely aware of. So what’s the point? I don’t know. Maybe I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe one day I will find my niche among the thousands and thousands of other bloggers out there.  Or maybe this will be my vent, my soap box, my straw man, my knife (or pencil)-sharpener. It will be whatever I want it to be, but I can make one promise: none of it will come directly from Facebook from this point forward.

Facebook: The Cigarette of the Internet

I know. These days, it’s nearly impossible not to use Facebook, especially as a writer. Writers often use Facebook as a marketing and networking tool, and its potential to help freelancers and other writers get their work out is not lost on me. But I have officially forsworn Facebook. I quit, cold-turkey, about a week and a half, maybe two weeks, ago. I haven’t used it since. One time, because I forgot to remove the button from my toolbar and because I also set the browser to remember me, I signed in. But when I realized what I had done, I signed out. I didn’t look at my notifications or news feed and felt dirty for having even logged in to begin with. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. I don’t expect you to, and you don’t have any reason to, but I’m proud of myself despite your misgivings. Now, I still have my internet addiction. I still browse daily, but at least then I’m dealing with strangers rather than with those I would call “friends” on Facebook.

My decision to leave Facebook stems not from the format or the programming, or any problem with Facebook itself. My problem with Facebook is with its users. As far as I can tell, Facebook has become a receptacle for the basest, crudest, meanest, most bile-filled form of social commentary (if you can even call it that) that I have ever seen.  Facebook is the center for a growing sentiment in America that if you think or believe something slightly different–politically, religiously, hell, even if you have a different opinion on a movie–you are dirt. You are evil. You are what is wrong with America. You should move away, be shipped overseas, be stabbed, mutilated, burned to death, and hanged from the gallows for all the world to see. Otherness is a social crime, and internet arguments abound as Facebook has become the battlefront for any and all arguments, decorum and respect for others be damned.  I say this not about one particular political party or religious (or anti-religious, for that matter) group, but about almost all the people I know on Facebook. It saddens me. It frightens me. It angers me.

Facebook has apparently made thousands of people decide that we should no longer respect each other. It seems to have taught us that, because we are more connected to each other than ever, we can say whatever we want however we want, that we can say the foulest, most offensive things with impunity (because Freedom of Speech, amaright?), that we cannot disagree with civility and still love and respect our neighbors, even when they disagree with us. The boundless enterprise of the Internet has devolved into a closed circuit of mindless singularity; one can hardly say a thing without it devolving into some argumentative spectacle. I would say that I think my problem with Facebook stems from a similar, larger problem with Americans in general, but I will save that for another time. Suffice it to say for the time being that the hive-mind of Facebook has become, for me at least, so intolerant to Otherness that I cannot bear to be a part of it any longer.

I quit Facebook because I thought that if I had to see one more anti-or-pro-anything post from any of my friends, that I just might be losing some of them, many of whom are very dear to me. So rather than give up on my friendships, I have chosen to give up Facebook instead. And why not? It is a cancer on the face of our country. It reinforces all the bad things that politicians do and amplifies the intensity. It is the cigarette of the internet. It’s hard to quit, but it is possible, and I implore and encourage you to do the same. You don’t need Facebook to communicate with people, and you shouldn’t use it as a platform for political speech. Facebook is anti-person, anti-social (oh, the irony!), and, most importantly, anti-openness. I’m not going to pull out a guitar an sing “Kumbaya,” but I think if everyone quit Facebook and relaxed a little, we might be able to appreciate each other just a little bit more. And maybe–just maybe–our country would be a teeny weeny little bit less fucked up than it is right now. And our country is in a bad way, to say the least.

On that note, I bid you adieu for now. Now, everyone, grab a hand and let’s sing! Kumbaya, motherfuckers.

Tampon Ad Campaign Is Viral Marketing Gold

I can’t really say much about this except that, as a male, it was really hard for me to click play on this video.

I was going to YouTube to find a video about Neil Gaiman’s upcoming venture into the gaming market because I am an enthusiast of both video games and Neil Gaiman. But I was immediately sidetracked by both the title of the video (The Camp Gyno) and the description of it: “Tiny tampon queen is best menstrual marketing ever.”

So, I mustered the strength to resist my inner-most masculine misgivings and clicked. It’s probably the first and only time I will ever be glad to have watched a tampon marketing ad. It also reminds me of how glad I am to have a penis.

Now, if you will please excuse me while I restore my one minute and forty-seven seconds of leaked manhood by writing my name on a dusty brick wall with my pee.

