Video Games: How I Got Started As a Gamer

I used to play a lot of video games.

It started as a kid. My dad got an NES when Nintendo first released it. I remember playing a lot of Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and Bubble Bobble. I remember the World Class Track Meet game and the Power Pad, running furiously on a plastic mat. I remember playing Excitebike at a friend’s house.

My real interest in video games happened when I ended up at a hospital. I was about 10 or so. I was there for an operation for a really painful swelling. I was really scared, since I had never been in surgery before. I had to stay overnight. To keep me company, the nurses brought in a TV with an SNES and Super Mario World. I had never played an SNES before. I was captivated by the tight gameplay, immersive world, and interesting challenges. I played that game long into the night. After I left the hospital, my parents got me an SNES (I think we were at a Toys R Us.)

Through the years, video games were a constant part of my life. I remember renting games from Blockbuster and trying to get as far as I could before I had to return them. I especially enjoyed Japanese Role Playing Games, with the emphasis on narrative, worldcrafting, and music. I remember playing Star Ocean: The Second Story, and looking at every item, reading each one’s description. I started getting into emulation, playing old games that I never had the chance to get, some of which were fan translations from Japanese. I remember games like Seiken Densetsu 3, Tales of Phantasia, and Front Mission. I remember PC games like Jazz Jackrabbit and Star Control 2.

I actually learned some important lessons from some of these games. Suikoden II taught me that good intentions can lead to evil outcomes. Suikoden III taught me how to respect another person’s cultural beliefs, even if you disagree with them. Katamari Damacy taught me to not take things too seriously.

There are so many games that I started but never finished. Metroid Prime. Okami. Final Fantasy I, IV, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X. And some games that I did. Chrono Trigger. Valkyrie Profile. The World Ends With You. Although even for these, I finished them but didn’t complete them.

I also remember when I decided to give it up. After college, I became more and more busy with the responsibilities of adult life. I spent less and less time playing video games. When I did have free time, I wanted to spend it exercising or socializing with friends or reading. At one point, several years ago, I looked at my games and realized, “I don’t want this to be a part of my life anymore.” I sold some of my games and gave all the rest away, and haven’t looked back since.

This isn’t to say that I’ve given up on games completely. The last game I played was an iOS version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, earlier this spring (although I haven’t finished that either.) I still keep up some with gaming news, watching out for new releases. I’m not much for horror games, but Until Dawn seems really well done. I still listen to video game music, which is the subject of another post.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with video games. It’s just that at this point, I don’t want them to be a dominant part of my life. Maybe that’ll change sometime in the future. I still consider this medium with great fondness. Games helped me through some pretty tough parts of my life. But in some ways, they helped me mask my loneliness. A subject of another post.

Just for fun, here are some other video game memories:

– Watching my friend in the final battle of Final Fantasy Tactics using Orlandu to pretty much destroy everything.
– Playing Sonic the Hedgehog and trying to see what happens by spindashing constantly (will it rip through the floor?)
– Beating Mega Man X and waiting at the last screen with Sigma to see if something happens.
– Using the ice towers in Warcraft III tower defense and watching as the entire game slows to a crawl.
– Playing StarCraft just to learn more about the story, so using cheat codes in the campaign. Power Overwhelming. Show Me the Money. Operation CWAL. Black Sheep Wall.
– Listening to the sound test in Guilty Gear X and the excellent character themes. Particular favorites: Holy Orders (Ky Kiske), Babel Nose (Jam Kuradoberi), Fuuga (Anji Mito).
– Talking with my friends about which Helper in Kirby Super Star was the best (top choices were TAC and Plasma Wisp).

Wedding #7: Ken and Elaine

This past weekend, I was at the wedding of my friend Kenneth Wong. For those keeping track, this was wedding number seven. The wedding was at a country club up in the El Cerrito hills. The couple made clever use of the outdoor space by giving guests bubble guns, filling the air with bubbles.

Ken and Elaine are both musical people, and in fact met decades ago in choir. There were little touches of music everywhere, from tables marked with musical notes rather than numbers, to paper flowers formed with sheet music, to musical arrangements done by the groom himself.

But what I’ll always remember is the giving of the wedding vows. Ken and Elaine chose to go with traditional vows. As Ken was repeating the words, he started choking up. I could feel a measure of his joy to be standing there, saying these promises to his new bride.

