Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Law and Tragedy

So, for those of you who know me I am currently working for the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) as an intern.  NJP is a small non-profit law firm that works with clients who have little to no income.  They work on projects relating to housing, consumer law and licensing.  However, their biggest work comes in the fields of domestic violence and child abuse.  Naturally, that kind of work has weighed heavily on mind.

The topic I want to discuss for this entry has to do with resilience.  From the short time I have worked here, I have already seen an incredible amount of sadness and tragedy. NJP works with many low-income families and mainly deals with cases that involve domestic violence and child abuse.  One of my assignments is to sit on the Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) hearings.  Recently, there have been some startling decisions passed down by the commissioners and NJP is concerned.  So, they have decided to take a six month survey of all DVPO hearings to see exactly what is going on with these decisions.  I have been assigned to sit in on those hearings every Monday  and Thursday afternoon and take notes regarding each case that is heard.
While viewing these hearings I have heard and seen some truly shocking things that hopefully, most people have not had to experience for themselves.  Domestic violence is a concept that I believe is novel to many, but unfortunately, exists for some.  I think most people would associate their home with words like: comfortable, cozy, warm and relaxing.  Others might claim their home is a safe haven or a refuge from the troubling things of the world.  I think the question you have to ask yourself is, what would you do if you’re home was dangerous?  Where would you go?  How could you protect yourself when the thing you fear the most lives with you?  It all sounds so terrifying that for most people I think it would be hard to imagine.  Yet, every Monday afternoon I see these people who struggle with these sorts of problems on a daily basis.  Amidst such tragedy, I am left to wonder, how as a lawyer can you be surrounded by such tragedy and not be affected by it?

I wonder about the lawyers, the social workers and the judges that have to read into the lives of these victims of domestic violence and abuse.  Everything about it is depressing and I just don’t see how that wouldn’t gnaw at you after a while.  A wise person once told me, “Don’t bring your work home with you, it’ll just bring you down.”  But, I feel like those words of wisdom would be difficult to carry out in this occupation.  It just seems like every time you would come home and play with your child, or sit down to watch a movie with your wife or husband that in the back of your mind you would be thinking, “My client so and so is going through hell right now.  She can’t play with her child too rough because of the bruises or, she can’t cuddle with her husband because he beats her.”  I don’t see how you could avoid bringing your work home with you.  I feel like all of that sadness and heartache would weigh you down little by little, until, it becomes too heavy a burden to manage.
This entry sounds awfully depressing I am sure, but, it illustrates my fears of working in this type of environment.  Resilience would be an attribute that you would have to possess to work in a place like this day in and day out.  I don’t think this is the type of place that anybody could work at.  I am not saying this to deter anyone from working in a place like NJP because heaven knows we need all the attorneys we need to defend people such as our clientele.  I just marvel at the ability of the attorneys and judges I have seen that can weather the storm of heartache and sadness they see every day and still be able to smile.  I just hope, for their sakes, that those smiles are more than skin deep.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

The words "downloadable content", or DLC for short, usually cause gamers to dry heave.  The idea of having to pay more money to add onto a game you already own can feel cheap and insulting.  However, on occasion DLC can be original and satisfying.  Such is the case with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

Changing the game without actually changing the game
If you couldn't tell from the title Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is actually Far Cry 3.  The game engine, the controls, the graphics, are all exact replicas of Far Cry 3 - a wonderful game in its own right.  However, Blood Dragon has completely changed the look of the game and turned it into a homage to all the great 80's action movies.  The game stars Rex Power Colt, a cyber commando who spews out one-liners just as quickly as he dishes out kills.  His weaponry includes laser rifles, explosive sniper rounds, inferno shotgun shells and an old school bow and arrow complete with neon lights.  References are made in the game from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all the way to Terminator.  There are even dragons that shoot frickin' lasers out of their eyes! The wonderful thing about Blood Dragon is the fact that even though the game plays exactly the same way as Far Cry 3 it still feels like a game that could stand on its own as an original IP (intellectual property).  If this is the new way that DLC is going to be done then gamers are going to be very happy.

Dragons that shoot frickin' lasers out of their eyes!

