[Poetry] Three Wishes of Strength

Strength through thought

Think before you speak. Think before you act.
Consider all the options, all opinions and facts.
Think because it’s needed, think because it’s fun.
Think to know when to stand and fight and when to turn and run.
But while you’re thinking, remember such:
The one thing as dangerous as thinking too little, is thinking way too much.

Strength through honesty

Honesty, in all things.
Honesty to friends. Honesty to foes.
Honesty to the world, and all the hate and love it holds.
But above all else, honesty to you.
For if you yourself with lies must soothe, what good is gifting others with the truth?

Strength through choice

Choose to live the dreams you dream.
Choose to be the one you are.
Choose your beauty among things you gleam.
Choose to go near or far.
Choose your path, your life, your tastes. Choose them yourself, or leave them to waste.

Stay strong. Always.

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Things I Still Lack Confidence For.

-Tell friends.
-Tell my parents.
-Tell people I don’t know that well but who really should know.
-Wear make-up at home.
-Wear make-up when leaving the house.
-Wear women’s clothes.
-Leave the house in women’s clothes.
-Wear anything that shows my bare legs.
-Stop assuming people don’t like me as a rule. Be less socially paranoid in general.
-Be photographed. Note: if I like the photographer
-Wear swimwear, or go swimming.
-Ask a girl out to her face, if at all.
-Be more open with my opinions. Give compliments or say it if I have an issue with something. Especially vocally.
-Speak more in general. When I do have the word, don’t let myself get cut off when interrupted.
-Dance when others are watching.
-Sing when others are listening.
-To be continued

We’ll get there.

[Poem] Untitled

They say she never laughs, but I can see her eyes smile when her lips would never curl.
Even as she cries, those eyes hold joy. Her sorrow can’t drown the secret she hides from those who do not seek it.
Her gates, which have been barred, imprisoned her emotions, in captivity building up, but never could burst open.
Numb, yet unbroken; rage nor sorrow woken; love, desire never spoken; joy and laughter only token.
Now gates’ key has been discovered, opening wide and free; emotions old and new flooding out and covering her, drowning her with their weight.
Now, she enjoys her hatred and loves her sorrow, feeling bliss when the tears roll down her cheeks, and I never see her lips curl, but her eyes, no lies they speak. 

[Tag pending] Relationships

Disclaimer: The following is one of the most personal pieces I’ve written. I’m not ashamed of anything in there, but at places it can go rather deep. I think. I’ve never been good at judging how other people might react to these kinds of stuff. I also get… descriptive at times, and the whole thing might come off as emo and whiny. If any of those bother you, I suggest skipping this one.
The she and the someone I refer to is not a single real person. She’s partly a composite of memories spread over various past relationships and one-week-stands, with my own fantasies filling in some of the gaps.

I’m weird. No, seriously, I am.  Prime example: I never get anything done when I play songs of which I know the lyrics by heart, yet I can’t resist playing them while trying to get a blog post written.
Another one: In bed, those nights I vainly attempt to catch some sleep, I imagine myself in a conversation-turning-monologue with people I know as way of ordering my thoughts and opinions on a certain subject. Last night, for example, I imagined such a conversation that turned into me ranting about why I miss being in a relationship. I don’t quite remember it verbatim, but I’ll try to reconstruct it in a single, readable text. Anyway, here goes:

I don’t think I miss sex. Maybe because of the fact that I find any form of intimacy involving a penis to be off-putting, I don’t know. But I have always found someone else touching the wretched thing to be uncomfortable more than pleasant. Maybe it’s my own lack of experience, or the fact that I find vanilla sex to be a rather dull concept… Whatever the case, I’m not ashamed to admit that the only thing on the planet that has brought me to orgasm thus far is my left hand. Nor am I ashamed to admit that while I don’t find sex all that appealing, I do enjoy orgasms, although since November, I feel the need for them waning.

 No, what I do miss is intimacy. Sharing my bed, life and plight with someone who cares deeply about me. Having endless text message conversations about absolutely nothing, yet being giddy every time my phone beeps.
I miss foreplay; surrendering to passionate lust where you don’t care if it wrecks the bed or not. I miss the sheer primal joy of having someone nibble my ear, or bite my shoulder, or run her nails along my side. I miss running my hands all over someone’s body: caressing her face, messing up her hair, playing with her breasts, stroking her thighs… I could have an entire night just foreplay, then fall asleep in her arms.
I miss being connected to someone on an almost subconscious level, thinking about them whenever I have room for an idle thought, wondering how they are and if they think of me sometimes as well. You know, if they want to.
I miss the drive a relationship gives. I miss the motivation to, say, get rid of my body hair regularly, rather than just covering everything up. Or another reason to pick up my life and take it to the next phase, rather than lingering in the current one for much longer than I should. Not necessarily things she asks of me, but things I suddenly find more important because my life is suddenly partly hers now.
For more than three years now, all this and more I’ve been missing.

Not that I blame anyone. I’m an unemployed transsexual in the middle of her transition who lives with her mother. I’m also not the most socially skilled of people. While casual conversation comes much easier than a few years ago, expressing my feelings or my interest to someone is still difficult and awkward and hampered by my undying fear of rejection. A fear not at all unfounded, given that I am what I am.
Yet despite all the great and wonderful changes in my life, this still gnaws at me. I can’t seem to get over it, and with my emotions being all over the place, I can’t help but feel the need to vent about it. 

And if anyone says this was too whiny, I think I’ll just blame hormones.

~Hel

[Gender] Indoctrination

This is something I have been thinking about for a long, long time. Something I feel I should’ve put to text a while ago, if only to help me get my thoughts sorted on the subject. I feel that during my childhood I have been indoctrinated.

No, nothing serious. My parents didn’t try to get me part of some evil cult -not true, my father insisted I’d be baptized- or anything of the sort. Nor do I think the indoctrination aspect was intentional. What I mean is, my parents, mainly my father, were grooming me from all sides to become ‘a real man’.

Whatever the fuck that is.

From as far as I can remember, my dad had been ‘masculating’ me (I made that word up. It exists now). In winter, however, he said I had to put off wearing scarves, gloves or winter coats for as long as possible because learning to resist the cold would make me a man. I was told that if I didn’t finish my lunch, I’d never grow up to be a man. I had to exercise more, practice a sport, go outside, all in order to become a strong man.
All of this led me to believe I had to be manly. You see, there was a time, aeons ago, I still looked up to, nay, worshiped my father.  His word was more than law, his word was truth. And he said I was a boy who had to grow up to become a man. So I had to be manly. Not that I had any reason not to believe him. I had a penis, boys have penises, ergo…
I remember during elementary school I sat with my legs crossed, and someone said that I sit like a girl. Since then, for a very long time, whenever I realized I was sitting with my legs crossed, -and I sit with my legs crossed a lot. It’s something I do subconsciously- I immediately uncrossed them again, because it wasn’t manly.
Another example is how I repeatedly applied perceived reality on myself. I willed myself to like football and cycling, because those were the sports my father enjoyed, and therefor those must be the most manly of sports. I never once rode a sport bike in my life, and I was horrible at football. I didn’t even like any of it, nor watching it. Not really. However, dad liked it, so it must be the manly thing to like, so I will bloody like it as well, or else… So I forced myself to like it. Because I felt I must.

And then came puberty, and my body began to change, become more man-like. Surely this must be wondrous, no?
When I realized I didn’t like what was happening to me, I tried to rationalize it. I told myself it was only a temporary phase. It would pass. Soon I’d be able to grow a full beard, and then I’d show the world just how much of a man I was.
But I also began to rebel against these changes, these emotions, these decade-old truths. Mostly subconsciously at first. I think my first true act of defiance was letting my hair grow long. Another, more hidden act was dressing like a woman. I used scarves and such as makeshift skirts and tops. I think at the time it was at least partly sexual fetishism, even though I didn’t masturbate yet back then, though now I look at those nights from a different angle, and see a very different picture. However, even though at the time the idea that I might not, in fact, be a boy, occasionally cropped up, it was immediately banned from my thoughts. I knew of transsexualism, that is, I knew more or less what it entailed, but I’d never dare consider myself one of them.
That is, until I met one.

