At Distant Worlds, they sang Hymn of the Fayth, synced to the cutscene. Less than a week before my mother’s funeral, I started crying, as I supposed I might have. I thought I could at least keep it together until Zanarkand — the song for which I attended in the first place. It’s not as though I hadn’t watched this cutscene of the Sending before, many times.

I kept thinking of Yuna as a provider of a service, though. Someone who was good at what she did. Yes, there was the morbid self-sacrificing part of it later, but first and foremost her job — what she travelled her world doing — was to give comfort. To give those people sobbing at the water’s edge, staring at the wrapped bundles of what had been their loved ones bobbing beneath the waves, the impression that there was some scrap of final goodness to be gained from all this. Because a summoner was there, and could release the souls of their loved ones to a peace they, those remaining, hadn’t been able to grant them in mortal life. A gift they couldn’t give.

The betrayal, the lie she is told, cuts the player deeply, sure, for the tax on the characters you by then love. But for Yuna as a provider of this service — someone who at great physical and emotional cost has travelled the countryside releasing the spirits of the dead to what she thought — what the people clutching at her skirts believed — was rest, to discover this falsehood is vicious. Her one job, the one thing she was good at, and had studied for years to learn to do, turned out to be a lie. Not only was she being used, but she had been, without her knowledge or consent, using others. Hundreds of them. And all those people who looked at her through tears before her service, and who probably looked at her through tears after, too, but who through their snot expressed sore, aching gratitude — to discover that rather than peace, what you had been doing that whole time had been “releasing” those souls to feed a kind of machine…how bitter. How cruelly undermining of everything you thought you had to bring to the world.

And I found myself crying, there in that theater full of shrill fangirls and too-tall guys who reeked of cheap weed, because I remembered my mother saying, for years, that she’d done what she’d done — studied what she had, lived where she did, around the world — to provide a service. A very specific, medical service to people who needed it. She was good at it. Everyone who keeps throwing her past at me, thinking their sudden ambush of memories helps me, has made this clear. She was good at what she did.

It wasn’t a lie…the wounds she healed stayed that way, and the muscles she coaxed back into functioning continued to grasp and grip and turn and manipulate objects in this world. Her speciality was hands — the most devastating thing for craftsmen to lose, yes, but even laypeople, as I learned one year, can have so much they love taken away through the loss of their hands. Even the ability to clutch at the people they love.

What she healed stayed healed, but there was no return favor. She fell apart and stayed that way. I thought of the Hymn of the Fayth as the man whose faith I did not share read words seeded throughout books and movies as words that give peace. Well, no — he didn’t read them. His finger marked a page in a closed book, but he didn’t need to read them because he’d memorized them already. This was his job. To stand here in the blazing sun for ten minute segments in front of strangers either crying or holding rigidly, desperately still in order not to. To stand there and speak words that bring people in stories peace. Close-up shots, and piano solos, and laid-down flowers and peace.

It was this that I appreciated, more than any particular affinity for the Bible passages he trotted out. The fact that this was his job. That he was a provider of this service, and went to bed at night feeling as though — one assumes; he was younger than me but not by enough to still lie to himself about his worth — the strangers he saw in streams that day had been served. In some way. He didn’t try to chum it up as small-town ministers I’d met in the past had done — he did not pretend, in speech or in manner, to have been my friend, or my mother’s. He was a stranger, doing his job. A kind of healer, rehabilitating us to grasp and grip and manipulate objects in this, the world-that-remains, even if we don’t much wish to. He’d do it for the next group gathering on the hill behind us. And the next, and the next. And then he’d go home and feel that work had been done.

And I want, very much, for him never to feel that it was all a lie, or that he’d been used or using people. The passages he kept quoting are just scraps of stories, even though they aren’t the stories that are dear to me. In the hands of others — the organized bodies who archive them and form policies based too much upon them, for example — they are weapons, and wretched. But in the gloved hands of a stranger on a sunny hill, they’re just tools used to do a job. Or to try to. I can’t resent him for that effort.

