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A Change of Pace.

I am at heart an indecisive individual. I also get bored of trying to come up with stuff to write about. So, I am going to start reviewing things. Books, movies, video games, tv shows, haircuts, hardware, bowling pins. Whatever I feel like. Or not. So, stay tuned to Four Things And A Lizard for all the latest whatsits.

The Door – Part One and Two.

July 8, 2011

Here are the first two chapters (they’re more like chapterettes. But who’s counting? Besides That One Guy. Sorry to you, One Guy.) of the short story I’m currently working on, tentatively entitled “The Door.” It’s the story of a man who comes home from a long business trip to find a mysterious new door in his apartment, and is forced to Learn A Valuable Lesson about community and associated whatsit. It’s all rather nebulous right now, and this is more or less what the kids call a ‘first draft.’ So, please forgive my excessively rambling sentence structure and occasional tense confusion. I’d love to read any comments, feedback, questions, and/or criticisms, so please let me know what you think! Anywho, without further flogging of the ottoman, here it is, parts 1 and 2 of…. The Door! Tell your friends!

Chapter 1.

On a hot July afternoon, a nondescript silver Saturn pulled into the weather-beaten parking lot of the Splintered Pine apartment complex off ofMercer RoadinBridgeview,Kansas. The car circled the lot twice before finding a spot hidden between an SUV and the ludicrously unnecessary Ford F-350 with full-length bed and extended cab owned by a bachelor web designer who had never hauled anything more taxing than a MacBook and venti latte in his entire life.

The driver killed the car’s engine and stepped out onto the oft- (and poorly-) patched pavement, pausing to reach behind the driver’s seat and retrieve a world-weary canvas duffel bag. The bag’s leather accents and grips were burnished black and glossy from age, accentuating the threadbare nature of the once-green canvas, now nearly white and patched sporadically with duct tape. Writing in black marker, obviously retraced many times, proclaimed the owner’s name as Cameron Howell. Below that, a  series of crossed-out addresses had accumulated like residential driftwood, indicating past homes fromBerlintoSan Francisco.

Hoisting the duffel bag over his shoulder, Cameron hurried towards the front entrance; he had just returned from a month-long job in northernMinnesota, and was not dressed for the heat of aMidwestsummer. The soft sound of his tennis shoes pulling against bits of brightly-colored chewing gum and scraping bottle caps half-sunk into the soft tar patching the many cracks in the pavement blended with the drone of cicadas and suburban traffic. Glancing up at the tasteless and unadorned beige facade of the complex as he approached the door leading to the breezeway, he felt the usual wash of vague depression that rose up every time he remembered where he lived.

Just inside the main door, a workman in blue uniform coveralls brushed past him carrying a toolbox and what seemed to be a bag full of doorknobs. Trying to ignore the overpowering smell of stale curry and the souring leaves caught under the stairs, Cameron gave his mailbox a passing glance (empty, as usual) and headed up the stairs to his third-floor apartment.

The stairs were only carpeted halfway up the first flight; almost everybody going up and down stumbled at the unexpected change. After that, the water-stained mottled-purple carpet gave way to a grey rubber material covered with raised, quarter-sized circles; Cameron always found himself distracted by the bits of foil, dirt, gum, and other nameless gunk that managed to gather in between the circles.

Cameron arrived on the third floor without running into any of his neighbors- a feat he had so far managed for the entirety of his residence at Splintered Pine. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the address, he felt himself relaxing as he approached his door. After a month in cheap hotels, freezing half to death, in near-constant contact with clients and coworkers, Cameron was looking forward to finally having a few days to himself in his own home. Perhaps cook some dinner, watch television, get caught up on the books he’d been meaning to read.

Unfortunately, life had never put much stock in what Cameron Howell was looking forward to.

Coming up to his apartment door, he noticed a white card hanging from the door knob. A flash of irritation was quickly overtaken by puzzlement as he recognized the apartment maintenance crew’s While You Were Out notice. The brief notes mentioned something about replacing his door, which gave Cameron a moment of panic, imagining his apartment being ransacked and burgled. Reading the rest of the notice, however, he recalled complaining to the landlord before leaving forMinnesotathat his door had been jamming almost constantly. Perhaps the era of three-month maintenance delays was at last behind them.

Satisfied with his reasoning, Cameron folded up the notice and pushed it into his pocket, retrieving his keys at the same time.  However, he immediately began questioning again as he put his key into the same battered and tarnished keyhole he’d been struggling with for the last eighteen months; he recognized the familiar hesitancy as the key turned, and the bone-jarring body slam required to then open the door itself.

Massaging his freshly-bruised shoulder, Cameron stepped into his apartment. It was a small, eclectically-decorated affair; movie posters and art prints dotted the walls, peering out from behind and in between bookshelves spread around the main room, furnished with a bedraggled sofa and television standing on a makeshift shelf composed of cinderblocks and the salvaged bar counter from a now-closed coffee house down the street. A kitchen, floored with yellowing, cat-smelling linoleum and barely big enough to turn around in, sat like an afterthought in a walled-off corner. The limited counter space was taken up by a hotplate, microwave, and Cameron’s ongoing pet project, a rebuilt manual espresso machine. His bedroom and bathroom were down a narrow hallway lined with more bookshelves, bending under the weight of Kipling, Tolkien, Pratchett, and Whitman.

Holding the aging duffel out in front of him to fit through the narrow hall, Cameron made his way to his bedroom to stow the bag out of the way before making dinner. He dropped the bag on the floor by the bed before switching the light off and leaving the room.

Twelve seconds later he burst back in and gaped at the door in the far wall of his bedroom; a door that had not existed one week ago.


Chapter 2.

“Yes. I know that. Because I’m the one who told you about it! Listen, you inbred…ible… man…”

Cameron was on the phone with his landlord, trying to figure out why a door had been installed in the middle of his bedroom wall. So far, the landlord had only succeeded in informing him that that apartment’s front door had been sticking, that his apartment was rented to a very nice woman named Camera, and reminded him very sternly of their strict No Pets policy.

“Tell that to the guy who had this kitchen before me. No, I don’t want somebody to come by next week! No no no no, listen to me….

“Look, there’s a door in my bedroom. …No, not the usual one. I’m used to that one. This one’s new since I came back from a business trip this afternoon.

“What? Why do you…. ..Twelve and a half.

“Don’t put me on hold! No, don’t put…”

But Cameron’s protests did no good; the disinterested voice on the other end of the line was replaced by the stridently atonal stylings of the latest Persian folk rock band to (regrettably) reach the hands of his musically irresponsible landlord.

With a disgusted sigh, he hung up the phone and flung it onto the bed where it disturbed a week’s worth of dust and latent cat hair. Cameron mused that there must be some cosmic law dictating that the atmosphere of apartment complexes turn to 47% cat hair as soon as everybody’s back is turned. As the cloud settled, he turned his attention to the door in his bedroom wall.

