Category Archives: parenting

Epic Gnome Battle during GW2 Beta! Goats for the Win!

The Garden Warfare 2 Beta is still on, and in this 5 minute video my son catches the end of a super long battle for the gnome–where he’s able to win it for his zombie team while being a . . . goat!  The session was the longest he’s ever experienced playing Garden Warfare, and perhaps that’s a tribute to plants and zombies being more balanced in the newer plants vs zombies game.   Here’s the video, but we also have a post that goes over the changes we see, and our impressions of them, from Garden Warfare to Garden Warfare 2.  We hope you enjoy both!

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Reese’s Dessert Bar Mix – Stick with the Cups

Reese's no bake mix, box
Reese’s no bake mix box. I didn’t notice the print under the “no bake” words . . . my bad.

My husband LOVES Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, as do many others, apparently, since they are number two in overall candy sales in the US.   So when I saw Reese’s Dessert Bar (no bake) Mix on an end cap in Target recently, I decided to try it.  My husband was quite excited about it too, but after having made the mix, and after all of us have tasted these bars, two out of three of us agree that Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are simply better (in more ways than one).  More on that later.

Value?

But what of the value?  The mix I bought is made in a very small card-stock “pan” that is provided in the box (see the above photo).  I didn’t realize this when I bought it, simply thinking that–like all other box mixes I’ve experienced–it was to be made in an 8″x8″ pan.*

Continue reading Reese’s Dessert Bar Mix – Stick with the Cups

New Skyrim Playthrough, “Let’s Play Skyrim with Babe’s Got Bow”

Babe's Got Bow in Dragonsreach
Babe’s Got Bow in Dragonsreach

 

With Christian Eyes author does a Skyrim “let’s play” with a  cool-looking (magish) female Breton.  For any Christians or simply parents interested in getting a general impression of in-game dialogue and violence, the game introduction isn’t bad way to do it. There is a little swearing in it, which is actually more than in the rest of the game — most swearing, when characters happen to do it, is in ways reflective of the in-game culture (not standard real world curses).

A beheading takes place in the introduction, fairly representative of pretty much the worst you’ll see in-game. Certain perks (like Devastating Blow and Savage Strike) can be chosen later on to emphasize bloody violence, but, as said, that is a choice a player can make.  Unfortunately, however, you can’t turn off the slow-mo killing scenes which happen once-in-a-while (in Fallout New Vegas, which Bethesda also produced, you can.  Maybe the next Elder Scrolls game will have this feature).   There are reasons why Skyrim has a “mature” rating, but as far as mature games go, it’s quite tame.  Thanks for watching!

 

And, episode 2:

Hello Kitty is Popular, but is she Evil?

A basic Hello Kitty.  (c) Sanrio
A basic Hello Kitty. (c) Sanrio

Some would say I’m a bit of a tom-boy, but when it comes to Hello Kitty, I’m all girl. If, somehow, you’ve missed the ubiquitous feline adorning girls and women alike, let me tell you a bit about her; if you came here trying to figure out if she’s actually diabolical, I’ll get to that. Hello Kitty is the star in the line-up of successful characters created by Japan’s Sanrio Company, Ltd. (Sanrio, Inc., is its U.S. subsidiary). Now at the ripe age of 40, she is more popular than ever and is one of the most successful brands in the history of marketing. She is so popular that Sanrio–without advertising–brings in $7 billion a year from her character alone.

Sanrio’s perspective is to spread happiness, love, and friendship. Their success in selling seemingly innumerable products, running popular theme parks, and even having Hello Kitty painted on airplanes (EVA Airways), shows that people desire to connect with those values.2

Continue reading Hello Kitty is Popular, but is she Evil?

Appendicitis Symptoms are not always “Typical”

Appendicitis isn’t a big killer in the US, but knowing more about it could save your life.  Having an unusual case of appendicitis myself, I wrote about it at Yahoo! Voices:  Appendicitis Symptoms Are Not Always “Typical.”  Since Yahoo! Voice shut down, I’m posting the full (but short) piece below.  Under it is a bit of additional appendicitis-related information that I find interesting and helpful.  I  hope this post helps with whatever you came here for.  Since my word-count for Yahoo!’s post short by requirement, not everything that I would have liked to have written is included; feel free to comment with questions if you have any.

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Appendicitis Symptoms are not always “Typical”

I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) so when I noticed a small but different feeling in my abdomen, I wasn’t sure if it was anything to worry about. The next day it was still there, but I didn’t know what “it” was. On the third day, I knew that what I was feeling couldn’t be OK; appendicitis came to mind, but I wasn’t experiencing the typical symptoms.

My symptoms were not average

I did not experience the pain—which is often severe–near the belly-button that then travels down to the lower right abdomen.   I didn’t have nausea, nor did I ever vomit. One common symptom is a change in digestive behavior, having either diarrhea or constipation, but these are normal with IBS. I did have a low fever, however.

Having symptoms of something, I went to an urgent care center. The blood tests ordered by the doctor revealed that my white blood cell count was elevated, but not as much as is “normal” with appendicitis. My fever was also lower than it should’ve been. Nevertheless, thinking I might have appendicitis, the doctor told me to get to the emergency room (ER) while he called ahead so I’d be examined quickly. His call seemed to be ignored by the ER intake nurse, however, and I stressfully waited minute by ticking minute to be seen. Because I wasn’t writhing in pain, vomiting, or running a high fever, I felt a bit invisible to the staff–but significantly, my abdomen became more and more tender.

