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Kevin-V Blog

Sharing the Death Cab with Cutie

It's strikes me as oddly prophetic that my last journal entry was about "one of those days." I suppose my new rule of thumb is that if I think it can't get any worse, it probably will, and indeed, it did just that.

I had to conduct an online video training on Friday, and since the training started at 8, my day began early. I was all pleased with myself on Thursday night: I set the alarm, I went to bed early, I had my clothing all laid out and ready to go, and I slipped into bed for a peaceful night's sleep. I was groggy when the alarm went off at 6:45, but I crawled out of bed and got myself together. I also grabbed one of those gargantuan banana-nut muffins we got from Costco and snarfed it down, in my first banana-flavoring experience since the hangover incident a few weeks back.

Well, on the way in, I stopped at the Shell station in Chantilly to fill the tank and grab a Diet Pepsi Twist (the only caffeinated refreshment worth drinking in the early morning, as far as I am concerned). I hopped back into my car, opened my soda with a whoosh, and turned the key.

Did you know that vehicles aren't supposed to make sounds reminiscent of an imprisoned organ grinder monkey banging a wrench against the sides of an empty oil barrel? Well, apparently, my 1992 Lincoln Town Car missed the memo, since it proceeded to make the biggest racket I have ever heard coming from an auto motor. The good news? At least I was broken down at my service station of choice. The bad news? Well, that seems self-evident, now doesn't it? I called work and had my coworker extraordinaire Tae pick me up and bring me in. Fortunately, the participants in the training were also late, so no harm, no foul. The session took about 2 hours, about long enough for me to get sick of my own voice. When I was done, I sat at my desk to wait for the dreaded "call from the mechanic."

On cue, the line rang, I picked it up, and Mr. Shell informed me that compression tests on my engine revealed that I had basically no compression on one side of my engine. A broken timing chain had caused irreperable damage to the engine, and it needed to be replaced. Like most people, I am not going to bother having a new motor dropped into a 12-year-old vehicle. But now I am sans car, and I hardly have the money or the outstanding credit to go get a new one just yet.

At this point, I have no clue what my next course of action is, since public transportation is not an option for me. My friend Jeff will be able to take me home every night, but to get to work, it looks like I will be hopping into a cab to play a real-life version of Crazy Taxi. If you are roaming the streets of the metro Washington, DC area and see a yellow taxi zoom past, pray for me: I may be the Cutie in the Death Cab.

Someday, Lad, All This Will Be Yours

"What, the curtains?"

But I digress.

Today, it was all about the annoyances, because I'll be damned if this day wasn't created for the specific purpose to get on my nerves. You always know it's gonna be one of those days as soon as you wake up - or in my case, even before that. This is the worst time of year to get the temperature indoors just right, and to make matters worse, the apartment complex can only have heat or air turned on at any given time. The last week has been chilly, so the complex turned off all the air and turned on the heat. It would be fine, you would think, since it has been rather nippy outside, and we have control over the thermostat. It seemed a little warm last night, so we made sure the heat was turned off, and slipped into bed.

Well, it may not have been all that warm, but it sure was stuffy - that kind of stuffy that can only be cured by air conditioning. Well, so much for that. So Rich opened the window and thus began the fitful prelude to The Longest Day. Apparently, Route 66 has a lot more traffic in the wee hours of the morning - and is a lot closer to my bedroom window - than I ever gave it credit for, since I dreamt about car horns and sirens whenever I was able to actually catch some shut-eye. To make matters worse, it was still terribly humid in the room, so my nose got all stuffed up and I ended up breathing through my mouth. By the time the alarm went off this morning, my mouth was as dry as Death Valley, yet my body had a nice sheen of sweat.

Thus it began. Whether it was the mess of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I made on the kitchen floor, forgetting my EBGames gift card and having to run back to get it, or being late to work because (*gasp*) there was water falling from the sky (an apparently new phenomenon in DC, as no one seemed to know how to drive in it). Work was hell, too: one of my female coworkers is apparently hosting her "visitor" right now, so she was incredibly pleasant to be around; the training I was supposed to conduct was postponed because it took me 2 hours to walk a customer through downloading VIrtual Machine and Java; and I went all the way to Fair Oaks Mall during lunch to get a copy of Otogi 2, only to find it won't be in until tomorrow.

"Well," I thought, "at least the Everquest 2 beta will be completely downloaded by the time I get home." Note my discernible look of distaste in the following photo:

As you see, the download was interrupted at some point during the day, so I had to start where it left off. I can't say I am surprised: I have beta tested more MMORPG's than I can shake a stick at, and the only one that had a semblance of stability for most of that time was Earth and Beyond (a game I sorely miss.) With any luck, I should still be able to play tonight, which would be a refreshing change from the last MMO beta test I was in: Lineage 2. It took me days to actually enter the game, and I have a little more faith that our friends at SoE will manage the considerable task of allowing me to actually play the beta the same day I download it. Will wonders never sneeze?

