Week of 27 July, 2020

  • I barely remember what I did this week. Whenever I wasn’t working, eating, or sleeping, I was playing Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked on the 3DS. The last game to hook me like this was Fire Emblem: Awakening, also on the 3DS. There’s something about RPGs on handheld devices that makes me want to pour my entire life into them. Maybe it’s because the experience is similar to reading a book — a book where you can choose your own outcomes and fall in love with the characters over a period of weeks rather than days.
  • It’s becoming clear to me that the only games I care about enough to see through to the end are story-driven RPGs, especially turn-based JRPGs. After I’m done with SMT, I’m planning to play through all the other RPGs I own until SMT V comes out next year: Yo-Kai Watch 2 (3DS), Dragon Quest 8 (3DS), Final Fantasy VII (Switch), Disgaea 4 (Switch) and Child of Light (Switch). I only have the time to play through one or two games each year so I doubt I’ll be able to finish all of these, but that won’t stop me from trying!
  • Mentally, I’ve been all over the place. I don’t feel anxious anymore, thanks to the medication, therapy, and exercise. However, the SSRIs still make me drowsy enough that some days I barely want to move from my couch. My doctor has asked me to try taking the medication at night, but it’s too early to tell if it’s making a difference.
  • I have now been writing in my Bullet Journal for a whole month. I’ve filled over sixty pages with tasks, notes, events, observations, and way too many lists. Looking back at what I’ve written, I’ve found that my perception of time is hilariously skewed. Things I could have sworn happened two or three months ago actually only happened two weeks ago. Conversely, things that happened at the start of the month feel like they happened just yesterday.
  • Incidentally, I only realized today that August has thirty-one days and not thirty, so I guess I need to be sent right back to Kindergarten.
  • For someone with a brain like mine, social media is a bigger health hazard than cigarettes or alcohol. I owe a large part of my professional success to being Very Online™, but I’m at a point where the negative effects it has on my mental health are far too nasty to ignore. I still check my social media a few times a week, but I rarely read anything outside of my replies or DMs, and most of my posts are jokes or pictures of my cats. Most of all, I immediately unfollow anyone who shares political posts, even if they’re a close friend.
  • I’m now part of a book club! We discussed Blake Crouch’s Recursion last week, and next up is Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s Hugo-winning This is How You Lose the Time War. I’m having a lot of fun.
  • You know what else is fun? Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure. It might not be as intense as working out at a gym, but it’s more than enough to get me sweating. I’m starting to feel healthy again after months of not moving my body.

Darkest Dungeon

I never thought I’d be moved to tears by a review for a video game I haven’t even played, yet here we are. Nathan Grayson’s review for Darkest Dungeon touches on issues of burnout and overwork that I’ve struggled with throughout my twenties.

Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based RPG with an interesting mechanic: as you explore dungeons and battle enemies, your characters accumulate trauma and stress caused by those encounters. Left untreated, this trauma will make them entirely useless and you will have to remove them from your roster.

From Nathan’s review:

Trauma always leaves wounds. If left untreated for too long, those wounds fester, grow, and multiply. And yet, modern living subtly encourages people to ignore them. You gotta stay busy, the career world tells us. Taking care of yourself—whether that means taking some time off, seeing a therapist, or what have you—isn’t directly productive, and you’ve already got So Much To Do. If it’s not work, it’s social or family obligations. What will friends, significant others, or co-workers think if you disappear now? That you’re lazy? That you’re crazy? And anyway, where will you find the money?

You can try playing Darkest Dungeon like any other RPG — grind grind grind, fight enemy after enemy to get more XP, go deep into dungeons to get better loot — but you’re not going to have a good time.

As I played Darkest Dungeon, I tried so hard to follow the golden rule of progress, to play like I’d play any other video game. Sure, I’d retreat from battles or dungeons occasionally, but everything had to be in the name of slow advancement. I prioritized short-term gains over long-term decision-making, and I did it almost unconsciously. Other games taught me that it’d work; they told me that heroes are defined by the progress they’re making, the XP and items they’re earning, the stories they’re exerting agency over. So I picked my hill to die on, and god damn it I was gonna climb all the way to the top, no matter what got in my way.

I kept falling down, further and further.

It has taken me (nearly) thirty years of my life to know when to stop working and take a break. I still hurt myself, ignoring signs of burnout and pushing through the pain, but I’m slowly getting better at taking care of myself.

Turns out, willing yourself into being alright isn’t the same thing as being alright. Sometimes, digging your heels in and making one last push just gets you dirty feet.

Learning to be kind to yourself takes a long time. It’s almost an act of defiance against everything that has been drilled into our heads.

Sometimes, the best way to move forward is to find a way to stand still. On some occasions, you’ve gotta take a step back to create something sustainable. You have to take care of yourself.

Am I going to play Darkest Dungeon? Maybe. Probably. At some point. After I’ve finished these other twenty games in my backlog. Meanwhile, I’ll keep reminding myself every day that it doesn’t have to be so hard.