The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

God, you little devil.

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Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is a primer for the state of science today. But at the heart of book lies a core belief and explanation for poetic naturalism. Just what is poetic naturalism? Here’s Carroll in an interview with WIRED’s Eric Niiler:

Atheism is a reaction against theism. It is purely a rejection of an idea. It’s not a positive substantive idea about how the world is. Naturalism is a counterpart to theism. Theism says there’s the physical world and god. Naturalism says there’s only the natural world. There are no spirits, no deities, or anything else. Poetic naturalism emphasizes that there are many ways of talking about the natural world. The fact that the underlying laws of physics are deterministic and impersonal does not mean that at the human level we can’t talk about ideas about reasons and goals and purposes and free will. So poetic naturalism is one way of reconciling what we are sure about the world at an intuitive level. A world that has children. Reconciling that with all the wonderful counterintuitive things about modern science.

For a layman, Carroll breaks down today’s fundamentals of science to painstaking detail (outside of the use of equations) and builds them back up to something simpler that speak to the justification for poetic naturalism. He dives into physics, philosophy, quantum mechanics, biology, and many other fields. He tackles many questions that are asked from casual daydreamers and the depths of Sci-Fi alike. And it all comes wrapped in an idea that there lies something between atheism and theism.

Carroll strives to pit Science against Theism on an even playing field, or one that’s as level as possible; Modern science challenging the ever shrinking God of the gaps. But for all of Carroll’s scientific professing, he is careful never to discount just how vast the gaps remain. By sheer virtue of his lessons on Bayesian credences, he never shuts out theism entirely, always leaving the door unlocked and possibly cracked open.

We’ll see that the existence of life provides, at best, a small boost to the probability that theism is true—while related features of the universe provide an extremely large boost for naturalism.

Chapters and sections read like deep troughs with a steep decline. As soon as the reader is introduced to a concept, Carroll has them barreling down a chasm at breakneck speed, only to bring them up for air in the last few paragraphs. I understood hardly a lick of the depths, but that’s okay. The meat lies in the simplified 30-percent of the pages. I took the rest as hard scientific justification, in the event the reader has any doubts as where Carroll comes up with these notions.

After 433 pages, Core Theory and quantum mechanics and multiverses and up quarks and down quarks are still a mystery to me. But what I did learn — what I can say without a shadow of a doubt — is with as much as we’ve discovered of the Universe, we still know very little. Maybe that will always be the case. Maybe there will always exist the God of the gaps with those gaps shrinking exponentially, but never quite stamped out.

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

What does it take to be moved— deeply and profoundly moved? Stories of grandeur can impress ideas of excellence and glory. Stories of adventure can make us yearn for thill and mystery. Stories of family can reflect the importance of closeness and bonding.

Real life events certainly have the power to move. Novels tackled this ages ago. Music has transformed the world around us for eons. Film figured it out approximately 100 years ago. And within the past 20 years, video games have begun tugging at heartstrings, imbuing wonder, and leaving players in awe.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the latest and possibly last chapter of suave treasure-hunting protagonist Nathan Drake’s adventures, is certainly not the first video game to entertain the idea that some titles in the medium are closer to film than they are to chess. There have been countless titles that have made the case that the narrative in today’s video games outshines most summer blockbusters— BioShock (2007), Final Fantasy VII (1997), The Last of Us (2013), and Mass Effect (2007-2012) to name a few. As early as 1995, in an abrupt turn of events, players watched the heroic and noble Mega Man turn against Asimov’s first law during the finale of Mega Man 7, holding his Mega Buster up to a surrendering Dr. Wily, exclaiming, “I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!” While not the most striking piece of dialog, it was a profound moment for a video game at the time.

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The Uncharted franchise’s namesake is in big action during gameplay. Gigantic and tightly choreographed sequences unfold while the player is still in control. To this day, it’s something that feels inconceivable to players who grew up with Super Mario Bros. Over the course of four games within the franchise, developer Naughty Dog doubled-down on the technically awe-inspiring moments with each title; be it scaling train cars that are dangling off the side of a mountain (Uncharted 2) or fist-fighting in a battered and rapidly descending cargo plane (Uncharted 3). Story beats and character development didn’t quite take a backseat, but they were never quite at the forefront of the games. By the third entry, Naughty Dog pushed the predefined story boundaries, but was never able to outshine the action.

After Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog stepped away from the franchise, putting it’s effort into a brand new story. The Last of Us delivered what is arguably the most affecting story from a AAA title yet. A survival story of two individuals, the grizzled Joel, who’s young daughter was killed during confused military frenzy amongst a virus-outbreak, and Ellie, a young girl with the only known immunity to the virus. Over the course of the game, the two strangers argue, protect, bond, and fight together, building a relationship unseen in video games prior.

The lessons learned by Naughty Dog and the development of The Last of Us are clear as day in Uncharted 4. Never has the Uncharted franchise felt so human and connecting. While Uncharted 3 swung for the fences, it never quite delivered. But with every turn of a corner, every new setting, every chapter, Uncharted 4’s story beats like a racing heart. Be it the relationship between Nathan and his brother Sam, Nathan and his wife Elena, Sam and veteran treasure hunter and father-figure Sully, or even the tales of Captain Avery and the lost pirate city Libertalia being explored through the game. Every one of these stories delivers and ultimately delivers a whole greater than its parts.

Nathan’s struggle between leaving a life of adventure and exploration for a life of normalcy and marriage is remarkably easy to connect with. The unknown and freedom of one’s past challenged by stability and relationships is something most struggle with. To add, the power of reigniting a relationship with a plundering brother once thought dead adds a significant amount of weight to Nathan’s difficult decisions and ultimately mistakes. Uncharted 4 offers a surprisingly complicated web of relationships that keep the player hungry to find out what happens next. And unlike most lengthy video games, there is a beautiful simplicity to the story that is easy to come back to weeks after setting the controller down.

But what of a video game’s story if the atmosphere isn’t correct. Surely the benefit of experience a story in the medium of a video game must include visuals and music and mechanics. Suffice to say the visuals are outstanding, possibly the best a console has produced to date.

Buying into the world of Uncharted 4 takes little effort at all. Its outstanding graphical fidelity, animation, and motion-capture performance deliver convincing characters and settings. Nathan Drake is as real as any Hollywood hero. And shocking more convincing as a fully CG character than the real actors strewn about the Warcraft movie.

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Not to digress into a critique of the Warcraft film, but it’s worth mentioning that Uncharted 4‘s visuals and performance are a great example of the power of strong narrative without the presence of flesh-and-bone. To put it succinctly, the game is captivating.

(While we’re on the topic and to give credit where credit is due, the photorealistic Orcs backed by stellar performances. Like Avatar before it, there are moments that are dumbfounding when one realizes what is unfolding onscreen is fake. Just look at Orgrim!)

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It’s not to say that the life given to Nathan Drake by the folks at Naughty Dogs and the performance from Nolan North weren’t incredible in past entries, but there is something truly magically about how Nathan emotes and interacts in Uncharted 4 that makes him believable.

Like the story, the mechanics and fluidity of the game have slowly evolved with each iteration. While the first Uncharted title felt much like a demo of things to come, the level of polish given to the player’s controls during extraordinarily big moments feels just as amazing as it did in Uncharted 2. That said, the overuse of sliding down gravelly paths and using Nate’s new grappling hook felted a bit tired halfway through the game. The repetition of these interactions has a tendency to make story feel slower than it should at time and almost like the player hasn’t progressed much. Slow motion via repetition. There are even moments when Nathan pokes fun at having to slide or grapple again and again.

But if the mechanics are the worst part, and they certainly are not even mildly bad, what of the music? The three previous entries found composer Greg Edmonson at the helm, defining Uncharted‘s iconic and booming theme. Edmonson’s work gave a lift to the sense of adventure and thrill. But like the story, the time Naughty Dog took away from the franchise seemed to open the possibility for new talent and new perspectives. And for a story so strong and rife with conflict, the timbre had to change.

In comes Henry Jackman, composer most recognized by his work on Captain Americas The Winter Soldier and Civil War, X-Men: First Class, and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. The breadth of Jackman’s work shines in Uncharted 4, adding dark and somber themes to an otherwise epic adventure, namely the heartbreaking “A Normal Life” theme that is sprinkled throughout interactions between Nathan and Elena, displayed most effectively during Chapter 17: For Better or Worse. It’s enough to bring you to your knees.

