The End

We’re 26 weeks into the year. Doing my math correctly, this is the perfect mid-point of the year, weeks-wise. I’m halfway through my promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I would write one blog post per week.

So let’s take stock. Where are we? How has Absoludicrous grown since I made my pledge on January 1st of this year? What have I done? What have I accomplished?

Well, I can say that this blog has gotten a lot more views than I expected. I started this not really thinking anyone would read it besides people I know in real life. While that still remains the majority of the views, I do get a constant trickle of views from people all around the world. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know me in real life – thank you so much. You exceed my expectations just by giving this blog a glance.

Not to say my known viewers aren’t appreciated – of course you are – you’re just more or less expected. I know a lot of really kind people who, against the odds, support me in so many ways and your support is something I count on.

Don’t be alarmed by the title of this blog post. This isn’t the end, far from it if I can help it. But it is something I wanted to talk about. I want to talk about the end. Specifically, the end of creative projects.

This blog is a creative project. I am not doing it for a grade or monetary gain. I do it because it gives me a weekly creative outlet. And you know what? On my end, it’s been a smashing success. It’s kept me writing more consistently than anything I’ve ever done, and ya’ll seem to enjoy it so there’s no losses anywhere.

It’s this blog, however, that caused me to make a real connection to a video I watched recently made by one of my favorite Youtubers ever, Dan O. of Folding Ideas.

It’s kind of a long video (but really good), so I’ll summarize. In it, Dan is asked on his stream how best to find motivation for finishing creative projects. Dan speaks frankly on a number of topics regarding motivation and creativity but ultimately comes to one overarching conclusion – finish your work.

I know it sounds useless answering the question of “How do I finish my work?” with “Finish your work,” but honestly, it’s astoundingly good advise. Creative work is unique in the fact that it is never really done. There is always a way to improve. There’s always a few more tweaks to be done, a few more edits, and some chopping and skewing to make it just perfect.

And that’s noble, in a way. The idea that something is never quite done, and so the artist must work tirelessly forever and ever to perfect it, hoping for that one day that it’s flawless and beautiful and everyone who sees it or hears it is brought to their knees.

The reality, though, is that if you were to work on something until it is perfect, until it is done, you will never finish. As I said, there’s always something, some improvement. And so Dan advises self-imposed deadlines. He speaks about giving himself a week to finish a project and then letting it go at the end of that week, regardless of where it is in its production.

And watching this video, I found myself really resonating with this message. I’m a perfectionist. I hate when anything I do is less than great. I want all my writings to be showstoppers, to be hits, and in the past that’s bit me in the butt. When I was younger I was a serial project-starter, but I almost never finished anything. I would start something, bright and motivated, but by the end of the arduous process of trying to make it perfect, I would lose interest, or, alternatively, I would just keep it on a backburner, for a rainy day. Locked in creative purgatory, forever and ever.

There were only a handful of projects I actually finished and all of them were finished because of deadlines. NaNoWriMo was the big one. The self-imposed deadline of 50,000 words by the end of the month was the first thing that ever spurred me to finish anything. And beyond that… is this blog.

This blog is a series of self-imposed deadlines. If I fail to post something every single Sunday, nothing really happens. I don’t lose out on a prize or reward, I’m not physically punished. The world continues to turn. Yet, these deadlines still exist… emotionally. Mentally. Every week I post something new, or else I let myself and anyone who wanted to read that post down.

And even more helpful, the deadlines give me a reason to stop working. To declare something finished. I can’t tell you the number of weeks that I despised the post that finally came out on Sunday. 99% of the time, the post that’s in my head is a million times better than the post that eventually gets written, and yet my deadline forces me to stop tweaking in search of that perfect ideal and post it anyway.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because instead of me working and working and working to perfect one post that may or may not ever come out, I now have over 26 posts – some of which I’m really proud of – that are here for everyone to see. 26 posts in the hand are better than a million in the… bush, I guess?

And how do I find the motivation? I don’t, I guess. As sad as that sounds, the motivation is the deadline looming at the end of the week. As much as I wish I could be fueled only by pure-hearted love of writing and chutzpah, it’s the deadline that gets things done for me. It’s the deadline that has caused this blog to exist and keep running week after week. It’s how I keep the motor running.

These 26 weeks have been a blast. I’m not even close to being done yet, so stick around for 26 more and beyond.

Shadowverse and The Benefit of Losing

Recently, I was introduced and goaded into playing a mobile game called Shadowverse by a close friend of mine. I had heard about it for weeks – a fantasy-themed card game of sorts, where the player builds decks of cards in order to defeat other’s decks of cards in a sort of card battle.

Despite my friend’s enthusiasm over the game, it never seemed like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I’ve never really been a big fan of card games of Shadowverse’s ilk for one main reason – I hate losing. It’s not really a pride thing… well, okay, it is. What I mean is, it’s not that I want to prove myself as the best in everything, it’s that I can’t stand being bad at anything. I’m usually okay with being average or passable at something, it’s just that the problem with games like Shadowverse is that there’s often a huge learning curve.

Starting out in a game without knowing anything often means you have to play against people who do know what they’re doing in order to learn, and I hate doing that. Maybe it’s being a “gifted and talented” kid my whole life, but I have a major vendetta against seeming ignorant in any situation, even little games. It’s the reason why I usually dislike learning new card or board games with people who play them a lot – it makes me feel stupid.

So I entered Shadowverse with a lot of hesitance. For a long while, I refused to play online against other people. I made lots of jokes to my friend about how terrible I was at the game with the purpose of making it known to everyone that at the very least I was not ignorant of my ineptitude. And let me tell you, this method of playing the game was not at all successful. The little missions in the game more or less required you to play against other people if you wanted any sort of rewards.

So what did I do? Well… I hesitantly dipped my toe into the pool of competition. I played some online matches, lost a ton, and then drew back into my single-player safety for a while. Eventually, little by little, I managed to convince myself that it was okay to lose. It also helped that I had the support of my friend. (At one point, he even literally built a deck for me – and his strategy of making one became the skeleton for all of the decks I made moving forward.)

And you know what? Eventually, I became halfway decent at the game. I lost a lot. A lot. There was a solid three or four days where I did nothing but lose. But eventually I made my way over the metaphorical hump into mediocrity and the game, honestly, became fun. And you know what? A lot of times, it was the losses that led to the most delightful moments of brilliance. Getting pummeled into the ground by someone else’s deck always gave me tips for improving my own deck.

But anyway, I say all this not just to talk about a niche mobile game I’ve eventually become halfway decent at, nor to encourage anyone to play it (though, like, it’s actually really well-made with lovely art and really surprisingly impressive voice acting, so, if you’re into that, do check it out.) What I mean to say is, losing is often a good thing.

That’s not to say it’s an easy thing, because it’s obviously not. It can be annoying to devastatingly heartbreaking. But I’ve come to find, this year especially, that losing can also bring out the best in ourselves.

This year has been a year of new for me. I graduated high school, got my driver’s license, and got my first actual job. College is hanging over my head like an anvil, and I’m doing my best to prepare for it to fall. Even in my personal life I’ve had to adapt to changes. I’m not the same person I was January first of this year and I think, ultimately, despite the successes, a lot of the positive change has been found in accepting the things in my life that aren’t so nice.

The end of high school was a death slog. Driving still gives me anxiety. My job combines my anxiety over driving with my anxiety over being bad at new things. College is going to uproot all of the relationships I’ve so carefully built over the years, and I’m scared of having to regrow them. It has been a year of loss. I have lost the person and the life I used to have.

Okay, dramatic, I know, but in a way it’s true. And yet… you know what? I’m doing okay. I’ve adapted to the new freedom and the new responsibility and I bet I’ll adapt to college too. And if my prior losses have taught me anything, I’ll come out the other end better for it. And that doesn’t mean it won’t be scary or bad.

If Shadowverse taught me anything, you have to deal with the losses before you can start winning.

A Story in Song

While talking to my friend Marie, she mentioned listening to a classic song with her mom and dancing around. She highly recommended this song, (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies) to me, and because I’m not one to turn down a song recommendation, I looked up the song on Youtube.

Marie’s taste in music is a little different than mine. I would say in general she’s more appreciative of the “classics” than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it whenever she throws an older gem my way, and this time was no different. However, I made the terrible awful mistake of scrolling down into the comments, where I found this gem.

YoutubeComment

And, unsurprisingly, I was peeved. My problems with people like this is one of the biggest reasons I’m not more into classic music. I’m no stranger to music elitists. One might call me one, to be honest. But as far as I’m concerned this commentor has never even heard a modern song before.

See, I’m a huge fan of music that tells stories. And, as a caveat, I should say, most songs tell a story. Even your cookie cutter radio hits tend to follow some sort of plot. I mean, just cherry picking from the current Billboard Top 100, the so-called scourge of music according to classics fans like this person, “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars tells a distinct story of the narrator wanting to shower their lover in luxury goods and experiences, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran recounts the singer’s physical attraction to their lover and tells the story of their first date as well as several sexual encounters… I mean, even the most vapid 2008 pop has some kind of story. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a clear story about the singer’s lifetime devotion to partying! To say modern songs don’t tell stories is ridiculous because all songs have to have some sort of story, or else they’re just incomprehensible gibberish.

But, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe what this commentor means is that no modern music tells such a romantic story as the one in “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”. And not romantic in the love, coupley, sense, but more along the lines of a novel put to song. And even then, this commentor is wrong, as I will prove today.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I really love lyrics. They’re probably my favorite aspect of music. Whenever I get into a song, I like to delve into the lyrics and discover their meanings and the story behind them. So, why not talk about some of my favorite musical stories? So, here we go, five songs that tell fascinating stories… true or not.

