Destiny: A new hope, unfulfilled.

The cinematic that opens Destiny establishes itself as taking place in the present day, but everything about it—the spacesuits, the capsule design—seemed to me to take its cues from the science fiction films of the 1970s. I wound up feeling this way about so much of the game’s look. The technology I encountered in human installations on other planets that had fallen into ruin looked not like I now expect the machinery of the future will look, but how I think someone in 1977 might have thought the machinery of the future would look…

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…and the fonts and iconography throughout the game all made me feel like I was on the elaborate set of a film from that era.

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And it makes sense. I think our shared idea of what spacefaring science fiction looks like is still shaped by films like Alien and Star Wars, that there haven’t been new visions that have captured the collective imagination in the same way. So if you want to tap into notions of myth and magic among the stars, you look to those films for inspiration. Destiny wants to feel just a bit grounded. It’s set in our solar system, not a galaxy far, far away, after all, and those aspects of its design that remind me more of films like Alien—the corporate logos, the boxy, practical, industrial designs of some locations—give its universe a rough-around-the-edges, working-class feel that I find appealing. But Destiny is far more space opera than hard sci-fi, and it was Star Wars that I found myself reminded of again and again as I played the game. More specifically, it was the way I felt about Star Wars as a child.

In the opening cinematic, you’re introduced to the Traveler, a massive orb of unknown origin that’s embroiled in a timeless struggle against evil. What is its nature? Its very existence suggests the transcendent, that our universe is not just a place of science but of magic, too. 

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And I can imagine myself as a child lying awake wondering about the true nature of the Traveler in the same way that, as a child in the early 80s, my imagination was captured by the idea of the Force. The religious beliefs my parents tried to instill in me didn’t take, but films stirred in me a desire to believe that there could be things in this universe that we can never fully understand. Destiny makes gestures in this direction, too. Sadly, they end up being empty ones.

And very early on, I loved the idiosyncratic look of my character. 

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The game’s narrative doesn’t develop your character at all, but to me, her look suggested that this was a person with an interesting story. I was reminded of the rogues gallery of bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back, most of whom get almost no screen time, but whose looks are so distinctive and memorable that as a child, I was thrilled by the idea of their stories, and the larger universe their existence seemed to suggest.

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I wanted the action figures for them, so that I could create their stories on my own.

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And as I played through Destiny’s hollow story, a story full of vague mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t mean anything at all and is only the flimsiest excuse to send you from Earth to the moon to Venus to Mars, killing things all the while, this was the feeling that I kept coming back to. That I was playing with elaborate playsets and action figures that suggested stories and that have tremendous potential to tell them, but that don’t actually bother to do it. I honestly have absolutely no idea what it is I’m supposed to have accomplished at the game’s conclusion. There were words suggesting that my actions aided the Traveler in some way but there seems to be no stirring of whatever technology or spirit lies at the heart of the massive orb, which leaves me feeling like the game’s early hints of suggesting something transcendent or of telling a story that means something are just empty promises, nothing more than a framework for delivering its shooting mechanics and progression systems. Of course these things—the actual “game” part of Destiny—are refined and enjoyable. But because Destiny doesn’t follow through on the potential it establishes, they also end up feeling soulless, unlike the sci-fi the game seems to take its inspiration from. 

I’m glad Destiny exists. I enjoyed the time I spent in its richly visualized locations. I just wish the game matched the richness of their design in other ways. Instead, it leaves it up to me to imbue its characters and its locations with life. Destiny is a universe full of potential, but for now that potential is almost as dormant and undefined as the Traveler itself.

pennyante:

"No way out." #mashatupitsyn Love Dog, p191

(via mashatupitsyn)

The Art of Loving may have been published in 1956, but I think that the concerns Erich Fromm raised about how our shallow, materialistic culture—a culture that produces what Fromm calls automatons—encourages a shallow imitation of love in place of the real thing are probably only more pertinent today. Fromm writes,

Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their “personality packages” and hope for a fair bargain. One of the most significant expressions of love, and especially of marriage with this alienated structure, is the idea of the “team.” In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team. This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee; he should be “reasonably independent,” cooperative, tolerant, and at the same time ambitious and agressive. Thus, the marriage counselor tells us, the husband should “understand” his wife and be helpful. He should comment favorably on her new dress, and on a tasty dish. She, in turn, should understand when he comes home tired and disgruntled, she should listen attentively when he talks about his business troubles, should not be angry but understanding when he forgets her birthday. All this kind of relationship amounts to is the well-oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a “central relationship,” but who treat each other with courtesy and who attempt to make each other feel better.

