Myth of the Damaged Hero or Heroine

Video credit: Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Mass Effect 1 opening scene

Mass Effect 1, as part of the Legendary Edition bundle, has this kicka$$ opening sequence. I saved the clip so you can watch it for yourself, but it gave me chills when I first watched. Ambassador Udina and Captain Anderson have a conversation about Shepherd the MC, how Shepherd grew up alone and lost their whole unit on Akuze.

Ambassador Udina: …(she) could have some serious emotional scars

Captain Anderson: Every soldiers has scars. Shepherd’s a survivor.

Ambassador Udina: Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?

Captain Anderson: That’s the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy.

Wow, I nearly stood up and cheered at that last line. It gave me chills, like, Mufasa, oooh, say it again. Controller at the ready, I had my Coke Classic and energy shots stacked up. I switched off my phone. I settled down in my super comfy gamer chair. This was it. I was in for one heck of a ride. That’s what gamers long for: suck me in, please suck me in! And though I had this amazing visceral reaction to the opening sequence, it also gave me pause. Without a doubt, it set up the MC as the trope of the Damaged Hero or Heroine (depending on if you chose to play as male or female). I have a problem with that, but I’ll revisit this in a second.

First, gotta talk about gameplay. Because Mass Effect Legendary Edition collects three older games and retools them, the gameplay is going to be wonky and clunky compared to more recent masterpieces. Mass Effect 1, being the earliest of the three is of course going to be the least polished. I don’t have a problem with that; I expected it.

The one issue I had was stumbling into content instead of finding the activating character first. If you’re used to open world or semi-open world games, you’ll likely have the same issue. By exploring as I’m working on the main mission, I found myself embroiled in lots of side missions that I had no clue I was starting. Again, the map and the HUD being very simple due to the game’s origins, there isn’t a complex systems of markers to tell you “Hey, you’re about to activate a side mission.” Everything is label as a point of interest so of course I’m gonna check out the point of interest. For example, I’d solved all of Feros’s water, power, supply, and geth in the tunnel issues as I completed the tower defense. Didn’t mean to, just happened. This didn’t hinder my progress, but it did make the story feel choppy. That being said, the story is extremely well constructed and a compelling mystery, if you can forgive the slow, sometimes disjointed gameplay, it’s well worth exploring.

Now for the good stuff. Let’s dig into the story. As I said in my opening, Shepherd is set up as The Damaged Heroine (I will use the feminine because that’s how I played this game). Right off the bat, we know she grew up on the streets of Singapore, totally alone, joined the Marines, worked her way up to LtCmdr, lost a whole unit at Akuze, and is assumed to have physical and emotional scars.

So, what happens when the body scars? To scar, you must be wounded. Once the dermis is cut or ripped open, the body rushes red blood cells to the site, therefore you bleed. Those red blood cells help create collagen, which is a fibrous material that forms new skin. This new skin, however, won’t look the same as your undamaged skin. As the body closes the wound it makes the new skin tougher and less flexible to ensure the wound doesn’t reopen. You are now whole again. (medlineplus).

Wouldn’t it be lovely if emotional scars worked this way?

Emotional scars, well, they are a whole other beast, aren’t they? How many times have you felt as though you’ve healed or at least moved on from a trauma only to be triggered by something out of the blue? Here’s where I think the myth of The Damaged Heroine can be dangerous. We’re told Shepherd grew up on the streets and never knew her parents. She somehow magically survived on her own. Odds are slim, but let’s suppose we suspend our disbelief and take this at face value. She then joins the Marines, is functional enough to rise to the rank of Lt.Cmdr (which by the by isn’t a current rank in the Marine Corps, but she’s a space Marine so I’ll let it slide) and then engages in a battle on Akuze. She witnesses the slaughter of her entire unit, comes out as the only survivor, and then throughout the rest of the game refuses to talk about what happened on Akuze.

What becomes of the stoic LtCmdr Shepherd? Does she struggled with PTSD? Does she take some time off to rest and heal? Does she seek out professional help to manage the trauma? Does she develop a substance abuse problem due to her refusal to manage her trauma? Nope. [Light spoilers ahead] She becomes a Spectre, a type of elite soldier, discovers a plot that threatens all life in the galaxy, foils said plot, and becomes the heroine of the galaxy.

Am I saying that people with serious emotional trauma can’t do great things? No, absolutely not. Quite the contrary. In my travels, I’ve met people with amazing stories, who have overcome all manner of adversity and accomplished their definition of success. To move past emotional and psychological trauma, one must heal. Repairing one’s psyche, more often than not, takes introspection, an understanding of how past emotional wounds inform present behavior and a willingness to change.

