how's the weather today?

‘How’s the Weather Today?’: A Retrospective

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Travel

How’s the weather today?

This is a question that I never really asked myself much – at least until I moved to New York. Given that we just went through the rainiest season on record, looking up the weather has become something of a ritual for me. Because I work from home and have plenty of free time to actually go outside, the question of ‘how’s the weather today?’ is often the first thing that I look at when I get up, and the last thing I look at before I go to bed.

It’s weird living my life at the whims of an tampered climate, knowing that it’s only going to get worse. It rained throughout May and part of June, and the last few weeks have been the hottest on record in parts of the world. It’s not exactly a good time to be a human if you’re sensitive to the weather, and unfortunately, I’m pretty sensitive to the weather.

When traveling the world, the effects of climate change were much more evident. When in the Philippines, I remember looking at landfills of consumable garbage that were higher than some of the buildings they were situated right next to. In India and Nepal, the waste often got so bad that you’d have to wade through it on the street. On the supposedly nice beaches of Bali, trash washed up on the shore and contaminated the water, except at the beaches that white people curated for themselves.

Who says that travel can’t give you meaning? Well, I did – but maybe the meaning doesn’t come from the travel itself. You can go to all these places and collect all of these countries, but these are almost irrelevant experiences you’re having in a vacuum – one in which no one in your life back home can even attempt to relate with. Your absence is more like a void in other people’s lives, and even though it may seem like more than that in yours, that’s essentially what it is – filling a void.

Now that I’ve only done one trip (aside for a family vacation) in the last six months, maybe it’s more evident that travel does matter, or at least the effects of  it on you do, if not the action itself. After all, anyone can travel if they just have the free time and the disposable income, it’s not really an achievement or something to be proud of.

Except the kicker for me is that I’ve only only noticed the effects after I stopped traveling full-time. I don’t think I’d have a real sense of what I liked and disliked without having done it. I don’t think I’d be able to differentiate East Coast humidity from monsoons and humidity so egregious that the heat physically seems to rise off the street. Knowing the climate is fucked everywhere really makes you appreciate what you have weather-wise.

How’s the weather today?

Well, it sucks. But in context – it could be worse.

 

black mirror smithereens review

Black Mirror ‘Smithereens’ Review

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Television

When I first watched Black Mirror, back in 2015, the show’s reputation was synonymous with quality. However, since then, the show has been pretty hit or miss, with a lot of episodes being borderline unwatchable. Despite this, I’ve more or less kept up with Black Mirror, and decided to check out the new season, starting with the episode ‘Smithereens.’

Black Mirror ‘Smithereens’ Review: the following contains spoilers

From the start, ‘Smithereens’ played out like a lesser version of ‘The National Anthem,’ which played with the effects that social media had on society. If you don’t remember it well, it’s the one where the PM fucks the pig on national TV. As such, ‘Smithereens’ is also set in a contemporary world (2018) without the aid of futuristic technology, so it is totally based on the current world we live in. The problem with the episode is that the motivations of the characters don’t make sense relative to the current society we live in. The crux of the episode is that a mentally unstable Uber drive lost his fiance because he was checking his social media page while driving, getting into a fatal car accident and killing her. Due to this guilt, he wanted to speak to the CEO of the social media company to tell him that this happened. He doesn’t really hold him responsible, and he’s aware that his own actions were largely the cause of the accident. It wasn’t the great algorithm in the sky that caused his demise, but it was his own actions, and his own addiction to social media that caused this.

black-mirror-smithereens review

I’m not saying that nobody has ever killed someone due to getting a notification on their phone, but the whole contrivance of the scenario was a bit too much for me. The fact that the great twist is something out a PSA after school special was profoundly silly. I don’t really feel like social media is ‘ruining society’ because of the way people’s brains are hardwired. It’s such like a simplified worldview to think that that’s the problem, and I think it’s a point of view that Black Mirror seems happy to promote, even though the kidnapper does acknowledge his actions aren’t totally due to the evils of technology. However, the social media CEO that he talks on the phone with, who is supposed to be a pastiche of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (the silent retreat he is one is based on one that Dorsey himself did in Myanamar), makes an argument that kind of undermines this. In the episode, he admits to sort of Frankenstein-ing his social media platform together, and for feeling terrible and having a conscience about the effects his platform has had on society.

In reality, I think this is meant to be catharsis for the audience, and I don’t think tech CEOs actually have horrible regret about the world they have wrought. The closest we have in Elon Musk, who is basically if Tony Stark was severally mentally ill and forced into the confines of creating technology that competes with other technology within market capitalism. That’s why you see him create things like The Boring Company and spark outrage with the SEC; because he wants to innovate, and wants to piss off his corporate overlords. That’s not to say that Zuckerberg and Dorsey don’t think they are changing society, they’re just too blinded by their own arrogance to realize it, and I don’t think a social media CEO would ever come to that realization in that way. 

The episode ends with people getting notifications about the standoff, and kind of just brushing the entire thing under the rug. The truth is, condemning the masses for doing this, in the way that Black Mirror does, is totally absurd. Why is that a bad thing? We’re so inundated with mass shooters on a regular basis, along with political updates that rupture the fabric of our society, and we all collectively shrug at it. What else are we supposed to do really? The episode takes this tack as though it’s the failing of the system growing too insidious and that its why people are fucked up, but is it really? Or are there other issues at play that don’t have anything to do with that? The episode doesn’t really consider that maybe the kidnapper was pretty fucked up before he even got into the car accident, and that it wasn’t exactly killing his fiance that set him on to the path of psychosis.

All in all, I don’t think that newer episodes of Black Mirror quite dig into the nuanced psychological ways that technology effects the human mind in the way that earlier seasons had (especially seasons 1-3). I will be watching the rest of the season, but not with high expectations.

If you liked this TV review, be sure to check out other reviews that I’ve done

Cobra Kai Season 1 Review

Samurai Jack Final Episode Review

cutting off damaged hair

I Cut My Damaged Hair Off and Never Felt Better

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture

By 30, it’s estimated that over 25% of men have noticeable hair loss. I wouldn’t say that I’m quite there, but to me, it’s noticeable. Partially to avoid this, and partially because I had been traveling full-time for over two years, I grew a travel beard and long hair.  When I was traveling, it was easier to maintain (or not do anything really), and at the time, it was definitely the look for me. But there comes a time where you look at yourself, and look at how your life has evolved, and realize that the hair isn’t just about the hair. It’s about the lifestyle. Now that my lifestyle has changed , and I live in Brooklyn, the long hair semi-homeless travel look no longer served a functional purpose for me. I was already thinking of cutting it off, but when I went to go get a trim, my barber informed me that having long hair was exacerbating my balding. As such, he recommended cutting off damaged hair in order to better preserve what hair I have left.

I agreed — I had the impression that my hair had gotten more damaged recently. It was getting frizzier and more brittle, and the curls did not have the same bounce that they used to. But cutting off damaged hair didn’t immediately occur to me as an option. I had thought that I wanted to keep my long hair — at least as long as I had enough hair to do so. After all, I had been rocking the style for two years, and I didn’t see any reason to change things up now.

But it wasn’t exactly a choice for me. Sure, I could have gone to another barber and saved the decision for another day. But not cutting off damaged hair would have just made my balding worse. Many men in their late 20’s to early 30’s have this problem, and if you let it, it can totally destroy your self-confidence. But genetics are genetics, and while there are certain products you can use, you can’t escape your fate. There might be a certain Greek tragedy element to this, but hair loss, like any form of loss, is somewhat inevitable.

It’s just that you choose how to deal with it.

The truth is, cutting off damaged hair has really helped me to see myself beyond who I’ve been. Hair is just hair, of course. But when facing the inevitable, it’s better to allow your body to make the changes it’s going to make. After all, by the time most men hit 50, they lose their hair anyway. Maybe sometimes it’s just better to go gentle into the good night, and to decline to rage against the dying light. Or maybe not. Who knows?

But for me, cutting off damaged hair has been eye-opening, and has allowed me to feel more like me. It’s a good feeling to know that you don’t regret a big decision about your body and your identity. But even if you do, it’s just hair, and damaged hair can always grow back.

how to grow a blog

Two Years of Blogging: How I’ve Learned to Grow a Blog into a Fun Hobby

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Marketing

Well, it’s that time again. I’ve officially been running this blog for two years, which is way more than I imagined I would when I started it. When I first started writing, I had no idea how to grow a blog, and would mostly just use Facebook groups, Reddit, Stumbleupon and other types of social media. I still do that, of course. But after one year of blogging, where I got a little bit too emotionally invested in the size of my readership, I took my second year of blogging to step back and actually enjoy learning how to grow a blog.

In my first year, I wrote around 60 posts, and got approximately 26.5k readers. That’s a lot of readers for a personal blog where I write about whatever I feel like, but it was also a lot of work to maintain. That’s an average of 5 posts a month, which is a little more than my schedule (or inclination) allows for now. This year, I took a step back and optimized my blog for search a bit more. Given that I work as an SEO manager, this wasn’t fundamentally difficult, and I did some link building as well as some keyword research and historical optimizations on posts in order for them to get better traffic.

With those efforts, I’m happy to report that my blog traffic this year was 22.1k readers, but on the basis of 38 posts, an average of 2-3 posts a month and significantly less than I wrote last year. That’s ok though, because those posts, on average, bring in more traffic than a lot of my posts did last year. In essence, it’s less effort on my part for a comparatively similar results, and allows me to pursue other things with my writing outside of this blog.

It’s kind of a cool feeling to see tangible results when running a blog for two years, though. While my goal is not to be a full time blogger, or anything resembling it, it’s really great to see that people are actually reading what I’m writing, if for no other reason that they find it interesting. But when learning growing a blog, being interesting is just not enough. You need to make your blog discoverable, and as a nascent blog, organic search is one of the best ways to do it.

I flirted for a while with branding my blog, but ultimately decided that blogging is just a fun hobby for me. I enjoy keeping it up, and the volume of readers are much less important to me than they used to be. Emotionally, I’m not tied to the success of my blog at all, but rather see it as a way to creatively communicate my thoughts and ideas on topics that interest me.

In learning how to grow a blog, I feel like I’ve learned how to grow as a writer. After two years of running this blog,  I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer and have been able to share that with everyone reading. I’m still working on my book — it will be out this October, but writing for my blog gives me a different kind of satisfaction.

In running this blog, I’ve learned how to better promote myself, and how to maintain a regular writing schedule at least a couple of times a month, I’ve also learned to redefine my life from a struggling aspiring journalist to someone who has a day job in a related field and writes. Keeping up a blog for the last two years has really helped me do that, and allowed me to use my skills in SEO to help draw readers to my work.

When I publish more and bigger things, that skill set will be really important. But in learning how to grow a blog, I’ve been able to just take things less seriously, and really enjoy the journey.

After all, isn’t that the point of blogging?

how to enjoy video games again

Learning How to Enjoy Video Games Again

Posted 7 CommentsPosted in Culture, Video Games

It’s been a while since I claimed I’d be writing more about games again. The truth is, I’ve been busy moving and socializing lately, as well as working on my book, so I haven’t been doing as much gaming or blogging. That being said, gaming a bit less, and a bit more intensely, has allowed me to learn how to enjoy video games again. Now that I’m moved into my apartment, and started to feel a little less anxiety about the pressures and responsibilities of having fixed expenses and a fixed life, I’ve been taking the time to learn how to enjoy video games again.

The first thing is actually having all of my systems (including my gaming PC) in one place. I can hop on a quick game of Overwatch at any time, and not feel the emotional investment in it that I used to. I don’t play to win anymore; I play to have fun. But more importantly, I’ve been able to go back to my roots as a gamer, playing the types of games, like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Super Smash Bros Ultimate, that I typically have associated with gaming. For me to learn how to enjoy video games again, I’ve learned to not care about the outcome, and to just enjoy the overall experience more.

Winning, or even just feeling like you’re the best among the people you know, was always important to me when growing up. When playing the original Mario Party, I was so cutthroat that I talked my babysitter into not buying the Star once. But since gamers have decided they are an oppressed ideological group, I’ve shied away from the experience a bit. When traveling, I wasn’t gaming as much, and not having access to my consoles and gaming PC made gaming get lost in the shuffle a bit.

That’s not to say gaming is inherently toxic. It’s a great hobby, but it’s just that – a hobby. It’s an identity, but not one that needs to come with any sort of baggage. The point of games is to play, but the point of video games is to experience. Video games are not just one for competition – it’s one where you can immerse yourself in new worlds, and experience stories in a way that no other medium can muster.

Even online games have their own narrative. When you learn to enjoy video games again, you’re learning that that narrative supersedes competitive play. It’s not just about your kill-death ratio, or the feats you can perform with your technical skill. It’s about what happens. If you’re playing Overwatch, for example, and a you break your team out of the gridlock of a stalled cart with a combination of luck and strategy, then that’s a narrative you’re creating right there.

Learn How to Enjoy Video Games Again with Friends

how to enjoy video games again

There’s no ‘I’ in video games (except for, you know, that one ‘I’). But the experience of playing video games is not done in a vacuum. Even if you’re playing a single-player narrative based game, you are a part of a broader culture conversation about that particular game. Nobody plays Dark Souls thinking they are going to have an easy time, or plays The Witcher 3 without expecting a masterpiece. Even if you’re not physically playing with your friends, your experience with the game is a part of your relationship with them — that is if you’re playing the same games. 

To learn how to enjoy games again, you need people to enjoy it with people you like spending time with. It’s not just a matter of queuing up a six stack in order to dominate in Overwatch. It’s enjoying the experience of playing with, or adjacent to the people in your life. Not everyone who games has friends like this, of course. But for me, having close friends who love the games I love has really helped me to immerse myself back into gaming.

To learn how to enjoy video games again, I’ve found that I needed to let go of some of my anger.  Even though Yoda didn’t help Anakin avoid the Dark Side, he was still right.

You need to train yourself to let go and enjoy the game again.

We Finally Moved Into Our Apartment — It’s Been an Amazing Decision For Us

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Culture, Travel

Well, we finally did it. We stopped traveling (somewhat) and finally moved to NYC. We moved into an apartment for the first time, at least one in the United States, and more importantly, somewhere I actually want to be in the United States. I’ve had anxiety about getting an apartment for a long time, but ultimately, most of my fears haven’t come to pass. Sure, the consistent fear of not being able to maintain the life we’ve built will always be there, but I think that moving to NYC is more than worth the trade-off.

Our life is so good here. I don’t mean that in a temporal sense; we live within our means, and I don’t feel the need to spend more than I have or take on more than I need. But I do love having a life, being in a consistent space, falling back into established relationships that were always there (even when we were gone), and starting to build a routine. Having a regular pattern of thought, I’m hoping, will help me to focus more on my writing and feel less depressed about it, to change the way it impacts me.

That sounds a little pretentious (and probably is) but not travelling and having this apartment is, I think, the best decision we’ve made in a long time. It will allow us to focus on being us, moreso than anything. Being here, we don’t have to try to be anyone except for ourselves, we don’t have to set expectations of who we are and what we need to do be doing. If anything, it’s just the opposite. We finally have the freedom to work more on the things that matter to us, spend time with people that matter to us, and, most importantly, feel that we impact our little corner of the universe, even if it isn’t global.

We haven’t been everywhere, but we’ve traveled a ton, and being a world traveler is something that has just become a part of my identity. Like being Jewish, or being a writer, or being from Long Island, that aspect of who I am is compartmentalized, but also omnipresent. It’s not something I ever don’t think about; it’s just who I am.

But I think, at least for the foreseeable future, slowing down and really focusing on what we want our lives to look like, what direction we want to be heading in, is the most important thing. Moving into an apartment for the first time was a big step for us, but one I’m ultimately really proud and happy that we were able to take.

The world will always be there. But our impact on it won’t. And while we can’t change the world, we can discover it more, be more aware of the circumstances that make it the way it is.

When we went to India, we saw rampant poverty in a way that I had never seen before, even in the rest of Asia. It was hard to see sometimes, and in ways it felt like a physical assault on my senses. But there’s also hope there, there’s relationships people build with each other, the impact they make on each other’s lives. One of the greatest things of moving back to New York is getting to experience that for the first time in a longtime, to really feel the relationships in my life impact me in a very real and very personal way.

And for that, it’s all worth it.

