Seven Super Specific Questions to Spark Your Writing Talents

In the best case scenario, you’re off and writing, refreshed and inspired! The worst case scenario: you had fun!

There are no shortcuts to writing.

However, trying to power through a plateau where the thoughts aren’t flowing does an author no good and wastes precious time. I’ve found the best cure for writer’s block is to think super-specifically.

We’re you’re approaching the creative process from a new angle, you find yourself thinking around the problem. Hopefully this establishes a new and superior narrative than what would have previously been written. Think of it like bypassing an figurative electrical short.

I encourage you to choose a Super Specific Question and get started writing a post! In the best case scenario, you’re off and writing, refreshed and inspired! The worst case scenario: you had fun!


Super Specific Question #7

Describe a moment in your life — possibly a catastrophic one — when physics didn’t seem to work quite as expected.

Image

Super Specific Question #8

When was the last time you felt truly zoned in on a physical or mental task; as if your brain was operating on a higher level than normal?

Image

Super Specific Question #9

How much control do you believe you have over future events? Does each action radically alter the future, or does it take many actions to affect it even a little?

Image

Super Specific Question #10

Independent of meaning, what is a word or series of words that, to you, are pleasing to say or read?

Image

Super Specific Question #11

Tell a story describing your thought process as you perform a relatively ordinary task.

Here’s the twist: you’re actually a literal robot, and a fairly flawed one at that.

Image

Super Specific Question #12

You’re given two pieces of information.

  1. Extraterrestrials exist.
  2. Aliens have impacted Earth history exactly one time.

In what one event did aliens play a role?

Image

Super Specific Question #13

Have you ever changed your field of study? From what, and how many times?

Alternately, you can also tell about a radical career change.

Image

By the way, let me know if you took inspiration from a Super Specific Question. I’ll probably share it on Twitter!

Advertisement

Hidden Asteroid | Video Games That Don’t Exist (Yet)

An asteroid is on a collision course for a sleepy planet, and you, a helpful alien in a small craft, can help.

Have you ever thought of a video game you’d want to play, only to realize it doesn’t exist? Video Games That Don’t Exist (Yet) is a series where I do something about that. I’ll design the title screen and explore a potential story concept, then let some overachieving indie game developer take it from there! I encourage anyone to use the idea, but make sure to credit this article somewhere in your work as a source of inspiration.

Even deep space has nice people!

An asteroid is on a collision course for a sleepy planet, and you, a helpful alien in a small craft, can help. Hidden Asteroid plays like a detective game in space, where you must use clues to determine the asteroid’s location. You know it’s out there, you just have to find it because an asteroid is notoriously difficult to precisely detect. Once you find it, averting disaster is just a matter giving the asteroid a good nudge with your ship.

Each playthrough is one of 50 different mini campaigns that can be completed in a single sitting. Completing all of them gives the player one final challenge where they must divert three asteroids simultaneously.

The game has a chill vibe, doing everything possible musically and visually to underplay the high stakes. To the player, this isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s just a nice thing to do.

Hidden Asteroid, available now never.

MJ: The Character That Defines Nikki

If I would’ve had this version of MJ as a kid, I would have wanted to be her instead of Spider-Man, and that is why she is such an important character to me.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

In the buildup to the final Normal Happenings post, I’m pleased to have my amazing wife Nikki here to say her final farewells. She has been so supportive of me and my blogging pursuits over the past two years, and I am eternally grateful. Nikki, you have the floor. It’s time for your sendoff to this wonderful blogging community.

Stay tuned. My piece is coming up next.


1P START

As a kid I loved reading comic books. I had many of the Spider-Man comics, and I read them until I was about 14 years old. I also loved the Spider-Man animated show that came on. I watched a lot of different ones throughout the years, so don’t ask me which ones. I also loved the Spider-Man movies.

I adored Peter Parker, and quite frankly I wanted to be him. I never considered that it was strange for me to want to be a superhero that wasn’t the same gender as me until years later when an old friend from elementary school commented on how different it was for me to want to be Spider-Man/Peter Parker. I simply told them that I liked how he acted with his strong moral convictions, his want to help everyone that he could, his battles with real tragedy, and how he never allowed it to beat him.

For me male superheroes were always who I preferred to admire because I saw unattainable goals in many female superheroes during this time in my life. Often they were drawn with amazing bodies, and I didn’t see very many that had the same depth as their male counterparts.

I know many of you probably know way more about this topic than myself, and I am probably leaving out some very good more obscure examples, but in my limited experience I had my favorite superheroes for very specific reasons. I just wanted to be Spider-Man as a weird and shy kid that was trying to find her way in the world.

However, times have certainly changed since I was a kid. There are many great female superheroes that have true depth, and their looks are not the only thing that young girls will notice nowadays. They will see females who are strong and intelligent. They will not be disrespected due to their gender.

The superhero that I want to focus on is a character that was never a proper superhero, but rather a love interest and highly intelligent woman. In the most recent PS4 game Marvel’s Spider-Man, Mary Jane (affectionately known as MJ) was an actual playable character, and unlike past versions of MJ she seems to be in quite a healthy place with who she is. She is smart, and she shows Peter that she can be there to help him in many ways.

In one of my favorite parts, she jumps off a building for Peter to catch her after she does some investigative reporting. He doesn’t expect it, but he catches her anyway. She helps Peter with a ton missions throughout the game, and she is not the damsel in distress that we have seen in past video games, movies, shows, and comic books.

If I would’ve had this version of MJ as a kid, I would have wanted to be her instead of Spider-Man, and that is why she is such an important character to me personally. Before this game Spider-Man was doing all the leg work, but now he has a partner in crime (or, perhaps more accurately, justice). However you view a masked vigilante taking crime management into their own hands, to me Spider-Man (and other superheroes) have proven that anyone can help others. Now MJ gets to go on that list of heroes.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog, and for supporting my partner’s writing ambitions. I am grateful that he could share some of his innermost thoughts with all of you, and that you all listened to some of mine as well. I wish you all the best in life, and know that I will always remember his passions for this blog. I am so glad that you all helped him foster his creativity. So please be kind to each other and never stop being creative.

With all my respect,

Nikki

Roxas: The Character That Defines Chris Durston

I’m not gonna be defined by Roxas, or by anyone other than me.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

This will be the final guest post for The Characters That Define Us, but Nikki and Matt’s pieces remain.

Today we have the great Chris Durston, aka OverthinkerY. I don’t think I can not talk about the fact that Chris wrote a book, called Each Little Universe. Please be sure to check it our and support this accomplished author.

Speaking of writing a book, brace yourself. This piece is 7,500 words of pure contemplation. Please enjoy — we know you will.


1P START

I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of this for real, or not?
– Sora

A discussion of metaphysics is in order, I’m afraid.

Yeah, that’s probably not an opening sentence you were expecting to see, but there we are. Things don’t always turn out quite as we expect them to; otherwise, that sandwich I had for lunch the other day would have been way nicer. Besides, if everything always ends up being precisely what you thought it would be and no more, what’s the point of experiencing it at all? You don’t add anything to your knowledge or your experience; you don’t really gain anything at all. Doctor Manhattan gets terribly bored.

Fortunately, this won’t require too much in-depth ontological knowledge, or ‘ontowledge’ if you’re a fan of portmanteaus that make relatively little sense and sound rather clumsy but do at least have the word ‘owl’ in them so that’s something; I won’t be quizzing you on the difference between the identity of indiscernibles and the indiscernibility of identicals, so fear not. (I had a terrible professor for most of the metaphysics content during my philosophy degree, and I don’t think I shall ever quite be over it.) We’re talking about the way a fictional universe operates here, which means we only need to grasp a few key concepts before gettin’ to the good stuff.

In the world of the Kingdom Hearts franchise – well, worlds, so let’s use the term universe instead in service of clarity – there are a few fundamental elements which make up a being. All sentient creatures have bodies, souls, and hearts.

A body in KH is pretty much the same as it is in the real world, unless otherwise specified, so that’s all good.
A soul is… well, I’m using the term loosely. It could just as easily be mind. It’s what contains the being’s will, drives them to live, and allows them to effect their intentions on the world.
The heart is a mysterious and ubiquitous entity. It seems to be the most fundamental essence of being, something that gives being and is essential to it. People’s hearts consist of light and darkness, and having a strong heart allows a person to do all sorts of spectacular things. Hearts also form bonds, connections between people, and in the KH universe these connections aren’t just concepts (or notions, or just linguistic descriptors for relationships that don’t actually have an existence of their own as such), but real entities with real power.

There’s a lot more to it than that, as you might expect (and hoo boy, over the past seventeen years it’s got reeeaaal complex), but that’s about all we should need to cover on the ontological specifications of the KH universe for the time being. If anything else comes up, I’ll just wave at it and go ‘oh, hey, this be a thing, but don’t worry your happy noggin about it’ and we’ll all just have a great time.

What we do need to investigate just a bit further is what happens when one of those three elements is missing. In fact there are a few permutations of things that can happen to individuals depending on the particulars of what peculiar and unexpected things happen to one or more of their body, mind, and heart, but for our purposes here we’re primarily concerned with entities with no hearts.

An empty vessel whose heart has been stolen away … Nobodies do not truly exist at all.
– Yen Sid

When a being loses their heart, the empty shell left behind becomes a ‘Nobody’. (Ignore the fact that they’re called ‘no-bodies’ but still have bodies. The ‘Heartless’ are literally just hearts and nothing else; just roll with the terminology!) Their body remains, devoid of the most important element of existence (or being) in this universe: the heart is the thing that connects them, that makes them real, that marks who and what they are and bestows presence upon them. It’s sort of as if a person in our world had somehow lost… I don’t know, their atoms or their gravitational fields or something. It’s impossible to imagine how this entity would continue to maintain any sort of existence, and we would probably say that by definition they did not exist, since all of the ways we have to measure the existence of something would come up empty. Yet let’s just imagine that somehow, in some way, despite this, they’re still here.

This is what a Nobody is, in Kingdom Hearts terms. They have lost that which makes them part of the universe in the most fundamental sense, and so are considered by most characters (themselves included) not to exist at all, really.

I am but a mere shell.
– Xemnas

Most Nobodies become weird little flitting things which gyrate with strange geometries and wander intentionless like scraps of grey cloth on the wind. They’re just there to get beaten up, really.

Those with strong wills, though, those with a really solid image in their minds and souls of who they are and what their intentions are, create more powerful Nobodies. As a rule of thumb, the stronger of will a Somebody (that’s the person with all three of their components), the more humanoid and the more dangerous the Nobody they leave behind. It’s no coincidence that the weakest varieties of Nobody are bizarre shapeshifting blobs of goo, while the deadlier versions of these peculiar mooks are much more person-shaped. The strongest of all might be completely indistinguishable from a human (or, I suppose, from a duck: would Donald Duck have, like, a duck-shaped Nobody, or a gijinka-y duckperson one?).

This brings us, at last (sighs of relief, I’m sure), to Roxas.

You… you were never supposed to exist, Roxas.
– Naminé

Roxas is an extremely powerful Nobody, perhaps among the very most powerful ever to exist – well, not exist… you know what I mean. He’s the Nobody of the Kingdom Hearts franchise’s primary protagonist Sora, in fact, who has an exceptionally strong heart and will. Long story short, Sora deliberately removed his heart from his body near the end of KH1 in order to free another heart which also happened to be hangin’ out inside him: that of Kairi, for whom he’d been searching for most of the game’s story. Not knowing at the time that Nobodies were a thing, Sora didn’t learn that Roxas had been created at this moment until quite a while later; in a very unusual case, Sora was able to keep existing as himself for a time, even while Roxas was off inhabiting his cast-off body and will, thanks to some help from Kairi (a Princess of Heart, which for our purposes just means she can do some pretty whacky things that will otherwise go largely unexplained).

