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Archive for the tag “games”

THE BOY OF SUMMER: “HENRY RULES” BASEBALL

Image result for calvinball

Remember “Calvinball”?

That was one of the games Bill Watterson’s comic strip character Calvin played with his stuffed tiger Hobbes. The mail rule to Calvinball was, basically, that there are no rules. Lately, with nice weather returning to the Midwest, my boy has been wanting to play outside more and more. Specifically, he wants to play “baseball”. His version of baseball, though, is not your mother’s national pastime. Or yours.

I’m no jock. Never played little league. But I know the basics of baseball and I can throw a ball halfway decently. I’ve tried teaching H the basics of the game. He’s got no time for that, though. I’ve learned that when H says he wants to play “baseball”, I should just strap in and hold on tight. It’s gonna get bumpy. Also, I lose a lot of games, being strapped in like that.

Anyway, I’ve tried to decipher just what exactly are the rules of what H calls: “HENRY RULES BASEBALL”. Since your kid maybe plays, or would like to play something similar, I’m setting them down here for you to study. Not that that will do any good. if your kid is like mine, he or she will have no time for listening to you.

Anyway, for the records: Here are the rules, such as they are…

THE EQUIPMENT:

Henry Rules Baseball 42415

Henry Rules Baseball is a study in minimalist athletics. No aluminum bats. no baseballs. No gloves. No batting helmets. All you need is a small plastic wiffle bat and a grapefruit-sized spiky, rubber pink ball. In a pinch, a semi-deflated grapefruit-sized basketball will do…but it’s just not the same. And don’t even think of suggesting using an actual wiffle ball with the wiffle bat. If you do, well, clearly you don’t understand the concept of Henry Rules Baseball.

BATTING:  In Henry Rules Baseball, if you choose to bat the whole game, compelling your opponent to remain as pitcher and outfield the whole time, go right ahead. The concepts of strike, ball, and foul play a part in Henry Rules Baseball, but the concepts are…fluid. Getting a “hit” doesn’t necessarily require that the bat make contact with the ball. And not hitting the ball as it approaches the plate doesn’t necessarily constitute a “strike”. Unless it does. The “strike zone” is nonexistent.  You want to throw a ball at the batter, go ahead. Don’t like it? Then quit. Unless Henry won’t let you. Then you can’t.

FIELDING:  Since “strike” is, um, loosely defined, three strikes doesn’t necessarily mean the batter is out. Tagging someone out can be by throwing the ball at the runner and hitting him with it. Unless it requires you to make personal contact. Also, if you try to tag by throwing the ball and miss, then the runner is free to grab the ball himself and tag you out. Being “safe” on base means the runner stopped wherever he decided the base was. Henry Rules Baseball has no time or inclination to use actual bases. If you want actual bases, go play old people baseball, you boring adult. An automatic home run occurs whenever the batter decides he feels like running the bases unfettered. Home runs can be earned the hard way too, though it doesn’t really matter since no one’s really keeping score.

And that last thing might be m favorite part about Henry Rules Baseball. I’m all for competition and games and all that. But sometimes, I just want to play with my kid and have fun. We live in a world dominated by a lot of rules nd even more people telling us what they think the rules should be. For all its peculiarities, on its own terms, Henry Rules Baseball is just fun.

Thank you for that, Henry. Play ball!

BOOKSTORES: SPENDING TIME WITH AN AILING FRIEND

I had occasion recently to spend a long time wandering my local big name bookstore. This is normally something I really like to do and this time was no different. Still…something was off.

It was a busy Friday afternoon. Lots of people coming in: seniors, college kids, teens, children and their parents. They were everywhere: fiction, non fiction, science fiction, kid’s books, videos. All departments were hopping. One teenager spent FOREVER in the graphic novel section. Yay! A book and mortar bookstore thrives!

But here’s the thing…

No one was buying.

Well, a few people did.

Not many though.

And nobody even looked at the guy manning the e-book reader counter.

There were a couple other, bored-looking employees at the registers. One of them, desperate for something to do, kept shuffling over to straighten books.

