The sad demise of Jack Pumpkinhead from The Land of Oz

A boy with magic powder. A scarecrow come to life. An adventure through Oz. And a death with barely a passing mention. This is the tale of Jack Pumpkinhead, a character I quickly fell in love with, but who met a sad demise at the hands of his author.

Jack Pumpkinhead was a character introduced in The Land of Oz, the first sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1904. I bought the book on a whim at a used bookstore for $20, and was entranced by the delightful world L. Frank Baum created. Jack is a lovely character, my favorite from the story, but his fate bothered me. As an author myself, one who has created numerous characters in numerous fantasy stories, I found that examining Jack’s arc revealed much about how to create, and how not to treat, one’s character.

Let’s jump in!

Cover of The Land of Oz

Tip manufactures a pumpkinhead

The Land of Oz is curious in that it doesn’t concern Dorothy, the Wizard of Oz, or even the Cowardly Lion. While the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman eventually feature prominently in the adventure, the tale doesn’t begin with them. Rather, we are introduced to Tip, a little boy under the care of a mean ol’ witch, Mombi.

Wanting to play a trick on Mombi, Tip carves a pumpkin, a “pumpkin-jack” as he calls it, then builds a spindly wooden body for the head. He puts clothes on the man, then proclaims:

“I must give him a name! So good a man as this must surely have a name. I believe I will name the fellow ‘Jack Pumpkinhead!'”

His creation finished, Tip waits until Mombi leaves the farm for business. Tip stands Jack Pumpkinhead near the road so as to scare Mombi on her way home.

Mombi, however, is not fooled, and decides to pull one over on Tip. She has just returned from a wizard’s home, where she traded goods for the Powder of Life. Wanting to see if the powder works, she sprinkles it on Jack, bringing him to life! Jack says a few words, testing his voice, then analyzes his situation:

“For although I feel that I know a tremendous lot, I am not yet aware of how much there is in the world to find out about. It will take me a little time to discover whether I am very wise or very foolish.”

Jack Pumpkinhead comes to life

Mombi secures Jack in the stable, then devises a punishment for Tip for his foolishness. She decides to turn him into a marble statue for trying to trick her, but her potion needs to cool before the transformation can take place. Mombi goes to bed, and Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead run away in the middle of the night.

And with that, Baum shows us what’s needed for a character to live: a body, a voice, a purpose, a name. These are the kind of stories I like. This character is what hooked me on this 113-year-old tale.

Jack learns to be alive

While on the road, Jack comes to grips with what it means to be alive. And he quickly realizes that he and humans are quite different:

“I don’t seem to be made the same way you are,” Jack said.

“I know you are not,” returned Tip; “for I made you.”

“Oh! Did you?” asked Jack.

“Certainly. And put you together. And carved your eyes and nose and ears and mouth,” Tip said proudly. “And dressed you.”

Jack looked at his body and limbs critically.

“It strikes me you made a very good job of it,” he remarked.

“Just so-so,” replied Tip, modestly; for he began to see certain defects in the construction of his man. “If I’d known we were going to travel together I might have been a little more particular.”

“Why, then,” said the Pumpkinhead, in a tone that expressed surprise, “you must be my creator–my parent–my father!”

“Or your inventor,” replied the boy with a laugh. “Yes, my son; I really believe I am!”

“Then I owe you obedience,” continued the man, “and you own me–support.”

Jack Pumpkinhead and Tip go for a walk.

While Jack recognizes that he is a creation, Tip seems not to understand the implications of creating life. Tip decides to go to the Emerald City, and along the way, teaches Jack how to be alive.

He tells Jack to sit and rest his joints, but when Jack tries, “he came clattering to the ground with such a crash that Tip feared he was entirely ruined.”

Tip decides to make a sawhorse for Jack to ride on. He creates a reasonable facsimile of a horse, then bemoans “And of course it can’t ever be alive, because it is made of wood.”

Jack points out, “So am I,” and Tip has some inkling that Jack really is alive. Tip uses the magic powder on the sawhorse. To make the magic work, Tip begins by saying the magic words:

“Teaugh!”

“What’s that, dear father?” inquired Jack.

“It means you must keep quiet!” replied the boy, provoked at being interrupted at so important a moment.

“How fast I am learning!” remarked the Pumpkinhead, with his eternal smile.

It’s scenes like this that make Jack an enduring personality. He’s overall portrayed as very stupid, yet he knows more than he thinks he knows, and often inadvertently says profound things.

While Tip is often quick to make snide comments about Jack’s lack of intelligence (“I think I understand,” Jack once said after a conversation about ears, Tip replied, “If you do, you’re a wonder. But there’s no harm in thinking you understand”), the story frequently reveals that those around Jack are just as stupid.

There’s a wonderful scene when the party arrives in the Emerald City and is taken to his Majesty, the Scarecrow. The Scarecrow, having received his diploma at the end of the first story, is supposed to be the one with brains. Jack, after all, has no brains inside his head. Yet the Scarecrow quickly proves that his intelligence is illusory:

The King was the first to speak. After regarding Jack for some minutes he said, in a tone of wonder:

“Where on earth did you come from, and how do you happen to be alive?”

“I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” returned the Pumpkinhead; “but I do not understand you.”