The beauty in these vows is that they transform obligation into joy. The promise to continually serve, honor, and cherish another can be difficult. Marriage is in many ways a binding of freedom, a cutting off of certain liberties. Yet it is in binding these freedoms that a greater freedom comes forth: a freedom from callousness, from selfishness, from indifference. To love another this way is to experience the privilege of being called to a greater version of oneself. When Ken was reciting those promises, he wasn’t thinking about all the times in the future that he may be tempted to not follow through, to give in to fatigue or self-centeredness or apathy. He was instead filled with joy at the prospect of doing so.

Dinner with Professor Buss

Last week, I was attended a dinner at a professor’s home. This was a dinner for students at my school who were in Chicago but were not participating in the On Campus Interviewing program. These were students who were set on pursuing a public interest legal career (with nonprofits or government, not private practice.) We met at Professor Buss’s beautiful home in Hyde Park. We ate on the patio, near a garden filled with flowers. We talked about career paths, about her experience conducting legal research in the pre-Internet age, about The Bachelor (I had no idea that the show could be so meta.)

We also talked about gender and race dynamics in public interest work. From our group of ten people, I was the only male and the only person of Asian descent. This mirrors some of the demographics of public interest legal work more generally, at least for nonprofits. We discussed why that may be the case. For example, children of immigrants may feel some financial pressure. Their parents have left everything to come to a new country; for these children, their parents’ financial security may hinge on their productivity. Asian families put a high priority on stability, sometimes over self-expression and fulfillment, and children learn that economic constancy is more important than career satisfaction.

Similar dynamics may play out in the realm of gender. Men may believe that they need to be the breadwinners, and so pursue more lucrative career options (BigLaw attorneys start out at $160,000, while many public interest attorneys start out around $40,000.) Public interest work tends to attract people with a more nurturing personality (clients are generally needy people, not companies), which also plays a factor.

What this means for me is that I am entering a field in which there are not as many people who look like me or have similar backgrounds to mine. On one level, this can feel somewhat lonely, but it does encourage me to expand my sights and embrace peers and mentors from a variety of perspectives. Even in law school, I have learned a lot from people like Hannah Lazar​ and Rachel Zemke​ and Jackie Newsome​. I am also excited that I can encourage other people, of all backgrounds, to enter into this work. It is difficult, and it is taxing, but I’ve seen how it can be so worthwhile.

In the Spirit of Taizé

A few weeks ago, I went with my friends Scott Erdenberg and Tina Erikson to a worship service in the spirit of Taizé. It was my first time to such a service. Taizé is an ecumenical monastic community in France. Brother Roger Schütz started the community in 1940 as a quest for a different expression of the Christian life. During World War II, the Taizé community took in countless war refugees. It has grown from a small house to a large community of over a hundred brothers. Taizé is an important place of Christian pilgrimage; over 5000 people visit it every year in the summer and at Easter. Taizé services hold special value for contemplation, silence, and communal action. Churches all around the world hold services in the spirit of Taizé.

We arrived to a church building filled with hundreds of people. We each picked up a candle in baskets at the entrance. The songs are very simple, sometimes only two lines long, repeated almost as a mantra, accompanied by a small orchestra. There was no sermon. Many people sat in the pews, but my friends and I sat on a floor near the front. There were icons, depictions of Jesus and the saints, facing us.

The two most striking aspects of the service were the candles and the silence. After the first few songs, one person came forward with a lit candle. He shared the flame with a few others’ candles. The light started to pass from person to person, filling the whole sanctuary. After a time of prayer and Scripture, we sang another song, during which each person came forth and planted the candle in bowls of sand in front of the icons. The bowls became filled with candles, and it was powerful to reflect on how each candle symbolized an individual person who came as part of this gathering.

Midway through the service was an extended time of silence, about 10 minutes. It is rare to be able to sink deeply into a time of silence, to clear through the frenetic thoughts and center into how God is speaking. I didn’t want the silence to end.

The song that stayed with me the most was the Magnificat. As someone who grew up in a Korean Presbyterian tradition, I’m not familiar with Latin. I have heard prayers and songs offered in English, Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, and Mongolian, but never Latin. The reality is that Latin and Greek are foundational languages of the church, used in worship by communities throughout the centuries. Singing these words from the Gospel of Luke, I felt as if I was connected, somehow, to the generations that have said these same words throughout time.

