Monday, October 6, 2014

God as Delighted Father


I hiked up a mountain yesterday. By the way, I’m out of shape and 280 pounds. Yeah, it was hard. It was only about two miles the whole way, but to me I was climbing Mount Olympus. I did it though… and I was pretty damned proud. What I must remember is that God is even more proud of me.
You see, God delights in his children. It’s all over the Bible, but where that truth first hit me was in Psalm 18. There, King David details how he was beset on all sides by his foes. He openly admits that they were too strong for him, that he was too weak to fight them. But what does David say next? “But the Lord was my support. He brought me out to a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.” What a picture of God’s love!
Of course, God doesn’t just delight in me because I climbed a little mountain. He delights in me because I am a son to Him. I’m a child of God. And the crazy thing is, while I remained an enemy of God, He still adored me. That is the power of God’s unfathomable love.
What must be understood is that God is not just God. He is our true father. While I endlessly love my earthly father, he has his failings. He has sinned before me. This is true of all fathers, except One. God is the perfect doting dad. There is no abuse or neglect in God’s sight.
God looks at us and watches our first physical and spiritual steps. He really does delight in every fiber of our soul. This was unconditionally demonstrated at the cross. Remember, you are not a failure… God delights in you! Hallelujah!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Castlevania: Genesis versus SNES

Whereas Capcom only released a small handful of games for Sega’s 16 bit console, the Sega Genesis, Konami was much more gracious with their licenses. Besides Street Fighter 2, Capcom really only gave Strider and Ghouls n Ghosts to Sega, and that was in the company’s early years. Konami, on the other hand, essentially released their whole library on the Genesis. Where to even start? Heck, I’ll just list em’ all. Contra Hard Corps, Castlevania Bloodlines, Tiny Toon Adventures, Sunset Riders, Snatcher, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Rocket Knight Adventures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, Lethal Enforcers, and Sparkster. What a pixel-perfect treasure trove!

As great as the list above is, believe it or not there were even more Konami games released on Nintendo’s 16 bit console, the SNES. So, what I’ve decided to do here is simple: I’m going to compare just one franchise from both systems and see how they stack up against each other. This isn’t to prove which console is better (if you read this blog at all, you’ll know my favorite console is the Super Nintendo), it’s just for fun.

1A: Super Castlevania 4

Ah, Castlevania. What a legendary series. It’s the ultimate in 2D horror. Coming from the 8-bit NES, Castlevania 4 looks positively stunning… especially considering this was released very soon after the SNES’ launch in 1991. Gamers were right to drop their jaws at the power of Nintendo’s 16 bits. I liked this game so much that I even put it in my top 50 games of all time.

There’s just one problem: It might not be as great as I remembered it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game or anything; it’s just slightly underwhelming compared to Sega’s Castlevania Bloodlines. My main problem with the game is its atmosphere. It’s just not scary or really even that creative.

You see, it’s almost as if the game designers were told by Nintendo to not make the game “too scary.” I mean, the game’s bad guys are just so boring. They include empty coffins and tables… yes, tables. Even the game’s bosses make me drowsy: Mummies and a dancing ghost couple… yawn.

Also, while I’m at it let me complain about the sprites themselves. They look ugly. I know it’s supposed to be gothic, but the sprites are just too large and gangly for their own good. Simon Belmont looks like a basketball player who crapped his shorts when he walks.

Finally, we get to the slowdowns. Yes, I know this was an early SNES game, and that Konami hadn’t quite figured out the system yet, but it’s still an issue. There are whole rooms that don’t just stutter, but move in a constant haze of slowness. The “Mode 7 room” as I call it, with the room looking like a rotating tube, is impressive, but it practically brings the game to a halt. The same slowdown happens every time you attack a mud man in the caves.

I know it sounds like I’m being hard on the game, but no Castlevania on the NES had these problems. I still love Castlevania 4 though, I would just have to say it’s no longer my favorite Castlevania.

1B: Castlevania Bloodlines

What a step up from Castlevania 4! Yeah, Bloodlines (or Castlevania: The New Generation for you Brits) is on technically inferior hardware, but it doesn’t matter. The colors pop off the screen and you’ll witness the Genesis push itself to the limit without any slowdown whatsoever.

For starters, I just like the graphical aesthetic to the game. The colors aren’t grimy like they are in the SNES version, they just look more vibrant to me. While the sprites may be slightly smaller, they don’t look awkward like Castlevania 4. Also a huge improvement is the creativity of the enemies themselves. They look positively nightmarish. From massive hellhounds whose howl breaks apart glass that you must dodge, to a seemingly beautiful princess that transforms into a giant disgusting moth, Bloodlines just has more creativity.

One of my favorite parts in the game has to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here, you’ll fight a demonic Gargoyle boss as the tower beneath your feet rotates 360 degrees. Bloodlines is full of cool touches like these. Like when you enter stage 6’s Castle Proserpina and you have to navigate where you’re going through a split mirror effect.

Quite honestly, Bloodlines is just more daring than Nintendo’s effort. For the first time in Castlevania history, you’ll see copious amounts of blood as you behead harpies or spill the guts of zombies with your whip or lance. Yes, I said whip OR lance. In Bloodlines, you can actually pick one of either two characters and each has slightly different branching paths and weapons.