“What don’t you understand?” asked the Scarecrow.

“Why, I don’t understand your language. You see, I came from the Country of the Gillikins, so that I am a foreigner.”

“Ah, to be sure!” exclaimed the Scarecrow. “I myself speak the language of the Munchkins, which is also the language of the Emerald City. But you, I suppose, speak the language of the Pumpkinheads?”

“Exactly so, your Majesty,” replied the other, bowing; “so it will be impossible for us to understand one another.”

“That is unfortunate, certainly,” said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. “We must have an interpreter.”

Jack Pumpkinhead meets the Scarecrow

The two go back and forth for some time, “failing” to “understand” the other’s language, even though they are both speaking English. Through the intentional interpretation errors of a child, Jack inadvertently insults the King. The King then rudely condemns Jack for daring to be alive, and Jack, having no proper guide in Tip, sadly agrees with the assessment:

“This should be a warning to you never to think,” returned the Scarecrow, severely. “For unless one can think wisely it is better to remain a dummy–which you most certainly are.”

“I am!–I surely am!” agreed the Pumpkinhead.

“It seems to me,” continued the Scarecrow, more mildly, “that your manufacturer spoiled some good pies to create an indifferent man.”

“I assure your Majesty that I did not ask to be created,” answered Jack.

It’s at this point in the story that the insults on Jack’s intelligence, and his very being, his very existence, begin to pile up. Jack has the disposition of a carefree, optimistic, mentally-challenged child. And rather than celebrate his fragile, miraculous existence, those around him tear him down and afford him no respect.

And scenes like the previous make me ponder whether the author, Baum, understands what he’s created.

Jack discovers he’s mortal

From here, the story takes a dark turn. The Emerald City is overthrown by a usurper, the main characters are expelled, and they go on an adventure to find more friends and formulate a strategy to retake the city. Jack, meanwhile, realizes that unlike the Scarecrow, his life will not last forever.

While the group is in the castle, trying to escape, Jack remarks:

“Should I remain here a prisoner for any length of time,” protested Jack, “I’m liable to spoil.”

“Ah! then you would not be fit to associate with,” returned the Scarecrow. “The matter is more serious than I suspected.”

“You,” said the Pumpkinhead, gloomily, “are liable to live for many years. My life is necessarily short. So I must take advantage of the few days that remain to me.”

Whereas the Scarecrow is composed of dried straw and wood, Jack’s head was created with a fresh pumpkin, and pumpkins don’t last forever. The introduction of this element adds a lot of intrigue to the story, and raises the stakes considerably. If Jack really wants to be alive, he must also accept that all living things eventually die. Life is lived with this ever-present reality hanging over us all.

Throughout the journey, Jack has many brushes with death. Once, after falling, his head dislodges and falls into the water. “Dear me!” Jack said. “What a dreadful experience! I wonder if water is liable to spoil pumpkins? If water spoils pumpkins, then my days are numbered.”

Jack Pumpkinhead's head falls into the water.

Death permeates Jack’s every conversation. “I am in constant terror of the day when I shall spoil,” he says to the Tin Woodman.

Those around Jack constantly make light of his mortality. The Tin Woodman responds to Jack’s fear by saying, “Do not, I beg you, dampen today’s sun with the showers of tomorrow. For before your head has time to spoil you can have it canned, and in that way it may be preserved indefinitely.”

The irony of all this is that the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are both themselves creatures with unnatural bodies, yet they fancy themselves higher lifeforms than Jack, precisely because they contain no living flesh.

Yet isn’t Jack, with at least the most important part of his body made of living material, more alive than they?

All this discussion of Jack could easily be enhanced, had I the space, by referencing the numerous other creatures Tip brings to live, such as the wooden Saw-Horse, and an amalgamation of furniture called a Thing, or Gump. The Scarecrow even has a near-death experience when his stuffing is removed. His friends bail him out of that jam by stuffing him with money.

Toward the end of the book, it’s revealed that Tip is not a boy, but in fact Princes Ozma, heir to the throne. Old Mombi transformed Ozma into a boy when she was little to hide her. The witch transforms her back into a girl, to which Ozma’s first words are:

“I hope none of you will care less for me than you did before. I’m just the same Tip, you know; only–only–”

“Only you’re different!” said the Pumpkinhead; and everyone thought it was the wisest speech he had ever made.

Somebody better versed in queer and gender theories than I could probably make much of the (unintentional?) transgender implications of this.

The end of Jack, barely a footnote

Ozma, formerly Tip, and her friends take back the kingdom, and the Queen begins her rule.

The Gump, a monstrosity constructed of furniture and a stag mount, makes a most unusual request:

“Please take me to pieces. I did not wish to be brought to life, and I am greatly ashamed of my conglomerate personality. Once I was a monarch of the forest, as my antlers fully prove; but now, in my present upholstered condition of servitude, I am compelled to fly through the air–my legs being of no use to me whatever. Therefore I beg to be dispersed.”

So Ozma ordered the Gump taken apart.

The Gump is more intimately aware of the wrongness of his existence than Jack is. Ozma, though, only partially complies with Gump’s request. She takes him apart, but puts the mount back on the wall, where the head “continued to talk whenever it took a notion to so.”

