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Prozac – A Love Story

I realise this post is pretty self indulgent, but there are some things I just need to get out.
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The first thing I remember about being on prozac was being able to dream again.

I don’t mean having dreams or being optimistic about the future, but closing my eyes at night, falling away and having refreshing REM sleep and waking up with half-baked memories of the messed up stuff in my head. To someone who thinks of himself as creative, this was a dream come true.

That my atrophied brain (great name for a band) was thinking, sparking off and coming up with interesting ideas was a great milestone. As a person who spent most of his waking hours writing or thinking of cool ideas for doodles, this was a dream come true.

After years of going to sleep and waking up a total zombie, it was refreshing to… be refreshed in the morning.

It made the headaches, the random aches and pain, the appetite loss and weight gain, and my uneven moods almost seem worth it. Despite all of those horrible side effects, I was in some small way becoming a better, more healthy person.

And people noticed that I was chipper. The counsellor I was seeing could see a marked improvement in me.

Then one day I sat down to write. This would have been about a month into my course of medication. At the time, I was studying English Lit and took several creative writing modules. While I was never the best writer in the world, it was something that came easily to me, and I was learning to edit my work to make the splurges of text as good as possible. I could come up with interesting scenes, create characters that were believable. Was it mostly pretentious as hell? Sure, but it was something I enjoyed – and it was something I was good at, and only getting better.

I remember staring at the page, pen in hand, but nothing came. The mind fog that had hindered me in the past was back with a vengeance. I could not focus, or make clear decisions. I could not decide the first word on the page, what the scene was to be able, who the characters were or what their motivations were. I figured I was having a bad day, so left it and decided to come back to the piece the next day.

The following day; the same problem.

And the day after.

Before long, it was time to hand in the piece. I edited and handed in some of my work from the year before in place of some original work.

It was a moment of true panic – that what had been my sole outlet for how I felt was being taken away from me.

But then the side effects became worse. The aches and pains that before were barely noticeable became unbearable, the gains in weight unhelpful to my self esteem, and the crippling mood swings unmanageable. And when you are ultimately taking a drug to give your mind some relief, so that you can get your shit together, being unable to concentrate or focus is something of a hinderance.

So, six months into my course, I stopped taking the drug. Overnight. Rip off the plaster. One fell swoop.

And I felt better. My moods were more level – a pretty consistent and even low – and the aches stopped. I even began to lose some of the weight I had gained.

But the writing never came back. This is a problem that has continued on to today – eighteen months since I stopped taking the drug. 

In her book Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel – after much internal torment and suffering – finds relief in prozac. Sadly for me, I found no salvation in a pill. I’m sure for the millions of people out there – the members of the prozac nation – it brings them some kind of relief, and I’m happy for them.

Maybe my ability to write came from my deep-seated unhappiness with life. It’s well documented that mental health and artistic ability go hand in hand. Or perhaps prozac is a chemical lobotomy. If anyone knows, get in touch. Would I give it another shot? If it was going to help me, definitely.

These days I write for a living, and about something I have a genuine passion in. It’s a struggle, true. Whether I will one day find it as effortless as it was before will be something time will tell. 

This chemical relationship lasted but six months, and there was some good to be seen – some moments of happiness. But like all failed relationships, over time you just remember the negatives.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Personal

 

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Why Nintendo should remain a format holder.

wii u

It’s been said recently that Nintendo should leave the hardware market altogether after the poor sales of the Wii U – something that spurred the company to reduce its expectations of the console for the 2013 fiscal year from 9m to 2.8m units.

The most common example cited in this argument is Sega, who folded from the hardware game following poor sales to its Dreamcast console (one of the bigger tragedies in recent gaming history) in 2001, and hoped to become a third party publisher to rival EA, Activision and the other big dogs.

Of course, history shows that Sega didn’t do that well in this regard. In my opinion, the biggest reason for this was the lack of quality titles that Sega held. Of course, it has Sonic, whose series has been somewhat troubled since we entered the age of 3D gaming, but other than that, can you actually name any big properties owned by Sega? Jet Set Radio and Total War are the only two I can name off the top of my head.

If Nintendo has anything going for it, it is the properties it owns. Mario and Zelda are among the biggest and best loved video game properties in the medium’s history, so were Nintendo to go down the third party route, there is no doubt that it would do well in the short run – and certainly better than Sega managed. Of course, there is the fact that turning these beloved properties into annual releases (as would happen) might kill some of the magic.

But Iwata insists the company isn’t leaving the hardware game, and despite all the reasons I gave above for the Big N succeeding as a third-party publisher, I really hope it does not, least until it has another go with consoles.

Last year Nintendo merged its Wii U and 3DS teams so there is no doubt that it is working on something – and given the 3DS’ big success in 2013, we can only hope that the luck it has had with its portable games rubs off onto the next big Nintendo thing.

