Tag Archives: society

Why Do Modern Gamers Love MMOs?

Even just 7 to 10 years ago, most gaming took place on consoles, on games that took place on discs or cartridges. Once you played all the way through the game, found all the hidden stuff (and plugged in all the cheat codes), you were done. Oh, and if you wanted to play with more than four players, the extra people had to wait their turn.

But gaming has changed. Wow, has it ever changed! Most modern games now include a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) experience, where you can play with tons of people across all different regions (and countries)!

But why was there this major shift in game development? Well, it seems that modern gamers naturally gravitate toward MMOs, and I believe there are several social and gaming reasons for that.

MMOs Make More Individual, Innovative Game Experiences

Because of the online component of MMO gaming, there are a lot less “scripted” dialogues/events, and more off-the-cuff, genuinely new experiences. Basically, when you start the game, you’re never sure what new challenges await you.

I think of my experiences playing City of Heroes–you’re never sure whether there will be a Rikti Invasion special event while you’re playing, or which of your online buddies are going to be there to play with. It’s always a little unexpected, which is part of the fun. Unlike a cartridge or disc game, which is played thoroughly and then often set aside, MMOs give a player a truer, more responsive and “human” gameplay experiences, which continually rouses mental curiosity.

MMOs Provide Social Interaction

Instead of being cloistered away in a bedroom or basement utterly away from other humans, modern gamers have the option of real social interaction with other players through the MMO system. Now, sure, some of this interaction is made up of insult exchanges, random outbursts of rage, and the like, but some of it is actually worthwhile. You can actually find yourself talking about stuff other than the game, with people who are just as thoughtful as you. You just have to be willing to start a conversation–and MMO gaming gives you the chance to do exactly that.

For instance, I’ve met several good gaming friends through my City of Heroes experiences, and we have since become friends outside the game as well. We don’t just have to talk about “the game” or what characters we’re building next–we can actually talk about what we do when we’re not on the computer, any work-life stuff, all the kinds of things that friends talk about. This makes the “game” almost more than a game–it’s nearly a social network of its own.

MMOs Give Players Endless Replay Value

Because of the individualized, responsive gameplay I spoke of earlier, MMOs can be continuously replayed. Playing the game does not get rid of storylines, to be replayed the same way when you “finish” the game and start over; in fact, MMO gaming constantly builds on old storylines and introduces new plot threads in a fairly seamless experience. In essence, it’s never the same game twice, to paraphrase Disney’s Pocahontas.

This differs greatly from console games, which are generally locked into one major story that is only successfully played through one way. Even though returning to an old favorite game to replay it can give you warm fuzzies of nostalgia, it can also be a little boring to hack through the game the same way all the time. MMO gaming most certainly does not have that problem.

MMOs Always Have More Stuff to Do and Find

Because of developers and content creators working consistently behind the scenes, there are always new expansions, new story threads, new Easter eggs to find, and new graphic creations. Unlike console games, which don’t have much capability for innovation beyond what was programmed into the disc or cartridge, MMO games can always be updated, changed, patched (and repatched), etc.

City of Heroes, for example, has various timely expansions called “issues,” in which new costume pieces, new storylines, and other game developments are introduced. This ensures that the game is always fresh and has more challenges (which we gamers love!).

MMOs Can (Usually) Be Played by Anyone with a Computer

Lastly, unlike most console games, which are inextricably tied to a particular console to play, MMOs can generally be played by any computer. This makes MMOs more accessible to a wider swath of people–most humans these days have a computer for work or home use, but not everyone has a particular gaming console. When the computer becomes your gaming console, it’s a lot easier to game overall!

Having more potential players means that more people can meet and play together, increasing the strength of the game’s social network and boosting the innovation of the game experience. Plus, you no longer have the console wars to get in the way of good communication (i.e., you don’t have a bunch of Xbox players ragging on the Wii players, etc.).

Summary

Because of the massive multiplayer online genre, we are seeing more interactive, responsive, and social games than ever. This has changed gaming, and I believe it’s for the better.

Now, do I still like console games? Sure, because they are simpler and better suited for one-player experiences. (They are also a nice change, and a little hit of nostalgia never hurt any gamer.) But if I really want an involving game experience, I’m much more likely now to turn toward an MMO myself. MMOs provide something no other digital game experience provides–a sense of real, human community.

Why Abortions Happen

Before I begin: I am not discussing the legality or ethics of abortion in this post, as that part of the issue is way too politically hot to handle. Instead, I am attempting to define the reasons behind why a woman may choose abortion, rather than choose to have her baby and raise it, or have her baby and give him or her up for adoption.

The “whys” of this decision are often lost between heated debates on whether abortion should be legal and whether it is moral. But I believe that “why” is a very important facet of this issue, and must be discussed.

Worldwide, annually, 40-50 million women choose to have abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Why would any woman choose this dangerous procedure, which could end up endangering her own life as well as destroying the life of her child?

I believe, personally, that the women who choose abortion do so out of shame and fear, because a large percentage of these women have become mothers outside of marriage. As far as society has come in women’s rights, even in America, there is still a stigma against “unwed mothers” that almost refuses to be obliterated. This, I believe, is the root cause for many abortions, if not all.

For these women, their growing bellies are an exterior mark of their “sin,” not unlike Hester Prynne’s iconic “A” sewn on the front of her dress. For these women, this time of bearing life within them, which should be happy, is marred by the harsh judgments of others, often to the exclusion of all other human contact. They may no longer feel accepted by family, friends, religious acquaintances, or authority figures; their very way of life is threatened. “How will I provide for this child?” they might ask themselves. “How will I go on with my life now, when no one will help me?”

In this state of emotional turmoil, then, these women are daily faced with their bodies changing, their pregnancy becoming more and more apparent, and it can build a wall between them and even their closest friends. Any person undergoing such a trial is going to try to seek a way out, to remove themselves from the shame and terror they feel. For millions of women around the world each year, they choose abortion (whether legal or illegal), to utterly remove from themselves the condition which has turned their lives completely upside down, and which has threatened to cut them off from the love and support they count on.

How do I know the inner turmoil these women might be facing? Well, for one, I am a fairly empathetic person–I can all too easily imagine the suffering of others. But I can also speak to a personal experience which brought me a little closer to this type of ordeal than I might have been otherwise.

(This is the first time I’ve talked publicly about this experience, and I’m very nervous about revealing this, but I believe it’s key to understanding my individual perspective on this. I am afraid that others will think less of me for admitting to this event, but indeed going through this trauma made me a much stronger person, and brought me closer to God as a result. I fully admit my fault and part in this event, and am by no means considering myself blameless, but only human.)

My Personal Brush with This Issue

When I was 19, still a freshman in college, I began my first serious romantic relationship, with a young man my same age. He was, at first glance, just the type of guy I’d been looking for–ambitious, hardworking, honest, a very “decent” sort of guy.

