Archive for April, 2017

Going Retro: Getting into Game Collecting

Disclaimer: The top image is not my game collection….yet!

I went to GameStop a few years back (I don’t have nearly as much of a problem with them as some) and saw a friend of mine who was the store manager at the time. Before I left, she recommended I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Her recommendation was so high that I wound up going to Barnes & Noble the same time to pick it up. I read the full book in a flight to Seattle and back.

I loved the book, but it also kindled a fire in me for nostalgia of my own childhood, primarily for video games. I started thinking about my backlog of games on current consoles and, like many gamers, wondered if I’d ever get through them all. Then the idea hit me: If I couldn’t play through all the games, why not start collecting them and curating a library of of the best ones?

I started by going to garage sales and looking for older games. One of the first I went to I met a guy who was also collecting and working towards a complete North American licensed release NES library. He invited me to join a Facebook group and I began to realize how many people were into retro game collecting. I decided I need t obetter define what games I wanted to start building my own library.

What Games To Get?

I started by thinking about consoles. I still had my NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Genesis, and PS3 at this point. I decided I would try to get all the consoles I had played growing up and a “Top 100” library of the best games on each system. Then I’d also include memorable games I enjoyed as a child if they weren’t on the “Top 100” list. This meant acquiring an Atari 2600, Sega Saturn & Dreamcast, a Playstation and PS2. I didn’t include hand held systems as they have never been a big interest for me.

To determine a “best of” hunting list for each system, I started with sites like IGN and GameSpot that had done “Top 100” articles before. Next, I went to fogurms where posters had debated their picks for the best games with discussion and votes moving games up/down the list and adding/dropping off the list. I took the titles that appeared across each list and made that my Hunting List.

For example:
IGN Top 100 NES Games
Retro Sanctuary Top 100 Best NES Games
Game FAQs Top 100 NES Games

All in all, I actually came up with a list of:

  • 106 Atari 2600
  • 164 NES
  • 147 SNES
  • 101 Sega Genesis
  • 88 N64
  • 95 Sega Dreamcast
  • 83 GameCube
  • 215 PS2
  • 220 PS3

Obviously the “Top 100” grew with the additional titles I remembered and moreso as I decided to include infamously bad titles and all RPGs.

Benefits of the List, and How to Use It

I highly recommend creating a list to work from, even if you are going for a complete library of every title on a system. Put the list in Google Drive and get the app on your phone. I use a spreadsheet listing the titles and their Pricecharting value across 6 rows to minimize scrolling, divided up by systems. This way your list is always on hand and you can make sure you don’t buy a duplicate of something you’ve already picked up (so long as you update and save the file in Google Drive, of course).

I did mention I keep the price for each game from Pricecharting on my list. I’ve seen in some groups there are people who think Pricecharting is crap and should never be used. I’ve yet to understand why some think this. Pricecharting basically tracks prices of completed auctions from eBay to give an average price. Using completed auctions ensures you’re getting information based on what people are actually willing to pay. I don’t advise taking it as the absolute price, though. You can look at the auctions the data is coming from to make sure they’re recent. If not, you can go to ebay directly and see what recent prices were on sold listings. Sometimes Pricecharting doesn’t have recent data on their averages, but I find this an uncommon occurrence.

One thing to remember is these are largely eBay based prices, so I think it’s safe to push for a bit less than those prices since a seller would lose 10% to eBay fees, not to mention the hassle of shipping.

Where To Hunt for Games?

The simple answer is: everywhere.

Garage Sales / Flea Markets / Thrift Stores / Antique Stores
Obviously these are all hit or miss, but you never know what you might find. I always keep an eye out for other items completely unrelated to video games that I can flip for profit to further pay for game collecting such as vintage posters, Disney or Warner Bros. items, or anything that I think might be worth reasonably more than is being asked.

GameStop
If you’re looking for XBox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, or Wii U games, it’s worth looking into GameStop prices. There are some titles I’ve gotten much cheaper at GameStop than Pricecharting shows, meaning you’re actually better off with GameStop, especially if you have their Power Up Reward card. A few examples as of the time of this writing:

Sakura Wars on Wii is worth $25, but $13.50 with discount at GameStop
Arc Rise Fantasia on Wii is worth $34, but $27 with discount at GameStop
Ar tonelico Qoga: Kneel of Ar Ciel on PS3 is worth $22.50, but $9 with discount at GameStop

If you’re really lucky and can find a copy of Dokapon Kingdom at GameStop, it will run you $45 rather than $80 for just the disc.

It’s just a matter of researching the titles you’re looking for and checking if they have them near you, then going or calling to verify if they’re complete with manual. If you hunt during a Buy 2 Get 1 Free weekend, you can really clean up.

Half Price Books
People in a lot of gaming groups hate Half Price Books, primarily because they overprice games. I’ve found some stores do, some don’t, and some are reasonably in line with Pricecharting prices. I find it’s worth looking at least and I tend to drive around to as many as I can on the coupon weeks for 20-50% off coupon purchases. That’s how I got Skies of Arcadia on GameCube for $35 and Mario Cement Factory for $50.

Game Stores
The chain stores, such as Game X-Change, are unlikely to offer real deals unless you catch them slipping on values. Sometimes you’ll find fair prices on titles you’ve been looking for but haven’t had luck finding. Game X-Change also offers a B2G1 deal on all games $7.95 or less. This doesn’t help as you get to a point where you’re hunting more expensive titles, of course.

Your best bet is small independent stores where the owner is more likely to be willing to work a deal with you if you buy multiple games at a time and return with repeat business.

eBay
Of course, this is sort of a last resort, but if you’re patient and watch close, you’ll sometimes catch good deals on games you’ve been looking for with no luck for a long while.

Facebook Groups
You’ll find Facebook groups where people buy, sell, and trade their extra games. I recommend taking some time to get a feel for how the group is and if you want to work with them for trades.

Gaming Conventions
If you want to get a good deal at conventions, you probably want to work on your haggling skills and still go in with good games to trade and cash to spend. The last few conventions I’ve been to weren’t too great for deals, but were full of rare things you won’t find at the average store. You might use conventions to target rare and hard to find additions for your collection.