Jack’s fate is given scant attention, and we have no parting words from Jack or his creator:

Jack Pumpkinhead remained with Ozma to the end of his days; and he did not spoil as soon as he had feared, although he always remained as stupid as ever. The Woggle-Bug tried to teach him several arts and sciences; but Jack was so poor a student that any attempt to educate him was soon abandoned.

Having read that the first time, I was incensed. Baum had been building a powerful case for hundreds of pages about the aliveness and being of Jack, yet in the end, treated this character with disposable contempt. All of Jack’s friends, from Tip to the Scarecrow to the Tin Woodman, never seemed to grasp the significance of Jack’s life, and Tip seemed to take little responsibility for his role as creator, as father, of Jack.

While I’m not suggesting Jack should’ve lived forever–the rotting pumpkin for a head was indeed a problem–I would’ve liked the character to be treated with a little more care, a little more dignity.

I also didn’t have a problem with Jack’s lack of intelligence, but I did have a problem with his companions constantly knocking him for it. In today’s parlance, it’s easy to see how Jack was bullied for his stupidity. Yet Jack is never vindicated, even though a strong case can be made that all other characters, especially the fabled intelligent Scarecrow, are just as, if not more, foolish than Jack.

However, I have newfound anticipation for the character’s future. Apparently he returns in four more Oz books: The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, and the final Oz book, The Runaway in Oz.

How the character comes to grips with his mortality, and how those around him view him, remains to be seen. Despite the character’s unfortunate demise at the hands of Baum, and his terrible treatment by those around him, Jack Pumpkinhead is a stellar example of the power of life, whatever form it takes.

~Dennis

The Indian in the Cupboard books ranked

When I was a kid, I loved The Indian in the Cupboard series. The premise is simple: put a plastic toy in a cupboard, turn the magic key, and the toy comes to life. As a kid who spent countless hours playing with action figures, this fantasy was very attractive to me.

During a recent move, I uncovered many of my childhood books, and I thought, How well has this series aged? Would I still enjoy it?

After reading through the five-book series again (reading the fifth book for the first time even!) I’d like to share my thoughts on which books are best, and why.

Minor spoilers for each book follows:

The Indian in the Cupboard (1981)

The tale starts innocently enough. Omri gets a beat-up medicine cabinet from his brother for his birthday. He puts a plastic Indian in at night, and when he’s awoken by a shrill, tinny voice, he learns the Indian has come alive.

Omri brings Little Bear to life; Indian in the Cupboard

Omri brings Little Bear to life. Illustration by Brock Cole.

The wonder and amazement that Omri feels is contagious. He can’t stop thinking about the cupboard, even at school. He plays with the Indian, Little Bear, outside, but soon Little Bear is hurt, requiring the medical attention of another toy figure, this time a military medic.

Omri’s idiotic friend Patrick brings a cowboy to life, Boone, who immediately shoots Patrick, then later gets into a fight with Little Bear.

The boys learn soon enough that these are not toys, that they are real people that bleed real blood, and they must be treated as such. It’s a fitting message, and the boys send the toys back to their own times, vowing to never use the cupboard again.

One fundamental problem with the series as a whole is that the boys never learn their lessons, and continually create flimsy excuses for bringing the toys back to life. Their ignorance, though, is somewhat forgiven in this first book: how could Omri have known what was going to happen when he put the toys in the cupboard?

Because of the magic and wonder of this first tale, and the boys’ innocence in bringing the toys to life in the first place, I rank this book second out of five.

Rank: 2

The Return of the Indian (1986)

In the first book, Omri wrote a short story about an Indian in the cupboard: cribbed from reality, unbeknownst to his teachers and parents. The second book begins when Omri wins a contest for the story, as well as a cash prize. Excited by the news, Omri brings the cupboard out of storage to get an update from Little Bear, only to find that Little Bear’s tribe of Iroquois are under attack by colonials.

Vowing to help them, Omri uses the cupboard to bring modern soldiers to life, then brings many more Iroquois to life. A military commander, Fickits, teaches the Iroquois how to use machine guns, and it’s here that the story goes off the rails. Omri and Patrick learned the lesson (many times over) in the first book that these are real people, not toys. So Omri, whether he admits it or not (he reluctantly reflects on his actions only when people get hurt), he participates in war where real people get hurt and die.

Matron helps Little Bear; The Return of the Indian

Matron helps Little Bear. Illustration by William Geldart.

This book also introduces the concept of traveling through time the other way: Omri goes in a large chest, and using the magic key, Patrick sends Omri back to Little Bear’s time. Omri appears as a painting on the side of a tepee, and thus his experience in Little Bear’s world is minimal, but this plot device will dominate much of the narrative action in later books.

The book ends with skinheads breaking into Omri’s house to rob him. Omri brings the toy soldiers back to life to fight off the skinheads, damaging his house in the process.

Because of the amount of killing and violence in this book, I think this is my least favorite in the series. Not because I have anything against violent media, per se. Rather, it’s the casualness with which the kids decide to intervene in history, bringing modern weapons back to colonial times, to fight a battle they were never a part of. And while the skinheads are unsympathetic criminals, the boys go overboard in bringing real soldiers through the cupboard to fight them.

The boys relearn the lesson about the little people being real people. They vow not to send “now-guns” back with Little Bear, though they make no vows regarding the future of the cupboard.

