Christmas Gifts? Christmas Cheer? A Rant.

“It’s not about the gifts.”

Someone will say this every holiday season. That Christmas isn’t about the presents. That it’s about Jesus’ birthday (my family is Christian), time spent with loved ones, gratefulness to be alive and blessed and loved, appreciation blah blah blah and all those other sentiments we should already have every other day of the year anyway. Kinda like Thanksgiving, the holiday whose name implies that we should be spending the day testifying to what we are thankful for, but all anyone really cares about is where they gonna be eating. Really. I suggested this year for Thanksgiving that we all volunteer at a soup kitchen as a family and mom’s response was “Well, what are we gonna eat?”

But then, come Christmas, that line of thinking gets the 180.

For the past few years, my family has invaded Christmas tradition, attempting to unconvincingly downplay the gift-giving aspect, while continuing to request $100+ items or cash on their wish lists. We created a new tradition the past 8 years or so, where my mom and sister and I shlep out with my aunt and cousins to my godmother’s house on Christmas Eve, so that we can wake up Christmas morning as one big happy family and do all the Christmas things together like decorating the tree, watching Home Alone, wearing festive gear, fancy eating and liquor imbibing, general merriment, reading the Bible, taking a walk around town, napping, eating some more, then basically doing everything possible to avoid the gifts under the tree until 5 p.m. on Christmas Day…

Wait…

Somewhere along the way, this new tradition went awry.  Because the elders decided that since “Christmas is not about the gifts,” we should do everything in our power to pretend they aren’t in the next room over-appealingly packed under the tree like some sort of Home Christmas Special edition magazine cover, and act like some of us (not me of course, I finish shopping early) weren’t just maniacally racing around stores trying to find the perfect gifts for each other the week before, like we aren’t excited to see our loved ones open the shit we stressed out to buy for them.

Three “elders.” Three “somewhat” adult-children (because in our family they still call us “kids” at age 30), and one teenager whose Christmas rights are stripped away because even though we’re spending Christmas together as a family to make everyone happy, much of the the fun, happiness, and excitement is being sucked out of the deal by Holiday Dictatorship.

Sometimes my family will suggest not gift-exchanging at all, but instead donating the $$$ you would have spent on their gifts to a charity. Nice idea, although let’s remember this contribution still remains a GIFT, and something you are GIVING, so I’ll forever need elaboration that they’ll never give on what exactly about the GIVING aspect they’re against. In the most logical, Devil’s Advocate-sense, are they saying that since the people you love are better off than those who really need assistance, this means we are less-deserving of receiving ANYTHING from them? Why not just give both? Last year, after multiple years of someone always throwing this idea into the mix, I said fine. Let’s NOT get anyone anything. Give my gift to a donation instead. My cousins were not happy with my acceptance of this idea. I honestly was so tired of hearing it that I really did not give a shit at that point what happened. I ended up breaking the family tradition entirely, and instead spending Christmas with my ex-narcissist so that he wouldn’t be alone. What happened? My family ended up coming to my house later on Christmas Day, WITH gifts that we’d agreed not to buy! When I asked WTF happened to the plan, the answer was “Well we had to get SOMETHING to exchange on Christmas.” Well then WHY THE HELL DID YOU SUGGEST WE NOT IF IT’S NOT ABOUT THE GIFTS?

*Note to readers: My family is cray and their odd, illogical thought processes that don’t quite add up are the reason I can sometimes only take them in small doses.

My philosophy on gift-giving is I don’t like to give gifts out of obligation. Even if you’re receiving something small from me, I likely logged hours hunting online, recalling our past conversations, a joke we may have laughed about together, or something you may have mentioned in passing that you love (if you weren’t one of the few close ones who gave me a list) to apply to the purchase. I’m definitely one of those tailor-the-gift-to-the-individual kinda people who didn’t run to the mall the weekend before Christmas and scoop up some generic sweater/shower gift set/pajamas/hat-scarf-glove ensemble to hand out to everyone so as not to come empty-handed. I also despise gift cards, even if they’re asked for, because they lack that certain originality and creative thought that comes with gift-giving. It’s really just a I-didn’t-know-what-you-wanted-so-here gift.