Maybe ‘met’ is the wrong word. At the time, I had known her for years: she was -is- the progenitor of one of my oldest and best friends. My best friend period, at the time. I also looked up to her something fierce. While my father was my god during the first decade of my life, he more and more became something of an oppressor after that. The rift that is now a gaping abyss wasn’t there yet, however, cracks were appearing in the foundation of our relationship. And this other person, this father-figure of another family, a family I spent many weekends, who was so kind, understanding and wise, I often wished if he couldn’t be my father, my own father be more like him. And now this person told me he was in fact she, and the way I looked at myself and the world shattered. Seas of questions washed over me, questions I needed answers for. Some about her, sure -most of which I never asked, and many simply answered by the passing of time- but so many more about me.
I secretly did it, a thousand times before, but when I did I immediately pushed it away. But now, for the first time in my life, I allowed myself to ask the question ‘what if I’m not, in fact, a boy?’. And ask it I did.
Not to anyone else. At least not at first. To myself. Over and over I let that sentence dance around my head. Brooding, festering. I started researching, looking stuff up. I came across terms like ‘transsexual’ -what my best friend’s father was- transgender, androgynous… That, maybe I was that. That didn’t sound too much trouble. Something nice and in the middle.
But that didn’t seem enough. My subconscious nagged at me more and things like a hatred for erections and a deep-rooted disappointment at forever being unable to get pregnant pushed me to look more towards the other side.

Cue several years of hiding my truth, revealing it sparsely to more and more people, and living more and more as a strong woman -exactly the kind my father didn’t want me to become- and I find myself in the middle of sex reassignment therapy and I must say I truly feel I’m on the right path.
A few days ago, when I woke up I noticed my nipples had at least quadrupled in size compared to the last time I payed any attention to them. And I was happy, truly happy, with how my body was changing. Not because I forced myself to be happy, not because someone else made me feel I was supposed to be happy. Because I this is the path I have chosen for myself. Because this change is a change I decided I want, without input or pressure from anyone else pushing me this way. Despite what I have been made to think for almost half my life, I will never be a man,  and despite what my parents still try to make me think, that’s okay.

~Hel

[Gaming] A look at The Old Republic

This weekend, I (like just about anyone who signed on but wasn’t accepted earlier) got a chance to try out The Old Republic in a stress test. Ever since I heard about this game, I told people I wouldn’t buy it if I didn’t first have a chance to try it out, however, I couldn’t help but secretly be a bit excited about it.  So now that I had this chance at was essentially a free trial, I took it with both hands and gripped it tight until my claws tore into its flesh and blood ran  down my arm into my sleeves.
Once I got past the insane (five minutes! Teh horrorz!) queue times, I did what every sensible person should do in my situation: I made a twi’lek. A smuggler by the name of Lynneiah, because if anything, I’m original as fuck when it comes to naming my RPG characters (guess what my Nord in Skyrim is called). However, I did get to choose the patterns on my brain-tails. Make of that what you will.
My journey took me from level one to level thirteen,  and from a planet whose name I forgot that was facing a separatist rebellion (Star Wars people are about as original with their names for factions as I am with RPG characters) to the planet-wide city (seriously, where DOES all the poop go?) of Coruscant. At that point the quest for my main story-line was too high level to solo, and I couldn’t be bothered with the sidequests, so I went back to Jorrvaskr to get piss-drunk on mead. Or at least my twi’lek’s namesake did.

Anyway, I do believe I have played enough to have a sufficient first-impressions of this game, and I’d like to share some points because I like ranting about video games about as much as I like playing the damn things.

-Dialogue choices? Voice acting? In my MMO?

More likely than you might think. Then again, this IS a BioWare game, and they seem to have grasped one basic truth: Quest texts are fucking boring. In TOR, people talk to you by actually talking to you. And you get to choose how you reply to them from a wheel with usually three options anyone who has played Mass Effect will be familiar with. Every line of dialogue is voice acted. Even better, every line is voice acted really well. And I was able to make some quips that genuinely made me giggle. However, while every line of NPC dialogue was unique, the player character sometimes used the same lines again. For example, if I had a penny for every time my character said ‘make me an offer and I’ll think about it’ in my 13 levels of playing alone I’d have… about seven pennies. I understand that coming up with new ways of saying basically the same thing indefinitely is tricky, though, so I’m not really sure how this can be fixed.

-Black and White morality, the bane of my existence.