The journey that Roxas goes through is one that a lot of players didn’t really like all that much at the time, come to think of it. Anyone who’s played KH2 will remember that the game opens with a several-hour prologue during which the player controls Roxas, not Sora (sort of like how Metal Gear Solid 2 put Raiden front and centre without any real explanation, although at least KH2 did hand the starring role back to Sora after the prologue), and this is something that was pretty weird at the time. Without the benefit of 358/2 Days – a game that wasn’t to release until three years after KH2 and which would be ignored by a fair chunk of the fanbase due to its being exclusively on Nintendo DS – and with many KH2 first-timers having not played or not even noticed the existence of Chain of Memories on Game Boy Advance (not that CoM gave a huge amount of insight into Roxas, but it didn’t help), many people felt a bit… deflated by the spotlight being on Roxas. The later developments during KH2’s narrative help somewhat, giving him a place in Sora’s story, but Roxas himself was a bit opaque, coming across perhaps as a slightly flat character, until we got to know a bit more about… well, his entire life history.

Born on Day 1, Roxas found himself in Twilight Town, a strange in-between place. He was quickly discovered by Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII: that’s the group of the very strongest Nobodies, including all known Nobodies who were strong enough to appear completely human. (One imagines that the group might have had to keep changing its name as more members joined, although for reasons that don’t become apparent until much later it turns out that thirteen was always the intended membership.) Xemnas gives Roxas his name, taking the letters of ‘SORA’ and rearranging them before adding the Organization’s signature X, and then takes Roxas in as the baddie bunch’s newest member. From his beginnings in the Organization Roxas is told that he, like the rest of them and like all Nobodies, has no heart.

I have a right to know who I am.
– Roxas

Roxas’s role within the Organization is to collect hearts by destroying Heartless using the Keyblade, a strange weapon he has the ability to wield on account of his status as Sora’s Nobody. (Presumably.) His mission is to help them amass enough hearts to build a huge dense mass of them and allow the Organization to synthesize a new Kingdom Hearts, which is a big ol’ heart-shaped moonish thing that will, so says Xemnas, give the Organization real hearts. They can exist; they can be real. There’s a peculiar tension between this stated goal of the Organization and their apparent opinion of hearts, which tends to be something along the lines of ‘hearts are dumb and useless and so are feelings’; at one point a member says that it is remembering what it felt like to feel things that makes the humanoid Nobodies so dangerous, because they understand how to exploit that as a weakness in those with hearts. It’s a condescending ‘I don’t need no heart’ sort of perspective.

The reason this tension is apparent is because the Organization lies to Roxas about everything. He’s not the only one, to be fair; a triumvirate made up of Xemnas and his most trusted lackeys Xigbar and Saix consistently deceive every other member as to the group’s true goals. Roxas, for his part, has little choice for much of his early life but to go along with the Organization’s instructions and its plan for him: he’s not got much of an option except to take it as read that they are being open and transparent, and frankly it wouldn’t make much of a difference whether they were or not, ‘cos what else is he gonna do?

Roxas is made to feel powerless: that he has nothing. That he is, in a very literal sense, nothing. It’s a really good scam, actually: take this guy who’s just been born and has no sense of what it is to exist, what it feels like to have emotions, what the experience of doing anything is like, and tell him that he doesn’t even have the capacity for any of those things. He’ll believe it, and if he starts feeling as if any of it’s not right then he’s most likely to simply disregard his own internal development, blaming it on the fact that he’s wrong in existential terms. If he starts considering that he might actually have emotions, the most likely reaction is for him to chalk it up to remembering what that was like or simply experiencing an intellectual reaction to the rather unpleasant idea of not having a heart, which seems like self-evidently not the best thing. It’s indoctrination of a particularly aggressive and potent variety.

In other words, Roxas is in this horrible little spiral wherein he’s repeatedly told that he doesn’t exist and is incapable of feeling emotions or connections; any time he starts to get an inkling of those feelings, he believes it’s just due to him being even more messed up as a being, making mistakes about his own internal states, and develops a barely repressed self-loathing that only increases in intensity. The more Roxas hates himself, the easier it is for the Organization to tell him how worthless (because by definition something that doesn’t exist can’t have worth, after all) and terrible he is, and thus send him further into a state of semi-catatonic compliance.

It’s not a sham. And neither am I.
– Xion

There’s another character just as worthy of almost this exact same discussion, in fact, and I very nearly picked her as my subject for this piece instead. (If you’re wondering what deciding factor prompted me to pick Roxas over her (it’s nothing to do with gender, actually (I’ve never really found that I identify more with characters who are superficially ‘like’ me in terms of appearance or cultural background (and in fact I almost always choose to play as a female character from an unusual heritage if I have any sort of say in the matter (I’m aware that some people do this mostly so they can enjoy looking at butts (can you imagine if Miranda was a playable character in Mass Effect? (Or ME2 or whichever’s the one she first appears in.) I bet someone’s modded that already.), but that’s really not much of a factor for me (well, okay, maybe from time to time (I mean, I’m gonna go look for that mod now))) – in Skyrim, for example, I have several female characters from various races and for whom my headcanons usually involve life experiences hugely different from my own), although I do understand and have advocated for greater representation precisely for people who do want to see a character they can identify with in these ways) and in fact the character I have in mind is not quite technically female anyway, at least not to begin with)… well, I had to pick one of ‘em, and that’s about the only reason I can give!)

(Brief note: you may also be wondering what was up with that deluge of parentheses, and I’m sympathetic to your concerns: basically, I think there are a couple of people who’ve achieved the famed double-bracket in NormHapCollab history, and I was like… there’s a statistic there. Admittedly it’s one which almost nobody else probably even realises is a statistic up for the measurin’, but ‘number of nested brackets’ is a bit of collectable data on these things and therefore I want the record! Hence… the above. I mean, ‘you do you’ is basically the big overarching theme of this piece, so I feel that doing something harmlessly dumb purely because I felt like it is on-message here.)

Xion is the fourteenth member of Organization XIII, and perhaps the strangest. Her metaphysical situation is even more complex than Roxas’, unfortunately, so let’s just kind of gloss over it for now. Suffice to say that she’s told repeatedly and incessantly that she exists even less than the rest of them, and her self-identity is so fractured that she even looks like a different person depending on who’s looking at her. She’s completely broken within about two days of being born.

In the end, it’s a meeting of two people (because, as we’ll come to very shortly, they are people) who couldn’t be in a worse place in terms of self-worth and confidence that leads to both of them overcoming all the considerable rubbish that the universe has thrown in their direction: Roxas and Xion – and ensemble dark horse Axel, but while he’s not unimportant to the story he’s kind of outside the scope of this piece – form a real, genuine connection with each other. They go through stuff together, they find shared interests or make new ones, they moan about their bosses. I do think that what they have is love, albeit not at all of a romantic or sexual kind. I also think, just as an aside, that fiction and fandoms often underestimate how awesome it is to genuinely love someone in a totally platonic way; that’s not to say that I would ever tell anyone that they shouldn’t ship and have a good time shippin’, but I often prefer thinking of relationships between characters whom others might see as being in love as being non-romantic, non-sexual, but still true love.

You might remember way back near the beginning of this piece when we touched on what the heart does. I said it was responsible for the connections between people and that those connections had genuine force behind them, properties that could actually affect the world rather than simply being a way of cognitively or linguistically categorising an abstract relationship between two subjects. Xion’s entire existence, in fact, is predicated on the power of these bonds. I said I wouldn’t go too deep into it, but it’s worth noting that her identity is basically contingent on Sora’s relationships with others (mostly Kairi), so she’s even worse off than Roxas in that the Organization can reinforce in her mind that not only does she not exist but whatever it is that she does do isn’t even hers but is defined by someone else. Anyway, with no hearts, how is it that Roxas and Xion can form a connection with one another?

Nobody… or anybody. It all depends on whether you choose to believe in me or not.
‘DiZ’

Well, long story short, turns out that Nobodies can actually grow hearts of their own, and cultivating bonds is kinda the way to do it. Not only is a heart the thing that forms those connections, but it is defined by them: it’s like how a tree, which grows and spreads roots, is built on the foundation of those roots. (Boring analogy, but I can’t think of a better one without way overcomplicating things, and I’ve done enough of that already. OR, ACTUALLY (heck, why not), think of, like, a mix of lots of different liquids in a bowl or something. The mix is the whole thing, which would continue to be a whole thing if you took away one of the individual liquid components (albeit possibly a different or changed thing), but you have to put at least a couple of liquids in the bowl in the first place or you can’t say there’s a mix there at all. Does that make sense? Probably not. Oh, well.) Perhaps from a slightly different perspective the story is in fact that, in beginning to form a connection, Roxas and Xion basically force the universe to let them have hearts. Like, you can’t have connections without a heart, but they’ve definitely got a connection, so the universe is all like aw heck better give ‘em hearts then.

It’s not just Roxas and Xion: in fact, every member of the Organization is entirely capable of growing their own hearts. The goal they think they’re working towards during KH2? They could achieve it any time on their own. Of course, their real goal is something that only a few of them know… but we’re getting off topic.

Roxas… are you really sure that you don’t have a heart?
Axel

So far, this has really just been a recap of Roxas’s life story and an annoyingly thorough yet still somehow barely-scratching-the-surface exploration of the peculiarities of the Kingdom Hearts universe. You’re probably all like ‘I thought this was about the characters that define people, not about the characters whose histories bore people to death’. Or, more likely, you’re not all like anything because you stopped reading about 1,500 words ago. OH WELL. This is my article (… which is being hosted very graciously on someone else’s website as part of the collaboration they’ve put together…) and I’mma do what I want! We’re getting there, though. Bear with me.

Despite everything he knows about himself and the world – he’s never heard any information that contradicts what the Organization’s indoctrination has made him believe – Roxas grows as a person to the point where he’s able to think critically about his situation, use reason and his emotions in tandem to come to a conclusion, and then do something about it. Roxas has a view of the universe and of his place in it that has been completely defined by lies he’s had no ability to doubt, but through working out what’s important to him – using both critical thinking and an internal sense of his own axioms on which to base his worldview – he’s able to break out of what seems like an impossible mental and emotional prison.

What follows next is a glorious roaring rampage, as Roxas unleashes the full power of a Keyblade wielder’s strength of heart on the Organization who kept him chained and desperate. All the fury and fear that was built up within him – emotions that had developed in the heart he was told he didn’t, and couldn’t, have – burst out in spectacular, and somewhat painful for those on the receiving end, fashion.

I’m not saying that I feel a strong sense of kinship with Roxas’s extraordinary strength and wrathful vengeance. I’m not a particularly vengeful person, nor one capable of physically obliterating my foes, but where I do identify with Roxas is in his unwillingness to be told how to feel, what to believe, or what’s important. Roxas decides these things for himself based on both rationality – he observes for himself things that happen, and deduces truths from that – and true emotion. I think those are two wonderful things that are unique to conscious, experiencing beings, and I think that when Roxas awakens to using those feelings and capacities he really becomes fully human in a big way. His own human, to boot.

There is so much to learn. You understand so little.
Ansem, Seeker of Darkness

The arc that traces the rest of Roxas’s story is complex and tragic. The misunderstanding that defined his early life pervades, sadly: he’s first taken against his will to enable Sora to awaken (the people trying to wake Sora are, despite not really being bad guys, just as quick as the Organization to write Roxas off as less of a real person, less as important, and not deserving of autonomy) and then eventually makes his own decision, after a fashion, to allow Sora to exist as a complete being again. Roxas continues to have his existence defined by the perception that he’s a no-hearted creature whose only purpose is to be used as means to another’s ends, whether that be Xemnas or Sora. Even Roxas himself comes to believe, at least to some extent, that this is the case and that he deserves life less than Sora does, that his own being is worth sacrificing.

