Overdue Review: Cyberpunk 2077

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshot by me. Toying with the photo editor while talking to the character played by Keanu Reeves.

I have so many words for Cyberpunk 2077. I will keep it to the usual amount here, but I could go on endlessly about this game. Initially launching in December 2020 to what I’ll politely call negative press regarding the unfinished state of the product, the game so addled by bugs it was unplayable. I found it for $30 at the local game store about a year later, knowing two things: first, when the Xbox Series X edition would be released I would get a free upgrade, and second, getting a Series X was matter of time until I hunted one down. This game worked better on advanced consoles from the start, and a lot of work has been done on it since launch.

Well, about a week after my birthday, I finally got my brand new Xbox Series X home. I’ve been an Xbox gamer since year one, and I am immensely happy with my choice to save Cyberpunk for this special occasion. A marvelous game that deserved so much more than to be rushed out in time for the holidays. It has received a lot of attention since release, and there is a long road ahead for the game yet, according to Polish developers CD Projekt. The company is famous for their treatment of the Witcher series. Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooter/role-playing game blended in a package grand in scope, and ambition.

Cyberpunk 2077 is an unbelievably fascinating universe. People hacking their bodies with all kinds of technology; raising all kinds of questions about the sanctity of life, and the body. Rotten corporations control the world. People over-modified develop cyber-psychosis. And you, V, are just trying to make a name for yourself in a city of sharks. I absolutely will not ruin any plot points of this game for you, because I did a good job staying away from it myself so I could experience it fresh. A cinema quality experience in a setting you can totally geek out on.

My first session I played for eight riveting hours. The only thing that stopped me was the need for sleep. I played on Normal difficulty out of the four available, and it was fairly balanced. I would like to try a higher difficulty on another playthrough to see how it is different, and if it is more enjoyable. With the deep character creator, including choosing a background, as well as a vast array of endings and side activities, there is plenty to keep you coming back after the credits roll. The shooting is fun while challenging, and the RPG mechanics offer a wide variety of playing styles delivered in a fairly approachable manner.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshot by me. Love the settings in this game, including this bar.

This game looks stunning in 4k. Whether playing with ray-tracing effects on, or in graphical performance mode, Cyberpunk is awe-inspiring, rich with detail and vibrant color. The neon soaked sprawl of Night City, all the way out to the desert. I even took a picture of a pile of trash at one point that I thought looked neat. The artistic direction of everything from the fashion to the cars, to the environments, it all is so on point and immersive. Night City is a large open world, with tons of interesting pockets and treasures.

The soundtrack adds another valuable card to the deck. A library of fantastic original music on in-game radios and an original score, which all sets the tone brilliantly. Dialogue is a very important part of gameplay, and the voice actors stepped up to bat. Most notably, Keanu Reeves has a major role in the game. I’m happy to say it isn’t a phoned-in performance. Reeves being an excellent choice for the character, it is nice he clearly took the role seriously. The emotion in these actors voices is palpable. Audio design all around extremely solid.

Apart from multiple ways to beat the game, there are different ways to play each mission. The best option is usually to assess the situation while considering your character build. There a handful of gun types, which have subgroups of their own, and all kinds of individual models each with unique stats. You can equip mods and accessories to gun depending on their available slots. Melee combat is also a useful element, with its own techniques and subtleties. I often attempted the stealth route, but also built myself for combat should anything ever not go as planned.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Game clip by me. Fighting a boss. Picked off a minion to get a heavy weapon and unloading. A blistering assault after being on me heels the whole fight.

I must say, I ran into my share of glitches along the way. Small things like my car spawning in an irretrievable place, to some more annoying problems. These technical issues hindered my enjoyment, the only reason I’m mentioning them again. Still, nothing happened that ever made me want to stop playing the game. Just some quirky issues. The positive outweighs the negative here so much, I almost feel guilty bringing it up. There are one or two other flawed aspects, such as the way cars behave.

Available words are becoming scarce to describe Cyberpunk, so here is one word: rare. Games like this don’t come along often, to me. So much thought, effort and passion went into this experience. The result is magnificent. It is a complete mind trip into outer space, full of guts and glory. Get ready to explore ideas beyond your imagination. The storytelling is master work. Even if an individual dialogue choice doesn’t throw a hurricane of chaos theory into the whole scheme of things, and turns out to be relatively inconsequential, it still enhances role play with thoughtful choices.

I’m sure to go back and keep playing after this review. There are story arcs I want to close, and alternative endings I want to see. I may start over fresh on a harder difficulty. So far, I have played over 25 hours. For $30, I could do a lot worse. Especially with the quality of experience, and shooters are never as long as some other RPGs. Find Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. If you look, you should be able to find a modest price. This game was hyped beyond belief during development, I can finally see for myself what all the excitement is about.

Credit: Cyberpunk 2077. Screenshots by me.

Playing Civilization 6 On My Switch in a Late Night Diner

Credit: Civilization 6. Screenshot by me. Writing, is there anything it can’t do?

Once, while living in Los Angeles, the elderly woman in front of me at a donut shop was having trouble finding her payment. As it was a small purchase, I offered to pay for both of us. She was overjoyed, informing me that it was a Romani holiday, and this minor kindness couldn’t have come at a more meaningful time for her. She asked if she could give me a blessing, and while I’m not really one for such things, I indulged her. Whenever somebody gets on the topic of religious experiences I remember those apple fritters.

