Empathy

I have always been a magnet for feelings. If I see someone crying, there’s a good chance I’m going to cry. If I see someone laughing, I’ll laugh even if I don’t get the joke. I feed on the emotions of other people, and in doing so they become mine. Even when I was a little kid, a person could cause me to feel any number of things just by feeling that way themselves.

I remember a time when I was in preschool and I was very rude to a little girl who wanted to come into our “hideout” and play with us. She looked so sad and I immediately regretted everything. I sat in my little hideout feeling terrible and just waiting to get in trouble for being so mean. That moment has obviously stuck with me, and I still consider it any time I say something that I feel may have been too strong, especially to someone who didn’t deserve it.

Recently, I had a day when I was just feeling down. I had been doing okay, but I talked to someone that wasn’t. This person just seemed down in the dumps for some reason. I don’t even know the story, but they were projecting their feelings even if they didn’t mean to. I have an uncanny ability, likely because of this empathy thing, to tell when someone is carrying some extra emotional weight. This person definitely was, and I picked up on it. Everything about my demeanor changed. I sat down on the couch and just stewed in this anxiety. 

I’ve been trying to pay attention when things like this happen and not just be sad or anxious, but to figure out why I feel like that. I had a few quiet moments so I sat there and explored. I considered what may have happened. I searched my brain to try and figure out where the feeling was coming from. Stephanie even asked me, “You were fine a little while ago, what’s going on?” I sat quietly, because there are plenty of things that could be wrong, but I wasn’t sure if any of those were what was actually causing the problem. Then she asked the real question that I needed, “Is this feeling yours, or did you take it from someone?”

BOOM

I zeroed in on the problem and it wasn’t my feeling. It was totally someone elses, and I was just sitting around stewing in it. I had lost at least a half hour of my life being worried about something that I had no business worrying about. I was up, bouncing, and feeling great as soon as I learned that it wasn’t mine. It was freedom. I had picked up an emotion I didn’t understand and realized that I didn’t have to. I was as shocked as she was about how light I felt after that weight had been lifted. I’d never had that experience before. 

I’ve come to the realization after thirty-three years that I need to sit down when I feel sad and look for who might have transferred it to me. If I can do that, then I can get over it. It’s not always a solution, but it’s another tool in my toolbox to help me work through things. I very rarely have anything to be too sad about, so generally it is someone else. I guess I’m what they call and “empath” but I don’t have the issue with physical pain that some of those folks do. Some people don’t just absorb emotions, but they also absorb people’s physical pain. 

I see a lot of this in Sam when he is with his peers and one of them is really upset. He feels so bad for them. You can see it in his eyes. It makes him anxious and worried. The good news is that I see it in him now, and if I can figure out how to work through my own issues with it, then I can help him out too. 

Maybe some of this has helped you as well. If you have experiences with empathy being a bit too strong, how do you deal with it? It can be pretty intense. I’m the worst at cheering people up simply because I can’t stay happy when they are sad. I just get down in the dirt and wallow in it with them. Don’t call me to perk up your friends or visit sad kids at a hospital. I’m definitely the wrong person for that job.

The Reading List: Artemis

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

I was a huge fan of The Martian by Andy Weir. I listened to the audiobook twice. There was something about it that spoke to me. Mainly the engineering aspect of it. It used science to fight back against a planet that was trying to kill the protagonist, Mark Wattney. With every step forward, something would put him two steps back because he had some other thing to figure out. It also followed the skill and expertise of a team on earth that helped get him home. There was a lot of hope involved in that book. Good people trying to save a man stranded on a planet thousands of miles from home.

Artemis is not that story. Artemis is about a smuggler named Jasmine Bashara, Jazz for short. She’s not a good person. You might even consider her a bad person. At the very least, she is a morally ambiguous person who has certain people she cares about but everyone else can die in a fire. 

I love Jazz.

It’s not that she’s horrible, but rather that she’s so fun to read. This whole book is written in the first person, and I’m so glad it is. With that perspective you get every bit of what Jazz is thinking and I love the way her mind works. It’s messed up, but always in a humorous and witty way. Andy Weir is a sarcastic son of a gun, and it shines through so well in this story.

