Game Difficulty as Gatekeeping

by Michael G.


You don't have to care about video games for this to be potentially interesting.

I feel bad that this is my first blog post in well over a year because this isn't anything near the most important current issue to me, but it's something that matters to me just enough to justify writing and little enough that I'm not terribly worried about whether or not I could do a better job. It started as a bunch of drafted tweets, so it's a bit messy. My grammar and punctuation are clearly off in various places.

Recently, because of various video game releases, gaming circles have been talking for the umpteenth time about whether or not it's ok for games to just be hard, whether or not they should have easy modes, and so on. I haven't bothered to read any of the new stuff, but made a comment to friends on Twitter that game difficulty is essentially just gatekeeping. There were objections potentially justifying it and I realized I used to agree with those objections and no longer do. My responses were too long for tweets, so here you go.

The cases I used to believe in for some games just being however difficult they are without accommodations for lesser difficulties (and the ones I believe most find most convincing) are:

  • Often great games are designed hand in hand with the difficulty as a core part of the design. They don't "work" without it as a part of the artist's expression.
  • Some books, movies, comics, etc. aren't accessible to people who aren't familiar with a particular genre or haven't gotten used to how particular stories or presentation styles work. Games are the same way.

I used to see these cases as valid, but I don't at all any more. Not even slightly. Though many look at those two points as independent, I believe they're inseparable if they're to be addressed. The core issue with the discussion on game difficulty is accessibility.

Fluency and ability should allow for optimal or intended experiences and should never serve as a deliberate mechanism for excluding people from art, media, or entertainment.

When we say books or movies are not accessible, we tend to mean they're figuratively not accessible to those without particular experiences or skills. They're not enjoyable. They're not relatable. Many who try to experience them just won't get much out of them.

We're not generally saying they're literally inaccessible.

High learning curve books are unenjoyable, but not impossible, for those not fluent in genre/context. Even when we have harder barriers to accessibility, we reject them and work around them. We don't accept language fluency as a requirement for books. We are happy to actively translate them for a "less-optimal" version to basically any language we can.

Genre books are figuratively inaccessible, not literally inaccessible. Books for which people don't have the ability to read at all start as literally inaccessible, but we don't believe they should remain so. The opposite is true. We value increasing literal accessibility as much as possible.

Difficult comics may be difficult to navigate or comprehend by those without a history reading comics. Panel order can be confusing!

Those readers can still choose to read the bubbles and realize they're missing detail in visual cues. They can just flip through the book if they want to experience the visual artwork. They can enjoy whatever components of the comic they find worthwhile on their own terms.

These difficult comics are figuratively inaccessible, not literally inaccessible.

We reprint comics on different paper stock, at different sizes, with different inks, and even in entirely different mediums (digitally) than the creators originally intended and may have explicitly and deliberately designed around. Sometimes one experience is palpably "worse" than the original or "improper". We don't say we shouldn't make those changes or that people shouldn't be able to download the comic to read panel by panel on their phone instead of page by page (ok, some people in the comics world do say that last bit, but of all the examples here comics industry and culture is the closest to gaming in attitudes and issues). 

Films are made with a target experience in mind, but can be experienced by anyone how they want, even if "wrong" (theater, standard definition, high definition, TV, tablet, laptop, phone, airplane seat screen). We don't require a given number of surround channels of audio, a particular size screen, or particular lighting environments. Very few people declare a film designed to take advantage of the most elaborate cinema experience possible shouldn't be made available to people in other ways, even if it would be universally agreed what the optimal experience is. We don't say we can't/shouldn't allow people to watch the films elsewhere. Even if we do believe there's a best way to experience something (and I'm firmly in the camp that this is often the case), we don't require people to experience it that way if they want to at all.

Language, color perception, eyes, and ears are great, but we do closed captioning, subtitles, and descriptive audio.

These things allow optimal experiences, but we don't accept them as requirements to experience the films at all. We don't accept any of these as something that has to make the experience literally inaccessible. We accept the artist's vision as an ideal target, not a literal requirement.

Before getting to video games, the next example that comes to mind is puzzles. Surely the whole point of some puzzles is to be more difficult than others! Clearly at least that's a requirement. Let's talk about sudoku and nonograms–both purely geometrical/numerical puzzles. (If you're familiar with Nintendo's "Picross" games, those puzzles are nonograms.)

