Saturday Morning Musing

It took a while, but I think I finally figured out the complex feelings I had about where I grew up when I helped my parents out last month (mentioned in this post). Since I left after my first winter break during college, I haven’t gone back to visit for more than a week or so at a time. I stayed at my college for almost every break after that, working and living in the dorms aside from the few holidays I went back, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. I lived in the dorms and got used to staying quietly by myself when the campus was almost completely deserted aside from the foreign exchange students during the holidays. My little college town became my home, even though I moved at least once a year, from one dorm to another. The campus became the place I belonged and I stopped calling my parents’ house “home.”

I realized during one of my recent meditations that I no longer even think of their house as home. My old neighborhood is no longer my home. It’s the place I grew up and haven’t done more than visit in several years. I don’t really recognize it anymore. I know where it is and I’ll always know how to get there, but it’s just as foreign as the neighborhoods I used to park in when I drove myself to high school. I can navigate through it and I’ve got a basic idea of what it looks like, but I don’t really feel any connection to the place. I’ve still got that for the actual house I grew up in, but it fades a little bit as my parents make changes or slowly replace parts of the house. When I was spending time with my sister, I realized I didn’t know where anything was kept anymore and that I was essentially a stranger in the kitchen where I’d learned to cook.

I’m sure that’s a feeling many adults have to cope with from time to time, and I’m sure there are people who have similar (but different) feelings about visiting their parents because their parents no longer live in the home they grew up in. I even sort of expected it as I grew in college and started to see what it meant to me to have a place I’d chosen to belong. I wasn’t surprised when I finally felt it, just uncertain as to what it meant and why I felt it.

I’ve spent most of my adult life with a lot of difficult emotions tied to the place I grew up. I even spent a lot of time seeing it as the same place with the same people I’d left behind. It was static in my eyes, unchanging and always representing what I’d endured. Since my last non-holiday visit, I’ve been working on letting go of the emotions and memories connected to all those past painful moments, so I can finally start to see my family as they’ve become since then. I think finally seeing the places I grew up, the streets I had walked down and the yards I had cut through, as someplace foreign to me is a sign that I’ve finally started to achieve that. Those places are no longer static, no longer a time capsule to a past I want to leave behind. I feel like I’m seeing them for the first time since I essentially am, now that I’m not seeing them as they were a decade ago.

I still have a long way to go, though. I’ve gotten better about letting my family be whoever they are now, but it can be difficult to avoid the old habits and to not see them as the same people when some of the old problems still crop up. For instance, I didn’t find out my parents had gotten rid of their landline until I called it and was told the number was no longer in service. Panicking, I called every member of my immediate family with a cell phone and no one answered. Eventually, one of my sisters called back and explained what had happened. This was the summer I’d officially moved out for good, so it created feelings of disconnection from my family. It was startling to realize I hadn’t called the landline in months and that we hadn’t even talked in that time. The same sort of thing happened with the trip my parents went this summer, which was the whole reason I was in Chicago to spend time with my sister. I hadn’t gotten the group text or emails they’d sent out to the rest of my siblings about their trip and the need for us to lend a hand with our youngest sister, so I had made plans during most of the time they were gone. It was rather frustrating to learn about it only a couple of weeks before they needed help, and a bit late too since I’d fallen asleep that afternoon and missed the conference call they’d set up the week before.

That being said, I’m the only one who hasn’t lived near or with them for at least part of the year. Two of my siblings permanently live in the same general area and one of my siblings stays with them between employment engagements. The youngest is still in high school. I’ve lived in a different state for several years and only visit on the major holidays for the most part. I’m not much of a phone caller and I’ve always been pretty independent, so we don’t talk. It’s pretty easy for me to miss out on a lot of big news as a result. It can be frustrating at times, but I could also make a point to call my mom or dad once a week and I do not. I’m sure they’d love to hear from me, so it’s not like it’s all their fault or anything. It’s just difficult to remind myself to view my family as they are now rather than as I remember them when we’re having the same problems I remember us having.

