rambling

The Virtue of Choice

Ah, I recall making a vague promise to update this blog once a week. I know I mentioned Tuesday as my day to relinquish my fresh, hot-off-the-press updates. I’m afraid that, you know, plans and things are subject to change. Although I haven’t kept my word regarding regular updates on Tuesday, I said I would post at least once a week. Consider this week’s post, well, started, at the very least.

Anyway, rambling introduction aside, this week is all about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Let’s just shorten that to Sekiro for the rest of this piece. I haven’t finished the game, and I don’t really want to spoil any story elements, but I believe I can get away with discussing combat and movement – you know, gameplay elements.

Sekiro is hard. Much of the difficulty in the game stems from a few factors, namely, the relentless attacks of every single foe you face, and the relative frailty of the main character. While every combatant you alert to your presence rushes in and doesn’t give you a moment to breathe during their onslaught, you are also encouraged to rush in, katana gleaming, and cut fools to ribbons. This would be a great thing if you weren’t as durable as a measly ribbon. Foes hardly have to cut you to ribbons because you’re already fragile as tissue paper. Many enemies can dispatch you in three to four hits, easily, and stronger enemies only need two swipes to put you in the ground.

I won’t sugarcoat it: this imbalance initially struck me as a frustrating hindrance to my fun video game times, but I’ve come to appreciate the truck-like force behind every enemy’s attacks. It sounds unfair, I know, but it makes for some intense fights. Keeping up a relentless assault while blocking, deflecting, and avoiding your enemy’s strikes is immensely satisfying.

Oh, there’s also jumping. And grappling. Have I discussed in-combat options yet? No? Let’s take a gander at the dizzying amount of shit you have to remember to be at the top of your Sekiro form.

1. You can jump.

Oh boy, you’d be surprised by the sheer number of options this opens up in combat. You can attack in mid-air, and if you take certain skills, you can even utilize your special moves and your prosthetic arm (more on this later) in mid-air as well. Mostly, I’ve used jumping as a last-ditch effort to evade an incoming attack, but it can be used with elegance. There is a context-specific counter whereby you jump-kick an enemy after they fail a sweep attack and you do massive posture damage. Does that sound complicated? Well, it is, and it’s only one of the things you’ve got to remember in the middle of frenetic, non-stop combat.

2. There’s more than one way to deflect and counter.

As I mentioned above, jump-kicking in response to a sweep attack is one specific counter method available to you in Sekiro. There’s also the step-dodge, for attacks you can’t exactly block, and there’s even a specific deflection move for warding off an enemy’s thrust attacks. It requires very precise timing, but it’ll mess up your enemies if it hits. These special deflections, dodges, and counters are all there as options in addition to your default block and deflect maneuvers. You’ve got to learn what certain types of attacks look like, so you may choose the correct response and use it to let your enemies have it. Rip ’em apart.

3. There’s a grappling hook.

And it can be implemented in combat, if you take a certain skill along the way. Not only does this handy tool have combat versatility, it increases the momentum in the game by a factor of ten. Grappling all around the environment and traveling by air is just a cool way to get around and get the jump on your enemies.

4. There are stealth maneuvers.

That’s right, you can sneak up on your enemies. And backstab them. And run away as far as you want just to hide and sneak up on the next fool. While running and leaping into battle is a badass way to live, er, play, there’s also beauty in biding one’s time and playing the more methodical game of cat and mouse.

5. You have a prosthetic arm.

This prosthetic arm opens up all kinds of options for you, because it becomes the bearer of all your sub-weapons … tools … fun stuff? All of the above. You have your trusty katana at all times, it is true, but your left arm is made of iron and bone, and it can handle handfuls of different augmentations that change it into cool stuff. Wanna throw shuriken? Load ’em into your arm. Wanna shoot fire at a dude? Load it into your arm. Wanna toss a bunch of firecrackers at the ground? You know what I’m about to say. So keep loading cool stuff into your arm, and amaze your enemies and friends with your combat prowess/party tricks.

So, yeah, that’s my quick, sleep-deprived rundown of the options I’ve encountered in Sekiro. While traversing the world and during combat, you’ve got all of the aforementioned tools and skills at your disposal, and you get to decide how to use them all to achieve victory. Enemies are fast, and relentless. But play the game right, and so are you. You’ll encounter all kinds of threats, but you’ll have an answer to every single one of them. All you’ve got to do is think and react faster than your enemies. The sharpest mind, not the sharpest sword, will prevail. Or something.

Keep running and cutting, folks.

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The Sweetest Song

Life is busy. More often than not it feels like I’m rushing against a tide of tasks and chores, the biggest of which is work.

The thing about the tide is that it never disappears completely.

So perpetual movement becomes the norm. Even in the still moments where I try to catch some peace, my mind is moving, planning out my next moves so I stay one step ahead of the tide.

The thing about my mind is that it lacks focus. I started this entry with the intention of waxing philosophical and poetical about another video game series I love, and now I’ve started rambling about my seeming lack of free time. Yet I am here, sitting at my computer, typing a blog entry for all of you (anyone?) to read. So I must have more free time than I anticipated.

Around seven to eight years ago, I worked a very short stint at a GameStop. In fact, I only worked one shift at this GameStop, and I happened to work at the midnight release for a game called Dark Souls. I think the first Rage game had just come out as well, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, I had heard small pieces of information about a different game called Demon’s Souls, and didn’t know jack-shit about it. I would have gone home that night, happy that I survived a shift at my new job, without thinking twice about Dark Souls. Only thing is, as soon as I entered my room, I saw my brother and one of our friends sitting on my couch. Playing a game.

I’ll give you a few guesses as to which game it was.

So they’d managed to get to one of the early-game bosses in Dark Souls, and damn if it didn’t look like a good time. A rough time, yes, but still a good time. A mysterious, intriguing, challenging time. I wanted to feel the gameplay for myself, to hold the controller in my hands and figure out just how to move my fingers in ways that would yield the best results. I just wanted to get into the game. It just looked good.

I didn’t have the same understanding of the game then as I do now, but hindsight can be a beautifully illuminating lens. The weirdly rewarding challenge of Dark Souls stems, I would argue, from the impact of your decisions during combat. I mean this literally and figuratively. Each hit, whether it comes from you or your foe(s), has heft that may leave targets reeling. And each press of the control stick and/or the buttons has a similar heft that may leave your mind reeling. This is because every decision you make in the split seconds of combat is, more often than not, a in-game-life-or-death decision. You may want to run up to a retching lizard and smack it in the face with your greatsword, but running and attacking both deplete your stamina supply. So you’ve got to watch that little green bar move toward the zero mark, and make decisions in the midst of taking actions, and it becomes this weird dance that is equal parts mental and physical. Your hands make moves, your brain interprets the results and choreographs the next moves, all so your hands and your character can keep dancing.

It can be frustrating. It can be taxing. But man, it’s exhilarating when the dance is executed successfully.

I might be misrepresenting the Souls-style combat, just slightly. It sounds frenetic and action packed. And sometimes, it is. But really, it’s a more measured, calculated sort of battle. A bit like chess, perhaps. The cycle of waiting, watching your opponent, and responding is there. It’s still a mix of mental and physical prowess, and that makes it a nerve-wracking fucking blast to play. If you’re a crazy glutton for punishment like I am, that is.

