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Update: 12/20/17 Man, I’m really bad with these. Another year, another top 10 list abandoned.
Super late but I read a lot last year and want to remember the best of them.
11. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
10. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (2012)
9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)
8. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (2015)
7. Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon (2013)
6. The Crystal Spheres by David Brin (1984)
5. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (2015)
4. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (1997)
3. The Three-Body Problem by Lin Cixin (2014)
2. The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (2015)
1. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (2015)
Even though I didn’t have to be at work today, and despite having staying up way too late the night before catching up on episodes of @midnight, I found myself laying in bed at 8am and unable to get back to sleep. I’d intended to take devote the entire day to diving headfirst into Fallout 4, but a shipping delay with a certain mail carrier who shall remain nameless (when mispronounced, it rhymes with “cups”) meant that my copy wouldn’t be arriving until later in the day. Thus, in a rare confluence of inspiration and the free time immediately available to actually act on it, I found myself thinking of the reason why I had the day off work in the first place.
Veteran’s Day. Right up there with Memorial Day, it’s without a doubt one of the most meaningful holidays we have as a people. Observed similarly in other parts of the world as Armistice Day, it was originally meant to coincide with the end of World War I, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed the occasion with the following: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” In 1945, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill expanding Armistice Day into a day to remember all veterans, and Congress passed it less than a week later.
I’ve always had the utmost respect for the men and women who serve in the military. Regardless of your thoughts on politics, politicians, the wars we fight, or the current state of the world (and there’s a lot to think and talk about), it can’t be denied that the people serving in the armed forces have the most difficult job of all. Some do it because they’re in a bad position in life and don’t see another option available to them. Some do it because they know that in putting in their time they’ll be given training, a GI bill, and a lifetime’s worth of unforgettable experiences. Yet others do it because they simply have pride for their country and want to dedicate their lives to defending it.
But whatever their motivation, they’ve volunteered to put their lives, friendships, families, and educations on hold to be a part of something greater than themselves. We break them down, only to build them back up into the men and women we want them to be. We train them, instill them with discipline, arm them, and send them to far off places to do jobs they have no say in. They’re asked to do things by people in power they’ve never met, and sometimes don’t agree with, but they do it anyway because they respect their superiors and have a job to do. They endure years away from those they love, everything they’ve known, and are expected to do unpleasant and impossible things, in many cases literally putting their lives on the line in the name of an ideal. For the hope that their efforts will help a cause.
But it’s not without reward. Military service is hugely beneficial for the majority of those who choose to enlist. I’ve heard stories of teenagers of broken, abuse-filled homes going on to become incredible people who accomplish things they never dreamed themselves capable of. The skills, experiences, friends, and travels they gain are unlike any other. As much of a sacrifice as it is, I’m in awe at the places they visit and the camaraderie they develop.
I find that there’s a few ways I like to pay some attention to those who inspire me like this. Some are better than others. Of course, there’s video games, plenty of which attempt to recreate warlike atmosphere. Call of Duty, with its Michael Bay approach of beating you over the head with explosions, weighty death scenes, and an endless supply of terrorists to shoot in the face. Medal of Honor Frontline was always a favorite of mine from the PS2 era, with possibly the most thrilling recreation of the storming of the beaches of Normandy ever put in a game, as well as one of the most beautiful, moving orchestral scores I’ve heard from a World War II-based shooter.
Movies are even better than games, if less interactive. The obvious choice here is Saving Private Ryan, but there are many others. Most people have a fondness for Das Boot, but I’ve always preferred U-571. In terms of a small band of US soldiers facing enormous adversity and coming out the other side, it was hugely impactful for me, filled with tension like I’d never experienced before and characters I grew to genuinely care for. Rules of Engagement is also one I’ll always recommend for those who like a good courtroom drama. Or you may want to check out PBS’s documentary style TV series Carrier, which follows a six-month deployment of one of the US’s largest nuclear aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz.
