All the Pretty Moments

September 18th, 2014

Basil Hayden scared the living shit out of me two days ago. He suddenly refused to eat. All at once everything that happened to Remington came back to me, three years later. Aspen had a seizure the night after.

All the stress.

Basil is fine. He just had a bad case of worms. Aspen is fine, the seizure was a normal and a bit overdue part of his epilepsy.

But it struck me hard once again: we are our pets’ stewards. I held Basil, like I held Remington, and I asked him not to leave me. Remington did. He couldn’t hang on. Basil stayed. He wasn’t suffering from the same problem.

He’s looking at me right now, wondering why I am misty eyed while Aspen barks in the corner, unable to hear himself.

We are their stewards.

“I’m not going *anywhere*…with you.”

With that line I watched my choices play out at the finale of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead Season 2, and cried.

Doesn’t that seem silly? When was the last time a video game made you cry? Has a video game even made you cry? (and I don’t mean out of frustration) I knew it was going to be emotional, I knew that I was completely invested in Clementine’s story. But I wasn’t prepared for what they had crafted.

It’s no secret I am a fan of Telltale Games’ work. I loved Back to the Future and The Wolf Among Us. Their games aren’t for everyone, if I was to take the most hostile critical view you could argue it’s mostly dialogue choices and quick time events. Some people just don’t get into that.

But that mixture of interactivity made me feel like I was part of the story. In season 1 I played Lee as I like to think I would be. It was role playing in a way a lot of RPGs have not pulled me into. I made choices as I like to think I would in that world to protect Clementine. In season 2, you play Clementine and I played her at first as a bit of a hardened survivor, how I like to think a child version of me would have to be in that situation.

But along the way I discovered something profound.

Playing a young girl in this hopeless world that had been created gave me all sorts of new perspective. By episode three I was playing Clementine not as a child version of myself. I was making her choices as I thought she would make them. I was instinctively doing things I would not normally do. And I realized.

Clementine is probably one of the most important video game characters of the past 10 years.

I’m 100% sure I could do an entire PAX panel on why. The writing is top notch, let’s set that aside my having acknowledged it up front.

It’s far more important that the unique combination of writing, situations, voice acting, and my ability to interact with it as a participant affected me so emotionally that when I sat down to play the finale I actually, in a tiny tiny way, dreaded it a little. I was scared for Clementine. She’s tough, and vulnerable, and surrounded by adults who both expect too much of her and underestimate her. Her story is rich, her character doesn’t just have three dimensions it has four because you play her.

This is astounding fiction.

Clementine is a role model. Because through her narrative, you discover things about yourself. I discovered things about myself through playing Lee but I discovered things I need to learn through Clementine. Everyone expected of her, but held her accountable. Wanted to protect her, but put her at risk. And none of it was too contrived, I felt. Forced to role play that situation I felt informed about what it means to be a “little girl” in a survival scenario. The gender role part is an element, but it’s far more important that Clementine is a person, a human. This is how we teach empathy. This, in a way, is how we help put an end to misogyny.

It can’t be any other way, but The Walking Dead game is M rated so it’s not something I can say you should show to your children or have them play role model wise. However it moved me deeply. Thank you to everyone at Telltale Games for making it.

** EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: Telltale Games was kind enough to send me a code for the finale so I could play it a bit early. I think given my tweets and posts about the season up to that point it’s fair for me to say that didn’t influence my views. Smile

I was catching a brief nap in our guest room, I’d been up way early doing work stuff in the forums and emails and such. Rochelle woke me by saying “there’s sad news from the Internet.” 

I was blinking back sleepiness, my brain has had way too many times of being awakened for need of action that it has become a tendency to activate 30% of my brain to process quickly. It’s almost an autonomic skill where I start doing things I want or need to do about one minute before I actually become conscious of it. The only bad part of that is snapping to consciousness and then processing what that 30% was doing vs. what’s the right direction to go in.

At first I thought it was a work thing, but realized that was the 30% mode. Brainfuzzy, I almost immediately then understood someone had been lost. Some contribution we all benefited from had ceased. That’s what sad news on the Internet usually means.

She sat down next to the bed and said “Robin Williams has passed away.”

I was flummoxed.

*That* can’t be.

There’s not an Earth I have occupied without the power of Robin Williams. I don’t want to live on an Earth without him. Then, almost immediately I thought, “Oh my god, his heart.” because I remembered he had had an aortic valve replacement. Then, one millisecond later I remembered he had checked back into rehab recently. All of this, all of it, processed in the space of probably one, maybe two seconds.

Not once did suicide occur to me.

I grabbed my phone and CNN had already broken the news of “death by asphyxiation” and I fell into despair. They only use that term for hanging or overdose.

I’m a humorist, not a comedian. I make the distinction because I love to make people laugh, and my method of standup and writing is more the storytelling aspect, if you happen to laugh then yay. But a comedian throws such effort, such passion, such talent into making people laugh with the concept of a one liner or jokes or storytelling that I feel that’s not the right way to describe me. I’m not in the class.

Robin Williams was a supernova of comedy.

The craft of being on stage is impossible to describe to an audience. I’m fortunate, I tend to be in front of audiences that are safe, for lack of a better word. I don’t do club standup I tend to perform in front of people who know they have come to see me. But comedians earning their living have to deal with hecklers or hostile crowds in addition to their human and psychological need to entertain and to make people laugh.

