Friday, August 30, 2013

A Few Somethings

I keep starting bits of blog posts, and not getting very far.  And my notes document is getting unwieldy. 

There's something about DA:O vs. DA2, the difference that Alistair makes.  There wasn't ever an Alistair for me in DA2, and not just because none of the romance characters were written to perfectly appeal to me.  It's the way that Alistair was written to be my partner, my person.  Jenny Hawke doesn't have a person.  It's her story, and everyone else is peripheral to that.

There's something about this latest Buffy rewatch.  The show was written to play on the trope of the girl running down a dark alley with a monster chasing her, in Buffy, it's the monsters who run from the girl.  But here are still a lot of girls running away.  And sure, not everyone can be Buffy, the monsters are scary, and they have victims.  There are plenty of male victims who are just as helpless.  I would say that, especially in the beginning, most of the male characters are shown as weaker than the women.  But the men of Sunnydale don't run.  They scream.  Sometimes they die.  Sometimes we see a guy at the end of a chase, when he's knocked down and dragged off screen.  But that iconic shot of the lone person running through the dark with a monster chasing—that person is always female. 

There's the college entrance essay I wrote on Why I'm a Libertarian.  Obviously, things have changed since then.  I want to look at that transition.  What changed?  What were the arguments or life experiences that made a difference?  I want to write a dialog between me and my past selves, a kind of question-answer session.  (Yikes.  I've read a lot of 101, but I've never really tried to write my own.  And, well, I'm aware that I have a long way to go.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Almost done with 33.  My Jesus year, and I wanted to make it mean something.  I wanted to feel changed.  I wanted to feel invigorated.  I wanted to feel new.  I wanted the relief that comes from shedding the shells of old selves.

I moved, painted, and made changes to my daily life vis-à-vis the mess.  I learned how to make Char Siu.   I learned more about intersectional feminism.  I participated in a positive, healthy, romantic relationship, with open communication and self-awareness and love.   I ended same relationship in a positive, healthy, manner.   I became better at understanding, expressing, and enforcing, personal boundaries.  I lost, grieved, said good bye, and recovered from the death of a friend.   I did not get fired from my job.   (I had a job evaluation that began with my boss saying, "I don't know HOW you do it!")  I sent out stories for publication.  I got another tattoo.   I danced in a ballroom dance competition.   I went to Duluth and Minneapolis for the first time.  I swam in Lake Superior.   I attended a national photo education conference, and a feminism in SF/F conference.  I went to my sixth year of the Iowa State Fair.  I have now lived in Iowa City longer than anywhere else since I moved out of my parents' house. 

I look at this and I try to tell myself that it's a respectable list.  I try to be proud of it.  But I feel like all I did this year was tread water.  I look back at a year's worth of blog posts, my most prolific to date.  All that splashing, all that effort, and I still feel like I'm in the same place where I started.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ending, v2

Oops.  Started to rewrite my last post, deleted it instead.

I finished Dragon Age 2 last night.  And even though I'd gone in expecting a cliffhanger, I was still surprised at where it ended.  Not with a bang, but with the sad, tired, turning away after the bang.  

Jenny is not at the head of an army.  Despite reports to the contrary, she is not the most important person in Thedas.  The war is not of her making.  But she was there when it started, and she tried to save as many lives as she could.  She didn't save the world, she saved one mage circle, in one city.  She proved that it's possible to stand up to power and win.  The templars can be defeated.   

And then she disappeared.

No speeches, no applause.  And yet, despite the lack of fanfare, I felt more satisfied when I turned off the Xbox than I had with Origins.  There was no closure, but there was no tone-deaf bit of dialog masquerading as closure, either.  Origins tried, and failed, to give me what I wanted.  DA2 didn't even try.  

I think it's the best game I've ever played.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Jenny of Sad Consequences

Anders is dead again.  It's for real this time; I watched him die.  I stabbed him in the back while he waited, eyes closed.  Apostate Jenny is becoming the Jenny of Sad Consequences.

I didn't want this.  I was annoyed at him, sure.  And when I saw what he'd done, I was angry at him.  But I still didn't want him to die.  I wanted him to be better than he was.  I kept waiting and hoping.  I believed in his cause.  Jenny is an apostate, for fuck's sake.  But she isn't a terrorist.  

