Bring Her (a Step) Back

20170807_004837There’s been this game running amok in the world of indie games and social media for maybe a few weeks now, something of a different string of game experience. Under clever facades and brilliant writing, the collective internet has been exposed to the next big online gaming mystery that people are itching to solve, piece together, and revel/cower in the presence of. I’m sure the title has popped up on your radar once or twice by now, but it bears discussion for many reasons. Several blogs and online articles do a great job of peeling back the layers as to why it’s been so fascinating an experience, and reviews on Steam race it Overwhelmingly Positive, always a good sign.

Indeedly so, this game rapidly breaking into the realm of infamy goes by the innocuous title of Doki Doki Literature Club. A slow-burn psychological horror that plays on a few uncomfortable meta-tropes and mechanics that, as gamers, most are at least superficially aware of, if not intimately familiar with. But before I delve too far into the subject matter I wish to discuss, I need to preface it with a few disclaimers:

  • I’m writing this with the assumption that the reader knows about the game and its major plot points
  • I’m writing this with the understanding that the material I discuss is difficult for people who are mentally debilitated might have a hard time coping with or reconciling
  • This article is much like the tag-line of the game reads: “This is not for young audiences or those who are easily disturbed

If you’re still reading this, then I’m taking it as implied consent. As mentioned, this game serves predominantly nerve and willpower testing ride. While there is a great deal of “choice of illusion”, the fact always remains that you, the player, are ultimately powerless in the face of the developments for the story. And, frankly, this might be the single greatest tool to educating people about how mental illness and, by extension, how powerless those afflicted with depression can feel.

Doki Doki Title CardThere’s this overwhelming issue with trying to sympathize with a character who has depression in video games: by the very nature of the game, the player is always saddled with options for how to approach and overcome a challenge. This also reflects in the choices a developer of the game chooses to build their options and choice-pathways for players to navigate. You can really get a sense from how the developer feels about depression and, in many cases, suicide, by how they choose to allow the player to contend with it.

In many cases, there are hopeful (bordering on idealistically optimistic) about how you can overcome depression with some pluck, determination and stalwart friends. If it sounds like I’m describing many other methods of overcoming challenges, say dragon slaying for example, that’s because the similarities are certainly there. While these aforementioned traits most assuredly help, they’re often not enough; anyone diagnosed with clinical depression (hello) can tell you that this isn’t enough.

Some developers take a slightly more bleak on the subject: depression and suicidal tendencies only end in one conclusive event; where there remains nothing left for those after the tragedy other than to simply move on. Suicide is inevitable, and everyone left behind will just have to live with that. This mentality plays out as a sort of guilt-trip for people who contemplate these thoughts: how dare you do something so selfish to people like that?! Don’t you know they care about you? Again, talk to some people who have contemplated, or even attempted, suicide and they’ll tell you about how little they care about what other people think. And if they do care, guild it the last thing that’ll help in that situation.

Rarely do we see cases where we, as the player, have to rationalize and contend with that logic: games try to put you in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem, and by that very nature, removes some of the problem with depression by giving the player choice. How do you choose to react to this? What options will you pick?

chibi_by_satchely-dbo7yijIn DDLC, we’re given something different. Enter Sayori, your spunky life-long friend who’s always been there for you, even if she’s really tardy and hungry. Of course, it’s revealed late into the first arc that Sayori has depression, and not the kind of “gee, life is kinda hard, isn’t it?” sort that we commonly throw around as slang. Rather, a crippling and self-depreciating depression that permeates every ounce of her action and behaviour.

I played through the first arc a day ago, but was already familiar with how it was supposed to end. I’d seen people try to give Sayori the affection they believed was needed to bring her back from the brink (didn’t work), I’ve seen people try their hardest to distance themselves from the issue hoping to spare themselves the pain of her death (didn’t work), and I myself tried to do what she asked of us by making good friends with another of the girls and being happy for her (didn’t work).

Ultimately, it always ends the same and robs players of the chance to do anything about it. Knowing what’s going on and having fairly extensive experience with the subject matter myself, I could read between most of her lines and deduce what was transpiring from the very beginning. As Sayori admits: the depression was always there. And for the (rapidly completed) two hours you get to know her through dialogue and gameplay, you unwittingly grow fond of the bouncy creature you call friend.

In the end, however, Sayori’s death by hanging was forever bound to happen. And, because of another clever programming trick: it doesn’t matter if you saved before to try something else, the game will not let you go back. No mulliganning here, pal! Though there are some misconceptions on this topic: it was not your actions that lead to Sayori killing herself, and neither was it her’s (or Monika’s, either).

Sayori HangingIn actuality, there is no logic to this choice. This can be a maddening fact for most people to comprehend; we like to believe humans are inherently logical creatures, and that we do things because A + B = C. Instead, in this case, it feels like every answer leads to C, regardless. When that power is ripped from the player’s hands, you suddenly start to get an surface level understanding of the powerlessness of a depressed person against their own brain.

Time and time again, Sayori is shown to be a pivotal and crucial member of the Literature Club. Her enthusiasm brings all three girls to cooperate and disarm fights, her understanding lets everyone find common ground, and it is absolutely her that brings you, player, into the realm. When she misses a meeting, you can begin to see the wheels falling off the tracks as some of that gentle compassion is lacking.

In actuality, the gentle compassion is only because of Sayori contending with her own demons and doing what little she can to bring a measure of value to herself. In her confession to you outside your house after Yuri/Natsuki leaves, she virtually shatters as she explains how worthless and terrible she is. Sayori isn’t, however, blind to the good she does: it’s more that she doesn’t care. The pain and misery far outweigh the good: as it has always been and always will be.

Never before have I seen something so poignant and accurately explained about a sensation that I myself contend with on a daily basis, but cannot seem to express in a way that others who don’t live with similar can understand.

And in that cataclysmic finale to Sayori’s existence, she finally decides to take her life into her own hands. It’s not that she chooses to kill herself, but rather she chooses to alleviate a burden from everyone’s mind. Deep within the core of who she is, she readily believes that everyone around her would benefit from her not being part of the picture.

