Category Archives: Features

E3 2014…Through Selfies

As this is the last day of June, this is the last E3 2014 related blog post, I promise.

I wanted to do something different for this year’s show, but I was having trouble thinking of an idea. One night a group of us were sitting around a bonfire when my wife started taking the selfies she loved so much, and I had an idea:

E3 2014, As Seen Through Selfies!

I have about 30-35 selfies here, in chronological order, from the four-day marathon that is E3. I tried to be funny with them most of the time, so I hope at least one of them makes you smile. Enjoy!

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Waiting for my plane at the appropriate gate at Philadelphia International.

 

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Sitting on the Virgin America plane. E3 awaits!

 

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Can’t help but feel like I’m being watched…

 

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THE PASS. Without this, there’d be no E3.

 

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Where the greatest play? Aw, thanks Sony, you’re too kind.

 

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The panoramic selfie of the front of the building. Really happy with how this turned out.

 

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BATMAN. He’s coming to get me!

 

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This was on the bus to the Xbox conference, the first of the day on Monday. Orange shirt go!

 

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In the seat and ready to go. Just off of stage left!

 

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This was my “I have to wait in the wait list line and I don’t know if I’m going to get in” face for Ubisoft. I did end up getting in, thankfully.

 

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After getting into Ubisoft, I was PUMPED for Sony.

 

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The Sony arena wasn’t very selfie-friendly…so there’s my shirt and the stage.

 

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One of the best places you can be before hitting the floor. The spaces are few and precious.

 

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Technically not a selfie, but this was the lineup before playing Battlefield.

 

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Man, what is he so angry about?

 

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Don’t look at me like that, Sims grandma lady.

 

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All I said was I was handsome too. What a hothead.

 

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Lego Robin! I didn’t even have to crouch, dude was tall.

 

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First Disney Infinity Venom tried to attack me…

 

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..then Nova decided to fly onto my head…

 

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…then Iron Fist punched me in the head…

 

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…FINALLY Thor came to help me out…though I didn’t trust him with that hammer.

 

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What do you look so smug about? And what’s Sully pointing at?

 

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At first I was wary about the undead hanging out at an E3 party…

 

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…but it turns out there were really cool and not bitey.

 

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Well, that one was bitey…

 

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OCULUS. Oh man this thing is cool, and until you wear it you’ll never truly understand.

 

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He didn’t suspect a thing…

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…but then he wanted to join the fun.

 

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This is my “E3 is over and I’m leaving the convention center for the last time” face.

 

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Until next year, LA Convention Center.

 

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Finally, the flight home with my best Dom Deluise look.

 

With this, my E3 coverage is officially over I think. Time to move to the next big thing…whatever that’s going to be.

 

 

 

 

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The Big Show

E3 Gaming Conference Begins In Los Angeles

In a few days, it all begins again.

For those reading this that never have idea what I’m talking about when I post something (looking at you, Ed), The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is the biggest video game industry conference of the entire year. Last year, 48,200 people filled the Los Angeles Convention Center for the event, flying from 102 countries around the world. That’s insane!

Last year, I wasn’t one of those people. This year, that changes.

I’ll be attending this year’s E3 as a freelancer for the very first time, and I’m diving in headfirst. I’m working with FIVE different outlets spanning two countries to bring you fine folks the best damn E3 coverage you’ll ever see. I’ll be playing games, seeing demos, and sitting in on three of the four big media briefings on Monday (still waiting on you, Ubisoft). Needless to say, I’ll be knee-deep in E3 this time next week.

I want to ask you five people that are reading this what you’d like to see at the show, and I’ll try my best to make it happen. I have some appointments booked (can’t say who until they happen), so I may already be covering a game that you want, but I still want to hear what you’re looking forward to. Also, tell me which of the five presentation (Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony, Nintendo’s Digital Event) you’re most looking forward to. I feel like I know who’s going to be win the informal poll, but I’m still curious.

Finally, look for the hashtag #E3Selfie on Twitter starting Sunday…it should be a lot of fun…

Sunday can’t come soon enough!

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Dropping The Ball

deseandropNothing’s more important than a first impression.

