Fan Man Reviews: Avengers: Age of Ultron (Spoiler Free)

Several weeks have passed since the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe dropped, so I feel comfortable now releasing my review with commentary.  The following is a spoiler-free assessment for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Let me start by saying that I’m disappointed with the amount of hate and nitpicky criticism this movie is getting.  If you’ve been reading this space for the last few weeks you are probably aware that I have grown out of that phase of fanboy life and as a fanman I intend to separate myself from that as much as possible.  I will not be calling anyone out nor will I be insulting or overly-critical in any way but I will be rebutting points that I’ve seen floating about the ‘net regarding the film that I believe qualify as hate and nitpicky criticism.

First, I have to give credit to the writing and production crew of the entire MCU for the way the movie was so cleverly interwoven with the “Agents of SHIELD” show.  If you’re a fan of the MCU movies and haven’t checked out the show yet I really do urge you to check it out.  As a “spy show” it stands well on its own but when taken as it was originally conceived; more tales from the MCU for those who aren’t getting enough from the films themselves, it performs that job well too.  I’m sure it would not take more than a cursory search of the web to find a timeline with recommended viewing order so newcomers would be able to see and appreciate how well embedded into the films’ mythology it is.

Once again, Joss Whedon has put together another great instance of a comic book on film, done correctly.  One of my favorite things about comic books is how your mood can run the gamut of emotions during the course of single twenty-two paged issue.  Whedon’s clear understanding of the medium the source-material comes from is on display here.  Like many comics I’ve ever read, the first scene actually opens well into an action sequence that began before the reader, or in this case the viewer, got there.  The purpose is to convey to the audience the idea that the Avengers’ work is never done.  Throughout the movie, his sense for entertaining and engaging dialogue is on display.  While there were places in “Avengers” where I felt like I was watching characters from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in cosplay, here the dialogue never felt overdone.  As a soldier I have a different perspective on the “combat chatter” too which is:  it’s not uncommon for soldiers to use their sense of humor to cope with the dangerous situations where they find themselves.  I once read that the developers of the game “Army of Two” wrote in-game dialogue after listening to recordings of real soldiers in combat situations only to dial it down after focus testing because testers thought it sounded too macho and therefore ridiculous.  Basically, that’s a lot of words to just say, “I thought the dialogue was perfect.”

Regardless of your personal feelings on movies being screened and subsequently released on home video in 3D, the tracking shot of every Avenger passing by the camera all at once, slowed dramatically just long enough to let us appreciate it, looked great.  Several action sequences use the combined 3D and slow-mo affect to equal effectiveness throughout the movie.

Hawkeye fans, among whom I count myself, will be pleased to note that his role in the film as well as on the team was greatly expanded.  I’ve seen several complaints that the references to him as the glue or backbone of the team were unnecessary, at best, or ham-fisted, at worst.  Let me tell you that as a devoted comic reader myself, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and whether they were ham-fisted or not is irrelevant.  Remember that we’re still dealing with an art form, the source material that is, which was originally intended for children (feel free to argue the merit of that statement in the comments below).  The scenes existed to help ground the movie in reality a little bit but also to teach a little something.  The ham-fisted aspect comes from the fact that subtlety gets in the way of the message, not just for children but even the casual viewer who isn’t fluent in Marvel lore.   Anyone who would like to argue that the presence of blood, gore and foul language in the comics or the movies makes me wrong is welcome to do so.  Without any hyperbole or arrogance I can, and will, argue that those three elements do not make comic books “for adults.”   Without digressing too far let me just say that comic books that are truly created for adults contain much more complex factors and are typically even referred to by another name in order to provide parity.  You would be forgiven for not being aware of the distinction, but that would not make the assessment that comics containing blood, gore, and foul language are “adult entertainment” any less wrong. [Ed. I look forward to all of the angry comments that I’ll promptly delete and remain hopeful that someone will attempt to have an adult discussion with me on the issue.]

We finally got to see the results of the individual members working as a team when they’re not fighting evil.  Not only that, we got to see them hang out socially and we even got to see them argue and fight.  While that might seem like a minor issue, from my perspective I can say that it is not.  The Marvel Comics brand has been tackling complex issues for decades.  In the comics Dr. Banner is considered one of the smartest men on the planet and simultaneously the most dangerous because of the big green guy that lives in his head.  Previous MCU movies have touched on this but not to the degree that this one did.

One of the greatest things this film does is reminds us that these are human beings, superpowered as they may be; real people dealing with very unreal circumstances.  Banner frets over the damage he’s done and the potential danger he represents.  Stark is still trying to escape his past as a weapons builder.  Captain America is aware that he’s alone and believes he has no place.  Thor is still struggling to understand his purpose as the next ruler of Asgard and the responsibility he feels to Jane Foster and the people of Earth.  Black Widow regrets her past as a Soviet assassin.  In one of my favorite moments, while the rest of the Avengers are forced to see their worst fears made real, Hawkeye escapes this fate with a clever nod to the previous Avengers film.

Comic books being what they are, there are plenty of massively over-powered villains from comic lore to choose from, but the choice of Ultron makes sense on many levels.  He is the embodiment of the entire team’s worst nightmare, and to a certain degree he represents a real-world fear that many have regarding technology today.  Head executive producer Kevin Feige has already said this film is the culmination of the collective beating that the team took in their solo films between Avengers flicks.  Those solo films basically dealing with each character’s “dirty little secrets” come to a head here.

I’ve heard it said that Ultron wasn’t given his proper due because he wasn’t given a chance to develop properly as a character.  To that I say, “What’s there to develop?”  He’s an evil, intelligent robot bent on destroying humanity, what else do casual viewers need to know?  Long story short, I thought he was perfect.

I did have one complaint about the movie and I’m sure I’ll be lambasted for being cliché, but I was sorry that it had to end.  I have literally no complaint, I just don’t want to have to wait until June to see “Ant Man.”

Fanman, out.


Fanman Mission Statement

I am just guy; a normal dude.  I grew up in the midwest in the middle of farm country, not really a farmer.  I went to church; I went to high school and barely made it out alive.  I tried college, no good.  I joined the Army Reserves.  I should have gone active duty, you live and learn.  I deployed once to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but that’s a story for another time.  I bounced around from mid-level commercial job to job until I met the woman of my dreams and convinced her with my all of the nerdy lady-killing skills I have to marry me.  We have so much in common and so much uncommon but she gets me and I worship her.  Then I lost the best civilian job I ever had because I failed to grow up and so finally went full time active duty Army as a recruiter, where I am still employed today, for now.

I have an awesome little fanboy in the making and a beautiful little baby girl who loves Little Einsteins and I think really likes Star Trek Deep Space Nine.  I’m in my early thirties and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.  I have stories to tell but I don’t like taking the time to actually write them; I would prefer to write editorials.  I don’t care if anyone reads them, I write them for me.  Recently I realized that I troll Facebook and end up leaving lengthy comments because I have lengthy opinions.  I’ve decided that I will keep my lengthy opinions off of Facebook and people’s walls because, number one:  nobody wants to read that shit on Facebook anyway; and  number 2:  I’m wasting my time.

I already have this blog so if I have an opinion to share why don’t I simply put it here?  I already have a YouTube channel too.  I don’t have many subscribers but it doesn’t matter; I’ve never put up any content that was worth watching except my one attempt at stand-up comedy.  [Ed. Link provided below if you want to see it.]

Between my upbringing and my Army training I try to live my life today by a very particular code.  Legally I’ve been considered an adult for over 15 years and yet I’m still astonished day-to-day how rarely some of us actually act like it.  I would have thought in the Army it would be different, where being responsible and accountable for your actions is one of the very first lessons you’re taught, but no.  My experience with the Army has been that some units function closer in fashion to Communist nations than any kind of efficiently functioning and productive organization.  However, my experience in the civilian world would be nearly identical.

