There is no “Respawn” option in Life

There is no respawn option is life

 

Every day I reflect. I reflect on what it means to be me; what it means to be a gamer; what it means to be a student; what it means to be black; what it means to be male, or an older brother, or a friend. I have the power to reflect on these identities because I have time to do so. Every day is a new opportunity to reevaluate and contemplate.

Videogames also incorporate moments of reflection, of pondering, starting anew, or continuing where one left off.  I can always gain a new level in Overwatch because the work I put in was saved. That saved data does not get rewritten until I, the player, choose to continue my progress. It waits for me to finish what I started. It waits for me to continue to reach new objectives and learn more in order to progress in its virtual world.

Just like life, videogames are full of bewilderment. I can be a formidable opponent against a ferocious dragon, therefore earning the opportunity to slay the beast. I could be late for an exam, therefore I must work with the little time I have been given to complete it. Both required preparation and a mastery of tools I possessed to complete the objectives swiftly and efficiently. However, there is a big difference between playing a life in virtual space and living life in real space.

Life has no respawn.

There is no press button to pause life. There is only continue.

We as people get one chance. One time to live. It is a crime against humanity when someone decides to strip away that life, especially without justification, reason, cause, or merit.

Lt. Richard Collins III was stabbed and killed on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 3 a.m. near a bus stop on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. Collins was at our campus preparing to graduate from Bowie State University that upcoming Tuesday.

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To those of you who do not know, UMD is my alma mater. I did not know him personally, but his death has impacted me. From the location of where he was slain to the person currently in police custody, it makes me…reflect.

As a gamer, I am used to witnessing the simulation of death. Generally, I am then afforded the chance to begin anew, and continue my path; all I have to do is press “A” to continue from the last checkpoint. However, reality is not coded that way; there are no cheat codes for death or life, and there are no patch updates that fix the many wrongs in this world. The game of life is set of the hardest difficultly, that continuously generates new hurdles, obstacles, challenges, and enemies. Life is also a horribly imbalanced system. Too much to even list why it’s so cruel and unjust.

There is no respawn.

Death is a life experience that we confront daily – either by watching it on the television, seeing it on your timeline, or simply being at the wrong place at that time. For there is never a right time for death.

There is no respawn. Just one life. A life we should preserve as long as we can. Let us share our experience with others in hopes of conquering the bigger challenges in life as well. Even if one player falls, their ideas, hopes, and dreams should carry others forward.

Lt. Collins III Rest in Paradise. May your spirit influence others to continue playing and being brave and strategic in the game of life.

 

Road to the PhD: Year One

“Road to the PhD” is a new short blog series comprised of reflections of my woes, accomplishments, up and downs, as I try to ascertain the coveted PhD. I am PhD student in Informatics in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, Bloomington. This is a brief, but concrete reflection of my first year in this program. Hopefully, these reflections will benefit those who are interested in being a games researcher and want to know what that experience is like at the graduate level.

Road to the PhD- Year One

And with the submissions of my final papers and final grades for my students, I have successfully completed my first in my PhD program. Thank goodness! I am so relieved that finals (HELL) week is over! Of course, at the graduate level I feel it starts earlier because one must budget time and energy to drafting papers, starting or finishing projects, and meeting with students to discuss their grades, if you have students. Honestly, it lasted for a good month for me because of the amount of students I had to grade upon my own work that had to get done. However, I learned a lot within the past year about what kind of student I am and the direction I want to go? Also, the balance of becoming a games scholar and scholar who still plays games during free time? A very interesting position that I have yet again place myself in.

When I first arrived at Indiana University I had very little knowledge of the other graduate students who worked on and/or with videogames. I just knew that I needed to meet them and learn about their particular interest in gaming culture. After a week or so, I met one of them in the shared PhD area where most of the PhD students have their desks. During my second week I met Alex who is interested in gaming distribution platforms such as Steam, Blizzard App, and Origin. Alex and I were also taking the same social media course as well, so we developed a nice rapport with each other fairly quickly.

Later on that month, I met Iris who is also fascinated about the culture of gaming and very much into building connections on and off campus with other game enthusiasts. Iris, Alex, and I have since played Overwatch with each other several times and currently creating a games research group and another project that I hope pans out well.

Why did I mentioned these people? Well, it’s not the people that I wanted to highlight, though they both are awesome people. I wanted to highlight this amazing collaborative journey that I have embarked on. Studying videogames as an academic interest and hopefully career, so far is proving to be intriguing, fascinating, and lots of work. Intriguing because I have involved myself from simply reading books on games to utilizing them for academic papers. Fascinating because I get to discuss at any moment between buffs and nerfs in Overwatch to the representation of marginalized identities in some videogames with others in my PhD cohort. Lastly, this is a lot of work to do because the field is still growing, and their are so many directions yet unexplored, and so many questions yet to be asked.

