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My Time With COVID-19

Yep, I caught it. I’m still well enough to record some of my thoughts. Here’s a log of my recent COVID experience, starting a few weeks before I caught it. Jesus, it sounds like a fucking Pokemon, and it shouldn’t. Anyway, I’ll update this as things develop.

The New Year: December 31st, 2021 Leading Into January, 2022

I have friends. This may seem weird to some, since I tend toward introversion and I’m not easy to get to know, but I have a group of people with whom I enjoy spending time. My friends and I made plans to ring in the new year. We’ve been relatively safe about the virus: we’re all fully vaccinated, we all wear masks when we go out, we wash our hands. We figured we’d be fine.

These details only become relevant in the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve soiree. See, we all drank that night. I’ve never gotten shitfaced, and I didn’t get shitfaced that night, but I drank a little more than I usually do. A lot of champagne. Okay, I had two glasses of champagne, max, but my brother went hard on the champagne. We all stayed awake until 4 AM, watching Return of the King (we primed The Two Towers so we’d hear Theoden say “So it begins” as soon as 2022 started, and we kept watching from there). We should have gone to bed sooner. All these minor-yet-unhealthy decisions will make sense in the aftermath of the soiree.

So, after the soiree, my brother felt sick. Like, not “I drank too much and gotta barf” sick, but a combination of a hangover and a respiratory affliction. Ah, there it is: a respiratory affliction. My brother immediately starts saying “Oh shit, [our friend who’s a nurse] might have brought something to that get-together.” Now, I saw his logic, but I didn’t buy it. Our nurse friend is careful. We’re all careful, but we can’t account for other people. The impropriety and carelessness of other people will become relevant in the aftermath of the aftermath of the soiree.

The First Week of January, 2022

Alex (my brother) decided to stay home from work the week after the soiree, afraid he might have COVID and not wanting to infect anyone. We all masked up in the house. He ordered a test from a pharmacy to be sure of his condition. Our stepsister was in town, but Alex wound up quarantining and working from home so he didn’t see her much at all.

He finally goes to get tested on Friday, telling us he won’t get results until 4 PM Saturday. We keep wearing masks. We avoid each other’s company. He gets the message from the pharmacy: he’s COVID negative, all activities may resume. Whatever cold-like illness he had was just that: a cold-like illness not as threatening as COVID-19. The timing is pretty good; our sister’s birthday was on Friday, and our family was making plans to celebrate. There’s a restaurant we all like in midtown, and our sister asked if we’d all go eat there with her next Friday, the 14th. We agreed. We’d been to the restaurant before, and it seemed safe. Everyone there wore masks, we wore masks, and so on.

A quick aside from me: I realize how messed up it is for people to go to restaurants in the middle of a pandemic. I’m not one of those “Gimme mah FREEDUMS” Americans, though I’ll admit now that I haven’t been as careful as I could be. I’ve gone to restaurants for birthdays and such. I am, in fact, part of the problem. I, and everyone else, should have just stayed home for months. Like, literally, stayed inside. Yet such extreme measures are untenable within a capitalist system that demands people still pay money for shelter and food. If the government had provided people a lot more money, and a lot more resources, to stay home and prevent infection, we likely wouldn’t be in this mess. But perhaps my solutions to the real capitalist plague that’s killing us are best left for another time. Back to COVID, I suppose.

The Second Week of January, 2022

Things were looking up. Alex tested negative and so he returned to work that week. I showed up to work a scant few times, for reasons unrelated to sickness, which I won’t go into here. Okay, I’ll touch on it a bit: I work at a non-profit, and funding is everything. You have funding, you get paid. You don’t have funding, you don’t get paid. There’s definitely funding to pay me for my work, but due to some assumptions on my part, the account from which I get my paychecks wasn’t added to my timesheet. I assumed my boss was too busy to handle this problem, so I reached out to someone else … it became a whole thing when it didn’t have to, and now it hardly matters ’cause, well, COVID. Work can wait.

Anyway, back to COVID. Alex went back to work, I went to work, everything seemed fine and dandy. What I didn’t know was that Alex was still experiencing symptoms of whatever cold-like illness he’d caught before. We lived as though everyone was well: we ate in the kitchen together, we talked about random shit, and when we went to the restaurant for our sister’s birthday celebration, I sat between Alex and our sister. Alex drove us there. I wore my mask the whole time, unless I was taking a bite or a sip. I was trying to be careful. The dinner was great, and things seemed so good. We went home, and did our respective things.

The next day, Alex had plans to go shooting with our friends who hosted the new year’s eve soiree. They went to a shooting range in the morning, then Alex went to a flight class in the afternoon. He came home, made dinner, and he and I and our roommate all sat down to eat food. After dinner, I went upstairs to play video games, and Alex left to hang out with the same friends with whom he’d gone shooting. I didn’t know they’d planned an evening get-together, but I shrugged and went back to gaming. That is, until my phone rang.

I joke that Alex doesn’t call me unless someone’s dead or deathly ill. We’re not really that extreme, but still, we hardly call each other. So I answered the phone, expecting bad news but not expecting this bad news. “I took an at-home test over here and I tested positive.”

Oh fuck. Maximum quarantine initiated.

The Unraveling

Alex stayed in his room all weekend, and if he went into the kitchen to grab anything, he disinfected the stuff he touched. Our mom dropped off five at-home COVID tests along with supplies for Alex, and we all divvied up the tests. I took one, our roommate took another, and Alex took the rest. I don’t know why he took the rest, he’d already tested positive. He tested himself again to be sure, and again, it was positive. I tested myself: negative. Our roommate tested himself, also negative. We seemed fine, though we still lived in an infected zone.

I resolved to test myself every two days, to be sure I was in the clear. The virus takes time to incubate, and in an infected house, I’m susceptible to illness. Tuesday (yesterday) was the big day: if I tested negative, I’d be able to dogsit for a friend, as I agreed the prior week. I’d already reached out and told her that Alex tested positive for COVID, and even if I tested negative, I may be a carrier. I didn’t want to bring anything into her home. She told me not to worry, that she and her partner could take their dog on the trip. That was all very good, because I started feeling a little sick on Sunday. On Monday, I felt a little worse, and on Monday night when I tried to fall asleep, I felt fucking awful. I don’t know if it was real or if it was me having a panic attack, but I had to consciously think about breathing while I sprawled out, trying to fall asleep.

So Tuesday morning, I felt awful. I mean, I’ve been telling people it’s like “a bad cold,” and that’s not wrong. But in my vulnerable moments, it’s not fun. I got myself a cup of coffee downstairs and grabbed one of our at-home tests, then brought it to my room. I went through the whole procedure, pretty sure I knew the outcome: it’d gotten me, and my quarantime had begun. I was correct. I tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, a Tuesday, the 18th of January, 2022. I didn’t think too clearly at first. I wondered “Where do I brush my teeth?” (I share the upstairs bathroom with our roommate.) “What will Willow do?” (My cat loves my room because I’m there, but her food and litter box are downstairs. She’s so skittish, she usually won’t go down there unless I’m nearby. I can’t go down there, not with COVID.) I carelessly left my door open while I contemplated these issues, and my roommate passed by, asking how I felt. “I feel bad, man. I got it.” He responded “Oh shit. Please close your door.” Yeah, you right.

So I closed my door and hammered out the details of my banishment. Willow had been cool upstairs before; while I don’t like confining her to one room, as long as she has all her stuff, she’s happy. So I masked up and ventured downstairs to grab a bunch of supplies. Willow’s food and water bowls, her litter box, a towel to put beneath the litter box, her big bin of food. Paper towels, tissues, and a trash bag for all my infected shit. I filled my water bottle. I took my toothbrush and toothpaste downstairs, into Alex’s bathroom, since he’s infected already and we can share the sick zone.