So I’m not going to put out any specific plan of action I intend to undertake or any philosophy I want to spread to change the world or make things better.  I’m simply going to propose one thing:  I am going to act and speak like an adult and I would expect everyone who reads this blog to do so as well.  By “adult” I mean compose yourself in a mature and reasonable manner and speak to myself and others in kind.

I am a normal man whose life experiences have shaped my perspective on the world around me.  The opinions that I share just that:  my opinions, formed as they are by my life experiences.  Depending on who you ask, you may or may not be able to consider me an expert on any of this stuff I will write about here, but I certainly will not ever claim expertise.  Therefore it can be understood that I know what I know and my opinions are based on that.  I will not make declarations nor do I expect anyone to just automatically agree with me.  I am happy to engage anyone in a calm and reasonable conversation on any topic; the basic requirement is that it remain civil.  I will not tolerate nastiness, hatred, vitriol and/or hypocrisy.  That means no unnecessarily critical, hate-filled comments: either you liked it or you didn’t. If your criticism isn’t constructive please keep it to yourself.  It also means if you said or asserted something and then later try to insist that you did not, I’m going to call you out.  I refuse to get into a fight with anyone and I would appreciate that you do not come here to pick one with me.  If you made a comment to which I respond and you feel that I have misinterpreted something you said then by all means correct me but if you cannot remain mature or pleasant then we have nothing more to say to one another.  Like other and far more famous pop-culture personalities have said before me, in particular The Nerdist himself Chris Hardwick and his friend, TV star Wil Wheaton, “Dont’ be a dick.”

Don’t be a dick! I’m simply taking it one step further.  You and I can have a discussion or an argument and never find common ground but there is absolutely no reason for anyone to engage in nastiness.  I will keep lines of communication open for the discussion of anything but the moment one cannot show that one is not capable of behaving like an adult, the discussion will cease.  I am sick and tired of self-proclaimed adults acting like children and then acting as though everyone else is the problem.  When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to grow up and be an adult and be able to have an honest conversation with someone and tell them exactly what I think and have that person say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.  This is what I think.”

Maybe he could change my opinion, maybe not.  Maybe I could change his, maybe not.  Maybe we agree to disagree and still part ways amicably, hopefully as friends, and neither had to bring the other’s person or integrity into question.  You know what you know and think what you think; I know what I know and think what I think, and that’s ok!  We all want to be treated like adults but first we have to start acting like adults.  The world be such a better place if we did.

Finally, if you like anything that I post, if you like this particular blog entry, feel free to give me a like, an up-vote, a share, a tweet, a subscribe; anyway you can your support would be greatly appreciated but maybe if this message reaches enough people we could make a difference.  For me, all I want to do is put my creative shit out there without being worried that someone’s going to heap unnecessary hate on me for it.  If you don’t like me or my content, don’t consume it but please don’t waste your time and mine by leaving a horrible comment.  The internet’s given me a voice and so I’m going to use it because I like to talk.

My Stand-Up Video

Fanboy grows up! Call me a “fan…man?”

Though the desire still remains, I no longer collect and read comic books. While my membership to various geek publications and websites are current, I don’t stalk them hourly for info on the fictional characters and worlds I love. My interest never waned even though the time and effort that I have to devote certainly did. When I haven’t got other more important things to occupy my time, I’ll revisit those people and places but when I see them now it’s through the lens of adulthood, of fatherhood.

These new perspectives lead me to questions that I can’t easily answer, to discussions that I want to have but with no one to share, ideas to share without an audience to listen. At the same time in my personal life I am at a crossroads. Taking care of my family will always be my number one priority but I’ve learned so much more than I ever would have guessed I could in just a few short years. So with that in mind, I can see that this crossroads may also be the perfect opportunity to finally do some things that I’ve always wanted to do and take care of my family at the same time.

Of course I also have this blog. The internet is a wonderful thing and I truly believe we’re on the edge of something big, something great because of it. So, now is the time and this is the place. I’m not going to be a part of the future if I don’t start participating in the present. Maybe no one has any interest in anything I have to say, but at least I’ll be writing and the more I write the better the chance that I’ll have written something else worth reading. The opposite could also be true and by writing more and more here I may have more opportunities in the future. Or maybe neither happens and I continue to take care of my family the same way I am now, but I’ll be writing here and I’ll be happier for it.

My first attempt at a podcast was at least a good learning experience. I may not do another one but at the very least it helped me find my creative voice. Regardless, expect to see more in this space and more expect to see it more often. Expect to see more of my thoughts and ideas about fanboyish things and my new, more mature perspective on them. You can expect to see more creative endeavors from me in the future as well, because this is me turning over a new leaf.

Today marks the day that the fanboy became: THE FAN MAN!

Quit trying to make me listen to that!

Perhaps it is just my my own experience and this isn’t something that seems as ubiquitous as it appears to me, but why is it that my wife, and before her my girlfriends through the years, have been incapable of letting my taste in music be? Now I’m not going to give you a complete history of “Pop Music According to Jesse” but I will give you a quick synopsis. Never listened to music before the age of 10 that didn’t belong to my parents. I’m a lifelong lover of Billy Joel and Dire Straits to this day because Billy Joel’s “The Bridge” and “Storm Front” and Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” are the albums I heard the most from the ages of roughly 5-12. The first music I found own my own that I would actually call my own is Weird Al. A friend at school had just gotten his “Alapalooza” album featuring the “MacArthur Park” parody and the “Jurassic Park” inspired logo and soon another friend let me borrow his Weird Al “In 3D” album on cassette which I dubbed. Eventually I would also dub “Dare to Be Stupid” and actually receive a copy, also on cassette (CD’s? What?), of “Bad Hair Day” featuring the world famous “Amish Paradise.”  With those parodies firmly in my mind I would eventually start seeking out the original songs featured on those albums like every classic rock song played polka-style on “In 3D” on the track “Polkas on 45”, or the songs that inspired, “King of Suede”, “I Want a New Duck” or “Bedrock Anthem.”

Very soon my brother would discover “alternative rock” of the early 90’s, as would my friends, and soon I was exposed to Nirvana, Green Day, Oasis, Everclear and so forth. I would listen to the music with him and certainly enjoy it, but music was never my thing. For some reason though, sophomore year high school, 1997, The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” and Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” hit home with me. Not that I had any idea what either song meant, still don’t, but I’d never heard music before that could evoke emotions in me that weren’t simply happy or excited. But I was never one for spending much of my money on music, though I did finally start seeking it out. I joined the BMG record club a couple dozen times, like you did back then, to grow my CD library when I finally had enough scratch to pick up a knock off Sony Discman, but I was also listening to whatever was popular, whatever was on the radio and most people in my high school had moved on to either good music that they had discovered by actually looking for it, or what was the beginnings of the today’s “butt rock” movement, Godsmack and the like.

Then, my senior year, I guy I barely knew but who I thought of pretty highly because of his musical accomplishments (he played guitar in a friend’s band) turned me onto a the album “From the Screen to Your Stereo” by an unknown, to me, group called New Found Glory. He explained it as a series of cover songs from their favorite movies. I didn’t know what they even sounded like, I just knew I had to have it. Very soon after that I had bought their self-titled. A year or so later I discovered another unknown group called Lucky Boys Confusion. What made these bands stick out, and why I follow them still to this day, is the way their music actually spoke to me in a way that music had never done before. As you can imagine, my musical tastes lie in that above-mentioned stew. Somewhere along the lines I became a Who and Pink Floyd fanatic, pretty much all classic rock of the 70’s is welcome in my ears, Billy Joel, 80’s music that I couldn’t help but hear because it was so unavoidable for so long, Dire Straits, pop-country of the late 80’s-early 90’s (because it was also unavoidable for an Indiana kid of that era) and kinda obscure pop-punk of the 90’s to early 00’s.