All in all, I really underestimated Bloodlines on the Genesis. It’s more than just a solid Castlevania translation, it might be my favorite in the series.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A godless poem


The unbalanced neurons send a shockwave across my being,
I feel every jagged cut.
A blackness.
A coldness.
Another day.
A strong start, but a weak finish.
A good deed, but a wasted hour.
Cut off from the divine source.
I can’t stand it, I want to jump out of my skin!
Where is God?
Busy pleasing corporate men with unimpressive genitals with Bush.
Busy playing golf with Obama.
Too busy to even exist.
I’d break out of this bleeding void, claw the ribbons of this fatalistic tapestry with my bare hands,
if it meant I could see His face.
A glimpse, just a glimpse and, like Bonhoeffer, I’d crawl naked up to the gallows for His glory.
Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ikiru


“What have you been up to?” That’s the question I dread most when I bump into an old acquaintance. Truthfully, for the last seven years, I’ve accomplished little. A few part time jobs here, and a few classes there. Certainly not enough to impress someone that I didn’t want to see in the first place. As I make up an excuse to end the conversation, I’m left wondering if I’ve just been spinning my wheels.

Luckily for me, I’m not the only one that’s had this problem. In Akira Kurosawa’s drama, Ikiru, a bureaucrat by the name of Kanji Watanabe has spent 30 years of his life as a glorified rubber stamp. A rubber stamp for giving citizens the run-around, no less. It isn’t until he gets an x-ray and discovers he’s stricken with terminal stomach cancer that he begins to change.

Of course, not all change is good. At first, Watanabe tries to shake up his monotonous past by getting drunk and flirting with prostitutes in the night. Here, he’s a stumbling and lost man. It isn’t until providence leads him to talk with an energetic young toymaker that he’s inspired to make a real difference in life.

For his six months left on Earth, Watanabe fights government waste and corruption, and even stands up to a gang, to have a park built for children. Using all his reserves of strength, he succeeds, and finally dies at peace on a swingset. As an aside, Ikiru, produced all the way back in 1952, has sensational acting and an eye for the subtle. When Watanabe started tearfully singing “Gondola no Uta” I nearly cried myself.

Ikiru and Watanabe’s life’s message is this: It’s not too late to change. What a Christian message! Look at Peter, who denied Jesus three times, yet became the rock of the church. Or look at the thief on the cross. He didn’t even have half a year, at the last possible minute he was redeemed.

Ikiru also shows the feebleness of the institutions that are supposed to protect us. The film shows us clearly how politics is not our salvation. To put it another way… the people you elect don’t give a damn about you. Bob McDonnell and John Edwards are just the guys that got caught.

Still, what I come back to is this: Watanabe is us. Every one of us. We are all clocks ticking away. Not all work is equal. For many toil in a haze, barely alive. We’re not dead yet. Let us live and love one another.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I don't have it all figured out


I’ve been suffering from writer’s block for the last month or so. Originally, I just wanted for something brilliant to strike me, but eventually I just sort of lost interest in blogging. Writing is a lot harder than it looks… especially if you’re doing it for free. Well, luckily for you, I thought of something.

Beliefs are funny. That is, everyone has them but few will admit as much. I remember very distinctly how when I first became a Christian, one of my irreligious friends smugly quipped, “Yeah, you know that’s not true.” It was actually quite uncanny. You see, at that moment my friend had only one worldview: that Christianity was not a viable worldview. That was it. Yet despite such intellectual failings, he believed himself in the right.

I remember another moment when I quoted something Paul said on homosexuality in the Book of Romans. My libertine buddy did not like the Bible’s viewpoint, and angrily shouted that I didn’t know what God thought. As childish as he was acting, you know something? He was partly right. I don’t have the mind of God. That is, I don’t know everything.

Yet I’m the one who is going to take a stand on what’s true in the universe. I’m not just going to sit on the sidelines and be an elitist hipster. I’m going to take the famous wager and bet with my life that God exists. Not because I’m afraid I might be wrong, but because I want to believe that Jesus really did love us so much that he sacrificed himself on a cross. His death is worth living for.

I know atheists and scoffers will delight in seeing me fall from time to time. It will be a justification for their own perversity. But you know what? My faith has already been vindicated… and it’s been vindicated just recently.

An ex-prisoner, who I helped out by driving him to his brother’s funeral, was on the verge of tears as he thanked me for my time. You can’t fake emotions like that. Where are all the “freethinkers” in soup kitchens and nursing homes? They aren’t there. I may not have it all figured out, but I’m throwing in with Jesus. And in so doing, I’m throwing in with the least of these.

We all have to deal with limited amounts of information. We can’t know every “jot and tittle” of the cosmos, but we have to eventually come done on one side of things. Are you going to believe in yourself, or are you going to believe in God?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Top three video game movies

                3. Halo Legends (2010)

While technically a compilation of short films, Halo Legends is too much of a Bungie wet dream to not include on the list. This straight to video release has it all, from recapping the Flood stomping exploits of Master Chief in Halo 1-3, to showcasing a vintage, watercolor anecdote centered on a pair of Elites dueling for their honor. The last episode even features a sort of parody of Dragon Ball Z... or perhaps just a parody of action anime in general. The creator of the hit show Appleseed served as the project's director, so one can only hope this movie isn't the end of the honeymoon for anime and Halo.

2.Silent Hill (2006)

It's no secret that I think Silent Hill 2 is one of the most beautiful stories ever told, video game or not. So, what does that make this movie then? Well, the special effects are stupendous, and it's definitely as scary as Dick Cheney hunting. It's just that the story isn't all that above Jeepers Creepers or any other creature feature of the week. Still, the film is gorgeously macabre. For once, the producers seemed to actually give a damn as to whether the foggy sets were authentic or not. They even got the look to Pyramid Head down right. Konami would be proud! Now if they could only make a decent Resident Evil movie...