Not every comedian has demons they exorcise through comedy, I’m not trying to say that at all. But Bruce, Farley, Belushi, Kaufman, Hedberg, and now Williams. That’s just a short list. Those people rose above the ranks, and became the powerful entertainers of multiple generations.

I laid there blinking back tears. I tweeted “Oh no. oh no no no” because I could not think of any other way to articulate. I did not even think to hashtag it or give it context.

I remember Mork on Happy Days. Happy Days was sort of a fixture in our house when I was a child. The episodes with Mork were like nothing I had ever seen. Robin Williams had this smirk, this…way of shrugging his shoulders while smiling then immediately going 100% stone faced serious that was unlike anything I would ever see again. It made Mork human and alien at the same time. It was masterful.

Later as a kid I became addicted to “Evening at the Improv” on cable. And I saw my beloved Mork say the line “Behold! The moon, like a testicle, hangs low in the night sky!” making fun of Shakespeare. I laughed so hard my stomach was sore the next day. I thought of being on a stage and making people laugh that way.

We all probably have our Williams films or shows. Mork, Garp, Dead Poet’s Society, Fisher King, Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Hook, 24 Hour Photo, Insomnia, Birdcage…gifts. They are all of them gifts. Gifts of drama, or comedy, or hope, or even despair.

I don’t know depression, although panic and I have recently nodded heads at each other. I can’t fathom it, not from the standpoint of ignorance, but from the standpoint of hearing and understanding those who suffer from it. I cannot understand what it is like to feel it because I am fortunate enough to not suffer from it, and the knowledge of that is important when talking to those who suffer from it. I finally saw the far shore people who suffer from it stand on when someone put it this way “I’d kill myself if I just had the energy to get up and do it.”

I started reading the news reports through tears and I knew what had happened. Robin Williams had decided to end his pain. We are all the less for that, but someone tweeted “You’re not suffering anymore” and that made me just lose it.

Steven Spielberg once told a story that during the filming of Schindler’s List the subject matter was so overwhelming he called Robin Williams to ask him to make him laugh.

What an incredible pressure that must have been. They were friends of course, so I don’t mean to speak ill of Spielberg. But what a pressure that must have been, to be someone who is always “on” when needed. Someone who can be called upon to cheer us all up.

I remembered laying there that Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve were roommates and best friends at Julliard. Christopher Reeve is a hero of mine. Robin Williams is too.

I don’t believe in an afterlife.

I watched the twitter reactions roll in, posted many of my own. But just for a moment I wanted to believe there’s something beyond our experiences that we think of as our lives.

I wanted to believe it because Robin Williams gave us such a great gift in his body of work, such a powerful engine that we can run whenever we want to and it will take us to the places that we need to travel to emotionally.

In that moment before I had to get up and go through the “life moves on” phase, I wanted so much to think of a bright paint covered world, where a hero who died because he couldn’t physically feel pain any more said to the one whose pain was more than he could bear, “Good to see you friend, that bad part is done with.”

Music you need now.

August 7th, 2014

It amazes me how I fell into a circle of amazing musicians. But I did. They inspire me and a lot of them have new music:

Marian Call

I don’t want to bring anything down but I had a beautiful beautiful dog die who was named Remington. He was just 18 months old. Right when that was happening Marian Call sent me a three song sample of her new album that wasn’t finished yet, and her song Anchorage was one of those songs. I listened to it while I drove Remy to his blood transfusions. It remains one of the most powerful songs I can think of in my life. It anchored me.

(To bring things back up here’s her and me being silly.) I adore her and she has a new album I think is awesome. So, it’s worth your time to buy this new work from her. Her cover of Blackbird alone makes me fall in love with her all over again.

Paul and Storm

It’s not a secret that I think Paul and Storm are awesome. Not only did they give me the opportunity to perform at various w00tstocks and Jococruisecrazy they make entertaining music that goes beyond just being jokey and funny but is actually good *music*. They have a new album called ball pit that contains some of my favorite tunes by them like Write Like the Wind and Fuzzy Man. It’s well worth your while.

MC Frontalot

MC Frontalot is…good lord do I even have to say it? He has new nerd raps for you. Go. GO!

This is going to be the month of shipping long overdue stuff. Let’s start with one that I am enormously honored to have been a part of.

Mistborn Adventure Game: Alloy of Law Cover

Product Information: 320 pages

Print and PDF release
Author(s): Alex Flagg, John Snead, Stephen Toulouse, Rob Vaux, Filamena Young
Artist(s): Ben McSweeney, Isaac Stewart
Crafty Games Product Number: CFG-7004
ISBN: 978-1-940094-91-5
Release Date: 2014-08-07


MY NAME IS ON THIS! I am a huge Brandon Sanderson/Mistborn fan. So when I got approached by my good friend Logan Bonner and Crafty Games a couple years ago about writing sections of this I flipped out. Then I calmed down. Then I flipped out. Then I flipped out again. I loved Alloy of Law. I loved finding out how the events of the Mistborn Trilogy changed the world of Scadrial.

Then, they told me the sections I would be writing for. I got to describe the Northern and Southern roughs, and develop the stories for Wax and Wayne and Marasi and holy shit! I got to work with some other amazing writers all in a world I was a fan of. And I got to create a little bit in that world.

It was a great experience writing for an RPG, and my first experience writing in someone else’s universe and trying to be bold and creative yet respectful to the fact this wasn’t my playground.

I thank Logan for his patience in helping me navigate some of the elements of writing for an RPG that make it different from pure fiction. The process was fun. I hope players enjoy it!

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