It’s all about farm games.

K and I break out the tea collection and get busy organizing the life support system module number tea-oh-yeah.  My friend Snow would be modestly and politely moved by our devotion, as so Level 3 it is to her Level twenty-four forward-slash seven, know what I’m sayin’?

Side note:  I mean it.  When you’re that level, you are big dudette generous and make it look easy.  “Here, have everything you need to start.  Here’s a location on a map.  Get adventurin’ and maybe you’ll connect with ultra-power tea-ness your own special way.”

Back to K and I.  We’ve bought a number of glass milk jars from the local upper-cruster Whole Foods.  Plastic caps, but what the hey weeds have to make do with what they have right?  While we do have tea bags, our focus is on resealable containers of loose-leaves for mix and match.  Since I’m a honey-freak, I have my honey in the rough for getting my freak on.

Now K is pretty crafty.  We get tired of boiling the water the usual way, so she investigates a location on the map and we find ourselves with the bonus round—an electric teapot that rapid-boils water in less than five minutes.  Just fill with water, plug in, flip the switch, and pow.  Yes, this is very much dependency on instrumentality (not to mention electricity), but as I said this is the approach of the lightning age (which is very aquarian).

So now we can make large quantities of water for brewing tea.  When it’s cool we fill the jars and put them in the fridge.  Goodbye, buying high priced tea in the store!  I’m also a soda-fiend, so anything that alleviates my vice for soda varieties is good.  Water’s too boring for me, juice too strong, milk too bland and coffee too strong.  Tea gives me the watery goodness, and a flavor, so I can drink lots of it and not burn out.

Special bonus:  I tell Snow about this amazing teapot and she’s floored.  I give her the info hookup and I get the feeling she teleports one to her kitchen while I’m standing there talking to her.  Next week I run into her again and she tells me the thing opened up a new level for her in the tea-realm, allowing her to adventure in a new area.

The teacher shares what they know and maybe it’ll pay off in those hidden rooms you missed when you were fighting the tea ogre with squid tentacles back on level eleven.  When you hold onto that hunger for knowledge, keep striving with joy for what you do, it pays off.  Snow polishes that gemstone of a hankering she has a little more, while K and I get life support system bonus for more XP.  That’s what generosity does for you.

So what does this have to do with farm games?  Well, seems like on Facebook lately there’s been a surge in farming games.  You socialize with your friends, care for each other’s farms, raise crops and harvest goodies.  Mainly in the dungeon and dragons kind of reward cycle—you kill monsters so you can get better at killing monsters, only here it’s grow crops so you can get better at growing crops.

It’s a slight paradigm shift in games, I think, which bears careful watching.  Is this the seed that falls in the right ground at the right time, the spark that kindles a new way of thinking that will grow grow grow?

The thing is, there’s a growing interest in resource management games (SimCity, the Sims, Civilization, and so on).  The shoot-em-ups and the side-scrollers are still there.  But now you have a growing awareness of “Hey, it’s fun to farm.  To raise animals, plant corn, and build wells.”

Yes, the reality is hard work and thankless repetition.  But it depends on how you look at the reward cycle.  K and I are looking to be healthier and happier.  This formula (of many) is about the reward of having something we make that keeps us going without resorting to the kiddie pool that is mainline industrial food production for loyal, stunned workers.  For Snow it’s about a passion for the pursuit of what interests her.

Both operate under systems that farm games mimic to a degree.  You look for stuff, gather stuff, make stuff, improve your skill with stuff, and then the stuff benefits you.

Then you get into complex games like Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility, where you need to have good relationships with people to get the stuff.  There’s lots of stuff to master—mining stuff, cooking stuff, animal stuff, plant stuff, clothing stuff.  You’re in the realm of a community and the need to ration your time to develop the stuff you need.  The ultimate goal:  To be the best “stuff” person you can be, in this case the archetype of the farmer who are their own means of production.

What does being a good farmer mean?  That you can court a partner and raise a family (and the game allows you to do this, ending only when it is the next generation’s turn to find their fortune), and you can also save the world (or the world of this game anyway)—your knowledge as a farmer revives the Goddess of the land and brings blessings back to the community.

You got that?  Your ability to beat things up here is worth zilch.  Your ability to be patient, adaptable and friendly can save the world for everybody!  Or allow you to have a happy home life—either as a farmer who just loves making bread for the Hek of it or as a family person moving things forward to the next spiral of that life that is greater than ours.

I’m living it a little, others are living it, and the games are representing it.  What level is your watering can skill yo?  Can you make perfect pickles?  How’s that ability to make butter?

I’m wondering what the next signpost will be to what’s evolving right before our eyes.  In the meantime, I need to get more and better skills, talk people up more, and get busy on the farm!

Because I think there’s a comprehensive picture here forming.

While mayhem in my psyche ensues, I hang the portrait of My Mirage on a nearby wall.  The first sign of life in the house.  I think about being zero for two in my attempts to be successful with My Mirage and UFO Girl.  Maybe I was really two for zero.  Numerologically, twenty is related to the Judgment card in the tarot deck.  Not unlike how I’m feeling with a strange and unexpected dawn.

My thoughts turn to K.  If I’m going to have to cowboy up and be the horror host, she’ll have to be the hostess.  We need to get this haunted house in order!  We decide it’s time to blast away all these beams and blocks cluttering up the place.  Hard work stirring up dust and moving debris out of the way to go out for the Hek-yeah Disposal Team on night-time pickup.  There’s stuff I have in mind for a giveaway too.  The time has come for clearing out the mental space.

I head into the attic of my mind and go through some things, taking inventory on what will be a good start on a new year’s clearing out.  Some things will be put away again in proper order, while others will be brought out and handled.  Such is the tyranny of objects.

What I find are a host of treasures left behind in a psychic space so visibly tiny you could hardly see it.  There’s a room in my haunted house that defies the model of physics, working by the principles of trans-dimensional engineering.  Can it be that My Mirage has been like a western dragon, collecting rare things of which he cannot use and hoarding them without understanding?