Of course, as a player whose seen otherwise, nothing could be further from the truth. But this raises the question: what, exactly, IS truth? Truth is information that we as a large demographic agree upon and accept. To do that, we rationalize information we are given and, should it fall under particular quantifiers and qualifiers, we deem it as acceptably factual and, therefore, give meaning to truth.

Did that sound a little abstract? Because it is. Truth, by its very nature, is a construct of the mind. A mind that is mouldable and shaped by experience; experience that is controlled by what our own minds process and fathom. And if your mind is convinced that your very being is a burden upon others, and the only means you find value in yourself is in how you can make other people’s lives better…

The danger comes when that illogic becomes too logical, and the logical becomes irrelevant.

If this whole thing makes you feel a little hollow, without confidence in an arguments ability to change anything, you’re on the right track to understanding how deeply disturbing it can be for someone to live with constant knowledge that their brain is out to get them. Cause by trauma, genetics or chemical imbalance, it is a pervasive and invading aspect of life that can’t simply be willed away.

Yuri CuttingI’d like very much to explore some of the other elements that this game brings light to in regards to mental health and those who live with it, but this blog has already gotten quite long as it. I shall wrap my thoughts here for the time being, with intention of exploring other avenues of this game’s narrative mechanics in understanding mental health.

If you’re reading this and feel like you know someone out there who might be going through similar to Sayori: there are one hundred ways to help. Each person is different and each circumstance impossibly unique. As of presently: learning how to comprehend, even if only on a surface level, is a starting point.

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But Did it Make a Difference?

20170808_201604By now, everyone and their dog is aware of the particular little catchphrase that gets slapped across the title of a video or within the first sentence or two of an article. We call it out to each other during conversations and, lest we not forget that some online forums even have programs in place to protect their reader’s eyes from the unholy machinations of the careless or compassionless. It’s become iconic of our culture and, frankly, an odd component of our modern world.

By now, you’ve probably been able to put two and two together and arrive at a shortlist of such possible phrases. To my mind, based on my own descriptor above, I can think of only two examples: Trigger Warnings, and Spoiler Alerts. And while both relatively recent additions to our modern colloquialisms are the subject of some contentions, I’m choosing to focus my attention to the latter one.

Spoiler Alerts: we read about them in titles, they precede virtually every discussion on any work of fiction and, in ironic cases, any work of non-fiction. They’re found in professional reviews, editorial articles, and quite often even on our own tongues as we discuss things with our friends. In fact, the term gets so thrown around that is rivals even the number of times one Canadian might ask “Hey, how’s it going?” to a complete stranger (as a personal aside, I probably ask that question somewhere around a dozen times per day to people I have never talked to before or since).

headerThis of course raises the question of why? Why do we feel that such a disclaimer before we discuss any piece of fiction, new or otherwise, and feel terrible backlash or verbal abuse should we, writer speaker or otherwise, fail to mention it?

Understanding, of course, that the phrase “Spoiler Alert” to as early as 1982: it’s been circulating around internet-based vocabulary for over thirty years now. As a disclaimer: that’s older than I am. I am being outdone by a concept (yes, I may, perhaps, be a little salty). When a concept has been ingrained into a populace for any prolonged matter of time, it will invariably be an unshakable truth in how we view things and the world around us. For example: the idea that an average work-week is Monday to Friday, eight to five is a dated concept going back over centuries now. And I’d be willing to hazard that most people interviewed would explain that as typical business hours.

This is part of a larger issue at play, but not the focus of today’s dissection. Yes: I wrote dissection there. And then a second time; repetition is key, I’m lead to believe.

I’d read a few articles and listened to a few opinions over different channels over this whole Spoiler Alert issue; and generally I find there are two primary ideas behind the feeling in favour towards it:

  1. That is primes someone’s awareness towards avoiding reading/watching/hearing something if they wish to maintain a degree of ignorance on a topic
  2. That the spoiling of particular plot points or “big reveals” in many fiction pieces can eliminate the enjoyment of a particular story

It’s a little harder to argue against the first mentioned idea since it’s very subjectively minded and, frankly, pretty logical. After all, who am I to determine that someone would or would not enjoy something more if they didn’t know a key story detail? It is, however, closely tied in to the second point, which many might actually include as part of the first point and, by extension, omit all together.

The second point is where I start asking questions. What is the purpose of enjoying a story (regardless of media)? Is a story defined by its plot twists or surprise developments? Does the knowing of a surprise detail automatically reduce or eliminate the impact of a tale’s completion?

Things get muddled in that second idea, I find. Since so much of this seems tied to opinion and to the first idea, it is also very subjective. But I’d like to challenge a few of those points, see if I can’t bring some different light to your way of thinking about it.

For starters, we need to address why, specifically, we read/watch/listen to any sort of fiction. Depending on which particular school of philosophy you subscribe to will drastically change your views on things. The main reasons that I am aware of, however, are distraction, escapism, comprehension and/or enlightenment.

Listed in no particular order; probably should have prefaced with that…

However, these tend to be the primary reasons people partake in fiction in any of its form. Notably, half of those are for purposes of entertainment or stress reduction, the others might be to broaden your mind in either spiritual or mental endeavors. Maybe even physical if you consider it an eyeball workout.

Seeing as my primary experience is as a writer of fiction, it will skew my views on the matter slightly. After all, one thing I always strive towards is that impossible idea of creating the perfect story for people to read. And in doing so, I’ve read many different views and lessons on how to compose a story. What I’ve noticed, however, is that there seems to be a bit of a divide in mentality there.

You’re perhaps of the mind that there is no such thing as a new story and that everything has already been written; sometimes with different skins and to different degrees of quality, but otherwise it has already been done. Of that mindset, would that not negate the need to warn people of spoilers? If everything is already written, then the consumer would, either on a conscious or sub-conscious level, already know of the major plot developments as well as have a good comprehension of what the likely twists and turns will be.