1. Mortal Kombat (1995)

Yeah, the fact that this is the best we have doesn't say a whole lot about an overflow of quality licensed material... Despite my whining though, Mortal Kombat is pretty damn entertaining. It takes a lot for a kid and an adult to be delighted by the same action onscreen. This film was a minor phenomenon when it was released stateside in the mid 90's. From Liu Kang dueling the frost ninja, Sub-Zero, to Johnny Cage trading blows with the skeleton from Hell, Scorpion, Mortal Kombat did not disappoint. "Your brother's soul is mine!"  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Living with depression


I’ve talked about my depression pretty in depth before, but I think the subject warrants an entire article. That’s because it’s now a part of me, like other facets of my being. So, what’s it like living with clinical depression? Well, let’s take a breath and dive in.

Depression is like someone’s sucking away at the very marrow of your soul. Imagine that for years on end, your joy in almost its entirety was snuffed out. It’s as if reality’s colors have dimmed. It’s like a song without sound. In short, it’s terrible. I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s here now. This biochemical tribulation has been like a cerberus hounding after me in some Lovecraftian hellscape.

Enough with the metaphors, eh? The bottom line is that sometimes I feel a hurting emptiness where my heart should be. I can’t enjoy the things I once loved. Worse than that, I want to die. Not every day, but close to it. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy… and yet it is mere ordinariness for me.

The worst part about the suicidal thoughts is that they come from nowhere. I can’t predict them and I can’t prepare for them. Each time it comes it’s like a black wave crashing over me. I try praying. I try reading my Bible. I even try watching anime. Nothing works in those moments. It’s then that hopelessness creeps in. I have idealized death in some form every week for the last seven years. It’s tiring.

Here are things you must know if you’re reading this and don’t understand depression. First of all, don’t blame the person who is suffering. Be understanding and use your words carefully, you don’t want to trigger a negative emotion. Secondly, be around for that person. Seriously, be around. If you’re going to make a commitment to be a shoulder to cry on, you need to stretch your availability. Finally, if someone you care about is talking about wanting to die, don’t take it as idle conversation… get professional help immediately. Also, as an aside to my fellow Christians: don’t tell someone they’re depressed because they didn’t pray hard enough. Say that to their face and you might be walking funny afterwards.

That’s as basic as I can give it to you, but maybe that’s enough. To finish, I’ll tell you what keeps me going: faith that there’s a purpose for my suffering. Basically, faith in God. If I didn’t believe that there was an objective reason for my existence, I would have already committed suicide. I mean that with every atom that I am. So don’t tell me that I can get by on my own strength, because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Either I believe there’s life in Jesus, or I believe in the void of death. For today, I choose the former.

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”-Second Corinthians

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Thing versus The Thing


Ah, The Thing… and no, not your grandpa’s Thing from 1951, we’re talking about the good Thing, the John Carpenter Thing. I swear, the 80’s were just prime time for horror classics. They included famous frights like Aliens, Predator, Poltergeist, The Fly, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, and finally, The Thing. The Thing didn’t perform as well as the other films listed above. Part of this was due to the infinitely overrated E.T. that came out at the same time in 1982. That, and the title of “The Thing” is a bit inherently nebulous. Either way, sales on VHS soon picked up, thus preserving The Thing’s cult legacy.

What makes The Thing so unique is the titular monster itself. It can be any organism, and mimic it perfectly. As Childs, one of the characters said, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?” The Thing takes place at an arctic research station, which just enhances the sense of dread and desolation. Once the alien Thing is unwittingly brought to base, it soon takes on human form, and hides among the men there. No one is as they appear to be.

It’s a wonderfully horrific setup, and something that is quite unlike other conspicuous creatures of the 80’s. What I also love is the special effects. This is pure, unadulterated 80’s stop-motion magic. From the tentacles that burst out of the dog monster, to the two headed mutant that they first encounter, The Thing is just filled with macabre mystery and splendor. My favorite effect had to be when an apparent crew member’s head falls off, and it actually sprouts legs and an eye stalk! I sympathized with the guys onscreen, when one remarked, “You gotta be fucking kidding.”

As hinted above, the film has a slightly humorous tone, as though the characters simply can’t believe that this is happening to them. The lead protagonist, MacReady, even spits out some badass one liners, like when he sarcastically shouts “Yeah, fuck you too” as he throws a live grenade into a roaring Thing’s maw. Also, the end of the film is almost poetic, as Macready and Childs sit suspiciously watching each other as the last two survivors in the glow of burning wreckage.

So, the first Thing is awesome… but wouldn’t ya know it, Hollywood made a prequel. Seriously, does every popular film from the 80’s have to have a reboot? Well, apparently so. Anyway, this Thing was released just three years ago, and told the story of the Norwegian ice base right before the 1982 version.  It’s an intriguing concept, as the original really didn’t delve into HOW the Thing was unearthed.

So, it’s a moderately interesting perspective, but the film stumbles in a number of areas. For one, the special effects are garbage. The Carpenter Thing was replete with amazing models and makeup… not here. Everything onscreen has been typed away on a keyboard. Put simply, it’s pure CGI. Now, I’m not against all CGI, but it just looks unconvincing here. Also, the monster designs themselves are by the numbers and ho-hum. Basically, all the Things have big mouths in this edition… that’s about it.

There was one cool aspect of it, however: the UFO design. For years I had wondered what the interior of the alien craft looked like, and honestly, this film did a pretty great job at filling that gap. I really liked the weird little cube that the Thing was working with… it seemed believably futuristic.

