A Few Words

Communication is a skill. It’s often overlooked in favor of other, more tangible skills, ones you can build things with, or affect change in a direct, physical way. It’s a common trend to be suspicious of communication, and of people with communication skills– “speaking too well” is a quick way to lose trust among a certain type of person.


Ask anyone whose job is communicating with people for a living, I’m especially thinking of the people whose job it is to keep people happy en masse here, and they’ll tell you that words are important, and matter as much or more than those tangible skills. The most competent technical team in the world can’t get players to trust a game if the community and support staff aren’t on the ball, and solid communications from the right teams can buy the bugfixing crew enough time to put in the right solutions the right way. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking those teams are less notable or valuable because their main interface is with words and not code.

Words are powerful. The scammers of the world know this, and it’s why the most effective security breaches don’t come from fancy technology or expert hacking or some kind of Hollywood agility– they come from words. We’re human; we’re wired to respond to words, and they can sink deeply and unexpectedly. It’s why we’re suspicious of people who are good with words– we’re so happy to receive the right words and we’re so afraid that the words are a lie. Someone can show you their computer hacking skills and they’re less likely to be shunned than someone who demonstrates that they’re a master manipulator. Same worrying potential breach of trust, but one sinks in deeper.


And yet, those words have power for a reason. The best boss I’ve ever had called me into his office for my annual review. He told me he thought I was too harsh on myself, but that I had a lot of potential. He suggested I look into team leadership as a career path, previously something I had only done for fun. It was a small sentence, a few words for a long-term goal. I already knew I was capable of leading; I’d been doing it for years and the people I led would ask me to keep doing it, and to lead other teams. What I didn’t have was validation of that capability, the bridge between what I did successfully for fun and what I could build a career from. A few little words sparked a fire.

Another boss I’ve had told me I was arrogant for disagreeing with them. They made a point to describe my skills as subpar and my insights lacking in substance. Those words sunk in deep as well, and left me uncertain of myself for a long time. The urge here is to lash out, to riposte, even after the fact, and use my own words to deny those ones that hurt so much. It’s something I’ve done, and it’s never been productive. Words are powerful, and wasting them that way is a poor use of a skill. Instead, I’ve tried to use those words to understand. It wasn’t a lesson learned quickly or elegantly, but in the end I learned to stay detached and keep words from getting too close, unless I let them.


An unexpected friend suggested that I was too detached, too analytical. When I spoke, I offered deep insights to other people but revealed almost nothing about myself. I used my words well, but hid myself in them. It made me unapproachable, distant, and a little frightening. It was another lesson learned, more change wrought from words. I’ve slowly become a more complete person, and of all the skills I’ve turned my mind towards learning, none have been so influential as a few words from the right person at the right time.

One last anecdote: A friend contacted me, out of the blue, after not having spoken for nearly ten years. I remembered them, because I try my best not to forget people, but I couldn’t imagine why I would be similarly remembered. We’d barely hung out, maybe once or twice ever, and I couldn’t remember what we’d talked about. Something I’d said had resonated, though, and made it worth seeking me out after a decade. Honestly, it was scary for me. To think that some forgotten words I’d said ten years ago had enough of an impact on someone else to find me after all the time suggests that I’d left a deep impression without realizing it. It really bothered me, because I feel responsible for the ways in which I affect other people, and doing so unconsciously or without intending to felt irresponsible.


However, I have to remind myself of the times I’ve been affected deeply by someone else’s words. I don’t get to pick what words other people say, and I don’t get to pick how people react to the things I say. All I can do is be aware of how I’m using my words and to be honest, genuine, and open-minded with people, and to share the things I’m thinking. I don’t know when the right words will come at the right time for someone else.

As I like to tell my puppy: use your words. Communication is key, and letting people know how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking is important. Let someone else know what’s awesome about them, or what you see when you look at them. It’s a great way to learn more than you ever thought you could about another person.

When I briefly scan a friends list, I see a few things…

…a quietly confident anchor for the team.

…an unshakably optimistic caregiver.

…the ideal teammate.

…a laughing jester who will be the first to have your back.

…a constant yet practical brightener of days.

…a timid voice with an underlying strength of conviction that makes me rethink my beliefs.

…a person who deserves better.

…a hand that will help me up and hold me steady, but still point at where I’ve slipped and fallen.

…a potent mirror of truth.

…a pillar of the community whose biggest fear is not living up to their own expectations of themselves.

…and, among others, my very best friends.

What do you see?

Bound by Tenets

While working on MMOs, there were a few design tenets that “everyone knew”. They were the pitfalls you tried to avoid, the things you had to include, the concepts of structure and pacing that were how you knew you were designing correctly.


I understand where they come from. There’s a risk in breaking from the established norms, and as projects get bigger and more expensive, the risks are severe. That being said, I can’t think of very many best-in-class non-sequel games in any genre that have been massively successful without diverging significantly from the established tenets of the time. Even the very well-established series will reinvent themselves periodically to keep things fresh, and the ones that don’t change things up enough tend to flicker and die.

Sometimes these divergences come from technology. Assassin’s Creed was build on crowd AI and active movement concepts that weren’t seen anywhere beforehand. Ingress wouldn’t make sense without the cell phone as a gaming platform. Super Mario 64 wasn’t possible until the first fully 3D consoles were available. The first MMOs were built on this amazing idea that players could connect to an ongoing, persistent world and play with their friends easily, amid hundreds or thousands of other players doing the same.


Sometimes, the divergence is in how you experience the game. Thief took the first-person shooter genre and made it into a game about avoiding combat and avoiding enemies. Portal took the same genre and turned it into a puzzle-platformer. Adventure games and dungeon crawlers merged together into the modern single-player RPG. These evolutions happen between technological breakthroughs, generally– they’re the kinds of games you see when a console generation is mature, or when technology is relatively stable.