And you know what? Because I truly do love to give, all that extra work doesn’t bother me. The stress of taking into account a person’s preferences and likes and dislikes and truly trying to incite a delighted reaction on Christmas Day from them makes me happy when I do find that magical side-quest item in the end. It does not make me scorn gift-giving. Scrambling to find gifts for my co-working team and smuggling them with me to Argentina so I could present them in person was a jolly challenge for me. Being counter-surprise-presented with a hand-designed t-shirt from my boss, who put hours and late nights hunched over her project crafting them for us before the same trip was a special reward to me. Shipping additional little gifts I found to friends in different states and paying extra shipment fees doesn’t bother me because I’m sending a bit of extra joy and thinking of them during this special season. When my current boyfriend suggested a gift he could get for his parents and slap my name on it so it would be from me, I childishly exclaimed “NO, I WANNA DO IT,” and dove into an interweb hunt for selections from my heart.

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And maybe that’s the reason why the gift-giving part holds a certain weight to me on Christmas. “It’s better to give than to receive” is another of your common Real-Meaning-Of-Christmas quotes. Well dammit, I like giving, and opening the things I was given. How often are we really given a chance to dive into a spirited gift exchange? It’s one day a year. I’m a freaking 32-year-old woman who wants to open the gifts she got from everyone on Christmas morning, or at least not after the damn sun has gone down, and in turn, watch everyone open what she spent the past month (yeah, I start on Black Friday) putting some real thought into. It’s EXCITING! Sue me!

I don’t forget the one Christmas a few years back where, come mid-afternoon, we “kids” literally sat on the couch doing nothing until we fell asleep out of boredom. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It felt like any other day; except more boring, because even on normal days when we see each other, we do shit and don’t just sit around waiting for the time to pass until the “elders” FEEL like it’s time to proceed with the main event. Meanwhile, I constantly received texts from friends and family asking “Did you open it yet? Did you like it?”

“Nah, we didn’t GET to them yet.”

“What the hell? What are ya’ll waiting for??”

Nothing. The answer is we’re waiting for absolutely nothing but an antiquated idea that suggests if you care about opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning, you’ve lost the meaning for the season. Maybe one day my family will stop vilifying gift-giving before our traditions crumble. Even the past couple of years, someone has thrown out a suggestion that we all travel to a tropical climate for Christmas instead. While in the past, I would have been vehemently opposed, this time I’ve said I was down. Instead it’s been my mom who’s screamed bloody murder that this would “break tradition” because there’d be no tree, gifts, celebration etc…

But…

I thought it wasn’t about the..

Free picture (Christmas Candle) from https://torange.biz/christmas-candle-15000I give up, ya’ll. -.-‘ To all my Christmas buddies who ignore the nonsensical, judgmental rumination on Christmas-giving that my fam tries to bring to the table, thank you for keeping me sane, and keeping that old, little-girl, Christmas spirit flame alive and dancing.

Merry Christmas!!!

~Tael

The IMPerfect Guide (Or FAQ)

I remember the very first video game guide I ever set eyes on. It was the Perfect Guide for Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And it was beautiful. I carried this book with me everywhere, delighted by the whimsical, high-quality images and the nerdy-yet-awesome writing style. It was riddled with jokes that even I could pick up on at that age, snarky at times, other times conveying an array of emotions from shock to disgust to adoration at the game’s moments. I felt like I was carrying around my friends in this glossy magazine.

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I wore it down to tattered pages, the spine dislocated, the creases permanent. Because I’d studied the guide so much, I could probably still do an Ocarina of Time run-through with 100% completion off-top.

But once you start, 100% completion haunts you.

While Zelda isn’t technically an RPG, it has mucho similar elements. RPGs have always been vast worlds that maybe started out with a 20-25 hour running time, and can now amass over a whopping 100-hours of gameplay when you factor in sidequests, unlockable bosses, highest weapon attained, etc… No complaints here. But somewhere along the way these clever additions became cruel tricks. Missable sidequests if you don’t talk to this specific person in this one town directly after an event happens. Ridiculous formulas that involve gathering/fighting/completing tasks in a maze-like way to open a secret path.zoot3d-link-and-fairy-bow Bosses that can’t be beaten unless you’ve mastered a certain skill paired with a specific type of armor with a 7% reflective rate, so you just hope you’re in the lucky 7% (which you wouldn’t have figured out without seeking help online). That Shuttle Crash site battle with the suicide android in Tales of Graces? THAT WAS MEAN. The Land of Canaan in Tales of Xillia 2? The most sadistic dungeon I have ever countered. So much so that it makes the infamous water temples in Zelda look like wading pools. And let’s face it, the raising and lowering of the water temples in Ocarina of Time was a difficulty beyond its time. Would anyone nowadays have the patience and focus to figure that out with no outside assistance? (I’m familiar with the younger generation and based on their social media trends, I HIGHLY doubt it).

