From Across the Net – “An Unexpected, Overlooked Benefit of Friendships”

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I appreciate this post by Tim Challies on friendship. There is nothing like a friend who can tell you to snap out of it and quit being a jerk.

Photo by Anoir Chafik on Unsplash
“We ought to pursue friendships not just for what we can gain from the relationship, but for what we can give.

Often the best way to gain objectivity is to appeal to a friend for an outside perspective. It may be that each of us appeals to a personal friend or that together we appeal to a mutual friend. But either way, a close friend is able to listen, to evaluate, and to offer guidance. Some of the best counsel I’ve gotten from friends is of the “you need to stop being a jerk” variety. Friends have helped me better love those I love most.

You can read more here

From Across the Net – “Let’s Play: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”

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I love where the Uncharted series goes.

Josh, over at his blog Keep Thinking, writes on the character of Nathan Drake in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I credit the Uncharted series as one of the primary reasons I still game today. The mixture of humor, drama, adventure and platforming, set in a cinematic world, reminded me that video games could be fun. I’ve since loved Nathan Drake as a character, especially in regards to his relationship with Elena.

Don’t get me wrong. Uncharted 1 is not the most narratively deep or thought-provoking game. It’s a fast and furious treasure-hunting romp. Moreover, there is plenty of objectionable content (thankfully, nothing sexual) that players should be mindful as they play. However, despite all its flaws or over-used tropes, the game nevertheless offers a tidbit of truth worth remembering. In a world where it’s easy to be more focused on earthly treasure and pleasure, there are some things that are just more important. Friendship is a gift from God that should be treasured. Relationships where we give and receive love are worth more than anything that glitters or glows.

You can read more here

Thomas Wasn’t Alone – A 2015 Flashback

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I came across this piece the other day and still felt it was relevant. At this point, Thomas Was Alone is available on pretty much everything (even your iPad). Give the game a chance if you haven’t happened to play. Never know what life lessons you can learn from colorful shapes. – Bryan

We are not meant to go at this life alone.

thomas-was-aloneThomas Was Alone drives home the point that we are meant to live in community with others. As the levels in Thomas progress, the game reinforces that red rectangle Thomas needs others to move from one point to another. Thomas cannot move through the game world alone.

My son graduated from kindergarten today (5/29/2015). I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sitting there in the auditorium, I was reminded of what big personals events were like growing up. I remember having the biggest cheering section out of anyone. My parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were always there to cheer me on. I wasn’t alone.

thomas-was-alone1Thomas Was Alone combines minimalist design and expert narration to introduce characters one cares for. Take Claire for instance. Claire is a large blue square. Even though she cannot jump high, Claire dreams of becoming a superhero. Thomas and his friends need Claire. She is the only one that can float across the toxic waters that would kill anyone else in an instant.

The Bible talks about the human body having many parts, each with it’s own task, function, and purpose. The Bible likens the human body to the body of Christ. In that we are meant to live in community.

I teach a group of men on Wednesday nights. We’ve been going through some difficult material. Peeling back masks and becoming real with one another, I have learned that we all have a need for friendship. Most of us feel as if we do not have anyone to walk in life with. We feel alone. Sometimes lost. Isolated within our families, running the race of life. The guys and I discussed how we can move beyond our personal islands:

  • Reaching out, in person, on the phone, even a simple text
  • Having a bigger focus than just ourselves
  • Being legacy minded

God lives in community with the Holy Spirit and Christ. If He is our example. . .  it may be time to pick up a phone, knock on a door, and connect.

From Across the Net – “Why Men and Women Can—and Must—Work Together”

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Even though this article seems specific to a church/ministry organization, I have struggled with this at work. Especially when I am in the office alone, working through lunch, and a female co-worker decides to eat her lunch at work and wants to talk. There is a fine line between being professional and alienation.

It’s important—especially as seemingly more and more Christian leaders are caught in a scandal—to make sure the right boundaries are in place to protect your marriage, your ministry, and your soul.

But in doing so, it’s easy to put up so many boundaries you alienate yourself or stifle the giftedness and friendship of the opposite gender.

You can read more here

Blackballed

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We live in an odd time. A time where we think about how much our friends like our social media posts. How when they suddenly stop liking them or commenting, we begin to question whether they really are our friends or not.

Can you imagine telling your great grandparents, those that had lived through the Great Depression, about how your friends on social media are suddenly not liking your posts?

“I feel like they are blackballing me, Great Grandma Hall.”

And as we are navigating these choppy social waters, the thought dawns on us that we will have to help our kids through muck like this too. (Pulling the plug on the Internet isn’t the solution either. Let go of the cord!) We have to engage, walk through, and confront these thoughts/situations that pop up.  Asking ourselves if perhaps:

  • We are spending too much time on social media
  • A friend we know through social media isn’t a great influence on us
  • Why such such a seemingly petty thing matters

When we get down to the core of the issue, it shouldn’t matter whether someone likes or comments on our posts… and yet it does.