I'm not going into great detail explaining these puzzles. How they work isn't all that important here. It's enough to know they're both different grid-based puzzles where you fill in the grid based on numbers provided with the puzzle. In both there are various difficulties based on the combination of numbers provided and grid size. With nonograms in particular, a fun element that might drive people to want to complete such a puzzle is that the solved puzzles often become an image of something.

If you're working on these puzzles on paper, the difficulty is inherently tied to the medium. For the more difficult or larger puzzles there's not much you can do to change anything once written. This seems pretty clear cut, but let's explore a bit:

There are limitations to what are both possible and feasible. If I write a novel, I literally do not have the means to translate it into 40 languages by myself. If I can't fund translations, then I can't make translations available. 

In both the paper puzzle game and self-written won't-sell-any-copies novel, I'm not claiming that I shouldn't make the art or entertainment more literally accessible. I don't see changing it to suit those who literally can't access them as something that shouldn't be done or invalidates the work. It's not possible to make the paper puzzle more accessible, but it would be great if I could. It's not feasible to make the book more accessible because I have neither the audience nor the means. I should make those changes if something, imaginable or unforeseen, happens to make something newly possible or feasible.

If a celebrity finds my book, talks about it, and it suddenly starts selling in large quantities, I should commission translations, and perhaps an audio book as new feasibility allows.

If my puzzle becomes electronic or computerized, I should enable assistance options if a player wants to use them. I can make the defaults what I believe to be optimal and design for what I think best, while also providing tools for greater accessibility: I can choose having a timer vs no timer. Penalties and immediate notification on wrong entry vs immediate notification of errors without penalties vs never notifying about errors so a player has to figure out they're incorrect just like on paper (only telling players when they have everything solved). Allow undo. Provide hints. The biggest and most complex puzzles may still be figuratively inaccessible because someone isn't getting nearly the "most" out of them if they use all the assist tools available, but they are at least literally accessible for any who decide they want to experience it. And the designer can have the default settings be exactly what they believe the optimal experience to be.

This brings us to video games.

Game skill is nothing other than fluency and ability. Saying gaming ability should be a requirement to experience parts of a game is to say some people should be barred from some games, unlike how we look at any other form of art, media, or entertainment. That's a hard case to make without 1: Illustrating impossibility and infeasibility or 2: demonstrating an elitist belief that video games are somehow worthy of being the sole major exception among different types of media or art, where people must be good enough to be worthy of experiencing a game.

Yes, video games are often designed around a particularly well designed and constructed difficulty level. I love many games more than I otherwise would because of the exacting nature of the experience the designer intended. But there are even more games I appreciate or enjoy despite some factor others, designers included, believe integral to the design. I may have the ability to get through a particular aspect of a game leaning on a mechanic I just don't enjoy in order to get to the parts I do. In these cases I may very well just not care that the developer and others think the "right way" to experience the game is with the designed difficulty. I may want to make those parts easier so I just don't have to deal with them. I want to enjoy the game on my own terms. 

Saying that it's too bad and I just have to deal with experiencing it exactly as intended is very much akin to people saying someone shouldn't be allowed to experience a particularly affecting film or show with the lights on and with breaks because the ambiance and palpable fear are "essential" to the movie–even if that person actually immensely dislikes those aspects of the film but respects its role in film history or loves some aspect of fictional world building/lore despite an aversion to horror or horror-adjacent trappings. In this situation, the viewer is someone who has the ability to view the film as intended but chooses not to do so because she prefers another method or even finds core elements of its design unpleasant. Big fans might say in response "Oh no, you watched it all wrong!", but if the person viewing said they just can't handle watching horror without getting nightmares and that they were going to either watch it this way or not at all–we generally wouldn't describe a fan's response of "Well then you should just never watch it" as anything other than elitist or snobbish.

And, of course, some people just can't play a game well enough to progress no matter how much they try. They may not really understand RPG strategies, or have the hand-eye coordination necessary, or have the years of video game experience successful players do, but really love the art, music, story, or some combination therein.

A major additional rub specific on this topic to video games: It's generally less difficult to eliminate game difficulty as a factor in either dictating experience or barring experience entirely than it is to make most of the aforementioned adjustments and allowances we already afford film, television, and literature. Yes, I understand technology. I'm familiar with the painful reality of people often saying things in technology are "easy" when they don't understand the work that goes into it. I'm not saying this is always easy. It is, though, often easier.

Developers can and should make the uncompromised game they want designed around the ideal intended experience and difficulty. A developer doesn't have to spend time balancing alternate difficulty modes if that's not where they want to spend development time. The same is true for developing some kind of AI to auto-play for the person with the controller. Those things are extra credit and deserve additional accolades. Most of the time, however, there is at least some bare minimum effort for optionally dropping difficulty and suddenly making a game literally accessible, even if the developer's perception of the experience would be greatly reduced with those options enabled.