Louis C.K. live

I Saw Louis C.K. Live on His Viral December 16 Show. His Parkland Bit Wasn’t What Was Offensive

Posted 4 CommentsPosted in Culture, Internet

A few years ago, I, along with most of America, was a big fan of Louis C.K. In the world of comedy, Louis C.K. was unparalleled; he sold out Madison Square Garden on eight separate occasions, won several Emmy’s for his hit TV show Louie, and had the beginnings of becoming an auteur and director. That all changed in October 2017, when Louis C.K. admitted to masturbating in front of women. Since then, although he promised to “…step back and take a long time to listen,” he has done just the opposite of that.

Seeing Louis C.K. live was something I had always wanted to do, of course, at least prior to learning of his sexual misconduct. Since then, I’ve felt ambivalent about liking his shows and specials, although I haven’t watched them since his actions were publicly revealed. In going to see Louis C.K. live, I, along with my mom, my brother, and my fiance, went to a dinky comedy club in Levittown, Long Island to see how we felt about his comeback. Call it a social experiment, or an interesting cultural moment that we wanted to witness, but we had no idea that an excerpt from his disjointed set would go viral when we saw him live on December 16th.

The set was opened by two women, as though the club management knew they needed to apologize for Louis C.K.’s antics before he even started performing. But the moment Louis C.K. took the stage, the crowd was uproarious. These people, mostly middle aged Long Islanders, had bought these heavily discounted tickets, and they were going to enjoy Louis C.K. live, whether it was politically correct to or not.

Surprisingly, Louis C.K. did address his #MeToo moment, just not in the way you’d expect.  He refused to be self-deprecating or even acknowledge what he had done directly. Although he talked about the effects on his life and career, he wasn’t exactly apologetic. Louis C.K. live wasn’t someone who was going to openly talk about his actions, only the consequences of them.

He opened with the aside that he lost over thirty million dollars in a single day, the bulk of his net worth. Whether this was in lost revenue, or personal funds, we can’t really know, but Louis C.K. acted as though that was the great tragedy at play here. He then went on to discuss how he can’t go out in New York anymore, and had to take a trip to France because the entire nation hated him. This was likely the most honest bit in his entire set, if only because it explained why Louis C.K. tickets were $20 as opposed to $200.

Louis C.K. then went on to discuss how her mother sent him articles from The New York Times, like the one that broke the story about him masturbating in front of women.  Thinking his son did something positive, Louis C.K. explained in a joking but exacerbated way about how he knew these stories weren’t portraying him well at all, at one point remarking that this shitty club on Long Island is the only one that will book him now.  The situation only escalated when Louis C.K. thought that a mic wasn’t working properly. This is a comedian used to selling out Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, courting tens of millions of dollars for his annual comedy specials. Brought low by a crappy mic and an even crappier situation, Louis C.K. looked at it as just that —  a bad thing that happened to him, as though he had no agency in the decisions he made.

“Fuck it, what are you going to take away, my birthday? My life is over, I don’t give a shit.”

This was Louis C.K.’s attitude throughout the set — he just seemed defeated. It’s not as though he didn’t have any funny jokes, an extended bit on how mentally challenged kids are confused that we don’t use the word ‘retarded’ anymore, and that we only changed our use of language to assuage our own guilt, was a return to form for Louis C.K. It subverted this type of logic in a way that he did in his prime, and could have been among any of the great bits in his previous stand-up specials. He also had an aside on taking a prank way too far in a surrealistic and grossly exaggerated way, which ended with him killing his father just to mess with his sister. If that’s not classic Louis C.K., I don’t know what is.

The truth is, his Parkland/gender bashing, a two minute sojourn in the middle of his disjointed act, didn’t even register to me at all as being offensive in context. In fact, I was surprised that that’s what the media latched on to. That being said, I personally didn’t like that bit when he did it. My fiance and I glanced sideways at each other when it happened, and I thought it was a bit uninspired and sort of ‘punched down.’ But it wasn’t really any more or less offensive than anything else Louis C.K. has ever done. This is the guy that had a whole routine about using the world ‘faggot,’ and he had much more offensive jokes even within his fragmented post #MeToo routine.