The difficulty here is risk. There’s a big problem when a type of game is unable to explore its potential because it’s too risky to do so, and there’s a very real risk of sameyness when the only things changing in a genre are the trappings. Adventure games and JRPGs both went through this, with the formulae going largely unchanged from game to game, and both have gone from popular, relevant games to tropes. There’s a constant fear of deviating from type when making a game, and some genres are more restrictive than others.


A lot of this comes down to verbs. Consider the verbs that constitute gameplay in a point-and-click adventure game. There’s “click on environment”, “talk to NPC”, and there’s “use item in inventory”. The outcomes may vary, but by and large you’re clicking on something in order to trigger an animation and either obtain an inventory object to move forward or otherwise trigger a progress flag. Talking to NPCs has a similar effect. Movement isn’t really gameplay, though it pretends to be, and the visual novel genre does away with movement entirely.

MMOs are similar. There’s “fight enemy”, there’s “click on object”, there’s “use inventory item”, sometimes there’s “talk to NPC” (though this is often a single block of text that you may not even have to read), and there’s “move” (sorta). “Fight enemy” is the most robust of these verbs by far, and everything else pales in comparison. Movement is rarely fleshed out beyond just running around, though occasionally there’s roll dodging. Even jumping, while usually present, often is dismissed as a viable gameplay type because “players get frustrated by jumping puzzles”. That last would hold a bit more weight with me if there weren’t so many incredibly popular jumping puzzle games, not least of which is the most commonly known video game character in the world.


Digging deeper, it’s a fidelity problem. First- and third-person action games have a lot of verbs– Grand Theft Auto is immensely popular in large part because there’s so much you can do. The verbs in that game feel varied and different and fun. Skyrim is similar– there’s enough depth in the various things you can do that you feel like you have a lot of freedom to do a lot of different things; it’s not just “fight enemies”. First-person platformers come in a variety of flavors, despite the “FPP” being a niche (platformers) of a niche (non-combat first-person action games).

I beat the drum about MMOs a lot, but one of the things that hasn’t increased even as the fidelity of the games has increased is the number of verbs. It’s still “fight enemy”, “click on object”, occasionally (but more often now) “talk to NPC”, and “move (sorta)”. We know we’re playing an MMO when we see hotbar combat, and fields of monsters, and gear/level grinds. It says a lot to me that Destiny made as big a splash as it did, despite its many well-known-to-MMO-player issues. It was a different way of experiencing both the FPS and the MMO, and drew from both pools.


I’m not convinced that we’re going to see a conceptual divergence in MMOs that leads us to the Next Big Thing. One of the advantages that the FPS has is the very strong middleware– the myriad game engines built for making first-person action games that are accessible and generate good games. MMOs lack that– each one has to be built from the ground up, even when using middleware, and it means that just getting a game off the ground is a herculean task. There’s no room to take risks, and as a result a lot of the MMOs out there feel like they’ve been cut from the same cloth.

Virtual reality might be the technological jump MMOs need to have a breakthrough, but I’m not yet convinced that’s going to be as big a technology as everyone seems to hope. Perhaps I’m just cynical from having lived through the same excitement in the ’90s. I think an MMO that keeps the core of the genre– play in a big world with your friends– while otherwise vastly diverging in how you actually experience it might pull the genre forward. I think that would drive a lot of players away, but it would also bring in players from elsewhere.


Until someone takes a big risk and has a solid foundation and resource pool supporting them, though, it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything like that anytime soon. It’s a very barren field for up and coming MMOs that are likely to make a big splash, compared to just a few years ago. I have a lot of fond memories of the rise of the MMO, and I mostly feel like there’s a gameplay experience I was able to have once that’s missing now. I’d like to have it again, but that window may have closed. We’ll see.

Language Learning in the Information Age

The last time I tried to learn a language, it was Spanish, through a blend of classrooms and tutors. My mom would probably describe the overall effect as a dismal failure.


After generally failing to learn how to speak Spanish (though I can passably understand it if people speak slowly), I’d put the idea of becoming multilingual out of my mind, because I believed I’d already proven I was terrible at it and that learning another language just wasn’t in the cards for me. It frustrated me, but whenever the thought of learning a language came up, I thought about how I still didn’t know Spanish, and let the thought wither.

At the same time, my parents instilled in me a deep sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. I’ve long held the belief that people are mostly the same everywhere you go; they want the same things, have fairly similar motivations, and generally just want to be happy. The flavors are different, from food to culture to fun, and with that general feeling that people want similar things I found a fascination with discovering all the different flavors. Most of the books I read growing up came out of England, and the video games from Japan, and each contributed a different view of the world than I was getting from my surroundings.


It wasn’t until recently that I revisited the idea of learning a new language. I put it off for a while, because I still thought I was a failure at learning languages, but I finally bit the bullet and started working on it, largely thanks to the free Rosetta Stone apps for my phone. Phone apps seem light, low-impact. If I try it and it doesn’t work, oh well. I don’t have to make a special appointment to learn a language or take a particular class, I can work on things while I wait for class, or while waiting in a restaurant, or while sitting on the toilet. At the same time, it’s easier than it’s ever been to find the things that remind me why I want to learn new languages.

I struggled with motivation to learn Spanish because it wasn’t really something I was doing for myself. Still, I’ve long felt like I should know Spanish before I move onto some other language, and it was really hard to let go of that sense of obligation. I wasn’t actively learning Spanish, but I also wasn’t actively learning any other languages.

maxresdefault (4)

When I started playing Infinity, my interest in Spanish was rekindled. There were a lot of rules that weren’t originally translated very well in English, and I had just enough Spanish knowledge to muddle through the original language in which the game was written. I started brushing up a bit, and while it wasn’t functional or conversational Spanish, it planted the seed for me.

After moving to Seattle, I found myself surrounded by the Chinese and Japanese languages, and it’s made me want to learn them, so that I can communicate with other people and fully experience everything this area has to offer. That thirst to be more worldly has struck again, and there’s so much I can learn through the language. Now, instead of textbooks and classrooms, I can use my phone, my PC, and my TV to teach myself languages. I can play Assassin’s Creed in Spanish and watch shows in Japanese, then put on a film in Chinese. It lends an immediacy and a relevance to what I’m teaching myself, and it makes it much easier than memorizing vocabulary from a book.

maxresdefault (5)

Entertainment is a powerful teacher, which isn’t really news to me (or anyone else), but turning it to my own ends as a language-learning tool has been more effective than I could’ve imagined. My next step is to try to talk with my mom in Spanish as much as possible, which is going to be a disaster for a while. Luckily, Spanish and Japanese are very different languages, so I should be able to keep them separate in my head. That being said, I haven’t yet felt like working on two languages at once is confusing or difficult. We’ll see how it goes.

Overselling Difficulty

My FFXIV raid group is now caught up to current content, and we’re tackling Ravana Extreme now. People who have done the fight before us have said things like “our raid skipped it because it was too hard” and “prepare to wipe a lot”. Needless to say, a goodly number of us were a bit leery about what to expect.


We dipped into the raid after a quick, 45-minute full clear of Alexander, and spent about 45 minutes on three or four attempts at Ravana. We didn’t beat it, but we got to the point where we’d seen all of the mechanics; getting the boss down to about 65% on our best attempt.

Overall, the much-touted difficulty was… somewhat underwhelming. It’s possible I’ll eat my words if we wipe constantly on it for the next few months, but I highly doubt that’s going to happen. It’s a dance fight, and the dance is slower and less instantly brutal than things we’ve done before. As much as I’m not thrilled at jumping into Alexander (Savage), it looks like a thing we’re likely to be doing unless another raid or set of raids comes out relatively soon.

I’ve never terribly enjoyed the “harder version of a raid you’ve already done” design path, although I understand why it’s good for increasing the shelf life of content. I’m a fan of harder, max-level versions of dungeons where the story, enemies, and bosses are completely different, but “the same thing but harder” has never really held a lot of appeal for me. If it’s the only thing left to do, I suppose there’s nothing for it, but I’m not thrilled at the prospect of grinding the same two existing dungeons for weeks to get geared up to do a harder version of a raid I’ve already beaten.


This is, of course, the downside of being on the front edge of content– there’s an effort-to-return curve that gets worse and worse the closer you get to consuming all of the content, and FFXIV is more than happy to dangle brutally difficult “savage” content for the truly hardcore. Not being truly hardcore, I don’t have the same drive to burn through that stuff.

On the other hand, I’m not going to be heartbroken about not beating Savage Alex the way I was going to be sad if we hadn’t completed the Binding Coil of Bahamut. I don’t have much problem milling around in Savage Alex until the next bit of content comes out, though, and as we progress through the next tier of content, Savage Alex will be a little less brutal, and we can go back and clear it at a more leisurely pace. I’m kind of hoping we can leapfrog content through this expansion, since we raid at a somewhat more sedate pace than other groups.

It’s been nice to settle into a routine with multiple raid groups in the guild. The ‘original’ Monday night raid is the more casual of the two raids, and the Wednesday night has quickly gotten a reputation for being the more hardcore. Until recently, they were further progressed in Heavensward content than we were, having beaten Bismark Extreme a week or so ahead of us and (I believe) working on Savage Alexander and Ravana EX. We caught up with them after beating the rest of Coil (old, level-50 content), but we’ve since closed the gap if memory serves.


People in the FC who really want a hardcore experience have an outlet in both the Wednesday night raid and external statics, which a bunch of people do, which has given us the ability to stay pretty casual in our raids. My hope is that we can start bringing new folks through cool content on Monday nights, especially if we run out of new things to do.

As both guild leader and one of the raid leaders, it’s been sort of a balancing act for me– I want to make sure everyone in the guild is getting the experience they want, but I haven’t wanted to over-commit myself and be forced to lead a “cutting edge” group that I don’t have a lot of interest in. I’ve been happy that Mor has stepped up to run that group, and also that some of the Monday night folks who want to raid more than once a week have the opportunity to do so with Mor’s group.

We have enough people in the guild that it might be time to start looking for a third raid night– this has classically been Saturday afternoon (before podcast), but attendance is often pretty low for that. There’ve been some ad-hoc groups that get rolling, and I think we might have enough people to make a regular Saturday raid possible. It might be a group who can start by going back to old Coil and getting a feel for working together in there. As usual, the trick is finding a raid leader for the group– I can get it off the ground but I’m not going to be able to be around every Saturday to run it.

who might i have in mind? (art by slipgatecentral on deviantart)

who might i have in mind? (art by slipgatecentral on deviantart)

I recognize that it’s not something I’m willing/able to take on myself, and previously I would have felt like a failure as a guild leader for not bearing that load on my shoulders, but having done it before I know it’d burn me out, and if I’m burned out I’m serving no one. Part of the success of the guild in FFXIV is that important stuff is delegated to a variety of people, and if any single person isn’t around the whole thing keeps ticking. I certainly don’t have control over the whole thing, but I’m okay with that, because the organization is more than just mine. As long as people are happy, things are going well, and my job is more to be proactive and start thinking about solutions to problems before they crop up.