Grown Up Gaming: A Mistake and Playstation 3

I had now graduated college, had a job, and was living on my own. I was still playing games, but over the years I had sold and traded a lot of them. I decided I didn’t need to keep so much of my childhood and started cleaning out things to sell on eBay. He-Man toys. G.I. Joe toys. Ghostbusters toys. X-Men toys. And the video games. I didn’t sell everything, but I did sell most of what I had. I kept my consoles and my SNES and N64 boxed games such as Final Fantasy 3, Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Star Fox 64, and more, but most of the rest went. The most painful probably is Bucky O’Hare, which has really gone up since I sold it and will be painful to replace.

Playstation 3

Included in the selling was my Playstation 2 once I got the first release, backwards compatible, Playstation 3. I didn’t intend to buy it, but it was time for a new TV and when I was getting that from Best Buy, a 3 year no interest plan made the TV, an HD DVD player, a Playstation 3, and a fancy surge protector a good combo deal. The first game I remember playing was Lair, which looked like it would be a mix of Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon. Sadly, it wasn’t very good, though there was some potential there.

Nothing is Forbidden

I played the first Assassin’s Creed game not too long after it came out and found it interesting, but very repetitive after a while. I also found it hard to pull off the full stealth for assassination missions. My Altair wound up being more of a warrior than an assassin.

Yeah, that’s about how I wound up most of the time.

The sequel, however, made huge improvements to the first’s foundation and was absolutely better in every category one could ask to be improved. Brotherhood built on some of the sequel’s features while Revelations seemed to scale back just a bit, but provided a satisfying conclusion to Ezio’s story arc. The third numbered entry wasn’t as well received by some, but I still liked it, especially the sailing portions (which was then expanded for a larger focus in both Rogue and Black Flag).

The Dark Knight Arrived

Of course I can’t write this entry without talking about Batman. Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and even Arkham Origins. For the first time, Batman was fully realized in a video game with combat, gadgets, and even some detective work. I thought the end of Asylum was a bit weird with Hulk-Joker, but the story and experience was outstanding. For me, Arkham City was even better with access to part of Gotham, a higher stake story, and the feeling of actually grappling and gliding from building to building. Most don’t care for Arkham Origins, but I still liked it as a prequel and was satisfied with it forming a “Joker trilogy” on the PS3. I would have been fine if Arkham Knight had focused entirely on other villains without Joker at all. Origins also made me really appreciate Troy Baker’s performance of Mark Hamill as the Joker.

The best Batman scene from Hollywood felt like these games came to life.

Bustin’ Made Me Feel Good

Another great game on PS3 was Ghostbusters, which stands as the true “third movie” for me. It should have been the general framework of the connective tissue between Ghostbusters II and the Sony reboot (which I still think should have been a continuation with the new team opening a franchise or taking over the original location after the Stantz & Co. retired). A friend and I got to see a preview of the game before release at a local anime convention. The Terminal Reality dev team at the panel recognized our functioning replicas of Crow and Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and invited us to come to the front of the room and take the mics to riff on their gameplay trailer. That was certainly a lot of fun and they seemed to get a kick out of it, even using a few of our joke comments to bring up gameplay points.

MST3K with Ghostbusters 03

Made them ourselves and I still have the two bots.

He’s Always So Angry…

I played the God of War Games on PS3 rather than PS2 and while the games were fun to play, I never really liked Kratos. He was just too much of an idiot for my tastes and I didn’t like the story direction being repeatedly “trick Kratos to kill things because he’s an angry moron.” Another series I didn’t like the direction of during this console generation was Resident Evil, but I played through 5 and 6 with a friend on co-op. They were fun gameplay wise, but the story and events just got too over the top ridiculous.

Rock on!

There were a lot of good games on PS3 I missed due to work and money, but the biggest factor was probably that I was still playing World of Warcraft and one other PS3 game: Rockband. My friends and I played this game a lot and it was the go-to party game any time we had a group of people over. I don’t know how much I spent on DLC songs and packs, but I’m sure it was no small amount. Once Rockband was out, the only offering Guitar Hero had that got our attention was Guitar Hero: Metallica. Bonus note: Playing drums on expert can give you a decent cardio workout after a while.

Raiding Tombs

Towards the end of PS3’s life, Square & Crystal Dynamics released Tomb Raider, a reboot of the franchise that started with Lara’s first adventure for a mystical artifact that became a fight for survival. I enjoyed the game immensely, though I did feel it was a bit light on puzzle filled tombs the early games seem to be most fondly remembered for. It also lacked dual wielding pistols against dinosaurs, but one thing at a time, I suppose. I did like the silent attacks of the bow and arrow, though. If I can utilize a ninja playstyle, I will play like a ninja.  Except as Altair, apparently.

Thieving Tombs?

Of course, Lara’s reboot owed much to her previous imitator and PS3’s breakout star: Nathan Drake with the Uncharted trilogy. My friend recommended the first to me when the second was announced, I think. I played the first and jumped on the other two as they released. Honestly, the games are so good, I’d rather see them become a film franchise more than see them continue milking the Indiana Jones films. Uncharted could definitely be the Indy of a new generation. The one thing Uncharted definitely has that I feel is sorely lacking in Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider is Victor “Sully” Sullivan. I love that character.

An End to Metal Gear

Hideo Kojima brought the Metal Gear Solid storyline to a close with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (not that the series ended, of course, but further titles were prequels in terms of timeline). Thus, MGS4 was the canonical conclusion to both Big Boss and Snake’s stories. And it was a hell of an ending. I’ve felt satisfied with game endings before, but this is the only game that truly put a lump in my throat and a sting in my eye. I didn’t cry, but yeah, my eyes got a little teary eyed. Otacon’s struggle to explain to Sunny Snake had something to take care of, knowing he had left to commit suicide was hard. Seeing Snake almost do it was uncomfortable. Then seeing the talk between Big Boss and Snake before Big Boss said his final goodbyes was rather poignant. I was glad to see Kojima give Snake an ending of peace for the last few years of his life.

Dragon Age

The most stand out memorable experience for me on PS3, though, was definitely Dragon Age: Origins. I have still not played through the Knights of the Old Republic games, so this was really my first Bioware RPG since Neverwinter Nights. I played through as a female Daelish rogue archer the first time, focused on saving the world more than the personal relationships and side quests. I remember finishing the game around midnight or 1AM and after the credits finished, I made a male Daelish rogue and started anew, intending to go with the two-sword duelist instead. In this play through, I got to know Morrigan better, who I already liked for her snarky attitude despite refusing her offer at the end on my first playthrough. This time, I not only pursued more about her, but wound up romancing her and loved the change in her character as you get past the facade she wears. To see the uncertain and even fragile side of this badass character was interesting to me. I poured hours into my second play through, exploring everything and playing out my choices with more thought. I did all the DLC available at launch, exploring the Wardens’ Keep and recruiting Shale (who I loved as a character as well).

