Category Archives: JoCoCruiseCrazy

I’m on a boat: The Yeah-heah-heah-ha-ha-hah-heaaah! Guy

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

Yeah-heah-heah-ha-ha-hah-heaaah!

Originally published November 2005.

A one-armed Chinese man, a drug dealer wearing a gaudy gold Virgin of Guadelupe pendant on a gaudy gold rope, and Shane Nickerson.

Yeah, it's just another night in the $100 NL game at Commerce.

Shane, I've decided, has the worst luck in the universe. I watched him lose a buy-in to a donkey who called him all the way down with an underpair, only to catch her one-outer on the river to bust his flopped top two pair. I also saw him lose a buy-in to the guy we're pretty sure was a drug dealer n Shane flopped a set of nines against the his pocket queens, and the villain caught running clubs to make a flush. Aiyah!

When I got home, I wrote to Shane:

The Flush Suckout Guy has this great set of speakers in his van that he can sell you, straight from the factory. I think he has some designer cologne, too, but he may have to run around the corner to pick it up.

Shane wrote back:

That guy writes himself, man.

Indeed, he did. His fingernails were stained black, the same color as his black Los Angeles Dodgers cap. His huge adam's apple pushed out against two or three days worth of stubble. His blue eyes were bloodshot and pinned, and when he walked up to the table, he bounced his head around, pealed a one hundred dollar bill off a thick gangster roll from his pocket, and said, "Yeah-heah-heah-ha-ha-hah-heaaah!" He was one of the worst players I've ever seen, and that wad of bills came out of his pocket for several rebuys while I was there.

While it's very convenient to play online, one of the major benefits of playing live poker is seeing characters like Suckout Guy and One Armed Man. Shane and I also saw a guy in a floor-length oilskin duster who had a Texas Rangers star to accompany the feather on his fedora, as well as a gaggle of outrageously hot girls in too-tight cowboy shirts. (As if there's such a thing!) The guy in the 8 seat at our table said he took the SAT with me at Granada Hills High about sixteen years ago, and at one point stacked up over $500 in front of him by making boat-over-boat.

The game down there is extremely loose, and if you're not careful, you will get killed by some jerk who calls your fifteen dollar pre-flop raise (the blinds are 2 and 3) with a raggedy ace and ends up making two pair on the turn to bust your AK. So I played outrageously tight, raising with Group I and II hands only, and only limping with all other pocket pairs or medium suited connectors if I could get in late with at least two limpers ahead of me. I didn't play many hands, but I got paid off twice with pocket queens and a successful continuation bet with AQ when a king hit the flop. I played for about three hours, and I left $53 to the good after tokes and blinds. Not great, but better than losing, and when is the last time you got to say that you played with a one-armed man?

Yeah-heah-heah-ha-ha-hah-heaaah!

I’m on a boat: The Monster in my Closet

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something I love from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

Flash Fiction: The Monster in my Closet

Originally published October, 2011.

About two hours ago, I thought to myself, "'There's a monster in my closet' would be a neat way to start out one of those scary short stories I loved to read when I was in middle school."

I wrote it down, then wrote a little more and a little more. Right around the time I realized I had no idea how it ended, the ending tapped me on the shoulder and said "boo!"

I've never done this before, but I thought it would be cool to publish it here without the usual editorial and rewrites I do on everything, because the idea of conceiving, writing, and releasing a short story in just a couple of hours is intriguing to me.

Added on 10/19: I made free-free and DRM-free ePub and Kindle versions of this story.You can get them at my virtual bookshelf if you like.

So, without any further introduction, here is my scary short story that I hope 12 year-old me would enjoy…

The Monster In My Closet

by Wil Wheaton

There is a monster in my closet. It’s standing in there behind my clothes, and it wants to come out. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know how it got in there, but I know that it’s been there for a long time, waiting.

Mum and dad don’t believe in monsters (and until yesterday, neither did I), but during dinner tonight, I had to tell them.

“A monster,” dad said, wiping mashed potatoes off his beard. “Like, with claws and fangs? That kind of monster?”

“I haven’t actually seen it,” I said, “but I know it’s there.”

“How can you know it’s there if you haven’t seen it?” Mum asked.

“It’s like…” I thought for a moment. “It’s like when it’s cloudy, and you can’t see the moon, but it sort of glows behind the clouds, so you know it’s there.”

“So your closet was glowing, eh?” Dad said.

I shook my head. I could tell that they thought I was making the whole thing up. “No, dad,” I said, “but I could feel it in there, and –”

“And what?” He said.

“And if it comes out,” I said, carefully, “It’s going to kill us.”

“Well, I should expect so,” dad said. “Monsters are usually very serious about that sort of thing.”

Mum scowled at him. “Richard! Don’t make fun.”

Then she looked back at me and said, “you can have a night light in your room to keep the monster away.”

“And keep your closet door shut,” dad said, gravely, “everyone knows that monsters can’t open doors.”

“But –”

“But nothing. Now stop all this chattering and eat your peas before they get cold,” mum said.

I’m trying to deal with a monster, and all mum cares about is me eating my peas. Typical parents.

They walked me into my room when it was time for bed. Dad made a big production of opening the closet and looking inside. “Well, it looks like we scared it off,” he said. He didn’t notice that the lid of my toy chest was lifted up slightly, and I didn’t bother telling him. He pushed the door and it shut with a click. He shook the knob and pantomimed looping a chain around it that he secured with a pantomimed pad lock. He swallowed a pantomime key and rubbed his belly.

Mum brought in one of my old night lights, the one with the blue pony on it, and plugged it into the wall next to the bed. “There, sweetheart,” she said as she turned it on, “let’s just leave this on tonight.”

She kissed me goodnight. Then dad kissed me on my forehead.

“There’s a good girl,” he said, “sleep tight! Don’t let the monsters bite!”

“Richard!” Mum smacked him on his arm. “Sorry, sweetie, he’s just having a bit of fun.”

“Good night, mum,” I said. I tried not to frown too much at dad.

