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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Once More, with Feeling

20170910_210451As the saying goes, “some things never change”. It’s an adage that I’m familiar with, being something of a history jockey and currently trapped in a never ending cycle in Darkest Dungeon (it’s the second least possessed achievement in the game that I seek; which means my sanity is about as ragged as my heroes), but the idea that there are simply some things in life that, no matter how you approach them, the method, or mayhaps even the result, will remain the same. In many regards, this can be a good thing. In others, a practice in tedium.

For myself, however, it actually bears more of a resemblance to the latter. Wednesday last week marked the beginning of my school year, in an exercise that I hope does not prove to be fruitless. I have significant doubts it will, though, as this first term will already be testing my mental mettle in a “winner takes all” sort of struggle.

To really understand this, you need to drift with me way back in my personal annals of history to the tailing ends of my primary school education. Back at the turn of the millennia, mental health awareness was starting to become more prevalent in societal understanding and common school faculty education. I know this less from fact and more from practical experience: quite recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, most of my teachers will ill equipped with the tools necessary to assist someone of my peculiar quirks and essentially non-existent focus. As such, my report card scores were, to put it frankly, not great.

This isn’t to say my teachers had it out for me, on the contrary: many helped in what capacity they could to spur (or, in some cases: drag) me through to my graduation from elementary to secondary schooling. I was able to drudge up the marks I needed to get into the Academic line of courses, and amongst my peers, the only real consideration for getting anything resembling a real chance for the future.

3450910519_0739fe4c95_bIn essence: if you were in the academic stream, you were smart. If you were in applied, you were dumb. In essential, you were basically a useless lump of flesh that wouldn’t amount to much in your future. This isn’t to say I agree with these prejudices, rather this was the common perception of the course options for those sagely early-teen minds. Sufficed to say, I didn’t want to be dumb, so I pushed my way into the academic courses.

Fast forward a few years to the end of high school. My marks were abysmal, classmates were making everything look sincerely easy and I was frustrated with being trapped in an environment that was practically written to work against what few talents I possessed. I’m not going to pretend I was “so smart the work was too easy so I got bored and didn’t try” line, because that is a blatant lie. Fact of the matter is that my mind is less than conventional, so typical methods of teaching and memory retention don’t jive well with me.

As such, I had basically given up on anything resembling an education and was determined to prove a point that, with a little hard work and determination, I could get to great places in my life.

Idealistic, if not horribly inaccurate.

Half a century ago this was the case; but in the society I was finding myself in, not having a $150,000 piece of fancy paper was proving to be a significant stoppage in getting anywhere in life outside of menial labour or factory work. As such, I bounced from dead-end to dead-end, still trying to scratch out a means to make a living for myself.

There are other factors involved in the reasons this didn’t work, but those aren’t my focus today, so let’s move along.

  1. I’m working a night shift stocking shelves at a grocery store. It’s winter, I haven’t seen the sun in a week and a half and had no social life. I was in a hell of a depressive slump and there was no real way out of it. I was stocking cans of pasta sauce to a shelf, listening to the cranky wining of a middle aged lifer behind me when it struck me: if I don’t do something now, this will be the rest of my life.

getty_rf_photo_of_merry_go_round_spinning_rapidlyScrews to that.

If the only way to make it anywhere in life was to get a fancy big-boy education, then so I shall. But first, I had a horrifying high school transcript to make up for. I enrolled into a certified adult learning centre and, after having research university options and discussing with a guidance councillor, I was decked out with a (while not impossible) workload and began my academic blitz.

I had a whole school year to make up for in four and a half months. The first term went well, the second: rather disastrous.

In all my years of education, math was never a strong suit. On the contrary, math had been the scourge of my existence, and physics (which is a great deal of maths) was not much better. Well, one of the courses I needed for the university programs I planned on taking was Chemistry. What I hadn’t known was how much physics are in chemistry. Or maybe there aren’t, I don’t really know for reasons that should become abundant rather shortly.

Last year, 2016, I was completely devastated when all my hard efforts and attempts at understanding chemistry was, basically, for nothing. The demoralization came not from the material itself, rather the frequent surprises that was “oh shit; I thought I knew this material, but now I see I have the brain of a spoon”. One of the things that had caused me the most anxiety and distress in high school had come back full tilt: I was completely confident I knew the material, but my test scores were averaging out to 35%.

