Video Game Mechanics That Need to Go – Quick Time Events

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Rushing into a bunker, I found myself surprised by a soldier wielding a knife. I quickly think, “Gotta press the square button just right to defend myself.”

Oh no, I failed!

Quick time events, like the one from Call of Duty: WWII above, need to go. There has to be a better way to create player tension than mashing a button/performing a swipe of the joystick perfectly.

Adoption, Racism, and Injustice in America

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Last year, when Tabitha and I were going through adoption certification/PRIDE classes, I shared with a coworker the journey we had begun. Somewhere in that very honest conversation, she said to me, “I just don’t understand white people adopting black children, acting like white saviors.” While our conversation ended well, I was quite taken aback and felt hurt. Tab and I had started our adoption journey because we felt God calling us to do so. We felt Him telling us to proceed. We’ve both said that we can provide a stable home for someone who has not been given that stability. Never in my mind did I ever see myself nor my wife as some sort of white saviors. Apparently though, those thoughts exist in others. I had known that the adoption process was about developing thicker skin, but I had not known just how thick it was going to have to become.

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

In our adoption classes, we would hear about how we would need to expose our potential black adopted children to black culture. At the same time, we were never told what black culture is.

From white friends, I’d hear, “Well, if you adopt a black child, you are going to need to expose them to people like their own, black culture.”

I would reply, “What is black culture? How does that differ from white culture? Do you even know what you are saying/talking about?”

Stuttering. Silence.

My heart hurts.

  • My heart hurts over George Floyd’s death at the knee of a police officer who knew what he was doing.
  • My heart hurts over the 3 other police officers standing nearby not intervening as George Floyd complained about not being able to breath.

I can’t wrap my mind around this situation. The blatant injustice on public display. How a moment in time could be escalated to the point where someone dies intentionally at the hands of those who are supposed to uphold justice.

I want justice for George Floyd.

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

In the same breath, I wonder about bringing a black child into my home. Raising this child in a white family. Worrying about the possibility of them being killed, by a police officer, due to the tone of their skin.

As a white male, I don’t think too much about being killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Last year though, I was pulled over for making a right hand turn into an outer lane versus the lane closest to the curb. I watched as the police officer drove past me and then made a quick u-turn to come after me. I couldn’t figure out what I had done. Daily, I watch other drivers make the same type of turn I had just made. After thinking about it, I think I wasn’t pulled over for turning wrong. No, I think I was targeted due to the condition of my car and the perceived nature of my skin.

Note: My Honda has black paint that has been peeling for ages. The car is nice on the inside but looks rundown from the outside. I call it camouflage!

As the young officer walked up to my car, I noticed a change come over his demeanor. I could tell that he thought I was going to be either black or Hispanic, but not white. As he told me why I was pulled over–which to me seemed like he was reaching for a technicality–he told me he was going to let me off with a warning.

Now, every time I pull up to that traffic light where I was pulled over, I make sure to practice the correct type of lane change. I also get a little angry, remembering that day, remembering feeling targeted because of the condition of my car. If that incident was but a small taste of what black people deal with, in America, on a daily basis, I cannot even imagine living like that.

I know that we live in a fallen world. That Jesus is coming back. But I hate the injustice that I see around me. I hate the helpless feelings that I can’t do anything to bring about change. I hate having to think that someone that we bring into our home, no matter our parenting nor love, could still be the target of such heinous acts.

I am thankful to serve a God who is bigger than all of this. That I don’t have to shoulder all of these thoughts and feelings alone. I am thankful for serving a God who can give wisdom, discernment, and guidance to us on how to proceed in the midst of such racism. I am thankful for His call to adoption, no matter the color of skin.

I figure that if my family can be a model of God’s love to just one child, perhaps he or she can make an impression and help change the world for the better until His return. And while we are waiting for that child, black or white, I have my own son to teach.

Adoption is messy. Conversations about race are messy. But we need to listen, talk, and act towards a brighter future.

Press Start – Call of Duty: WWII

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Call of Duty: World War II opens against the backdrop of the D-Day invasion.

As the Higgins boat ramp drops into the water, your fellow soldiers are mowed down where they stand. Blood and bullets are flying everywhere! We’ve all seen this moment in history play out in such movies as Saving Private Ryan and even video games such as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. For some reason though, Call of Duty: WWII makes this moment in time different. There is a human angle present, in a Call of Duty game, that I haven’t felt in a long time.