Woodstock, Alabama Offers the World a Different Kind of Beauty Pageant

Having lived in Alabama for a good portion of my life, I experienced a mixture of befuddlement, amusement, and cringiness (yes, I made that word up) when I learned that such a thing as the Ms. Redneck Alabama Pageant existed.

That’s right. You read correctly. In the widely-unheard-of town of Woodstock, Alabama, a group of seven young women dressed up in Daisy Dukes, funneled sodas, and sang terrible country songs to a crowd of over 100 fellow riled-up rednecks (that’s 10% of the entire population of the town!) in a new kind of festival.

Although this year’s was the inaugural pageant, it could easily become a somewhat widely-celebrated local festival. Located in Bibb County near Tuscaloosa and West Blocton, Alabama, Woodstock occupies a whopping 350 square miles and has a population of less than 1000 people, as of the last census.  People in Alabama small towns often need a break from the heat and boredom of summer, and this pageant appears to be Woodstock’s answer. It is certainly a novel idea, if a bit silly.

The strangest thing about the pageant, however, is its inherent self-contradictions.  It is at once a celebration of redneckedness and yet, I have no doubt, will be the object of laughter and ridicule for outsiders who find out about it.  It embraces more full-figured contestants unlike traditional pageants but also objectifies women in the same way by having them dress in skimpy clothing.  It encourages a new take on “talent,” but the talents, aside from singing, include the  useless knowledge of bad music and diabetic-coma-inducing soda funneling.  There also appear to be no women of color, although that may not be as much of an intentional exclusion so much as a result of demographics.

But the presence of the pageant does beg the question of whether there is a different, more accessible, and more entertaining way of doing pageants. Surely there is a better way for the people of rural Alabama to embrace Southern culture without promoting the very aspects of it that are the source of derision and amusement among the rest of the country. Maybe I’m being too hard on it, but everything about it seems a little off to me.  Either way, I look forward to seeing if and how they decide to continue this tradition.

Fox News’s “Spirited Debate” Anchor Lauren Green Gets Testy with Religious Scholar Reza Aslan

In this interview from Fox News’s “Spirited Debate,” anchor Lauren Green appears incredulous that Reza Aslan, a widely-respected religious scholar and writer who happens to be a Muslim, could possibly write a book about Jesus. In addition to reading inflammatory comments from Twitter and viewer emails, Green badgers Aslan throughout the entire interview, repeating the same questions and cutting him off at times while refusing to listen to his answers.

Aslan’s book, entitled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, traces the life of Jesus as a historical figure rather than from a theological standpoint. But, because Aslan is a Muslim, he has absolutely no right to do so, at least according to Green and her leagues of Fox News viewers. Apparently, his being a Muslim must mean he is attempting to destroy the Christian religion at its base. Never mind that Aslan has spent several years reading and writing on the subject. Never mind that he holds several degrees in religious studies from well-respected universities. Never mind that he quietly, calmly deflects the misleading responses Green reads off multiple times and explains how he has included source materials for readers interested in the debate he is entering so they can decide for themselves if he is right.

No. Instead, Fox News, in allowing this interview to air, has displayed for the umpteen-thousandth-time its blatant disregard for journalistic ethics and professionalism. It also reflects what I think is a broader problem in mainstream media with a lack of comprehension regarding what scholars and academics really do.  Does Lauren Green even know what a Ph.D. is or how much effort it takes to get one? If she or her viewers did, this would have been a completely different interview.  I also wonder how she would have acted towards a Christian scholar writing about Islam.  I tried to find some such interviews, but I could barely get past the flood of posts regarding this particular interview.

This video has already made the rounds, so I will just give a run-down of some of my favorite comments:  Buzzfeed asks, “Is this the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done?” says it is a “new low” for Fox News. Josh Vorhees of says the interview is “cringe-worthy,” and believe me, he isn’t the only one. And, my personal favorite, from redditor /u/Goldtoes2, “It would be like considering yourself a journalist even though you work for [F]ox [N]ews.”

At any rate, the book appears to be an interesting take on Jesus as a historical figure, perhaps something similar to what Bart Ehrman (for scholars in the know) might write. I will thus conclude by linking  to a couple of interviews that actually take Aslan seriously, just in case anyone is interested.

Here’s one from NPR’s “Fresh Air”:

And one from _The Daily Show_:—reza-aslan-extended-interview-pt–1

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