Why Nintendo Is the Best Company in the World

Top Banana

Meet Satoru Iwata, the chief executive officer of Nintendo. You could call him Nintendo’s top banana. (I’m sorry; I couldn’t resist.) The image above is taken from one of Nintendo’s official press conferences. It was a serious event involving journalists, executives and software developers… and tropical fruit, apparently.

Nintendo is a video game developer, the creator of Mario and Zelda and many other famous franchises. It is also my favorite company, surpassing even Pixar and Studio Ghibli in my esteem.

Why is Nintendo a good company? Let me count the ways.

Nintendo has a great heritage

This company saved the entire industry from the video game crash of 1983, which nearly killed video games as a medium. The popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System and its classic games allowed the video game industry to recover and advance. It could be argued we have video games today because of Nintendo. Moreover, the company’s older games set all kinds of standards for the industry and helped define game design in general. Heck, Nintendo’s history has even been immortalized in song.

Nintendo keeps making excellent games

The company has never rested on its laurels. Twenty-five years after its first masterpieces, Nintendo’s latest games are really, really fun.

Nintendo innovates

While Sony and Microsoft have tried for the past decade to outdo each other with consoles that do pretty much all the same things, Nintendo has innovated with motion controls, touch screens, asymmetrical gameplay and other creative concepts… which Sony and Microsoft have shamelessly copied. Not all of Nintendo’s innovations have been wildly successful—I’m looking at you, Virtual Boy—but at least it’s trying!

Nintendo cares for its employees

Through financial crises, the company’s top executives have repeatedly taken salary cuts to save money instead of firing employees. I admire that.

Nintendo appreciates families

Sony and Microsoft showcase most of the really gory, raunchy, edgy video game franchises: God of WarGears of War, Grand Theft Auto, etc. ad nauseum. By contrast, Nintendo games star goofy apes, portly plumbers and noble swordsmen. If I ever have kids (a frightening thought, to be sure) I’ll feel comfortable letting them enjoy classics like Zelda and Mario Kart.

Nintendo has a sense of humor

Bananas. That is all.

In conclusion: Bravo, Nintendo. Bravo.

Bravo (GIF)

265. TMTF’s Top Ten Tips for Fighting Depression

I’ve been reading a book about depression. See, depression is a part of my life. It has been an irregular yet consistent struggle for many years. The book set me thinking me of all the ways I’ve learned to cope with my gloomy condition, and also reminded me that TMTF hasn’t featured a top ten list in ages.

If you suffer from depression… I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. This much-more-serious-than-usual list is for you.

Before I begin, there’s one thing I should make clear. This is a list of practical tips for coping with depression when you are already depressed. This is short-term advice. This is not a list of long-term lifestyle changes for treating or preventing depression. That’s another subject for another time.

Take heart, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Tips for Fighting Depression!

10. Drink some tea

I may be the only person in the world for whom tea is a coping strategy, which is why I’ve put it so low on the list, yet I find the process of brewing tea calming and reassuring. Besides, the warm strength of tea never fails to make me feel a tiny bit better.

9. Take a nap

Naps aren’t usually my thing, but it can be a blessed relief to disappear for a half an hour into the cozy darkness of my sleeping bag. For someone suffering from severe depression, a nap is a break from the agony of wakefulness.

8. Listen to good music

Since you probably can’t focus on anything else when you’re depressed, you may as well spend a few minutes sitting in a comfy chair listening to music with headphones. Angry or melancholy music is a great way to vent negative emotions, and cheerful music can be a warm balm to a troubled soul.

Depression Tip #75 - Depression can't withstand the groovy power of dance.

Silly Depression Tip #75 – Play seventies music and dance. No depression, however severe, can withstand the groovy power of disco. If you have them, wear bell-bottoms.

7. Take a hot shower

Hot water is a gift of God. It loosens tense muscles, eases aches and washes away the grit and grime of life. A good shower is refreshing and relaxing. Even when I’m severely depressed, I feel a little better for being warm and clean.

6. Go for a walk

Depression thrives on bleak inactivity. It can be hardso freaking hard—to leave behind the security of your home and step outside when you’re depressed, but a good walk can work wonders. It’s good to have fresh air and sunlight, or at least a change of scenery.