It’s a system that works pretty well, and I’d be lying if I said that a lot of it wasn’t borne of my graduate coursework. The two feed off one another, and I feel like my successes in both arenas are due to my participation in the other. I’m a better leader because of being an MBA student, and I’m a better student for having been a leader.


I went to a tournament over the weekend that reminded me why I like to play in tournaments. It was a great experience where I got to meet and play against a bunch of new, cool folks and test out my little group of toy soldiers against some other folks’ groups of toy soldiers. It was great.


I don’t, as a general rule, like competitive games. I like them even less when I’m playing solo against a single opponent. I get a lot more pleasure and fun out of working together with people to overcome some obstacle, rather than working singly against another person to defeat them. I don’t get a lot of pleasure in asserting my dominance over another person in any medium, and less so when it’s my friends. The closest I get is a sort of academic interest in seeing what the outcome might be, but I don’t really enjoy it for its own sake. It’s a little better when it’s team vs team, because then I’m at least working alongside people. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s more fun than one-on-one duels.

All of this makes Infinity (and other minis games) a kind of odd standout for me. What I really like about minis games is that it’s two people playing out a big battle that looks REALLY cool on the tabletop, with groups of minis that can often reflect a bit about the person in terms of how they look and which ones have been chosen. My Warmachine lists paint a picture of a person who bides his time until an opening appears, then goes for a quick, efficient assassination. When I used to play Kodra, his lists displayed a person who liked to build efficient, effective engines with interlocking pieces that rolled across the battlefield. Our lists reflected a difference in approach and personality, but we were playing the same game.


I used to play Warmachine very competitively, and got frustrated with it. What started to frustrate me about Warmachine once I started playing it very competitively was that I stopped having friendly interactions with my opponents. They were civil, polite, amiable interactions, but there was no give and take and no real sense that we were both trying to make the game fun for the other person as well as ourselves. The game was about making my combo work and stopping the opponent from doing the same. It was fun when my combos worked, and not fun when they didn’t, and it often felt like a zero-sum game. It was something I grew to miss from playing it very casually early on with a smaller group of close friends, and I stopped playing it for quite a while as a result.

Infinity revived my interest in minis games because it demanded that I play with a certain amount of give and take with my opponent. Every action required both players’ participation, so both people were engaged the whole time. It’s a stark departure from the my-turn-your-turn setup in other games, and it means that I always have something to do, and always have a chance to make something work out in my favor, even if the odds are long. At the same time, it means that I have to stay on my toes if I’m winning, there’s no point in the game where victory is basically assured and I can just do as I please. On top of all of that is this layer of exciting action– there are a lot of cool things you can do in the game as both the active and the reactive player, so there’s always a chance for your one troop to be an unexpected hero instead of a casualty.


Because there’s so much engagement on both sides of the table at all times, there’s a lot of casual etiquette that comes up with the game. It’s perfectly reasonable in Infinity to say “I’m going to walk up here but stay back far enough so that you can’t see me,” and only the most curmudgeonly player will respond with anything other than “Okay, you can get to about… there, but any further and I’ll be able to see you.” It means that games are frequently won and lost on tactics and strategy and a couple of important die rolls rather than precision eyeballing and “gotcha!” moments. I won a lot of Warmachine games through simply being better at eyeballing distances than my opponents; I have not once ever won an Infinity game on that basis, and I like it a lot more.

I’m not catching my opponent’s off-guard with an attack angle that they thought was safe but ever-so-slightly misjudged, or some combo that they didn’t see coming, or some rules interaction that they weren’t expecting; I win my games on tactics and a bit of luck, and I feel good about my games whether I win them or lose them. I also have opponents genuinely take the time to thank me for fun games in Infinity and exchange more than polite, rehearsed “Thank you”s and handshakes. It’s something that rarely ever happened in other games I’ve played, and a big part of why I’ve stayed in Infinity and love to bring new players into the fold.


That last bit is kind of important to me. There are plenty of games that I like that I wouldn’t recommend to other people. Infinity is a game that I like that I would recommend to other people, particularly people who’re into sci-fi and want to try a relatively inexpensive minis game. My experience with the Infinity communities is that they’re welcoming and generally really great folks. The people who I don’t enjoy playing against are rare, and tend not to last long in the game. It takes a certain amount of adjustment, because it’s a very different experience than a lot of one-on-one games, but I like it all the better for that.

Taking a Breath

I’ve had a lot of time to collect my thoughts lately. I may have to pore through my archives to see, but I suspect there’s been a fairly dramatic shift in tone over the last year. It’s been a rough year. I left my job and possibly my career behind to become a graduate student, and I’ve been doing freelance work in lieu of a regular job until I find something.


I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think. More accurately, I’ve had a lot of time where I don’t have specific things to think about, so my mind wanders, and it relaxes and sprawls out. At first this panicked me. It seemed like I could feel myself dulling, losing my edge. At first it seemed like a wax sculpture slowly melting, losing form and definition and identity. That last bit was the scariest.

I’m a student, but I don’t feel like one. I’m a gamer, but I’ve barely clocked ten hours in front of a game in the last two weeks. I’m a game designer, but I’ve barely done any game designing in nearly a year. I’m a romantic… who’s single. I’m… what? What’s left when all of the things I do that define me are things I’m not really doing at all? I felt my edge slipping, my shape blurring, my identity fading, and I felt like I lacked anything concrete to replace any of it with.

This loss scared me. I have a good network of close friends who I value highly, and if I’m no longer me, who exactly are they friends with? It caused me to retreat into a mask of my old self, looking for all the world like the complete upheaval going on inside was really just a minor inconvenience that would be cleared up as soon as I got a few interviews and settled in. At the same time, I was meeting new people, lots of new people, for the first time in years. Not the five minute hello-goodbye that you get at a party or out dancing, but weeks and months of classes with people, and time to get to know them. It’s been an opportunity to be an entirely different person, and it’s afforded me the opportunity to self-evaluate in a way that I haven’t since college.

