Emotional Shareholders

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I recently mentioned to a friend that a large segment of video game fanatics take a strange tribal mentality with regard to their brand loyalty. This particular friend used to play a lot more video games in his younger days, like NES and SNES, but aside from some stints with Quake 3 and Counter-Strike, he doesn't game much anymore. Anyway, GameSpot forum readers know this "tribalism" as "System Wars" mentality. It's kind of the same way with those who fanatically support Apple products. I had a hard time trying to explain how and why this tribalism exists, and how it manifests itself.

Then I stumbled across this link: http://www.nintendonow.com/index.php?categoryid=5&m_articles_articleid=2087

Perfect example of what I'm talking about--people getting completely bent out of shape over nothing. I mentioned that what's even more puzzling is how these people willingly carry the banner of their chosen company. For what? Do they hold stock in MS/Sony/Nintendo? No. It's kind of like the minor outcry that went out when some of us criticized Sony over their decision to not release a barebones PSP package at the $200 price point. Apparently to these people, Sony can do no wrong, and they're happy to get ripped off an extra $50 for added accessories that can (at best) be described as: marginally useful. AIM convo snippet:

me: I will never understand how people take themselves out of an objective consumer standpoint to carry the banner for a corporation in which they have no financial stake

Friend: they're emotional shareholders
Friend: i could see it like rooting for the warriors
Friend: like the numbnuts who insist that J-rich > mcgrady
Friend: or dunleavy is the next nowitzki

me: lol I guess it's a little more natural for me to see how people can get deluded by their sports teams vs. a company. at least athletes are people.

Friend: lol SPEAKING of which
Friend: my nintendo fanatic friend just watched your video review of street v3
Friend: Nintendo fan: i watched bob's video review of nba street 3
Nintendo fan: he doesn't like mario, luigi, and peach
Nintendo fan: he is wrong!

Emotional shareholders. To me, there are a lot more important things in life to put your emotional capital into. But hey guys, whatever floats your boat. Hope someday your emotional investment in [insert big money corporation here] pays off. In the meantime I'll just coldly be interested in the best product for the best price.

Love is a Lot Like a Game of Tetris

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Valentine's Day is coming up in a week. It'll be the first time in a few years that I'll be single on February 14. The last time I had no date and nothing to do on Valentine's Day I decided to do something a little crazy--something to take my normally shy self completely out of my comfort zone. I was finishing my degree in Berkeley at the time, so I went on campus and bought some roses from one of the student groups on Sproul Plaza. I then walked around campus and gave a rose away to different girls, telling them something along the lines of, "Hi - my name is Bob. You don't know me, but you looked like you could use a little cheer, so I just wanted to give you this rose and bid you a Happy Valentine's Day." I was greatly amused at how every girl started with a cold/annoyed/apprehensive/confused look and then melted into a warm (if somewhat befuddled) smile of gratitude.

I didn't get any phone numbers or dates out of it, nor did I ask for any--the goal of the exercise was simply to take myself out of my own comfort zone. Since I've never been the type of guy who does well at approaching or picking up on total strangers, the whole thing was at once nerve-wracking, thrilling, and frightening, but ultimately satisfying. It was sweet and innocent in a completely random way. And it certainly beat the hell out of sitting at home moping.

Will I do something like that this year? I doubt it. A college campus is a much more carefree environment to get away with that kind of a stunt (and not feel like a complete jackass) than the SOMA/Financial District of downtown San Francisco. So what does this have to do with Tetris? Nothing. I just felt like sharing that story before I recycle a post of mine from my now-defunct personal blog. Here's why love is a lot like Tetris.

The Tetris Blog

(originally written last August on a different blog)

While loading up the U-haul at Lester's apartment, I spent a few extra minutes inside the truck after every couple of boxes and bits of furniture, trying to arrange everything in the most spatially efficient manner possible. I called it my "Tetris skills," and we both had a good laugh about it, as I rearranged boxes underneath and on top of tables, and flipped and flopped chairs, as well as other odds and ends to make everything fit snugly and securely, while maximizing the available space. I got to thinking about Tetris in the car on the way to work this morning and it occurred to me that putting your life in order after a breakup is a lot like Tetris. Totally random? Maybe not.

