The Mommy Gamers

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Helen A. Lee

    Review: Forgotton Anne

    It’s been a while since I had the chance to really sit down and enjoy my Xbox, but I just played through the beautiful and cinematic 2D adventure Forgotton Anne, and I really couldn’t think of a better way to remind me how much I love games.

    Forgotton Anne, developed by the independent ThroughLine Games and published through SquareEnix, is due out May 15 on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. It’s a lovely, atmospheric adventure about a teenage girl, Anne, who is the respected Enforcer in a world of forgotten things (that single lost sock, old couches, broken alarm clocks). As the Enforcer, she has the power to “distill” the Forgotlings, the beings who live here.

    Forgotton Ann ScreenShot 1

    She must use this power in chasing down the Rebels, a group of Forgotlings who are trying to prevent her, her master Bonku, and other Forgotlings from returning to the Ether, where they all originated. Bonku has almost completed the bridge back home.

    The story comes to life through Studio Ghibli-style animation and your general mystery-adventure elements – puzzles, guided explorations, well-placed and seamless cut scenes. You get to know the characters, you find out the motivations behind the rebels, and you develop Anne’s personality through the choices you make. Many of the puzzles involve the manipulation of anima, the energy source in the Forgotten Lands, which Anne can utilize to power her Arca, the wrist instrument she uses to “distill” Forgotlings and investigate the Rebels.

    It took me about seven hours to play through the game once, but I’m going to do it again just as soon as I can. I’d like to figure out how making different choices affects the outcomes of certain events in the game. And I’ve enjoyed being in the world of the Forgotlings – I’m thrilled to go back and play there again.

    Forgotton Anne Screenshot 2

    The Good

    This game is just gorgeous. The visuals and music contribute to an immersive and intriguing experience that looks just like my favorite old-school anime, with just a tiny hint of a steampunk vibe. There’s humor and whimsy and the sense that you’re definitely in a fantasy world, but one that’s not so far removed from the one we live in. During the course of the game you’ll experience multiple well-designed environments that are pretty to look at and fun to play.

    The story, while not totally unpredictable with mild twists and turns, creates an emotional impact not unlike what you get from the best, heart-wrenching films. The characters are interesting and excellently rendered. I felt totally guilty making the choices that would lead to an ending other than the one I should have taken. I swear I only cried once.

    Forgotton Anne Screenshot

    The Meh

    I’m not good with learning controls. This is why I’m so bad at shooters, where ducking and running seems to require a higher degree of education than I have. Forgotten Anne does require a certain dexterity with hand-eye coordination to get places, sometimes places you need to go in order to solve problems. The tutorial is very well-integrated, though, and I will say I never got stuck anywhere for long.

    I admit to not always knowing what I was doing, though. Once, I encountered a puzzle that I thought might contain a glitch, but turned out to be easily solved in a different way. Other than that, I experienced the things I like most about adventure games – not terribly complex gameplay and simple decision-making, with consequences that bring you deeper into a mystery you’ve become invested in.

    Forgotton Anne Screenshot train

    The Bad

    Can’t think of anything. Well, I’m not sure I was completely satisfied with the endings – at least one of them left me hanging. But then again, I’m not sure I was expecting any different. I’d be interested to hear what other people think about that.

    Oh, I’m not sure I completely agree about the Teen rating. My 12-year-old experienced the whole thing with me without any issue at all. And he was better at the puzzles for sure. The warnings say there’s partial nudity, crude humor, and the use of tobacco. I don’t recall any partial nudity, and the other two may have been present but not obtrusive. I didn’t even notice. I’d allow a kid several years younger than mine to play with no qualms whatsoever.

    Final Thoughts

    I definitely recommend getting Forgotton Anne, if you like platform-style adventures. It’s really well done and stylistically perfect, with a compelling narrative and striking…well, pretty much everything is striking.

     

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    A Close Encounter with the Hello Kitty Food Truck…Part Two

    If you follow The Mommy Gamers, you may know that in April 2016 I sought out the Hello Kitty food truck in vain hopes of scoring cute snacks. Unfortunately, the truck was woefully equipped to deal with Chicagoland enthusiasm for adorable Japanese nonsense, and I failed. I get did a mug and a T-shirt (it should’ve said “I visited the Hello Kitty Cafe and all I got was…”).

    This year, the Hello Kitty Cafe came closer to me – specifically, to a mall about 10 minutes from my house. Now, I know this mall. My kid did Gymboree in this mall every week from age 1-3. I do about 90 percent of my retail therapy here. I buy all my books at the Barnes & Noble. I get my Nespresso refills here. Until recently when it closed, I got my regular chocolate Godiva reward here (a free truffle every month!). I occasionally get together with my girlfriends and my book club here.