I heard them talking as they walked down the stairs.. “She just has a wonderful imagination, doesn’t she?” Mum said.

“She’s a dreamer, that’s for sure,” dad said. I heard ice clink into glasses, then, a moment later,  the creak of their armchairs as they sat down to watch television. 

I was starting to fall asleep when I heard it.

“Psssst.” 

I thought that maybe I was dreaming, but I pulled the covers up to my neck, as tightly as I could, and listened. 

“Psssst.” 

It came from the closet. “Psssst. Hey, kid. Come and open the door, hey?”

I felt my eyes widen, as a chill ran down my spine.

“Come on, kid, I won’t hurt ya, I just want to get out of here. Open the door and I’ll be on my way.”

The voice — its voice — was gruff, but not as gruff as I thought it would be.

“No,” I said in a small voice, barely a whisper. “You… you just stay in there.”

The handle shook a bit, and I screamed. Mum and dad were in the room before I knew it.

“It’s in there!” I cried, “it’s in there and it told me to open the door and let it out!”

They looked at each other. Mum walked across the room to me and sat down on the edge of my bed. “There, there, sweetie,” she said, “you just had a bad dream is all.

“Richard, open the door and show her that there’s nothing inside but clothes and toys.”

“No! Dad! Don’t open it!” I practically screamed.

“Fear not, my petal,” he said, gallantly, “Any monsters inside this closet will get the thrashing of their lives!” He walked to the closet and knocked on the door. “Anyone in there? Hmm?”

He winked at me and shadow boxed the air in front of him.

“Richard, stoppit and just open the door. She’s had an awful fright.”

“Daddy, don’t do it,” I said, suddenly feeling like I was seven years-old again. “Please.”

He smiled and said, “it’s all right, sweetheart. Daddy’s just going to show you that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and then we can all go back to sleep.”

Mum squeezed my hand. An audience laughed on the television downstairs. Dad turned the handle on the closet door and opened it. “Now, see? There’s nothing to–”

The monster was covered in dark scales, like a lizard. Its eyes were jet black, but reflected something red in their centers. It grabbed my dad by his shoulders and bit into his neck with long, sharp, white teeth.

Dad screamed and struggled against it. Clawed hands held onto him and a spray of blood shot across the back of the closet door, black and shiny in the dim light.

It slurped and gurgled and crunched, and in a few seconds, dad stopped moving. I realized that my mum hadn’t made a sound, but had let go of my hand.

She stood up, and walked toward the monster. It dropped my dad’s body to the floor and grinned at her, dad’s blood dripping off of its teeth and running down its chest. They stood over my dad’s body and embraced.

“I’ve missed you, darling,” the monster said to my mum.

“I missed you, too, my sweet,” she said, in the same gruff voice.

“Mu– mum?” I said. She ignored me.

“I would have come sooner, but you know that we can’t open them from the inside,” the monster said.

“Everyone knows that!” Mum said, and they laughed together. She turned to face me. Her skin was starting to crack on her face, revealing dark grey scales beneath it. Her eyes were turning black, reflecting something red in their centers.

“Come on over here and give us a hug,” she said, as sharp white fangs pushed her teeth out of her mouth and onto the floor where they bounced around like marbles. “Come and be mommy’s little monster!”

“WHAT IS HAPPENING? I screamed.

“Stop that horrid racket and say hello to your dad — your real dad,” she said.

I reached around for something, anything, to use as a weapon to protect myself. When I stretched out for the lamp on my night stand, the skin on my arm cracked and split open. There were grey scales underneath it. 

“Oh no. No no no no no,” I said.

I reached up to touch my face, and pulled the soft pink flesh away. I felt the rough scales underneath.

“What’s happening to me?!”

I looked at my mum.

I looked at my dad.

I looked at the body on the floor.

I realized that I was ever so hungry, and my food was getting cold.

I got out of bed and joined my family for dinner.

Copyright 2011 Wil Wheaton. 

Creative Commons License
The Monster In My Closet by Wil Wheaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

I’m on a boat: Hunter – a short pay-what-you-want Sci-Fi story

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

Hunter

Originally published February 2011.

Hunter is a short Sci-Fi story set in a dark and desperate world

Here's a small preview:

Pyke chased the girl down a street still wet with the afternoon’s rainfall. A thin sliver of moon was glowing behind the thinning clouds, but it wasn’t bright enough to pierce the darkness between thefew street lamps that still worked. The girl was fast. He had to stay close, or she’d escape. 

Pyke had let the girl put about 500 feet between them when she ranthrough a bright pool of light and was swallowed by darkness. When she didn’t reappear, Pyke knew he had her, for there was only one place she could have gone. He followed her through a once-ornate gateway into the old city, where the colony had been founded a century before.

Her footfalls echoed off rows of empty windows down narrow streets that seemed to turn back on themselves, an ancient trick intended to confuse invaders. When the Gan arrived, they solved this puzzle by simply bombarding most of the buildings and walls from low orbit until there weren’t many places left to hide. Hunters like Pyke—a second-generation Goa colonist who’d grown up in the old city—knew every twist, every turn, every blind alley and every hidden basement.

It wasn’t the first time Pyke had pushed a rebel into the avenues. In the six months he’d been working for the Gan, he’d let dozens of terrified patriots think they were making their escape into the old city’s maze-like streets, only to trap them in one of its countless dead ends, where he’d have a little fun before turning them over to his masters.

He heard a splash just down the block, followed by a yelp. She must have fallen in a puddle, Pyke thought. Shallow craters were everywhere in these streets; filled with water, they made quite effective traps. Pyke slowed to a jog and grinned. It was only a matter of time now.

It is just about 2500 words, which is about the length of a story you'd read in a magazine. I'm not really sure what the appropriate cost is, so I'm experimenting with the Pay What You Want model that seems to be working really well for a lot of artists I respect and admire.

If I sold Hunter to a magazine, I'd probably get around $125 or so (assuming I could get the SFWA professional rate of five cents a word. I figure that at least 125 people will want to read this, so if all of them donated a dollar, I'd feel really good about this, and I'd be able to do it again in the future. If you're interested (and I hope you are) you can downloadHunter and pay what you want (even the low low price of NOTHING AT ALL) at Wil Wheaton Books dot Com.

A couple of FAQs:

Is this about the amazing 80s cop drama HUNTER starring Fred Dryer?

No, it's an original work of fiction set in a world I made up. 

Where could I find out more about HUNTER and Fred Dryer?

Oh, I bet Wikipedia will help you with the show and its star.

Don't you mean "it's"?

No, I don't. This rhyme from Strongbad has served me well: "If you want to be possessive, it's just I-T-S … if you want to use an apostrophe, it's I-T-APOSTROPHE-S!"

Can I use something other than PayPal to give you filthy money?

Not at the moment, no.

But PayPal is evil!

I know. Luckily, you can stick it to me and PayPal at the same time, if you want. Yay!

What about Google Checkout?

I'm working on it. Well slap my fanny, I figured out how to use it. Yes, you can use Google Checkout. The only thing is, I couldn't find an option that lets you set your price, so I set it at $2.00, which seems to be the average people are choosing to pay.

Can I download the artwork and use it for the cover?

Yes! I tried to embed the neat image Will Hindmarch designed into the files, but apparently I haven't unlocked that skill yet.

Are you going to expand this story?

Maybe. I know a lot about the world and other stuff that would be spoilery, because I've thought about it a lot, but I don't know if I'm ready to expand this particular story much more. I think I'll be revisiting [spoiler] at some point, though, because it's very intriguing to me.

So I've decided to pay for this. What do you suggest?

A billon dollars seems about right to me, but most people are choosing between 1 and 5 bucks.

Can I print out the PDF?

Yes.

I bought the [mobi | pdf | epub] but now I want [some other format] do I have to pay you again?

Of course not, but thank you for asking. You're a good guy or girl.

Can I give my copy to a friend?

Yes, but I'd prefer you link them to the Hunter page at Wil Wheaton Books dot Com where they can download their own copy. I hope that this will introduce new readers to my work, and if they're at my virtual bookshelf, maybe they'll check out my other work.

Are you doing an audio version?

I don't know. Maybe in the future.

Isn't Wall of Voodoo an amazing band?

Hell yes! I've been listening to The Index Masters pretty much non-stop for three days.

Okay, that just about covers it. If you like this, please tell your friends.

 

I’m on a boat: This isn’t a book; it’s a time machine

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

This isn't a book; it's a time machine.

Originally published March 2009.

This is how I go to my happy place.

This is where it all began for me: the D&D Basic Rules Set. When I opened this book in 1983, I had no idea that it would change my life. Back then, if you told 11 year-old me that I'd be 36 and wiping tears from my face because reading it brought back so many joyful memories, he would have called you one of the names the cool kids called him for playing it. (Don't judge him too harshly; he's only 11.)

My original D&D Basic set was a garage sale casualty, but the book in this picture is a first printing that I bought at a game store about ten years ago. It's perfect in every way, except for a missing character sheet in the middle, which I printed from the PDF copy I bought from Paizo last year.

The Keep on the Borderlands module beneath it belonged to someone named Randy Richards, who wrote his name and phone number (as we so often did in those days) on the cover. I don't know who Randy Richards is, if he cares, or if he'll even read this, but if he does, I want him to know: your book is in very good hands, Randy, and its current owner loves it as much as anyone could.

I've been on a real D&D kick lately (blame the Penny Arcade podcast, and how much I love 4e) but I hadn't actually gone back to the beginning and read the Basic Rules for a very, very long time. So late last night, after my family went to sleep, instead of watching TV or reading blogs, I went to my bookshelf and grabbed the Player's Manual you see in this picture. I read it cover-to-cover for the first time in over 20 years, and played the solo adventure, which was the very first dungeon I ever visited. I named my fighter Thorin, just like I did when I was a kid. I made a map on graph paper, rolled dice on the floor, and felt pure joy wash over me. I scared off a Giant Rat and killed the remaining two before I failed – like I did when I was 11 – to solve the riddle of O-T-T-F-F-S-S, losing all my treasure. I tried to talk to the Goblins … before I killed them and took their treasure: 100 sp and 50 gp. I battled the Rust Monster, who was just as tough and unreasonable an opponent for a first level fighter as I remember. Thorin eventually managed to defeat it with some … creative … trips back to town to replace his armor and weapons, just like he did a quarter century ago. Luckily for him, the Rust Monster didn't heal between battles … just like the last time he faced it. I decided to leave the skeletons for another time, and walked back to town with my 650 gp and 100 sp. When I calculated my XP, I had earned 1084 … not too shabby. I closed up my book, and went to sleep happy.

When I was a kid, the D&D Basic Rules Set was never just a game to me; it was my portal into a magical, wonderful world that I still love. Now that I'm an adult, it isn't just a couple of books to me; it's a time machine.

The world I live in is filled with uncertainty and occasionally-overwhelming responsibility, but for an hour or so last night, I was 11 years-old again, and I went back to a world where the biggest problem I faced was trying to save up for a Millennium Falcon. When I read "You decide to attack the goblins before they can get help…" I could hear my Aunt Val tell me “That’s a game that I hear lots of kids like to play, Willow. It’s dragons and wizards and those things you liked from The Hobbit. The back says you use your imagination, and I know what a great imagination you have.” I could feel the weight of my Red Box, which I carried with me pretty much everywhere I went, and how huge the thing felt in my tiny arms. I could feel it get heavier as I added modules and characters, and my own dungeons, drawn on graph paper. I could hear the snap of the thick green rubber band I eventually had to wrap around it, and I could see the yellowing scotch tape I added to the corners.

I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to reread the Dungeon Master's Rulebook next, and run the Group Game adventure it contains, "for use by a beginning Dungeon Master." Then, it's time to go back to the Keep on the Borderlands, using just the Basic Rules, where Magic-users can't wear armor, Fighters have 8 HP, Dwarf and Elf are classes, and everyone dies at least once before finally taking a character to second level, because that's where it all started for me, and sometimes you just have to go back to your roots.