I suppose it’s easier to label Louis C.K. as an alt right provocateur than acknowledge that he just hasn’t changed. Louis C.K. isn’t courting the alt-right; he probably doesn’t even know what that is, and I don’t think anyone in the room did either.  Instead, his routine consisted of the same kind of humor we were lauding him for in the past, which is now offensive to us. And that’s okay, we have and should change as a society. But what I found most offensive was his refusal to even acknowledge any wrongdoing on his behalf

As millennials, we were the generation that grew up using the words ‘gay’ and ‘retarded’ as insults. We might not like to acknowledge it now, but it’s something we did collectively. As such, we also used to like Louis C.K., and like the things he was saying. A few years ago, we were hailing him as a progressive hero. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t do these things though — he always had been doing them, even if we didn’t know or care about it. But it’s his refusal to really acknowledge them in his recent stand-up act at a shitty club on Long Island that is much more offensive than any specific joke that he made.

On the way home, my mom, my brother, my fiance and I all discussed seeing Louis C.K. live. We all agreed he was still a brilliant comedian, even if his bitterness suggested otherwise. But it was his total lack of regard for how his own actions ruined his career that was most striking.  Instead of handling the situation with care, Louis C.K. made it so that his comeback would be all about him, and not the situation that he caused. Everybody will view his attempted comeback in this way, as a casualty of the #MeToo era desperately striving for relevance, refusing to go quietly into that good night.

Although there’s no playbook for coming back from this type of behavior, Louis C.K. made it so that nobody should even try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

writers and depression

Writing Causes Me to Be Depressed, and That’s Why I Do it Less

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Career, Writing

A month and a half ago, I said that I’d be writing more about games again. The jokes on me. because I haven’t written anything since. That’s not quite true; I’ve edited well over a hundred articles for work, mostly on selling and buying businesses. But I haven’t written at all, not creatively anyway. The truth is, I’m starting to believe that writers and depression go hand in hand. I’m still a writer, of course. I always will be. But being a writer is depressing, and I think that’s why I’m less and less inclined to write anything anymore.

Even now, writing these words is kind of putting me in a bad mood. I often feel like I need to live up to these expectations of being a writer that I arbitrarily created for myself when I was younger. Having an innate talent helps, of course, and I do have a book coming out next year after all. But for me, the stigma of writers and depression has followed me. Most of the writing I’ve done has been when (or even because) I was depressed. I used to think it was just the writing industry that got me down, and that I just needed to be patient and bide my time. But now, I’m not so sure.

Embarking on a writer career is obviously a slog, an uphill battle in a society that has commoditized the written word as content to be consumed via search engines and social media. Even this article is peppered with keywords like ‘writers and depression’ in an attempt to rank better and have more people read my words in the ever-shifting void of the internet. But that isn’t what really bothers me. If it was, then I couldn’t work as an SEO professional. No, what bothers me about writing is that it’s a form of communication that doesn’t resonate with me as much anymore. Creating depresses me, it doesn’t bring me joy. Really, I don’t think it ever did, at least not in the way that I thought it would.

You can be talented at something, and even derive pleasure from the completed product, but not enjoy the journey. It’s not a matter of work; I’m willing to work hard if I thought the end result would bring me meaning. But if it’s just causing me arbitrary suffering, and causing me to be depressed, then it seems pointless. The point of writing, or anything really, is to bring meaning to your life. That’s why we join communities, build relationships, and strive to excel in our careers. In a sense, we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, even if that something is a made-up world or scenario that is being used to communicate something entirely different about our reality.

I guess I don’t feel the need to do that anymore; I’m actually pretty happy. I’ve traveled most of the world in the past few years with my awesome fiance, have great friends and family, and excel at my job. Writing sometimes feels like something tacked on to that, a shackle that’s holding me back from finding meaning in anything else. That doesn’t mean I want to entirely stop writing. I’ve come this far, and there’s no reason to just give up.

But I don’t really want to take stock in it anymore. I don’t want it to affect my life, or cause me to be depressed. Being a writer is about observing the world in a certain way, and seeing the stories in everything you experience. That’s why writers and depression have such a prominent connection. I remember my senior quote from High School from Aldous Huxley: ”

“The trouble with fiction that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.”

There’s a lesson in there for all writers. That fiction is almost a more plausible way to explain the world than what it is. It might not be real, but it gets to an emotional truth that is deeper than reality. But being tethered away from that reality is depressing, and it’s not something you have to do. Maybe it’s just growing up, but I like reality now. It’s pretty fucking good. I don’t have to turn to writing to bring meaning to my life because it’s already there.

I experience it every single day.

 

 

 

 

 

video game journalist

I’m Going to Be Writing About Games Again

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Career, Video Games, Writing

My life hasn’t really turned out the way I thought it would be.

Back when I graduated college, I thought I was going to be a video game journalist. I spent years cultivating the skill, having written hundreds if not thousands of video game news stories, features, reviews for over a dozen independent video game publications.

I even was briefly the editor of the defunct Indie Game Magazine and started my own publication. I covered events run by EA, Activison, and most major video game publishers. I wasn’t a professional in that I wasn’t making a consistent income writing about video games (although I’ve done professional technology journalism), but it always felt pretty close.

I’ve gone through the phases of my career as a video game journalist before on this blog, but I don’t think I ever really talked about how quitting made me feel.

Quitting at trying to be a video game journalist was a pretty shitty feeling. It happened abruptly, when I started another startup publication with some friends. It was kind of a backlash to my partner at Continue Play (the previous publication I had founded). Although we created a successful publication, we were butting heads about the direction it was going. Even successful is an operative word in video game journalism though, as getting traffic didn’t necessarily mean that we were making much money.

So, because of this, I left Continue Play with some friends to start a new publication. My tenure there though was short-lived. I wrote a lengthy article about Mass Effect 3, and was accused of plagiarizing the beginning bit of it. Although the situation was more nuanced than that, my friends promptly kicked me out of the site. It wasn’t really a betrayal as much as an inevitability, friendships based off low-stakes video game journalism was never going to last. But what surprised me was how quickly they were willing to toss me aside; all over video games.

For the most part, I haven’t really written about games since. That’s partly because of this incident, but also because continuing to try to be a video game journalist just wasn’t working for me anymore. It felt futile, and just isn’t a viable way to make a living, especially with the way journalism has gone because of the internet.

Because of this, most of the video game journalism on this blog has been content that I wrote in 2013-2014. Although I enjoy gaming more than I did when I was writing about games, I also travel a lot more and play games a lot less. It’s really unfortunate, because some of my best writing was from when I was a video game journalist.

The truth is that making a living as a video game journalist is hard. You need to compromise yourself somewhat, and just like any form of product journalist, it’s the companies you are covering that control all the access. Those considerations, of course, exist in any job in the digital era, but what bothered me about it was that it wasn’t the reason I wanted to be a video game journalist at all.

What appealed to me about being a video game journalist was using games as a medium to talk about culture and the world we live in. I know that sounds a bit pretentious, but games are a way that many people (myself included) experience the world. Games are where some of my biggest memories are from growing up,  and they still often speak to me today.

Although being a video game journalist is  obviously not as important to society as covering politics or world affairs, it felt more important to me. Every game, of course, needs a review, and every news piece needs to be reposted and repackaged from a press release. But the meat of what interested me in writing about video games is writing about the way they made me feel, and the way they helped explain the world to me. And conveying that to people felt like the most important thing of all.

I think I’m going to recapture that spirit and write more about games again. That’s not to say that I want to be a video game journalist. That ship has sailed. Besides, my life may not have turned out how I imagined it would, but it’s actually been a lot better. Being a marketing professional who travels the world with his fiancé and while producing comics books has been a better present than I could have possibly imagined.

But that present reality doesn’t really involve writing. I keep up this blog, of course, but I don’t really write anymore. I’d like to change that, and I think writing about games more will be a good start.

It turns out, I don’t actually need to be a video game journalist to write about games. I just need to want to do it.

 

 

 

the slave auction massacre

Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry: The Slave Auction Massacre

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After the release of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Ubisoft did something a little different for the game’s post-release DLC, offering up a new campaign and swapping out Edward Kenway for former-slave-turned-pirate, Adéwalé.

Freedom Cry deals with slavery in both a thematic and mechanical way, but while developer Ubisoft Montreal could so easily have fallen into the trap of making Freedom Cry feel exploitative and insensitive, instead it’s been sensitively handled and ends up being one of the better post-release DLC campaigns the publisher has released in quite some time – not just for Assassin’s Creed, but for any of their games. But by marrying its theme with the traditional gameplay of the Assassin’s Creed series, it also manages to create a disconnect between the narrative and the on-screen action, which feels a bit jarring.