Eagle fans all vividly remember that Monday night in mid-September, only your second game in the National Football League. You, DeSean Jackson, our newly drafted wideout with a ton of speed and upside, caught a long pass with nothing but the endzone in front of you, only your hotdogging led you to drop the ball on the one-yard-line before crossing the goal line. That’s a fumble, and the refs ruled that we’d get the ball on the Dallas 1 instead of six points on the board. Luckily, we were able to score on the next play so it didn’t really matter, but from that moment on I knew there was something about you that bothered me.

You never felt like part of the Eagles to me, you were just…I don’t know, there. Perhaps I was wary of another wideout whose shit apparently doesn’t stink, much like the guy who did sit-ups in his driveway with reporters swarming around him. As your Instagram account became more active, I began to wonder where exactly your head was. Were you a team guy, or were you another Terrell Owens? I sure didn’t want T.O. again, and that’s why I kept you at arm’s length. I waited for the other shoe to drop…and waited…and waited some more.

This past season, I finallly forgot about these inhibitions. You played like a man possessed, easily having the best season of your short career. You were hailed as the future, a playmaker who struck fear into the opposing team every time you touched the ball. You were one of those guys that the other always looked for before doing anything else. “Where’s DeSean lining up? OK, we’ll plan around that.” After this season I was stoked about the future of my football team. Philadelphia hosted playoff football! Things were trending up instead of down! The future was the brightest it’s been in a long time, as if a big red moon had stopped eclipsing the sun of success…

…but then, just like that, the other shoe dropped.

You’re gone now, cut from my beloved Eagles after what’s been an offseason already brimming with tumult. We’ve heard reports of locker room issues, of insubordination, and of irresponsibility. We now read that your off-the-field activities may not be on the up-and-up, considering the company you keep. That unknown reason I kept you distant, the thing that made me never actually think of you as an Eagle despite you wearing my team’s jersey for six years, made itself known out of the blue on a Friday afternoon. I knew I couldn’t completely trust in you, DeSean, and for once I’m sad that I was right.

So far I’ve seen or heard two distinct reactions to this story:

1. The Eagles leaked this info so they could soften the blow of the release.

A lot of callers to sports radio (where my ears spent most of the day yesterday) immediately put on their tin foil hats, accusing the big bad front office of manipulating the media to make themselves look as good as possible for the public. They source the fact that the NJ.com story was out a mere 35 minutes before the announcement of Jackson’s release, calling it too coincidental.

I counter with this possibility: ESPN reports that the Eagles became aware of this report on Wednesday, a full two days before they cut ties with Jackson. How could they then have leaked the information? Those who aren’t journalists don’t always understand the time and effort that go into writing a big story like that: do you honestly think Eliot Shorr-Parks found out all of that information Friday morning, then had his report written and published by lunch? Unless he’s an android, that’s completely impossible. Even the best online journalists in the world couldn’t make that happen. That article was weeks’ worth of research, planning, outlining, then writing. I’d wager that Shorr-Parks finished the article on Wednesday, and that’s how the Eagles found out about it. Perhaps this story was merely the proverbial straw on the Eagles jersey wearing camel’s back and not the nefarious deed of a group of villains sitting in an ivory tower.

2. DeSean is allegedly tied to gangs and he gets cut, but Riley Cooper uses a slur and gets rewarded. Hypocrites!

Right here is this story’s version of the same typical knee-jerk reaction that every single story every written in the history of reporting has ever faced. Without thinking things through, without considering all of the facts, minds turn to anger and rage over what’s basically easy pickings.

There’s a major difference between the two, and it has nothing to do with skin color: Cooper indeed used a slur, a heinous word, but he accepted responsibility, paid his fine to the Eagles, attended sensitivity training, and atoned for his error. He did everything that was asked of him to take responsibility for his bad act. Do you get the same vibe from DeSean? There had to have been conversations with him, with players or coaches or even the brass at the top, about his off-the-field persona…did it change? Did he stop uploading those Instagram photos? Did he change his ways AT ALL? No; he showed no willingness to do what was asked of him, he continued to miss practices and not follow the regulations imposed by his new coach (AKA his BOSS), and he was shown the door. If I went into my office flashing gang signs and turning a deaf ear to my superiors, my ass would be looking for work too.

Which leads me to another point: the idea that “normal” jobs and playing in the NFL can’t be compared. That, for lack of a better term, is bullshit. Professionalism is professionalism, no matter if you catch a ball for millions of dollars or flip burgers for minimum wage. If you’re not a professional when at your place of employment, that employer reserves the right to kick your ass right out of the company. Which is exactly what happened here.