Every girl I have ever dated knows this. Every girl I have ever dated, but one, seems bothered by this. Aside from the obvious reasons like, “I’m a guy” and “I don’t like mass-media pop”, I can typically be found actively avoiding popular music. because it doesn’t appeal to me musically or lyrically and I am actuely aware that 99% of the time it is compiled of the work of multiple writers and producers before ever making it to your ears, for specific purpose of making money and “enjoyment” is only secondary. If a song got play on the contemporary station, the pop station, the rap station, the hip-hop station, didn’t matter, I didn’t want to hear it. Now, I’m not saying that the rap and hip-hop stations consisted of cookie-cutter music, in this case, I just never quite “got” it. But regarding pop, not only did I not want to hear it, if I did end up getting exposed to it in some way, I would separate myself from the situation just so I could end it. So, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, LFO, Backstreet Boys, name a female pop star or boy band and I hated them with a fiery passion. Now, I understand that the boy band thing is something I think most girls grew out of by about 15 or so, but the female pop stars less so, and if I was going to be dating members of the fairer sex, I would have to learn some tolerance but, tolerate was as far as I was willing to take it.

And yet, every girl but one has not been able to easily grasp how I couldn’t possibly know this song or that song by this vapid blonde or that auto-tuned airhead:

Her: “Here, listen to this. Isn’t this good?”
Me: “Nope.”
Her: “You’re not even listening!”
Me: “Nope.”

Her: “Oh, I heard that new one by [insert popstar here]!”
Me: “I’ll take your word for it.”
Her: “Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard it, it’s been everywhere lately. She was even on [insert popular talkshow here].”
Me: “Ah. Still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Her: “Me and [co-worker] were talking about the differences between [two songs by some popstar].”
Me: “OK?”
Her: “And I was saying that [song one] is a party song and [song two] is a break-up song and he didn’t agree with me.”
Me: “I see. I have no idea.”

Even yesterday during the joke that is the Super Bowl half-time show for Super Bowl 49, February 1, 2015, I was upstairs finishing up a little piece of my honey-do list because I had no desire to watch it. I can say with a mild amount of certainty that there were probably many people who changed the channel or found other things to do at the same time. Yet, my wife is still yelling up to me from the living room that it was, “bad ass.” I would later explain to her that while I can use the words “bad” and “ass” to describe Katy Perry all damn day, I would not ever use them in the order and context she used them. Then when it was over she came and got me and tried to explain to me some more of what had occurred to which I said, “I’m sure Pepsi got what they paid for,” and she got mad. After 7 1/2 years of marriage I’d like to say that I know my wife pretty well at this point and she wasn’t mad at me for the comment, she wasn’t even mad at me because I missed the “half-time show”, she was mad at me because I wasn’t even going to try to like the music she liked. She and I actually have a pretty big cross-section of music that we both enjoy, between 80’s music, Broadway musicals, Elvis, Sinatra and even some of my pop-punk stuff, yet she still to this day, every time I say I’m not interested in mass-media pop music by manufactured popstars that represent a “music industry” that is, as we speak, heaving its dying breaths, she gets mad at me because she takes it as a personal insult.

What is going on here?! Why can’t I avoid shitty music and it just be understood that I don’t want to listen to shitty music?! I’m not the most musically aware, I listen to stuff that I understand other people find shitty and that’s fine. I understand that the bands I like are probably derivative of something older or better too but I’m not trying to be a scholar about it either. I know that there’s entire worlds of music out there that I’ve never even imagined, let alone heard of. All I want is to listen to what I like the few times a week I actually get to listen to music, and nothing else. But why has every single female in my life, but one, found it insulting that I don’t like the music they like? My wife has actually tried to argue with me on this point. “I’ve listened to stuff of yours I didn’t think I would like.” Which of course led to a fight because I countered with, “And?” “Well, I liked some of it,” she added. “I’ve listened to your shit too! I’ve never gotten butthurt because you didn’t like my music, I understand that tastes are different but I never asked you or forced you to like my stuff. I’ll be nice when your shit’s on, that doesn’t mean I’m having a good time!”

Ultimately I learned that she thought that because I had heard it, heard of it, might have even been caught humming or singing it because it was stuck in my head, that not only did I enjoy it, but I wanted to hear more of it. Let me make this perfectly clear, anything by the band Fun is straight up garbage, to me. Just because I like to sing, “Sometimes I stay up splashing in my bathtub,” doesn’t mean I like the song. I’m making fun of it. That is my enjoyment. The same goes for pretty much any other band making new music right now. Anything by Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or Ariana Grande is also the musical equivalent of puke. Seriously, if you can listen to the lyrics to any of their songs for longer than 30 seconds without killing yourself, you’ll hear that they’re almost quite literally puking sounds that just so happen to fit the rhythm and tempo of the so-called “music.” Does the music serve a purpose? Is it catchy? Is it making money? Yes to all of those questions. That doesn’t mean it’s good music.

I listen to music because it actually does something to me emotionally. It can actually, “soothe my soul” from time to time. I also listen to music so that I can just shut down. Some of my music is shitty and I can admit to that too. But I only have so much time in my life for the things that I enjoy doing anymore anyway, I certainly don’t want to fill it with stuff that I’m going to just get mad at. I have more music in my library right now than I will ever have free time for until sometime after I retire in 60 years, I don’t need or want any new stuff. JESUS CHRIST, QUIT TRYING TO MAKE ME LISTEN TO THAT!

Sometimes I write comedy sketches…

I love to write but actually sitting down and forcing myself to write a bloc of time every day is seemingly impossible. Sometimes however I am able to knock out cute little anecdotes, blogs, political rants or screenplays off the cuff if I’m in a place where I have the time. The following is just one such screenplay. Some friends were discussing the awfulness of the last Metroid title to be released by Nintendo, the universally hated “Other M”. If you know anything about this game or the Metroid series in general, you will probably notice that I attempted to skewer every single thing that the game got wrong about the games that preceded it. If you know nothing about the game, you may not even enjoy the sketch, be forewarned, it’s pretty nerdy but I you choose to read it understand that the game controlled horribly, the way the main character was written practically ruined her and the plot itself contradicted the existing story canon in many ways where previous games had always managed to be very careful about that. Not to mention that the development team chosen to build the game, Team Ninja, was known for making games that in practice were the polar opposite of this series in almost every way, i.e. the Metroid titles were about a deep storyline, puzzle-solving, exploration, and lots of suspense (I have always suspected that the original game on the old Nintendo was inspired by the film, “Alien.”) but the games Team Ninja makes are hack’n’slash, action, platformers with basic assassin/revenge stories. Not there’s anything wrong with that, just not what Metroid’s about.

Perhaps someday if I thought it was funny enough, I might get a few friends together and get it filmed. I hope at least my friends who know the Metroid series and love it as I do will at least enjoy it. So without further ado here is, “The Metroid Other M Design Meeting”

*Big, fat, balding, cigar-smoking executive pacing around his desk inside an all glass office at the top of a high-rise office building is interrupted by his petite, demure secretary.*

Secretary: “Sir, the gentleman from Team Ninja is here for the design meeting on the new Metroid title for Wii.”

Nintendo Exec (NE): “What? Oh yeah, we haven’t made a Met… a Mettero… one of those games for the Wii yet, whoda thunk?”

Secretary: “Of course, Sir.”

*Team Ninja Team Leader (TNTL) sits*

NE: “Well, you give me what you got and we’ll start from there.”

TNTL: “Oh, well we don’t have much because we were waiting to see what direction you wanted to take the series in since the last three were first-person exploration games but people have been begging for another side-scrolling platformer for a long time now and retro-inspired games are in style now. So was there anything specific that you wanted for the game?

NE: “Well it’s gotta use the motion control, right? Othewise,” *snort* “I mean, then what the hell did we invent it for, am I right?” *NE starts making emphatic bowling and tennis motions with his hands and laughing*

TNTL: *smiles and chuckles nervously*  “Heh, good point, Sir. What about the nunchuck?”

NE: “The ‘what-chuck?'”