This first year has challenged me as a gamer as well. I now cherish games like Overwatch because I can play a few rounds and feel as though I am accomplishing something fairly quickly, as well as, being actively engaged in combat without a long wait time to find and fight my foes. Do not get me wrong, I love my Skyrim and Mafia 3, but those games require a lot more of my time. I feel sad at times because I know I need to spend at least  3 to 4 hours in the realm of Dragon Age: Inquisition to get that same sense of accomplishment like in Overwatch.  However, school makes that very challenging for me. Yes, two very different genres that appeal to different kind of gamers. However, one cannot deny the fact both require different amounts of time to accomplish certain tasks in these games. I am still working on finding that balance between work and play.

During year one, I was yet again confronted with the reality of what it means to be one of few in a particular space. I am a Black male going to a PWI (predominantly white institution) which does not bother me because my alma mater, University of Maryland, College Park, is one as well. Within in the Informatics side of the School of Informatics and Computing I have yet to see a black faculty member. This is may or may not be true, but after being their for 10 months I am pretty sure I would have seen someone. However, the lack of representation within my department does not faze as much because I expected this because of where the school is located, and seeing various ethnic groups in the space does not make me feel alone. Race has and will forever play a role in how I see, interact, and interpret things, but I refuse to let it stand in my way to what I want to accomplish. That lesson has become a abundantly clear with me graduating from UMD last year and currently attending IU.

Year one is finally completed and I could not be happier. I am excited to see what year  two has in store because gaming is taking me to new places and meeting new people. I am attending EVO 2017 in Las Vegas to conduct some research, so stay tuned for that. It is an immense privilege to be in school and be able to invest my time and energy into research I want to do. Let’s just hope I can accomplish even more since during my 2nd year.

A “Target” Moment of Reflection

A Target Moment of Reflection

It was a Wednesday afternoon, I had just left campus, and I needed some me time. Me time generally consisted of watching Netflix, sleeping, or playing videogames. However, since I started school at Indiana University, I occasionally stroll through the local mall that is down the street from my apartment. Generally, I just walk around and buy one or two small items. A part of the mall is the good ‘ole Target! I like Target, for it usually has what I am looking for and the stores that I have visited are pretty clean. As I am walking around, picking up non-essential stuff, I see in the distance a child playing on the publicly accessible Xbox One that is in the Target. He was a young black male who had to be no older than 7 or 8 years old.  I was a distance away, but I saw how laser focused he was going through the obstacle course in Forza Horizon 3.

For the few seconds that I watched him, multiple memories of my childhood flashed through my mind, specifically one’s related to gaming. One of the memories was of when I was playing SonicThe Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. I remember the many fun and frustrating times I had with that game. Kick’in butt and taking names in “Green Hill Zone” to getting pummeled in those annoying boss battles with Eggman. I am still slightly annoyed that I never beat the game.

Anywho, after those couple of seconds went by I snapped out it and started to proceed towards another direction in the store. However, I could not help put things into context. Here is a 7 or 8 year old black male child playing on an Xbox One. I am not knocking his intelligence, but I will assume he had very little understanding of the computational complexity of what it takes to run a videogame, let alone running in 1080p resolution between 30 to 60 frames per seconds (fps). Sure, in today’s computer market that is pretty mediocre, however, I reflect back to the days of the Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, etc. At one point in time, those consoles were the future of gaming. This kid was playing an Xbox One at 7 or 8, so gaming will look incredibly different once he is in his 20’s.

Anywho, I walked through the aisle of pasta and sauces, and landed back in the middle of the store. As I looked at the electronic section at the end of the aisle, the kid was still actively engaged in the game, but with onlookers. The onlookers included a middle-aged couple and a woman, who I believed to be his mother. All 3 were just watching him play this game. I could not tell if he was beating the AI opponents like crazy or crashing into everything for I was too far away. This reminded me of the few times my mother and aunt would watch my cousins, my brother, and I play Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Nintendo Gamecube. Even today when people watch me play, I feel like I must perform my best at all times with no mistakes. If I do mess up, then I typically play it off as if I meant to make the mistake from the beginning.

That kid will never know that he made a 22-year-old black male graduate student reflect about his young gaming childhood days. That gamer will never realize that their is a future in gaming, until someone puts that idea into his head. That future scholar will not fully see the roadblocks ahead of him until they happen. Hopefully, he will soon learn how to create games that are intriguing, awe-inspiring, educational, fun, and thought provoking, and maybe even ponder a future in which being a gamer is not only his hobby, but a passion.

Thanks kid!