There isn’t enough that can be said about the impact of the Uncharted franchise. It reimagined what it means to interactive with a digital experience. It’s captivating performances and writing gave life to characters typically seen as avatars. The franchise is a masterclass in the possibilities and power of video games. Most of all, it showed the importance of not rest on your laurels and how care and patience can evolve greatness into something truly special. If this really is the end of the Uncharted franchise, I’m sad to see it go. But better to burn out than to fade away. And what better to burn out on a note that genuinely moves technology, narrative, and players.

Thanks for one hell of a ride, Nate and the Naughty Dog team.

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Pokémon GOTY

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The year is 1998. I’m standing in Toys”R”Us, holding a slip of paper that reads “Pokémon: Blue Version – $29.95”.

“Are you sure this is the game you want?” my father asks.

Confidentially, I respond, “Yes.”

Now 30-years-old and in the media business, I’m watching headline after headline roll in:

It seems every outlet is writing about the phenomenon that is Pokémon GO; seemingly the second coming of the franchise in North America. And for someone who grew up poring over GamePro and EGM, there is a small bit of vindication every time a major publication like the Times or the Post covers video games in a positive light.

The game has “almost certainly exceeded 65 million American users“, Nintendo’s share price has risen 53%, and all of my feeds (TV included) have been taken over by this game. Over and over, I read stories of the diverse communities engaging in Pokémon GO together. People everywhere partaking in arguably the world’s largest Easter egg hunt together. They are discovering destinations and landmarks in their hometowns via PokéStops and Gyms together.

The biggest shock of all came when our lawyer informed me that she’d caught a Bulbasaur over the weekend.

Caught a Bulbasaur.

Caught!

For someone who grew up with the original Pokémon Red and Blue versions, the dawn of the franchise, that sentence shouldn’t exist.

This whole thing is looney, nuts, insane even. This is a game rooted in green, red, and blue plastic Game Boy cartridges and 11 MB black and white (green) software from the late-90s. But for a child of the late-80s / early-90s, it’s all surreal, strange, and beautiful to watch.

The franchise is once again re-shaping ideas about gaming and technology. The game itself is re-shaping ideas about community and education. Pokémon GO joins other experience, culture, and zeitgeist defining titles such as Pong, Super Mario Bros., TamagotchiGolden Eye, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft. For that, I deem Pokémon GO “Game of the Year”.

And yes, it’s July.

The Witness: A (Cheater’s) Review

IMG_1272It started by “stumbling” across discussions about the game, convincing myself that I was listening to Idle Thumbs because I felt it’s a podcast that warrants my attention (true); not because The Witness was mentioned during a particular episode (false). Or because I hadn’t listened to IGN’s Game Scoop in months, missing a show that hooked me on video game related podcasts (true); not because The Witness was mentioned in a particular episode’s show notes (false).

Like many growing up in the late 80s, early 90s, I was a fan of Myst. The game took the adult world by storm and after my father and step-father both began discussing it’s puzzles with me, I felt I had something to offer these grown humans. I spent large swaths of time on a mysterious island, solving puzzles and eventually pouring over a strategy guide; a strategy guide I later convinced my 2nd grade teacher would serve well for a book report.

And boy, do I love The Witness. To a point.

You know, the thing about Braid: I loved it, I loved the atmosphere, I loved the visions, the softness of it. It kind of felt like a piece of silk you could run your hands through. It was a lovely, lovely game. But here’s the thing that didn’t work for me: It got so tough that my need and want to experience more of its world was absolutely challenged by my feeling that I wasn’t clever enough. I kept going back to find out more about the world, feeling more and more stupid. After a while, I thought, This game is dumb. Now I think I was wrong, by the way.

– Peter Molyneux, in an interview with Tom Bissell, Extra Lives

I’m sure I underestimate myself by thinking I would have never completed the game without a guide. The game thrives off the notion of beating the player down only to let them realize they could find the solution all along. There were plenty of times when I pondered giving up only to persevere and surprise myself the following day. But after 215 puzzles and frustrating “Tetris” logic, enough was enough.

After weeks of setting the game aside for Firewatch, Tom Bissell’s “Extra Lives”, and Veep, the allure and curiosity of The Witness wore off. I was no longer itching to out-do myself. I just needed to know what the The Witness would amount to. Was the experience worth it?