Later, while he’s partly merged with Sora (but not fully, because as we know he does in fact have his own heart and so they can’t become a single being), he insists that he has no name and that he is Sora. It takes Sora believing in his humanity to lay the path for his eventual return… if that ever happens. (No KH3 spoilers – it was in all the trailers, and pretty clear in Dream Drop Distance, that Sora would be trying to make that happen!)

I still haven’t really covered why all this is relevant, though. Why have I picked Roxas as the character who defines me? What is it about him that I identify with, that feels relevant to my life? Why am I telling you all this, for heck’s sake?!

Look, I wasn’t planning to do a Whole History of Roxas, but I think almost all of it is more relevant than I’d realised. Perhaps you can identify with some of his journey; maybe you’ve struggled to define yourself, or have found yourself defined by a relationship to someone else. Perhaps you’ve been in a group that’s turned out not to be the best for you, and coming to terms with that and making the decision to leave was a difficult but defining experience. Perhaps a single friendship, one light in the darkness, has helped you to remember who you are and who you want to be.

All of these things are important, and I think Roxas is a far more well-rounded character than he sometimes gets credit for. He’s got his share of fans these days, but there’s still a bit of lingering ill will (if you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan, you may recognise that as sort of a joke, so you’re welcome) from his early days as an apparent replacement-but-not-as-good Sora. There are several aspects of his journey which I think have led a lot of people to feel a kinship with him to some degree, almost all of them to do in some way with what I think are essential and inevitable parts of the human experience.

No… Xion… Who else will I have ice cream with?
Roxas

Before we get to more traditionally-accepted constituents of the endless struggle that it is to be a conscious being, though, I wanna take a quick diversion to talk about ice cream.

If you’re a KH fan, or if you’ve ever been on social media around people who are KH fans, you probably know about the infamous scene at the end of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days in which Xion not only dies but is completely erased from existence in every way. She chooses to commit suicide-by-Roxas, effectively, forcing him to fight her until her being unravels so that she can contribute again to the whole that is Sora (because, as we’re examining, she just doesn’t realise yet that she is worthy of being considered a whole on her own), and because of her status as an entity defined by the memories of others she vanishes both from the world and from everyone’s recollection. Roxas holds Xion as she disappears, and by the time she’s faded away he can’t remember why he’s crying.

Unfortunately (according to some), before she’s entirely gone Roxas gets one of the most famously divisive lines of the whole franchise, asking who he’s supposed to have ice cream with if she’s gone. (The obvious answer is ‘Axel’, who’s presumably a bit miffed about the whole thing, but whatever.) A lot of people read this line as being incredibly narmy, a bizarre tone shift from the very serious events that happen either side of it: someone’s just died at the hand of their best friend and been immediately forgotten by everyone they know, while said best friend then pops off for a bit of rage-war culminating in his defeat and imprisonment, which kicks off the events of KH2 (which by this point don’t even seem all that tragic in comparison). However, remember that Roxas and Xion are, like, less than a year old each. They have almost no experience of relationships, or even of the world, and they believe themselves unable to form real connections or feel emotions.

The closest approximation, as far as they can tell, is the time they spend together eating ice cream atop the clock tower while the sun sets. It’s their only break from work, really, the only time they spend just being together with other people because that’s what they want to be doing rather than because they’re on some mission or other. It’s a time during which they build that connection which is truly powerful in the metaphysics of the KH universe and which causes, or at least helps, them to grow hearts and to become truly, fully existing entities all of their own. Ice cream is the only thing they have to cling to by which to understand what it means to be friends, to care for someone, to care for anything.

Others have made this point before, but I just wanted to go over it again. There’s a lot made in existentialist philosophy of the sheer absurdity of the universe, of how ultimately ridiculous it is that humans try to give meaning to anything, but that in the end a person acting on their will is itself important and bestows meaning. I think that the simple fact that Roxas has internalised the relevance of the ice cream in this context is a genuine act of will which proves him to be much more than a heartless husk.

We shook hands, in our hearts. We’re connected, you and me.
Mickey Mouse

For me personally, though, and returning to less snack-related things of universal relevance, Roxas and Xion are important because they help me to remember that I, an individual and a conscious being with the capacity to self-define, am not limited by what outside forces might try to make me. Nobody (heh) would truthfully answer their questions about who they were and what was happening in the world, so they went out to find those answers themselves.

I’m lucky to be able to say that I’ve not been in any situation quite as extreme or as difficult. However, I have changed my mind in the past, something which I think is the right of everyone who realises that they can’t, or don’t want to, sustain a particular position any longer. I think a lot of people (not you, of course, friendly reader) tend to think that changing one’s mind is a weakness, a sign that YOU WERE WRONG, and a sign of having lost an argument. I mean, it may well mean that you now think that you were wrong before, and perhaps it did come about because an argument persuaded you that your position was flawed, but in no way is that a weakness. We can’t all get it right the first time; only by being genuinely receptive to new ideas and evaluating others’ positions as well as our own can we ever learn anything new or get anywhere. Self-improvement isn’t losing, and even if it were I would counter that in this case being overly attached to ‘winning’ would be a misplaced priority.

One particular instance of changing my mind was more significant and more difficult than most of the others. I’ve already written about this at some length elsewhere (I alluded to it all the way back in ‘The Games That Define Us’, in fact, and later fleshed out the mention a little bit on OverThinkerY), so I don’t think I’ll rehash the whole thing again, but this is what the whole piece is sort of about so forgive me for retreading a little bit of familiar ground.

When I was about sixteen or seventeen, I went from being what I’ll call a ‘low-intensity’ Christian – someone who would identify as believing in God and Jesus and so on but who didn’t really do much about it – to a churchgoing worshipper, and then after just a few months of that to a nonbeliever. Not just a lapsed worshipper who still held faith, but someone who no longer believed that any of it was true. I’m still not totally sure what happened, to be honest. I’d been through two Church of England schools where Christianity was just the default, a state you were kind of assumed to be in and so lazily assumed yourself to be in because there wasn’t really much else in the way of options, so perhaps it’s not that surprising that after leaving school and entering a more secular college I decided to go to church to remain a part of that faith. I had friends at the church, and I made new ones, and it felt really good to be a part of that.

As I was getting more involved in Christian beliefs, I suppose they started to seem more real to me. They’d been abstract before, just kind of distant concepts that everyone alluded to but mostly ignored, but now they were an active part of my life and people around me genuinely, truly believed that these things were literally true and real. Maybe it was that increase in closeness that prompted me to wonder why I believed that God existed, that Jesus had died for my sins, that the words of the Bible were literally true. Maybe it was something else I just don’t remember now. I don’t know. Either way, I started to wonder why for what must have been the first time, at least in such an earnest and sincere way, and I came up with the surprising realisation that I had absolutely no idea.

Does it hurt ’cause it’s true? Grow up.
– Larxene

I don’t think I knew how to deal with that for some time. I went to church for maybe two more weeks after my epiphany, or reverse epiphany or whatever you want to call it, but I felt dishonest being there. I was a fake, a fraud among genuine people. A bad person among good people. At first perhaps that feeling came from some residual belief that I was now a heathen but that God was still real and that I was therefore a terrible sinner, but then it was just an empty sort of sadness at the prospect that I was the only person there pretending to be having these wonderful experiences and to be a part of the community.

I think I did try to talk to people before I left, but I don’t think anyone quite got it. ‘Everyone doubts,’ I remember being told, ‘because God tests everyone. You just have to believe that God will come through for you.’ I feel as if that rather missed the point: that I didn’t. (Not the last time I’ve had something very similar happen, and I expect other dirty nonbelievers may have had similar experiences: a thoroughly kind and well-meaning friend once asked me in disbelief how I could possibly be an atheist when I knew that that meant I would go to Hell. I told her that I didn’t believe Hell existed either, and she just seemed flabbergasted and said something like ‘… but you must!’. For the sake of fairness, she was and remains a reasonable person, willing to listen and to learn, and she and indeed many, many other people of belief have a better understanding of nonbelief than she did at the time.) I didn’t feel able to press anyone too hard, and that’s my failing rather than theirs, but I wasn’t able to get answers there and I knew I didn’t fit anymore. Reason and emotion both told me that I was not a part of this belief any longer, and so I did what I can still only hope was the most honest thing and left.

I lost two things almost instantly: the community and reassurance of the church (I maintained some of the friendships, but they were evermore just a little… awkward), and a whole system of beliefs about how things came to be, what would happen to me after I died, what had already happened to loved ones after they had died, what was right and wrong, what the purpose of existence might be… all of those things were now questions to which I would have to find my own answers. That was not easy, for reals.

Another word in the interest of fairness and decency: I am not saying that my relationship to the church was alike to Roxas’s relationship to the Organization. At all. They were, and I’m sure they remain, good people. They did not intentionally mislead me, entrap me, lie to me, or even make me feel bad for leaving. And I didn’t then unleash my full power and beat them all up with giant keys, so hopefully it’s clear that the situations are not analogous in any way that reflects negatively on either my church specifically or on any believer or religious person in general. I have absolutely nothing against any person on the grounds of their holding religious beliefs (although I reserve the right to find some actions or positions which may have been motivated or informed by those beliefs objectionable, but that’s just life: we don’t always agree all the time, and that’s OK!).

ANYWAY. Losing faith is not easy. It feels like everything that was important, all the really big things you thought you knew, are just sort of gone. To my great surprise, though, there was comfort to be found in something I’d loved dearly for several years: Kingdom Hearts.

Giving up already? Come on.
– Riku

I still can’t play KH2 or Days without feeling weirdly emotional about what’s going on – or, perhaps, weirdly personally invested. It took me a while – in fact, it took me participating in ‘The Games That Define Us’ – to realise why: Roxas and Xion are, ultimately, struggling to work out who they are, what they believe, and just what the heck is important in this life. That’s, like, a really human thing, and I think it’s something that all of us probably go through at some point. I know exactly when I went through all of those specifics, because there was a specific inciting event, but perhaps for most people it’s a bit more gradual.

Still, I don’t feel that I changed, fundamentally. I kept the same values, really, just with some different BIG-SCALE COSMOLOGICAL THOUGHTS underlying their foundations. Both reason and emotion were important in establishing what I did believe, now that I knew what I didn’t, but I remained the same person with the same… I don’t know, essence. The same heart, maybe.

Wink.

You ever wonder what stars are? Where light comes from?
– Ventus

There are a lot of things I like about Roxas (and Xion) as a character, but the thing for which I will always feel the most connected to him is his complete inability to accept that anyone other than him has the power to tell him who he is. I thought I was going to define myself by my relationship to God, and when that fell away I had to accept that I needed to define myself… some other way. Not by reference to any other person or being, but as me. These days I’m an extremely happy atheist; I have beliefs that I feel are consistent with the world and with the things that I think are important, and which allow me to express values like respect, curiosity, and compassion. (Worth noting again, as I always do whenever I use the word, that being an atheist doesn’t tell you anything about me other than that I don’t believe in any gods; every atheist has different views on morality, the universe, the meaning of life, the supernatural even. As I mentioned, losing a faith which had pre-sorted answers to all the Big Questions meant having to come up with my own answers to each of them separately, and I think each of us probably does that a little bit differently. As such, I don’t claim to be a representative of atheism by any means, although I’ll always happily talk to anyone about what I or they believe and why.)