It may suffice to say that I love Dark Souls. I love Dark Souls so much that I eagerly anticipated the sequel. Dark Souls II is not a perfect game. In fact, it’s far from perfect. I could go on at length about my relative disappointment in Dark Souls II after enjoying the challenge of the high bar set by Dark Souls, but I’ll try to sum up my thoughts instead. The way I look at it, Dark Souls II is a good video game, but it’s not a good Souls game. Compared to other games that were out around the same time, it’s fucking great, because, despite its shortcomings, it is a Souls game, and that means it’s made by some talented people. It just lacks the clarity of Dark Souls.

I keep saying “Souls game” like that encompasses From Software’s genius. The funny thing is, I’m also adding in layers as I go, expanding from a mysterious midnight release to Dark Souls to the sequel and now, finally mentioning the company that’s responsible for all of it. From Software does some dope shit. I wish I’d followed them since their early days, but Dark Souls was my first taste of their game design prowess. I bring up the phrase “Souls game” because I should alter it slightly.

I didn’t buy a PS4 when the system released, but thanks to some weird stroke of luck, my brother won a free PS4 from GameStop back when he worked there. He already had a PS4, so he gave me the one that he won. Which was awesome, because a few months before I had my own PS4, I used my brother’s PS4 to play what has become, quite possibly, my favorite video game of all time. At the very least, it’s my favorite game of the past decade.

I’m referring, perhaps a little obliquely, to Bloodborne. Oh, the sweet blood, it sings to me … Bloodborne dropped from the minds of From Software like some twisted cosmic egg and hatched all kinds of badass ways to pack action into a game.

It has all the shit I love. It’s a Lovecraftian horror story. It’s set in a Victorian London analogue. It’s got madness, violence, obsession, and GUNS. It also speeds up the combat of the Dark Souls games so it takes on a healthy sheen that only comes from quick gusts of wind passing over you. That’s just my non-sensical way of saying that Bloodborne feels fast, compared to Dark Souls. And that’s a great feeling.

It also does away with the dozens of samey weapons featured in Dark Souls in favor of unique weapons called “trick weapons,” and boy, are they fucking awesome. Each weapon has two forms, a “base” form and a “trick” form, so, in essence, they’re the BOGO of video game weapons. Bust one out, get one free. Each trick weapon tends to define the way you play the game. There are some that you can pair together, of course, depending on your build. But each one has a distinct feel, and that’s a testament to the fantastic design chops of From Software. They lovingly crafted each of those weapons and made them all a joy to wield.

I also played Dark Souls III when it came out, as you may remember if you’ve been following my blog for any reason, and it was a damn good time. It took me over a year of playing it, off and on, to finish it, and that was pretty much it. I started new game plus, but I didn’t finish it. I played through Dark Souls and even Dark Souls II multiple times, and I’ve played Bloodborne at least ten times. I guess I just got tired of all the Soulsborne action, after shoving so much of it into my hands and brain.

All that said, I’d play Bloodborne again in a heartbeat. I don’t think I can ever get tired of that game. This whole Soulsborne-themed rant-tinged love letter to From Software is my way of saying that I am really fucking excited for Sekiro, and I’ll be heading to GameStop tomorrow to pay off my pre-order in preparation for Friday. Sekiro looks different from all the fancy Soulsborne stuff I’m used to, but in a cool and compelling way.

Even though I’ve got a good handful of other games I’m trudging through, I get the feeling that Sekiro will devour my free time as soon as I get it. Bring on the late nights among the cherry blossoms and blood-soaked pagodas.

I’ll be cutting my way through all manner of bad dudes and demons.

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A Birthday Retrospective, Part Three: Years 21-30

(Writer’s Note: Where I’m at, it’s only about 5 PM on the 12th of March. March 12th is my birthday.) So it’s here. The day. I am 30 now, and I’ll be 30 for another year. But before all that magical growth may begin, I’ve got to look back at the previous ten years. Let’s dig in, shall we?

From the time I was 19 to about the time I was 21, going on 22,  I worked in a store called Journeys Shoes, one link in a big ol’ chain of stores. This Journeys is located in one of Reno’s malls, and it showed me what schlepping really is. I had to test my memory skills as I trudged to the back room and grabbed shoes for people to try out. The corporate overlords really wanted us to upsell, so if I was feeling generous to my shadowy puppeteers, I would try and find other shoes for customers and see if they’d bite.

I hated that. The statistic that tracked how “good” we were at making these types of sales was called “multiples.” On a big white board in our stockroom, our stats were displayed for all our coworkers to see. We had to try and reach 25% multiple sales. That meant that one in every four sales should include several pairs of shoes. Easy if you’re selling to a lot of families who buy shoes at the same time, but difficult when the people who make just as much or even less money than you come in, strapped for cash, trying to find sick shoes on sale. It was a bonkers, bullshit system, but hey, you wanna be in sales, you gotta convince the hungry folks that shoes are more important than food.

We also had to push socks, ’cause, you know, everybody needs a million pairs of socks. Don’t get me wrong, one of the best purchases I’ve made in my “adult” life is my purchase of 12 pairs of warm, black, cotton socks. These 12 pairs will last me for years, if I alternate them in a sensible manner and take care of them. But trying to get regular customers who came in every now and then to buy more socks? Again? It irked all us employees, and it irked some of the customers, too. Comments that went something like “Oh, I bought some of those last time” were frequent and underscored by a hint of exasperation.

I meant to bring up work so I could tie it into my love life, but I should touch on transport first. “Chris, how were you getting to work back then if you didn’t have your driver’s license?” Funny you should ask, and how silly of me not to mention pertinent details! Before I was more or less kicked out of my parents’ house that fateful summer, I finally got my shit together and learned how to drive. I learned in my mom’s big honkin’ suburban, and this may have been my saving grace during the driving test. See, I wasn’t the most aware driver, and I didn’t look over my shoulder like I should have, but man, I was a dexterous little bastard. I fucking nailed the parallel parking portion of the test. In a big-ass suburban. I think that demonstration of my sweet control and spacial awareness got me my license.

So jump forward a little bit, and I have a job. I have a license. All I need is a car. My mom was driving me to and from work for a while, but that song and dance gets old real quick. Since I wasn’t paying rent, and my community college expenses were usually covered by grants, I was able to save up a decent amount of money. Not, like, a shitload, but enough to make my stepsister happy. She was in the army at the time, see, and she was stationed in New Mexico. She owned and drove a 2002 Ford Focus, but she was about to go on tour with the USO. They’d be flying her and the other performers around the world, so she didn’t need the car anymore.

She hashed the details out with my stepdad. The opportunity came on fast, and I didn’t really have a lot of time to think, but I said yes. $2,000 down, then $1,000 paid in installments. I had the money for the down payment, with enough extra to handle some adventuring. ’cause going to New Mexico to pick up a car and drive it back home was a rad opportunity for shenanigans.

I had to have my boys with me on this fateful quest. Brad wasn’t really in the picture too often anymore, but Kevin stuck around. Kevin had worked on cars before, and understood them on a level I didn’t begin to understand. Two dudes on a trip to get a car and drive it from New Mexico to Nevada sounds a little tight, so we asked a mutual friend of ours to come along. Cody, is his name. I bought plane tickets for the fellas, because I didn’t want to screw them over financially if they were doing me a favor. Like I said, I somehow had money to spend. We got the tickets. We packed our bags. We stayed up way too late out of excitement and only slept a few hours before the plane ride. You know, typical pre-trip adrenaline.

