Human Interaction Sucks

I hear a lot of whining about how technology is ruining the way humans interact with each other, and frankly, I think that’s crap. This is something I’ve been irritated by for awhile, and I finally decided to write about it because of a typically whiny blog post I saw the other day. Basically, this person is 100% wrong about everything, and I am going to tell you exactly why.

First, some background. Last week, the news broke that the bookstore chain Borders was going to be liquidated. This sparked all kinds of discussion on the ol’ interwebs about whether or not the demise of Borders could be blamed on the rise of ebooks. The blog post that triggered my irritation took the position that Borders was indeed killed by ebooks, and the author was lamenting this fact. Not because Borders was so wonderful, but because bookstores in general are wonderful. Which they are, so I guess this person isn’t wrong about EVERYTHING, but she is wrong about almost everything.

First of all, ebooks are pretty much superior in every way to paper books. Ebooks are generally cheaper, they’re easier to obtain, and they take up a minimal amount of digital bits rather than physical space on a book shelf. As the owner of a small house, this last point cannot be emphasized enough. I had pretty much given up on buying books for years before I got a Kindle, in large part because I’ve run out of places to put them. Now, all of my books can live on my Kindle, and if my Kindle ever gets full, then my extra books can live in the cloud. Eventually, I plan to replace all of my paper books with ebooks, and then I’ll really have some extra space in my house.

The author of this post makes a big deal out not being able to touch an ebook. Seriously? Who fracking gives a crap? I hate holding books. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve found the actual act of holding a book in order to read it to be obnoxious and annoying. Books are heavy and awkward to hold. Why would I want to carry a big, heavy pile of dead tree around when I can carry a thin piece of plastic instead?

Besides, when I go on a trip, I used to have to bring a whole bunch of books with me or else risk running out of things to read. Usually this meant I ended up with a big pile of books that I never touched, because I always overestimated the number of books I could read. But with a Kindle, this isn’t an issue, because I can take my entire collection of books with me wherever I go. So eat that, dead trees!

So anyway, the next thing I take issue with in this blog post is this person’s assertion that the demise of bookstores means the demise of people talking about books. What? I mean, WHAT? I don’t understand why conversations about books can only take place in the confines of a bookstore. See, there’s this little thing that was just invented. Maybe the author of this post has heard of it before. It’s called THE INTERNET!! It’s probably the most powerful communication tool ever invented by humankind. Why in the world does this person think that people couldn’t possibly talk about books on the internet?

This speaks to my greater irritation with this person and people like her. So many people seem to think that the rise of the internet will lead to or is leading to the death of human interaction. Are you fracking kidding me? If anything, the internet is AIDING human interaction. The internet opens the doors to a level of quantity and quality of interaction with other humans that pre-internet generations could only dream about. Heck, the only reason I have a WIFE is because of the internet. I lack the social skills and knowledge necessary to interact with average females in a face-to-face manner, but thanks to the internet I was able to woo my future spouse and keep my awkward social failings a secret from her until she was already thoroughly in love with me. I wholeheartedly believe that I would still be single and living in my parents’ basement if it wasn’t for the internet.

Now, the title of my post implies that I place very little value on interacting with other humans, which is true, but it’s not really the point I’m trying to get across here. It’s really more of a provocative title chosen to attract interest and drive traffic to my blog. My point is more that even if you do derive some value from human interaction, you shouldn’t be worrying about the internet killing it.

I guess the problem is whether or not you value face-to-face interaction more highly than other forms of human interaction. Because there’s probably some truth to the idea that the growth of the internet has negatively impacted face-to-face human interaction. But I believe that it has had a positive influence on human interaction in general. I’ve been able to use the internet to interact with a wide range of other humans whom I NEVER would have interacted with otherwise. Not only that, but I can and do use the internet to keep up interactions with people I met face-to-face but can no longer interact with face-to-face because we now live in wildly differing physical locations.

I just think that all this stuff about the internet and technology ruining things and making life sad or whatever is pure nonsense. People are just afraid of change. Which I get. Look, I’m as terrified of change as anybody. I eat the exact same breakfast and the exact same lunch every single day, for crying out loud. But to be afraid of change just for the sake of being afraid of change is silly. Technology isn’t ruining anything. Just accept that the world is changing and enjoy the ride. At the very least, you’ll have a lot of extra space in your house.

Abandon Ship!

