The Power of Plastic

Jordan swiped their card and stared at the terminal until they remembered swiping didn’t work anymore. “Sorry.”

“I forget all the time.” The teller shrugged. “Just tap it on the screen.”

Jordan did and the payment terminal beeped, finally taking their payment.

As their receipt printed, Jordan jerked their head toward the rest of the store. “Amazing this place still runs.”

“Sure.” The teller shrugged again. “Stock’s different, but we still sell stuff. Helps people focus, you know?”

Jordan nodded, taking their receipt.

“Still.” The teller sighed, staring at the doors out of the store, “beats slaving away out there.”

“Yeah.”

“You good with all that?”

“I think so.”

“I could call someone…”

“No, I’ve got it.” Jordan gave a half-hearted smile, shifted the bags around, and started walking toward the exit. “Have a nice day.”

“You too.”

Jordan slowed, carefully peering out the door. The blasted ruins of cars, melted asphalt, and red haze in the air were still present. Nothing moved but plants swaying in the breeze.

Confident they were safe, Jordan hitched their mask over their face and exited the airlock. They glanced around as they walked, watching for danger and a ride away from the burned-out husk of the city. When they spotted a buggy pulled by a balding donkey, they waved it down. The elderly driver stowed Jordna’s bags and patiently waited while they fumbled with the payment terminal.

As the machine beeped to denote a payment received, the old driver chuckled. “I always figured capitalism would fail when civilization did. Thought we’d be bartering by now.”

Jordan chuckled as they climbed into their seat, brushing their iron grey hair away from their mask. “Guess it just goes to show. Peace, health, and safety are things money can’t buy. For the everything left, there’s MasterCard.”

A Little Knowledge Can Open Doors

Theo jiggled his key in the lock for a moment before swinging the door open, gesturing for Izzy to walk through before him. She stepped inside, glancing around before turn back to Theo to raise an eyebrow at him.

As Theo closed the door, he jingled his keys in his free hand. “Did you know that most keys work by pushing little metal pillars around so you can rotate the lock? Gotta line up these little gaps so it can turn freely. To move the deadbolt back and forth.”

“No, but that sounds familiar. Maybe I saw a video somewhere.” Izzy sat down on the couch, setting her bag down beside her, and scrutinized the room as Theo continued.

“That’s why you need to replace keys eventually. They get too worn-down to get the little metal pin thingies in the right place. And if you wait too long, your new key won’t work either. All the peaks and valleys will be too low.”

“I see.” Izzy nodded, half-listening while looking around the room at the tasteful decorations and new electronics.

“Which means there’s only so many keys that can exist. The number is huge, but most lock smiths aren’t making random keys each time, especially for apartments. They all gotta be sorta similar to work in all the doors from outside to inside. Lots of commonalities.”

Izzy turned to see Theo closely examining one of his keys in particular. “So?”

“So.” Theo brushed the key with a thumb and them looked up to Izzy, smiling. “You can just file down a key a whole bunch and, if you’re lucky, open the apartment of a neighbor who’s on vacation.”

“Devious.” Izzy smiled and opened the huge bag she’d brought. “Let’s start with the video games. Those are easy to move.”

The Power of Influence and the Folly of Originality

As a person interested in creating my own stories, worlds, and whatnot, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to create something “original.” In terms of criticism, I think the word has been so bandied about and overused that it has lost most of its meaning, leavied as it has been against everything from creative works acknowledging their influences to entirely unrelated and unconnected works that coincidentally had similar themes. In this vast, wide world of ours, it is not unthinkable that two incredibly different people might have similar ideas. Not everything alike is a copy or partial copy, and there’s nothing wrong with copying something if you’re planning to build off it.

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Why I Return To Frustrating Video Games

Since last week, I’ve been reflecting on why I continue to play video games that frustrate me. I was pretty tired when I wrote last week’s post, so it did not initially occur to me that one of the main elements of video games is to present challenges to overcome and while failing to overcome a challenge can be frustrating, video games are usually set up to give you additional opportunities to attempt challenges you’ve failed. As someone who plays video games with a desire for a challenge, a certain amount of frustration goes hand-in-hand with attempting a challenge that actually feels like a challenge. Still, when I think about the moments of frustration in a game that cause me to set it aside, most of the time it has nothing to do with the challenge the game presents and everything to do with my experience as someone attempting to enjoy themselves. Last week’s post included examples of games I’m playing and frustrations that caused me to put the game aside, so I’m going to expand on those for simplicity’s sake.