The late night diner is really a cornerstone of modern civilization. Lately I have been going to a local joint to get donuts after pulling all-nighters. Whether working on an article, or partying hard, nothing hits at six in the morning like watching the sun come up from a place of total solace. The donuts are to die for. In all the storms of my life there has always been an eye in the storm somewhere inside a donut shop or diner. This background backdrop exists in my universe much the same way the game Civilization does.

I have been playing Civilization for a long time, and I have played many iterations. The brilliant strategy has always entertained me. I love watching my empire grow from a single humble village to an advanced civilization. The way the buildings transition in design through different eras, the progression in sophistication of the game and meta, also the dynamics of my relationships with other empires. They rise and fall, sometimes they totally surprise you. It is necessary to maintain the friends you have, and not take anything for granted.

Specifically, I have played Civilization 6 on the Switch over 50 hours, and have yet to walk away with a win. Do not think this means I am at all disappointed. These have never been games you can just knock out of the park your first attempt, especially since I am not the best at strategy games. I have had enormous amounts of fun playing. It has been really close, and like I said other empires have really shocked me at times with moves they’ve made.

Credit: Civilization 6. Screenshot by me. A peek at my Roman attempt at a cultural victory.

Much of my playtime has been spent enjoying this game while hanging with friends. It is so casual that it is easy to maintain a conversation, or pay attention to other things while occasionally glancing at the game for a minute or two, here and there. Even said time is a very loose engagement, except for occasional thoughts of deep strategy. My friends have seen my struggles with Civilization the game and civilization the societal structure. I am still trying to find a good job and always working at integrating into society better.

My strategy in Civilization is much like life. I live by the philosophy that if I don’t start a fight, there won’t be a fight. Of course, the game is a competition I fortify all my cities, and don’t completely overlook muscle. But my goals are related to some victory over military. Combat in Civilization is not all that glamorous, so I find greater satisfaction winning by say science, or culture. Capturing an enemy capital takes strategy, indeed, but developing the ability to live in space is tantamount to mankind. Culture allows you to spread your empire without violence.

As I sat in that diner, the only thing I could think about besides my breakfast was my next move. What order should I assemble the space station in Civilization for my science victory? Are medieval walls sufficient in a modern age? Do I really need to broadcast my mental illness to the world? All questions I can’t immediately answer, but I can make informed decisions. I’m still experimenting, so it matters less which order I build the space station. Medieval walls are definitely insufficient. And I don’t have to broadcast my disability, but I do because I believe in honesty as a journalist and human being.

Credit: Civilization 6. Screenshot by me. Neat!

Every campaign I play of Civilization 6, I learn so much. There is still loads I have to understand yet. The turn-based board game structure has had consistencies over the many installments of the series, but the overall idea has remained the same. Except specific campaign scenarios, you start as a caveman with one warrior and one settler in the Stone Age, and build toward the future. There are numerous ways to win, such as science, culture, faith or military victories. My games have taken almost ten hours each. You can save anytime, and play with friends, something I have always wanted to do. I even bought a copy of the physical table-top Civilization “New Dawn” board game with the hope of finding friends with whom to learn it.

I will always be a night owl. I love going out with friends, or staying up all night alone. Either way I may play Civilization 6. I’m sure those close to me can attest to hearing me curse out Frederick Barbarossa, or the like while they’re trying to talk to me. The late night diner, or even early morning donut shop will forever be a pillar of my life. It is where all my grandest strategy goes down. From there, I see my friends in life when I am hanging out are like my allies in Civilization. We are just trying to get a win in a competitive world while constantly checking in with one another to keep ourselves strong.

Part of what inspired this article is that I am thinking of trying to improve my skill at strategy games. I would like to pick some others to try, but not sure where to go from Civilization, from which I still have so much to learn. Comment your favorites and I will check them out, especially if they are on Nintendo Switch. I was a newbie on JRPGs until Octopath Traveler, and I have come a long way since then, so I’m thinking about trying my hand at other foreign territory. I’ve also been thinking about trying the fried cinnamon roll versus the baked.

Photo by me. A chocolate creme-filled donut, high tier chocolate milk and classic donut shop coffee. Breakfast of champions.

Overdue Review: Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Intro cinematic showing the party and Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

The Japanese role playing game is a fairly new concept to me. It isn’t a genre I have ever given much attention to until playing Octopath Traveler, now one of my favorite games. Dragon Quest 11 was an excellent next step. With a vibrant world, fun characters, cool enemy design and more to bring to the table, I can see why this game generally rates highly. The Definitive Edition brings heaps more onto an already strong deck. Released by Square Enix initially in 2017, the Definitive Edition, which I strongly recommend, rolled out 2019-2020.

Dragon Quest 11 follows the adventures of the protagonist hero, the heralded “Luminary” of legend. Meant to extinguish a supreme, malicious force of darkness, the Luminary’s path isn’t laid out like you might think. In the beginning the whole world seems against them. As you slowly build your strength and renown, more people come to the light. Including your merry band of fighters. At times the quest seems insurmountable, but with a lot of grinding and a little good luck, they might save the day.

The mechanics of DQ11 are classic turn-based RPG. Nothing too spicy here, but they do wonderful things with the recipe they use. There is the option to move about the combat space, but this does nothing other than keep you more engaged should you feel the need. I personally went with a classic line-up for most of the game. I want to focus on the best play, above all else. You’ll grind for experience and loot, something I actually enjoyed in this game. The music, while good, can be a little repetitive, so I found many of my sessions played with an album in the background.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Glimpse of battle mode. Wherever your encounter happens in the game world is where the battle takes place, which is neat.

