Tag: life

A Steaming Pile: Ready Player One

By: Jason Waddell

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is unequivocally the worst novel I have ever read.

Let’s start with flimsy premise: the year is 2044, and the world has fallen into economic decline at the hands of the (not so) creatively named “Great Recession”. Worldwide, people escape from their dreary realities by immersing themselves in a Second Life-esque online game called OASIS. Upon his death, the game’s creator James Halliday releases a video detailing an in-game Easter Egg hunt, the winner of which will receive Halliday’s fortune and control of OASIS.

Ridiculously, the clues to finding the fortune can only be deciphered by those with an intimate knowledge of 1980’s trivia. We have the grounds for a lighthearted nostalgic romp, but Ready Player One never delivers. In lieu of actual character development, the characters that populate the novel are one-dimensional conglomerations of their particular 80’s pop culture vices. The books poseur du jour? A guy who claims to know more trivia than he does. The evil monolithic company? Hacks who dispassionately research 80’s trivia in sole hopes of winning the grand prize. Our protagonist? Enthusiastic 80’s trivia savant.

Rather than imbue the characters with any sense of personality, Klein’s characters stand as little more than a laundry list of Facebook likes. Our hero expresses himself by assembling a vehicle that is a mish-mash of various 1980’s pop culture franchises. It’s a Delorean infused with elements from Knight Rider and Ghostbusters. Even the book’s most laborious attempt at character development plays is tacked-on, forced and irrelevant: our protagonist’s best friend, presumed to be a nerdy white male, proves to be a chubby black lesbian when the two finally meet in person.

The book’s central draw, 80’s cultural references, falls flat as well. The references aren’t cleverly woven into dialogue and exposition, they’re just, there. It reads as a masturbatory laundry list of outdated culture. Hero plays a perfect game of Pac-Man. Hero memorizes the script of War Games. Names are dropped. Wil Wheaton is mentioned for no apparent reason.

The resulting world is one defined exclusively by outdated culture consumption. The characters contribute nothing to the crumbling world around them. Eventually our protagonist (spoiler alert) wins the contest, and receives a video from the deceased James Halliday, Halliday laments devoting a life to a long lost culture. He died alone, without love. He was too busy being an 80’s guy to cure his lone-itus.


Halliday hopes that whoever wins the prize will avoid Halliday’s fate, to find value in other people and not media obsessions. Which must explain why he set up a contest that propelled an entire generation into 80’s cultural obsession in hopes of escaping their crippling poverty?

To add a meta layer to this dynamic, author Ernest Cline ran a contest with the release of the book, the winner of which would win a, you guessed it, Delorean infused with Knight Rider and Ghostbusters. Cline himself drives one too. Halliday serves as the fictional parallel to Cline himself, and is, despite his wealth of trivia knowledge, the most tragic and pathetic character in the book. Maybe Ready Player One is just a cry for help. Perhaps Cline, an Austin resident, should take a page out of neighbor Romeo Rose’s playbook.

Ultimately Ready Play One is an awful depiction of nerd culture, one where its members are little more than a collection of their particular cultural obsessions. If you’re looking for a compelling novel that explores a world captivated by a Second Life style game, stick to Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

Review: How to be Black (Book)

By: Jason Waddell

“Ya’ll don’t know what it’s like, being male, middle class and white.”
– Ben Folds

I first discovered discovered Baratunde Thurston’s How to be Black while doing one of the whitest activities imaginable: listening to an NPR podcast at a bed and breakfast. Thurston, former Director of Digital at TheOnion, was an entertaining and charismatic guest on the trivia gameshow Ask me Another, where he broached the topic of race with an entertaining mix of insightfulness and humor. His charisma piqued my interest, so I recommended How to be Black as the next title for our Skype book club, which consists of these three familiar faces.


The book includes chapters like “When Did You First Realize You Were Black?”, “Being Black at Harvard” and “Can You Swim”. In addition to Thurston’s contributions, How to be Black features the contributions of a panel of “black experts”, which oddly includes the creator of Stuff White People Like. Collectively, Thurston and his chosen panel explore the books topics through use of personal testimonials, and the diverse mix of perspectives and experiences really rounds the book out.

How to be Black is deeply personal, focusing primarily on Thurston’s experience growing up in a world filled with expectations from both inside and outside the black community. Personally, the most eye-opening sections explored the pressures that many black people place on each to adhere to cultural stereotypes.

