13 Reasons Why (Spoilers)

After Two Episodes

I have seen a number of people on Twitter talking positively about the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, so I watched the first two episodes last night. I expected it to be a touching drama about a teen suicide, but it appears to be more of a tense psychological thriller, somewhat in the vein of I Know What You Did Last Summer (except that we, the audience, don’t know).

I’m going to start writing down my thoughts about this show. I’m a white guy, and this is a show that seems to be meant for a female audience, so I’m stumbling headlong into a minefield here.

Again, I’ve only seen the first two episodes as of this writing. I will likely watch the rest of it, because the show is getting such good reviews, but I’ll be honest, I’m not super into it. I probably wouldn’t have even watched the second episode if it hadn’t been for the rave reviews. (I had a similar reaction to The Expanse, actually.)

So the basic premise is that there’s a high school girl who committed suicide, but before she died, she recorded a bunch of cassette tapes (yes, actual magnetic cassette tapes, for reasons that so far are not given) and sent them to the people she felt were responsible for her death. That’s not a spoiler because you get that in like the first 5 minutes. (Don’t let the cassette tapes fool you–the story is not set in the 1980s.)

I’ll grant that it’s an interesting idea. There’s a lot of mystery and intrigue and what-the-heck-is-going-on here. (This is why I label it a psychological thriller.)

But I’m really not feeling much of a connection with these characters.

I mean, granted, this is a story about teenagers, and I barely remember what being a teenager was like. And my teenaged years were not even remotely similar to what is happening in this show. So I’m way behind the curve already.

And here’s where I really think I’m going to get into trouble. I feel like I’m supposed to think that suicide girl (aka. Hannah) is a victim and I should feel bad for her. But … I don’t. I mean, I’m sorry she’s dead. But in the first two episodes, she is not shown to be a terribly sympathetic character in my eyes. She’s mostly shown as super manipulative. I kind of … don’t like her. And it’s hard to think of a more sinister, manipulative, passive aggressive move than sending out cassettes to blame people after you’ve committed suicide.

So… help me out here, readers. Am I supposed to sympathize with her? Maybe things will change in future episodes.

So that’s the dead girl. Let’s move on to some others.

I saw that this show is based on a book. I’ve not seen anything about this book, but I’m just going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s a young adult novel. I say that because one of the defining characteristics of the young adult genre is that adults (particularly parents) act like complete morons. (Seriously. It’s a real thing. In middle-grade books, adults are trustworthy, but in young adult books, adults are supposed to be the enemy.)

The adults in this show so far are acting like idiots. “It’s okay honey, I don’t mind you walking around with a huge infected pus-filled gash on your head, I’m sure you’ll let us know if there’s a real problem.” “It’s okay honey, I see that you’re obviously–so, so, so obviously–acting weird and defensive and hiding stuff but we’ll be here if you need us.” Really? Who’s buying this?

(I won’t even go into how young these parents look to me. The teenagers look like they’re about 12 to me, and the parents look like they’re barely out of their 20s. Also, the teenagers appear to have been manufactured in some sort of beautiful person clone factory.)

Now about this kid “Helmet,” who I assume is the protagonist of our story. (I can’t remember his real name. Cory? Chase? Something with a ‘C’ I think.) I have never seen a person stare stupidly at so many things for so long before. I know this is supposed to be serious subject matter, but it’s sooo comical to see this actor staring blankly, consumed by his inner thoughts, when other people are talking. And then he tries to act like nothing is wrong, thereby drawing so much attention to the fact that something is seriously wrong.

I mean, maybe there’s a story reason for this that will become apparent later, but they are selling this kid’s bumbling ineptitude really hard.

After Five Episodes

I’m still watching the show. I’m now interested enough in the central mystery to continue watching even without the urging of the Internet. I would characterize the show as good, but not great. There is still a lot of teenager, teenager, teenager, blah, blah, blah to wade through.

After the first two episodes, they finally started to make Hannah (aka. suicide girl) a more sympathetic character. They started to downplay the super angry voiceover of her cassette tapes and focused more on the behavior of the kids she singled out for “revenge.” The reasons that I didn’t like her at first seem to be because of a “tough guy” facade she created. There’s no doubt Hannah’s been treated badly by her peers.

But. Here’s some dangerous words for a white guy to write: I feel like I could make a case, though, that she was the one who chose to put herself into the situations that could turn out badly for her. A recurring theme in the show is that taking and sharing compromising pictures can ruin a person’s life. Again, I don’t know anything about kids today, but I feel like this is a lesson that everyone should know by now. Certainly if I had kids I would be drilling that lesson every day. It seems like the “taking candy from strangers” lesson of the modern world. I mean, how does Hannah not know to close her frickin’ blinds in her room at night? (I know it’s probably dramatized for effect, but when I’m inside my house, I do think about what people can see from outside the house through the windows, and I don’t even live in a dense neighborhood.)

