AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We’re so happy to have Phil from the great Later Levels with us, rounding out a duo of posts from this great site! Kim recently shared her piece on Murray, so we know you’re excited to see what the great Phil has to say. We encourage you to check out Phil’s reply to one of our Daily Inklings over on Later Levels.

Phil, thank you for submitting this most excellent piece!


1P START

War. War never changes – and neither does the number of bugs in a Bethesda game, and that number is greater than zero. But, kudos is due for creating the character who defined my love of the Fallout series, and setting my high expectations from thereon. If it wasn’t for James, also known as Dad in Fallout 3, I might have taken the Fallout ’76 critics seriously, missing out on hundreds of hours of enjoyment.

I knew nothing about the Fallout series when Bethesda released their reboot with Fallout 3 back in 2008. Even with a wealth of positive coverage in the press, I didn’t get my hands on the game for quite some time. This was the early days of YouTube becoming popular video games and let’s plays, and one particular video from 4PlayerPodcast caught my attention. The video contained footage of the slow-mo combat in action with commentary that I found hilarious at the time. It was time to get my hands on a copy and try this out myself.

Going from a gory YouTube video to the opening sequences of Fallout 3 was quite a transition. The game begins equally messy with your birth into the clean and pristine life of Vault 101, safe from the post-apocalyptic world outside. Sadly, mother dies during childbirth, and it’s then up to Dad to raise you. This is a fantastic sequence through the early years of life, including one scene where you escape from your playpen and crawl around the room, making goo-goo gaa-gaa noises with the action buttons.

I can’t explain why this intro gripped me so much, but it did. Maybe it was the expectation for a violent post-apocalyptic game being dashed aside by a moment of weakness, having lost your mother and experiencing the vulnerability of the baby years. Similar to Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, you play as a silent protagonist which I feel helps with connecting emotionality to the story. Dad really did feel like a father to my character and the sheltered life of the vault was disarming. Sadly, this doesn’t last, and mother’s favourite Bible passage gives some clues as to why, referring to the waters of life.

Now into the teenage years, you receive your own Pip-Boy 3000 and the last sense of normal life in a safe environment before Dad goes missing. He has left the vault suddenly and against the will of the Overseer, the highest authority placed in charge by the Vault-Tec Corporation. This is where the main story kicks in, and you too escape the vault, hot on the trail of Dad, and never allowed to return. Stepping outside the vault into the real world is a key moment any Fallout player will likely never forget, particularly for Fallout 3 in 2008, the first to use Bethesda’s open-world technology and grand scale.

In open-world games, I typically end up ignoring the main story quests and work methodically through all available side missions. Not in Fallout 3, I was intent on finding Dad with the eagerness to find out why he abandoned me in the vault. It’s not as though he was a neglectful father, he was there all throughout childhood, there must be something serious going on. The story follows a cat and mouse chase through the main questline, finding clues to Dad’s whereabouts and arriving only to find he has already moved on. Slowly the picture becomes clear that his mission wasn’t my fault, and he’d been called to a higher purpose. But, the trail continues, and you learn more about the wasteland, and it’s various factions.

We meet Dr Madison Li, a scientist who has worked with Dad, and it becomes clear that he was never originally from the vault. Instead, Dad and a group of scientists attempted to create a machine capable of purifying the irradiated water in the wasteland. Unfortunately, the work was never completed, and it was your birth and the death of mother that forced Dad to abandon the project and seek safety in Vault 101 to raise you. In his escape from the vault, Dad not only aims to complete the project but also obtain a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.), and important tool that is able to assist with rebuilding civilisation. After a brief setback with the Enclave, the remnants of the pre-war government, we finally catch up with Dad’s legacy and are left with a tough choice that impacts everyone.

Fallout 3 was a unique experience for me, not just for the new Bethesda open-world tech we know and love, or hate, today. There was an attachment to the story that I’ve not experienced before aided by the gritty atmosphere and dark post-apocalyptic world. It wasn’t the same with Fallout: New Vegas, even with significantly better game mechanics, there was an emotional connection with Dad and the story that hasn’t been matched. Fallout 4 was close as the story centered on family once again before saving what’s left of the world at the cost of losing someone important. It’s possible that living the character from birth and the carefully curated glimpses of moments through childhood that brought it home for me. Maybe the silent protagonist also played a significant part as Fallout 4 features a fully voiced character. If there’s one thing for sure, having Dad voiced by Liam “I have a special set of skills” Neeson was significant. Who wouldn’t want him for a dad?


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

James/Dad: The Character That Defines Phil from Later Levels

jan-6-music-2

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


introduction

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

After he broke the internet (causing the delay), we’re finally ready to introduce one of the most fascinating bloggers around. It’s Alex from McWritestuff, and we were so thankful to have him contribute to this collab. We’d be surprised if you haven’t seen him around the internet, but in case you haven’t you should absolutely be following his blog (and his Twitter, where you will find out the mystery of Alex’s full name.)

Alex, thank you for making us laugh while simultaneously triggering an existential crisis. Begin!


1p-start

Greetings, weary traveller. Come, sit down by the fire of a burning corpse and let me tell you the tale of a man with a heart of stone. Damn right, I’m talking about Olgierd von Everec from the Witcher 3 expansion “Hearts of Stone” (see the connection? It’s not very obvious, but if you can spot it, good on you). While I will be spoiling the character’s secrets, I won’t disclose important details of the main storyline, so that anyone who hasn’t picked up the Witcher 3 and its marvellous expansions yet can enjoy the game. Maybe you’ll be thinking of me when you meet Olgierd. Just…don’t make it weird.

I must admit, I didn’t like Olgierd on our first encounter. Not only did he come across as a ruffian trying to pass for a noble, he also had a terrible haircut. But the more I thought about that asshat, the more I realized we had quite a lot in common. No, not because he has an endearing character trait revealed later in the game. I literally mean we’re both asshats. Immortal asshats, that is.

Pictured here, in a seated ass-hattery position.

Olgierd and I lived very similar lives. He grew up in a wealthy family and was about to marry a lovely woman named Iris. But when his family lost their fortune, Iris’ dad was having none of that and promised her hand (and presumably the rest of her body) to a foreign prince instead. Olgierd, like any calm spirited madman, cursed the prince who abruptly transformed into a toad, which surprisingly eliminated the prince as competition and allowed Olgierd to marry Iris after all. Classic meet-cute.

I can’t say the exact same family drama happened to me, however I did end up marrying a woman who wasn’t a fan of amphibious creatures. I know, that similarity spooked me too, but don’t worry, the comparison doesn’t end here. We’re just getting started. You’ll get to know both me and the leader of “The Wild Ones” (not to be confused with “The Wild Hunt”) on a much deeper level.

You see, Olgierd’s whole “being broke” situation still didn’t sit well with Iris’ parents and he had to find another way to make sure his lovely wife got all the wealth an already rich white lady deserved. He ended up meeting Gaunter O’Dimm, a mysterious man who grants wishes and sells mirrors on etsy. We don’t need to delve into the intricacies of the contract between these two chums; just know that Olgierd basically wished for his family fortune to be restored and to “live like there was no tomorrow”. O’Dimm granted those wishes without any caveat attached to them whatsoever.

Ha!

Yeah, no, in order to seal the deal Olgierd had to sacrifice his brother’s life (which I’d be cool with, too. Not the biggest fan of my dipshit brother). Also his immortality came with a price as well. He described it as “wonderful at the start” because you “feel no fear, no angst”. But soon his heart would turn to stone and there was “no concern, no care for anyone, not even those [I] loved. And gradually [I] lost them…”. Did that put you off from choosing an immortal life? Cause I’d still be down. In fact, I already am.

