Grandma's back, baby!
Gaming for Grandma has become fun again; filling the time with Guitar Hero III, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Dead Head Fred, Halo 3, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, Heavenly Sword, as well as all the good backups: Catan & Texas Hold 'Em... well, she's overwhelmed with gaming awesomeness at the moment. This is the very opposite of the dry spells she's had this year. The question of "what are you playing tonight?" is met with
"Jesus... I don't KNOW!" No longer is it frustration that she has to fall back on something she's just not into, it's a huge buffet of the finest foods- and Grandma's appetite is endless.
Things are awesome.
There is so much to post about.
Let me back up a little.
Halloween is a big deal here in our little village. While other towns have houses that compete over Christmas decorations; each neighbor quietly counting the strings of lights over the gables of the other homes on their block trying to appraise the cost to compare to their own, OUR village is filled with folks who try to out-perform one another in garage-based haunted houses, candy quality, lawn decorations, and overall tenor of the poor fool handing out the treats.
It's not uncommon to overhear the parents walking around, politely trading flames to light their cigarettes, say things like "oh well, Maple St. really killed everybody this year. Fucking... full-sized Snickers, man. It must be nice to have money" or "Jesus, did you see the haunted house on Spruce? Jesus GOD that man has too much time on his hands. Still... the lighting was well done, you have to give the bastard that."
This year, however, the folks around the village were talking about our house. It wasn't because we had elaborate decorations, hell we didn't even have pumpkins this year because Grandma wanted to use them all for pies. It wasn't because we had the best candy, pretty much everyone knows a Sam's Club membership and two or three 300ct Wonka & Hershey variety bags is an easy way to be liked. In truth, they weren't even talking about our house, still known around these parts by the name of it's previous owners; they were talking about the woman sitting in front of the house wearing perhaps the cheapest costume next to the dude on Main St with a sheet over his head.
"Don't point... look.. that's her. THAT'S FUCKING HER!"
"I heard she's like 90 years old and plays in Xbox tournaments or something."
"My son's friend went over there once to hang out with one of her grandkids, and he said it's true- she's got a game room and everything. She's in there screaming at the hard parts of the game and she's got like every gaming thing you can imagine."
"I bet she's got money. You know how many times she's been on TV?"
"Look... she's got a PacMan head on.."
-"No, that's a MS. PacMan head. It's got a bow."
"My kids love that goddamn Guitar Hero game."
-"Is that what she has?"
"It's actually kind of fun...."
But Grandma didn't hear any of that. The parents were standing next to me on the sidewalk; smoking their cigarettes and fiddling around with their flashlights. There are trick-or-treat boundaries that are silently obeyed. It was the KIDS that got a kick out of Grandma.
"HEY!! I KNOW YOU!"
Kid - "Can you beat Free Bird on Expert Mode?"
Grandma - "No."
Kid - "My big brother can."
Grandma - "He sounds really good! Have you played Guitar Hero III yet?"
Kid - ".......THERE'S A THIRD ONE?!"
"AW MAN! I've seen like ALL of your videos!"
"Do you really play video games or do you just pretend to?"
-"I play them! I don't think it would be very fun to pretend, do you?"
"No. ....Do you like Naruto? I like Naruto a lot."
"Are you really Old Grandma Hardcore?"
"Who's your favorite Super Smash Brother character!"
"My mom says you say bad words."
Meanwhile, the high-schoolers either stuck walking their siblings around the village or picking up candy of their own could be seen outside our house snapping away pictures of Grandma on their camera-phones and comparing Gamerscores.
There were even a couple parents who made the obvious maneuver to avoid our house; either because of some moral disagreement with Grandma's habits or because they don't let their kids take candy from anyone they don't know or, even less sinister, because our house is on top of a huge goddamn hill and they were pretty much done for the evening.
