Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War Review

Avengers: Infinity War Review

I really, truly loved Avengers: Infinity War. It is the most meaningful movie I have seen in a long time, and the fact that it is chock a block with more action scenes than anything else doesn't change that. It is beautiful, replete with amazing performances, and elegantly ties together a complex weave of stories. More than anything else though I appreciate its depth... every time I think on it I find more to reflect on.

The first thing I thought on was its themes. Where Star Wars: Last Jedi was about failure and what we do with it, Avengers is about loss, which is a very different realm. That loss lives in the relationships that fill the movie... friends, lovers, family, mentors... they all go. Does that loss have meaning? Was it worth it? What do we do now? These are the questions it asks, of hero and villain alike.

We already know many of the relationships between characters from earlier movies, though some characters and connections have less chance to shine than we wish they did. Even then the small points, such as Cap and Thor commenting on hair rather than their radically altered visages, contribute to the feelings of ral connection. The shifting perspective from the layered stories highlight just how many of these points of connection have been built up, and the quality and the quantity of the relationships makes it all the more meaningful when they are snuffed out. The theme of loss and layered perspectives actually draw our focus to the actual protagonist of the film: Thanos.

The core fact that has to be understood is that Thanos didn't just believe he was right in his cause, he knew it. He took the death of his world as not just proof of that righteousness, but as a memorial to his failure to change things. At the beginning of the movie, when he is talking to Thor about knowing you are right and failing anyway, it was the loss of Titan that he was referring to. And that loss, to him, was caused because he wasn't willing to sacrifice anything... his morals, his life, his people. So Thanos was resolved not to make that mistake again.

Many people have pointed out that Thanos had the power to create life instead, and to simply double the amount of resources in the Universe. There are various reasons I am sure the Mad Titan would counter with, but at the end of the day the reason he would not have done that is because he did not want to. This had to be his way, because he had to have been right before and his sacrifices had to mean something. Thanos is hardly the only person in the movie who acts based on that illogical, but understandable, reasoning. It’s why Quill freaks out, why Thor plants his axe in the wrong place, and why Wanda delays the inevitable.

In pursuit of that goal, Thanos reshapes the Universe and the people who live within it. He mirrors his loss and the death of his own world when he lays waste to the Asgardians, unintentionally setting Thor on his own path of self-destructive sacrifice. He comes back with the Soul stone, and Nebula immediately knows both what he did and that he couldn’t have done that with her because all she was, all she would ever be, was a punching bag for the daughter he had actually loved. At the end of the movie when he says he gave up everything, he means it: love, life, happiness, hope… they are all gone. And he thinks it is a price worth paying to not feel loss the way he did before. To ensure that nobody does.

In the face of this bleak nihilism is Steve Rogers, saying “We don’t trade lives”. It seems simple, or even simplistic, but it isn’t. In the face of loss, Rogers says we mourn but keep fighting. And what we fight for isn’t a theory of how to end a basic fact of mortality, because to do so is to eliminate the things that give life meaning. We fight for our friends, our loved ones, our hopes. Sometimes we lose, but we shouldn’t turn that loss into a justification for becoming the monsters we once fought. The world changes, and if we want to honor our loss, so do we. We don’t trade that life, because at the end you are left with nothing.

I love this movie. I think I understand Thanos.

But I stand with Steve Rogers.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New World Magischola 7- Saving the Dean (Warning: Discussion of Suicide)

Warning: Discussion of Suicide Ahead.

At New World Magischola 7 live-action role-play (larp) I had a chance to reprise my role as Professor Alfred Contreras, only now as the Chancellor! There were several events during the run that touched my emotional chords during play, and a few I didn’t feel until after. One that waylaid me was from the Dean’s confession of being a "gorecaster".

