I have written about achievements before, specifically in regard to the Xbox achievement system and how that impacted gaming culture. In summary, after Microsoft introduced the concept as a universal part of their platform beginning with the Xbox 360 launch, most of the industry latched onto the concept and came up with their own equivalents. I don’t think Nintendo has ever quite embraced it fully from my current understanding, but certainly Steam and Sony’s PlayStation platform took the idea and ran with it.

From the time I started playing Xbox 360 games in 2006, I became enamored with the idea of the achievement system. Now, accomplishing milestones in games was something attached to your profile, like your own personal digital trophy room. Other players could see that I completed Gears of War on Insane or that I indeed saved all of the sensor relays in a particularly daunting mission in Star Trek: Legacy. It quickly became a point of pride, as well as adding incentive to try games on harder difficulties and perhaps sample different modes or playstyles that otherwise I might not have considered. That was the ideal goal of the system, I believe, and I recall reading some press from Microsoft or perhaps a developer at the time that reinforced this perspective. There were problems to be sure, and there were a number of games, especially the early sports titles on 360, that were easy to cheese out of their maximum (at the time) value of one thousand gamerscore. Gamers with high scores tended to be respected by default, unless it turned out that their gamercard was padded with silly, easy completions. Still, cheesy or not, a legitimate itch was being scratched, and Microsoft had tapped into a new kind of metagame, or games within a larger game, if you prefer.

Fast forward to 2022. Two console generations later, and achievements are here to stay. I definitely appreciate that the gamercard I created back in 2006 has endured until now, albeit with a name change or two on the way. I like that what I accomplished on the digital frontier over a decade ago is still on display for others, and hasn’t been completely lost to time like many of the feats I accomplished in the 1990s. In the last few years especially, I’ve gone through phases of increased isolation. Obviously in 2020 most of us had such a thing forced on us, but occasionally it is something I’ve done voluntarily, as an introverted need to recuperate and recharge from dealing with the insane world of commercial, extraverted overload that is modern America. Like a good book, an immersive song, or a compelling movie, video games are an art form, a form of storytelling, and a powerful source of escapism. Of course, as is the case with anything in life, too much of something is never for your best interest.

Even without taking into account how the Xbox achievement system has gone a bit off the rails—the rules limiting how much gamerscore a title can be worth are gone, indie shovelware games that used to be worth 0 or at most 200 gamerscore now can get you 1000 or more with no effort, and emphasis has shifted away from rewarding skill and thoroughness to instead becoming a testament to how much money and time you can dedicate to the platform—there is an inherent danger in becoming wrapped up in the metagame. Especially if you’re a stats nerd, it can be easy to be enraptured by numbers of completions, how many tough and rare achievements you can attain, your completion percentage, and even avoiding games altogether that have unobtainable or glitched achievements, even if that game might be quite good regardless. It might be akin to, let’s say in sportsball, you becoming so obsessed with the minutiae of stats and trying to min/max everything like a Dungeons & Dragons munchkin, that you lose sight of why you enjoy the game itself in the first place, or its purpose in your life and our culture. Imagine achieving the ostensibly highest honors in American sportsball, say, winning the Stupor Bowl, I mean, er, Super Bowl, and being honored as league MVP that year, yet being unable to enjoy the accomplishment because the metagame tells you that you already need to prepare for next season and that what you already did will never be good enough.

Now, I’m not going to say that we should ever completely rest on any given laurels. As flawed and limited creatures, we should generally always be trying to improve ourselves and our world, and having dreams and big goals is laudable. It’s how we can flip things from impossible to possible. However we are easily distracted from the journey by becoming fixated on the destination. At least in America, I think this is an extension of heavy judeo-christian influence on Western life, the obsession with the reward of an afterlife that blinds us to the immediate world. It’s not merely religious either, I believe it’s also a capitalist influence, a fixation on a nebulous marker of “success,” that everything hinges upon becoming rich, famous, popular, or somehow noteworthy enough to mention in a history book. We forget how important the journey is, especially when you stop and realize that there never really is a destination at all. Perhaps you can argue that death is a destination, however no one can agree on whether death is final and there is yet to be any tangible proof of anything that may lay beyond it, so that is all conjecture. Regardless, do we ever really reach a true destination? If you get rich, then what? You still have a life to live after that. Say you get famous at age thirty. Well, your life is likely not even half lived by then.

