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Video Game Charities to Help Children

I hate news.  I try to avoid watching the news on TV and keep up with most things simply by glancing over the headlines on yahoo.com.  Yes, I want to be informed, but at the same time I’m the kind of person who will remember a disturbing picture or story for years.

Some things of course are simply hard to just pass over, like what happened in Boston yesterday.  It’s saddening and infuriating and frustrating that something like that could happen, and that a child was one of the people who died.  I work with children every week, and children hold a very special place in my heart.  I know lots of little 8 year olds. My friend has an 8 year old daughter who runs and jumps into my arms every time she sees me.  To think that she could have been killed…it’s horrible and sobering.  And then a facebook friend posted this picture:

Thank you, Mr. Rogers.

So, we move forwards, and we help.  There will always be crazy bad people in the world who do bad things, but there will also be helpers.  I want to be a helper.  My BF had recently told me about a children’s charity for video gamers, so I looked it and a few others up.  Gamers, here’s how you can be a helper!

Extra Life Charity (My BF is doing this! If you would like to help sponsor him, you can here.)

From their website: “For the last four years, thousands of gamers have joined together annually to play for 24 hours for Extra Life – a gaming marathon in support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals®. Gamers rally friends and family members to sponsor their play. The funds they raise go to help save and improve the lives of kids at the CMN Hospital in their community.

Since 2008, our incredible players have raised more than 4 million dollars, and this year, on November 2nd, 2013 we believe they will outdo themselves yet again.

We’d like YOU to join our lifesaving fight.”

Child’s Play Charity

From their website: “Since 2003, we’ve set up and organized Child’s Play, a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in our network of over 70 hospitals worldwide. Over the years, you as a community have answered the call and come together to raise millions of dollars.

Child’s Play works in two ways. With the help of hospital staff, we set up gift wish lists full of video games, toys, books, and other fun stuff for kids. By clicking on a hospital location on our map, you can view that hospital’s wish list and send a gift.

Child’s Play also receives cash donations throughout the year. With those cash donations, we purchase new consoles, peripherals, games, and more for hospitals and therapy facilities. These donations allow for children to enjoy age-appropriate entertainment, interact with their peers, friends, and family, and can provide vital distraction from an otherwise generally unpleasant experience.”

Get Well Gamers Charity

From their website: “The Get-Well Gamers Foundation was founded in 2001 with the goal of bringing video game systems and games to children’s hospitals. Video games are an effective and proven pain management tool and provide needed entertainment during long hospital stays.

The Foundation currently serves dozens of children’s hospitals across the U.S. in an ever-expanding donation network that has already brought much-needed entertainment to hundreds of thousands of children each year. The Foundation services all kinds of hospitals, from small local facilities to larger regional medical centers. Although some of these hospitals are on the cutting edge of medical research, all too often their pediatrics units are lacking for entertainment options. The Foundation seeks to fill these gaps by providing hospitals with free video games, systems, and accessories.”

If everyone took even just one day of their week to be a ‘helper’ in some way, imagine what a wonderful place the world would be!

My Harvest Moon blog on Tumblr

So yes, I started ANOTHER blog a little while ago, this time on Tumblr.  I’ve never spent much time on Tumblr because it’s kinda like a blogging site on acid in my mind, but I decided to be adventurous and give it a whirl.  I’m still not quite sure what makes Tumblr that much different from other blogging sites except that A: you can edit all the code for your blog which I LOVE, and B: apparently you’re supposed to re-reblog what other people have already reblogged.  And hope someone else re-re-reblogs what you’ve already re-reblogged.

Anyway, my Tumblr blog is Harvest Moonatic, and is all about my love for the Harvest Moon games.  I’ll be posting all my musings on the subject and pointless updates about my progress as I replay the entire console series (nearly done with Harvest Moon 64) so check into it often! :)

The Heart Of Video Games

(This post is dedicated to someone very special – my thoughts on why video games are and always will be worthwhile)

My very earliest memory of video games goes way, way back to about the time I was maybe four years old.  My parents had a large conversion van that had the luxury (the time being the early 90s) of having a TV installed in the roof for the back seat passengers to see. For reasons unknown to me, (maybe as  an attempt to keep me and my sister occupied on the long trips to see my grandparents) my parents hooked the TV up to a SNES console.  I can barely remember it at all except that I remember playing what I think was the only game we had for it – a game where you controlled a fighter and fought your way down street after street, knocking out bad guys.  I’m not 100% sure but I suspect that the game was called Street Fighter ll, an immensely popular game of the time.