I played over 60 hours just on the main story. In the Definitive Edition, there is additional in-game content such as story missions, classic Dragon Quest levels, and even the ability to play the entire game in classic 2D style. There is also extra endgame content, including new chapters that I will get to soon. In my time the story certainly had its moments, some bits that really surprised or connected with me, but overall not super impressive. Somewhat generic light versus dark, good versus evil. There is a refreshing fantastical, whimsical element to the tale that made it a nice escape.

The story does a solid job keeping the game going, which is ultimately what I wanted. The turn based battle system is so smooth, with tons of room to experiment and customize. Each character has a unique background and skill tree. I found myself eager to learn about them, and build them into the best soldier for my party. Healing proved to be a very powerful force on any team. There is no weird gimmick to the combat, and as a newcomer to the genre I appreciate that, as I think would many players. This is a very approachable RPG.

I do not remember ever needing a guide for this game. The one time I looked was to make sure I was a high enough level for the end boss, which according to sources I was more than enough. I still had a phenomenal time with the ending. Intense fight, got a little bit of good luck along the way, but that doesn’t diminish the fact I fought expertly. The satisfaction of taking down a tough boss in this game can really move you when you’ve been leveling forever to beat them. I greatly appreciate a game that doesn’t take a lot of outside knowledge to enjoy. I don’t terribly mind using guides occasionally, but the best is not needing one.

The visual style feels familiar, ultra cute and is quite appealing. In part to the distinct artistic styling of Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama. A mash-up of cultural influences make up the fantasy world Erdrea. From Arab style architecture, to Japanese archways, or clearly distinct European atmosphere. At the core of the story is a Norse myth, Yggdrasil, the world tree. The reverence for this tree helps unite a world with a lot of different people in it. The soundtrack is very well done, if lacking a bit of variety. I’m not saying the soundtrack is bad, just sparse.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshot by me. Using the in game photo mode is cool, if lacking features.

I haven’t felt a lot of resonance within Dragon Quest 11, more anything just enjoying the fun times, and letting it remind me to see the world as a place of light. Sylvando reminds me it is worth fighting for smiles. Merely existing is not enough, and he will follow the Luminary to the end of all things to restore them to the world. Every character has parts that I like, for example the thief, Erik, is also incredibly noble. The old man, Rab, is so persistent. Quitting is not something he will ever consider. Not when he lost his kingdom, his kin or anything.

In the grand scheme of things, there are a few things that really impress me about Dragon Quest 11 S. First, how much more content there is in the Definitive Edition. Worth every penny. Second, how much I liked this game despite, even in thanks to, its simplicity. They pull off a lot with a rather simple formula. Third, it got me into a classic series I had no idea existed, until I saw this game on Twitch at launch. It intrigued me then, and I’m so glad I played it now.

Hope is an overarching theme in DQ11, and I have hope for the next installment, which is currently in development. No release date yet, as production is still early. I believe I will be playing the endgame content of DQ11S, and perhaps try some of the game in 2D. Both sound interesting. I have a few other JRPGs on deck to dive into, and I am looking forward to those as well. I recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the genre, or just looking to start out. I’m a newcomer and had a fantastic experience playing Dragon Quest 11 S.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshots by me.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered Defends Good Memories

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. No matter the winds of time, I keep coming around to the things that bring joy.

The problems of today are far reaching. There isn’t anybody who isn’t being impacted by the goings-on of the day. War, pandemic, rising prices everywhere, it seems endless at times in scope and atrociousness. In 2004’s Marvel Punisher movie, at one point Frank Castle’s neighbor tells him, “Good memories can save your life.” She is trying to tell the horrifically traumatized Punisher to focus on the positive memories he has of his family, and his ability to make new happiness. Suggesting it could mean a very different life and outcome for him.

I played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater when it first came out in 1999 on the PlayStation, from developer Neversoft. Pure happiness, in an innovative new game with culture Midwestern kids like us had no idea existed. Ever since, I have played nearly every release. So, when Activision developers Vicarious Visions combined THPS 1+2 remasters in one game, I was very excited. Initially launching in 2020, I picked it up shortly after it was ported to the Nintendo Switch in 2021. Such sweet nostalgia. No humble touch-up, this remaster is a love note to everybody that played those games.

A game so simple led me into so many things. It has been a constant source of joy and catharsis even in moments where I felt blinded by my emotions, it has radically altered my musical and fashion tastes, and not least of all it introduced me to this wild thing called skateboarding. I haven’t skated much since developing heel issues, but in my youth it was a helpful way to vent, socialize and just have some fun. My favorite thing to do was always bomb hills, partially because I was never any good at tricks. The adrenaline rush was so powerful, thinking about it now I can almost hear the wheels and bearings roaring on the concrete beneath me. I can feel the dynamics of the board change as my speed increases.

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. These remasters are everything you could want as a fan.

The game has glimpses of intensity as well, when you’re deep into a high combo, or just about to complete a difficult objective with seconds remaining. Although, the moments that always keep me turning this game back on, long after completing the objectives, are the times where I am just idly free skating around the levels. Going for combos that satisfy me in style or point value, improvising on terrain, even simply enjoying traversing the rich arenas. Negativity fades away as I interact with these games.

