I built a backyard gauntlet of doom

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Wyatt celebrated his 7th birthday with a superhero themed party. His party guests designed their own capes and were fitted for masks. All in preparation for the backyard gauntlet of doom.

  • First, they had to cross a balance beam over a pit of lava… or was it sharks? Who knows! The imagination runs wild.
  • Second, they tossed a basketball and hit Spider-Man in the face. Because, why not? Also, did I mention this was a Spider-Man themed party?
  • Third, a quick duck and roll under a camouflage netting. Netting is cool. Rolling, better.
  • Fourth, the boys fired Nerf Guns at a shooting gallery setup at Wyatt’s clubhouse. Pew, pew, pew!
  • Fifth, up and down the awesome slide Wyatt’s Grandpa made him.
  • Sixth, this is where things got sticky. I wove a spider web around the swing set with duct tape. The boys had to navigate their way through the harrowing trap.
  • Seventh, silly string. We loaded the boys up with silly string and had a shootout with Spider-Man villains we tacked up on the wall. Total fun and games until one of the heroes revealed himself to be a villain by spraying one of the other party goers. Good times.

With the obstacle course complete, Wyatt and his friends chased me around the backyard with Nerf Guns. Dad always makes a good bad guy. Muhahaha!

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Tabitha made an amazing cake that was soon defeated by forks. The frosting so good, you wanted to scrape it ALL off your plate. Mmmm. Trick candles were vanquished with a lot of blowing and spit.

Sugared up, we opened presents. Parents came soon after.

Total whirlwind of a Saturday. Nothing like being a dad.

From Across the Net: “‘SUPERHOT is a Game About Porn”

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I can’t tell if C.T. Casberg’s piece titled “‘SUPERHOT’ is a Game About Porn” is brilliant or a massive stretch. At what point, in criticism, do we move beyond the objective to the subjective and project our own meaning/worldview on the art?

I disagree with SUPERHOT‘s logic that video games equal pornography. The article feels written to be controversial. Dragging the thirteenth apostle, C.S. Lewis, into the mix. Definitely a misfire.

It also informs the player what is the inevitable result of an addiction to pleasure: the destruction of the self and enslavement to those who provide that pleasure.

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From Across the Net: “Time well wasted”

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Justin, aka “Syp”, reflects on time in his piece titled “Time well wasted“.

I don’t want to hobble my personal and professional life with an overabundance of gaming. I hope that I always keep up the good fight of balancing that properly and not letting a hobby become a thing that becomes a master. I also desire to play games with purpose and not out of obligation and routine.

From Across the Net: “The Beguiling Search for Truth in ‘The Witness'”

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I enjoyed this piece from Jonathan Clauson titled “The Beguiling Search for Truth in ‘The Witness’“.

The idea of weaving exposition into the narrative, and then weaving the narrative into the gameplay itself, is a kind of holy grail for developers—and it’s one I believe The Witness achieves, even as it manages the additional impressive feat of creating a compelling conversation between science and religion.

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Big Dreams, Big Prayers Bible for Kids, NIV

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The Big Dreams, Big Prayers Bible for Kids is a hardbound children’s Bible for ages 9-12. Features include:

  • Reading plans that both introduce and offer a guided tour of the Bible.
  • Highlighted verses to memorize, engage, and pray over.
  • Devotions perfect for personal or even family discussion.
  • Prayer journaling pages to help begin the practice of recording prayers and answers to prayer.
  • Glossy inserts explain how to use the Bible, how to pray, and how to be a Christian.
  • Easy to use Topical Index.

I enjoyed the overall focus and theme of Big Dreams, Big Prayers Bible for Kids. The hardbound cover provides durability; the size makes it easy for kids to hold. The print is clean and simple to read. Color choice is mature yet eye-catching. I will add that this Bible does not include maps to provide location context.

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My family and I enjoyed the devotions. They are quick and thought-provoking. Perfect for after dinner discussions at the end of the day. But also applicable for personal use or small group teaching.

My wife and I both agree that this would be a perfect future Bible for our son. We’d definitely recommend Big Dreams, Big Prayers Bible for Kids.

