Monday, June 18, 2018

Corpus Christi

Not about video games but about reality.

This morning, I held between my thumb and finger a small piece of bread, 

and with sacred words uttered in almost silence, 

I held Jesus Christ, my saviour, my Lord, 

Who loves me, Who knows me, the lot marked out for me.

I, chosen among thousands, His beloved.

What a privilege! A greater act than the creation of the universe, an intimacy even the angels do not possess.

When I am tempted to hold other things, other people, other life options,

I look at Him, Who is hiding between my thumb and forefinger.

HE is Mine and I am His.

And I realize that to exchange this for anything else, even the whole world, 

would be madness, would be folly to the utmost, because I am holding Him, my true end, my lasting good, the summum bonum.

O priest, all this is yours! 

To turn away from this, is to turn away from Him.

Seeing with the eyes of faith.

In a world of playing video games how easy it is to get reality and non-reality mixed up. 

Have you ever had that experience of having to remind yourself while sitting in front of the playstation- "you know, this isn't real! What I see on the screen is a myth, an illusion, something made of 1s and 0s."

At the same time as Catholics we often have to submit our minds to truths of faith that are hidden or experienced in a different way "Jesus, My Lord, you are real! What is see in the world is a myth, an illusion, compared to You, the pleasures of the senses are atoms and molecules, prizes and trophies are dust and smoke, but you are real, even though I see you only through the eyes of faith"

And then we come to the Holy Eucharist, the Lord Himself, not particles of bread and wine, but really Him. 

To paraphrase Hunger Games

Video Games- not real
Truths of the the faith- real
Cloud Strife- not real
Jesus Christ- real
Playstation Trophies - not real
Heaven and hell- real
graphics and fmv sequences- not real
real presence of Jesus in Holy Communion- REAL.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Going beyond video games

I was recently in Loyola, on a brief pilgrimage to the birthplace of the holy founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius. While I was there I was able to take in the 'chapel of conversion' where Iñigo famously moved beyond the romantic and chivalrous works of fiction he so loved and found lasting happiness in the lives of the saints and of the saviour himself.

The works of fiction weren't evil, Iñigo wasn't reading trashy novels or pornography magazines, he was reading tales that were essentially about virtue, great human qualities, but ultimately forces solely directed to worldly ends, transient goods that pass and fade with the evening.

The hunger that they instilled in him for adventure, for limit experiences, for romance, these desires weren't bad, but they weren't an end in themselves, they prepared him for something greater, and when he found the thing that was the greatest, the One Who is the greatest, He was able to find the answer to the thirst that God had placed within Him, and which the novels ultimately had helped him appreciate.

So, with this in mind, I turn to computer games and I realise that the best a video game can ever be is a distraction from the mundane of this life which serves to remind me that life is about adventure, only the greatest adventure is the adventure of holiness, of striving for sanctity, of snatching souls from the fire and of desiring to traverse the whole world in order to bring great glory for Almighty God.

Ignatius put down the novels and He started living an adventure greater than anything he had found in them. Switch off the XBox, unplug the Playstation, shut down the Nintendo Switch. We might not be called to the same soaring heights of sanctity as Ignatius of Loyola but we can certainly learn from Him where true heroism lies and how the greatest of human virtues and talents and fantasies that we cultivate must be channeled towards the absolute and fundamental course in life- the Way of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Fr Mark Higgins

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Pocket PC - the forgotten era of handheld video gaming?

Fr Mark Higgins writes- 

Back in the early 2000s I was an owner of a Pocket PC, I managed to persuade my grandparents to buy me one when I was about 16, I owned, to begin with an HP Jornada 525, later on I had a NEC Pocket Gear 2060, then I had an Axim X5, before finally settling with an HP IPAQ 2495, this probably spans the years of 2002 to 2007, so that's a lot of devices in a short space of time.

Anyway, the reason I had so many of these things was because as a 16 or 17 year old I managed to find my way into reviewing games for Pocket PCs at a website now long defunct called, in fact, eventually I more or less ran the news side of the site by the time I was 20. The site was pretty popular back in the day and we made a lot through ad revenues and I got a share of the pot.

Anyway, sites like PDArcade existed because PDAs were a major platform, albeit a niche one, for video games. There were other websites dedicated to PDA gaming reviews such as, forums dedicated to discussing Pocket PC gaming like, if I recall,, and even Pocket PCs particularly marketed as gaming Pocket PCs, such as, I think some of the ASUS models. Peripherals existed like control pads to make gaming even easier.
And then, of course, there were software companies, often producing really, really impressive titles. PDA gaming, developer side of things, was a return to the days of 8-bit because games, that were selling 10000s of copies were being made by tiny teams of programmers. PDA game development also was a work of real creativity because often Pocket PCs did not have that much storage space. Some companies really excelled at being able to produce games that looked amazing, perhaps at times reaching close to game boy advance and they did so without the size of game going beyond 20mb.
 There was also a thriving emulation scene and at the end of its era the top Pocket PCs were able to play, without problems, all 8 bit, 16 bit and even 32 bit systems- that's quite something, considering that we are talking 2007 being able to play PS1 games released only 5 years previously- it would be like today playing a PS3 game on an iPhone using the hardware of the iPhone.

Perhaps if there is interest I will post some more on this subject, because I might well be one of the closet experts out there on it. I must have reviewed close to a hundred games for Pocket PC and played even more. The pictures in this article give you an idea of the kind of thing you could find on Pocket PC. 