It’s Wednesday now. I actually feel better today than I did yesterday, though I’m pretty sure I’m still super contagious. A lot of good people have sent well wishes, and a few have offered to drop off care packages and/or send things to us. I appreciate all the love and support, and I think, thanks to the vaccine, I’ll get through this without too much trouble. I am a type 1 diabetic, which is not great when it comes to viruses and sicknesses. My immune system is compromised … so thank the scientists and researchers and testers for the vaccine. I believe it’s literally saved my life.

I plan to update this post as things develop. When I’m recovered, you’ll all know. Thanks for reading this far, if you have … I didn’t intend for this to go on for so long. It was meant to be a quick logbook, of sorts. Now it’s like a public diary entry haha.

A Note Regarding the Source of our Woes

So naturally, as soon as I started feeling super sick, I thought back on the interactions I had leading up to this. I went to work a few times last week, but only interacted with one person. We had masks on and my co-worker is careful. Diligent. I don’t believe I got it from her – it just wouldn’t make sense. The timeline points to Alex getting it first, then passing it to me. So the real question is, where did Alex get infected?

The bummer is that after that fake-out negative test two weeks ago, Alex thought he could return to work safely. I mentioned way in the beginning of this post that people’s impropriety and carelessness would become relevant in the aftermath of the aftermath of the new year’s soiree. Well, Alex’s return to work is that second aftermath. Yesterday, we met in his ultra-infected bathroom to talk about things. I mentioned that I’d been trying to trace my illness, and he said “Well, I shouldn’t have gone back to work. Most people there are good with their masks and everything, but this one guy who I worked close with, he kept removing his mask and when he put it back on, he didn’t cover his nose.” So there you have it. I wouldn’t string this dude up in front of a firing squad or anything, but I would berate him for being an unconscientious prick. The random dude who probably infected my brother last week is one example of the people who are prolonging this pandemic, people who don’t trust science or don’t think about the health of others when they make decisions.

I said earlier that I’m part of the problem. I realize now that chilling in a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, vaccinated and masked up as I am, is still not smart or kind. The virus mutates, and all it takes is one carrier to spread that shit like wildfire. I can only hope that Alex didn’t infect more people at that restaurant. I’m fairly certain I got it from him while we sat next to each other that evening.

Going forward, I’m not going to restaurants. I’m not going anywhere public for fun, unless I’m hiking or doing something outside. I’ll shop at grocery stores again, once I’ve recovered, but only because we all need food to live (gods, I need to learn to grow my own food). I don’t want to spread this thing. I don’t want to pretend that nothing is wrong, when clearly, a lot is wrong with our systems, and the ways we’ve been forced to live our lives.

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Another Anti-capitalist Rant

A Note From the Author: I started writing out this critique on January 10th, mostly off the cuff, after seeing posts addressing the 100th anniversary of the first successful insulin treatment. I think I meant to take it further, but I stopped ranting and just saved it as a draft. I added one sentence for clarification, but really, who stops to clarify their thoughts in the middle of a rant but the most self-critical, anxious overthinkers? Oh yeah, that’s me … but anyway, here we go.

Can you imagine being a person who witnessed the discovery of insulin and thinking “Oh great! Now that diabetics can live, how can we charge them money for that luxury?” Yes, to profit off misery – I fucking hate pharmaceutical companies. I just heard tell of people in California pushing for an affordable way to synthesize insulin at home. I also know there are researchers out there who are trying to create tools that will make insulin accessible and affordable to everyone. Bless them, for they are saints. Medicine and healthcare should never be out of anyone’s price range; capitalism is twisted, and sick, and demoralizing, and destructive, and poisonous, and insidious, but it’s also been hilariously obvious how its shortcomings far outweigh its benefits. Wait, what benefits? That’s right, capitalism has no fucking benefits. It tricks people into believing their worth is tied to their work, and if you’re not productive, then you’re worthless. Somber news flash that’s actually decades old: our productivity has skyrocketed while our wages have stagnated. Now, CEO pay has also skyrocketed. Hmm, a coincidence? Fuck no, friend. The people in power, politicians and executives and management types and grifters (whatever, they’re all grifters) who have all the money and power hold the strings of huge fucking purses, and they shower coins upon anyone who will help them squeeze every last drop of value from exploited workers. We’ve been exploited, time and again, by people who already had way more money and opportunities than us, to grant themselves even more money and opportunities, while we waste away in the shadows. Can’t afford healthcare. Can’t afford a vacation. All the god damn money that “bigwigs” and “fat cats” get paid in humongous bonuses, payouts, and disgustingly large salaries? That’s money that could be paid to workers. Which would then be pumped back into the economy as we all pay for the shit we need to live healthy, happy lives. We shouldn’t have to pay money to live healthy, happy lives.

I don’t want money to be the crux of a good or a bad time. I don’t want a dollar value to be assigned to anything. I want necessities given free of charge, and I want people to care for one another, and I don’t want to hop back and forth on Venmo to make sure I’ve paid all my dues. Money pits us all against one another. We should target the bastards who take what is ours. Rise up, and throw the bigwigs down. Bring them to our level. But it’s too late for the bigwigs: they’re too sick and twisted to withstand the continual trauma inflicted upon the oppressed. The nerve of them, to grease their ways into safe havens.

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Learning to Love Long Underwear

It’s sort of a joke at this point, at least in the U.S. for people who celebrate Christmas, that eventually, all the gifts that mortified us as children take on a new sheen when we’re adults. You probably know what I’m talking about: the limp and lumpy packages that inevitably gave way to reveal socks, underwear, new pajamas, clothes of some kind. Sometime in the last five years or so, I reached the point where I embrace the reality of time’s long and assured destruction of my body. Since that needn’t be one fell explosion (though it might be, depending on how unhealthy I continue to be), it’s important to take measures to protect myself against gradual degradation. That’s just a fancy way of saying that I need to take better care of myself.

This idea initially germinated as a post-Christmas reflection on the passing of time and the changes our understandings of space undergo, with particular regard to the personal space of our bodies, but, naturally, Christmas leads right into the new year … our usage of time is a construct, unnaturally, but I can’t deny the very real effects of aging and the contraction of years into closed-accordions of more anxiety and fewer real memories. So I’m melding my new understanding of holiday gifts with my renewed interest in my own wellbeing to create a relatively tidy end-of-year rumination on my recent life.

Winters are, by definition, cold. When one lives in a place like my hometown, nestled in the high desert near a few mountain ranges, there’s a good chance snow will actually bless the lands and curse the roads with a white Christmas. And that’s exactly what happened this year: winter storms were forecast, people prepared as they preferred to (either by rolling their eyes and continuing as usual or by stocking up on necessities), and while the pre-Christmas storms were light, a fucking blizzard danced atop my little city all Christmas day.

And I said to myself, thank the maker I asked for long underwear. The limp and lumpy packages I hated as a kid, they became my shield against the storm this season. I unwrapped a three-pack of knitted socks, a three-pack of thermal underwear, a handful of thermal long-sleeved shirts, a set of “loungewear,” which I believe is just adult-speak for pajamas, a new jacket that keeps me warm with an efficacy I never expected, and, perhaps the greatest gift of all, two pairs of gloves to protect my hands from the frigid desert air. You may have noticed that I’m missing a few important pieces of winterwear, but I assure you, I already have a good hat, a nice scarf, and hiking boots that keep me from sliding around. Combine the clothes I already owned with my newly received gifts, and I’m pretty fucking set to wander the snow-wracked wastelands of my home. Hell, I can wander the snow-wracked wastelands of any place, as long as it’s not, like, Minnesota or Antarctica or Alaska or okay, maybe I’m not as prepared for the super cold places of the world. But I am prepared for single digit temperatures … below zero is a whole other beast, with icicles for fangs and snow for fur. Icy eyes and a frozen soul. No thank you.