Testing, Testing

Testing, testing. One, two…

“Alice, can we-”

“Sorry, Kurt, I’ve gotta run to class.”

“It’ll only take a minute.”

“I’m already late.” Alice smiled and held her hand up to mimic a phone. “I’ll call you after.”

Kurt watched her go, vague unease still clinging to his gut as his girlfriend hurried across campus toward the arts building. He breathed deeply and, once she was out of sight, walked away.

Testing, testing. One, two, three, four… Hello?

“Heya, Kurt! Just the man I was looking for!”

“Hey, Steve. I was hoping we could-”

“I need someone to cover my shift this afternoon. I’ve got a woman to see about a class she’s skipping.” Jim winked and clapped Kurt on the shoulders. “Affection delivered. Request status?”

“Denied. I’ve got someplace I’ve gotta be.” Kurt shrugged Jim’s hands off and walked away. A few minutes later, he slumped against a wall. He breathed deeply to banish the icy dread in his stomach and, after watching a few cars pass on the road in front of him, walked toward his dorm.

Testing, testing. One, two, three, four. Hello? Can anyone hear me? Anyone?

Stewart and Nathan were out when he got home and Drew didn’t look up from the game he was playing. Kurt went into his room, sat down at his desk, and tried to lose himself in his work. Thirty minutes later, his work sat abandoned on his desk as he flipped through his phone, sending messages and texts to his local friends. Half an hour after that, when Alice was supposed to have been out of class for twenty minutes, Kurt set his phone on his desk and climbed into bed. For a minute, the screen displayed his last text before it went dark.

Hello? I just wanted to talk.

 

Four Hours, Six People, And One Raid

It may have taken us twice the amount of time we were initially told it would take (though, to be fair, my roommate was very clear about leaving room for it to take longer), but we managed to clear the Leviathan Raid in Destiny 2. For those of you who do not know what this is, the Leviathan Raid is a sort of dungeon. Your team of one to six players (it is almost always six as there are parts that are nearly impossible to do without six players or the best two or three players in the world) has to make their way through a series of challenges to reach the final boss, all while earning special gear that gives you bonuses while doing the raid. Upon succeeding, you are given more gear, various extra rewards, and some small side missions to unlock even more gear. Basically, you’re raiding the lair of a Big Bad Evil Guy for loot and bragging rights. On the surface, it seems pretty simple and, at least to me, boring.

Thankfully, it is not nearly so boring in practice. In practice, you and your team receive an invitation to visit the palace of the most powerful member of an alien race, The Cabal. There, you are basically given a royal guard to the main chamber of the palace, whereupon the emperor tells you that he wishes to see your strength. Your team is challenged to unlock a series of doors, take on some challenges, and eventually make it to the emperor’s throne room in order to take him on in combat after proving yourselves worthy. Every week, when the game’s challenges reset, so does the raid, which means you can only complete it once a week but you have all week to complete the raid if you only get partway through before your group needs to stop. There isn’t a lot of plot to it, but then there isn’t much plot to the Destiny games in general. You show up, kill some stuff, some alien out to get your power gets angry about it, you kill them, and then it turns out a god of some kind was behind them the entire time so now you get to add “god killer” to your list of titles. The games include various powers and small RPG elements, but they’re mostly straight-forward shoot-em-up games with little real choice or plot beyond good versus evil.

The raids, though, were the first real puzzle-solving elements of the game. There are other puzzles you need to solve, things you need to find, during the rest of the game, but there was always a quest marker to guide you to where you needed to go or explain what you needed to do. There was no difficulty other than when you got caught without cover in a giant swarm of enemies. Even then, you usually just respawn a few seconds later a short distance away. In the emperor’s palace, though, there are no explanations. No quest markers. No hints aside from what is posted online by other players and the occasional little line of text off to the side of the screen. Even if you look up a guide video on YouTube, there’s still a huge difference between knowing what needs to be done and being able to do it. Even though one of the puzzles was incredibly easy to figure out, it still took our team a while to be able to pull it off.

