ALIEN: So Iconic it needs all caps.

photo(1)

I am about to probably give up a little bit of my geek cred when I say this, but I have to do it: this is my first ever time watching Alien. I always avoided it because I’m just not that into scary and gory, and what did I think of whenever I thought of Alien? Chest-bursting, acid-drippy, wet glistening grossness. So when I finally sat down to watch it, and had my blanket about an inch from my face just in case, I discovered that, although I still (delightfully) got scared, the goopy goreness wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Maybe I’ve been desensitized a little bit by this point in my life. There was still grossness, to be sure, but it was grossness I could handle. And I’m glad I could, so I could finally see this iconic flick and enjoy it for what it is: a classic Sci-Fi terror-fest in space.

Yay we made it, yay!

Yay we made it, yay!

The alien really is a perfect organism, as Ash the android scientist puts it. Its various life stages pull at so many different base fears, it’s genius really. First it starts as a creepy egg, that ominously flowers open to let the spider-looking face-hugger out to, naturally, latch onto your face, sticking its nasty alien juice tube down your throat. Then a pint-sized monstrosity bursts out of you, rending your chest into a soup of meaty death. The bugger gets big, bleeds acid, and kills you so quick you don’t even know. Or it strings you up in tons of alien goo and saves you for later. What the hell is there NOT to fear in all that? Even the form of the alien is something instantly recognizable yet foreign; because the alien is a Xenomorph, when it comes from a human host it has just enough qualities to suggest humanity, even though it also has enough alien features to be super scary (like that extra mouth/tongue thing, that’s probably the ickiest part to me).

"Come on man, I just want a hug!"

“Come on man, I just want a hug!”

It was nice to actually see the original inspiration behind so many good Sci-Fi horror stories, including the Dead Space games. Those games scared the crap out of me. I didn’t need my mom in the room like I did with Silent Hill back in the day, though it helped when my boyfriend was home. The monsters in there, called Necromorphs, mutated out of dead tissue into something monstrous and alien and very very nasty. The first one happens on a mining vessel in deep space. Sound familiar? Dead Space is the video game that the Alien franchise really deserved, and not embarrassments like Aliens: Colonial Marines. I’ll talk more about Dead Space when we watch The Thing in a couple weeks. These games are really the love child of Alien and The Thing.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

"Okay okay I'll play your game!"

“Okay okay I’ll play your game!”

Anyway, I’m glad I finally saw Alien. It was a fun get-my-pants-scared-off kind of movie, that is still as poignant today as it must have been when it first came out in 1979. I was 1. My boyfriend was 4. Alien was the first movie he ever saw in the theaters. It really explains a lot.

World War Z: A Monster Book?

 

Z cover

I’ve had to sit on this one a few days and chew on it before attempting to write this post. First of all, this book is awesome. The sometimes-correct Natty Ultra has been begging me to read this for ever, since it’s his favorite book, and I just never quite got around to it. I was sure it was pretty good; he usually has excellent taste, but I’m just not really into zombies. He tells me, “It’s not really about zombies; it’s about the human factor.” And after reading it, I found he was absolutely right. Which brings me to my conundrum when writing about this book for a class on Monsters: are the monsters the stars of this book, enough for it to qualify being part of a class on Monsters?

Yes. And no.

(LOOK OUT! SPOILERS!)

I think the format of the book what was threw me at first, about whether this book was indeed, for lack of a better term, monster-y enough. It’s set up as a series of interviews of some key and not so key people that made it through World War Z. In his intro Max Brooks clearly states that his interviews were more about “the human factor” than anything else. It’s about the kinds of stories people want to hear about wars. And this is most definitely about a war. It’s a war not against other countries, but against people that we knew at one moment, changed forever into a danger that you cannot reason with, just destroy. But it’s still a war. And to me at least, it reads like a war novel.

Maybe part of the other problem I had is that with a lot of monster tales, often you get into the head of the monster. Of course with the trend of human-type monsters like vampires, the monster has enough of a brain for us to get into . Not so with zombies. Unless you have a unique case like Warm Bodies, you’re just not getting into the head of a zombie. And a lot of the survivors’ tales have to deal with the human “monsters” that inevitably crop up in this kind of scenario, just as much as the actual zombies. So you instantly ask yourself, “is this book about zombie monsters, or humans as monsters, or both?” And which monster features more prevalently?