Depression Tip #142 - Look at pictures of funny animals, such as platypuses or blue-footed boobies.

Silly Depression Tip #142 – Look at pictures of funny animals, such as platypuses or blue-footed boobies. If that doesn’t work, remind yourself that birds called boobies are actually things that exist.

5. Look at photos from good experiences

I’m thankful my old man is a photographer. His photos of my beloved family, our vacations together and my dear homeland of Ecuador never fail to encourage me. Depression makes the world seem dark. Photos of pleasant places and faces are undeniable reminders that it isn’t.

4. Get some exercise

I can hardly believe I’m saying this. For all my life, I have disliked exercise. It seemed like a dreary, draining, sweaty, stinky waste of valuable time—time that could be spent doing important stuff like, um, lying on the floor being depressed. All right, maybe exercise is worth a shot. There’s a sciencey explanation of why exercise helps fight depression, but the gist of it is that exercise unleashes chemicals in the brain that make you happy… or something like that. Look, just do some push-ups, okay? I’m learning to enjoy exercise. Life seems simpler when I’m jumping rope.

Depression Tip #386 - Try an herbal remedy. Yierba mate is my favorite; peppermint is also effective. Oregano is strongly discouraged, except on pizza.

Silly Depression Tip #386 – Try an herbal remedy. Yierba mate is my favorite; peppermint is also effective. Oregano is strongly discouraged, except on pizza.

3. Do something productive (that isn’t stressful or complicated)

One of my ultimate strategies for coping with depression is to wash dishes. Seriously. I’ll put on upbeat music (Tip #8!) and run some hot water and get those dashed dishes clean. Washing dishes is therapeutic for me. It isn’t stressful or complicated. It’s something I can do no matter how depressed I feel. Afterward, I can look back and tell myself, “See that? You did something productive. You were useful. Not all the time you were depressed was wasted.” Your thing may not be washing dishes. It may be sweeping or baking or walking your dog. Find whatever it is, and do it.

2. Connect with someone

I don’t usually hug people, with the outstanding exceptions of close family members. (Awkward sibling hugs are the best.) All the same, hugs help. If you have a loved one handy when you’re depressed, ask for a hug. Ask for a prayer or a kind word or a cup of tea. If your loved ones aren’t located conveniently nearby, call them or send them a message. At the very least, tell someone you’re struggling. Solitude isn’t a bad thing; I prefer not to deal with most people when I’m depressed. However, solitude and isolation are different things, and isolation hurts. Connect with someone.

1. Pray to God

Not everyone may appreciate this tip, yet in my experience nothing is better for fighting depression than prayer. Asking God for help and putting my depression in his hands generally helps me most.

O people of the Internet, what’s your advice for coping with depression, anxiety or discouragement? Let us know in the comments!

264. TMTF Reviews: Struggle Central

This seems to be a good week for reviewing things, so I think it’s time for a look at Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian. An alternate subtitle for the book could be The Book Adam Has Been Meaning to Read and Review Since, Like, Last September. What can I say? I forget things.

Thomas Mark Zuniga is a blogger, introvert, Christian, coffee drinker and wordsmith. When he released an e-book some time ago, I snagged a free copy for review purposes. It spent the next few months gathering digital dust in a folder on my laptop. Around the time TMZ agreed to write an excellent guest post for this blog, I remembered his book and resolved to finish it. I bought the paperback version—I will always prefer ink-and-paper books to virtual ones—and walked with TMZ through twenty-five years of struggles.

Appropriately enough, one of the first significant autobiographies in history was titled Confessions. For its author, Augustine, the story of a life is a series of confessions. Whatever our accomplishments, we make mistakes. We all struggle. Struggle Central, a memoir in the tradition of Augustine, testifies to the fact.

Is Struggle Central a good memoir? A good story? A good book?

Struggle Central

Despite minor stylistic flaws, Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian is an honest, vulnerable memoir that never loses sight of its purpose.

Right from the beginning, TMZ makes one thing clear: Although Struggle Central is his story, it isn’t really about him. The book is meant neither to shock nor impress its readers with his mistakes and triumphs. Its purpose is to encourage. It tells its readers, “You’re not alone!”