I’m not sure if I haven’t said it before on this blog, though I would be surprised if I didn’t, but I believe the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are bullshit. “Every coin has a flipside, and now that you’re focusing on that flipside, don’t forget about the other flipside” is a phrase I’m trying to make more catchy (suggestions?), but basically sums up my life’s philosophy. Nothing is so bad it has no redeemable factors; likewise, nothing is so good it doesn’t have any drawbacks. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re either naive or bullshitting you. This is true in real life, and I’d like the same to be true in fiction.
But this is BioWare, right? The guys who brought us Dragon Age, a setting with so many shades of grey you wonder if there are any other colours at all? Yes, but this is also Star Wars. And Star Wars has a clearly defined Light and Dark Side. And while it’s being presented as morally grey (there’s a lot of shit in the Republic, while some Imperials are actually honest people), and it is possible to play a morally grey character, you get punished for doing so. Why? Morality meters.
I fucking hate morality meters.
At many points in the game, you get to make a moral decision, and based on that decision, you either get Light Side or Dark Side points. These points move you up and down a morality meter showing you how Light or how Dark you are, essentially beating the concept of ‘shades of grey’ by quantifying good and evil, and having opposite-aligned actions cancel each other out like 1/1 and -1/-1 counters, essentially forcing you to pick one side and sticking to it if you want to reap the rewards of being ‘maxed out’ in good or evil. Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen any of these rewards yet, so I have no idea how desirable they are, but my main point is that morality meters stifle roleplay.
Yeah, I roleplay my character, okay? They may all have the same name, but they all have a background, a personality and a set of morals and ideals that doesn’t necessarily fit with what the game decides is ‘good’ or ‘evil’.
Anyway, I lost my train of thought here, but bottom line: morality meters are bad, and BioWare should only ever use Dragon Age’s morality system, because that’s the only one that made any sense.

-Why the fuck is this game an MMO?

What I mean is, why is this game not essentially a single-player game with multiplayer capabilities? You know, optional multiplayer capabilities? I can see myself playing this game with a group of friends, and enjoy my time. However,  I do not see myself enjoying having people steal my kills all the time, or clog up around an NPC I really need to talk to.
Or fucking take off all the clothes of their NPC companions and think they’re hilarious for having them run around naked.
Point is, the internet is filled with morons, and I don’t want to spend more time with morons than I absolutely have to. What I propose is how Guild Wars (the first Guild Wars, that is) did things: have a few public areas, towns and such, lump all players together there, where they can interact with each other through means other than whispers, and group up, and have the rest of the world instanced, so players who want to quest on their own can quest on their own. And I really see no reason why this isn’t the case. None.

-Isn’t shooting people supposed to be fun?

Maybe it’s because I ignored most side-quests and focused almost entirely on the main story-line, and because of that, my level became progressively lower compared to that of my enemies, but my fights became more and more tedious and less enjoyable as time went on. This is a bad thing, by the way.
However, part of the problem, I feel, is also that they copied WoW too much while at the same time being different from WoW. For instance, they took away auto-attacks, but they kept the action-bar-and-cooldown-based combat style. And I’m completely fed up with both. Why not make it, say, a third person shooter? With lightsabers! Or another system that makes the player’s skill just as important as their character’s level compared to that of the enemy they’re fighting. Something that doesn’t make me groan whenever I can’t run around a group of enemies and avoid them altogether.
This action-bar-and-cooldown-based system works in Dragon Age because the game is sufficiently challenging, AND you get to control four characters at once. And even then I’d gladly admit combat was DA’s main weak point.
On a somewhat related note:

-Have enemies level up with you

Here’s an idea (that I completely stole from The Elder Scrolls): have all enemies be exactly the same level as you. You level up? So do they. The game already gives several mobs several types of ‘eliteness’, making them harder than their compatriots of equal level. This is a good mechanic to make certain quests more challenging. You don’t need to lock a certain area, and thus all quests related to that area, to a certain power level, making it inaccessible to lower-level characters, but absurdly easy for higher-level characters. I think that’s an outdated concept, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it join the dodo. Preferably before the panda bear does so, so chop chop.
Of course, part of why I’m complaining about this is because my main quest line (which was the most interesting one by far) was artificially blocked off to me by having the next step require me to be five levels higher, frustrating me enough that I plain didn’t feel like playing the game anymore.
And I have to wonder, why shouldn’t I be allowed to follow just the main quest line? I found its plot almost forcing my character to only focus on it to the point that getting sidetracked by other business would seem illogical.
I will admit this one pretty much requires the previously mentioned ‘make everything instanced’ idea, but I don’t see that as a bad thing.

