My thoughts on Horizon Zero Dawn

When I first saw the announcement gameplay/trailer for Horizon Zero Dawn, I pegged it as one of the greatest games of the current generation. It featured a strong, capable, red-headed warrior with some badass archery skills using a ropecaster to tie down machines and shoot the components off them. When I finally got a copy of my own, I found that the combat was everything I hoped it would be.

For about three hours. After I’d progressed sufficiently in the story to unlock the elemental sling, and then the blast sling (which I accessed easily for reasons I’ll discuss momentarily), I realised that I could defeat even the mightiest foes in a few seconds by freezing them, loading them up with timed bombs, and then watching them explode. I might need to repeat this once, maybe twice at the most, but after that combat lost most of the thrill. There was little pleasure in engaging with a giant foe, defeating them with barely a pause to look in their direction, looting them and then moving on. Even when I imposed a ban on myself from this meta (Most-Efficient-Tactic-Available), I found that I was still only using three or four weapons (and only a handful of the same skills) because everything else just made the fights drag on needlessly long.

One of the main problems with the game was that it gave me access to almost all the resources I needed right from the very beginning. After a few hours, I’d shot enough wildlife to max out most of my resource and ammo pouches. I had hundreds of every component, so I could afford to use a few dozen grenades per fight because it wasn’t an issue to just craft more. By the time I’d got a quarter of the way through the story, I had the highest ranked outfits and weapons available, and spent the rest of the game gambling for slightly better modifications. By the time I was three quarters through, I had hit the level cap and wasn’t able to get any stronger.

Coming right off the back of playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, the juxtaposition was harsh. Where it felt like the developers of RotTR carefully crafted every enemy encounter, precisely how many resources you could access at any one time, and therefore intentionally restricted how many levels you could gain and how powerful you could become, HZD felt sloppy by comparison. The sheer abundance of resources was like the game shooting itself in the foot, because once I had maxed everything out, combat held little joy to me.

I turned my attention to the collectables next, and spent some time trying to get them all. After I found the merchants who would trade for them, I did a quick google and was upsut to learn that if I’d bothered to spend several hours collecting rare and wonderful artifacts, the rewards were a handfur of common resources that I already had dozens of.

So the only remaining attraction for me were the quests, and unfortunately most of those pissed me right off. No one acknowledged Aloy’s incredible feats, and seemed very self-important by talking down to her, giving her orders, and generally bossing her around. Everyone treated her like she was an errand girl rather than giving her the respect and awe she deserved for literally killing a thunderjaw right before their eyes in a matter of seconds. It drove me nuts!

And yet, despite its many flaws, HZD managed to pull itself back from the brink and earn itself a place among the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. How? The story.

As the mysteries of Zero Dawn unfolded, I was chilled by what happened to the Ancient Ones, and the choices they’d had to make to ensure the survival of the planet. I was stunned by the brilliance of their solution, and suddenly every unspoken problem I’d had with the world design suddenly made sense: the designs of the machines, the limited types of wildlife, the corruption mechanic… I could never have imagined that a game with such mediocre gameplay could tell a story so well, and I still can’t believe how much I enjoyed spending hours listening to audio logs as I slowly made my way through ancient buildings.

While Horizon Zero Dawn has a multitude of problems, all of them I can forgive for its incredible plot and masterful storytelling. If you haven’t played it yourself, I recommend skipping most of the exploration and keeping to the main quest lines, because it’s one hell of a story and one I suspect I’ll think about for years to come.

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Work stuff

Having spent two weeks off work, I’ve spent about half my waking hours thinking about work. I can categorise these thoughts into three broad types:

  1. I wonder whether anyone will want me/I’m so broken I’ll fail at anything I try. Maybe I shouldn’t leave my current job and just put up with it – it’s not great, but it’s mostly safe and familiar.
  2. I don’t want to risk rejection and hard work. I’ll just get an easy job in retail or a library.
  3. I’m really fucking good at counselling. Sure wish there was a convenient way for others to see it too, and then hire me in conditions that suit me.

 

These three categories also happen to be listed in order of how frequently I think them. I’d say the ratio is about 75:20:5.

Professionalism

Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes someone a professional.

According to its word origin, it was about a religious calling, and then about skilled tradespeople who held expert knowledge. I think somewhere along the line (or perhaps humans have always been like this) it became a source of division: “you have a problem, I have the knowledge and skill to fix it and you do not, therefore I have power over you”. Not “you need me, I can help you”, but “you need me, what are you going to give me in exchange for my help?”

I’ve seen time and time again how some individuals use this to distance themselves from other human beings. They are informed by the culture around them, or otherwise come to the belief independently that they are superior to others by virtue of what they know or can do. There is a distance, cold and clinical, to reinforce the idea that “I am not like you: I am better.”

On the one hand, I think this can be appropriate. The respect and veneration we show our leaders (say, the Dalai Lama, or Yip Man) is considered culturally acceptable. We treat those higher in the social hierarchy differently than we do our peers. And yet, they’re just people too. They eat and sleep and poop. They watch trash TV and get into misunderstandings with their loved ones. They have sex and get snuffly noses and swear when they stub their toes. They are just as human as the rest of us, and yet they have to wear this mantle of professionalism that makes them seem less human.

Or do they?

One of my favourite employers many years ago would often express her ignorance and uncertainty, even in the face of a crisis. This terrified me at the time, but looking back I have a deep appreciation for her authenticity. Rather than feigning competence, she had the courage to say “I don’t know how we’re going to work through this, but we’ll find a way together.”

I think of my some of the managers I know currently who seem terrified of human connection. They don’t talk about their health, their families, their fears, their hobbies, or passions, because (I think) it would humanise them to their subordinates. I think they hold the subconscious view that if they are seen as relatable, then it undermines the authority they have (and consequently the justifying difference in power, wealth and status).

For a while there, I really did come to believe that if I were to ever become truly “professional” I would have to stop being so human. I would have to learn to put some clinical distance between myself and those I’m supporting, so they could see me as a role, not a person. I figured this was just part of “growing up”, and that if I even wanted to advance my career like all those other “professionals” I’d better learn to be more like them.

Fortunately I have come to realise that this is bullshit. As I move through the world, most of my favourite “professionals” are deeply human. They are open about their lives, their fears, their passions, their knowledge and their ignorance. They Dare Greatly, as Brene Brown might say, and they are not afraid to connect from one human being to another. I strongly believe that we’re all muddling our way through life, just doing our best to be happy, and that we’re all worthy of love and respect.

And yet I have the simultaneous belief that some people have done things that make them worthier of my respect than others. It’s a bit like Orwell’s quote “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” I haven’t quite resolved this cognitive dissonance where I hold the simultaneous beliefs that all people are on the same level, but some people really are more worthy of respect and veneration.

Humility

I spend a few minutes preparing my utensils in a separate room.
I wring and fold the tea cloth and place it in the bowl. I select a whisk and a scoop based on my mood and preferences today. I prepare the waste-water receptacle, laying the other utensils within easy reach.

When I am ready, I gather myself as well as my things and approach the tea room, kneeling at the entrance.
There is no one inside it, and I have a quiet smile. I recognise that I am going to pour my heart into the ceremony regardless of who is there to witness it.

I lay my utensils before me and bow deeply.
To who, or what, I cannot say. All I know is that my deepest wish is to humble myself before something great, and beautiful, and worthy of my respect.

This is tea ceremony.

Simplicity

Time seems to slow down in the tea room.

Every detail seems enhanced, and each experience more vivid.

I have a higher consciousness. Not only do I see and feel more; I am more.

Light seems to look different. Dust motes seem to hang in the air. Clothes feel rougher on my skin, scents are sharper in my nose. I feel like I could spend hours pouring oven the finer details of even the simplest bamboo scoop.

When my sense of appreciation is so highly attuned, you can imagine how much I cherish the smell of fresh matcha, and how deeply I enjoy that first sip.

I am finally beginning to understand the principle of wabi. The simpler life is, the more one appreciates. This is why the tea ceremony exists in a world of it’s own. It is a beautiful gift.

Yogic Remembrances

This morning I went to a yoga class before taiji. I’m a little embarrassed to say that it’s the first one I’ve been to since doing bikram with my friend last August. As I relaxed into the meditations and the gentle flow, I was reminded of how much I love yoga. In that bright, open studio, I reconnected with a deep peace inside of myself. And with that peace came an incredible alertness (which I am surprised to note has been with me all day) and keen insight.

I remembered that all beings truly do deserve happiness and freedom. How could I have forgotten that?

I discovered that so often lately I have seen my body as an enemy to overcome through a steely willpower. I have punished it for weakness and treated it like it was a barrier holding me back from achieving my goals.

I was deeply sorry for this, and felt a shiver run through my entire length as I apologised for the violence I have needlessly inflicted. I realised that my body is my friend, whom I have been maltreating, and that we are a team. I promised to nourish it, to give it rest, and to help it grow strong. Not with a whip, but together, in solidarity. Like how Ash treats Pikachu, always willing to endure hardship alongside his friend which leads Pikachu does his best for Ash because he loves him and believes in his own strength.

My body and I are a team, and we’ve promised to look after one another.

Yoga’s amazing guys. Why don’t I do it every day?

Seasons Reflections

For the first time in my life, this year I felt a longing to be with family at Christmas. It was hard to describe – and perhaps it’s ubiquitous so I don’t need to – but I wanted to be around my cousins, aunts and uncles because of their differences rather than in spite of them. I liked the idea of all the members of my family putting aside their vast differences and being together just for a few hours once a year. I guess that’s the universal Spirit of Christmas, right? Overall I found it a little more trying than I expected.

I’ve heard a few people talk about “the racist uncle” as a kind of stereotype at family gatherings. I wasn’t too worried about racism this year (though it has come up in the past), and instead I discovered that there are many things to discriminate about. This year, I noticed judgemental language (often directed at me) that targeted vegetarians, vegans, Pokémon enthusiasts, people who enjoyed alcohol, people who didn’t give to charity, people who are sensitive, people who don’t have the latest model of smart phone, and religion and the people that practice them.

Furthermore I have discovered that I don’t really like the idea of Christmas presents. From my experience today, they are often generic and not usually liked by the people who receive them. Beth and I have worked so hard to declutter our home lately, throwing out, giving away and selling hundreds of books, games, consoles, clothes, furniture, figurines and other accoutrements. The last thing I want is to take home a bunch of new stuff that I am not in love with and want in my life, because then I have the task of rehoming the item and I risk the gift-giver being hurt if they find out.

It’s taken me a few hours to process everything that has gone on today. It was affirming to discover that I have a dislike for the materialistic side of Christmas, and that perhaps next year I will make donations to charity on people’s behalf, or provide other options that sit better with me. (I know gifts aren’t about my feelings, but I don’t think I could bring myself to give something to someone that I myself was repulsed by.) I’ve also learned that it’s hard for me to be around people who’s value systems are quite opposite to my own. Today I met people who valued eating animal products, having lots of (expensive) possessions, hobbies over relationships, negative self-talk, making fun of people (ostensibly to “toughen them up”), and being right rather than to letting people be happy. It’s fine that people have different values, though I think the frequency and intensity of those value clashes wore me down foster than I anticipated.

It’s been a busy few days, and I’m glad it’s over for the moment. Merry Christmas everyone <3