My New Favourite Podcast: The Internet History Podcast

I’ve recently had the pleasure of following along with the Internet History Podcast, a project by Brian McCullough who is the founder of

Technology moves so fast that I often think we don’t spend enough time reflecting on how we got here. What I love most about the podcast is it helps establish a lot of the context around the web that we take for granted today.

Often, guests in the podcast share the behind-the-scenes stories, challenges, and perspective that led to their projects and how different the web (as an evolving medium) used to be.

In a recent podcast with Barry Glick, who was the CEO of MapQuest:

.. we got a real sense of the background that led Barry to develop the revolution that is MapQuest.  In the interview, he described much of his background that influenced him.  Even as a child he was obsessed with maps.  After studying Geography and then getting a Masters in City Planning, he eventually started taking an interest in computers, as he describes:

During that time, I spent a lot of time in something that was relatively new called computer graphics. And I always thought that, hey, this is perfect for mapping, obviously … the graphical aspect of it to automate it, or digitize it.  So, you know I took a large number of computer science classes as well as my geography classes.  So, I was hoping I could do something that somehow brought those two together and I was lucky enough to be able to do that.  So, I started out in kind of the first step of an academic career – decided that that was not gonna be be the direction I wanted to go … and was entrepreneurial [and as a result] started out working for a small company, and then started one of my own.

In this interview, we got a real sense of the passion he had for mapping, his dedication to building a world-changing company, and even the serendipity – or, “luck”- as he describes it in his career.

Brian, the host of the program, also probed him about fascinating developments such as the rise of PDA’s, the eventual adoption of consumer GPS (or Personal Navigation), and the challenges he faced in his career.

You can tell that Brian is passionate and knowledgeable about the Internet History topic and leads interviews with his guests masterfully to both challenge and learn from them.  It is truly insightful and honest discussion.

If you have a moment, I highly suggest you check out and subscribe to the Internet History Podcast.  You’ll enjoy the nostalgia, insight, and reflection … it will soon become your favourite part of the week!


MapQuest Startup Evolution on Startup Timelines

In Defense of Product Hunt

The recent threads from HN, in my opinion, have been particularly harsh towards the Product Hunt website and especially its founder – Ryan Hoover.  Although I am just a user of the site, I have grown to truly enjoy visiting it on a daily basis – I have the Product Hunt tab open all of the time on my browser.  Here’s some key experiences I’ve had from the site that much of the existing criticism ignores:

How can you forget about the Product Hunt community itself?
It’s easy to forget how much value the community draws from exchanges amongst itself.  I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be a part of the original Product Hunt Slack Book group.  It was refreshing to intimately discuss startup related books with other users who visited the PH site.  I even remember when Eric Ries (among other notable authors) dropped by for an AMA and we got to chat with him in a very personal way just simply in the Slack channel.  This has now evolved into a dedicated books category and “live chat” section with even more enhanced capabilities.

PH also has hundreds of self-organized meetups from all over the globe.  This summer, I had a chance to visit the meetup in Toronto and it was so exciting to chat with the vibrant pool of talented people from around the city that the Product Hunt brand has brought together.  These meaningful interactions are hard to measure, but they definitely revolve around the work the Product Hunt team has been putting in everyday.

Product Hunt is basic technology (it’s just like Reddit or Hacker News)
While the technology is certainly very similar to Reddit or HN, I think it’s worth saying that the community behind Product Hunt is easily one of the most refreshing communities right now on the web – and that’s what makes it valuable and worthwhile.  This type of technology – Product Hunt’s unique community culture – is also hard to replicate and difficult for your typical, “neck beard” type of programmer to understand.

Since it’s invite only and uses Twitter auth, I actually enjoy reading the meaningful, high quality discussion that happens there.  I also like the pool of talented people the team at PH has curated for its community.  Product Hunt’s culture feels open and constructive, whereas many HN comment threads can drown of cynicism.

If you have a moment, take a chance to compare the quality of comments on a Show HN vs. a Product Hunt post.  You’ll be surprised by the vast difference in quality and degree of skepticism.