I’m sure of two things: that Jackson will find another team to play for, and that we haven’t heard the last of his life outside of football. He’s going to keep posting to Instagram, reppin’ his Jaccpot records, and being DeSean, just with a different set of colors when he suits up for work. One can only hope that he won’t make any really dumb mistakes.

However, one fact remains: as far as the Eagles are concerned, DeSean dropped the ball. Again.

 

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#Familulz

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Man I love spending time with family. Could be a Sunday dinner at Mom’s or a big birthday/holiday with everybody, nothing beats sitting in room with your loved ones, laughing it up about God knows what and just having a great time. That family feeling is part of the reason I was so pumped to visit my cousin Kim last weekend in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She lives out there in the Badger State for her job, which makes seeing her outside of a phone or tablet screen rather difficult. Steph, Jess, Steve and I had found a weekend where we could go and visit, as well as a financially manageable travel plan to make it work: we’d fly Frontier Airlines out of Wilmington to Chicago’s Midway airport both ways, saving a ton of money in the process. It was happening! We were going to Kimmy Country! You can imagine our excitement when last Thursday came and we piled into Jess’s car on the way to the Wilmington/New Castle Airport.

Unfortunately, getting to Chicago would prove more difficult than originally thought.

So we arrive at the utility shed that is Wilmington airport (seriously, I think the main hall of my high school is bigger than that nonsense), park the car for free for the weekend, and go check in.  Once we reach our gate (the only gate at this airport, visible from the check-in counter), we find out our flight has been delayed. From 3PM to 8PM. Rats. After confirming that we were allowed to leave the airport, we set off on a journey across the street to TGI Friday’s, where we got lunch. Before we could enjoy our meal, however, we saw a new status for our flight: the dreaded C word Cancelled. Seems there were maintenance issues in Orlando on the plane we were to take out, and for safety reasons they had to shut the plane down. Look, that’s completely understandable and I don’t begrudge them one bit for making that decision, but the “customer service” we got afterward was dreadful. The most the front desk at the Utility Shed did was hand us a card with a phone number and bluntly say “Call this number, we can’t help you” before deserting the front desk all together. Phone calls to the number were met with long wait times (anticipated) and agents whose sarcastic use of “sweetheart” also sent a cell phone out the window. We get that there’s not much more you can do other than refunds and vouchers (both of which I did receive) but there’s no reason to talk down to us or blindly turn us away without any semblance of assistance. Sorry Frontier, but I don’t ever want to set foot on one of your airplanes again, even if you have cool animals on the top of them. This bad taste in my mouth will never go away.

Eventually we did get to Midway, but it took some divine grandparental intervention to do so. Once we arrived, we had an absolute blast. Chicago is one of the coolest cities in the country, with the cleanest streets I’ve ever walked on and some damn good deep dish pizza (because of course I ate deep dish pizza). If you follow me on the really cool UnTappd beer app (and why don’t you if you don’t?) you already know that I encountered (and mostly enjoyed) seventeen never-before-tasted beers out there, and there’s a TON of local brews that I didn’t get to. I’ll just have to go back and see Kim again, I guess!

Picture time (not in chronological order)!

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These are the Bloody Marys sold at Sobelman’s in downtown Milwaukee. Pure insanity.

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Milwaukee’s famed Fonzie statue. I’m taller than it.

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But I still liked it enough to give it a hug.

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Giordano’s pizza. Amazing.

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A few pictures of our time at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. Good beer and a great tour. That mug is the mug the Brewers mascot used to dive into before they built Miller Park. Lakefront also owns the mascot’s original shack AND the original beer bottling line from Laverne and Shirley. We sang the theme song during the tour. It was awesome.

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The Millennium Park bean. Not sure what the significance is, but it’s pretty cool.

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If you go under the bean and look up, this is what you see. It’s trippy.

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Reflections on the bean. Is this a selfie?

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I learned a lot about myself here, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

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There’s a reason I’m half in the dark, it’s because I’m half on the glass platform. I chickened out. Why?

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Because I walked onto it looking down and saw this. Nope.

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Thanks, Milwaukee dumpster. So are you, in your own dumpstery way.

What started as a major trial turned into one hell of a trip. Looking forward to the next time.

