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Charlatans rejoice! Your mindreading app has been delivered, compliments of Apple.

"you owe me money, pendejo!"

You can now bend spoons, put out fires and run labyrinths with your mind. Just like you always knew you could.

However, don’t mistake this app for being completely useless – you can also upload avatar versions of your arch-enemies and have them hurl insults at you. If you remain calm and cool you win the game.

Think about the implications. Soon we could be transmitting our thought patterns to robots in remote locations via headset. No more going into the office, taking out the trash and hugging your kids. You can do it all via remote control!

As usual, I’m ahead of the curve on this one – last weekend I went to Naples, Italy on Google Earth and had a cappuccino in my mind. For all you technology skeptics out there, I can attest that it was just as good as “real life”, all the way down to the caffeine buzz.

Perhaps you are a fan of mind-control but prefer doing it without a smartphone. Try Mattel’s Mindflex game, which allows users to perform obstacle courses using a brainwave headset. Consider it basic training for the upcoming battle to preserve our psychic privacy.

Telekinesis – it’s not just a fantasy anymore kids!

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I’m the kind of creature who would play air-hockey and buck-hunt every day of the week, if possible. Yes, I also like killing zombies, but what I really want to do is get my hands on a convertible and cruise through the arctic tundras and tunnels of Moscow. I even like the claw game because I often win and get to watch the tickets roll out, like a big long tongue wagging as the machine gets pet by its’ master. Yes, playing games at the arcade lights up my brain’s reward centers like a pinball machine. And the Avalon Arcade has got to be the best and last bastion of nickel arcades around.  

My plan consisted of buying a bag of nickels and burning through them as fast as possible. I didn’t know this was my plan, but my destiny unfolded quickly as I found myself pumping 20+ nickels into the Skeeball game. Skeeball is one of those worthless games that we can’t stop playing. It’s a cultural relic and thus cannot be passed over, but the quality is inconsistent and it doesn’t even pack a punch as far as tickets. After playing far too many games of this, I looked for the “shoot the clown with a cannon ball” game which is always nearby – however it was nowhere to be found. It’s a shame, I like me a clown with a cannon to the face.

Instead I found a mini bowling game that made an uninspiring visual first impression. However the game was redeemed as I quickly mastered it and then repeated ad infinitum until I had about 150 tickets. All around me there were 11 year olds swarming in herds, enjoying their one night of weekly independence. Meanwhile the ticket wads were coming out of my pockets like stuffing and this suddenly made me nervous as I suspected the hooligans were out to lift my stash. Yes, you read that right. I was worried the tweens were going to steal my tickets. Instead of fighting this irrational fear, I casually drifted into the next room.

There I burned through the usual games- drove some cars, added some coins to the ‘nickel mountain’ that never quite gets pushed off the cliff, and shot some hammerhead sharks with underwater artillery.

Following this, I played a game of air hockey with a friend. This is where it got interesting. I happen to be fairly good at air hockey. It’s a fast moving game that requires total concentration. A high speed cat and mouse chase to see who can get the cheese. When I play it, I go deep into my reptillian brain and engage in the tactics that I believe are fundamental to my survival.  As I saw my opponent – calm, controlling the puck with certitude, sometimes slowly – I saw myself in comparison. Frenetic, sloppy, warp-speed and brutal. “That’s my style” I thought to myself, “Sloppy and brutal. Total disorientation and chaos which leads to the weakening of my opponent. Then when they get dizzy enough, I slam them so hard they go unconscious…That’s my style”. Under the neon lights, this style seemed suddenly so obtuse, the certain harbinger of my general personal demise.  Even though I’m proud to say that in life I’ll always take fight over flight, the darwinian implications of my battle tactics did not escape me. As I was pondering this, my opponent scored on me again. And again. And again.

As I drifted away from the air-hockey game my brain was buzzing, still hot and smoldering in the iron forge of reward circuit stimulation. I found my way back to the bowling game where I mindlessly knocked down spares to watch the tickets zip out from the slot for awhile. It was a comfort to me that reward could be this simple, after the disheartening reality of my animal nature during air hockey.

Approaching the ticket counter ready to cash-in, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even looked at the prizes. Perhaps next time it would be prudent to look at the end-goal and work towards it, you know have a strategy. Because now, with the better part of the night waning, the inflatable baseball bats and sneaker keychains didn’t look so appealing. I came out with 340 tickets; just 40 away from the mini alarm clock. But I settled for a black light, a “cool ” pen and 20 tootsie rolls. I got a skull keychain too (with diamond eyes!) just to remind me of the ideals of human evolution. I couldn’t tell you why, but it all seemed worth it.

death

I’ve read enough Oregon Trail diaries to know the numerous ways you could die on the trail in the 1800’s. Among the most colorful ways that people met their fate:

1. Horse in quicksand
2. Drowned in the river
3. Indian Attack
4. Bad berries
5. Caught under the wagon wheel
6. Typhoid/Cholera/Dysentary

My knowledge of the trail was edified, of course, by the video game that all school aged children played in classrooms across the nation from 1992-1996. This game taught us things that every American should know: How to budget enough bacon for a family of 6, how to ford a river with your team of oxen, and how to shoot and kill with the click of a button.

