Tag Archives: internet

A gaming we will go…

Tabletop Gaming at PAXHello, my name is Ian, and I’m a geek. I’ve been gaming since I was young, probably since I was old enough to talk. My mother and I used to play board games and card games all the time. I was brought up on games, books, and music far more than television (hell, I don’t think we even had cable till I was in 8th grade…). Besides the usual suspects of Uno, Clue, and Scrabble, we played Backgammon, Checkers (also known as Draughts), Milles Bornes (a French card game), and Mancala, a game my mother learned where she grew up – Africa (and a game I used to know as “the bean game”). Now don’t get me wrong, I spent plenty of time outdoors also, I used to love playing in the woods, climbing trees, riding my bike, and swimming. But playing games with my mom is probably my fondest childhood memory, next to reading.
And then, probably a few years after its release, I got a Super Nintendo. Tons of fun, some of my favorite games of all time are from that console. Final Fantasy VI will forever remain the penultimate gaming experience for me… laughing at Gau’s antics, shedding a tear during the Opera scene… ah, the wonders that game introduced to me. And let’s not forget Mario, of course… ah Mario… the howls of laughter at watching my mother consistently drive backwards around the track in Mario Kart (and this is the person who taught me how to drive… frightening). And of course… Lord of the Rings. For Super Nintendo, this game was particularly frustrating, because not only was it almost impossible to figure out how to beat on your own, but many of the copies of the game were released bugged, so you couldn’tbeat the game. I was never able to figure out if ours was the bugged version or not… by the time we got the internet and I was able to look the game up I never got around to playing it again…
D&DAnd then… Middle School. A harrowing time for many boys just hitting puberty. School didn’t worry me. I made friends, I had fun. But this was the year it happened. I was placed in the high school band because I play trombone, and they needed a good trombone player. Here I met a guy named Kyle. Kyle discovered that I was pretty knowledgeable about computers, and told me about an issue he was having with a game he had bought. So after school that day I went over and showed him how to fix the issue he was having. And he showed me his Advanced Dungeons and DragonsPlayers Handbook. I was entranced. A version of Final Fantasy I could play with friends? Where I controlled my character? Where the story could go on forever, and I could change things far more directly through my actions than in any video game (at the time…)? Yes! Sign me up!

This was of course only one of many new games I encountered over the years. From AD&D I discovered White Wolf’s World of Darkness, specifically Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and from there Vampire: the Masquerade… Now, Vampire was I game I could get into. The mix of darkness (and by this point I was a teenager in high school, so I thought my life was pretty dark…), political intrigue, history, and ripping people’s faces off? I was there. I immediately devoured all the material on this game I could and started running a game with my friends. A game that I ran for four years straight. Now… those of you not familiar with gaming might not think much of that, but those of you who are familiar will know that four years is a damn long time to run a game. But I did, almost every weekend. For four years. And it was glorious.

Then came college. I changed a lot in college, as I’m sure most people would say. A lot. For one thing, I stopped gaming. I knew I wanted to do well in school, and focused on my grades. Well… I tried to anyway. Or at least I started focusing on my grades after I changed my major twice… but that’s another story. I stopped gaming. Sure I played the occasional computer game, a little Counter-Strike, but it stopped being the center of my free time. I hung out with people, did a lot of new things. I really dove head first into the whole college experience. Then a friend introduced me to World of Warcraft (thanks Will…). And I was, once again, immersed. A free-form RPG that I play online with thousands of other people? Wow (pun intended). Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games… $15 dollars a month starts to add up… and by the time I had moved off campus and delved into my final choice in major (Philosophy), I was done with WoW. Enough of the late night gaming sessions and wasted hours farming materials for crafting. No more!

And then my best friend, and roommate at the time, Brandon asked me if I wanted to come to his Sunday D&D sessions with him. A new version of Dungeons and Dragons (3.5) and a 10th level rogue/shadowdancer later… I was back in the game.

Now that I’ve graduated, moved away from Boston (for now), and jumped into the “real world,” I still game. Of course there’s XBox 360, and Wii, and PC games still… And I still run a World of Darkness game, or play D&D with friends. And once again I’ve discovered the joys of board games… now that I’m older I’ve discovered all the “adult” board/card games… Dominion, Munchkin, “We Didn’t Playtest This At All,” Catan… But when I look back over the years the thing I remember best is the thrill of a new game, a new character, a new adventure. In an age where children are brought up on television, watered down educations, and books like Twilight, it’s no wonder that geeks are the ones leading the way in innovation. When you think of the most important aspects of the last ten, twenty… even thirty years, what comes to mind? The internet… smart phones, GPS, CERN and their Large Hadron Collider. And who are the people behind these inventions? The guys and girls that grew up rolling dice and slaying dragons in their parents’ basements… in their college dorms. The kids that spent hours jumping on mushroom guys and turtles till three in the morning when they had school the next day. The teenagers who would have rather been learning the rules to that new board game than swinging a bat or throwing a ball.

Don't worry... this isn't mine.