Hope for the Future
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon hopefully has set a standard for what DLC should be.  Instead of feeling cheap and tacked on, Blood Dragon feels refreshing and well crafted.  Often times DLC is frowned upon because it is just tacked on and adds no real value to a game you already own.  However, Blood Dragon is a game I am willing to pay for because it is original and well produced.  It's obvious from the very moment you boot up the game that the developers put a great amount of time and effort into the game and were not simply doing it to increase the company's revenue.  Let's hope that more companies follow Ubisoft's example, instead of simply casting it off as an aberration.  Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is exactly what DLC should be and hopefully, what future DLC will be.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Parenthood (not the TV show)

For a blog that is supposed to be all about video games I sure haven't posted many video game articles lately.  I'll have to work on that.  Today, however, I feel like I need to talk about parenthood.  I've been a dad for a little over a year now and I have learned many new things over the course of that time.  Not that any of my ideas are revolutionary, but they have been somewhat of an epiphany for me.  Learning to care for another human life is not a task that anyone should take lightly and is truly something that can't be completely prepared for.  Sure, you can have the room all set up, the diapers fully stocked, the cute outfits all picked out, but ultimately the responsibility it takes to care for a completely dependent human life can seem insurmountable.  I know I felt that fear when I learned my son Max was coming and I know I'm not alone in that feeling.  I want this post to be a discussion of my fears, my realizations and most importantly what being a parent means to me.

When I learned that we were going to have a child I was kind of excited, but most of my thoughts went to the realization that I was going to be a father.  For me, fatherhood was a high standard.  My dad in my mind was the best father that has existed or will ever exist in the course of human existence.  So, I felt myself inadequate for the task.  I mean the shift from caring solely for yourself (and your wife or girlfriend I suppose, but to a lesser extent) to caring for another human being is truly jarring.  I was scared I wouldn't live up to the standard set by my father or that I didn't possess the innate abilities required to properly raise a thriving child, but when my son was born all of those fears dissipated into nothingness.  It was then that I learned that the Beatles weren't completely wrong when they said, "All you need is love."

September 25, 2011.  Not a day I will ever forget.  My son was born at 8:06 a.m. on that day and from the moment he held my finger I was hooked.  He was and still remains the most wonderful thing that my Heavenly Father has given me.  All those fears I spoke of just seemed to disappear.  It was in that moment that I got the impression that as long as I loved this boy that I would be exactly what he needs to thrive in this world.  Because it is through love that we desire to be better.  We desire to be better for those we care about, for those who we truly love.  I learned that love is a stepping stone, a starting point that leads you through the journey of parenthood like a compass.  If you love someone then you will grow and adapt to be whatever it is you need to be to truly care for that person.  If you love then all your inadequacies and faults will seem like nothing more than pebbles along the road, not the giant boulders you once perceived them to be.

What it all Means
As this world shifts farther and farther away from the moral traditions of the past, parents will be the first and possibly only line of defense for their children.  The children of today are confronted with messages of all sorts ranging from the offensive to the clearly vulgar and without involved parents who love and care for them it can be easy for kids to be lost in those messages and possibly accept them as truths.  I see it constantly in the video game community; children playing games they shouldn't be playing, or listening to online conversations that no child should ever hear (I'm looking at you Call of Duty).  This is just a microcosm of the problem but, parents have to be there to mentor their children and to shield them from the inappropriate things of the world.  Be involved with your child, know what they are watching or listening to and if you're going to buy a video game for them please, please do research on the game, or if you're feeling lazy just ask me about it.  As a parent I now see the vulgar waves of society that would otherwise capsize my child's innocence.  Because of the love I have for my child I choose to steer him clear of those dangers and into safe harbors. I would hope I am not in the minority here, but perhaps I am.  No matter, I firmly believe that as parents go, so does the world.  Parents have the burden of pointing a child in the right direction, or allowing them to drift as the waves of the world see fit.  I understand that sometimes even the best of parents can have wayward children, but that's a different topic for a different day.  My point is no matter who you are, no matter how many faults you have or think you have, you can be a strong and vigilant parent.  All you need is love.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What Baseball Means to Me

Baseball has always been a glorious and more recently underrated American pastime.  The sight of a baseball diamond stirs up nostalgic feelings of days spent playing the game as a child, or perhaps enjoying a summer's afternoon at the ballpark.  Nearly every person has had some type of experience with the glorious game even if they don't label themselves as a fan.  For me, however, the game of baseball holds a very paternal and familial connection that has only increased over time.

