No man is an I LAN.

Are LAN parties dead? A relic of 56K modems? Left in the dust by Steam’s handy functionality? X-Box Live supplanting the need for proximity co-op gaming? Do we sound the keening bell in lament of fond memories? Of late nights and tired eyes? Of Red Bulls and caffeine pills? Of companionship born out of necessity? All laid to rest at the altar of a new age.

Without sarcasm, I can say that LAN parties were some of the highlights of my teen years. I’d pack my bulky desktop computer and CRT screen into a large rubbermaid and bug my parents for a lift to a friend’s place. Typically their parents would be out of town. While other kids would be conducting Risky Business, we’d get hopped up on sugar and play video games until our eyes bled.

It was the natural evolution of sleep overs, but with added ixnay on the sleeping. You’d maybe catch a couple of hours if you were lucky, optimal downtime to leech video games, movies, music and anime off others. If your computer was gonna be out of use for three hours, why not let yourself recover? Much like sleepovers, LANs offered the optimal outlet for a good D&M (Deep and Meaningful chat) about who you had the hots for, typical teenage gloating and all sorts of angsty shit. Unless a game was in progress, of course.

What games? Whatever was in the nerdcore zeitgeist, in as much as we could all run it. We tended to cater to whoever had the lower spec’d rig (usually me). Starcraft was a common favourite, making sure we evenly divided skill level across teams. A few years later Warcraft 3 was Le Jeu Du Jour. We’d mess around on Heroes 3, Counterstrike (NO FUCKING AWP CAMPERS) or if I begged enough we’d give the much maligned Ricochet a try (I mainly loved the death sound). Star Wars: Jedi Knight was awesome. While we began by tearing apart one another with guns, eventually we learned how much fun it was to go HAM at one another with lightsabers and force push/pull. You could deflect bullets and turn opponents’ attacks back on themselves. Who wouldn’t want to play a recurring game of stop hitting yourself?

Aliens vs Predator 2 was possibly one of the best multiplayer experiences I ever had, primarily because one of my friends Lost His Shit Constantly. We’d play survival mode, in which we started out with one xenomorph and everyone else was human. Whenever you died, you became a xenomorph and hunted down the humans in a pack. Our friend would constantly be in a palpable state of terror, literally screaming and borderline hyperventilating. I think he enjoyed it, though clearly not as much as we did.

As we aged, contraband got folded into the equation. Someone would always have an older brother or lax parent. LAN parties continued to help us unwind, while also resembling very real parties. We’d trade silly Newgrounds videos and obscure internet phenomena. If someone was temporarily absent, we’d go through their computers in search of their hidden porn stash. Or anything else equally incriminating. There was rarely any bullying, but friendly ribbing was a mainstay. Functionally it allowed a bunch of us to spend a large block of time together without having to part ways.

I don’t know what modern experience would emulate LAN parties. Do kids these days hang out with tablets? Does Nintendo Switch fill the void? Or do they get their kicks at their respective homes all playing Overwatch? As an adult, this seems like a hard sell. People enjoy going home to their beds and pets. Friendships seem emotionally closer, but less time intensive. Would people want to spend that long in a basement, huddled around computers? Or does that remind us too much of being at work?

Not as much of a cultural exchange as he’d hoped then?

In my post yesterday about getting back into Magic drafts, there was one element I left out. I forgot to mention the people. For better or (often) worse, they’re a big part of any local game store environment. Like any self respecting neighbourhood swill-hole, you get regulars. Given that it’s a staple of nerd culture, you get weird and wonderful people from across the geeky spectrum. I preface this by noting that the majority of patrons are very normal people who enjoy a hobby. Those who stand out, however, shine their stars so bright as to drown out the rest. Who did I encounter yesterday?

First up: The chatterbox. I sat down next to this guy to see if he had any trades. He didn’t, but he did have many things to share. He let me know that he was returning to the game after an absence. He told me the vast array of other card games he’s played. He let me know each and every one of his hiatuses from Magic over the years. He informed me about the scene, or lack thereof in Brampton. He said all of this in about a minute flat. I was groggy and this was a rude awakening. After a couple of minutes his friend showed up. His friend was just a normal, friendly dude and seemed aware of how much his mate blabbered. I kind of wanted to leave in search of trades while they hung out, but the draft was set to kick off at any minute. So I stayed and the chatterbox told me all about the draft he did the other day. When I say all about his draft, I mean that he said something about each of the cards he’d drafted while I stared into oblivion. The draft started soon after and he continued to pass commentary on every card he’d drafted. There were eight people in the pod. I heard from him, his friend (who quickly started tossing sass at all the dumb comments he was making) and one or two newbies who genuinely were asking for help.

