I Will Survive

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Doing the right thing doesn’t always bring peace. When you’re a homeless person with a record, any threat to your safety becomes a threat to your life. Even if you know you’re breaking rules and causing trouble for others, when you lose the comfort of your safety net, all bets are off. Without a bed to sleep in, you might as well lie down and die.

Last night, I was assaulted by one of the men at the homeless shelter where I work. He had continuously broken our curfew rule and he wasn’t happy when I suspended him. Giving him a slight benefit of the doubt (and not wishing him to freeze out in the cold), I granted him permission to grab some of his belongings. Even if he was lying to me and himself, I wouldn’t want to bring harm to him.

Sadly, he didn’t feel the same way about me. I was helping another resident and his man turned around and slugged me. He got in a few more hits before I even realized what had happened. I’m thankful that someone else was in the room with me, or else I may have eventually retaliated and caused a serious problem.

What strikes me the most is the fear I saw in that man’s eyes. As he knocked me over and proceeded to walk towards me, I could see a killing intent beaming from his pupils. If I were a weaker person, I may have died in that room. While it frightens me to the very core of my being, it also makes me terribly sad that some people feel the need for physical violence.

When the world doesn’t go your way, resorting to such hostility isn’t going to solve your problems. You’re refusing to look in the mirror and see that your own behavior is causing your misfortune. I won’t claim I’m a saint, but I’m not the reason you lost everything in your life.

I do feel somewhat responsible, but mostly that I let such a violent man back into the shelter. I should have known this would occur; the guy had a history of coming in drunk and mouthing off to staff. He clearly has no respect for anyone, let alone himself. I can’t escape the thought that one of my female staff members could have been injured due to his guy’s belligerence.

I am mostly sharing this story, though, so that I don’t forget that moment of shock and horror. Certain events shape our lives and while I don’t intend on becoming a victim, I’m not going to shake this off like an accident. To walk past this like I’m some tough, emotionless robot is the wrong thing to do.

I also want everyone on this site to know that I feel stronger in my resolve to speak my mind. I may have taken a few hits to my face, but if your first hit doesn’t count, then expect me to keep ticking. I guess I’m a literal tank as I don’t even have any bruises or cuts.

Some of you may take issue with my articles, but your retorts lack substance. You’re dealing quick blows in a gut reaction without weight. You need a clear mind before you can harm me and your reasoning needs to be sound. Sure, I have my biases when it comes to some games, but I’ve do my research before posting.

I may have made mistakes in the past, but that isn’t happening anymore. I know who I am and what I’m setting out to do; I wish the naysayers would do the same. Be more constructive with your criticism, because my plate armor isn’t even going to kink when you strike.

And to the people that do enjoy my work and support me; I extend a tremendous thank you. As with this assault, I’m grateful that some people are able to put aside their own bullshit and reveal the beauty inside. I didn’t even need to exchange words to get their help and that overwhelms me.

Like I’ve said, I’m not saint, but I would have never thought others would put their own safety on the line for me. Clearly, I’ve done something right by them and I’m doing something right by you. Thank you so much for everything. Your kind words and continued support mean a lot to me.

A More “Real” VR Experience

“We hope as more people get to see VR, the experience will become more normal. People will then come into the VR experience and just see another game instead of a toy.” – Cindy Miller, Lead Designer at Culture Shock Games.

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I spent my past weekend at PAX East looking at a bunch of “new” games. While I wasn’t entirely impressed with most of the showcase, I did manage to find a few interesting things. One of the more intriguing displays was for an indie game called We Are Chicago.

At first, my friend and I were simply lining up to try VR. We were glancing at the monitor and joking about almost everything in the game world. This older guy and his son were joining in with us as we kept pointing out some of the inconsistencies of the VR experience.

The demo consisted of a scripted conversation about inner-city life and a scene where the player is supposed to set the table. I wanted to get into the demo and start flinging plates around. I wondered how awesome it would be to teleport into a fridge or smack someone in the face. I was hell bent on breaking the game world.

