gw362

The Voice That Writes

In writing, I find comfort in the oblique. It’s a thematic through line that allows for communion via a multiplicity of subjective experiences inhabited by readers who uniquely internalize the half-glimpsed referents found in the author’s telling. My efforts at communication and relevancy often fall flat – if they take flight at all; my escape from reality is found, ideally, not only in the fantastic worlds in which I dream on occasion, but also on distant ridges and plains far removed from the demands of ordinary conversation. (And while my favorite color may be purple, this does not apply to prose.)

I’ve just finished the sixth chapter of “After This“, a work of fan fiction based on Life Is Strange which I’ve described as the best game I played in 2016. I find myself at the novel’s midpoint and have paused to run my hand over the stony surface of the boundaries of dark expression that the overarching themes of healing and growth allow for. I am suddenly missing the blank moral slate that my discharged Secret World character Liling offers, but there is no more story to be found in New England, Egypt, Transylvania, or Tokyo without engaging in predictable, Godfather-esque “just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in” hamfistedness.

Judging by the works of Life Is Strange fiction on Archive of Our Own which generate the most sincere interest and attention, it seems that the intersection of my midnight-draped proclivities and the subject matter of a game about teenage adults, when run through the filter of my slowly evolving pen hand, renders a somewhat incongruous fit. Over one hundred hours of editing have yielded 28,077 words and counting – the first time any work of mine has passed the novella threshold (25K words). By the time I’m done, I expect to have ten to twelve chapters, over 50,000 words, and perhaps the realization that this product of deep affection is meant to be, more than anything, a lesson in authenticity.

For in order to find my voice, I must listen to myself, even when I am speaking in a way that is different from those around me. The telling of events does not need to be dressed up, unless it does, and I am learning to discern where this distinction lies. I am reading through the masterfully expressive language used by the short stories that have been nominated for this year’s Nebula Awards; I am writing more of my own words; and I am spending more time thinking idly using a projector screen that increasingly eschews repetition and encourages creation. The best way to get better at writing is by writing; notions of whether I’m in my comfort zone, whether I feel inspired, or whether I think that what I’ve written is loved are but passing whispers in a night that calls for, according to Lady Gaga, “…mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time.”

Nobody will care about whether your art was born out of wedlock.

gw013

We Bathed in Moonlight, Drowned in Sorrow’s Embrace

They told me I had been dead for ten months when they pulled my lifeless blue body from the bottom of Lake Delavan. Why I was now staring at the dull brown ceiling of the hospital in the Salma Quarter of Divinity’s Reach instead of slumbering peacefully in the cool embrace of the Mists was not something the priests and priestesses were able explain to my satisfaction. When, after several hours, I regained the color in my face and the feeling in my fingers, I felt an anger that should have remained dormant forever.

I returned their dispassionate gazes, face up in my bed, as my cheeks flooded with uncomfortable heat. This is what the White Mantle looks like when they imbibe bloodstone, they told me. They’re dangerous. White. Mantle. For as long as adjectives and nouns continued to exist, humans would agglutinate them in endless permutations and use them as rallying cries in their idiotic wars against each other. The fact that my parents had once shared a bed in Kryta did not obligate their offspring to care about the kingdom’s politics.

gw283.jpg

I don’t give a damn, I replied. Tell me how you brought me back, since you won’t tell me why. They offered conflicting answers: Engineers had concocted a potion that had the power to reanimate the departed; Rangers had called upon the spirits of the forest to imbue my skeletal frame with verdant life force; Mesmers had conjured up an illusion which was temporarily housing my essence; Lyssa had personally bartered with Grenth for the return of my soul until the Elder Dragons had been vanquished and the safety of the Six Gods’ human subjects had been secured.

I want to go back, I growled through clenched teeth. Tell me what I have to do.

Meet your old friend Logan Thackeray in the Upper City. He and the Queen will help you understand what needs to be done.

So I did. It was as if I had never been gone. The Pact still called me Commander, even though it was clear to me that I wasn’t commanding anything or anyone. Braham wouldn’t listen to me. Marjory wouldn’t be told what to do. Kasmeer was conspicuously absent. Anise had developed a thirst for blood, while Canach had developed an endearing brand of wit. Taimi and Rytlock were the only ones I felt I could trust – Taimi’s burgeoning genius needed an adult catalyst to ensure her transition from progeny to practitioner; and where there was a battle to be fought, as there typically was when I was around, Rytlock would be there to guard my back and tell everyone exactly what he thought of them.

gw101.jpg

Logan was the one person who hadn’t changed. As much as we had been through, he wasn’t good for anything but commanding human forces. When he told me that General Soulkeeper had offered him the position of Marshal within the Pact, I stopped caring about the organization altogether. Call me what you will, friends. I’ll go where I need to go and do what must be done. The flow of time wraps itself around my sword and shield while Queen Jennah kills with a flick of the wrist and erects a reflective dome over the entirety of Divinity’s Reach by simply willing it to exist.

Tell me again: why do you need me?

Once we’ve slain the remaining Elder Dragons I am going to fill my lungs with as much of Lake Doric’s water as they will hold and return to Eir in the Mists. We’ll spend our eternal twilight leaving heavy footprints in the frosty snow beneath us as we make our way toward the sound of howling wolves on distant ridges.

screenshot_16-12-24_01-49-28-000

Game Overwatch

Gather ’round while I tell you a tale of a not-so-young Karinshastha and their experience with a wonderful First Person Shooter game played primarily by people who aren’t female.

I’ve been playing Overwatch for a little over a month now and I’ve come to the conclusion that this very pretty, well-polished game is not something I am inclined to continue with, even on a casual basis. It’s worth the purchase price of $40 as far as I’m concerned. Getting a month out of it is quite all right. I don’t spend much on games in the first place. What drove me to this conclusion was the fact that at some point, I’m going to have to get better at this game in order to enjoy it, and there’s no good way to do that without investing an unpleasant amount of effort into being social with highly competitive young people who are more than happy to rage when things aren’t going the way they’d planned. Microphone required.

The maps are beautiful, the mechanics are smooth, the animations are fluid, some of the sounds are borderline ASMR, and the game play is pure adrenaline. The audio-visual-kinesthetic experience is excellent.

The problem I face, however, is that this eventually fades and I find myself craving a structured experience that casual play does not offer. Enter competitive play, in which one is constrained to a handful of character picks out of the 23 on offer in order to be maximally effective for one’s team while not being a burden.

I really enjoy playing D.va, the young Korean mech pilot with armor and infinite ammo and a low skill floor. I’d play her every game if I could. But you’re not supposed to do that in competitive Overwatch – you need to be versatile and swap heroes as the situation calls for it. If they have a Pharah raining justice from above, you’re supposed to bring Soldier 76 and shoot her out of the sky.

Okay, I can do that. Soldier is the game’s best-known all-rounder. He can sprint, heal, do good damage, and his ultimate is literally aim assist. No problem.

I can also bring Pharah. I used to play Quake extensively. I can point rockets at people’s feet and pilot her jet pack reasonably well. I know where my Q button is when I want to unleash a deadly rocket barrage. Sure, I’ll insta-die to a sniping Widowmaker, but as long as I take a few with me, it’s a good trade.

D.va’s getting a pretty big nerf next patch to the point where she’s no longer desirable. Okay, who else do I like to play? Sombra, the hacker, whose usefulness is very situational and requires a team to play around her. Tracer, the zippy track star who requires a great deal of skill to play effectively – skill I don’t have and don’t want to invest the time in training at the expense of other heroes. Mercy, the healer whose usefulness and utility is eclipsed by every other healer in the game and, like Sombra, requires a team to play around her. Ana, the sniping healer who requires an accuracy of 60% in order to be more effective than Mercy in a vacuum.

I’d train for that, I guess. The problem, though, is that competitive compositions are very limited and comprise characters that I mostly don’t enjoy playing. What happens when Ana is taken (perhaps by a more skilled Ana player) and so are the DPS roles (as they usually are)? I don’t mind Lúcio, the super-mobile wall-rider who heals by merely existing. Zarya, the Russian bodybuilder who shoots beams and bubbles is all right. I don’t care for the heavily armored meatshield known as Reinhardt whose rectangular blue shield is mandatory in every single game. I really don’t like Roadhog, a pot-bellied misfit who wears a gas mask and pulls people in with a hook for “picks.” Everyone else, apart from the abovementioned favorites, gets a resounding meh. (Except Mei, she’s super cute and I have no idea how to play her effectively.)

Play something that isn’t on the above list in competitive and you open yourself up to toxicity for having committed the cardinal sin of picking an available hero who is not in the “meta” for winning games. Manageable in a game like Smite, perhaps, where you have 83 gods to choose from and much more flexibility in finding something you like. Not so much in Overwatch, where I’ve found that your often teenage (or younger) compatriots are ready to jump all over your ass at the drop of a hat. And if you’re not playing to win, like you should be, even the Game Masters will jump on your ass.

So just play casually, right?

Well, I think I’ve exhausted my enjoyment of Arcade Play. There’s only so many all-Reinhardt or all-McCree brawls I can take before bowing out. I’m not interested in 3v3 elimination matches or 1v1 mystery duels – I am happiest when operating as part of a largish team – or no limits matches where people pick three of the same hero. Mystery Hero matches are all right – you get a random hero every time you respawn – but they don’t help me git gud at any specific hero.

And then there’s Quick Play, the casual alternative to Competitive Play. In Quick Play, you can play whatever you want and learn your hero’s abilities and the maps and health pack locations and so forth. There’s no team cohesion or strategy to speak of, mostly random Team Fortress 2 with a team that’s a third of the size in a scale-appropriate fortress so you’re bound to run into the Now Spectating screen relatively quickly once you’ve hit level 25 and start getting matched with level 400 players who are warming up before or cooling off after rousing matches of high-level competitive play.

I’ve played my share of Quick Play. It doesn’t do much to help you learn how to play your hero effectively, just what the abilities actually do, so to train for Quick Play (which sounds a bit ridiculous, but whatever), I decided to set up custom games with bots. Hard difficulty Lúcios padding both teams – Lúcio uses a speed boost, moves unpredictably, and keeps you alive – are good for training tracking. Just last night I was fairly adrenalized by my increased ability to track and kill the bots on Sombra while listening to very loud music (best way to train, I’ve found). They’re always running after health packs and are a pain to kill, but I was doing it with regularity.

But did I really pay $40 for a shooting range simulator? And do I want to spend thirty minutes to an hour a day training for an unknown payout at some point in the distant future on the roster of a squad full of jocular man-children (and children) who only like you when they win?

Maybe it’s my attitude that’s the issue here. I’ve calmed my temper considerably, when I can remember to, and have even been able to type words of encouragement in the chat box. But I really don’t have any motivation to get on voice chat and start calling shots or compliment assholes on their play to stroke their egos and stop them from tilting and/or throwing.

Essentially, I’d need to find enough motivation to seek out other players, group up with them, and queue for competitive play as a team in voice chat if I really wanted to get any further enjoyment out of Overwatch. I couldn’t even be bothered to do voice chat in The Secret World, which I enjoyed very much while I was in the swing of things. I think the last time I did it was in Guild Wars 2’s sPvP years ago with my guild – people whom I had gotten to know and who knew me and so I didn’t mind so much talking to them on my tin-can audio jack microphone. Random people? Ehhhhh, no, thank you.

So, bye, Overwatch, I guess. For now? (*shrug*) It was moderately fun and somewhat painful while it lasted.

gone-home

Gone Home

I’ve gone home. Home is a place where I enjoy my free time without attaching elaborate artificial constructs to the things I do for fun. Composing articles with titles such as “Is Falling Damage a Bad Thing?” or “Are Gender-Locked Classes a Kick in the Pants?” has ceased to interest me. The Secret World’s end game kept me around for quite a while until I got to the point where I decided that I’d just take a vacation until the main story comes back from its extended vacation. I’m ambling through Season 3 of Guild Wars 2’s storyline at my leisure with little regard for anything that isn’t attached to it. The other games I’ve enjoyed in recent memory, Life Is Strange and Gone Home, are both very much story-driven and represent the sorts of things I’ve become much more interested in spending my free time with.

It’s just a product of age. I enjoy telling, experiencing, and reading stories, in that order. If those stories are found in an MMO, fantastic. Lately, they haven’t been. My personal publications are better served by other sites; it may be quite some time before I play a game with a story worth talking about here. In the meantime, I think I’ll have some coffee.

going-home

Going Home

I had Help Me by Hako Yamazaki blasting in my ears when I walked into Daimon Kiyota’s renovated “office” and told him I was done. It wasn’t until halfway through his response that I bothered to take the earbuds out and let them hang from my phone’s audio jack almost all the way down to the floor. My deadpan gaze made him stop and rewind back to the beginning, this time with a shit-eating grin in place of his usual Blackbeard smile.

To my surprise, he stopped himself before he started speaking. His suddenly blank expression masked an eerie calm.

“Everything is Jake, Liling.” That got my attention: it was the first time he had ever used my real name – or any name at all. I felt a bit taken aback, briefly. He wasn’t dealing with my usual humorless bullshit and he was no spring chicken when it came to reading people. I could tell that he was just as serious as I was.

“You’ve been on the lam for a long time. There’s nothing going down in town.” He shrugged dramatically for effect. It didn’t have any, so he put a smile back on his face. “Zip your lips, don’t double-cross me, and you can high-hat every drugstore cowboy and gold digger from here to Big Sur. Copacetic?”

“Copacetic,” I said.

I glanced to my left and right, looking for the Bong Cha treatment.

“We’ll skip that part,” he crowed. “You’re too strong, now.”

I nodded curtly and thought about bowing. To hell with it. I put my earbuds back in and walked out the door of the Dragon’s main temple in Seoul for what I hoped would be the last time.

Kingsmouth is on the other side of the country from my parents’ home in California, so there was still the business of arranging a cross-country flight. I traded in my Pax Romana for a modest sum in pounds at one of the black market vendors in London – apparently the council’s currency is worthless outside the not-so-secret circles that float it.

It was enough to take care of transportation to the West Coast and then some. I bought new clothes for the first time in ages and dumpstered the black-and-purple hoodie that had been my mainstay for the past two years. Mixed memories, more good than bad, none of them worth dwelling on.

I still think of Shani, sometimes, when I look up at the moon at night. Probably better to forget about that one, too.

When I arrived in front of the light-blue rambler my parents called home, the door opened before I had even stepped out of the taxi. As I tipped the driver my mother called out to me with such agitation in her voice that I nearly tripped over my own toothpaste-white shoes running up the sidewalk.

“Oh, Lily. Thank goodness you’re here.”

“Mother! What’s wrong?”

“I made too much for dinner and your father and I can’t eat it all up by ourselves.”

“Oh…” I laughed stupidly, as if I were a six year-old child again. And then it dawned on me that my mother had just called me by my American name for the first time I could remember since I had been born. I looked down at her brown eyes behind thick-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses that cost more than mine did. Her smile, well, you couldn’t put a price on that.

“You’re not angry, mother? After everything that’s happened?”

She pursed her lips and pinched my left cheek between her thumb and index finger. “Just forget everything and start over. Oh, and Liling…”

“Yes, mother?”

“Welcome home.”

Going Home The End.jpg

screenshot_16-12-13_22-45-27-000

Late to the Afterparty: Overwatch

I’m unfashionably late to the after-afterparty where everyone’s passed out and some people are even beginning to wake up with massively overpowered headaches that will follow them throughout the day. My interest in MMOs has waned to the point where I can only be bothered to log in to The Secret World every couple of days for one to three consecutive days of play, and then only if the people on my friends list are going to be running classic Nightmare dungeons or, more recently, Kaidan Elites (AEGIS dungeons). This interest in MMOs will undoubtedly be bolstered by the return of Nostalrius in its second incarnation on December 17th, which will see me resuming play on my priest and rolling up a fresh warrior for tanking dungeons on the PvE server where I’ll be free to roam with a headcanon full of nostalgic musings on fantasies that disappear when the game client closes.

In the meantime and downtime, I’ve been looking for a gap-filler. So, on a whim, I decided to buy Overwatch after mulling it over for a week or so. It’s a multiplayer shooter with heroes and objectives and mechanics. It’s easy to pick up a specific hero’s ablities; mastering them in matches against human players may take quite some time depending on one’s FPS experience and killer instinct.

I have no killer instinct to speak of and don’t really know why I’m shooting at other players. I presume it’s because they’re shooting at me. I think I’m doing the whole Overwatch thing wrong, anyways, because I hate the popular damage-dealing heroes Genji and Hanzo and prefer to play mostly support and sometimes tank characters almost exclusively. I’ll even switch from Mercy with her single-target healing/damage beams and resurrection ultimate to Lúcio who possesses a speed boost/healing toggle (with an amplifier) that functions most effectively when he “exists” in the midst of his teammates.

Things like positioning, situational awareness, map terrain navigation, and aiming are coming back to me slowly. Twenty years ago I played shooters quite a bit – the feelings died down as I got older. One of the things I asked myself when contemplating the purchase was: why are you getting back into player combat after your experiences with Smite? Don’t you remember? It made you hate other players.

Overwatch is a bit different so far: I’m relatively low level, so people don’t seem to mind much what others are doing, which is great because if anyone were to notice my individual performance in some of these matches and I made the mistake of leaving voice chat enabled, I’d probably be called some things I’m not interested in hearing. In any case, after several rounds against the A.I., I began playing Quick Play exclusively (non-competitive matches) and have been having fun to the tune of two hours a night. Perhaps this will change as my skill improves, but for now I’m content to watch my Play of the Game once every thirty matches in which I stand with my nose in a corner and a healing beam on my team’s Winston as he kills three players in a row with his monkey rampage ultimate.

ScreenShot_16-12-13_00-19-31-000.jpg
In which my mech self-destructs behind strategically stacked crates and two enemy players die off-screen. Well done.

As in Smite, I don’t really like most of the heroes. Pharah’s rocket launcher reminds me of the Quake series which I used to play very heavily two decades ago, so I don’t mind her. Sombra, Mei, and Widowmaker are cool even though I suck at them. D.Va is the stereotypical k-pop streaming hearthob who is most effective as a tanky DPS harasser and is therefore a bit difficult for me to get used to, somewhat like some of the support gods in Smite who didn’t really seem to “do anything” until their play style clicked with me several matches in. Unsurprisingly, Mercy is my favorite healer aesthetically. Lúcio is an enormously useful healer and enjoys the advantage of being “meta.” I like rifle-toting grandma Ana, too. Unfortunately, I’m no good at sniping if the target has any amount of mobility.

And actual live opponents do. They are surprisingly aware of where I am at all times and annoyingly deadly. Sometimes I’m murdered without mercy in the space of five minutes. Unlike Smite which has Conquest matches that range from 25-45 minutes in length, a round of Overwatch is over fairly quickly and I’m free to leave in between matches without penalty. I’ve begun acquiring a collection of sprays, skins, and icons, most of which is pretty fluff to look at in the Hero Gallery when I’m done for the evening.

When it comes down to it, it’s a nice game to play when there’s nothing else I’m hot to trot for. I’ll probably never play it competitively, however; I have little tolerance for toxicity. That’s one thing that all of the multiplayer games I play have in common: they’re most fun when played with nice people. It’s no wonder a lot of us are playing single-player games these days.

20161202052943_1

Life Is Strange Fan Fiction: “After This”

Games are endlessly rewarding: they birth fantastic stories both within and without. Once upon a time I wrote about Guild Wars 2 and I still, from time to time, post flash fiction or short stories about The Secret World. Now, I’m writing about my latest love interest, Life Is Strange. The euphoria has died down; there’s a resonant mental energy that continues to buzz and gives the illusion that I am made of ten thousand moving parts. If you’d like, you can read the illustrated Thing “How to be perfectly unhappy.” by The Oatmeal and you’ll understand how I feel. Games are a conduit, a catalyst, a source of inspiration. Humble beginnings, stepping stones, or maybe…just what I like to do.

“After This” by Karinshastha

I’ve published it on Archive Of Our Own, one of the most active, user-friendly sites I’ve found that’s been designed for people who enjoy reading and writing fan fiction. So far I’ve completed one chapter. It’s a rather dreamy second-person narrative which tries to emulate the style of Alyssa Wong, an award-winning flash fiction/short story author whose work I admire. I don’t know how many chapters are in the cards, to be quite honest. Sometimes I can come up with a first draft that’s fully formed, albeit skeletal; most of the time, as is the case with “After This”, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story until I’ve actually written it.

It’s great fun.