Tadpole Treble

Tadpole Treble is the epic tale of a tadpole lost, alone, and far from home. This tiny amphibian must find her way back, dodging such dangers as piranhas, snapping turtles, and… musical notes.


This quirky game is the work of Matthew Taranto, a man whose wise words I literally have framed and displayed on my desk. He created the Nintendo-themed webcomic Brawl in the Family, which ran for about six years. (I mourned its end on this very blog.) Upon concluding the webcomic, Taranto began working full-time on Tadpole Treble.

Each stage of the game is basically a long musical staff, along which players must dodge the notes of the stage’s musical score. It’s a neat intersection of music and gameplay: two elements of game design that are too often disconnected.

Tadpole Treble

The game will be released for Steam (a digital marketplace for video games) in just a couple of days. I’m holding out for the Wii U release later this spring. It was apparently a childhood dream of Taranto’s to make a game for a Nintendo system, and I’m glad he’s finally done it.

In other news, one of the game’s songs, “Thunder Creek,” has been stuck in my head for two weeks.

I don’t usually support indie projects, but when Tadpole Treble showed up on Kickstarter a year or two ago, I tossed a few dollars its way as a small thank-you to Matthew Taranto. Brawl in the Family helped me through one or two really dark days, and he seems like an incredibly nice dude.

If I were a rich man (yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum), I would consider donating toward more projects on Kickstarter, and also supporting creative people on Patreon. However, I’m definitely not a rich man, so I’ll have to settle for cheering them on.

Go, little tadpole!

The Best History Lesson in the History of History

Never before has video game history been so awesome… or so darn catchy.

Fun Fact: Nintendo existed for nearly a century before it began producing video games. It dabbled in everything from card games to cab services before striking gold with franchises like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda in the eighties.

This post was originally published on September 18, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

307. Goodbye, Brawl in the Family

I’ve seen many little blessings vanish from my life. The Harry Potter books concluded. Avatar: The Last Airbender aired its final episode. Nintendo Power ceased publication. (This noble magazine was too clearly good for this world; may it rest in peace.) One by one, these sparks of joy and humor were extinguished, leaving my world a tiny bit darker.

Today the Internet loses a great webcomic. Brawl in the Family has ended its six-year run, and I am reminded of how fleeting are most of the good things in life.

I shall miss you. Well, may not you, Ice Climbers, but I'll miss the rest of you.

(Am I seriously writing a blog post mourning the end of a webcomic? Yes. Yes, I am.)

Anyone familiar with Nintendo and its games should check out Brawl in the Family immediately. BitF is a superb webcomic. (However, it’s also packed with video game-specific humor, so non-Nintendo fans shouldn’t feel bad for giving it a miss.)

As a person who creates stuff and throws it at the Internet, I admire the creators of BitF. I’ll miss its cartoony style and gentle humor. The comic’s jokes were often sophisticated, using absurdism or deconstructionism to poke fun at Nintendo’s video games… and then some of the comic’s jokes were just really bad puns.

BitF has long brightened quiet corners of this blog. The comic inspired one of TMTF’s earliest posts, taught me the history of Nintendo in one ridiculously catchy song, and made bearable one of the darker days of my life. And have you noticed the green coffee cup I hold in one of this blog’s banners? It’s a nod to the comic. Heck, BitF has made so many appearances on TMTF that I’ve considered giving the comic its own tag.

I’ll miss Kirby, Dedede, and the comic’s other oddball characters. I’ll even miss Waluigi and his surreal (and invariably purple-colored) antics.

Waluigi goes trick-or-treating

One of the comic’s creators is going on to develop his own video game and compose game soundtracks. As much as I’ll miss his comic, I can appreciate that he wants to move on to new things.

Goodbye, Brawl in the Family. Thanks for brightening my life with laughter, absurdity, and Kirby-eats-something jokes.

I’m gonna miss you, Kirby.

The Best History Lesson in the History of History

Never before has video game history been so awesome… or so darn catchy.

Fun Fact: Nintendo existed for nearly a century before it began producing video games. It dabbled in everything from card games to cab services before striking gold with franchises like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda in the eighties.