During the scene, the Dean related how she had made foolish mistakes as a youth, her idealism blinding her to the evil of Jack Slager and his coterie of dark wizards. The Tidewater Fae had agreed to hide and protect her, both from Slager and the law, but her time was now up. She drew a Slager-rod from her scarf, a twisted bone wand that was incongruous with her colorful garment, and pointed it to her own head saying “I still know how to use this”.

I, as Chancellor Contreras, talked her down from that moment. I took her wand and held it with distaste, and wrapped my hand around hers in love. I told the Duchess that I would not allow her to be harmed. Of course, that is when the Undertow Fae rolled up on us and said that they wanted to throw down, and things got rather chaotic.

For Contreras, this mattered. Over several previous nights he had actually talked about how he feared not being able to protect those he loved, and how that extended to every person at the school. He had, at this point, sacrificed the emotional connection he felt to his long dead love, but he knew the pain that would follow. It was one of his finest moments in the game, though perhaps not the most visible.

On the car ride out of Virginia, the scene came back to me hard, and I started crying because of a real life connection. In all the chaos and energy, it had not reached me before, but it got there eventually.

In 2013 I was in my second semester of PhD studies at the Ohio State University. In class one evening in January, my wife called me to say her father had shot himself. I drove us down to Maryland, and as a family we slowly put together that he had vastly overdrawn the family’s finances, and had felt trapped in a prison of his own making. He had been unable to reach out to us, and had taken his own life.

In such a circumstance, emotions are a terror. I was angry at him, but he was not there. I was angry at myself, and I was. Whether or not it makes sense for me to think I should have been smarter, or more aware, or that I could have made him trust me more, did not change my emotional belief in these ideas. And I am certainly not the only one with such muddled feelings.

At the wake, I remember looking at all the people and thinking on all lives he had touched, which would then go on to touch others. I remember thinking that it would be a better world if we could catch even a glimpse of how our actions reverberate through the world. It was one of the events that helped me decide to focus on larp, a media that I thought could make that dream possible.

Come back to the Dean.

She trusted me enough. It was still her choice of course, as was his, but she chose to talk to and listen to me. I hadn’t seen it coming, but in that moment I was fast enough, convincing enough. My friend and family member faced a hard road, but I would be there for her.

I cannot even begin to describe what this does to me.

But I am grateful for it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Velvet Glove- The Holy Rollers (Origins Games on Demand)

Velvet Glove by Sarah Richardson

This session of Velvet Glove was the game from Origins that has stuck with me most. I went to bed thinking about it, woke up still lost in the world we had made, and couldn’t wait to find my fellow players and talk about it more. The whole experience left feelings that swirled in a combination of love, fascination, and sadness.

I actually was a host at Games on Demand for this session, which meant I was arranging games for players, but Brendan had a seat and invited me to join late. Since I had played the game earlier that day I was able to burn through character creation quickly, but the only playbooks left were The Maniac and The Stoner. Since I had already been Fairuza The Maniac, I created Liberty the Stoner.

Liberty was a half-Native American half-White 17 year old who saw herself as the spiritual center of the group. I assumed a lazy smile and drawled my sentences in an exaggerated manner, and looked at the world through sleepy eyes. At the start Liberty was likable and friendly, and not at all serious… at least, not on the surface. Because our group largely chose to have some kind of locomotion, whether skateboard, bicycle, or busted-up motorcycle, we called ourselves the Holy Rollers.  
Holy Rollers Symbol: The Blue Mermaid

While Liberty preferred peyote, she grew the marijuana that was the gang’s primary business in a public park alcove, which lead to its name of “ditchweed”. She and Ember the Newbie were also experimenting with a few special offshoots she called “ashcan”, which Ember delivered to a contact in a rough part of town via her bicycle.

Liberty had kissed Rosalyn the Radical, and had enjoyed going to protests with her, but never took it to mean much. Or, more to the point, that it meant much to Rosalyn or anyone else. Nevertheless, if Rosalyn were in trouble Liberty would try to talk or bargain, offering more or less anything to keep her friend safe.  