The science is on full display here as it always is with his work. There’s not nearly as much problem solving here, but it’s not that kind of story. Instead you get little tidbits of info about what life is like on a lunar colony. He does a great job of reminding you that this is some kind of outpost in a desolate landscape every so often. The rules for living on a lunar colony are on full display and it’s all about keeping people alive. 

Jazz gets wrapped up in an incredibly believable mob conspiracy, and I have no doubt that something like this might occur if the moon was actually colonized. I’m not going to spoil anything, but there is a money grab involved. There are some fantastic twists and turns as we figure out more about what is going on. 

I hung on to every word of this story. It was sarcastic, funny, smart, witty, and all the things I ever want out of a fully developed character. She makes mistakes, blames others, swindles people, drinks too much, and loves her dad more than she’s willing to admit to herself. She’s amazing and I want to read more stories with her in it.

I might be keeping this one on my shelf for a long time.

Up Next: The Stand …. maybe

The Reading List: Console Wars

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

Oh. My. Word.

I had no idea that the early 90’s was chock full of video game console intrigue. I got my first console in 1989 when I was four years old. It was a Nintendo Entertainment System and it opened my eyes to a world that I would pretty much belong to forever. That wonderful world of video games and the joy that they can bring on a rainy day or when you want to group up with your friends and attack virtual monsters together. I wasn’t just a Nintendo fan though. I was into all the consoles and was one of the lucky kids that had a Super Nintendo and a Sega Genesis at the same time.

I had no idea that those two consoles were probably hurling insults at each other when I wasn’t looking.

Console Wars excellently details the story of the scrappy little company that could, Sega, and it’s fight against the juggernaut that was Nintendo. There were so many shenanigans between those two companies back then. From undercutting prices to social engineering for secret info. Nothing was off the table when it came to Sega’s attempts at crushing Nintendo at its own game. The thing that shocked me the most about the whole story is that Nintendo was a bunch of buttholes when it came to controlling their product. They had licensing restrictions, quality restrictions, and they even made you purchase the cartridges from them at $10 a pop. Now some of this wasn’t such a bad idea considering that the video games industry almost completely fell over. Without Nintendo, it’s likely we wouldn’t have the same landscape we had today. They put in a lot of effort to make sure that no one was sold garbage so they could keep making awesome stuff.

Sega is the main character in this book, at least the way I read it. The book is written as a narrative pieced together over countless interviews. Obviously, Blake Harris wasn’t there when all these conversations were being had, but he put together a realistic and compelling background to each of them so it feels like he could have been. He is a fantastic storyteller and made this a book I couldn’t put down whenever I started reading it. I feel like I know the brave folks at Sega who really pushed the brand forward when it was struggling to find its place. The Sega of America team really knew what it was doing and if Sega of Japan had just gotten out of the way, who knows where they would be now. The Genesis was an amazing system, and I believe the Saturn could have been as well SoJ would have just let SoA make the deals they needed to make.

I highly recommend giving this book a read. It’s easy to read this stuff and think about all the good decisions that were made in order to get Sega over 50% market share, but those decisions were also incredibly risky if you consider them. The folks at Sega were gutsy, and that’s what really made the brand stand out. I actually want to go up in the attic and pull out my Genesis and walk down memory lane. I would also love to know about the “almost” renaissance that was the Dreamcast but the book stops short of that. Either way, it was still fantastic and I’m sure I can do my own research to dig deeper.

Read it!
Console Wars – Blake J. Harris

Next Up: Artemis – Andy Weir

The Reading List (Audio): Make Your Bed

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

I am not worthy.

That’s the way I felt when I finished this one. I think at the end of his days, William McRaven will be able to say that he sucked the marrow out of life. This is a life well lived. Partly because of the things he accomplished, but mainly because he challenged himself to persevere and get through some of the most grueling events that life can throw at you. These were events that he *chose* to participate in. Of course, he’s dealt with bad hands here and there, but he put himself through many of the stories that made it into this book.