Guess who my first round opponent was? It became quickly evident that he wasn’t really a great player. He telegraphed this by complaining constantly about how the game was going, how unlucky he was at every juncture and so on. I offered to give him some advice on the conventions of the format if he wanted to rebuild his deck for our second game. He denied and said that he’d built his deck right. He clearly hadn’t. I let it slide and took the easy win.

Second round was a lovely dude who’d gotten back into the game after a massive absence. He played pretty well, though didn’t quite understand the format. After the game I gave him a little advice which he took to heart. He tracked me down later in the day to say thanks, that he was doing much better.

During my next draft, I faced a jovial fellow who resignedly admitted that he kept drafting the same deck. It looked pretty strong. There were some neat synergies and I was convinced I was getting outplayed. I had to mulligan to five cards (instead of seven) in the first game, but managed to squeak out a win. The second game I mulliganed down to four and was crushed as he drowned me in card advantage. We chatted as we played and he seemed really friendly. I failed to find enough lands but still brought him down to six life. In the last game I kept a grip of seven and trounced him. He admitted that while his deck looked great, it was actually horrible and had no removal.

My next opponent was eleven years old, the age I was when I started. I’d seen his mum drop him and a friend off. It took me back to my early days at my local game store. He was a smart kid and made some solid strategic decisions. I let him do a couple of take backs, but to be honest his threat assessment and understanding of board state was excellent. Him and his friend were so excited. They’d pulled some good cards and were really invested in getting as much as they could out of the experience. He was super polite and I made sure he knew he wasn’t under any pressure, that he could take time with the game to make the right calls. He asked me after each game if there were any decisions he could’ve made differently, so as to improve his play style. As someone who’s been hanging around these kind of environments for going on 20 years now, my heart grew several sizes seeing such a positive attitude in a young kid. I hope both him and his friend continue getting that much out of the game. Also the last game was a lot closer than you’d expect.

My final opponent had been in Toronto for a week. He was about to graduate with a law degree back home in Brazil, but he’d taken a special elective on exchange in Canada. He was studying scientific law in English, which he said was a specialised field on account of the dense legalese and technobabble. A skilled, but chilled player. Our games were down to the wire and, if not for some good ol’ fashioned mana screw in my last game, I could’ve probably just squeaked through the win. He told me a bit about the scene back home, how it varied. I asked him about the local players back home, if they ran the full gamut from socially astute to inept.

“Of course” he said “this is Magic we’re talking about, right?”

Because of course I’d have no skin. I don’t know how you do it.

I wouldn’t bet on any cohesion today. So with that out of the way, let’s get into it.

As a teenager I resented that I wasn’t a good enough artist to masturbate to my own sketches (oh, and if you’re reading this mum, hi!). I’d look at boobs in T-shirts and think that doesn’t seem so complicated. IT WAS. My first mistake would always be starting with circles. Silly teenager, boobs look like teardrops, not circles. There was also that thing where boobs in a tight shirt would have these three or four parallel lines. Never in my teen years (or let’s face it, still) could I figure out how those lines sat. Was it something to do with nipples? Or certain shapes of bra? No fucking idea. I didn’t even bother trying to draw labia. I’d have as much luck as if I were blindfolded sketching an Escher. I persisted with my drawings of women and consistently had no idea of proportions. I’d scribble away on little pads, pages ripped from books. Then I’d get shitty that I wasn’t better, scrunch my drawings into paper balls and aim for three-pointers into the rubbish. This was a two step process, since I was about as skilled at basketball as I was with a pencil. I’m probably lucky I couldn’t free my own porn. What reason then would I have to leave my room? Once they pried open the sticky cumwebs sealing the door, they’d see a skeleton amongst pages of lewd, oddly proportioned drawings of Cameroon Diaz. Nobody deserves to walk in on that.

Listening to The Strokes today cast my mind back to one of my university projects. We had sub ten minute mini-docos to make. Our group went with my idea to look at online gaming and the rise of virtual communities. I remember so clearly believing that I wasn’t going in with an agenda, but with the benefit of retrospection it’s easy to see just how biased I was. I think the big pull to make the video in the first place was this short montage I’d envisioned in my brain based on The Strokes’ “The Modern Age”. I had a friend who played World of Warcraft. There’d be a side shot of him sitting down at his computer, a shot from behind as he switched on the screen. There’d be an overhead shot of the CD drive opening and his hand putting in the WoW CD, a shot of the screen opening the game then one from behind of him with the title menu. Then a couple of in-game action shots.

