These Free Game Playthroughs are a Great Alternative to TV

Leftover pepperoni pizza, and something good to watch. That's the perfect way to spend an evening! Tonight's cinematic classic is Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. I am on the part where Luigi is "ghost busting" his way through the abandoned clock tower. (Here's a clip from my perspective.) It's a good thing I wear a seatbelt because this story has kept me on the edge of my seat! (A little wheelchair humor.) 

Yes, my fellow Couch spuddies, I do realize that it is a video game. Still, it's a great story! The animation is dated, but it still holds up, and I never had a NintendoDS, so it's all new to me. (For more about my gaming background, read my article I Am Not A Gamer, But I Am A Replayer.)

Pizza and playthroughs!

Of course, I know all about the major streaming services: Hulu, Netflix, DisneyPlus, and so on. However, there's one thing that stops me from having any of these services and their wondrous content… money. When you're disabled like I am and living on a fixed income, you have to prioritize. I say to myself, “Do I buy groceries this week or buy another month of service to see Henry Cavill with his shirt off? Do I pay the power bill or watch baby Yoda swallow a frog whole?”

Yes, young spuds, even at level 45, adulting is hard!  

Since joining this community, though, my eyes have been wide with wonder at all these wonderful games and their stories. Most of them are, I'd venture to say, far superior to what Hollywood has offered lately. And my way of seeing all these things is through playthroughs: people who are streaming their gameplay on Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. There's great content whether it's a playthrough with the player's commentary or just a video of someone playing the game without commentary.

So far, my favorite playthroughs have been in these games:

Uncharted 1 and 2 - There's a live-action film coming soon for Uncharted, though, personally, I think the games themselves would make great films! Here's one of many available on YouTube with no commentary:

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - I love everything about this game! The world is so colorful and immersive, even in the dark moments. Kena is a very strong and, at times, a fierce young girl who fights corrupted spirits in order to set them free with the help of some little friends known as Rot. THEY ARE SO STINKING CUTE! Special thanks to Dan Morris of Deadpan Gaming for sharing his commentary-free playthrough playlist here:

Unravel - I love this game because it has the feel of a Pixar film and it has yarn! Check out this playthrough on YouTube:

In addition to playthroughs, I have seen a ton of creator content within our Couch Soup community. Those streams have kept me laughing on those days when I need it! Here are some of my favorite moments over the last year:

"I'm on fire" from the Chaos Crew:

"Worst Pirates: Dan & Brandy Play Dead Space" from Deadpan Gaming:

"First time in Dead Space! (Spoiler: IT'S TERRIFYING!)" from Pagan Plays:

Well, my spuddies, I hope my story and these samples show you that watching playthroughs and other creator content can be a great alternative to what's on TV.  

Have you found yourself watching people play games instead of binge-watching the latest HBO Max series? What game or content channels would you suggest I add to my playlist?

Find Both New and Favorite Christmas Movies Across the Streaming Services this Season

Curled up in a favorite chair with a warm beverage? Stuck in a long car or airplane ride to visit family? If you have access to a streaming service, you have access to some great Christmas entertainment. Even if Christmas isn't your thing, you're sure to find something to enjoy!

Amazon Prime

Polar Express - This movie is a must-watch animated film for children and grown-ups alike. It is the story of a boy who lost his faith in Christmas and embarks on a journey (on the Polar Express train) that will change the way he sees things. It's sometimes silly, but it's an important lesson about what Christmas really is all about. Tom Hanks performs the voice for multiple characters in the film.

Elf - For me, it doesn’t get any better than Elf, from esteemed director Jon Favreau, if you just want to watch something genuinely fun and, at the same time, heart-warming. It's a wonderful performance from Will Ferrell, who plays Buddy, a human who was raised by an elf at the North Pole. Buddy goes on a mission to find his parents in New York City and to figure out where he belongs. Elf is also available on Hulu and HBO Max.

Home Alone - What a classic! Do I even have to introduce Kevin? If you've never had a chance to see this iconic film, here's what you need to know: it is the story of a series of unfortunate events for our dear Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) who's been accidentally left behind at home when the family leaves for a Christmas vacation. Even worse than that… he has to protect the house from two burglars! Say what? If you haven’t seen this, what are you waiting for? It's available on both Amazon Prime and Disney+. Follow it up with Home Alone 2, set in the famous Christmas setting of NYC, and which I honestly preferred over the first film. Both are must-watch movies for the holidays!

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone

Netflix

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey - This is a Netflix original that is here to stay. What an absolutely wonderful musical! I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first because the beginning felt more like a Hallmark movie - which is not bad, but not great, either. However, as we stepped into the book’s wonderland, a story started to unfold, told in part through the beautiful songs. I would say it became an instant Christmas classic on its 2020 release. It has a splendid cast, songs that will stick with you, and a story that will warm your soul with its pureness. All hats off to Forest Whitaker, in particular, for his performance in this movie, both acting, and singing.

The Christmas Chronicles - This is another Netflix Original, and what a truly magical one! A brother and sister duo accidentally crashes Santa’s sleigh, so they have to do everything to… well… save Christmas. There's amazing writing and performances plus another important lesson learned from this instant classic. Definitely a must-watch! Follow up this 2018 film with its 2020 sequel, The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas - This is the live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' original illustrated story of the same name from 1957 and its 1966 animated TV short that many kids grew up watching. I think this is a very underappreciated movie and yet has the single most important message out of all of the movies I've listed so far. Jim Carrey is a legend playing the grumpy, Christmas-hating Grinch who does everything he can to destroy the joy that comes around this time of year. It's an important reflection on society as a whole, and it's an all-together fun film.

