Yes, I Live With A Survival Horror Junkie

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Right? Or does he have a problem? How does this work? 

Suppose you live with a gamer. Maybe it's a family member, a roommate, or even a significant other. And because you live with them, you are exposed to whatever games they like to play. This includes the horrifyingly graphic and disgusting games with copious amounts of blood. Oh my god! The blood! It's the kind of games that they play over and over and over again and on harder difficulty each time. 

If this is you, my friend, you just might live with a survival horror junkie.

I have never been a fan of games designed to terrify the living daylights out of me. I prefer to play games that let me escape the horrors of everyday life because, let's be honest, most jobs are a nightmare. But since I moved in with my significant other, I have been exposed to some of the scariest, most intense, and squishy (you know, the sounds that zombies make when they chomp on your face) games I have ever seen. He has actually tried to get me to play some of his favorites, including Resident Evil. The old-school pixelated original version of Resident Evil didn't freak me out (that much- okay, the spiders got me). 

*WARNING: Very salty language in the following clip*

I mean, seriously, I told him there’s never anything good behind red doors. And I was right! 

He also got me to play the re-released version of Resident Evil 2, and that was a giant NOPE for me. I tried. I really did. But when there is a massive blood smear leading under a half-opened door that I have to crawl under, no thank you, I would like to live. I stood there so long that he finally took over the controller. 

I guess you could say that I have a powerful survival instinct. I would rather run away from danger! Not into it! Growling and snarling noises? Go the other way! To me, it’s very simple. Not to a survival horror junkie. They run headlong into the most gruesome and disturbing scenes imaginable and watch as their characters die in incredibly awful ways over and over again. And these are the games they enjoy playing! I get it. It's all about the challenge. I think. 

I have had the incredible privilege (I'm holding up my sarcasm sign) of watching him play through things like The Last of Us, Days Gone, The Evil Within, and a slew of Resident Evil games. This is just a small list. There are many, many more. And sure, today's graphics are incredible, and they can do so many things to make everything look more realistic, but must they? I have seen more realistic-looking entrails and body parts that main characters have to slip and slide through to get away from whatever madness is chasing them than I ever care to (I'm looking at you, Evil Within). Never EVER try to eat ANYTHING when the person you live with decides to start playing one of these games. Just DON’T. 

And why would I want to play games that have literally made him scream? The first time he played Phasmophobia (a ghost hunting game) with his friend, they were both screaming. Like girls. For more on those hilarious shenanigans, you can check out my previous article “When Men Scream Like Girls”.

Shana's creation

As much as these games can make me squeamish and blow my blood pressure through the roof, sometimes funny things can come out of it when I am forced to watch some of these horrifying games. While streaming Evil Within, I had asked my significant other to please turn his "butt light" off (the lantern that hangs from the character’s belt) because it attracts zombies. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request. It became a hilarious possible t-shirt idea thanks to fellow Replayer and stream watcher Shana Martin. 

I sometimes have an easier time dealing with these types of games if I am co-oping them with him. We played Dead Space 3 together and I was so proud of myself when I had a headshot on the space zombies (or whatever they are), but those bastards kept coming! Headless! Full spine headless space zombie grossness crawling at me was not what I had in mind for a romantic evening of co-op gaming with the man. 

I have also started playing Phasmaphobia with him and friends, but it is seriously scary no matter how many times I have played it. I've been known to stay in the van to “look for orbs” on the cameras. Don’t judge! I live so I get to keep my money and my equipment to help fund future ghost hunting expeditions. That’s my story and I am most assuredly sticking to it. I have also been known to just guess what the ghost is and drive off with the van when we get a particularly nasty ghost that has killed off the rest of the crew—because I am not going in that house!

I’m sure I will continue to get roped into either sitting with him while he plays or attempting to play with him because apparently, my reactions are “funny.” The small bit of satisfaction I get is that many times my reactions to jump scares actually scare him more than the actual game itself. What can I say? I’m jumpy and we get a good laugh out of it, and it makes for some entertaining streams and content. You’re welcome?

As much as I complain about the awfulness that I hear and see emanating from his screen on a daily basis, I don’t think I would have it any other way. It makes him happy, and the fact that he can share something with me that he is passionate about is incredibly important to both of us. I have learned a lot about the franchises and do get interested in the great stories behind things like the Umbrella Corp, for example. Even if I am watching while my hands are covering my eyes.  

 

What games do you get exposed to that you wish you didn’t? Do you or someone you know live with a survival horror junkie?

Dear Uncle Alice: A Fan Letter!

Dear Uncle Alice:

I know this is an unusual way to begin a fan letter, but then again, you are known for being unusual. Over the years (especially in the last ten), you have come to mean a lot to me. For those reading along with Alice and you don’t know who I am writing to, here is a bit of background.

Alice Cooper: born Vincent Damon Furnier on February 4, 1948, has created nightmarish music for over fifty years! His latest album, Detroit Stories, is a tribute to his hometown. If you would like to know more about this preacher's son turned “Teenage Frankenstein,” you can read his autobiography, Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock and Roller’s Life, and 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict.

I have two vivid memories that are linked with you and someone I miss dearly.

I was introduced to you at the age of 6 by a talking frog. I will never forget seeing you rise out of the coffin dressed in the classic Dracula costume. Halloween was just around the corner and I told my Dad, “That’s really cool. He dressed up for Halloween!”

“No, honey, that’s Alice Cooper. He dresses up like that all the time,” he explained.

Then I replied, “Wow, he must really like candy!”

The second was a rainy afternoon, and Dad was cleaning out the garage when he came across a record case. He thumbed his way through until he found a record called Welcome To My Nightmare. My mother came from the kitchen and, in a scolding tone, said, “Don’t play that! He’s evil!!”

Dad winked and replied, “Hey Sandi, it’s better she learns about Alice from me than some weird kid at school.” Her only response was to let out a sigh, shake her head in disappointment while heading back to the kitchen. It was at that moment a father and daughter’s bond grew stronger, and your music would become the soundtrack for my life.

I have told my friends often that I can not think of my Dad without thinking of you, and vice versa.

Artist and friend S Raphael Vinci did this lovely work! In the painting is Daddy’s buddies Hilton and Harley

Clarence Duane Martin: Served two tours in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps. Several years later, he was diagnosed with PTSD and some other health issues that required him to be put on oxygen 24/7. My Dad persevered. Perhaps, (in part) seeing me go through similar challenges with my own disability helped him to deal with his own situation. I say ‘part’ because you, Uncle Alice, had a hand in helping him as well. Whenever he had a dark moment, we would sit and reminisce about your music.  That would open the door to much happier memories! His two favorite songs were “Only Women Bleed” and “Poison”.

Those who are reading this along with you may find the irony in the fact that you, who write and sing about nightmares, helped a man keep one of the most horrific and terrifying nightmares at bay with that very same music. And at the same time, it strengthened the bond between father and daughter. However, you never know how strong a bond is until something comes along to test the line that binds.

May- 2011

I told Dad about your album Along came a Spider, as well as your recovery from alcoholism. He, at this point, was 20 years into his sobriety. I also told him that you had taken up golf. He found this hard to believe. I had to google it to show him proof. He was quiet for a moment and then said.

“I can’t believe he plays golf. I thought he’d be more into tennis.”

Late one night, Mom called for an ambulance, and he was taken to the ER. Once stable, he was taken to the VA hospital...

June 25, 2011

Even as I write this, I can not put into words what I felt and still feel when I look at that date. What does a ‘daddy’s girl’ do when her daddy is gone? How does she find the strength to carry on...?

The answer came in a flash... Music! Music helped my Dad! A still small voice inside my head said, just a name...

“Alice Cooper!”

Of course, just because he’s not physically here doesn’t mean we aren’t connected!

“Death can not stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” ~Westley, Princess Bride

A souvenir a fan gave me from the last concert!

So I did a search on Youtube for your music Uncle Alice, and this is what I found:

Before we say goodbye

All I wanna say is I......

I just wanna give you something to remember me by

Something that lasts forever

Coz our love is for all time.

Song: Something To Remember Me By

Album: Welcome 2 My Nightmare

In the lobby of Ruth Eckerd Hall. I love this place! It is very accessible, and the staff are very helpful!!

From that moment, I spent every day making a playlist of your music to get me through that first year without my Dad.

I also have been to some of your concerts. The last one was the 2019 OL Black Eyes Tour. For those following along, if Alice has a concert in your state or country, please go! You will not be disappointed!!

I know that even a musician as well known as you can have doubts about your music-making an impact?

My hope is that while you have read this letter, it has laid those doubts, and may they permanently rest in peace! (insert evil laugh here).

I love you, and you will always be my Uncle Alice!