Rather than take the old approach to the cold, which involved me putting on a sweater or a hoodie and saying “I’ll tough it out, it’s not that bad,” I now suit up head to toe to prepare for any foray into the cold. My brother, bless his DIY leanings, finished making and installing a coat rack a few days before Christmas, and my favorite little hook now carries all the things I need if I want to go outside in inclement weather: gloves, jacket, hat. I even took my masks out of my room and hung them from the hook; it’s just convenient to have the things I need for the outdoors hanging within reach. These days, with snow on the ground and ice permeating the air, I wear thermal underwear beneath my pants, and I pull thick socks over the underwear; I put a thermal shirt on over my t-shirt, and if it’s really cold, I’ll wear a sweater over that, before I pull my jacket on for outdoor adventures. I always wear my beanie, and the other day, I walked into my parents’ house to hear my mom say “Where are your hiking boots? I bought them ’cause you asked for them.” See, that was for Christmas a year ago. And damn it, she’s right: I asked for hiking boots so I’d be ready to go outside in more extreme conditions, and I was just ignoring them. So I placed my hiking boots in the foyer, below the coat rack, so I can grab them and pull them on when I have to venture outside during a storm, or when I want to go on a hike, or whatever. I’m just ready now, is what I’m trying to say.

This readiness, and this desire to be ready and outfitted, literally, for any circumstance, is now a part of my new year’s resolution to take better care of myself. For those who may not know, I’m 32 years old, going on 33. By most standards, this isn’t old or even middle-aged, but I’m also a type-1 diabetic. I haven’t been watching my health like I should, and I haven’t taken care of my body like I should. I know that “should” can be a dangerous and belittling word, and I don’t mean to belittle myself; I’ve been caught up in my own struggles, but if I can just take the time to treat my body better, I’ll be happier and healthier. I’ll probably be more long-lived too; it’s not that I want to be immortal, but I do imagine a future where I’m able to walk around at leisure and run a bit if I want to and maybe even tromp through the beautiful woods. For that to happen, well, the world needs to survive. If we manage to avoid a complete global meltdown, and I make it to some number even closer to old age than I am now, I’d like to be healthy. So here’s to a new year, whereby I treat myself well and I work on my wellbeing.

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Drangleic, Redux

With Elden Ring closer to release than ever before, my hype is through the damn roof. Probably through the stratosphere. I checked YouTube every day during the closed network test, and watched hours of footage with and without commentary, and I remembered why I love the Soulsbornekiro (lol, the term just gets bigger) community. People were getting genuinely excited about everything, on camera and/or microphone, and it was beautiful to behold. Memes and serious discussions have swirled from the Elden Ring void for months and months now. We’ve finally experienced some of the game with our own hands (for the lucky testers) and eyes (for the audience members like myself). Some folks believe that too much anticipation is anathema to eventual enjoyment, but I believe they’re wrong: after seeing new details of Elden Ring, I’m even more excited than I was before.

Jesus lord, there are still three months to go before release! I’m so excited and I want to feel the beauty of something, hell, anything FromSoft has made. Anything, I said? Strap your Faraam boots on and heft your blades, folks, ’cause I was so desperate for FromSoft content and so nostalgic for older days that I *gulp* downloaded Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Steam.

“Chris,” those of you who don’t play video games are saying, “what does that even mean?” Stay a while and I’ll tell you. Or don’t – I force no one to read and/or listen to my words. In the Souls community, there are a few generally accepted notions. One of these is this: Dark Souls II is the stepchild of the Souls family. Demon’s Souls released on the PS3 years ago and became a cult classic, then Dark Souls followed and garnered more mainstream popularity. Folks were playing and talking about that game, at least, until Skyrim released about a month later and distracted everyone for … way too long. Still, the reality is that Dark Souls followed the road that Demon’s Souls had paved, and that road would eventually lead FromSoft to acclaim, recognition, sales, and, sweet Jesus, rabid fanpersonhood (it’s a new term I just made up). However, a good foundation doesn’t guarantee smooth construction. Indeed, things can get weird during the building phase. FromSoft has built a fantastic repertoire, and a wonderful fanbase, but Dark Souls II tested all of us. I said in this very same paragraph that I’d tell you why. I suppose I should stop stalling and actually tell you why Dark Souls II is an invitation to debate.

The first Dark Souls is a masterpiece of game design: it features a seamless, interconnected world, challenging enemy AI, deep NPC questlines that span the entirety of the game, hilarious and fun (and possibly frustrating) multiplayer options, an engaging leveling system, more weapons and armor than you can shake a stick at … it’s fucking beautiful. Then, Dark Souls II released. And it offered more of the same. Not necessarily a bad thing, right? Well, it’s hard to describe, but … Dark Souls II always felt slapdash. Incomplete. Like something is missing. Many fans explain Dark Souls II away by saying it tried to recreate the magic of the first game without understanding why the first game was so magical. For years now, I’ve been one of these fans, saying that “Dark Souls II is a good game, it’s just not a good Souls game.”

I’ve had two friends tell me that Dark Souls II is underrated. That I judge it too harshly. Admittedly, I completed Dark Souls II back in the day. I was pulled in by its mysteries, because I love learning cool new things and experiencing interesting worlds. Despite flaws in some of its mechanics and design, Dark Souls II is compelling, and challenging.

So I’ve had my hardline stance shifted by my friends, and here’s the kicker: I never played the “definitive” version of Dark Souls II. What does this even mean? Well, in the age of DLC and game expansions, it means that Dark Souls II inevitably had new content added to it. And well, I never actually played that new content. Both of the people who told me that Dark Souls II is underrated specifically mentioned that “You have to play it with all the DLC.” And I had never done that. And I sit here, saying things like “Dark Souls II is meh” and “I prefer I and III.”

Earlier, I called the game “Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.” That is because this is the name of the game with all its expansions. As is the case with many older games, one may now buy a “definitive” or “complete” edition with all the DLC stuff added in from the start. So, in my excitement and eagerness to experience something FromSoft made, and to tide myself over until Elden Ring comes out, I bought Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

I’m not too far into the game yet, but I’m having a ton of flashbacks. I’m remembering parts that pissed me off, but I’m also re-experiencing the parts that pulled me in. The slow unfolding of a mysterious origami creation – or maybe it’s more like the slow folding of a mysterious origami creation, as one doesn’t get the full idea until it’s all experienced and done. I’ve moved through the game a little differently this time around. Instead of opting for the “I’m new here, let me go through things in some kind of intended order” strategy, I’ve thrown myself willy-nilly at mid-game stuff because I want to use a specific weapon. So I rushed to that weapon, and now I’ve got it, and I’ll be a bit more relaxed from here on out. I haven’t seen any of the new content yet, and that’s fine – I’ll discover it naturally, I hope.

Some stuff is still frustrating: the combat feels so fucking janky, and hitboxes are strange. The NPCs and world are fantastic, until they’re not; draw distances and relative scope are not realized in any realistic sense, and as they say, the devil’s in the details. Upon close scrutiny, much of the world falls apart, and it’s non-sensical. But this is sort of the main thrust of Souls lore. Time is convoluted, and things are not necessarily in any order. If I embrace this mindset, the game is much more bearable.

Some of my favorite armor sets are in this game, and my favorite weapon type, twinblades, was introduced in Dark Souls II. Some of my least favorite bosses are in this game. Shit, most of my least favorite bosses are in this game, but that just means I’ll enjoy beating the shit out of them. This is also my first PC FromSoft experience, and it’s sort of preparing me for Elden Ring: I pre-purchased Elden Ring on Steam, and I’m hoping that years of PC development will pay off in a relatively bug-free launch come late February.