I don’t remember meeting Gaunter O’Dimm at the crossroads, so I’m not sure how I turned immortal. Maybe I was born with it, maybe my parents struck a deal with O’Dimm, or maybe it was Maybelline. Regardless, I survived some pretty critical stuff back in the olden days when people had to go outside to entertain themselves. The most notable was when I was three wee little years old. I insisted on riding my tricycle on a walk with my parents that day. When we reached a wooden bridge over a creek one of the wheels got stuck and I fell off. Luckily, I didn’t land in the water and drowned; instead my head cracked on a giant boulder. That boulder should have killed me when it had the chance, but it only left me with one of two scars on the back of my head. Without getting into all the other times I miraculously survived, I think it’s safe to assume that much like Olgierd von Everec, I too am immortal (can’t prove I’m mortal if I haven’t died yet, right?). Similarly, I could relate to Olgierd’s lack of “feeling” since my own heart has turned to stone long ago, so much so that I get caught off guard when I notice human emotions in other beings. You guys are weird with that stuff.

But there’s another important similarity between Olgierd and I besides our failed marriages due to lack of emotional commitment.

(Although, at least my ex-wife is still alive and not a wraith in a parallel universe. Checkmate.)

That other symbol of our samesies is “demonic powers”. Olgierd studied the art of Goetia, a type of dark magic. That by itself is not too impressive in the world of the Witcher, but Olgierd made it a point to not only summon demons, he also made these demons his bitches. How much badassery do you have to consume before you can call upon two demonic beings with incredible powers and force them to take the form of a dog and a cat to keep your emotionally distant wife company?

That’s like putting an ugly Christmas sweater on an angry, agnostic lion. Olgierd also summoned a demon known as “The Caretaker”. Fighting this faceless horror in the game is really tough, and while part of the creature’s purpose was to protect the estate, you can sense Olgierd put that thing in its place, cause it’s not known as “The Guard”, or “The Protector”. Von Everec has a goddamn supernatural janitor. If you don’t think that’s epic, next time you’re out at the club, try hiring one of the bouncers as your gardener and let me know how that went.

Now you might be wondering how Olgierd’s dark magic compares to my experience. I’d argue that my ex-girlfriends are enough proof of my ability to summon demons, but I guess that wouldn’t be a satisfying answer. Unlike von Everec, I call upon the evil spirits from within me instead, torturing all and everyone around me. It is one single powerful demon called “Schadenfreude”. This is an evil being that takes joy in the pain of others, and I in turn enjoy its company.

In short, Olgierd von Everec is an immortal egomaniac void of emotions, which is why he clicked with me. It was like high-fiving a mirror and therefore I can’t think of a better character that defines me. Is he the villain of the story or a tragic anti-hero? Well, maybe just like The Caretaker, Olgierd is nothing more than the janitor of our own hearts. Our hearts of stone.

No?

Yeah, didn’t think that would fly with you guys, either. Anyway, the biggest difference between Olgierd and I is that he seems to not enjoy his never-ending life. Whereas I could go for another round of eternity, on the rocks, please. But who knows, maybe one day I’ll find immortality bland and boring as well and try to reverse it to live a normal life. What do you think, Olgierd?

Ah, thanks, buddy.


warp-points

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Olgierd von Everec: The Character That Defines Alex from McWritestuff

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Brink mentions in this piece that we were all too eager to have him join this collab! But, of course I was! We’re talking about a fascinating blogger with keen insight into games and culture, and we’re happy to have him on board. Go give Brink a follow.

Thank you Brink for rounding out today’s Pokemon block with this fantastic piece!


1P START

I was ecstatic when I first read about the concept of The Characters That Define Us: a collaboration of epic proportions being set up by Matt of Normal Happenings to talk about the video game icons that resonate with us the deepest. I knew that I had to be a part of it, and so I pestered him until he finally caved and gave me a spot! 😉 In all seriousness, he was only too eager to let me join this line up of other amazing bloggers. Thanks again, Matt!

As much as I wracked my brain for my top three preferred character entries, there was only ever one true choice for the character (or rather, characters) that helped define me the most in my own life: the splashy swimmer, Magikarp, and its titanic evolution, Gyarados. There’s a reason this guy made the top of my list of favorite Pokémon.

My first introduction to this leviathan was the two-part episode of the Pokémon anime centering on Ash and company’s voyage and ensuing sinkage aboard the cruise liner, St. Anne. After escaping the ship but being stranded aboard a raft at sea with the others, James of Team Rocket kicks away a Magikarp he purchased after being angry that he couldn’t eat it due to its stone-like scales. Magikarp promptly evolves into the terrifying Gyarados to retaliate. It gets revenge by calling even more Gyarados to its location, whipping up a fearsome group Dragon Rage attack and sending our heroes spiraling away in a twister. The sheer ferocity that Gyarados could unleash appealed to my childhood enjoyment of cool, powerful characters, and it spurred to life a burning desire to add the creature to my team in the original Red and Blue.

But my own personal journey with Magikarp and Gyarados was much less dramatic and action-packed than the tale told by television. In fact, I dare say it crawled. You see, Magikarp is a Pokémon that you can purchase for yourself very early on in your journey through Kanto…yet it can’t learn any attacks until level 15. And even then, its weak attack stat renders its Tackle virtually useless. The only “effective” way to increase its level is to immediately swap it for another Pokémon who can actually fight. It makes for a very grueling process to follow through in the early game and raise a Magikarp up through the ranks. This trend is continued in nearly every future generation: the crappy carp is available extremely early on by fishing with the Old Rod, but the process of raising it against low-level creatures is extremely slow. However… the rewards you reap for perseverance are enormous.

Once the flailing fish reaches Level 20, it evolves into a dang dragon.

Okay, so technically Gyarados isn’t a Dragon-type Pokémon: it’s Water and Flying, the latter type of which was taken from the Dragon Kite designs of Japan that inspired its design. BUT. IT’S A DRAGON. Magikarp and Gyarados are based off the ancient Japanese tale of the Dragon Gate. According to the legend, if a carp is strong enough to climb a waterfall and leap from the water over the gate, it will transform into a mighty dragon. Magikarp as a Pokemon is only good for splashing, but it makes sense that as the flopping fish levels up, it gets strong enough to flail around enough to leap high in the air and clear the hypothetical “gate” of being strong enough to evolve.

I love that Magikarp takes forever to level up in the early game, thus making Gyarados only attainable by those who really put their mind to having it on their team (or who wait until later in the journey to speed-level it against stronger enemies). The reward of having an unstoppable murder-dragon on my team against early opponents is a thrill that always delivers and feels justly earned, unlike letting your starter do all the work or trading with a friend to get a more powerful Pokémon for “free” (by trading a garbage Pidgey or some other weak thing). To me, Gyarados is a model of perseverance and determination: something I’ve had to work at regularly in my own life, as well. That’s why I chose it for The Characters That Define Us! Thanks for reading!

-Brink


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Magikarp & Gyarados: The Characters That Define Brink of Gaming

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

The great Andrew Turnwall returns! The last time we saw him around these parts, he was adding his excellent contribution to Tracking Shells. We’re so excited to have him back for this collab.

Besides our constant chats about Mario Maker — don’t think I didn’t notice the shoutout — you know Andrew from The Well-Red Mage! He also runs his own book review blog.

Andrew, thank you so much for sharing your amazing Pokemon memories with us!