The fact that I do not skate like I used to shouldn’t diminish the memories I have from when I did actively. It can be hard not to let new realities tarnish the past. Two of the best weeks I ever had in my life were spent with friends on a New Year’s trip to San Francisco. Many years later, one of those friends committed suicide. I never knew there was such sadness inside him, and it made me doubt every laugh we shared. Eventually, I had to accept that it was alright to remember those smiles fondly. If you analyze anything deeply enough, you’re bound to find blemishes. Sometimes you just need to let things be of their subjective resonance.

What it meant to you matters, because you matter. It is the principle that drives us to have tastes in art or anything. When you are in a restaurant, you order from the menu. You are far less likely to be as satisfied letting someone else order for you. So why would you let someone or something else desecrate your memories? If something has become a pillar of self-care, like the Tony Hawk games for me, I shouldn’t just stop playing them because of what is ultimately an irrelevant negative connotation. I played Tony Hawk games I didn’t like as much as others, I still keep playing new releases.

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshot by me. Combo catharsis.

A lot of people might be eager to let all memories go when associations turn sour. It keeps us from having to struggle with contradiction, and helps us focus on the future. If you had a bad relationship, it can serve you to remember all the things you didn’t like; these things may completely overshadow any good. Yet, I would say you absolutely shouldn’t feel guilty for finding comfort in the storm.

Even when my mental health was in the gutter, I recall enjoying Tony Hawk games. When I was frustrated I found solace in succeeding in pulling off a huge combo. I can’t say I would’ve liked it so much if it weren’t for the polarization with other parts of my life. So does that influence mean I should stay away from skateboarding games, or by an extension of that logic all games? Of course not.

The power to live on making new choices, and assurances provided by the past. This is what good memories can do for us. It is important to remember you have joyous moments you haven’t yet lived. The THPS remasters blend everything that happy memories can do. Graphics and controls of the future, yet familiar levels and mechanics. Whether you have never played a THPS, or you played them all, you’ll feel right at home in this arcade style jam.

In times when going out and making some happy memories isn’t nearly anything easy, it is important we make the most of the moments that already live comfortably in our mind. If it helps you stay positive, engage in acts of nostalgia such as playing a game that has been there through the phases of your life. I’ve been playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater since I was ten years old, and I hope there are more releases to come. Whether new content or even more remasters of classic titles. Check out my review of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered in the Archives, and comment a game that lives rent-free in your head!

Credit: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remastered. Screenshots by me.

Octopath Traveler and the Never-Ending Quest to Find Yourself

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. Traversing a rich world in “HD-2D.” Finding your path is part of the game.

I downloaded the demo for Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler shortly after getting my Switch as a graduation present last May. I loved it, but did not take it seriously until November. I finally finished the three hour demo, and for once believed a game was worth $60. Over the course of the next couple months I played it about one hundred hours.

Every minute of the game was delightfully devoured. Even the grind sessions I found a relaxing time to throw on a podcast, or album. This turn-based RPG released in 2018, yet is retro with modern twists, in graphics and gameplay. It has an enchanting, nearly ninety song soundtrack. There is so much to love about this game, if you want to know more please go into the Archives and read my “Overdue Review.” What I want to talk about right now is how this unsuspecting game shaped my life following the beginning of my playthrough.

Octopath Traveler dominated my attention. An elegant battle system and eight individual, unique story arcs kept me playing towards the next thing. Whether it meant grinding for hours to beat a boss, or finally defeating said boss after nearly an hour in a single engagement with them. Moments where I literally would jump from my seat with joy, celebrating a well earned victory. Memories that make this game of my new favorites ever.

The issue was, it is such a long game. I like to keep my blog updated on what I have been playing, I had only been doing reviews up to then, and it was going to be a while before I was ready to give any verdict on the game. I had marathon ran shorter games before, such as all three BioShock games within a week in September. So, I had to do something different. I always have multiple games in rotation, even with one as addictive as Octopath Traveler. I made a “Checkpoint” post that started with a little bit about what was currently happening in my life, followed by a brief rundown of a few of the games I had been playing.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A glimpse of the battle system.

Since then, I have done more Checkpoint posts, especially needing more content after getting hooked on another long JRPG, Dragon Quest 11. These posts inspired me to branch out further, into a post that was just pure personal philosophy. I have talked in the past about doing mental health breakdowns of games live on Twitch, but being unable to do that right now, I thought, why not try it in a blog? The stage seemed set. I was very happy with the initial result, so much so, within a week I had posted another. Then another one. The reaction was unlike anything I have ever written. Not only was my audience engaged, I was finally doing the type of literary journalism I have put so much effort into developing.

So much in life can have cascading consequences. I discovered a game I thought was neat because of a free demo, it ended up being in my top games of all time and in a way it pushed me to start doing journalism that truly made me deeply proud. Whether I get paid for it or not, this is where my passion lies. Literary style games journalism that speaks on something I feel very strongly about, mental health. Good and bad things can knock down other dominoes in your life. You don’t know what those dominoes will be either. One can lead to the other, and often there is just no way to really know until you get into it.

I found myself identifying with each of the eight playable characters in Octopath Traveler, in different ways. I see myself in Tressa’s eager optimism, Olberic’s unbending resolve, Alfyn’s often stymieing compassion for others, all of them had parts not just of themselves that resonated, but within their stories. Each character has a separate story, and they all had beats with which I think a lot of people could sympathize. Like the trials of Ophilia and Lianna’s friendship. Plot details can remind us of our own struggles.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. Ophilia is exactly the type of healer you want in your corner.

