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Ain’t No Party Like An Apocalyptic Party


Rarely have I waffled on a game purchase to the extent as I am waffling on Fallout 4. Sometimes I hesitate on a purchase because the cost-to-engagement profile is calculated to be too low, and of course there are times when the “awwww yissss!” coefficient is so high that my wallet literally (meaning that it has actually happened to me) jumps out of my pocket and slaps me in the face for considering holding off. It’s not often that I find myself at a crossroads, stuck in between the couch cushions of “should I?” and “I really shouldn’t”.

I loved Skyrim. Many people have. I completed that game, in as much as one can “complete” a game that contains content enough for an average human life-span. I liked Fallout 3, but it didn’t grab me the same way that Skyrim did. I talked about my feelings on the whole “post-nuclear holocaust” setting…somewhere. It creeps me out. It’s bright and sunny in the game world, but the gravity of the implications are really depressing (especially as someone who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation and the spate of TV miniseries like “The Day After”).

Then again, it’s a massive, open world. It’s supposedly got all of these cool systems, like being able to build your own fortification. Going almost anywhere, doing almost anything…and it’s set outside of Boston, which is a little more than a half hour drive from my house.

Of course, it’s mostly the people around me that are keeping this at the forefront of my mind. I feel like that one unwilling participant who finds himself at the front of an angry mob: as soon as I realize what I’m about to face, I try and turn and run, only to find my way blocked by an impenetrable wall of humanity that is slowly but steadily bulldozing me towards the event. I mean, I can withstand The Crowd just fine under most circumstances (for one unsolicited and unnecessary example, I don’t really care one bit about Overwatch or Blizzcon), but I really, really want to want Fallout 4. I am asking myself if there’s any way I can accept the dismal implications behind the setting, like if there’s so much other “wheeeee!” kind of things I can do to minimize the setting’s conceit that billions of people have died, and there are creepy-ass-beings-formerly-known-as-people who want to eat me.

My brother is a massive Fallout fan, and has already pre-ordered for the XB1. I think if I went with it, I’d also go for the XB1 version, but with an asterisk. I have had great success recently using XB1 home streaming to my first gen Surface Pro over the past few days, and that would allow me to sit in the living room with the family when they desire my presence (if not my interaction). I can also hang out at the PC and stream the game that way. Of course, I could always slum it and sit on the couch to play. That asterisk comes from the fact that while Fallout 4 will have mod support on the console, the pipeline between the mod creators (on PC, no doubt) and the console is ill-defined, as far as I know (which I admit is not much, since I haven’t been keeping up on the situation). Also, I sometimes like to just put the training wheels on and go into “god mode” to just plow through content. I’m old-school like that; heavy on the old.

Beyond all of this, do I want to commit the massive amount of time that Fallout 4 will demand? My desire to spend a lot of time with a single game has been at an all time low, especially single player or solo-play games. I do want a game where I can kick back and just play through without all of the number crunching and inventory juggling that’s usually involved in MMOs or RPGs — and I know that Fallout 4 will have those elements in spades.

I suspect, then, that I’ll eventually pick it up because A) everyone else will be/will have, and B) I’m close enough to wanting it, and I’m not very good at abstaining from a purchase when the “nay” excuses seem to be logic-based (aka, the “why the hell not?” defense).


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Tis The Season – Better Version

So, I moved my earlier version into the trash bin because in retrospect I kind of approached this on two fronts: first with a a super condensed version on Twitter, and then in post format here. However, I wanted to be clear about the impetus behind my statement:

First and foremost, this “need” isn’t about other people. That sounds dangerously close to “it’s not you, it’s me”, which I guess it really is. Yeah, when it comes down to it, that statement is basically a circuitous way of saying that “I need to focus on what makes me happy, and you’re not helping to make me happy”. Further examination shows that such a breakdown doesn’t really sound much better, but I want to say that this is not the only reason for my “need” to clean up my Twitter stream. It’s certainly part of it, but it’s not the only part of it.

The Invisibles

Some people don’t tweet all that much. I guess leaving them on there is just as good as not having them on there at all, since the volume of tweets received is about the same. I’m not OCD by any stretch (if you could see my house, that would be apparent), but when I have absolute and utter control over an aspect of elective interaction, I do tend to pay more attention to keeping everything nice and tidy. At the end of the day, I want a comfortable stream that reflects my need for what I want to get out of social media, and unfollowing people who really don’t use it that often to interact doesn’t seem like a big deal. Certainly in cases like this, it’s absolutely, 100% not a personality judgement. People who don’t communicate drift apart. It’s been like that since people started grunting at one another as a way to communicate, and I expect it will continue until humanity grunts its last grunt between two individuals.

The Self-Promoters

Some people really don’t bother to interact. They tweet out, but rarely between. These people tend to have some kind of personal enrichment agenda, like promoting their Twitch/YouTube channel, or just auto-post from their blog. Ping them on something, and you rarely get a response. If these people have something I want to hear about on a regular basis, I put them in a list with all other “broadcast” accounts. I don’t feel that I need to be following them in my main timeline, which I reserve for people who want to interact with other people.