“This one kid said something that was really bad
He said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad
I think that’s kinda sad
Mostly cause a lot of black kids think they should agree with that
If you’re a father, you should stick around if you could
Cause even if you’re bad at it, you get Tiger Woods”
– Childish Gambino

Everywhere he goes, Thurston feels the weight of expectation based on his race. It’s a point that’s difficult for me to emphasize with. I’ve never been told that I’m “too white” or “not white enough” based on my choice of food, clothing, education, hobbies, or anything really.

It is an inextricable fact of blackness that one will at some point be referred to as “too black” or “not black enough” by white people, black people, and others. I’ve yet to meet the Negro who is “juuuuuuust right” to everyone.
– Baratunde Thurston

White kids get to wear whatever hat they want
When it comes to black kids one size fits all
– Childish Gambino

Panelist Derrick Ashong, born in Ghana, gives testimonial of being told he was not black enough.

That doesn’t really work with me, because I am African. You’re never going to get me with the “blacker than though.” I’m just not feeling it.

I try not to be chauvinistic with it. I don’t think Africans are superior or anything like that, but when people start to question my authentic blackness, I’m like, “I can trace my ancestry back forever in Africa. You can’t really mess with me on that. I know my language, I know my culture, and I don’t have to hate anyone in order to give myself an identity.”
– Derrick Ashong

The discourse takes place within the context of American society. Since moving to Europe I’ve been shocked by the differences in the treatment of race. I don’t know to what extent racism is institutionalized here, but socially people are shockingly open with their prejudices. During my first month consulting in Belgium, I found myself in the break room in a room full of scientists and statisticians. I was looking for a place to kick a football around, and asked about a park I had driven by previously.

“No, don’t go there, Turkish people go there.”

Nobody in the room took issue with the comment. Even if someone felt that way in America, I can’t help but think they’d be a bit more tactful in their response. “Oh no, that’s a rough part of town.” Although Europe tends to be culturally progressive, the treatment of race and nationality can be quite startling. Educated people openly espouse their distaste for Moroccans or Turkish people or their unfavored group du jour. If you keep your eyes on the news you’ll inevitably come across a report of fans making monkey sounds when an African player takes part in a football match.

Most controversially, I find the Christmas traditions here to quite startling. Rather than using mythical elves as helpers, Sinterklaas’ (the Dutch Santa Claus) helpers are known as “Zwarte Pieten” or “Black Petes”.


Locals defend the blackface as a bi-product of Zwarte Piet accumulating soot from climbing down chimneys, but that doesn’t really explain the pristine white lapels, or why the people playing the roles often resort to using caricatures of African stereotypes.

“It’s not racist,” I’m told. “We love Zwarte Piet.” Sure, it’s easy to love the image of a cheerful and comically incompetent character. To broach the subject is to be written off as an overly politically correct American. The seeds of racism are so deeply ingrained they’re not even seen. It’s accepted to sit in a room full of people with University degrees and make derogatory remarks about Turkish people.

Race is a difficult subject to address socially, and Thurston’s approach is to coat the discussions in comedy to make them more palatable. And while his writing is very insightful and wrapped in an attempted humorous presenation, I simply didn’t find Thurston’s writing to be funny. His charisma from the Ask Me Another appearance didn’t translate well to text. How to be Black is a worthwhile read for the perspectives, but don’t buy it looking for laughs.

Microreview: The Road (Book)

by: Jason Waddell

Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road occupies arguably the most cliched setting in modern fiction: the post-apocalypse. The world has burned to a crisp, and the remaining survivors live on by scavenging for canned goods among long-abandoned houses and grocery stores. Violence rules the land, and just as Ned Stark had warned, winter is coming. The Road follows a nameless father and son dredging southward en route to the promise of warmth and opportunity at the coast.

Although the plot and setting are central to the novel, they primarily serve as a vessel for delivering the relationship between a father and boy struggling to survive unfathomable elements. The book is structured without chapters, presented as an endless sequence of vignettes from their journey. One such vignette:

He’d put a handfull of dried raisins in a cloth in his pocket and at noon they sat in the dead grass by the side of the road and ate them. The boy looked at him. That’s all there is, isn’t it? he said.
Are we going to die now?
What are we going to do?
We’re going to drink some water. Then we’re going to keep going down the road.