Weird little glitches like disappearing doors and unshapely character models were just adding fuel to the fire. It was like some low budget B-movie with a more interactive twist. Who cares what the people are saying? The real joy is in tearing it apart.

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Just look at that!! How could you resist throwing it?!

As we kept waiting, though, I realized something about my behavior; I was being a real jackass. I won’t claim that every game should be treated as a masterpiece (or even with respect), but it’s hard to fault a small team for trying to break new ground.

The non VR experience of We Are Chicago is substantially better. It still has a way to go before being released, but its ability to convey a story through a slightly interactive medium looks to be taking an already tired genre in some new directions.

“We want people to empathize with how things are,” is what Cindy Miller told me. “We like the fact that we are touching on these topics and we are going to be giving some proceeds from the game to help non-profit organizations.”

That really hit me in the gut. Here I was, joking about how goofy the VR demo looked. When my friend asked the lead programmer, Michael Block, about the intended plotline for the game, I jokingly said, “It’s about a teleporting man who is tasked with setting the dinner table and refuses to.”

I suppose that is the downside to an expo dedicated to “new” things. People want to experience VR, but the show floor is so crowded that dedicating yourself to any one thing is a monumental task. When some indie developer has a quick, accessible demonstration out, you mainly want to fuck around with it to experience the technology.

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Which way did he go, George?

“We like the fact that a lot of people come for the VR and stay for the game. We’re happy that people get to experience it,” Cindy said to me with a bright smile. It doesn’t matter if people think her game is bogus; she is mostly happy to present the idea to the masses.

Thankfully, I’m not the kind of person to shut my mind off. I tinkered with the VR experience on the first day of PAX, but I returned to that booth every other day. The second day was to take another friend over and the third day was to grab some photos and quotes. I wanted to challenge myself with bringing out the better side of this game.

I don’t know if I should explain its plot details or any of the controls. At its best, the game feels like a Telltale adventure game before they began sucking up every contract possible. We Are Chicago is taking the idea of an interactive narrative to its logical conclusion.

We’ve seen games built on making us empathize with protagonists or thrusting us into difficult scenarios, but none of them have truly dealt with real life problems. The abundance of World War II shooters may have all been based on true stories, but none of those felt real.

Most gamers also don’t have to live in a shitty slum. A lot of us have a comfortable life. The worst problem we will ever face is pissing our boss off. None of us know the emotional toll that constantly living in fear brings. None of us need to worry about stray bullets flying through our walls and killing our families.

Cindy and Michael both told me, “Everything that happens in the game is based on real events.” Cindy then added, “Our writer came from Englewood and is bringing his personal experience into the game.” Well, damn. Safe, secure, blissfully happy me gets to go home to white suburbia while these developers have grown up in a crappy reality.

Did the rest of the attendees connect with this game on the same level? I honestly don’t think so. People were so happy to get into a VR headset that the conversations might as well of not happened. You could have put stickmen in place of the character models and no one would bat an eye.

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Half of these people probably never even saw the game. I know Jed didn’t!

I didn’t want to leave the expo and have this game become a distant memory. I didn’t want others to see the low budget and think this game was a joke. VR may be the future, but if it robs a game like this of its narrative punch, then it doesn’t deserve to survive on the market. VR should be opening people to new realities; it shouldn’t be relegated to a simple plaything.

Thankfully, We Are Chicago will be releasing as a standard game first. The VR experience was mostly made for PAX (and was finished in a week), but will become available at an unspecified time after the game is finally out.

I feel that is for the best. I’d rather the discussion start with how dramatic the game is rather than how ridiculous a flying plate looks in VR.

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Cindy Miller (Left), Michael Tisdale (Center), Michael Block (Right)

Children and War

There are some minor spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 5 contained in this blog. Not much regarding the plot is detailed, but if you wish to play that game with a fresh mind, do not continue past the picture.