My First Game
I have always been and will always be a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  My Dad introduced me to the team from the moment I was born, but one thing I will always remember is the first time I went to a game.  It was during one of those beautiful summer mornings that I found myself playing ball with some friends next door.  My Dad came out and told me that he wanted to take me to a bigger park where we could play.  I grabbed my glove and hopped in my Dad's car- I'm pretty sure it was that aqua-marine Honda Civic he used to drive.  We drove for what seemed like hours to a child, but in reality was probably no more than an hour and a half.  I had no idea where we were and my Dad was very tight-lipped about any details relating to our trip.  We arrived out front of the Los Angeles Police Academy, and I was more than a little confused.  For those of you who don't know the Police Academy sits just out front of Chavez Ravine where Dodger Stadium is located. The stadium itself is blocked from view due to the dense foliage that surrounds the stadium parking lot.  We got out of the car and started walking, I was still clueless, but once we rounded the corner to the entrance I knew exactly where I was.  We turned the corner and I saw Dodger Stadium for the first time.
I was so excited I could hardly contain myself!  My Dad had taken me to a Dodger game!  Every memory I have from that game has stayed with me all these years; from the smell of the hot dogs to almost getting nailed by a foul ball.  To this day that game is the only extra-inning game I have attended.  Raul Mondesi won the game with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning.  The sport of baseball won't hold that particular game in high regard.  No records were broken, no streak snapped, no incredible feat performed, but to me, that game will be the greatest game of baseball that has ever been played.

Teenage Years
Its no big secret and I doubt my adolescent experience was too different from most other teenagers, but at times I just didn't get along with my father.  I always loved my Dad, but at times I just couldn't stand him.  We would argue and disagree, he would punish me and I would get mad, or perhaps we just weren't clicking.  But no matter what was going on between us we could always fall asleep watching the Dodger game on Sunday afternoons.  He would sit in his recliner and I would take the couch.  We could be fuming mad at each other, but almost every Sunday without fail you could find us in those spots.  We would be glued to the TV for the first few innings talking about the team and their associated highs and lows, and then we would pass out.  Every Sunday afternoon I looked forward to those moments with my Dad, even if I wasn't willing to admit it at the time.  Looking back on it now I can see that those moments spent passed out on the couch weren't particularly productive, but they were extraordinary to me nonetheless.

And Now
Now, the Dodgers are somewhat of an addiction.  Thanks to my Dad, I have an MLB.TV subscription and I've yet to miss a game- although I wish I could have missed some of them.  Now, I have my son Max and my wonderful wife Natalie who I can share the team with.  I converted Natalie to the Dodgers while we were dating.  She used to claim the team who shall not be named (angels) as her favorite team, but I changed that quickly.  She was a Dodger fan at heart to begin with, she just didn't know it yet.  In the future I look forward to watching games with my son, and taking my family to the ballpark so hopefully I can instill in them the same passion and love of the Dodgers that my father instilled in me.  The Dodgers are nothing but a baseball team to most and at times not a very good one, but that's ok.  To me, the Dodgers are an emotional connection that will forever tether me to my family and that's why they are so special.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite is probably one of the greatest video games ever created.  Now, with that out of the way we can talk about specifics.  This game came in with a heavy amount of fanfare and was expected to propel the first-person shooter (FPS) genre forward.  I am happy to report that although the gameplay itself is not enough to be revolutionary, the story, well-developed characters, and art direction are more than enough to establish this game as the gold standard that all other FPS's should strive for.

For so long FPS 's have been nothing more then an often silent protagonist running and gunning his or her way through level after level.  Titles like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo are blockbuster games in their own right, but unfortunately do nothing more than give you an avatar with a gun.  In most FPS's you care nothing about your character or his motivations, you simply point and shoot.  Bioshock Infinite changes all of that.

Bioshock Infinite places you in the sky-city of Columbia.  Yes, the city is in the sky!  It's 1912 and you're put in the shoes of Booker Dewitt.  You are given a simple task, "Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt."  Seems simple enough right?  The only problem is the city of Columbia is run by the prophet known as Comstock, who has established Columbia to promote racial purity (more on this later) and his own religious beliefs.  The girl you're supposed to bring back is named Elizabeth.  She's locked away in a tower and you gotta bust her out.  To avoid spoilers I won't mention anything else relating to the story, but suffice it to say there are complications.  I will say this though, the final thirty minutes of the game will have your jaw hitting the floor in disbelief. 

The city of Columbia is alive and beautifully created.  It's reminiscent of small town America, decorated with red, white and blue streamers, statues of the founding fathers, colorful propaganda, and full of interesting and very opinionated citizens.  Columbia is so beautifully done that it calls out to be explored.  If you try and rush through this game then you are flat-out playing it wrong!