(btw, at my own site – Startup Timelines, I’ve had the opportunity to follow the product evolution of Product Hunt and I encourage you to see for yourself how the technology/platform is getting better everyday)

Ryan Hoover engages with everyone
When Startup Timelines was featured on PH, I had accidentally untagged myself as a, “maker” on the post and couldn’t add myself in.  Reluctantly, I decided to tweet to Product Hunt and Ryan Hoover to tag me again, and in less then a minute he had responded.  He personally fixed the situation in a few moments.

Another time, I had tweeted him for a random product recommendation, and he had, surprisingly, helped me out then too.  If you’re on Twitter enough, you can see that while Ryan might Tweet to Jason Calacanis every now and then – I can assure you he is connecting with everyone else (like me) all of the rest of the time.

“PH has become a Silicon Valley circlejerk”
I think it’s worth pointing out that I am personally not from the Bay Area, but I actually benefit by hearing about what’s new in SV.  In a different time, I might have complained because I would feel, “left out” but I benefit immensely by getting a chance to stay in the loop.

The Bay Area is where a lot of new startups are being formed – so it’s no surprise that many of the people there post products and comment on stuff.

Also, it’s easy to forget, but users still get to actually upvote on whatever types of products they please that appear on the homepage.  When Startup Timelines got featured, our product placed higher than products by Adobe and Chipotle.  You’d expect these kinds of brands with many employees and massive connections to succeed at PH, but that’s not necessarily the case.  The community can be pretty objective in surfacing a new voice.

Curation vs Algorithms
I think it’s important to recognize that there is an element of curation to PH and the whole community is better off as a result from it.  I like the kinds of products that often appear on the Product Hunt homepage and prefer some type of filter before any kind of product can just be surfaced on the homepage. There is an element of “taste” the PH admins have built into their experience.  While this might be hard to quantify and convert into an algorithm, I think it’s still a critical, human element behind what makes the site great.

Product Hunt helps ordinary people get exposure
I’ve already written about how the exposure from Product Hunt has helped Startup Timelines, but I think it’s worth noting how many startups in aggregate it has probably helped out immensely by now.  Although I had planned to submit it to PH after a first round of feedback and improvements from Hacker News, it was so exciting to see it get featured on the site.

I want to emphasize that Product Hunt can be such a valuable tool to the startup community – it can be a great source of getting some initial attention and growing from there.

Five Unexpected Startups from the Current YC Batch

For those who don’t know, today was day 1 of 2 of Ycombinator’s Demo Day event – where YC showcases some of the companies currently in its Summer 2015 (S15) program.

Although I did not personally attend the event, as a part of a special collection on Startup Timelines, I’ve been following many of these companies throughout the summer as YC has been announcing them on their blog.

Some of these companies are doing really exciting things – it’s great to see YC support such unique companies that might not have been funded elsewhere by close-minded, traditional investors. These companies are really refreshing compared to the usual types of startups you might see elsewhere.  Here are five companies which I have personally found interesting:

  1. Wheelys Café
    This startup offers franchises of a, “café on a bike”.  I found this startup interesting because it goes against the current phase of trendy, brick-and-mortar coffee shops.  I also like that I would have never, ever, guessed YC would back such a unique idea in the food and beverage industry.

  2. Nebia
    Nebia sells a shower head that uses a lot less water and offers a superior experience.  This startup is already backed by investors like Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

  3. L. Condoms
    This company sells high-quality condoms without, “harmful additives”.  For every condom purchased, another is donated to someone in a developing country in need.  The company has also started offering delivery of condoms to people’s doors in under an hour.

  4. Luna
    Luna is a smart, mattress cover.  This product makes any bed smart and tracks your sleep patterns.

  5. Scentbird
    Scentbird is a subscription service for luxury perfumes.  It ships 30-day supplies of designer perfumes and is powered by 500,000 authentic perfume reviews.