Nor could I summon shame — I checked — when, looking right or left or anywhere except at the tiny box in front of me that held what had been my mother — I kept hearing the choir singing Hymn of the Fayth three thousand miles away, and seeing shining streaks of soul-stuff visibly releasing those gathered from a loss their knees were pebbled and bruised under the weight of bearing.


night chats with sotha sil

Sotha Sil is arguably the least accessible of the Tribunal, whether of the character’s own volition or just as a function of the organization of the games. So to get to see so much of him in the Clockwork City DLC is a treat, not the least of which because, of all three of them, he is the most given to pedantry.

(Cut for large number of images. We’re talking a Tumblr-level cascade of images here, people. Also, um, spoilers!)

Read More

we are the welders

Full stop, I love the long-winded, highfalutin lore of the Elder Scrolls series.



I’ve heard people bash it up, down and sideways. (Seriously, why do I only know people who hate the things I love in games?)* “It’s basically fanfiction!” “It’s just Fakespeare!” “It’s only borrowing from existing philosophies/religions!” To which I respond:

1.) What exactly is your beef with fanfiction? Did this many kids read or write when you were young? Didn’t think so.

2.) Would you prefer they compose entire dialogue blocks in 1337?

3.) Everything borrows from something, so if that’s the line you draw, enjoy partaking in no media ever again.

The Clockwork City DLC came out earlier this week, and I sadly haven’t gotten to play much of it. Work and a need for sleep will do that to you. But what I have gotten to see of the place delights me. Because it is an inadvertent reminder of just how much lore there is to the Elder Scrolls series — and how much of it I have taken in over the years, when I stop and explain this or that book (THERE ARE SO MANY BOOKS IN THIS DLC IT’S GREAT) to my husband, who played neither Morrowind nor Oblivion nor, really, much Skyrim at all.



There are, by and large, at least three versions to any story in the game. There’s the story told by those to whom it happened (typically a member of one of the provinces outside Cyrodiil), the story told by the officials (typically Cyrodiilic scholars, of court or the cloth), and befogged versions of scraps of the story left to us by long-dead predecessors (typically Ayleids but also including dwemer). I hear the eyeballs rolling in heads. “Durr, what a gimmick, everyone could show that there are multiple angles of any given event!” Yep, well, when you see “everyone” doing just that, you call me up. Because sure, it maybe obvious in every story, from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to In a Grove, but just because it’s obvious and capable of providing insight doesn’t mean people are doing it.

And if they are, they aren’t doing enough of it.

So then. We have the Elder Scrolls series. Where characters you come to know as gods might not be. Where the willingness to question that godhood varies hugely across cultures and individuals. Where, sure, analytical tools employed by real-world practitioners of a variety of schools of thought are brought to bear upon fanciful notions of life, origin, and purpose. But here’s the difference: this time, it’s entertaining.



This isn’t just fluff, you see. These terms the texts invoke aren’t without meaning, if you’ve played the previous games  long or attentively enough. And while I suppose this could devolve quickly into a lore dick-measuring contest, it doesn’t have to. The breadth of the Elder Scrolls lore, both alluded to and expanded upon in ESO, can simply be enjoyable.

There was a reason, after all, that I plowed through The Silmarillion while struggling desperately to stay afloat in my most miserable calculus class in high school. It’s not that the pedantic air text-within-text-based lore takes on heightens the degree to which your disbelief suspends. It’s that…well, I’m sure it differs for different people, but for me, it’s the oasis-like conjuring of an academia unsullied by reality. It’s why The Name of the Rose remains my favorite book. The notion of someone knowing so damn much about the world that it dawns on them to question it, and themselves, in prose, despite their widely-respected erudition; and often whilst endangering themselves and their position through their willingness to doubt openly. In the Elder Scrolls series, of course, you’ve got to piece quite a few texts together to get to that crumb of humility, but still — wade through enough of the fire-and-brimstone manifestos of adherents to Stendarr or Boethiah; gather enough scraps of journal entries from observers of the Greybeards or the Moth Priests, and you are able to paint a picture of a populace as unsure of its place in the world as we — and as staunchly devoted to concealing this fact as most of us remain. If you are only able to see the uncertainty through contrasting it with the writ-in-stone conviction carved deep into (sometimes literally stone-bound) texts, well — isn’t that as it ought to be?