Grandma had a ball talking about video games with the little kids who found it to be the coolest thing ever that a little old lady in THEIR town not only knows who Naruto is, but also agreed that Clash of Ninja 2 was really hard. To be honest, she didn't want to hand out candy this year at first, but Mom doesn't get home from work until late now and I was "conveniently busy." I offered to take her place but after the first half-hour or so, she was so into it she decided to stick it out until the crowds had died down. She loved it.
After the decorations around town were replaced by red wreaths and depictions of turkeys gleefully standing next to boring stalks of corn, Grandma was waiting patiently for a gunship to circle out from hiding so she could fire another rocket the relative safety of a concrete stairwell.
But then: disaster struck.
And disaster's name is Alyx.
"Goddammit, NO! NO! GET BACK DOWN YOU STUPID BITCH!! NO!!!!"
*Alyx has died*
Whenever Grandma ducked down into the stairwell to wait, Alyx would push her way past her and stand out in the open to face down a rain of shattered wood and bullets holding a motherfucking pistol. Grandma isn't altogether unfamiliar with Half-Life 2: Episode 1, but goddamn if she wasn't having flashbacks to another "escort" type game.
"Why do they always do this?!"
"It's like they don't know what COVER is. They just STAND. RIGHT where they don't need to be."
"THESE PEOPLE!! Alyx, Ashley, anybody who has to follow you around and NOT die. At least The Arbiter came back to life after awhile and could DO stuff."
-"Alyx does stuff."
"Yeah, like a handgun is going to do anything against THAT THING. This is BULLSHIT."
And yet, after enough tries, Grandma made it through. She beat Episode 1 sometime while I was working. When I got home, she was playfully jumping around the insane world of Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction. Needless to say, I was a bit confused.
"When did you get that?"
-"Isn't it beautiful! Look at this... WEEEEE!!!"
"Yeah, but when did you get it? I had the car all day today."
-"Jennifer sent it to me!"
"Jennifer? Sony Jennifer?"
-"Yeah! I e-mailed her to ask her something and she said she would send me copies of Ratchet & Clank and Heavenly Sword if I wanted, so I said sure!"
"Well what did you ask her?"
-"I asked her when the new Ratchet & Clank was coming out."
"Well, I don't know- it sounds like a thinly veiled way of asking her if she'd send it to you."
-"It wasn't! Some places said it comes out on the 23rd and I called the GameStop and they said it wasn't out yet and I wasn't sure so I asked!"
"Grandma. You KNEW when it was coming out, we talked to the guys at INSOMNIAC on THEIR PODCAST about it. You could have looked at your own site!"
-"Yeah, but Jennifer was real sweet and sent me a copy. So it doesn't matter. She knows I'm not a begger. Seriously- check this out, it's cool as hell..."
But she wasn't really playing as she sped through from checkpoint to checkpoint; she was just seeing what it was like. She didn't pay attention to saving the game or reaching the objectives; Ratchet & Clank would have to wait until she was done with The Orange Box. So, the next day, she fired up her 360 again and began Episode 2. Witnessing her frustration with Episode 1, I knew I would have the perfect opportunity to make another video, but in the meantime- I was scheming.
Wal-Mart. The very name of the company can either strike the inner chords of a Midwestern snob as they lift their nose into the air or pass over the register completely; just another place to shop. Grandma and I live in Ohio, which- for better or worse, goes apeshit over the opening of Wal-Mart Supercenters. It's just a store for fuck's sake- you can buy food and shit their while shopping for clothes or taking your car in to have its tires rotated. But as much as we hate to admit it, the call of a new store opening close by intrigues us as much as any other out here. It's front page news in the local papers when a Wal-Mart is closed and replaced with its uber-cousin: the SUPER Wal-Mart. Our new iteration of the latest in retail shopping opened last Wednesday in Streetsboro.
Grandma wanted to go see what the new store was like (and so did I, to be frank.) But I had another reason for wanting to go.