1P START

“I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was…:”

The year was 1998. Tom Hanks was saving Private Ryan, Aerosmith didn’t wanna miss a thing, and life as my generation knew it was about to change. It all happened with those eleven words above. In September of 1998 the Pokemon anime aired for the first time in the US, and Pokemon Red & Blue launched three weeks later. The cards were becoming the hot new toy, and I’ll bet they introduced a lot of us to TCGs for the first time. It was a phenomenon.

Can you feel the potential? The adventure waiting?

I remember my first pack of Pokemon cards, purchased in an airport gift shop on a field trip because I suspect my dad wanted me to have something in common with the other kids. I remember watching Ash Ketchum and Pikachu form a grudging bond that grew into something more. I remember my little brother and I starting our first games together, him with Blue, me with Red. That first pokeball, hearing that theme for the first time, it was the start of something magical.

I’ll be honest with you reader, Red isn’t the only character from the world of Pokemon I took inspiration from as a kid, and still do. Whether it’s Ash and his stubborn determination, N from Pokemon Black/White and his crusade for ethical treatment of Pokemon, Lugia from Pokemon 2000 and its concern for the environment, I could go on. But Red was my gateway, my first avatar into the wide world of Pokemon, and all the great moments it would contain.

I’ve played them all, but I’ll always be a Charmander kid.

And man there were moments. You have to remember, dear reader, that this was the first game, where every Pokemon, heck the concept of Pokemon was fresh and new. It wasn’t “Oh man ANOTHER Pidgey,” it was “WHOA COOL A BIRD LETS CATCH IT.” Getting to fight Brock and Misty and everyone from the anime, taking that know-it-all Gary (Or Blue or whatever you named him) down a peg, getting creamed by the Elite Four the first time I fought them then leveling my team up and clawing my way to the end of the game…ah, memories.

Ask anyone my age who was into Pokemon about their first time through all the varied caves and their deep and abiding hatred of Zubats. Or about where to find the legendary birds, who were very much not on anything approaching a critical path in the game. Or just how powerful you felt using Mewtwo for the first time. Man psychic Pokemon were messed up types of powerful back then. This was a time when the internet was a baby, and we were all kids, and shared video game knowledge made me some lasting friends. One of them was even my best man last year. Pokemon was something that seeped into all of us. It didn’t matter who was friends with who in the world before Pokemon. If you knew the old man glitch, you were cool.

Look at that beautiful mess.

So, back to Red. Our quiet protagonist. Our training, catching, kid friendly Gordon Freeman of Kanto. He’s a bit of a blank slate isn’t he? But that doesn’t mean he’s without character. You can see it in the way the NPCs talk to him. How after every meaningful battle there are lessons to impart. How gym leaders and champions see Red, and the incredible bond he forms with his team, and are moved by it. And that resonated as a kid. That passion, and friendship, and love weren’t weird. That being the sensitive kid was a good thing. The best trainers in the world of Pokemon weren’t necessarily the ones that trained the hardest or whose Pokemon were most powerful, it was the cohesion of the team that mattered. It was a game that said know your strengths and weaknesses, work with your pokemon, trust each other, and believe in yourself.

That was a message I could get behind.

I get really bad anxiety. I get depressed. And at the age of thirty it’s something I’ve really only started to address in the last few years, mostly because I’ve made incredible friends and have an incredible wife that understand, and give me space when I need it, and comfort when I need that. They get on me for my shit, and let me know that it’s ok to feel that way, and that I’m not alone. I love them for that. But it doesn’t mean that the low points don’t come. Video games and books and card games always helped me cope. They let me escape and zen out to a place where, at least for awhile, nobody minded what I was like, especially me. I didn’t have the language to address my anxiety as a kid. I’m just barely starting to now for Heaven’s sake. But I felt something powerful in these stories, something cathartic that was fun and encouraging and that I was pretty damn good at.

I poured hour after hour into Pokemon in a way I never had in a game. I wrote in a collab about Mario Kart how that was the game that taught me how to study games, and how to learn them, and how to improve by more than rote practice. If that was the game that started the fire, Pokemon was what forged it into a skill, a weapon, something I could use in life. I remember thinking the timer had glitched when I hit a certain point. Only later did I realize that it was no longer capable of counting higher, past 255 hours. They didn’t allocate more storage space to it than that. I scoured the game for every missing ‘mon in the Pokedex. I compared with friends strategies and type weaknesses and strengths. I learned about different movesets and Pokemon that had inherently higher stats than others. I was a machine. This was, probably come to think of it, my first real obsession.

Oh yeah. That’s the stuff.

I trained and beat the Elite Four again, and again, and again, until I had a team of level 100 pokemon. I became a Pokemon Master. I was also promptly flattened by that same friend who trounced me in Mario Kart, because to this day I am ride or die for damage only moves, and stat alterations be damned. I think the lesson here is play hard, take yourself and what you do seriously, but for the love of the gods have fun. If your favorite pokemon are your favorite because they look cool, use them! If you dress weird in real life or have a unique aesthetic and aren’t afraid to NOT have a guilty pleasure, I love you for that. I’m learning that for myself. It’s been liberating.

A year or so back the bookstore I work in hosted a Pokemon TCG event. It was ostensibly for little kids, especially for kids who had never played. People who were the same age now as I was when Pokemon first graced my life. I was excited to share something I so loved with a new generation. I was nervous they wouldn’t like it like I did; nervous their parents would worry about someone my age so excited by this game. But we got a crowd, and I was thrilled to see that the love of Pokemon is alive and well.

It’s been twenty years now since Pokemon first came into my life. And I’ve played through most of them, a fair amount of the spinoffs, seen a bunch of the movies, and checked in on the anime from time to time. While much has changed, so much more has stayed the same. The world of Pokemon is still waiting for eager and excited people of all ages to find it. And every time I go back, like Narnia or Middle Earth or Hogwarts, it’s like I never left. New creatures, new enemies, new challenges, same old message. Believe. Trust. Love.

I’ve been shaped by Pokemon over the years. From Red & Blue, from Crystal, from Black & White and the First Movie and Pokemon 2000, hell from Detective Pikachu. Pokemon has been a big part of my life, especially at a time when I didn’t have many friends and spent a lot of time alone in my room. In it I saw a world where children were acknowledged as people. Where the villains were in it for the money and power, and the heroes loved animals and the environment and each other. And now that I have friends (And a steady raid group for Pokemon GO!) and am thinking about starting a family with my wife, I can’t wait to one day pass my love to my own kids.

So maybe this essay isn’t all about Red. It’s about the world he helped create. About the safe harbor he helped me find. About the skills and knowledge and beliefs that he helped me discover within myself. Red was the avatar that first properly introduced me to a new world to explore, to love, to learn. He didn’t need to speak, he didn’t need to do anything other than exist. But he gave me the tools to succeed in Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and beyond. In life. It’s poetic I think, when you find him in a cave in Pokemon Gold, and all he has to say to you is “…” and everyone still knows just what kind of fight they’re in for. Now twenty years on I can finally say, thanks for everything Red. I’ll see you again soon.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Red: The Character That Defines Andrew Turnwall

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

The great bloggers just keep on coming! Today we’re joined by DL McGowan of Lost in Reverie, who is quite the storyteller. Her blog is a unique experience well worth perusing, and she has quite the established Twitter following! Please go follow if you’re unfamiliar with her work.

Thank you, DL, for submitting this amazing piece. Enjoy!