My second game memory comes from the largest vacation my family has ever taken, back in 1998 when I was eight years old.  We stopped at a large fancy hotel and they had a video game system in the room.  I wasn’t, however, too interested in the little blue hedgehog running around the screen collecting rings and left my dad and brothers to play it, preferring to watch Brady Bunch reruns in the next room with my mom (sorry Sega!).

And then comes my first important video game memory of Christmas 2000 when we received our first real video game console, the lovely, wonderful, fantastic N64 when I was 10.  That aqua blue contraption started the influence of video games in our lives.  My siblings and I did everything together so it was natural that we did video games together as well.  We had classics such as Donkey Kong, Kirby Crystal Shards and Banjo & Tooie and despite the fact these were platformer games, we played them co-op, each night getting comfy on the lower bunk of my brothers blue bunk-bed that the TV had been set up to face as we took turns controlling the character on the screen.  If we weren’t playing tag-team platformers, we would put in a multi-player racing game or the mini games on Kirby (we loved those!). I can clearly remember those nights, and how some even included root beer floats and bags of Goldfish crackers (a favorite video game night snack for us).  We played that way for nearly three years.

 As time went by more video game consoles entered our house.  First a PS1 for which we had many more games than our N64, but for some reason we never played those games together like we did the N64 – though I did get plenty of game time in by myself playing games such as Disney’s Mulan, Barbie’s Winter Sports, Angelica’s Dress Up and (my fav) Harvest Moon Back to Nature.  The PS1 was eventually followed by a PS2, a console for which I personally don’t think any games of any importance were made – even Harvest Moon Save the Homeland was a flop.  After the PS2 came the Xbox when I was about 14 years old – another console that didn’t offer me much in the way of interesting games, but my sister discovered Knights of the Old Republic and fell in love.  For several months, each evening was spent with my siblings and I on the couch as Jen played the game (with our helpful input and suggestions of course).  The game was wonderfully made and despite the fact that Jen was the one officially playing the game, the rest of us had just as good of a time watching because the game was practically a movie with all the cut scenes, options and storyline.  And the ending was fantastic!  It was the first time since the N64 that all four of us had come together in such a way to play a game.

 Then came the Game Cube. I didn’t even know it existed until my little brothers came out of Gamestop proudly holding a purple console and a game called Lugi’s Mansion.  At first, I wasn’t that interested – after all, nothing that good had been on the PS2 or Xbox – but then I realized that just like the N64, the Game Cube had my kind of games on it.  I played through a great part of Lugi’s Mansion and an even greater part of Animal Crossing, and later Harvest Moon: Magical Melody.  But I also started to fall into a role of being what I like to call a “Back Seat Player”.  The people with the most interest in video games turned out to be me and my youngest brother and we ended up spending many hours on the couch together as I helped him play games such as Super Mario Sunshine, Mario Paper and Harvest Moon: Wonderful Life.  To date that was the best quality time I’ve ever been able to spend with my baby brother, who is five years younger than me.  Eventually, my brother’s interest in console video games waned, helped along by his interest in World War ll and a certain game known as COD.  I was 16 years old at the time.

COD however, turned out to have some interesting family value as well.  My brother convinced the entire family to play a game together and soon a ‘few rounds of COD’ became a nightly occurrence in my house.  We would shower and get in our Pjs, then I would serve up whatever dessert I had made earlier and we would get ready at our desks, our teamspeak headphones on as we battled our way across Europe.  I was a poor machine gunner and overall probably a poor fighter, but I was wicked good with a  sniper rifle!  Over time, another game, Age of Empires was added to our family nighttime gaming rounds.  This game was quieter and more peaceful, but ultimately ended up with somebody razing somebody else’s city.

Over time, the nightly games of COD and AGEs faded out, but like the video game traditions before them, another came to take it’s place: this time it was a new console called a Wii and the game was called Mario Kart.  My parents both adored this game and each evening was spent running through Mii-populated malls and throwing banana peels at each other.  My mother favored the Baby Peach character and I the Rosalina one.  My brothers switched often but Bowser and Mario often joined our races.  My dad, more often than not, was Yoshi. Mario Kart wasn’t the only Wii game that saw a lot of use, of course, but it was certainly a fav.

And finally, that brings us to today.  My family is now busier than we used to be and many things have changed.  My sister moved out, and work takes up a lot of our time.  But my brothers still like to play a few rounds of COD or Portal on their lunch breaks, and I’ve found a new gaming love called Webkinz.  But that the old home console still sees the light of day.  On our living room TV stand is a PS3 that was last played maybe a year ago and now lives only to serve as a DVD player.  But a Wii and a N64 (yes, a N64!) sit beside it and I now keep them running.  My greatest video game love has and probably always will be the Harvest Moon series and I have the goal of playing each game in order.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but most evenings find me on the couch working my way through another crop or wooing.  My family enjoys my gaming and the tranquil farming music is often our background at dinner time.  My mom’s favorite part of the day is settling on the couch beside me, coffee in hand and watching me go about my farming.  She tells me it’s calming and a nice way to end her day.  More often than not my dad will join us.  I suppose in the busy, stressful pace we live our lives now my folks being able to slow down and watch peaceful game play is restful.  I’m sure they also get a chuckle out of seeing their daughter, nearly 22 years old now, with my pink note binder in my lap, carefully marking down crop notes and other important game facts.

Many people consider ‘gamers’ to be people who play MMORPGs or other expensive, often violent games, who are almost always male and usually reclusive and nerdy.  And for many people, that is what they see when they see a video game console.  But I don’t think that’s what keeps the video game industry alive.  What keeps the industry alive is people like me, people with warm fuzzy memories of playing their first game in a booster seat in the family van, or of laying on the bottom bunk while you fought your brother for first place in Mickey’s Speedway, or spending hours of cooperative play with your siblings to save the day and princess.  As time goes by and technology grows at an alarming rate, video game makers scramble to get the best graphics, the best sound track, the best whistles and bells and whatever else will make their game ‘be the best’ while stealing plots and stories from books and movies and best selling games from the 90s.  The best isn’t about looks or pretty packaging.  It’s creating an experience that players cannot get from watching a movie or reading a book or even playing a board game.  And it is delivering that experience in such a way that people will still be replaying it decades from now.  And making it something that people can enjoy together!  I’ve logged in hundreds of hours of solo video game playing but the ones I remember are the times I played with my family.  And most of those games were ones that were only for one player, but the family still gathered to ‘help’ play it.  Games have, and always will be, a social thing.  The ‘gamers’ who play by themselves in their dark basements are still playing with others though they might be miles away.  Despite popular belief, there is nothing reclusive or solitary about the all mighty video game.

Look what I found after 11 years!

Good night, sweet chick, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! (who knew you had to actually FEED it every day??)

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I originally played Harvest Moon N64 back in about 2001, when I was around 10 years old.  The first time I played it I played co-op with my brother and sister (so our single chicken ended up in the animal grave yard due to negligence and we somehow made enemies of the entire town, but we had fun!).   A couple years later, I replayed the game myself again though I didn’t finish it all the way.

And a couple of years later, I played it again, and again didn’t finish it all the way…

And that happened on and off for the past 11 years.  Finally, I am now in my second spring and halfway through to finishing the game which I am determined to do.  But while looking through some old, old walk throughs on the web I found reference to…the Harvest Sprite’s house.

Now, I have played this game for years.  I thought I knew all of it’s secrets!  But I had never heard of nor seen a Harvest Sprite house.  The only Harvest Sprite I knew of in the game was the solitary Sprite that wanders around the cave behind the Carpenter’s house.  Intrigued, I went on a full on search, pressing A like a maniac at every wall, nook and cranny but to no avail.  I started to wonder if the person who wrote the walk through had gotten the N64 game mixed up with the PS1 game (as they are extremely similar) and I know for a fact there is a Harvest Sprite house in that game.  I googled “harvest moon n64 sprite house” images to see if I could find a screen shot of this mythical area.  And lo and behold!

The image was definitely from the N64 game, which meant that there HAD to be this room somewhere in my game!

So with renewed vigor I once again went through…google (because I hadn’t been able to find ANYTHING in my game and was getting frustrated) and I found somebody mention in another walk through that the entrance to the Harvest Sprite house was somewhere in the cave where the Harvest Sprite I knew of always wandered.  Half an hour later I found out that if you press A against the wall next to this certain dark mark, you enter the house!  And yes, I am elated with my find, lol.  More so that even after having this game for a decade, I found something new about it.  That’s why these older games are so great; they always seem to have so much extra stuff hidden in their pixly graphics and seemingly straight forwards game play than the modern games do with their polished art and detailed strategy guides.