Thankfully, accessing a guide, or FAQ, when things get rough is only a Google click away from your fingertips. Stuck on a boss? FAQ it. Can’t find the next town? Look it up. That final mushroom needed to make that healing nectar for the sick boy in the forest town eluding you? Search it. The convenience in these answers is a gift, but the curse lies in the necessity to look it up anyway to progress.

After I fell in love with the perfect guide, before I’d start an RPG, I’d have the FAQ bookmarked and ready. I’d consult it before every move I made. I beat Tales of Symphonia easily enough on my own, but when I discovered the guide later I realized I missed out on SO MUCH SHIT. And I’m one who knows to explore every path, click every crevice and talk to every person in town. Somehow I’d still missed out on a good 30-40% of the game! Who could have known how to meet Abyssion on their own? I don’t believe you. And let’s face it; Majora’s Mask was in no way completable without the use of a guide. The Kafei sidequest? Yeah the fuck right. The game was an ingenious concept, but it was TOO SMART. The difficulty level certainly landed it on many’s Most Hated Zelda Games lists. And Skies of Arcadia…while the main story was achievable enough on your own, find me someone who actually discovered the Wanderbirds on their own (unless it was by pure, dumb-luck accident). These development choices almost had me entirely dependent on FAQs.

Almost.

One day I realized I wasn’t having as much fun consulting a guide for every move and double-checking every step I took to make sure I didn’t miss anything. If 100% completion was going to drive me to madness, then maybe it wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t let a goal like that ruin the lighthearted reason why I play in the first place.Link&Epona

Have I abandoned FAQs completely? Absolutely not. But they’re not the same friends I carried around in my backpack so long ago, reading and re-reading with joy. Most of them are clones of one another. The writing doesn’t pulse with a vibrant personality. Unless it’s a leader like IGN, it probably wasn’t done by someone with writing skill, meant to entertain and feel like you’re conversing with them.

I reverted to playing to the best of my ability, scrounging in every corner, busting into everybody’s house and talking to every single person. And if I get too stuck, like I’ve-struggled-for-hours-and-I’m-at-my-wit’s-end stuck, I look it up. But I try not to do it often because I love the sense of accomplishment I feel at finally figuring out what I was struggling with, using my own brain and not the Internet’s. I consulted an FAQ for Twilight Princess just once, and felt supremely proud of myself. Since Symphonia 2, I’ve traversed through subsequent Tales games without an online “map,” back to old-school roots. Like when there weren’t save points. And when you were stuck on something, you could only find out the solution by pouring in hours of puzzle-solving, or getting lucky by knowing a friend of a friend, (or cousin) who knew the answer. If they say there’s two kinds of players, there’s gotta be a happy medium between them. Where you can hunt and gather, but also have fun doing it.

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The latest thing is 100% IV in Pokemon GO. I don’t use an external IV app for the very same reason. Landing a 100% IV Pokemon is 100% luck. You have 0 control over it. I’d rather play a game I love and be happy with whatever I do accomplish, than stress myself out trying to attain something I have absolutely no control over. If it’s meant to come, then it will.

100% completion is to achieve perfection. I no longer beat myself up over not achieving perfection. And I think I’m better off for it.

~Tael

Girl. Gamer. And?

It’s like we’ve regressed while evolving. A month ago when I went to Otakon, I met a transgender individual who shared that some of their female friends who game have gone through some pretty negative experiences with the male gaming community; to the point where they now hide their gender on forums and social media, and are treated fine until somehow the bomb drops that they’re female. When I was growing up, gender in gaming was never a thing, so why is it now?

As a casual gamer, it’s been amazing to ride along the gaming world’s journey. I started out with my very own Sega Genesis at age 7. ALL of my cousins gamed, boy and girl. And when their friends came over, we all gamed together still. There was never any “Girls can’t play” or “Boys club” nonsense. We practiced Mortal Kombat finishing moves on each other, sped through Sonic levels, and bullet-barraged in GoldenEye as equals. We chainsawed Tediz in Conker, helped snag difficult stars in Super Mario 64, and woke up rubbing the crust from our eyes first thing bright and early to grab the controller and take down Wizpig in Diddy Kong Racing.

Going through middle school, gaming was definitely still considered a nerdy hobby, so it wasn’t really broadcast much. We stayed under the radar so as not to become targets. I kept it hidden behind the scenes, indulging with my family and my bestie, who could be counted on to marathon Super Mario World with me in one night, being overly cautious not to accidentally nudge the glitchy console in any way, lest the save not work properly after having played for hours. I quietly played my RPGs in the safety of my room and found gaming companions in AOL chat rooms. I ducked my head in my GameBoy in isolated corners of the school yard.