On the plane ride, Cody and I laughed really hard at the in-flight reading material. Some of the pamphlets could be altered in ways that spoke to our oddball senses of humor. For some reason, the phrase “The gift that will ever be rifted” has stuck in my brain ever since that trip.

We met my stepsister at the airport. The car that was soon to be mine was our taxi to the military base where she lived. She showed us her living quarters while she got the important documents, and then we were outside again, as I wrote a check for $2,000 dollars and signed it over to her. She signed the title over to me. Our shit was already in the trunk. It was a quick exchange. I had never been too close to my stepsister, and I wasn’t the best with social graces, so we made our goodbyes fast and hit the road.

This is the part that helps me look back and think that buying the plane tickets for those dudes was something I owed them. An exchange for assistance and services rendered, see? They mapped out the routes we’d be taking to get home, and they drove the damn car. They had done road trippy things before. I hadn’t. They had been driving their own cars for years. I hadn’t. So they graciously stepped on the gas, and the brakes, and turned on the turn signals, and the headlights, and handled the music, while I sat in the passenger seat and marveled at the sights outside my car’s window. My car’s window. That beautiful, gently used vehicle was mine, and we were working together to get it to its new home.

That first night, I paid for a motel room and snagged the keys before we hopped to the nearest Pizza Hut for dinner. We ate, and then, we slept. The next day’s journey was the longest leg of the trip, with a drive that would start in the morning and not end until darkness had enveloped the countryside. We made pretty good time, as far as I could tell. That is, until something weird happened outside a town called Needles, California. I can’t even recall exactly what happened, but we had to take the car in for maintenance. The shop was getting ready to close down. We drove up, last minute, and asked for assistance. They politely obliged us. The only problem was the money. I had, like, spending money for the food and gas we’d need to finish the trip. But I wasn’t packing enough funds in my bank account to handle an unforeseen car repair. Some weird calls had to be made.

My stepdad is not nice when it comes to money. Yet as far as I could see, this thing with the car wasn’t our fault. I’d just bought it from my stepsister, who assured me that it was fine. It wasn’t fine. Some thing that she hadn’t fixed fucked us over on the way home. Her dad had convinced me to take this ridiculous trip all of a sudden, and I was starting to see why. I was solving all kinds of problems: my stepsister didn’t want to be responsible for a car she’d never use again, my stepdad was gonna get a new customer out of it (he sells insurance for a living, and naturally, I’d be buying car insurance from him), and, yes, I would get the transport I needed to feel like a full-fledged member of society. So I got something out of all this mess, but I felt that I shouldn’t be responsible for that part of the mess. In those few days, I’m pretty sure we couldn’t have caused the problem that was plaguing the car all of a sudden.

Or maybe I’m too harsh. Maybe driving the car all day, when it was usually only used for short trips, messed something up. Maybe it was our fault. But I still couldn’t afford it, and fortunately, my stepdad paid for those repairs. Grudgingly.

I don’t remember if we ended up staying the night in Needles, or if we high-tailed it to Las Vegas to meet with Cody’s aunt. That was the next stretch of the trip, and I suppose I could look up the time/distance from Needles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada, and determine what we did from there, but I don’t feel like it’s necessary. My memory is a little hazy, but I know that we ended up pulling into Las Vegas around midnight, where we stopped at a Denny’s for food before heading to our sleeping berths. Cody’s aunt let us sleep on the pull-out couch in her living room, and I think Cody took a guest bedroom. The important thing is, we all got our rest. We ate breakfast the next day, and sped away from Las Vegas. The desert roads stretched on toward Reno, and we were going home.

After all that ridiculous shit, I had a car and a thousand-dollar debt to pay. I still had a little bit of spending money, but it wasn’t much. I also had to contend with the new adult joy of monthly car insurance payments. I regret to say that I didn’t really have a debriefing with the boys, to check on them and see if they were okay after all the weirdness. Historically, my emotional intelligence is a little rough.

So yep. A car could get me to and from work, and to any other places I wanted to go. I didn’t do a whole lot, just played video games and read books and went to school. Still, the car afforded me a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt before. If I wanted to do something, to meet up with someone, I could. And that was enough to keep me happy.

In the midst of my time at Journeys Shoes, I met a few women I was interested in. All around the same time. One of my coworkers was a longtime friend of mine, and he’s a musician. He writes and performs his own songs, and it turns out, he had a good number of fans. Many of them would show up in the store, looking to visit him and talk. Sometimes, I had to field questions for him. That’s how I met Ellen.

Ellen is nerdy and pretty. She’s fiercely independent in her thinking, and outspoken about her thoughts. I had a crush on her just about the moment I saw her. Somehow, I ended up buying chicken nuggets and sharing them with her, the first day we met. It was a weird mall/retail-related gesture of kindness. We started texting each other, and they were good times. For about three weeks.

I told myself at some point that I wanted to try playing the field, and that’s what I did. Except, well, I didn’t really leave my house that often, unless I was going to work. My point is, my “field” was limited, because of my refusal to leave my comfort zones. So I met a few women at Journeys, not just Ellen. And, even though I had a crush on each of these women, I decided to just go for one of them. You know, make a choice. Except that choice really upset the other two women. Ellen was not my first choice.

My first choice lasted almost a month.

I was sad when she broke up with me, and then I was sadder because I realized I’d messed up my connections with Ellen and another woman. All summer, I did my daily thing, playing video games and working and hanging out with my group of friends. I figured life would go on, and I’d be okay.

I saw Ellen near the end of summer, at our mutual friend’s birthday party. My crush came back immediately. I tentatively started a conversation with her, and she responded. I hadn’t completely ruined anything. Time does heal wounds, it seemed. A month after we rekindled our crushes on each other, we were dating.

Six-and-a-half years later, I broke up with her.

Ellen and I wove our ways into each other’s lives, deliberately. She invited me to her sister’s house to help her babysit, and I met her sister, brother-in-law, and eventually, her two nephews. I was invited to their big Christmas shindig a few months later. They said things like “Oh, the boys love you,” and “Oh, we really like Chris.” They were being welcoming. They love Ellen, and they wanted her to be happy. Ellen and I fell asleep together in her sister’s guest bedroom, and we talked about the future. She wanted kids, and I wanted kids. She thought marriage sounded like a good idea, and I agreed. I’d always been looking for someone who wanted to stick around, and Ellen wanted to stick around.

I should have thought a little bit harder about what I really wanted. Ellen and I were together for six-and-a-half years, but we never lived together. We both lived in our parents’ houses, and we would make time to see each other. Usually, that meant that Ellen would come over and hang out with me and my family, and sometimes my friends. It was a strangely lopsided relationship, with Ellen putting in most of the effort and me reaping the benefits. Her brother-in-law had money. Like, “I can buy a new house and deck it out the way we want to” sort of money. I ate so much of their food and drank so much of their coffee. They always welcomed me into their places. Ellen’s nephews loved me. I had, from many perspectives, a pretty good thing going.

A few years into the relationship, and I was bored. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was stuck in the middle of a routine that was allowing me to stagnate. This wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own, and I took the relationship as a given. A constant. Something that just was, and I didn’t have to do anything to infuse it with life. That may be part of the reason I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t trying, not anymore, and something about the ease with which Ellen and her family accepted me was weirdly deflating.

I didn’t think I had to try. I muddled through life and everything worked out in strange ways. I graduated community college, and when I got dangerously close to running out of money, I got a new job. Journeys had been over for a few years at that point. The new job only lasted 11 months, so I used my saved-up fundage to start my university career. I took out loans to pay for that, because I didn’t want to work. And despite Ellen sometimes saying “Maybe you should get a job,” I never did. Not while I was with her, not again.