Magnificat, magnificat, magnificat anima mea Dominum.
My soul magnifies the Lord.

Rodrigo

Rodrigo was at the hardware store, trying to decide what color paint to choose. His wife Irma held out two different swaths of color, looking back forth between them.

Rodrigo and Irma had always wanted to be parents, even before they met. They had tried for years to start a family, without success. When they found out seven months ago that Irma was pregnant, they were ecstatic. They took new parenting classes. They bought diapers, bottles, blankets. They listened to the advice of friends and family, although they were careful to take each one with a grain of salt. Mostly, they dreamed. They dreamed of holding their new daughter in their arms. They dreamed about dinnertimes, family vacations, holidays. They couldn’t wait to meet her.

Now they were at the hardware store, trying to decide the color for her room. The Nursery. Rodrigo and Irma knew that it was important, because it was the color that she would wake up to every day. Go to sleep to every night. They decided on a brilliant yellow, the color of sunflowers. As they drove home, Rodrigo beamed at Irma, excited for the what lay ahead in the future.

But that night, Irma came to Rodrigo, troubled. She had not felt the baby move in a while. They drove to the hospital, each trying to calm the other, saying everything is alright. The wait for the doctor was excruciating. She came back with the news that they were dreading.

“It was a miscarriage. There is nothing I can do. I’m so sorry.”

Irma started sobbing. Rodrigo sat down next to her, held her close, and began to weep.

But Rodrigo had to go to work the next day. He went to Colin, his boss.

“I need some time off.”

“What? Why? This is our busy season, and we can’t really afford to let people take time off.”

“I-We just had a family loss. My wife had a miscarriage.”

“Well, I feel for you, truly I do, but I’m afraid I can’t let you take time off. That’s only for emergencies.”

Rodrigo looked at the floor. He looked up, tears in his eyes.

“I just lost my daughter. Don’t you think that that is an emergency? Do you know how much my wife and I loved her? And now she is gone.”

Rodrigo did get the time off, bereavement leave. Time to mourn with Irma, time to mourn with family and friends. Time to learn, tentatively, to hope again.

Eight years later, Rodrigo was at the hardware store, trying to decide what color paint to choose. Irma was there, and so was their seven year old daughter, Rosa. Rosa was boisterous and energetic, full of life. They were going to plant a family garden in the backyard, and they were choosing what color to paint the fence.

Eventually, they picked a brilliant red, Rosa’s favorite color, the color of apples. They built the fence and planted the garden. They planted potatoes, squash, carrots. They planted rosemary, basil, thyme. They planted an apple tree. And in one corner, next to the apple tree, they planted sunflowers.

For Marisa and Stephen

A few months ago, I was fortunate to attend the wedding of Marisa Thompson and Stephen Thompson. I have been to several weddings before, but this was my first wedding in an Eastern Orthodox church.
I walked into a beautiful sanctuary, ornately decorated with gold and blue tiles. Icons, depictions of saints and angels, lined the walls. The choir sat behind us, in a raised platform; we could hear them, but not see them, and their sonorous voices seemed to emanate out of the very air. It felt contemplative, solemn, a world away from the San Francisco summer outside.
The ceremony struck me in its order and structure. Marisa and Stephen never spoke; the two priests led the prayers, the choir calling out in response. Every action, every word, held symbolic weight. The music of the prayers imbued them with a vigor that echoed long after the words faded to stillness.
Afterward, I spoke with Stephen. He thanked me for coming and asked what I thought. I told him that it was beautiful and that I had never experienced anything like this before. He mentioned how moved he felt to be engaging in a wedding ceremony that has not changed in its fundamental form for over 400 years.
There is indeed something powerful in this steadfast tradition. These weddings have carried on through the ages and through communities all around the world. Through empires and revolution, colonialism and insurrection, wars and famines, this same wedding ceremony has continued on. As someone who grew up in a community of people uprooted from a homeland that had experienced decades of poverty, oppression, and frenetic transformation, it was wondrous to reflect on the anchoring strength of tradition.
Then we had a wedding reception with tasty food, really funny speeches (seriously some of the best wedding speeches I have heard, although admittedly the bar is not high), and a wonderful time with friends.
Thank you, Marisa and Stephen, for inviting us to be part of your life together. “Blessed is God, who has mercy upon us and nourishes us from his bountiful gifts by his grace and love always, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”

Life in legal aid

It’s been a while since my last writing. Times like these, I question whether I should keep this up, whether anyone is benefiting from it. But a few weeks ago, a friend told me “You’ve been killing it on Facebook, man!” So I’m going to keep it up.

