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Author: Marty Himmel

Shadow of the Colossus – No Matter the Cost

Shadow of the Colossus starts off with Wander arriving at the temple, placing Mono (the dead woman) on the altar. Wander came to this land for the purpose of reviving Mono. After speaking with Dormin, Dormin tells Wander what he wants may be possible, but at a great cost. From there, Wander sets out to destroy the sixteen colossi.

As the story unfolds, a few key details revealed about Wander. He had stolen the ancient sword from his land. Mono was sacrificed for having a cursed fate, yet Wander was intent on reviving her. Wander entered a land that was forbidden for people to go to. Even after Dormin’s warning, Wander still threw himself at the task of destroying the colossi, with no regard for his own safety.

Wander was willing to do whatever it took, no matter the cost, to achieve his goal and revive Mono.

History is full of examples of people who chased after their goals and missions with the same disregard for personal cost. Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Joan of Arc, and Frederick Douglass, to name a few, all had goals and missions with high personal costs for the benefit of others.

Wander poured everything he had into chasing after his goal of reviving Mono, even when it was unpopular, taboo, and would cost his own life. Similarly, those historical figures poured everything they had into accomplishing their goals. Through humiliation, persecution, and even death, they stuck to their beliefs and followed through despite the cost.

In order to achieve your goals, there will be a cost. It could be a time commitment, a monetary cost, a move, a relationship, security/safety, or any number of things. If you’re not willing to pay that price, then that goal either isn’t worth pursuing or it’ll be done in mediocrity and won’t have a lasting impact.

Goals worth doing are those worth paying the price, no matter the cost.

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Celeste – Struggling Together

On the surface, Celeste is about a woman named Madeline, who is bound and determined to climb Mount Celeste. Before continuing, as always with anything written on this site, there are massive spoilers ahead (basically the entire story). At the time of writing, this game has been out for a week and a half, so I figured I’d add this as a special warning.

As the story unfolds, you discover that Madeline deals with anxiety and depression, and is prone to panic attacks. In the second chapter, a part of her is released into the physical world, and she is forced to confront this “evil doppleganger” throughout the rest of the game.

The other part of Madeline is essentially her anxiety and depression given physical form. The other part often talks down to Madeline and those she encounters. She tells Madeline how useless everything is, that she should give up the climb and just go home, and so on. Madeline struggles with this, sometimes appearing to agree, and then in the next moment, refusing to give up.

At one point, Madeline tells the other part of her that she needs to leave her behind. To let her go. At that announcement, the other part explodes with anger, making herself bigger and more powerful, telling Madeline that she can’t just leave her. And to prove the point, the other part drags her down the mountain.

Still not completely deterred, Madeline starts the climb again. She meets the “crazy old woman” from the beginning of the game, who tells Madeline that the answer isn’t in leaving the other part, but talking to her and figuring out what she’s afraid of. Madeline complies and after their next meeting (following a crazy boss fight type of sequence with the raging other part), Madeline accepts the other part and wants to work together with her. The other part, knowing she won’t be abandoned, accepts the offer.

By accepting this other part of her, Madeline’s abilities improve, and the two make it to the peak of Mount Celeste.

By the end of the game, Madeline has accepted her struggles as part of who she is. Once she realizes the fear and anxiety she faces, she is able to move forward and accomplish her goal. She does this not in spite of what she deals with, but in accordance with who she is, flaws and all.

People are inherently flawed. Some deal with anxiety, some with depression, some with anger, some with addiction, everyone deals with fear at various points – the list goes on. In dealing with these various flaws, we need to stop pretending they don’t exist and learn how to effectively deal with them.

When Madeline tried to leave behind the other part of her (ignore the problem), things only got worse. However, when she accepted the other part of her as part of who she is, she was able to face the problems (doubts, fears, etc.) and climb the mountain.

Madeline also needed help from other people to understand how to overcome the issue. The crazy old woman (who maybe wasn’t so crazy) helped Madeline understand the fear she was facing. Theo, another person Madeline meets along the way, is a source of inspiration and encouragement for her.

Much like Madeline, we need other people in our lives to help us work through our issues. Yes, there are certain things others won’t be able to do for us, but they can still be there with us and support us.

By recognizing our own flaws and struggles, we can start the work to improve ourselves and get a better outlook on life. Not on our own, but together.

MMORPGs – The Power of Community

By their very nature, MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) tend to foster community. Everquest, World of Warcraft, Rift, and Guild Wars, to name just a few of the many available, have groups, raids, and guilds built into the games. Those three aspects are just a part of the community, too. Outside of the games, people often build fan sites for their favorite MMO, numerous forums (official and unofficial) are available, and so on.

In game, groups are formed with similar goals in mind, such as leveling up or completing a specific quest. Raids are formed around multiple people and/or groups wanting to take on a specific dungeon. The thing about raids is there is often a heavy investment in them. Not only do you have to prepare for the raid by meeting certain requirements (level, equipment, etc.), but the raid itself is often a heavy time investment, with some raids lasting several hours.

