Thoughts on The Last of Us

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Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is the antithesis of the Uncharted series. One game is built on stealth, scavenging, and nonviolent solutions; the other game on blood, ammo drops, and guns, lots of guns.

I happened to take a sick day this week. To relax, I fired up The Last of Us. Now I should note that this is a game I have tried quite a few times to get into. Somehow, someway, The Last of Us has failed to capture me, until now. The fact that it was daylight outside could have helped my bravery. Scary games and I do not get along.

The last time I played The Last of Us, I had left Joel, Tessa, and Ellie out in the rain. They were trying to make their way down a slick street, avoiding the military along the way. Years of Uncharted training told me to unload my gun on these goons, up the body count, and get along. Yet, The Last of Us teaches one that guns are bad. If you are going to shoot a gun in this game, you better prepare to deal with the consequences. You see, guns are loud. In a game all about stealth, enemies swarm towards gunfire like flies to fresh poo.

We soon came across two new enemy types: 1) Clickers: Infected that are blind yet have amazing hearing; 2) Runners: Infected that can see and rush one at will. I realized that each enemy encounter is like a puzzle. If you can distract an enemy with a glass bottle thrown into another room, you are golden. The Last of Us is all about misdirection. And bricks. Bricks are fantastic melee weapons. They also provide something to throw to stun or create a diversion. I cannot stress enough that the moment your gun clears its holster, you will be stringy flesh on toast.

Expect to die many times. Each encounter is different. Sometimes it is best to observe first, die, and then try a solution. Death isn’t the end, death is your friend.

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Further along in the game, we made it to the state capital building. The military arrived and surrounded the building. I tried at least 5-7 times to sneak around and out of the building. No good. So I then decided to move as fast as I could from one barrier to the next. Avoiding military patrols like the stealth professional I am not, I walked out of the building without a single shot fired. This game is good.

The Last of Us pushes for non-violence and yet is the most violent game I’ve played in a long time. I like how the non-infected humans are scarier than the infected. I love how the game is kicking me out of my comfort zone of running and gunning.

I ended my sick day entering the darkened corridors of a high school. My wife and son where out shopping for the evening. I was home, alone. Coming across a group of Clickers, I decided that enough was enough for the day. Could have been that my bravery left me when the sun went down or that I was just tired. But I’ll be back, brick in hand, to continue the journey. Not forgetting the quiet moments in the game, moments of utter wonder.

Beauty. Light. Darkness. Oh the world we live in, reflected in a video game.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

Full of It

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My intestines won’t stop moving. I feel like a punching bag. The sides of my stomach hurt. I have no idea why. Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is debilitating.

The first time IBS found me was in elementary school. I remember running around the house, clutching my stomach, screaming. My parents didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. A few uncomfortable medical procedures later, nothing.

High school was an IBS nightmare. The thing about IBS is that it can sneak up on you in a moments notice. Forcing you into an immediate posture of porcelain throne worship. I remember a friend telling me that it was all in my head. That I was the one causing it.

I remember a distinct feeling of wishing I could transfer my IBS to someone else. If they could only feel what my body does to me, they would know that I am more of a hostage to something far bigger.

The Apostle Paul talks about a thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians. I have always related to that.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

I have wondered if God gave me IBS as a way to keep me humble, focused on Him. In times of an attack, I pray for God’s strength to get through those moments.

My thorn in the flesh is not visible nor is it logical. I can’t tell when it is going to come and visit next. But I have learned to notice when my body is tightening up; I have learned that exercise helps reduce stress. God has taught me to rely on His strength when I have none. I just need to rely on Him when I am running at full capacity.

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

Game on, dear friends. Game on.

GameCell: Confusion Night

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My friend Josh wrote about his latest GameCell get together:

Christians don’t talk enough about how life gets really freaking confusing, especially when you’re following Jesus. Then, when that thick cloud of disorientation comes, it’s easy to lose your senses. Most of our GameCell crew doesn’t follow Jesus, but I wanted to prep them when they do follow him and find themselves feeling super confused. So we dove into the story of Job a bit. And we talked about the occasional benefits of confusion – especially in video games.

You can read more over at Theology Gaming.

Am I Giving My 6-Year-Old Video Game Drugs?

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Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was my first attempt to play a video game with Wyatt. He would climb onto my lap and I would give him charge over a few buttons. We’d press on, together, through the colorful lands of Skylands, father and son.

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The toys to life market has exploded since the original Skylanders debuted. Disney has followed suite with their own Disney Infinity and LEGO with LEGO Dimensions. The race for your nostalgic memories blended together with basic compulsive behaviors is on.

