Digital Imagery

"Jeff Bazos says it’ll be ready by 2016," I said into the large microphone sitting on my desk. "Can you imagine? Amazon packages delivered in half an hour!"

"But there’s no way," said another boy into his own microphone, 300 miles away. "Drones are expensive, and besides, it’s dangerous to just drop packages from the sky."

"Jeff Bazos says it will be ready by 2016," I repeated. "But I agree, it doesn’t sound feasible." Silence for a moment, then: "But y’know, if Amazon does pull this off, and it isn’t too expensive… Marco, I’m not sure I’d have a reason to ever shop anywhere else!”

"I like shopping, though," Marco protested.

"I do too," I admitted, though I wondered, but for how long?

With every new technology, a piece of our culture is forever lost. I still have fond memories of helping children develop photos in the dark room, at a day camp where I worked during my summers off from high school. The kids loved it. They enjoyed turning their film into negatives and their negatives into prints, which they would then run through chemicals under pale red light, watching as their pictures magically came into view. They were sad when the dark room closed, not knowing how close we were to running out of film. I’m amazed the stores kept selling film for as long as they did. Who was buying it? I rarely see anyone with film cameras anymore; I haven’t seen a single one since last summer, and that sighting was so unusual that I actually approached the young woman out of curiosity and asked why she was using film. “I don’t like digital photos,” she had explained. “They’re less authentic.” When I asked what she meant, she asked if I’d heard the word “authentic” before. I wanted to say that I had—that I just didn’t understand what it had to do with film—but she’d already turned to leave, and as she did I couldn’t help mentally rolling my eyes. Authentic. What a waste of time. As long as the images looked the same, I couldn’t care less how “authentic” they were.

When a piece of technology is released that lets us make more efficient use of our money or time, society has by and large been willing to adopt it, though often not without complaint. The common wisdom still seems to be that screens are turning us into zombies (I guess books are too, then, because I stare at those a lot), that the Internet is making us narrow-minded (ignoring all the topics I’ve stumbled across while lost in the hyperlinks of interconnected web pages), and that Facebook and Skype and texting and Twitter are getting in the way of genuine relationships. When my family and I went out for dinner this past summer, the waitress offered us a discount in exchange for agreeing to part with our phones for the duration of the meal. I later complained about this bitterly to Marco, who said it didn’t sound like such a bad thing—I was out with my family, so they should be the focus of my attention, and besides, I don’t normally use my phone during dinner anyway. “But it’s the principle of it, Marco,” I explained to the microphone on my desk. “The implication is that we’re all just so attracted to our evil technology overlords that we actually need a financial incentive to break free!”

Marco and I have never met in person, though not for lack of trying. We’ve attempted to arrange visits, but it’s a long trip, and even after five years we have never been successful. Even so, I consider him one of my best friends. I wonder how far we are from a time when no one needs to travel anywhere—when we can take classes online, and converse over Skype, and have purchases delivered to us via Amazon’s autonomous drones. Travel is expensive and time consuming, and it wreaks havoc on the natural environment. Our screens do disconnect us from the world, but we can also experience the world through our screens. Being wrapped in a digital universe of our own creation may sound like a sad existence now, but once screens and speakers mature to the point where they’re indistinguishable from the real world, and once we can recreate smell and touch and perhaps even taste in addition to sight and sound—eventualities already being explored in many university research labs—would it still really be such a bad thing?

Well, would it?

I can’t find a flaw, but I can’t get excited; it’s a case of disliking my own reasoning. It’s because I remember my nights of shopping adventures with friends, and because of the kids and the film and the dark room, and because of being five years old and watching shooting stars with my father, as the spectacular image of the milky way rose to infinity above us….

As long as the images looked the same, I couldn’t care less how authentic they were.

Had that night sky been an IMAX screen, would I have known the difference? Perhaps I would, but theaters are improving, and the sky is not. Are the ancient castles in England worth more than the ones at Disney World? Because Disney’s castles draw more crowds and generate more revenue than their authentic inspiration ever will. I want to believe that authenticity carries intrinsic value, but I also believe in following logic, and I can’t find logic in authenticity when there are superior illusions to be seen. I will never be able—don’t want to be able—to become one of the anti-technology holdouts, driven by nostalgia to decry change for change’s sake. Once the rest of the world has gone digital, I don’t want to be the girl holding onto film.

This essay was originally written for an English class in college.

Trials of Patience

“Jonathan, why do you run everywhere?” my high school science teacher once asked me. Then as now, I was known for running from class to class, often as fast as I could.

“Well,” I replied, “I figure that I can either spend three minutes walking somewhere, or run there in 30 seconds. I’m impatient.”