Rank: 5

The Secret of the Indian (1989)

The third book picks off right where the last one left off. Omri and Patrick explain to Omri’s parents, and then the police, what happened with the skinheads. Meanwhile, a dozen Indians, plus the nurse Matron, are still in Omri’s room. The Indians are recovering from the vicious battle of the last book, and Matron is needed to help them heal.

Omri and Patrick decide they must stay with the Indians and Matron till everybody is recovered, then send them back to their old time.

But Patrick, being Patrick, is selfish and wants to travel back to Boone the cowboy’s time, just as Omri traveled back to Little Bear’s time in the last book. He whines that Omri got to go back to Little Bear’s time, and he won’t shut up until Omri sends Patrick back to Boone’s time.

Honestly, Patrick has gotta be the worst character in the series. He constantly has to relearn the lesson that the little people are real people, and that they can’t be toyed with. For all of Omri’s faults on this matter, Patrick is ten times worse.

Little Bear sees Boone injured in bed; The Secret of the Indian

Little Bear greets an injured Boone. Illustration by Ted Lewin.

Patrick wakes up in the desert southwest as a tiny person. He has a few misadventures with Boone, then things turn serious as a tornado in Boone’s time arises directly in their path.

Omri, unable to hide Patrick any longer (Patrick has been missing for a couple days, raising the suspicions of both Omri and Patrick’s families), just so happens to bring Patrick back to the modern time at the exact moment the tornado barreled down on him.

Completely by accident, the tornado also gets sucked into modern times, destroys Omri’s house, then proceeds to cut a path through London, causing astronomical property damage.

This book starts out well enough: it addresses the events of the last book, and shows that there are real consequences to Omri’s meddling in the past. And while Boone himself is a highly enjoyable character, the entire business with Patrick going into Boone’s time is completely unnecessary.

There’s no way Omri could’ve known that a tornado could get sucked through time, so the damage to his house and London isn’t entirely on his shoulders. That said, Omri and Patrick should have more than enough evidence at this point to convince them that the cupboard should never be fooled around with again.

Rank: 4

The Mystery of the Cupboard (1993)

By the time the fourth book comes around, the shtick of the series has worn off. We know that no matter what Omri and Patrick do, they cannot resist bringing the little people back even for a visit. Such actions inevitably lead to conflict and strife.

How refreshing it is, then, that the fourth book features almost no cupboard magic! Crazy, right? The entire series is about bringing toys to life, and yet, the fourth book throws out this formula entirely to tell a new kind of story, which I so love.

Since Omri’s house was completely destroyed in the last book, the family needs a new place to live. Coincidentally, Omri’s mother inherits a country longhouse from a distant relative, and the family leaves the bustle of London for quiet, pastoral hills.

Omri has deposited the cupboard in the bank, finally realizing that the cupboard should not be played with. He appears to have truly learned his lesson.

The titular mystery begins when thatchers repair the old house’s roof. Omri digs through the discarded thatch and discovers a journal of his relative Jessica Charlotte, an actress and fortuneteller who was the black sheep of Omri’s mother’s family.

Through the journal, Omri learns about his family’s past, conflict between members, and Jessica’s fortunetelling powers. Omri also learns that she was the one who created the magic key, the very same key that makes the cupboard work.

While this book has very little action or conflict in the modern setting, it’s so interesting to read the backstory of the cupboard, and of the woman that made it all possible.

After finishing the journal, Omri can’t help but use the cupboard again to bring the little people to life, the very people discussed in Jessica’s journal. In a 246 page book, the cupboard is first used on page 176! And the book does not suffer as a result.

Omri and Patrick meet Jessica Charlotte; The Mystery of the Cupboard

Omri and Patrick meet Jessica. Illustration by Tom Newsom.

I’ve often wished that authors of genre fiction would take greater risks in successive works. Instead of repeating the same formula ad nauseam, put the characters in new situations to see what they would do.

Considering that this tale is carried largely through flashbacks, and not use of the cupboard, this book really establishes how strong of a character Omri is, despite his faults.

There’s also a fun meta-moment when Omri brings Jessica herself through the cupboard. The book veers into time travel confusion territory here, as Jessica’s becoming small was instrumental in giving her the idea of making the key, which was necessary for all of this to happen in the first place.

The book also has a touching side story about an old man named Tom who had a little woman of his own, whom he married and lived with for several decades until her unfortunate death.

Obviously this book wouldn’t exist without the first one. Even still, this is my favorite book of the series, precisely because it is so different than all the rest.

Rank: 1

The Key to the Indian (1998)

The major cliffhanger of the fourth book was Omri’s dad accidentally discovering the magic of the cupboard when he cleaned up Omri’s room, put the toys inside, and turned the key.

This book begins with Omri explaining to his dad everything that’s happened. And he takes it surprisingly well.

At first, this concept is exciting. It’s good for Omri to have somebody to share the secret with other than Patrick and Patrick’s cousin. While Omri’s dad is a bit too eager to use the cupboard at times, he seems to understand intuitively that it is not a toy.

Omri's dad and Omri meet Jessica Charlotte; The Key to the Indian

Omri introduces his dad to Jessica Charlotte. Illustration by James Watling.