It was, as doors went, perfectly unremarkable. In fact, it was exactly identical to every other interior door in the apartment- cheap particle board coated with cheap eggshell paint, a flimsy brass knob exactly one handsbreadth too low for an average human to use comfortably. The paint had been applied quickly and inexpertly, with long drip-lines and beads dried into the surface. Fresh sawdust and plaster dust was still visible on the carpet, although it appeared a half-hearted attempt had been made at vacuuming. He couldn’t see any light coming from under the door; however. he thought he could hear some manner of sound on the other side.

He placed a hand against the door, noticing it felt oddly warm, and was humming sightly. He began to reach for the doorknob, but a strange and sudden sense of pending disaster welled up in him- the kind that he always used to get as a child when he was about to get in trouble for something much bigger than the usual Army brat mischief. The blood in his legs turned into ice water, and his stomach balled up like an old dishrag and took cover behind his belt buckle. He had read in books many times about people in fear ‘tasting bile,'; while he had no idea what bile actually tasted like, and even less desire to find out, he had always associated the sensation with the feeling he had now, a sour taste welling up in his throat while his mouth spontaneously dried like an orange peel in a kiln.

The suddenness and extremity of his fear surprised Cameron. He had been in some hairy situations in his life- mugged several times in Los Angeles, taxi he was riding in carjacked in Chicago, been told he would have to move to New Jersey for a month- but none of those things had given him the rush of pure terror he had felt just now. He tried to think of what could be behind a door that was so terrible, and then decided it was best not to let his vivid imagination run away with him.

For several minutes, minutes that felt like hours, as the clock over the bed ticked and the cat hair wafted on the breeze from the air conditioning, Cameron merely stood and stared at the door. The fingers on his left hand twitched slightly every time his eye went past the door knob. Several times he thought he heard distant voices through the door; sometimes it sounded more like mocking laughter. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead, between his eyes, and finally perched on the tip of his nose. He tried to ignore it, but it soon began to itch. After a moment the itch grew; another, and it spread to his entire face. Soon every nerve and fiber of his body itched, and with explosiveness suddenness Cameron frantically and involuntarily scratched his nose.

That distraction broke the door’s hold on his attention; with an indifferent wave at the door, Cameron stalked out into the hallway of his apartment to prepare his belated dinner.

“Stupid, what I am doing, being so concerned about a door, it’s just a flippin’ door. What’s wrong with you? All that cold weather inMinnesota, messed with my brain, that’s what. Made me paranoid about doors. …And talk to myself.”

Eight seconds later, Cameron stormed back into his bedroom and up to the Door, grabbed the knob with both hands, took a deep breath, and pulled it open with a single swift yank.

Then he screamed.

Review- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

May 11, 2010

The Force Unleashed

It all began way back in 1995; LucasArts released the first Star Wars game (apart from, you know, all that crap on the Nintendo) not based on the films. Dark Forces exploded onto PC’s with a first-person shooter based (debatably…) on the Doom engine, putting players in control of the smuggler and spy Kyle Katarn. But, the natural question was…

This is Star Wars…

How come I’m not a Jedi?

The answer came two years later, in the form of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2, where our hero from the first game discovered his latent connection to the Force. The game received critical and popular acclaim for its lightsaber combat and story. However, it was still essentially a first-person shooter; a wide range of weapons kept the combat focus off of the Jedi arts.

And then, in 2003, Star Wars games reached what many consider an all-time high with the BioWare RPG Knights of the Old Republic. Turning back time thousands of years before the time of Darth Vader, Knights of the Old Republic puts players in control of Jedi when the order was at the height of its influence and power; combining a compelling narrative with strong characters and an indepth combat and customization system, the game has justifiably earned the respect of those who played it.

Yet still, an RPG is just an RPG; you aren’t in direct control of your character, and so cannot feel truly connected to their actions. You cannot, in short, feel like a Jedi.

This is, cry geeks everywhere, a problem.

But how does one allow a player to wield this degree of awesome power—such as a nigh-invincible Force-wielder wreaking destruction upon all that stands in his way– while still providing compelling, challenging gameplay?

The answer seemed to appear in 2005’s God of War. Here we were finally presented with a hero who was brutal, unstoppable, and powerful-feeling; attacking the legions of the gods with the Blades of Chaos feels truly empowering, yet the game still managed to be challenging and present a compelling story.

This sea change in video game design paved the way for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The intrepid creative trust at LucasArts thought, can we put this same empowerment into the Star Wars universe? And… how can we justify a Jedi wreaking untold carnage upon his environs?

The result is about eight hours of extremely shiny, moderately well-written, and terribly frustrating gameplay, resulting in several hundred words of ranting review from myself.

Objectivity ends now.

I fully understand the aim of The Force Unleashed, appreciate it, applaud it, and wish it had worked. As the first Star Wars game to really try and focus just on the aspects of being an incredibly powerful Sith warrior (the Apprentice attacking Rodians.aforementioned justification for the ensuing carnage), The Force Unleashed does succeed in some ways. There are no weapons besides your lightsaber and the Force; these powers can be combined in various ways to make combat feel a bit more improvised and provide some illusion of freedom.

The story is an interesting, if rather infeasible, link between Episodes III and IV; Darth Vader rescues a Force-sensitive child and secretly trains him in the dark side as his Jedi-hunting ‘Secret Apprentice.’ This apprentice (referred to only as ‘the boy,’ ‘the Apprentice,’ or rarely ‘Starkiller’ but that’s not important right now.) seeks out hidden Jedi across the galaxy and dispatches them for Darth Vader (who is, y’know, unable to do that himself. What with being real busy and all… breathing…)

This works fantastically in theory, and provides an excellent reason to unleash Force-fuelled mayhem. Sadly, this falls rather flat in the execution.

Which is, arguably, the rather important bit.

Let me say to begin that The Force Unleashed is simply beautiful. Everything is shiny and beautifully-rendered. Character faces are lifelike, with the exception of a few expression changes and Princess Leia.

I played The Force Unleashed’s Ultimate Sith Edition on the PC. My system (specs here) can run the game comfortably, so performance wasn’t an issue. However, just about everything else was. From controls to camera to targeting to the port itself, this game is sadly plagued by crippling technical flaws and bugs.

Let me dwell on the port itself for a moment; the PC port was done by Aspyr, and this company deserves a swift kick in the groin for the slapdash job they have done. First of all, nobody bothered to put mouse support intothe menus.

Let me state that again:

For a PC game, nobody thought it might be a good idea to throw a cursor into the menus (which, for some bizarre reason, each have a loading screen. For menus.)

The Mechanical Reconstruction costume.

The dangers of Sith tanning beds are VERY real.

Whoops.

Next is another little thing that is kinda important to PC gamers: graphics options. The graphics options for The Force Unleashed cannot even be accessed from in-game; you have to completely exit the game to open the graphics settings from the launcher. And then, your option is…

Resolution.

That’s it; that’s all. No anti-aliasing, no view distance, texture resolution, or particle effects. I don’t know if this is sheer laziness, some pretentious artistes at LucasArts who couldn’t stand their project to be seen any way but Their Way, or sheer bloody-mindedness to make their earlier bullcrap seem legitimate.