“And do you think that’s a good thing, being impatient?”

I paused, considering the question. “Sometimes it is,” I answered. “Sometimes not.” He nodded in response, then added “don’t ever drive.”

I’m not nearly as impatient now as I once was. When I was younger, I recall dreading ordering packages online, because I knew that such purchases would be followed by an agonizing week of constant mailbox checking. One time, USPS forced me to wait a full two weeks for my new computer game to arrive. I would faithfully check the mailbox every day after school, only to leave disappointed every time. The day did come, however, when the black and yellow Amazon logo finally dared to show its face. I gleefully snatched the box and hurried up to my room, letting my computer boot up as I tore at the packaging. The gray outer box gave way to a white inner box, which in turn gave way to a small, white, paper cd sleeve. Then the sleeve gave way to two halves of a broken disc, and my world came crashing down.

What was I supposed to do? Send it back, and wait another two entire weeks for Amazon to send me a new one? No, that wasn’t possible. I’d waited too long already. I had a much better idea. Actually, it was a terrible idea, but if I knew that at the time, my impatience caused me to ignore it.

Slowly, carefully, I placed the two broken disc shards on my bed, fitting them together and placing a strand of duct tape over the top. I made sure the tape was on top, so that the disc’s shiny underside would be left exposed to the deciphering laser beam inside my computer. I then opened my disc tray and placed the bandaged computer game inside, watching as my game receded into the depths of the machine. What ensued was a loud noise, some banging, and a crash. The computer informed me that my disc drive was empty. When I attempted to open it, and see for myself, it whined in refusal. I would never see my disc tray opened again.

It was as if a spell had been broken. There is stupidity, and then there’s stupidity, and somehow, I realized, I had managed to perform the latter. How? Before, I’d had no game to play, and now, I had no way of playing it anyway. And it was all—entirely—my fault. I had to live without a cd drive until we bought a new computer many years later.

Some might describe this experience as a failure of patience, but my impatience is a part of who I am. It’s less a failing and more an amoral quality; to use it effectively, I have to know its limits. Impatience keeps me active. Whereas a more patient individual might be content to miss the beginning of class, I always arrive several minutes beforehand, eager for lesson to begin. (If it’s the first class of the day, and I just woke up, all bets are off). If I’m sitting in my dorm, and I want something to eat, I run to the dining hall as fast as I can. (According to my calculations, this saves me approximately 12.5 hours every year). When a new Zelda game came out a few weeks ago, I went to the midnight launch, so I’d be able to play it as soon as I possibly could (using, of course, those 12.5 hours I’d saved).

But I’m also older now, and I know when I can’t afford to let impatience get the best of me. Had I arrived arrived home from Walmart at 12:30 AM, and opened my brand new copy of Zelda to discover that the disc inside had been split in two, I wouldn’t have tried to fix it with duct tape.

After all, glue dries pretty quickly.

Nintendo Worlds

MG Siegler of Techcrunch recently wrote an article titled The Death Of Nintendo Has Been Greatly Under-Exaggerated. He’s right; Nintendo has been in tough situations before, but never as bad this this. Like it or not, the Wii U is selling terribly, and the 3DS, while profitable, is selling significantly less well than the DS did. The company’s home consoles are seemingly unable to compete with Microsoft and Sony, and cell phones are slowly making their portable consoles irrelevant. Yes, I said it: cell phones are taking business away from Nintendo’s handhelds. It’s happening more slowly than many tech pundits had predicted, but it’s a real phenomenon, especially in western markets.

And so the question becomes why. I know this won’t hold true for everyone, but I firmly believe that Nintendo makes the best video games out there. Mario Galaxy, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Rhythm Heaven Fever, and Kid Icarus Uprising are literally packages of bliss. Don’t get me wrong, they make plenty of bad games as well–New Super Mario Brothers 2 comes to mind—but the good titles outnumber the bad, and those good ones are truly exceptional.

Of course, if Nintendo needed to, they could put these games on other platforms. Does Mario really need a custom, Nintendo-made box in order to exist? Perhaps he does. Most gamers will recall how, after Sega left the hardware industry, the quality of their games plummeted. However, I can’t explain why this happened, and just because Sega handled the transition poorly doesn’t mean Nintendo would as well. But is it worth the risk to find out?

Perhaps more importantly, I like Nintendo’s hardware. While I’m not a huge fan of the 3DS XL and definitely not the 2DS, the original model 3DS is a great handheld. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket and bring anywhere, and home to a library full of fantastic software. Yes, phones can play games too, but they’re forced to resort to either imprecise touch controls, equally imprecise tilt controls, or an external controller. Carrying around an external controller, which I’d have to either pair with or plug into my cell phone every time I remove it from my pocket, sounds far less appealing than carrying around an integrated system like the 3DS.