However, Omri uses the cupboard to bring back Little Bear, and Little Bear once again reports that he’s having a problem. This time the British are attacking the Iroquois, and Little Bear needs Omri’s help to fight them back.

The book regresses to the same struggle as the second book. We already learned before that a modern man like Omri shouldn’t mess with events in the past. In fact, in the fourth book, Omri attempts to change history once again, albeit on a smaller scale (and luckily for Omri, his plan didn’t work properly, conveniently keeping the status quo of the timestream).

Omri’s dad researches everything he can about the Iroquois and their struggle with the British. He and Omri then conduct an elaborate plan to go back to Little Bear’s time.

Omri recruits the help of Patrick who once again proves that he’s more of a liability than an asset, as he immediately whines about not being able to go back to Little Bear’s time.

While Omri and his dad never should’ve gone back to Little Bear’s time, it is exciting to see Little Bear in his element, to catch up with him after his absence in book four. It makes me wish for a book solely about Little Bear’s adventures, sans Omri.

Omri and his dad are naturally tiny, and unable to really do anything to help Little Bear. The chief asks Omri over and over again for help with fighting the British, and the best Omri’s dad can come up with is encouraging the Iroquois to go north to Canada, where they will be safest (though not safe) from the white man.

Considering that’s all Omri and dad accomplish, it makes you wonder why they went back to Little Bear’s time to begin with. Couldn’t they have just brought Little Bear back through the cupboard, read to him from the history books, and left it alone?

The author tries to give Omri something else to do when the British attack the Indian camp. Omri alerts the Indian women that a baby is in a burning longhouse, and Omri’s dancing in front of some soldiers scares them into (briefly) dropping their arms. But other than that, Omri and his dad accomplish very little in returning to Little Bear’s time.

Upon returning, they discover that Patrick has been dinking around with the cupboard on his own time. He brought back Boone and wife Ruby Lou, put them in the bathtub in a toy boat, then promptly lost them down the bathtub drain when the family cat Kitsa came into the bathroom and attacked the little people. It’s all so unnecessary and superfluous, and only serves to reinforce that Patrick is a moron.

Rank: 3

At this point, the Indian series has run its course. The concept of bringing toys to life, and the parallel concept of sending people back in time via the key, seems to have been explored to its potential. I thoroughly enjoyed the series upon rereading them, despite the stupidity of the boys.

It’ll probably be some time before I read through all five books again. If I get the urge to return to this world, I’ll pick up books one and four and leave the rest alone.

Maybe when I have my own kids and they turn 8 or 9 or 10 years old, I’ll introduce a new generation to these characters!

~Dennis

My interest in Pokemon Go completely died when I hit level 20

Pokémon Go was a great experience. It really was. I wrote before about all the positive interactions I had with players, especially random people I met on the street. But as a game, Pokémon Go was quite lacking, and once I hit level 20 after a ton of grinding, my interest died.

Several factors contributed to this decline. The game’s concept is still amazing, and augmented reality has a bright future. But how do you sustain interest in a game that, fundamentally, isn’t that fun to play?

Now, saying Pokémon Go isn’t fun might be a little harsh. At first, the game was a ton of fun. Finding Pokémon in my front yard, in the supermarket, sitting on top of friend’s shoulders, in the park—that was exciting! As a kid, who didn’t imagine themselves walking through a forest, finding a Pokémon, and catching it? Pokémon Go made that fantasy a reality.

Many people complained about the substandard battle system in Pokémon Go, and those criticisms are relevant. But to me, the fun was in capturing Pokémon, evolving them, naming them, and helping them grow. Unfortunately, the game was severely unbalanced, and at times unfair, on all these mechanics.

To start, there are far too many Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, as this parody “Pokémon Go Rap” emphasizes:

Everybody learned early on that these Pokémon only had one value: to evolve them quickly to gain experience. Pidgeys and Weedles took 12 candies to evolve, giving players 500 XP. Rattatas took more candy, 25, but there are so many Rattatas I usually have a stockpile of candy in the triple digits.

Once people learned that these evolutions earned quick XP, they started to see the value in Lucky Eggs. This item doubles your experience for 30 minutes. The optimal game strategy is obvious: save your Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, use a Lucky Egg, then spend the next 30 minutes evolving everything in your bag, racking up thousands of XP.

Farming XP is essential to leveling up quickly. Like all RPGs, the amount of XP you needed for each level gradually increases, making leveling up slower. However, the higher levels are essential to finding better Pokemon.

And it’s in this grind that my motivation died. I did the Lucky Egg trick three times and made a concerted effort to hit level 20. That’s when you get access to Ultra Balls!

I also walked a TON. I logged 97.7 km, 2.3 km away from earning the silver Jogger badge. I hatched 27 eggs. Unfortunately, for all that effort, about half of the hatched eggs were useless Pokemon that I could find in the streets easily.

Everybody has their favorite Pokémon. Finding specific Pokémon, however, was next to impossible. It seemed like every other player but me had better Pokémon.

I wanted so bad to get all the Eevees. Eevee was always one of my favorite Pokémon. Every player that I met told me how easy it was to find Eevees.

Maybe not in my neighborhood.