In high school (and I admit, the fact that my H.S. population was 75% Asian could have something to do with it) it became much more socially accepted. Dedicated teams set up YuGiOh and Magic rounds religiously every day after school in the cafeteria. I encountered my first IRL Zelda fan who loved to share tips on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. I got invited to a birthday party where we each built our own mini-Gundams to take home (Deathscythe, baby). Gamer T-shirts and swag became more widespread.

College came and my love of Smash Bros. continued to blossom. I formed a purely battle relationship with a dude who’d come around to visit his girlfriend down the hall, and always dropped in just to play a few rounds and demolish me. In fact, there were quite a few Elite Smashers in college, and I was surprised at how many others loved it too! I befriended another girl who beasted in Smash and we took down our friends in Team Battles. And then there were other gamers still, happy to lend their assistance to the excruciatingly tedious puzzles of Prince of Persia or MarioKart training, or collaboratively get back to Funkatron in Toejam & Earl.

The gamer’s life had become a breeze of approval. Twitter wasn’t even a thing back then. Is that why everyone was so nice and accepting? Because in-person, things are different? Because a lot of people gain that web-courage, when they’re behind a screen? Or because the younger generations are more likely to be douchebags now?

Once again, I may have been caught in some kind of bubble (I’m starting to believe myself to be a unicorn in life). I was never once called out for my gender. I was never once interrogated, scrutinized, laughed at, harassed, or belittled for being a girl and having this hobby. It wasn’t considered a “cool” thing to do or pretend to like. It wasn’t a trend, as nostalgic things tend to be now. It was strictly a hobby, done for your own individual entertainment. A gamer was a gamer.

It’s interesting to see a hobby I once kept on the low explode into something that can make you Internet-famous now. But it’s also great to see how much more open and accessible the gaming lifestyle is now. I LOVE that I can find controller earrings on Etsy, Triforce handbags on Amazon, support indie artists geeky tee and hoodie designs, actually be a part of a gaming community on social media, connect with Smashers just by logging into the network on the WiiU, and pop up on the Tetris Friends site for a bit of mind-numbing block-dropping. I love that bars are incorporating arcades, Nintendo World at Rockefeller Center is a thing, Pokemon is still going strong, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this,” has become a meme, and retro-fans recognize and appreciate the question-mark tattoo on my shoulder.

20170928_231443As a casual gamer, (and I’m not speaking for the industry side of things) I don’t feel like women are marginalized any more so than anywhere else. Are there hypersexualized characters in gaming? OF COURSE. Hypersexualization of women is everywhere in the world. We can’t expect it to magically not be in this particular medium. Grand Theft Auto is not meant to be a respectable game (you are absolutely an asshole protagonist), Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball does nothing anime doesn’t already do, yes, Lara Croft is known for having large breasts in the Tomb Raider series, that was their thing, and also seeing Valentina’s boobs jiggle when you attack her in Super Mario RPG is hilarious (because they do jiggle in real life sometimes). But how can we forget about the numerous other female roles over the years? Easy-going Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Calculating Bellena from Skies of Arcadia (which also happened to have two female co-protagonists). Battle-worthy warrior Marta from Tales of Symphonia 2 (because Lord knows Emil needed to grow a pair) as well as the power-hungry, pint-sized sadistic Alice who put fear in even the largest man’s heart. Xelha from Baten Kaitos was one of my least favorite female characters, mostly because I didn’t find her cute at all. Yeah, sounds horrible, but I like my characters to be cute. I much preferred Mizuti with her crazy mask and garbled voice, who everyone was shocked to find out late in the game that she was a girl anyway. Because if a character is not going to be cute, they should at least be cool and have some depth to them. I see Twitter highly in favor of the fact that Twintelle from Arms has an ass. Sexualization or adaptation of the latest fit and trendy body-type?

Having that knowledge dropped on me at Otakon, that one would have to hide their gender orientation around the community they love to participate in, left me surprised, even though I’ve heard stories before. Over the Internet. I’ve just never heard a real-life story from twenty-somethings in person. I was certain there’s the chill, accepting, mature generation of gamers who love the hobby in person (because don’t Millennials accept everything accept right-wing conservatism?), and then there’s the Internet-thugging 12-14-year-old virgins experimenting with cursing behind their headsets and safety screens because they’re not ready for the real world. And I’m not threatened by children. To my fellow gaming ladies who have experienced such nonsense as this, I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’ve been told I can come off as intimidating. Let some little ignorant troll come at me for being a chick who games.

I would skin them. (And trust me, you could probably take them too).

Just saying.