So, I’ve pretty much decided to give up on video games. Yes, I know that comes as a bit of a surprise, considering I just finished a 10 week series on my favorite video games of all time. But that series is actually part of the reason why I’ve come to this decision. I spent so much time writing and thinking about video games that I’m thoroughly sick of them now. It’s time to focus on something else.

I’m just kidding, of course. Not about giving up on video games, but about the reason why I’m giving up on video games. There’s actually a multitude of reasons, but that series did get me thinking about video games a lot. I thought about the games I have played, the games I want to play, and what it is about video games that I may or may not enjoy.

There are a variety of factors that have led to this decision, but I suppose I should begin by explaining in more detail what this decision actually is. At one point, I had contemplated selling all of my video games and never playing video games again, but I dismissed that idea as too drastic. Instead, I’m going to keep the games I have, but I’m more or less not going to buy any new ones. I also feel no obligation to play any of the games I have, although I can play them if I want to.

The reason I have to consciously tell myself that I have no obligation to play the games I own is also part of the reason why I’m giving up on video games. My OCD-addled brain has been driving me nuts for over two years now, pestering me to finally get to the point where I’ve finished every game I own. It’s a little difficult to enjoy a video game when there’s a nagging voice in the back of your head saying “You MUST play this game and finish it whether you like it or NOT!” So if I keep telling myself that it doesn’t matter if I finish all my games, maybe I can actually focus on playing games that I enjoy.

Which leads into the second reason why I’m giving up on video games. I just don’t seem to enjoy them any more. It seems like every game I’ve played lately makes me think, “Why am I playing this? I’m not having any fun.” Maybe that means I just need to try playing different games. And maybe I will do that at some point. I’ve been playing a lot of JRPGs lately, and I just don’t seem to enjoy them anymore. They’re so slow paced and time consuming. On the other hand, I played Gears of War 2 recently, and I enjoyed that immensely. Maybe I just need to focus more on shorter, flashier games.

This would help with the third reason I’m giving up on video games, which is that I just don’t have time to play them anymore. Part of that is because I have two kids. It’s difficult to sit and play video games for eight hours straight when you have two small children that need to be fed and played with and stuff. Plus, a lot of the games I play are pretty violent, and I don’t really want my kids to see that kind of thing, so I can’t really play games when they’re awake. Plus, even if I did miraculously have an uninterrupted stretch of eight free hours, I don’t think I’d fall asleep if I tried to play video games that whole time. But even with all of that, I think I’d be fine if video games were my ONLY hobby.

The real problem is that there’s just so many other things that I enjoy in addition to video games. Books, movies, TV shows, music… all of these things require time to enjoy, and there’s just so blasted many of them. The more time I spend on video games, the less I can spend on these other interests. And the more I spend on other interests, the less I can spend on video games. I simply don’t have enough free time to give all of these hobbies a decent share of it, so I needed to give up at least one of them to keep myself sane.

My decision was simple in the end. It was simply a matter of deciding which hobby of mine I was enjoying the least. As much as I’ve enjoyed video games in the past, I just don’t enjoy them all that much any more. Video games have just gotten too complicated. I don’t mean that they’re technically complicated or that the gameplay is too complicated or anything like that. I just mean that the process of turning on the TV, turning on a video game console, putting the disc in it, navigating to the actual gameplay part, playing the game, and then doing the whole thing in reverse when I’m done is just too much of a hassle. I know that sounds kind of lazy, but when the alternative is laying on the couch with my Kindle, or going to Netflix on my laptop or iPod and watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica, the hoops I have to jump through to play a video game are just too much. Besides, I can’t play a video game while laying on the couch.

So I’m saying goodbye to video games for now. It may be a temporary goodbye, or I may find that I really don’t miss them at all. It’s a bit bittersweet to think of the possibility of never playing video games ever again, but considering how frequently my tastes in hobbies seem to shift, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m writing a blog post about my new favorite video game in a few weeks. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I can’t ever seem to commit to any one hobby for very long.

I Love My Kindle

For the first time in several weeks I find myself back in the position of having to think of a topic to write about. 10 weeks ago I came up with the brilliant idea of writing about my 10 favorite video games. This ensured that for 10 weeks, I would have my blog topic already picked out every week. This was lovely, but at the same time I got a little spoiled. Now that I’ve finished my series on my 10 favorite video games, I have no idea what I want to write about.

Oh, I just thought of something! I got a Kindle for my birthday, so I’ll write about that!