I take up an old audio tape, a promo copy given to me by a radio gal I knew named Kate from a while back.  A selection of songs by a heavy metal band named Kryst The Conqueror, taken from their Deliver Us From Evil album.  I pop it into my player and listen to a series of epic songs from the days of headbanging long hair.  One thing heavy metal was good at was metaphors for the ordeals of love and the struggle against darkness.  The lyrics from In God We Trust come back to me from the depths of time:

For we have seen the face of hell and still believe
That the sword to kill the beast he’s given me
So how many more must die that one may see

I’m listening this time.  My soul returns back to when I was living that dark confusion and raw enthusiasm for understanding through heavy metal questing.  I remember the trauma of being wounded by the forces of damnation, an injury that went as deep and fatal as I had ever experienced.  My enemy, myself lost and gone bad in ways I never would have imagined or wanted.

I notice a plain, hastily scribbled letter from a dear friend in 1995.  I remember reading this but not understanding the words.  I was hearing the words in the songs I enjoyed without listening.  I read words in letters by important people in my life without paying attention.  When you’ve lost your way in the sickness of your own unlighted ordeal, so much is wasted.


Words matter.  They give form to ideas in our thoughts which lead to tangible things.  Words can destroy and they can build.  A single word from a troubled soul can rob you worse than any thief.  A single question, spoken from a humble soul can heal the wasteland and restore an ailing king.

“You will always be the first person I fell in love with.”

Just like that, a self-inflicted wound I had resigned myself to bearing the rest of my life, a horrible black void of failure that had stolen the best parts of me – crippled me, is healed.

The very words I’d needed most to hear had been glossed over blindly.  Then, the day I’m in smolder-mode over doom and doing post-Mirage work, I see and hear the words that close up maybe the biggest hole in my life.  I never expected the caring I gave away without thought to return to me with such power.

The Hana Valley in my heart is restored and a huge, huge core part of me is made whole again.  I can move forward, alive once more.  Welcome to the next level.

Wounds can heal in the darkest nights and hauntingest of houses.

Thanks Yoshie Izumi & Little Yo, for the Okami hookup, and for the message about caring.

Last year I bought one of those joysticks loaded with several arcade games you plug directly into your TV set with.  It had Pac-man, Dig Dug, Rally-X, Bosconian, and Galaxian.  All of those are classics from the video game craze of the eighties.  I played them quite a lot, and have many memories both good and bad from that time when Pac-man led the breakthrough of video games into my consciousness (and likely the mainstream as well).

I was no stranger to Pong, or Combat (a tank game), and I’ve already written about Sea Wolf.  Pinball games were part of my growing up as well.  My folks and I would frequent bars and grills all over the place, and I would inevitably end up playing something for a quarter or two just to get brief thrill of fun.  I even remember a shark attack game I played, which shows up briefly in the movie Jaws.  Good times, crazy experiences.

The joystick I bought stinks, more or less.  It’s too sensitive and too long for the games, and the games themselves are turned up to what I think are difficult levels from what I remember.  I’m annoyed because it interferes with the authentic experience of what the games were like.  Still, playing Pac-man on my TV in the comfort of my own home brings me back to that fateful day me and my dad went to the local bowling alley with seven bucks and played Pac-man like crazy.

But what got me thinking was an article in Boing Boing about the mega-high score gamers who still meet and compete.  I think those dedicated enthusiasts are on to something when they talk about the meditative exploration and systematized analysis of the games.  There’s both mysticism and science at work within the innards of the video game.

On the surface, the video games are pure survival.  But the high scorers take it beyond that and have discovered that beyond certain boundaries (of which not all have been reached in all video games) the game becomes an abyss of the unknown.  The creators of the video games themselves marvel at the doors they have opened, and the players who plunge the depths to bring back insights.

For example, there’s a limit to how far you can go on Pac-man.  After a certain score the game croaks.  The last “bonus fruit” Pac-man gets to eat is a key.  A key to what?  Playing long enough to croak the game causes you to enter a meditative state of non-being.  Is there a formula, a move you can make at a certain point where the game will do the unexpected, something even the creators could never have guessed?

In a sense, video games are just wastes of time, or an activity to be frowned upon.  Youngsters should be doing things more productive (that is, getting them ready for their future roles as workers and consumers).  But I don’t buy that aspect totally.  I find that playing a video game is a lot like reciting meditative mantras.  You are performing a ritual that causes you to enter a trance of non-being.  Might playing video games also be a form of high culture?

I can feel when I’m struggling with a game.  I’ve had a bad day, or some problem is eating my thoughts.  I feel possessed by an effect that pounced on me recently.  As I play, I get the feeling that I am “working a complex out”, untying a psychological knot as it were.  I never noticed this before, but now I think that article confirms for me something I’ve felt for a long time but never said it aloud.

Video games are civilizing influences and a sign of general improvement in humanity.

Yes, even the violent, heavily sexualized games with despicable content.  They are instruments for making you hyperaware of your own capacity for aggression.  To the degree that the game play is fun (and that means well-designed), you become more at peace with yourself.  When you play with and against others, you are relating with fellow human beings along the lines of a social object that you share.

When people get together they start to form systems that work.  Sometimes systems fall apart, but other people take those lessons and try a different approach.  At its heart, a video game is an experience inside a working class, every day establishment where people can get together and have a reason to interact.  That is where culture, and civilization are born.

There are centers of power that will try and control this.  They’ll dumb down the games, turn them into instruments of consent-manufacture, and try to emphasize the “degenerate” elements so hot button topics can be pushed (“save our children from this violent communist menace”).  I don’t think that will work.  Fun and socializing are the fronts of the new 21st century struggle for freedom.  What doesn’t feed those needs will be adapted to and cast aside for what is fun, and social.  A crummy game that causes atomization of people won’t survive, not without cost to its masters.

