Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More notes on super soap operas

I especially like that 52 and Heroes use lots of minor super heroes.

It's often hard to sympathize with paragon characters like Batman (a mortal dude who can outwit the Man of Steel), Superman (the very definition of uber), the Flash, or Wonder Woman. Minor super heroes have the benefit of being familiar (they've been in the comics for years) yet more vulnerable. You can feel the tension of their interactions more.

Heroes, I think, handles the familiarity issue not only by being an ongoing show (you meet the same characters week after week), but by giving most of the characters broad powers: everybody knows what telepathy and invisibility are about. The weird powers, like absorbing other people's powers, super hearing, and turning metal to liquid, were either given to characters with lots of screen time, allowing viewers to familiarize themselves with the characters over time, or very little screen time, making it a non-issue.

I'm sure somebody has commented about this before, but Clark Kent, in the context of having lost his powers in 52, if a much more interesting character than Superman.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not only can't you go home again...

It's not even on the same spot you left it, usually. I went to my 20 year high school reunion this past weekend.

I was mildly excited. More than that, I was amused by the reaction I got from friends, coworkers, my wife.

"You're going to your high school reunion? Why?" Nobody else I talked to wanted to revisit high school.

For me, though, there were a bunch of whys. The foremost is that I hadn't been to a high school reunion before. And I was curious. What's all the fuss about? What are my contemporaries like? It's fun to catch up with old friends sometimes.

Another reason that I wanted to go was that I've been thinking of doing some autobiographical writing. I'm wondering how to go about the process of getting material. My memory is no good for my wayward youth (too many latex star wars figure fumes or something).

Lastly, this was the first time I was close enough to take advantage of one of these things. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be interested later on. So I decided I was going to this one.

You can probably get the idea that I felt pretty detached from the whole thing on the surface. It was an excercise in curiosity. Science.

I wasn't even sure who I might meet. I couldn't remember which of my high school friends was actually in my class! I hung around with alot of people both older and younger than me. I had to scan the class directory to pick up most of the names that I should recognize.

I did have some nerves, but I couldn't pinpoint a reason for them, so I ignored them. I was most ambivalent about spending $75 a ticket and having no fun at all (cheap, cheap, cheap). I convinced myself that it was valuable as a research trip.

The food was steam table fare. They had an open bar, which served us well (not too well... I was driving). It was pretty crowded. Out of a class of nearly six hundred, about half of them turned up.

The real surprises were not in the people. As far as I can tell, only one person showed up who I had any signicant relationship with. That was a childhood friend that I didn't actually hang out in high school. Like many of my boyhood friends, we'd drifted apart when I just failed to get interested in sports or girls at the right age. He looked good though, I have to say. He looked like his dad, whom I remember as a nice guy.

I also briefly spoke with a woman who had been kind of crappy to my sister and I in high school. She looks like the stereotype of a middle age real estate agent now, which is too bad. I remember her as being kind of menacing and hot, and it's a shame when that kind of cartoony lovlieness gives way to the law of thermodynamics.

Of old girlfriends and people I'd gamed with I saw not a one. It was disappointing. But my crowd of geeks and gamers and loners are probably still not reunion types in their heart of hearts.

Some people were really stoked to be there. Some were meeting old friends and reliving old rivalries.

But not me. It wasn't useful for what I'd hoped it would be. No memories to mine. No real comparisons could be made. Ruby and I ate and chatted. Everybody we spoke to was very nice. Circulating was difficult because of the layout of the tables. I got tired, and couldn't make the effort to chat in a loud, crowded room.

Still, I came away feeling strangely bouyant the next day. The things I found interesting were, as is usually the case, extrememly tangental.

It interested me to see faces that I remembered in larval form as adults. I think everybody could use that reminder from time to time. Life moves on, and so should you. Really. Move, now.

Second, a nice guy whose name I remembered introduced me to his wife as "one of the smartest guys in their class." Which is weird, because my GPA was distinctly sub-par. I didn't realize that black nail polish, john lennon glasses, and fringed leather jackets made that kind of an impression on people.