All in all, the original 1982 Thing is a masterpiece of gooey delight… but the prequel is okay, too. Both sell for under ten dollars now, so there’s no excuse to not be scared shitless.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The future of gaming


So, when I say Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, what comes to mind? Rarely are they the same images. The Genesis had Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, and Shinobi. The Super Nintendo had Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Star Fox. All different genres, each with unique audiences in mind. Then, if you had a lot of money back in the early 90’s, you could buy a computer gaming rig. You had to buy special graphics cards and get the newest version of Soundblaster, but it was worth it for revolutionary games like Mechwarrior 2, Wing Commander 3, and Doom. No matter what you had back then, you had a completely different experience than the kid across the street.

Now fast forward to the early 2000’s. This was a time when graphics finally started to approach realism. Consoles were even starting to give computers a run for their money, and for the first time, many PC games made their exodus from the office to the living room.  Still, as in the early 90’s, each system had its own unique style. The PS2, which was first out the gate, was the big seller back then. It had a little bit of everything, but seemed to particularly thrive on Japanese heavy hitters like Capcom, Konami, and Square. The Gamecube, on the other hand, was devoted to more party games like Mario Kart and Smash Brothers Melee.

Finally, you had the Xbox. While I loved the Xbox (it was actually my favorite console that generation), I noticed something peculiar about it at the time. That is, it really didn’t have an identity. Rather, it was the first console to rely pretty heavily on already entrenched titles from the PC. Granted, there were huge exceptions to that like great original games like Halo, MechAssault, and Knights of the Old Republic. Yet even these games were touted for the wrong reason: it reminded people of what they played on the computer. Halo, as wonderfully creative as it is (the first two Halos are high up on my top 50 list), was developed originally to be a console gamer’s Half Life. By 2005, the Xbox even had two flat-out poor man ports of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2… where their mediocrity could only be enjoyed by those without a keyboard.

By 2013, consoles have finally hit the low watermark: redundancy. Simply put, why on God’s green earth would I pay half a thousand dollars to play an inferior console game that’s already available for only a marginally more expensive, and more versatile, laptop? Seriously, does anyone have a cogent answer to this? I would really like to hear it, and I’m not being sarcastic. The Xbox One is seriously trying to sell itself by ignorantly strutting around with a glorified webcam and offering the dumb opportunity to watch football… on my TV. Wow. Awesome. I guess there’s always Titanfall, right?

If anyone doesn’t think this market is on the verge of collapse as it’s currently defined, is living in Microsoft or Sony fanboy land. The future of hardcore gaming is already here: it’s called a computer. The future of casual gaming is also here: smartphones and microconsoles like the Ouya. This time last year, everyone thought the Ouya was a joke… most still do. It’s true that it was largely a flop, but it latched onto a profitable idea: most people don’t want exclusive gaming platforms anymore. They want games to go along with their Netflix, not the other way around.

While I have purchased an Ouya, and personally love it for its old school emulators, I realize that’s not gaming’s proverbial powder keg. You know what is? Well, as of last month, it’s Amazon’s Fire TV. Years of console gaming’s laziness has brought this on. Now, in addition to watching the newest episode of their favorite show, families can use Amazon’s own proprietary controller to play Angry Birds, Minecraft, and even Madden. It’s great for the average consumer… and the ultimate nightmare for Sony and Microsoft. Grab some popcorn, folks, console gaming’s going up in a ball of flames.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Compromise


Compromise is built into the heart of our American form of government. Going all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, we’ve had disagreements over what makes us a people. In fact, Thomas Jefferson originally castigated the king over the issue of the slave trade, but was forced to take out the language out of fear of the union dissolving. Yet despite such incidents of hard negotiating, America has emerged stronger.

The system of checks and balances necessitates a bargaining between the federal branches. Due to the partial independence of the legislative, executive, and judicial, it would be incredibly difficult for one group to control all three at the same time. Elections also play a factor; congressmen and senators’ terms rarely overlap as the lengths of terms themselves are different. Even if a populist movement gained traction for a number of years, you’d still have to wait for the Supreme Court justices to literally die out before having complete control over all facets of government.

Of course, the largest aspect of compromise that is embedded into our great society is the constitution itself. The founding fathers wisely enacted a document that not only stood the test of time from a literary and poetic level, but from the basis of rule of law as well. They also helped forge the “Great Compromise” over the competing Virginia and New Jersey plans, and amazingly balanced the issue of states’ rights and national governance.

The biggest test of America’s ability to compromise was one of colossal proportions: slavery. It would be fair to say that politics would be defined by this issue for generations. Even here, the federalists’ brilliance was absolute. North and South wrung their hands together and bit a nasty bullet on the issue of polling slaves as part of the population, also known as the three-fifths compromise. Abolitionists hated the deal because it counted slaves as in the general populace, while keeping them enslaved. Yet southerners hated it because they didn’t get the representation they wanted. However, it will be argued that if everyone’s angry, maybe you’re doing something right legally.

Looking for modern day examples of national compromise is an easy task. Just look at abortion, an explosive topic. Both sides, pro-life and pro-choice, are adamant in their beliefs and can be vitriolic in their dealings with each other. You might think that an issue involving aborting a fetus would be pretty black or white, but that isn’t the case practically. While the Supreme Court ruled abortion constitutional in the 70’s, it did not rule that limitations couldn’t be put in place. Case in point, conservative states have enforced very stringent regulations on the practice, like teenagers having to inform their parents before an abortion can be performed, and that the operation itself can only be done at a certain gestation period. The Hyde Amendment, as adopted by congress, also bans direct federal funding of abortion.

