by Jarrod S. Lipshy
Every year you get blindsided by this question in between mouthfuls of poultry meat: “What are you thankful for ???” It always seems impossible to give a passable response. Unless you’re some kind of delusional jerk, you already appreciate the fact that you have all your fingers and toes and that you don’t live in abject poverty.
Yes, it’s easy to lose perspective, but it’s not like any of us would choose the alternative. Also, most of us love our families and couldn’t live without them, even if we do take them for granted from time to time. These things should go without saying. Yet when our turn comes in the “what are you thankful for this year?” game there’s always a moment of hesitation before mumbling out one of these cliched answers. Here’s what I’m betting you all really want to say…
1. Sandbox Games
Examples: Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, Minecraft, Assassin’s Creed 4
Thanks to the miracle of DVD-sized memory storage, beating a game in one sitting isn’t really a thing anymore. While arguably drawn-out story modes can be a drag, being free to roam around and terrify the local NPCs can be more fun than beating all the story missions. Sandbox games often feel like complex toys rather than forced exercises in reaction times, and they can make small rewards like an upgraded gun or ride seem much more valuable given that you can play around with them outside of the slaughterhouse chute that is often single-player missions.
Having the freedom to have some damn fun should be what games are all about, but instead they can often seem like job simulators with all their requirements and restrictions. Sandbox games, on the other hand, let you roam around looking for loot in hidden caves, spend some time driving leisurely down a pedestrian-filled sidewalk, or while away hours harvesting resources to complete your male genitalia-shaped house. The freedom offered by them truly offers the escapist experience that many games promise, but can’t deliver.
Examples: Wikipedia, Bulbapedia, Wookiepedia, Smash Wiki
My God have I spent far too much time on Wikipedia. One article is like a rabbit hole with hundreds of links just begging to lead you away from your intended research question like “Is Cindi Lauper still alive now?” into the farthest reaches of modern human knowledge. Never have I opened the Encyclopedia Brittanica and gone from looking up how chocolate is made and ended up on the Battleship Yamato, but on Wikipedia this sort of thing happens all the time. The result is often a browser full of countless tabs. And while part of your brain knows that it was an enormous timesink, the other parts are going “look at all the shit we know now!” which is a great feeling, especially when you get to randomly insert your knowledge into casual conversation.
Other wikis can be a great, one-stop location for information on pressing things like Futurama references, Super Smash Bros. Brawl character matchup stats, or whether or not Boba Fett’s Slave 1 ship was purchased, custom-ordered, or stolen (spoiler alert: it’s the last one). Sites like these allow you to delve into the depths of knowledge that you probably won’t ever really need, but nonetheless care about more than, say, how to do calculus.
3. Video Chat
Examples: Facetime, Skype, Google Hangout
See? It’s not all about indulging in personal interests. Sometimes us nerds got to have some real face-to-face time. While that typically requires us removing our Dr. Who onesie, with programs like Skype that’s no longer a necessity! Facetime is even more convenient considering you now have the choice to see whether or not the person you’re calling was lying about being on the way to an important meeting or just playing hookie at the local dogtrack.
4. Cloud-Based Software
Examples: Google Drive, Adobe Creative Cloud
While many people use cloud-based software for storage (back in my day we called them “servers”) there are many desktop software replacements available that are convenient and/or cheap. Google Drive is invaluable for the nerd on the go, and eliminates the pesky issue of “versioning” every time you try to upload something off your flash drive onto a different computer.
Making a Google Doc means that the file is saved automatically and kept in one, always-current format no matter where you go or hat device you’re using. You also get to avoid those awkward e-mail conversations with yourself just to pass a file back and forth (Dear Me: As you can see, I have worked tirelessly on this file and am sending myself this latest copy for use on my home computer. Thanks, and stay sexy!)
Adobe Creative Cloud allows you to drop about 30 bucks a month to use software that would normally cost 20 times as much, and with the added bonus of having hosted ahem sorry cloud storage for your projects. These are just two examples, but giving massive megacorporations unlimited access to your most sensitive data can clearly sometimes be a good thing!
5. Patches/DLC/Downloadable Games
Examples: League of Legends,Starcraft 2, Skyrim Dawnguard, XBLA, Steam
Many people mock the concept of sending out a buggy game only to patch up the issues later down the road, but at least this is now an option. Also, game-crashing glitches aren’t the only things that break games, especially when they are geared for competition like Starcraft 2 or League of Legends. A good game patch can maintain a game’s longevity for years down the road once people determine exploits like how to murder everything effortlessly with a battle rifle.
DLC can provide similar life-extension for when a massive game like Fallout 3 or Skyrim gets stale in content, but not in mechanics. Some games like Grand Theft Auto 4 experienced better reception on their (admittedly massive) DLC than the original story content!
Similar to DLC, downloadable content providers like Xbox Live Arcade and Steam offer entertainment without having to get your bedsore-ridden buttocks off the gaming chair. The opportunity to receive content from a trusted and reliable source is leaps and bounds over downloading installer packs off of sites like Source Forge or Cnet, and offers added bonuses such as Achievements! Simply put, XBLA games are awesome diversions, and Steam revolutionized the PC gaming experience so much that, as my friend stationed in Afghanistan put it, “outside of my badass soldiers, it is the only other thing that is keeping my sanity here.”