Identifying why certain things resonate with me is helpful to understanding who I am. Octopath Traveler has characters that are a bit generic, but their stories are well told. Why did I choose Cyrus, the Scholar as my first protagonist? There was the practical application that, hopefully, I would learn a lot about the lore of the fantasy game world. But even this application illustrates another, perhaps more powerful motive: the passion for knowledge.

The passion for knowledge had pushed me almost solely through school up until college, when after I wasn’t satisfied with what I was learning at first, I dropped out. I think I learned a lot in the work force instead, but the next time I went to school it was a combination of intellectual pursuit and practical job-related purposes. I studied science at community college, then discovered my strengths lied in English, not science, when I went to a four-year school.

At community college, a teacher gave me a copy of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I enjoyed the tale, and writing style. Then at my four-year I decided to pick journalism specifically, out of all English degrees, after it was pitched to me as a storytelling degree. I ate up every lesson on literary journalism. It seemed to be the type of writing I was born to do. It is creative and personal, yet informative and relevant. It can be a revolutionary vehicle for incredible new writers.

This blog may not shatter the mold, but it is a work in progress. Even after one hundred hours in Octopath Traveler, there is still a lot I have not done. I am constantly thinking about how to do better, or what to do next. Media doesn’t have to come right out and tell us how it will impact us, and even if it wanted to it really could not. Everybody is going to perceive it differently, so the search to find what suits you is as never ending as the changes you go through.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshots by me.

Shifting With Change in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Screenshot by me. Sometimes things go wrong, it is important to accept it as part of life. Screens from Switch and Xbox One.

A year ago today I reviewed the 2020 remaster of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. From the jump in 2010, this was a fan favorite Need for Speed installment. It drew upon a rich history of racing and police chases to give us a game that is approachable with its arcade style, but as you reach higher levels the game expects you to do more with more. I have always been known to have a tough time with change, yet I find a high octane joy ride where things are always changing, big and small, gives me comfort to press on with whatever is making me uncomfortable.

The fact that change has always upset me makes me think it is just part of who I am. Anxiety is strong in my family. It is also a negative symptom of schizophrenia. From an early age, it seemed anything new upset me. Things that should’ve been enjoyable, even. I do not play video games nearly as much as I want to, often because of some negative feeling attached to them. Most games I enjoy alleviate this free-floating nervousness for me somehow.

Change is a natural part of life. All of life brings experience, which heralds evolution. Learning is a form of transformation. Sometimes, it is tempting for me to remain stagnant and do nothing. These are the moments we need to find the motivation to get through as much as possible. Catatonia does nothing for anyone least of all myself. I accept that to a degree it is also natural to be afraid of change. As long as you are afraid because you know the importance of doing the right thing, you are unlikely to make a truly unwise choice.

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Game clip by me. Sometimes you just manage to slip through disaster with skill and luck.

I also am experiencing change through this game due to changing consoles. When I originally reviewed this remaster in 2021, it was on Xbox One. I since bought it on my Nintendo Switch and have been playing it there. Xbox is the clear victor of the two when it comes to this game. The visuals are better, and most importantly, the controls are superior. Precision joysticks and triggers with less dropped inputs. Nothing is worse than being in the heat of a race and the controller forgets you’re pressing the gas. I am still having loads of fun on the Switch, the heavy arcade style does hold its own on the platform.

In NFS: Hot Pursuit, there are parallel careers: Racer and Cop. Each has a number of event types, from standard races, to Hot Pursuits for each side where you are equipped with pursuit equipment such as spike strips, EMPs and more. Sure, it is disappointing when you spend the last quarter of a Hot Pursuit chasing one racer, only for them to get away. Yet, the several busts before the final were immensely gratifying, the entire chase was pulse-pounding, and now I have a solid amount more experience that could grant stronger equipment.

These positives encourage me to want to work toward a gold in as many events as possible. I can overcome my reservations because I know I will be rewarded, even if only with the simple pleasures of the driving fantasy and mechanics. Each attempt is unique. You never know when the enemy will cleverly place a spike strip or how well you will slip roadblocks, for example. Every event is different in terms of how it goes down. This diminishes the fear that the failure I just experienced may not be how my next try goes.

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Screenshot by me. Rapidly changing conditions can make small things seem huge, and the important things small.

In many games, anxiety is part of the draw. From horror games, to games like Dark Souls, and even racing games. Getting your blood moving is why you pay the price for admission. It is a thrill ride. There is an element of fantasy, because you’re doing things in car you would never do, and the gameplay reflects this element. The overall experience is designed to be the most fun, not the most realistic. I don’t think a half hour of the game counts as cardio, but you know you’ve played as you try to manage stress within the race, and when your heart rate continues to soar after the end.

The pressure associated with playing a lot of games can keep me away from them at times, it can also draw me to them. The shifting dunes of life may start to mount, and the game may start to seem insignificant. You then turn to it for joy and release, knowing that if you put forth the effort everything will be okay. The time investment into an event is typically not too grand of an ask. Drifting through turns, evading cops, dodging about traffic, there are powerful feelings of control. Feelings that manifest truth in the form of medals in the game, and experience in both the game and life.

Even good things cause apprehension for many. I still get it before every swim practice, even though it is something I absolutely love doing. Not only that, all the effects from doing it are positive. Still, general anxiety attaches to everything and poisons it. This drowning feeling can make me catatonic. In the end, swimming helps my mental health. I can tell I am happier for going through with it. The same is generally true for NFS: Hot Pursuit sessions. Even if I lose, it is an entertaining game to play.

