Almost since the time I first started blogging, I’ve made a habit of kicking off each new year with a post about goals. I would look at how I did in meeting or making progress towards my goals for the previous year, and then I would look ahead and set some goals for the new year.
I’m not doing that this year.
You see, the past year (and the last few months in particular) have given me a lot of time to think about goals. And I think I’ve come to the conclusion that not just setting them, but also sharing them and assessing myself publicly is a recipe for disaster for me.
It’s September 2020. There are a lot of… Things happening in the world, and as a result, school looks different for a lot of students. Some are completing all of their education virtually for the first time, while others are doing a “hybrid” of online and in-person classes. Even for those who are learning face-to-face have to make accommodations for classmates who aren’t able to do the same.
It’s a very different world. Being in school was already stressful enough, and now we’ve got to deal with this too? I don’t blame you if you’re nervous. And for those who had a challenging adjustment from in-person to online classes last spring, you’re probably wondering how on earth you’re going to manage another semester like this.
I have good news though: It is possible to be a successful student in cyberspace. I’m no expert, but I did attend an online school from when I was six years old until I graduated high school at eighteen, and I think I turned out okay (though my parents may beg to differ). I picked up on a few tricks along the way, and in light of this new and very unique school year starting up, I thought I’d share some of them.
Transistor was the first Supergiant Games title that I played, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I fell in love with its art, music, and mechanics that were unlike anything else I had ever played before. It was what opened the door for me to try Bastion and, later on, Hades.
Like Bastion, Transistor is also about decisions. However, it is not about how or why we choose one thing over another, but instead one’s right to make decisions at all.
Video games are driven by decisions. The primary thing that sets video games apart from film or literature is the level of interaction involved, and that interaction comes through making decisions.
These days, there are entire genres of video games dedicated to decision-making, like visual novels. Apart from that, making choices is still a core part of narrative-driven games in other genres.
Bastion, the first game developed by Supergiant Games in 2011, is a typical action RPG on the surface. Beneath that, however, is a well-written story that culminates in two very charged decisions at the end of the game. The final scenes of Bastion have stuck with me since I finished the game a few months ago, and today, I’m going to take a closer look at what makes the game’s conclusion work so well.
Since I’m discussing the end of the game, spoilers for Bastion are below! I highly recommend playing the game for yourself first, but if you already have or just aren’t really a gamer, click to read on.
My family would probably be the first to tell you that I am a notorious paper-hoarder. Physical objects usually end up in the “donate to Goodwill” pile at some point, but I still have movie ticket stubs from 2012 for some reason. Eight years ago. And I assure you that’s not the oldest paper product in my possession.
At one point, I wanted to cover an entire wall of my bedroom with corkboard, or some equivalent. I insisted that it could be done. My parents told me I needed to calm down and got me to settle for three large bulletin boards, which did just as well.
And then I went to college. Obviously, I could not take all of my ticket stubs and theatre programs and postcards with me. It was a real shame too, because the walls in our dorm rooms came equipped with corkboards.
A year ago, in the midst of final exams and papers, I gave myself a few hours off to watch The Game Awards, the Oscars of the video game world (but with less gowns and more t-shirts). I remember that night, huddled on my bed in my dorm room, seeing Celeste win the Best Independent Game and Games for Impact awards. I was intrigued, because the Games for Impact Award generally goes to games focused on emotional storytelling and/or social issues. Not only that, but the developer, Matt Thorson, spoke about mental illness in his acceptance speech. I kept the game in the back of my mind.
Later that month, I was visiting family in North Carolina, and saw that my cousin was playing Celeste. I learned then that Celeste is a platforming game that relies on quick reflexes and precision to make it from one “room” to the next. I really wanted to give it a try, because the music was catchy and the retro graphics were cute, but I’m horrible at platformers. Even Super Mario games with all of their fail-safes are a challenge for me. I had a feeling that Celeste would be a frustrating waste of money for me, so I shelved the idea of ever playing it.
That is, until the Epic Games Store gave it away for free this year. Knowing it was considered one of the best games of 2018, I “bought” it and decided to give it a whirl when I was itching for a new game to play.