Skylanders: Superchargers, Disney Infinity, and LEGO Dimensions are not cheap. Each brand forces you to buy a base set, at prices ranging from $75 to $100. If you want to go beyond the initial starter pack characters, prepare to pay $15 per character. Want to play, I mean “unlock” more of the game levels you’ve already bought? The ransom price will be $30 per expansion. Good times for kids like Veruca Salt; bad times for a child who only gets a video game on their birthday.

As a parent, I wonder at what I have introduced my son to. Am I no better than a drug dealer, pushing the latest video game with expensive add-ons? What about the morality and business model of a developer who is double-dipping? Buy the initial game for x-amount and then pay more to play the rest. Is this fair?

Take LEGO Dimensions for instance. The main game, according to some reviews, is 12 hours in length. Which is not a bad amount of gameplay for $100, at $8/hour. But, any of the past LEGO games have been whole. Yes, they have lacked an accompanied physical LEGO set, but they have been fully unlocked. Interested in Portal themed levels, Mr. Nerd? That will be $30 please. Content that is already on disc, waiting to be saved.

In our brave new world of toys to life, I wonder how long consumers will stand for buying the same product 5-6 times. On a positive note, Skylanders: Superchargers only requires four vehicles to experience the game.  None of the content gated to specific types of figures, as it has been in the past. A step in the right direction.

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But who am I kidding? I can rant and rave about pricing structures till the end of this blog. Will LEGO Dimensions make my Christmas list? OH YEAH! I can’t pass up playing with Gandalf, Batman, and Wyldstyle. No matter the cost, playing this game with Wyatt will be awesome. LEGO told me so.

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:14 (NIV)

Thinking About Church Masculinity

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Wednesday nights I teach a men’s Bible study. We have been going through the video series Men’s Fraternity. Now I’m not a fan of “rah-rah I’m a man” sort of things. Popular Christian author John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart caused me to shy away from hypermasculinity. As a guy who is not super physical, I’m just not into his gospel.

Erwin McManus wrote a short book called The Barbarian Way. This book helped begin the healing process from the damage Eldredge caused:

Somewhere along the way the movement of Jesus Christ became civilized as Christianity… We created a religion using the name of Jesus Christ and convinced ourselves that God’s optimal desire for our lives was to insulate us in a spiritual bubble where we risk nothing, sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, worry about nothing. I wonder how many of us have lost our barbarian way and have become embittered with God, confused in our faith because God doesn’t come through the way we think He should.

Donald Miller’s book Father Fiction also helped refine my thoughts on masculinity– you can read those here and here–. Miller concludes, in a humorous way, that men know that they are men by the way God designed them (anatomy). Most other Christian men’s books try and come up with some sort of vague definition on what being a man looks like. I find this confusing, not helpful, and destructive.

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Men’s Fraternity has been a good series so far. The content is relevant and applicable. But, I have disliked the format that the series forms.

Wednesday night looks like this:

  • We get together (many of the guys coming in late).
  • We have an hour and a half to watch the video and discuss.
  • We end up starting 30 minutes late due to the guys wanting to talk.
  • We start the video. The videos vary in length from 45 minutes to 50 minutes at max.
  • We Watch the video.
  • We then have 15-20 minutes to discuss.

I find it unnatural to walk into a room, sit down, and watch a video with a group of guys I haven’t talked with, at all. I have no clue how their week has gone, how they are doing on a personal level, etc. There is no chance to build relationships.

I am currently debating on whether to summarize the video’s material and then lead a more pointed discussion or even go back to our read a book of the Bible and have a discussion format. We’ll see what happens.

We Are The Halls

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My wife and I hear it all the time:

“You only have one kid, you have it easy.”

OR

“Just wait until you have more, then you’ll know.”

There is an insinuation that our experience is somehow lesser due to the amount of children we have. That as parents, we are clueless because we have only one child. People are stupid with their words. Including fellow Christians.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.- James 3:9-10

I want to implore my brothers and sisters in Christ to watch what they say in passing. To those who do not believe, to be wary of your words. Words have the power to cut like a knife. To rip open wounds that are healing.

Do not dilute my family’s experience based on a trivial number. We are the Hall Family. We are who God has designed us to be.

Armello and the Matter of Text

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I was recently given a review code for Armello, a digital role-playing strategy board game. Imagine HearthstoneRisk, and the Redwall book series put into a blender. The end result is a fantasy setting filled with animals, intrigue, and violence.

Below is some video from the first tutorial mission:

Right away you’ll notice that Armello suffers from text sizing issues on the PS4. The developer, League of Geeks, is aware of the matter and has stated that they are working on a solution. In the meantime, I get to sit up closer to my television. Not sure how I feel about that. The whole purpose of playing a game on a console is to relax. There is nothing relaxing about sitting right up next to the TV. I can hear my late Great Grandma Nelson telling me to back away, one does not want to become blind.

