Horizon Oil Sands Day 2

One thing I noticed when I first started checking out the various buildings on site is that there are vending machines in every building. Didn’t think too much about it, everyone likes sugary snacks, right? Well it turns out that our access cards  (Multipass!) are also coded to give us tasty beverages and snacks from said vending machines if we so chose. The company gives us a credit on our passes roughly equivalent to SIX drinks ($1.75 each) per day. Each employee’s card is reloaded at the end of the month. Pretty awesome.

Got all settled in to my desk yesterday, IT brought me a computer. Brand new, dual monitors, can’t complain. I also have a company email address, and a phone which apparently isn’t connected to anything. All my supervisors/team members/cow-workers seem to be pretty decent people, and all are definitely at least competent. My boss and two of the other guys on the team are from Venezuela, but communication isn’t an issue. Got all the details of my project for the rest of my term, I am basically going to be helping out with a project to replace or re-certify every pressure release valve in the entire project. 459 of them. It should keep me going until December or so.

This morning when I got on the bus I asked the driver if it goes by my business unit (Upgrading and Utilities or U2 for short), and he told me that no, it doesn’t, and that I would have to get off at the first stop and make my own way to my office. Long story -> short, he lied, I got to my desk about 45 minutes late, but everyone was cool with it, so it could have been a lot worse.

Then my computer wouldn’t boot up correctly (except in safe mode) for some reason. IT was supremely unhelpful, but I managed to get it going myself about an hour later, without ever figuring out what the issue was.

The rest of my day was spent working with a spreadsheet, figuring out inlet and outlet sizes and flange widths for the aforementioned valves. Except I didn’t have access to the common drive with all of the info on it. So I was forced to be a google ninja, which worked out much better than I expected. I got the required data for about 270 of the valves. Should be able to bang off the rest tomorrow. Short day tomorrow, I get to leave at noon to go to a co-op student meet & greet thing with some of the bigwigs etc. Free food? Fun. Also, four day work weeks? Pretty awesome.

Horizon Oil Sands Day 0

We made it. I am currently on a greyhound-style bus, only much nicer. The seats are imitation leather, there is free wifi and a pair of power outlets for each pair of seats, and it is nice and quiet even on shitty northern roads.

We are currently leaving the Horizon oil sands site, which is absolutely massive in a way that is impossible to convey if you haven’t seen it or anything like it. There are miles and miles of large clustered runs of pipe, some of which appear to be around five feet in diameter, down to ones that look to be about three inches. Where they are going and what they are carrying is completely unknown to me, although I expect that I will know all too well their function and purpose soon enough. Everything is absolutely huge out here – it is going to take a little getting used to. I’d include pictures of the facilities but any photography or taking video is strictly forbidden, and is an offence punishable by termination.

The flight to Calgary on a packed Dash 8 was uneventful. Once in Calgary we had to take a “short” taxi ride (about $40) to the Canadian North terminal, where we got ourselves settled in for a three hour layover until our flight to the Horizon site. Upon attempting to check in, we were advised that we were allowed a total of two checked bags, no more than 45lb each, with a total combined weight not to exceed 75lb. This was a source of some concern for me as my two bags totaled 70lb and 53lb respectively. After some discussion with the desk agent and advising him that I was heading out on an eight month work term rather than the usual one to four week term, I was able to convince him to allow me (and my travel-mate from UBCO) to redistribute the items in my bags into an extra garbage bag and allow me to check all three as long as I could keep them under 45lb each. Unfortunately, upon opening one of my bags, it appeared that the bag containing my rock climbing chalk had popped open in transit from Kelowna->Calgary, coating a large number of the items in said bag with a fine white powder. C’est la vie. This was dealt with and the bags were duly submitted.

The flight from Calgary to the Horizon site on a ~40% full 737-300 was also uneventful, and a much more pleasant experience overall than the earlier Air Canada flight. The flight attendants were chipper, there was a complimentary in-flight meal of a choice of roast beef or vegetarian wraps (unheard-of on other one hour flights), and if you asked for a beverage they gave you the whole can.

Once we made it to site, we all boarded a yellow school bus and were transported to the main security checkpoint at the West Gate. After much hurry up and wait and confusion on the part of the people manning the office, we were given our site access forms and started the process of registering and paper-working and whatnot. About ten minutes into this a nice lady from HR showed up and told us that there had been an error of some sort and that we were not supposed to be processing these forms just yet – they would be dealt with first thing in the morning. Such is the corporate environment, and I am not really all that surprised.