In the meanwhile, Rich, that little butthead, was having a perfectly pleasant time. He had a standard day; no surprises, no PMS'ing peers, and by the time I got home, he was happily mashing away at X-Men Legends. Note his aura of bliss:

So while he maneuvers Wolverine through one of the clever flashback missions, I will finish up dinner (ham steak and baked potatoes - yum!) and roll my eyes at the lame comics providing commentary on VH1's 80's flashback feature. At least it answers the age old question, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Note that the movie title is missing the question mark; I have added it for the sensibilities of punctuation-conscious readers.

I am tempted to email a memo to as many Beltway drivers as possible, though, because sooner or later, the drops of liquid pouring from the sky will be replaced by flakes of fluffy white crystals. If they haven't ever experienced the otherworldly phenomenon of rain, I can only imagine the traffic jams that will occur when they see snow falling from the heavens.

Prozac Nation

It seems like it was yesterday, and yet looking back, it plays out in my mind as if it were a film I watched years ago. How strange it is that events in one's life can be incredibly personal, and yet we feel oddly disconnected from them. It happened to a young man of 19 in his sophomore year of college. That boy was me.

Music was my life. I had spent most of my formidable years doing what I loved most: making music. In 1991, I was pursuing a double degree in violin and composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. I loved my violin, a Heberlein made in 1921, and I had spent most of my existence dedicated to becoming the best violinist, singer, and composer I knew to be. Oberlin was my first choice, and being accepted was an absolute thrill; after all, what could be better than thumbing my nose at Carnegie Mellon and Yale because I was too good for them?

Throughout most of my freshman year, I began to struggle with increasing feelings of hopelessness and depression. At first, I was convinced I must be homesick. "I miss my mother," I thought. "Surely, this cloud developing in my heart and mind will dissipate over time." But unlike an ominous gray cloud in an otherwise bright blue sky, my own darkness did not float off to be replaced by gleaming rays of sun. Instead, the clouds only accumulated until I was gripped by a voracious monster of complete despair that no one that has never experienced depression could understand. I spent hours upon hours seated on my dorm room bunk bed, my arms wrapped around my knees and my whole body shaking, unsure of what was happening to me and why I felt so hopeless. As time went on, it was uncontrollable; I was subject to fits of crying anywhere, feelings of paranoia, and panic attacks. Soon, I knew in my heart of hearts that no one wanted me around, and that the world would be better off without me. Some have said, "Why were you so down? Why couldn't you just think positive thoughts and move on?" How can I explain that the belief - the knowledge - that I was beyond hope and deserved to die was as real to me as the air I breathe and the water I drink? The grass was green, my hair was brown, and no one would care if I were gone forever. They were facts.

In desperation, I went to the campus psychology clinic, where a horrible woman told me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and that what I was experiencing was perfectly normal. When I left the clinic that day, my head was swimming. I wanted to feel relief that what was consuming my life was just an aspect of everyday existence. Everyone felt like they deserved to die, I supposed. She told me these were the aches and pains of everyday life, and all I could do was keep a stiff upper lip and move on. If only I had known what I know now. In my naivete, I believed her. She was the expert, and I foolishly accepted that I was not to question the authoritative statement of a psychologist; she knew more about the human psyche than I did, after all.

I struggled after the second semester ended. I went and played violin for the National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado that summer, and while the fresh, thin air of the Rocky Mountains and the rich tapestry of orchestral sounds enriched my thirst for knowledge and musically rejuvenated me, I headed back to Oberlin in the fall with the same terrible dread that I woke to every day, and the more I yearned for respite, the stronger the feelings became, until my sense of loneliness and my need to escape the pain overwhelmed me. I spent most of my days shaking and crying, and I didn't know why. I just knew I was alone and unwanted, and that I deserved to die.

On October 31, 1991, that 19-year-old boy tried to take his own life.

Thus began a journey that would take an entire novel to tell you about. Over the course of three years, I was hospitalized 13 times for major depression, in four different hospitals. My mental illness singlehandedly destroyed my career in music: not only could I not have been a productive member of a major symphony orchestra, but the strongest of the medicines they gave me caused me to shake, so I could not physically play. Even with treatment, things didn't get better, not right away. I slashed up my arms and my knees to ease the anguish when I was not in the hospital; I scraped my knuckles across the vinyl walls of my hospital room until they bled. This young man, whose life I view through memories that don't quite seem my own, was dying inside, and it took a long time for him to want to live again.

Eventually, one of the medicines I was taking (Haldol, normally used for the treatment of schizophrenia) had rendered me unable to urinate, so the doctor had to insert a catheter to enable my bladder to empty. Somehow, at some point I realized that I did not want to live my life in a hospital. With the help of some wonderful people, like Dan Wolboldt, my therapist in Pennsylvania; and Dr. Zelienski, my psychiatrist in Ohio; I grew to understand that I did not have to trust that someone was right just because they had a PhD. I did not have to assume someone knew how to treat my illness because they could legally write a prescription. And once I found the people who could help me learn to be strong again, I began the long crawl out of that deep ravine.

