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April 25, 2009

A Bit Over Gaming

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for the chance to be involved in the closed multiplayer beta test of Blood Bowl, a computer game based on the Games Workshop board game of the same name (if you've heard of the Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 franchises, Games Workshop is responsible for those). Mid-last week, I was notified by e-mail that I was in, so I downloaded the beta game and started playing on Friday night.

Now, as being a beta tester imposes certain legal obligations, I can't really talk about the specifics of the game; it's a beta release, so it's not expected to work perfectly, and any images mightn't reflect the final product. Still, what I have to say isn't a criticism of Blood Bowl – from what I've seen, it does a great job recreating the tabletop game – but is more a point about “gaming” in general, using Blood Bowl as an illustration.

If there's one downside to Blood Bowl, both the computer game and the board game, it's that it can take a good while to play, and half of that time is spent waiting. The tabletop original ameliorates the boredom because your opponent is across the table from you; in the computer game, you can only watch your opponent's moves until your his turn ends two to four minutes later (unless you're playing in Hot Seat mode, which isn't available in the beta). So far I've only played two, maybe three games of Blood Bowl, and in the one I was playing in earlier today, my opponent was clobbering me – I simply wasn't as good as he (or she, for all I know) was. I suddenly realised two things by the sixth turn (of sixteen) – that I wasn't interested in sitting around for another half an hour to forty minutes for this guy to finish beating me, and that I wasn't really interested in investing time and mental focus on improving my skill at the game in order to become a capable competitor.

A little later, I decided to play a few sessions of a game I'm fairly good at, Halo 3. I'd played some earlier on today, with the general aim of improving my Skill rating in the Team Slayer playlist (it's been fluctuating between 20 and 22, out of 50, over the last several months). No such luck; of the eight games I played today, I was on the winning team for only two of them. My Team Slayer Skill briefly rose to 21 before dropping back to 20 again. Once again, I was playing with people I didn't know every match; most of the regular Halo 3 players on my Xbox Live Friends list were offline and those who weren't were playing other games. Come five o'clock this afternoon, I decided to do something more rewarding: Water plants.

You know, Xbox Live's tagline for a while was something along the lines of, “It's good to play together.” My experience is kind of the opposite; more often than not, I tend to feel alone in a room of either mutes or gutter-mouthed hooligans. There are exceptions, whom by and large I've met through my association with the PMS and Xecutive Order clans, but even then, much as I discovered with RPGs a few years ago, they're more acquaintances – gaming buddies, if you will – than actual friends. It's extremely unlikely I'll ever meet them in real life. In theory, online gaming could offer me a way of keeping in touch with old friends down South; in practice, our tastes in games are different enough that when we see each other online, it's to make brief note of the game the other person is already playing that we don't have. Sure, we do have games in common, but I've found invitations often go unanswered.

Now, I woudn't blame you if you told me I was just in a bit of a funk from the aforementioned losing streak, and frankly I wouldn't argue with you (although less of a funk than I would have been in, apparently, if I'd spent equivalent time watching television). At the moment I'm in a better mood and am thinking semi-positively about Halo 3 and even Blood Bowl. But I'm still sick and tired of investing money and skill into trying to beat and / or impress one-off opponents and gaming buddies. And nearly all the people in Cairns whose real life company I actually enjoy have never played a game with me and never will (the one or two exceptions I almost never see online nowadays anyway).

God, I wish I'd figured this out twenty years ago. It might have saved me an arseload of time, money and frustration. You know what the most fun I remember having playing a game recently? Over a year ago, when the Cazman and his lady were up visiting us; they pulled out Uno and played a few games with Vickie and I and it was an utter blast (in part due to the game's quick pace, but mainly due to our friends' good spirited trash talking). I mean, we even introduced them to Chez Geek and that was less fun than playing Uno with them.

Fitness and Family

It's been a pretty darned good last few weeks. Nothing really hugely life-shaking has happened, yet still there is noteworthy change.

If you've been checking my Facebook profile out lately, you may have noticed the odd bit of bragging about me swimming at the Lagoon of a morning. For those of you who don't know, the Lagoon is a combination artificial beach and swimming pool (as Cairns proper has mudflats instead of a beach). Well, combine that with weight work, time on a treadmill we're renting and healthier eating habits and I reckon I should be looking and feeling better pretty darned soon. My main priority isn't weight loss (my seventy-five kilos gives me a body mass index of 23, which is apparently smack in the middle of the “healthy” BMI range) so much as weight movement; I want to curb the encroaching man-boobage before it gets any worse. Incline bench presses, here I come...

If you think that's something, Vickie's doing more. In the last three weeks or so, she's lost over seven kilograms thanks to a combination of improved diet, lots of walking (on and off the treadmill; sometimes she'll come in early with me and walk the Esplanade while I'm swimming), some local fitness classes and the odd bit of gym work (once the new Genesis Fitness Centre opens in Edmonton she'll be going there once a week). Not only that, but she's also joined the Biggest Loser Club, which allows her access to weekly menus (which have taken a boatload of stress out of the weekly shopping trip - and no, we don't go in for the meal replacements) and a calorie intake / output tracker which she finds invaluable.

And just six months after we saw young Chook off to the Navy, another granddaughter has decided to chuck things in down South and move up here for a while. Amanda is staying with her aunt on the North side of town; she's got a job in Cairns' CBD and we've been introducing her to a few locals so she can make new friends to go out and party with on Friday nights.