#289: The Shadowbringer

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Shadowbringers? It’s kind of a generic name, but that’s fine. “Bringer of shadows” could mean anything in the world of fantasy. It could mean that you’re a wielder of dark magic, like a necromancer or warlock, or it could mean that your morals lean toward the evil and corrupt. In this case, it’s referring to the newest expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, which released earlier this year. The earlier expansions set the stage for this one, and they’re also bundled into the same package, which makes it a worthwhile investment for me. I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV recently, even though I’m a ride-or-die WoW expert, because I needed a change of pace from all the monotony of world quests and exploration through WoW. I think having new scenarios and scenery opens up my imagination again, compelling me to continue playing and immerse myself in the game’s deep, complicated systems. Being that I’ve had a lot of time recently to play the game, I’ve been able to invest myself through the initial campaign. There’s nothing like diving into a new, massively huge game and being able to explore it for the first time. It makes me happy to see.

I read this great article from Kotaku recently, titled “How To Get Into Final Fantasy XIV In 2019,” and it helped me get my footing when I was first starting out in the game. It’s important to pay attention to the game’s story, believe it or not, as it reaches “fantastic heights.” I’m interested in what that includes, as the story hasn’t been super engaging thus far. I might even invest in a “story skip” so I don’t have to worry about completing content I’ve already completed a ton of, and whose story I already have a fairly decent handle on.

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#288: The Ship

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Shipping is the act of putting or imagining two fictional characters in a romantic relationship with each other. It’s primarily an act of creative ingenuity, with those who contribute to a particular community having broad imaginations and the unique ability to articulate those thoughts into art, writing, or whatever other medium they choose.

Fanfiction is writing that takes place in the same world as an existing story, but written by another author, usually a fan of the original story who wants to expand on it further and bring more detail to a particular scene or moment. Fanfiction homes in on something in particular: a character the author really enjoys, a moment they want to make last forever, a relationship they wish had more backstory to it. It’s a remarkable practice, and something that I fully support as an English teacher. It takes a lot of creativity to write within another person’s mind, to have your writing gel with the essence of the original story while still expanding on it in unfamiliar territory. I remember offering the opportunity to write fanfiction as a project option for our Catcher in the Rye unit, and I wish more people chose that option, as it would’ve provided me with some interesting reads while giving the writers the chance to stretch their creative juices even more.

The reason I’m discussing these two concepts is because recently I started writing more on Twitter, as some of you probably know if you’ve been reading this blog often, and I’ve met some remarkably talented individuals through it. The chance to meet and befriend these people has been one of the highlights of my summer vacation, and I can only hope it doesn’t disappear as I head into another school year of work. I would hate to see that happen.

#287: The Next Birthday

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Happy birthday, Alex! This is my message to you in celebration of you reaching the wonderful age of 25. You are officially a quarter of a century old, which means you are halfway to 50. Remember what it was like when you were born? Well imagine all that but again. That’s what it’ll be like to reach 50. There are so many wonderful years ahead of you, and I’m so lucky to be able to spend them with you. I hope you continue to have fantastic birthdays from here on out, and I will make sure to give you as many presents as are necessary in order to fulfill my side of the deal.

Even though you are a dingus from time to time, and sometimes lurch into dimbus territory when you feel so inclined, you are the smartest, most capable person I know, and I would trust no one else with so much of my life. There’s a reason I believe in you so whole-heartedly when you call about police reports, car maintenance, dentist appointments, and more. It’s because you’re not just my partner in crime, you’re my amazing professional and personal support system, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. That’s for a fact.

Now, this also happens to be the day that I go back to work, which is a bit of a bummer. It kind of puts a damper on the excitement going into this day, but on a positive note, at least it’s the weekend officially. I’ll be back to cherishing the weekends with you fairly soon, and I look forward to waking up and driving you to the train station whenever the next time arises.

Thank you for being a marvelous person both inside and out, and thank you for being so consistently patient and nice through hard times and simple times.

#286: The Queue

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Role queue is a new feature recently added to the game Overwatch, and it’s changed everything. Previously, you were able to choose heroes freely, without having to worry about what role they filled. You could have an entire team of damage dealers, or supports, or tanks, and the game would do nothing to stop you from trying that hilarious (but probably ineffectual and frustrating after awhile) strategy. Role queue is meant to fix that problem, among other problems present in the game’s social side of things, by forcing a 2-2-2 team composition on every team that plays in Quick Play or Competitive Play from here on. While initially I was hesitant to accept the limitations towards creative freedom that role lock posed, I became more in favor of the idea the more I heard from people on the PTR who said it drastically improved their playing experiences. They were able to queue for whatever role they wanted, and it didn’t matter what other hero people picked. They knew that their team would be good from the outset, at the very least because it was 2-2-2.

