The Gateway Chronicles Define the Problem with Waiting for a “Perfect” Friend Sep10

The Gateway Chronicles Define the Problem with Waiting for a “Perfect” Friend...

I made my very first friend in grade one with a simple offer: “Wanna play?” As I approach my thirties, I wish making friends was still that easy. The Six, the first book in K.B. Hoyle’s The Gateway Chronicles series, reminds me of the rose-coloured glasses I see my childhood and adolescence through. In The Six, friendship is hard for Darcy Pennington. Darcy is often plagued by self-doubt, but she’s also convinced she knows what she wants. Apparently, I have no problem identifying with a fictional 13-year-old girl, at least not when her problems are this real, because even in my adulthood I find making friends a struggle. Early in the story, Darcy envies the ease with which her little brother can talk to new people and just hit it off, and this sense of having little control over her relationships follows Darcy throughout the story. Friendship may not come easily to Darcy, but it isn’t because nobody wants to be friends with her. Samantha Palm is blonde, blue-eyed and disdained by Darcy for being overweight. Darcy tries to bury this ugly truth about herself under introverted excuses like wanting to be alone, but really, the girl who has trouble making friends is overly choosy about who she associates with. Darcy is worried that Sam’s friendship—and that of tag-along nerd, Lewis—might get in the way of her making other, preferable friends. I scoffed at Darcy’s petty reasoning as I read, but this tug-of-war between what’s available to her and her ideals became the emotional crux of the story for me. Both Darcy and I want the full life that comes with deep relationships, but where we start encountering problems is how we create a very particular vision of the full life we want, missing...

Playing Light Fall Means Accepting I will Fail...

Light Fall, a recent platformer released on April 28, 2018, by Bishop Games, is not an easy game. Once past the tutorial stage, the game moves so fast I had trouble seeing danger before it was too late. And yet, I still find it fun. I’ve enjoyed the hours I’ve put into it. I’ve liked the challenge. I rarely ever feel this way about my own life or work. I tend to associate ease with skill, so I expect a successful journey to be a smooth one. If I have difficulty achieving a goal, then I assume there’s some deficiency in me. But if I actually enjoy the challenge of Light Fall, shouldn’t I also face them well in life? Light Fall puts players in control of a bright-eyed sprite in a dark world and demands the world is explored at breakneck speed. Characteristically, I found myself taking a slow, methodical approach to the opening levels but soon discovered I needed all the momentum I could get. It was impossible to make it through some stretches without failing two, three, or even ten times! Light Fall offers limited tools to get the job done—namely, the Shadow Core, a magical box that lets me move through the game’s stages in ways that would be impossible for Mario or Luigi. It literally allows me to make a way where there was none before, and although it grants me more mastery and freedom, there are limits and obstacles that are still tricky to overcome. In life, as in Light Fall, flawless first runs are happy coincidences; even so, I’ve come to crave and expect them. It turns out the biggest obstacle is me. Light Fall makes it possible to string together beautiful, satisfying runs and it’s a...

Playing the Sidekick: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Humanity Mar12

Playing the Sidekick: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Humanity...

As the word suggests, sidekicks are, by nature, to the side of a story. They’re the Robin to Gotham’s Batman or the Watson to London’s Sherlock, supportive helpers who sometimes need rescuing. Yet being a sidekick is simply a role to be filled, not a fixed status or a title someone is born into. Sidekicks are never just assistants. And in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Gently’s “assistant” is a key player in a (hilarious) drama that isn’t always—or only—about him. In the TV show inspired by the Douglas Adams’ novel, Todd Brotzman is a bellhop with exceedingly bad luck—or is it good luck? Either way, the Universe decides to make Todd a part of its plan by bringing Dirk Gently into his life. From where the audience is sitting, this is Todd’s story; he’s the character we get to know first and we relate to him because he is just as confused about the show’s weirdness as we are. But it isn’t a story about Todd; it’s about the Universe and Dirk’s relationship to it. Dirk constantly reminds us of this by referring to Todd as his “assistant,” a title that brands him as a sidekick even though we see the world through Todd’s eyes. Though Todd finds himself playing the sidekick almost against his will, I often put myself in a similar role on purpose, choosing to support leaders or help others reach their goals in an attempt to avoid the weight of responsibility. But I’m a sidekick with a hero-complex—I want to swoop in and fix the problem or spout the wisdom that saves the day. I doubt I’m alone in this paradox, feeling the tension of not wanting the protagonist’s responsibility but thirsting for the glory of a leading role....

Resisting Temptation Like Luke and Rey Dec22

Resisting Temptation Like Luke and Rey...