So I’m not cheering for Hannah quite yet. Yes, she’s had some bad luck. But does it justify her actions? I’m not a big supporter of suicide as a weapon. Maybe she isn’t dead, and it’s a big scam. She’s clearly a smart enough person to pull that off. I feel like I even heard there was some ambiguity about that before I started watching. (I know there is a “season 2” coming.) If she completes her vengeance and then pops up in another city or something (New York, probably), then I might think, “Okay, that was a nifty scheme.” But I might also think, “Wow she put a lot of loved ones through pure hell for her personal revenge fantasy power trip.”

Clay, our protagonist, the bumbling nerd who looks like a teen fashion model, continues to stare blankly at everyone and everything. I swear if he crashes his bike into something or walks out into traffic one more time I’m going to start rooting for a bus to hit him. The gash on his head still looks horribly infected to me. What in god’s name is he putting on it?

There are times when I think, aw this is a tragic re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. (As in that dance, and the “dollar valentine incident.”) Then there are other times when I think, oh man I just want to slap these kids until they stop acting dumb (as in any part where they try to pretend nothing is wrong, or when they feel the need to hide these tapes from the adults who would actually know how to handle it). This is the big problem of watching a show about teenagers when you’re forty-cough-cough.

By the way, nothing like a “dollar valentine” ever occurred at my high school, to my knowledge. I don’t remember any fundraisers of any kind, to be honest. But then I doubt I would have participated anyway. I was not much into “school spirit.”

Speaking of adults, the side-plot about the bullying lawsuit is a pretty interesting subject for me (as an adult viewer), but it’s not getting much attention in the show, other than setting up a big conflict between Clay (who believes bullying occurred) and his mom (who was hired to defend the school and therefore will be trying to prove that bullying did not occur).

I’m a bit too old to weigh in on the whole subject of “bullying” and whether it should or shouldn’t be legally actionable. I have literally no idea what it is like for kids in schools these days. The drama I’m seeing in this show looks completely foreign to me. I can’t say that I ever experienced any inordinate level of bullying. I experienced plenty of embarrassing or humiliating situations, but I never experienced any kind of concentrated persecution, and I never heard of it happening in my school. I don’t remember hearing about anyone committing suicide.

One interesting aspect of the show is that I feel like it is going out of its way to portray events in a multi-sided way–that is, ways that could lead viewers to make differing conclusions about who’s “guilty.” What I mean is, I could easily imagine women watching this show and identifying strongly with the female characters as victims of the male characters’ hostility. But when I watch, I see plenty of things the female characters are doing that are pretty aggressive and hostile and provocative toward the male characters. Which view is right? Probably both.

By the way, I would like to reiterate that there has been no story reason given for the use of cassette tapes. One just has to assume that it’s a quirky weird teenager thing. Or that it’s easier for viewers to see them.

After Thirteen Episodes

Before getting into the meat of this, did anyone else get the feeling like they had seen most of those actors before somewhere? But every time I looked them up on IMDB they were never in anything I would have seen. I’m now completely convinced that actors are stamped out of a factory somewhere, or they digitally alter everyone’s face to look familiar. Either that or maybe all the actors now are children of the actors we used to know in the 80s and 90s. For example, I would swear on a stack of Bibles that Hannah’s mom played by Kate Walsh is the spitting image of Wendie Malick.

Okay back to serious thoughts. Reading back over my notes at earlier points in the show, I’m tempted to delete them, but in the interests of “telling my truth” I’ll leave them.

Because I feel like the show deliberately tried to elicit the exact responses that I wrote about: Initially, I didn’t like Hannah that much. But over time, I started to understand her better. And by the end, my heart just ached for her (and her parents). By the final episode, I was really, really hoping for some kind of magical deus ex machina to swoop in and rescue her, even though there were plenty of instances during the show when they confirmed that yes, she’s really dead, she’s not in hiding somewhere.

I still can’t condone her choice, but I certainly understand how she got there. I’m simultaneously angry at her and sad at her loss.

Again I have to reiterate that I have no idea what high school is like for kids today. What is portrayed in this show is nothing like the high school that I went through. There are similarities of course. The cheerleaders, the jocks, the cool kids, the weirdos, etc. But this show portrays a kind of sinister cabal of puppet masters, including both students and school officials, deliberately covering up major crimes. If anything like that happened in my high school, it was well concealed, because me and my circles were completely oblivious to it. (But to be fair, I was oblivious to a lot of things in my younger days.)

