Name Calling

So, I have recently run into something that has caused me a little bit of confusion, and quite a bit of thought. For the first time in a long while, I get a little bit of what some groups have experienced for years.

As identity issues come to the forefront of American life, politics, and relationships, their have arisen a plethora of identity labels for people to choose. I have found myself scratching my scalp on occasion at the choice of terms and the vehemence with which some choose to voice their identity.

However, I finally have experienced a minute fraction of what it’s like to have my identity used as a kind of epithet with negative connotations. I am, what some would gleefully call, a cis-gendered white male. This is odd, because of those three defining terms, I have chosen not a single one. So, I can now imagine the surprise others have felt at suddenly having a name chosen for me for an identity I was born with.

Most often, though, those three defining terms are thrown about with a negative connotation as if all people who fit that description are innately and immutably flawed, hateful beings. (From my stance, that describes every human being save one, but I digress.) Regardless, though, I guess I am here just to say what has probably been said by others, though with much more reason, at the acute surprise felt when realizing an identity collection I fit suddenly becomes a by-word of mainstream culture.

Am I complaining? Not really. Do I wish the words would stop having a negative connotation? Yes. Do I believe some of the ire is well-deserved from the damage caused by entitled, misbehaving members of a group? Yes.

TL;DR:

Found out what some would call my identity tends to have a negative connotation when used. Had a chuckle. Had a good think. Felt, although minutely, that words, as frivolous as they seem, have meaning, especially when tied to a group’s or individual’s identity.

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Opinions on the Inquistion

So I read this (http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2014/11/23/dragon-age-inquisition-and-the-problem-with-roleplaying-games/), and it pretty well says everything I was thinking on the subject of the newest installment of the Dragon Age saga.

In a way, the idea that Skyrim has become the model for Role Playing games has left me feeling a little down about the industry. Honestly, I (through my rose-tinted glasses fastened firmly to my face) still want to go back to Dragon Age Origins and that system. Sure it was clunky mechanically, but the story was broad, engaging, and the characters memorable and deep. So far, nearly 10 hours in, I have gotten attached to maybe one character that wasn’t from a previous game.

Again, Bioware has created a massively sprawling world to explore – I love getting to see more of Thedas than we ever have before. I love how they’ve continued to improve and develop their own art style with this IP. The soundtrack is thrilling – both grand and sweeping with a grim urgency that gives it weight and importance.

So far, though, the story has yet to grip me. (Mind you, though, I spent 10 hours distracted by sidequests in the first area…) In other words, being a compulsory quest completer is working against me somewhat. The grindy craft mechanics are puzzling and don’t seem as helpful at this point in the game as they could be. Again, still early in.

I still haven’t been let down with Bioware’s wonderful nose for letting the player wrestle with tough decisions and deep ideas. So far the option to not believe in the “chosen one” mentality is nice. To have the main character in a fantasy world struggle with their role and identity is something I haven’t really seen before.

Probably write another post on this one after I’ve completed it, just to see if I feel the same way. Who knows, Bioware could have put all of their best stuff after the 1/2 way mark!

Marriage

What images float through your mind when you hear that word: marriage? Is it positive, filled with inspiring meanings? Is it negative, full of pain, frustration, and hurt? Is it a far-off dream for whatever reason? Is it simply a white dress?

I’m not sure what images I would have said. I guess it would have been my dad showing affection to my mom by kissing her, hugging her, occasionally smacking her butt in the kitchen when she got home. I heard conversations my parents had, but sometimes they would just sit in the same room together, perfectly content to simply be in each other’s company. Sometimes they’d argue, but someone would always come back and apologize. I have been blessed with a great example of marriage.

To me, marriage is a chance to live with my best friend. And I see a lot of the patterns from my parents coming back. I kiss and hug my wife in the kitchen, and give her a loving swat every once in a while. (She’ll say more often, so I may have lost count.) Sometimes we’ll sit on the couch together, me playing a game on the PS3 while she sits beside me chatting with an RP friend or two. Sometimes we’re too tired to talk, and other times we’re so wired we end up talking at the other one.

We still love road trips. Spending hours in the car with my wife is something I look forward to. There are very few people about whom I could say I would enjoy spending hours with them in a small space. We still argue and have our own “discussions” from time to time, but we’ve found ways to resolve the problem.