We then headed to the main camp area to collect our luggage and wait for our transport to town. There is a Tim Horton’s in the main lobby, but they don’t carry my favorite breakfast of champions (iced capp), which is probably for the best, all things considered. My improvised garbage bag suitcase blew up a little, but I don’t believe I lost anything in transport.

We are about 45 minutes from town at this point, and tomorrow will be my first real day of work after getting my site access figured out first thing in the morning. This should be an interesting experience.

Rich Scones

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1 egg
2/3 cup milk

Milk for brushing tops
Sugar for sprinkling

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Beat egg lightly in small bowl. Add milk. Pour into fry ingredients. Stir with fork to make a soft dough. Pat into tow 6 inch rounds. Place on greased baking sheet. Brush tops with milk. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in 425 oven for 15 minutes until risen and golden brown. Split and butter.

Being an engineer kicks ass.

Any company that hires engineers is developing something that does not exist yet. You will design or analyze or test something that will become a product that people use. If people do actually end up using your thing, then that’s because your thing is better than any other thing like it, whether it’s because your thing is cheaper, more reliable, more available, faster, stronger, more efficient, cooler-looking, or easier to use. Your thing will be the best in the world! (Otherwise you would not be paid to work on it).

You will be surrounded by people who have been immersed in your field for decades. They will have intuition about what works and what doesn’t work. At first that intuition will seem like magic, but as you work more products and hear more stories, you’ll find yourself being able to make these seemingly psychic predictions like your coworkers can: “Yeah, that’s not gonna work”. As soon as you start your new job, you’ll be faced with an absolutely real problem, and an experienced engineer will sit down next to you and show you how to deal with it. (Kinda like classes in college, but simpler and more immediately useful and probably not as mathematically rigorous). You will watch your skills grow and be increasingly proud of your work.

You may get to play with cool toys. You may have a lab where you push things to the brink of failure, and (if you’re lucky) then some. You will watch the predictions of your models come to life in the real world, you will see things use the amount of energy you said they would, deliver the force you said they would at the time when you said they would, and break at the point you said they would. All while surrounded by extremely expensive computers and sensors, powerful generators and actuators, screens full of numbers, maybe a high-speed camera.

You may go out into the field. An airplane, or a bridge, or a car, or a power station, may be doing something unexpected, and it might be because of your product. As soon as you see your product’s physical environment, the understanding will hit you like a bolt of lightning: My models never took into account the fact that my product is exposed to this material, loaded this way, heated and cooled so quickly, or slammed into by this other thing. Ok, NOW what do you do?

Most importantly: You will go out into the world, be it as part of your job or just as a normal person who travels and sees interesting sights, and appreciate so much more about everything. It’ll be like Neo seeing code in the Matrix. You will look up at the truss that supports the roof of your sports stadium, see the flaps deploy as your airplane comes in to land, watch a piece of software spit out an error, hear a funny noise in your car, take a ride in a boat or train, even just look at how your computer case is put together… and you’ll go: “Oh. That’s interesting. I can see what they were thinking”.

So hang in there. It’ll be worth it.

The service industry

Hi! I’m a sex worker. And I’m avoiding doing my homework so I’m going to go on a rant.

I’ve done many different kinds of sex work. I’ve been a cam girl, a porn performer, a professional sub, and a performer at a peep show (similar to a stripper). I’ve also been working in retail and food service simultaneously.

I get so frustrated at how I’m treated at work. It really gets to me. I find myself involuntarily crying once I get into my car to drive home. I hate how dehumanizing it is. People don’t acknowledge me as a person. They think I’m less than them because of my job. Maybe they don’t actively think that, but that’s how they treat me. Oh, by the way, I’m talking about the food service job.

When I’m doing sex work I can refuse a customer. I can be rude to them if they are being rude to me. I don’t have to apologize for their mistakes. I don’t have to be sweet when they are being inappropriate. I negotiate my limits, and I only do what I feel comfortable doing. They don’t get to order off the menu, I’m not going to bend over backwards for them.

I find it oppressive to work for minimum wage. I find it oppressive to act like the customer is always right. I find it dehumanizing to apologize for things that aren’t my fault, like how much something costs or if you order something wrong and you want it remade the correct way. I find it dehumanizing to say “Hi! How are you?” and in response get “Yeah I just need a blah blah blah” and then have a customer go back to their cell phone conversation. I hate being reduced to a cash register.

~littlemew (reddit)

Some thoughts after Shambhala (OR: The hippy party was a great success)

Absolutely amazing trip, worth every penny and then some. So much good music and amazing people. We are already planning our 2013 journey.

