Saturday, April 23, 2016

Waiting for Zigmo: A Far Cry from Fatherhood?

Depending on who you ask, my son was supposed to have been born yesterday, or is supposed to be born tomorrow. My wife Sarah is tired of lugging around the equivalent of a bowling ball in her tummy and I’ve got a limited paternity leave that I’m burning through, so I’d rather he pop out soon, too.

But Zigmo – our nickname for the baby – ain’t movin’. So neither are Mom and Dad, I guess.

How does a dad-to-be kill time? Far Cry 4, obviously. But that’s not just because I’m the kind of guy who knows more about Gameboy than Game of Thrones, and prefers NBA Jam to March Madness. Far Cry 2 was the last game I played before getting married, and the first game I finished upon getting back from the honeymoon. When I found out my wife was pregnant, it was with an Xbox 360 controller in my hand and Far Cry 3 paused in the living room. So on the day my son was supposed to be born, playing Far Cry 4 just made sense to me.

On April 22 at around 11 a.m., I began waiting for Zigmo the only way that would keep me sane. After an interesting-but-flimsy set up involving a Joker-like villain and an urn full of Mom’s ashes, I found myself drinking in the lush, dangerous scenery of Far Cry 4’s Kyrat. I had but a peashooter and sack of blood drenched venison to protect my fragile, fragile hiney.

At 12:30 p.m., Sarah headed to lunch with my aunt and grab a few things from Babies ‘R’ Us, in hopes of walking ‘till the baby fell out, I guess. Meanwhile, in Kyrat, I had already spent $500,000 rupees on various upgrades. But even with my new, shiny weaponry, I still get my ass handed to be by the odd tiger or lucky potshot.

Games like the Far Cry series are a little bit like life. You start out naked and afraid, and after some hard work, you think you’re hot stuff. Then you get your spirt broken. Maybe you fail a test or you get dumped. Or maybe you get ruthlessly gunned down by a despot’s hired goons in a forgotten, war-torn country located someplace between Mount Everest and Hell.

Forget changing diapers – the thought of going through school again, of discovering that sometimes you have to let your dreams die – that’s what’s really horrifying. Who wants to find out that they have a degree in something they can’t stand? Who wants to worry about their parents having enough money to keep their house? Zigmo’s gonna have to do all of that and more. If he’s going to go through all this garbage, why did we want to have a kid anyway?

It was 3 p.m. and I got a trophy for painting my handgun to look like an NES Zapper. My wife came home about an hour later, no closer to giving birth than when she left. At that point, I was a full-fledged member of the Golden Path, the group of counter terrorists looking to wrest the control of Kyrat from the fabulously dressed dictator, Pagan Min.

I can’t remember when I started playing again, but by 9 p.m., I discovered that I could ride elephants. I picked one I was particularly fond of and named him Stampy, like the episode of The Simpsons where Bart gets an elephant. I think it’s called “Bart Gets an Elephant.” Stampy and I got a trophy for running over 30 bad guys. Stampy is a good little ele.

The next day around 1 p.m., Sarah headed out again, this time to eat spicy wings at Chilli’s, presumably to smoke Zigmo out. There I was, alone with my thoughts and about 2,000 bad guys (and just as many bugs).

I'd say he's walking on sunshine, but it's midnight. 

Over the next few hours, I went swimming in clear blue lake on the back of an elephant, climbed the snowcapped mountains, and flew a tiny, one-man helicopter to the top of a rickety tower, where I hijacked the region’s radio signal for my loser friend, DJ Rabi Ray Rana. I defended the innocent, rummaged around underwater caves for treasure, and earned a trophy for stopping the corrupt king’s men from taking over our bases.

I also exploded four baddies at once. They gave me a trophy for that, too.

At the top of one of those radio towers, I stopped for a minute and listened to the wind, just like I used to do on summer nights at my parents’ house. I used to play video games until 3 a.m. with the windows open and the wind whistling, and then take a walk around my neighborhood. One of the things I liked most about Nowhere, N.Y. was the stillness and the stars in the sky right before the sun came up. If I waited another hour or two, there was a good chance a hot air balloon would appear in the distance, a far cry from my neighborhood, and it would be floating over my house 20 minutes later. Sometimes I would chase them down on foot and take pictures with my little camera. Once in a while, they would land in my neighborhood and I’ll step outside and meet the pilot, all before Mom and Dad were even awake.

The first time I got to ride in a hot air balloon was when I asked my wife to marry me. By the end of the ride we could almost see my parents’ house.

What makes the Far Cry series worth playing, and life worth living, are the small things. The world can be cruel and there’s a ton of garbage I never, ever want to do again, like student teaching, lending thousands I’ll never get back to a deadbeat ex, or sitting though anything starring Adam Sandler. But I’m still looking forward to those little things yet to come, like making Zigmo laugh, dressing him in stupid outfits when Mommy’s not looking, and teaching him to appreciate the gaming classics before the new stuff turns him into a crybaby.

And I hope that for Ziggy, memories of the little things, like playing Super Mario with Daddy, will help get him through the breakups, the disappointments, and the nights where the room just won’t stop spinning.

It was around 8 p.m. that Sarah and I realized that we didn’t have anything for dinner, so I switched off Far Cry 4 and headed to Shoprite with her, but not before snapping this photo of a villager hanging out somewhere in Kyrat. Despite living in a world where she could be eaten by dogs or accidently blown up by a player with a poor grasp of the game’s controls, she couldn’t care less. It was a nice day and she was out for a walk. Anything that might come her way, she would just deal with it.


Whatever comes our way with our son, we’ll just deal with it. And we’ll give him the tools to grow up strong so he can deal with it too.

We just have to get him out first. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

‘PlayStation Home’-less: A Brief Reflection, One Year Later

Today marks a year since Sony pulled the plug on PlayStation Home, a bizarre social experiment/virtual world that all PlayStation 3 owners were invited to explore. 

Well, technically it was shut down on March 31, 2015. But in some time zones, like mine, it bled into the early morning of April 1.

I guess March 31 is a popular date to kill antiquated PlayStation games: Square Enix finally shut down the PS2 version of Final Fantasy XI yesterday, March 31, 2016.

Anyway, Home was deemed pointless by most players during its seven years of operation, yet it was inexplicably enjoyed by millions, maybe even tens, of players.

I’ve written about Home extensively in the past, chronicling the heyday and the final days, hours, and moments of the doomed MMO, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. But I will say that the sadness over Home’s closure eventually gave way to acceptance, and then finally, a pleasant kind of nostalgia. Dreading something is almost worse than it happening. And when it finally does happen, the healing process can begin. That’s one last lesson PlayStation Home had left to give me, I suppose.

I’m reminded of a line from the 1968 Disney flick, Herbie the Love Bug: “A wise man once said, ‘When you come to [the] last page, close the book.’”

It’s time to close the book again on the weird, wonderful world of PlayStation Home. But in the name of nostalgia, here’s one last picture. Taken in the summer of 2010, it’s how I choose to remember Home. That’s part of the healing process too, I suppose: remembering the past not as it was all the time, but how it was during the good times. 

And sometimes, you just gotta move on.