I was given a copy of this book by BookLook Bloggers. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

Firewatch

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Bryan and Josh talk almost daily. But they have never met. One day, they got to review Firewatch—a visually stunning game for PS4 and PC—about two people who never met, but talk daily. This is that review.

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Firewatch takes place in Wyoming’s wilderness during the summer of 1989. Fire a constant threat, you’re hired to watch for anything that could harm the millions of acres of lush wild. Alone. Your only connection with any other humans comes in the form of a walkie-talkie at the top of your tower.

“So what’s wrong with you?” the person on the other line asks. Her name is Delilah.

Bryan:

What was your initial impression of Delilah?

Josh:

Delilah won my trust pretty early on, because she simply responded to what we saw together: like the time somebody set-off fireworks and we had to deal with that together. I wouldn’t say I completely trusted her right off the bat, especially with how she assumed something was wrong with relationships in Henry’s past but wouldn’t open up about her own. But her voice is sincere. Talking to Delilah is the highlight of the game for me. She sounds and feels like a real person. So does Henry, honestly, even though we’re in his shoes.

What did you think of Delilah?

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Bryan:

Delilah and Henry’s banter brought back memories of going camping with my Grandpa Ayers. He would tell these stories/create situations that would scare my brother and I to tears. The man had a way of planting thoughts and building upon those thoughts. Pretty soon you’d think that there was a bear just beyond the campfire. For a game to capture those times spent with my grandpa—it’s just amazing.

Speaking of, what did you think of all the hiking?

I think the game nails that feeling of being alone in the woods. A place where the imagination can run wild; a place where you and one other person shape your reality.

Josh:

The hiking always felt only as long as it needed to be. Instead of backtracking, the game often ended a scene and just cut ahead a few days to something important. But once or twice I had to backtrack for a long hike. At first I was like, “Oh, man!” But then Delilah would chime in and talk my ear off. It made the long walk completely worth it because it didn’t feel lonely.

She’d just talk about how the firefighters would do controlled burns, or about the teenage girls who snuck into the forest with three cases of beer. And sometimes the conversation turned more serious, but it always felt like an honest-to-God friendship. That friendship made the long hikes feel short to me.

You know what, Bryan? It reminds me of us. Like Henry and Delilah, we’ve never met, but we talk all the time. Our conversation has gone longer than theirs—we’ve been talking for three years now, but it’s super-similar in terms of a mostly-faceless friendship. Though, there was the couple times we talked face-to-face over Skype. It’s really cool that Firewatch explores this very modern kind of friendship, despite taking place about thirty years ago.

It definitely says a lot about our day, age and the kinds of relationships we forge these days, but I’ve noticed other reviewers say Firewatch is like a book—a real page-turner. What do you think of the idea that this could be considered “literature?”

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Bryan:

Firewatch is definitely a page-turner: a popcorn mystery/thriller that tries to answer, “How do we respond when things don’t go the way we want them to?“ The game has a similar feel to one of my favorite books, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I read the book in two days, so concerned about the father and son trying to survive in a world where they’re alone. I couldn’t stop reading until the father and son were safe. Similarly, I found myself playing Firewatch until Henry and Delilah were safe. At least safe by an in-game checkpoint. I also liked how all the characters were real, broken. Living in the aftermath of bad choices.

Could the game be compared to literature? Maybe. But like The Road, there was no satisfying ending. I don’t know about you, Josh, but I felt like Firewatch fell apart trying to tie up it’s ending. All that intrigue, suspense, and then poof! But, I guess life is like that. It took me a few days of pondering to appreciate what Firewatch was trying to convey. Quite possibly one of the deeper games I’ve played.

Speaking of depth, and suspense, what do you think of the intro to the game?

Josh:

The intro surprised me! Who starts one of the most graphically rich video games ever with all text? But here it is: just text and hyperlinks for fifteen minutes. Subtle music added a little texture, but it’s essentially just a short Twine game built to establish your character, Henry. It was low-fi, but extremely affecting for me. It got me right into Henry’s hopes, fears, and disappointments.

What did you think of this intro?

Bryan:

I cried. And I’m not a crier. It reminded me that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to. Sometimes we become overwhelmed. A change of scenery needed in order to move forward.