The well represents your heart. There's quite a bit of space to fill there without your lost love, and it's going to take a lot to fill it. Depending on how emotionally wrecked you are, the starting condition of the well (or your heart, as it were) could be a real mess, like this:

Or if you're able to set things aside, your well (or heart) could be very clean like this one:

In all likelihood, you're going to be somewhere in between. The Tetris pieces represent components of your life. These things come at you randomly, and it's your job to maintain order and fit them all together. The older you get (the longer the game runs), the faster the pieces seem to come down, and the less you can take your opportunities for granted. The idea is that you need to work hard in order to have your life in perfect order, so that when the next Miss Right comes along, you're fully prepared with a place for her to slide neatly into your heart, resulting in the giant bonus points for a tetris.

These little squiggly pieces are like television. Chat rooms. Anything that's a time waster. They're good at filling up space in a pinch, but if you end up using too many of them or if you get careless with them, it's easy to get yourself into trouble, and create too much emptiness in your life.

OK I haven't actually thought of a good analogy for this piece. Maybe this one is like your family. It always seems to be there when you need it. It's a very versatile piece that can be used to fill in a lot of holes.

This one is like your job. It's very inflexible--no matter which way you turn it, it is always the same shape, and you always need to be careful to have a place for it when it comes around. On the plus side it does take up a lot of space, and if you have some off to the side, you can shove a pile over there.

These are your friends and "productive" hobbies. Sports, eating out, anything social. These pieces are your bread and butter...your money men that you rely on. You're almost always happy to see pieces like this come down because they just seem to make everything neater.

Ah...the elusive one. Miss Right. You could be working at your stack feverishly for what seems like forever, and never see one of these drop. You think to yourself, "dammit, how come every other guy in this game seems to have these rain out of the sky all the time, but in my game, I can't even get one." That doesn't matter. They come and go randomly. It's only your job to be prepared when she shows up. Just keep working and keep working and have faith that she'll show up eventually. And be prepared to cash in.

And that, my friends, is why love is like Tetris. Either that or I'm completely out of my mind and I should have medication prescribed for me immediately.

Games are on the Radar Screen of the General Public

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If you didn't believe it before, you better believe it now. From ESPN Page 2's Bill Simmons (AKA The Sports Guy):

"They shot the crap out of the ball, everybody on the floor. You think you have them, they swing it and swing it and then swoosh. They have good rebounders to gather the misses. Sometimes you're like, 'Man they must have a cheat code or something.'"
-- Bobcats rookie Emeka Okafor on the Sonics.

For those not in the know, Emeka Okafor is a leading candidate for rookie of the year in the National Basketball Association, putting up 15 points, 11 rebounds, and about a block and a half per game--huge numbers for a rookie. He is the cornerstone of the expansion Charlotte franchise. His UConn Huskies won the NCAA championship last year.

When number one draft picks are casually dropping 'cheat code' references on you, it gives you an idea of how far video games have advanced in the mindset of the general public.

GameSpotting ADD Vol. 3

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We Know It's Not Real, But...

Brian's been simulating a lot of video football since the new year started, for all the NFL Playoff features he's been running each week. Usually he does this at the television on his desk here in the office. The funny thing is that all the football fans in the office can't help but stop by and watch the simulated games as they're played. We obviously know it's not "real," and Brian isn't even directing any of the teams on screen. But we'll still oooh and aaah the touchdowns and big hits as though they were the real games. We'll even stop by later in the day and ask for updates on who won earlier games, who the big stars were, and more. In cases where games have stretched out into the evening hours past quitting time, some of us have actually sent instant messages to Brian from home to catch a score update on the late game.

Yes we know these aren't the real games, so why are we so transfixed with watching them, and knowing about the results? I think it just speaks volumes as to how far sports game developers have come with realism in their games, making video football look and feel like the real thing.