Klaus - This is a Netflix original animated film with beautiful animation, story, and, above all else, message. I'm not sure why I hesitated to watch this movie, but I am glad I did so I didn't miss out on an amazing journey. Klaus’ message is stated by the title character himself, voiced by the incomparable J.K. Simmons: “A true selfless act always sparks another.”

Arthur Christmas - This is my favorite animated Christmas movie. It's pure, genuine, and a very important tale. If you haven't seen it yet, make time this holiday season!

And for lovers of Christmas-themed rom-coms and Vanessa Hudgens, check out The Knight Before Christmas, The Princess Switch, and the two Princess Switch sequels.

Madalen Mills and Forest Whitaker in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Disney+

Disney has several holiday classics available, including The Santa Clause and its sequels featuring Tim Allen and the aforementioned Home Alone movies. But let me recommend you check out these two Disney+ originals that have important messages and the Christmas feel that many of us love:

Godmothered - This film stars Jillian Bell, Isla Fisher, and several familiar faces, and it's on the magical side of Christmas stories. This comedy is on my list now after flying under my radar when it came out in 2020. 

Noelle - This comedy stars Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader as Noelle and Nick Kringle. After their father’s retirement - their father being Santa - Nick gets cold feet about taking over the family business, so Noelle takes over. This movie reminded me of Arthur Christmas a little bit with the Santa family line being a central story point. The film definitely had even more to offer than I would have imagined.

Let's extend our recommendations in the comments! Share some of your favorites along with the streaming services we can find them on.

Bill Hader in Noelle

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part IV - Featuring Lisa Geelen & Michelle Holstine

I had a great conversation with Lisa and Michelle about their passion for gaming and if changes within the gaming industry have affected their overall habits when approaching one of their favorite hobbies. Lisa, from the Netherlands, had her interest in gaming piqued by one of her brothers who let her watch as he gamed in their younger years. This has led her to continue watching other people game through streaming services, such as Twitch, and opening her horizons to new and different games. 

Michelle, who hails from Texas, USA, has grown up on gaming with her sisters. Gaming was a family activity, so she never took note of the gender gap in gaming while growing up. This will give us a great new perspective of women in gaming! 

Let’s get a little history from Lisa and Michelle: 

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

Lisa: I don’t really consider myself a gamer, to be honest. It is just something that I really like to do, but I’m not particularly good at it. I started gaming when I was 14, and I had my own PC. Before that, I mostly watched my brothers play games like GTA San Andreas. I really like watching other people play games. According to my parents I was too young to play that game, so I snuck into my brother’s room to watch it. I was always jealous of my brothers playing all these games, so as soon as I had the chance, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I was immediately hooked. I love watching YouTubers play games too, so people like Pewdiepie and Jacksepticeye have played a big role as well. The streamer Loserfruit comes to mind as well.

Michelle:  I have been a gamer since before I can remember correctly.  My sisters and I always fought over the original Nintendo we had (I always lost to the older sisters), which morphed into the N64, and then landed on Playstation when they came out. I really remember the game time with my sisters.  Even though it was sibling rivalry, it's a lot of fun to look back on now and remember the old games we used to play and how we used to help each other through levels. That old Star Wars Nintendo game still remains one of the hardest I've ever played (the level where you have to climb up the Jawa desert vehicle.  UGH). Once we got the Playstation, we moved the gaming system from the playroom to the living room, so it turned into a family affair any time anyone wanted to play.  Even my parents would get in on the action! I would say that was my influence in getting into gaming.

Watch the original trailer for the SNES Star Wars game:

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, or do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to them? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Lisa: Pokemon blue, yellow, and silver on the Gameboy color are the first games I ever played. One of my favorites is Jazz Jackrabbit 2. I finished that game multiple times and it had a multiplayer option which was always loads of fun to play with my brothers. GTA 2 and San Andreas come to mind as well. San Andreas was the first story-based game I really enjoyed. Age of Empires II is one that I grew up with, and I still play to this day. Gaming is like jumping into a new adventure every time. I like that it tells a story that I can totally lose myself in and forget all the worries of the real world. It helps me relax. Gaming was never social to me because none of my friends played games. Only one of my brothers. It changed in the last few years because it's not taboo to say that you are a gamer. It became cool all of a sudden. I got a few friends of mine into gaming now as well. Since I’ve met the Replayers/Spuddies, the social aspect of gaming has become one of the main reasons why I keep gaming.

Michelle: Oh gosh, so many to choose from!  We loved Tomb Raider and Silent Hill growing up.  Lots of fond memories playing those.  Once Crash Bandicoot came out, we really got onto the Naughty Dog train and played all of those and Jak and Daxter.  My favorite other than Tomb Raider is Midnight Club.  My sister and I spent so long playing that game that when I finally went to London for the first time, I actually recognized streets from the game!  I also loved Jetmoto and MediEvil.  One of the most fun things we would get were the demo discs from Playstation that had one level of multiple games on them.  Those were a blast! I always find this question so interesting because the answers always vary so widely!  I am specifically a linear, campaign-based player.  I like stories that are very linear and not as open world.  A perfect example for me is Uncharted 4.  You can explore more than in other Uncharted games, but it's not a completely open world.  I LOVE challenges and puzzles.  If I sit down to play, I want to feel like I accomplished something.  I play a decent amount of Destiny, which is interesting because it is a huge and absolutely open-world game.  It gets a little too overwhelming for me and my style of play.  I enjoy playing online as a social aspect but have not had many good experiences with that as a female, so I tend to keep to myself and play the campaign games.