The book’s 300 pages flesh out this relationship, and McCarthy imbues the relationship between nameless father and son with exceptional depth. The bond feels intimate, yet the characters are vague enough to afford the reader a great sense of personal empathy. The man is the every man, following his basic instincts to protect his child.

The specific details of the plot are largely irrelevant. The structure is known from the onset.

Ultimately even the journey to the coast is futile. There is no end game, just a haunting display of humanity in the face of unbeatable odds.

The book is well-presented, but is neither a page-turner nor something I would particularly recommend to readers who are looking for plot-based satisfaction. It’s the type of book that makes you hug your children when you set it down. As a childless bachelor I felt like I was missing out on part of the core readership experience.

In a Strange Land: Words with Adversaries

By: Jason Waddell

RiptideLab is the first website I’ve ever created, and as with any new venture, there are surprises involved. Sure, you and I may think of ol’ RiptideLab as a hub of cube drafting discussion. Even a cursory glance at our page might confirm this hypothesis. But most of the people who find their way to this site via Google search don’t come for the games. They come for the fur.

Last month I wrote a blog post about my accidental visit to the world’s largest furry convention. Since then, web searchers have been visiting in droves. I can’t imagine these people are finding what they’re looking for. In a satistfying bit of symmetry, the furry enthusiasts are searching for furries but find a gaming site. What do they think of what they find here? Do they immediately high-tail it for greener pastures? Did they leave furrious and feeling ostrichsized?

My experience at Anthrocon was simply Part 1 in a trio of Pittsburgh tales. During my formative years I developed the regrettable habit of stumbling into gaming situations where I didn’t quite belong.

Today’s story started at the grocery store, of all places. Pittsburgh shopping trips were a “cooperative” venture in the loosest sense of the word. My wife came armed with a meticulously prepared list, and I did my best to implement lessons from my civil engineering course by placing myself and the shopping cart as to minimize the reduction of laminar flow of customers through the store. Translation: I stayed out of the way. Which sounds easy (and is, in fact, easy), but if you’ve ever set foot in a supermarket*, you’ve discovered that at least half the populace spreads their carts throughout the aisles as if they’re setting up a goddamn Maginot Line.

While wedged between the lemons and the bananas near the entrance of our local Giant Eagle, I spotted a sign for a weekly Scrabble night in the area. “Wednesday evenings, 7:00, Imperial House, Room 323”

The following Wednesday evening I arrived at Room 323 of the Imperial House at 7:15, along with my wife and our friend Jess. In tow we carried a tray of cookies and a copy of Pandemic in hand, in case anybody wanted to play something other than Scabble. We had grossly mis-assessed the situation.

“You’re late.”

The room smelled of mothballs and denture cream, and was host to a couple-dozen retirees silently laying tiles at two-person card tables. A couple dozen retirees and Stan, our host and director of the Pittsburgh Scrabble Club. The first round had already started, but with 17 players that evening, Stan had been the odd man out.

What happened next is rather foggy in my memory. The three of us (myself, my wife, and Jess. sorry Stan) were not allowed to play in a game together, as sanctioned Scrabble games are between a man and a woman strictly two-player affairs. We were issued official regulation scorecards and “digital Scrabble® clocks”. I was paired against Stan. Across the room players complained that neither Jess nor my wife were using the timers correctly. Shortly thereafter the girls decided it was time to go home.

Our time at Imperial House was abrupt and jarring. We came looking for a social gathering, but had wandered into the Scrabble equivalent of a geriatric PTQ. It’s apparently a common occurrence. A Pittsburgh blogger visited the club and wrote the following:

Every player was focused and serious – there were no smiles or jokes, and certainly not any laughter. One women told us how joining the Scrabble club has completely ruined recreational play for her – she can’t stand the conversation and lighthearted nature of it all. Those of you who know me will agree that this is not for me.

This is a fascinating testimonial. I always assumed that the grumpy grognards who frequented our local PTQs had always been that way. Bristly, unsociable. Were they, too, once filled with smiles and jokes and laughter?

Still curious, I turned to the internet to find out more about this club I had encountered. Would there even be information online? Did these people know how to make or use a website? Maybe Google could find the answers. ‘Pittsburgh scrabble club’.


Oh. Easy! Let’s dig around.

Their welcome page is an exercise in tautology.

You have found the website of the Pittsburgh Scrabble® Club (North American Scrabble® Players Association Club #352) in Pittsburgh, PA. We are one of 11 clubs in Pennsylvania. Feel free to explore the site by way of the links above and read on to learn about us.