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Gaming For Parents Episode 1: The Ratings System

Grand Theft Auto V launched last week, and since then everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has put their two cents in about it. I’ve seen some fantastic things since then, like this piece on the game’s size by some guy I know and the veritable P Scott Patterson‘s YouTube video showing Gaming Parenting 101 (It does exist! People can do it!) . However, as we gamers have come to expect, not all of the Grand Theft Auto coverage has been peaches and creme.

Elizabeth “I Annoyed The Women Of The View So Much They Made Me Leave” Hasselbeck used GTA as an impetus to say that everyone who buys a violent video game should have to be put on a registry.

Meanwhile on FoxNews.com (yeah I know, consider the source), John S. Dickerson writes this gem: “Like other best-selling games today, Grand Theft Auto V trains millions of young Americans to walk into public places and shoot innocent people.

Look, I’m all about not liking video games if you don’t want to, it’s your life so live it how you will, but let’s be reasonable here. I’ve been playing GTA V for a week now like everyone else, but I have no desire to go to my local mall with a gun and start shooting. Nor does anyone I’ve talked with about GTA, or anyone who’s written about it, etc. If anything, GTA is the most accurate social commentary I’ve seen in media in forever, but that’s another discussion.

I’ve decided that rather than get defensive about it, I’m going to do what I can to educate parents on the subject of gaming (even if it doesn’t always work). It’s not going anywhere, it hasn’t for damn near 40 years, so maybe it’s time to learn what it’s all about.

Above is Part One of my three-part miniseries called Gaming For Parents. In these three episodes, I hope to educate parents everywhere on what they’ll encounter when they walk into a video game store. I want to remove that deer in the headlights look I encountered for five years working gaming retail, replacing it with a foundation of knowledge that will help them make informed decisions about the games their children want to play.

Part One deals entirely with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and their video game ratings system. It’s a lot easier to learn than it seems, but not if parents don’t know what to look for.

Part Two will center around the different consoles currently available for their children, with some mention of upcoming selections from Microsoft (Xbox One), Sony (PlayStation 4), and Nintendo (Nintendo 2DS).

Part Three will detail the game selection for this upcoming holiday season, covering all of the big releases of 2013. With this I hope to help parents hit the ground running with knowledge of what to expect on Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus lists this year.

With these three videos, I hope I can spread a little bit of knowledge about video games to parents around the country who have no idea what they’re getting into. If the parents know what to expect, then they can make the necessary judgment calls about what their kids can and cannot play. Do I think this will completely stop little kids from playing these games? No I don’t. However, if I helped one parent make an informed decision, considering all options instead of just saying “yeah whatever,” then this is a success.

If you’re a gamer, share this with everyone you know: parents of gamers, gamers themselves, and non-gamers. Knowledge is power, after all, and I really want to see more power at the register this holiday season.

It Was Bound To Happen: From The Video Game To The Real Thing

“Look Mom, free turkey on Thursdays!”

The young mother looked puzzled. Her three-year-old son was pointing at something on the opposite side of the car where she pumped gas. She left the nozzle in place and walked over to the door, looking at the toddler.

“What are you talking about, sweetie?”

“Look, over there, free turkey on Thursdays!”

She turned where his hand beckoned, and she couldn’t believe her eyes: a sign of only words, no pictures, which clearly said “Thanksgiving Special: Free Turkey on Thursdays.” Her mouth dropped and she stuttered as she spoke. “How did you read that?” His answer came quickly and simply: “Wheel of Fortune!”

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Wheel of Fortune was a daily ritual in my young life. Every night, 7:30 PM Philadelphia time, my butt sat in front of the television and waited for the nightly word puzzles. When that wasn’t enough, I got my fix through my favorite media: video games. Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition for the NES would sit, untouched, inside of the system, and I’d turn it on and go to town. I owned other games, sure, but Mega Man 2 and Super Mario Bros didn’t give me the satisfaction that Wheel did. Learning a new word, asking my parents how to say it, and repeating it was a thrill that’s hard to recreate.

This is how I taught myself to read at age three, and how the story above came to pass. I’d play puzzle after puzzle, round after round, for hours on end, building vocabulary and learning People, Phrases, and Things. I learned the name “Jean Valjean” way before I ever heard of “Les Miserables.” The phrase “Sick As A Dog” meant nothing to most three-year-olds, but it was another puzzle I had to conquer. That video game did more for my education than any episode of Barney or Thomas the Tank Engine ever did. I was becoming a gamer for life; it was bound to happen.

