Reading too deeply into these things since 1981

Moral Orel, "The Best Christmas Ever"

I’m mad. I’m frustrated. I’m frightened, I’m embarrassed, I’m appalled.

I’ve been waiting to speak. I’ve said almost nothing. I keep trying to get my thoughts together and, nope, I can’t process a fucking thing.

There’s no other way to say it. We made an awful choice, we’re fucking idiots, and we’re going to hurt a lot of people. We’ve given bigotry a platform, and we’ve emboldened it. Possibly we’ve cemented it. We’ve done everything we can to make this country extraordinarily dangerous to people who don’t look, act, or believe the way we’d like them to.

About a week ago my country voted. The popular vote may not have gone that way, but for all intents and purposes we came together to decide, as a nation, that we wanted to be ugly, hateful, discriminatory human beings.

Some people, I’m sure, voted for Trump because they trusted him on the economy, or something. That’s fine. I disagree with those people, and I think it says something that the three states with significant first-hand experience of his business practices (New York, New Jersey, and Nevada) all voted against him, but so be it. This is what the political process is for, after all. I believe one candidate will handle something better, and you believe the other candidate will. We put it to a vote. This is a good thing.

Others, though, voted with hate in their hearts. I’m not going to rattle off the sob stories I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere. Those are sad and unfortunate, but you’ve seen them. Maybe you doubt some of them. Maybe some of them are indeed worth doubting. I, frankly, don’t care, because my own friends are suffering from this.

A good friend of mine from New Jersey, who’s been openly gay as long as I’ve known him, was told “Gays gonna burn in Trump’s America” at the gas station. A bumper sticker probably gave him away. I guess he’d better start hiding who he is, then.

Another friend of mine was getting coffee with her young daughter, when a group of assholes kept saying in a singsong voice, “Filthy Muslims,” making her feel very uncomfortable. She’s not Muslim; she’s Indian. But, y’know, her skin is brown, so, who can blame them. She said that she was afraid at first that they’d do something to her, but then she realized the truth is worse: that this is just the world they live in now, and the one her daughter is going to grow up in. You know how I’d talk about social workers in the ALF reviews, and what they’re like in person? It’s largely because of her. She’s a social worker who makes next to no money and gives a lot of herself over to it. She one of the sweetest, most selfless human beings I’ve ever known. She works hard to make life easier for the less fortunate, and this is how she’ll be repaid by her country.

Somebody I know on Facebook posted on Election Day that he really hoped people would “respect the election process” by voting for the male candidate, even if they preferred Clinton. “It isn’t right to have a woman in that position. It was never intended for a woman to be given that much power.” I’m paraphrasing, necessarily. The specific words obviously don’t matter nearly as much as the sentiment, which I assure you is intact. He has a baby girl, by the way. She’ll be growing up in a house with at least one parent who will make it clear that she is only allowed to go so far in life.

I personally watched as an old woman and two jackoffs talked about a group of kids playing near where my girlfriend lives. Children. They may have been Indian, too, but they weren’t white, which I guess is the point now. The kids weren’t bothering anyone. One of the guys said, “Deport the little fuckers.” The old woman, with a venom I’m not sure I’ve ever heard before, said, “I can’t wait until they do.”

Children. Bothering nobody.

This their world, now.

A friend’s colleague was black and homosexual. I say was because he hung himself a couple of nights ago. I can only imagine what he’d been subjected to. What he’d been told. What people assured him his life was going to be like, and how awful it must have been that he decided he’d rather die.

These are only the things I know, and it’s only some of them. I don’t want this to become a list of atrocities. You’ve all seen them. You’ve scrolled past them. You’ll be scrolling for a good long time.


What I want to say is that…

…I’m speechless. I have nothing to say. I’ve read some very intelligent, eloquent musings on this election from both sides. Intelligence and eloquence, though, don’t mean anything right now. Somebody is sharing some very well-written advice on Facebook, and somebody else is fearing for his life. Somebody is assuring us that things aren’t as bad as they seem, and somebody else is in a waking nightmare from which she cannot escape. This has been a divisive election. We’d be seeing a lot of the same issues right now had Hillary won. Trump is a problem, but he’s not the problem. The country is the problem. The seething nastiness that’s been bubbling beneath America’s surface is the problem. And that’s what I hate. I hate that America is as ugly and cruel as it is. All Trump really did is make us admit that we’re okay with being ugly and cruel.

And I hate that.

I don’t have words. I’m not happy. For a while I even considered cancelling the Xmas Bash. Not because I wanted to get out of any work. It’s almost completely edited and ready to go. I just…didn’t feel like being funny. I still don’t.


I don’t know. I can’t change the world. I can’t even change one person’s mind. We are all where we are, and all we can do is try to bring some light to our own little corners of the darkness.

I’ll do what I can.

It might not be much. In fact, it won’t be. Period.

But it’s something. Especially now, with so much fear. Hosting a live comedy stream is one thing. Hosting one that benefits The Trevor Project is another. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one I’ve already been doing. Stopping it now, when a lot of LGBTQ+ youth may benefit from it the most, would be foolish.

So the show will go on.

Which brings us to…

Updates, for those who prefer to skip my political misery:

Come back here, to this very page, at 7:00 pm (Eastern) on December 17 to enjoy the livestream of the 4th Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!! You can read the full announcement here. And while it’s by no means mandatory to do so, you can use this event page on Facebook to mark yourself as attending. That way the time zone calculation will happen automatically, and you’ll get reminded.

I have a goal this year. I want us to hit $1,000 in donations. One thousand dollars of mental healthcare and emotional support for those who need it, in these unexpectedly difficult times. I think we can hit it. I’m confident we can.

Whatever we do, we’ve done well.

But I want to hit $1,000. And I really hope you will find it in your heart to help. (If you can’t find it in your wallet to help, though, never fear. You’re just as welcome as anyone else.)

Further, I had some other fun ideas for December. I think I’m going to do them.

There will be a Fiction into Film, which is actually just as valid for New Year’s as it is for Christmas. (Any guesses at to what it is?) I’ll probably post it between those two holidays, with an aim of producing a new article in the series every two months. I think that’s more doable than my original monthly goal.

There will also be an advent calendar feature that will run from December 1 – December 25. Every day I will post a new article about a different novel of my choosing. They won’t be long articles, but it’ll be a daily update, and when all is said and done I think the wordcount will add up nicely anyway, so you’ll have a lot to enjoy in the runup to Christmas.

I’ll only allow one book per author, and I’ll only cover novels. That means no collections, no poetry, no non-fiction, and so on. I have some ideas of the ones I’ll cover. You can probably guess a handful of them, but I think there will be some surprises as well, and it’ll be a great chance to see if any of them appeal to you. It’s always good to keep reading.

And if you have some great idea for what to call this feature, tell me, because I sure don’t.

Finally, I want to do another reader’s survey. We’re coming into a new year, we have this site’s most ambitious project well behind us, and I want to see where you’d like me to go next.

So get your thoughts together. I’ll post a link to the survey as soon as I have it.

Again, though…for now…

I’m struggling. I’m unhappy. I’m not creative. I don’t feel like being funny. I don’t feel like much of anything.

But I can get through this. We can get through this. Let’s just believe in ourselves, and in each other.

We’ll do the best we can.

We kind of have to.

Bad things are happening. We can’t stop them all. But we can create some good.

That’s something we can always do.

Nobody can take that away from us, and we shouldn’t take it away from ourselves.

Jim Wolf, United States Army Veteran

There’s been a video circulating over the past few days of a homeless veteran getting a makeover. I…am kind of surprised that I could type that sentence and then still need to follow it up with an explanation of why that’s absurd, manipulative and outright demeaning, but with 5.1 million views on YouTube and counting — and a constant presence in my social media streams — it seems that it really does need to be discussed.

So, please, if you haven’t already, add one more view to the video, and we’ll continue. Because as many times as I’ve seen this referred to as “inspiring” and “magical,” it’s really just offensive. And exploitative. And we should be embarrassed by it.

When I first came across the above video, it was spotlighted in this post. The title of that post assured me that the video would give me chills. That was kind of interesting since the thumbnail and description pretty much suggested they were just giving this guy a haircut, but I figured it was worth watching. After all, why would that give me chills?

Maybe at the end his little daughter that he hasn’t seen in years would come out and hug him, or something. That would still be manipulative, but it might also successfully provide “chills” so…okay.

But, nope. It’s a haircut. Oh, and they trim his beard and give him a tie.

Wow, chills. Except for the fact that I grew up in southern New Jersey, and “hairy guy trims his beard and puts on a tie” isn’t uncommon to anyone familiar with the concept of prom night.

So, fine. Chills or no chills, that’s not the point.

This is the point: as a culture — as a society…as a civilization — we’re already doing our damnedest to give every man, woman and child body image issues. All this video succeeds in doing is extending that particular neurosis to the homeless as well.

It’s sickening. And I realize that this requires further unpacking. So, hey, I’ve got some time. Do you?

Then let’s proceed.

The balance of content in the video is the giveaway. Or, rather, the clear imbalance. In a video that’s about two minutes and fifty seconds long, two minutes and twenty seconds are spent on the makeover. The assurance that the veteran Jim Wolf has turned his life around is relegated to two vague slides of text.

Ask yourself what’s more important, as far as the video is concerned. Is it the way he looks? Or is it the more positive direction his life has now taken? It’s not a matter of opinion; there’s a clear answer here. It comes down to the fact that he looked like a hobo, but has now been groomed and dressed up.

To me, it’s more important to know whether or not Jim Wolf left the studio to sleep in a gutter again that night. To the makers of the video, it’s more important to know whether or not he was wearing a tie when he did so. And that’s disgusting.

It comes down to more than just the amount of time the video spends on each, though: the execution is also telling, and more important when interpreting what’s happening here.

We start with an image of our subject, alongside a caption that reads “Jim Wolf, United States Army Veteran.”

That’s a name, and that’s a fact. That’s not a description.

Who is Jim? What’s his history? “Army Veteran” says precisely nothing. Did he serve overseas? Was he involved in any wars or conflicts? Where was he stationed? With whom did he serve? What years was he active? What was his role? What was his specialty?

Does any of that matter when determining whether or not to thank him for his service? Of course not. But it’s meant to illustrate just how vague a descriptor “United States Army Veteran” is. One veteran could have served in Vietnam and been the lone survivor of an ill-fated recon mission. One veteran could have served in Texas during a time of no conflict and filed paperwork all day.

I’m not suggesting that one is inherently better or worse than the other, but I am suggesting that the two human beings would have very different experience from each other. They’re both veterans. Fine. But that means nothing. As human beings, they’re worlds apart.

Of course, the video isn’t interested in treating Jim Wolf as a human being. When we aren’t even made privy to his years of service, there’s your giveaway that this isn’t about helping an individual; this is about the manipulation of the audience.

It’s also telling that Wolf doesn’t get any chance to speak. We don’t get to hear his story. I’m sure he has one, but the video is more interested in the fact that a disheveled man gets a haircut. What, exactly, is meant to be inspiring about this again?

Well, I’ll tell you: the music and the editing. That’s what’s meant to inspire. Not the substance (because there is none), not Wolf’s story (because it actively prevents us from hearing it), and not the assurance that Wolf is going to be any better off (because…well, we’ll get to that).

The score builds and layers and rollicks toward triumph, and the time-lapse nature of the editing hurtles toward a grand reveal. It’s a bait and switch, and one borrowed from the most deliberately misleading film trailers. It wants to generate a certain feeling in us, but it’s a feeling that the material itself cannot provide. It’s the hollowest possible kind of “inspiration,” and it’s one that only works because it withholds the humanity.

What if Wolf spoke? Well, he probably wouldn’t sound like Ryan Gosling or Alec Baldwin so it’s not worth hearing him. After all, he might sound human. Or, worse, he might sound like the actual homeless guy that he is. You know…raspy and sick and probably a little upset that the country he served is now content to let him sleep outside on frigid nights. We can’t let that come across, otherwise the haircut might seem…oh…a little silly.

Wolf has a problem. That problem is the country he lives in. That problem is that country’s approach to dealing with the sick and the poor and the unemployed and the homeless.

That problem is emphatically not going to be solved by a haircut, a shave, and a necktie. And yet this makeover video wants you to come away feeling that it is solved that way. Because that’s easy. That’s visual. And, what’s more, it’s easy on the eye.

This constant whitewashing of our problems is the problem.

You don’t fix what’s wrong with your society through makeovers, through songs, or through speeches. You stand up and you say, “This is wrong. This is a problem. And we are going roll up our sleeves and we are going to fix this because if we see something is wrong and we don’t do that, then who are we?”

And then you know what we do?

We actually do that.

We don’t make a video about it.

We don’t circulate a link on Facebook.

We don’t wear a ribbon or put a sticker on our car.

We get. The fuck. To work.

And if we don’t do that…then who are we?

Of course, all of my points above are moot in the face of the fact that this Homeless Veteran Magic Haircut (patent pending) turned Jim Wolf’s life around.



Well, let’s look at all two of the unverifiable sentences that suggest that that’s the case. The first one reads, in its entirety, “Since filming, Jim has taken control of his life.”

Huh. Well, ya don’t say.

What does that mean exactly? What can that mean? The lengths to which the video goes to keep any specific information about Wolf away from us is almost frightening.

Forget Wolf for a moment. Do you have control of your life? Do I? Of course not. How could we? Life is full of curveballs and unexpected obstacles and problems that need to be overcome. What does it mean to “take control” of one’s life?

Does it mean you find employment? Find love? Manage to scrape together enough change to buy groceries? Live through the night? Get handed a blanket by a good Samaritan?

It’s different for everybody. Which is why it’s entirely meaningless. It’s a nice thing to hear, but it says, again, precisely nothing.

Jim Wolf is not a human being. At least, not in the eyes of this video. Jim Wolf is a homeless veteran, brought into a studio to be made a spectacle of. The filmmakers don’t care about him, and they didn’t. If they did, they’d know something about him. And therefore so would we. Instead, for all we know, he’s back on the streets.

Oh, but the second slide reads (again, in its entirety), “He is now scheduled to have his own housing and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the first time ever.”

Well, that’s more specific. …kinda.

What does “scheduled to have his own housing” mean? It still sounds suspiciously like “nothing” to me. And does that mean he’s still sleeping on the streets? Couldn’t Degage Ministries — who so kindly pulled a homeless man off the streets to solicit donations and then released him back onto the streets — give him a place to stay? Maybe they did, but then why wouldn’t they say that?

After all, if their objective is to inspire me with this magical video, I can say conclusively that I’d be far more inspired by hearing that some ministry gave a homeless man food, clothing and shelter than I am by hearing that some ministry gave him a haircut and a pat on the back. And I’d hope to God that you would be, too.

There’s also a grammatical issue with the AA claim, as you can’t keep “attending” something “for the first time ever.” Due to that I’m not even sure what the truth is. Did he go once? Does he keep going? I think it’s the latter, but how would they know that? He can stop at any time. And even if he doesn’t, should this really be his priority when he still doesn’t have a place to live?

The video isn’t inspiring. The video is sickening. By taking a homeless man and framing a shave and a haircut as the solution to his problem, they’re robbing the problem of its bite. They’re making it something we need to worry less about. And, what’s more, it makes all those dirty, bearded homeless people look like they just don’t care. After all, if they really wanted to turn their lives around, they’d put on a tie. Just look what it did for old Jim Wolf!

Don’t circulate the video. Please. And if somebody you respect does, send them here. Or talk to them about it.

You’re not stupid if you looked at this and felt inspired. That’s what it was designed to make you feel.

But you shouldn’t feel inspired by anything that takes a serious, profound problem with the very core of the society in which you live, and presents it as trivial and easily overcome.

You’re better than that. And Jim Wolf, whoever he is, wherever he is, deserves better than that. The truly respectful thing to do for Wolf would be to treat him as a human being. This video decidedly does not.

Thank you for your service, Jim. And I’m sorry this happened to you.

Let me take you on a journey through the past, to a magical time in our great planet’s history. I’ll set the scene for you:

A bleary-eyed world disconnects from Facebook for two and a half hours in order to watch a film about Facebook. An animated show called The Simpsons celebrates 20 years on the air, eight and a half of which were worth watching. A young Jessica Simpson releases an album of warbling Christmas standards in the hopes that it will generate enough money that she can do her own holiday shopping. And America comes, at last, to the tragic realization that their new president isn’t a Magic Negro after all…but is rather, disappointingly, just an extremely intelligent leader with his nation’s best interests at heart.

Yes, it’s 2010. And no I did not use a time machine to get us here…I simply inserted a dollar into Steam and downloaded World Basketball Manager 2010, the absolute best 2010 simulator I have ever played.

World Basketball Manager 2010

I haven’t played it yet…I’m about to play it for the first time which is kind of the whole point of this series…but I don’t think I’ve played any other ones so I think that’s a fair assessment no matter how it goes. (And as always, click the images for full-size. It’s funnier that way, I hope.)

World Basketball Manager 2010

On booting up the game I am presented with an option to run it in windowed mode, which automatically makes it a better game than Vegas: Make it Snappy. I also have an option to choose my skin color. I’ll go with orange, so that nobody will be able to tell whether or not I’m holding the ball.

There’s also a tab called EXCLUDE TOURNAMENTS. When I click it I get a list of around 50 different countries with check-marks next to them. I guess I can deselect any of the nations against whose races I am so prejudiced that I can’t even bring myself to play a game of basketball with them.

I de-select China.

World Basketball Manager 2010

I told the game — explicitly told! — to play the intro movie, but I guess that was just a short, choppy animation for the Ice Hole developer logo, because I’m immediately dumped onto this title screen that leads me to believe the entire game was developed in Microsoft Paint.

I click NEW GAME and it asks me for a “game name.” It helpfully suggests the game name “New Game.”

I sure as heck can’t improve on perfection so New Game it is!

World Basketball Manager 2010

Except I can’t get the game to start. I press Enter and nothing happens.

I press other buttons and things do happen, yes, but the game starting isn’t one of them. I just mess up my extremely well-chosen game name with garbage characters.

I can’t get this game to start. At this rate I’ll never see 2010!

I’m clicking everything. Nothing’s happening. I’ve pressed every button. Nothing’s happening.

I can click CREDITS and read about all the wonderful people who made this title screen, but I can’t play the game.

Doing something I never thought I’d have to do, I navigate to the game’s section on the Steam forums to see if anyone was discussing how to get the fucking thing started.

What I find instead:

World Basketball Manager 2010

There are only two discussions, both of which are baffled by the awfulness of this game. This screengrab comes from the more active of the two threads. The other is titled, simply, “wat.”

I don’t know what to do. Everyone’s talking about how bad the game is, which I guess should make me at least somewhat happy that I can’t play it, but certainly they had to get further than the title screen in order to make that determination.


Maybe not. I’m stuck at the title screen and I’ve sure as cock made that determination.

World Basketball Manager 2010

I find the website for the game, in the hopes that there will be some instruction on how to START PLAYING THE THING. Nothing, but their FAQ is crawling with concerns about game-crashing issues and the answers to simple questions (such as how to activate and deactivate basic features) tend to be “install this patch to keep your computer from catching fire when you try to run this horse shit.” Promising.


I finally look for some footage of the thing on YouTube to see if anyone has actually successfully started the game. Sure enough when the guy in the video — whose disgust for this game is already palpable — types in the name of his game, a little CREATE button appears in the lower right.

What’s that? You don’t see that in the screen grab above?

Neither do I.

It was under the Windows task bar.

Yep. Great design, Ice Hole!

Of course it’s not their fault…how were they to know that literally everybody ever has their task bar locked to the bottom of their screen?

Everybody but me that is, because I now had to move mine to the right in order to make room for World Basketball Manager 2010. I expect that’s something you won’t hear many other people say today.

World Basketball Manager 2010

The game has helpfully auto-completed the appropriate fields with my personal information. Or its best guess, which is that I’m a middle-aged Indian man who coaches exactly as well as he psychologizes. He also somehow has a perfect 10 in youth, despite the fact that he’s five years away from being eligible for residency in a retirement home.

Already I’m irritated by the fact that I need to click to this window in order to type my commentary by moving my mouse to the RIGHT SIDE OF MY SCREEN WHEN IT SHOULD BE THE BOTTOM but it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m doing it for you. I need to keep doing it for you.

I name myself Philip Reed, 32, U.S.A. Don’t ask me where I got all that…it just sort of came to me. I leave all of my stats at 10 because that’s the maximum and why the hell wouldn’t I?

Even with the task bar moved I can’t see where I need to click, but if I move my cursor just off the bottom of the screen I can click whatever it is anyway.

Did I mention you can’t resize the window? This is truly stellar stuff, Ice Hole.

World Basketball Manager 2010

This grammatically-troublesome invitation is also the least inviting thing imaginable to me right now. Pairing it with a geography test isn’t helping to get me in the mood for fun. I don’t know where half these places are. (Okay, more like a quarter, but go along with it please.) Even less do I know / care about their historical basketball skills.

Fuck it, I’m already overthinking this. I’m picking Serbia.

World Basketball Manager 2010

Now shitting what.

And why is it August 19, 2009? I was specifically told I’d be enjoying some 2010-era basketball action, not this mid-to-late 2009 bullshit! Everyone knows basketball was a joke between August 17, 2009 and September 10, 2009!

I don’t know what to do.

I’ll click World News.

World Basketball Manager 2010

Hm. Slow news day I guess.

I click blindly through some menus with the vague hopelessness that precedes any upcoming basketball game, I guess, and try to pick a fight — that’s what they call it in sports, right? — with Canada.

I get this:

World Basketball Manager 2010

I don’t get this.

What does this mean.

What does any of this mean.

Are these basketball words?

I don’t understand basketball words.

Please just let me play some basketball please just let me play some basketball please for the love of Jesus on the cross just let me play some basketball.

I honestly don’t know how to start a game. I click through to my own team info and I see that I’ve already won some Olympic medals.

World Basketball Manager 2010


While I was reading the evening headlines and mindlessly poring over Canada’s dayplanner, my team went out and won a shitload of medals and awards!

I’m tempted to just end this “playthrough” here (though it’s more of a read-through I guess…my earlier presumption that this game was developed in Paint has yet to be shaken) with the joke that I WON THE OLYMPICS GAME OVER but, in the course of blindly clicking around (which passes for strategy in World Basketball Manager 2010) I clicked on the date and found that you can advance to the next match day.

So I will do that, obviously, and give the game an actual chance. Let’s just advance to the next match day and…

World Basketball Manager 2010



How did I go four days back in time? What the hell is World Basketball Manager 2010 trying to pull? It’s bringing me even further away from 2010!

Why on Earth did the game wind back the clock? I just wanted to jump to, I dunno, A DAY ON WHICH I COULD FUCKING DO SOMETHING but instead it brought me backward.

To a day on which basketball is still not happening.

Let me just take a look around here to confirm…hmm…yep…no basketball. No basketball. Just me standing in front of the map from Dr. Strangelove‘s war room, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Look, I know this is a management game. I don’t expect to be slam dunking and free throwing and ball dribbling and penalty stroking and whatever the hell else athletes do. But doesn’t managing a team entail more than sitting around with a world atlas open in your lap, waiting for your team to win some things so you can read about them?

I can click through to different countries but all it lets me do is look to see what games they’re playing while I sit around, doing nothing, waiting to be invited to a game.

World Basketball Manager 2010

Look. It’s insulting. Everyone else in the world — literally! — is having so much fun, but all I get to do is sit around fantasizing about what it must be like to ACTUALLY DO THE JOB I DOWNLOADED THIS GAME TO DO.

I can click on the names of the teams, including the Baston Ciltics a-fuckin-har-har, but that still doesn’t let me challenge them. It just lets me check out their roster and peek into their bank accounts for some reason. I guess that would be really helpful in Identity Theft King 2010 but for now it’s just a further reminder that somebody out there is getting paid to do the thing I thought I’d also be doing. Why am I just clicking on meaningless words over and over, like I’m being forced to navigate some middle-schooler’s hypertext poetry project?

I give up on this thing. If you want to play World Ass-Sitter Nobody “2010” then be my guest. Maybe you’ll even get it to work.

