The Game Console Dilemma

There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on right now, guys, for me and my friends. Bad news, terrible news, excellent news—real life stuff, you know?

So, naturally, I want to talk about video game consoles. This is serious business.

I didn’t have every new console when I was growing up. We had (I think) an Atari, then an original Nintendo, and then nothing. If we wanted to play Super Mario World or Donkey Kong or Final Fantasy VI or Sonic or any other game that was popular in the mid-1990s, we had to go to a friend’s house. And believe me, we found all the right friends with all the best game systems.

Then the late 90s rolled around and the N64 came out. I didn’t get the opportunity to play one until I was visiting a friend in Missouri in 1998, and she introduced me to Donkey Kong 64 and Zelda: the Ocarina of Time and a dozen other games, and I had to have one. I begged, I pleaded, and I finally convinced my parents to let me buy an N64 with my Christmas money.

What a glorious day it was. My mom and my brother were going to Abilene (yes, when I was a young lass in Texas, Abilene was the big city), and I sent them to whatever store had the best sale, and they returned with my sleek, glorious console with the giant controllers and those awesome cartridges that must now give millions of 30-somethings warm-fuzzy nostalgia.

I spent most of 1999 listening to No Doubt and playing N64 games. Zelda, Super Mario 64, Perfect Dark, the Star Wars pod-racing game… Good times.

Then I hit high school and I lost interest for awhile. Computer games, with their rich worlds and varied stories, were where it was at for me. I had a brief, torrid affair with a friend’s XBox, but that never went anywhere, and it wasn’t until college that I got to play PlayStation 2 games with my now-husband and was hooked all over again. This time it was Spyro and Kingdom Hearts and Champions of Norrath, but I realized my love of console games had never faded. It’s more immersive, somehow, just you and the controller and the screen, and you can lose hours and days in another world, jumping, racing, fighting, exploring, playing.

So when Nintendo Wii came out, hyping The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and a whole new method of play, I was intrigued. But it cost, like, $300, and I was a broke grad student and then a broke intern and then a broke reporter, and my husband said we just might be past the stage in our lives where we should buy console games, so I never bought one.

…until I had a steady, salaried job, that is. In 2010, in Santa Fe, I used my new smart phone to find Target. I went in, I went straight to the electronics section, and I picked it out: my Nintendo Wii, my secondary controller (hot pink!), and that (I thought) most glorious of all the gloried games: Twilight Princess. I rushed home to our 200-year-old house in New Mexico, I got it all set up, and my husband and I played Wii Sports for about two days straight.

Sort of. Well, we tried.

You see, that revolutionary new method of play wasn’t quite what we expected. It was tricky, and games often required fine movements to be performed with a controller that really had no precision. Aiming was tricky. Drawing was damn near impossible.

I played Zelda, but somehow I wasn’t hooked. I didn’t like having to position myself perfectly to be able to swing my “sword,” and the chicken-herding mission in the first five minutes of the game just didn’t do it for me, especially when it was so hard to aim the freaking horse at the freaking birds.

Eventually, the Wii started to collect dust, and then it became our Netflix player. More time passed, and it became our secondary Netflix player, relegated to the bedroom, where, unless we stood on the bed, we didn’t even have room to play the games.

So, yeah. The biggest purchase I’d ever made for myself, and it was a bust. It was years before I ever bought myself anything that cost more than $100 again. I toed the party line: no more video game consoles for us.

But the last few years have seen so many tempting systems. Xbox One with Kinect. PS4. And now… that freaking Nintendo 3DS with its cute design and its fancy 3D and its promise of access to dozens of old games.

As you’ve seen, I have rather rocky history with Nintendo. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. And once burned, twice never-gonna-cough-up-hundreds-again, right? I’m not going to buy one. I’m not.

But it’s difficult. I feel like Charlie Brown, continually swinging at console systems and missing because my stupid controller just doesn’t have enough precision to make contact.

What do you think, readers? Where do you stand on video game consoles? Do you keep buying?

WTF Do You Mean, Online Tabletop RPG?

I’ve been putting out some feelers on Twitter and Facebook, asking people if anyone would be interested in an online tabletop RPG… and as a result, I’ve gotten a lot of people asking me in turn what the hell an online tabletop game would look like.