Thankfully, the raid is just as forgiving as the rest of the game, when it comes to death. If the entire team is killed, you just start the particular room you’re in over from the beginning. Anything you’ve already completed stays done. If just one person is killed, the team has the chance to revive them, though each person only has the ability to revive someone one time. If you fail to revive your teammate in the specified amount of time, then the entire team is killed and you must start the room over again. This mechanic allowed us to restart rooms as soon as we realized we’d messed up, which saved us a lot of time. If we’d been forced to attempt to play out every attempt we’d screwed up, we probably wouldn’t have finished the raid that night. Hell, there was only one room in the raid where screwing up didn’t result in all of us instantly dying, so it was usually pretty clear when we missed something or someone had forgotten one of their assignments.

All six of us have known each other for a while, at least in passing. My roommate, the organizer, is the common thread that connects us all right now, so I was worried there would be communication issues because we weren’t used to each other’s voices, play styles, or communication styles. Despite that, we all got along really well. There were a few tense moments where frustration with our repeated failure or a repeated gripe resulted in a few disgruntled words, but that was about it. Even then, most of it can be chalked up to all of us not playing together as a group and not really seeing each other’s skill levels aside from the few windows provided in the raid. For the most part, there wasn’t time to sit around watching how your allies played. Your only gauge of their skill was their success or failure at their assigned tasks and they were difficult enough that even the most experienced among us struggled to perform them correctly. We all learned a lot about each other’s abilities that night, but only in specific areas.

Our communication, though, was amazing. We all fell into our roles naturally, we had clear lines of communication, and we constantly refined our short hand for call-outs, directions, and affirmative responses. There were a few times when the leader had to ask someone to shut up, but it wasn’t ever more than once. Everyone listened patiently, everyone was willing to help out, and everyone had good suggestions for how to make things easier. We may still need to work on our understanding of each other’s over-all abilities and play styles, but we definitely established a rapport with each other that will make future group gaming easier than ever.

Unfortunately, due to our scheduling issues, we won’t be able to repeat the raid more than once a month. In my opinion, that’s plenty. Maybe, once we’ve done it a couple more times, it’ll feel like less of a time-sink to run through it. I know just thinking about it is tiring me out again… It was still a ton of fun, though, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again. I’d love to recapture that feeling of hard-won success when we finally defeated the raid boss.

Love or Idolatry

One of my favorite songs from Steven Universe is the end credits song, “Love Like You.” Throughout the show, it is played in short snippets as the credits roll and it takes almost two entire seasons to go through the entire song. The song’s creator, who also created the show, has gone on the record in recent years, to talk about it. When the soundtrack of the show came out, compiling most of the show’s songs up to that point, Rebecca Sugar said that, initially, the song was about an alien who wanted to be able to love the Human she was in relationship with the way he loved her. She wanted to feel how he felt and surmised that if she could return his feelings, then maybe she would no longer feel like she falls short of how he sees her.

The lyrics paint a picture of someone who doesn’t understand the idea of love, except in the context of the way it makes the singer’s partner act around her or see her. The singer doesn’t think very highly of herself and is constantly measuring herself up against the way her partner sees her and, in her eyes, falling short. It’s almost heartbreaking. “I wish that I knew what makes you think I’m so special.” It gets me any time I actually listen to the song instead of just letting it play in the background. As someone with self-esteem issues and a history of difficulty making meaningful, lasting connections with people, the song resonates rather strongly.