Tomb Raider I on Playstation: The nostalgia is strong with these pixels 

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

Lisa: Up to 5 years ago, I literally knew no women that played games. I never dared say anything about me liking games. Even on YouTube, there were only male gamers, like pewdiepie, jacksepticeye, markiplier, etc. I've noticed that since female gamers get in the spotlight more these last 5 years or so, more female friends of mine want to play games. People who first played games secretly now play them openly, and I think that that is a really good change. We still have a long way to go, though. Throughout the years, you see that more female characters in games appear and it is nice that the female can be the badass for once.

I also notice that when I play with random people online and say that I’m a girl, people never believe me. They think the account is fake, or I’m pretending to be a girl. Even when they hear my voice, they still won’t believe me. It shows that girls still aren’t allowed too much in the gaming world yet.

Michelle: YES, absolutely!  Women gamers have become more and more in the forefront than an afterthought.  I absolutely adore that the younger generation, such as our own adorable Amelia (shout-out, babe! <3 ), has an interest in gaming and one they actively pursue.  It helps that in some games, the environment is more welcoming now than in the past.  On the other hand, it is also incredibly intimidating.  My very first experience playing online with strangers was so bad; it has intimidated me ever since.  I think it's a beautiful thing that so many women gamers now can be outspoken about the fact that they are gamers.  I also believe it is led by the fact that so many women-based roles in video games exist, and on a large scale, perpetuated by the women in voice acting doing these roles.

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

Lisa:  If you talk about female gamers that have influenced the gaming industry, Loserfruit is one of them. She is an Australian streamer that plays Fortnite mostly. I think she played a big part in getting more women in games. I like her because she doesn’t really talk about the subject but just has fun playing the games she plays. She shows the girls with her actions and not with words.


Caption: Loserfruit, an Australian streamer, gets her own avatar in Fortnite.  

Michelle feels empowered by our double Uzi-wielding female lead, Lara Croft.

Michelle: To be honest, I didn't start paying much attention to voice actors and who did the characters until Nolan North became such a prominent figure.  However, I would have to say that Lara Croft in Tomb Raider was an inspiration for me.  She has gone from the fantasized, cartoon-drawn female Indiana Jones to this legendary, badass babe who people actually respect.  Growing up playing a character that could shoot double Uzi's, swim in tropical waters, run through an obstacle course in her own mansion, and defeat whatever challenge came her way, was a way for me to escape into that reality and realize that women (or rather I ) are just as capable as the male Indiana Jones and can do precisely what is needed. 

Michelle feels empowered by our double Uzi-wielding female lead, Lara Croft. 

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. 

Lisa: Yes. I think gaming was a thing mostly men did, and therefore games are made for men with men mainly in the leads. Now that more women play games, I definitely do see the shift. Games like The Walking Dead, where Clementine becomes the lead in season 2, have gotten it right. She is a very relatable character. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female for that. She grew from a scared little girl to a badass zombie fighter. The game doesn’t seem to try too hard to push on female leads. It is not forced. In my opinion, some games force it a little bit, like The Last of Us Part II. They purposely chose some very strong female leads, and that seemed a bit forced to me. “Look at us being very inclusive.”  On the other hand, I think it is necessary to overdo it a bit now so that it evens out all the male leads in games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having these strong female leads and emphasizing that. It is necessary to make it more equal and to make that change. The result of that is that it can feel a bit forced at times.

The evolution of Clementine from the Walking Dead, from scared little girl to apocalyptic survivor. 

Michelle:  As mentioned earlier, I didn't pay much attention to voice actors or even the specific gender of a character in the games we played.  I was not raised to see, or rather I didn't notice, any discrepancy in the lack of female representation in gaming.  I knew, as a female, I was fighting an uphill battle in equality to men, but I didn't think about it in a gaming aspect.  As an adult, if I think about it, I still don't feel there was an underrepresentation simply because the times are different.  Now, we have several female leads and lots of female voice actors, but I could also be showing my ignorance on the topic.

Some of us are streamers: 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Lisa: First of all, I am not a big streamer or anything, but I do it just for fun. It is fun to do, and it goes back to the social aspect that I like about gaming. You can engage with your audience and talk to people while you play games. I grew up watching other people play games, so I thought it might be interesting to turn that around and let people watch me play games. I also quickly found out that streaming is quite exhausting. I never knew gaming could be this tiring. Haha.

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

Lisa: Favorite thing is whenever you win that boss battle or get a shot right or whatever, you get to celebrate with the viewers. It makes it way more fun. My least favorite thing is the pressure of doing well or being funny, etc. When you see your views go down or see no one commenting, you start doubting yourself. Letting that part go is hard at times.

Streaming on Twitch, Lisa nails a headshot from far away and celebrates! 

