On video game culture: Enough with the sellouts

This column first appeared in the Aug. 1 Herald and News as “Cheap gaming renditions makes one an ‘angry bird’.”

People I know often associate me with video games.

Forget the fact that I like to go out, enjoy singing, exercise often and also make a living as a journalist and writer. The moment anyone mentions “Mario” this or “Zelda” that, it’s often what people will associate you with.

It makes sense — it’s still a new “craze,” after all, and an exotic or abnormal practice to some.

“You’re playing those ‘Madden’ games on the TV again? Why aren’t you out throwing a real ball?”

There’s a greater issue I have with these perceptions, though: The awful products production companies make to either represent or appeal to the gaming demographic.

This summer’s “exhibit A.”

In terms of how society perceives video game fans, I’d like to settle the score once and for all.

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Rusted metal in soft drink: Why every consumer market mistake shouldn’t mean “lifetime supply”

So I was minding my own business like anyone else when I decided to pick up a diet Coke from a local Dairy Queen franchise. I finished the soda and took off the lid to find this happy little bastard tucked beneath the remaining cubes:

Blog browsing is probably the new "ambulance chasing" for some lawyers.
Blog browsing is probably the new “ambulance chasing” for some lawyers.

Disgusting, right? Seriously, can you believe this? We, as consumers, deal with so much crap from these companies, so it’s only natural to want the payout we deserve.

Naturally, I did what anyone should do: I notified the manager, returned the part, and received an apology along with a $10 gift card I didn’t even request.

Um… sure.

By now you’re possibly confused as to why this isn’t another post ranting about huge payouts, customer distress, or “something something I DEMAND more compensation for these (apparent) atrocities.” Of course, when I first posted the photos online, some folks mentioned I should sue or raise Cthulhu to fight DQ and Orange Julius on my behalf.

I’d almost bet at least half of them weren’t kidding.

But that IS disgusting! You SHOULD have sued… or at least gotten more compensation. Why didn’t you?

Two words: consumer entitlement. We live in a society so hell bent on assuring the largest payouts for the smallest mistakes, which in actuality is a real huge problem. When folks forget other folks make mistakes, we get stuck in this clustered mentality that everything must be picture perfect to remain sustainable. And it’s not just a problem in consumer culture – it’s a problem in American culture as a whole. Every day we’re told to throw things out, yell at people, or throw tantrums for compensation if we don’t get our way in a situation.

Significant other questions your decision? Well damn, they’re not worth your time anymore. Your favorite restaurant messed up your order? Guess it’s not your favorite anymore. The TL;DR is there’s a huge difference between making a small mistake and doing something that impacts someone’s life with more dire consequences (see: giving e-coli to your customers and cheating on your spouse).

In this case, there were no complications involving a tiny, rusted washer in a soft drink. Furthermore, there’s more in the way of complications regarding the famous “hot coffee” McDonalds case than most people even realize.

But complications ARE possible! Are you up to date on your tetanus shots?

Yes, there’s a popular urban legend that interior exposure to rust causes tetanus. However, it’s not the rust itself that causes the infection. Most rust related tetanus infections sprout from individuals who somehow expose an open wound to a rusty (or even not rusty) object that enters their blood stream. Tetanus bacteria only reproduce in oxygen deprived environments, which is why puncture wounds could cause an issue. Ingesting tiny amounts of rust would do nothing more than supply us with… well, more iron than we probably want for a day.

Yes, it’s true that there could have been danger here. And yes, the restaurant is responsible for the mistake and fixing it. Regardless, nothing resulted in immediate health complications or stresses from this incident.

My responsibility as a consumer was not to shame on-the-clock employees about human error or search for a million dollar payout for nothing. No, it’s our responsibility to bring these errors to their attention so they may remedy them and assure nothing potentially dangerous happens to any other customer.

What if you had swallowed the washer?

I didn’t.

Becoming multifaceted (and convincing ourselves we need to be)

Too many of us put great amounts of effort into adhering to one-dimensional labels and accomplishments. In reality, we could do so much more.

Truth be told, I never thought of myself as a newspaper or journalism person after taking nothing away from a middle school journalism class. However, that was one problem: I took nothing away from it. The teacher never properly motivated students to do their best work, or highlighted why ethics, morality, community engagement, and compelling story formations were truly important in the field.

