Friday, April 5, 2013

Confessions of a Gaming Grandma

Caleb said he got into the building by using his biotic jumping ability and clambered over the shipping containers and crawled in through an opening.  Since I didn't invest in biotic legs, I had to find a way in by my wits.  That involved dropping down through a hole into an underground hallway that clearly led into the building but I was stopped by a flooded passageway that was charged with electrical current.  After much trial and error, I tossed a couple of empty boxes down that hallway to discharge two explosive mines that barred my way.  I picked up a container, crawled onto a large pipe that ran the length of the hall above the water line, all the while carrying that container.  I got to the end of the passage, dropped the container into the water and scrambled across it onto a barricade.  I reached around and retrieved the container, climbed over the barricade and edged along another pipe on the opposite wall, down the hall and around the corner.  And so forth until I was able to pass beyond the flooded area onto dry footing.  What a rush of excitement and a thrill of accomplishment!  I texted Caleb immediately to tell him how I had gotten into the building.

I was playing Deus Ex - Human Revolution on the XBox.  The game was a Christmas present from my son Ben and I had convinced my grandson Caleb to play.  Of course, Caleb had sped past me on his own XBox and finished, even though he had started weeks after me. Over the next three days I also finished it, choosing the ending option to NOT lie about the twisted manipulation of biotically enhanced humankind and let humanity decide whether or not to proceed with man-made evolution.  Very satisfying conclusion to 40+ hours of gaming.

So, you might wonder why someone like me, a 60 year old woman, is a gamer.  I ask myself that all the time.  I have been slowly and inexorably won over by the medium and there's no turning back.  At first, it was just a lark, mostly to please Ben.  He said, 'Watch this, Momma!  You'll love it!"  And as entertained as I was, I had NO CLUE what it was that I was doing.  Actually, he did most of the playing and handed me the controller once in awhile and I would entertain HIM trying to learn to navigate.  If you have never tried it, don't laugh.  People who have grown up with controllers in their hands have NO IDEA how difficult it is to learn to control two joysticks and a D-pad, two buttons and two triggers, all the while trying to accomplish a goal, solve a puzzle, or the worst, shoot or be shot by some wretched looking alien.
The above boring video is me, ooooooh ages ago (like last year even) when I really sucked at playing.

Ben started me out by letting me play coop with him through the Halo franchise.  We played through so fast I almost remember nothing.  But I eventually grew to love the characters and the story line and began to care about the outcomes.  Then he and I played Portal 2 all the way through on coop.  Then I played through it on single player and I actually began to get a handle on moving around in the virtual world.  Next came the Half-Life franchise.  That took a long time but it was really fun, albeit a lot over my head.  When I came upon the tough scenes I'd just hand the controller over to Ben who would deftly execute his way through the perils for me.

Then I started the game that changed it all for me: Mass Effect 2.  I never played the first one, just jumped right into the second installment.  Ben kept telling me, "Mom, you're going to love this.  You'll start feeling as if this is really your ship and your crew."  If you aren't familiar with this type of first person shooter game, they are incredible entertainment.  Imagine taking a well written novel, turned into a well crafted movie that YOU are in, and you interact with characters and make choices that determine the outcome of the game, reflecting your morals, ethics and loyalties.  You bet you get involved, and you care!  You pursue your crew and win their affection and prove your loyalty and in the end, these choice effect the outcome of the game!

So, this was the first game I ever played without someone leading me by the hand.  I took my time, began it on 'easy' (and eventually moved up to a more challenging level of difficulty) and became "Jane Shepherd, Commanding Officer of the SSV Normandy."  I even painted myself in uniform at the command post of 'my ship.'

I took most of the game to get better at shooting while strafing and running and dodging enemies. Some of the choices that I made I regretted later because I lost the loyalty of one of my main characters and was never able to completely win Miranda's trust.  I never indulged in any of the romance scenes but I hear tell they were pretty intense.  I just don't need that in my imagination.  When 2 ended I was, like millions of other gamers, on the edge of my seat waiting for the last installment.  Of course, when it came out, I spent every spare moment playing the game, sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning.  

Halo 4 came out and I played that through on my own, as well as playing multi-player with Ben, Caleb, and eventually my younger grandson, Jordan.  I have to admit it's gratifying to see their admiration at their grandmother playing their games.  But I also have to insist sometimes that they "let me" play with them because they are so much better that I slow them down.  I run out of cover and get killed, wait to get respawned, run out of cover and get shot.  "Hey guys, cover me, will ya?  Oh well, I'll catch you all later!"

Depending on the game, there are brainteasers and puzzles to solve.  I love the games that give you lots of different ways to succeed.  Deus Ex did just that for me.  I was able to use a combination of skills to advance, not just shooting my way through.  In fact, this game has bonuses for people who play without being discovered or raising alarm.  I can't imagine how long it would take to solve that game without ever having an encounter with the antagonists.  

Anyway, by the time I'm 3/4 of the way through with a game, I'm flowing good and feeling competent and enormously PROUD of myself.  Then the game ends.  Sometimes it is three or four months before I begin another game and honestly, it takes me forever to get my skills back and feel confident.  But I hate to start another game immediately afterwards because I like to spend some time relishing it.  It's like finishing a good book or movie; I never like to plug in another movies as soon as I finish one or pick up another novel the minute I close the cover.  If I would jump into another game, I'd be a more proficient gamer by now.  But that's okay, I'm proud of what I've accomplished and I do have a wonderful time playing.