    Yes, there is a young girl sitting behind the menu. I hope she got some good treats!

    Just last week I made my houseguest from Kansas go visit so she could bring me some Nando’s Peri-Peri. Oh, I also get my hair cut here. And when I have giant stress knots in my shoulder from livin’ the glamorous freelance writer lifestyle, I go to the Mario Tricoci in this mall so someone can (attempt to) knead them out.

    This is a definite advantage when scoping out Hello Kitty food trucks. When I heard it was going to be by the L.L. Bean, I knew exactly where to park when everyone else was complaining about no parking. So I arrived right at 10:30 and got into line immediately. I know this place so well I could tell without even looking that my wait would be shorter than last year.

    This year I was somewhat more prepared, although I still didn’t bring any sunblock (it’s October in the Chicago area, who knew – and it looked cloudy when I went to Zumba that morning). I also forgot a snack. I had a giant book. The fourth in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, to be exact, which I’m re-reading for an online book club. I had a water bottle because my kid was in Orlando riding Space Mountain without me, so he could not make a tea run. I had my workout bag, with a wrap inside in case it got cold.

    The people behind me clearly didn’t know what they were getting into. They’d just come from a dance class, following a slumber party that was making their two little girls very grumpy because they’d stayed up so late. After I told them about my four hours in line last year, they decided their kids wouldn’t be able to stay a half hour, let alone four, and left.

    The people ahead of me were a bit more knowledgeable, and had done this the previous year as well. Nevertheless, they disappeared somewhere between my arrival and the front of the line, and I ended up talking to a nice group of three people – one of whom had the exact same name as me.

    We all took lots of pictures and selfies. The point where you get to the menu sign is A Big Deal. Kids are running around, people are refreshing their pals in line with Starbucks coffees (there’s one right near where the truck was parked) and snacks (ironic, right?), and we’re getting to know our neighbors.

    Actually, come to think of it, when I stood in line to see Hillary Clinton this past Monday at a local bookstore, it was basically the same thing except that Peet’s Coffee came by every so often to offer free samples of cookies and brownies. Now that would have been a good marketing ploy for someone at the mall.

    Apparently I like standing in lines in order to spend money on stuff. Capitalism loves me.

    Anyway, it really didn’t feel that long before I got to the front, where all of us took pictures of the Hello Kitty truck’s tires – well, they were decorated with images of bows! It felt like a triumph, especially when the only thing they’d run out of were the small thermal water bottles (18 ounces). Everyone takes longer than they should at the front because they’re deciding, once they actually see the product in the window. Today, they were selling handmade bow headbands that were not listed on the menu.

    Sadly, I was assuming the t-shirts and mugs would be like last years, and they weren’t. So of course I had to buy one of everything. Although I never wore my t-shirt from last year, so I was able to resist that.

    Here’s a picture of my haul:

    A Quick Review

    So, I finally got to try the food. Actually, it’s pretty good. I don’t eat macarons that often so I’m not sure how they compare to the regular stuff, but they were pretty, tasty, and sweet, and you could even tell what the flavors were supposed to be. The mini-cakes were denser than I expected, rich and flavorful. The cookies – whoa, I forgot about the cookies! I know what I’m having for lunch…

    I bought a freaking $36 thermal mug! But it’s totally cute and I’m just going to put it somewhere prominent in my house and stare at it with adoration from time to time. And the regular mug, with the bow handle, is going to hold lots of chai tea this winter.

    Was it worth the money and effort? Well, I guess it depends on your point of view. I had been in Chinatown just the day before, and if all I’d wanted was cute Hello Kitty stuff I could have gotten it there at a fraction of the price. The best part of doing the Hello Kitty Cafe, I’ve learned, is the experience. Being there with other geeky people who are willing to stand in line for the privilege of buying overpriced merch is most of the fun.

    No, I don’t regret it. Yes, I’ll probably do it again. Yes, I’m probably a bit crazy. But if you’re not willing to do it, too – or at least laugh with me about my doing it and bring me lattes while I wait – you’re really not my people anyway.

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    Cooking with Dice: Making Delicious Food, RPG-Style

    I love to cook. I get a chance to do it quite often because I’m a single mom and I can’t afford healthy, gourmet restaurant dinners every night. I can barely afford pizza once a week!

    I love gaming. That, I often have to skip because I also have to make money. My time is pretty much always taken up writing, trying to get more writing work, getting my school work done, and doing mom things.

    So – I don’t always have time to game. I have a new PS4 I’ve barely touched. I have Zelda: Breath of the Wild, sitting in my living room starting at me. I drop my kid off at D&D games and then go home to study. This doesn’t stop me from sneaking a few minutes of smartphone gaming at bedtime and Pokemon Go when I’m out and about. But it does mean my gaming time is cut pretty drastically. Every year my #1 New Year’s resolution is to Play More Games.

    So, what’s the compromise? This fall, I’m finding it in a little book called Cooking With Dice.

    Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. A kitchen-based RPG. And it’s going to save my season!

    What is Cooking With Dice?

    This original game, the first in what will be a series, turns cooking into a game you can play alone or with the entire family.

    This past spring, Cooking with Dice was a Kickstarter project offered by the people behind Adventure Scents. Creator Jennifer Howlett says that the project, and her company, started as a way of gamifying cooking to make it more fun for her kids, and to help her family connect. “I think that gamifying something is a great way to drive learning and motivation,” she says. “I love watching TV cooking competition shows (it’s a guilty pleasure) and have always wished I could capture that adventure in my own kitchen. I feel like Cooking with Dice has helped me to experiment more with cooking and try out things I’d never done before.”

    She did plenty of research to create the recipes in the book, and utilized family members and volunteer play testers to complete the project.

    There’s a story. You’re an adventure-chef, journeying through a fantasy setting with different scenarios. Like Dungeons & Dragons, there are classes and races, and you roll your dice to introduce an element of chance into your endeavors. Actually, you start out at Level 1 as a Plongeur (dishwasher), and work your way up to Chef de Cuisine (head chef).

    And it’s fun. Using formulas and gaming tables rather than outright recipes, Cooking with Dice allows you to gamify different aspects of cooking. You can be more creative and flexible, and, as Howlett says in the book, add “your own personal magic.” This first installment of the series forgoes heat in favor of chemical changes caused by acid. Every food you create is a bit different, because the dice decide.

    The Good:

    Quickles (my version had rosemary)

    I’m not really an RPG gamer. I don’t have any patience to read the manuals, and no one has ever invited me into a D&D session that evolved past character creation. But Cooking with Dice is short and the instructions are clear and simple.

    But this concept has made my grocery shopping more interesting. I hate grocery stores. Now, though, I take my copy of this game, and a bag of dice, and I roll to see what ingredients I’m going to be buying. If you see a random person in the produce section trying to find a flat surface, then rolling a 20-sided die, that could be me. Or someone else playing the game.

    Also, this type of cooking is unfamiliar to me. I tend to be more hit or miss when it comes to dishes that require chemical reactions as the main form of food alteration. However, this is giving me a chance to try things I’ve never done. It’s fun, and getting kids on board is easy. The writing is engaging and witty, and the recipes and instruction are creative, well thought out and simple.

    I made pickles (see above)! In fact, I made quite a few items that are outside my comfort range, and my son helped. He hates pickles, but would eat the game’s Quickles all day. (Ours were cucumber seasoned with rosemary, based on our roll.)

    So, success! Howlett’s goal worked for me. I’m sold! And my son has never had so much fun cooking. I haven’t quite finished the book yet, but I’m getting there. This is a really good way to get your kids involved in the kitchen.

    The Bad:

    I can’t think of anything, except that failure can be discouraging, and I failed with the cheese the first time because I used pasteurized milk. I also failed with the Dragonfly Jam because I could not locate the right kind of pectin. But those things aren’t Cooking with Dice’s fault. The book clearly said I could not use pasteurized milk, and I could not locate the correct kind of pectin. Oops. Like I said, this is not an area of cuisine that I’m terribly familiar with.

    Ceviche Tomato Bombs (with shrimp)

    To be honest, it’s actually taking me a long time to get through the game because I’m always so busy, and finding other ways to use up ingredients I bought for the game is sometimes beyond my mental capability, even though they aren’t weird or anything. So my son and I have to make an extra effort to do the game justice, but Cooking with Dice gives our kitchen a much-needed culinary spark on nights we decide to play. It’s a good thing the game is so easy and flexible, because otherwise it’d just be another Crock-Pot dump meal for us.

    The Final Word:

    In a world that’s becoming more and more digitized, in which we have much less free time than we’d like, Cooking with Dice is a breath of fresh air. My son isn’t always a super-adventurous eater but he’ll try new foods, especially if we make them ourselves.

    Cooking with Dice lets us fit gaming into our busy lifestyle, and eat better food while we’re doing it. That’s a win-win in my book!

    Howlett and her 12-year-old daughter are working on a sequel for 2018, which would contain formulas that are easy for kids to make with minimal supervision. I’m on board with that!

    If you’d like more information on the book and Adventure Scents, visit www.cookingwithdice.com. Next month, Cooking with Dice: The Acid Test will be available via the website and through Amazon.com.

    Richard Hatch: The Heart of BSG Goes Missing

    As a child, I think you connect with role models and heroes in a way that you don’t when you’re grown up. You’re learning about yourself, finding your passions, figuring out where you fit in. You attach yourself to people you see on screen, relating to them in deeply profound ways and perhaps not understanding exactly where reality detaches from fantasy. Those characters become a touchstone for your life. As you get older, you may grow out of that intense passion for your heroes, but they’ve left an indelible mark that never quite fades. 

For me, Apollo of “Battlestar Galactica” is one of those icons.

    I was just eight years old when the series first started airing on ABC, and I have hazy but fond memories of sitting in my living room in front of a console TV, watching a traitor named Baltar give silver robots orders from a high pedestal in a dark room. I have clearer memories of reruns being aired every single weekend throughout my entire childhood, into my mid-teens, even though BSG was canceled after just one high-profile season. I watched the series over and over again. I’ve probably seen every episode of the 1978 series 50 times.

    Two Apollos – Jamie Bamber and Richard Hatch

    One of the show’s main actors was Richard Hatch, who played Apollo, and who died this week. He was my first star crush. I was way too young to think of Luke or Han as potential crushes, when I saw “Star Wars” at age 6. And I’ve always been more drawn to strong female characters than male ones. This means that though Apollo was my first crush, I always wanted him for Sheba, played by Anne Lockhart – not for myself. That was my first ‘ship. Not that we had a name for it in those days.

    By the time I met Richard Hatch in person, I was too wise to the ways of the world to expect this actor to be anything like the character he portrayed, and he isn’t – exactly. The two are both dark and handsome and charismatic. Apollo is serious and uncorruptible, the brooding hero that good girls like me dreamed of. Richard Hatch is outgoing, fun, and easy to hang with. In my limited encounters with him, his charm has seemed more what I’d expect from Apollo’s fictional co-conspirator Starbuck, played by Dirk Benedict.

    I’ve been told that girls either gravitated to Starbuck or Apollo. This told you pretty much everything you needed to about said girl – and I was an Apollo girl. Whatever that says about me. This didn’t change after I met the man who played him. That was on the 2008 Galacticruise, celebrating the series’ 30th anniversary. I am just one of many fans who experienced the Hatch charm, and found my love for BSG revitalized by his clear passion for the series, even after all these years.

    Richard Hatch has a way with people. In my journal from 2008, I say that he’s “handsomer in person,” which is very unlike me. But his attractiveness is more than skin-deep. He makes every single person feel special. You know, at first I thought it was just me – wow, he really thinks I’m cool, I thought. But nope. It turns out he’s that way with everyone. Just ask anyone who’s ever met him. It’s easy to react positively to that vigorous, yet authentic charm, and to be enthusiastic about whatever Hatch is enthusiastic about.

    Photo from last summer, courtesy of Richard’s friend and publicist Mina Frannea

    And some of his enthusiasm has always been reserved for BSG – the story, the characters, and the family that has grown up around the series over decades, which expanded when the newer SyFy reboot entered the fold. Over the years, he’s spent much of his time and energy campaigning for another version of the series, being an ambassador for the show, and otherwise strengthening the bonds between BSG and its fans. It has been his life’s work, in a way. The fact that he ended up playing Tom Zarek in the new BSG was simply – fitting.

    I’ve met him once or twice at conventions since then, because he’s always going to them all over the world, and I interviewed him just a little over a year ago. He remains one of the most approachable actors I’ve ever spoken with, and I’ve interviewed my share. I also took one of his acting seminars. Now I’m no actor, and I have no pretensions that I’d ever be good at it, but here’s what I remember learning during that experience: acting is a lot like life. You may not be a professional actor, but the techniques used to improve one’s acting ability can help you work through your feelings and establish self-esteem. You can break through the fear that’s sapping your energy, poisoning your attitude, and holding you back from discovering your best self.

    I know, it all sounds like cliched self-help stuff, but I can’t do justice to his actual words. When Richard Hatch said it, it was quite moving and very inspiring. And I’m a cynical Gen X-er so that means something. It’s not so much the words I remember as the kindness, and the sincerity, behind it. He really wanted to help us achieve our dreams.

    I have come to know firsthand how amazing, interesting, and generous the BSG community is. This is no accident. The fans have had, as their champion, a man who who truly believes in the BSG story – its “heart and soul, and spirit,” as he described it to me in an interview in 2015. In a very real way, Richard Hatch was the heart and soul and spirit of the BSG fandom, and he will be missed. Those of us who were “Apollo girls,” or kids who aspired to be like him in a world that needs heroes, will not forget.

    And Apollo, that upright, good, honest man who saw so much darkness but imparted so much hope, may very well be waking up on that Ship of Lights again. At last.

    Click here for a Nerdist video paying tribute to Richard Hatch. And click here to go to the article I wrote on BSG, “A Fan History of Battlestar Galactica,” which explains Hatch’s contributions to BSG fandom (and a lot of other things…).

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    A Close Encounter with the Hello Kitty Cafe Food Truck

    20160813_131601
    I know, everyone likes Hello Kitty. She’s adorable! Even so, apparently everyone still underestimates her popularity. Including the people who run the Hello Kitty Cafe’s food truck. Including hundreds of fans who showed up today to check it out. Including me.

    When I left my house around noon in hopes of catching the Hello Kitty truck, I really had only a vague idea what I was doing. I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of food would be offered, or how long I’d be there, or if there’d be a crowd. I brought my camera, some sunblock, and a copy of Quidditch Through the Ages (because I was playing in a Facebook-based quidditch trivia tournament at 5 p.m.). I was prepared to stand in line. Or so I thought.

    P1060486

    My view from the back of the line

    I’ve been a Hello Kitty fan since I was five or so – my dad would bring me Hello Kitty souvenirs when he went to Taipei, Taiwan starting in the mid-’70s. Today I still have my share of Hello Kitty merch – t-shirts, a keychain, a purse. It didn’t occur to me to wear any of it today, but lots of other people did. I saw t-shirts, mostly, but here and there you could see a clear kawaii influence. Parasols! Mini-bun hairstyles! And lots of geekery. Turns out, the Hello Kitty fan base (more adults than kids) also loves Pokemon, “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who,” and cute Chucks. Ah, my people.

    When I heard that the Hello Kitty food truck was coming to Oakbrook Mall in Oak Brook, Ill. this weekend, of course I planned my day around it. Not very well, as it turns out. I forgot the sunblock in the car, didn’t think to eat beforehand, and walked around the mall for like 30 minutes before I figured out where the truck was parked (in front of Urban Outfitters, duh). By the time I arrived, my phone battery was already depleted from trying to catch Pokemon – which I didn’t do much of, seeing as I was plumb out of Poké Balls. I debated for a few minutes as to whether or not I should bother to get in line, because the posted menu consisted of donuts, cakes, cookies, macarons, a water bottle, a mug, and t-shirts – and the donuts were already sold out. The offerings didn’t seem very filling, and the line was already pretty huge.

    P1060489

    This is the closest I got to the macarons, which are in the bowtie-shaped boxes

    I decided I’d get in for a few minutes and see how fast it moved. I was right behind the mom of a little girl in blonde pigtails who declared passionately, when asked if she was sure she wanted to do this, “I’ve been waiting for this my WHOLE LIFE!” It wasn’t too bad, so I stayed – but it got worse. I had time to re-read Quidditch Through the Ages and memorize the entire list of fouls and the names of the 13 English teams. Then I had time to memorize the entire list of broom games of the wizarding world that were precursors to quidditch. Then I was able to memorize the entire lineup of European quidditch teams. Then I memorized the names of everyone who had ever played quidditch. Then I memorized the length and width of the quidditch field, and the names and previous names of all the positions of all the players, then the history of the Golden Snitch (it was introduced in 1269). And then I was sick of quidditch.

    So I made friends with a mom and seven-year-old daughter who told me all about their charm necklaces and gave me a catalog. I petted two tiny puppies in line with me, one of which was wearing a Hello Kitty harness. I listened to the Harry Potter conversation of the people who were right behind me until they gave up. I admired someone’s “Doctor Who” bag, which had Tardises (Tardisi?) on the outside and cartoon Doctors along the inside lining. I spotted some friends who had been in line since 9:30 a.m. And then I got thirsty. Everyone in line had someone else with them who was passing them drinks from Argo Tea, except me. At one point, we passed waters down the line to someone, and I wasn’t the only one tempted to just grab the cup and drink it myself. So many people around me were sucking down bubble teas that I started brainstorming ideas of how to get myself one (Taskrabbit? Paying the seven-year-old girl to do it? Bribing someone in line for their drink?). In the end, the mom and daughter offered to save my place, and in return I got them bubble tea and water. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers, saving those of us who are way unprepared.

    I managed to not take any pictures of people wearing cool things, but I did get a picture of a tiny puppy in line!

    I managed to not take any pictures of people wearing cool things, but I did get a picture of a tiny puppy in line, being petted by my seven-year-old friend

    I snaked my way through three sets of zig-zagging line separators designed to contain us as we slowly got closer to the pink food truck. At some point I figured I was in it for the long haul because I had already been in line for two and a half hours. I was maybe 40 minutes from the end when the macarons ran out. The truck employees first passed word back that three boxes only were left.  I said, optimistically, “Well, as long as there are still some on display at the front of the truck, there are still more left, right?” At which point a person in the truck took down all the boxes of macarons at the front of the truck, and my new mom and daughter friend gave up and went to go get macarons at Godiva instead. I was about 20 minutes from the end when the cookies ran out. There was no food left, and my Facebook-based quidditch tournament was about to start.