This Isn't Video Day Care

Sometimes, I feel sorry for the clerks who work in game shops like Electronics Boutique and GameStop. Not only do they have to put up with the usual horrors of dealing with customers of all shapes, sizes, dispositions, and mental states, but I guess they also have to put up with thoughtless and neglectful "parents" who view their stores as makeshift day-care centers. The other day, I was in the GameStop near my house making a purchase, when I overheard the clerks making rueful jokes about charging people an hourly rate for taking care of their kids. I turned around and saw a pair of young children, the older one looked to be about 7 or 8, while the younger sibling was about 5 or 6 years old. There was only one other customer in the store who clearly wasn't their father, so I can only assume the kids were left there by a lazy parent who was probably shopping in the grocery store next door.

For the few minutes I was in the store, the tykes appeared to be fairly well-behaved; they were about as quiet as you could expect kids of that age to be, and weren't making a mess of anything while amusing themselves at the Xbox kiosk. I had a feeling that these two were the exception rather than the rule when stuff like that happens. It was infuriating to me that any parent would be so stupid as to leave such young children by themselves in a game store. The people who work there obviously aren't getting paid to keep an eye on anyone's kids. But you can bet that if the children managed to hurt themselves in the store, or worse, get kidnapped, those lousy parents and some scum-of-the-earth lawyer would be suing the bejeezus out of the store and the clerks.

The incident was another reminder to me as to why I strive to be as respectful as possible with store clerks or other service people and never yell at them for petty things. They have enough crap to deal with from other idiot customers.

Spend a Little to Save a Lot

-New pet peeve: people who waste time on message boards whining that it's not worth paying money for MMO games. Guess what--no one's got a gun to your head, forcing you to play these games. You don't like it? Don't play them. You're not about to change the minds of those who are paying to play, so you're wasting bandwidth and everyone's time. And before any of you shove it in my face, I'll own up to it, I used to be one of you. World of Warcraft has turned me into a 100% hypocrite. You know what the amazing thing is, though? This game is actually saving me money.

James pointed it out to me the other day, that he's spending a lot less money on take out food because of WoW. I've noticed this as well. Instead of stopping off at a food joint on the way home to pick up dinner, each of us is scrounging food out of our pantries, freezers, and fridges because it's faster, and maximizes our available play time. It's saving me money in other areas as well. Instead of driving out somewhere with friends (gas money, bridge toll, parking) on weekend nights to drink (booze money - which for me, is rather a lot) and unwind, I spend a lot of that time online with many of those same friends running through Azeroth. Of course you can say I'm taking a hit in the area of my social life, but that's a tangential issue. For now I've rationalized it in this way: So many of my real life friends are playing WoW, grouping with them in-game is not any less social than all of us getting together "in real life" to play poker or watch a movie.

Perhaps most significantly, I'm not buying as many marginal games, looking for a few hours of amusement. I canceled my pre-order of The Punisher (and from the looks of Jeff's review, it was the right move anyway), because as fun as the preview builds looked, I knew it wasn't going to pull me off of WoW. I did buy RE4, because it looks like such an amazing game, but I haven't managed to get it out of the shrinkwrap just yet! Maybe next time there's an extended server outage.

Parting Shot

I just did a quest last night in World of Warcraft called Everything Counts in Large Amounts. If you understand the reference, congratulations--not only do you have good taste in music, but you're also getting old like me. Brad also pointed out that there's an NPC named Foreman Grills. The game is literally bursting at the seams with references to books, movies, music, and more. That's a big part of the game's appeal actually--WoW never takes itself too seriously.

It makes me wonder though--if Blizzard isn't afraid of leaving in pop culture references like these, why did they get rid of NPCs from the beta like Captain Eo (the docks at Auberdine) and Marshall Mathers (the soldier at Lakeshire who is now named Marshall Marris). Are Michael Jackson and Eminem more likely to sue than Depeche Mode and George Foreman?

The Only Game to Pull Me Off WoW in the New Year

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No, not RE4. Not Mercenaries. Not the preview copy of NBA Street Vol. 3.

It's Zookeeper. I don't even own a DS. I had to borrow one of the office DSs to play.

And don't ask me why, because I really don't know! Maybe it's the awesome music!