The Talk-Arounders

Some people don’t bother to interact with me, and since the door swings both ways, I can’t always blame them since I was following a lot of people I almost never interacted with myself. This is a kind of “ships passing in the night” situation. Maybe I followed someone because they were primarily concerned with a game I was really into at the time, as a way of trying to feel like I was part of their community. I didn’t really have much to say to them, but I’d frequently see those people chatting with others about a topic of interest. If my interest in those topics wane, or if I attempt to interact with people and only receive a modicum of a response, then I guess we’re not compatible enough to maintain the relationship. Again, no foul; we’re just not right for one another and my interest in them doesn’t seem to be returned when I do want to interact.

I’m not concerned with “follow backs” since social media is 100% about what I want to get from you. If you’re interesting, talk about things I want to hear about, and seem like a nice person, than I’ll follow, but reciprocation is not expected. However, if a person seems to fall into one of the above categories, then there comes a time when I simply re-evaluate what I’m getting from a person. Am I regularly riveted by what they tweet? Are they engaging with anyone and everyone who tries to converse with them? Or are they one-way streets, pimping their projects and only talking with a select group of other people who aren’t me, if they bother to tweet at all? If they fall into the later category, then they’re part of the year end clean-up. Again, nothing personal, but it’s my stream that I stare at all day (and part of the night), so I want to feel that my timeline is represented by the kinds of people who share my interests, are entertaining, and who value me as a follower of theirs.

And The Rest of Them

There are very few people I unfollow due to a severe difference of opinion. Few, but not none. Some folks I continued to follow out of historical fealty, but in the end that’s not a reason to maintain a “relationship”. My earlier post talked about how I have found myself becoming increasingly agitated by online behavior. It’s been affecting me more and more during my offline hours by compounding other stimuli that have been annoying me. Some of those annoyances are really petty, some are intensely personal, but I increasingly managed to find representations of those annoyances among some of the people I followed on the medias. Other aspects in my life may be more difficult to deal with, but having absolute control over who I see in my timeline means I don’t have to allow those people to continue to contribute behaviors that I don’t care to observe. 98% of the behavior of those people was not personal, but sometimes I see people following other people that I really like, so I figure that me and this third party must have something in common. I’ve hung on to a few people over the years simply because I was waiting to see what attracted others to these folks, and it seems to be around this time of year when I finally decide that if I can’t put my finger on it with certainty, then maybe there’s nothing about this person which explains why I should bother to subject myself to their personalities when all they do is blunder through my timeline with their self-centered projections.

I just wanted to let the majority of folks know that my unfollowing isn’t because I think you’re an asshole or because you’ve got nothing of worth to offer me. I’m always on the lookout for interesting people who want to interact, because I prefer to use social media as a way to find interesting people. Interesting, to me, is a person who shares his or her ideas, but who also likes to interact around common interests, to help one another out, to boost morale, and to be a positive influence on other people. I realize that not everyone views social media that way. Some people use it to promote themselves, to listen in on others, and sadly to continuously vent their anger and annoyance or flaunt their centrism in a public setting. And hey, listen: you’re totally in the right to use these vehicles in those ways if it’s what you want to do, but it doesn’t mean I have to sit around and listen to it, especially when my job is to cultivate a positive, forward-thinking, enjoyable group of people that I want to hear from.

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Halo 5: Guardians


Since I had vacation time to burn before the end of the year, I ended up with several, long stretches of time, including this week, on vacation. Coincidentally (and that’s 100% true), this is the week when Halo 5 releases.

While Call of Duty gets to be both the swaggering poster child for dudebro gaming and the butt of a million jokes about how tired the gaming industry is, Halo seems to just get whipped. It’s the game that launched the Xbox console, and it’s shown up on every Xbox branded machine since, even making a pit stop on the PC for a while before tearing a patch and never looking back. But there’s a lot of anti-Halo sentiment out there. People don’t like the plot, claiming that it’s derivative and lame. People don’t like the campaign because it’s “so obviously not why anyone would play Halo, amiright? [fistbump/teabag]” It’s funny in a sad kind of way that “teabagging” as we know it in video games today started in Halo multiplayer matches. Make of that what you will.

Halo, to me, is the ultimate test of dedication to the science of gaming. For all the people who hate it for reasons they always love to share with everyone, there are those who really like it. Entertainment is a kind of lost art in that the Internet and it’s endless well of info and the madness that drives many people to grandstand for eyeballs has caused so many people to consume entertainment for reasons other than just “to enjoy it”. They have to dissect it, pontificate about it, and ultimately make public judgement calls about whether or not it’s “good” or “bad”.

I find the Halo games to be really fun. I like the characters, and the settings, and the plots. Aimless shooting doesn’t do it for me, but frame it in a context where I can invest in the emotions and conceits of the art and music and voice work and I’ll sit down and blast through it because I decide that I want to be entertained. I’m not looking to impress anyone with my high-minded interpretation of the themes of the Covenant religious war, or to argue with anyone that the “lone space marine” is a tired trope. Really, what in popular culture these days isn’t a tired trope? How much popular entertainment do we selectively sit through and rave about, only to turn around with our noses in the air when someone suggests that we might like X, Y, or Z? A lot, but “Hypocrite in Chief” isn’t very flattering in our Twitter bio.

*   *   *

So what about Halo 5? It’s the first game since Halo: Reach where you get a party to travel around with, but with the added bonus of seeing (and playing) two parts of the same story. There’s not a lot that I can say that hasn’t already been said about the plot without being an ass and spoiling it: You play both as Master Chief and as Spartan Locke, two heads of two different teams (“Blue Team” and “Team Osiris” respectively) who are trying to figure out what’s going on with sudden and devastating Promethian attacks. The difference is that Master Chief is looking for someone, while Spartan Locke has been tasked with finding the Blue Team and bringing them back to stand trial for going AWOL.