Let the player choose to be overpowered. Let them toggle invincibility. Let them choose to get more experience points, have more HP, or just flat out be overpowered in an RPG. Let them choose to just be told where to go on a map instead of having to figure out where to go. Let them turn off timers. Let them slow down quick time events. Let them skip levels they don't like or are stuck on. Let the user "cheat". There's almost always something you can easily implement just to make your game suddenly literally accessible to those who would be barred otherwise.

It really doesn't matter if these adjustments "break your game", or what you envision the game to ideally be? It doesn't really matter if you think there's "no point" to the game without the difficulty? If the person playing is choosing to change those things, those aren't the reasons they're playing your game. They're just getting value out of a part of something you still made disproportionate to your expectations.

The actual content of the game doesn't need to be the line across which people take pride in being better than others at games. If you care about delineating who played the game "properly" versus who didn't, reward players with trophies, achievements, badges, or other markers on a save file. Don't bar them from content. If people would have otherwise, they will still talk about the canonical version of the game–the part you spent so much time hand tailoring and made the default. Defaults are powerful.

There are two reasons games come out without some kind of easier options for accessibility. The first is simply that the developers didn't even think of the fact that some wouldn't be able to progress. This is the vast majority of cases. The shortcoming here is not thinking of others, much like if you make a puzzle game reliant entirely on color shades indistinguishable by some colorblind people (aside: use shape in addition to color). It should be addressed, but it's not intentional exclusion. The second reason, though, is choosing not to include easier options. That's less innocuous. Intentional or not, that is stating both "I want people to experience playing this game my way or not at all" and "I want to exclude some people from ever experiencing playing it at all". Yes, of course artists have a right to do whatever they want. Designers have a right to not put out a game with any way to experience it in a way they feel is compromised, and therefore intentionally exclude people from it. Having a right to do something isn't the same as it being right to do.

Requiring particular ability or skill to experience the content merely because you've decided people should have to earn the right or be "good enough" to experience something properly rather than choose what value they get out of it on their own terms is prideful and indicative of the immaturity of the video game industry, the culture around it, and the perception of games from those outside of gaming culture–that games aren't worth treating like other media, art, and entertainment. There is not a good reason for difficulty to be what makes a game literally inaccessible to a person. Unless it is impossible or infeasible for you to make the game easier, choosing to keep difficulty as a barrier to literal accessibility is active gatekeeping, regardless of intent. If the reason for not including easier methods of progression is that you don't want to, rather than that you can't–you are gatekeeping. ("Can't" meaning the aforementioned impossiblity and/or infeasibility.)

Art, media, and entertainment should be made as literally accessible as is both possible and feasible, regardless of its figurative accessibility or optimal and intended experiences. We treat nearly everything else that way. Video games should be model examples of this, rather than the sole major exception. People can decide what they value for themselves and can enjoy things in their own ways.


"How does 30 feel?"

by Michael G.


The post below started last night as an Instagram caption, got far too long, and in my exhausted state I couldn't think of an appropriate place to put it and posted it on Facebook. A very smart friend reminded me in a comment that I have a blog I almost never post to. Oops. So here it is, the morning after.

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"How does 30 feel?"

Today marked 10 days of me getting this question, laughing it off along with whomever is asking, and replying offhandedly, "just like 29!"

Today was both just another day and a day full of so many parts of my life and so much inadvertent introspection that I have a real answer.

Warning: You’re going to have to work to get to it.

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This morning I woke up knowing I get to go to an awesome job I love. I got to walk to work. I got to work with amazing coworkers I love, many of whom came to my birthday party last week and I couldn't have fathomed not inviting. I got to have meaningful conversations focused on investing in *people* and am blessed to have a role in the office very focused on that investment. None of these things are new to 30. Not the company I work for. Not the walk. Not the amazing coworkers. Not my desire to invest in others or the role I have that allows me to so much. None of them are taken for granted. All of them are amazing, and better at 30 than they were at 29.

During the day today I had multiple text message threads going with friends I made in my freshman year of high school in August of 2000. I was 14! That was 16 years ago, and those text message threads? Totally normal: politics in one, video games in the other. This isn't new to 30. The relationships nor the normality of these messages. To me they’re still amazing and better at 30 than 29. And as an aside, one of these two friends was at that birthday party last week I mentioned earlier (the other living in another state).

After work I walked home, dropped my laptop off, then walked to Marta with an umbrella and a nerdy programming podcast in my ears to go to Buckhead Church for a Kick Off event celebrating the start of a new year as volunteers with our children's ministries. The torrential downpour caught me when leaving the station, nearly taking my 8-years-old and well-loved Georgia Tech umbrella clear out of my hands. I arrived in the church totally soaked and just found it hilarious instead of frustrating. It didn’t occur to me once that I could have chosen not to come to the event because volunteering at this church has been the highlight of my week nearly every single week for 7 years. This includes exactly 2 full years (to the day) I lived in Tallahassee, Florida and drove up most weekends (at least 3 times a month) to continue to volunteer because this service is a deep, important part of me that gives to me immensely more than it takes from me.

I arrived and saw a multitude of familiar, loving, amazing faces belonging to other people with huge hearts for service and for children. I happily grabbed two name tags and wrote my name twice: Once on my Waumba Land (Preschool) tag and once on my UpStreet (K-5) tag and grabbed my volunteer shirts for both… because I’m excited to be returning to both this year–coaching some amazing dedicated fellow volunteers in 5 rooms full of 2-year-olds during the 9AM service as well as going up to 1st grade (FIRST GRADE!!!) with my own small group kids during the 11AM service. I’ve been with those kids since they were 2! The idea of starting a new year with these adults and with these children is overwhelming and fills me with more joy than any other aspect of my life. I don’t know how many more years I’ll have it in me to serve during multiple services, but this year certainly isn’t the year I’m going to stop. As we sat down to see the stories of families who’ve felt the love we feel for them and prepared to worship and bring in the new year, the staff announced they were going to hand out a few prizes. I was very surprised and honored to hear my name called first because of a funny story I shared with my RSVP. (We have a song in Waumba Land a child was once singing to me. The moment went like this: “My God is so big, so strong and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing my God cannot do!………*pause* Mr. Michael, are you God?”) Because of this story I “won” an awesome water bottle I will absolutely treasure because of where it came from and the fact it was specifically chosen for me because the staff knows how much running I do these days!

This is where someone else might reluctantly say they were secretly hoping to get the spotlight put on them when put on camera and others applauded, but if you’re reading this you already know I was hoping I would “win”. To be clear, this is because I love attention (which you know), not because I somehow think I was more deserving than a single other person in the room. There are so many other volunteers for whom the commitment is more difficult, for whom the stretch from their comfort zone is further, or who have been serving longer or more effectively in any number of ways that I couldn’t even begin to pretend I was more *deserving* than others. No. I just wanted to “win” because I like attention a lot. Especially in groups. I would have happily bounced onto the stage, taken a bow, and said a few words. So yeah. Not so secretly wishing I would win. (Did I mention I like attention?)

We finished the evening and this is when things started clicking in to place. None of this evening was new to 30. Not the umbrella. Not the nerdy podcasts. Not the church. Not the service. Not being surrounded by other people I love who serve. Not the love for serving. Not how much I enjoy attention in large groups. None of them are taken for granted. All of them are better at 30 than they were at 29.

One part of the “clicking in to place” during the service was a personal moment during some worship music that is not a rare moment. Some introspection started and I began to reflect on some recent events. Recently multiple coworkers (including my boss today!) have asked about my well-being when I've seemed "less smiley", more tired, or more quiet than usual. Today I responded with an honest thought that I was totally fine and that sometimes I just get locked into concentration when I haven’t been around people much (it’s true, I had basically been locked away in my headphones with no people in my vicinity for most of 2 hours at that point). It turns out, though, that my coworkers have been on to something before I was. I don’t want to turn this into an entirely different post, so it will suffice to say what they were noticing–and what I hadn’t noticing–is a bout of my clinical depression creeping in. Before you ask me why, if there’s anything you can do, etc: Don’t worry! I’m not just fine. I’m good! As anyone who has depression knows, but few people who don’t do, it’s not a thing that generally has a particular cause and it’s not productive to try to nail one down. I have strategies that have long served me in managing it, am blessed to have it generally be mild enough that it can be managed, and a very very big part of managing it for me is recognizing when it’s affecting me–and relying on others’ observations of me is a huge part of that recognition. These wonderful coworkers of mine asked the right questions at the right time, now I realize what’s been happening and can see the slump, and I’m equipped to get out of it. None of this is new to 30. My depression isn’t, my recognition of it isn’t, my refusal to be afraid of it isn’t, and my being surrounded by insightful, caring people who help me deal with it day in and day out without knowing it isn’t. I don’t take these things for granted, and they’re better at 30 than they were at 29.