At the help desk, a Scottish-sounding gentleman was asking about books on, appropriately enough, Scottish law. The man was there a really long time, looking more and more defeated and the employees on the phone and computer were becoming more and more exasperated. If that guy gave up and left and got on the Internet, he’d probably find what he wanted in no time. And the store would lose a sale. But that’s exactly what was going to happen.

It struck me there had to be a better way. How cool would it be if instead of just the hourly employee who happens to work in the store because she likes books, the store had a real-life librarian on staff? I mean a professional researcher with access to phones and computers and knowledge who could then give the customer a list of potential titles. The service would be free. If the title was available for sale by this retailer, great. If not, well, a little free advice makes goodwill that could become a sale later.

But they didn’t do that. I actually don’t know what happened with the Scottish guy, but I suspect he bought elsewhere. And the employees shrugged. Oh well.

Except not, “oh well.” “Oh, well,” makes stores go out of business. Bookstores these days are nothing more than a warehouse for books; big rooms with shelving and overpriced coffee. Problem is, lots of customers can make pretty good coffee at home for less and you can’t find cheaper shelving than on the Internet. Bookstores have a problem and, as far as I can tell, they aren’t doing much to fix it.

The customer who has a specific need, like my Scottish friend (Sorry, I just really like the accent. Also, it makes me think of David Tennant, which makes me think of “Doctor Who”, and I get all happy.) is one problem. As for the more casual browser, like me that Friday afternoon, the tactile book experience is a point in favor of brick and mortar, but there were many times that day when I was looking at a book and suddenly missing being able to get “extra features” like I could on the Internet – reviews, author interviews, whatever – right there and then before I buy. Some bookstores (not this one!) have terminals so customers can search book inventory. Why not set up touch pads around the store to give us access to that other stuff? A lot of bookstore websites already have those things on there. Just give us a way to see it in your physical store too. That would make me more inclined to buy now rather than hold off to order later from someone else.

Despite the chatter of (non-buying) customers, the store felt really quiet. Wouldn’t it be great – or at least arouse curiosity – if there was a book reading going on in one corner by an author, a fan, young or old? Maybe some local actors could stage a scene in another corner. You can’t get that online. You COULD get it in stores.

But they don’t do that either.

And I’m starting to notice it more.

The store’s board game section seems to have expanded over time. It may sound like heresy, but I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad thing. Games are fun, challenging, a good way to interact with other actual humans. Why couldn’t  bookstore host a game night? Or events where new games are introduced? The Geek & Sundry site sponsors a web-based show called Tabletop hosted by actor Wil Wheaton. Each episode features a new board game with a brief explanation how to play it and then you can watch people do just that. Sounds boring (I was skeptical too), but turns out it’s a lot of fun to watch. Why couldn’t bookstores do something like that? Gets people in the store. That’s the goal, right?

You’re my friend, bookstore. I don’t like to see you suffer. Please take care of yourself. For all of us.

ATARI TURNS 40

This past week, ATARI turned 40. You remember ATARI, right? Pong? Space Invaders? Donkey Kong? That last one featured a then unknown plumber named Mario who, of course, still lives on in the Nintendo Wii world, whereas the ATARI’s Pitfall Harry is rasslin’ gators down south somewhere for beer money.

ATARI doesn’t do much anymore, I don’t think. After the blockbuster ATARI 2600 (I still have mine) became obsolete in the 80’s – Coleco Vision I suppose crippled it, PC gaming rendered it comatose, and the original Nintendo 64 pulled the (literal) plug – they tried some other consoles, some hand-held stuff. Nothing endurred. Now I suppose they just coast on fandom, licensing characters for the Wii and such. Ever increasing numbers of gamers just don’t remember.

But when ATARI was big, it was HUGE. I was a pre-teen/early teen then. I had never seen, nor ever expected again to see, something so cool. So did everyone, young and old. People would choose to stay home on Friday nights and crowd around the TV to play with these little bloops and blips on the TV. This was sci-fi made real in an era when no one had smartphones, and almost no one had personal computers.