And if you wanna talk about part of being a female streamer, I sometimes notice people in my stream say things like: “You look good,” “You’re hot,” etc. It is, of course, nice to receive those compliments, and I’m not bothered with it. But I do wonder why I never see that in the streams of a male streamer. If you look at the bigger picture, I think that too often, women are judged more (and maybe get more views) on how they look, and men get more judged on how good they are at the game or how funny they are.

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? 

Lisa:  Interesting question. I don’t look at games like that: something I achieved. I play for fun, and if I had fun, then that is the achievement I got out of it. When I had my first Fortnite kill, I was really happy, though! I really suck at aiming, and I think it took me 30 games to get the first kill. Maybe the real achievement in gaming is that I can tell my friends now without any shame that I game and that it is something to be proud of, instead of something that is a bad habit.

Michelle: Honestly, beating Lazarevic in Uncharted 2 on Crushing has to be on the top of that list.  That boss fight was SO HARD.  I play games for the enjoyment of escaping reality and haven't focused much on trophies.  I enjoy the feeling of getting into a new game and finishing it in general.

Lazarevic’s boss battle in Uncharted 2 is brutal on the Crushing difficulty. 

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?

Lisa: I think it needs to keep changing to show every aspect of diversity until everyone finds everything normal. That it won’t be something extraordinary when, for example, a transgender person is the main character. I think we have a long way to go in order to achieve that. Until then, I think we need to keep talking about the subject in articles like this to make people aware.

Michelle:  I would actually like to see more acknowledgment of the achievements of the voice actors.  Also, the developers and those who spend their lives perfecting the mechanics, environments, and stories that we as a population dive so deeply into need more recognition.  Gaming is such a unique experience for every person, depending on so many factors. The resounding constant is that they are a fantastic escape from reality that these engineers create, and we need to be able to know who they are and thank them for our endless hours of fun and enjoyment.

 Wow! Talking with Lisa and Michelle has given me a new perspective on a few things about being a female gamer. Being online, whether playing competitively or streaming, can be exhausting and intimidating at times. Lisa definitely has a great, well-rounded view of streaming as an extension of the fun she has while playing the games she enjoys. She can share the experience with her friends as her brother shared those experiences with her that led her to gaming. 

 Michelle didn’t notice the gender gap or feel that women were underrepresented in games since she had her sisters as fellow gamers and had icons like Lara Croft to play as growing up. She enjoys the challenge of beating games like Uncharted 2 on the hardest difficulty, which gives her a real sense of gaming accomplishment. Bringing acknowledgment to the people who drive the gaming industry and create these fun escapes from reality is something we all wish to see more of in the future. 

 Keep an eye out for the final part of our series with two more Replayer/Spuddies! 

Counting Diapers and Judging Poop

Hey ya’ll!  I know it’s been a while since you’ve been able to read anything from my wonderful fingertips, but I promise I have a solid excuse!  I have been a little busy bringing a new #replayer (now Couch Potato?!) into the world!  This article will be a little different from the usual pop culture content we are accustomed to.  Read on to find out!

As mentioned above, I recently became a Mom!  This is my first child, and I am a first-time mom (no step-children, etc.).  I had quite the adventurous pregnancy, as well as delivery and postpartum journey, so join me in re-living it!  I found out I was pregnant on the way home from West “By God” Virginia immediately following Thanksgiving, deer meat on board muahaha.  Through several doctor appointments, virtual celebrations, and fun announcements, it was finally July!  With a due date of Aug 4, the time was near!

Exhaustion at its finest

I ended up getting induced and giving birth on July 24.  My pregnancy, labor, and delivery journey can be another article. This one will start with bringing our little man home (that’s right, it’s a boy)!  Becoming a mom has been the most challenging task I have ever encountered in my life.  As someone who was in the military, played lots of sports, had several injuries, and grew up in WV, this transition has been the most significant upheaval of everything I have ever known.  My life has gone from sipping wine and counting carbohydrates in my meals to chugging water to up my milk supply and counting soiled diapers in a matter of days.  We now have this tiny human that they sent us home with, with zero supervision and no instruction manual.  What in the hell are we doing?!

The answer?  No one actually knows.  The sharp transition into parenthood is intense and quick.  One of the reasons I believe it is so abrupt is the Hollywood twist given to pregnancy and parenting.  We grow up with the thought that pregnancy and birth are shining with rainbows and unicorns.  My extreme halt to that thought was when I needed extra doctors simply due to a pre-existing condition that turned into a blanket term.  (I am a Type 1 Diabetic.  I have an insulin pump and am fully controlled.  I ended up having even better control during pregnancy despite the gloom and doom doctors expecting otherwise).

None of this is meant to deter or scare anyone.  Pregnancy is a BEAUTIFUL gift that few people can naturally experience, as is parenthood and bringing a child into this world.  The issue is that it is SUCH a beautiful and precious gift that people simply end up ignoring or refusing to discuss its difficulties and challenges for new parents.  I heard a lot of “it gets easier” and “it gets better.”  When you’re in the trenches of new parenthood, that sounds like forever!  I quickly discovered that there are very few resources out there for what is called the 4th trimester.  The best and most valuable resource?  Our parents.  My mom was here from the beginning, as was my fiancé’s mom.  I had my sister here to help watch pets, my dad traveled in for the birth, and the in-laws were there for help and babysitting.  We were able to have meals cooked and laundry done by all the helping hands because my fiancé and I were always complete zombies.  It seems like an accomplishment to simply go to the bathroom like a normal person, let alone get a shower.  What is a shower anyway?! 