After spending the evening with my girlfriend, this song came on the radio (well, my iPod was plugged into my car radio and the playlist eventually cycled to it) and it made me think about the nature of love, the way we think people see us, and how we see ourselves. Love can be great because it can show us how we look to someone and, sometimes, even let us catch a glimpse of the person our partner sees us as. At the same time, if we feel like our partner is not actually seeing us but some false version of us or they gloss over any problems, it can be discouraging to constantly be compared to this version of ourselves that we feel isn’t grounded in reality. That could easily make self-esteem or self-value problems worse.

A while after giving the initial interview about “Love Like You,” Rebecca Sugar has said she now views the song as being more about her relationship with all of the Steven Universe fans she has met as the show grows in popularity. Because she has created this show and so many people feel so strongly about it, they transfer some of that attention and love to her, the show’s creator. She said that she feels like she can’t measure up to the sort of almost worshipful adulation they heap on her and that the song now speaks more to the way she wishes she could return all that love but can’t figure out how to.

From what I’ve read, a lot of popular creators feel like this, but particularly the ones who spend a lot of time meeting fans, such as show creators, voice actors, writers, and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if musicians felt this way as well. It can probably be rather alienating, to be worshiped by almost everyone you meet. To be loved so strongly and so enthusiastically by someone who doesn’t actually know you that you can’t help but feel the weight of their expectations settle more heavily on your shoulders with each new person who gushes about how much they love you.

I think I can sometimes have that effect on people. And not just celebrities or creators I admire. People in my day-to-day life. As I’ve mentioned in the past few days, I have a tendency to invest completely and quickly in relationships. I think that can probably be overwhelming for a lot of people because they start to feel like I’m loving the person they act like they are rather than the person they see themselves as. I think some of my past relationships fell apart for exactly this reason, even if other reasons were given. I mean, how can you communicate honestly with someone who you feel doesn’t really understand you?

I’m pretty sure I do that to my girlfriend sometimes, too. We often have a communication issue where we use different words to say the same thing and get frustrated because we can’t seem to make the other person understand what we mean or it seems like they’re being intentionally obstinate. We usually figure it out pretty quickly, thankfully, but it can be discombobulating when it happens multiple times in a conversation.

I like to think that I look for the best in people and try to appreciate them for who they try to be or who they want to be. I like looking for the good in people and trying to look for the positive aspects of people’s lives. I don’t like being negative when I can avoid it, since I have a tendency to be gloomy and melancholic at the drop of a hat, but I think I can understand how this would be frustrating to people I’m close to. Sometimes, you don’t want people to always see the light in you. Sometimes you want someone to acknowledge the darkness. Not because you want them to fix it, but because you want them understand and love all of you, not just the golden idol they seem to worship.

Which isn’t to say that I’m worshiping some perfect form of my girlfriend. As I said, I only THINK I do it SOMETIMES. This was just what I thought about during my meditation when I woke up in the middle of the night thanks to a leg cramp and had to spend half an hour stretching my muscles and drinking water. Personally, I don’t think I worship perfect versions of people, I just love strongly and love people as they are. But I know exactly what I mean when I say things and I know the intentions behind my every action. I’m not always that great at letting other people know those things right away. I have a tendency toward muted reactions, very little emoting, and not making myself clear when I speak because I get my thoughts jumbled up and miss the important bits that would have made it all sensible.

I want people to see themselves the way I see them. I want to see myself the way I see other people. But I think that, when it comes to other people, all that comes across is the love and not enough of the projection of how I see them. When it comes to myself, all I get is the projection of how I see myself and not enough of the love. I need to work on letting people see my emotions a little more and doing a better job of communicating my feelings in their entirety, rather than just the snippet conveyed by the words coming out of my mouth.

I don’t know if you’ve put together the pieces from past blog entries or, I don’t know, the title of my blog, but I have a hard time getting the right words out when it comes to talking. Or, at least, I feel like I do. This is going to be hard, but I think it’ll be worth it if I ever figure it out.

Too bad I can’t just write everything I want to say to people and have them treat it like I just spoke it to them… It works fine until someone needs a response right away. Writing it correctly takes time and effort away from a conversation. It isn’t exactly plausible if you’re trying to communicate with a partner or a close friend when something is going down.