Many reviewers point to discovery and breakthrough as the reward. That once the player is spoiled with hints, the spell is broken. While those moments of besting oneself are certainly empowering, I found cheating my way through the second-half to be enjoyable as well.

I was able to appreciate the full genius behind the game. Had I spent 20-100 hours attempting to slog through the insanely brilliant puzzles for weeks, months or years, there was still no certainty I’d finish the game. By cheating my way through The Witness, I was able to see and appreciate all of the ludacris and awe-inspiring puzzles throughout.

I don’t want to invest in a game that I’m going to put 200 hours in because I’m never going to put 200 or 100 or 50 or 20 hours into a game. I’m just not going to do it. But something like this, which is substantial to me, it’s longer than a movie but it doesn’t become a lifestyle either.

– Jason Snell on Firewatch, The Incomparable podcast, episode 290

It’s very hard for me to spend 20 hours let alone 200 on a single game, as clearly evidenced by my quick drop off from games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto IV. Sure, I’m attempting to play through the entire Final Fantasy series, but it’s a repetitive mobile effort that I dip into for 20 minutes at a time. (You’re not missing much of a story in the first Final Fantasy to warrant consecutive hours of play.)

Lastly, experiencing The Witness‘s devilish penultimate puzzle — two randomly generated, timed mazes of mixed logic intended to thwart cheaters — was a welcome surprise. As I closed in on the end of the walkthough, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a puzzle that could not be documented or shared. I was forced to figure this one out on my own. It certainly wasn’t the most difficult puzzle in the game, but it’s a puzzle that could only be appreciated (and likely solved) by someone who had learned enough to stretch their rusty two-week-old Witness muscles.

Oh, what a frustrating ordeal the penultimate puzzle must be for those who had decided to cheat their way though the entirety of the game; stopped short of victory at the 1-yard line. It would have been easy to overlook adding this trick, but is a perfect fit for a game that prides itself on using assumption to shoot-down the player’s knowledge. Hats off, Team Thekla!

The penultimate puzzle alone leads me to believe that Jonathan Blow and his team wanted a community to blossom, sharing hints, tips, and solutions across the global community. Why else would there be only one randomly generated puzzle? It suddenly made me feel less guilty for succumbing to a walkthrough.

Do I feel cheating spoiled the game for me? Absolutely not. That said, I strongly advise pushing oneself to the brink of insanity, solve the puzzle that brought you there, then do it a few more times. Understand the language of the puzzles. Only then will it be rewarding to experience the building of The Mountain, the final tricks, the puzzles within puzzles, and the tightly woven secret of the island. Only then will the player truly understand the frustrating brilliance of The Witness‘s final puzzle.

Blow and the Thekla team put together an experience that will be talked about for years to come. And they took a very high risk placing the final puzzle where they had. The spiraling essence of zooming out to see the whole connected thought is a lovely thing. So much so that the idea that The Witness has players seeing puzzles in the real-world is completely legitimized.

Sure, all of this could have been said from a player who finished the game without cheating, and likely with greater appreciation and satisfaction. But I know I ended up a whole lot less frustrated yet still deeply satisfied.

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Firewatch

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It goes without saying Firewatch is an aesthetic marvel. Just look look at the gameplay screenshot above. Better yet, head to firewatchgame.com and get your fill. But it’s what lies within the exterior beauty that Firewatch shines.

Without taking the Up-like blow out of the first act, the game finds protagonist Henry having taken a job as a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming. Henry communicates with Delilah, a veteran lookout in another watchtower, via radio through choice-driven narrative queues (à la The Walking Dead, Choose Your Own Adventure). Shortly after the opening, the two find themselves tangled up in a self-provoked mystery.

Throughout my play-through, I became so concerned for Henry’s safety that my own certainty about the wilderness and its role as a haven for the unknown and unexplainable began to fulfill itself. However, it’s at the mercy of a few cheap tricks that this unsettlement is allowed to creep in. One early trick creates the suspicion that something bigger is going on and you’re the only one not in on the secret. Another instills the fear of looking down or turning a corner; two actions that become impossible to avoid and occur at breakneck frequency throughout the entirety of the game. Campo Santo makes it impossible not to feel anxious.

The answer to the game’s mystery will be unsatisfying, but only because this is the wrong puzzle. I’d argue the real answer is to why the game’s mystery is unsatisfying. Therein lies the revelation. Ultimately, Firewatch shows that one’s own ego and neurosis can overshadow important details; that our narcissism and persistence to seek the puppet-masters blur what is right in front of us. Without doubt, an interesting mystery unfolds for Henry and Delilah; but it’s an exposé in egoism that lies at the heart of Firewatch.

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Disneyvania

The release and my playthrough of The Witness happened to coincide with a ramp-up in my video game podcast consumption. (Maybe not so much a coincidence than a subconscious attempt to glean a hints from podcasters.) Through this, I came across a couple of keen observations of the game’s design that I had not considered:

Idle Thumbs, ep 248, 14:55:

Jake Rodkin: It uses so many rules of Disneyland-esque design and video game level design to make it easy to navigate, but it’s not built assuming there’s that huge framework of video game messaging beneath it.

Chris Remo: That Disneyland thing is a good comparison. Video game designers have often—for good reason—and accurately pointed to Disneyland as a really useful design touchstone. Not for the experience of the rides themselves, but for the design of the actual park.

JR: Disneyland is the closest we have in real life to a constructed open-world level.

CR: Areas are connected where there’s an intuitive sense of structure, but when you’re in any given place, it feels like it’s entirely enveloping you.

JR: Until you come around a corner and then the foliage and architecture perfectly frames on a sightline – spire that is in a waypoint to a different land of the park.

CR: And The Witness is totally like that.

I completely agree. The Idle Thumbs crew may also have unraveled a core reason why I loved Myst so much. And quite possibly why I love Disneyland so much.

Jared Petty on IGN’s Game Scoop!, ep 376, 3:27:

This is a secret Metroidvania game. In a Metroid game, you get to an area. You can’t get far. You go off to a different area. You find a power-up. (In this case, the power-ups are not items you find in the game. It’s the knowledge that you gain through working out a different set of puzzles.) You get frustrated. You go off to a different area. You learn something. You come back. Boom! You get through.

Sometimes you can “bomb-jump” your way around it by figuring out something by being clever that you got a little ahead of. Or a little more doggedness or experimentation. It’s a neat game.

A very neat game.

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Gaming likely to be big part of Obama’s $4B computer science initiative

Polygon:

Game designers know how to create engaging, fun and compelling experiences, he said. They also know how to design an experience that strikes the balance between being hard enough to push a person to learn, but not so hard that it discourages them. Finally, he said, games are great at stealth assessment.

“When you hit level 60 in World of Warcraft, you don’t then take a paper and pencil test; getting to that point is an indication that you’re good at the game,” Kalil said.

Applied to education, those design tenets can be used to create adaptive learning customized to the needs of individual students.

“You’re always going to need great teachers, but I think there are a number of ways video games can contribute,” he said. “Not only will they help with getting more students involved, it will ensure strong interest.”

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Lightning and Louis Vuitton


Teddy Dief, developer of Hyper Light Drifter and Kyoto Wild, writing for Polygon:

Square Enix — a major international video game company — thinks that the Louis Vuitton-wearing chic folk of the world might sometimes come home from their fancy parties and boot up their PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Or you know what? Their Wii U. The fashion in Splatoon is so fresh that it’s inspiring a massive fan zine.

I mean, I’m excited because this is further evidence that the world outside video game enthusiast culture is acknowledging that:

  • Games are for adults too!
  • Game players have fashion sense!
  • There are a lot of women playing games!
  • Fashionistas might be super into turn-based combat!

The stereotypes of old are toppling left and right! It’s a delicious massacre.

[…]

Imagine what could happen!

  • “Diesel to release a line of Bayonetta-inspired pants”
  • “Nintendo reveals Ralph Lauren outfit DLC for Super Smash Bros.
  • “Lululemon teams up with Hyper Light Drifter for a new line of athletic wear”

The three Final Fantasy games centered around Lightning each take an average of 37.5 hours to beat. If these Louis Vuitton designs were to become available in-game, that’s an unprecedented amout of product placement screen time.