Camelbaks, dollar-store spray bottles (DIY misters), and umbrellas for shade are absolutely essential. If you are going, do not consider going without them. They are absolute lifesavers in the 35+ degree heat. If you do bring a camelbak type thing, I suggest getting one that holds more than 2L. Mine is a ~2L one and some nights I filled it 3-4 times over the course of the night. This is a pain. I think I will be buying a 4L one for next year. Ice in your water bladder also makes life much more enjoyable.

Earplugs are also non-negotiable. Spend a few extra $ and get the good re-usable ones. I got the Etymotic ER20s and they were great. They keep your ears from getting damaged or fatigued during the night. This is especially important when enjoying multi-day festivals.

Bubble making guns are always awesome.

I wish I had started going years ago. While there was an excellent vibe and everyone was extremely friendly and open, I hear from the people who have been coming for years that it was even more so in the past. Too many new people this year and last. Hopefully I will keep going long enough to see that go full-circle. I have heard that they are not going to increase the number of tickets available, so that should help keep things from going too crazy.

Smoking a hookah on the beach is a great way to meet people.

Keeping a (cheap) digital watch and schedule on you at all times is an excellent way to both make sure that you don’t miss any of those ‘must see’ sets (I saw every single set that I wanted to this year because of this) and to meet new people. It will ensure that you are extremely useful to almost everyone around you – about 20% of people have schedules, and about 10% of people have watches, but these groups almost never intersect, and there is always someone who wants to know what time it is or when the next big act starts.

There was one night where acts I wanted to see stretched from 8:30pm to 5:30am with no breaks in-between. If you don’t  keep some kind of calories on you, you will fall down half way through the night. A pouch full of candy is convenient but possibly not the best idea ever. Some kind of protein/snack bars are slightly better. A camelback will make your dancing life easier.

If you see something at a vendor that you like, it is probably best to buy it immediately. While some vendors do overstock and have 25-50+% off sales on Sunday, some can run out of stock as soon as Saturday morning/afternoon. Some vendors will increase prices if their stock is going extremely fast. You are taking a chance at not getting something you like, or paying more than you originally intended if you pass it up when you first find it. Keep that in mind. This is also an excellent way to justify impulse buying. I ended up with just under $175 in cool stuff, YMMV.

Bring lots of cash with you (well-hidden!), or plan on eating a $6 ATM surcharge whenever you run out. Plan to spend about $20/day on one meal and a couple of drinks, add about $15-20 for each additional meal. We usually ended up eating two semi-full meals per day (one at camp) and a number of minor snacks. Unless you love cooking, you will probably not cook nearly as much as you think you will.

The food at the vendors is fairly expensive (though not out of line with what one would expect to pay in Kelowna for a similar meal) but usually decent portions and quite good. Too bad almost everything is breaded, wrapped, fried, or sandwiched between bread. Those of us who are gluten-intolerant/celiac are very limited in our available food choices. Plan to bring a lot of your own snacks/meals if so (though you probably already do this, just as I do.)

Waiting an hour and a half for a $5 shower that is only about 3-4 minutes and alternates between perfectly hot (65% of the time) and bone-chilling cold (35%) will be one of the best things you have ever done for yourself, and the perfect thing to shock and refresh you after long days on the beach as you get ready for a very long night of dancing.

The porta-potties weren’t nearly as disgusting as expected, except around 4am on Saturday and Sunday nights. It seemed that they were cleaned quite frequently and had excellent ventilation systems so they were always cool and never stank (in my experience anyways.)

I made an offhand comment to a group of people about having to ‘run home for a minute’ (meaning head back to my camp), and they laughed because I said it so casually and they knew exactly what I meant. One girl just smiled and said “You are home.” It felt like she was right in a way.

Waking up to the sun turning your tent into an oven at 1pm is unpleasant. Especially when you go to bed shivering and wrapped in two sleeping bags, a thick fuzzy blanket, and a fur coat.

Consider the weather/temperature when making your costume choices. A warm hood or electrofur makes pretty much anything bearable during august nights. Thick fur jackets and fur hats will keep you uncomfortably warm even during long walks between stages at 4am. Trust me. I admire and respect the women who manage to run around almost completely naked at an outdoor festival and freezing their not-balls off during the coldest part of the night. Sure, it’s easier for them to toss together costumes, but at what price? I’ll take the longer/more expensive costuming as long as it means I’m more comfortable.

An electrofur with new batteries is better than a flashlight.