I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this. Also, for those grieving for the loss of a loved one, it’s ok to cry. It’s ok to still ask why. Just don’t let it drag you under and be torn asunder. Remember those and love each other.

This is my friend Jordan. This was her first time seeing him in concert. She never heard of him until she met me.

What songs or artists have you listened to that help you through rough times?

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part II - Featuring Charlotte Merritt & Stephanie Watson

What would it be like to have an extensive gaming experience that spanned forty years? What kind of evolution would be experienced over the course of an entire generation? 

I had the honor of talking with two of our Replayers who have been gaming in one fashion or another for around forty years. I started gaming from a very early age, but I was very curious about what these ladies’ experiences were, considering they had more background knowledge of the earlier systems and have played significantly more video games than I have. 

They have seen and experienced the evolution of the online collective community of video game players. What kind of environment did those first communities foster, and how have they since changed? 

Let’s start with a little history from them to see how things have changed from the early days:

How did you become a gamer and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

The Commodore 64 was introduced in August 1982.

Charlotte: My father bought a floppy drive for our Commodore 64. Dad liked some games, but he really didn’t lead me to them. It’s more that he introduced them.

Stephanie: I was about 7 or 8 when Pac-Man, Galaga, and other early arcade games started appearing in local restaurants. My parents bought us portable Pac-Man and Donkey Kong games to play at home. It started as something to do at restaurants while my family was waiting for a table or socializing after eating. Later, I started asking if I could ride my bike to the arcade and play. Friends and cousins had PCs with games and Atari 2600 consoles, and I'd try to visit them so I could play there too. Back home, though, my parents didn't buy anything until I was around 15, and it was a Nintendo NES for my brother. I played it a lot, but it always meant having to hang out in my brother's room. 

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to it? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Charlotte: Some of the games I grew up playing were Police Quest, Doom (1993) specifically, and Twisted Metal. At-home gaming was just coming in when I was a kid. I would say I am an eclectic gamer. I love the social aspect of video games. RPG’s are grand (Ultima Online & SWTOR). Puzzles are my favorite. Uncharted, the entire series is my absolute favorite. I think my preference has evolved as games have advanced.

Stephanie: Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were always favorites, and I got a lot of Super Mario Brothers playtime. I fell in love with The Legend of Zelda on my brother's NES. He got the Nintendo Power magazine for a while, so I would dive into the guides for specific games so I could get past the sticking points that made me rage quit.

I like a combination of puzzles and story-driven missions, and I usually play on story or normal modes. A story will keep me playing if I was really compelled by it or if there are different options for playing the story on repeated runs. Thus, RPGs are often a big draw. I also love achievement hunting and team challenges when I can play with other people. I love going back to play games like Destiny and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Charlotte:  For sure. Growing up, my generation's games were marketed to boys. Girls who played them were weird. Thanks go to the younger generation of gamers and streamers who have really helped try to normalize us. I remember so many times in UO (Ultima Online) other players not believing that I was a woman. “Women don’t play games” or “Women don’t know how to do RPG’s.” I was judged a lot by other girls as a teen because I would go home and throw on Doom, instead of reading Cosmo and learning the new makeup tips. Now it’s so nice that thanks to Retro Replay, I have this fantastic group of female gamers around me.

Stephanie: When video games first came out in the late 70s and early 80s, toy stores had no idea where they should put them. At the time, stores segregated toys by target gender (boy and girl). They chose to put them in the boy section and market them to boys. Many girls like me have felt the results of that marketing decision for three decades. Even today, people assume I'm a "he" in online games, even if I'm playing a female character. Fortunately, girls are really starting to come into their own now in ALL KINDS of games, and gaming communities are starting to outright reject people who discriminate against female gamers. I'm all for that, and it's great to see more females proudly calling themselves a gamer without feeling like they have to qualify or distinguish their gender.

Have there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Chloe & Nadie don’t look like they need rescuing.

Charlotte:  Lara Croft was a big one. Tough, strong female character. This has now grown to include Elena, Chloe, and Nadine. They don’t need to be “rescued”. They hold their own.

Stephanie: I admit I've mostly played games in which the lead was male just because I found the story intriguing. That said, I love how Star Wars: The Old Republic wrote the female versions of each character class to be equal to their male counterparts in the main plots of the story.

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Charlotte: For Sure. They’ve been insanely underrepresented AND over-sexualized when they are in a game. Yes.

Stephanie: We've absolutely been underrepresented as leads. There has been an effort in recent years to have a female alternative lead in games, but most of the marketing and labels use the male lead. I suppose that's because of their demographic, with males still being the majority of gamers in certain game categories. I appreciate the move that RPG games have made to ensure that the female characters had just as compelling of a story as their male counterparts. And the game stories are also bringing in a lot of diversity.

Some of us are streamers: 

 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Charlotte: It’s been fun. I recently became a Twitch affiliate. I have my first subscriber (Thanks Adam!) People have been very welcoming and supportive.

Stef's new setup

Stephanie: It's a fun hobby, and it's given me an excuse to improve my gaming setup at home. It also helps me accept that I'm not perfect (I can't just edit out the rough spots) and that's okay. My streaming schedule has been incredibly limited since 2021 started, though, as I now spend most of my hobby hours editing articles for a website or producing a podcast.

 

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things? 

Charlotte: I love seeing my friends interacting in my chat. I hate seeing a new name and hitting that second of panic of….are you here to troll or are you here cause I’m playing a game you like? Luckily, I’ve only had to deal with a couple of bots. So I’ll claim a win, so far.

Stephanie: My favorite part of streaming is seeing people who come in regularly, people who have been supporting me and the channel from the start. I love that I can talk to them while I'm playing or cooking or whatever I'm streaming that day. That social part is even better when I can stream with friends, too. 

Back to gaming:

 

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Charlotte’s family resulted from her playing an online game and meeting her Prince Charming. Now she is living her “Happily Ever After.”

Charlotte: My 15-year-old son, Troy. I met my husband on a video game (Ultima Online) back in 2002. We married in 2003.

Stephanie: My favorite "old school" achievement is finishing The Legend of Zelda on NES. I've even replayed the game multiple times in the years since when I could find it. My favorite current achievement is hosting an Extra Life team and charity stream. We raised almost $1500 for children's hospitals and the whole team brought so much energy, enthusiasm, and support for each other. It was a joy to be able to host, and I hope we can do it again in 2021!

https://www.extra-life.org/

Charity Streams are a great way to pursue your hobby and give back to a great cause! 

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Charlotte: Would love to see even more diversity, gender, and race. I would also like to see schools promote the E arts to female students. It’s sad how much more the boys are pushed to them. I feel like if girls had new opportunities in jobs available they would go for more of those classes.

Stephanie: We've already come a long way with female leads and gay representation. I'd like to see more story writers and game producers take that to the next level by having characters who are bisexual, polyamorous, transgender, transvestite, and non-binary. I'd especially like stories to not assume every romance is going to be hetero or monogamous.

 I had a lot of fun discussing these questions in further detail in a Zoom chat with six of us female Replayers.

I learned a lot from Charlotte and Stephanie. From the early days of gaming to our current era it seems we have come a long way already in a short period of time. There have already been great strides in diversifying stories and gameplay. In recent years we have seen a significant influx of strong female leads giving us women gamers someone to finally relate to. You can look at a past interview of female replayers here.

Thank you again Charlotte and Stephanie for chatting with me and sharing your experience with the rest of us.

Check out their socials!

Charlotte - Twitter: @snapefantasy Twitch: twitch.tv/snapefantasy Instagram: snapefantasy

Stephanie - Twitter: @StephanieDoesVO Twitch: twitch.tv/Jicori Instagram: stephaniedoesvo

What other kinds of diversified roles would you like to see in video games? 

Why That One Moment in Loki Meant So Much

It was 28 years ago, while I was in college, that I made the first mental connections to something I had felt prominently since my early teens. It would be another year before I had a name for it: bisexual. After another decade, I also better understood and accepted myself as pansexual and queer.

Since that time, it's taken courage to be out and stay out when it came to calling myself bisexual or pansexual. Like others who identify this way, I often felt that my sexuality was invisible. Some straight men I would date wouldn't seek to understand what that meant to me, they'd just get excited thinking this was their opportunity for a threesome with another woman. At the same time, both straight and gay acquaintances treated me like someone who was confused and just hadn't made up my mind yet. 

But what is there to decide? 

I'm sexually attracted to people of all genders. Plus, just because I chose to have a monogamous relationship with a man or woman doesn't change the fact that I am, still, a bisexual/pansexual person. That's still an important part of my identity, and I feel compelled to work toward a better overall cultural understanding of what it means.