As I transition from college into a real job, I lean on games to keep me sane. It will be simple treasures like Need for Speed that bring me the most peace. I normally play a diverse array of games, and I’m sure that will be true, though I am more inclined to want to bash some cars around at high speed. No plot, the most basic of contexts, the focus is all on fun. Right now, I need to learn to accept defeat sometimes, knowing it will make me stronger for the next race. Work with the tools and abilities I have to get my life moving.

Credit: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered. Screenshots by me.

Co-Occurring and Cooperative: Addiction, Anxiety and Borderlands

Credit: Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. Screenshot by me. The environments and art style of the FPS/RPG hybrid are just a couple of the ways these games stand out.

The Borderlands games played a pivotal role in my recovery with a co-occurring disorder. As you can hopefully imagine, a co-occurring disorder can be as difficult as it is complex. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that someone with anxiety is twice as likely to develop addiction of some form. I was given books on addiction, and booklets on co-occurrence specifically when I went to treatment for my schizophrenia. I still own the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous bibles. They give me guidance when I’m thinking about friends who may be losing their way.

There are three things a video game can do for you when you’ve had a co-occurring disorder like mine. Empowerment, comfort and socialization. I have a rich history with the Borderlands series, I even did a review of the first game in the Archives; just to talk more about a game for which I have an undying love. Borderlands came to me at a very powerful time, and though I wasn’t yet dealing with addiction, I was struggling with my emotions and developing bad patterns.

Then it seemed everyday everyone around me were doing copious amounts of alcohol, reefer and even cocaine, the latter I completely stayed away from when I saw how it was treating my friends. But there was one constant pillar in my best friend and I’s relationship no matter how bad it got: Borderlands co-op. When we met, we had both already played extensively with another person, so we were equally experienced hitters coming into the ring.

I fought hard for a title that remains disputed. He had a competitive spirit that was a unique kind of fun. Myself playing as Mordecai, sniping one of his kills with my rifle or Bloodwing, then seconds later apologizing when I need him to burn his Roland shield to protect me. Doing something like that energized him to want to step up, charge ahead while the shield is deployed and execute all the enemies, while all I can do is hide.

Credit: Borderlands 2. Screenshot by me. Borderlands is tremendous, and has had a significant impact on me.

Moments like this are great fun and Borderlands delivers them in droves if you play with friends. You can play with up to four people, the game upgrades the enemies depending how many players there are, and it gets absolutely wild. The graphics are so cool and functional. The cartoonish style turns some people away from this game, but I plead with those people to give it a chance. It is an incredible FPS/RPG hybrid series. I own them all on both my consoles, and play them all on them as well.

The gameplay is fantastic. Tight shooting mechanics, interesting loot system with millions of unique creations, often funny dialogue, endearing atmosphere, there is so much to love about Borderlands. Even solo it is worth playing through with some of the multiple characters each game has, as each character has different skill trees and equipment options. I never tire of the formula.

Playing Borderlands kept us from using our substances of choice quite a bit. It also fostered trust and brotherhood, when we weren’t talking about the game we were talking about life. We were able to focus on an alternative stream of rewards. One that is better when the player isn’t heavily inebriated. Eventually our demons still caught up with us and we reformed, but in the decade plus since, Borderlands never went away.

My anxiety is persistent. It is a negative symptom of schizophrenia that is tricky to medicate. Borderlands has brought multiple releases, in turn bringing much release, with content I am still exploring in the twelve years since the original. Critical acclaim has come to all. Very well deserved in my opinion. The old ones withstand the test of time to this day. I bought the Nintendo Switch Borderlands Legendary Collection, and they even hold up excellently on the unsuspecting platform.

Credit: Borderlands The Pre-Sequel. Screenshot by me. Sometimes our problems can seem overwhelming, but working together you can find peace.

I know Borderlands 1 so well I can look at a quest log anytime and know the most efficient order to do the quests. I build a high level, well thought-out character who dominates the battlefield. Feelings of power bring satiation, like seeing the “Level Up!” arrive on screen right as you skillfully cap the last enemy. It also brings empowerment, in spending that level up skill point in the way that best suits your playing style; making you believe you are strong and have the ability to make good choices. And of course, the moments you shared striving for a grand victory with someone.

These are simple examples of the power video games can give us to overcome weaker versions of ourselves. Even a plot as dumb and intentionally hilarious as Borderlands can make you have introspective or philosophical thoughts. What did we expect to find in the Vault? What are the true contents supposed to represent? What does it say about capitalism to buy guns and healthcare out of the same vending machine? Does Claptrap have a soul?

Satiation gets you through your co-occurring disorder for now, empowerment gives you strength for later. The relationships we build playing can survive better than most, and aid us throughout life. There is resonance beyond the simple time we wasted looking at a toy. It is so much more than simple fun. The right game at the right time can be profound, I’m sure there are endless gamers who can attest to this sentiment. A dark time when that bright screen was powerful. I have been a gamer since I was old enough to hold the controller of our Nintendo Entertainment System, and I have always had an emotional bond with video games.

I am looking forward to the Borderlands spinoff “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands,” releasing March 25th, and the upcoming movie from director Eli Roth, expected this year. Both hold a lot of promise. This is a time of great anxiety. It is nice to sometimes both distract yourself with fun, feel badass, and have a deep bonding experience with people that is lighthearted and driven by fun. Comment what game helped you cope with something you were going through!

