Friday, February 19, 2016

Dragon Age's Inspiration

For the last month and a half, I have been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. It is pretty much the first video game that I've played all the way through in a long time. Years, maybe. The first time I played through the game was really a rush through the main story quests, with just enough side quests to level up and not die immediately. My Inquisitor (character) was a female elf, and like all Dragon Age games, there is the possibility for the main character to have a romance with one of the other characters, some playable and some not. My Inquisitor was swept away by Commander Cullen's fortitude and steadfast adorableness. It was a sweet, endearing romance that did not disappoint. However, there was a small part of me that, like many gamers embarking up a play through of Dragon Age, regretted being unable to romance the character Dorian.
Dorian was, by far, my favorite character in the game. The overly confident mage swept in like a storm, saving the members of the Inquisition without really asking for anything in return. He was attractive, dashing, and oozed a sexy confidence, but those weren't the only reasons that I wished multiple times that I had created my character a little differently.
I should premise by saying that Dorian is a character that 100% gay. And this fact isn't just an afterthought for the character. It is a major part of his personal story line. That is an aspect of the game that really stood out to me. All of the characters have some sort of internal struggle that makes them imperfect and easily relatable. You have a recovering drug addict, a girl with an overwhelming dislike of her own race, and a few characters pretending to be something that they are not in order to escape some previous hurt or misdeed. It shouldn't be surprising that they added a character struggling with their sexuality. Of course, in a game series that often dips its toes in the world of bisexual or homosexual characters, having a character struggling with this aspect over all others was a bit of a surprise.
It isn't long into the game that we find out just how deeply his sexuality has affected his life. We discover that homosexual relationships aren't unheard of in Teventer (where Dorian is from), but they are hidden and only allowed to take place behind closed doors. One is expected to tow the line and create the perfect heterosexual family unit. Dorian was unwilling to compromise on his deep desire to not only be with someone he loved, but be with the MAN of his dreams. The soul crushing moment of the game comes when we discover that Dorian's father planned to use magic to alter his mind. The Inquisitor can influence him to speak to his father, giving Dorian a chance to heal and forgive. There is obviously a strong battle between the love Dorian feels for his father and the heart breaking disappointment of the older man's desperate actions.
While it might not seem like a big deal to have a gay character in a game, especially one like Dragon Age, the writer in me is drawn to the way that the man is depicted. He is arrogant and has an over-the-top personality, obviously brought about by years of being forced to love himself when no one else seemed to be capable of it. He forces his way into the Inquisition so that he can do good for the world. He demands that he be allowed to fight alongside people that he knows will dislike him based simply on where he was born. He has been hurt and is scared to let anyone past the wall he has built around his heart. When the main character actually starts a relationship with him, the mind reading character Cole describes the deep pain inside of Dorian by saying, "Glittering to gloss a hidden hurt, unlearning not to hope for more. Stumbling steps where they wall used to be."
Even while the walls are crumbling down and the Inquisitor is winning Dorian over, there are still hurdles to get past. Dorian's pride will not allow him to ask for help. He doesn't want people viewing gifts from the Inquisitor as further proof of his "undo" influence. He tells the Inquisitor, "You have too many people asking you for everything under the sun. I won't be one of them." He doesn't want to take advantage of the Inquisitor, and asking for help would be seen as such, to him and everyone around him.
There is something deeply revealing to me about his character when I listen to what he says or the tone of voice when he says it. I suppose this is good voice acting, but it is also a sign of good writing. I enjoy reading a story that involves deeply faceted characters; characters that have a new layer to discover every time they are present in a scene. Dorian's perfect exterior, mixed with his emotional damage and pained outbursts have made me start writing again. Although he isn't the main character, and there are only a few main scenes given to us with Dorian's background and romance with the Inquisitor, I find myself writing damaged characters looking for hope for the future. I mean, who wouldn't want someone to look at them like this:
or this:

There is hope in this romance, a sudden realization that they have found something wonderful in a world that is practically crumbling apart around them.
And in the end, even distance couldn't keep them apart.