Then again, we were middle school students. We seemed more concerned with Pokemon cards and some guy named Lou Bega singing about “a little bit of Jessica” on the side, or something.

Terrible song. Terrible.

Anyhow, I was even crazy about newspapers before my mediocre middle school experience. When I heard the local Corvallis Gazette-Times gave me an anonymous reference from a question I asked in kindergarten, I was thrilled (though they didn’t mention me by name). In elementary school I’d always collect or read any student publications I encountered.

But case in point: At the time I became so obsessed with doing something related to video games (because “video games” and “journalism” didn’t strike me at the time for some messed up reason) or psychology that I never even considered giving journalism another shot. I figured that, because of this one little experience in middle school, it wasn’t worth revisiting in the future. I didn’t have the proper amount of interest in the subject.

Even now I’m thinking of the possibilities of movie production (nothing major, just on the side) and involving myself more with multimedia. I made a movie for a poetry class based on “Monologue for an Onion” and apparently people like it (yeah, so that happened).

As Jeff Halliday, a communication studies professor from Longwood University described at a student journalism convention, it’s better to be a multifaceted jack-of-all-trades as opposed to simply an expert in a single area. Now that’s not to say one shouldn’t be an expert in anything… just broaden your horizons and never be afraid to explore.

I’m personally ready to explore multiple avenues myself. Meanwhile, I continue refining my writing skills and contributing to news publications.

Change who you are and what you like? Try doing more instead.

In today’s society, simply being a “nice person” or “good at [consumption of media activity here]” isn’t remotely meaningful. Society wants helpers, creators, and innovators. Granted, politeness helps (I still believe this), but it’s nothing without true skills and contributions supporting these behaviors.

Now when it comes to changing behaviors to better suit social situations, we also see discussions involving hobbies like video games, movies, anime, and other so-called “nerdy” endeavors. When many people believe they must change something about themselves to better represent society, they immediately become defensive when it involves these activities.

“Well why should I NOT like this stuff? Just because society is a complete DICK that thinks everything should be about beer, football, and weightlifting, that’s supposed to be my interest too?”

Well no, and I’m addressing this because I used to be someone who said that.

In an article from Cracked, David Wong writes how changing attitudes and behaviors when life conditions become undesirable requires lots of reflection. Parts of this process may also involve self-denial and the reluctance to improve at all. When considering descriptors like “I like video games” or “I like to read” as highlights of your personality, you shouldn’t use these activities to define yourself in a one-dimensional way that excludes other factors.

Yes, feel free to enjoy what you like, but you don’t need to make it everything you are. Or even better, what else do you enjoy that also involves these hobbies? Have you ever tried programming any video games, or making any YouTube movies of your own? What about writing a book? There’s plenty out there, and many activities and endeavors benefit society in the process. For instance, if you play beautiful piano music, you could entertain and enlighten entire rooms with excellent renditions of Chopin Nocturnes.

But remember, you don’t need to completely remove other activities from your life. I know successful freelance writers and artists who love video games and anime. I know engineers and doctors who adore comic book heroes and Harry Potter. But again, they’re also doctors, engineers, artists, and writers. They help people and create things we all enjoy.

For instance, I started writing more. I still enjoy video games, but I also write and show other people how to improve their own work. In the past I hardly even blogged, and most of these entries were 10-minute rants involving subjects like “why things seem to suck so much.” I stopped writing altogether in 2007 because it just didn’t feel worthwhile. Sure, it was good to vent, but nobody enjoyed them and I sure as hell didn’t enjoy deleting them after 15 minutes of personal regret. Around 2008 something just clicked – I realized I was never terrible at writing, and that maybe I should improve my skills, read more than I do on average, and find a way to write about something more constructive.

I practice writing often. Whether it’s 200 words or 2,000, I make sure something gets logged and that I learn from the experience. It’s all part of the process, and I think that’s what Wong highlights as a major problem in his article: nobody likes the process.

Let me use another example. Ever play games like World of Warcraft, or any other intensive MMORPG video games that require ass loads of time? Do you look forward to obtaining the next awesome looking weapons and mounts you discover, or actually hunting and grinding for it? Yeah, there are some  intense workaholics out there (I’m arguably one of them) who adore the process and see it as part of the overall contribution. However, a majority of players probably hate it or don’t even think about it, and simply keep the reward in their mind as they grind and grind toward that shiny new sword.