Random question: Did you find yourself wanting to hoard/collect the books that you found in the game?

Josh:

Thanks for bringing up the books! When I found the books in the game, I really thought I was gonna have to collect books for some kind of achievement-driven task, but it never came. I love how the devs stripped-out anything but what’s important: the task at hand and the unfolding conversation between Henry and Delilah. Sure I could go off and explore wherever I wanted to, but it was only because I was genuinely curious—not because I had external achievements motivating me.

The ending will probably cause a lot of mixed feelings for some. Video games are known for epic breakthroughs at the last moment before credits roll, and Firewatch‘s conclusion seems like it could go for this grandiose Bioshock-style revelation, but then it puts something very grounded and earthy instead. You don’t save the world, or rescue the princess. There’s not even any fireworks.

It’s kind of the point: this is just a game about two people. That’s it. When I got to the final moments, I was on the edge of my seat—just because of Henry’s excitement to finally meet Delilah face-to-face.

How do you feel about Firewatch overall?

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Bryan:

Firewatch doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. I like how the game focuses on Henry and Delilah’s story. It allows the player to soak in and explore the Wyoming wilderness while getting to know another human being.

Josh:

I agree. It’s a valuable addition to the world of adult fiction. I’m not quite sure that I know what place it holds on my shelf for years to come. I can’t share it with everybody due to the unique adult conversations. Henry and Delilah talk like single adults in their forties who have a lot of problems. But the frank discussion never felt out of place. The strong words only added to the characters feeling real. I think that’s the key takeaway for me: it’s about having another adult to talk to who you can share anything with—especially the bad stuff.

wavesplinter4/5 – Plot holes mare what could have been a revelatory narrative experience.

Wave SplinterTitle: Firewatch
Developer: Campo Santo
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviews on: PC, PlayStation 4
MSRP: $19.99

*Firewatch was reviewed using codes provided by Campo Santo.

We are made for community

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An isolated soul can become an echo chamber of lies. Creating a false but believable reality. Apart from community, we can mentally torture ourselves with untruth.

In the midst of saying depressing things like:

  • Those that are dead are happier than the living (4:2)
  • Better to never be born than to live and see evil (4:3)

King Solomon, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, tells us that we are made for community:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (4:9-12)

We need others to speak truth into our lives. To tell us when we are doing well, off target, and sometimes just to listen. Trusted and positive outside influences help break through the mental echo chamber. Breaking down the walls of silence.

There are often days where I am doing my best to go to work, come home, and spend time with family. I tell myself that I have no more energy to spend. A simple text, email, or phone call too much work. I believe these are lies we tell ourselves. I believe that God calls us to more.

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That intergalactic communication device, you know, the one in your pocket? Use it.

I want to challenge you. I want to challenge myself. We need to break out of our everyday lives and invite others in. I think it’s more simple than either of us realize.

Someone stole money from my office

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My boss needed an item mailed. I went to grab money out of petty cash. That is when I discovered that the money was missing. Not just the paper bills but the two heavy envelopes filled with change. The type of change that would make for a fantastic day at the arcade.

I searched my office feeling panicked. Maybe the money had fallen back behind the desk drawer? Maybe I had moved the change. Nope.

A thorough search revealed nothing. The petty cash was gone.

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I immediately went to both of my bosses. Had either of them moved/taken the petty cash? No.

The lack of suspects or even evidence led to an acceptance of cash loss. Procedures would change going forward.

Deep within us all, beats a heart that demands justice served. King Solomon speaks to this desire in Ecclesiastes 3. Concluding that justice will come in God’s time, not our own.

Silence, the lack of action, can be deafening in a situation like this. No one has come forward with any information. Could a child or even someone who shouldn’t have been in the building pulled off the heist? I’m not sure. But the need for justice screams in my heart.

Two Dots

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Two Dots strings the player along in free to play fashion. Connect the dots, combo color pairings, advance to the next level. Clean aesthetics and simple controls act as delightful seat warmers.

Somewhere in the mid-20’s, level advancement slows down. Power ups needed for progression. The puzzle game’s presentation revealed as a mask for something far darker. They want your money.