But even though media will never stop giving it their best shot, the best way to pay respect is to simply talk to an actual vet. Thank them for their service. Let them know it’s not lost on you that a large part of why we live in a country with as many freedoms as we have and have the ability to try and make the world a better place is because of their efforts. If you don’t know any veterans yourself, there are tons of websites that will put you in touch with them. One of my favorites is amillionthanks.org. In addition to taking donations for America’s troops and families of servicemen and women, one of the services they provide is collecting letters of thanks to be delivered to military local, abroad, or injured in hospitals. It’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to show your support.
Lastly, if you’re having the trouble finding enthusiasm, I highly recommend checking out the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website. The highest honor this country can bestow, awarded for gallantry and bravery in combat at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, is not given lightly. Reading the stories of those who’ve earned it is a revelation and a sobering reminder of the situations veterans are sometimes placed in, as well as the selflessness the best of the best are capable of.
Just looking at the current featured recipient, Sergeant William Shemin, I found this:
…in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy on the Vesle River, near Bazoches, France from August 7 to August 9, 1918. Sergeant Shemin, upon three different occasions, left cover and crossed an open space of 150 yards, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, to rescue wounded. After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Sergeant Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until wounded on August 9.
Or this, from the page of Specialist Fourth Class Donald P. Sloat, who was in the US Army during Vietnam:
On the morning of Jan. 17, 1970, Sloat’s squad was conducting a patrol, serving as a blocking element in support of tanks and armored personnel carriers from F Troop in the Que Son valley. As the squad moved through dense up a small hill in file formation, the lead Soldier tripped a wire attached to a hand grenade booby-trap, set up by enemy forces. When the grenade rolled down the hill toward Sloat, he had a choice. He could hit the ground and seek cover, or pick up the grenade and throw it away from his fellow Soldiers. After initially attempting to throw the grenade, Sloat realized that detonation was imminent, and that two or three men near him would be killed or seriously injured if he couldn’t shield them from the blast. In an instant, Sloat chose to draw the grenade to his body, shielding his squad members from the blast, and saving their lives. Sloat’s actions define the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his own life in order to save the lives of his comrades.
This was only two weeks before his 21st birthday.
To see a veteran of military service, especially in uniform, fills me with a pride and admiration in a way few things can. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been in the trenches with bullets blazing around them, sat in a dark control room reading maps on a computer screen, or cooked in the kitchens of an offshore aircraft carrier, they’ve seen and done more than I ever will. They’ve experienced the greatness and diversity this world and its cultures have to offer, as well as worst, most senseless and hateful acts it’s capable of. Their contributions to their country, our allies, and their fellow comrades dwarfs most of ours, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Given my medical history and the weak physical stature it left me with, there was never a chance I’d ever be deemed fit for military duty. Had my life turned out differently, I honestly don’t know if I would have it in me to walk into a recruitment office and enlist, let alone shoot a random enemy or take a bullet to save a comrade. I’d like to think that I’m emotionally and mentally well balanced enough to handle it, and certainly have pride for my country and am not afraid to work hard for my friends and what I believe in. But it’s one of those things that’s impossible to truly know without actually being in the moment. And it could be argued that I’m the person I am today because of my background. If my background had been different, It’s certainly possible that I wouldn’t have the courage for it. I suppose I’ll never know for sure.
So instead, I’d like to ask that we take just a little time today to be thankful for those who don’t get days off like most of us. Those who spend birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries in a bunker halfway around the world in the midst of people who would sooner shoot at them than ask them for help. Those who see their newborn children for the first time over a Skype call that could go out at any second because they’re connecting to the internet from the middle of an ocean thousands of miles away. And those who wake up day in and day out trying not to think about the possibility that this day could be their last.
To those currently serving, to those who’ve served in the past, and to those service members no longer with us, I say thank you. Thank you for your selflessness, sacrifice, strength, and heroism.
