rambling

Of Dice and Dens

Greetings from Pandemicland! I apologize if the exclamation point on that sentence sends you into fits of frustration and confusion. I understand that life is confusing and scary right now, more confusing and scary than it usually is. It’s been more than four months since the state in which I live went into lockdown. It’s been a lot more than four months since I updated you in prose. (A note: you may have noticed that the title of this blog changed at the start of 2020, and that’s intentional: I started this year with the goal of writing one poem every day, and this blog is how I keep up with my daily poetry. It’s going well so far, and that keeps me happy.) This blog began as my personal love-letter to the video games I love, and it became a strange avenue through which I talked to myself and a virtual audience about the games I play, the games I’ve played, and how I feel about whatever random video game-related topics on which I decide to focus.

This guy is still all about games, but he’s also about more than games. Whoops, perspective shift! Back to the first-person. My interests are multi-faceted, and it may help to break the developments in my gaming life into smaller chunks. Let’s do that with some fancy headings, shall we?

A Consoling Shift from Consoles to PC

In the midst of the holidays, I was bequeathed a magnificent gift. Long story short, my brother had been playing games on a PC our step-brother handed down to him, and the trend of one gamer upgrading their computer to pass the old computer to someone else continued. Our step-brother passed the PC to my brother, then my brother ran into trouble with the machine and decided to buy a whole new rig. Still, many of our friends told us that it would be simple to fix the old PC and even upgrade it. So that’s what my brother and a good friend of ours did. When the parts came in, I had no idea they were for me. My brother told me our friend was coming over to help him fix the old PC, and I said “Oh, cool.”

It was way cooler than I anticipated. They’d pooled their funds together to buy some pretty nice parts for the computer. Not state-of-the-art stuff, but still pretty good as far as performance goes. It was decently fast, it could play most of the games I wanted to play – the only problem was its lack of storage space, but that could be fixed down the line when I really needed the upgrade.

This inevitable shift to the comfort and ease of PC gaming has changed the game, er, my gaming habits. On consoles, I had already begun downloading most games and storing them for convenience. With this revamped PC and the eventual storage upgrade I made, I could double down on the practice of buying games on sale and storing them for later. I now have a Steam library! My backlog grows considerably! I have even made the hilarious decision to purchase some games a second time on PC, just so I have them where I want them – right in front of me, all day long. No more will I wander to the couch to sit for hours and feel funny when someone wants to use the TV.

This also means that my attention is more easily divided. I had sort of put away computers, for the most part. Then this fancy PC comes along, and I’m smitten by the internet again. I scroll Reddit endlessly. If I get tired of playing a game, I can pause it, minimize or exit the window, and jump to the interweb for funzies. I love and hate how easy it is to do several things in rapid succession on a computer. My attention is divided, and I already have focus problems. On the whole, however, this has been a boon – I’m one of the lucky people who has been able to work from home during this pandemic. The fancy PC makes remote work rather easy. So I call it a big step forward.

Nice Times With Dice Near and Far

“Wait, sir! You said that playing video games isn’t all you do!” Good catch, reader. I don’t just play video games – I also play tabletop role-playing games, and oh, the pandemic has changed those sessions in a lot of ways.

First of all, I’m playing in a much more manageable number of campaigns: two. Playing two campaigns is actually a fairly recent development, ’cause I was only playing one for a while. At the start of the lockdown, the group that met at my apartment took a short break before attempting online play. Our DM set up a whole fancy system on Fantasy Grounds, he got a new campaign ready, we played one trial session – and we haven’t played since. Hell, we’ve barely spoken since. It’s not that the trial went poorly – it was enjoyable enough, but it didn’t grab anyone, I think. I also think we were all tired of playing level 1 characters; slogging through the introductory portions of any campaign can get old, especially when you’ve done it a lot. At this point, we’d collectively started four campaigns together, if you counted the online one we just played once. That’s four early-game slogs. That’s four potentially awesome characters that barely get off the ground. If we could just stick with one campaign, maybe we could play around at higher levels. At this point, however, things petered out. Which gave me a little more free time, so I could focus on my second, more consistent group.

This consistent group is the group that tried Pathfinder 2E together. We liked it enough to keep playing. Our characters have somehow made it to level 6. All right, that’s half a lie: a few sessions ago we made several grievous tactical errors and two of our characters died. My dude survived, barely. My friends who lost characters made new characters, each with an eye toward survival and maximum destruction. We joined forces with their new characters and are now on adventures together. We’re wandering on an island in the middle of a giant bog that’s shrouded in unnatural mist. It’s creepy, and it’s super fun.