In typical Halo fashion, the landscapes are characters in their own right. These games are always gorgeous, and Halo 5 is no exception. You’ll spend plenty of time amidst Forerunner architecture, but you’ll also visit a “Hadley’s Hope”-style mining colony, and the Covenant Elite homeworld of Sanghelios (for some reason I really love that name). You’ll fight with the Arbiter and against the Covenant zealots, and there’s no shortage of Promethians who are trying to stop you — both Master Chief you and Spartan Locke you — from reaching the central core of Genesis, where most of the questions are addressed…they have to leave room for Halo 6, after all.

*   *   *

There’s a lot to digest in Halo 5 from a lore standpoint. For one, the Master Chief is reunited with his team from Halo: The Fall of Reach novel (and upcoming animated series). I’m not entirely sure how this came about, but we first see Blue Team investigating a derelict ONI ship that’s being scavenged by Covenant. It’s during this mission that the Master Chief receives a message that causes him to ignore orders to return to the UNSC flagship, opting to take his team to investigate the ramifications of the message.

Halo 5 brings back the character of Dr Elizabeth Halsey, the creator of the SPARTAN II program that produced the Master Chief and Blue Team soldiers. She was responsible for basically kidnapping promising children, training them, altering their genetics, and turning them into the super-soldiers that ultimately won the war against the Convenant. Halo 5 touches on the “at any cost” drama surrounding Halsey’s decisions, although she’s not the main focus except to set the stage of the Fall of Reach animated series, I believe.

Locke and his Team Osiris is also another creation for Halo 5, although Locke was introduced in in the Halo Waypoint series, Halo: Nightfall. Ultimately, it’s Team Osiris (the Egyptian god of the dead, if you absolutely must dissect something) that’s tasked with tracking down the legendary Master Chief and his team to somehow bring them back to stand trial for desertion. The ramifications of such a task aren’t lost on the team, as Nathan Fillion’s character corners Locke before they head out and reminds him that in carrying out these orders, Team Osiris will be the most hated humans in modern memory. Despite the military breach that the Master Chief has committed, he’s still the one who single-handedly defeated the Convenant, and is considered a hero and a role model by billions.

The rest is more or less spoiler territory, although if you’ve player Halo 4, have read the Forerunner Saga by Greg Bear, or are just really perceptive, you’ll probably catch on to the eventual reveal through the application of simple character math.

*   *   *

I think I enjoyed playing as Locke more than I enjoyed playing as the Chief, for a few reasons.

Overall, I felt that Locke and Osiris were a much better, more interesting team. They had more interplay between them than Blue Team did, which may be explained away as the difference between the original SPARTAN II soldiers and the more modern SPARTANs. Of course, fan favorite Nathan Fillion as ODST trooper Buck (from Halo: ODST, wouldn’t you know) is always there with the cast-for-type wisecracks.

The newer SPARTANS seem to have more range in terms of gameplay, although it’s not a lot. Locke has a special ground-pounding ability which allows him to jump and use his jetpack to slam himself into the ground. I guess…I forgot how to do it after I was told how to do it in the tutorial. The Chief has gained something over the intervening years, though, and that’s actual use of his jetpack. It allows him to boost forward, or to the sides, which helps to get out of the way of incoming attacks or to cross wider-than-average chasms. Otherwise, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between the two teams (or the two characters you got to play) besides the interplay between the voice actors. Even in the cut-scenes, Blue Team were more like moody bouncers than Team Osiris’ rough-and-tumble-military-profession-dysfunctional-family-unit.

As was the case in Halo 4, the Promethians really pissed me off. They’re a sentient mechanical race supposedly created by the Forerunners (the ones who made the Halo rings which had been designed to stop the Flood). They teleport, sometimes repeatedly, making them difficult to pin down. They also take a lot to kill. Their Knights are the equivalent of the Convenat Hunters; the arrival of either sent me looking for heavy weapons on the field. It’s been a while, but I think they’ve been toned down since Halo 4, but I’ll have to go back and check with 4 to make sure.

My favorite weapon this time around is the Promethian Boltshot. It operates a lot like the Covenant Needler, but it packs an actual punch. Despite the ubiquity, the Promethian Suppressor is pretty weak. The Promethian weapons are cool to look at when in use, as they tend to “fly apart”, especially the Lightrifle and the devastating Binary Rifle sniper.

The Covenant weapons seemed more watered down this time around. I only grabbed them when I had nothing else to pick from, which seemed to be pretty often as there was a total lack of UNSC ammo. That makes sense, though, as you are almost always on alien worlds with no way to expect human-style armaments to be available.

And you get to drive the mech in one scenario, which is great fun, because missiles.

*   *   *

I admit that while I love the Halo series, I’ve only every completed 3 and now 5, though I’ve played all of them to one extent or another. I don’t have the actual time in front of me, but I estimate that it took me about eight to 10 hours over two days to complete Halo 5 on Normal difficulty. These days, we’re used to games touting hundreds of hours of gameplay, and as an MMO player, games without end is pretty much the baseline for me, so the length of the campaign may seem ridiculously short for the price.

Of course, the campaign is a strange appendage tacked onto the body of what people are supposed to be really into: Halo multiplayer. As a campaign guy myself, I am pleased with what I’ve gotten. As someone who is generally multiplayer averse — especially Halo multiplayer averse — I have to say that I’m interested in checking out the “Warzone” gameplay.

From what I gather based on what I’ve heard, Warzone is like Titanfall, except instead of giant robots, you get a team of SPARTANS. You have objectives, but you also have A.I. enemies throughout the map. You may be able to reach your objectives without too much fuss, but you might also need to make your way through players and Covenant and Promethian obstacles as well. You can obtain REQ equipment though in-game sales, and these provide you with “burn cards” that you can use in a match. Before you start, you load up a certain number of cards, and can use them during the match. However, you need to build up a certain amount of…energy? time? in order to use them. I haven’t tried it yet, but if it is like Titanfall, then I might enjoy it. I liked Titanfall because I’m really no good at inter-person combat. I’m slow and also spastic when faced with another player. If I see them first, have an awesome weapon, and if they’re already on death’s doorstep, then maybe I can take them out. Usually, I end up dead first. But with Titanfall (and hopefully Warzone), taking out the A.I. helps the team both by taking out obstacles and by giving the team points. I can still feel effective even if I end up getting a virtual scrotum on the helmet more often than not.

I’ll be sure to check back once I’ve tried Warzone. I doubt I’ll try the Arena combat, although since I went back and played the newest incarnation of Unreal Tournament and enjoyed the fast paced, impersonal style, I might give Arena a shot at least once, if for nothing else than to reaffirm why I don’t like arena shooters.

I am debating the path after that. Maybe there’ll be DLC to address the lukewarm ending (pro tip: don’t stay for the credits…there’s nothing waiting for you afterwards) and not just to add more multiplayer action. There’s also four person co-op which allows you and three friends to tackle the story without the need to drag NPCs along with you.

*   *   *

Overall, I am very happy with Halo 5. It’s given me at least exactly what I expected, and I enjoyed it as much as I believe I could have. I’m interested in checking out the multiplayer aspects, and if I can find three other players who can dedicate time, might try to co-op the campaign.

The one thing that is odd, though, is that none of the promotional material we’ve seen in the lead up to the game had anything to do with the game. Sorry, that’s kind of a spoiler. There’s no “Master Chief in the desert”. There’s no “the Death of Master Chief” scenario. As much as I liked Team Osiris and Spartan Locke, I don’t think the series would be anywhere near the same without the Chief, and the way they ended this one sets up enough drama to carry us through at least Halo 8.

And finally, the name Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t really have much to do with either Blue Team or Team Osiris, which is both weird and telling. You learn that the Guardians are Forerunner technology that’s being unleashed on the universe, and considering this technology only shows up half way through the game (or so), giving it top-title billing tells us that we’ve got a lot more Halo games in the pipeline.


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#ExtraLife2015 with the League of Extraordinary Rodents


It’s time for Extra Life 2015!

This will be my second year playing for the Boston Children’s Hospital. Last year I was able to raise over $400 thanks to the kindness of both gamers and non-gamers alike, and this year I’m upping the ante a bit more by aiming for $500.

We’ve got a new team this year, the League of Extraordinary Rodents. We’ll be looking to blanket the entire 24 hours as a team, although I believe the members will be streaming in sequence and also at at the same time just so we can get a time-slot that can accommodate our real life schedules while also trying to fill in any holes to reach that 24 hour mark.

If you’re new to Extra Life, let me explain what it’s about:

Extra Life is a 24 hour marathon of gaming to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Gamers broadcast their gameplay across the Internet and accept donations through the Extra Life website, kind of like those 5K runs your neighbors are always hitting you up about (except there’s absolutely no running involved in our marathon!). If you don’t have an opportunity to catch a broadcast, don’t worry! You can still make a charitable donation to the gamer of your choice.

If you are interested in checking out the League’s participation, or would kindly consider a donation, you can find more information below.

Thank you!

Chris “Scopique” Smith’s fundraising page:

The League of Extraordinary Rodents team page

Watch live on November 7th from 4PM – 8PM EDT at


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If I Didn’t Have Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck


I had been excited for the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire release. Actually, I had been excited for what I thought was the release. See, I had received an email the other day telling me about the streamlined leveling system which would allow characters to focus solely on personal story and planet stories in order to earn enough XP to get to level 60. At the time, my highest level character was 32, which is my sweet spot for quitting an MMO. I really like SWTOR, but not even the 12x experience points over the summer could keep me for long, so the idea of having an easier path from now until forever sounded like a good deal. The email also said that if I subscribed, I’d get a cool mount. But it also said that if I subscribed then I’d get the expansion for free, so I figured that it was too good of a deal to pass up.

Of course, not having read the fine print, I started hearing that the early access to SWTOR was only for those who had been subscribed since they started the KotFE hype back in June/July-ish. I even saw someone on the forums (where I went to confirm this, gawd help me) who’s sub had lapsed for one month while he was distracted by higher education, and he was SOL. I was sad, and of course now I’m not sure that simply being a subscriber isn’t going to cost me the price for the expansion.

At any rate, there are some exciting major updates to the game for everyone, so I logged in last night anyway to check them out. First, though, the launcher had to download a massive update. I think it was an update; it might have been an attempted repair because once it was complete the game wouldn’t run.