A World of Warcraft archaeology reward known as “Zin’Rokh, Destroyer of Worlds.” Also known as “Destroyer of Hours” and “Harbinger of Sick Days.”

And that’s the trick: you have to keep your goals in mind, regardless of how pointless the task seems during the most boring times. That’s what you have to do in life. I didn’t become a better writer overnight, and I’m still convinced there’s work to do. Same thing applied when I lost 80 pounds and took up jogging, but that’s another story for another time.

Hell, Wong stated in his article that it took him nearly 13 years to realize his full potential. I’m still a 26-year-old transitioning into year three. So far I’ve edited for an independent site named Press Pause Radio, had seven community writings featured at Bitmob (now transferring to GamesBeat), and even had freelance work funded for a small town independent. Today, I help other folks with the basics of journalistic writing, and also run my community college’s student newspaper. But overall, I still have a long way to go. I have yet to write for a professionally established outlet, or spark extreme debates with dozens or hundreds of people who found my work. And to most big time editors I’m still “just another writer” until I create a better presentation of what I can offer. Even with everything you know, the world always asks “okay, but what else?”

And no, this doesn’t mean success requires you become a brain surgeon or engineer of the Mass Effect Crucible. Society wants motivated folks who realize there’s always something new to learn. We all progress by learning together and continuing forward. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get far with an entire world full of “nice” people playing video games and complimenting each other’s clothing while they exchange Harry Potter trivia.

We all have so much potential, and probably more time than we even realize.

Guns, Video Games, Tragedy: Discussions and Generalizations

So let’s talk about guns, violence, and video games. Don’t worry though, I won’t go all “if guns make you fat then spoons kill kittens” on you.

But honestly, you can tell when some (not all) pro-gun individuals run out of legitimate arguments after becoming emotional and reacting over somebody regulating their precious firearms. However, I’m sure plenty of video game lovers did the exact same thing today after hearing the worst thing any gamer thinks they’ll ever hear: “video games cause society’s problems.

First off, let me just say that it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss media culture as a part of the problem. After all, it could be one of many factors. In fact, I won’t deny it.

Regardless, to completely move attacks toward one element involved with broader issues is ridiculous. Then again, nobody would do that… right?

“It’s possible that the National Rifle Association, already on the defensive over gun control in the wake of the shootings, may try to shift some of the focus to violent media. Fox News today cites an “industry source” with news that the group’s scheduled Friday press conference will see it “push back” against those who look at gun control as a silver bullet solution to the problem.” – Videogamesindustry.biz

Aside from the shooter and his apparently unstable mother (who I wish would remain nameless everywhere), is something or someone to blame for Friday’s tragedy? Of course. However, is there a single factor alone? Definitely not.

We must consider every option we can, but we can’t talk when people cover their ears and shout “LA LA LA YOU’RE WRONG I’M RIGHT, LA LA LA” when they’re afraid of being incorrect. There’s no grand argument or blame factor that’s going to make this situation better, and we’ll only make it worse if we assume otherwise.

If we need more sound gun regulations, so be it. And if we conclude that video game culture requires change for social progression, then we change it. Hell, maybe we could finally show people how benevolent and grown-up our culture truly is, even though… you know, it’s not like video game folks support charities or anything (SPOILER: they do).

What I’m basically saying is don’t stop these discussions, but do quit obsessing over being correct in every single argument. Even if your points are remotely valid, they still won’t solve anything so complex overnight. Be patient, well-presented, and make sure you contribute something worthwhile. We’re all entertained by personal pride, but it doesn’t assist us beyond the “holy shit, I’m totally right” feeling we get after remembering something irrelevant from a movie or TV show.

Just try considering other points of view. The moment you get emotionally obsessed with being “correct” all the time is when you start getting everything wrong.

PAX-bound: Thoughts of the night before

Back in 2011 I covered my first PAX East convention. Since then I’ve made multiple front page Bitmob posts, wrote a handful of reviews for PPR, and made Editor-in-Chief of my local college’s paper. On top of that I also write for a local in-town alternative paper, which occasionally compensates for writing about video games.

Though I have yet to deliver my first “professional” pitch to a renowned gaming website, I know I’ve made lots of progress since my first PAX trip. Not only am I a better editor and writer, but I also realize more about common industry mistakes and interview dos-and-don’ts. Oh, and I’m much more of a journalist than I was last year.

