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An extended rant about how I am too old to play video games

I have been wasting an inordinate amount of time playing X-Plane 11 on my Mac. I’m not very good at it. It’s a flight simulator and not an arcade game, so it’s much more about trying to flip every switch in a ten-page long takeoff checklist for a 737-800 and less about stick-and-rudder type antics. It’s honestly very boring and unrewarding. I still play it, though.

Probably the most boring thing I do is put a Cessna at the South Bend airport, then go through every air traffic step to take off, setting a flight plan to fly to Elkhart Municipal airport. This is an 18-mile drive if you’re in a car, and Google says it is a 31-minute trip on land, but if you speed and don’t run into an Elkhart County sheriff trying to make quota, it’s like twenty, twenty-five.

It takes like an hour to fly this at 120 knots. Part of that is that you have to taxi across the entire 9R/27L runway, a mile and a half, and then sit around while three other planes in front of you take off. Then, instead of flying eighteen miles straight east to the Elkhart airport, ATC will route you about five miles east of Elkhart and sixteen miles south, then you swing around the city in a big sixteen-mile box, waiting for everyone else to land. And I know for a fact that three planes have never landed in a row at KEKM since the airplane has been invented, but you still have to wait. When it’s clear, you can then do another big box to approach from the south and land on the north-south runway. (This runway doesn’t have ILS though, or maybe I keep missing it, so I always have landed manually, which sort of defeats the purpose of the ILS flight in the first place.) This all on autopilot, so all you’re doing is adjusting one knob every fifteen minutes and listening to the radio.

The real challenge with X-Plane is that even with the highest-end MacBook Pro currently available, it still looks like garbage. I see pictures from people with decked-out Windows machines, with thousand-dollar video cards and terabytes of photorealistic scenery, and it almost looks real. And then I start thinking, maybe I need to build another machine, a Windows machine with all gaming hardware, and then I realize I would waste hours and hours of time fucking with NVidia driver updates and blow three or four grand and still be flying from one regional airport to another. (And never mind that it’s currently impossible to buy a high-end GPU, because everyone is hoarding them to mine bitcoin. Seriously, a video card that cost $200 around Thanksgiving would probably fetch a grand on eBay, if you could even find one.)

I really want to play DCS World, which looks impressive in the trailers, but once again, it would require a PC I do not have and do not want to build. And keep in mind, I’m talking about spending thousands of dollars to build a machine that would prevent me from writing, so this is especially stupid.

Yesterday, I went on Steam because I heard about some new game that’s free to play where you fly planes, called War Thunder or War Kill or War Fucker or something, I forget what. It looked interesting, ran on the Mac, and it was free, so I clicked play, and it proceeded to download twenty gigs of installer to my machine. Twenty or forty minutes later, it started asking me to map 47 different buttons and axes on my joystick, which was overwhelming. Then it started me in a training thing, which was semi-impossible for me. Then it threw me into a battle.

I guess with this game, you can play as a plane or a tank, and there are these massive online battles where tanks mass at a border and shoot at each other, and then planes fly overhead, dogfighting. And I think tanks can shoot overhead, and planes can strafe ground objects. Because I was level 0, the game basically gave me a Wright Brothers biplane from 1903 with a pellet gun under the wing. I flew around slowly, in big turns, and there were tiny dots on the horizon, people barrel rolling and flying at almost the speed of sound in Mustangs and Messerschmitts. I fired my pellet gun at some microscopic things on the ground, and was immediately shot down.

I was then given opportunities to spam my Facebook friends to get coins or gold or bucks or something, which if I collected like a thousand and got some daily bonus, I could upgrade my pellet gun from .177 caliber to .22 caliber. I think if I did this seven days in a row, it moved up to a ten-pump BB gun. I would basically have to quit my job and play full time to get up to the worst US fighter from the beginning of the war with no guns, maybe by the end of 2018. And I’d have to buy some loot boxes or gold chests or whatever else.

After a minute, I got thrown into the game. I think my pellet gun hit a tank once, then I was immediately shot down. A fourteen-year-old popped open a chat window and offered several slurs related to my possible choice of a sexual partner, in which I would assume the role of the woman. I got back in long enough to run out of pellet gun ammunition and then crash into a tree. I was then returned to a hanger, which offered more opportunities to buy doubloons or upgrades or something, at which point I disconnected and deleted the game. My carpal tunnel wrist is still killing me, and I still have books to write. I’ll probably reinstall it next weekend.