While the launcher was doing the update/repair, I decided I’d give Sword Coast Legends another go. You may remember SCL from previous posts such as this one, in which I expressed disappointment that the game wasn’t even close to inheriting the mantle of Neverwinter Nights as far as the power of the toolset goes. Since yesterday was it’s release day, I figured I could at least bumble through the campaign so I don’t feel totally bad about having spent money on it, but sadly, that game didn’t load either. The splash screens were stuttering, and once I got to the menu, it was unresponsive. Only the three finger salute could shut it down.

Figuring that the PC needed time to sit in a corner and think about what it had done, I went to the Xbox. As soon as I turned it on, I had to sit through a 20 minute dashboard update. I’m in the New Experience test group, and there was a patch available that needed to be had, so I took a short nap on the couch while the Xbox did it’s thing.

Once it completed, I thought to check in the “My Games And Apps”…app…because supposedly I could pre-load HALO 5Guardians for next week (HYPE!) Normally when you buy something from the web store for the XB1 it auto-downloads but this did no such thing. Adding that to the network-saturating problems, I decided to continue with my play-through of the original HALO.

Guess what? Yeah, that needed an update too.

At this point I figured that maybe SWTOR was done reinstalling, so back to the PC I went. It had at least gotten to the point where I could play the starting planets, so I rolled up an Imperial Bounty Hunter (which I’d never done), and took him for a spin. Unfortunately the game was pretty laggy, and since the camera is loose enough under normal circumstances, the slightest twitch of the wrist sent the view spiraling all over the place. I did manage to get to level 6 in about an hour, though; I probably could have done it faster if I’d not had to rubber-band all over the place.

I seriously considered if my general malaise from yesterday wasn’t triggering some kind of karmic response in regards to my activities. I had expressed elsewhere that I think I need a new hobby that doesn’t involve gaming or even geekery, and I think the universe might be agreeing with me.

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The Things We Share


New Hampshire isn’t known for much beyond political primaries and being within Boston’s sphere of influence. I grew up here and love the state and the region, with one notable exception: as far as my hobbies go, it’s a region of the U.S. that seems to be frequently and easily overlooked. I suppose being tucked up into a kind of mega-peninsula, the Northeast begins and ends with New York, or Boston if you’re feeling rather charitable and worldly, but anything north of the Massachusetts border might as well be Terra Incognito as far as geeky concerns are felt.

At least that’s how it was when I was growing up. I’ll blame it on the fact that there seemed that commerce was blind and bland such that regional concerns amounted to simple supply and demand. We had our share of chain stores like the rest of the country, as well as regional stores that the rest of the country didn’t have, but we had our specialty stores that catered to specific caches of people. For me, it was the generic “hobby stores” that sold model rockets and scale train sets, but also role playing games and pewter miniatures. Without the Internet in our lives, these places were small sanctuaries in a larger region that wasn’t a hot-spot for geekdom. We didn’t know any better, of course. What we saw on the shelves was the limit of our knowledge of what was out there.

We also had national TV and regional affiliates, and that’s where I started watching –pardon my loose co-opt of the term — anime. More specifically, Americanized anime. Amidst the G.I.Joe and Transformer showings was a weekly block of anime on our channel 56 called “Force Five”: a different anime series every day of the week that included shows like Grandizer and Gaiking. We also had Starblazers, and eventually Robotech. My friends and I knew all about these shows, and about the weird (and often times adult-themed) animation that obviously wasn’t domestically produced, and we watched it and enjoyed it as much as we could. There wasn’t a lot of outlets for anime at the time: there were no massive toy lines, no lunch boxes, no posters — at least, not that we could get in our corner of the U.S.

+  +  +

Flash forward to 2015, and the head of my 12 year old self would explode upon seeing the wealth of engagement available to fans these days — even up here in the Land That Geekdom Forgot. Over this past weekend my family and I attended Another Anime Con 2015 in Manchester, NH. I learned that this is the tenth year of this convention being held in this state. That kind of blew my 41 year old mind, never mind what it would have done to my 12 year old mind. While we don’t have Boston, Houston, or Los Angeles-sized venues, the Radison in downtown Manchester has accommodation enough to house a main stage, a vendor room, and several concurrent panels and activities. This regional convention frequently attracts Names that anime fans recognize and spend hours lining up for. What it doesn’t have is the tedium and the formality of a larger and (pardon me for saying so) more organized event that you might find in a more “demographically attractive” city.

Anime isn’t really my thing any longer, although I’ve seen many of the “must see” series and movies simply to maintain some level of geek cred with this crowd. Instead, it’s my daughter’s thing. She easily outstrips me when it comes to this corner of the geek-o-sphere, having seen hundreds of series and read countless manga. Being a burgeoning artist, the anime style is her preferred style, and as anyone who’s been on the receiving end of my boastful shares can attest to she’s damn good at it for someone her age. We went to this convention at her behest, and brought one of her friends along as well.

It was weird to attend one of these events as a relative outsider. Video games are more my thing (natch), so while PAX East has inured me to the crush of crowds, long lines, and sensory overload of being surrounded by so much of interest, I was able to sit back and observe this convention with a detached (and sometimes uncomfortable) eye on this particular corner of geekdom.

