Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Video Game Idiots

For years I’ve been significantly behind the video gaming curve. As a child, when the original Nintendo Entertainment System was released and kids across the world were boinging away through levels of Mario and up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-select-starting their way through Contra, the Brigham family was not allowed to have the electronic bringer of joy. We, instead, were forced to do things like play outside. Lame, right?

It’s not that Kyle and I didn’t want the NES; we really, really did. We begged our parents for one with the fervor of starving French Revolution Era peasants grasping onto the boot-strings of nobility for food. But time and again our guardians turned us away, denying us that food (in a metaphorical sense, of course).

Eventually a compromise occurred and my grandmother bought a Nintendo for use at her place, about which my folks didn’t argue. When this happened, my brother and I began a lifelong split that still exists to this day: he was very, very good at video games, and alas, I was not.

From that point on, Kyle’s affinity for gaming grew in leaps and bounds as the technology got significantly more impressive with each passing year. He learned to love the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox like children, watching them grow up and become increasingly more violent and sexual.

I, however, got more and more frustrated as the games grew progressively more complex and the system controllers kept getting more buttons. The good ol’ NES pad had a four-way movement control pad, an “A” button, and a “B” button. The modern incarnation of the Xbox—affectionately named “The 360”—has more buttons than China has single-child families.

So even though I used to love playing the simplistic Tecmo Super Bowl on Nintendo, I’ve had a hard time for years adjusting to the most recent Madden games. There’s too much to do, too many buttons to push, too many things to watch and colors to consider. And I understand I sound like my grandmother when the original Nintendo came out, but I don’t care. These games have been too hard to be interesting, so I quit on them. Just like that.

The only way anyone could get me to play a video game was by a.) blowing on the back of an old NES cartridge and getting the Nintendo to actually work, or b.) the newfangled system supported an NBA game so I could dingle around with the rosters.

Video gaming life as I knew it changed a few weeks ago, however, as a Nintendo Wii remote was placed into my hand for the first time. There were simple buttons, simple games, and no headaches/seizures/aneurisms. Bowling was fun. Baseball was fun. Golf was fun. Tennis was extremely fun. By the time I was done running around and swinging that remote back and forth for a couple hours I had sweat pouring down my face in fat, streaky droplets

I thought, why don’t they hand out these things to fat kids who don’t want to exercise, yet still desire playing video games? It would be revolutionary! (And in fact, studies have shown a number of health advantages to playing the Wii).

Anyway, the moral of the story is that Amy and I chipped in and bought a Wii. Now, she finds herself struggling with the Wii Sports games while I have excelled, especially in Tennis and Baseball, where my point levels have classified me as a Professional.

You read that correctly. A Professional.

We’re well aware that there are some really hard games out there, too, but we like that some things—Monkey Ball, Mario Party, and many others—are easy enough for any old idiot to figure out. That’s what Amy and I are. Video game idiots. I love my Tecmo Super Bowl, and she’s a Tetris Attack savant, but the next generation of consoles has always intimidated both of us.

Until now.

Does this mean my brother and I have a point of bonding now, after years of separation on this front of life? Absolutely. Does this mean that I’m back “in the game,” so to speak? Darn tootin’. Does this mean that Amy might rescind her “yes” and decide not to marry me because of jealousy spawned from the fact that I’m a professional Wii tennis player and she’s not? It’s very likely. Video games caused a rift between Kyle and I for years; I assume Amy and I are next.

Until then, though, we’re enjoying our internet-equipped Wii. We have the option of downloading all those old games we used to play, so even if this system gets as goofy and difficult as all the others, we’ll have something to fall back on, with plenty of old NES games downloaded to our Wii hard drive.

And we won’t even have to blow into the cartridge to play them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Buy Me Some Peanuts

Team loyalties are an interesting thing (for example, check out Bill Simmons’s rules here, #’s 18-20), and after a week spent enjoying some of the finer baseball seats of my life, I can confidently say that I’m so very glad to be a White Sox fan.

Amy and I decided that, with the summer running out faster than Julio Franco’s career, we’d spend our remaining days enjoying some live professional baseball. The fragrant summer breezes at the ball park carry fresh cut grass and warm steam from the centers of all-beef kosher hot dogs, while eager kids point out their favorite players and pleadingly offer their baseballs for autographs.