And the cost of business keeps going up.  Someday the price for hegemony over survival will be greater than the wallets of that quality and then natural selection pays a visit.

But meanwhile, I’m looking at Pac-man and I’m emphasizing with the ghosts.  They are working together, in their individual ways, to stop a rampaging lone intruder from eating all the resources up.  Pac-man is all about “the high score”, or how much points he can rack up before the ghosts succeed.  You can outmaneuver them long enough to get to the “limit” of reality.  But the cost is always another quarter in the end.

In Pac-man, there is a phenomenon called “the intermission”.  When you complete a certain number of screens you are treated to a brief video display of Pac-man and the ghosts in some humorous vignette.  In one, a ghost gets his (or her) ghost outfit caught on a nail and a piece “rips” off, showing what looks like a foot.

“The only winning move is not to play.”  That’s a quote from the movie Wargames.  Perhaps Pac-man isn’t a “man” at all, but an unconscious eating force that threatens the reason of the ghosts and their ordered, cooperative structure.  The ghosts wear “veils” to keep us from seeing the truth – they are the “humans”, civilizing the instincts and in some cases mental illnesses of Pac-man, who represents the person playing the game.

Is there any more apt metaphor for enlightenment?  You must play the game of selfish eating until you “die” enough times to the idea that the world revolves around you.  Only then can you take the lesson learned from the sacred programming text of unconscious unity and live your life as a human being.

Take off your shroud, and look yourself in the mirror.  You had a psychic fever, driving you wild.  You played a video game until you were all right again.  Welcome back to humanity.

Going over my posterboard supply, I notice that other than the piece I’ve set aside for my book cover project, I don’t have any small pieces left. That award I worked on used up the last of my free range board slices. Grumble, that stuff doesn’t come cheap, and I hate to have to do the cutting. I really need to get a good surface. Maybe when I win the lottery and get that multi-circuited workstation complete with trusty robot sidekick and icebox buddy complete with Polecat beer.

Hand in hand with the posterboard are my PH Martin Radiant watercolors, now down to “why bother?” levels. I keep telling myself I will revive my collection. I just haven’t been doing the poster board art scene for my personal advancement enough in that area. I’m going to have to if I’m going to get that book cover of mine ready for consideration.

Speaking of the book in the oven, I’m still in a heavy editing phase. I’ve been collecting a list of revisions, mostly consistency corrections that I’ll have to phase into my latest draft. The feedback I received gave me a few ideas that I’m going to want to develop further. I need to describe and develop certain points that may be unclear to readers. That’ll take some time. Finally, I’ve got some ideas that have percolated on their own that I’d like to adjust or change in certain scenes.

What this means is more redlines in my future. That is, more work. I’m pleased with my progress, and should I get this taken care of to my satisfaction, I can focus entirely on the grammar and spelling. That aspect might be a major stumbling block. At this point, I’m 90% confident in my content, but my style may need a lot of work. I’ll have to make some choices, as some of it might only improve with long practice.  And I need to get this stuff out!

Scenes from the next book are already crowding my brain. I’ve had dreams showing exactly how to compose certain scenes. It’s driving me crazy. I might have to just start writing the second book and get it out of my head. Actually, that’s not a bad idea.

Thanks to the deficit spending of our glorious leader, I ordered some new CDs for inspiration. Some Lustmord classics – Heresy, Where the Black Stars Hang, and Purifying Fire, which should round out my collection (yes, I’ve been saving the best for last), along with Erotikon by Deutsch Nepal for a little ambient differentiation. I’m looking forward to using the fresh life support to give me the energy I need to get through my editing challenges.

I also used the influx of funds to get some more role-playing games. I ambled over to Indy Press Revolution and got me a copy of Capes and Shock. Service was quick and easy, and prices not too shabby, considering that I won’t have to buy a dozen supplements to play. The future of gaming really is independent publishing, it’s great.

Shock is a science fiction game where you create a world based around a “shock”, or science fiction concept such as “Some people are androids” or “Mind transfer is commercially available”. The players create characters that struggle with one another in the context of the world’s “shock”, and explore the social issues that are revealed through play. My friend Lossefalme might find the concept interesting.

Capes is a superhero game where players compete with one another for control of a story involving their own characters and the minor non-player characters of the story. The premise is that superpowers (like flight, or weather control) are fun and you should use them, but do you deserve them? I think my current game group might like this one, because of the dynamic resource management and ability to come up with anything at all within the constraints of the rules. You can do anything, but can you achieve your goals?

K and I have used a 19-inch TV since we moved in together, and it’s done us well all this time. My dad’s neighbor was getting rid of his old television set for a new-fangled plasma, and my dad pestered us about it until we caved and took it. It’s a 26-inch, so it’s much larger, but it has some quirks that I’m not psyched about.

The remote is buggy, the sound has a low level buzz that you can hear in moments of silence during a show, and the section of the tube gun that handles the color blue seems to be lining the screen at times. This dinosaur might keel over soon. If it does, maybe this is a sign we need to upgrade to a larger screen. I refuse to go plasma or HD just yet, just because I’m against the concept of “better visual quality” when so much of TV is absolute junk.

I ambled over to the local bookstore chain and picked up some classic books – The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett, Emma by Jane Austen, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I want to study some of the classics and see how they are written, so I can compare my own style and content against theirs. I’m also looking to see how complex social interactions and stories of personal relationships are built and played out by these authors. Finally, I’m hoping to have an enjoyable read.

I looked at the SciFi and Fantasy section of the bookstore and all I saw were names I’ve already read and can’t stand, franchises based on popular culture staples, and books based on roleplaying games done to death. It’s depressing and makes me want to state that this small niche is dead and rotting. Meanwhile, the teen and manga sections had tons of new material taking chances and having fun. It overwhelmed me.

I’ve also been hitting the local library. It seems like my reading this last year has increased many times over what I usually amount to. I’m hungry for good material, or in other words, Mars needs women! There are about a dozen books next to the couch where I read. It is as if I’ve stopped watching my movie/TV collection and find my nourishment in literature instead of visual participationism.