And despite its poor software library, The Wii U is an equally great piece of hardware. I know the Gamepad looks bulky and uncomfortable, but it’s actually the exact opposite. Try one out if you ever get the chance, as you’ll find that it’s extremely light and shaped to fit your hands comfortably. It improves gameplay too. While many of Nintendo’s own titles make gimmicky use of the Gamepad, it’s the less innovative uses that I find most appealing. I loved Playing Assassin’s Creed III with a large and expansive map in my hands; I never want to go back to relying on the tiny minimap in the corner of the screen.

If Nintendo’s hardware is good, and their software is fantastic, why are they doing poorly? I think Nintendo has a perception problem. They need better marketing. They need to convince the general public that the Gamepad is both comfortable and useful. They need to convince mobile gamers that playing a touch screen games on a phone won’t ever be as worthwhile an experience as playing Ocarina of Time on a 3DS. And–perhaps most importantly–they need to show older children and younger adults that even though Pikmin 3 and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland use cute, happy blobs of color as their protagonists, that they can be enjoyed by people of any age.

I visited Nintendo World for the first time only a few weeks ago. Going in there, you’d never know that Nintendo was struggling. It’s filled with Wii U and 3DS demo stations for games like Smash Brothers Brawl, Pikmin 3, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Nintendo Land, among others. People stood around the stations, some playing alone, some competing with one another, and some simply watching others play. And everyone was smiling. You don’t see many smiles from people playing Call of Duty or Angry Birds. It’s something pretty much unique to Nintendo games.

I didn’t need to be sold on Nintendo, but if I did, this is the best advertisement I could possibly imagine.

So I think a big part of the solution for Nintendo might be a relatively simple one: open more retail stores. Convince people directly of how fantastic your software is. Show cell-phone gamers why they should be playing Mario Kart on a 3DS instead of Candy Crush on a phone, and force teenagers and adults to realize that Kirby’s Return to Dreamland is fun despite it’s lack of white nihilistic gun-wielding alpha-males.

This was Apple’s strategy, a company whose comeback largely began with the decision to open retail stores. They’re what sold me on an iPad. When it was first announced, it sounded like an overpriced and useless piece of technology, too large to be truly portable and lacking a keyboard for any other use. Then I tried one. It was sitting right there in the Apple Store, and I was curious. I instantly fell in love with how it felt in my hands, and how the OS reacted to my touch, and how relaxing it was to browse the web…

Nintendo’s games are as fun as ever, but no one seems to know it. Nintendo needs to show them.

Story vs Game.

"Are games art?"

It feels like an almost age-old question at this point, and yet no one can agree on an answer. Art is certainly hard to define, but few seem to have trouble admitting that films and books classify as works of art. So why are we still arguing about games?

I could make the Games Are Art argument, if I wanted to. I’d point to titles such as Alan Wake, Persona 4, and Bioshock Infinite as examples of games that are able to craft intricate, meaningful stories, that we can connect with on a human level.

Story. That’s an interesting term to describe a game. Because when I point to Alan Wake as a work of art, it’s not the game I’m giving praise to. As a game, Alan Wake is about shooting zombies with guns. It’s as a story that Alan Wake shines. It’s the environments, the dialogue, the cutscenes, that makes Alan Wake such a great experience. So is Alan Wake really a good game, or is it merely a good story? Without the cutscenes, I doubt I would have played Alan Wake for longer than 10 minutes.

Of course, you wouldn’t remove color from the Mona Lisa, or audio from Star Wars. In video games, however, there’s always been a fundamental disconnect between game and story. Crawling dungeons in Persona 4 doesn’t help to further develop the characters or plot; that’s done in the cutscenes and social links. And while Persona 4’s cutscenes are great, they’re completely devoid of any gameplay, aside from the occasional throwaway dialogue option. It’s a fun game and it’s a good story, but are they two separate entities or truly one and the same?

I stopped playing Skies of Arcadia, a classic Sega RPG for the Dreamcast, about two years ago, sick of the random encounters and repetitive gameplay. I picked it back up a week ago, not because I was excited about being bombarded with random encounters every five seconds, but because I wanted to experience the rest of the story. And what a story it was! A tale of exploration, bravery, friendship, and perseverance! My favorite parts were the cutscenes.

Portal 2 doesn’t use cutscenes. Instead, you can listen to the characters talk as you play the game. This makes the game and the story feel more integrated, but they’re really just cutscenes that let you multitask. Ultimately, the two are as separate as ever.

