Darth Vader Goes to Walmart: Pandemic Musings

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“Children, ages 2 and older, will be required to wear a mask at school.”

“Parents, whether your student wears a mask or not is up to you.”

“We are not going to require masks.”

“We will only require our teachers to wear masks.”

I was talking to a high school student the other day, she told me:

It is one thing to wear a mask, into a store, for a short amount of time; It is another thing to wear a mask at school all day.

I get it. I never knew that I had issues with claustrophobia. Not being a doctor or someone required to wear a mask for work, I never really thought too much about how wearing a mask would make me feel. That is, until I was required to wear a mask to shop in a store.

I try to play off the mask wearing by making Darth Vader breathing sounds as I wear one. While at the same time, I also try not to think about how we all look like a bunch of poor doctors and bank robbers.

Speaking of bank robbers, I saw a Brink’s armored truck parked the other day. The two armed security guards were wearing bandannas. They looked like armed robbers, as they casually walked back to their truck with cash. This pandemic plays mind games with ya when the good guys look like the bad guys.

For parents having to make the choice as to school their children online or in person at school, you have my sympathy. I can’t imagine having to work around enforcing that my child stays in front of the computer/in their seat, at home, for as long as they would if they were at school; I also can’t imagine sending my child to school and forcing them to wear a mask all day and social distance. Your children’s teachers are not paid enough. But you know that.

I was recently telling Tabitha that our lives, as parents who have chosen to homeschool, do not revolve around a school. No, our son’s education/schooling revolves around us and neatly fits into our day.

  • We decide when school begins and ends.
  • We decide which curriculum to teach from.
  • We decide whether there will be masks or not.

I am thankful that we made the choice to homeschool. I am thankful for my gifted wife who has made the decision to stay at home and teach our son. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone though. Not every kid is built for homeschooling. But for our family, homeschooling works for us.

No masks will be required, in our home, this Fall. We will strive to preserve as much normalcy as we can in our school routine. Wearing a mask, around the house, seems silly. I shouldn’t say that aloud though as home mask wearing could soon be a thing. Stupid 2020.

However, I WILL BE WEARING A MASK if going to the local Walmarts… I mean, if Darth Vader goes to the Walmarts.

>Insert Mechanical Breathing Sound of Doom<

From Across the Net – “Raving Reviews – Jedi: Fallen Order”

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My friend Joe, over at the RavingLuhn, wrote a review for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I have yet to pick up this game again (it’s been a few weeks) after landing on the Wookie homeworld, Kashyyyk.

Fallen Order is one of the best Star Wars video games to have ever been released. It hits a lot of the high notes required to make a Star Wars game a compelling and memorable experience. It’s concrete proof that developers need to make expansive single player games in the Star Wars universe. And yet, on the backside of spending 35 hours to complete the game to 100% the experience feels a little empty.

You can read more here

From Across the Net – “Untangling the theology of Star Wars”

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Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Not sure I ever noticed the destiny vs. free will difference between the older and newer movies.

Lucas sold his production company and the franchise to Disney for $4.05 billion in 2012. But he continued to work as a consultant to the producers who created the third and supposedly final trilogy in the Skywalker saga. Those movies depart from Master Yoda’s obsession with destiny and focus on free will. The heroes strive to break free of their circumstances and discover their true selves: An Imperial Stormtrooper becomes a rebel leader, Luke’s Jedi apprentice turns evil, and the orphan Rey must decide whether to follow the path carved by her dark ancestry. The characters use the force mainly to communicate with one another, like an innate cellular network to which some people have stronger connections.

You can read more here

An Unofficial Revival of Boys Club

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Wyatt wasn’t having the best of days yesterday. A combo of East Texas allergies and a knee injury at homeschool co-op had him snuffling/limping about. Tab ended up going to church alone to teach the kids (normally I tag along and help her). This Wednesday night though, I got to stay home with Wyatt and have a bit of an unofficial Boys Club revival. Two guys. All alone. What are we to do?