Out of 100%.

And a lower score is not the goal here.

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Artwork by Ahmed Ali

All my courses unravelled very quickly after that term and my plans for an education pretty much dissipated from there. I buried myself in work in an effort to try to find something I could take pride in.

 

Again, time skip to a couple months ago. My interest in just working basic, dead-end jobs had completely waned again. It was time to re-approach university. I still very much wanted to pursue my interests in psychology and similar, but I wasn’t going to be able to working in the service industry. I reapplied for course upgrading, which leads me to today.

In a cruel twist of fate, I find myself back in the exact same classroom I took chemistry in, with the same teacher, and the same course breakdown that had so stupendously defeated me the year past.

This is it. Do or die. I largely consider this course to be the one that destroyed me last year, and so I will return and conquer this now. This is less a test of my mind, so much a test of my willpower. My brain is not well tuned to the abstract numerology and scientific notations that I’ll be taught. Not to mention that my memory retention is awful, and all my marks will be reflected upon that one trait.

If I want to pursue a career in conquering depression world-wide, I need to conquer grade 12 university-level chemistry.

4395513-0198806481-stoic

Rock-bashing makes for great leadership, I am to understand.

Granted, should I fail this course again, I can re-take it. But that’s kind of the point here: how many times can one person bash their head against a task in the hopes of surpassing it? Much like Stoic the Vast told his son Hiccup, he bashed his head against a rock until it broke. Much like Michael Palin told Terry Jones in The Holy Grail, he kept building Swamp Castle until it stopped sinking (and once, burning) and remained upright.

Divines above and below I will get this right eventually. And this will be the year for certain. I understand that this will not be the greatest test of my abilities I face in my future, but it will mark a milestone in my journey that I can look back upon in times of hardship and say “I beat stoichiometry, I can beat this”.

As Chumbawumba said, “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down!”

I’m Not the Captain of my own Ship

20170826_211100We’re rapidly coasting up on the two week mark since my last blog (or anything, for that matter) post, and for anyone whose followed my spotty career on YouTube will know, these sudden and unannounced absences from these writing and filming obligations is far from uncommon. The reasons for these abrupt disappearances can be simply summarized as “lol depression”, but this fails to capture the full impact of what’s going on in that dusty brain of mine. And, contrary to every good sense I posses, I plan to capture a summary of what’s been going on in my own head for the past month and some that has lead to this point.

And I wish to point out that the relaying of these feelings and ideas are by no means new nor brave in any regard; I’m quite certain that there are writers, poets, vloggers, cartoonists or what have you who can better and more succinctly capture the true essence of what a chronic sense of lack of self worth and inability to be motivated can lead to a complete and encapsulating sense of apathy.

And I’d also like to apologize in advance: it is not my intent to incite a pity-fest with my woes. Nor do I anticipate that posting this particular thesis of sorts will alleviate my depressive moods to any degree. Monday is tomorrow (as time of writing this article), I needed a topic, and this is a topic that has been floating around in the old grey matter for quite some time now.

So, to begin with, we need to establish a few things about the natures of my depression and how it manifests. While science has yet to find any sort of reliable method to perfectly diagnose/identify depression-based issues, my doctor’s best guess is that my case is caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. Something somewhere is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing and, as a result, there’s a component missing in the “typical” patterns that a brain is to exhibit (which in and of itself makes a fascinating, if slightly philosophic debate, on the topic of what is a normal brain pattern), and as a result, I am more prone to these sudden low moods and persuasions.

18342011_1529088040444169_6636624381584876906_nNow, if it were that simple, depression would be largely a result of biology and be much easier to treat. However, the brain is something that, much like putty, is shaped and moulded by interactions and events. It’s all very complicated and I don’t pretend to fully understand it myself, but due to the nature of how neurons reacts and communicate with other functions within the brain, the very nature of how information is processed will drastically change the inner workings of the brain and how it develops.