    Hell hath no fury like a crowd deprived of Hello Kitty sweets. A bunch of people left disgusted, and others went up to the truck and asked about the situation – could the people who were left at least get the bags (free with a $25 food purchase) for standing in line for four hours with nothing to show for it? It’s my understanding that the employees called in, but were not allowed to do anything for anyone. More rumors, naturally, ran rampant – there were no mugs left, they were going to stop selling after another 15 minutes so they’d still have merch left for tomorrow, that sort of thing.

    My phone, an ancient Samsung Galaxy S4, had been turned off early so I’d have battery power for the quidditch tournament, should I still be there at 5 p.m. I was. I was the first on my team to play (as Keeper). It was Slytherin vs. Hufflepuff (I’m a Puff). The question that was asked…was NOT IN QUIDDITCH THROUGH THE AGES. It never is, especially when I’ve spent the last three hours in line memorizing every fact about quidditch in the entire freaking book. I answered it correctly, immediately, probably because the answer had come up in a study session with my fellow Puffs at some points (yay me). Then the Slytherin Seeker caught the Snitch. Tournament lasted 3.5 seconds, score 100-10, which ties the shortest Quidditch game on record. A fact I know because I spent three hours memorizing every fact about Quidditch in the entire freaking book.

    20160813_201732Meanwhile, in the line, things had reverted to controlled chaos. The line seemed superfluous, as the truck had completely closed down and the workers were selling out of a tent next to it, as fast as they could. Some people  were convinced several lines were now being formed, and yelled at the mall security to stop letting people buy over those of us who’d been standing in line for four hours. There were 50 (or was it 15?) mugs left, and the free bags were long gone too. The rest of us in line had to have SOMETHING to gripe about, so we complained about how long people were taking to decide on which style of t-shirt to get, because after four hours in line shouldn’t you pretty much already know? A bunch of people also started getting on the Facebook page to complain.

    In the end, I left with a mug, a $25 t-shirt, and two pins. The pin is my badge for sticking it out. I wasn’t even planning to buy the shirt, but, well…there weren’t any cookies.

    Curses, Hello Kitty Cafe food truck – turns out, the people in charge were just about as unprepared as I was. We suburban Chicagoans (and some Wisconsinites, and some Hoosiers too) are a tetchy lot, and we don’t like when people run out of food. If I were a real wizard, I’d find a curse and hex the people in charge (okay, maybe not, since I’m a Hufflepuff). As it is, I don’t actually believe in magic, so I’m going to sit here drinking tea out of my new Hello Kitty mug, wearing the hell out of my new pink t-shirt, and wondering if Hello Kitty cookies are really just that good. I may never know.

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    What Is It with This Pokemon Go Thing Anyway?

    pokeGOlogoYou’ve been hearing about it ad nauseum, and you’re shaking your head at the bands of kids trespassing on your property in search of the Pokemon that’s apparently hiding in your backyard. You put up this meme:

    pokemongo

    Nevertheless, at least half the people walking down the street with their phones are clearly not 10, either. Some of us even have jobs. So what is the deal with Pokemon Go? Why do you hate it so much? Why does it feel so invasive? Why is everyone playing it in inappropriate places? Well, before you out yourself as the grumpy old person yelling at kids to get off your lawn, here’s what you need to know:

    

The Basics

    pokemonteams

    The teams are Valor (red – discipline), Instinct (yellow – intuition, and Mystic (blue – intellect). Players can choose a team at Level 5.

    Pokemon Go is a free app available for smartphones, an “augmented reality” game from The Pokemon Company and Niantic, Inc. This basically means that it puts virtual gameplay onto a map of the real world, and players interact with both. Pokemon Go is designed to get people out and about, to make them happier and healthier. It does this by generating virtual “pocket monsters” (that’s what Pokemon stands for), well known from previous Pokemon games and thus already favorites with fans, that appear on the phone screen.

    Players catch Pokemon with a flick of the wrist – throwing a virtual Pokeball toward the target. 

In addition to roaming Pokemon, the game also includes PokeStops and Pokemon Gyms. PokeStops are basically stationary rings that you can spin to get free items such as Pokeballs, which are used to catch Pokemon, along with eggs, which hold Pokemon inside and can be hatched if you do a certain amount of walking, and other enhancements. Gyms are places where players can battle each other. If you win a battle, you can take over the gym.

    Playing Pokemon Go is easy. Open the app, and the GPS finds your location. Your screen shows you which Pokemon are close, and where nearby PokeStops and Gyms are located. Start walking. You’ll find Pokemon along the way. At level 5, you can join one of three teams – Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue), or Valor (red). Think of it as being sorted into a house at Hogwarts – your identification becomes tied in with these groups.