I worked hard to get my measly 25 Eevee candy. The first evolution was Vaporeon, the second was Flareon. And I never worked hard enough to get the one I really wanted: Jolteon.

Pokémon Go also had a way of insultingly making your treasured Pokemon worthless. I would spend hours and hours catching Pokemon to get a new evolution. And then, after spending all that time getting your first version of an evolved form, like Butterfree, you walk outside and find a random Butterfree that has a higher Combat Power than the one you just invested in. Naturally, you send the weaker one back to the Professor.

A final issue that I had with Pokemon Go is that I was rarely able to compete in gym battles. It seemed like every time I found a gym it was already packed with Pokemon in the 2,000-3,000 CP range. I struggled just to get my Pokemon up to 1,000 CP!

My Pokemon team in Pokemon Go

These are my best Pokémon. It’s so sad that Pidgeot, a very common and weak Pokémon, is in my top three.

This is why I never play competitive online games, like Call of Duty or MMORPGs. There are always players out there who invest more time than me, who are objectively better than me at the game, and I can never compete.

That’s not to say I expect to win all the time: but it would’ve been nice to win more than 10 or so gym battles.

I hear there’s a new update to Pokémon Go that adds a lot of neat features. I’m sure it’s fun. But right now, I’m not ready to go back.

I realized right away, within the first week of Pokémon Go’s release, that the joy derived not so much from playing the game, but with being a part of a fad. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t describe Pokémon Go as a fad as a way of dismissing it! Fads are highly enjoyable, but by their very nature, they fade away.

It was fun to play the game when everybody else was playing.

It was fun to find strangers all over the city, in the park, in the airport, in the store, on campus, EVERYWHERE playing Pokémon Go. The game was an instant conversation starter, and each random conversation was a glimmer of hope that humanity is fundamentally goodhearted. While the faces of those strangers I met are starting to blur, those interactions will stay with me for a long time.

It was fun to discover new Pokémon for the first time, to get new evolutions.

It was fun to hear stories of kids catching 10 CP Pidgeots, and to see the little battle animation above gyms letting you know that somebody, RIGHT NOW, is near you fighting.

It was fun to meet a group of kids telling me to just go around the corner to catch a Spearow. I hadn’t seen a Spearow yet. I searched for it, and didn’t find it, but that’s okay. I felt like an explorer.

But the summer had to come to an end, and the school year started again. While my interest in the game is over for now, I don’t regret the dozens of hours I poured into the game.

For 20 years, Pokémon has seen fad after fad. When Red and Blue hit America, everybody in school was playing it. Then we were watching the anime. Then we saw the first movie in the theaters, and then the second movie, but I never saw any of the others. I played the card game for awhile, and then lost interest.

When Pokémon X and Y was released, I played that game for 4 hours a day for two months. It took me 100 hours just to complete the game because I spent so much time training my Pokémon, catching Pokémon, using Wonder Trade, and battling others.

Even the Twitch Plays Pokémon fad was a glorious 16 days.

And considering I never spent a dime on Pokémon Go, I can’t complain about the hours of enjoyment I had.

Game on,
~Dennis

What’s worse: Beating up Anita Sarkeesian or Donald Trump in a game?

In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian became an internet icon and firebrand following the success of her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games Kickstarter campaign. Soon after, Sarkeesian became the the target of repeated online harassment, becoming one of the centers of hate in the #GamerGate community.

Sarkeesian has been very open about sharing examples of the toxic hate she’s received, even to the present day. One of the early attacks took the form of an online game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” (this article contains screenshots of said game). The game allowed people to beat up a photo of Sarkeesian: the more beatings, the more her face got bloodied and bruised.

Many supporters of Sarkeesian rightfully pointed out how vile such a game was. While I may disagree with some of Sarkeesian’s analyses (see past posts), I don’t condone any of the harassment she’s experienced online. I’m sure she’s very nice in person and I’d probably have a great time playing Mario Kart 8 with her on the couch.

While many people condemned Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, I wondered recently: would those same people condemn “Beat Up Donald Trump” games?

Beat Up Donald Trump

Several of these games exist online. For example, Silvergames.com has “Beat Up Trump” and Unblocked Games Beast has “Punch The Trump“. Now, I’m not sure where these games originated or who made them. Both of these games appear on many different websites: Beat Up Trump even appears on a site specifically targeting girls: Girls Go Games!

Beat Up Donald Trump screenshot

Opening of Beat Up Trump

Hitting Trump with a flaming bottle in Beat Up Donald Trump

The player clicks on various weapons on the left, which assault Trump. There’s not much of a “game” here.

Donald Trump hate is rampant right now, for obvious reasons. I’m not here to discuss the politics of Trump or any other presidential candidate. I’m just making some observations. Games like Beat Up Trump fit into the same category as Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, and yet I’ve heard no condemnation from anybody.

In fact, on the site Girls Go Games, most of the commenters gleefully supported the game. Examples include:

  • HE DESERVES IT!
  • i love this game!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I’m crying… OF JOY
  • This is so beautiful
  • I HATE TRUMP!!!!!!!!!! 😄
  • DIE, TRUMP! DIEEEE!

In this mess of comments, a couple people thankfully thought the game went too far. One person wrote “i dont like him but this is pretty harsh he is just a person.”