Most costumes are not designed with usability in mind. You might want to consider some kind of utility belt thing. I got the one in the link, it was awesome and I wore it all the time when I was awake. It kept my cash, smokes/lighter, cards, candy, portable whiteboard, breath strips, butt canister (don’t litter!), earplugs, snacks, and party favors close at hand and well-organised. This meant I could get away with not having pockets on any other item of clothing, which was excellent on the beach and the dancefloor. Do beware when putting anything important in the back pockets, as it would be quite easy for someone with sticky fingers to pop them open if you are overly distracted or not paying attention. I did have one person pawing at my pouch at one point, but I’m pretty sure he was just extremely high on something and didn’t know what was going on. Too much acid or some such thing.

If you wear anything fuzzy, people will pet you. A lot. You had better be ok with this.

The whole experience is somewhat like being on the beach in Kelowna, except that everyone is smiling, happy, and friendly (and of age). I didn’t see or experience a single instance of catcalling or random macho aggressive bullshit, and we spent at least three hours per day on the beach in a high-traffic area.

You will walk a lot. Your camp is probably no more than a 15 minute meander from the main downtown type area, but you will make this walk a number of times per day, and will spend hours just wandering, checking out different stages, looking for friends, people watching, and running minor errands or showing people around or how to get somewhere.

If you are usually a power-walker, you will learn to slow down. The crowd at Shambhala moves at it’s own pace, and trying to fight it is futile. This pace is a reasonably relaxed one, and tends to slow down late at night when people are under the influence of various substances.

You will wait in line a lot. We spent a little over 6 hours in the lineup from the time we arrived on site until we were at our campsite. Apparently this is neither long nor short – some friends waited ~12 hours, some waited less than 3. It all depends on when you arrive. It took anywhere between 2 and 30 minutes to get food from the vendors, but food lines are a great place to meet new friends – you are all hungry and at Shambhala, and if it is late night, you probably just left the same set. This is enough to get the ball rolling. It took us just under 3 hours to get off the grounds when we were ready to leave.

A. Skillz is considered to be the best breaks DJs in the world for a reason. Without a doubt the best set I saw during the 4 days of music, though there were some very very excellent sets from other artists as well. Not a single one disappointed me, and most of them absolutely blew me away.

You will have a very difficult time finding/meeting up with people unless you have a plan in advance. There *is* a message board you can leave messages on, but it is very crowded and your message will most likely get lost in the mash of messages. I think next year I will print up custom paper on a specific color and give 5-10 pages to each group of people I want to get a hold of. This way we can leave messages that the whole group will be able to quickly find and read.

There are 10,000-15,000 people jammed into an area the size of a few city blocks. This means that certain areas get extremely crowded at certain times. If you want to go see a big act, and there aren’t any other competing big acts on at that time, expect to be packed into the stage tighter than the proverbial sardines in a crushed tin box. For big/popular acts, try to get there at least a half hour early if you can, otherwise you will be stuck at the back or in an otherwise undesirable or high-traffic spot. Sometimes you can sneak in behind a pillar or tree near the main stage and get a fair size clear space to dance in as everyone wants to see what is going on – you can just poke your head around if you are curious about what’s going on.

Within your first half day or so you will most likely become completely immune to the sight of extremely beautiful completely- or half-naked women (or men, if that is your thing.)

Everyone I have talked to has said that one does not “catch up” on sleep at Shambhala. These people were obviously not restaurant staff. I got the longest and most restful sleeps in weeks while I was there. Though to be honest, dancing for 4-9 hours per night probably helped with that.

If you are planning on taking anything that depletes your serotonin levels, 5-HTP before bed and in the morning will make your life a lot more bearable the next day. Take it with food if you don’t want your stomach doing backflips for a few hours. Though it may do that anyways. I also hear that melatonin is an excellent sleep-enhancer from a number of people but have not tried it myself so cannot comment one way or another.

Speaking of substances – get your shit tested, people! They do it for free there! If you don’t know or don’t really trust your supplier, get it tested. It could save you a lot of trouble in the long run. If someone offers you something, don’t assume, ask them explicitly what it is. Someone hands you a joint assuming you know what’s in it – maybe there’s DMT in it. Someone chopping up lines of white powder? Could be Ketamine or it could be Coke. If you are unsure or uncertain – just don’t.

Doing sober nights is fun too.

I went to Shambhala emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. I came back emotionally recharged. While I am still quite physically tired, it is a good and different tired, and nothing a day or two on the couch can’t fix. I am also feeling quite mentally drained, but mostly because there is so much to process. I feel like while nothing has really changed in my life, there is a good chance things just might work out for the better in the end. One can only wait and see. New chapters begin whenever an old one ends, and if a new one doesn’t start for you, it will start for someone else.