Advancing up the beach, I died over and over again. Somewhere between 10-20 times, I was killed by German bullets. The game kept telling me to crouch, which I did, but I failed to realize that the game wanted me on my belly to avoid enemy fire. Once I figured out that I could run and then hit the deck, I was good to go. But in all of my dying, I got thinking about the soldiers who didn’t make it that day.

By the end of my part in the D-Day assault, my character is told that he did a good job. He survived. And then the camera pans down to the blood on his hands.

My only complaint with Call of Duty: WWII so far is that I am finding it hard to tell my squad mates a part. Underneath helmets, characters unintentionally become “Random White Dude #1”, “Random White Dude #2 with Glasses”, and so on. I am hoping that as I continue to play, that I’ll be able to tell the guys a part. Onward and forward!

So what if your kids have to sit with you in church?

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Growing up, Sunday mornings could often become tense. While getting ready for church, words would be said and feelings hurt as all six of us hurried to get out the door.

Even with a family of three, there can occasionally be a morning where we pull up into the church parking lot and say, “Everyone smile.”

Tab and I serve in our church’s kids ministry by helping check kids in, Sunday mornings. As parents walk up to the check in desk, they will often look relieved to be dropping off their children. Maybe their morning had been harried/tense while trying to get to church? I am never sure. But I get it. I try and reassure those parents with a sincere smile and a quick, “Hey, ya’ll made it today.” Sometimes merely getting to the destination is the biggest family battle of all.

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

In the wake of the pandemic, my church has started meeting once again. This week will be week five of meeting physically, together. We’ve been meeting with some rules/modifications in place:

  • Not shaking hands, although elbows are encouraged
  • A row of spacing, behind and in front of, each occupied row
  • No passing of the offering plate.
  • Masks and gloves offered to those in attendance (not mandatory)
  • And this week, we are beginning to offer an earlier service for those ages 60+/vulnerable

Our small groups have yet to restart and have been meeting online.

One of the bigger changes now is that our children are sitting with us in the service.

Sunday morning, during the worship service, I got looking around. Trying to see if any of my little friends were in attendance; kids I used to check in each week. A few of the kids were there, sitting alongside their parents or even grandparents. For the most part though, the kids from our kids ministry have vanished.

  • I understand the need to practice social distancing.
  • I understand a parents desire to want to keep their children healthy.
  • I understand wanting to protect the vulnerable.

At some point though, I wonder if there is another reason I’m not seeing my little friends anymore. I wonder if their parents do not want to sit with them in the service.

Serving in the kid’s ministry, I have seen how amazing our children’s minister is. I have sat through her teaching time; I have seen the way she handles the kids and the expectations she holds them to. Yes, your child can sit through the service without getting up to pee.

Get’s me thinking about the way we can pass our children along to others, expecting them to teach/raise them. I see this pandemic time as the perfect time to model through action how to sit in big church. Pulling out, if needed, items to help your child:

  • Coloring books
  • Dot-to-dot books
  • Blank pages to draw on
  • And, depending on age, maybe even–gasp!–an iPad (with headphones)

I’m not sure about your church, but our children’s minister offers a kids sheet for sermon notes. Our pastor, each week, provides notes for his sermon. This is a great way to encourage our kids to engage in the service. I’m not interested so much in behavior as I am in teaching our children how to worship God.

I get tired of parents treating their children like they are the plague. Yes, I am a parent of one (and God-willing, more one day) but that doesn’t lessen my experience… nor my overall encouragement to bring your kids to church right now. This is the perfect time to grow spiritually as a family.

In closing, I say this with love: Some of us need to stop hiding behind this virus and using it as an excuse to forgo meeting with fellow believers. So what if your kids have to sit with you in church?

I love ya’ll. Until next time.

Gender, Politics, and the Media We Consume

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Voltron: Legendary Defender

Wyatt and I loved watching Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender. Who doesn’t like a little space magic mixed with sword-carrying robots? In the midst of Voltron’s fight against an evil galactic empire, the show reveals that one of the characters is gay. This sudden character relationship fact hadn’t been hinted at for over six seasons. Suddenly Season 7 premieres and Volton’s leader, Shiro, is in a relationship with another man named Adam (shown via flashback). The show never mentions Shiro’s relationship again until the series finale, when Shiro and Adam kiss in the closing credits.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is an amazing show that disappointed me by injecting gender politics into something aimed at children.