Who wouldn't want to write a romance like that?

(All pictures are screen captures from the game. They do not belong to me, although they have a very special place in my heart. They belong to Bioware, and I will gladly give them credit, as well as my money).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Struggling to Write

Once again I find that I am struggling to put words onto a page. For a writer, this is painful, even a little devastating. For a while, I haven't even been able to come up with ideas for projects to begin, nor have I been able to finish some of the projects that have been in limbo for a time. I know that I have talked about this writer's block on here before, and I thought that it was just writing overload from school. Maybe I just wrote so many stories for class that my mind needed to take a break. But here I am, long since graduated, and I haven't really written anything since. 
I started reading again, although not near as much as I used to. This helped a little. It was a part of my life that I put aside when I was in school, and a part of me that I didn't realize I missed until I started again. While reading helped made me WANT to write again, and gave me a little boost, I still couldn't seem to get completely inspired. I found myself wondering, "What happened to me, that I can't do the one thing I loved so much? The one thing that drove me to be thousands in debt, just so I could learn a few more techniques and get a little more experience?" I sit sometimes just staring at the computer, thinking, "I really should write something, but I just don't know what." Inspiration had apparently died forever.
That brings me to the current time. For Christmas I got a PS4 from my mother. A little background information about me--I used to be an avid gamer. I loved role playing games like Final Fantasy, shooters like Gears of War, and hack and slash like Devil May Cry. The one thing these games (the ones I loved the most) had in common were their diverse and expanded story lines. Even Gears of War has an extensive world and story that drew me in. I stopped playing games, almost hated them really, because of my terrible, emotionally abusive ex. He was so into video games that to even suggest a different activity resulted in insults and ridicule. I stopped playing because he made me hate something I once loved. I decided that I was going to rediscover this love, because it used to make me so happy.
Thus, I started playing the game Dragon Age: Inquisition. I'd played the original game, loved it, and missed the second. I was determined to sit down and just enjoy the activity I had long avoided. And enjoy I did. I was (and still am) quite obsessed. I play for hours, losing myself in the story line, side quests, and characters. It's design is so beautiful and world so interesting that I find myself hooked. And there has been an unintended side effect. I have found myself inspired again! While I haven't completely started writing long pages of story, I have started jotting down ideas, such as whole paragraphs or dialogue that I need in the story. I am developing a few story ideas piece by piece, like a puzzle. This is the most excited I've been about writing and ideas in a few years. I didn't realize that maybe my inspiration was tied to more than just a love of reading. Maybe I need to rediscover all the little bits of myself that died a while back, breathe new air into them, and feed them so that they will grow. Maybe I have started to find my way back to being a writer again. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Wizarding World and Orlando Studios

Very soon I will be heading back to MY happiest place on Earth. This brings to mind the most fantastic event of my life. A few years ago, I was able to participate in one of the celebration events at Orlando Studios. This event was the 10 year anniversary of the first movie. Having the chance to celebrate up close and personal with other fans, as well as meet some of the actors was too great an opportunity to pass up.
We didn't know which actors would be attending the event. We knew about the Phelps twins. They always seem to go to Harry Potter events, and we fans love them for it.
We we arrived at the park for the first day,the congestion was intense. Especially directly in front of the joke shop. "The Today Show is interviewing a few of the actors" the people around me said. This was pretty exciting. I could actually see the twins standing by the shop, but I kept wondering if the most important actor (to me) would be a participant. Would Rupert Grint be there?
A whisper went through the crowd. Rupert was here, getting his photo taken at another location. Surely this was just a rumor. Then, the girl next to showed the surrounding fans a photo her friend had taken. It was a bit blurry, but it was definitely Rupert. He was here! Surely they'd interview him as well as the twins for the show.
Well, they did. We all stood around in a group while Kathy Lee and Hoda insulted the twins (by barely even interviewing them at all--they addressed this insult on their Twitters later that day), interviewed all of the other actors present (Rupert, Evanna, and Jason) , and insulted Harry Potter fans by making fun of the ones crazy enough to have HP tattoos.