The Erotic Truth of Vanilla Sex (by Midori)

Let’s talk about vanilla and sex. Before you shake your head and jump to conclusions, hear me out.

Vanilla is one of nature’s epitomes of sensuality.

The vanilla orchid, a chartreuse and golden beauty native to Mexico, is said to have sprouted from the blood of a heavenly princess, trying to flee with her mortal lover, only to be slain and beheaded by her celestial father. Adored by the Aztecs and maddening European botanists, this culinary elixir has been worshipped for its unmistakable flavor as well as purported magical qualities as an aphrodisiac, fever calmer and temper tamer. Can you imagine the devastating grief a French dessert chef would plunge into should vanilla disappear!? Even the name vanilla is erotic, diminution of the same Latin-ancestor that begat our current word vagina. She is such a fickle lover, that to produce the coveted and expensive bean, she’s forced humans into serving as her pollination bitch and botanical sex slave. Every drop of real vanilla we consume comes from of painstaking hand-pollination, one flower at a time.

In truth, sex that is truly vanilla would be exotic, intoxicating, unforgettable and bordering on addictive. It would be lush and pampered, fragrant, fleeting yet unhurried. Vanilla sex would capture, enslave, colonize and battled over by people willing to die over it. The scent teasingly lingers upon the cusp of innocence and carnality like Nabokov’s Lolita.

It breaks my heart when the term is used disparagingly. Perhaps the derogatory term was coined, and then perpetuated, by the culinarily impaired, gastronomically impoverished and sensually ignorant, to whom the notion of vanilla equated with cloying cheap artificial flavor masked by excessive fake sweeteners or corn syrup. Did you know that fake vanilla is made from wood-pulp byproduct or petrochemical derivative? Ew.

Next time you wrap your hands around a thick waffle cone of dripping ice cream, or lusciously lick crème brulee, I hope you might ponder the erotic power of vanilla!

With love and lunacy,


Hangin’ On

Can’t let it go even though it’s bad for me
I can tell by the look in your eyes
You don’t even really see me here
I just keep on believing these lies

You bring me up you bring me down
To the bottom each time
And when we say goodbye I know in my mind
It won’t be the last time

Don’t leave me hanging on
You’re only interested in me
When you think I won’t stop
Trying to walk out the door
But something about you
Keeps me coming back for more

I’m back, back on the wrong track
and I’m falling, fall for you alright,
And you’re, you’re calling – gonna say goodnight
And I’m dreaming of a life with you by my side

Hangin’ On (Don’t Leave Me) by DeDoz

Living the life, living the dream

I don’t have to explain myself at all, or answer to anyone. I’m happy. My feelings require no justification. It’s a mistake to try to reconcile what I feel with a social classification, because the classification may not really suit me. I start with my feelings, understand them and am comfortable with them. Me, my feelings, and the people I care about are the important things. I’m getting into this unnatural, inverted position of trying to explain myself to people who do not understand. I don’t have to explain myself to the world. I just am, and my relationships just are. If other people want to understand it, then I try to explain to them in basic terms – what I feel, and that I’m happy. That is all that should matter to anyone.

The Games Guys Play

Guys and videogames. There they sit: asses glued to the couch, eyes transfixed, their attention leaving the screen only for as long as it takes to tell you about their latest achievements — how no, you don’t understand, their Madden team traded for Tom Brady and that unlocked a better sniper rifle which the clan can use to raid the Molten Core… or something. And why is there a Jorts Monster fighting a commando? And what is that commando wearing? I can literally see into her butt. This is gross. You’re gross. Games are stupid.

I hear it all the time. Gals will meet a guy and he’s great and totally not weird, so they go on a few dates and that goes great, too, and so the relationship progresses to a point where they both feel comfortable just hanging out at his apartment, and now, suddenly, they’re confronted with exactly how much time their guy spends dicking around on his xbox. And they think: where did this come from? I mean, he’s not a gamer, they say — he’s normal. So what the hell? Why can’t these twenty-something guys just grow up?

For sure — and I’ve written about this before — there is a contingent of guys who fully intend to extend their adolescence as far into their twenties (and thirties) as possible. These guys are absolutely the type to marathon Call of Duty with their forlorn girlfriend sitting quietly beside. These guys exist, and videogames are just one more entrée in their smorgasbord of self-indulgence. Yes. Absolutely.