It’s not such a contradiction in terms as it seems. “Tabletop” RPG is just one term for “pen-and-paper” RPG or “table-talk” RPG or “those weirdos playing D&D in the dorm basement on Saturday nights.” And the fabulous new Google hang-out system allows large(ish) groups of people to “meet” online, see and talk to each other, and get the impression that they’re actually interacting.

Ever since I started hunting out local friends to play White Wolf’s Changeling: The Lost, I’ve liked the idea of playing with some of my long-distance friends as well, largely because my long-distance friends are more interested in general geekery than my local friends. I think we can do it, and I think we can do it with a system that’s easy for beginners and yet completely creative.

So let’s give it a try. I want to collect a few people—fiveish total, perhaps?—and use them as guinea pigs in an FATE-based online tabletop RPG. At least one spot is spoken for by the lovely Emmie Mears.

How would this work?
I’ll take a poll to find out what type of FATE Core game folks would like to play and to gauge interest levels. Traditional D&D-style fantasy? Contemporary fantasy? Steampunk?! The world is our oyster. We could even play a world inside of an oyster, though that sounds rather humid and squishy.

The fiveish people would collaborate with me to pick a semi-regular day (*coughMondayscough*) and time (*cougheveningESTcough*) we could all meet on a Google hang-out to play. Honestly, committing to a time is almost always the hardest part.

Once we have some folks committed, we’ll all sit down around our Google table and talk about what kind of world we want and what our characters will look like. (If you’re on the fence, just let me know and you can sit in on this chat and decide for yourself if you’re interested!)

I will act as Game Master for the first time around, and the players will, well, play! If this is successful, individuals in our “troupe” could take turns acting as Game Master so everyone gets a chance to play and to act as god.

What is FATE, and why this game system?
FATE, or “Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment,” is “a generic role-playing game system based on the FUDGE gaming system. It has no fixed setting, traits, or genre and is almost entirely customizable. It is designed to offer the least possible obstruction to role-playing by assuming that players do not want to make large amounts of dice rolls” (from Wikipedia).

In other words, it’s a pay-what-you-like RPG framework that enables—nay, encourages!—players to create their own world. Character building is phrase-based (i.e. Smarmy Necromancer with a Weakness for Blondes) rather than point-based, and most of it completely up to the individual player.

Rolls are made with special FUDGE dice or simple six-sided dice, and the successful results of an action are modified based on a plus-neutral-minus system. Players only roll when an action is conflicted: you don’t have to roll to discover the success of walking down the sidewalk. Unless, you know, it’s a sidewalk surrounded by psychotic clowns.

Don’t worry if you don’t quite get it. The materials are readily available and affordable for anyone.

How would I learn the system?
There are loads of resources online, and we can learn together. In the end, you really only need to know the information specific to your character: what your skills and needs are, what spells/abilities you have, and how to use all of those things. You don’t need to learn all the ins and outs of this universe: you’ll be pretending to be the character you create, and that’s it.

I’ll make an effort to learn the game really way by the time we have our first session, and I’ll walk everyone through character creation. Plus, since we, as a troupe, would create the universe together, we’ll all be making it up as we go along!

This is all well and good, but I’m not sure what a tabletop RPG really is.
It’s playing make-believe, but with dice and notepads. And fewer costumes. Unless you want to wear costumes, which might be totally awesome.

Seriously, tabletop gaming is both endlessly easy and endlessly complicated: it’s all up to the players. You create a character and, with your character-friends and under the guidance of a game master, you have a series of collaborative adventures in a usually fantastical setting. You describe your choices and actions, and the game master responds by manipulating the world and the non-player characters.

Think Choose Your Own Adventure, but without preset options. We all make it up as we go along.

I might be interested, but I need more information.
I can hook you up.

Click here to visit the FATE website and download the core rulebook.

Click here to read about FATE on Wikipedia.

Click here to read a review of FATE.

Click here to get a sense of tabletop role-playing.

Click here to watch the fabulous Wil Wheaton and friends play a tabletop game.

Click here to email me: kristinlynnmcfarland AT

So, to help me get some direction in organizing, do me a BIG favor and, if you’re interested, answer a few questions below: