Today is the last day to submit one’s intent to enter. I guess I’m doing IntroComp.
I know exactly what I’m doing and why. I just didn’t know there would be a space to get feedback on it.
Today is the last day to submit one’s intent to enter. I guess I’m doing IntroComp.
I know exactly what I’m doing and why. I just didn’t know there would be a space to get feedback on it.
No one told me the premise of Firewatch.
And that piano at the end, oh man. I know it’s simple and just repeats, and that it’s probably cinematic connotations that endear me to it. And that it’s essentially a fade-out. But even so, it’s like watching someone watch videos of their kid, or listening to people talk about how small you used to be, and how much they loved you.
I am raw and tired from a weekend spent at a funeral for a relative who died of what my mom has, with all the “so how much longer has she got?” interrogation that comes with that. So I don’t expect to make too cogent an argument here. But I wanted to say it anyway. Or at least to try. Because after staggering in the door, everyone’s morbid lines of questioning momentarily ceased, I didn’t pour myself a drink or even head out for a run. I booted up Skyrim.
I’ve heard it from my Slack group last week and I’ve heard on from the ProducerHax podcast today. No one is excited about the 64-bit Skyrim reboot. Reactions range from disinterest to skepticism to outright peevishness that Bethesda is trying to milk the fans for more money without bringing any new content to the table. I am neither of these things. I resent none of it; am excited even. But I don’t think it’s either slavish devotion to the franchise motivating me (even I can admit that ESO’s non-PVP content is meh), nor is there some grand judgmental disconnect taking place on anyone else’s part. I think it’s just that while we as people generally pay lip service to the “different strokes for different folks” platitude, extricating a cultural artifact (like Skyrim) from the rating scale built into the back of everyone’s eyes nowadays, and allowing it to exist in another context, takes work.
The complaints against the Elder Scrolls series are many and long-winded. There aren’t enough voice actors. There isn’t enough direction. It’s too big. It’s too small. (I’m looking at you, people who complain when you can’t sew all the maps up together.) There are too many bugs. And on and on. And all of these things may be true. They might be game-breaking if someone was looking for a grandiose and powerful narrative, say, or heart-stopping combat or touching love scenes. But by now, the people who wanted those things from Skyrim have long since sold the game back for credit at a store somewhere, or removed it from Steam. They aren’t still playing.
The people still playing now are after something different. “Less of a game,” will be the snarky interjection, but that’s only correct if you shrink the term game down to apply to only a very narrow stretch of territory. I completely get that some people want to walk in, level from 1 to 20, beat the big boss and walk away — and that’s okay. Some people want to have their hearts cracked open over and over again at key plot points, and aim themselves toward those points with tissues at the ready. And that’s okay too. But anyone playing Skyrim in 2016 isn’t playing for any of these reasons. They’re playing to get away.
This is news to no one, and yet “escapism” and all its synonyms have been trotted out too often to have any meaning anymore, at least in this context. Skyrim is old news by now. There are mods, yes, and there continue to be new mods, and they are glorious. But you don’t keep the monstrous rickety old game on your computer just for the sidequests lovingly crafted in someone’s freetime, or for smoother water or more realistic clouds. Not any of those singular things draw you back to a game that is five years old, and looks it. You come back to get out, plain and simple. To disappear, for a few minutes or a few hours. Yes, I know “immersive” is another term that gets brought out too often. But it isn’t the landscapes (and it certainly isn’t the plot!) that makes Skyrim an immersive experience worth coming back to. It’s precisely the aimlessness of it, the degree to which you can ignore the requests and at times demands placed on you by others, and just strike off in a given direction and keep walking.
Lots of people find this terribly trite and boring, I know. “It has been done.” “The openness of the world means the plot is crap.” “If I wanted to wander around why wouldn’t I do it in the real world?” That last is more in the line of what people who have no interest in games level at those who do, and proponents of this line of thought would do well to keep this in mind. If I could walk out my door and walk along cliffs, I would. I’ve climbed mountains; stood on cliffs; puffed clouds of breath into the dawn air. But that isn’t my life now, and I’m not alone. It isn’t most people’s lives. You cannot just walk away into the sunset, away from people with badges and titles demanding you live your life in a way that fulfills their wishes. You can’t walk away from failed job applications, disinterested coworkers, or the 17-second voice message your mom left on your phone once six years ago, because you know she’ll never call again. You can’t forget any of that.
