Month: December 2017

Exit 181. The one time out of the year.

Last night, I was at Christmas Eve Mass at the Catholic church where I grew up.  I was thinking about how Christmas is the one time out of the year when I still attend Catholic Mass, despite having left Catholicism for evangelical Christianity at age 20, and I thought, that would be a good thing to write about this week.  But in looking at old posts about Christmas on this site, I realized I already addressed the topic two years ago (click here to read).  In that post, I focused primarily on how all the prayers and rituals of the Catholic Mass are so much more meaningful to me as an adult, now that I know more about the Bible and the history of Judaism and Christianity.

There is another question I did not answer… why do I still attend Catholic Mass on Christmas, instead of attending my own church or a church more like the ones I have attended as an adult?  Part of the reason is practical.  I am always visiting my family on Christmas, and my mom, grandma, and some combination of other relatives who are here or visiting always attend Mass on Christmas.  This year, we attended Mass on Christmas Eve because my mom does the Scripture readings at church, and that was the time that she was asked to read for.  Depending on when exactly I come to see my family, I am occasionally able to attend Christmas service at my own church as well.  This year, the church I’d been attending the last two years had an early Christmas service last Thursday, and I was going to go there as well, but I decided not to at the last minute for reasons that this isn’t the time to get into here.

I guess the other reason I haven’t stopped going to Mass on Christmas Day is because I haven’t felt a need to.  I’m worshiping Jesus and celebrating his birth with my family.  The fact that this particular group of worshipers has other views regarding transubstantiation, for example, really isn’t that big of a deal to me.

I’m going to keep this short this week and emerge from my old bedroom to see what the family is doing.  (We already opened presents last night.)  Merry Christmas to all of you.

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Exit 180. 180.

I’m going to keep it short this week.

I’m currently rereading the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, for at least the fifth time.  Yes, I loved it that much, which is why I have ambiguous feelings about the upcoming movie adaptation.

I’m excited, because one of my favorite books is being made into a movie.  I’m apprehensive, because there will inevitably be changes mare from the book to the movie. The book had so many little details, and surely many of them won’t make it into the movie.  I hope the changes don’t ruin the movie for me.

I’ve written in here before (once, twice) about my favorite quote from the book, and today I got to that part again in my rereading: “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level. A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”  As I said in those previous posts, I can understand what Wade is going through here.  In order to accomplish his goal and take down IOI’s corporate bigwigs, he needs a radically different strategy.  And as my life has changed over time, I need a radically different strategy too.  I’ve had a hard time figuring this out, partially because I’ve had a hard time letting go of some things.

I’m not going to rehash what I’ve written about before; I’m just going to say that the timing of this is interesting.  A new year is coming up in a few weeks, and new years are often seen as times of change and renewal, a good time to try a new strategy for life.  And this is post number 180 on this blog.  The number 180 (as in 180 degrees of rotation) has entered English slang to mean a complete turnaround.  And that’s what I need.  I need to go in a different direction, at least in some parts of life.  Maybe not a complete 180, but definitely not the way I’ve been going.

What that means, however, is still in question.  And to find that, I’m going to need a lot of quiet reflection and prayer.  And a willingness to try new things.

Exit 179. Poor, naive me. I’m a n00b.

As I’ve mentioned before (once, twice), I have a complicated history with Pokémon Go.  The TL;DR version is that I didn’t grow up with Pokémon , and I didn’t get into Pokémon Go when the game was first released in mid-2016, but last summer I started playing while hanging out with a friend who was playing, and I was pretty much instantly hooked.

Last weekend, a different friend invited me to hang out and find some raid battles.  We drove around downtown Sacramento looking to see where the raid bosses were, while checking a Pokémon group on Discord to see who else was out raiding.  (For my un-Pokémonned readers: a raid battle is where multiple players gather in the same real-life location to battle a powerful Pokémon, and after the battle each player gets a chance to catch a Pokémon of the species they just battled.)  I haven’t done a lot of raid battles, since I’m usually playing alone.  I’ve won three raid battles of fairly low strength raid bosses alone, and each time I was able to catch the guy after the battle.  But I hadn’t gotten together before with other players to take down a powerful boss, like my friend and I were planning on doing.

Eventually, someone on Discord said that there were six “accounts” waiting at a certain nearby location, and that they wanted at least nine to go into battle.  Poor, naive me.  I’m a n00b.  By six “accounts,” I assumed that this meant that there were six people, each signed in to their Pokémon Go account from their phone, ready to battle this raid boss.  I was wrong.

When we got there, there was one guy sitting at a table with four phones and tablets in front of him.  He was playing four games of Pokémon Go simultaneously.  (I think the rest of the people in the battle were only playing one each.)  When the battle started, I asked him if I should be trying to dodge the raid boss’ attacks, as I would do with a regular non-raid battle.  He said sure, if I can, but he couldn’t dodge the attacks since he was frantically tapping on four devices simultaneously with different fingers and hands.

We lost the first time, but we tried again and won, and I caught the boss.  After that, all of us decided to look for another raid battle.  Instead of walking around like the game designers intended, the guy who had the four accounts went to this other third-party site (i.e., not part of the actual Pokémon Go game) and pulled up a map of all the raid battles currently happening.  As he was trying to explain to us what this site is, one of the other players who came to this raid battle started telling about this other third-party site where you can figure out exactly how to know all of your Pokémon’s detailed statistics and how to tell if the one you caught is the most powerful possible.  I couldn’t really hear what was going on.