Metal Gear Solid 5 may not have the most detailed plotline, but it does bring up a lot of interesting questions. Things that deal with nuclear warfare, genetic manipulation and honor are standard fare as far as Metal Gear is concerned, but child warfare is relatively new.

Aside from Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, we’ve never seen children on the battlefield or heard of their past. MGS 2 tried to describe how Raiden was robbed of his life because of Solid Snake, but what about kids who never had a chance to experience life in general?

The mission Blood Runs Deep in Phantom Pain tasks Snake with eliminating 6 targets. The client they have taken on requests this so that none of the rebels talk. It’s a dramatic increase from previous missions, but the biggest surprise is hardly the amount of targets.

When you approach the cell that contains the enemy, you find that they are children around 12 years old. It is truly shocking (despite pre-release footage showing them). Kaz gives you a short speech that details how there, “is no Heaven or Hell for these kids.” Snake mutters that there is another choice; Outer Heaven.

This begins a thrilling and nail biting escort mission out of the camp through a guarded river bed. Apart from being one of the best missions I’ve ever played, the game got me thinking about what war must do to these children.

Even when Snake gets them to safety, will their lives be changed? Being raised in a literal battlefield has to have some kind of scaring effect on the psyche of these kids. Is it possible that war is the only thing these kids will ever be capable of?

This is, sadly, a question that is raised often in real life. CNN has a report from former child soldier Ngor Mayol that explains how he is living after fighting at the age of 15. Without any form of rehabilitation, Ngor leads a normal life as a grocery store clerk.

In his own words, “My life experience in the military, I was so proud of it, to defend the territory of South Sudan.” For him, his time on the battlefield was noble. His cause made sense and he regrets nothing.

He has some nightmares of the friends he lost, but he seems to be friendly and calm. One cannot say if he is lucky or if PTSD doesn’t effect children as much, but all hope is not gone. Sometimes, fighting battles at a young age will do nothing to you.

The terrorist group, ISIS, has sent many children into battle as suicide soldiers. Girls are turned into prostitutes or sold as wives and other children are given AKs and told to shoot on sight. A lot of these kids don’t suffer from any mental trauma.

The biggest concern seems to be the never ending cycle of war. If soldiers are readily replaceable with children, then how many lives need to be spent to end a conflict? Can a man instinctively kill a child because the kid is pointing a gun at him? Is that a quandary that any person should be faced with?

Metal Gear never answers those questions. Instead, the game will automatically fail you if any of the children die. There are also later missions where you need to infiltrate a base camp that is entirely composed of kids. In that mission, as well, you cannot kill anyone.

It seems the stance of Mother Base, and Metal Gear as a whole, is that killing children is morally reprehensible. This is in stark contrast to the plotline that details the fall of Big Boss. If he is truly an enemy, why isn’t he getting his job done at any cost?

That isn’t what this blog is about. Much like how Hideo Kojima included children in the Phantom Pain to spark discussion, I’m writing this to ask questions. I want to know what other people feel on this situation.

While I’m fairly certain we all agree that putting children into armed conflict is deplorable, we may not all agree on how their futures will turn out. I don’t know that I would be able to escape the demons of my past if I had ever killed someone at a young age.

It also begs the question; is war natural? Is our species doomed to endlessly repeat a cycle of death and destruction? Animals in the wild will fight each other, but they don’t enlist thousands of comrades to fall under a specific cause. Humanity seems to be the only species which tries to justify it’s actions.

I guess when the going gets tough, throwing kids on the front lines is a quick and dirty solution. It’s similar to cigarette companies and their marketing campaigns; getting them hooked when they are young builds a trust that is hard to break.

Whatever the answer, I’m happy to at least be thinking about something that afflicts our world. Without Metal Gear coming along and placing me in ridiculous and outlandish situations, I’d probably never give a second thought to the war machine and it’s devastating impact on humanity.