TNTL: “The analog stick extension for the Wiimote.”

NE: “We have a controller called the ‘numb-chuck?'”  *TNTL nods slowly, astonished*  “Since when?”

TNTL: *clearly baffled by what the NE is saying* “It’s been an accessory from the very beginning, Sir. It comes in the same package as the system.”

NE: *laughing* “Are you serious?!” *TNTL nods again* “Huh, how’d I miss that? Anyway, no I think just a couple of buttons’ll do it. Now, you said the last one was one of them first-person shooters that are real big right now?”

TNTL: *hesitantly* “Well, more like ‘first-person explora–“

*NE interrupts*

NE: “Those sold pretty good numbers, right?” *TNTL shrugs and nods hesitantly* “Yeah, gotta keep the first-person shooter thing but you’re saying the fans really liked the ancient ones too?”

TNTL: “I’m not sure I’d classify the early games as ‘ancient’, Sir, but they’re definitely considered retro class–“

*NE interrupts again*

NE: “Yeah, people seem to be eating up all that old shit they can download from the online internet. That’s, er, what’d you call ’em again, ‘retro-class’?”

TNTL: “‘Retro-classics?'”

NE: “‘RETRO-CLASSICS!’ I like that, good marketing word. Those new ‘retro-classic’ Mario games we’re makin’ are selling well right now… so, yeah, definitely make it ‘retro.‘” *puts odd emphasis on the word “retro”*

*TNTL writes on his blank notepad “first-person” and “retro”*

TNTL: “Ooo-kaaaaay… What about the game’s story?”

NE: “What about what?”

TNTL: “Well, sir, the last game ended that particular storyline, so do you want us to start a new plot or–“

NE: *shakes his head like he’s confused* “What’s all this nonsense about stories and plots?”

TNTL: “Well, Sir, some players want to see a compelling narrative so they have a reason to want to play the game to the ending. 99% of all videogames today have a story of some kind, Sir.”

NE: “Wait, so Mario Bros. isn’t about plumbers eating mushrooms and stomping on turtles in the sewer?”

TNTL: “No, Sir, today they’re commonly about Mario chasing Bowser to save Peach and they haven’t featured a game in the sewers since the nineteen-eight–“

NE: “Fine! What’s this game about then?”

TNTL: “Well, it’s about an intergalactic bounty hunter who with a powerful, technologically advanced suit of armor who is constantly at war with a band of criminals led by a cybernetic brain who are trying to use a deadly alien parasite to rule the galaxy. Then there’s a few subplots like how the suit of armor was built by a race of extinct aliens that also raised h–“

NE: *interrupts again and makes a “speed-up” motion with his hand* “Give me the Cliffnotes version.”

TNTL: “Um, ok, space bounty hunter in a fancy suit rescues people from space pirates led by a giant brain in a jar that want to use unkillable space jellyfish to rule the universe.”

NE: *shrugs, adopts condescending tone of voice* “Right, so some people are in danger ’cause the pirates are using the jellyfish again and the space bounty hunter gets called in again to stop them. What else do you need?”

TNTL: “Oh, well, Sir, do you want us to set the game after Super Metroid since that one comes last on the timeline?”

NE: *rolls his eyes and sighs* “Yeah sure, why not? Which one was that?”

TNTL: “The third one, Sir, on the Super Nintendo.”

NE: “Third game, perfect! That oughta be retro enough.”

TNTL: “So then something like how the plot for the last series was set between the first and second game?”

NE: “Yep, precisely, you put this one between the third and the fourth game! I don’t care, be creative!”

TNTL: “Well we don’t want to be too creative, Sir, or it might not make any sen–“

NE: “So get as creative as you want and make sure it makes sense! Sheesh! Does anybody really care that much about a videogame’s story?” *TNTL is about to respond but NE shoots him a dirty look* “Don’t answer that, I don’t care. Wait, I got it! We’ll bring a fan favorite character back from the dead! Are there any dead characters we can do that with?”

TNTL: “Uh, well yeah, there was a dead character that was never mentioned before the fourth game.”

NE: “There, that’s perfect, you make this game about how that guy died. They’re working together because, um, OH, because the fancy armor’s broken so the bounty hunter has a real bad attitude and really hates this guy but maybe secretly in love with him too ’cause that’s drama, blah blah blah, this guy sacrifices himself to save the bounty hunter and everyone learns a valuable lesson, because people love that heroic stuff, and the bounty hunter’s love isn’t secret anymore but it’s too late ’cause the guy’s dead but now there’s a little bit of romance for all those people calling the Wii a ‘kiddie system’ Then that way we can make a sequel where we bring him back.” *Nods to himself in self-satisfaction*

TNTL: *timidly responds* “They basically did that already in the fourth game, Sir.”

NE: “Well you can work with that right? Any questions the fourth game had, you answer ’em here.” *TNTL nods again. Writes “lots of questions” on his notepad* “But still make sure you drop a few new ones too so we can have room for that sequel.”

TNTL: “Got it, Sir. You said make the bounty hunter secretly in love with the dead guy.”

NE: “Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff they do on TV that gets people to keep coming back next week, you know, that ‘will they or won’t they’ crap. You want a reason for people to play to the end of the game, that’s how you do that.”

TNTL: “Yes, Sir, I understood that part, but you had to ask me before what the story was all about, so I’m wondering how you knew the bounty hunter was a woman.”

NE: “The bounty hunter’s a woman?! Oh, well whatever. I thought some gay romance might be a little edgy, maybe widen that audience a little more but if she’s a woman it still works. In fact, run with that angle instead! Since she’s a woman make that bad attitude all woman-y type stuff, give the girls something to relate to and maybe we market it that way.”

TNTL: “Oh, well, uh, ok then.” *TNTL writes “make Samus girly” on the notepad* “I guess that about covers it then, Sir. Last question, what do we call it. Did you want us to give it some kind of unique name or was there already a title prepared?”

*phone rings and NE has picks it up and begins another conversation*

NE: *Into the phone* “Hang on, this guy was just leaving.” *Continues talking at phone volume while turning back to TNTL* “Right, the title. Hell, I don’t know, do something like what the–“ *something on the phone has captured his attention, angers him and so he yells* “OTHER M– –etroid games did. Yes, I’m still here, I said gimme a second!”

TNTL: *shrugs then says quitely* “OK, got it, Sir, thank you. *writes “Other M” on the notepad and leaves*

*NE turns back to the door to see the TNTL is gone, shrugs, goes back to his phone call*

These are the times to remember…

It is with great happiness I declare that my second child, my first daughter, arrived safely Friday morning at 8:07. As a result, I spent the next couple of days in the hospital with my dear wife as she recovered and did some bonding with my new little gamer. As a result, I do not have an episode prepared for today. If you’re reading this it means at the very least that you have an RSS reader that added this to your feed or that you follow my blog on WordPress. I know I’m prone to missing weeks at a time, however I feel that at least acknowledging the absence of content is forgivable as I do have multiple episodes in the works, a solo episode, with featured guests, on emergent gameplay and how we can learn from games, as well as an upcoming duo with Jason on Mass Effect which ought to be a really deep, but also a very silly episode.

Thanks to everyone who listens, follows, etc… and as always feel free to contact myself, Jason or the show on our various correspondence methods.



What are power-ups?

Power-ups are fundamental to games. This topic is so ubiquitous that I’m not going to do anything crazy like go into the history of power-ups like I might with other topics, luck you. But I do want to talk about why they’re so important. What are they, what do they do, why is that important in a gaming world and of course, how that relates to us as people and the real world.


At the most basic level, a power-up is THE THING, that one element that makes the gaming world differ from the real-world. Pick any game and there’s AT LEAST one thing. That’s why maybe the term “power-up” isn’t the best for describing what I’m trying to talk about, but I’ll stick with it for the purposes of the discussion. Even games where you’re expected to “simulate” real life, there is something in the game, inside the framework of the program, that makes it fundamentally different from the real-world, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun. It goes to the root of why we play games in the first place, to do something different from our day to day lives. This speaks to all genres of game and even format, table-top, pen and paper, electronic/computer, and so forth.