It could be asked if all this compromising makes our country resistant to change. This is true, but only to a degree. Madison in Federalist Ten successfully argued that mob rule, or a direct democracy, would result in chaos and perhaps even an untimely death. He saw the value of a republic, but one that had the consent of the people: thus a democratic republic. While it may take time for legislation to get approved in both chambers of congress, not get vetoed by the president, and be ultimately upheld by the courts, it is in the end worth it over French Revolution-like anarchy. You don’t want an unpopular minority, a label that changes over time, to be swallowed up by the passions of a majority.

The proof that compromise works is in the very survival of our peculiar American society. If all this didn’t work, we would have inevitably been some meager banana republic with no proud legacy to call our own. Look at Thomas Jefferson, look at Abraham Lincoln, look at Franklin D. Roosevelt, look at Ronald Reagan. Are all these men the result of a false ideal? It might sound like an appeal to emotion, but it gets to a legitimate point… Why has American exceptionalism been the envy of the world? Why has America stood as a bulwark against the two greatest evils of our time: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia? Maybe, as much as we disagree, there’s something to this American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kefka and objective evil


“Why do people cling to life when they know they can’t live forever?” –Kefka Palazzo

While I can’t stand modern gaming, there’s one sure-fire way to get me to buy an Xbox One or PS4: Remake Final Fantasy 6. Of course, with Square Enix now dumbing down their products like reducing the Final Fantasy series to an MMO, that will probably never happen. I mean, since when did the creators of Kingdom Hearts publish games like Hitman? Whatever. The point is that FF6 ignited my childhood imagination with its wonderful characters and sense of adventure. Of course, every good story needs a good villain, right? Enter Kefka.
   
In all my years of gaming, I’ve never seen a more detestable villain such as Kefka. At first, you just think he’s the Emperor’s bumbling henchman. You soon discover, however, that while this guy may dress like a clown, he’s no Monty Python gag reel. Kefka burns cities, betrays his comrades, poisons children, and yes, even blows up the world. The thing that’s so disconcerting about Kefka is that he doesn’t try to justify his actions. He delights in the evil.

When the aforementioned apocalypse begins, Kekfa obtains God-like powers from three mystical statues. Now, completely unhinged, Kefka literally destroys the planet. The remnant of what emerges is called the World of Ruin. It’s here that our heroes gather together and form a resistance against seemingly impossible odds.

Why I like the older Final Fantasies, particularly FF6, over newer entries is simple: they have an objective good versus evil morality. Kefka isn’t misunderstood; it’s not that his mom didn’t raise him right. This is a man who is just pure evil. I think the changing times have grotesquely morphed our views on biblical truth. That’s why every JRPG villain now is some whiny, metrosexual-looking sadface.

Segueing back to reality, the concept of evil in our culture has become a myth. Everyone’s just a product of their genes, apparently, and can do no better because everything’s deterministic. Can’t we all just agree to disagree? That is, of course, if we can. Maybe I’m biologically predisposed to argue. Guess I’m just a victim then, huh? This is what we call bullshit, folks.

Here’s the crux of it. You can’t look at Kefka, a character who maniacally laughs while setting the world ablaze, and call him misunderstood. He’s evil. Similarly, the shooter of Sandy Hook may have had some mental health issues, but he made his own choices. He’s at fault. There is a devil… but there is a God as well.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Attack on Titan and overcoming the odds


“It doesn’t matter how terrifying the world is. Fight. It doesn’t matter how cruel the world is. Fight. Fight!” -Eren Jeager in the Battle of Trost

Years from now, the cosmos will look back on Attack on Titan as the show that made anime cool again. After the golden age of the 90’s (Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, Berserk, Evangelion) came the crushing and unrelenting mediocrity of the 2000’s. Barring a few successes early in the decade, the landscape had become a wasteland of high school girl nonsense. 2D animation itself was dying.

I really believe that, properly done, traditional animation can bring a viewer to his knees in the realm of the imagination. Akira, for example, with its wide brush strokes of post-apocalyptic power, could never be harnessed in the tight confines of reality’s camera. The colors, as bright as Neo Tokyo in 2019, spill onto the canvas of the human eye.

If anime is to fade away, then Attack on Titan is its roaring epitaph. Mankind has been driven to the very brink of extinction by nightmarish giants (Titans) of an unknown origin. The remaining humans have endured by sealing themselves behind three massive walls. This strategy works for a hundred years, until the Titans break in.

For the first two episodes, literally the only thing that happens is that people get eaten... like, a lot of people. Three surviving children (Eren, Mikasa, and Armin) decide to fight for humanity’s future by joining the military. This is where the story kicks into high gear, as you get to see fantastic character development among their squad. For example, one cadet, Jean, starts out as a selfish jackass only to become the very model of a hero later on.

To spoil things, Eren gets devoured by a Titan in episode 5, and this obviously sets a particularly somber tone. One may be forgiven to think they’re watching The Walking Dead, with main characters just dying off for arbitrary reasons, until you see episode 8. There, it is revealed that Eren has survived, and not only that, but now has the mysterious ability to turn himself into a Titan of enormous strength.

With this newfound knowledge, humanity now pushed back to the last wall, launches a desperate counteroffensive, with Eren as their savior. Here, in episode 13, I think I just completely lost my proverbial shit. In the battle plans, Eren is to pick up a giant boulder to block the hole in the wall that the Titans are pouring through. It sounds great on paper, but maintaining one’s mental state in a Titan’s body is taxing, and Eren lashes out at Mikasa, his family.

