475. Mario Kart and the Art of Not Giving Up

I’m really good at two things. Sure, I have minor gifts such as humor and writing, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. There are only two things in this world at which I’m really gifted.

The first is drinking coffee, in staggering amounts, at fairly high speed, with effortless aplomb. (I’ve had a lot of practice.) My second gift is winning Mario Kart races. Neither of these gifts are useful for professional success or intellectual fulfillment, but I consider them personal triumphs anyway.

Aw yeah.

Mario Kart is a series of racing video games by Nintendo, a company with an important heritage, rich history, and really weird controllers. Each Mario Kart game is packed with humor, color, whimsy, mayhem, and stuff that explodes. (For the record, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the best game in the series. Some people say that either Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 is better. Those people are wrong.) I started playing Mario Kart in my teens, and after twelve or thirteen years, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of picking up speed. Every kart in the games is valued according to two statistics: speed and acceleration.

There’s technically a third stat, weight, but it’s not all that important.

Going fast is great, sure, but something is guaranteed to bring karts to a full stop. Inexperienced players drive off roads or into obstacles. Even Mario Kart veterans can’t dodge certain hazards. Consider the Red Shell, a projectile weapon that seeks outs other racers. Then there’s the dreaded Blue Shell, an unstoppable missile that wrecks the winning racer within seconds. It really puts the hell in Shell.

This diagram pretty much sums it up. (It comes from a webcomic with a lot of profanity. I guess its creator plays a lot of Mario Kart.)

Sooner or later, every Mario Kart racer ends up in a ditch… or submerged in a glacial ocean, or sinking into glowing lava. (Video games will be video games.) Every racer, no matter how fast, eventually ends up wrecked.

That’s when acceleration comes in handy. It allows players to regain their top speed quickly after obstacles or poor driving slow them down. Depending on the race, a slow kart with good acceleration might have the advantage over a fast kart that takes a long time to get moving.

I think there’s a lesson here. In nearly every day God gives me, I try to do my best. Sometimes I keep it up for days or even weeks at a stretch: making good decisions, working hard, keeping my faith, and being kind. In Mario Kart terms, I maintain a good top speed.

Then, inevitably, I wreck my kart. I make a bad decision, and swerve off the road. Some wrecks aren’t even my fault. The unstoppable Blue Shells of depression, sickness, or bad circumstances bring my kart to a grinding halt.

Aw heckles, I took a wrong turn. It’s going to be a long fall.

I really struggle to get moving again at such times. What good is a high top speed if I’m not even moving? If I’ve lost my momentum, what’s the point? I may as well just sit here. The race is lost. I doubt I can even make second or third place, so I may as well just wait for the next one… but that’s no way to live, is it?

Speed is important, but so is acceleration. It’s important to live well, but also to keep moving after living badly.

Losers sit around moping after wrecking their karts.

Winners keep driving.

Now This Is How You Teach English!

Learning English - Chainsaw

Learning a new language is hard. Fortunately, one brave little book is trying its best to make that arduous process easier, or at least funnier.

English Words That Don’t Appear on Tests is a book for Japanese-speakers learning the English language. It’s certainly… educational.

Learning English - FartThis book is apparently an actual thing that exists.

English Words That Don’t Appear on Tests

Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite pages.

Learning English - River crabs

Learning English - Bra

Learning English - Mario Kart

I have a degree in English Education—no, seriously, I do—and I approve these teaching materials. More can be found at this article on Kotaku. Learn, and enjoy.

This post was originally published on April 27, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

Now This Is How You Teach English!

Learning English - Chainsaw

Learning a new language is hard. Fortunately, one brave little book is trying its best to make that arduous process easier, or at least funnier.

English Words That Don’t Appear on Tests is a book for Japanese-speakers learning the English language. It’s certainly… educational.

Learning English - FartThis book is apparently an actual thing that exists.

English Words That Don’t Appear on Tests

Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite pages.

Learning English - River crabs

Learning English - Bra

Learning English - Mario Kart

I have a degree in English Education—no, seriously, I do—and I approve these teaching materials. More can be found at this article on Kotaku. Learn, and enjoy.

421. The Beginning of the End

Well, dear reader, this is it. This is the beginning of the end. After four and a half years of caffeinated rants and geeky ramblings, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is starting its final laps.

Final lap! (Watch out for banana peels.)