FINALLY some sleepy cuddles

The sleep deprivation is real, starting in the hospital.  I heard that pregnancy was nature’s way of preparing us for the baby since sleep is so rare in the 3rd trimester. (Can confirm, I barely slept most of June and all of July thanks to heartburn and general discomfort).  However, there is nothing like sleep deprivation after having a child.  You’re up all hours, caring for this demanding creature, without actually knowing what it needs.  You go through the checklist: diaper changed, fed, burped, comfort measures.  What else does it need?!  This is when the parents mentioned above come in handy (because you definitely don’t yet feel like parents  *starts googling when parenthood kicks in*).  When you’re able to hand the baby off to someone much more experienced, and the baby quiets down, you feel both accomplished and deterred.  “What was I doing wrong?”  “Good job Grandma!”  “Does the baby prefer Grandma’s smell over mine?”  “How insulting; it was inside me for 9 months!”  “But he stopped crying. Maybe I can sleep!”  And on and on it goes.  The beautiful thing is we are now in the place of “it gets better.”  It took about 7 weeks, but Chicken Little is now sleeping through the night!  We have a solid bedtime routine, he goes down between 10 and 11, and sleeps until about 8!  Before this long stretch happened, and I got my first 4 hour stretch of sleep, I woke up a whole new woman.  Now we get 8?!  So, new parents out there, IT DOES GET BETTER!

What I’m learning while parenting is that it’s full of contradictions.  You’re told to sleep when the baby sleeps.  How will anything else get done?!  Everything else can wait.  Learn to not live in a pigsty just to have a baby and live in a pigsty because we have to sleep when the baby sleeps and can’t clean.  Grow up being told to shower and not stink just to have a baby and have no time to shower and end up stinking.  This leads me to my next weird point.  THE HORMONES.

Oh sure, you can put your hand anywhere

Let me tell you, pregnancy hormones are no joke.  You just spent 9 months creating life, so of course, the body goes through major changes and adjustments.  Now that the baby is out?  The body goes through those changes it went through for 9 months in approximately 4 weeks.  All of those hormones come rushing out and in the form of sweat (and tears and other fluids, but we’ll stick to the sweat here).  I don’t mean cute, glistening wisps of sparkle.  I mean buckets of sticky, cold saltwater that looks like you just crawled out of the ocean.  You wake up drenched, everything sticking to everything, hair wet, underwear slippery on the muggy atmosphere created under the covers (so gross).  I woke up at one point and got out of bed to care for the baby, and my body print was in the sheets.  SOAKED INTO THE SHEETS.  You could actually see where my leg was bent and my arm was stretched out.  I started sleeping on a towel after that.  Your partner looks at you like you’re either dying or disgusting, or both, and we’re just supposed to live like that for a few weeks because it’s ‘normal.’  I will say, though, that 2 months in and the sweating has calmed down, and I’m no longer drenching my bed sheets.  Things are slowly resolving themselves!

Accio MILK!

The hormones also play a significant role in the breastfeeding aspect.  Breastfeeding has been a journey entirely on its own.  I knew I wanted to breastfeed and went into it thinking it was something completely natural and instinctive for both the baby and me.  Another hard reality slap here!  We both have to learn how to breastfeed.  Say whaaaa?!  You mean the baby doesn’t come out of me and just know how to latch?  I have to learn how to hold this awkward creature from the black lagoon to help him?!  Oy vey.  And learn we did.  The hospital has people specifically hired to help, called lactation consultants.  What they don’t tell you about these wonderful and helpful individuals (they truly are, no sarcasm there) is that they care very little about your personal bubble.  They are there to do a job, and boy, do they do it!  You quickly learn that your body is still not yours to take back just because you gave birth.  They come in and show you how to self-express, and by show you, I mean they grab that boob and do it for you, repeating and repeating until you get the gist.  What is personal space?!  Intimacy?  Is that even a word after childbirth?

So sweet...when he’s sleeping!

I learned that due to being a Type 1 diabetic, my milk would take longer to come in.  I did not know that beforehand.  The very first bit of milk a baby gets from a breastfeeding mother is called colostrum.  They call this liquid gold, as it contains the required nutrients and antibodies for the baby’s first few days of life.  I was successful with that, but latching, in general, was a challenge and the entire breastfeeding aspect was not as innate as I first suspected.  The first few weeks were so frustrating. Between not producing enough, painful latching before building calluses, and fussiness in general, I was ready to stop and make the switch to formula.  I know many people who start with formula, which is absolutely ok, and I can see why.  We had to supplement at first, and the societal pressure put on breastfeeding makes you feel like a failure.  Like you’re doing your child a disservice.  I now know the phrase “Fed is Best,” and I 100% agree.  As long as the child is alive and not withering away, there is no disservice being done.  I am happy to say we are 10 weeks in and going strong with breastfeeding, though I look forward to when he begins solid foods!  It seemed to just click one day, where it no longer hurt; he latched and got plenty of food.  Eventually, we stopped making bottles because he was getting enough from me (finally!)  For solid foods in the future, we will attempt a method of introducing food called baby-led weaning, which also means I will still be the primary source of nutrition for my little hungry monster.  Since breastfeeding has improved so drastically (we both have the hang of it now, and I'm even building a freezer stash, something I truly didn't think was possible at first), I can see how it is such a bond for mother and child, and dare I say I actually enjoy it?  Yes, I do (as I’m typing with one hand since he is latched currently, ha!).

I know this is not the usual “pregnancy was amazing, and my child is the light of my life” type of story, but that’s intentional.  Childbirth is HARD.  The newborn phase is strictly survival mode where eating and peeing seem like privileges and tremendous accomplishments.  There are growth spurts that create a fussier baby.  There are no such things as errands or quickly leaving the house for anything.  There is just you and this new tiny bundle trying to learn how to live together and learn this new scary phase of both of your lives.

Can you relate to any of this?  Does this make anyone excited for children?  Let me know in the comments!

Emotions in Gaming: Hit or Miss?

I feel like the color wheel that I learned in primary school may have a few gaps that need to be filled in. I mean, the basics are all there; happy, sad, mad, scared, excited, but there are so many more emotions that life throws at us – depression, anxiety, arousal, the unique hell that is hangry, and the true fear and desperation that grips you after the triple-layer chili bean burrito kicks in 1 hour into a 2-and-a-half-hour road trip.

That particularly exciting pants-shitting incident aside, the point I’m trying to get across is that humans have a lot of emotions (which we don’t always deal with in the healthiest of manners). As an explicit outlet for our creative impulses, the artistic world tries to elicit responses from its audience by tapping into these emotions.

Movies, television, novels, and most of pop culture seem to have this sort of stuff down pat by now, but as a younger medium, it feels like video games are much more hit or miss.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely games that deliver the old one-two emotional gut punch that knocks you off your feet and keep kicking you while you’re down. Hell, I bawled my eyes out during that scene with Aunt May in the hospital in Spiderman and the end of Infamous 2 like everybody else. I rewatched both these scenes prior to writing this and it still brings me to tears.

Yes games have long aspired to reach the emotional heights of their older brethren film and television and now that people are becoming more comfortable with the idea that video games can be art we have begun to see some games reach these lofty goals. The “some” in that sentence is doing a lot of lifting there so let’s unpack.

Where film and television can keep a psychotic death grip on the pacing through the use of leaving stuff on the cutting room floor and only picking the most essential parts (and keeping the rest to add in for the eventual Directors Cut), video games don’t have that luxury.

As a medium where the audience has an unprecedented level of control on the proceedings of the game it’s impossible for developers to ensure the experience is the same for everyone.

As a result the developers can dump all the story into the worldbuilding and crowbar it in as exposition in between gameplay (the original Titanfall being a prominent example). That’s not a story, that’s being dictated to.

When I play games, I don’t want to be told to feel a certain way about the events and what’s happening to the characters just because the developers say I have to. That’s just lazy storytelling or poor planning.

The first time I really encountered this was in the indie game This War of Mine. For those of you that haven’t played This War of Mine, you’re running a survivor’s colony in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world where this war is a big nebulous cloud hanging over everything as you just try to avoid getting swept up into it.

You start out by scavenging and looting abandoned stores and houses, but you can only loot sweet shops for so long. Eventually, you have to graduate from robbing the deceased to robbing from the very alive and armed.

This culminates in a harrowing moment early on in the game when you’re looting an old man’s house, and he catches you in the act. At first, you think he’s going to attack you but then you realize he’s no threat and can only whine as you nick all his stuff.

It was heartbreaking watching as my character stripped the old man's means of survival right out of his withered, bony hands. Knowing that he would surely perish because of my actions made me tear up a little.

That raw emotional goodwill that the game had built up curdled somewhat when a bit later in the game, my scavenger got gunned down raiding a military base. Assault rifles being much more effective than a game of paper, scissors, rock.

I returned to the bunker down one scavenger and the people in the camp flicked their emotional levers from “whining about the lack of food and the existential dread of their situation in life,” to “sad and whining about the lack of food and the existential dread of their situation in life”.

I don’t know why they were so sad. I’d never seen any of them so much as talk to the guy let alone play any soul-bonding sessions of Jenga together. I didn’t have the backstory or the relevant context on their relationship that I needed to care about them.

Compare that to Red Dead Redemption 2 and the (spoiler) death of Arthur Morgan’s horse. I’d watched Arthur Morgan and his horse bond and grow closer as a result of my own direct actions. I’d survived shootouts and outrun bandits and the law from one end of the US to the other on the back of my trusty steed. I’d seen that and had that context so that when I watched my beloved horse stumble and die all those memories and experiences were right there to emotionally break me. I felt the pain of Arthur as he watched his trusty steed leave him.

You can’t just tell someone they’re sad; they have to feel it; they have to absorb those feelings and process them in a way that’s personal to them. Their personal experiences and context inform all of their emotional responses. Let me explain (or try to with the grace of an alpine skier navigating an apartment stairwell during a fire).

I love the Uncharted franchise. I think it's some of Naughty Dog’s best work and it’s a game series that I can always boot up, sit back, and enjoy. The first time I finished Among Thieves (the franchise’s best entry) the tears were rolling down my face just like the end credits. I didn’t even realize why I was crying until after I met Nolan North and told him what happened, much to his understandable confusion (also got some great selfies with him like the one below).

I had just spent a great twelve hours experiencing a great game controlling Nathan Drake through a globe-trotting adventure capped off with an absolute thrilling boss fight that I definitely didn’t squeal like a pig during, and now it was all over. It was all over, and I’d never experience that for the first time ever again.

