Friday, November 30, 2012

Video Games

Where I came from, it was considered shameful to be an adult male who still played video games. You locked yourself in your room with the blinds down and a towel shoved under the door to keep light from escaping and mouse-clicked your way through Diablo until the break of dawn.

A couple years ago, I swallowed my pride and bought a PlayStation3 along with copies of Arkham Asylum and InFamous.

Ahhh, heaven.

Also: Games have come a long ways.

But do you know what's interesting to me about video games? They're two different experiences in one.

Experience one is what I traditionally think of when I think of storytelling--compelling characters, an interesting story with unexpected twists, and most importantly, walking away from the experience with a FEELING. The best stories resonate in our minds and our hearts long after its over. They bounce around in our hearts while we're lying in bed, inspire us to discuss or come up with inside jokes with our friends, and breaks the ice with strangers.

Video games have made huge leaps forward in this regard. I left Heavy Rain feeling a sense of sad futility. LA Noire found me imagining life as a man trying to uphold the law in a city where the appearance of justice is more important than justice itself. I can't rave enough about the pacing Spec Ops: The Line. It slouches towards Bethlehem like Yeats' rough beast, a slowly evolving descent that feels simultaneously unexpected and inevitable.

Experience two is a game's playability. Can I figure out the controls? Do they what they're supposed to? Does the action on the screen respond to my hands on the controller.

Is it fun?

What's interesting how a game can provide this without being what I would call a good game. Prototype 2 is a great example. The story and characters remind me of a 90s comic book. It looks great. There are cool ideas. But the story itself is incoherent and the characters are caricatures of caricatures. It tries to do grim and gritty. Instead, there's gore and F-bombs, badass ethnic stereotypes and huge m*****f***ing monsters. It's less story and more a thirteen-year old boy's power fantasy.

But it's fun to watch and fun to play and so long as I skip the cutscenes, I enjoy playing it even if it doesn't engage me emotionally at all. It's like Spider Solitaire with tentacles and exploding helicopters.

So is this game good?

I don't know.

I want to say no, but on the other hand, as much as I loved LA Noire's story, I found the process of playing the game--especially the shoot-outs and car chases--frustrating. Playing Spec Ops: The Line was okay, but if I wanted to shoot things I would pop in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 even though I actually find everything about that game's message, story, and politics deeply disturbing..and not the good kind of disturbing.

Fortunately, some games do a little of both. InFamous. Dead Space. I found the stories and characters interesting the first time through and I enjoyed playing the game enough to pull them out again.

But I've become really aware of the way video games have a foot in both worlds when it comes to active and passive entertainment. With movies, books, and other storytelling you experience the story as an observer. With other games--chess, poker, even sports--you're creating the story as a participant.

Video games contain elements of both. And sometimes the demands of one element put shackles on the other.

That's why I really find distinctive games interesting. It tells you what the developers thought was important. Is the way a game looks as important as the way it plays? Are more choices for the player better or should we guide them along in the story. What do we call attention to? When it comes to making a memorable game, what is important?

The exciting thing to me is it looks like a lot of developers are still finding out. It's going to be fun to learn along with them. I look forward to deeper stories, more realized characters and motivations, more profound insights, seen through a prism of connection that shows every color of human emotion.

Also, more exploding helicopters.

That never gets old.

Upcoming Wrestling
 Saturday, December 15 - RCW Christmas Chaos - Glengarry Community Hall

Dan's writing on Dating and relationships can be found at

Check out this link for information on how to get Dan's Dating for Shy Guys ebook

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Praise of Sadness

This may sound crazy, but I‘m starting to realize I enjoy a lot of unpleasant emotions.

The right amount of stress provides a rush, getting my adrenaline going. Much of my comedy is fuelled by my insecurities--the more I connect to that self-loathing, resentment, and bitterness, the more honest and funny I can be. Normally, I despise feeling helpless, but there are moments--lying in the hospital bed waiting for the doctor to come back or when the car is spinning across a black ice covered highway--when it also leads to an exhilarating sense of freedom. There is nothing left under my control; all that’s left to do is relax and see how things turn out.

But the emotion that strikes the deepest chord in me is sadness.

I suppose that sounds weird.

I don’t talk about this much because I don’t have many people to talk to about this subject, but to me feelings are a lot like the musical instruments in an orchestra. Sure, maybe some are predominating, but the others are often there too. Even in the midst of an anxiety solo, gratitude is still in the background, providing texture, while guilt plays a countermelody and faith beats a steady percussive rhythm.

Some of us are attuned better to some feelings than others, but that doesn’t mean those other feelings aren’t there. Violins don’t disappear, just because they aren’t playing. They’re providing space with their absence, waiting for their moment to kick back in.