Final lap! (Watch out for banana peels.)

I’m ending this blog, but not quite yet. TMTF shall conclude with its five hundredth numbered post, which will probably be published toward the end of this year. I don’t yet have an exact date for that post; it depends on how many more breaks I take from blogging.

(You know, this bittersweet blog post could use an appropriately bittersweet soundtrack, such as “The Best Is Yet to Come” from Metal Gear SolidHere you go. No need to thank me.)

Why am I ending this blog? Well, that’s a good question. (I’m glad I asked.) Ending TMTF is a big decision, and I’m not the only one it affects—if you follow this blog, it probably affects you, too.

You may be a little saddened by TMTF’s impending demise. If you’ve enjoyed something over a long time, it can be hard to see it end. (Gravity Falls ended just a few days ago, so believe me, I know the feeling.)

Then again, you may just be wondering why I didn’t put this blog out of its misery ages ago.

There are a few reasons for my decision to end TMTF.

It’s getting harder for me to come up ideas for new posts.

As I think of posts to write for this blog, I feel like I’m beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I would much rather give TMTF a respectable finish than drag it out endlessly: as Tolkien put it, “like butter scraped over too much bread.”

TMTF has lost its purpose.

I began this blog years ago with a strong sense of purpose. TMTF originally had three clear objectives.

  1. I wanted to build up an audience for the novel I was finishing at the time.
  2. I wanted to make some sort of positive difference with my God-given talents for writing, humor, and creativity.
  3. I wanted to try something new and exciting.

At this point, TMTF has either completed or failed these objectives; either way, they hardly matter anymore.

  1. My novel failed, and it won’t be getting sequels anytime soon, so there is no longer any point in finding an audience.
  2. At this point, I think TMTF has made pretty much all the difference it can. I’ve said most of the things I really wanted to say… except for the word pulchritude, of course, and now I’ve said it.
  3. After four and a half years, TMTF is neither new nor exciting. Writing this blog has been a great experience, but I’ve lost my passion for it.

When I started TMTF, I was motivated to write blog posts by a sense of purpose. Now I write them because I have to keep the blog’s publishing schedule. I’m trying to live more purposefully; it’s one of my resolutions for this year. My writing should be driven by a sense of purpose, not feelings of obligation. I owe that much to my readers, and to myself, and to God.

I want to work on a new project.

I could say more, but that’s another post for another day.*

I’m thankful for this blog, and I don’t regret the time and effort I’ve put into it. Working on TMTF over the years has brought me satisfaction, laughter, gleams of insight, and moments of catharsis… not to mention quite a lot of harmless fun.

I’ve met a number of amazing people through this blog whom I would never have met otherwise: JK Riki, the animator and creativity expert; Tom Zuniga, the wandering blogger; Rev Kev Niebuhr, the manliest Methodist of our generation; and more. I’ve also had the privilege of collaborating with awesome folks like Paul McCusker, a veteran writer for Adventures in Odyssey; Kevin McCreary, a YouTube and podcast creator; and colorful YouTube personalities like DRWolf and Crowne Prince, among many others.

This blog motivated me to write a fantasy novella and some short stories, not to mention hundreds of pointless rants thoughtful reflections upon faith, writing, video games, literature, TV, movies, life, the universe, and everything. With the help and support of its fabulous readers, TMTF raised hundreds and hundreds of dollars for charity. I even invented a holiday on this blog: Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day—which is coming up on March 4, by the way!

I’m thankful for Typewriter Monkey Task Force—and it ain’t over yet, folks! It shall continue yet for months and months, and there’s one thing I want to make very clear about its end. I’m not abandoning this blog. I’m finishing it.

Finally: Thank you, my dear readers. Thanks for the past four and a half years. I welcome you to stick around for whatever is left, and for whatever comes after!

*And that day shall be Friday.

390. An Open Letter to Content Creators

Dear Content Creators,

I’m afraid content creator is a boring title, but it’s the best one I could find for all of you. (I considered creative people on the Internet, but that’s kind of a mouthful.) The title of content creator is the one given to all of you artists, bloggers, actors, video makers, musicians, animators, commentators, cartoonists, gamers, photographers, creative writers, and other creative people who make stuff and throw it at the Internet.