The zombies in World War Z have enough classic elements to make them instantly familiar, but the setting in which they’re placed, and they way that they are used make them terrifying. These zombies are the slower kind, with some interviews talking about exploiting their slowness in order to get away. Essentially, you can outrun or even out walk a zombie (though I swear I read about them running somewhere in the beginning of the book, but I can’t seem to find it, so maybe I was hallucinating it. I did read much of it during the wee hours of the morning.). I think sheer numbers, and surprise, is what allowed the zombies to take over so drastically in the beginning. They were everywhere before people knew it. And if you live in a bustling metropolitan or even suburban area, how likely are you to be able to avoid all those dead people? It makes me actually be thankful for currently living where I do in East TN. I think about DE, and the stretch of 95 from Baltimore to NYC that is pretty much entirely civilization, shopping malls, towns and smaller cities all interconnected into the bigger pulsing cities, and I think why it would be apt for those places to be the first to be lost. You just couldn’t sneak through that many. And when one gets a whiff of you, it moans loud enough for the dead to hear, pun intended. There’s no running from the swarm.

"Let me in to  WalMart!"

Maybe I’m being a little controversial in saying that I don’t think this book is a monster book, or just only a monster book. It doesn’t need to be solely about the monsters in order to still be scary. I am not completely convinced that World War Z is enough of a monster book to be included next to stories that are completely, obviously about the monsters. World War Z, to me, is several kinds of books in one: a war novel, alternate history, survival horror, and yes, a monster book too. Whatever it is to you, you should still read it. In the end, whatever kind of book you think it is, it’s just a great read.

P.S. I purposely chose not to mention the movie in here, which is so drastically different from the book it really is its own creature. I think there are several good points to be made when comparing the two, and I would even go so far to say that the movie was more about the monsters than the book. But we’re talking about the book, so I’ll leave the movie for another post.

 

z pitt 2

I’m not afraid o’ no zombie!

P.P.S. Brad Pitt is good at fighting zombies. He can be on my survival team.

Ready Player One: Real Life Sucks

Yesterday I read Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Only yesterday, because I finished it in one day. It’s one of THOSE kind of books, the kind that even though you know you should put it down for a minute to cook some dinner, or do some laundry, or whatever sort of boring minutiae that life has to offer, you simply…can’t. It takes you out of your world and puts you in another one, very much what the book is all about. As a younger child of the 80’s, and an all-around geek and gamer, I instantly appreciated the care that Cline takes to reference so many beloved classics, some of my personal favorites, and others that I vaguely knew about but have piqued my interest. I couldn’t wait to see what movie or song or game was going to pop up next. Add in that most of the book takes place in the future of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), where the game is actually a way of life, THE way of life, and you have a great cocktail that any geek should gulp down in a heartbeat.

After finishing my book, I decided I had spent enough time offline, and jumped onto WoW. I immediately realized how hyper-sensitive I was to that online environment now, how much I really used WoW (and other games, and books, and movies, etc.) as escape and solace. Because, as one of my guildies put it so succinctly:

“Real life sucks.”

Yeah, sometimes it does. You worry about money, or your living situation, or your job, or your family, or your other half, or your kids, or the world in general, and it can add up. I see myself coming home after a long day at work, exhausted, thinking about the next day and the next and the future, and immediately I want to plug in. That’s what Team Ultra does.  We come home, we unload the weight of the world off our backs, and we plug in. Of course we have our priorities. I’ve never missed work or important events just to game. I’ve never been in a dire monetary situation because of gaming. The most harm it has done me is occasional lack of sleep. We don’t let the game take over our lives, or think we live BETTER lives in our game…but do we?