The years passed by in a mostly predictable fashion, holidays spent mostly with Ellen’s family and she and I grudgingly putting up with my awkward family situation. I didn’t eat with my family anymore. I shut myself in my room and played a ton of video games. I read a ton of books. Not living with Ellen gave me a weird insight into what I like to do with myself: introspective, lonesome activities that let me get in my head. Eventually, though, the real world called out to me.

I was in a required English class at the University of Nevada, Reno, and my professor must have liked my style, because she was encouraging and supportive. The next semester, even though I wasn’t in any of her classes, she suggested that I attend a meeting of students and high-ranking university officials to talk about the future direction of the English department. I don’t think I made very good suggestions, but I was there, and so was one of my future good friends.

The truth is, I was developing a crush on this woman. And I was still with Ellen. I just didn’t think that was possible. My idealistic, romantic brain got all tripped up on the idea that, like, love is reserved for one person.

A sadly narrow-minded notion, but it’s one that got me all confused. I developed feelings, fast, for this other woman. I had been growing tired of my relationship, and I finally decided that enough was enough. I ended things with Ellen, after she put up with six-and-a-half years of my shit. She deserves better, and I hope she’s found someone who’s not lost in a maze of stagnating self-pity. So I jumped from Ellen, right into a doomed crush.

The woman I was into was into women. Like, just women. I realized it too late. My feelings had already flared up. So I spent a good few months pining away, hoping against hope that something would happen between us.

Nothing did, thankfully, and we’re great friends now. Yet I must admit, the only reason I was able to pull myself out of that romantic obsession is because I started another one. One of the women in a class I took reached out and asked if I’d like to get coffee. Yes, I’d like, I said. We met at the cafe by campus. We clicked pretty fast. I ended up driving her to her place one night, and she asked if I’d like to come inside. Yes, I’d like, I said. We talked for hours, like, until 2 AM for hours, and then I went home. I could tell she wanted me to make a move, but I’m terrible at these sorts of things. The next night, we hung out until 3 AM, and she made the move that I couldn’t.

We started sleeping together regularly. She told me, after the first night, that she was only looking for a casual thing. I had never done a casual thing. I thought I could handle it.

Nah. My feelings developed something fierce, and fast. Lucky for me, hers did too. A month into our “casual” thing, and we were professing our love for one another in a San Francisco hotel bed while our friends and acquaintances tried to fall asleep around us. It was some kind of magic. It was something I’d never done before.

Except it was everything I’d done before. Feelings developing too fast, committing to things too fast, getting obsessed … I’d done it, and it hadn’t worked out. What made me think it would work out this time? I must say, I was pretty naive. And I was getting older by then. I was 27, going on 28. The good thing about this whole mess of a relationship? It pushed me to finally move out of my parents’ house. Near the end of this thing, which lasted about a year and a half, I even had a steady job. It turns out that having to pay rent and buy food for oneself will push a person to do the things they should have done years ago.

Still, as all things must, the relationship ended. I was obsessive, possessive, and clingy. I forgot what space was. I didn’t even know how to appreciate my own space. All that stuff I did back when I was with Ellen, but I had time to myself? The reading, the video games, the fucking around on YouTube? I stopped it. I just wanted to be with this woman, and I forgot how to enjoy myself.

So the past year or so has been a damn good one, from the growth perspective. I’ve remembered what I like to do by myself, and how to have a good time with me. I’ve been cultivating friendships, and resuscitating ones that had been looking a little blue there. I have a lot more bills to pay, and not nearly as many dollars as I would like. But I’m working on that. I play board games every week, and I try to get a tabletop session in at least bimonthly. I jumped back into video games, and am now the proud owner of a PS4, a Wii U, a 3DS, and, finally, a Nintendo Switch. If you’ve read any of my older blogs, you may recall that I sold almost everything a few years ago. I’ve been steadily building my gaming capabilities back up. Because I love video games. I love getting lost in worlds that aren’t my own, and exploring the shit out of them, and sharing this love with my fellow gamers.

I’m 30 now, and that’s pretty rad. I think I’m handling my responsibilities the best way that I can. I’m enjoying myself when the responsibilities don’t demand my attention. And hey, shouldn’t enjoyment be the responsibility of every person?

Let’s keep on aging gracefully, folks.

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A Birthday Retrospective, Part Two: Years 11-20

(Wrtier’s Note: As I begin writing this entry, it is a little after 9 PM on March 11th, 2019, and I am not 30 just yet.) So we come to the middle section of my life thus far. The last couple years of elementary school passed by mostly uneventfully, though I do remember the electoral college debacle during the 2000 election. I remember Florida’s votes getting messed up, and despite being in Nevada, I felt a strange sense of pride knowing that my place of origin had some sort of relevance in that election. I wasn’t quite sure which side I leaned closer to, though I vaguely recall liking the blue ideas more than the red.

Uh oh. Politics, in my supposedly-mostly-about-video-games blog? They’re more likely than you think. Anyway, if I had known better, I wouldn’t have been proud of Florida’s tomfoolery, but I digress.

When I was 11, sometime during the winter, my grandmother on my mom’s side passed away. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, but I recall feeling sad because I knew that was an appropriate response to death. I wasn’t a great child. My mom told me that if I attended the funeral with her, she would buy me a video game. The offer came out of nowhere, and pretty fast, and I was 11 – I didn’t say no. Would I have gone on the plane ride to Missouri if there wasn’t something in it for me? I want to say yes, but I’m not sure. As I said, I wasn’t a great child.

Somewhere along the rented car ride from the St. Louis airport to my uncle’s house in the Missouri woods, we passed some kind of chain supermarket – you know, a place that sells groceries, clothes, appliances, pharmaceuticals, the works. My mom guided me to the electronics section and let me pick out a game. I didn’t really have any list of “most wanted” games at the time, but I had my GameBoy Color with me. I looked at the mysterious boxes in the display case and picked one that looked intriguing. Dragon Warrior Monsters. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just picked up my first legit Jrpg; I mean, Pokemon is pretty fun and all, but it’s not nearly as challenging as it could be. As I squinted at the screen in the dim light of my uncle’s kitchen later, my mom asked me to explain the game to my uncle. I don’t remember what I said, but it probably wasn’t much. I was in the game.

I remember sleeping on my uncle’s couch in the living room. If I recall correctly, I had a book of Greek mythology with me, and I think I was reading The Odyssey. That, or I was looking at my uncle’s copy of The Odyssey and thinking that I should read it one day. I got to it eventually, but at the time, I think I was mostly bored and looking for entertainment before sleep took me. As I look back at this strange, sad series of events, I wish I had noticed more. I was not the most attentive 11-year-old; I mostly lost myself and my surroundings in video games and books.

Later that school year, I turned 12, and by the summer, elementary school was over. Three years in the Nevada school system and I was ready to surge ahead to middle school. It was all mostly the same, except the building was different and I had to figure out how to navigate it. I had to memorize a class schedule – no more sitting in one room all day and switching subjects as one teacher saw fit. I started playing the clarinet when I was in sixth grade, and I chose to continue that life in middle school. Everything was fine and dandy, until we had to take tests. Tests in band class typically involve each student playing a section of music, out loud, in front of everybody. I had never realized it before, but I wasn’t cool with a spotlight on me. I braved these tests just like everyone else, but man, they gave me the jitters something fierce.

