The death of my father

Taking a slightly more serious turn for a moment, this is something that I’ve thought about writing but held off doing until now. Just for clarification: my father and my dad are two different people. My dad is still alive.

My father passed away a few months ago and I haven’t really talked about it. Sure, I mentioned it to a few people. I told my boss and co-workers since I was going to be taking some time off to attend the funeral. Family members in my hometown of Lamar, Colorado knew what happened and why I was back there. But I’ve never really talked about it.

The first thing people usually told me when I mentioned that he had died was “I’m so sorry to hear that.” While I appreciated the condolences and kind words, it wasn’t something that upset me or made me sad.

My father was not a kind man. We’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but if pressured to find a kind word about him I would come up empty. He and I hadn’t spoken to each other in years – and that last time ended with a heated exchange of harsh words.

You can imagine my surprise when I attended the funeral and people there (there weren’t a lot of them, but it was more than I expected, to be honest) talked about how friendly and helpful he was. They extoled his virtues of being such a giving person, willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others.

That was not the man I knew growing up.

Maybe in the later years of his life my father decided to change, to become a better person and attempt to atone for the mistakes of his past. Maybe that goodness and kindness had always been within him, but he never knew how to express it. Maybe he was finally able to let go of all the anger and rage and pain and become a decent and caring individual.

I certainly hope those are true.

When it comes to how I feel about his passing, it’s a mixed bag. I’m not happy, as I often imagined I would be upon hearing about his death. I spent years having nightmares about that man, well into my adulthood; even as recently as earlier this year before hearing he died. I don’t think I ever really respected him, but I definitely feared him. Well, more like lived in constant terror of him.

That’s probably why I haven’t broken down in tears or even felt saddened by it. He and I never had a real connection, at least not that I felt. I do remember trying to have a father and son relationship, to do things that I thought a son was supposed to do, but there was always the fear that I might say something to set him off. No matter what I did, it was made perfectly clear that it wasn’t good enough (and says something as to why I am the way I am today).

Seeing my father in the casket, looking much smaller and frailer than I recalled, I didn’t know what to feel. I conjured up images of the past, of those dark and troubled times, seeing if there was a glint of anger towards him. Nothing. Not malice or fury; not even a glimmer of rage. If anything, I felt sorry for him.

I don’t know if it’s so much a case of forgiving him or letting bygones be bygones; more like it was time to finally put the last vestiges of the hard feelings to rest. Maybe I had already put all of that behind me so there wasn’t anything to feel at all. We never had a reconciliation or a final meeting, although I wonder sometimes if he wanted one.

For all of his faults and flaws, I can honestly say that I hope his last years were as people said: filled with being helpful, giving and kind. I never knew that man, but I hope he was finally a good one.

Labyrinthitis

While you might think it’s a condition caused by watching the Goblin King strut about in too-tight pants, the reality is a bit different.

Last week I had a bit of an episode where I got really light-headed and dizzy after standing up too fast. Nothing unusual about that; happens to us all. However, it didn’t stop after a few moments like normal. It persisted for several hours.

The next morning I woke up feeling fine and chalked it up to it being a weird fluke. After a couple of hours, though, the feeling came back. Really dizzy, accompanied by a slight feeling of uneasiness in my stomach.

Having reached my middle-age years, the time of youthful folly and ignoring health concerns has passed. I may have thought myself immortal twenty years ago, but a couple brushes with mortality have dispelled that notion.

Off to the doctor I went.

After answering a bunch of questions and going through a few tests, the diagnosis was labyrithitis, an inner-ear condition that wrecks havoc with the equilibrium (another great movie that has nothing to do with this post). Fortunately I haven’t experienced one of the more common symptoms: anxiety attacks. I’ve felt a bit anxious at times, but nothing severe. While feeling off-balance almost all the time is certainly annoying, it hasn’t been enough to cause me to panic. Or maybe the chemicals that trigger a panic attack aren’t firing right. Whatever the case may be, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that on top of everything else.

Being curious as to what might have caused this, I did some reading. Turns out there can be a number of factors: a virus, bacterial infection, allergies, medication reactions, head injury or stress. Out of those possibilities, I think stress is the most likely suspect. As far as I know I haven’t been sick or had bacteria exposed to my ear. I’m not on any medications, no allergic reactions that I remember and haven’t had any head trauma recently. But who knows? Maybe there was something on that list and I just can’t recall it.

