Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vice Verses Review

I love Switchfoot. From the time I heard them when I was 15 til now I have bought all their albums and listened to them attentively. Their lyrics have always been smart and well thought-out, from their clever "Chem 6A" (which is where my on-again off-again band, Project 6A, with CarpeGuittarem drew its name from) to their sad and lonely "The Blues", Switchfoot has been with me through many a time, developing with me. As time went on, however, I found myself not connecting as I once had with my favorite band. Jon was at a very different part of his life than I was, and while I enjoyed Hello Hurricane, the band's previous album, I felt a little isolated from it. The album lacked the intensity of the band's previous outings, and wound up sounding like U2 (which is a bit of a mortal sin in my book, considering how bland U2 usually is). So I was a bit afraid of this new album, hoping the energy would come back with this album.

I'm happy to say that it did, and then some. 

Now if any of my audience is looking for The Beautiful Letdown, I'll be happy to say this: that's never coming back. Beautiful Letdown, while a good album, doesn't have the bite of this album, and I can honestly say that it's better than Beautiful Letdown. The entire album feels like Dirty Second Hands on steroids which, if you don't know what that is, here's the song so you can get an idea!

The whole album has this feel of  looseness and rapidity, firing off songs at a breakneck pace. It's Switchfoot's most energetic album to date. And it works. Each song leads to the next smoothly, and manages to be unique without sacrificing the feel of the album. The sound in this album, while like Hello Hurricane and the previous albums, is something completely and totally its own, and further evolves the band in a positive and unique direction. 

Come to think of it, that's something that this band does really well with this album: it's a cohesive unit, with all its parts contributing to make something more. I can't imagine listening to just one of these songs without wanting to listen to at least half the album, delving into all the sounds that these guys put together. It's one of the few albums I've heard that's an actual album, as opposed to a collection of songs that just happen to be together on the same disc.

Ultimately, I have to say that Switchfoot's album is worth the listen. It's going to be different than what most people think of as "classic" Switchfoot, but let's get real: they left that four albums ago. 

And good riddance I say.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Three Things That'll Be Hopefully Up Soon

1. I've been working on iconography again, and I'll have a finished icon of Saint Luke ready to show ya'll by the end of the next week. I'm really excited to be praying into images again, and I hope you guys like what that's produced.

2. I received Vice Verses, Switchfoot's 8th album in my mailbox today. I'm voraciously listening to it, and will get back to all ya'll about it's worth.

3. I'm going to be making a new professional site for my non-iconography work soon, and I'll link ya'll to it when I get it made.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

On the Value of Nerd-dom

There's this baffling trend I've noticed amongst not only my immediate circle of friends and family, but of Americans in general: to think of nerd-dom as a phase (at best) or something to be warned against (meh) or to be condescended to (at worst). I say baffled because I've found a large amount of good in things like role-playing games, anime, and video games.

Role-Playing Games: Cooperative Creativity and Fun
I have always been blessed with an overactive imagination. I like thinking about different worlds, story lines, and people. What would happen if magic was real and a part of us, but not natural? What if magic could only be granted by other-worldly beings? What if there's no ground? How would they live? I like to think of stories for places like these. Role-playing games are a past-time where I can make these sorts of  stories with my friends and see what will happen. The sheer enjoyment of making a story without knowing where it's going, to interact with a world that's just between you and those friends, and to make moments that no one in that group is going to forget is more than worth the hefty price of the books to me. I don't play role-playing games to hide, I play because I enjoy them! And since genuine pleasure is one of the most painful things to the Devil I take great pride in doing something that's genuinely fun and enjoyable. There's also the psychological benefits of role-playing, but I'll get into that in the video game section of this post. It's sufficient to say this: role-playing can have positive effects on your psyche. But more on that later.