The Kindle, in case you don’t already know, is an ebook reader designed and sold by Amazon. It’s the first ebook reader to really achieve mainstream success, and it did so with a combination of affordability and ease-of-use. Actually, it was probably just the ease-of-use that propelled it to its earliest successes, considering that the original Kindle was not particularly affordable when it came out in November 2007. (It cost $399 at launch.) But the price has dropped fairly rapidly, so that the Kindle I bought a couple of months ago only cost me $114. At that price, it’s practically an impulse purchase, at least as far as sophisticated consumer electronic devices go.

As far as ease-of-use goes, the Kindle is pretty much a master class in how to make a device simple and convenient. First of all, the screen. The Kindle uses an e-ink screen that is designed to look as close to ink printed on paper as a computer screen can look. This sort of screen does have some limits. It’s fairly low-resolution, so pictures look rather blurry. And it’s only black and white, so forget about reading, say, comic books on a Kindle. But what it does do well is mimicking the look of ink printed on paper. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but it’s close enough that I barely notice the difference.

As for actually getting content onto a Kindle, that couldn’t possibly be easier. Originally, the Kindle was only available with a 3G cellular data connection. In a way, this was awesome, because the connection was free, and this meant that you could browse the Kindle Store and download new books from virtually anywhere. However, there were those rare people (like me) who lived in a place so out of the way that Amazon’s copious 3G coverage didn’t reach. So the third generation Kindle included Wi-Fi in addition to 3G, and they also introduced a Wi-Fi only version. This version was (and is) $50 cheaper than the normal 3G Kindle.

Amazon makes it almost too easy to buy content for your Kindle. Once you go to the Kindle store and go to the information page for a book, all you have to do is click “Buy” and the book automatically starts downloading to your Kindle. It is quite easy to accidentally click Buy, but fortunately if you do click it by accident, you can click on “bought by accident” and the transaction will automatically be cancelled.  Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as satisfying as sitting on the couch, thinking “Hmmm… I just remembered a really good book I once read. I wonder if it’s on the Kindle”, going to the Kindle store on my Kindle, finding the book, buying it, and reading it, all in a matter of minutes.

Another great thing about the Kindle, and this is largely due to the e-ink screen I mentioned earlier, is its fantastic battery life. Amazon claims that it will last up to two months on a single charge. Personally, it usually only lasts about a week and a half for me, but I leave the Wi-Fi antenna on all the time and use it almost constantly, so that’s still pretty fantastic. Considering I have to charge my iPod Touch daily, a week and a half between charges seems like almost an eternity.

The best feature about the Kindle, though, is probably its ubiquity. Amazon makes Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7. Any Kindle content that you buy can be synced to any device that you own that has a Kindle app on it. Even better, Amazon has something that they call Whispersync. This means that if you stop reading a book on one device and then pick it up on another, the second device will know exactly where you left off. So I can read a book on my Kindle, take a break, and then pick up my iPod later and continue reading right where I left off. It’s a lovely feature, for sure.

There are currently five different versions of the Kindle device. There is the regular-size Kindle, and then there’s the extra-large Kindle DX. The Kindle DX only comes in one version, but there are four separate versions of the regular Kindle. You can get it with 3G and Wi-Fi, or you can get one that’s Wi-Fi only. Additionally, you can get it with Special Offers, or without. The 3G Kindle costs $189, the 3G Kindle with Special Offers costs $164, the Wi-Fi Kindle costs $139, and the Wi-Fi Kindle with Special Offers costs $114.

Special Offers is something that seems annoying and dumb at first, but in reality is a fantastic idea. Basically a Kindle with Special Offers has ads, while regular Kindles don’t. Now this sounds horrible in theory, but in fact the ads are very unobtrusive (they only appear on the main menu and when the device is turned off) and they are very often quite useful. Plus the Kindles with Special Offers are $25 cheaper than those without. So that’s a pretty nice deal.

Anyway, if you like reading, you should probably get a Kindle. I suppose you could always get a different ebook reader, but as far as I can tell, the Kindle has the biggest library, so it is my choice. And of course, books you buy from Kindle don’t work on a different ebook reader, so I’m pretty much locked in for life. Oh well.

My Favorite Video Games, Pt. 10

Well, we’ve made it. We are at the end. This is the last post in my series about the ten greatest video games of all time. Here, you will discover the absolute pinnacle of video game development. The very best video game that has ever been made. This game is…. Fallout 3.