  6. Shred Video (bonus)
    This startup allows users to take footage from their iPhone, GoPro, or drone and simply match it with a song from their iTunes library – the video is then automatically edited by the service.  It can save people from having to edit out hours of video footage down to 1-click video editing.

If you’d like to see more startups from the current S15 batch, visit the Startup Timelines website, this collection uniquely draws upon content from the Internet Archive to show you the evolution of many of these startups over time.


Startup Timelines – Project Performance

Hi guys!

On Monday morning, I shipped some code on GitHub for a project I had been working on called, “Startup Timelines“.  I made a brief post on Hacker News about it and then left my computer for a few hours.  By late afternoon, the project was on the Hacker News homepage and someone else had even submitted it to Product Hunt.

Honestly, I never expected it to get any serious level of attention, besides being a portfolio piece for my GitHub account.

Hacker News and Product Hunt Performance
The post got 106 points on Hacker News:

106 points

The project also ended up getting 225 points on Product Hunt:

Startup Timelines ended up getting the sixth highest position for that day! Surprisingly, it even ended up beating established brands like Adobe and Chipotle.Startup Timelines - Product Hunt Performance
Social Performance
As of right now, the project continues to achieve significant social performance as well, here’s a screenshot below:

Social Performance - Startup Timelines

It was exciting to see a Venture Capital Partner at Kleiner Perkins even Tweet about it.  Instacart itself also tweeted it!

Analytics Results
Every once in a while, it’s nice to work on projects that aren’t commercially based.  As a result, I’m very excited to share the traffic breakdown directly from my Google Analtyics reporting:
Startup Timelines - Traffic Performance
In its first two days, the campaign had hit close to 18.5K Pageviews, which is unbelievable.

Here’s the traffic breakdown:
startuptimelines_Google Analytics2

Closing Thoughts
Thank you again to all of the friends, family, and campaign supporters.  I hope that we have been able to draw attention to the significant value created by the Internet Archive.  Again, please consider donating.  It was great to share this content experience with a wide audience.

I also really wanted to give a shout out to the Product Hunt community, which has been so welcoming and supportive.  It definitely provided the lift behind the campaign and got it in front of some key Silicon Valley influencers.

The project is available in full on GitHub, I have also open sourced my background research here.  Until next time!

Update: August 2015
The # of pageviews by the end of April ended up being ~ 21K with 12.5K user visits.  Social media shares (especially on Twitter) ended up hitting close to 1,000+ before I moved the site over to its own domain name.

Book Review: Learning with Big Data

Big data, sample image

Recently, I had the opportunity to pick up a copy of Learning with Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.  The book is one of many in a series on the topic of big data.  In a convenient, bite sized format, it serves as a fantastic introduction on how data/analytics can improve our education systems.  Mainly, the authors explain what big data is and outline its benefits. The book also talks about other developments in the ed tech space, such as MOOC’s (Massively Open Online Courses) and how they can integrate with our data learning systems.

I like that this book included many concrete examples and can appeal to anyone involved in our schools today.  I’m convinced teachers, technology administrators, trustees, board members, professors, parents, entrepreneurs, and students can pick up this book out of the blue, read it in one sitting, and walk away with a refined view on the many possibilities for our schooling environments.

Besides enjoying it, I’ve always felt the world has needed this book.  There are already a lot of misconceptions around big data and its possibilities. So, it’s nice to read a book that can explain the breadth of these opportunities for today and for the immediate future, without any overreaching promises.

I like that the book also raised the critical ethical concerns surrounding data analysis and collection in our school systems and the problems we might face in the near future.  Recently, I was at a meet up on child privacy, where similar questions were raised by the presenter.  It was interesting to hear these same concerns echoed by a CIO for a school board, who was a member of the audience.  It’s nice to see that the author has chosen to cover this topic as I can now pass his book off with confidence to members of the ed tech community at large.

In short, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about how data can help engage their students, improve their teaching methods, and fundamentally challenge the way we look at education.