By the end of my playthrough Bioshock Infinite made me think about justice, mercy, repentance, race, and religion.  I didn't expect any of that going into it.  The worst part of this game is the fact that it ends and I'll tell you why.

Elizabeth, your new BFF
This damsel in distress will be one of the most memorable video game characters of all-time.  When you finally meet her she will be the epitome of innocence and compassion.  Within moments you will care about Elizabeth and stop at nothing to ensure her safety.  Unlike most games with escort missions, Elizabeth doesn't need to be taken care of, the girl can fend for her self.  During combat she will even give you ammo, health and  much needed salts.  In addition, Elizabeth has the ability to open tears in time to transport things like cover, guns, and environmental hazards into the world making her a more than valuable companion.

Your relationship with Elizabeth develops and evolves in a believable way and as the secrets of Columbia began to unravel you will feel sympathetic towards her and her plight.  I know that we're talking about a video game character here, but Elizabeth is so well done that she might as well be real.  (You should read some of the Twitter feeds about her: Elizabeth Obsession)  If Elizabeth is a sign of things to come in the video game world then we should all thank Irrational Games for introducing us.

Yep, that's a mechanical George Washington with a gun!
Heavy Themes
Before I close this post I have to give Irrational Games credit for daring to shine a light on the racial and religious themes that run throughout Bioshock Infinite.  Columbia is all about promoting racial purity through the guise of religion.  In one of the early levels there is even a five-story statue of John Wilkes Booth!  Another level has your character deciding whether or not to cast the first stone at an interracial couple being ridiculed in front of the whole city.  These are just a couple of examples that highlight the darkest corners of our human history and Bioshock Infinite tackles them head on.  We all know racism is wrong and Bioshock Infinite gives you more than enough reason to hate Comstock and his seriously flawed views of racial superiority.  Needless to say, this is not a game that should be played by any young children.

The Final Verdict
This is the first video game that scratches the surface of what video games can be.  Video games have typically been seen as time-wasters that rot the brains of the younger generation.  But what if video games could make you think about heavy themes such as race, religion, or war?  What if a video game could change the way you think, or the way you feel about a particular subject?  Video games have the potential to be more enveloping than television or movies because you are in actually in control, you have the ability to manipulate the environment instead of simply sitting idly by.  Bioshock Infinite is the first game that has come close to approaching that benchmark and I certainly hope that it ignites the fires of other reputable developers to do the same.  I went into Bioshock Infinite hoping to shoot up the baddies and rescue the girl, but when I left Columbia I wanted much more.

Epic Intro!

To be honest I'm not even sure why I am starting this blog.  Perhaps I feel the need to document my ever-changing life or perhaps I just love writing more than I am willing to admit.  As you may be able to tell by the title of my blog, this will mainly be a blog devoted to gaming.  I've played video games almost my entire life and have recently been fascinated with the way these games have made me feel.  For the first time, I have become aware that video games have started to transcend the barrier between entertainment and art.  Games today share powerful messages about the world we live in, while at the same time placing us in situations that could never possibly exist, except in our imaginations.  From the beautiful skies of the city of Columbia to the bright green and blue of the Mushroom Kingdom video games can transport you away from your troubles and worries.  They provide a sanctuary in a tumultuous and often intimidating world, even if just for an hour or two.  Obviously, these are just my feelings about games and while they may be shared by others, I understand that most people will find this kind of ideology strange or perhaps even laughable.  I'm ok with that.  I find it difficult to hate someone just because their opinions differ from mine.  If this blog isn't your cup of tea, that's fine, my feelings won't be hurt, just know that I think you're awesome regardless.

This blog won't be 100% devoted to gaming because I have more interests than just that.  You can expect posts about my law school endeavors, the Dodgers, movies, my son Max, and the zany antics of my wife (she's not that zany I just think she's funny).  Most of the time I will be posting about individual games and the thoughts and feelings I experienced while going through it, or perhaps even just a plain review of the game.  For the gamers who may read this, I hope you can relate to this blog and possibly contribute to its content.  For the non-gamers and anyone who may have stumbled upon this blog by accident, I hope it can hold your interest for at least a few moments and perhaps maybe even shed some new light on a culture that is completely strange and odd to you.  I don't think video games are going anywhere anytime soon so I am sure I will have plenty of things to write about. My first game post will be about Bioshock Infinite, so expect it shortly.