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Managing Vacation Anxiety

As I begin the careful calculus of packing and planning for my vacation, I’ve started weighing the various options I have for types of entertainment to bring with me to this isolated cabin. I have so many options that are portable enough to consider bringing with that I’m concerned I might be packing more tabletop and video games than everything else put together. It has been a long time since I’ve done anything to relax that didn’t center being at my apartment for an extended period of time, so I’ll admit I’m overly anxious about how to adequately prepare for my vacation. To be entirely fair to myself, something bad has happened every single time I’ve taken more than one or two days off of work for the past two years, so these anxieties aren’t entirely unfounded. Since one of the main strategies for processing anxieties involves acknowledging the parts that are actually reasonable or at least reasonable-adjacent and then taking steps to mitigate them, I’m giving myself space to over-plan and over-pack.

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Creating Your Own Hope Via Collective Action

I spent the entire fourth of July watching a charity stream hosted by my favorite podcast, Friends at the Table, as they raised money for the National Network of Abortion Funds. Over the course of two days of streaming, 10 hours on July 3rd and almost 12 hours on July 4th, they raised over $160,000. It was amazing to watch on both days as the numbers slowly (and sometimes incredibly quickly) ticked ever upward as the dual promise of supporting a worthy cause and unlocking the various goals pushed people to donate. The world would be a better place if charity drives like this one weren’t necessary, but we don’t live in that world. We live in one slowly falling apart due to corruption, extreme wealth disparity, rampant capitalism, the powerful’s open hatred of anyone who isn’t a cisgendered white man, and reactionary politics. It’s difficult to feel hope these days, especially given that I live in the most gerrymandered state in the US, so I’m not sure I can say I live in anything even close to a democracy without lying to myself. But as I watched some wonderful entertainers play games, goof around, and do a solid twelve hours of streaming (with a few reasonable breaks, of course) while the people watching (myself included) smashed through every fundraising goal these entertainers put in front of us, I can’t deny the spark of hope that ignited within me.

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The Devil Is In The Details (And The DM)

One of my favorite things to do as a Dungeon Master is to offer my players and their characters everything they want. Nothing like the temptation of having their goals handed to them for a price that’s probably too good to be true to really stir up some drama and inter-player discussion at that table. After all, everyone has different lines they’re willing to cross when it comes to what acheiving their goals is worth. Some characters are willing to sell their souls, some are willing to part with their life, some are only willing to part with things they have. Some are willing to sacrifice their health and comfort while others are only willing to sacrifice the health and comfort of others. And nothing ever makes that more clear than when you give one, and only one, character in the party a classic devil’s bargain for something that might impact the entire party.

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Recorded and Reposted: Empty Echoes

I cannot tell if I am haunted
Or trapped in an endless reverberation.
Words from the past beat upon my mind
Again and again and again and again
Until I cannot tell if they are newly repeated
Or just bouncing around my head
Like an echo that draws strength and volume
From the walls I’ve put in place
To keep words like these out.

You spoke to me of comfort
And camaraderie in a too-late attempt
To stave off something you sense
Is growing ever closer,
A shadow you see in every mirror
But whose shape you seem unwilling to acknowledge
No matter how many times I describe it. 
These friendly words ring hollow,
Changing from your voice to mine
As I remember every time
someone said them to me,
All the louder for these echoes of the past
That refuse to be stifled,
Amplified by the utter emptiness
Of everything you said just now. 

You told me, hollow words
That I longed to fill with the rage
Welling up inside me,
That I should not suffer in silence.
But this silence was never mine to end.
The silence that has forced this empty exchange
Was a monster of your creation
And I have merely been its victim.

Hung out to dry so long ago, both I
And your vacant platitudes,
Have long since withered.
The hollowed ground I once claimed
Matches the concavity of your starved expressions
And I am left alone
Except for the indiscernible echoes
Of your words to me
As we are both reduced to rubble
By the impervious wall
Of your past silence.

Video Games: The Only Entertainment I’ll Let Frustrate Me Repeatedly

I’ve been getting back into a few games I started earlier this spring and thenfell off of either when new games came out or I hit intense periods of stress that drove me from new experiences to old comforts. I’ve never finished Pokémon Legends: Arceus or Horizon: Forbidden West, for example. I hit a point with both games, stopped playing, and never quite got around to playing either game again despite having enjoyed my time with them. The same is true of the new Pokémon Snap game. I got a ways into that, a new game came out, and I set it aside because it wasn’t a game that I could fall asleep to. That and getting up to change games in my Switch a whole bunch has never been fun when I’m trying to calm down for the evening.

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