What does that digression have to do with silly Xbox achievements? Simple, really. In my latest big push to complete a bunch of games, some of which I plan to sell because I only see myself completing them once, I had to stop and realize that I’d lost sight of what I really enjoy about gaming. The obsession, indeed, even the potentially addictive allure of buffing my stats blinded me from realizing that it is not possible to achieve the arbitrary and literally impossible goal of one hundred percent completion and best possible ratio of rare to common achievements. I could start a new profile and purposely try to keep things as clean and statistically perfect as possible, but I know I’d feel sick from that and be cheapening my own experience. What would that actually accomplish and for whom? I’d be competing against people far deeper into addiction, who have plenty of cash and time to burn and will buy their ways to the tops of any leaderboards I could aspire to. So no, I forced myself to take a step back and appreciate my journey more than some arbitrary destination. My completion percentage may only be hovering near seventy-two percent as of this writing, but I look back on my list of games with fond memories, and appreciate that at least in some small way, the times I shared with friends and the things I discovered about myself through the stories and characters I experienced in these games, is reflected on my gamercard. I wouldn’t trade that for a “perfect” gamercard. There may sadly come a day where that digital time capsule is no longer there to see, but I will appreciate it while it exists and be grateful it has endured as long as it has.

I have friends, two good ones in particular, who I met through achievement hunting, which is definitely something I feel worth adding to the pro column. Even though we all live geographically distant from one another, there is definitely a certain camaraderie that has developed between us all, especially as we reminisce about our gaming journeys over a nice Halo 3 match or while going for some obscure accolade in a largely dead and forgotten 360 game. There is, turns out, sometimes as much satisfaction in helping someone else achieve their own personal goal as it is to hit your own, and if that isn’t a nice lesson to take and apply to “real” life, I don’t know what is.

FIN

This article’s title is a bit flippant, I think, in that it is a gross simplification of life’s current state. However, I felt that I needed to say such a thing because, well, unintentionally, I realized I had strung together a consecutive run of posts that made my life and condition out to be depressing, somewhat nihilistic, and bleak. True, there have been days where I have felt dismal, and there was a spot where I hit as far down to rock bottom as ever with regard to morale. Yet, the truth is that on any given day in between the posts I’ve made this year (which I admit have been too few), life has been at least okay. That’s really the prevailing theme, things have been rather mediocre, with enormous amounts of room to improve yet with a staggering depth to which they have not fallen. It’s hard to feel thankful when stuck somewhere in the shallow pool of “average,” “okay,” or “mediocre,” but to paraphrase Jayne Cobb, it’s not nothing, and that’s something.

I have also been more critical than praising in the few media reviews I’ve done, I realize, as well as anything that counts as social commentary. It’s not with the intention of being a negative bitch, as when I criticize it’s with the intention of protecting something from moving to a dangerous extreme (as with my writings pertaining to the LGBT community), or to challenge a particular piece of art or culture to do better (as in the case of Star Trek as helmed by CBS failing to meet the quality standards of what came before it). However, as with what I mentioned in the first paragraph, I noticed that my trend in commentary has leaned negative (or at least favored the harsher side of constructive criticism). Such things are necessary and have their place but I don’t want that to be the prevailing theme here.

That brings me to what After Terra itself is even about, which is first and foremost my love of science fiction. I wanted to distill everything I loved and thought was critically effective about works such as Star Trek, Firefly, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, Cowboy Bebop, and Mass Effect, alongside a certain in-universe awareness about the curious human relationship with storytelling. As well, in the original edition of Year 200, it was intended to be an almost silly at times love letter to all things science fiction, while introducing a cast of characters that was largely immature, that was forced to confront something far more refined and aged than they could even comprehend. Among other things, I failed to properly sell that notion, which is one of the many things I set about correcting in the novel’s Illuminated Edition. I wanted to convey an idea along the lines of, “well, okay, what if a ragtag bunch of people who were living in a time capsule of 21st century culture but in space, essentially immature social media Gen Xers in spaceships and stations, were thrown into a space opera adventure?” It’s a way of asking, how would a sampling of the current/up and coming generation handle an epic quest? Do they wilt under the pressure or do they mature and evolve in the face of something far bigger than the lives they thought were important?

That’s a question I find worth asking of myself as my life sits at a weird crossroad.

