#236: The Insult

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This won’t be a negative blog post, and I plan on establishing that early so that anyone worried about me because of the title can have their concerns eased. This is about an insult I received indirectly via a game I was playing, and what my feelings are regarding this common feeling.

In Persona 5, at one point while all the characters are studying together in the cafe to prepare for final exams, Ryuji, the slacker character, says, roughly: “What’s the point in English anyways? It’s not like we’re gonna use it in the future…” The irony here is that, of course, this game was developed in Japan and they’re referring to English as a second language, because the game was translated and localized into English by a different company. After this event, another character in the story named Ann said: “Yeah, what’s the point in figuring out what an author is thinking? It’s no use.”

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, so let me explain quickly. When an English teacher asks you to deconstruct an author’s thought process, what they’re really asking you to do is prove that, when you read a given piece, you can grasp the author’s intentions in writing it. Are they biased? Reliable? Motivated by other reasons? Can you tell this by gleaming information from the written text? Can you prove it using said evidence?

Of course, these characters are teenagers and not literature teachers. They’re mostly immature and humorous. I don’t take what they say always seriously, and I don’t think the game intends you to either. It’s all in good fun, which is what makes the game so enjoyable in the first place. I just wanted to use a moment in the game as a jumping off point for a conversation about the purpose of English classes.

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#224: The Tank

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Today I’ll be discussing the art of “tanking.” Tanking is a strategy employed in certain strategy games or role-playing games, wherein a tough, beefy character stands in front of all the baddies and absorbs their hits while the rest of the party deals damage or heals the tank. The holy trinity of MMORPG party mechanics is one tank, one healer, and three damage dealers, and it hasn’t changed much in the time since World of Warcraft’s initial release. It’s just become normalized that way in almost all MMORPGs.

Tanking, however, is something that takes skill. It’s not as easy as just face-rolling all of your damage dealing abilities and expecting big numbers to pop up. You have to worry about maintaining aggro from all the mobs you’re attacking, while also keeping yourself alive and dealing a respectable amount of damage, enough at least to keep the attention of the mobs. You also have to position the mobs such that they don’t unintentionally grab the attention of other nearby mobs or bosses, while making sure their abilities and spells don’t target the rest of the party. Essentially, you are keeping multiple people’s positions in mind while worrying about your own position and the position of the enemies. Being a tank requires a special awareness to all of these key traits.

And if you mess up, everyone knows. You’re the de facto leader of the group; you’re the one who decides the pace of the dungeon, after all. You’re supposed to be the one who pulls mobs at your decided pace, and because mythic+ dungeons are timed, the blame for dungeons not being completed in time can sometimes fall on your shoulders.

This all being said, I enjoy tanking and the challenges it provides. Sometimes I like being able to just join a group without having to worry about how the tank decides to carry us through the dungeon; sometimes I like being able to decide that myself. It can be nice and liberating. Tanking is great, and stressful, and that’s all that matters.

#220: The Timewalk

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Timewalking is a feature in World of Warcraft that becomes available every few weeks or so, and it’s become a tradition for us to take time out of our busy schedules to complete the 5 required weekly timewalking dungeons, regardless of what expansion they come from.

Let me explain what timewalking is first. So in World of Warcraft, there have been seven expansions up to this point. The game has been out since 2004, and it’s still running strong despite everything else going wrong with the game since then. Each expansion has a set of dungeons (5-player group content) exclusive to that expansion. In Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion to the game, you could explore the Temple of the Jade Serpent with a group of randomized players, but in the most recent expansion, you can still complete the Temple dungeon, but not with random players in an instance queue. That is, until timewalking appears, and then you are able to experience the magic all over again. Your characters are leveled down to the current level of the expansion, and then you’re forced to take on everything that comes your way with an item level appropriate to the expansion, too. Everything is normalized to provide an authentic experience of what it would be like if that content was current. For example, all the enemies and bosses are scaled up while you are scaled down to match their power levels. Mechanics are important again, and you can’t just zerg rush through all the bosses without paying attention to some of the mechanics of the game. You have to actually pay attention and work as a team, rather than rushing and rushing along through every health bar you face.

That’s it for timewalking, for now at least. I’m sure I’ll talk about it again at some point, considering how prevalent it is in WoW.

#218: The Board Game

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It’s time we talk about board games and how they’ve changed the way I think about gaming in general.

Board games are a blast, and I own plenty of them. My favorites that I own are probably Betrayal at House on the Hill & Kings of New York, two classics that always seem to pop up when my friends and I decide to hang out and play games together. There’s also Settlers of Catan, Clue, Taboo, Munchkin, Magic (if you count magic as a board games, it depends on your definition I guess), and more that I’m forgetting off the top of my head and I’m sure Alex will remind me of them after she reads this.

