Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

'Goddammit, Josh': A reflection on the loss of Grandma's Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction save files

There is a certain phenomenon in the gaming world in which one's save files on a memory card, hard-drive, or cartridge are deleted by another, whether it be a friend, enemy or relative. The phenomenon is typically the product of accident or negligence, but on certain, rare occasions it is performed deliberately out of malice. Either way, it is unique to a certain classification of instances that transcend the personal relationship between a gamer and a single-player game, forming a new, multiplayer element to the experience above and beyond the intentions of its creators.

Most instances within this classification focus on distraction, for instance- a roommate yelling on the telephone in the chair across the room; a parent of a younger gamer scolding them for some infraction; a child of a gamer attempting to gain attention, or the common "HA, MOTHERFUCKER- YOU CAN'T SEE THE TELEVISION!" gag performed daily by persons waving their arms in front of the eyes of Guitar Hero players world-wide.

The file deletion phenomenon, however, is unique in that the damage can be easily and effectively measured with precision; the time one had invested advancing within a single-player game up to the moment of deletion is lost forever.

In our house this phenomenon is called the "Goddammit, Josh."

Our house hosted Thanksgiving again this year. When I woke up and came upstairs, I found that my brother had already arrived. He was sitting in Grandma's chair in the gameroom playing something on the PS3.

"Josh, what are you doing?"
-"I'm playing Ratchet & Clank!"
"Does Grandma know?"
-"Yeah, but-"
"Who are you signed in as?"
-"I'm playing on Grandma's profile."
-"No, it's cool, I started a new save, I'm not messing with anything...."
"Create your own profile if you have to, but don't play on hers."
-"I'm not, I'm just on a new save! It's fine!

There's a few very good reasons we don't play on Grandma's profile. It's all networked so when people see Grandma's gamertag or PSN ID pop up and say "OGHC is online," it better ass be Grandma holding the controller. She has friends online who message her and talk sometimes and the last thing she needs is for one of the kid's friends to pop on her account and start mouthing off to people who then think it's her. It hasn't ever happened, but it's possible. Also, her achievement points are all fairly earned on XBL. She's not overly noble about it or anything, but if one were to casually compare gamerscores with Grandma one day and find that she had just obtained the "Right Hand of God" achievement on Guitar Hero III, they might think that she's capable of that kind of thing, then rumors start, things are posted on certain forums, charges of fraud are made and we get more hate-mail than Charles Guiteau on President's Day. She likes her settings a certain way. She likes subtitles to be the default. She likes her controller sensitivity turned just right. She doesn't like people fucking around with that.

All good enough reasons, but none more important than the fact that GAMES AUTOSAVE NOW.

Grandma hadn't had much time to play Ratchet & Clank this week because of all the cooking and baking in preparation for Thanksgiving. She was cooking pumpkin pies from scratch, which involves torturing a lot of rather tiny pumpkins. She had stuffing to make, which for her takes forever because she does things just her way. All of her save files were dated for Monday, the 19th. That's how busy she was. It wasn't until yesterday evening when she finally sat down with a full glass of Diet Coke and a few printed pages from GameFAQs to guide her towards the location of the last Gold Bolts when she discovered that every save in her profile was dated for Thanksgiving morning.

There exists a hierarchy of frustration for the Goddammit Josh phenomenon.

Level 1: 5% or less of the game complete at time of deletion.

Expected result upon discovery: "Man, now I have to go through all the opening cut-scenes and tutorials again... Goddammit.... This cut-scene really is cool though, look at this..."

Level 2: 6-15% of the game complete at time of deletion.

Expected result upon discovery: "Aw, this is BULLSHIT. I had JUST GOT the one weapon and things were getting good. God DAMMIT!"

Level 3: 16-40% of game completed OR the save immediately after the defeat of a particularly difficult boss.

Expected result upon discovery: "WHAT THE FUCK?! Aw.. you have to be kidding- aww.... no fucking way, no FUCKING way he deleted that. God DAMMIT, JOSH..... He's going to create his OWN goddamn profile if he wants to play, I can't believe he did that."

Level 4: 41-96% of game completed at time of deletion.

Expected result upon discovery: "You. Are. SHITTING ME?! Look at this shit. It's gone! Completely gone. You know how many hours I put into this?! How CLOSE I was?! That was the whole game!! I have to start ALL OVER. FROM THE BEGINNING. Look... Look at this shit... ALL the way back, and I do mean ALL THE WAY. That's it. He's not touching anything in here. NOTHING. How fucking CARELESS do you have to be?! GOD.. DAMMIT!!! Jesus... so many hours in- THIS FAR IN and I have to do it all over again. I don't even REMEMBER where I found half this shit. All the BOOTS. All the WEAPONS. All the ARENAS. I have to do that robot thing again, all that swinging/timing shit.... I'll fucking......YiiiieeeeeEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!

Level 5: 97-99% of game completed at time of deletion, i.e., just before final boss battle / final item collection

Expected result upon discovery.....


This WAS a Level 5 Goddammit Josh.

I had never seen one before. Not a Level 5. I remember witnessing a Level 4 once, a long time ago. If I remember correctly it was an accidental Memory Card format on her PSOne, right around the time she was finishing up FFVIII. I remember her being so hurt, so frustrated, that I honestly didn't think she would even start the game over.

You think you can prepare yourself for a Level 5, but you can't. Not to go through one yourself, and not even to watch someone else make the discovery on their own game.

So, although I'm sure most of you can imagine it; most of us have gone through it at some point, I'll give you a recent game example to provide a little emotional context:

Imagine you have been spending the past week or so, a little bit at a time after work, trying to get that "Little Rocket Man" achievement in Half Life 2: Episode 2. You have been schlepping around a tiny little garden gnome on what would be your second playthrough of the game. Every time you face an enemy, you put the gnome somewhere you can find it, change weapons, attack the living shit out of whatever is attacking you, then go back, pick up the gnome, and trudge on. It's not the most difficult task, perhaps, but it's certainly tedious, and worth arguably more than that 30 points that's coming to you once you reach White Forest Base. You've saved responsibly. Every time you get past some tricky part, you save. You just have a little more ways to go; that was your last save. You're SOOO close.


It's a lot like that.


".......Josh, if you-... .....I swear to god if he deleted my-...... IF HE FUCKING DELETED...... oh god! It's gone!"
"These aren't my saves- THESE AREN'T MY SAVES! I didn't... look..... these are all at the beginning..... I just... two more... gold bolts..... where are the saves?"
-"Are you signed into your profile?"
"Yes! OGHC! He didn't... oh jesus.... EVERY. FUCKING. FILE........They're just....gone......everything is..........Goddammit, Josh..."

And then she was quiet for a real long time just staring at the save list. I didn't expect that. Strange things occur during a Level 5. She was probably thinking. She was thinking about every difficult part of that game she would now have to repeat. She was thinking about how when she replayed it all of the plot up until the final boss would be something she already knew, how there was nothing more to discover or new weapons with which to play. She was thinking about what she could have done differently Thursday morning; maybe had been more assertive or just paid better attention to what Josh was doing when he walked into her game room to try some stuff.

Or maybe she was just plotting different ways to kill my brother. Maybe she was considering places to dump the body and how to clean up the mess from the hardwood floors. Maybe she was thinking about how to properly respond to the flurry of articles that would no doubt be written in vindication of those who said that gamers are a violent people, and maybe she thought her good buddy and best friend in the whole wide world Jack Thompson would offer his legal services in the murder trial that would be forever known as the "Ratchet & Clank Killing."

But I doubt it.

She was just pissed-off and hurt.

And sometimes when you're pissed, there's nothing to say.

But we gamers are a hardy people. She'll start a new save on that beautiful game and she might even catch some glimpse of something to which she hadn't quite paid attention before the same way we find new hints of the identity of Kaiser Soze every time we watch Finding Nemo. It was obviously an accident but... god DAMMIT, Josh...

Anyway: One way I think you can help Grandma is by sharing your own Goddammit Josh stories. This phenomenon is more common than any of us really think. It might help her to ease back into R&C.

Game on!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Grandma's back, baby!

Grandma's health has gotten better. The bills are being paid early. The Jeep is back from the shop and running better than before the accident. My schedule is now fairly regular. Working longer weeks has finally paid off in spades for me.
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.
God damn.

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.


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.

*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?!"
-"Do what?"
"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?

Hell YES.

"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!

Game on.

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