This is why I’m so excited for this year’s PAX Prime. On top of meeting new people and delivering content in new ways (video interviews), I feel more prepared than ever. And best of all, I’m still enjoying this. The inevitable prospect of numerous rejection letters hasn’t crushed my spirit, among other things. Regardless of the challenge, I still feel ready, and that feeling alone is keeping me content. After all, some realize they never wanted the actual challenge to begin with; they simply wanted everything all at once as an “overnight success”

But that’s the thing: there are no “overnight” successes. Well, except for William Hung. He doesn’t count.

So for those of you at PAX this year, if you’re a regular attendee who’s eyeballing the prospect of video games journalism, I want to talk to you. If you’re someone who attempted this path but feel like you already “failed,” I want to talk to you. If you’re someone who “succeeded” (spoiler alert: progress and contentment still occur without “success” since it’s so damn rare), I want to talk to you. Finally, if you’re someone like me, who’s somewhere between the beginning and end of the middle ground, I especially want to see you.

We’re all great resources. We have so much to teach each other regarding our own experiences. And though we can’t all “make it” under the perfect definition of “success,” we can all sure as hell progress as we reach for more and assist one another in the process.

Video and editorial updates will be posted at Press Pause Radio’s website and on this blog as PAX Prime continues.

Attitude is everything (or at least something)

After reading an insightful article by Alan Williamson on why we’re all collectively killing games journalism (and I completely agree), I segued towards two other articles regarding “success” in the field. One takes a highly optimistic route on progression. The other, however, is one of the most bitter “I didn’t make it and this is why” musings I’ve ever read in my life.

This got me thinking about how a person’s own views affects their aspirations and goals over time. After all, even the “successful” struggle.

So the positive “why I made it” entry was blogged by Brendan Keogh, a current freelance writer. The other post regarding the experiences of a not so lucky writer is from Christian Higley, a frequent Bitmobber who seems to have many opposites when it comes to personal encounters and luck.

But really, is it all luck? Absolutely not. Sure, it’s nice to credit luck when things feel fuzzy and random, but I believe there are two more factors that don’t receive enough recognition in these “lucky” instances: patience and attitude.

At a glance, it seems Higley and Keogh both cite struggles. Higley seems much more bitter about the situation, because apparently plenty of individuals told him to just give up. Like other freelancers and journalists who voiced their opinion regarding Higley’s statements, this hasn’t been my experience. Granted, I’m still very new at this myself, but that’s one of my biggest points: Even during the infancy of my writing experiences, I’ve had nothing but encouragement from folks who are more connected.

When I first wrote community blogs on 1UP, Polygon’s Chris Plante responded to an inquiry of mine with honest yet encouraging words about where to start. He told me it would be tough, but never told me to “give up.” When Shane Bettenhausen was a guest on Press Pause Radio, he said aspiring writers and podcasters like us were a great part of this industry’s future. And like Scott Nichols, another freelancer who made a personal blog response to Higley’s initial remarks, I’ve also surrounded myself with friends and colleagues who support each other. Even as some of us rise faster than others, we’re still offering pointers and meeting up when we can. Heck, some of you I’ll meet for the first time this year at PAX Prime.

Though like everyone else, I’ve experienced rejection. One non-paying start-up website I attempted to “apply” for (the individuals involved will remain nameless) said I showed potential, and that I should write back with revisions and an additional written feature.

I never heard back.

I’ve also contacted more professional websites to seek opportunities, and again heard nothing back. Each rejection sucks in its on way, but I’ve still been able to learn why I wasn’t selected and what I must do in order to improve my own skills. Even after failing to join one start-up website, I was successfully accepted into another that gave me my first taste of quality writing tips. Of course, I had to improve after failing the first time, because my writing was… well, let’s just say there was “potential” that needed work.

Granted, I’m nowhere near “in” like some freelancers and writers. However, I still think — and this goes for anything in life — that your general attitude truly does matter. Sure, you’ll feel less shocked about failure when you’re “prepared” for it, but you’re guaranteed to crumble if all you ever do is set yourself up for it. Sometimes it seems better to give yourself a chance, even if you have no idea what could happen. After all, chances are still chances.

This road is hard enough to travel as it is — very hard. But impossible? Of course not. And something akin to AAA roadside assistance (i.e. friends and close colleagues) helps.