The only difference between the PC and console versions of this game is the in-game tutorial text. Gamepad buttons are replaced with keys, and that… is all. This doesn’t make any sense either, as LucasArts has a long and robust history of PC games, meaning they should have some idea how to make a functional game interface.

Technical issues aside, the game itself suffers from a tragically flawed targeting system. With so many targetable boxes and scenery items and wall plates, designed for using your Force powers on, it can often be difficult to target an actual enemy. Target Lock can help with this some, but the lock only lasts for a few seconds… defeating, in my humble opinion, the purpose of a target lock. Several times my locked target would switch to a different enemy entirely in the middle of my attack, causing me to break off of the nearly-defeated enemy to attack somebody else.

Targeting issues are especially prominent in boss battles, where I would often waste an entire bar of Force power attacking a wall with lightning after losing my target because the game decided I wanted to target a chair.

The Apprentice gripping a trooper. Heh.

American Gladiator Unleashed?

Combined with the terrible forced camera angle in boss battles– a high, wide-angle view that makes the controls feel incredibly awkward and can make it all but impossible to accurately judge if you are in range for an attack—boss battles often end up as little more than a series of cheap shots and spammed Force Lightning to wear your opponent down.

The goal of this game was to let you feel powerful; putting you in control of a rampaging Sith should be empowering, catastrophic, and darn good fun. Sadly, several issues prevent this from ever coming to pass. Besides the camera and targeting issues mentioned above, the game takes every opportunity to hit your character with a cheap shot. It is very easy to get backed into a corner, stun-locked, knocked down, and blown to bits before you can even realize what is happening. More often than once, I would be engaged with an AT-ST or some other large foe, when a Purge Trooper would appear behind me and launch a rocket, which knocks Starkiller to the ground. Before he can stand back up, another one is already on its way, knocking him down again. In the meantime, all the Stormtroopers in the room are shooting while he’s down, meaning that by the time you regain control of you character and can launch a counter attack, your health is all but gone, and the next missile that has just been launched will kill you.

Blocking is also worthless; you cannot block in the middle of a combo, because the game is determined to finish it’s animations before it will let you do something else. So if you have just launched an attack, and suddenly need to protect yourself, then… too bad. If the player tries instead to just hold a Block, then they will be hit with an unblockable knockdown attack that nearly every opponent worth blocking has at their disposal.

The environment often works against you as well. In one particular boss fight, my character was knocked down and thrown across the map onto an exploding trap on the ground. The explosion from this trap threw him onto another trap, and another, and another. For this entire sequence of events, I had no control over my character and no way to prevent my fate (which was death).

These consistent cheap shots and unfair play by the computer make The Force Unleashed incredibly frustrating at times, infuriating at others, and barely enjoyable the rest of the time. It is impossible to feel like you are a powerful force of destruction when you can be so easily beaten by these poor mechanics.

A lack of memorable set-piece events also hurts this game. The concept art and early promotional materials for The Force Unleashed showcased the destructible environments, epic Force powers,

Force Unleashed concept art

You never get to do this.

and pulling a freaking Star Destroyer out of the sky. I am not ashamed to say that when I saw this in the trailer I geeked out and may have squealed like a small girl.

However, these moments never happen in game; you never get to rip an entire corridor apart with the Force, or lift a battalion of storm troopers into the air and electrocute them all. The much-lauded and overhyped DigitalMolecular Matter is only seen in the rare windows and all-too-frequent doors that must be opened with Force push. There are no truly destructible environments, just lots and lots of doodads that break into smaller doodads that distract your targeting.

The games one set-piece is the above-mentioned Star Destroyer; however, what could have easily been one of the most epic moments in recent gaming memory was hamstrung by frustrating design, shoddy execution, and a litany of bugs and glitches. Your attempts to pull this massive starship down are hampered by flights of TIE fighters, launching from… somewhere. And for some reason, a Sith warrior powerful enough to pull a freaking STAR DESTROYER out of SPACE cannot flick these TIE fighters away with his little Force-powered pinky; no, he must tackle them all one at a time, and if they are not defeated within a few seconds the Star Destroyer returns to it’s original position, making the entire sequence a mind-numbing rinse and repeat.

This level is also badly bugged (which is stupid, you’d think one would thoroughly bug test a major scene like this one). Players wandering too far to either side will get stuck there, resulting in an inability to confront the TIE fighters and the Star Destroyer. Also, the on-screen cues telling you what buttons to push to pull the Star Destroyer down… are wrong.

Whoops.

Pulling down a Star Destroyer

It doesn't happen anything like this.

In the final stretch of the scene, you need to totally disregard the game’s instruction and eyeball the positioning of the Star Destroyer. This costs you precious extra seconds, meaning that another group of TIE fighters will reach you, allowing the Star Destroyer to return to it’s previous position.

So you can start over.

Whoops.

Level design is nothing to write home about; there are no puzzles or secret paths, and almost nothing to prevent you simply sprinting through the levels without killing a single enemy. Gorgeous, yes; interesting, no.

The story mirrors the rest of the game: shiny and outwardly polished, but lacking any solid “meat and potatoes.” Character animations are mostly good, and voice acting is decent. Darth Vader is one of the better-sounding Fake Vaders in a Star Wars game, and the rest of the acting (except Princess Leia. Some developer must have a vendetta against this character. Fat, ugly, and poorly-voiced. Moving on.) was mostly quality. Jimmy Smitts even voices his character from the prequels (poor, career-dead man…), who plays a fairly significant role in the second act.

The narrative itself, however, does not float so well; the Jedi-hunting plot seems fairly contrived, and the second act is a pointless retread of the same levels from the first half of the game. A painfully awkward, and (thankfully, really, if it would have meant more of said awkwardness) underdeveloped romance is touched upon in the final act. The ending is also difficult to swallow, and creates a slew of consistency issues with the later Star Wars canon. For the serious lore geeks, though, the plot fills in some cool details on the rise of the Empire and the formation of the Rebel Alliance.

I feel I have rambled on long enough; this brief little review has turned into a 4-page rant. The bottom line is this: Star Wars- The Force Unleashed had every opportunity to be the greatest, most important game in the long history of Star Wars games; over 7 million gamers agree, making this the best-selling Star Wars games ever.

Sadly, all of the potentially-excellent ingredients scattered throughout this tragically flawed game never manage to mesh together, resulting in an inconsistent experience that is at times entertaining, at times keyboard-smashingly frustrating, but never truly fun. It is still a worthwhile play through for hardcore Star Wars fans, and the bonus content in the Ultimate Sith Edition is a big improvement (kudos to the developers for obviously listening to the early feedback and fixing some issues.). A wide range of unlockable costumes (playing through a level as C-3PO nearly made me able to ignore all of the game’s other flaws.) and lightsabers give some replay

Obi-Wan fight

Beating up Obi-Wan Kenobi is the game's high point.

value, if you can trudge through the story multiple times.

But for casual gamers and anybody without an extremely high-end system, this game is better left in the yard. (…on a leash. Like, it’s The Force Unleashed… so… leave it leashed… aha. Ha. Ha…)

A bright note- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is due out in October, and hopefully will address many of the complaints from this game. There is still hope for a great all-Jedi, all-mayhem Star Wars game out there.