For example, consider the artist who reimagined the Fellowship of the Ring as a bunch of cats:

The Fellowship of the Cats

She’s a content creator. So are these video makers who try to explain Doctor Who in sixty seconds:

There’s this guy rocking out on a guitar to the best song from Mario Kart.

He’s a content creator, alongside this hipster Calvinist and all the other people who say funny things on social media:

Then there’s, um, whatever this guy is doing:

You people are awesome.

If you’re anything like me, your content-creating experience is a roller coaster. Sometimes it’s fun and exhilarating. Sometimes it’s dull and exhausting. There are days when you feel an incredible sense of accomplishment, and days when you think you’ve accomplished nothing at all. All of it—the highs and lows and twists and loops—takes determination, effort, vision, and (occasionally) a touch of obsessive lunacy.

Most of you don’t make much money, if any, from your work. You create because you enjoy it. You create because you are an artist. Whether you have an audience of one or one million, I admire your creative spirit. If you do make a living as a content creator, I congratulate you all the more. That takes a lot of dedication.

And here’s the thing. I don’t just respect you—I really, really enjoy the work of content creators. A staggering amount of my music library consists of songs not from professionals, but from amateurs on the Internet. I read several blogs and webcomics, follow a few artists, and spend quite a lot of time on YouTube.

So much of the entertainment, laughter, insight, inspiration, excitement, and happiness in my life comes from the work of content creators—people like you.

I’m not the only one whose life is better because of content creators and their work. In fact, millions of people across teh internetz enjoy the humor and creativity of content creators—but they don’t always take time to say “I really enjoyed this,” or “This was brilliant,” or simply “Thank you.”

It is so easy for content creators to become discouraged. When their work doesn’t receive a positive response, they tend to assume the worst. They think their work wasn’t worth the effort.

I’m here to say: Your work matters, and thank you.

Thank you, content creators, for brightening my everyday life with moments of amusement and understanding. Thank you for being hilarious, honest, insightful, vulnerable, creative, clever, witty, weird, and wonderful. Thank you for being you, and for sharing your creativity with the rest of us.

Oh, and keep up the good work.



349. TMTF’s Top Ten Video Games for People Who Don’t Play Video Games

Most of my dear readers aren’t really into video games. If you’re one of those readers, this post is for you!

Like most bloggers, I glance at my blog’s statistics from time to time. My blog host, WordPress, tracks views for each post on TMTF. I’ve noticed that posts about video games are among the least popular on this blog. This realization points to one logical course of action.

What’s that? I should stop writing blog posts about video games? Don’t be ridiculous! If my posts about games aren’t popular with my readers, there is clearly just one rational solution: I must encourage my readers to play more video games!

(Yes, I’m joking.)

Here are ten video games I recommend for anyone who doesn’t play video games. Most of these titles are easy for casual gamers to pick up and play, with a few must-play classics sprinkled in for good measure. These games—which represent a variety of genres and gaming generations—are upbeat, accessible, and fun to play.

The game is afoot, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Video Games for People Who Don’t Play Video Games!

10. Chrono Trigger (Nintendo DS)

Chrono Trigger DSWe’re starting with a masterpiece, which is low on this list because it’s also a bit of a challenge for beginners. I tried to find a short, easy RPG (Role-Playing Game) for casual players, but the easy ones aren’t really worth playing. Chrono Trigger is a little complex, yet simpler than most classic RPGs—and dang if this isn’t a beautiful game.

Chrono Trigger is probably the best RPG I’ve ever played. It was revolutionary in its time, and it has aged well. The music, graphics, characters, and battle system are all superb. I recommend the Nintendo DS version above all others: the translation is vastly improved, a few handy features are added, the game can be played on the go, and it’s far easier to find than previous versions. If you play no other RPG in your lifetime, play this one!

9. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo 3DS/Wii U eShop)

Super Mario Bros.This is where it all began. Super Mario Bros. hearkens back to the early days of video games, when it launched Mario into his shining career as the most famous character in the industry. The game has aged brilliantly: after thirty years, it’s still tons of fun and pretty easy to play.

This is the world’s most recognizable platformer: an iconic iteration in the Jumping on Stuff genre of video games. Nearly all platformers that followed, including greats like the earlier Sonic the Hedgehog games, owed it all to this one. Super Mario Bros. isn’t merely a classic game. It is, unequivocally, the classic game.

8. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (Nintendo 3DS/Wii U eShop)

Shantae and the Pirate's CurseShantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a short, sweet, funny introduction to the action-adventure genre: a blend of exploring, fighting, and puzzle-solving. Available on Nintendo’s eShop, the game offers all the retro-styled joy of classics like Metroid, Mega Man, and Cave Story without their nail-biting difficulty and frustration.

This game is superb: a love letter to the games of yore that adds an upbeat tone and zany style. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is relatively short, an advantage for casual players. I must also give it bonus points for being absolutely freaking adorable.

7. Ocarina of Time 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Ocarina of Time 3DConsidered by many to be the greatest video game ever made, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the quintessential adventure game. I can hardly overstate its excellence. It defined both a genre and a generation.

The original version of Ocarina of Time shows its age, but the Nintendo 3DS version makes the game accessible by putting it on a mobile system with better graphics, redesigned menus, and an elegant hint system to help casual players. Even the Water Temple, a stage of infamous difficulty, has been streamlined. Ocarina of Time may be the world’s best video game, and this is certainly its best version.

6. Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS)

Elite Beat AgentsElite Beat Agents is pleasantly bonkers. Imagine someone putting a lot of popular songs (“September,” “Y.M.C.A.,” and “Material Girl,” among others) in a blender along with comic books, Japanese anime on VHS tapes, and disco fashion. This rhythm game is the result, inviting players to tap their way through more than a dozen absurd scenarios.

The premise of Elite Beat Agents is that a secret government agency assists desperate people through the inspirational power of song. It’s every bit as wacky as it sounds, and any player with a sense of rhythm (and a sense of humor) will probably enjoy it.

5. Portal (Microsoft Windows/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)

PortalPortal puts players in the high-tech boots of Chell, a woman who wakes up in an abandoned research facility with only a deranged (and delightfully funny) computer for company. Chell must escape armed only with an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device that opens interconnected gates in three dimensional space. (It’s cooler than it sounds.)

Portal is a puzzle game, and probably the best example I’ve seen of a video game as art. The portal concept seems complicated for the first few minutes, but quickly becomes intuitive as the game puts players through puzzles on a gentle difficulty curve. Portal is brilliant, funny, sophisticated, and conveniently short at just a few hours long. While its sequel, the legendary Portal 2, is the better game, Portal is the perfect place to start.

4. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (Nintendo GameCube)

Mario Kart - Double Dash!!Mario Kart games are one part racing, one part warfare, and all parts fun. The games are all about beating competitors to the finish line… and also beating them with an assortment of damaging objects. Watch out for banana peels, explosives, and high-speed projectiles! Mario Kart games are a blast, sometimes literally.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is, in my humble opinion, the best of the bunch. The controls are straightforward and finely tuned. The racetracks are well-designed. Best of all, having two racers per go-kart allows for cooperation between players, not just competition. Newer players can pair up with more experienced ones.

3. Wii Sports (Wii)

Wii SportsThis is the ultimate casual game. All it requires is the ability to wave a controller that looks like a TV remote, and the willingness to look silly doing it. Wii Sports isn’t a deep game, but it doesn’t need to be. It offers fun, simple activities like golf and bowling. They won’t keep you hooked for hours, but they’re quite enjoyable in short sessions or with friends.

The real joy of Wii Sports is in getting up and moving. Motion controls are usually a cheap gimmick, but Wii Sports is one of the few games to use them really well. It may not be long or complex, but it’s an inviting place for casual gamers to start.

2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (Nintendo 3DS eShop)

Ace Attorney - Dual DestiniesWhen I first played an Ace Attorney game, I expected it to be dull—how could a video game about the legal profession be any fun at all? I was absolutely wrong. Ace Attorney is a series of interactive murder mysteries, with some courtroom drama and a ton of humor thrown in for good measure.

In the pretentiously-titled Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the courts have entered a “dark age” in which suspicion and corruption run rampant. Wright and his team must defend their clients—including, in one memorable case, an innocent killer whale—as they unravel the mystery behind the dark age of the law. Dual Destinies is the best the Ace Attorney series has to offer, with polished mechanics and stellar storytelling. It’s also a great starting point for players new to the series, demanding no knowledge of previous games.

