A Gamer Gives Thanks
My fondest Thanksgiving memory goes like this:
Grandma's dinner table. Cloth napkins. I'm wearing a tie and blue corduroys that haven't fit for at least a year. Brussel sprouts. Creamed spinach. My mother's white-line stare would put a long-haul trucker to shame.
Uncle Pete sits down at the table. Uncle Pete lives in a different world. We're strictly rural; he comes from mystery, traveling from city to city, living a life or urban wealth and sophistication of which I can only dream. An Outsider.
The table is awkward and silent, family tension pulled into a spider web of angst and future therapy.
"Please pass the rolls."
"Sure thing Julesy," says Uncle Ted. He proceeds to pass me a roll – some 10 feet diagonally across the long mahogany table at high speed, taking out my father's drink en route. My father stands, obviously distraught over the loss of alcohol. Uncle Ted fires another one down the table to Cousin Ed, who, laughing whips it back at him in a viscous fastball that upsets the gravy boat. A snowball fight ensues between the three of us, leaving trails of spilled food, wine stains and shocked grandparents.
Now that's thanksgiving. This year's Thanksgiving promises to be more sedate. And yet, now that I have my own family, Thanksgiving has become kind of like a New-Year's-resolution awards show. "And the nominees for home improvements are: paint the guest room, plant some bulbs, and build a tree house! Our winner is! Mow the lawn! Sorry, no winner this year!"
But this has been a very good year to be a gamer or a geek, so in no particular order, here are the things I have been thankful for since last Thanksgiving:
Heroes: Who would have thought that a comic book TV series could actually be original and well written without being so full of itself that it dies under its own weight.
The Xbox 360: This was the first year I spent more time on a console than on a PC, and it was good. Gears of War. Forza 2. Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Worms, Guitar Hero 2 & 3, Viva Pinata, Halo3, Crackdown. And all the random Xbox stuff – the occasional movie, the new chat pad, the continued excellence of the multiplayer system – it's just awesome. Yes, other consoles have strong titles, unique goodness, and shiny bits, but the Xbox 360 has been a consistent source of gaming goodness.
PSP MiniMe & Nintendo DS: Last year I sold my PSP on ebay and invested in a Nintendo DS. Turns out I sold my PSP and paraphernalia for more than the new PSP Slim Jim cost me a few months ago. In a way, I got to rent my DS for free. The DS has been nothing but joy for the last year, so much so that I bought one for my daughter, who is still deep, deep into Animal Crossing. And I continue to play scrabble and crosswords and puzzle quest on the DS. And of course, the new PSP brought me my true love for handheld gaming, Jeanne D'Arc, one of the finest tactics games I've ever played, that just happens to be on a handheld. Plus, I sent my wife on a week's vacation with the entire Firefly series on it. Talk about brownie points.
Orange Box: It's hard for me to even conceive of the fact that Half Life 2 Episodes 1 & 2 (I hadn't played 1), Team Fortress 2, and Portal all came in this same purchase. Each one was a superb experience, and TF2 will be on my regular rotation for at least a year. Products like the Orange Box are what make me proud to be a gamer.
Steam Community: Someone finally got online game communities right. Period. It's as fundamental as the iPod was for music. Yes, people have done the bits and pieces before, but it took valve to really connect the dots.
Lord of the Rings Online: It was a brief love affair, but it made me care about MMOs for the first time in a long time. More than anything, my experience with LOTRO has been one of getting to know the guys at Turbine, and to learn that Jeff Steefel and his band of elves really, really care about the MMO experience, and about bringing players into Tolkien's world. I may not be playing this week, but I will be playing again, there's no doubt in my mind.
Bioshock and the Cult of Levine: I can't actually think of a game about which I become more fanboi that actually delivered. But as fantastic as Bioshock was, it's importance may be that it brought back the game designer as part of the conversation. I may be in the minority in thinking this, but I believe the kind of open, continuous, unedited dialog that Bioshock creator Ken Levine had with the gaming community was refreshing and flat out wonderful. Levine didn't pull punches, he avoided classic PR traps, and he was willing to just get out there and talk about his ideas, warts and all. Bravo.
Peggle & Puzzle Quest: Never has time sitting in airports been so painless.
Gencon: Every year it gets better. Every year the group of people I hang out with gets even cooler. This year, GWJ was in force, and it got even better. Gencon has truly become my Mecca, the target of my yearly Hajj. In a way, Gencon is where the sense of gaming as a community - not just a hobby - takes hold of me.
The Fall and Rise of Games Journalism: Last fall I was writing for "MMO Games" and "Computer Games Magazine." Then, as the ground thawed in northern New England, TheGlobe.com closed its doors, putting myself and several others out of a gig. Then Jeff Green at Games for Windows stepped up and grabbed a few of us, giving us tremendous latitude in our contributions to what has become something of a voice-in-the-wilderness of game writing (Ziff Davis as a whole really). If you look at the current state of game writing in print, in the US but notably outside the US as well, things are NOT the dire sack of turds that Klosterman vomited upon the world in 2006.
Instead, good solid journalism seems to be thriving, both online and off. We as gamers will always, forever have to suffer through bad reviews and metacritic scores, but there are similar issues in every niche media. But the last year has also seen the rise to prominence (and relevance) of everyone from Dubious Quality to Rock Paper Shotgun to N'gai Croal and dare I say Gamers with F'n Jobs. Yes yes, we're still not the mainstream. But notoriety follows quality, and the vector is definitely in the right direction.
It's been a very, very good year to be a gamer, to be a geek, and at the risk of sounding maudlin, to be a denizen of Gamers with Jobs. For these things, I am thankful.