At the same time, I’ve been forced to define myself by things other than what I’m currently doing, because it’s not a good measure of who I am. It’s caused me to reconsider how much I defined myself by my career and my hobbies previously. Without those as an easy reference point to let people know what (and, by extension, who) I am, I’ve had to introduce myself to people as myself, rather than as a series of labels. For all of my distaste for defining people with labels, I’ve unconsciously been doing it to myself for years.

Without any of that to hide behind, and with classes specifically tailored to rip me bodily from my shell, it’s been an intense few months (with little sign of slowing). I’m unfolding parts of my mind that haven’t been touched in a really long time, while trying to make peace with the fact that I’m just me, I’m not a gamer or a game designer or a manager or a student. I’ve done more new things in the last eight months than I did in the previous 48, and I’ve had the chance to really pore through my own thoughts.

I talked a few days ago about how I don’t trust myself. It manifests in a few ways, but a lot of it crystallized when someone pointed out to me that I’m really, really bad at taking compliments. Even when I take them, I internalize them badly. Someone tells me I’m smart and I immediately take that as both a new weight of expectation and a suggestion that I’ve miscommunicated and said too much or too little. Someone comments on how I notice things and I worry that I seem creepy. I try to be attentive, thoughtful, inclusive, open-minded, and treat others better than I would want to be treated, and only hear the times when people tell me I’ve failed at them.

I’ve struggled for a long time with having advantages that other people don’t, and trying not to call attention to them for fear that I’m “rubbing it someone’s face”. When someone gives me a compliment that I know is true, I cringe a little bit on the inside because it feels like it’s drawing attention to one of those advantages. I’ve been checking my privilege since before that was a concept, and I’ve been acutely, stomach-turningly aware of people who don’t. I’ve been trying not to come off as “too smart” or “too perceptive” or “too good at things” for years, and insisting that I’m not all that smart or perceptive or good at anything. It’s a hollow lie. I’m not perfect, but I’m a hell of a lot better than I’ve been allowing myself to take credit for.

One of the things that started happening in the first few months of my taking classes was an acute realization that I was leaving a strong impression on pretty much everyone I met, without meaning to. It scared me, because it meant that my attempts to go unnoticed were failing, and that I was affecting people unintentionally. I had somehow become the person I’d always admired, the type of person who can speak quietly in a room and have everyone turn to listen– it actually happened to me several times in a class. I could quietly, unassumingly take charge and direct a group of people into becoming a team, and it mostly happened because I thought of something and said it, and people listened and acted on it. My suggestions were treated like directives, and it terrified me.

At the end of one of my classes, I had a string of people thank me for all of my work in organizing and leading everyone. I couldn’t escape the effect I’d had on people, and I agonized over it in the interim between classes. It seemed irresponsible and dangerous to leave a strong impression on people when I didn’t intend to, and my friends, when I commented that it seemed to be happening, generally laughed and said “yeah, obviously.”

I went into my classes this quarter differently. My goal was to leave an impression on people intentionally, to play an active role in what they thought of me and why. I also had to do it without a clear sense of my own identity, and the result felt predictably scattered and chaotic, or so I thought. The feedback I got was that I felt genuine, and perceptive; insightful and analytical, if the latter to a fault at times. People were happy to have met me and I found that the thoughts I’d studiously avoided expressing were well-received and valued. I’ve since been trying to express more of those thoughts with my friends, and it’s very hard to do. My patterns of interaction feel so well defined that I’m leery of breaking from the mold, but I’ve still made little forays and have been met with encouragement.

In the meantime, I’m trying to reclaim those positive traits that I’ve turned around on myself. I’m learning Japanese, a very difficult language, and I’m going to try to take another shot at Chinese at the same time. I think I might ask my mom to start speaking to me solely in Spanish, so I can go from “can mostly understand” to “can speak”. Learning three languages, two of them notoriously difficult, at the same time is crazy. I have no idea if I can do it (and probably can’t), but damn it, I’m smart. I’m not going to find out what I can actually do without pushing my limits, and I have an opportunity right now to push my limits like crazy and see what I can actually accomplish. I’ve been trying to memorize map directions at a glance, and catch little details in everything. I’ve been striking up conversations with random people, and trying to memorize the name of everyone I meet.

I can’t yet say if this grand experiment, leaving my job and moving across the country, was a good idea. It’s still firmly in the “questionable” category from any sort of measurable standpoint, but I’ve had a lot of time and opportunity to heal and grow in ways I can’t measure. I’m a better person now than I was before I moved out here, and I think that alone makes the experiment worthwhile.

No pictures again today. Sorry. I’m exhausted.

My Own 11 Questions

I asked these questions of some other folks on Monday, and have kind of been mulling over them ever since. I thought I’d try my hand at answering them for myself.