1P START

Let’s be real for a second, my friends. There’s a LOT of awesome video game characters out there in the world, and my heart knows no bounds. I love far too many of them! I’m a very indecisive girl, so if this collaboration were built around discussing our favorite characters I wouldn’t have been able to participate. But when I read the description, to pick a character that has deep meaning to me on a personal level, I found myself hungry for the answer. I love deep topics like this, facing aspects of myself that I would otherwise ignore. Given that, I expected this to be one of the hardest conjectures of my life. Finding the answer, however, was surprisingly effortless. So much so that I doubted it at first. It HAD to be harder than that, right? Turns out, no. While there have been a small handful of characters that left impressions on me over the years, there truly is one that shines brighter than all the rest — Hanzo Shimada from Overwatch.

Who is Hanzo Shimada?

Hanzo is a complicated man who, despite having such deep meaning to me, is a very different person from myself. He’s a badass archer, for one. The last time I picked up a bow was, oh… 7 or 8 years ago? Probably longer than that, and even then I wasn’t very good. I was just learning, firing shots at styrofoam with my little compound bow in the backyard. Oh, and missing 90% of the time, let’s not forget that!

Hanzo is the eldest son of Sojiro Shimada, head of the Shimada Clan- a criminal organization based in Hanamura, Japan. A stern, proud man and unrivaled warrior/assassin, Hanzo was groomed to one day take his father’s place as leader. That day never came to pass. His younger brother, Genji, continually shirked his duties to the clan, reveling in a playboy lifestyle and refused to clean up his act. And so, the clan elders tasked Hanzo with eliminating his brother, as the boy made it clear he wouldn’t change his ways. Bound as he was by honor and tradition, Hanzo reluctantly agreed. However, following through with those orders- killing his beloved brother- broke him. As a result, the Hanzo of today is a much different man. Still very proud, but deeply tortured, torn between duty and his emotions.

Hanzo severed his ties with the Shimada Clan, traveling the world as a nomad in an effort to achieve some semblance of redemption for taking his brother’s life. He’s never forgiven himself for killing Genji, even after seeing that his brother was, in fact, “alive” and well?

Yes, you read that right. Genji survived what should have been a very brutal death, saved by the ever-lovely Angela Ziegler, aka “Mercy.” Genji didn’t have much of a body left to save. Through acts of incredible scientific ingenuity, Angela was able to take what remained of Genji and fuse it with a cybernetic body. He had full functionality, able to fight and move the same as he had before. But living with the knowledge that his brother tried to kill him had Genji feeling understandably bitter. But, thanks to the guidance of the omnic monk Zenyatta, Genji was eventually able to understand the reasons behind his brother’s actions and eventually let go of that bitterness.

Their reunion was tense, to say the least, resulting in a battle of epic proportions. Seeing Genji again filled Hanzo with a torrent of conflicting emotions. Much as he was relieved to see his brother alive- and that he’d somehow found a way to forgive Hanzo for the attempted murder- Hanzo couldn’t help but feel Genji’s survival made him even more of a failure. Not only had he failed Genji as a brother, but now he’s also failed in his duty to his family. They fought out their feelings, but now the two of them are on speaking terms…sort of. Genji has joined the reformed (and totally illegal) Overwatch and extended the invitation to his brother, but Hanzo wants no part of any organization at this point in time. (Please, Doomfist, STOP asking him!) In his eyes, he must earn redemption before all else.

(Note: This is just my summary based on the information I’ve read over the years, so hopefully I’ve done him justice. For official information on the character, I highly recommend you check out his bio on the Overwatch Wiki. And do yourself a favor and check out the “Dragons” animated short to see the brothers’ reunion.)

What Drew Me to This Character?

I know, he sounds like a stand-up guy, right?

*crickets*

Look, I know how it might sound, but Hanzo is a deeply complicated character and his flaws are what make him for me. I love me a good anti-hero, but I’ll be honest here. I knew NONE of this stuff when I first started playing Overwatch. I was drawn to Hanzo for the same reason anyone else was- that bow! In the world of first-person shooters back in 2016, archer heroes weren’t common. (Or at least, not to my knowledge? I could be wrong I suppose; first-person shooters aren’t my forte.) I was fresh off of playing Skyrim, where my Dragonborn is an archer/thief 90% of the time I make a new playthrough. And my single-player, RPG loving self felt like a fish out of water in this-here new-fangled shooter, so I tried the bow-guy because it felt familiar. I was terrible at first, like many people, but he was fun! Plus, he fired these fantastic blue spirit dragons from his bow as an ultimate ability, and boy do I love me some dragons! (Seriously, my first tattoo was that of a dragon. They’re something of a spirit animal for me.) On top of all that, Hanzo’s character design was so *chef’s kiss*; helloooo pretty tattoo sleeve! And the man’s voice was like music to my soul. I couldn’t explain it, but I could listen to him talk all day long.

Once I latch on to a character, I cling! In a game like Overwatch where lore is scarce and mostly non-existent in the game itself, I took to the internet to research every little thing about him. This led me to the “Dragons” animated short, and from there to his official character bio. Needless to say, I was floored by how dark and complicated this character was, and, more surprising? My heart broke for him.

Hanzo’s not a hero.

Hanzo’s not a hero. He was raised by what is essentially the Overwatch version of the Yakuza, doing questionable things his whole life. He’s made mistakes, big ones at that, and he regrets them every day. He’s painfully aware that he’s not a good person, and that fact eats him alive.

Many of the heroes in Overwatch are flawed and maybe this is just my bias, but I feel like Hanzo ranks among the most flawed of the bunch. He’s not outright evil, but he’s also not exactly good. And boy do I love me that grey element!

Back When Being a “Hanzo Main” Wasn’t Acceptable

There was a dark time where being a “Hanzo Main” was a bad, bad thing. Choosing him as your character was akin slapping your poor defenseless grandmother at the dinner table, I swear! Or that’s how people liked to make you feel. See, Hanzo wasn’t conducive to, well, any meta at the time, and his Scatter Shot ability- where he fired a single arrow at a target and it would splinter into several other arrows that bounced around- was laughably overpowered when aimed at people’s feet. Not to mention the fact that his ultimate ability (those glorious dragons) takes ingenuity to use effectively as they’re generally easy to avoid if fired head on towards the enemy team. Plus, being a hit-scan hero, Hanzo required a bit more skill as the player has to aim where enemy characters are going to be. (His fire speed has since been increased, so players today have a much easier time of this.) That means to be an effective Hanzo, you needed to land headshots the majority of the time and be able to predict the frequently unpredictable. As you can imagine, his learning curve was quite high and more players than not were unable to meet it.

But you don’t get better if you don’t keep at it, right? So I persisted and practiced day after day, and, wouldn’t you know it, I got better. I turned off voice chat to spare myself the negative vitriol of toxic players, and playing on console as I did meant there was no text chat to be had.

I should also point out that I only play Quick Play, which is an unranked mode in this game. Anxiety is a real thing for me, and I was far too nervous to set foot into Competitive. So my opinion was always, “I’m the one that spent money on this game, and this isn’t Comp. No one can tell me how to play the game that I paid for!” But that certainly didn’t stop people from trying. Even in the safety of Quick Play, I’d receive Xbox Live messages demanding I “get off Hanzo,” among other unsavory things. After a few of these, I turned off the ability for people outside my friends list to message me. I just wanted to play the game I enjoyed with the character I liked; I didn’t need the harassment. If anyone had taken the time to look at my stats, I had actually become a damn good console Hanzo, but I’d wager they chose not to. They were much happier giving in to the masses and assuming all people that played Hanzo were terrible.

And that’s when something clicked inside me.