To make these kinds of massive changes almost always requires outside help. This help can come in the form of learning, researching all the literature out there about what you’re going through. It can be a trusted friend or loved one who sits up at night with you while you cry and vent. It can be a support group of people who have been through the same ordeal. Sometimes, and with no shame attached to it, healing requires professional help and perhaps medication. Let me say it again: There’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help. Period.

Yet, video games, movies, TV shows, books, all manner of entertainment idealizes The Damaged Hero. This trope sends a message of: hunker down, grit your teeth, bear the pain, ignore pain, just get over it. Almost no human being can do this and even if you can, it’s not a healthy way to process the emotional wound you’re nursing. When I would ask my father, a career Marine, how he was coping with my mother’s death, he would reply, “No one is shooting at me so I’m fine.” or “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” These old-fashioned deflections can lead to unhealthy patterns later in life. And I firmly believed Dad’s refusal to express his grief contributed to his death two months after Mom’s.

So is the myth of The Damaged Hero or Heroine romantic and fun to fantasize about? Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with buying into the story and enveloping yourself in fiction as long as you understand it as fiction.

Is it a trope that works IRL. Not on your life. Traumatic events are by nature shocking and unsettling. They are outside our normal experience so how in the world would we have the skillset to process these wounds all by ourselves? A little food for thought as we round out Mental Health Month.

If your are in pain, struggling with mental health, if you’re depressed, in a toxic relationship, or just plain tired of feeling miserable, here are some folks who can tell you how to start getting better:

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
https://www.thehotline.org/

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What are you’re favorite examples of The Damaged Hero or Heroine? What did you think of Shepherd’s character in Mass Effect 1? How do you self-care after a traumatic event? All comments cherished and returned. If you like what I’ve got to say and want to hear more, please follow. It helps me 🙂

Is Geralt Incapable of Setting Boundaries?

Now, hear me out, please, before you dislike what I\’m gonna say or tell me I\’m overthinking things (which I probably am 😊). As a byproduct of my recent break up, I\’m digging deep into setting personal boundaries. It\’s definitely something I\’ve got to work on.
So, I noticed something today as I\’m picking my way for the second time through the gorgeous open world that is THE WITCHER 3 THE WILD HUNT. More often than not Geralt is given the choice to accept a side quest or Witcher contract. The player is offered the option to have Geralt say, \”I can\’t help you\” or \”I don\’t have time for this.\” Of course if you choose these options you\’ll wind up wildly under-leveled for the main quests that you have no choice to accept if you want to complete the game. So you choose \”How can I help?\” or \”What do you need me to do?\”
This, however, doesn\’t just happen in the game. It also happens more insidiously during the first season of THE WITCHER TV series on Netflix. What springs to mind is Season 1 Episode 4 OF BANQUETS, BASTARDS AND BURIALS. The scene I\’m thinking of involves Duny and Pavetta where Duny in his hedgehog form declares the Law of Surprise and comes to claim Pavetta as his wife. Turns out Pavetta loves Duny, but not the point. Queen Calanthe orders Geralt to kill Duny and Geralt says something along the lines of \”I\’m not getting involved.\”
Geralt, of course, does get involved once all hell breaks loose. Yes, he does side with the hedgehog knight, staying true to his principles, but he violates his own boundary by, say it with me, getting involved.
And this example isn\’t unique to THE WITCHER 3. Every open world game does it, but with 90+ hours of content, it happens a lot more in this game. I am of course being a little tongue in cheek about this topic, but I do think it\’s a case of art imitating life. And, yes, video games are an art form.
Just as in the game, perhaps we cross boundaries IRL due to fear of missing out. In THE WITCHER, the \”fear\” is you\’ll miss out on XP and won\’t be able to progress in the game. IRL, well, it\’s whatever experience this person is offering you. Maybe it\’s so unique you\’ll think never have the opportunity again. Or maybe it\’s adjacent to what you\’ve always wanted so you set aside your reservations and dive in.
Do I really believe we are conditioned by video games or other media to ignore our common sense? No, I don\’t subscribe to that school of thought. I tend to lean in the direction that entertainment is a safe space to act out our fears, desires, and wildest fantasies.
Anyway, food for thought. Just as we should live mindfully so should we game.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, please share, subscribe or follow via the button on the sidebar. Gamers and thinkers gotta stick together 🙂
Twitter: @cindyjacks

The Last Thing I Want

\”I need no one and the last thing I want is someone needing me.\” Geralt of Rivia, THE WITCHER, TV show, Netflix.
Yes, this line is from the TV show, but it really spoke to me as to why the game is so magical. And why it speaks to those of us who are \”social misfits\”. I accept this about myself. Seems I was \”born that way\”.
Forgive me while I digress a moment. At seventeen my parents had me take the Myers Briggs personality test and I came back ISFP. At the time I didn\’t much care what those letters meant, but going through the boxes and boxes of memorabilia after Mom and Dad passed, I found the result paperwork and decided to Google it.
Turns out those of us who are Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceptive tend towards the arts and are socially awkward. Reading this, I sunk my head in my hands. My whole life I\’d been running from who I am by nature. It was around that time I started this blog.
So what\’s all this got to do with THE WITCHER 3 THE WILD HUNT? Well, it\’s validation for those of us whole truly believe the journey is the destination. Geralt walks The Path, hated wherever he goes. He sticks to his own moral and ethical code. He is capable of acts of great heroism and mercy, but also capable of acts of brutality and destruction. He embraces all of that about himself and he\’s fine with it. He\’s also the quintessential lone wolf. He often leads his life with the attitude that he is all he needs and he doesn\’t want anyone else to rely on him.
While that\’s not always the healthiest choice in real life, I believe it is very healthy to have a fantasy space to explore total self-reliance. For those of us looking, striving, needing to do more than acquire a big house, a shiny car, a trophy spouse and 2.5 children, we need tales of the triumphant loner to keep us going. Geralt is his own hero. It\’s time I learn to be mine.
As always, tell me what draws you to this game in the comments below. Or tell me what other game gives you this sense of freedom. Oh and please \”Like\” and add me to your reading list so we can keep the conversation going.

My New Old Man…Geralt of Rivia

Two days in a row I\’ve gotten out of bed, brushed my teeth, done a couple chores and did a little yoga. This is massive progress. And I know I said I wouldn\’t do, but I will attribute this resiliency to one man: Geralt of Rivia!
Just Kidding. I would hate to insult the friends and family who have been so very supportive. However, this is a blog about my gaming journey.  So I decided to take the advice of a wonderful friend with similar trauma: \”THE WITCHER 3 helped me tremendously when I was so down I felt I couldn\’t get back up.\” Sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
It has to be THE WITCHER 3 THE WILD HUNT. So first I had to forgive CD Projekt Red for the CYBERPUNK 2077 debacle. But as wiser folks than I have said: Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself.
And what a gift it was to start a long put off New Game+. Yesterday, I sunk so deep into Geralt\’s world I felt I was actually in the tub with him at Kaer Morhen. And what cisgender, heterosexual female wouldn\’t want that?
I\’d forgotten how rich and beautiful the world of THE WITCHER 3 could be, but yet so dark and menacing at the same time. And there\’s so many main quests, secondary quests, and Witcher contracts, not to mention all the cool, weird stuff in Geralt\’s world that one hardly has time to be sad. No better panacea, I promise.
It also helps at bedtime that I can watch Mr. Henry Cavill depict an absolutely stunning Geralt on Netflix\’s THE WITCHER. I\’m taking the deep dive, following The Path, and maybe…just maybe I\’ll find myself along the way.
So, I ask those hardcore gamers out there: What do you play when your heart is breaking? What games keep you off the ledge? I hope you\’ll share my journey and your own as well. \”Like\” and subscribe, please please please 🙂

Break up Text…I’m So Ashamed

I did a very NOT Gen X thing the other night. I texted my boyfriend to get out. I’m not proud of it, but I promised myself to be honest on this blog. So yeah…not my finest moment.

 
In my defense, once I’d sent the text I couldn’t take back, I emerged from the bathroom to face the tears and objections. But there weren’t any, not really. Shows how little I mattered.
 
Rin was using me, just like everyone else he’d ever met. After a string of failed relationships, I’m taking some much needed time off. What does that mean for my future? My dreams? My gaming and writing habits?
 
First things first, I have to learn to stand on my own two feet. No one propping up my ego but me. It’s become a running joke in my house that I can’t be trusted to pick another boyfriend or lover. I can’t argue with that. So I shan’t. 
 
What, however, does this have to do with gaming, you might ask.  Well, since gaming has gotten me through the death of both my parents, surely it can get me through this heartache. That’s right, it’s all digital men from now on: Geralt, Arthur Morgan, Alexei, Eivor (though actually my Eivor is female).
 
Today, four days after the bombshell, I managed to get out of bed.  Believe it or not, that’s huge progress. I’m sitting, staring at my monitor and PlayStation trying to work up the courage to turn them on. You see, Rin freed my inner gamer and while I appreciate that, the action is now tainted with his memory. Another bad man with damage so bad there wasn’t enough love or attention in the world to fill that gaping void.
 