Last year, I powered through Sayonara Wild Hearts on Apple Arcade. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a music-based action game (see video above) where your protagonist fights against past loves/relationships. The game’s finale has you kissing former flames instead of killing them. Wyatt happened to be sitting next to me as the kissing started:

W: “Are you playing as a boy?”

Me: “Nope.”

W: “So did two girls just kiss?”

Me: “Umm, maybe…. yeah.”

Life went on, and I didn’t make too big of a deal about that scene. I had read/heard online that Sayonara Wild Heart’s story was open to interpretation but why the sudden gender moment? All my love for Wild Hearts died as I felt as if the fourth wall had been broken by gender politics once again.

Mutazione

The other night, I was playing Mutazione on Apple Arcade. During one of the in-game conversations, the protagonist admits to another character that she likes a fellow female classmate of hers. The two of them exchange notes to one another via their lockers. This isn’t a game ending revelation to me, but I got thinking about what the developers worldview is. Nothing sinister… but definitely foreign from my own worldview.

I told Wyatt recently that the Bible is clear on homosexuality (it’s a solid no). But that does not mean we have to treat others poorly nor use others relationship preferences as an excuse not to love them.

Hollywood and even game developers continue to increase LGBTQ representation in the media we consume. We, as Christians, need to continue to be a voice in the Internet wilderness. Proclaiming that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that none shall perish but have everlasting life.

Press Start: Mutazione

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I started playing Mutazione, via Apple Arcade, over the weekend. So far, I’m enjoying the chill adventure game vibes mixed with a mysterious story. I can’t wait to see how this one wraps up.

Fresh Air and the Ticket Queen

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Last night, we had dinner outside on our patio. Tabitha made this awesome shrimp stir-fry. Which may have even rivaled the Thai food, that we had picked up for date night, the night before. My wife is an amazing cook.

Sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air and cool breeze, I think we all felt liberated from the house. The warmer temperatures we’ve been experiencing, combined with humidity, have triggered us running the air conditioning.

Air conditioning, in the State of Texas, is a serious thing. Summers here make it feel like you are suddenly an astronaut. Your home, your car, even your place of work become your climate controlled spaceship. Every once in awhile, you’ll adventure out for an away mission. Perhaps you’ll even venture forth to work in the lawn followed up by a mandatory dip in the pool. But eventually, summers here make the pool water match the outside temperature. Nothing like diving into 80-85 degree water on a 90-100 degree day. Ah, so refreshing!

The Coronavirus, or as those more in the know call it COVID-19, has forced upon us social distancing as well as self quarantine. Even as the Governor of Texas opens up the State, the virus damage has already been inflicted. Self quarantine has triggered those mid-summer cabin fever feelings already. It is only May, and I am ready to escape the spaceship–I mean house–and enjoy fresh air.

That is why last night, I enjoyed spending time with family outdoors. Being able to enjoy the non-spaceship air; being able to eat good food and not eat family. We even managed to get a game of Ticket to Ride going. Wyatt (green train cars) destroyed Tabitha (yellow train cars) and I (red train cars).

Ticket to Ride

Playing Ticket to Ride, as a family, is a completely different experience than the silent games Tabitha and I play together. No longer is the game a battle between two powerful rail tycoons. Instead, Wyatt introduces a random element to the mix, another player to foil our track laying schemes.

As Wyatt cut me off from a crucial move, I whined out loud, “No!”. And then I kept whining until he won. Darth Vader would be proud.

It’s interesting to think that one day we could have another Ticket to Ride player in our house (nothing happening on the adoption front, FYI, all is quiet). Until that day, I’ll be working on destroying a little boy’s dreams… I mean… blocking a young man’s trains.

As the final points were counted, I ended up placing third. I am in no way salty about my ranking, as I am used to being beaten by Tabitha. Tabitha is the Ticket queen. Or maybe I should say, she was?

From Across the Net – “Stop and See the Unseen”

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Eric Anderson, over at Nerd Chapel, wrote this excellent piece titled “Stop and See the Unseen“. I especially like the way he seamlessly works a conversation between Tony Stark and Dr. Strange into the mix.

