Thursday, May 16, 2013

Missing Generations

Last week, I finally bought a Playstation...2. I got it for $12 at a thrift store. It's not that I didn't want one before this...well, maybe it is. I never really had a huge pull toward those newer systems, mainly because I didn't even really have time to play the games I already owned. But the fact that I finally bought one - over a decade late, mind you - has brought forth a reflection on the "missing generations" in my video gaming.
Video games have been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. I grew up playing Intellivision, which featured a number pad and those little in-lays for games; my favourite games were Burger Time, Lock 'N Chase, and Night Stalker, but there were a lot of other games I enjoyed. Over the years, I played a lot of games on a variety of systems: Sega Master System, NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, and Wii. (Not to mention the handheld systems, too.) As I have reflected on my twenty-five years or so of video gaming, I have realized that I have played seven generations of video game systems. [Cue the expository voice-over.]
A generation, in video game terms, commences with the release of a new system that advances the technology available, and it concludes with the final release of a game for one of those systems. Each generation is usually at least twice as powerful as the previous generation was (ie. 8-bit to 16-bit), and each has a span of around five years in its prime, though several generations have lasted longer thanks to game releases that come late in the system's life. There is often some overlap between generations, but each of the eight generations is distinct in and of itself. [End voice-over]
I started with a second-generation system - the Intellivision, which featured a number pad controller with little in-lays for each game - and I have played each generation to the present eighth generation, which just started with the release of the WiiU. Since the mid-1990s, I have played Nintendo almost exclusively - but even then, I've still usually been at least a half-generation behind: I didn't get a Gamecube until the Wii was out in 2006 (the GC was released in 2001), and I did not have a Wii until 2009, halfway through its life cycle. I still missed quite a few key games on those consoles, which is part of the reason that Gamecube is one of my favourite systems for which to collect right now.
It should come as little surprise that the other systems in the fifth, sixth, and seventh generations - the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast, the Microsoft Xbox and Xbox 360, and all three Sony Playstations - have mostly eluded me.
I have played a little bit of some of these games for these systems over the past fifteen years, but that has only been in bits and spurts - a little multiplayer Halo here, a little Guitar Hero or Rock Band there - but nothing concentrated. Only in the past year have I started to realize all of the games that I missed over those generations: Halo, Gran Turismo, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Little Big Planet, Uncharted, Call of Duty, Gears of War, Final Fantasy VII and on... the list goes on. It helps that I'm not a huge fan of sports games, RPGs, first person shooters, or overly violent games, which is something like 75% of games over the past decade.
For a long time, I didn't even think about missing those generations, but in the past year, I have spent time on Reddit in r/gamecollecting, a subreddit devoted to displaying collections and sharing purchases. I have learned about which games are the most valuable for most systems, and I have learned how to use tools like Price Charting to look up games when I'm thrifting. I have a sense of which games I would enjoy and games to look out for when I'm in thrift stores. As I spent some time looking through lists online, I compiled a list of about one hundred games over the PS, PS2, PS3, and XBox that I would enjoy playing sometime. It's mostly a list of platformers and puzzlers, with a few more intense games thrown in for good measure. I don't know that I'll actually have the time to play them, and I'm not going to out of my way to buy them, but it's kind of fun to be expanding my horizons and collecting for some new systems. I feel like some of these lost years will be restored, and that this entire experience will be fun, if nothing else. And video games should be fun. For your interest, and perhaps enjoyment, here is a link to my updated account on VG Collect, complete with all of the games I'm interested in for these systems on my wish list.