“And Jesus said, love only those who like and comment on your social media musings.” – Not In The Bible

What do you think? I love it when you share your thoughts below in the comments.

Kirby Star Allies

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Wyatt and I recently finished playing Kirby Star Allies on the Nintendo Switch. Per standard Kirby game mechanics, Kirby has the ability to steal enemies powers. In Star Allies, Kirby goes a step further and becomes a thrower of hearts. Throw a pink heart at an enemy and they become your friend/party member, for life.

So here are Wyatt and I, adventuring across the HD candy-coated world of Kirby. We are the buddies of co-op. The ultimate father and son duo to take on the evils of Dreamland.

“Wyatt, slow down.”

“Wyatt, we just missed a puzzle piece.”

“Wyatt, why did you just die? How could you have done that?”

A chunk of our playtime consisted of Wyatt mixing powers, trying to see what Kirby powers he could create. This power mixing killed the flow of gameplay and DROVE ME NUTS!
How Kirby Power Mixing Works:

Let’s say Kirby steals the powers of a warrior. Now the pink puffball has a sword. If you have a party member that has ice, fire, or lightning powers, you can call them over to buff your sword. Your standard sword is now the Ice Sword of Doom or the Fire Ball Slicer from Heaven. In Kirby Star Allies, friendship is all about the perks.

Kirby Star Allies must be about driving your dad crazy.

It wasn’t until I started listening to myself speak to my son that I noticed I was freaking out.

So I adjusted my tone.

I listened to myself get upset over missing secret doors and passing up on puzzle pieces.

So I changed my expectations.

We started having fun.

Snow levels became a chance to sing terrible Frozen “Let It Go” parodies.

Running past puzzle pieces were a moment to become super silly and let things go.

Kirby Star Allies was a $60 reminder of what co-op gaming with my son looks like. A reminder that I need to chill, play, and allow myself to have fun.

Thank you, Kirby, for the gentle reminder.

4/5 – A perfect game to co-op with someone you love.

Title: Kirby Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Reviews on: Nintendo Switch
MSRP: $59.99

Why Do We Play?

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A few weeks ago, I asked the Theology Gaming Community:

The TG Community answered:

  • Entertainment
  • Bridge gaps of distance
  • Stories
  • To slow down and enjoy friends
  • To learn new systems/rules
  • To be invited into a piece of art, by the artist, as a collaborator
  • To forget about problems
  • Video games are fun
  • Enjoyment
  • Escapism
  • Fantasy of having increased power/capability
  • Gaming brings people together

Sam went on to say:

Mainly it’s my time to ‘turn off’ from any sort of stresses in real life and just sit back and enjoy something. But there are other huge things I’d miss if I wasn’t gaming. Mainly the excellent communities you become a part of, and I have found, since starting college, it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends who went elsewhere.

Joe emailed me his reply:

Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies. It’s a classic tale of man versus adversity. Human ingenuity wins out over a catastrophe that almost certainly should have spelled certain death for the three brave crewmen. It’s a great story to watch, but as a viewer I can only be a passive observer of this story. Kerbal Space Program, however, allows me to be the solution as well as the cause of all my Kerbonaut’s problems. What should be a routine trip around the moon turns into an epic series of rescue mission because of my inability to effectively design spacecraft. Running out of fuel, botched engine burns, missing solar panels, and the inability to dock two spacecraft turn Kerbal Space Program into an interactive rescue simulation. The best part of all this? My experience will never be exactly the same as anyone else’s. 
That’s the appeal of gaming to me: personalized entertainment. While most games will offer a similar overall experience to its players, little details and interactions are unique to each person. Nobody has the same struggles as I do in Kerbal Space Program. My approach to clearing Liberty Island in Deus Ex will be different than anyone else I know. Dark Souls fosters camaraderie with fellow players who follow the same story beats, even though not everyone will struggle with the same sections. Though I play the same game as thousands and millions of other people, my own experiences with that game are unique to me. This is what sets gaming apart from every other form of media. It’s fun, it’s dynamic, and it’s accessible. Why wouldn’t I play games?  

For me, gaming is about:

Relationships  The conversations that happen while trying to outscore my wife in King Domino.

Nostalgia – Playing Chess with my son reminds me of all the times I played Chess with my Grandpa. I miss him and those times we had together playing Chess, flying remote control airplanes, and telling stories.

Imagination – As with good books, video games allow me to visit other worlds and step into the shoes of someone else.

Discovery – Digital worlds come with their own individual sets of rules. I love seeing what a game world will allow me to do/not do.

Connection – Nothing like discussing games with fellow enthusiasts, taps into my nerdier side.

Sampling All The Flavors – I love constantly trying new games which allows me to experience the different gaming mechanics they each bring to the screen.

Why do you play?

