Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Power Failures

More than ten years ago, starting with the Cory administration, the Philippines started experiencing regular citywide power failures. It was so rampant that the term "brownout" was given to these erratic and sometimes scheduled blackouts. For a while, it gave rise to the generator industry as people started buying generators for their homes and businesses. Several years later, the power crisis was solved and Filipinos started looking forward to a continuous energy supply. Of course that wasn't the case. Down the line, power failures has become a hallmark of Filipino culture. We've experienced them during Ramos's term, during Erap's term, and even now during Gloria's term. Sometimes, the reasons they come up with can be ridiculous (jellyfishes) but that doesn't change the fact. We've been experiencing blackouts during the Philippine's history. And being a citizen of the Philippines, I can't help but be affected by it.

When I was in grade school, I was a video game fanatic. I'd play Street Fighter all day long and buy the newest games for my Superfamicom console. And then the regular power failures occurred. It's annoying when you finally reach the last stage only to have your game prematurely ended because of a power interruption, to say the least. Or worse, when you'd save a game, that's when the blackout would occur, corrupting the file and making your hours worth of game time unplayable. Video games were also meant to alleviate boredom. When there's no electricity, you can't play them. Thus, you end up being bored and looking for something else to do.

Which is probably why I changed my hobby by the time I reached grade seven. There was a new game out and it didn't require electricity. Everyone was playing it and it quite portable. The game was Magic: The Gathering, the first of what would be the Collectible Card Game (CCG) phenomenon. All you needed was a deck of cards (which were expensively bought) and you could play the game with someone who had a similar deck. Of course you might say it's just like those Vegas card games. Actually, it's not since a lot of strategy is involved: the cards you'd include in your deck, the ratio of cards, the strategy you'd employ. And since there was a continual influx of new cards, new strategies developed. It became so popular that regular tournaments were held. And the best thing about it is that even if there was a power failure, the tournament would go on.

A few years later, power failures soon became nonexistent. People got back to video games and I got back to television. Anime was slowly becoming popular worldwide and with the proliferation of the Internet, I would soon be part of that fandom circle. To me, what made anime different from the rest of the shows is its storyline and diversity. Anime, unlike regular cartoons, can have a continuous storyline. When I think about it, most of the "cartoons" I watched when I was a kid that had "to be continued" endings were mostly anime. Moreover, they weren't limited to shows just for kids. A lot of teenagers and adults were watching anime and it's not because of its wackiness or simple storylines.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had to choose between two hobbies: Magic or anime. On one hand, Magic was something I had gotten into for the past five years. On the other, anime was exciting and had fans from both genders. I chose the latter and it was a good choice since the number of Magic players were declining and it caused the end of a company.

Another hobby that also started to emerge during this time were the multiplayers games for PCs. Before, if you want the best games, you went for consoles like Playstation. Now, PCs were garnering fans of its own, especially in network games. Aside from Doom, Real Time Strategy (RTS) games were being played all over. Warcraft changed the gaming industry and its followers gave rise to a new industry: that of network gaming. A variant of Internet cafes, network gaming involved a bunch of computers linked together so that people could play games against each other. Unlike console games where you usually fought just one other person, network gaming enabled as much as a dozen people to participate. Soon, Red Alert, Rainbow Six, and Diablo were games people were playing at the malls. It was also a good way to bond with others and it wasn't unusual for barkadas to go out one afternoon and play the entire day.

Despite the fact that I didn't have a real barkada or group of friends, I was invited to participate in such events. Mainly because "the more the merrier" was the mentality, and the fact that sometimes, I was needed to fill in that uneven slot (5 vs 6? Come and join us). Still, it was a hobby I enjoyed.

Of course since everyone was playing network games, this made blackouts more noticeable. Everyone would curse and scream in Virramall when the power would go out. The hour's worth of combat was wasted since there was no resolution. Which is probably why Counterstrike became so popular. Unlike the RTS games or the other first-person shoot-em-ups that had long loading times, Counterstrike was quick. You could have a complete game in less than a minute. Thus, if there was a power failure, you'd only miss one game among many. If you were playing a RTS game, a power failure meant that you'd miss your one and only game.

Right now, mobile phones are the trend. Of course the problem with them is the fact that you need to charge their battery time and again, and charging took a few hours. A sudden power failure while charging your phone can significantly decrease your battery's life span. Then again, with all the piracy and smuggling with cellular phones, some people don't care and just buy a new battery altogether. I'm not one of them, so when a power failure occurs, I start cursing the power company, Meralco.

Let's also not forget the current issue wherein Meralco is overcharging people for electricity they don't consume. That's a headline in itself. Many people were protesting and refusing to pay their bills. There's also the instance that when a blackout happens, people start speculating what the cause was. Conspiracy theories about the government suddenly emerge and rumors of coups or covert attacks are spread. Just goes to show how these power fluctuations play a significant part in Filipino culture.

It all makes me wonder if twenty years from now, Filipinos would still experience power failures. It's strange how such a mundane thing as that can affect a nation, and myself.

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