Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Depression and Gaming: From a Bears Mind

Disclaimer: I'm not talking about clinical depression, as I know very little about it and there're people who do know much more about it. This is merely my experience, feelings and perspective.
Not entirely sure where to begin with this.  I want to write about my experience with depression and the connection gaming had in a direct or indirect manner with helping get me out of quite a bad rut. But I've no reason to divulge information about myself simply for the purpose of you guys knowing. The aim of this article is to hopefully reach out to those in a similiar position or disposition, as it were. I've seen other people in the community talk about how low they feel and I've read some posts regarding this topic, this is simply my two cents and while I don't assume it will help anyone, I do hope that even one person, will understand and know that all is not lost.

Long Ass Intro
It's been c. 2 years now since I went through a severe patch of what I suppose, is easy to call, depression. I never sought medical or psychology attention for my troubles. What I went through was just a very, very rough, potentially life destroying, patch. I do not oppose at all, seeking the above aid or other methods of help for coping with something as crippling as depression, but for me personally, I knew that it was not for me, at that time. What got me through, tore me away from a darkness I was submitting to and being pulled towards, was a small handful of elements. Friends/family that cared for me, prayer and faith in God, time and my own self.

I hated how people would tell me that "time was the greatest healer", I couldn't understand that and didn't want to. I didn't see anything changing and that was because I hadn't actually given it time. I was so adamant that a possible aid to my sadness was ridiculous and yet I was actively fighting it. I was shutting out time, like some sort of rum-loving Dr. Who.

It's hard for people who don't have faith to contemplate how others do have it, I understand that. But if people take time to show respect to people suffering from depression so bad they require medication, then the same basic respect should be shown to people who's faith does, whether you concur or not, help them as well. Without my faith, I would not be writing now, I can assure you that. You can not assure me of anything that counters that, for you are not me.

When depressed, the easiest comfort is to succumb to the feeling of bleak, hopelessness. Sleeping is another powerful tool, for me it meant unconciusness, which meant I skipped various hours of the day, thinking it would lead me closer to an end or a magical cure. But there is no magical cure to absolute discontentment and loss of hope. At least no instant one. People often ask "how" when they are discussing getting out of a rut and getting 'better'. How is a difficult question to answer coherently and words lose all meaning when you're at the lowest point. I don't want to stray here, but Yoda said it best "Do or do not... there is no try". Well there is no manual on 'how', it merely is.
But this is about the connection between gaming and how it helped me. I wrote about it in a simple manner here

The main steps to breaking the curse of situational depression, is to be active. To not lie in bed, hoping for miracles. No you need to be the miracle worker, because any joy you start to get in those bouts of sorrow, may seem like a temprary miracle. Do simple things and if you can, you do big things as well. Take risks, without risking your safety.
I went on lots of walks, in the same locations. I had to change that. So I went somewhere else and took a camera or a book. I never actually fed ducks before so I went to a pond locally and fed them. I tried new foods, places and started to work out. I made blogs, I joined forums and I did new things in games, that other people had been doing for ages anyway, which leads us to the crux of this.

Finally we get to the games
I've always played video games, since I was a wee cub. Games are a great form of entertain but also a means of time passing and if enthralling enough can make you forget for a moment whatever currently plagues your mind. A lot of the time when times were quite bad I wouldn't want to do anything, but when I did and played games I would play them all night long. An example being, in the space of a handful of days I had replayed Dragon Age II alone in order to get all the achievements, I also started to buy expansions to give me more games to play, to kill more time.

I joined Destructoid forums, after being a front page lurket and started to frequent, reading blogs belonging to other gamers and found that they weren't just specific in their content, that some would speak about the social aspects and share similiar notions. I got back into blog writing myself and submitted them on Dtoid, my own blog site and this year, to others. The latter has had me interact with a wider audience, meet cool people and go to events where I get to play games, drink Japanese beer and see what it's like on the other side. I still am awaiting a paid role, but for now this is a lot more productive and positive that when  I started out.

Via Destructoid, I met people online initially and would be talking to them daily on Skype or other mediums. Not only were they people to listen to me, but people to offer an ear to be heard as well. Jokes, gaming and meet ups occurred via this group, which kept expanding. I came out of my shell somewhat, while still maintaining 'safety first' protocols, but more lapse than I had been in years prior. I got into Steam and stuck with it, I went to conventions I hadn't before and had great times drinking and watching films like The Room with people. You know who you are. Yeah fallings out happened, that's inevitable when you're in a mixed group of strong opinated people. But do I regret the good times, do  I dissolve the fact that it was still a prominent part in me getting back to 'normal' and pushing depression away? No, because to do that would be disrespectful to others, to myself and moreso it would be a lie. Lieing to yourself prolongs suffering internally and externally.

Gaming as a direct hobby, occupies our minds. But you don't have to just pick up a game, play, immerse and leave it at that. Seek other avenues of interaction, try and make friends who share your hobby and get in-jokes you might make. Go to conventions, go to meet ups. Start a blog and write from the heart. Try new games suggested by people and make suggestions yourself. Read and be open minded, be true to your convictions but be aware that sometimes you might simply be just plain wrong.

Games exist at the moment, such as Actual Sunlight, http://www.actualsunlight.com/ (a game about, love and depression) that are covering common human emotions. Games are now delving into territories that use to be exclusive to literature, music and film.

The Definate Do-Do's& Donty Don'ts
Don't dismiss aid from people, especially if they've gone through depression themselves, but have no fear in believing that certain aspects you've summarised are correct. It's not about being right or wrong. Depression is something that means to consume you, but you alone can fight it off and it seems so impossible that it will ever go away, but it will.

You just need to - pull your finger out and do something about it. I'm serious, don't think no good will come and you will be miserable forever. Slap yourself...twice...because it's not the case. You'll push people away and push yourself down further. You can read lots of essays by people, you can talk and talk about the same issues, but at some point the talking will be repetative. The doing needs to be activated, the sooner that happens, the better.

I'm not very tactful, not that wise and am extremely stubborn at times, but I am humble. I acknowledge my flaws and try to better them and I acknowledged that after a year of sleeping through the day, walking at night and crying no matter daylight or dark, nothing was going to change unless I did something, even minisucle, seemingly pointless actions. So if I was able to get through something I thought would end me, what's to stop you? I am so glad and relieved it happened, because I may not be able to type this right now. There's no time frame on how long you're allowed to feel pangs of depression, but for your own sake, making an effort before it gets too long is advisable, heck it should be mandatory.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Entitlement, Reflection & Coming Together Re:Sagal/Pinsof

Entitlement is a feeling that a lot of us get & sometimes it's valid, sometimes it's not.

Friends assume that they are entitled to know who you're dating, companies assume they have the right to know about your personal life & people with connections or associations with a particular group, feel entitled to consume the pain suffered by strangers. Whether these entitlements or self decreed rights, are just or not is a matter of opinion but what is clear is that acting on your own judgement of such, can lead to a slippery slope.

A lot of people complain that Alistair Pinsof had no right to reveal the 'truth' bout Cathy Sagal. Another handful of humanoids believe differently. This isn't about what the correct answer is, because universally it seems there is none, also because we still don't know the complete story & may never because it will always be hearsay.

What is dangerous in a situation like this is when outside parties get involved, especially those unrelated. People who are no more aware of the truth see red & make connections that activate a defence mechanism within them, sometimes with good reason. But if we all jump to conclusions & are blinded by our own viewpoints on incidents that do not involve us - do we have a right to be so adamant, do we have a right to call for the blood of either sides?

I'm not saying that certain individuals should be hushed, that is never right, just or fair. But why should any voice be heard more than another?

We have this need to be appeased, this feeling of entitlement due to our mutual sensitivities & can let that overtake reason and open mindeness. Our hearts take over our minds & we explode. The thing is, while I find people stating that they don't care about Sagal's lies as it doesn't overtake the outing of the individual, to be very self centred or simply wrong, I do commend that they speak out & do so without fear or trying to keep all sides content. They have no need to hide who they are & feel no shame for their beliefs and why should they?

But there are some that in a public plateau virtually or otherwise will commit to a point of view that claims neutrality or wisdom & yet outside of the platform the consensus can see, they conduct themselves in a hypocritical manner.

Sagal lied about something serious & that should not be swept under the rug. Outing someone should never be done without the persons consent, but lets not pretend that in this specific context that Pinsof did an abhorrent thing with the intention of causing harm. If you believe his statements, he was conflicted & did what he felt was right after a quite intense ride with Sagal. 
But nevertheless, his actions could have been prevented by his own choosing. Sagal also chose her own path, by lying about something dire. They are both paying the price for their own mistakes but Sagal is clearly suffering more so in a physical, emotional & mental level & yes deserves help not hate. No one is saying otherwise, reading invisible sentences between the lines only aggravates a situation.

Pinsof's actions may be deemed as those of an untrustworthy individual but try & put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Put yourself in Sagals shows too. Now remember something important.
Putting yourself in someone's shoes is a temporary action for the purpose of reflection not an excuse to then assume literally & actually, their circumstances. Because while we're all entitled to our opinions & right to express it,we're not entitled to privileges absorbed from incidents that belong to only those directly involved. 