Lastly, the class directory interested me a lot. Looking through it that night and later the next day, it seemed to confirm some basic statistics of life for me: most of my class that said something about what they were doing had pretty safe and conventional lives. Some were mildly unconventional (like me). A couple of them did really wild things. Kudos, by the way, to the teacher chick who wrote, under Highlights/Interests:

co-director of CNUSD Unity Camps which guide mis-guided, racist, abused, drug-addicted, gang affiliated, fundamentalist, heterosexist, misogynistic, special and AP/IB educated, chubby, athletic, physically challenged , and well-adjusted high school students to understand, accept, respect, support, and love one another.

You rock, baby.

The class directory thing probably sounds weird to many people. But: I find it comforting that the economics of the world are so reliable. I wish we were all the strangest confections of our imaginations. But I don't think that many other people wish for the same thing. It is easy, and probably healthful, to work within the system. Especially when its one as wealthy as the United States.

I wish I found it easy and healthful.

Anyways, I felt bad for leaving after only two and a half hours. I could have had other nice conversations. But I was very tired, and I realized those weren't the people I really wanted to have nice conversations with. And in, fact, I already know the people I want to have them with, and I know where I can go spelunking for others.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What My Kid Learns Playing Arcade Games

There always seems to be a lot in the popular press about what terrible things video games are: they waste time, make you fat, and cause kids to shoot up schools.

The scholarly press seems have a different view in general. Games can be used for training (the army, second life), exercise (dance dance revolution), and encourage cooperation and give them community (massive multiplayers).

Here's something that struck me while I was playing a game with my daughter the other day: do video games help you learn real life skills?

Sometimes, when I go home after work, and I want to spend time with my kid and don't want to re-enact Pokemon battles, we color. Sometimes, we play games. Given the number of posts on this site about playing games, that should surprise no-one. We play card games: War, and Go Fish, and Uno, and Old Maid. We've played Candyland. We play a cheaty, kid version Scrabble. The benefits of Scrabble are probably obvious: it reinforces spelling, a practical and immediately applicable skill.

War, however, I found to boost her understanding of, and speed at, matching value. Old Maid, Uno, and Go Fish are all matching games, improving pattern recognition. In addition, they teach order of operations and patience. She is much better than when she began at doing chores in their proper order. I think it may have made our mornings easier, as she has gotten used to standardizing processes.

Sometimes, we play video games. She has watched both Mumma and Daddy play MMPORGs. She likes the action. But with her, we've played some kid online games, and a bunch of arcade: Bejeweled, Supercollapse, I Spy. My favorite is what she calls the Fishy Game, or Feeding Frenzy.

In Feeding Frenzy, you play a little fish that eats littler fish. As you complete a level, you get bigger, and eat bigger fish. You have to avoid obstacles, and avoid getting eaten by the bigger fish.

This could be construed as violent, I suppose. Nature is violent, but not in this obviously cartoony, scaling power kind of way. It's not realistic.

But I remember that when we started playing, she would pass the game to me when she got scared of a level (we take turns). She would return to the lower levels again and again. As I encouraged her, she stopped taking the "death" of her fishy game avatar too seriously. Now, when her fish, gets eaten, she says, "that's okay, I don't care."

I still get upset when my fishy gets eaten. The pupil surpasses the master.

This last time we were playing, she kept forgetting to pass the mouse to me on my turn. She kept going up and up levels, through levels that she used to shy away from. She was really good at this silly little arcade game, picking up skills that I still had trouble with, like sneaking up on the squids to eat them before they squirted her with ink.

When she did pass me my turn, she kept hassling me. "Are you sure you don't want me to play this level, Daddy? Here, let me do it. You're going to get busted."

It was great.

I wonder if this experience applies to real life. Is she learning anything about appropriate risk taking? She is certainly learning confidence. Some studies would say video games are good for hand-eye coordination. I personally think she is learning real world skills, and it makes me happy. Because I like the video games, too. I'll be sad when she moves past arcade games to consol games. Those just go right over my head.