For the first time in the history of ever, my peaceful, don’t-make-waves-so-nobody-sees-you self became spiteful while playing an online game. I chose to make all the waves I wanted in my composed way because, also for the first time ever, I had CONFIDENCE in my abilities as a player. I would prove the stigma and everyone else wrong or so help me! I never went out of my way to be toxic because that’s not in my nature, but when people were rude to me, everything just sort of fell away. All the innocence and joy from playing my favorite game and being in that world evaporated, and all I could focus on was proving those people wrong. Of proving that I was a damn good Hanzo, if only just to spite them. Hanzo’s cocky chuckle as I took down my enemies gave me life in those moments because it mirrored my own sentiments. Righteous spite never felt so good! That cool, calm, collected rage led to some of my best “Plays of the Game.”

What Hanzo Did For Me

Hanzo helped me discover a previously unknown and incredibly rare bit of confidence in myself, helping me discover my ability to stand up for myself in a way I could feel proud of, and to resist the tendency to bend to the demands of random strangers. But it didn’t end there.

Like many, I’ve always struggled with incredibly low self-esteem, coupled with bouts of anxiety and depression. But you know who else does too?

Hanzo!

Hanzo is the epitome of self-loathing, falling into a dark mental space following all the ugliness with his brother and family. Despite that, though, he never stops trying to find redemption and overcome himself. “Keep pushing forward,” as the man says. It serves as a reminder to myself too. No matter what life tries to throw at me or how much it drags me down, there’s nothing to be gained by stewing in my own sadness overlong. It’s natural to do that for a time, but eventually, it’s time to stand up and keep walking; to face my demons and never stop working to overcome them. Everyone has days where life brings us down. Sometimes those days become weeks, or even months. But if Hanzo can weather the crap storm that is his life and mental state of being, then maybe I can too. The scariest monsters we face are those of our own creation, and that’s all the more reason for us to overcome them. His ability to press on despite the weight he bares is inspirational to me beyond measure. Besides, my problems feel like small potatoes next to his. It’s not a cure all, of course, but it’s certainly a comfort.

In short, Hanzo Shimada helped me level up as a person at a point in my life where I didn’t think that was possible. I will forever feel indebted to this character, and will defend him to my dying breath.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Hanzo Shimada: The Character That Defines DL McGowan from Lost in Reverie

AUDIO

 

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We’re joined today by a fantastic, underrated member of the blogging community! From Epic Drop, formerly Home Button, comes Daniel Flatt! If you’re not following, his work is well worth enjoying. While Daniel has been supportive of Normal Happenings for a while, this is his first collab contribution.

Thank you, Daniel, for this excellent and thought-provoking contribution!


1P START

You might be wondering why I would choose Kratos as a character that I love who defines me, one I feel a close kinship to in a lot of ways. After all, I’m not a towering muscle bound demigod turned actual god who slaughters his way through whole pantheons. I don’t sling about powerful blades of death that are fused onto my arms, and I don’t wear the ashes of my dead family on my skin to remind me of my sins. So why then would I find any part of myself in Kratos? Some of that might start with the latest game on the PS4, but it isn’t the only reason that I feel that Kratos and I share some real things in common–and unfortunately it isn’t the towering muscle bound part.

kratosI’ve always loved the God of War series, all the way back to the franchise’s original outing on the PlayStation 2. I’d never seen combat quite like what was presented in this first title, and of course as a burgeoning man in my early 20s I thought the blood soaked violence felt like the kind of thing a “mature” gamer would like. It wasn’t just ripping the eyeball from a giant that was appealing to me though, it was the focus on Greek mythology, which had always been of particular interest to me in school. Unlike the many fantasy novels I adored most growing up these stories were filled with horribly flawed individuals, and even the protagonists of the story sometimes stretched the idea of what a hero was to the breaking point. Zeus was a terrible leader of the Gods, one who ruined mortals lives as frequently as he stepped out on his wife, and even the wise Athena once morphed one of her followers into a hideous monster and helped a hero to kill her just because she was unable to ward off the romantic advances of Poseidon–you know, the god who ruled over the entire ocean.

This was one of the reasons I was always so frustrated when people began to harp on the fact that Kratos was a one-note hero and that the story of the God of War series as it continued into sequels or spin-offs was a poor one because of it. That argument had always confused and irritated me because at its heart Kratos’ story was the perfect Greek story in a lot of ways. You have a character who has a tragic backstory, tricked by the gods into a quest, betrayed by those same gods, and then swears vengeance on all of them. In his thirst for vengeance and the rage that consumes the warrior he approaches every trial with a violence so complete that all obstacles fail before it.

The problem of course is that the rage and vengeance consume him and he doesn’t notice, or care, the damage he is causing the world of men. In destroying their deities he sends the land into chaos and it is only then he realizes the horror he has become. So basically what we have is the perfect Greek parable about the cost of rage and vengeance, a mostly one sided character who is about as far from a hero as we could get, a person who chases his goal without any thought of how it affects the world around him. The only reason we ever cheer him on at all is that he is slightly less of a jerk then the ones who he swears vengeances on.

Maybe it is defending Kratos that drew me closer to him, maybe it is the anger we both had trouble controlling, or maybe it was the fact that both of us are bald. Whether hair styling choices or issues with rage, the fact remained that I identified with him in some way, but never really felt impacted by his plight.

That is, until the series was turned on its head in the latest God of War on PlayStation 4.

There is little doubt that the Kratos of the early 2000s wouldn’t work in a modern game, or at least not in a way that would allow the franchise to grow or dominate the charts once again in the way it originally had. Most companies would have scrapped the mostly hated character and start over, but instead the lead designer doubled down on Kratos and decided to continue his story. But how do you create such complete change in an individual that you could ever believe Kratos as a hero again in the year of 2018? You give him a son.

In the same year that the original God of War came out, 2005, I accomplished one of my greatest goals in life–I became a father of one healthy baby boy. It was one of the happiest, stressful, and most tumultuous times in my life as I stumbled my way through learning what being a father really meant, making constant mistakes along the way. 

In the newest God of War we see a Kratos that is afraid to engage with his son, but that is forced into an epic quest with him after the passing of his mother. To take the woman they both loved to her final resting place they must journey across dangerous lands, defeat strong foes, but ultimately must also learn about one another and grow as individuals together.. It may sound like a bad cartoon plot from the early 80s–the father teaches the son even as he too learns from the child–but it is done in such an earnest way that it is anything but cliche. 

I was not the person I am today in my late teenage years and into my early twenties. Instead I was somebody I’m no longer proud of–a mean spirited bully who took pleasure in making fun of others, and one who was a powder keg of unchecked anger and rage who often sought to solve problems with my fists. Where this all came from I don’t know, some of it was the people I was hanging out with at the time, but I couldn’t blame them alone. While I never did anything too heinous–my childhood was mostly bland and boring–I still was a person I greatly disliked. So when my son was born I told myself I would be better, and I would try harder to be a better man–a stalwart example for him to follow. Still, I always felt like that other person was always just under the surface, waiting for the right circumstances to bring him out.

After all, nobody really changes right?

Kratos distances himself from his son growing up because he worries that the boy will take after him, and in doing so keeps from his son–from Atreus–the very guidance he needs to deal with the burgeoning powers that come from being the son of the God of War. As the story progresses Kratos watches his worst fears come to realization as his son takes after him in some very familiar ways, and a deep sense of shame fills him as he feels his fears are confirmed, that he will ruin the child just by being around him, by making mistakes. He watches his son change in ways he cannot help with, while also being horribly aware that it is his job alone to do so.

Such is the struggle that we all face as parents. As a father I watch my son growing up and hitting his teenage years in a world I cannot control, facing some of the same challenges I faced, and sometimes failing in the same ways I have. We are more alike than he realizes or knows at times, and this scares me. Parents don’t want our children to suffer through the growing pains we went through, the very same things that forged us into who we are, so we seek to spare them that pain, but that pain is unavoidable. All we can hope to be is a beacon, a guiding light, a stalwart and strong shouldered back that our child can stare at as they walk behind us in our footsteps, showing them what strength looks like–whether that is in triumph or defeat.

Kratos’ redemption story is really the story of a father and son and the extremely complex nature of that relationship. It is heart-warming while also being scary, unnerving and difficult–a journey that somehow you can’t imagine ever going right. You are human, so you fail, and in failing yourself you worry that you have also failed your child, the one being on this planet whom you would save from all pain. In the way Kratos has changed, in the way he eventually learns to accept his past, forgive himself, and be there for his child, it is mirrored so much in my own experiences that I almost expect at times if I hold out my hand and concentrate hard enough, that I’ll feel the Leviathan axe smack into it. In playing God of War I experienced with Kratos the most rewarding, and most challenging, journey any of us can really ever face–parenthood. 

Like Kratos all we can hope for is to do our best, to guide our child by teaching them of our mistakes–and allowing them to make their own–to be there when they fall from those mistakes in order to help them back up again.

I am a gamer, a geek, a consumer of pop culture, a martial artist, and I like to fancy myself a writer, but all of these pale in comparison to what I consider myself above all else–a father. How then could I not see the same struggles of life, of parenthood, reflected in Kratos and not feel kinship with him–even if our biceps aren’t quite the same level of chiseled.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Kratos: The Character That Defines Daniel from Epic Drop

jan-6-music-2

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


introduction

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Today we’re joined by a newcomer writer, Meghan Plays Games, who honestly deserved more followers! Meghan is a reviewer of the best type, with an analytical style but not so deep-rooted in the logical that delving into personal is frequent. You’ll enjoy it, so go check out the blog!

Thank you, Meghan, for joining this collab. Skull Kid is featured in one of our favorite games ever made, and we know you’ll enjoy today’s piece!


1p-start

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
– The Happy Mask Salesman

This iconic quote is often used as the tagline for the Legend of Zelda classic, Majora’s Mask. It’s what the Happy Mask Salesman asks Link in the beginning of the game, after he’s been transformed into a Deku Scrub. However, as I’ve played through the game countless times, both as a child, and now, as an adult, I can’t help thinking about the Skull Kid whenever I hear or read this line. The Skull Kid is eerie (his laugh always sent chills down my spine) and almost frightening, but he is one of my favourite video game characters of all time.

sk

Most of what we see of the Skull Kid is the fallout of his actions – The Great Fairy, broken and scattered, the Bomber’s Gang, refusing to let outsiders into their group after his betrayal, and of course, Kafei, transformed into a child. It’s never confirmed by the game’s narrative, but there also seems to be some kind of connection between the demise of the Deku Butler’s son, and the Skull Kid. Though the Skull Kid isn’t physically present throughout the game, as you travel north, south, east, and west to each of the temples, his presence is felt throughout – and you can always see him hanging around the top of Termina’s signature clock tower. As the player, we don’t know much about this character when we start the game. Most of his backstory we learn from Granny dearest in the back room of the Stock Pot Inn – her story, The Four Giants (which you’ll need the All-Night Mask to experience) details the origins of the Four Giants, and their unexpected friendship with the Skull Kid. From her tale, we learn that the Four Giants chose to leave the people of Termina, to protect the lands while they slumbered – when they left, it devastated the “imp” who took out his sadness and anger on the people of the land, wreaking havoc wherever he went. Eventually, the people called upon the Giants for aid, and they threatened the Skull Kid with their wrath, should he continue down his destructive path. According to Granny, “the imp was returned to the heavens, and harmony was restored to the four worlds.” This seems more metaphorical for the Skull Kid’s banishment – but he was banished and alone nonetheless. His anger and loneliness seemed tempered by his friendship with fairy siblings, Tatl and Tael, but eventually was taken advantage of by Majora’s Mask. Throughout the game, it’s left ambiguous as to how much of the Skull Kid, and how much of the mask are represented in his actions – it’s hard to tell where one ends, and the other begins. Looking back now, I can’t help but feel that (despite Majora’s Mask obviously wanting destruction) the Skull Kid’s twisted desires are more represented than the malevolent mask – or at least feeding into the projection of its evil. In bringing down the moon, the Four Giants are forced to rouse from their slumber and return to Termina, which is exactly what the Skull Kid wanted all along.

This lead up to the endgame, where Majora’s Mask abandons the Skull Kid, discarding a now useless puppet to ascend to the falling moon, is probably the most memorable for me personally. You’ll have to forgive my Majora’s Mask theories – it’s how I interpret the game, so bear with me. I always thought that the interior of the moon represented the Skull Kid’s thoughts and feelings – albeit in an abstract, distorted way. While I always believed the moon, seemingly tracking your progress through Termina, represented the gaze of Majora, ever watchful, the interior of said moon belongs to the Skull Kid. The central tree always reminded me of the Deku Tree, and more generally, the Kokiri Forest. The children that wear the boss masks, frolicking around the tree, are a lot like the Kokiri children, and will eagerly ask you to play with them, in exchange for some masks. When you complete the small trials of each child, before you return to the central area with the tree, they ask you some interesting questions – questions that are almost certainly coming from the Skull Kid, not the titular evil mask. “The right thing… What is it?” asks the one in the Gyorg mask. “Your friends…what kind of… people are they? I wonder… do those people… think of you… as a friend?” asks the one wearing the Odolwa mask. When I was younger, these strange moments really took me aback – the dream-like quality of the moon, and the children with the masks was not quite what I had expected to find. Nor had I expected the deceptively simple, yet compelling questions that they ask. Surely this is exactly what the Skull Kid is thinking, or has been thinking, ever since he was (from his point of view) forsaken by his friends, the Giants.

The first honest look we get at the Skull Kid comes at the conclusion – we learn that he is familiar with the lost woods, and quite possibly the same child that we sold the Skull mask to in Ocarina of Time. We get to witness a touching scene between the Skull Kid and the Giants, where he learns that, despite the time and distance, they had never forgotten him, and always considered him a friend. As the Skull Kid shakes with emotion, the Giants return to their places of rest: 100 steps to the north, south, east, and west. “Friends are a nice thing to have.” Skull Kid muses. The game closes with Link and the Skull Kid (with Tatl and Tael) parting ways amicably – the final shot of the game being a carving of them all together, on the stump of a fallen tree.

“Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever… whether a parting be forever or merely for a short time… that is up to you.”
– The Happy Mask Salesman

I’ve always loved the way that Majora’s Mask leaned so heavily into its presentation of family and friendships. Nearly every character that you help along your journey is struggling with some aspect of a relationship – whether that’s Kafei and Anju, separated because of Skull Kid’s cruel prank, or the sisters, Cremia and Romani, the latter struggling to convince her older sister that their farm is in danger. There’s Lulu and her children, the young girl whose father is transforming into a Gibdo, the Deku King and his daughter, the Princess, and of course, the Deku Butler and his missing son. This undercurrent of loneliness and separation run beneath the surface of every interaction, every narrative beat in Majora’s Mask. It’s no wonder that themes of estrangement and isolation are so prevalent as you travel through the game, when they are the central emotions that seem to drive the Skull Kid’s anger, and thus, his version of Termina. His turbulent loneliness reverberates through the game so strongly, it’s one of the primary shaping factors that makes Majora’s Mask so unique.