So then I got home and the next thing on my docket was to hit the treadmill and train. This… I guess this is new to 30! I mean, I’ve liked running for a few years, but at 29 I was in the beginning stages of training for my first full marathon and had done just 2 half marathons total. Both without training even the tiniest bit. For the record: Don’t do that. It is stupid. I was stupid for doing that. Don’t be stupid like I was. At 30, I’ve done 2 more half marathons, several other races, 3 full marathons, and am currently training for both my 4th and 5th–with aspirations to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and have many bigger race challenges on the docket soon. This is new to 30. It’s awesome. I love it. And yet it’s also reflective of my long-standing trait of just getting entirely obsessed with things and not letting go.

Right as I was heading down to the gym for the treadmill, I received a text from a friend I do a podcast with and we decided to scrap our next episode’s topic in favor of taking notes while reading the new Harry Potter play so we can talk about that instead. This friendship isn’t new to 30. The podcast isn’t. My love for reading and other media isn’t (did you know I was grounded from reading as a kid?). Nerdy conversations that have way more organization around them than is entirely necessary (but is oh-so-satisfying) aren’t. My love of Harry Potter isn’t. My desire to critically read/consume media instead of just passively doing so isn’t. They’re all better at 30, though.

After getting back from training, I opened some packages that arrived today. Among them are some prize additions to my budding retro video game collection: A Sega CD add-on for the Genesis and a Famicom Disk System! (Some of you know how exciting this is to me. Some of you don’t have even the faintest idea.) As a bonus, today at lunch a coworker drove me to my place to give me an old CRT TV he wanted to get rid of that I want to properly hook up all these old video game systems to. There are very very obvious through-lines from 8-year-old me to now. Pretty much none of this is new to 30. Not my love of video games. Not my nostalgia. Not my proclivity for collecting things in a huge burst with eventual slowdown and no regret (as can be confirmed by anyone who has seen my media collections, my long-growing video game collections, my small-ish but budding record collection, my comics collection–especially digital, or my toy collection on my desk at work). Not my obsession with doing things “the right way” and to completion (what good would this retro collection be without a CRT to play them on!?). Not even my irrational love of Sonic the Hedgehog. (Piece of trivia: All I’ve been listening to at work this week, most of last week, and while typing this post up has been Sonic the Hedgehog music… this is not uncommon.) These are all pretty much exactly the same as they’ve been my entire life… but I sure as heck enjoy them just as much as ever at 30.

Earlier today I was bummed to tell my mom I wasn’t free tonight or tomorrow because she, my cousin, my brother, and I want to make plans to watch Jungle Book together. Clearly my family isn’t new to 30. My desire to do things with them isn’t, either. Nor my love for Disney movies. All better, though.

Next I get to think about the things I’m looking forward to this weekend: Aside from the obvious first Sunday of the new service year at church I’m excited to follow a huge event (to me) through social media. She’s the First, a charitable organization I absolutely love and am happy to contribute to, is having #STFSummit (https://www.shesthefirst.org/2016-stfsummit-preview/) to celebrate and promote everything involved in their mission to send more girls in developing nations to school so they can be the first in their families to graduate. I love the vision of the women who founded this organization, love what the organization does, love my newfound awareness of it, and am happy to be involved. Side note: If you ever want to do something for me or get me a gift, just donate through my STF fundraising page (here). It would mean the world to me to know you are helping to pay for girls’ education around the world even partially because of awareness I’ve brought. My desire to help others isn’t new to 30. My awareness of and commitment to raise money for She’s the First isn’t entirely new. My passion for it is, though, and I’m really grateful for that.

Also coming this weekend and on the front of my mind today is a joint belated 30th birthday party and celebration of my brother being temporarily home with family and close family friends who have known me my entire life. My excitement and love of these relationships isn’t new. As yet another aside: My brother is about to spend a year traveling the world to educate community leaders on how to use soccer to enact positive social change starting with Cambodia and Indonesia, then on to numerous other places that will benefit immensely from him. The dude is amazing and I’m so glad we share a passion to help others who’ve grown up without the many advantages we’ve been afforded in our lives.