I finished up my time in San Francisco and moved back to Chicago for my second internship. I am at LAF, a large legal aid agency. We provide legal help for poor people who can’t afford an attorney. I’m in the Housing practice group; we primarily help people with eviction defense and subsidy termination. Many of our clients are on limited income, on Social Security or other supportive programs. Many of them are unfamiliar with their rights as tenants, and are easily taken advantage of by landlords and government agencies.

I have done some legal work, like drafting motions and stepping up in court. But some of it has been advocacy of a different kind. Earlier this week I was helping a client move out of her apartment. She has issues with her current unit, and desperately needs to leave. She needed money to pay for the security deposit for a new apartment, but was living on a very limited income. She needed the money soon, or would end up losing the new apartment. With an attorney, I helped her file an application for a grant. I ended up staying up to 1:30 AM last night working on the application, but it finally got approved. She will have the money she needs to move out of a bad situation and not become homeless.

Legal aid work can be emotionally draining. There is never enough time to get everything done. We can only do so much to help a client, and it can feel like frantically applying minor fixes to the gaping maw of poverty that surrounds us. But this is why I went to law school, why I want to be a lawyer. I want to use my skills to advocate for the vulnerable and impoverished. I want to help them stand for their rights and live with dignity and honor. Not because they are inferior, not because they are helpless, not because they are lowly. But because they are worthy, because they are valued, because they are important. Because they are loved.

You Are My Sunshine

You know the song “You Are My Sunshine,” right? A classic at campfires and car rides across the country, its simple melody and uplifting chorus:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away”
But do you know the rest of the song? Here’s the first stanza:
“The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head, and I cried”
I’ll post the rest of the lyrics in a bit, but they’re similarly maudlin. It is fitting that this song that marks many happy childhood memories tells a story of brokenness and hurt. In a way, it is just like growing up. The sweetness of childhood gives way to the complexity of adult life, of dying hopes and unrequited desire.
“You told me once dear, you really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you’ve left me and you love another
And you have shattered all my dreams
I’ll always love you and make you happy
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me to love another,
You’ll regret it all one day”

Recycling Tips

Recycling tip: Don’t put your plastic bags in the curbside recycling bin. Most recycling programs are unable to process them. They mess up the machinery and cause mechanical programs. If you put your recycling in a plastic bag, the workers at the plant probably won’t cut it open to see what is inside. They don’t know if it contains something safe and recyclable, like aluminum cans, or something dangerous, like used diapers or syringes. They’ll end up dumping the whole thing into the landfill. The bags can float away in the wind and kill marine life.
Leave your plastic bags out of the recycling and find a nearby grocery store that will take them. Reduce your use of these bags and go for reusable cloth bags instead (but be sure to wash them regularly.)

Family

This weekend, I was in the Bay Area for the wedding of Milton and Frances. It was a beautiful morning wedding, at a rustic site in Livermore. Instead of an arch, they had a bolt of muslin fabric. The newlyweds, both talented singers, crooned a duet together. They had Bakesale Betty’s chicken sandwiches!

A few hours after, they had a small get-together at their new home. There were a few other friends there, but it was predominantly family. I met some of Milton and Frances’ cousins, aunties, and uncles.

That little party had me thinking about my family. My family in the States is pretty small. Besides my parents and my brother, I have some second cousins in other parts of California, but most everyone else is in Korea. Four of my cousins have gotten married, but I was unable to attend their weddings. One of my cousins has two children that I have never met.

Certainly, there are benefits to having such distance from family. I am spared from family strife and drama. I see the hurts and scars of my friends from their families and recognize that I am relatively unscathed. Moreover, since I see my family in Korea so infrequently, every encounter is a time for joy and reunion, not offense and bitterness.

In the end, I am grateful for the family that I have. Though I only see them every few years, they undoubtedly have played a central role in crafting who I am now.