  1. What is the best spell to cast?
    • Teleportation. Oh, the places I’d go! I’ve always especially liked the kind where the cast gets longer the further you want to go, so short distances are pretty much instantaneous. I’d never wait at a crosswalk again.
  2. What food item(s) from a game do you want to eat above any others?
    • Rare Candy. Not (just) because I’d be denying it to some poor pokémon, but because I love rare candy. It’s gotta be tasty if it’s so rare, right?
  3. You’ve got an infinite supply of one consumable, and can never carry any others. Which consumable do you choose?
    • EXP gain potions, or those potions that give me skill points. I could learn SO MANY THINGS. Failing that, Potions of Glibness.
  4. You have to choose a race and class that you’ve never played seriously before. What do you pick?
    • I actually wrote this one down because I didn’t know what my own answer would be. It’s tough, because there are archetypes I never play (Berserker, Beastmaster, Archer-types) that I don’t actually enjoy. I think I’d pick Necromancer, since I’ve always thought they were neat but never played one seriously. I wish Enchanters were still a thing, I loved that class. As for race… I mostly play Humans and the occasional Elf, so maybe a Dwarf or possibly some kind of robot. I also never play large races, but I also don’t enjoy them. I could get behind playing a Dwarf.
  5. What game did you think you would hate but actually loved?
    • World of Warcraft. I was absolutely a naysayer and was on the (now long-forgotten) tide of people who were convinced the game was going to be a total flop with its cartoon graphics and “who even makes an MMO from an RTS, what nonsense is that, do they even know what they’re doing”. Turns out yes, they did.
  6. What game did you think you would love but actually hated?
    • The Witcher (series). On paper, it’s everything I want in a game– interesting combat mechanics, deep story, fleshed out characters. In practice, though, it’s just not that fun for me. It’s dark and gritty but I don’t care, and I find myself unable to ignore the thematic parts of the game that make me uncomfortable (read: the misogyny really bothers me).
  7. Pick a zone from any game to live in. Why?
    • Coruscant, from SWTOR. Easy. I want to live in an awesome future city with everything from fancy flying cars to Jedi. Add into that that I love flight and I love vertical cities and, well, there you go. Also I’m way less likely to get shanked or sold into slavery, unlike Nar Shaddaa.
  8. You can excise one class from every future game. Which? Why?
    • Another one I put in here because I couldn’t think of an answer. Part of me wants to say Rogue, so that player fantasy can be replaced with something more interesting, but I think I’m instead going to go with Warrior. There are so many other interesting ways to do the Guy What Hits Things and the warrior just feels so vanilla and boring. Magic classes have moved away from the generic wizard, why not the warrior?
  9. What’s your favorite story?
    • Romeo and Juliet, in all its incarnations.
  10. What hobby does no one (yet) know you have?
    • Most of my hobbies are pretty well known at this point, especially by the majority of people reading this blog. One thing that I do a lot of that people probably don’t realize is picking up new skills. I love learning new skills, and dabble a whole lot in everything from welding to blacksmithing to languages to electrical engineering to programming to cooking to juggling to poetry. If it’s possible for “learning new skills” to be a hobby, that’s probably mine.
  11. What is your favorite secret shame? >:D
    • I cry during movies/tv shows constantly. Get me invested in it, then hit me with the feels, especially happy feels, and there go the waterworks. People rarely notice (I think), but it happens a lot.

There we go! I’m honestly interested in other people’s answers to these, if anyone wants to steal it and tell me. Answer via Twitter, maybe: @Tamrielo!

On Coming Up With Ideas

One of my classes asked for a journal of at least 350 ideas, as a submission to go alongside the final project. The class is geared a lot more towards people who aren’t from creative backgrounds, so this assignment is a little awkward for me.


It’s strange because most of my training and education have geared me towards taking an endless font of random ideas and culling them until only the better ones survive. A mentor of mine once commented that an idea, by itself, is worth less than nothing, because the time spent thinking about it could have been used to build upon or refine an existing idea. He went on to say that ideas have no value until they’re used to create something. He encouraged us to be our own harshest critics, whittling down our ideas output until we only release ideas with legs, ones that could feasibly become something worthwhile or great.

It’s a message I’ve taken to heart. Most of the ideas that I actually communicate have had quite a bit of thought put into them, and when I suggest something off the cuff, I’m pretty quick to abandon it as well, because it’s easily replaced by a new one. It’s something that I think makes me a bit frustrating to talk to about ideas (and why I don’t often do it, despite generating them constantly)– some things I will abandon immediately, other things I have thought about at extreme length, down to the minute details, and mentally made balancing sacrifices along the way, culling any version or solution that doesn’t work. I’m not sure it’s easy to tell the difference, except that I sometimes abandon ideas suddenly.


I used to think that everyone generated ideas the way I do. It’s a constant white noise in my thoughts, little flickers of concepts both related to whatever I’m doing and unrelated to anything, and I occasionally take a mental pause and pluck a few for later consideration. I don’t necessarily consider it a good thing– it’s frequently distracting and when an actionable idea takes hold, I want to do something about it immediately, lest it get lost in the flood, but I’d thought that was how most people operated, and the few people I’ve spoken to about it (mostly creative types) tend to describe something similar. Not realizing that other people don’t operate this same way, I raised an eyebrow at an assignment to generate 350 ideas in eight weeks. It seemed like a trivial task.

What I found out from classmates was that a goodly portion of the class was agonizing over the assignment, unsure of how they would generate that many ideas in that amount of time. These are intelligent, thoughtful people, and I found it interesting that the act of coming up with raw ideas would be so difficult, and would push them beyond their comfort zones. I’d considered dropping the class before that point, but it occurred to me that the point of the assignment wasn’t to generate 350 ideas, but to push people outside of their comfort zones. Dropping the class and abandoning the activities seemed, through that lens, to be the loser’s way out. There were more creative solutions to that problem, and they’d push me past my comfort zone.


The first hurdle was talking to the professor about it. This essentially required me approaching my professor and telling him I was worried the class would be too easy for me, and asking if I could come up with ways to raise the difficulty. I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect, and wasn’t really sure what his reaction would be, but if it was a disaster I could still drop the course (was my justification). He turned out to be surprisingly interested in my ideas for pushing my own limits, and with his help I rewrote pretty much every assignment criteria to be something relevant to me. Rather than being bored all the way through the class, I was able to reconfigure things to fit me.