First, we kind of geeked out over a Star Wars trailer breakdown:

Second, we watched the Untitled Goose Game Gameplay Trailer. Wyatt just laughed. “We need this, dad.” I love listening to him laugh his deep belly laugh.

And then third, we played some Fortnite. I am still not a huge fan of the game. But recent changes have made the Chapter 2 update revolutionary for me (which means I’ll actually play with Wyatt now). The shooting, which always felt off/not good, feels dialed in now. I can shoot with the best of them and actually rack up a kill streak. Wyatt and I have consistently placed in the top ten playing duos. We even achieved our first Victory Royale over the weekend. Oh yeah!

Victory Royale!

Playing with Wyatt last night, I realized that we haven’t had a lot of one-on-one time lately. As we played Fornite, he talked. I learned about the video games kids at church are playing:

“Dad, so-and-so and so-and-so play Halo, but they aren’t allowed to play Fornite, isn’t Halo more violent?”

I smiled.

There is something about getting to hang out with him, one-on-one, that is super special. Tabitha is probably smiling as she reads this. At one point in my life, when she would leave, I’d put Wyatt to bed as quick as I could so that I could have some “me” time. God and the passage of time have worked to change me.

Was reading an article the other day that got me thinking about setting aside time to just spend with Wyatt. I liked this point:

Taking them out for breakfast. One much-loved tradition in our family is taking my children out for breakfast on Saturday mornings—one of them each week. It’s a tradition I have lost and revived and lost again and revived again. It is a tradition worth maintaining. The $10 or $20 expense and the time it takes pales in comparison to the investment in their lives. I will never regret our breakfast daddy dates.

Daddy dates. Going to think more on this one.

How do you make time to connect with your kids?

How did your parents make time to connect with you as a kid?

Let me know in the comments below.

The Halls Head West – Part One

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Had a good visit with my parents last week. Hadn’t seen them in two years! Was nice to visit them in Southern California, enjoy the weather, and tour some of the local sites.

Our plane flight, out of Gregg County, was a bit bumpy. Our pilot had to dodge thunderstorms while flying into Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).

View outside the plane as we took off from Longview, Texas.

Nothing like a little turbulence as we flew around thunderstorms.

We eventually landed at DFW and made our way to our second flight. The flight boarded but we had to sit in the plane as a second wave of thunderstorms made its way into the area. Tab and I caught up on much needed sleep (we were so excited that we hadn’t slept the night before).

Fun Fact: When lightening hits near the airport, a clock starts a countdown to an all clear (so much time has to go by). Apparently airport workers cannot work out on the tarmac when lightening has struck nearby. Safety first!

Landed in San Diego without incident. Loved flying on what appeared to be a new Airbus! Tab and I watched Netflix’s The Highwaymen, with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, on the flight. Super good movie about two former Texas Rangers hunting down Bonnie and Clyde. We had about 30 minutes till the end of the movie when our plane landed. Can’t wait to finish this film.

My parents picked us up in San Diego. The weather was cool, cloudy, and drizzling. Such a relief from the 80 degree humid weather we’ve been having in East Texas.

We made our way over to Old Town San Diego, ate lunch, and toured around.

I can’t imagine traveling in a wagon like this. Talk about back issues!

While there, we walked into Seeley Stables (which was pretty amazing and free). Came across some old gaming machines… something that one rarely sees in a museum. I was impressed.

THE JUDGE!

THE OWL!

Rolling history.

After a bit of walking around, we braved the traffic and headed to my parents house.

The next day, we woke up and headed to Anaheim. Spent the day at Disneyland. Wyatt loved it (his first trip) and we all walked quite a bit.

I do not have a ton of pictures from Disneyland. We spent the day being in the moment and absorbing the magic of Walt’s original park.

Highlight of our day was Wyatt getting to meet Darth Vader. Wyatt tried to pledge allegiance to him… and Lord Vader seemed pleased. He told Wyatt that when he was of age that Wyatt would make a great recruit for the Imperial Army. I’m taking this as a parenting win!