In essence, life happenings and events change how the brain reacts to things and reinforces those behaviours and such. How we perceive ourselves on a very basic and subconscious level can be largely influenced by our environments and interactions; incidentally saying any more than that will spark a series of ethical and social arguments of which are not the point of today’s topic. So let’s cap it there.

As I’m sure it’ll shock you to read, I’ve always been something of an eccentric personality. My mind has always processed information in highly irregular methods and my interests are, until the past couple of years, exceedingly unorthodox in communities and by no means “mainstream”. This lead to a certain degree of ostricization by my peers at school and in the few social activities I participated in; this lead to a delightful cycle of I was weird, so people didn’t want to interact with me, which reinforced my own peculiar interests, which weirded people out, and so on.

On the plus-side, these strange behavioural quirks and personality perks are starting to serve me well in my adult life, but it took a good long time for those rewards to manifest.

Now, any social psychologist or biologist can tell you that humans are, by their very basic nature, social creatures. With the exception of biological outliers, all humans crave interaction with like creatures who share in their interests and passions. Historically, this was in survival and procreation. In some regards, this hasn’t changed much; with the exception of social survival and… well… recreational procreation, I suppose?

But, my experiences had shaped a very real belief in my mind that, due to how weird I am perceived to be, my presence is largely not wanted by the populace and so I should just keep to myself. These ideas manifest in very different ways depending on circumstance, but in regards to my recent experiences, it manifest into a social withdrawal.

Depression stairsIn a move that largely defies logic, I stopped communicating with my friends but not being the first to reach out via online or text-based communication. This is nothing new, this sort of thing happens frequently whether due to fatigue from circumstance or just the need for some personal isolation. However, this time, it was to prove a point to myself (a point that I have needlessly proved and doesn’t do anything beneficial), and that point was that, were I to vanish from social circles, nobody would really notice. This is a common move for people suffering with depression or incredibly low self-esteems, and in some regards can be a good indicator that someone who has a history of suicide is re-contemplating taking their own life.

Side note: this is not the case for myself and is quite often not the case for others in my situation. Many introverts will vanish for days at a time to recharge from particularly taxing social events. Like I’ve said, if this was easy to understand and work with, it wouldn’t be as huge an issue.

In my case, it’s my inferiority complex at work: if I didn’t reach out to people, nobody would care about my absence. And so, I stopped texting or messaging people first. As I was not surprised to discover, my cell phone fell silent, aside from the occasional text from immediate family to coordinate household plans and to find out what my work schedule is.

It’s actually been going on 35 days now with my phone being in such a state, and my social media feeds are much the same. Now, this is not to say that these forms of communication truly satisfy the human desire for interpersonal contact (Vsauce made an excellent series of points on this), but it does do more than complete isolation does.

Of course, when you feel completely cut off from social circles, it can become much harder to find value in yourself as a person, or value in what you do. This latter point is what greatly affects my work on this blog and (as mentioned previously) other platforms: if no one wants to talk to me as a person, why would they waste time reading something I’ve written? Initially, this will manifest as a legitimate question that I seek to answer, and I’ll do research and reading to see what sort of things other people have written or produced to try and learn. But, in due time, this research will devolve into overly-critical self-evaluation, where I’ll begin to degrade the quality of my own ideas and concepts long before I have a chance to start working on them as a waste of time or too poorly constructed to matter.

In fact, this particular topic was the blog I was last planning on writing before I had spiralled down into a general state of apathy.

Once all these wheels start falling off, it can be very hard to put them back on. Fortunately for myself, this is a fairly cyclical series for me. I know that, if I ride it out long enough, I’ll eventually bounce out of it and back into productiveness and overall happiness. But it is still an overall issue that I must contend with and can be very detrimental to my ability to succeed in my life pursuits as well as get the most out of my limited time on this planet.

20451708_10155142621951693_4762292272392306149_o

Comics like this actually really irk me

Now, the logical thing to assume with this occurrence is to remind myself that these thoughts are (literally and metaphorically) just in my head. And I’ve seen no shortage of comics that try to lend credence to this idea by downplaying how intrusive and all-absorbing these thoughts of self-doubt and worthlessness can be. Actually, on that note, perhaps we need to re-evaluate that statement there.

