Archive for the ‘confessions’ Category


Monday, December 17th, 2012

I want to take you on a mental voyage. Back to the winter of 2001. December 17. A time where you couldn’t go for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Lady Marmalade”. A time where I was a student in college.

Fresh from a solar eclipse, I was finishing up another semester when I had an idle computer and an idle thought: “I should probably buy a domain name before they’re all gone, and then people will have an easy way to find all of my amazing articles about video games and video game culture”. And, since most of the short, memorable domain names were taken, I looked around my environment for inspiration. I settled on ‘Crummy Socks’ because that’s what I was wearing that day (I was a poor college student, what can I say?). So I bought the name, and immediately sat on it for a few weeks while I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

I had aspirations of being one of those professional bloggers that you used to hear a lot about, but don’t really hear anything about these days. Someone who works out of their home or office, writing every day about something that they love, while throngs of devoted fans visit every day and I would make enough money somehow to pay my bills and sustain my hobby, but that never seemed to materialize. I also tried my hand at news-reporting for a while. Each time, though, for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to work out. I even spun off a few sister sites where I wanted to try out some of my big ideas, but those, too, met with little success. It’s kind of telling that my biggest brush with anything resembling a spotlight was the time I managed to troll several high-profile blogs.

Somewhere else along the way, I also managed to get myself, at least temporarily, hired in to the video game industry, where I worked on a few titles, and got to see things from the other side of the fence. I realized my childhood dream of helping to make some video games (even though one of them wasn’t particularly well-received). Still, it was an amazing experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

But, as time goes on, I find that I am writing about video games less and less. I find that I’m visiting video game blogs more infrequently as time goes on. But that I still love to play video games, and I still like to write on occasion. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling discouraged, disenfranchised, or burned out. After a lot of soul-searching and introspection, I think I finally have a handle on it, and, well, it’s complicated.

This site never really found much of an audience. For a while, I had friends and family who would visit (and several of them still do. Thanks, guys!), but articles don’t really propagate more than that, with rare exceptions. As of this writing, my statistics show that I had 12 visits to this site yesterday. Several of which were me, since my own site is my homepage (if you have a website and it’s not your own homepage, I wonder how seriously you take it). But some time ago I reached a point where I unconsciously decided that since I couldn’t seem to get any traction with an audience, that there wasn’t a point in trying to update regularly, if at all. I saw lots of other websites that started up at the same time or after this one, with writing that was at least the equal to or perhaps a little worse than what you find here, and they seemed to take off essentially immediately. And that kind of boiled over into jealousy, resentment, and maybe a little depression. “If these other jokers can at least get an audience of regular readers in a few months, why can’t I do it in a few years? Why don’t people tell their friends about this site or come back? I must be doing something wrong.”

A partial explanation is something that I call “Nerd Attitude”. It’s kind of hard to quantify, but I think it boils down to an arrogance that lots of members of the video game community seem to have, or, at least seem to want to have. When I was growing up, and immersed in any kind of video game-related thing I could find, in some ways, it was very exclusionary. But I could find others that had similar interests, and we formed a fairly close-knit group of peers. The group never really got very big, but we had a lot of fun hitting the local arcades, playing the newest game we could get our hands on, and discussing the tips and strategies in the current issue of our gaming magazine.

But then the Internet and the World Wide Web started gaining popularity.

Once that happened, it was a lot easier to find groups of like-minded folks to share in whatever passion you have.

Which is a good thing.

But, at the same time, video games and computers were starting to become more mainstream. Eventually, playing video games into the wee hours of the night wasn’t that weird, and hopping on a computer to spend hours chatting with people around the world, or making a website for whatever wacko idea you have, is less bizarre. And all that means is that now you have a group of people, who have grown up with video games and the Internet at parts of their daily lives, who self-identify as nerds. People who like video games, who like the Internet, who maybe even are passionate about those things, but who aren’t really nerds.

From the linked Wikipedia article:

However, those simply adopting the characteristics of nerds are not actually nerds by definition. One cannot be an authentic nerd by imitation alone; a nerd is an outsider and someone who is unable or unwilling to follow trends. Popular culture is borrowing the concept and image of nerds in order to stand out as individuals. Some commentators consider that the word is devalued when applied to people who adopt a sub-cultural pattern of [behavior], rather than being reserved for people with a marked ability.

