Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Optimism: A Weird Heat Companion

Generally speaking, we view optimism as a good thing. Optimism as opposed to pessimism; positive as opposed to negative. When someone claims to be a pessimist, we assume the person is a downer, while an optimist is someone who is fun to be around. In the same breath, however, we could say it is the difference of idealism against realism. An idealist is a person who strives for the absolute best (the ideal) in a situation, a person known otherwise as an optimist. By contrast, therefore, a realist must be someone who expects the worst. Is being realistic such a bad quality? No, we would not say outright: idealism equates to positivity and realism to negativity. To my mind, idealism and optimism may be synonymous, but realism is certainly not pessimism.

Optimism is a difficult state of mind. It takes work. Any opportunity that goes wrong is a proverbial chink in the armor. For pessimists, on the other hand, they can offer a casual accepting shrug to any incoming problem. Even though optimists are, by nature, positive people, their attitudes are often met with annoyance by other people. As if optimistic people are too clueless to realize what is actually going on, their benevolent actions are nearly invalidated. This is not very fair. If we've already established optimism is broadly positive, where is the logic in attacking it? Staying optimistic is worth the effort. It's what makes having a favorite sports team fun. Optimism puts the excitement in anticipation.

Conversely, optimism can lead to heightened disappointment. Perhaps, it is the outward expression of disappointment which gives optimism a bad rap. If we are constantly expecting the best, it is more likely to fall short of expectations than to meet them. In fact, it seems optimistic anticipation is directly related to disappointment. In any case, if we could monitor our levels of anticipation and disappointment, optimism could be a more attainable state of mind. As for the phrase, "cautiously optimistic," could a person reasonably claim instead to be "hopefully pessimistic"? Unfortunately, this is not part of regular vernacular. Simply put, optimism is one complex feeling.

Everyone could attempt to be a little more optimistic. Simply being optimistic is not a choice, to be sure, like any emotion is not a choice. I know that. But attempting to minimize poor expectations while opening a mind to the possibility of a good outcome has got to be an overall good thing. An optimist (probably) goes through life with fewer stresses. A scientific person (so, not myself) could go so far as to argue optimistic people live longer. They might even be more fun to be around, in the long run.

A realist is someone who expects something somewhere in the middle, not the best possible outcome but nowhere near the worst. A realist would be far too neutral to claim one side over the other. Instead, we should call a pessimist--join me, I'm smithing a word--a "despairist," one who expects the absolute worst. This is a far more accurate comparison. Honestly, most people are mostly realists most of the time because we live in a predictable world. I know I am. Sure, it's easy to get excited about one thing or dread another. But isn't it better to be happy along the way? If we could shift our expectations a slight fraction for the better--and allow others to do so as well--we might end up a happier place.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Game Review: What Remains of Edith Finch

The term, "walking simulator," does a disservice to most games. Okay, the majority of such a game is spent walking around, interacting with, and discovering facets about surroundings. It is not a "game" in the traditional sense of challenging puzzle solving or action-based levels. Such games are experiences which tell a story through interactions with the environment. Think of it like a book with more to do than simply turn pages. The term, "walking simulator," is reductive. It may be an accurate description, but it should not be a derisive one. That said, What Remains of Edith Finch is a walking simulator. It is also one of the finest examples of storytelling I have encountered this year--in any art form.

I should be up front: the developer of this game did something very nice for me. They exchanged a digital Steam code on my ancient PC for a shiny new code for the Xbox One version. It does not affect my opinion of the actual game, but it should be mentioned. Regardless, please note: the developers are pretty cool.

The story is told in a dozen or so short vignettes over the span of two hours. The short time frame, however, does not deter from the overall narrative. It is a collection of fascinating stories--some which are better than others--all told in a sitting or two. Each chapter follows events or moments in the lives of individual members of the Finch family. The theme is macabre (I mean, death is constantly encompassing) but not necessarily horrifying. And honestly, to say anymore about the experience would be a detriment.

When I say some of the stories are better than others, each episode takes a different approach. They all follow a different character, take place in another wing of the house, and utilize a new gameplay mechanic. Will all of these variations, some do fall short. Some characters are less interesting than others, or the new mechanic does not feel quite right. The beauty of the game’s format, however, eases from one story to the next so a weaker one does not linger. On the other hand, the stories are diverse and inventive, so they feel fresh. The highlights are very high.

The events spread throughout the brilliant set piece that is the Finch family house. A massive, sprawling structure complete with secret corridors and hideaways, simply exploring the house is a marvelous experience. For the couple hours spent in the house, the player begins to feel like another inhabitant. The house feels handcrafted yet bolted together, like a jigsaw puzzle. In reality, it would be a desirable place to explore.

Suffice to say, What Remains of Edith Finch is well worth the time. It is the type of game anyone could enjoy, from experienced players to those who have never before used the machine. The actual gameplay is never too difficult to bar someone from enjoying it. At two hours long, the game is the length of a tight movie. It tells an impactful story in about a dozen vignettes. After confronting the game’s conclusion, and after a brief chill runs down your spine, you will witness video games as storytelling at its very best.