    

The Good

    artinst

    The Art Institute of Chicago posted a controversial Facebook post this week encouraging visitors to come find Pokemon inside – in this case, in front of its iconic Chagall windows.

    Pokemon Go is a game of discovery. It makes people get out and explore their neighborhoods, and it encourages socializing. My son has actually been getting off the couch this summer and going outside. Last night I took him to Ravinia Festival for an outdoor musical concert, and he talked to at least ten people about the game. We went to the zoo, where I’ve been volunteering every other week 20 years, and I didn’t recognize half the PokeStops because they were at statues and landmarks I’ve ignored in all my visits there. I had no idea they existed. In my hometown, I discovered a war memorial I must have passed 100 times, and never noticed before.

    Anecdotes already abound about how Pokemon is helping people’s mental health. And it’s giving local businesses a boost. Because Pokemon Go is so popular, entrepreneurs are trying to figure out how to utilize it for their own purposes and small businesses are seeing an uptick in sales from people coming in the door to find Pokemon. Pet shelters and museums and retailers are advertising the presence of Pokemon to get people in the door. (If you are looking for ways to leverage the popularity of the game, I recommend making an in-app purchase; spend $1 – 100 PokeCoins- and set off a lure, which will attract Pokemon and customers for 30 minutes after you activate it.) Also, T-Mobile just announced that data used to play Pokemon Go will not count towards its users’ data allowance.

    Ultimately, the addictive appeal for Pokemon can be a good thing. The goal of hatching eggs is already making more inroads than my Fitbit Alta in getting me to walk places, and I’ve never seen my son so excited to go places that might have Pokemon. The zoo! The botanic garden! The hardware store down the street, which has a gym! And there will be more ways for small businesses to leverage the game’s popularity, too, such as sponsorships that will turn them into portals.

    The Bad

    Screenshot_2016-07-14-23-02-49

    Here’s a screenshot of my phone, with a promotion that showed up on my feed from Binny’s Beverage Depot.

    As with any other engrossing app, Pokemon Go has people looking down at their phones instead of ahead. This can cause problems, because people not paying attention can cause accidents and such (although that traffic accident supposedly caused by someone playing the game is totally false, bad things are happening to players who are careless or who are putting themselves in danger). In addition, Pokemon tend to spawn everywhere, even places that aren’t necessarily friendly to the public, and Gyms and PokeStops can be located in unexpected locations.

    This is because, by the way, Niantic put out a previous game called Ingress, in which users submitted “portals” to be included on the virtual map that’s now basically being used for Pokemon Go. There are rules for these submissions, so PokeStops and Gyms do not interfere with private property, emergency services, or schools. Not all of these locations are completely current because things change so often in the real world, which is why players may end up in locations that don’t truly exist anymore (Please note: you can now submit requests to create portals in the game).

    There are other issues (for example, click here for the word on the game’s overly broad permissions ask). Different Pokemon are found in different locations, and at different times of day. So it can very well be dangerous for some people to play. I know a white man who feels uncomfortable loitering around parks where women and children are clustered. I’ve heard stories of black men who feel the game is too dangerous for them to enjoy, given the present climate. I’ve heard tales from physically disabled people who literally cannot access places where where Pokemon are found. It is not a perfect situation.

    

The Ugly

    Screenshot_2016-07-15-09-04-32

    A game screen, with map. The blue rings at the bottom are a PokeStop; click on it, and a photo of the landmark appears. You spin it to  get items. The darker blue landmark in the distance is a Gym, and it’s blue because right now it’s controlled by Team Mystic. On the bottom right of the screen, the white box tells you which Pokemon are near. If you click on a Pokemon as it appears, the screen changes to a camera image of what’s in front of you, with Pokemon superimposed and a PokeBall ready to “throw.” I caught a Rattata on my bed this morning…

    In the nine or so days that the game has been available, there’s been been a lot of buzz on the Internet, and much of it is bad. Any obsession, enjoyed without rules and not in moderation, can of course be dangerous, and there is etiquette to be learned and followed. The game is new, and people haven’t thought about the consequences of their actions yet (most of them have never heard of Ingress, so they don’t have experience with a game of this type). On the other hand, Pokemon Go gamers have been called many bad names by people who don’t understand the game’s appeal. The Internet is judgey, as usual. The comments sections should not be read.