The next event was a Autograph session. I was slightly disappointed in the people at my personal session, but I don't think any of the "major" actors were at any of these particular events.
The true highlight was producer David Heyman. He was charismatic, funny, and apparently amazed that I was 28 and looked as young as I did. He signed my photo "Great Genes!" (my mom also looks much younger than she is).
Also present was David Bradley (Filch), George Harris (Shacklebolt), and Nick Moran (Scabior). They weren't near as friendly, although Nick is much more attractive in person.
The question answer sessions were next on the agenda. Each person was given a ticket to a specific session at a specific time. You never knew who was going to be on stage, and you couldn't change days or times. You could attend other sessions, but could only be seated after ticket holders were.
During my session, when they brought out a footstool and placed it in front of a chair, we all cheered. We knew that meant that Warwick Davis would be there. When the directors and producers walked across stage, my mother and I were disappointed. We wouldn't even get a session with actors? Next came Warwick Davis (of course) and finally Jason Isaacs. When my mother saw Jason she made a noise I'd never heard before (a shout/cheer with a hint of Rawr). The session was surprisingly hilarious. Jason and Warwick fed off of each other, and the jokes were flying. I was pleasantly surprised, although I was already planning the next sessions I would attend (I wanted to see the other attendees).
The next day while my mother and I were shopping I randomly checked Twitter. On one of the Harry Potter news accounts that I followed were the words, "Rupert Grint to answer questions at [a time I can't remember]." I looked at mom and exclaimed, "Rupert is going to be at the next session!" She said, "Run, and I'll catch up." Without another word I darted all the way across the park to where the sessions were taking place. I wasn't even out of breath when I arrived, and was sixth in line to get in (after the ticket holders, that is). This was the ONLY session that actually was too full to allow everyone entrance. I guess word traveled pretty fast.
The session was actually a WEASLEY FAMILY session. The twins, Rupert, Mark Williams, and Domhnall Gleeson were all there.
These men were hilarious, interacting almost like a real family and answering a lot of questions from the audience. The twins discussed their frequent use of social media (namely Twitter). They teased Rupert for avoiding such things, egged on by the audience. Rupert even promised to start using Twitter (liar). Gleeson discussed his years spent on set because of his father (Brendan Gleeson/Mad-Eye Moody), and his eventual acceptance of the role of Bill. They talked about their friendships on and off set, and they all answered individual questions (although I can't remember all of the questions off of the top of my head).
Besides this question/answer session, the coolest part of this trip was the night time gala event. Not only did we get dinner, Butterbeer, and dessert provided to us by the park, but we got to ride the Wizarding World roller coasters at night. During this time, the Dueling Dragons ride actually ran each coaster at the same time (someone hadn't lost an eye yet), so it was really cool.
But the best part of THIS event was that we got to line up along the red carpet and get signatures from all of the actors and other celebrities that showed up. I will include a few pictures below.
I know that they are doing another one of these celebration events in January. I also know that Matt Lewis and Rupert will be there, as well as the old staples at these events (the Phelps twins and Evanna Lynch). I would say that if there are still tickets available, buy them and experience this for yourself. While it is busy, crowded, and crazy, it is definitely worth it. I made some lifelong friends during the event, and met some cool, famous people. The greatest aspect of the event is connecting with others that love Harry Potter as much as I do, and experiencing that excitement with others that appreciate it just as much.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Life Lessons

Like many Jane Austen fans, I have watched (and enjoyed)  "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries." For those who don't know what this is, I will give a small summary in this paragraph. For those who have seen this, you can skip to the next paragraph (when I get to the main point of this post). "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" is a series of videos on Youtube that are a modern day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In this series, sisters Jane, Lizzie, and Lydia struggle with relationships, first impressions, financial difficulties, and misconceptions. They are seen through the eyes of Lizzie Bennet, the middle sister. Events are told in a vlog format, and we are introduced to many of the characters via Lizzie's opinions. These descriptions are often skewed because of Lizzie's original impressions of people, as well as her interpretation of events. Imagine the novel, but with characters from this time period dealing with technological advances, college, and mortgages, sex tapes.