And silly me, I really thought I could help.
 
I’m scared, but here I go. Clicking the button. Deep breath. Deep, deep breaths.
 
Just as I thought, the beep of the PS4 makes me feel everything will be all right.
 
What games distract you from the pain of life? Help a lady out and leave a comment with title suggestions below. Oh and please “like” and subscribe. It really would help me out 🙂

I Hate Mondays

The wise and all-knowing Garfield the Cat warns us of the evils of Mondays. Did I listen? No. Even the Mama’s and the Papas sing about it: Can’t trust that day. Perhaps because I’m not working outside the home, I held the misapprehension I was safe from this wicked starter of the work week.
 
But no. Nooooooo. Today was a lasagna-worthy  Monday if ever there were one. First of all my lady time came four days early, then my a large piece of metal spontaneously broke off the bottom of the car as I drove home from the grocery store (thanks to all the people who pointed and stared as if I wasn’t aware the loud screeching noise was coming from my car), the IRS rejected my tax return, and only after I returned from the store with the broken car did I discover we’re out of TP. F@#k me!
 
I dove into STRANDED DEEP hard to forget I decided to live in a tiny town with no Uber, no food delivery of any kind, and no rental car agencies. I will say the game seems up to task. I was ready to throw in the towel on what seemed a never-ending cycle of harvesting supplies, using up said supplies, rinsing and repeating when I discovered the giant ship stranded on an atoll.
 
Once you find the plane, the game gives you a list of parts to find and supplies to stock. Aaaaaand apparently there are giant sea monsters holding the plane parts for ransom. Of course there are.
 
My supply runs have shifted from palm bunches for water production and rocks and leather for tools to wood and fibrous leaves to make lots and lots of speargun spears. All I’ve read on the beasties indicates I’ll need as many as I can craft. I’ll also need a boat. Oh joy. My first attempt at a raft was a disaster and I’ve no idea how to get the damn barrels for the premium raft back to my BOO.
 
These challenges, however, are very welcome as it seems May is going to cost me an arm and a leg, not to mention the sorrow intrinsic to this month. Given the crappiness of this Monday, I think I’d prefer to be stranded on a desert island. At least I wouldn’t have car repairs and the last of the move hanging over my head. Just a teensy weensy megladon to murder. No problem.

Point of Distraction

Sony has BATTLEFIELD V and STRANDED DEEP as their PlayStation Plus games for May. BV I dismissed outright, just didn\’t catch my fancy. STRANDED DEEP I jumped into last night. It\’s good but not great. At least not yet. It\’s basically like MINECRAFT for grown-ups.
I came into a little extra moolah, a gift card from my internet provider. I\’m itching to experience HITMAN 3. I just have to make the mental leap that allows me to spend what amounts to a week\’s worth of groceries on a game that won\’t even take a week to burn through.

All this got me thinking of the days I used to write erotic romance (aka chick porn). I had a series titled THE POINT OF DISTRACTION. The stories being of a sexual nature, of course the heroine distracts herself with lots of lovely menfolk.

While I would never say no to an encounter with a big slice of beefcake, these days, I\’m more interested in digital distraction. Video games don\’t require you to wax your delicate areas, the fun lasts longer than a few hours, they don\’t complain if you neglect them, and as far as I know gaming can\’t get you pregnant or give you an STI.
Unfortunately, just like sex, the quality of a gaming encounter varies greatly. Lately it seems I\’ve hit a string of games that are at best a 5 or 6 out of 10. I need at least an 8 to survive May.
I\’ve finally gotten someone to bring my stuff from storage (at great expense). The arrival of said stuff harbors an emotional minefield I\’m loath to traverse. The anniversary of Dad\’s death is breathing down my neck and Mother\’s Day was no picnic.
I want a game that will sweep me off my feet, rock my world, and leave me sated and exhausted, a fine sheen of sweat glistening on my skin. These days, with so many releases delayed for good reason, it seems a good game is also hard to find.