But I don’t believe that’s the case for most guys. I think the reason you find some sort of video game machine in the apartment of most guys is not that they’re trying to avoid the pressures of growing up; on the contrary, I believe they’re coping with those pressures. I believe video games provide guys with a kind of psychological something, a balm against the realities of their life, that provides a wider solace than simply escapism. And I believe this is something they simply can’t get anywhere else – including loving girlfriends.

Let me explain.

No seriously, give me a minute to explain.

NOBODY LIKES GUYS. That’s where it starts. Nobody cares about guys, and guys know it. Oh, there might be a particular guy for which you’ve developed an affinity: your boyfriend, your dad, the really old Korean War veteran you saw cry on a childhood trip to Arlington — these men exist, and I have no doubt that the love you feel for them is real — but, as a thought experiment, imagine yourself in a room with all of them at once. Now imagine each can invite their five best male friends. That room’s suddenly a lot less pleasant, right? Guys are like cats or Yankee Candles — each one past the first couple makes the room exponentially more unpleasant. This effect is so widely recognized and profound that the free market spawns legions of dour-faced blondes armed with clipboards in response, and it’s only through their tireless work that the nightspots of this world become palatable. Protecting a space against the cumulative effect of guys is literally a full-time job.

And guys are no less self-loathing when they go it alone. A gal saying Screw it, I’m going out tonight and I’m just gonna dance and I don’t care what anyone thinks is adorable; a guy dancing goofy-fun alone on the dance floor is weird as hell and about ten seconds from being bounced out on his creeper ass. A gal sitting alone at a bar has the hassle of dudes — by no means uniformly desirable — coming up and trying to include her in their life; a guy at the bar alone, on the other hand, basically proofs Newton’s First Law, in that his body will stay at rest indefinitely — or until acted on by an external force, like, say, the bartender at last call. Nobody will ever approach and ask their name. No one will ever buy them a drink. As the men of the Titanic watch the lifeboats full of women and children drift into the horizon, they think: This feels right.

History has been kind to men, for sure, but it seems men never quite figured out how to be kind to each other. From the moment a guy wakes up, he goes about the business of avoiding an ass-kicking. Because every other guy we come into contact with during the day is Schrodinger’s Beatdown, and it isn’t until we make eye contact or accidentally step in front of them on the sidewalk or wear the wrong color shirt that we know for sure. A gal might make accidental eye contact on the subway and have to deal with some creeper smiling back; guys have been stabbed for less. And while I’m a major fan of chivalry, I’m also partially disabled, and the looks I get for not giving up my seat to healthy-looking women in the morning rush are unambiguous in their contempt for me.

Once, while working as an elementary school teacher in the American South, I witnessed two of my male students — adorable kids in private-school uniforms and matching bowl cuts — walking along a sidewalk, kicking a soccer ball up ahead and smiling, laughing, racing each other to it, tugging the other’s collar like a cheating Spanish footballer trying to slow the other down; they were having a blast. Carefree, halcyon fun. The kind that should typify childhood. And so I sped up, pulled my car nearly beside them, knowing they’d get a kick out of seeing their favorite teacher out of class. But as I rolled down my window, a black SUV approached on my right and rolled down its window; the car filled with college kids, and they hung their faces from the open window — the oppressive sun glinting off their wraparound Oakleys — and yelled to my students that they were DICKSUCKING FAGGOTSSSSSS!!! AHHHH! COCKSUCKERS! GET A ROOM AND JUST F-CK EACH OTHER! WITH YOUR TINY FAGGOT DICKS! AHAHAHAHA! The guy in the back pushed his tongue into his cheek and simulated a blowjob.

At two elementary school kids.

Because they had the temerity to show joy.

The situation was shocking for its cruelty but, horribly enough, not for its rarity. Because I think at some point every guy has had a moment like that. At some point in the process of growing up, most guys learn that it’s not okay for a man to feel — neither joy nor sadness, nor any emotion which might seek expression to the greater world — that it’s not okay to trust, that you can’t ever expect someone to keep your secrets, that people will hurt you for no reason but they’ll hurt you more if you don’t mind your own business, if you care, if you’re anything but muted and stoic; to ask for anything else is to be needy — that is, to be weak — and thus deserve whatever suffering comes from that weakness. We’re told this is how Being a Man works, and as bogus as it sounds spelled out like this, society tends to punish deviations from it rather harshly. As you can imagine, it isn’t all that emotionally fulfilling. And that’s where the video games come in.