Everything he told me about himself matched up to the kind of man I had been searching for pretty much all my life. He didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, he had a steady job, he was going toward a college degree, and he had a job plan for when he graduated. He also spoke often of marriage and children, of wanting to settle down and raise a family once he had graduated college. Not only that, he was intelligent and philosophical, and I found I could talk with him easily. He seemed perfect for me, and said many times that he was falling deeply in love with me, as I was with him.

Not long into our relationship, though, he wanted to do more physical things with me. I told him, even on the first date, that I wanted to remain a virgin until marriage, and he seemed to understand. However, he began to ask me to do more minor physical things, which I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, either. When I was reticent, he said that “good girlfriends” did these things for their boyfriends, and that his recent ex had done these things…which implied to me that if I didn’t do these things as well, I would stand to lose the bond we had begun to forge.

It’s important to understand my mindset at this point. I was almost literally starved for male romantic attention at this point in my life. I had been thought of as fat, nerdy, and unattractive by most of the male population in my school, and had been rejected by all the guys I liked. For a man to say that he loved me was a heady thought indeed. I didn’t want to lose my chance with this rarest of men (as I thought of him at the time), just because I wasn’t willing to compromise.

So I did compromise a bit, just on the minor things he wanted me to do, telling myself that I was showing him how much I loved him by putting aside my own wants and needs to please him. He had already told me that he planned to marry me one day, and I had pinned all my hopes to that promise. Since I believed he would eventually become my husband, I was reluctant to tell him “no.”

But the compromises kept getting a little bigger, and a little bigger. Finally, one evening a couple of months into our whirlwind relationship, he became entirely too insistent for my liking, and I finally put my foot down. “Honey, I really don’t want to,” I said.

I wanted to say, “Look, there ain’t a ring on my finger, there ain’t a white dress hanging up in the closet–you ain’t gettin’ this.” I wanted to say that I’d done everything he wanted up until that point, and he was making me uncomfortable, but I was too chicken. I was too spineless to really stand up to him, because I still didn’t want to lose him.

He took this in silence, and then suggested another “compromise.” This one was only slightly less crazy than what he’d wanted to do, but at least I wouldn’t be breaking the nearly 10-year-old promise I’d made to myself and to God to be a virgin when I married. I nodded my assent, if a bit fearfully.

…And about a minute later, I pushed away from him and sat on the edge of the bed, literally trembling. I hadn’t had sex with him, I hadn’t done anything, I knew that…but I had never been that close with a man before, and it frightened me. In my horribly naive mind, it suddenly occurred to me: even with the “compromise,” had I done enough to become pregnant?

Looking back on it, I know that it would have been akin to the second Immaculate Conception if I had indeed become pregnant. I really didn’t do ANYTHING. But I was scared enough (and admittedly stupid enough) at the time to fear it.

So began the longest and most frightening week of my life. I was too scared to tell my parents, too scared to tell my friends, too scared to tell anyone. Before that night, I had been a carefree young woman; was I now in danger of becoming one of “those” girls, an unwed mother? I was absolutely terrified of my future, and ashamed of what I had almost let happen, and ashamed that I had compromised my values so much, for someone who should have loved me enough not to ask me for “compromises.”

During this time, my supposedly loving boyfriend tried to ease my mind by telling me “we could just put it up for adoption.” Easy for him to say; it wasn’t his life and his body that stood to be completely changed by this. He had no idea–and made no attempt to understand–why I was in the state of irrational panic I was in. I was 19 and decidedly NOT ready for motherhood; I knew I was partially at fault for agreeing to the “compromise” in the first place, but it was his fault, too, for manipulating and coercing me into doing things I wasn’t comfortable with. I was angry with myself for allowing such a breach of will, and admittedly angry at him that he had put me in this position and was fairly unsympathetic about its repercussions.

In this thoroughly rattled state of mind, thoughts of “escape plans” filtered through. Abortion, as nauseating and repugnant an idea as it was, promised a possible way out, if the worst had happened. I didn’t want to think about killing my baby, if such a child did exist, but I felt I couldn’t live with the shame and the stares, the judgments and the angry questions; I also feared the loss of my own life as I knew it, to be completely subsumed in the (very poor) raising of my child (I had no confidence in my mothering abilities at all). I thought of abortion in the darkest, most terrifying moments of that week, my very brain cells twisted around by my fear running rampant.

Thankfully, almost exactly a week later, my admittedly overblown fears were put to rest by my own body, to put it delicately. But the furor of the event scarred my relationship with my boyfriend and eventually poisoned it. I resisted further attempts he made to be physical with me, which led to his ardor gradually cooling toward me. In the end, I found out, all he had wanted was sex–it didn’t matter which woman gave it to him. All his talk of marrying me, having kids with me after marriage, picket fences, and “happily ever after” (not to mention his graduating college and having a steady job) had been lies, all means to an end. And I was an easy mark; I might as well have had a giant bullseye painted on my heart.

How This Gave Me Perspective

This event in my life gives me a unique female perspective on abortion. I have never had the procedure done, nor have ever needed it, and God willing I never will. But when I found myself in the direst of straits, I thought about it. I, who values human life in every sense, was overwhelmed with such shame and fear at the very thought of being pregnant before I was socially “supposed to be” that I started seeking ways to cover it up, just like any other human being whose mind is stretched taut with stress.

I believe this very mindset, steeped in shame, is what forces a woman to choose abortion. It’s not a happy-go-lucky decision, like “Hey, I’m gonna go get something to eat on my lunch break and then pop over to the clinic for a quick abortion.” It’s a decision made by a person who is likely in a high state of stress, scared, ashamed, and isolated. It’s a decision made by a woman who feels that her pregnancy would bring social shunning, pointed questions, harsh judgments, and the total loss of her family and friends.

Why Might Women Feel This Way?

You might wonder why, in this day and age, women might feel this sort of fear just because they have become pregnant outside of marriage. I believe that it is largely because of our culture.

Our culture is one which still harshly punishes a woman who chooses to engage in sex outside of typical patriarchally-defined states of being like marriage. An unwed mother is a “bad example” of femininity, a “fallen woman,” whereas a man who has many children outside of marriage might be considered a “player” and a “good example” of masculinity. Even though a child is created by two people (and God, of course), if the resulting pregnancy is outside of accepted social bounds, the woman is always “to blame,” and it is the woman who suffers social shame and eventual exile.

Changing Our Thinking

Sadly, in my experience, the very people who champion the life of the unborn baby are most likely the same ones who will point fingers and make negative judgments about the single mother pushing her stroller in public.

I’ve actually been there to witness a couple of my conservative Christian acquaintances making snarky comments under their breath, about a passing woman whom they apparently knew to have had her child outside of marriage. They noted her un-ringed hand and the lack of a man walking with her, and one of them said, “Ugh, look at that–she just flaunts it like she didn’t sin at all.”