Now, onto the real point of this post. The first time I watched this series was for a Jane Austen class, where I analyzed the inspiration of the author's books on modern day cinema and the differences that were created to fit it to this time period. The biggest, most important difference that I discovered was that there are real, strong lessons learned by the characters in the series. Instead of being left with that vague feeling of "Why did Lizzie fall in love with Darcy again? They barely interacted, but seeing his house and reading his letter suddenly made her change her mind about him? What?" we are able to fully comprehend why Lizzie changed her mind about someone she previously hated. There is more of a development in relationship, and Darcy is proven to be a kind, forgiving, and encouraging personality in Lizzie's life. The good characters are even better and more relatable, and the bad characters are completely despicable. I appreciated Lizzie's love of her sister Jane, her strong friendship with Charlotte, and her stereotypical older sister reactions to her overwhelming sister Lydia. I was glad to see her rally behind Lydia in her time of need, and how important the relationship between all three sisters ended up being. (Yes, there are only three sisters in this adaptation. Mary becomes the cousin that everyone forgets about, and Kitty becomes a literal kitty cat). The acting is great, the characters (even Lydia) lovable, and the emotions expressed in each video strong and believable.
The main reason that I started this blog is because recently I actually watched Lydia's vlogs (connected to the story, but on it's own channel). I am not sure why I hadn't watched these before, but I wish I had sooner. We get to see how much of a hot mess Lydia really is, of course; but we also get to see deeper emotions that are hidden in Lizzie's diaries. Although we got a few hints (when she looks sad at Lizzie calling her a  'boy crazy substance abuser and after her life takes a turn for the worse later in the series), these vlogs show the loneliness the much younger sister feels everyday, and her desperation to be a part of her Lizzie and Jane's lives. She makes a strong connection to Mary, and then clings to her as her only source of friendship. The deeper sadness that Lydia hides under her crazy antics and bubbly personality showed different layers to a character I used to think was annoying.
This is when the real spoilers for the series start. Then, Lydia meets up with George Wickham (after his falling out with Lizzie), and the vlogs take a turn for the depressing. In rebellion and anger against Lizzie, Lydia speeds off to Las Vegas, where she meets up with Wickham. The two begin a 'secret' relationship. The relationship quickly becomes disturbing. Wickham is abusive, there is no way around it. Not physically abusive, but emotionally. He starts by telling Lydia everything she wants to hear. He tells her the truth about his relationship with Darcy (while still finding a way to make Darcy seem like the bad guy), and then fills Lydia's head with compliments. He addresses all of her insecurities and makes it seem like he is the only one that understands her and loves her. Soon, he is separating her from her sisters, claiming that they don't understand her and he is the only one that has been there for her and cares about her. With things like, "You are amazing, no matter what everyone else says," making it seem like he is the ONLY ONE that sees her in this positive light. As the relationship progresses, Lydia becomes less spunky and more withdrawn, wearing gray and letting Wickham do much of the talking on the vlog. When Lydia suggests reaching out to her sisters, or expresses her concern about how they will take the budding relationship, Wickham reacts almost violently. He accuses her of not loving him enough, and he brings up what he'd done for her once more. This is such a realistic representation of an emotionally abusive relationship that I felt strongly for Lydia in a way that I never had before (and made me dislike Wickham more than ever before).
The relationship progresses in a way that when we discover she's filmed a sex tape with him, we almost understand WHY. We get to see a young, sweet, vulnerable girl get her heart broken and her trust shattered. The episode in which Lydia discovers Wickham's betrayal is a heart wrenching video, although still not as bad as a later video. His emotional abuse comes to a head, leaving Lydia sobbing in Lizzie's arms, chanting "Why didn't he love me?" The vlogs made this scene, and her severe pain, make perfect sense. Wickham broke her down by ripping away all of her relationships and then built her back up by professing his devotion. She built her new self around this relationship, so when it was torn away from her in such a devastating way, she didn't know how to survive.
