Weekend Update – 2/25/2012

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Good morning,

The sky is perfectly clear and beautiful today in Longview, Texas. The high today is supposed to be 64 degrees. Which is crazy considering that two days ago we had 85 degree weather. As they say, if you don’t like the weather in Texas right now just wait a moment.

My parents flew in for the weekend, for my son’s birthday, so we are going to spend some time with them. Hope everyone has a great weekend. Remember to get outside and enjoy the weather!

Bryan

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Being Atlas

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In my senior year of high school, I served as a background vocalist in my church’s youth praise band. Because of my “position” in the youth group, I was considered to be in leadership. At the time, I admit, I had no clue what that meant.

One day, I remember being approached by the pastor’s wife, she wanted to talk. Word had gotten back to her that I had been talking about a R-rated movie I had watched (The Patriot). While I didn’t think that this was any of her business, she was upset that I had been talking about this movie in front of others in the youth group. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I was told that because I was in leadership, I needed to either lead by example or step down. Time went on, I must not have changed, and soon I felt pressure to move on. I left the church in anger and frustration.

Looking back on this situation, I can understand it more as an adult. I can understand how talking about a movie (yes, something this simple) could potentially be damaging to other believers. Romans 14 goes into greater detail on this subject of the “weak” and “strong” in faith. Verses that really stick out to me are:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (14:13)

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. (14:19-20a)

And finally:

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (14:22)

I do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone. I do not want to destroy the work of God over something as petty as what I consume media-wise. With this in mind, anytime I write about a certain game or a game review on this site, I am writing about it just to share my experience. I am not writing about it to brag or to cause someone to stumble (“Hey look, Bryan is doing it, we can too!”). Just because I can guilt-free, without conviction, play a first person shooter doesn’t mean that you necessarily can. God may convict you over things that I am not convicted over. That is cool.

I now know that being in a leadership position, a position or platform in the open, automatically holds me to a higher standard. As a blogger, that is something that is constantly running through the back of my mind. I have a responsibility for what I write and say. Words can bring either life or death.

What do you think?

Darksiders Revisited

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I have been receiving a lot of web traffic (at least for JBG) over my Darksiders review lately. So, I thought I’d re-post it. Also, I’ve been thinking about how Christians review/ talk about things in light of Romans 14. Expect a post on Christians and Game Reviews soon. – Bryan

Press Start:
War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, has been accused of somehow beginning the end of the world early. Stripped of his powers as punishment, War must traverse what is left of the Kingdom of Men in order to seek out and eliminate The Destroyer.
Ideology/ Worldview:
Darksiders envelopes itself in a world of distorted Biblical allusions. No where is God mentioned, even though the entire story is loosely based on the book of Revelation. Instead of God ruling supreme in the game’s world, the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse act as some sort of cosmic referees between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Which come to think of it, this game also exhibits a mixture of Eastern mysticism with focus on balance, and yin and yang. Also present are altars which require blood offerings.
Interaction/Gameplay:
Slaughter monsters and collect their souls to feed to demons. Beyond that, lots of flashy swordplay which evokes games such as God of War or Devil May Cry.
In the End:
As a Christian, I feel personally convicted over playing this game. The flippancy with which demons are interacted with and treated (as if it were a normal thing to interact with demonic creatures) sickens me. I also dislike having to feed “souls” to demons in an effort to buy them off/ obtain information. Darksiders is a dark game – surprise! – based on a pseudo spiritual mythology. While I am willing to overlook certain aspects due to their fictional nature, I am unwilling to treat Hell and demons with such a non-serious attitude. I really wanted to like this game (graphics and gameplay are fun) but in the end find that I cannot recommend it for myself or others.
Due to Darksiders intense spiritual nature, avoid at all costs!

– Level of Impact Rating –
Medium: Casual play. Does not require large chunks of time.

Uncharted: Disconnected Violence

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In adventuring through the jungles, deserts, and valleys of the Uncharted series, one quickly  starts to realize that there is a disconnect between the series overall violence and protagonist Nathan Drake. Throughout the trilogy, Drake is portrayed as an easy going adventurer/ tomb raider. As the body count piles on, as you game on, clearing out a room full of “bad guys” becomes mechanical. The violent gun-play seems to unintentionally turn Nathan Drake into a man lusting for blood.