Because, obviously, these stories are written by people in this world. You know, the one full of knee-jerk critics that bleed sarcasm when cut, and assclowns who compliment your lecture in the hope of fondling you in the elevator afterward.** And it can be difficult at times, amidst all that bullshit attendant upon real life, to ponder questions like whether madness must be manufactured to allow for the disruption and, arguably, the rewriting of order necessary for life to continue.*** Too often the people you try to have these conversations with are too busy, or too tired, or too bent on using any results of said conversation to further their own careers (see: the fantasy of an academy unsullied by the greed for fame, which will ever remain a fantasy given a system which rewards perceived prestige and not acumen) to make space for actual discussion.

Hence, texts.

“As all calculable results continued to prove inconclusive, the project was deemed unsuccessful after a six-week trial.” This, after instigating a poetry session. Perhaps only firmly rooted within the realm of the fantastical, unbound by real-world assertions like “that tax money should have gone to something better than kids’ poetry jams” or “and even if any of it had been good, could any of them have afforded to make careers out of those poems?” can we read a cut-and-dried post-project assessment like that and recognize it for the buffoonery it is.

And that, my friends, is the value of texts-within-texts. They make you see yourself for what you are, without you knowing that’s what you’re going in for. You’d resist it in another circumstance; through another method of delivery, but from within the stuffy, seemingly-benign confines of fictional academics, you can begin to glimpse the at-times idiocy that is your own steadfast refusal to question that which you hold most dear, or important, or incontrovertible.

Also, William of Baskerville is the shit, and any contact lens-thin sliver of him reproduced, in some variant form, in any text, is worth pursuing.

*Except the Queen of Good Hair and Guacamole

**I remain grateful to the professor who informed me bluntly that it was a shitty road I was heading down, considering my doctorate, and that she wished she’d stuck to art rather than lecturing about it, because so far all it had gotten her was a divorce and a long line of skeevy guys (see above) trying to fuck their subject matter.

***Sheogorath is my weak point in ES lore. I never played past the intro to the Shivering Isles expansion, because given the option of playing through either Mania or Dementia, I chose Reload Saved Game and decided to hell with that horrid place. Every time I try to go back and play it, I still find myself bailing. I don’t do grimdark, folks. Even with a current of humor swirling in there somewhere, it’s still not enough. Once you start throwing in the townspeople politely asking if I would be so kind as to peel their skin off for them, I am so done. So, so done.


civilization 6 : where the music goes

I’ll be honest, I’m bigger into the music for Civilization 6 than the game itself.

And I love that game! I do. But the music entrances me more. This is what the spare parts of my desk scratch paper look like:


And we just got more music! With the new DLC comes new music, and I’m listening to Indonesia now. As that paper indicates, I’m most smitten, by and large, with the Industrial tracks. On the one hand this may be because I listen to these tracks less in-game; I’m not very good and my gluttony for punishment doesn’t always survive the medieval age. Maybe I’ve been over-exposed to the earlier tracks, and thus they unconsciously fall in my favor.

But there is also the cello factor. With regional exceptions, the same instruments often get called upon across civilizations, within the same timeframe. The Industrial Era brings a lot of cellos to the fore, and cellos, by and large, slay me.

There are exceptions, though. Because I am not big into sinister, and there are a great many civilizations whose Industrial and Atomic age themes are sinister.* Grandiose, yes, but also dark. Not ALL of them, though, and the decisions made about whose march toward modernity is triumphant and whose inspires fear, well, fascinates me.