5 out of 10

Metacritic Score: 65

Operation Bullcrap- Part the 26th. In which the Author is, once again, a journalist.

January 21, 2010

Once again, a Feature Writing assignment. The assignment was to write a general feature on a travel, special subject, or whatever. I originally planned on doing at least 10 coffee shops, including Broadway Cafe, Javanaut, Drink-a-Latte (closed the day before I went), and Cafe&. However, being poor and over-scheduled I ended up trimming the selection to the included. This article was also submitted to Tastebud magazine and sent on to an editor for submission; it is also available to read at Associated Content and if you read it there, I make some money. Yay! Anyway, enjoy.

For millions of people, it is an irreplaceable part of the morning routine. For millions more, it is a hard-won source of livelihood. For some it is just a drink, for some a needed energy drink; but for others, it is a passion, a never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee.

Coffee is second only to oil as the most highly traded commodity in the world; the average American consumes 9.25 pounds of coffee per year. So, it is no wonder that an entire industry has grown up to serve the beverage. And it is further  no surprise that the quality of coffee offered by this industry is wildly variable; from the mass-produced corporate coffees of many large chains down to small, local roasters, the wide range of suppliers makes it very challenging to find a satisfying, quality cup of coffee.

The most common venue for the purchase of a cup of coffee is, naturally, the coffee house. Therefore, finding a good coffeehouse is the first step to great coffee.

The coffeehouse is more than just a store for coffee, however. It is a place to gather with friends, to read and think and talk. For centuries the coffeehouse has been the center of cultural evolution, the place where revolutions are planned and constitutions dreamed.

With this in mind, I set out with some friends to find several of the best coffeehouses in the Kansas City and Olathe area. There were several factors I was looking for in each coffeehouse, namely a comfortable environment, friendliness of employees, and, most importantly, the quality of the coffee itself. Here are my four favorites, in no particular order:

1. Homer’s Coffee House – 80th and Metcalf

Homer’s Coffee House was founded by Jim Mathis in 2001 with the intent of bringing a first-class music venue and coffee shop to the downtown Overland Park community. In the time since, that goal has been realized, with Homer’s providing free live concerts every Friday and Saturday, along with locally-roasted coffee by E.F. Hobbs, a Shawnee-based coffee roaster.

On any given night, you can expect to find a good crowd at Homer’s. College bible studies, groups of teens just hanging out, business meetings, and more frequent the shop. With its comfortable lighting, wide-open space, and plenty of windows, Homer’s provides a cozy, yet airy, place to be, with plenty of sofas and tables to gather around. If you sit at the bar, you can expect plenty of pleasant conversation with Homer’s knowledgeable and friendly baristas, and even the occasional free sample.

The coffee itself is excellent, from the brewed coffees (the house blend is always good, and the single origin offerings are not to be missed.) to the espresso drinks. The espresso shots are delicious, with a rich, chocolaty body and citrus highlights with a hint of fruit. Homer’s also provides various seasonal offerings, such as pumpkin spice lattés and shakes.

A variety of food items are also offered, such as scones, cookies, cheesecake, pie, and quiche. Soup is also offered during the fall and winter. Homer’s is open from 6:30am-10pm Monday through Saturday, and is located on the corner of 80th and Metcalf in Overland Park.

2. RevoCup – College and Quivira

Mere blocks from Johnson County Community College, RevoCup is a small, cozy coffeehouse serving freshly-roasted Ethiopian coffee, crafted with passion and diligence. All of the shop’s coffee is roasted in-store by RevoCup’s owner and founder, Habte.

Habte moved to the United States in mid 1980’s from his native Ethiopia, and quickly realized that a good cup of coffee was nowhere to be found. So, he realized he would have to make it for himself. He imported beans from his home in Ethiopia, and began roasting them for family and friends.

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and plays a pivotal role in their culture and traditions. Families roast coffee together in a daily ritual, and as Habte said, “I was born into a passion for coffee. Coffee is the greatest pleasure in life, and we want to offer it to the public in its authentic form.”

I tried both the house espresso and a cup of Kenya AA while I was at RevoCup. The narrow, deep store, colored in chocolate browns with dark wood furnishings and overstuffed chairs, provided a very close, comfortable environment in which to enjoy my coffee. The shop’s narrow configuration leads your eye to the back, where a gorgeous, black Diedrich fluid-bed roaster holds center stage. The romantic appeal of being able to see your coffee roasted while you are drinking the finished product is undeniable.

The baristas at RevoCup where extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and described to me the various characteristics of the espresso they were serving that day, an Ethiopian blend with blueberry high notes, full body, and a pleasant acidity mixing with a deep, earthy finish that left nothing to be desired.

RevoCup is short for Revolutionary Cup, a name with two meanings. The store’s philosophy is revolutionary, flying the face of the mass-market, corporate coffee establishment, content to serve poorly-roasted, characterless coffee, replacing it with a finely-crafted, handmade cup that not only tastes wonderful but gives back as well. That is the second meaning; the cup is also truly revolutionary, in the circular sense. Habte orders green beans from Ethiopian farmers, roasts them in his own store, sells the coffee, and then gives back: a percentage of every sale is sent back to coffee farmers Ethiopia.

RevoCup, located in the northwest corner of College and Quivira, is open daily until 7pm.

3. The Roasterie – 62nd and Brookside

The Roasterie is a very stylish coffeeshop. They have just finished remodeling, and the first thing I notice whenever I walk in is that I instantly feel cooler just for being there. The décor is both trendy and retro, featuring modern stylings and structure in a well-lit space scattered with tables and chairs. An outdoor patio is great for the summer months, and large, opening windows allow the inside to stay comfortable and inviting year-round.

The first thing I noticed about the Roasterie was the presence of two gorgeous La Marzocco espresso machines, one of the finest names in the market, and a Clover coffee machine, a now-defunct brand of specialty coffee brewer. The Roasterie is one of the only coffeeshops in the region to have access to this machine.

Prices are a bit steep, but well-worth it; finely crafted, direct-trade coffees don’t come cheap, and the results are evident in the cup. The Roasterie roasts all of their coffee at their plant a few blocks away, currently turning out nearly a million pounds a year. The company started in ‘Bean Baron’ Danny O’Neill’s basement in 1993, roasting small-scale batches for friends and family.

The Roasterie hires friendly, well-trained and knowledgeable baristas with all the passion for good coffee you would expect from the company’s reputation. Drinks are always served quickly, and all specialty beverages feature latté art, the hallmark of a good latté. The espresso is rich and dark, with oaky, earthy flavors and a vibrant acidity.

The Roasterie Café, at 6223 Brookside Blvd in Kansas City, Mo., is open seven days a week, Monday-Thursday and Sunday until 10pm and Friday and Saturday until 11pm.

4. YJ’s Snack Bar – 18th and Baltimore

While it may be the last place you would ever think of walking into, YJ’s Snack Bar is one of Kansas City’s hidden gems, winner of multiple Best Dive awards from The Pitch, and was even a featured restaurant on the Food Network show “Guy’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” A tiny, easily-missed building on a small street houses this eclectic eatery, which looks as if it were decorated collectively by every man, woman, and child in a three block radius. It’s also popular; a crowd hanging out the door, and occasionally setting up tables even in the street, is not uncommon.