Last year I had a great time participating in a wonderful charity event held by gamers across the country called Extra-Life. It’s where gamers come together to play games for 24 hours straight and raise money for children’s hospitals of their choosing. Ranging from video games, to board games, to card games, to role-playing games and everything in between, last year me and over 38,000 others raised over $3.8 million for kids. It’s something I’d wanted to participate in for a long time given my own personal history, and it felt really great joining together with a bunch of my closest friends, doing what I love to help such a worthy cause.
This year I’ll be at it again. Like before, I’ll be raising donations for Rainbow Babies and Children hospital in Cleveland, OH. I won’t have as elaborate of a set up as last year, with the live video streams, but with the PS4’s Twitch streaming option and my own dabbling in PC streaming to Twitch I may give it a shot on my own. I’m getting a little later of a start this year than I did last year so I’m setting my goal a little more conservatively, but I can always raise it if the donations start pouring in.
Which only leaves the question of what to play. I’ve been thinking I’d like to use the opportunity this year to play some of my backlog. There’s plenty of series I’m woefully behind on, and several that I haven’t been able to touch at all. This is the list of what I’m considering playing, in loose alphabetical order, with obligatory flavor comments. Many of these series are so long that I’ll hardly be able to get through one game let alone the whole franchise, but I’m just thinking out loud for now, and I’m open to suggestions or requests. There’s plenty more games I’d like to play, but i’m specifically focusing on franchises or sequels here. Also, it’s entirely possible that I could start off plowing through one of these series and then switching to something more mindless in the wee hours of the morning as my eyelids get heavier and heavier and my reflexes stop doing what I tell them to.
On second thought, this list is way longer than I anticipated. Anyone have any suggestions for narrowing it down?
- Zero Escape Series (9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors & Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward)
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent & Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (these would make great late night games)
- Assassin’s Creed series (Brotherhood, Revelations, ACIII, & Black Flag all remain untouched on my shelf, the latter two still in their shrink wrap)
- Batman: Arkham series (I almost left this off since I’ve finished Asylum and am on the fence about playing Origins, but I really want to play Arkham City, so maybe…)
- Borderlands series (played through the first, but didn’t stick with the sequel)
- Chrono series (that’s right, I still haven’t played through Chrono Trigger, or Chrono Cross. I’m a little ashamed of this)
- Crysis series (I own all three, haven’t played any of them)
- Darksiders series (again, played through the first, didn’t stick with the sequel)
- Dead Space series (I’ve finished only the first of three)
- Souls series (do I dare pick up Demon’s Souls yet again, and should I even bother with Dark Souls?)
- Mother series (Earthbound on Wii U Virtual Console and English-patched ROM of Mother 3)
- Fallout series (specifically 3 and New Vegas. Yeah I know, there’s enough content in one of them alone to last four years of Extra-Life events, but it still counts)
- Fatal Frame series (another great late-night spooky contender)
- Fear Effect series
- Final Fantasy series (my deep pile of shame includes IV, V, VI, IX, the XIII trilogy, & Tactics. Plus I’d like to play X in HD)
- Gears of War (again, own the first three, only played through the first)
- Golden Sun series (I really should pick up a copy of the third game in this franchise)
- Grandia series (really only interested in the first three)
- Half-Life series (haven’t touched a single one of them, unless you count Portal, and I don’t)
- Halo series (six main entries, I’ve played half of the first)
- ICO/Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection (because of course this counts)
- inFamous series
- Jak & Daxter Collection
- Lego games (up for consideration: Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Marvel Super Heroes, and maybe Batman. I’ve already finished Indiana Jones and Star Wars)
- Lunar series (Silver Star Story and Eternal Blue. These are added on a whim, as I’ve played both of them several times over, but goddamn are they good. I’d love to play them again)
- Mario & Luigi series (Superstar Saga, Partners in Time, Bowser’s Inside Story, & Dream Team)
- Mass Effect series
- Mega Man series (another fun entry. I’ve finished a few of them, but this would be a fun marathon)
- Mega Man X series (see above)
- Sonic the Hedgehog series (by which I mean 1-3. You know, the only good ones)
- Castlevania series (in the same vein as Mega Man. I’m specifically thinking of the first four for the NES & SNES, Symphony of the Night, and maybe the GBA games)
- Metal Gear Solid (of the five, I’ve only played 4 to completion)
- Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light
- Metroid series (I’ve finished all of them except Prime 2: Echos and Prime 3: Corruption. and no, Other M doesn’t count. Period.)