This double standard must be addressed! If we claim to love unborn babies enough to fight for them in moral and political arenas, then why can we not show support to the mothers who helped create these children? Why is an unwed mother’s life considered wasted, useless and sinful, while her child’s is held sacred? I do not and never will understand this.

When we uphold this double standard, we are basically telling unwed mothers, “You can’t abort your child because we think it’s wrong, but we won’t support you, give you any helpful advice, or point you to resources that help you with raising it. Oh, and we won’t be your friends either, because you have sinned.” I’m not saying that every unwed mother is entitled to entourages of cheering fans, dinners of caviar, and fancy cars to ride in, but turning our backs on her is as good as signing her unborn child’s death certificate. If there is no financial way for her to raise the child she carries, and every friend and family member has turned from her because of her pregnancy, what is she going to choose to try to stabilize her life?

If God sees fit to create a child, even if we think it happened in “sin,” even if we judge her as a “fallen woman,” then surely Christ’s compassion should drive us to be at least a little more sympathetic. I am reminded here of John 8:2-9, where Jesus saves an adulterous woman from being stoned, reminding the crowd that they, too, have sin in their lives.

I am a Christian myself, and I have read the Old Testament enough to know that part of our society’s customs and mores concerning women who become mothers outside of marriage come from God’s own Word. But God did not tell us to completely abandon anyone to their sin, either. And from what I understand of the New Testament, Jesus wants us to reach out to those who have sinned and lift them up. God also wants us to care for those who are poor and needy, and many unwed mothers find themselves in poverty because they are too busy trying to care for their children to hold down jobs effectively.

In fact, we are all sinners, and we all have to lift each other up and support each other every day. When we ignore and shove aside any woman who finds herself in this situation, we are actually pretending that we are sinless ourselves. In essence, we are lying to ourselves and to God, pretending that our sin isn’t as bad as hers.

I believe that if we stop thinking of unwed mothers as “fallen women,” and if we stop punishing them socially for a “sin” that took two people to do, then perhaps we might stop talking about abortion altogether, because it won’t be an issue anymore. If we remove the climate of female shame and fear from pregnancy outside of marriage, maybe more of these mothers would feel better about carrying their children to term.

In Conclusion

I’m not arguing for or against abortion, because that’s not the focus of this post. Instead, I am trying to define the culture that both ridicules abortion and makes it feel necessary for so many women per year. This is what’s happening–a huge double standard, a huge catch-22 for women everywhere. It’s up to us to think differently about this issue, and see ourselves in these women long enough to empathize and support.

Bullying After School Hours: Cyberbullying

It used to be, even when I was a kid, that even if you got bullied at school, you could go home and get away from them if you didn’t live near them. There was a certain safety in “home;” it could be largely free of such pointless drama. But no longer can you leave “school drama” at school, if you’re a student.

These days, bullying, petty squabbles, and other distasteful hallmarks of student life follow you home via the Internet. Kids at school can find you online, especially if you have social media accounts, and their torment online is recorded for posterity unless you delete it all. And even then, the remarks they make have likely been seen by others, and have possibly been shared.

I am SO glad I did not grow up in this era of being digitally inter-tangled with the rest of the kids I went to school with. I was bullied enough during the school day itself–I can’t imagine what it would have been like to come home from school, knowing that nasty written comments were likely waiting for me as soon as I got onto Internet at home.

Bullying is Deadlier than Ever

I am not the first to write about these kinds of incidents, most certainly, but the issue of bullying or harassing others on the Internet needs constant attention, so that future generations know about it, and know that it is a cruel, cowardly, and mean-spirited act. Just as verbal bullying has finally gotten worldwide attention, so must the digital form of bullying.

The much-publicized suicide death of Megan Meier in 2005 after being harassed on Myspace (more information via Wikipedia), as well as other deaths because of online bullying, are warning signals for us, as parents, as teachers, and as members of society. Not only have kids seemingly gotten nastier to each other over the years, they have also latched on to new forms of technology as ways of tormenting other students, and that torment takes an emotional toll that may never completely fade.

For instance, I still hear the taunting voices of those idiot girls in the middle-school gym locker room every time I try on a pair of pants that isn’t quite big enough. I still remember how they managed to holler and still sound sing-song as they chanted “Fat girl, fat girl, stupid whale fat girl” as I hid from them in the locker room bathroom stall. And those words weren’t emblazoned on a computer screen anywhere, where people unrelated to the problem could read the words and share them with others. The hateful words were ephemeral (however long they’ve lasted in my memory aside); words said on the Internet are out there for all who want to see and share.

How do We Combat This?

Trying to combat cyberbullying is as difficult as fighting verbal and physical bullying in schools. As much as teachers may try to keep it from happening, they simply cannot be everywhere and hear everything at once. Incidents will slip through their fingers, try as they might; I should know, I tried to stop all the bullying in my own classrooms and ended up tired with no triumph in sight. Cyberbullying is just as difficult, if not more so, to police. How can you punish someone who is using an anonymous or assumed name, anyway?

But attempts should be made to educate students about what constitutes bullying/cyberbullying, as well as how to keep away from bullying online. Also, parents and teachers should be educated on how to document cases of cyberbullying (and its close cousin, cyberstalking), and how to talk to their kids/students about speaking and acting respectfully to other kids.

In my opinion, students who are being bullied online/after school hours should try the following:

  • Only accept friend-requests and follow requests from those people you like and trust.
  • Restrict access to your page to “Friends Only” or “Followers Only”.
  • Keep anyone who is not friends with your account from posting on your page.
  • Don’t give out your phone number to anyone but closest friends, so that bullies won’t call or text (that’s another, rarely-policed outlet for abuse!)
  • Create an online pseudonym for your profiles (with only the vaguest details about you), so that people from school/real life do not recognize you.
  • If all else fails, delete social network accounts so that other students have fewer online targets to hit.

Furthermore, parents and teachers can be part of the fight against cyberbullying by trying the following:

  • Educate kids that “bullying is bullying,” no matter where/when it happens, and it IS a big deal.
  • Make it clear that bullying can lead to other criminal acts against people, like robbery, battery, stalking, and murder. After all, if you devalue other people enough to insult them verbally or digitally, how long before you begin devaluing them enough to think that stealing from them is okay, or that killing them is okay?
  • Show kids that online comments can be traced back to them through IP addresses on computers and other devices–the Internet does not promise total anonymity. If their comments are serious enough, they could end up in jail.

These are only suggestions, but I believe these tips for students, parents, and teachers might help kids who are suffering this kind of after-hours bullying. (I hate thinking that bullying victims would have to police their online lives so severely, even resorting to “hiding” from online activity, but if it helps the situation blow over, it might be worth the temporary work and inconvenience.) I remember all too well going through bullying on school grounds–the last thing any kid needs is to have that stuff follow them home.