Click here for Part Two

I’m In Love – Star Wars: Episode IX Teaser Trailer

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I can’t wait to see how this wraps up Rey’s story. After The Last Jedi, the table has been swept clean story-wise. Hoping JJ Abrams uses some of his magic like he did in The Force Awakens.

Roughhousing

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One of my earliest memories of my Grandpa Ayers is of him and I roughhousing. Long before I was old enough to know what Star Wars was, he would tell me that he was Darth Vader and that I was Luke Skywalker. We’d sword fight with yard sticks, up and down the hall in their house, until my Grandma Ayers would tell us to knock it off. I miss those days.

Was listening to The Art of Manliness Podcast today– I have been slowly moving through their backlog–. Today’s episode was on The Art of Roughhousing. I want to encourage you to check it out. The benefits of roughhousing with your kids is huge! Even if you have girls. You can find the show here.

The Old Republic

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Yesterday, the State of Texas celebrated it’s 174th birthday. Happy birthday Texas!

Speaking of other old republics, I started downloading Star Wars: The Old Republic last night. As of this moment, my download is almost done! My plans are to create a Han Solo type character–hey, I’ve always called myself a scoundrel!–. I am really looking forward to playing the game and comparing it to my other BioWare experience, Mass Effect 2.

Hope everyone has a great weekend. The high today, here in East Texas, is 62 degrees. A nice change from the 80 degree weather we have oddly experienced this past week. Until next time.

The Star Wars of Video Games

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Out of the now six Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back remains my most favorite. I love the epic battle of Hoth, main characters parting ways, and the overall darker tone of the film. Life, in the shadow of the Empire, is harsh and cruel for those serving the Rebellion–as it should be!–. The events in this middle film leave you wondering how much worse things can get for Luke Skywalker and his ragtag group.

Lately, I’ve been playing through Mass Effect 2. Like The Empire Strikes Back, Mass Effect 2 is the middle chapter in an epic space trilogy. Currently I’ve played the game for over 18 hours. So far, Mass Effect 2 has largely been about constructing the perfect A-Team. The typical structure of the game has been: 1) Hunt down new team member, 2) Recruit them and take them back to the Normandy, 3) Eventually work through a “personal” mission to gain their loyalty. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yet, somehow, I have been pulled into this world filled with Krogans, Reapers, and a man named Shepherd.

What made The Empire Strikes Back so phenomenal, was that it took characters you had grown emotionally attached to in Star Wars and then took them to the breaking point. In doing so, a deeper emotional attachment occurred, one that would eventually  allow you to be able to sit through The Return of the Jedi. Mass Effect 2, while seemingly built on emotion, often feels false and empty. I can’t quite put my finger on it but something is off. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my time playing the game. I just think that my disconnect with the characters may have something to do with only playing about 5 hours of the first game before quitting.

The Normandy SR2

I keep waiting for that Empire moment in Mass Effect 2; I keep waiting for that moment when I am more emotionally bonded with the characters, like in a good book. As it stands, if the Normandy blew up again, with the entire crew inside, I don’t think I’d care. I’d slowly put down the controller and wonder why I had wasted so much time.

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.

Monday

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Good Monday afternoon everyone!

By now I am sure that most of you are settled into your places of employment and have commenced with the work day. Bosses have already yelled, deadlines have been pushed or postponed, and some random crazy person has disrupted your otherwise “normal” Monday.

Here in the JBG offices, which overlook the beautiful forests of Endor, Monday has proven to be uneventful. Valentines weekend has come and gone, and yours truly enjoyed relaxing with his wife. What did we do? I ended up BBQing and cooking for my woman. Plain and simple.

As a sidenote: Valentine’s Day always seems like the greatest setup for a man, a setup for failure. Expectations always run too high and consumerism is king. Lucky for me my wife realizes these things and decided to keep things simple.

What have I been playing?

Besides the occasional game of Cartoon Wars – Gunner, I haven’t been doing too much on the gaming front. Just haven’t had time. With the Olympics on TV, a son that is growing too quickly, and a life needing to be lived, gaming has certainly taken a backseat lately. Fret not though dear readers, much more is to come on the horizon. Such as?

