James Buys A Vita

Sometimes I look at my video game collection, both real and virtual, and think that there is no possible way I’ll be able to play all of this in my lifetime. I spent well in my youth, and now the years of combing bargain bins at the local Electronics Boutique has left me a virtual playground to rival Inception, the Matrix, and the Holodeck combined.

It was around one of those times that one of my co-workers mentioned she had a spare Playstation Vita lying around. I chuckled to myself, thinking that even if I had it, it would be YEARS before I could play games on it. Still, the months wore on, and that Vita was still available for a very reasonable price. So I thought to myself, I work hard, I pay taxes, I pull back into the slow lane on my morning commute. I need a symbol of my diligence, tangible proof that I can hold in my hands and then say to myself, “I contribute to society”.
So I paid in cash, and now I have it! Even though it’s officially a legacy platform in Sony’s eyes, there are still a few games that I’m excited to play on it. Some of these are already out, and some of them will have to remain as japanese imports. I’m actually looking forward to putting down cash for some of these at a convention. So much more personal than online! Here are my top five:

5. Disgaea 3 & 4

I’m a strategy RPG fanatic, and the Disgaea series is one of the genre’s 800 pound gorillas. In any given entry to the series, you lead an army of adorable demons in a dastardly plot to take over the multiverse. The characters use attacks like 10 person suplexes with damage counts numbering in the millions of hit points. There are so many ways to grind and level up your army. Even the weapons all have rogue-like dungeons inside of them where you can improve your weapon and your warriors. I will probably finish these games and make it to Disgaea 5 some time around the heat death of the universe.

4. Attack on Titan

The Titans of Hajime Isayama’s manga are serious business. They are so tough, you would need an army of Ninjas- no an army of Spidermen-  no, Ninja-Spidermen! Luckily in you get to join this Ninja Spider-man army and defend Humanity from the ultimate in Fee-fi-fo-fum.

3. Berserk

When Koei Tecmo decided to make Dynasty Warriors, a game where you literally fight hundreds of enemies, it’s hard to believe they didn’t have Berserk in mind. There’s nothing like taking a huge sword to mow down entire armies to take your mind off a day in traffic.

2. Macross Delta Scramble


The Macross Scramble series absolutely ruled on the original PSP. Since Macross Delta is still on the air, I hope the campaign mode is a little more involved. It’s hard to get invested in the story if you are constantly reminded that it’s just a simulation.

1. Super Frickin’ Robot Wars

This game series is the my chocolate and peanut butter. You have every giant robot series banding together in a loosely plotted cross-over scenario to carry out the most ridiculous attacks in a scenario that is…well…a battle royale would not even begin to describe it. In this latest installment, Super Robot Wars Victory, Space Battleship Yamato is getting a special guest appearance, fighting alongside the Mobile Suits of Gundam, Macross’ Valkyries, and so, so, many others. It is pure madness, and it’s also getting an English translation! I’m freaking out here!

I hate anti-cell phone memes.


I want to draw your attention to this photo art exhibit. Photographer Eric Pickersgill took pictures of people looking at their smartphones and then photoshopped out the all smartphones. The effect is kind of eerie. It’s everything you want modern art exhibit to be. Even so, I really don’t like the way it’s being used. It’s being passed around on Facebook to show off our horrible addiction to cellphones and that is a reminder to get us off our horrible addiction to cell phones. I swear, the word horrible must have been used at least 3 times in the share I saw.

This is not only screed I see on Facebook (and ironically, through my phone) that you need to get off your phone. I absolutely agree that smartphones should only be looked at with consideration to those around you. Still, I feel like these blanket statements to just get off your phone, get outside, get interacting with people, they ask the wrong questions. Nobody seems to ask why are you on your cell phone? What are we looking at? What if we started talking about what was on our phones? Is it because we’d rather be somewhere else? Or we don’t get to see our friends enough? Would your opinion change if we photoshopped books into people’s hands instead? Better yet, why do we want to disturb people who are clearly enjoying themselves?

I understand the impulse to give the stink-eye to people on their phones. No one likes being ignored, and when you see a lot of people on their phones it can feel like they’re all shunning you, like you’re in some sort of fundamentalist sect. We should still be asking the right questions about this. Maybe we should be using our phones as conversation starters. All I know is that simply ringing an apocalypse bell and demanding an end to the mobile internet is not going to move the conversation forward.

I Love the New Ghostbusters, and I Hate the Internet.


So last weekend, I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie with my wife. If you know me, then you know that I love the original movies. I loved the cartoon. I bought the toys. I even dressed up as Ghostbuster for Halloween for 3 years in a row. And I also loved this reboot.

In fact, I think it’s the perfect reboot. It wasn’t just faithful to the idea of Ghostbusters, it explored aspects of the story that the original just didn’t have time for. What about those academic careers they left behind? How did the Ghostbusters meet each other in first place?How did they come up with that gear? While there are references and plenty of cameos by the original cast, the new Ghostbusters are absolutely their own characters with their own histories, conflicts, and comedy schticks.

I also love how the story was updated for the anxieties of our era. The original dealt with Reagan-era paranoia about government over-reach into small business, but this new movie dealt with our overall skepticism in the Internet age and the ongoing debate about what real science is. I loved, loved, loved the new characters, the new actors, the new gear and the new jokes. This also makes me mad as hell at the Internet.

The trailer for the 2016 film was the most disliked video on Youtube. Leslie Jones, one of the actresses, was basically chased off Twitter for a while after the premier by tornado of racist comments. I was also really disappointed in James Rolfe of Angry Video Game Nerd fame when he produced a video about how he was not going to see the new film. I don’t think he knew he was doing it at the time, but he normalized the behaviour of all those idiots. Soon my Youtube page was awash with videos with titles like “WHITE MAN REFUSES TO SEE MOVIE! WHAT NOW, SJWs?”. Gross. This campaign has gone on to the point that when I was leaving the theatre, I found that people were genuinely surprised that the movie was actually good.