We’re flipped in a lot of ways from the “traditional” couple. I do the cooking at the house, because I love it. She’s the bigger geek in the house, and I often end up having to concede points to her in her astounding knowledge of fandoms. She’s telling me what to help her search for in the comic book section, because I’m a total newb there.

Marriage has been a wonderful experience. We’ve seen a lot in the 3.5 years we’ve been married. Sure, that doesn’t seem long, and it’s not. But, you know, I wouldn’t give up a single day of that time? Even the frustrating days. We are both often complex, paradoxical individuals who manage to mess things up regardless of our intentions. My wife has taught me how to be more understanding and speak in a way that takes into account other viewpoints. We think so differently from one another, and it’s been a challenge that has brought so many benefits.

(And, no, she’s not compensating or threatening me in any way for these posts.)

I Kissed a Geek and I Liked It

I married a geek. She is one of the geekiest geeks I know. But I have to say, she is also the most beautiful, loving, caring woman I could have possibly married, and she’s got a sharp mind to top it all off.

So why do I mention it? Well, I guess it just goes to show that the fandom realm has shifted for the better. What was once called a clubhouse for physically inept young males has in many ways become a much more diverse group of people who share similar interests. I will admit that in many questions of fandom related issues, I defer to my wife for information. Goodness, she can hold information concerning characters and whole created universes in her brain like nobody’s business.

I love being able to have long, drawn-out conversations over some relatively small detail of a character’s psyche. I enjoy getting strange looks from servers when they walk up and hear us debating the Marvel vs DC diversity issue. There’s a wonderful solidarity and comfort knowing that my wife and I can sit together and watch an anime, cartoon, play a video game, or write a Role-Play without either person feeling like they’re out of their element.

As a wonderful aside, birthdays and Christmas are marvelously exciting. She never knows what she’s getting, but the joy of watching her open her geeky presents brings me much joy. In fact, this year she’s getting… Wait… Sorry, she reads this. While I hear about other men searching endlessly for jewels or some other luxury item, I get to search the back alleys of the internet for the odd, geeky, and fun. And, honestly, I appreciate that about her.

So… honestly, I’d advise marrying a geek. And, yes, I use geek as a complimentary term of endearment, especially since my wife has it in her Tumblr name.

Am I a “Gamer” anymore?

The more I research into this whole #Gamergate issue, the more frustrated I become. I’m not frustrated because of a particular incident or because there are inherent and very real problems in the community and the industry. I’m frustrated because so many people are getting so nasty about this whole thing.

See, for me, I never really noticed a huge growth in the industry until around the time the Xbox hit. Before then we had our fanboy wars between Nintendo and Sega, then Nintendo and Sony when the PlayStation 1 came out. There was always a group of kids on the playground or band bus who were excluded for their video game habits. I was one of those kids. I was given a Super Nintendo right when it came out. I remember playing Super Mario World and not being very good. I can remember the original Star Fox, and not being very good at that, either.

It really wasn’t until I found Pokemon that I felt like I really hit my stride as a gamer. Here was a game with story, with heart. And from then on, I found myself diving into JRPGs and Manga before I knew what had happened.

Back then, I never worried about misogyny or even questioned the “male power fantasy.” I never considered social justice issues while I trained my favorite team in whatever Pok√©mon game I happened to have. I never stopped to ponder the implications of how characters were portrayed while playing Phantasy Star Online (the Gamecube version).

Back then, if I could find a girl willing to play video games, it seemed like a rarity, a rare jewel. The pool for relationships in high school was much smaller for “gamers.” I wanted more people to enjoy this wonderful entertainment medium that had helped me pass many wonderful hours. I still do this today. I’ve managed to hook my beautiful wife into video games by showing her Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and DDR. For us, playing video games and discussing them gives us happiness.

Now it seems like the industry has gone to pot. The community I once claimed has said some nasty things that it can never take back. I remember when “casual gamer” meant someone who played games for the storyline rather than the challenge. Suddenly, a moniker I have used for myself means something entirely different. Using that term, I find myself in a much larger category that includes people who ten years ago might not have wanted the term gamer associated with them at all.

Do I want more people as part of this community? Yes. Do I want more diversity as gamer culture continues to grow and evolve? Yes. Do I think change is going to happen right now? No…

As with so many of the social justice issues going on right now, we have a problematic attitude toward change. Growing up in the “I want it now” age has colored our view of how the process of change happens. Attitudes don’t shift in a day. Yes, we can type out long critiques and share our opinions instantaneously. However, we cannot instantaneously change the opinion of others. In fact, as a human culture, we have thousands of years of culture behind us. In many ways, inertia applies to culture change as much as it does to physics. A belief or mindset held for any amount of time is going to take a large amount of energy to change, and time.

I want to say I have a solution for the issue. Honestly, respect is the only thing I can see helping the debate. Are critiques given in a respectful tone? Are responses sent with intentions of clarification and understanding? You all who are working respectfully toward good, lasting change – do not quit. Continue to strive for excellence and respectful dialogue between parties.

Once we have all reached a new stage in the development of our young gaming culture, maybe it will again mean something good to claim the title of “gamer” again.

Sick

Independence Day (US) proved to be a wonderful day of feasting and revelry at my in-laws. My father-in-law and I prepared well over 20 pounds of chicken and ribs which went to feed over 20 people at their home in northeast Tennessee. It was a wonderful gathering with minimal drama, which is a wonderful thing.

However, as the day after wore on, I began to feel the tell-tale signs of sickness creeping through my system. My core felt chilly and I had an odd sensation whenever I took a large breath. Driving home became a chore due to the three hour trip and my slowly deteriorating condition.

The next few days saw me valiantly fighting off whatever I had, hacking and coughing my way through each half day of work, sleeping the other half to try to recover. Eventually, at the zenith of the disease’s progress, I relented and went to the Nurse Practitioner. They pumped me with steroids (which felt like the nurse had punched me in the arm, hard) and sent me home with several prescriptions.

That night was the worst of it. My chest and ribs ached with the coughing, every breath sending me into new fits of coughs. My fever had still not broken, and I lay there in the bed, hoping for an end. Suddenly, for some odd reason, the realization that I have asthma reasserted itself. At that moment, I wondered if something as normally inane as bronchitis could do me in. Sure, most people get a sore throat, but what if it turned into something more and triggered an attack? (Looking back I can see the foolishness of that thought, but at the moment, it seemed feasible.)

And I realized at that moment I had a fear that had never shown itself. I didn’t want to die by suffocation. An odd thought, but to me, as an asthmatic, breath is fairly important. I have struggled with asthma my whole life. I had breathing treatments as a child, with the whole “Darth Vader” mask and everything. Even now I have a regular inhaler that I have to take as preventative measures.

And yet, despite the nagging worry about breath, I still cannot complain much. I enjoy singing and playing saxophone (I really should pull it out again), and I love taking walks in the local park. (Wow, that sounded more like a personal add than I intended.)

So wherever you are, be grateful for your autonomic system that keeps you breathing day in and day out. It’s interesting to me just how useful breathing is for so many activities, be it yoga, meditation, martial arts, music, running. Each one requires a slightly different technique to supply breath for moving, calming, or thinking clearly.

The Wedding Post

So my brother-in-law and sister-in-law both recently planned weddings within a month of each other. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why?” I still haven’t gotten a clear answer, but besides the slight chaos that has ensued, I have enjoyed the experience.

See, I find it fascinating that people get married at all, really. (Yes, I know I’m married.) I mean, the whole concept of deciding to spend my life with one person until one of us kicks the bucket seems extreme. Sure, some people have been married for legal reasons, financial reasons, or other practical rationales that make sense. And, yet, most people would answer they married for love. What a vague, irrational reason to get married!

I see it in my own life, to be honest. Three years now I have been living with my best friend (who happens to be my wife) every day. Mind you, there are good days and bad ones. I will never understand the complexities of being a lady, and for me, that’s perfectly ok.

Love, as I see it, is a choice. I can choose to look out for this person’s good above my own, or I can not. If I love someone, I am in the process of acting out that care and concern for them above myself. I can say, easily I might add, that I love someone, but never show it to them… which, in effect, would make me a devilish liar.

Marriage is a lasting, life-long, public promise to put another human being before myself. It’s a terrifying thought, as well. Because in doing so I must put aside the basic instincts of self gratification and instead consider another’s interests before my own. It’s hard. Not impossible, but hard.

My wife and I like to tease each other – it’s one of our love languages, like my other: sarcasm. I will often tell others, “I love her, but I don’t always like her.” And my wife will nod in agreement and echo my statement. Like is a temporary state that can change as quickly as East Tennessee weather. Love is something steadier than a mountain. Emotions wear away and can disappear, but an honest commitment can last for years if tended and honored.

I guess I do know why people get married. It may have something to do with knowing that someone will always be there beside us. I know I can fall backwards and my wife will catch me, and she knows that I would do the same for her. There’s a real comfort in that.

Revisiting Books and Games

While having my bi-monthly conversation with my good friend, I stumbled upon an odd combination of words. In the midst of a conversation about enjoyable items I keep coming back to, I uttered the words, “To me, Dragon Age is kind of like To Kill a Mockingbird.” Immediately, my good friend, always quick-witted and ready to poke a hole in any of my statements he finds needs clarification or more substantial evidence, stated that the two were not even in the same category: one was great literature, and the other, well, it was a video game.

No, I refuse to answer the question, “Are video games art?” So many bloggers and vloggers have answered that question already on both sides of the argument that adding my bitcoin to the argument wouldn’t change the playing field in any substantial way.

What I do want to address is the revisiting old works. Whether it’s binging an old show like Might Morphin Power Rangers, or pulling out an old 8-bit video game, or even like dusting off a favorite book, each of these has something in it that continually draws us back to its world.

I can say that I have read To Kill a Mockingbird, A Wrinkle in Time, and the first four Harry Potter books multiple times. Each of these would be considered very different, and many would contend that other than being for young readers (or relatively young, anyway) these should probably not be on the same list. Despite these logical complaints, I personally adore each of these books. I can still find myself completely lost in Scout’s world as she learns the ugliness and beauty of the world in which she lives, watching her father combat that ugliness as best he can. I can feel the warmth of the courtroom and sense the tension and fear in other moments. I enjoy the subtle symbolism and wonderfully alive characters of A Wrinkle in Time. Charles Wallace, with his matter-of-fact delivery, and the daring rescue of a father and then of the son still gives me chills in those final moments with the giant brain.

And, of course, I grew up with Harry. I received the first book when I was ten, going on eleven. I was the same age as Harry when the final book was released. When Harry dealt with relationships, I could relate, I was there living similar relationship dynamics. Sure, I didn’t have to contend with evil wizards and Potions class, but I could live through choices in Harry’s world as he made decisions that would affect himself, his friends, and sometimes the world.

Some video games hold that same pull. I can revisit Dragon Age: Origins over and over again, and still find myself lost in the world. I am swept up by the Blight and the race to stop it before the world is crushed under its black weight. The characters draw me in with dialogue and the constant balancing choices and who to irritate for the sake of possibly saving lives.

Sure, I didn’t use all of these arguments with my friend. I’ve had nearly a week to mull everything over. And I didn’t even talk about my favorite movie: Dragonheart which most would not consider to be great cinema. I guess what I mean to say is that the worlds that draw you in are unique to you. Don’t apologize for revisiting those worlds, they have friends and acquaintances that have made an impact in your life. If you haven’t revisited a world lately, give it a try. You may find something truly amazing when you do. I know I have.

Thoughts on Chantry Lore

Having just purchased a copy of Dragon Age The World of Thedas volume1, I’ve had a chance to really dig into the lore and think about the underlying questions the creators of this series wanted us to think about. The one that has stood out to me the most is the statement that the Chantry religion was based on the foundational question, “What if Christianity had been founded by Joan of Arc?” It’s a great question. And moreover, it opens some interesting theological ideas as well.

For one, the question of how Christianity, and therefore Western civilization would be different had Jesus been a woman. Not that I’m a liberal scholar or theologian, and I won’t go down many of those roads. Or go back even further by asking the question, “what if Adam had eaten the fruit first and not Eve?” How would that have impacted the development of Judaism, and therefore Christianity and Western civilization? Much of our current mindset is dependent upon subtle philosophical and epistemological ideas that come out of these two world religions. Consider if the pope, cardinals, and priests were all women? If the balance of power due to this underlying notion of women being the purer gender, closer to God, had taken root at an earlier period of history, the very way we think would be drastically different. Would we even have the same gender tensions or equality issues that we have today? Would they be flipped, or would the issues be completely¬†different?

Considering the roots of Christianity in a peaceful revolutionary focused on the poor and needy, would the structure of Christianity have changed if born out of a forceful, military revolution? I know many believe Christianity to have a violent history, and in some cases that is true. I would put forth the argument that the majority of the violence credited to Christianity has been perpetrated by the national/state government using Christianity as a leveraging tool for power, unity, etc. In fact, had the religion not become an established, state-sponsored religion, I wonder just how much of that violence would have occurred. But I digress on that topic. Would there be a militaristic, rank-and-file philosophy behind every action of this church born of steel and blood? And would there be a built-in hatred for the group against which the revolt occurred? Would that group become a sub-class of people, undeserving of this battle-hardened religion?

Not only these foundational questions either. I would begin to wonder about concepts like atonement, sin, the nature of the godhead, the concept of a self-sufficient deity have a physical bride. I’m sure as Dragon Age approaches its third major release that more insight into the world of Thedas will come to light. I am quite interested to see where the writers go from here. What aspects of the Dragon Age lore have sparked your interest the most?

PS: I bought the Kindle version of the book… The hardcopy version is a bit too rich for my blood and budget. It sure is pretty, though. Kindle version works, if you’re there for the words. Some of the larger pieces of art get broken up. There is no page rotation option either, but the panel view makes the reading experience pleasant.

Hidden Symbolism in Dragon Age 2 (Hanged Man)

To begin, I have found myself fascinated by symbolism and myths for as long as I could remember. I enjoyed greatly reading the myths of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Medieval Europe as a child. As I grew, worlds of symbolism popped up pointed out by Dan Brown and his riveting novels. (I say nothing of his talent, but he can construct an engaging mystery by pulling in real-world artwork and history, which I appreciate. He does his homework, most of the time.) And finally, the Persona series of games has dragged me once again into this world.

One of the main turning points of the Persona series is a reliance on Jungian psychology in regards to the Tarot having parallels with the human psyche. Each relationship in the game finds a basis in the archetypal meanings attributed to the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Mind you, I find very little mystical significance in the Tarot, but as a collection of archetypes for stories and characters, I find it a treasure trove.

I love the Dragon Age series, and have since I first played it several years ago on my friend’s PS3. In fact, Dragon Age and the (unfulfilled) promise of Kingdom Hearts 3 were the reasons I bought the system in the first place. And, yes, I am still peeved about the DS iterations of Kingdom Hearts that pushed back the home console major release. But playing through Dragon Age 2 the other day having just come off of playing the Persona series, I noticed something odd. Or, rather, I noticed a large Tarot symbol hanging in the middle of Kirkwall.

The Hanged Man suddenly made sense. Yes, it was a tavern, but it was much more than that. The story repeatedly returned to it. Nearly every character had some quest or another occur in or around this location. And, in a very real way, the whole game hung suspended until the very end of the third act.

I realized that this second installment in the series was based on the concept of suspension, of non-action, on the inability of anything significant to occur on a grand scale. Dragon Age Origins told the story of a grand hero, struggling to fight against impossible odds on an epic scale. Then, in DA2, characters are confined to a small space, two factions are warring, but neither can make any progress. Yes, the dynamics of the characters makes the story, but that’s just it, the story is about one individual hanging by two threads above war and death.

One more bit that clenched this symbolism for me was the storytelling method. Technically, on a chronological note, nothing happens. Varric is telling the story. Which means that no action is taking place. The entire game from start to finish is a passive exercise, a hanging, if you will. (I also think that the dungeon design fits the storytelling because a storyteller will focus on the action in the location more than the location itself. Leaving the location to be imagined by the listener. But that’s an argument for another day.) This connection is made stronger by the fact that Varric owns The Hanged Man by the end of the game, if I remember correctly.

In fact, we can see this very same thing in another Bioware title, Mass Effect 2. Consider that nothing really changes in the second game. There is no gigantic quest, no major victory, no considerable change to the Mass Effect universe in the second game. And, yet, the entire game deals with the aftermath of the first victory over Sovereign and the frustration of the protagonist to see any change during the time (s)he was pronounced dead.

This may be over-analysis, but it was something I noticed and wanted to share.