College

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The Washington Post recently published an article that discussed how not all college majors are created equal. I couldn’t agree more.

I started attending a local junior college during my senior year of high school. Call it one of the perks of being homeschooled. I remember:

  • Enjoying the classroom setting
  • Being overwhelmed by professors and their gospel-like profession of political and personal beliefs
  • Not knowing why I was going other than wanting to earn a degree in something

When I finally graduated from high school, at some point, I was told that I could continue to live at my parents house if I continued going to work and go to school. This sounded good to me, so I continually signed up for general education classes. Slowly I worked towards a specific associates degree that I can’t even remember today. This cycle of junior college continued for years.

During my junior college days, one of my best friends went off to college. I remember feeling an extreme amount of jealousy. He wouldn’t call or talk to me during the school year and yet would expect our friendship to be exactly where he’d left it when he came back for breaks. At the same time he seemed different, my friend was changing. Growing up, one could say. I knew then that I didn’t want to be a part of the hometown scene that seemingly never changes. I wanted to get out, to leave everything I had ever known and begin an epic adventure. If college was my ticket out, I was going to embrace it with my all. There was a problem though, I had no clue how to finance it.

Fast forward a few years, I remember a night sitting around the kitchen table with my parents. I had just applied and had been accepted to Azusa Pacific University. A private Christian school that was going to cost me $40,000.00 a year. Magical money that neither I nor my parents had. I was depressed. Earlier that day, my Mom and I had drove up to the school and had moved some stuff into my new apartment near the school. After talking to my parents that night, I knew that I couldn’t afford my ticket to freedom. I was stuck with no new adventure in sight.

Six months to a year later, through the grace of God, I found myself driving east towards Texas. Through random circumstances, I had read about a private Christian school in East Texas and decided to apply. I was quickly accepted. I was finally moving forward with life.

Back to The Washington Post article. It did not dawn on me, until after graduation, that not all degrees are created equal. I quickly realized that I had failed to do my homework on what was to happen after college. I didn’t know what I was going to do or how to pay for the loans that were pending repayment.

It would be easy to blame LeTourneau University now, for their lack of honest financial counseling and apparent glee in accepting my “money”.  I feel that while the school gave me a fantastic education, they never helped me step back and look at the bigger picture. How were all the student loans I had taken out going to impact me? Was there even a career path for someone with my degree? The importance of internships was never communicated, and I wish it had been.

College, ultimately, was a path and a decision that I made. Even with staggering loans, I did grow up, escape my hometown, create lasting friendships, and even find the love of my life. All of those things are priceless. I understand now that I was naive in just wanting a degree, a piece of paper to hang on the wall. I realize now that while not all degrees are equal, what you end up doing with the degree as your foundation is what matters.

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The Star Wars of Video Games

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Out of the now six Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back remains my most favorite. I love the epic battle of Hoth, main characters parting ways, and the overall darker tone of the film. Life, in the shadow of the Empire, is harsh and cruel for those serving the Rebellion–as it should be!–. The events in this middle film leave you wondering how much worse things can get for Luke Skywalker and his ragtag group.

Lately, I’ve been playing through Mass Effect 2. Like The Empire Strikes Back, Mass Effect 2 is the middle chapter in an epic space trilogy. Currently I’ve played the game for over 18 hours. So far, Mass Effect 2 has largely been about constructing the perfect A-Team. The typical structure of the game has been: 1) Hunt down new team member, 2) Recruit them and take them back to the Normandy, 3) Eventually work through a “personal” mission to gain their loyalty. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yet, somehow, I have been pulled into this world filled with Krogans, Reapers, and a man named Shepherd.

What made The Empire Strikes Back so phenomenal, was that it took characters you had grown emotionally attached to in Star Wars and then took them to the breaking point. In doing so, a deeper emotional attachment occurred, one that would eventually  allow you to be able to sit through The Return of the Jedi. Mass Effect 2, while seemingly built on emotion, often feels false and empty. I can’t quite put my finger on it but something is off. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my time playing the game. I just think that my disconnect with the characters may have something to do with only playing about 5 hours of the first game before quitting.

The Normandy SR2

I keep waiting for that Empire moment in Mass Effect 2; I keep waiting for that moment when I am more emotionally bonded with the characters, like in a good book. As it stands, if the Normandy blew up again, with the entire crew inside, I don’t think I’d care. I’d slowly put down the controller and wonder why I had wasted so much time.

Contentment

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19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. – Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NIV)

In college, I had an English professor tell me that I needed to focus on what was in front of me or else life was going to pass me by. As a warning, she told a story about a relative, who was about my age, and highly career driven. In fact, he was so career driven that he was missing out on his young children growing up, etc. Instead of being so focused on the future, she said, you need to focus on what God has given you.

Contentment, as the above verse in Ecclesiastes says, is a blessing from God. A blessing that I am trying to slow down and enjoy.

Passing Ships

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Yesterday, as I was driving to the Post Office, I noticed a woman crossing the street holding a brown box. The box could have held items that needed to be shipped; the box could also have held all of her possessions from work. This woman could have just been fired.

This morning, as I was driving to work, I saw an older man crossing the street with a cane and a bottle of oxygen. A tube ran from the bottle into the man’s jacket. I’m guessing he needed the oxygen to breathe. Who was this man? Where had his shoes recently taken him?

We never fully know the experiences and events that have shaped those around us. The older man I witnessed this morning could have easily been a World War II veteran. He could have  stormed the beaches of Normandy, watching those around him fall to the ground lifeless. He could have returned from the war, married, and raised a family that has since deserted him.  The thing is, I have no clue who that man was nor will I ever.