But for both of our sakes, I hope you don’t.

And with that, I’m putting my task bar back at the bottom of my screen. Where God intended it to be, Ice Hole.

World Basketball Manager 2010
Released: April 21, 2010
Price on Steam: $0.99
Regular Price on Steam: $4.99
Price It Should Be on Steam: You should have your credit cards taken away if you attempt to buy this game through Steam.

Hello and welcome to a brand new series that I thought of just now, while writing this sentence, which is good, because if I hadn’t thought of one I’m not sure where I’d go with this.

This is $1 Adventures, wherein I spend one dollar on Steam, hoping to end up having an experience that’s worth far more than that. Say, $1.01. Steam is a digital distribution service that’s home to many great games, and sales are regular and plentiful. In fact, sales are so frequent that I end up downloading tons of games that I never even find time to play. Obviously, then, the best thing for me to do is start a series in which I download even more, focusing on games that are likely shit.

As far as rules go, that’s the only one: spend no more than a dollar. That may be the game’s normal price, that may be its sale price…it doesn’t matter. I’ll then play through the game and assess its actual worth, which is legally binding I think.

And where better to start than Las Vegas, where you can take such a small amount of money and turn it into something larger, and then even larger, and then a little smaller, and then you lose your house?

So let’s move forward and invest $1 in Vegas: Make It Big, a title which lends itself to hooker jokes so cheap even I wouldn’t make them.

The first thing we see when booting it up is that the game runs automatically in Windows 95. Maybe 98. Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve seen a launch window like this that I’m already assuming it’s a Minesweeper clone. It’s the sort of thing you’d find on those 50,000 Most Wonderful Games Ever compilation CDs, where 25,000 of the games didn’t work, 24,999 didn’t tell you how to play them, and the last was some bootleg Tetris thing that totally wasn’t a ripoff because it used bugs instead of blocks or something, and which you’d play on Saturday night well into the next morning, eating Spaghetti-Os out of a can and crying.

Those were the days.

I click “configure” to see if I can run the game in a window and I can’t, which means taking screen shots will be that much harder. Not off to a good start, Las Vegas: Make It Hard. I also check the “ReadMe” file, which is indeed in txt format, just to remind me of how not-far I’ve come since middle school. Instead of teaching me how to play the game it warns me about “performance issues.” This should be great.

Ah, so it’s Windows 98 after all.

We get some title cards and then we’re dumped at an options screen that welcomes us to The Strip and invites us to watch an episode of King of the Hill.

Actually these are two different scenarios to choose from. In the first, you build a gambling empire in the heart of Las Vegas. In the second you drink too much and verbally abuse your fat son Bobby. I go with the first.

It’s Sim City, if Sim City sucked. For starters, we’re stuck in a mandatory tutorial. The game squawks and screams at me every time I click something, because I’m not clicking the one thing it’s squawking and screaming at me to click. Unlike Sim City I don’t get to build roads leading into the sea or chemical refineries next to elementary schools for the fun of it. No, instead I need to follow instructions so precise that I honestly don’t know why Vegas: Make it Salty doesn’t just build it for me and wake me up when it’s done.

There are a wealth of options and menus and suboptions and submenus and menuoptions and optionmenus, each with its own mess of unidentifiable commands embedded within, but I’m not allowed to play with them I guess. I just need to do what the game tells me to do. It’s like going to the actual Las Vegas, but you’re with your overbearing father who won’t even let you roll down the windows because it’s too loud out there.

Las Vegas is supposed to be a world of magic, of enchantment, of gaudy approximations of enchantment and magic. It’s a place where dreams come true, and dreams are crushed. (Both, if your dream is to have your dream crushed.) But playing Vegas: Make ‘Em Laugh is like being bossed around by a crabby supervisor who keeps telling you exactly how you’re making the coffee wrong, but would rather stand in the corner with his arms crossed than help.

I eventually succeed in building my first hotel, which upsets my supervisor even more because I built it too far away from the sidewalk. Well forgive me for wanting to give my guests some exercise! There’s nothing I hate more than fat people clogging up my elevators, and that’s saying something because I hate an awful lot of everything. I figured I could discourage them from staying here by stranding my hotel in the middle of some scooter-unfriendly desert sand, but I guess not.

As penance I am forced to lay some pavement for the residents, so that they can get from the street to my hotel while bitching all the while that this walk is so long my god. It costs me another few hundred dollars to do that, and not one little pixel man thanks me for it.

Actually I just expected that the hotel would be larger. You know. Since it’s in the middle of fucking Las Vegas. Instead it’s barely the size of a small Arby’s and I had no idea how much space was going to be wasted. Oh well. At least I’ll definitely get all that lucrative wanted-to-stay-in-a-huge-city-but-couldn’t-stand-the-idea-of-an-appropriately-sized-hotel business. Ca-ching!

I’m asked to choose a theme for my hotel. I choose House of Zeus. My only other option was a gambling theme, which, let’s face it, is a cornered market. At least with House of Zeus I might be able to reel in some confused history teachers.

I don’t know what’s going on. I think the game is trying to scare me off by throwing irrelevant options and windows at me. The joke’s on it, though…I was scared off before I even booted it up.

It looks like it’s trying to both tell me how shitty a business man I am and sell me things like family portraits, sunglasses and a yacht. That’s not how salesmanship works, Vegas: Make It Soggy. You’re supposed to flatter me. Make me feel good about myself. Get me on your side and then move on to the okay okay I really want that yacht please please please let me give you all my money for a yacht.

But alas, the game won’t let me click anything. It’s as though Jesus has led me into the desert to offer me all this great stuff as a test, and I keep failing because I just nod and say “Yes please, that sounds wonderful.”

I’m told — in a way that doesn’t so much edify me as it does remind me that I sure was stupid not to know this in the first place — that I need to build a management office. I also learn how to zoom in so that I can take better screen shots, just as I’m losing interest in taking them.

The management office has some naked Greek people writhing all over each other as a motif, which I think does a great job of conveying my “no shit from anybody” management style. The default green and white checkerboard foundation also does a great job of conveying my “embarrassingly unprepared for this” entrepreneurial style.