Roxas goes through a difficult but defining – and self-defining, importantly – process of working out what matters, and that’s what I have the most respect for. In the Kingdom Hearts universe to be born without a heart means that becoming a truly complete entity is a genuine metaphysical exercise in self-definition, and while I don’t claim to have been through as much as Roxas or to be as strong as he is, I find it both admirable and familiar to think of someone having to experience a loss of structure and belief and to then have to rebuild everything they thought they knew, emerging not as a different person but as someone about whom they’re happy to say ‘I am’.

Something else I really like about Roxas and Xion is that one of the values they (and indeed most Good Guys in the KH universe) choose to embody is a respect for others which expresses itself as compassion, empathy, and the willingness to stand against anyone who would take someone’s freedom to choose from them. I think that both of them ultimately move from a state of not being able to choose for themselves at all to one of total autonomy, of self-realisation and of choice, and although both at times make what I think are tragic choices which have the result of (at least temporarily) sacrificing their own personhood for someone else’s, the important thing is that at the critical moments, they are the ones who make those choices. Series protagonist Sora famously declared ‘my friends are my power!’, and indeed his inability to see his own strength is a character flaw; Roxas and Xion know the value of connections, but they will never underestimate their own individual existences, and they’ll never allow themselves to be defined as anything other than themselves. It doesn’t mean they don’t love or care for others, or invest in their friends’ wellbeing – they don’t go ‘well, we’re our own people so nobody else matters’ – but it’s their choice to do so. The ultimate victory for them (not that I’m saying whether this does or doesn’t happen in KH3, natch) is a full realisation of their personhood, an existence no longer contingent on Sora or on anyone else, and that is so fundamentally powerful.

Well, now what do we do?
– Donald Duck

I’m lucky.

I know that.

I’ve never really experienced abuse, or… I don’t know, homelessness, never even really had to deal with sickness or death of those close to me other than pets and grandparents I barely remember. I’m not a member of any oppressed groups, so I’ve never been persecuted on the basis of my cultural, sexual, or any other kind of identity. (I recognise that there are parts of the world in which atheists are tremendously oppressed, even killed, and that I am lucky again not to be in one of those parts of the world.) I’ve had an easy life, really; it’s not as if losing my faith (or coming out afterwards) had any kind of negative impact on my life or made people treat me any differently, apart from one or two very specific cases.

I hope that if I were a member of a minority group, one in which membership can be dangerous – let me say that anyone who persecutes anyone else on the basis of their identity just sucks, but the fact is that it does happen and being transgender or of a particular race or female or a whole host of other things you don’t get to choose about yourself can often come with unwarranted and undeserved disadvantages – then I would still look to Roxas and Xion for strength. They found themselves immediately subjected to torment on the basis of the nature of their existence, which they couldn’t do anything about, and decided to embrace who they were and make their own path. Roxas is of course someone who knows that he is an individual despite everyone around him telling him that he can’t possibly be, and that feels as if it resonates with things like gender identity: in the real world, people often find themselves buried under the convictions of others (who really have no way of knowing) to the effect that they can’t possibly be the person they’re pretty sure that they in fact are.

Meanwhile, Xion begins life with such a fractured sense of self that she appears to have the face of about four or five different people depending on who’s looking at her (incidentally, some are male and some female, and while Xion’s own self-expression of identity winds up being female there’s an important period of her life during which she identifies as Sora, who is of course male), and it takes a heck of a lot of strength for her to go through the astonishingly hard process of working out who she actually is and then expressing herself as that person.

We’ll go together.
– Sora

In the end, Roxas is my pick for The Characters That Define Us because he doesn’t let anyone else define him. It’s almost an ironic pick in that the whole point is that I’m not gonna be defined by Roxas, or by anyone other than me. He represents a being against whom the entire metaphysics of his universe were set, but whose decision that it matters less what the universe thinks of him than what he thinks of himself allows him to become more than he ever ought to have been able.

This is not, by the way, a nihilistic point of view by any stretch of the imagination. I think the universe is astonishingly beautiful, but I also think that there is no cosmic meaning of life set by some entity or force beyond myself and that it is just as beautiful and no less meaningful or important that people are capable of deciding for themselves. One of the first lines I wrote in the novel I’m currently finishing up for the third time was ‘the universe may not care, but I do’. We can be, as individual and independently realised beings, still part of something greater but which isn’t ‘out there’ somewhere or set or imposed, and if there were something greater then I should hope it wouldn’t mind if we did the most human thing and questioned it as thoroughly as we could.

Humans are great, and none of us is any less human than any other. If it feels as if the world is telling you that you have no heart, no purpose, then never forget that you can grow your own.

Much love.

Sora: The Character That Defines Nana Marfo

Sora sticks out as one of the most positive characters in video game history, and this magic makes special to many.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

The first of two Kingdom hearts pieces for today, give it up for Nana Marfo! This expert writer wears many hats: blogger, student, gave dev, and, 3D artist! Check out their blog, as well as this convenient list of everything else Nana Marfo does. We’re honored to have them on board!

The Characters That Define Us is winding down, but isn’t over yet! Please enjoy.


1P START

The Japanese have a habit of taking weird concepts and making them awesome. If you were to tell five-year-old me that I would be write about a boy that wields an oversized key, I would be baffled. But for many, Sora has become a beacon of hope for many within the world of Square Enix.

For one, his iconic design in Kingdom Hearts 1 is based on Mickey Mouse, and it makes sense, as his red overall alongside a Grey and White Jacket is an easily recognizable design.

This design to me represents a Sora that is still innocent, and is about to start a wandering Journey during his stay between the Disney worlds. A big thing about Sora is that he’s an optimist to a fault, meaning that he tends to see things in a positive light all the time.

Sora doesn’t seem to understand the bigger scope of what is going on around him, to the point where gets tricked by the villains constantly into doing their biding. However, I find this to be a charming point of Sora, as he still tends to show kindness to most of people around him.

Another defining about Sora is that he carries the emotions of the hearts that he is carrying in him. A big theme of Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 3 is Sora finding out about the hearts that live in him. Hell, he wants to keep Roxas out of the festivities, and wants to put him in Data Twilight Town to make sure that he’s safe.

But the thing that I find the most amazing about Sora is his relationship with his two best friends, Riku and Kairi.

Sora values the safety and protection of his friends more than anything else,and that is a major factor of the Kingdom Hearts games that he is a protagnist in. KH1 involves him looking for his lost friends, Chain of Memories tests his relationships and memories through a castle that makes you forget them. KH2 involved him finding those friends again.

Sora sticks out as one of the most positive characters in video game history to me, and this magic makes special to many. Nomura may have said that a Sora was not meant to special, but with the amount of hearts he has touched (both in and outside the Kingdom Hearts universe) I doubt he is anything but.

Kreia: The Character That Defines DeiSophia

As a mentor Kreia often challenges the players actions, positing alternative solutions to the ones the player has chosen.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Welcome to the second of two BONUS FEATURES we’ve received for The Characters That Define Us! Thank you DeiSophia for answering our all-call and supplying us with this wonderful piece on a character from a legendary game!

We highly recommend checking out their Twitter and blog: Virtual Visions!

Please enjoy this exciting entry to the final week of The Characters That Define Us!


1P START

Please note that this will contain spoilers for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I & II.

Kreia is introduced in Star Wars: KOTOR II as an anomalous figure. Not only does she fulfil the mentor role narratively but her machiavellian machinations, discourse on the nature of the force and the fact that she is both responsible for the development of the Exile, and is a notable antagonist to the Exile at the same time. She is not someone easy to understand, and her chequered past as Jedi then Sith then something ‘beyond good and evil’, makes her compelling as a character.

But how does any of this define me as a person. I’m more aligned with identifying with characters marginalised by stories, more a Marya Bolkonskoya than a Natalya Rostova. So Kreia is something of an anomaly for me. She seems to be a character that observes, but she is in fact a grand player in the game, an inciter of plot and prompter of characters, despite a relatively passive role, especially if the player does not choose her as a companion. This is a far cry from the observational and ostracised characters I normally identify with. But this series is on how characters define us, and Kreia’s role not only places her as a mentor to the Exile, but also as a mentor to the player, challenging you, in your conceptions and roleplaying of the exile. Kreia’s writing transcends beyond the screen, through the interactivity of play in a way that is coming to be seen as unique to the video game medium. Your realization of the Exile, is a realisation of a digital self and so Kreia’s mentorship extends not only to the Exile but to you as well.

Kreia’s journey is revealed through the game as short backstories. One of the most revelatory moments is her original position as Darth Traya, a Sith Lord and the original mentor to Revan.

This is something paramount to the human mind, that ideas can shift and change. No person’s opinion is ever set in stone. Much of life is in fact learning which causes substantial changes to one’s thought and more than that of one’s opinions and even values.

Kreia embodies this within the game’s narrative not only due to her role as mentor, a role which she has an apparently ambivalent attitude towards and yet the one thing she is most persistent about performing throughout the game.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf schools and a man who was influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer (why Schopenhauer is important I’ll discuss later) and something of a mystic wrote the following in his book Healing Education Based on Anthroposophy’s Image of Man “Man is not a being who stands still, he is a being in the process of becoming. The more he enables himself to become, the more he fulfils his true mission”

This is what Kreia pushes the Exile towards. The force wound sustained by the Exile on Malachor V, during the Jedi Civil War has severed their connection to the Force. Both the Jedi and Kreia suspect that this is not permanent, so Kreia herself pursues the Exile seeking to capitalise on the importance of the Exiles ability to create force bonds and ostensibly through her heals her own severed attachment to the force. The game’s writing is somewhat vague on this, would a force bond be established with someone severed from the force, is this possible? Nevertheless Kreia succeeds, and takes on the role of mentor to the Exile.

This allows Kreia to both guide the Exiles establishment with the force, as well as her own, a story that the game mechanically takes as an exploration of choice, becoming Sith or Jedi. Kreia is unconcerned with whichever path you take so long as you are developing. Rather her concern is with whether you follow her teachings and show her respect as a mentor. The games influence mechanics for companions don’t depend on your “moral” (Jedi or Sith) choices but rather with whether you demonstrate you are listening to what she says. Even then if you choose to not listen and instead disagree she won’t immediately cause a loss of influence, challenging her ideas with an argument of your own is in fact welcomed. It is not adhering to Kreia’s doctrine that is important to her, but that you grow and develop one of your own.

As a mentor Kreia often challenges the players actions, positing alternative solutions to the ones the player (or the exile) has chosen. Often these criticisms are levelled to challenge the players’ preconceptions about the reason for their actions. Is a good choice actually a good choice for those involved if you cannot clearly see the consequences, or is it purely a good choice due to the exiles intentions to be good (or the players intention to play a “good” playthrough) and vice versa for “evil” choices. In becoming a jedi or sith again, the player is questioned by Kreia to determine them in their course of action. This is further reinforced in the game by subsequent “experiences” where Kreia’s lessons have ramifications on your choices during the quests you undertake, and may shape your characters (and you the player’s) responses.