I gave myself an hour to generate 350 ideas, using shorthand to write them down quickly and then going back to fill them out into sentences readable by other people. It’s an idea roughly every eleven seconds for an hour. I came up with 214 in the hour, and it was a really interesting exercise. The first ten minutes or so were pretty easy, just a constant stream of things bubbling up and being written down, mostly stuff I’d already been thinking about and putting on paper for the first time. Once that font of ideas was up, things got a bit more difficult. After writing down all the ideas I’d already had refined, I caught myself refining ideas before writing them down, which was slowing my pace too much. I found it surprisingly hard to actually write down unrefined, terrible ideas and wound up committing myself to writing down a bunch of intentionally bad ideas, which gave me another big chunk of the list.


By the end of the hour, I’d written down a little more than two hundred ideas, some with potential, most of them terrible, but I’d legitimately pushed my limits. 350 ideas in an hour wasn’t something I could generate, and while filling out the rest of the list over the course of the day wasn’t too terrible (I still have a few more to fill in as of this writing), there was definitely a period after the hour was up where I felt spent.

It turned out to be an interesting exercise, one that I appreciate my professor giving me the opportunity to alter the assignment parameters to pursue. I will probably try to spend some time doing high-speed idea generation to keep myself sharp, though probably not for an hour at a time. I found that coming up with lots of ideas with no specific theme or goal in mind caused me to think about things I’d been mulling over but weren’t directly related to what I was currently doing. I wound up with a lot of ideas for small projects, hobby stuff, or other things that I hadn’t put any thought into for quite a while.


If you have a few minutes to spare, try seeing how many ideas you can come up with in five or ten minutes. Put a clock on it and see where you get. You might be surprised at the outcome, or at least have a good laugh.

I Don’t Trust Myself

A close friend of mine called me out on something recently, and it led to a really great conversation. I spend a lot of time thinking about things, but rarely put them into words for other people– a lot of times things become clearer for me when I’m forced to express them.


Simply put, most of the time I don’t trust myself. It’s a odd thought to mull over, and my hope is that putting it more into words here will help clarify it. Some people put up walls and keep people at a distance because they’re afraid of being hurt. I understand that, and I get those motivations, but it’s not what happens with me. I’ve been hurt by other people, but it’s never shaken my belief that most people aren’t going to intentionally hurt me. Instead, I’m more afraid of hurting other people.

It manifests in strange ways. I prefer the man-behind-the-curtain approach, and I’m very reticent to commit to things with people unless I’m absolutely sure I can make it work. I’ve caught myself making jokes about “I don’t know why anyone follows me”, expressed as a warning to others that maybe they shouldn’t follow me. People still do, and for all the jokes about not knowing why, I really do know why they do.

I don’t trust myself; I have a deep-seated belief that I am a hair’s breadth away from letting everyone down all the time. I put a lot of effort into being a good leader and a perceptive friend and an attentive lover because I don’t want to let people down (more than I, in my mind, already have). It drives me to be a good leader, it drives me to pursue excellence, because that looming shadow is always behind me. People trust me, and that scares me because I don’t share their feelings.

At the same time, I know what I’m capable of, and I’m well aware of my skills. There’s an Infinity tournament this weekend, and I’ve been agonizing over what to play. I’ve been repeatedly told “bring whatever you feel like!” or even “bring something really brutal, we want to see it,” and it makes me anxious. I know I can take pretty much any list and be very effective with it. I’ve been playing the game a long time and I’m confident in my skills. What I worry about is my reputation. I don’t want to be That Guy Who Just Moved Here And Wins Constantly, but it’s not respectful to my opponents to play intentionally unplayable lists or otherwise let them win. In the meantime, people are consistently happy to play against me, even when they lose. I’ve had one or two local players ask me to bring something just utterly crushing, and when I do and beat them soundly, they’re EXCITED, like losing so badly was the coolest thing ever, and it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that.

I have a habit that I’ve been trying to break lately. I have, over many years, become an expert at crafting ornate little (metaphorical) masks that I use to interact with people. To compartmentalize my interactions with others, I only show them one of a number of masks that represent some facet of myself, and the rest stays hidden away. As I get to know someone better, I’ll use a few more, showing off different facets, but there’s still that barrier. It’s always a small thrill when someone can see past the mask and calls me out on it, but it doesn’t happen often, and I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are very familiar with a mask and have barely any idea who I really am underneath. I have, at times, wondered whether there is anything underneath all the masks, or if that’s really all of me. I would have, at one point, argued that point very convincingly.

Very, very rarely, I will get close enough to someone and they’ll have seen enough of my masks that I don’t have to wear them anymore. This is true of a very, very small number of people, and they tend to be friendships that last me for years. I’ve been trying, lately, to let more people in. Someone commented to me, when I talked about my masks, that keeping that up constantly must be exhausting. I can’t really say. If it is, it’s a thing I’ve been doing so long that the effort isn’t noticable anymore. What I do know is that, every so often, I’m close enough to someone that in order to be honest with them, I have to trust myself, just a little bit. It’s hard, and I don’t get there with many people.

I am, as a result, very thoughtful and considering when it comes to love. For all that I’m a romantic, actually loving someone is a tough hurdle, because I have to have first taken off all the masks, and then I have to remember how to trust myself. When I’m there, though, it’s a continual feedback loop. I’m a better, more open, less detached person, and in addition to being someone I respect and care for, the person I’m with is a constant reminder to remember how to trust myself, because I often forget.

Another friend of mine asked me if I trusted other people. I think I surprised him when I said I did– I’ve never had a problem trusting others, once they’ve been given a chance to prove that they’re trustworthy. I’m not naive, but I’m not overly suspicious either. I know I have a network of friends who I can trust to have my back if/when I really need it (and even when I don’t), but for me the challenge is trusting myself, trusting that I’m the kind of person worth that sort of effort.