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Current Obsession: Pole Chudes

I don’t know how I got to this, but I’ve been borderline obsessed with the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune, which is called Pole Chudes. I do not speak Russian, and can’t solve Cyrillic letter puzzles, but the fascinating thing about the show is how little it has to do with the actual word game. Also, this show is Russian As Fuck, which I greatly enjoy.

I really like watching foreign TV I can’t understand, and find things like the tone of the announcers and commercials to be unintentionally hilarious. When I was in college, my pal Simms was friends with these guys who were maybe music majors or in a band. Their house was cool as hell, because the basement was covered in egg carton crates and soundproofing blankets, and they had a bad drum set and a bunch of shitty instruments, like old Teisco guitars and band instruments and toy synthesizers, and we’d go over there and beat the hell out of everything in a total noise symphony. Anyway, one of the guys worked at Sahara Mart and had a copy of the Bollywood movie Raja Babu, the VHS tape complete with TV commercial breaks, and I got a dub of it. The spectacle of a Bollywood musical and all the dance numbers is one thing, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the commercials for various pre-made curries, rices, and banking centers. And falling down a YouTube k-hole looking for Russian game shows brings on a similar experience.

A few brief thoughts and observations on the show:

  • “Pole Chudes” means “The Field of Wonder.” It is a reference to the Aleksei Tolstoy book “The Golden Key,” which is based on The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Tolstoy’s version of the book is a sort of fork of the original Collodi book in the same sense as Disney’s sanitized derivations of other fairy tales, with many of the gruesome bits like the burning of feet and sharks swallowing people and whatnot. Also Pinocchio’s nose doesn’t grow when he lies. The game show has nothing to do with any of this.
  • The show is an official Merv Griffin-created version of the US franchise. There are about 60 international versions of Wheel, and many of them are bizarre in some way, like a Polish version named Koło Fortuny, which always offered a free dishwasher for the toss-up puzzle.
  • Pole Chudes has a few rule changes, such as a prize symbol, which lets a player choose 2000 points, or a secret prize as a buy-out, which is sometimes a vegetable.
  • Unlike the rapid-fire gamified puzzle version shown in the US, the game itself is secondary. Most of the show has to do with the host interviewing and interacting with the guests. If you edited out all game elements from the US version of Wheel, you’d have about three minutes of footage per episode. With Pole Chudes, you’d probably have a solid 50 minutes that would resemble an American variety show from the seventies.
  • The host, Leonid Yakubovich, is a white-haired, big-mustached guy who looks like he’d be running a Russian deli in the East Village of New York. He is absolutely normal, and worked as a heating technician at the ZiL auto plant before getting into show business. He looks like the great-uncle or grandfather every Russian would have.
  • Half the time, the wheel has tons of food and farm grains and baskets of bread, like it’s a restaurant table.
  • I don’t know the process for getting guests, but they are incredibly random and look like they were bussed in from outer Siberia for the greatest moment of their lives. It’s a strange mix of old babushkas, village idiots, and guys with 80s-nerd glasses and the facial hair of a town rapist. They also seem to have a lot of children on the show with parents, in the ever-painful “host asks the cute kid questions and gets baby-talk dumb answers so the old grandmothers can laugh.”
  • Each guest brings the host a gift from their town, usually something culturally significant. So a good portion of the show is always the host and contestants eating jars of pickled wolf ears in a borscht sauce from Vladivostok, and chugging down fine vodka from ornate bottles that look like they’re out of the 19th century.
  • There is actually a museum by the studio filled with gifts brought to the show.
  • The show inexplicably breaks into musical numbers or displays of children in historical uniforms dancing to folk tunes, like some kind of Soviet propaganda film broadcast on the government TVs that only got one channel.