Plus the problem isn’t actually the hardware itself. This isn’t like with the Dreamcast where the infrastructure simply did not exist for the interesting features it had, i.e. fast internet. No, Nintendo’s problems are threefold.

Firstly, they do not have the support of third party publishers. Sure, Nintendo consoles are normally supported primarily by first party titles, but in the past it has had massive amounts of third party support. But now, the likes of EA are no longer supporting the console.

Secondly, even Nintendo aren’t supporting the console enough. There are three or four really great Nintendo properties on the console and they did not come out early enough or often enough. Part of the 3DS’ success last year was the constant release of high-calibre first party titles. There is nothing to say that Nintendo could not replicate this success. Though looking at this years lineup, it looks rather bare for the Wii U…

And thirdly it did not market the thing correctly. It was infuriating and depressing to see how poorly the console was marketed. With the focus on the GamePad, everyone thought that the Wii U was JUST a new controller. This is something it has admitted, but still, not enough people know that thing is.

The biggest reason I don’t want Nintendo to leave the console game is that it is highly under rated as an innovator. Where with Sony and Microsoft we know what to expect from their new hardware, with Nintendo anything is possible. Who could have predicted during the GameCube era that it’s next console would be based almost entirely around motion controls? Or During the Wii era that it would release a console built around the second screen model?

Believe it or not, the industry needs Nintendo. It is the unpredictable company who are not afraid to do something entirely different. Of course, this does not always work – the Wii U being a prime example – but it keeps the industry fresh to some degree. And with the heritage the firm has, I hope it continues to make fantastic hardware and games into the future.

Given the merging of the portable and home console divisions, Nintendo are working on something. Hopefully something that it will unveil this E3 and something that will be in stores this Christmas.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Video Games

 

Sex

Let’s talk about sex. The birds and the bees. The beast with two backs. Something that games really are struggling to get right.

A lot of developers seem to think that sex needs to be included in games for them to be considered a mature medium – a suggestion that seems comparable to teenagers thinking that swearing makes them grown up.

Often sex is just a reward for meeting a set of requirements within the game which scarily enough is the view of many people in the world anyways. Probably the most damning example of this in recent memory was Suda 51’s latest work, Killer is Dead.

Within this mess of a hack and slash were Gigilo levels which would see hero Mondo Zappa in various locales with women ranging from regular girls to geishas. The object of the level was to seduce said women – something that is done by ogeling at their….’assets’ while they are not looking (in order to build up the courage to ask them out) and when you have enough heart you present them with a present.

The women then falls madly in love with Mondo and the two end up rutting like animals. Your pay off from this entirely optional encounter is a new weapon. Sex here is a reward for good behaviour and honestly I felt creepy playing these sections. This is something that Bioware is guilty of too both in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series.

Producer Suda 51 says that these encounters were meant to be reminiscent of James Bond’s many romances. But where sex in film can be exploitative, often shoehorned in for the sake of it, in games it is downright creepy.

For one thing, I am pretty sure I could have a more realistic encounter by mashing two marionettes together – current gen hardware is not kind when it comes to these precise scenarios. Case in point is Heavy Rain’s love scene between Madison and Ethan which looks flat out awkward.

Heavy Rain is guilty of another sin too – random bits of nudity. This is becoming David Cage’s trademark – unneccesary shower scenes. Heavy Rain. Fahrenheit and Beyond all feature these for no good reason other than to have nudity. Hell, the one in Heavy Rain was a dream sequence if memory serves.

If game developers want to be taken seriously then treat the subject matter with some degree of seriousness. Stop with this exploitative and cheap shit. For one thing, women in games need to stop being sexual objects for the player to drool over – one reason it was refreshing to play The Last of Us was that not one female character was sexualised. Do you know how refreshing that is, developers? And you need to stop shoehorning sex into games just for its own sake otherwise games will live in the same realm as pornography – and they have the potential to be so much more.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Opinion, Video Games

 

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Torture and making gamers uncomfortable.

There isn’t much I can say that someone in some other part of the internet hasn’t already said about Rockstar’s choice to put a full blown torture scene into their latest Grand Theft Auto title.

Some said it was tasteless, others that it would encourage copy cat acts.

But I would argue that it is a valuable scene in gaming history, and one whose mechanics other games should toy with more.

Let’s start with the protagonist – Trevor – for whom torture is not that out of the ordinary. He’s a loose cannon with a strange moral compass (going as far as to help his victim escape after) but never once do you question why he is torturing someone – a reaction that probably would have happened were it Michael or Franklin doing the (horrendous) deed.

Trevor as a character would not hesitate to torture someone, but you as the player do. Rockstar nails the feeling of uncomfortableness here, dragging the scene out.

I wanted that scene to be over so badly when I played through, hoping that it would finish after I pulled the guy’s teeth out, or after I had electrocuted the poor bastard.