We found a second raid battle about a mile away… interestingly enough, it was in the middle of a cemetery.  We won, nothing special happened there.  Then, as we got to the bonus round where we try to catch the raid boss, someone bumped into me from behind and made me drop one of my Poké Balls.  The guy who was talking about how to know all of your Pokémon’s detailed statistics started going on and on about that again, repeating everything he had said before about three or four more times, and with all the noise, I couldn’t time my throws properly.  I didn’t catch it, and I was probably a bit more visibly annoyed than I needed to be.

This is the kind of situation that makes me feel like I can’t call myself a gamer anymore.  In my childhood and teen years, video games were simple little distractions.  I could get home from school and spend about half an hour playing Super Mario Bros. or Tetris, then put it aside and move on with my life, still leaving me plenty of time to eat dinner, do homework, and watch The Simpsons or Full House or Home Improvement or Roseanne or whatever show my family was watching that night of the week.  That isn’t true with modern video games.  In order to be a true gamer today, it seems that one would have to immerse their entire life in the world of the game, spending hours each day on their quests and battles and, often, paying a subscription fee or paying extra for features not available to all players (in my Pokémon example, that would be the four tablets that the one guy had, in addition to the various optional in-game purchases that can be made).  Back in the day, I didn’t have to use some third party service to tell me the statistics of every Koopa Troopa that Mario stomped on, and I didn’t have to play four games of Tetris simultaneously in order to increase my chance of getting a long straight block.  And I just don’t have the time required to immerse myself in modern video games.  I have a demanding career, and I value other aspects of the real world too much as well.

People like the Pokémon players I met take the fun out of video games for me.  It is really unfortunate.  I know that not all games are like that and not all players are like that.  And I guess I just have to find ways to make video games fun and enjoyable for me.  That’s probably why I still like a lot of retro video games.

Exit 178. So why don’t we get it?

I took a week off.  Sorry.

A few days ago, I was with some friends trying to get into the Christmas spirit.  We watched all three of the Santa Clause movies.  I had only seen the first one, and it had been many years.  The main character, Scott (played by Tim Allen), does not always see eye-to-eye with his ex-wife and her new husband, and their conflict is starting to affect their son, Charlie.  Santa Claus dies on Scott’s property, accidentally falling off the roof.  Because of a clause in a contract (get it, it’s a play on words; the name Santa Claus is not actually spelled with an E), Scott has to become the new Santa Claus.  The following winter, when Scott’s appearance begins to change into that of a fat old man, the stepfather becomes convinced that he is suffering from some massive delusion of being Santa Claus and gets his custody taken away.  But this is a family-oriented Disney movie, so there is a happy ending, of course.

Two more movies with these characters were made some time later.  The second movie focuses on the search for a Mrs. Claus and Charlie being put on the Naughty List for being a rebellious teenager.  But it was the third movie that really got me thinking.  Scott has now been Santa for twelve years, and he and Mrs. Claus are expecting a baby.  Jack Frost, tired of being forgotten among the other holidays, tricks Scott into magically going back in time and not putting on the Santa suit the night that Santa fell off the roof.  Jack puts on the Santa suit instead, and Scott returns to a world very different from the one he left.

Early in the movie, when Jack Frost first mentioned the existence of a way to turn back time so that Scott never became Santa Claus, I turned to my friends and said, “Which movie came first, this one or Shrek Forever After?  Because they basically have the same plot.”  (For the record, Santa Clause 3 did.)  Scott finds out that in this alternate timeline, Jack Frost has turned the formerly secret Santa’s workshop into a very public amusement park, where tourists bring their children every Christmas.  The elves are now bored and cynical employees, the reindeer are attractions in a petting zoo, and parents are reminded to spend more money to show their blatantly ungrateful children that they supposedly love them.  Upon seeing the portrayal of this horrible alternate timeline, I said, “I want to add to what I said earlier.  Both Santa Clause 3 and Shrek 4 are basically the same plot as Back To The Future Part II.”

But alternate timelines where a greedy and selfish person becomes powerful and turns something wonderful into something ugly didn’t start when Biff Tannen stole the DeLorean.  Forty-two years before Back To The Future Part II, something similar happened in It’s A Wonderful Life, when George Bailey sees an alternate Bedford Falls in a world where he had never been born.  And, without the alternate universe aspect, stories of greedy and selfish individuals making the world a miserable place have probably been around as long as storytelling itself.

So why don’t we get it?  Why are there so many greedy and selfish people if there are so many stories like this out there?  And for that matter, why are so many wealthy people in the film industry making movies that show the dangers of greed while acting greedy and selfish themselves in their personal lives?

For one thing, usually greedy people are making others’ lives miserable, not their own.  The greedy villains in these movies always have their empires toppled in the end, but real-life selfish people probably just don’t think it will happen to them.  And all of this really comes down to the fact that human beings are broken and fallen and just generally capable of all sorts of destructive behavior.

I’ve been there before.  There were Christmases in my childhood when I threw a tantrum over the one gift I didn’t get.  I’m not proud of those moments.  I still have times as an adult when I lack gratitude.  I have so much that so many in the world would love to have, but the mention of the one thing I don’t have makes me just as pissy as the bratty children at Jack Frost’s North Pole.

I can’t change the world by myself.  I cannot singlehandedly fight all the influences that feed people’s greed and selfishness.  The burden is too great to bear.

But I can do my best.  And I can change myself.  And both of those are better than doing nothing.