Credit: Borderlands, Borderlands 2, & Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. Screenshots by me.

BioShock Infinite and The Power of Recovery

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. A strictly forbidden shrine in the fictional city of Columbia, where the game takes place.

I am just beginning another playthrough of the third installment in the BioShock series, 2013’s BioShock Infinite. I reviewed this game along with the two others last September, when I got the remastered collection on Nintendo Switch. Check out those reviews if you haven’t already. And stop reading now if you are concerned about spoilers. Anyway, I cannot stop thinking about this game. Rarely do I give a game another go after beating it, to be honest, but this game keeps me coming back for more.

Not only is Infinite incredible fun, with excellent gunplay and amazing powers, but equally important is the plot. Infinite follows Booker Dewitt, in the year 1912 going to a secessionist city in the sky where a woman is being held captive. The information you’re given at the beginning: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.” Not the most inspiring orders or backstories, but just fine for Booker, who is a memorable roguish type. The protagonist even having a voice is something for a first-person shooter.

I was diagnosed schizophrenic at the age of 23, following a nervous breakdown from overwhelming stress and critical lack of self care. I was in and out of the hospital three different times over the next four years as we struggled to find suitable medication. I’m happy to say I have been incident free since starting my current medication about six years ago. It is a miracle medicine I take as an injection once every three months, never missing a dose this way. During the dark period, I experienced psychosis extensively. Some of these delusions were playful in nature, others were darker, even disturbing. I found myself becoming something I couldn’t identify.

In one universe, Booker goes through with his baptism and becomes the evil Zachary Comstock, in another he doesn’t go through with the baptism. Comstock discovers Booker destitute with his baby daughter after using interdimensional travel, and convinces Booker to sell Comstock his baby daughter. You eventually discover the “debt” owed by Booker was his way of repressing the memory of selling his daughter away, and focusing on rescuing her from her prison.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. The city of Columbia, where Comstock has monuments to himself.

I believe the meaning of the end is Booker is delivered to a universe where he accepts baptism, but this Booker drowns in the process. This prevents any universe with Comstock founding his fascist city in the clouds, but not any universe where Booker still exists. Comstock, I think, is meant to be a monument to sin. Something Booker is no stranger to, but the point is there are levels of sin. And you can make choices that prevent future issues. Basically everything you see in the city of Columbia is some kind of abomination. Whether a demented museum exhibit dedicated to his exploits at the Boxer Rebellion and Wounded Knee, to a segment of the game that is literally a horror game with ghosts, to scientific abominations like the quantum particles that keep the city afloat, portaling between universes or tonics that give you super powers.

Elizabeth, your daughter, spent her whole life locked up in a small tower. Constantly being watched, unbeknownst to her. No contact with the outside world besides books, and the ability to open portals to other universes that kept her under lock and key. From the beginning, her understanding is that her ability is some form of wish fulfillment. When you are low on health, she opens a portal to some medkits, when you cannot possibly complete the story objective, she takes you to a universe where you can. She eventually has the barriers holding back her power destroyed, and finds she is actually omniscient. Able to see into any reality.

These barriers coming down is how diagnosis felt to me. Even though it was a long road ahead, sitting there and hearing those words meant coming home from a war of uncertainty I had been fighting my whole life. I have always remembered having mental health issues that have manifested themselves in diverse ways. Difficult to diagnose. There are infinite universes of possibility with how your mental illness will affect you specifically. The solution, as Elizabeth knows, is staying away from universes where you become a version of yourself you hate. For me, this means regular check-ins with both my psychiatrist and therapist, as well as taking my medication regularly. On top of other general self care things.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. Regular exercise may surprise you by improving overall health, including mental.

At one point, Booker asks Elizabeth, “Do you really think a dip in the water is going to change the things I have done?” As if to say, of course it will not. The key is to foster universes that can live with those things. Booker spoke something similar to Elizabeth earlier when she asked him how he deals with everything he has been through, to which he replies he does not, he just learns to live with it.

This struggle is the story of recovery. There’s no magic river that is going to wipe away what you’ve experienced, or what you are, but you can fight for a universe that you can accept. It may not always feel like the universe accepts you, but I think of diagnosis as a medal on my uniform and treatment my shield. When Booker and Elizabeth enter a particular universe, they find that in this one, Booker died a martyr in the anti-Columbia/Comstock revolution. Your Booker is so puzzled to find the posters saying he is martyr, because he would never lay his life on the line for anybody.

Sometimes I look back on my journey see amazing progress. I have been very depressed, anxious, paranoid, and overwhelmed by feelings that are hard express. Nowadays I am pretty chill. I find enjoyment in every day, I surround myself with things that are positive, and I am always staying in treatment to keep healthy. It might have all been for my own gain ultimately, but that doesn’t defeat the sacrifice I have made. Much like the “revolutionary” Booker Dewitt. I identify with Booker Dewitt, as we both see our history as the debt I have to pay to myself for knowing how it feels to be truly lost.

Mental health analysis of video games is my number one passion. I intend to do this frequently on Twitch as soon as I can afford a decent setup. My old Mixer setup just doesn’t cut it anymore. I love sharing my story, and the little bit of knowledge I gained studying psychology on the side at university. There’s still so much more I could say about this game; it resonated deeply with me. Please leave a comment to tell me how you feel, go check out my reviews of the BioShock collection, and play it for yourself if you haven’t.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. The initial baptism at the entrance to Columbia, in which Booker goes through the motions to gain entry.