Prices varied and top rate games reached up to $30 I think, but generally a top tier title would be something like $14.99. The place to buy games were the now defunct websites and of course directly from the developers. Usually you bought the game on PC and then transferred it over to your PDA but it was technically possible to to everything from the PDA. 

There was a lot of innovation, creativity and excellence in the short lived Pocket PC gaming system. Of course there were ports and a lot of the pictures show this, but alongside ports, developers pushed the limits of the system. Some memorable and excellent companies producing high quality were Hexacto, Ziosoft, PDAmill, Momentum games, Crimson fire, eSoft Interactive and many more.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Final Fantasy 5 book

My friend Fr. Mark Higgins, a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark, England, recently told me of a really cool book he had picked up about Final Fantasy 5. The book is part of the "Boss Fight Books" series on classic video games.

I was able to get a copy myself on Kindle, and for anyone who was a fan of Square's 16 bit gem, I would highly recommend it.

The book is also interesting inasmuch as it is framed though the biographical details of the life of its author- Chris Kohler, of fame to many in the retro game world (through his contributions to the podcast Retronauts and his other authored works) and also the world of trivia (through his membership of the trivia panel in the podcast Good Job Brain).

Who would have thought that Chris Kohler would have had so much involvement in the original gang of Geeks that fan translated FFV in the early days of the internet, and yet that is what this book reveals, he even was part of the team that produced the first English FAQ! And so the guy has some really interesting bits of information to share on the game, its development and on its reception via emulation world.

The book also shows how FFV has become even more popular in the world of internet 2.0 as fans challenge each other with scenarios like- "beat the game with 4 nijas" or "no mages allowed", reading about their adventures actually got me to boot the game up once again and begin a play though.

So thanks to Fr. Mark Higgins for the head's up, if anyone else has spotted a book, game or podcast that might be of interest to me as Catholic gamer and a classic RPG fan, do let me know.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Essence and Existence

Fr. Mark Higgins, guest blogger writes:

Classically speaking Thomists tend to say that unicorns and anime characters and Bart Simpsons do not exist, they have "essence" but not "existence".

I'm not so sure about all this, you see, I think Cloud Strife, Sonic and Frodo Baggins do exist, obviously not in the same sense that you, or I, or the keyboard that I am touching, "exist" but nonetheless this is something very real about these characters.

The characters of fiction have a life, their authors and developers conceive them and then we all maintain them through our imaginations, through cosplay, through fan fiction... they then influence our culture and our lives. Basically they, in some sense, exist, and not just analogically, they really have a level of existence, they aren't just non existing essences.

How do they exist? They exist as relative to our minds, they are conceived in human minds and are sustained collectively. This is something amazing and incredible about humanity, something that completely differentiates us from all the other non-human and non-angelic creatures.

Everything that exists exists relative to a mind. So much of our collective culture is sustained in this way, a whole universe of literature and art is sustained in this way.

And here is the point I want to get to.... the way in which we maintain the existence of imaginary things through the power of human minds is exactly parallel to the way that the Absolute Mind creates and sustains the whole universe, we are sustained by a mind, just as Pikachu and the Hydra are our creates and are sustained by our minds, we are God's creatures and we are sustained by His Mind.

Psalm 136 reads:
"And in Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!"

Indeed, how precious are the thoughts of the Almighty, I am a thought of the Almighty and in my little imaginary creations I bestow an existence that is a type or reflection of the existence that He bestows on me as He sustains my very being with His Absolute Mind.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Earning trophies in eternity

PS Trophies or XBox acheivements don't really do too much for me, I'm not that bothered about them for some reason. But I know that there are plenty of people out there who really are.

Sometimes it is fun reading up about the trophies that are out there for games, the crazy little
challenges that have been added on top of a game to add an extra layer of challenge or competition. One I read about a little while ago was the challenge added to FFIX to get Vivi to jump the skipping rope in Alexandria 1000 times! From my memory, doing it 100 times was a challenge enough! Looking over FFVII, there are some hardcore challenges- get Aeris' final limit break, obtain maximum Gil, beat Emerald and Ruby weapon.

All these trophies got me thinking about our Holy Faith.
Maybe there are heavenly trophies to be gained in life, and stored up in eternity?

Resisted impure temptation on 5th May 2016,
went to daily Mass every day for a year in 2017,
spoke to a random person about saving their immortal soul last Tuesday,
this morning got up an hour early to make a meditation.

What if we are earning trophies all the time and don't even know it? What if there are trophies out there that we will only find out about in eternity? I think there are you know, I think there are acheivements to be earned every day of our lives, this is when we use our free will to co-operate with His Holy grace and do great things for Him. These are the kinds of trophies I am interested in, because they really mean something and they truly last forever.

Having Platinum trophies for 100 games, that passes away, but the trophies of merit that we earn for eternity, they will NEVER fade away.

Rev 22:12- Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.

1 Cor 3:8- Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

2 Tim 4:8- Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Matt 10:42- And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.

What are you waiting for, through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, earn those trophies, build up a treasure for yourself in heaven! But remember, if you commit a mortal sin all those trophies get taken away from you, you disqualify from the race- but, praise God, they are returned when you make a good confession and return to God's friendship- He forgets your evil deed and returns all those trophies once more.

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever! We are more than conquerors through Him.