In Struggle Central, TMZ is remarkably honest, seeming to hold back nothing, making some heavy confessions. This is a book about loneliness, insecurity, fear and isolation. It deals with pornography, homosexuality, shame and doubt. If I wrote a memoir, I doubt I could be so vulnerable.

In all its confessions, Struggle Central tempers honesty with its strong sense of purpose. The book could easily have been a pleading, self-conscious cry for attention. It could have been a halfhearted attempt at openness, gilding its mistakes with excuses and rationalizations. Struggle Central is neither of those things. Its confessions are made as evidence of the book’s fundamental message: “You are not alone; there is hope.”

A number of the confessions in the book resonated with me. As an introvert, I relate to TMZ’s failed attempts to connect with people in churches. As a sinner, I understand the rationalization, shame and self-loathing in TMZ’s struggles to overcome pornography. As an insecure person, I know TMZ’s discouragement at how everyone else seems to be talented, successful or perfect. Struggle Central may not touch all of its readers, but it sure touched me.

On a literary level, Struggle Central has a surprisingly strong narrative. It recounts not a random string of events, but a structured story. TMZ doesn’t merely spit out facts. He highlights certain experiences, adding digressions and flashbacks wherever necessary to keep his story flowing smoothly. In the book’s story and structure, nothing is wasted.

The style of Struggle Central is a different matter: the book is packed with modifiers. If I had a penny for every qualifier, adjective and adverb, I would probably have enough cash to buy coffee at Starbucks.

Despite its many modifiers, the writing in Struggle Central isn’t bad. It’s engaging, readable, informal and crammed with sentence fragments and one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis. All the same, my nitpicky sensibilities were rubbed the wrong way by the constant use of modifiers and dramatic sentence fragments. The more they were used, the less impact they made. There were also a few puns and pop culture references that made me roll my eyes.

In the end, though, the writing takes secondary consideration to the book’s message and purpose—and these are excellent. Struggle Central has a clear and positive purpose, and it does a fine job of sticking to it. It could use a little polish, yet Struggle Central is a touching read for anyone who struggles—that is, for any human being on Earth.

An Honest Look at Disney’s Frozen

The following trailer contains spoilers for Disney’s Frozen. If you haven’t seen the film yet, go watch it. Watch it now. The trailer also contains one or two mildly vulgar jokes. Sensitive persons should probably look at funny cat pictures instead.

When I heard about Frozen, I rolled my eyes. It was, I cynically assumed, a knockoff of Tangled. How could it not be? A Disney film, animated by computer, based on a traditional fairy tale, titled with an adjective, starring the Tangled assortment of familiar Disney characters: the plucky princess, the endearingly flawed man, the goofy sidekicks, etc.

Then Frozen came out and people started comparing it to The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. Reviewers loved it. Bloggers approved of it. It was hailed as a great film.

Honestly, it is.

Enjoy this honest look at Disney’s Frozen, and, seriously, go watch it if you haven’t.

263. TMTF Reviews: Metal Gear Solid 3

The year is 1964. The Cold War, a state of political tension between the US and the Soviet Union, has pushed the world’s greatest military powers to the brink of nuclear warfare. All it will take to ignite a third World War is one wrong move.

When America’s most legendary soldier, The Boss, defects to the Soviet Union and hands over a nuclear weapon to a renegade Soviet colonel, things look pretty grim. The rogue colonel promptly nukes a Soviet installation, kidnaps a rocket scientist and develops an experimental tank known as the Shagohod. The USSR blames the US for these incidents, and World War III seems inevitable.

Then the Soviet Union gives America one chance to prove its innocence and avert nuclear war. A lone American operative must rescue the rocket scientist, destroy the Shagohod and kill The Boss. Only Naked Snake, The Boss’s tough-as-nails apprentice, can kill her and prevent nuclear catastrophe from consuming the world.

So, you know, no pressure.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel to Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, games I reviewed for this blog. It’s been fun, and it seems appropriate to end this blog’s run of Metal Gear reviews with the story that starts it all. (There are more Metal Gear games, but I’ll spare my readers further reviews.)