I had noticed girls in sixth grade, and had crushes, but middle school made my crushes a lot more intense. Y’all know why. I distinctly recall taking introductory German classes and noting that my former best friend was “dating” one of the prettiest girls in the class. Jealousy wasn’t exactly a thing for me, not yet, but if it was, I’d have been pissed. The only reason we weren’t best friends anymore was because, well, I wasn’t a popular dude. I played video games and read books and mostly kept to myself. First week at middle school and cliques were already forming.

(Weird, disturbing side note with a TRIGGER WARNING for pedophilia: that German teacher got busted later for having some messed up pornography. I fervently hope that none of my classmates experienced any messed up shit at that teacher’s hands.)

The GameCube was the new hotness back then, having released during the holiday season of my seventh grade year. I joined a new group I’d never exactly noticed before: gamers. We all liked Nintendo, we all played Super Smash Bros. Melee, and we all had terrible track records with dating. In that, none of us had had an official relationship with another human being. Granted, at the beginning of middle school, this should come as no surprise; still, I recall watching other people get closer to each other, and have what could be called relationships. I didn’t experience that until I entered high school.

Ah, high school. For some people, it’s remembered as a terrible time. For others, it was the “best time of [their] life.” I feel pity for both camps: a bad high school experience can skew a lot of things, but firmly believing that high school was one’s peak is a destructive attitude as well.

I’m happy to say that high school was, all in all, a pretty good time for me. Although I closely identified with gamers in middle school, I also met my new best friend while I was there, a young man named Brad Crane. He attended the church that my parents had been taking us kids to, and he had heard from my people that I was attempting to learn to skate.

Before I sound too cool for school, yeah, I tried to skate. I was pretty bad at it. Even after years of attempts, I could hardly ollie, and moving on any sort of incline scared the shit out of me. Somehow I taught myself how to pull off shove-its and, rarely, a heelflip. I did this weird thing that was like a boneless, but I turned my body in a strange way to make it a whole new thing. It’s funny that slight variations on the norm create a whole new trick. Entity. Perspective? Anyway, I tried to keep up with Brad and our other skater homies, but they always outpaced me.

Still, Brad and I remained best friends throughout most of high school. We were both in band during middle school, and we continued that trend, which kept us in close proximity most days despite our taking different classes. Marching band was a strange time, but it led me to meet a fellow clarinetist who become another best friend of mine. I know two bests can’t really co-exist, and the notion of a best friend is probably an unfair one, but I’ll call Kevin my other best friend. Kevin was a gamer, like me and Brad, though he didn’t skate. Probably just as well, because that shit was rough. We would routinely hang out with our extended friend group and play random games together, or even apart if we happened to have our portable consoles with us. Kevin usually had his GBA, and eventually, we each had our own DS. Alone together can be a healthy thing too, if you do it right.

Brad and Kevin were my main dudes, and our group was a weirdly huge one. Brad was something of a social butterfly, and I was nice enough to garner my own friends and acquaintances. Among the three of us, we probably knew the whole school by name.

I had never had an official girlfriend before, but high school changed that. I had a crush on a young woman who went to the same church as me and Brad, and somehow she ended up agreeing to date me when I was a freshman. She was a year older than me and Brad, and at the time any age difference blew my fucking mind. So my first girlfriend was a sophomore, and I had no idea what I was doing. Kissing was like a rare and exotic animal to me; I’d heard of it, I sort of knew what it looked like, but I didn’t know if I could handle it.

Eventually I got used to kissing, and even got to like it. Holding hands still gives me an electric thrill. That first relationship only lasted a matter of about three months, but I was set up to experience a lot more relationships throughout my teenage years.

I used to do this thing where I would sit down with Kevin and count my high school girlfriends. It sounds really fucked up, and it probably is, but I mostly did it to test my memory. I like to think I can still remember the names and faces of each young woman I dated when I was in high school, but as many young relationships go, some of mine only lasted a few days. At one point I tried dating someone I’d never met in real life – she was a friend of one of my ex-girlfriends, and we talked online. We tried to meet in person once but something went wrong and we didn’t make our rendezvous. I went to a Jimmy Eat World concert with a young woman who tried really hard to make out with me in an elevator. I felt beholden to another young woman at the time, so I refused the make out session.

I had a strange sense of loyalty. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but of course I ended up doing that anyway. I was a teenage boy, and I have to admit that my emotional intelligence was pretty fucking awful. I dated one young woman twice, both times ending with her breaking up with me. Live and learn, right? There was one young man who I could probably count among my friends, and he watched me get close to two young women he had a crush on, on two separate occasions. I shattered that kid’s heart, twice. And at the time, I didn’t feel bad about it. I just did what I wanted.

I’m pretty sure one of my high school girlfriends wanted to sleep with me, and one night we somehow convinced our parents to let her sleep over at my house. She lay down on my bed, fully clothed, and I had no idea what to do at that point. I had the vague feeling that she wanted us to get naked, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I didn’t do it. She went to sleep in our guest bedroom while I fell asleep in my own room.

She broke up with me a few weeks later and started dating one of our mutual friends soon after that. Rumors strongly indicated that they slept together fairly quickly. I don’t always know how to please other people, but sometimes, pleasing other people involves damaging oneself. I wasn’t ready for sex, so I didn’t pursue it.

All this reminiscing about my old love life has gone on way too long.

During junior year, I suffered a severe lack of motivation. I just wanted to stay in bed all day, playing games on my DS and reading books. I got way into Ayn Rand. I liked her philosophy’s take on individualism, but the political and economic stuff was just meh for me. After I failed a few classes during that first half of the school year, counselors recommended to my parents that I catch up online.

Reno’s online learning platforms at the time were sorely underwhelming. I enrolled in the core classes I needed to move on to my senior year successfully, but once again, I wanted to slack off. I played video games until 4 AM instead of doing homework. Teachers assured my parents of my intelligence, while I squandered it on video games. The night before a bunch of assignments were due, I panicked and tried to rush through all of them at once. I did it to myself – I didn’t do my work at a steady pace, and procrastinated instead. By the time 5 AM rolled around, I knew there was no way for me to finish all my required assignments before the deadline. So I booted up Chibi-Robo and played it instead.

My graduating high school on time was something of a miracle, if only because I somehow summoned the motivation to push through the dreaded “senioritis” and take a full load of classes at the school, while I took two additional classes online to make up for failing my junior year. I poked my head into the band room once during my weird absence from school, and the band instructor/conductor, Mr. Willis, asked “Are you okay? Have you been sick?” It was a strangely touching moment, and I felt really bad when I ended up quitting school altogether and leaving his clarinet section minus one player.

I wasn’t really that good anyway, so it was probably all right.

So I pushed through a jam-packed senior year, decided that I enjoyed books enough to become a teacher one day, and made plans to attend the local community college to pursue this goal.

The summer after Brad and I graduated, we went on what was to be my final mission trip with our church youth group. It wasn’t the final mission trip because of my age or anything – I had decided a year before, in the midst of my Ayn Rand obsession, that I was an atheist. I didn’t want to do anything related to the church anymore. Despite my turning away from organized religion, I did enjoy helping people. I just wanted to do it my way. So I went on this mission trip, the summer before college started, and I fell in love.

Another youth group joined us on this trip, and they were from a place that was only about two hours from Reno. One of the young women from this place caught my attention immediately. And thus my history of falling in love too fast began.