And people loved it. “YOU MEAN I CAN PLAY PAC-MAN AT HOME?!?!?! WITHOUT PLUGGING THE MACHINE WITH QUARTERS?!?!?! OHMIGOD!?!?!” Thanks to the clunky “joystick” controller, you could get tennis elbow AND carpal tunnel without ever leaving the couch.

I was good at Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Frogger. I was pretty good at Pitfall and Berserk and Combat. But my game was Megamania. It was an amped-up version of Space Invaders. But where Space Invaders had neat columns of relentless, but predictable, aliens marching from top of the screen to the bottom, Megamania was CHAOS. Aliens swarming from everywhere; or so it seemed until you figured out each invading fleet’s pattern. WHICH I DID. Muscle memory controlled the joystick and I went along for the ride. I routinely scored in the MILLIONS. Twelve-year-old me was saving the universe; better, I WAS SAVING THE UNVIVERSE. Man, I loved that game.

But now, to today’s gamers, ATARI games are antiques. I’ve had lots of PC computer games. A Playstation. A Wii. I appreciate the detailed graphics and intricate gameplay. The games back in ATARI’s day were crude and confined by the limits of the technology. But although they had simpler objectives, they weren’t necessarily less fun. They were easier to learn, but not necessarily less challenging.

If you wanted whimsical fun, there was Frogger (even the little guy getting squished was funny) and that one circus game where the little stick people would plummet comically if you weren’t careful. If you wanted to blow shit up, there was Combat, Megamania, Berserk, and others.

I don’t have a problem with today’s games. I’m just nostalgic, I guess. Today’s video games just aren’t the same.

You never forget your first.

Thank you for all the good times. Happy birthday, ATARI.

DINOCALYPSE NOW by Chuck Wendig – My Review

For my first book review on the blog, I really wanted to write something profound about the state of modern literature, the power of the written word. I chose for my first review DINOCALYPSE NOW by Chuck Wendig. Here’s my sophisticated review:

This book is fun.

F-U-N

DINOCALYPSE NOW is written in the style of a 1930’s pulp novel. Inspired by the Spirit of the Century role-playing game from Evil Hat Productions, the book features the heroes of the Century Club defending FDR, and ultimately all of time and space, from extinction at the hands of dinosaurs, psychic dinosaurs, and warrior apes.

Here’s what I like most about this book. I’ve never played the game on which it is based (though it sounds awesome), but I still totally get the appeal. It feels like my childhood toy box full of action figures splayed out on the page of a book. I was a HUGE action figure kid: Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman, Superman, GI Joe, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Zorro, Indiana Jones, Dukes of Hazard, The Love Boat. (Yes, Love Boat action figures really existed. And I had some. Don’t judge me.)

Did I mention the book has psychic dinosaurs?

What does a kid with a box full of action figures do? Dump them all out and make them battle it out for supremacy over the whole family room/yard/backyard pool/bench seat in the back of the conversion van on family vacations. I even staged a battle once while on a fishing boat in Canada.

The cast list could have been drawn directly from my childhood favorites. Consider:

Flyboy Mack Silver = Han Solo

Fix-it queen Sally Slick = Kaylee from “Firefly” (not from my childhood, but the best comparison I can think of)

Amelia Stone = Princess Leia

Benjamin Hu = Zorro

Professor Khan = Ape from “George of the Jungle”

Jet Black = Luke Skywalker

And not just the Centurions. This book has an army of evil apes. Time travel. An old wizard dude who controls all of that time. Marauding neanderthals. And, oh what the hell, the Lost City of Atlantis shows up too.

So as I read about Mack Silver piloting his plane “Lucy” through a flock of soaring dinosaurs, I imagined The Love Boat’s Yeoman Purser Burl “Gopher” Smith piloting Bobba Fett’s ship through a long ago battle for supremacy over my living room. I’m right there again, an eight-year-old Centurion grappling with my own dinocalypse.

Thanks for the memories, Chuck.

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