Thursday, November 23, 2006

["Wii" pun goes here]

“You’re not bringing that Nintendo or whatever to the party, are you?”

The lady is not pleased; that damp look of disapproval is stereotypically familiar to the attached male gamer – to the attached male, period – and no matter how many episodes we blubber or bully or “c’mon baby” our way through, it doesn’t get easier to take. Because part of us knows we’re doing wrong; part of us knows our girls are right to roll their eyes at our escapist toy fetish, part of us understands that bringing a videogame system to a house party – a party whose partial purpose is for your girl to meet most of your friends for the first time – is just not cool.

“But, baby,” I whine, “It’s for work! The Wii is the biggest videogame event in five years, and I need to test it out in field conditions!”

I’d actually started speaking that way; the manner in which Nintendo’s PR people shipped me my demo unit lent itself to military metaphors – white delicacy of Wii and accessories foam-fitted into 20 pounds of indestructible aluminum gun case. This kit’s meant to travel, and travel hard. The image Nintendo’s marketing presents is one of wholesome partytimes, ecstatic toothy shrieks of joy... and if a jubilant, affluent, multiracial crowd of sexy people won’t come to Wii than Wii is sure as shit going to go to them.

Pre-party is cocktails and dinner with my girl, her sister and her sister’s friend, this massive Miami Vice drug-money metal suitcase making an odd fifth at our table. Even with the Wii boxed and inert, the ladies – hardcore nongamers from the old school, all – are warming up to it, saying its adorable name over and over and giggling, making it a bit of a mascot. Sis snaps pictures with the expressed purpose of making her children jealous. Wii’re off to a good start.

At the party I tried to keep things organically focused for a while, bullshitting, beer-cracking, making haphazard introductions in the narrow-halled, small-kitchened maze of my buddy’s house… but the Wii would not be denied. Most every boy in the place knew where it was and what it was, returning to its case to sort of gaze and paw and sniff. The air soon filled with this kind of ultrasonic whine, as in that moment when a dog’s been waiting too long for treats it knows are there and lets the frequency of its impatience drop into the range of human hearing. Thirty seconds of painless setup later and old-fashioned partying was over: Wii Sports had begun.

A smashing success! As in, as soon as we fired that baby up, shit was getting smashed -- as, I suppose, were we. The very first swing I took with the Wii’s motion-sensing controller, a big-balled aggressive macho bastard of a serve to open my first round of tennis, and I knocked over a totally full bottle of Heineken. A minute later someone kicked over a wine glass. Spectating knees were clocked hard by virtual bowlers; wild home-run attempts nearly knocked noses out of the park; tee-shot backswings came shriekingly close to unsuspecting chins; solid right hooks sent improperly secured controllers flying.

So, yeah: important safety tip, eh? In addition to Nintendo’s standard epilepsy warnings, displayed prominently in all their products since a bunch of Japanese kids kicked it seizure-style during a particularly flashy episode of Pokemon in '98, the Wii has added constant onscreen reminders to tether the Wiimote to your wrist with the provided strap. Nannyish ass-covering advice, I know, but ignore it at your own peril: the gaming blogs are filling up with shot after blurry, overexposed, cellphone-camera shot of the butterfingered carnage – spiderwebbed televisions, shattered lamps, spilt lips. Also – and this is personal experience talking – be very careful when Wiiing in an 8x8 room filled with drunks, especially if said room features a four-foot segment of tree-trunk rather than a coffee table.

Safety issues aside, here’s Wii in a nutshell: my fiancée’s sister’s friend (is there a one-word term for this relation?) picked the Wiimote up off the stump to try her hand at tennis. As a woman a shade over fifty, she’s about as far to the shallow outside of the traditional videogaming demographic as one can be without being blind, armless and Amish… but she is a tennis player, and she immediately got into the game, her old skills taking her into a fierce, foul-mouthed forecourt rally with the computer opponent. Three minutes later, she was handing the controller off to a hipster half her age, giving tips on swing and timing.