Now that I’ve seen the movie and liked it, I have a problem. A screen accurate proton pack is on my cosplay bucket list, but now I can’t decide whether I want a 1984 model or a 2016 model. I’m leaning towards 2016, considering I look kind of like a dumpy Chris Hemsworth. Does this mean I’m going to get the stink-eye at conventions from people who consider themselves “true” Ghostbuster fans?

The new Ghostbusters movie showed me something that was missing from these mainstream blockbuster tentpole movies. It felt different to see 4 women in the title roles of an established special effects movie, and in a good way. The world felt a little larger somehow. See, representation is not about chasing lofty social Justice goals. it’s also about keeping our movies from all looking at the same. If every protagonist has to be a white guy, it’s not just racist or misogynist, it’s boring and unrealistic. It also allows us to get comfortable with people who are different from we are. I know I’m not going to convince anyone who is determined to hate this film, but if you are on the fence, take my word for it. More Ghostbusters is good and this movie is definitely more Ghostbusters

Thoughts on Pokemon Go

Image used with permssion from Kimidori

Image courtesy of Kimidori

When I see the huge age range of all the people playing Pokémon Go, I’m reminded of just how huge of a cultural impact this franchise made back in the late 90’s. Pro-tip: If you get the chance, play this game with the young child. I played this game with my son in parks and hotels while on vacation, and the experience of shared wonder is nothing short of magical.

The original Pokémon video game and anime series came out when I was a teenager. I was too busy with more “adult” shows like Evangelion or Macross Plus to pay attention to this new show that was essentially for kids. I didn’t realize that for a lot of people this was their first exposure to anime. That meant seeing a cartoon that could have long and sprawling story arcs, and there were some episodes that were more about emotional relationships than hunting down the latest Pokémon. When you come from a cartoon landscape that resets the storyline every episode, you start to build a relationship with these characters and stories that lasts a lifetime, or at least until you’re tramping through a park trying to catch a poliwag on your phone.

Another thing that I love about Pokémon Go is that it is such a classically Nintendo product, even if the game was created by a separate company. It takes off-the-shelf technology, and packages it in such a way that makes the technology so much more effective than it was before. I call this technology off-the-shelf because it uses a game engine called Unity, a technology that I’ve worked with before. The closest I ever got created my own Pokémon go was causing a cube to appear in front of an iPhone 3GS’ camera and having the game blast out Europe’s The Final Countdown. This was all for an augmented reality venture that never went anywhere.

With Pokémon Go, you see a brand stretching back 20 years combining with extremely refined technical know-how to create a product that is almost changing society. The app launched in the middle of terrifying stories of mass shootings, and in parks across America, Pokemon Go players were holding an impromptu “Take back the night” vigil.

At this point in my life, I only have the time and inclination to stand on the shores of that ocean that is Pokémon, but wherever the ocean leads, I like where it’s going.


Charisma: It’s not just a dump stat

Social skills have always posed a puzzle for me. While I’m not exactly a shut-in, a lot of setbacks in my life, or so I’m told, can be traced back to my lack of social skills. Whether it’s a job interview that didn’t go well, or a sale that failed to happened, I’m often left asking why, and people tell me that I just need the gift of gab or the ability to sell ice to eskimos, or whatever that means. Even the smallest social situations I’ve always been envious of people who could hold a room with their stories or who never have to deal with those awkward moments of dead air. Thanks to what I’ve learned in Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth, I don’t have to.

We think Charisma is a natural gift because when someone does it well, we experience the results in our unconscious emotional mind. It turns out that charisma, the ability to read people and react appropriately, can be learned just like programming or playing the guitar.

Developing your charisma involves training your brain to control your body language. We have known for a long time that social skills depend on body language, but only recently have we found that all those ticks and micro-expressions on our outside depends a lot on how we treat our insides. There’s a lot of talk in the book about mindfulness and meditation. Naturally, these practices will increase your confidence, but this is different from a lot of confidence techniques that I’ve heard of in the past.

Instead of just focusing on your strengths and good qualities, the mindful approach to charisma requires that you take into account all aspects of your being, even ones that you don’t like. The way I have interpreted this is that while you may not be the best in the world at anything, maybe the best person in the room to do many other things. This especially works for me if I’m the only person in the room.

A technique I was able to use immediately was a habit of waiting two seconds before responding to anybody. If you are in a conversation and someone is talking to you, just say mississippi in your head twice before giving a response. Another technique I liked was diving into sensation. If you focus on the sensations in your extremities, you can take your focus away from your current anxieties and back to reading the current social situation.

Doing was like opening up a third eye for me. Through most of my life, I have been so focused on crafting the right response to whatever I was listening to that I was just not listening at all. For instance, if I was in one of my old tech support jobs, I might try and act contrite if the customer was mad at me. According to the charisma myth, this is not only detrimental to the control of your body language, but It can even escalate things by telegraphing to your conversation partner that they are hurting you and that they are wrong. If you have a negative expression crawl across your face at any point, people don’t think it’s you, they think it’s them.

Reading this book has made me much more comfortable in my own skin. I am much better at small talk. Even though I don’t have a script for most social situations, I at least have a stance I can take so I can observe the situation and not make a fool of myself. I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. I don’t have a daily meditation ritual, and my ability can be limited by my mood and how much sleep I’ve had. At least now I have a direction to go if I want to improve.

It sounds like magic, but it’s not. The Charisma Myth debunked a lot of ideas that I had about active listening and positive thinking. If you go the book’s website there are a few exercises you can try out. You can get better results from the actual book, but try it out and tell me know how things work out.