McRaven is an inspiration to people everywhere. The lessons that he lays out in this book are things that everyone can use to arm themselves for the challenges they are going to face throughout their lives. These aren’t just lessons that a Navy seal needs. These are lessons that we could all stand to hear, they just hear them louder and more intentional than we will. I have no idea where he got his strength and toughness, but it’s on full display here.

I thought it would be a bit off-putting to begin with because I’m not a military man, and I’m generally averse to some of the voice he uses in this book. He comes across as an incredibly rigid and disciplined man, and I don’t know why that kind of attitude bothers me. It’s so impressive and something to honor for sure, but I have some little piece of me that fights it. I’ve always been that way and I’m not sure why. That being said, it’s something I need to overcome. It’s not a problem with him, but a problem with me.

A few weeks ago, I started making my bed in the morning as suggested as the first lesson in this book. Having not read the book, I didn’t know the reasons behind it, but I knew it was somehow important to an incredibly successful person. It’s honestly changed me. Not just the way my day starts, but also the way my day goes from the morning on. It’s a simple, accomplishable task that you can do at the beginning of the day to get the ball rolling. If you can make your bed, you can make breakfast. If you can make your bed, you’ve already gotten to work so getting to work is less of a slog.

I highly recommend this to pretty much everyone. I think there are sections of this book that resonate more than others for me, but it could be largely different for you. Give it a read and see if it can change you even a little bit. If anything, it shows the limits that a human being can be pushed to and continue moving forward. We all have it in us, we just need to do things that help prove to us that it’s there.

The Reading List: The Big Sleep

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

The big yellow button on the Amazon web page was enticing. It pulled me in like a moth to a flame. The name of the book: The Big Sleep. A hard-boiled detective novel by Raymond Chandler. I’d never read his work. It didn’t matter. The premise hooked me. I sat in the dark with my Kindle. The faint glow of the backlight illuminating a world I never got to see. A world of conspiracy, greed, murder, and indoor smoking. I devoured the pages like a lion devours a gazelle. They say words are food for the brain, and I was hungry.

I really hope you read that in a 1930’s mid-atlantic radio voice because that’s how I wrote it. The Big Sleep is considered by many to be the best encapsulation of hard-boiled detective fiction ever written. Raymon Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe is not just a private detective, he’s THE detective. He’s arrogant, smart, confident, and blunt. When you think of a private detective from the 40’s, you’re probably thinking of Phillip Marlowe. He’s the template for every detective novel that comes after.

I’m admittedly terrible at following mysteries. They require a certain amount of thought and investment in “whodunit” and I read like  I watch a movie. I read to be entertained and enjoy, and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure anything out. I just want to be on the ride. Picking a book like this was unusual for me, but I also love the style of Raymond Chandler’s writing. The way he builds the atmosphere is incredible. He makes sure you have all the details you need to paint the picture he wants you to see, but not so much that you get bored.

One thing that also stood out to me is that he has a limited set of characters that he wants you to know about. There are about ten or fewer characters that have any dialogue in the story, and it really lends to the vibe he’s trying to create. Marlowe only cares about the people that he’s investigating, he’s being paid by, or can help him. There are only so many people that he wants to talk to, so you only have so many people to care about. He rarely describes people on the streets unless they somehow stand in the way of a goal or are critical to the investigation or his observations.

If you’re into detective stories and really want that black & white style, 1940’s vibe, then this is a book for you. I will say that the content of this thing is incredibly dated. The way the women are written is two-dimensional, the language used is offensive at times, and it can be a wild ride into the past. I’ll tell you we’ve made a lot of social progress since 1939. A lot of people want to look back on life back then with rose-colored glasses, but we definitely are better off today than we were then in terms of people and their acceptance of others.

Check it out!

Next up: Console Wars – Blake J. Harris

Potty Mouth

The rise of the Twitch superstar has been an interesting one. There are a ton of normal gamers out there who have managed to amass some pretty huge followings thanks to either their personalities or skills in a particular game. I’ve been following along with it for a few years since we started streaming stuff over there. If there is one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that there are a bunch of folks with filthy language out there.