That’s the kind of scenario that had Nintendo execs and idea-men hard in the pants when they conceived the Wii – a zero-curve, zero-barrier, intuitive game experience that would just sit there on the coffeetable inviting play by anyone, turning nongamers into happy fans.

I’ve got a tough customer on my hands, though, the Mikey of videogames, a sensitive creature of crossed arms and zero interest, her anti-game defenses still strong; we’ll see if Wii can recruit her. Updates as they happen, fellow arcade-raised man-children; if I can get my girl playing, anything is possible.

(PS: Don’t get your hopes up.)

Stormtrooper Mii by Fish

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Highway games

Blank fields and familiar towns, foothills and mountains out the left-hand window fading with the daylight... the same trucks in their same truckstops... boring burn through Calgary, Red Deer, past the treadmill dude, into the commercial hellscape of Gateway Boulevard… how many of you are as totally bored with Highway 2 as I am? We’ve been riding that deadly, and deadly dull, ribbon of road since before that bloated sea monkey Cosmo was a glimmer in some commercial illustrator’s lifeless eye, since Calgary was surrounded by heart-stirring dun hillsides rather than soulless boomtown favelas, since forever. A busride up and down this divided cart-track is not only “time to kill”… it’s time that deserves to die.

Having made the Edmonton-to-Vulcan round trip (to answer your question, yes; I have marveled at the concrete Enterprise) three times in the last two months, it’s weird I haven’t done more to murder its six-hour (incl. heel-cooling hours in the cleaner-reeking grimness of the Calgary station) duration with the poison of videogames. I always bring my DS along, but there’s something about the Greyhound that usually makes me too restless and distracted to play; turns out, I’m mostly into the standard travel pastimes of books, magazines, and constant fiddling with the cord of my cheap headphones to keep the sweet sound of pirated MP3s coming to both ears simultaneously.

But there are games being played all around me. Three rows up on the left side, a milk-fed young lady in an unfortunate-pink BUM sweatshirt is playing an exhibition match of Telephone Mindgame on her cel: “What? What? Nothing! I’m on the bus. I’m not mad. I’m on the bus! I’m not. I'm not. What the fuck? Nothing. What’s your problem? Nothing! (etc.).” And back behind me a couple of rows, two girls – an early teen and an eightish-year-old by the sound of it – are deeply engaged in “Guess the Animal”, in their outside voices.

“Is it small?”


“Is it large?”


“So, what is it?”

“It’s meeedium!”

Since the laughing dude beside me has things well in hand on the movie front, enjoying the in-drive presentation of Freaky Friday more than enough for both of us, I decide to give videogaming another try. I have a copy of Clubhouse Games for my DS, and somewhere in its 42-game arsenal of classroom and card-table classics I figure there must be something that’ll shut out the motorcoach soundscape, distract me from the sciatic twinge aching down my left leg, and make the last, longest leg of the run – the slo-mo nightmare eternity of Red Deer to Leduc – pass by relatively painlessly.

Playing cards is fun; playing cards against depersonalized computer opponents on a pair of tiny screens in your lap is futile and depressing. I like the variety Clubhouse Games presents, but something about the way it lays out its virtual felt makes following the play kind of impossible, and few of its non-card games have much single-player appeal… and once again, the fun-capacity of wireless multiplayer remains for me theoretical. After about thirty seconds each of Blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em and a Battleship knockoff, I settle on that reliable old procrastinator’s standby, Solitaire, and the minutes and miles melt away.

Vaguely, through the hypnotic haze of mindless reflexive card-matching, I detect that another player, a teenaged boy with the faggiest lisp I’ve heard in a long time, has hijacked “Guess the Animal”; now, the kids are playing the second-most-dangerous (after “Truth or Dare”) childhood basement game, “Would You Rather?” The youngest girl’s a little at sea, but trying to show her grown-up maturity:

“Would you rather… kiss a boy, or be gay?”

“They’re the thame thing, thtupid!”

“OK, then, ummmm… would you rather kiss your mom, or—“

“Eww! My mom is your mom, you little perv!”