But no. You as a player hesitate, something that Trevor would never do. It’s that hesitation that says it all – that is the message of the scene. It makes you think about what is happening in a very active way.

I have seen torture happen on screen so many times that I would say I am numb to it. In 24, Jack Bauer repeatedly tortures people, but it’s always for the good of the mission.

We passively accept the actions happening before us – uneasy as they may make us – and move on. In Grand Theft Auto V, you cannot ignore what is happening. You are complicit in Trevor’s actions and it is utterly effective.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Opinion, Video Games

 

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Heavy Rain – Getting You to Care

There were a lot of things wrong with Quantic Dream’s 2010 title, Heavy Rain. The story made little sense when you really get down to it, the quick time events and button prompts were often annoying and awkward, but the game managed to get to you care about these characters in a really deep way.

In my first play through, two of the characters died – Madison and Norman – and while I resent the way Madison died (fell to her death when I thought it was an easily jumpable distance) I was really cut up when they died. Knowing that those characters could never come back made me regret my decisions even more – something that would not have happened were the game to readily allow you to go back to an older save file.

But the most effective moment out of the entire game was the first chapter. Sure, it’s boring. As Ethan, you spend an awful lot of time just sat about, exploring your house. It feels like something is missing, and then his two boys come home.

Suddenly Ethan is happy, he is playing with his kids and you can see that these children are his world. You even start to care for them a little bit. And then you go to the mall.

It’s a combination of the music, Ethan’s frantic calling as you mash the controller, your heart pounding as you fight your way through the crowd towards that red balloon – only to find that Jason is long gone.

Only through spending that time in Ethan’s house and with his children do you realise his loss.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Design, Video Games

 

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Why GTA Is a Big Deal

The other night I saw sat down in front of the television with my girlfriend and our house mate – it was 16 September, the night before Grand Theft Auto V hit stores – a rainy evening which did not deter thousands, if not millions of people, from queuing up for a midnight release.

This largely informed the discussion we were having – they did not understand why anyone would wait in the pouring rain for a video game (I agree with this point), and were curious why so many people wanted to play a game in which you murder people and have sex with imaginary prostitutes – so it got me thinking – why does Grand Theft Auto sell so well each and every time?

Probably the core reason is its open world game play – GTA may not have invented the sandbox game, but it perfected it. This gives them unlimited freedom to do what they want, and get you to play how you feel. It’s a game you can just turn on and play. Sure, there’s a story and there are missions you need to complete in order to finish the game and progress, but ultimately, if you want to do something, odds are you will be able to.

Much like South Park and Borat, a lot of the intelligence of the GTA series goes over the head of a lot of people because of the slightly lower aspects of its humour. Much like people fail to take those series eriously because of its scatological humour, people fail to take GTA seriously because of the base humour, and the violent and sociopathic elements of the game.

Each GTA features an exaggerated version of the USA at a particular time in order to illustrate what is wrong with America and it does it more readily than many other art forms – where the novel or the film allows only a slice of a world to be revealed, a video game creates an entire world. This allows Rockstar to poke fun at pretty much every facet of American life – both the left and right politicians, the young and the old. This is something that has carried over nicely into GTA V.

The series also gives an idea of where video games are as a medium at the time. GTA III was the first in the series to be rendered entirely in 3D – itself an innovation at the time. Vice City and San Andreas expanded upon this, allowing for bigger worlds, with a faster and more optimised engine. The latter games both heavily featured planes, meaning the engine had to allow for a further draw distance, something that GTA3 utterly failed at, and knew it, only allowing you one plane, the Dodo, which was just awful.

By the time you get to GTAIV, the series had grown up and recreated New York in alarming detail. A lot of time was also spent on the story – a foreigner’s attempt to discover the American Dream. The social commentary was more refined to the point where it actively got in the way of the game play a lot of the time – though I can’t be sure if that was Rockstar’s goal or not –but ultimately, the characters more fleshed out.

So going into GTA V’s release, there will be two kinds of fans – the first will be waiting to play the best game at that moment in time. The other will be there for the humour and the commentary. Combine those and you have a winning formula.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Opinion, Video Games

 

Resident Evil 4 – Hold Your Ground

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I’ve posted before about the bad  that Resident Evil 4 have done to the series – namely a higher focus on action rather than horror. 

Even with the increased focus on action, RE4 did create some fantastic tension – where the more recent series allow you to run and gun, creating the possibility to just circle strafe a group of enemies, in RE4 and 5, you had to pick a spot and hold it. You could not move – you just had to plant your feet to the ground and unleash hell on the enemies in front of you. 

It was tactical – you had to have enough ammo to hold off the hoard, or at the very least, have a good escape plan. Every gunfight felt like a last stand – they felt like it was all finally over. You felt vulnerable where now you feel too empowered. 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2013 in Design, Video Games

 

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