194. The Trouble with Girls (in Video Games)

I am not a feminist. Heck, I couldn’t be a feminist even if I wanted to be. As I learned during my studies in college of literary criticism, the stricter philosophies of feminism disqualify men from being feminists. What a shame.

I may not be a feminist, but I do consider it my business to respect people. That said, I’m bothered by the way ladies are depicted in video games. Never mind touchy issues like gender empowerment—I’m talking about common courtesy.

Here are some of the problems with girls in video games.

Damsels in distress

I just covered this trope in my last post. Ladies in video games tend to be helpless victims who must be rescued by male heroes. Now, this isn’t such a bad thing. Heroes clearly respect these ladies enough to risk their own lives rescuing them. Damsels in distress are also a wonderfully simple plot device. Need a story for your game? The princess was kidnapped and the hero must save her! No further details are needed; we have all the story we need.

Comic adapted from Brawl in the Family.

Art adapted from Brawl in the Family.

While the damsel in distress trope isn’t atrociously disrespectful, it does suggest women are powerless: all they can do is sit around waiting for strong men to rescue them. This implication is unfair. Intelligence, courage and strength are not limited by sex or gender.

I think the video game industry is getting better about this one. The Mario and Zelda series still feature damsels in distress, but Princesses Peach and Zelda have become clever, resourceful characters—they don’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. Meanwhile, female protagonists like Samus Aran from the Metroid series and Chell from the Portal games prove ladies can take care of themselves, thank you very much.

Sexual objectification

I’m not sure how to put this tactfully: ladies in video games tend to be… curvy. They’re often impossibly slim and buxom, and not particularly shy about showing it. These ladies tend to flaunt their curves, say flirtatious things and generally do things most self-respecting women don’t do.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character in a video game. Beauty is a good thing. Sexual objectification—stripping away a lady’s dignity and treating her as an object—is not a good thing.

(For the record, I also object to the sexual objectification of men in video games: those absurdly muscular, super-macho dudes who have no personalities and refuse to wear shirts.)

Treating a person as less than a person, as merely an object to be ogled, is utterly disrespectful—even if the person happens to be a video game character.

Chain mail bikinis

I’ve mentioned this one before. When male characters are completely covered by heavy armor, female characters wear… swimsuits and lingerie. (I’d cite examples to prove my point, but none of those pictures would be appropriate for this blog.) There is no tactical advantage for ladies to expose legs, midriffs or bosoms in battle. None.

Where are the heroines?

Not many video games feature ladies as the lead characters. There are a few, sure, such as the aforementioned Metroid and Portal games. For the most part, however, video game protagonists are men.


Does the video game industry believe all gamers are prejudiced males who won’t buy games with female protagonists? Does the video game industry think women are not as capable as men? Seriously, what gives?

O people of the Internet, what bothers you about video games? Let us know in the comments!

181. My Battle with Depression

I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.

~ Abraham Lincoln

I don’t often write about depression. It’s not a pleasant subject, and I make an effort to be optimistic. Quoth Louisa May Alcott, a ridiculously cheerful person: “I can only say that it is a part of my religion to look well after the cheerfulnesses of life, and let the dismals shift for themselves.”

Besides, depression is kind of embarrassing. It’s easier not to talk about it.

I’ve struggled throughout my life with periods of anxiety and hopelessness—I once wrote a post about the worst of them—but depression isn’t usually a severe problem.

Recently, however, it has been more of a struggle. More than once in past weeks depression has impaired my ability to function… and today is one such occasion. Earlier today—not today today, but the day I wrote this post—I made some last-minute arrangements and came home early from work.

I just couldn’t do it.

There was no way on God’s green earth I could spend eight hours in a group home administering medications, washing dishes, changing soiled undergarments or doing whatever the heck else needed to be done. It was hard to do anything except keep breathing.

Thank God, I’m feeling much recovered—well enough, at least, to write a blog post. (Tea, rest and Brawl in the Family are fine cures for depression.) This is a post I’ve wanted to write for some time: not as a complaint or a plea for attention, but an honest acknowledgment of a personal struggle.