Or, if not for that reason, perhaps then it’s for the simple enjoyment of the story as it’s written. For the pure satisfaction of the prose, of the dialogue or of the descriptions of peoples, places and things. In that regard, there is little to no reason for spoiler warnings considering that the only thing to be ruined for someone to discover is a particularly well-composed sentence (we’ve all read sentences that just hit that sweet spot in us when we read it), and even then the only thing to be ruined is that self-gratifying sense of discovery.

There is, of course, mention of the third component to this and that it is possible to write something in such a way that it truly shocks and surprises your audience with the big reveal or the sudden plot twist. This seems to, in actuality, the common belief of most consumers of fiction; and it’s not a viewpoint I particularly subscribe to. For myself, it has more to do with that previously mentioned point.

The specifics of the “what happens” is significantly less important to me than the way it happens. The inflection in the words of the actor, the particulars of the dialogue or descriptions within the text or even in still images. The enjoyment for me isn’t in the big surprise, so much as it is in the reveal of the surprise. Very seldom am I able to not predict what’s going to happen next, and because of that logic, I should have stopped enjoying fiction quite some time ago.

when-you-see-a-car-with-a-big-spoiler-snape-kills-dumbledoreAnd yet, I can still harken back to when Half-Blood Prince was published and the stories floating around that the “Dumbledore had been killed by Snape” spoiler had been belted out to crowds of people buying the book. There was genuine outrage from patrons. I had heard this story when I was only one chapter into the book, and yet, it did not kill for me the joy of reading the story. When the big scene came along, it was fairly apparent that the death of Dumbledore was eminent, regardless of spoilers.

Though I’m still not entirely convinced that Dumbledore is actually dead in that series; just comatose. But that’s a different article for a different day.

In essence, I can’t help but ask to what purpose do we, as people, need shielding from plot twists and sudden developments. In our exceedingly interconnected digital world, it’s become more and more difficult to “protect” ourselves from being exposed to story-ruining elements. Personally, I feel no inclination towards the inclusion of spoiler warnings and alerts in my works, but I also acknowledge that it is a personal decision that is, by no means, reflective of the mentality of the public on a whole. At the very least, I hope this has given you some different ways to look at the topic at hand.

Writing convention now dictates I should shoe-horn in some cheeky “spoiler warning” joke; but I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll just end it with an unexpected

In my World Without Heroes

20170913_110023_HDRIn simplest terms, Shonen style anime and I do not get along; but I’ve recently made an exception in the form of Boku no Hero Academia, one hell of a good ride that plays with the tropes and ideas of contemporary superhero genres and tropes. And while I have a couple of ideas for topics that have resulted from my watching this series, today I want to discuss something that was rather integral for the first couple of episodes: the concept of what it meant to be someone’s hero.

Now, I mean this in the less than spectacular sense. Not what it means to be a hero in tights and a cape, or a super high-tech battle suit or whatever the hell is going on with He-man. Rather, what it means to be someone’s role model. The person they look up to and someone who inspires you to do your best in every capacity you push yourself towards.

Young_Izuku's_faceIn the first couple of episodes, it is made abundantly clear that young Izuku “Deku” Midoriya’s hero is All Might: the physical embodiment of all that it means to be just, courageous and all around swell. This idolization is what pushes Midoriya to work his hardest to become a superhero himself and, regardless of how daunting or impossible the odds, to try his darndest!

Now, for someone like myself, I have a hard time understanding, or rather sympathize with the character. When I was growing up, I never really had anyone I considered to be my hero, my role model. This probably strikes you as a little odd; after all, in western culture, it’s pretty normal for young boys to idolize their fathers or even their father-like figures. As the years go on, it becomes normal to find role models in celebrities, teachers or elder peers in clubs or school.

This was, obviously, not the case for myself.

Instead, I viewed it very differently from even as young an age as I can recall (and I can recall some rather vivid memories from as far back as kindergarten, perhaps even earlier). I was very steadfast in my belief that I didn’t want a role-model, or someone I looked up to. After all, to do so was to deny the unique nature of who you were, instead to just aspire to be a copy of someone else.

In essence: yes, I was a hipster long before I even had any semblance of an idea of what societal norms were.

Now, while I’m not going to pretend that my philosophies were anything remotely close to well founded, I do still adhere to a semblance of this ideology to this day. Of course, it’s not to say that I think that having a role-model inherently makes you out to be their clone in the making. On the contrary, as I grew older, I began to understand the fundamentals behind role-models in ways that encourage positive growth in a developing mind.

Going back to young Midoriya momentarily to paint a clearer picture: he used the ideologies of what All Might represented to the world on a symbolic level as a measure of what he should strive to be like in his own personal life. Even when All Might himself confessed to having lost many of those ideologies in the bustle of celebrity life, Midoriya stayed true to those initial ideas; pushing those around him to greater heights as a result. Okay, maybe not everyone, but close enough…331ff58b020f6f01ac119a0d8ea71cc2

In many regards, this is a healthy idolization. To embrace the ideas of what a person represents or teaches to improve not only ourselves, but those around us and at large. A lesson that I feel I might have missed in my developmental years that will undoubtedly stunt my character to some extent or another. Though, this might also be a blessing in and of itself, as the opposite extreme can be exceedingly dangerous as well.

And this is where I introduce you to the unintended brilliance of my earlier philosophy: not striving to be a clone of someone else. Instead of idolization, worship or obsession of a person. To erase aspects of yourself in favour of being just like this character you hold in high regard. And in some cases that I am familiar with, it can often be just that: characters. Personalities as represented in film, imagination or literature. A character as represented in our real world as well: the facade of who a person is in the presence of the public.

Mask

We all adopt a mask… though maybe not this one…

Let’s look at that in a little greater depth, shall we? Indeed, there are many people out there who don a particular persona when they are in the presence of others. It should come as no surprise that many celebrities are nothing like who they portray on the stage or before the camera; or if they are, are at least notably different than who they initially appear. But it’s not just celebrities who do this, but us as well.