I also tinted my upper windows, apparently, so you guys will just have to imagine for yourselves what kind of wild shenanigans I’m getting up to in my over-office penthouse on a vacant lot. (Tetris. Spaghetti-Os. Crying.)

I now have to build both a souvenir shop (because who would want to forget their visit to the world famous Hotel Inaccessibility?) and a maintenance shed. I learned my lesson from the hotel, so I’m saving on paving stones by building the souvenir shop right next to the street. That’ll make it easier for both customers and robbers, which proves that I don’t play favorites.

The maintenance shed goes right next to it, because that’s faster than scrolling, and look! It even comes with a little maintenance guy to stand out front and make the shoppers feel uncomfortable!

This is Brad. Or that’s what I’m calling him anyway, because I see a man drunk before 7 o’clock at night, wiping his nose on his sleeve and standing outside waiting for a stranger to talk to him, and I think “Brad.”

Brad serves a dual purpose, I’ll say. Since he’s so close to the souvenir shop, he can help with restocking duties and unclogging toilets. He’s not particularly strong so I can’t rely on him for security, but he’d probably stop more rapes than he’d cause so overall that keeps us on the positive side of the ledger.

I zoom out to get a better look at my misfit empire and…and…what’s this? Somebody checked into my hotel! That’s another $25 in my pocket like that!

Wait a minute…$25? Why the hell are my rates so low? I just spent several thousand dollars paving walkways to nowhere because you assholes are afraid of getting a little sand in your shoe and all you’re giving me for a night in my hotel is $25? That’s not even enough to feed Brad! And the labor board told me I really needed to start feeding Brad!

But the game doesn’t let me linger or even let me, you know, shake that fucker down for some more money which should totally be an option especially in Vegas. Instead it forces me to start placing all kinds of unnecessary crap on my property that I don’t want.

For starters, why do I have to build a movie theater? And why must that movie theater tower over the things I actually care about here, such as my hotel, and my precious sand? And how much will these movies cost anyway? Judging by the discount rates of my hotel I’d say you get to watch endless movies all night for a nickel. Maybe I’ll even shine your shoes.

Come on, Vegas: Keep It Greasy. I’m a better business man than you are…can’t we just skip this tutorial already? You’re forcing me into the role of theater mogul and I think I should have the right to put the breaks on this new career path.

I also need to build another maintenance shed, only this one is for maintaining the theater. Come on, I have Brad! This is his job! Do we really need a whole other building with a whole different name and a whole new even-shittier-looking appearance to drag down my own property values?

I put it immediately to the left of my cinema, so that I don’t have to pay for this guy to take a taxi to work or something. It even comes with a whole new creep to stand outside and accost women and children who were dumb enough to go to my theater alone.

I’m telling you right now if you’re reading this: I don’t know this man. I can’t seem to force him to leave my property. Until I can get rid of him please don’t go to my theater alone.

Anyway, that’s a hotel, a management office, two maintenance sheds, a souvenir shop, a movie theater, and six hundred trillion miles worth of paving stones. Not bad for a single day’s construction.

Not bad…but not enough! The game now informs me that in addition to disappointing my parents, wasting money on a worthless literature degree and regularly throwing my vote away, my near-vacant lot in the middle of the slummiest slums of Las Vegas isn’t “beautiful” enough.

The game even overlays a filter showing me, scientifically, exactly how not-beautiful my investment property really is. It’s the video game equivalent of someone not only lecturing you on how you should take better care of your money, but actually producing photocopied bank statements to definitively prove that you are incapable of taking care of yourself.

So it tells me to plant a tree. And I plant a tree.

And damned if this isn’t suddenly the most beautiful patch of desolate earth in Vegas. I even check the overlay again, and, sure enough, the tree is radiating green pixels that — as in real life — symbolize beauty.

Man this tree is just gorgeous. I even kept it away from Brad and that sex offender who lives next to the theater, because it’s a beauty that I simply couldn’t bear to see corrupted.

Also I don’t want them grabbing free coconuts or anything. Those guys are robbing me blind!

At long last, after so much waiting, nearly one full day after I came to Vegas with nothing in my pocket but hundreds of thousands of dollars and a screaming tutorial, I build a casino.

I think I’ve got the perfect name for it, too: Casino Casino Casino. It’s like Circus Circus, but with Casino instead of Circus, and three of them rather than two.

I predict big things for Casino Casino Casino. And by that I mean I predict I’ll never visit it again once I shut this game off. Good news, Casino Casino Casino…you won’t have management breathing down your neck.

I’m noticing a man in the lower right of that picture, walking along The Strip and daydreaming about wooden chairs. I wonder what kind of simulation he goes home and plays at night.

I’m invited into my own casino, which is pretty nice, considering that neither Brad nor the sex offender ever invited me inside, and the souvenir shop didn’t even let me browse my own selection of walnuts with googly eyes that say I WENT NUTS IN VEGAS.

My excitement is short-lived, however, as they just want to make me decorate the place. That might normally be fun, but then they start teaching me about how to maintain the machines and unload the money and all that crap.

Why am I doing this stuff myself? I only install one slot machine because as soon as I install it I’m assailed with windows trying to teach me about all the various things I’ll need to do in order to keep the thing operational.

Isn’t that why I have a staff? Donald Trump doesn’t have to get down on his knees and recalibrate spinwheels. He doesn’t have to vacuum the rugs and pick the green M&M’s out of Tony Orlando’s candy bowl. No, he has other people do that for him, so he can stand on top of a skyscraper shouting about Sharia law and birth certificates. That’s what I want to be doing!

Perhaps — and, really, just stay with me here — I should have hired a staff before I opened four disparate places of business. Perhaps — and, yes, I know I’m new here but I think I might have some insight — these places would run so much better if I wasn’t running them all myself, simultaneously, with no help. Perhaps — and I really do hope I’m not overstepping any boundaries here — an entire massive gambling vacation resort needs more than two maintenance guys who never leave the shed and a CEO who dutifully scrubs every toilet with his own loving touch.

Why oh why am I now in charge of emptying slot machines? Aren’t I supposed to be managing the company? Can’t somebody else sell chewing gum or do I have to man the concession desk myself, too?

Anyway, welcome to the floor of Casino Casino Casino. I’m already overworked to Hell and back so I’ve limited myself to a slot machine, a black jack table, and a security guard.