So on Sunday, October 31, I won't be celebrating Halloween. I will be celebrating life. I will be celebrating a life of success after one doctor told me I would never get better. Instead of regretting a career I never was able to have, I will be dropping to my knees and thanking God that He brought me light when I had nothing but darkness. I will celebrate the fact that I can love, that I can grow, and that when I shed tears, I understand why. Most of all, I celebrate joy, because I know that it is not something I can take for granted.

For all of you that read this and have taken this journey too - and for those of you that despair that they have lost their will to be strong - I ask you to join me in heart this October. If you need someone to help you, go to someone you love and trust, and ask them for their help, because there is no shame in doing so. If you are on this journey and can't see the glimmer through the thick fog, remember that 19-year-old boy, and trust that you don't suffer alone, and that you are strong enough to fight, and to win. If you are someone who has taken this journey, and emerged from the battle victoriously, take this day to celebrate with me. The grass is green, my hair is brown - and I am happy.

The 10,000th Maniac

Well, my 10,000th post has come and gone, and rather than celebrate with ASCII streamers and pixelated party favors, I decided to make it a rather quiet affair. That landmark post was actually a lock message for an off-topic thread in the pc forum; so much for making the moment count.

My weekend followed suit, mostly. I certainly have had my share of drama over the last few months, so it's always nice to sit back and relax whenever I can, and that is exactly what I did on Friday, and much of the day Saturday. I do enjoy my Friday nights, not because I can go and party (which is a rarity), but because I can catch up on my gaming and other odds and ends without worrying about work the next day. This last Friday night, I made sure to get more acquainted with Bloodrayne's breasts (and think of how good they could have looked with some high-quality animation, such as that in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time; Bloodrayne just doesn't move fluidly, which takes away much of the fun), watched a rerun of CSI: Miami on SpikeTV (Television for Straight Men - and Lesbians!), and snatched up a few bears in Katamari Damacy. Saturday was also somewhat leisurely, since I slept in until about 11:00. After we got our groggy asses out of bed, Rich and I headed to our local Red Robin for some of their great burgers, and went shopping for some Halloween masks for the boys.

Dustyn and Ryan were easy; they wanted to go as Jason and Freddy (so original), so we picked up some high-quality masks at Party City. Gregory was another matter; at the age of 13, he has declared himself "above" the entire concept of trick-or-treating, so he said he didn't want one. Rich picked one up anyway: a rather gothic-looking character, replete with a half-dozen earrings of various painful sizes and a long, black ponytail reminscent of a Women's Studies major I knew in college (don't ask). Well, when Rich told him he had picked up an expensive mask for him to wear on Halloween night, Ungrateful (as we now call him) was so apathetic he sounded like Ross Perot talking about social reform. So, it looks as though the mask will be mine for the holiday known as All Hallow's Eve.

Sunday was Dustyn's birthday party, so as is any day featuring a kid's event, the day was long, although not terribly torturous. Gregory decided not to go to his baseball game, so that meant Rich and I were actually early for the shindig, so we put out all the chips and soda and whatnot, and I braced myself for another one of those duck-out-of-water days so common for me at Rich's family gatherings. Don't get me wrong: I adore Rich's family, and his parents have been very kind to me, as has the rest of his enormous extended family, for the most part. However, I grew up as an only child with my single mother, and I was never all that close to the rest of my family. Now, I have an entirely new family, and boy, is it huge. I have been to a dozen-odd events with these folks (and my Lord, they come up with any excuse to get together en masse and eat; I'm surprised they don't have an Arbor Day party), and I still have no clue who half of them are. Some of them yesterday were actually his ex-wife's Patty's family, so that only added to my confusion. Eventually, as the apartment was filled to the brim, I snuck off to the other room and was delighted to find that the kids had a copy of the PS2 port of Giants: Citizen Kabuto, so I spent much of my evening annoyed at the slow frame rates on an otherwise fairly good port of my favorite action game of all time.

I will admit, it has been tough getting used to an entirely different culture of unusual family values and communications. Rich's family members are pure Baltimorean. Anyone from the Baltimore area will understand me immediately; describing them to anyone else would be highly difficult. Much of Baltimore is an interesting mish-mash of lower-middle-class cultures, both white and African-American, which is one reason I love the city so much. Baltimore natives are extremely down-to-earth, which is a refreshing change from the snooty attitudes so prevalent in the DC area. On the other hand, they don't hesitate to use colorful language, even around their children, so my delicate sensibilities tend to get rather injured during these events. Many of Rich's relatives also have very strong feelings regarding race, so it is not unusual for me to excuse myself to the other room when the discussion turns in that direction. I still have yet to garner complete understanding of these interesting, contradictory folks; on one hand, Rich's sister is dating a black man - and pregnant with their second child; Rich is gay and brings his lover to family events. Yet, no one seems to bat an eye at racial epithets or other rude comments and foul language.

So now, Halloween approaches, and I may take that time to reacquaint myself with some of my favorite scary games. The upcoming re-play list includes Eternal Darkness, Clive Barker's Undying, and Doom 3 (and I will stand by my evaluation of that game; I believe it to be genuinely scary), as well as one of the scariest games ever made: Daikatana. October 31st also brings the anniversary of one of the most significant events in my life. It is purely coincidence that the anniversary is shared with Halloween day, but looking back, it seems ominously prophetic. I will wait until my next journal entry to write about it, rather then extend this one.