Which leads to a whole lot more people interested in video games, and that, in turn, will ensure that there are almost always new and exciting games being released practically every day (which is kind of a problem in itself). But it also leads to two main issues:

  • If you spend much time at a website that talks primarily about video games, you’ll end up talking to more people who like video games, but who aren’t nerdy about video games. That’s actually mostly okay, since you get exposed to other points of view, including those you don’t like. But it also means that:
  • There are many people who aren’t nerds pursuing a previously-nerdy hobby.

Which is also fine (heck, you can never have too many ham radio operators, right?). But when the editor-in-chief of a certain high-profile video game website has a video game collection that fits on one shelf (now three shelves), when I have collections for single systems that won’t even fit on one entire bookshelf (I haven’t traded in a game since 2002). I have to wonder if he’s really a nerd. I’m sure he enjoys video games, but I wonder, does he like them as much as I do? It’s like someone who writes about music, but has a collection made up solely of a couple-dozen best-of collections. And, if that’s the chief, it’s no wonder that the site (and many, many other sites on the Internet) no longer speaks to me.

Now, I don’t want to imply that I hate what these guys are doing. I think that it’s great that we live in a time where you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed that you like video games. It’s great that you can walk into a gas station and find video games for sale, and nobody thinks that’s weird (okay, maybe I think that’s a little weird).

But those kinds of sites do speak to a huge number of people. People who aren’t really nerds. People who have decided that knowing a lot or being passionate about something makes one a nerd (it doesn’t), that being labeled a nerd is awesome (it’s not, usually).

And it’s mostly those people that I haven’t been able to reach in the last 11 years.

People who visit websites that tell you how awesome they are because they’re not like the other guys (when they’re pretty much identical to the other guys, down to posting essentially the same stories as everyone else, with a few comments added). People who want some snark mixed in with their reporting (or, perhaps, more accurately, a little reporting mixed in with their snark)

So we have a combination of people who like video games, but aren’t nerds, telling other people who like video games, but who also aren’t nerds, that their websites are awesome because they can update 20-50 times a day. And that they, themselves, are also awesome. They must be, because they can update their sites 20-50 times a day. Which creates a situation that feeds on itself, and a niche that is so overcrowded with people reporting on every facet of a part of culture that I love, and telling me how awesome everything is, and how great they are for being gutsy enough to tell me all about it. That’s what video games and video game news is now: a barely edited, pandering stream of consciousness spewed out with such force and intensity, that it’s hard to find much that I can relate to or are interested in.

Which is why this humble site never quite took off like I wanted. It’s a one-man shop of a guy who actually is a bit of a video game nerd, talking about whatever I think is interesting, not necessarily what is popular, or even timely.

And that’s alright. Even though I’ve been close to throwing in the towel on more than one occasion, I’m actually happy with what I’ve built here and elsewhere. This site is not going away any time soon. It will continue to be available for as long as I’m able to keep it going. Which, if I have anything to say about it, will be for a long time yet.

Never trust a gamer who doesn’t own any bad games

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

It’s no secret to anyone that’s visited the Crummysocks family of sites that I do sometimes play the odd, or sometimes very odd, terrible game, and then talk about it at length. Sometimes that’s because the game I played was so bad it crossed over into awesome, but that’s not always the case. A lot of times, the game is just bad. And, yet, I keep most of them.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for the truly bad ones. Why would I keep something around that I didn’t like, and have very few (if any) good memories about. I’ve touched on this before, but I think it can be summed up as: bad games make me appreciate the good games more.

Take a site like IGN for example. They love to gush on about how great Latest Blockbuster 4 HD is, and you will find the occasional review where they find something terrible and treat it appropriately. They even address this in their site’s Ratings FAQ

And yes, sometimes people are eager to play games that turn out to be really bad. No one wants to review just the AAA titles. It gets boring after a while to write high praise for everything.