Mixed Bag

The start of May has been a mixed bag or perhaps I should say mixed backpack I can\’t seem to find a moving company who will take my money to pick my stuff from storage a couple hours away. We also got a new puppy. Nanii is a beautiful red and white Siberian Husky super wooly with blue eyes. So basically she\’s an adorable little puff ball. While she\’s very sweet, the sleep deprivation is getting to the BF and me. Not to mention the loss of gaming time.
A little up, a little down, that\’s been my first week of May and it\’s also how I felt about DYING LIGHT. The game couldn\’t seem to make up its mind regarding its focus. Platforming, combat, shooting and looting, survival and crafting, online co-op play: the game has it all, but no one element shines. The story also meandered in a few different directions and never felt fully baked.
The DLC had a bit more polish in terms of the story, but the endings are all rather bleak. Don\’t get me wrong, I don\’t mind a fatalistic ending, but at least give me a bit more shock and awe before I must face the inevitable.
All that being said, I did mostly enjoy the journey, I just never completely lost myself in it. I didn\’t crave it and that\’s the kind of experience I\’m looking for. I will buy the second installment when it comes out later in the year, but for now, I\’m back to searching for what I need to make it to June 1st.

Ray of Light

DYING LIGHT that is. After my unexpected enjoyment of DAYS GONE and my big fat disappointment at trying to play SEKIRO, my goal is find a game to distract me from the memories of May last year. It seemed the worst was over, Mom was at rest, I was gearing up to go back to work (kinda glad that didn\’t happen, given all the poor retail workers who contracted COVID-19, unsung heroes indeed), Dad seemed to be coping in the way that he always did. A plethora of DIY projects that always turned out beautiful. But then I got the phone call from his best friend and everything went dark for a while.

So…yeah. Trying to avoid all that and what better way to find a path out of the darkness than with a game called DYING LIGHT. Yes, it\’s a gloomy phrase by definition, but it still has the word \’light\’ in the title so imma cling to it as my best shot of getting through the last of the memories and guilt and regret and sadness that haunt me. At least I hope it\’s the last of it. I\’ve been very wrong about this kind of thing in the past.
But no more talk of sad stuff. I\’ve a got a fresh new game (at least fresh to me) AND that game has a sequel coming out this year. To quote the great and powerful Moz, \”Please, please, please let me get what I want…\” I don\’t ask too much of life these days, just a game to help me compartmentalize the pain and the words to process my racing thoughts.
So far DYING LIGHT has been absorbing. The opening cutscenes have that hook. And to quote Blues Traveler, \”The hook brings you back.\” Or actually \”baaaaaaaaack\” as Mr. Popper sings it. Hmmm, I wonder if he has penguins? Sorry…Focus, Foxx!
DYING LIGHT\’s premise isn\’t the freshest, but the storytellers seem talented from the get-go and though they may not reinvent the wheel with this game, as long as they put their own spin on it, that\’s good enough for me.

Serenity

My mother loved that prayer, not that she was particularly religious, but there is a resonating truth that is simple, but not easy to achieve.
I\’ll warn you now this isn\’t a cheerful post. It\’s not even amusingly sarcastic as is my usual method of deflection. I\’ve been hiding, deep in the earth, deep in the ocean, deep in my own mind. MINECRAFT is that kind of meditative game for me. I\’ve come to two conclusions:
1. SEKIRO isn\’t the game for me, at least not right now and no amount of stubbornly pushing through it is going to make me enjoy it. If I\’m not enjoying it, why am I playing it?
2. I\’ve been delaying (at great cost, financially and mentally) the delivery of the stuff from my parents house because I don\’t want to face it.
I know the container will smell of their home, that sweet, warm combination of Downy, Obsession, and Old Spice. Once those items enter my home, that scent will be forever lost. I already miss it and struggle with the fact that never again will I walk into their kitchen from the garage to the fresh breeze that was their home. It\’s no longer their home and it never was mine.
I also know the container holds all the family heirlooms I\’ve no idea what to do with. Do I leave them sealed away? Do I display them proudly? Do I break my fast from drinking and down a bottle of vodka, clutching those mementos and cry and mourn the loss of a time that is well and truly over?
Sorry, not much fun today. The anniversary of Dad\’s death looms large and I have to stop wasting time and money avoiding the things I cannot change.
So, in lieu of gallons of vodka or cheap red wine I need to find the right game. Shush. I know I\’m replacing one crutch with another but I am only human and just as frail as everyone else. At the end of the day gaming keeps my mind active and my body out of mischief so it\’s a much healthier crutch. And given the calisthenics I do during bathroom breaks it doesn\’t make me all that sedintary either.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of good candidates at the moment. Cherchez la jeu. That is my quest. Find a game so absorbing, so enthralling that I forget how very f@#king miserable I am. That is the art of great devs. I don\’t know if they are aware of the gift they give some of us, but it does not go unappreciated. Bless the talented devs and all the beautiful code weavers for helping us find that serenity to accept. And perhaps, one day the courage to change. And wisdom, well, that\’s just time and experience, isn\’t it?