Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmastime Rhymes

What is it about this time of year?
Sane people lose it, go crazy, I fear.
The roads are jam-packed with trucks and with cars,
but none of them go very fast or get far.
Their pilgrimage leads to their Mecca - a mall.
Capitalism reigns within these hallowed halls.

Sixty minutes to find a spot, by the curb some just stop.
Yet no one has been shot in the lot for a spot.

There is a clearing in the haze. Before Christmas, just 3 days!
Gifts unbought? In a hurry? Hit the mall, it's open early.
8 am is the time to shop. It's so quiet, you'll hear a pin drop.

People are few and the stores are uncluttered.
A few moments before they were all shuttered.
Standing in center court is a scene so surreal,
I feel I've walked into a movie reel.

The muzak echoes and escalators hum.
In under an hour my shopping is done!
No parking fiascoes, no fighting the crowd.
"How lucky am I," I wonder aloud.

Now it's off to work in dawn's bright light.
Merry Christmas to all? You got that right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sunday Fun

It's Sunday, I'm in Denver, and the Broncos have a home game. I don't have tickets, yet, but that's not gonna stop me.

As the date for our trip to Denver drew closer, my time to get a ticket to the Broncos game grew shorter. Before I knew it, we were landing in Denver. Oh well, it's just a game, right? I'll just catch it on television. That was my rationale, until our hotel shuttle pulled up to the Red Lion to drop someone off. The Red Lion is directly behind Invesco Field at Mile High, abutting the fence to the parking lot. It was that moment, sitting in that van, that I resolved to attend the game that weekend.

How could I not? I grew up in Southwest Louisiana. Football in my town is like a second church. You attend the South Cameron game on Friday night and go to God's church on Saturday or Sunday, depending on your faith. Growing up in Lousiana means that you're a Saints fan first, but you've gotta have a backup team that's actually gonna have a chance to win. For a few years, it was the Broncos, with Elway at the helm. The legends that played in those days are long since retired, and so is the field they played on, but their history is thick in the thin air of the Mile High City. It would be sacreligious to miss a game here.

Sunday dawns bright and clear. The plan is to make my way to the stadium, soak up some of the tailgating atmosphere, and score a ticket for a reasonable price. Completing that final goal would be tricky, since I'm not the most street-wise person.

Foot traffic is light on the streets as I utilize public transit to get to Invesco. At the light rail station I run into a group of fans from both teams. The Bronco fans are locals, of course, and the Pat fans traveled all the way from New York. Good natured trash talk between these friends helps make a short trip even shorter.

Soon after disembarking I run into my first scalper. For those who don't know, these can be identified by the laminated signs that read "I Need Tickets" on one side with a seating chart of the venue on the other. This particular gentleman informs me that I might be able to get an upper deck "nosebleed" seat for $100 or so, but I wouldn't be able to get one from him for that "cheap" at this time. My near-eidetic memory of the ticketmaster website calls shenanigans on this so I tell him I'll call him later and head for the parking lot, and some authentic NFL tailgating.

Following my instincts and using my photographer's eye for characters, I soon spot the folks who will become my hosts for the day. Intending to just snap a few shots and move on, I ask them if they would mind? "Of course not," they respond. "Where are you from?" The answer draws looks of sympathy, but I quickly tell them that I'm not an evacuee, but here by choice. Less than a minute after saying hello I find a beer in my hand and an invitation to make myself at home.

That isn't hard to do. I've traveled across several states only to find all the comforts of home, fried turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and a couple coolers full of light beer. The view isn't bad either. No one has a ticket for me, but they assure me that I will be able to find one closer to game time for face value. Ten minutes later, a cool cat named Rob hangs up his cell and tells me that he might have a line on a ticket for me. Another ten confirms it, and the turkey is done. Fried turkey in one hand, a beer in the other, and good people to share the fun with... life is good.

The game is a good one, and the fans are great. A family from New England is scattered around us, with the patriarch next to me, but they don't get heckled too badly by the Bronco fans. It's a great game that keeps everyone in their seat until the final tick of the clock, with the Broncos picking up the win.

After bidding Rob goodbye, and asking him to pass my thanks on to everyone at the post-game party, I begin my trek back to my wife...and dinner. It's been a great day and I have memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to the Mile High Fryers, and the City of Denver, for making my trip one of the best vacations I've had in a long time.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Games and Gamers

What is it about video games that they draw the fire of so many people? In this day and age it seems as if everyone is trying to blame games for everything wrong in the world.