The point I’m trying to make is that I sure hope this fictional Liberty High School is an exaggeration or a statistical anomaly. Because man, what a nightmare.

I’m not sure how I feel about this show continuing into a second season. I could understand one final epilogue episode to deal with the trial and the parents’ reactions to the tapes (and of course Bryce getting arrested and gang-raped in prison), but an entire season? I don’t see that many loose ends to deal with, and starting new story threads seems gratuitous.

I can’t leave without talking a bit more about Clay and his relationship with Hannah and what happened at that party.

To reiterate, I’m a guy, so I obviously can relate more to Clay’s point of view than Hannah’s. I’ve been in situations like that party before where it seems like everything is fine and then suddenly everything is not fine and you’re left reeling and completely unable to process what just happened. Where the other person appears to be giving one kind of signal but they’re saying something completely different, and you just have no clue what to do. So I can completely relate to Clay’s response.

What I loved about the telling of that scene was that they showed two different versions of it. The original version of what actually happened, where everyone went away confused and upset, and then they showed a second version that (I assume) Clay and Tony worked out later that showed what would have been the “right” way to handle the same situation. Or at least, maybe a better way. I think it was important to show that second version to the audience, because it was a really good “teachable moment” in human relationships.

Of course, there’s no guarantee things would have played out any different in the end.

I still think Clay was kind of a goofball. And I swear to God, he did crash his bike again. I mean, seriously. Revoke his license.

There really was an element of Romeo and Juliet in this story, by the way. It played out very differently, but the tragic romance was there, and it’s still just as compelling of a story element as it ever was.

Now I want to talk about that scene between Hannah and the guidance counselor in the last episode, whose name I can’t remember.

I’m not really sure what to say, though.

It’s easy to sit back and think, “What a dick. That guy could have saved Hannah but he blew it.”

But the way the scene played out… it didn’t appear so black and white to me. I felt his side of the conversation was clearly distracted, somewhat insensitive, but … believable. I never felt at any point in this series that the counselor was a “bad guy” trying to harm Hannah by action or inaction. I can imagine that anyone in his position would be forced to say the same thing. Maybe not because they wanted to, but because it’s the unvarnished, ugly truth of the matter.

Again I reiterate what I said somewhere up above, which is that the show seemed to be intentionally portraying events in a way that could be interpreted in multiple ways from multiple viewpoints.

If there was a “bad guy” on the school side, it could only be the principle, played by Steven Weber of Wings fame. (I also remember him perfectly playing Jack Torrance in the television miniseries version of The Shining, which is one of the best Stephen King novel adaptations ever made, incidentally. The Jack Nicholson movie was a great movie but bore little resemblance to the book.) But again, “bad” is a relative term here. It’s literally his job to look after the interests of the school.

In a nutshell, it’s a really good series, but it’s heavy. It very much did turn into a touching drama about a teen suicide, but it took some time to get there. In the first couple of episodes, I actually laughed quite a bit. I feel like the story could have been told in fewer episodes. There were long stretches of time where I was pretty bored and I wished they would get on with the plot.

One more thing, about the music. I don’t know anything about pop music these days. I just sort of assume kids listen to Katy Perry and … you know, ahem, all those other famous names in pop music that I totally know off the top of my head.

But a lot of the music I heard in this show didn’t sound like modern pop music at all. It sounded … well, good. Sort of more like 90s alternative music in a way. It made me wonder if that’s the kind of music kids listen to these days. If so, then good job, kids! You have some musical taste after all.

Okay, one more thing: I don’t remember anything like a Communications class in high school, where you passed notes to each other through paper bags. Is that really a thing? It’s probably a good idea, I guess. The only Communications-like class I ever remember was something like an English Communication, about writing, and I think that might have been a college class.

Okay now I’ll stop rambling. Tough subject matter, but a great, deeply affecting series.

Rogue One (Spoilers)

I did not see Rogue One in the theater. I regretted that decision for a day or two, then felt good about it. I decided that it was “fan fiction”–a term I don’t use in a particularly positive sense. (Sorry superfans.)

I waited until it came to FIOS VOD. Then I forgot about it. Then I remembered it. I went into the movie with very low expectations. I wasn’t expecting “real” Star Wars. (I am expecting to repeat this behavior for the “Han Solo” movie.)

And the results are now in: Rogue One was “okay” but it wasn’t great.

Honestly I think it would have been better if it hadn’t been a Star Wars movie. It seemed like a weird mashup of Star Wars and World War II genres.

I mean, it wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t great. It was not as good as The Force Awakens. I got pretty bored with the first two acts, actually. I didn’t feel any sympathy for any of the characters. I don’t even know why Forest Whitaker was in the movie, his part was so meaningless. I have literally no clue why these characters suddenly decided it was important to get the Death Star plans.