Yup, I’m gathering goodies to myself for molecular reconversion.

I hit the Civitan garage sale for the first time this year. I scored the usual hot dog and cola snack, which always tastes better in the sale area than it would on the street. Don’t ask me how that can be so, since it’s generic cafeteria fare. It must be the yummy field generated by the Civitan charity goodness. Yes, I have received the sacred hot dog and cola vice snack from the elders of a local free market cooperative.  Go me!

I can never tell what I’m going to find there, because it’s both random and the usual regulars peddling the same junk they were ten years ago. You have to pay your dues by showing up and participating, and you never know how many points you have to save up before you dig up a treasure. You could pay ten visits and get a mediocre find, or pay two and get a unique magic item. Have a random!

Well this time I came across a real treat. Right out of a childhood desire in a manner that could only be described as an uncanny coincidence. A few months earlier to this garage sale discovery (I’m not sure how many months it was), I was gathering up some of my old magazines to study and go over for meditative contemplation. I came across the March 1980 Space Wars (Volume 4, Number 1) I got a long ways back from a newspaper shop in Athens, Ohio.

There’s an article I remembered reading as a kid, which reviewed a board game that had come out in the wake of the initial Star Wars phenomenon. The game is called Freedom in the Galaxy, and it allows two players to recreate an interstellar conflict between rebels and imperials in a galaxy similar in concepts to that portrayed in Star Wars. I read this review as a kid and remembered being wowed by the whole idea, wishing I could get a hold of this game and play it.

One player takes the side of the Rebels, who are trying to restore “Freedom in the Galaxy”, and the other player takes the side of the Imperials, who are trying to discover the hidden Rebel base and destroy it before the Rebels gain enough power and influence to challenge the Imperials. Each player takes turns running “missions” to advance their agenda and block the success of the other player’s missions.

The Rebel player travels through the galaxy trying to recruit characters to the cause, undermining the loyalty of planets under Imperial control, searching for resources such as ships or technology to strengthen followers, and sabotaging Imperial resources such as military installations. Meanwhile, the Imperial player tries to locate and trap Rebel groups, use brute force to crush unrest and restore loyalty, and search for the Rebel base.

The Imperial player has the advantage of overwhelming military strength and vast resources at the start of the game, while the Rebel player has only a few resources and a small group of characters to start with. However, the bureaucracy and inflexibility of the Imperials limits their ability to perform certain actions. The Rebels have no such restriction. The Imperial player, despite vast resources, does not have the ability to control the entire galaxy at once. Therefore, the Imperial player must be strategic and methodical in order to use the advantages available. Meanwhile, the Rebel player must be extremely careful and not confront the Imperial player directly. The longer it takes the Imperial player to find the rebel base, the better.

During the game, the Rebel base slowly gains in military power. At a certain point the Rebel player “cashes in” the base and receives a fleet of military ships capable of challenging the Imperial player. If the Imperial player has lost numerous planets due to unrest it will be unable to support it’s own military, while those same planets now support the Rebel player. Also, if the Rebel groups have grown in power by adding new characters and obtaining cool gadgets, they are able to perform missions that undermine the Imperial player’s special abilities just when the Imperial player needs them to fight the Rebel fleet.

For example, several planets in the galaxy are designated “Imperial Secret” planets, such as the Casino Galactica or the Mutant World. If the Rebel player finds these secrets they may benefit (the Casino grants extra goodies) or suffer problems (the Mutants can wipe out an entire Rebel mission). There are certain core worlds to the Imperial player’s control called “space faring” worlds, which if they go into revolt can cause major problems for the Imperial player. There is a Domino Effect in play, where certain worlds can cause other worlds to turn to the Rebels if they revolt.

The Imperial player can fortify planets with planetary defenses to make it harder for Rebels to land there and look for help. The Imperial player can also purchase “Atrocity Units”, which can destroy entire planets to keep them from helping the Rebels. This shifts other planets into disloyalty, however, so it must be used judiciously.

The game is broken into different levels of play, starting with the introductory System Level, the intermediate Province Level, and the ultra-huge Galactic Level, which can take 20 hours to play.

Reading about this as a kid really excited me. The Empire Strikes Back hadn’t come out yet, and Star Wars fever was still going strong. But alas, I didn’t have the resources available to locate and purchase myself a copy. It remained an unobtainable kid’s fantasy and faded into a cool idea floating around in the tidepools of my memory.

Back to the matter at hand. I put the old magazine aside for later study as I rearranged my assortment of materials for reading and meditation. I think about the old game that captured my young Star Wars imagination on and off for the next few weeks. Then I head to that garage sale.

So, when I came across a vendor selling a mint-condition, never been used copy I felt a cold thrill and my vision tunneled over to the box. I bought the thing for five bucks and took it home with me to read with savage glee for several hours.

Dreams do come true. Sometimes you just have to be patient.

If you have any existence at all in the roleplaying game subculture, you heard about the recent passing on of one of its iconic figures.  In a nutshell, Gary Gygax was one of the people responsible for bringing the Dungeons and Dragons game into the mainstream consciousness.  There are many roleplaying gamers who feel they owe the existence of their hobby to the efforts of this man.  The passing on of the Mr. Gygax marks a generational shift in the hobby and a time for it’s middle-aged players to reflect on the past.

I was ten years old when I first heard about the game.  It seemed like one of those strange, goofy things nerds do and I paid no attention to it.  My folks often went to hobby stores to get materials for their art projects.  The kind of local hobby stores that would later be replaced by big chains like Michael’s.  These sorts of places were the only stores you could find Dungeons and Dragons materials at first.  Later on, they started to crop up in book sections of department stores and in places that sold model kits.

While my folks did their shopping, I’d examine the shrink-wrapped modules and read the rulebooks.  I’d stare at the lead figures and strangely shaped dice behind glass counters and wonder what the game was about.  The illustrations always looked so exciting.  Who wouldn’t want to go adventuring in a fantasy world and kill monsters, win treasure, and save the town?