My avatar in WoW, I should say my latest one, is almost at the top of her game (I don’t raid, so I’m not THAT cool). She’s got some awesome outfits, state-of-the-art gear, and many sweet rides. She’s got more money on her than I have in my bank account on a regular basis. She can create epic and special things that are in high demand. She associates with a group of people that go out and have regular adventures. My avatar can do things that I can never hope to do (mainly because they don’t exist in our reality).  And death isn’t even permanent! Is that kind of world…a better world than ours right now? Many people think so. But…most people, myself included, have the wherewithal to realize that the digital world is not a REAL world. It is a story. Just like good movie, or a book, or even a great piece of music. It gives you the idea of possibility. And isn’t that really, all we want in THIS world?

Star Wars: The Old Republic–Temptingly Badass, Because I Played a Badass

So this weekend marked the last beta testing for SWOR before it goes live on December 20th, and I got in on a little piece of the action. Which I didn’t think I would get, considering the beta was on Thanksgiving weekend, and I was driving 9 hours to visit family and friends and run around like a crazy person. I did however get enough time to create a bunch of characters, and play one in particular, my Sith Inquisitor. The character creation can be a touch clunky, since you go through a series of screens, instead of having it all right there on one. But you get to zoom in and out, and get much more choice in the variety of faces, skin tones, tattoos, scars, and whatnot, not to mention features specific to your race. For my Sith Inquisitor (which is like a caster/melee dps/heal class) I chose the Rattataki race, which I thought was the race of Asajj Ventress from Clone Wars, but she’s apparently a different bald grey-skinned alien. Anyway my bald grey-skinned alien came with a condescending, vaguely British-accented voice perfect for what she was destined to become–a lightning-throwing, lightsaber-wielding badass.

Lvl 9 Sith Inquisitor

Funny, she doesn't look British.

 

I was able to get up to level 10, running around with a ton of other Sith (many of which had the too-obvious name of  “Darth(insert dumb word here)”). The things that really set this game apart from WoW have to be the voice acting and the story. I was much more interested in completing my class quests and advancing my storyline than playing with other people. Maybe that was a bit of a downfall for me, since now I can’t talk about what group dynamics were like. But the solo stuff was interesting! I couldn’t help it.  And hearing it all spoken out, and hearing my character’s own voice in the mix brought you into it that much more. I tried to make her as bad as possible. Except sometimes, when I thought I was obviously picking the Dark Side option in my conversation, I got awarded with Light Side points. I can’t have those! I am Sith! Not some goody-two-shoes Jedi. I’m creepy-looking for god’s sake. Well. I guess some Jedi are pretty creepy-looking too.

Anyway, as I traversed the ancient Sith homeworld of Korriban (Did you know that the Sith are actually an alien race too? I sure didn’t.), I died. A lot. The combat forces you to think on your feet a touch more than questing in WoW.  There’s not a lot of single creatures roaming around, or ones you can isolate from a group. Very rarely did I fight less than 3 mobs at a time. If you’re not paying attention, you can die really easily. Thank goodness that you get a companion that helps you fight, to make things a little easier. But you have to work for that companion. I had to plot out who I was going to  electrocute, then force-stun, then chop up with my training lightsaber (because of course you have to work for that too, you get it at lvl 10).

The comparisons to WoW will be infinite. But this is a different game. It’s not quite WoW with a Star Wars skin. It’s definitely got its pluses and minuses. And WoW has had quite a few years to get polished. But I think that people who are more accustomed to single player RPGs, that want to get into MMOs may find SWOR to be a good bridge. The story is intriguing enough that I didn’t care about power leveling through. Of course, that may change once you play it through on a toon or two. But having the different conversation choices also make for interesting differences. The controls were familiar enough, and the basic mechanics the same as WoW, so it wasn’t like I had to completely reteach myself.

Am I going to completely give up on WoW and scramble for SWOR? Not after signing up for the WoW Annual Pass I’m not. But eventually, after the initial rush, I would like to go back to Korriban, pick up that red lightsaber, and see how much more badass I can be.

