I’ve been playing tons of Mass Effect Andromeda. Tons! Because I am about to be separated from my desktop for two months. For a good (see: GREAT) cause, but still. One must do what one can in the time that one has.

This is with the Nvidia ALT+F2 screenshot tool. It’s great, and comparable to Horizon Zero Dawn’s amazing camera tool, except that I can’t change the pitch of my camera. I climbed all the way up here so that a straight-on shot of my character — which this tool defaults to — would include the canyon and some sky. All the earlier shots I attempted tried to do this via the usual way, by right-clicking and dragging the camera to an appropriately gorgeous location, but the Nvidia tool doesn’t allow for that, that I’ve yet discovered. (An aside: this guy seemed to make it work, so if I do figure it out before I’m parted from my computer, I’ll go back to all the places I’d naively hit Print Screen before and try it out.) This one has a color enhance and a sketch-like filter turned on.

Incidentally but accordingly, my life is changing at FTL speed, such that I will soon be able to watch all the MST and PST Twitch streams I frequent (see: all of them) at reasonable times, rather than the wee hours of the morning.* The only downside is that the family I’ve built post-college must be left behind, and that sucks.

Still. New job. Dream job. Shall persevere.

And return to Andromeda ASAP.

*Massive love to you if this phrase rings bells. I started using it as a nine-year-old playing Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis, which I adored more than I care to admit.

legit why we engage in fiction (no matter the medium)

From Remembrance of Things Past, pt.1:

“Next to this central belief which,while I was reading, would be constantly reaching out from my inner self to the outer world, towards the discovery of truth, came the emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part, for these afternoons were crammed with more dramatic events than occur, often, in a whole lifetime. These were the events taking Place in the book I was reading. It is true that the people concerned in them were not what Francoise would have called “real people.” But none of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of a ‘real’ person awaken in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in his understanding that, as the picture was the one essential element in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplification of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of ‘real’ people would be a decided improvement. A’real’ person, profoundly as we may sympathise with him, is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, he remains opaque, offers a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to lift. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small section of the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of the complete idea he has of himself that he is capable of feeling any emotion either. The novelist’s happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable by the human spirit, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which the spirit can assimilate to itself. After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they are holding in thrall, as we feverishly turn over the pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has brought us to this state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid and more abiding than those which come to us in sleep, why then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us of their development prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality its alternation, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.”

emotionally manipulate me already!


image via gonza resti

Months ago, in a discussion about Mass Effect characters the likes of which I typically try to avoid (the conversations, I mean: I invest far too much in these characters to converse rationally about them, especially with others with convictions as deep as my own), Thane came up. “Bleh, why would you romance him?” my friend snarked. “He’s dying. He’s pure emotional manipulation.” I typed half a response, reconsidered, and let it slide. To each his own, I thought, or tried to; and anyway there’s little chance of me winning converts to my cause in a discussion like that.

But now another friend is playing through the Mass Effect series, the second-to-last of my friends to do so, and while I carefully preserved her from spoilers, we talked about how the people we chose to romance in-game bore little to no resemblance to the relationships we’d pursue in real life. Drama is a red flag to both of us, yet both of us gravitated toward lyrium addicts, lying gods, and folks with drama-laden histories tomes long in our DA:I playthroughs. Yes, you could cop out and attribute it to simply wanting something different than the happily married lives we each lead, but if it were that simple then wouldn’t we have drawn no lines — wouldn’t all opposites attract? Yet I still can’t stand Fenris, the gloomy asshole (albeit with a voice like wet satin), or Vivienne, so convinced she knows the way the world works that she won’t consider an alternative for two seconds. Partnered in real life to a generally not-gloomy, open-minded individual, if the explanation for these in-game romances was simply “you want what you don’t have,” I ought to gravitate toward both of these characters. But I don’t.

Obviously all of this came up because Mass Effect: Andromeda is right around the corner, and I’m coveting my assiduously-preserved day off work in advance. I got to see some of the demo at PAX via Twitch, including the introduction of a certain character, and just…bah, I can’t wait. I see no point in pretending it’s for the combat or mechanics that I’m waiting, either: I am, obviously and without apology, here for the character interaction. Romantic and otherwise.

Is, though, a lurking, known death so much more manipulative than a sudden one without warning? The person making the argument to me at the time had lost his mother recently, so it didn’t seem wise to pursue that line of questioning. But really, I don’t know that a controlled loss built into a game is any more manipulative than a sudden explosion, or a last-minute heroic decision to take one for the team. In neither case am I going to protest what happens based on the measure of loss it incurs: as long as it makes sense, and doesn’t feel half-assed or forced, sure, bring it on, with all the accompanying feels. Perhaps that was a large part of why I loved Trespasser so much. Or even, to branch out a bit from BioWare here, Rogue One. You know what is going to happen. You know it’s going to hurt. You invite it in anyway.

There’s an argument for building such loss into games, I think. It lets you approach emotions within the controlled environment of fiction which, encountered suddenly out in the real world, can completely catch you off your guard. Not that romancing someone who dies in a video game in any way makes the loss of a loved one any less wretched! That’s not what I’m trying to say. But there is a recognition, a familiarity in the swelling of your nose as you cry; in the shuddering way you shut your eyes to old messages discovered buried in voicemail inboxes — as you click “replay” anyway. It doesn’t hurt any less. But, at the very least, your heart has had to hurt before, in whatever infinitesimal-by-comparison way. Especially when you are young, and when many of your peers haven’t yet had to feel this, and don’t know what to say: controlled loss experienced in fiction provides a blueprint for your body, if nothing else. You know you can essentialize, in moments of distress, down to immediate, palpable, solvable concerns: I need kleenexes, I have to wet some of them with cold water and press them to my eyes; it will take x minutes before the redness starts to go down and I can see people again. Having experienced it before, you can be that tiniest bit more convinced that it won’t physically tear you apart. When no one else can give you that assurance, you can provide it, in this small way, to yourself.

And if that’s emotional manipulation? Fuck. Sign me up.

the blight as climate change (and other theories)


Before anyone bristles at the idea of “wantonly politicizing” anything, let me point you to a few paragraphs from Last Flight, which I am currently reading (it’s the last Dragon Age book I’ve not yet read), and which details, among other things, the Fourth Blight:

Under the withering influence of the Blight’s magic, the coastlines had become bare strips of rock flagged wit the wrinkled skeletons of dead seaweeds. The ocean itself head deadened to a murky gray. Its fish had either fled or died, an the mussels and oysters that once fed the cities of Wycome, Hercinia, and Bastion had perished in the water, leaving vast beds of empty shells that clacked eerily in the tide.

Inland, the devastation was even greater, for it was not masked by the sea. Large swaths of the forests were dry and dead, the standing corpses of their trees blotched with unnatural fungi. Once-rich farmlands had turned to cracked hills of dust crowned by a few wispy stalks of headless barley. Children and livestock born under the clouds of the Blight tended to be small and weak, frequently deformed and easily lost to disease. The few wild birds and beasts that had escaped the traps and arrows of desperate Free Marchers had either starved or succumbed to corruption; after nearly a decade, even those that had survived long enough to become ghouls had died years ago.

This is not news, I know — we all knew the Blight made land unlivable — but the extent of it is worth noting. The extent, not just of its hordes of slavering minions, but of its long-term environmental effects. The sea creaking with the husks of dead mollusks is a particularly memorable detail. This isn’t a run-for-the-hills, come-back-when-the-Grey-Wardens-killed-all-the-darkspawn situation. Even when the people actively attacking you are dead, the landscape (or seascape!) you used to call home is fucked.

Speaking of the Grey Wardens:

“Were [blood mages] evil? I mean…were they all evil?”

The human woman shrugged. “I’d have to know what evil is to answer that, and I don’t believe I do anymore. The cleaner answer, the clearer one, is that they all broke the prohibition against maleficarum.”

“But why?” Valya pressed. “Doesn’t the why matter?”