So, when director Kate Herron and the amazing cast of Loki brought Loki's and Sylvie's sexualities into the conversation in June 2021, I was thrilled. Here's what happened...

Loki (Tom Hiddleston): "A bit of both..."

It's Season 1, Episode 3 of the series, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), settle in on a train as part of escaping a planet on the verge of destruction. Loki and Sylvie are "variants" of the same person across alternate universes, which we call the "multiverse" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This Loki is, in fact, a variant of Hiddleston's Loki that redeemed himself in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Instead of completing that arc, though, this variant deviated from the timeline just after leading the attack on New York City in The Avengers (2012). He's now fleeing the "time cops" from the Time Variance Authority (TVA). Sylvie is a Loki variant who was born female in her timeline and has lived a very different life, on the run hiding from the TVA since childhood.

This scene was the first moment where the two characters had time to compare their lives and start to make a personal connection. As often happens in such conversations, the question of love and relationships comes up:

Sylvie: "You're a prince. There must have been would-be princesses, or perhaps another prince?"

Loki: "A bit of both, I suspect the same as you. But nothing ever..."

Sylvie (nodding): "...real."

Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) relates to Loki's relationship history.

I admit I felt some proud tears at this moment, and I couldn't stop smiling for hours. Kate Herron was already becoming one of my favorite directors with this series, but this moment was next-level. Kate herself even shared how much this moment meant to her as a director:

This is what we mean when we say bi-visibility and pan-visibility. Just this simple conversation between two characters is so big! I'm grateful for the courage that Marvel and Disney had to prompt real-world conversations that lead to increased understanding in our cultures worldwide. It's certainly not the first time we've seen something like this in entertainment, but it's one of the first times we've seen it so openly on this scale.

Why is this so important to the bi and pan community?

An identity label is a word we select because it holds a meaning about who we are. That one label condenses a bigger picture into something that people can quickly put meaning to. Consider someone who introduces themself to you as a "hipster," "flower child," or "geek." Do those evoke any specific mental images for you about that person? Do you feel like you know them better when they use those labels? 

That's what we want when we tell people we're bisexual or pansexual: for them to know what that label means to us and acknowledge that as part of our identity. While I can't speak for every bisexual or pansexual, I can speak for myself and acknowledge a lot of what we have in common. I want to take a moment and share that here to be part of starting that conversation for us all.

Pansexuality pride flag.

Bisexual and pansexual are labels identifying sexuality, i.e. who we're sexually attracted to. Pansexual means that we may be sexually attracted to someone regardless of their gender expression (male, female, non-binary, gender-fluid, etc.). Bisexual has traditionally meant that we may be sexually attracted to someone who is either male or female. However, many of us who are bisexual acknowledge that gender identity is not a binary concept and, thus, we relate bisexual to pansexual. 

That's it, really. That's the core of the identity. Everything else you might have heard is a mix of misconceptions. I want to start dispelling those misconceptions by pointing those out here. Maybe you can help us correct these misconceptions as you speak with others, too:

We're not "confused" or "haven't decided yet." We know we're queer, and we know our sexuality is on a spectrum that's independent from gender identity or gender expression. We're neither confused nor undecided; we're quite certain. We also know that we're still bi and pan regardless of our relationship status. And speaking of relationships...

We aren't inherently polyamorous or prefer open relationships. Our sexuality is not associated with our relationship preferences. Sure, you're going to find some bi and pan polyamorous people out there, and some who experiment with the open relationship model. Most bi/pan people I know, though, including myself, prefer one person in romantic relationships and forming a family. And, naturally...

We aren't all looking for threesomes and sex orgies. I already mentioned dating the guys who heard I'm bi and assumed that meant I'm down for a threesome. Regardless of whether I'm down, it's incredibly uncomfortable for someone to make that assumption about me. What we each want in a sexual encounter is very different and unique to each person. It's something we should each discuss in trust with each would-be partner. It's not included in our identity as bi or pan. These assumptions have led me and others I know into some situations that are awkward at best and scary or unsafe at worst. 

But don't just take all this from me. Check out this short video from Xtra Magazine with bi and pan individuals talking about their experiences and why bi-visibility matters to them:

Did the Loki/Sylvie relationship ultimately negate the value of that moment?

I have no doubt that some people will see it that way, but I don't. Through the remainder of Season 1, Loki and Sylvie formed a close bond that was definitely romantic in nature. But does that change anything about their sexuality? No. Choosing to express romantic love to each other doesn't suddenly make Loki and Sylvie heterosexual. Bi-visibility and pan-visibility is about acknowledging that we are bi and pan regardless of such choices. If you're disappointed or feel that their romantic interactions devalue the bisexual/pansexual reveal, I'd like to know: What is it that you wanted to see, instead? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let's talk about what the future holds now that Loki's sexuality is canon.

Before I close, I did want to acknowledge another Loki moment that could have been equally as meaningful to LGBTQ+ fans. The series credits have, on multiple occasions, shown Loki's TVA file with the label "gender-fluid." Some long-time comic nerds have acknowledged that Loki has taken a lot of forms throughout comic history, including different genders. Many simply attribute the gender-fluid label to that comic history. That said, I think leaving the label to that explanation alone misses an opportunity to extend visibility to gender-fluid, genderqueer, and non-binary people here outside of the fictional world. I think Tom himself is supportive, though: he mentions in an interview Raffy Ermac did for Out that he found it important and meaningful to be part of that reveal in the show. Maybe that's something they'll explore more in Season 2.

What films, TV shows, comics, or books have impacted your life in a positive way by representing who you are? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments and chat about how powerful media can be for visibility and representation.

Ink Spot: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Deepens Lily K's Connection to a Beloved Tattoo

I wholeheartedly believe that you are set for life when you have a good friend by your side. They're someone who will be there for you no matter what happens and, of course, you will do the same for them. Without that, life is a bit harder, a bit greyer. 

All my life, I've been looking for the friendship that Andy and Red have in The Shawshank Redemption, or the one that builds between John Coffey and Paul Edgecomb in The Green Mile. I wrote my dissertation about how the camaraderie between soldiers in World War II meant a life-long friendship. Also, in my article back in January, I talked about the relationship of the Winchester brothers from Supernatural.

Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption (2004).

Even though I praised all of these friendships, I was never able to build one for myself. I do believe that women have a harder time finding and preserving friendships like men have with each other. I don't know what the main reason is, but there are definitely fewer examples of great friendships between women in my close proximity and in entertainment media as well. 

Personally, I've always struggled with finding meaningful friendships, making many mistakes on the way, and regretting a ton of decisions. Even after the lift I got from Supernatural, life seemed to get darker again in 2010-11. The only thing that kept me going was the announcement of Captain America: The First Avenger movie, with Chris Evans being the lead. 

Every girl has that one celebrity crush who lasts a lifetime. Well, for me, that's definitely Chris Evans. I've been watching his movies since I was 11 years old (remember Not Another Teen Movie?), and I loved seeing how he became more and more successful, rightfully so. So I held on until Captain America: The First Avenger arrived in cinemas, and it was the greatest decision of my life. 

Steve (Chris Evans) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) in Captain America: The First Avenger.

This movie saved me from drowning during that low point, and it managed to give me another friendship I can look up to. I loved how Bucky Barnes looked after Steve Rogers at the beginning: it wasn't because he had to, but because he truly did care about him. Considering that Bucky only has about 10 minutes of screen time, it's amazing how well they established the friendship between Steve and Bucky. 

That story actually worked so well that when it was carried over to Captain America: The Winter Soldier 3 years later, it was completely believable: from the moment Steve visits the Smithsonian Museum and sees Bucky again, to the point where he discovers that the Winter Soldier IS Bucky, right to the end where he refuses to fight his best friend. This was the movie that gave us this line, which meant so much to me: 

"I'm with you till the end of the line."

That quote became one of the most permanent parts of my life, and it inspired me to mark that significant moment with a tattoo. 

I wanted to show the world how much Steve and Bucky's friendship meant to me, how it helped me since the first movie came out. I am very picky with my tattoos (as you should be too!). I needed the right artist who does quality work regardless of the cost, and I needed it to MEAN something. Without that there's no point (says the girl who has a small star and a heart tattooed on her hand because her friend was bored). 

It took me exactly three years to find an amazing Hungarian tattoo artist (Instagram: @dioszegitattoo) and to decide on the exact design. At first, I wanted Steve and Bucky facing away from each other. However, no matter how much I adore Chris and Sebastian, portrait tattoos were always a big no for me unless they are animal ones. Then my tattoo artist designed the perfect piece, fusing together Cap's shield with Bucky's red star along with that meaningful line from the MCU surrounding it. She did an amazing job and gave me my most precious tattoo out of all the ones I have. 