It’s fortunate they have links. My plan had been to randomly peck URLs into my browser until I landed on another one of their site’s pages.

The Pittsburgh Scrabble® Club is fairly old as you can tell by our club number. However, when a previous director moved west the club fell on hard times. Now, we are in a rebuilding mode.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t realize it was possible for a Scrabble Club to ‘fall on hard times’. What does that even mean? Were they playing in back alleys just to keep the game going? ‘Previous director moved west’? The whole thing reads like a Dickens novel.

The age range of our players is from about 13 to about 85.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

It’s not just your club number that’s old. Sure, it’s feasible that a 13-year old wandered into the club on accident once. But I can tell you from experience this place was not hospitable to the concept of youth. What would happen if they stayed? Would their body start rapidly aging like Robin Williams’ character in ‘Jack’?

I took the liberty of visualizing what their player-age data might look like.


Let this be a lesson: the range is rarely a very informative statistic.

The skill level in our club is very wide. It ranges from pretty good “kitchen table players” to just below expert level.

Expert level? Is there some sort of Scrabble Pro Tour? I mean, the game, like Magic, is owned by Hasbro, and I doubt there are players shelling out thousands a year on Scrabble product. How much money could there be in such a venture?

Sierra Exif JPEG


Unrelated fun fact: The winner of this weekend’s 4500 person Grand Prix Vegas Magic tournament wins $3500.


Discuss this article in our forums.


In a Strange Land: Anthrocon

By: Jason Waddell

The summer of 2006 was my first summer living away from home. I had taken an internship at a Carnegie Mellon engineering lab, and lived in a ratty sublet house with three friends just off-campus. Aside from working a scant 24 hours a week in the lab, I spent my days exploring Pittsburgh, playing Super Smash Bros. Melee with my roomates and consuming endless gifs of Zidane headbutting Materazzi in  what must have been the most remixed footage since Star Wars Kid.

Very few of our university’s students were Pittsburgh natives, and the area surrounding campus was a bit of a ghost-town during the summer. I eagerly sought out any and all diversions, and found one in the form of a flier advertising an upcoming Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament.

Sunday, June 18th, 3:00, Anthrocon.

I relished the idea of live competition. While working at Major League Gaming I had battled with the best in the world, but always from the comfort of a hotel room, never on the tournament stage. We redoubled our practice efforts, excited to put our best foot forward.

Tournament day rolled around, and I rode in a friend’s car to downtown Pittsburgh. We parked towards the Strip District, and walked past the Westin Hotel on our way to the Convention Center. A group of strangely costumed people loitered in front of the hotel. It was my first convention, and as far as I knew cosplay was par the course for these sorts of events.

We enter the convention center, which was strangely cavernous and vacant. Bustling sounds can be heard, but the halls are virtually empty. It was the last day of the convention, and most of the festivities appeared to have died down. We make our way to the door of the room advertised on the flier.

We had trained for weeks, but simply were not prepared for what was waiting for us on the other side of the door.


The room was packed wall to wall with furries. I felt like a Hitchcock protagonist. Had I missed some obvious clues? What life choices has led me to, inadvertently or not, attend a furry convention? My mind swirled. Did I misread the sign? Could this all have been avoided if I had taken a second year of Latin in high school? Worse yet, I had dragged two friends into this mess. Did they think I knew?

A squirrel suit directed us to a sign-in sheet. The sheet had three columns:

Name, Animal, Anthrocon Badge Number

I hesitated, but my friend Johnny forged ahead.

Johnny, Duck, 608271

We of course had no badge numbers, but Johnny hadn’t driven all this way for nothing. I scribbled down an animal and random 6-digit ID number and sat down beside him. We turned our attention to a TV where 4 players were warming up. It was a free-for-all, between Kirby, Jigglypuff, Pikachu and Pichu. Naturally none of them had selected a human character. On the next TV were 4 Yoshis, endlessly swallowing and excreting each other. ssbm-yoshi3

In the face of overwhelming evidence, Johnny was forced to concede that this was not, in fact, the tournament for us. We drove home a little dismayed, and a little bewildered.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should learn your Latin roots. You never know when they might help you avoid attending the world’s largest furry convention.

Anthrocon: “Fur, Fun, and So Much More”


Discuss this article in our forums.