All seems lost, until Eren remembers why he wanted to venture outside the walls in the first place… because he was born to the world, and he wanted to know it. He also remembers the death of his mother to the hands of the Titans, and in his rage, lifts the stone, and heaves it into the breach. At this point, it’s realized that for the first time, mankind has defeated the Titans.

The correlation to reality is this: Life sucks. A lot. But don’t give up! Persevere and fight the good fight! We humans are weak, it’s true, but together we can fly with the “Wings of Freedom.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Looking forward

As of last week, I am no longer in my “early 20’s.” I am 25 now. I thank God for letting me live. Some days are hard, in fact, most days. Still, I know that Jesus, the son of God, died for me and I am part of His plan. I am also grateful for having a blessed childhood with a loving mother and father. Sometimes I think back and remember.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The leap to faith and the irrelevancy of apologetics


“Yet Abraham believed and did not doubt, he believed the preposterous. If Abraham had doubted -- then he would have done something else, something glorious; for how could Abraham do anything but what is great and glorious! He would have marched up to Mount Moriah, he would have cleft the fire-wood, lit the pyre, drawn the knife -- he would have cried out to God, "Despise not this sacrifice, it is not the best thing I possess, that I know well, for what is an old man in comparison with the child of promise; but it is the best I am able to give Thee. Let Isaac never come to know this, that he may console himself with his youth." He would have plunged the knife into his own breast. He would have been admired in the world, and his name would not have been forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired, and another to be the guiding star which saves the anguished.” -Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Here’s an interesting fact: Kierkegaard coined the term “leap of faith.” Only, he didn’t. You see, while that is the phrase used by laypeople, Kierkegaard is actually quoted as saying the “leap to faith.” Is there really a difference? Well, to Kierkegaard there was. To him, there wasn’t just one leap you made and there, patiently waiting, laid belief. No, the whole enterprise of following Christ is faith. See the difference?

I have struggled. Doubt is a part of me. I’ve read books and articles on creationism. I’ve read books and articles on evolution. I’ve seen videos of atheists preaching. I’ve seen videos of Christians preaching. I’ve heard arguments for the historicity of Jesus. I’ve heard arguments for Jesus as a mythical legend. I’ve learned much, but know nothing. For every fact that lines up in the bookshelf of my mind, some forgotten corner starts to crumble into dust. What obscure science experiment or historical trinket could stop this vicious cycle?

Does the Christian need more knowledge? Does he need the manual or the vehicle of faith itself? I’d argue the latter. All the books in the world couldn’t bring someone to faith. As Kierkegaard himself noted, there were no professors or associate professors during the first century of Christianity. Everyone then accepted that faith could not be proven. There were no philosophers in the pews who wondered if God could make a rock so heavy He couldn’t lift. There were no baptized biologists that thought nature made itself. No, this was a time of simplicity.

Consider Abraham, as Kierkegaard once did. He could have offered himself to the Lord instead of Issac, his beloved son. Would this not have been considered morally praiseworthy in the pagan lands? A stoic father saving his son from a crooked and wicked deity. It is not true that he was to merely “sacrifice” Issac. That’s a deceptive euphemism. No, Abraham was to murder his own son. Isn’t that what the world would have believed? That an old man lost his mind and turned homicidal?

The truth, however, known only to Abraham, made him full of fear and trembling. He told no one his revelation, not even Sarah. Abraham did one thing and one thing only: He believed. He suspended every rule that society had put in place, and had faith in God instead. Tell me, of what possible use would Paley’s Watchmaker apologetic make? Abraham decided to forgo the universal and believe in his subjective (personal) relationship with the divine.
     
Contrary to Hawking, we can never know the mind of God. We can know what He did for us on the cross but we look through a glass darkly. We can debate God back and forth and still not have an answer. If we were merely weighing the evidence on some sort of cosmic scale, then we would cease to be truly religious in any sense at all. We would be no better than the Roman tax collectors.

If you want to put off believing in God because you have doubts, then you’d do well to not believe anything. External reality itself is a leap to faith. If you don’t have faith in Jesus, I can guarantee you have faith in something. Consider having faith in a God who loves you. He’s helped me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ender's Game and thoughts on alien life


So, I finally saw Ender’s Game. While the book will always hold a special place for me (it was the first work of genuine science fiction I read as a kid), the film version is definitely no slouch. For those not in the know, the plot of Ender’s Game is simplistic at first blush, that humanity is at war with a bug-like alien race called the Formics. The true depth of what’s going on, however, isn’t fully revealed until the credits roll. For the purposes of this review, I need to spoil the ending… so, now you know.

Basically, the Formics were pushed back to their homeworld after a failed invasion of Earth. 50 years later, humanity wants to destroy the threat they pose once and for all. The military brass utilizes genius child tacticians to plan their attack. Ender Wiggin is one such boy. Ender is a strategist of unprecedented brilliance, and he trains for mankind’s final assault on the Formics.

Little does Ender know, however, that his “battle simulations” are actually happening in real-time. It’s no game; he’s unknowingly leading men to their potential graves. Under this deceit, Ender successfully defeats the Formics: by vaporizing the surface of their planet. When Ender learns of what he’s done, he breaks down and fights the urge to throw up. He’s committed wholesale xenocide.

Amidst his grief, Ender remembers that he’s been having visions of an egg. Understanding this to be telepathic communication, Ender searches an assumedly abandoned Formic outpost, only to find a healthy queen’s egg.