Due to the level of commitment, you tend to see many of the same people raiding, and so the raiders get to know each other over time. With the commitment that’s generally required for raiding, it isn’t for everyone. Personally, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve done a raid. And I’m talking about a history of nearly 2 decades (my first MMO was Everquest in 2000) across multiple games. If raiding isn’t your thing, there are still plenty of other community fostering options.

Guilds tend to be another big in-game community. Unlike raids, guilds aren’t necessarily built around a specific goal. They tend to be more like resource pools, where individual players come together to look for and offer assistance to one another. Looking for a partner or group to level up with? Need help with a specific quest or looking to help others with their quests? Have a raid planned or want to join a raid? The guild can usually help with any of these, especially larger guilds. And sometimes, people are just looking for a hangout place and want to talk to others. Guilds are a great place for socializing, too.

Outside of the games, fans of the games create sites to display their enjoyment of the game and provide info for others. Forums are filled with comments on a variety of topics. Discord, TeamSpeak, and the like are filled with players chatting about and coordinating in the various games. And some games have dedicated conventions where people physically congregate in order to share in the hobby and games they so love.

All of this points to community and the power thereof. An individual will generally level and gain gear slower than if in a group. And when enough individuals group together to form a raid, they can overcome the challenges that are generally impossible for any individual or smaller group. Guilds pool their knowledge and resources to help one another. Massive database sites are filled with data entered by players, expanding the collective knowledge of the games. With the amount of information in MMOs, and the changing nature of them, this task would be next to impossible for someone to do alone.

You get the idea. Community in MMOs allow the players to do things they wouldn’t normally be able to do alone. Or it cuts down on the time to do tasks they could otherwise do solo. Such is the power of community. And this is a valuable lesson for almost any activity we engage in.

In workplaces and organizations, more people allow you to accomplish more work. Factory and assembly line workers have been doing this since the industrial revolution. Farmers have been working communally for thousands of years. Non profit organizations can accomplish far more than an individual can when people come together and pool their resources (time, finances, skills, etc.).

Far more can be accomplished by a community than an individual. That being said, it still comes down to each individual doing their part to help. As the saying goes, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, community has a multiplicative, rather than additive, effect.

With all that’s going on in the world today, especially with all the disasters that have occurred over the last couple weeks, there’s never been a greater need for community. Hurricanes have ravaged the Caribbean, the southeastern United States, and Mexico. Not only is Mexico dealing with the hurricane, but the southern part of the country was hit with a major earthquake and dozens of powerful aftershocks. Asia and parts of Africa have experienced major flooding due to heavy rains. All of these disasters have cost thousands of people their homes, but worse yet, it has cost hundreds their lives.

We need community more than ever. Much like a raid working together to take down a major boss, or a guild pooling its resources for the benefit of everyone, we need to work together as a community to help those in need. There are plenty of options for giving right, and everyone has their own opinions on the various organizations available, so I’m not going to link to any specifically. A quick search will give you dozens of options to help those in disaster zones.

The disasters occur over a short time, yet will affect peoples’ lives for years to come. And it’s not just in disasters that we need community. Every day, there are opportunities for community and growing together. Sometimes it’s in a duo and sometimes through a group. Other times it’s through a full raid or even an entire guild. No matter the size, community will help you grow individually, which in turn helps the community grow.

The power of community is in individuals doing their respective parts together, contributing to the greater good. As individuals in a game level up, the community (group, raid, guild, etc. – whatever the size) grows stronger and more capable. The same is true in life. As people grow individually, they can contribute more to the communities they are part of.

Give when you can. Ask for help when you need it. We can do far more together than we’ll ever do alone.

Dark Souls – Gradual Improvement

The Dark Souls games (including Demon’s Souls) are incredibly hard and rely on the idea of gradual improvement to get through each game. As you collect souls, you can trade them in for various stat points, which also raises your level (one stat point equals one level). The benefits vary based on the chosen stat to increase. A stat may increase your hit points and resistances, your stamina, your damage with a weapon (or ability to even use it), your spell damage, an so on. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but a single level can make a significant difference.

A lot of the difficulty in the Souls games can also be overcome by skill (knowing enemy tells, dodging, etc.), but that also requires gradual improvement. The first time you encounter an enemy, especially bosses, you have no clue what their tells are. It takes time, studying movements, a lot of dodging and/or blocking, learning the terrain, and a few (or several) deaths to really get a grasp on each situation.

Whether it’s through leveling and stat increases, or through improving personal skill, it’s all a process of gradual improvement.

Life works much the same way. In the first couple years of life, a child learns to crawl and walk one step at a time. Crawling starts out slowly, as the child learns balance on hands and knees. Walking involves a lot of falling down while learning to transfer that balance skill to two legs. In a sense, each milestone is a level up, with a certain amount of skill transfer.

As people go through school, including college, they’re increasing knowledge and learning new skills. The same can happen through personal hobbies, though those often leading to the next level of honing a skill. This is also true in the workplace. We become aware of more efficient ways of doing tasks. Or we do a task so often it becomes second nature and requires very little thought.