Nerd Rage: When “It’s Just a Game” doesn’t quite cut it

Nerd Rage. We’ve all been there. Even if you’re not a geek or nerd in the classic sense, everyone has something that they are passionate about, that brings about equal amounts of frustration. But anyone even remotely close to the geek culture knows truly what I’m talking about. For example, yelling at the one DPS in your dungeon party that can’t seem to get their crap together and makes your party wipe 5 times on the same boss. Throwing down your controller when someone with a gamertag that screams 12-year-old has shot you in the face for the 10th time in a row.  Lamenting to the powers that be who decided to give you consistently crappy draws with no mana, while your opponent gets the mana he needs for that one card that will slaughter you, within the first 3 turns. Yup, that’s what I’m talking about.

As a girl geek, I really try to rein in the rage as much as possible, but I’ll admit that I get super frustrated just as much as anyone else. Though for this girl geek, sometimes the rage does not manifest as anger.

It comes out as tears.

I guess, being of the more sensitive (and sensible) persuasion, crying out of frustration could be acceptable. It could even work to my advantage, if my opponent sees me cry and feels bad. Though I wouldn’t want anyone to let me win, just because they feel bad for me. That’s not a true victory. But if it throws them off their game, then that’s okay 🙂 When it comes to playing online though, this goes completely out the window. Your teammates and opponents cannot see you. Depending on what and how you are playing, they may not even hear you. All they see is your dead body crumpling on the ground over and over, or your low DPS recount, even though you’re over here mashing keys like a fiend.

This week Modern Warfare 3 came out, and of course Team Ultra claimed a copy right away. The other half of Team Ultra has been playing pretty consistently, even though (in both our opinions) the graphics and setup just aren’t as good as Black Ops. Several times I have played multiplayer alongside him, and it’s been really hard not to let the rage overtake me. I kinda suck at these games. Really. I’m not horrible; I can at least kill some people here and there. But for the most part, I’m not all that great. So when I’m the only level 14 in a full group where the lowest of the other players is in the 40s, yeah, I’m going to die. A lot. A whole lot. So I just have to breathe and accept it. And when it gets too much and I am particularly sucking, I step away, and go to something a little lighter. Like Picross (for the DS). Because in the end, while having your heart rate up and playing something exciting can be fun, if you adrenaline rush starts going the wrong way, you’re just putting undo stress on yourself, which is not healthy.  For the most part, I try to channel my inner Buddha and just let it go. It’s just a game. Which is what I get told when I start to rage. It doesn’t really work, which is proven when Natty gets killed a bunch and looks at me with that “did you see that guy make an impossible shot on me?” look, and I respond with the “isn’t it just a game?” look.

It’s just a game, no matter what. But whatever it is, it can still incite the rage. And we are entitled to that rage, because we are passionate geeks. It just comes with the territory. Even single player games can incite the hulk transformation. When playing Batman: Arkham Asylum recently (gearing up for the new one, Batman: Arkham City!) I could not get past this one battle, and it was driving me crazy. I try not to slam the controller lest I get a stern look, but slamming a controller on a soft chair is okay, isn’t it? Okay, maybe not. Anyways, in this instance, there was no one to rage at, no 12-year-old or bad connection or anything. The only person to blame was myself, for being too slow, or the game for being diabolically hard. And the game wasn’t that hard (well, I had it on normal mode, so maybe it was a touch hard).

All in all, nerd rage comes packaged with being a nerd or a geek. Express it wisely.

Have Geek, Will Travel

Well, I’m all packed and awaiting the GenCon bus to whisk me off to Indianapolis. I’m excited to cover the convention and post all the mayhem and craziness that only a bunch of gamers can produce. I’m also excited to try out Picross 3D for the Nintendo DS during my 11 hour car trip. No I’m obviously not driving the whole time. Because that would be dangerous. And hard to do. And I would probably screw up my game.

I don’t think I’ll be able to post while in Indy (I’ve saving up for a shiny new WoW-worthy laptop), but rest assured when I return I will relate all the GenCon goodness, review some games and relate some news, and hopefully have a new pic of Ed Greenwood to add to my collection.

I will leave you with this tiny gem of happiness: if you have Verizon, you  can purchase the Transformers: WFC credits song (which is deliciously old school and awesome) as a ringtone. So you too can have the touch.

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