Everyone has secrets and some things are better left private. Sharing your thoughts on taboo topics or standpoints can be damaging to your character and it is understandable that one might be reluctant to open up. However, if you have the courage and opportunity to be honest about your religious beliefs, you can make a huge difference at a major crossroads for mankind. Whether you relate to a specific sect of faith or atheism, here are a few good reasons to “come out”.
It is important to challenge your own beliefs more meticulously than anyone else’s. By being open about where you stand, you give others the opportunity to approach you and question why you think the way you do. This will force you to really think about your reasoning. Spend time arming yourself for those difficult conversations. Make sure you are confident in supporting your stance and comfortable with explaining yourself. If you aren’t, then perhaps you haven’t quite made up your mind. By truly understanding the things you believe (or don’t believe) and why, you will be less likely to go on the defensive when someone questions you aggressively. People will find you more credible and respect your opinions if they can tell you have truly put time and effort into reaching those conclusions. Being certain about your religious stance gives you the confidence to challenge others as well.
Support Those Who Share Your Opinion
More people are open about their faith or atheism than ever before. However, there are many who are still afraid of losing their job, being outcast by their friends and families or even being physically harmed because of the things they believe. Giving someone who is frightened of who they are an excuse to be honest and open can be rewarding for you and extremely comforting for them. Set an example for those around you who lack the courage to be transparent about their beliefs, and you can have a major positive impact on their lives.
Oppose Those With Harmful Religious Views
There are countless issues plaguing the world right now which, at their core, stem from some form of religious motivation. There are individuals and groups who have simply molded their religion to brainwash others into supporting the atrocities they commit (though certainly not all religions behave this way). By using your own experiences as a base for your argument against these tyrannical zealots, you can gain support from like-minded people. A group that is motivated by a common goal and united through having aligning beliefs that each individual has decided upon independently, is much more effective than one founded on fear, propaganda and misinterpreted hokum.
Truly Be You
How can you truly feel like you if such a major part of your life is always kept secret? Liberate yourself by telling the world who you really are. I don’t suggest running around wearing a “god isn’t real” t-shirt. People can’t help but get defensive when they feel as if you are coming at them from an aggressive standpoint. Start by asking others what they believe and show genuine interest. You’ll be surprised by some of the responses you get. Even if a friend or family member disagrees with you, they will likely appreciate your honesty. You may find something in common with some of them that you would not have otherwise known about. Not only could you become closer to your friends, but your romantic relationships will be much stronger if your stances on religion are aligned. Seeing the world in the same fundamental way, makes it easier to respect someone and value their opinions. That type of connection is almost certain to increase your compatibility and attraction to a significant other.
Practice What You Preach
Personally, I identify with secular humanism. I believe that humans are inherently good in their disposition and that religion should not replace logic and reason when solving problems or creating government policy. I think our ethics should evolve based on the needs of our species and should not be derived from religious text. I do not believe in the supernatural or any sort of god, but instead rely on scientific discovery to explain existence and mankind’s role in the universe. I have the utmost respect for those who are religious and truly believe what they say and do. Unfortunately, our world contains a scary amount of hypocrisy and apathy. My hope is that, when it comes to the great unanswered questions of our world, people make up their own minds by researching, debating and discovering things for themselves rather than blindly accepting what they are told is the truth.
Like any other responsible adult, I have lost my fair share of sleep due to stress or worry. I may have tossed and turned well before adulthood, but the point of this article is not to whine about my droopy eyelids and dark circles. An effective method of putting myself to sleep developed out of a particularly stressful time in my life. I managed to slip into an unusually long “funk” after college graduation. Post-vacation blues mixed with unemployment, debt, self-doubt and family trouble added up to a freakishly uncharacteristic gloominess. I replaced sleep with video games, job applications, partying and exercise. Distractions only kept me feeling awake for so long. I would get tired and try to sleep, but stare off while my brain flickered in and out of different scenarios that ranged from hopeful to terrifying. This is when I came up with my delightfully nerdy brain tranquilizer.