How does MGS3 stack up to its predecessors? Is it the same delightful mix of sneaking, shooting and hiding in cardboard boxes? Does its director, Hideo Kojima, give us the same storytelling problems, gameplay frustrations and pointless sexual objectification?

MGS3

It has its share of problems, yet Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is an exceptionally brilliant game.

Naked Snake, forebear to Solid Snake from previous games in the series, is probably the toughest son of a gun I’ve seen in any video game—and speaking of guns, the game has its share of them. The older Snake uses the same weapons, equipment and moves as his successor… including hiding in cardboard boxes, those bastions of battlefield invisibility.

In a neat twist, MGS3 strips away many of the high-tech “luxuries” of previous games. There is no radar, for example, and silencers on guns wear out quickly. Naked Snake has to sneak around the old-fashioned way. Fortunately, he has a new trick—or an old one, technically speaking—up his sleeve: camouflage. Uniforms and face paints can be used to blend into environments.

This brings me to the next point of interest: MGS3 takes place mostly outdoors. Previous games took place in military bases and industrial plants. I was delighted to trade dreary hallways for swamps, jungles and mountains. It’s no longer enough for players to sneak around—they must survive.

To this end, MGS3 introduces two neat gameplay mechanics to the familiar Metal Gear formula of sneaking and shooting.

The first is a Stamina Gauge, which depletes slowly over time. Low Stamina prevents Snake from aiming steadily or recovering from injuries. He must scour his environments for food, eating everything from mushrooms to serpents. (The game is called Snake Eater. What did you expect?) Before you ask: Yes, Snake can feed on a tree frog.

The second clever gameplay twist is a Cure System. Players can no longer simply restore health—they must treat Snake’s individual injuries. Bullet wound? Dig out the bullet with a survival knife, disinfect the wound, stop the bleeding and put on a bandage. Severe burn? Apply ointment. Broken bone? Use a splint.

I loved the Stamina Gauge. It encouraged me to pay attention to my surroundings, searching for potential sources of food. The Cure System was a mixed bag. As much as I appreciated the (relative) realism of treating injuries over simply restoring health with items, it was a pain—especially during boss battles—to open up the Cure System screen repeatedly.

As for those boss battles, MGS3 has by far the best yet. Every Metal Gear game has its own band of memorable, supervillain-esque baddies. This game has the Cobra Unit, whose members are equal parts terrifying, ridiculous and that word I can’t use.

Cobra UnitEach battle is wonderfully different and totally absurd. Whether a deranged beekeeper was spitting bees at me or a Soviet cosmonaut was trying to burn me to ashes, I had a blast fighting the Cobras.

The best (and worst) battle was against The End: the old man with the sniper rifle in the picture above. It was probably the most creative boss fight I’ve ever experienced.

Most boss encounters are quick, spectacular and confined to small arenas. By contrast, The End disappears into a huge forest and attacks from great distances. There is no music, no obvious target and no clear strategy for winning. It’s a long game of hide-and-seek in which the player has only faint hints of where The End may be hiding: fading footprints, faint breathing, the glint from a rifle scope. It was frustrating to fight The End, but also totally unlike anything I’d ever played in a video game.

Previous Metal Gear games felt like futuristic Tom Clancy thrillers, packed with nanomachines and political conspiracies. MGS3 feels more like a classic James Bond movie, with larger-than-life villains, femme fatales and an oddly nostalgic atmosphere. I found the Cold War setting and numerous historical allusions fascinating.

MGS1 had a plot packed with twists and turns. MGS2 boasted a narrative that spun off in daring, postmodern and—dare I say?—incomprehensible directions. MGS3 outdoes both its predecessors. Its story is straightforward and occasionally laughable—equal parts James Bond films, Marvel comics and eighties action movies—yet ends with surprising poignancy. As a prequel to the Metal Gear series, it’s a fine place for players to start.

MGS3 certainly has its flaws. Like every other game by Hideo Kojima, the story gets unnecessarily complicated. There are objectionable elements such as drunkenness, skimpy outfits and mild vulgarity. The learning curve is steep. Oh, and in case you hadn’t guessed it, the game is kind of violent.