I decided to get my folks to buy one of the rulebooks and see if I could make anything out of the game.  I got my hands on the now rare edition of the Deities and Demigods book, which was a sourcebook of material for different kinds of divine pantheons you could use in the game, not a part of the rules at all.  I never got a handle on the difference between “Basic” and “Advanced” Dungeons and Dragons, and the rules for Hit points, Hit dice, and Saving Throws all sounded like a foreign language to me.

I got my folks to buy me Steading of the Hill Giant Chief next, in the hopes the game might be made clearer.  I’d gotten my hands on an adventure module, which showed me the kind of places a Dungeons and Dragons player might adventure.  There seemed to be a lot of monsters to kill and a lot of treasure to be had.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t play anything yet.

Eventually, I figured out I needed a “Basic” set sold in a box to obtain the bare minimum to play.  My folks didn’t want to shell out money for a “Player’s Handbook”, “Dungeon Master’s Guide” and “Monster Manual” just yet.  These things were all comparatively expensive at the time, and parents hardly can be expected to bankroll a product line for something this obscure and hard to understand.

The basic set came courtesy of my aunt at Christmas time, which included an introductory adventure module, a set of dice, and a basic rulebook.  I got my folks to buy me some lead figures – a barbarian swinging an axe, four tiny batwinged demon creatures, a pack of six giant spiders, and a large winged demon with a curved sword.  Were they what I needed to play?  How should I know, it just seemed like everyone needed lead figures to play somehow.

It took me a long time to learn how to play.  I was eleven by this point, and I would sometimes play “pretend” Dungeons and Dragons with my friends at school during recess, using information I’d read in the material as inspiration.  I certainly didn’t know what I was doing.  A group of my school friends tried to start a regular meeting at the local library to play every weekend, but that was scraped.  My cousins were playing.  A neighborhood boy down the street was buying materials and trying to figure out how to play.  Everywhere I looked there were pockets of people adopting the game and talking about it.

Nobody I knew seemed able to actually play without cheating.  It was popular to make powerful characters up in the game and just loot the adventure modules.  I remember me and a friend spent an entire night going over the Deities and Demigods book, saying we killed powerful gods and took their stuff to divide up amongst ourselves.  I’d take Zeus’s shield, and he’d get Apollo’s bow.  The goddesses we just took captive for our imaginary harems, though we hadn’t even hit puberty yet.

I wouldn’t start playing the game with someone else seriously until high school.  That marks for me the development from fantasy wish-fulfillment to actual hobby gameplay.  I’d spent countless hours making up dungeons with monsters and treasures.  I had a subscription to Dragon magazine and so knew all the latest rules changes and alternatives.  I had even picked up other games that were starting to join the available list of playable hobbies.

I changed from a kid that spent a lot of time outdoors to a mostly indoors, introverted kid.  I spent less time drawing and more time writing and re-writing my fantasy worlds.  Video games were becoming huge around this time, which further contributed to my psychological change.  Going through puberty, I changed the way I entertained myself and the focus of my life energies went down a completely different path.  The results of that transformation would resonate through me for many years to come.

Eventually, I abandoned Dungeons and Dragons for another game.  The development of my intense study and play of roleplaying games has borne strange fruits and taken me through some rather dark dungeons of the psyche.  The human beings who find themselves engaged in this hobby are of an interest that speaks of both a damning statement on humanity, and unexpected hope for the future of the planet.  It’s still too soon to call.  The accusations of “deviltry” by some sections of the population are not entirely without merit, though it is wise to remember people can become possessed by anything.

It’s hard to imagine where I’d have ended up as a person without the influence of Dungeons and Dragons on my life.  The hobby has been a major part of my personal development, so if it hadn’t been there, I don’t know what could have replaced it.  I’ve been a part of a geek subculture that has grown to become a participant in the mainstream entertainment industry.

I’m moving into middle age and it’s midlife crisis realignment.  Perhaps as a result, I’ll find out about the part of me I didn’t develop by going down this path.  I won’t be abandoning my interest in roleplaying games, but I don’t need them as much as I used to.  I’ve been rolling dice for thirty years now.

There’s definitely a psychological change going on with me with regards to gameplay.  So I find the passing on of Mister Gygax as a synchronistic event.  It’s personally meaningful in that it means the foundations of my interest in the hobby have undergone a change and are passing on.  That frees up a lot of life energy for new pursuits and allows new interests to take hold of me.  I’m curious to see what the next year will bring.

Okay, so I’ve been digested and electrocuted. Now what? Time to get slimed, that’s what! This creative exercise isn’t through yet. Moving on from The Green Slime, the next thing that came to the front of my ape’s brain was an old board game I used to have. In terms of timelines, it does seem like I’m moving forward. I saw Beware! The Blob first, then I was exposed to The Green Slime. Now comes the moment when I had the Slime Monster boardgame!

This is getting into the late seventies. Around that time you could buy these small plastic trashcans of greenish slime. There was also a purple slime version with plastic worms inside of it. Don’t ask me what you were supposed go do with the stuff. If it got on the carpet it was very hard to get out. It tended to dry out over time and lose its “slimeness”. If you didn’t get it out of the carpet before it dried up, it turned into something resembling cement. And the slime always smelled gross.

Along comes this game complete with four plastic victims looking up and screaming in agony, four land mines with counter lever action, a spinner for movement, and best of all a plastic slime monster with tub of slime. The monster came in four pieces. There were the two legs, a body cavity with two drool funnels, and a top with the creature’s tiny forelegs and yellowy eyes. The creature was, of course, quite green.

The object of the game was to get from one part of the board to the armory at the end without getting “slimed”. At the start of the game you plopped the slime from the tub into the body cavity part of the monster and put the “top” on. The slime slowly began to ooze out the fangs and onto the game board. The monster moved around randomly, leaving a growing trail of goop. I’m not sure what happened to your game piece if it found itself under the slime monster by some twist of ill luck, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.