When I first started playing video games, the games themselves were all about getting from one side of the screen to the other. Rescuing princesses and blowing up aliens provided simple contexts in which the gameplay was wrapped around. There was no need to question the morality of the main character due the medium’s simplistic level. Link’s motivations were always to vanquish evil and rescue Zelda; Sonic’s hurricane force used to free furry creatures and stop Dr. Robotnik. As I’ve grown older and the world more complex, video games have followed suit. The simple plumber saves princess storylines have morphed into grand space operas such as the Mass Effect series. Morality and character motivations have suddenly come to the forefront. Welcome to the modern era of video games.

I‘ve realized that I enjoy video games for their stories. I consume a good video game story like I consume the latest literary work. I want to immerse myself  in another world and escape, in a healthy way, for a little while.

The Uncharted violence disconnect is like a nagging fly. Nathan Drake carries out violent actions because the rules his world runs on demands it. Does that make his bloodless escapades right? Shouldn’t gameplay and storyline go hand in hand?

What do you think? Comment away!


Surf Report – 2/19/2012

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Welcome to the Sunday edition of the Surf Report.

.: God :

Met with my accountability partner this afternoon. We walked 6 miles and got to catch up from last week. Discovered that the City of Longview has both a park for big and small dogs. Size discrimination is okay in the dog world, I guess.

This past week, my wife and I started a new devotional book, Moments with You by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. We had been looking for a quick devotional book to go over in the morning and this looks to fit the ticket. The devotionals consist of a short story/ lesson, questions to ponder, and a suggested focus for your prayer time afterwards. I’ll have to let you all know how this book works out. Consider a review incoming.

.: Life :

Spent my Saturday evening gaming it up with a good friend of mine. He taught me how to play Dungeon Defenders. The game is a mix of a hack’n’slash and a tower defense game. Had a really good time until my computer overheated. Had been downloading stuff all day and for some reason this pushed the laptop to its breaking point. BAM! Black screen of nothingness.

.: Gaming :

Started to play the Mass Effect 3 demo the other night. I stopped when I realized that the quickly made up Shepherd character I was playing with was not “my Shepherd”. Also didn’t want to ruin the ME3 storyline. Consider the demo deleted and the game hopefully pre-ordered soon.

That’s it for this weeks Surf Report. Make sure to comment below and have a good week!

Fostering the Soul

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I am a sucker for a good beat. Any song with a catchy rhythm and rhyme is guaranteed to get stuck in my head for days on end. At times I take pleasure in being able to hit this mental repeat button, savoring the melodies over and over; other times I just shudder and wish that the song would go away. Music can be poison to the soul.

Over the past few weeks, I have been listening to Foster the People’s debut album Torches. The album paints a melodic landscape of smooth summer sounds tinged with a subversive darkness. The band’s career launching song, “Pumped Up Kicks”, best displays the bands musical groove/dance with the devil. Below is a sample of the song’s “happy” chorus:

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,You better run, better run, outrun my gun. All the other kids with the pumped up kicks,You better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

“Pumped Up Kicks” tells the dark story of a kid taking his dad’s gun and going on a shooting spree. At first listen, you’d never be able to tell that that is what lead singer Mark Foster is singing about. By the time you’ve looked up the lyrics, it is too late. The satisfying whistling of the chorus has already embedded itself. Whether the song is about raising awareness or celebrating teen gun violence doesn’t matter. What matters is what is now worming its way into your soul.

Wednesday Night Bible Study Recap: Haggai

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Imagine your nation being plundered/ destroyed and you are taken captive. All that you have ever known is now gone, quite literally. You soon find yourself immersed in a new culture. A culture that is foreign and very unlike what you are accustomed to. At this point you can chose to blend in with the new culture, adopt some of it’s customs; or you can chose remain an island, a remnant of your own culture.

Many years pass, the king of this foreign land allows you to return home. He gives you a green light to rebuild the temple that had been a central part of your life, your existence. Some around you chose to stay immersed in their new lives; others around you chose to return home. The table scraps, what is left of your nation/cities/ and towns, is the new reality that awaits you. The comforts of “home” have long disappeared.

Charged with the task of rebuilding the temple, you quickly become discouraged. Opposition from outlying neighbors and the overall futility of restoring the temple to its former glory is overwhelming. So you give up. You focus on yourself. Soon you have a roof over your head and crops planted. Everything you do though somehow doesn’t seem blessed. You are constantly in want. You are distracted by your own needs and ignoring what God has called you to do. This goes on for years.

After some time, the prophet Haggai speaks. He tells you that the reason your endeavors don’t succeed is due to the fact that you are ignoring God. In denying God by not building the temple, you are denying God worship and thus his blessings. You, and the remnant of people around you, quickly put two and two together. The reason for the failed crops and hail. God. He has been trying to get your attention. So you decide to obey. To do what God has called you to do. To complete his temple. God assures you that he is with you. You know that everything is going to be okay because God is sovereign.