Accepting Morrigan’s offer since she had gained my trust as a companion, I transferred my Warden over to the Awakening expansion. I liked Anders alright, but really wish Oghren had shown up in later games. With that expansion complete, I waited for the final DLC: Witch Hunt. My Warden pursued Morrigan and had a rather touching final conversation before following her into the portal to raise their child together. I did like how the Warden of Origins is discussed by Morrigan in Inquisition if you romanced her and went through the portal with little comments about how unbearable he’ll be for her asking for help and what she details the Warden is up to during Inquisition.

I wouldn’t quite say she’s quite waifu level, but I really loved the character.

In contrast, I was very disappointed in Dragon Age 2, as many were. I liked the idea of a single, sprawling city location and a long period of time covered, but the game was nothing like Origins. The combat seemed like a straight hack & slash with enemy respawns just falling from the sky half the time. I felt little need to use strategy or even give the party commands. Also disappointing was the lack of political intrigue. I expected a lot of political maneuvering as the Champion of Kirkwall moved up in standing as a known figure with your choices impacting the city and who would ally and support you versus oppose you. Instead the trial of Loghain offered more than all of Dragon Age 2.

What was more frustrating was the lack of choices having any illusion of impact. I think this was largely due to letters telling you of any effect shortly after those decisions were made rather than being held until the end of the game as well as the fact that there simply wasn’t much to alter. Even setting the Anders conclusion aside, the quest disappointed me. I agreed to help him and once we had gathered everything, it felt more like the developers forgot about it more than anything. I never saw the ritual he claimed he would perform attempted. I expected him to at least put on a theatrical ritual to give the appearance of doing what he claimed to have planned. Instead he just seems to say he’ll get around to it later and never mentions it again until the one-conclusion Anders ending came along.

Even all of this might have worked had the game carried an overarching theme of destiny/fate vs free will and questioned if the Champion’s efforts could have ever altered the future Flemeth and Morrigan had foreseen. I also felt like the game suffered by being “Dragon Age 2” and then not seeming at all like Origins. I think I would have tempered my expectations if they had said up front it was a different style and different approach and called is something like Dragon Age: Kirkwall Chronicles or Dragon Age: Hawke of Kirkwall or something of the sort rather than a numbered sequel.

4/17/17 Edit: A Forgotten Title

One game that came at the end of PS3’s life and was considered a crowning achievement that I really enjoyed was The Last of Us. I’m not sure if there’s really much that needs to be said about the game. The story was well done and the characters developed quite well. As far as gameplay goes, it was a pretty fun blend of survival horror, third person shooter, and stealth depending on how well you managed various scenarios. I felt remiss not mentioning it once I realized I had excluded it, so felt it was at least worth editing and adding a note on this title.

And So, Here We Are

That wraps up my most memorable games for the Playstation 3 and the transition of Growing Up Gaming to Grown Up Gaming. I didn’t have a Wii nor any X-Box consoles during this time either. However, I would soon turn my eyes back to the past once I began the hobby of retro game collecting, which I’ll discuss next time.

Open Letter to Marvel: Diversity Itself Isn’t the Issue

It’s been recently reported that Marvel Comics’ David Gabriel stated Marvel had come to understand “that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there” as a reason for the recent sales slump. I think this is a narrow view and doesn’t look at the wider elements causing said slump. The House of Ideas needs to look a little deeper here at a myriad of issues contributing to this and what exactly it is about the ‘all new, all diverse’ Marvel that isn’t resonating with readers.

Price

Let’s face it, comics have gotten expensive. $2.99 is the good deal these days with many titles at $3.99 or even $4.99 for a standard length issue while special editions and double size issues can be $5.99. The price really racks up if you’re buying a large number of comics. Alterna Comics made the move this year to bring prices down by returning to newsprint (#bringbacknewsprint) for their books, which might not be a bad idea.

Comics used to be seen as disposable. It’s one of the things that makes issues like Amazing Fantasy 15 so valuable and it might prove beneficial for comics now. If you want the slick beautiful image, digital options are available from the publisher. If you’re a collector, newsprint books for $1.99 or $2.99 could be appealing, especially if you want to collect multiple titles every month and occasionally dabble in new titles. What’s more, if people see the lower quality paper as disposable, they might read and toss once more, making comics kept in mint condition a collector’s item once again.

Events

Being perfectly blunt, Marvel has gotten event crazy. Every year there’s a huge event that will “change everything” or “alter the course of the Marvel universe forever.” Whether it’s Secret War, Secret Invasion, Secret Wars, Avengers vs X-Men, X-Men vs Inhumans, Death of X, RessureXion, or the upcoming Secret Empire, there’s always some huge event involving seemingly every book. Readers are simply getting exhausted.

In the 1980s, there were a total of 11 crossovers events.
There were 27 in the 1990s.
Down to 20 in the 2000s.

And a total of 41 announced from 2010 to 2017. FORTY ONE crossovers with two years left in the decade. In the 80s and 90s, crossovers were also a bit more contained. You usually had a Spider-Man crossover that was contained to Spider-Man titles (3 in the 90s). X-Books had a contained crossover (3 in the 80s, 12 in the 90s, 6 in the 2000s). Over the years, though, it’s become more and more necessary to buy titles all across the publication line that a reader normally never picks up just to follow a single crossover event story, as well as a separate 8-or-so part mini-series.

I personally blame this guy for starting the all-titles crossover mega events.

To solve the event fatigue, just take them down to a smaller level like they used to be. Have a big “Marvel Universe” crossover event that impacts everyone once every 5 years or so to make them feel really special. Meanwhile, you can still do Spider-Man crossovers that cross all the Spider-titles and X-Men events that cross X-titles, and Avengers events that cross various Avenger member titles. Age of Apocalypse never touched Spider-Man or any Avengers or the Fantastic Four and it’s one of the most liked crossover events I can recall.