So, whether we’re talking about flight simulators, adventure games, RPG’S, puzzle games it still comes back to at least one thing, but really in almost every game there’s usually a plethora of things. Using those previously listed examples, in flight sims you’re operating craft that you’d never realistically get close to, you’re going places and wielding objects that you’d never see or use in your normal life, RPG’s grant you otherworldly powers and even puzzle games have their own rules that would defy normal real-world rules if you tried to do it with real candy, or blocks or birds or whatever.


Well, interestingly enough, that is why there is continuous debate on the psychological effects games have on their users. That’s the entire premise of this show, the ways that videogames have affected me and Jason and our listeners in our lives. More and more often in recent times we hear stories of people developing all sorts of problems that are the direct result of his or her game playing. People who stop eating, or bathing or much, MUCH worse. Sadly the lives of those gamers’ family and friends are deeply affected.


I can tell you that on more than one occasion I have heard videogames more accurately compared to a drug than entertainment. Especially if you consider the psychological results that most people derive from their game playing. Successful people, that is people who are successful at other things in life besides just videogames (but even them too), can and probably will tell you that the rush you get from succeeding at a videogame you can also receive by succeeding at just about any other activity. Supposed experts on human psychology will tell you that videogames are dangerous because they give you the feeling of success with only the most minimal effort. To the wrong kind of person this can be a bad thing. I’m sure if we were to look deeper here, we might learn more about gamers who end up committing random acts of horrific violence but I’m no (quote) expert (unquote). Nothing exists in a vacuum however and simply feeling good from succeeding in a videogame is not going to push anyone into some kind of psychosis, there have to be other factors in play, factors, obviously unknown to, or ignored by, those who decry games as a danger to the youth of the world. Look at the outcry over pen and paper RPG’s back in the 70’s if you don’t believe me. Statistically you’re more likely to link a random act of violence to a chemical imbalance brought on by prescription pharmaceuticals or illicit drugs.


Huh, drugs. There’s that word again? There’s a reason it keeps coming up here and I may end up pissing some people off here but here goes. What is a power-up? Well, if we want to use the definition from the world of videogames you would likely say it is “an object or device that alters fundamental gameplay.” What is a videogame? For tha matter what is a game? We might say that gamers are “programs or constructs with their own fundamental rules that offers a departure from the every day norm.” Now, if you can’t already tell where I’m going with this, here’s my final question:  what is a drug? A drug is a substance, be it natural or synthetic in composition, that alters the fundamental operation of the users body chemically. All drugs affect the chemical make-up of the human body, but in different ways; some stimulate certain parts of the body, others block the body’s ability to detect or function, and so forth. The danger that comes from drugs is by messing with the chemical make-up of our bodies to alter their dedicated functions is that there can be side-effects.


Side-effects, the dirty little step-child of the drug world, are that thing nobody likes to talk about, but no one can deny is real. Not a single drug commercial on tv has less than 5 seconds of dialogue devoted strictly to the side-effects. Not a single doctor will prescribe for you a drug without making sure you understand them. When they might be a problem, we like to downplay them. When they’re a benefit, the drug companies find other reasons to sell them.  Famous examples are the herpes medication Valtrex which was originally developed as a shingles medicine. Viagra and Cialis were both developed to treat heart problems. Pharmacology devoted to the study of the human brain is constantly learning of beneficial side effects to the chemical compounds they administer. A common ADHD medication was actually developed to be an anti-depressant but upon administering it to depressed patients, was found to have no effect. The commonly accepted explanation for ADHD is that a part of the brain is not functioning properly, therefore a chemical that most people have which helps them remain calm and focused is deficient in ADHD patients. So, despite what was known about the human brain, the chemical compound that was predicted to help people be less depressed didn’t change their depression at all, but people with issues focusing found it easier to do so. Most ADHD medications function in a similar way.


Sorry about the science lesson here, I’m almost done. Sadly, what happens over time with ADHD meds, as with most medication, is that the body begins to develop a relationship with the medication, usually in the form of dependence but just as often in the form of an immunity. People who take medicine for ADHD find themselves increasing the dosage of the medication until the levels become unhealthy. Quitting some meds cold-turkey can have serious withdrawal effects. Many pharmaceuticals actually function in the same way.


So, while power-ups could be described as “drugs” in the reality of the individual games, it’s interesting to note that games themselves actually can have very similar side-effects. Devoted gamers find it difficult to hear, but studies have shown that exposure to videogames at too early of an age can have a lasting effect on the person, both negative and positive. Additionally, for as long as games have existed, educational games have also persisted. We have a fundamental trust that games can teach us things, but what we may not be aware of is that whether we’re trying to learn from them or not, we’re certainly learning SOMETHING while we play them.


I argue that more complex RPG’s could easily teach useful life skills and a more recent study has shown that playing Portal 2 actually yielded an increase in IQ test scores among testees. But what are we taking away from games that we aren’t noticing. Pay to win games might be causing the player’s brain to begin associating success with paying money. Perhaps the ubiquitousness of games thanks to our phones has taught us that our brains constantly have to be active, always solving problems of some kind, so maybe the desire to play games between projects at work or classes at school is less a desire and more a compulsion? How much quiet reflection are we engaging in any more, as individuals or as a society?


A common modern trend is to “disconnect” and get away from technology for a while. Many scoff at the idea. “I could never be without my phone for any length of time,” they say. I’ve described on this show several times how just a couple of years ago my gaming “habit” was so severe that I couldn’t get rid of a game that I hadn’t completed and I was so compelled to play games whenever possible because my backlog continued to grow. My free time is still devoted to games but now only for the purposes of having fun, unless you count the occasional FTL-Faster Than Light session that lasts all day. Which in itself could very well be a “side-effect.” Modern games like the aforementioned pay to win games, but even the more complex MMORPG’s, have taken psychology into account on the development side:  knowing exactly what the human threshold for patience with any given activity before require some kind of impetus to continue is how leveling, difficulty and rewards systems are written. So you’ve reached the level cap and you’re not a PvP fan and you’re not going to buy anymore DLC in DC Universe Online so you decide it’s time to quit forever, you give it one more go and find out that there’s almost 100 more skill points left to earn to raise all of your stats so that you can access all of that other content you had all but given up on playing. That is by design. You may not get a point now every time you play for an hour, but you might be able to buy just one more item of armor to raise your combat rating, you might get one more piece of material to use for creating new items, you will get something just enticing enough for your brain to tell you, “One more hour won’t hurt.”


But why is this the case? Why are we so obsessed with our experiences? As I have mentioned before, our life is the culmination of our experiences so it is only natural for us to want to fill our lives with as many amazing ones as we can. Entire works of fiction have been devoted to this ideal! Most science fiction of the last 70 years would probably fit the bill. This particular genre is filled with fictional examples of amazing chemicals that grant the users an interesting and entertaining altered view of his or her world. The complete works of Philip K. Dick is devoted to the pursuit of experience and what makes us human and how we perceive our reality, often through the lens of drug use. Many dystopian futures are depicted as overrun with synthetic drugs that give the masses an escape from their daily horrors, famous examples would be RoboCop 2’s “Nuke”, Dredd’s “Slo-Mo” or Substance D from “A Scanner Darkly.” In each case, the dark underbelly of the side-effects is also explored however, so it’s not as though we’re ignorant of the dangers of anything potentially addictive. And yet, we’re continually fighting that battle, individually and societally. The debate continues to rage in this country whether marijuana is harmful and should it be legalized at the federal level even as states have individually legalized it and benefitted from it in multiple ways. On one hand we have the medical and military industrial complexes pushing the benefits of synthetic chemicals while natural substances continue to be labelled illegal. Alcohol has been documented to cause permanent damage in many ways, not the least of which is death, smoking tobacco too, while naturally occurring and in some cases even synthetic compounds are prohibited despite their provable and repeatable benefits.