In Captain America: Civil War, Steve fought for Bucky. In Avengers: Infinity War he lost him again, and at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Bucky was the only one Steve trusted to share his plans with. 

Steve's gone. It hit both of Steve's dear friends really hard: Sam Wilson and Bucky. But they had to accept it, and it was time for me to accept it, too. Bucky's struggle, through the absolutely gorgeous performance of Sebastian Stan, showed so well what that loss meant for him and for us as well. His best friend was gone. As he says it himself when speaking to Sam before he reclaimed the shield: 

"It's just that shield's the closest thing I've got left to a family, so when you retired it; it made me feel like I had nothing left."

Bucky with Steve's shield in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

I think The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did such an amazing job with so many things. In particular, Bucky was the mirror that reflected the fan's feelings about Cap's loss. I had a hard time accepting Chris' departure because I felt like I needed to see more of Steve's friendship with Bucky, of how it changed and evolved with time. I felt like their time was cut extremely short. I know they are just fictional characters, but they're characters whose story changed my own life on a pivotal level. So, for me, it was just as hard accepting that Steve's gone as it was for Bucky, and I connected to Bucky on a whole new level. 

"I'm with you till the end of the line."

The show managed to change this Bucky's view on life so effortlessly that I've found a new friendship to look up to and treasure: Sam and Bucky. In losing Steve, Bucky gained a new—dare I say even more important—friendship through Sam. That realisation hit me when, at the end of their fight with John Walker in Episode 5, Bucky lifts the shield up, walks over to Sam, and drops it next to him, all while the reimagined version of "End of The Line" from composer Henry Jackman starts to play in the background. Why is it important you ask? Because in The Winter Soldier, when Bucky fights Steve on the helicarrier, that music is exactly the same, reaching its peak right when Cap drops his shield and tells Bucky: 

"You're my friend."

It is also the scene where, at the end, Steve tells him the famous line that changed my life and inspired my tattoo. So, putting the same music in Episode 5 with the same symbolic drop of the shield meant a change in how these two men looked at each other. I saw how Bucky was able to let go of Steve, and, at the same time, I saw how I could do it, too. 

A new friendship. Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Sam (Anthony Mackie).

Steve and Bucky's friendship will always be very important for me. It helped me through some of the toughest times when I struggled with accepting myself when I desperately searched for meaningful friendships only to fail miserably when I was suffocated by my own self-hate. The tattoo I have is my way of saying thank you and to show my biggest respect. I think it's time to upgrade it though: it will need the Falcon's wings around it. 

Lily K with Sebastian Stan

And just a tiny story to the end. I met Sebastian Stan in 2019, but I was so overwhelmed that I was just happy to give him my Winter Soldier drawing and completely screwed my chance of telling him about how his and Chris' character helped me through so much. So maybe, by some miracle both Sebastian and Chris will see this. They saved me and they didn't even know it. So all I want to say is thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

This article introduces a new series called "Ink Spot" featuring Replayers' stories behind their pop-culture-inspired tattoos. Got a special tattoo story you'd like to share? Email us members@retroreplayshow.com and we'll match you with one of our contributors to get your story.

[box] If you are someone who's struggling with depression or have suicidal thoughts, please, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. You are never alone: Suicide Prevention Lifeline – talk to someone now[/box]

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part I - Featuring Amelia Brown & Cassandre Federowicz

I fell in love with video games when I was about six or seven years old. Video games at the time were a niche hobby and just something to pass the time. Not many people talked about them openly. Video games were what the boys played, but I was a tomboy, so I fit right in.

When gaming online was introduced, the online community was saturated with mainly male players. It was very few and far between when I would meet other women online. When I did, it was a feeling of sisterhood and banding together. It was as if there was an unspoken understanding of the challenges we have faced as female gamers. 

Things have changed drastically since those early online days. Women are now a large majority of online players. Since joining the Retro Replay community, I have become acquainted with many wonderful, diverse women gamers, and I wanted to highlight their stories and journey through their gaming life.

I sat down with ten of these awesome ladies and discovered that some of them had been gaming for close to 40 years while others just recently took to gaming as a hobby. Most of the ladies had been playing video games in one capacity or another their entire lives. Since the years of experience varied between the group, I knew that we would have a great discussion on the evolution of gaming and where we hoped to see that evolution grow. 

Our first segment will feature Amelia Brown and Cassandre Federowicz. Amelia is our youngest featured gamer from Wales. Her experience spans about eleven years. Cassandre, from Rhode Island, USA, started gaming as early as she can remember. Let’s find out a bit more about our fellow female gamer Replayers. 

How did you become a gamer, and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

Nige & Little Amelia bond in her early years playing the PS1

Amelia: “I would always watch my father play games. I was always so intrigued by what he was doing and always asking questions. Definitely going to have to say my dad was a big influence when it came to gaming as he was a big gamer himself. I also used to watch a lot of YouTube. At the time, a lot of big gaming YouTubers came onto the scene, and I fell into watching a lot of content on YouTube.” 

Cassandre:  “I probably became a gamer because of my mom. She liked games, so she got us playing some “retro stuff.”  It was on a PlayStation 1, but we definitely started playing the older games first. Then, she took me and my brother to Funcoland (which later turned into GameStop) to buy used PS1 games. As I got older and found out my friends also played games, I started playing more regularly. By the time the PS2 came out, I had a pretty decent size collection, and my friends and I would often play together.”

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to it? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Amelia: “When I was growing up, I used to love Simpsons Hit and Run for the PS2. That was probably one of my favorites! It was like a kids version of GTA cross with The Simpsons universe, which I was obsessed with when I was a kid, so it was like a match made in heaven! There was a series of games by the Bratz dolls that I adored when I was like 10 or 11, and I feel like I love these games so much because there was a sense of open world-ness to them and what I really enjoyed about this game was how it embraced creativity. You were able to make your own tee shirts and put on fashion shows, and it really did inspire me at one point to become a fashion designer; not gonna lie!

I love a fast-paced game with multiplayer aspects to it, such as battle royales and anything PvP. I'm big into shooter games like Fortnite, Apex, etc. However, when I like to relax, I wind down with slower-paced games such as Animal Crossing,  Pokémon, and Minecraft.”

Cassandre:  “I still have the first-ever game I got when PS2 came out. Britney’s Dance Beat (LOL) I don’t think it works anymore but I knew I couldn’t part with it. Besides that Legend of Mana for the PS1, which I also still have, and Final Fantasy X for the PS2. Those were games I played on my own. My WHOLE family would get in on some Crash Bash and Crash Team racing (both of which I also still have )  

 A year ago, I would have said I only play single-player narrative-based games. However, that has definitely changed. Pandemic allowed me to meet new people that I started playing online with. I also started getting into PC gaming which to me is something I never really did before now.” 

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Amelia: “I feel like a lot more young women are starting to get into gaming which is really good because it gives people a chance to find a new hobby as well as potentially make new friends.”

Cassandre: “Growing up, I was kind of the only girl I knew that played games. My friends watched me play a lot. As I got older, I came across more women gamers. More of the people I knew in person and online played games. Especially in the last year when I started going to school to make games. My program itself is pretty evenly mixed.”

Has there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Horizon, aka Dr. Mary Somers, a charming astrophysicist, voiced by Elle Newlands.

Amelia: “Abby and Ellie in the Last of Us 2, Chloe and Nadine from Uncharted: Lost Legacy, and so many other incredible stories that have female-focused characters. However, one that I really connected with when playing was Horizon in Apex Legends. Her Scottish wit and constant puns in the fast-paced battle royale always puts a smile on my face even if I’m losing! Not only this she shows a sensitive side in cinematics when referring to her past and her family before taking part in the Apex games.”

Cassandre: “As a young woman I was basically obsessed with Yuna from FFX and FFX-2. My grandfather drew me a picture of her that I have hanging up in my office. It's from 2004 when I was 11. When I FINALLY was able to afford to buy myself a PS4 it became Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. I put well over 300 hours into that game over a 3-year period. Since then, I rediscovered my love for Tomb Raider and Lara Croft, and found a new love in Ellie and Abby from The Last of Us 2.” 

Cassandre’s grandfather’s drawing of Yuna from 2004, which hangs in her office.

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Amelia: “I do not think women have been underrepresented at all. I feel recently there have been enough female leads in games.”

Cassandre: “When I was a kid, I feel like it was only Lara Croft and Samus. I still play as Samus when I play Smash games. She's my go-to for sure. I know there were more, but the games I was exposed to as being a mostly single-player gamer really only had those two characters as true leads for the longest time. As I said in my previous answer, the emergence of Aloy, the remasters of Tomb Raider, and the second Last of Us game has definitely given us stronger female leads. I also only usually play PlayStation games, so there might be more on other platforms that I don’t know about. I would like to see that change.” 