Examples: NES games, 80’s memorabilia, action figures, cheap DVDs, comics
eBay is like the biggest bazaar in the world. Yes, Amazon offers many vintage goods from private vendors, but only on eBay could I score ten quality NES games at once for under ten bucks. Also, the sheer diversity of items available boggles the mind. Want vintage Garfield sheets just like when you were a kid? They got that. Want a Donatello action figure that looks like Spock? It’s on there. Any nerdy thing under the sun is available on eBay, and for the right price if you’re willing to look. You can buy badass accessories like a Wacom 3 for around $50, as well as any minute part to fix your PC or game console that you’d possibly need. eBay is a godsend, and my vintage game collection and well-maintained laptop are both testaments to this.
7. Wireless Controllers
Examples: Wavebird, Every console since 2006
You younguns may have short enough memory spans to take this for granted, but wireless controllers have transformed the gaming experience arguably as much as removable software cartridges. It’s something that’s hard to appreciate unless you’ve had a system yanked off its shelf in the middle of a heated Final Fantasy III battle by an over-eager dog or sibling. Also, being able to turn the console on without having to make the treacherous hike from the couch to the TV and back has saved gamers approximately a brazillion wasted calories (yes, that’s not a real number). The Kinect’s voice commands even save you from having to use your hands at all!
Wireless controllers also allow your game room setups to have the seating more than three feet from the TV, which is fortunate for those of us who need the feng shui to be just right for maximum gaming success. Ever since the Wavebird came out in 2002 and other companies have been following suit, wireless controllers have set a standard that will never go back, landfills full of batteries be damned!
8. Streaming Video
Examples: Netflix, Hulu, Red Letter Media, Youtube, Vimeo,“Copyright impaired” sites
This is the reason I don’t have to pay $60-$100 on cable every month. My laptop has effectively transformed into my television for two or more hours every night, which gives my TV much-needed R&R in between marathon gaming sessions. Netflix alone has more than enough shows and movies available to make sure you never do a productive thing for the rest of your waking life. Other content-hosters like Hulu, Vimeo, and YouTube can also provide entertainment while the precious moments drain away. Often, the unconscious choice becomes between two solid hours of cat videos or a six-hour Breaking Bad bender marathon, both of which will leave you glued to the computer screen for more time than is considered healthy by medical professionals.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are plenty of sites like Red Letter Media and Cinemassacre that provide web shows on a regular basis which supersede the entertainment levels of most basic cable drivel. Cozying up by the laptop instead of the TV now means you have more choices than ever before. This goes double when you factor in content that didn’t receive cough cough “explicit” permission. With the power of ever-increasing bandwidth, we now have quite possibly every show ever aired available at our finger tips with just a few clicks!
9. Constant Content
Examples: Tumblr, Twitter, Cracked, Unreality, Buzzfeed, Facebook, and on and on…
Even if you don’t have time to sit down and watch a video, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had on the internet thanks to a handful of handy services and dedicated blogs. Tumblr and Facebook’s endless scroll of other people’s content can suck up as much time as a lengthy Minecraft session if you’re not watching the clock. If those feeds happen to be relatively dry, there’s also amazing blogs full of awesome content (not to mention sexy, sexy copywriters) who provide links, images, food for though, or maybe a cheap laugh or two. Boobs.
Cracked is among the most notorious of these. They are the #1 culprit for tab overload on my browser, as one article’s links lead you into five more and it just multiplies from ad infinitum there. Our digital friends seem to care about our boredom enough to make sure it never, ever will plague us again.
Examples: umm… WiFi and 4G?
It might be an offensively hyperbolic statement to suggest that all of the above things wouldn’t exist without this one, but I’ve never been accused of journalistic integrity. As I stated in the “wireless controllers” entry, cords make everything suck exponentially according to their length and the time spent using them. Don’t argue, it’s maths.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have dedicated desktop PC’s or routers located conveniently next to Xboxes, but for the rest of us schmucks it’s WiFi or twenty feet of ethernet cable spaghetti. WiFi can also feed our consoles, mobile devices, laptops, and god knows what else all at the same time and for cheaper than a massive switcher box. Without WiFi, most of our computing activities would likely be a logistical nightmare.
4G provides even more solace for those who can’t live without their precious, life-sustaining digital flows. We just have to know whether or not someone retweeted our clever pun, even if it means accidentally drifting across multiple lanes of traffic. 4G has also won more gift cards/trivia prizes than any one person would ever care to admit. Finally, without WiFi or 4G, viewing adult movies in public on your smartphone would be an outright impossibility!
So there you have it! All of these things aren’t necessary to the survival of our species, but nevertheless make our daily lives significantly different than the dark ages of ten years ago. So before you go lying through your rotten teeth about what you’re thankful for this year, go ahead and mentally tick off the above things from the list, pre-inquisition. Hopefully that’ll get your head straight enough to give a convincing answer! And, while you’re at it, feel free to add your own additions to what you’re really thankful for this year in the comments below! Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
Thanks to Dustin Gannon, Creedence Riblett, Ben Conseugra, Luani Kammerer, and my other friends for their input and suggestions!