Every Once In A While

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It’s typically hard for me to brag much about myself and my accomplishments. I have accomplished much, and am proud of my achievements, but I really don’t toot my horn too much.

Today, though, I have to say that I’m exceptionally proud of what we’ve put together over at The Portable Gamer. Not on my own, of course, as it’s a team effort, but I looked at the site tonight and felt genuine pride of ownership, pride of effort, and pride of belonging.

We’ve taken a little nothing bit of cyber data, and turned it into something that supports independent developers and quality, thoughtful reviews and community discussion about portable games. These aren’t your big company, triple a titles coming out for the Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo corporate megacrushes (though we do want to expand our coverage to more of those companies’ portable offerings), but iPhone games, for the most part.

These games are typically created, marketed, and loved by independent developers and small publishing houses. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, as always. As the platform matures, more and more big names get into the game, so to speak. But it’s still these little one-or-two-person teams that just thrill me to be a part of telling people about.

There’s married couples putting out games, there’s one guy developers who take their spare time at night, away from families and friends, to code and design and build these fantastic little apps. They take us away from our daily routine on the bus or subway, spare us the monotony of the bank line or dentist waiting room. These sometimes quirky, sometimes amateurish, always loveable little games have become special to me, as has the site that we work on to get the word out.

Looking at the site tonight, for example, I see a review about a Curling game, not your typical handheld experience, for sure. I see some witty and well written commentary about SimCity, an EA Mobile title, sure, but a quality game port of a beloved series of games. I see a rhapsodic fugue about LIttle Red Sled, my latest love of a gaming app. What I see there is what I do not see on many of the other app review sites, no matter how polished or ad supported: I see love. I see a free banner ad or two for developers who have become friends, who’ve shared their joy with us. I see the iCasual Report, the brainchild of an ever-enthusiastic and friendly game-app lover from the other side of the country from me, who continues to grow and review, and expand.

Best of all, I see the original vision of what Jason allowed me to participate in last August: a gaming web site that did it differently, from the heart, not just the brain.

And, dammit, I want to continue to see it. I don’t care if the site makes us a little extra cash or someday pays some full time employees (well, I do care, but not to the point of stress): this is and will continue to be a labor of love, conventional wisdom be damned. I refuse to believe that I need to push the site into the square holse of gaming journalism. If I want to rave on about the musical score of a tiny little $2 game, well, by golly, I’m gonna. I believe our readers respond to our passion, joy, and love.

I hope you get a chance to head over to ThePortableGamer.com, spend some time looking at reviews, reading about our Grand Opening giveaways, listening to our fantastically personal and intimate iCasual Report, join in the conversations, and feel the love. Because, trust me, it’s there.

Too Many Games

This is something that I only have a few thoughts on, but it’s been brought about by a couple of things. One is a voicemail I left on Jason’s Mental Doodles podcast, the other a meme-like admonishment that I’ve been hearing in the ludodecahedron and the brainy gamer podcast/blog.

First off, I left a voicemail about the way we consume games currently in the media, enthusiast press, and in my own life. There’s always a new, better, bigger game out there to try. The publishers want us addicted to the spice flow, so to speak, so that they can sell us and our friends and the rental companies lots and lots of videogames.

Secondly, Michael Abbot continually mentions his “chew your food” metaphor for consuming games. It’s a reminder to slow down, enjoy the game, stop rushing through in the quest to “beat” it.

So, yeah, the Holidays of 2008 were a flood of new game releases. The games on my radar were all equally deserving of my purchase: from Gears of War 2 to Far Cry 2 to Fallout 3, each game is a big triple-A title. I don’t have a spare $180 each time this happens, though, and I had just bought Halo 3 to play with my buddies online, who had already moved on to Gears 2 when i finally got the game. Ugh.

So, I got to be part of the conversation about a game I truly enjoyed, but I didn’t get to be a part of the conversation about other games. This is not a huge loss, and doesn’t make my family starve or anything. It’s just a sad, upper middle class privileged whine, I suppose.

But see, that’s just the thing. As I attain more and more disposable income, I dispose more and more of it on things like videogames. I now have the good fortune of a PSP, a DS, a Wii, an iPhone, and an XBox 360. That’s quite a bit. I’m starting to feel like a childhood friend of mine who always had way more toys than I did: a bit overwhelmed and jaded.

When we have too many things, as my childhood friend did, each individual thing becomes less valuable to us. That’s my thought. The more of any one thing I have, be it comic books, or novels, or CDs, or MP3s — the less each individual piece becomes to me. And I experience that sadly. I recall the very first few SF novels I read as a young adult. Each one is still precious to me. I can recall their titles, authors, etc. Not so the ones I read now, as a general rule. As I read more and more books like this, the individual ones blur and aggregate in my mind.

The more games I have to play, the less I play any of them. This feels like a corollary to the above. Right now, I have a game collection that would be called paltry by any serious gamer, but geeze, there’s only so many hours in the day. I spend many of them not with a videogame. Most of the free time I do have needs to be split across other things, including TV, movies, books, music, knitting, and lazing about. I am able to horn in some gaming time with my kids, especially with the more active games like Rockband and WiiSports/WiiFit.

But when I look at my whole gaming collection, I realize that I still have too many of them to reasonably play. Starting with the handhelds, I’m playing the following:

  • The World Ends With You
  • Chains Of Olympus
  • Crisis Core
  • Mother 3 (soon, I hope)
  • RockBand 2
  • WiiFit (becomes my workout for some days)
  • No More Heroes
  • Raving Rabbids (kids love this WAY more on the Wii than they ever did on the 360)
  • Beyond Good & Evil
  • World Of Goo
  • So, that’s eight games that I’m actively involved in playing. I maybe get 5 hours per week or so to just play games. You do the math.

    Here’s a list of the games I’ve TRIED to play in the past year or so and have not finished:

    • (all of the above games)
    • Assassin’s Creed
    • Halo 3
    • Oblivion
    • Eternal Sonata (what?! I like music!)
    • Final Fantasy 4
    • Chrono Trigger
    • Wii Music

    Here are the games I’ve actually finished:

    • Gears of War 2
    • Mass Effect
    • BioShock

    Kinda says something, doesn’t it. About myself, obviously, but I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this. I think it says more about our culture, our relative wealth, and the promotional machine.

    It’s only recently that I’ve been turned on to older games, through sites like Good Old Games and The Vintage Game Club. I’m really enjoying the gameplay and the conversations. A small part of me still thinks, “but the new games are passing me by!” Most of me, however, is perfectly fine to focus my energies and time on games that resonate with ME, rather than with the enthusiast or professional games press.

    So, I guess I’m just saying, take your time. I’m giving myself permission to do the same. I’m enjoying the hell out of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 1 and 2 on the internet. It’s older, and I may not keep up with current shows I’d like to because of it, but that’s ok. It’s my choice and the choice is a good one.

    It’s also ok to turn off the screens, pick up a book, go outside for a ski, rock our socks off in a real live band, or sit on the couch with a knitting project. In fact, it’s imperative to find that balance. It’s my choice and the choice is a good one.