All the same, I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater tremendously. It has enough history to be interesting, enough absurdity to be hilarious and enough good level design and brilliant gameplay to keep players engaged from beginning to end. MGS3 is a fine story and an even better game, so long as you have an appetite for snakes and tree frogs.

262. Am I a Man?

Not long ago, I grew a beard. It was horrible, an utter disgrace and an affront to anyone unfortunate enough to gaze upon it. To put it in biblical terms, it was an abomination that caused desolation.

It’s a pity, because I like beards. I wish I could manage a better one. This one made me look like a stoner. In fact, a coworker went so far as to remark, “If I’d never met you before, I’d have assumed you smoked marijuana.”

The Abomination That Causes Desolation

I’m sorry you have to see this. I’m so, so sorry.

In the end, a couple of weeks ago, I euthanized my stoner-beard and got a haircut, restoring my deceptive resemblance to a civilized human male.

I grew a beard for two reasons. First, it was a rebellion against shaving. Shaving is tedious and painful. My beard was the symbol of a revolution, and a remind that rebellion can be an ugly thing. My second reason was a little more serious. A beard—even a hideous stoner-beard—was a reminder that I was a man.

At least, I’m supposed to be a man.

There are certainly times I feel old. The jungles, mountains and beaches of my youth seem very, very far from the quiet town of Berne, Indiana. Much of the time, however, I feel pretty young. I occasionally feel like a kid playing at being a grownup.

I’ve spent nearly a quarter-century knocking about God’s green earth, but I sometimes don’t feel it—and I hardly ever look it. Heck, I was often mistaken for a high school kid during my student teaching. (I was even told by fellow teachers to leave the office or teachers’ lounge because students weren’t allowed!) Many people want to look younger. I want to look older. At the very least, I want a proper beard.

Many of my high school and college chums are getting married, having kids, building careers and watching Breaking Bad. As I play video games, watch cartoons and write silly blog posts about exploding tomatoes, it’s a little scary for me to see how effortlessly responsible and grown-up everyone else seems to be.

I tried watching Breaking Bad once. (It was recommended to me by the same coworker who told me I looked like a weed addict.) The show was brilliant, but also painful to watch. My life was dysfunctional enough without watching Walter White lie to his wife and scream at his boss.

Right about the time [spoiler alert?] Walter and his accomplice tried dissolving a corpse in acid, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the show. It was too grown-up—by which I mean, rife with grown-up problems like lies, unfaithfulness, greed, murder, drug use and nihilistic hedonism. I gave up watching Breaking Bad and went back to the Edenic innocence of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Am I some sort of man child, refusing to grow up and take responsibility, chasing fading gleams of childhood simplicity?

Am I… dare I say it… a Peter Pantheist?

I think I am a man.

Admittedly, I am a man who enjoys the wit and silliness of Phineas and Ferb over the gore and drama of The Walking Dead, but still. I would like to think I’m childlike, not childish. There’s a difference. At least, I’m pretty sure there’s a difference.

“When I was a child,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

I talk like a man, I think like a man, I reason like a man—most of the time, anyway. I would like to think I’ve followed Paul’s good example and left behind childish ways.

All the same, I want to hope like a child, to trust like a child, to dream like a child. After all, the Lord Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

The Man Who Fixed the Internet

The Internet is a wonderful, nay, miraculous, invention. This intangible web of information, media and funny cat pictures transforms my laptop, a humble slab of plastic and silicon, into a window unto worlds real and imagined.

There are times—dark times—when the Internet fails. Some dark, vile sorcery makes the Internet disappear by severing its connection to my laptop. It is at times such as these, dear reader, that we who use the Internet have three options. We can live without Internet: a lamentable fate. We can attempt to restore it ourselves: a venture fraught with frustration and difficulty. Our best and final option is to seek a hero to fix our Internet for us.

The video above is the epic tale of such a man, a story worthy of a place among the myths and legends of old, to be handed down to future generations and never forgotten.

Behold, dear reader, the Ballad of a WiFi Hero.

261. About Storytelling: Nazis

Nazis are bad. If you carry away one thing from this blog post, it’s that Nazis are bad.

Nazis Swastika

Protip: This is not a good design for interior decorating.