Previously, there was always the lurching fear that your team would descend into total chaos because one of your healers switched to a damage dealer, or your only tank swapped to a healer when you already had three healers. There have been innumerable instances of playing Overwatch where the other team wins over us just because they have a better team composition than we do, and now the field is a bit more level. There can still be times where your two damage dealers are Bastion and Symmetra on Offense on a 2CP map (*cough* *cough*), but at least the odds of that happening are less and less. Eventually, role queue will be coming to Quick Play, and I’m looking forward to that so I don’t have to do Competitive as much!

#285: The Trap

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Do you ever feel trapped? Like you’re given to a certain lifestyle for the rest of your life, and there isn’t much you can do about it? Like no matter how hard you try, you’re stuck in a perpetual motion of repeating previous actions from the beginning of your life until your death?

I know that sounds morbid and all, but sometimes I think about what life will be like in ten years, twenty years, thirty or more, and then I remember that life is something we take for granted, that no one is guaranteed to survive forever. An accident can happen, or something totally unexpected. I’d be hesitant to ever say that I know what the next ten years will be like.

I remember being 14, a freshman or sophomore in high school, and barely able to fathom my future at all. I was either a lazy procrastinator, or someone who was punching above his weight in honors classes, trying to fit in among the intellectuals of our grade level. I desperately wanted to be accepted by them, and then at the end of my senior year, in preparation for the senior prom, I remember the ultimate rejection I and other friends faced by certain members of that group. And I remember that so clearly because it serves as an example not to put your trust in others blindly, and to never have your emotional well-being hinge on the feelings of others.

But not all lessons are adhered to easily. Sometimes they take time, but other times they never improve at all. That’s what I mean about feeling trapped, like a hamster in a hamster wheel. That everything has been decided for me by this point, and I don’t have many big decisions left to make. Perhaps I’m over-exaggerating, but sometimes that’s all you can think about, and there’s nothing you can do about it except let those thoughts consume you.

#284: The Pins, Part 2

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So, each of our backpacks are filled with pins of various sizes and shapes. Some of them came from conventions we went to, like Anime NYC last year and its incredible artist alley. Some of the pins came from other cons, like Connecticon which we went to this year. The pins are like a walking history of the cons we’ve gone to, and I think it’s cool to look back on them in that way. It gives them a sort of meaning beyond just the image on the pin itself. When I look at the Final Pam pin on Alex’s backpack, for instance, I can remember sifting through the book of Monster Factory-related art at this lady’s table, and telling her how excited we were that we found fellow McElroy fans at the con. It’s like spotting someone you feel like you know outside of a place you usually see them.

I have two Monster Factory pins on my backpack, one featuring Toucan Dan and the other featuring Chiquita Dave. They’re perfect pieces of art, and I only wish I could get more of them in the future. Hopefully the artist is around next year, and has them on sale again. I can imagine picking some extras up for my friend who only recently got into the McElroy brand of content.

There’s also a pin that Alex got at the March for Our Lives in 2018, which says that “Gun Violence is a Women’s Issue.” I remember seeing that and thinking, first of all, I support your message, but second of all, that would make a great pin. And it did. I can only imagine the stares that Alex gets from strangers while walking around New York with that on, but I hope that the majority of them are positive and full of agreement.

#283: The Pins, Part 1

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Getting Alex a birthday present is always fun. The way we like to do it, the person giving the gifts picks an arbitrary number of gifts they’re going to give the other person, and then in a length of time leading up to that person’s birthday, the gifts are given. This year I chose to get Alex seven things, and so that meant we would start sometime in late July with her getting a gift every three or so days. It’s a little tradition that we’ve kept up for awhile now, and I like to think that it’ll continue as we get older together, too.

