Another Break!

Considering our posts on here have become as consistent as a mushroom sauce surprise, in which the surprise is that there’s a whole whale carcass shoved into one end of the frying pan, we’ve decided to call a formal break. We don’t know when we’ll be posting again (apart from the vague ‘after exams’ vibe), who’ll be posting first (hint hint) or what we’ll be writing about (probably dealing with failure, in the wake of our exams), but we’ll sort that out when we return.

In the meantime, go do something productive with your time you distractible person.

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My Embarrassing Warhammer Past

Excuse me, Princess, but I shall lower myself to any and all forms of asshattery, as I see fit. It’s my life to ruin by being a dick to people, and I shall exercise this right excessively and frequently! (but seriously sorry for dropping the ball on that one)

But in response to your post, I’d very much like to get into games like D&D, and RPGs in general, to the extent that I joined the UCL Sci-Fi and Fantasy Society, had a few awesome weeks there, played this superb parody-RPG, then never went again because other things kept clashing with it.

When I was a young warthog and in secondary school, however, I joined the very shortlived Warhammer Club, an afterschool hour or so of playing Games Workshop’s tabletop strategy games, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. And while I enjoyed it a lot, there were a load of problems. First up, an hour is nowhere near long enough to play any of these damn games, but that’s all we could get from the school; and the sheer volume of kit required – models of soldiers, paint, terrain – meant that it was basically impossible for me to get enough of my own gear to play a game because it was all so damn expensive.

Then the club itself was fundamentally flawed, being run by two very nice yet ultimately spineless fellows, who let a minor argument escalate into a few weeks of full-scale bullying, and then had the impressive lack of tact to respond in such a way that the bully themselves felt like the bullied, left in a huff with his mates, and the club was shut down by a combination of newfound lack of interest and pressure from the school because we were apparently a hive of bullying and elitism.

This is always why I’ve preferred video games – they come pre-loaded with all the content necessary to get a fun experience out of it (mostly) – and the existence of a computer player means you never have to rely exclusively on other people being good sports. Obviously, a lot of people who play games are lovely, but statistically, increasing the number of people you’re playing with increases the number of arseholes in the mix; an AI for an opponent gets over this problem.

But maybe I’ll give tabletops another go in Summer; there’s got to be a reason I read the Space Marines codex cover-to-cover.

Dungeons & dragons breathing down your goddamn neck.

Dear James,

Don’t be an asshat. That’s right. I said it. Do not be a hat worn on one’s arse because I think you’ll find that I tried to open up the conversation about organizing this month’s post and was met with silence (well, I was met with “yeah we should totally sort that out” and then silence”.
I have no idea where Rhavi is, he just sort of disappeared but I’m sure he has very good reason for doing so, you know, like the fact that exam season is less than 2 weeks away *twitches*
Anyway, now that we’ve gathered that you’re taking Mondays and I’m taking Thursdays (or the wee hours of Friday) I’m sure  Rhavi can fit himself in somewhere. So, I’d like to move on and talk about my new gaming obsession: Dungeons & Dragons!

Oh my God this is such an awesome game! I’ve wanted to give it a shot for a really long time because, well quite frankly as a kid I thought D&D was a standard board game that you could buy from a shop and I am in love with board games. Then I found out what D&D actually is and although I was a little disappointed about it requiring more work than a standard board game, I was still excited to play – and then I found out about the stigma and the fact that no one would fucking play with me. Especially considering that (statistically speaking) girls don’t like tabletop RPGs and I went to a girl’s school.

But then I fell in love with a total nerd who would play games with me and beat me at nearly all of them because I’m terrible due to my lack of practice and who would go on to introduce me to other games INCLUDING Dungeons and Dragons. My first ever experience of this game was as the Dungeon Master (they basically come up with the story and run the whole thing) and as much as my boyfriend and other close friend keep telling me that it was awesome, I’m sure it was awful but now I’m playing as a character (well, various characters because like 20 of them have already died) and I just wanted to express my gratitude for the fact that I have finally found people who will play stupid games like Dungeons and Dragons with me and for the creators of Roll20.net for making it easier for people to find others to play with even if its their first time.

Also, games that don’t actually need technology but are merely enhanced by it are awesome.

Oops

Anyone got a nagging sense of deja vu over this one? No? Just me? Probably unfounded anyway.

But guys, we need to talk. Emphasis there on talk. As well as this blog being based around a conversation, the mechanics and organisation behind it are equally communicative and collaborative: there isn’t one person who dictates what is discussed and when, and schedules don’t just fall into place without us agreeing upon them. And this isn’t me having an unusually public bitch at you guys for this – last week I declared that I’d do Monday, and didn’t think to arrange days for any of you guys to contribute, so I basically charged into this month myself. Neither communicative nor collaborative.

So I leave it up to you, whichever blogger that ‘you’ refers to: comment on this post in Wednesday’s post, or message the group privately about what a bellend I am, for not talking about this month’s organisation in the first place, and then commenting on said lack of organisation in a public post, instead of in a more private sphere.

But whichever it is, can we talk about it, please?

And Now, Video Games

I don’t know about you guys, but trying to be clever is rather exhausting; and while last month’s ‘what is art, what is life’ vibe was great fun to discuss, it was a bit tough on the brain when things like exams and the growing sense of failure and pointlessness to one’s own existence are rearing their ugly heads for all of us once more. As ever, you guys are free to take this post and respond to it in any way you like, but I’d like a less brain-battering topic for the next month or so: so here are my five favourite video games (because I’ve been reading a lot of Buzzfeed lists lately) in no particular order (because the list is a poor form of responding to art).

Mass Effect 2 – Not its sequel, Mass Effect 3, but the second in BioWare’s sci-fi epic. The outline of the game is simple – aliens that are a smaller minion of a larger foe threatens humanity, you must stop them, etc. etc. – but the way this narrative is told is spectacular. Obviously, there’s the famously interactive story-telling, but the structure of the game, in which you recruit individual heroes to your team to defeat said threat, generates a dozen or so complex and interesting characters. BioWare builds on this by making those characters interact with each other, making them more than collections of different stats to be used in battle, and into characters as sophisticated and genuine as even the player’s character. Then there’s the sucker punch that any, and probably most, of them will die at the end of the game, in ways random enough to make you grieve the cruelness of life, but dependent on your own failures enough to make you feel responsible for their losses.

Fire Emblem: The Sword Of Flame – I’ve only started playing this decade-old turn-based strategy game this year, honestly after wondering who the Hell Marth and Roy were from Smash Bros., and it’s fantastic. It’s a combination of strategy – you move your units around a map, Civilisation-style – and RPG – these units are characters, with their own personalities and stats that develop as they fight in more battles – that works wonderfully. It’s also cruel, with all destroyed units amounting to character deaths, and I’ve suffered the heartbreak of losing three warriors in a sidequest in which all I got for completing it was more inventory space. And this might be Raging Feminist James popping up again, but the first character you meet is a woman who’s not a mage or an archer but an actual warrior with a sword who wears more than just underwear and doesn’t have a man to love and define herself through and this was 2003 people can we not build on this success?!

Darkest Dungeon – Another game I’ve played recently, this is an indie game you can get from Steam for about fifteen quid, developed by Red Hook. It’s relatively formulaic, with you controlling a band of heroes who venture into your family’s ruined mansion and grounds to destroy the evil that forced your family out, and it plays like a dungeon crawler with Final Fantasy-style turn-based combat. But the thematic emphasis is on the psychological trauma of your heroes; they have a Stress meter that fills as their HP falls, and can lead to conditions like masochism and fear being afflicted on them. There are a few good traits too, like virtuous and courageous, which add just enough random chance and hope to make the game slightly less depressing than watching a particularly good performance of King Lear.

Super Mario Sunshine – When people say ‘this is my childhood’, this is what they mean: I got this game just after coming out of the hospital for being diagnosed with diabetes, and while I wasn’t depressed or anything as a result, it was pretty cool to piss off to an island of dumpy blue people and Yoshi instead of face the reality of oh god yet more injections. The game departs from most Mario games, including the platforming aid FLUDD, having voice acting, introducing Bowser Jr., etc., and is genuine fun as a result; I don’t feel the series loses its simple charm for these additions, and mechanics like FLUDD’s interchangeable nozzles add a lot of gameplay variety that you don’t really get until Mario Galaxy a few years later and the introduction of gravity-based platforming.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – One of those older bits of nerdy culture that has spawned memes and references from people who never played the original game (like this gem that I too indulge in shamefully), this is basically a visual novel set in a courtroom cunningly disguised as a video game. The trials are painfully linear – you have options of what to do, but the single ‘correct’ choice feeds into a linear narrative, and all the other choices are dismissed in the game – but the characters are wonderful, the setting vague enough to be relevant a decade after its production, yet similar to real-world cities and cultures so that it’s not totally a work of fiction. There’s also the peerless Steel Samurai theme, which helps.

‘The Best Art Makes You Feel’

I wanna play a game: first of all, I’ll be watching the Saw series to devise a forfeit for Izzy, whose horrendous missing of a post for the purposes of so-called ‘revision’ will not go unpunished. Next, I want you guys to tell me where that quote in the title is from; you have until the end of this post, and may refer to no other sites to search for it – it’s knowledge, intuition or blind luck all the way!

But regarding your latest post, Rhavine, and all of Izzy’s that didn’t tangentially mention baby animals, we’ve swept through art, to engaging with materials, to self-definition, to finding connections between somewhat disparate things. And in wrapping up this month (and a half)’s topic, I want to draw attention to this change, from engaging with art singularly to engaging with it, and everything else, as part of a wider landscape: without other people there can be no originality, as we don’t have any sameness to compare our apparent difference to, and there can be no repetition of ideas because you can’t repeat what’s already been said. I also think it’s important to discuss artistic engagement and personal engagement in the same way: as students of words and ideas, we’re prone to thinking about life through the lens of its replication in art, but it’s really the people that make it up, and the relationships and experiences that those people bring to life (, man).

So I’d like to broaden the definition of the answer to the ‘best’ art question from a few weeks ago, and say that the best art doesn’t make you feel, but make you aware: you don’t have to have an emotional, whiplashed response to a thing for that thing to be of emotional value, and you don’t need to respond calmly and technically to show that it has stylistic value. And if we broaden ‘art’ to ‘life’ (, dude) I’d say it’s better to be aware of the people and ideas around us than it is to form a decisive opinion on them. This is why I loathe politics, as we approach the General Election – I’d rather observe life than tell you what I, James Patrick ‘Aren’t I So Important’ Casey think of it – and love things like this blog, where ideas can be floated around and be allowed to be ideas, without having to be packaged or confused into singular, finite identities.

So there’s your pretentious conclusion to an admittedly long stretch of posts about life, the universe and everything; cheers for reading, writing and not telling us we’re shite on a regular basis, and see you next week for a new topic.

Some say it’s a poem…

Others say it’s a prose poem gone wrong… All we know is you shouldn’t try writing closer to breakfast than you were to lunch and hope for good writing.

I think being able to see the disparate themes which lie between works is one of the fundamentally beautiful things about reading of all kinds.

Everything, in a totally unhippie way, is connected (, dude) and that’s beautiful (, man). (Like,) Our lives are less meaningful without interactions with those around us and, though I despise the way that society can pin an individual down, I love that there is a world around me full of people who think at least as complexly as I do.

I love the way I can try to categorise an idea into ‘thoughts on the individual’, thoughts on society’, ‘thoughts on whether it is ethically correct to dip McDonalds’ chicken nuggets in McFlurry’ (McNo) but, at the end of the day, it would never be quite as complete a list as I think it to be.

Everything can be reinterpreted and reevaluated and reconsidered until we can’t know anything for sure other than that we are here.

No idea is totally final and everything, though it may not seem when we’re there, is transient.

But none of what I’ve said is original.

‘Everything is transient’ is ‘This too shall pass’ with one less word compensated by ‘fancier’ ones.

Searching for a new world, I discover ports and harbours, claiming them for my own.

I leave having given them little but thinking they owe me the world.

My canoe is swept on by the current of its own cliches, reproducing itself in the ripples.

Never again though is it quite the same as the origin.

Never is the origin quite forgotten.

The traces remain in the reverberations and, though they cannot know their origins, those who watch will.

Those watching may ride the current or steer elsewhere.

But there are 7 billion different streams to slip behind, forgetting those which have already been traced through the waters.

There will be a link somewhere for us.

And that’s beautiful(, man).

That I’ve thought of something which may have been regurgitated by someone living thousands of years ago.

And then a few more times more a few hundreds of years ago.

And several hundred times more a hundred years ago.

And it’s still, somehow, not quite a carbon copy as any, as all our destinations and starting points were / will be / are different.

Hopefully.