If you reached the armory, you would get a mine and start moving it around in anticipation of where the monster would move next. The monster’s feet were curled, with a space under them for the mine to be slid under. If it landed on a space that was mined, you slammed your fist down on the lever and ker-splat! The monster would flip over and fall apart, spewing slime everywhere. Hooray, the slime monster is defeated! Talk about an incentive to be first to blast the slime monster to kingdom come. Oh, yeah, usually this meant slime got on the carpet.

What might this have to do with the current round of psychological inquiry? This time we have the entire process put down to a friendly boardgame, rather than a cinematic re-enactment. The point, as before, is to survive long enough to reach the “solution”, or the “goal”, whereupon one receives the ability to deal with the “monster”. In this case, the “monster” has evolved from a formless jelly, to a charged physical entity, and now to a toy that incorporates both solid and semi-liquid characteristics. The monster’s hostility has been overcome and assimilated into a simple, but instructive play device for children.

Or is it perhaps that the game embodies a ritual experience of the actual re-enactments? The risk is that the carpet will be stained (or a mess made), so the actual “danger” of the original experience is still present to a degree. Unlike the stalemate of the movies, this suggests an actual beginning (slime monster comes to town) and an end (slime monster goes ker-blooey). Is this what the manifestation of the unconscious, this ultra feminine force ultimately wanted to arrive at? A figure in a kid’s game? The blob, the green slime, the slime monster, they just wanted to play and have fun (and devour, electrocute and stain the carpet) since they were in the neighborhood?

Don’t get caught by the yucky scary monster until someone turns the tables. Good real life survival advice. And learning to play with the unconscious and understand its contents is also good real life mental health advice. But the deeper message, I think, is that these movies and the boardgame not only reveal a process and a lesson, they also speak of the fear people have of female power. There’s a need to throw up taboos and superstitions in order to protect one’s identity from the invasion of this powerful force. A lot of the activity by the protagonists consists of running away, putting up barriers, and searching for ways to contain the threat. But the contamination of cooties is never defeated for long, just until the next outbreak. The next eruption into consciousness finds the problem needing to be dealt with again and again.

A certain amount of active participation is needed to move forward (even if the activity is still primarily reactionary and hostile), or else everyone would be gobbled up into unconsciousness. A relationship of any kind requires an interaction of back and forth to arrive at a conclusion of any consequence. The solution in this case seems clear to me. Female power wants to play and have fun! Okay, so that complicates things and makes for unpredictability. It’s a real problem though. A lot of the world is still stuck in the Blob mentality.

Where are you on the scale? Do you have a boardgame for your encounter with female power yet? Me, I’m going to need a break from all this playtime. Running away from the yucky scary monster until I can turn the tables is exhausting work, even for a dedicated weirdo like me. As the credits start to roll, I wonder what might be the next stage of development in this imagination.

The end?

I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite goodies in the Slack menagerie, and I figured I might pass them along to some of you looking for Scooby clues to your own personal mystery. I’m something of an explorer junkie, and I get a thrill out of finding new and exciting things that delight me. I have a certain rarefied taste for the weird, the exotic, the forgotten, and the “snake fingers”. Or at least I tell myself I do!

There’s an artist named Eric Shanower, who is doing a comic book adaptation of the Trojan War, called Age of Bronze. When he completes a story arc, it gets published in a graphic novel (I’m sorry, “trade paperback”) form by Image Comics. Two of the seven volumes, A Thousand Ships and Sacrifice are out now, and the third volume is coming out by the end of this year. I’m getting the shakes just thinking about it.

The writing and the artwork are nothing short of stunning. Eric has studied his subject well, and he manages to make the culture and the historical events come alive in a way I’ve never quite seen before. Every character comes across so you know who they are, and what part they are playing. The clothes, the weapons, the intrigues and customs are so fascinating, I can’t pull away. I highly recommend anyone who loves ancient cultures, epic stories, or human drama pick this up. The realism and the believability are very high. The sex and violence are handled very well, played out as matter-of-fact experiences suitable to the era. There are no cheap thrills here.

Two things really move me about the series. One is the way in which the “gods” are handled. When it comes to the supernatural, dreams become messages from the Gods, centaurs and nymphs are a particular type of people studying a certain kind of craft, and storms become visible manifestations of a deity’s divine disfavor. It’s all in their heads, but the psychic influence is very real. The characters in the story come in all shapes and sizes of “belief”, but they all accept the supernatural as a given explanation for anything beyond their immediate psychological experience. It reminds me of the closeness of aboriginal peoples to the unconscious, and yet these are all characters who are setting down one of the foundations of western culture. It’s fascinating.

The other thing that moves me is the way in which the story makes the Trojan War accessible and interesting. I just haven’t had an interest in reading about the Trojan War, even though it’s something that is set down as a classic of “literature”, simply because nothing hooked me about it. But this stuff is awesome. Eric’s writing manages to juggle dozens of names, kingdoms, and events and keep them down-to-earth and understandable. You want to know about these people, because you become invested in their stories, from the problems of King Agamemnon, to the destiny of Achilles and the hubris of Paris, it’s captivating in a way that makes history (such as we know of it) fun and exciting.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a “gamer”. I have a lot of hours of the roleplaying game culture under my belt, some of it productive, some of it not so much. Right now, there’s an independent movement in the roleplaying game community, and it’s producing some of the best gameplay and theory I’ve ever seen. While the big models lose money and produce increasingly meaningless drivel, creator-owned and developed games are hitting the market from left field in a way that is exciting and amazing.

One of the games from this fertile field is Lumpley’s Dogs In The Vineyard. You play the watchdogs of God in a wild west that never was. Essentially, you are traveling witch hunters who deliver the mail, lend a hand in the community, and purge the faithful of their demons and sin. The background is some of the most awesome stuff I’ve ever read in a roleplaying game. The rules are pretty simple; you have a character sheet of “traits” that measure how much narrative control you have over conflicts. When there’s a conflict, everyone rolls dice and describes how they bring their traits into the fray. The dice are used like cards in a series of “raises” and “sees”, until somebody runs out of luck and has to give. The game can be played in four hours and tossed aside, or played for long-term character development.