Lately I’ve wondered what my life would have been like without games. Even if you leave the board games there, but take out the Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering cards… Would I be the same person? I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t see how my life could have gone any other way. Would I still want to be a writer? Who knows… I don’t care.

As a final note… take a look over at Critical Table. Soon you’ll start seeing some articles written by me floating around on the site. I recently struck a deal with Courtney, the creator and owner, and I’m really looking forward to joining the team over there and writing for them. And if you’re looking for any advice on new games to try out, feel free to ask. I’m always looking to let someone know about that awesome card game I played last week…

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Turntable – A new face for social media.

turntable.fm

As the new kid on the block, turntable has been making quite the name for itself. The site is a mashup between a music site and a chatroom, where you sign in (via Facebook, though hopefully they will “fix” that once the site is out of beta) and can hang out in a room listening to other people DJ and chat, or add music to your own queue and give DJing a shot. The selling point? It’s free, You can play whatever music you want (if it’s not already in their extensive library,  you can upload whatever songs you want), and it’s entertaining.

I signed up a few weeks ago and turntable has virtually replaced iTunes for me. Two months ago, if I was sitting at my computer and wanted to listen to music,  I’d open up iTunes, or I would go to Slacker Radio if I wanted it to be a bit more random. Then someone linked me to turntable and I started to check it out. I set up my profile and changed my little avatar to one of the nine basic guys (or girls) you can choose from, and hopped into a room. And no one was in the room. “Okay” I thought, “I’ll just DJ and see if anyone comes in.”  Nope.  And if you’re by yourself DJing  you only get a sample of your song and the site auto-mutes it. Anyone else in the room can still hear it. But you can’t. This is to cover themselves legally,  in the same way that (most) other free internet radio services won’t let you pick and choose specific songs (without a premium account anyway) because of copyrights. So I changed rooms. I went into a random room I saw with over 100 people in the room. “Wow… okay… but wait, no DJ spots are open. Ah… well, I guess I’ll just sit and listen.” So I stayed and listened. And I discovered exactly what makes this site amazing.

As I sat in the room and watched people chat and bob their heads I learned how to use the voting system. When a DJ plays a song, you hit Awesome if you like it and it gives the DJ a point. DJ’s use points to buy new avatars. Or you can hit Lame if you’re sick of that damn song, and if enough people hit Lame (based off of the number of people in the room) it will skip the song, straight to the next DJ. Also, the only way to make your little avatar bob his head is to hit Awesome… and who doesn’t love seeing a room full of bobbing heads. I know I do. And if you don’t… it means you haven’t been on turntable yet. But back to the story…

Okay, so I’m sitting in this room listening, and the first few DJs play their songs. Then one of them steps down and someone else hops up to DJ. And they are horrible. You see, some rooms on turntable have themes. Only this type of music in this room, or this room is only playing 90’s power pop for the next hour. And if you don’t follow the theme, expect to get booted. Well, this new DJ didn’t follow the theme. They let his first song play, and warned him to shape up. But his next song was even worse. You don’t play bad techno in an alt. rock room. So he got booted. I was ready for this, so I snagged the spot quickly after he was removed. My first chance to DJ for a crowd! Luckily, I had four songs before it got to me (rooms usually have five DJ slots, though some can have less), which gave me time to set up my queue. I added a few songs and got ready. And it was good. People liked me. I got my first DJ points. And the people were bobbing their heads! Instant stardom.

But then my next song got “Lamed.” Oh no! Had I unintentionally broken the theme? Nope… just not many people liked the song. It was okay, I was able to redeem myself with my next few songs. And before I knew it I had a few fans. When you “Fan” someone you basically sign up to get e-mail notifications when they are DJing, so if you’re on, you can hop in that room to chat and/or listen to them. Very cool. But then I had to go. Would I be remembered, or would my DJ name (ravnos, of course) be forgotten as the next DJ started to spin… But no! The next night I signed on and hopped into the same room, and was greeted heartily by a few of the same folks from the day before! It was wonderful. Though once again no DJ spots were available I sat, chatted, and waited patiently till I was able to hop up. And that is one of the wonderful things about turntable as well… the user base.

neilhimself's world of odd - one of Neil Gaiman's rooms.Turntable has possibly one of the nicest user bases I’ve ever seen. Friendly, generally respectful, and quick to put someone down for not being those things. A pleasant surprise, considering the internet is full of these sorts of people… (please note I refuse to give their actual website any traffic… sorry, can’t do it). But really, these are some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with online since the turn of the century (feels weird saying that…).

Are there any cons to turntable? Well… sometimes it’s hard to find a room playing stuff you like. I’ve signed on, none of the DJs that I “fanned” were on, and I ended up bouncing rooms for twenty minutes before I found a room playing music I enjoy. But that’s not too serious of a negative. And you can always open your own room if you want. I run a room for this site (if you are on turntable just search for Aberro Specus, you’ll find it) which is generally populated with a few of my friends, but we’ve had a few random DJs as well, who I’ve come to know and respect.