In Skyrim, you can. At least for a little while.
So am I excited about upping Skyrim from 32- to 64-bit, an upgrade that will be (for me, and for many others, if you have all the DLCs as you likely do if you’re still playing now) free? Yes. Yes I am. Because the clouds will get more cloud-like, the surf will pound on the shore more like surf does, and giant sprawling projects like Falskaar will have that much higher of a technical ceiling in which to sprawl glitteringly across our consciousnesses. Blinding us, yes, to the story that is by and large lacking in such games. Sometimes, though, your life is too much like a story. A bad one. You don’t need to further your own miserable plotline here. You just need to keep moving. And make sure you don’t run out of arrows.
Like next to every employed person I know, there is an “other duties as assigned” clause in my job description. The percentages vary, but it tends to hover between five to twenty percent, that I’ve seen. In presentations and articles, though, it is that extra 5-20% that people keep talking about. The time they went the extra mile in extraordinary circumstances. The year they had to learn that skill because its previous doer took off and there was no money left to hire someone new. The time, money and occasionally people they saved by doing something they hadn’t planned on doing. Something they didn’t even know needed doing. Until it did.
Well, rescuing players — however temporarily — from being characters in their own lives is Skyrim’s other duty as assigned. You can’t brand something that way (not with all its taken-to-the-extreme hikikomori connotations) and it certainly isn’t something to crow about at conferences, I know. No one, we are assured, spends that much time and money on a commercial product just to help people, or to give them an escape. The goal is money and it always is.
But whether they — the people who bothered to raise the ceiling of Skyrim’s capabilities — care or not, their product performs this other duty as well. Serving as a Somewhere Else for all the miserable Heres. Most of us modding and tweaking and playing the game now will receive the reboot as a free upgrade. They will make no money off us. They didn’t have to give it to us. They are sitting pretty on their Fallout accolades and are still working busily on that DLC; they didn’t need to pay attention to those of us still tromping through the Reach, or taking the same screenshot of the aspen forest in Riften that we’ve taken three times before. None of it was necessary.
But it will be very much appreciated.
And I am excited.
Yesterday, with the absurd ease of the internet age, I bought Tig Notaro’s book, having learned of its existence less than five minutes prior to buying. It will be on my doorstep tomorrow. I know exactly where it’s going — we have a cube in our giant wall of cubed shelves devoted to female comics — but I don’t know when I will read it.
Maybe this year, maybe not.
The fact is, I’m hording it for a rainier day. I did the same thing with her legendary set, the recorded version of which which I own but have yet to listen to. I’ve watched other bits of hers, yes. I’ve heard her interviewed, and heard others interviewed about her. But I haven’t listened to the set. Because I might need it more later. When things get worse.
I’m well aware that it’s not a fool-proof plan. What do I expect her to do, make everything better? I’d hate for someone to tell me that they were so sure something I’d written would move them that they were putting off reading it until they really, really needed something moving in their life. Way to oversell something, right?
But it’s like with authors. How I deliberately saved Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky for the week I had to go down and move my mother into a dementia facility (and bathe her and lift her up and down and — and leave here there, amid a clot of vicious screaming octo- and nonagenarians decades her senior). Or how I put off reading Patrick Rothfuss’s second book for years, because based on the way people talked about him I thought I might need an ace up my sleeve when sorrow came knocking. I understand that I am asking a lot, probably too much, of these books. These authors.