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Demo Mode: Rise of the Tomb Raider

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In the shadow of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to say Square Enix’s 2013 Tomb Raider reboot set a bar, but it certainly showed that Square Enix has the chops to add a fair contender to the photorealistic action-adventure genre. To say it another way, if it weren’t for the lack of wit, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Nathan Drake made a cameo. That is a compliment.

Uncharted similarities aside, I imagine Tomb Raider was a welcome reboot of the franchise. Missing a chance with the original Tomb Raider series, 2013’s Tomb Raider was my first-ever jaunt with Lara Croft, and it certainly had me yearning for adventures with her. The mechanics felt nice. There were enough collectibles to make its linear nature feel a bit more open. And it was certainly gorgeous.

However, having never played the original Tomb Raider series from the late-90s, I was unfamiliar with the concept of raiding tombs. Thinking back on my play-through, the reboot had very little to do with it’s namesake. Many Tomb Raider reviews called out the lack of the core aspect of the franchise. In any case, my enjoyment with the reboot left me unquestioning of the game’s title.

Square Enix’s sequel/prequel (the trial doesn’t paint a fair picture of the timeline) Rise of the Tomb Raider appears to have a greater focus on tomb raiding. Various reviews have highlighted that this new focus paired with an open-world nature make for a compelling follow-up and something that is varied enough from the first.

During the Rise of the Tomb Raider trial, I did not have an opportunity to experience either of these aspects. It opens with the player scaling an icy and crumbing mountainside — an Uncharted 2 opening train-scene equivalent — to a lost city and a tomb within. The visuals are stunning and, like the first, the mechanics feel polished. (This coming off of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate which feel clunky to a franchise novice. A story for another post.) After entering the ruins of the lost city, the player is treated with a fairly simple puzzle of rising water and platforming. Unchallenging, but it gives the impression that this type of puzzling will be core to the remainder of the game.

The hour-long trial is ripe with cinematics: the opening, a few during the mountain climb, a flashback highlighting Lara’s father, and the ending. I’d hope that the remainder of the game strays away from the heavy-handed cinematics and quicktime events, opting to focus more on puzzling within tombs. The trial ends in a rushed cinematic with an unnamed baddie, a “shootout” with two henchmen, and a race out of the tomb before it comes crashing down.

Without relying too heavily on reviews elsewhere, the trial of Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like more of the same, albeit a bit prettier than the first title in the franchise.

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Have I Stopped Loving Video Games?

FINAL FANTASY X/X-2 HD Remaster_20150216170259 This past Christmas, I received an Xbox One. Months prior, I had joked that I wanted the console just to set it up, but probably never play it. (I get immense satisfaction out of setting up new electronics or updating existing ones.) Like every joke, there is a bit of truth to it. Who am I kidding? It wasn’t a joke at all.

The fact is, I rarely play video games anymore. When I can’t, when I’m at work, on a long drive, or otherwise, I yearn for hours with Super Mario 64. I look forward to tackling my pile of shame. But when I’m at home with a few hours to kill, instead of playing the games I do own, I’ll scour gaming sites and digital storefronts looking for something new, occasionally squandering $40-60 on a game, playing it for an hour or so and then never touching it again. (Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate) I’ll even shell out for bite sized experiences, play for a few minutes, then never open the app again. (Brothers, Lumino City)

While mulling over the notion that video games may not be for me anymore, I was struck by John Gruber in conversation with Dan Fromer on his own The Talk Show podcast:

It never occurs to me to play video games. If I time travelled back and talked to my 10, 11, 12-year-old self, I think that’d I’d have lots of good news to tell you on John Gruber. I think he’d be very happy abut his future. But I think of all the things he’d be most surprised by is that I would tell him, ‘you’re going to grow up and have the financial ability and the flexibility in your daily schedule to own and play any video game you want, for as long as you want, practically speaking. And you’re not going to.’

I think that my 12-year-old self would instantly suspect that whoever this guy is who does kind of look like me and was well cast to play the person who’s going to prank me and tell me that it’s me when I’m 42, is obviously full of shit, because there’s no chance that if I could spend four or five hours every night playing cool video games, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Times change. Do people?