Now, this part wasn’t touched on that much in the film, but the novel has the queen linking with Ender’s mind to share her perspective. She explains that when the Formics first encountered humanity, they were baffled by their lack of a hive-mind, and assumed mankind was not a sentient species. The Formics realized their mistake too late, however, when they were driven back. The war was a giant misunderstanding.

What interests me so much about Ender’s Game is twofold: firstly, that we must always try to understand our enemy. If we do that, there is a chance that a dialogue can bear fruit, that peace may reign. I think of World War 2 and our conflict with the Japanese. If only we could have successfully viewed each other as equal human beings and tried to respect our differing cultures, maybe the atomic bomb would never have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sadly, it can only be viewed as speculation now.

Secondly, what intrigues me is the possibility of making contact with extraterrestrial life. A conversation with another sentient race would be absolutely amazing. Ender’s Game shows how complicated such an event might be, however. In a truly alien environment, there’s no telling how evolution might take place. An insectoid species like the Formics could easily exist in the billions of galaxies with billions of stars each. Imagine what we could learn from beings that have entirely different ways of thinking! How exciting!

It’s hard to believe that we’re the only ones out there. We’re not even in the center of our own galaxy, for heaven’s sake. This brings me to theology. Put simply, why would God create an empty universe? The argument that the universe was merely created for aesthetic purposes i.e. it’s pretty, seems really intellectually hollow. Is it possible that Christ died a similar death for other alien races? While there’s no way to know for certain yet, it’s a possibility.

Finally, concerning the merits of the movie itself, I have to say it’s very well done. The special effects, while a bit too cgi oriented for my tastes, excel at producing truly exotic visuals. The storytelling, while sometimes lacking a bit in emotion (which could perhaps be critiquing the mindset of a gung-ho military), accurately underscores the weight Ender shoulders. Also, Harrison Ford’s in it… so that should be enough to see it, right? Damn well better be.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

History of Trunks and the End Times


This world will come to an end. That’s a fact. Scientifically, all matter is decaying, and the universe itself will keep expanding until heat death occurs. Simply put, everything’s going to be like the penultimate scene in the NeverEnding Story, with the cold vacuum of empty space standing as our final legacy. But hey, that’s okay! Before that happens, our sun will expand into a red giant and turn our blue orb into a charred cinder. Or we could just get hit by an asteroid. Either way, we’re just as dead.

And then there’s the spiritual side of things. From a Christian perspective, God created the world to have a beginning (Genesis) and an end (Revelation). In Genesis, God fashioned the cosmos from nothing, and then lovingly crafted humanity in His image. You know the story; we disobeyed and were left with sin. Mankind suffered. A lot. Finally, after thousands of years, Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born in Bethlehem. According to the historic Gospel accounts, Jesus then died for all our sins and rose again. The Bible ends with the hope of Jesus returning: The Second Coming.

Well, what in the good Lord’s name has this to do with Dragon Ball Z? I know it sounds silly to most people, but at a time in my childhood when I knew almost nothing about Christianity, Goku presented himself as a kind of proto-Christ. As I’ve related before, there are many similarities between the two. Goku fights evil with a gentle heart, converts several “bad guys,” and even sacrifices himself to save the Earth.

So, that brings us to the History of Trunks. Basically, during a time of peace, Goku contracts a radical heart virus... and dies. Six months later, a new menace appears: two artificial humans with strength beyond conception. Coming to the defense of the people of Earth are the remainder of Goku’s team… they all perish, except for Goku’s young son, Gohan. Years pass, and much of the planet has been reduced to rubble. In this hell, Gohan is now a man. He takes Trunks, a powerful teenager, under his wing, and together they challenge the androids.

This is easily the darkest of all the sagas in Dragon Ball Z. People die, and they don’t come back. I always show this movie to people who are skeptical of the series, as it usually shatters their preconceptions. It also showcases lightening quick martial arts and a sick soundtrack featuring Dream Theater.

Well, despite Gohan’s noble attempt, he fails and passes from this life. Trunks, now alone, is forced to take drastic measures. He takes a time machine and travels back, to find Goku.

The segue I want to make is this: without a savior, our world is going to go to shit. History of Trunks shows that, despite Gohan and Trunks’ best efforts, they couldn’t set things right. They needed Goku.

My favorite scene has to be when Gohan, after just losing his arm in an explosion, gives his last bit of medicine to Trunks. He wonders aloud, “Now what would your father do?” Hmm… What Would Goku Do?  Or maybe, What Would Jesus Do?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Silent Hill 2 and thoughts on Hell


"In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday. But you never did. Well, I'm alone there now... In our 'special place'... Waiting for you..."

I’ve already written a short review of Silent Hill 2, but after consideration, I believe that the game deserves more analysis. Many people seem to think that video games cannot fundamentally be art, that they’re just children’s playthings. Put simply, this is not true and is slander to the hardworking developers of this 40 year industry. Direct proof of this is Silent Hill 2 alone. As I’ve said, this is the only game to ever make me cry.

SH2 begins with James Sunderland getting a letter from his wife. There’s just one problem: his wife died of a sickness years ago. It must be a trick, right? But it was in her handwriting… It said to meet her in their special place, Silent Hill.

When James arrives, everything is filled with fog, but more sinister than that are the monsters that hide in it. Pyramid Head, a creature wrought out of hellfire itself stalks James with a giant cleaver. What’s going on in this town? It’s not a nightmare, though it should be.

After narrowly escaping death on numerous occasions, James finds himself in a hotel… the same hotel that he and Mary stayed in. It’s here that he finds a videotape with his name on it… so he plays it. James watches the screen in horror as he sees himself strangling his own wife in a hospital bed. Finally, he realizes what he’s repressed subconsciously: That he murdered Mary.