Our youth group leaders swapped info to keep us all in touch, but I had a better idea: I gave my new crush the link to my myspace profile. Holy shit, yes, I’ve finally mentioned myspace. I had never been a huge fan of telephone conversations, and thinking back on it, I probably preferred myspace comments because they’re typically text-based. I could write weird, sappy novellas to this woman. Which is exactly what I did, for weeks. She finally gave me her phone number via myspace, but I was too thick to take the hint. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was giving me one final chance before she stopped giving into my weird obsession with myspace comments. Lucky for me, I finally gathered enough courage to use the phone.

And things went well. It wasn’t as difficult to hold a conversation as I thought it would be. You take text, filter it through your brainspace to your vocal cords, and you say it out loud. Then you listen to what the other person says, and you compose a response very fast, to then say out loud right after they stop talking. The process scared me at first. But I got good at it.

This young woman’s name is Molly. Molly and I had phone conversations fairly frequently, but we really wanted to see each other again. Only problem: I had not obtained my driver’s license, and I had no car to drive to her. Brad, best friend that he was, drove me everywhere I wanted to go throughout our high school days. Molly’s home was two hours away from us. There was no way he was gonna take me there.

Except he did, once, when it was Molly’s birthday. Another young woman from Molly’s youth group wanted to see Brad, and he wanted to see her, and she was invited to Molly’s birthday shindig, and oh heck why don’t we just drive over there and make it a whole thing? So we did. Brad drove us there, we hung out with Molly and her friends, and I watched from the periphery as Molly and her friends had a great time. I had a taste of life in close proximity to her, and I wanted more.

Thus began my Greyhound bus phase. For a good half a year I took intermittent bus trips to see Molly, and we had a weirdly enjoyable long-distancey relationship. I mean, it wasn’t too long-distance, but it was still not an easy bus or car trip. We still relied on the phone as our main means of communication. I started community college, and something about me must have impressed Molly’s parents because they allowed me to show up and stay in their guest bedroom for days and nights at a time.

That, or they love their daughter and they wanted her to be happy. So they let her weird long-distance boyfriend crash at their place every now and then.

Either way, Molly is a year younger than me, so she was still in high school. During the days, most days, she’d be at school. So I ended up sleeping in most days, chilling in her parents’ guest bedroom until she got home from school. We’d go on walks, watch movies and tv shows together, go to restaurants to eat good food and have good conversations away from parental supervision … you know, relationship stuff.

As all things do, our relationship came to an end. Near the end, I was not the nicest guy. I made disparaging remarks about some of Molly’s friends, and I just wasn’t fun to be around. In the wise words of the Spice Girls, “If ya wanna be my lover, ya gotta get with my friends” (please God let me get the words right). I was not with Molly’s friends. I was harshly judgmental of them, and even of Molly, in the end. So she broke up with me.

I was fucking devastated. Around the time, summer was creeping around the corner, and I was used to doing nothing during the hot months. I’d never worked a job in my life, but my stepdad really wanted me to get a job. I didn’t want to oblige him. After a heated argument that ended with me on the lawn and him leaning over me in a threatening way, I just fucking left. I went to the nearby park to cool off. A good friend of mine lived down the road a little ways from my parents’ house, and I ran into his sister at the park. I am no good at keeping my emotions to myself, so I told her what had happened. She walked me to her mom’s house, I explained the situation, and this amazing woman graciously allowed me to crash with her son for the nonce.

Thus, I pined for Molly at the house of my friend, while I played too many video games, watched too many YouTube videos, and generally ignored my urgent need for a job.

The way I saw it, my friend’s mom said that all she wanted from me was to help her son stay motivated enough to graduate high school. His drive had been faltering, and I promised I would keep him in line when school started. Until then, though, I was enjoying myself immensely. I had recently started playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and we had a great time messing around in it. Our group of friends was still playing Super Smash Bros, so we got together to get into that. This dude’s house was so close to my parents’ place that all I had to do was walk for about two minutes and I could go inside, take a shower, do laundry, and leave, all before my stepdad got home. So I kept myself and my stuff clean without using my friend’s hospitality.

He’s a good man. I haven’t talked to him in a few years, because I’m bad like that. He got me into Fallout 3 right when it came out, and I will never be able to thank him enough for that. By that time, though, I was gone. I found a job that August, and after working for a few weeks, I had enough confidence to sit down with my stepdad and talk things out. I moved back in with my parents, and avoided rent discussions because I hardly made any money. Part-time gig at the mall, selling shoes, yeah … not the best paychecks.

I ended up dating again after Molly, but we’ll get to that next time. My stint at Journeys Shoes put me in contact with a few women I ended up dating, and one of them took up most of my 20’s. That sounds bad, the way I put it, but I mean it in a neutral way. My desire to be with someone just wouldn’t quit, and I kept trying out new women until finally, one stuck around.

 

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A Birthday Retrospective, Part One: Years 1-10

(Writer’s Note: This was actually written on Sunday, March 10th, 2019. My birthday is the 12th of March. Thank you.) I’ll be 30 in two days. Please ignore the incongruity of 30 and two, they apply to separate entities and I don’t mind their weirdness in the same sentence. As a man who feels more like a child most days, 30 is probably supposed to spark some sort of rush toward adulthood and seriousness for me.

I say, maybe. I don’t make as much money as I believe I deserve. I don’t believe as much money as I deserve to make. I don’t deserve as much money as I believe I make. I believe I make not enough. I don’t deserve not enough, I deserve way more. My not making as much as I deserve is a disservice to me and the people I serve.

Belay this shit. Get on with the retrospective.

I should probably work on finding more fulfilling work. It’s not just about the money, but satisfaction. I work for a corporation. That’s not an upstanding faction. While they divide my soul into fractions, I should strive for something more, and better. But first, let’s think backwards through words. Backwords? You may have read it here first, folks.

When I was one year old, I, no no I’m kidding, I can’t remember that far back. Alls I know about that time comes from the people who were there, namely, me mum. I know I was born prematurely. Eight weeks, to be more precise – a time period verging on two months. I was a tiny, frail infant. More tiny and frail than most infants are. Two pounds and fourteen ounces tiny. Had to be kept in an incubator for a while frail. Sometimes my mom says I’m a miracle child. I don’t often see myself in such glowing terms, but when I’m having a bad day, it helps to remember that from the get-go I was beating odds.

The earliest years are a blurry haze. I recall a dream from sometime in my fourth year of life, a dream in which I am jumping or floating on/above an all-white bed. A huge bed. I think my dad is there too. As far as real life goes, there was some kind of flood in the apartment in which we all lived, but once again, these details are not remembered personally, they are passed on to me by adults who had fully functioning memory machines (read: brains) at the time. When I was five, my sister was born. I have a younger brother too, but I don’t remember much about his birth because I was about two-and-a-half then. So I’m the oldest child. That’s not important, it’s just a fact that helps me ground other aspects of my life in something that resembles reality. Some process that approaches continuity. So let us continue.

I remember a pre-school/kindergarten situation at some sort of school. I remember really liking Batman and, thereby, Batman-related products when I was a kid. I remember grape soda from the soda machine in the darkened eating area. It was open to the playground, but the way the brick ceiling hung over all the tables somehow stopped the sun from reaching this area’s innermost recesses. Heh, I remember recess.