I have grown up in the information age. This means that I haven't known a time without television, telephones, or video games. I've seen computers go from room-filling mainframes to pocket PCs. One constant in these last 27 years has been the flickering entertainment of games. Playing a home version of Pong is one of my earliest memories. It's practically prehistoric by today's standards, but it is still one of the most pure experiences of gaming. Then Atari swept the nation with its home console. While I didn't have one, I had friends that did, and I logged many hours playing alongside them.

Of course a trip to the mall meant that I would go to the arcade. It didn't matter if I had money or not. I could enjoy just watching others play as much as playing. Well, almost. The allure of the cavernous space filled with the hulking cabinets and faces illuminated by the blue glow of the screens was impossible to ignore. Not to mention the cacophany of sound eminating from the games and gamers alike. I still visit them today, but they are not the same. The power of home consoles has grown so much that the games are actually better at home than in the arcade. That was one of the reasons for paying to play them at the arcade - the graphics were better than what you could get at home, due to dedicated hardware made specifically to run that game. Another reason was the competitive atmosphere, whether competing against the game, your own score, or the person standing next to you.

Atari gave way to Nintendo, and the world would be changed forever. The Nintendo Entertainment System stands as a tour de force in gaming history. It's only real competion was the Sega Master System, but most people only remember the NES. Many historic franchises began here: Zelda, Metroid and Metal Gear are but a few.

Nintendo has long been known as the name in family friendly games. They even went so far as to have the blood removed from Mortal Kombat. For those who don't know, MK is the game that more or less started the whole violence arguement. Nearly everyone has at least heard about the move that allows a player to rip out his opponent's spine. The first time I played it I knew it was a unique experience in gaming. There had been fighting games before, but none that looked or played like this. Certainly none had the gallons upon gallons of blood.

And so we flash forward to today. The violence debate has been raging for over 10 years, and it has borne fruit. We now have a ratings system for games created by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Every advertisement for a game has its rating, and they are printed on the game's packaging. Currently I'm looking at the box for Conker: Live and Reloaded for Xbox, a game rated M for mature and proud of it. Along with the ESRB rating, displayed both front and back, it has a large warning on the front that says it's not for anyone under age 17. Some say that the ratings don't give enough information about the game's content, but I would disagree. On the back of Conker's box, right next to the rating, is what it's rated for, which would be blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, sexual themes, strong language, and use of drugs and alcohol. Any person who looks at this box and actually checks the rating should have no doubt as to what this game contains.

If a parent buys this game for their eight-year-old, they have only themselves to blame.

A quick check of some older games shows the same method of ratings. I was surprised that some of these games were even rated! I thought at least one or two of them weren't, but it was there in black and white, with a description. Only recently has the film rating system become this complete, but I'm not sure it's applied across the board, unlike the ESRB ratings.

Some call these M-rated games an assault on the nation's children. If video games were only played by children that might be so, but I am proof that the same people who played Pac-Man years ago have grown up to play Grand Theft Auto today. I have matured, and my games have matured with me. I am in agreement that retailers should take more responsibility in selling games. Should they wait for a law to tell them to check someone's ID before selling them a game? I don't think so, but I'm not sure there should be a law, either. I rarely get checked when buying alcohol or going to an R-rated movie, but it still happens on occasion. I don't have a problem with it, because they are doing their job, and it is just a few seconds out of my day.

It is also theorized that the violent behavior depicted in a game is learned by those playing it who then act out that behavior in real life. This could be true, but it is more likely that the individuals who do this are just screwed up and would get their inspiration from a book or movie just as easily as from a game. They call these games murder simulators. I concede that you can learn by simulation, but it is still up to the individual to know right from wrong, which is why it all comes back to proper parenting and being a well-adjusted member of society. These games are fantasy, not real life.

In the end it all comes down to parents taking an active role in raising their children. Parents must make themselves aware of what their children are watching, reading, and experiencing. These attempts at banning the sale of mature-rated games are a waste of taxpayer money. Good parenting cannot be legislated. This money could be better spent educating parents about how to properly raise their children. A start would be teaching them about the rating system, which can be found at www.esrb.org.