And, even though IGN is currently hovering at about a 68% aggregate rating, which tells me that they might give some of the good games a little too much praise, and might knock a few too many points off for the faults in the less-than-stellar ones, they at least acknowledge that if all you have is wonderful things, those wonderful things become pedestrian, and your perspective is skewed.

So, with that said, I figured I’d share a few of the games from my actual collection, and how they make me appreciate something better.

Exhibit A:

Kung Pow

The uploader of this video has disabled embedding, so you’ll have to click the image above to view the video, and you really should. 15 years later, I’m still wondering how this game got released.

Game: Clayfighter 63⅓
Genre: Fighting
System: Nintendo 64
Released: October 21, 1997
Offenses: Aside from the massive delays, cut features, and the most unfunny jokes imaginable, this game also includes: poor controls, uneven difficulty, blatant racism (it was a different time, 1997), unbalanced characters.
What it makes me appreciate: The very games that this is attempting to parody: Killer Instinct, Street Fighter, Marvel v. Capcom, etc.

Exhibit B:

Game: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
Genre: Side-scrolling beat ’em up
System: Nintendo Game Boy
Released: August 1990
Offenses: Prerendered cutscenes, challenge-free gameplay, somehow combines cartoon ninja turtles and video games to create something that boring and tedious.
What it makes me appreciate: That we live in an era that allows for video previews, enemies smart enough to not get stuck on terrain, player characters who aren’t just re-skins of each other.

“Oh sure,” you’re probably saying, “pick on games that are 15 years old or more.” Alright, how about something from the last five years?

Exhibit C:

Game: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Burning Earth
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
System: Xbox 360
Released: November 12, 2007
Offenses: Just the one. If you’re (somehow) unfamiliar with how the Xbox Achievement system works, it goes something like this: the game developers put in a series of tasks that a player can perform during the course of the game. These can range from hitting certain plot points to collecting some arbitrary number of widgets, to finding all of the secrets hidden in the whole game, to just about anything. Each of these tasks is worth a certain amount of points, which go on your profile along with a little picture and date you performed the task. Most games top out at 1,000 points for completing all of the tasks. Avatar, however, dispenses with most of the challenge of completing the tasks, and instead of giving you numerous varied tasks to perform, it asks you to do one thing. And, even if you weren’t trying to complete all the achievements in two minutes, you’d do it in pretty short order anyway.
What it makes me appreciate: I get it, coming up with achievements that are interesting, challenging, and achievable in a reasonable length of time, is really hard. So, it’s really great to see a list of achievements are actually fun to do, and not tedious grinding.

Now, I’m sure someone will point out that a lot of people sell their used games back to Gamestop or wherever. That they take the bad ones back and exchange them for store credit on something that they’d actually enjoy. And that’s fine. But if I can’t find something at least a little bit bad on their shelf, I start to wonder about where they’re coming from.

Being a successful failure

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Alfred, Lord Tennyson once wrote (among other things)

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Which some folks have failed in remembering, attributing, and quoting as some variation of:

It’s better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all

I’ve even heard that Abraham Lincoln himself was some kind of colossal failure (which isn’t entirely true, by the way) until he became president. Which is, I guess, supposed to make me feel better about any mistakes I might make or hardships I might encounter, because some day I’ll be president! Then I’ll probably somehow stop making mistakes and be the most best president of all time… at least until some other joker gets elected.

But what does that have to do with this website, or video games, or anything else?

More than you might think.

For the last 11 years or so, the network of sites (including this site, this site, and this site, which have all been archived) have taught me a lot. Each of those sister sites that I’ve started over the years scratched a particular itch, and none of them became what one might call successful. But I have learned a lot, and if you don’t mind a little navel-gazing, some of the lessons I’ve learned include:

  • How to set up and run a web/email server in a non Microsoft Windows environment (Hello, all the website software that I tried to use)
  • How to restore your web/email server from a backup once it’s compromised
  • How to secure a web/email server and keep it up to date
  • How to create a blog post every day for 500 days in a row
  • How to set up and administer bulletin board software
  • How to capture and edit screen shots and videos to teach people how to do something they might not otherwise know how to do
  • How to run a collaborative blog
  • How to objectively talk about what I like and don’t like about video games
  • And more things than you probably want to read about here

But what does all of that mean? Not much. I’m not president yet, and nothing I’ve done on the Internet (with a couple of exceptions) made much of a ripple. In fact, it seems like the lesson might be that: You can’t have success without hard work and determination, but just those two things alone won’t make it happen. There’s a bit of luck involved in being in the right place at the right time.