The reason why I like playing board games is because they allow a certain degree of role-playing that isn’t afforded by other games. In Betrayal, for example, people are given the chance to role-play as a person trekking through a mysterious, haunted mansion. The place is procedurally generated, thanks to the freedom that playing a board game offers, and there are tiles that you pull from to create the mansion. When you run into an Omen tile, you have to draw an Omen card, such as a Sword, Zombie, Knight, etc., and they determine what the Haunt will be. The Haunt is the moment that changes the game and flips everything on its head. Depending on what Omen is drawn, who draws it, and what room they draw it in, the game chooses a “Betrayer” who then has to fight against the rest of the party. It’s one of my favorite games because of the randomness presented by it, as well as the sheer interactions that come from playing a game that randomly pits certain people against each other. How fun is that?

I also like playing Kings of New York, but I’ve run out of words to talk about that one. Maybe next time!

#183: The Playmat

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While playing Magic: the Gathering, it’s customary for Alex and I to set things up first. We take the magazines and plants off of the center table, and then we put pillows down on my side, by the TV, for me to sit on. Angus walks over and, as is custom, he brushes against us and the magazines and they spill over as we pet him vigorously, because he loves attention while we play magic. He always gets excited whenever we sit down together and start to prepare our things for card playing. His face perks up and he starts to pant, like he’s outside in the steaming heat.

Next, we unroll my massive Dark Confidant playmat, which I got in 2014 and which was signed by the artist, Scott Fishman, at a magic convention in Worcester-Boston. He signed it with a little fish next to his name, which is how I remember what his name is. It’s written in silver sharpie. When we went, Dan, Alex (different Alex this time), and I all got playmats from the same guy and for the same purpose, but I think I’m the only one who still uses his playmat. I think Alex sold his, and Dan uses a different one whenever he plays. I don’t even own a Dark Confidant card, but having the playmat makes me feel like I do, at least in some sense.

Alex (the first one, not the friend one) is looking to get a playmat for herself one of these days. We’re in the middle of researching the right one for her, and I think she’s looking for one with Deathpact Angel or Angel of Despair on the cover. I think either of those options would look amazing on a playmat, so to imagine them lighting up against my Dark Confidant playmat would be amazing. Darkness versus light, good versus evil, all that jazz. You know how it goes by this point.

#182: The Long Night

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Talk about complete and total darkness. Not the type that’s momentarily scary, but totally enveloping and ruining. The kind of darkness that makes you question what’s real and what’s not. Absolute carnage takes place in the darkness. After watching Game of Thrones season 3 episode 8’s “The Long Night,” I feel qualified to talk about this darkness, because the episode was dark in more ways than one. The tone and mood of the episode were similarly dreary and frightening, while the atmosphere, setting, and lighting were terrifyingly dark as well. In some parts, the dead seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut, rampaging over anything that even dared to touch them, such as the Dothraki horde with their flaming swords of doom.

By the time this post reaches my blog, it’ll be long past the release of this episode, but I figured it was worth discussing anyway because I bet this episode stands the test of time for awhile. Some may disagree about the overall quality of the episode, but I think having the battle take place in one, 80-minute spectacle felt like the right thing to do, rather than drag it on for longer than necessary. They had to finish it right there and then, as the dead were already picking up and animating the bodies of those who were fighting against them. It would’ve been a hundred times worse otherwise.

I loved the scenes with the red mist, as Winterfell became overrun by zombies and the dead. It really brought home the aspect of dread. I was completely, totally stressed out for the entire episode, and I know others were too. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to film such a thing, to put it all together into one major episode. The budget must’ve been sky high, to begin with. I’m just happy one of my favorite series is coming together like this.

#169: The Hare

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Woahhh, we’re halfway there! Giant plushy hare! Take my hand, and we’ll make it I swear.

Today, I’ll be talking about the eponymous plushy hare that I got from Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Yes, I know, another post about pocket camp, but at least it’s not about Magic: the Gathering, right? I’ve had enough of those in a row lately, so it’s time to shake things up.

So, recently, there was another gyroidite-collecting event in the game, which means you have to walk around the different venue spots, collect as many little gyroidite blobs as you can, and turn them in for items that help you acquire leaf tickets and more. This time, though, in celebration of Easter and general springtime, Zipper arrived and we collected little eggs instead of gyroidite. It was appropriate, given the context and setting, for them to offer eggs, like it was some kind of egg hunt. Zipper, the animal dressed as a large bunny who refuses to admit that he’s just an animal playing dress up, offers a huge plushy version of himself for you to put in your campsite.