When we go out into public, we all adopt some form of a personality to present to the world we meet. To the degree of this facade will depend on where we are, or our own personal limitations. Speaking from experience, I can say with confidence that who I appear to people as when I’m at conventions doing vlogging work (a great example of this is in this video) is greatly different than who I am around my closest circle of friends, which is again quite different from who I truly identify myself as in real life.

This is a part deliberate, part sub-conscious decision that people make on a large scale basis. If you really want to see a significant difference: talk to anyone working in the service industry. I would gamble not insignificant money on the fact that, with very rare exception, every one of them adopts a sort of “alternative identity” in their line of work.

Note: talk to them when they’re not at work. Obviously, they will deny it on the clock, as doing so will likely result in greater difficulty for themselves at work. Further discussion on the constraints on the individual in the face of the “professional” world is a very complicated and long topic that I shall not dive into here. Because this is a blog. Not a thesis.

Returning to the point prior: the degree of idolization and obsession that can stem from it. While I certainly lack any sort of empirical data to back this up, I have a hypothesis that the generations of my own and the one following it are most prone to having large issues with identity and sense of self. From what little observation I’ve made, these generations are the ones more prone to an unhealthy degree of idolization of particular personas, even more so in those who are socially ostracized.  I tend to see this mostly in environments where the “nerdy” tend to thrive; the more fringe members of that circle tend to not only hold particular fictitious characters in high esteem, rather they go so far as to emulate or mimic their actions and mannerisms in their entirety.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that this is an issue that is limited to nerd culture, rather it’s the circle I’m most exposed to and most inclined to see these trends. I am quite confident that someone who buys every poster and jersey of a particular sports figure could potentially take such a fascination too far, though I’ve personally yet to see it. Again, not for lack of there being people, so much as for my lack of exposure.

This does raise the question, however, as to what is a healthy degree of idolization? At what point does it stop being a positive influence and become a corrupting source? I can’t say for certain. I imagine there are social psychologists who have worked, or are working, on exploring this particular topic, but I’ve yet to see a study that I can accept as a good model.

In the meantime, I will leave this topic off with a couple of final thoughts on this. To what extent is having heroes and role-models beneficial? Greatly! Can the idolization be taken too far and into the realm of obsession? Absolutely! Is it good to not have role-models? Well, it’s not bad, I suppose.

And, at the end of the day: is All Might a good hero?screen-shot-2016-05-08-at-7-18-01-am

Yeah, he’s pretty okay.

Project Red Band: the Proposal

20170816_150524I can’t speak for anyone else on this subject, but it seems to be very big news in North America at the very least. Over the previous weekend, National Socalists (as they preferred to be called) descended on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue in memorial to a person of significance or some such that I don’t really understand at present. And of course, as with all such things: bad went to worse.

Anti-White Supremacist Rally attendees were accosted by a member of the White Power organization via vehicular homicide, killing one and injuring very nearly twenty others (a slight inflation on my part, but it worked well for the sentence). Then, in the face of such events, the organization that is supposed to be a point of clarity for the people to turn to, or at the very least the symbol of unity and belief in the Less-than-United States performed a series of shocking political blunders that rivals anything B-rate Hollywood script writers could concoct.

170814-charlottesville-robert-e-lee-monument-se-535p_a83d4d29889bc14cf1bea321c4fbf3d1.nbcnews-ux-600-480

This is the statue “of  significance or some such” that I was mentioning.

Sufficed to say, the whole story is something of a catastrophic mess. Seriously; the world-ending events of World of Warcraft Cataclysm isn’t nearly as disastrous as what’s going on south of our Canuck borders. But while things seem to only be going from bad to worse, the reactions and opinions of everyone seems exceedingly divided.

 

In my own personal friend groups, I’ve seen opinions ranging from “this is a travesty” to “yeah, I don’t give a crap” to “we need to kill more people”. Declarations of “history repeating itself” have been thrown around online, and everyone who used to have faith in human capacity is finding that belief seriously tried or strained.

I, myself, find this whole series of events shocking and exceedingly stressful. It’s why there was no blog post on Monday, as a matter of fact: I had to retreat into my own head and rationalize what precisely was going on. It all seemed so surreal; it couldn’t actually be happening, could it? After all, US media has romanticized anti-Nazi sentiments to such a degree that I had assumed it was very nearly a trait born into all “pure-blooded Americans”, as the concept goes.

And no matter where I looked or what I listened to, the messages being spun around are either less-than-helpful or dubiously vague. There seems to be one hundred and one ideas on what to do about this, and one thousand and one excuses for what’s transpiring. It is, for a mere mortal like me, all too much to process.

This doesn’t mean I plan on burying my head in the sand and hoping it’ll all blow over, a strategy that was suggested to me by someone who cares about my mental health (my mental sanity is shaky at best, and at worst: basically the condition of the Titanic immediately after it hit the iceberg. On the surface it looks alright, but an hour later it’d fracture in twain). And it is true, part of what makes modern media so appealing is that no matter how un-bad something is, News outlets are pretty good at inflating the issues to sensationalize things to a greater profitable degree.

Fake NewsI realize that sounds like an accusation of “Fake News”, a term I generally lament using, but that’s a different issue for a different day.

Today, I want to focus on what some of the primary issues and questions that have been raised as a result of the Charlottesville riots. I’ll cover them in very broad points as follows:

  • If, historically speaking, US ideologies are greatly against the concept of Nazi-ism and centralized governmental control, why are we seeing a great insurgence of people who are declaring themselves as National Socialists
  • Is this a result of recent electoral and governmental flaws in the US Presidental system of national, or an inevitable result of a culture that defines itself by violent uprising
  • What are the environmental conditions that give way to a system of prejudice and hatred; is it limited to certain socio-economic classes, or is it less discriminating

And, most importantly:

  • What is the best way to manage these recent events in a way that ensures growth and security for peoples in general in a developed country with a great deal of ancestral or modernized pride

Charlottesville EmblemMuch like all issues I find myself in the middle of, there might initially appear to be simple solutions to these issues. But I do believe that if it were so simple we wouldn’t have the issues we have to this day. On the contrary: each of these points are incredibly complicated issues that affect every aspect of modern western culture on the whole, and the societies that stem from them.

