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20170807_004837This brooches the subject of outdated news by all traditional schools of thought, and very nearly all current schools of thought.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.