Does anyone know of a good first person shooter RPG that I can play that doesn't have too much blood and guts and too much cussin' and stuff?  I sure need another game.

Monday, March 25, 2013

On Faith

Recently, my son and I were talking about faith and doubt. His observation was that people who strap bombs to their backs and blow up busses are very secure in their faith. I told him that I doubt and question my faith at times but I keep coming back to a certainty that what I know is true and reliable. But when he asks me (and I ask myself) on what I have based my faith I am hard put to give an answer. Or should I say that, what I would've answered just a few years ago, no longer seems sufficient. His different worldview challenges me to examine my beliefs in order to believe more authentically as well as to communicate those beliefs in a more convincing way.

My faith has been based on a series, perhaps an accumulation, of life events that led me to a moment of realization. It resulted in an awakening, an aliveness that, for lack of a better description, culminated in being "born again". I was in my late teens/early twenties. My brother, Bud, and his wife, Ginger, were attending a Christian Bible study. When they started telling me about it, my mind started percolating. I got excited. In a short time I was seeking, crying out even, for the things they had shared with me to start making some sense. Ginger said, "Read the book of John." So I did. It sounded familiar and foreign and confusing but I persisted.

One story in John particularly caught my attention. In it Jesus was talking to a woman while she was drawing water out of a well. He offered her a different, better kind of water than she was getting from that well. He claimed that his 'living' water satisfied and never needed replenishing. His offer of deep satisfaction made me aware of the cravings in my soul that apparently remained unfulfilled.

In another part of the Bible written by Isaiah I found a portion that read, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which doesn't satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." This also made me aware of that emptiness inside of me. I wanted some of that satisfying water and wine and food!

Slowly things started to fall into place. Passages from the Bible that had previously seemed impenetrable were becoming apparent, as if a blindfold had been removed from my eyes. I was greedy for more knowledge and understanding. I became a sponge.

But, now I wonder, what if I hadn't grown up in a Christian environment? What if I hadn't gone to Vacation Bible School every summer and hadn't a preacher for a grandfather and hadn't been in and out of different churches all my childhood years? Would those passages have leapt off of the pages and ignited a fire inside me? Some of the stories seemed familiar and comforting, almost a homecoming, but was this more than just familiarity? I had acquired an appetite and an awareness for things that had been completely incomprehensible to me a short time before, as if a switch had been turned on. I had a sense of being deeply and profoundly loved. And I had changed, as surely as night into day. I can not say anything plainer than that. And I became a very different person in my attitudes, appetites, desires and delights.

To ME my faith is reasonable and logical. I believe in a creator that loves his creation and interferes to the point of becoming part of it in order to win back his own creatures that had rebelled against him. To my son this is a quaint spin on an ancient mythology rewritten by a small tribe of people who claimed to have a special relationship with this God. He would say its a product of my culture and upbringing and neurons and emotions. He and a lot of other agnostics believe in nothing or, at most, an impersonal clock-maker type of deity that built the world, wound it up and does not intervene in the affairs of men. My son is utterly confounded at the notion of a "benevolent" god that would claim to love his creatures and at the same time allow them to suffer. He is repulsed by a theology that secures the rights of a preferred people to the exclusion of others. Those are things which cause me to doubt, especially the preferred status part. And here is why that bothers me: because I have never questioned it.

Today in church our wise young pastor said, "Doubt wisely; ask honest questions." The question forming in my mind is, if I had read the Bible BEFORE becoming a believer, how would the passages of exclusivity have impacted me? I don't think this blog is the place for an exegesis on election and definitive calling (too many others have done so exhaustively that I wouldn't presume to discourse on it) but suffice it to say that the Bible makes it pretty clear that people are going to eternity either with God or not, and those who are not will be suffering. Some of these texts indicate that God knows who will go to either 'heaven or hell' and other verses go so far as to say that he chooses who goes where. Alongside this, Jesus commanded his followers to spread abroad the love of God, which extends to all his creatures, and that he wants "all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. " I have read these passages since the earliest part of my belief, inserting myself into the family of God. I found them to be of great comfort and encouragement, a precious gift I had received which I did not earn. For thirty five years, through eyes of faith, or child likeness or egotism (depending on your outlook), I have read the scriptures exhaustively and found them to be consistent, cohesive, progressively revelatory and inherently, ultimately, 'mine.' My story. My belief. My tribe and my God.

But stepping back, and looking at this from an 'outsider's' perspective, I can see how one might be offended, feel condemned and rejected. Only a stone-hearted person would not be angered or distressed over the injustice of people being 'left behind." That billions of people have lived and died on this planet without the influence of the enlightenment of the good news of Jesus and that billions more have known about and rejected him, is devastatingly sad. But what about the billions of people who have lived reasonably successful lives without the influence of Yahweh or Jesus and haven't felt any loss?

Part of me says I can't "unring the bell." I DID grow up in mid-20th century America. I have framed my worldview on Judeo-Christian ethics and culture. I did grow up under the influences of religious grandparents. I am completely unable to frame a single thought outside of the sum total of who I am and where I've grown up. Even though I strive to reject error and prejudices and to think outside the 'Christian Ghetto' that I have lived in most of my life, I cannot think as if I came from another continent, culture, or time or space.

I have asked some difficult questions. I hope my reader isn't disappointed that I will not attempt to answer them. To do so would diminish the magnitude of the importance of these doubts which, if held lightly, will simultaneously strengthen and challenge my faith in Jesus Christ. I don't think I am bigoted or small minded or unthinking or uncaring but in the end, I will have to question all of those things, too.