This should work well, I think. It’s no frills, I know, but I’m not much one for frills anyway, and with the security guard I have at least one extra set of hands to help keep the place running. I know that that’s not his job, strictly speaking, but if I’m washing sheets and singing lullabies to Brad then maybe Officer Hardass here can pitch in a bit as well.


Come on now! I need to move this bastard’s legs as well? Can these people not do anything without me?

The asshole I hired sees a crime — in a casino that has a whole two gambling stations — and I need to come in and bend his knees for him so that he can go investigate?

This is getting ridiculous. Who knew the workforce in Las Vegas was this unmotivated? These are the laziest people on Earth. Do I need to keep checking on him to make sure he didn’t drink too much liquid on the job? What if he did? Would I have to walk him step by step to the bathroom, undo his belt, and squeeze him until urine comes out?

For crying out loud, man, I shouldn’t need to carry you back and forth across the casino floor. I know the economy is tough, but it’s not so tough that I need to hire invalids as my security guards and maintenance men.

I can’t spend all day babysitting him in here. I need to get back outside. Somebody might be vandalizing the tree!

I’m not doing it. If you want to move across the casino floor, you can move yourself across the casino floor.

Needless to say I move Officer Useless across the casino floor. It requires me to click a series of very precise icons in such an unintuitive way that I think it would be easier to just slice his legs open and tug on the muscles myself.

He makes it halfway across the floor before giving up — which, to be fair, coincides exactly with me giving up — and stands with his arms crossed, splashing green light everywhere which now represents security. So, well done. I’ve secured this empty patch of the casino which somehow manages not to encompass either of the two areas where security might be necessary.

One of my lone, confused patrons walks over to an unused raised platform, surveys the emptiness around him and inside of himself, and frowns.

I know the feeling, sad man. I too came to Vegas seeking something larger. I too ended up in an empty casino that really shouldn’t be open to the public until it’s actually stocked and staffed. I too had a dollar in my pocket, and hoped against hope that it would lead me to something bigger.

Here you go, friend. These are the keys to Casino Casino Casino. It’s yours now. And I won’t be coming back again. I’m leaving Las Vegas. Like Nicolas Cage. But with the sense to know when to quit.

Vegas: Make It Big
Released: Dec. 21, 2006
Price on Steam: $0.99
Regular Price on Steam: $4.99
Price It Should Be on Steam: -$25, in honor of my first and only guest at the House of Zeus

It’s election day here in America, so make sure you get out and vote. It’s important. I learned that the hard way, since the first election I was old enough to vote in was Bush vs. Gore and I did not cast a ballot, assuming democracy would sort itself out. We all saw how well that went, so I won’t be missing any — admittedly small — opportunity to shape this country’s future again.

Anyway, some of you may have seen this before as it’s certainly nothing new, but it’s been circulating again in light of election season and, at last, I’ve felt compelled to respond to this thing.

It’s ostensibly a letter to the editor by one Ken Huber, but I’m not entirely convinced it was ever published anywhere. Regardless, I think it pretty accurately reflects a certain type of mindset, even if the particular words don’t belong to the person to whom it’s attributed. And it’s a dangerous mindset. A rotten one. I thought I would take a moment to reply.

The text is viewable in the image above…if there are any errors in the transcription below they are not deliberate…feel free to let me know and I will correct them.

Editor, Has America become the land of special interest and home of the double standard?

Remember these words, as Huber frames “special interest” and “double standard” as bad things — rightly so — when he opens the letter, but then spends the rest of his time arguing in their favor.

Lets see: if we lie to the Congress, it’s a felony and if the Congress lies to us its just politics;

It should indeed be a crime to lie “to the Congress.” I genuinely can’t imagine a situation in which lying to the government should be excusable, so I don’t know why it’s a bad thing that those found guilty of bearing false testimony in a court of law should be punished for it.

Also, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anybody say “It’s just politics” when a congressman is caught in a lie. Depending upon the severity of the lie sometimes one’s own party members will attempt to spin it in a less damaging way, but did anybody anywhere brush off the mistruths of Rod Blagojevich, Anthony Weiner or Todd Akin by saying “That’s just politics?”

We have a free press, and we take our congressmen to task for what they say and do, on both sides of the divide. Neither party gets a free ride…at the very least, they get called on it by the other party…one of the relatively few — but pretty clear — benefits of partisanship.

if we dislike a black person, we’re racist and if a black person dislikes whites, its their 1st Amendment right;

We’re still toward the front end of Huber’s second sentence and already he’s arguing overtly for a right to hate. That sure didn’t take long.

Read again what he wrote here, and then consider this alternative: “Why is it that I am always kind and friendly to my black neighbors, but I don’t feel the same courtesy in return?”

Same core wish — for a two-way sense of fairness — but the way in which it’s expressed says worlds about what we wish to do with that fairness. Huber doesn’t want to love his brother or be loved by his brother. He sees that his brother dislikes him and so he’d like the right to dislike him back.

Which is odd, because he does already have that right. Yes, if we dislike a black person because they are black, that is racist…however we have the right to dislike them for whatever intolerant reason we choose. We can’t openly discriminate against them, we can’t commit crimes against them, and we can’t enslave them, but last I checked there were plenty of racist morons roaming the street, longing for the glory days of the universal oppression of everyone who wasn’t them. Here, Huber would like us to think that he is oppressed, because we’ve robbed him of his right to oppress others. And that’s damned disgusting.

Also, it’s pretty funny that he thinks black people get an easier ride with the law than whites. That’s an ignorance so active it must hurt.

the government spends millions to rehabilitate criminals and they do almost nothing for the victims;

I still don’t know what he’s arguing for here. “Do something for the victims” is pretty clearly what he’s trying to say, but what is “something?” And “victims” of what? Both of those things need to be defined because there’s way too much room for interpretation there.

And isn’t the rehabilitation of criminals “something?” If it gets them off the streets and prevents them from committing crimes, then that’s “something” the government is doing for all potential “victims.”