As Christians, it is very easy to get distracted by the things around us. We often lose focus of what God is calling us to do and instead focus on ourselves. In doing so, we are not allowing God to fully bless us. I know that I want that blessing. Do you?

Mass Effect 2

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Press Start:

In Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepherd is tasked with recruiting the ultimate team in an effort to battle the Collectors. Most of the game is spent:

  • Exploring the galaxies/ collecting resources
  • Completing the individual story lines for each team member acquired
  • Shooting lots and lots of bullets
  • Listening to Grunt repeat his battle cry, “I AM KROGAN!”

Throughout the game, Shepherd must make choices that impact both immediate and future situations. Your actions, his actions, can often mean the difference between life and death.

I had a total love/hate relationship with Miranda. Ultimately, my choices doomed her to die.

Ideology/ Worldview:

As I mentioned above, Mass Effect 2 is all about choices. The two types of choices you are allowed to make are Paragon (good) and Renegade (evil, sly, Han Solo-ish). Depending on which route/mixture you end up choosing, the worldview of the game plays out in that manner.

Relationships, however, are a completely different matter in Mass Effect 2. Throughout the game, in-between missions, you walk the decks of your ship chatting it up with the crew. The more you pay attention to a specific crew member the more dialogue options open up during your conversations. Eventually, with enough flirting, this will lead to a romantic rendezvous in  Commander Shepherd’s quarters. Relationships are cheap in Mass Effect 2. If you don’t like the current person you are sleeping with, you can go off and pursue another. I would like to note that I did not, as much as I wanted to, bring a relationship to fruition in the game. There are places, as a Christian, I just don’t need to tread. Plus, you don’t need to pursue romantic relationships in the game in order to complete it (though there is an achievement for bedding someone down).

As a side note, Mass Effect 2 portrays women in an interesting light. The only times, that I can remember, the f-word being used in the game was by a female. I’m not sure what grand statement the game was trying to make in this regard, if any. I came away from it with the knowledge that the more wild women in this universe have potty mouths.

This is Mordin. Mordin talks like the coroner on the new Hawaii Five-O. Love this guy!

Interaction/ Gameplay:

Watch a cinema. Talk to the crew. Shoot a ton of people. Repeat.

In the End:

I played Mass Effect 2 for over 28 hours. I haven’t done this with a game in quite sometime. There was something about the storyline, role playing, and shooter elements that just seemed to gel with me. Would I recommend this series to someone else? Yes. Yes, with the caveat that the player in question is old enough to play a game that is rated M for mature. For all the games cons (minor language, romantic sidequests), there are endless galaxies to explore. I rarely wish that a game would just go on, but Mass Effect 2 is certainly one of those experiences.

An amazing experience!

– Level of Impact Rating –

Medium: Mission structure allows you to complete a mission in a short amount of time.

Surf Report – 2/5/2012

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Welcome to the Sunday edition of the Surf Report.

.: God :

Saturday, I met with my accountability partner for the first time. We walked 2 miles, discussed the pre-determined scripture we were supposed to read (1 & 2 Peter), and went through the following list of questions:

  1.  Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?
  2.  Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not your spouse this week?
  3.  Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?
  4.  Have you been honoring, understanding and generous in your important relationships this past week?
  5.  Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face?
  6.  Have you given in to an addictive behavior this week? Explain.
  7.  Have you continued to remain angry toward another?
  8.  Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?
  9.  Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?
  10.  Have you been completely honest with me?
I have to say that some of these questions are pretty intense! I know that this week I’m going to be living in light that I am going to be asked some tough questions related to my actions. This should be good.
.: Life :

I‘ve had a cold for the past two weeks now. This hasn’t made me feel too active or wanting to do too much (like writing). I have, however, slowly continued reading through Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The book has made me hate Steve Jobs for how terrible he could be to those around him while at the same time admire his drive and ambition; the book has also made me want to buy a Mac.

.: Gaming :

I beat Mass Effect 2 this past week. A total of 28 hours (including DLC) of traveling with Commander Shepherd and the crew of the Normandy. The game surprised me by how much it sucked me in with it’s storyline and voice acting. Not sure what I think of its abrupt ending or whether I’ll be suiting up again for Mass Effect 3. Rest in peace Miranda.

That’s it for this weeks Surf Report. Make sure to comment below and have a good week!