Indonesia’s Industrial Age, incidentally, is purely joyous:

So is the Kongo’s:

At first, going through the tracks alphabetically as they are listed on the big compilation videos, you might think it was the civilizations who marched to modernity on the back of colonialism whose themes justifiably turn sinister in their modern eras. See, for example, France:

Note that I don’t mean the beginning of this piece — for, as with France, sometimes the compiler puts the “conflict” melody for a civilization first, before its neutral or positive effect music. I mean the entire leitmotif, that gets repeated across times. France’s gets rough. That slow, ponderous percussion, the brooding brass that soon becomes grand, if no less grave. The same goes for Germany:

And Norway:


So far, everyone mentioned defintely has a dark past when it comes to their actual real world, versus their imagined in-game, evolution. But what of Russia?

If that sound familiar, you are correct — that is indeed the folk song Korobeiniki, more widely known as the Tetris song. But why so sinister? As the Medieval Age version of the song attests, it doesn’t have to go so dark:

It can be folksy and fun! But Russia, despite lacking in overseas colonialist endeavors, steamrolled its landlocked neighbors and actively suppressed or extinguished a great many indigenous cultures in the Urals, the Carpathians and on down into the Caucasus. Most of that damage, though, was more recent in its timestamp. If, though, we are including 19th- and 20th-century exploitation on our list of crimes for which the music will brand the civilizations accordingly, why does Japan get a pass? Why, for that matter, does America?

Our brass is noble; our strings solemn at times but in no way despondent or foreboding. Our theme sounds like a mix of Appalachian Spring and the score for October Sky. Which answers my own question, really:

“Our brass.” “Our strings.”

Ethoncentrism, man. There’s no other reason for the America to get a pass except that it was made in America. By Americans. I mean, listen to our atomic theme!

Whereas many if not most of the others are downright grim, promising terrible things with this sinister march toward the stars, ours is heroic af. Hell, parts of it read like the Sims housebuilding music, which was written to make you feel like adulthood was an adventure and stuff would make you happy. (This is the point at which we all congratulate ourselves on being edgey enough to recognize that as very American. Moving on.) And you know who else gets a triumphant, shadow-free Atomic Age?

That buildup gives me chills. CHILLS. It goes everywhere you want it to and doesn’t make you regret it. It’s beautiful! But…China receive the same pass America does, here. No dark, brooding minor keys. No musical promise of doom. No one looking at Tibet or the Uyghurs would clap China on the back and say job well done. Same goes for looking at, well, anywhere other than at white people in America, frankly. So where is the musical foreshadowing? Why are we not threatened with the darkness of Russia and Germany and France?

Listening to more and more of the soundtrack — all the way through, instead of jumping to my favorites — and thinking this through over months, I kept remembering Goland, from 80 Days. That game was too nuanced to so baldly lift these people up and tamp those people down — everything came in shades of gray, as it ought to have done — but still, Goland was one of the most memorable characters for me. A Mongolian princess, she appeared to eschew the trappings of her station in favor of studying mathematics to, eventually, build rockets. She was straight-up born into someone else’s fantasy, and (it appeared) was setting it aside in favor of her own. And the fantasy of her choice was very specific, scientific, and linked to an advance of her people in the world’s eyes that is something of what Civilization enables us to engender.

Bethesda’s recent amazing (and, yes, sad that it has to be amazing) stance around Wolfenstein notwithstanding, I think most companies are still too timid to make bald statements like that. They, like with Civ, will give us the tools to relive histories to erase past atrocities (if only to commit new ones), but they won’t set a lot of hard rules about who can do what. That’s…fair, I guess, in this context. Each team can win, even if they choose fascism as their path to victory. But the music, I thought, might take a harder stance. Might be allowed to do so. It might be subtle enough — dismissable enough as “the whims of creatives”** — to make statements that the game itself could not. Or rather, that its creators would not.