In the meanwhile, I may very well take a picture of my face as I play John Romero's failed masterpiece, just so I can post a screenshot of what fear really looks like. Even Joseph Conrad could not have perceived the horror.

When Boobs Just Aren't Enough

For a gay man, it seems odd that breasts have been so present in my life the last few days. It all started with my time with Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, the first game in the series since 1996 (unless you count that weird Casino game we saw in the interim). I was never an enormous fan of the LSL games, but they held a certain amount of charm with their mild double entendres and their ever-dorky anti-hero. The newest game features something most games just don't have enough of: breast physics. Watching various jug shots as Magna Cum Laude's heroines strutted and bounced, it struck me that this title may actually feature breasts that boast their own AI. Obviously, I'm no breast man myself, but to a certain extent, I enjoyed MCL for its goofy, subtle references, if not for its fart jokes and blatant sexuality. I am sad to say that as a game, it just isn't all that good. I mean, I enjoy a good, solid belch as much as the next guy, but in its simulated form, it doesn't hold much appeal.

Bloodrayne 2 is the next game on my review schedule, and considering the seductive vampiress had her own Playboy spread, I am sure this sequel will have its share of mammaries. Now, I don't hold breasts against their owners; I won't judge Bloodrayne as some blood-sucking bimbo just because she has cleavage, and I didn't hold the abundance of boobs against Larry's latest escapades in any way. Still, for better or for worse, I am most interested in the more universal factors regarding game design, and frequent flashes of the female anatomy are not going to cause me to bump up a score a few notches. Gay, almost-middle-aged men are not usually a target demographic, and while I am sure there are plenty of gamers that are willing to overlook substandard gameplay in favor of heaving bosoms, I'm just not one of them.

Now, to change the subject from milk to mushrooms. Last night, my best friend Jeff came over so I could install his new Radeon 9200 into his lovely Dell with its 1.2 Ghz Celeron. The poor guy is not a pc gamer, but he really wanted to play The Sims 2, and sadly, his onboard Intel graphics just didn't cut the mustard. To make matters worse, the machine has no AGP slot, so we were stuck getting the best PCI card I knew of on the market. Well, it came in, and I snapped it in and installed the drivers. While I was working, Jeff ordered a pizza from Papa John's (double pepperoni and mushroom, and a supreme, no olives thankyouverymuch) and turned on Lifetime (Television for Women - and Gay Men!) to watch the underrated dark comedy Death Becomes Her.

Well, 90 minutes later, the pizza guy graced us with his presence - and the wrong pizzas. He went back to his car to get the right foodstuffs, and brought them back without the extra garlic sauce we had ordered, not to mention without the credit card slip for me to sign. He couldn't find the slip, so he told me to call the store, and left us with our cold pizzas and obvious scowls. I called Papa John's and raised holy hell. I am no complainer, and I could forgive the incredibly late delivery, or the mistake with the original pizza. But for heaven's sake, he brought me two cold pizzas, one of which barely had toppings (so much for double pepperoni; I barely managed single), no extra sauce, wanted me to give him a check after I paid by credit card, and then forced ME to call the store. Well, little miss Andrea, manager on duty, got an earful, and I got last night's pizzas for free, and two more free pizzas for the future.

So tonight, the plan is to get some laundry done and bake that long-overdue cake (I never did get that made last weekend.) I'll also be playing Bloodrayne 2, who hopefully will not injure me if her breasts go flying in the wrong direction. I mean, with the incredible developments in breast physics technology, you just never know what might happen.

The Shame of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot

The fact that 311Music and I are both writing about Nickelodeon ‘toons today is pure coincidence, and I have purposely avoided reading his journal entry, specifically because I don’t want to have to get out the ass-whomping stick. Apparently, he just doesn’t get Spongebob Squarepants. I don’t know if the fact that I “get” it speaks more about my personality than it does his, but the subversive wackiness in Nick’s great animated series is a secret guilty pleasure.

The advantage of being around kids is that I have the perfect excuse to watch shows and listen to music targeted at a young demographic. When I was in my 20’s, my absolute dedication to Animaniacs bordered on obsession, but I couldn’t help myself: the cartoon was hysterically adult and loaded with obscure references meant to delight the parents of its adoring fan-lets. Sadly, I had to hide my habit from my then-partner David. Alcoholics hide their bottles around the house; I hid all of my videotaped episodes under the bed, instead of porn. “You really need to get to work early,” I’d say, and rush him out the door so I could watch Pinky and the Brain without fear of ridicule. Now, I don’t have to worry, because I can watch the Fairly Oddparents and That’s So Raven in the name of child psychology, although in actuality, I watch them because both shows are a hoot. Granted, The Disney Channel is a smorgasbord of annoying cross-marketing and saccharine commentary, but it’s worth it if I get a chance to see more physical highjinks from Raven-Symone, the next Lucille Ball of physical comedy (I am not kidding.) As for Cosmo and Wanda, the incredible energy and hysterics of Nickelodeon’s series has almost completely made me forget about Spongebob, which is no mean feat.