I can’t explain it any more except to say it is Russian As Fuck. There are a lot of full episodes on YouTube, but for a good overview, go straight to the 1TV web site and watch this minute-long teaser: http://www.1tv.ru/sprojects/si=5810

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Obsession cycle is not a Calvin Klein-themed Harley

When I was maybe ten, I became obsessed with the Elephant Man.  I think the movie came out around then, or maybe it was the play, and Mark Hamill was playing the role of Merrick in the Broadway version, and because I was so infatuated with Star Wars at the time, I absolutely had to read everything about it, which was pretty much nothing, given that we had exactly five TV channels, and the closest thing to Google around was a Sears version of the Pong game we got that Christmas, which was so cheap it had the paddle wheels actually mounted on the top panel of the game unit, and didn’t even have wired controllers, so two people had to sit right next to each other to play.  (And I also thought that maybe there was some hidden easter egg in the game – which is odd, considering the very first easter egg in a commercial video game was probably the hidden room in Adventure for the 2600, and I never played that – so I would spend hours trying to drive up the score in the practice mode, thinking maybe if I got the score up to 99 or something a magical message would appear, like a “good job!” or a phone number you called for a free t-shirt, or something.  No luck.)

I never got to see the movie back then, the David Lynch thing, because HBO only played it once that I could remember (although they played that horrible Flash Gordon remake pretty much every other hour) and this was twenty years before the DVR and at least ten years before we got a VCR that could record, and it was at the same exact time I had to go to my stupid CCD class on a Sunday for church, and I was so pissed off and tried to talk my way out of it, but couldn’t.  I did manage to borrow the book version from someone, and it had maybe six photos in it, but that wasn’t enough.  Sometimes I wonder if these frantic obsession cycles I have got burned into my head result from a lack of media back then.  I mean, if I would’ve heard about the Elephant Man, and then jumped in a web browser and spent four hours poring over wikipedia articles, instead of just getting a tiny taste of it and then not seeing a single thing for years, maybe I would be placated and not spend inordinate amounts of time researching these memes from childhood, reading old Apple II history or 1970s fighter jets or non-Apollo 11 moon landings, because my school library had only a single book on the subject, and I probably checked that single book out 20 times and memorized every damn page.

This still happens.  Like last night, I saw that movie Benjaman Button (or whatever it’s called – Curious Case of…?) and it had a brief appearance by a fictionalized Ota Benga, who was this pygmy from Congo, who was brought over to the US and became an exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, running around a cage in a loincloth throwing spears and playing with monkeys.  (Obviously the political climate was slightly different in 1906, given that now those primates he shared a cage with can now legally drive cars and vote in 22 countries, and would probably be allowed to apply for home mortgages, had Countrywide not gone under.)  So I throw that in google, and Ota Benga links to the movie Freaks, which links to the Lobster Boy, which links to Grady Stiles, the lobster boy who was a horrible alcoholic and was killed by a (poorly) planned hit by his abused family, which brought me to some other article, which brought me to Chang and Eng Bunker, and now I’m spending my valuable day off combing the web for articles about conjoined twins, half wondering if there is either a medication I can take for this, or a way I can make enough money off of it that I can just harness this compulsion into a six-digit career.  (And no, I’m not going to start an ad-sponsored site about freaks or about Soviet attempts at Venus landings or whatever else.  I know in an hour, I will be busy googling for a new desk again.)

Some strange facts about Chang and Eng Bunker:

  • They owned slaves.
  • They lost part of their plantation in the Civil War and were extremely anti-government after that; they also had a son who fought for the Confederate Army.
  • They met a pair of sisters and fought over which of the two they wanted – they both wanted the same one, but Eng won and Chang got second pick.
  • They had 22 children between the two of them, which raises a bunch of obvious questions about how one performs the required acts to conceive a child when your brother-in-law is sitting right next to your husband as you complete said act, repeat 22 times.
  • The kids were all double first cousins with each other.  Double first cousins are technically half-siblings from a genetics standpoint, but since identical twins have the same DNA, they were more than half-siblings, but not full siblings.
  • The sisters ended up on bad terms, so they had to set up two households, and the twins would rotate between the two of them, spending three days at each house.
  • Chang had a stroke four years before they died, and he was the one that controlled their legs, so they were pretty much screwed after that.
  • Chang died in his sleep; Eng woke up one morning, connected to his dead brother.
  • A doctor offered to perform an emergency separation of them after Chang died, but Eng refused to be separated from his brother.
  • Their grandson was General Caleb Haynes, who was a prominent pilot in the Army Air Corps in WWI and WWII.  He was later a freemason, for those of you who are keeping score on how the freemasons are connected to everything.

Great, now I’m going to spend the afternoon googling how many of the people who walked on the moon were freemasons.