(Later I learned that the movie suffered from extensive re-shoots and re-edits, which might explain why the first two acts didn’t make much sense.)

On the plus side, the last act of the movie was a hell of a good action ride. There was some really top notch CGI work there. Actually, if you start the movie at roughly the 1:20 mark, it’s pretty good.

Overall I kept getting confused though because sometimes it looked like a Pacific War movie. The rebel uniforms clearly were inspired by Pacific War marines. Star Wars really doesn’t look right on a tropical beach. Other times, especially early on, it looked like a samurai movie. I mean, was it just me? Why in the holy hell was there a blind samurai in this movie?

The K droid was funny as hell. (I’m sure everyone else has his exact designation memorized but I don’t.) But does every Star Wars movie really need a funny droid? It’s sort of a cliche at this point.

It was a real treat to hear Gold Leader again.

The most memorable scene in the entire movie was nearly the last one: Darth Vader trying to get onto the rebel ship. The scene was completely out of place and unnecessary in the overall movie, but man was it bad ass. That was Darth Vader like we’ve literally never seen him before. (It was almost out of character, it was so different.) It was the embodiment of how we always imagined this evil Sith, but seeing it right there in front of your eyes was frightening as hell. That tiny scene was like a miniature horror movie.

Tarkin looked like a talking wax doll. It was very bizarre and off-putting. (His scenes looked like a Bioware game.) His voice sounded wrong, too. How could they spend so much time trying to get the visuals right and blow the voice? Wax-doll Leia looked a little better but only because she didn’t move or say much.

Rogue One was a good try, I suppose, but it didn’t quite do it for me.

International Grammar: Punting

Risking military action by the NFL by showing this picture of Drew Butler.

Here’s a grammar thing I learned, regarding the word “punt.”

I’m American, so the word “punt” has always meant exactly one thing: Punting a football, as in kicking the ball to the other team. (American football, that is.)

Occasionally I also see “punting” used metaphorically, as in something like, “I’m going to punt on making that decision.” In that sense, it means you’re going to put off making the decision, or give it to someone else to make.

If I were to write that I was going to “punt” on playing an upcoming video game, I would be saying that I was not going to play that game. I’d probably never put it that way, because it’s a bit awkward, but that would be the intent.

The point is, I associate the word “punt” with a rejection of sorts. A negative. Almost a synonym for “pass” or “skip” or “bypass.” As in, “I’m going to pass on making that decision.”

Recently I saw Bhagpuss’s article on Ashes of Creation. He talks about how he plans to support the Kickstarter. Then his last paragraph begins, “It’s worth a punt.”

Instant cognitive dissonance. He wants to support the game, but he’s “punting?” In my mind, those two things were opposites.

It reminded me that I had seen unfamiliar usages of punt before. A quick search of my Twitters turns up phrases like, “worth a punt,” “punt the Tory line,*” “cheeky little punt.”

Well, guess what? It turns out there are other places in the world besides America that use the English language.

I’m not sure this accounts for all of the above phrases, but in some of these non-American places, a “punter” is not, in fact, a position on a football team. A punter is also another word for a gambler. Therefore, a punt is another word for a bet, or a gamble, or a chance.

So when Bhagpuss writes, “It’s worth a punt,” the Americanized translation would be something like, “It’s worth a try” or “It’s worth taking a chance on.”

“Taking a punt” is apparently a common phrase in these wacky non-American places that I understand exist in the world. Who knew? I have a feeling that if I watch some British comedy shows again, I will now understand more of the jokes.

It’s weird when you have to translate English into English. :)

* “The Daily Mail, of course, is on hand to dutifully punt the Tory line.” I think this might be a third meaning of “punt,” because it still doesn’t make sense. :)

Steam Entertainment Value 2016

Here’s a chart I just made showing all my Steam purchases in 2016. I computed the cost per hour for playing each game, based on the price I paid for the game and the number of hours I played (according to Steam). In this way I came up with a list of games sorted by best entertainment value.

If the cost per hour came out more than the purchase price (such as Bastion which came out to $37/hour), then I capped it at the purchase price. It didn’t make sense to me for the mathematical cost to be more than the actual real world cost.

If I had not played a game at all, I also set the cost per hour to the price of the game.