To make matters worse, Rich has an obsession with a variety of teeny-bopper girl stars, with Hillary Duff taking the lead. His listening habits really fall into three main categories: country music, with an emphasis on Shania Twain and Tim McGraw (whom he only likes when he wears a hat); popular hip-hop, with all the swear words intact (although that Lean Back song is truly catchy); and adolescent pop stars of various degrees of talent. I have yet to fall for Ms. Duff, even if she is charming enough (and she is no Melissa Joan Hart, for heaven’s sake!). He also adores Kelly Clarkson, an artist I can’t generally stand. Therefore, I blame him for my utter adoration of her new song, “Breakaway,” from the Princess Diaries 2 soundtrack. It’s bad enough that Julie Andrews has been reduced to films like that, but really, why must Clarkson sing this song that makes my heart feel like its going to explode with joy?

I still draw some clear lines. For example, I will never like Britney Spears’ song “Toxic” no matter how often I hear it on the radio, and I will never enjoy Khia’s dirty “My Neck, My Back…” rap, even if Rich acts out the lyrics to the point of absurdity. But I admit it: I may be a 32-year-old man with an obscene amount of body hair and a job as a software trainer by day – but I am a slumber-party-holding, pre-adolescent boy by night. Can you pass me that bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

"We Like Paper Mario 2, But You Won't"

I considered not writing about this subject. After all, I am a gaming journalist, and it would generally be considered in bad taste for me to comment on another publication's integrity. I don't work for a major publication, however, and I feel strongly enough about this subject that I don't feel it would be inappropriate to share some thoughts regarding what amounts to a major gaffe by a popular gaming publication.

"Lisa and I both knew that our Paper Mario scores were going to cause controversy. Yes, we know that many people out there will love it. We also know that it is a well-made game. However, it also WILL NOT appeal to many people - I would safely say that more people will dislike it than like it. Why? Like we said in the review, it's a very kiddie game - it's target audience is clearly young gamers - I would say 10 and under. For that reason, we had to score it low. Remember, we aren't scoring games strictly on our personal opinions, we're also scoring them based on how much we think THE GAMING PUBLIC will like them. We've all played games that we personally disliked and scored them well because we've known that most people will like them, and we've also scored games low that we love, because most people won't enjoy them.

For example, I really like the bizarre frog golf game Ribbit King, and I gave it a 7, because it's just not for everyone. Paper Mario 2 also scored low because it's just not for everyone. If you think it's a 10 in your book, it's a ten in your book, and that doesn't change if we disagree. We're here to guide you on what games to pick up, but ultimately your personal opinion is what will make you buy a game or not."

Those above words were written by Jeremy at Game Informer as a defense of that magazine's low scoring of Nintendo's latest release, Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door. When I read these words, I was flabbergasted. I am all for a publication defending an unpopular review, if it can justify its stance with a well-argued review and a numerical score that meshes with that text. However, Game Informer's justification of its Paper Mario 2 score undermines everything I stand for in game reviewing, and I think now is as good as time as any to discuss how I review games - and how Game Informer has completely lost integrity with the above statement. Please understand, I am not a Nintendo freak. I respect the company and I admire many games I have played on their systems, but no one on the GS forums could accuse me of "sheephood," nor have I played the original Paper Mario or its sequel. I speak purely from a philosophical standpoint regarding reviews and the obligation editors have to their readers.

I don't think it would be a mistake to paraphrase GI's stance as follows: "We like Paper Mario 2, but since it has limited appeal, and is specifically aimed at a younger audience, we are giving it a low score." Effectively, Game Informer is telling us that they like the game, but we cannot trust their opinion; therefore, they have decided that its limited appeal to the average gamer means it is deserving of a low score. In fact, GI goes so far as to say "for that reason, we had to score it low." The game's quality has no bearing on the score; the publication has decided that the gaming public will not warm to the game, and because they have appointed themselves as some kind of pop-culture gauge of gaming goodness, they have declared that a very good game is not worth our time and money.

A statement like this ushers in a sad era in gaming editorial, if we can assume that there could be other publications that hold the same philosophy. Each of us reads - nay, devours - reviews of games, because we are interested to know what those publications have to say about a game we are thinking of purchasing. We trust the opinions of our favorite sites, and we assume that when they review a game, they are using their knowledge and experience to tell us whether a game is good, and what makes it that way. In other words, we want to hear the reviewer's opinion, and that is why we read the review. A good evaluation will clearly state what makes a game good or bad, will mention any specifics regarding its quality and other factors important to a reader, and will then score the game based on a conclusion drawn from those specifics.