I could probably talk about Dark Souls II for days, and wax philosophical about its place in FromSoft’s game design timeline, and its place in the community … shit, I haven’t even touched on the fact that FromSoft’s “B team” made the game. But like, I honestly don’t think that’s important right now. What’s important is that Dark Souls II was a step on the road that eventually led here, to the Elden Ring hype train (carriage?), and I ride this vehicle willingly. I’m so excited for Elden Ring, and weirdly, I’m excited to experience Dark Souls II again, in its complete form. Happy days to you, folks, and make sure to do something you love today.

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Of Salt and Artifice

There comes a time in every person’s life when they question their dietary choices and habits. I must admit, I’ve come to that time in my life at least a few times. Around four years ago, I had just been released from a relationship with someone who was attempting to go vegan (that’s my nice way of saying she broke up with me), and I was a few months into a new job as a cashier in a middle-of-the-road Trader Joe’s wannabe grocery store. This meant that I had a decent discount on groceries (yay, they probably cost, well, closer to what they should have cost without bullshit markups … but that’s a complaint for a different piece). Anywho, since I was dating someone who wanted to be vegan, and I care about animals in my own way, I also tried to be vegan. Even after that relationship ended, I tried to be plant-based. I did a pretty decent job of it too, until I lost my job at that grocery store.

That time had the potential to be immensely transformative. I don’t often make radical changes to my habits, and in a way, I’m not sure it’s necessary for people to push themselves so hard all the time. The best thing about attempted radical changes, on a personal level, is that even if they don’t pan out, they usually allow space for a person to make smaller changes to their habits. And as some argue, consistent small changes are easier to stick with. So I kept the desire to be vegan in the back of my mind, and fell back a little. When I was a kid and a teenager and oh fuck it, pretty much my whole life I’ve been a huge devotee of fast food, frozen delights, and pre-packaged salt-sprayed junk extravaganzas. And sugar. So much sugar. Have I ever mentioned that I’m a type 1 diabetic? Yeah, my longtime love affair with fast food and sugary snacks is not healthy for me. Hence, my reflecting on my eating habits.

Moving into my brother’s newly acquired house has not given me a lot of space to fix my habits, but that’s only because I don’t take the time to shift my behaviors. My brother, Alex, has actually been trying very hard to cook his own meals every day, and it’s really good to see him paying so much attention to his health. Meanwhile, our roommate Dalton is a longtime friend of Alex’s, and a medium-time friend of mine, and he eats more like I do: hella fast food, salted snacks, and frozen meals. We also tend to be at home more often than not, and because of this, he and I go shopping together. So I default to the Dalton method, and I buy a lot of snacks, and frozen stuff, and only a smattering of fresh ingredients. This makes me sad, but I also take full responsibility for my ultimate lack of regard for my health. I fall into other people’s influence too easily, and I want shopping to be easy for me and for Dalton. So I get the crap I grew up with.

Yet I still dream of healthier living. About a month ago, while I was shopping by myself for a handful of things, I thought “Maybe I should learn how to cook tofu.” So I went to the aisle that houses the tofu, and I looked for a small pack of the stuff. They were out of the unflavored tofu, which I wanted so I could learn how to flavor it myself, so I grabbed a pack of Moroccan-spiced tofu … or something like that. Supposedly, it’s seasoned with spices one would find in Morocco? I’m not actually sure, and it might be a marketing thing. The important thing is, I got pre-seasoned tofu, put it in the deli drawer at home, and just let it sit there. Until today.

Before I talk about today though, I should address the last several weeks. Dalton and I were shopping a few weeks ago and we wandered into an aisle that displayed all kinds of noodles. As in, cups of soup, and pre-packaged ramen. We went for some cups of soup, were not too pleased with the later results, and resolved to buy a bunch of ramen the next time it was available. Well, about two weeks ago, we found a bunch of chicken flavored ramen. And we bought a box of it. So we started making ramen for ourselves, like the relatively poor American dudes we are. I went with just ramen and flavoring the first time, and Dalton mentioned how he cracked an egg into his to give it more flavor and body. I said, oh yeah, that sounds fucking great. So the next time I made ramen, I cracked two eggs into that shit, and used way less water so my broth would be packed with good flavors.

So a few weeks of ramen go by, and I’m feeling pretty good. Today, I go downstairs to make something to eat, and I think “I don’t have any bread right now, so maybe I’ll just wrap cheese in ham and have a little snack.” Then I look past the lunch meat and cheese and I see it: the tofu I bought a little more than a month ago. I think to myself “Tofu is pretty good in ramen.” So I set out two eggs, a package of ramen, a bowl with a fork, a pot, a wooden spoon, a small pan, and the tofu. I put water in the pot, and start heating it. I also start heating the pan as I cut open the package of tofu, then I slice the tofu into cubes. I drop all the tofu in the pan, and when the water boils, I drop the ramen noodles into the pot. I have the noodles going on the left, and the tofu going on the right. After two minutes, I crack the eggs into the ramen, and I push the tofu around with my wooden spoon. Another minutes goes by, and I put my ramen and egg concoction into the bowl. I throw the chicken flavoring all over it, and I stir it well. Then I toss all the tofu into the bowl.

Voila, as one would say in French. I made ramen with eggs and Moroccan tofu … I think. It tasted damn good, and I’m now wondering how I can flavor tofu on my own so I don’t need to bother with the pre-flavored stuff. I think tofu with noodles and eggs is actually pretty fuckin’ tasty, and I was happy as I ate my work. It’s not vegan, and it’s not as healthy as it could be, but I’m still glad that I’m making some kind of food for myself. One of these days, I’d love to make my own noodles, and master that art. For now, I’ll put noodles and tofu and other stuff together, for a pretty good meal. Happy days to you, and don’t stay hungry if you can help it!

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Wandering and Wondering

I’ve been paying extremely close attention to two video games, one of which already exists for players, and another which is nearing completion and is available (in a limited capacity) to a select number of people. I wondered (ha, title reference?) if I should cram both of these games into a rambling write-up, because my mind has been preoccupied with both of them, and I quickly decided that I’d do my best to cover both of them, and my feelings toward them. So here I go: bear with me, friends, as I try to shove my thoughts into lines and paragraphs that make some semblance of sense.

Wondering About Series Progression

The first game, which released almost two years ago at the very beginning of the pandemic, is a wonderful life sim called Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You may have heard of it. If you’re someone who doesn’t play video games at all, then I respect you and I welcome you to this space, and I will inform you that this post is gonna talk about two video games at length. And you’re some of the only people who have maybe not heard of Animal Crossing. But I doubt it – the internet puts its grubby claws on everything these days! Anywho, uh, I keep stalling ’cause I’m not entirely sure how to fuse two subjects into an “essay” anymore. I may have lost my touch. Eh, I’m not too worried. I’ll plod on and do my best – here we go! (How many times will he say “Here we go,” you may wonder … at least a few times!)

Animal Crossing is a life simulator that blew everyone’s minds back in the early aughts due to its clever use of the Nintendo GameCube’s internal clock: the game kept track of time, in real time! If your console’s clock was aligned with your real-world time, and it was 2:00 PM in your time zone, it was 2:00 PM in the game as well – holy shit! You may scoff now, but back then, this concept was fucking revolutionary. “Sweet Jesus, man, you call it a life simulator – are you born into the game world only to die eventually, just like real life?” No, hypothetical reader/TED Talk audience member. You are instead thrust into a simulated world of debt, responsibility, and the choice to save up your hard-earned money to get a bigger house, or use your Bells (in-game currency) to buy, like, whatever. But if you buy more stuff, you need a bigger house to properly display it and store it. And your friends can live in your town, which was saved locally to your memory card, or they could play separately in their own towns. Which you could visit by train, if your friends inserted their memory card into your GameCube (that’s somehow the sexiest non-sexual video game thing I’ve ever said .. woohoo?!).