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 Video game conventions (I say that in the plural, but I can really on speak to PAX East) seem to be more focused on the product first, and on the fandom second. Naturally by the fact that we’re all in attendance there’s a given level of fandom, but it’s directed outward; we want to see new things, and we want to see them first; We want to try those new things, and we want to try them first; We want to get the scoop on what’s coming, and we want to disseminate that info to our fans and followers first. Gaming geeks seem to have some need for primacy among other gaming geeks to the point where we don’t really seem to care that we’re being marketed do so long as we can help be the first on the virtual block to write up our impressions and opinions. Beyond the need to see what’s hot, there are those who are there for the fandom, and if we’re being honest, there’s really no fan like a cosplaying fan. No one else puts forth the effort nor is anyone more willing to go out on whatever limb is required to tell express exactly how much of a fan they are.

The anime convention is the absolute inverse. As a self-identifying “ultra-casual anime fan”, the best I could hope for at this weekend’s convention was to catch a glimpse of something around the convention that I recognize. But the overwhelming majority of people in attendance were cosplayers. From the drive up to the parking garage to the point at which we entered the convention center proper, there were people in anime dress everywhere. I was in my American Traditional uniform of jeans and T-shirt, and for the first time in my life I was dressed in a way that not only put my in the minority, but in a way that wasn’t even congruent with the status quo.

There were too many representations of anime I knew nothing about. My wife kept asking me “what’s that from” to the point where it became annoying: not annoying that she kept asking me, but annoying because my answer was always the same: I have absolutely no idea. Of course, there were the Naruto’s and enough Attack on Titan cosplayers to form an actual regiment. But beyond that…I couldn’t really tell what anyone was supposed to be representing. That not only showcased my disconnect from this segment of geekdom, but also showed me that the depth of anime fandom was incredibly deep. It wasn’t just limited to anime, of course. There were at least three Deadpools, several characters from Gravity Falls, and many from more Western comics and other fandoms that have probably had some kind of official anime treatment at some point in their timelines.

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My wife and I were sitting on a ledge outside of a lounge area just off the hotel lobby while we waited for our daughter and her friend who were in a panel. It was a prime people-watching spot, as everyone traveling from one side of the convention hall to the other had to pass through a choke-point that ran right in front of us.

Sitting there, we saw people approaching one another with first time introductions, usually complimenting one another on their cosplay, and starting up conversations. We saw a lot of people hugging. We saw a lot of people being very enthusiastic about one another, their outfits and props, and their interest in particular anime.

At this point I leaned over to my wife and said, “You’d never recognize this group from the way they’re portrayed in the media.” If persistent stereotypes were correct, then this convention shouldn’t even be scientifically possible. There’d be no way that that many geeks could psychologically handle being in the same space, let alone interact with strangers. According to the media geeks are “supposed  to be” A) socially inept, B) afraid of interaction, and C) self conscious to the point where they are unable to function in society, if popular representations of our kind is to be believed. There was nothing of the sort going on here.

Part of my discomfort among all of this (aside from being out of my element, being significantly older that most attendees, and also being one of the few non-cosplaying people in the place that wasn’t working at the convention center) was that I felt like I was intruding on someone’s club. This weekend I seemed to always be planting myself in a place where people were coalescing as a result of the gravity of their shared interests, or their chosen cosplay, or just because they were standing in line for something. There were no doubt people there who had arrived as a group, but I couldn’t tell the groups of old friends from the groups of new friends. While I was overwhelmingly happy to see these folks so comfortable with one another even when they were meeting for the first time, I was outside of all of this, unable, unwilling, and unequipped to participate, and it was a disquieting sensation.

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Societal pressure for conformity is overwhelming, no matter what your situation or where you live. As many gamers know and have admitted to, we’re still reticent to talk about hour hobbies without knowing we’re in a “safe space” because there’s still a lingering stigma surrounding gaming that paints it as a hobby for children. In many quarters, video games are things that need to be set aside so we can take on adult responsibilities and adult interests like sports and politics and home ownership (I guess…?) After this weekend, I better understand that for video game geeks, this is just a very small and very specific pressure, and doesn’t even compare to larger societal pressures surrounding gender, and body image.

Anime conventions are no place for bigots of any kind. Gender and body image played no part in how these people expressed their fandom or in how they chose to cosplay. This convention (and I have no doubt others like it across the country and possibly around the world) was a safe space for all of those in attendance. I often make a Big Deal here on the blog about the divide between the geeks and the non-geeks and how historically the non-geeks have treated the geeks, but that’s a scenario that’s changed significantly in just three decades, and pales in comparison to how people are treated on the basis of their their body size and shape or their sexual identity. I can’t even imagine how it is for people who have to endure on a daily basis in self-congratulatory “enlightened society”, but everyone had a unquestioned and inarguable place at this convention.

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We sat in line for a panel next to a small group of cosplayers that were joined by a solitary participant who was unknown to them. I had seen this girl wandering around the center, but never in the company of anyone else. She seemed friendly enough, although possibly too friendly for this group of similarly dressed attendees. They were obviously unhappy that she had attached herself to their group because while this solo member attempted to talk to them and to participate in their conversation, they talked around her and never responded to her. I stole a glance in her direction for a while as she was trying to share with them, and the look on her face was heartbreaking at the point that I think she realized that even though she wasn’t feeling welcome, she couldn’t bring herself to break away from people who shared her interest in their particular fandom.