I have every intention of trying to understand this issue in greater detail. I want to find a solution that’ll bring about a positive change to what is transpiring at present: one that does not defer to violence as a means to the end. Maybe it’s because, in the traditional sense of the word, I am a coward (I spent 8 years studying martial arts, and the one aspect of it I could never perform well because of personal beliefs was sparring), and by extension that I do not place much faith nor emphasis in using violence as a method to enforce will.

Of course, this will discredit me to many of my friends. As I’ve seen multiple times, I know no shortage of people who seem almost giddy to default to violence or murder to “quell” the hate-based groups that have given rise to these present and pressing issues. They endorse such ideologies which share, in their own perverse ways, similarities to the hateful methods of these self-titled National Socialists.

Violence is not the solution; not to me anyway. Being a student of history, I understand how violence will cause an initial disruption of organizations, but will just as efficiently and effectively give greater cause and fervor to those same groups. In fact, many of today’s most powerful organizations and religions were tampered and strengthened by acts of violence perpetrated against them by once-great forces.

To understand this will be our best weapon against these movements. I strongly believe this, and so, I will be endeavoring to understand all the smaller nuances and ideologies that are held by all the various organizations under the heading of National Socialist. This will mean I’ll be burying myself in research; online, literature and even personal. This last point will very likely earn me the ire of many people who I hold in high esteem, as I will, without doubt, be talking with these supremacists on an individual or group basis to understand what their motivations are.

And this terrifies me on many levels and causes me no shortage of stress. As I mentioned earlier, my mental health is not the greatest and will very likely never will be. But I have the tools and resources to try to make a difference in this, regardless of how small or insignificant it will end up being at the conclusion of it all. I’m doing this because, despite all the horrors of the past, distant and recent, I still have faith in the human race. Perhaps misplace, perhaps idealistic, but I don’t really care.

Image-7I know where I stand on these issues and I will try to find solutions using methods that I agree with. This is the concept behind what I am titling Project Red Band, an ongoing research and investigation task that was not given to me, but one I will take up all the same.

Results of my investigation will be posted here as I find and learn things, and the title will always include PRB: _ in the heading. If this research or my methods make you uncomfortable, I completely understand and will think no less of you for disregarding what I have to say. As I’ve said in many past topics: not every fight is for everyone. This also does not mean that Station 85 will be exclusively about Project Red Band; I will still post my other works as the schedule demands.

Thank you in advance for your patience with the patchy uploads on this site and for those who keep coming back. And good luck to all of us in these trying times. Seems there’s something of a shortage of it these days.

Another Soul, Another Controversy

20170807_004837This brooches the subject of outdated news by all traditional schools of thought, and very nearly all current schools of thought. Indeed, one of the lessons taught to prospective students in radio broadcast: if it happened more than a day ago, it’s dead news and time to move on. Our media engines move quickly and, as a result, we consume this information much more rapidly to keep up with the ever incessant onslaught of new stories or, sometimes, just a rehashing of something we’ve heard before.

My brain simply doesn’t move that quickly, especially on more sensitive topics. I’ll very likely never be able to compete with modern news sources on my own because it takes too long for me to rationalize what I’ve heard, then turn it over in my head some two dozen times and think it through. And while I certainly consider this to be an important process for me as a method of mitigating hasty (and, need I say, almost exclusively ignorant) opinions on matters, it means that when I finally have something to say about a topic, everyone has already moved on to the next thing.

And for some conversations, this is fine. Some topics will come and go and people will either learn from it or discard the information, as is their want. For other topics, though: this can be acidic to the nature of the ongoing conversation that we, as a peoples, need to have about certain issues that plague our society or world. Some pieces of information we learn needs to be remembered, or at least discussed more deeply than our fast-moving world will allow. And I’m not the first to say this; it has been said more eloquently by better minds or more learned people.

Without beating any further around the bush, this is another discussion about the ongoing crisis that is our Mental Health Awareness in North America, or at the very least Canada. And yes, much like many people, this point was, again, reinforced by another celebrity taking their life due to unsustainable depression. But this point was not a reminder for me; I live with depression on a daily basis. As a person diagnosed with Clinical Depression, I’ve yielded to the fact that this is something that I’ll be fighting with for the rest of my life.

There are countless others who are in similar situations, and most certainly a good majority have it far worse than I ever will. And much like everyone else (to my working knowledge) who lives with depression, or knows someone very close to them who is afflicted, the ongoing fight to keep a healthy mentality is never far from our minds. But, where I do differ from some of these people is my understanding of the natures of these issues.

20170308_225340_10272_972071Not terribly long ago now, the lead singer (and some would say, the very soul of) Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, terminated his life quite prematurely. There was a massive outpouring of sympathy and sadness from the music community and fans the world over. But what surprised me was a small voice that was buried in the crowd. It was anger. Not at the late Mr. Bennington or Linkin Park; it was anger at the world around them.

“How many more people need to kill themselves before everyone really begins to care?” These were, in essence, the messages these groups were shouting. “You only care about depression and suicide when someone famous dies! Why don’t you care all the time?!”

In all honesty, this is a point very near and dear to me. Again, as said earlier: I live with depression and battle it on a daily basis. Many of angry voices that demanded this were either in similar boats themselves, or very likely people who have lost loved ones to suicide. And while, at first, I was a little put off by their sentiments, as time wore on I started thinking about it more and more. I didn’t want to be angry at the anonymous masses who would forget about mental health in a few days; I am a strong believer that anger is a poor medium to enact constructive change.

I am also, deep down inside, an angry person myself. In general, anyway: I have a bit of a temper. #gingerproblems

But I also didn’t want to be frustrated, much like these many angry voices were. After all, everyone is more than willing to show their support for mental health awareness when someone famous dies, so why can’t they care about it all the time?