I’m getting ahead of myself by diving way too deep into the first Animal Crossing’s gameplay, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. Fuck. In essence, the game starts with you on a train, leaving your home behind and embarking on your own; in a way, it is like a birth into a whole new world. You have no money, but you somehow agreed to buy a house anyway. You can catch bugs and fish to sell for money, or to donate to a museum, and oh gosh the feeling of being the first of your friends with a full museum is fucking phenomenal … I’m doing it again. I’m getting carried away.

Animal Crossing is, and always has been, a game about doing whatever the hell you want, within the game’s parameters. You can work your ass off to pay off your home loans and expand your house, or you can live a modest life and use your money for other stuff. You can spend all day fishing in the rivers, or the ocean. The second game added a cafe to the museum, which you could visit to purchase coffee. This is one of the greatest innovations in any video game series ever. Don’t fight me on this, the update to the current game speaks for itself … okay, I’m doing it again.

The third game, which is the one with which I have the least experience (even Animal Crossing burnout is real), introduced a whole separate shopping plaza, which you could fund and populate with the various shopkeepers and peddlers who wandered around at random in the first two games. This meant that there was less hoping and crossing of fingers – if you want to see a particular vendor, you need only travel to the shopping plaza.

The fourth game, which moved ahead to the 3DS, saw you take over as the mayor of your own little town. In previous games, an aging tortoise (turtle? I am not well versed in zoology) named Tortimer presided over each town/city in which you lived. He showed up for important events and holidays to give you cool knick-knacks. Well, in New Leaf, Tortimer was moved to an optional island for mini games and fun, and you took over the running of the town. This meant that you could decide which “Public Works Projects” would decorate the exterior spaces of your town. This was huge – previously, you couldn’t place stuff outside your house. You couldn’t place anything on the ground, but there were still cool things you could add to your very own town. It was fun, and addictive.

Now we finally arrive at the fifth and current Animal Crossing game, a gem called New Horizons. It involves permanently living on your very own island. You’re not the mayor, but you may choose to be the “Resident Representative” of your island. This means you make all the final decisions about where new residents will live, and where to place shops and new developments, and bridges and inclines and holy moly there’s so much. The game also added DIY “recipes,” which are essentially crafting options. All that furniture from the old games? Sadly, it’s not all here in New Horizons. I believe, to save themselves the trouble of thinking of recipes for all the old furniture, they simply chose to scale back the sheer number of decorative items. We all noticed this scaling back, and it bothered many of us. Do I still enjoy the game? Hell yeah – finding new crafting recipes adds a whole new element to the game, and it’s super rewarding to save up resources and build new things every day.

Another missing element, however, was the cafe. The blessed, blessed cafe. This upset most of us, and rightly so. The game also released without a dedicated shopping space, so we all had to wait patiently for certain vendors to grace our islands with their presence. It was random, and it was awful. What if I was working so often that I couldn’t play every day? This is definitely reality for many people, and the concept of checking your island every day to see if Crazy Redd is docked is just not friendly game design.

But thank the stars, New Horizons was updated about a week ago. The cafe is back, and better than ever. Harv’s island, which previously only housed a photography mini-game (which I personally don’t find interesting, but eh, to each their own), may now become the permanent home of all those wandering vendors. If they’re not on your island making sales, they’re on Harv’s island, hoping you’ll swing by and look at their wares. Even Tortimer is back, just to make us old-timers happy!

There are also a whole bunch of new items, and crafting recipes, and you can cook food now! Isabelle, your assistant from New Leaf, has also been improved: instead of prattling off inane bullshit about her tv binges, she informs you of which vendor or traveling person is currently wandering around your island. There are so many improvements. The game feels like it went from a scrawny hollowed out version of Animal Crossing to a fully fleshed out, strong Animal Crossing. Not that I hated it before: I played it, enjoyed it for about two months, and promptly put it down for a long time. This update really fills in that hollow space. But speaking of hollows …

Wandering a New, Deadly World

The second game is the latest game in FromSoftware’s Soulsborne … family? Series? Anywho, Demon’s Souls is arguably the first in this style, and it was followed by Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2, and Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 3, and Sekiro … we’re actually not sure what to call this whole collection, but so far, Soulsborne has worked pretty well. As you may know if you play video games, these games are pretty tough. When I first played Dark Souls, I likened its difficulty to the old NES days of pattern memorization and tell recognition: if you fought the same enemy enough, you’d know their tells and their patterns, and you could respond accordingly to win eventually.

This style holds up remarkably well, and the “Nintendo hard” glory of Soulsborne games has pulled in many a gamer, myself included. I fucking love Bloodborne more than the other games, and I think I may count it as the best game I’ve played in my life thus far, but uh … the newest game looks to be even better than Bloodborne. Which, I think, is what we all want from a software developer/video game creator, right?

Oh my stars, I haven’t even mentioned what this game is called. Soulsborne vets already know what I’m about to say: the game is called Elden Ring, and it looks. Fucking. Amazing. A bit of context may be in order here.

A few years ago, Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of most Soulsborne games, revealed that he was working on a new game. George R.R. Martin was namedropped, and it was revealed that he was collaborating with FromSoftware on this new title. Nerd radars went off all over: the acclaimed writer of A Song of Ice and Fire (known to many as Game of Thrones) was working with our glorious team at FromSoft? On a new game? What beautiful fantasies were they putting together? My god, how violent would this game be? HOW DEEP WOULD THE LORE BE? AHHHHH, it’s almost too much … I doubt you could even imagine it!

Okay, internet jokes aside, we learned of this awesome collaborative force. Then, like, nothing. We got no news. We heard whispers of the game’s continued development, but only received bits and pieces of information. Like a drip feed, tangled and snarled to the point of no release. Dear God, the game will still release, right?

We fans clamored for news. We made up lore, and gameplay mechanics, and memes, all to bide our time. Then we all received cryptic internet missives: the Summer Game Fest of 2021 may include information regarding Elden Ring. The host, Geoff Keighley, was jokingly stuck in “gamer jail” for neglecting to reveal possible Elden Ring news in the past. This was his big chance to free himself, we all joked. If he could deliver us anything about Elden Ring, he’d be free from gamer jail.

To avoid dragging this out any longer, he did it. He freed himself from gamer prison. Geoff beamed as a brand new Elden Ring trailer started to play.

We all ate it up. We drank all of it in. We fucking consumed that trailer like it was nectar of the gods. Which, in a way, it was: sweet nectar from the developer gods at FromSoftware, who were working to create this fantastic world for us to explore.

“Wait, sir – what’s so different about this world?!” Well, I was gonna mention it earlier, but I sorta forgot to do it. Elden Ring may best be described as Dark Souls meets Breath of the Wild. Go on, hold your applause – I’ll explain what most of us gamers already know and accept.

Dark Souls set the standard for gritty fantasy games with difficult bosses and enemies. For the past ten years, so many developers have taken leaves from the book written by FromSoft when they created Dark Souls. Open world games have been a thing for decades now, but Soulsborne games are somewhere else on the gaming spectrum: their worlds are sometimes interconnected, with levels and areas meeting back up with other areas, but more often than not, there’s a linear progression to them. Until now, with Elden Ring.

You see, Elden Ring features six areas and bosses that we all assume are required to be defeated in order to beat the game. However, instead of systematically working one’s way through a linear progression of areas that culminate with a final boss, we have … a whole open world to explore, and bosses to defeat as we see fit, in whatever order we choose. Or so it seems thus far. We may go through the game’s big, beautiful world in the ways we see fit, with the gear and abilities we prefer, in the order we choose. If there’s an easier way to progress things, most of us may opt for that route … but it looks like we may be able to run to even harder areas and enemies, if we think we can take them.