So too with feelings. Every moment is a symphony. Many of us hear the feelings we’re used to hearing. Some us think we need to create new and different feelings in our lives, but the emotions we want are already there, waiting for us to notice them. We don’t need to look for happiness, all we need to do is listen to the happiness already there.

One of the emotions I hear most deeply is grief. It’s not always the loudest emotion, but one of the most constant, possibly because grief is a response to loss, and I am keenly aware that loss is happening every moment around us.

You will never get this moment again. The second you spent reading this sentence isn’t coming back. The sounds around you, this breath in your lungs, that feeling in your foot….this is the first, last, and only time you will experience life in this particular configuration.

Every moment is colored by loss and that’s what makes those moments so beautiful.

I feel it when I'm playing with my nephew. Every time I see him, he's grown a little more or discovered something new. It's amazing to see where he's going, but I also feel a sense of loss at what's being left behind. There will be a day when I no longer need to feed him, carry him, read to him and while that's as it should be, there's also a sadness. Each spoonful in his mouth is one closer to the last time. Each story I read him is one closer to the day he'll be able to read on his own. I'm excited to see the person he'll become and the way we'll relate to each other, but I also mourn the relationship we're leaving behind.

I feel it when I perform: This joke for this crowd. It’s the only time it will happen this way. I will never get this particular laugh--a wave from one side of the room, scatted chuckles from a table near the back, a single clap coming from the right--again.

I especially feel it when I make love. With relationships, you never know what the future holds, except in those cases when you know EXACTLY what the future holds, and those can be the most heartbreaking moments of all. The moment won’t last forever, yet at the same time, it can never be taken away either. Even when things end, their touch may be gone, but the fingerprints remain on your heart, no two the same.

Eventually, we will lose everything: the houses we’ve worked so hard to build and buy. The music we listen to will be replaced and forgotten. Our hearts will be broken as lovers leave us. The people we love will pass on. Even out bodies will eventually go--our eyesight fades, our hearing fails, and one breath will be our last.

Sorrow is an ocean. You look around and it’s all you can see. Sometimes it moves beneath you in gentle swells. Other times the storms nearly capsize you.

There is no feeling quite like heartache. It’s like breathing in ice. It’s like breathing out shards of broken glass. It’s a wind through your chest and a hole in your stomach where life used to be.

It’s unpleasant.

But it isn’t a bad thing.

Loss is a Canadian winter night--dark, cold, unrelenting, but also glittering with its own icy beauty. And when its all around you, you appreciate those small things you have. Surrounded by all that cold and dark, the warmth and light of your house and the friends and family around you feel all the more precious.

That’s the magic of grief; It ties us to one another, even at our loneliest moments. It breaks our heart, but shares those pieces with others, binding them together so we can draw strength from one another.

We can feel the losses of those we’ve never met. When we see a picture in the newspaper or read about the suffering of others, it’s hard not to feel their sorrow.

We don’t know them. We don’t know their pain.

But we know what it’s like to suffer, and so we reach out to them, if only with our hearts.

Sadness is only bad when it is polluted by Despair, that part of your mind that whispers that you are alone in the world, that this pain is all there is and all there ever will be. It can be poisoned by pride,
shame, or resentment, thoughts that you don’t deserve to feel this, that you are alone and no one can help you, that you aren't worthy of help, or that others should hurt the way you are hurting.

But the heart of grief itself is pure.

You have hands to give or receive comfort. You have a voice to ask for or provide reassurance. Most of all you have a heart to feel others pain through your own, to know you aren’t alone.

And even as your heart is breaking you can remember all the others in the world who feel this way or have felt this way, realize that you’re intimately connected to all those who are hurting.

And with each painful breath, in and out, realize that you will never be alone.

Upcoming Comedy
Monday, November 26 - The Comic Strip - Edmonton

Upcoming Wrestling

 Saturday, December 15 - RCW Christmas Chaos - Glengarry Community Hall

Dan's writing on Dating and relationships can be found at

Check out this link for information on how to get Dan's Dating for Shy Guys ebook

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Say Yes To Everything

There's nothing like trying to sell wrestling tickets to non wrestling fans.

Kevin Nash was in town last weekend and I was trying to sell tickets to the women at work based on his appearance in Magic Mike.

ME: You should by tickets to my wrestling show. The guy from Magic Mike is going to be there.

HER: You mean Tatum Channing?


HER: That other guy. Matthew McConelly.

ME: Not him, either. It's the guy who played Tarzan.

(long silence)

HER: Eewww....

Let that be a lesson to me. The Ghostbusters Are You A God? rule also applies to promoting wrestling shows. When someone asks you if 'Tatum Channing' is at your show, the correct answer is always 'yes.'

Dan's writing on Dating and relationships can be found at

Check out this link for information on how to get Dan's Dating for Shy Guys ebook

November 26 - The Comic Strip - Edmonton