 

I’m on a boat: On the Delivery of Technobabble

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

On the Delivery of Technobabble

Originally published May 2011.

I was in three scenes yesterday, one of which contained a massive amount of technobabble.

For those who don't know what that is: on a sci-fi show, technobabble is what we call pseudoscientific dialog like "I'll have to run a level four diagnostic on the antimatter inversion matrix to be sure." It's pretty much the worst dialog an actor can have to deliver on a show, because it's rarely connected to anything in reality, and if we're talking about the inertial dampeners in a scene, we're pretty much infodumping to the audience, instead of doing something interesting with our characters.

…or so I thought until yesterday.

The thing about technobabble is that it isn't usually connected to reality. By that, I mean that though it does follow the logical rules of the show's universe, and references things the fans know about, for most actors, it's like being asked to perform in a foreign language that you barely understand (if you understand it at all.)

The other thing about technobabble is that the character delivering it is supposed to be an expert on the subject, and should have a point of view about it that stays alive through the whole scene. For example, maybe Doctor Hoobajoo is the leading expert in the galaxy on ion resonance within the subspace induction processor core, so when Doctor Hoobajoo talks about that subject, she's an expert. You can't ask her a single question about the subspace induction processor core that she can't answer. But for the actor playing Doctor Hoobajoo, she has to deliver a bunch of dialog based on something that doesn't even exist as if she's been studying it her whole life.

This is a tremendous challenge for the actor, because, unlike normal dialog that comes from an emotional place, technobabble comes from memories that don't exist. While the actor who plays Doctor Hoobajoo can draw on the emotional memory of being betrayed, or being afraid, or being in love to inform a scene, she can't draw on the memory of studying and mastering the twin fields of ion resonance and subspace induction. As an actor, it's easy to fall into the trap of delivering technobabble by rote, and for a lot of us, it's the only way we can remember those lines at all.

But sometimes, a scene is emotionally important, and is filled with technobabble. That's just the reality of working in science fiction. So when Doctor Hoobajoo is trapped in the power conduit with Commander Framitz, her former lover from her first deployment who left her for an android, and can only save them from certain depolarizaion by repairing a malfunction in the subspace induction processor core, the actor has a lot of work to do. Not only does the actor have to be an expert who can solve the problem and save their lives, she has to be emotionally connected to the scene and the history between the two characters. Oh, and she has to remember that the stakes in this case are pretty high. And she has to do this over and over again for several hours, during the master shot, the VFX shots, and all the coverage.

Boy, writing those three paragraphs just exhausted me. I'll be back in a little bit.

Okay, some coffee and steel cut oats seem to have revitalized me, so I can get to my point now, about what I realized yesterday:

I had a scene that was almost entirely technobabble. It sets up a lot of the action for the episode, tells the audience what's at stake, and gets them excited enough to sit through commercials for MegaSomething versus Giant Other Thing to find out what happens next. I drove the scene. Everyone else was reacting to me and the information I gave them, and I think I had one line in two pages that wasn't technobabble. It was challenging, and I knew from experience that I was going to have trouble remembering the jargon, so I did a lot of extra homework to make sure I was totally prepared. 

As I did my preparation, I realized that while the technobabble is just a dump of information, it's information that Doctor Parrish has an opinion about. The function of the scene is to get the action going and give the audience some important information, but that doesn't mean it has to be an infodump. The way Doctor Parrish feels about the other characters affects the way he talks with them regardless of the words. It affects who he chooses to give certain bits of information to, and it affects how he delivers the information. So I found ways to be emotionally connected to the scene and the characters, while caring about the information I was giving them, so it wasn't an infodump. A scene that could have been tedious and boring became a scene that was a lot of fun to perform.

Still, it was really hard to remember all the technobabble I had, and at one point, when I blanked on a line, my Star Trek skills automatically sprung to life, went into failsafe mode, and made me say "blah blah emit blah pulse blah blah blah." (The fun of technobabble is that a lot of the words are interchangeable. The frustration of technobabble is that we can't paraphrase or use any of the interchangeable words, because a subspace matrix is different from a subspace array.)

It honestly could have been boring and exhausting to spend much of a day delivering technobabble, but when I realized that I could keep it interesting by endowing the technobabble with emotional resonance, the whole thing came to life in a surprising and unexpected way. It was like I'd detected anomalies in the starboard neutrino emitter, and instead of adjusting the warp plasma induction subroutine to compensate for multiadaptive fluctuations, like you'd usually do, I thought about it, and equalized the portable phase transmission with a self-sealing warp core transmuter.

I know, right? I bet you never thought to do it that way. Well, I did, and it worked.

 

I’m on a boat: When the MCP was just a chess program

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

When the MCP Was Just A Chess Program

Originally published November 2008.

My extremely active imagination was forged in the playground fire of a childhood spent weak and strange. I read books while other kids played football; I played and wrote computer games while other teens went to makeout parties. While I couldn'’t get to second base on the kickball field at school or in Justine Baker’'s house, by the end of middle school I had taken the One Ring to Mordor, destroyed the Death Star, and designed and populated countless dungeons.

The real world was a pretty miserable place for a kid like me. I did everything I could to find ways to step out of it: one page at a time in a book or one quarter at a time in the arcade, the more immersive the game, the better. I was never a huge fan of Battlezone’s gameplay, but it remains the closest I’ve ever come to actually driving a tank. I always favored the sit-down versions of games like Pole PositionSpy Hunter, and Sinistar. They felt more . . . real . . . than their stand-up brothers, providing a cleaner escape from the kids at Pinball Plus who took pitiless joy in pointing out that my shoes were Traxx from Kmart, not Vans from the mall.