Soon after, he accepts what he’s done, and he also realizes what Pyramid Head’s true symbolism is: James’ punishment of himself. James then speaks to Pyramid Head, saying “I was weak… that's why I needed you… I needed someone to punish me for my sins… but that's all over now. I know the truth. Now it's time to end this.” Silent Hill was James’ personal Hell.

After conquering his demons, James is then briefly reunited with his beloved Mary. James, in tears, tells Mary that he killed her because he wanted his life back. Mary lovingly says to him, “James, if that were true, then why do you look so sad?” She forgives him, and tells James to go on with his life. This scene profoundly touched me.

Honestly, SH2 is not merely a fantastic story, it also touches on many spiritual questions. The central ones being salvation and Hell. Let me preface what I’m about to talk about with this: I am not a theologian, pastor, or an expert of any kind. That being said, I do wonder about Heaven and Hell quite a bit as a Christian.

What I’ve neglected to mention so far is that there were actually two other people that Silent Hill beckoned. One was a man who was badly bullied named Eddie. The other was a young woman named Angela, who was raped by both her father and brother as a child. The two of them later committed sins against their abusers. Eddie shot a football player who made fun of him, while Angela stabbed her father and brother to death. James encounters both of them, and they sadly choose damnation over salvation. James rescues Angela in one part of the game, but it proves to be in vain as she chooses to walk up a burning staircase. Her last words to James show her acceptance of being in Silent Hill, “Or maybe, you think you can save me. Will you love me? Take care of me? Heal all my pain? ...[Hmph]...That's what I thought."

I bring all this up to highlight our understanding of Hell. I just sincerely doubt that most people truly understand what it’s like to be in absolute agony. I can attest, as someone who struggles daily with severe, suicidal depression, that it is Hell. I do believe that a literal, physical Hell does exist. I also believe that some will not be saved. However, I just don’t accept that Christendom’s traditional understanding of the Inferno is accurate.

I believe the Bible reveals that God’s central attribute, above all else, is love. Above sovereignty, holiness, wrath, and whatever else you can think of. A predominantly wrathful God would not save a sinful humanity from what we deserve… only an overwhelming love would do that. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

So, I view with skepticism this centrally Calvinist soteriology that permeates the church. At bottom, I do think that we as Christians can make progress. Clearly, this is true from social justice standards by abolishing slavery. It is also true scientifically, by shedding light on how the Earth orbits the Sun and not vice-versa. It’s even shown to be true theologically, by Martin Luther splitting from the historic Catholic Church.

When I play Silent Hill 2, and weep at the sight of such grace offered by Mary, a video game character, I can only imagine how much more God delights in loving His children. Does God’s love really stop at the grave? Is it possible that some of those who die in sin can be redeemed even in Hell? I don’t know… but it’s worth thinking about.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A partial defense of the Sega CD


“Hey! You still don’t have a Sega CD? What are you waiting for, Nintendo to make one? You have seen the games, right?” Thus goes the “angry black guy” ad from Sega. Sadly, the games he proceeds to “show off” are all horrendous FMV (full motion video) games. Don’t know what an FMV game consists of? Well, imagine that instead of playing a game, I smash your controller with a brick and you’re forced to watch a movie made by Satan and Pauly Shore. That’s about the gist of it. Live-action video does not belong in video games… unless it's Wing Commander (Hey, Mark Hamill’s in it!).

So, rewind to 1992. CDs were cutting edge, to the point that even a full year later, the girl in Jurassic Park had her mind blown when she saw them, “It’s an interactive CD-ROM!” During this time, the Sega Genesis had, with the help of brilliant, in your face marketing, usurped Nintendo in 16-bit sales. Sega must have been pretty sure of themselves, to the point that they decided to make a radical new expansion… by creating a CD add on for the Genesis.

The main problem for the lazily titled Sega CD was this: It really wasn’t needed. Not only did Sega not need to push it financially, but consumers didn’t want to spend an insanity inducing 300 dollars on something that wasn’t even a stand-alone console. To make things worse, the pack-in game, Sewer Shark, was literally as much fun as playing in a real sewer. The death-knell for the Sega CD came quickly. People realized that, above all, the Sega CD did not provide a next generation experience and couldn’t produce 3D visuals. Later, Sega shot themselves in the foot again by releasing yet another Genesis add on, the Sega 32X.
       
Well, things sound pretty bad here, huh? Yes, the Sega CD never should have been released at such an early stage, but since it was, there are quite a number of great things about it. See, Sega marketed the thing completely wrong. Quite simply, you were not going to get a computer experience with this product… However, you were going to get super improved versions of Genesis games, with Redbook quality music and, if done in moderation, cutscenes and voice acting that accentuate the story.

It’s really unfortunate that folks are unaware of so many hidden gems on the Sega CD. Sonic CD is one of the best Sonic games, with a jazz and funk inspired soundtrack (Sonic Boom is sick). Snatcher is a cyberpunk, Blade Runneresque adventure game that lets you pick different branching paths. Lunar: Silver Star is an RPG with anime influences and copious amounts of legitimately decent voice acting. Heart of the Alien combines the highly acclaimed cinematic platformer, Another World, with an entirely new chapter. Finally, Final Fight CD offers a sort of director’s cut to the arcade classic, optimized for the CD format.

While the Sega CD may be a historical curiosity, the real reason to pick one up now is the games… and isn’t that how a system’s legacy should end?