Dark Souls sort of offered options like this, but there were definite gameplay barriers for certain points. A linear progression. Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, allows gamers to rush to the very end of the game, if they want. Gamers may play the game and explore at their leisure, and approach enemies and challenges with their preferred methods – it rewrote a lot of the “open world” formula to allow for many answers to the game’s questions.

And it looks like Elden Ring is embracing Breath of the Wild’s fresh take on exploration – do it at your own pace, and focus on the things you enjoy. But when you decide to engage in combat, it’s got all the cool options FromSoft has explored in their journey here: the grueling difficulty of Dark Souls, the fine-tuned stealth of Sekiro, the pacing of Bloodborne, but THERE’S ALSO MOUNTED COMBAT, which is totally new.

There are so many options, and they’ve all been refined over the years that FromSoft has spent making games we love. Their old games are linear, and still really good. But Elden Ring, well, it’s open world. It’s letting us all decide how the hell we approach its challenges, and we like that.

I’m speaking for FromSoft fans here, and maybe that’s unfair. I should just say what I enjoy. I’m looking forward to Elden Ring so much that I already paid for it on Steam. The day it releases will see me sitting down with a bunch of snacks, and sandwiches, or fish, or something, maybe with a bunch of soda and some beers. I’ll sink into this whole new world, and I’ll get lost, and I’ll wander to all these beautiful places. And I’ll love every second and every pixel of it.

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There’s Always Time for Grime

Howdy folks! I’d meant to write this, well, almost a month ago. That’s ’cause a sweet game called Grime released in early August, and I’d been waiting a long time to play it. I’ve been surfing, rather, diving into Reddit way too often throughout the pandemic, and thanks to my Reddit obsession I see a lot of posts regarding video games. Games that look really cool. I usually glean enough info about games from trailers and developer updates to decide whether they’re worth a shot, and well, this interesting game called Grime kept coming up in the Metroidvania subreddit. That was the first indicator that I’d enjoy the damn game: it’s a Metroidvania, which is just a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, which are both series that involve platforming and action-packed encounters and diligent searching to find all the hidden items, and … I could go on forever, but if you’ve read any of my past stuff, you may have picked up on my love for Castlevania, and my appreciation of Metroid. Or maybe you didn’t, ’cause like, I’ve been writing a lot more poetry lately.

Sorry for mansplaining (me-splaining?) Metroidvanias, but I want it to be known that I have a preferred game style, especially these days. Every now and then I go out of my way to play something a little off my personal path, but during these times of heightened stress and tough living, I’ve fallen back on my favorite gaming sub-genre to fill my heart and soul with joy. Which means I’ve been playing a lot of Metroidvanias or roguelikes, ’cause action-packed challenges tend to make me happy. And I found Grime on the Metroidvania subreddit, as I mentioned before. So it had that going for it.

The other thing it had going for it was its unique aesthetic: Grime looks frigging awesome, but also pretty weird. You explore and fight as a statuesque humanoid with a blackhole for a head. You read that right: you have a blackhole for a head. So you’re a statue-person whose head is a blackhole, and you’re slapping the shit out of funky rock creatures and bone-monstrosities and clay bastards and … well, I shouldn’t spoil all of it, actually. This is my weird way of saying that the game looks interesting, in a way that pulls at me … much like a black hole, oh damn. So I got pulled in by the established sub-genre and the unique look.

But here’s the best part about Grime: it was so mysterious beyond the developer updates and rampant speculation that I knew almost nothing going into it. I didn’t know how long it would last, what kinds of mechanics I’d be utilizing, which weapons I’d use to destroy my foes, or what the story would offer … I just knew it all looked cool, and I wanted to learn more. So I put the game on my wishlist, and the moment it went on sale, I bought it. And I played it. And I … eventually became a weird mix of impressed and disappointed.

I was impressed most by the deep lore and emotional pull (there it is again) of the game. The story isn’t spoonfed to the player, but pieced together from item descriptions and area names and NPC dialogue; so the game borrows some storytelling techniques from Dark Souls, and the devs use those techniques well. I want to say quickly that I realize Demon’s Souls was made before Dark Souls, but I think the latter is the one most gamers recognize. So I use it to refer to indirect modes of world-building and storytelling. Anyway, Grime took me a much longer time to finish than I thought it would, but by the time I beat the game, I was nearly in tears. It was an emotional journey, and the game does a great job of layering details and realizations until you have a formidable sense of scope – the world before you is intricate, and your place in it is meaningful.

Another great aspect of the game is its control. Not just the actual controls, but the way your blackhole-headed character runs, and dodges, and swings their weapons – it’s all finely tuned and it feels great. My only small gripe with this is that it took me part of a second playthrough to really appreciate the finer grains of combat, mostly ’cause I made some strange choices with my character build (oh yeah, I forgot to mention: you also level up and allocate statistics in Grime) … long story short, I thought I’d be a badass and ignore health improvements. So my character had base health, and I died in, like, two hits. Sometimes even just one hit. It made combat difficult, but in my second playthrough, I actually leveled health and combat became a much smoother dance. It feels good because any mistakes you make, any losses you suffer, are literally in your hands: none of the fights felt unfair, except for maybe the final phase of one boss … but they fixed that in an update, huzzah!

And that brings me to my small list of disappointments. Grime was lovingly crafted by a rather small development team, and this means that it has some rough edges. One thing I noticed: my first playthrough took FOREVER because, er, I couldn’t fast-travel as often as I wanted. What I’m saying here is, there weren’t enough fucking fast-travel locations in the game. So there weren’t enough shortcuts. And uh, despite the character feeling great in combat, they really don’t move fast … at all. So running from one part of the world to another takes a long time, and without a robust fast-travel system, the game’s length is padded by unnecessary foot travel. Thankfully, the devs added a bunch of new fast-travel spots in updates since the game released, and this change has brought the game much closer to perfection!

Yet more gripes (Grime gripes?) exist. When I really enjoy a game, I take the time to unlock all the achievements to really dig into the experience and do everything that I can. I want to show my respect to the developers and spend as much time playing the game as it takes to really complete it. But there were some achievements for Grime that were legit unearnable because they were glitched, or, in the most egregious case, because the devs forgot to place one item in the game. Naturally, all these glitches and missing items have been fixed, so I now have all the achievements! But you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that I spent a ton of time scouring the game and wondering what the hell I did wrong only to learn that it wasn’t my fault at all. I was pretty pissed at first, but I got over it, and things are much smoother now. I have to give the devs a lot of slack, ’cause they’re a small team.

AND, most importantly, Grime is really good. Like, super enjoyable, and it just feels great to play. The music is fantastic. The sound effects are masterful. The combat is super refined, and the story/lore is just top-notch. I felt something while playing the game, and that says a lot. That’s why I feel so funny mentioning all the rough edges: as of now, they’re mostly sanded off and fixed, but for some reason, I want to record the initial troubles I had. It may not be fair to the state of the game now, but I kind of want to acknowledge what can happen when a stellar game suffers frustrating bugs, and how awesome it is when the creators address their game’s problems and bring it closer to perfection.

I had a great time with Grime, and I encourage everyone to get sucked into its gravitational pull.

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Sort of a Public Journal Entry

Sometimes I get lonely. Actually, I always get lonely. For me, lonely is a constant state of being. I think I have a problem. My problem is that no matter how much social interaction I’ve had in a given time period, my reaction to most invitations is to say “Yes, please.” I convince myself that I’m so lonely that I just have to fill the void with other people. Naturally, this does not ease my loneliness.

