Friday, November 09, 2007

My Annual Opportunity to Feel Good about Myself

Long silences on my part have become frequent enough at this point that I think this will be the last time that I explicitly draw attention to it. In any case, for the benefit of the only two people likely to see this (one being my girlfriend, and the other being married to RSS technology), given that my readership has likely long since fled, rest assured that I am still alive *resists urge to sing Portal song*, and that my life of late has been more or less uneventful, as always. So, with that said, on to the long overdue posting action!

I've never been a particularly charitable fellow. That is to say, charitable in the literal, "giving money to non-profit organizations" sense. I occasionally feel a bit guilty about it, and that, coupled with my inability to say no to people, is the primary reason that I try to answer the phone as little as possible, and even then wait until just before my answering machine kicks in to pick it up. You might be surprised how effective that is. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it. Callers will often dial several numbers at once, and then talk to the first person to pick up the phone. So, if you wait until the last possible moment to pick up yours, chances are that won't be you, and even if it is, you can further protect yourself by saying "Hello?" only once, waiting briefly, and hanging up if noone speaks, because those telltale few moments of silence likely identify a caller switching to your line. In any case, I'm getting rather off-topic, and this is still supposedly the introductory paragraph.

I've often given thought to charity, and how donating or not donating fits my personal ethics, and what it says about me as a person. Obviously, it would be unreasonable for me to give away all of my wealth and worldly possessions, so that's out. Plus, y'know, I don't want to. On the other hand, is it unreasonable for me to give away absolutely nothing? I'm fairly well off, I've never wanted for anything, and anyone who's ever seen my large (and largely unopened) video game collection knows that I don't spend my money responsibly, so maybe I should give it to someone who really needs it. If I decide that it is unreasonable for me to give away everything, and unreasonable for me to give away nothing, then what amount of charity is reasonable? Is it sufficient for me to give a bit to the United Way canvassers at work and then call it a day? Perhaps I also need to sponsor a starving child in a third-world country. Should I maybe go the extra mile and spend my weekends at a soup kitchen? In the end, I usually come to the same conclusion: no amount of charity, from zero to total, is inherently ethical or unethical, and no person should be judged based upon it. It is a very personal decision, and so long as you can sleep at night, you've made the decision correctly.

For me personally, that means that I tend not to give all that much to charity. I donate to maybe one or two charities a year and tip well at restaurants, and that's good enough for me. I've had some years where I've given more generously than that (usually when I find myself engaged in something resembling the above internal dialogue), but in general that's it. However, even during those more charitable periods, I never felt good about it. That is to say, I didn't feel bad about it, but I didn't get that extra warm and fuzzy "good" feeling that you often hear people talk about when they give to charity. For years now, I've had nebulous plans to maybe set up a scholarship or make a large donation to the local church much later in life (if I can afford it), and maybe those more personal donations would feel different, but by and large, I had no expectation of ever experiencing that feeling. And then I found Child's Play.

I think that I've mentioned Child's Play here in the past, but I can't recall for certain, and can't be bothered to check, so I'll presume that I haven't. Child's Play is a charity started by the webcomic Penny Arcade that buys video games for sick children in hospitals to play. As you can read about here, it found its genesis in 2003 as an effort to counter negative stories about video games and gamers by giving the media something positive to write about us as a group for a change. I initially donated that first year (a DS game, I think?) because I believed in the message that they were trying to send, rather than out of actual charity, but after I did so, I was shocked to discover that I felt really good about myself. I had a smile on my face and a diffuse warm feeling, and there was no urine to be found.

It's hard to say why precisely Child's Play has that effect on me while no other charity has managed to come even close. It may be the personal face that Gabe and Tycho (Penny Arcade's artist and writer, respectively) have managed to so effectively put on it, with the many pictures and testimonials over the years. It may be the sense of community that it gives me, which is something that I traditionally have a great deal of resistance to. It may even be the knowledge that I'm doing my part to improve public perception of those devoted to my hobby. In the end, though, I suspect that it is simply because I know the sense of wonder and joy that video games gave me as a child (and continue to, on occasion), and know how much they would have meant to me if I had to stay in a hospital for any length of time. The feeling that sharing that joy with others gives me is unsurpassed, and will likely remain so until the day that I can buy my own child his or her first V-Smile and can share it with them.