For More Information

Cyberbullying

National Crime Prevention Council
Cyberbullying info @ Wikipedia
StopCyberBullying.org
StopBullying.gov – Cyberbullying

Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking @ Reference.com
Cyberstalking @ Wikipedia

More about the MySpace Suicide Case

How Myspace suicide might change laws on Internet privacy, terms of service, and criminal culpability
Verdict of Myspace suicide case and its aftermath

Don’t Forget to Actually Talk to Your Opponent (Nicely)

In very involved gaming, whether you’re playing an opponent on the other side of the Internet or on the other side of a table, sometimes communication can break down. Sometimes, you can forget you’re playing against another human being.

As many online gamers can likely tell you, there are some opponents who are so hardcore that they can’t lose a game without cursing you, your mama, the last breath you took, and everything you ate for supper. It’s like they forget they’re not playing a computerized opponent, and take out their frustration on another human being, who will react and remember what they said.

Other times, two gamers simply won’t talk to each other at all. A series of hand gestures (some vague, some rude in several countries) takes the place of verbal communication at a table; a series of acronyms and emoticons takes the place of typed words on a computer screen. Never have I seen the gulf between people widen so much as when they’re either talking heated politics or conducting a tooth-and-nail game.

We as gamers have to remember to treat each other like human beings, and part of that is communicating. To help us all communicate better while we game, I’ve listed some quick tips for improving how we talk to each other, so our games are fun rather than boring or irritating.

Tip #1: Opponents Aren’t Mind-Readers

Whether you’re playing a big game of Magic, an MMO like City of Heroes, or even a game over XBox Live, remember that your opponents (and your allies, for that matter), are not privy to the decision-making process going on in your head. If you want to charge ahead and pwn some bad guys way ahead of the group, that’s great–but no one else will know if you don’t tell them, and you might get everyone into an ambush that no one else is prepared for. If you’re playing your super-epic card or miniatures combo that allows you to win the game if no one else counters it, that’s great…but you have to speak it aloud to give someone else a chance to respond.

I learned this the hard way; a few years ago, I was playing in a giant 8- or 9-person group Magic game at our local gaming shop. I was playing a fairly basic life-gain and prevent-damage deck, as is my wont, while most of the other guys were playing cutthroat beat-butt decks. I had the card Test of Endurance in my deck, which I played on about turn 8; it would let me win the game if I ever reached 50 life at the beginning of my upkeep.

I played my turns quietly and without much comment, as the other guys at the table were busy thrashing each other and countering spells that seemed more important to them than mine. Thus, it was a complete shock to everyone at the table when it came round to my turn and I said, “Okay, I’m at 50 life, I win the game.” One of the guys especially, named Jordan, took special offense to what I’d done. “You didn’t even announce what you were doing every turn!” he said, indignant. “I had no idea what you were doing the whole game!”

Jordan’s rant was half typical-teenage-boy-nerd-rage, half real gripe. He hadn’t been paying attention to my strategy at all because he considered my strategy not worth his time, but I had made no effort to make him pay attention. I had not been communicating effectively, and thus he felt blindsided and cheated out of a good game. The fault lay with both of us, for not communicating or listening effectively.

Tip #2: Let People Know Clearly What You’re Doing

Another time, very recently, I was playing in a Clix tournament against one of my newest Clix buddies, a guy named John. During the game, I was using my Night Nurse character to do several Support rolls to heal up various members of my team, since John’s ranged-damage strategy was quickly ripping holes in my defenses. When it came around to my turn, I was feeling the pressure of the timed tournament round, and did not announce that I was making a Support roll before rolling the dice.

John stopped me as I gestured toward the dice, showing him the result. “Wait a minute, why are you just randomly rolling the dice?” he asked, his voice getting a little more heated.

“I was making a Support roll,” I replied, a little bit more tersely than I should have.

John’s response was to direct a question to my boyfriend, the resident Clix judge seated at the next table. “Can you just roll the dice without calling what you’re doing?” he asked, clearly annoyed.

My boyfriend did agree that I needed to make it clear what I was rolling the dice for before I did anything, but let this instance go in the interest of time. Thereafter, I clearly stated what I intended to do before doing it; John’s irritation, while mild and transitory, did remind me I needed to be better in my in-game communication.

Tip #3: If They Question Your Strategy, Don’t Be Offended

If a Magic opponent wants to read the rules text on a card or miniatures figure and question the validity of your strategy, do NOT (and I repeat, do NOT) take it personally. In order to have a genuine, good game experience, you need to make sure both players are on equal footing rules-wise. Finding out later that someone cheated during a whole game? NOT fun. So, if your opponent wants to see for himself or herself what your strategy is based around, then let them see your gaming materials.

This can go for all other games, too–make sure you’re following the rules of the game whatever you do, otherwise you’ll have some ticked-off opponents. Nobody likes to play against someone who’s cheating at everything; by the same token, you’ll have a better experience if you know for certain that your strategy is valid and it wins genuinely. (Don’t make the mistake I did and include too many copies of an awesome card in your Magic deck by mistake. Nor should you completely misread the rules text of a HeroClix figure, thinking it can move and attack like Hypersonic only to find out mid-game that it can’t. LOL)

Tip #4: If All Else Fails, Call a Judge or Game Official

If you and your opponent simply cannot work out a dispute on your own, it’s important to either look to online rulings resources for your game, or to talk to a judge/game official who knows the rules really well. (My boyfriend is pretty much the “rules guy” in every game he plays, so I often find myself asking him about various rulings that seem like they should work one way, but don’t really.)

Going to the source of information about a rulings dispute is important for resolving a problem–otherwise, the communication between your opponent and you is going to dissolve into a “I-said/you-said” argument. This way, you get a clear and objective vantage point on your disagreement, and you can quickly get back to gaming afterward.

Summary

Gaming together should be fun for you and your opponent, not a minefield of tension and anger. Keeping pleasant, thorough communication going the whole time helps a game feel…well, like a game, and not like work. Try some of these tips at your next gaming session, and feel for yourself how much happier the environment becomes!

I Don’t CARE What the Scale Says–I’m Healthier and I Know It!

After nearly 10 months of doing Zumba classes, I have noticed a definite body change for the better. ^o^

I can FEEL the difference in my body, even though the mean ole scale tells me that I’ve only lost 7 pounds (currently weighing in around 290 pounds instead of 297-298). Despite being faced with a number I still don’t like–a number I’ve been socially PROGRAMMED not to like–I am happy with the results of my exercise routine thus far.

How Much Better AM I Doing?