Stated another way. It sometimes seems like it’s possible to have a dream, chase it for years, work as hard as you can, and still fail to achieve it because circumstances favored some other person with the same dream.

So it’s very easy to become bitter and jealous. To look to those who have success doing something you like to do and are good at, and realizing that no matter how many hours you invest in doing the same thing (or something related), you won’t be as successful (or famous, or rich, or paid), if you’re successful at all.

Which is kind of a bummer.

Until you start to reflect on the journey. Until you think back at all the things you’ve learned along the way. The ways you’ve honed your craft, the techniques you’ve discovered, streamlining your workflow, growing as a person, and finding what makes you happy and sticking with it. Most of the time you can’t force success. It either happens or it doesn’t, and most of the time it doesn’t. But it’s pretty obvious that success never comes to those who don’t try, and I’ll keep trying to have a successful website until the day I die. Or the Internet collapses. Whichever comes first.


Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Given all the physical activities I do while playing games (*snerk*) it might come as a surprise that I haven’t injured myself more than I have. In fact, I can only remember one time where I sustained any kind of injury, and it was many years before Wii Remotes were flying through televisions.

Flash back to the year 1994, December 31st. I had gone to a friend’s house to spend the night and ring in the new year. To pass the time we rented a copy of WWF Raw for the Super NES, which, you might suspect, is a wrestling game.

One of the mechanics of a wrestling game (and especially this one) is that when you and your opponent lock horns, you both have to press the buttons on the controller as fast as you can. Whoever presses the buttons fastest gets to do a signature move and deplete the stamina of his opponent.

So we played the game all night, all told, about seven hours. Then, once midnight struck, we rang in the new year by parading around the front yard, banging soup pots with wooden spoons. Then back to the game for another couple of hours. Then, around 2:00, it was time for bed. No problem. We bed down for the night and I drift off to Slumberland.

For about an hour.

After that I woke up to an intense ache that stretched from the base of my thumb all the way to by elbow, on both arms. And, since there were no painkillers in the house, my only source of relief was to fill the sink with cold water and soak my forearms until they numbed up enough to allow me to get about an hour of sleep, and then I had to start the process over again.

Amazingly, the next morning, the pain had gone. Although I didn’t tempt it by playing any more button-mashers for several days, and I’ve learned, more or less, where my limits are when playing a marathon like that. But I know I can’t be the only person that’s suffered a game-related injury, anyone else care to share?

Hot Hands

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Whenever I end up playing multiplayer games with a group of friends, I tend to get long, long turns with a controller. Not (necessarily) because I’m better than everyone else, but I have particularly warm hands. What that means is that after just a few minutes of gameplay, the controller that I’ve been using is quite wet, and then nobody really wants to spend time drying it off to play. This doesn’t actually bother me too much, since it’s been going on as long as I can remember, but it has the unfortunate side effect of drying into an unappealing sludge that works its way into every crevice, rendering the controller kind of gross after a few sessions.

I’ve tried a few solutions, but none of them worked very well for one reason or another:

Talcum powder: works fine for a while, but kind of congeals into an even more unappealing slime than just sweat alone

Gloves: I lose too much of the tactile sensation of pressing the buttons on my controller for these to be viable for anything other than playing games in a blizzard. Plus, playing video games while wearing gloves looks kind of pretentious.

Controller Glove: In the Nintendo 64’s heyday, I spent a few bucks to get ‘controller gloves’ for my controllers. They were basically neoprene sleeves that went over your controllers. Felt kind like you wrapped your controller with a mousepad (Remember those?). Which worked fine for a few days, then the accumulated gunk in them made it feel (and smell) like I had wrapped sweatsocks around my controllers, which wasn’t ideal.

So, I can’t be the only one that has this kind of problem. Anyone else out there have any suggestions on how to deal with this issue?