While game designers and arcade owners did all they could with cabinet systems and sound design (I defy anyone to tell me they didn’t want their Slush Puppy “shaken, not stirred” after a particularly rousing round of Spy Hunter, with music blasting behind their heads, their feet jammed down on the gas, and imagined breezes blowing through their feathered hair), it was our imagination that did most of the work of creating the alternate reality, especially on our console systems at home.

The earliest video games didn’t just encourage us to use our imaginations when we played them, they forced us to. Yar’s Revenge, the best-selling original title on the Atari 2600, has simple yet entertaining gameplay, but it was supported by an extraordinarily rich backstory, turning it into one chapter in an epic struggle for cosmic justice. When I was 9, I wasn'’t just chipping away at the shield while I readied my Zorlon cannon; I was helping the Yar extract revenge on the Qotile for the destruction of their planet, Razak IV, as illustrated in the comic that came with the game.

When I was 10 or 11, I arranged a TV tray, a dining room chair, and a worn blanket to make a small tent in front of our 24-inch TV set. I carefully moved our Atari 400 onto the tray and plugged Star Raidersinto the cartridge slot. I flipped the power on, picked up the joystick, and booted up my imagination as I sat in the command chair of my very own space ship. For the next hour, I was a member of the Atarian Starship Fleet. I was all that stood between the Zylon Empire and the destruction of humanity. Through my cockpit’s viewscreen (developed at great expense by the RCA corporation back on Earth) I blasted Zylon starships and Zylon basestars, and I would have defeated them all, if my meddling mother hadn'’t made me stop and eat dinner!

Over the years, I built bigger and better immersive environments for myself, using transistor radios and walkie-talkies to complete a cockpit with a Vectrex as the main viewer. I made maps of whatever jungle I explored as Pitfall Harry and hung them on my bedroom walls. I created star charts and galactic maps for everything from Asteroids to Cosmic Ark. When I copied game programs out of Antic magazine, I dimmed the lights and did it in the dark, because that seemed like something real hackers would do. (This probably explains a rash of headaches suffered by real hackers throughout the ’80s and ’90s.)

In 1984, after cutting my teeth on the Atari 400 and TI-99/4A, I got my first Macintosh computer. While it had word processing and drawing ability like nothing I’'d seen up to that point in my life, it didn’t have any real games, and its programming environment was confounding to the point of uselessness. There wasn’t enough combined imagination in the world to make MacVegas fun, especially when my friends with Commodores and PCs could show off a game like King’s Quest. I was despondent.

My disappointment softened when I discovered Macventure games by ICOM Simulations: DeJa Vu in 1985, Uninvited in 1986, and Shadowgate in 1987. While these games weren’t as technologically advanced or immersive as some in the arcades, they gave me access to worlds that were richer than the ones I'’d visited before. They felt less linear, less finite, and engaged my imagination in ways I hadn’t felt since I built my first Atarian Starship in our living room so many years before. And when I finished them, I got a diploma that I could print out – slowly –on my dot-matrix Imagewriter.

As I grew older and came of age in the ’80s, I looked to gaming more for stimulation and entertainment than for escape. I was still attracted to immersive environments, though, and loved games like Defender of the Crown and NeTrek. Around 1988 or 1989, an unlikely game captured my imagination and transported me to another world like nothing had before. Maybe it’s because I was such a huge geek, maybe it’s because I’d been reading Choose Your Own Adventure books since I was in fourth grade, or maybe it’s because I was working on Star Trek every day and my imagination was constantly in an excited state, but Infocom’s The Lurking Horror completely pulled me into its virtual world. It was just green text on a black background, and there wasn’t even any sound, but I was Flynn to its MCP. I spent hours – okay, days – exploring G.U.E. Tech and the nightmares therein. My imagination took the words and created something scary and real. I had finally found the totally immersive game I’d been looking for my entire life in my fragile eggshell mind, where I got to control everything from the sound of a floor waxer to the darkness of the steam tunnels. After I finished it, I played every interactive fiction title I could get my hands on, from Zork to Leather Goddesses of Phobos to Planetfall to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (I think I’ll get over Macho Grande before I get over my inability to capture the babelfish without using Invisiclues™.) 

My kids live in a very different world than I did. Their immersive, narrative gaming experiences are the space shuttle to my paper airplane. Several months ago, I showed my 17-year-old stepson some of the classic Infocom games that I loved when I was his age. After growing up in a world where our Xbox 360 is more powerful than every console I owned in my entire childhood, combined and squared, he could appreciate the historical significance but was otherwise unimpressed. (“This is what gaming was for you? That’'s weird.”) I was a little saddened, but it quickly passed. After all, when I was his age, I could only dream of one day putting myself into a living, breathing world like Liberty City. It’s a consequence of progress, I guess, and I’'m sure that one day he’'ll show my incredulous grandchildren these games he used to play that were confined to a television set. (“You had to use an external console, not a wetware chipslot? That'’s weird.”)

As I wrote this column, I got a jones to hop in a bathysphere and spend some time back in Rapture. I already finished Bioshock once, but it wasn'’t the plasmids or the music or the visual design that pulled me back; it was the story. It was a desire to experience Andrew Ryan'’s world once again, to find every single diary and explore every single room, to feel like I was back under the sea in that incredible place.

I played for several hours one day, discovering some new areas and reliving some half-remembered favorites. I eventually found myself under Sander Cohen’'s spotlight, pulled away only when my wife asked me –- for what was apparently the third or fourth time -– to come to dinner. I saved the game and shut down the console. After we ate, I grabbed my controller, and prepared to go back to Fort Frolic.

What I found was worse than a room filled with Splicers: the dreaded Red Ring of Death. To anyone who doubts the narrative power of modern video games, I submit myself: I felt like I was in the middle of a book, only to have it ripped from my hands and thrown into a fire. I felt like I was watching a movie, only to have the film catch and burn through somewhere in the fourth reel. It was fabula interrupta. 

Waiting for my 360 to get back from the gaming doctor and restore my access to Rapture and points beyond isn'’t as bad as one might think, though. I still have all my books and movies and hobby games and other nerdly escape routes. And, I confess, I keep a Z Machine interpreter on my Mac, so I'’m never too far away from an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

I’m on a boat: In which I’m a proud father

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

In Which I Am A Proud Father

Originally published January 2011.

