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Ukulele Hero


On Friday night I finished Assassin’s Creed III, hands down, the worst of the non-handheld Assassin’s Creed games and an absolute bucket of horse piss of a game, series pedigree notwithstanding. On Saturday I bought a ukulele. The two events are not unrelated but not in a “AC III was so bad that it drove me to renounce earthly possessions and go live in a hut” kind of way, more in a rethinking the hobby kind of way.

skylanders swap force

Before I go further, I need to say that I still love games. I still love playing them and reading about them and anticipating them. I’m excited to hear about the new consoles, less so if this “always connected, no used games” rumor about the next Xbox turns into a reality, but hey, I hear this PC thing is pretty cool, so I can always fall back on that. I got all excited about the new Skylanders game dropping this fall, I’m looking forward to seeing what Sony has to say in February and I’m disappointed that I won’t be attending this year’s E3.

That being said, I’m also tired of playing games simply to have something to play. For a long time, I’ve been the guy who is always playing something, even when what I’m playing is being played simply to fill a void and not because I have anything better to do. When I was editing this week’s show, and I heard myself say that I’d be playing certain games because “I’d be playing something any way”, or however I said it, I stopped and asked myself why that was. I’m not talking about when I’m working out, because that’s a different beast altogether, but I’m talking about at night when I’m hanging out and have some down time.

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Part of my constant level of game playing activity is left over from when I was getting paid to write about games. Freelancing is like being a shark in that if you don’t keep moving, you die. Stop taking gigs and people will stop offering them and then you’ve got nothing. Plus, if you’re not writing, you’re not earning, so it meant nothing to me to take crappy review assignments because at least it meant I was earning. Now that I’m not getting paid for it, if I don’t want to play anything, I don’t have to. I still have a responsibility to this site and to the podcast to play stuff, but as I’m not giving up games altogether, I don’t see that as being an issue.

eddie ukulele

So why the ukulele? I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, and even tried back when Linda and I were living in Seattle, but learning the guitar is hard with very little progress to show early on other than being able to plink out children’s songs. At least it was back when I was learning it, in the pre-internet days of yore when we communicated via smoke signals and carrier pigeons. I’d been reading about the ukulele for a while, ever since John Scalzi started playing it, and it seemed to fit what I wanted out of an instrument namely it’s small, inexpensive and easy to learn. Small means that I can bring it to work and practice on my lunch hour rather than driving around looking for toys, inexpensive means that if I don’t like it, I’m not out much and easy to learn means that I can start seeing progress early, which in turn keeps me practicing. The fact that Eddie Vedder plays one may have had something to do with it as well.

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So far, my experience has shown that all of those things hold true. I’ve been playing every day since Saturday and I know enough chords and can manage chord changes and a vaguely competent strum pattern to the point where my kids are impressed and my wife has gone so far as to say that what I’m playing sounds like music. This is a far cry from when she used to banish me to the bedroom for my Seattle practice sessions.

It certainly helps that there are so many learning resources available online for no charge. that the hardest part when starting is narrowing down which sites you’re going to use. The same thing goes for sites that offer up tablature and chord diagrams for popular songs. If you can think of a song, someone has probably done a uke tab diagram for it. Sure, you may have to figure out the strum pattern, but with enough experimentation, you can come up with something that works in no time.

I mean, let’s be honest here. I’m 40 years old. I’m not going to be in a band. I don’t give a crap about music theory at this point, although I’m open to learning it down the line, and outside of my family, no one is ever going to hear me torture my uke in the hopes of learning “Pumped Up Kicks”. All I want is something I can play around with, something that challenges my brain and my dexterity, and something that I can do that doesn’t require a power outlet and/or a television. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been puttering around the house without anything to do, unwilling to let my kids see the latest game that I’m playing, and unable to sequester myself away. Now, when I have these times, I can practice playing, most likely my kids will leave on account of me being terrible and I can play my violent game in peace. Everybody wins!

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Brandon loves games, which shouldn't be a surprise given where you're reading this. He has written for GameShark, The Escapist and G4, and made them all less relevant as a result.

22 thoughts to “Ukulele Hero”

  1. I am learning card tricks for similar reasons.

    And run marathons.

    I am a gamer and always will be, but I got tired of it having be my defining characteristic.

      1. 1. I just laughed my ass off at work for that cards shooting out of sleeves comment. I’m probably going to get fired now.

        2. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for saying what has to be said about AC3. I’ve never been more disappointed. I’m thinking of trading it in and I’m only half way done. My progress came to an absolute stand still when I realized how horrible Conner was as a character and that I would actually be forced to play more in order to unlock those fantastic sea missions.

        3. How much was your uke, if you don’t mind me asking?

        4. Is it weird that I haven’t commented in forever, and just had to reregister since you guys switched to wordpress? I assume this is normal.

        5. And finally… my avatar looks like lady reproductive parts.

        Good luck Brandon…

        1. I started AC3, got to America (the boat scene was terrible), and got into a fight on that first mission. The new counter system just doesn’t seem to work; might be because I’m playing it on PC, I don’t know. I hit the button, it goes into that slow-motion, I mash the X button frantically, nothing happens. Whatever the case, the fun combat that used to be in AC is now a broken mess for me. *sigh*

          I’ve started plastic model assembly and painting. It’s pretty fun. Started running too. Also, I’m having a kid, which might take up some small amount of my free time.

        2. The best parts of AC are the naval missions, hands down. Such a shame that the rest if the game sucks so much.

          My uke was something like 30 and the digital tuner was 20. I may spring for better strings to the tune of 5 bucks but I want to let the strings settle in before I make any decisions. From what I’ve read, it takes about a week before the strings don’t need to be tuned so much.

          I hope that you don’t get fired. If you do, I may need a roadie soon. ??