My Video Game Collection

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Full Plate

An older friend came up to me last week on Saturday afternoon and said to me, "I've been asking the Lord how to encourage you in the past week, and he told me to tell you that your plate is full." That's all he gave me, four words: "your plate is full". I was not quite sure what to do with that or what it fully meant, but I accepted it at face value for what it was. (In case you're wondering, it's not an unusual occurrence to have someone telling me that they got a word or an image in prayer for me, and I am discerning about how I receive and internalize those words of encouragement.) There was no way I could disagree with him; that was in fact the very discussion I had been having with my wife in the car mere seconds earlier. My plate is full - but what could I do with that other than acknowledge it to be true? Well, I would find out the hard way over the next few days.
We were supposed to have cable installed on Sunday morning between 8 and 10 am - not great timing, considering that I was leading the kids group at church. We had made a sudden decision to sign up for cable based on a great deal and the fact that the Leafs were going to be in the playoffs (a factor that seems wistfully short-sighted now), but in the two weeks between our decision and the installation date, the doubts began to grow. Ari and I had been having conversations about cable, especially about her misgivings with how it would fit into our lives and whether it would be good for us - after all, the main reason we had avoided getting cable was because of lifestyle, not affordability - but we decided to pursue the installation anyway. I had realized that it might not go smoothly because of the layout of our suite and the fact that the cable box was likely not wireless, but we had to see what would happen. The technician arrived, took about five minutes to assess the situation, and told us all that he would have to do: running cables, drilling holes, accessing smart panels in our landlord's portion of the house. It made our decision much easier - no cable would be installed. After all, my plate is full. Then came the cosmic cruelty of Monday's Game 7, removing yet another item from my plate. Aargh.
I was glad not to be working on Tuesday after a full day of work and church leadership meetings on Monday. I had not had a week day off in several weeks, and I had been feeling the drain of doing all of the stuff I normally do outside of school along with almost full-time teaching on call, which I had not anticipated. I had time to watch the Survivor: Caramoan finale - another item off my plate - and to run a couple of errands before going to see The Great Gatsby (more on that in a post soon) with some former students. My plate was feeling not as full...then came Tuesday night and Wednesday: in a 24-hour period starting at 10:30 Tuesday night, I spent about ten hours on a church leadership situation that came up unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I had had a hand in creating the situation, so I had to help clean it up, so to speak. It's mostly resolved now, but it's still on the my plate. I was glad to have had the day off to deal with it, but there came that reminder again: your plate is full. I now have teaching work booked for the next two days, followed by - you guessed it - a weekend already booked with stuff. Good stuff, but still stuff.
As I sat to work through all the things on my plate, I realized just how much there is right now: helping lead the kids at church; preparing for directing camps this summer; leading our church leadership through a particularly challenging season; being a part of our church community activities; teaching on call, often at schools that involve an hour and a half of driving for a round trip; maintaining relationships with all of the schools at which I work as a TOC; applying for jobs for the fall; helping my wife be at her job; trying to have social connections here; calling friends and family back home; cleaning our house; helping my wife set up her garden; all of my social media; thrifting; and, of course, blogging. That does not even include all of my wife's activities, nor does it include other things I like to do or would like to do, like playing video games or playing disc golf or taking day road trips somewhere on the Island. Yeah, my plate is full. For now.
I'm the kind of person who always fills his plate, both at a buffet and as a metaphor for life. I have to consciously scale back when I do not want to have a full plate, and it is one of the hardest things for me to do. (This is perhaps the bane of our marriage, according to my wife. This, and my inability to stop working at times.) I am learning, at thirty, that I cannot keep the pace I have kept for the last decade; I need to make deliberate "lifespace" and empty some of that plate. I do not see it happening before the end of the school year, so I know that I need to make do for now and at the least make sure that I am not taking on anything extra in the interim. I wish at times I could be like Bob Goff and quit something every Thursday, but now is not that time. I may come to a time when my plate may be less full, when I am able to give up some of those many things that are filling my life, but for now, I think I need to hold onto that very simple word and look at everything I am doing and being right now through that lens: "your plate is full". In the words of Kris Vallotton, "that's a good word right there."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That Game

Then I remembered something. Sports is a metaphor for life. Everything is black and white on the surface. You win, you lose, you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you boo, and most of all, you care. Lurking underneath that surface, that's where all the good stuff is — the memories, the connections, the love, the fans, the layers that make sports what they are. It's not about watching your team win the Cup as much as that moment when you wake up thinking, In 12 hours, I might watch my team win the Cup. It's about sitting in the same chair for Game 5 because that chair worked for you in Game 3 and Game 4, and somehow, this has to mean something. It's about using a urinal between periods, realizing that you're peeing on a Devils card, then eventually realizing that some evil genius placed Devils cards in every single urinal. It's about leaning out of a window to yell at people wearing the same jersey as you, and it's about noticing an airport security guy staring at your Celtics jersey and knowing he'll say, "You think they win tonight?" before he does. It's about being an NBA fan but avoiding this year's Western Conference finals because you still can't believe they ripped your team away, and it's about crying after that same series because you can't believe your little unassuming city might win the title. It's about posing for pictures before a Stanley Cup clincher, then regretting after the fact that you did. It's about two strangers watching you cry at a stoplight. It's black and white, but it's not.

- Bill Simmons, "The Consequences of Caring" (June 8, 2012)

I'm numb. I just don't know what to think or what to do. I haven't felt this way since the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup thanks to the 13th man, but I think this might actually be worse. I find myself just sitting, staring blankly at times, almost on the verge of crying. And I know it's going to just be there over the next few days. Forget that. This loss - the Leafs' 5-4 OT loss last night, in case for some reason you didn't know what I was talking about - will sit with me for the rest of my life. This is my '86 World Series, my 1993 Kerry Fraser missed call, my 2009 Grey Cup 13th Man; this is now the benchmark against which all future heart-breaking sports moments will be measured.
Bill Simmons provides one of the best levels for evaluating these kinds of moments with his "Levels of Losing 2.0". It's one of the myriad invaluable contributions that Simmons has made to the way I look at sports. I'm trying to place this loss on the spectrum. It has elements of the Broken Axle (Level VI), but it has elements of The Guillotine (Level IV) and the Stomach Punch (Level III). The only thing keeping it from being "That Game" (Level I) for me is the fact that the Leafs were not favoured to win, and that this was a young team that made some silly mistakes. But it's close.
My wife is actually having difficulty with me through this process. She understands that I am having to grieve this, even though I know she doesn't quite get it. To be honest, I'm not sure I entirely get it either. I went for almost a decade without the Leafs really meaning anything, but then something changed and now this just hits me hard. I am actually experiencing the stages of grief, sometimes simultaneously. I have friends and family who are legitimately sending me condolences and well wishes, just as I had messages of support leading up to Game 7. Even now, I'm starting to get misty-eyed as I think about this entire experience and what it means. This one's going to take awhile to work through.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Game 7 Giddiness