The funny part was how little of it came together. We couldn’t get the top down shot of the CD drive that I wanted, which was my favourite part of the montage. I think we did it at some dumb angle instead. Even sillier was that the game was loaded to his computer. He only needed the CD for installation. The camera also wasn’t configured to tape screens. It recorded those horizontal lines continually scrolling down the screen. Bullheaded, I wasn’t ready to give up on my vision. We made it work and I told myself I’d shot what I’d wanted to shoot.

Then came the bias. A couple of us in the group were gamers and we clearly had an agenda. At this point, online gaming still carried a bunch of stigma. We wanted to put forth that the interaction and camaraderie within online communities helped form meaningful friendships. That while most saw these games as antisocial loner behaviour, they were anything but. We interviewed two of my friends. Our central character played a ton. He had regularly scheduled raids and a bunch of friends in game. Our other character had stopped playing a while back. Thing was, once we’d done our interviews we discovered that the guy who’d quit actually had a much healthier outlook on the game. He’d gotten out because it stopped being fun. He found that a lot of his time involved logging in to mine gold. Not super interactive or exciting, but the economy was important to his ability to play. What was the point in playing a game he didn’t enjoy? He had more than enough other ways to kill time. Our central character, on the other hand, was addicted. He’d forgo other social engagements to log in and leave his character performing mundane activities. He admitted that he wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as he used to, but that he’d sunk so much time and money into it that he felt obligated to keep playing. This really didn’t gel with our hypothesis.

So we took creative license and selectively edited the footage to make it look like the roles were reversed. We “proved” our theory by creating our own truth and in doing so, learned the most important lesson of all: You’re not wrong if it looks like you’re right.

If I owned an arcade my official title would be Cabinet Minister.

I live every day in the shadow of my past. I know full well that life peaked years ago and with each sunrise, that gets easier to bear. Maybe as the years continue to stack, I’ll discover some shallow reflection of my former glory. Hope isn’t dead. Not yet.

The peak that I so fondly recall was after my brother’s bar mitzvah. Not the service, that was the usual ceremonial boredom. But the after party? My parents hired arcade machines. IN OUR GARAGE. There was Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Bad Dudes, Ninja Turtles and other stuff that wasn’t the aforementioned collection. When you have titles like those, why would you need anything else? The after party wasn’t even the peak. There were so many people, games were in use and I had to interact with others. There were arcade machines in our house. What need had I of non-player people? If they weren’t engaged in my game, I wasn’t engaged by them.

After everyone left, however, we had another couple of days with the cabinets. My best friend came over and we clocked as many as we could. Endless free play on Mortal Kombat? How could life get better than that? YOU COULD UPPERCUT PEOPLE INTO SPIKES. This was pre-internet, so we had no idea how to do fatalities. Instead, we’d select our characters and hope we’d get to the spikes level. Once we were there we’d swap turns of letting the other player beat us so they could have a go at spike uppercutting. THERE WERE DECAPITATED HEADS AND EVERYTHING. We also beat Bad Dudes a bunch of times, to prove that we were bad enough dudes to rescue the president. These days, perhaps not.

Today a bunch of us all visited the house of a mutual friend. She had a newborn and was planning to fly away to visit family in Fiji. If we were gonna see the kid before he left on an airplane, we had to take the chance. More importantly, the house we were visiting had a fucking pinball basement. I’d read about it in Toronto Life last year and didn’t realise we were heading to the same place. My childhood was dominated by arcade cabinets like our bar mitzvah hires. I didn’t play as much as I watched (and pretended to be playing while the demos were on screen), but I adored the flashing lights and tactile nature of the towering machines. I’d never sunk much time into pinball (outside of Space Pinball, of course). Holy hell, it’s a blast.

This house had a row of 15 machines, all lovingly taken care of. Some with custom mods. A plethora of flashing lights and bonus modes. Of course pinball looks busy, but I had no idea how expansive the games were. It was such a different experience to the games I’m used to playing. There were large pieces that moved while the cabinet shook. On Medieval Madness for instance, if you knock open the castle door and hit it three times, you destroy the castle. The parapets shake and fall down. Hitting a certain target sends the game into troll mode, where troll heads pop up and you’ve gotta bop them a certain number of times. It’s so much goddamn fun. Also having a multi-ball with four simultaneous balls is pure insanity. Most of the games were from hugely popular IPs. Spider-Man, The Avengers, AC/DC, Metallica, Ghostbusters, Tron. The Game of Thrones one was amazing. You could choose your house allegiance and conduct missions against the other houses. There was a miniature pinball table in the top left corner with a dragon mini game. It had cut scenes and bonus balls and so many flashing lights. Stimulation overload!