-While you’re at it, steal Skyrim’s level-up system as well.

Because WoW’s is shit, and stealing that is stupid.
Even Blizzard has (finally) realized their talent tree is an outdated concept where people find what is objectively the best build within days of any major update (and picking anything but that build makes you a poor player), and I don’t see how it would be any different having the (exact) same tree system in TOR.

Anyway, I have to admit I was growing really fond of my Twi’lek smuggler, and I’m still not sure if I want to pay for the final product, plus a monthly subscription fee to continue playing with her (or rather, start over). I enjoyed my time spent with the game, but I honestly don’t see it keeping me entertained for long enough. I also feel that there is too much opportunities to innovate BioWare just passed on and instead copied WoW. The story is, from what I’ve seen of it anyway, excellent, and dialogues are really fun, however it seems that that’s the game’s only selling point. To me, anyway. And I’m not sure whether that’s enough or not to warrant paying a monthly subscription. Mind you, there’s A LOT of story (eight times KotOR’s worth, I’ve been told).
I think I spent, in total, maybe eight or so hours on the game, and then I just turned it off because I wanted to do something else. And now, more than a full day after I stopped playing, I still want to do something else. However, I also want to know what happens next to my smuggler. I could watch a Let’s Play when they come out, but that wouldn’t be *my* smuggler.

Fuck you, BioWare. Fuck you.

[Gaming] Binary upgrades versus non-binary upgrades

Today I want to talk about something video game-related I’ve been wanting to rant about for a while: upgrades.

Upgrades are a system developers put in many games to make them more interesting. It’s also one of the few game mechanics that is easiest to not completely fuck up their goal (make (or rather keep) the game interesting), yet so often does get fucked up. The most basic example would be the following: You start with a gun that does X damage per shot. At one point in the game, you find another gun that does Y damage per shot, where X<Y. The second gun is an upgrade to the first one. This example is simple, easy to understand, and appears in pretty much every game that involves shooting people with guns. It’s also an example of how it fails at keeping the game interesting: it’s a binary upgrade.

What’s that, you ask? A binary upgrade is an upgrade in a game where no real choice is involved. You take the upgrade as soon as it is available. The upgrade is either ‘off’ (0) or ‘on’ (1) with no real alternatives. Reading a tome that increases your strength with +1 is not a choice. Of course, technically you could choose to not read the tome, but why? There’s no real in-game advantage to you not taking that upgrade. In fact, most games will ramp up the difficulty as the game progresses based on you reading those tomes of +1 strength, or picking up those guns that do Y damage per shot. Not doing so makes the game harder. Of course, some people enjoy putting artificial challenges in their game to overcome, like playing Dragon Age: Origins on nightmare without any party members, and without any equipment. But those people are also crazy. The vast majority of gamers do take every advantage given to them.

But there are other, less obvious examples of binary upgrades. Take Dragon Age: Origins, for example: Besides your active talents, which are your combat abilities and spells, you can also choose from a list of more passive skills. You get one point to put in these per three levels (two if you’re a rogue), and there are several options, including coercion, several crafting skills, combat training and tactics. This list is long enough to look like it makes for an interesting choice, but really it isn’t. There are typically two things you really want as a non-mage: coercion (which does what it says on the tin: lets you either persuade or intimidate NPCs in dialogue to do what you want them to do), and combat training (which unlocks the higher levels of combat talents). Mages don’t need combat training per se, as it isn’t required to unlock higher level spells (instead it reduces the chance of spells failing when hit in combat) so their only real priority is Coercion. Given the fact that every skill only has four levels, and thus only needs four points to reach max, there really isn’t that much choice involved. Quite often, you’ll be able to finish a game with all the skills you wanted, and some spare points to put in something that’s vaguely useful like Tracking. Add to that the fact that crafting is, overall, useless in that game, and that you only really need one party member per type of crafting to put skill points in there to reap the benefits (plus the fact that party members don’t even have the coercion skill -why would they?) and you have a very bland, rather binary upgrade system.