So yeah. There’s a lot to unpack here. At some point several years ago I crossed from being someone who knew who he wanted to be to becoming someone who is who he wants to be. Since then it’s just been a matter of continuing to be better at being me. The important things that make me… uh… me haven’t changed since then. Some of these traits existed before I became who I want to be, but it’s when they all became true that I knew I wasn’t reaching to become a different person any longer. I’m hungry for knowledge and want to continue to be ever hungrier for it. I’m a person who wants to be uncomfortable with disliking things and seek to find the value in everything… and seek to only have a larger number of passions over time. I seek to not take my own advantages and privileges for granted, and to continue to continually understand them further so that I can leverage them to help those who don’t share them. I try to recognize, understand, and diminish my many prejudices as they become evident to me through listening to others. I firmly believe that I am, and everyone else is, always missing something important–which means I should be (and seek to be) always open to new knowledge and perspectives large and small that fly in the face of my own observations. I strive to continually get better and better at pretty much everything, just for the sake of doing better. I seek to have an accurate view of my abilities: both when I’m better at and when I’m worse at something than others–to better recognize when I’m in a position to help others or should seek assistance from, learn from , or defer to others. I believe deeply in assessing other people accurately and genuinely–getting to know them and appreciate them for who they are. That means not pretending people are the best or worst versions of themselves, but instead focusing on their positive traits first, knowing they’re valuable and worth loving for who they are, and then also recognizing those peoples’ flaws–not out of a cynical recognition that everyone is flawed, but out of an appreciation that everyone is flawed *and those flaws do not diminish them or the respect and love they are due*. This means seeking the genuine things to praise people for, of which I’ve rarely (never?) found people lacking–and avoiding the damage that comes from undue praise. I’m immensely introspective, constantly revisiting and reassessing my own character to see how and when I can improve. I have very nearly no temper at all, barely remembering what getting angry at someone feels like. I don’t do grudges. My life is dedicated to serving and investing in others, to building new quality relationships continually, to maintaining the ones I have as best I can, and to continue to do all these things better as time goes on. Lastly: I love you, whoever you are, from basically the moment I meet you to forever, whether I’ve told you so or not and whether you believe it or not–and it’s not negotiable (others might say it should be, but I absolutely qualify this as one of my strengths–I don’t WANT it to be negotiable, it took a lot of effort to make this the case, and don’t plan to ever let this change). All these things have been a part of me for years, and I continue to get better at them.

Similarly, my many flaws have long been accepted: I can be overwhelming to others. I talk… a lot… and can hijack conversations unfairly. I often come off as thinking something much more decisively than I intend to, leading people to think something has been decided when in fact I’d love to hear their input. I like attention… perhaps a little too much. I, despite an air of confidence, am never ever free of near-debilitating levels of second-guessing (this and my appreciation of attention are a very very delicate balance). I can want to talk things into the ground when others are tired of a conversation. I get very very overzealous about a lot of things. I have a major tendency to overcommit myself to the verge of burnout, then flake out or withdraw into a proverbial shell. I struggle continually with depression. These have all been true for a long time and aren’t likely to go away, but they’re all things I’ve gotten drastically better at recognizing and managing with time.

In the end, 30 year old me is the same as 29 year old me, 28 year old me, and on back several years to some undefined point in my early-to-mid-20s when I became who I wanted to be. As time goes on I just get better at being the same person. *I’m more unabashedly me.* With all that said, let’s go back to the original question.

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“How does 30 feel?”

 

Amazing. Just like 29… but more so. And not quite as amazing as 31.

 

(Final aside: This whole… mess of a thing I wrote in a single draft with weird paragraph breakdowns; far too many commas, ellipses, and em dashes; a meandering stream of consciousness; and no real thought as to where it should go is so. completely. me.)


DCAU Watching Order

by Michael G. in


People who know me know I like a lot of things very passionately. One of these many things is the amazing DC animated univrse (DCAU) from the 1990s through early 2000s. From the minds of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and a few others, the DCAU is a stretch of several DC comics-based TV shows in the same continuity that are really, truly great. There are some pieces of fiction you love as a child that only hold up due to nostalgia when revisited as an adult. These aren't like that. These contain interconnected stories beginning with Batman, moving on to Superman, Static Shock, the totally original Batman Beyond and Zeta Project, and into Justice League/Justice League: Unlimited (which was actually used to tie up Batman Beyond's story after its premature cancellation).