Unless you have no roof over your head, are starving without a helping hand or loving ear in this world then yes whether you like it or not you are privileged.  There's giving support to a stranger & there's martyring yourself for no good reason. We all need to take a step back, try to not let an event overcome us, there's more productivity from self reflection & from understanding each other.
People suffer regardless of their sexuality, ethnicity or whatever & adding entitlement of severity to one pain over another is simply making this a sadder less tolerant world.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

I don't like the look of your face

I didn't want to tell you this baby, but everyone's has been saying it behind your back and it's true. Every time I slide you into my console slot, you pop up on my screen and I want to to smack the ugly out of you.

"Bjork - 1845" 

With everyone raving (rightfully so) about Injustice: Gods Among Us, there's one key issue that I've noticed...Wonder Woman's face is dog-rough. 

This isn't an issue confined to just this game and certainly not just to Wonder Woman, as Superman and Batman have oddly proportioned pathetic skinned skulls as well. But for some reason the entire design of Wondy's face is oddly ill-shaped and just not befitting the capabilities of modern day gaming design and animations. 

Some developers obviously have a better time at evolving the look of one standalone characters appearance, but when it comes to facial aesthetics, it can be the difference between a comfortable viewing and an awkwardly "I can't look in your eyes, for they remind me of the bottomless pits of beige death" 
Tomb Raider's Lara Croft has undergone a steady pace of transformations over the years, though he actually head-to-toe look hasn't wavered that dramatically. Where the improvements are extremely noticeable and well executed are her face. 

In fact her vest palette hasn't changed much at all 

For as lush as the world of Skyrim is, the mugs on the characters weren't very appealing to the eyes, no matter man, woman or beast. Actually the dragons looked quite dashing in comparison. As for Oblivion, every looked like they inflated and then got sat on for a long time.  At least that was equality for all in those games, but in Injustice, it's as if they made a conscious effort to make Wonder Woman look like an amazonion tree. 

Wondy Tree and her boyfriend hanging out 

Can you think of any characters who look out of place and that seem oddly mannish or warped compared to the world and population around them?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Demographic Denial of Transgender Gamers

Introduction: More than a game 

There's certain pastimes and hobbies out there that people take very little notice of or make sweeping assumptions about. In general, unless a hobby is extremely bizarre, only in the "I collect dead squirrels, stuff them & make reenactments of Star Wars battles with them" sense, then it should simply be seen as a recreational activity that gives people joy. 

But some means of self entertainment have evolved over time. Gaming is certainly one of those - no longer do we simply collect coins to drop in arcade machines or sit on the floor playing platformers in our living rooms with friends (mores the pity). Gaming has evolved & much more than being a form of play for kids, it has given many people jobs, friends, businesses & also alas, a lot of nuisances & grief. 

When you play football you rarely imagine yourself as the ball or want to be kicked around, unless you're kinky like that. Video games offer people characters that can be molded into their image or with a good writing team can offer stories that cause emotions or a connection. Over the years despite the issues that still exist within gaming, (sexism, lack of decent representation of different sexual orientations, the standard "square jawed white muscular male american lead") ect, there's one section that has seemingly been left untouched, uncared for and unfathomably unnoticed, except by those who in reality are that 'genre', for lack of a better phrase. 

We're a smorgasbord collective 

I'll get this off to a quick start. Why is it, when you have the ability to create anything within a game, so hard to create good transgender characters? 

For as long as humans have existed there has been one common trend no matter where you were born or what you look like. That is variety. More than anyone, only we ourselves can know who we really are, despite what others see or think. Homosexuality is by no means a new 'fad', & transgender certainly isn't either. Developers can design intricate worlds from imagination or replicate reality in marvelous detail, yet neglect the simple consistent elements of our history and lives so easily and it's quite confusing to me. 

Gaming companies have this fear that if they don't cater to straight, white males, then they will never make any money & that their worlds will implode. It's simply not true. Gamers consist of such an eclectic mix of people, people who aren't as bound to old fashioned notions, as marketing directors would assume. Gamers have been labelled as loners, nerds and weirdos - so they know as much as anyone what it's like to be ostracized because of something you enjoy or something you are. This fear of not catering to a demographic that is wilting away in it's streamlined labeling, is not healthy for companies themselves or for the population they should be catering for across the board. 

Gamers consist of women, men, young, old, middle of the road, every creed, colour, height, gender or non gender, hairy, hairless, abled and disabled and in 2013 we still can't seem to transcribe some coding to create characters and stories that represent what is essentially the human race. It just seems to lazy & uncaring. 

"I'm not a tomboy, I'm a boy" 

But as diplomatic as I am trying to be, right now it's hard not to point out that transgendered people are having a rough time in gaming representations. I say rough time, but what I mean is, no time. 

Ostro thinks he's a girl. No, Ostro is a girl and that's evident alone by Ostro stating she'd would rather you just deal with it and call her what her Birdetta. Mkay? 

Researching transgender characters in games has come up with a very short list. Bridget fromGuilty Gear & Poison from Final Fight are the most common results. There's nothing wrong with those characters, depending on your personal opinion of the intent of their representation. But with regards to Poison, the character was labelled as transgender in order to appease outcries against games that featured men hitting women.

Yasuda responded to the objections by claiming that Poison and Roxy were cross-dressing men, with the manual referring to them as "new-halves

That really isn't a basis that gives the audience a mascot for transgender diversity. The problem is a lot of the time, people assume to include diversity you must accompany it with a bang, when in real life if you're straight, gay or transgender, you simply are. When you came out of your mothers womb, you didn't rocket out in an explosion of glitter & penguins. You simply were, are & continued to be. 

Putting aside the ability to properly represent transgender characters, developers have to be careful not to highlight that there's is a segregation involved, but there isn't or there should be. Sadly in the world outside of gaming, there is bigotry & unnecessary ostracization of transgendered characters, but in gaming you can easily create a world where people can just get a damn break. 

I hark about Mass Effect a lot, but to be honest, their inclusion of gay characters is quite streamlined & never this big hoo-hah that makes individuals within a game or holding the controller uncomfortable. That's how it should be, when you break it down very basically. 

I'd rather spend the next few years playing on the same console I have now, games that include more diversity & thought with regards to their consumer base. 

We can argue or praise next gen consoles, innovative game play mechanics & the future of technology all we want, but none of that has any substance or is as revolutionary as simply including variety in the characters within games. Times have changed & technology may advance but it's worrying that human perceptions are remaining quite stagnant. 

"I love sleeping, because in my dreams there is no dysphoria. In my dreams I can be the man I am without anyone questioning it"

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Touched by a Comstock: Christianity in Bioshock Infinite

It's hard to play a game like Bioshock Infinite and not noticed or worse yet, ignore the potent level of symbolism, allegory and references to religion. This isn't meant to be a stirring article, it's not meant to be a conversion one either. 
So a disclaimer prologue is going to happen just in case you get confused. This article is mainly about what is all very obvious anyway in the game and my points of view regarding it, some opinions will be expressed coming from a gamer perspective, a no doubt failed comical perspective and being a Christian myself. 

Now lets get a move on... 

Welcome to Columbia 

Those who have played Bioshock Infinite already know the plot, either in it's basic sense or entirety. Up high in the sky there dwells a city, floating thanks to the technology of a brilliant scientist named Rosalind Lutece. The city is ruled by a supposed prophet of God, Zachary Hale ComstockComstock is revered by the people of Columbia, aided by visions sent by the Angel Columbia, which might have actually just been him cheating via using the skills of Rosalind

Treading on blasphemy 

From a Christian point of view it's quite easy to find the whole game to be quite blasphemous in its symbolism. For many believers or theologians, the lamb is a symbol of Jesus Christ and to adorn that title upon Elizabeth, who will ultimately lead to the destruction of the 'sodom' below can be a bit jaunting to people. But as a Christian I'm not too put out by these references because we're playing characters who have been deemed labels and fates not always by their own actions but by the doctrine of others. 

One issue I find intriguing and somewhat blasphemous if I were a citizen of Columbia, is the worshiping of the cities founder. I mentioned above, Comstock is revered by the citizens of Columbia in a manner that makes me wonder if they're confused and assume he is God, not just an apparent prophet. When you see giant statues of the man, posters scattered throughout the city and golden effigies of him in airships and museums it also makes me wonder if they ever heard about a little party that went down that made God and a cool dude called Moses pretty ticked off. 

Whether Comstock is truly a man of faith, is something that I'm still not entirely convinced off even on my second play through. I find that yes he has a belief and it's quite strong, but his methods are clearly questionable. Outside of his moral actions throughout the game there is one scene in particular that makes me wonder how anyone could truly believe him infallible and worthy of adoration. When Booker is on board an airship, as he changes the trajectory, Comstock appears before him on a smaller vessel and says "The Lord forgives everything, but I'm just a prophet so I don't have to. Amen."

Now Zachary, that's a bit of a cop out isn't it. If you are a prophet of the lord then you should at least try your best to be like the Lord, striving to always do the right, just and forgiving thing. But no you abuse the power of the word prophet and use it as a means by which you can do what you want and it's ok, because you're not suppose to be a 'forgiving' as God. 

Burn them all...with Vigors 

So you're a God fearing citizen of Columbia. You live in a time where you'd mistreat people that had different coloured skin and a different accent to you. A woman working is considered "not the done thing" and moral standards are deemed by society, a holy society. 
And yet....you don't seem to fussed by these magical witchy death-dealing elixirs that give you powers, that in reality back in the good ol' days would deem you a witch or warlock!?! 

Even though the accompanying tutorial videos that feature these Vigors are repellents against devils, some are quite macabre and gory. You have one that sends a flock of crowds to peck humans apart and rip to shreds and then of course there's the Devils Kiss, you drink the energy drink of the devil and get to throw flame balls everywhere. How about the vigor called Possession? Yes that's not something that would put fear into holy people. Oh lemme drink this lemonade thingy and do something that is usually featured in films where Tubular Bells is the main theme score. Columbia would make for an interesting episode setting in Touched by an Angel. 

The origin of all Infinite's 

The events of the game seem to come from your decision at the brink of possible baptism. If you interpret the ending in a certain way, it seems that after the battle of Wounder Knee Booker had a choice to be baptised, hopefully ridding himself of the sins of his actions on the battlefield or to declined the baptism. Cleansing meant he would become Comstock and refusing would mean he would remain as Booker, tainted and set on a dark path that would eventually and with him losing his daughter Anna. Whether Irrational meant to infer the notion that salvation only come from baptism is something I can't comment on but I can give my own viewpoint. 

Baptism would have given Booker a chance to start anew and to be forgiven in the eyes of God for his sins. Whether people believe or not isn't the point within this story, for this is a story about belief and how integral it is on an individual basis, as much as it is a story about a mad city in the sky. 
But then again, the way the story pans out seems to confuse us about the utter good that comes from baptism. Even cleansed Booker's path goes horribly wrong and he becomes a man who misuses his power and hurts his own child. 

It seems like Booker can't win no matter what he chooses. For me I think that no matter whether he took baptism or not, that it was his actions afterwards that led him to wherever his verging selves went. We're baptised not to get exemption from all follies of life but as a step towards salvation. We can still fuck things up every day and that's why we need confession. The game is all about possibilities and infnites, the Baptism is no different. It's easy to look at the baptism scene as merging only in two directions depending on choice, yet to me it offer many branches, because choice, ultimately the use of our free will is integral in the world of Bioshock

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Pacman Lamp Review

My birthday went by and one of the little gifts I got (by choice) was a Pacman Lamp from Forbidden Planet.

The Pacman Lamp in it's non luminated form comes as a white ghost. You get a nifty little remote control (which has a battery inside it). The remote is lightly, brightly coloured and allows you to pick a variety of single colours for the lamp to shine or goes through a selection of montage phases, from smooth to epileptic style transitions.

The lamp itself is extremely light and easy to maneuver, the remote is responsive without delay and the overall glow that comes from the lamp isn't irritating to the eyes. Overall it gives your room a nice array of colours that can range from a warm glow, a bright spray or a cool setting. I have mainly been keeping the setting on "smooth" and find the interchanging colours to not be annoying and the transition is quite good and indeed, smooth.

Check out a little video I did showing the changes:

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Scary Granules Episode 11 - Birdman's Vagina Special!

Well folks, you’re in for a treat this week. Because not only are we talking about games, but we’re also talking about STUFF!

Oh and Tarvu joins us as a guest :p

Yes that young hatchling Tarvu joins us this week giving us his opinions, whether we like them or not and making a whole range of noises that border from erotic to downright spine tingling. He’s with us for our usual routine of discussing what games we’ve been playing, including a mutual groan of all wanting to play Bioshock Infinite.Tarvu mainly just wants the game to be in him, in him so good.

Siiighhhh....want it now

Then in the second part we delve lightly into the recent addendum in the sexism wars that plague gaming by giving our opinions on the Remember Me female protagonist controversy. Because kissing guys is icky right? Oh my goodness preaching to the choir. Panza also discusses a couple of cool horror games on and Glowbear also finally realises that getting a PS2 would be a good investment.

Then we just have a quick mull over upcoming horror games for 2013 and learn that Tarvu, surprisingly has absolutely nothing to offer in terms of that genre.
We also give a shout out as usual and mention some brief details regarding our plans for upcoming cons this year, such as Rezzed and Eurogamer.

Scary Granules Episode 11 - Birdman's Vagina Special!




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