Politics

This may be a big issue, even bigger than the whole diversity angle, but a lot of readers are just tired of having writers’ politics not just presented, but crammed forcefully in their face and rammed down their throat. Sure, Marvel has always had a little politics in their comics. Steve Rogers punched ol’ Adolf before the US had entered into WW II and he dealt with a Nixon-esque character IN the White House during the Watergate scandal, but largely these on the nose political statements were the peak of a crescendo while their build up was often told with subtlety, nuance, and grace. Now writers push the real world into their stories more often than having readers think about hypothetical story scenarios applied to the real world.

Subtle. Real subtle. And totally what an Asgardian would be spouting, right?

What’s more, in the post-Internet age, we live more than ever in a world of grays rather than stark black and white. While we still like our heroes a bit more cut and dried in right and wrong with the occasional anti-hero walking the gray territory, we know the real world isn’t like this. I’ve seen people sharing panels of Red Skull and questioning why the villain is the one making sense when he says people aren’t evil for fearing space alien neighbors who first pledge their allegiance to an alien emperor with open distaste for inferior humans.

Instead of taking a stance of “liberal politics = hero, anything else = villain” writers could offer some heroes who lean left, some who lean right, some who are more central, and some who personally lean one way but acknowledge understanding of another view.

We’ve seen heroes oppose one another on political issues twice now in Civil War and Civil War II (three times if you count the film). The most positive thing our super heroes could possibly do right now is have opposing political beliefs, but still work together and still respect one another. You want your heroes to reflect what society should strive for? That’s about the most idealistic thing I can think of at this time, bringing people together to work towards a middle ground of common good despite their differences.

Also, maybe don’t have good guys say stuff like this to an actual Holocaust survivor, even if Magneto is a villain in his own right.

Diversity

Now to the topic David Gabriel touched upon, that readers don’t want diversity or women leads. Mr. Gabriel, I respectfully disagree. Readers don’t want hamfisted diversity pulled out of nowhere and forced upon them as a replacement for beloved figures. I personally feel that’s been Marvel’s biggest problem. These characters are quickly tossed in the mix as replacements for long standing characters without ceremony or transition. A few have made sense, but most simply don’t. The most frustrating aspect of this goes back before the big diversity push of the last few years and is probably a bit out of Marvel’s hands, but I’m still going to call it: The X-Men.

We’re not going to pull any punches here: While wanting to promote diversity, you’ve completely shot down the most diversity driven team in your entire roster. Over the last number of years you’ve completely gutted this team.

Jean Grey, Xavier, Cyclops, and Wolverine are all dead now. Probably four of your most popular X-Men killed in the last number of years. What’s worse, before killing off Cyclops, you completely murdered his character as he became more and more militant and resembled Magneto more than Xavier. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs a smack in the back of the head.

The X-Men were always about opposing ideologies (sound like a familiar current societal topic?), Xavier’s Martin Luther King opposed to Magneto’s Malcom X and accepting one another despite our differences (sound like another familiar current societal topic?).

By bringing Magneto to the X-Men in approval of Scott, you eliminated this element entirely and corrupted the X-Men a little in the process. What boggles my mind is how you took them down this path when a clear alternative was available in Havok. Always more brash and hot headed, the right sequence of events could have led Havok towards Magneto’s point of view while Cyclops remained in pursuit of Xavier’s dream (even if he was a little more realist about it. I liked “General Cyclops” vibe that placed him a bit more like Cable in approach, but carrying the weight of his decisions as Xavier would have). Having the brothers as the new flag bearers of Xavier and Magneto’s views would have allowed you to carry on the overall X-Men theme with a new dynamic of opposition in the opposing sides.

So with the X-Men essentially out of the way, the push for a diverse cast of characters moves to other titles. This in itself is fine, but again I feel some stark errors were made.

Diversity via Addition by Subtraction: Race/Gender (and a sexuality) Swapping
This seems to be a big issue for many readers. Instead of creating, introducing, and cultivating new characters, it seems to be more common to replace an existing character, typically an iconic and beloved one, with the new character so the hero name will sell the book rather than the character behind the mask.

Thor, except a woman:
Jane Foster becoming Thor is the most cited example and I still don’t understand that one at all. Nothing about it makes sense and to my knowledge it still haven’t been explained. Nick Fury shouldn’t be able to whisper Thor into unworthiness. What’s more, if Jane Foster picked up the hammer, it isn’t entirely clear why she would transform into Thor rather than just receive his powers. After all, Captain America, U.S. Agent, Iron Man, or Storm didn’t transform into Thor (though I think Storm got an Asgardian outfit from it) when they wielded Thor’s hammer. It also seemed to me that rather than gender swap Thor, you could have had the Unworthy Thor off on his quest while another Asgardian took on his position in the book. Valkyrie would be an obvious choice, but I’m more surprised Sif wasn’t brought up to the big time, especially after she was well received in the Thor films and on Agents of SHIELD on television. If Marvel wants new readers from the movie & TV popularity, having Sif headline the Thor book seemed like a no brainer.

Hulk, except he’s Asian:
Totally Awesome Hulk is race swap that seemed somewhat out of nowhere. Now, I understand that Amadeus Cho has been around for over a decade now, but the point still stands – why a race swapped Hulk to replace Bruce Banner? Why isn’t Amadeus Cho instead a Hulk-like character: able to transform, super strength like Hulk, but not big and green? You could have a character that fits all the traits of Hulk without being Hulk, perhaps even more monstrous than the green goliath. My first thought is something akin to Beast in Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Just ignore that this pic suggests he ignores leg day entirely

Iceman, except now he’s (always been) gay:
This one was a big one for a lot of people because, much like JaneThor, it didn’t jive with history and it was handled really poorly. Iceman has a history of relationships with women, they just aren’t stable and haven’t lasted long (then again, Marvel seems to hate long term relationships for all characters and destroy them anyway). He’s been in a love triangle or two, vying for a woman’s attention against another guy. Nothing but the exception of one single panel that some point to has ever indicated he’s gay (yet some claim it’s always been obvious).

I asked my friend for his opinion on this one, wanting a perspective on how it comes across for someone it would have more impact on and he was pretty adamant: “It’s total crap.” He agreed nothing has indicated Iceman is gay and there’s too much history to the contrary to pull a Jean Grey handwave saying it’s so and thus it’s now canon.