This year, the gift field has been dominated by Persona 5-related ideas. It’s not just a fad we went through; it’s a game that thoroughly changed my life and helped me see video games as complex narratives to be experienced, rather than just lifeless fun. But that’s besides the point, and I’ve talked about my love for that game a lot already on this blog. The point is, I got Alex a few gifts related to Persona 5, one of which was a series of pins featuring some of our favorite characters. I chose Ryuji, Joker/Ren, and Makoto as pin picks and the Etsy shop owner was gracious enough to include an extra Haru pin on top of that. I super appreciate what they did and will definitely shop from them again if the chance comes up. When I was shopping for the pins, I knew they would be perfect for her partially because of the original art featured on them, but also because of our history involving backpacks and pins. There’s a story to each one, and it’s nice to look back on them. I could tell a stranger all about Alex’s backpack, for example.

#282: The Squad, Part 2

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This post is a continuation from my previous post about Monster Hunter and forming a squad online.

Initially, as a fan of the Monster Hunter series, I presumed that the game was primarily solo, with some online multiplayer if you wanted to. But realistically, the entire game’s campaign can be completed online, and that’s what I ended up doing with one of my friends over the past few nights. We’ve been hammering through the campaign at lightning speed, mostly because I have some overpowered weapons and gear right now. It makes for interesting times, and the completions are at record speeds for us. That being said, when I spoke with some of the other members of the squad, they said they’ve been playing long enough that they have kills on some of the late-game monsters in under five minutes. That’s insane for me to even think about, but congrats to them. The person I was speaking with said that if I perfected my builds and practiced, I could do it, too, which left me feeling a bit hopeful about everything. That even a noob like me can one day reach those incredible heights in a game. If you can dream it, you can do it, and all that sappy stuff.

What’s also interesting about having a squad is the feeling of belonging that’s associated with it. It’s so easy to hop right in that I don’t have to worry about feeling left out. Because it’s still currently summer vacation for me, I have the ability to stay up late at night with some extra coffee to play some Monster Hunter with my online friends. Sometimes way late into the night, even though I probably shouldn’t be messing with my sleep schedule so much right before school season begins again. The time is almost coming.

#281: The Squad, Part 1

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Playing Monster Hunter: World has been brought to a completely new level: I can now play with multiple friends at a time. Previously, I had played with one of my friends who recently bought a PS4 specifically to play with me, and that’s been a blast so far, but now the experience has been upgraded. I can’t say I’ve had an experience like this on an online game since my days of playing World of Warcraft in a guild. A sense of camaraderie between teammates while fighting for a unified objective, while also playing online with friends who you care for and who care for you.

When I used to raid in WoW, I don’t know how close I ever got to my teammates. I know I eventually told them my age and all that, and I know that at some point I went on voice chat with them and broke through that whole barrier. Back in the day, we used Ventrillo which was a computer application you had to pay for. Discord nowadays is so much more convenient, considering you can do whatever you want from there and for free. You can set up a server for just your friends, and you don’t need to pay for it, most importantly!

Forming a squad on Monster Hunter, though, has been a wonderful experience. I love meeting and befriending new people online, and I love perpetually closing the social gap that I have with other people. There’s satisfaction in slowly overcoming obstacles that have persisted through time, from a young age to an adult age. Having a squad means no one is out of place, everyone’s here for a reason, and everyone in the squad is welcome whenever. All you have to do is just log in to Monster Hunter: World and see if anyone else is playing, too. It makes the game so much more multiplayer based than I ever thought it would be.

#280: The Year

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It’s been a long time since I’ve spent a full school year teaching. The last time I did so was from 2017-2018, and it’s now long since that time. My seniors are now college sophomores, my sophomores are now high school seniors. All of that feels weird to type, knowing how mature (and immature) some of them were, and the requirements and responsibilities expected of their new stations. But on the other hand, life moves on, and I was an in immature, selfish brat as a teenager, so I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

When I think about what a full year amounts to, I get a bit intimidated. The last time I spent a full year teaching, I had a bit of a breakdown on the first day of school, and then again the next first day of school. It’s been a recurring theme for me, one that I hope to break this year. Among other factors to do with my professional self-esteem and more, I think it’s partially to do with the existential realization that, for the next 10 months, I won’t be able to relax as easily as I was over the summer. But it’s not like this is the end of the world; work is necessary, and money is important. I have to supply for myself, and the world won’t keep moving if I don’t keep working in some capacity.

When I look at a calendar, it’s hard not to think of how long each day takes. 24 full hours, with very little room in those hours for enjoyment. But when it comes down to it, I’m doing something that I love doing, and that’s all that matters. Doing what you love is what will propel you and give you the motivation to not worry about whatever comes next.