    If Pokemon Go players are encroaching on your space, you have every right to say something. If they are breaking rules by sneaking in someplace that requires paid admission, that’s wrong. It’s true that there are currently PokeStops in some places that might be viewed as inappropriate – those places were put on the map by previous Ingress players and are only now being deemed offensive because of the number of people playing Pokemon Go. No one even noticed them before. In the past, however, Niantic (once a part of Google) has been responsive about removing them. The people who placed portals in these places most likely had good intentions – bringing people in, for example. It doesn’t mean players are being forced to use those stops, though. As more people play, and as everyone understands the problems of having Pokestops in these locations, things will change.

    But in my experience, it is both possible to stay out of the way of people while I’m playing Pokemon Go, and also be tolerant of people who are, after all, simply enjoying a fun little game that is getting them out and about. Just give players a little time to adjust. I’ll also remind the naysayers that the novelty will wear off – and although there will be updates and changes (an announcement about trading and other improvements has already been made), Pokemon Go – which is, after all, a fun game but not a really great one – will be much less appealing in the winter. At least, here in Chicago. If you live in Florida, you may be out of luck.

    If some kids do cross your lawn in search of Pokemon, feel free to channel the spirit of the game. Instead of yelling at them, why not ask them about it and make some new friends?

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    BOOK REVIEW: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

    LastCallAtTheNightshadeLoungeI’ve long been a fan of Quirk Books, starting with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and continuing on through many other titles, not least of which was last month’s release, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a fun little tale with plenty of ’80s references for old fogeys like me. This month, the company has released Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger, a story with a cool concept – cocktails, properly created, help the main characters fight demonic creatures by giving them superpowers.

    The execution of this cool concept was a bit meh, unfortunately. There’s every reason for me to relate to the main character, a recent college grad named Bailey. She and I are both Asian, and we both went to pretty good schools, and our parents are similar in their goals for us. Bailey is a relatively likeable person with some kick-ass potential, except when she goes after a mediocre guy who has a girlfriend. She doesn’t mean to, but somehow she kisses the guy anyway. Ah, you had potential, Bailey.

    Sadly, most of the other characters in this book feel like caricatures, and it seemed like there were bits missing to explain their relationships. The animosity between two bar owners was not really well-developed, and there could have been great material there. Bailey’s sudden switch to the other bar did not feel at all natural. Zane, Bailey’s romantic interest, had nothing special about him and I couldn’t figure out why she liked him. The stilted and awkward romantic bits were not fun. The secondary characters might well be interesting if more developed, but were reduced to one-note personalities that didn’t add much, and their actions didn’t always make sense. There’s the Surly Girlfriend, the Guy from Canada, the Really Evil Bad Guy, and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

    CbckY3DVIAAWMbyThe plot is amusing, though. Bailey, living at home and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life, is working as a barback because her high school friend, a guy who used to be interested in her romantically, pulled a few strings with his uncle Garrett. She accidentally discovers that every time Zane and his bartender co-workers take a “cigarette break” they’re actually protecting the city from these demon-things called tremens. Turns out, she rather likes this and isn’t too bad at the work, so she becomes a bartender-in-training. The drinks she creates give the drinker a special superpower that lasts until the body has absorbed the drink (about an hour).

    And then she kisses Zane, and they fight. So she’s assigned to a different bar – the Long & Strong, because of course there’s a whole society of tremens-fighters with their own governing body and everything. There, she trains under Vincent Long. As it turns out, Vincent and Garrett are not friends. There’s bad blood there. Also, the holy grail of this tremens-fighting community is the Long Island Iced Tea, and Zane and his father are pretty close to making one. There’s a shady corporation involved and a climactic battle at a major Chicago landmark.

    This story, written differently, could totally have riveted me. As it was, I read the whole thing almost in one sitting – and was disappointed. I did really enjoy the excerpts from the fictional mixologist’s guide, The Devil’s Water Dictionary, which lists the power of each cocktail and reveals its magical history. It actually inspired me to look up the real (non-magical history) of these drinks so I could see where the truth deviated from fiction. And it made me want to try my hand at mixing drinks (not that I thought they’d have any magical properties).

    But what could have been a rich backstory is given short shrift. Parts of the plot seem contrived and unnatural, and anything that required emotion was not dealt with well. I mean, Zane found out some pretty scary things about his dad, and his reaction is virtually non-existent. And I just didn’t buy the Zane/Bailey romance at all. It had no weight to it, no flow, and no rhyme or reason for its existence or continuation.

    Ultimately, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge boasts a great title, a creative concept, and lots of unrealized potential. I thought it was fun overall as a free book given to me for review purposes, and I’d probably read a sequel to see if some of its faults had been addressed. But if you’re looking for the next The Mortal Instruments, maybe try the next book on your list.

    Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger was published June 7, 2016 by Quirk Books and can be purchased at bookstores and online for $14.99. For more information on this title, visit www.quirkbooks.com/lastcall. Here’s a small taste of what you’ll find in this book:

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