Nowadays it seems that often relationships are not about truly revealing yourself to another person and having them truly reveal themselves to you, but about gaming each other, figuring out what input you plug into a person—how many days do I wait to text her, what do I say or do to make him like me—to get the desired result. But if a relationship is founded on performance—which is wholly different from being called upon and motivated by love to be a better version of yourself—then you never really come to know yourself or the other person through the relationship. So what is even the point? 

And I don’t believe that you can truly come to know yourself or another person in a relationship that internalizes or fetishizes or is founded on patriarchal power dynamics. I get discouraged sometimes by the tendency of late for feminism to be used to justify choices that reinforce and perpetuate patriarchy. I don’t think that feminism is about freeing people to make any choice they want to make. I think that feminism asks us to live in opposition to patriarchy, and that this should be reflected in how we love. I agree with bell hooks when she writes, in All About Love, that “awakening to love can happen only as we let go of our obsession with power and domination.”

Of course I want love. Love as reunion. I feel my heart reaching out for it even now. But the thought of spending your life with someone you can’t be real with, someone who doesn’t know you, in a relationship that isn’t founded on a deep respect for each other as people? Maybe it’s that I already feel like I’ve wasted too much of my life performing, but my god. How tragic. I’d rather be alone, and real in my own company, than false in someone else’s.

When I told the Tarot reader that in addition to my writing I also want true and lasting love, which is radically different from simply wanting a man or a relationship, he was dismissive. Real love as opposed to just being in a relationship means that no one gets to just be or have a man or just be or have a woman. Real love is about being radically opened up from the inside out, not enacting roles. If it were just about having a man, I would already have a man, as just having a man would reduce me to just being—playing— a woman.”

From “As Seen on TV" by Masha Tupitsyn, an incredible post which I’ve reblogged in its entirety before. Tonight, as I was cleaning my apartment and thinking about my future, this passage came into my head.

the goal is soul: diablo III and dark souls II

I’ve had a little extra free time lately, what with losing my job and all. Thankfully, Diablo III is always there, a time-devouring Langolier to help me deal with any extra hours I might have just lying around. It’s just been released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and a nudge from a friend suggesting we could play co-op was all it took for me to return to it yet again.

I tried to gently communicate this when I reviewed the Reaper of Souls expansion for GameSpot back in March—I now wish I’d been a bit more direct about this—but I believe that Diablo III is particularly soulless, even for a major video game. Playing it, you can’t not be aware of its existence as a calculated product, one that, as surely and transparently as any much-maligned Facebook game, is ruthlessly, scientifically designed to make you addicted with a smooth and pleasing loop of rewards that you earn with just barely enough effort to make you feel like you actually did something to earn them.

The contrast between Diablo III and the other game I’ve been playing lately, Dark Souls II, is so stark that it has changed the way I think about both games, making me view one more critically and deepening my appreciation for the other. Comparing them directly is a bit odd since they have such different goals and I think they both achieve their respective goals pretty well, but the contrast does highlight for me why I think Dark Souls II’s design is so much more noble, and so much more rewarding.

Lore

Diablo III is drenched in lore. The game seems terrified of any kind of mystery or ambiguity; it bends over backwards to explain the history of every noteworthy figure in its story, every character class, every location. It never lets you forget that someone at Blizzard came up with detailed lore about pretty much everything. But the lore mistakes intricacy for quality. Lore entries have voice actors rattling off bog-standard monologues packed with names of people and artifacts and demons, and how anyone can keep it all straight or muster the enthusiasm to care about any of it is beyond me. Perhaps worst of all is the way in which you encounter lore, in books you find everywhere.

One example: On your travels, you absurdly find multiple satchels lost by the character Deckard Cain, each of which contains some of his wisdom about the world of Sanctuary or the monsters who inhabit it. The purpose of lore seems to be to reinforce my investment in the world and its history, but how can it do that when the method in which the lore is communicated is so goofy as to undermine any investment in the believability of the world that I might try to make?

Dark Souls II uses lore sparingly. There are hints of a richly developed history in the environments themselves, in things characters say to you, and in item descriptions, but the game isn’t afraid of ambiguity. It isn’t afraid to let the world stand on its own, and this makes it feel like a mysterious place full of secrets, most of which will never be divulged. Who is that great monster I just defeated? He is simply known as the last giant. There seems to me something deeply sad about that. I don’t need the game to explain to me the history of the giants, or how this one came to be the last. In fact I’d rather not have it spelled out for me in extreme detail. This mystery and ambiguity is so much more beautiful and haunting and meaningful to me than Diablo’s insistence on illuminating every shred of its world’s history through ceaseless yammering. The world of Dark Souls II can take on symbolic dimensions in my mind. The world of Diablo III, drained of all mystery, feels about as profound and symbolic to me as a gallon of milk I bought at Target.