The gamemaster is a just another “player”, and the group has to collaboratively create the game’s story as it moves along. There’s no “prep”, really. You make up characters, the gamemaster makes up a few proto-NPCs and a basic town structure, and everything gets created as the play moves along. Players are expected to be effective and win, and the gamemaster is not allowed to have an outcome in mind. The challenge is in coming up with conflicts that escalate out of control so that when the players get to decide the outcome, they have to decide if it’s worth the cost.

What I like about this game is how the focus is all about the moral decisions of the players. People do the unexpected, and the story can change at a moment’s notice. At the end of it I’m exhausted and exhilarated. You can play with timing and effects so that the conflicts work out in amazing ways, giving the group a lot of freedom to decide on outcomes that make sense and are cool. You don’t sit there and expect the gamemaster to entertain you, or lead you along a story they’ve already written with a few “yes” and “no” answers along the way. I haven’t felt this hopeful and delighted about gaming since 1987. It’s an explosion of creative energy.

There was a remake of The Wicker Man, starring Nicholas Cage, which probably has to be one of the funniest crummy movies I’ve seen in a while. It made me go back and watch the original starring Christopher Lee (You know, the dude that played Saruman in that horrible Two Towers gorefest) and Britt Ekland (Who played the “Bond girl” Mary Goodnight from The Man With The Golden Gun, which also, maybe not-so-coincidentally starred Christopher Lee). I also cracked out the CD and listened to the music from the film. Crumbs, its all evidence supporting Gore Vidal’s contention that good movies only get made by accident in the “entertainment industry”. Or maybe it was an accident that this movie slipped through the cracks in the mid-seventies and was made at all. The story of how the movie survived is worth reading about.

If you haven’t seen it, an English policeman comes to an isolated island off the coast to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison. Lord Summerisle (played by Christopher Lee), the local aristocrat, runs the island. The town’s source of wealth is a yearly harvest of apples. The policeman finds that nobody knows who the girl is, and that everyone practices a form of paganism based on the old traditions of their ancestors. The policeman is a deeply devout Christian, so he soon comes into conflict with the island inhabitants. Despite the uncooperative nature of the townsfolk and Lord Summerisle, the policeman learns that last year’s harvest failed and in a few days the missing girl will be sacrificed to restore the fertility of the apple orchards!

There’s a sinister aspect to the townsfolk, and yet they are all very musically inclined. Many people who watch this horror classic are stunned to encounter the musical numbers of this film, and the context in which they are presented. The musicians who worked on the soundtrack were pure talent, and have crafted some memorable numbers. From “The Landlord’s Daughter” sung by the men in the pub to honor the gifts of Venus, to the tense fear of “Chop Chop” as the townsfolk place their heads one by one in a circle of intertwined swords, hoping the Hobby Horse doesn’t choose their head. You will certainly laugh at the fiddle work of the “Maypole”. The pagan version of sex-education is, well, original I suppose.

The reason to check it out is because there’s nothing else like it. The movie stands on it’s own as a unique work of art never to be repeated. It really is one of the best horror movies ever made, with the theme of personal and group ignorance at the end haunting you in a way that won’t let you sleep at night. The town and it’s inhabitants have to be seen to be believed, and Christopher Lee gives what is probably, and rightly so if it is, the best performance of his entire career as Lord Summerisle. Brrr.

In any musical genre there’s the dross mixed in with the gold. I have a hard time finding a dark ambient artist that tops the spectral atmospheres and cavernous sensations of Lustmord. The entire catalog of this artist is showing up on Soleilmoon, and I’ve been snapping them up as I get the bonus warp power from my engineer.

I came across some scattered MP3s that friends had on their memory sticks and I was like, “whoa”. My tastes are really weird and unpredictable, and part of that combination involves music that I can space out to, relax with, and go into deep imaginations with. So when I heard the landscapes of a couple of tracks off of Stalker and Where the Black Stars Hang, I had to see for myself if the rest was any good.

Well, save for Metavoid, I have yet to be disappointed. The aural landscapes Lustmord paints are dark, threatening, and deep. It’s like going into the depths of Loch Ness and touching the slimy back of something alive, encountering the monolith of 2001: A Space Odessey, or traveling through the secret tunnels of the Great Pyramid and witnessing a rite never seen by outsiders. You can’t help but walk away from these soundscapes and feel stunned. Gotta love it! I’ve still got a few left to snatch up, and am looking forward to further journeys into the unknowable that Lustmord makes possible.

But don’t take my word for it, scare these goodies up in your online search and see what other people have to say. It’s all about the lucky coincidence. These veins of mithril found me, maybe they’ll find you!

I’m old enough to remember the days of pong, and the video games that sprang up around it. Nowadays, video games are visually exciting, but as other experts in the industry have commented, gameplay has lagged behind technological mastery. Those old games looked like etch-a-sketch doodles, but crumbs, you could get some game play out of those simple ideas. They had to be fun to play, they weren’t much to look at. Games like these needed an experience that would draw you in and engage your imagination.

One game in particular was a favorite of mine, because it always seemed to be at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant my folks stopped at, and I’ve always thought submarines were really darn cool. I’m talking about Sea Wolf. You plopped in a quarter, stood on a small stand, and looked through a periscope with a firing button. You got a limited amount of time to play, though maybe that could be extended by scoring high in a round, I don’t know.

The screen was arranged so that you had three rows of ships moving on and off in both directions, along the surface of the “water”, and below them you had a random assortment of floating mines that were obstacles. You played the part of a submarine captain firing torpedoes at the ships for points. The torpedo started at the bottom of the screen and moved to the top, where it either detonated with a target or disappeared once it reached the top. You moved the periscope left and right to adjust where the torpedo fired.