Tony had no clue that the threats dealt with by the Sorcerer Supreme even existed. While the Avengers were publicly acknowledged and posted all over social media, popular media, and the news, nobody talked about what Strange and his fellow sorcerers do. Nobody knew that threats from other dimensions were coming; even Thor did not know about the Sanctum Sanctorums or the group that runs them on Earth until Strange invited him to come for a visit.

You can read more here

Dr. Strange

From Across the Net – “When Will Your Church Be Back to Normal?”

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I have loved watching my own church pivot in this crisis. Embracing technology as a way to bring us all together.

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

Some churches that never even recorded their sermons were able, in no time, to livestream their services, to provide ways to do youth group Bible studies via Zoom, and maintain prayer chains through texting and social media. Churches without even a website address found ways to enable their people to give their offerings online. Some churches had to find a way to vote on calling a new pastor with online voting or drive-through affirmations. 

This sort of creativity will not end. The fact is that though many, if not most, churches can plan for a “re-opening” some time in the foreseeable future, in almost every case, this will not mean dropping live-streaming and other forms of connection but adding in-person gatherings to what we are doing now. 

You can read more here

From Across the Net – “Final Fantasy XV, Joy, and the Pandemic”

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Final Fantasy XV is one of the only Final Fantasy games I’ve ever beaten. I loved this bro-trip so much! Reading this piece on Final Fantasy XV, Prompto, and joy makes me miss spending time with these guys.

One of the ways that Prompto expresses his joy is through photography. He snaps pics of Noctis comically falling down, goofy faces of the crew, and moments he and his friends are the happiest together. Right before confronting the final boss, knowing that there’s a good chance that none of them may survive, Noctis asks to look at these photos one last time and takes one with him. I like to think that he needed that photo to get him through the roughest bit.  We don’t often realize how valuable joy is until we’re in the darkest of times, but that’s when it shines brightest; joy reminds us what we’re fighting for.

You can read more here

Quick Review – Pikuniku

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Pikuniku could be one of the best games I’ve played in a really long time. There is something about:

  • The movement mechanics
  • The goofy yet dark story
  • And the brevity of the overall experience that speaks to me

Wyatt enjoyed it too!

If you are looking for a solid distraction with heart, look no further than Pikuniku.

5/5 – Pikuniku is a solid distraction with heart.

Title: Pikuniku
Developer: Sectordub
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows, Linux, Mac
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
MSRP: $12.99

Review by Bryan Hall

An Update: Week 18 of the 5 Day Bible Reading Program

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Photo by Elvis Bekmanis on Unsplash

Drove to work this morning in the rain. As I watched cloud-to-ground lightning, I listened to a list of names being read. I am currently in Week 18 of the 5 Day Bible Reading Program. Lost in the overwhelming tide of genealogies that has been 1 Chronicles. Learning about how “Phinehas fathered Abishua; Abishua fathered Bukki”. If one was looking for a unique baby name, 1 Chronicles would prove to be a valuable resource.

“Hey Bukki, it’s time to come inside for dinner!”

One of the best things about The Bible App, is that you have the option to have the Bible read to you. I find myself marveling over the narrator, as he skillfully pronounces strange Biblical names. The dude is good at what he does. The reading option has made passages, where I’d normally find myself skimming, easier to digest.

The Bible App - 1 Chronicles

As I’ve read through Scripture this year, God has been teaching me that it is easy to read the Bible (gain knowledge) and miss out on the relationship (engaging with God through prayer, etc.). I’m working on the engagement part and trying to overcome my “check off the list” tendency.

How about you? What tools, resources, or apps, do you use, as you read the Bible?

Press Start – Celeste

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Hidden in the mists of gamer hobbyist culture, the Temple of Git Gud was known as a place of brutal honesty. If a new convert could not make the cut, they were immediately told to, “Git good and try again.”

Over and over, a new convert would be beaten into submission with those words.

Life by life.

Death by death.

Level by level.

Until one day one progressed further than before, only to die again. In failure, those dreaded words would be uttered once more, “Git good and try again.”

There seems to be a genre of difficult games. Games built upon dexterity and perfection; games built upon imprinting moves into muscle memory. Ori and the Blind Forest was one of those games for me. Celeste, developed by Matt Makes Games, is another game of this genre. A genre built upon not just seeing the solution to the platforming puzzle but being able to execute that solution with perfection.