For me this conception around charity, that Kreia delivers on Nar Shadaa is one I was already familiar but had not yet articulated. During mild autumns usually around the time of Easter School Holidays I would have the opportunity to follow my father to his work. As a civil engineer he worked on numerous projects usually far from our home, this particular project was located outside of Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape. Before going to the small village where he was installing a new water pumping system for the villagers so they didn’t have to walk all the way to the river to gain water but use a conveniently located communal tap, we purchased some small sweets to give to the rural children. This was a regular ritual, with most of the children immediately swarming from the surrounding scrub at the hum of a vehicles engine. Their English extended to cries of Helllooo and “sweetie” asked in their most plaintive questioning tone they could muster. Those sweeties did not last very long. Immediately disappearing in a brief moment of exultation before they arrived back to try their luck again. As much as those moments must have been exciting and wonderful they were only fleeting changes in their existence. A sweet is nothing substantial against the various nutritional disorders they face or offer any significant sustainable variety to a diet of umsobo (mealie pap) and amasi (type of fermented milk). What was significant however was the water pumping station my father had ended up installing. Already the women had gathered around it, anticipating the day they would no longer have to send their daughters down the valley or walk themselves. They were the ones being taught the maintenance procedures and mechanical troubleshooting since the men had decided this was domestic work, and a woman’s concern therefore beneath their notice. This was something tangible that could change the life of a community, not sweets given out for a moment’s delight and as fast as gifting a penny to a beggar. Kreia’s words resonated with this conception I had formulated earlier, and gave the possibility to articulate the dangers of charity and the creation of dependency as opposed to encouraging others to uplift themselves, and simply guiding them to realise their own potentials, and anything given is to further this far more difficult and arduous path, that would have longer term benefits.

Kreia herself is not unfamiliar to changes in ideology either, her original role as a Jedi historian, gathering relics and learning ancient mysteries was not too different from my own roles as an undergraduate student learning archaeology, going out to various iron age sites around the Magaliesberg, and trying to piece together what life might have been like for the ancient forebears of the Bantu peoples.

Kreia however eventually comes to change her positions, though her change in position is an ideological one and caused by events wherein she failed her students, whereas my change in position towards knowledge and learning came about not as a result of failure but as a natural consequence of understanding more of the world. In both cases it was exposure to differences of opinions and dissatisfaction with one’s own lack of knowledge that drove the change.

Kreia finds that the Jedi’s teachings are insufficient in that they precipitate a Jedi’s fall to the dark side. This is largely a result of the asceticism inherent within the Jedi code. In contrast is the Nietzschean concept of the will-to-power, as embodied within the Sith code. Kreia’s dissatisfaction with the Jedi code comes with its inability to provide its students a comprehensive worldview that prevents them from falling. A large cause of so many Jedi rebelling against their code and following Revan is due to the councils inability to act. The jedi code focuses on passivity, its refusal to act against the mandalorian threat which ultimately causes the schism. If the Sith code of passion and more importantly will is to be followed then the will to act in this scenario was the correct action to take in order to protect. As those more familiar with the movies though, this action to protect also stems from fear of the republics fall, with fear being one of the paths to the darkside, as it indicates the Jedi is perceiving their lack of power and in order to allay that fear will seek out power.

In Knights of the Old Republic though, the concept that the force has its own will (which embodies itself in the generation of Jedi and Sith), that acts to create harmony not as a natural force such as gravity but with its own will is an important distinction. This is contradictory to Schopenhauer’s view that will is devoid of rationality or intellect.

Kreia, who is more Grey Sith, than Grey Jedi, wishes to contest the force (as will), which exerts its will over both Jedi and Sith. However her abnegation of the Force falls in line with the passivity of Jedi thinking, and is closely aligned to Schopenhauer’s view of abnegation and seclusion but also to his views most succinctly titled in “The World as Will and Representation”. He posits that the world is made up of two aspects: that which is internal and that which is perceived, with a third included by separating perceived objects into those that are internal and those that are external. This leads him to a tri-fold system very similar to that of Mahayana Buddhism, the same Buddhism that gave inspiration to some of George Lucas’s original conceptions of the Jedi. Kreia wishes to act as a free individual removed from the force and not subject to its universal control over force-wielders and force-sensitive individuals. Her view shifts between Schopenhauer and his desire to be removed from the world, and the Nietzschean conception of will as a force that is exerted. To Kreia to rid herself of her “slave morality” she must contest the force itself and remove it from the universe. She turns to the Exile for this specifically due to the Exiles deliberate and intentional refusal of the force after Malachor V where she separates herself from the Force.

Like Kreia, I too wish to be free and move independently in the world. The easiest way to accomplish that is to remove oneself from society. As an introvert this is no hard thing to do, and the most valuable thing I cherish is the ability to think, independently and freely and seek and pursue knowledge in books. Arriving at my own conclusions, often conclusions I find that leave me separate and distinct from others around me. It is hard to connect with others when your views do not conform to broader societal consensus. One finds oneself to be a foreigner in ones own culture. Kreia is distinct in this way too, neither Jedi nor Sith, with an abnormal viewpoint that exists independently of the binary. Yet Kreia is also too subject to that most human of needs, the desire for some sort of connection.

Though her relationship to the Exile is manipulative, she still seeks acknowledgement from the Exile, not in affirmation but simply as someone who is willing to entertain a position beyond what is normally encountered. Kreia hopes that in the Exile she has found someone who is willing to follow her views of the Force as something that strips an individual of their abilities, making them reliant, as she often criticises Jedi and Sith as being overly reliant upon the force and her greatest dismay is the players ultimate siding with the dark or light side of the Force by the end of the game, as she sees both aspects of the force as problematic. Her ultimate plan is to remove force sensitivity from the universe to ensure that it cannot cause either the rise of the Sith or Jedi again. In this she is unlike her disciple Nihilus who would devour the force entirely, and likely end up in the situation of the Ourobouros.

The other hugely important function of Kreia is her role as a mentor. She fulfils Jung’s archetype of the mentor incredibly well. The important thing about a mentor is that they serve as a guide on the hero’s journey. Kreia as an NPC can both interact with the player character in this manner, and watch over their direct experience, reflecting their decisions back to them and challenging preconceived notions.

As a teacher this is often the role that needs to be played in the classroom. Most students have already preconceived ideas, some true, some not true. Evaluating students’ responses and ascertaining what knowledge they have via their answers and decisions made in regards to the work set them is integral to teaching.

Another aspect of teaching is the abnegation of the self. Learning occurs entirely independently of you, the teacher, just as the Exile learns independently of Kreia through XP points but also may use her as a narrative tool to ask questions about abilities or even learn new force abilities, such as the combat scene between the Exile and Visas demonstrates.

As a teacher the most you can hope to fulfill is simply the role of guide. To efficaciously encourage students to learn more quickly means to allow them to experience situations themselves then challenge ideas and notions revealed so students either decide to change them, or consolidate why they hold a particular position or idea. The primary goal is to encourage reflection and awareness of self so that students know who they are and are able to consolidate their identities and beliefs that shape that identity. This is largely the role Kreia fulfills in the game. As someone who has been teaching extensively now over the past few years, these principles of Kreia, to encourage independent development, to challenge ideas and concepts, to force students to think in more than just one way and develop a more holistic view of the world, is the same as Kreia’s pushing the Exile to try to formulate an idea of the Force that is more holistic than simply Jedi vs Sith/Good vs Evil. Kreia may have failed to teach this to the Exile, as she expresses her disappointment in the end, no matter which morality you chose. To Kreia your final choice is to remain a slave to the determination and destiny that the Force ascribes to you. Her vision is destroyed, but although she dies thinking she has failed all her apprentices, Revan, Nihilus, Sion and the Exile, but her apprentice in another universe may not quite have failed her. Not if they too question her conceptions of morality and try to seek out new paths and ways to think. To understand things-in-themselve. As a character Kreia challenged the player as well, to see the Force in a new way. Whilst she is negative about it, there is some hope for us. For we have no force and our closest conceptions to it such as the Dao/Tao, and Brahman are benevolent forces that do not adhere to moral principles of light and dark as the Force does. In this at least I will follow the way of Kreia and seek to understand things in more than just the opposition of binaries.

Regina: The Character That Defines Pixie Poison

While her discipline and composure is stronger than most, she is still unabashedly normal.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Welcome to the first of two BONUS FEATURES we’ve received for The Characters That Define Us! Thank you Pixie Poison for answering our all-call and supplying us with this wonderful piece on an underrated video game heroine!

We highly recommend checking out her Twitter and YouTube sites, where you will discover some fantastic cosplay works.

Please enjoy this excellent start to the final week of The Characters That Define Us!


1P START

Winter 1999.

The last months of the year and the end of the millennium.

I always find that a Broken Sword quote is able to set almost any scene perfectly.

The Euro had been established, Bill Gates had become the richest person in the world and Sega had introduced the Dreamcast to the US market. These things were of course unknown to me. I was approaching 10 years old and discovering myself through a virtual landscape. Having acquired a Playstation the previous year, I had entered a whole new world and already had a near insatiable need to explore every inch of it. Rayman, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro (to name a few) were staunch companions, their adventures further opening the gateways of my already vivid imagination. But, in conjunction with experiencing more live action movies, I began to crave more realism. Human protagonists. Female protagonists. I acquired my first taste of this in the game world through becoming acquainted with a certain Ms. Croft.

Being the first female lead I had ever come across in a video game (and also being Spice Girls crazy at the time), girl power coursed through my 9 year old veins and naturally I was obsessed. Well…unnaturally obsessed is probably more accurate. She was a goddess come to earth. An acrobatic, smooth-talking, gun-slinging goddess with more than substantial…assets. She was real. Of course, if irony could kill, I would have been six feet under for nearly 20 years. Other female leads in gaming, particularly in the 90s, seemed to follow this kind of female stereotype, provocative manner and disproportionate rack included. But in the chilly November of 1999, I would be introduced to a woman who truly shaped my perception of female role models and showed my wide-eyed 9 year old self what a real strong female lead looks like.

You Have Mail

When Dino Crisis popped up in my favourite local video game store, it instantly intrigued me. Dinosaurs are always a draw for any kid and frankly everyone should still be asked what their favourite is. Triceratops, if you’re curious. Even better, upon turning over the case to find out more, I saw a woman toting a pistol with a terrifying T-Rex close at her heels. She was properly proportioned. She was dressed unusually but tastefully in tactical black leather. Her expression was focused and determined rather than provocative. And, best of all in my 9 year old mind, she had the most fabulous head of vibrant red hair. Something I admired and desperately wanted myself.

Agent name: REGINA.

‘Queen’ in Latin.

Needless to say, she came home with me that day. And with me she has stayed, physically and metaphorically.

Regina is the weapons specialist of the Secret Operations Raid Team (S.O.R.T.), a covert government agency. She is proficient with numerous classes of firearms and excels in assembling and modifying weapon components, gathering intelligence and hand to hand combat. Obviously I can’t also lay claim to any of these things, but it is clear her training was intense and extensive; she didn’t use her feminine wiles or tremendous fortune to advance. She worked long and hard to achieve her goals which is always inspiring and something I was eager to replicate being quite a studious child. The first Dino Crisis title chronicles her team’s mission to infiltrate the ‘Third Energy’ facility on Ibis Island and repatriate the facility’s head, Dr Edward Kirk, who staged his own death 3 years prior. Upon arriving on the island, they discover it is infested with dinosaurs, turning the entire island into a bloodbath.

Even within the first few minutes of play time, Regina’s personality shines through. Her red hair is a testament to it in itself. Her profession is tightly regimented and disciplined yet she dyes her hair, expressing her individuality and showing she’s not afraid to stand out. While her mission demeanour is cool and collected, she is fluent in sarcasm and ready with a humorous quip, even if the situation looks potentially tense. Upon discovering a freshly eviscerated corpse, she will bluntly and calmly state “That’s disgusting.” This resonated with me as a method of keeping a cool head, at least outwardly, and staying detached. Anyone who knows me knows that my default in person response to any scenario is almost always a dose of sarcasm. But, like Regina, this doesn’t indicate that I don’t understand the situation or I’m not taking it seriously. It’s simply a way to either lift the atmosphere or keep it together. And I know when to rein it in, as she herself does.