    1. Ha! Amen to that. Man, I left so much on the table with AC III because I just couldn’t be bothered to put up with such BS. Then again, my next game was Toy Story Mania, so I’m not entirely over it. ??

  2. Man, I have too many damn games that I actually want to play, let alone being burdened with crappy ones. You need to get back on the PC bandwagon. There’s so much good stuff going on with Steam sales. I’m still playing Dark Souls after clocking over 100 hours, and now Antichamber is tickling my puzzle solving fancy. This beats the pants off the console experience for my money.

    If you want something outside the typical gamey experience, I recently switched over to the PC version of Rocksmith during a Steam sale for musical endeavours, which is actually really awesome and smoother/faster than the console version. The cable from the 360 version works fine on the PC too, and I would guess the PS3 version does too because it’s just a USB mic cable essentially. You have to fiddle with your audio settings a bit to get the latency down as low as possible, but totally worth it IMO.

    1. I would love to do up PC gaming right in my house, which means getting a rig that I can hook up to my media room, but the reality is that media room is going to be packed up in about a month, and not returning until I finish the basement in the new house. I have no idea when that will be, but it won’t be any time soon so I don’t want to spend the money now, knowing that I wouldn’t use the rig for proper gaming for quite some time. Maybe once I have the basement done, I can do a combination media server/gaming rig. They make Skylanders for the PC, right?

    2. I too feel bogged down by my back-log. For the most part, I just say screw it and hop on Minecraft for a couple hours of mindless block placement. Once the weather turns, I’ll be outside on my bike.

  3. Been going through a similar phase as well, just tired of having games be the only thing that defines me. Fortunately, my wife and I bought a house this past year, and it’s quite the fixer upper, so once the weather warms up a bit I’ll have all kinds of things to do that won’t involve gaming.

    1. I’m in a similar boat in that once we move into the new house, I’ll have a basement to finish. I need something I can do in my down time that doesn’t require 45 minutes to an hour to make progress.

  4. so many of these posts lately seem like a “beginning of the end” for NHS people, am I reading too much into this?

    Todd doesn’t play much (even tho’ he has dark souls)
    Bill does mostly board games and also isn’t motivated to play much
    You’re starting to wind down.

    hopefully this isn’t the case…

    1. No, I think what you’re seeing is actually a kind of balancing that’s going on for all of us. Coming out of the “getting paid” sector and into the “doing it for free” one has changed all of our perspectives on video games, I think. It’s frankly kind of nice to not HAVE to play them. Or to report bullshit, “who really cares” news daily.

      I think what you’ll see over the next couple of months is fewer posts, but more focused, insightful, and _mature_ posts. We’ve never been afraid to tell it like it is, and I think with some distance from the industry you’ll see that even more.

      I still love video games, still gonna play ’em. But I’m not compelled to keep up, nor am I compelled to continue reporting favorably on a business that I think is in a stage of slow-motion self-destruction that will either result in a lot of lost money and jobs or gamers capitulating to the marketing schemes that these companies are poisoning the well with because they don’t have the willpower to say “no” to entertainment.

      1. This is mostly true I think. I don’t think it’s lack of motivation for me, right now it’s literally a lack of time and seeing as that I am no longer getting freebies, and have a job that takes up oodles of after hours time, and running the local youth league basketball program, videogames need to wait.

      2. I think the biggest interaction between me and this site is the podcast, and hearing “i didn’t play anything” each week on the podcast got me worried. I mean, in the last 5 podcasts, only Brandon had any real “games” to talk about. If he tones that down, then a primarily video games podcast without video games is a little strange. Yes Bill discusses board games, but I am not a board gamer. And even then, they’re more descriptions of how they work rather than opinions.

        Other than that, it will just be strange and hard to see less discussion about video games on this site. As that was my main draw to this site, I’m not sure if I will be able to adjust. But time will tell…

        This isn’t meant to be some sort of indictment, I just have concerns with both the sustainability of readership and new content for the site.

  5. Next week- No High Scores changes its title to “No More Video Games”, a series of blogs by ex-paid games journalists that don’t play games anymore.

    I definitely that same sense of “I don’t have to play a video game” right now, and I was at it for less time than Brandon. It’s NICE to not feel like you have to even keep up. I do not care about most of the games coming out, I don’t need to report on them and I’m finding that the best way to voice my dislike for the direction certain games, developers, or publishers are heading…is to just disregard them altogether. I don’t miss it.

    Still love the video games, 100%. DMC, loved it. Awesome. Had fun. Took my time with it, no 4-5 hour sessions to get through a review window. Looking forward to Metal Gear. No pressure. May take a month to play it.

    I’ve really been playing solo board games more often- LOTR LCG, Mage Knight, Mice & Mystics…I can put on a show or movie and enjoy doing that, right now it beats locking down for a video game for an all-nighter.

  6. Oh, Ukelele stuff. You really should listen to some Tiny Tim. I’m not joking. He rules. The whole “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” thing is a small part of his ridiculous legacy. The really neat thing about him is that he was really into preserving this particular kind of musicianship and showmanship from the early 20th century, he was very much a “troubadour” sort of character, playing lots of standards, hits (from like, 1933), and some original material in line with those. If you listen to some of his later live recordings, he does AC/DC covers that are pretty hilarious. Then there’s that bizarre radio ad he did for GG Allin and the Jabbers…and his weird affiliation with occult folkies Current 93…

    But seriously, listen to some Tiny Tim. Ukelele at its finest.

    1. Oh Tiny Tim. Oddly enough, whenever I hear his name, all I can think of is the ridiculous WWF storyline he got dragged into. Bizarre stuff. Also probably dating myself quite badly.

      But yeah, I agree his Ukelele skills were amazing. My grandfather was a fan, kinda got me hooked.

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