This goes back to my previous episode about cheating. What is right, what is wrong? What is a power-up and what is a “poison mushroom”? It depends on the eye of the beholder and like as before, ultimately the outcome will be decided by the group with the most influence. At least in the mean time we know that power-ups will continue to be in games forever. And there’s always cheat codes.


This has been Jesse, babies to babies, still looks like Billy.



Gamer Gate or Growing Pains?

(This was also released in spoken-word format as an episode of LilTooClinical’s podcast, “VideoGame Construct,” which can be found here: or on iTunes.)

I only have one thing to say to anyone in the Gamer Gate movement: If you consider yourself a gamer and you consider yourself an adult, grow up. I could end the podcast right there but of course, that’s not my style. Rant ensues.
I don’t like Anita Sarkeesian’s video series either but not because she’s a feminist, not because I don’t like the things she has to say, but personal reasons, that have nothing to do with her as journalist or a person, that makes them opinion. Because they’re opinion and by definition not objective, while I have a right to feel any way I choose, I am not entitled to special treatment nor do I have a right to judge.
I can also admit as a calm and rational adult human being that while I might believe that Ms. Sarkeesian’s method is flawed, I defend her right to say it and I defend her overall message which I understand to be one that encourages game designers to stop relying on lazy writing, cliches and tropes in their games but especially any that treat women as a concept and not as people.
My opinion on the state of video game journalism is even less important. I think I can honestly say that I don’t even have one. Once again, as a calm, rational adult human being I can take what I read and separate it from a larger narrative. I can view it with enough healthy cynicism to understand that their may have been a bias in it and recognize what is editorial versus what is information. Additionally, I understand that if I am unhappy with the way something is reported, or unhappy with the circumstances by which it was reported on, I can exercise my right to get my information elsewhere.
On the opposite end of the argument, the ones that believe it is their mission to do something about the state of videogame journalism have been collecting evidence of journalists acting very un-journalist-like. I have seen screenshots and blog posts chronicling these so-called journalists resorting to the same methods of intimidation, hate-spewing person shaming vitriol as the “gamers” (in quotes) that they are asserting are a dying breed.
Websites devoted to videogame journalism, that I will not name because I believe their names to be irrelevant to the larger discussion, have published articles in recent weeks insisting that “gamers” are going extinct. The issue as I see it is that the term gamer is almost as all-encompassing these days as “person” or “human being.” Everyone plays games! I have to assume that the same juveniles who think it’s ok to bombard journalists and video game designers with hate, or worse, have no conception at all that videogames were first created, designed, and played by adults, and not children, before the videogame market crash of the mid-1980’s. When Nintendo managed to reinvent the market with the NES, they did so by marketing it as a toy, something for children, but I knew plenty of adults who bought the systems because they also played games on personal computers, a pastime which was far more complex than it is today which precluded most children, and even the technophobic, from participating.
While the journalists are heralding the end of gamers, I have to assume they’re thinking of the preteen to twenty-something male who plays predominantly action and shooter games, who curses incessantly in multiplayer matches and rages online about social issues of which they likely have no real understanding. What they, the journalists, fail to realize or perhaps are choosing to ignore is that you can find the same attitude by the same relative group in almost every other enthusiast culture. Sports fans, movie buffs, comic book nerds, name a pasttime and I can almost guarantee you that they have their own idiot man-children sub-culture to deal with.
Right now in our country we’re dealing with a brand new civil rights movement revolving around the equal treatment of many different social classes and cultures. The issue of a hateful fandom versus misogny in game design and marketing is just one more example of that larger movement but in every single case, I can assure you that the loudest voices are certainly not the majority. You see, just like Second Amendment supporters like to constantly remind the gun control movement, many gun owners manage to not commit any acts of a gun violence every single day, but unfortunately in our culture, tens of thousands of people abiding by the law of the land and behaving isn’t news. So while thounsands of videogame enthusiasts are happily playing their games without heading to the internet to voice their non-opinion in support of the game, a couple dozen angry, nasty, hateful idiots make news when they harass an indie game developer for expressing an upopular opinion.
Perhaps the videogame culture is too insulated to realize, or once again the angry voices too preoccupied with their petty issues to notice, but NBA basketball fans just drove an owner out of their association because of things he said privately to another individual that became public. Objectively we know that the man’s privacy was violated and he didn’t break any laws but that didn’t stop a culture of calm, rational, adult human-beings from exercising their right to express displeasure. The NFL is fighting a two-pronged public relations battle right as they deal with the socio-political fallout of one team that possesses a name that some find offensive while simultaneously dealing with the fact that members of their organization are potential and confirmed domestic abusers. The NASCAR organization is still reeling from the death of a rookie driver at the hands of veteran driver while the culture fights over who is to blame and continues to apply social pressure that would lead to answers in the still ongoing investigation.
I can admit that none of these three issues are directly analagous to the Gamer GAte (in quotes) issue, I mention them if only to point out that the enthusiasts themselves are just as integral to the culture as the providers. While I am certainly no expert, I can say that videogame culture is experiencing growing pains. The multi-billion corporations that provide the games continue to find ways to entertain the masses at the smallest possible cost to themselves for the biggest possible return, which sadly results in the use of the very tropes that Ms. Sarkeesian is attempting to illuminate. I’m not so gloomy as to say that the industry is headed for another collapse, as game budgets and scope inflate, a large part of the market is already showing dismay for those same games as indie games and smaller, more unique titles gain popularity and continue to grow in the internet age.
This debate doesn’t exist in a vacuum either, as comic book companies struggle to please their growing audience of women the movie and TV industry is doing the same thing. Modern female content consumers are a growing market and not simply content to read and watch and play the same things as their male counterparts. Some of them are, but the larger point is that they have a right to ask for it, to express displeasure about it, to illuminate the problems inherent to that and even do it themselves if they feel others aren’t doing it adequately enough.
They also deserve the respect that we give, or at least should be giving, to everyone else. NOBODY deserves to be bombarded with hateful rhetoric simply because the possessor of an opinion cannot properly express themselves, calmly, rationally and maturely. While I will say that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of the consequences of speaking freely and that goes for both sides in this whole Gamer Gate issue, nobody deserves to have their lives threatened for simply existing in defiance of someone else’s narrow minded view. We are fortunate enough to live in a time and place where people are allowed to express themself any way they choose without being jailed, or worse. We also have a free market through which we can express ourselves, and if you don’t like the content you’re being provided you are free to look elsewhere for it. If such a thing as what you desire specifically does not exist then you need to ask yourself a couple of questions like, is what I’m looking for realistic or reasonable? Would it appeal to others? Would those others be a large enough market to make it viable? Would I be willing to make it and if so would I be willing to deal with the consequences of putting content out there for the world to see and form opinions of? If the answer to any of those questions is no then it might be time to reevaluate what it is you’re after and consider that perhaps your wants and desires do not necessarily reflec the wants and desires of others.
Sadly, the conclusion that I have come to regarding all of this is that on both sides of the argument, like any other socio-political issue being argued and reported on in this country and in this culture today, neither side is blameless. Neither side is behaving completely calmly, rationally and maturely. Widespread assumptions are being made in both directions and ultimately what is being argued isn’t even relevant to the primary issue at its core anymore. Not all videogames, their designers, their players or their reviewers are complete and total misogynists but not all journalists are being perfectly unbiased, objective and staying away from editorializing.
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not blaming Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn for the hate and harrassment they received. While they appear to be the impetus of this whole so-called “movement”, these two individuals are the most blameless for what it has become. When I said that neither side was blameless what I meant was that other journalists and game developers, in their defense, were found to be engaging in the same kind of immature behavior and hate-spewing rhetoric as Ms. Sarkeesian’s and Ms. Quinn’s harrassers. I’m not a journalist, I’m what would probably be referred to as a blogger and ultimately this is just my opinion, but I can say that as a gamer who cannot easily adopt or even identify with either side that I have seen evidence of both sides behaving immaturely. Sadly, like many pioneers, these two women will not be properly upheld and respected until sometime in the future after their contributions have had time to take effect and culture has had time to grow.
I tend to stay away from direct confrontation to the best of my ability the majority of the time, but I have to say, Gamer Gaters, no one is going to take you seriously as long as you act like there is no problem and you certainly can, but most definitely shouldn’t, get angry when someome tries to address the problem with the express purpose of trying to fix or improve it! Journalists, you cannot expect your readers, listeners or viewers to take you seriously if you’re going to make assumptions that color your content but you certainly can’t, or once again rather should not, get angry if those same content consumers want to respond with criticism, corrections or dissenting opinions. I think participants on both sides need to learn both how to be a little more thick-skinned but also be a great deal more open-minded.
I’m sure all sorts of people might listen to this and have plenty of things to say about this episode once it’s out there but if I wasn’t prepared to have the discussion, i wouldn’t be putting it out there in the first place. This is my chosen favorite past time and what happens in the culture and industry matter to me, but I also realize that ultimately none of this is so important to me that it’s going to trump my life and responsibilities. It might irritate or even upset me, but it’s not worth getting angry over and it’s certainly not worth calling names or spewing hate or making threats!
In the end, the conclusion I have drawn is that a handful of insecure people, on both sides, let their emotions get the best of them and reacted before they were able to calmly, rationally and maturely reflect on what it is they had just experienced and work it out before also attempting to defend the various issues and make counter accusations. Assumptions were made, but also assumptions were met, and in the end all that happened was a bunch of people ended up screaming at each other, literally and figuratively, until it escalated to a level that damaged the credibility of EVERYONE WHO MAKES, PLAYS AND COMMENTS ON GAMES.
So with all the sarcasm I can muster I will close by saying, thank you children for embarassing the rest of us with your ridiculous and juvenile behavior. I look forward to your poorly worded, horribly misspelled, ill-informed arguments to fill the various inboxes this show uses for correspondence. I will ignore all of them and continue to enjoy, and talk about my favorite past time as a calm, rational and mature adult.
This has been Jesse, “Babies to babie, still looks like Billy.” PEACE!