There are many, many, many reasons why, as I see it. For starters, it’s entirely hard for someone who has not had experience with depression to understand the depth of detriment it does to someone’s well being. And for many who do experience depression, it is something they either are cured of, or find methods to cope with so that it does not become exceedingly prominent in their life. With this in mind, it’s very easy to understand why many people have a hard time empathizing with this issue, or even sympathizing.

As well as the other issue mentioned at the very beginning of this blog: things move fast in our world now. News and media aside; everything about our lives are quite frantic and harried when you really think about it. The concept of ‘a long time’ has changed drastically through the generations and, even now, changed exponentially within the years. No longer is ‘a long time’ generally agreed upon by months or even years; now ‘a long time’ could be a few hours to a couple of days.

And when things move this fast, especially in our connected world where the internet has allowed us to cultivate massive networks of people whose lives we closely follow: the information we receive is less news and more bombardment. And that’s not even including things that happen in our personal lives. If you really stopped and thought about it, a great deal happens to the average and not-so-average Canadian’s daily routine.

And of course, the biggest hurdle I see with everyone taking a zealous interest in conquering mental health issues is: energy. Because, for the worst case scenarios, depression isn’t something that’s really ever fixed. Unlike a cold, or a building project: there’s no real end in sight. And, as is contrary to the very progression-based mentalities that have become so centric to western societies, it’s very easy for someone living with depression to relapse due to factors outside of their control.

I can understand how it is frustrating for people who try to keep close relations to me when I suddenly go silent for months at a time because I’m locked in my own head. It takes a shocking about of energy to interact, on a consistent basis, someone who suffers from depression or similar. And energy is a very limited commodity we, as a human race, have. Energy to be spent on other pursuits: travel, work, family, friends, hobbies, interests, passive or active activities, stories, education and the list could go on for quite a long time.

And with all these things that we, as individuals, value and prioritize, I can very much understand why keeping close relations to anyone who requires a lot of time, patience and energy to interact with and care for, is a trying process. It is not for everyone, and that’s quite alright. It is stressful and draining, to say the least. I get that, I can sympathize with that.

When I see mass posting about people crying out for better mental health treatments or options when someone famous commits suicide, I don’t get upset at them. I will not deny that I would be more pleased to see them give the same attention to this issue all the time, but that is simply not reasonable nor realistic.

After all, there are many issues in our world that people champion and fight for that I, myself, have forgotten about as time wears on. As shocking as it is to hear: cancer has not greatly impacted my life as it has many others’. Cancer research and better treatments are, as a result, not something I often remember or take notice of. And that fact may shock you. After all, cancer is one of the leading killers in the western world, and is often referenced in the news or in general discussion.

It is not to say I do not care about cancer research though. To think that it is something I do not care about would be a grave misunderstanding of things. I would love, as much as the next person, to hear that there has been a cure for cancer and that no one needs to suffer that fate ever again. However, it is simply not the fight I have chosen to focus my efforts and energy into. And the same could be said for any other hundreds of issues that groups have dedicated themselves to.

I was toying around with the idea of making a small list here of other topics, but it was getting excessively long and a bit distracting: I wanted to keep researching more points to make the list even longer.

So when I see posting occasionally pop up about mental health awareness as a result of recent news, I will not become angry. I’d rather capitalize on the brief attention of these people and engage in discussion. Much like all great things, this is an ongoing effort that will take no shortage of time, understanding and compassion to conquer. And with every conversation we have on these matters, a greater understanding is achieved. And when society has a greater understanding of things, it is an inarguable victory, regardless of how small it is.

suicide prevention imageIn the meantime, I will continue to dedicate myself to this fight; so long as all the other battles are being fought by others as dedicated to theirs as I am to mine. If mental health awareness or treatment isn’t your particular battle, I will not think less of you for it. If it is not something you spend your energy upon often to learn more about, and the only time you think to involve yourself in the discussion is after tragedy, to you I promise:

I will always be willing to have a conversation with you about it.

Some Thoughts on Education – No Click-bait-y Titles Here

Anyone who has held a prolonged conversation with me can probably tell you there are several topics that will send me into a spiral or rants or musings, depending on the nature of the discussion. Oftentimes, we call this a “heavily-opinionated person”, and I can certainly attest to being someone under such a label (despite my general disdain for labels in general, more on that another time). My reasons for launching into these triads stem from a few different sources: the need to express an opinion, the desire to challenge my own thoughts and critical thinking and a plethora of minor reasons that are a little too tedious for my shockingly presently-focused mind to feel like rationalizing.

Chiefly among those reasons, however, is the need to voice my beliefs and thoughts about topics I have seen or read. My mind is a jumbled mess of thoughts and concepts at the best of times, and vocalizing these thoughts helps form them into concise statements and hypotheses. And one such topic that I find myself launching into rant-realms over is the land of education.

Now, I understand education is something of a hot-button topic (a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever use until now, which means I probably am misquoting or incorrectly using it), and everyone and their dog has an opinion on the matter. Teachers, students, parents, politicians, researchers and board members all have their opinions on what the educational system today is like and what it needs to do to improve, or conversely, what it needs to stop declining in quality.

It should come to no surprise that I, myself, am someone who has very charged and self-important beliefs on the quality of the school system in Canada (or at least in Ontario, as I understand there are minor nuances to the systems not only between countries, but between provinces as well). I mean, I possess all the warning flags of someone who has deep-rooted grievances with the current school system: I did poorly all through school due to a laundry list of personality and motivation flaws, I did not attend post-secondary education due to financial and personality flaws, and am largely against the commercialization of education due to financial and personal beliefs.

You might have noticed something of a trend in there somewhere.

Granted, I’m not so self-important as to believe that I am blameless in my current academic standing, nor do I honestly think that the problems that plagued me are anywhere near similar to those that bother other individuals or organizations. That’s why I make it a point to read up on different studies, articles or coverage of the ever-changing landscape of education. I also keep contact with several friends who are teachers at different levels in the school system (by that, I mean the range from kindergarten to high school, teachers to school board members, and even a couple of politicians) and am very careful to listen to those who have differing opinions on the school system than I (check out my piece on Echo Chambers in social media for more).