I want to be careful not to be condescending towards them because a lot of people are really down with it, but it’s just not for me. I watch streamers who are positive, care about their communities, and generally try to maintain at least a PG-13 style stream. The only thing about the other style of streamer that concerns me is that a bunch of them seem to be getting in trouble for saying horrible things on the internet in front of their adoring fans. It’s really putting a damper on eSports in general because every few weeks you see another player who has been suspended from their team or another Twitch streamer who gets a temp ban for some bad behavior. I really want something like eSports to succeed, despite my not watching it, because it’s a cool outlet for people who were never into traditional sports. These folks are talented and they deserve an awesome venue to display those talents.

What I think these people really need is some sort of media relations coach. Being “on” all the time is incredibly stressful, but they also have to realize that everything they say is recorded and matters. It’s not unlike celebrities who have to do those obnoxious press junkets every time they have a new movie come out. They have to be prepared and they have to play their part without saying horrible things or spoiling something for everyone. I think Twitch streamers are often brought into the “famous” arena without properly being molded to it and figuring out how to handle that fame. They end up just being an obnoxious gamer but instead of ranting by themselves in their room, they’re ranting to a room full of 10,000+ people. Someone needs to teach them how to deal with that kind of stress.

I don’t mean to blanket all streamers that way. There are a ton of folks that have a fairly squeaky clean image and still have a bunch of followers. I just think we can do better as a community of gamers to improve our image. I would rather there be headlines about how much awesome charity stuff we do. CohhCarnage raised over $62k for St. Jude in a recent charity stream. That didn’t show up on any blogs that I read, but I see plenty of stories about homophobic and racial slurs all over the place. What can we do to fix that, man? Further reducing incidents of hate would help. A lot of this is just human stuff and works itself out in time for people I’m sure. I know I said stupid stuff when I was younger that was broadcasted to the world. I’ve been podcasting since 2005 so I know it happened. Hopefully, some of these folks just need time and some hard lessons to learn what not to say and how to grow into a better person. We all have to strive for it and we’ll get there someday.

 

The Reading List: Robin

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

I rarely finish a book in a week. It’s a thing that just doesn’t happen for me mainly because I don’t have the time, and usually because the book doesn’t pull me back in that much. Very few books have ever commanded my attention as much as “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff. To be fair, I love biographies and autobiographies. Some of my favorite books are those about people’s lives. I’m not sure what hooks me. It might be the idea that these are true stories and experiences that we can all learn from or relate to. Robin is no exception to that.

I grew up with Robin Williams. By the time I was watching movies he was all over them. He was the genie in Aladdin, which I’m pretty sure I played enough the tape should have broken. Oh the good ol’ days of Disney’s clamshell VHS cases, right? He became one of my favorite actors when Mrs. Doubtfire hit theatres. It was an amazing movie that had plenty to give to all ages. There were jokes that went well over my head that I now think are hilarious as an adult. He had a gift for entertainment, but it was also a bit of a curse for him.

Dave Itzkoff built an incredible narrative around a very complicated man. He went from an unknown stand up comic in San Francisco to a superstar, but that road was never easy and his success was never obvious, especially not to him. What I learned most here is that he was profoundly insecure about his own fame, success, and even his own ability to make people laugh. He loved to make people laugh, but he would often leave shows wondering if he did a good enough job. He suffered from enough anxiety about it that he would often call people after the fact to be sure he didn’t offend them. He desperately wanted to be loved. Even after reading the book and understanding a bit of his childhood, the book never truly reveals why he may have felt this way. I don’t know that it could if it tried. People are enigmas, and Robin may have been the greatest one of all. He was a comedy genius and a tortured soul all rolled into one.