We like Pathfinder 2E so much that we play a second campaign. Okay, it’s more like this: on the random nights I couldn’t play Pathfinder before the pandemic hit, the crew played a second campaign without me. Now that I shifted to Discord and playing remotely, it became easier to include me in this other campaign. They asked if I’d be okay playing two sessions a week, one for the level 6 party and the other for this newer, level 2 party. I said hell yeah. I rolled a level 2 cleric and came up with a strange and mysterious religion for him to follow. I’ve only played two sessions in this fresh campaign, but it’s already loads of fun and I’m excited to develop this new character.

So the tabletop life is a bit more manageable now that I’m playing with one consistent group and they’re cool with me playing remotely. We play twice a week, the same times every week, and I can plan my life around these evenings.

The Bookish Life is the Life for Me

Ah, books. The constant loves of my life. Right before the lockdown began, I wandered the local Barnes & Noble the night before my birthday and bought myself three books. One was a nearly-800-page powerhouse of literary fiction. One was a 200-page novel by my favorite contemporary author. One was a paperback version of a play that I already own in a much-too-fancy hardback edition – I like to read carefully ’cause I’m a coward like that, but even I fear that I’ll ruin my fancy books. So I bought a practical edition of that one.

That’s three, right? One and one and one, yep, that’s right. So I bought these books and I said to myself “Hey, you should read the big literary one, ’cause you know the Murakami will be over in like two days and you’ve read the play before. What can 800 pages do to stop you?”

800 pages can do a lot to stop me. Lockdown started the next week, and I found myself wandering aimlessly from my room to the kitchen to the living room and back again, wondering what the hell to do with my time. I wasn’t too motivated, but I started the book anyway. I made a decent dent of about 100 pages before I put it down for a while. Then I began a stop-and-go quest to finish the book, picking it up every few days and eking out around ten or fifteen pages every session.

In this halting way, I managed to finally finish the book sometime near the end of June – it only took me three-and-a-half months. I am normally a much faster reader, but I couldn’t do it with this one. I will probably never recommend this book to anyone unless they explicitly tell me that they’ve always wanted to read it. Then I’ll willingly discuss it, but otherwise, I’m leaving it on the shelf and in my memories. It was compelling and entertaining, but it was also dense and difficult at times. I’m still not sure if it was worth it.

So I sort of learned my lesson after that. Wait a minute, no I didn’t: I finished the Murakami novel in two days like I thought I would, then I sat around for a week before I felt strange with nothing new to read. I had my mask with me after heading into the office last week, so I decided to brave Barnes & Noble in the middle of the pandemic. Mask on my face and covering my nose and mouth, I walked into the store and vigorously rubbed hand sanitizer all over my hands. Thanks to the B&N staff for that, by the way! Anywho, I went upstairs to find the shelves all spaced out for social distancing, and while wandering the small poetry section I grabbed a slim collection of stuff by Billy Collins. Then I went to the shelves labeled “Fiction” and finally found the gigantic tome I’d been searching for all those months ago.

It’s a novel called Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. It’s over 1,000 pages long and it consists of a single stream-of-consciousness sentence. I read of it about half a year ago and got way excited to read it, but I could never find it in the store. I could have ordered it, but I figured, hey, I’ll get to it someday. Last week, I finally got to it. It’s on my shelf now, waiting for me. Sometime soon, I’ll open it up and become spellbound by its wondrous words – I just know it. I’ll do my best to keep you posted as to my progress.

So Time is Filled These Ways

There you have it, good reader – the ways I spend my free time during quarantine. I have games aplenty, and books, and I write one poem every day. I’m also working full-time thanks to the magic of remote work, although much of my work requires me to be in the office for the next few weeks; we’re very safe there, as we all wear face masks, maintain social distance, and vigorously clean our hands. So if there are several of us in the same space, we minimize the risks as much as we can.

I don’t want to lie: I’m not sure when I’ll give a rambling update like this one again. There are even more facets to my life and free time that I could go into, but talking/writing about my main introverted entertainments took a while. I think this may be the longest, most rambling post I’ve ever written. And now it might interrupt my main page poetry feed. I may need to work on further customizing this site so the poetry is still the main focus. I really don’t know what people want, but I know what I want: to write poems, to share them in my own way, and to write long updates on my well-being every once in a while. So here’s an update.

I hope you’re all doing well in the midst of this difficult paradigm shift, and I look forward to making a better world with all of you. Let’s learn something from all of this trouble, yeah? I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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