The long awaited diagnosis and surgery

Hours later, after being granted entrance to the bowels of the ER, my symptoms confused the staff. (This is not necessarily surprising since every year up to a third of child-bearing age women are misdiagnosed; AHRQ 2013.) The area affected was not the right place, they told me. Then there were delays: a gunshot victim was admitted and drew the doctors away, and, though a CT scan was ordered the scanner needed repair (!). So I waited, again.

Once the CT scanner became available appendicitis was solidly confirmed, and not something like an ectopic pregnancy. The lead doctor was very kind and acknowledged to me that a high degree of tenderness in that area can be just as indicative of appendicitis as much pain. I never did have much pain.

I was immediately attached to an IV with antibiotics and admitted to the hospital. Though my appendix had already perforated and I had a very long wait for the typical laparoscopic surgery, it went well. Due to modern medicine, I feel very fortunate to be alive. By sharing my experience, I hope that readers won’t ignore this potentially life-threatening condition simply because they don’t have typical symptoms. To learn more, go to the NDDIC’s Appendicitis page or the pediatric Appendicitis/Appendectomy page of CHOPS.

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Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year...
Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from Appendicitis by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deaths from appendicitis in the USA are at about 400 per year.  This hard-to-get figure is from the latest WHO statistics, which aren’t all that recent (2008 data published in 2011).  I assume that this statistic includes deaths from people who didn’t go to the doctor in time, as well as deaths from post-operation complications.  There are over 250,000 appendectomies done in the US each year (about 8% – 10% of all people will develop appendicitis in their life times).

Besides my story of not being sure when and if I should see a doctor about the abdominal pain I was having, here is another story about a father-to-be who wasn’t so fortunate.  I am glad to be able to share this article about (partially) Paul Hannum, who lost his life due to appendicitis and lack of insurance.  He deserves to be remembered, and I wish his daughter had been able to know him.  In case you’re interested, here is a wiki list that might lead you to more anecdotal information:  Deaths from Appendicitis (list).

 

Garden Warfare (PvZ) Gameplay: Hosting, False Flowers, and that Bomb Carrying Gnome

My customized Metal Petal.  Just a little creepy.
My customized Metal Petal. Just a little creepy.

Update 10-8-2014:  Yet another significant DLC came out on for Garden Warfare on 9-30-2014, called “Legends of the Lawn.”  Much of what this content added to the game is integrated into the article.  I also did some editing article and added a paragraph on game-playing balance.  Thanks for reading!  (For anyone who’s visited this page before, all the previous “updates” have been moved to the bottom of this article.)

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So how do you like my creepy flower?   I’ve been having fun playing PvZ Garden Warfare after introducing it at its debut in a previous post (Garden Warfare: The game for Christians (and others) who prefer bloodless mayhem).  In that post I shared that I didn’t like third person shooters but I’d give this game a go, and so I did.  It’s an addicting game (like any good game, unfortunately), though I’m not as good at the Multiplayer Modes as my son is.

The scenery in the maps is detailed, always fun, and I simply enjoy being in these environments; quirky humor can be found throughout, like with the billboard that advertizes “El Bano Taco.”  I don’t like all maps equally when it comes to actual game play, and players will discover on their own which maps present the best or worst situations for their style of vanquishing, team play (which garden might be best for Craazy! level), etc.

Gameplay Modes

There are two basically different ways of playing Garden Warfare: Garden Ops and Multiplayer (up to 24 players using dedicated servers), and there is no story or separate solo offline gameplay.  The XBOX One version has split screen capability, but not so with the XBOX 360.  The Zomboss Down DLC added a new “mute all” button option for XBOX  One.  When the PC version came out on June 24, it contained a new map, Jewel Junction; this map was added for XBOX versions on July 1 with the Tactical Taco Party Pack DLC.  This map is used in Garden Ops and Team Vanquish.  The “Crash Course” map was added in August.

Garden Ops.  Garden Ops is played with up to four players.  When you arrive at the map you will find three gardens to choose from to defend.  Each has its advantages.  With the Suburbination added content, if a “bonus” garden comes up as an option and chosen, the players will be rewarded with loot after each wave (however, it’s gained by whoever grabs the loot–it’s not distributed).  Also added with Suburbination is a new, very detailed map called Crash Course, which can be played in day or night modes (Jewel Junction, added with the Tactical Taco Party pack, has day and night options, too).  Different waves and bosses have been added to Garden Ops with Suburbination as well, including Vase Breaker, Baron von Bats, and the Treasure Yeti.  Baron Von Bats is a difficult opponent, as he moves A LOT and he spawns strong minions.  The Treasure Yeti also moves a lot and his little freezing yeti imps devastatingly come out in groups.

