Easily entertained.

Sunday, May 6th, 2001

Since I work from home, I sit in front of my computer for hours on end just about every day. Though I love my job, I have discovered a few things that I like doing on a computer much more than working with Microsoft Word. They’re frivolous things, to be sure, but since I get such a kick out of them, I thought I would share them with you.

1) Playing “Thief: The Dark Project.” This is the absolute coolest computer game on the face of the Earth, and I will hear nothing to the contrary. It’s been out for several years, but it’s still in a league of its own. If you think you don’t like computer games because they’re all mindless, shoot-em-up gore-fests, then try this one. I’m not a computer game addict by any stretch of the imagination, but I am utterly enthralled with this game. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

The basic premise is that you’re a thief in a sort of pseudo-industrialized medieval world, and you get commissioned to do various jobs of thievery. It starts out in a fairly straightforward way, but the plot of the entire game gets more and more complex as you go along. The object is not to kill everyone you come across, but rather to avoid being noticed by them by either hiding from them or sneaking up on them and knocking them out (and then dragging the body into the shadows, of course, so no one else comes across it and knows that something is afoot).

It’s a real total-immersion sort of game, and it’s incredibly atmospheric. This is due in large part to the spectacular sound effects (distant footsteps, overheard conversations, whispers on the wind). The first time I ever played it, I was alone in the house in the evening. It was dark outside and completely silent and empty inside, and I was so caught up in the creepy atmosphere and tension of Thief that every time something snuck up on me in the game, I jumped out of my skin in real life. I actually had to just stop playing because I was scaring myself to death. That may not sound like much of an endorsement, but trust me - this game rules.

And thanks to Jeremy, I have “Thief II: The Metal Age” waiting for me when (if) I finish the first Thief.

2) Playing “Star Wars Episode I Pod Racer.” This is a whole different kettle of fish. I was completely uninterested in playing this game until I actually played it for the first time and found myself still sitting in front of the computer at 4 o’clock in the morning (!), racing in my little pod.

This game is just fast, and it’s addictive in that each round is relatively short, so it’s easy to keep saying, “I’ll just have one more go, I know I can do better than that…" - over and over and over again. It’s really a fairly straightforward racing game, but the landscapes are great, the sound effects are pretty cool, and the sheer speed of the thing really gets the old adrenaline pumping. It’s not something you should play before going to bed because it gets you all hyped up, but then, it (like Thief) is really best played after dark.

I’m not terribly good at Pod Racer, and I have been known to throw little tantrums and bang on the desk when I crash my pod, or I come in tenth place in a race, or Jeremy does better than me on a track (Pod Racer brings out a startlingly vehement competitiveness in me). But I’m still hooked on the game at the moment, and for somewhat mindless entertainment, I highly recommend it.

3) Staring at the visual bit of iTunes on Jeremy’s iMac. Talk about mindless entertainment… It’s a good thing that I don’t have anything like iTunes on my computer, because I don’t think I’d ever get any work done. iTunes is the music program on the iMac that lets you rip CDs, listen to music on the computer and, remarkably, “see" the music - in a way. It’s got a video function that gives you abstract visuals which look more or less like your average trippy screen saver, but which actually pick up on certain frequencies and rhythms in the music being played and thus correspond to whatever song happens to be playing at the moment. You get big spiky lines for guitar solos, pulsating circles that match the drumbeats, wispy clouds for atmospheric background noise, etc.etc.

The combinations of shapes, colors and movement are endless and completely entrancing. Sit me down in front of the iTunes visuals with some music playing, and I become a glassy-eyed, drooling zombie. I simply can’t tear myself away. I could probably stare at the computer screen for hours if you let me, watching the permutations, seeing the music. The moments in which the random iTunes visuals just happen to correspond perfectly to what’s happening in the music are transcendental moments indeed. You think I’m exaggerating, but really - this program fascinates me.

It’s better with some bands than with others. iTunes seems to like Talking Heads a lot because of the strong percussion; the visuals always fit really well to Talking Heads songs. It can be brilliant with loud, rocky stuff. Muse songs in particular look really good, and it’s no surprise, really, that Apple chose an extremely cool Muse song to advertise iTunes on television (over here, anyway). It’s great with trip hop, of course; Massive Attack and Portishead look suitably trippy on the screen. But the music I like watching best at the moment is Radiohead, especially the “Kid A” album. I think Radiohead must check all their songs on iTunes before releasing them, because iTunes’ abstract visual landscapes fit stunningly well to Radiohead’s abstract musical landscapes. Jeremy had to physically remove me from the chair yesterday in order to get me to stop watching “Idioteque" on his computer.

Come to think of it, maybe you should avoid iTunes. It’s hypnotizing effect on me is really rather frightening.

And actually, after re-reading this journal entry, I think maybe I should avoid computers a bit more altogether. Total immersion in Thief - staying up till 4 a.m. with Pod Racer - drooling in front iTunes… it all sounds quite sad, really. Just chalk it up to my being very easily entertained.



And I just hope, that my computer will not break every (each) half hour …

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