It's Merrill, all over again.  There have been warnings from the beginning.  But I wanted to believe otherwise.  I wanted, so badly, to like him.  Even though I was failing to like him, even as I was ranting at him, yelling at him, I couldn't stop trying to think the best of him.

But if Jenny is going to have a hope of convincing people that her war is just, she has to denounce Anders.  Anything else would tell the world that she condones his actions.  And even though I don't think it will change the overall plot, even though there will be war, no matter what, I want Jenny to try to do it right.  And so Anders is dead.

Jenny tried to do everything right.  She was kind and supportive and diplomatic and none of it mattered.

I killed the dragon in DA2. Hooray! Also, more talk about my teenage sex life.

It might not sound like a big deal, but that post about virginity narratives was actually kind of a revelation for me.   I've felt uncomfortable around teen-virginity stories for a long time, and I always attributed my discomfort to the disconnect between those stories and my own experience.  I still think that's true.  But I've misunderstood the nature of the disconnect.  When I watched all these teen heroines agonize over the will-I-or-won't-I, what stood out to me was their ability to make that choice for themselves.  I thought that I would have understood what these TV girls were going through, if only the choice hadn't been taken away from me.  Watching those stories made me very aware of my own teenage powerlessness.  It gave me this combination of self-pity, for having sex be something that was done to me, and a kind of self-criticism because I have always felt like I let him do it.

But the thing is, I rejected that stereotypical teenage-virginity narrative long before the choice was taken away from me.  I didn't have the will-I-won't-I debates with myself because I didn't think they were worth having. If teenage me were hanging out with Buffy, and she said

I don't know. I... I mean, 'want' isn't always the right thing TO do. To act on want can be wrong.

I would be confused.  I mean, seriously confused. As far as I was concerned, the only relevant question after "Do I want to?" was "Can I get away with it?"   This whole "right and wrong" thing?  Did not care.  Teenage-me would have said that should and shouldn't were just the dictates of stupid, close-minded, prudes.  I didn't recognize the choices that these TV teens were making, not because I wasn't making a choice, but because I didn't think about it the way they did.

It's an important re-framing of my teenage years.  Yes, I struggled with self-loathing, and yes, I accepted assault, coercion, and emotional abuse, all of which I labeled love.  Yes, there was a time when my agency was taken away, but there were many, many, times, both before and after that, when I did make my own choices.  After Boyfriend #2, I decided that I wanted to scale down my sexual activity, and I told boyfriend #3, flat-out, what was and wasn't on the table.  And with #4, when I wanted more, we planned and prepared together.  I had never really thought about it that way before.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Netflix my eyes Woody Allen if you think we have something in common

I was surprised to see this on my stats page this morning:

Usually the only referring websites are trolling for clickbacks.  But, apparently, I made it onto yesterday's Sunnydale Herald, and thus onto several LJ and Dreamwidth feeds with my post about virginity stories on TV.  I don't know if the list creator does much reading of the posted content or if it's mostly a find-Buffy-mentions-list-Buffy-mentions-bot.  (Then again, there have to be a lot of mentions of just the name Buffy, so maybe there is actual person-reading?)  Now I feel kind of bad, since the post really isn't about Buffy, per se, but about the way that TV represents a particular aspect of teenage life.  Buffy was just the most recent time I'd noticed it. 

Anyway, in the spirit of linking, here are three things I enjoyed on the internet recently:

OK Cupid Lorem Ipsum Generator.  I linked to the hairpin article, because I think it's still my favorite version.  I would really like to see a version done with women's profiles.  I would seriously consider changing my profile to that.

I need to cheat on my husband because if I don't I may never finish Paradise Lost.  You should also read all sixteen pages of bad advice, all in one sitting, like I did. 

1500 words on what to wear to Worldcon.  This, exactly.  The spaces and identities I navigate aren't the same as Andrea's, not exactly, but I have very similar discussions with myself about signaling and unspoken (sometimes unconscious) cultural expectations.  Also she's smart and a good writer and says other good things in other posts and stuff.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm not in love with this typeface

But it might be the best, easily-available, option.

I would do this in chain stitch, so there won't actually be any variation in stroke width. 


Doing it wrong.

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a poem about Thanksgiving.  It started with the lines The air is crisp / Leaves turn red and brown.  It was the kind of poem you'd expect it to be: sing-song meter, ABCB rhyme scheme, four stanzas long.  What stands out to me, now, is my description of the season.

I grew up in southern California, where the natural flora stays a dull gray-green all year, and the sprinkler-fed trees are greenest in the winter. The colors of summer in Poway are brown and gold, dead grass and thirsty trees. It rains a little in autumn and winter, just enough for some natural greenery, although still not enough to turn the sprinklers off. No one has a lawn without sprinklers. There is no spectacular changing of the trees as they transition into winter hibernation from their lush summer extravagance. I had never seen the season I was describing in my poem (if I had, I might have more accurately correlated it with Halloween, not Thanksgiving), but I knew what it was supposed to look like.  Everyone knew that.  There are flowers in the spring, and green trees in the summer, red and yellow leaves in autumn and snow in winter.  That's the way the world works.

When I went away to college, it felt as if I were—finally—seeing the world as it was supposed to be. These were real seasons. As if my seventeen years of lived experience were somehow all a lie. An abberation. For the first time, the world in front of me looked like the world in my head, and it was magical.

Looking up photos of evil Willow left me with a hankering to watch Buffy again, so last night I picked up my rewatch where I'd left off in the middle of season 2. It happened to be right before Buffy has sex with Angel and he loses his soul, thus confirming every teenage girls' fears. Or, at least, that's what people say about the episode. Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores teenage struggles by giving those struggles supernatural metaphors. Bodies growing hair and emotions feeling stronger and harder to control? That's because you're a werewolf. Teacher acts like you're lower than dirt? She's actually a monster who wants to use you to host her parasitic babies. Boyfriend acts like a different person once you have sex with him? He lost his soul.

But the virginity-losing episodes in Buffy, and in most tv and movies, tend to leave me feeling alienated and strange. They are familiar, because I have seen them so many times, but they are nothing like my actual experience. In the same way that I knew what seasons were like from illustrations of them, I know all of the things that a teenage American girl would worry about from stories about them. Losing ones virginity is a Big Deal. Too soon and she's a slut, too late and she's a prude, it's the ultimate experession of love, it changes a relationship, it's the "next level," and maybe it might feel good but sometimes she shouldn't do what feels good because that's wrong.

At sixteen, Boyfriend #2 overruled my decisions about having sex, but I had been making that decision for a full year before that. My "not having sex" was a decision and not a default, and it had nothing to do with morality, either the church-going kind or the teenage social policing kind. I didn't think it would change anything, either my identity or our relationship.  There was no meaning attached to sex, no emotional risk.  I was only worried about possible physical side effects.  If I could have had access to birth control I trusted, I would have had sex a year before, with Boyfriend #1.  We wanted to, we’d discussed it, but I was too afraid of pregnancy, which I sort of equated with death. It was strictly a practical decision.

(Thinking back on it, I'm amazed that the two of us, fifteen years old, in our first relationship, had the trust and maturity to actually talk about sex and make decisions about it together. I still wasn't able to have that discussion with any adult who might have helped me, but we were honest and open with each other.)

But, even though the virginity stories in Buffy and Dawson's Creek, and My So-Called Life, and everything aimed at teens, ever, have nothing in common with the teenage years I lived through, I still credit the stories as being the "real" ones. They're ingrained in my cultural consciousness as "normal." When I see them, I don't ever criticize the stories for being unlike my life, I criticize myself for somehow doing it wrong.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Totally Unrelated.

The "cha shoo" part of my cha shoo bow.

Also, I have some pork roast marinating at home.  This will be attempt #1.  (Having googled it, I think I should have bought pork butt, so that will be next time.)

The Hero of the Story

Suddenly I can see how this is going to end. Some day, Jenny will disagree with something that Merrill wants. And Merrill will look at her with hurt in her big, dewey, eyes and say I never thought you'd turn against me. Everyone I trust betrays me in the end. Everyone is against me, no one will listen. And once that happens, Merrill will stop holding back. She will stop worrying about what other people think or want, because she knows better than they do, and besides, they won't listen to her anyway. They're blinded by fear for what they can't understand. The fools. She will show them. She WILL help them, no matter what they want. She will MAKE them listen. And she will reach out and grab the blood in their bodies, the electricty in their brains, and she will make them obey. She will make all of them obey.

I have seen this story before. The powerful spirit, or mage, or other fantasy creature, blazing with power. Someone hurt, and angry. Someone whose lover has been killed, or whose friend has betrayed her, or who has finally seen the extent of evil in the world, and has had ENOUGH.

Evil Willow is DONE with this shit.

What bothers me about this story is that this has always been Merrill's story. Everything that she's said, starting from her first appearance on the slopes of Sundermount, everything I've learned about her history, her personality, it all adds up to this. Looking back I can see it. All the clues were there. Merrill has always thought that she knows what's best for her people, despite what they actually say they want. She has always priviledged her own desires over the desires of others. Even though her desires are, on the surface, selfless, her insistance that only she can decide what dangers to accept, what risks to take, is incredibly selfish. She has always seen things in black and white. Everyone is either for her, or against her. And if the mirror is worth saving, it is worth any price to save. I wanted to believe in the story of the plucky underdog. But the thing is, the story of the plucky underdog looks exactly the same as the story of the world-destroying blood-mage. No one understands. No one will listen.

And I, with my eyes full of pluck, supported Merrill the whole way. I agreed with her. I helped her. I had my doubts, but I pushed them aside. It was Merrill. I loved Merrill. I trusted her that it would all turn out in the end. And when the clan attacked, I killed them all for her because I thought she was the hero.

But she has never been the hero. And I should have known.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I loved you from the moment you introduced yourself.  You asked my name and immediately stammered, unless it's rude to ask a human's name, I've never met a human before.  Your understanding that other people might have expectations and norms that you can't predict, and your willingness to try to accommodate that, melted my little social justice heart.

And you were so determined and brave.  So out of your comfort zone, so isolated and yet unwavering.  You would do the right thing, no matter what the personal cost.  You stood up to everyone you've ever known and said, you don't believe me yet, but I can DO this.  And I believed you.  Because isn't that the story?  The heroine perseveres, against all odds, even when no one believes in her, and then she triumphs and shows everyone.  Right?

But sometimes, when everyone tells you that you're making a mistake, when everyone who knows and loves you says please don't, sometimes they're right.  And when the path you take leads to the death of everyone who knew and loved you, and you stand over their bodies and say, if only they'd listened to me, you are WRONG.

Oh, Merrill.  You are wrong.

They didn't die because they should have trusted you.  They didn't die because they should have accepted your help. They died because you are wrong.  Some things aren't worth the cost.  And you don't have a right to demand that everyone else pay the cost with you.  

You say that you did it for them, but I don't believe you.  Not anymore.  

And now you are standing in front of your mirror, saying that you have no one but me anymore.  And you don't notice all the other people who care and watch out for you, Varric bringing you food, and Isabela fiercely defending you.  And you still think that all this happened because no one listened to you.  And I am suddenly terrified of you, Merrill.  Because you have the power to control our minds and bodies, and you have no respect for our thoughts and feelings.

That spirit you called?  That was a demon of pride, Merrill.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Embroidered Sylvia Plath Tea Towels

I am thinking about making embroidered Sylvia Plath tea towels for the state fair next year. 

Because embroidered Sylvia Plath tea towels

I don't know if I can get enough shades to make these gradients, and, honestly, my embroidery is nothing to brag about, but it's really more about the idea of it than anything else.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fenris is NOT going to like this.

OMG I know what's going to happen.

I knew already that this would happen, but now I know how.  Hi, Cassandra!  How's it going?

I mean, I pieced together the intentional hints and the spoiled bits.  And it's big.  I knew that Champion Jenny will end the game as "the most powerful person in Thedas," which, I'm assuming means more than personal prowess.  I knew that the Chantry will hunt Jenny to either get her help or defeat her.  I had started to think that the game would end with Jenny at the helm of an army, either of mages or templars, but only one of those made sense.  If Jenny helps the mages overthrow the Chantry at Kirkwall, then she would end up leading a bunch of pissed-off mages.  But if Jenny helps the Chantry defeat the mages, then that's almost the status quo.  And if she's supporting the Chantry, why would Cassandra be so intent on finding her?

Here's why:  The templars secede from the Chantry. 

Jenny will win her battle at Kirkwall, but no matter who she sides with, this is war.  Two armies, spread all across Thedas, both of them with more power than any country, each with no allegiances except to themselves, and no purpose besides the destruction of the other.  (Reviews did mention the word "cliffhanger" several times.)

No wonder Cassandra looks so angry in the prologue.  Her Chantry has lost control.

I want to run home and watch the introduction again.

I didn't notice until someone else mentioned it, but there are hardly any
dwarfs without beards.  That's significant, I think.

Oh Varric.  I didn't like the narration when I first started playing, but now I can hear a person talking, and not just a default narrator, and it makes a difference.

The internet is full of people criticizing DA2 for poor character development.  Party members are seen as cardboard cutouts chosen from a small pool of stereotypes, burdened further by badly written dialog and substandard voice acting.  I am tempted to dismiss the charges out of hand because every game has these same criticisms aimed at it.  But, even knowing that some of the complaints are obviously of the "can't please everybody," type, I still want to rush to defend my people.  After all, I've spent quite a lot of time talking about my party members.  (Y'know how I was trying to figure out the perfect 'ship for Merrill?  Cassie has a great explanation of why it should be Varric.)

But part of me wonders how much of the nuance I see in these characters is there because I want it to be?  Are the party members set up to be blank Mary Sues, the framework for me to build my own story? 

And if they are, is that bad?

I believe that all forms of expression consist of two parts, including art forms that are consumed "passively."  There is a sender and a receiver, and what is communicated is a unique combination of the two.  When I write these words, no two people will receive the exact same meaning from them.  Often, the art of communication involves lessening, as much as possible, the contribution of the receiver, so that the same message sent to many people creates the same understanding.  This is a skill that one can strive for, but will never perfect.

But not everyone wants to diminish the role of the receiver.  Many creators celebrate the differences in interpretation that arise when different people experience their work.  Their work often depends on that variation.  Video games, in particular, are consumed in a call-and-response fashion, and in many games, the player is actively shaping the game being consumed.  When I play Dragon Age, or most other RPGs, I am encouraged to create a custom avatar to inhabit, one that will give me a personal experience of the game.  Jenny always has fair skin, and almost always dark hair.  When I see screen captures of other people's games, I am struck by the sense of wrongness in other player's versions of Hawke and Shepard. 

If I am creating personalities for Jenny's companions, analyzing small details and extrapolating larger stories from them, is that another way of personalizing my avatar?  By personalizing the people she associates with?  

If the characters in DA2 are underdeveloped and one-dimensional—and I'm not sure I agree that they are—is that a flaw or a feature?

Speaking of personalized responses and the way we project ourselves onto the world around us: when I think about the relationships between speaker and listener, I think about all of the time I spent arguing with my mother.  I remember how I learned, at a young age, that anything I said had to navigate a long and twisted path on its way to my mother's ears, and that once the words were out of my mouth, I had no power to help direct them along the way. 

Whenever I see someone questioned or criticized for talking about themselves, for making things personal, I find myself at a loss.  How can I do anything else?  It seems like hubris of the highest degree to think that I'm not, always, talking about myself.  Everything I see and feel and believe is filtered through everything I have seen or felt or believed before.  I live in the first person, everyone does.  I can write an "impartial narrator."  I can make pronouncements as if on high, as if my truth were all truths.  But it would be a sham. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

End of Act 2, part 2: Things Matter

I totally watched the shit out of the trailer for DA2, but I didn't think it was more than a typical, if well-made, trailer for a sequel to a popular franchise.  No need to explain what the game is like, just show off some general badassery to keep up fan excitement.  All I learned about the game was that Jenny will have a really big boss battle with a Qunari.  And there would be sexy pirate lady.  Neither of these things seemed like important giveaways. 

And when I first started DA2, I rolled my eyes a little at the way it began.  Along with the "EA Presents A Bioware Production," title sequence, the framing story felt like a case of cinema-envy.  As if the game were trying to get taken seriously by mimicking a medium with more cultural respect.  I didn't think it was bad, just a little forced and unnecessary.

Except, as I played, I noticed that the frame story adds weight to otherwise small-seeming events and helps create a sense of anticipation.  If the events unfolding weren't relevant to the end, why would the inquisitor care?

Now I find that the trailer, too, is an important part of DA2 storytelling.  Knowing that Jenny will have an important battle against a giant Qunari is, actually, giving away something significant because so much of the plot and world development in the first two acts revolves around the presence of Qunari in Kirkwall.  And yet, giving away the boss fight acts less like a spoiler and more like foreshadowing.  In the same way that the frame story changes the way I view the game, knowing that the situation with the Qunari will—no matter what—erupt in bloodshed adds tension to all of the events preceding the attack.  Every time Jenny pleads with those around her to be tolerant of the Qunari, part of me is thinking, The zealots are right.  The Arishok will not remain peaceful.  And no amount of action or persuasion on Jenny's part can change that.

Hey Viscount, I've seen the trailer, and it doesn't go well for you.  Maybe you should rethink your strategy.

And now that I am working up towards that big boss fight with the Arishok, I am realizing that what happens afterwards is a complete blank.  The big, climatic, battle shown in the trailer is only the end of Act 2.  (At least, I'm assuming it is.  Since the Qunari are rampaging the city, and I don't think I'm going to be able to talk the Arishok into letting me go nicely into Act 3.)  By giving me a piece of foreshadowing, the trailer focused me on that aspect of the plot, gave me something to anticipate, which meant I haven't been thinking about what happens next.  Having something in my field of view made it less obvious to me how little else I could see.  Obviously, the situation between mages and templars will come to a conflict, but I can't guess the nature of the conflict.  And who will be the big bad?  Meredith?  Some mage under the influence of the deep roads artifact?  Something the artifact becomes?  Will there be a battle, like Denerim, or one-on-one, the way Hawke is shown in the trailer?

I know that there is a voice actor for Danerius, and there have been clues left about Tevinter interest in Kirkwall, so maybe Jenny will defend Kirkwall against the Imperium?  (Obviously, she and Fenris will encounter Danerius, for his sake, but maybe that will actually be part of the main plot as well.)

And as I'm awaiting more plot developments, I've been looking at criticisms of DA2, and a lot of them say things like:

A thin, unfocused series of things happening that had no dramatic weight and failed to keep my attention. 

The story fluctuates between being completely uninteresting and being simply generically mediocre.

Did I mention that there is absolutely no story here? A bunch of random fetch quest with no real purpose.

For some reason, BioWare thought that dropping a character into a city and watching them meddle in quasi-political affairs while cooling their heels for a decade would be just as entertaining as going on an epic adventure. Surprise—it's not. There's just no overarching goal; no purpose to the story. 

They also complain a lot about the graphics and re-used locations, which I agree with, although I have a hard time understanding how a game could be unfun because it looks 5 years out of date.  I mean, I was playing games five years ago, and somehow managed to have fun even without photo-realistic graphics.  But all the complaining about the plot, the assertion that it's not possible to have an epic adventure without crossing physical distances, I keep wondering what game they're playing.  I mean, it sure isn't the game I'm playing.

The most frustrating thing for me is watching while characters (including Jenny) say the stupidest things about, and to, the Qunari.  Seriously.  I want to shake all of them.  Especially Aveline, who has also gotten very unpleasantly slut-shamey these days.  Dear Aveline: knock it off.

End of Act 2, part 1: Revisiting (With Illustrations!)

Okay, I started writing this, and would have scrapped it as the kind of over-explaning that should probably stay in my head.  But I made illustrations!  So here you go:

Now that I've played a lot more of the game, I've found that my initial impressions have changed a little.  Champion Jenny's voice has grown on me, and while I still hate the difficulty in predicting what will come out of her mouth when I pick a dialog option, at least companion reaction isn't as simple as "people like her when she's nice." Sometimes they like her more when she's angry.

The battle scenes have grown on me as well.  I agree that the enemy respawning does make some of the tactics from DA:O unusable in DA2.  Placing mages and archers at a distance from the melee can be disastrous when a group of enemies respawns immediately behind them.  But that doesn't mean I can't make tactical decisions and plans, it means making different tactical decisions and plans.  It means balancing the need to keep weaker party members out of the enemy's melee range with the need for those same party members to be within defending distance if they're ambushed from behind.  Much of the tactics in DA2 involve risk management.  If both Jenny and Anders throw Telekinetic Prison on the biggest enemy in the room, then they might be screwed when more big enemies show up later.  So, when the battle looks like this:

Then hitting that rabble rouser with everything I've got might not be a good idea.  There might be more coming later.  On the other hand, it's possible to be over-cautious and conserve more spells than is really necessary.  Maybe the next rabble rouser won't show up until Telekinetic Prison is ready to go again.  I can't make decisions based on planning out the battle from start to finish, I have to make decisions that will be flexible, that can account for an unknown enemy.  But when the battle looks like this:

I can safely assume that, while those minions will certainly respawn, there is only one BIG SCARY MONSTER, and I can plan accordingly.

And I still think that Jenny's wiggle-run is silly, but it's still better than the floating heads attached to Jenny Shepard's butt in ME2.  (The UI had portraits of party members in the lower middle of the screen, which happened to be exactly where Jenny's butt was most of the time.) 

Friday, August 9, 2013

It Breaks My Digital Heart


See, I started the game sort of assuming that I would end up with Anders because of leftover affection from Awakenings, or Isabela, because sexy pirate lady is sexy.  I'm still a little annoyed at Alistair for convincing Jenny--all of them, really--to go all hetero and stuff.

But I also knew that choosing romance options with one character doesn't necessarily prevent romancing another, up until it comes down to the moving in part.  And I like flirting.  I mean, if my digital avatar is going to be universally attractive I might as well enjoy it, right?  And maybe I would end up changing my mind on which one I'd want to be Jenny's primary partner, so might as well keep my options open.

So I flirted with Merrill.  And now I feel like a total asshole, because, unlike everyone else so far, Merrill actually does something about it.  And then she's standing in the foyer saying I'm not like you, I wish I were.  You're beautiful and clever and never make the wrong decision, and I'm just dreaming to think that you would ever...  And it fucking breaks my heart to hear because she hero worships Jenny and it's all wrong.  She should be with someone who makes her feel good about herself, not like a shabby, lesser version of what she wants to be.

And all there is to say is You're not dreaming, or You're like a sister to me.  And if I pick the first then Merrill ends up in a lousy one-sided relationship, and if I pick the latter then she says something false and bright and runs away and I feel really guilty about it.

And now I'm worried about Fenris, if I'm already too late to avoid hurting him, when the reason I'm not picking him is to avoid hurting him.  I don't think he's going to be able to accept Jenny's decisions, and I don't want to break up with him that way.  And I REALLY don't want to sleep with him and then not take it seriously, because he's spent his whole life with his body being used, in various ways, for the whims of mages, and I think it might break him to believe that Jenny is different and be proven wrong.

And all this is after a curt reminder from Aveline that effective game decisions are often heartless decisions, and I'm really not a big fan of Jenny right now.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Person Shooters: There is Shit Going On

More Cyborgology.

I've actually linked to part III of Wanenchak's essay, which is the part where she discusses the cultural narratives of war as seen in video games.  I suppose that I've been giving FPS, especially war-themed FPS games the same kind of condescending brush-off that non-gamers give all video games.  Having read the essay, I'm starting to think that I need to learn to play a FPS so I can be in on this conversation.  (All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the linked essay.  Apparently reading Cyborgology also makes me want to take better care with my attributions.)

Cassie had told me about a game in which there are no good endings, where the only possible options all have horrific results.  As a player, your actions become more and more brutal, and you are given no choice in the matter.  The only way to stop is to stop playing.  Period.  There is no other way out.  I had assumed that it was an indie game, a kind of statement piece, but it turns out that the game is Spec Ops: The Line, which is pretty damn mainstream.  I looked up the wiki article  It's Heart of Darkness in Dubai except that Marlow is Kurtz.  The soldier and the despot are one and the same.

The Line is intended to critique other FPS games, especially war games like Call of Duty.  In the words of the lead writer,
There’s a certain aspect to player agency that I don’t really agree with, which is the player should be able to do whatever the player wants and the world should adapt itself to the player’s desire. That’s not the way that the world works...this is not a world that you are in control of, this world is directly in opposition to you as a game and a gamer.
But even the Call of Duty games are consciously manipulating choice and agency with an awareness of it's implications.  Wanenchek describes a scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare:
In one of the most haunting – and unusual – sequences of the game, the player crawls from the wreckage of the helicopter, struggles to his feet, and looks around at a burning nuclear wasteland before dying of his injuries. There is no way to survive the level, no weapons to wield and no one to kill, and not even really anything to do but to exist in that moment and bear witness to horror before expiring.

In CoD: Modern Warfare 2, there is a scene where the you are infiltrating a terrorist group, and the group opens fire on civilians in an airport.  You cannot prevent the attack.  You cannot fire back at the terrorists.  You cannot save anyone.  And this is not a cut scene.  You are a player character, and you have a gun.  You can stand there and watch, or you can pick up your gun and shoot.

When some critics suggested that they would have preferred to have the scene play out as a cut scene, or as a game from the perspective of a civilian trying to escape, one of the game designers responded by calling those suggestions "cop outs."  The point of the scene is to give the player a gun that they can fire, and a compelling reason to choose not to.

—And here's where I would write some thoughtful things about these games, and connect them to the games I've played, if I were doing anything but summarizing someone else's essay.

And, appropos of nothing really, I found this gem in the comments section on a blog post about Spec Ops:
...The Hunger Games is a work of fantasy, and to a large extent an escapist fantasy for adolescent girls (two boys, amazing dresses, cool fights, saving the day)...
I'm not sure I can eyeroll hard enough. Because 1) that's totally what Hunger Games is about, in that order, boys, dresses, and oh yeah, winning the revolution.  And 2) adolescent girls don't struggle with feelings of powerlessness, devotion to family, grief and loss, people in power who condescend to them, or anything that would make them want to fantasize a way to deal with it.  They just want boys and dresses.  And yeah, he does mention "cool fights, saving the day," but if that were the important bit, he wouldn't have specified that it was an escapist fantasy for girls.  It's the boys and dresses that make it for girls.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

20th Birthday

I don't know why this is important, but it is.  When I was in college, a friend of mine passed around a cassette tape to our friends and asked them to record themselves reading a story onto it.  She gave it to me for my 20th birthday.  I wish I could remember what stories everyone picked.  What I do remember is that one friend prefaced her story by saying that, since the tape was intended for me to listen to while falling asleep, she would read the most boring thing she knew, which was why I had a tape recording of her reading a chapter from her psychology textbook.

I don't know what made me think about that tape again.  But now that I remember, I am charmed all over again by the thoughtfulness, the quirky humor, of a long-ago-lost birthday present.

Monday, August 5, 2013

I found a new thing

New to me, at least.

I want to read EVERYTHING on it. 

Because apparently what I really wanted in life was to be a sociologist except I got distracted somewhere along the way and now I just read the kind of blogs that academics write for people who wish they were academics.

Water I swam in, water I didn't

Mostly in chronological order, from Thursday-Saturday. 

Doug + Amanda's wedding, Duluth, MN.

I swam in this water.  Also I read this book.  (Lake Superior at Canal Park)

It was 39 F in the water.  Mostly I laid on a warm towel.

Lake Superior beachfront at rehearsal dinner.  I did not swim in this water.

Lake tour.  Still not swimming.

I took a lot of photos on the boat of this flag.

Fountain at the rose garden, before the wedding.  I did not swim.

View of the lake from the rose garden.  Still not swimming.

This is not a photo of water.

I didn't get any good photos of this because I was too busy swimming. 
A little runnoff pond from Gooseberry Falls.  I was debating going all the way in
and then I slipped and fell.  As warm as a swimming pool but weirdly opaque.

After the falls we went to the lighthouse and I got Candle in the Water
stuck in my head FOREVER.  No swimming.

View up from the lighthouse.

View down from the lighthouse.

I love tourist shops.  I especially love tourist shops with giant plush stuffed bears.

It says "D+A 4EVA"

I started writing this before I went out of town, and maybe it was going to be longer, but I think I'll just leave it at this.

I have no memories of feeling close to my mother.  No memories of being happier for her presence.  I remember that she put enormous time and effort into making sure that I had every opportunity I wanted.  There was a summer when she drove me to Del Mar and back once a week, in order for me to, not only resume horseback riding lessons, but to get those lessons from a particular instructor who no longer worked in Rancho Bernardo.  But that's not the same thing, at all.  Spoiled was an adjective she would throw at me, later.  To which I mutinously thought, whose fault is that?

Surely, I cried in her arms.  She must have held me, and rocked, me, and shielded me.  I must have felt loved.

But I don't remember.

The interviewer kept asking me what was the hardest part of distancing myself from my mother.  She asked what things made it easier, how people helped.  But it was the easiest thing in the world.

The hard part was believing that I could.