  • I can walk up a set of stairs in several seconds, bouncing from foot to foot easily instead of clomping up one painful step at a time
  • There are two or three INCHES of room in the waistbands of most of my lower-body clothing (pants, shorts, skirts, and even underwear)
  • I don’t get quite as winded and wheezy when I move around
  • I can come down a set of stairs without having to cling desperately to the railing for balance
  • My left ankle doesn’t seem to turn over as easily, leading to less accidental twists
  • My waist is much more defined than it used to be
  • When I exercise, my heart gets into an “elevated but not overworked” pace, instead of going straight from “resting” heart rate to “OMG I’M BUSTING OUT OF YOUR CHEST LOL”

Not only are people noticing a difference in my looks, but I’m noticing a difference in the way my body functions and feels. I don’t feel quite as heavy and tired as I used to, even though I still look like an uncoordinated duck during most of the Zumba exercises. And even though I still wheeze a little during much of the class, I find that some of the moves that were impossible for me in June 2011 are now attainable and even fun.

Actually Seeing the Inches Lost, in Clothes

The clothing difference has been the most astonishing, for me. I’ve been used to squeezing my body into clothes, dancing and shaking myself into pants rather than just slipping them on (you know the “pants dance,” don’t lie :P). I’ve also been used to the unique pain and suffering brought on by a belly constrained too much by an unforgiving button and zipper.

Imagine, then, what I felt this past Christmas, when I easily put on a dress that had been too small in 2010. Where before the zipper would not even go up my back all the way, now the dress hung off me in becoming folds of fabric, especially around the waist. That was a measurable success–I remember crying in 2010 when I had brought out the dress to wear, only to find that I couldn’t even zip it up all the way. This Christmas, I wore it with pride.

I also have been getting back into other clothes, clothes I haven’t worn since late high school/early college (~2003/2004). I had retired a pair of jeans for being simply too small right after I went to college–the “freshman 15” was more like the “freshman 45” in my case–and in shame, I had packed them away in the laundry room. Upon discovering them in the laundry room about a month ago, I tried them on, more as a private joke to myself than anything. And they FIT. It wasn’t an “almost-kinda-sorta” squeeze-fit, either–they buttoned and zipped comfortably. :O What happened? Zumba happened. Moreover, a lifestyle change happened.

Why the Number of Pounds Does Not Matter

I purposely did not look at a scale for the first seven months I did Zumba, because I didn’t want to be disheartened. I, like most of the women in my extended family, have a very hard time losing pounds, and I refused to be a slave of the scale number. Instead, I focused on inches lost (currently, I have lost HALF A FOOT around my waist alone!), as well as body feeling. Only when I went to the doctor in early January and had to be weighed did I look at the scale.

I have to admit, I was disappointed at the small number of pounds lost. I’d never make it on “The Biggest Loser”, I know that. But my doctor was impressed with my heart rate; knowing the family history of heart attacks, he was worried that my fast and light pulse signaled problems down the road for me. Now, my heart beats slower but stronger–a healthier heart rate. He could also tell a difference in the way I was walking (not so gingerly and carefully anymore), because my left ankle is getting stronger. I count those two improvements as much more important than subtracting 10 from my scale number.

Summary

As much as I’ve worked to even get to 290 pounds, this number is not going to torment me. I know the difference in my body, and I know I’m doing better physically than I was before. I’m toning up, I’m losing inches, and I’m feeling better than I have in years, probably since before I became a “fat girl” in 1996.

So I’m not going to worry that my weight doesn’t match some magical number according to my age, height, socioeconomic status, etc. As long as I continue to feel and function better in my everyday life, I know that it’s a positive lifestyle change. Maybe if all us girls started focusing on how our bodies feel rather than how they look, we might just forget all this super-skinny-fashion mess…well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Church: Not about Control, but about Worship

I have always said that whenever you get a group of humans together, even a group of Christian humans, you are going to have some manipulation and struggles for control, as well as hurt pride and hurt feelings. From a group of kindergartners to a group of co-workers, humans tend to have power struggles between each other, even if they are so subtle they are never voiced.

But in the Christian church, it seems, power struggles get far more virulent and dangerous to the community than in any other place. When people try to control the church’s direction, worship style, outreach, activities, and even decorations, worship itself gets lost in the confusion, and it can split the church apart before any of the members are truly aware of what’s happened.

Where Good Intentions Become Manipulation/Control: A Handy Chart

I am not saying that church members should not be active in the church, doing things for the church, etc. What I am advising against here is church members saying, “Hey, you do things my way, or I’m taking my tithe elsewhere.” Many times, actions and behavior that start out well-intentioned become manipulative and controlling–here’s a few examples:

Good Intentions… …Manipulation/Control
Suggesting a new style of worship music to be integrated with the current choices Demanding that a new style of worship music be put in place of the old
Offering to decorate the church display tables/altar/choir loft/etc. Refusing to heed anyone else’s ideas about decorations because it’s “your” ministry
Coming to the business meetings to learn what needs to be done Turning the business meeting into a theater for your ideas and yours alone
Meeting with the pastor to discuss a part of last week’s sermon you found distressing Firing off hateful emails to the pastor about the sermon last week
Politely disagreeing with a music style choice Threatening to leave the church if the offending music is not changed
Expressing well-reasoned doubts about a new, experimental ministry Talking spitefully about the experimental ministry getting in the way of your work
Discussing funding for all church programs Demanding that the programs you’re involved in get the most funding
Expressing thoughtful concern about the length of the worship service Complaining (loudly) that the service always lets out too late for you to get to your favorite restaurant

Those who Try to Control the Church Are Never Happy

It’s important to realize that people who try to control the church are actually missing out. They miss out on their own true worship by fretting and worrying over the church’s organization; by the same token, they make worship nearly impossible for others by being so specific in their “needs.” They are so concerned with making everything “just so” that they end up unhappy that everything can’t be “just so.”

Not only that, people who try to control the church are actually pretending their word and authority goes before God’s on earth. When you try to control everything that a church does just to suit your own needs, the church becomes significantly less about God and more about you. In fact, some churches can end up inadvertently worshipping their wealthiest/most influential members, instead of God. (I’ve seen it happen…more times than I wish.)

This kind of controlling and manipulating behavior is one reason people have begun to draw away from the church, citing that they “hate religion.” (See: the viral Youtube video on that very subject.) When we start worshipping other people’s interests, wants, and needs rather than focusing on God, the whole point of the earthly church is lost.

Compassion and Compromise: The Secret to a Great Church Family Relationship

I believe that compromise, compassion, and understanding is how churches truly function best. Though my church is certainly not free of these human problems, I have been lucky to not feel factions and church politics intruding on my worship and praise. I chose my current church specifically because I felt God moving in it, felt Him working and using the church to do what needed to be done in the wider community. Though we are now going through a little rough patch, I know that the members are still the same good folk I knew when I first joined, and I know God has this under control.

When we use calm discussion, good sense, and humility in dealing with fellow Christians, church problems just seem to dissolve away rather than sit and rankle in our hearts. Realizing that it’s not “all about us,” but rather “all about Jesus,” is a powerful reminder that what we want isn’t as important as praising God. When we put aside the desire for more power, more prestige, more accomplishment, and more pride, God can come into our lives and start doing marvelous works.