My Grandpa Hall rarely talked about his time in the Navy. What I do know is that he was a radar man aboard the Battleship New Jersey, in the Korean Conflict. I remember him talking about being stationed high up in the ship. He also talked about how much the ship would move when firing a broadside. That was pretty much all he said about his time serving.

When my Grandpa Hall died a year ago, there were pictures at his funeral. One of the pictures showed him laying on a bunk in his ship (looked crowded). He told my Grandma, in a letter, that he had a picture of her and my Dad that he looked at every night. The picture of him on his bunk showed him reading his Bible.

Though I don’t know much about my Grandpa Hall’s time in the war, I do know that he got up early every morning to read his Bible. Even as dementia set in, later in his life, he would still get up and read his Bible the best he could. He had made a habit stick so much that even in his memory loss, reading the Bible daily was ingrained in him.

Strange how little we can know about family members. Some like to talk about their pasts while others prefer the past remain behind them. I’ll never know anything more about my Grandpa’s time in the Navy; I’ll never anything more about the woman I saw yesterday or the older man I saw today.

The Binding of Isaac

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Ever since its release at the end of September 2011, I have found myself interested in Team Meat’s The Binding of Isaac. What has interested me about this game is not the gameplay but the unconventional world in which the game takes place. Take a moment and read about the game’s story from the wikipedia entry below:

The Binding of Isaac’s plot is a spinoff of the bible story with the same name.[3] Isaac, a child, and his Mother live in a small house on a hill, both happily keeping to themselves, with Isaac drawing pictures and playing with his toys, and his mother watching Christian Broadcasts on the Television. Isaac’s mother then hears “a voice from above”, stating her son is corrupted with sin, and needs to be saved. It asks her to remove all that was evil from Isaac, in an attempt to save him. His mother obliges, taking away his toys, pictures, game console and even his clothes.

The voice once again speaks to Isaac’s mother, stating he must be cut off from all that is evil in the world. Once again, his mother obliges, and locks Isaac inside his room.

Once more, the voice speaks to Isaac’s mother. It states she has done well, but it still questions her devotion, and requests she sacrifice her son. She obliges, grabbing a kitchen knife, and walking to Isaac’s room. Isaac, watching through a sizeable crack in his door, starts to panic. He finds and enters a trapdoor, just before his mother opens his bedroom door. Isaac then puts the paper he was drawing on onto his wall, which becomes the title screen.

In every culture or community there are extremes, fringe groups that display a hardcore devotion to their cause. Growing up, I lived in a small middle class community. I remember coming into contact with those who were a bit extreme in their ideals. Whether it was the Mormon family who disciplined to the point of abuse or the Christian family who would literally take all their kids things away as punishment, I have heard and seen much. Which is why it is not too surprising to read about the “mother” in The Binding of Isaac. I think at some point or another, we have all come in contact with a parent of this nature and perhaps haven’t even realized it.

Game review site Gamespot calls the The Binding of Isaac “dark”, “twisted”, “demented”, and yet “enjoyable”. In the midst of it’s dark nature, I openly wonder if the game’s scenario is inspired off of an actual person or situation in one of the developer’s lives. Something I’ll never know.

What I do know, is that Team Meat’s “spinoff” in no way reflects the Biblical account of God testing Abraham, besides “Isaac’s mother’s” devotion being tested. Genesis 22 recounts the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his only son. If you read it you’ll notice that the point of the story is not only that Abraham trusted God (by his willingness to sacrifice his only son) but that God provides the sacrifice. This story is a mirror to the greater story coursing through our history, that God seeks to redeem us through the death and resurrection of his son.

Focusing on the fringes of Christianity, on someone as crazy as “Isaac’s mother”, may help make a great game world. However, Team Meat missing the entire point of God testing Abraham is a bit sad in that the many who play this game will walk away with a false understanding of the binding of Isaac and history.

2011 Reflections: Part 2

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Gaming-wise, 2011 was a high mark for me as a gamer. I completed more games last year than I ever have in my gaming career. Part of this has to do with how much I enjoy gaming on the PS3; the other part being how short games are becoming. In 2011, I completed:

  • Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – Which was excellent.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Which was even better.
  • Call of Duty Black Ops – A massive disappointment due to boring set pieces and a ho-hum story line.
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 – One of the greatest games I’ve ever played. A roller-coaster screaming to be ridden at least once. I wrote a few words about the game’s “No Russian” mission you can read here.

I also played a few other games last year:

  • Enslaved – Repetitive level design bored me.
  • Mario Galaxy 2 – Still working through it.
  • Final Fantasy 13 – Gave up on it due to a hard to follow story line.
  • Dragon Age Origins – Nothing fresh to see here.
  • Tiny Tower – You can a few words about it here.
  • L.A. Noire – I have a love/ hate relationship with L.A. Noire. The game is amazing in what it does but becomes highly repetitive over time. I came within 4 cases of finishing this game. 4 cases! I will no doubt pick this up again when I have the time and drive to plow through to the end. I did learn a few lessons from L.A. Noire which you can read about here.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – I’m truthfully not sure what I think about this game. It did make me question what I play in front of my 2 year old, which you can read about here.
  • inFamous – Cool game with a great concept. Somehow not compelling enough for me to finish.

I‘m sure there were more games that I played but I can’t think of them right now. What did gaming in 2011 look like for you?

2011 Reflections: Part 1

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2011 was an interesting year for me and my family, to say the least. Over the course of twelve months, we experienced:

  • 3 deaths (all grandparents)
  • 1 wedding (my sister)
  • 2 surgeries (both mine)

In short, there was a lot of time spent in mourning, celebration, and recovery. We experienced more change last year than I have ever experienced in my entire life. I am hoping that 2012 turns out to be a less eventful, much calmer year. One can only deal with so many changes at a time. So, happy new year and welcome 2012!