Instead he pointed to Northstar, a character who had much less relationship history, or character history in general, until they decided to do more with him and develop him as one of the first notable gay characters in the X-Men books. Northstar had become one of my friend’s favorite characters and he feels was handled in such an organic way that his development was outstanding. Where Iceman was outed by another character and just went with it, Northstar himself made the announcement and even had a storyline with a team mate being weary of him for his sexuality. Northstar’s story actually dealt with issues that real people face, albeit in a world of super heroes. It’s worth noting I don’t recall an uproar over Northstar’s coming out, nor his marriage in the comics.

Captain America, except now he’s black, after being old, after having a metal arm:
This one I’m a bit conflicted on personally, but some still aren’t crazy with it going as long as it has. On the one hand, it makes sense with Steve Rogers out of action that he’d pass the shield to his most trusted friend in Sam Wilson. On the other hand, once Steve Rogers is restored to super hero status, it seems like Sam would insist the shield go back to Steve. Of course, it’s even more complicated with having them both acting as Captain America at the same time. Sam’s only been wearing the name for two years while Bucky Barnes was Captain America for four before he could no longer carry the shield, so I’d actually put more criticism on bringing Steve back to Cap status too soon. He could have been a SHIELD director for longer, which would have tied in well with the next example…

Captain America, except he’s a Nazi Hydra Agent:
I’m not conflicted on this. Anyone who’s read comics for more than a year knew this was a fake out from the beginning, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating. This is blatant pandering for shock sales and definitely upset a lot of people. Captain America means something, he stands for something. This is a pretty sticky one to step in, no matter the story you’re trying to tell. On its own, apart from all the other changes and shake ups, I don’t think this one would have been seen as a fake out and readers would have gone along to see how things panned out before Steve is returned to normal. But it was released at a time when it was just another straw on a straining camel’s back.

Riri Williams, however, may have been the straw that did that camel in. With all the various changes building a strain, it was announced a 15 year old black female MIT student would replace the out-of-action Tony Stark as the new Iron Man. There was the inevitable backlash and uproar, which was written off by many people as white nerds angry about a black female lead, but that’s taking a very dismissive and superficial view. These aren’t just white nerds, or angry men. It’s long time Marvel readers of all walks of life, all sexualities, all skin colors that are upset.

Falcon is now Captain America.
Captain America is now a Nazi.
Thor is now a woman.
Hulk is now an Asian kid and Banner is dead.
Hawkeye is now a woman.
Wolverine is now a woman.
Cyclops is dead (after he cheated on his wife, hooked up with his mistress, utilized child soldiers, took an aggressive stance against humans in defense of his declared nation, and became Magneto 2.0, if not worse than, oh and KILLED XAVIER).
Xavier is dead.
Jean Grey is still dead.
Spider-Man sacrificed the love of his life for selfish reasons to the devil himself.
Spider-Man is now also a woman in Silk.
Spider-Man is also now a woman in Spider-Gwen.
Spider-Man is ALSO now a mixed race kid.

On their own, none of these are that big a deal. Some are really well done, even. But character after character gets changed and you build up some ill will that this universe is simply no longer meant for people that loved these characters for the past 10, 20, or 30+ years. So, feeling it’s no longer written for them, they stop buying and you blame the sales slump on “readers don’t want diversity” and paint your customers as sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc.?

Marvel, it’s not that readers hate diversity or female characters, it’s just that they don’t like the entire Marvel Universe being completely replaced over the course of a couple of years. They just love the characters they’ve grown up with and don’t want to see them replaced. DC Fans didn’t embrace Dick Grayson as Batman, even though he’s the only heir worthy of the cowl and they KNEW it was temporary. But they still didn’t love it because Bruce Wayne IS Batman.

And Steve Rogers IS Captain America. Tony Stark IS Iron Man. Bruce Banner IS the Hulk. And Thor Odinson IS Thor. Others may step in to fill the role temporarily, but not as a permanent replacement, yet that no longer seems to be something readers can rely on. I thought Jean Grey would come back and the Peter / Mary Jane marriage, or at least relationship, would triumph over the devil Mephisto, yet here we are a decade later and nothing on either front.

Alright, Smart Guy, How Can Marvel Still Do Diversity Then?

First off, pace yourselves. Change doesn’t come overnight and cramming every race, gender, orientation into your books all at once causes massive upheavals and you get what you’re getting now. People get tired of all the changes for the sake of change and just walk away, resulting in sales drops. Decide on a few things to focus on, do those, and do them well.

For example: The Avengers can put Rogers and Wilson together as Cap and Falcon again, using both characters on the team. Keep Stark, but bring in T’Challa (remember when I said opposing ideologies/politics? Iron Man and Panther have enough in common that opposing ideals would make them an interesting pair to butt heads). Bring She-Hulk in as both the Avengers’ legal council and a team member rather than Banner. Keep Luke Cage and Jessica Jones on the team. And introduce a couple of new characters to join up (I would have said Ms. Marvel, but I think she’s getting her own team elsewhere soon).

Over in the X-Men, you could introduce a gay character, or a transgender character, and have them dealing with feeling as a bit of an outsider even among outsiders. I’m kind of surprised a mutant with shape shifting powers hasn’t been used to explore some themes of self identity and orientation themselves, taking real world concepts to the super hero level when their powers allow them to quite literally be fluid in who they seem to be.

And here’s a key: Don’t throw it in reader’s faces right off the bat. You don’t introduce yourself to someone at a party as “Hi, I’m Jeff. My sexual orientation is….” because it’s not THE defining feature of the individual. You start with your interests, your job, who you know in common, what movies or shows you like. Let the readers learn about these characters before you start stepping into the intimate areas of their personal lives. Let your characters breath first.

Second, introduce new characters as entirely new characters. You can base their core features on legacy characters, like I previously suggested with Cho’s Hulk being Hulk-like instead of a copy of the original. For example, Hulk and Thing are the same character – big, strong, brawlers. One’s green and the other’s a blue eyed teddy bear made of stone, but they’re the same super hero qualities in different physical forms. Utilize the key elements, but make the character new and unique.

