Strange As Life

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to go in-depth on the plot of the game, “Life is Strange” and I will be spoiling a major plot point

TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide

I don’t play a lot of games and I rarely finish the games that I play, but I played the hell out of “Life Is Strange.” It puts you in the head of a high school student, Max Caulfield, who finds out that she has limited control over time, and can “rewind” the last few minutes that she’s experienced. While she is learning to develop her powers, she also realizes that there’s a mystery going on at her prep school that is far darker than she and the player initially realized.

It’s an amazing bit of world building as you get drawn further and further into Max’s life. Dontnod, the developer behind “Life is Strange,” makes the world of a high school teenager something I wanted to learn more about, rather than sprint away from, which what I did when I was actually a teenager in high school. The player learns more about Max’s life and the school: the cliques, the teachers, the staff, the buildings, the town around it. The player learns about Kate Marsh, one of the few people that Max considers a friend. Kate is being badly bullied and it’s only at the climax of the second chapter of the game that the player finds out that Kate has been pushed to the very brink.

Max finds her standing at the top of the dormitory, preparing to jump. At this point in the game, the player no longer has the ability to rewind time. Every decision Max and the player make is permanent. As the player, I had multiple opportunities to talk Kate away from the ledge, to back down. And I failed. Kate stepped off the ledge. I played out the rest of the chapter, turned off the game and stepped away. I was done with the game.

Three years ago, I was at work late, hanging out with a friend of mine. We often stayed late, usually working until we started drinking. For the last few months my friend had become more abrasive, more meanspirited, harder to be around. That night, he was better, more like he had been, and we talked, but I really just wanted to go home and get out of there. We went downstairs, so he could have one more cigarette break before we called it quits for the night.

He talked about personal problems he was having, issues at home, problems with the job, problems with the balance between the two. I answered the best I could, but I don’t know, now or then, what kind of advice someone gives in that kind of situation. I’m not good at that kind of talk, about that emotional, personal talk where friends ask for advice for problems I would never even admit to having.

I left after saying what I could, left him behind the building smoking a cigarette, as I texted my wife to let her know I had finally broken free and would be home soon.

The next day, I came to work and found out he’d killed himself.

What followed was three years of second guessing, three years of doubts, three years of what I could have done, what I should have done, what I could have said and what I shouldn’t have said. I was one of the last people to talk to him before he died. Was there something I could have done? Anything?

It took almost three years for me to absolve myself of that guilt. I had to face the fact that there was nothing that I would have done differently. That my words and actions that night did not lock him onto that course, that he had been locked onto that course already. It took time. It took therapy. It took support from my wife and family and friends. It eventually left a part of me that was equal parts sadness at losing my friend and rage at what he did, but the guilt was more or less gone.

And then…

And then…

I got to go through that exact same scenario again with “Life is Strange,” albeit in a more dramatic fashion with thunder and lightning and a slow motion zoom onto Max’s horrified face that must have mirrored my own expression as Kate Bush hit the pavement.

So I had to take a break from the game. It took a week or two, but I did start playing again. I would like to say that I felt some sort of drive to face my fears or that I felt like I owed it to myself, but the truth is that I had sort of agreed to be on a podcast talking about the game and I needed to finish it. And I am very glad that I did.

The next chapter of the game spends a lot of time dealing with the aftermath of Kate’s suicide. Everyone in the game, at least the ones who are friendly toward Max, go out of their way to tell her she did nothing wrong, that there was nothing she could have done differently, that Kate made her own decision in the end. As absurd as it may sound, especially to people who don’t play a lot of games or, at least, a lot of more modern games that explore areas like teenage suicide or the impact of trauma on a family, “Life is Strange” helped me in a way that only a video game could have.

It put me right back in an emotional spot that I thought I had dealt with already, that I thought I had resolved. And because it’s a game, it’s my own action that drives the narrative forward. I have to propel Max through the same emotional arc I pushed myself through and there was something cathartic and healing about having that experience, of having that distance and being able to get through it all in an hour instead of three years.

In the end, by the time I finished the third chapter, I felt better, more…healed, I guess is the only way I can put it. By the very unique nature of a video game, I was able to help myself in a way I wouldn’t have thought was possible. I was safely able to re-examine something I thought I had buried, and buried deep. I could pick apart at Max’s feelings, at how Max was dealing with the situation. It was easy to forgive Max for not saving Kate, to understand that Max was not to blame for Kate’s death and, by forgiving her, I was able to forgive myself.

I’m writing this because maybe someone will stumble across this and find a way to help themselves, too.

Guilt is a hell of a thing to undo and there are ways of doing it. Being one of the people left behind is never easy, it’s not easy, but it can get better.

-D-

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It Is The End, My Friends

Hello,

I’ve reached the end of my blogging for 30 days spectacular.

I’m pretty happy about that.

I found out that it’s really hard to think of thirty interesting blog entries sequentially.

But it has kickstarted my interest in writing and has gotten some gears turning again that I thought would be forever rusted up.

I’ll be back to blog here next week (Monday!) but I need a small cooling off period.

And I’m sure you’ll be glad of the break as well.

Thank you for reading,

-D-

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Write It Out

Hello,

I’m not a plotter.

I don’t like planning out my stories at all. It robs me of the thrill of discovery. I sometimes start a story having no idea where it’s going to go, but that’s what makes writing exciting to me. I can go on the same journey as someone reading the story as I go.

But starting a story with no particular place to go might explain why I have so much trouble finishing my stories.

But I’m tackling a story that demands I know the ending before I start, so I’m trying to write it before I write it.

So far, my notes read like a madman’s paranoid manifesto, but I think I’m getting somewhere. And I think there’s room to discover in between the plotting, the hidden secrets between bullet points.

I can keep the mystery hidden from myself this way, at least for a little longer.

-D-

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Writing Update

Hello,

I’m nearing the end of my experiment to write in this blog every day and I’m looking forward to that last day.

There’s only so much I can say, day in and day out and I’m sure there are days when y’all could tell I was checked out, especially on those 11:00pm postings.

But it’s made me think more and more about how I view the world, how I approach writing and getting me back into some kind of writing shape.

I feel I analyze things more, pay attention more, and put more effort into my writing in general.

So I want to thank you for bearing with me through this process. After this period is over, I’ll be going to a more regular posting schedule, down to two or three entries per week.

Talk to you tomorrow.

-D-

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News In An Echo Chamber

Hello,

I realized recently that I get the majority of my news through social media sites and that’s really got to stop.

Most of the time, I only hear about events important enough to be blared out in all-caps, bolded typeface sprayed all over the worst possible photograph of Donald Trump. While this is helpful in continuing to make me furious and enrage, it’s not really keeping me too informed.

The social media echo chamber is probably the most dangerous thing that’s happening to American politics right now. Both sides are inundated with the same articles and pundit pieces over and over again, reiterating the same points again and again until the reader is whipped into a self-righteous fury abut the other side. We’ve been treating politics like we’re rooting for sports teams and it doesn’t matter how your team wins the game or what your team is doing, because it’s all about your team beating the other team.

It also means that there’s no benefit for a party to go against their President. It’s Republicans versus Democrats, right or wrong. If criticisms are leveled by Democrats against Republicans, it’s clearly a bias. There is no validity to the claims, period, because it’s just a case of sour grapes.

This isn’t just a Republican issue. Democrats were hard pressed to level any criticisms against the Obama Administration, because he was our guy, even though there was plenty that could have been done better by his Administration and he was far from the agent for change that we were hoping for.

We need to stop looking at our political parties like it’s the goddamn Red Sox versus the Yankees. This isn’t about winning points. This isn’t about who can cheer the loudest or who has the most fans in the stands.

People are dying because we have made any type of discussion impossible to have. This is not an exaggeration for some sort of effect. We are embroiled in wars that have no end in sight, because of how we choose to discuss politics. We have communities that have not had clean drinking water or electricity, because our politicians don’t earn any points with their screaming fans for helping American citizens. Refugees are being used as political pawns when they are human beings who came to our borders looking for help.

The only people who are benefiting from this type of theater are our politicians who preen and strut and pontificate. They stoke our rage at the other side and bask in our applause when they score cheap points against each other.

We need to take back the discussion and stop whining and mewling at each other and go back to shouting at the people who are really winning this horrific game.

-D-

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Ranked

Hello,

One of the things I noticed while I was researching Moonraker‘s standings with Bond fans is that there a million best of lists for James Bond movies and they’re all garbage.

All of them.

There is no consistency where what movies lay where on the rankings. Oh sure, you’ll see From Russia With LoveCasino Royale and The Spy Who Loved Me hovering near the top consistently, but it’s a wild shot in the dark to see what movies are actually the best and which are actually the worst.

There are two conclusions that I can draw from this:

The James Bond movies aren’t really great movies, with one or two exceptions, and the differences between the majority of them is entirely subjective.

This conclusion is erroneous.

The second, true, conclusion I came up with is that there is not a consistent scoring system designed to actually rate the James Bond movies. But I have it. I made it. It exists now.

I’m going to randomly go through the Bond movies and create a list based on numbers and facts and it’ll be glorious.

Starting now.

-D-

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Made to Order

Hello,

I don’t cook that often.

My obsessiveness leads me to constantly rework the same thing over and over and over again until I’m finally happy with the finished product and then I will continue to make that thing and nothing else to the end of my days.

I have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that is exactly where I want it. The spread is perfect. The chewiness is where it needs to be.

They. Are. Perfect.

Same with the gin martini. I have all the ingredients. I have the ratios. I have it where I want it.

But I don’t get any joy out of it. Just a deep satisfaction that is based more on fulfilling some sort of BS neurosis.

Also, my blog is becoming more and more navel gazing.

I think I’m going to need to do five or six more beer reviews before the thirty days is up.

Anyway.

I don’t enjoy trying new things because it means I have to start that process again. The process of getting it right. The constant headbutting against the wall, over and over again until I get it where I want it to be and then the goddamn relief when I finally do have it where I want it. It’s locked in and I can just enjoy it for what it is without worrying about screwing around with it anymore.

At the end of the day, there’s a part of me that asks what’s the point of doing something at all if I can’t do it right?

Christ, this went to a depressing place for me. I honestly just started this wanting to share my cookie recipe.

Woof.

-D-

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Raked Over the Coals: In Defense of Moonraker

Hello,

I want to talk about Moonraker. Not the book. The movie. The criminally underrated movie.

On most lists ranking Bond movies, lists by the way that are all shockingly wrong, Moonraker is usually toward the bottom, sometimes below such objectively awful entries like Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again.

just watched Moonraker for the first time, have, in fact, been avoiding it due to the reputation it has an I’m livid that I waited this long to watch it.

Full disclosure: Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond. He’s less of a callous bastard than Sean Connery’s Bond and much more wry and playful at his job than any other Bond. He might also be the only Bond I’ve seen who turns down a overly amorous woman (Lynn-Holly Johnson‘s Bibi in For Your Eyes Only).

Back to Moonkraker.

This a Bond film that kicks off with a space shuttle being stolen midflight and then a spectacular sky diving sequence where Jaws and James Bond battle it out in mid-air as they hurtle toward the ground, a sequence that took 88 jumps to capture on film.

This is a Bond film that, once again, has Bond matched up with an equally competent and equally wry secret agent as his love interest (Lois Chiles as Doctor Holly Goodhead). Note: The novel has Bond working with an agent from M5 who is infiltrating Hugo Drax’s installation. So, you know, basically the same thing.

This is a Bond film that ends with a laser battle in space and the villain has a truly derange plot that he lifted straight from a story in Doctor Who.

This is also a Bond film where Bond shoots a gun once and that’s it and yet he still manages to stop the bad guy and avoids being murdered by Jaws.

Oh yeah, Jaws is in this. I can take him or leave him.

The point is, this is a Bond film that has all the moments and pieces that you need for a truly great Bond flick, especially if you’re a fan of the best era of Bond movies (The Roger Moore Era). So what you should do is what I should have done and ignore everything that people have told you about Moonraker and just go watch it.

This experience has convinced me that I need to come up with a definitive rating scale for the Bond films, especially given the number of prfoundly wrong lists I saw while researching this entry.

Also, check out my last Bond blog entry, my endorsement of the many Bonds theory.

-D-

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Soundtrack

Hello,

Music and I have an iffy relationship at best. I’ve never been the kind of person who sits and just…listens to music. The idea of doing that doesn’t even really make sense to me, although I’m aware that my attention span requires a very specific set of circumstances to keep me in my seat.

Most of the time, music for me is background. It’s just there if I need a certain amount of distraction to keep me focused on my writing or cleaning or whatever. If I’m writing a western story, I like to have Hank Williams. If I’m writing horror, I like AC/DC. If I’m writing a my 22nd consecutive blog entry, it’s anything.

Although, today it’s the James Bond themes on repeat again.

Because if there is something that i will listen to over and over and over again, it’s soundtracks.

I have an immediate emotional connection to a soundtrack that I don’t have with just a random song. And this applies to terrible soundtracks as well. It doesn’t matter how creatively bankrupt a song is if it conjures up images of giant robots cutting through sharkticons with buzzsaws.

In my heart, I feel like this makes me a bad person, that I should appreciate music more for what it is on its own. The chords and the melodies and the notes and…the other…things and pieces.

But…in the end, I know I’m just to continue to use music as a tool for other purposes, rather than appreciating it for what it is on its own.

-D-

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Walking Around

Hello,

I do a lot of walking, mostly by choice.

It’s become my go-to when I have something I want to mull over, when I don’t want to think, when I just want to space out time.

Because walking doesn’t eat up miles. It takes time. What would take minutes by car now takes an hour.

Time seems to stretch out for me and there’s a space now between where I was and where I’m going.

Sometimes that space is vital, necessary, needed and walking is how I get it.

Also, writing this entry by Swyping is killing me, so I’m cutting this one short too.

-D-

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