Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why I'm Forever Changed; To Those Suffering

I don't know if you've managed to pick up the latest issue of OXM, but if you didn't have the chance, my flagship feature, "Healing Through Games," is now available on the web. It's an article where I talked to professionals and researchers about how games can help with pain and was very candid about my own illness. It was the hardest, most emotionally draining article I've ever had to write. It was also one of the most fulfilling writing experiences I've had to date.

For a long time, I tried to hide that I was sick. I did so much suffering in the background that no one knew about – and I liked it that way. Why would I share my negative experience with the world? I'm not here to bring anybody down or garner sympathy. It was in the middle of writing Healing Through Games that something broke inside of me. I had a hard time fully opening up about my illness; there was a wall I couldn't break. Then one day, I sat and told myself: This is part of your identity now – how can you hide it with shame? The first thing I did was I ordered myself a bracelet that said the words "fibromyalgia," so I'd be forced to see it constantly. It represents that I'm not the only one dealing with a chronic illness... a constant reminder that I have to fight, too... for something more - for something better than being the girl in pain. It's one of those pivotal moments that I'll never forget. From that point forward, I would see the positive of my illness and never look back.

Do you know where I found a lot of that positive? When my article hit newsstands and people opened back up candidly, writing to OXM about their own experiences with pain and how video games helped them just as much as they had me. Many of these letters made me misty-eyed because for the first time in a long time, I didn't feel so alone. Pain can be one of the most isolating foes to enter your life. There's many times you live your life on the sidelines; you can't go out, you're stuck alone, shackled to a bed just trying to get through it. The mental toll is one thing, the physical is excruciating, and then there's the gripping fear that it's always going to be there. I always knew I wasn't alone with this, but seeing the letters… it's confirmed to me that we're all fighting to be something more than our illnesses, and that's inspiring.

My biggest goal with that article was to turn something negative (my illness) into something positive – and your responses have confirmed that. I never thought I would be sick in my 20s, but if anything it has forever altered the person I am. And dare I say – it's for the better. Having an illness so young has taught me to appreciate so many of the little things in life – when the sun is shining outside, when I can just go to dinner with my friends, having the opportunity to share my words with others, to name just a few. Somebody asked me the other day how I handle being in an industry that's so negative – I told them I don't think you can go wrong in a place where there’s passion, and this industry has a ton of it. I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say some days I don't open my twitter feed and think, "we're debating review scores again!?" But you know what? These people have also come together to help me through one of the toughest times in my life, and I've never been more thankful to find them. The majority of the people who keep me going are ones I've met in the industry – the ones willing to sit and play Mass Effect 3 multiplayer until the wee hours of the morning with me just because they know I'm having a tough day. They've been vital to my support system. They've helped me in my fight, and if anything that's what I'm trying to give back to everyone around me.

Not only do I want to show that you can still have success living with a chronic illness, but I want to inspire people to fight hard against whatever foe they combat. If that final boss keeps respawning – keep killing it each time, admire that progress you have made, and then when he re-awakens, face him just as fiercely once more. I'm not bitter about the cards I've been dealt. I'm done with focusing on the things my illness has taken from me. It's time to say I'm stronger because of this and I will keep proving what the doctors project wrong.

It's easy to get smothered by the darkness of a chronic illness – the voices in your head are constantly screaming, "you're worthless, you can't do it." The only way to survive is to wake up every day and think, "I'm still here; I can still impact this world in any way I choose." Take every day as a new possibility, watch it unfold, and if it doesn't go the way you want it to, remember that tomorrow is a new opportunity. People are beating the odds everyday - remember to wear those battle wounds with pride. Life may be forever changed for you, but it doesn't mean that it can't be for the better. Cling to what ignites you – and don't ever let go.

Thanks everyone for the support you’ve given this article. I will never be able to put into words the emotions I felt hearing your touching words. It's time to paint a pretty picture over the ugliness of chronic pain. I'm game, are you?

Friday, March 2, 2012

February Character of the Month

I have two words for you: Tear Grants.

A feisty, determined, kindhearted soul, Tear is one of the characters that absolutely made me love Tales of the Abyss... and that's exactly why I'm shining a spotlight on her. What I love so much about Tear is that she's written so realistically - she's the type of person who doesn't want to ask for help. Not only because she wants to prove to herself she can do it, but also because I think deep down she doesn't want to put anybody out. Tear tries to put on a front as you start the game, trying to encompass the heart of a soldier, but her past shows that she's damaged inside. Losing her parents as an infant, it's not hard to see its impact on Tear, and I like how Abyss does show that Tear is fighting many feelings. But where Tear really shines is that she perfectly exemplifies the human condition - she tries so hard to suppress her emotions, only to have them coming flooding back tenfold. But let's not take away from the fact that Tear is also one tough cookie; let's face it, she's willing to stand up to her brother - the only real family she ever had - all in the name of doing what's right. She's a noble girl, indeed.