“OK, would you rather kiss our mom, or—“

“No, it’th my turn. Would you rather have both your armth cut off, or be a hermaphrodite?”

“What’s a hemafronite?”

And so on; you know how it goes. I finally find the Escherian knot that allows my headphones’ hair-thin strand of fractured copper wire to make contact with itself, and as the treadmill dude comes into view Slayer drowns out the kids’ creepy erotic naivety. By the time “Raining Blood” comes up, we’ll be pulling into the station. Next time, I swear, I’m bringing industrial hearing protection and kicking it childhood style with a stack of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

10-31-2006 – Halloween night

"My greatest trouble and my wife’s is our family, mighty out of order by this fellow Will’s corrupting the mayds by his idle talke and carriage, which we are going to remove by hastening him out of the house, which his uncle Blackburne is upon doing, and I am to give him 20l. per annum toward his maintenance. The Queene continues lightheaded, but in hopes to recover. The plague is much in Amsterdam, and we in fears of it here, which God defend.”
– Samuel Pepys, 31 October, 1663 (

So… this is how Halloween’s gonna be, huh? Cozied up on a quilt-piled couch, candles burning on the coffeetable as much for chill-chasing as illumination, a couple pounds of greasy chow-mein leftovers congealing in the refrigerator… catching up on the day-to-day doings of a London diarist who’s been dead for 303 years. Party.

If I was feeling a little less logy, I might let holiday-guilt kick my square ass out into the streets to find something, anything that remotely resembles a party, just to say I’d done my duty. Halloween is a hoser High Holy Day, and this is the first time ever, ever, ever in my life that I haven’t at least smeared some dollar-store “zombie” makeup on my face or whipped up a weak-ass sheet-ghost costume and gone out to ogle all the tarted-up chicks. I feel like a loser – a warm, comfortable, relaxed, sober loser, but a loser still.

Honestly, though… a Tuesday? What am I supposed to do with a Tuesday, since I find myself in a day-job situation? Come into the office reeking of tequila, pumpkin seeds, greasepaint and duct tape, bits of cobwebbing still clinging to my curls? Maybe I could have done it and been OK, but my energy reserves are critically low; after the boozy Brewtals revival Friday night, a ridiculous birthday party/séance-planning meeting in a rockin’ retail basement Sunday night, and a shot-filled evening that ended in the company of partymaster Carson Cole last night, I have more than done my share this weekend.

Ah, but none of those were proper Halloween parties... and so, my duty remains undischarged. No last-minute group costume workshops, no freezing my ass off in stupidly climate-inappropriate gear like my Sub-Mariner outfit (fish-scale swim trunks, only) of a few years back, no piles of cash blown on cab after cab hitting houseparty after houseparty, no kitchen grabass with soused fetish angels, no desperate maintenance of rapidly deteriorating costumes, no hotboxing a rubber mask.

Excuse number two: the weather. Snow on Halloween is one thing, but this froze-ass December shit really puts the clamps to the party impulse. Basically, it’s like we followed (as we are meant to) the lead of our ads and retail store displays and skipped over Halloween to get right down to the business of Christmas. These pagan festivals are supposed to be in touch with nature, right? Well, the druid inside me took one step outside, felt the Wendigo blowing ball-shrinking ice up his hempen robe, saw the late-late-late-blooming poppy in my flowerbed frozen so quick its bulb snapped right off when I shoveled my sidewalk, and said “fukke ye the Samhain fires… yon Solftice of Wintre be nowe ‘pon ye lande!” Our tribal duty has shifted from partyhopping and dressing up as robots to Making This Giving Season Special.

Still… spacey and dreaming in the MSG-whirl of the Combo For Three, Willie Nelson’s Stardust tootling on the hi-fi, Pepys complain/bragging (as always) about how much his doublets, cloakes, collares and pantaloons are costing him…? There are worse ways to spend this Night of Nights. Next year, though… next year... it’s going to be freakin’ massive!

“But thus everything lessens, which I have and am like to have, and therefore I must look about me to get something more than just my salary, or else I may resolve to live well and die a beggar.”