Perhaps he wants free health care for victims of crimes. Well, good news for him: President Obama’s been pushing for that free health care for a while now, while the folks Huber keeps voting into office prevent him from getting it passed. Nice job, Ken.

in public schools you can teach that homosexuality is OK, but you better not use the word God in the process;

I’m unaware of any school, public or otherwise, that explicitly teaches that homosexuality is okay. More accurately they’re just not allowed to teach that it’s a Bad Thing. And why anyone would want to use the word “God” in the process of teaching the complete awesomeness of gayness is beyond me.

you can kill an unborn child, but it is wrong to execute a mass murderer;

37 states practice capital punishment currently, and the most recent Gallup poll on the subject (2011) found that 61% of Americans were in favor of executing those found guilty of murder, with only 35% opposing it. That’s a clear majority, and it’s also the lowest level of support ever found by the Gallup poll…it’s usually even higher. So I’m not sure where Huber gets the idea that America feels it’s wrong to execute a mass murderer, and he’s pretty clearly using that only as a counterpoint for his stance on abortion which, as we all know, is mandatory in all cases of pregnancy now.

we don’t burn books in America, we now rewrite them;

Citation — and significant clarification — needed.

we got rid of communist and socialist threats by renaming them progressive;

First of all, please stop lumping Communism and Socialism together. Second of all…what?

we are unable to close our border with Mexico, but have no problem protecting the 38th parallel in Korea;

We have significant problems with Korea, Ken. Far morseo than we have with Mexico. Of course, they’re also completely different problems and one might say it’s impossible to compare the two without looking foolish for doing so.

if you protest against President Obama’s policies you’re a terrorist, but if you burned an American flag or George Bush in effigy it was your 1st Amendment right.

A revisiting of Huber’s earlier black/white rant, this time naming particular individuals.

First of all, give me an example of one person who’s protested against President Obama and, due to that fact, has been tried as a terrorist. Just one, since this seems to happen all the time. That shouldn’t be so hard.

Heck, just look at Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck…those guys protest Obama on a daily basis, so I have to assume they’ve each been labelled terrorists and punished to the fullest extent of…

…oh, wait. No, they’re still around, and still given a platform with which to spout their anti-Obama beliefs. So where did we get this idea again?

And, yes, it is within your rights to burn someone in effigy. That’s why it’s allowed…because you’re burning someone in effigy. It’s the difference between a political statement and an attempt at assassination. Nobody’s going to jail for it, whether it’s Obama, Bush, or Harry Potter you’re burning.

You can have pornography on TV or the internet, but you better not put a nativity scene in a public park during Christmas;

What correlation is there at all between these two things? Television and the internet are both private venues for information retrieval. If someone chooses to view pornography, that’s within their rights. Why wouldn’t it be? People can choose what to view in both cases. If they want to see the pornography they can and if they don’t wish to see it they can avoid it.

A public park however is…well, public. Which is to say it is not something people should have to avoid, nor should any one person or group of people decide which religion is endorsed by it. (Also pornography, last I checked, is not a religion, so maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the comparison he should be trying to make.)

Somehow I don’t think Huber would be in favor of a giant, mechanical Mohammed being installed in a public park, so why would he be in support of a nativity? Easy…because that reflects his special interest. And his double standard means he’s perfectly fine relegating the beliefs and feelings of others to the sidelines in favor of his.

we have eliminated all criminals in America, they are now called sick people;

I thought we were rehabilitating criminals?

Who knows. Maybe in the time between writing that observation and this one America happened to eliminate all criminals and he just didn’t have time to delete that before mailing it to the editor.

We do indeed refer to criminals as “sick” very often. And they very often are sick. I’m unaware of anyone who’s stopped referring to them as criminals, however.

we can use a human fetus for medical research, but it is wrong to use an animal.

We can use an animal fetus for medical research as well. And we use animals at all stages of development for medical research. We can’t use living human beings of any age for medical research unless they personally consent, and even then there are far more stringent guidelines for testing on humans than there are for testing on animals.

We take money from those who work hard for it and give it to those who don’t want to work;

There are those who don’t want to work, and some of them do indeed defraud government welfare programs. There are also many more who can’t work, or can’t find work, whose families are sustained by temporary government assistance.

The fact that there are those who abuse a system does not suggest that the system itself is a problem.

we all support the Constitution, but only when it supports our political ideology;

I agree with this, Ken. In fact, I’d raise your letter high as proof of that very fact.

we still have freedom of speech, but only if we are being politically correct;

Your letter is not “politically correct” in the slightest, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Yet it’s also not been censored. You’ve proven yourself conclusively wrong by simply making that observation.

parenting has been replaced with Ritalin and video games; the land of opportunity is now the land of hand outs;

Nothing much to say here. The hand-outs bit is dealt with above, and I don’t know why he wants the government to enforce standards of parenting. Wouldn’t that be more in line with the imaginary Big Brother government controllapalooza he’s raging against above?

the similarity between Hurricane Katrina and the gulf oil spill is that neither president did anything to help.

A bit reductionist here, but honestly that’s pretty fair. I will say, however, that there’s a difference between not helping actual human beings who are being displaced and dying, and not helping a body of water that’s seeing substantial environmental impact. Certainly a humanitarian like Huber — who just moments ago was preaching how much more important human life is than animal life — would see that.

Also, hindsight really works against this one, as Obama’s currently dealing with the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy…and he’s dealing with them in an active way that Bush did not do with Katrina. Comparing apples to apples, we have a clear winner here.

And how do we handle a major crisis today? The government appoints a committee to determine who’s at fault, then threatens them, passes a law, raises our taxes; tells us the problem is solved so they can get back to their reelection campaign.

Apparently determining who is at fault before dishing out punishment is a Bad Thing to Huber. So is passing a law to prevent it from happening again, and asking citizens to chip in so that this new law protecting them from a “major crisis” occurring again can actually be enforced.

What has happened to the land of the free and home of the brave?

You demonstrated that neither of those things has gone anywhere simply by complaining that they’re long gone. You’re brave and free enough to write what you feel, and newspapers are brave and free enough to print it, and everyone else is brave and free enough to respond to it as they see fit. Congratulations, Ken…your imaginary nightmare land never existed.

– Ken Huber, Tawas City

So why get out and vote?

Because this man is unquestionably turning up to the polls.

Do your part, America.

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