All of the situations and scenarios that kept my mind active seemed to be centered on my losing control of different aspects of my life. I was either afraid of or excited by all of the different possibilities. So I decided to start imagining situations that weren’t possible. That way I wouldn’t be afraid of them. I needed to narrow my focus to slow down my thinking and stop it from ping-ponging around in my head. My solution was nerdtastic. I began to imagine that I had one superpower and a specific goal to reach using the ability. It always started with a question like “If I could fly, how would I use it to make money.”
I would choose a different combination of power and goal each night. Sometimes I would even make up something new, like the ability to see from the perspective of any set of eyes on command with the goal of helping the government fight organized crime. The scenarios could be as specific or general as I wanted and my imagination would always find some path to follow to create a story. My focus was always on the next step of the adventure. Expressing my creativity, even if just to myself, made me comfortable and content.
I thought up tales of using time-travel to go back and pick the winning lottery numbers. I imagined being able to commute by way of teleportation. One scenario had me becoming a movie star because of my ability to fly. Studios could save a fortune on special effects. Becoming a successful magician thanks to my telepathy and telekinesis or earning countless commendations as a detective because I could read suspects minds were a few others. There is an enormous number of impossibilities to imagine and some need to be revisited. I have a few favorites that I repeat, but change one detail or decision in the story.
I am happy to say that I quickly grew out of the lull that spawned this tactic. I don’t lose much sleep anymore, but there are nights when my head is rattling. I still use my nerdy brain tranquilizer to ensure I get to sleep quickly. If I can make myself focus on creating a vivid, detailed scenario, I can calm my mind enough to fall asleep through the noise of the city and the stresses of adulthood. So next time you are lying awake, stressing over how unprepared you are for the upcoming rooster’s crow, imagine being able to pause time and sleep as long as you want.
My senior year of college, I took a course entitled “England and Ireland in the 16th Century.” With a History professor and an English professor heading the class together, we focused on the historical significance of the relationship between the two countries and the literature that came out of the time period. Little did I know that the class would lead to stories of Irish folk band bar crawls, getting lost in the catacombs of ruined castles, battles with electric fences and running from a herd of bulls. At the end of the semester, the group would travel first to England and then to Ireland for a 3 week study abroad term. While the trip was jammed full of “great story” material, there’s one day in particular that stood out, the day we visited Edmund Spenser’s Kilcolman Castle in County Cork, Ireland.
The day before the trip to Kilcolman Castle our class met with Professor Andrew King of University College Cork (UCC). He is an English professor and expert on English Renaissance poet, Edmund Spenser. The group set out on a walking tour of Cork with the purpose of seeing it as Spenser would have. We walked the city, guided by maps of old town layouts and led by Professor King. It was a truly one-of-a-kind experience usually only offered to UCC students. This adventure assembled the setting for the story of Edmund Spenser in Ireland.
Our trip to Kilcolman Castle began with an early bus trip out to Doneraile, where we met Professor King. He had mentioned during our Cork tour that the ruins were located on private property and that he had special access granted by the owners. Upon arrival, we expected to see the castle from the road with some sort of gate protecting it. Instead, we saw wire fences surrounding fields that were segmented off by lines of trees and more fences. The distant sound of mooing framed the otherwise silent moment of our arrival. Professor King reminded us that we were on private property owned by local farmers and urged us to be respectful of the crops, fences and animals.
First, our class had to hop over an electric fence that could not be disabled in any way. Some climbed over wooden posts which guided the wires and others carefully squeezed between wires. As a person who is over six feet tall, I didn’t worry about my ability to hop the fence (with a running start of course). However, one of my shorter classmates decided to attempt the feat without hesitation. She backed up a few steps and lunged toward the fence. As her foot caught the top wire, she toppled to the other side and landed in moist soil. Moments after our expert guide asked us to be respectful of the landowner’s property, one of us nearly pulls down a section of electric fence. Thankfully, our guide did not seem too put-off by the display. Surprisingly there were only two or three other people who received small stings from the wires and replied with a quick “ouch.”