Growth 101: Four Benefits Of Email Marketing Your Startup Has to Know About

When it comes to taking on the giants, your greatest weapon is to provide the exceptional customer service your competitors often forget about.  With email marketing, you’ll be able to do just that.  You’ll engage with each of your customers like never before, craft messaging you know your audience will love, and steal the market share your firm deserves.  Email marketing is an essential tool in the arsenal of startup growth.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with a close friend who was thinking about expanding his firm’s marketing activities.  While he was basically asking me for a reliable email delivery tool, I felt he was just scratching the surface of what’s possible with email marketing.

Email marketing is a lot more than just an easy way to distribute your organizational newsletter, which was the use case scenario he had in mind.

Email marketing opens up a whole world of possibilities for all organizations.  It serves as a channel for higher, more intimate level of interaction with your customers and stakeholders.  My experience with email marketing tools has always led to better interactions, relationships, and profits that have paid for the tools themselves several times over.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many other startup founders and organizational leaders weren’t aware of the many benefits of email marketing, so I have outlined some of them below:

Testing and eventually crystallizing your firm’s messages

Besides sending out your emails, email marketing tools allow you to track when a specific customer opens up any of your emails.  You can also insert personalized links into your emails to see which pages each of your customers took the time to check out.

With a nice overview, you can compile the data and see right away which of your emails your customers as a whole took interest in.  Eventually, you can try out different subject lines as well as content messages and gauge how your customers react.  This allows you to shape your future email campaigns in ways you know your customers will love.

It’s common practice to send each of your emails campaigns first to a small fraction of your audience.  You can test out different subject lines and content messages you think could work.  Then, you can send the refined email draft to your entire campaign list knowing it has become more effective.

If you have a sales force, it helps to show them the data from email campaign testing because it can help them understand your customers’ core needs better.

Smoking out engaged prospects

By combining automation tools like Hubspot or Marketo, as well as email marketing tools, you can begin to narrow down which of your subscribers are truly engaged with your firm’s messages. Hubspot would let you track each visitor’s interest in your website such as how much time they might have spent on it as well as which pages (like pricing, perhaps) they might have checked out.  At the same time, Hubspot could also integrate with your email marketing tool and be able to tell if a customer is opening your email messaging and checking out its content in greater detail.  It could also collaborate with your social media accounts, webinars, and other marketing tools to get a bigger picture understanding.

Eventually, it can mark the customer leads that are taking a particular interest in your company’s messaging and detail which aspects of your campaigns are appealing to them.

You can then share these hot leads with your sales force and they can begin crafting their account strategy to win over the client.

A tighter bond between your product and your customers

With transactional email marketing tools like Mandrill or Sendwithus, you can integrate email into your products like never before.  Recently, I was trying out a web scraping product called, after tampering with it for a few minutes, I just could not get it to work.  After a brief cold period where I had closed the product and had begun searching for alternatives, I was blown away when I received an email from one of their support staff.  Here’s a snapshot below:

In essence, they had built their product to smoke out the leads that might have run into some common pitfalls or just could not get the product to work.  Their product would then shoot out an automated email through some type of email transactional tool, to let me know there is support available if I need it.

In essence, with transactional email marketing tools, you can send out emails to your customers based on how they interact with or experience your product and appeal to them in more engaging ways.

There are many creative ways to engage your customers with transactional emails, a lot of these ways can amplify your product’s bottom line by huge margins.

Creating a real engine of growth

Through email marketing and eventually marketing automation tools, you can segment your customers based on their level of engagement with your brand’s messaging.  You might put customers who are not really engaged into what’s called a, “drip campaign” and send them infrequent messaging every now and then to keep them interested in your brand.  You might try the occasional, special, limited time offer to pull them back into your product.  You might notice some visitors are almost over the fence and are close to becoming customers, in which case, you’ll send them targeted messaging you think will convert them.

You’ll begin to put your customers through what’s known as a, “marketing funnel” and begin fine tuning/crystallizing your firm’s process of converting prospects into satisfied customers.