The real problem is that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to enjoy my own company. To sit back with just me and my thoughts. That brings up my second response to constant loneliness: if there are no people around, there is always the internet. Or video games. Or my phone. Notice how I didn’t mention books or my journal or my cat. I’ve swapped organic, wholesome connections with fabricated time-killers. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve played and loved video games since I was about six years old. I wouldn’t call every single minute spent playing a game a waste; however, even I have noticed that I’m too insistent to boot up a game and drown myself in pixels these days. It’s because I don’t want to do the work of improving myself.

I don’t necessarily believe that I have to be an ideal version of myself to find a stable connection to other humans. I can be in the middle of improving myself and still find common ground with my friends and family. Sometimes, though, in the middle of the long nights when I swipe endlessly on Tinder and Bumble, just waiting for the quick rush of joy brought on by a match (these are fewer and further between these days), I start to believe that I’ll never form a solid connection because I’m not at “one-hundred percent,” and I haven’t been at “one-hundred percent” ever.

You can probably see why such a mindset is bullshit, and completely unhealthy. Who is ever at their full capacity in the midst of this late-stage capitalist hellhole? Existence tends to be a desperate clutching as we cling to burning branches in the worst firestorms we’ve ever seen. The firestorms are literal and figurative nowadays. I imagine the interlocking systems of capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny, racism, ableism, et cetera, as the factors that create the storms. They’re fucking terrible. They’re killing us all, faster and faster with each passing day.

It is too easy for my self-pity to morph into rumination on the quickening decay of wellness due to the powers that be. I go from the micro of myself to the macro of the state. This state being the overarching authority that impels most global change (read: catastrophe). It’s usually the U.S. I suppose a more general term would be “imperialism” or “empire.”

All of this rambling about unfair power structures and exploitation of the masses is to place myself and my emotional struggles squarely in the crosshairs of history. I am not unique in my suffering: everywhere around the world, people are lonely, and frustrated, and tired, and distracted, and pissed off, and desperate to find some sense of meaning in the madness of life. Life doesn’t have to be quite so maddening; we feel brittle because current systems are designed to make us brittle. So I am lonely, and I am struggling to find my silver linings, because it is difficult to disentangle myself from the worsening material conditions of the masses.

I am not trying to foist responsibility or blame upon the forces outside myself. Wait, yes I am; what amount of willpower on the individual’s part can stand up to the slavering titan that is imperialism? I am all too aware of how fucked up everything is, and this awareness feeds into my reading of every interaction I have.

Believe it or not, I started this rambling piece with the intent of exploring a funny and possibly twisted thought experiment I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s possibly twisted because it leans on the gender binary, and for this I apologize. I identify as a cishet male. When I look at myself in the mirror, sometimes I acknowledge the fact that what I see is what other people see, and then I remind myself that I look at many other people with an eye toward my aesthetic satisfaction and romantic fulfillment. If I am constantly on the lookout for the people who attract me, then there are people looking at me and wondering if I attract them. More often than not, I don’t think I attract people. Of course, it’s hard to tell these days; the pandemic makes close social scrutiny dangerous.

But this all circles back to connections and dating apps’ stilted attempts to forge them. I say they’re stilted, and intentionally so, because the point isn’t to bring people together for a permanent life journey; the point is to get people swiping, and paying, and hoping for permanence, only to miss that or lose it and start swiping again. That’s capitalism: get people to try your product, then manufacture conditions to make your product more desirable.

So anyway, my thought experiment: since many of us are looking at each other, and looking for aesthetic and/or romantic satisfaction, who finds me attractive? Furthermore, would I find myself attractive if I was another person? I realize this all goes beyond physicality, but at first glance, it’s all about the face. So I look in the mirror and, being attracted to women, I wonder: what would a female version of myself look like? If it was possible to distill my physicality and all the factors that influence my bodily makeup into a female facsimile of me, what would she look like? And, if I saw my female self, would I be attracted to her?

I recall that line from Silence of the Lambs: “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me. I’d fuck me hard.” I want to think that my female self would be attractive in some way. Not everyone finds my particularly geeky brand of physicality sexy, but I know there are folks out there who like the way I look. This is all just a very roundabout way of saying that I wonder if I’m attractive. And it goes beyond physicality: I stop and wonder if the way I speak, the way I communicate, the way I try to think, I wonder if these are attractive or if they’re deal-breakers.

I have to acknowledge right now that I probably shouldn’t use Tinder and Bumble as litmus tests for how charming or “datable” I am. I realize that in the beginning, these apps were mostly used for hook-ups. That reputation still stands strong, for many are the profiles that read “Not looking for hook-ups.”

So I get bent out of shape because I don’t make too many connections on apps that are designed to squeeze money from me by artfully denying me real connections. Yet the pandemic has made it hard to organically “meet” people, so … I turn to the internet.

I won’t hide the truth: I went to the bathroom in the middle of writing this and I forgot where I wanted to go next. I have been thinking, however: the whole gist of this rambling self-pity party is me asking the question “Do I even like myself?” And if I don’t really like myself, what can I do to become a person of whom I am proud? I take my friends for granted, believing that if people spend time around me, I must be a good person. Yet I know that this is not sound logic. I can always do better.

Now I’m ready to ask myself “Would you hang out with you?” Would I text myself back comfortably? Would I want to cook dinner with me? Would I want to go on a road trip with me? I want to be a person who is liked and respected. I want to deserve these positive feelings.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. There are some who would pipe up and say “You don’t need to earn these things!” I’m somewhere in the middle: I don’t think that good relations are a given, but I do believe that everyone deserves common decency until they demonstrate that they don’t deserve it.

I’m not even sure how to end this. I’m lonely, and I want to connect with people. I suppose I’ll keep trying to improve myself.

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Walking Through Death’s Door

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about literal death. I’m talking metaphorical, figurative, pixelated death. I suppose that in the video game world of Death’s Door, death is real for the folks you defeat. You play as a bona fide reaper, after all; but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start again.

In the recently released Death’s Door, you take on the role of an adorable crow whose 9-5 job is to reap souls. You step off a bus and into a grayscale office complex where your murder of crows performs all the duties relevant to reaping, storing, and harnessing the souls of the dead. One of your colleagues handles soul requisitions; another types up the paperwork that officiates your handlings of said requisitions; a third crow guards the soul vault, and allows you to upgrade your abilities with the souls you gather. That’s because you’re the “muscle,” if you will: you walk off the aforementioned bus with a sword on your back. You’re here to chew bubblegum and claim souls, and you’re all out of bubblegum.

The upgrade system is a very video-gamified way of displaying the progression one expects to undergo on a job; the more you work, the better you get at working, usually. So the more you reap souls, the better you get at kicking ass. Your fellow crows serve as mouthpieces for the drudgery of streamlined office bureaucracy; your handler is always stressed out by their workload, the typist is legitimately obsessed with typing and knows nothing else, and one of your fellow reapers frequently mentions a staggering workload and calls the job a gig. It’s not meaningful work, necessarily; it’s the status quo, and there are some reasons why the drudgery has increased in recent years.

I won’t go into those reasons as they’re definitely spoilers, but I will take this time to pivot to just how fantastic Death’s Door is as not just a video game, but as a work of art. I will go that far in describing it: the game is art, and every aspect of it is meticulously planned out and designed to produce the maximum amount of joy, satisfaction, and fun. The artistic direction is cartoonishly charming and gorgeous – I was excited to just stop moving our crow every now and then so I could absorb the beauty of the game’s world. The level design is also top-notch, with every room and area integral to progression; I would argue that there are almost no frills in the game, and this makes for a very quick and satisfying pace. The leanness of the world design may be a double-edged sword, however, since the game is so good that I just want to experience more of it … but overall, I prefer a short and sweet experience to a long and rotting one.