1. Professor Layton and the Last Specter (Nintendo DS)Professor Layton and the Last SpecterHave you ever picked up a book of puzzles—you know, a collection of mazes, word searches, riddles, math questions, brainteasers, and crosswords? The Professor Layton games are basically those puzzle books, but a thousand times more charming. They also feature tales of intrigue and mystery, all starring the top-hatted Hershel Layton.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter is the first chapter of Layton’s story, but not the first game in the series. By this point, the series has hit its stride. The puzzles are delightfully varied, the style is charming, and the Professor himself is a refreshingly polite, kindhearted alternative to more traditional video game heroes. For those who don’t play video games, I can offer no higher recommendation than the good Professor’s puzzles!

What casual games do you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

8. An Unapologetic Apology for Video Games

I like knives. To be honest, I like sharp objects in general: knives, daggers, sabers, katanas, broadswords, machetes, claymores and pretty much every other kind of blade devised by mankind.

(It would be more politically correct to say humankind, but in this case mankind is probably more accurate since men are the ones responsible for most of the blades in the world.)

Used correctly, knives can be useful for everything from peeling oranges to creating works of art. Used incorrectly, knives can kill and hurt and destroy. Knives are inherently neither good nor bad. Whether they’re good or bad depends on how they’re used.

I’ll return to the exciting subject of knives in a moment, but I should mention first that I’m student teaching at a local high school. The other day I glanced through a book for teachers about the problems of apathy and disrespect in the classroom. I was a little disheartened when the book blamed video games for the lethargy of unmotivated students.

Why was I disheartened?

Because it’s often true.

Video games can be addictive. Some are horribly violent. Many are painfully shallow or stupid. Finally, while I’m no expert in psychology, I think the satisfaction of accomplishing goals in video games can become an unhealthy substitute for the satisfaction of accomplishing goals in real life. Why bother working hard at school when you can save—or conquer—the world in a video game?

Video games can definitely be harmful. So can knives. But knives can also be beneficial, and I think video games can be too.

There are two kinds of apologies. First is an expression or remorse or regret. Second is a justification or defense. This post is the second kind of apology.

If you will, consider the following.

It’s not fair to judge an entire medium by a few bad examples

Yes, there are video games like Grand Theft Auto and God of War that glorify violence, profanity and sexual depravity. There are also books and films and songs that are just as bad or even worse. We don’t condemn all books or films or songs because some are bad. Why then do we assume all video games are harmful because some happen to be?

Video games are a unique form of storytelling

I’ve read many books and played many games. To be honest, some of those games are a lot better than some of those books. The Final Fantasy games, for example, consistently provide fantastic settings, clever plots, superb characterization, interesting themes and (in the later titles) good writing and acting.

Some games even give players the freedom to influence the story by their decisions: the player and the storyteller become partners in bringing the story to its conclusion.

Video games have artistic value

There are people—including some game developers—who would challenge this assertion, but I think video games can be a valid form of artistic expression. Graphic design, animation, writing, music and acting are acknowledged to be forms of art.

Video games bring together some or all of these artistic forms and add the unique element of gameplay, the finely-tuned mechanics that allow a player to interact with the game. How is that not artistic?

Video games are fun

‘Nuff said.

Video games can be thought-provoking

Although we expect them to be intellectually vapid, video games can be quite profound. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, for example, has some fascinating moral dilemmas: Is a harmless illusion better than a painful reality? At what point does a person have the right to make decisions for another person?

The Final Fantasy series deals with all sorts of serious moral, political and ecological themes, and there are many other games that wrestle with issues of equal importance.

Video games bring people together

The stereotypical gamer is a lonely misfit with pale skin and no social experience. However, as is often the case, the stereotype is usually wrong. Most of the gamers I’ve met are cheerful, well-adjusted people. In my own experience, video games have actually strengthened friendships by giving friends something to do together. It’s hard not to enjoy spending time with other people when you’re tossing green shells at each other in Mario Kart or trying to knock each other off the screen in Super Smash Bros.

Is there more to a meaningful friendship than video games? Of course. Can video games be part of a meaningful friendship? Absolutely.

Video games inspire creativity

I’ve seen beautiful artwork inspired by video games and listened to amazing arrangements of video game music. There are many online comics centered on the oddities of games and gaming culture; some of them are really fun to read.

Video games have inspired many creative people to exercise their creativity, and that’s a very good thing.

What are your thoughts? Are video games a good thing? Are they evil? Let us know in the comments!