1
Name Purchased Price Played Cost/Hour
2
DARK Souls III Deluxe 4/7/2016 80.73 351.0 0.230
3
Divine Divinity 12/24/2016 0.89 0.0 0.890
4
Immune 2/27/2016 0.99 0.5 0.990
5
DIRT Showdown 3/26/2016 2.99 2.7 1.107
6
Devil Daggers 10/30/2016 2.99 2.7 1.107
7
Enclave 11/23/2016 1.24 0.0 1.240
8
DOOM 8/5/2016 29.99 21.0 1.428
9
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
12/24/2016 1.64 0.0 1.640
10
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI 10/22/2016 59.99 34.0 1.764
11
A Story About My Uncle 3/2/2016 1.94 0.0 1.940
12
Far Cry Primal 3/2/2016 59.99 25.0 2.400
13
Black Mesa 6/27/2016 7.99 2.8 2.854
14
Survivalist 11/23/2016 2.99 0.0 2.990
15
Apotheon 11/23/2016 3.74 0.0 3.740
16
Titan Souls 12/24/2016 3.74 0.0 3.740
17
Miasmata 3/12/2016 3.74 0.4 3.740
18
Bastion 9/17/2016 3.74 0.1 3.740
19
Ember 12/28/2016 3.99 0.0 3.990
20
Shrouded in Sanity 11/23/2016 4.79 0.0 4.790
21
NEO Scavenger 6/27/2016 4.94 0.0 4.940
22
Batman Arkham Origins 10/30/2016 4.99 0.0 4.990
23
Dead State 10/30/2016 4.99 0.0 4.990
24
Deadfall Adventures 12/24/2016 4.99 0.0 4.990
25
Wander 6/27/2016 4.99 0.7 4.990
26
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
12/24/2016 4.99 0.3 4.990
27
ABZU 12/28/2016 5.99 0.8 5.990
28
DarkMaus 4/29/2016 6.69 0.5 6.690
29
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
7/2/2016 20.09 2.8 7.175
30
Out of Reach 5/30/2016 7.49 0.0 7.490
31
Shadow of Mordor GOTY
9/17/2016 7.49 0.0 7.490
32
The Age of Decadence 12/28/2016 7.49 0.0 7.490
33
DIRT 3 Complete 3/26/2016 7.49 0.9 7.490
34
Novus Inceptio 10/30/2016 7.99 0.5 7.990
35
Kholat 2/3/2016 8.60 0.0 8.600
36
Vortex: The Gateway 5/30/2016 8.99 0.0 8.990
37
Project CARS 12/24/2016 9.89 0.3 9.890
38
Salt 2/11/2016 9.89 0.2 9.890
39
SOMA 7/3/2016 14.99 1.5 9.993

The total spent was $431.07 with total playing time of 448.7 hours, for a grand total of 96.1 cents per hour. Relatively cheap for a hobby.

P. S. It was a nightmare getting that table from Google Sheets to this blog post. Whatever happened to copying-and-pasting tables from one place to another?

Three Albums

I saw Liore’s post on #3AlbumsThatChangedMyLife, and I started to think back on my own impressionable youth and the albums that affected me.

I was raised in a somewhat musical family, but I didn’t become “interested” in music until let’s say my mid-to-late teenage years. Prior to that most pop songs went in one ear and out the other and I never owned any albums. (Okay I did buy a single of M-M-M-My Sharona, a song that was entirely inappropriate for my then-age.) In high school I started to learn to play guitar (again) and really started to buy, collect, and “study” music. Since then I’ve dabbled in writing songs and home recording and all manner of audio things, which now manifests as an occasional YouTube upload. But I think my musical senses really peaked in my late teens and twenties, which is reflected in this list.

For this exercise, I’ve picked albums that didn’t necessarily change my life per se, but albums that sparked my imagination and changed what I thought was possible with music. Albums that were more than merely a collection of catchy tunes, but windows into other worlds, visions of endless time and space, filled with possibilities. (Yucky music metaphors ahead.) I’ve excluded movie soundtracks and classical music.

By the way I think all of the YouTube links below are helping the referenced artists, but if they aren’t somebody yell at me and I’ll remove them. I hate ripping off musicians. If I couldn’t tell I left out the link.

3. Queensryche – Promised Land

The first Queensryche song I ever heard was Silent Lucidity on the radio. I liked it because of the clear Pink Floyd influence. Then I heard Jet City Woman, which is an entirely different kind of song. Then I heard a third song from the same album (I think it was Another Rainy Night). With three songs that I liked from the same album, all three similar but different, I figured there was a good chance I’d like the whole album, so I bought Empire, and not surprisingly, I liked it.

I then bought their previous album, Operation: Mindcrime. It’s very different–a concept album–but I loved it, too. (I didn’t like their earlier stuff as much, though.)

Both of those albums might have been on this list, but soon afterward, Queensryche released Promised Land.