Gender, gear, and character

In Diablo III, you pick from one of five classes. You can play each as either a woman or a man but that’s the extent of it. There are no character customization options. And that’s fine. Diablo has never been about character. It’s always been about the gear. The clothes and weapons make the hero. I can’t project myself onto the hero in anything but the most superficial sense; the hero is just an action figure with which you set out to play dress-up with an increasingly impressive assortment of armor and accessories. 

Dark Souls II’s character creation process allows for a surprising amount of fluidity where gender is concerned, with sliders for masculinity and femininity of appearance regardless of gender. This, along with all the other character customization options, lets you create a character in which you might see yourself, if you wish.

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I haven’t exhaustively researched this, but in my limited experience, both games seem pretty good about avoiding the common issue of gear looking significantly different when equipped by a female hero than by a male one, and letting female heroes, like their male counterparts, be defined more by their actions than by their gender.

Gameplay and meaning

In Diablo III, you are as a god. You’re a nephalem, which as far as I can tell is the Diablo version of having a lot of midi-chlorians in your bloodstream. You are inherently superior, capable of things other people just aren’t. You are special. The best. And you didn’t even have to work to become that way. You just are.

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And because you are so special, you deserve special things, and you don’t have to work very hard to earn them. You can rain lightning down from the heavens, sending a dozen demons flying into oblivion in an instant without breaking a sweat. You are already near-perfect, and whatever self-improvement you do experience just happens to you. Enemies flock to you in droves, you slaughter them, and then boom, you are suddenly even better at slaughtering them. So rather than give any real thought to internal self-improvement, you just get better clothes, better weapons, better everything. This is the only real way to make yourself better. It’s a shallow and materialistic game, one that says you needn’t look at yourself and that better things make you a better person. It says that you should be rewarded constantly for minimal effort, and unless you are playing on Hardcore mode in which character death is permanent, it minimizes the impact of failure.

In Dark Souls II, the balance is reversed. Good gear is important, but the most important improvements you make over the course of the game are the improvements you make to yourself. And they do not come easily. Dark Souls II does not make me feel like I am inherently special, like I am, without even trying, simply better than any other warrior who might take up the quest. Just about any enemy I encounter must be cautiously reckoned with, and the rewards are small. I must carefully weigh the benefits of getting ever-so-slightly better in this area or that area. The path of personal growth—soul growth, spiritual growth, real, internal growth—is difficult and painful, each tiny step forward hard-earned.

Diablo III is a pleasant escape, a metaphor for life as we might want it to be—a journey in which we are special and don’t have to do much work to find great success and incredible reward. Dark Souls II is a metaphor for life as it seems to me it actually is—a grueling journey in which you will fail constantly, and only by picking yourself up and facing the challenges before you again and again will you become a better, stronger person. And because progress in Dark Souls II is so much harder to achieve and because the rewards are so much more scant, they’re also much more meaningful and genuinely rewarding. I’m going to keep playing Diablo III; especially given some of the professional challenges in my life recently, sometimes these days I want something easy. But it’s just empty calories. A well-designed product that goes down smooth and leaves me feeling pleasantly stimulated but unnourished.

Dark Souls II is, of course, a product as well, but it has poetry in its writing and its design. It is an interactive reminder that keeping a tiny flame of hope burning in the depths of the soul can make all the difference.

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“It’s coming out of yourself, really. It’s a deeply appreciative and enthusiastic awareness of somebody else. I mean, in general. It’s what we’re living for and that’s what I’m fighting for. I think of myself as a political person doing whatever I do, but basically what I aim for is to make love a reasonable possibility. ‘Cause if things are really horrifying all the time, I don’t think it is a reasonable possibility. If we’re living in a climate of awesome cruelty exercised by folks who have power over us, it can happen, but I don’t think it becomes reasonable. But it’s that possibility that makes living worthwhile. My commitment to love is not an alternative to my political commitments. It’s the same thing.”

June Jordan on Love as a Reasonable Possibility from 

http://bombmagazine.org/article/1905/

we meet at ritual

We meet at Ritual, a friend and I.

Meeting at Ritual is our ritual.

Ritual has been closed for renovations for a while, but it’s open again. 

I think I like the way it looked before better. It was darker, moodier, a little more rough around the edges. Now it feels clean and corporate to me. But maybe I just need to get used to it. Sometimes I’m not good at getting used to the way things are, when I prefer the way things were.

There’s art on the walls right now by Paul Madonna, an artist whose work, which often combines text with images of San Francisco, I’ve always enjoyed. He seems to see stories and aspirations and yearnings in the world around him all the time, and I think I do, too.

Right now the lights hanging from the ceiling of Ritual look like this:

(photo by Jonathan McIntosh)

but they used to look like this:

That’s one of the Paul Madonna drawings on the wall right now. It says, “I want to absorb every moment of this, enjoy every second, every smallest particle of perceptible time. I am so damn happy. And I’ve been alive long enough to know it’s all so damn fleeting.”