VIDEO GAMES MAKE GUYS FEEL SPECIAL. One of the most popular video games over the last decade has been the Madden franchise, a football game released in yearly installments that features real NFL teams and players. And one of the most popular parts of that game is its Superstar Mode. In Superstar Mode, guys can create a player that looks almost exactly like themselves; your player’s appearance can be customized from height and weight, all the way down to facial features like cheekbones and the size and tilt of your ears. After working out in a virtual gym and attending virtual practices, your player will receive a virtual contract for millions of dollars, which he can then spend upgrading his virtual apartment, getting a virtual tattoo, or even a virtual haircut. And once you’ve created a virtual life deserving of your fantasies, you can start a game.

Normally, you play Madden by controlling the entire football team: you choose the plays as the coach, then cycle between the different players on offense and defense to make plays and try to win the game. In the popular Superstar Mode, though, the camera stays on your player, making him the only player you are able to control. Which means 80% of what happens on the field does not include you. When whichever unit you’re not a part of (offense or defense) is on the field, the camera cuts to your view from the Gatorade cooler. Once you’re on the field, the computer — acting as coach — picks the plays, and there is no guarantee they will involve you. As a wide receiver, you might run down the field to block for the virtual running back, or sprint down a route designed to get a different wide receiver open for a catch. Your player might get open and the virtual quarterback might just throw it over your head or out of bounds. For the vast majority of this mode, you are watching computer teammates play against a computer opponent. This game costs guys seventy dollars. And this mode is massively popular.

That’s how much guys just want to feel special. We’re willing to spend significant hours watching a computer play pitch and catch in front of us, only sometimes deigning to include us, so long as it means when we do get a catch, the crowd will roar, the play will repeat in instant replay, our player will increase his ability scores, and after we win we’ll be able to check the NFL League Leaderboard and feel a strange but seemingly real pride that our virtual selves are leading all the other wide receivers in Yards Per Reception.

In the basketball version, you can give yourself a nickname and the same announcers from TV will call the game and say your name and heap praise upon you — by name! — when you play well. And the crowd will chant for you. They’ll seriously chant for you! This might seem like a minor thing except that every guy has grown up watching movies where everyone cheers for the hero, the professional, the best of the best; everyone cheers and so does the girl and the hero basks in the glow of his public accomplishment and, ah, yes, of course, all his hard work pays off and his skill and persistence are finally recognized by everyone, just like you almost never, ever see happen in the real world. As if any guy has ever received this level of appreciation. We grow up seeing it, and we internally admit we want it. But we never get it. Only when our virtual guard hangs 45 points on the Boston Celtics do we even get a taste, a simulation — the closest thing.

VIDEO GAMES PROVIDE IMMEDIATE PAYOFFS. Life doesn’t give us a whole lot of payoff for our effort. A hardworking guy can apply to fifty jobs a day and still go unemployed for months at a time. On the other end of the spectrum, a guy might put in sixty hours every week at work, might be the best employee in the entire department, might be making all the right moves professionally and still get passed over for a promotion. And there’s nothing he can do about it. If he complains, he’ll come off looking like a whiney baby. So he goes to the bar and sits alone. Drowns his sorrows. Nobody comes over to talk to him. He questions what he’s even contributing to the world; as a middle manager he doesn’t really build or create — there’s no tangible evidence of the fruits of his labor. Good management skills result in… something. Certainly not a high-five. A paycheck, he figures, but beyond that, he doesn’t know.

In the massively popular game Starcraft, deft resource management results in his being instantly rewarded with the ability to drop a brightly-pixelated nuclear bomb on the secret base of the 12-year-old in his headset who won’t stop shouting in Korean. Is that more rewarding than having an extra disregarded bullet point affixed to his yearly performance review? I think you’ll find that it is. And so he plays. He plays even though his girlfriend is wearing her Pretty Date Dress and asking him to pick a restaurant. Because the payoff for his ‘work’ is refreshing and, taking it a step further…

VIDEO GAMES PROVIDE A CONCRETE PATH OF ADVANCEMENT: Several years ago, the field of cognitive psychology discovered that animals — including humans — that learned their proactive efforts would not reliably produce resource gains nor protect them from suffering developed adverse physiological and psychological conditions in response, including depression. The more effort that guys expend on things which they perceive as out of their control — advancement at their job, financial security, romantic affection — the more likely they are to become maladapted to deal with future challenges.

