Serotonin

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Maybe it’s my fear of the unknown that sways me away from playing open-world games. I take directions, orders, coaching and guidance well enough to at least pretend to interpret the advice. I definitely like exploration, but I hate the feeling of being hopelessly lost, particularly if there’s a pressing matter present. I rarely have the time to experiment with new routes, or try to find somebody to beg for directions. Why risk going wrong when you can prepare for going right?

I’ve changed my stance slightly, thanks to fantastic titles like Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. How can you not feel completely immersed in these worlds? Despite my initial reservations of not being told what to do (no, seriously, what do I do and where do I go?), I learned to trust myself and embrace the nature of what an open world means: relying on my previous experience and shedding fear of the unknown. READ MORE

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I’m an excitable fellow. It’s both a fault and an self-diagnosed admirable quality: my personality is a friendly magnet at parties, but in a more somber setting, it’s a reminder that loud isn’t allowed. I just can’t help it, nor do I want to. It’s not like I actively raise my blood pressure, take a sharp breath in and resist the urge to blink when I watch a trailer for Jurassic World. I don’t do it to annoy others, but if I manage to rile them up (and I often do), I can’t be held accountable for my actions. READ MORE

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For a guy who devotes as much energy as I do toward the pursuit of leisure, I am terrible at discovering new sources of entertainment. I can still remember the first time one of my junior school buddies showed me professional wrestling. Sure, I’d heard about it, but even when I watched The Rock run in on a Stone Cold match and listened to my friend freak out, I still didn’t get it. It obviously wasn’t real. It was a bunch of half-naked dudes punching each other. What was so great about that? As it turns out, everything. I don’t know when, if ever, wrestling and I would have crossed paths had it not been for my quick initiation in my parents’ basement on a barely-color TV. READ MORE

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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