One of the leaders of the church said in a recent meeting, “Don’t join a church attempting to change it; join it because it feels like the place God wants you to be.” I think that’s the takeaway message here. Don’t change your particular church to be something that panders to you and only you, and don’t threaten others with taking “influence” and “tithes” elsewhere; instead, be as Christlike, compassionate and forgiving, as you can be. That’s what Christianity is about, isn’t it?

Quoth Your M:TG Friends, “I’ll Play You Nevermore”

Nevermore, from Innistrad, and its predecessor, Meddling Mage (from way back in Planeshift), are both great cards in tournaments, highly competitive, especially against combo decks that rely on specific cards. When you are able to flatly outlaw a card from being played, that gives your deck a chance to catch up or a chance to nip the opponent’s strategy in the bud.

But notice I said “good in tournaments;” these two cards are part of a very competitive strategy. That doesn’t mean these and other cards like them are good in casual play.

Or rather, cards like these are TOO GOOD for casual play. Playing this kind of card against your M:TG-playing friends, when you know their decks almost as well as you know yours, is an unfair advantage at best, and a complete friend-trouncing move at worst.

When Winning Takes the Place of Friendship in Your Life

Winning Magic games (or any other kind of game, for that matter) is fine–everybody likes to win, everybody likes to feel good about themselves. But when your wins start superseding your friendships and your relationships with other people, you need to rethink how dependent your self-worth is on winning.

I’ve played against literally dozens of people in Magic, and I find that the most fun I have is with people who aren’t playing just to win. When the opponent’s conversation consists entirely of their moves, or bragging about how well their deck is doing, I get impatient for the game to end. “Don’t you have anything else to talk about, any humanity at all?” I find myself wondering in these games. “Or are you just some soulless Magic beast who finds fun in trashing others?”

Unfortunately, for many competitive players, an obviously-one-sided game IS fun to them, while it’s not very much fun for the other player. The “competitive player” type I’m describing is the kind who just can’t snap out of the competitive mode even while playing “friendly” games. Thus, they bring their cutthroat attitude to a table where it is decidedly NOT welcome. They ruin casual games with their 5-turn-win optimized decks and then walk off, leaving the atmosphere of camaraderie in tatters. Who wants to play more Magic after being soundly whipped at it? Certainly not this girl.

The Consequences of Playing “Hardcore” Competitive Magic

Playing Nevermore, Meddling Mage, and other “game-changing” competitive cards can lead to unintended strife between Magic buddies, leading to an eventual loss of opponents to play against.

For instance, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t like playing against my own boyfriend’s Blue/White counter deck because of its Meddling Mages–if he drops one of those, I know he’ll outlaw one of the cards that makes my deck run, because he knows my decks so well. At that point, I might as well just give up, because my deck isn’t going to run the way I designed it to, and I don’t like being controlled like that. Magic is not fun for me when my strategy is rendered absolutely unplayable, and I’d wager other Magic players feel the same way sometimes.

Thankfully, my boyfriend understands how frustrated those kinds of cards make me, and he doesn’t play them all the time. Therein lies the difference, between a person who knows how to scale back his playing to a friendlier level, and people who wouldn’t know what a real “friendly” game was if it bit them in an uncomfortable bodily region.

When someone who has a “hardcore” Magic playing style shows up, casual players cringe. We know what we’re in for–we’re just going to have to lie back and think of England while they’re getting their jollies. We have to wait for them to be done so we can go on to something else that IS fun, with someone else who isn’t acting like a feminine cleaning product. I hate to put it in such blunt terms, but there it is; competitive Magic has its place, and it’s not in my living room nor in my recreation time.

And, once they’ve alienated the casual players in the play group, other competitive players will likely be next to go, as strategies get even more cutthroat and even more “uber-powerful.” Soon enough, nobody will bother even sitting down at the table across from them, because the ending is a foregone conclusion. I’ve seen it happen a few times, and heard of it happening even more times; playing too competitively and focusing on winning alone can and will destroy friendships and entire Magic playing groups over time.

Are You Addicted to Winning and Forgetting Your Friendships?

If you’re a competitive Magic player and have found your play group steadily dwindling, you might be unintentionally suffering from win addiction. Or, perhaps this article has proven to be more of a mirror than you ever expected. Ask yourself: is winning every single Magic game you sit down to really necessary to prove you’re a “pro?” Can you really not let go of competition long enough to just enjoy being with your friends and seeing their strategies work as well as your own?

If you can’t, then maybe you’re investing too much worth in your “pro” status, and less of your worth in the relationships you forge. Humans are social creatures, after all–this is why Magic: the Gathering succeeds the way it does. When you have no one to play against, the game loses much of its luster. Too many un-fun games, and you’ll find yourself out of opponents. No one wants to play a game they’re destined to lose, and no one wants to play against someone who can’t afford to lose a game.

I’m not saying that competitive Magic is “of the devil,” nor am I saying that competitive Magic should be excised completely from the game’s structure. It’s just that all the hardcore stuff has to be balanced with easier-going games, where the stakes aren’t driven up artificially high and the opponents are people who will go and get pizza together after this last round.

How to Recognize When Your Opponent is Not Having Fun

As a type of summary to this article, I provide two handy checklists (not entirely comedic, either). The first is for “reading” your opponent when you’re stomping them in a Magic game; the second is how to soften up your play and make it easier to bear, if not easier to win against.

You Know Your Opponent Is Not Having Fun When…

  • Their turns are quick: “Untap, upkeep, draw…pass.”
  • They aren’t talking unless you’re asking them something directly, when before the game they were talking animatedly.
  • There’s a certain glazed, dead look in their eyes, and their shoulders are as deeply hunched as if they want to disappear down into their chair.
  • The only time they look happy or excited is when someone outside the game asks them what they’re doing after they finish this game.
  • There are multiple player errors, done out of indifference rather than ignorance: “Oh, I just mistapped that land. Oh well.”
  • They haven’t looked you in the face since turn 2.
  • They finish your sentence when you play the final move that kills them–some, like me, might even add a bitter “Good” afterwards, such as “Yeah, yeah, I take 19 and that kills me. Good.”

If You See Any of These Signs…

  • Ask them what their strategy is about; if you’ve been stomping or controlling them, you probably haven’t seen their strategy at its best.
  • Actually listen to the answer, don’t just dismiss it as “inferior”.
  • Directly apologize if the game is clearly one-sided in your favor: “I shouldn’t have played this deck against you–sorry, this one’s my competitive deck.” This wins a lot of points with casual gamers, take it from me. It means you realize how much of a pain it’s been to play you.
  • If it’s truly a casual game, tell your opponent the key cards in your deck to beat; this makes you less of an uber-gamer and more human.
  • Take pressure off the current game by asking them what their favorite cards, colors, card art, creature abilities, etc. are. Talk Magic theory with them.Express interest in their trade collection. Super-competitive gamers playing casual gamers usually complete their conquest and leave like a man sneaking out after a one-night stand; staying around, even just for a few minutes to look at their tradebook, might help them get over the game and see you as a potential new friend.