Goals for JohnnyBGamer:

  • Come up with a working definition, based on the DSM IV, for gaming addiction.
  • Focus articles on gaming addiction and raise level of awareness.
  • Write more reviews!
  • Recruit other writers to write for the site (regardless of belief).
  • And in the far future…
  • Setup a gaming tournament hosted by JBG.

Hopefully Monday is treating everyone well. If it isn’t, there is always tomorrow. So, take a deep breath. The day is almost over.

Spoils of War

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The seas of discount have been churning this holiday season with Steam’s Holiday Sale. So far, the deals have been relentless as has been my spending. I have successfully added the following to my virtual sea chest of games:

  • Knights of the Old Republic ($4.99) – Never could get into it on the Xbox so I thought I’d try again on the good ol’ PC.
  • Indigo Prophecy ($3.88?) – I am enjoying the storyline so far…however weird.
  • Republic Commando ($4.99) – I have always wanted to finish this game.
  • Torchlight ($4.99) – Amazing! Reminds me of late nights of Diablo 1.
  • Prey ($2.25) – Played the demo a long time ago… $2.25 seemed like a steal.
  • BioShock ($4.99) – Have not played yet but thought I was overdue for a decent into madness.

What spoils of war have you managed to obtain this holiday season?

Podcast Spotlight: The Geekbox

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The Geek Box LogoThe Geekbox reminds me of  dinner table conversations I’d often overhear while attending a small engineering college in Texas. Robots, Star Wars, and even dirigibles used as floating combat platforms were common topics of conversation. Sometimes I would find myself cringing at the depths of nerdiness being discussed; other times I would join these conversations and contribute to no end.

Much like those overheard conversations in college, The Geekbox often veers off course into morally questionable material due to different guests. I find this to be unfortunate as the rest of the podcast is of high (nerdy) quality. However, just as I would in college, sometimes it is best to leave the dinner table (ie: fast-forward) if things sink too low.

At the end of the day, The Geekbox is like coming home to a group of old friends you know and love, flaws and all.

Not perfect but highly recommended

 

Give them a listen (link will open iTunes).

Asheron’s Call Celebrates 10 Years

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Asheron's Call 10th Anniversary10 years ago, I stepped through the portal into the lands of Dereth. As a beta tester, I remember spending hours chatting with friends, watching sunsets/ the virtual sky, and adventuring forth into the unknown.  Asheron’s Call (AC) marked my first introduction to the world of the MMO.

In the years following AC’s launch, much has changed in the virtual landscape. EverQuest is no longer the reigning MMO champion, the Warcraft universe has expanded into World of Warcraft, and the sequel to Asheron’s Call, dubbed Asheron’s Call II, has come and gone.

With all the changes in the MMO landscape, Asheron’s Call is still the only game—to my knowledge—that features an allegiance system. This system introduces the unique concept of vassals and patrons. In this system, a vassal swears allegiance to a patron. The patron then acts as a protector, item giver, and basically a guild leader. The reward for being a patron equals a daily award of experience points based upon a small percentage of experience that the vassal makes while playing. The allegiance system ultimately encourages the formation of miniature kingdoms, much like guilds found in today’s more modern MMO.

Unlike a fine wine, MMO’s do not age well with time. MMO’s are all about refinement. Each new MMO takes (hopefully) the best ideas from what has come before and melds them together with new ideas. Sometimes this creative process works on an epic scale (World of Warcraft) and other times fails tragically (Star Wars Galaxies). In the end, I think we can all thank Asheron’s Call and developer Turbine for helping to blaze the trail to bigger, better, and more forgiving online experiences.

Happy 10 Years Asheron’s Call!

May ye die eventually and honorably.

Amen.

Have a memory from Asheron’s Call you’d like to share? Post in the comments.

To MMORPG Or Not To MMORPG, That Is The Question: Commandment 1

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To MMO or Not

Saying you’re thinking about trying out a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) is akin to saying, “I think I’ll start a crack addiction today.” Well, maybe its not all that bad. Certainly the media has overblown the woes of ex-Everquesters and WOW (World of Warcraft) fanatics who flushed their jobs or marriages down the toilet for more “raid time,” but there are a few things to consider before getting knee deep in all the virtual hack ‘n slash fun.