It’s not a thought; not in the conventional sense at least. It’s more like a feeling, or a sensation. Something that you can feel in your gut that’s telling you that something is exceedingly wrong with what you’re doing. It’s not one exact idea rolling around so much as it is an unrelenting series or streams of concepts or scenarios that play out in your mind the entire time you work on something, or are at rest, or play or otherwise.

Almost like a background track from a video game or movie; you’re never truly aware of it most of the time until it either builds to a crescendo, or is completely absent. And that absence of that sensation can be all the more unnerving when you’ve lived with it the breadth of your life like I have. When it’s not present, you feel an overall unease and tenseness that something will undoubtedly go wrong soon, because an uncanny sensation like this is far from normal, right?

It’s a very abstract concept to try to rationalize into a broad enough series of statements or descriptions for people to try to understand, if at the very least because how personal it is and can be. And for people who aren’t afflicted with depression or chronic anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to understand how your brain can rebel against you to such a degree that it not only impacts, but dictates, every aspect of your life.

b50c143ea5fcc0508627a50866616590--fighting-depression-suicidalquotes-depression-sadI’m slowly dragging myself out of my slump and should be in good health for another month and a half before it begins again and I resume my downward spiral into apathy. Make no mistake, however: speaking for myself, I’ve taken steps to mitigate the damage to my life these depressions cause. It’s a point of fortune in my life I never underestimate, though significantly less-so for many people out there. Either their lifestyle does not permit these comparatively rapid changes to their mental state, or they consider themselves so far gone that they are beyond saving.

Again, exceptionally personal.

If nothing else, at least I can finally tally this specific topic off my to-do list. Ideally I should be hitting every deadline for the near future going forward, but my brain is a surprising creature and never leaves my sense of shock left wanting.

I mean, you should see half the dreams I have at night. It does me a bamboozle every time.

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.

Imperfect Recollection: the Proof

20170802_013032I’m sure you’re familiar with that age old saying: “Some things you’ll never forget”. Truly, some occurrences and instances are so fantastical, extraordinary or downright moving that an exact series of frames, or even complete video footage, very well might have been imprinted into your brain. And these memories are exceedingly personal, each one forming a small component of who you are and identify as.

This past Saturday, I experienced something that I had assumed would be just that: an event that would be so vivid in my mind I’d be able to draw upon it without much effort. I was involved in a fairly intense car collision, which (as you can see from the attached photo) did very little to improve the condition of my truck. My blog post today isn’t so much about that occurrence, rather a series of observations I have made recently about my own cognisance and memory.

As I had said, I entirely suspected that I’d remember every detail leading up to as well as the crash itself. I even remember remarking to my dad shortly afterwards that the crash was useful to me: now I could write about the force of impact, the sounds, the smells and all other sensory stimulants in much greater detail. And it is true, even now, certain events I can easily call upon.

It hadn’t even been an hour, however, and the memories were beginning to muddle in my mind. For starters, I had it in my head that the other vehicle in the crash was white. Spoiler alert: not even close. This was surprising to me at the time, as the other vehicle was just around the corner from where I sat. Then came the realization that I was misremembering what my dad had said mere seconds before the crash.

For those curious: “Fuck, this is going to hurt.”

These inconsistencies were mounting rapidly as minutes passed by, and in the days following, I can’t say for certain if I misremember particular details, or if I’ve outright fabricated them myself. A day later, an off-hand comment had revealed that the back-end of the truck had lifted off the ground upon impact. I had no memory of that at the time, but now, I can visualize the sensation of the back end lifting. Did that actually happen, and was I actually remembering it? Did my mind just fill in a blank with the information presented?

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Surprisingly, the only damage sustained was a somewhat nasty bruise on my nose

It’s been a long standing reality of most psychological fields that memory is less than perfect. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Socrates himself even said “Damn, I don’t remember last night happening THAT way.” Disclaimer: I know Socrates wasn’t a psychologist, but I hope you get what I’m getting at with this analogy. This is, as far as we understand, a result of the fragmented way our brains store what we refer to as memories.