In Another Life – Vienna Teng

I’ve touched briefly on this song before in my Women in Music post, but I didn’t get to focus specifically on what it is that makes this song magical. Vienna Teng uses her usual theatrical style to tell the tale of two lovers over the course of many different lives. The song traces these two lovers through various points of history and through various occupations. I think the story is told just beautifully, with some really poignant images, and even though the song never directly states that the two subjects of the song are in love, it is clearly conveyed through the tiny details in the way they interact.

I love the tone of this song. It’s really disconnected, very objective. You get the feeling that although the singer of the song identifies themselves as living all of these very tragic lives, they are happy and distant enough from the tragedy to describe it objectively. Even when this song gets morbid, the narrator remains disconnected and simply describes the scenes.

And the subject matter of this song gets… well, really morbid. I mean, we go from mine shafts caving in to Tiananmen Square to stillborn children yet the same up-tempo style continues, which really drives home the bittersweet message of the song. Even through the death and suffering these two lovers experienced over the course of their many lives together, the song is ultimately a positive one. Ultimately, the lovers end up happy and together in modern times.

The Mariner’s Revenge Song – The Decemberists

The Decemberists is no stranger to fantastical stories told through song (part of the reason I keep meaning to familiarize myself with more of the music). I also considered discussing their equally fantastic song “O Valencia”, but I decided this one fit the song storytelling category in a more straightforward way.

This song is a shanty fit for a pirate ship, and that makes sense considering the subject matter. The story is told at the end first, with the narrator stuck in the belly of a whale. From there they go into the tale of how they arrived there. What follows is a tragic tale of revenge after the singer’s mother is cheated by a rakish young man and left to die penniless and heartbroken. The singer follows this man all the way to sea, where the two are ultimately swallowed by a whale, bringing the song back full circle.

I think this song is an absolutely beautifully told story. The instrumentals always match the emotion of the story. Plus, I think the story itself is loaded with some great dramatic irony. I mean, the fact that the singer’s quest for revenge leads him to dying himself alongside the man he swears revenge on, in the belly of a whale, a tried-and-true symbol for hopeless and self-destructive quests. (Think Moby Dick). Plus, the repetition of the mother’s voice, and her sweet, singsong tone contradicting the violence she wishes upon the man who did her wrong… it’s all so great. I always get chills at the end.

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers

This song is actually one of a three-part series of songs, all of which describe a man murdering his lover. Yep, some real happy stuff, I know, but trust me, this song is really fascinating. While the other two songs tell the story leading up to and during the murder, this song recounts the questioning of the murderer afterward. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a murderer, and the way he justifies his actions and proclaims his innocence.

Paired with the police sirens at the beginning of the song and the tense, dark instrumentals, the repeated admission of the man that his lover Jenny was a friend of his becomes sinister and chilling, and that’s the mark of a really well-told story. This song always gets me singing along and then feeling bad about it because the lyrics are just that twisted.

Unfinished Business – White Lies (Mumford and Sons Cover)

I always feel bad recommending the Mumford and Sons version of this song because it’s not the original, but to be honest, the jangly banjos just fit this song so perfectly that I have a hard time with the original. The title is a play off of the idea that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business – in this case, the narrator is the confused ghost of someone who has just been murdered by their lover (… yeah there’s a bit of a pattern here, I know).

The interesting thing about this song, though, is the narrator is completely unfazed by their own demise. Instead, they seem more concerned about their lover, noting their fearful oaths to God and urging them in the chorus to “get off their low” so they can “dance like they used to”. This song is tragic and also somewhat beautiful – the murdered lover vows to wait for the one they love in the afterlife.

The reason I recommend the Mumford and Sons version over the White Lies version is I think the upbeat instrumentals match the ultimately positive tone of the song better. Sure, the situation described is dark, but the real interest of the song is the singer’s positive attitude over their own demise, so I think the jangly banjos fit this perfectly. But hey, to each their own.

Cleopatra – The Lumineers

And finally we arrive at one of my favorite songs of all time. This song took my number one spot in my top 30 songs of 2016 list, and that’s hugely because of the beautiful and tragic story told within its lyrics. Based on the real life of a taxi driver the lead singer met, “Cleopatra” is the story of a woman who refuses to marry the love of her life and how she lives with the regret. It’s told as if the woman is telling the story herself, and hits that perfect combination of tragedy and hope as the woman struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her sadness over the loss of her lover.

The song is warm and nostalgic, and I’ve yet to find a single person who isn’t touched by the real-life story behind the lyrics. I have a hard time describing it here, so I’ll just advise you to give it a listen and read through the lyrics yourself.

But this isn’t even the half of all of the songs out there that tell poignant stories within their lyrics. I advise people like that youtube commenter to give more songs a chance – to really read into their lyrics. You’ll find some fantastic stories there.

 

The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)