The sisterly relationship is strengthened through these horrible events. Unlike the novel, Lydia learns from her mistakes and is able to rally again. The novel Lydia is oblivious to all of the terrible decisions she'd made and Wickham's terrible character. In the "Lizzie Bennet Diaries" Lydia is actually a fully actualized, three dimensional character. The relationship between the sisters is the important part of her story, not her romantic entanglements. I expected to like the older two Bennet sisters, but I wasn't expecting to really enjoy the character of Lydia Bennet. This modern take on the novel really stood out and did something that the book could not. It created four (including Charlotte) strong female characters who make important decisions and discover their best and strongest selves by the end of the series. While I will always love the novel, this series holds a very special place in my heart.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Family Vacation to Orlando Number One

As the newest Orlando trip approaches, I am reminded about the last few trips my mother and I took to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. I realize that none of the few people that read my blog know when I went, what we did, or really anything else about the trips. I decided that I will discuss a little about all three trips (including pictures), in preparation of the approaching vacation family fun. 
My first trip to Orlando Studios/Islands of Adventure was in 2010. I was desperate to go once they added the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. A little background information: Like millions of other people out there, I absolutely love Harry Potter. The books, the movies, the world created by J. K. Rowling. I love every little aspect of it. 
The moment I walked into the park I was in awe. With a view like this:
how could I not be. The perfect representation of the most magical and amazing school ever created by an author, tangible and directly in front of me. 
I couldn't wait to try Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. After a surprisingly short wait in the line for the ride, I discovered that it was broken, or at least down for repairs. They were nice enough to let people walk through to see the decorations inside. 
The first day was a mixture of joy and disappointment. My mother's blood pressure medicine caused full body cramps and an asthma attack. After spending about an hour in the medical area behind the park (a rare, unique sight at least), the park was too full of people for us to get back into the Wizarding World area. We spent the rest of the day exploring the rest of the park. 
The next few days were spent mostly in the Wizarding World only, just immersing ourselves in the tiny sample of the magical world. 
We DID get to finally ride the Forbidden Journey. It was a unique ride that really felt like we were flying through the magical grounds of Hogwarts. My advice is to avoid the ride if you get motion sick easily (or at least don't make the same mistake I did, and ride it three times in a row in quick succession). 
The two main shows (The Frog Choir and the performances of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons) were an interesting and creative addition. I enjoyed the school performances, but the Frog Choir was more entertaining. The singers had specific personalities based on their house affiliation, and their voices were delightful. The songs were great, and even Hedwig's Theme sounded lovely when sung A Capella.  
One downside to the Wizarding World was the food. This trip was the only trip to Universal in which I ate the food at the Three Broomsticks, not because it was too expensive or too busy in the restaurant, but because it was not very good. I got the Shepard's Pie, and it honestly tasted like it was made at Taco Bell. It WAS pretty...but awful.
Of course, the main delicious attraction in the park was the Butterbeer. Honestly, frozen Butterbeer is so good that I dream about it sometimes. It's less than a month before I go back, and I think that might be the part that I look forward to the most. 
A piece of advice to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure virgins: If you really, really like butterscotch, try the regular, cold Butterbeer. It is quite strong, and a bit too intense for me. The frozen is a perfect blend of butterscotch flavor and icy cream. I am actually really excited to try the warm Butterbeer that they apparently have now. Okay, now I'm sad that I have to wait about a month to have some. 
Something I got to see during my first visit to the Wizarding World that no one will see again is the Zonkos Joke shop. They have since moved all of the joke shop items to the Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. I wish I had taken more pictures inside of the store, but I have a few that I will include, in case you are wondering what the store looked like. 
If you were wondering, yes I did see other parts of the two parks on this trip, but the main focus was on the main attraction (or at least the main attraction for me). Here are pictures of some other highlights of the two parks, given in quick succession. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Getting Back to Writing and NaNoWriMo

As previously mentioned, I have been a bit unmotivated to write since I graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing. Getting a degree in creative writing and then not writing is unfortunate. It somehow makes my degree seem pointless. Because of this I have had some thoughts and ideas, and I made a few decisions.