The series move from early 90s era episodic stories to larger serialized stories, poke fun at comic book tropes, contain some of the most moving storytelling you'll see in any medium. Just the 14th episode, from 1992, Heart of Ice won an Emmy and established what we now think of as Mr. Freeze's origin story. It introduces what is still to this day one of the best examples of a sympathetic villain I can think of. The three-part Superman story The World's Finest is an excellent execution of the Superman-meets-Batman dynamic DC looks so poised to fail horrendously at with their upcoming Hollywood movie and later there is an episode which covers a character's death with such immense weight that I may never forget the line ""in the end the world didn't need a Superman just a brave one" (Apokolips...Now!, Part 2). If you're a fan of the character Harley Quinn, you owe that to the Batman: The Animated Series as well. Numerous other original and moving stories are told with the trappings of DC superheroes in the universe, making it all pretty easy to recommend.

Knowing you want to watch it, though, doesn't mean the universe is easy to navigate. A few years ago I wrote up a "watching order" to organize the several shows into a suggested viewing order for anyone intending to dig in. Instead of just storing the list on my own machine, it seemed reasonable to go ahead and put this up here. A friend asking to borrow Batman: The Animated Series, the origin of the whole DCAU, this weekend seemed like as good a reason as any to put this up.

DC Animated Universe Watching Order

Legend:

Film - This is an in-canon movie.

Optional - Clearly all of this is optional, but these are sections that aren't particulary important and more for completion than "essential" material viewing.

  1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Watch any time early during Season 1 of B. No real continuity issues, so you could watch before the season, but I think you should at least start with Episodes 1 and 2 of the show to get a feel for it before watching this movie.)
  2. Batman: The Animated Series Seasons 1-2
  3. Superman: The Animated Series Seasons 1-2
  4. Batman & Mr Freeze: SubZero (Watch before episode 3 of Batman Season 3, Cold Comfort. Easiest to just watch before starting the season.)
  5. The New Batman Adventures (aka Batman: TAS Season 3)
  6. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (Movie. Actually made very late, in 2003 in the universe of New Batman Adventures.)
  7. Superman: TAS (Season 3)
  8. Batman Beyond (All 3 Seasons)
  9. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Movie. If you can, watch the "Unrated" uncensored version. If you don't have the option, the censored version is acceptable.)
  10. The Zeta Project (2 Seasons. If interested, watch after Batman Beyond. No other tie-ins.)
  11. Static Shock (4 Seasons. If interested, watch after Batman Beyond. Before Justice League.)
  12. Justice League (2 Seasons)
  13. Justice League Unlimited (3 Seasons) (This show should to be the last thing you watch in the series, so if you're interested in watching the optional series, watch those first.)

LinkCatcher 1.0

by Michael G. in ,


Recently, I was using my computer at work, as you do, and a thought occurred to me:

Before explaining my use case, I just assumed it was odd. But then:

Another friend mentioned Choosy, but I looked into it and it seemed like hitting a tiny nail with a massive for-pay hammer-shooting cannon.

After looking for alternatives and not finding one, I decided to write one.

I ended up going with AppleScript, which I hadn't touched in a while, because it's simple, tends to have all kinds of hooks into applications and system events, and it seemed like this was exactly the kind of thing it was made for. In the end, it didn't take long once I actually started, though wrestling with AppleScript's very non-programming-language like vernacular was odd–I haven't done anything notable in AppleScript since I messed around with it for some simple tools back when OS X 10.4 (Tiger) was the new hotness.

After I got it working perfectly for a day on my work machine (running Mavericks), I tried it out at home (where I don't need it, as I do all my browsing in one browser) running Yosemite and found a small headache. Still, I've found a workaround so the tool still works after a bit more effort for setup.

So, on that note, here's the tool with my code, some commentary, and instructions on how to download mine, as well as to re-create it or customize it to your liking:

LinkCatcher


Patience

by Michael G. in


As is true of many people, I think a lot about a lot of things. As with most people, there are things I want, things I won't have, and things I don't mind waiting for. Over the course of years, seemingly regardless of which societies we grow up in or the primary languages we speak, we're all exposed to many little nuggets of apparently obvious wisdom. Sometimes we take these to heart and truly let them shape our lives, sometimes we think we understand them and move on.

One such piece of wisdom is that "patience is a virtue". Most native English speakers have heard the turn of phrase in some form. Being rooted somewhat in the early European Christian "Seven Heavenly Virtues" , some variation of the phrase is (I would guess) recognized by most who grew up in an area steeped in that cultural influence. Most other cultures (again, a guess) probably also have proverbs or passed-down pieces of wisdom advising patience. It seems a totally natural and agreeable thing to agree patience is a wise, helpful, and generally admirable trait to nurture.