Once we were all over the fence, we had to cross a large field. Nothing was planted for the first hundred yards. There was only tall grass that needed to be navigated. We reached another wire fence that ran along a row of trees at the edge of the field and we slowly hurdled this one. The crops were short, but tiptoeing along the path was necessary to avoid crushing any plants. We realized that there were cows in an adjacent field separated by a larger barrier when the mooing (and the smells that accompany them) became more prominent. As we approached the next mingling of trees and wiring, the class got its first glimpse of the castle remains.
We pushed through the shrubbery of our final obstacle and emerged onto the area surrounding the ruins. Over the crest of the hill we could see the back of the castle and as we climbed more of it became visible. Distracted by the stunning contrast of this manmade stone structure against the brightest-green natural backdrop, I stepped into a large pile of cow feces. It was at this moment that I realized some of the cattle were in this section of the field as well. Professor King pointed out that the cattle were grazing elsewhere so it should be safe to explore the ruins. I fell slightly behind while I cleaned off my shoe, but quickly caught back up as the group reached the castle. It was a great deal smaller than many of the other castles we encountered during our trip. However, it was easily one of the most beautiful. The stone structure seemed to grow right out of the hill just like the trees and bushes nearby. A topping of ivy matched the rich green color of the surrounding grass.
We were encouraged to climb a staircase inside which led to the top of what was left of the building. It had overgrown with ivy and its own patch of grass. The class gathered atop the castle remains accompanied by Professor King. He then read a poignant passage of The Faerie Queene, which Spenser wrote while living in Kilcolman. There were miles of fields in every direction with very little other manmade structure in view. I felt as though we were seeing the Irish countryside as Edmund Spenser himself would have. Connecting with a significant historical figure in such a unique way brought this surreal feeling of being in another time.
Professor King finished reading and told us to climb back down and make our way out onto the field. We walked along the bottom of the hill toward the other end of an underground tunnel leading from the castle. Spenser had apparently used the tunnel to escape when unhappy locals attacked the castle. As we approached, Professor King pointed off in one direction and instructed us to quickly head back to the fence. The cattle had begun to move toward us and they all seemed to be bulls. The grunts, moos and pounding of hooves came closer as we retraced our steps. Seeing how close the animals were getting, we rushed along the bottom of the hill and many of us began to run for the closest fence. Luckily, as we reached the edge of the field, the bulls stayed atop the hill and glared down at us. They seemingly guarded the ruins from unwanted visitors.
We trudged back through the fields and I helped lift smaller classmates over the electrified fence. A final “thank you” to the professor and we boarded the bus and headed back to Cork. The entire class, amazed that no one was hurt, laughed about the event for the remainder of our trip. I still consider this to be the most interesting of my adventures abroad.
I play video games in search of epic moments. When I complete a level or section that affects my character or my overall experience I have an emotional reaction. There is a true sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering an obstacle, but the best part of the experience is having the ability to be active within the story. Whether it’s an amazing plot twist, display of player skill or just a stunningly beautiful environment, some moments are more impactful than others. Not all of these gamer experiences happen in-game. Milestones, accomplishments and realizations in the real world can truly change a gamer. Here are a few of my own most influential gaming moments.
The first time I played a video game
During a routine visit to an aunt’s condo across town, I discovered a cabinet under the television that had a strange looking box with a stick coming out of it. I began pretending that I was a fighter pilot using the joystick to maneuver my jet. When my aunt saw me playing with the unplugged controller she showed me what it was meant for. A small tub full of cartridges with epic scenes displayed on each one was produced like a treasure chest of adventure. She plugged in the Atari 2600 and let me have at it. I began with the game she suggested, Pac-Man. I was enthralled by the ability to control a virtual character in another world. There was an instant bond between this hungry yellow circle and me. My determination to help him on his quest to eat everything and avoid being trapped by ghosts caused me to play so long that I didn’t have time to try another game before my mom decided it was time to go. I couldn’t stop thinking about the game and did everything I could to convince my mother that we needed to visit my aunt again. The next time we were there, I was smarter with my time. I tried Frogger, Pitfall, Missile Command, Space Invaders, Defender, Pole Position and many others. Needless to say, I was hooked and picked up every video game I could get my hands on after that.