I don’t exactly remember going to the hospital, but I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was five. The legend goes that I was discovered outside our open refrigerator in the night, with empty cans and bottles of soda and other beverages strewn about me. I didn’t understand the biological/medical reasons for it, but I possessed a monstrous thirst. It was my body’s attempt to flush the sugar out of my system. My blood sugar was astronomically high, I assume. Bodies are clever things, even if the five year old doesn’t understand that shoving more sugar into himself won’t help. I tried, though. I had no idea what was going on.

My parents divorced when I was six. In that situation, I also had no idea what was going on. I just didn’t see my dad as often as I used to. My siblings and I visited him every now and again. I vaguely recall an apartment or a house he must have been working on, because the emptiness of the place and the smell of paint are the only details that stick in my brain. I sort of remember going to North Carolina to visit my dad’s dad, and the really cool miniature bowling game/toy I played with while I was there.

I seem to remember a lot of weird stuff. Memory, right? It’s never exactly right, but what’s left is still precious. I attended an elementary school called Timber Trace for my 2nd and 3rd grade years. I should have mentioned this paragraphs ago, but I was born in Florida. When people ask me where I’m from, I typically start my response by saying “I’m originally from Florida, but … ” The “but” is important here. I had some pretty good times at Timber Trace. I met a young man who became my first best friend. Michael Black is his name, and if he ever finds his way to this blog for some strange, unforeseen reason, I want him to know I wish him well. We spent a good deal of time in the after-school program at Timber Trace, and my first brush with swearing and being a generally unsavory person occurred there. There was a counselor in this program, by the name of Pedro, if I recall correctly. Pedro was a really nice guy. I had no beef with him. But somehow we learned that raising only one’s middle finger was something that people just shouldn’t do. As eight-year-old kids interested in mischief, we had to do it. For some reason we picked Pedro as our target.

Pedro didn’t see us flip him off. We didn’t mean any harm by it, not directly. But I still feel guilty for unknowingly using such a rude gesture on him.

My good times with Michael Black came to an end, however. On my way from eight to nine, my mom met a man in an online chat room. This was right around 1997, going into 1998. The internet was just starting its transformation into a household phenomenon. My mom was on the cutting edge, it seemed. She fell in love with the man. She decided she wanted to be with the man.

My stepdad lives in Reno, Nevada. “I’m originally from Florida, but …” But I grew up in Nevada. I count Reno as my home. Most of my loves, I discovered in this weird desert haven for gambling and second chances. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I have a story that involves two Christmases.

Christmas the First: When I was six, still in Florida, my dad bought me a Super Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. There were a few games among my Christmas presents, and Donkey Kong Country was one of them. Thus began my lifelong love affair with Nintendo, Donkey Kong, and video games in general. I’d borrowed a neighbor’s GameBoy to play what I vaguely remember being a Kirby game once or twice, but the Super Nintendo was the first console I owned. It was special. When I discovered a Super Nintendo in the rec room at the Timber Trace after-school program, I turned it on. Super Mario World booted up, and, hilarious as it sounds, I had no idea what the fuck was going on. I’d never played a Super Mario Brothers game in my life up to that point. Soon I would better understand the totally rad nature of that after-school Super Nintendo.

Christmas the Second: In Nevada, I was delighted to discover that my step-siblings had a Nintendo 64. We always call it the N64, ’cause we’re cool like that. Of course, one of the treasures of the N64 days is Super Mario 64. You bet that my nine-year-old self played the heck out of that game. The real magic struck during the Christmas of ’98, however. I was nine, going on ten. I had a fresh GameBoy Color, the neon green one, and Link’s Awakening, but I can’t remember if that was before or after this momentous Christmas. That’s because that Christmas, we kids received what every gamer child wanted that year: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When most folks start talking about Zelda, I say “Yeah, Ocarina was the first one I played.” Even though it might have been Link’s Awakening. Most people know Ocarina at this point.

I’ll probably write a post about Link’s Awakening soon, since the remake was announced a short while ago, but for now, I’m thinking back on the first ten years of my existence. By the time I was ten, I had dabbled in Donkey Kong, Mario, and Zelda. I had played Nintendo’s masterpieces from that time period, and I was all about them. My devotion to video games had only just begun.

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Pastimes Take Time, Folks

Sometimes, even sitting down to play a video game or read a book feels like too much effort. This is especially true when the specific genre of entertainment is a meaty one – think role-playing games or fantasy novels, here. Of course, I’m generalizing; there are some role-playing games that won’t suck months of one’s life away, and there are genre novels that read faster than a fucking tweet.

I’m prefacing this rambling entry with generalizations about lengthy distractions (whoa, that might be a fun Saturday night) because I’ve managed to load up my video game backlog with a bunch of rpgs. Jrpgs, to be exact. Off the top of my head, I’ve got Octopath Traveler, Final Fantasy VII, Etrian Odyssey V, AND Etrian Odyssey Nexus waiting in the wings.

Today, I’ll focus on Octopath, because it’s the only aforementioned game that I’ve actually sunk a decent amount of time into.

Ah, Octopath Traveler. From the get-go, it sounds like a lot. Eight paths? That one must travel? Er, that eight must travel? With me controlling them? Let’s not get into a discussion of characters’ free will, and instead talk about this rad-yet-complicated premise for a game. Historically, Jrpgs are notorious for dragging on. Debates about what constitutes a worthy video game purchase aside, many people want to get the most game for their buck. A ten hour flash in the console just ain’t gonna cut it. So when a new Jrpg comes along, offering anywhere between forty and a bazillion hours of gameplay, nerds such as myself get all excited.

So when I finally bought a Nintendo Switch, I bought Octopath along with it.

That was at the end of November. Actually, I’m loathe to admit that I caved into crappy consumer culture and I SHOPPED ON THANKSGIVING. You read that right, folks: I, a hardworking drone of the capitalist system, spent my hard-earned dollars in a way that caused GameStop employees to miss turkey time with their families and loved ones. Is it possible those GameStop employees were okay with that? Yes, of course, but the principle still stands: Thanksgiving should be a break for, like, everyone in the U.S., and damn it, it wasn’t for those workers. And I stood in line with a shitload of other hooligans, clamoring for those SWEET GOD DAMN DEALS.

But back to Octopath. I’ve had the game since, fuck, November. December, January, February … that’s at least three months. I’ve done all kinds of other stuff in that time. It’s not like I devote every free moment I have to playing games. Maybe if I did, I’d be done with the game by now.

That ain’t how I operate, though. Not anymore. I used to pull wacky marathons with certain game series, usually intensive Bethesda-related affairs like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. I’ve been taking my sweet time with Octopath. I mean, c’mon – eight paths! In the Jrpgs of yore, you’d usually have some sort of “main protagonist,” but they’d be accompanied by a full-fledged party of other fucking protagonists. So like, there’s a “main character,” with other important characters to aid them on their journey. Poor bastards, all fighting over second fiddle.

There ain’t no second fiddle in Octopath. Just kidding, I’m a liar already. See, here’s the weird thing about Octopath: it simultaneously breaks and cleaves to the mold. There are eight characters, all of whom have a fully fleshed out story to propel forward. That means every character is a main character. That’s eight main characters. That’s a lot. But it’s a pretty cool concept, giving each character the attention and intentions they deserve. There’s just one small hiccup in all this dope character equality: you pick a “primary character” at the very beginning of the game.

“But wait, Chris! We thought you said there ain’t no second fiddles in Octopath!” You’re right, concerned reader. That’s more or less exactly what I said. Wrote. Whatever. But as I also said, I’m a liar already. Even though all eight characters in Octopath Traveler have a fully fleshed out story and plenty of screen time to shine, the player must pick one to be the “main” main character.