Look at your diversity successes – Squirrel Girl, X-23, and Ms. Marvel Kamala are the primary “this is how you do it” examples, I think. Squirrel Girl was introduced in a quirky way, but really struck a chord and has grown in popularity over time. X-23 did the same with her original introduction, then her time with the X-Men (though how Jubilee was Wolverine’s sidekick for years yet you guys never did any father/daughter bonding with Logan & Laura over some ninja killing globetrotting is beyond me). Also, Laura was always cooler as X-23 than she has been as Wolverine’s replacement. Her upcoming new costume looks way better than wearing Logan’s.

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Way cooler. Just enough Wolverine without fully copying Wolverine.

Miles Morales is a bit of a unique situation since he was a response to the Ultimate Universe becoming too carbon copy of 616, but despite some initial resistance, he built up his own foundation and gained his own personality, along with his own costume design, to gain acceptance and a huge fan following.

Moon Girl is also a good example. Yes, she’s a gender swap, but of a character that many readers have likely never heard of or followed if they had. There are plenty of lower tier characters you could revive with a new version and bring them up to A List status.

Ms. Marvel may be your most successful diversity character of all and look how she developed. She wasn’t just a replacement of Ms. Marvel with the same look and similar powers. She could have been given any name, really. That Danvers’ story had taken her on to a new role and left the “Ms. Marvel” name open was a great fit for a huge fan to take on the name (and let’s face it, it’s a very fan girl thing to do). But Kamala has her own look, her own powers, and her own basis. She doesn’t feel like a copy & replace design.

Third, once you’ve created these new characters, with their own superhero persona and their own costume and identity, give them just a mini-series to introduce them or add on stories in other titles. I know it’s risky publishing books that might not sell, but this is where we look back to digital and newsprint options being cheap ways to introduce new books. Who’s going to say a 99 cent first issue isn’t worth picking up, even on newsprint? If the mini-series does well, don’t jump the gun. Guest star them in another title or two or pick an existing team for them to join. Build up their popularity before they break out on their own.

Once these new characters are ready to spread their wings and fly (or swim, bound, teleport, swing, or whatever they do), let them actually do so. Don’t put another hero in New York or Los Angeles. If you want to start introducing new characters to increase diversity, let them spread out. A new character all alone against the street crime of Chicago. A superhero immigrant dealing with criminal schemes of drug or human traffickers in Miami. Put a team in Dallas, Seattle, or Atlanta. You’ve dabbled with these ideas briefly, but give a character or team the devotion the New York characters had in their early years this time.

Occasionally, a legacy character can come through town for a team up. Punisher would make sense to be moving around the country. Blade or Ghost Rider and a new character could go road tripping fighting supernatural enemies as they train them to fight more than just street thugs, but with the expectation they’ll break out on their own once they finish the hunt. I’ve heard Ben Reilly is being brought back as Scarlet Spider, so set him in a city well away from New York and let him mentor a young character if you wish. Just be sure these new characters have their own personalities and gimmicks.

And of course not every character is going to be a big hit. Some won’t resonate with readers, but that just gives you a cast of fodder to introduce on a team and potentially kill off to heighten the stakes of whatever threat they face.

Again, Riri Williams came along at the end of all these changes and may have simply taken the full brunt of reader frustration. Please, Marvel, listen when I say that readers did not show resistance to Riri because she’s a young woman, nor because she’s black. They resisted her because she was presented as Tony Stark’s replacement.

If you had a story that took Tony away from the U.S. on an international trip that lasted a good long time (or into space, or other dimensional), Riri could have been introduced as a “meanwhile, back home” situation. Same basic concept: reverse engineering Stark tech, starts using it as Ironheart, and fighting villains. As the Stark story away continues, you devote more time to Riri until the comic is almost 50/50 split between them. Riri becomes a new character expanding Tony’s book rather than replacing him.

Personally, I would have made Riri an anime fan and given her Iron Man reverse engineered suit a bit more of an anime mech suit vibe to further distinguish it. She looks like she’s simply wearing Tony’s Mark Hojillion armor rather than her own design.

Imagine if a fan of this got Stark’s design and did a merger of the two

Once Tony returns to the US, he could find out about this “new Iron Man” getting headlines and look to confront her over patent violations, copyright issues, and just what the heck she’s doing with his tech and what her intentions are. Once it’s sorted out, Tony goes on being Iron Man while Riri continues being Ironheart. Going back to politics, you could even have Riri not wanting to be under Tony’s wing due to difference of opinion on various matters.

Remember, Peter Parker didn’t take over Johnny Storm’s role. Ororo Munroe wasn’t introduced as the “new Marvel Girl!” X-Force debuted as the “New Mutants” but not the replacement to the X-Men and even the second generation of X-Men were a new team, not replacements of the old.  Storm, Bishop, Dazzler, Jubilee, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Psylocke (including a body swap), Falcon, She-Hulk, Forge, Blade (first Marvel character to get a modern movie was black btw), War Machine, M, Skin, Mondo, Synch, Cloak, and more are all minorities or women and readers didn’t hate them. There was no outcry over them. When they were introduced, though, none of them were brought in as replacements for popular characters, but as additions to existing rosters. Additions that brought diversity to those rosters.

Summary
To summarize this long winded ramble from a long time Marvel fan, diversity itself and female characters themselves are not why readers were driven away from the books. To get readers back, you need to address these simple challenges:

  1. Price point – Consider a return to newsprint to lower cost and potentially revive the collectability of comics.
  2. Politics – Tone it down instead of preaching to your readers. Acknowledge issues aren’t black and white and let your characters have varying degrees of opinions, but mostly address politics through metaphor with occasionally on the nose stories. Super heroes are escapism and too much real world politics shatter that outlet to forget about life for a while.
  3. Build diversity by adding new, well developed, characters without replacing others.
  4. Pull the big events back to one or two smaller ones for specific groups per year with the major events far apart and thus more anticipatory.

Growing Up Gaming: World of Warcraft

I took a break from MMORPGs after Final Fantasy XI, but it wasn’t too long until I heard about a new game: World of Warcraft. Some notable EverQuest alumni were involved and I found myself checking out details on the website. The description sounded interesting enough and I really liked the way the site described the survival specialization for the hunter class. Setting traps, then drawing enemies into them with a mix of both melee and ranged attacks with a pet companion. Of course, the melee turned out to be minimal in practice, but I didn’t know that just yet.