This off-the-wall décor does nothing to detract from the quality of the food and especially the coffee. Different food is served every night, based on a menu rotating by what was available for purchase that day. Many nights are ethnically-themed, such as Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican; every Friday night is barbeque chicken wings.

But, the reason many come to YJ’s Snack Bar is not the food, delicious as it is, but for the coffee, widely regarded as some of the best in the downtown Kansas City area.

The coffee is presented in a manner consistent with the store’s overall appearance, out of a batter espresso machine and in a plain paper cup; however, outer beauty means nothing as I learned upon my first taste of my espresso. A subtle cup, sweet and earthy with full body and good acidity, without a lot of particular flavor delicacies but a very full, satisfying ‘espresso taste.’ I also had a latté, which was well-made, with the milk properly steamed and the espresso and steamed milk well-folded to make a rich, thick, layer of foam and a deliciously sweet taste.

The environment of YJ’s, eccentric as it may be, is nonetheless an enjoyable place to visit with friends. The smells and sounds provide an enticing backdrop while the wildly varied photos, sculptures, clippings, and furniture provide an endless number of conversation starters.

YJ’s Snack Bar, at 128 W. 18th St in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, is open late daily.

Operation Bullcrap- The 25th of Part. In which the Author interviewed one of God’s best friends.

January 21, 2010

This was an assignment for my Feature Writing class, to write a profile piece on an older person. I chose Dr. Fine because he is one of the most incredible people on the planet. Take his Christian Beliefs class. Now. Enroll at MNU and take it. Faster.

Dr. Larry Fine

Forty-one years. Forty-seven states. 20,000 students. 900 speaking engagements. One incredible God.

These are some of the many statistics to sum up the countless achievements of Dr. Larry Fine, a professor in the religion department at MidAmerica Nazarene University.

“I came the second year the school was open, but I still worked for them the first year in fundraising while I was finishing at seminary,” said Dr. Fine of his tenure at MidAmerica. His 41-year term of service is matched only by one other colleague, Dr. Steve Cole.

I met with Dr. Fine in his office in Smith Hall, a dimly-lit and welcoming corner office in the Religion Department. Three of the four walls are covered from floor to ceiling with books, and shelves are covered with mementos and trophies from around the world. The back wall showcases two mounted fish and a plethora of photos and other knick-knacks, including a bottle of Dr. Fine soda, a now-discontinued beverage once manufactured by Surefine. It is obvious that this is the habitat of a scholar with a great love for learning and a life full of stories.

The man himself is tall with a friendly face and a welcoming smile. He shakes my hand as I come in then pulls up a chair for himself on the other side of his desk. He says I should shut the door, because when it is open students are welcome to walk in at any time. He says he remembers having me in his Christian Beliefs class and even remembers where I sat.

Larry Fine grew up on a farm about fifteen miles southwest of Springfield, Mo. “I grew up on farm, had two creeks running through it, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Now I’d give anything to have that back. I had swimming holes, all the fishing in the world, all the hunting in the world. I’m an only child, so it seemed awful lonesome out there, but, oh man, what I wouldn’t give to have that back now. One day I came home, and there were red flags in the yard. I think I was a senior in high school. And about a month later, some surveyors came by, and lo and behold I-44 came through, one lane hit the house and the other hit the barn. So, I can’t go home anymore. It looks totally different now.”

Dr. Fine likes to listen to jazz while he works, particularly Miles Davis and other smooth jazz artists. “My girls accuse me of listening to elevator music,” said Fine. Pictures of Dr. Fine’s family adorn his desk. “I’ve got one wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren,” he said fondly. “Both of my daughters graduated from MNU, and both of them live, thank God, relatively close. I’ve lived all my forty years within two miles of the campus. I’m spoiled; I don’t know what’d it be like to drive downtown every day, bumper-to-bumper.”

He played basketball in high school and continued to play intramural basketball during college. “I used to challenge some of the basketball players to a game of Horse in my early days of teaching,” recalls Dr. Fine. “I could hold my own back then.”

Dr. Fine has never not been in school, he says. After graduating from high school he enrolled at Southern Nazarene University, earning his bachelor’s in 1963. He worked on the weekends at Silver Dollar City, and has the unique distinction of being the first Hatfield to ever be shot by a McCoy in the park’s famed shoot-outs. He received a Master of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts from SNU, and finally received his terminal Doctorate of Divinity from Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978. During this time he was teaching at MNU and preaching every weekend at churches across the country.

All of this traveling and speaking did not diminish Dr. Fine’s dedication to teaching his students. He estimates that he has seen nearly 20,000 students come through his classes, and for a ten-year stretch every single MNU student had him for at least one class. According to Dr. Fine, the students are his favorite part of being in this community. “The biggest joy in my life is the intense friendships I’ve made with students. I get e-mail constantly from people of the past. Former students of the last forty years come by when they come to town, and that’s a very meaningful thing to me. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear from somebody from the past, and that I wouldn’t trade a kazillion dollars for. All the memories with students, the hours in this office, and the fun dialogs… Christian Beliefs dialogs are probably the most fun things, over the years.”

Dr. Fine learned how to teach by experience. “In my early days of teaching, I wasn’t much older than the students. I was really insecure, as a 26-year-old when I started here, without much experience. I’ve only taken two education courses in my life, and they were so boring I swore I’d never be a teacher in my life. It was a stretch doing something I didn’t want to do, I never had any intent to teach; all I wanted to do was be an evangelist in the church,” said Dr. Fine. In fact, he has been able to fulfill this dream as well every weekend for the past forty years.

In 1971, Dr. Fine took a trip to Israel and decided that it would be beneficial for students to visit the country as well. So, in 1974 he arranged the school’s first-ever overseas trip. “I took about 15 to 20 students to Israel and then ended up doing it 14 more times. I’ve done two Greek Island cruises, then we took a group of laymen and spun off of that and did an Inside Passage cruise to Alaska.”

While his career is not the one he originally would have chosen for himself, Dr. Fine has no complaints. “It’s been fun; God actually has fulfilled everything I’ve dreamed of. I wanted to travel when I was young, and God has allowed to me preach in every state but Utah, Louisiana, and West Virginia. I’ve been all over the Middle East: to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, the Island of Cyprus, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Austria, and England.”

Along with teaching at MidAmerica, Dr. Fine has had several other jobs in ministry and counseling. He said, “I spent five years on staff, until about a year and a half ago, at Spring Hill Grace Community; then I spent a year at West Side about six, seven years ago as preaching pastor. I spent three years at one point doing therapy at Shawnee Mission Med Center in the mental health unit, back in the eighties. I actually met two or three faculty members at that time. Mike Gough, before he came here, worked up at the Youth end.”