Anime: Actual Plot! Yay!
Most American TV is rather cliche, to be honest. Most of the programs that Americans think are entertaining I find formulaic. Two and a Half Men? Sex and the City? Most things with a laugh track (Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother excepted?) Meh. It keeps following the same bloody formula. Shows like NCIS, which could be good because of their chances for a real plot, are instead just an exercise in "who's the new sicko this week" formula. And even when they do have good premises there's such a need to explain everything that  I wonder if I'm in school during my nighttime hours, except now the info's openly worthless (Persons of Interest, I'm looking at you. What a disappointment you've been so far). And while the Japanese can be just as senseless (Bleach, Narutar- I mean, Naruto, BoBoBo-Bo-BoBoBo or whatever the hell that piece of trash is called), at least they get the chance to show real stories on TV.

The thing I look for is plot and character, and anime has that in abundance. Even when I don't like what they do with the plot and the characters (like Evangelion), I have to admit that I'd watch anything in Japan over America because they at least try to have a story more than half the time, even if I don't like the story! Evangelion was far more rewarding than most American shows I've seen in the last few years, and I disliked the anime! But this isn't because I like the culture of Japan: anime is a means to an end for me. If there's a good story that's American (Firefly, Lost, Walking Dead) of course I'll watch it. I've just come to accept that my culture really doesn't support art, and I've gone to look for it in other places. The fact that it's predominantly in Japan at the moment is of little concern to me: art is art.

Video Games, Reality, and the Power of the Mind
This is one of the most volatile questions of the day: what value, if any, do video games have? Given that some of the most memorable stories, moments, and friendships in my life have been based off of video games I'd say quite a lot. And by friendships I mean real-life ones, deeply impacting my life. My years of playing Smash Bros. with the Warriors of Light was some of the most fun I've ever had, and I still talk to those people and pray for them. My friendship with "Marty", a guy who helped save me from depression, was almost entirely based off of video games and anime, and when we talk occasionally we still discuss those things. There's a lot of value in these past times, because genuine pleasure can be involved. And considering how little genuine pleasure exists in this world I'm more than ready to accept it from whatever quarter it may appear. But enough about that. What's so cool about video games?

Let's start with the stories. Video games have a completely different take on story: You are not watching the main character, you are the main character. Instead of saying "He did the wrong thing", as you can in a movie or a novel you must defend your own actions. The fact that the actions are not real is irrelevant, because if a video game truly sucks you in then your actions are real to you, and that's what matters in this world. Don't believe me?

Psychologists have discovered that 75% of people don't really notice the world around them. They proved that with the following study. They would bring people in for a fake experiment, and give them a form to fill out (liability reasons, something like that). While they filled out the form the proctor was switched out right in front of them with someone who not only had a differently colored shirt, but a different build, and even a different voice! 3 out of 4 people who this trick was played on never noticed. I don't remember the technical name for this trick that can be played on our incredibly lazy brains, but I think it's called situational blindness. Now that's with something as simple as someone that we see in normal life. Now let's take the rest of reality: angels,demons, the constant creation of the world, the things we don't see, supernatural stuff that we still can't confirm, ghosts, Purgatory, the list can just go on and on and on and on.... all these things that we can't even comprehend, and that's before we start contemplating God Himself. So much of what we live and accept is as unreal, if not moreso, than a video game, because we think we see the complete picture! A lot of us have this silly little belief that what see is what's really going on, which is even worse than playing a video game, where you know what you're looking at can't even be real.

And you think reality's important? Ha! I pity you. Even the notion that everything has to be real is hilarious because, as just proven, you're not really experiencing reality anyway. You only think you are, which is horrifically delusional. Besides, if reality was such an important concept to salvation why didn't Christ talk about it? All He asked is that you love others  as yourself. And that's where things get sticky.

We can now delve into the problems of psychology and spirituality with this delusion of the necessity of reality. Most spiritual directors and works that I've consulted have said that the power of visualizing your victory over a vice is very important, even if you're not actually doing that action at that particular moment.  The reality of the situation is not important, but the thoughts and intentions that are being used. Heck, it's been more or less proved that our mental health is the primary basis of our physical health. What we think about determines how healthy we are, no matter how unreal it may be.