From the early years, through school, and into the workforce, every part consists of gradual improvement. Even people with natural talent for something still have to work at their given talent to become even better at it. Talent will only take you so far.

Failure is also part of the process. In Dark Souls, failure usually means dying, but you’re learning what doesn’t work. In life, failure at a task doesn’t mean the end of the journey. It means you’ve discovered what doesn’t work, and now you can try something else – you’re still improving by recognizing what doesn’t work.

In regards to creating a commercially viable lightbulb, Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Edison knew if he kept at it long enough, he would gain enough knowledge to create a better lightbulb. He understood the process of gradual improvement.

Gradual improvement is a life long journey. It applies to our lives from the moment of birth until the day we die. In learning about the world around us, both as a child and as an adult, we’re leveling up and improving our skills. When we apply ourselves to our hobbies, relationships, jobs, personal growth, and every other aspect of life, we are improving.

Sometimes, growth happens in leaps and bounds. However, more often than not, the growth comes gradually. The gradual improvement process is usually what results in lasting growth and change. Regardless of the timing of the process, take hold of it and keep pushing forward.

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Final Fantasy VI – Everyone Has a Story to Tell

One of the (many, many) things I love about Final Fantasy VI is that every character has a unique story. With a main party that can consist of 14 characters, that’s quite a feat to pull off and do it well. Three of the four optional characters’ stories are a bit lacking, they still have some substance to them.

Let’s look at some of the characters’ stories.

Locke

Locke is a member of the Returners (the resistance group set against the empire) and a thief – excuse me, “treasure hunter.” Throughout the game, you unravel Locke’s story and why he’s in of the resistance.

Years prior to the start of the game, he met a girl named Rachel, and they fell in love. In an accident, she lost her memory, Locke was blamed by her father and the town, and he left, though mostly because the entire town turned on him. Eventually, the town was destroyed by the empire, but not before Rachel regained her memory and with it, her love for Locke. Rachel’s death pushed Locke to the Returners.

Locke’s love for Rachel and their past together contributes to every part of his story in the game, often times in ways that aren’t obvious until you discover his past, or on subsequent play throughs. After the world is destroyed, Locke is found searching for the Phoenix esper, that is believed to be able to bring someone back from the dead. After finding it, he is temporarily reunited with Rachel, absolved of his past, and finds hope for the future again.

Edgar and Sabin

Edgar and Sabin are brothers and sons of the former king of Figaro. At the king’s death (also at the hands of the empire), the people were trying to figure out which of the two would become the next king. Sabin was hurt by the fact that no one seemed to care about what happened and wanted he and Edgar to leave the kingdom. Edgar wanted to help Sabin, but he also didn’t want to go against his father’s wishes. So, Edgar proposed a coin toss to settle the matter between them – Edgar became king and Sabin won his freedom.

The two brothers lost touch for a while. During that time, Edgar “befriended” the empire, though he was really a Returner, and Sabin met and trained with a martial arts master in order to be able to protect Edgar. Eventually, the brothers are reunited, and more of their story is uncovered.

Sabin knew Edgar would take better care of the kingdom and Edgar knew Sabin valued his freedom. The coin toss was rigged with a doubled-headed coin, ensuring the outcome. Edgar essentially bound himself to the kingdom and their father’s wishes, despite wanting to leave with his brother, so that Sabin could live the life he wanted.

Relm and Shadow

Relm has a talent for painting. Her paintings are magical, though, and whatever she paints becomes real. Shadow is an assassin with a dog named Interceptor. Interceptor doesn’t listen to anyone except Shadow, however, he has a soft spot for Relm. When Shadow and Relm are together, Interceptor often ignores Shadow in favor of Relm.

Through a series of optional events and dream sequences (Shadow’s memories), you discover that Strago (Relm’s grandfather, and one of the other main characters) knows Shadow, and that Shadow was a former thief named Clyde. Not only that, Shadow is Relm’s father, which explains the way Interceptor acts around her.

Clyde tried to leave his previous life behind him. This eventually led him to Thamasa, where he married one of the residents, and fathered Relm. In continuing to run from his past, Clyde left his family and Thamasa, and took up the persona of Shadow, an assassin for hire who had killed his emotions.

A Story to Tell

These are just a few of the characters’ stories and only parts of their respective stories. The depth that Square managed to put into each of the characters in Final Fantasy VI is amazing, especially considering how many there are. It also portrays two significant lessons – everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters.

Whatever your story is, it’s a story worth telling. People find comfort and hope in the stories of other people. When you look at the characters of Final Fantasy VI and each story told, they include both tragedy and triumph. The tragedy is what people often go through, and the triumph is what gives people hope. Sure, these are stories in a game, but they are also stories that real people experience.

Whatever your story is, it matters. Your own tragedies and how you’ve overcame it can give hope to others currently going through the pain of that tragedy. Maybe you’re in the middle of your own tragedy right now. Find others who can support you in it. Maybe someone else who has gone through a similar experience and found peace on the other side. There’s hope at the end and you’ll have a story to tell from it.

Wherever you’re at in life, you have a story to tell. And that story matters.