Garden Ops can be played in either invite only mode or public mode (if a game ends and you remain in the list, and the host changes to invite mode, you can remain in the game unless specifically kicked off).  Either way, Garden Ops is hosted by individuals and when you start a session, as opposed to joining someone else’s session, you start alone.  You may remain alone for quite some time, so be ready to go it alone if you start yourself; if you end up finishing yourself there is a 3,000 coin Solo Bonus given.  I have no idea how their system works; when a player searches for a session, they will be added to an active session immediately–but when you start your own session you may never have anyone come on.  To me, this is a head scratcher.

The upside to starting your own session–of you being the host–is that you’re less likely to be kicked out of the game.  Yes, this is a definite problem with Garden Warfare.  I get kicked out of games frequently and have seen others have the same problem–literally all the time.

In Garden Ops, you and the other players defend a garden until the session is over, and there are four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Craaaazy!  This game, while it looks like it could be for small kids, can be very hard.  Neither my son nor I have gotten through the Craaaazy! level yet (my son really wants to since to do so would mean getting our last Garden Warfare Achievement).  My son says that getting through the Craaaazy! level is harder than playing Dark Souls.  That’s saying something.  And for any parent letting their little kids play when a team effort is needed . . . thaaaaanks . . . (waste of the other players’ time).  Which reminds me:  you can mute other players easily enough, and this is done individually on either XBOX version–but with the XBOX One an option to “mute all” will then appear.

While I’m in a complaining mode, I have two other pet peeves when it comes to Garden Ops.  One, if you’re playing public mode then don’t toggle kick people off for no reason.  Very rude and it wastes the time of the players that just got placed on your team by the system.  Go into invite only mode.  Geesh.  Two, flowers are the medics in the game.  They get quite a lot of extra points for healing, both players and the potted plants.  There’s no reason to play in Garden Ops as a flower but then play like a Pea Shooter.  I can’t express how annoying it is to know there’s a flower on your team that aggressively tries to get all the vanquishes while at the same time she doesn’t heal anyone.  To heal, a player only has to hold the left bumper down – no problem at all – you can do it constantly during game play to easily heal anyone around with barely even thinking about it.  Besides not doing something so simple, I’ve even seen flowers get in a spot that others can’t get to easily, so that they happily heal themselves – only.  Multiplayer would be a better option for such players, though it still wouldn’t be of any benefit to the other team players.

And just one more thing (while I’m adjusting my stance on the soapbox), if this is a fun game, why are something like 75% of the players so noninteractive and boring?  Honestly, it’s so much fun when players interact with the many gestures (some quite hilarious), try to jump on and ride the cactus’ garlic drone, break all kinds of things . . . you know, fun stuff.

Multiplayer

  • Welcome Mat (Classic only).  Free-for-all on one map only, for new players.  Only basic characters with no customizations are allowed here, which is what “Classic” means when you see it elsewhere..
  • Team Vanquish (plus Classic).  Free-for-all available on various maps, including Jewel Junction that was added on July 1 (Xboxes).  Whenever a team gets 50 points the session is finished; reviving a downed player takes a point away from the other team.  All characters and customizations allowed, unless you choose to play in Classic mode.  A new variety of Team Vanquish was added on July 1, called Vanquish Confirmed.  In this game your team has to grab the orbs hovering over a dead opponent, or a team player, in order to get the point or take a point from the enemy.
  • Garden & Graveyards (plus Classic).  Fun game of garden defense vs garden takeover.  Plants try to defend a series of small gardens against the zombies, and then a large garden and building at the end.  From what I’ve seen, zombie teams win more often in this game mode and the monetary rewards can be significant.  Can be played in Classic mode.  On April 15, 2014, a free DLC added the new Cactus Canyon map, where the zombies have to get a giant golf ball in a giant hole to win the final round.  Too fun.
  • Mixed Mode.  Either a session of Team Vanquish or Gardens & Graveyards is gone through, then without having to change lobbies, another game is begun.  It may or may not be the other game, however.  Gnome Bomb has not been added to the mix, but perhaps in the future?
  • Boss Mode.  XBOX One only.  You get to be a boss, flying around doing god-like things like airstrikes, and placing healing and spotting stations.  This mode is especially effective at the Cactus Canyon golf course, where zombies are normally grouped together a lot and winning the golf course for the plants is pretty hard.
  • Gnome Bomb.  15 minute crazy-making match.  The Gnome Bomb is sought, taken, and attached in its designated place.  Then the team tries to destroy all

    Gnome Bomb, up close.
    Gnome Bomb, up close.three bases of the opposing team.
  • Suburbination.  This is a three-spot win and defend map mode, commonly referred to as “domination.”
  • Taco Bandits.  Added in September 2014, Taco Bandits is a bit like “capture the flag.”  Instead of capturing a flag, however, plants defend a taco stand while zombies try and steal three tacos (so now we know for sure who the bad guys are!) and reach their Zomboss’ ship with them.  The tacos have to be stolen separately three times within six minutes in order for the Zombies to win.