If the game had then flashed up a message in the sky that said: “Game Over, you be sad now,” all the emotional weight the game had built up would have sucked right back into me like a traumatic reverse childbirth.

A game that I think does this really well is Spec Ops: The Line. It’s the only war shooter that’s made me feel fear, guilt, and physical sickness. As you pilot Captain Martin Walker on his descent through a ruined Dubai, you become less a pilot and more like a witness to the horrible acts Walker commits, acting as the last vestige of consciousness.

The game puts you in horrible situations, gives you choices where the only difference is the degree to which Walker continues to spiral downwards, and gives you the freedom to make that choice. Then the game moves on and leaves you to come to terms with the undoubtedly horrible war crime you committed.

The best part is that the game never sits you down after these acts and explicitly states what emotions the characters are feeling. It trusts you enough to be able to figure it out; mind-blowing concept as that is.

Shadow of The Colossus, The Last Of Us, Red Dead, Bioshock. These games aren’t scared to push emotionally complex themes and ideas on their audiences and just leave them to figure it out for themselves.

For me, that’s what this all comes down to. The emotions we feel don’t come from the games themselves. Sure, the games bring out these emotions in us but ultimately, the emotions come from us and our personal context.

The frustrating thing is that I feel like the majority of the triple-A video game industry just expects that if they throw in enough elements that worked in other games, the audience will magically feel all those same emotions just because they’re there.

It’s like looking at a beautiful sculpture that an artist poured blood, sweat, and tears into, then taking a marble slab and hacking at it with a chainsaw all with the expectation that the end result will stack up anywhere close to the original.

Pure insanity. 

What game gave you a case of the feels? Let me know down below.

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part III - Featuring Maria Kinnun & Jen Miller

I had a great discussion with Maria and Jen about their personal experience with gaming and how their experience had changed over the years as video games evolved.  For Maria, gaming has played a large part of her life from an early age as she and her siblings anticipated the newest releases throughout the years. Jen also got an early start but took a bit of a break from the gaming scene for a portion of her 20s. She has since rediscovered her passion for gaming. 

We talked about the industry shift from marketing to mainly male players to seeing a significant rise of strong female lead characters that we can relate to for one reason or another. We’ll also talk about their experience with streaming and how it can be challenging at times. But at other times, it can be rewarding and helpful to overcome social anxieties and be more comfortable with being vulnerable. 

Let’s get a little history from two more of our fellow Replayers: 

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

The Amstrad CPC 464 was the start of Maria’s gaming journey.

Maria: My parents bought an Amstrad CPC 464. It was a tape-driven computer and had simple games on it. My first ever game was Harrier Attack. Terrible game, but it was the start of a long journey of fun. I pretty much started as that little sister player 2 but carried it on all the way through my life. Since then, I have owned most of the major consoles and have been gaming ever since.  I was often a player 2 sidekick to my older brother, and we would spend many a night battling through games. We didn't have internet or social media, so our game time was our biggest pastime. It just naturally seemed to become a way of life. It was exciting waiting for that new game, that new console. There was always something new on the horizon and something to be excited about. Gaming has been a big part of my childhood and now into adulthood, too.

 

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego for the Tandy 1000

Jen: I started out with a Tandy 1000 computer at my grandma's when I was 3 or 4, playing King's Quest, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. I also played a lot of NES and Sega Genesis when I was a kid. I took a break from gaming for most of my 20s, then I won an original Xbox from Taco Bell and got an original Playstation for Christmas where I played Spyro the Dragon for days. I can’t recall a specific influence, except for maybe watching the movie The Wizard when I was a kid. I was amazed at Super Mario 3, and it's still one of my favorite retro games.

 

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 them? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Pirates and puzzles in Monkey Island offer hours of entertainment.

Maria: I loved puzzle adventures. Monkey Island was my favorite game for a long time. I loved Pirates and treasures so naturally, I fell in love with the Uncharted series. I have always loved story-driven games and games with exploration. I do like a good old FPS though. It's kinda satisfying just blowing stuff up, ya know!

 

I like challenges in puzzles and mind games, things I have to think about and dwell on. For me, gaming is kind of a way to flex my brain muscles and escape the world for a bit. I like games that are relaxing but I prefer games with a driven story. I tend to get distracted too much when there isn't a goal or mission. Games that require grinding or farming lose my interest after a while. When I was younger I did enjoy more simulation games and builders such as Sim City. As I have become busier in life, my time to game is a little more precious and I am usually looking for something with a quick fix, not something I have to dedicate too much time to. I am also a magpie and like new shiny things so I tend to move on to something different if it seems to give me a quicker fix. I do like survival horror too. I'm a horror geek.

 

The classic combination Mario Bros & Duck Hunt cartridge

Jen: On the original NES I played a lot of Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt, but I also loved (and also hated) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were challenging enough, but also fun to play.

 

I feel like my preference has evolved as games have. I started out playing original games for NES, Atari, and Intellivision. Now I mostly play first-person shooters and open-world exploration games. I really enjoy a good storyline but graphic quality is also extremely important to me. Games like The Last of Us and Uncharted are my favorites.

Who's your favorite turtle?