The first time I beat a video game
Like any other nerdy 90’s kid, I rushed home to play video games after school. Most days, I was with a babysitter until my mom got home from work. The babysitter had a Nintendo Entertainment System. I would spend that few hours trying to get as far as I could into the games she had before the Nintendo had to be shut off. Without the ability to save, I’d have to finish the game in one sitting. The more I played, the quicker my completion of the earlier levels became. Finally, one day I reached the final world with plenty of time to spare and a hefty collection of extra lives. One level after another I failed and repeated until I advanced to the final stage. Several attempts later I defeated the final boss and reached the princess. Though there was no reward, I felt like I had truly accomplished something and I wondered if I could do the same with other games. So began my quest to conquer as many games as I could.
Winning my first multiplayer match in 007 GoldenEye
I began playing 007 GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 after my 3 step brothers had already beaten the game and played against one another for several weeks. Once I was finally allowed to join in, I started losing right away. I was very inexperienced and unskilled as I had never played a first person shooter. My step brothers were ruthless and taunted me after every loss. I was determined to improve so that I could return the favor. The four of us played as much as we were allowed. We stayed up all night on weekends, sometimes falling asleep with controllers in our hands. I began to improve and after a few weeks, I began winning! We all knew it was inevitable, but I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to laugh at my step brothers as “Rank: 1st” flashed onto my section of the screen. I may have gloated a bit too much and was beaten up, but it was worth it.
Emerging onto Hyrule Field in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
From the moment you are awakened by a fairy in your tree house, Ocarina of Time surpasses all expectations for a game from its time. The imaginative world in which the game takes place is full of beautiful landscapes and colorful characters. The contrast of the seriousness of the story and the happy, playful tone of Hyrule is just one of the reasons why this game is on many “best ever” lists (including mine). However, the moment you step out of Kokiri Forest and onto Hyrule Field, you truly realize the scope of the game. A quick pan over the landscape gives you views of the castle, Death Mountain and much of the field itself. After a quick chat with the owl, Kaepora Gaebora, you are free to roam the field and interact with its inhabitants.The excitement I felt when I discovered how much there was to this game has gone unmatched since. Every discovery and achievement made me more excited to explore. It was a world I never wanted to leave and it all began with that first step into Hyrule.
Buying my own console for the first time
I was lucky to have family and friends who played video games. I had been able to play a ton of Atari, N.E.S., Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 and PC games. I was also given a Sega Game Gear as a gift from my mother, but I had never learned about a new game system through my own discovery. There was a commercial with the tagline “don’t underestimate the power of Playstation” that I had seen several times. It was the newest and most advanced gaming hardware of the time and the games themselves looked stunning. I knew I had to have a Playstation and I knew I’d have to find a way to buy it myself. So I began asking neighbors and family members for odd jobs so that I could start saving money. I shoveled snow, raked leaves, took out garbage, cleaned cars and even sold trading cards to my friends. I don’t remember how long it took, but I remember finally having enough to split the cost of a refurbished playstation with my mom. I may have only had one game and no memory card, but it was mine!
Owning a pinball machine
I spent a fair amount of time in arcades ignoring the pinball machines for the newer games like Tekken, San Francisco Rush, Time Crisis as well as some classics. During elementary school, my stepfather made a deal with a friend that included a pinball machine. It was delivered to our house and lived in our garage among the junk he had gathered. My mother was not happy with its presence and immediately suggested he sell it. None of my siblings seemed particularly interested in it either. I decided to give the game a try. It was a generic machine with no real defining features, but it was well built and had quite a few targets with varying difficulty. After spending an hour playing and trying to earn a replay, I started to see why people enjoyed pinball. I began spending hours at a time playing after school earning every high score spot. The machine was sold after a few months, but I stopped ignoring the pinball machines in the corners of arcades.