I was ten years old in the 1993 playoffs, and it was the perfect opportunity to become a hockey fan. I didn't really clue in until the second round that year, but that was an electric year, a once-in-a-decade playoffs that helped shape fans for their futures. The competition for the 100th Stanley Cup was marked by some of the topsy-turviest series in memory: the mighty Penguins being upset by the Islanders; the Canadiens winning ten OT games in a row; the Kings almost winning the Cup with Wayne Gretzky leading the way (and some help from the refs); and the Leafs almost making it to the Final against the Habs. I could not have asked for a better year to start watching hockey (though 1994 came close in many respects).
At first I was a Canadiens fan because they won the Cup [shudder], but then the Leafs traded for Sundin and won ten in a row to start the next season and I easily switched allegiances to the Buds. I cheered during the years after those two Conference Final appearances and through missing the playoffs for two years. I cheered during the heyday of Sundin, Roberts, and Joseph, when the Leafs always won the Battle of Ontario and lost the battle of New Jersey. I cheered through the years of aging free agents, when Ed Belfour played out of his mind and won two series on his own. I even half-cheered in those bleak post-lockout years with JFJ at the helm, when there was no hope. For twenty years, I have cheered for the blue and white, and in over half of those years they have missed the playoffs. I'll admit to a certain dormancy - even apathy - toward the Leaf teams in recent years, and that has spread to hockey in general. I have had some great memories since the lockout - Ottawa's choke in 2007 and living in BC during the Canucks' 2011 run come to mind - but it's just not the same as seeing your team have a chance. That's the difference this year.
I wrote a month ago about what it would mean to see the Leafs in the playoffs and that the greatest gift that this Leafs team has given me was the freedom to dream. This run over the past month has re-energized my fandom and awakened something in me. I have reconnected with old friends who are wishing me well because they know what this means to me. I am mourning and celebrating with fellow citizens of Leaf Nation because we know what this means. I am watching every minute I can, taking it all in, appreciating every second that there is hope. I must admit that I had almost given up hope after that OT goal in Game 4, but I just couldn't completely give up - and I'm glad I didn't. Here I am today, giddy about Game 7 this afternoon. My wife asked me this morning if I would be okay if they lost, because in almost every spare moment, I have been electrically excited about Game 7. I responded that I would obviously be disappointed if they lost tonight, but that this team has nothing to regret. They have played well beyond their expectations and come through adversity to get this far. I thought this was a winnable series for the Leafs, and I even went so far as to pencil them in as winners, but I still wavered early in the series. That Game 4 loss might actually have been the best thing to happen to this team. Suddenly, they had no expectations any more, and they could play looser and freer. They could play their type of hockey, and all that needed to happen was a couple of stellar games from Reimer (which they've gotten) along with a strong forecheck and some timely goals from their leaders. I heard that 14 or 15 Leafs have played their first playoff game in this series, but even the "experienced" players like Phaneuf and Kessel have not played with this kind of role on a team, so I am genuinely just happy that they have pushed this far.
But something else has happened over the past month - I feel like I have gotten to know these players better. I actually really like this Leafs team, and not just because they are the Leafs; I genuinely like the players and the way they play. Phaneuf, Kessel, Lupul, MacArthur, Kadri, Grabhovski, Gardiner, Reimer, and the rest are quickly becoming some of my favourite players; it just helps that they play for the Leafs. I am enjoying watching this group of players succeed, much like I enjoyed watching the Kings come together last year or the Penguins in 2009-2010. This Leafs team actually reminds me a lot of that 1993 Leafs team: a young, electric goaltender (Potvin/Reimer); a steady defense corps; a key player who came in a big trade from Calgary (Gilmour/Phaneuf); a foreign winger with a breakout season (Borschevsky/Kadri): a number of young, energetic wingers; and a bunch of young Canadian grinders who just want to win. This team, like that one twenty years ago (or to a lesser extent the 1999 team that made an unexpected run to the Conference Finals), has ignited my imagination and rekindled my love not only of the Leafs, but of hockey in general. Not only am I dreaming again, but I'm enjoying the game, and now I'm tuned in again, regardless of what happens tonight. I can say that I'm just happy to be here, and that I will be glued to my screen in a couple of hours watching what happens when the Leafs play a Game 7 for the first time in over a decade. Go Leafs go!

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