Given enough provocation, positive or negative, Regina’s emotions are very strong. She cares deeply about her team members; she has a strong friendship with teammate Rick and immense respect for team leader Gail. But she must balance this with the knowledge that, due to the nature of their profession, all three of them are ultimately expendable and the mission is paramount. This is tested when she has to make decisions on how to further proceed based on her teammates’ input, logic or circumstances. But regardless, her care for others is undeniable and she cannot bear injury or distress to those closest to her. Much like myself.

“We Were Just Attacked By a Big-Ass Lizard!”

Regina’s inner balance is pushed to its limit at every turn as she navigates through the facility, now a bloody feeding ground. Raptors stalk the tight corridors, lurching forward with unnatural speed to tear her to shreds. The gargantuan T-Rex crashes through windows and giant shutters, threatening to devour her and reduce the facility to rubble as it does so. Dr Kirk’s madness threatens to obliterate the entire island. As I grew older, particularly during difficult times, I began to view this as a kind of indirect metaphor for life. Problems will doggedly follow and be thrust upon you from all directions, sometimes through your own actions, sometimes through circumstance. You have to be resourceful and quick on your feet. If they overwhelm you, they’ll leave you in pieces. Here, Regina truly lives up to her codename and is the regal role model every young woman should have.

While her discipline and composure is stronger than most, she is still unabashedly normal. She has outbursts of fear, fury, frustration. Injustice enrages her. While exceptionally skilled in her field, she is no master of acrobatics or gymnastics. There are certain skills that are beyond her knowledge and she needs help to understand. Yet, she is brave and focused. She knows her strengths and uses them to her advantage, adapting quickly to the ever-changing environment. She exercises these strengths confidently, without arrogance. And if she needs help, she is unafraid to ask for it. All relatable and adaptable traits. Real traits. All this stirred up the fire within me, even at 9 years old; Ms Croft had some seriously stiff competition. This was someone I could realistically strive to be like. I saw fragments of my own personality magnified and fully grown in her. Lara still had my heart, but Regina had my mind and ultimately my soul. I only wish I could’ve kept tighter hold of her when high school reared its ugly head.

High school was very much akin to the feeding ground of Ibis Island for me. Being studious and imaginative, that immediately made me a target and the raptors sniffed me out a mile away. While never physical, their verbal assaults rent flesh from bone, tearing it like paper and leaving me bleeding and prone inside. Every week, I would endeavour to be disciplined and focused, being unashamedly myself and unafraid to ask for help. But a verbal tail whip would knock me to the ground and rows of teeth would bear down to have their fill again. I began to stop asking for help; their hunger remained unappeased. I began to stop being unashamedly myself; it made their appetite more voracious. Mentally I was bleeding out.

Thankfully, at 14, a Resuscitation came my way and it was labelled “Drama Class”. I began to patch myself up and explore emotions and creativity in a form that was always a part of me, but had never manifested beyond play and my polygon adventures. I could physically become someone else, be part of a different story, but fuelled by my own experiences. The fire was being rekindled. I’d discovered my strengths, realised my skills. And you bet their big lizard asses, I was going to hone and perfect them until they were as slick as the barrel of a shotgun. Loaded with a Poison Dart.

Regina had returned and this time I was keeping hold of her.

“Did You Swing Your Precious Machete Around?”

If Dino Crisis Regina defines singular traits, then Dino Crisis 2 Regina defines my overarching approach to social scenarios and relationships.

Dino Crisis 2, taking place 1 year later, saw Regina working as an advisor for the Tactical Reconnoitering and Acquisition Team (T.R.A.T.) on a time travel mission to the future to rescue survivors of a Third Energy incident in Edward City. When the whole team is wiped out apart from herself and Lieutenant Dylan Morton, the two are forced to team up to survive. Initially Dylan’s brash approach and tendency to boast irritated Regina and she was quick with a sardonic retort. Admittedly, whether I get on well with a person or not, I am always ready with a sardonic retort. As I said earlier, it’s my go-to, an impulse difficult to force down. But the more they work together and the more Dylan opens up to her, the more Regina warms to him and respects him. Their banter is much more light-hearted, they see and encourage the other’s strengths and trust each other to watch their back in the deadliest situations. This journey ultimately culminates in Regina, faced with the most difficult moral decision, making a poignant promise to Dylan. Knowing her loyalty and determination (and seeing a certain character pop up in ‘Dino Stalker’), she kept it.

The more I come to truly know and understand a person, the closer I feel to that person. If they do right by me and put their trust in me, they will unreservedly have my respect and I do everything in my power to show their trust is not misplaced. If I promise something, it will be kept, come hell or high water. Regina strengthens my bonds and keeps them tight. And makes witty remarks to crack you up! The more sardonic I am towards you, the more comfortable I feel with you. Only those in the inner circle get called a profanity affectionately.

“I Will. I Promise.”

Nowadays, I carry Regina with me in so many wonderful ways. Her rebellious red hair is in my flower crowns, my colourful makeup. Her skills and proficiencies are in my performances, my writing. I can adapt to change more easily and face whatever life decides to assail me with. I can maintain a calm demeanour, but unleash the fire when the situation calls for it. Injustice and unfairness boils my blood as it does hers and I am now unafraid to speak out against it. Those I choose to be close to have such tight bonds with me a Giganotosaurus couldn’t even make a dent in them; those people are naturally called the worst profanities with the deepest affection.

She really is my video game spirit guide.

And, after discovering a love for cosplay in 2013, I made an unspoken promise to her. She wouldn’t be forgotten.

Adventure Map | The Characters That Define Us

Video game characters exist as companions on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the individual who we feel most defines us.

This. Is. Big.
Like really big. 

The Characters That Define Us is a monolithic collaborative project involving more than 50 accomplished bloggers across the internet.

I couldn’t be more proud to call these fine writers my blogging family. Thank you all for helping make this epic writing project across the timeline of video game characters a reality.

By coming here, you’ve chosen to embark on an ambitious journey, serving as a conduit for deep introspective analysis. We have got a truly mammoth all-star cast of bloggers here, and there is no doubt in my mind that we’ve creating something awesome!

This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video game characters exist as companions on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the individual who we feel most defines us.

This is a complete audiovisual experience, filled with graphics, music, and plenty of nostalgia. Please enjoy each piece, and let us know via comments or social media how these characters make an impact on your life.

This adventure map will serve as a guide through each day’s pieces – a table of contents, if you will. We recommend reading each post in order, as they are arranged by style and publication date. However, feel free to dive right in to your favorite games. With these incredible bloggers, you simply cannot go wrong no matter where you start. And with that, let us begin The Characters That Define Us!


Yuna | A Geeky Gal

We grew. We learned and overcame our circumstances. We managed to keep being true to ourselves while becoming stronger and putting ourselves first for the first time ever.

Mar 29


Roger Wilco | Musings of a Nitpicking Girl

Thank goodness for heatwaves.

Mar 30


Master Chief | Hear Dave Write

Or: How Mike died (repeatedly) from dysentery.

Apr 27


Peter Parker | The Reel Anna

Having access to the news and the internet is often a great benefit, but it can be overwhelming when we see how many people are hurting and in need of help all across the world.

Apr 28


Claire “Lightning” Farron | Livid Lightning

Regardless of what’s happening around you, the battle for a better tomorrow is always fought inside of your own soul. Thanks to Lightning Farron, I’ll never be hopelessly alone with my battle again.

Apr 29


Player One | Mr Backlog

In 1983, video game characters tended to have one, very important thing in common – there weren’t any. You see, the hero was you.

Apr 30


Barbarian “Barbie” Link | Wintendo 64

Barbarian Link defines me by serving as a reminder that my best is enough. Even if I’ve done better before or could do better in the future.


Alternate Shauna | HideNGoShauna

Upon reflection, I discovered that even the fictional narratives that I’ve taken up in an alternate form of self in video games has contributed to my personal narratives in positive ways.


Ratchet | Shooting for the Stars

I didn’t realise Ratchet is the embodiment of my personality and my mannerisms and I didn’t know how much he made an impact on my life until I write about him. Thanks to the Ratchet & Clank series, it taught me what it means to be a friend.


Leia Organa | Nerd Side of Life

We need characters like Leia to look up to because she shows you that you can be more.


Barsen’thor | Krysanthe

I am the warden of my own order. I call it my family. Everyday I make choices that affect their lives.


Luigi | Rachel from Double Jump

Luigi has always been there when I was afraid or lonely.


Mae Boroski | A Geek Girl’s Guide

I saw so much of myself in Mae, with what she was experiencing and feeling, and it was enlightening to see that in a video game.


Miles Edgeworth | Kris from Double Jump

The path may be twistier than you originally pictured it would be, but you’ll get there.


Stanley | Michael Merlino

This is the story of a man named Michael.


Herobrine | Alex Sigsworth

Who is Herobrine? Well, it’s complicated. You see, there is no such character as Herobrine. He was never in the game.


Sylvanas Windrunner | Ruubin from My Life as a Quest

Which characteristic is more important to you: loyalty or honesty?


Jaina Proudmoore | Heather from Just Geeking By

What could I possibly have in common with the blue-eyed perfect blonde mage? As it turned out, quite a lot.


Lara Croft | NekoJonez

Without Lara Croft, there wouldn’t be a NekoJonez today. The Tomb Raider franchise has been quite important in my life.


Tifa Lockhart | Mystic Nerd

Oh yeah, she’s definitely a pure badass with some of the strongest attacks and power-ups in the game. But unlike other female fighters in games, she has a beautiful heart.


Aloy | The Gaming Diaries

Having the courage, confidence and self-belief to go out into the world, and into the sacred land, and do whatever needs done even if it is terrifying is inspiring.


Nahyuta Sahdmadhi | Ian from Adventure Rules

To let go without moving on is to give up – to move on without letting go is to live in resignation and disappointment.


Ryo Hazuki | Murr from Geek. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat

Thanks, Ryo, for making my first serious proper job be as fun as you’d made me believe it was in Shenmue.


Nepgear | Pete from MoeGamer

When times get tough and the very way my brain works threatens to overwhelm me, I think of Nepgear.


Jin Kazama | Triform Trinity

That while we all have our demons within, it is possible to fight to overcome them.


Sephiroth | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

Even though I’ve grown more nihilistic in my old age, I don’t let my cynicism become a silencing factor to the idealism of youth.


Cait Sith | The Well-Red Mage

No wonder I’m a cat person.


Reyn | Shoot the Rookie

He is resolutely and unashamedly himself at all times, and that is how I want to be.


Shulk & Rex | Lodestar_Valor

If Shulk were an IRL friend of mine, he wouldn’t stop short of getting between me and my problem, and not getting out of the way until I learn to move on.


Lilith | Midnight Mountain

Everything I was told my whole life seemed to crash down before my feet. I, on a much smaller scale, was like Lilith in that moment.


Dixie Kong | Max, The Wandering Mage

She introduced me to a world that broke what I thought were the rules. We did not have to be the damsels in distress. Peach could save Mario. Zelda could fight back against Ganon. I could save myself and others.


Coco Bandicoot | Melody from Ficcaholic

When I was working out the differences between boys and girls, Coco came along and proved that girls could be good with computers.


Samantha Traynor | AmbiGaming

She was like a breath of fresh air, not only reflecting my own traits back at me, but also reflecting back traits that I aspire to have, or to develop further.


Vivi | Hungrygoriya

His story is sweet and sad, and completely relatable for someone like me that that feels the throbbing void that mortality leaves in its wake on a daily basis.


Geralt of Rivia | Winst0lf

He’s an absolute unit, and that is why he is definitely the best video game protagonist of all time, even better than that silent scientist bloke or even the dude that glides about firing magical arrows at octopus-ish spider robots


Murray | Later Levels

Everyone has it in them to be a powerful evil force and a harbinger of doom, regardless of who and what they are.


