Sticks & Stones

I played with sticks when I was a kid, and I’ll even admit to playing with sticks when I was a teenager, and yes I’ll go you one further and say I still like to play with sticks. Growing up in rural Arkansas meant that I was surrounded by woods, and though my brother and I had plenty of the usual kinds of “boy’s toys” like GI Joe action figures, Star Wars, and those wooden musket cap guns, we loved to make our own toys with sticks. We’d head out into the forest and find a handful of awesome sticks of various sizes and weights, though we’d always be sure to get sturdy ones. Then we’d take them back home, get out the duct tape, and start crafting some seriously wicked stuff. When we’d visit New Mexico my grandfather would take us into the woodshop and help us build extra-sturdy wooden swords, axes, and whatever other bizzare weapons our imaginations could come up with.

As I got older this fascination with “sticks” was tempered by the desire to create things that had a more real-life functionality to them. This was right about the time I met Ryan Loyd, a fellow stick lover and maker-of-things. Nothing like a full workshop and the desire to create legitimate weapons to give rise to some of the more wicked ‘murder sticks’ that I think have ever been hefted by folks in the modern world.

This leads me to my current fascination with the video game “Dead Island”… now I know that its a game that has been around for awhile. I’m usually late to the party when it comes to video games, having grown up without them (beyond Aztec Challenge on the Commodore 64) and going straight into Playstation 3 ownership. I know its an older game, but I’m loving it. Not only is Dead Island a ‘zombie survival’ video game, which means is perfect for my tastes in media, but the use of firearms in the game is extremely limited.

The characters are on the island of Banoi in Papa New Guinea, so there just aren’t guns readily available for average people, so the game focuses on hand-to-hand and melee combat. Since we (sadly) do not live in a world where people carrying swords is a normal thing, the characters have to scrounge for whatever they can find and make their own weapons. Characters can find lead pipes, pool sticks, boat paddles, baseball bats, diving knives, hammers, wrenches, machetes, and yes (since its a video game) the occasional mace (but at least they make them look like the cheap versions you can buy at BudK). Then there are ‘workbenches’ where you can customize your weapons.

That’s my favorite part. You can start with a baseball bat, then drive nails through it, then wrap it in barbed wire, then dip it in gasoline… and now you’ve got a flaming bat of DOOM. Or you can take a machete, a large battery, some wires, and duct tape it all together to create a ‘shock machete’. Considering that I’ve been customizing ‘found weapons’ since I was a kid… this game is perfectly tailored to suit my particular tastes.

I am positive that both playing as a child, tinkering as a young man, and now gaming as an adult (all with this custom murder stick enjoyment) has something to do with a deeply buried instinct. When you look at ancient Polynesian cultures (I’m singling them out for having the most awesome customized murder sticks) they did pretty much the same thing that I’ve been doing in play (and in the game) by taking objects in their environment and working them into deadly combinations (turtle shell stabbing gauntlets? yep, they’ve got em). So maybe I’m just staying in touch with a more primitive side of my human self, nothing wrong with that.

Besides, its fun, and I’ll never get caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse without some kind of way to defend myself.

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