Growing up and playing games in the Nintendo 64 era was great – a lot of companies were trying new, innovative things, and a huge number of incredible games were released as a result. But one thing remained fairly constant – at least in the games I tended to play. There was always good, and there was always evil. Black and white. For every Bowser, there was a Mario to defeat him, just as Ganon would always fall to Link. But Majora’s Mask was a little different, because Majora’s Mask had the Skull Kid. This game was a bit of an anomaly when it was released (and still to this day) because of its strange premise, haunting narrative, and surprisingly dark elements. For me, I had never before seen a game that represented a set of emotions, or feelings, so tangibly. Every character, narrative beat, and design simply screams of melancholy. In a lot of ways, the Skull Kid’s loneliness is mirrored by Link – in constantly restarting a three-day cycle, no one remembers him, nor truly understands the threat of the moon, and the mask. He is very much alone, as is the Skull Kid. Both of these characters have been separated from those once closest to them (Navi, in Link’s case) and by the game’s close, both have learned that to be apart is not necessarily to be alone. In many ways, Majora’s Mask as a game is the purest expression of this longing, of searching for common ground, or trying to understand the nature of the ties that bind us and inform our sense of self.

“Believing in your friends and embracing that belief by forgiving failure… these feelings have vanished from our hearts.”
– Igos du Ikana

 For me, Majora’s Mask, and the Skull Kid, were the shapes that loneliness took – the easiest way for me to understand a vague feeling inside of myself. I was always a quiet, reserved kid and I always harboured a feeling that I didn’t quite belong. I think a lot of kids, and adults in fact, go through these periods of perceived isolation. I’m not sure exactly which aspect of Majora’s Mask initially resonated with me so strongly, but I think a large part of it was based in this sense of feeling alone. I know the “video games as art” argument is a divisive one, but Majora’s Mask was the closest thing to art that my young self had ever experienced – more relatable than any painting on a wall, or piece of literature. The oppressive sadness and all-consuming loneliness that Skull Kid represented was like suddenly being able to understand a text that had previously been unreadable – it made me recognize an aspect of myself. It also gave me the perspective to see the other side of loneliness – the solace that comes in the form of family and friends that forgive our failures and reaffirm our sense of self-worth when we need it.

I feel as though I’m getting a bit meandering, but this has all been to say that the Skull Kid, and Majora’s Mask as a whole, has been a defining aspect of how I view and approach video games. I’ve never since experienced such a relentlessly uncanny world as Termina, nor a villain who wasn’t really a villain, a child who isn’t quite a child, or an introspective representation of pain quite like the Skull Kid. In many ways, I think the games we play as children have the biggest impact on how we view games in future – there are a lot of firsts, unique experiences which simply cannot be replicated. It’s in these experiences that we enjoy the purest forms of excitement and anticipation, dread and surprise. I always enjoy coming back to this character, and this game, as a finite experience that is now a source of intense nostalgia, like reuniting with an old friend. As a kid, this was just a game about my favourite hero saving a doomed world that inspired a sense of unease I couldn’t quite name. Now, I look at Majora’s Mask and see everything that I’ve detailed in this discussion – I see myself in both Link and the Skull Kid. The original experiences I had with this game have never quite left me – the Skull Kid’s laugh, the moon, crying tears of stone, and the Deku Butler mourning his son as the credits roll. I’ll always attribute this outlier in the Zelda franchise with forming some crucial aspect of my standard for video game narratives, and how far I know they can reach in terms of representing formless feeling, bringing to life things that only exist in nebulous thought. And it all started with a mischievous, nameless little imp.


warp-points

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Skull Kid: The Character That Defines Meghan Plays Games

jan-6-music-2

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


introduction

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

The other half of the Geek. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat duo has arrived! Everyone welcome Will to the collaboration. Murr joined us last month for his fantastic piece on Ryo, so now the puzzle is complete. Of course, you should check out Will’s pieces on G.S.R.R., as well as his great contribution to The Games That Define Us.

Thank you, Will, for joining us, as well as this wonderful piece on an iconic video game character.


1p-start

Just to preface this I will be referring to Commander Shepard as he/him because I choose to play as the male version of Shepard. 

cmdr shepardCharacter customisation is quite often a big part of an RPG’s DNA. Creating someone who either you resemble or someone that you feel connected to can be the key to feeling immersed during your impending adventure. Taking that person with you, moulding them and their personality to whatever you want can make it feel like more of a journey and one you’re sharing. 

It was about three hours in to the first Mass Effect game where I’d realised I made a terrible mistake. I hated my created character, he looked stupid, like he didn’t belong, and I resented his very appearance even though I was the one who bestowed it upon him. He wasn’t Commander Shepard. Thankfully the realisation dawned on me fairly early, the guy on the front cover of the game; he was Commander Shepard, not this abomination I’d created. My mistake had to be rectified. 

I restarted the game – not something I’d normally do, and suddenly seeing default Shepard felt right. Thus began an incredible journey that has stayed with me ever since.

The thing about playing a game like Mass Effect is that even though you have your main character, his persona, how he acts and what his allegiances are aren’t defined by the game. I’m the one who controls what he says, who he treats badly and who he helps. As a result he becomes a character that is almost unique to everyone that plays the game. Shepard defined me just as much as I defined Shepard. It’s almost as if Shepard could be a part of my subconscious, as I approach a conversation he pops up in my head saying “Here’s how we can respond to this, what do you want to do?”. We guided each other through the difficult situations and judged them as we went. 

Where choice and being good or bad is an option I tend to play more on the good side of things. It’s easy to be evil; to indulge that darker side of your subconscious, where emotion rules over rational thinking. Trying to do the right thing in the face of adversity can be a lot more difficult. Trying to act rationally or stay focused on what you think is the right thing, when your emotions boil to the surface can be a much harder to do. That’s why I choose this path when playing video games, and those emotions, those difficult choices, were never more present when playing through the Mass Effect series. 

As the first human Spectre I felt I had a responsibility for all of humanity. My actions – seen at a galaxy wide level, would be how humans were perceived, I felt an obligation to paint us in a good light. In my eyes Shepard was a man who listened; a man of compassion, reason and selflessness. He would take time to speak to not only his crew mates, but also those outside of his crew to see whether he could help their plight in some way. 

It’s not all about Shepard though. Just like in real life we can be influenced by those around us, we sympathise with friends, foe and total strangers. Our relationships shape us; they change us as we grow to understand different perspectives. The crew of the Normandy are just as important in the Mass Effect journey as the main character himself.  I grew to love my crew and I wanted to keep them safe, keep them happy and make them feel like they belonged on my ship. 

When the suicide mission came around I knew there was a chance I could lose some of my crew mates permanently, so I planned and research as much as I could to ensure that everyone made it out alive. There are so many moments like this in the game where you genuinely struggle to choose what to do, where you debate the pros and cons of your actions, the right and wrong of them. I would seek wisdom from my crew mates where I could to see if they could help me make the ‘right’ decision. 

The journey through the Mass Effect trilogy was a rollercoaster; it had epic moments, emotional turmoil packed with conflicting feelings and every step of the way Shepard was there like a beacon of hope in the darkest times for, not just humanity, but all life.


warp-points

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Commander Shepard: The Character That Defines Will from Geek. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We’re honored to have a special guest with us today! It’s Later Levels, one of the finest blogs on the internet. Later Levels did so much to help put Normal Happenings in front of an audience, both with their fun blog parties and Kim’s contributions to Normal Happenings collabs.