Commander Shepard | Geek. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat

I’m the one who controls what he says, who he treats badly and who he helps. As a result he becomes a character that is almost unique to everyone that plays the game.


Skull Kid | Meghan Plays Games

Skull Kid brings to life things that only exist in nebulous thought. And it all started with a mischievous, nameless little imp.


Kratos | Daniel from Epic Drop

Maybe it is defending Kratos that drew me closer to him, maybe it is the anger we both had trouble controlling, or maybe it was the fact that both of us are bald.


Hanzo Shimada | DL McGowan from Lost in Reverie

Hanzo is the epitome of self-loathing, falling into a dark mental space following all the ugliness with his brother and family. Despite that, though, he never stops trying to find redemption and overcome himself.


Red | Andrew Turnwall

Maybe this essay isn’t all about Red. It’s about the world he helped create. About the safe harbor he helped me find.


Magikarp & Gyarados | Brink of Gaming

To me, Gyarados is a model of perseverance and determination: something I’ve had to work at regularly in my own life, as well.


Olgierd von Everec | Alex from McWritestuff

Is he the villain of the story or a tragic anti-hero? Olgierd is nothing more than the janitor of our own hearts. Our hearts of stone.


James/Dad | Phil from Later Levels

Who wouldn’t want him for a dad?


Knuckles | Justin from TWOTALL4UFOOL

Would I be my own man/person or would I just follow the crowd? My mom never wanted me to be a follower.


Tails | Matt from 3PStart

Would I be my own man/person or would I just follow the crowd? My mom never wanted me to be a follower.


Sonic | Ryan from Games With Coffee

I’m gonna find my own way, and take a chance on today.


Edgar Roni Figaro | J.R. from Kith & Kin

Much like Edgar’s world, mine changed as well, but not for the worse. This facilitated a change in me, one that is still going on to this day.


Regina | Pixie Poison

While her discipline and composure is stronger than most, she is still unabashedly normal.


Kreia | DeiSphia

As a mentor Kreia often challenges the players actions, positing alternative solutions to the ones the player has chosen.


Sora | Nana Marfo

Sora sticks out as one of the most positive characters in video game history, and this magic makes special to many.


Roxas | Chris Durston

I’m not gonna be defined by Roxas, or by anyone other than me.


MJ | Nikki (Normal Happenings)

If I would’ve had this version of MJ as a kid, I would have wanted to be her instead of Spider-Man, and that is why she is such an important character to me.


One more remains…

Edgar Roni Figaro: The Character That Defines J.R. from Kith & Kin

Much like Edgar’s world, mine changed as well, but not for the worse. This facilitated a change in me, one that is still going on to this day.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

Out of nowhere comes a voice — well, a text — in my Twitter DM. The great J.R., from Kith and Kin Gaming Podcast offers to compose a piece for the collab in record time, and of course I couldn’t say no. What we got was honestly amazing.

You should most definitely check out the Kith and Kin Gaming Podcast! J.R., thank you for being a part of this.

Enjoy!


1P START

Done With War

I am what you would call a “mid-life gamer,” one who has grown up playing video games for as long as I can remember and yet still desire to do so. In the 80s and 90s, I cut my teeth on both Mario and Sonic, not caring much for a console war. After all, I grew up on military bases with my father hardly ever being home because he had to go overseas due to “orders,” so I had no time for wars.

I suppose, in retrospect, I can honestly say that I hated the military life. Sure, I had great respect for what my father was doing and the sacrifice that he was making, but I didn’t like that the Air Force would send him away. During the Gulf War, my father was gone for over a year. That made no sense for an 11-year-old boy who didn’t understand why a so-called “100 Hour War” would take my dad away for so long. It was only after the fact that I found out that my father, who was an Air Force Firefighter, helped in the efforts to contain the oil field fires started by Sudam Hassan’s regime. He was a hero to the people, and certainly a hero to me.

The military defined my life for the longest time, but I didn’t like fighting, in fact, there was nothing more that I wanted than peace. I saw all the television clips of violence within the battle and I wanted nothing to do with it. To be honest, living the military life was actually quite lonely because I could never keep friends for very long. It was for that reason why I got sucked into books and video games, more specifically Role-Playing Games.

The Rebel King

If there was one game that captured a large portion of my childhood in its wonderful grasp, it was the American Final Fantasy III (a.k.a Final Fantasy VI). The Super Nintendo was my console of choice, and as such I dove into whatever I could pick up form the local Blockbuster. Final Fantasy VI was one of those games that started off as a rental, but two days was simply not enough time to dive into the content to the extent that I wanted to. Every character had a beautifully crafted story and personality to fit their tales. It was a band of nearly 14 separate warriors that came together to save the world they loved, only to fail and rise again from the ashes. All of them meant so much to me, but there was only one that I resonated with, and that was Edgar.

In the story, Edgar Roni Figaro is the king of the independent providence of Figaro. The evil Gestahlian Empire had subjected nearly every nation in the world, but Figaro remained neutral feigning allegiance to the Empire. Under Edgar’s leadership, Figaro secretly worked with a group of resistance fighters known as the Returners. Edger, being a talented engineer, crafted machines that would make it possible for Figaro to remain safe from the Empire, assuming they ever discovered the ruse.

That is, of course, what happens in the story. The half-esper Terra shows up and the Empire discovers her in Figaro castle. Edgar drops the facade and aids Terra and the rest of the Returners in their escape, only to put the rest of Figaro in grave danger. The rest of the game is spent with Edgar attempting to right wrongs of the Empire, even though he wanted nothing to do with the war in the first place.

A Lover Not a Fighter

Due to the story development of Final Fantasy VI being so rich, Edgar has a strong personality that shows within this game. One of his most defining features, which I also happen to share, is that he is kind of a flirt. I grew up as the oldest of two boys (we’ll get to that in a minute), and as such the ladies were always a beautiful mystery to me. Even as a young boy I had no problem with trying to charm the ladies with some smooth words. Of course, for a 12-year-old it was all harmless fun, and it rarely ever worked.

Edgar’s charms were a reflection of his heart. The man cared for all life and did not want to see what would happen if the Empire took over. His love for the ladies was a microcosm of a larger love for his nation and freedom. I myself have a big heart for the downtrodden, and Edgar showed me that there are some wars worth fighting.

Brotherly Love

Another detail about Edgar that resonates with me is that he has a younger brother who is completely different than him. That is Sabin, and ten years prior to events in the story he lost a coin toss with his brother over who would secure the throne. Interestingly enough, Sabin really wasn’t interested in becoming a king anyway, he was doing his own training to better himself as a fighter. Of course, Edgar had little interest in fighting and wanted to secure peace with the rising Empire, and the two went their separate ways for quite some time.

Interestingly enough, I have a very athletic younger brother who has spent years building up his strength to be a fantastic fighter and wrestler. He has trained in both Greco-Roman Wrestling and MMA, so one could say that he is the Sabin of the family. While he was doing this, I spent my time in college and grad school, studying theology, philosophy, and psychology, strengthening my mind, and not necessarily my body. Though we do get along, the way we deal with problems differs greatly. Brad (my brother) goes in head first, not really thinking things through. I, on the other hand, chose diplomacy first and only raise a fist if absolutely necessary. The similarities between our sets of siblings are almost uncanny.

A Tinkerer

I’m not much of a people person. It’s not that I don’t like working with people, but I prefer to be alone and work with things that are more predictable. That is one of the reasons why I studied psychology, as well as taken up the hobby of tinkering. Since people are so difficult to figure out, why not work on something that works the same way every time. Whether it is fixing up my riding lawnmower or piecing together an old computer, I love to see how 1+1=2, and how creating something can actually encourage a person.

Edgar’s Final Fantasy “Job” is that of an Engineer. In combat, he uses a wide array of tools ranging from a drill to a chainsaw, each causing a different effect on the opponent. I always felt drawn to his character because I always knew that his tools were reliable in battle. They rarely missed (save for the chainsaw, which can inflict instant death), and they were always available. Early in the game, those tools become necessary for victory.

A Changed Man

Probably the best feature in Edgar’s story is how he personally changes over the course of the game. Without revealing too much of the plot to save from spoilers, Edgar really steps up after the world is devastated by Kefka. Prior to that event, he was cocky and arrogant, but when everything he loved was laid to waste in an instant, he became the man he needed to be. Despite the destruction of his country, he did what he could to save what was left of Figaro, even to the point of joining up with thieves to break into the castle and fix its broken components.

Much like Edgar, half of my life was being spent for myself. Though I loved my family, I always thought of myself as being the best part of it. All of that changed when my world expanded after I got married and had three beautiful children. Much like Edgar’s world, mine changed as well, but not for the worse. This facilitated a change in me, one that is still going on to this day.

Yes, Edgar is truly the character that defines me; a man with hatred towards war, but a love for a world in ruin. Through study and knowledge, I strengthen my mind to help others deal with their problems, just like Edgar’s machines helped others with theirs. Along with my little brother, I work to make this world a better place, one solution at a time.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*

Sonic: The Character That Defines Ryan from Games With Coffee

I’m gonna find my own way, and take a chance on today.

AUDIO

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and Sonic Jam to some great tunes.


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We proudly present the third and final contribution to the Sonic block, and wow this thing is incredible. This hyperactive writer needs no introduction: it’s the overly-caffeinated Ryan from Games With Coffee! Ryan is brillant, and oh so kind. After writing another opus on Final Fantasy VII for The Games That Define Us, we’re so glad he’s joining us for another piece!

Thank you Ryan for all you’ve done to support Normal Happenings. By all means, you have the floor.


1P START

I hadn’t realized just how much of an impact Sonic the Hedgehog has made on my life until I started writing my contribution for “The Characters That Define Us.” Sonic has affected me physically, creatively, mentally and emotionally over the years. In every choice that I’ve made, throughout the highs and the lows I faced over the years and with every dream I sought to achieve, Sonic has been right at my side cheering me on and pushing me to keep running forward.

I am so thankful to Matt at Normal Happenings for giving me a chance to tell my story through this amazing and awe-inspiring character. With that said, I’m going to put a Super Sonic spin on this entry that’s (hopefully) way past unique.

This entry is broken up into five non-chronological parts. Each section references a song from the Sonic the Hedgehog series that metaphorically represents a portion of my life where the Blue Blur had the maximum impact on me.

Please enjoy the musings of a hyperactive coffee fanatic who became and will continue to be his best self, all thanks to a spiny blue hedgehog with crazy speed, a hot-headed attitude and a heart of gold.

A World of Motion (Sonic Boom)

Around fall of 1998, when I was in sixth grade, Sonic influenced me into doing something I wouldn’t have ever considered up to that point in my life: training.

I was but an eleven year old child in a brand new school trying to make some friends. I wound up playing a game of tag with a bunch of my classmates. Hoping that I could make some friends and be cool at the same time, I hustled on the field and tried my very best not to get caught. If I was caught and deemed “It,” then I would do my darndest to tag the next person.

Problem was, I was the slow fat kid.

No matter how hard I pushed myself, I couldn’t catch the other kids and I was teased for it relentlessly. The fact that I also had severe mood and attitude issues, countless meltdowns and disrupted class on an ongoing basis due to my ADHD may have also contributed to the teasing, but nevertheless, that’s how it was. And it was way past not cool.

One day, after yet another day of merciless teasing and crummy tag sessions during recess, I came home to discover that my parents were dropping my brother and I off to our aunt’s house for the weekend. She had a basement apartment which was occupied by my older cousin who owned a Sega Genesis and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, among other games. I spent that weekend playing Sonic 2 and I distinctly remember making a declaration to myself:

No matter how much time it will take. No matter how much I have to push my body. I will do whatever it takes to run as fast as Sonic can.