As I suspected, I sucked at it. In the first chapter (or “level”) alone, I died hundreds of times. I would die hundreds more in the chapters to come. But what really drew me in to Celeste was its story and main character, Madeline. I found myself identifying with Madeline a lot, and in a way, her quest to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain became my quest too.
My birthday is in May, conveniently placed around final exams. Because of that, I don’t often get the chance to do many exciting things to celebrate – maybe catch a movie, grab a meal in the dining hall with some friends, but that’s about it. It’s not as bad as it sounds, actually. I enjoy those small moments and the little things that make birthdays special.
My 20th birthday was on a Saturday, and so I met some of my friends for lunch on campus. It was a beautiful day – the sun was out, the weather was warmer, everything I could’ve asked for. As we were leaving the dining hall to go back to our dorms, we went down a sidewalk that was lined with blossoming trees. One of my friends stopped and asked, “Maggie, can I take your picture in front of these?”
I take my photo once in a blue moon. I’m not really camera shy, I just prefer to be the one behind the lens rather than in front of it. But it was my birthday after all, and the trees really did look fantastic, so I walked over to them and smiled.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I look back at this photo and the good memories it holds for me, I realized that if I took a photo like this five years earlier, I would’ve hated it.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I, like nearly every other teenage girl at some point in her life, felt insecure about my appearance. A lot of us go through that in our middle school and high school years, and despite the fact that I was cyberschooled, I didn’t get a pass.
I’m going to be blunt in this post. Please don’t take that as self-deprecation or looking for pity. I just find it easiest to write this if I’m being completely honest.
I enjoy an academic challenge. If I hate an assignment, it’s usually not because it’s too hard, but because it’s boring or feels meaningless.
The one type of assignment I just can’t bring myself to like, however, are group projects.
If you’ve never had to survive a group project, I envy you. The name is pretty self-explanatory: it’s an assignment that involves collaborating with other students in order to achieve a (usually shared) grade.
On paper, it’s a great idea. After all, knowing how to collaborate with others is a good skill to have – whether or not it’s as important as people say is something I still debate, but that’s besides the point. Knowing how to work with others and bring people with different skill sets together can allow for more productivity in a project. At least, that’s how it should be.
The problem that I’ve encountered is that in my experience, group projects have been more frustrating than educational. I always come away from a group assignment feeling like the final result would have been better if I had done it myself. Part of this is certainly a character flaw of mine, but I think it goes beyond that.
On the other hand, I’ve had many experiences with collaborative projects that have gone very well. I can think back to some group assignments in college that I enjoyed and learned from, as well as from activities outside of an academic setting, like video games and writing. Based on that, I don’t think the problem is so much with group assignments themselves – as I said, they do have their benefits – but rather with how they’re presented.
So, what makes a group project enjoyable and beneficial? (Or, if not enjoyable, at least not terribly frustrating.)
And we’re back! Thanks for sticking with me the last few weeks everyone – I promise this will be worth the wait!
In case you missed it, I spent the last three weeks on a “cross-cultural” trip with my school – basically, a three-week term in another country with the goal of providing a more hands-on learning experience. Our trip took us to Strasbourg, France, located in the eastern region of Alsace (practically sitting on the German border). Most of our trip was spent in Strasbourg and the surrounding area, with a final three days in Paris.
I was home visiting my family this past weekend for the Easter holiday. My school is gracious enough to give its students a few extra days off, so I got to have a long weekend back home.
I didn’t do much during that time. Well, if “doing things” means being productive. I worked on my Camp NaNoWriMo project, did some homework here and there, but I mostly did things that I enjoyed, like reading and gaming and spending time with my family.
It was a quiet, relaxing weekend. I didn’t pressure myself to do much.
Sometimes, it seems like a lot of people make a big deal about their “social media fast” or taking a “Sabbath” or what have you, and I, being cynical by nature, see those sorts of mentions as attention grabbing. But in hindsight, after a weekend where I didn’t do much and didn’t talk to many people, I gotta say that there’s some truth to it. Sometimes it’s nice to spend a morning just reading a book instead of texting people or scrolling through feeds.
It’s not something for everyone, but maybe it’s worth a try. Enjoy quiet moments and quiet days. You often don’t realize how much you need them until they’re passed.
How do you like to spend quiet moments? What do you do to rest your mind and body? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!