(Note: I swear a lot in this. Sorry.)
Okay look, straight up: turning 40 is actually kind of scary. I’m now officially “old enough to know better” and yet I’m pretty sure I’ve learned very little so far.
40 is a little scary because of that whole mortality thing but also kind of uniquely scary for women I think. Society, that nebulous asshole, has been heavily implying for the last 25 years that as a (white?) woman I have two primary purposes in life: be (heterosexually) hot and have babies. Oh sure I could also be smart and kind and talented, and that’s great, but those first two are really supposed to be my main wheelhouse. So then I get to 40 and it’s like, “Welp, I’m really not having kids now (by choice in my case) and I’m not a 19 year old hotbody anymore, so I guess I’ll just go sit outside and wait quietly until I get to 65 and Society welcomes me again in the role of kindly old lady.”
In the past few years I’ve noticed more and more that the female actresses I grew up with have disappeared, replaced by (talented, no slight to them) 20 year old versions who appear next to the same actors from my youth. What happened to Uma Thurman or Winona Ryder or Jennifer Jason Leigh? For the most part actresses over 40 get shunted off to the “uncomfortable crow’s feet” aisle of movie casting while Keanu Reeves and Johnny Depp and Ethan Hawke still show up on posters.
I probably sound angry but I’m honestly not, just more bemused and a little sad. Finding role models of a similar age — even just fashion role models — was easy as a teen and as a young woman, but it seems to be a lot more difficult now in impending middle age. Like, where are the cool 40+ public ladies in gaming? Brenda Romero comes to mind, but otherwise they are few and far between. That has bothered me at times over the past year, honestly, but I decided that the dearth just means that I’ll have to stick around and keep being awesome. :)
As mentioned already, mortality is scary. That’s natural. But you guys, when I sat down to think about it I am totally amazed at how much has happened to me in just 10 years, since my 30th birthday. I live in a different country, I have a different career, I’m in a new relationship. When I turned 30 I had just shuttered my first blog and didn’t foresee writing for the web again. I was months out from buying this little game called World of Warcraft that would have such an impact on my early 30s in particular.
Mortality is scary but man we pack a lot of living into each day even without thinking about it.
So I lay claim to no wisdom at all, with only the expertise of having survived for 40 years. That being said, here’s some advice that you are free to ignore.
1. You won’t always have certain people in your life, so love them wholeheartedly while you do. And assuming you can and you get along, call your parents.
2. This one goes out to my fellow overweight folks in particular — don’t be hard on yourself about your appearance. I know people can be jerks about it, and we get the short end of the stick sometimes because of it. It sucky suck suck sucks. I know. But don’t internalize it.
For a long time I was extremely hard on myself because how I felt I looked, so pretend for a moment that I do command some level of wisdom at my age and listen to this: fuck that fucking bullshit. No matter what you feel shame about — too fat, too thin, weird butt, wrinkles, bad acne, balding, whatever — seriously, fuck it. Be a friend to yourself. In retrospect it’s such a horrible black hole of time and energy and feelings and it would be so much better to put all of that into creating good things.
3. Be nice to people. Obvs. A general policy of being kind on both the micro and macro scale makes the world a nicer place and brings a certain amount of inner peace as you get older.
4. Take some risks. Not, like, “should I eat this” risk, but it’s okay to push your comfort zone a bit when life slides an unexpected opportunity your way. In the parlance of our times… YOLO.
The Bucket List
In the next 10 years I want to:
1. Write a book
2. Travel to Southeast Asia
3. Get a dog and a tattoo
4. Make a perfect onion ring
5. Run a 5k (halfway there!)
6. Finish this ridiculous Shaun of the Dead embroidery sampler that I’ve been working on forever
7. Try to care less about whether people like me or not
As it turns out, in two days Herding Cats will turn 6. That’s neat. Thanks to everyone for reading the blog and listening to the podcast and giving me a venue for the occasional rant. Be excellent to each other! Seriously!
One of the many reasons I decided to relocate recently was that I know more people in Seattle than in Vancouver, and more importantly I know more nerds here. And what do you do with a bunch of nerds on a Friday night? Why board games, of course. In this specific case: Eldritch Horror.
Eldritch Horror was designed to be a shorter, easier version of the game Arkham Horror. Both are published by Fantasy Flight Games, and although I haven’t played Arkham I was assured by experienced players that it’s both super fun and suuuuuuper complicated.
I found this claim to be slightly concerning once we started setting up Eldritch Horror, because it’s certainly no slouch as far as moving bits goes. There’s a large board, about 8 player cards and matching pieces, five different little containers of tokens, and roughly a half dozen separate decks of cards. Arkham Horror takes place entirely in the infamous Arkham Asylum, while Eldritch Horror is set in the world at large. The board covers a map of Earth with a few major cities highlighted and the occasional connecting boat or rail route. There’s a bank on the board that sells a series of artifacts, and a doomsday timer that counts down until the end of the world (and the game).
Basically what I’m saying is that you may want an experienced hand to help you set up the board the first time. But do not be intimidated by the many, many, many game elements! Once you get going, the it all makes a lot of sense.
At the beginning of the game each player will pick a pre-designed character who comes with special actions. In my case I went with Lily Chen, the martial arts expert who was raised by prophetic monks to one day fight Evil. But don’t get too attached — chances are good that your character will die or go insane and you’ll have to leave them behind and pick up someone new.
Each round of the game consists of an action phase where each person moves their character, and then a combat phase where you do any fighting in your area. After that it’s essnetially Evil’s turn, which can include spawning more monsters, causing strange phenomena that affect players, or dropping curses.
The overall goal of the game is to solve a specified number of “mystery” cards, each of which give tasks such as “close 3 portals”. To accomplish that players move around the board and complete challenges to collect clues, improve stats, earn spells and artifacts, and kill monsters. Eldritch Horror is co-operative, and some characters have the ability to share resources or otherwise assist their fellow apocalypse-fighters.
My group consisted of half newbies and half experienced players, and while we had a great time we were officially TERRIBLE at saving the world. We didn’t complete a single mystery card in about 90 minutes of play! What made the game fun despite our being awful at it (and the company of course) was the story on each card that (of course) we read aloud to the table. At one point my character gained a bonus because she discovered an alien bug in her brain (!) and therefore learned something mysterious about the universe. Meanwhile a fellow on the other side of the table got on the wrong side of a comet and as a result unexpectedly devoured the character next to him. Oopsie!
My first impression of Eldritch Horror is that it was great fun and definitely something I’d play again. You need some effort for the set-up, and it took a little concentration to understand how the game plays, but the story bits are great and the potential for clever moves and smart plays is clear. Recommended!
It’s that time again — time for us to sit back, reflect, and answer the question, “What the heck did I do over the past year, anyway?”.
Today’s list covers my personal favorite television shows of 2014. As with all of my year end lists, this reflects what I actually watched this year as opposed to what just what was newly released. In the era of Netflix and Hulu and Viki and Amazon Prime, the line between “new” and “new-to-me” is pretty blurry anyway.
Okay, to the list!
5. True Detective
After living without cable television for a few years the idea of waiting a week for the next episode of your favorite show starts to seem cruel and unusual, and yet for weeks I patiently waited for Wednesday night to see another episode of True Detective. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both amazing in their roles as good detectives and flawed human beings, and I found the thoughtful, character-driven ending to be extremely satisfying.
A big part of why True Detective was a success, I think, is the producers’ willingness to tell a story over one season and be done with it. It certainly has me more interested in Season 2.
Hannibal, as I wrote when I watched it, is pretty ridiculous. “Florrid” seems like a gentle term to describe some of the dialogue, and in a show about super-geniuses everyone seems to be really bad at their job. But fortunately for us Hannibal also revels in its ludicrousness, never taking itself too seriously.
The food scenes are gorgeous and stomach-turning at the same time, and Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson seem determined to act the CRAP out of every scene in a way that becomes quite charming. And that season two finale! You have to respect a show that has no qualms about putting literally every cast member in peril.
3. House of Cards
I think season 1 was on my list last year, and season 2 did not disappoint.
House of Cards is at its best when Frank and Claire Underwood throw off their shreds of conscience and just go for the throat of democracy. They’re bad people who are smarter, meaner, and more hard working than anyone else around them, and while I wouldn’t want them in my real life government it makes for great television.
2. The Good Wife
If you’ve only seen ads for The Good Wife, as I had before this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was yet another show about a love triangle. And while that does come up, the show is actually much more about its ensemble cast and their courtroom antics. A show about lawyers actually skillfully practicing law — how refreshing!
The regular cast is great, and the recurring guests are always a treat. (Anyone who does not cheer when Elsbeth Tascioni appears on their screen has no soul.) But most importantly to me on a personal level is the number of competent, talented women characters “of a certain age” who appear on the show. As someone who is sliding into middle age it’s nice to have a show where not everyone is hot and 22.
1. The Genius
You guys didn’t think I’d make a list without a single South Korean show on it, did ya?
The Genius, particularly the first season, is far and away the best show I watched this year. It’s a competition show that could be subtitled “Game Theory Fight”. Each week a selection of smart guests including infamous poker players, StarCraft champions, and high-performing college kids is whittled down by playing a new game. Some players are adept at social manipulation, some are amazing at breaking down the rules and gaming the system — you never know what will happen. *cue Extreme Ways*
And of course unlike American reality shows people did actually “come here to make friends” so everyone is polite and pleasant while they devise ways to out-think each other. I’m serious you guys: if you like game theory or systems or smart people, watch the first episode of season 1 and you’ll be totally hooked. (The subtitles are extremely well done, too.)
Today almost every studio game has some multiplayer elements. Even games that have historically been for single players only now frequently come with an aspect of multiplayer, some of which has been done well (Mass Effect 3!) and some of which has not (SimCity 2013, whyyyy). The most popular and recognizable games in the world — League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty — all entirely rely on multiplayer, whether it’s creating social interaction or just having a target-rich environment.
A couple of years ago I would have said that all this multiplayer is a good thing. It’s making the most of modern technology! It’s bringing people together, and maybe we can expand our horizons occasionally and meet someone new or at least have a good game and some positive interaction. Multiplayer is exciting because you never know what to expect, and people will always surprise each other. Just set up the structure, dear developers, and let us rush in and fill it with fun and games.
As it stands at the moment, though… not so much.
Let me tell you a quick story. During the Extra Life marathon, myself, Ellyndrial, and two of our friends decided to try Blizzard’s new MOBA Heroes of the Storm. What the heck, right? So we log in to the game, which was in “technical alpha” at the time, do the required tutorials, and start our first match. It’s players vs. bots, pretty low stakes, and because there are only 4 of us the game randomly assigns a fifth player to our team.
So we’re bumbling around having fun and trying to figure out how to play and then suddenly in the middle of our screens are words of wisdom from our new teammate: “You guys all suck.” They never got much worse than that, but called us losers a few times and sarcastically thanked us for screwing up the game when it was all over.
To be fair being told that we’re losers who suck is pretty low on the vitriol scale, and I wasn’t hurt as much as amused: here we are playing a match against bots, on a day that’s pretty infamous for being a charity gaming day, in a game that’s still in ALPHA. And yet apparently we still deserved a brow-beating for bringing our fifth player down, man. This scenario, only with more hateful language, happens to someone every day in LoL or WoW or some other giant multiplayer game.
2014 was also the year of Gamergate. Here’s a little chart to show how that’s affected my view of my hobby:
Number of accounts I have blocked on Twitter, January 2014: 1
Number of accounts I have blocked on Twitter, December 2014: literally thousands
I’ve already written in the past about how Gamergate has chased well-known women out of developing, writing about, and playing games, but the further fallout has been even more depressing for me. It’s worse because now I know of multiple people (of all genders) in our little community of MMO-ish writers and podcasters who have reduced their efforts if not quit outright in large part because of the bullshit.
Think about it — you’re not going to hear these names on Twitter or read about them in the Guardian, but slowly, quietly, good people who love games are shuttering their websites and podcasts because they’re scared, or angry, or alienated, or a combination of all three. And lord, I cannot blame them for making that decision but each and every one of those people is a huge loss for the rest of us.
(This is also part of the reason I have been not been posting as much lately.)
In January I had a policy of just following back everyone on Twitter who followed me and mentioned a love of games in their profile. Hey, we’re all gamers, right? Today I carefully vet people who follow me and mention games, because my new mantra is that life is too short for me to accidentally read dumb upsetting crap, much less set off a minor pile-up in my direction. I miss cheerfully promoting other people’s posts and tweets without worrying that it will get shade thrown their way. I miss feeling like gaming was something I could have in common with someone, rather than a possible vector for abuse.
I am hesitant to play and expose myself to the charming banter of LoL or a random LFR group or other large multiplayer title. (True story: I almost resubbed to WoW to get a 10th anniversary core hound mount, and then I read people’s reports on the horrible auto-group chat and people pulling things and logging off and kicking group members when they got to the final boss. PASS.) Even when I’m not playing a game, the very fact that I might want to could set someone off on social media or in a blog comment.
2014 was the year I became alienated from my hobby, for the most part because of the behavior of other players and hobbyists. I don’t know what the solution is or if there even is one aside from people just not being buttheads, and I think we all know how that historically works out.
To quote the well-known gaming enthusiast Sartre: Hell, as it turns out, is other gamers.
I created my WoW guild in 2006 and we had our first in-person meetup in Seattle in 2008. I was a little nervous at the time — strange people! from the internet! — but there have been many, many, maaaany more meetups since.
Before I started writing this post I browsed through old albums looking for inspiration about what my little gaming community has meant to me over the years. So instead of words, allow me to share a few photos of things I’ve experienced because of MMOs and the people I’ve met playing them.
Without my guildies I would have never shot a zombie in the face with a shotgun.
I probably never would have cheered as my friends danced the tango on the Las Vegas strip.
I certainly never would have excitedly hoisted (inflatable) Frostmourne into the air during Blizzcon.
It’s only thanks to people I met as a virtual elf that I had a cold PBR in the middle of Portland…
and rocked it out on the BART to Oakland to see Tenacious D play.
I almost certainly would never have eaten pork shu mai with gold leaf on top without the influence of my guild.
And I wouldn’t have gone to PAX Prime and the associated Curse party, where I did the robot with a guy dressed like Wrex.
None of these are fundamentally life changing (although I have some of those stories too for another day). They’re just neat little moments. But these particular events only happened because I became part of a community of MMO players and made some damn good friends.