From Across the Net – “Owlboy: A Reflection on Friendship

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Over at Gamechurch, M. Joshua Cauller writes about friendship in Owlboy. I really liked this:

“The constant teleporting-in occurs thanks to your magical device, but the shock of being instantly teleported into a violent scenario takes trust. You see that trust grow…”

You can read more here

Can you imagine the trust it would take for you to allow yourself to be instantly transported anywhere? Knowing that each time you were transported, you’d be thrust into a dangerous situation? Talk about loving someone enough to die for them.

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.

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.

Thomas Wasn’t Alone

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We are not meant to go at this life alone.

thomas-was-aloneThomas Was Alone drives home the point that we are meant to live in community with others. As the levels in Thomas progress, the game reinforces that red rectangle Thomas needs others to move from one point to another. Thomas cannot move through the game world alone.

My son graduated from kindergarten today (5/29). I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sitting there in the auditorium, I was reminded of what big personals events were like growing up. I remember having the biggest cheering section out of anyone. My parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were always there to cheer me on. I wasn’t alone.

thomas-was-alone1Thomas Was Alone combines minimalist design and expert narration to introduce characters one cares for. Take Claire for instance. Claire is a large blue square. Even though she cannot jump high, Claire dreams of becoming a superhero. Thomas and his friends need Claire. She is the only one that can float across the toxic waters that would kill anyone else in an instant.

The Bible talks about the human body having many parts, each with it’s own task, function, and purpose. The Bible likens the human body to the body of Christ. In that we are meant to live in community.

I teach a group of men on Wednesday nights. We’ve been going through some difficult material. Peeling back masks and becoming real with one another, I have learned that we all have a need for friendship. Most of us feel as if we do not have anyone to walk in life with. We feel alone. Sometimes lost. Isolated within our families, running the race of life. The guys and I discussed how we can move beyond our personal islands:

  • Reaching out, in person, on the phone, even a simple text
  • Having a bigger focus than just ourselves
  • Being legacy minded

God lives in community with the Holy Spirit and Christ. If He is our example. . .  it may be time to pick up a phone, knock on a door, connect.

I write all this for myself. I am sure no one else can relate.

Friendship

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"I don't understand why we can't get close enough, I miss the shivers in my spine every time that we touch" - Jars of Clay, Closer

This morning, on my way to work, I was listening to a Focus on the Family podcast featuring Doctor’s Les and Leslie Parrot. They were talking about the importance of friendship in relation to marriage. Specifically, they spoke about how important it is to be good friends with your spouse. Reminded me of how easy it is to take spousal friendship for granted.

From the moment I met my now wife, we had an understanding, a connection. From our first conversation, I opened up to her about my Grandpa passing away and how I missed him. My wife has always been someone that I can talk very easily with. Quite quickly, she became/ is my best friend.

We have been through a lot of trying experiences over the years. Multiple family deaths, surgeries, and hardships at work. We have also experienced the birth of our son, four years of marriage, and the continual adventure that life brings each day. In short, we have traveled amongst the peaks and the valleys; we have grown stronger in our travels.

I don’t ever want to take the friendship I have with my wife for granted. I think that the ease of our friendship makes it easy to forget “the spark” that we have, the unique connection.

I never want to let you go baby, I love you .

Thoughts on Father Fiction: Part 2

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“These aren’t guys who complain about their bosses or disrespect their wives. And so, naturally, when I encounter men who do that sort of thing, it strikes me as weak, and I pull away. That’s just not who I am. Or rather, that’s just not who I want to become.”

In my last post, I pondered the lack of a close “board of directors” and celebrated friends that walk in life with me, though distant (read here). Today I want to talk about the above quote from Chapter 9 of Donald Miller’s Father Fiction.

As Miller concludes his chapter on friendship, he talks about not hanging out with those that display traits he doesn’t want to take on. This got me thinking about the image I project.

  • Am I someone that others would want to be friends with?
  • Am I someone that someone else would want to be like?
  • Am I dragging someone down due to my attitude or actions?
How about you? Do you:
  • Complain about your boss all the time and do nothing about it?
  • Do you talk about your wife behind her back, effectively undermining her in front of others?
I want to live my life in a way where others can see Christ living and working in me. Don’t you?

Connections

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In the hustle and bustle that has become everyday life, I am beginning to wonder how I ever found time to play such games as World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online. I think that when I was playing them, I was using them as a social means to hang out with friends from back in California. With the time difference proving to be too big of a drawback–I’m usually in bed by the time my friends get around to being able to game–, my friends and I all slowly walked away from MMO’s.

While part of me misses the thrills of leveling and exploring the various game worlds, I more so miss being able to hang out with friends in another state. Slaughtering the digital denizens, while shooting the breeze, created good memories for me. As a guy, doing something with other guys is just priceless, even if it is just playing a game online.

I don’t know if it is this way with every gamer, but I have a core group of friends that I have gamed with since high school. Since moving to Texas, I have kept in touch with them by phone, email, and occasional visits. I ultimately don’t want our connection to be lost due to distance. Though we may have walked away from MMO’s for the moment–Bioware’s Star Wars MMO is on the horizon–, we are all still good friends. I am thankful for friendships that evolve and change with time… and distance.