Characters and Leveling

Currently there are four base characters in each of the plants and zombies groups, and each of these base characters has seven to nine more specialized subcharacters (besides the earliest added content, a cheesy chomper and scientist are now available to everyone; and on September 30 seven or eight new subcharacters were added, depending on your console brand).  For example, instead of using the base Sunflower, you can unlock each of these: Fire Flower, Shadow Flower, Power Flower, Mystic Flower (the way mine is currently outfitted, she’s more like a Psycho Flower!), Metal Petal, Sun Pharaoh, and Alien Flower.  All plants can use potted plants as well, like the Doom Shroom and Bonk Choy, and these are made available by buying Sticker Packs.  Zombies likewise have zombie assistants they can call upon in the same way.  After the DLCs that have come out, there is actually a large number of these fun helpers available.

Each flower, just like each other character, has a different way of shooting and it may have other unique attributes.  The Fire Flower may be the best in the game since its fire damage lingers over time.  The Metal Petal has fifty percent more health (150 instead of 100) than the others, but moves more slowly.  Since it also has more ammo it is a definite contender for the best flower in the game.  The Shadow Flower is also powerful, with its plentiful and more powerful cool blue goopy ammo.  And the Psycho, er, Mystic Flower shoots completely differently – instead of being like the other flowers’ automatic “weapon,” it shoots individual rounds that are more powerful, and it can build up a hugely powerful shot as a special ability.  It’s more like a cactus, and most like the Future Cactus.  You can feel and hear the difference while shooting, just as with other “shooter” type games.  The Ice Pea even makes a “tinkling” sound whenever it shoots, while snowflakes burst around.

A player gains levels (and concurrently, Game Rank) by finishing mini-challenges, or, by using Skip Challenge Cards to make it the same as if you did the challenge.  The cards are pretty much a necessity for those players (like me) who don’t do well in multi-player modes, since some challenges relate only to those modes and are quite hard in any case.  These cards are won in the Sticker Packs.  Every time you level up, up to level 10, you get a free sticker pack that is related to that character; after level 10 you get 10,000 coins at each level-up.  Also when a base character reaches level 10, the last subcharacter becomes available to unlock.

A note on balance.  Many critics say the game play is pretty well balanced, but I think this may be deceptive.  As it stands now, the Zombies as a whole seem more powerful.  The scientist is the healer in the game, but he has more abilities and a stronger weapon than the plant’s healer (the flower).  The Zombie aids are far more damaging or difficult to deal with than the plants’ aids.  For instance, a potted plant of course just sits there, and no matter how strong its attack, it is very easily destroyed from a distance.  This is not the case with the Zombie aids.  They move and some are armored with a very high health level, making them hard and time consuming to kill.  As you might imagine, if many of these are walking around, they really detract from hitting the Zombie team.  It amazes me that the plants ever win matches at all!

Customizations

You customize your characters by using items unlocked from the Sticker Packs, which are just like trading card packs (though virtual), purchased with the coins you collect from playing (you can also purchase game coins now and buy packs that way, if desired).  Just like with trading cards, the “stickers” are rated by rarity.

One odd thing about the game is that while you can see if your sticker is common or rare at the time of your purchase, this rating doesn’t show up in the sticker book where you can see stats, stickers, etc.  Gestures, of which there are many, are unlocked this way too.  The April 15 DLC made hundreds more characterizations available.  With the Suburbination DLC, the “Amazing Bling Pack”–with its crazy diamond encrusted and gold plated and bejeweled items–became available.  Now there are even MORE customization with the Legends of the Lawn DLC, including SETS.  Yes, sets, like the Panda set I’m looking forward to for my flower.  ^_^

(A word of warning about the bling pack:  It is relatively expensive, which might be expected, but it doesn’t always have the diamond encrusted items.  If you use real cash to buy packs, you might end up disappointed.  Individually, it would cost $1.99 for one pack, and when buying the most amount of coins a player can at one time for $10, you’d be able to by six packs and have change.  Considering how many characters there are, combined with the amazing amount of customizations available [which these bling are modifications of], the chances of getting a really cool item for your favorite character is low.)

With the flowers, you can add a hat, an accessory (like glasses), an organic (different “hands”), and a “tatoo”–with flowers it’s something on their face, but with cacti, it may cover their whole body.    The image at the top of this post shows a Metal Petal with a Sun Mask (combined hat and accessory), Razor Teeth Tatoo, and Happy Hands.  Plunger Hands, Purple Crystals, and Satellite Dishes are some of the few fun hands available for the flower.  The Cactus characters have the best customizations, in my view.  The Cactus has the biggest canvas–that is, it’s body has the most space to showcase designs–and its arms are also significant and obvious.  You can really have lots of fun customizing your Cactus, like with puppet or owl arms.  We have a lot of fun with this alone in the game, and with seeing how others have “done-up” their spike-shooting eccentric cacti.

Ending Notes

Lastly, coming from a Christian blog, you might want to know if I noticed anything Christian or Anti-Christian about the game.  I have found neither,* so it seems to me that the game makers are dedicated to presenting a fun game that doesn’t seek to promote or offend any faiths or lifestyles (I suppose pacifists may find it offensive).  There ARE some funny gestures that some people may take offense at, possibly–the cactus has a hilarious one that made me laugh out loud for a while, where he swivels his “hips” and says “Oooh la la,” and there’s another he does that seems to clearly mean “kiss my a$$.”  The cactus is quite the character.