It’s a work in progress. Isn’t everything?

No pictures today, other than the header. Sorry not sorry for the wall of text; I’m forcing myself to post this to open up, but I secretly hope that the pictureless expanse of text will cause people to tune out, so I’m maybe not opening up as much. If you got this far, thank you. You’re helping.

Ash Calls Me Out

I’m not actually participating in Blaugust (or, as I like to call it, Bel-gust), but I’m not enough of a hipster to turn my nose up when I get called out directly.


I guess there’s something called a “Liebster Award” that’s something like a blogging chain letter. From what I’ve been able to gather, you present 11 random facts and then answer the previous person’s questions, then pay it forward to someone else.

11 Random Facts:

  1. I spent my childhood traveling on vacations with my parents. It’s given me a very broad worldview and hunger to discover more about the world that I tend to take for granted.
  2. I am validated by achievement and driven by romance. It’s an odd duality.
  3. I spent about a decade as a game designer, and learned an incredible amount in that time about the inner workings of how games are made.
  4. I graduated from MIT, and it’s an accomplishment that I cling to when I don’t feel like I’m able to do anything (often).
  5. I have a bad habit of bouncing my leg when I’m sitting. It annoys me and everyone around me.
  6. I’m really, genuinely interested in people and what they have to say. I’m an introvert who pours energy into people like an extrovert. I’m often very reticent to connect with new people because of this– I never feel like I’m giving enough energy to the friends I have, and the thought of spending even more energy on new people is scary.
  7. I used to wear exclusively black t-shirts and cargo pants until I realized that I can pull off clothing combinations that other people can’t. Now I’ve discovered that I have a taste for fashion and, when appropriate, love to ‘dress up’.
  8. I do not think quickly on my feet, but I am an extremely detailed planner. If I look like I have a snappy response or a quick reaction to something, it’s almost always because I expected it and had planned for it. I go deer-in-the-headlights when faced with something I don’t have a planned response for.
  9. Alignment-wise, I am almost certainly True Neutral.
  10. I have very little time or interest in strictly competitive games. Even the one competitive game I play regularly (Infinity) is, to me, more of a collaborative action scene than a competitive game, even at the tournament level.
  11. I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to dating. Were I not single, it would honestly be really funny (it often still is).

Here are Ash’s 11 questions:

  1. Why do you blog? Yes, I know it’s a repeat. Deal with it.
    • Discipline. It forces me to write on a regular schedule and keeps me sharp and constantly coming up with things to say.
  2. What’s the first game you remember playing?
    • I don’t remember. It was either Quest for Glory 3 at a friend’s house or Star Wars: Rebel Assault. I have fond memories of both games.
  3. Dogs or Cats?
    • Neither. I own a dog, but she’s the last phase of dog-phobia therapy. I can’t say I’m a dog or cat person.
  4. Do you have a favorite villain?
    • Sephiroth, from FFVII. It’s cliché, I know, but for the first half of the game he’s an incredibly compelling, mysterious villain that you’re chasing but don’t *really* want to catch. Close runners up would be Darth Vader and Handsome Jack.
  5. What are your thoughts on escort missions?
    • Like anything, good when done well. Ico is an incredible game that is a single, long escort quest, Portal and Portal 2 have very compelling escort sequences, and Bioshock:Infinite has similar concepts going on. There are a lot of examples of bad escorts, but the good ones really, really shine.
  6. Borrowing from the “stereotypical interview questions” list, What would you say is your biggest weakness? (I did actually get this question a lot last year.)
    • I wear a lot of masks around people, because I want people to feel comfortable around me. It works altogether too well and it means that I have a bad tendency to keep people at a distance, behind the mask.
  7. What character archetype do you find yourself playing most often?
    • The Mage. This comes in a lot of forms, but my favorite is the Duelist Mage, with sword and spell. Jedi are very close to this, as are Red Mages. I’m frequently disappointed by the experience, because they’re usually either ultra-weak or horrifically overpowered.
  8. Other than games and the means to play them, do you own any gaming-related items?
    • I used to have a lot– figures, posters, etc, but got rid of pretty much all of it when I moved across the country. Now, I have a small-but-growing collection of tasteful game art.
  9. Because I know who these questions are going to, I can ask this one: What’s your favorite system for Tabletop RPGs?
    • World of Darkness. It’s one of the few systems in which I feel like I’m making a character and not a selection of stats. It also enables interesting non-combat play in a way that pretty much no other system I’ve ever seen does well. I really enjoy coming up with and seeing players come up with interesting solutions to problems, and WoD really enables and encourages that kind of creativity, whereas I feel like a lot of other systems are an excuse to get into fights all the time.
  10. What upcoming games (if any) are you looking forward to?
    • Persona 5, more than anything else. I’m also greatly looking forward to the next installment of Deus Ex, and Mass Effect: Andromeda.
  11. Why can’t Ash count to 11?
    • I really don’t know.

With all of that done, here’s my set of (actually 11) questions:

  1. What is the best spell to cast?
  2. What food item(s) from a game do you want to eat above any others?
  3. You’ve got an infinite supply of one consumable, and can never carry any others. Which consumable do you choose?
  4. You have to choose a race and class that you’ve never played seriously before. What do you pick?
  5. What game did you think you would hate but actually loved?
  6. What game did you think you would love but actually hated?
  7. Pick a zone from any game to live in. Why?
  8. You can excise one class from every future game. Which? Why?
  9. What’s your favorite story?
  10. What hobby does no one (yet) know you have?
  11. What is your favorite secret shame? >:D


Bel, Liore and Thalen, you’re up, if that’s how this works.