What, though, is the proper thing to do? To become addicted to some substance instead? To become addicted to a religion — which, while comforting, would offer me only someone else’s answers; some hackneyed phrases passed down a hierarchy inevitably employed, at some level, to oppress people? It’s not even six one, half dozen the other here. I risk no outraged or sheepish follow-ups; no one is going to contact me and say “hey, it’s just a story lady; find your good feels somewhere else.” Because, after all, they did want to move people. They wouldn’t be doing what they do, whether it’s stand-up or writing, if they weren’t trying to affect people in some way. My treating their creative efforts as a precious commodity that must be horded — a tincture of the possibility of feeling better, to be carefully stockpiled — doesn’t change that. My writing about their writing doesn’t change that, either. I’m invisible. I’m invisible, but that’s not my problem.
My problem is that my mother is gone.
None of these people can fix that, I know. But they might at least be able to make me laugh. Mom was never dour. Even last month, when she thought I was her own mother, washing her hair and toweling her dry and lowering her down onto a bed and dressing her, I could make her laugh. When even her laughter is gone, I will need someone else’s. Stockpiling the hope of more is the best that I can do right now.
My husband and I have friends. They are good people. But when the two of us met, in the dorms in college, it was as part of the fabric of your everyday existence that you met and made friends. Everything — your grades, your job, your relationships, your future — was woven into the tapestry of university life, and that included the friends that you made. They were immediately accessible. Hell, they were right across the hall. In a way not really experienced since you are six or seven or so — too young for playground politics to have divided you up into factions yet — friends are physically a part of your life. You pass them on the street and they ask about your test. They see you with a book and want to know if they should read it too.
Our experience was limited to university settings, but it’s not unique to that. My father experienced the same thing in the military, same age. When everything and everyone around you is bent toward a more-or-less common goal, you are placed in a much better position to understand, empathize with, and ultimately befriend your peers. When the thing that brought you together ends, it’s not just that are you scattered to the winds. It’s that the shared experience that enabled you to reach out to people so easily, to make so many of the correct assumptions about their willingness to engage with you, is over.
That’s what adulthood means, among other things. It is a cavernous loss. Maybe you’re too stressed and desperate for a paycheck and some sort of stability, at first, to notice it. But when you catch a chance to breathe you definitely will. Finding friends as an adult is incredibly difficult. All the paths to easy familiarity are gone. As a result, you have fewer friends.
Cackling along with me as the Critical Role party dissolved into laughter on their Twitch stream last night, my husband turned to me through his laughter. “Why didn’t we ever get a group together like this?” he asked. I’d been about to ask the same thing.
I, as usual, was late to the party on Critical Role. I heard about it through an article and tuned in. The next morning, I cancelled our cable TV subscription. If I was rearranging my schedule to catch Twitch feeds now , I figured, cable TV with its so very many layers between me and the people who could benefit from my viewership could bid farewell. (Besides, anything I wanted to watch I could stream through subscription services whose combined monthly payments remained far below a cable payment.)
I have played exactly one tabletop RPG in my life — a riotous game of L5R run by an experienced GM who awarded points for being the absolute shits were supposed to be, as members of the Scorpion clan — but not for lack of wanting to. I could just never find other people who wanted to play. My husband, too, has only played once, and was quickly frustrated by a GM too drunk to do more than fling endless hordes of orcs at a bunch of bored characters.
But both of us delight in the Critical Role exploits — yes, I know, like 20,000 others at a time. It’s the party you always wish you had, right? Enough variety of temperament and taste for awesome story without devolving into petty personal conflict. The saucy, ridiculously ribald bard, the emo druid, the emo rogue, the big lovable brute…I know, I know, everyone has said it before. They’re good at what they do and they did this for fun and now thousands of others can join in. But I guess I always assumed that most of the viewers could watch it and partake in a kind of recollection. “Oh this is like that time when…” “Oh man, he’s gonna make the same mistake I made in that game over spring break when I…” But we don’t have any of that. And more than just appreciating the improv aspect of it (which we very much do, having observed or served comedians in a comedy club for the better part of a decade), or the storybuilding, we spectate the camaraderie. The smirks, jeers and explosive bouts of laughter. We don’t get to resurrect any memories, watching this. There’s no past to look back on. There’s just the knowledge that a handful of people out there are a.) really good at this, and b.) really enjoying doing it. And we pine.