Takin’ my online-life into my own hands with this one…

Really pro-life or just anti-choice?


Last week I read a most enlightening article on a friend’s Facebook page, re-shared from a friend of hers. It asked the question which is the title of my entry. The person who wrote it identified himself as a pro-lifer and then went on to propose that in the long run this most recent decision by the Supreme Court (in favor of Hobby Lobby not allowing its employee healthcare plan to pay for certain types of contraception) is actually detrimental to the pro-life movement. He elaborates that he believes the “modern pro-life” movement has adopted philosophies that actually fly in the face of the principles that essentially established the movement in the first place, way back when in the earliest days post the infamous Roe. V. Wade court battle that made abortions legal in this country. Unfortunately, amid the heated rhetoric and the endless public debate which is grossly dishonest on both sides both the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” have truly lost their meaning so this article wondered how many people who identify themselves as “pro-life” are actually in favor of not only the child being born but then the child’s continued well-being all the way to adulthood and how many simply call themselves pro-life because it aligns with other socio-political beliefs they also hold. He then went on to argue that the pro-life movement ought to be supporting the ability for people to have more access to more forms of contraception if they truly want to reduce the number of abortions.


Pro-choice on the other hand is the firm belief that regardless of the circumstances of conception, the individual whose body is to be affected by the gestating fetus should have complete freedom to choose in what way she will handle the pregnancy. The debate rages on as those who fight against the viewpoint argue that “life begins at conception” and therefore any and all abortions are “prenatal murder.” Those in favor of the option to choose indicate that advances in modern science now allow us to see every single development of the gestating fetus. This gives us the unprecedented ability to determine at what stage the zygote transitions from a collection of multiplying cells to an actual living infant. This has led to laws at the state level that add to, but do not take away from, the federal statute outlawing only those abortions that would happen after said transition.


Now, I could go on for pages and pages about how both sides have their positives and negatives; how there are people on both sides who likely do not believe in or care about the debate and just have a selfish and greedy stake in their chosen horse continuing to run the race, but worst of all how there are uniformed government officials who continually and publicly make fools of themselves by commenting on the issue with an air of intelligence while expressing most foolish and obviously ignorant, often times wildly offensive, arguments both for and against. I have no desire to debate the issue let alone defend the viewpoints of one side or the other. What this article helped me to do was to articulate why this entire debate frustrates me so much. I feel like I cannot be the only one who is angered by both sides; who wonders how supposedly intelligent, empathetic people can seem so obtuse and ignorant. The conclusion that I arrived at after reading this article was quite simply that the whole debate is flawed and though both sides genuinely only the best of intentions, if we continue to argue in this way the issue will never get resolved. I would even go so far as to say that it’s possible there is someone, maybe several someones, who deliberately obfuscate the issue as they stand to benefit as long as the argument remains unresolved, but that is an issue for another entry.


Let me explain how I believe the debate in its current form to be flawed. Not that long ago I was introduced to a book series that gave a unique perspective on the issue of abortion. It imagined a future United States of America where a second, bloodier-than-the-first, civil war had erupted over the abortion debate and the only way it was ended was by finding a compromise. This being the future, a scientific solution was found. Thanks to new developments in medical science that eliminated all difficulties associated with organ transplants and gave anyone the ability to receive any body part from anyone else, a group of people interested in bringing a peace to the hostilites this: Life is sacred at all stages of development however not everyone in this world is a useful and contributing member of society, therefore children between the ages of 13 and 17 could be “unwound”: while still alive the child would be dismantled body part by body part so that life didn’t (theoretically) end and those parts would go on to save the lives of people in need. As I describe the process here it sounds grizzly and disgusting and how or why anyone could ever come to accept such a horrible premise seems impossible, yet the author does a very good job of painting a picture of a nation so weary of war that any end to the fighting was considered ideal. As the books go on we discover that it was not originally proposed as a realistic solution, rather it was intended be the most horrifying compromise one could imagine. The intent was to shock both sides into seeing reality: the number of lives lost waging the war far had begun to exceed the number of potential lives prevented by legalized abortion. However, it was proposed, accepted and despite some minor protests, the horrific war had ended and people grew used to the idea. Soon people became accustomed to the idea of always on hand spare parts. Additionally, the vain with enough money began engaging in cosmetic surgeries that would replace their unwanted, physically unattractive parts for plumper lips, bluer eyes, and so forth. Worst of all, a black market was also created where the parts of poor foreign visitors and runaway children whose families didn’t choose to unwind them, among others, found buyers.


The reason I tell you this is because of the message I believe the author was trying to convey. (Please bear in mind the following is only my interpretation.) In a world where contraception exists and where we have some of the most powerful and amazing tools at our disposal for the purposes of education, American society still chose not to change its attitude or treatment of the act of sex and child-birth and rather decided to harvest the bodies of young people for the purpose of socioeconomic improvement. I hope I have illuminated it well enough here because I still feel as though my point isn’t clear. In a world where over 99.9% of unwanted pregnancies could be prevented through the widespread adoption of contraception, this country still found another, and far more gruesome, solution to the issue of unwanted pregnancies!


So the conclusion that I have arrived at is that the argument is flawed because we’re even having the argument at all. Realistically, abortions don’t even have to happen, but in the current state of our society they are utilized to solve a larger problem that, by many accounts, no one wants to address.




I feel like on one side we have people saying, “We’re just animals man, why deny our natural urges, just do what feels good,” to justify the having of sex whenever, wherever, with no judgement. The other side isn’t any better though with its mantra of, “Sex is horrible and dirty and Jesus sees you sinning and unless you want to have a baby don’t ever do it and you better not enjoy yourself then either!”