“It should,” Reimas agreed, “but sometimes it can’t. Everyone has reasons for what they do. Some are persuasive, some are absurd. A few might be things I’d be tempted to believe. But how can you know? Whatever anyone tells you is only a tiny fragment of what is, and it’s colored by their perceptions and hopes and fears. Even if they’re honest — and what blood mage is, with either you or themselves? — their story is no more ‘real’ than a vision in the Fade. The one and only thing you can be sure of is that they have committed, and become, maleficarum. As a templar, that ends it. It has to.”

“The Grey Wardens have used blood magic,” Valya said. “What about them?”

“The Chantry teaches us that human pride and human ambition created the darkspawn,” she said, brushing her hair back into place when the breeze died out. “The magisters used blood magic to enter the Fade and despoil the Golden City, and in so doing, doomed all of Thedas to pay the price for their folly. Blood magic created the evil that the Grey Wardens devote their lives to stopping. I can’t help but feel that it is wrong to use that same cursed weapon to fight them.”

Soooo about that.

(Note: 90% of my traffic comes from people trying to google the World of Thedas recipes, so it’s unlikely this applies to you. But, for the sake of consistency, let me warn the statistically-unlikely remnant of you who may not have played Dragon Age: Inquisition and its Trespasser DLC, that there will be spoilers ahead for those, as well as for the Dragon Age comics.)

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your pretty game is heartless

I tried to play Witcher 3 back when it came out. I tried, and I made it about 20 hours in, but I quit. It’s too gloomy. Geralt’s a dick. All the women look the same — Barbie faces and big tits.

Plenty of people don’t seem particularly bothered by this, though.

There’s a whole group of fellow players I don’t even bother tuning in to when they start in on my favorite franchise, because all they have to say is “yes but it’s not as good as Witcher 3.” Some of these people truly wouldn’t give a shit if, say, rape were required of gameplay (“hurr, but the mechanics are so gudddd!”), but others should know better. By a lot.

They don’t, though. They don’t care. I can understand not minding the miserably dour, life-is-shit-and-so-is-everyone-in-it tone of the game, because some people are into that sort of thing. (No doubt they’re real fun to be around, too, but that’s beside the point.) But they keep returning again and again to Geralt and how great he is. “But he’s a DAD, don’t you get it? Dads are GREAT.”

Indeed, actual dads are great (mostly). Grizzled-ass grumpfaces who have exactly one note to their voices and who can’t go the length of two sentences without sighing in that world-weary, put-upon fashion are not great! They suck. Geralt sucks. With all the women he sleeps with in these games, you’d think he’d maybe enjoy himself. Just a little? Well, you’d be wrong. Because despite all that he’s still a grouch. Permanently. The appeal of assholes has been explained to me time and time again, but I still don’t get it. Who would sleep with this chump? Even for a one-night stand. He has zero fun. Ever. You’d have a better time keeping the other half of the bottle of wine to yourself, no contest.

And Geralt aside? There’s just no heart to the place. There are spectacular sunsets and cantering horses but everyone is selfish, surly and scintillatingly hard-hearted. Maybe this is “an accurate portrayal of medieval Europe,” uh huh. Sure. What with the monsters and everything, no doubt. But whatever it’s an accurate portrayal of, it’s not a place I want to hang around. Ever. Even with its gorgeous scenery.

It’s not that people shouldn’t be terrible. There should definitely be terrible people. In art as it is in life. But if you believe everyone is that terrible, you should maybe be meeting new people or having new experiences that convince you otherwise. Or, if that’s too hard, at least escape to a game universe where kindness fucking exists. If you think life is shit and you log into a game that confirms your every belief on that topic, why exactly are you playing? Does it even count as “playing” at that point? There’s no fun being had. Do you just nod your grizzled head every time some new horrible plot confirms your worst suspicions about humanity, and think, “grrr, yeah, fuck these guys, they’re just like everyone I’ve ever known?”

How about the sunsets? The shimmering sunstars, the glorious pink-tinged clouds? Surely you must hate them for interrupting your bitter scowlfest. Perhaps you build a mod to make it rain. All the time. Forever.

Mod on, Grinch. Mod on. But I’m still not gonna ride your gloom train. I’ve got better shit to do.