Ellie & Abby, both strong independent female leads, defied the general female stereotype in The Last of Us Part II, which has won the most awards in video game history.

Some of us are streamers: 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Amelia: “I have adored becoming a streamer. I love my community and everything about streaming in general!”

Check out some clips of Amelia streaming. She is a champ at editing her highlights: 

Cassandre: “I started streaming as a joke. After that, I started doing it more often, and before I knew it, I became a Twitch Affiliate. I kept up with it regularly on a set schedule for a few months. I haven't been able to as much because I work full time and attend school full time as well. In the future, I’d like to have more time to do it fairly regularly.”  

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things?

Amelia: “I absolutely adore streaming, and it's my favorite thing to do when I have a chance! I love being able to share my experiences with gaming with other people who share similar interests and sometimes being able to show my audience games that I enjoy that they may not have heard of. My least favorite thing has to be the stereotyping that happens across twitch when it comes to a quote-on-quote‘ girl gamer’.”

Cassandre: “My favorite thing about streaming is the fun I have while doing it. I grew up having my friends just watch me play games anyways so it's almost no different. It took a while to get used to being on camera for hours at a time but once I got past the initial anxiety of it, I didn’t mind it. My least favorite thing is how much money I’ve spent on the setup for it. I didn’t have to do that but I did want my streams to look somewhat different. I still get anxious streaming as someone who's never really been in the spotlight like that before.”  

Back to gaming:

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Amelia: “Well, I've got a few platinum trophies on the PlayStation for a variety of games but I have to say my favorite trophy that I've earned was my platinum for Minecraft for the PlayStation when I was about 16. My proudest achievement in gaming has to be being able to play at professional level for Apex legends at the age of 17. I may not have won all of the games, but I won one or two in a tournament and I was very proud of those considering I was going against very high-level players. I didn’t even know how to play a couple of months prior to it! I think my team placed about 4th out of 20 teams which we were proud of! Who knows maybe one day I can do it again and we could rank even higher!”

Cassandre: “I know it’s lame but I was so proud when I got my first platinum in a game that I spent 200 hours working on. It was for Death Stranding.  Since then, I’ve gone back and worked on a few other games that I found really challenging and eventually got it for them as well. I never thought about achievement hunting before since I was a gamer just for fun, which I still am but now I have fun going that extra mile.”

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Cassandre: “As someone who's eventually (hopefully) going to work in the industry I like what I’ve been seeing in regards to women working in the industry. I love seeing more and more on my Twitter timeline and in articles. It gives me a little extra push for me to work harder to make sure that I end up there as well. That being said, I think with more women in the industry as well as female streamers, female gamers in general, the shift is coming. The hate they receive, I can see, it fuels them. I know it does for me.”

 Amelia and Cassandre both had roots in gaming from influence from their parents at a young age which has led them to have a strong passion for the hobby in their current years. It’s inspiring to hear how other women have gotten into this wonderful hobby of gaming and how some plan on making game development their career to bring joy and excitement to the next generation.

 Stay tuned for Part II of this Candid Discussion, which will feature Replayers Charlotte Merritt and Stephanie Watson! 

Amelia - Twitter: @its_ameliabrown Twitch: twitch.tv/its_ameliabrown Instagram: its_ameliabrown

Cassandre - Twitter: @casswitch2319 Twitch: twitch.tv/casswitch2319 Instagram: casswitch

Alison Haislip: The Actress and Gamer On Why Sex Is Funny

Alison Haislip has done a bit of everything. She’s an actress, she’s hosted a ton of shows, she’s a gamer, she’s been to Space Camp, and she has a cat named Gandalf the White.  How cool is that? After Alison’s appearance on Retro Replay where she and Nolan talked a little about her new project, ❤️  👶  🍆  (Heart Baby Eggplant), I had the extreme honor of sitting down with her for a bit more in depth discussion about life, gaming and her new amazing show. Make sure you check out this hilarious show on Amazon Prime or YouTube. Seriously...go watch the show!

Brandy: So I watched your show (Heart Baby Eggplant) and I absolutely loved it and I know I’m not the only person that thought this show was fantastic. Do you know what the plans are for new episodes or a new season?

Alison: Well Rati (Gupta), Laura (Ortiz), and I have been talking about a second season. Our goal would be that someone would pay us to do a second season *laughs*. We got hit with bad timing because of the pandemic so we are considering doing another crowdfunding to get season two done because we have gotten really great responses to the show. It’s wonderful for people to come out and say, “I wasn’t expecting the show to be like this! It’s really shocking and wonderful and funny!” So yeah, we really want to make more so we are working on that. 

Brandy: Sign me up! I will help crowdfund!

Alison: *laughs* Thank you!

Brandy: The Guild is actually one of my favorite web series and I happened to see a mention of Cheesy Beards in one of the end credit texts and I’m wondering if there is a connection there?

Alison: So, what’s really interesting is those end credit texts were one of the perks from our crowdfunding campaign for season one. At a certain perk level you got to choose a text that goes in during the end credits. So that actually came from one of the contributors and what’s really funny is, because we didn’t write that, when that episode came out there were a couple of people that commented and were like “OMG a Guild reference! A Guild reference!” and we were racking our brains wondering where in the episode did we have a guild reference? I’m friends with Sandeep and so I actually emailed him to ask him, “Hey weird favor, but can you watch this episode of this web series that I created and tell me where there is a Guild reference because me and my co-creators are losing our minds”. Then right after I sent it, I re-watched the episode and caught it in the text and I was like, “Oh my gosh of course, of course!” That’s what it was!

Brandy: I’m one of those people that’s hyper focused so I always pick up on weird little things. I saw that and got super excited.

Alison: And of course you would catch that! The three of us were so into the scripts Rati wrote that all the other stuff that came after that wasn’t drilled into our brains and, we were just like, what are they talking about? *laughs*

Brandy: That’s hilarious! 

Brandy: Women talking so openly about sex has often been a taboo subject. Women are supposed to be “ladylike,” etc., so it was refreshing to see a female take on sexuality from three different perspectives. How important was it that the three of you were very open about sex and sexuality on the show?

Alison: Well, that was incredibly important because that was really the entire point of the show. We are three women in three very different types of relationships and the very grounded approach they took to them. Those relationships are very much based on our individual lives, so we weren’t just trying to do stuff for shock value. Either they are stories that actually happened to us or were inspired by stories that happened to us, which was definitely the crucial part of this show. You are right. These days we are seeing more women talking much more openly about their sexuality. For a while, you literally had “Sex in the City,” and that was it. 

Brandy: That’s the thing; there was no shock value in it. It was just something that my girlfriends and I would talk about while out to dinner or drinks. It’s something we talk about but, it’s just not something openly discussed on TV and, it was so amazing to see that.

Alison: And that’s exactly how this show was created. The three of us were out to lunch, filling each other in on our lives. Laura was the one that said, “Wow, our lives are so different.” We were like, “this is a show” because there are groups of girlfriends just like us who sit around and have drinks with each other and talk about their relationships and their sex lives. It was like, why don’t we see more of that? 

Brandy: Exactly! Most shows are so male-centric, and they talk about their sex and sexuality, and it’s okay. You rarely get to see that about women, and it was really refreshing. You already touched on my question about the beginnings of the show. Did you have an idea going into the show that there was something that every group of female friends could identify with?

Alison: That was definitely our hope. You always have that one friend that cannot stay in a relationship to save her life. Then finds herself in one and doesn’t know what to do, which was me. Then there was Laura, who was about to be a new mom and, like most first-time parents, have no idea what they are doing, stressed about everything, and trying not to lose grip on their own lives as well. Then, we have our friend who doesn’t want to be tied down and loves having multiple sexual partners. That dynamic was so important, and how we were all there to support each other, even if we might not understand what the other person is going through. I think it is just a very real female relationship. 

Brandy: Oh absolutely!

Alison: And something we don’t shine a spotlight on in the series, but if you pay attention, the only three characters that have names are Alison, Rati, and Laura. Every other character is boyfriend, husband, and the unborn baby is “working title.” It’s not until the second to last episode when another character is given an actual name. Then it’s like, “Wait, this must be important because they just gave a character a name."

Brandy: As I was watching the show I seemed to identify a lot with the character Alison.

Alison: Oh great! 

Brandy: I also started a relationship with a great guy, and I have been waiting for something to end the awesome guy illusion. How much are the three of you like your characters, or how much of the characters are like you?

Alison: Oh, they ARE us. The person that boyfriend is inspired by actually made me breakfast in bed one morning early on in our relationship, and I was like, what do I do? What does this mean? I was texting my friends, and they were like, “it’s just a nice gesture!” I’m like, ARE YOU SURE? This has NEVER happened to me before! 