- Ninja Gaiden series (I’m thinking specifically of Sigma, Sigma 2, and Dragon Sword)
- No More Heroes 1 & 2
- Penny Arcade Adventures 2, 3, & 4
- Persona 3 and Persona 4 (see comments above for Fallout series)
- Pikmin series (never touched any of them, but own all three)
- Ratchet & Clank series (HD Collection, Future: A Crack in Time, and Into the Nexus)
- Saints Row: The Third & Saints Row IV
- Sly Cooper Collection & Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
- Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (this counts because it’s a collection on one disc and there are franchises within it. Full list of games here)
- Suikoden series (the only flaw in this contender is that I only own 1 and 3, and 2 isn’t available digitally or without spending an ass-load of money on eBay. Get this on PSN Sony!!)
- Contra series (meaning the first three on NES & SNES. That would be awesome, right? And theoretically wouldn’t take long)
- Super Mario series (to the exclusion of the New Super Mario Bros games, I’m thinking 1, 2, 3, World, Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy, and Galaxy 2. Maybe Mario Land 1 & 2 on Game Boy. I’ve finished all the above except Sunshine and Galaxy 2)
- Zelda series (focusing on the ones I’ve passed up, so Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, Spirit Tracks, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword)
So my friend Tori recently overhauled her blog and has put up a list of her top 5 favorite celebrities. Apparently she has a thing for old British dudes. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? Between their suave, sophisticated accents, charming politeness, and taste for strong alcoholic beverages, I’d probably try to run away with one if I were female. Anyway, she has solicited her friends for their own lists as an experiment or some evil scheme of some kind. Or who knows, maybe she just wants to know her friends a little better.
Whatever the reasoning, I figured I’d take a break from writing about games for the first time in what seems like months and try to poop out a list of my own. The reason I word it like that is because of how I’ve always viewed celebrities.
Some people get absolutely crazy about famous people. They fawn over rags like People Magazine and shows like that cesspool of modern television programming, TMZ. Others are thankfully a bit more reserved in their fascination, content to take a mellow interest in what celebrities wear or who they date and admire their lavish, otherworldly lifestyle.
I, in most cases, couldn’t really care less about them. I appreciate them and the work they do, the entertainment they provide, be it the next great summer blockbuster movie, hit record, or whatever else they happen to be putting out and taking the spotlight for. But I couldn’t give two shits about who they date, what they wear, where they go, how many houses they buy, or what they think about politics. They’re not gods to be put on a pedestal and worshipped like higher beings. They’re just people with a certain set of skills, whether that be genuine athleticism or acting ability, or something more hollow like being able to capture people’s attention while doing idiotic things.
Also, many celebrities are not appreciative of the fortune their talents have provided them. How often have you seen some big movie star blow off some fans who just want an autograph. Yeah, it sucks not having much privacy, but you chose the career buddy. Now deal with it. How many athletes and rock stars throw their lives away by ending up in jail or drug-induced body bags. Way to take a perfectly good career and flush it all down the toilet.