Git Gooder

The developers of Celeste try to frame death as a learning device, not a penalty. A subtle shift in thinking for games of this genre.

And yet, everytime you load up the game, there is your total player death count staring at you. (Ignore the photo below, I have far exceeded 386 deaths by now.)

I struggle over my lack of progression in Celeste. I can spend 10-15 minutes on a single screen. Where I can see the solution to the platforming puzzle but lack the dexterity to pull off the required moves.

Is challenging myself with continual punishment fun?

Is fun even a part of the equation anymore?

I press on in Celeste, pushing myself to git good but questioning why.

No Silent Christians

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My pastor recently said something that grabbed my attention:

There is no such thing as a silent Christian.

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

I’ve often hid behind a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Perhaps you know it?

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

My thoughts have been, that in my life and online presence, I would let my actions speak first. People should know that I follow Christ due to:

  • What I like
  • What I post
  • And what I say about the content I consume

But something about that quote, that is falsely attributed to St. Francis, has always rang hollow to me. A sort of free pass Christians give to one another for never sharing what Christ has done/is doing in their lives; for never sharing the Gospel.

Even on this blog, I have internally struggled and fought over how much is too much to post, when it comes to the topic of faith. For those that follow me for my video game angle, are my faith posts somehow pushing them away? I have struggled with these thoughts for years. “I’ll just let my actions do the talking”, I’ve reasoned. As a follower of Christ though, I think that not speaking is disingenuous. So, I wanted to share my faith journey below.

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

No Longer Silent

I grew up in a small town, in Southern California. My dad was a truck driver, while my mom stayed home and homeschooled us kids. My dad’s truck driving meant that he was home two days and gone three days. He worked hard to provide for our family. Looking back now, I can appreciate the sacrifice both of my parents made in raising my siblings and I. But in my dad’s absence, God filled that father-space, in my life, with many men. One such man was my Grandpa Ayers. Looking back, he taught me a lot about what it means to be a man.

I made a decision to follow Christ at the age of 5. My family was hosting a Vacation Bible School at our home. Even then, I understood that sin separated me from God.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

– Romans 3:23 (NIV)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 6:23 (NIV)

And that because God loves us so much, He sent His son to die for us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

– John 3:16-17 (NIV)

All one has to do is accept this hope, this gift, and believe in Jesus Christ.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

– Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[a]

– Romans 10:13

All of that at the age of 5, huh Bryan? Yup. I knew enough to make that decision. God has walked with me and helped me grow in the knowledge of Him ever since.

In junior high, I made the decision to be baptized. Baptism is an outward sign, to fellow believers, that you have made a decision to follow Christ. I was at a youth beach day, and I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully, no sharks tried to aid in that baptism.

At the age of sixty, my Grandpa Ayers unexpectedly died overnight. I was looking at going away to college at this point, after attending junior college for a few years. I felt lost losing him. But God used his death to spur me on.

I was reading a book when a single sentence mentioned LeTourneau University. So, I traveled from Southern California to East Texas for a preview event… and felt peace. I went home, packed up my stuff, and I made the drive across Texas. Where I ended up meeting my now wife, Tabitha, within a month of being at school. (I was 25 and had never dated beforehand. Ignoring the Beach Boys, I didn’t want a California girl apparently.)

Tabitha and I married in 2007. Two years later, we had our son Wyatt. Last year at a Life Action Conference, we felt God calling us to adoption, after years of infertility. We finished jumping through the adoption hoops last May (2019), and we are waiting to grow our family. In the meantime, God continues to grow us.

There is no such thing as a silent Christian.

I’m hoping that by sharing where God has brought me, I can push against the silence and use words to share my faith. I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ first and foremost. I am then a husband to Tabitha, and a father to Wyatt.

This blog is my attempt to engage the world for Christ. To share the life He is working through me. Thanks for reading and coming along for the journey.

From Across the Net – “Navigating Different COVID-19 Recovery Convictions”

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“I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.”

Costi Hinn, For The Church – https://ftc.co/resource-library/1/5289?fbclid=IwAR2vq3Xds5JDa-vXtC5pef78_9Gmat9f_KutxW4ZNUNy9FBJEVz5VXsYznQ
Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash