02.08.22 meme

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One journal entry a month; can't accuse me of attention-whoring. I'd considered longhanding this one, but I feel like typing these up makes more sense. A quick note on longhand writing (writing with pen and paper) vs. typing: I've been using longhand for "formal" writing for about a month now. I'd had a feeling, for a long time, that manual writing had certain advantages over typing. The primary benefit seems to lie in the longer amount of time it takes for an idea to go from brain to paper. Neal Stephenson spoke on this during his appearance on Lex Fridman's podcast. It's ringing true for me. A longhand first draft feels higher quality than a typed one. A subsequent longhand edit also feels better. I can't scientifically quantify or qualify this; but as someone who's written for almost four decades, the sensation of writing and the perceived quality of draft is better, to me, longhand. The speed of composition, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Or does it? Perhaps it's not about how fast one can shit out ideas. Perhaps slowing down, taking time, making that connection from the mind through the hand to the page, is just better. But for this nonsense? There's only so many hours in the day and typing stuff like this out is simply a matter of convenience.

There's a list of questions circulating on social media. I don't know where it came from. Here are my answers:

What game had a lasting impression on you?

When I think about "games that made me", Baldur's Gate always comes to mind. There were certainly many games played before it (the original released on PC in '98, and I played my first video game in '79 or '80) and many more since, but BG is the one that's stuck at the top of my head and refuses to be unseated. At the time it was the closest a video game had come to simulating the Dungeons & Dragons experience; the first game I'd played whose companion non-player characters seemed "alive"; and the first video game story that punched me so hard in the mental gut that I can legitimately call it "stunning". The Ultima games, particularly the Avatar cycle (Ultimas IV through VII), are also worth mentioning for similar reasons. Would they have the same effect on modern games? Unlikely, but all the more reason for me to treasure those memories—memories that only seem to grow stronger with every year that passes.

Who is your favorite female video game character?

This is such a loaded question in 2022. I suppose it speaks more to the meme author's agenda than anything else. Rather than argue gender diversity in video games, I'll just say: when given the option, I typically create and play female characters in games. They're always dark-skinned, blue-eyed, white-haired, bad-asses. As for pre-crafted, written female characters... the Lara Croft from the '13 reboot comes to mind first, then Ellie Williams from The Last of Us. I hear Aloy from the Horizon franchise is excellent, but I have yet to give that game a proper play through.

What game do you consider "so bad it's good"?

I generally don't have the patience for bad games. As soon as I feel like my time is being wasted I tune out. "Bad" is also such a nebulous term. Bad graphics? Game play? Writing? And then what redeems it into the "it's good" category? I hate offering a non-answer like this, but for a stock reply like Deadly Premonition... I simply haven't played that game to completion.

Who's your favorite male video game character?

Again weird that this question wasn't grouped with the previous one, or the gender qualifier dropped entirely. My Ultima avatar was always male, but that was only because there wasn't a choice. For written characters? A few years ago I might have said Desmond Miles from the Assassin's Creed franchise. Kratos has had an incredible run through the God of War franchise, too—though, to my discredit, I still haven't finished the most recent entry. Captain Price had a strong voice. I can't really name any more without being disingenuous.

What are your top five favorite video game soundtracks?

I love music. I've made music for most of my life. But I've almost never just sat down and listened to video game music on its own. Is that weird? It's the same thing with movie soundtracks. That said, there are five tracks from games that circle around in my mind all the time:

What video game isn't talked about enough?

Posts on r/gaming that start with "why aren't people talking about" or "<game> is totally underrated" are dumb. Not hearing chatter about a piece of media doesn't mean it's going unnoticed. If the question here is really "what game do you wish was more popular" or "which game do you feel like only you and a handful of people know about", I dunno. As someone who's curated so many fringe and underground video games over the years I could list hundreds—if not thousands—that have slipped through the cracks. Richard L. Seaborne's "Escape from Hell" comes to mind, but then that also conjures Dave Albert and Robert Hardy's "Fountain of Dreams". There's a ton of games from 1990 that no one talks about anymore, and that's probably with good reason: time has this tendency to move on.

Who's your favorite video game villain?

Joneleth Irenicus, the main baddie from Baldur's Gate II. He's one of the most nuanced, well-written antagonists I've ever come across. You know your villain is superbly crafted when you feel terrible once they're vanquished, and Jon certainly had that effect on me. The gargoyles of Ultima, particularly as revealed in Ultima VI and VII, are also standouts. These are creatures that make you question your moral standings, and that's also another hallmark of excellent writing.

What was your favorite video game as a kid?

Here we go again with the favorites. How much of a kid, and how old of a game? I played the hell out of Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600, 1982) and loved it, but it was also one of only four or five games I owned at the time. Around the same time a neighbor had an Intellivision and I'd make any excuse to go over and play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain. I still remember the weird, musty smell of his basement where the TV and game console were. I'd have to put The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986) in there too, as that was the first video game I bought with my own money and it was, at the time, probably the best choice I could have made out of what was available.

What are five of your favorite video games?

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I hate playing favorites. I consider these to be singular gaming experiences, even though they might add up to more than five games in some instances:

The problem with any given "favorite" is that the admiration of the thing is temporal. It depends almost wholly on the time and temperance of when it was or is being played. The above is as definitive of a list as you're gonna get for the time I'm writing this. I'll probably look back at this in a few decades and see a completely different set of games.

Which video game franchise has never captured your interest?

I think that by now it's important to point out that all of these answers come from the vault of experience that is "video games I have played or am at least peripherally aware of". There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of franchises I've never even heard of, and of those any number could be world-beaters or absolute garbage. Having said that, I'd think a better wording to this question would be "which popular video game franchise has never captured your interest", because then at least that would imply a common knowledge base from which to work.

All that aside, I can say that I've never been a huge fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. I've owned a few of the titles in the past, in particular the Dreamcast version of Sonic Adventure, which was at least innovative with the virtual pet mini-game that ran on the Dreamcast's Visual Memory Unit. But even then I never invested much time in playing, and I've certainly never completed any of the entries in the franchise.

Who is your favorite non-player character?

I guess this precludes villains, as per one of the previous questions? If so, I'd have to go with the various iterations of Dr. Hal Emmerich, a.k.a. Otacon from Metal Gear. He really represented to me the character of the player: a pants-pissing nerd. If you play the Metal Gear Solid franchise and pay attention, he not only plays a pivotal role in the series, but he also undergoes some of most nuanced and intense character development of any written NPC I've ever come across. Of course, that's mostly due to how deep Kojima has gone with the narrative presentation in his games, but he reaps what he sows.

Which video game do you never get tired of playing?

The clear winner here is Grand Theft Auto Online. Over the past eight years I've come back time and time again and lost myself in the experience of running my own criminal enterprise. The longevity of this title is astounding to me. I don't know what exactly it is about the game. Like, why not Minecraft? Why not Dwarf Fortress, or Binding of Isaac, or any other game purpose-built to be endlessly replayable? It's hard to say. I think that GTAO provides the closest analog to living a second, digital life. Even if it is a life full of rocket-launching flying motorcycles.

What video game should everyone play at least once?

I'd like to answer with three titles here:

I'd love to be able to include other games like Wasteland (1988), or Police Quest (1987)—hell, any of the Sierra games from that era, or even the TSR "Gold Box" games... but they're all too fucking old now. You had to be there. Even the listed games are kind of pushing it.

What's your favorite video game genre?

Action Adventure, no question... though they must also include a very strong narrative element, and preferably one that's player-driven rather than linear. I enjoy platformers, but I wouldn't call any of them my favorite.

What video game should you really have played by now?

I can only think of EarthBound (1994) and Undertale (2015) as games that I've never started, but I've been told are must-plays.

Thank Gaben the question wasn't "what video game should you really have finished by now" because that list would be insanely long.

What's your favorite indie video game?

Again with the "favorites". Super Meat Boy (2010), Minecraft (2011), Bastion (2011), and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (2011) all stand out as really polished world-beaters that directly inspired my own work as an indie game developer. Nowadays the term "indie" is so nebulous and misused, along with most other game development terminology, that it's practically meaningless.

What video game has truly scared you?

Dead Space (2008). No question. Interestingly enough, no other game has genuinely instilled a sense of terror and dread in me in the same way. Too many supposed "horror" games now rely heavily on jump scares and really tired tropes that anyone over the age of twelve would sooner yawn at than be scared by.

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