I also consider the opinions of those who have personal views on the nature of school because of life experience or spiritual beliefs, as these are both important aspects in understanding how we can better operate as a global community in our exceedingly diverse world. I’ve noticed several trends in these varied beliefs that sometimes I am, at first, inclined to argue against, but often have to sit back and think on until I can properly process what I’ve just learned.

There is one general consensus that I have noticed, however: very nearly everyone thinks the current academic landscape is broken or has gaping holes in operational efficiency/policy. Very seldom do we hear people discussing the accomplishments of a standardized educational system that has made significant leaps and jumps in how our brains have developed over the decades, let alone centuries or millennia of the history of education.

Instead, there seems to be an overwhelming belief that there is little good from our current school system. This generally stems, I have noticed, from small groups picking out an issue and inflating the damaging nature of said defect. This is not to say there are not dangerously broken systems in our schools; one needs only look at the academic disparities between both racially segregated or financially destitute schools to see things, two traits that are oftentimes linked. But some issues are only a part of a greater concern, and that is the need for hard evaluations on the intended direction that education serves as.

Now you start leaving the realm of hard, numerically provable evidence and get into the realm of cultural or philosophical reasoning. What EXACTLY is the purpose of education? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer as it seems the intended purpose changes based on personal views.

I know it seems that I’ve performed a complete 180 from my original statement, but bear with me: it’ll all tie together in the end. I think.

Note from Self: I can’t help but feel the “bear” that was used in the sentence prior is incorrect. I’m almost completely confident that it should be “bare”, but Microsoft Word is convinced otherwise. I might also just be losing my mind, which is exceedingly possible, as well.

I don’t claim to have the greatest knowledge of educational history, but based on what I do know, it seems that for the better part of western culture and history the drive for better education was a largely social need. In order to develop a more stable and prosperous civilization, better academic reasoning was required. To cultivate this sense of logic, students (or monks, before that) focused on the mathematics and sciences. As anyone who has built a tiny bridge in science class can tell you: understanding weight dispersal and fulcrums are not exactly guess-work when trying to plan for a bridge to navigate a tiny car across two desks.

But with the maths and sciences, so too came the humanities. Poetry and music can help maintain a semblance of order and sanity in large populations; they also further reinforce a sense of cultural identity and stress relief that maintains a higher quota of productivity than otherwise. And as time progresses, so too do these systems improve. Science and learning becomes more precise, and literature and the arts have more to draw upon as human nature and identities change with the times.

Now, I’m not even going to begin to speculate on eastern education, because I know very little about it. Based on academic rankings, though: they seem to be doing pretty well in the past couple decades.

Based on these developments, I’d say the nature of education is to improve upon the human mind in general. We can see this in the varied and diverse fields of study that can be obtained within the higher academic establishments; the only real limits to what you can learn comes down to ethics at that point. Or money.

And in that regard, the education system we have today has achieved that goal with remarkable success. Our brains are sophisticated machines that, as a result of the stimulation and information we’ve received through our developmental years, can process complex questions and scenarios that have built civilization as we recognize it today. The fact that we can even question these ideas on such a massive scale, potentially reaching and hearing millions of voices at a time with universal theories and scales to work with is testament to that accomplishment.

But this begs the question: what is the purpose of education now? Where do we go from here? And this is where everyone splinters into their different groups and beliefs. We’re all asking the same question, frankly, just in different words. And this is good. This is hella good.

I strongly believe that everyone who partakes in these conversations and arguments all have the same base goal: to improve upon such a fundamentally important system that our world relies upon. And if we’re all having that discussion, I genuinely believe that, as far as morals are concerned, there are very few wrong view points to have.

Except for anarchists. I do not like them, or their beliefs at all!

The funny thing is what sprouted this recent mind experiment for me. I was thumbing through a social media feed and happened across a post about the nature of education. It stated that home education was far superior because, as far as human history is concerned, it’s the one that’s been in use the longest and that established education was an experiment.

The implication was that established education was wrong and we should go back to individualized family-based learning instead. I can sympathize with the sentiments behind the post, but I largely disagree with the overall message. As a whole, our society is better for having an educational system in place. And while I, much like many, believe that our system is far from perfect, it is infinity better than having nothing at all.

This One Won’t be Making me any Friends

20170723_221122It’s not tremendously often I go out to see new movies. Most of this stems from a surreal combination of lack of cash and, more often the case, the lack of desire to drive half an hour to spend the aforementioned cashery. But on the rare occasion I do go out to see something on the big screen, I typically enjoy the experience. This week prior, however, I went to go see media sensation and equal rights front-runner Wonder Woman.

I realize that, by the very nature of who I am, any blog I write about this movie that doesn’t include “I loved every aspect of this movie forever and always and erhmagerd” will likely be discounted by my demographics: straight, white, middle-class male type thing. And while I’m not here to discuss the finer points of gender equality (a topic I lack the mental capacity to discuss properly), I am here to discuss a movie’s strengths and weaknesses.

I would like to preface this with a few disclaimers: I have about as much experience and certification to discuss a movie as I do with anything else I talk about. And my discretion of this movie is not, shockingly enough, fueled by any sort of sexism towards the material or subject matter. In fact, most of my problems with the movie come down to plot progression and source material.

Also an overwhelming dislike for Ben Affleck being cast as Batman. Still don’t like that one; please pass the pepper, as I already have more than enough salt.

So, in an interest of some sense of continuity, let’s start with the beginning of things. The movie starts off to a bad start with Mr. Wayne delivering a photograph to Diana Prince: for further explanation, please refer to the paragraph prior.

321_CPT_BeachBattle_v020_15.JPGOkay, in all seriousness: let’s actually actually start at the beginning. Before I had watched the movie, I’ve been loosely apprised of some of the praise lauded at the film for various aspects. Much of it I could appreciate and agree with: the armour worn and displayed by the Amazonian warriors was exquisite to someone of my interests. It was function, it made great sense and the historical references to certain pieces was a masterful stroke. And in the sense of the scenery of the island (which I shall refrain from trying to spell due to having exceedingly limited internet at present and no clear recollection of the name) was gorgeous. The setting, set pieces and framing of shots in that area was very well done.