Dash it all, personal posts are the hardest to write… except for top ten lists and book reviews. But I digress.

I’m thankful not to have any troubles worse than depression, and extremely grateful for the loving support of friends and family.

Several people in my family suffer from depression. My old man, for example, has battled it throughout his life. Do you know what else?

My old man is awesome.

I will consider mine a life well spent if I grow up to be just like him. My old man is consistently cheerful, funny and kind. People are always surprised when they learn he suffers from intermittent depression and chronic physical pain. He gives me hope that I too can live a cheerful, useful life despite my own struggles with depression.

I wonder sometimes why God allows me to experience anxiety, fatigue and hopelessness. Wouldn’t I be a good deal more effective doing good things if I were not occasionally burdened with debilitating depression? I mean, really, God?

In the end, I always come back to the passage in the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul suffers a paralyzing problem of his own:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Depression might be a thorn in my flesh. It’s certainly a nuisance. Nevertheless, God’s answer to me has been the same as his answer to Paul. The grace of God is sufficient. That, as they say, is that.

God may not have spared me depression today, but he enabled me to pull some strings to come home early from work. He didn’t give me the strength for which I asked. Instead, he gave me tea and rest and funny webcomics.

I continue doing what I can to prevent depression: eating fruits and vegetables, drinking too much tea, working out (often while listening to music from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which is either really stupid or really awesome), watching cheerful cartoons, trying to get enough sleep and asking God for his help.

I have good days. I have bad days.

Through every kind of day, God’s grace is sufficient. Always.

19. So, Um… What Do You Think Being a Hero Is All About?

I don’t generally search for profound wisdom in webcomics—especially not webcomics about video games.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was reading my favorite webcomic way back in March and realized its writer had stumbled upon pretty much the most important lesson ever.

Brawl in the Family is a delightful webcomic by a couple of guys named Matt and Chris. It’s a funny, quirky take on video game characters, and I think it’s pretty awesome.

In one comic, two teachers are asked by their students, “So, um…what do you think being a hero is all about?”

The first teacher, a villain, replies, “Well, to put it simply: ambition.” He adds, “Remember, you are capable of great things.”

The second teacher, a kindly gentleman, replies, “Well, to put it simply: sacrifice.” He adds, “It is not about you. It is about everyone else.”

It is not about you. It is about everyone else.

I happen to be student teaching at the moment, and it’s so easy to become centered on myself. I have to survive the stress of teaching classes and grading papers. I have to keep up with the paperwork for my college’s Education Department. I have to be a good teacher.

It’s also so easy to become self-centered in regard to my writing. I want to become a successful novelist. I want to have a great blog. I want my writing to be excellent.

I is such a little word, but it represents so much. Ambition. Dreams of glory. Delusions of grandeur.

I’m ashamed to say it, but I become self-centered. Then things happen that jerk me back to reality. One of those things happened yesterday.

Yesterday we held parent/teacher conferences at my school. My supervising teacher and I had been assigned to hold conferences with the parents of our MEC students. The MEC students are the at-risk kids, the kids with low grades and behavior problems—the kids in danger of being expelled. For nearly eight hours, my supervising teacher, other teachers and I held conference after conference with the parents and guardians of our students.

Some of these parents and guardians were bright, cheerful and polite. Some were not. One came in with whiskey on her breath. Another came uncomfortably close to exploding into a fit of rage. Almost all of them told us directly or indirectly that they didn’t have much control over their kids, and a few of them maintained an attitude of nonchalance.

They didn’t seem to care that their children were failing classes or causing trouble. One mother was obviously in denial that her son is a borderline sociopath. Another mother cheerfully admitted to being aware of the fact her son smokes marijuana.

It was tragic. It was also very convicting. These are the students with whom I work almost every day—and I get so wrapped up in my plans and ambitions and personal projects that I forget how much my students need a loving, patient, diligent teacher.

It is not about me. It is about everyone else.

Jesus said the same thing when someone asked him about the great commandments—God’s greatest charge to humankind—the ultimate meaning of human life. Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Webcomics, even webcomics about video games, can impart great wisdom.

It is not about you. It is about everyone else.