Being an ex-WOW addict, an ex-Everquest 2 addict, an ex-Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) addict, and a casual user of a myriad of other MMORPG’s has instilled in me certain commandments that should always be followed before shelling out that monthly fee…

.: The MMORPG Commandments :.

Commandment 1. Know Thy Parent Company and Its Track Record…

I don’t care how flashy the graphics are, or how much “phat lootz” may be attainable, if you don’t read up on the company that is producing the MMO, you are doing yourself a major disservice. Case and point: Star Wars Galaxies.

What started out as a wonderful rock solid “sandbox” type MMO became an uber turd fest within three years of its initial launch. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) realized it couldn’t support the innovative character classes, and instead of doing something logical (like hiring more designers and developers) they simply ditched half of their professions. Instead of listening to the growing tide of criticisms for this move on their official message boards they deleted and locked posts. As expansion packs were added, more and more bugs crept into the basic game play, many of which are still unresolved, and then right after their last major expansion, The Trials of Obi-Wan, they reworked the entire combat system and nerfed the remaining classes. These nerfs were given official names like “Combat Upgrade” and “New Game Enhancements.” When asked about these changes, Jon Smedley (henceforth known as Satan) simply replied, “We went for more iconic and Star-Warsy game play and characters.” Nowadays SWG is a wasteland only occasionally frequented by level 1 Jedis and retarded Wookies.

I’m not saying SOE is the worst online gaming company in the world but their less than stellar customer service and short term vision for games (i.e. little to no work being done on any IP except Everquest) has lost them many a customer. Reading up on the forums can save you a headache later on. Try, for fairly unbiased reviews.

Continue to Commandment 2

1985

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Flux1

“Years may seem so distant
Feels like a million miles
Troubles were nonexistent 1985.”

~ Roper, 1985

At the ripe old age of 28, I look back upon my childhood in the 1980’s with some measure of nostalgia. Family pictures show an era of bad hair, denim jackets, and Vision Streetwear skate shoes. As a kid I remember waking up every morning at 6 a.m. to watch my favorite cartoon shows. Thundercats, Voltron, and the Transformers ruled my morning television. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, however, was a show that was not welcomed in my parent’s home. (Retrospect shows I didn’t miss the poorly made action figures from the show.) Little to my knowledge the Cold War was still raging. Star Wars, Space Station Freedom, and other Reagan-era programs were in full swing. My world was simplified by the four walls of my families’ home. Life was good and yet reality was quietly pounding at the door. Troubles were nonexistent…

I would venture to guess that most of us look back upon our childhood as a time when life was good and summer would never end. Days spent making mud pies, building ramps, and combating the evil menace known as the opposite sex (parents didn’t count!). For others, the era of childhood was a time which couldn’t end any sooner. Family complications, fights at school, and personal freedom just couldn’t keep some of us from wishing to be grown up.

Flash forward to the present and where do we find ourselves? The protection of our parents has finally begun to wane and the world has started its assault. Mixed moral messages, important life decisions, and blatant consumerism tell us that we have to keep up with those around us. Money is everything. How hollow does that statement ring to you?

As I grow older I find that relationships with actual human beings are everything in life. More and more, age has caused me to experience the seemingly inhuman concepts of tragedy and death. My awareness of people suffering around me grows with age. This suffering has always been going on, even in the 80’s, but youth makes one oblivious to such things. Relationships, history, knowing and learning from others, these are the things that matter. Life is certainly a vapor.

The American way of life is fast paced and easy to get caught up in. Sometimes we need to step back and reevaluate our lives. No one will remember you for the promotion you received at work, the money earned over your lifetime, nor the glories and accolades you received while doing so. In the end, people will remember how you lived your everyday life. Where you nice? Generous? Mean? God-fearing? Friend? Neighbor? What legacy are you trying to lead/ leave? Thoughts to ponder.