Shall We Play A Game?

“Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.” — Steven Wright

One of the problems with usually being busy is that it means that I don’t have enough time for games. At various times in my life I’ve been more interested in games than others. For example, I’ve had friends who were into games of chance. I joined two friends for a night at a casino once, and while my luck wasn’t very good it was worth it as the price of admission into a different world. Nowadays that sort of thing is all over the Internet too, of course. The U.S. government and its various state subsidiaries would rather Americans didn’t gamble online, but of course millions do anyway. Fortunately there are are great sites for online gaming in Europe and other places that are willing to offer people the fun that they actually want.

I really liked stand up video games when I was a kid, way back when not only were there still arcades, but all the games inside were playable for a quarter. I didn’t really get into video gaming at home, I liked some of those games, especially the Civilization series, and a few others like it. In fact Civilization is one of the few things I sort of miss having been on Linux for so long. There are people who get the Windows versions of the game running just fine on Linux using WINE, and I’ve thought about it, but not only would it take a while to get all of that configured, once I’d succeeded I know myself well enough to realize I’d spend way too many hours getting all my roads converted to railroads, or trying to take key cities from the evil Babylonians next door. Better to avoid temptation!

When I was a kid, and intermittently ever since, I’ve found the time for role playing games. I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons ever since its first edition, and as an old hand at it I come down firmly in favor of Pathfinder as opposed to Hasbro’s disastrous fourth edition. My friends at the time and I played a number of lesser known ones as well, Paranoia, Shadowrun, and my all time favorite, Space: 1889, which offered a Victorian science fiction setting where the invention of ether flyers allowed the British Empire and its rivals to vie for influence throughout the swamps of Venus and beside the canals of Mars.

Getting back to playing cards, this one is actually pretty special to me, because the boys and I literally have our own game. Called BattleCards, it’s sort of like those collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh in terms of strategy and game mechanics, but it uses a normal deck of cards instead of custom cards that you have to keep buying and buying and buying to remain a competitive player. I more or less designed it over a long period of time, and the boys have helped me playtest it. Anyone who like those sorts of games really ought to check it out.

Also in the low tech area are board games, and the two that see the most action in my house are Risk and its grown up alternative, Axis & Allies. After all, if you’re going to play a board game, the fate of the world may as well be at stake! And then there’s Scrabble, which Adella got me into long ago, and while it may not seem to offer similar stakes to global domination, it’s still taken very seriously in my house. After all, if you’re playing me at Scrabble, it’s your word against mine, and really, what could be more intriguing?

Body Surfing

“Surfing soothes me, it’s always been a kind of Zen experience for me. The ocean is so magnificent, peaceful, and awesome. The rest of the world disappears for me when I’m on a wave.” — Paul Walker

Waves III
I recently spent a few days at the beach with the kids, and the older boys and I engaged in one of our favorite seaside activities, body surfing. If you’ve never done this, it’s when you’re out a ways into the sea, just past where waves are cresting as them come into shore. If you start swimming at just the right time with a wave that’s shaped in just the right way, it will pick you up and carry you all the way in.

Obviously, this uses the same principle that surfing with a board does. And sure enough, while we were out there, we were sharing that section of ocean with quite a few surfers on surfboards. But as cool as those folks look, I came to wonder what they were getting out of the experience that we weren’t. They weren’t really any further out when they would catch a wave. They didn’t seem to be able to ride the waves they caught in as far as we could. Most importantly, it seemed to me that the quality of their experience was inferior to ours.

What I mean by that is that the biggest difference I could see is that the board surfers were riding the waves, but we body surfers were becoming part of the waves. There was no intermediary of wood or fiberglass between us and nature; when a wave would pick us up, we and the wave would become as one — at least until we reached the beach and were returned to being our former selves.

Now, I’ve never learned to surf with a board. I’m perfectly open to the possibility that there’s some awesome aspect to it that I simply don’t understand from that lack of experience. But body surfing offers such a strong connection with the wave that one rides that I’m not sure what that aspect would be. If there are any board surfers out there who would like to enlighten me, by all means, please do.

Yes, Jamaica, and no, it wasn’t a vacation

Charles Evans and I presented our paper on the use of open content in curriculum with implications for the developing world at Pan-Commonwealth Forum 4 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica from October 30 to November 2. It was really neat to meet so many people who knew what we were talking about, and who had similar interests. No one believed that a trip to Jamaica could possibly not be a vacation, but since the only time I was on the beach I was wearing a tie I think I can safely declare that it wasn’t. Of course, the resort where the conference was held was all inclusive, meaning five days of open bar goodness, but what was I supposed to do? Not take advantage of it?

Holiday in Chincoteague

“I wish I was born here. Chincoteague is the home of all pony lovers, and I am one!” — Fiona, age 7

So yesterday Adella, my Mom, all four bunnies, and I drove to
Chincoteague, a small town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore known for its
family friendly atmosphere, wild ponies, and annual oyster festival.
The kids like the simple beachy things to do — swim in the sea, play
mini golf, go for pony rides (nice and safe on supertame ponies in a
circle), and maybe even drive some go-karts.

Chinco is a lot less built up than many other east coast beaches. The
barrier island where there’s the beach is a national park, so all the
places to stay are on the island between that and the mainland. The
places to stay are still mostly little motels rather than big resorts,
and the places to have fun are still family owned and operated. Adella
said it reminds her of Anguilla in a strange way.

I say still because this is the first time I’ve been here in several
years (since my honeymoon with the older kids’ mother, yikes) and I can see how it’s changed a little. There are many more realty places, they’re building big, modern looking (i.e. hideous) condominium buildings, and there are just generally more people milling about. Still, it has a lot of that “well kept secret” feeling, and we’ll enjoy that while it lasts.