The Ethanol Swindle

If you’ve pulled up to a gas pump recently, you might have noticed a little sign either on the pump or nearby: “Gas Contains 10% Ethanol,” or “This station includes ethanol in all grades of gasoline sold here.” While most people might not take notice of it, I do–and it angers me every time I see it, because I know I’m getting swindled.

Wait, What?

Yes, I said “swindled.” Ethanol is included in just about every station’s gas these days, but I have consistently found that it reduces my fuel economy by nearly 3 mpg (from 28 to 25-26). And I’m still having to pay for it as if it’s pure gas–I only get maybe 2 cents off per gallon compared to pure gas. If that’s not a swindle, I don’t know what is.

What Is Ethanol, Anyway?

According to Wikipedia, ethanol is a corn-based fuel, meant for “flexible-fuel” vehicles, but in low concentrations (10% or lower), it’s seemingly safe to mix in with regular gasoline.

But I Thought Ethanol Was a “Greener” Choice?

Well, it kinda is and it kinda isn’t. It’s not a fossil fuel like pure gasoline, sure. And yes, it uses corn, a somewhat more “renewable resource.” But it also burns less efficiently than pure gas does in a gas-designed car, therefore reducing the MPG you get per tank. Also, growing corn solely for producing ethanol would reduce land area for growing food.

Wikipedia’s article, linked above, says that ethanol only reduces mileage by 3%, but I believe it’s much higher than that, since my little Ford Focus ZX3 gets only 25-26 city MPG with ethanol-infused gas, and 28 city MPG with pure gas. (I’ve tested it several times, accounting for tire pressure, driving habits, and other car maintenance; the only difference is the fuel, and that same 2-3 MPG difference shows up every time I have to buy ethanol fuel.) This is the equivalent of feeding my kid nothing but fruit and Chinese noodles; an hour later the kid is hungry again (and I would be, too).

Now, a few say that ethanol is cleaner for air and better for environment, which it may indeed be if we all switch over to vehicles that can use pure ethanol, perhaps. But an overwhelming majority of the articles I read in my research attest that ethanol, especially when blended into otherwise pure gas, is not a cost-saving or environment-saving maneuver.

For instance, Cato.org reports that ethanol will make us use more crop land, is more expensive than gas, will actually raise gas prices, is not renewable, increases smog, and costs more to produce. The New York Times seconds that assessment, and the Washington Post thirds it, with recounts of people’s negative experiences with using ethanol, especially in small engines like lawnmowers. The Washington Post’s article even mentions power equipment failing when given ethanol-infused fuel!

The Most Infuriating Thing

Not only is ethanol bad for little engines and raising costs of ethanol-blended fuel due to subsidies, but it also is just as expensive as pure gas, at least around my hometown.

Though the article I just linked to says that ethanol gas is often 25-40 cents cheaper per gallon than pure gas, I have not found that to be the case. Between the pure-gas and the ethanol-gas sellers, there’s only usually a 2-3 cent difference between the two, and that’s in many places in and near my hometown. Same money, less MPG. What does R-I-P-O-F-F spell?

How Can We Change This?

I know that we need to have an energy economy less dependent on fossil fuels, and we need to have fuels that don’t clog and smog the air up. But there’s got to be something out there besides adding something to gasoline that makes the mileage go DOWN, making demand for gasoline go UP and usage go UP. Plus, there’s got to be a way to protect smaller engines–since pure gas is so hard to find these days, I have to buy ethanol-infused gas, and I don’t want to have to pay for an expensive engine repair later because of it. I don’t know squat about economics or resource management, but adding ethanol seems a little counterintuitive when you consider these effects.

Personally, till we can figure out what to do about ethanol gas, I’m going to seek out the few non-ethanol-infused gas stations near me (pure-gas.org has a list of all the pure-gas sellers all across America), and try to keep my little car fueled with satisfying real gas. Maybe if enough of us raise a fuss about it, something will get done!

Battling the Gamer Stereotype

When you think of the word “gamer”, what physical appearance generally pops to mind? What mindset do you associate with “gaming” as it is in modern culture? What goals, what habits?

For many people, the word “gamer” conjures up a person of the following description:

The “Gamer” Stereotype

  • Male
  • Age range: mid-teens to late forties
  • Caucasian or Asian, upper middle class
  • Likely unmarried, in the “forever alone” category
  • If not single, saddled with a girlfriend who hates that he games so much
  • No personal hygiene to speak of (hence the phrase “gamer funk”)
  • Fat, unshaven, wears ill-fitting clothes (especially pants)
  • Still lives with parents or relatives, usually in a basement
  • Eternally unemployed
  • Socially awkward/clueless
  • Misogynistic or otherwise highly skeptical of women’s prowess in gaming
  • Foul-mouthed
  • Follower of Satanism, Wicca, or other “pagan” religions
  • Eats nothing but junk food
  • Can’t save up money because of buying gaming expansion packs all the time
  • Immature, has no life goals except winning the next game
  • Knows little about anything else except his chosen game

How do I know all of these? Sadly, it’s because these “facts” are thrown in my face every time a non-gamer acquaintance hears that I “game” with people at a “gaming shop.”

I hear stuff like:
“Oh, you’re gonna go hang out with all those boys again.”
“Gaming again? Don’t any of ’em have a JOB?”
“What are you doin’ hangin’ out with all them devil-worshippers?”
“You’re probably the only girl they ever talk to, you know.”
“Well, don’t let any of ’em bum money off you when they’ve been buying all that gaming stuff.”
“I don’t think any of those boys are ever gonna grow up.”

Why the Gamer Stereotype is (Mostly) Wrong

I will preface this by saying that I have known and/or do know of gamers who exhibit some of the characteristics listed in the stereotype list. But I have yet to see or know of a single gamer who shows all these characteristics.

Firstly, not all gamers are male anymore. In fact, in the last ten years, more and more girls are doing more gaming beyond dressup games and Farmville. Magic: the Gathering and HeroClix have both seen an influx of female gamers, and more console and PC video games are bought by women today than ever before.

Secondly, gaming is not restricted by race or social class anymore (thankfully). Though gaming was in the past more accessible to upper-middle-class folks because of the expense of games and game supplies, now gaming on the cheap is possible, allowing people to play for lesser investment. And gaming is not just a “white” or “Asian” thing to do anymore, either, though this has been much slower to change than the social-class monetary barrier.

Thirdly, many gamers I know or have known over the past 8 to 10 years are happily married or in committed relationships, and most of them have either held jobs before or are currently employed. Rather than gamers not being “responsible adults,” in fact many modern gamers are contributing members of society and have families of their own, as well as doing a little gaming for relaxation. This also touches on the stereotypes of gamers living off other people and wasting their money–most gamers these days, in the throes of this economy, are learning how to spend more wisely, and they don’t all live in their mama’s basement.