Through email marketing, you can develop a finely tuned marketing machine that fuels your bottom line.  Email marketing is an indispensable tool for firms of all sizes and the possibilities it has to grow your brand are endless.

Speaking of email marketing, please feel free to subscribe to The David x Goliath email list to keep up with my latest postings.

The Sunday Night Hustle: Your bed is not a desk space

Night time picture

Since when did you have so much to do moments before falling asleep?  Besides checking your favourite sites and apps, you might:

  • Shoot out some emails
  • Look up a new topic you didn’t have time for during the day
  • Jot down a quick idea/note
  • Write down stuff in your calendar for the next day

In one case, a close friend of mine would chat online for hours with his girlfriend late into every night, until he fell asleep.  However, sometimes they would be talking about tough relationship stuff.  So, I don’t think he really got any sleep at all.

Like many others, I used to sleep beside my phone while it would charge at night.  It’s nice to check your phone uninterrupted in those last few moments of solitude in the day, but I found that it was ruining my abilities to sleep well.  Here’s how I overcame this habit, got better sleep, and became more productive.

Your Bed is Not a Desk Space

Your bed is not a desk space.  So stop looking stuff up that you didn’t have time for during the day and stop answering your emails.

Move your phone away from your bed and get some shut eye

It’s a super common solution: I moved my charger away from my bed, on the other side of the room. This requires me to get out of bed and walk over in order to check anything on my phone.

I made a promise to myself: unless it’s a call, I will not be getting up to check my phone at night.  This means the phone is on silent and I am ignoring all notifications, texts, and emails.  It took a bit of self-discipline, but as soon as I started sleeping better and felt refreshed, it became effortless.

Learn to Wait Until Tomorrow
Protect your sleep time.  Most things aren’t super pressing or require your immediate attention. If something crosses your mind as you’re about to fall asleep, learn to take a mental note and simply wait until the morning.

But, what about my alarm app?
The only time I actually get up to check my phone, is when my alarm app goes off the next day.  Before when I used to sleep beside my phone, I’d have to set up multiple alarms because they were so easy to turn off. Now, I only need to set one alarm since I need to physically get up and walk across the room to turn my alarm off.

But, what if I want to check my phone anyways before I call it a night?
I felt the same way as well.  As a result, I setup a specific reading area away from my bed where I sit comfortably and quickly check any last minute apps/sites.  I’ve attached a picture below:

This is my designated area to check out any last minute updates.  Afterwards, my phone is in the charger and no longer on my mind for the rest of the night.

So, what’s it like, anyways?
I’ve never slept better and I’ve never felt so energized the next day.  The truth is, I missed the solitude, time to reflect, and opportunity to crystallize my thoughts.  It’s nice to separate yourself from the outside world and reclaim the time that once belonged entirely to you.

Often, the battle is won before the war.  In, The Sunday Night Hustle segment, Bakz Awan provides tips for improving productivity and mentally preparing for the upcoming work week.  Subscribe today.

Free Software is a Tough Sell

I personally believe there is a huge gap between the open-source coding communities and regular computer users that must be mediated. The systems to clearly explain what open source is to friends, do not exist and I feel like members of open source communities overall have done very little to outline the benefits of the open source ideology to the general public.

Let’s face it: if you’re a nerd, you probably think open source software is great. While open source licensing for a product can vary, open source software is free, generally more secure, and support is usually available through community forums. The great thing about some open source projects is that they are disassociated from commercial interests and the decisions being made for a product are considered best for the application, instead of the shareholders. To top it off, if you’re an even bigger fan of open source, you can contribute your own code to a project, write manuals, learn from the code, fix bugs, construct a modification to extend functionality, or assist struggling members within the community.

The sad part is, a lot of non tech-savvy users take advantage of the open source mindset everyday without even knowing it. They experience the benefits of open source directly through common open source projects such as VLC media player, Firefox, Thunderbird, the Android operating system, or even Open Office. These applications are used by millions of users everyday, with several of these users not even knowing about the open source ideas which made these products possible to begin with.