As I grew, so did my gaming tastes. I eventually moved onto Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, then Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, all the way up to the consoles of today. Despite this, my copy of Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition remained in that NES, untouched. Every once in a while I’d fire it up and challenge myself, just to see if I still had it. Eventually, with the advent of emulation, I was able to bring my old Wheel of Fortune game wherever I went on my laptop, just to get a few puzzles in before a college class or while I waited for my train. Eventually, my love for Wheel of Fortune would come full circle. It was bound to happen.

This past September, I saw that the TV show was holding open auditions near Philadelphia. All I had to do was submit a 60-second video of myself and why I’d be the best contestant possible. I had two main reasons: my recent marriage and, perhaps more to my benefit in this case, my upbringing on the video game. I made sure to mention both. I was then invited to an audition in Atlantic City in October, received a letter in the mail in November about my being in the contestant pool, and finally received my invite to Los Angeles in January. The video game that I had played into the ground as a child, picking consonants, buying vowels, and solving puzzles, was leading me to the real thing. It was bound to happen!

When I arrived on set, I couldn’t have been more in awe. This was something I had seen since I was a child…and now I was standing in front of it. The wheel that I had digitally spun thousands of times was now an object in my reach. The letter board that I would stare at and agonize over in my youth was now mere yards away from where I stood. The video game had become a reality, and I was about to really play. “This was inevitable for me, I was destined to be here” I thought. “It was bound to happen!”

The current Wheel experience has its differences from the 1990 video game I had been playing, but the puzzles remained the same. I still had to buy vowels, still had to spin the big wheel, and still had to wait for Vanna to push all the buttons. As I stood at that wheel, playing the game I had taught myself to read with, I couldn’t help but think back to my times in front of that television.

“Henny Youngman!”

The young boy ran around the house yelling the comedian’s name. “Henny Youngman! Henny Youngman!”

“Of all the things to be yelling,” his mother quipped, “where did he learn Henny Youngman? I barely know Henny Youngman.”

“It was a puzzle on Wheel,” the father replied. “He asked me how to pronounce it after it was solved, and he hasn’t stopped saying it since.”

“Henny Youngman!”

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The same strategies I used in the video game carried over quite well into the real thing. There were a few instances where I was helpless, namely the puzzle the contestant on my left controlled the entire time and the “Penny Candy” toss-up (because who still eats penny candy?!), but I would not have had the success I did if not for playing the video game all those years.

Of course, all of that changed the minute I stepped up to the mini-wheel for the final puzzle. All of the training, all of the strategies, and all of the repetition couldn’t prepare me for that ten seconds of madness. I had asked for the letters I had planned for from the beginning: H P C O and M with the Wild Card. Coupled with the R S T L N E I was given, my phrase looked like this:

-T –S -O-N- TO H-PPEN

My mind was made up. I didn’t need to hear anything else. I was ready. When that timer hit I yelled out my answer triumphantly:

“It Was Going To Happen!”

“No, that’s not it.”

My mind drew blank. I tried to think of what that other word could be. “It’s not “Going?” What else is it?! What is happening?!” The time had run out. My time had ended. The puzzle filled itself out in front of me:

IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN.

I instantly had a new “most hated word in the English Language.” I won’t even watch that movie with the two lost dogs and the lost cat anymore. Done.

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Heartbreak. Every time I think about it I get upset. Not just because I didn’t win a bunch of money, but because I feel like I let my people down. My wife and I talked about what we were going to do with potential winnings, and we had two major wants; now we probably have to choose between the two, all because I gaffed. I feel like the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles: storm my way to the finals, choke at the finish line.

Regardless of the ending, the experience is one that I’ll treasure forever, but it’s one that I have to attribute to my favorite hobby: video games. I wouldn’t have done any of this without a video game back in my younger years. Whenever I hear people say “video games aren’t good for children” or “video games cause children to be violent” I can’t help but be angered. I am living proof of the exact opposite.

A video game helped me teach myself to read at the tender age of three. A video game jump started my education, leading me to academic success. A video game led me to try out for the real thing, and a video game resulted in a fantastic vacation and a nice financial windfall for my new wife and I. None of this would have been possible without that game; hell, my becoming a video game journalist probably would have no legs if it weren’t for Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition. There’s only one way to put it, really:

Because of Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition, the rest was bound to happen.