For right now I’m taking an anti-vertigo medication to help with the symptoms while waiting to see if it clears up on its own. It’s been a week so far and no improvement. It hasn’t gotten any worse, either, so that’s something.

A few people I’ve talked to that have had this said it’s cleared up on its own, although the times have varied greatly. One said that things were back to normal within a week; another said it took a couple months.

I’ll give it another week and hopefully things improve. If they don’t, then it may be time to go back to the doctor.

Until then, if you see me stumbling a bit, it’s nothing to worry about.

Who’s up for a board game?

“Shall we play a game?” -‘Joshua’, WarGames

When you’re asked if you would like to play a board game, your mind probably fills with images of the standard fare, accompanied with feelings of boredom or frustration – or both, depending on your history with them. I know when I ask someone outside of our usual gaming group if they would like to come over to play games, they get a look that’s a mixture of “I’d really rather not” and a wolf contemplating gnawing off their own foot to escape a trap.

This is because, for most people, their experience with games is typically limited to three types of games, much as mine was until just a couple years ago: 1) ‘roll-and-move’, such as Monopoly, Clue or even Sorry!, which uses cards in place of dice; 2) ‘party games’, like Cranium, Scattergories or Taboo which can quickly lose their luster after a few plays; 3) ‘word’ games, typically dominated by the classic Scrabble, but you could also include Upwords or Boggle in that group.

A fourth group comprised of games like Risk or Axis & Allies is probably not in the repertoire for most people. Those games go a bit outside of ‘casual gaming’, but some people might be familiar with them – and figure they’re pretty long and boring.

If that’s been the limit of your exposure to games, then you’re really missing out. In fact, most games that my friends and I play are pretty far removed from what you might be used to playing. We’re talking about games with some real depth to them.

Terra Mystica, one of my favorite games (it’s the background image for the blog)), is a complex game that requires some real strategy to win. You play as one of fourteen races (divided into seven ‘factions’) that are vying to control the most territory on a map. No, it’s not like Risk. You’re not fighting each other or engaging in battles. You’re simply transforming terrain for your faction to build dwellings, trading posts, temples, etc in order to generate resources.

However, we then come to the other side of the coin. When I explain something like Terra Mystica – or tamer fare such as Ticket to Ride (building railroad lines across the map) or Dominion (a deck building game) – people say that it sounds too complex, too hard to learn.

The catch is, if you learn how to play, the games get much easier to play. You begin to understand the complexities and nuances of the various strategies. Sure, there is a learning curve, but if you start small and work your way up, it gets much easier.

Still too much for you?

Okay, how about jumping into a co-operative game (‘co-op’), like Zombicide or Police Precinct? Easy enough to learn and you’re working together instead of playing against each other. No real worries about getting beaten by other players because you don’t know how to play. It can be fun discussing strategies and plans in order to beat the game.

Or you could try a co-op with an edge and jump into Cutthroat Caverns, where you have to work together to get through the game but you’re still trying to win by eliminating the other players. Just remember that others are trying to eliminate you in the process.

These are just scratching the surface. There are so many more games than what your local big-box store carries, generally in one aisle. Of course they’re selling the stand-bys, the ‘known’ games. They’re not willing to go out on a limb and stock games like Power Grid or Modern Art because most people have probably never heard of them.

It might be kind of hard to see, but here’s a shelf a friend of mine has with most of his games:

Game shelf
Cardboard envy….I have it

All of that aside, there’s more to playing games than the games themselves. Sure, you’re there to play and, with a bit of planning and a touch of luck, to win, but it’s about spending time with other people and having a good time. I don’t always win the games I play – I usually place somewhere in the back of the pack – but I almost always have a great time.

So don’t be too quick to dismiss playing games. Take a chance and try out a few different types of games. You might just be surprised.

If you’re wanting to try out some of the games I mentioned, let me know and we can get together for an evening of gaming.

Why “The Aged Gamer”

A quick bit of information for context.

There’s a video game called Team Fortress 2 (aka TF2), an online multi-player first person shooter (FPS). Without getting into all of the particulars and details, the basic point of of the game is to run around as one of nine characters as you shoot, blow stuff up, capture flags, push payloads and wait for respawn. So….much….waiting….

Available for free on Steam, it’s cartoonish, over the top and an absolute ton of fun. It was here that the name “Aged Gamer” came into being.