May the patch come soon.

 

Tembo: Videogame Subversion

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Tembo the Badass Elephant. Big attitude distilled down to the size of a peanut, or something like that.

Side-scrolling games scroll to the right. This is a founding principal established by the platforming forefathers Sonic and Mario. Game Freak’s Tembo the Badass Elephant goes against convention in Stage 8 of the game. Check out the first few seconds in the video below:

Yes, I charged to the right and plunged to my death. Videogame experience has taught me that the developers were toying with me. There had to be some sort of invisible platform or some such device to catch me, right? Wrong.

The level began to the left. Videogame subversion.

A Muddled Exchange

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“He thinks he is a god.”

Have you ever had one of those conversations that validates everything you’ve ever thought about a situation and yet bugs you to no end? I had one of those this weekend.

While truth was spoken, biases and human perspective muddled the exchange.

If I have learned anything over the years, I have learned that:

  • A person is a person no matter how they talk, treat, or otherwise engage you. This is a hard one, but as a Christian I believe that we have all been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This requires us to treat those who treat us poorly with a measured level of respect.
  • Villainizing a person due to them holding you to a higher standard than you are used to is a coping mechanism. Do great work from the start. Don’t cut corners. Don’t try and cheat your way through a job by using slight of hand.
  • Most importantly, sympathizing with someone over a tough situation is okay. A kind word goes a long way.

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
    sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. – Proverbs 16:24

The Coke Incident

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After a long day at work, a cold glass of Coke sounded good. Really good. So I grabbed a can and walked across the kitchen to get a glass. Somehow, someway, the can dropped from my hand and hit the floor just right. BOOM!

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The Coke can spun around on its side like a firecracker. Coke flying across the floor, onto the cabinets, the stove, etc. All aided by a floor fan that was right behind me when I dropped it (I was set up!). As the can settled down, I looked around and noted that the kitchen was doused in carmel goodness.

Wyatt laughed.

Tabitha laughed. Then she sprang into action and told me to go get cleaned up. She is so sweet!

That’s when I noticed that the Coke had somehow shot up my shorts. Did I mention that I was all ready to walk out the door for Bible study that evening? Figures.

A quick side story: Back when my wife and I lived in a duplex, she somehow managed to explode a bottle of BBQ sauce all over the kitchen. When we went to move a few years later, we were still cleaning up BBQ sauce that we had initially missed. I guess now my wife and I are even. If this was an intentional contest. Which it wasn’t.

Good times. Good syrupy times.

Longing For That Missing Person

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There is a room in our house that is empty. Sure, there might be an odd trainboard or even a bed and dresser, but the room is missing someone. Someone my wife and I have yet to meet.

For the past six years, we’ve been trying to have a baby. Methods have been tried, doctors have been visited. Nothing.

This is a pain I carry, a pain that feels like failure.

My wife and I come from big families. Raising an only son, we’ve come to discover just how much we learned about life from our siblings. Precious life lessons that have aided in our basic survival:

  • Someone punches you, punch them back
  • Trash talking
  • Learning to get along with someone that might not be nice because they are the only person around to play with (I’m looking at you, Kayla!)

Social media is filled with photos of babies. Beautiful children who are all snugly and cute. While I am excited for my friends and family who are pregnant, there is always this void that gnaws at my soul.

Someone is missing. I can feel it. And at the same time I am trying to be thankful for what has been given to me. Struggling to wrap my mind around raising an only child. Wondering if my wife and I want to go back to the baby stage. We do/we can.

There is hope. Anguish. Emotions that ebb and flow.

God is working. Weaving a story together we cannot see. The pain my wife and I experience may not be physical, but the pain is real. I am grateful that I do not have to go about this alone (I love you, baby).

I’m tired of being silent. I want that missing person to come home.

Lord, my heart is torn in two. It’s up to You, God.

Off Campus – 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom – The TG Interview

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Hey guys, I’ve been enjoying your book, 42: Discovering Faith Through Fandom. How did you arrive at making a devotional? Do you really think faith and fandom mix?

Eric: I definitely think they mix. I am constantly finding things in TV, movies, comics, etc. that remind me of Biblical principles or seem to parallel stories from the Bible. One time I even felt like God was really using a scene in a movie to speak to me. I was watching The Amazing Spiderman 2 and it was that scene toward the end where the kid, still in elementary school, runs out into the street in his Spiderman costume all ready to take on this crazy guy in a mechanical Rhino suit. Just at the right time Spiderman comes in and says “thanks kid, I’ll take it from here.” At that moment I felt like God spoke directly to me: “It doesn’t matter what is going on, you step out to face something huge in my Name and I’ll be there! I’ll take on the battle for you.” I even teared up as I was sitting in the theater watching it.

After I started the blog portion of Nerd Chapel, I realized that there was a lack of a daily devotional for nerds/geeks/gamers. You see them out there for hunters, sports enthusiasts and many that are gender-focused, but none for this crowd. I felt like it was something I really wanted to take on and could really fill a notch in our niche community that has not been filled previously. There are more online blogs like mine, but no one had really taken on a planned journey in the form of a book. I asked Nathan to join me because I knew he would be able to figure out things I could not figure out and that he also has a heart for this same audience.

Nathan: It was originally Eric who came to me to write this devotional. He called me and said, “You ever notice how there’s a devotional for just about every subculture you can think of but not one for geeks and nerds?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s make one!”

It was as simple as that…initially. We spent many hours figuring out how to structure the book. Eric initially wanted it to be read over the course of 40 days, but when seeking ideas from the Fans For Christ Facebook group, it was suggested we make it 42 days long in reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy since “42” is the “Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It was a great place to start and entrenched the book in geek culture.

Eric and I split the writing duties in half–i.e. we each wrote 21 entries–and made sure we didn’t repeat too many of the illustrations. Eric wanted it structured so readers would progress through the spiritual disciplines without making it obvious they were. While the book was his vision, I did most of the editing and handled the publishing end. We initially tried to submit it to a small Christian publishing house, but they were swamped with submissions, so we decided to go the self-publishing route because we didn’t want to wait. It was smart in the long run because that publisher went out of business.

To answer your second question, I do think faith and fandom can mingle. As I say in the book, God has imprinted Himself in everything, and that includes the stories and activities nerds and geeks love. Superman is a Christ-figure. Jedi live by arguably Christian principles (though their philosophies are bit more Buddhist in nature), and both Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were written by devout Christians. Not to mention, as humorously pointed out in a College Humor video, religion and nerd-dom have much in common. Perhaps those connections weren’t intended (even by Lewis and Tolkien), but they can nonetheless be mined from those things.

Read the rest of the interview over at TheologyGaming.com.

Battling Across the Galaxy – Destiny

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I walked away from the Traveler. The Light. The Darkness. My fellow Guardians. I dispersed into the ether, sick of banging my head against the wall. The honeymoon was over.

Vanilla Destiny was a terrible experience wrapped in fantastic shooter mechanics. Destiny 2.0 is a whole new game with many UI upgrades and subtle improvements:

  • Quest and bounty tracking now have their own screen.
  • Light levels are front and center. Character stats are too.
  • Trading in bounties is as simple as pressing a button. This is revolutionary!

This is the game Bungie promised.

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I spent my weekend battling through the Crucible. Maybe 3 hours of play, max. I leveled 6 times. The best part is that I had fun doing it.

As a side note: I’m going to miss the voice of Dinklebot. As my wife said, Nolan North just doesn’t sound like a robot. More time with the game may change my mind, but I miss the Elf dude.

Wyatt wants me to upgrade my ship. Even after telling me that he didn’t understand why you would upgrade it when you can’t fly or shoot with it. The ship just looks cool and he understands that. What I’m wanting to know, is upgrading my ship’s skin a waste of money?

Until next time.

Bad Parenting: How To Not Play Rocket League With Your 6-Year-Old

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Imagine radio controlled cars, with rockets, playing a game of soccer. Good ball control is key and takes much skill and time to develop.

Wyatt and I played a lot of Rocket League. Then I noticed how I started talking to him. We weren’t doing well in the match we were playing. I felt like I was playing alone versus actually playing with a teammate against two bots. Now this is not Wyatt’s fault, Rocket League is a fun/simple game with deep deep mechanics. But I found that the words coming out of my mouth were not uplifting, in fact, my words were angry and annoyed. Wyatt’s body language was defensive, I was about to lose him. So I had to mentally check myself:

– I am an adult.

– I am playing a game with my son. He is six years old.

– Why am I acting this way?

After a few talks with my wife, I decided that I would make more of an effort to use encouraging words. To try and let go of my competitive spirit and just have fun. And so we did.

Ever since then, I have tried to speak words of life, versus death. This is not easy. But parenting isn’t easy either.

Super Mario Bros. Wii is another game we play together. A game I have had serious issues with in the past, due to how anger-inducing the co-op experience can be. But you know what? We laughed. Wyatt giggled over causing me to die, many times. We had fun.

Win or lose, playing games with your children is awesome. As a dad, the key is realizing that playing a videogame is another teachable moment. Model the words you want to spoken during competitive play. Encourage teamwork. Embrace defeat. Together, we can do this.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” – James 1:19