"I have to tell you," Jonathan Coulton's wife said to me on the last night of the cruise, "how wonderful your boys are."

"I have two daughters," Peter Sagal's wife told Anne, "and I hope this isn't weird or creepy, but I really hope they meet guys like your sons."

"Dude, you know you raised your kids right when they are awesome and not lame even when you're not around," my friend Kathleen said.

In each of these instances, I was as proud as I was relieved. When they were growing up, it was important to me that I protected Ryan and Nolan's privacy, and I kept them out of the public eye (visually, I mean) as much as I could. I knew that #JoCoCruiseCrazy would be the first time a lot of people would actually see them. I knew that most of those people would have cameras, and I knew that it was unrealistic and unreasonable to expect those cameras wouldn't ever be turned on my kids. Before we left, I had long talks with both of them about all of this, and I urged them to comport themselves in a way that would make them and us proud. They assured me that they understood in their own way: Ryan told me, "Yeah, I get it. Don't worry." Nolan rolled his eyes at me and said I was being "lame."

Ah, youth.

Anyway, I had a great time on the JoCo Cruise, but before I actually recall it in my own way, I needed to get this out of the way.

I've waited almost ten years to do this. Internet, please meet my family:

We are Wheatons

That's Anne, me, Ryan, and Nolan.

This is probably my favorite picture that's ever been taken of me and Ryan:

Wil and Ryan have moustaches

Please enjoy the bonus Kevin Murphy photobomb.

So with this important formality out of the way, I can now get down to the very important business of recounting some of the things I loved about the cruise. Until I get the thoughts out of my head and into words, though, I highly recommend reading Stepto's and Molly's blogs, as well as JoCo's Open Letter to the Seamonkeys.

 

in which a suitcase is packed

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to get into a giant aluminium tube and fly across the continent to America's Wang. Then, on Sunday, I'll get on a boat and spend a week doing nerdy stuff with nerds in the middle of the ocean. It should be pretty awesome.

Earlier today, I folded my laundry, and put it on the bed. I laid out the various items of clothing I need to take with me on the cruise next week, carefully considering what nerd T-shirts would make the cut, and which ones would have to stay home.

I took my suit, and a clean white dress shirt out of the closet. I walked around the room, trying to find a place to hang them up. When I realized there wasn't a place to hang them up, I carefully laid them on the bed.

"The cats aren't in the house, so this will be fine here for a few minutes," I thought to myself.

I went into my office, and prepared my backpack: I took out some things I didn't need, including an old call sheet, and realized that the last time I took this backpack anywhere, I was working on Eureka. I had a little bit of a sad. I put some books in a pocket next to my Kindle. I put my bag of dice inside, and grabbed a couple of small, social games: Werewolf, Resistance, Fluxx, and a couple of Button Men, just in case. I printed out my performance setlist and put it into the pocket where I'd usually put my laptop. (My laptop is staying home, because the Internet on the ship costs eleventy billion dollars a second, and I'd rather read books, play games, and relax in the sun with my friends and family than hang out online, where I spend pretty much all of my free time when we're home.

I made sure my various chargers, extra batteries, headphones, and other nerd essentials were in their proper place. Then, having confirmed that I had everything I would need to entertain myself and survive a zombie apocalypse, I headed back into my bedroom to load up my suitcase.

My black cat was sleeping in the middle of my white dress shirt. My black and white cat was sleeping on my black kilt.

"Are you fucking serious, you guys?" I said. 

The cats did not reply. One of them rolled over and purred enthusiastically, while the other put her ears back and flicked her tail.

I sighed. "Okay, get up," I said. "These are going back into the closet until I pack them."

The cats let me know that they were very displeased with me, in the usual manner. I let them know that I would get over it, in the usual manner.

I hung up my fancy clothes, and put my normal clothes into my suitcase. The cats glared at me from the floor.

"You'll get over it," I said.

That's when I realized that I was alone in the house, and talking to my cats.

…turns out that this is the perfect time to take a working vacation.

From the Vault: “…because Next Generation FUCKING RULES!”

I'm digging into The Vault for stories to tell next week when I perform on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2: The Encrazening, and I caught myself reading this story, which I wrote and published in Dancing Barefoot, when I was a baby writer almost ten years ago. 

This is from The Saga of SpongeBob Vega$ Pants (or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Trek) also: Put Some Thought Into What You Name Things, Kids, Because You May Find Yourself Telling a Story With A Stupid Title Ten Years After You Wrote It.

I sit at my table, uncap my sharpie, and put on my gameface. 

My pen hand is strong. I'm ready to be witty, charming and friendly. Although the actual number of autographs I've signed over the years is probably close to half a million, I am ready to make these fans feel like the autograph I'm currently signing is the only one I've signed all day, maybe the only one I've signed in my whole life.

Over the years, I've learned something from this experience: it's never about the signature. It's about that brief moment, that brief encounter with a Star Trek cast member, that is so important to the fans. That 30 seconds or so of hopefully undivided attention is what they're really paying for, and I always do my best to make sure they get their money's worth. Contrary to popular belief, sitting at a table signing hundreds of autographs for several hours without a break is hard. It's not just mindlessly scrawling my name; It's stopping and listening to the always excited, sometimes shaking, always sweating, sometimes scary dude who wants to know exactly why I did “X” on episode “Y” and would I please sign his picture in silver, because Marina signed it in gold and now he wants the men in silver and the women in gold, and I hated your character and here are 25 reasons why and I expect an answer for each one of them and I'm not leaving until I'm satisfied.

The fans come down what amounts to an assembly line, stopping at a table, enjoying their 30 seconds of attention and trading a ticket for an autograph. They move to the next table, and repeat.

I personally think that this “assembly line” method, while the only one that really works, has the potential to totally suck for the fans. 