Awww. I miss sketchy old Yifan’s. Maybe it’s finally time to check out Tilt Bar.

Recycling’s gotta get us a few kudos, surely?

Hey friends. Because today is crammed with meetings, work and extra-curricular activities, I’m stuffing writing into my morning commute. Expect messiness, a lack of class and, frankly, some altogether unbecoming behaviour. Like this fucker clipping his nails at the bus stop. Aw gross, he’s just leaving them on the ground. Tiny bits of body detritus that’re other people’s problem now. Public space is his space too, I guess. I do envy the confidence emboldened by apathy of an old man. He’s given the world his youth and now feels compelled to take whatever space he wants. Though was his youth that different? I may have just described “being male”. I should look into that. It’s a hell of a union with a highly competitive benefits plan.

There’s an ad opposite me on the subway that reads “What do you call a Muslim woman flying a plane? A pilot.” I’ll admit that I first read it as “what do you call a woman flying a plane?” Accordingly, I didn’t get it. I was all hooray for gender equality branding, but didn’t understand what stereotype it was battling against. Then upon re-reading it and finding the word “Muslim” I thought, what does her religion have to do with anything? Then the pin dropped and I felt dumb for not getting it. But also kind of stoked I guess? Oh, so you just thought I’d assume she was a terrorist? Fuck you, buddy. I can only imagine how that sort of ad would age out of relevance with coming generations. How long until equality messaging becomes a relic? The hope is that kids today are​ bombarded with enough of it that it becomes matter of fact. Like drink driving ads in our youth. I’ve often talked about the brutal drink driving ads back home. The fact of the matter was that years before I even had keys put into my hands, I innately knew that “if you drink then drive, then you’re a bloody idiot.” How many generations are we from kids who grow up without preconceived notions predicated on skin colour, ethnicity or religion? Will this be something I get to see in my lifetime?

I often wonder, on a long enough timeline do people just get better? As society progresses do people continue to improve on the mistakes of their forebearers? I’m sure it’s not that simple. I’m sure there’s a give and take, that while we move forward in some areas, we also lose more than we notice. I know for a fact that I straight up don’t have many of the practical skills that my parents’ generation leaned as a matter of course. There was a necessary self-reliance that our generation simply doesn’t need. The time I could spend levelling up in any number of trades and skills, I can simply offset the work to qualified professionals and focus on what I do best. Capitalism has meant that we don’t need to be well rounded if we can excel at “our thing” instead. I also have my doubts over whether or not I’m kinder than the average so and so of my parents’ generation. I’m certainly more aware of the world at large. I have a more nuanced and considerate understanding of the socio-cultural makeup of those around me and how to be respectful of that. On the flip side, I’m leagues more entitled than they were. Because I know the world is out there and the internet tells me it’s at my doorstop, I expect to fling open those doors and take what I want. I wonder how much of my life I take for granted. Furthermore, just how much I have because of my parents’ struggles and how rarely I acknowledge that. Hell, I haven’t spoken to them for months (not intentionally. It’s up the top of my list). How entitled is that?

I don’t usually think this much before 10am. It’s like mental stretching. Maybe I’ll actually make it through today’s clusterfuck onslaught after all.

The teacher who taught us Green Day’s “Good Riddance” thought he was the coolest. He was.

I used to love singing. Absolutely adore it. In primary school I joined the choir and cherished it to bits. At the time it didn’t get a lot cooler than “In the Middle of the Night” by Billy Joel or that Friends theme by The Rembrandts. Harmonies seemed on another level. I couldn’t conceive how different melodies could blend together to create something fuller and more robust. It blew my six year old mind to pieces. I’d proudly sing in the shower or in talent contests. We had school choir concerts that I coerced my parents into attending. I was one of the few nerds that enjoyed singing assemblies, where we stood in the hall and read lyrics projected by the OHP machine. Those were the days.

Here’s the thing. Much as I loved it, I knew I was no prodigy. Don’t get me wrong, I wished I were one. I so wanted to be an amazing singer, but knew that I didn’t have the X factor. This was before the show too. I envied anyone who took to it naturally. I could carry a tune, but I couldn’t lift a crowd off their feet. I dipped my toes into choirs in intermediate and college, but lacked the commitment and drive to make the uphill climb. I still loved singing, but illusions of grandeur were far from my vision. To this day an audition for a college talent quest stands as one of my most cringeworthy experiences. My meagre range missed so many notes and I saw just how the crowd saw me. If I’d had an ego, that would’ve killed it and stabbed the corpse for good measure.