But I’m not sure that, in itself, isn’t just a fantasy on my part. Whatever moral judgment I thought might be ascribed to the music pretty much stops in 1945. It looks no further forward, and forgives the entire history of America, and Japan’s brutal wars of conquest in the early 20th century. I understand, if don’t necessarily condone,*** the idea of providing a musical golden age civilizations never got to reach, at least not in recent years. Allow them their major keys. But if you are going to let the music remember cruelties enacted by those who actually did set out for the stars, remember all of them.

And forgive none of us.


* If the Darth Vader theme is any indication, this may be due to a centralizing of minor rather than major keys. But that is a guess, as I am not musically trained.

** I really dislike this tendency we have to now classify creatives as some separate kind of person…it’s unnecessarily inviting of crass generalizations.

*** Because grandeur is dangerous, not because no one should attain it.

an evening in tamriel

Over the weekend I set about seeing what mods I so coveted in regular-edition Skyrim had finally been ported into Skyrim SE. I’m always most interested in environmental, sound and lighting mods that improve the feel of the game. Typically new content mods don’t have the quality writing or voice acting one might hope for — not to mention the absurdly oblique straight lines of mountain ranges that make no sense, either geologically or visually — and I don’t want any more from the game, anyway. If I wanted story, I’d be playing something else.

By now, though, in contrast to the last time I looked, many mods have been reworked for Skyrim SE that upgrade the ambiance. More stars in the sky, more layers in sheets to the rain, more reverberation for the thunder. More and better clouds onto which to cast sunsets. And more localized glow on light sources  in the dark, so the towns look more like the huddling outposts of life against the dark that they are. Walk with me, then, in Tamriel:


Not wanting to go through yet another Helgen run, I booted up from a post-Helgen and post-first-dragon save I keep on standby. I had forgotten, though, to return the golden claw in Riverwood — and it was on that return trip that I got to admire the new lighting effects along the bridge. Warmer, more localized golden glow. Nice.


To my immense delight, a galaxy upgrade was included in the Vivid Weathers mod — something I had had to seek out individually in vanilla Skyrim. The particle snow, much lauded in the read me file, is okay, but the stars and especially the rain are wondrous. They include, too, a sound mod in this package, which again was convenient, and another thing I had had to seek out separately in the past. No longer!


Also included in Vivid Weathers: the aurora borealis.


Improved sunsets.


More light-in-the-darkness effects. So good. Shor’s Stone has never looked so cozy.


Space,  don’t get me wrong, is not a place  I enjoy going, in fiction or in theory. It’s cold, dark, inhospitable; and if there are aliens out there they’ll probably murder us all before we can so much as offer them tea and cookies. But Fake Space is wondrous, a grandiose backdrop to already dramatic in-game landscapes, without all of the heavy emptiness that comes with Real Space. Hooray, Fake Space!


These are basic SE trees, yes, because I’ve rejected all tree mods after the last one messed with the Riften trees. Don’t ever, ever mess with the Riften trees. They should always be resplendent in gold, that perfect autumn afternoon held still in perpetuity. The last tree mod I installed made these trees purple. Purple. If I wanted a wall of crape myrtle, I’d go back to the South. I do not, so please keep my pseudo-aspens yellow, as they ought to be.


Just sunset stuff.


That bar of light! Was it there before? I believe so. But it looks better now. Softer edges, a more natural glow to its center — Realistic Lighting Overhaul is the place to go for all this. Do it naow.


The loneliest bandit camp, its loneliness heightened by the tinyness of the light it throws up against the great dark sea.


Stealing a horse and booking it for the nearest city before sunrise — all in a day’s work.

all the pretty colors

Me at 7AM Saturday, trotting gamely after trainer into gym to do stuff you need spotters for: Oh yeah sure, I’ve got this, I’ve basically been doing this stuff with free weights anyway. How bad could it be?

Me at 8AM: Kill me.

I didn’t, then, do a lot of moving around Sunday, because any movements I made looked like those of a very old woman. Which meant: MMOs! And let it be known that Black Desert Online has one of the most lavish seasonal displays I’ve ever encountered in any MMO:

The event takes over an entire otherwise empty beach, on a trail leading down from the cliffs that first meanders through street vendors selling foods amidst colorfully-painted surfboards, culminating in a multiple-dancefloor-and-restaurant beachfront complete with private cabanas, pirate shooting galleries, and opportunities to fish gunk out of the water to keep the environment clean despite the influx of people.

But what really got me here — because again, BDO is not where you go for story or plot — was the colors. It’s just so pretty. In fact, do you know what it reminded me of, the minute I stepped into the surfboard alley that led to the beach?


Yeah! Besaid, from FFX. All we needed was a blitzball team. (Actually, please no: I loathed blitzball so. So. Much.) In fact, BDO’s Terrmian Waterpark event put me so much in mind of FFX that I decided to go ahead and do a free trial of FFXIV. Because I love MMOs, and because it’s the last of the big current [non-space] ones going that I haven’t played. And also, because my muscles were begging me not to move, so I wasn’t about to move.

And it’s pretty. As pretty as Elder Scrolls Online, my MMO of choice? No. The lighting — the sunstars, or rather the lack thereof, and the tree shadows thrown down in patterns onto the landscape below, as well as the blades of grass that make up that landscape — are slightly subpar. But it’s as smooth as ESO, and that is a massive step up, for my eyeballs, from BDO, whose vibrant beaches and sunsets are gorgeous, but whose objects stick out way too much from the surrounding countryside, the way old cell art animation sticks out from the painted backgrounds. In 2D, where your eyes are tracking the moving target anyway, it’s fine; in 3D where you’re trying to immerse yourself in the environment, it hurts.

And while the landscape may be behind ESO, the character animation and writing is easily on par. I say writing though, and not voice acting, because, holy shit, there are next to no voices in the beginning levels of FF14. I’m told this changes with expansions; I’m told that maybe 70% of the game is ultimately voice-acted? But, early on, there’s a whole lot of reading.

You gain lots from this, it’s true! The localization is as good as Fantasy Life’s was — and after BDO’s horrible, horrible localization, this is a tremendous surprise and relief. There are little asides, plays on words, correctly-employed idioms, and prolonged conversations with character types whose subtle shading would have been lost, without those extra paragraphs into which to cram their personalities. There wouldn’t have been time or space to record all those lines being spoken, I know. But still, just the silence of it — it startled me, in 2017. Recognizing voices — and I am damn good at it — and whooping with triumph when an IMDB search turns up a confirmation is one of the keenest incidental joys I take from recent games. But FF14  offers no real route to that mental truffle hunt: it’s just birdsong, pianos, and ambient noise. Which, again, is okay. Just kind of shocking at first.


How can I be properly insulted if I can’t hear your odious voice as you malign me, Silvairre? (Note: Weirdly, we cut to Silvairre-view for this line, so he’s not actually pictured. Everyone who IS pictured is staring at him.)


Having played FF11 back in, oh, 2005, I can say that they’ve fixed a bunch of things that bugged me:

1.) Male and female for each species.

2.) All races can be all classes, again like ESO, which I appreciate.

3.) You can now jump. Jumping is a big deal, people! Always let us jump.

But mainly I’m here for the bright colors and blessedly smooth textures. The Sotha Sil pvp server for ESO is nearing the end of its monthly brawl, which means that for the Daggerfall Covenant, for whom I fight and who has held the lead all month, pvp is currently brutal. We’re already going to win so there’s no real reason to play — so no one is. Which means those few sorry individuals who do show up get steamrolled, day in and day out.

Soooo to FF14 I went.