Brandy: I’m exactly the same way. So many moments in the show I can seriously and uncomfortably identify with. Are there other uncomfortable yet funny moments in relationships that you have shared with friends that may be coming up in an episode? Do the three of you brainstorm this and then let Rati run with it?

Alison: We have a Whats App chain between the three of us. Whenever something happens in our lives, we will send it to the chain like, “SEASON TWO,” so we have a bullet point list of stories like, oh, this is a new thing that can happen!  We are definitely keeping track of actual life events to add to season two. 

Brandy: I follow a lot of what Alan Tudyk does, so of course, I watched his seriously hilarious show, Con Man. Did working on Con Man with all of those amazingly funny actors influence you to want to do your own show? Did you get any ideas from it?

Alison: Well, it was definitely inspiring to see that Alan and Nathan (Fillion) had this idea, and they were like, screw it, let’s make it ourselves. And then they had one of the highest funded crowdfundings of all time or something to make the first season of that show. I mean, I didn’t think Heart Baby Eggplant could aspire quite that high. But if you have a fan base and you have a good product, even if the industry doesn’t quite get it, why not make it on your own? We now have that ability these days and if people are going to support it, let them support it. 

Brandy: All of those actors from Con Man are absolutely amazing. How did you get involved with that show? 

Alison: Oh, this is actually interesting. Alan and I had met at a Comic-Con a couple of years earlier and had exchanged phone numbers and had stayed in sporadic contact but nothing consistent. I had been in San Diego for a wedding, and I was driving back up at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, and my phone rings and Alan’s name pops up. I was like, there is no way Alan Tudyk is calling me at 11 in the morning on the weekend, so I’m like, this must be a butt dial, and I just let it go to voicemail.  A voicemail pops up, and I listen to it, and he's like, “Hey Alison. I’ve got a role for you. Call me back.” I had no idea what this could possibly be about, so I called him back, and he was like, "We’re shooting this week and we’d love you to play this role. Are you available? We know it’s last minute." I was supposed to go to New York for an appearance, and I was like, “Maybe? Let me get back to you.” I called my manager and she said, “No, you stay in LA and take the job. You don’t go to New York for the appearance” So in 12 hours, I canceled my trip to New York and called Alan to tell him I was in and showed up on set two days later. That’s where I got to meet PJ (PJ Haarsma was Executive Producer of Con Man and Co-Creator of Retro Replay) and just had the greatest time. I didn’t even know what I was walking into at first and I was like, “Oh this is awesome.”

Brandy: I can just imagine working with Nolan (North) and PJ is amazing and Alan. Just wow. I’m envious.

Alison: Nolan and I didn’t actually work together at all on Con Man. We didn’t meet until we all started to do press together. That was actually the first time I met Nolan and he and I just got along like two peas in a pod so I was like this guy...we’re keeping this guy around. 

Brandy: Is there anything in particular that happened that was funny on the Heart Baby Eggplant set? I know you guys shot that in a week but there has to be something crazy that happened.

Alison: We shot that in five days. It was such a last-minute, thrown together, "I can’t believe it happened," shoot. I won’t say this is funny, but the Universe was looking out for us. For this five-day shoot, we had wanted to ask this specific makeup artist, but she wasn’t available for the first day. We figured it would just be easier to hire someone that was available all five days, so we hired a different woman, and she was amazing. She did our first day on set. Laura, Rati, and I are all producers on the set, so not only are we actors having to make our call time, but we’re also having to deal with all the behind-the-scenes stuff. We woke up at around 5am for day two of shooting to a text message saying that our makeup artist had a death in the family, unfortunately, so she couldn’t make the rest of the shoot. Of course we understood, so we talked about bringing our own makeup and letting the other actors know that we might not have hair and makeup that day, so they would need to bring their own stuff. We were putting out all of these emergency texts to everyone, but I decided to hit up the original makeup artist we wanted. It was literally 5:30 in the morning. I thought that maybe if we could get her there by noon, she could cover half the day. I shot her a text, and I was like, “I'm so sorry this is such an early text but this has happened and I know yesterday you weren’t available, so are you possibly available the rest of the day?” She literally texted me back in 30 seconds and she’s like, “Yeah, girl, I’ll be there. What’s the address?” And here I am wondering why she was even awake? But okay, thank you! When you are doing an Indie project, you have to expect hurdles like this. The fact that it actually worked out was the Universe saying, “We got you.” We finished shooting, and Laura gave birth nine days later.

Brandy: We know from watching Retro Replay that you are an Uncharted fan. Do you typically play a lot of action adventure games? What are you currently playing?

Alison: Yeah, I like action-adventure puzzling games. The Portal games are some of my favorites, and these days, I am far more attracted to Indie games than to the Triple-A titles. They are just a little bit more specific and my Xbox Game Pass now starts recommending games. “We bet you would like this." You are very right! I just discovered the “Call of the Sea." You know, little Indie games that you can finish in 6 to 8 hours, so you aren’t dedicating a month and a half of your life to this. You have two evenings free, and you’re like, oh great, let me solve these fun puzzles with a great story. That’s really what appeals to me these days. I just played “A Night in the Woods,” which is not really a puzzling game, but it’s a storytelling game. I really like this trend of games in which you are less playing a game, but you are discovering clues along the way. Another good one is “The Return of Obra Dinn." That one is fantastic. 

Brandy: Is there anything that you are looking forward to playing? Something that you have seen that you are excited to see come out?

Alison: You know what I haven’t played yet that I have been meaning to play is “The Witcher” series. That’s sitting on top of my console waiting to be played.

Brandy: You have been a gamer almost your entire life and you’ve been in the gaming industry for a long time. What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen involving gaming and gamers.

Alison: When I was on G4, we would always cover E3 and seeing how E3 changed over those four years that I was there was cool. In the time span that I was there and watching E3 develop, it always stuck out to me how Nintendo marched to the beat of their own drum. I very specifically remember the year that both Microsoft and Sony were like, “HD EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! HD! HD!” Nintendo was like, “We’ve got movement-based stuff,” because it was the year they came out with the Wii. The very next year, Microsoft and Sony were like, “ WE DO MOVEMENT TOO! Look, we have movement! KINECT!” Nintendo just does not care where everyone else is going. They just do their own thing, and everyone just looks at it like, well, we can do that too! I’ll also say what’s really heartening is when I started at G4 back in 2007, I had started there because I was seen as a rarity. It was like, “a woman who plays video games and you know what you are talking about?” It was shocking. I love it that here we are, however many years later, and it’s very common for women to be in the gaming industry and play video games. It’s no longer seen as this odd thing. It's been really heartening to see that growth in the industry in the last several years.

Brandy: Oh I remember my first World of Warcraft raid. It was a 40 person raid and I finally spoke, “I need heals please”. Everything stopped and I heard over vent, “there’s a GIRL here?” and now it’s just a normal thing.

Alison: I know thank God!

Brandy: I have a stream with one of my good friends and it’s called “Breast Friends”.

Alison: *laughs* That is awesome!

Brandy: You’ve done so many different things. You’ve hosted G4, Battle Bots, The Morning After, The Nerdist. You’ve starred in amazing shows like Con Man, Heart Baby Eggplant and even directed a short film. What is next for Alison?

Alison: I definitely want to get more into directing. What you are referring to was a silly little project me and my friends threw together years ago. I was like, “I can just tell people what to do” because I was the one with the camera! We hired our very good friend Adam Green to direct Heart Baby Eggplant, but because everything was so last minute, I was basically standing with Adam and explaining, "this is what we are intending for this scene'" and he was able to capture our vision the way we needed it. But from that experience, I was like, I think I can do this for real. I didn’t get into this industry with that intention, but the more I learn about directing, the more I think my brain is kind of wired for this. So that is something I think I absolutely want to focus on more moving forward. 

Brandy: I’m definitely good at behind the scenes and telling people what to do. I’m not great at being on camera.

Alison: Well you are crushing it right now. 

Brandy: Well thank you so much! 

I honestly can’t say enough amazing things about Alison. She is one of the most down to earth and funny humans I have ever been privileged to chat with. Because to be honest, this interview was more of a chat than anything. It was so much fun to talk about NASA, swap ideas for new games to try, and to give Drew Lewis a bit of a hard time. I can’t wait to see what amazing ideas she comes up with next or new projects she may be involved with. Make sure you follow Heart Baby Eggplant, Alison, Rati Gupta, and Laura Ortiz on all socials to stay up to date on their upcoming plans for the show and watch for possible crowdfunding opportunities to make season two happen with some amazing perks added! 

What are some of your favorite things that you have seen Alison in? Leave comments below!