It’s unfortunate that this attempt to combine story and gameplay has led to so many game-stories centered around violence. I recently watched episode two of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes Vs Women video series. The video is about how a lot of modern video games promote a general culture of misogynism among the public. Towards the end, she explains:

"In this way these failed-hero stories are really about the perceived loss of masculinity, and then the quest to regain that masculinity, primarily by exerting dominance and control, through the performance of violence on others…This is unfortunate because interactive media has the potential to be a brilliant medium…to explore difficult or painful subjects."

She’s talking about games, but she’s really referring to their stories. But why is violence always the solution in video game stories? Because it’s easy to frame game mechanics as combat. Imagine trying to frame them as negotiations instead. Or friendship building. Or parenthood. It would certainly be difficult. I’m not convinced it would be possible at all. As much as I’d love to see video games explore more complex subjects, I’m not actually sure that it’s possible.

Perhaps we should stop trying to pretend that games and stories are somehow related. After all, some of my favorite games in the world are the ones that come out of Nintendo, and the storytelling in Nintendo’s games is light at best. But I think there’s also something special about the game + story formula. I don’t care how good the story is in Final Fantasy, is it really better than all of those SciFi and Fantasy novels lining bookshelves everywhere? Because I promise, those novels won’t require you to trudge through an endless litany of menu-based battles before you’re allowed to see the ending. Yet people love the Final Fantasy games. If game + story is a magic formula, I can’t pinpoint the source of the magic. I don’t know how being a game makes a story more engaging.

There are a couple of games that truly connect game and story together. Minecraft has a story. It’s the tale of a person who starts from nothing, but through exploration and craftsmanship, becomes skilled enough to slay a mighty dragon. It’s a story and game truly integrated into one whole. Minecraft’s gameplay could not exist without its story, and the story could not exist without the game. Journey, for the PS3, is another great example of a game and story truly woven into a single package.

Until these types of titles become more common, I’m still hesitant to call video games an art form. Art leaves an emotional impact. The stories games tell may be art, but are the games themselves? I’ve gone back and forth on this one over the years, but right now, I’m going to say no.

What I Want in a Video Game Console.

I DON’T want to watch TV.

I DON’T want to browse the web.

I DON’T want to be distracted by messages and notifications while playing.

I DON’T want to be forced to connect to the internet.

I DON’T want to share gameplay videos.

I DON’T want to pay extra for multiplayer.

I DON’T want to see advertisements on the homescreen.

I DON’T want to miss out on key content because I chose to not pay extra for DLC.

I DON’T want to be punished for lending a game to a friend.

I DON’T want to type in a code before I’m allowed to play.

I DON’T want to have to wait for a game to install.

All I want is to insert a game, and press play.
Is that really too much to ask?

When Our Brains Obscure Common Sense

"Imagine waiting in line for three hours, paying $100 for a ticket to the Warped Tour to see your favorite bands, and waking on the day of the outdoor concert to find that it’s bitterly cold and rainy. If you go you’ll feel miserable. But you’ll go anyway, reasoning that you paid $100 for the ticket and the time you spent in line will have been waisted if you stay home." - Psychology Text Book

Yep. Sounds like what most people I know would do. And it’s stupid. My textbook explains why:

"Notice that you have two choices:
1) Spend $100 and stay comfortably at home.
2) Spend $100 and endure many uncomfortable hours in the rain”


The book goes on to explain that this is actually a problem with the way our minds work, called the sunk-cost fallacy. Please, everyone, let’s not let mental bugs stop us from using common sense, okay?

Answer for Virginia Woolf

"Have you any notion of how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men?…Women do not write books about men…What could be the reason, then, of this curious disparity, I wondered…Why are women, judging for this catalogue, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?"
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Well, see, it’s quite simple really. Males, me included, are generally more stupid than females.

The mind’s of men are unable to comprehend the minds of women, leaving them perplexed.
The women just recognize that the men are idiotic, and move on.

Understand now? It’s really not that complicated.

And, no, I don’t actually think this.
Yes I do. But you didn’t see anything.

Different, yes, but the same.

Apple is a hardware company. They make money by selling computers, cell phones, and tablets to consumers.

Google is an advertising company. They make money by selling advertising space to other corporations.

Microsoft is a software company. They make money by selling software to both consumers as well as the enterprise.

And yet, all three are competing with each other.
What a strange world we live in.

Climaxes, Schools, Birthdays, and Prom.