At least trying something is better than silence. I always try to express myself rather than sit in silence. I’ll give myself that much credit. Sometimes, though, it feels like silence would have been better. It can be difficult to tell.

Communication and Teamwork in Overwatch

Watching the Overwatch League has made me want to play the game more than ever. Watching teams pull off these amazingly well-coordinated plays makes me want to assemble my own team. Not in order to compete at even the amateur level, but to play with that level of communication and trust. That being said, the league is still rife with examples of people doing their own thing, including both times that it pays off and times that it does not. Single DPS players have, with minimal support from their teammates, either crippled or halted an entire enemy advance. In juxtaposition, tanks have recklessly charged and players of all kinds have wasted ultimate abilities that would have been more useful if they’d saved them for a minute or less later. Often, the reckless tank and wasted support ultimate ability have led to the team collapsing. Interestingly, half of the team collapses I’ve seen have turned into times when a single DPS found the right moment and help the enemy team off.

The best teams, though, are the most coordinated ones. New York Excelsior, Seoul Dynasty, and London Spitfire are all the most coordinated on average and they’re all the best teams in the league in a general sense. Having actually tried to build a 6-player team in Overwatch, I can definitely say that team coordination matters. To be fair, you don’t need to have six people in order to see that, it just makes it easier to see. I love playing with one of my roommates the most because we’ve played together long enough that our play styles complement each other, we trust each other to know what we’re doing, and we can anticipate each other’s needs and movements in a way the really streamlines communication. He also plays DPS (damage per second) characters and I play tanks, supports, and filler characters (swapping around to meet the team’s current needs rather than sticking to one character in particular). Comparing our play to me playing with only one of most of my other friends highlights just how important that almost unspoken communication is to our success as a team.

I’m hopeful that, if the 6 of us play together often enough, we’ll eventually figure out the communication stuff. I have a hard time verbalizing my thoughts in generic specifics because I’m so focused on what is going on in front of me, so my ability to call shots and direct the team is at its best when I can either get the words out properly or when my teammates are aware enough of what is happening in the battle as a whole to interpret what I’m trying to say correctly. It can be annoying, to have a shot-caller who has trouble saying the right names for characters and coming up with the right word while it is still relevant, but I’ve got the best battlefield awareness of the group right now so working on communication is out top priority. For now, I am grateful that my roommate is one of the six people and that I can count on him to interpret and then translate what I’m trying to say.

As much as I try to relax and have a good time when I’m with a large group that isn’t communicating, it is incredibly frustrating. As a tank, a lot of my ability to do anything effectively, aside from soaking up bullets, is contingent on having the rest of my team performing their duties and following the called shots. The other day, I kept telling everyone to group up with me since I was using the other team’s expectations against them, by setting up patterns that I’d subsequently break. It was working great except that most of my team wasn’t following me. I’d call them over to me, see them around me, start moving into position, and then they’d all be gone, getting cut down somewhere else because their tank is off trying to set up a flanking team-fight that would pick off the enemy sniper and supports before the enemy DPS could be brought to bear against us. We were so close to winning so many times that match and we had no good reason for losing, only that we were never all together and focused on figuring out how to circumvent the enemy traps and defenses. That was kind of the theme of the night, really. Knowing we should have won and being unable to say that we just got outplayed is frustrating to me because I’m trying to become a better player than I currently am and those kind of losses don’t do anyone any good.

It isn’t all of my teammate’s faults either. If I’d followed them in and stuck with the grind-y team-fights they kept running into, we might have won. We might have come out on top with enough ultimate abilities left to hold off the inevitable second wave when they re-spawned and pushed to retake the final point they were defending. I played a little more aggressively than I strictly needed to, winding up with all of the gold medals for enemy kills, enemy kills around the objective, enemy damage, and time spent on the objective(s). No tank should ever have all of those. A good tank can often wind up with gold medals in objective time and objective kills, but the DPS should always have the other two.

