Serotonin

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Remember that scene in The Simpsons when they’re all in the car and reflecting upon Homer’s decision to stop his career as a Cannonball Thingy Guy? They start talking about what’s cool and what isn’t. The children are decidedly unimpressed with their parents’ insistence that they know what “cool” is. It’s a hilarious ending to classic episode, and all the more fitting that it’s featured in a storyline looking back at counterculture and youths’ shaky affirmation that the older generations don’t know what they’re talking about. READ MORE

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I enjoy novels focusing on a character whose motivations and questions mirror my own darker side. Two recent examples, The Magus (John Fowles) and The Magician’s Land (Lev Grossman), both explore the plight of the young man, and what is he to do? The Magus is a cryptic chasm of false starts, true shocks spiraling the narrative down a hole so deep, I don’t know if I’ve climbed out yet.

There were so many times I asked the very same question the main character did, he might as well have been me. What just happened? Was I there? Who is in on this? Is anybody in on this? What does this all mean? Questions still flood my memory and I’m unable to breach the surface to breathe. What just happened? How am I 31? Did I really do that play? Were they laughing at me? Did I say the wrong thing at a social gathering six weeks ago? Is everybody aware I said the wrong thing? My inner frustration grows, moreso when I’m not even sure if I should do something about it. READ MORE

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As I venture into the unknown of my early 30s, I am physically reminded that I’m no longer as indestructible as I was when I was 19. I can’t put the same stress on my knees as I used to, and stretching has switched from warming up before a sporting activity to an absolute necessity if I don’t want to be hobbling around the next day. It is a sobering experience. READ MORE

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I am astounded by how little I have to do in Cities: Skylines to produce a massive smile on my face.  Whether I’m swinging the camera around to get a better view of my newly-placed bridge, adding in a new residential corner or trying to improve gridlock in my downtown core, every aspect of the game feels rewarding and enjoyable. I can occupy myself with small tasks like ensuring my water budget is up to par, or start grand-scale plans to completely eradicate the industrial off-ramp as part of a new highway system. Every action furthers my suspicion that this game will end up in my top ten of the year. It also feels like something I’ve been wanting for a long, long time. Why is that, exactly? READ MORE

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If I haven’t mentioned it before, here it is: I’m terrible at anything tactical. My ability to process information quickly and act before my opponent has been one of my major strengths in education, sport, theatre and, of course, games. Inevitably, when the playing field levels and my initial advantage is over, I suffer. Whether I don’t enjoying a slower pace, or lack strategy, I tend to struggle in this type of competition. “Slow down,” my teachers told me, “you don’t have to finish the test first.” No, but what could looking over my work and taking my time possibly do for me?

Finesse is never a factor in tactical games. It’s a style in which you’re given ample time to make decisions. Every movement, every upgrade and every attack is made with all the information available, like a pile of books dumped on your desk with no clocks in sight. Take your time. READ MORE

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Sometimes I have the focus of a refined musician, always knowing what notes to listen to, eliminating any perception of outside noise or the audience’s reaction. Anything that could diminish my performance isn’t relevant and I don’t pay any attention to it. It’s not there. This existence of Henry is limited, appearing only at the most opportune times. Like when I’m playing five-dollar blackjack in Vegas, or treading the boards as an actor on stage. Or, of course, when I’m really into a game.

Otherwise, I battle against ceaseless distractions, most of the time losing. Writing this Serotonin, for example, has already led me to start up some music, a podcast and two YouTube videos. I’m not even finished with the second paragraph. What is wrong with me? READ MORE

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Despite my insatiable urges to slaughter digital monsters, I don’t consider myself a violent person. I’ve never been in a real physical fight, nor do I plan or want to. But I’m no saint; I don’t totally remove myself from any kind of physical conflict. I probably say “hit him!” while watching a hockey game more than recommend my team shoot or score. I’ve watched UFC, professional wrestling and even some boxing matches. The preparation, technical skill and thrill of competition sweeps over me when watching the combatants, but that isn’t anything special or unique. I still don’t want to be in their position, nor do I lack empathy when I discover the short and long-term injuries these athletes suffer in the name of entertainment. READ MORE

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It’s been a busy few months for me. My theatrical production of “People” at Langham Court Theatre wrapped up, after a three-month rehearsal process and a three-week run. I’ve created Video Game Music Bingo, an event set to debut at Victoria’s biggest gaming convention, Gottacon. The holidays. Family. Work. My hobbies seem to volunteer for me instead of the other way around. Life doesn’t slow down, it only gets busier as I feel myself getting slower.

With assignments and activities piling on, I have significantly less time for games. That in itself isn’t a problem; we all go through ebbs and flows with our free time throughout the year. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, but when a castmate offered to lend me Final Fantasy III for the DS, I thought I’d dust off my handheld and give it a try. It would kill time, while I wait for my cue to head upstairs and tread the boards. I’ve never been a big supporter of handheld games and this experience confirmed it. When I play games, I want an entrée, not an appetizer. READ MORE

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Something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The controller was fine; over 50 games have fallen to the might of my trusty PS3 gold standard. The TV was massive; we just got a brand new 55-inch Samsung SmartTV, and after negotiating color schemes and brightness, we had come to a mutual understanding that it was a TV and I was the person who decided what it should look like. I was well-fed, not at work and didn’t have to be anywhere in particular anytime soon.

But as I was playing through Tales of Xillia 2, I wasn’t sure why but it felt off. Like some entrée at a restaurant that should taste fine… does taste fine… but… I don’t know, too much salt? Not enough? Are those artichokes? I’ll keep eating, but I prefer satisfaction to a mystery when I’m dining out. READ MORE

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I recently finished Tales of Xillia 2. It received an average score on the “H-Skey rate-o-meter,” which throws out most conventions of game rankings and is almost purely based on emotional connection and how much and for how long it annoyed me. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Xillia game, but this one felt completely unnecessary. It didn’t bother me that Bandai Namco reused a ton of assets or used the same characters. On the contrary, the characters and group dynamic are easily the strongest parts of either title, and I found the camaraderie, frequent skits and professional voice acting added a level of charm rarely seen in other games. As I traversed through the worlds of Elympios and Rieze Maxia, I felt more like I was running errands rather than going on a grand adventure. READ MORE