There were interesting tidbits about his life in this book that never came through with his public image. He was terrified of not being cared about or famous anymore. Not because he needed the fame, but he wanted the love. He wanted to know that he could always entertain people, and I think in the end that’s what ended it all for him. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s he saw the end of the line for what he identified with. His identity was found in his ability to make people laugh. There’s a huge lesson for us all in here. If you identify yourself as something that may be fleeting such as fame, your mental faculties, your strength, and others, you’re going to get to the end of your life disappointed. Cling to something permanent, something immovable so that you can be yourself all the way to the end of the road. Robin didn’t have that and I think that hurt him in the end.

The sad thing about it all is that he did have people that loved him all around, but once his disease took hold, it was almost impossible for him to see it. It was found in his autopsy that he was actually suffering from a pretty gnarly form of dementia. It caused motor function issues, hallucinations, paranoia, and personality changes. These were all things he struggled with and I think it’s safe to say for us that it wasn’t really him who put an end to his life. It was his body, but his mind was well gone by the time he got to that dark place. The Robin Williams we all knew and loved wasn’t going to come back.

I was floored by this book. I couldn’t put it down. It usually takes me a few weeks to get through a biography, despite my love for them, but I managed to read this one in seven days. That’s a record time for me. Especially with a 400-page book. I think the only thing that compares is the Harry Potter series. If you loved Robin Williams, I highly recommend checking this one out. It was a fantastic read.

Next Up: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Reading List: Muscular Christianity

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

Muscular Christianity was introduced to me by my good friend, Twitter, and The Art of Manliness blog. It’s easily one of my favorite websites for long-form reading on culture and how it attempts to define what a “man” is in today’s world. In this latest ebook, the husband and wife team of Brett and Kate McKay explore the issue of church attendance amongst men. It’s an academic book in a lot of ways but the narrative is strong and it never gets boring. There are statistics galore and a ton of surprises, at least for me.

One of the striking things that I learned from this book is that men’s participation in the church has been an issue since as far back as the Puritan era in America. You’d think that every man in a village would have been in church during that time, but you’d be wrong. The women in a congregation outnumbered the men nearly 4 to 1. That’s incredible to me considering how patriarchal Christianity seems to be at first glance. Since the beginning of American church, it’s just been hard to drag men into the place. It’s not for lack of trying either. As we delve deeper in we find out all about the many attempts to make church attractive for men, and how some succeeded and some failed.

There was also a point in history when the sermons simply began targeting women because they were the ones in attendance, and largely the responsible one at home when it came to the family’s spiritual health. Some of this was because of the industrial revolution and men leaving home to work and pursue earthly goals. The woman was left at home to see that the children were brought up with God in their lives. I found this to be very interesting because in a lot of ways we still do this today. Both parents are typically working these days, but the men seem to still rely on their wives to make sure spiritual needs are met at home, or they simply don’t care if they are or not.

All in all, there were some great things to learn here. As a husband, father, and Christian, I found a lot of lessons to be had and actually discovered some things that had been eating at me that I had not considered. Like the regard of an intimate relationship with Jesus rather than one of admiration for his power, principles, and whip-cracking spirit that is as visible in the Bible as his squishy side. Modern church tends to focus so much on the squishy Jesus that the one that knocked over tables and spoke hard truths gets forgotten or lost in the messages.

I definitely recommend this read. Even if you aren’t a Christian, it’s an academic exploration that at least might be of some interest to you. You can grab the ebook from Amazon: amzn.to/2lM5Gip

Next Up: Robin by Dave Itzkoff (https://amzn.to/2KsYLcQ)

Building Myself

Over the last couple of years, I have spent more time reading non-fiction works than I think I have in my life. When I was a kid, it was all about reading things that filled my head with imagination and creativity. It was about leaping headfirst into worlds that were different than the one I was living in. I read stuff from Roald Dahl, Orson Scott Card, and of course the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Those people built universes that helped nurture my brain with whimsy and allowed an escape from real life. Now I find that I still dig that stuff, but I’m also finding myself more attracted to studies on growth, how to raise kids, how to be a better man, and things like that. I wouldn’t call it “self-help” but rather research into what success looks like for people that I admire. Is it just making it through a day and being happy you get to see the next morning or pushing yourself to be something better every time you put your feet on the ground in the morning.