Friends of mine commented on this article on my Facebook page. One argued that unless you’re absolutely in need of birth control for medical reasons, government money, either in the form of an entitlement program or through the government provided healthcare insurance, should not be used to pay for your recreational sex protection. They point to Sandra Fluke’s testimony as an entire generation of people saying, “Sex is just something that happens and we can’t help it if we’re gonna do it so the government needs to protect me from myself because clearly I cannot be trusted to do the same.” From that perspective, it makes sense. However Sandra Fluke going before a board of government officials to elaborate on this need is just another sympton of the same problem that we’re using abortion to resolve. The counterpoint was made, “whose business is it of yours what anyone does with his or her own body?” I’m not defending either viewpoint, simply pointing out that this too is just one more sympton of the underlying problem.


Another friend asked me why I thought no longer treating sex as something dirty and shameful and as something to hide would have any effect on the number of abortions and then admitted they couldn’t finish the article because the perspective disgusted them. I am more than happy to explain why I think that. I grew up knowing very little about sex except what I could puzzle out on my own (i.e. men have a prong, women have a hole, obviously the prong goes into the hole, babies don’t come out of the butt, so that must be where babies come from) and stumbling upon my dad’s collection of adult magazines didn’t help much. My parents tried to have the “birds and the bees” conversation with me but to my best recollection, all I got out of it was, “You’re at an age where you can have sex, sex makes babies and we’re not ready to be grandparents, don’t have sex, don’t make a baby, or else.” That’s it. It was never talked about otherwise. When I finally did have sex and I had serious questions about it, I felt like I couldn’t go to my parents and talk about it otherwise I would be in some major trouble. Masturbation never came up once. I attended a parochial school from kindergarten to eighth grade. I received religion classes in addition to my standard elementary education. The debate over abortion was never actually up for discussion although once, during a teachable moment my history teacher opened the floor. Granted, we were all 12 years old and midwestern kids most of whom had never left the tristate area. He brought up a fellow student of ours who was a few years our elder however who would happily argue the pro-life stance with anyone and she had an answer for every reason someone might give to justify an abortion. Some of her answers could appear quite reprehensible when given out of context of her devout religious beliefs. I suppose some of them may have been reprehensible beliefs or not. When religion gets involved it only makes it more difficult. Some of it is very naive, or outmoded or just straight up irrational, but regardless it’s not making the problem any better.


Let me point out something: prohibition doesn’t work. It’s been proven. Why do you think alcohol prohibition was reversed in this country? Do you think the war on drugs has really had a positive affect on the number of users of illegal substances? Do you really believe that abortions never, ever happened prior to their legalization in this country? Do you really believe that were we to outlaw them again tomorrow that would change anything? Look at the amount of T&A in the media right now; the amount of free pornography available to anyone with just a tiny bit of technical knowledge; and the glorifying of untraditional pregnancies and child-raising in our culture right now (16 & Pregnant, Jon & Kate Plus 8, the whole Octo-Mom media circus, etc…) and then tell me that we have a healthy relationship with sex in our culture.


This is the core problem we need to solve. This was the point the original article was making. While we’re busy discussing fair pay between the gender’s, we’re apparently incapable of actually even discussing both genders as equals on the personhood level. The Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case ended up supporting the employer in their right to deny certain types of contraception, but out of 20 types that are mentioned in the healthcare insurance plan, only 4 were taking off the table. Certain types of contraception prevent conception altogether and do not actually interfere with “fertilized eggs” or “zygotes” at all. I truly hope that I disparage no one by mentioning this, but there are also many teenagers currently, girls AND boys, who are so spoiled that having to deal with anything difficult, which would include a pregnancy that resulted from being irresponsible, as unfathomable.


One side in their rhetoric has accused the Supreme Court of putting the rights of women behind the rights of corpses, while the other side “simply cannot understand why anyone else would be upset that they used their religious beliefs to justify their actions” (no sarcasm added). What neither side failed to mention was that the Supreme Court is a group of 9 individuals whose job it is to interpret the law and the Constitution. While it’s not uncommon, let alone unlikely, for the personal beliefs of the Justices to affect their ruling, ultimately they ruled the way did because they felt it was the proper interpretation of the law. Meaning, regardless of your feelings on the ruling, if the ruling yielded an unwanted outcome, the law needs to be changed, not the ruling.


How much knowledge on either topic is the average person even aware of though? I had to read multiple internet articles to find out both of those things which tells me that for most other people it would likely be the same. Meanwhile the media is quick to point out when a right wing politician says something so incredibly sexist and ignorant as to likely widen the gap between the two sides. They are quick to point out when Planned Parenthood officials get caught doing amoral shit without giving context. Are some politicians out there saying simply what they need to say to the people they need to say it to just so that they can re-elected? I’m sure there are. Are there unskilled and unqualified people working inside government funded organizations doing things they shouldn’t be? I can almost guarantee that is happening. One side proposes that severe restrictions be placed on one’s ability to get an abortion. The other side blocks a proposal to allow counselors to speak to the women before undergoing the procedure because evidence has shown in some cases that women later regret having it done. In every instance tempers flare and people have knee-jerk reactions and then their discussion sidetracks the larger argument and detracts from any potential solution the issue may have been approaching. It should not be stopping the discussion for rational, reasonable adult human-beings who are trying to solve the problem and yet we’re letting it.


I’m not claiming I know the answer to this problem. I’m saying that we’re not being honest with ourselves if we continue to behave as though abortions themselves are the real problem we’re trying to solve. The rational, reasonable, adult human-being voices need to be louder. We need to quit letting angry and uninformed guide the conversation. We all need to grow up and learn to talk about sex like grown ups and not children who titter at “dirty” words.


In closing, if you feel that I have misrepresented any perspective or facts here, please feel free to address me on them. I tried to remain as middle of the road as I could and simply highlight the problems on both sides, because I truly do believe that we won’t see a resolution without both sides working together. The unfortunate reality is that in the current sociopolitial environment, that won’t happen anytime soon. I consider myself to be a pro-lifer but I also would never dream of telling a woman what she could or couldn’t do with her body, so that makes this whole topic rather complex for me anyway. As I’m sure it probably is with most people, but “most people” aren’t the ones making the headlines.



I was recently informed that I am a self-medicater. What this means is that I like to use substances to alter my state of mind so that I can be happy. Obviously this would create a codependence issue, unfortunately it feels excellent when done “properly”. I also recently realized that I when properly medicated I am actually more present and self-aware ans I respond to regular stimulants like anyone else, specifically caffeine or nicotine. Interestingly enough, it seems that I also prefer cheap beer and the way it makes me feel versus the more expensive, specialty or micro brews.

So tonight I am playing a game, the sequel to a game I played under heavy influence several years ago when I was self-medicating, and I discovered that the joy I felt while playing the game then and “altered” (my preferred term versus “high”) is the same joy I get playing the game unaltered. It’s very heartening to know and very relieving as well. I am drinking beer, but it is cheap beer and I haven’t eaten anything today, so I wonder would I feel the same drinking a Sam Adams seasonal instead of a good ol’ Busch Light? Truthfully, as country as this probably makes me sound, I prefer the Busch Light.

Part of me craves, almost to the point of craziness, becoming altered now. Yet, I can now say to myself, “Nope, you don’t need it.” Another part of me reminds myself that there may be a day again some time in the future that I can become altered again, but even knowing that, I manage to simply shrug it off and go back to my game and beer. Most interesting of all, I can recognise the depressing aspect of alcohol and remind myself that any sadness I think I am feeling is likely caused by it and not a genuine sensation I am feeling. Never before have I been in such control and so content. I hope this continues and that I can continue to post here, perhaps even with more frequency. I just received an opportunity to write comedy and be compensated for my efforts. Never before has a dream of mine been so close. A small part of me thinks that it’s not possible and that something will inevitably go wrong. I relish this newfound ability to call shenanigans on my brain’s own bullshit.

Is this what happiness feels like?