For me, and, I suspect, for many others (including Gabe and Tycho themselves), Child's Play has long since ceased to be about good gamer PR and has become about the kids. I've donated something every year since its inception, and this year marks what I believe is my biggest donation yet, at ~$100, although I may have bought a DS a couple of years ago for more (I can't remember for sure). This week, I bought two copies of the new Pokémon game-- one of each version, so that whoever is playing one version will be more likely to have someone playing the other to trade Pokémon with (for the uninitiated, note that each version comes with its own unique Pokémon that aren't present in the other version). This marks the latest example of a personal trend that I find fascinating-- I steadfastly refuse to donate bad games, or games that I don't enjoy myself, which often requires cherry picking from the Amazon Wish Lists, since the kids tend to want a lot of crappy licensed games (Transformers: The Game, I'm looking at you). I often find myself wondering if I'm the only person doing this (I suspect not), and, furthermore, whether or not I will similarly inflict my tastes upon my own hypothetical future children (I doubt they'll let me).

Even with elitist pricks like me participating, Child's Play attracts enough participation these days that I suspect the children get a good sampling of what they want each year. During its first year, it raised over $250,000 in cash and donations for a single Seattle hospital, and while that's certainly impressive, it has grown leaps and bounds since then, increasing in size and success every year. Last year, it passed the one million dollar mark, donating to over thirty different children's hospitals in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and even Egypt. To date, it has collectively involved over 100,000 people (the majority of whom are presumably gamers), who have raised over two million dollars in cash and donations.

However, with over 45 hospitals already participating this year (and more likely to follow, if previous years are any indication), your participation is more important than ever. If any of my readers would like to try and capture that feeling I describe above for themselves, or would just like to balance my efforts by donating some crappy licensed shovelware, then I wholeheartedly suggest that you head over to the website, pick a hospital from the map, and choose an item (or several!) to donate. If you're a friend of mine in real life (and let's face it-- you almost certainly are or you wouldn't be reading this), note that the closest hospital would be the Halifax IWK, whose Amazon Wish List can be found here. Make sure that you choose to have the item shipped to the hospital's address, and note that the hospitals have asked that the items not be gift-wrapped, so make sure that the appropriate options are selected when you finalize the order.

Speaking of my friends, I should probably throw out another quick update before I go as to what's "new" with me, for them to read whenever they stumble upon the fact that I've updated. First off, and most importantly, everyone should know that Portal is awesome (beware of spoilers in the "Plot synopsis" section of the linked article). It is easily one of the best games that I have ever played, and justifies a purchase of the The Orange Box all by itself. Hell, it justifies the purchase of a 360 or PC. If you like physics, like puzzles, like dark humour, or just like things that are awesome, you should play it.

Let's see, what else? I'm playing through Bioshock on 360 and Zack & Wiki on Wii at the moment. Both are very good. Bioshock sets a new standard in interactive story-telling, and has constructed a more real and believable underwater dystopia than I would have thought possible, where I can become lost for hours. Meanwhile, Zack & Wiki's story is more-or-less throw-away, but its gameplay is delicious in bite-sized portions, taking old-school graphic adventure gaming and dividing it into discrete stages, played using some of the best, most intuitive motion control on the system to date. I hope to have it finished by the time that Super Mario Galaxy (which is getting great reviews) comes out next week.

Other than video games, there's not a whole lot going on with me at the moment, although last month was fairly eventful. John got married on the night of Friday, October 5th, and I was his best man. Aiden and I drove to Moncton Thursday night for the rehearsal, where a very inflexible Catholic priest walked us precisely through the ceremony in its entirety. After a meal at Pizza Delight and a short visit to John's house, we went back to the hotel and played Halo 3 with Steven Teed (another groomsmen) on a television that was barely up to the task. Unfortunately, the hotel's internet connection wasn't up to the task either, so we were restricted to local 3-player matches. I wish I had gone to bed earlier, because the following day was full and exhausting.

After sleeping through the complimentary breakfast, I headed to John's to have what turned out to be a much better breakfast, and then started to put on my tuxedo (black, with a copper vest, for the zero of you who are interested). However, I wasn't allowed to finish putting it on, because the photographers were quite clear that they wanted shots of us getting dressed. I initially found this quite annoying and embarrassing, but it was only the beginning, and by the day's end I had spent so much time being accosted and manipulated by two friendly French women with cameras that I was reduced to a broken shell of man who allowed himself to be posed at their whim. They even followed us into McDonalds when we grabbed a quick bite to eat before the ceremony! I told everyone who would listen that I wouldn't be surprised if I woke up in my hotel room in the middle of the night and one of them was hovering above me with a camera. I'm still having nightmares. My psychological scarring aside, I'm sure John and Cheryl will have lots of great pictures. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd probably put several of them up on the Facebook account that I don't have (because, y'know, lazy).