In fact, Nazis have become a handy shortcut in storytelling for representing evil. Need a bad guy? Make him a Nazi. No reader of books or viewer of films or player of video games thinks twice if Nazis die. They are evil. They are all evil!

There’s only one problem with this convenient idea.

Not all Nazis are evil—rather, Nazis are not all evil.

You see, people are complicated. No person—Nazi or not—is absolutely, one hundred percent wicked. No person is completely good, either. Bad people have virtues, and good people have flaws.

As satisfying as black-and-white moral struggles are in storytelling, they’re not very realistic. It’s hardly ever as simple as “good versus evil.” It’s usually “something versus a different something.” Even in cases of clear-cut good and bad, it tends to be “something mostly good versus something mostly bad.”

It’s hardly ever good storytelling to make the good guys perfect and the bad guys irredeemable. In real life, when does that ever happen?

Granted, it can work. J.R.R. Tolkien, who somehow managed to write great books while ignoring a lot of basic rules for storytelling, pits (mostly) good and selfless hobbits, men, elves and dwarves against orcs—twisted creatures damned to an existence of pain, war and cruelty. Tolkien’s black-and-white struggles work because they’re sort of symbolic. Orcs seem almost like Tolkien’s fairy-tale representation of absolute evil in his fairy-tale realm of Middle-earth. The villain, Sauron, is more like the concept of badness than an actual bad guy. (I should note that Tolkien did manage some morally ambiguous characters, such as Gollum and Boromir.)

For the most part, however, the best stories have good guys that are sort of bad and bad guys that are sort of good. Consider Avatar: The Last Airbender, the fantastic fantasy show. In its world, the Fire Nation is a lot like Nazi Germany. It attempts to conquer, exploit and control other countries: in this case, the Water Tribe and Earth Nation.

Guess what? The “good” countries have their fair share of bad guys. A psychotic criminal belongs to the Water Tribe. The Earth Kingdom is the home of thugs and thieves, not to mention a corrupt official and the merciless secret police under his control. The “evil” Fire Nation is populated largely by innocent, well-meaning citizens.

Iroh

The Fire Nation also has this guy.

Hayao Miyazaki also does a great job of creating morally ambiguous characters. Probably his best films in this regard are Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, in which the villains are… no one, really. Princess Mononoke has a bunch of characters fighting selfishly for their own survival and prosperity; they’re self-centered, but not really evil. Spirited Away has characters that seem bad, but when you get to know them you realize they’re just gruff and insensitive.

People are hardly ever all good or all bad, and conflicts are usually more complicated than “good versus evil.” Ambiguity and subtlety are invaluable assets for any story or character!

260. That Time I Was Stranded in South Korea

The summer of 2010 was an interesting one. In the first place, I worked as a blacksmith, a job that required intense physical labor and complicated mathematics: my worst archenemies. I also spent a month in South Korea teaching English and choking down fermented cabbage.

My month in South Korea was awesome. My brother and sister-in-law, who lived in the country at the time, gave me a place to stay and showed me the best of South Korea: the mountains, the beaches, the parks and the city streets.

IMG_6481

Korea’s mountains are breathtaking.

Visiting South Korea was an amazing experience, though much more awkward than my sojourns in other countries. I spoke enough Spanish to get around Ecuador and Uruguay. Besides, gringos were a pretty common sight in those countries. South Korea was different. I spoke only a couple of words of Korean, and there were hardly any foreigners. I felt helpless and out of place. Fortunately, I loved Korean food and used chopsticks, which were very small steps toward adapting to Korean society.

IMG_6625

I had a hard time fitting in.

As mention my fondness for Korean food, I must point out one outstanding exception. Kimchi is horrible. For those who are wondering, kimchi is possibly the worst invention of humankind, surpassing even nuclear weapons and paranormal romance novels in its sheer awfulness. I once described kimchi as “a pungent dish consisting of cabbage soaked in some strong liquid (I suspected sulfuric acid) and fermented until its alcohol level equaled that of vodka.”

As my time in South Korea drew to an end, my older brother put me and my luggage on a bus bound for an airport—please don’t ask which, because I don’t remember. What I recall is a growing sense of panic as I realized I didn’t know when I was supposed to get off the bus.