~Tael

I Won’t Be Your Sub

No, not referring to foot-longs or role-play in Fifty-Shades situations. Someone on Twitter once DM-ed me asking that I subscribe to their YouTube Channel. This happens pretty damn frequently if you follow the gaming community in the Twittersphere, but in this particular instance, I could tell it wasn’t the widely-hated “Auto-DM.” This one was a real Direct Message, so I felt he was worthy of a real response: “Who has time to sit around watching YouTube channels like that?” To which he responded, “EVERYONE LOL.”

He’s right.

Somehow, EVERYONE has the time to do this, and because of it, YouTube gaming personalities, Let’s Play and Twitch have exploded into a streaming marketplace. Back on the ascent of streaming popularity, I remember investigating the Kaceytron debate: was she the ultimate cleavage-bearing troll or nah? I watched a few of her streams to see just what the Twitterverse was bugging out about. What made it interesting was the hilariously obnoxious interactions she had with others. I knew nothing of the game she played (I THINK it was League of Legends, or something very League of Legends-y) and pretty much glazed over the gameplay. My boyfriend plays League of Legends and I can’t fathom how anyone would want to watch a stream of that unless they were hardcore, watching other hardcore players and looking for tips to improve their own gameplay.

Once upon a time, as a young’n, I loved watching my older cousins play video games for hours. But once I got a controller in my own hands, that all changed. Because I could be watching someone else play, or I could be playing myself. Maybe it’s the type of games I go for. I adore RPGs and vast adventures. But I sure as hell wouldn’t watch someone else play Tales of Graces for an hour, unless it was strictly battling and they were showing off flashy, ridiculous combos, and even then, I wouldn’t last an hour. I tried watching a stream for Super Mario RPG once. I love that game with a passion, but struggled to make it through 15 minutes listening to the guy pretty much walk the viewers through what he was doing. Now I CAN watch a good Smash Brothers match on YouTube, but let’s be real, a match lasts about 7 minutes or less. And I’m sure non-Smashers wouldn’t be interested; but since I play seriously, I’d be looking at technique and be super impressed by an amazing recovery or a battle waltz ending in a sick spike KO.

To me, Twitch should be more for showing us something unusual, crazy, that we haven’t seen before. Or eSports. From what I’ve gathered on the Internet, it’s become a bombardment of mediocrity and tactics to gain more “subs.”

Auto DMs:

“I wanted to thank you PERSONALLY for the follow. AlsopleaseseemyYouTubeChannelHere” – But this is an Auto DM. Everyone got this.

“OMG your Channel is AMAZING! I subscribed by the way. 🙂 Here’s mine if you want to take a look.” – I don’t have one you filthy liar.

“Please subscribe to our YouTube Channel here. And follow us on Facebook here. And also add us on Snapchat. Then retweet our Pinned Tweet and send us a screenshot of you having done these things as proof–” GTF outta here.

“I know no one likes these Auto-DMs, but I promise you’ll only get this one. Check out my channel?” ……………………..

Let’s not forget the chicks in thongs getting up to get something from the kitchen and “forgetting” they’re still streaming, or the chesty, low-cut-wearing find-some-way-to-show-some-skin-but-not-actually-watch-my-gameplay girls that Twitch had to make rules of appropriate-ness for. Or the ones shouting out “nigger” in a momentary rage.

There’s just too much streamer scheming. Unless you’re wildly humorous, or your skills are pretty fucking exceptional, you’re showing me something I’ve never seen before, or you’re moderately entertaining in some way, I’m not going to watch your stream. I’m not going to be your sub. How about we play together instead of me watching you do it?

To date, I have only subscribed to 2 YouTube Channels. One is Wilson Jimenez’s here (Wilson, the username XD). He’s not so much a “streamer,” as he is a genuinely funny guy who can pop out some very LOL-worthy videos of a length appropriate to one with an average Internet attention span.

Other video uploads that have captured my attention? The Item Abuse Mario vids. They had me legit holding my breath. That dude who beats Super Mario 64 in like 30 minutes exploiting glitches. That Smash clip of two Foxes battling on Final Destination and they NEVER TOUCH THE FLOOR. That Mario Kart troll video of the guy waiting at the finish line holding a shell for someone to run into and then still winning. The dudes who were going around pranking peeps in the Brooklyn hood. Not gaming-related at all, and my boyfriend tells me they’re completely staged but they’re funny AF regardless and I die when I watch them.

You, streaming average game of Overwatch and making a spectacle by gamer “raging so hard” on camera?

Pass. #SorryNotSorry

~Tael (Mistress of the UnImpressed)