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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wrapping up the decade.

So, 2010 is upon us. We just figured out how to refer to what year it was in shorthand (sadly, “oh 9” beat out “ought 9”) and now we have to figure out how to refer to the teen years of the current millennium.

My vote is for the “oh’s” to continue. So I christen the new year “Oh 10.”

A whole lot of crap went down, didn’t it? The United States suffered the biggest sneak attack since 1941, and today there sits in the white house a black president.

I wonder what science fiction writers will do now to indicate that the future is a bizarre, far flung place outside the realm of our experience? I'm going to go with Jewish lesbian.

But enough politics. This was a momentous decade for geek culture. We may not have flying cars, or crazy red-eyed computers that break and try to kill us (oh… wait.), but we got a lot of great stuff with in-jokes a plenty. So let’s have a look at what the first decade of 2000 brought The Geek.

1) Firefly and Serenity. Sure, it only lasted one season, but the affect on the geekiverse was massive. Joss Whedon made a space western with actual horses, and managed to remember that sound doesn’t travel in space.

2) And while we’re on the topic of Mr. Whedon, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Weblog came out during a writers’ strike and completely blew our socks off. Plus, Ben Edlund finally got to use Bad Horse in something. Everybody wins!

3) Felicia Day. The Guild, Dr. Horrible, and Sears all discovered Ms. Day at the same time. ‘Nuff said.

4) Comic Book Movies. The first decade of the 21st century was very good to comic book fans. We got a watchable Superman movie, two good Spiderman movies and a third one that’s watchable if you skip the ending, two good X-men movies, two solid Incredible Hulk movies, two watchable Hellboy (of all franchises) movies, a decent Ghost Rider movie, and a really good Iron Man movie, two excellent Batman reboots and two Frank Miller originals in Sin City and Thermopylae. If you like comic book movies, this has been a good decade.

5) Speaking of Movies, I simply cannot let the passage of the Lord of the Rings movies go buy uncommented. Peter Jackson took a rich and complex world and brought it to the silver screen in a way that, honestly, I didn’t think possible. I went to see the first movie fully expecting it to stink, but it didn’t. Not only didn’t it stink, it was awesome. The movie trilogy is proof that a good book-to-film translation is possible; it just takes someone who’s invested in the core material. On behalf of geeks everywhere, I must say: thank you, Mr. Jackson.

6) Television shows. In the last ten years there has been a surprising amount of good television. House M.D., Monk, Chuck, Mythbusters, the aforementioned Firefly. And that’s just the stuff I’ve watched. The last ten years have also seen the establishment of the “Reality Show” which, for good or for ill, is now part of the cultural landscape. Or wasteland, depending upon your perspective.

7) Video Games. This has been the Mother Lode of all decades. Nostalgia for the 1990s (aka: the decade of a thousand side-scrolling-platformers) notwithstanding, let’s just consider what this decade has brought us. First off, we’ve seen EA go from being a blight on the industry to the friend of gamers, while Activision has won the title of corporate succubus and convenient target for corporate haterade in the gaming forum community. We’ve seen the creation of new and phenomenal intellectual properties (Bioshock, Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect, Far Cry, God Hand, God of War, Sins of a Solar Empire, Dead Space, Portal, the Pixeljunk series, Katamari Damacy) and the competent and loving continuation of old franchises (New Super Mario Brothers, Sam and Max, Fallout 3, Tekken 4 and 5, Half Life 2, Team Fortress 2, GTA 3, all the new Zelda and Metroid games) and some truly excellent uses of existing IPs from other media (Batman: Arkham Asylum, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Spiderman 2, Ghostbusters). This decade has shown us that the independent developer can do wonderful things (Sins of a Solar Empire, Dwarf Fortress, Runman, Audiosurf). We’ve seen the resurrection of forgotten genres with the return of Sam and Max and the Monkey Island reboot. We’ve seen the merging of multiple genres, mostly with RPGs (Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Borderlands) but also with RTS games (Brutal Legend). We’ve learned that it’s possible to have games where you can go anywhere and do almost anything (GTA3, Red Faction: Guerilla, Far Cry 2 and pretty much every open world game out there). We’ve even become rock stars in the comfort of our own living rooms (Guitar Hero and Rock Band). And if that weren’t enough, we’ve learned to play games on two screens (DS), with a stylus (DS, iPhone) and they’ve finally tapped the potential of the Power Glove… sorta (Wii). Sadly, not all the news has been good. We’ve also learned that console games can and will need patches, and the DRM isn’t just something PC gamers have to deal with. We’ve also learned that most of the people you’ll meet playing online console games are not the sort of people you want to, you know, meet. Taken as a whole, though, a positive decade.

8) Three Words: World Of Warcraft. This one is so big it deserves its own slot in the list. Since 2004, WoW has amassed millions of subscribers, making the MMORPG such a staple of gaming that nobody even calls them MMORPGs. They’re just MMOs. In fact, Wow has become so big that I am willing to bet that you’re surprised it only came out in 2004. Fess up: you thought it was older than that, didn’t you?

9) Lemon Demon. So let’s follow up something that everyone has heard of with something that almost nobody has heard of. Neil Cicerega started his musical career in 2003 under the name Trapezoid. Following some dustup over copyright infringement and who came first, he changed the name of his one-man band to Lemon Demon. Boasting influence from multiple sources, notably among them They Might Be Giants, I remain convinced that young Mr. Cicerega is a genius. An actual, “I could get into Mensa if I wanted to” genius. I have no proof, but I would gladly bet money on it. His lyrics are delightfully clever and he has a bizarre knack for poking fun at things in such a way that he really shouldn’t be insightful enough to do. The song “White Bread Boyfriend” is a prime example—nobody who began his musical career in high school should be able to write something that bitingly satirical. Likewise “Geeks in Love,” which I suggest you Google immediately, reveals an old soul while still retaining a healthy dollop of whimsy. And while you’re Googling, look up “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.” You won’t regret it.

10) Schlock Mercenary. And speaking of obscure things that cropped up this decade, Schlock Mercenary started up in 2001 and hasn’t missed an update since. I’ve already written about that, however, and you should go read my earlier thoughts on the webcomic.

11) And do you think I could possibly forget to mention that the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released in this decade? I have a copy of the books (Player’s guide, DM’s Guide and Monster Manual) sitting in my bookshelf awaiting the day when my daughter and son are old enough to participate in a quest. Having no experience with the previous editions, I can’t tell you what’s different. What I do know is that, from a beginner’s perspective, 4th edition is very accessible, and the books are just a good read even if you’re not planning on playing anytime soon.

And that’s just a taste of what happened back in the first decade of the 21st century. Imagine what I could have written if I’d have taken the time to do any research at all!

Of course, the most important thing that happened in this decade, from the perspective of the author, is finding, marrying, having children and buying a house with The Missus. We met in 2003 thanks to the power of the internet, and have been inseparable pretty much ever since. We got married in the fall of 2005 wearing Converse all-stars (mine were formal black, hers were pink). Our first child was born in 2007, and our second was born in 2009. Who knows what wonders the next two years may bring us? I look forward to sharing that adventure, and the rest of my days, with her.

That two geeks from different states can find each other, fall in love, get married, start a family and put down roots in the space of ten years is truly the wonder of the decade.