Carmela the Valkyrie, our gang’s leader, chose Liberty as the person she had taken to get an abortion, and whose mother had found out. At this point I paused the game, because I knew that if you took a Native American woman to get an abortion in the 70’s, there was a very good chance that she would emerge sterilized. We decided that Ember’s dad, who was a doctor, had done it and promised that he would not… but he still could have. Liberty’s mom had freaked out when she discovered what had happened, for that exact reason, and there was an unspoken tension in their household. I declared Ember’s crush, a boy named Hector, as the likely father.

Our gang was very different from the one I had been in earlier, in part because none of us were very good at fighting. We had social skills to spare, but would almost never lead off with violence, and knew that any altercation that relied on muscle could go very wrong for us. It didn’t men we couldn’t throw down, just that we preferred not to. This made us distinct from our rival gang, the knife-toting Catholic school girls, the Switchblade Sisters.  

Sketch of Liberty

As the game progressed I came to know my character better, and it downright broke my heart. When a teacher insulted her race and culture, Liberty let it slide off her, because she was already broken. When her friends were in trouble, she threw herself in the middle, because they mattered more. When what they needed was for someone to give a guy what he wanted, she would be the first one to step forward, though she knew precisely where it would lead. Liberty WAS the soul of the gang, and that soul was damaged.

At the same time, her sisters stood with her. Carmela was always ready to provide direction and appear confident, even when the world was falling apart. Ember’s optimism and energy provided them with the hope that they could be more. Rosalyn’s passion for justice gave them a cause to fight for. They were incomplete alone, but together could face down the rest of the world.

Throughout the game, Liberty tried to persuade Ember to stop chasing Hector, and even went so far as to try and have Ember’s dad keep her home from a party the boy would be at. When they were all at the party and debating whether to enter, Liberty had no choice but to at last tell Ember what Hector had done: knocked her up, and never spoken to her again. I have rarely felt more exposed or sad in a Tabletop RPG than I was in that moment, talking about an experience I could never have, from a view I could never truly know. It was a complete fiction that felt honest, and I hope that it has given me some insight into a world that I have realized I take for granted all too often. When I was done, Liberty decided that she was too, and that she didn’t want to party after all.

For The Stoner, that is a hell of a thing.

We eventually left as one, and after we left Rosalyn told Liberty that she was upset, because she thought they were together. Liberty replied that Rosalyn was just going to college, and Rosalyn said “not necessarily”. “Wait, you’d stay for me?” said Liberty, to which Rosalyn replied “Is that an invitation?” I stared at another man, and Liberty stared at Rosalyn, and then a sleepy smile and a soft laugh before I said in her voice “Pfft. We have to talk!”

I don’t have the words to describe the love I feel for these girls, nor for the kinship I feel for my fellow players. This is great, because at the end of the day I don’t seek out experiences that can be confined to text. I want something bigger, something that bears the impact of experience.

And this one hit me hard, like a velvet glove.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Actual Play- Slayer Cake

You can read about my experience with Slayer Cake, by Evan Torner and Kat Jones, here: http://jasonsfieldofplay.blogspot.com/p/actual-play-slayer-cake.html

Saturday, August 6, 2016

New World Magischola

These are my New World Magischola thoughts and reflections.

This post contains some of my initial thoughts on the gameworld and the Houses of the school. It was written shortly after the final House was revealed.

This post contains my personal reflection from playing Alfred Contreras, a Professor of Magical Theory and Ethics in the third run of the game.

Living Games Conference 2016

These are all my Actual Play reports from the larps I played at the 2nd Living Games Conference in Austin, TX 2016.

#Feminism Sampler, specifically You've Come a Long Way Baby.

Golden Cobra Sampler, specifically A Crow Funeral and The Lofty Beacons.

I Say a Little Prayer

Emotional Baggage


I have just begun this blogspot as a hub for me to post my play reports on various games, especially larps (live-action role-playing games), which I use as an artistic-media for personal reflection.