I usually have no difficulty in finding an open source alternative to the software I want and often find better alternatives compared to closed source solutions. I’m very pleased with the diversity and quality of open source applications available, but trouble arises when I explain what open source is to my non-computer savvy friends.

Whenever I explain the difference between an open source application and a closed source application, my non-tech savvy friends say things like, “oh, its free? It must really suck” or “open-source software? Sounds too nerdy for me” or even, “it’s free? It must be so hard to use. Other common responses include, “will it give me, like, a virus? Is it glitchy? So, who writes all these open source applications? Adobe? Apple?”. More often than not, I find myself bombarded with these questions and I don’t know where to start, or what to say. By the time I have fully fielded all of their questions, the idea of it seems too skeptical for ordinary users and my explanations get too advanced for them to understand.

I think the root of the issue is that, as a coder, I find myself more personally attached to the idea of open source, to the point that it’s almost too internalized and intuitive to explain; and frankly, a cut-and-paste definition from Wikipedia or of open source doesn’t cut it. It isn’t just a word; it’s an ideology. It really is hard to explain what open source is to individuals of varying and especially lower levels of computer experience.

The root of the issue also lies in the fact that open source really is too good to be true, so I don’t blame my friends for being skeptical. When you list the advantages of open source (free, more secure, community-driven), it’s almost overbearing; but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. At the heart of its benefits, open source is generally free. As a marketing student, one aspect of psychological pricing includes the idea that a cheap product is automatically considered to be of poor quality; thus, when high quality software is given, especially for free, one assumes it must be terribly written code.

I think the open source communities need to collaborate on publicly addressing such levels of skepticism. I’m not, in any way, saying we should discontinue closed-source applications but I think innovation overall could benefit from greater awareness of the open-source mindset.

Put quite simply, if coders and open source community members spent more time collaborating on how to spread the mindset of open source in a meaningful, simple, and powerful way we’d have more members contributing to open source projects. Open source documentation, tutorials, funding, and coding would experience the benefits of multiple perspectives, more volunteers, and greater accessibility. We’d have more thriving project communities and the general public would appreciate the value/impact of open source and realize that there is something within the ideology itself worth talking about.  I, for one, truly believe there is.

Confessions of a Non Gamer: How Spec Ops 2 taught me to appreciate gaming

In all honesty, I don’t enjoy video games.  Mind you, I don’t hate them.  I know they’re considered the epitome of art, technology, and story telling.  I also recognize that it’s a multi billion dollar industry.  In an effort to get hooked, I’ve tried a multitude of games on my own and with friends.  I’ve just never been into them.

The reality is that you’d, “expect” a guy like me to be interested in them.  After all, I fit the demographic.  I’m in my 20’s, I’m a male, and have a strong interest in media and technology.  I grew up with all the same consoles and have siblings who game passionately.  So the heart of the question is: what holds me back?

As a side note, yes, guys like me actually exist in the world.  We’re rolling our eyes when the topic shifts to games. We’re, “button mashing” and trying to act cool when we know we’re embarrassing ourselves.  We’re also missing character/plot references left and right in everyday conversation and reading news headlines about the gaming industry with no idea what all the fuss is about.

I’ve never seen gaming as uncivilized or some kind of nerdy activity.  In fact, I see it as a phenomenal past time for all ages. I see it as a celebration of our humanity. An ability to dream, imagine, and push the boundaries of art and technology.  In short, I don’t look down on gamers or see them as nerds.

You could make the argument that maybe I’m just bad at gaming and that’s why I don’t enjoy them.  I couldn’t argue with that, even when it comes to using a game controller properly, my experience is lacking.  Perhaps there is a learning curve in gaming at first and it just becomes enjoyable after that point.  However, I’ve never really had that drive that other gamers have to make it past such a learn learning curve, solve a level, or complete a game.

I’d like to draw a comparison. In the same way people don’t have an interest in swimming, or extreme sports, or chess, I just don’t have an interest in gaming.