And looking at that image, I thought about how I said a kind of goodbye to someone once at Ritual when the lights still looked like that, and how I’d been almost greedy in clinging to every fraction of a moment I got with her because I knew it wouldn’t be much, and how I’ve spent so much of the time since then thinking and writing about time, and about how things are fleeting. 

Whenever I start feeling hopeful about someone, there is part of me that thinks, “Maybe all those things before were things you had to go through to be ready for this. Maybe this will make it all worth it.” Because I want to find some meaning in the disappointments of the past. I want to be able to look back and feel like I’ve found out what the wait was about. But I realize that this is a tremendous pressure to put on someone new, on something untested. 

So I tell my friend that I’m a little excited about someone. I’m trying not to be too excited. I’m trying to be just excited enough to really give it a chance and not be so excited that I’ll be crushed if it turns out to be nothing. But I don’t know if I can manage my feelings like that. I don’t know if I should manage my feelings like that.

Walking from left to right along the wall of Ritual, the last image you come to is this one:

and it says “Though our roads lead to the same place, 
Our stories will be different when we get there.”

And I thought of the stories this person and I have been telling each other. And I thought how nice it would be if that turned out to be true.

Sometimes I don’t even remember to get nervous before I leave the house anymore. 

It’s nice. 

On days like today, I can almost forget that I’m trans. It’s not at the forefront of my mind. For a while I’m just present in the moment, sitting outside, reading, feeling the warmth of the sun.

Then as I’m walking home, I pass a man standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. And as we make eye contact, I see his eyebrows raise and his expression change to that expression I’ve seen a million times. Sometimes I hear it in my head as “You’ve got to be kidding me,” sometimes as “What the fuck.” And then I remember that I am trans, and I feel a knot of tension in my stomach, one part fear—is he going to say something? is he going to do something?—one part something that might be a fucked-up kind of shame, as if I’ve done something wrong by making this man think about the fact that he has to share the world with people like me. And this pulls me out of the moment, out of the sun.

And then I think how incredibly fortunate I am as a woman who is transgender in this world if the worst thing that happens to me today is that a man looks at me like I’m not human. 

Kate Bush used herself as an invention – something that interested me greatly as a strategy for both life and art. The songs were like stage plays in miniature – a character, a situation, a verbal collision (oh to be in love and never get out again), a vocal polyphonics that allowed her to range through pain and doubt to resolution.

I love it that through all her experiments with herself she remains clearly and cleanly the self that she is. She’s doing the work of her soul and if we like it, that’s grand, if not, she’s doing it anyway.”

Jeanette Winterson on Kate Bush, one of my artistic heroes

that fresh feeling

I worry that because I’ve been alone for so long, alone is all I know how to be.

I worry that maybe I don’t actually know how to love. It’s been so long since I’ve really had the chance.

I worry, seeing women together, that I’ll never be accepted—by them? By myself?

I worry that I have no idea how a woman should be because I’ve had so few experiences that a woman my age should have had, and that, because so many people don’t see me as a woman, I can’t have those experiences, so I’ll always be fumbling in the dark. 

I worry that I’ll ruin something that isn’t ready by rushing into it because I’m desperate.

I worry that I won’t give something a chance because I’m scared of getting hurt.

I worry about how it sometimes feels like, just by asking a woman who loves women to consider the possibility of loving a woman like me, I’m asking her to reconsider her entire understanding of the world, I’m challenging her entire concept of who she might want to love or might be capable of loving, since it seems that being able to love a trans woman as a woman is a radical act that so many people just aren’t capable of, and because love is already so hard to find in this world, I wish I didn’t bring to it all these other things that plenty of people—even wonderful people—just can’t deal with. 

So sometimes I want to run and hide.

But I also want to be up for it. I think of how in her great piece ”No, That Wasn’t Our Happiness,” Masha quotes Jeanette Winterson: “It’s a sin this not being ready. This not being up for it.” And how the other day Julia quoted from this post, also by Jeanette Winterson: 

In truth, the life that is ours is the one we make, and that includes our partners. If we really have been criminally careless with the love of our life, and driven him away, or let her go – well, then – we deserve to be unhappy, at least until that unhappiness prompts such a change in us that the miracle of a second chance (with someone else) is not thrown away.

I worry, but I want to be ready. I want to be up for the possibility of something.

Someone great sends me a photo. She tells me I’m gonna love it, and I do. It’s just her on a hike, in front of some breathtaking scenery, smiling a sincere and contagious smile. She says not to share it with anyone because she thinks she looks grungy. I tell her I think she looks beautiful.