After I had a son, most of this kind of change happened. I would say even prior to Sam being born I found myself studying to be a better person. I tried a bit when before we even knew we were going to have a kid, but there’s something about knowing a new life is coming into the world that forces you to take a step back and see where you are. I’ve always been reflective when it comes to how I react and do things. Moreso now that I’m older. Find me a self-reflective teenager and I’ll show you the next leader of the free world. It just doesn’t happen. As teens, we’re a bundle of nerves, anxiety, and social pressure that makes us stubborn and unable to listen to reason most of the time. We have principles but generally, they’re all the wrong ones. Sam has been the catalyst for change for me and every day I’m trying to find some more tools I can use to turn myself into who I want to be.

I’m not saying that having a kid changes everyone. Millions of fatherless kids out there will tell you a whole different story. I think if we start from a good place, we’re generally more likely to attempt to improve ourselves. I started from an incredibly good place in that Steph and I were doing well financially, we’d just bought a house, and our relationship was solid. We had some messy stuff, but everyone does. Bringing Sam into all that made me want to try my best to clean it all up. I wanted to start being responsible and pulling myself together so I could provide the best model for what I hope he sees in me. He is The Little Chap That Follows Me after all. Side note, Steph gave me a picture of Sam and I walking and holding hands and stuck that poem in the frame beside it. She gave it to me for Christmas and it made me ugly cry. It’s the best give anyone ever gave me.

Jim Henson once said, “Kids don’t remember what you say. They remember what you are.” That sticks with me and every time I spend time telling Sam how to do something or when to behave, I have to look at how I’m handling myself in similar situations. Am I freaking out over something, or am I calm and collected? Do I have a negative streak when things aren’t going well, or am I thinking positively in order to change my situation? The only thing we have control over in all reality is our attitude and how we respond to things out of our control. If I’m a bundle of nerves, he’ll be a bundle of nerves. If I am anxious, he’ll be anxious. Conversely, if I’m rock solid emotionally when things are spiraling out of control, he can reach out to me for comfort when it seems nuts to him. I can be the stability he needs when he needs it.

I’ve had to seek out great thinkers and people who spend their time studying this kind of stuff, not because I think there are magic tricks regarding growth and self-improvement. If I at least seek out ideas, I can learn. Once I read some new idea or study, I tend to absorb it and it becomes a part of me. At least for a short time, it’ll stick to me and I can lean on it when I get stuck in a situation. Over the past few months, I’ve put into practice ideas I’ve learned about small talk, confidence, asking for what I want without feeling bad about it, and saying “no” when it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I have a long way to go, but when you start looking at yourself like a work in progress, you can continue to grow. If I sit around feeling bad for myself because “that’s just the way I am” it’s a cop-out. You are the way you are often because you allow it. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true. I’m not saying to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, but seeking out tools to help you up is a big step in growing. Challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done. Fill your mental toolbox with cool ideas to handle situations that make you uncomfortable. That’s what you do when you’re a kid and somehow we quit doing that as we age. We have a massive toolbox, but we stop filling it once we get the basics. Think about the last time you learned something that was useful. It probably came when you exposed yourself to a new task or were put in an unusual situation. You either learn how not to do it, or you learn that you handled it well. Those kinds of experience tick checkboxes in our brains that we get to hold on to so we can lean on them later.

This post totally went in a direction I did not expect when I started writing 0_0. Anyway, go find some people or books that can help you fill your toolbox without having to hurt through it first. I don’t need to screw up everything first if I can learn that there are cool starting points I can go with. Arm yourself! Keep on trying to be the best version of you that you can be. I’ve learned a ton of stuff from The Art of Manliness, and it’s a great place to start learning useful stuff if you’d like. I’ll start posting books that I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to as well. I feel like I enjoy other people’s reading lists so you might dig mine.

