The Banner Saga, Choice, and Agency

tbs1Let’s talk about choice. A couple of weeks ago, I spent much of my freetime playing The Banner Saga, the crowd-funded strategy-RPG from Bioware vets, Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgenson, and John Watson. In playing this game, I learned two things about myself. The first is that I’m terrible at strategy-RPGs. I shouldn’t say I learned this about myself. I’ve always known this. I just haven’t played one in so long that I forgot that I’m really terrible at them. Throughout my first playthrough I lost so often that the game offered to set the difficulty to an easier level. I’ve never been play-shamed by a game before. It did not feel great.

This poor ability to play the game leads directly into the second thing I learned about myself: specifically, I am a horrible leader. I learned this through the choices the game had me make as I played it, not only the choices I had to make in how I played the game, but also the in-game choices that helped shape the story. In every choice I made, people suffered. Or they died. Or they suffered and then they died.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t have fun playing the game. On the contrary: aside from my terrible, terrible skill in “playing” the game, I enjoyed it considerably. It has a fresh and unique setting, featuring gorgeous artwork and solid mechanics. I may be horrible at the game, but I loved every minute I played, and I can’t wait to play the sequel. It was the choices in the game, though, that stuck out most in my mind. I was struck not only by the amount of choices in the game, but also by what those choices — as well as the popularity of games that feature such choices — say about us, the people who enjoy playing games like The Banner Saga. Read the rest of this entry »

Satoru Iwata (1959 – 2015)

Kirby's_Adventure_CoverartI don’t remember what year it was, but it had to be around 1993. The world had started moving onto the Super Nintendo, but my family remained at the NES. We would eventually buy a SNES — a store model demo from a Shopko in North Platte, Nebraska — but, at the moment, I was still tapping away at the NES library that’s new releases were slowly starting to dwindle down. It was in this culture that I found Kirby’s Adventure.

I was only 11 when the game came out. I knew nothing about video game developers. I didn’t know any by name — except perhaps Sid Meier, but that’s because that guy knew how to brand himself. And I certainly didn’t know any Japanese game developers. I knew that most games came from Japan, and I knew that games had to be programmed by someone. But, when the credits rolled, the names that scrolled were just that: names. When I played Kirby’s Adventure, I had no idea who Satoru Iwata was, but this particular game sticks out in my mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing Paths: On Human Depravity and The Cave

The Cave-TitleAt this point, I have written over 1,400 words about The Cave. Fourteen hundred words before I even started. See, before the text you’re about to read, I wrote a review of The Cave. The review was 1,400 words of analysis about the gameplay, and story, and humor, etc, etc. Now, it wasn’t that those 1,400 words weren’t great. They actually were. I reviewed the game in the usual way I review games, dropping in a few personal examples and observations here and there, but focusing most of the text on actual analysis of the game itself. The problem I have with most of that text is that it came across quite boring. I’m not the first person to review The Cave, and I’m not entirely sure I said anything in my review that hasn’t been said a million times before by other people. The game is funny, the story is dark, the puzzles are creative but simple, and the sections of the titular cave you have to replay on each playthrough get more and more repetitive each time. All good observations, but all observations that other people have shared.

So, I scratched out the entire review, because sometimes, in writing, you have to finish before you can even start. Read the rest of this entry »

Frederick Pohl (1919 – 2013)

2006. I was working as a news director at a radio station, which sounds a lot more important than it actually was. In truth, it was a small network of mostly automated radio stations, and I was the entire news department. I recorded a few 90-second reports every day, working from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with a two-hour break in the middle. I’ve had a lot of crap jobs in my life, but I consider this to be one of my worst. Not because of anything dealing directly with the job, but because of my attitude. I was 26 years old, lonely and bitter, and unsure if I’d picked the right course in life. I got into a stupid habit of going home for a nap in the middle of the day when I was supposed to be out “gathering” news, and my newscasts ultimately suffered for it. I was a bad employee, and I have no qualms about saying it. I was a crappy employee who shouldn’t have lasted in that job as long as I did. Had I been in charge, I would have fired myself, which is ultimately what happened to me, though I’m not entirely sure the reasons were all my fault, as it happened during a station buyout, and was the result of me making a couple of mistakes when talking to the new corporate overlords, which I suppose you could say was indeed my fault, regardless. At any rate, just know this: I hated the job, and I was fired from it.

During this particularly bad period of life, I discovered Gateway, the first in a series of novels by Frederick Pohl called the Heechee saga. Having grown up reading science-fiction, I was aware of Frederick Pohl, though I had never read anything by him. Before I read Gateway, he was this figure of sci-fi, up in the ranks of Asimov and Clarke. Important to sci-fi, yes, but old and out-of-date. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike these important figures, but they didn’t really register on my radar. They were there, but I didn’t care. Read the rest of this entry »

On Time

3/20/2013, 10:30 a.m.

For my birthday this year, April bought me a watch. As I type this, it’s glaring at me, reminding me of the many things I need to get done this week, Spring Break, and the amount of time I want to devote to them. As I type this, my Kindle is sitting across the room, reminding me that I still have 20-percent of DeLillo left to read. As I type this, I can easily see A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird sitting in my bag, reminding me of the book review I need to write for a class different from the one I need to read DeLillo for. All the while, as I type this, my watch is reminding me of how little time I have left to complete these tasks, before I have to go back to class next week. Spring Break is only halfway done, but it still feels like I’ve fallen behind.

Time is not on my side, I think.

I’ve never been the best at time management. As most adults do, I choose to blame how I was raised. I would love to say that my childhood was filled with the need to be everywhere on time, all the time, but that’s not true. My father was a pastor, and I was raised on “church time,” which is inherently ten minutes later than real time and twenty minutes later than military time, or so my military friends tell me. 1 I never went anywhere on time, and I was ultimately okay with that. After all, life’s too short to worry about being on time. 2 Read the rest of this entry »


  1. To be fair, in the era of the “mega church,” which holds two or three services on Sunday morning alone, church time has begun much more rigid, much closer to real time. Still considerably later than military time, though.
  2. I’m well aware of the irony in that statement.