Everything was in monochrome blue, and the graphics were not pong-style blocky, but reasonably recognizable as ships and mines. The sound effects included the familiar “sonar” pinging as a background soundtrack, with satisfying booms and whisking noises for the torpedoes. But the sound effect to beat was that of the annoying PT boat. The smallest ship, and the fastest, it was worth the most points if you could get it. It always announced itself with a kind of grating, high-pitched, whirring duck-call. Just enough to totally throw you off your game and leap greedily for the big bonus with a big fat miss.

The thing was, the PT Boat sound effect was the only sound effect you could hear when you were not playing the game. You’d be sitting at your table eating dinner, and the video game would make the duck-call and you couldn’t ignore it. At least, not at my age at the time. Devious, huh? That ding-dang-darn PT Boat was just daring you to take a shot at it. Go ahead; knock that battery off that shoulder. Give it your best shot, punk. Mom, dad, gimmie quarter! I have to shut up the PT Boat! Can’t you hear it?

Despite the simplicity, the game is actually pretty challenging. The mines, the mix between larger (less valuable points-wise) ships and smaller ships, and the need to time your shots combine into a really exciting game. You shoot for the easy ship, but hit the mine instead, or you go for the hard shot, and the PT Boat appears to throw you off for a fraction of a second and you miss completely. For 60 seconds of fun, its pretty basic brain stimulation, but I got a kick out of it.

I guess you could call Sea Wolf my first video game crush. Before Pac Man fever, there was Sea Wolf puppy love. That was the seventies for you.

Okay, most toys are junk. There are still a few classics you can count on to always be there, in one form or another, such as Legos or dinosaurs. But for the most part, the good stuff gets made by accident, and disappears. Oh, the strange ideas for playtime that have floated past my peepers and through my flippers when I was a mere pouchling. Sigh, if only I had one of the three elven Rings of Power so that I might preserve unstained and untainted the glory of childhoods in the Elder Days. Sea Diver, I have failed you!

Well, okay, maybe I didn’t need a Ring of Power because I had some of that whacky, Tom Bombadil magic. A few artifacts survived and managed to make it to the current age of mankind, so to speak. I’m talking about that radical board game known as Fireball Island. Talk about high production values! Early to mid eighties engineering, with a concept that could only have existed in the seventies. Clever design, colorful artwork, and fabulous three-dimensional rendering make this game an instant classic.

You are one of four archaeologists who have just landed on the forbidden island known as “fireball island”. Your goal is to get to the volcano in the center of the board, steal the magic jewel, and then reach the docks to escape. Presumably riches and glory follow. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

First off, the island is volcanic, and the capricious island tiki idol in the center of the board dispenses his displeasure in the form of giant fireballs of molten lava. Whenever the rules call for it (for example, when someone rolls a “1” on a six sided die for movement), a fireball is launched and someone chooses which of the six red marbles is pushed down a slope where it nails any number of helpless archaeologist tokens! If you get hit, you have to go to a “smoulder pit”, which acts as a penalty box where you “smoulder” and lose a turn. Its hilarious fun blasting people, even yourself – because if you have to shoot a fireball, and you are the only available target, blam!

Second, you and your three rivals each start with four action cards that can be used to push the odds in your favor, and you all draw a new card when you land on a dark space. The cards can make you move extra spaces forward instead of rolling, push back someone else several spaces, give you an extra turn, protect you from a fireball, give you a chance to shoot a fireball, protect someone from stealing the jewel if you are carrying it, etc. It means things can get pretty cutthroat between players, which makes sense. You’re all essentially tomb robbers ripping off somebody else’s sacred artifact for your own gain!

There are some nice extra touches to the game. They give it that special twist of the knob to eleven. There are six caves scattered around the board. If one is nearby on your turn, and you have the spaces to reach it, you can go inside. On your next turn you roll a die to see which cave you appear in. There’s an element of chance, because you could end up in a bad spot and waste a lot of time getting to a good cave again. Or you could zoom ahead to a strategically important place – right next to the jewel, in front of someone with the jewel and proceed to rip them off, or just way ahead of everyone else.

Another nice touch is the talismans. If you pass the ruined fortress you can pick up one of four talismans. The talisman is a neat little amulet that the jewel token fits into. At any time you can cash in the amulet for a full hand of four cards, or you can keep it and to use as a fake jewel when someone tries to steal from you.

But the best touches, I think, are the two bridges. Now, I don’t think I’ve conveyed how the game board is set up, exactly. It’s three dimensional, with valleys, hills, steps and paths. The entire board is painted with all sorts of nice little details, like bones on one of the beaches, or snakes in the jungle. The board is set up so the fireballs can roll down various “territories”, such as the aptly named “dead man’s alley”. On the way to the docks, you have to pass through a treacherous series of cliffs, crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a crevasse at one section, and another bridge over a raging river out to sea.

Yup, you got it. If you have the jewel, everybody is going to shoot any fireballs they get at you while you’re crossing a bridge! It’s the highlight of the game, to launch a fireball at your buddy’s token while he stands on the bridge, gawking. Bahahahah, there goes your token! If you have the jewel when you get blasted, it gets left on the bridge for someone else to snatch up. Things can get kind of funny as everyone keeps getting the jewel, gets blasted, smoulders at the pit on the beach, and runs back up the cliff to try again. All in a line! Eventually someone gets through and it’s a mad dash for the boat, hoping you’ll be the last one to steal the jewel if someone else has it.

It takes about 35-45 minutes to finish a game, but its high stakes action all the way! It plays equally well with kids and grownups, though I think kids have a better time as a rule. I like Chutes and Ladders or Candyland as much as the next person, but you’ve got to hand it to a game that relies on cheap gimmicks and flashy packaging to sell a solid gameplay. Just remember; always keep a fake jewel handy when you’re booking to the getaway boat. A good piece of real life advice, my friends!

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