During one fairly tame round of Capture the Flag (CTF) on a map called ‘Well’, I was running around as the Soldier, practicing rocket jumps as I helped defend our intel (that’s the ‘flag’ in this game). A discussion started over voice and text chats about how long people had been playing the game.

The conversation began when one person said that they had just started playing and mentioned that they were 16 years old. Since they said this over voice chat, there wasn’t any reason to doubt them. The voice most certainly said ‘teenager’.

This prompted people on the team to announce their ages. The youngest clocked in at 14; the oldest, 26. By that point, I was the only one to not say anything. When someone asked about my age in text chat, I politely declined. This was followed up with all kinds of comments, most wondering why I was silent on the subject. I replied that I was far older than any of them and that it didn’t matter what my age was, hoping that would be the end.

But it wasn’t. The questions continued, a constant barrage of interrogation through both text and voice. When someone asked, “What, are you like 30 or something?”, I decided to lay a huge, heaping dose of the truth on them.

“No,” I replied in text chat, “I’m 45.”

The cries of disbelief reached the heavens. “No you’re not!” “How can you play this game?!” “What’s an old dude doing playing TF2?” and, for an extra dose of spicy disdain, “That’s really creepy!”

Creepy? Since when did it become taboo to enjoy playing video games after you pass a certain age? What’s the cut-off? 35? 32? 29?

So I was the oldest, by far, in that particular game. I was asked to prove that I was an “old guy” by jumping into voice chat. I explained that my mic and headset weren’t readily available, so that wasn’t option. This naturally led to people stating that I was lying and the conversation quickly moved on to other topics.

That exchange started me thinking. Here I am, definitely in the middle-age years, still playing games. I wondered if perhaps it was time to put aside the games.

After five seconds I realized how incredibly daft that idea was. I love games! I like sitting down at a table and playing board games or card games. It doesn’t matter if it’s old friends or new acquaintances, it’s a great way to pass the time.

Or jumping into a video game, whether it’s a solo game or something more along the lines of TF2, is a nice way to get away from it all for a while.

Or getting into a role-playing game (RPG) like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. Building a character, going on adventures, engaging the imagination in ways you probably never, well, imaged.

Games are our way of relating to people that were probably don’t have that much in common with. Throughout my life I’ve met people that I probably never would have interacted with if it weren’t for games. And I’m still meeting new people because of games. I’ll be an aged gamer, long into my more venerable years.

So don’t be so quick to dismiss games or think that you’ve gotten too old for them. These are the things that help remind you that you’re still young at heart, so don’t let go of them.

Where the heck have I been?

“Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back, it’s still a bit fuzzy.” -Megadeth, “Sweating Bullets”

I’m not sure where I went, but there were people with masks looming over me as I cowered in dimly-lit rooms, the only illumination the flickering light overhead. I think there may have been experiments on my ability to tolerate country music and the smell of daffodils.

There was a period of a few weeks where I found myself in a jungle somewhere, being worshiped by a reclusive band of people as “he who scowls in a frightening manner but is really nice at heart” while another tried to execute me as they considered me a harbinger of doom and bringer of sandals.

Or maybe not…

Way, way back in January life and other things got a bit…complicated for me. Nothing serious or life-threatening. I wasn’t facing a terminal illness or some kind of personal upheaval. It was more along the lines of reflecting on where things were in my life and what I wanted to do, including whether or not to keep writing here.

I decided to take a week to think things over. A week turned into two weeks. Two weeks became a month. A month transformed into several months. Every now and then I would pop in, think about posting something and then click away to watch game play videos or some other inane activity.

Over the past few days I’ve had a couple of people ask me about this, so I’ve revisited the idea. It really comes down to deciding if what I have to say is something that I want to put out there. Do I want to invest the time writing posts when it seems that there isn’t much to say?

Sure; why not?

The blog’s been renamed to better reflect the way I believe I am. Throughout my life, the one constant interest – the one thing I’ve always enjoyed no matter what – is gaming. Video games, card games, board games; doesn’t matter. Sitting down around a table and enjoying some good game play, company and conversation or jumping into a video game are, to me, are a great way to get away from it all.

As for the “Aged Gamer”? Well, that’s a story for another time.

For now, it’s time to brush the dust off, crack the knuckles and dive back into this.

So tell me: what have you been up to? How have you been? What’s going on in your life?

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