 

God of War

I have never played a God of War game. It was just a whole series of action game that looked super fun, but I didn’t have a PlayStation and it wasn’t enough to pull me in. I didn’t have any friends with the games so I just never got to pick it up. Truth be told, those kinds of games just don’t work for me like others do. I’ve always been a story oriented gamer. The story has to be the highlight. Obviously the gameplay matters or I’ll never get to the story, but in general, I’d say that the games I enjoy most are heavy on well-rounded characters. My top games list includes games like The Last of Us, the Uncharted Series, Grim Fandango, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and others.

This latest edition of God of War scratched nearly every itch I have when it comes to a video game. It had incredible visuals, sound design, story, character development, world building, and, of course, outstanding gameplay. The graphics in this game are second to none. When I mention graphics, I mean the animations, textures, models, and everything. The lighting in some of the caves is astounding, and I felt at times that I was just watching a fully realized movie. Granted so many movies use CGI, they might as well be video games but still. One of the awesome choices the team made when they created this game was that the camera would be fixed and over the shoulder for most of the game. This is a huge departure from previous games that were more of an isometric, or 2D side-scrolling perspective. This basically leads to a seamless experience. There are never any cuts away from Kratos. You’re following him the whole time. Unlike Uncharted games where full-on movie sequences take place, this game leaves you viewing the world from Kratos’s perspective.

The gameplay was also super solid. I’ll admit, I’m a dad and don’t have the time to die over and over again. I took the difficulty down to the “I want a story” mode so I could just play and enjoy myself. I regretted it initially. Honestly, what kind of a gamer am I if I can’t play a game on “balanced” (ie. “normal”) mode. A gamer who digs stories more than challenge, that’s who. I got so much more joy after I toned down the difficulty. I really appreciate this new trend in not referring to modes as easy, normal, hard, but rather tailoring it to different play styles. Some folks don’t want to play with a Dark Souls level of challenge. I’m one of those gamers. Mainly because I don’t get a lot of time to game. I can’t play for 2 hours only to make roughly 45 minutes of progress in the main storyline. That would never work for me. With the difficulty toned down, I got to really blow through enemies with the incredible abilities that Kratos has. The fighting was fluid and responsive. Dodging, blocking, and swinging my axe all felt great. I’d honestly play this again just to enjoy the battles I got into.

Sound design. Man, sound design. There is a lot to say about this game, but the overall thing that I think sold it more than any other aspect is the sound. When Kratos picks up a boulder, it’s accompanied by a rock crushing sound. Bits of dust and tiny rocks can be heard crumbling off whatever structure he’s struggling with. Arrows zoom past with a sound that indicates just how fast they are. Punches land with gruesome thuds. There are countless moments where the sound made the difference regarding how believable something was. Opening a chest and pushing the giant stone cover off, hearing it crumble to the ground, is on par with the Zelda treasure music. It was so satisfying to hear it every time. They worked tirelessly to make this game feel epic and getting the sound right was key to that.

The relationship between Kratos and his son is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’m a dad now, and I think this game had more impact on me than it might on someone who doesn’t have a son of their own. Stephanie even took notice that this probably had a lot more to say to me than it did to her. Kratos is a hard father. You understand that from the moment the game starts. His son is just a kid trying to figure things out and doing his best. The thing I learned as it went on is that Kratos is only doing what he knows how to do, but he does take the time to listen. Amongst all the intense battles and puzzle solving in this game, there are quiet moments where Kratos and Atreus just talk to each other. Those are some of the most amazing moments in the game and it speaks to the writers and their ability to build solid, believable characters.

This game is everything I expect when I pick up a game that talks about being an epic story. Stephanie and I both came to realize that the games that work best for us, are the ones where there is more than one character completing a task. The dialogue is almost constant in this game. Either Kratos, Atreus, or Mimir (a disembodied head you carry) are talking about something while you are running from here to there. Sometimes it’s just to fill in lore, and other times it’s something important that you’ll want to remember as you go along. I never got bored in my entire playthrough. I haven’t completed the whole game, but I did finish the main storyline and it was very satisfying.

This is one of the few games that I’ve played that I want to run right around and play again. If you’re into heavy narratives and action-packed gameplay, I can’t recommend this enough. I’m already crossing my fingers for a sequel.

God of War: Buy it Now