Our Pandemic Vocabulary

During the COVID-19 pandemic, have you found yourself staying home and ordering takeout because people weren't socially distancing at the grocery store, and the cashier looked sus with that face mask hanging half-off?

And if I had asked you that question just over a year ago, would it have made sense to you? What kind of "face mask" would you have imagined? And what would "social distancing" and "sus" mean to you?

I posted this humorous meme to my Facebook page the first day that things started closing because of COVID-19.

This pandemic may have kept us away from each other, but it's also brought us together in some crazy new ways. In our social circles online, we've created our own language around the pandemic itself and the pop culture phenomena that it gave rise to.

Let's look at some of what I'm calling our "pandemic vocabulary" from the past year.

COVID and Coronavirus

News media has shaped how we talk about the virus itself. COVID-19, the most specific name of the virus, and its shortened form COVID, became common. We also heard Coronavirus so much it became a meme. We even heard stories about people naming their child Corona or Covid. And even the Corona beer makers had to bounce back when Americans misassociated the virus with their brand.

Face masks

In February 2020, perhaps the most common association we made with "face mask" was in reference to something worn as a costume or worn to protect the face in certain jobs or sports. By April 2020, there were thousands of vendors marketing cloth face masks to cover the nose and mouth while out in public. My friends and I started considering it a courtesy to wear them to help slow the spread of COVID-19 since science found we could transmit it up to 14 days before showing symptoms.

One of Hoot's hand-sculpted face mask creations.

Similarly, the average person is also now likely to know that PPE stands for personal protective equipment. You may be familiar with the struggles of hospitals worldwide to have enough PPE for their staff throughout 2020.

And if we're all going to be wearing these masks for our own safety, why not get creative with them? The featured image at the top of this article shows Replayers Maria Kinnun and Charlotte Merritt with masks that Charlotte made. Replayer Hoot (Jeff Owle), was inspired to construct fun handmade costume masks specially designed to wear over protective masks (check out the photo here). After a COVID-related layoff, Hoot turned his attention to building a home-based business to sell his masks (with a website coming later this month).

Social distancing

During the pandemic, governments and health organizations recommended or required people to take precautions to keep themselves and others from spreading COVID-19. Part of those recommendations added a new term to our vocabulary: social distancing. This means keeping a distance in social situations to reduce the chance of transmitting the virus by air. Basing their recommendations on recent years of scientific study, health organizations worldwide recommended distances from 1 meter (World Health Organization) to 6 feet (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Some people combined both face masks with social distancing for an extra level of precaution.

Postmates, Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash

Did I use Postmates to order Krispy Kreme doughnuts? Yes. Yes I did.

I've already mentioned the reduced hours and lost jobs that came as businesses suffered during the pandemic. Restaurants were hit particularly hard, especially if they didn't already have a drive-through or delivery model. Besides having to adopt more stringent safety for preparing and serving food, many were forced to shift to a takeout-centric plan to stay in business. This reality has been a boon to third-party services that deliver food from area restaurants. In the US, the biggest names in takeout over the last year include Postmates, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash. It's likely that more Americans have one of those apps on their smartphones now than they would have without the pandemic.

Work-from-home, remote working, telecommuting

The nature of some businesses was that there just wasn't any work during the pandemic. I already mentioned Hoot, a stage carpenter for live productions, who was finally laid off after four months of significantly reduced hours. His sister and brother-in-law were part of the crew in one of the traveling "Book of Mormon" productions, and they found their whole tour canceled.

Fortunately for myself and others in the tech industries, there was an option to start working from home. I am already a remotee who works completely from home, so my work routine didn't change much. For my office-based co-workers, though, there was a major shift in routine. They set up new desks, chairs, and computer monitors to work from home, and they made sure they had internet connections to support their work-from-home needs. Some even started referring to their kids and pets as "coworkers."

Many similar companies have used this pandemic experience to learn how they can better support their remote employees. They've also started looking at making telecommuting the norm for certain job roles, which can save a company in capital expenses like office space, parking, cleaning services, and snacks. It can also significantly reduce a company's carbon footprint.

Zoom, online meetings, and online hangouts

When business and social gatherings started moving into online conferencing software, Zoom became a household name. Before the pandemic, my team at work had been using Zoom for a couple of years as one way to deliver online training. When the pandemic hit, skyrocketing Zoom usage prompted the company to hasten improvements to its software, making it more secure and easier to use. Zoom continues to monitor how vaccines and people getting back out into the world will impact the company moving forward.

Certainly, other online meeting platforms benefited from an increased number of users. However, it was Zoom that became synonymous with both business meetings and social gatherings during the pandemic. The Replayer Happy Hour hosted each Thursday by Brandy Brown (@watery_tart19) is an online hangout on Zoom. Many of us regularly in that hangout have learned how to combine Zoom with fun backgrounds and Snap Camera filters.

Replayers chatting in Zoom
Replayers chatting in Zoom just after a Thursday Retro Replay premiere.

Another social phenomenon with online meetings and classes is social protocol around how to properly use the software. One online class I took had rules about how to use the chat and "raise-hand" features and about not having the camera on if there's going to be a lot of movement in the frame. At my work, where we primarily use Google Meets and BlueJeans for meetings, we ask people to kindly mute their mic if they have a lot of background noise. That said, we've become very forgiving for parents who have young kids at home that unexpectedly pop into the room.

There are other topics branching off from this that deserve their own articles: the challenge of moving schools to online classrooms, how fan conventions reproduced their convention experiences online, and how studio-based content creators like Rooster Teeth, Nerdist, and our own Retro Replay have used software like Zoom to reproduce the studio experience in an online format.

A watch party on Twitch

Watch parties

When Game of Thrones episodes were still coming out, Hoot and I invited local friends over to have a potluck dinner and watch each new episode together. Before the pandemic, social media companies were already including features to simulate watch parties like this online. The pandemic made the watch party more common as people sought shared entertainment and social experiences to replace going to the movies or hanging out with friends. This has prompted new features and enhancements that make it easier to host or join a watch party. Twitch even recently has launched a Watch Party feature that allows people to watch content hosted on Amazon streaming services using their Twitch channel space.

Sus, vent, crewmate, imposter, and doing tasks

GameTunes is just one of many YouTube creators that have created music and video content inspired by Among Us.

A lot of social games saw an uptick in use during the pandemic. Simple-concept games like Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and Animal Crossing: New Horizons both had strong debuts in 2020, right as the world started staying at home and socially distancing. Perhaps the most notable success, though, is Among Us. Among Us is an online multiplayer social deduction game released by InnerSloth LLC back in June 2018. The game is cross-platform for Android, Apple, and PC (through Steam), making it easy to gather friends together even if they don't own the major gaming consoles. 

During each Among Us game, everyone in the group is a crewmate that has a list of tasks to do around a map. However, one or two of the people in the group are actually randomly assigned imposters who are sabotaging and killing off the others who are doing tasks. The goal of the game depends on your role: crewmates try to finish tasks before the imposters kill them all, and imposters try not to be voted out by the crewmates before they have a chance to kill everyone.

As a result of the rise in Among Us popularity in 2020, new words have entered our common vocabulary. The word "suss" means to realize something, but sus, short for "suspicious," is now the common way to let someone know you doubt they're being truthful. "Vent" as a verb may mean to freely express yourself, but vent also now refers to escaping through a vent in the floor, something only imposters can do.

Amelia Brown makes an imposter kill in front of her fellow Replayers who are crewmates.

There's so much more we could delve into about how the pandemic affected our pop culture and daily lives. I'm just scratching the surface here, highlighting a few parts of the story through some of the words we've started to use over the last year.

Do you use these words a lot, too? What other words can you think of that are far more common now than before the pandemic? Let's discuss in the comments!

A special thanks to Replayers Charlotte Merritt and Beth Sarber who contributed their ideas as I planned out this article.

I'm Not a Gamer, but I AM a Replayer!

As I write this, it is the night before the premiere episode of "Level 4!" That's how we refer to the seasons of the show around here. Pretty funny, huh? Since Level 1, I have learned a lot about the expectations that sometimes come from being a Replayer. 

When I get to know Replayers for the first time, I'm often asked, "What console do you have? Are you a PlayStation or Xbox person?"

I typically reply, "Neither. The last time I played a console was when Nintendo 64 first came out." Then I imagine their eyes fluttering like butterflies in disbelief, not about the console, but that I might be the same age as their mom. To be honest with you, I can't believe it, either.

If they do ask why I haven't had a console since the N64, I have to give that same answer I've given countless times before:

"I have cerebral palsy and I'm unable to use the standard controller."

This answer often leaves people at a loss for a moment. I imagine them staring down at their shoes looking for the right response, then eventually raising their head to see a very short woman in a wheelchair before apologizing in a childlike whisper.