Despite this lack of interest in gaming, just recently, a friend insisted I try out the Spec. Ops. 2 – The Line game. While I was reluctant to take part, he insisted I try it out for him.  I’d like to take this opportunity to share my experience as I worked through the game.  While I can admit I’m still not hooked on gaming, I hope that an outside perspective can provide a refreshing review for such a phenomenal game.

In the spec ops game, I was, naturally, part of a special operations team sent to rescue captives in the post-catastrophic wastelands of Dubai. The Special Forces team arrives with little idea of the events that took place prior to the catastrophe.  The team has to piece together the events that happened as the story progresses.  Having close friends caught in the middle of this disaster, the main character has an emotional connection to rescue the captives involved.  I played the game at novice level and my friend got me through the more difficult parts.

A key takeaway from this game I found was the thought of, “what, exactly, is going on”?  During the game, you end up deeply questioning exactly whose side you represent. While you’re wearing a US army uniform and navigate through challenges with other members in your team, you often find the enemy itself is wearing that same uniform or perhaps, even used to serve with you.  You end up questioning what a casualty even looks like or who it is that you should rescue.  At the beginning of the mission, my general motive was to save every person wearing the same US army uniform, but towards the end of the mission, I was regretting such a thing.  As a character, I had to come to terms with what my former army colleagues had done.  As the gamer, I was overwhelmed with confusion and difficult, straining emotions.

For the first time ever, I found I was feeling a unique kind of empathy I’d never felt before with other kinds of media.  I had come to the realization: do actual Special Forces teams ever feel this alone?  It’s very difficult to piece together key details as they unfold, and identify the culprits and the causalities.  How do actual Special Forces personnel make such tough decisions?  I couldn’t help but feel empathic for some military leaders – a thought that had never occurred to me before.  It would be very difficult to detail my decision making process as a leader for this team to a court or military tribunal.  I found these thoughts led to a unique kind of empathy I had never experienced before.  Having been inside the main character’s mindset, making decisions for him, and learning key details as the mission unfolded I couldn’t help but relate to the character and the difficulty of his job.  At the same time, I grew to appreciate the art of gaming.

A key part of the game involved being held at gun point and having to choose between saving a fellow soldier or a civilian, both were accused of wrongdoings.  Immediately, I found myself siding with the soldier, only because we were from the same background and were wearing the same US army uniform.  I killed the civilian right away.

Another key part of the game is when you’re given the option to use chemical warfare to increase your chances of meeting mission objectives.  I used it without thinking twice and later found out they were all innocent civilians.

These decisions I made, which made sense to me during the mission, created a stain in the back of my mind and I couldn’t help but wonder: what could I have done instead?

Clearly, my choices within the game said a lot about me as a person.  Chances are, if I was brought into a Special Forces unit, I would make similar decisions.  Does this make me a bad guy?  I had found it difficult to explain my actions to others later on and felt a kind of guilt I’d never felt before over making such calls.  I felt this was a unique experience you could only get with gaming.

In summary, I’m glad my friend had shown me the game. Since I was left thinking about these kinds of questions, this clearly meant the game had gotten under my skin.  Notably, I hadn’t experienced this with any other form of media before in my life.  While I don’t think I’ll become hooked on games simply because I’m not in the habit, I have a greater respect for gamers now.  I can see where they are coming from, and can truly understand what it means to experience a game.

I’ve learned that gaming places individuals within situations like no other form of media.  It isn’t really just graphics and technical achievement which make a game great. I’ve found that the beauty of a game overall is the craft of the experience itself.  Placing the audience in unique situations, cornering them to make tough decisions, bringing out their raw identities, and emphasizing the consequences of all of their choices – making the best experience possible – is the true craft behind game development.

I would highly recommend to any of my non-gamer friends out there to at least try out the Spec Ops game and to sit through most of it with an experienced gamer friend who can offer valuable feedback and perhaps even navigate you through the challenging parts.  If you chunk out an evening, you can get through most of the game.  Even if you don’t end up getting hooked on games, at the end of the day, you will at least have walked away with a refined perspective on where gamers are coming from, much like I have.