I Just Saved the World! (Now What?)

This is something that’s been on my mind for awhile, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided I should sit down and write about it in earnest.  See, I did something important a month ago or so.  I saved the world.  Twice, if you think about it.  And nothing happened.  Life went on.

Okay, so I didn’t save our world.  I saved Skyrim.  But I’m still rather perturbed about it, because it is the most anticlimactic thing I’ve ever experienced.  I spent hours scouring the countryside helping villagers on their quests.  I stole thousands of dollars of merchandise, picked dozens of pockets, altered hundreds of books, and picked a few hundred locks to restore the Thieves’ Guild to its former glory.  I overtook the Dark Brotherhood.  I killed a few dozen dragons, and then I killed the mightiest dragon of all: Alduin.  I sundered the space-time continuum to travel to Sovngarde and meet the beast on his plane of existence, and I killed him and restored peace.

At least I thought I did.  When I came back I was on the top of the mountain surrounded by Paarthurnax and his buddies, and they were like, “Good work.”  And that was it.  So I figured I should fix the whole Imperials vs. Stormcloaks thing, and maybe then I would feel better about saving the world.  And maybe other people would, too.  Because I didn’t get a single thank you from any villagers, even in dragon-ravaged towns, for killing Alduin.  If anything, I had to keep my head down because of all that Dark Brotherhood/Thieves’ Guild stuff.  Everywhere I went I heard, “Wait, I know you!” and I did wait, because I wanted to say, “Yes, yes you do; I’m the badass who killed Alduin and saved your world!”  But as it turned out they knew me because I was a wanted man and I had to bribe them, or else kill everyone in sight.

So I went off and spoke with Ulfric Stormcloak and made Windhelm my new home.  My affiliations with Whiterun were over, and I led the charge on that first fair city that had welcomed me in after I escaped from Helgen.  I betrayed the Jarl and oversaw the change of power there, and then helped Ulfric take Solitude.  I killed General Tullius and freed Skyrim from the clutches of the Empire.  I returned it to the true Sons of Skyrim!

And when I went to talk to Ulfric, he said it would take some time for him to become high king, but now that the Empire was gone his chances looked good.  He thanked me for my help, which was nice, but then… what?

I helped end the civil war tearing my country to bits.  And life went on in Skyrim, much as it had prior to the war and to Alduin.  In fact, I even got attacked by several dragons along the way.  I found myself wandering aimlessly through the land of Skyrim, lacking purpose and function.  Even when Dawnguard came out… wait.  Spoilers ahead.  You’ve been warned!

Continue reading

Advertisements

My Love/Hate Relationship with “Frankenstein”

I came to a literary epiphany yesterday.  I’m attending this year’s Readercon, which deals with science fiction and fantasy.  There are panels and discussions about the genre, looking at it from an academic and analytical perspective.  Now I love literature and particularly love analyzing it and seeing why it works the way it does.  It’s one of the reasons I love being an English teacher, and would love to be a professor someday.  In a sense, Readercon feels like a weekend of classes just on the literature I love.  Yesterday I went to a panel about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life in a love/hate relationship with the novel.

I love the book; the story is interesting, the structure of the frame narrative is well-done, and the themes and motifs are timeless.  Shelley’s discussion of pushing scientific boundaries and the ethical issues that then arise are as pertinent today as they were in 1818, if not more so.  But I realized a few years back that I hate the characters with a fiery, burning passion.  This dichotomy of feeling doesn’t confuse or trouble me at all; I find it really interesting and a tad amusing that I can love a story so much, but hate its characters equally much.  I usually tend toward stories (in books, games, and movies alike) that are driven by characters.  Most of the characters who drive stories, I find I like.  But Frankenstein is driven by characters whom I intensely and profoundly dislike, which is why I think I enjoy the story so much.

Continue reading

30 Days of Video Games: Day 22, A Disappointing Sequel

We all know the feeling: you’ve played a game and loved it dearly, and then the sequel is announced!  The release date is given; you go pre-order, and may even spring for the limited edition.  You count the days until the midnight release, and come said release date you’re waiting in line eagerly.  You get home, pop it in, begin playing and… it’s not really that good.  So you give it a while longer and you still don’t really like where it’s going.  You begin to pine for the original, the one that you loved so much and got you hooked.  You start comparing.  You become resentful and then angry.  You throw controllers.

Okay, so maybe not quite that extreme.  But the sequel that most disappointed me did indeed have me throwing a controller at the wall.  It’s not my proudest gaming moment, but I think it speaks volumes about just how much I did. Not. Like. This. Game.

I’ve played games that were just okay, or that I didn’t like and just didn’t care for (see my apathy toward Dead Space).  But the sequel that most disappointed me was Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for the Game Cube.