I bit the bullet and bought the game in January, activating my free month on 1/29/2005. This proved to be good, akin to my EverQuest experience, as starting near the beginning of an MMO’s release puts players on equal footing in awe and wonder and a good dose of uncertainty. I had settled on playing that survival hunter and chose to play a night elf rather than a dwarf. I named the character Faroth from my Tolkien Elvish Dictionary instead (yep, I’m a nerd).

Starting WoW was quite an experience after the past two MMORPGs I had played. The clear ! indication over NPCs for quests was a nice guide and I read every word of text as I began my adventures in Teldrassil. I quickly learned that WoW was not designed as vicious as EverQuest when I had my first scare by seeing an Ancient Protector on my way out of the starting area and on to the first small town. I freaked out, expecting it to be a high level enemy about to crush me. Though it was max level, it was friendly and not there to crush me. I quickly learned that there were no randomly high level enemies roaming zones to slaughter players.

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I thought this was going to crush me the first time I saw it.

I moved on to Darnassus, the night elf capital, and beyond. Now, I could have stayed in the next zone on the continent of Kalimdor, but I wanted to learn to use one-handed swords. So, as many players did, I stocked up on food for my Nightsaber (a large cat) pet, Aratiel, and headed for the Eastern Kingdoms. Per my EverQuest and Final Fantasy XI training, this would surely be an arduous journey.

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The entrance to the center of Darnassus, night elf capital.

I arrived in the Wetlands of the continent in the east, the Eastern Kingdoms and started down the road for the dwarf city of Ironforge. This was the most EQ-like experience as I ran from mobs many levels higher than me, often only rescued by sending my pet after them first and racing past them until the pet despawned due to distance or was killed by the high level enemy. Either of these options, or even dismissing the pet, resulted in me having to either resummon or revive her and then having to feed her. Originally, hunter pets had a happiness status. At full happiness, they did extra damage, but if they were unhappy for too long, they would abandon you!

Eventually I made it through the Wetlands, Loch Modan, Dun Morogh, Ironforge, and to Stormwind to learn to use swords and returned home to continue questing. As I leveled, I upgraded to new cat models for Aratiel, but always favored the dark striped ones similar to her original model and kept the name as I changed them. She became a lifelong companion for my hunter and I still have her today with the model of an elite named cat from Stranglethorn Vale.

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Faithful companion for over a decade

The world seemed vast as I explored every zone, doing every quest, the conveniences of the hearthstone and flight paths helping, but not eliminating travel while the thought of a base speed mount was far away due to the high cost. I was probably five or more levels above the requirement when I could finally afford my first racial mount.

For me, endgame content consisted of running dungeons for my dungeon set, particularly Stratholme Baron runs, which refused to drop the Beaststalker Pants for months on end. I never got into really raiding in Classic WoW, but one day my guild asked if I had the leaf from Molten Core. I was attuned to enter the raid, but had never set foot inside. They pulled me in and let me loot it rather than let it rot. As I thanked them again and again, not fully knowing the quest it led to, I was told I was staying for the Ragnaros fight. With only my dungeon set. And no fire resist gear. Oh boy.

I died, but saw the raid’s victory and returned once in a while as a substitute for missing members, acquiring pieces of the hideous Giantstalker armor set. Primarily, I turned my attention to completing the quest from the Ancient Leaf my guild had gifted me. It required the player to really master different aspects of the hunter class and ultimately granted me the weapon Rhok’delar, a bow, and Lhok’delar, a staff.

Rhokdelar

Rhok’delar!

I never really did much more 40 man raiding other than Onyxia, but I joined a 15 man my guild formed and ran Zul’Gurub with them weekly. We never saw the tiger or panther mounts drop, though. We were still farming it when the next 40 and 15 man raids came with Anh’Qiraj. The opening of these raids was definitely interesting as the story began with a war effort in preparation for the gates to open. Entire servers were farming materials to donate to the war effort, gathering leather, making bandages, and such. I wasn’t in the raid group itself, but I was able to participate in the final step’s fight in Moonglade on the Feathermoon server that acquired the final component to open the gates.

Once the gates opened, lag consumed all. However, I still managed to fight enemies in other zones away from the raid opening itself. As classic WoW drew to a close with the final raid, Naxxramas, I had started my first alt by recreating my EverQuest paladin, Feneril. I managed to get him to 50 with a bit of gear just a week or two before the first expansion: The Burning Crusade.

As fond as my memories of roleplaying in EverQuest are, I’d say WoW is more where I really stretched my legs. I was on a RP server in a RP guild with players who really developed their characters and focused on their views on the world, the game’s current stories of raids and events, and their place in the guild rather than focusing on personal character relationship drama. Much like EverQuest, I have fond memories of my friends and guildmates and our adventures together. Hanstall, Tziva, Lapheer, Alhena, Zaria, Rautrix and Lochlaen, Cynvia, and many more.

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Guild gathered in a tavern

Faroth was fleshed out into his own character, as was Azeroth’s version of Feneril. Over time, I went on to create six more alts, all with their own character concepts, personalities, and focus when playing them. One was a sort of homage to an EverQuest guild member in my dwarf warrior.

WoW’s first expansion was a lot of fun and introduced flying, though it was a pretty big achievement, much like epic speed riding. Although Faroth remained my main, I got Feneril up more quickly and wound up with both getting into raiding and their roles slowly reversing in the process. I always thought the expansion had a good pacing of gearing up from faction reps, dungeon drops, and then heroic dungeons before raiding. I actually have some really fun memories due to survival hunter’s design at the time.

The first was in Hellfire Ramparts where a pull went wrong. I activated my pet’s growl (a taunt to get enemy attention) to hold one target while I kept mend pet up to heal  the pet and kept a second enemy frozen in a trap while I held a third myself. It was enough to impress the guildmate I was with, a rogue, after so many bad experiences with bad hunters.

The next dungeon memory I love is from heroic Shadow Labyrinth. I think it was the first pull to start clearing the first boss’ room. I was able to double trap two enemies, pet tank a third, wyvern sting a fourth, and kite/temporarily tank a fourth while the group burned the fifth target. They would then move to the wyvern sting target just as it was about to wake up or right after it had. I would continue to kite while keeping my pet healed and re-trap the first ice trap just as it was about to wear off. Usually the second trap would break as they killed the second enemy. Once that was down, they’d pick up the pet’s target, then my kited, and finally we’d take down the remaining enemy in an ice trap. It was a lot of fun juggling all of that and it let skilled survival hunters show off a bit.