In the spirit of the aforementioned, I will be going back soon to reviewing more things I love, as well as endeavoring to make my voice more nuanced in how I utilize it.

Until then.

FIN

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to tell you what scared me to the spine most about coming out as being a transgender individual, and it wasn’t the conservative, right wing of the Western world’s political spectrum.

Oh, to be fair, I certainly had fear in my heart about the Right. But you see, that to me was an obvious, blatant threat, akin to the Stormtroopers in Star Wars. Bear in mind I don’t see all right-wingers in that light, nor do I think of all GOP supporters as fascists like some of my contemporaries, however the simile of my detractors being as blatant and obvious as Imperial Stormtroopers holds true. I can see my conservative and religious opponents coming from a kilometer away, typically, and they are a clear cut obstacle.

But the far political Left, ah, that’s a whole other cookie to crumble, and that is what gave me the greatest pause in coming out, or exploring what I really am at all. Now, let me get one caveat out of the way: I do believe there are legitimate social justice issues in my country and the world at large, and I do believe there are legitimate, passionate crusaders in the world who want to affect positive changes and reforms regarding said issues. I do believe that protests are important and should be allowed. I believe that if someone wants to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance, more power to them. But things quickly get muddy here. Social justice has been hijacked by and infected with radicalism. We have an entire generation now of internet warriors whose sole existence is to scour the ‘net for anything politically incorrect and offensive to their increasingly intolerant and narrow world view. The collective of individuals who are supposed to be the most progressive, tolerant, and open-minded, I have found instead to be the most rigid, destructive, intolerant, and hateful affiliation of people I have ever encountered.

Yes, social justice warriors, yes, cancel culture, I’m calling you out, and I call bullshit on you. Yes, I’m talking to the most extreme trans “activists” out there; you don’t speak for me, and both the LGBT community and civilization as a whole could do without your aggressive policing of thought and speech. In plainer language: you make us all look bad. The phobic and close-minded elements of the Right don’t even need to put any effort into finding ammo against gay, bi, queer, and trans folk, considering what the far Left hands them on a silver, polished platter.

To go back to the title of this post, and to make my point even simpler: I was terrified of being lumped in with you, SJWs, when coming out. I didn’t, and still don’t, want any part in the postmodern, deconstructionist agenda. At one time, when I was an angry person eager to rebel against any and everything (because I didn’t understand that the real war was inside me all along), I almost got lost in that movement of thought. I am glad I found a way to keep from falling all the way down that pit. There aren’t 69 or more genders, and the straight white man is not to blame for every problem you have. Sexism, racism, and homo/transphobia are real problems in the world, but you can’t blame every problem in our civilization on the obtuse patriarchy. The overwhelming majority of humanity is not obliged to bend over backwards for a tiny minority such as what I now belong to, and to expect culture, language, law, and economics to cater to your sensitivities is the pipe dream of someone living in a digital bubble, into which no disagreement or other way of thinking is allowed.

Gay people matter. Bisexual people matter. Trans lives matter. Black lives do matter, as point of fact. But radical, extreme activism and trying to tear down every pillar of human civilization is not going to accomplish any measure of social justice. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The last four years of the Twilight Zone that the United States just went through under the direction of a reality TV star is as much the fault of the Left as it is the Right. When you push the pendulum to an extreme in one direction, by nature it will swing to every bit the same extreme in the other. Those of us in the middle or out in the bleachers get run over in the process. If we don’t hold the current Left political swing in check, things will get worse.

Some of you will not want to hear any of this. Some of you won’t give my words any merit. Some of you who have been following me on various social media for whatever reason may hate me for saying all of this. My objective is not explicitly to anger or bring negativity into your life, but if you do respond with hostility, perhaps stop and think about why that is. And if I can prevent even one other person who is in the closet for whatever reason from experiencing the same fear and trepidation as me, then whatever scorn I just invited is worth it. Until next time.

FIN

I realize that this is a heck of a topic to jump into when I haven’t blogged in quite a while.

Part of what I’m about to say has been percolating for a while, I just hadn’t figured out the correct way to pull it from my brain and plaster it onto the page.

I think the 2020 United States Presidential Election has certainly cast a spotlight on the worst, most extreme elements on both sides of primary political division, and given my post’s title plenty of context. The far right in the U.S. makes us all look like heartless bastards who value money more than human life and decency, and that anyone who is not white, straight, and christian is invalid. While that is going on, the far left paints a picture of a world so enraptured with political correctness that no one dare breathe lest they offend someone.