Game Informer, on the other hand, has announced that their opinion is not to be trusted, and they feel they can accurately score a game based on whether it will appeal to the masses. This clearly points the way to a very frightening concept in game reviewing: game sales influencing editorial opinion. Doesn't it scare you that there are reviewers that are not reviewing games based on their quality, but on whether people will buy it? "Paper Mario 2 also scored low because it's just not for everyone." This could leave entire genres out in the cold as far as GI is concerned. Apparently, all RPG's will score lower than RTS's, since the built-in audience is smaller than that for strategy games. It would also leave fantastic but underselling games like Beyond Good & Evil and Katamari Damacy completely ignored. Had I reviewed Katamari Damacy using Game Informer's new-found role as voice for the masses, I would have given it a 1.0 due to its genre-bending, unusual gameplay. The fact that KD is a superb game in every sense would be completely irrelevant.

Ultimately, readers tune in to GameSpot, Inside Gamer Online, and other sites because they trust what the writers have to say, not because we assume to speak for everyone. As an experienced gamer and writer, I like to think that my opinion holds some value, and in the end, that's what people want to know when they read my reviews. I can strive for objectivity, in the sense that my personal feelings towards the developer, publisher, and any other unimportant factors have no bearing on my review - but in the end, there is no such thing as "pure" objectivity. If there was, people would not have differing opinions, and we would not need various video game magazines and websites to tell us whether or not a game is good. IGO trusts that when I speak for myself, I speak for the site. I don't profess to speak for everyone, but I believe I know a lot about what makes for a quality game. With the quoted words, Game Informer is telling us that they cannot trust their own opinions about what makes for a quality game - and they are more interested in whether a game will have mass appeal. I don't know about you, but I don't think Game Informer's self-appointed role as a gaming voice for the masses is one they deserve. I think we're smarter than they give us credit for, and Game Informer's condescending sensibilities have no place in journalism.

My Name's Akhmed, But You Can Call Me Timmy

Well, today's journey shall be in three parts, and the first is the continuing drama of my living room walls. I finally decided that the curtains were the problem, since I stubbornly refuse to admit that the border was a mistake, and I headed out to my local K-Mart. She may be imprisoned, but Martha Stewart has never done me wrong, so without hesitation, I picked out some of her casual curtains that perfectly complemented the sofa. Now they are up, and I am so much more pleased with the room. I have a continuing issue with the border though: even though I spent fourteen dollars for every roll of five yards, the self-pasting nature of it is simply a pipe dream at best, so it keeps peeling off. I am heading out today to buy some wallpaper paste, in the hopes that I can finally whip the unruly paper into shape.

The weekend wasn't too bad, even though I am still a tad sensitive with Rich. The very nature of being fiddlecub is that I feel everything several degrees more intensely than the average person. My joys, my sorrows, my triumphs, my agonies: these emotions course through my very being, and even the simplest of occurrences that might just cause an emotional pinprick in an ordinary soul can tear down my protective layers in an instant. It's a constant challenge; I love being able to feel, because I hope that my feeling nature means I can appreciate others better, that I can feel love, tenderness, and warmth, and give those things better than I could if I didn't experience the depth of passion and sensation that are at my very core. On the other hand, being so sensitive to the people and events around me makes me vulnerable. My mind is never at rest: thoughts, tangents, hopes, dreams, fears, plans, goals - these things rush through my brain at breakneck speed, and a simple glitch in the tone of someone's voice or a slightly furrowed brow will become an object in a test-tube to be analyzed and reconstructed in a thousand different ways. Eventually, the thoughts don't rule the emotion, but the emotion manipulates the thoughts, until the reality of a moment becomes the fiction of my feelings. My struggle to control my emotions will probably remain a conflict throughout my life, and learning how to temper them is my life's goal.

We did manage to get the kids to The Haunted Mill, a little Halloween theme park near Hanover, PA. Four events for the five of us cost $100, and it was quite the rip-off. Frankly, I always approach haunted-house visits the way I approach any suspense thriller: I expect to be scared, and usually, that makes me easily frightened. The joy is in the fright, and I still have yet to forgive my college buddies for laughing hysterically throughout The Exorcist 3 in the Oberlin movie theater: I wanted to be scared, dammit, and they made it nigh to impossible to let the chills wash over me when all I could hear were their howls of derision. Well, last night, I hoped to be scared, but aside from the cheap lunge of a chainsaw-bearing ghoul, the only thing making me scream was my considerably lighter wallet. The together-time was enjoyable, though, and watching Dustyn clutch Rich's hand so tightly throughout the experience made it worth the trip, all things considered.

Part three of this entry is a small tribute to the games that have enraptured and enthralled with their unique narrative threads. I will certainly not bemoan the current state of story in games, because frankly, modern games provide stories as good as any games in history, and this year alone, Chronicles of Riddick, Far Cry, Silent Hill 4, and several other games have offered up intriguing and noteworthy tales. Still, I wanted to pay tribute to a few games that are very special to me, either for the yarn they spin, or for the unique ways they tell their stories

No essay regarding storytelling in games would be complete without focusing on The Longest Journey, Funcom's epic, beautiful saga about April Ryan and her journey of self-discovery. This 2000 title almost single-handedly revived a dying breed: the point-and click graphical adventure, and did so by weaving a complicated narrative throughout two opposing worlds: Stark and Arcadia. I dare not share too many specifics, but I do think it's important to note some very special ways TLJ so successfully draws the player into its milieu. Firstly, it takes time to introduce its major players, with lengthy spoken dialogue and a seemingly simple story thread of a pretty art student struggling with her studies and estrangement from her father. While at first the exposition might seem boring to some, it is absolutely necessary to the game. We care about these people, and by drawing us so deeply into April's psyche, her fate becomes as important to us as our own. By the time the game draws to its surprising, bittersweet conclusion, the player has explored a multitude of themes: religion, new-age populism, the price of friendship, the power of loss, and the fickle nature of destiny. No adventure game has ever explored such emotional themes in depth, and the experience is overwhelming and powerful.