He is just a person

For all of Trump’s bluster, for all of his money, for all of his privilege, he’s human just like everybody else. Despite being a 70-year-old man with a ton of experience in the public eye, it’s been clear this campaign season that Trump gets emotionally hurt by attacks and criticisms. I’m not sure why that is: I’m not in a position to psychoanalyze him.

Policy and rhetoric critiques aside, think of how many people bully Trump over his age, his “small” hands, his orange skin color, his hair. I’m almost certain that whenever Jimmy Fallon impersonates Trump he puts on orange face: but that’s okay, because Trump is white and deserves the ridicule, right?

I conducted numerous searches to see if anybody had written any op-eds critical of people who bully Trump based on his physical appearance. Such articles exist, but they are few and far in between. In fact, most of the articles that come up are about Trump insulting other people, and how he wrongly engages in personal attacks in excess.

He deserves all the criticism

The crux of these observations, then, hinge on Trump’s general unlikeability to many people. Because Trump is a billionaire, white, male, straight, and because he attacks others on a daily basis, people feel justified and confident in levying personal attacks against him. A game like Beat Up Trump is seen as par for the course. I imagine most people wouldn’t have a problem with the game. The reasoning might go: “Trump attacks everybody else. People are right to attack him back!”

And maybe so. Again, I’m not here to defend or critique Trump, and I’m not writing an apology of his personal attacks against others.

Punch Donald Trump screenshot

Punch The Trump is a fairly simple boxing game.

Punch The Trump screenshot

As the game progresses, Trump gets visibly injured.

All I’m pointing out is this: when the Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game made its rounds, many people saw it as sexist harassment. Journalists in the gaming press condemned it. The visuals of Sarkeesian’s bruised and bloodied face are so striking they still appear in articles about online bullying.

Such a game was obviously wrong to create, and if I was in Sarkeesian’s shoes, and somebody made such a game about me, I would be upset as well.

Where’s the outrage, then, when the exact same type of games are made for Trump? Honestly, I’m only focusing on Trump in this article to be provocative: some people do feel justified in hating him. Pick any celebrity you want: thousands of these games exist online, all free to play and easily accessible. Why were feminists enraged at the Sarkeesian game but are mum on the Trump games?

Some might argue that these games are harmless fun: the creator of Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian saw nothing wrong with his game. I’m not suggesting that anybody who plays these games will have any lasting detrimental effects: after all, I played these Trump games in research for this post!

I’m just not sure it’s good for our souls to spend even a few minutes playing games that demonize and torture real people. Whether you are a gamer who hates Sarkeesian, or a liberal who hates Trump, or an American who hates Osama bin Laden (dozens of “the best” anti-Osama games can be found on Newgrounds), can we agree not to play these games?

People are people, created and loved by God, despite any and all sins we’ve committed. Disagreeing with people’s ideas, even intensely, is sometimes necessary. Punishment is sometimes necessary for actual criminals. But why poison your mind by engaging in virtual torture of real people with real souls?

Game on,
~Dennis

A Common Sense 5-point Movie Rating System

Media products can be rated a thousand different ways. Every entertainment outlet has their own system, but most are some form of 5-point system, letter grades, or percentages out of 100.

Assigning a number to a media product is all well and good: everything can be numerated in some way. However, many rating systems are quite opaque as far as what these numbers mean. On some level, they reduce art to a single number that, if you think too hard about, is near meaningless.

A few years ago I created my own 5-point rating system for movies and television shows, and whenever I finish watching something, I can easily fit the product into a system that makes sense to me.

I thought I’d share it because maybe you, too, will find it helpful.

The 5-point system

The system goes from 0-5 in 0.5 increments, resulting in 11 steps. There’s also a 12th step, number 6, which is used in one special case. Let me list the ratings, plus a brief descriptor, before explaining what the steps mean.

0: Unrated

0.5: Dangerous Content

1.0: Offensive Content

1.5: Bad Plot, Bad Production

2: Bad Plot, Decent Production

2.5: Catch on TV

3: Watch Once

3.5: Watch a Second Time with a Friend

4: Own

4.5: Near Perfect

5: Live Your Life By

6: Watch for the Rest of Your Life

2.5, 3, and 3.5 Ratings

Let’s start at the middle of the scale, work our way up, then work our way down.

Movies and shows with a rating of 3 are only worth watching one time. These might be shows you watch because you want to see what the hype is all about, or you are somewhat interested in the premise. I would put a lot of superhero movies in this category: The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Once I’ve seen these movies, I really have no desire to see them again. They provide a couple hours of entertainment but don’t stick with me.

Shows rated 3.5 are those that you’d watch a second time, primarily with another person. For example, I’ve seen most of the Twilight movies (I also read all the books). They aren’t great movies, by any means. They were worth watching once. However, if I had a friend who really wanted to see them, or was really passionate about them, I could stomach watching them a second time.

Watching them with somebody is the crucial distinction between 3 and 3.5. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see 3.5 movies again: they essentially function as 3 movies. But I would watch them again with somebody, not because I care about the movie or show all that much, but because I care about the friend and would want to participate in something that makes them happy.

2.5 movies and shows are those that you’d watch if you were flipping through the TV and happened to catch a rebroadcast of them. Maybe you’re home sick, or you’re in the hospital, or you have half an hour to kill at the hotel before meeting up with friends. These are movies or shows that you watch here and there, but don’t actively seek them out.