My first LAN party
Being primarily a console gamer, I was not aware of the idea of Local Area Network gaming until a few of my best friends all bought copies of Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox. We played four-player split screen until we tired of passing the controllers. There were enough people to justify trying a system link. We had those who lived nearby bring their consoles and televisions over and we were set. It was great being able to play all together with nobody having to sit out. The group met to play regularly for about 5 years. In that time there were more than a few 12 hour sessions. I can recall finally going to bed at 7 AM with empty Dorito bags and Mountain Dew bottles strewn about among wires and batteries. We played different games on different consoles and at different locations, but we had setting up the network and getting started down to a science. Having your team sitting next to you communicating and working together was such a rewarding experience. Whether we won or lost, it was always fun, but being able to trash talk right to my friends’ faces after destroying them was by far the best part.
My biggest video game rivalry
While in college, I was introduced to Mario Kart for the Nintendo Wii as a drinking game called DUI. I had never really played other games from the series, aside from the N64 version briefly. Burnout was the only game I really spent any time on from the racing genre. I thought Mario Kart was more of a loose, casual game geared towards children. However, my competitive gamer nature urged me to find ways to win. One of my best friends played with me regularly. He was much better at the game and seemed to harness some hidden knowledge that a casual player wouldn’t be able to access. Through my quest to beat him, I quickly discovered the hidden intricacies of the game. Memorizing the layout of the tracks allowed me to focus more on reacting to the other racers and the items. I learned the best way to use the items and which ones to save. Secret paths and shortcuts became visible to me and the nuances of the different characters and kart types were obvious. I finally found a character/kart combination that allowed me to keep up with my friend and I was ready to really compete. After months of playing, we were more evenly matched and the races became closer and wins more evenly distributed. We found that our matches had evolved to epic battles with tremendous displays of skill. We even noticed crowds gathering to watch us play at parties and the occasional commentator giving play-by-plays. Spectators picked sides and trash talked on our behalf. They cheered and kept our drinks full so we could focus. It was the closest I ever came to truly competitive gaming and some of my fondest memories of college revolved around Mario Kart. To this day, every time that friend and I get together, we make sure to play at least a few races.
As an adult, my love for video games has not dwindled and I still make time to play regularly. I get excited about new game releases and stay up-to-date on gaming news. However, I do enjoy more adult activities like going out for drinks with friends. For my birthday in December of 2012, my girlfriend invited some of our friends and took me to a place called Headquarters Beercade in Chicago. I was aware that it existed, but did not know we’d be going. I was also skeptical of the experience of combining young, drunk Chicagoans with video games, but was very pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere was inviting and the crowd was interesting. A fantastic selection of beers complimented the arcade options perfectly. All of my old favorites were there. Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Simpsons, Defender, Space Invaders, Frogger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rampage, Galaxian, Ghosts n Goblins, Super Off Road, Mortal Kombat and Donkey Kong were just a portion of the cabinets that lined every wall. The games at Headquarters are free to play, the beers aren’t outrageously priced and it has tripled in size after taking over the bar next door. Now there are 4 bars, a DJ booth and a ton of new games including a whole slew of classic pinball machines, plus they are opening a second location. Headquarters is my favorite bar in Chicago and I still go and try to earn the high score on Frogger all the time. (Check out the Headquarters website)
Other notable experiences
Quarters on the arcade to save your spot
Wearing the Tanooki suit in Super Mario Bros 3
Finding the Golden Gun in 007 Goldeneye
Battle with The End in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Finding shortcuts in the San Francisco Rush Arcade
Being laughed at by the dog in Duck Hunt
First broken console
First online gaming experience
“Toasty” in Mortal Kombat
Curb Stomping and chainsawing in Gears of War
Playing Time Crisis in an arcade
“Would you Kindly” in Bioshock
Call of Duty Modern Warfare multiplayer
Fighting a dragon in Skyrim
Questing online in Diablo II
Side by side Co-op with my best friend (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance)
Many, many others!
Gaming has been a big part of my life and there are many other big moments that come to mind. These are just a few of the many experiences that helped define me as a gamer and a nerd. Hopefully the industry continues to flourish and developers strive to provide experiences as impactful as these.