I don't believe many would argue with an assertion that people are, generally, not all that patient. I also don't believe many would argue with an assertion that people, generally, are less patient than we believe ourselves to be. Why is that? Why do we, as people who understand patience is likely good for us and may actively try to be patient, often fail at recognizing a lack of patience within ourselves?

A scenario that comes to mind is a stereotypical movie scene: A couple is having an argument, screaming at one another. Perhaps one of the two has clearly been wronged by the other for quite some time. One of the two has spent quite a bit of time waiting for the situation to improve. Maybe promises to change have been made and not acted on. Maybe the failure is on the one making demands. Maybe the failure is a lack of sincerity. Regardless, at some point one person screams or declares "I have been patient for so long!" You know the scene.

Most of us have, at some point, been there in our minds if not in an outspoken and dramatic manner fitting of Hollywood. The thing that we tend not to understand, or refuse to understand, is that most of the time when we think we're being patient, we're not. This comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what patience is. I'm a big proponent of establishing definitions of terms before starting a discussion, and (though this is a topic for another time) firmly believe it's nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion on a topic of importance without discussing the definitions of terms in use. So let's start with a definition.

Google tells us the following:

pa·tience

/ˈpāSHəns/

noun

the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Notice that last part?

"without getting angry or upset"

Yeah. That part. Patience isn't tolerating something without outwardly showing you're upset. Patience isn't hunkering down and being annoyed by a delay but knowing you'll be ok as long as it (whatever it is) happens eventually. Patience isn't biding your time based on a promise for the future. Patience isn't waiting for something that has to happen.

If that's not what patience is, then what is it? While I could get straight to the point, first I want to establish a few more definitions.

Another common phrase is "Don't settle". In general, people understand that settling is bad but compromising is good. Sometimes the words are used interchangeably. In my mind, and for the purpose of this discussion, there's a pretty clear distinction to be made between settling and compromising.

Settling is done when you give up on a principle. Compromising is done when you give up on a detail. It's important to avoid conflating principles with details. A principle is something you're totally unwilling to bend on. It's something that directs your life and the ways in which you change yourself over time or govern your thoughts. A detail is not. A principle–for example–is knowing you want to only marry someone who shares a particular belief or outlook on life, or not at all. A detail is wanting to meet someone in a place or environment where you think that's likely. A detail is wanting to meet someone soon, or maybe even at all. Recognizing the wisdom behind the principle allows you to realize the principle is worth sticking to and the detail is worth compromising on. Meeting someone at a particular place, in a particular context, or even at all becomes a compromisable detail. Is getting married your principle? Or is only getting married if the circumstances are right the principle? Is doing everything to win a competition your principle? Or is doing your best while retaining your integrity your principle? Principles are worth thinking about and understanding so that you will not settle and are then free to compromise on the details of your life. If you know your desire to win is a detail while retaining your integrity is a principle, then you know which to bend on when they come into conflict. Sacrificing your integrity would be settling. Forgoing the victory would be compromising specifically in the name of not settling. The same person in the same situation can often choose to either compromise or to settle. The same two people in a relationship can often choose to either compromise or settle. The former may result in a desired future. The latter probably will not. It's important to recognize the difference, and even to note that sometimes leaving a situation entirely is the only way to avoid settling.

So then, after all this, what is patience?

Patience is not being upset despite recognizing something isn't as you'd like it to be. Patience is knowing you'll continue to not be angry even if your desire never comes to fruition. Patience is understanding what your principles are and knowing you're in a good place with regard to those even if the details of your life aren't as you wish they were. Patience is something reserved for compromiseable details when you're confident you're not settling on your principles. Patience can only be achieved when you do not conflate principles with details or settling with compromise.

You can want the details. You can put a lot of effort into attaining them. You can put quite a bit of value on them. You can desire a particular goal, a victory, or a relationship with a particular person. It is ok, even admirable, to seek out your desires, to recognize what details you'd like in your life and work towards them. Remembering that you can do without them, that it's a definite possibility you will, and being ok with that scenario means knowing you'll only accept the details when they're right–when they don't demand settling. This means being willing to go without some relationships of all types in order to assure you only have healthy ones or being willing to forego some victories in order to only have honorable ones. It means being able to recognize when a particular detail may have become impossible to have without settling. It means keeping your principles intact so the details you can have can be enjoyed to the fullest when the time is right.

True patience is the willingness to wait for something you desire under the right circumstances, without the promise you will ever get it.

Don't settle on what you need. Compromise on what you want.

Be patient.