As soon as I begin playing a video game, I’m struck by a massive wave of guilt. I’m not accomplishing anything. I very, very rarely feel deeply moved or impacted by the game. Come to think of it, my first and only play through of Journey (2012) may be the last meaningful experience I had with a game. Maybe the massive sea of gorgeous and groundbreaking video game releases sparks a deep desire to remain up to speed with the zeitgeist; now have the financial means to play any video game I want, I can finally hack it in schoolyard conversations about the latest and great console.

Or maybe it’s that I don’t play with other people; that the best part of video games is sharing the experience with a group of people, be it competing with others, watching other people play, or playing in front of an audience. Like books, TV, and film, maybe there is something inherently communal about video games, even single-player campaigns. I spend plenty of time reading Polygon.com, listening to gaming podcasts and soundtracks, and watching trailers and gaming related gag videos on YouTube. Maybe this auxiliary input is a misguided attempt at connecting with a community of people that can relate to the emotional ties of certain games or the awe of those games that push the medium thus technology thus society forward.

If it’s community, surely tweeting and blogging about video games would suffice for output, right? Wrong. Face-to-face personal interaction is what I’m missing. The experience and excitement of a group of people in it together. And if that’s true, the idea of engaging over an ethernet connection and microphone do not appeal to me — to be completely honest, the idea of my wife listening to a one-sided conversation while I play Destiny sounds humiliating. (Those who do enjoy online multiplayer games, please forgive my ignorance.) And if blogging about video games doesn’t satisfy childhood dreams of becoming a video journalist, maybe Zero Counts is a waste of time. (It’s not. I can’t quit you! But why, if I find it hard to play?)

Maybe it’s that I’ve recently taken to books. Last year, I read more books in a single year than ever before. Same the year before that. While I’m learning to enjoy reading, I’m learning more about the types of books I enjoy reading. More so, I’m in a pursuit to not only identify the types of books I enjoy, but a pursuit to find myself somewhere in the wealth of words out there. From presidential biographies to Pulitzer Prize fiction to Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, I’m sure something somewhere in these books will clear a little bit of this messy path called life. I’ve had a few instances of feeling truly satisfied in my career and hobbies, but that satisfaction wears off. Instead of beginning my search for what’s next when the road of satisfaction ends, spiraling into a hurricane of desperation, it’s likely a better use of my time to find and plan my next move.

While finding myself is certainly one of, if not the most important priority, another priority is having fun and experiencing new things.

Tor Bair, “Your Life Is Tetris. Stop Playing It Like Chess”:

However, life does get faster. Every day we live is a smaller percentage of our total life, and we perceive time as moving more quickly. Our responsibilities grow until tasks we should sincerely enjoy are treated as annoyances or mindless distractions.

I fell in love with video games because they seemed to open up new worlds, experiences, and fanatical and practical ideas. The fictional universe in Final Fantasy X inspired artistic benders while the innovative arch of Star Fox 64 or nemesis system of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor inspired me to rethink my own real world systems. I used to ready myself for computer science classes with 30 minutes of Picoss DS. 3D puzzlers like Myst and The Room series continue to push me to reevaluate perceived limits.

So, like books, maybe I just need to find and hone-in on the types of games I love. Maybe I need to be okay with limiting my catalog; that while there may be earth-shattering experiences in games and books I wouldn’t normally play, life is too short and expensive to take chances on something I may not enjoy. But that seems like a crappy way to live.

I’ve been playing with the idea of starting a column called “Demo Mode” on Zero Counts. Simply put, Demo Mode pieces would be game reviews of free demos. (Demo Mode: Destiny is nearly in the can.) in large part, demos are enough to experience the bulk of what I want to know about a game: the story’s foundation, visuals, and mechanics. Understanding these three bits help me feel informed amongst a community I grew up wanting to find my place in.

So maybe time is changing me. Maybe I just get more satisfaction out of marriage, family, work, and books. But in the end, my desire to want to love and play video games does not rest. Nor should it. I love tweeting and writing about games. I love reading Ben Kuchera’s opinions. I love learning about the inside of the industry from Relay FM’s wonder new podcast Remaster. I love Dave Tach’s daily updates on Minimap and Polygon’s Longform editorial about the crevasse of video games that often slip past our periphery.

But if I’m being completely honest with myself, I’m just chasing the high of booting up FFX on PS2 for the first time.

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