I’ll not delve much further into the specifics of how the concept we rationalize as memory is compartmentalized and stored within our brains, if for no other reason than I’m still not entirely sure I understand it myself. After all, I am not a psychologist (yet). But what I can speak of with confidence is the newfound understanding of how I can understand my own memory processes. And while it’s not indicative of how the average person (whatever those are) remembers things, it may serve as a launching point for further inquiries and discussions.

For the time being, however, I can confidently say I’ve thoroughly shaken my own appreciation for how unreliable my memory is. I used to think it was prone to deception after 24 hours, and I’ve now been served a clarification.

It’ll lie to me after fifteen minutes.

Masterful, Merciless, Madness

Darkest Dungeon

Red Hook Studios/ Horror, RPG, Strategy

20170716_212924I’ve had a long standing relationship with the darkness and with hopelessness. Quite likely stemming from a very intimate history with depression; how riveting it can be to peel back the layers of the shadows and to peek into the fragile minds that dare to delve within it. When you realize that the people behind great deeds are, in fact, human and prone to the same weaknesses we all are, it reduces an idol to a breathing soul.

It’s perhaps one of the things that’s always irked me most about fantasy stories and adventures: how inhuman all the main characters are. In human in the sense that, despite overwhelming and impossible odds, or great horrors, their minds remain unblemished after the battle ends. Sure, they’ll be distraught by loss or over joyed with victory, but these are fleeting emotions before they just kind of… move on.

This is why games that have mechanics to really reflect the fragility of the human mind are something I strongly value in many game genres. And while I certainly don’t, for a moment, think that every game needs to have such mechanics: the ones that do are a very welcome change of pace. As such, Darkest Dungeon has become something of an obsession of mine in the recent weeks.

DarkestDungeon_Metadata_BackgroundPDP_1That’s a slight lie on my part: I was infatuated with the game when I first discovered it last year late, late into the summer. I poured many hours into it before I was dealt a series of devastating losses that I , personally, was having a hard time recovering from. More on that later.

Let’s start from the beginning of things here: in the game, you play as the ancestor of a once great and powerful family. Of course, as your ancestor (know in game only as The Ancestor) grew bored of more conventional diversions, he began to dabble in the forbidden and the insane. This dips very heavily into H.P. Lovecraft‘s works as the Ancestor discovers ruins and gateways beneath the family manor.

And anyone familiar with Lovecraft knows that, when you find a door guarded by squid-faced statues, the correct answer is always, ALWAYS nope right out of there. Breaching the gateway, of course, releases unspeakable and unfathomable horrors into the mansion, and a creeping doom begins to infect the lands surrounding.

It is your job, dear player, to play clean-up. Tainted monsters, blood-thirsty brigands and all manner of eldritch horrors need killing. But since you are by no means a fighter yourself, your only option is to hire others to do the cleaning for you. That way, when the terrible realities of what it is they’re seeing start to sink in, you’re no worse for wear. Kinda.

I’m going to by-pass a lot of the mechanics of the game in favour of getting to the real meat of my interests with this game. And in all honesty, if understanding the mechanics in more depth is your thing, you can find 1000 and 1 reviews out there that’ll pull them apart. No, my interests lie in the unique stories each and every of these characters you’ll hire tell. And, most fascinatingly, how the game encourages you to either be a caring or apathetic commander.

Let’s take this one step at a time, shall we. Starting with point one: these strangely unique characters who’ll wander their way into your town, looking for gold and glory. Or perhaps redemption. Aside from the first four characters you get when you start the game, each character is randomly generated every time you return to town from an expedition. And while the base stats of each class are very uniform and all the faces look the same, what’s more interesting is the random quirks that each character begins with.

chesterThese quirks come in two flavours, good and bad. And with a little bit of imagination, you can conjure up all sorts of fascinating potential backstories for each of these new arrivals. Of course, this requires a degree of acknowledging the cannon lore for each class, as according to the official IG write-ups: each class represents one specific person. For example, the highwayman’s name is Dismas, and upon game completion, you can unlock a comic strip that tells a little of his specific backstory.

This begins to fall apart a little when you consider how many Dismas’ are running amok at any given time. Not too long ago, I had 3 highwaymen in my roster, one of which was named Dismas, and the other two were very nearly clones aside from their scarf colours (in the couple of expeditions that followed, pretty well all of them died horrible deaths. #adventurerlifegoals ). Upon inspection of each character, their personalities were quite different, and because of how I was trying to save some IG money by not unlocking each and every one of their skills, they all had a slightly different way of fighting and working with a team.