We pulled up to this monstrosity of a store; just a few acres shy of the hyperbolous Costco depicted in Idiocracy- it's MASSIVE. A few weeks ago, it seemed like it was just woods and grass and a construction driveway heading out into the wilds. But now it was a pristine palace of asphalt, security cameras and new, faux-wood panels on aisle endcaps that presented an illusion that this place was anything more than just a plain ol' Wal-Mart. Despite Grandma's handicap parking permit, we still had to walk quite a ways to enter the beast. Apparently everyone else in town had the same idea (and yet each of us are convinced that we're not like all the other morons...)
There was some guy in a giant dancing tiger costume or some shit that would pat you on the head when you entered the store. He was unavoidable. Beyond that there were no less than five, trained and at-the-ready greeters to accost you will welcoming smiles before you can even grab a cart and enter into the fray.
We headed straight for the place we and everyone else goes when they first enter the place- The electronics section. Nothing ever changes back there, there aren't any new CD's or DVDs in the bargain bin, it's just a curious habit we seem to have. You enter a store, any store for browsing purposes- you head to electronics. They had a giant wall of televisions; all flat panel. Plasma. DLP. LCD. Projection. HD. 1080i. 1080p. 720p. Cheap. Expensive. Unknown brands. Trusted brands. Some were pretty awesome. Some had a contrast ratio so low they might as well have been shitty lightbulbs.
As we stood before this display like characters in a Normal Rockwell painting eyeing the first Zenith color televisions to hit the store windows at Higbees, a dutifully prepared, first-day Wal-Mart employee asked us if we needed any help.
I tried to drag out the moment a little.
"So... uh.. tell me because I always forget- which is better for video games: LCD or Plasma?" (like Grandma and I didn't know)
-"Oh, LCD. Definitely. You don't have the burn problems and all that." I couldn't take it anymore.
"Great! We'll take that one. And that stand over there. Grandma, your stand won't hold one that big, I have to get you a stand, too."
Grandma just stared at me with a look suspected sarcasm. "Hey, I can afford this! I've always wanted to get you a decent television, now I can, so I'm going to get it for you."
The Wal-Mart guy was still standing there.
-"So, you're serious then? You want that one?"
"Yes. And that stand over there."
-"Okay... um... look, it's a new store so I don't know where everything is yet so I'll go um... find those."
"That's cool, we'll wait."
Grandma's look changed from suspicion to "you're a moron and can't afford this" to finally "...are you sure?"
I was sure.
When we got home I busted into project mode. My motivations were two-fold and it showed. This wasn't just for Grandma. If Grandma finally got a big-screen HD television, then Mom would get the big TV from Grandma's game room. One of the kids would get the television currently in the living room and the circle of life continues. Grandma's happy, Mom is happy and the kids are happy. It also means I would have to dismantle two, possibly three rooms in a single evening.
We busted ass and got it done.
BEHOLD Grandma's new game-room setup:
I don't have a lens wide enough to show you everything from the front unless I use a fish-eye :) She deserved it. Ever since I started this thing she's laughed at comments saying "Jesus, get her a better TV" and "She has a 360 and a PS3 and she's NOT playing in HD? What's the point?!" etc.,.. Well, Microsoft and MTV gave her the 360. Nintendo gave her the Wii. She's gotten games from everybody. I keep feeling like I was the only one not doing all they could do to make her gaming life better. This is a tiny contribution to the overall effort in the grand-scheme of things, and I love making Grandma happy.
So is she happy?
"Oh my fucking GOD."
Both of us were staring at Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction with our mouths open. It's like we were staring into a solar eclipse just after being told by a Mayan high priest that the Sun-god was angry. It was AMAZING. I honestly don't know why I waited this long. She put in Half-Life 2. Halo 3. Resistance: Fall of Man. Lost Planet. We watched every game with new eyes on this huge screen pointing and laughing in the ecstasy that we weren't fooled; HD was real. The differences were obvious. It wasn't the slight color shift we experienced when we first started using composite cables instead of a coaxial. It wasn't the slightly improved sharpness we experienced when we moved on to S-Video. It wasn't even the 'wow' when everything became saturated once we switched to Component cables.