I’m going to focus on trying to be a better communicator when I’m playing with less experienced players and people who don’t know how to interpret my non-specific exclamations. That is something I can work to improve in every match, regardless of whether or not I’ve got a team skilled enough to help me improve as a tank. As long as I’m improving, I think I’ll be able to accept and number of wins or losses.

My Words

My words are precious to me:
Little puffs of warm air
That I constantly heat
By clutching them tight
To my chest and heart
Even when they grow too hot
And burn my hands
As they attempt to flee.

My words are few and quiet
When they are voiced at all:
Hoarded and groomed until
I am certain they are ready
For whatever task is at hand,
Yet they remain fragile things
That cannot be used again
Once I have let them go.

Many words are worth little
While few words are worth much:
Communication is expensive
But can be bought with either,
While understanding is expensive
And drives a hard bargain–
Often requiring many words
That had once been counted few.

My words are worth more to me
Than any amount of money:
People say that words are cheap
And some, in fact, may be,
But I think words are the currency
People use to buy and sell
Ideas, emotions, and knowledge
In the market of civilization.

Most of the time, when I talk,
I use words that are not mine:
I wrangle words from the air
And let them pass through me
So that they sound like mine
But only on the surface
As my own words are too few
For mass communication.

My words are precious to me:
Little slivers of my soul
All bound up in breath
Like wisps of vapor in winter,
Puffing from my open mouth
As I move through the world
And do the very best I can
To share some of my warmth.

Tabletop Highlight: Concept

I hope that you’re having a wonderful holiday season and that those of you who celebrate it are having a wonderful Christmas. My family does most of our celebrating on Christmas Eve, so I’m already home and bundled up in front of my computer, preparing myself for work tomorrow. I’m also starting my search for deals and bargains on a few post-Christmas presents to myself, and one thing has jumped to the top of the list for me as a result of this past weekend.

Part of my family’s Christmas ritual includes time for board games and this year, we played a wonderful game my sister brought called “Concept.” Concept is, as Wil Wheaton describes, “like pictionary for writers.” You can get a nice summary of the rules in the video I linked there, so I’m going to focus on a few of the higher concepts of the game. Unlike similar games, where it is a player’s job to communicate something to the other players, such as pictionary or charades, Concept limits your communication to only placing little plastic items on a board covered in icons. You aren’t allowed to communicate using pictures, gestures, or any of the other ways available in pictionary or charades, which means there is often less for the players to go on when they’re guessing. At the same time, the variety of items and icons means you can sometimes say more. Both of these things can be severely limiting.

If you put down too many items on too many icons, it becomes hard to tell what concept you’re trying to communicate and the people guessing can guess a wide variety of things that may not be related to what your concept is. If you have too little, its possible the players will get stuck and be unable to made the intuitive leap you’re trying to nudge them toward. Hard concepts, such as people or movies, are generally easier to communicate. Soft concepts, such as phrases, are much harder. That being said, that’s not always the case. My brother and I spent ten to fifteen minutes trying to guess what our sister had picked and she got so frustrated with our inability to guess that she accidentally let her concept slip when she was berating us.

To be fair, neither of us had seen that movie in a long time. To continue being fair, it shouldn’t have been that hard and I feel almost ashamed of how dense I was in retrospect. The intelligence of your players is the only real limitation on the game, so you should probably be careful when considering playing it with young children and adults who have been drinking. I’d like to say the alcohol clouded my wits, but I hadn’t drunk enough by then to use it as an excuse. Also, alcohol is really only limiting when you’re the person who is trying to convey the concept. Guessing just gets easier and more fun the more you drink.

You can play it with as many people as you like, so long as they can all fit around the board, and all the concepts are family friendly, so no need to worry about upsetting Grandma or Grandpa. I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a new party game to try.