My blog is a great way to organize my thoughts. And maybe I’ll read it myself some day, after time has obscured the memory. And while these aren’t things I’d just walk around and tell people about, it’s not because they’re private. It’s just more information than anyone would ask me for, and certainly more than I’d force upon them.

* * * * * * *

It was a day in early March. I was walking down the ramp outside our school library, when:

"Hey, Jonathan, are you going to Prom?"

"No, I don’t think so…"

The entire thing, I think, came REALLY close to just ending there and then. But at that moment, a thought occurred to me. I didn’t think it was true, but…


"I was wondering if you’d want… to go with me."

Oh my god, it WAS true. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, processing everything. Normally, I would NEVER go to Prom. A big, formal party, with dancing. Not my thing.

But she’d just made the situation very much abnormal.

I had a crush on Alex, at one point. We both went to a small private school in Chatham (When I write her name here, I feel sort of like I’m talking about her behind her back. But I’m not- I’d never do that- and I can’t really keep avoiding it). The 7th and 8th grades were so small that they combined us into one class, so I saw Alex a lot despite being a year older.

I loved that school, but it ended in 8th grade, so I had to leave. I applied and was accepted to Gill St. Bernards, where I’ve gone all of high school. I… knew… Alex would like GSB. I tried to convince her to apply, and she ended up there as well. Wow. The chances of that happening were unimaginably slim.

But ultimately, it didn’t do much. She was a grade below me, so we had no classes together. I never really saw her much, beyond the casual wave in the hallway. But now…

I opened my eyes.


* * * * * * *

I couldn’t believe it. I’d just agreed to go to Prom with someone! I couldn’t imagine it.

As the end of the school year approached, I was nervous about a lot of things. Contrary to what I’ve said before, I do care about my AP test scores, as I want the college credit… I’m legitimately annoyed at how little I actually learned in my AP courses, but I was largely blowing off nervous energy in that blog post. So I was worried about my AP tests, as well as my final projects, and, especially, the thought of leaving high school. I couldn’t- still can’t- actually imagine myself actually leaving home, and going to live up in Saratoga Springs, in a dorm at Skidmore.

But imagining myself actually going to Prom was even harder.

And since Prom was after all my other worries- after my classes were over, and after I’d taken all my AP tests- it stood out in my mind as the final climax, of sorts, to my immediate life. The last part of my life, or at least the part of it I could actually see approaching.

* * * * * * *

Prom ended up being a ton of fun. I love excitement, and the atmosphere at Prom was full of it. The chance to see Alex again was equally great.

The thing I’ll remember most though, was the conversation we had over dessert, eating cookies as everyone around us danced to the music.

“Have you liked being at Gill?”
“It’s been… okay.”
“I like it a lot.”

Silence. Then:

"Thanks for inviting me. I never would have come."
“I probably wouldn’t have either.”

Again there was a pause, but this time, she broke the silence.

"I wouldn’t have come to Gill, if you hadn’t told me about it. It wasn’t a place I was thinking about at all. You convinced me to apply. Thank you."

It was something I’d long suspected, but didn’t really believe. Once, back when I kept a diary, I wrote that if Alex came to Gill and she didn’t like it, I would feel responsible. But I also wrote that the notion behind it was silly… too self-centered. I couldn’t have really influenced a decision like that.

But I did.

And she really has loved Gill. I’ve passed her so many times between classes, talking and laughing with her friends. Did I give her this? She says I did. Wow.

* * * * * * *

So here I am, two days after the Prom. And, oh, yeah, today was my 18th birthday. I’m an adult now. If you’re one of the 10+ people that wished me happy birthday on Skype, thank you, and I’m sorry for not responding… I just don’t know… how to feel about it yet.

I’m past the climax, the last event that I could predict. What happens next? I still can’t imagine myself in college, and I’m definitely nervous.

But somehow, life works out. Alex comes to my school, I go with her to Prom… if crazy things like that are possible, who knows what else is in store?

I’ve never believed in the concept of fate. I choose the path of my life. What amazes me though, is how much of an impact my actions can have on the lives of others. Just how much power do I have? In many ways, its scary. I mean, if I do something stupid and screw up my own life, that’s my fault. But someone else’s? Alex could have hated Gill.

But that’s just it. She didn’t, and I’d known she wouldn’t. As much as I’d wanted her to be at the same school as I was, I wouldn’t have told her to come if I hadn’t thought she’d like it. And she knew that.

As long as I trust my instincts going forward, I should be alright. Who knows what else is in store.

Last day of high school classes…

Is it worry I feel?
Or is it something more?
I feel time passing by,
and it can’t be ignored…

I’m struggling.
But I’ll try:
To explain the reason why,
I feel the,
rush of time,
passing by…