Not that there aren’t people I do enjoy and admire. But if I were to meet any of them I wouldn’t get all flabbergasted and not be able to form words like some folks. I’ve seen people go from intelligent, outspoken individuals to bumbling fools who can’t put two syllables together and are a handshake away from having a panic attack. I would treat them as a normal person, albeit one that has a cool job. I would want to have an actual, interesting conversation with them and just enjoy being able to spend some time with them. And yes, I have met a few famous people, so this is not just a case of “whatever, you say that but if you were to actually meet someone really famous you would totally lose it.”
So my list is a little odd, consisting of people you might not expect or who some people may not consider a “celebrity” per se. It should be noted that I had to think pretty hard to come up with this list, and these people are not in any particular order, except for the number one person. The other four can even be swapped on and off the list depending on the day. As I said, I’m not one to revel in the supposed greatness of someone I’ve never met and who’s work doesn’t really affect my life. Without further ado:
1. Will Wright – Creator of SimCity, the Sims, Spore, and one of, if not THE, most intelligent man in the entire video game industry. In an industry that is inundated with violence and gun-toting dude-bros from every developer out there, Will’s games make people think, laugh, experiment, and create. With no “win” condition to speak of, you just play, and before you know it, hours have gone by. Also, hearing him speak is riveting. Look up some of his GDC or E3 talks and you’ll see what I mean. He’s the only person I know of that can link together Godzilla, Star Wars, Gilligan’s Island, and the Russian space program. And make it all make a humorous kind of sense.
2. Insane Clown Posse – Ok, go ahead and get all the judgement and “are you seriously a juggalo” rabblerousing out of your system. It’s ok, I’ll wait……finished? Good. Their music is NOT for everyone. It is off-the-wall, vulgar, and very love-it-or-hate-it. But regardless of what you think of their music, what cannot be denied is their skill with showmanship, promotion, and running a business. Anyone who has ever tried to make it as a musician will tell you how incredibly hard it is to get noticed and get anywhere serious. But these two took matters into their own hands in the very beginning of their careers and worked their asses off to self-promote and slowly build up their fanbase one person and one city at a time. They wear outlandish facepaint, throw Faygo around in their performances, have elaborate stage sets and dudes in costumes, and really know how to put on a show to capture people’s attention. And of course, there’s the merchandise. T-shirts, jewelry, DVDs, hoodies, hats, shoes, belt buckles, everything else you could possibly think of, you can buy on their website and in stores. They make so much money off their merchandise it’s ridiculous. They made their own success from day one and succeeded brilliantly.
3. Lewis Black – Probably my favorite comedian out there today. His angry, endlessly cynical style brings to light the flaws in everything about our society, from the absurdity of nutritional facts on bottled water to politics. I am a rather cynical and facetious person myself so I relate to his comedy very easily. And he is fun to watch, with his crooked finger pointing and baffled facial expressions, he brings a light-heartedness to his presentation to the point where you can’t help but laugh at his exasperation just as much as what he’s actually talking about.
4. Jim Carrey – Another somewhat polarizing choice, Jim is at his best when he’s allowed to just let loose and bring his wacky cartoon character personality to the surface. With endless enthusiasm, creativity, and energy, he throws his all into every role he plays, be it serious or insane. And he’s a pretty nice person outside of his movies too. You never hear about him caught up in controversy or see him in National Enquirer, he’s always smiling and having a good time in interviews, and he’s a genuinely fun-loving guy.
5. Trey Parker and Matt Stone – Their material is definitely not for the easily-offended, but if you have an easy sense of humor, you can’t help but love the fuck-everybody attitude and nothing is sacred philosophy Matt and Trey display in their work. Pushing boundaries of decency for over 15 years and ripping on every celebrity, TV show, religion, fad, and rule they can think of, they are basically Lewis Black pushed to 11.
Well, that’s my list. For the moment at least. Looking back at it, a common theme of these people are they don’t really see themselves as above everybody else because of their fame. And that’s probably my favorite quality of all, not just in a celebrity, but in people in general.
There’s so many great ones, how bout something better. Faygo energy drink, or Faygo beer!? 😀