She contributed a wonderful article for the Hyrule collab, and you’ll see today’s piece is a bit of a sequel to her The Games That Define Us entry. Please be sure to go follow the Later Levels blog.

Thank you, Kim, for being such a big part of our blogging journey. Please enjoy today’s piece!


1P START

Wannabe pirates, fine leather jackets and three-headed monkeys. I’ve been a fan of these things since finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a nine-year old. After being gifted an Amiga 500 by my parents for Christmas that year, the first game I chose to play on it was one which came on floppy disks in a box with an image that caught my attention: a mysterious looking skull, fierce-looking pirates and a young blonde hero brandishing a sword. It was clear to me back then that adventure awaited inside.

That was the beginning of a lifelong love-affair with point-and-clicks and video games with strong narratives. I’d played other titles before on our Commodore 64 and NES but nothing so story- or puzzle-focused; and The Secret of Monkey Island became the first I played for myself, all the way through to my end and without much help. I’ve written before about how much that experience influenced me as a gamer and even now, almost three decades later, I can still feel its magic.

Part of the reason for that is thanks to a certain character. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for readers to assume I’m referring to Guybrush Threepwood here because the series charts his transformation from aspiring swashbuckler to competent pirate (sort of). Elaine Marley could be a good role model too because she’s one female protagonist who doesn’t need saving. Or it could be LeChuck, who’s portrayed as a villain but deep down is a romantic who’s simply misunderstood.

But no, the character I’m writing about today is someone who doesn’t get as much screen-time as the main trio but still has a big impact. He made his first appearance in The Curse of the Monkey Island and popped up in the following titles after winning players over with his personality. There’s always something useful to be learnt from him even though his teachings are hidden beneath a layer of comedy, and his words of wisdom have made him one of my favourite video game protagonists.

Who am I talking about? None other than Murray.

murray

He may be just a skull but he’s not just a skull. The victim of a tragic accident, his skeleton was blasted to smithereens by a stray cannon ball while working as a member of LeChuck’s Army of the Undead. But rather let this hold him back he turned it into the opportunity he’d been waiting for: to conquer the land of the living and become its demonic overlord. He doesn’t let the fact he doesn’t have a body stop him from seeing himself as an object of pure evil and dreaming of spreading chaos throughout the Caribbean.

I might not be a diabolical cranium or have dreams of taking over the world but I do know what it’s like to have to overcome an obstacle that’s standing in front of your goals. I was the only girl in my computing class at college and when I started working as an administrator in IT around 15 years ago, there weren’t a huge number of women in the industry. I had to fight to make my colleagues take me seriously and give me a chance to prove I could do more than schedule their meetings and organise their invoices.

When those opportunities did come, I took a tip from Murray and made the most of them. He travelled around the Tri-Island area soaking up all that the world had to offer; and I worked my way up through the levels of IT role while learning as much as I could from each experience. Whenever he needed a bone to support him, he asked a pirate to pick him up so he could bite them and then use theirs; and I learned to ask for advice from mentors whenever I needed a push in the right direction.

I eventually became qualified as an IT best-practice expert after a lot of hard work but at the beginning of 2019, I realised I needed a change in direction. Murray yet again came to the rescue with his philosophy of adopt, adapt and overcome. He didn’t put his skull in the sand after his first encounter with Guybrush and instead amended his plan to ‘stride’ through the gates of hell. Similarly, I set about trying to move into a more technical role where I could finally start learning how to code.

When the chance came I grasped it with both hands (sorry Murray) and I’ve now been a database engineer for around a year. There’s still got a long way to go in my new career but I’m resolute in succeeding. Sometimes all you need is a plan, a certain amount of determination, a positive mental attitude and willingness to take a few risks to get somewhere new – whether that be a different career, or a Caribbean island where you’re going to hatch your plan to become a demonic overlord.

Everyone has it in them to be a powerful evil force and a harbinger of doom, regardless of who and what they are. Murray is one skull who’s got his s**t together; maybe we just need to embrace our demonic sides and be a little more like him sometimes.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Murray: The Character That Defines Kim from Later Levels

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We promised you two pieces today, and who better to fulfill the guarantee than Winst0lf, The Bizzaro Mage? Winst0lf has always been a friend to Normal Happenings, and we’re so thankful to have him on board. Once you get done here, check out his previous contribution to Tracking Shells.

Winst0lf does a lot of stuff you should check out. He’s got a great blog, runs a podcast, and contributes to The Well-Red Mage!

But for the here and now, we’ve got a great piece. Let’s get started!


1P START

Let’s talk High Fantasy for a second, shall we?

The witches are always wicked, the dwarves always digging for gold and the elves, those arch, beautiful things, live within the fluted cities famed throughout Middle Earth, or whichever fantasy locale you prefer.

But what if somebody, some wonderfully talented Polish scribe, mixed the worlds of High Fantasy, European folklore and just a dash of satire and modern political intrigue? What kind of hero would live in this dour, salty, occasionally heart warming world? Who would Henry Cavill play, were this strange world to be made into a Netflix series?

This guy right here, Geralt of Rivia, the Butcher of Blaviken himself.

Geralt is a Witcher (a translation error, as in his native Poland he is actually a Hexer), a professional hunter of monsters that, despite their unrivalled combat skills, are shunned by society, even feared. For Witchers are both more than human and, simultaneously, less than human. Trained from childhood, these longsword wielding warriors are also exposed to weird, gross mutagens that make them stronger, faster and also give them creepy cat eyes and dull their emotions (so, like a cat I guess, the uncaring little buggers)!

It’s already tough being a Witcher, so imagine what would happen if one got involved with a Child of Prophecy (complete with time warping powers) and, if that isn’t already intriguing enough, then got involved with a political conspiracy between the King of Temeria and the invading Nilfgaardian army! Talk about having your hands full!

Yet this snowy haired, scarred warrior never complains about his challenges, be they amnesia, romantic woes, the general unpleasantness of the people around him or even chasing his beloved daughter figure Cirilla across the land, trying to save her from the ghostly troop of bad dudes known as the Wild Hunt. He’s stoic and grumpy, but also caring at heart, surprisingly fun with a few drinks in him and also satisfyingly open minded about those marginalised by society, up to and including the very monsters he hunts.

Geralt is definitely the most interesting part of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books and CD Projekt Red actually fleshed him out even further, as well as adding a silver sword to his arsenal, alongside his steel one, to fight off beasts. The two blades are iconic in this series, as are the wolf’s head medallion he uses to detect the presence of monsters.

Fighting by his side are his best friends, Dandelion the bard and Zoltan the dwarf, as well as his trusty (yet unimaginably stupid) horse Roach. He’s a fine friend to them all, even going so far as to have a fine stable built for Roach at the end of their adventures as a reward for her hard work.

So we have established that he attack and that he protect, he’s also really good at seducing the ladies and usually takes any break he can get in that department, even going so far as to get some sexy picture cards from his satisfied lovers in the first game. Though his one true love will always be Yennefer, obviously. (Not Triss!)

Did I mention that he can also cast magical spells, drink enhancing potions and even make hand grenades to lob at gangs of nasty Nekkers? I mean, come on, he’s an absolute unit, and that is why he is definitely the best video game protagonist of all time, even better than that silent scientist bloke or even the dude that glides about firing magical arrows at octopus-ish spider robots.

Thank you all for your time and attention, my friends, and remember, if you ever have a really big pest problem, call for Mr. Of Rivia to come along and sort it out, if his horse can find you.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Geralt of Rivia: The Character That Defines Winst0lf