I had considered a post comparing ESO and FF14 in more detail, given that both of them struggled at first with the legacy of deeply-loved single player games — how to bring that experience into a multiplayer situation without forfeiting either the fannish love for the original, or the necessary change in experience required of an MMO version. But I think I am too much of an Elder Scrolls fan, and too much of a Final Fantasy critic, to do anything remotely resembling a fair job at that comparison. This, for example, was the list I had started to make comparing the struggles of each:

Things Essential to the Experience of Your Single Player Game That You Now Want to Export Into Your MMO

Elder Scrolls

  • Open world
  • Openable things: crates, barrels, etc.
  • Robbery
  • Guilds whose ranks you climb up
  • Cool hidden people and places that have to be stumbled upon to be found

Final Fantasy

  • Bright, elaborate outfits
  • Most of your interactions mediated through glowing blue UI windows
  • Gil
  • Moogles, chocobos, those big many-eyed acid-belchers, etc.
  • Storylines based on friendships deemed way deeper than we’ve seen them actually be

As you can see, I’m kiiiiind of biased. Just a little bit. So I’m not the person to point to each and say, “this is what is intrinsic to the single-player experience of each franchise, and this is what they successfully ported to the MMO versions of each.” I enjoy both ESO and FF14, and will be playing a lot more of the latter in the next month, since I have the 30-day free trial.

I do hope, though, that wherever I level up to next after this lovely sun-dappled forest isn’t dusty, dry and dead. Or dark, dank and dreary. Give me a scintillatingly bright desert or a chain of islands or a sun-drenched plain or something. Maybe even a sunstar or two! It couldn’t hurt…


a stroll in balenos

I have to hand it to Black Desert Online — the localization and story (what story?) may be wonky, but they do not skimp on NPCs. They pour them into the villages and cities, enough to make their worlds feel full. Because for every vista like this, which you’d expect (and, if you’re me, you demand):



You get this:



Towns that are full* of people having dialogues that don’t involve you, amidst housing dense enough to conceivably contain all the people who supposedly live there. There are NPCs arguing, muttering, fighting with unruly livestock, decidedly not fighting with unruly livestock —


— ruminating on events entirely more mundane than the grand events that turn the wheel of the main questline or even sidequests, being bored —


I love that he could just as easily be looking at a cellphone here as at a bottle.

— and generally living lives that should and do exist outside the realm of the player’s influence.

Sure, a large part of the world’s fullness must also come from the players themselves, as they gallop or trudge through the streets while AFK, slowing building up whatever stats or horses they’re training at the time. But that’s only part of it. The preponderance of NPCs goes a long way toward making the cities, yes, but also even the smaller towns and villages, feel like places you should be assisting. Because there are people there, totally clueless about the darker things that stalk the world’s hidden corners. And they want to keep it that way.

Black Desert Online recently came to Steam, and seeing it there made me want to re-download it from my previous purchase a year ago. In the intervening months (I gave it up because it became too hot to play in our AC-less house, in the fan-less computer room) I managed to accumulate a generous heap of goodies in my mailbox — apparently every unplanned server downtime or mild inconvenience prompted a generous giftbox to players, which means I’m now running around in a limited-edition frilly pirate ninja getup that while, yes, is ridiculous, is also ridiculously fun:


I know that when I want to hack up orcs, the first thing I reach for is a ribbon-emblazoned bra and hotpants. Can’t forget the velvet jacket with corset lace-up back, though! Wouldn’t want to, ah…catch cold…yeah…

Anyway, I deliberately wanted a game no one else I knew played, because everyone else is presently away on longer weekends than I get. And I wanted something open-world and mindless with a plot I could more or less ignore — but which included repetitive tasks like horse breeding and farming, which ruled out Skyrim, barring more mods than I wish to fiddle with on my new install at the moment.

Hence, Black Desert Online.

*not the best example pictures, because I wanted to also include pretty flowers, but trust me: these are not empty streets!