What makes Freedom Cry so memorable is the main character himself. Adéwalé is a more principled man than his former captain Edward Kenway; rather than fighting for booze, gold, women and everything in-between, Adéwalé fights for the liberation of his people. As a former slave, his motivations are clear – rescue from bondage the men and women who suffer as he once did, so that they can be given a choice, a chance, at freedom.

But his methods, especially the way he wields his weaponry, may betray that genuine sense of goodness. For an Assassin, Adéwalé makes a footprint roughly the size of a Yeti, leaving many dead in his wake. Despite his chosen profession, and his goals of helping the Maroons rebel against their harsh overlords, Adéwalé‘s sojourn through the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince – or at least my unwieldy controlling of him – was marked by destruction, of both slave and master.

After liberating the Maroon resistance group from an influx of enemies, the leader of the group gifts Adéwalé with a stolen blunderbuss, perhaps the least subtle of all ranged weaponry. While Assassin’s Creed 4: Freedom Cry is mostly a close quarters affair, the basic structure boils down to a series of rescue missions, and Adéwaléwith blunderbuss and machete in hand, is at the forefront of this.

 

Unlike Edward, who is motivated and propelled only by gold and conquest, Adéwalé unlocks better weaponry and skills via the liberation of slaves. He can rescue these slaves from a variety of situations, increasing his standing and access to the Maroon community. But the scenario that gives Adéwalé the greatest gains – at least as far as ones that are scattered throughout Port-au-Prince – is the slave auction.

For anyone remotely familiar with the unseemly and regrettable history of the Transatlantic slave trade, you likely know what’s going on here. Roughly half a dozen virile men are on sale, with several overseers badgering out prices to the growing crowd. Almost without incident, Adéwalé takes the stage, blocking the view of the slaves from the crowd, directly confronting the overseers. They offer Adéwalé 500 gold pieces for the lot of them, a paltry sum compared to the vast riches surrounding Port-au-Prince. But Adéwalé – or at least my version of him – would never buy the freedom of a group of slaves. He would earn it. Through bloodshed.

Reaching for his blunderbuss, Adéwalé eyes the overseers as they approach him suspiciously, weapons drawn. Without a word Adéwalé lets off a blast from his blunderbuss, a deafening cry that ends lives. But not for the lives he intended. Sloppily, the blunderbuss’ scatter shot, that could hit the broadside of a barn even when aiming away from it, manages to rip through overseer and slave alike. All die – both tyranny and freedom cut short by the least appropriate weapon for human liberation. Adéwalé says nothing, moving on the next scenario to liberate some slaves – but I, divorced from the character, stop to think.

Were those casualties appropriate? Adéwaléthe principled man is completely divorced from the video game avatar. More so than a Grand Theft Auto character going on a rampage, Adéwalé is not the type of man who would violate his stance. In fact, his actions actively undermine the narrative of liberation. Should he be wielding blunderbuss, machete and firecracker, if his methods are so deadly that they can easily end the lives of slave and master alike?

Of course, Adéwalé has no answers, no thoughts on the matter. He is only a projection of the struggle for freedom, the struggle against tyranny. When Adéwalé later raids slave plantations, his bluntness in attack can lead to over half the plantation workers being massacred. Of course, this is realistic in a sense. Slave NPC’s, like any other, can be killed. But for the death to come at the hand of Adéwalé, or as a consequence of his actions, it all seems a bit wrong.

A principled man can take a strong stance against the murder of his brethren. But if through his own misgivings, his own approach, he allows for death to take place where it would not have otherwise – is he really as principled as he believes?

Assassin’s Creed 4: Freedom Cry, is, of course, not really interested in answering such a complex conundrum; instead, the narrative and action actively undermine one another. Yet it allows for Adéwalé to act on his own accord, even if he inadvertently murders some of his brethren by mistake. I’m not sure what that means, or if it even means anything. But Adéwalé’s action – and by extension my control of them– did make me think: Was it just an honest mistake? Or in the case of liberation – do the ends justify the means?

It’s a question that defines, purposefully or not, the entirety of Freedom Cry.