Thus, surrounded by signs in Korean and strangers who spoke Korean and not a single word of dear old English, I disembarked from the bus at what I fervently prayed was the right stop. It looked like an airport. I hoped it was. If it wasn’t, I was stranded without money or a phone somewhere in South Korea.

It was the right stop after all, but my troubles had only begun.

The airport was huge. Huge. I’ve seen quite a number of airports in my time, and this was easily the largest. The lobby was a maze of lights and desks and unreadable signs—and people, of course. South Korea is nearly always crowded. By some miracle, I found the right line to the right desk and showed the right papers to the right person. My larger luggage was whisked away. I received my boarding pass and was pointed toward the terminal, from which home was just two flights and a bus ride away.

One man, however, stood between me and the shining Promised Land of the terminal and my return home: an apologetic little gentlemen in his twenties or thirties, who weighed my carry-on and told me it was too heavy. I could not pass.

I was stranded in South Korea.

My first order of business was to lighten my carry-on by throwing away whatever I didn’t need. My socks, ragged and full of holes, were the first things to go.

The gentleman weighed my carry-on again. Still too heavy.

Kneeling awkwardly on the floor and ignoring the puzzled looks of passersby, I inventoried the contents of my carry-on. They were mostly things I considered too precious to risk transporting in my larger luggage. In other words… there was nothing more I could spare.

Unless… I could leave that behind. Disposing of it would be awkward, but doable. I would simply have to be very, very careful about it.

When I was sure no one was looking, I slipped into a bathroom and threw away a two-kilo bag of yierba mate.

Yes, yierba mate looks kind of like marijuana. Yes, I’m surprised I didn’t get caught and questioned and possibly detained for smuggling drugs. Yes, it hurt to throw away an almost-full bag of tea. Believe me, it hurt.

The little gentleman weighed my carry-on for the third time. It was still a few pounds too heavy, but he decided to let me pass. I did, thanking God and trying not to look any more like a drug runner than I could help.

Thus did I leave South Korea, thankful not to have gotten lost, remained stranded or been arrested.

Indeed, the summer of 2010 was an interesting one!

The Ability to Pull Stuff from Nowhere

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. As you watch a movie or play a video game, a character pulls out something from nowhere. Bugs Bunny and Wakko Warner reach behind their backs and bring out anvils or sledgehammers. Solid Snake and Link produce an endless assortment of gear and weapons from thin air. As Link demonstrates in the clever picture above, actually carrying around all that stuff is a physical impossibility.

The ability to pull stuff from nowhere is sometimes called the back pocket, a wry suggestion that the things characters pull from behind their backs were in their pants pockets the whole time. (This concept is particularly amusing in the case of characters that don’t wear pants.) In anime, the concept is called hammerspace. A comedic trope in Japanese animation is for characters to express anger by hitting something (or someone) with a large hammer produced from nowhere, making hammerspace the hypothetical place where all those hammers are kept.

The back pocket concept is usually played for comic effect in animation. Pinkie Pie, an exuberant character from a surprisingly awesome show about ponies, produces a wide assortment of items (including freaking cannons) from nowhere. Other characters know better than to question Pinkie’s defiance of physics.

In fact, when back pockets are used in any show or film, no one ever seems surprised.

In video games, back pockets are utilitarian rather than comedic in nature. The fact of the matter is that Link from the Legend of Zelda games needs his gear—all of it. Limiting his inventory would be a hindrance to the player, who would have to backtrack every time she needed something Link didn’t happen to be carrying at the moment. Constantly retrieving items, or plodding slowly under their weight, would be horribly annoying.

Thus Link carts around enormous shields and heavy explosives and iron-shod boots without any trouble. (Humorously enough, the iron boots only weigh down Link when he’s actually wearing them.) Solid Snake somehow sneaks through enemy territory burdened with cardboard boxes, sensor equipment and an entire arsenal of weapons (including massive rocket launchers). Every Final Fantasy character carries up to ninety-nine of every kind of weapon, armor and potion.

Where is all that stuff kept? Where does it come from?

Some questions, dear reader, are simply beyond answering.