The Philosophy of Extraordinary

The Winter Olympics has me thinking. Here’s one law I will actually stand behind: extraordinary things never come about as the result of a singular brushstroke. It takes a cascade of significance and effort to achieve something profound. Whenever you hear of somebody doing something incredible, when asked how they got there, the answer is never one thing. It is always a number of factors coming together to make their moments possible.

I seem to see so many people that search in error for perfection. Perfection is an illusion. The scales are constantly changing. So how do you guide yourself? Seek the extraordinary lifestyle. Cultivate as many positive things as you can that point you towards your goals. It will always take more than one thing to make it, so the more irons you can manage to keep in the fire, the more likely they will all register success. As always, avoid burnout. Like I said, as many factors as you can manage.

If you are like me, and want to leave a mark, goal setting is very important. Setting good goals will help you reach drastically higher. I learned this in Sports Psychology. It is vital to set realistic goals, but also ones that are worth reaching. You might be one big, but achievable goal away from amazing yourself. Have short, medium and long term goals as well. Allow some fluidity to them.

You may also find yourself reaching milestones you never set. The universe is chaos, and chaos means change. Cultivating positivity in your world is the best effort you can make to try to control what is madness. Planting good seeds is great; having strong soil is helpful too; so is a friendly atmosphere, but having good seeds, land and environment is unbeatable.

Extraordinary things are like plants. They have needs, but many will thrive even if neglected. Be a special plant, one that gets maintained and adored not poisoned or pulled. Sure, species of the latter will ultimately survive because that is what we are made to do as organisms. However, in a modern world there are things one can achieve outside mediocrity. We live in a hyper-connected world, meaning your ability to reach the people you want to reach is beyond anything humans have ever imagined.

One of my favorite moments in the game Octopath Traveler [SPOILER WARNING] was when Tressa, the Merchant realized her most valuable treasure wasn’t the shiny gem she fought for, but the stories she had recorded along the way. These stories meant the world to a young princess, who was physically disabled and unable to see the world for herself. Not just the stories we sell, but the stories we make are the truest treasure. What story do you want to tell? It will be told when you are gone, to be sure.

The consequences of our actions have reach far beyond the self. When you see what a deeply positive or negative difference you have the capacity to make in the world around you, it is hard to question my argument. Cultivating extraordinary has an impact far beyond, and far more significant than what it will do for you. You may touch someone’s life in a way they’d been searching forever to find. People don’t forget things like that, whether they knew they needed it or not. And whether they’re conscious of it or not, it can still be true.

So whatever it is you dream of doing, take any steps you can. If it is worth striving. You’re going to suffer either way, you might as well be trying to live the life you want. The madness will always be madness, treat yourself to some joy. Since I started swimming again, so much more positivity has come my way. It is one of my dearest passions, and recently I’ve reached major fulfillment I never thought swimming three times a week could achieve. Goals related to swimming, but not the benefits I get from working out.

Thank you for reading. I wanted to do a very different sort of post, and possibly more oddities in the future. I always keep irons in the fire. Some are just tentative, brewing, or I’m hoping to pitch them somewhere else. Like and/or comment some insight. I would love to hear from you, the reader, on any of my posts.

Checkpoint 2/7/2022

I am taking a blogging class at my old community college. Online learning is a lot different, I barely caught any of it as I had finished classes shortly after the pandemic started. They were such a poorly thought out dirge back then. This class is so much smoother, and I like any class where I can actually use the knowledge.

The second half of this class is going to be about podcasting. I still don’t know how I feel about doing a podcast. I prefer either writing or live streaming. Podcasting seems like streaming without the social factor, the pressure and excitement of being live, and I just don’t know if I would be any good in that format. Comment what you think I should talk about on my experimental podcast!

The job search is a bit depressing. Trying so hard to nudge my way into writing about something that interests me. I am thinking about getting a seasonal part time job just to afford a proper streaming setup. But, that is also one more thing to have to consider when I move; something I’m already dreading. Streaming is just so important to everything I am trying to do, I am missing out so much by not doing it.

Onto what I have been playing. All these games have been on the Nintendo Switch. The first game I want to mention is a review you will likely see sometime in the future. Borderlands 2. This game came out ten years ago in September. It still holds us marvelously. The drastic difference in playing on Nintendo joy-cons versus any other controller is profound, however. I’ve been playing this game since launch, but never got into all the DLC. Borderlands 2 is one of the greatest shooters, if not greatest games ever, in my opinion.

Credit: Borderlands 2. Screenshots by me.

The next game I have been playing is a little bit of Saints Row 4, originally from 2013. This is when I need a sandbox with lots of neat tools. The story of the game is completely off the rails of how the series began, but it is keenly aware, and manages to be a respectable game in its own right. There is a series reboot in the works that has me quite excited. Saints Row is a third person, open world action series with a quirky sense of humor, and some cool super powers.

Credit: Saints Row 4: Re-Elected. Screenshots by me.

The final game I want to mention has also been taking up most of my playing time. Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of An Elusive Age. This is a turn-based RPG series I had never heard of until I saw this game on Twitch when it launched in 2017. After my deep love for Octopath Traveler, a turn-based RPG seen in past posts, I decided to let Square Enix impress me again. And impress me they have. I’m almost thirty hours in and absolutely loving it so far. The “S” edition comes with some really neat features as well.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshots by me.