In the classroom, Dr Fine employs a unique method of engaging the minds of his students, helping them to answer their own questions and explore their faith in a more personal way. “I play the devil’s advocate a lot. I just have fun with it. I’m trying to figure out how to engage them in thought without offending them, and so, I do play the devil’s advocate and don’t tell them where I’m at, quite often, till I’m done. That’s probably the most fun thing I do, is teach Christian Beliefs.”

Dr. Fine has a life outside of the halls of ivy, of course. He is an avid trout fisherman, even guiding fishing trips to his favorite fishing spots. He’s also a licensed pilot, enjoying flying a small plane when he can, which is owned by some friends of his. “They’re kind enough to let me fly it as long as I buy the gas,” said Dr. Fine. But it is trout fishing that is the backdrop for one of Dr. Fine’s favorite stories. In 1959, Table Rock Lake was opened in Branson, Mo., resulting in the flooding of Lake Taneycomo (named for Taney County, Missouri), a warm-water bass lake. The cold water from Table Rock, however, lowered the water temperature and wiped out the bass; the now-coldwater lake was then restocked with trout and became a very popular destination for fisherman, Dr. Fine included.

Dr. Fine recalls, “It was 1963, I was in SNU, Bethany Nazarene at the time, and I wrote dad and said ‘Hey, let’s go trout fishing over spring break.’ So he took a week off and we went to Branson. So one day we were drifting down Lake Taneycomo, right by School of the Ozarks up on the bluff, and dad said let’s pull up on that gravel pile and have a shore lunch. So we did, and we’re sitting there. This was before Branson developed, so there was nothing anywhere, no houses or development. And I said wouldn’t it be neat if we owned this, right here? If we could build a house right here? And this was 1963.

“Then in 1985, my friend Dr. Ron Albright came up to me and he gave me this key, and he said I want you to use it. It was a key to a house on Lake Taneycomo, and I said ‘Ron, Dad and I had a shore lunch, pretty close to your house, where they use to take out gravel,’ and he said ‘Yeah, that’s the corner of my lot.’ So, for the past twenty-five years I’ve had use of that particular lot that I said ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we had a lot right here?’ For the last 25 years, I’ve used it probably five times a year, and he won’t take any money for it. So, that was kind of a neat serendipity that happened as a result of teaching here, preaching and traveling and ministering. Of all things to give me– a place to trout fish, and not charge me. Dr. Albright has also given an Albright Scholarship to the religion department every year for ten or fifteen years.”

Dr. Fine’s lifetime of commitment to MidAmerica gives him a unique perspective on the way things have changed here; from the time when the school was a couple of buildings in a cornfield till now, he has witnessed all of the comings and goings and additions. “There are growing pains, and pains with change, but it’s all been okay. It’s been fun,” said Dr. Fine. Another unique facet are the personal relationships he has forged. He said, “The major person that really influenced me personally would be the first dean here, Dr. Metz. He and I had breakfast at least four mornings a week across the way at what used to be Pooch’s, or different places, and we argued theology every morning; he had two earned doctorates. He just passed away this last year and I miss him a lot. He was our first theology teacher and my theology teacher at Bethany. He was probably the most significant influence on me; he was my mentor.”

Dr. Fine’s years of teaching and impact on the lives of over 20,000 students have resulted in far-reaching relationships and given him many opportunities to see old friends and familiar faces. “I meet people all over the United States. It’s been funny how many times I’ve been on speaking engagements, Lord knows where, Phoenix or wherever, and somebody will holler at me, and they’ll come over, ‘Dr. Fine! Remember me?’ I had them in class and they still recognize me. It has been weird; it’s happened in several airports across the country. Having had this many people in class, and having been in so many churches in my life, one every weekend for thirty-five years, I’ve met a lot of people.” The fond memories of all of these people, and the long-lasting relationships that have been created, are a testament of the love and commitment Dr. Fine has poured into his work and students. God has worked through Dr. Larry Fine in amazing ways, and I look forward to running into him in the airport a few years down the road, when I can say, “Dr. Fine! Remember me?”

Operation Bullcrap- 24th, Part the. In which the Author Is Ethical to The Environment.

January 21, 2010

This paper was the final project for an Environmental Science class. We had to write a paper about our personal feelings regarding treatment of the environment. This is a particularly poorly-written piece. I wrote it mostly at awful times of night whilst alt-tabbing out of World of Warcraft. I know, I’m awful. Read it.

As members of the human race, and (to be, for the sake of sheer cheesiness, extremely trite and cliché) fellow members of this “spaceship Earth,” we all have a responsibility to be mindful and take care of the environment of our planet.

However, as with all things in life, a certain degree of critical thought must be applied; the loose cannon sinks many dirigibles, and in much the same way we must have a focused stance on the environment, lest we lose sight of our values and simply succumb to listless slogans and band-wagonism.

My environmental ethic is multifaceted, and must be prefaced with a bit of a definition, or perhaps a qualifier. I do not believe one can have a purely ‘environmental’ ethic, as this would result in a poorly-balanced, unlivable system that places more priority on protecting trees and shrubbery than providing for your fellow man.

A true lifestyle ethic, then, must combine elements of the ecological, theological, and sociological concerns; that is, you must think about not only the environment, but also about humanitarian issues and how your actions concerning these issues will affect your relationship with God.

I therefore suggest a holistic approach, encompassing more than simply environmental issues. However, to focus on that particular topic for a minute- as that is, after all, the purpose of this course- I believe I can boil my views on environmental stewardship down to one simple concept:

Don’t be an idiot.

It seems flippant, and it may in fact be a little ridiculous, but I mean it with all sincerity and believe it truly does well-represent how I feel. I see many people who come up with a strict system of environmental conduct that they must follow, and everybody around them must follow, or else they become a horrible person and are killing the Earth with their own two hands.

Granted, my observations may tend to color a bit to the extreme, but I am just working with what I’ve got. But, these people with very strict codes and ethics and demands generally seem to end up miserable; the point becomes protecting the environment, not keeping the Earth a great place to live. It turns into spending all your weekends making pamphlets, and throwing paint at fur coats, and stops being about going outside and taking a hike in the mountains and just realizing how awesome Creation is. Perhaps I rant; so, let me instead talk about how I feel one should relate to their environment.

This is where the “don’t be an idiot” philosophy comes into play. We should be aware of the environmental impact of our actions, and always be careful to minimize this impact. Things like using only what you need, replacing what you take, making your resources last, and sharing with those in need that which you have in abundance forms the core of my ethic.

My mother, and I’m sure nearly everybody’s mother, taught me to always be respectful of other people’s property, and to put everything back as good or better than I found it. These same simple, intuitive childhood principles can apply to an environmental ethic. We simply need to realize that the Earth and everything in it belongs to God, and that we need to respect this dominion rather than simply using the Earth as if it is our property.

I do not, however, feel that one can always be environmentally conscious, and that one should not feel guilty or be made to feel guilty if they are not always perfect. Trying to force yourself to be perfect merely results in a crushing burden of self-imposed environmental legalism, and this is no way to live. Rather, it is enough, in my opinion, to try your best, helping where you can, using less of what you can, and not feeling like you are destroying the planet single-handedly if you fail to recycle a pop can now and then.