The Last Jedi spoilers below. Temptation is where selfish desire and short-sightedness meet. When our inmost longings are within our reach but will surely come at a terrible cost, our convictions are tested. Luke Skywalker faces this struggle in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father. Vader immediately presents Luke with a temptation: “Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son! Come with me. It is the only way.” Vader offers victory for the rebellion, purpose, and family (not to mention escaping almost certain death). Luke wants all these things and, on the surface, they’re worthy of wanting. But Luke is also aware of the cost of accepting Vader’s offer—the death of his friends and the surrender of his ideals. In The Last Jedi, Kylo mirrors Vader’s offer by asking Rey to join him. But the stakes are even higher because Kylo is now first in command. He is offering Rey ultimate power, where she would have to answer to no one. The decision is less black-and-white than Vader’s proposition to Luke, because the connection between Kylo and Rey has revealed their hopes and fears to each other. Rey knows that Kylo is also Ben Solo, and believes he isn’t utterly evil, but his ambition has gone unchecked. No matter what decision Rey makes, she will have to bear the weight of what might’ve been. Kylo offers her a place in his new kingdom, a pitch difficult for Rey to resist. “It’s time to let old things die, Rey. I want you to join me; we can bring a new order to the galaxy, let go! […] You have no...

Frodo vs. Beowulf: A Hobbit’s Heroics Nov22

Frodo vs. Beowulf: A Hobbit’s Heroics...

I’m going to die. Sometimes that thought swirls through my brain as I try to grasp its reality. That’s what living is: slowly expiring. And the older I get, the more frightening it becomes. I don’t want to die, but sooner or later someone will put my body in the ground and there will be nothing I can do about it. I probably won’t even get a say in how I die; it’ll happen how it happens. A similar thought plagued Frodo on his journey through Middle-earth. Though warrior societies view death as a matter of personal honour, what is a hobbit (or a hobbit at heart, like me) to do when confronted by the matter? Many of us are little people, more in love with the shade of a green tree in summer than we are with great deeds and adventure. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo finds his friends under the spell of a vengeful spirit—a barrow-wight. Much like the threat of Black Riders on the road, darkness has snuck up on him and fear grabs hold of him; the Ring also plays a subtle role. Out of sight, the wight chants a chilling incantation that freezes Frodo’s heart. Then a dark thought comes to him: “He wondered if he put on the Ring, whether the Barrow-wight would miss him, and he might find some way out. He thought of himself running free over the grass, grieving for Merry, and Sam, and Pippin, but free and alive himself. Gandalf would admit that there was nothing else he could do.” My respect for Frodo’s character would be reduced if he took this option out of danger, yet the thought makes sense because both the quest and Frodo’s life are at stake. Self-preservation...

The Importance of Rest and Save Points...

I’m quick to believe life can be lived as a speed run. I move from one project to the next looking for adventure and thirsting for success. Stopping for a break means I’m lazy. If I’m not busy with something, I’m wasting my time, God’s time, and using up valuable resources. Or am I? Before the ever-present autosave showed up, older video games had different ways of encouraging players to save their progress. In order to rest, recover HP and MP, and save the game, players often stopped at inns, shiny spheres, or, in the case of Resident Evil, old typewriters. The purpose of rest stops is practical for gaming, and maybe I have more to learn from these quiet markers of saving grace than I realize. At the beginning of this year, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I had a roster of new projects to take on so I could push myself professionally and personally. I planned to search out more freelance work, spend quality time with my wife, serve my church, help my friends, and attend to the needs of my family. Plus, there were video games to play, books to read, and exercise to commit myself to every day. The plan to rest just became another item on my to-do list. I’m an expert in what I want, but I rarely want what I need. Eventually, my needs caught up with me, and I couldn’t keep up the impossible pace I had set for myself—though I wasn’t quite ready to give up. An opportunity came up to get away on a spiritual retreat, so I jumped at it and thanked God. This is exactly what I need, I thought. It was a chance to recharge and maybe catch up on...

Darth Vader and Beauty’s Beast: Loving the Unlovely Aug16

Darth Vader and Beauty’s Beast: Loving the Unlovely...

I missed the original release of Star Wars by a decade and the first printings of Beauty and the Beast by several centuries, but both stories have marked me with their retellings and reiterations. Fairy tales are famous for being re-imagined, but “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” has more in common with “once upon a time” than one might expect. The same stories keep getting retold despite an endless appetite for novelty. I believe it’s because people ache to be rescued; humanity keeps telling stories about how we can be saved. The stories of the Skywalkers, Belle and the Beast evoke a slippery mixture of loss and longing that is difficult to articulate but all too easy to identify with. Much like Darth Vader, the Beast lives in a tortured silence; neither is what they once were and each lives a half-life. Vader is the emperor’s weapon, more machine than man, and the beast hides in angry shame. Both villains live with longing, and so Vader disobeys orders and spares Luke’s life while the Beast risks his life to save Belle from ravenous wolves. At the heart of both stories is a tale of redemption, about how the unlovely can be loved better—and become something beautiful. In both cases, these villains choose redemption, not because they were heroes all along, but because of sacrifice. Growing up, I naturally identified with both Luke and Belle. I was an imaginative, bookish kid who longed to go beyond the backyard that was my moisture farm, my little provincial town. As I’ve read and lived more I realized I wanted to be them not because I saw myself in them, but because I wanted to see myself in them. Ever since I discovered...