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

Maria: I feel like girls have always played games but there was always more of a focus of it being a boy toy. I felt you were the weird girl if you gamed. I played games growing up and was labeled as a "tomboy" for doing so. Video games were something that boys talked about, and girls who played games talked about it with the boys. I knew a few girl gamers growing up but it was kind of a secret passion that they didn't really talk about in fear of being ridiculed by the girl society. Us girls were supposed to play with hair and dolls, not murder monsters and be heroes! It does feel like lately, more girls are coming into the limelight as serious gamers. With such platforms as Youtube and Twitch, girl gamers are coming out more and being seen. It still does seem to be a male-dominated market but I can see that the tables are slowly turning and it is a nice thing to see.

Jen: I honestly didn't pay a lot of attention until I saw memes about "fake girl gamers". I've noticed since then the momentum of getting more female gamers in the spotlight, and it's been really nice to see.

 

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

Ellie from TLOU2 has inspired and challenged the typical strong lead mold for video games moving forward.

Maria: I loved Ellie in the Last of Us. She just felt real to me and someone I could relate to and her way reminded me of myself. The fact that she was a girl and she was a "normal" girl, was refreshing. Her “girlness" didn't really come into play in the way she acted. She never felt like she couldn't do something and was always looking to stand up and fight her own battles. To me also, it helped that her character wasn't sexualized to sell her and make her appealing. Her character was strong. Lara croft comes to mind also but I did feel that the original Lara was made for boys. I still think that it was awesome that game creators took a chance with her to have a female lead do everything the guys could and pave the way for a strong female hero. I also loved Abby in TLOU2!

Jen: Laura Bailey is so incredibly talented in everything she does, Ashley Johnson has always been an amazing actor. Felicia Day...what can I say about her that hasn't been said. And my fellow Replayers who stream, you all inspire and motivate me every day. Please keep it up!

 

 

 

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. 

Maria: I do! There are a few games I could name where a female was a lead but I feel like that has increased a lot recently. I would love to see more female characters leading the adventures and being cool, just like the guys! I would also like to see female characters being taken more seriously and not just eye-candy. I think we are all a little tired of the skimpy suits of armor for our female characters.  I love that games are moving that way and there are some really good female leads coming into play. I like that a female character isn't just being included as a side character but as the main star. I also love seeing more women in the business too, being the minds behind these games. I would love to see more girls in the gaming industry

Jen: I was extremely excited when Horizon Zero Dawn came out, having a female protagonist in an open-world game like that was incredible. Tomb Raider/Lara Croft has always been a force to be reckoned with. And with Last of Us Part II being driven by the story of two strong, powerful women, made me feel so empowered.

 

Some of us are streamers: 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Maria: Mostly good, I have enjoyed the community that I have met and my experience has been a positive one. I feel that streaming has really helped with my social anxiety and has helped me grow confidence in my brand and myself. It can be hard. With life and everything else, it can be a little overwhelming at times and it can be hard to find the time to be consistent. I often don't feel like I want to stream but I always feel better once I do. It’s good fun!

Jen: It's fun, but also frustrating. I want to share my experience with certain games, but I don't always want to stream. When I do stream, I tend to do full playthroughs. Picking a time where I can get a lot of viewers is difficult due to having so many friends in different time zones.

 

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

Maria: I like being able to create a brand and have fun with it. It's nice to put yourself out there and have people follow and enjoy what you do. This can be good and bad. Putting yourself out there can make you feel very vulnerable. If you are someone who may struggle with confidence, like I do, this can be a little overwhelming. I love chatting with people in streams, even if I am streaming or watching. It's fun meeting new people and sharing an experience with them. Overall I really enjoy the communities I have found.

Jen: I love having friends come into chat to hang out, or give me advice on a game. It's always nice to have people cheering you on. I love sharing my experience with a game with others. My least favorite are the streams that no one comes to, or no one chats in. I seem to attract a lot of lurkers, but none of them follow or subscribe. It's a little disheartening.

 

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? 

Maria: Over the last year I have really been able to stick through some games to completion and that has been a lot of fun. I have been involved in Charity streams and even hosted them myself. That has been a real rewarding experience. For me, mostly, being able to grow confidence to actually stream is a big deal for me. I have social anxiety and to get to the point where I have put myself out there, exposed, and live has been a really big step for me and one I am proud of.

Jen: After years of not caring, I recently became a trophy hunter. I have a lot of consoles but play mostly on my PS4 and PS5. In just the last few months I've gotten Platinum trophies on 5 different games. I'm currently working on a few more.

 

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?

Maria: I would love to see more girls in the industry and more game creators, voice actors, animators etc get the credit they deserve for the work they do. I feel like the video game industry still isn't taken too seriously and so often the real talent behind these masterpieces is hidden. I would love for there to be more options and routes to get into gaming, more accessibility, and options for young people to take that step into the industry from a young age.

Jen: I would love to see a show like Retro Replay or Get Good featuring female streamers. I like popping into streams from people like Shannon Woodward, Felicia Day, and Jocelyn Mettler, but I haven't found exactly the content I'm looking for.

 

I had a lot of fun talking with Maria and Jen about video games and how they have become an integral part of our lives when it comes to our entertainment. I learned a lot about them and got to know some of my fellow Replayers better. I would recommend checking out their Twitch channels for some fun content. I am sure they’d love to say “hi” if you stopped by! 

 

Stay tuned for Part IV of our Candid Discussion with two more of our fellow Replayers!

 

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.