Certainly, other adventure titles deserve note, such as Grim Fandango and Syberia, TLJ's spiritual successor. Instead, I want to mention two titles that provide doses of something gaming needs a little more of: humor. The first is the original No One Lives Forever, a fantastic first-person shooter that puts the player in the shoes of 60's superspy Cate Archer. It's campy melodrama makes it play like an interactive In Like Flint, equal parts nostalgia and parody, and it was truly the first game that made it worth waiting in the shadows to hear what your enemies were talking about. Hearing your foes discuss the ups and downs of being felons in such mundane fashion is just one of many unique pleasures Monolith's classic has to offer, and both the original and its excellent sequel should be readily available in bargain bins.

The other title is the one to which I refer in this entry's title: Giants: Citizen Kabuto. British studio Planet Moon served us this delectable dish in 2000, and it's practically three games combined into one. From the sparring Meccaryns ("Open the hatch? OK!"), to the goofy smarties ("I want meat!"), to the butt-flopping Kabuto himself, Giants is a superb game for many reasons, not the least of which is its refreshing dose of knee-slapping puns and bizarre references. While PM's follow-up, Armed & Dangerous, was just as funny, it didn't quite have the same appeal, and got buried underneath its own constant sonic barrage of sirens and bullets.

I could go on and on. Other games that are worth mentioning include Homeworld, Sacrifice, Impossible Creatures, Xenosaga, Planescape: Torment, and many others. Has a game's story affected you as The Longest Journey affected me? I want to hear about it. Until later, please remember that if we ever see a horror movie together, you are not allowed to so much as guffaw.

I Bet Even Betty Crocker Uses Duncan Hines Cake Mix

Understanding is not the same as agreeing, and this is as clear to me as ever. After some sincere discussion and his ever-steadfast support, I may not be happier about waiting to marry until Rich feels more comfortable approaching the issue with the kids, but I understand better why he feels as he does. Not too long ago, his kids were using some very strong words ("I hate Dad!") with their mother, because they wanted to spend more quality time with him. It was actually quite the issue then, and obviously, Rich was hurt. Even when kids use such strong terms flippantly, the words sting, and honestly, can you blame him for treading lightly? He wants to find a way to make the ones he loves happy, and there is no reason he shouldn't be able to. In the end, they know who I am, as does his entire family: I am his partner. In the gay world, a ceremony is purely symbolic, and it would change absolutely nothing in our lives. We are committed, and I am not a secret. I have his lifetime commitment, and he has mine, and for that, I am joyous.

So I really have a few goals for the weekend, and the first is to bake a cake. I haven't baked anything in ages; I consider myself a great cook, but only an average baker, so I think I will just be doing the whole "Duncan Hines mix with store-bought frosting" deal. My co-workers keep begging to make this homemade strawberry cake I brought some time back, but it means I have to go buy fresh strawberries and make a mess in my kitchen, and honestly, who needs that? It was actually odd: I think I had a dream about baking, because for some reason, I was craving a good piece of cake first thing this morning. I also really want to make peanut butter cookies soon, since I love my recipe: it yields the softest, most scrumptious delights imaginable. At Christmas time, my mother always makes "peanut blossoms," which are simply peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses pressed on top. As you can imagine - I love the holidays!

I also have to tackle the newest Leisure Suit Larry incarnation, although I have no real expectations regarding the title. After playing through Myst IV: Revelation, I don't know that I have any sudden, renewed faith that the adventure genre is on the upswing, but it is comforting to know that it's far from dead, even with games like Sam & Max getting the axe. I am going to dedicate my next journal entry to the best adventure game of all time: The Longest Journey, and I want to take some time then to discuss games as a medium for storytelling. I have read some fascinating journal entries by both carolynmichelle and Greg Kasavin regarding games as art, and my feelings continue to be mixed, for the boundaries separating entertainment and art are not always clear, and are certainly not static. Furthermore, "art" is a relatively subjective term, and its definition is prone to change over time, not just from an abstract standpoint, but from the individual's as well. Any fan - or detractor - of modern art will tell you that one person's art is another person's garbage, and vice versa. Even in modern entertainment media, perception will change based on individual expression. Finding Nemo is an impressive piece of visual and narrative art, in my humble opinion; a friend of mine thinks it's a cartoon, and nothing more. While I vehemently object to his complete apathy towards a terrific film, who's to say that my appreciation is enough to label its makers as artists? And if a work is in a particular medium - say, oil painting - that is traditionally recognized as art, does this mean that the velvet Elvis hanging on my aunt's wall qualifies? If so - why is it we cannot say the same of beautiful games like Syberia, or Myst IV?