*I did find a cross, seen in the picture below, which is from the scene in the character customizations window.  Even though it’s pretty big, it’s in the far distance and I

The arrow points to a cross in the background (no, it's not the house antenna).  I inserted the chocolate bunny  as sort-of my own Easter time "easter egg."
The arrow points to a cross in the background (no, it’s not the house antenna). I inserted the chocolate bunny as sort-of my own Easter time “easter egg.”

didn’t even notice it for some time.  I think my mind just thought of it as a telephone pole, until I started editing the images.

To sum up my thoughts on the game:  FUN; cuuuuute; quirky, certainly not just for kids; Garden Ops hosting is annoying; great AI; addicting; and, . . . it’s like playing in your favorite cartoon.  As the flower sometimes says, “Ahhhh, Boogie boogie boogie, Boogie boogie boogie!

OLDER UPDATES

Update, 08/15/14:  One large DLC, Suburbination, was released a few days ago (the article has been updated to include the additions), and new characters will be available from August 19 – September 26 via a special offer.  To receive the special characters, a new chomper and a new scientist, buy specially marked Cheetos at Target within the time frame given.  The Cheetos packs will also have a code for a free Craaazy sticker pack and for entering a contest to win either a customized Xbox One, Playstation 4, or customized controller.  If you don’t like Cheetos, then more for us – watch out, Target!  [Post-update info:  the contest didn’t work out too well, since many Target stores never received the Cheetos packs; shame on Cheetos!!  In response, however, EA made the new characters available to everyone in-game.]

Update, 06/30/14:  A new dlc will be available tomorrow for the Xboxes, and on the 8th for PC.  Tactical Taco Party Pack will  add significant content, AND it makes changes to the multiplayer party joining system.

Update, 04/26/14:  Microtransactions to purchase in-game sticker packs will begin next week.  This will only make content available sooner, not offer exclusive content to buyers.

Update:  A free DLC with significant new game content came out on April 15, 2014.  This article has been updated to reflect the new content.

This post was edited on 4/13/14 and again updated, adding new DLC information, on 4/15/14 and 4/20/14.  Images below are just for fun and will be rotated occasionally.  It was again updated June30/July 1 2014 with the release of the free DLC.  This content was updated regarding the new Suburbination added content on 8/15/14; some general updating and editing were also done.

Hot Rod Chomper with Band Punk hat, High Tide mouth, Garlic Cloves organics, and Squiggles tatoo (skin).
Hot Rod Chomper with Band Punk hat, High Tide mouth, Garlic Cloves organics, and Squiggles tatoo (skin).
Camo Cactus with 1969 Decor tatoo (skin), antlers, and Exceptional Puppets.  This cactus is exceptional!
Camo Cactus with 1969 Decor tatoo (skin), antlers, and Exceptional Puppets. This cactus is exceptional!
Shadow Flower with squid hat, spy glasses, future organics, and razor teeth.
Shadow Flower with squid hat, spy glasses, future organics, and razor teeth.

Goodbye Kiddy! The way of Taliban love

Instead of giving their kids comforting dolls, the Taliban give them bombs and tell them they won't get blown up along with their victims.
Instead of giving their kids comforting dolls, the Taliban give them bombs and tell them they won’t get blown up along with their victims.

Update:  In early January, 2015, the anti-Western, anti-secular Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram used a 10 year old girl to kill shoppers at a market in Nigeria.  The girl was blown up, 16 killed, and 27 injured.  The group has killed thousands since 2002, and kidnapped more than 200 girls in April, 2014; the girls were never rescued or freed.  June 2015 Update:  The practice continues: Boko Haram uses Young Girls as Suicide Bombers in Terror Campaign.

As reported in January (2014), a young girl who was supposed to detonate a suicide vest to kill checkpoint police turned herself in after being beaten by her father for not carrying out the deed.  Though the Taliban denied that young Spozhmai was sent on a suicide mission, the Afghan police believed her.  Spozhmai was lucky – though beaten, she didn’t get blown to bits.

According to one source, in the first part of 2011, four children aged 8 to 14 were not so fortunate and died along with several victims when their suicide vests detonated.  Other children that year had also been deployed as suicide bombers, but were stopped prior to anyone getting hurt.  The Taliban, despite its denials, has been training and deploying children suicide bombers since at least 2010.

The Taliban’s use of children as suicide bombers is not only sickening, but it makes a mockery of Mullah Omar’s claim to protect children and civilians. Any political movement or army that manipulates or coerces children into becoming human bombs has lost touch with basic humanity.  Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch

Another source, from 2012, gave a more detailed and disturbing account of children suicide bombers used by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the whole of 2011 (this also happens in Pakistan and can be read about here):

A senior Afghan intelligence official estimated that more than 100 had been intercepted in the past 12 months, including 20 from the Kandahar area in the south. 

The largely illiterate boys are fed a diet of anti-Western and anti-Afghan government propaganda until they are prepared to kill, he said. But the boys are also assured that they will miraculously survive the devastation they cause.

“The worst part is that these children don’t think that they are killing themselves,” said the official. “They are often given an amulet containing Koranic verses. Mullahs tell them, ‘When this explodes you will survive and God will help you survive the fire. Only the infidels will be killed, you will be saved and your parents will go to paradise’.”

Moving back to the very recent past, just a day or two after Spozhmai told her story to Afghan police, a 14 year old boy stopped a child suicide bomber in his school.  The teen, Aitzaz Hasan, tackled a suspicious teen at his school and the other teen’s bomb went off, killing Hasan and himself.  Violence has only increased in Afghanistan and the regular populace is sick of it, and sick of their government not doing anything about it.  Attacks on schools have increased and school attendance has, not surprisingly, decreased.

No doubt your thoughts are to pray for peace in Afghanistan, and for no more children, in particular, to be prey to the satanic tactics of the Taliban.  We should pray about this and for the oppressed people there (and bless you for doing so), but it doesn’t hurt to know how our government (and the Western press) is handling issues like this, and the related issue – in my mind – of ignoring all the Christians being killed and displaced out of the Middle East and other Muslim countries.

It doesn’t hurt to also know what lying hypocrites groups like the Taliban are.  The Taliban continue to deny they use children bombers, even though there is a great deal of irrefutable evidence against their denials.  The Taliban has codes they claim to go by, and using children in this way defies their own code.   It goes against the Quran as well.  Yet, they are still very willing to have Muslim children killed for their cause.

The Palestinians have also done this in the past, and today train children to be suicide bombers.  Yet, somehow, Israel is to blame for all the ills of the Palestinians and many Western countries are not only boycotting Israel but are increasingly antisemitic.  And, our government seals its lips when it could educate, not only about the tactics of Islamists, but the post-WWII history and legitimacy of Israel as a nation and why the UN did not also grant statehood to Palestine at that time or in the years afterwards.

Our country wrings it hands and vacillates regarding Syria.  It ignores the persecution and killing of Christians in Egypt.  The issues are very many and a future post will outline the extermination and the apparent coming extinction of Christians from Muslim countries.  Jews are already missing from the Middle East, except in Israel, and they are increasingly unwelcome elsewhere.  It is now happening to Christians, too.  And The West stands by, warming up to the idea.  It’s now pretty easy to imagine the biblical scenario of God’s two witnesses during the end days (Revelation 11:8-10):

Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city . . .  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

SOURCES

Teenagers recruited, trained as suicide bombers (2011)

Afghanistan: Taliban Should Stop Using Children as Suicide Bombers (2011)

Afghan boy suicide bombers tell how they are brainwashed into believing they will survive (2012)

The Surprise Lesson on Palestinians, Jews and Suicide Bombings Found in a Tennessee High School Textbook (2013)

Violence and Context in Islamic Texts (2013)

A Short History of Suicide Bombing (2013)

Taliban denies ordering 10-year-old girl to carry out suicide bombing on Helmand checkpoint (2014)

Afghanistan: Ten-year-old girl ‘forced to wear suicide vest’ (2014)

Pakistani boy who stopped suicide bomber: another Malala Yousafzai? (2014)

Boko Haram Strapped Explosives to 10-year-old girl, Killed 16 (2015)

Taliban and Government Imperil Gains for Afghan Women, Advocates Say (2014; this article is more serious and disgusting than it sounds from the title)

Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I (ongoing, with various links for all of history, biographies, etc.)

Video game violence: Skyrim vs Fallout 3

If you’ve read any of my Skyrim posts, you’ll know that I like Skyrim quite a lot and recommend it.  I’m writing this little post for parents, basically, who don’t know that much about video games.  When I wrote my first post on Skyrim, I knew that there were games that were more violent and had more gore in them than Skyrim, of course.  But after playing Fallout 3 – another Bethesda game with similarities to Skyrim, I wanted to share some thoughts.

Fallout 3 (2008) is violent and gory, no doubt about it.  It is rated M for mature, but so is Skyrim (2011).  Now, Fallout 3 is far gorier and has much more foul language in it (especially when the DLCs are added in), than Skyrim.  So, how can anyone know about these games unless they play them?  I mentioned in other posts how Skyrim has “passive gore” (bloody skeletons lying around), but that the game can become gorier if the right “perks” are chosen.  With Fallout 3, one cannot turn down the gore.  Comparing these two games, I’m surprised Skyrim isn’t rated T for teens; if the gore couldn’t be “turned up,” I imagine that it could be so rated.

Fallout 3 is definitely a grown up game, if anyone is interested in playing games like that.  It is a high quality game, with lots to do and actually much humor.  It has a lot more humor in it than Skyrim, and it is far far less glitchy, too.  It is more challenging, for sure, and the atmosphere and information in it are worth thinking about (the game takes place 200 years from now, after China and the USA have a major nuclear war).  It is like a morbid, crazy, and humorous Easter egg hunt for grown-ups.  But, all in all, these games are for people who want to relax and have the time to do them.  When I was a young adult, I was interested in my education and career, and rarely even watched TV.  I’m not sure how alluring these games would have been to me, since they are quite “addictive” (who wants to stop looking for eggs in the middle of the hunt?), however.   I believe this is something to consider when addressing game play of any kind with one’s kids.

From a Christian-cultural perspective, there’s one thing I think is neat about Fallout 3, and I wonder if it holds true for Fallout New Vegas (2010) or for the upcoming Fallout 4.   This is the fact that Jesus is held to be the epitome of good in the game.  Jesus is not talked about (that I know of right now), but when you behave well in the game and seek to be a good character, the term “karma” is used, but the image shown for the best levels are an image easily recognized as Jesus.  While the game makes fun of people following any old thing in the name of religion, it obviously gives a nod to true good.  There’s nothing wrong with pointing out how people make up religion and follow false prophets – it is something Christians should probably talk about publicly more, in fact.  Are we interested in people knowing the truth and getting into heaven, or could we care less that people are so easily led astray?  We are compared to sheep in the Bible, after all.

Note:  If you’re interested in finding out more about the Fallout series, my related articles are:  Fallout 4. Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better (Overview),   Fallout 4. Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better (Story); a detailed look at the Honest Hearts FNV DLC and its By the Waters of Babylon theme; and Fallout New Vegas: Comments from a Christian earlier.  Thanks for checking them out!

Hello Kitty is satanic and bad for Christians (>^_^<) KIDDING!

For a newer and much more detailed discussion about the Hello Kitty controversy, please see Hello Kitty is Popular, but is she Evil? [added September 7, 2014]

Author photo
Author photo

 

*The Real Story Behind Hello Kitty!*

So I’d love to write a Hello Kitty blog myself, but as I need to do more research, I’ll leave you with the above story (click on link).  I don’t actually know how accurate the referenced post is since no sources are provided, but I’m going to trust that it has some legitimate information in it. [Please see Anita’s comment below for more information on the sources used and on the controversy itself.]

When starting my research into why I keep getting people to my blog that are searching for Christian dis-ease with Hello Kitty, I DID come across a page that tried to make Hello Kitty into some kind-of underhanded conduit to pagan deity worship.  Seriously?  When I was a kid, I had dolls and stuffed animals.  They could ALL be linked to the same sort of thing if anyone wanted to make an argument for it, and actually believe it.  All around the internet there are young anti-theists who see this kind of “reasoning,” and it only gives them more ammunition for blasting away at the intellectual integrity of Christians.

Hello Kitty only gets picked on because the character is popular.  If she were a Disney doll (as an example, but go ahead and substitute any brand that is more familiar or less “foreign”), a stuffed animal, that little kids hugged, lugged around, and invited to their tea parties, you wouldn’t be reading about her, coming up with concerns about some kind of demonic worship coming out of Japan.

What bothers me the most is that Christians can be so worried about such nothing things when so many people in the world, and in our own country, are homeless, dying from lack of medical care, being forced to lose everything and live in their cars because they get laid off and no one will hire them . . . and we hear how conservatives and libertarians just live on their ideal that there is this golden world where jobs magically appear for anyone who tries and that everyone can get the health care that they need . . . if only their family would sacrifice all (I guess . . . but that doesn’t seem to work for the sickest with cancer and other intense-care diseases).  If anything, money is idolized here, along with those who are “assertive” enough to maintain a line of part-time, minimum wage earners so that stock holders can continually have money funneled into their accounts.  How is a material item like a Hello Kitty doll evil?  Aren’t people’s hearts evil when they put greed and self above a human that is made in God’s image?

Sorry, it just makes me crazy to think there are so many real people that Christians should be concerned about, but instead these fluffy issues surface.  God has said, over and over, how He is concerned for the disadvantaged and that the rich shouldn’t lord over them, cheat, steal, etc., and that the rich will have the hardest time getting into heaven (why is that?  I’m not being rhetorical).

As with anything in life, if you or your children are being tempted to sin or idolize something, then get rid of that thing.  Otherwise, let a flower be a flower, a doll a doll, an item that makes people happy an item that lifts the heart and provides a smile in a dark and difficult world.  All good things are from God.

If you want a business summary and a bit of cultural analysis on Hello Kitty, you may find this article of interest:  What is this Thing Called Hello Kitty? [added 4/23/14]

[Edited a bit on September 6, 2014]

On Skyrim: A Vent from a Christian Parent (a mom who plays)

Fighting a dragon in Skyrim.  From http://www.industrygamers.com/news/ps3-skyrim-its-not-nearly-as-bad-as-it-seems/
Fighting a dragon in Skyrim. From http://www.industrygamers.com/news/ps3-skyrim-its-not-nearly-as-bad-as-it-seems/

Maybe you’ve come here before and read one or more of my posts on Skyrim.  If you haven’t, and you’re a parent interested in knowing more about the game, please also read my earlier review for parents.  It would probably be better if you read that one first, actually, since it presents the positive aspects of the game.  And just by way of warning, there are all kinds of spoilers in both posts.

I decided to write this not because I didn’t know about some unpleasant things about Skyrim before (though I know more now) – from a Christian perspective – but out of frustration over the questions presented on a major website.  A great percentage of these questions show that a lot of young people like to play all of the bad aspects of the game, and miss the complexities.  If you are a Christian and let your teen play without watching and knowing what they’re doing, maybe you’ll want to.  My son hasn’t played lately, but when he did, he liked to play bad characters once to see what they were about.  I didn’t like that he played some of the roles he had, but I talked with him about it.  It gave me an opportunity to find out what he thought of things presented in the game, and if he did something bad in the game, how that might or might not reflect on his real-life actions and attitudes.

There are certain things that I really didn’t want him doing, and he didn’t – like selecting the perk where your character will be able to cut people’s heads off.  This is bad enough in quick game play, but in Skyrim slow-motion, close-up cut-scenes happen randomly and they would include the slicing off of heads.  If a parent is concerned about what their child can select as perks, they can easily see all available perks from the perk trees, viewable after selecting the Skills menu.

The problem with Skyrim is that it is made by a corporation seeking the largest possible market (the Elder Scrolls series did not start out this way, and previous games were more specifically moral).  While the Dovahkiin – your character, the Dragonborn – is SUPPOSED to be a good SAVIOR type of figure, the player can choose to do all kinds of evil things.  Not only that, but there is quite a bit more to do in the game if the player decides to do these bad things.  Please watch the video below to hear the theme song, which is awesome, and read the words of the song.  They talk of the character of the Dovahkiin and of the main quest of the game (though there is a secondary main quest too).

As a parent, you may want to know more specifically about what I’m talking of in order to decide if you want to limit your kid’s game play in these areas.

1)  The Thieves Guild.  In past Elder Scrolls games, the Thieves Guild was more like a Robin Hood sort of organization.  In Skyrim it is not, and it is controlled by Mavin Blackbriar, a super evil, powerful, business woman who has a whole heck of a lot people fooled.  The most disturbing thing about Skyrim, when I first started playing, was finding out that you cannot get rid of Mavin and stop her murders and mafia-like activities in Riften – even though it seems like the game-makers intended to let you do something.  By the way the characters in Riften talk, and by the notes you find, it seems as though bringing Mavin to justice will be a quest . . . but in the end you can’t do anything about her.  In any case, there are lots of quests to do with the Thieves Guild and lots of items unique to the guild to be had, so it would be tempting to a lot of people to be in this guild.

2)  The Dark Brotherhood.  These are assassins for hire.  Mavin is in with them too.  You get the picture.  Again, quests and loot . . . so it’s tempting to play as a bad guy.

3)  Vampires.  The Dawnguard expansion allows the player to be a vampire, but the main idea is to be a part of the Dawnguard – vampire slayers.  The castle with the vampires is pretty disgusting and I think the game makers did an OK job of making vampires a negative thing, while still providing a mass-market expansion.  Vampires of course feed on humans.

4)  Werewolves and the Companions.  Being a werewolf in Skyrim can be only a matter of being stronger once a day, but there is the option to feed off of a human (cannibalism) in order to maintain the form a bit longer. With the Dawngaurd expansion, however,  it can get nastier.  Dawnguar adds a werewolf perk tree, and unlike the other perk trees, perks can only be ge gained by eating human hearts.  Yeah, gross.   There is a non-Companions quest in Skyrim that conveys the evilness of lycanthropy.  I not only included the Companions here because it is the group where you acquire lycanthropy, but I wanted to mention the less than charitable intentions of the Companions.   They only do good works if they’re paid, and one gets the impression that the more they are paid, the more likely they will be to go out and actually do the job.   A good thing about the Companions is that you get the opportunity to cure the leader of his werewolfism, which he very much desires.

As discussed in my original review, Skyrim is a complex game if played the way it was meant to be played.  One quest that I found to be bad, that seems like a good thing to do at first, is the Gildergreen quest.  In this quest, you are to recover an evil blade (hey, a clue there), which is needed in order to collect the sap of a certain tree.  The reason you need this sap is to revive the Gildergreen tree in Whiterun.  Before you revive it, it looks dead; afterwards it looks alive and vibrant, with purple flowers.  So WHY would that be a bad thing?  Well, you wouldn’t really know at first.

The first hint is the evil blade, but then, a lot of things in Skyrim are just things and don’t necessarily live up to their names.  But there is another hint.  When you go to where the mother tree is, which is in a very large, beautiful, and tranquil lit cavern, you encounter some people there enjoying the sanctuary.  When you talk with the lady there, you can ask her about the tree and the blade, and she responds very negatively to you.  Ok.  So . . . what do you do?  It doesn’t seem that bad or anything – you just want to revive the tree in Whiterun.  But what happens, no matter how hard you try to control the situation, is that the persons in the sanctuary get killed by the guardian Spriggons when you cut the mother tree for its sap.  Is reviving an old tree in Whiterun worth the lives of those people?  Not in my book.  The Whiterun folks can get a new tree!

I think the Gildergreen quest is actually a good lesson in deciphering information and choosing to do the better thing.  Skyrim is full of mental and moral exercises such as the Gildergreen quest.  A problem with this, however, as with the evil groups and quests in Skyrim generally, is that the player must choose not to do a lot of available game play.  As an adult I’m not very tempted to join the evil groups and do evil things, but for a lot of young people these might be tempting (especially in the presence of peer pressure).  I do think Skyrim has A LOT going for it compared to other games: visual and musical beauty, complexity (good luck trying to decipher all the purposefully conflicting books and dialogue regarding the history and religion of not only Skyrim, but that of the continent it’s on, Tamriel), historical and mythological aspects, etc.  As a Christian parent, I think it’s OK for older kids to play as long as the parent(s) knows about the game and is at least somewhat involved with their kid’s gameplay.

[Section on lycanthropy updated on Jan. 23, 2013]