And the best part of Tales of the Abyss is watching her let her guard down as her journey deepens with Luke. Honestly, their banter is one of the best parts of Tales of the Abyss. And what makes their dynamic so great is that they both started the game out with walls, and we slowly watch them disappear. It's like they both went on this personal journey of finding their true selves together. That's what makes their bond so genuine and what makes that scene at the end of the game really count. You know, when Tear finally breaks down with her true feelings. Yes, it pulls at the heart strings, but damn if it wasn't so realistically done. That simple whisper just says everything. So, Tear Grants, your heart, determination, growth, and will to fight, are only a fraction of why you're so great... a great part is that you have layers, and there's much more to you than what's on the surface.

Oh, and her love for Mieu? Now that's just icing on the cake. It's proof even the people with the hardest exteriors can be big softies on the inside. ;)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Grinds My Gears: Free-to-Play Games That Aren't Really Free

Recently, I've jumped on the iPhone train, and so I've downloaded some games to play while I'm in waiting rooms to pass the time. Since I'm on a budget and I don't want to drop bucks on a game without playing it first, I decided to browse the free games and download a couple to see what they have to offer. I've downloaded more than a few, but I keep coming back to a game called, "Pet Shop." Pet Shop is nothing novel or amazing - basically bring new pets into your store with the money you earn and then you're constantly upgrading parts of the store. Each day, you can log in and collect a bonus amount of money, and throughout the day your pets continue to earn you more cash. I like Pet Shop because it's simple enough for short play sessions and because I enjoy simulation games. But Pet Shop is never a game I would actually drop cash on because, honestly, it's little more than the same situation over and over. Sure, it's fun to get new puppies and breed them for even more pet options, but outside of that there's not much of a game here.

Here's the thing, I understand games need to profit somehow to stay "free" and I'm perfectly okay with that. It didn't bother me at first that I couldn't access certain breeds because I didn't have these special purple gems that you must cough*BUY*cough to advance. These gems can also speed up your breeding speed, but I didn't mind waiting, even if sometimes the wait was a full two days. That was fine, but what really was the kicker and what grinds my gears was when these gems were required to expand my pet shop. At this point, I've filled my pet shop to the point where there's no more space for new animals - I'm at a complete standstill. These gems you have to pay for have locked me out of playing the game any further. The game does offer one way to get around paying for the gems: You can ask other people over the social network to give them to you. Umm... something just doesn't seem right about that, why would complete strangers give me gems that they had to pay for? And, seriously, if I let them, what kind of hidden social contract am I entering into? Paid content is fine to keep your game afloat, but it comes an issue when you lock out the non-paid subscribers from playing the game. My point here is you might as well make your game paid then.

I've learned my lesson here - I'd rather spend a one time entrance fee to a game than be led on that it's free and be manipulated into spending money on it later. The problem with Pet Shop is that these gems are costly - you can't just buy one or two - the smallest package is 24 for $4.99, while you can go up to buying 580 for $99.99. Let's be honest, most iOS games cost .99 to $3, and only the triple A titles cost more - Pet Shop is not a triple A title, but it expects you to invest money into it like it is. So, Pet Shop, you've taught me a valuable lesson - very few things in life are really free, there's always a hidden agenda. Forcing the player to invest in the game to move on is just absurd. By removing the option, you remove my desire to support the game at all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blog Resurrection!

Hello all,

I've missed you dearly. I ran into a couple of busy months, but I'm happy to say I'm back. I've also decided to make this blog a little bit more column-driven. So far, I've decided to have a monthly post where I talk about about well-written characters. Also making a debut - in homage to Peter Griffin - will be a "What Grinds My Gears" post, where I talk about frustrations in gaming and the community. I plan to also up my retrospective pieces, since I think it's important to discuss what made these games great and how they can better impact our future. I also just got a big bad Gaming PC, so I plan to chronicle my descent into PC Gaming from being a console girl for practically all my life. Although, I will admit: Myst, Doom, and Leisure Suit: Larry were formidable in shaping my gaming childhood. Expect a little "pizazz," to hit this blog (not the Jem villain, but the awesome.) I'm excited to see what I can provide for your entertainment.

As always, I'm curious, what games are you most looking forward to? I'd be lying if I didn't say Mass Effect 3, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and Tales of Graces f weren't the highest on my list. And I can't wait until we get a confirmed release date for Bioshock Infinite and the Tomb Raider Reboot. And, of course, I'm still waiting for that Kingdom Hearts 3 announcement, but Dream Drop Distance will have to do for now. :-) It's time to give this blog some swagger!


P.S. I'm also considering having a podcast randomly appear here every so often!