Once the line started moving we found ourselves holding a place in line for a few folks who had to run to the bathroom or some such before we were let into the room. These folks had been eating breakfast in line, and my wife asked if they’d had time to finish before they had to stand up and move, and the young woman immediately started telling my wife about her battle with anorexia, and about how she was working on her recovery, and how strange it felt now that her body was demanding more food every time she ate.

When in line for autographs, another young woman next to us was comfortable striking up immediate conversations with anyone and everyone around her. She told us (and anyone else) about her preference for the older Sailor Moon anime, and not the more recent re-cut and re-dubbed versions. She talked about medical issues. She talked about family issues. She talked about how this was her first convention, and elaborated on her cosplay process (she was there as Merida from Disney’s Brave). She stopped passers-by, called out to cosplayers that she liked, and took every opportunity to speak with people. She was kind and complimentary, but I had a feeling based on the things she said, the way she said them, and the ferocity with which she launched into her life story that she was actively seeking connections with somebody, anybody, and everybody she could engage.

While attending a Pokemon panel emceed by Michele Knotz (the voice of Jessie from Team Rocket in the series, as well as many Pokemon, and voice actress in many other series), I ran into the archetype found at far too many of these geek conventions, the Loud Guys. These attendees believe that heckling is an under-appreciated art form as they shout comments, memes, and turn any event into a forced audience participation event for their personal lulz. I still cannot fathom what drives people to behave like this, although it could be that the attention they get from hitting the right joke at the right time makes them feel connected to other people who “get them”. I really don’t know.

As a detached observer standing outside the flow of foot traffic it was easy to forget the tenet of sonder and view everyone in attendance as one big sea of amazingly attired fans. But during a talent show, one young man took the mic and relayed a spoken word piece that he had written entitled “She is Beautiful”. His piece talked about how his life had been going in the wrong direction as he found himself following his neighborhood friends into gangs and violence as a result of an uncertain future. But then he discovered anime and it’s fandom, and it gave him something to concentrate on that made him feel good. Though conventions and online interactions he was able to find similar fans and new friends and was able to break out of his spiral. The “She” in the title referred to anime itself, and I suppose that under many circumstances it could have some off cheesy as hell, but I can’t say that I remember any time in recent memory that I had been so moved by being allowed a glimpse into someone else’s life.

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My daughter and her friend were cosplaying as characters from the anime Hetalia. My daughter is very much my child. I can lay claim to having introduced her to anime at some point in the cloudy and distant past, but it was her interest and the interest of her friends that really ran with it, taking it far beyond any involvement I have to this day. Like video games for me, anime is one part of the foundation of her identity.

Still, being my child she’s inherited all of the insecurities that I’m convinced are required for geekdom. She’s not outspoken, and she has difficulty talking to people she doesn’t know. It’s taken us years to get her to order her own food at restaurants, and even then she only really feels comfortable ordering at places we frequent. She doesn’t like to stand out and doesn’t like to be singled out; she claims that she would love to act in a play, but admits that she has crippling stage fright that makes that impossible.

She spent months with her friend planning their cosplay outfits. She ordered materials from across the ocean, and they found parts at local stores as well. Their excitement was a palpable force as we got into the car and headed to the center for their inaugural convention experience. I was in half a mind to be concerned; I knew cosplayers tended to get attention at conventions, so for a person who shied away from being called out, how would my daughter handle it? Would it be overwhelming for her? Would she regret her decision and let it turn her off from such participation in the future?

But she did well. Her and her friend were stopped several times by attendees asking to take their picture. When they inevitably ran into others who were cosplaying from the same source, there was at least some level of rapport. Throughout, though, it was obvious that my daughter wasn’t entirely comfortable. She didn’t have the apparatus to deal with this kind of attention, but I noticed that she wasn’t entirely shying away from it either. When a random passer-by saw them and rushed to them and asked for a hug, she obliged. Although neither she nor her friend actually took any pictures themselves, they always allowed themselves to be photographed. The crowning moment was at the end of the day on the last day when we approached the table for an autograph with one of the girl’s favorite voice actors. Knowing how my daughter does when confronted with a situation where she’s forced to talk to someone she doesn’t know — especially if she feels intimidated — I was worried that she’d freeze up. She didn’t, though. She was confident, at least on her personal scale, and was excited enough that she forgot that she should be so self-conscious. It was a small victory at the end of an exhausting weekend, and I was very proud of her.

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Even though it wasn’t “my crowd”, it was a splinter of my crowd. Anime falls under the geek umbrella, and I suppose I knew enough to be dangerous if presented with the right category, so there was some esprit de corps. 

From my daily point of view in spending time within a segment of the geek community, there’s circles within circles within our communities, like any person’s friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and the general population at large. I’ve written (exhaustively, in my opinion) about our community and how it can be horrible and about when it’s not, and I’d always been left dissatisfied with the self-imposed limits on work we allow ourselves to do on our own behalf, about how we put our egos ahead of goodwill even though we should be using our common interests to come together with more cohesion. We spend too much energy on driving ourselves apart when it would be so much easier to let go and allow ourselves to come together.

That was never more in stark relief than after this weekend when I learned how it could be done, and how it should be done, as evidenced by people I had little in common with. The willingness and the ability of the attendees of this convention to flaunt how wrong society is about geeks was astounding; I’ve seen people confident, and now I’ve seen cosplayers at an anime convention, and I realize that the other spaces under the geek umbrella have so much further to go, and could learn so much from these people. The levels of acceptance and of friendship and of pure joy was just off the scale. These people loved their fandom, but it was obvious that they loved the people who loved the fandom just as much.