Let us next look to another game by the same creators: Mass Effect 2. ME2 sports examples of both binary and non-binary upgrade systems. The skill system is, funnily enough, both. There is no way you’ll get enough skill points by the end of the game to get all the skills to max level, especially since your character’s level caps at 30. Also, upon reaching max level of a skill, you get to choose between one of two possible upgrades: for example, you can choose to make your incendiary attack hit harder, or hit a larger area (and thus more enemies at once). This is choice. This is good. However, if you know what you’re doing, you’ll pick the useful skills out and leave the others be. As such this system can also be pretty binary. The research system in ME2 is also binary to the core: on your missions you find research projects to upgrade your weapons and armour, and back on your ship, you spend resources to make these upgrades. However, the only real limit here is the amount of resources you’ve gathered, and given the fact that there’s way more resources to gather than you can possibly use, it is possible to research every upgrade in the game. And other than arbitrarily limiting yourself to create a challenge (or the fact that you cannot be arsed to do the mining mini-game), there really isn’t a reason not to.
However, the weapons themselves are inherently non-binary. The first pistol you pick up at the start of the game, however, has a large ammo-capacity, and can be fired rapidly, but doesn’t do all that much damage per shot. Not much later in the game, however, you are given another pistol, which is the exact opposite: low ammo capacity, slower shots, more damage per hit. You can only ever carry one pistol at a time, but depending on your play style, you can decide for yourself which pistol suits you best. And if you feel like it, you can swap them around between missions and enjoy the feel of the other. The same is true for every type of gun in the game, and like that, you can costumize your character’s weapon load to suit your preferences. This is interesting, and allows you to vary up your gameplay as you go.
Rise of the Argonauts does something similar, but takes it to the extreme. Every weapon does the same amount of damage as every other weapon of the same type, and handles completely the same. However, apart from your starting weapons, every weapon has a passive ability that is completely unique, and there is no ‘best’ weapon of any time in the game. There’s a sword that can cause enemies to take bleeding damage, there’s a sword that deals more damage when used from behind, there’s a sword that has a chance to slow down enemies, etc. Which one you use is entirely up to you and how you like to play.

Another good example of non-binary upgrades is Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. Blizzard Entertainment, who utterly failed to make WoW’s talent system in any way non-binary (you can’t take everything, but there’s always a ‘best’ choice, and picking anything else is stupid and, in all honesty, makes you a bad player), did a very good job in Starcraft II’s single-player campaign. During most missions, you will gain access to a new unit, and if you do all the missions, you will be able to have all the units, but that’s not what’s interesting. What is interesting is that you also gain cash for completing these missions, cash you can spend on upgrading those units. Every unit has two upgrades available to it, however, it is impossible to gain enough cash throughout the campaign to purchase every upgrade. You must therefor choose which upgrades to purchase, based on which units you like using best, and thus costumize your army to your playstyle.
Also, during the missions, you pick up research data on the other two races, which translates into research points. For every five points of the same race you’ve collected, you’re able to pick a research option that enhances your entire army in a certain way. However, each time you have a choice of one of two options, and choosing one locks out the other permanently. Again, this lets you tailor your army to your own preferences, and allows you to play the campaign a second time, but has it feel somewhat different.

Finally, I’d like to put forward my own idea for non-binary upgrades. The idea would be for a fantasy RPG. Say, you play a mage-type character, and you start out with a basic ‘fiery hands’ spell, which deals fire damage to enemies in front of you. As you level up, you can upgrade this spell into, say, a fireball spell, which can be thrown at an enemy further away, or you can keep it as a short-ranged spell, but widen the arc, and reach, making it engulf more enemies. Later on, you can upgrade the fireball spell to explode on impact, damaging a group of enemies clumped together, or you can upgrade it to launch, say, five fireballs, hitting up to five enemies who can be more spread out. Likewise, if you went the short-range option, you can widen the arc to encompass the full 360 degrees, damaging everyone around you, or focus your fire into a beam that fires out a certain range, and damages the first thing it hits for as long as the spell is maintained; and which can also be rotated to aim (anyone who has played Magicka knows what I mean). At this point you have upgraded your main fire spell twice, and already you have 4 unique options to choose from. And you can only choose one. I would like to see this system, or a system much like it be used in a game at some point. If it’s done properly, I might just play the shit out of that game.