Again, though, humanitarian concerns should, I feel, come before ecological ones. If doing something ‘environmentally beneficial’ would result in harm to human beings, than it just isn’t worth it.

The things that I feel are most important in regards to an ethic for the environment and life are sustainability, reduction, reasonability, and compassion. Sustainability, because ensuring that the things we do can continue to be done in the future is a simple way of helping the environment. Logging operations planting trees, keeping fishing levels from overtaking fish spawning, and rotating crops to prevent soil depletion are a few things that can be done to ensure a sustainable production of goods.

Sustainability can be on the consumption end as well, though. Recycling used packaging, minimizing waste by buying only what you need and by cutting back on how much you ‘need,’ and intentionally supporting goods and products that are grown sustainably.

Reduction is probably the easiest principle to enact on a day-to-day basis. As Americans, we have been brought up in a highly individualistic, consumer-driven culture that encourages us to buy more, buy bigger, and buy often. The more environmental responsible, ethical response is to buy just what you need and make it last as long as possible, and when you are finished either recycle it, pass it on, or if possible repurpose it into something else. The changing cultural stance on this issue is reflected in everyday manufactured goods; I can go to antique shops and find tools, furniture, decorations, and other goods that somebody’s grandmother probably kept for decades, almost all of which are still in some form of workable condition. On the other hand, I would be hard-pressed to find anything more than five years old in the average American home today (unless it was bought at an antique store for it cutesy, kitcsch value). Or, to use a more specific example: I can find hand-cranked coffee grinders, some from as early as the 1920’s, at nearly any antique store, flea market, or on eBay. Almost all are still in great condition, or in need of very simple, inexpensive repair, and grind coffee as well as ever. However, I guarantee you will not find a listing on eBay for a ‘Great 1990’s era Bosch Electric Coffee Grinder!!!!!!!!” now or ever. The reasons are simple. First, products are no longer made to last. Consumers have been carefully trained to throw away a product and replace it with a brand-new version at the first sign of trouble, so the shorter the manufacturer can make a product’s lifecycle, the faster they will sell new units. Second, people do not treat their property very well anymore.
In corollary to the first reason, people know it’s just simpler to go buy replacement goods rather than caring for the things they are blessed with. As such, toys break, appliances fail, computers go on the fritz; My grandmother meticulously cleans, maintains, and polishes all of her kitchen appliances and household items after every use. By doing this, she has gone years without buying new things. If American culture could begin doing this, in even a very small degree, we could vastly reduce the sheer volume of Stuff we consume on an annual basis, thus saving ourselves ridiculous amounts of money and the environment all of that pollution, mining, and logging used to generate the now unpurchased Stuff.

Reasonability is fairly self-explanatory and simplistic. It ties in neatly to the concept of not being an idiot; if three people from Location A are all going to Location B, they shouldn’t take separate cars. Taking one car is not only cheaper for each of them, but saves the environment a little bit. If you need some coffee to last you a week, buy a small bag of bulk coffee, not a four-gallon jug of coffee that will go stale before you even finish brewing the first cup. Again, you not only save money, you reward yourself with much, much better-tasting coffee, and discourage roasters from producing so much excess product that simply goes to waste. And finally, the simplest part of Reasonability is what you do when you are done with your Stuff. Recycle things like paper, plastic, and metal; compost any organic materials and use them to make your grass greener without toxic additives. It takes next to no effort at all, but is incredibly beneficial for the world at large.

Finally, and most importantly, Compassion. If you live in the United States of America, you are wealthy. Period. You can afford to help people. I grow so tired of hearing college students talk about how broke they are, as they text their friends on their iPhone and eat a bag of chips and drive to chapel in their mom’s Volvo. If each person would understand that they are neither the only nor the most important person on the planet, then taking better care of our environment and our society would be so much easier. Taking care of your environment is the right thing to do in much the same way as taking care of your fellow man. If that $100 per month iPhone were replaced with a  cheaper model, easily available for $30 per month, than you immediately have $70 each and every month to just give away. You were happily handing it over to Sprint, so why not to Sam, sleeping in a box on the corner? Do you really need a phone with texting, web, apps, chat, games, and a camera? Do you really, if you are totally honest with yourself, need a phone at all? Would you miss that iPhone, when you feel the incredible joy of giving freely in love to someone in need?

The answer is no. Discovering compassion is one of the best ways to realize that you must take care of everything God has created, especially his children; and one way to help them is to alter your lifestyle in small little ways that will make their lives better- by living less extravagantly, so you can afford to share more… and help the environment while you’re at it.

So, to sum up, my environmental ethic centers on not being an idiot. If an action you are considering is something an idiot would do, you should not do that thing. Strive to be as sensible as you can be, avoid excessive driving, turn off lights you’re not using, that sort of thing. But don’t feel too bad if you can’t be a total eco-saint. That isn’t the goal; the real goal is helping people, and while many times being ecological is also humanitarian (and vice versa), the real focus should be on changing people’s lives and helping them to be happy, fulfilled, and in relationship with God.

Operation Bullcrap- Part the 23rd. In which our Author is a Journalist.

January 21, 2010

This was an OpEd published in the October issue of MidAmerica Nazarene University’s student newspaper, after the college cafeteria got rid of the trays to save money and water and stuff. Everybody complained so I wrote this. I actually like this one.

Change is a part of life. This is a mantra we have all heard dozens, if not hundreds, of times throughout our lives. Things change; when they do, you make the best of it and deal.

Sadly this is not the action many of our fellow students are choosing following some recent changes to our campus; I refer, of course, to the removal of trays from Campus Center.

I cannot even count how many times I have heard people in line gripe about needing a tray, or people in class complain about how they now need to make multiple trips to get all their food, or sitting at a table and whining that it now takes too long to get food and they are going to be late to class.

My response to the aforementioned grousers is, first, to ask “How old are you?” You are an adult, whether you feel like acting like it or not. Part of being an adult is developing the maturity to accept a changing environment and not complain about it incessantly like a child.

Second, how many trips do you really think you need to make? Nobody could accuse me of being a finicky eater, and one plate is more than enough for my needs. Many people overestimate how much food they will want when they come to Campus Center; you’re hungry, so you grab a tray and load it up. But your eyes were bigger than the proverbial stomach, and you end up throwing most of it away.

We’ve all seen the person who puts three plates on a tray and loads them all up with spaghetti, emptying half of the pan for their own consumption and disposal; this is one of the many problems addressed by removing trays. You are now forced, whether you like it or not, to take a more modest portion and leave more for the people behind you.

This leads to my next point. Taking out trays has actually sped up the lines. People aren’t getting as much food, so each person takes less time to move through, and subsequently the food doesn’t run out as quickly, meaning less time waiting for somebody to bring out a replacement.

When it all boils down, the root of all these complaints is selfishness; you want more food, you want it now, and you’re too lazy to have to stand up to go get it.

So I earnestly ask that people stop complaining about the trays. It’s immature and annoying, so grow up or shut up. The trays are not coming back; the financial savings alone are too great, especially coupled with the environmental benefits, to bring them back merely to satisfy some impatient and lazy grumblings.