I eagerly bought it. It was different from both Mindcrime and Empire. The band’s sound had evolved yet again, a talent that I really appreciate in musical acts. It’s a glorious mixture of goth, metal, and rock with top-notch production values. Dense reverbs throughout made it feel like you were inside a huge cave of awesome. All of the songs felt deeply meaningful and relevant to my life at the time, too. “Life’s been like dragging feet through sand, and never finding the Promised Land.” Good stuff. Very uplifting. :)

2. Pink Floyd – The Wall

I mean, obviously, right? I first heard songs from The Wall when some friends suggested I needed to expand my musical repertoire and made me a mix tape (a cassette!). I remember it had Van Halen on it, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, but it definitely had Comfortably Numb and possibly Hey You from The Wall.

Being a student of electric guitar at the time, Comfortably Numb obviously became an instant hit with me. And when I listened to the entirety of The Wall from start to finish, it was like listening to something from outer space. (It’s hard to come up with metaphors for music, ya know?) I would just sit there mesmerized. How could humans possibly make music like that?

I was amazed at the pristine production value of that album. The absolute precision of every track in those songs, and how it all sounded so amazing and perfect. There were orchestras and classical guitars and pianos and male choirs and sound effects and even actors. It was the first “rock opera” I ever heard. (“Rock” is kind of a loose definition for The Wall, but back then it was definitely rock.) And it was a compelling story, too. At least to me in my youth.

(I didn’t care for the movie, though … it spoiled my image of the music.)

(I later learned that a lot of The Wall was the work of Roger Waters, and his later albums The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and especially Amused to Death, both masterpieces, would have made this list, except I heard The Wall first.)

1. Queen – A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera was the first album I can remember blowing my mind completely. I only knew of its existence from my older brothers. At some point in my teens, around the time I became interested in music and was bumbling around learning chords on an acoustic guitar, I came across the album on cassette and instantly decided that this was the goal that I should be striving for in all my efforts to learn about music. It seemed like the ultimate expression of thoughts and ideas in the audible spectrum.

Several things struck me all at once. Practically every song on the album is a different style. Radically different. It’s always impressed me. Obviously Freddie Mercury’s singing is amazing, but since I was learning guitar I was drawn more to Brain May’s amazing guitar work. Sometimes it was hard and metallic, sometimes it was quiet and lyrical, sometimes it was acoustic, sometimes it was electric. It was complex and layered and seemed to display every possible sound you could make with a guitar.

Most people know A Night At The Opera as the album with Bohemian Rhapsody on it, but my favorite song is The Prophet’s Song. It’s amazing. When I listen to that song, I see an entire Cecil B. DeMille movie play out in my head. It’s like an entire epic fantasy book series all in one song.

Honorable Mentions

Extreme – III Sides To Every Story. Extreme is similar to Queen and clearly influenced by them, and this album was their finest work in my opinion. But it’s a bit redundant with Queen already on the above list.

The Strange Days Soundtrack. I discounted movie soundtracks from the above list, but this soundtrack is a collection of songs. It opened my eyes to the power of rawer, punkier, more “alternative” music.

Enigma – Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi.  Don’t ask me to pronounce that. :) The genre used to be called “new age” music, but I don’t know if people still call it that. I love many albums in this genre–anything by Tangerine Dream, for example, or Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth–but this Enigma album took new age music to a whole new level for me. It’s such a lush “soundscape,” with cool drum beats and even some singing.

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare. This is a master class of electric guitar work. In a way, it’s like a rock opera of instrumental songs. It makes my jaw drop whenever I listen to it.

This turned out to be a fairly hard post to write, because I’ve always considered the music that people like to be deeply personal. When somebody criticizes the music you like, it often feels like they’re criticizing you personally.

Bonding With Characters

It’s only been two days and I already regret changing my main FFXIV character’s gender. Who is this total stranger running around in Eozera now? What happened to the free-spirited girl who rode to Gridania in search of fame and fortune, and ended up conquering titans and dragons? This new guy is an imposter. He hasn’t earned the right to be there.

Imposter!
Imposter! You don’t deserve to be in that grand company!

It’s weird, is what I’m saying. Weird and unsettling. I’m probably going to change back. (It’ll cost me $10 to do that.) Despite the fact that there’s absolutely no part of me that can identify with or relate to an adorably cute Miqo’te, who always appears to be roughly 16 years old–possibly starring in her own young adult trilogy–I’ve grown attached to that character.

She looks mad about being cast aside, actually.
Her duty is not yet complete.

This episode has shown me that FFXIV is one of the best MMORPGs at making me feel a strong connection to the character I’m playing in the game. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because of the cut scenes. Quite often, you see your character interacting with the game’s NPCs independent of your control. It shows that they have an independent personality. It makes me think of this character as real, much like I would think of and bond with a character in a novel or movie.