The first one hundred or so who come through the line will get to see a smiling, effusive, friendly actor, and will leave feeling happy and satisfied. Those unlucky ones who are at the end of the line risk seeing actors who are tired, with cramped hands and degraded signatures. 

It is a challenge for me, but I always remind myself that the last fans through the line have paid as much as the first fans, and they've also waited much longer, so they are the ones that I need to give the most attention to when I am the most drained. I know that as I get toward the end of the line, my humor slows down, and my voice fades. I know that I've let down my fair share of people over the years, but I always do my best. 

I see the first fan walking down the hallway, trading tickets and getting signatures from actors. I watch her as she goes table to table. She's not wearing a spacesuit . . . that's a good sign. She has a witty sci-fi T-shirt on. Also a good sign. 

She arrives at my table, and I cheerfully say, “Hi! How are you doing today?!”

“AWFUL! THIS IS THE WORST CONVENTION I HAVE EVER BEEN TO! I HATE DAVE SCOTT! I HATE LAS VEGAS! I HATE THIS CONVENTION!”

Oh boy. This is not the way I'd hoped to start out.

I try to soothe her. “Uhh . . . I think . . . that . . . this convention . . . just started . . . and . . . uhh . . . I'm sure that if you talk to Dave, everyt–”

“DAVE SCOTT IS AN ARROGANT ASSHOLE!”

“Uh . . . yeah . . . well, you see, the thing is, I'm sort of not exactly involved in the planning of this convention, you know? I'm just, like, a guest . . . maybe you could try talk–”

“THIS IS THE MOST FAN-UNFRIENDLY CONVENTION I HAVE EVER BEEN TO!”

And she storms away, without an autograph, without another word.

I look at Marina, who's one table down from me. Angry Fan has stormed past her, too. Marina shrugs, and I make the international sign for “crazy person” by twirling my finger near my temple.

I hear a man clear his throat, and I look up to see a smiling middle-aged face. He has a dark beard, and is dressed as Commander Riker. 

He gives his autograph ticket to the staffer sitting next to me, and asks me to sign his model of the Enterprise D. He thanks me, and moves along.

And so it is in the world of Star Trek conventions. One person will scream at me, and the next will want to give me a hug. A person will walk up dressed in an elaborate Borg costume, and the next person will be dressed in a T-shirt and Dickies, quietly laughing at “all the weirdos.”

For the next three hours, I sign pictures of the young, geeky Wesley Crusher. I sign posters of the teen heartthrob that I'm told I once was. I sign posters that I'm not even on, in silver because everyone else did, accepting the apologies from the poster owners that I'm not on the poster. I always answer with the same joke: “That's okay, you just can't see me, because I'm on this planet here . . .” They laugh and feel good and so do I.

A group of very attractive German girls comes over next, and two of them tell me, in broken English, how much they love me.

I think, Oh yeah, tell me some more, baby. Tell daddy how you love him. Ich bin ein sexmachiner!

What?

I am so sorry. I have no idea where that came from. I apologize.

There are also 20 Japanese kids who've all come over together from Tokyo. They are all smiles and laughter, excited, and having a great time. The girls ask me to write their names on their picture when I sign it, they giggle and bow and blush and thank me, over and over. For a second, I feel like a rock star. 

One of the Japanese kids is a boy, about my height. When he presents his Wesley Crusher action figure for my signature, he tells me, “My friend all say I am you twin!”

He smiles proudly. “We look just the same!”

Last time I checked, I wasn't Japanese, but I'm not about to tell him that. I look at him for a moment and reply, “Dude. You are so right. It's like I'm looking in a mirror!” 

He turns to his friends, says something in Japanese, and they all share an excited murmur. I pick up my pen, and write: “To Hiroyuki, my long lost twin brother: Don't Panic! -Wil Wheaton.”

He thanks me over and over. His smile is so huge, I fear that his face will turn inside out. As he walks away from my table, I feel happy – I've brought joy into this kid's life, just by signing my name and being friendly. It's one of the few perks (or responsibilities, if you will) that comes with celebrity that I truly enjoy.

ϑ ϑ ϑ

 

About 200 or so people into the day, I have one of those memorable “battlefield” experiences; the kind that we Star Trek actors share during a layover in Chicago, after a convention in Cleveland.

I've just finished signing a poster for a 40-ish man who is wearing a spacesuit that is a little to tight across the waist. He's painted his face blue, and donned a white wig topped with antennae, like the Andorians from the original Star Trek. The next person in line is a woman in her 30s, dressed conservatively.

I say hello, and she smiles at me . . . until she sees my T-shirt. Then she becomes hysterical. She points at my shirt and screeches at me, “You are going to hay-ell! You are going to hay-ell!”

“Why am I going to hell, ma'am?” I ask, trying to figure out if she is joking. I am wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of a hand making rock-and-roll devil horns that says, “Keep Music Evil.” I think it's very funny, and it's a nice counter-point to the squeaky-clean image of Wesley Crusher that is so indelibly burned into these people's minds.

“You're wearing that shirt! And that shirt promotes SATAN!”

Okay, she's definitely not joking.

“So I'm going to hell because I'm wearing a shirt? Is that right?” I ask her, patiently.

“Yes! You! Are! Going! To! HAY-ELL!”

“Well, as long as I'm not going where you are, ma'am.”

And she leaves, but not without getting my signature, on her collectible plate, in gold ink, not silver, because John DeLancie signed his in silver, so now silver is the color reserved for “Q.” Nobody else can sign in silver. Not even a captain. Well, maybe Captain Picard, but not Captain Janeway.

I am able to contain my giggles until she is out of ear-shot.

“Is it always like this?” the staffer sitting at my table inquires.

“Nope. Sometimes it's really weird.”

We laugh, and the signing goes on.

And on.

And on.

This next part is from when I went on the stage later that same afternoon. It still makes me laugh.

“I have the limited edition Star Trek Monopoly game.” I say.

“Of course, it's a limited edition of 65 million. But it's extremely valuable, because I got a number under 21 million.”

They laugh. It's funny, because it's true.