It’s just such a positive, relaxing experience, lounging in the stands two hours before the first pitch just to watch the guys shag balls and hit batting practice, and that’s exactly what Amy and I did last Wednesday when we drove up to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago to take in a Sox game.

But we got way more than we paid for.

The following is a list of awesomeness that occurred during our White Sox experience. Allow me to indulge:

1. We received free vintage White Sox t-shirts.
2. Amy got her new pink Sox cap signed by Chicago third basemen Josh Fields.
3. Our seats were awesome.
4. The game went thirteen innings.
5. I was inches from snagging a foul ball. For the record, an older broad to our left ended up with it after it bounced off my hand. Amy could’ve snatched it, but she ducked. Mostly, I blame her.
6. In the eighth inning, some guy ran onto the field in flip-flops like a streaker at a soccer game and waved his free t-shirt over his head, except he actually did have clothes on. But he was drunk and funny and dodging all the security guards, so it was immensely pleasurable.
7. Two for the price of one hot dogs.
8. Amy is awesome to watch baseball with because she knows what she’s watching, she’ll cheer because she appreciates the game, and she can even throw a ball like a dude. I should probably marry her or something.
9. A walk-off home run by Juan Uribe in the bottom of the 13th for a White Sox win.

Need I say more?

The not awesome part of the experience was these two extremely annoying Latina preteens sitting right behind us. They kept yelling at Scott Podsednik (Ray Liotta? Does anyone else see it?), either to get his attention or to try my patience, not sure which. Their voices were so piercing and frustrating that Amy and I kept looking back at them to give stern teacher looks. Whenever we did though, they’d just giggle and start making fun of us in Spanish. Amy probably would’ve slapped one of them on the mouth if she were guaranteed not to lose her job as a fourth grade teacher.

Otherwise, though, it rocked. Sox fans are rowdy, blue collar people from an extremely diverse cultural palette, which makes the experience enjoyable for a guy like me. Patrons yell at the players during the game as if they know them: “Come on, Bobby! You can put these idiots away! Send these jerks back to Cleveland!” When the team loses, the concourse on the way out of the stadium may as well be a morgue. Everyone’s extremely bent out of shape and crabby, and the visiting team’s fans better not say anything taunting lest they be shot by gun or crossbow. I seriously love the south side of Chicago.

That Friday, Amy and I continued our baseball exodus by heading south to see her team of choice, the St. Louis Cardinals. We sat 12 rows behind the visitors’ dugout, easily the greatest seats of my life.

Once again, there were free t-shirts (tremendous), but this game ended with the home team losing in rather dramatic fashion, and the food was about 40% more expensive. Also, there wasn’t an awesome Mexican guy running out onto the field in flip-flops, alluding security.

But hey, you can’t win ‘em all, right?

The biggest difference I noticed was that while White Sox fans are a very eclectic collection of white people, black people, and Latinos, Cardinals fans are primarily of Caucasian descent—and they aren’t as verbally angry as Sox fans, either. They also take losing incredibly well; as we left the ball park after the game, everyone heading out the gates was still ho-humming and moving on with their night. I didn’t even see a kid that looked mildly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. Cardinals fans are die-hard people; I just think they’re a little calmer, probably because they’ve won the second-most World Series in MLB history. So many other teams have had much worse success over the years and are therefore significantly less patient. (The Cubs would be a good example of this. Remember that time the Cubs didn’t win a World Series in like 100 years? Remember that? Amy and I do. Ah, the memories). Plus St. Louis is still on its honeymoon from winning the 2006 title, so how can anyone be all that angry?

The bottom line is that I like my fiery, blue-collar White Sox better than the uppity, expensive Busch Stadium atmosphere, though I will say that both experiences were pretty sent me home deeply content with my evenings. It’s hard not to love baseball, no matter who you cheer for. Deep down though, I can only really put my full heart into rooting for the Sox. That’s just where my loyalties lie.

And now I’ve got a craving for more two for one hot dogs—anyone up for a game next week?