Continue reading

30 Days of Video Games: Day 4, Guilty Pleasure Game

To be honest I’m not sure where to start with this. I’ve never been a fan of the whole “guilty pleasure” thing. My best friend says I have an extra guilt muscle, which is something I’m trying to overcome. Also, guilty pleasure insinuates that one should be ashamed for finding pleasure in something, and we all know how I feel about shame. If I like something, I’m going to like it and be damned proud of it. Now, that’s not to say that all ‘guilty pleasures’ are okay, or even legal. I’m thinking, the things that aren’t illegal or harmful to oneself or to others, and therefore, shouldn’t be considered “guilty” pleasures.

So I’m sort of at a loss as to what to say is a guilty pleasure game for me. Every game I play, I play for a reason, be it story, character, gameplay dynamics, or because I need to blow off steam. There’s something satisfying about feeling fed up with something and channeling that rage through a pixelated sub-machine gun at an equally pixelated target. And maybe because that allows me to experience some sort of vicarious violence, that could then be construed as a guilty pleasure.

I think in that case a lot of hack ‘n slash games might fit the bill. Maybe Gauntlet Dark Legacy; I love the music and the castle that serves as a home to the portals to the other worlds, but when all’s said and done, it’s a fancy hack ‘n slash. There’s very little strategy to getting through the levels save for shoot the crap out of everything you come across. Maybe saving up on magic, getting food, and using skills it requires some forethought, but in terms of fighting, just mash the attack button and you’re good. And besides, it’s got a level with creepy clowns and music that involves people laughing maniacally in the background. What’s not to love?

As a result, I’m free to enjoy the scenery and the music–aka, take pleasure in those things. Perhaps the ease of combat allows me to take pleasure in it. Perhaps I’m just overthinking this. Either way, I’m not ashamed to say I like the game, and certainly feel no guilt over playing it. But since that’s what the prompt asks me to ponder…. there you have it!

Tomorrow: Day 5, Game character you feel you are most like (or wish you were)…

Women Gamers, Women in Games: Statistic vs. Stereotype

I just read a list on Cracked.com about being a gamer.  Some of the things it had to say were right on, and some things tended to pertain to a small portion of the gamer demographic.  But it had some interesting things to say about female gamers.  I know this issue is talked to death, and I know I’ll probably offend some people, and probably miss some points of discussion.  But 1.)it’s my blog and I haven’t talked it to death, 2.)if you’re offended at least you think about things (and give me the opportunity to learn more about others’ perspectives) and 3.)this is such a huge topic that I’m bound to miss things, and accept that.  So: what does it mean for me pesonally to be a female gamer, and what do I think about women in games?

Interestingly enough, current statistics show that nearly 2/3 of online gamers are women.  Normally I like to defy the statistics in my ongoing quest for individuality.  However, this is one case where I’m proud to be part of the statistics, and a member of the majority.  I’ve been gaming in earnest since I was young, and owe much of that to Samus Aran of Metroid fame.  Growing up I was used to the idea that the Princess was in another castle.  So imagine my delight when the end of Metroid revealed that the badass bounty hunter I’d taken all over Zebes was a woman!

I’ve never been one of those female gamers that complains much about the portrayal of women in games.  I’m happy to see more and more female characters taking the lead and going out to kick arse and take names, and when I play online (mostly Halo: Reach) I play as my female Spartan.  But what was troubling to me was that I recently read that many women prefer to play online as males.  Granted the study is nearly four years old, but conversely, I was having a conversation with a friend once about males and females online and he said that sometimes he intentionally plays as a female character because people underestimate him.

Now that got me thinking.  Around this time last year, Halo: Reach launched the weekly challenge of 77 online matches in seven days.  Luckily we had two snow days and one delay that week, because I spent my time playing online Halo matches.  I played as my female Spartan, but I kept my mic off mostly because I find in-game chatting distracting for me.  Normally it isn’t an issue, but during one match I got a kill, but then fell and my character made a noise.  The chat got very quiet, and then I heard one person say to the other, “I think there’s a girl playing.”  I had to ask myself, “Why does it matter?”  I can guarantee that if I was playing as a male Spartan it wouldn’t have been an issue; with my mic off, I would just be an anonymous male Spartan trying to kill everyone while they all tried to kill me.  But because I played as a female it started question and discussion.

Usually statistics go hand in hand with developing stereotypes.  However, the Female Gamer is not one such case.  66% of online gamers are women, and yet people are surprised to learn that they’re playing in a match with a female.  Is it because the stereotypical female gamer plays a different sort of game?  Or behaves in a different sort of way?  For me, when I go into a match as an openly female character, I don’t expect to be treated any differently, and I don’t behave any differently.  For me, we’re all gamers and we all have an objective, and it usually involves killing everyone else.  Why should gender matter in that objective?

It also seems to me that the perception is that stereotypical female gamers also will spend time complaining about the oversexualization and objectification of women in games.  I went to a panel at PAX East last year about female characters, and the focus wasn’t on the necessarily overly sexualized characters, but the ones that were portrayed either as realistic in terms of build or personality (Morrigan from Dragon Age stood out, which I remember because I picked up Dragon Age for the first time about a week later); or the ones who were portrayed not as overly sexual, but as helpless.  The princess in another castle, if you will.

For me, I’m less worried about female characters being objectified sexually, and more concerned about them being written as more passive, damsel-in-distress types of characters.  People may voice opinions about Lara Croft’s bust size, but at least she’s out there being proactive.  Kat, in Reach, would kick your arse if you suggested she was attractive in any way.  The stereotye of a female character as overly sexual overshadows the reality of passive DiD sorts of characters.  And since the focus is more on how women are objectified sexually, there’s no real look at how they’re objectified through being passive.

Princess Toadstool was always in another castle; theobjectof Super Mario Bros. was to save her.  Thank the gaming gods for Samus, coming along and blasting her way through Zebes!  Even after she was revealed as a female, she was still blowing up planets like it was her job.  Then in 2002, Metroid: Fusion came out.  Samus was stalked around a deserted space station by an over-powered clone of herself, and had to rely on the guidance of a computer AI, who reminded her of her dead Commanding Officer if she were to survive.  It was a different sort of game, and it portrayed Samus as slightly more vulnerable than in the past.  Coming at it from my perspective, where I enjoy character depth and whatnot, it was very interesting to see a new side to her. 

The Metroid formula changed some as the technology did, and with it, Samus changed.  The lone bounty hunter got teammates in Metroid Prime: Hunters for the DS, and in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii.  In Corruption, Samus wound up having to kill her team when they attacked her; while it followed the boss fight formula, it was interesting because Samus had worked with these people earlier in the game, and become more of a character defined by those around her as a result.  And then came Metroid: Other M.  I don’t have a Wii, but even if I did, and even as much as I love Metroid, I wouldn’t play it because of this article.  As someone who’s been in an emotionally abusive relationship, these things resonate with me to begin with; but then seeing Samus, who started out so strong and competent and capable and unapologetic reduced to that?  To see her written as a lost little girl, when she left that behind with the Chozo long ago?  Her strength was something that defined her and made her different.  To take that away demeans her not as a woman, but as a character in general.

Not all characters have gone that way.  Zelda went from the kidnapped prisoner in Ganon’s dungeon to Shiek, a highly trained fighter.  And Dragon Age: Origins has Queen Anora, who will even stand up to her father in spite of the fact that he’s one of Ferelden’s most celebrated generals.  She knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it.  And most of all, she’ll do that if it means achieving her endgame.

And that’s where I feel I am now as a woman who is a gamer.  I’m sure I’ll raise some hackles with all I’ve said, and that’s okay.  This is a difficult issue, where even people on the same side will have different reasons for why they’re on the same side.  But one thing is clear: the statistic and the stereotype don’t always match up, either in the case of the games’ characters, or the gamers themselves.  I may fit a statistic, but I’m not steretypical.  And you shouldn’t be, either.

Crafting Stories, Creating Community

I’ll have to figure out how to get a subtitle field, because I would subtitle this entry “Another defense of fanfiction”.  In my first post defending fanfic I addressed some of the common misconceptions and stereotypes about people who write fanfiction.  But another defense came to my attention earlier today, and it is that aspect I wish to address now.

I checked my email this morning as usual, and found I had a message from someone on the BioWare Social Network.  It was another person who’d entered the fanfiction writing contest, and she wrote to let me know of her own forays into fanfiction.  I highly suggest clicking the link, because she shares her thoughts about her own fanfiction journey in a very eloquent manner.  But what I realized as I read her work (which she’d written because of mine) was that we don’t just write fanfiction because we enjoy the subject matter.  Fanfiction writing gives us an opportunity to create community while we craft our stories.

Fandom in general is its own community, and it’s a necessary aspect of my life and the lives of those who idendity as geeks or nerds.  It’s our social outlet; it’s where we can meet and discuss our interests and hobbies without getting raised eyebrows in return.  The internet has been wonderful for fandom, because it means we fans can find one another easily, and come together just as easily.  I discovered this my senior year of college and it changed everything for me as a geek/nerd, fan, and eventually as a writer.

I fell in love with Lord of the Rings and all things Tolkien during the second semester of my senior year of college.  My excitement knew few bounds; but one of those bounds was the fact that there were very few people around me in school with whom I could speak about this life-changing work.  My usual social group hadn’t read it, and my friends just sort of smiled while I tried to explain it to them.  I turned to the one place I thought I might find some outlet: the internet.  I found message boards, AIM chatrooms, and websites all devoted to my new love.  And most importantly, I found other fans with whom I could chat and discuss any and everything Tolkien.

This became monumentally important when I graduated in the spring of 2002 and came home.  Suddenly I had no social outlet.  If I went down the hall to ask someone to do a late-night CVS run… well, I’d have found my sleeping parents telling me that there was no 24-hour CVS nearby.  I’d drifted from many of my high school friends, I hadn’t started a new job, and in short, found myself slightly alone.  So I turned to our dial-up internet.

It’s images like this, of someone staring at the blue glow of the computer screen in the wee hours, that gives nerds the label of being antisocial loners.  Like any stereotype, there are those examples that lend credibility to it.  But in reality, I think a lot of fandom members, and particularly writers, are actually being incredibly social mentally and psychologically even though they are physically alone.

That year I went back to my old online haunts and felt far less lonely being able to chat with the people I’d come to know about the subject that brought us together.  Time passed and I discovered Harry Potter.  By then I’d started a new job and had some coworkers I was social with, and even some who knew about my obsessions, even if they didn’t share them.  As I dove into the Potter books, I discovered fanfiction.  At that time, late 2002/early 2003, the fifth Potter book was on the horizon, but wasn’t yet in sight.  Fans all speculated on what would happen after the climactic ending of the fourth book, and took to writing their version of events.  I was as curious as any of them, and joined the throng.

Now, fans need other fans.  That’s fact.  But fans who are writers don’t just need other fans, they need other writers.  Writing appears as a solitary activity, but the fact is, it’s intensely communal.  Feedback is a valuable and necessary aspect of the writing process.  Without it, we can’t grow.  As a result, writers build communities with other writers.  They find people whose opinions they trust.  The overall goal, ideally, is to improve, grow, and develop through the mutual giving and receiving of feedback.

Of course this is the ideal.  It can go wrong, as in the case of flaming or trolling, but like anything, it’s a matter of accepting the bad with the good, and looking more specifically for the good.  In her book Toxic Feedback, author Joni B. Cole explains that feedback needs to be balanced.  Scathing criticism can destroy an author, while nothing but glowing praise strokes an ego, but doesn’t help improve the writing.  As writers we want to look for that balance, and try to be a part of the balance ourselves.  This becomes especially important in fandom and fanfiction writing, where most authors aren’t professionals and many aren’t even considering a career in writing.  With the ease of internet publishing for fanfiction anyone can post, which also means anyone can comment.  This can tear community apart, but thankfully that’s the minority.  In general, it allows for a give and take of writing feedback that can end up building community between fans and writers.

The shared experiences of fandom bring people together, but writing about it keeps them together.  I saw this most clearly throughout the duration of the Dragon Age fanfiction contest.  I have a BSN account, but I don’t really use it.  I dug it up when a friend told me about the contest, and did participate a little bit in the thread.  Over the course of 70+ pages the conversation ranged from our writing processes, to languages, to curiosity about the contest, to our literary and writing influences.  The thread opened in late December, and by mid to late January, members who rarely posted crawled out of the woodwork and jumped into the conversation.  Other members expressed a desire to remain together and encourage each others’ writing endeavors.  Our love of Dragon Age brought us together, but it was the community of writers that emerged that kept us together.

Perhaps my favorite example of how fanfiction fosters community is that of me and my best friend.  Shooting back to that fall and winter of 2002, I remember reading a Harry Potter fic that popped up in the “just in” page on fanfiction.net.  It was different from what I normally liked, but I read it anyway and enjoyed it.  The author had her email and AIM name in her profile, so I shot her a message to say I liked it.  She messaged me back, and we started talking.  We discovered we had a great deal in common, and through frequent and extended conversations became friends.  She read my fics for me before I posted them, and was always there to bounce ideas off of.  I read her work and gave her feedback before she posted.  Eventually we met in person; she came to visit me, then I went to visit her.  And it continued.  She was one of the first two people who ever saw new content for my MFA thesis, and was always there when I needed to vent about it.  In 2009 I was a bridesmaid in her wedding; two months after that she and her husband came to my MFA graduation.  We even share the same birthday.  She’s my best friend, and if it hadn’t been for fanfiction and the community aspect it creates, I wouldn’t have her in my life.

Our motives for writing fanfiction may vary, and our writing styles will differ.  But as fans we will always seek out the fandom, and as writers we crave a community in which to grow and develop.  As we craft our fanfiction, we wind up creating a community held together by a mutual love of the fandom itself and our urge to write about it.

The Nerdom Hierarchy

As with most things I’m writing about lately, this is something that’s been on my mind but only recently have I decided I should write about it.  Today’s musings come courtesy of an experience I had yesterday that made me start rethinking the ideas of the Nerd Hierarchy.

We nerds/geeks/dorks pride ourselves on our individuality.  It’s our hallmark.  We are different and darn it, we own it.  No nerves or self-consciousness here, baby.  But it gets complicated when we go walk among others like us.  We’d think that because we place so much emphasis on our individuality that we’d be accepting of all who are individuals.  And yet we’re not.  Put a bunch of nerds together, and we’re as petty and clique-y as anyone else.  It’s disappointing, because I’d love to think that nerds would happily embrace other nerds as kindred spirits, and yet like any other person or group of people that acceptance is conditional.

To start off, I don’t really, personally, differentiate between nerds, geeks, and dorks.  However, I might be alone there.  A google search for Nerd vs. Geek turns up a veritable feast of images.  The general consensus is that geeks like technology, t-shirts, gaming, and movies.  Nerds are more academic, and into sci-fi and role-playing.  Further examination shows that geeks can assimilate into society better than nerds, but neither really cares if they do or don’t.  So what happens if you fit both profiles?  What do you then call yourself?  For a person who prides herself on not sticking into on category, when society tries to categorize me, it’s frustrating.  It’s even more frustrating when geek/nerd/dork society tries to do it.

Thus is born a hierarchy in our world.  My first experience with the hierarcy was going to ICON on Long Island, a large convention at Stonybrook University catering to fans of fantasy, sci-fi, anime, gaming, costuming, and the like.  I was fortunate that my best friend and her now-husband were part of the staff, so I got to be, as well.  I learned a lot of backstage information and con shop-talk.  But it was also my first exposure to the concept of the hierarchy that exists in our subculture.  ICON has an Anthropomorphic track, colloquially referred to as “Furries”.  And I learned that in general at these sorts of things, people who like large animals that act like humans are generally at the bottom of the barrel.  Most other con-goers would avoid them and though the con provided programming for them, it was limited and there was no desire to expand it.

As I reestablished my love of gaming, I became aware of more prejudice within the community.  One could not simply be a gamer.  How one gamed had to be taken into consideration.  PC vs. console gaming was a big factor.  Generally because you can do more on a PC, it’s considered superior.  But console gaming definitely has its place.  Why does it matter if I’m shooting my way through zombies in Left 4 Dead with a controlleror a keyboard?  And then there’s other gaming: card, tabletop, and the like.  I was just learning to play Magic, when I picked up the subtle cues that Magic is sometimes considered a “lesser” game, and those who play it may be subjected to head shakes, face palms, and general pity.

The big question with both scenarios is why.  If people like big humanoid animals (or like being big humanoid animals), why does that automatically grant them the short end of the stick in terms of programming at a con?  If people prefer consoles over PCs, why should that make them any less of a gamer?  And why should people who play card games face scrutiny based on the type of card game they’re playing?  Isn’t the entire point of being unabashed nerds/geeks/dorks to embrace our individuality and appreciate it for what it is?

Sadly, that’s the ideal, and we know full well in our world that the ideal is one achievement we’ll never add to our gamer score.  The reality is that we’re human, and as humans we look at things that are different and that we don’t understand, and we automatically categorize them and assign a value of good or bad based on either our preferences or our understanding of those things.  If I prefer PC gaming, consoles must be bad.  If I don’t understand Furries, they must be bad.  I think Magic is silly, so it’s bad.  Nevermind that the people who are engaging in those things are people like us, and more importantly, are peole who have decided to embrace their individuality and own it.  Just like us.

I saw this in action yesterday when I went to Birka.  It’s a large-scale market put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism.  It is an “Organisation dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th century European history”.  Yesterday I saw a lot of peasants, nobles, and knights.  There were people in full armor walking around like it was completely normal (because there, it was).  I watched fencing and melee battles.  The hotel where it was held even had a roasted pig as part of the luncheon you could purchase.  Birka is primarily a market, but the SCA does all sorts of things where you can camp out and engage in non-modern activity for a day or even a week or two.

Now, I’m used to going to cons where your garb is a costume, but there are SCA members whose attendance at these things is an entirely different persona that exists in pre-17th century Europe.  It’s awesome, and I’d probably get in trouble from the hierarchy by calling it another form of roleplaying, but that’s how I look at it.  Now me, I have ‘garb’.  I love wearing it, but when I do, I’m still 21st century JayRain in a Medieval/Renaissance dress.  So naturally I brought my camera.  I’d read the rules on the Birka website and the only one I’d seen was that we had to be dressed appropriately, which I was.  There was a lot to take in, and I’d seen something interesting in the lobby and decided to take a picture of it.  In doing so I committed a major SCA faux-pas.

The woman at the table (who wasn’t in the picture) said, “Ma’am you need to ask before taking pictures.”  I was incredibly chagrined, because in my mind it was a compliment to her that I thought her display was cool enough to warrant a photo.  So I asked if she’d like me to delete it.  She said “Yes.”  And that was it.  No please, no thank you.  When I brought it up to two of my friends who do these events on a regular basis, one said she probably should have told me in advance that it’s proper form to ask before photographing anything or anyone (and her husband helpfully added in that yes, some people here can be real jerks about stuff).  And the reasoning wasn’t artistic license or anything like that, but the fact that even though we were in a hotel, watching the news while waiting for our burgers and fries to arrive, some members look down upon technology being present at events.  Capturing the memories of the events photographically is a no-no, and cell phones are bad.  Some people take these things so seriously that they become ‘garb nazis’, who are attentive to every detail: if your gown is 13th century but your cloak design is 15th century, and your knickers are briefs made of cotton and elastic (aka 21st century), you don’t belong.

I totally understand the desire to recreate something and be a part of a large-scale event surrounded by others who share that same love.  But when the hierarchy kicks in and it comes down to who’s “serious” about it versus who’s merely “having fun with it” it’s… well…not fun to be a part of it for some people.  I know that the purpose of the SCA is to research and recreate that era of European history, and I don’t fault them for their mission or those who strictly adhere to it.  But I know myself, and know that while I’ll go to Birka again to see all the awesome stuff, I’ll go with different expectations, and I won’t be joining the SCA anytime soon.  Or ever.  And because I constantly feel the need to clarify myself and apologize, I know I was in the wrong, and I know now that the SCA operates completely differently from a con; I know that my expectations were wrong.  I think what they do is wonderful, and it’s very important when it comes to keeping history alive.  And I also know that it’s just not for me.

What is for me, however, is PAX East.  I went for the first time last year, and I saw what is, in my mind, what nerd culture is meant to be.  For one weekend thousands of gamers of all sorts descended upon Boston and just loved gaming.  Our swag bags had mini playable decks of Magic cards so we could play Magic with strangers while waiting in line.  One huge room had consoles from the past that could be played, while another was a Call of Duty and Halo Reach tournament room.  The Classic Arcade Museum brought their retro arcade machines and let us play for free as long as we wanted.  For one weekend PC, console, card, and tabletop gamers came together and just loved gaming and one another.

Yes, there were people in epic full costumes, but they didn’t look down on those without costumes.  We could talk about shooters and RPGs without worrying if one was better than the other.  We platform to our hearts’ content, go get lunch, listen to a talk about how games are assisting the disabled, and then go down on the floor and try the demos that various developers were showing.  There wasn’t any of the segregation or snobbery I’d seen at other cons, where the anime loves stick together and the gamers go somewhere else… no PC gamers avoiding console or card gamers here!  For 48 hours I experienced the ideal in nerd culture.  And interestingly enough, PAX is the Latin word for peace.

Now I’m sure people who’ve been to PAX East or PAX Prime will tell me that it does exist, and I will accept that as truth.  Just because one experience contradicts my own doesn’t make it false, after all.  But what would the nerd world be like if instead of our differences we just accepted our similarities, even if our only similarity is the fact that we are proud do be individuals that don’t conform to the norm?  Even if we can’t forget the labels of geek or nerd or dork, could we stop trying to force one another into those categories, and just be?

Quick Thought: What’s up with “society’s standards”?

I think I’m going to explore this a little more in a multi-part series of posts: what is up with society’s standards?  Who imposes them, and why do we as individuals put so much stock in them when trying to decide who we are?  While there are some things that are generally socially unacceptable, a lot of things that get snubbed or shunned are generally harmless and are a part of a person’s creative expression.  I’ve always been an individual, and rarely have I put much stock into what society thinks I should do with my life or personality.  The more I look at the world, and the more I settle into myself and become comfortable being this person (it’s a long, ongoing process), the more I wonder about these things.

Some ideas I’d like to explore:

1. Standards of beauty/body image. 

2. Standards of entertaining oneself

There are probably more, but those were the ones that have been flitting about my brain and catching the attention of my attentively deficient curiosity.  Basically, I want to know not so much where these ‘standards’ come from or how/why they became ‘standard’, but more like… why should I really care about them?

Quite a bit of the feedback I’ve been getting is from people who are individuals and not afraid to be so.  It’s really encouraging to know that there are people out there who don’t care what the world thinks or says, and aren’t afraid to be themselves.  So thank you for the feedback thus far, and hopefully I can continue to be pleasantly cynical about said topics.

But I Want to Play With Toys!

Tonight my friend MLHawke posted a motherly confession: that she enjoyed playing with her daughter, Kender’s, toys.  That got me to thinking and I realized that I have made forays into Toys ‘R Us, or through the toy section of the local Target.  I have looked at toys and hoped people think I’m looking for a gift for a child.  The reality is I look at some of these toys and wish it wouldn’t be perceived as sketchy for me to buy them for myself.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do buy some toys for myself.  I have a large collection of Harry Potter Legos; this summer I purchased the Hagrid’s Hut set from the Lego Store.  I have action figures, and for a time was known for the LOTR figures on my car’s dashboard (RIP Nerdmobile).  I have stuffed zombies.  And we all know I have gaming consoles that get frequent use.  But why is it strange for adults to want to play with toys?

Not going to lie, today’s toys are pretty cool.  In a world where toys compete with television and videogames for kids’ attention and imaginations, the toys work to step it up.  Some toys I don’t understand, and probably never will given that I’m not a child.  But there are some toys I see and my imagination goes haywire.  I think how cool it might be to play with them, and then make sure no one sees me thinking about it:

It brings me back to being a child.  When I was young we didn’t have iPods or iPhones or smartphones… or heck even cell phones that we were constantly glued to.  I had Nintendo that I played fairly frequently, but I also read a lot, and above all, I had toys.  I played with Legos; I had model dinosaurs; and while I had Barbies and did play some typical Barbie roleplaying with my best friend, we (and I alone) also played with our dolls and made costumes out of existing clothes so they matched the images of made up heroines we’d created.  My first official fandom was Legend of Zelda, and looking back now with my older, wiser, nerdier eyes, I see that what she and I were doing was writing fanfiction and creating original characters, as well as roleplaying.

Playing with toys forced me to use my imagination and become creative.  And because of some of the elements of play that we involved, I think it was also integral to forming who I am as a nerd today.  We saw our dolls through being typical teenagers… or characters in the Zelda setting… or with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Or any other scenario.  It made me act, made me think, made me be creative with what I had.  I was always grateful that I was able to learn to entertain myself, and I think my parents were, too.

Plus, my toys were cool.  I had Legos.  I loved my Legos.  To this day I sometimes wonder what happened to all of them.  One year between my brother and me we had the entire Lego Ice Planet series.  That was my space year, seventh grade I think.  Prior to that, I was totally obsessed with horses (which may be why I reload to save my horse.)  Oh, I had Lego horses.  The first Lego horse I had was brown, and came in a small set with a stable to build.  And you’d better believe my dolls had horses.  My favorite was this one:

The corral, the cardboard diorama, all the plastic grooming devices… they were epic in my mind.  I asked my mom for some instant potato flakes to keep in the feed bucket, and would fill the trough with water.  I would also use my brother’s Lincoln Logs to create jumping courses for my horses.  Hedges, oxers, double oxers… I read a lot about showing and horses in general, so I knew about jump courses.  Building them was a huge source of fun for me.  I had the Blinking Beauty horse in the picture; if you “pet” her mane, she blinked and had these long eyelashes.  But later on I also got another horse that went with another doll set.  This horse had legs jointed at the knees and fetlocks, and the head moved up and down with a neck joint.  It also came with a riding outfit for the doll.  Now that? Was AWESOME.

Evidently those were some very important and formative elements of my childhood.  I openly confess to still looking at doll horses and fondly recalling the days when it was okay to spend my time letting my imagination roam free and manifest in dressing up my dolls and taking my toy horses through their fake paces over Lincoln Log jumps.  And when people like my friend say they want to play with their child’s toys I don’t laugh or scoff, I agree. 

People are quick to point out a standard about what it is to be grown up.  Pay your bills, live on your own, find a relationship, get married, have kids, don’t get married… and when it comes to having fun the standard becomes very interesting to look at, especially if you’re like me and your definition of fun doesn’t coincide with “their” definition.  In one episode of How I Met Your Mother, Marshall and Lily decide they need to have grown up fun, so they have people over for a wine tasting.  The episode plays up the dull nature of things until both hosts finally escape through the bathroom window and meet their friends, leaving the “grown ups” waiting for the wine to breathe.

Of course knowing what those characters are like, it’s funny.  But there are people like the “grown ups” who do find wine tasting enjoyable, and I don’t fault them for it at all.  I appreciate that that’s where they find entertainment, even if it’s not for me.  For me fun is making costumes; dressing up; walking around in public in a Medieval dress or like a zombe.  It’s playing D&D every week and video games in between and doing things that stimulate my imagination.  And I’d appreciate not being faulted for my definition of fun.  We’re all different, and age shouldn’t be a factor. 

In the end, I don’t buy the cool toys, mostly because I don’t have the extra money or room.  But I do have my Legos, I do have an army of MegaBlocks Spartans from their Halo collection, and I do have two Halo Reach Spartan action figures.  I will probably play some xbox when I finish writing this.  Hey, my bills are paid and my work is done; I’m going to play with my toys!

Gaming Confessions: I reload to save my horse

The other night I was on my way to perform an assassination when a dragon attacked (cool story, bro).  I whipped out my bow and began tracking that thing through the skies, and letting loose a volley whenever it came close enough to hit.  When it landed I fired arrow after arrow at it and occasionally got caught in its fireballs.  No big deal, because I just used the time when it was flying to use my healing spells.  Its health was down to nearly nothing when…

My horse attacked it.

Now, I appreciate the fact my horse wants to get involved, however, she doesn’t wear armor, and her only weapons are her hooves.  Throughout the course of my current Skyrim playthrough she’s run off cliffs, been set on fire, and eaten by wild sabre cats and dragons.  I find myself wishing I could engage tactics and set them to tell my horse to STAY PUT.  I can’t, so she dies.  And you know what?

I reload my last save and replay that part to result in my horse’s survival.

I did reload several times when the nearly dead dragon killed my horse.  I’d like to think there are practical reasons behind it: a new horse costs 1000 gold, and since I make most of my money from theivery and sneaking about, I’d rather not go drop 1000 gold on the nearest horse when my current one is only dead because of its own stupidity (or mine, when I run it off a cliff by accident).  But the real reason is that I’m a sap.

Yes, my horse is mere pixels, but darn it, those pixels have carried my Nord all over Skyrim in the search to max out skills and lead every covert outfit in the country!  What show of gratitude is there in just leaving it to rot at the bottom of a ravine?  What thanks is there in leaving its horsey corpse to decay next to the skeleton of the dragon it was too stupid to engage with its hooves, only to be pwn’d by fire breath?  Right, there is none.  So I will reload and save my horse, thanks.

I began to seriously think about this when, at one point I got into a pretty unfairly stacked fight with a dragon and some wolves and bandits.  I left my horse where I thought she would be safe, and began to traverse the area slicing up bandits who got too close while I was waiting for that dragon to come into sight so I could switch to arrows.  I heard a whinny and up on a grassy ridge, my horse was fighting off wolves and the dragon.  Naturally I raced to the horse’s aid, the dragon took off… and so did my stupid horse.  I wound up going miles out of the way to a watchtower, killing the dragon from up there, and when I went back I couldn’t find my horse.  I fast-traveled to Whiterun (and when you fast-travel, your horse goes with you).  My horse didn’t come with me, so I could only assume she was dead.

But there was no way I was going to replay that whole battle.  It was insane, and not worth my time.  I sighed and went to the stables to talk to the owner about a new horse.  Oddly enough, the horse for sale looked a lot like my dearly departed one.  And when I spoke with the owner, everything he said pretty much confirmed that it was the exact same horse.  So I gladly parted with my 1000 gold and figured having to re-buy the same horse was the horse’s version of sticking it to the man.  Only it was sticking it to me, with a reminder not to let it die again. 

Do I overthink these things?  Obviously.  I will be the first to admit that I do.  But why is is that I can go assassinate NPCs and wipe out legions of Markarth city guards and only feel slight qualms… but when my horse dies I have to reload and make sure it survives?  To be fair, with the guards I’m pretty nonconfrontational and try to sneak around them until they attack me.  So it’s self-defense.  At least, that’s what my Nord tells himself to sleep better at night.  And though I looked at the contradictory idea of the Chosen One being a jerk in an early post, it really is just a game; I personally wouldn’t go off killing city guards if my IRL city had guards, just because they ticked me off.

I think it comes down to the idea that there is a bond between people and pets.  And yes, that I am a sap.  Horses are personable animals and highly intelligent.  Yet they bear our weight and the weight of our gear; they pull plows, they jump over fences to look pretty; all done out of a bond of trust with the human asking those things of it.  They’re truly amazing animals, and I’ve loved them nearly as long as I’ve loved dinosaurs.  I remember being 7 or 8 and seeing The Neverending Story on TV and bawling insanely during the scene where Artax, Atreyu’s faithful horse, dies in the Swamps of Sadness.  The only thing that made it worthwhile was that Bastian wishes Artax back to life when he recreates Fantasia at the end of the movie.  It’s a good thing I was 17 years older when I read the actual novel and found out that once Artax was gone, he was gone for good.
 
I also have pets myself, and my pets are my companions.  Some might call me a crazy cat lady, but I only have two, thank you very much.  My cats are pets, but they’re also pleasant company.  They’re warm and fuzzy, they’re sweet, and they amuse me greatly.  They’re very social with one another, and with me.  While I know they’re animals and have a lifespan, I try not to think about it, because there is no reload once that happens.  So perhaps that’s why I feel the need to save my horse.  Not just to spare myself another 1000 gold, but because in the world of the game, she is faithful to my character to the point that she will put herself in danger to save him.  Rarely do we see that kind of loyalty in people, and we’re the same species.
 
Perhaps I am a sap, and feel free to point and laugh at this confession.  But when I load up Skyrim this weekend, and I know I will, there will likely come a time when my horse attacks a dragon or runs off a cliff.  Or gets attacked by a dragon while running off a cliff.  Regardless of what happens, you can be sure that I will reload to save my horse.