So next time you’re looking to listen to some music, go to turntable.fm and check the site out. Remember (sadly) you need a Facebook account to sign on, and even then one of your Facebook friends has to already be on there (though more than likely, one of them is). And hop on. Though don’t do it if you need to get something done, or at least don’t sign into a high population room… turntable is a serious productivity killer. Trust me.

And if you’re interested, check out the Aberro Specus room. I’m usually in there in the evenings.


In 140 characters – Why I “Like” Google+

Which side are you on?So in recent days Google has released Google+… and the people have rejoiced. Or at least the people who don’t like Facebook (anymore) have rejoiced. Okay, fine… so it’s mostly geeks rejoicing. Why? Well… you see there is this small problem with social networking sites. They (usually) start off great, then slowly… or in the case of Myspace, quickly, become online gaming venues. And not even good ones. But with the emergence of Myspace and Facebook, a whole new world opened up. Networking on the internet wasn’t limited to e-mail, forums, and instant messaging. Blogs had already evolved beyond LiveJournal into something actually worth looking at… and for some people, the internet had become a viable place to live their lives… or second ones anyway.

So yay for the internet! Or something. But then games evolved… and expanded, or rather shrunk, and on came Zynga. Those of you who don’t know who/what Zynga is, congratulations… it’s possible that you’ve never played Farmville (or Cafe World… or Mafia Wars… or FrontierVille… or… you get the picture). Gaming on social networking sites overwhelmed those of use who legitimately wanted to use them for… well, networking. Keeping in contact with old/lost friends. Finding new friends. Looking for new music… (more on that later). But it wasn’t all bad. Twitter came onto the scene with a bang. Status updates for your life, not just on Facebook? I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t at least look at twitter, let alone have an account there (other than possibly my grandmother… but hey, she doesn’t count, right?). And then there’s Tumblr, a little notebook on the internet. I know people that use Tumblr almost like a blog. While I can’t bring myself to use it that way, it is useful for information dumping and randomness. Like a sketchpad for my brain.

Now don’t get me wrong, of course there are “other” social networking sites that still stay true to the original idea. But honestly… they are boring. Ah ha! The Catch-22. Boring… is boredom why the games have infiltrated the other social networking sites? Possibly. But boredom can be circumvented by other means. Better interface, more interesting design. More customization. The possibilities are endless, really, before you sell your soul to Zynga. One would argue music on your profiles, or even just music in general. Ah, but Myspace covered that, remember? And it’s nice… except when I find an old friend… go to their page, and suddenly get blasted by the latest and… worst Top 40 pop hit. Because I want to hear your music? I don’t assume people want to hear mine (though that doesn’t stop me from playing it at potentially deafening volumes… but that’s not my problem… I contain that to my physical world… not the internet). And one might argue that the introduction of music on Myspace was the advent of gaming there… more interactive-ness!

But a thought does occur to me. Isn’t the gaming on these site’s helping the point of them? Connecting with new people… blah blah blah. Yes and no. While I have met new people via Castle Age or FarmVille (yes, I have played the games… a gamer, what do you expect… plus how could I legitimize bashing them if I don’t try them first?), it still hinders the entire “social networking” idea. When I sign onto Facebook my status feed is littered with FrontierVille and Cafe World updates. “But you can ban them” you say? Yes… I know. If I block the game entirely, or the person. But what if I actually play the game, too? Just because I enjoy the game once in a while doesn’t mean I want it to be all I see in my status updates. Is there a way around this? Yes – the obvious one is keep social networking and gaming separate. But for convenience sake let’s take a different approach. Say I have two status feeds on Facebook. How hard would that be? One for game updates, one for legitimate ones. Or even customizable feeds! Oh wait… this sounds familiar…

Enter Google+!Aaron Wood's Google+ Progaganda Poster

With the introduction of Google+, we can do exactly what I just stated. Games haven’t infiltrated the beloved motherland yet, but who knows… they might. But Google is already prepared for that. By allowing me to split up my “Streams” by my “Circles,” I can control what I see when I peruse Google+. “But what if the same people in your ‘Family Circle’ play FarmVille” you ask? Well… if all that person posts is FarmVille updates… I’ll take them out of the Family Circle. And if it becomes that big of a problem… I will just remove anyone that plays games. “Ah ha!” You might think… “I have you there.” Why don’t I just remove them on Facebook as well? Well… because everyone plays the games on Facebook. I think I have one Facebook friend that doesn’t… and he’s about one more FarmVille update away from deleting his Facebook account anyway. So why bother at this point? Well… because the options are there. The glory of the internet (unless big media gets it’s way…) is that it’s free, it’s open, and the options are limitless. So try everything. Scorn nothing (till after you try it…). And pick the option that’s best for you.

Quick edit: A friend just linked me to this youtube video… which I think sums a lot of this up very, very well. What is Google+?

A note from the author: I’m not arguing that everyone should be on Google+. I’m not advertising for Google+. I’m simply stating my opinion that where Facebook and Myspace have failed (utterly) Google seems to be getting a pretty good start. And if you want to try it out and don’t have an invite… let me know. Also, yes… I know this was longer than 140 characters… 😛