But more likely it's the nutty faces the animals make.

Are You Ready For Some Irony?

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ESPN NFL 2007 ... from EA Sports. With rumors swirling about EA dumping Madden, they have indeed wrested the ESPN license away from Visual Concepts and Sega/Take Two. So yes, two years from now you just might be playing ESPN NFL 2007, but it will be developed by EA Sports and definitely not by Visual Concepts. Will EA really dump Madden? It'd be hard to believe considering the brand name they've built up with him, but at this rate, who knows?

If there was any doubt that EA has become the 800 lb gorilla bully of this industry, those notions have been shot in the head, stabbed in the heart, kneed in the groin, and kicked while on the ground.

It Almost Sounds Like the Premise of a Bad Sitcom

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My roommate's girlfriend is moving in next weekend. Normally that's just a whatever-event. It's something that transpires in both forward and reverse probably hundreds of times a day throughout the country. It means I no longer have the house to myself for more than half the week (with him being at her place), but then again, it also means my rent goes down a signifcant amount. The more important thing here is that I really like my roommate's girlfriend (no not in that way), and we get along so well that I consider her one of my better friends. And I don't have that many. The weird twist in this case is that my roommate's girlfriend is also my ex-girlfriend's older sister. Yes, for a period of about a year and a half, my best friend/roommate and I were dating a pair of sisters. Now I can go on for pages on how that experience was simultaneously awesome, weird, unique, frustrating, and then awesome again, but those times are past, so we'll leave them there.

The other thing is that my ex gf and I do not talk to each other anymore. We broke up several months ago, but continued talking and hanging out for a few months after that. Without going into too many details, the relationship reached a point where I decided it would be much easier to not have any contact with her anymore. I wouldn't say there was or is any animosity there, and I don't think either of us really wanted to shut the other out of our lives. It just became obvious to me that that was really the only reasonable course of action to take, at least then, and still is today.

Going back to my roommate's gf (we'll call her 'J' for expediency), when my ex and I first broke up, I could sense a palpable panic on both the part of her and my roommate. Obviously they were sad that it happened, but on a more pragmatic level, they wondered if I would be able to stand J's continued presence around me. Yes, my relationship fell apart, but my friend and J were still going strong. They're sisters, so the worry was that J being around would constitute (and it actually still does) a constant reminder to me. Thankfully for all parties involved, it didn't end up being awkward. One could easily see this situation turning real messy in a hurry, but the strange network of friendships and loyalties in this bizarre love square didn't suffer much the worse for one line being cut. I guess it helped that J was an acquaintance to me for a while before she introduced me to her sister, so I was able to mentally fall back into that kind of mode that I could disassociate the two for a period of time. And it also helps that the three of us are in our mid 20s. We've all seen and been through crazy ass drama before and know better than to start any of it unnecessarily.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when J approached me about the idea of her moving in. I immediately said "of course, I'd love to have you guys around more." And I meant it too. Well, of course I meant it, because I strive to avoid saying things that I don't mean. I've already become their defacto third wheel, heading out to grab food with them a lot on nights and weekends, as a lot of my other friends live in far and inconvenient places. It's not something I'm necessarily proud of or anything but it is what it is. And I'm more than aware that my 10 days of /played time on WoW probably has a lot to do with my current lack of a gf ;)

So what does this have to do with games? Well now that three's a crowd, there's no real room for J and her desktop computer in the other bedroom or downstairs in the living room. We're finally joining the 21st century and going to get a wireless router, so J can rely on her laptop for her computing needs. This, along with ongoing big discounts on IBM Thinkpads, makes me want to re-buy a T42 again so I can play WoW wirelessly while lounging on the couch downstairs, watching basketball. Oh so frivolous!

So yea that wrapped up nice and light. kthxbye.

I almost bought an iPod Shuffle today.

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If the Apple Store in San Francisco didn't sell out 20 minutes before I got off work today I'd have one in hand. Fortunately they did, and now I've had time to reconsider my near-impulse-buy. After all, the $150 I was about to sink into that thing is money I need to sock away for a PSP, which will play music anyway! It's just so sexy though...