This isn’t, however, the fist new thing I’ve found in the Harvest Moon 64 game over the years.  After I played Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland (for PS2, the Harvest Moon game every one forgets existed), I became familiar with the Harvest Goddess who was a pivotal part of the plot for that game.  Curious, I went back to Harvest Moon: Back to Nature and Harvest Moon N64 and yep, both games had a suspiciously prominent pond.  A few farm-grown crops tossed in confirmed my haunch; both games had the Harvest Goddess character!  But without any direct guide to her, I had never thought to toss a crop into the pond which is what is needed to awaken her.

Besides the Harvest Goddess, there are plenty of other things in Harvest Moon N64 that are still new to me, especially the subplots with the brides and your rival for each one.  It was also only recently I learned that if you befriend the rivals, they too will get married and have children.  This provides a lot of new cut-scenes to hunt out.   In fact, I’m a little stunned at how much extra interaction there is between the game’s characters.  Since starting the game a few weeks ago I’ve been working on befriending all the villagers and not just the bride I intend to marry which is my normal strategy.  My reward has been many new scenes, secrets, recipes and information about the characters and the game that I never knew existed!  While Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is probably always going to be my official favorite Harvest Moon game, the N64 version is currently ranking in at 2nd place now for all the amazing work, detail and enjoyable game play.

The Wonderful Nintendo 64

I am pleased to say I have finally finished Harvest Moon SNES!  My goal is to play all (well, almost all) of the Harvest Moon games in order, so I’ve already started Harvest Moon N64.  It made me realize how long it’s been since I played a game with a controller that wasn’t wireless!  I played the SNES game on the Wii Virtual Console, but as Nintendo doesn’t plan to release the N64 game on the Virtual Console anytime soon (they said there’s some problem with porting it, I don’t know the specifics), my only option to play the game is on our old N64.

First off, let me say that I adore the N64 – it’s my favorite console.  Period.  The N64 we currently have is actually the third one my family has owned.  We received our first (a lovely aqua blue model) for Christmas of 2000; when that console gave out from too much playing it was replaced (around 2004, I think) with a black model we picked up at a garage sale.  That one didn’t last very long.  Finally I bought the model we have currently (also aqua blue in reminiscent of our first) off eBay as a family Christmas gift in 2008.  However, it’s old, been used and knocked around too much, and has a tendency to be cranky so saving your game often is very necessary, lol.

I’ve realized how spoiled playing my Wii has made me – I’m used to settling back on the couch with the wireless nunchuk, and as long as the cat doesn’t stand in front of the sensor, I’ve got no problem.  The N64’s remote has a…5 foot, I think, long cord.  Our couch is about 7 feet away from the TV stand and the place where I plug the N64 in.  So I either have to sit on the edge of the couch (leaning forwards) or on the floor.  We have tile floor btw.  Funny how I used to play N64 and PS1 for hours upon hours and never noticed that the corded remote was bothersome.

But short cords aside, my biggest problem at the moment is our worn out controllers (generic no less – we used to have official Nintendo controllers but they’ve been lost over the years), which don’t have the sensitivity anymore to make playing Harvest Moon easy – watering and hoeing are very difficult as I can’t line up my character properly.  So, I’m out to buy a new controller! Which isn’t as easy as you would think.  It’s very easy to pick up a new generic N64 controller but I don’t WANT a generic controller – I don’t think they last very long and aren’t that durable.  Sure maybe it’s okay for playing Mario Party or Kirby’s Crystal Shards where you don’t need much more than the A and B buttons, but I’m settling in to play Harvest Moon until finished – it will take several weeks and I don’t want to waste in-game day time trying to water one square of soil.  So the only thing to do is go with the original and hunt down a new Nintendo licensed controller.  And these are not easy to find.  I think I’ve found one that will work on eBay so I’ll have to wait and see.

While hunting for a controller on eBay, I ran across yet another item to add to my ‘Must Have’ list:

It’s a Pikachu N64!!  I’m already in love; I so have to get this.  I’ve been thinking of getting a new (as in, brand new factory sealed) N64 eventually, and have decided that when I splurge on that, this is the new console I’ll be getting.   I have several other things that come first on my splurge list (namely a serger sewing machine and new dress form) so this will have to wait a while.  There appear to be two versions – a version that simply comes with a controller and the console, and a Toys R Us exclusive (pictured above) that comes with lots of cool extras, including a game.  I want the Toys R Us one, so I’ll have to see if I can hunt down one still factory sealed.  As it’s a collector’s item that’s actually not going to be too hard :)

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