The past twenty days have been a conflicting bunch. I’ve spouted for years that my two favorite holidays, as a devoted contrarian to the Christmas Crowd, are Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, in that order. And I think it’s in no small part, if I check the depths of my soul, because they’re holidays that most folks kind of hate.
With Thanksgiving, people dislike needing to get dressed up in their starched Sunday Best for the sole purpose of eating a dry bird and navigating a fight with their uncle over politics; and a lot of folks seem to like making fun of New Year’s for the resolution aspect, pointing out folks running or going to the gym and preaching about how the commitment will only last a couple of weeks.
Well, I say poo-on-you to both of those opinions. Thanksgiving is great (genocide notwithstanding) for the simple fact that it’s a holiday boiled down to its base and most important aspects: togetherness and feasting. Boom. It’s a classic combination, and you don’t mess with a classic. Of course here in the States, I observe the irony that Thanksgiving, a holiday meant for appreciating what we already have, comes mere hours before Black Friday, an annual excuse for the public to stampede over strangers for a deal on a television they never needed.
And if you’re going to crap on someone’s resolutions, wafer-thin commitment or not, I say you’re just projecting your own fear of failure. Allow yourself the wiggle room to try something new, the opportunity to fail, the exercise of discipline and see what comes of it. Sheesh.
Anyway, my 2022 holiday season was great. Halloween saw an awesome house party take place, and Thanksgiving and Christmas both were terrifically cozy, intimate, and memorable affairs, they way they ought to be done, in my opinion. But New Year’s…
2023 ain’t that great yet.
I know this is way too easy to say in retrospect if I didn’t record myself for posterity’s sake, but when all the “2023 is going to be my year, I can feel it” talk started going around a few months ago, I won’t lie, my gut reaction was a little, “I don’t know…kinda feeling 2024 is really going to be what’s better.” And so far, I haven’t been wrong.
I woke up on the 1st of January with a monstrous cramp in my back, and it took me almost two weeks for it to get right. I’m sort of a caveman when it comes to self-care, meaning my first line of defense when it comes to fixing health problems is to just isolate in a cave until the problem goes away. Worked great for the pandemic, not so much for dental issues, vision problems, a hernia, this back thing, etc.
My usual New Year’s tradition is to buy a calendar and start off on some of the resolutions I’ve written, but hot damn have I not been able to giddy-up for much anything yet. Here in California it’s been raining heaps, which further incentivized that “hole up in a cave” tactic, but lot of good that does when the muscles in your back feel like someone mistook you for Dracula and rammed a stake through your chest.
What the time inside did afford us here in the Davis household was some TV time (just what we need), and we finally checked out the Wednesday Addams Family series on Netflix. It was good. Didn’t love it, maybe, but liked it a lot. For some reason, my main takeaway was the episode featuring Wednesday’s birthday, and she refers to birthdays as “another year closer to the yawning oblivion of death” or something. For some reason, I set aside my usual curmudgeonly old man pants and fought that sentiment.
As opposed to another year closer to the grave, I thought, I like to think of each new year as another collection of memoires to cherish when I’m old – if I get old, you never know. Even the bad stuff, the struggles, the loss, you wind up thinking back on those times when you’re past them as notches in your belt, things you overcame or survived, things that added to your story; and I think that’s increasingly important to hold onto, as sentiments go.
Something else I’ve tried in the numbing excitement that’s been my life since last writing was that I tried out Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
For the uninitiated, Kingdom Come is a roleplaying video game that places you in the role of Hal, a peasant boy in 1405 Bohemia. And you know what I’ve found?
I suck at life as a peasant boy in 1405 Bohemia.
In the tutorial town alone, I was: beaten up, berated, covered in shit, and killed, mostly in that order. In the TUTORIAL. I eventually started it up again after some time away, hoping to gain some new ground after learning from my failures, only to find that I can add “ability to eat correctly” to my list of failures. When I wasn’t starving, I was apparently making my character overeat to the point of dizziness.
Dude, f*ck life in medieval Europe. That sucked.
Like, I applaud the game’s commitment to realism or whatever, but dang that was rough.
Anyway, back-ish into the swing of things here, and life is truly good enough that the complaining I do is just for fun. I’m currently taking part in NYC Midnight’s Microfiction Challenge 2022, and while I’m sure my second round submission has a good chance of flopping, I did come in 1st place in my heat in round one. So that was cool. Otherwise, I have some stuff coming out later this month I should probably announce on the day of…so I will, I guess. (I’m not even trying to be funny, the words you just read was my train of thought as it happened. Just felt like being honest with you.)
I eat a lot of hot sauce. I used to put it on everything and get the really spicy ones so that I could be that guy, but I’ve calmed it down a little in recent years. I also used to specifically eat something spicy right before bed, because I noticed doing so gave me really vivid, really strange and surreal dreams.
Now I’ve stopped doing that entirely, but I guess I conditioned my brain enough to think it’s alright to give me strange dreams most nights. One such was just the other night…
Oh! I should put here that I’ve been playing a lot of Deep Rock Galactic recently, and I only say that because it’ll soon become obvious the ways that game influenced the dream. (If you haven’t heard of it and you don’t feel like following the link, in short, it’s a game where you play as a space dwarf mining crystals and minerals out of a giant asteroid-planet-thing.)
Anyway, the other night…
Like most dreams, I don’t remember how I got to the start, but I knew I was being hunted by the Italian mafia. Somehow, at the beginning of the dream, that meant I GUESS that I was in a motel outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico while on the run from them. Of course, one of their hitmen finds me and I’m sure you can guess who it is.
That’s right, Danny Trejo.
So Danny Trejo shows up going full Machete on me, showering the motel in bullets while I run, duck, and dodge behind cover.
Eventually, he runs out of ammo and hops in an old car, trying to run me down. Now my memory gets kind of spotty around this point in the story, but the end point is that I successfully kill him in self-defense. (I think I trick him into crashing the car, or something. Let’s just assume it was something clever.)
That dramatic scene winds up placing me in Witness Protection. I remember they handed me a special form to fill out for, like, my preferences of what kind of Witness Protection I would prefer, and in the special comments section I just wrote “No Italians, please.” Which is several shades of stupid, but made sense in the moment since I was on the run from the Italian mafia.
It doesn’t wind up working.
So Witness Protection places me in a sort of special boarding house that looks like an old Victorian manor out in New England. (Heh, I just noticed the dream keeps taking place in “New” places. New Mexico to New England. Weird.) The boarding house is run by a kindly old woman with red hair and she shows me to my room toward the back of the manor. My paranoia sets in, and on one of the first nights, I remove a couple panels from the floor and I start digging.
The logic at work is that I’m going to construct a series of tunnels to really live in, or at least have as a getaway in case the mob ever finds me. I think I distantly remember reading about or hearing about an either Roman or Chinese emperor who did the same thing with their palace, filling it with a hundred rooms and sleeping in a different one every night to confuse would-be assassins.
Which is basically what I did.
I dug a whole bunch of tunnels into the ground beneath the mansion, and I filled those tunnels with a bunch of dummy routes, dead ends, tunnels that looped back in on themselves. I dug enough dirt to last eleven lifetimes to make sure the mob would never find me.
Along the way, I met another resident of the house, a young girl named Alyssa, who found my series of tunnels and asked to help me dig more because she thought it was cool. At first I said no, wary of outsiders and not wanting to share my masterpiece with another, but ultimately relented.
I also found this awesome, green, furry mole-ferret creature while digging. I never really thought of a name for him, but he was adorable, helped me dig, and loved to snuggle while making this soft purring noise. He was great.
At this point, there’s a bit of a time skip, or a fast-forwarding. I met Alyssa, found my giant ferret creature, at one point we struck ground water and essentially dug out a massive underground grotto or lake. We brought in bamboo from the Overworld (just the regular world, but we’d become underground people) to build scaffolding and walking pathways around this body of water. It was a good time.
But nothing good lasts forever.
One day while I’m hanging out on the big wrap-around porch of the house, I see a car with tinted windows drive slowly by. The window rolls down and a bald man with a scar on his cheek stares me down for a moment, before rolling the window back up and driving away. (No idea why, but I name him Spencer.
My God. I’ve been found.
I have a discussion with the headmaster lady of the house, and she gives me a sort of “Ah, alas. I feared this day would come” sort of monologue, and says she’ll prep the house for battle – or something of the sort. Eventually, it falls to dusk, and a train of twelve cars pulls up in front of the place. Out of each one, a uniquely dressed, themed, and deadly hitman steps out with an intent to kill. They charge the house, and I kung-fu fight with about four or five of them around the house, killing or incapacitating them mightily before I begin to tire and worry for the worse. All around the house, the headmaster lady and other residents are doing their own righteous battle with these (apparently still supposed to be Italian mafia) hitmen.
I’m wounded, and the headmaster lady tells me to fall back, and that they have it from here. So I do, and retreat into my tunnel system. While down there, Alyssa finds me and tells me that our ferret isn’t doing so good, she thinks he’s sick. So I pick up the little guy, he purrs against my chest and neck while I carry him down one of the tunnels, across our underground lake (taking up the bamboo walkways behind us), and into the deepest tunnel that is my Sanctuary. For extra security, I lay a couple of satchel charges in the dirt (which I apparently have) and lie in wait with my ferret creature.
I woke up at that point, but I assume that Spencer the Hitman followed my trail down the tunnels and would have fallen upon me and my ferret, but got blown up by my booby traps. That’s my head canon and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, if you’ve stuck with it this far or just skipped down until you saw “The End”, either way: The News!
I’ve stopped announcing these sorts of things with any regularity, both because life is busy and because I’m not sure who’s listening with bated breath on this, my tiny, eensy weensy slice of the internet, but we’ve got another publication in the books! (lol Pun.)
Flame Tree Publishing is coming out with their Gothic Fantasy ‘Alternate History’ anthology early next year and are including a reprint of one of my first ever stories, “The Sixth-Gun Conspiracy Letters”, wherein we learn the tragic, twisted truth behind the cloak-and-dagger game which shadowed the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and I’m extra stoked about this one because Flame Tree is based out of London, UK, which means ya boi has gone international! And I think that’s worth a nod. -cheers- (<– the polite gesture at a dinner party, not a crowd erupting with applause)
Anyhoo, that’s all for now. Thanks for sticking around. Ciao, everybody.
Y’know, I didn’t plan the title to be quite this appropriate, but after a quiet hiatus of two-ish months, it’s actually kind of fitting. I think of good icebreakers as fun little questions, or questions you ask “because why not?” And really good ones both break the ice and tell you something about the person you’re asking them of while they commence with said breaking of ice. Not totally sure why, but I’ve caught myself asking these kinds of things of my coworkers a lot more often lately – not because dialogue with them is awkward or anything, quite the opposite; I think it’s just because they’re sort of fun.
And why make it more complicated than that?
So without further adieu, Icebreaker #1: “If you were going to become an animal, what animal would you become and why?”
My favorite part to that one is actually all of the qualifying questions that usually follow it. “Like, at will, or forever moving forward?” “Right now, or is going to happen in a week or something?” “Will I keep my human intelligence, or just- poof! You’re a jaguar now?” And to answer those, the house rules we’ve been running with have essentially been “No, it isn’t an at-will kind of thing. It’s a permanent change. No, you don’t get a week to prep for it, it just happens here as soon as you answer – go with your gut. Yes, you keep your human intelligence.”
Obviously my second-favorite part are the answers themselves and their justification. That jaguar one was a real answer, and the given reason was that he wanted to be a house cat, but if he gets to keep his human intelligence, then a jaguar is like that but a bit more badass. Plus, if you’re going to answer the question and introduce a scenario wherein you’re now suddenly a giant cat, there are some follow-up questions that beg answers: How do you tell your family? Do you tell your family? Where do you set up your new home if so, or if not? If you’re a predator now, then what/where/how do you hunt?
The possibilities are ENDLESS!
Personally, I chose becoming a hedgehog; but truthfully, that was just a gut-reaction and I don’t think it was really a smart choice. I’d become super cute, sure, but I think, like, anything that lives outdoors can and would happily eat me. Or at least brutalize me.
Lookin’ at you, stray cats.
The other classic is “If you could have a super power, which one would you have and why?”
This one everybody has heard and/or given an answer to. Mine is pretty easy: telekinesis. It’s subtle enough that most times nobody ever has to know you can do it, but it can also get powerful enough that you’re a goddamn Jedi, plus there’s plenty of room for creativity with it. But you also run the gambit of Usual Suspects:
Invisibility – Ugh, says everyone. Though, credit where it’s due, one of my friends did say that she’d use it defensively instead of to be a creep. She’d just go invisible when she didn’t want people to talk to her, and I can respect that.
Flight – Sure, but how, wings or thought? And how fast? Either way, you’re going to need goggles or something, plus it’s going to get cold. That and a slew of other problems come along with choosing to fly. ALSO, it’s one of those powers where if you suddenly stop using it while you’re using it – you die.
Teleportation – See this one’s also problematic. Is it short-distance, Nightcrawler style? Or is it like in Jumper where you can just pop across the planet? And do you think you can focus enough and picture your destination clearly enough, honestly, to be able to not end up glitching into a wall somewhere?
This last one is a little niche, but I still think it can be pretty telling of the person who answers it: “What’s your favorite D&D class, and why?”
Naturally, this will be a little limited to tabletop gamers being the only ones who can give you informed answers, but we are a growing breed, and it can be a chance to introduce newbies. Also, it can be a good way to be surprised. One friend who I was sure would swing either for ‘stalwart paladin’ or ‘playful rogue’ hit me out of left field with “I think being a druid is cool. Taming beasts and kicking ass as a bear, or something. Rad.”
Rad indeed, Robert. Rad indeed.
Personally, my favorite class is and always will be the Ranger, even if they get a little screwed over by Wizards of the Coast in the stats department. But even if their class features receive lesser support than others, it isn’t really what they can do that makes Rangers the best, it’s…well, what they are. They are so freakin’ versatile – ranged support, melee damage dealers, exploration/expedition heads, utility spellcasting, animal companions if you lean that way, etc. I get that this statement is true for plenty of classes, but I feel it in my heart the most for the Ranger: you can build it so many different ways. System-wise, Pathfinder may have done it the best, with the inclusion of “Urban” environments as a possible Favored Terrain. One of my favorite Ranger builds was making an urban explorer that was a treasure hunter, with Constructs as his favored enemy.
Taking silver is sort of a two-way tie between Bards and Monks, but that’s a separate discussion.
I’ve become a pretty reliable user of edibles at this point in my life. Not constantly, or even really all too often, but I do enjoy that it’s a regular, easy part of life now. And, as with anything, everyone has their first time with it – “it” being whatever is in question, not just cannabis. Mine was in probably the best of all possible circumstances: it was Game Night at my aunt and uncle’s house, and it was enchilada night. D&D was the game, and Grognak, the Ghostblade was my name.
To that point, I’d never tried cannabis, period; and I think this was within a year of its full legalization in California, so dispensaries were popping up all over the place. My aunt Steph had come home with a number of baggies of cannabis cookies which was, just as a concept, entirely new to me. I didn’t even know you could do that sort of thing with weed. Cookies? F**kin’ love cookies.
So at some point in the night, I wander into the kitchen to re-up on enchiladas, and Steph enters to walk over to the refrigerator. I look over to see her grab the baggy, take out a cookie, nom on said cookie, and then look over to make eye contact with me. Without saying a word, she holds the bag out to me by way of offer. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any heavenly idea why, but I took it as a challenge. There in that moment, she didn’t actually think I’d accept a cookie and she was betting on it. (She totally wasn’t, but that’s how my brain chose to interpret the moment.) So, while maintaining eye contact and just as wordless, I reach my hand into the bag and draw out a cookie. Her eyebrows shoot up (which is the lone thing supporting my it-was-a-challenge theory), and she watches intently as I pop it into my mouth and chew. Then, still a mute, she shrugs her shoulders and leaves the kitchen.
That felt weird, to feel like I won a chemical game of chicken without even a word between us, but I took it as a win, gathered my enchiladas, and went back to the gaming table.
Here was where I began to really draw on what knowledge I had of cannabis experience from the things I’d heard. I was sitting there, hacking apart harpies or whatever our monster of the evening was, when I had the passing thought that maybe I was immune to THC, because I wasn’t feeling anything. So then, naturally, it was precisely then that I noticed the leg warmers I had on my calves.
For the record, I wasn’t actually wearing leg warmers (duh). But it felt like my legs below the knee felt slightly, comfortably compressed, like I was wearing socks made of Heaven’s light; which, actually, is how I picture it too, like my calves were glowing a pale golden color. At the same time, I fell the halo that’s formed around my head, like I’m wearing a headband of the same light, and a number of other sensations all hit my perception at once.
First, do me a favor, and think about where in your mouth your tongue is right now. You know how when you think about it, you can suddenly feel the boundries of your tongue? The grooves of the roof of your mouth, the edges of your teeth, and all that. Mmhm, I had that with my brain. I suddenly felt, in strange detail, the boundary of my brain within my skull. And as I noticed that, it felt like it was subtly waving or pulsing, like a fish splashing out of water, but in super slow-mo.
There was also a bit of sensory overload besides my sense of feel. Colors seemed brighter and more vibrant, smells and tastes were deeper, and I felt like my range of earshot had gained ten or so feet to its radius. It was like my perceptions had all gone up a tick on their respective dials.
But the “paranoia” was where I was glad to have heard about it before. My breathing had quickened and my heart rate was noticeably up, and I could feel all the physical sensations of a mild panic attack, though none of the associated panic or thoughts. It was like my mind was taking a back seat to my body freaking out a bit and thinking, “Huh, is this what people mean when they say they get paranoid?” Some self-conscious thoughts hit me too, like what I must be looking like and a pressure to act normal; but it was like my awareness watched those thoughts float by from an exterior point of view.
By the end of the night, the sensations calmed down and everybody made it home safe, but I always kind of relish that that was my first encounter with the Devil’s Lettuce.
If you’re reading this, then the odds are good that you have a pulse. If you have a pulse, then the odds are weirdly even better that you’ve at least heard of Skyrim. In that way, Skyrim is a lot like the TV show The Office – almost everyone on the planet has at least some kind of run-in with it, and to say you like it nowadays is like admitting you have the intellectual palate of a goat. An especially dumb goat. It isn’t that the game is bad at all, but it’s aged a fair bit and its fans are pretty ardent ones that have a hard time shutting up about it, which is a rough recipe for newcomers or the indifferent.
Skyrim also has the irresistible force of a whirpool, sink hole, sand trap, or any other kind of thing that pulls you in and won’t let go.
Black holes! Like a black hole! Way better example.
I guess all of that means I’m mostly speaking to fellow Skyrim fans with what follows. Because what I’m going to describe is a problem that plagues those of us exclusively, it seems. There was a point where I sunk so many hours into that game, I walked by a fern and had the reflex to reach out and try to harvest it for Spikey Grass pods for my alchemy. I did the same thing when passing an agapanthas and thinking it was Death Bell (I have poisons of ‘Slow’ to brew, after all).
I’ve played through that game, 100%, at least a dozen times. There isn’t a quest of any tier that I haven’t played through multiple times, any NPC’s I haven’t met, any random encounters I haven’t encountered randomly, or any new dialogue I can’t recite alongside the one who says it.
So why the F*CK do I feel a compulsion to fire it up again?
In an interactive medium like video games, the whole point is for emergent storytelling. In other words, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. But in this case, I know exactly what’s going to happen. In fact, I know I’m barely going to make it through Helgen before I start wondering why the hell I’m burning my minutes on this earth with this again. I’ll counter myself by brewing excitement over trying a new build, but then that will fall flat when I remind myself that I’ve done every possible build fives times over.
There will be nothing new.
But I still kinda want to be a Bosmer archer, communing with mammoths and shooting bandits in the eye with my trusty bow. I want to ignore the Dovakiin story line entirely and roleplay as a hunter that takes down elk and sells the skins in the Hold capitals for petty coin. I want to “fall in with” the Thieves’ Guild of Riftin and ignore the sh*t out of the Stones of Barenziah because finding all twenty-four of them is duuuuumb. I want to complete dungeons, sidestep traps, ambush draugr, and collect treasure.
But I KNOW I’ll get bored thirty minutes into all of that, and rightly so.
So, really, in the end, maybe this is just a lesson, the Great Lesson that Todd Howard has been trying to impress upon us all for the last ten goddamn years in his refusal to progress The Elder Scrolls series into its sixth installment. Maybe the wisdom here is to learn to let go, to recognize the futility in hanging onto what’s normal, what’s comfortable and familiar. To learn to grow beyond those familiar things and seek betterment and change. To accept that good things in life are meant to be savored and then release to the flow of time…
Or it could be that Skyrim can be ported to a refrigerator and still print butt-tons of money, and I’m drastically overthinking it. Maybe I just need to move on and try something new rather than re-playing all the same stuff. Either way, I think it should meet the criteria for some kind of official condition.
‘You Cannot Run, You Are Overburdened’ Disord-
Actually, wow. That last one hits. Life…might just be a bit busy, and we seek refuge from its obligations in a realm of fantasy, and what we really need to do is some house-keeping of our priorities rather than blaming the…video games…we…distract ourselves with…
Gosh. Look at us. Learning. On the fly and in the moment.
Heh. And they say video games don’t have anything to teach us.
I wish I could say this was inspired by something more monumental, like a big life event or existential epiphany, but the truth is far simpler: The Ghost of Tsushima is just that great.
In every way, the game is an (A+) work of art. While the duels among cherry blossoms and battles amid flames are thrilling in their own right, I’m in it for picking flowers, petting foxes, writing poems. If it weren’t for all the swinging massive razors and duty-bound murder parties, I’d HELLUV been a samurai. But since those things are kind of a package deal…oh well.
May I present, some amateurish poetry…
Haiku Pause, breath, and reflect. Flower on a windy cliff, breathe and be nourished.
Moon A light amid dark Silent, blossoming brilliance Gate to the cosmos
Supper Food in my belly Warmth spreading through my body. This is just the best
Do you remember in History class, or Social Studies, or whatever it was called where you went, and in the lessons you might be told, “People of this time thought ‘X’,” or “Members of this culture believed ‘Y’,” right?
I took a college course called ‘History of God,’ as well as a number of other religious studies curriculum, and one thing I will love my professor for forever was a distinction he drew: no matter what time period or culture you’re talking about, it’s not 100% true of all its members. Which is to say, it’s inaccurate to assume ALL people of a given time, given movement, or given culture can be attributed a given attitude or belief.
Many of us are familiar with the popular myths of the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Norse cultures, so on and so forth, but you can’t declare that those beliefs were held by all members of that time. Did many believe a stroke or seizure was a person being struck by an arrow of Apollo? Maybe, but were also many who heard that and thought, “Eh, I doubt that?” Yeah, totally. Were there Norse folk who thought the clouds in the sky were the brains of a frost giant? On record, yes. But might there have been those who saw the rain and quietly disputed that explanation? Of course.
Now, this is going to be a rough segue, but bear with me.
Was there a massive outcry following the finale of Game of Thrones, calling it garbage, full of ‘bad writing,’ and character abandonment? Yes. Are there also millions of us who acknowledge some of its flaws, enjoyed it massively regardless, and hold a lot of the outcry to be a bandwagon bit o’ bitching but just didn’t feel like shouting about that. Yes, God, and please remember that.
Was ‘The Last of Us’ a fantastic video game experience, whose sequel has fallen under fire with an enormous amount of controversy and outrage? Yes. Are there those of us who recognize the work, skill, creativity, and direction that went into it and are wondering why there’s so much hate? You bet your butt.
The sad thing is that the outrage is the louder voice, and so will be the one that’s heard and remembered. But, there’s an opportunity in that.
Imagining the future, where the archeologists and historians of tomorrow will look back on the records of today, they’ll see and know the hordes of angry fans, they’ll hear the desperate braying of upset followers, and recognize those things as the attitudes of the time…
But the astute among them will know there was another side of that time. A secret society of those of us who knew the true worth of those creations, whose job was to quietly safeguard the integrity of those arts, to hold them and keep them through the turmoil and the chaos until a time when they no longer need hide; and that they may fall into the hands of truly worthy, respectful recipients.
I literally stood by a window looking out at the sky while rehearsing that block. It brought me peace, breath, and probably an undue sense of importance; and I hope it can bring you the same.
I’d love to sit here and say this was something I put together for you, something I sat on and thought about and pored over and worked on for your enjoyment and betterment – but it’s not. This is about to be an anecdote for myself to come back to later and be embarrassed that I put out to the public.
This is about the time I caught…The Glow.
I started playing Magic: the Gathering (yup, and there goes anyone that made it even this far) back in the Summer of 2018. I’d heard the horror stories of how much people can just pour money into the hobby, how much it financially drains you, and I was determined not to be another statistic. I bought two little 60-card starter decks and said, “That’s quite enough for me. THIS will be my Magic collection and I’m happy with it.”
Suffice it to say, it did not stop there.
To date, I’ve built and dismantled more Modern decks than was ever worth counting, and maintain a rotation of eight Commander/EDH decks with themes all important to my heart and soul: Izzet Artifacts, Elves/Tokens, Blue-Black Mill, mono-Green Hydras, Jeskai Time Wizards, Rakdos Goblins, Boros Angels, and Liliana Necromancy/Zombies. With the exception of Time Wizards, who has yet to ever come through for me meaningfully and was probably a mistake, I love each of them dearly.
So, now that the stage is set, our tale…
I was over at my good friend Josh’s house for a day of cards with friends. These same friends, mind you, put me through a baptism of fire when I first started playing – which was good. As I was learning the basics, they beat the ever-loving shit out of me most games. But I persevered, learned, and took those lessons of brutality to heart. All for this day…
First game of the day was just against Josh, since I showed up first (a rare occurrence). I pulled out my ‘Selvala, Heart of the Wilds‘ Hydra deck and got to business. That said, Josh was using his pride and joy, a Sliver Overlord tribal deck that cost, probably, about two grand. Selvala, bless her heart, held her own valiantly, but was ultimately overcome (it’s okay, every hero’s journey needs to begin with struggle).
It was close, and to this day I’m convinced that if I hadn’t drawn into so much goddamn land, I could have taken him. Or, if I’d used my pride and joy, my first love, my Saheeli, the Gifted artifact deck, I could have had him up and out of there in no time. (She was the underdog of her Commander block in 2018, but together, we trained her up and put some real power behind her punches with practice, study, and plenty of steroids.)
Once our friends arrived, the REAL show began.
I’m not sure what it’s like with other people’s play groups, but it tends to be within ours, that when a person wins a game between four players, it’s in a single, fell swoop: an infinite combo (thankfully rare), an “if X, then win the game” condition, or a huge move like a surprise Craterhoof Behemoth stomping that takes out all other three players at once.
This day…this day was different.
We start off, it’s a table with FIVE of us, which is a lot of players for a game of EDH; not monstrous, but a lot. I pull out my Rhys the Redeemed elves/tokens deck for this one. His main win condition is either cheating out a Felidar Sovereign for a sort of cheaper win, or raising an army of saprolings, squirrels, and elves, then plopping out the ol’ Craterhoof Behemoth trick; either way, its quickest route to victory involves annihilating the table or the game all at once.
This day, however, I knocked out each of the other four players through combat damage, individually. It was a deadly dance of politics to incite a fight with only another player at a time to not draw any undue aggression, healing up my wounds with lifelink abilities after each skirmish, and maintain token numbers to be a reasonable presence without being a threatening one. It was kind of like a fight scene out of an action movie, where the hero is surrounded by henchman who come at him all-at-once-ish, but really one at a time, and by the end of it, it’s the hero who’s done all the ass-whoopin’.
It. Was. Glorious.
And it came down to a razor finish. I knocked out the third of my opponents, trying to leave enough defense to withstand my final opponent’s turn since I was the only remaining threat, when he equips a Colossus Hammer to one of his soldiers and swings all out at me. I had enough tokens remaining to block enough of the assault that it left me with two Life left…TWO. Then I was able to counter-swing on my next turn for the finish.
So I sat back, packed that deck away in its box, and contentedly notched my name in the win column for that night, feeling good. I’d gotten my win out of the way, and it was awesome. So, for the next game, I go back to my Selvala – Hydras deck, to give it another, Sliver-less try.
This time, there’s far more in-fighting at the table, with there being more aggressors than just myself, finally. Combat damage is being dealt back and forth among players, but no one is going for the knock-out yet, presumably so everyone can stay in the game until it ends; a noble gesture, but not a lesson my hard Magic upbringing taught me to embrace with them. I see an opportunity late game to flash in a Hydra Broodmaster on an end step before my turn begins. If I remember right, I had Unbound Flourishing on board, so I got to make her go monstrous where ‘X’ got to be something nice and big like ‘8,’ and then for combat on my turn, I throw down an Overwhelming Stampede and do exactly what one might expect…
…I stampeded the table.
Playful groans and gasps made their way around the table. And my proud triumph turned slightly to embarrassment….embarrassment that I was still inexorably proud of.
So I threw up my hands and said, “Woooof, y’all. Alright, my bad. I’ve had my fun for the night, had my fair share. Shit, I’m sorry,” all while laughing with them. “Looks like I caught The Glow tonight. I’ll change it up and just be a spectator for this next one.” I put away my Hydras, rolled up my foresty-colored play mat, and pulled out my Blue-Black Mill/Persistent Petitioners deck, headed by Phenax, God of Deception.
(My FAVORITE game ever of Magic is a story for another time if I ever again feel baseless enough to do another one of these posts, but I will say that what follows here might be my SECOND-FAVORITE ever game of Magic I’ve played.)
For the uninitiated, Mill-strategies in the Commander format are widely seen as a pretty unwise route to victory as, instead of the directness of combat damage, you’re trying to empty out your opponent’s 100-card deck. 1) It can be pretty slow, understandably. 2) It also usually has to be pretty focused, so with multiple opponents, your capacity for offense has a built-in cap. 3) To make up for its weaknesses, a mill deck usually has to be pretty focused on that goal, so defense can be somewhat lacking, leaving you kind of open. 4) Lastly, people, on average, fucking hate being milled and seeing their stuff get dumped into the graveyard, so it builds your villainy meter at the table pretty quickly (ie Players cheer when someone kills you in the name of public good, nobody mourns your loss, and they line up to poop on your grave).
This game was different.
Some brief stage-setting: It’s a 5-player game this time around, and since I don’t imagine any of them will EVER read this, I’m going to be using their real names. To my left, was my buddy Brent, who was playing mono-red Dwarves; to his left was Kopa, who was playing a Blue-Red-White ‘Voltron’ deck; followed by Woody, who was playing Blue-Red-Green elementals; followed at last by our illustrious host Josh, who was borrowing someones mono-blue artifact deck.
I draw my opening hand to see that I have two Petitioners, three land, a counter spell, and Thrumming Stone. In case it’s confusing as to why that’s cool, here’s the break-down: Since I can have as many Petitioners in my deck as I want, I run twenty-eight as a multiple of four per the card’s ability. That’s enough of a percentage that they come up commonly enough and have good odds at the Ripple ability without clogging up my draws. Thrumming Stone basically says if you cast a Petitioner, you can look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, yatta yatta, on until you have all twenty-eight of your Petitioners out – if you get lucky to roll on like that and provided none have gotten killed.
In my mind, I immediately see what I have to do: stall and be ignored long enough to drop Thrumming Stone and a Petitioner in the same turn – a seven mana cost – to hopefully let the Ripple effect take over. So if I can draw well and keep below radar until about Turn Nine, I have a shot at totally fucking over the table. Plus, hang onto that counter spell as an insurance policy.
So the game begins, and right out the gate Josh takes an aggressive lead. He rolls out artifacts and gadgets left and right, big equipment to buff his creatures, and throwing hot damage around the table. In addition, he starts lightly milling the table, which is where my Greatest Performance of Deception begins (Phenax would be proud).
We’re all getting milled for one or two cards at a time. With the rest of the table, I playfully and dramatically groan, pleading for him to maybe just forego the effect rather than having it go through, and commiserating with the other players at our misfortune, but inside I’m thrilled. Every card that gets skimmed off the top that isn’t a land card or a Petitioner is fantastic. He mills my Mind Funeral? Great, I don’t need the heat anyway. He dumps my Consuming Aberration? Super, I have something to jokingly “complain” about not getting to play. Every one of those is another turn closer to the land base that I need.
And so it goes, Josh battles and harasses the rest of the table while I draw, maybe play a land, pretend to have my hands tied, and pass. It comes to a point where I have six lands out and I’m just waiting for one more before I can pull my move, but I’m worried to death about something that would destroy my Thrumming Stone. Josh has become a huge threat at this point, in a night that’s twice seen a single player butcher the table (#humblebrag), and he gets up to go pee. Everyone else starts conspiring as to how to turn the tide against him.
“Hmm,” I ponder aloud. “Hey, do any of you have any artifact-removal? That way, we could get rid of his [insert specific dangerous artifact here that I’m totally blanking on].” “No,” says Brent. “No,” replies Kopa. “No,” laments Woody. “Ah, bummer,” I say, looking down at the artifact in my hand.
I play Phenax, just so it doesn’t look too much like I’m intentionally doing nothing. Josh comes back, then Kopa pulls a huge play that sees him kill Josh outright, but one that fortunately makes him become an even larger threat. So Woody follows that by detonating the board with an All is Dust (thankfully the turn after I used that counter spell to stop him playing an Eldrazi). With Josh dead, it comes to me, and I draw my seventh land. I figure if ever there was a blessing from the God of Deception that I’d played my role well and it was time to set the plan in motion, it was now.
So I do. I plop down that land, set out my Thrumming Stone, and play a Petitioner, which chained so marvelously well into all the rest that I exploded from a board state of absolutely nothing, into twenty-eight Petitioners out and proud (total milling potential of 84 cards, basically lethal at that point). Plus, with that All is Dust, everyone needed to rebuilding their boards to pose any threat.
Brent’s turn, he plays a couple of dwarves to reconstitute his board, and at his end step, I mill out Kopa. Playing Jeskai colors and the potential he had for out-of-nowhere kills, he had to go. So after that, it’s just me, Brent, and Woody. On Woody’s turn, he plays Nikya of the Old Ways to regain some board presence which, if you ask me, made my next decision really simple.
It came back to me, and Brent starts talking to the late Kopa that “if I just had one more land, I could blow up his entire fucking board.”
With Woody self-handicapped and unable to cast non-creature spells – meaning no big bombs, no board wipes, no nothin’ – and with Brent openly admitting he might draw into a way to kill me…
…yeah, duh, I milled the shit out of him.
Final turn came down to just me and Woody. His turn comes up, he plays a creature that can’t attack on account of summoning sickness, swings all-out for about 11 damage which I readily greet headfirst. Turn comes to me, I mill him down to dust to make my bread and make it my third straight full-table victory of the night.
A feat of which I was so embarrassingly proud, I just spent the last too-many hours bragging about it on an internet blog.
Hey all, the inactivity on here’s been bugging me, so it’ll get a bump here soon, I promise (to you, the one reading this – and feel privileged. I mean “one” as in “you [singular], the one individual who’s eyeballs will be taking in these words besides my own.” Meaning this is strictly between you and I. Traffic through here’s been down lately, and, I mean, c’mon, can’t blame anybody, am I right? So, anyway, this parenthetical one-on-one has gotten a bit stretched, so onto the body of today’s agenda…).
If I’m lucky, you’re a gamer. And if I’m doubly lucky, you’re a gamer in your mid-twenties or so, and have probably heard of, if not played Blizzard’s ‘Diablo II.’ I found the game when I was about eight and played it like it was my job- nay, religious duty, and my favorite playable class was The Necromancer.
Not that I’ve always had a bend towards corpse jockies (called such by an issue of ‘The Shaman King’ in Shonen Jump I read at about the same age, and I’ve never let it go), I actually began with a penchant for the good guy, so I leaned paladin. But after I grew up a touch and discovered the power of having pets and monsters do my bidding for me, pet classes have become a favorite.
When I was about sixteen or so, I’d started yet another play-through of Diablo II, and with a combination of luck, strategy, planning, and patience, I’d built the BEST Necromancer to date. With a focus on a narrow selection of skills and carefully laid out enchantments, aided with lucky finds, Xavier Gravetide (I was sixteen) had a near-infinite supply of mana, bone shields provided at no cost to him, curses also provided at no cost, and a Seal Team Six formation of skeletons, golems, followers, etc. Didn’t have a ton of health, but it didn’t matter – he NEVER got hurt.
I made it through every on of each Act’s bosses without taking a single point of damage. Just send in the horde, back them up as necessary, curse here or there, and boom, job done. That was Andariel, Duriel, Mephisto the Lord of Hatred, Diablo the Lord of Terror, and Baal Lord of Destruction all pathetic dead goop under my shoe without a single hit landed against me.
But even all that fearsome might couldn’t stand up to the ultimate mega-villain…
After a while, the laptop I ran all my games on had lived its best life through to the end. It lived a hearty six years up to that point (and would go on to serve another valiant four more), but needed some resuscitating. And so, lacking any meaningful tech savvy myself, I asked my mom if we might take it into Best Buy to see Geek Squad.
They said, “Ah, sure, dude. We can totally fix ‘er up. Basically a hard reboot. Just do a solid back-up of what’s on it, wipe it clean, tune it up, and reload the data. Boom, good as new. Is there anything in particular you want saved?”
I’d never been more serious with anyone in my entire life: “Yes. Dear God, yes,” I said. “Anything and EVERYTHING to do with ‘Diablo II’ or ‘Xavier,’ keep it like your life depends on it.”
You…you know what they saved inSTEAD of those things?
The ‘readme.txt’ file.
The goddamn readme.
Anyway, the fall of that mighty hero that I sunk probably some 200+ hours into is what ruined my faith in humanity. You’d think it’d be something more dramatic on a world scale to do that, but nope. It was Geek Squad “agents” murdering Xavier Gravetide through sheer incompetence.
Ciao, everybody (again, meaning YOU, person reading this).
PS – And to address any concerns or would-be waggled fingers, I wound up not ACTUALLY being all that torn up about it and the “ruined my faith in humanity” thing was more of a joke. I actually sort of thought of it as an honor, to think that I’d built a character so strong that only a force from OUTSIDE the game was powerful enough to kill him.
Hey all, happy Thursday. [For those that notice, this is a re-post. I’m caught up working on some pretty exciting stuff I hope to have news about soon AND I liked this lil’ list. So, in case you missed it, check it out. 🙂 ]
No fancy intro. Here goes. Get ready
for a loosely-structured, mostly ranting sort-of-essay.
The Five Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)
Problem-Solving Nature Boiled down to its basics, employers want someone who can problem-solve; and, at its barest, that’s all games really offer (and fun doing it, duh). Being a gamer means understanding the problem you’re presented with and all its parameters – or even sometimes working with incomplete information and making the most of that. This is going to be a hilariously extreme example, but I once heard a nugget of wisdom that went something like this: “You can learn how to perform open-heart surgery in two weeks, but surgeons go to school for years to learn how to handle all the things that can go wrong.” Does…does that make sense, what I’m trying to say? When starting a new job, you’re trained how to perform a task or serve a particular function – and that’s robotic. But having the baseline to foresee, anticipate, and correct aberrations where they arise (ie problem-solving skills), is just as necessary. Whether that’s exploring a ghostly mansion, outmaneuvering enemy troops on an alien planet, or doing your day job, absolutely every angle involves observing an obstacle and calculating a way of overcoming it – which is the heart of gaming in a nutshell.
Knack for Optimization Employers want optimization. Whether that means someone who can manage their time really, really efficiently, or someone who can enter a situation with fresh eyes and suggest an improvement others haven’t seen. How does gaming relate to this? Have you ever heard of “Power Gaming” or “Min-Maxing?” The entire point for some gamers is to take what they have, view the systems they’re told to operate within, and get the absolute, objectively best result that they can. That can mean working with the bare minimum to greatest effect (like a lvl 1 Pyromancer speed run of Dark Souls) or obtaining the objectively best sword/gun/armor/meta deck in the business (like in just about any JRPG that’s ever existed). You may have even heard some gamers in your own circle talk relentlessly about trying to “break the game” (lookin’ at you, Bryce). For the uninitiated, while that may sound like a bad thing or something harmful, what it translates to is “trying to become so overwhelmingly good at a particular thing that you reach as close to 100% efficiency as is humanly (or, in my cousin’s case, inhumanly) possible. This usually, in gaming terms, refers to a character’s Strength stat or skill in Stealth being so goddamned high that they can use that and that alone to achieve anything; but it can absolutely also refer to the way your work space is organized, your priorities are stacked for the day, the way your orders are processed, or the roles those in your team play out.
Familiarity with Flow State Sometimes the word “gamer” conjures an image of an either lackadasical kid in a beanbag chair with a glazed expression or sometimes a zealous young woman with a headset tuned into a fast-paced and loud FPS (“first person shooter”, for the laymen) like DOOM. When imagined this way, a Suit-n’-Tie might wonder, “What good could that person be for what I need?” To them, I would offer two words: flow state. Also known as “being in the zone,” “zoned in,” or “getting tunnel-vision,” operating in flow state is a particular state of mind I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another in our lives. In it, you’re hyper aware, extraordinarily sharp and focused, make moves with dedicated efficiency, and even experience time differently. While it’s common enough with fast-paced video games, it’s not like it’s exclusive to that medium. I suck at it, but apparently it’s a common occurrence among chess players – being four, five steps ahead of your opponent (baker’s dozen if you’re playing against me), carrying contingencies, routes, and back-up plans in your noggin. Same thing goes for playing card games of all varieties. So of course it applies to the work place just as easily, and that makes for an incredibly handy state of mind to be well-practiced in, as many gamers are.
“I just need this done.” Not all jobs are fun. In fact, if you listen to complaints around the watering hole or to your friends after they’re shift lets out, it’s not uncommon for people to complain about their jobs being boring or simple. I’m not disparaging shit, by the way, but be it flipping burgers, counting inventory, inspecting the same incoming products all day, or janitorial duties (all venerable trades), there’s yet another gaming mindset that ensures a dedicated performance… Have you ever heard of “grinding”…? Whether it’s defeating 500 of the same enemy type in a given region, saving the same generic peasant from the same generic wolves 100 times to become a legend, or collecting random bits and baubles of bullshit, it’s been a stable pillar of video games few would dispute. It’s pretty damn common in big RPG’s, World of Warcraft probably being the most notorious. “I need ten goat horns!” cries the farmer. “Come, bring me twenty bundles of molleybarrow weed!” shouts the alchemist. “Ah, the sword is yours, if you simply bring me thirty northern white rabbit anuses,” barters the eccentric merchant. The point simply being: menial, repetitive tasks done efficiently is just as within a gamer’s wheelhouse as everything else discussed so far.
Crossover Skills This one is probably the least apparent, but the most important, and that’s the surprising infrastructure of crossover skills that video games can help develop. Best explained by example, I found that in my last job, XCOM 2 had weirdly prepared me rather well for what my job entailed. In brief, I was responsible for keeping a room stocked with necessary materials for the manufacturing process of the facility – making sure not to run out of particular substances, but also not to overstock as we didn’t have the space and that would result in a jam (essentially). For those not familiar, the XCOM games are centered around managing a para-military base tasked with fending off an extraterrestrial menace. This includes the well-being, training, equipment of a roster of soldiers, the layout of the base’s facilities, power consumption, queue of projects, so on and so forth, all while battling a computer-controlled alien force that wants to kill you and everything you stand for. It sounds a little funny, but the skills of resource and inventory management, logistics analysis, anticipation of needs, risk balancing, and orchestrating teammate synergy were all surprisingly appropriate skills developed by a video game and applied in a real world occupation.
And there you have it, a loosely-structured, mostly-ranting list of 5 Big-Ass Reasons for Employers to Hire Gamers. But one more point before we go and I do the whole “See ya Thursday!” thing: the ‘games as art’ argument. It doesn’t really hold a place in the list of reasons games apply to work place efficiency, but it holds a place in my heart, as it should all of yours. Once upon a time, video games might have been all shoot-’em-up’s, Pong, and simple sports simulators, but nowadays the industry is transforming more and more into a place for pieces of interactive fiction with a driving focus and emphasis on the art of storytelling. We still call them “games,” and they are as many include a failure state (Game Over screens and such), but to see works like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, Detroit: Become Human, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, or the Last of Us and not see the creative beauty, energy, and genius that goes into those creations, then YOU CAN GO FU- ….
that was going to be more aggressive that we really need here. In
a more measured sense, if we can take the traditional, romantic
sentimentality we hold for curling up with a book on a rainy day and
getting lost in the world between the pages and realize that other
mediums hold the same capacity for imagination, empathy, and
engagement…well, shit, I think the world would be better for it.
Imagination’s part of the human experience, and one of the most
beautiful privileges we enjoy as people. Why would you let a simple
stigma close that door?