It was as though we had been nearsighted for years and only just NOW discovered what the world looks like through prescription eyeglasses. How could we have been so stupid for so many years to think anything less than this was cool?! We felt as though we had wasted a good portion of our life on standard definition. It's so beautiful it's depressing.
As Grandma played on her new TV, she found that sometimes she would have to choose at which part of the screen to look. It's that big and that close.
Life continued. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 was kicking Grandma's ass, although she never failed to tell me how much better it was whenever I was around.
"Hey! I can read the words now!"
-"What? You could read the subtitles before."
"Yeah, but now I can read the shit on the walls, on the suits, on the car, on everything! Like here- look... that says 'Restricted Area,' right?"
"I couldn't tell you what that said before!"
-"Yeah but you could guess."
"Sure, but now I know!"
It went on like that for awhile. Last night she was approaching the end of the game. I sat on the computer in the game room just listening to the euphoria that is quality game audio. Tension was building. Striders were spotted by the water tower. Then the saw-mill. I heard Grandma reload her weapon and drive away after it; listening to the explosions in the distance. I won't give you any spoilers, but Grandma has determined that Half Life 2: Episode 2 probably has the most perfect ending to any video game in recent memory, if not ever.
The battle is incredible. It's powerful. It's difficult. Everything about it is perfect. The game as a whole might not reach perfection, but the ending certainly does. The alarms. The sound of the panic in the radio transmissions and PA speakers. The immensity of it all.
But by the time I pulled myself out of the experience of watching her do it to grab my camcorder to capture some great video of her at this, her finest moment in this beautiful game... it was over. She had done it. I had just finished rewinding the DV tape when I hear "Was that all of them? Is it OVER?! DID I MAKE... I MADE IT!! FUCKING HELL!! Jesus GOD that was a bitch! Wooo! CHRIST!! .....what do I do now.. oh, I follow this guy...."
This is probably a longshot because I've seen so many of you on my friends list playing it, but if there is any of you who have NOT bought The Orange Box yet, do it. Do it right now. Get it for your Xbox 360 or your PS3 or your PC, it doesn't matter as long as you get it. TODAY. I'm not even kidding with you. Half-Life 2, Episode 1, Episode 2, fucking PORTAL... JESUS, it's just a beautiful, awesome, wonderful game. The last time I felt this way.. I don't even know. It was better than Bioshock and I LOVED Bioshock. You HAVE to buy this. It's just fucking gorgeous. Sure, it has some little problems with AI and it WILL freeze on you occasionally if you've been playing for a few hours and there are a lot of enemies on the screen, but it doesn't happen TOO often like it did in Lost Planet. It's going to be extremely hard to top this. Either they have to come out with Half-Life 3 or Episode 3 or SOMETHING in the next year or so or I might have to personally go down to Valve and do one of those hunger-strike things until they do. It's just that good. God DAMN it was good.
And now, Grandma is playing Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction. She goes back sometimes to play the original Half-Life 2 some nights, but I think it's safe to say she's done. The next post is going to be chock full of Ratchet & Clank goodness, and going by what I saw today, there will definitely be videos.
As I mentioned in the last post, Grandma made an appearance on Australian television, specifically ABC's Good Game during a segment that featured mature and senior gamers. You can watch it right here! The show made ABC's front page last week as well. The segment highlights the universality of the mature gaming phenomenon and repeats its inevitability. In other words, Grandma was proud to be a part of it. Cheers, Australia!
Grandma's friend and all around awesome games industry guru Vic Ireland sent Grandma a copy of Dead Head Fred for her PSP. It's a surreal thing that's kept her occupied on the little screen for a little while now, so she has lots to say about it in the next post. Prepare for brutality.
Also- do not forget that those of you who sent in postcards will be getting a little something from me in the post, so watch your mailboxes.
I can say with complete confidence that we are back on schedule. Grandma is engrossed in her own private gaming theater just waiting to talk to everyone about what she's playing. If you see her online, don't hesitate to send her a message. She loves to chat! (Although I wish she'd use her headsets more often.)
More to come!