I suppose the final note is this: don’t complain. Complaining accomplishes nothing; in fact, the Israelites were made to wander in the wilderness and blocked from the promised land for their incessant grumbling. Don’t be blocked from the food bar. Just stop complaining already.

Operation Bullcrap- Part the 22nd. In which the Author defends the presence of Violence in Video games. Sue me.

January 20, 2010

This was written for a Human Growth and Development class. The topic was assigned, and I chose the position because it wasn’t the one beaten to death. Enjoy.

Running head: Content Analysis of Children’s Media

Content Analysis of Children’s Media: Video Games

Aaron Tank

MidAmerica Nazarene University

Abstract

Video games are a controversial topic in children’s development; the concept most focus on is that of the effect of game violence. However, a wide variety of topics have been researched such as health benefits for obese children, autistic children, and children preparing for surgery; also, research has been performed on underlying causes and meanings of video game ‘addictions.’ This paper will briefly go over these topics and attempt to summarize them and help the reader understand how video games relate to child development, and be able to take action regarding children’s video game usage from an informed standpoint.

Content Analysis of Children’s Media: Video Games

One of the most ubiquitous pastimes of the modern American youth is the video game. Whether played on consoles, hand-held devices, or the computer, almost every child has played some form of video game in their lives. However, what are children exposed to in these games, and how can that affect their development? In this paper we will look at research into video game addiction and violence in video games, as well as some of the benefits and therapeutic uses of games.

Addiction

Like any entertainment, there is a risk of becoming addicted to video games. Wan and Chiou performed a study of approx. 1500 Taiwanese students who played MMORPG’s (games such as World of Warcraft where players interact with many others in a massive virtual world), and examined what factors motivated the players to keep playing, and possibly become addicted. They broke down the motivators into two categories: extrinsic awards– such as in-game wealth, power, and status– and intrinsic awards such as exploration, curiosity, and companionship. (Wan and Chiou, 2007) This information can be very helpful to parents. Instead of berating a child’s apparent ‘video game addiction,’ it can be useful to understand what needs the child is attempting to satisfy with the game, and see if there is anything that can be done at home to help improve those areas.

While it is important to note that the AMA does not recognize ‘video game addiction’ as an actual psychological disorder, (Fritz 2007) it is still something that must be thought about. According to a survey of 7000 gamers performed by Grusser, Thalemann, and Griffiths, nearly 12 percent of those surveyed fulfilled criteria for pathological behavior as described by the World Health Organization; however only 1.8% demonstrated increased aggression (Grüsser, Thalemann, Griffiths 2007).

Violence

Next, we will look at one of the most-mentioned topics when video games are discussed in the media: that of violence and how it affects those who play games. Studies showing a ‘definitive link’ between games and youth violence are often mentioned in the press and in the Senate; however, according to Porter and Starcevic, it is extremely difficult to draw a conclusive, causative link, as to date most studies of video game violence have yielded only correlational findings, and only one longitudinal study has been performed which found any link between video games and violence, and in this study participants were exposed to other violent media as well so a clear link is difficult (Porter, Starcevic 2007).

This is not to say that video games have effect on a child’s behavior. It is important for parents to be mindful of what their kids are exposed to, and this is the reason for the video game rating system. A panel study was conducted by Drs. Walsh and Gentile which found that while parents almost always agreed with a rating stating a game was inappropriate for children; however, there was a certain amount of dissent with games deem appropriate for children. Most of the dissent was on games marketed at adolescents. (Walsh, Gentile 2001) For this reason, it is very important that parents are actively involved in monitoring and understanding the games their children buy rather than simply trusting a basic rating on the box.

Benefits

While video games do receive a huge amount of negative criticism, there a quite a few benefits as well. Video games have begun to gain popularity in therapeutic applications, and have also been regarded as a way to get overweight children active with movement games such as Dance Dance Revolution.
A study was performed to see if video games could be used to enhance a player’s skill in a real-world task. Participants were asked to play a golf game, and some were told to concentrate on improving their skill at putting. The study found that those with an interest in golf and who were told to work on the putting showed a noticeable improvement in their ability to control their putting force (Fery, Ponserre 2001). This demonstrates the potential for games to be used in a rehabilitation context or for motor training.

Furthermore, games have been shown to be excellent health education tools for children suffering from chronic pediatric diseases. A study by Dr. Debra Lieberman at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was done involving clinical trials of three health-centered video games. Children take the role of a character with a chronic health condition such as asthma, and are responsible for ensuring that the character receives their medication and receives proper care during the course of the game. The study found that for children exposed to these games, urgent-care and emergency hospital visits dropped as much as 77%, and the children were able to demonstrate more knowledge and self-efficacy in handling their health issues (Lieberman 2001).

A similar program was deployed at the Assaf Harofe Medical Center in Israel, which found that children awaiting surgery or suffering from chronic disease and given a computer-game-based preparatory system reported less anxiety and more efficacy and knowledge of their procedures than their peers who were given the standard material such as lectures, pamphlets, etc (Rasin, Gutman, Silner, 2004).

These findings are very significant for the way children are taught and raised today. The modern child is exposed to vastly more electronic media than their parents at the same age, and they are therefore usually much more comfortable with learning from an electronic source. Keeping this in mind can greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and skill-building.

Conclusion

It must be understood that video games, like any form of entertainment, can be taken too far and become problematic. Over-use of video games can lead to obesity, lethargy, and poor social skills. However, as with any form of entertainment, there are benefits as well. Games can teach skills, enhance self-confidence, and expose players to new areas of interest. The most important thing for a parent to remember is to be involved; don’t expect a game to raise your child, and don’t blindly trust the rating on the box. Participate in your child’s game-playing and you can ensure they are only being exposed to content that is appropriate.

References

Fery, Y., & Ponserre, S. (2001, October 10). Enhancing the control of force in putting by video game training. Ergonomics, 44(12), 1025-1037. Retrieved October 21, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.

Fritz, Gregory K. (editor). AMA does not endorse video game addiction. (2007, September). Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, Retrieved November 7, 2008, from Academic Search Complete database.

Grüsser, S., Thalemann, R., & Griffiths, M. (2007, April). Excessive computer game playing: evidence for addiction and aggression?. Cyberpsychology & Behavior: The Impact Of The Internet, Multimedia And Virtual Reality On Behavior And Society, 10(2), 290-292. Retrieved November 7, 2008, from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

Lieberman, D. (2001). Management of chronic pediatric diseases with interactive health games: theory and research findings. Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, 24(1), 26-38. Retrieved October 21, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.

Porter, G., & Starcevic, V. (2007, October). Are violent video games harmful?. Australasian Psychiatry, 15(5), 422-426. Retrieved November 7, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.

Rassin, M., Gutman, Y., & Silner, D. (2004, December). Developing a computer game to prepare children for surgery. AORN Journal, 80(6), 1095. Retrieved October 21, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.

Walsh, D., & Gentile, D. (2001, June). A validity test of movie, television, and video-game ratings. Pediatrics, 107(6), 1302-1308. Retrieved November 7, 2008, from CINAHL with Full Text database.

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