For example, I’ve watched a fair amount of Teen Titans Go on Cartoon Network over the years. The show has its funny moments, but I’m not drawn into the concept enough to actually seek out broadcasts of new episodes, and it’s certainly not a show I would buy.

A lot of action movies work best as 2.5 movies. Do you have any movies in your life that you’ve seen bits and pieces of on cable over the years, but you’ve never actually seen the beginning? A lot of 80s action movies fit this categorization for me.

4, 4.5, and 5 Ratings

Movies and shows with a rating of 4 are worth owning. You buy the DVDs or Blu-Rays, and you watch them over and over. They are shows that you’d like to see again whether by yourself or with another person.

Shows rated 5 are those that you live your life by. In other words, these are shows that inspire you, that change who you are on the inside. They are the shows that fill your head at night, the shows with universes you want to live in.

When it comes to anime, I own a lot of 5 rated shows: Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Legend of Korra, ThunderCats (2011), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), and so on. For movies, the series that have changed me are Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and the Matrix. I’ve very picky with what shows and movies I watch because ideally I only want to watch shows that I’d rate 5.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. That’s what the 4.5 rating is for. 4.5 shows are nearly perfect, you own them and rewatch them, and there are parts that influence your life. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (yes, even the third one!) fit this category for me, as do the Bourne movies. I can’t say these series are perfect, as they have some flaws, but these movies still inspire me.

0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, and 2 Ratings

So far, we’ve covered ratings for great movies and shows (4-5) and ratings for shows that are okay and watchable (2.5-3.5). The bottom 4 ratings (forgoing 0) are reserved for Bad shows.

A movie or show with a rating of 2 is one that you finish (or not) and have nothing really good to say about it. Generally these movies fail because of plot and lack of impact or emotional stakes. However, these movies are not necessarily technically bad.

For example, I rate the G.I.Joe reboot movies, and the Michael Bay Transformers movies, 2. They just aren’t good movies. Dull, forgettable, uninspired, insipid. They were, however, made competently: and lots of money went into the special effects. But all of those special effects can’t change the fact that the cores of these movies are forgettable.

1.5 movies and shows feature both bad plots and bad production. These are the kinds of movies that are painful to watch because there really is no redeeming quality to them. These are the type of shows that some people call “so bad they’re good,” or they are the kind of shows that people “hate-watch.” Frankly, I can’t stomach movies that are “so bad they’re good.” I understand the entertainment value only in a theoretical sense: actually trying to watch these movies is a mental chore that I cannot complete.

Movies and shows with a 1 rating are those that are worse than bad: they are offensive. Now, I’m not talking about movies with the occasional off-color joke, or a sitcom that uses racial humor a bit too much. An infrequent lapse of editorial judgment and discretion might knock a 3.5 movie down to a 3 or even 2.5 rating, but isn’t enough to doom a movie.

Rather, I’m talking about those movies and shows that are offensive throughout. The premise is offensive, and the movie or show makes you angry when you watch it. You could be offended for a variety of reasons: take your pick.

I have seen very few 1 rating shows over the years: these are the kind of shows I actively avoid. But sometimes I see one. I’m thinking of a movie like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version). While many people believed that movie had something to say about violence against women, to me, the movie reveled in torture porn. All it did was point out that women experience sexual violence: no big headline there. The camera lingered on the violence for entertainment reasons, not for story reasons. And the turn in Lisbeth Salander to ruthless revenge wasn’t redeeming or cathartic; it was sad and misguided.

0.5 movies and shows, then, are those that go a bit beyond on the offensiveness scale. These are shows that are actually dangerous for people to watch because their messages are so toxic and vile that it makes you wonder why these shows got made in the first place. Not that everybody who sees such entertainment is going to turn into a deranged person. Rather, these are the kinds of shows that don’t do anything to better the lives of people who see them.

I’ve saved the 0 rating till now because it’s not really a rating: for me, 0 is equivalent to a non-rating. Shows that get 0 ratings are things like documentaries and the nightly news. It doesn’t make sense to rate them because you watch them for reasons other than entertainment.

The 6 Rating

I have one last rating, the 6. Originally when I created the 5 rating, I realized that I rate many shows and movies as 5: there’s just too much good stuff that’s inspired my life! However, if I had to select the cream of the crop, the absolute most influential show or movie, then I rate it a 6. There’s no 5.5: there’s a whole point difference between 5 and 6 to emphasize that a show rated a 6 is substantially better than anything rated 5.

I rate Avatar: The Last Airbender a 6. I fell in love with this show when I first saw it in 2009 and I’ve loved it ever since. If I could only watch one show or movie for the rest of my life, this would be it. This show is beyond perfect: it’s transcendent.

If you have a 6-rated show or movie, please share it with me! The 6 spot shouldn’t change frequently. 6-rated shows are those that are influential not only because of the plot, message, and so on, but it’s influential because of where you were at in your life when you first encountered the work. Many people have shows that they encountered at just the right time in their lives, shows that changed their destiny.

Avatar is that show for me.

That’s my rating system! It makes sense to me, and if it makes sense to you, all the better.

Best,
~Dennis