Then last night, when the guest turned out to be Patrick Rothfuss as he’d suggested it might be in his own Twitch stream Wednesday, we got to spectate something else. A writer surrounded by actors, all of them crafters of characters but in necessarily different ways. It was especially intriguing because I’d only first seen Rothfuss’s Twitch feed Wednesday. Prior to that, reading his books, I’d hazarded to imagine that he might seem…I don’t know, overtly earnest or gentle?…in person. But, as he said himself in his stream, he’s got a sharp tongue. Not on Critical Role, though. He was nervous and camera-shy, as I would be too. I wasn’t sure how much of it was that and how much was in-character. Until he got the chance to bring his character out and have The Talk with the druid Keyleth, then experiencing an existential crisis, and I began to pay way too much attention. This is a show, idiot, I told myself firmly. He’s a guest. He’s not talking to you. If he wanted to say anything to the legion of people of whom you’re a part, you should open one of his books. This is not for you. But I listened desperately anyway. “You’re not wrong,” his fatherly warrior tells the druid, of the mess that comes when she does right as badly as it comes when she does wrong. “You’re right. It’s hard. It’s not going to stop being hard, either. Not for a long time.” Comedians joke that people see them and cry “dance, monkey, dance!” In other words, make them laugh. Well, I see authors and want desperately for them to tell me how to be. “Advise, monkey, advise!” Because if everything was all right, I’d be laughing and joking around a table amongst a bevy of like-minded individuals. But it’s not. And I’m not. Please advise.
I may not be a beacon of charisma and charm in a party, or much of a good shot on the still-new-to-me PS4 controller (again, I was and remain primarily a PC gamer), but I can heal. And I do. More even than in ESO, where I’d recently begun rolling out the heals in a surprisingly enjoyable last-ditch effort to hold our keep in Cyrodiil. In Overwatch, though, I always play Mercy.
Like Dragon Age: Inquisition’s multiplayer mode, Overwatch has pre-recorded character voices and interactions, so the people you move around the map do come with their own verbal take on things. I settle for these, and turn the voice chat volume all the way down. I know better than to use the chat myself, and the only people I ever heard speak were either being dicks or had some horrible audio echo issue (enable push-to-talk, for the love of god!) that made the game unplayable for me. And I always play Mercy. At first it was because her caduceus staff auto-targets, and the PS4 controller was too new for me to be any good at aiming anything that didn’t auto-target. But even after I had a few good runs with Tracer early on (which I mention to point out I have zero qualms with being the dealer of damage in such games), I returned to Mercy. Because if you are good, people want to keep you alive. Because they need you. Because they thank you. Because your play of the day is when you bring three people back to life in a blaze of light, enabling your team to snatch a last-minute victory from the jaws of defeat.
As a rule, I never heal. Ever. I remember whining about the girl being stuck as the healer when The Guild first aired. I whine anytime a girl is the cleric, the priestess, the acolyte. I am not nurturing, I protest. I’m not nice.
But I will heal the everloving fuck out of you.
I’m not part of a group of dashing voice actors whose exploits entertain thousands every week, and I couldn’t be. I’m not some storied PVPer known even beyond my own guild or server as a bringer of death (like Slade on vanilla WoW, for example), and I couldn’t be that either. I’m not a storied anything.
I do get an awful lot of thumbs-up emotes, though, when I damage-boost a Reinhardt atop a moving car, or fling myself off a roof to get a McCree back in line-of-sight for heals.
I’ll settle for those.
Some books should just not be explained when you’re tryingtofinishthemohmygodwhy.
Husband *peering over top of book*: And then the captor said to the prince, why are you holding a loaf of bread?
Me: Shut up.
Husband: And the prince replied, that’s not a loaf of bread, that’s my penis.
Me: Shut UP.
Husband: And the captor replied, I know.
Me: I’M TRYING TO READ HERE OKAY?!
Husband: And he continued, but then why are you buttering it?
Me: OUT. NOW.