Here's me, the non-gamer.

But I reassure them: "Oh, that's alright, I live the life of a V.I.P." When they look at me puzzled, I explain, "I come with my own set of wheels and parking space, not to mention I always have the best seat in the house!" And hopefully, they laugh.

Other questions follow from Shana's Replayer FAQ:

"Well, what games do you have on PC?" - I don't have a PC, I have a Mac.

"Then, if you're not playing games, why do you watch Retro Replay?" - Well, I'm glad you asked! (And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my impression of Victor Sullivan!)

Rob Paulsen, an actor who has given life to such characters as Yakko Warner of Animaniacs and Pinky of Pinky and The Brain, has a wonderful motto about life:

"Laughter is the best medicine, you can't OD and the refills are free!" 

That, my friends and fellow Replayers is the answer... 

When I said I've watched Retro Replay from Level 1, I mean I watched the very first episode when it aired. Before there was live chat and membership. I remember that night vividly... (insert dream sequence here) 

May 10, 2018

I had been in excruciating pain for a little over a week, and it was starting to affect my sleep. I planned to go to bed early, but the knife-piercing pain had other ideas. So I decided to peruse YouTube to find something to distract me. Just as I was about to watch my favorite Twisted Toonz video... (insert angelic choir) in my "recommendations" was  RETRO REPLAY - Amazing Spider-man vs. Nolan & Troy!

Nolan's bad day with Spider-Man.

Now, if you were to ask Nolan about this episode, he would say, "I don't want to talk about it!"  

Newer Replayers might ask, "Oh, is that when he broke the TV?" No, that will happen later.

The episode had me laughing so hard, needless to say, I forgot all about my pain, at least for a little while. It was then I realized that this was something I needed, and gave me something to look forward to every week no matter how bad my pain was. By the end of Level 1, my pain had been managed, and I was slowly on the mend.

Level 2 added something new… Live Chat!

At first, I wasn't too sure if I wanted to join in chat because of a lack of video game knowledge. They were all talking about a game called Uncharted and a guy named Nathan Drake. I, of course, had no idea who or what they were talking about. Then when asked, "What's the last game you played?" boy, the reaction I got when I said, "Duck Hunt," made me think that perhaps I was too old to chat with these young whippersnappers!

So, for a little while, I lurked until I found a way to make it fun.

No one paid attention, so I waited…

Someone else typed, "30 mins you guys." That encouraged me to continue.

That did it! I broke the chat… into laughter! For a while, there were some that thought the automated countdown was something Drew enabled in the chat. That, to me, is the greatest compliment.

March 15, 2020:  A date I shall always remember…

Nice tail!

That was quite an enjoyable day! I wore a white poet's shirt and black vest with skull and crossbones leggings, and the "pièce de résistance," a fishtail! (Seriously, check out the photo here.) The reason for the ensemble: I am a volunteer with a non-profit, and I was at an event to help raise money for it. (I'll tell you that story later.)

That was my last social event before the pandemic because of the nature of my disability: it puts me in the high-risk category. Solution: self-isolation. Not knowing how long it would last, at first I thought it would be a great opportunity to let the creativity flow, and there's always Retro Replay, right?

Level 3 changes like the tide of the sea… and adds Zoom meetings.

By April 2020, Retro Replay was in official lockdown. The hosts of Retro Replay were in their homes, and, through the internet, they showed us some special, never-before-seen content.

Then, one day, I saw tweets from other Replayers: half were sad, and half were angry and the rest were a mixture of both. Later that afternoon I got the email that Troy Baker was leaving Retro Replay. I'll be honest when I read that the first time it was like a punch to the gut. The show for me was my "happy place," and I love both Nolan and Troy like family and always will. At the time, I wondered if the show would survive?  

2020 can just go flush itself down the toilet!

While this was swirling around me, and my days began to blur, a lifeline was thrown to me in the form of a tweet from none other than @watery_tart19 herself, Brandy Brown. "The Happy Hour," as it came to be known, became a virtual hang-out for all Replayers! Ok, so it's not the holodeck in Star Trek, but it's the best we can do. I have met people from all over the country and around the world, something that would not have happened pre-COVID! I can't really tell you what goes on at the happy hour, but… let’s just say they made me their "designated driver!" 

See, I told you I had the shirt!

Why are you laughing? It's true! Look, I have a shirt to prove it!

Despite having the happy hour before the show on Thursdays (shameless plug) as well as Nolan, Drew, PJ, Paul, Stephanie, and Pagan picking the show up by the bootstraps and knocking it out of the park, I still felt stagnate in the pool of creativity. That's when another lifeline was thrown, and this time it came from Nolan North himself via Cameo from another Replayer named Melanie Steiner. Even now, tears are welling… words cannot express how much that video has meant to me. Since that video was sent to me, I have written 5 poems, and 3 have been published! I watch the video almost daily to keep me motivated. Spring turned to summer, then to fall. Sometime in October (it's my birthday, too), I received another video message from Nolan! This time it came from Charlotte Merritt through Retro Replay.

My hope for you, dear reader, is that you binge-watch all 3 seasons of Retro Replay to truly appreciate the show and its growth, and thereby see the growth within the community. Because it’s the people within the community that make the show possible. 

I also hope I was able to convey the love I have for Retro Replay and why I am very proud to say, "I am not a gamer, but I am a Replayer all the way!"

Who out there is a Replayer but not a big gamer? Share your own story in the comments!

Are Cons Coming Back This Year?

My very first Comic-Con experience was in May 2019. It was MCM London and I only went for the one-day option and I of course was in cosplay. I was sure I would love it but I was cautious at first, and also mostly broke because I had spent way too much money on the photo-ops already. This is where I first had a chance to meet with Nolan and Troy and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have considered going to Comic Cons as a vendor with my artwork. I went to the London Film and Comic-Con for the second round in July 2019, and by that point, I already knew that I would show up as an artist at the October MCM Comic Cons in less than 4 months and that became the biggest part of my life.

With my friend, Sara, at our first official Comic-Con

Me and my business partner both worked 3 jobs to make sure that we could actually get to the Cons as vendors, have the prints ready, buy everything we needed for displays and whatnot, and even with that we felt ridiculously underprepared. However, seeing how much joy my artwork brought to people seriously boosted my confidence. We literally booked every single London Comic Con and even the Birmingham one as well for 2020. It meant that we had six Comic Cons waiting for us and out of that six, only one went down as planned. The Spring Film and Comic-Con in February. We had people from the October MCM coming to the Con just to get more artwork and I felt good. I felt like I had finally found my path in life. Then they postponed Birmingham, London May, London LFCC, they then canceled Birmingham, canceled London May,  and canceled London LFCC and Comic Cons were done for 2020.

They already announced that the LFCC Spring Comic-Con won’t even come back in 2021 but instead in 2022. The way things are looking at the moment in England with their third official lockdown I am becoming more and more skeptical. I talked with other artists that I was lucky enough to get to know through these amazing conventions and some of them completely gave up on the possibility of these great events coming back this year. One of them, who wished to stay anonymous, says:

“If they would start again from the summer, I simply would not be able to afford the tables and I do not think it would be a worthy investment anyway. Just think about it; people are already struggling as it is so even if it would be safe to get back to do the Comic Cons, I think every visitor would hold onto their money even more tightly. The big names they invite would still come out on top, but people like us (the artists – the author) would go down to the bottom. We would lose even more money.”

LFCC Spring before opening their doors

I would even question if the regular photo-ops and meet and greets would even be possible from the very beginning. I am almost 100% sure that we would start off with some serious restrictions. Maybe the guest would only appear through Zoom calls for an on-stage interview or even if they do show up, photo-ops would not exist and we could only get autographs through a plastic glass. At least these are my predictions. So far MCM and LFCC, the two big Cons from London, have not given any official statements regarding the future of their Conventions.

Myself and Colin from Undead Gaming

There were, of course, online Comic Cons but to be fair they can’t even come close to the real experiences. Sure, most of these things got big names to show up and you could buy autographs from them and 5-10-minute zoom calls, but… that is simply not the same as actually walking on the Comic-Con floors, looking around and seeing so many people freely showing their love and passion for the things that they admire. Discovering new artists, writers, and comic illustrators, buying POP figures, meeting your favorite people, and getting to know new friends is the experience that is missing from the online version. We so desperately would need them back but at the same time, our safety comes first. I wish we could just waltz back in and enjoy it like nothing ever happened, but this (just like everything else) will take a long time to get back to normal. I hope for the best but we might have to accept the possibility that even in 2021 we have to forget about the Cons or we have to adapt to a new, a bit more restricted version of it. 

What are your predictions for Comic Cons going forward? What are you most excited to see come back?