I go one better. “Plus, it's got a certificate of authenticity signed by Captain Picard!

“Yes, that's right, my Star Trek Monopoly game, which I've rendered worthless by opening, comes with a certificate of authenticity signed in ink by a fictional character.”

I see a guy in the front row say something to his buddy, and they both nod their heads and laugh.

“Cool thing about the game, though, is that there is a Wesley Crusher game piece in it, and the first time we sat down to play it as a family, Ryan grabbed Wesley and proclaimed, as only an 11-year-old can, 'I'm Wil!! I'm Wil!! Nolan!! I'm all-time Wil!! I call it!!'”

I see some people smile. I start to pace the stage. I'm hitting my stride, and the stories flow out of me.

“One time, when we were renegotiating our contracts, we were all asking for raises.

“We all felt a salary increase was appropriate, because The Next Generation was a hit. It was making gobs of money for Paramount,” (I like that word – gobs) “and we felt that we should share in that bounty.

“Of course, Paramount felt otherwise, so a long and annoying negotiation process began.

“During that process, the producers’ first counteroffer was that, in lieu of a raise, they would give my character a promotion, to lieutenant.”

I pause, and look around. I wrinkle my brow, and gaze upward.

“What? Were they serious?”

A fan hollers, “Yeah! Lieutenant Crusher! Woo!” 

I smile back at him.

“My agent asked me what I wanted to do. I told him to call them back and remind them that Star Trek is just a television show.”

Okay, that was risky to say. It's pretty much the opposite of just a television show to these people, but they giggle.

“I imagined this phone call to the bank,” I mime a phone, and hold it to my ear. “Hi . . . Uh, I'm not going to be able to make my house payment this month, but don't worry! I am a lieutenant now.” I pause, listening to the voice on the other end.

“Where? Oh, on the Starship Enterprise.”

I pause.

“Enterprise D, yeah, the new one. Feel free to drop by Ten Forward for lunch someday. We'll put it on my officer's tab!”

Laughter, and applause. My time is up, and Dave Scott stands at the foot of the stage, politely letting me know that it's time for me to go.

The fans see this, and I pretend to not notice him.

“In 2001, startrek.com set up a poll to find out what fans thought the best Star Trek episode of all time was. The competition encompassed all the series. The nominated episode from Classic Trek was City On The Edge Of Forever. The entry for The Next Generation was Best of Both Worlds Part II. DS9 offered Trials and Tribble-ations, and Voyager weighed in with Scorpion II.”

As I name each show, various groups of people applaud and whistle, erasing any doubt as to what their favorite show is.

“Now, look. I know that Star Trek is just a TV show. Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I just said that five minutes ago, but there was no way I was going to let my show lose. It just wasn't going to happen. Especially not to Voyager – er, V'ger, I mean.”

I pause, and look out at the crowd. I wonder if Mr. “V'ger” is out there.

“So I went into my office, sat at my computer for 72 straight hours, and voted for TNG over and over again.

“I didn't eat, and I didn't sleep. I just sat there, stinky in my own filth, clicking and hitting F5, a Howard Hughes for The Next Generation.

“Some time around the 71st hour, my wife realized that she hadn't seen me in awhile and started knocking on the door to see what I was doing. 

“'Nothing! I'm, uh, working!' I shouted through the door. Click, Click, Click . . . 

'I don't believe you! Tell me what you've been doing at the computer for so long!'

“I didn't want her to know what I was doing – I mean, it was terribly embarrassing . . . I had been sitting there, in crusty pajamas, voting in the Star Trek poll for three days.”

Some people make gagging noises, some people “eeww!” But it's all in good fun. They are really along for the ride, now. This is cool.

“She jiggled the handle, kicked at the bottom of the door, and it popped open!”

The audience gasps.

“I hurriedly shut down Mozilla, and spun around in my chair.

“'What have you been doing on this computer for three days, Wil?' she said.”

I look out across the audience, and pause dramatically. I lower my voice and confidentially say, “I was not about to admit the embarrassing truth, so I quickly said, 'I've been downloading porn, honey! Gigabytes of porn!'”

I have to stop, because the ballroom rocks with laughter. It's a genuine applause break! 

“She was not amused. 'Tell me the truth,' she said.

“I sighed, and told her that I'd been stuffing the ballot box in an online Star Trek poll.

“'You are such a dork. I'd have been happier with the porn.'

“I brightened. 'Really?'

“'No,' she said. She set a plate of cold food on the desk and walked out, muttering something about nerds.

“I stayed in that office for another ten hours, just to be sure. When my eyes began to bleed, I finally walked away. It took several weeks of physical therapy before I could walk correctly again, but it was all worth it. Best of Both Worlds Part II won by a landslide.”

I pause dramatically, and the theatre is silent.

“And it had nothing to do with my stuffing the box. It's because Next Generation FUCKING RULES!”

I throw my hand into the air, making the “devil horns” salute that adorns my satanic T-shirt, and the audience leaps to their feet, roaring with applause and laughter.

I can't believe it. I started out so badly, but I got the audience back on my side. I say thank you, give the microphone to Dave Scott, who is now sitting on the stage pointedly checking his watch, and exit, stage left.

 

ϑ ϑ ϑ

 

I'm a very different person now than I was when I wrote it, in every single way that matters (and a lot that probably don't). I cringe a little bit at some of the ways I wrote back then, but it's the best I could do at the time, and I'm proud of it, and the 29 year-old who struggled to write it.

Reading this stuff today made me feel strange, but also good, It's sort of like I was looking in a mirror that held a reflection within it for ten years, but let a little bit out today, just for me.

Regarding JoCoCrazy2 and my important questions…

Based on the responses I got to my very important question, it looks like I'll be performing something from Memories of the Future, maybe something from Memories of the Future Volume 2, something from Happiest Days, something from Dancing Barefoot. 

I am also canceling the Wil Wheaton Anti-Formal Not Formal Unformal For Formally Being Not Formal due to lack of interest. Also I have to get some fancy clothes for me and my family now. #firstworldproblems