The Gift of Story May31

The Gift of Story

Sometimes it can seem like moms are made for missing. Any child who has ever lost their mom in the mall knows this; those who have lived through the death of a mother are also familiar with that feeling. While I’ve tearfully lived the former experience and it’s unlikely I’ll avoid the latter, The Song of the Sea reminds me of the hope I share with my mom, a gift she gave me through story. Come away, oh human child to the waters and the wild with a faerie hand in hand for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. The Song of the Sea tells the story of Ben, a young boy who must deal with the loss of his mother. Ben is the son of Conor, a soft-spoken lighthouse keeper, and the storyteller, Bronagh. She paints stories of selkie and the giant Mac Lir on the nursery walls Ben will soon share with his sister. Bronagh is also a singer of songs and she introduces him to the song of the sea on their last night together, playing it on a seashell horn. Ben cherishes the horn and guards it jealously after Bronagh’s death giving birth to Ben’s baby sister, Saoirse. Bedtime was actually one of my favourite times growing up. I remember the stories and the songs—and I hope my mom does too. This nightly ritual of storytelling lasted through several Harry Potter books, and even though I could’ve read them myself they were something we enjoyed sharing. We visited enchanted lands, invented voices, and turned pages with anticipation. And whenever I was scared or sad, she had a song and a prayer ready for me. I can’t claim to understand a loss like Ben’s, but by experiencing...

Trollhunters and Two Worlds Apr05

Trollhunters and Two Worlds...

Jim Lake is an unremarkable teenager living in Arcadia Oaks, an equally unremarkable town (despite it’s cool name). There wouldn’t be much left to say about this character or setting if they weren’t the subject of Guillermo Del Toro’s colourful Trollhunters. As it is, adventure is afoot. Right under Jim’s feet, actually. As the story opens, Jim’s 15-year-old problems appear unremarkable. He wishes he owned a cooler ride, hopes he won’t get detention, and finds it easier to stare at his crush than speak to her. Things get complicated—and more dangerous—when the magical amulet of the fallen Trollhunter calls out to Jim and pulls him into inescapable peril. Jim’s adventure straddles two worlds and brings to mind my own engagement with other worlds. Although the ones I escape to are found in books, TV and film, and video games rather than a kingdom under my feet, their effect on me is no less real. Once I see the truth in a work of fiction, it’s hard to un-know it. Fans of fantasy are familiar with the charge of escapism. It’s “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy,” and can become a bad habit if abused. Fortunately, enjoying other worlds doesn’t need to be escapism; other worlds can help prepare us for the things we face in this world. Rule number one of being the Trollhunter is to never be afraid; rule number two is fight to the death. When Jim faces his first real challenge in the Troll world, he has trouble getting past rule one.  A sparring match with disappointed Trollhunter-hopeful Draal ends in an embarrassing loss which prompts Jim to abandon the “sacred obligation” of being the Trollhunter. However, he quite...

Curses of Blood in The Lord of the Rings Mar08

Curses of Blood in The Lord of the Rings...

Middle-earth is a bloody place. The generational struggles of elves in the First Age, the War of the Ring, and even the adventures of a certain handkerchief-less burglar are all bloody stuff. Blood isn’t just for wetting swords, though; blood tells us something about who we are. But it doesn’t have the final word on who we’ll be. Middle-earth holds two tales that reveal the powerful pull of blood. In the First Age of Middle-earth, the elven prince Fëanor created jewels of unsurpassed beauty called the Silmarils. Fëanor was the greatest of the elves; he was exceedingly beautiful and unsurpassed in skill and understanding—he knew it, too. It was his pride that drove him to swear an irrational oath of vengeance against anyone who withheld the Silmarils from him after Morgoth, the dark enemy of the elves, stole the Silmarils and murdered Fëanor’s father. But the burden of blood tends to outlive its source; Fëanor’s sons nursed their own pride and took up the oath as the mantle of their house, following their father to war: “They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not . . . vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.” (The Quenta Silmarillion.) Pride was the weakness in Fëanor’s blood, first exploited by the subtleties of Morgoth and then passed on to Fëanor’s sons. When pride demands its right and blood is spilled, a...

Stardew Valley and Avoiding Community...

On its surface, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, crafting, and collecting. These tasks can easily take up most of the players’ time but they aren’t the point of the game, because Stardew Valley is really a community simulator. The game begins as many pastoral fantasies do, with the romantic promise of escape offered by a return to the dirt—our collective roots. In Stardew Valley, the promise is a deed to a small farm in the game’s namesake town, where I was greeted by a field overgrown by weeds, rocks, and a forest that has taken advantage of years of neglect to encroach upon my one-room shack. I got straight to subduing the land and started dreaming of upgrading my hovel and how I would build a nice fence for the cow pasture I didn’t have yet. Then my old-fashioned mailbox started blowing up with messages. First with words of welcome, but soon people were dropping by in person—with requests. I decided it might be tactful to go into town and actually figure out what kind of person would pay 150 gold pieces for three dandelions. By the time I made it back home, I’d been taught how to fish, met a fellow urban refugee making art just outside of town, and realized that most of these digital people had their own challenges. I wasn’t the only person living in the valley. I can barely give a turnip to a pixel-person without working out how it benefits me. This kind of self-centredness isn’t just a feature of my gaming, it’s a feature of me. I find it startlingly easy to put on blinders; to go my way and tend to my patch of land with little thought to those around me. I can...