Still, I had karaoke on my side. A couple (read: not blackout, but not a safe distance off) of drinks with mates and we’d rent a karaoke room for an hour or two. I’d belt them out with impunity. We all sucked, so who cared? Fun was the goal and we were scoring big. When I came to Canada, all of my friends seemed to be musical theatre geeks. Karaoke evolved into this big public spectacle in a bar. People getting up with pre-selected songs. No longer was it about having fun goofing off, it was performative in a big way. There were crowds, for fuck’s sake. You can only see disappointment in so many faces before you walk the other way. I can safely say, it felt like being back at that talent show. It was evident that I didn’t have enough. I’ve pretty much steered clear of karaoke for the past few years, it felt that bitter and personal.

Last night I went out for karaoke with friends. We hired a room for two hours. Most people were all manner of loaded (day drinking does that). You know what? I had a fucking blast. There were no egos, just a celebration of giving it what you had. No matter who sang, no matter how it went, the fact that they’d done it was a cause for celebration. I was unsure at first. There were a few songs where I seriously contented with whether or not I’d be able to commit. Then I thought back to improv class. The instructor telling us that standing back and not participating makes everyone lose. You’re not supporting your team mates, but you’re also putting a wall between you and the activity, as if you’re too cool. Half-assing is like being worried a ship will sink and leaving pre-emptively. If you stayed behind, you would’ve been able to help with the bail out. Maybe it wouldn’t have sunk. No, I didn’t think my friends would’ve crashed and burned behind the mic without me, but why wouldn’t I yes, and… to the notion of letting my lungs loose? Make no mistake, I shredded my throat something chronic. Those muscles haven’t been stretched in some time. I did, however, remember just how much I loved singing. If I don’t do well, but have a great time, have I really lost anything?

Dignity was never high on my list of values.

I’m a long way from Tipperary.

I miss how I used to listen to music. Anyone who knows my burning hatred of physical media should understand that I’m not directly talking about the little red My First Sony Walkman I got for my 6th birthday with a “Simpsons Sing the Blues” cassette (though that was several layers of bitchin’). The way I miss music listening is on a more abstract level. I miss how personal music listening used to feel.

Music hasn’t changed, I have. The distribution methods have. Perhaps it could simply be a case of scarcity. With the advent, nay proliferation, of streaming technology there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be listening to whatever you want whenever you desire it. The sheer quantity of music is limitless. Artists’ entire discographies within a few clicks. You can go from never having heard of a musician to devouring everything they ever produced in a number of hours. The framework now gives you more music than you have time to absorb. It’s easier than ever to explore new music, but if you’re anything like me, that brings with it guilt over repeated listens in order to know a new album inside and out. I’m willing to admit this is most likely a personal rather than widespread issue. I’m not even sure it’s an issue in the first place.

At age 14 I “discovered” music listening and it awakened something in me. Imagine one day discovering that eating was something humans did and becoming instantly famished. I was ravenous and desperate. These were the days of Napster, so I begun downloading tracks like crazy. I’d latch onto bands I liked and seek out others with a similar sound. I made mix CDs with pretentious names and had them on constant rotation. I knew track orders by heart. I experimented with sculpting  ebbs and flows. Making tracks together shape moods. I got into albums, enjoying the cohesion of tracks stacked in a deliberate fashion, as to curate a listening experience. Through rote, I knew every single track by heart in order, knew all the lyrics. I devoted so much of my brain to music archiving that I’m surprised I had any room left for school work.

This issue has less to do with the availability of music than it does an economy of scale. Let’s not pretend that I committed all 60GB of my first iPod to memory. You could just as easily tie it to shifting values with age too. At 30 the social capital of encyclopedic music knowledge has plummeted, especially when we all have pocket computers. I’d kill for that earnest enthusiasm though. The excitement that came with a new album release, dissecting and analysing the song composition, lyrics, track structure. These days there are several new bands each week, plus 2018 seems to be when all my favourite 2008-2010 acts are putting out new albums. It’s not possible to keep up and the thought of doing so is so daunting that it doesn’t feel worth trying. How did I have the time? I kept up with TV shows, video games and was always on top of the freshest music. What didn’t I have in my life then that I do now?

Oh, that’s right. I was single and barely slept for most of my early 20s. That’d do it.