Finally, gaming does not indicate a Satanist lifestyle. This infuriates me when others typecast gamers as devil-worshippers, as if we’re some sub-human sect of beings that doesn’t deserve to live. While it is true that many games do have threads of dark storylines going through them, most of the time human gamers play the role of the hero, more like a King David, a Joshua, or a Daniel than any ancient Ba’al worshipper. Gaming, like any form of recreation, can get in the way of a Christian lifestyle if too thoroughly pursued, but in moderation it certainly does not pose a threat to the gamer or his/her family and friends.

A Small Caveat

I will admit that hygiene does sometimes go by the wayside for some gamers, and sometimes we gamers can seem hyper-focused on knowing all about the games we play. And I will say that I’ve run across my share of misogynistic idiots who think I will be easy to defeat because of my female anatomy. While much of this stereotype is overdrawn, there are some kernels of truth in it, unpleasant as they might be to acknowledge.

Summary: Gamers ARE Normal People

But a few outlying gamers who only partially fit the stereotype do not speak or act for the majority of awesome gamers I know who manage to play well and still carry on normal conversations; they game like pros and still enjoy their normal, productive lives as well. Gamers, contrary to this stereotype’s concept, are normal people who choose gaming as their way of recreation.

In a way, it’s similar to a football fan watching a game on TV or playing a casual game with friends. It’s just that our games involve character sheets, impromptu acting, a few sets of dice, some decks of carefully-chosen cards, and generally less tackling. 🙂

Let’s Stop Throwing Tantrums and Calling Names

Watching the political situation erupt in America is like watching kindergartners fight on the playground. Well, except for one major difference: there are more public tantrums, controversial angry statements, and name-calling than any 5-year-old could dream up.

Whatever political party you affiliate yourself with, or even if you are no political party (probably due to this very phenomenon), it is embarrassing for all of us. Who wants to be represented by people who can’t get along long enough to talk like grownups, when that’s what they’re being PAID to do?

Is Politics Even About Leadership Anymore?

The upcoming election in November has only heightened the tensions between the two dominant parties. Mitt Romney has already said that the reason he wants to win is to defeat Barack Obama. The words came straight from him: all he wants to do is beat a political rival, not lead the country, not get us out of the economic mess we’ve been mired in since 2006 (at least!).

I think that’s a very telling statement; it reveals how at least one candidate views politics, and as you survey the rest of the political field, the adversarial attitude between conservatives and liberals seems to be a popular view these days. Politics, if you look at federal Congress all the way down to local levels, is no longer about being a public servant, but about being a victor in the public eye. It’s no longer about solving national problems, but about who can tell the best story and garner the most attention so they get elected or reelected.

This is shameful, and it’s not right. Why bother having politicians at all, if this is how they’re going to act? Why bother electing people to lead, if they are going to ignore the duty we chose them for? Politics has turned into a zoo, complete with people throwing verbal excrement at each other, often just as much within their own party as across party lines.

Republicans and Democrats: More like a Dysfunctional Couple than True Enemies

This may sound strange to some, but I view the vitriolic back-and-forth between Republicans/conservatives and Democrats/liberals as the fighting between a dysfunctional, long-married couple.

Picture this: they’ve lived together for so long that the smallest flaws in the other person irritate them to death; they spend their days together angrily hashing and rehashing the same old issues and never getting anywhere on them. And don’t forget, both of them go to bed mad on a regular basis.

Neither person is interested in hearing the other’s point of view anymore. Neither one is interested, really, in resolving the conflict between them. The conflict has become a Conflict, with a capital C, that defines their very lives; it’s gone on for so long that it has become normal and accepted behavior. Any of this sounding familiar yet?

I believe both major American political parties have fallen into this trap with each other. There’s almost no listening going on between the two parties, but there’s a whole lot of negative comments and blanket generalizations about the other party flying around each camp. What was it I saw on Facebook a couple of nights ago from a conservative poster? “Well, all LIBS want ‘respect’ and wave the race card at you when you don’t give it.”

Generalizations -> Stereotypes -> Prejudices

These kinds of generalizations, stereotypes, and prejudices against each other get us absolutely nowhere. Once you start thinking of another person (or another party) in absolutes, like “He always forgets to pick up his **** socks off the floor!” or “They always want big government and big spending!”, then your perception of that person/party becomes one-dimensional. Soon enough, their flaws and your own prejudices are all you see.

I’m guilty of this myself; for years, I thought of conservatives in just the same negative way. I hated their “closed-minded religion” instead of true Jesus-following beliefs; I hated their defiant “God, guns and anti-gay” platform; I hated how they preached of tolerance while being intolerant of others. As a nearly-closeted liberal in an increasingly conservative town, county, region, and state, I felt personally attacked and marginalized by these beliefs. Because this was how I believed all conservatives acted, I feared the ones living near me.

But I’ve come to realize that not all conservatives believe or act this way. I was largely led astray by the sound bites I heard in the media, and it wasn’t until I actually was friends with real-life conservatives that I began to see the varying degrees of political belief within parties, and realize it in myself as well.

Instead of Letting the Aisle in Congress Divide Us, Let it Unite Us

I’m not saying that all the members of Congress should literally marry somebody of the other party (though that would be kinda funny). What I mean is that instead of throwing things across the aisle at each other, maybe we should commit to “walk down the Congress aisle” together, pledging not “till death do us part,” but “till compromise shall we listen.” Maybe conservatives and liberals should try to work things out more like a married couple would instead of like bitter enemies.

America is a diverse nation, full of vastly different opinions and ways of life; of course we’re going to disagree. I may not understand why conservatives believe as they do; they may not understand why I, as a liberal, believe as I do. But at least I should be willing to sit down, listen respectfully, and compromise where necessary. As long as we keep trying to legislate without listening, we are NEVER, EVER, EVER going to get anywhere, just as a married couple who keeps shouting over each other will never solve their argument.

We Need Each Other–We’re ALL Humans!

Conservatives and liberals need each other to survive, to serve as checks and balances for each other. That’s why the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government even exist in the first place: to make sure the government and all its employees are making balanced decisions that take into account all possible outcomes and effects. The duality of the political parties is no accident; each needs the other to keep them from going overboard in either direction.

At least, that was how it was supposed to work. The way Congress is behaving these days, I wonder if any of them listened in civics class. And I thought handling 30 middle-schoolers at a time was rough; I would not want President Obama’s job right now. 30 surly 13-year-olds are not fun to deal with, but I think over 100 stubborn Congressmen and women might be just a wee bit more difficult to handle.

If we can get over the stereotypes and prejudices each party has against the other, we might just be able to solve the huge problems our nation is facing. If not…well, we’ll have to resign ourselves to more years and decades of failures before we learn. All the roses and flowers in the world won’t solve this. It will take heartfelt communication, and then, if we’re lucky, compromise and hope afterwards.