  1. I seriously considered doing NaNoWriMo. The concept of writing 50,000 words in a month seemed appealing to me, but the panic set in pretty quickly at the thought of it. While I want to start writing again, I'm not sure I want to jump straight into the deep end after such a long time now swimming. The contest would likely influence me to actually write, but I am not sure that it would be worth the downhearted feeling I would get from not completing the full project. This is still an option, and I do have until November 1st to make this decision. 
  2. I have considered seeking out contests on other websites to give me motivation to write. But, I'll be honest. I would probably not write anything new after all. Instead, I would try to find a story or poem I already have that would fit the contest, or I wouldn't participate in the contest at all. I would rather focus on writing something new for the sake of writing, and maybe submit some of my old works to journals now.
  3. I could search the internet or books for writing prompts. Prompts have always helped to influence the formation of ideas, but this still wouldn't really get me writing. Ideas spin around in my head already, and while I jot down ideas, I generally don't write extensively right now. This is still a really good idea for when I start getting motivated to write.
  4. I have considered joining forums or some sort of online community for support. In all honesty I searched for face-to-face meet ups or groups, but the idea of meeting a large (or small) group of strangers face to face terrified me. I have problems connecting with people in my everyday life. The thought of discussing my writing to a real, live person and being able to see their reactions in the flesh was not appealing. Thus, online forums. I am not really sure that this is the proper arena for me either. I think I'm just not really ready to share my projects with anyone. I would be interested in discussing the process of writing, though.
  5. The final, and most likely to succeed, idea that I have sort of stems from the idea of NaNoWriMo. Instead of struggling to write an entire novel in a month (and risking the disappointment at not finishing), I think I will just create a daily writing schedule that I will follow no matter what. This would consist of setting aside a specific time each day (or in my case, night) to write. For example, maybe I could schedule to write at 8 pm every night for an hour. This would be nonstop writing, without revision. This is the same concept that is present in the NaNoWriMo contest, but without all of the added pressure of getting to 50,000 words.  
I really plan on writing at least a little every day throughout November. This seems like the most feasible and appropriate idea for someone who hasn't written much in months. I am still seriously considering signing up for NaNoWriMo for the experience, especially since I researched and discovered that the "novel" doesn't get put on the internet for everyone to see. That privacy aspect is very important to me, at least in the beginning of the writing process. 
Although, I suppose if I am going to participate in a novel writing experiment I should start thinking about what I will write. Ah, now that's the really hard part, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Family Vacations

As December approaches, I am starting to get more nervous and more excited. No, not because of Christmas. Christmas has sort of become unimportant to me since I've become an adult (and sort of poor). It is pretty much a day to spend time with my mother and boyfriend, eating a nice dinner and doing family things. 
No, on December sixth, my mother and I will be going to Orlando, Florida to Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure. This will be the fourth time I've been, so you'd think I wouldn't be this excited. I have found, though, that I don't have much to look forward to these days since school ended and I've been stuck in a sort of dead end job, so vacationing with my mother is something that brings me joy. 
My biggest piece of advice to everyone is to spend time enjoying the company of family while you have the chance. I am 31 years old, and I am going to a theme park with my mother. While this might seem a bit immature, it is something fun that I can do with my mother and involves something I love (Harry Potter). Last year, one of my mother's childhood friends (the daughter of a family friend) got a terrible case of the flu. This lead to infections (including blood and brain infections) and her untimely death. This sudden, terrible death made us both realize that life is really short and, and any second could be our last. I don't have children, I'm not married, and I don't have a demanding job at the moment. This means that I have time to actually spend with my mother, while both of us are healthy and free to leave for a week. 
I'm not saying that everyone should go on vacation to a theme park. That is just what WE like to do. But I would advise everyone to step back and take a moment to appreciate what they have, spend time with their loved ones, and cherish the lives they have while they have them. You never know when there will be no more time at all.