When we were in line for autographs, the Merida cosplayer was talking to the line-minder who was trying to keep people clear of doorways and out of the aisle. Saying that this was her first convention, the minder replied with something to the effect that your first convention experience will always be the best and the one you really remember. Of course, that made me immediately think of my first convention that first year PAX East was held in Boston. I recalled the Tweet-up where I met people I’d previously only known online, about the spectacle of the show floor, and the panels I attended. If you’re married, then you’ll remember that you might not actually remember anything about your wedding day. It’s the same with your first convention: there’s just so much going on, so many places that demand your attention, so many things to see and do that it’s all over before you realize it, and what you do realize that you didn’t spend enough time focusing on any one thing to retain the photographic memory.

What you have, though, is that feeling in your gut that you experienced something amazing. You might not remember what it was specifically, or you might not be able to remember every little incredible thing that happened during the event, but when you think back to it later it gives you a feeling of excitement and wistfulness that’s even better than just remembering where you were or what you did. Memories seem to fade as we get older, but the emotional impact somehow still remains.

This was my daughter’s first convention, and by the end of it I could see that she had come through it with that exact understanding. Prior to this weekend I’d thought that maybe some day I could bring her to PAX East, but I’m glad that this was her first, real convention experience. The crowd at Another Anime Con was unlike any that I had experienced, and that’s from the point of view of someone with no real horse in the race. I can’t fathom what it must have been like for my daughter. During the very first PAX East keynote, Wil Wheaton said that for gamers, PAX was our home. For my daughter, I can tell that this anime convention — and the greater fandom, and the people that inhabit it — is now her home.

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Friendship Is Magic (In Team Based Shooters)

starwarsI get more comments on my blog posts on G+ than I do here, so let me refer you to the comment thread on Monday’s post “Try Not; Do, Or Do Not” for the background commentary that lead to this post.

In my post, I said that “[h]aving friends around was a plus, of course[…]”, which is true, and for many people who commented, this seemed to be the key sentiment which helped them in deciding to play or not to play a team based shooter as well. The question that came to my mind as we were discussing, then, was “how important is having a friend in the game, really?”

In a team based shooter, the answer is probably “very” if you look at it from a performance point of view. Star Wars Battlefront‘s 8v8 or 20v20 missions, like almost any team shooter, will reward the team who exhibits the most amount of cohesive team-work. The best way to achieve legitimate team-work, then, is to have communication, and unless you’ve got the iron stomach to sit through an entire match on voice comms with the kind of random strangers who gravitate towards these kind of  games, your best bet is to game and comm with friends. With communications, you can quickly figure out where to go, where the enemies are, and how best to approach the goal.

If you look at it from a “get it done” perspective, then the need for friends fades into the background just a smidge. With friends, you at least know that some of the people you’re playing with aren’t assholes who are going to go off an spam dance emotes while the rest of the team picks up their slack. But if you’re on a team where everyone is focusing on the objectives at hand, there’s no reason why your team can’t pull off a win. Working alongside other people, shooting at the other team, and completing objectives is really the point of the game; it’s just a little more difficult when you can’t easily coordinate with other people, or when other people refuse to coordinate with the rest of the team.

Even playing with friends, you’re going to get random folks on your team, many of whom are probably just soloists anyway. In the 8v8 map, there’s clear-cut objectives, and the only way to win is to complete those objectives. I found that everyone on the Drop Pod missions was focused on doing what was needed, and because there was only one objective at a time, it was stupidly simple for the entire team to be on the same page and working together despite not actively working together like we would if we were a team of friends, and especially a team of friends with voice comms. In the 20v20 Hoth battle, playing with friends is probably far less relevant, simply because of the map size, the number of people, and the fact that the goals were completed whenever they were completed (ideally, as quickly as possible).

In my original, original post on SWB, I said that I didn’t want to even give Drop Pod a shot because with a smaller team my individual contribution would be much more obvious than it would be in 20v20, and since I’m not super great with team based shooters, my mind just decided that I’d end up on the business end of some kind of slur which would have soured me on the game (and reinforced my expectation of the people who usually play these kinds of games). When I tried the more anonymous 20v20, my disgust came from my apparent inability to commit to doing something.

Instead, friends help friends overcome the reticence to try. Sucking at something alone is difficult; sucking at something with friends makes it less terrible. And think about how we behave when we’re alone compared to how we behave when we’re with friends. Alone, we’re probably more reserved and less willing to stand out. In a herd of friends, we’re looser and easy-going, and generally care less about how people see us. If that’s not your personal experience, just go to wherever teenagers hang out in your town or city and you’ll see that herd mentality in action.

When I originally tried SWB alone, my opinion was unfavorable. When I tried it with friends, my opinion changed significantly because having friends around helped me overcome the mental block that pretty much negated the original experience before I experienced it. Most of my time in game was spent focusing on myself and what I was doing, so while I had friends present, there wasn’t a lot of actual coordination. We followed one another, but there’s no reason we couldn’t have followed random people we didn’t know, paring up without any communication at all. I tried the different modes, and each time we won (and we won a whole lot), it wasn’t because it was Team Chris; it was my friend, myself, and a whole bunch of people on the same team who were just doing what they had to do.

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