But one thing I had read at one point or another was how incredible the sense of sisterhood was from the first quarter of the movie. As a writer trying to improve my writing of female characters, I was very interested in pulling apart those scenes to see what it was that other writers were speaking about in specific so that I could use similar methods and aspects for my own purposes. What I was presented with was several scenes of women doing fight-y things.

I’m willing to admit that I was largely disappointed by this: if for no other reason than the only way to represent a strong sense of sisterhood is to have women fighting together against evil Germans. It’s entirely possible that there might have been some subtle nuances of the scenes that eluded me in my single watching, or maybe it’s something only women can see and appreciate (in which several questions about empathy and understanding come up, which are another topic all on its own), and so I don’t consider this to be a massive issue against the movie.

A much bigger issue was with the fight choreography in general and, more importantly, the framing and camera techniques. While the fights were visually impressive, the nature of how much CGI these action sequences greatly undercuts the very significant physical training and practice that the whole cast underwent to make it a truly awe-inspiring accomplishment. Having confirmed with friends of mine from a very work-out intensive circle, they confirmed that the physical training these actors underwent is very strenuous and something a flub like me would probably have died trying.

And instead of showcasing this, the movie largely relied on CGI renders of the characters to have them perform sequences and movements that the actors quite possibly could have accomplished with some clever framing and a few camera tricks. I’d go so far to say that at least 50% of all action sequences involving the cast and 70% of action sequences involving Wonder Woman were completely computer rendered. It reminded me of a cheaper version of 300; similar action sequences, just involving more nerds at a desk instead of more actor performance.

And in between the action sequences, fairly unimaginative camera angles and shots were used, occasionally being a little too static or “by the book”. I’m not looking for a completely new and innovative way to showcase a movie, but something a little more interesting than a series of static shoulder/hip-and-up shots would have been a nice change of pace.

3236382-wonder-woman-lifts-tank-in-reald3d-posterBut, for the biggest nail in the coffin for me would have been the plot progression itself. I know DC can make brilliant stories with great arcs and clever twists; if anyone has taken the time to watch Batman Beyond, they’ll know what I’m talking about. In this movie, however, the writer seems undecided as to what they want to focus the message of the story on: is humanity innately evil, or is Ares the reason for WW1.

There was actually a very heated argument about this in my friend’s basement after we watched the movie. The only thing we could agree upon is that Professor Lupin is not a good representation for an antagonist. Moving on.

I understand the nature of including the lore of Ares being established at the beginning of the movie and that, from an outside source, the appearance of Ares was predictable to say the least as a result. And if this was the moral of the story the movie had tried to stick to, it would have been fine. Not great, but fine. However, then some philosophy about the nature and ethics behind the human condition got shoe-horned in and things got bogged down.

Outside of the Amazon Island, great effort is placed into showing the evils of humanity and the atrocities they can commit on their own, regardless of outside influence. Well, slight correction: the evils that Germans can perform, because Germans are pure evil in the early 21st Century. The entire movie, Diana is fully convinced that the source of the war is Ares, and the supporting cast and main villains go through great lengths to prove that humans commit terrible things without godly influence. Then, upon the death of the German commander, Diana begins to realize that the simple and naive beliefs she once clung to might have been wrong.

Suddenly: jokes, Professor Lupine pops up and says “Hay, it was me but not really,” so Diana kills him and the war ends rather abruptly. The sudden 180 the movie takes is jarring and kills all the good material the plot had going for it up until that point. I am fully convinced that, if the writers had not tried to inject god-plot into the movie at the end, it would have been great. We, the audience, would have seen Diana question the beliefs she held on her own and question the morals of the people she was trying to protect. It would also have shown that evil is not a one-person problem: it’s a slow and clever system that happens through many people and politics.

But nope; we don’t want any of that philosophical nonsense in this movie! Let’s have a CGI fist-fight with a god to showcase how badass he is. Because ratings!

The battle with General Ludendorf was a fun fight on its own. His battle and defeat was quite satisfying without having to take it over level 9000 with a duel against Magneto afterwards. General Ludendorf and Doctor Poison were really cool villains on their own without trying to cram Ares into the story as well.

wonder-woman doctor poisonAnd on those really cool villains, it would have been nice to have seen more of them. I mean, Doctor Poison was a really cool bad guy. What event caused her face to be partially melted away? Why was she so inclined to make such dangerous weapons? She really needed more screen and plot time than was allotted, so the whammy of being forced to believe Professor Lupine was the BBEG was more than I could choke down.

Which leads me to another common problem with Superhero movies in general (and usually DC is the ones more prone to this than Marvel), but trying cram multiple super-villains into one movie is just too much. I know it’s a method to raise the stakes, and typically the second villain is someone who has a more “profound” effect on the protagonist, but it just pads extra movie time in a film that’s already quite long enough.

I could also rip apart several of the historical inaccuracies portrayed in the movie about WW1 in general (like the half-asses approach to PTSD, or that German soldiers took civilians as slaves when they were captured, or that Germany fought Britain, France, Russia and the US on their own… does no one really remember that Austria-Hungary and Italy were also in those trenches?), but if I start ripping apart Hollywood for taking creative licences with history, we’d be in for a very long list of movies that were terrifyingly wrong in very nearly every aspect.

At the end, with the choices that were made by either the producers or direction, we went from a movie that could have been “holy shit wow” to “meh”. And I know that makes me the enemy of women everywhere to rate a movie like this as “100% meh”, but as things stand, I probably won’t be rusting out to buy this one on Blu-ray when it comes out.

Let’s see more of what the actors can do, let’s see superhero movies asking much harder philosophical questions and let’s see less Ben Affleck. You can fight me on that one, but you’ll lose.

And I really think that stance makes me a “Mediocre Hero” at the end of the day.