I think the difference here is the degree of interaction the player and game have with each other. Art is traditionally the work of an artist; in other words, while there are certain variables (such as the set design of a play, the conductor's interpretation of a symphony, or an actor's delivery), the core experience of a single piece of art is generally the same. Mozart's notes don't change, Shakespeare's words don't suddenly transform on the paper on which they are printed, and the pointillistic dots on Seurat's Sunday Afternoon On The Isle Of Le Grande Jatte don't change color. What we see, hear, or feel is, more or less, what the artist meant to convey. In gaming, the experience ebbs and flows, so while we can look at the monster design in Doom 3 or the beautiful environment's in Asheron's Call 2 and appreciate their beauty, calling the resulting product a piece of art may seem a bit far-fetched. On the other hand, games in which linear storytelling takes a center role are usually the ones we think of when applying the term to our beloved hobby. The Longest Journey, Myst, Syberia, Grim Fandango: these are the games that jump into my head when I consider games as art - and in the end, that only stands to reason: the adventure genre is the most linear of its medium, and as such, the game's creator has much more control over the player's experience. It is, more or less, the work of the developer, not of the gamer. If we do wish to see games become popularly accepted as an art form, our brightest hopes remain within the adventure genre. I, for one, refuse to see it die.

So be on the lookout for my humble tribute to narrative gaming. In the meanwhile, if anyone has some easy cake recipes to share, I'm all for it! After all, that cake will be molded by the hands of a lone individual, and it will be, more or less, what he meant to create. Does that make me an artist - even if I am just interpreting the work of Duncan Hines?

Will You Marry Me, If You Promise Not To Tell?

Well, it started out as a seemingly good night last night didn't end as I had hoped. I was happy that I had finished my Myst IV: Revelation review, and was tooling around on AIM waiting for Rich to come home. When he did, he got himself a sandwich and sat down in front of the TV, and mentioned that "Gregory ratted you out."

I wasn't sure what he was talking about. Greg is his 13-year-old son, and we had just spent the entire weekend with all three boys, so I asked him what he meant. Apparently, Gregory was unhappy with how I had talked with him when I asked him to set the table (and granted, I had to ask six times; when the seventh approached, I lost my patience, but at NO point was I inappropriate), and went to his mother to complain. After dropping this bomb, Rich continued to simply - eat his sandwich.

I was rather taken aback, since he didn't appear to be sticking up for me, didn't ask my opinion on what had happened, and in fact, didn't seem to really care that I was upset about it. While RIch flipped through the channels, I went to the bedroom, trying to make sense of everything. I know I am not their father, but in the absence of Rich or Patty, I AM an authority figure, and in my house, I deserve some semblance of control. I love the boys, but I will not let them walk all over me, and if there are times I need to put my foot down, I feel I should be able to. As it turns out, so does Rich: his nonchalance was not because he didn't care how upset I was - it was because he truly didn't think I had done anything wrong, and didn't see it as a big deal. Still, it was upsetting to think that the kids could be trying to play me to see how far they could push me. They are testing me to find out what my role in their lives really is. When they figure it out, I hope they let me know, since I am not sure myself.

He also reminded me that Gregory, as the oldest, was the one having the hardest time adjusting to the fact that his father is gay. "He said he can deal with me having a boyfriend," Rich told me, "but if I get married, he will never speak to me again." Well, there was shock # 2: Rich proposed to me several months ago. While gay marriage is certainly not legal in Virginia, he wanted to have a commitment ceremony, to prove his love to me, or at least, that is what he told me. In fact, I read the romantic email that started it every day, because it is the most meaningful letter I have ever received. If Gregory is not going to speak to him again, where does that leave me? I wondered this aloud to Rich. His response?

"It would have to be a secret from him."

I'm sorry? You asked me to marry you, but it has to be a secret? So I asked him if he wanted to sit down and talk about setting a date soon.

"What's the hurry to set a date?"

That was enough. I crawled into bed, my mind spinning, my heart breaking, and my head hurting. As the tears tumbled down my face, I wondered how I will ever come to grips that I am in second-place behind the children, and such a second-class citizen that a marriage proposal he made may never come to fruition - or that a symbolic ceremony of love may have to be kept a secret. As I sit here now, I am still trembling, afraid to say anything to him, afraid of what happens next, and unsure of what I should do next. I love Rich with all my heart, and I want him to love me the same way. Instead, I feel like his love is conditional: as long as the children approve, he can love me the way I want. I feel like I deserve better, that I deserve someone who wants to proclaim his love whenever he can, that I deserve someone who wants to sweep me off my feet, hold on to me, and never let go. What happened to the sincere proposal of a symbolic partnership? What happened to telling me that he wanted to proclaim his love for me to the world? And where does all of this leave me? And what good is a marriage, if you can't share your happiness with the people whom you care about most? I don't want to be a secret - I want to be a legitimate partner. Is that so bad, really?