Look. I came out this year as transgender. The left is clearly, generally speaking, more accommodating to me and others like me. Regardless of that, I recognize that the Dump/Sense administration is the most dangerous one that has ever been installed in the U.S., and if you can’t see jackboot authoritarianism for the threat to democracy that it is, I insist that you step outside your theocratic, nationalist, whitewashed bubble for a second and examine recent history from a more objective viewpoint.

But! Hold on second. I’m not gonna forget the far left. I was afraid to come out because of the hatred I was and am going to face from friends, family, and pretty much everybody I know who thumps a bible. However, I was just as afraid to come out because of how utterly ridiculous some of the most outspoken and extreme flagwavers of LGBT and minority movements make the rest of us look. We don’t need 69 or more gorram sets of genders or pronouns. If we keep making gender/sexuality flags we’re gonna run out of patterns for new countries to use in the future. Political correctness is bullshit. Respect people, use the name and basic pronouns that help them confirm their identity, treat others with decency, but for flarg’s sake don’t expect the whole world to conform to your safe space whims, and stop throwing a blanket over the mass of cisgendered folk, or as I prefer to say, those whose biological junk more or less matches what’s in their brainpan. The world needs masculine men and feminine women. Those who fall somewhere in between or fluctuate between the two are valid and we need those people too, but demonizing the many is not how to acknowledge and protect the few. Also, if you become as or almost as evil, vile, and destructive as what you oppose (referring to Antifa versus fascism), have you not defeated the purpose of your existence?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us Americans do fall in the middle of the two extremes we see in most media. Mainstream news flocks to whatever gets them the biggest story and the highest metrics. But regardless of if you’re right, left, or in my case, off in the woods, with your politics, I think it is for all of our good if we stop feeding attention and value to the extreme elements on all sides who have done nothing to deserve our time, money, or energy. We need fewer Trumps and fewer politically correct eggshells who think men are automatically evil and being a total snowflake is an actual point of pride and something to emulate.

So to the extremes, I say, shut the fuck up. You don’t speak for all of us.

FIN

It’s not necessarily that I believe I owe anyone here on the internet anything per se. However, those of you who have taken the time and/or money to follow what I do and read my books, I do believe you ought to have my thanks, and more of an incentive to visit this (admittedly still obscure) website of mine.

I have long since given up on trying to keep up with the endless trough that is social media. My life is so much better and richer for having dropped all but the bare minimum presence on Facebook, for example. I have started posting more often on the Instagrams (https://www.instagram.com/neo_ragnarok/) because I like that the presences there are more focused on art and less on politics, blathering, or generally useless and inane opinions on any and everything. Even there, though, I don’t have much time invested. I don’t care about trying to optimize my presence to get more likes and followers. You either like what I do or you don’t. This generation and society in general have become sickeningly addicted to social media, to instant gratification. It seems that so many go batshit crazy if they aren’t being constantly bombarded with information and content. Art gets buried in the feed. Meaningful wisdom is overshadowed. Success is less about quality and more about how much you can spam feeds.

Fuck that.

I stand in a weird place here, as someone whose voice is currently being heard in large part only due to the modern artist’s conveniences of the internet, a website, and the relative ease of self-publishing. Yet I despise the mechanisms that have spawned around and between these things, so here I am using a modern boon to say that I think we lost something crucial by abandoning the days where quality won out over quantity. Would things have been different if we were slower and more responsible in our adopting the internet and the digital age? Certainly, though the same could also be said for most innovations or breakthroughs, such as, say, atomic power…

So, I appreciate all of you who have read my work or taken the time to comment on one of my blogs, or who likes the artwork I’m posting. That’s really cool, and I want to going forward make any investment in me on your part worth your time. But it’s not going to be from quantity. I’m not gonna be blowing up your inboxes or your feeds. Like any treasure, you’re gonna have to do some digging here and meet me halfway. In so doing, you’re going to get something better than the torrent of spam that is flooding most of the internet. If you don’t like that, and want to follow someone who is going to constantly bombard you with updates and content, you might as well exit stage left, because that’s not me, and trying to be that way was detrimental to my existence and happiness.

Here’s to art, to quality, to creating and sharing something meaningful.

FIN