The writing is great as well, and I found myself smiling at the various personalities you meet throughout the game, and laughing during particular conversations. Finally, the gameplay is fantastic. Combat is tough but fair, and every time I experienced the harrowing DEATH screen, I quickly analyzed my output to realize that I’d made some mistakes. When I die in Death’s Door, it’s no one’s fault but my own. The game gives you everything you need to succeed, and it’s up to you to use your skills to cleave through challenges and reap as many souls as you can.

All in all, the game has everything one could want: beautiful art, stellar music, sharp writing, and satisfying gameplay. The cherry on top of this video game masterpiece is trust, and just like in real life, trust is a two-way street. The game’s creators, an awesome group called Acid Nerve, trust players to persevere and continue fighting and exploring to uncover every last secret in the game. This is where the other way of the street comes into play: while the creators trust players to be patient and explore everything, players must trust the creators and their vision. There are plenty of places in the game where a particular path is blocked, but only temporarily; if players trust the developers, they leave that blockage for later, when they’ve earned a new ability that opens the path. As of this write-up, a decent number of players are impatient and tend to ask “How do I get past [insert obstacle here]?,” when all they need to do is keep playing the game. They will acquire the abilities they need to progress; it just takes some time.

I don’t mean to bash these players. I happen to be a big fan of these “Metroidvania-esque” games, wherein backtracking with new abilities is standard fare. I was prepared to come across walls I couldn’t open, only to blast them with a bomb later. I know the subgenre, and in a funny way, Death’s Door is a Metroidvania despite its relatively tight design.

I love this game so much that I’ve actively participated in various Reddit threads about the game. I tend to be introverted and stuck in my own little bubble, but sometimes I like something so much that I have to gush about it. So I’m on Reddit, and now I’m on my blog, gushing about Death’s Door. It’s one of the most immaculately crafted games I’ve experienced in recent years, and I hope that it sells super well so Acid Nerve can make a sequel, or an expansion, or even just a spiritual successor. Speaking of Acid Nerve, I highly recommend that folks try Titan Souls; it was made before Death’s Door, and a lot of the gameplay in the latter was influenced by the former.

So there they are: my thoughts regarding Death’s Door. As scary as it may sound, I strongly suggest that you go and wander through Death’s Door – it’s a valuable experience, and a rewarding one.

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rambling

The Demons Gotta Go

Hey folks, thanks for stopping by. I’d like to ramble a bit about a particular video game I’ve been playing. Oh hell, there’s no point in drawing this out. I’ve been playing GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon.

If you’re scratching your head at this point and wondering what the heck that is, don’t worry – I went through a similar query almost ten years ago, when I first stumbled upon Getsu Fuma. For the quick answer: GetsuFumaDen was an action/hack and slash game made by Konami in 1987. It never released stateside, which mostly explains why I and my fellow Americans scratch their heads when they hear about it.

But wait – if GetsuFumaDen never released stateside, how the heck do I know what it is? Well, I love Castlevania. Konami, despite their recent slip-ups, will forever be thanked by me for bestowing the awesomeness of Castlevania on the world. While Castlevania took off like a leaping flea-man, er, a rocket, GetsuFumaDen stood alone, as though it was waiting for hell to be unleashed upon the world, ready to swing a sword at monstrous demons with deadly precision … but first things first.

For what was to be his final official Castlevania game developed for Konami, Koji Igarashi pulled out all the stops and delivered a multi-generational, time-bending tour-de-force that featured protagonists from almost every Castlevania game. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair freaked me out at first, but only because I didn’t understand how the game worked, or how fun cooperative games could be. I’d spent most of my life getting lost in solitary endeavors, traipsing through huge worlds and downing the forces of evil on my own. So when a co-op Castlevania game came out, I was real confused.

Until my friend invited me to play the game with him over Xbox Live, that is. I soon got the hang of cutting monsters to ribbons with my friend, and my brother, and any random folks who joined our sessions. It turns out that teamwork can be fun, and rewarding.

We played the shit out of the game. We harmonized our despairs perfectly, and soon Dracula himself was weeping tears of blood on the floors of Hell.

Grisly melodrama aside, we did commit to the grind, and soon enough we agreed that we wanted more content. Thankfully, Koji Igarashi and his awesome team were working on more stuff, and by the time the game was “complete,” there were 11 stages and even more characters!

The final DLC pack included a mysterious character named Getsu Fuma. The artwork for him depicted a samurai wielding a katana. Yet when I picked this demon-slaying warrior, he entered the stage as an 8-bit sprite. He was shorter than other characters (great for evasion!), and he didn’t have too many bells and whistles – he always used his katana, so I didn’t need to farm for different weapons. What I did have to do was level up his magic attacks, which, when strengthened, also strengthened his katana.

At least, that’s how I remember him. My interest in Getsu Fuma was piqued, and I looked into him … only to discover that GetsuFumaDen came out in 1987, had still not made it to the states, and stood alone as the only game in its “series.” It technically wasn’t even a series. But damn, it sounded cool – a samurai who fights the demonic forces of Hell? It’s everything I enjoy!

So all those years ago, I learned that Belmonts aren’t the only ones who take up arms against the hellish night. Vampire killers and monster hunters come from all sorts of different cultures, and I appreciate all of them.

Which is why, when I saw that a “sequel” to GetsuFumaDen was in the works, I was over the moon. Little did I know that I’d be over an undying moon. The name of the new game, 34 years later, is GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, and it’s fucking rad.

“So what is it, Chris?,” I hear my imagined audience asking in my head, “Is it an action game? A platformer? A hack and slash bloodfest?!”

Yes to all of the above questions. The game combines all the things I’ve loved over my gaming life, as well as some things I’ve grown to love over the past few years. I know I haven’t written about a lot of my recent gaming experiences here, but I’ll use this sentence to proclaim my love for roguelike games.

Whoa, what? Yeah, I’ve become a glutton for punishment. When I finally got a decent gaming pc in the winter of 2019, I downloaded Steam, which has been a window into an ever-widening world of awesome indie games. While looking for something that fits my interests (2D, platforming, action-packed, challenging), I came across some Reddit posts gushing about Dead Cells. So I bought it, and sweet lord, I was hooked. I’ve hopped into Risk of Rain 2 as well, and Enter the Gungeon, and oh my gods how could I forget Hades? My point is, I’ve played a lot of randomized games lately, and uh … they’re strangely compelling and fun.

And GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a roguelike. Or maybe it’s a roguelite? I don’t really make this distinction too often, but I’m sure there are diehard roguelike fans who would mince these terms … I don’t worry too much. The game features randomized elements, mostly in the form of weapon and material drops, with level layouts changing a little bit each time as well.

The randomness makes the grind extra important; if I’m going to get stuck with a weapon I don’t usually use, it’s ideal for me if I’ve upgraded it at least a little bit. I definitely have favorites: the katana is my favorite primary weapon, and the bombs and guns are my favorite secondary weapons (oh my, I’m bringing modern weaponry to bear on the demons). A lot of the challenge comes down to moveset memorization: if I know what an enemy can do, I can react to it accordingly. If I see three enemies arranged just so, I need to know what they can do so I don’t get clawed to ribbons by a hungry oni and their friends.

I love games like this; the ones that push me to play over and over until I’m almost perfect, slicing and dicing and dodging and living until the end. That’s what Undying Moon feels like right now. It’s got the challenges I love with the aesthetics I crave. I’m gonna play it right friggin’ now.

P.S. The original GetsuFumaDen is finally available in the U.S., for folks who buy the new game in early access; I forgot to mention that the game is still being developed, but I was so stoked to experience it that I bought it anyway. I was gifted with the original game. I’ll be killing 34-year-old demons soon enough.

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