I got to know each of these characters rather well. In one case, a highwayman (I’mma keep using these guys as an example for reasons well beyond my own comprehension) names Meri arrived in town. About as low level as they come, he seemed to be more skilled in swordplay than in the use of his gun. What was interesting, though, was that his positive trait was Weald Scrounger, meaning he was more comfortable in the woods and better at scouting ahead there. But his negative quirk was Witness. At some point in his life, he had seen something unsettling happen in a place of worship, and as a result, refuses to go back inside.

darkest-dungeon-review-crop-a_480.0Like I said, a little imagination and you can start to piece together Meri’s backstory. Off top of my head, I can picture a young lad who was training to be a knight in the service of God. Perhaps it was a scandal from the local abbot, but he saw something in his youth that caused him to turn his back on the church. He was a skilled swordsman already, so carving a life for himself out in the woods as a brigand would be no major difficulty. With rumours persisting of a wealthy family hiring explorers to delve into dangerous ruins and the like for good coin, Meri signed on to the nearest caravan and found his way to the Hamlet.

Kind of hits the realm of fan-fiction in many regards, but a good piece of fan-fiction can serve as the basis for great writing material.

Each and every of these characters seem so interesting in their own way, which made leading them further and further down into despair and danger all the more harder. This ties in that second point I mentioned previously quite nicely, and also relates to that point on a crippling defeat I had brought up some ten paragraphs ago. As you begin to get to know these characters, invest a lot of time and effort into raising and improving them, their deaths become all the harder to burden.

Perma-death mechanics are a fickle mistress in gaming. You either love or loathe them. In this case, I view it as a necessary part of the experience. Because I do feel sad when I lose an adventurer I had grown fond of. Sure, I don’t know them on a personal level, and I didn’t watch any cut-scenes featuring exposition or points from the Writer’s Guide to Making Audiences Love Your Character nonsense. No. Instead, I watch these brave, sometimes desperate souls, fight impossible odds or losing battles against mind-breakingly strong adversaries.

So when I would watch, of that party of four who left confident and full of vigor come back as only one or two, horribly broken both physically and mentally, it can be very draining for me. As I’ve learned, I’m not the sort of leader who can just throw bodies into a meat-grinder if it meets a goal. I want to see as many of those heroes return after the battle and celebrate victory with me.

The last time I had played extensively was November of the past year. I don’t remember all the details specifically, but I had suffered a string of terrible losses that forced me to surrender to the demons, as it were. Many of my best and favourite adventures had died one after the other, my coffers had become so light the only option was to send out more parties with bare minimum equipment and pray for the best. Of course, these expeditions would end in disaster, if it were the best case scenario anyway.

After a couple of IG months of this, I turned back and surrendered the Hamlet to the creeping demonic influence that was laying claim to the land. I lacked the emotional fortitude to keep going and I surrendered.

There’s something very visceral and powerful about experiencing that in a game. Not because it was a scripted loss where the game was stacked against me (though, with the nature of RNG dungeons, that very well may be the case sometimes), but because of the circumstances, I found my breaking point. And the best thing about it is, aside from time invested, I didn’t actually lose anything for the experience. No one actually got hurt of worse, and I personally grew from the experience.

Now I’m back delving into the Darkest of Dungeons (with a new file, obviously) and applying the lessons I learned from my previous incarnation to wage war against the Eldar Ones. And these lessons are also useful outside of this game.

I know now that, in the heat of the moment I will make a choice to sacrifice everything to obtain my goal but will very much regret it later on. I also know that the individuals are important to me, and that the ends don’t justify the means. Care and caution are paramount, and I can’t ignore that about myself.

This didn’t fall under the category of your typical review. I didn’t assign it an arbitrary number, I didn’t discuss extensively the graphics or even the team that made it. I needed to review my own process and thoughts with this experience and how it has shaped me today. Because that’s what games and experiences do: they shape us.

Even if, to do so, they expose us to horrors our rational minds could never fathom.