I think that there was a wedding somewhere amongst all the picture-taking, but I'm a little hazy on the details. I held some rings, signed some papers, and stood in a receiving line where I spent an interminable length of time shaking hands. I believe a baby touched my nose, which was an odd deviation from the terror that children usually exhibit in my presence. After that, I successfully found my way to the reception (in fact, I didn't get lost all weekend, which was miraculous and not at all indicative of previous trips to Moncton), where I tried to squeeze as much surprisingly delicious food as possible onto a maddeningly small plate. I regrettably did not have nearly enough wine with that plate, because then I had to give a toast. I spoke far too quickly (I think five minutes shrunk to two), and looked far too nervous, but I gather that it still went reasonably well, and that people laughed when they were supposed to laugh instead of at my discomfort. I was frequently complimented on it, and Cheryl asked for the cue cards I used to put in a scrapbook, so it couldn't have been too awful.

There was a dance after dinner, and I was oddly eager to get my groove on at that point for some reason, but that feeling wore off pretty quickly. From then on, I was content to sit at a table and chat with Steven, his wife Sheena (who seemed very nice), and Aiden, but there was this short cruel woman in glasses who kept dragging me up onto the dance floor for extended periods of time. I didn't quite catch her name, but I think I heard someone call her "Vernon" at one point, so maybe she was a transvestite. At one point, they played Boot Scootin' Boogie, and, since I remembered the precise motions involved in its line dance from high school gym class (come on, fellow FHS-ers, say it with me: heel-heel, toe-toe, heel-toe, touch-slap, grapevine to the left...), I proceeded to get far too into it, and was left with welts on my hands from clapping too vigorously.

In any case, that's far longer than I intended to talk about the wedding. I meant this to be short addition to my post, not an entire second post. I would consider separating it, but after this much inactivity noone is likely to notice the second of two posts. The other thing of note that happened to me last month was dental surgery-- I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed at once. It was my first dental procedure more complicated than a cleaning, and I sincerely hope that it will be my last, as it was a uniquely awful and terrifying experience that will haunt me to the end of my days. Even under the influence of the gas, I nearly threw both the surgeon and the nurse off of me and ran out of the room. My chest was regularly heaving up off of the table, and when they were finished sweat was running down the length of both of my arms. When he snapped that last tooth off, I felt that sickening crunch all the way to my toes. For days afterwards, my mouth was in agony, and my cheeks became so swollen that it looked as if I was storing nuts in them. Even now, two weeks later, the pain is not entirely gone, and my mouth is full of stitches. Dentistry is a black art, and all of its practitioners should be killed. Or at least maimed.

Finally, in closing, it occurs to me that this is on The Internet and not everyone may get the joke two paragraphs earlier, so, just to be explicit: I did not dance with a transvestite, I danced with my girlfriend Veronica (aka Vern), who looked lovely that evening. Since she's also not updating her blog, it may surprise some of you to learn that she's currently working towards her second degree, a Bachelor of Computer Science, and is continuing in her research position with the Psychology department. In her spare time, she plays Trauma Center for the Wii far more than is healthy. So, in summary: not a transvestite.


Anonymous NOS said...

Be charitable without actually giving away money:

Friday, November 09, 2007 3:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Someone was on The Daily Show to pimp that site a few months ago, as I recall.

Friday, November 09, 2007 4:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Vern said...

I wasn't wearing glasses that evening.

Saturday, November 10, 2007 9:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Travis said...

You write posts that are too long. I forget what I was going to say about the first 10 pages by the time I get to page 20.
I rarely give to charities myself. I give a little bit once and a while but there is nothing that I make a great contribution to. I remember seeing that Child's Play one last year and liking it so I think I will take a look at it now and see what I can do. I see the BC Children's Hospital is listed so I can donate locally as well.
Oh, and sort of about Portal, have you played Narbacular Drop?

Monday, November 19, 2007 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

No, I haven't played it. That was the game that the Portal creators made at Digipen, yes? The one that Valve paid them to refine into Portal? I don't think I knew that it was actually available to play.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Travis said...

You can get it there. Of course Portal is much more refined and probably better in all ways but you one wants to play around with the precursor and see the roots of the game then it might be interesting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 5:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

Actually, line-dancing with a tranny may increase your readership.

Monday, December 10, 2007 4:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Mononita said...

I was quite pleased to see that this post of yours was not another update on a video game. I read the entire thing as I am now doing my annual christmas readings of all my friends' blogs. It's actually not taking that long, since nobody actually seems to update blogs anymore. It's good that you donated to the IWK ... I have seen those games and machines always get used ... they are very popular, especially with the little boys.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007 1:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous (Vintage) said...

There are so many "causes" out there, so it is important to find that correct fit. Glad to see you have found one that suits you.

Something to maybe consider sometime is that it can be quite fun/heart warming giving of your time as well. There's all kinds of organizations that are looking for volunteers. I find I get back way more than what I've ever put in.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 4:14:00 PM  

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