When you collect 600 eggs, you can craft the eponymous giant plushy hare, the one massive mega item offered by this event. It takes a long time to get 600 eggs, as it’s no easy task to just walk around and collect eggs for hours on end. Well, it might be easy, but it’s definitely a bit boring. When you eventually get to the end of the mountain, though, it feels great to plop your giant hare in your campsite as a signal of your accomplishment. You will always be known as the one who managed to scavenge up 600 eggs in under a week or so. It’s a badge of honor for a job well done. And I did it! Sorry, Alex.

#165: The Legion

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Originally, I was going to write about the Boros Legion, the overzealous crusading guild in Ravnica, but then I realized I could also write about the legion in another respect: the Burning Legion in World of Warcraft. There are so many legions! Legions upon legions to discuss.

The Burning Legion in World of Warcraft were the central antagonists of the second most recent expansion, World of Warcraft: Legion. They’re an endlessly respawning army of demonic forces, and they are practically unstoppable. The conflict in this expansion is that they were invading our home world again, and this time they were hell-bent on annihilation. This expansion solidified WoW as an absolute titan of the gaming industry and allowed them to reclaim some of their old glory. Legion propelled subscriber numbers and boosted player interest and hype, with the introduction of the Broken Isles, legendaries, artifacts, and the exclusively max-level Suramar questing experience (which, if you read my blog regularly, I wrote about a few weeks ago). Legion revitalized my interest in WoW and got me hooked again for practically the entire length of the expansion, minus a few spots. I remember focusing super heavily on completing the mage tower challenges at the end of the expansion, trying my best to unlock the hidden and exclusive artifact appearances before they went away for good.

The Boros Legion is interesting because they’re primarily “good” guys. I bought the Boros guild pack recently, and it’s absolutely crushed all the other decks when it curves well. I’ve enjoyed playing with it a lot. The idea of playing a “white weenies” deck (strong, small white-colored creature cards with exceptional synergy between each other) has always been fun for me, and I like blasting people’s faces in with flying angels. Thankfully, that’s what the Boros are all about: ruthless aggression and flying assaults.

#162: The Commander

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Not the commander of a ship, rather I am the commander of an elite, 100-card singleton deck of Magic: the Gathering cards. You guessed it, another blog post about Magic! It’s been on my mind so much lately, so I apologize for writing so much about it.

I recently ordered another commander deck, for the first time in a while. I haven’t played commander in ages, literally years and years ago. This past weekend, my friend Dan said that he held onto one of his old commander decks and that we can play together if I construct one. So naturally, I took that opportunity and decided to make one for myself. I bought a pre-constructed Lord Windgrace deck, which features landfall mechanics and a planeswalker as the commander. It’s kind of exciting to have a planeswalker commander, considering most commanders have to be legendary creatures, not planeswalkers. This one has a special rule allowing it to be used in the format.

So, here’s how the commander format works: you build a deck of 100 unique cards, with one of the cards being your commander. None of the cards are able to be copies; they have to be singleton. You can play the commander at any time and from any position. The format makes for unpredictable, awesome multi-player games because you know your cards won’t repeat themselves, and you have no idea what you’ll be drawing at any one time. There’s a concept called commander damage, which means if your commander deals a total of 21 damage to any one enemy player over the course of the game, then they are defeated. For reference, you start the game with 30 life, as opposed to the usual 20 life in standard games.

Commander is awesome, and probably my favorite casual format in magic. I highly recommend giving it a shot if you’ve never done it before.

#158: The Fortune Cookie

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I love fortune cookies. They have a plain texture, crunchy taste, and are free with any Chinese takeout meal. What’s not to love?

No, in reality I’ll be discussing fortune cookies as they appear in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, as I recently opened one and got an exceptionally rare item. I felt pretty good afterwards, which is what happens when the odds end up in your favor when they often don’t. There’s a 3% chance of finding a 5-star item in a fortune cookie, which means you have to open roughly 33 cookies to have a chance of getting the item everyone really wants. It’s a bit absurd, especially considering how few fortune cookies are available regularly in the game. They don’t come easily; you have to check the shop at least once a day at 11am to see if the rare ones are here, and more often than not they are missing.

Fortune cookies are the Animal Crossing equivalent of loot boxes, a system put into video games to allow people to buy a randomized box of cosmetic items for a price. The price, of course, is in dollars not in game currency. The loot box system originates from Overwatch, a game I’ve spoken about on this blog. There’s a lot of controversy involving loot boxes because they are seen as a form of gambling; you pay money for a random chance at receiving what you want. Nothing is guaranteed, so it’s not like you’re spending money directly on the item you’re looking for, instead you’re spending money on a chance at getting that item. Hence the gambling issue.

I do think that games are exploitative and predatory when it comes to loot boxes, and I wish they would tone it down. Fortune cookies aren’t super bad, because you can just ignore the items, but in other games, the items available from loot boxes are really, really important. Hence all the frustration, which i totally empathize with.