Still a bit on the fence? Fine. There's a famous case in family therapy called The February Man. A therapist was treating a woman who was suffering from horrid depression. When the therapist got her to talk about her childhood, he found that she didn't have a single good memory of her childhood. Not even a little one that made her smile, not even that. It just wasn't there. The therapist grew desperate as he treated this woman, and realized that unless he could get her to have a positive memory this woman wasn't going to make it.

So he made one up.

He hypnotized the woman into "recovering" a memory about someone she dubbed The February Man. This man was a friend of her father's, who showed up every February. Whenever he did he brought small candies and treats. He never said anything directly to her, but his small acts of kindness were enough. The woman got significantly better, and pulled herself out of depression to lead a fulfilling life.

Was that real? Hell no. Was that immoral? I honestly don't know. The woman got better and led a wonderful life afterward, which is the entire point of therapy, so it worked. But the man intentionally lied to her and abused the sanctity of her mind to do it. And yet this can be considered a valid form of therapy, and (as far as I know) he didn't lose his license for such an act.

Video games can have a very similar effect, which I've got personal proof of. I still feel the effects of playing Mass Effect and being the good guy. Part of my conception of how to be a good man comes from playing that game and doing the best I can. The fact that I didn't actually give an alien race called the rachni a chance to thrive again because they wanted a second chance is irrelevant. I forgave, and that'll figure into my psyche much later.That seems to be pretty positive to me.

So let me be very clear: having the interests of a nerd is not a phase, it's not something to grow out of when I'm ready to have a family, and it's not potentially damning to my soul. Even insinuating these things suggest a radical ignorance of the subject matter at hand, and (even more disturbing) a tendency to just write off something because it's different. So what if I sit around with people and roll dice, watch cartoons from another country, and most of my shooting experience comes from playing Mass Effect and Halo? It's different, sure. It's also new (1970's at the earliest), but so what? Not very long ago so were plays, High Renaissance art, and a funny religion called Christianity. You should hear the things said about them. I mean, haven't you heard? Christians drown their babies, eat their God, and are a dangerous cult against the state.  Sound familiar?

Friggin' baby-drowners. What right have they to judge anybody?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Thougtht On Running Games

"Nate, where's all the stuff you've promised to write up for us?"

.... OK, so no one's asking that. But that would be nice. I do have a Mortal Kombat review in mind (not that anyone cares), so for those of you who do care hold on, I'm enjoying playing the game. Yes, it's a good game and deserves your money. But that's not what I wanted to write about today.

One of the concerns of running an RPG (yes, paper and pencil) with levels is "what level are you trying to play to?" For most players of 4th edition, the answer is usually the big 3-0: level 30. It's sort of a holy grail for 4th edition players to get as far as level 30, nevermind epic tier.*Most people dream of playing from levels 1-30, and yet always peter out around level 10, for a very simple reason: That's five months of gameplay on one story. That's a pretty long time to visit the same story week-in, week-out, and most people in our ADD-esque culture are to be commended for even thinking about the same thing that amount of time. The solution?

It's not very original, nor is it groundbreaking: take a break.

Yeah, you heard me. Start a new campaign, with someone else DM'ing if possible. Save the character sheets, and do this "other campaign" for awhile, perhaps six months. If the characters are "supposed" to go to 30th level and if you like the characters that much then the story will continue. My old highschool group ran very similar characters for five years, sometimes not even bothering to switch the names around. We constantly did variations on this one character, so much so that we actually nicknamed each other for that particular character (my name was Xenith for quite a while). If we'd actually thought about it we would have just shelved the characters and come back whenever we felt like it, which was about once a every year for a half year. Besides, most people only ever make one to three truly different characters (in my 7 year experience, anyway), so why not capitalize on it?

*While I have very little experience with games that have no levels (such as World of Darkness), I'd imagine that the same holds true for those types of games: every five to six months the players will need a re-set of some sort.