Surprised? I thought you might be. I’ve noticed that pretty much every game in my top 10, aside from Half-Life 2, was made by either Nintendo or Square. So it seems logical that my favorite game of all time would be made by Nintendo or Square. And yet, Fallout 3 is the game that blows past all of the competition to take the lead as the best video game ever made.

Now, Fallout 3 is by no means the perfect video game. It has some flaws, some pretty major flaws in fact. And yet, when you’re actually playing the game, none of these flaws matter. It is an utterly engrossing experience that simply has no equal among any of the video games that I have ever played.

I should probably do some stage-setting. First, a little history. The Fallout series began in 1997, with the release of the original Fallout for PC. A sequel, Fallout 2, quickly followed in 1998. Both of these games were highly critically acclaimed, but unfortunately they did not sell all that well. This led to tensions between the developer, Black Isle Studios, and the publisher, Interplay. Ultimately this meant that Van Buren, a project that was meant to become Fallout 3, was cancelled. The Fallout franchise thus languished for several years until it was obtained by Bethesda Softworks, a video game publisher/developer best known for the epic PC RPG franchise The Elder Scrolls. (Small side note: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, narrowly missed out on being included on this list.)

When Bethesda announced that they were working on Fallout 3, there was a lot of concern that it wouldn’t capture the spirit of the first two games. Especially after the game was shown off, a lot of people feared that Fallout 3 would simply be The Elder Scrolls with guns. Fortunately, the developers at Bethesda were determined to make their game as much a proper sequel to the first two games as possible.

Fallout 3 takes place in an alternate reality where American culture didn’t change after about 1950 or so, but technology advanced much more rapidly than in real life. Basically, the Fallout world takes place in the future that people in the 1950s envisioned, only with a twist. The twist being that in 2077, a nuclear war took place between China and the United States that basically destroyed human civilization. Fallout 3 takes place in the year 2277, in a place called the Capital Wasteland, which used to be called Washington, D.C.

You begin the game by naming your character and choosing his or her look. Your character begins his or her life in Vault 101, an underground haven that people went to in order to survive when the bombs started dropping 200 years earlier. Supposedly, no one has ever left or entered Vault 101 since the nuclear war, so when your character’s father mysteriously disappears from the vault, all hell breaks loose. Your character is soon forced to leave the Vault as well in order to track down his or her father, and so the adventure begins.

The great thing about Fallout 3 (and presumably the first two Fallout games) is that you have near-complete freedom to play the game however you want. Do you want to be an angel of mercy and a hero to the whole Wasteland? You got it. Do you want to be a horrible villain who obliterates all enemies and rules over the Wasteland with an iron fist? Go for it. Would you rather remain aloof from the petty struggles of the various factions in the Wasteland and let them fight it out amongst themselves? Well, you can do that too. Every choice you make has a consequence, and will push you one way or the other along the path to good or evil.

Here’s an example of the drastically different paths that one decision can send you on in this game. More than likely, the first place you will come to after you leave Vault 101 is the town of Megaton. Megaton is so named because it is built in a crater formed by the impact of an unexploded nuclear bomb. 200 years later, the bomb is still there, and it is still live, and so the town lives under the constant strain of knowing that a nuclear explosion could annihilate them all at any moment.

You have three options here. You could ignore it and go on your way. You could disarm it and be lavishly rewarded by the grateful inhabitants of Megaton. Or you could rig it to blow, and wipe Megaton off the map. Why would you want to do this? Well, there’s a crazy Englishman named Alistair Tenpenny who rules over a hoity-toity community called Tenpenny Tower, and he has decided that Megaton is a nasty blight on the beautiful landscape of the Capital Wasteland, so it needs to be destroyed. One of Tenpenny’s agents approaches you, and offers to reward you richly if you will rig the nuclear bomb to blow up.

You could also just blow up the bomb for the heck of it, if you want. Being a sadistic jerk is always an option in this game.

It’s the freedom of choice, the fact that your choices have serious consequences, and the sheer vastness of scale and scope that make this game so great. Like I said, it’s not perfect. Character animation is stiff and awkward. There are a large number of bugs and glitches. But these things ultimately don’t matter, because the total package is just so masterful.

When it comes down to it, Fallout 3 is my favorite game of all time, because if I could only play one game for the rest of my life, it would be this one. There’s just so much to do in this game that I’m not sure I would ever get bored.

And that’s that! I hope you enjoyed reading about the 10 greatest video games of all time as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Next week’s topic is a mystery!