As youth we spent hours captive to the pixellated screens as our wagon parties dwindled to the few remaining healthy members who could survive for weeks on flour until the next trading post. Oh what joy and jubiliation we found when we reached the long-awaited city.

                                                                                                                                           

Compare this now reader, to the “easy on the eyes” interface of the updated Oregon Trail game – which features cute gnarly little oxen and prairie munchkins who make their way along the lush landscape with cinematic gusto. Is this updated version truly teaching our children about the stark hardships of the trail life? Or does it make a mockery of our history?!?  It is my opinion that the 1992 version still better captures the spirit of those harsh and minimalist times.

But as distressing as it is, there is no use fighting modernity. The Oregon Trail itself is only a shadow of what it used to be. In Oregon, it mostly follows a highspeed freeway- winding through the mountain roads around Mount Hood and spilling into “oh-so-majestic” Oregon City. Having a longtime fascination with the trail I swayed one of my comrades out to the Zig Zag river this weekend to hike a portion of the infamous Barlow Road. It was not as simple as one would think. If a “Friends of the Oregon Trail” society exists, they have been truly slack. There are signs suggesting historic landmarks, but after hiking miles to that end, said landmarks are not apparent. Other times they are simply ski lifts where there should be historical markers. In one instance, we spent about an hour roaming around the foggy woods looking for Laurel Hill Chute. We finally found it thanks to a generous soul who attached blue tape to a tree branch marking the path that leads to the hill. Seeing that craggy descent did help me to appreciate the hardships the pioneers faced on their perilous journey. It also gave me an excuse to speak in a pioneer dialect for at least an hour. 

We never would have found these places if we didn’t have our own pioneer-driven determination. As usual, the signage in Oregon is poor and was clearly made by drunken townies on snowshoes. You have to look closely to find these special spots, but if you do, the charm and nostalgia of the Oregon Trail still remains.

For any of you who remember the 90’s– Virtual Reality was supposed to be a total sensory immersion, a fabricated computer world so convincing that it would nearly fool your brain into believing it was real. For most of the decade, and part of this last decade, Virtual Reality was always “just around the corner.” And of course, it never came. The technology was never really there.

WDITOT

I was an impressionable 11 year old when I first read about Virtual Reality in Monica Hughes’ teen thriller “Invitation to the Game”

If you can’t tell from the cover – the book was thrilling and filled with wacky “out of this world” apocalyptic storylines. I loved it. Ate it with a giant future-lovin spoon. Following that novel experience, I kept my eye out for this cutting-edge virtual reality technology that was “just around the corner”.

Sure…maybe if you live in Japan. Otherwise, virtual reality technology has pretty much been a string of embarrassing failures.

The “space pad” approach

The “helmet” approach

The “bubble boy” approach

Yep, 20 years and counting and this is about as far as we’ve gotten. Personally the closest I’ve ever come is my Virtual Dating experience which, actually, was extremely realistic. I mean, my date had terrible breath and my wallet was empty after the fact, which all felt very realistic to me.

Maybe there is a secret underground virtual reality scene that I just don’t know about. Is the army hiding this technology from us or something? I want to know who to blame. I know of at least one artist in the world who sympathizes with that fact that we were promised jetpacks and this Wii Bowling crap just isn’t going to cut it.

girl again

Last night I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to escape online. I say trying because it was like pulling teeth, trying to find a a venue to do this. Maybe I’m living in the wrong century, but I wanted a portal to experience an alternative virtual universe while dressed to the 9s as a sexy avatar. This seemed like a reasonable mission. However there aren’t many options out there beyond Second Life, which I had already attempted unsuccessfully. I wanted something more pre-packaged, less individualized. I didn’t want to “own land”, I wanted to go clubbing. So I stumbled on IMVU and was pleased by the possibilities. Too bad I’ve never played a roleplaying game before. I was completely lost and retardedly bumped my head into walls for a half an hour, while trying to control my new hot body. I never ended up getting the hang of it. In fact I couldn’t even figure out how to get out of “my room”. I invited some guy in a letter jacket to come in and talk, but he wasn’t very literate.

“o u so hot bb, wanna play wit u”

We talked for awhile, although I couldn’t figure out how to face his direction. Then I accidentally started “doing the pony” and galloping around the room. That must have turned him off because he left shortly after.

All I wanted was to chat, but I couldn't stop doing the pony

Doing the pony

I decided to explore the various rooms available on the main site, so I “dropped in” at the bar. All the rooms had under 14 people, so this had the effect of crashing people’s private party.

“errm….”

“LOL”

“okkk…hello!”

and the inevitable “WELL, it’s getting late. I have to go to bed”

Clearly my very presence was a buzzkill to these more sophisticated avatars.  Plus I still couldn’t control my body, so I was pretty much a lame duck. I danced awkwardly for a few minutes, moving in uncontrollable weird poses. But I couldn’t figure out how to get a drink at the bar, so I left.

Not sure if I’ll be going back. A bit too much like real life for my taste.