So what does this mean, exactly? Well, it mostly just means you never make that character chill out at the tavern while you go adventuring. Your main main character stays in your party, a hundred percent of the time, every time. You’ve got eight characters, right? But your party can only accommodate four characters. So there are always four characters just chillin’ at the nearest tavern, presumably, while your merry band goes adventuring. Does this create some experience and power discrepancies? Sure, but they’re not game-killers. I suppose, in retrospect, picking a primary character does affect the route you take in the beginning. See, each character begins in a different city, and that starting point affects your travel options from there. We can’t forget the second part of the title, see? Octopath Traveler. You’ve gotta move in this game, and depending on where you start, you’ll probably move in mysterious ways.

Okay, shitty U2 reference aside, it doesn’t take too long to get the entire roster together. Says the guy who’s been playing the game, off and on, for more than three months. Each character goes through four chapters to get to the end of their respective stories, and I’m at the point where chapter three is my focus. I’m about three-fourths done with the game. After three months. Gimme another month, and I might be done.

That is, if I can find the time to play. I’ve also been Super Smashing my way into fun times, and I finally gave the Resident Evil Remake a shot. Or two hundred – I used way too many bullets in my first play-through! Anyway, this has probably been enough rambling. I know I said that I would update y’all about my past, like, two years of gaming – consider this my first of many Tarantino-esque flashbacks.

We’ll go back in time. Then we’ll come back to now. And finally, we’ll face … the future?!

Let’s keep moving and loving, folks.

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rambling

Hello, and hello again.

Well. It’s been a long time, eh? For those of you who have read a thing or two I’ve written, I am sorry; it’s been about a year and a half since I threw any of my thoughts into this blog. I am alive and well, I promise you this. To be fair to any new readers, and maybe just to clear the air, I’m gonna use this post to (re-)introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Chris and I’m a 29-year-old dude who attempts to live in the desert jewel-in-the-rough that is Reno, Nevada. I say I attempt to live because some days feel more like a slog, and I behave in a way that may be likened to a zombie shambling from food source to food source. Slow. Desperate. Weirdly focused. On what, you ask? Let’s answer that with a list-like thing!

  1. I play video games.

Yep, if you hadn’t guessed already, I play video games. They’ve been a big part of my life thus far, and despite some close calls a few years back, I haven’t put them down for good. Maybe they’re more like zombies than I am, persisting even when things look grim. Especially when things look grim. All I said was that I haven’t put video games down for good and all of a sudden they’re undead … my mind likes to wander. Anyway, the majority of my posts cover my video game escapades, but I indulge in more hobbies that should probably be mentioned here.

2. I read books.

“Wow, Chris! You seem to like things that keep you far away from people!” Well, that’s true. I’m something like a zombie, remember? If I get too close to people, I might bite. That’s only half a lie, but I really do enjoy my introverted, introspective pastimes. Since I was a child, I’ve had a tendency to divide my alone time between books and video games. I have a hard time acclimating to even one tiny nook in our great big world, yet I devote hours upon hours to committing myriad virtual worlds to my brain space. I wonder what it would look like if it could manifest outside my skull? Let’s not take that one too literally, folks.

3. I play board games.

A while back, back in the days when I half-heartedly tried to revive this blog the first time, I was dating someone. Before we tried each other out, she dated a guy whose father is way into Euro games. Are you lost yet? I’m sorry, I know these details are too much for anyone but me to care about. Long story cut a bit shorter, that woman broke up with me, but I ended up continuing the weekly board game nights with her other ex’s dad. Most of us call him Pops. He’s a great dude, and he graciously lets me raid his fridge for soda, his chip stash for bucketfuls of tortilla chips, and his relatively impressive game collection for good times. Some weeks I have to take a break from the board games, but those weeks are few and far between. I suppose board games are one of the few, new constants in my life.

4. I play tabletop role-playing games.

I finally got around to giving the ol’ grandpappy of video games a try. What is that, some of you may be asking? Dungeons & Dragons, of course! Y’know, D&D … DnD … DunDa? Dee ampersand Dee? I typically say it as DnD, but I prefer to type out D&D because the ampersand makes it look more complicated than it actually is. And it turns out, that’s how the game is, too. The first time I rolled a D20, I was sweating bullets because I thought I’d made a bad decision, or flubbed some simple thing, but, uh … D&D is actually pretty rad. The only difficult part is creating a character and getting through some number crunching, and maybe getting into character for a session … it’s hard to explain. The point of this role-playing themed rambling is to say that I play D&D now, I love it, and I’m giving Cyberpunk 2020 a try. Tabletop rpgs are dope as fuck, and I see where a lot of the early video game developers got a lot of their ideas.

5. I’m a cat man.

Not, like, a half-man, half-cat thing. I’m just a man who really likes cats. Like, I like dogs, too, but I’ve always preferred felines to the canines. I can get along with dogs, but I love cats. You’ve heard all of these phrases before, and they’re still true. For me, that is. They might not be true for you, and that’s one of the beautiful things about existence, no? We all have different preferences, likes and dislikes, tastes, touches, and so on. I live with my brother, and we live with a cat named Willow. She’s super adorable, and super needy. She wants one of us right beside her while she eats. Like, every time she eats … she may have some attachment issues, but that’s okay. Every night I fall asleep, she’s right there with me. Just another awesomely new and fuzzy constant in my life.

6. I’m also a plant man.

Not, like, a half-man, half-cat, half-plant thing. I’m just a man who really tries to keep plants alive. Our apartment was looking sort of drab, and I’ve always enjoyed good green plants, and at some point within the last year Pops decided his big-ass rubber tree plant needed a good trim. So he offered me his rubber tree cuttings. I looked into rooting those suckers, and after some rough trial and error which I thought may end up doing the plants in and proving once and for all that I have a deadly thumb, I managed to keep the two beauties alive. They’re in our living room, flanking my brother’s spider plant and getting taller by the week. I can keep plants alive, and that makes me feel … well, I was gonna say “like a god,” but I really just feel satisfied. It’s a good feeling, keeping something beautiful and practical alive.

7. I’m a cashier.

Yeah, I’ve gotta talk about work eventually. Unfortunately, the capitalist system into which I was born demands that I perform some sort of drudgery to earn scant dollars to then funnel to people and institutions who wield an inordinate amount of power over me and the ways in which I live and … you get the picture. I don’t particularly like how skewed things are in favor of corporations and landlords, but uh, I need to eat and I want to have a decent amount of walls keeping me warm and comfy at night. You know, four walls, with a floor and a ceiling to bottom and top things off. It’s not that I want to be boxed in, but I don’t have the money necessary to buy a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece dwelling, or, like, pay architects and construction crews to summon my dream house from the aether with blood, sweat, and tears (and massive checking accounts!). So I make do with what I can afford. Which is a modest apartment for rent. I am thankful that I can manage this much, but hopefully, I’ll reach a point where I’m more in control of my life path.

This is probably enough list-like ranting for now, yes? I plan to update this blog at least once a week, and I want to do it on the same day/night every week. What’s today? Tuesday? Okay, it’s gonna be an “every Tuesday at the very least” sort of thing, then. I have all kinds of video game-related updates to give you. I have a bunch of weird, incidental stories to share. I just have a lot of words I want to put out there, whether you’re reading them or not.

Let’s keep on living and loving, folks.

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