There is a cycle I know well,

Free to play games formula from hell,

First they hook you with easy levels,

And gifts to help advance,

Then they increase the difficulty,

And watch you squirm and dance.

I’m not sure at what point I’ll quit falling for the free to play model. Two Dots reminded me of moments of Candy Crush weakness. I admit, I have spent real money for an extra attempt at a puzzle. Shame. Video game shame.

Two Dots has great presentation built on the free to play model. How fair that model is, in regards to this specific game, remains unseen. I may play a level or two more, but I find that hard having glimpsed at the monster behind the mask.

DEFCON 2

wavesplinter2/5 – Proceed with caution.

Wave SplinterTitle: Two Dots
Developer: Playdots Inc.
Platforms: Android, iOS
Reviews on: Android
MSRP: Free

From Across the Net: “Boys Need Their Moms”

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Tim Challies wrote a piece titled “Boys Need Their Moms“.

And yet even in Christian circles there is little attention given to the relationship of boys and their mothers, at least once they pass the toddler stage. It is rarely mentioned and rarely celebrated. We still look askance at a boy who spends a lot of time with his mom or a mom who is close to her boy. There is still that suspicion—that irrational and unfair suspicion. There is still that fear that a boy necessarily ought to be closer to his father than his mother.

I am thankful for the relationship Tabitha has with Wyatt. She balances out my rougher parenting edges with a tenderness I find hard to provide.

Odd that Challies references James Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys. Dobson’s chapter aimed at moms is brief and lacking any substance. Tabitha and I were terribly disappointed in it.

From Across the Net: “Oxenfree: The Beauty of Traveling Together”

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My friend Josh wrote a piece for GameChurch titled “Oxenfree; The Beauty of Traveling Together“.

The cop ticketed Adam and called us a tow truck. We crammed the three of us into the tow truck’s cab with the massive sweaty driver. Then we rode back to Adam’s camper. Adam despaired. He told us how he’d gotten thousands of dollars in debt and fines before this, got kicked out of college, and long since stopped believing in God. That may have been one of the crappiest car rides in Adam’s life, but this was the most honest and meaningful conversation I had ever had with him.

I love how Josh compares the conversational/relational aspects of Oxenfree with those that we have in real life. I’m a guy who loves deep conversation. Surface level hellos, just not enough.

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Neat to think that a video game captures those moments of connection. The interactive medium continues to mature.

Too Much Blood For My Six Year Old

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Wyatt and I watched Naruto for the first time. Let us just say that will also be the last time the orange jump suited ninja will be allowed in our home for awhile.

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The line between fantasy and reality is a thin one when you are a kid. Our imaginations go wild in youth. Dreaming big dreams, playing on playgrounds of fantasy. Reality, physical consequence, stalking at the unseen edges ready to pounce.

In one of the Naruto episodes Wyatt and I watched, Naruto accidentally gets clawed by a weapon in battle. The weapon’s tips laced in poison. Naruto decides to act. To get rid of the poison, he jams a knife into his hand. Blood shoots out. At this point, I’m blocking my son’s eyes. I wasn’t quick enough.

Sometime later:

“Daddy, do you remember that ninja guy who shoved a knife into his hand?”

“Yes. You know that wasn’t real but was fiction, right?”

Silence.

As much as my preferences for story surge against the dam of sanity, I made a mistake. Not only that, but that I failed in my role as a guide for my son.

I have to remember, I am the gatekeeper. Not only controlling what walks in past the gate but also for taking my son in hand and beyond the gate. His mom and I are tasked with explaining life to him. Helping him navigate between what is real and what is fantastical.

One of my greatest faults, as a father, that I’m sure I share, is that I am always in a hurry for my child to grow up. I want to share much cooler worlds than those that Garfield inhibits. Age, individual maturity, and even family rules dictate that Naruto stay beyond the gate. For now.

The last thing I want is for him to think that the mature violence depicted is somehow okay to carry out in real life.

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I apologized to Wyatt. Told him that Naruto can’t come over and play for a bit. He wasn’t thrilled, cliffhanger episode, but maybe with time he’ll understand.

Being a dad is hard. The mistakes I make are often centered around me wanting to fast forward time. Contentment, meanwhile, calls.