Video games guard against this. A big part of game design lies in rolling out challenge systems to a player who, upon mastery of that system, is rewarded (and thus encouraged to continue playing) and subsequently presented with a new, slightly more difficult and possibly cumulative challenge. Game designers stand alongside cognitive psychologists in understanding that if you want to make a man happy, give him a concrete path to achievement and ‘status’ which is guided by quantifiable benchmarks — so that’s exactly what they do. Roleplaying games tell guys that after 1,000 points they’ll be able to throw bigger fireballs. Guys don’t have to worry if the projects they’re working on will give them the best shot at advancing their career, or if they need to cut more carbs (or was it fat?) to get visible abs — there’s no ambiguity, the path is clearly laid out: hit 1,000 points and the goal is yours. A shooter game might require the player to stay up all night playing a level he finds nearly as tedious as a shift at work, but in the morning, after 500 kills, he’ll know with absolute certainty that he’ll have earned the Turbo Big Dick Gold-Plated AK-47, and with that feel a simulated sense of mastery over his world. And his brain won’t know the difference. (Coincidentally, this is why guys will often tell their girlfriends about what they’ve been up to in their videogames, despite it being something no one else in the world could possibly care about.)

VIDEO GAMES PROVIDE AN OUTLET FOR AGGRESSION: In the olden days, guys responded to being slighted by removing their glove, slapping their rival across the face, then gunning them down with flintlock pistols. These days, guys recognize that sort of behavior as barbaric and absurd, opting instead to blow off steam by logging onto Call of Duty and virtually shooting the face off their opponent and screaming obscenities at a faceless assembly of adolescents. Is this pretty? No. Is it mature? No. But just because the old way had fancy-ass vests and rapiers didn’t make it any less ridiculous. And all things considered, a guy sitting alone in his living room drinking 40s and moaning incoherently while pounding a 2D Brock Lesnar in some UFC video game seems way less destructive to all parties involved than whatever the real-world analog of that might be. And to be honest, I’m glad all those people who drown/ electrocute/ incinerate their Sims in The Sims games are too busy redesigning their virtual kitchens to go outside. I think we all are. Anyway.

VIDEO GAMES SIMULATE TRUST AND AFFECTION: In the hit game Mass Effect, the main character (who, as with Madden, you’re given the option to make look like yourself with an excruciating level of detail) is the Intergalactic Belle of the Ball. You’re allowed to make eye contact without people thinking you’re trying to creep or start a fight. Folks can’t wait to talk with you. They say you’ve made them proud. That you’ve changed their lives. That they trust you; they trust your judgment. When you’re faced with the tough decision of sacrificing 300,000 Batarians in order to save the lives of billions across the universe, your commanding officer doesn’t even ask to see the report – he knows that you always do what must be done to protect the innocent. All of humanity — and the alien species, too! — knows your reputation for skill and efficiency and talent and confidence and daring and (the fellatio continues) and they’re glad to have you onboard their ship, because there’s a situation that needs handling and they trust you for the job.

How often does this happen in the average guy’s life? How many times does a guy feel underestimated? Talked down to? Confronted for forgetting the gift or the wine or the keys or leaving the seat up? But then you come back from the job and bask in some simulated glory — everyone thought that job was impossible! — before moving on to the next problem, the next conflict where you can show up and really make a difference.

Really make a difference.

Of course, guys know on a logical level that it’s all make believe. But games like Mass Effect sell so well because they pour millions of dollars into being as immersive as possible. That’s what the developers are going for: ‘immersive.’ They know that it’s not really about shooting space lasers at Krogan or Geth stormtroopers, that’s why they write, cast, and perform tens of thousands of lines of voice acting. That’s why they populate these virtual worlds with so many moving parts, so many characters with their own backgrounds and life stories. They want the player to forget how much time they’re spending playing videogames and instead wander the virtual city streets, talking with all the people, maybe getting involved in Citadel politics, maybe raising money for the virtual orphanage, maybe ousting the local crime lord and running a smuggling business — all these options beyond simply gunning down bad guys.

Guys know on a logical level that they aren’t really doing anything but sitting on their couch, but – as Thought Catalog writer Josh Gondelman showed me — it isn’t logic which makes you cry in the middle of a pizza place because a particular song came on the radio. And it isn’t logic that causes the feelings swelling within a guy’s chest when he spends three hours helping a space-lizard assassin reconcile at long last with his estranged space-lizard son. The people of Illum didn’t really throw you a ticker-tape parade. The abused and broken psychic warrior chick didn’t really battle her misgivings to fall into a profound love for you. And there (as far as I know) is not an imminent Reaper threat to civilization. None of it is real. But the charge a guy can get from it is. And it might be the only place in modern life where he can get that charge. So if the rest of him is functional and productive? Ladies, let ‘em play their video games.

-Jack Cazir