When I think about other games, I don’t feel the same connection. Rift is probably the only other game that I’ve invested as much time in a main character, but I don’t think of my main dwarf over there in nearly the same way. I think it’s because you never see your character in Rift as anything other than a game avatar. It’s just a model of arms and legs that stands in front of the NPC while you read dialog. Unless you put in the work yourself to “role-play” your character as you’re talking to the NPCs, there’s not as much personality there to latch on to.

So, while the cut scenes in FFXIV may be time-consuming and hokey, they apparently do a lot to draw me into the game world. To the point where changing my character’s fundamental appearance makes me feel like I’ve chopped off a limb.

Why I Can’t Follow WoW’s Story

I hadn’t had a chance to play much WoW since Tuesday, so I logged in Thursday night to continue my adventures with my Mage and his new Ebonchill gizmo. I hadn’t done much of anything since he obtained his Artifact.

When I logged in, I had a quest to turn into the Great Alakazam, or whatever his name is. (I can’t quite make it out in the picture below.) I clicked him and turned in the quest, not really paying attention to what it was. I vaguely remembered this guy was supposed to find more mages to bring into “my” class hall.

WoWScrnShot_090116_192717

He had another quest which I accepted. I didn’t remember anything about what I was supposed to be doing or why, so I expected to read this quest and have my memory jogged about what I was doing. This is the quest I got:

WoWScrnShot_090116_192717_cropped

Basically I was supposed to pick the first zone to go to in the Broken Isles.

On a game mechanics level, it was obvious what I was supposed to do and why. This was where the “scale-the-zones-to-your-level” started to come into play. I could go anywhere that struck my fancy.

From a mechanics perspective, that’s pretty cool. I like it.

But then I started to think about my character. Why exactly was I supposed to go to a zone at all? What’s my character’s motivation here? Am I looking for something? I already got my Artifact, which was the last thing I remember I was supposed to be looking for.

Again, this is the point where I would read the quest text to refresh my memory. Re-reading it, I see that I’m supposed to “get this show on the road” and “plan my first moves.” Um, what? Moves for what? What show? I’m holding the Great Powerful Artifact right in my hand. Shouldn’t I just go to Legion Headquarters and kill the Big Bad and save the world? I thought that was the whole point of getting the Artifact in the first place.

People who understand WoW are probably screaming at their screens now about how obvious the answers are, but my point is that if your only source of information is the text in the quest dialogs, it’s not obvious at all.

I thought that perhaps the last quest had some crucial information that I missed, so I went looking for a way to bring up a list of quests I’d completed. If there’s a way to do that, I sure couldn’t find it. Once you finish a quest, all that knowledge is apparently gone forever. (Yes, I know I could go to a wiki and find every quest ever made. That’s not the point.)

I figured there must be something on the map itself that would give me an explanation.

WoWScrnShot_090116_192904_cropped

Not really. Just a list of zones. I zoomed in on one to see the explanatory text. Here’s the one for Azsuna, where I ended up going:

WoWScrnShot_090116_193352_cropped

Um okay. Khadgar is “planning an expedition.” That’s really informative. Why do I care about this expedition, exactly? Where is he going? What’s he hoping to find? (I’ve already gotten the Artifact, Khadgar!)

And, again, who the hell is Khadgar? :)

(Okay, I remember him from earlier in the expansion, but I still don’t know who he is or why I’m taking orders from him.)

Browsing over the other zones I discovered that Khadgar apparently had plans for all of the zones, simultaneously, a feat which I found somewhat incredulous.

(By the way, do we really need to see how much gold we’re going to get from quests any more? Is anyone even the slightest bit motivated by how much gold or experience a quest gives in WoW? 1.54 gold is not even a significant amount for me. That would buy, like, one copper ore on the Auction House.)

It turned out there was more information when you click on Accept.

WoWScrnShot_090116_193735_cropped

Okay, at least there’s a little bit of meat here. But it just raises more questions than it answers.

First, he says we need to reseal the Tomb of Sargeras. Okay, sounds good. You might think he would then go on to explain why we need to do that, but you’d be wrong.

The very next thing it says is that Khadgar has uncovered information about an ancient relic which might stop the Legion.

The first thing I’m thinking is that well maybe that information is in that Tomb you want to seal, Khadgar. Maybe don’t seal the Tomb then. And what is that Tomb anyway? Why do we need to seal it? What’s in there that’s so bad? Who or what is a Sargeras? Why do I care about him, her, or it? Why do I care anything about these Broken Isles? From my Mage’s perspective, I’ve never even heard of them before.