My first raid experience in TBC was fairly random. Someone was shouting in a zone about needing one more and I joined them. That became a static group that I continued to run Karazhan with on my hunter, where I made new friends in Errdo and Hayleybrianna. Being geared from that led me to Gruul’s Lair and Magtheridon with members of my guild who had raided together since Classic along with other members gathered through the Molten Core Alliance. The raid was called MCA: Shrieky and I made two new friends here: Dulcea and Aryaltel, both of whom I’ve met in person and see a couple times a year.

MCA: Shrieky needed a tank later, so I ran Karazhan with members of that raid and found my paladin raid ready in all of two weeks. Over the course of Tier 5 and Tier 6 raiding, my paladin became my main raid character. We didn’t get through Sunwell, but we did take down Illidan not long before the next expansion.

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Feneril in his Tier 6 armor

Moving into the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, WoW was at its peak in popularity. I was excited for the story, wrapping up one of the biggest stories in Warcraft’s history with Arthas, the Lich King. The questin/leveling experience was mostly the same, but with some new tools allowing for more immserive experiences as the story went on, such as phasing and the addition of cut scenes in game. Even the outdoor PvP zone proved pretty fun for players who didn’t often PvP.

This expansion really drew me in and had me writing fan fiction for myself to better piece together how I saw my characters fitting in with the big stories. I never liked the idea of my character defeating all the raids and threats or even playing a part in all of them, so I divided them up a bit with Faroth primarily involved in the dragon war against Malygos and Feneril involved in the Alliance’s efforts against the Scourge.

At end game, I raided with a 25 man in the start, but it dissolved in the second raid, Ulduar. I formed my own 10 man raid with Trial of the Crusader, largely with real life friends and their own guild mates. Once again raiding on my paladin, we cleared Trial of the Crusader and Icecrown Citadel to complete the expansion. We didn’t, however, really bother with the added Ruby Sanctum.

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Our first time defeating the Lich King

I admit with Cataclysm, I started to lose steam. I didn’t find the added 5 levels as interesting and the story was very disjointed as the 1-50 leveling experience tied into the overall story of the new war between Horde and Alliance as well as some information about the story dealing with Deathwing. I felt that the expansion offered the least new additions and features, likely due to how much effort went into redesigning the world for flying and reworking the leveling experience. Transmogrification, allowing players to customize their armor appearance, was the best feature after a long and hard fought debate. The feature had been requested for years and I was quite active on the forums in support of it. Due to a lack of things to do, though, this was the expansion that I got all eight of my alts to max level.

Next came my final full expansion: Mists of Pandaria. I had no issue with the pandaren race nor the Asian aesthetic of the expansion. The content was fun and I liked the story overall. Cut scenes were taken to a new level and voice acting was improved. I didn’t even mind the daily quests as I felt they gave players what they’d asked for in removing the gating of them and removing the daily limit. I think they probably should have kept the limit, but not had previous expansion daily quests count towards it.

I did feel the Alliance players got shafted in Cataclysm’s story and that continued heavily in Mists of Pandaria. Everything Alliance players experienced resulted in loss, failure, and being told even their victories were colossal failures as well. The major “fist pump” moment that Blizzard promised was immediately reprimanded by King Varian as the absolute worst thing we could have done. How being told you’ve ruined a major victory is a “fist pump” moment has never made sense to me. I could probably write a couple posts on where I felt Blizzard went wrong in these two expansions and what I think would have been a better balanced approach.

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Also, this is what happens when everyone is funneled into one zone on launch night.

I raided the expansion via Looking for Raid, or LFR, tool, which was not the most enjoyable experience due to the ridiculous ease of content along with player attitude. WoW had gotten a reputation for having a fairly toxic community by this point and LFR brought out the worst in those toxic players. Once I ran the final raid, Siege of Orgrimmar, once, I had no inclination to farm it for gear and the Timeless Isle addition felt like an EverQuest inspired grind fairly quickly. After nine continuous, uninterrupted, years of World of Warcraft, I cancelled my subscription.

Warlords of Draenor didn’t seem like a great idea story wise and the added $10 cost of the game didn’t draw me back, so I waited to pick up the Collector’s Edition on sale during Black Friday and Christmas sales. I didn’t resubscribe, however, until the following spring. I played for a month to see the zone stories, which I enjoyed, but was really irritated by the conclusion where Thrall takes all the glory for what the players have been working towards. After Cataclysm revolved around him and he had been the forefront of so many stories, I was tired of Thrall. For him to show up at the end of this expansion and take the victory was just disappointing. I never ran a single dungeon and never resubscribed to see the rest of the story, just following with information online.

When Blizzard announced Legion, it looked much better than Warlords of Draenor, but I was still uncertain. I waited until release and found the collector’s edition was sold out and appeared to be legitimate limited stock, but I fortunately managed to get one. I planned the same routine as Warlords – subscribe for a month to see the zone stories. What I found was, in my opinion, the best expansion since Wrath of the Lich King. The added features such as world quests replacing daily quests and the gear flow were welcome additions. Mythic dungeons brought back a sense of Heroics from Burning Crusade. I even found myself really liking the class order hall with Faroth where I expected to not like it at all. The story has been well done and Suramar is one of the best cities Blizzard had designed in the entire game (hopefully it becomes a player friendly city post-expansion). However, I don’t like the retcon they pulled in order to bring Illidan back as a hero. A redemption story I could deal with, but “everyone is stupid and Illidan is smart” didn’t hit the mark for me.

This post is definitely one of the longer in this series, but it spans over 10 years of gaming and has been a large part of my gaming life, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’m still playing World of Warcraft occasionally for a month here and there, though another MMO has the majority of my attention in that realm now. For a couple of expansions now, I’ve said it was likely my last and Legion looks like it might be wrapping up a lot of major plotlines. Will it be my final expansion? Or will I give the next one a shot for a month here and there? The latter is probably likely, but I suppose one can never be sure.

One thing is certain, though: It’s hard to walk away from characters you’ve come to know and love over a decade, because you’ve crafted them and come to know them. It’s like a good book series, except you’ve been a part of thee characters’ lives in a way no other media can offer. They’re a part of you.

Since this post took us all the way from 2005 to 2017, we’ll go back to where we were in the next post, which will be the final in this series as I go over my memories and experiences with the Playstation 3.