And by the way, I just got an ancient relic. It’s called Ebonchill, a supposedly devastating weapon of mighty power. Now you’re telling me I need another gadget? Nobody told my poor little mage that stopping the Legion was going to be an endless scavenger hunt. Maybe just let the Legion have the Broken Isles. What do I care? Are any of my Mage friends there? Do I have a Mage house there? Mage family? Did I go to Mage high school there?

No to all of the above. I clearly remember going to Mage high school somewhere around Ironforge. (And the Legion isn’t bothering them anymore.)

Somewhere on the Internet, there are probably very reasonable answers to all of my questions, but the point is that there are no answers in any of the quest dialog text. What I showed above contains every piece of information given to the player in the game. Is it any wonder that everybody just skips the quest text in WoW?

And that’s one small example of why I never know what is going on with WoW stories and lore, and why I’m never immersed in the game world. It’s purely a mechanics game for me.

Melee Classes in WoW

While leveling my alts in WoW, it occurred to me that I don’t ever play any melee characters. I have a Warrior–two of them in fact–but I just don’t like Warriors in WoW. My very first character in 2006 was a Warrior, who I leveled to about 20-something and gave up on because I kept getting killed by those stupid Defias (or whatever they’re called) guys in Westfall. (Back in those days if you ever got jumped by 2 mobs you were basically dead–at least I was–hence my switch to a Hunter.)

Since 2006 I’ve tried to revive that Warrior many times. I even made a new Worgen Warrior several years ago, hoping the werewolfiness of it would make it more interesting. Alas, nope. In fact I found the warrior combat animations quite a bit more silly-looking as a Worgen.

When I think back on that Worgen Warrior’s run to level 20-something (which incidentally took about 1/100th the amount of time as the 2006 Warrior’s rise to level 20-something), I think I know what the problem is.

It’s the timing of the key presses. I’m so used to Rift classes where you can and should hit a key on every single global cooldown, whereas with the WoW Warrior it seemed like sometimes you need to NOT hit a key and instead utilize auto-attacks and wait patiently for the next GCD, which feels weird. That’s probably why I’ve always gravitated toward ranged classes in WoW, which all seem to have some kind of “shoot” ability on every GCD.

(Except now Beast Mastery Hunters run completely out of focus if you mash a key every GCD. Boo.)

I have some kind of problem with all the other melee classes too. I’ve never liked Rogues in WoW, though I suppose they are probably sufficiently altered by now that I wouldn’t recognize them from the last time I played one (c. 2006-2008). Still, I have a visceral dislike of the class from when they were stealthing around and sapping me in arenas. I guess in my mind, only griefers play Rogues. :)

I tried a Death Knight a couple of years ago but I found it too complicated for me to bother with. I recall something about green, blue, and red abilities, and having to combine or chain them for optimum results. It was too much work for a game I knew I wouldn’t play very much.

I don’t think I’ve ever played a Paladin more than a handful of levels before. They just felt very boring to me, starting out with that wooden mallet that looks like it would be more suited to a carnival’s strongman strength-testing bell game. Perhaps I should give it another try with the latest patch. Maybe I should boost one to 90 or 100 and skip right over the boring parts. Then again, it isn’t very likely I’m going to tank or heal in WoW, unless I start my own static group, which is about as likely as me starting my own sketch comedy troupe.

Shaman? I think it has some melee abilities but I think of it as a ranged DPS or healer class, and both of those roles are better served by other classes.

I played a Monk for about 15 levels in my last burst of WoW time before Draenor, but I don’t remember being that excited about it. Again, it felt more complicated than I wanted in a WoW class. I felt obligated to make one though since every dungeon I ran had a Monk in the top DPS slot.

What else is there? Oh, the new Demon Hunter is kind of meh to me. I only played it for like 30 minutes though.

I gather that the Hunter Survival spec is sort of melee-based, but I’ve never tried it, and what’s the point of a melee Hunter anyway?

I’ve felt for quite a while that WoW’s classes are the weakest part of the game. I’ve always had a hard time finding one that I like over the long term. (Not to mention they usually change them if you do happen to find something you like.) There’s always something “off” about them.

Little Mage fending off Fel invasions.

For the moment the Mage is my favorite class. Frost spec for soloing and Fire spec for groups. (Arcane spec for rolling through old dungeons to farm materials.) It’s mildly challenging to solo with it, but easy to play in groups, and having teleportation is really handy. I also like how they gave you a Talent in the Frost spec so you don’t need to summon the Water Elemental. I never liked that thing. (The constant bubbly sound got on my nerves.) And the fact that my Mage is a tiny little Gnome is sort of apropos to my overall involvement in WoW.