On the Sunday afternoon after I got home, I wrenched out my mountain bike from the garage, set the gears and then ventured off into the neighbourhood, the music from Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone drumming through my head as I pounded the pedals up and down hills, through fields and around streets dotted with rows upon rows of houses.

From that day onwards, when I didn’t have much to do (and it wasn’t much as my mom confiscated my video games during the week), I would get on my bike and start riding around my neighbourhood. As the days passed, I expanded further outwards. I rode out to the farmlands in the north and I rode out to the busy downtown areas in the south, all while building up my body and my speed.

Finally, a day came forth where I was able to see some of the fruits of my labour. As I vaguely recall, it was in gym class at around the eighth grade. We were doing 100 meter foot races as part of Track and Field week. I faced off against a girl who was much more athletic than I was at the time. We got into position. The horn sounded. And suddenly, I felt like I was flying down the track.

My feet pounded the pavement while my heart hammered in time to my steps. I felt the wind rippling around me as I pumped my limbs, urging myself to go faster and pushing myself despite my legs protesting at the strain I was putting them through. I felt a heady rush as the dopamine surged through my brain. Everything was a blur, a mismatch of colours, shapes and sounds.

And then it all came to an end as soon as we crossed the finish line. Unsurprisingly (and because this is me we’re talking about), the girl I faced off against beat me soundly. But it didn’t really matter. For the briefest of moments, I felt like the wind. I felt like Sonic.

I was never really a happy kid growing up. For the most part, I was always angry. What little joy I eked out of this world centred around video games, TV, comic books, LEGO and action figures. Most other times, I’ve gotten into fights at the drop of a hat because people either made fun of my last name or abused my desperate need to have somebody, anybody to talk to to ease my loneliness. The abuse was so bad that it got to the point where I couldn’t trust anybody, even those who genuinely wanted to help me. I nearly threw a desk out of a window in a fit of rage for reasons I don’t really remember. What I do remember is feeling so overwhelmed with negativity, hatred for my classmates and teachers and self-loathing for feeling and being the way that I was that I guess I hit a breaking point. I had even contemplated running away a few times, thinking to myself, “Would anyone really care if I was gone?”

But in that brief moment, while flying down that track, I felt most of those thoughts fade away. A smile broke out on my face and I remember thinking to myself that I wanted more. I wanted to continue feeling that rush, that speed. I wanted to go faster. I imagined that Sonic felt the same way; no wonder he’s always cracking a smile on his face when he’s moving at the speed of sound!

Shortly after that, I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do. The focus on legwork really helped me to increase my running strength and the training itself also improved my discipline, my mindset towards physical improvement and my overall attitude towards life. On top of that, I continued biking throughout my high school years, sometimes averaging 10 to 12 kilometers per run. (6.25 to 7.5 miles for you imperial folk). Little by little, I could feel myself getting stronger and faster.

Eventually, the teasing from others faded and transformed to awe and admiration over my training ethic. From that point on, I was no longer the slow, fat kid. My drive to become as fast as Sonic, combined with my hyperactive personality, restless spirit, burgeoning charisma and admiration of the character, earned me the moniker of ‘Sonic’ within my circle of friends and family. Literally everywhere I went, I was running. If I wasn’t running, I was riding my bike and going through my usual training run. If I was doing neither of those things, then I’d be jiggling my leg restlessly while waiting for the moment I could be active again.

I remember one particularly hilarious running incident which involved an old neighbour of mine and a mailbox. One day, I was dashing home at top speed when my neighbour waved and called out to say hello. I twisted, waved back and then subsequently ran face first into the mailbox.

Hard.

I think I hit it so hard that I ricocheted off of the box and landed on my behind. I don’t remember much from that incident, but I do remember feeling both in pain and embarrassed at the time. Looking back though, it was quite funny. When I retell this incident to friends and family, they sigh, roll their eyes and say “That’s so typical of you, Ryan.”

In my final year of high school, I decided to join the track team. I learned how to run more efficiently and I even put some of the more experienced sprinters on the team through their paces at a few points during some training runs near the end of the year. The workouts with the team, coupled with Sonic’s influence, only strengthened my self-confidence. One of my life’s biggest regrets was not joining the team sooner. I could only imagine what would have happened if I did.

During my university years, I’d time myself running between my campus and the major train station, a distance of two kilometers (a mile and a quarter). I’d duck, dodge and weave through the crowds like Sonic would, all while carrying a grand total of 20 lbs of books on my back. It was a heck of a strength, endurance and reflex workout.

Meanwhile, I still continued biking and was now averaging about 15 to 20 kilometers a session. I had to quit martial arts for a couple of years due to financial issues, but got back into it after I secured a part-time weekend gig to cover the costs. Around that time, I received my first iPod and loaded it up with all kinds of Sonic the Hedgehog tunes I’ve collected and listened to over the years: Chemical Plant, Sonic Boom (Sonic CD), Azure Blue World (Emerald Coast – Sonic Adventure 1), Follow Me (City Escape – Sonic Adventure 2) and my personal favourite, Windmill Isle Day (Sonic Unleashed). These are only a small sampling of Sonic songs that I had selected for use while surfing through crowds, slamming the pavement on my sweet ride or some other activity that involved speed. And yes, Al Literation does write my dialogue.

I continued with training up until I got married in my mid-20’s, where it dropped off significantly. My Tae-Kwon-Do master retired from teaching, so I joined a karate dojo and I even did a stint in Muay Thai for sometime before quitting outright on the eve of my marriage. I also stopped biking around that time, as my twelve year old bike was finally worn out from extensive use and I had to save money for the wedding and for a home. Nevertheless, I tried to stay physically active in fits and spurts, but with responsibilities getting in the way, it just wasn’t the same.

After a few years of inactivity, I tried to get back into running and also joined an intercompany soccer league with the hope that both of those things would jumpstart my training ethic once more. What happened instead was that I tweaked both of my Achilies tendons and severely sprained my ankle. The Achilies required extensive physiotherapy to recover and my ankle has never been the same since. That episode made me realize that I won’t be fast forever. I also realized that me getting slower shouldn’t stop me from training and getting stronger altogether.

In 2019, I started going to the gym and trained at least three times a week. I also honed my skills in Tae-Kwon-Do, using muscle memory to go through the various kata and patterns. And finally, I ran in short spurts, taking care not to overexert myself for fear of popping my Achilies or suffering further injury. And then I lost my job at the beginning of 2020, which cost me both my gym membership and my training motivation. Keep this in mind folks, as this comes up again a little later.

Despite the fact that my gym days are currently over, there is one other thing that still keeps me active these days: my son. Despite him being a toddler, he has demonstrated to me a remarkable level of speed and coordination. At 10 months, he could crawl backwards at the same speed as he could forwards. Before he could walk, he would propel himself forward at rapid speeds on his knees. When he finally started walking, it didn’t take long for him to start running and now he runs all over the place with me right behind him. He’s as much of a speed demon as his old man is and it warms my heart to see that.

Sometimes, I still feel that urge to feel the wind rush past me as I tear up the track and push myself to the limit. In fact, typing this out really makes me want to go out for a run all of a sudden. And Sonic is the one I have to thank for allowing me to see that within myself and allowing me to believe that I can be faster and stronger than I could have ever imagined before.

However, being extremely fast does have its downsides. When you’re good at running, it’s also fairly easy to run away from your problems as well…

It Doesn’t Matter

If there’s one thing in my past that I’m not proud to admit, it’s the fact I had a tendency to run away from my problems instead of facing them. These days, I have no compunctions towards facing my problems, but that’s only because I now have the tools and a strong support system in place to handle whatever life throws at me. As a child, I didn’t have those, or at least what support I had then wasn’t as strong as what I have today.

Growing up, I was very conflict averse. Yes, I did mention above that I got into fights, but it was only when provoked or when I could no longer control the impulse to fight back or throw the first punch. Otherwise, when stressful situations and problems occurred, I did my best to avoid them as much as possible. If I was in trouble because of a mistake I made, or a misunderstanding I caused, I’d run and hide away from the conflict until it was either forgotten about or dismissed outright without resolution. While I ran and hid, I’d criticise myself for being such a coward for not facing my problems and an idiot for causing the situation in the first place. At that time, I hadn’t internalized the fact that everyone makes mistakes and that screw ups will happen, no matter how hard you try. And so, I suffered, thinking that I was worthless because of the mistakes I made or the things I said.

Some time in 2004, I was at the comic book shop at my local mall when my eyes spied a Sonic the Hedgehog comic book by Archie Comics. Issue 133.

I picked up this issue on a whim and was blown away by how it depicted Sonic and his friends. The only other issue I had of the series was an early one where Sonic and Sally Acorn put on a silly faux wedding to trick Robotnik, so seeing the direction the comics went after all those years made me curious. On the back of the comic was an order form which had several back issues available to purchase. I scrimped, saved and scavenged as much money as I could, converted it into USD and then sent in my order for a ton of back issues. An agonizing six weeks later, they were in my hand, where I perused voraciously.

Prior to its cancellation back around 2017 or so, the Sonic the Hedgehog comic run by Archie Comics was both the longest running comic book series based on a video game and the longest running franchise-based comic series as noted in the Guinness Book of Records. The comic book run initially started out with light-hearted and funny adventures featuring Sonic and the Freedom Fighters fighting against Dr. Robotnik and his ongoing efforts to transform the pristine planet Mobius into his own polluted, technological playground. The tone of the comics shifted after the release of Issue 30 in January 1996, where the story started to focus on character development.

The humorous, light-hearted moments were still there, but they were now juxtaposed with much more serious issues, such as Princess Sally’s dual reality as both the leader of the Freedom Fighters and of her people as Princess, or Tails’ ever-evolving worldview due to his numerous adventures with the team. Knuckles’ story centred around his role as Guardian of Floating (now Angel) Island and the seriousness and maturity he displayed at his young age, far away from his current personification as a bumbling, gullible strongman. But some of the most intriguing moments in the comics centered around Sonic, his role as a hero and the mistakes and missed opportunities he’s made throughout his Freedom Fighting career.

While he’s always there to thwart Robotnik’s plans, there were times where Sonic encountered problems that his super speed and razor-sharp spines couldn’t solve. In issue 36 for example, Sonic and his team ventured into an unknown dimension called The Zone of Silence, where they found Sally’s father who was banished there during the coup that brought Robotnik to power. Driven half mad by his time spent in the twisted zone, the team was unable to rescue him at the time, a regret that lingers until his eventual freedom later in the series.

In issues 62 and 63, Sonic and Tails were hot on the trail of a wizard who was part of the coup that put Robotnik into power in the first place. They got caught within a sandstorm and finally crash landed in a place called Sand Blast City.

The residents hero-worshipped Sonic due to his ongoing fight against Robotnik, so when they spotted the stranded pair, they took them into their city which was protected from both the elements and the rogue Robians (Roboticized Mobians) by an energy shield.

The citizens did everything in their power to ensure that they would stay and even resorted to flat-out imprisonment, but Sonic and Tails had their mission to complete. They disabled the shield by destroying a monument to the hedgehog in the centre of the city and flew off in Sonic’s biplane, leaving the people to fight off the hordes of Robians.

After the wizard was defeated and when the dust settled, Sonic started having recurring nightmares about his role as a hero, citing that the people of Sand Blast City and their reverence for him made him question if he was doing the right thing all the time.

The comics continued to show the hedgehog as this flawed hero who time and again made mistakes, failed his objectives and sometimes gave the benefit of the doubt to many of his enemies, including Robotnik. But no matter what happend, he never gave up the fight. He always stood up and kept running forward. This coupled well with the transition to the Modern Sonic era and the release of Sonic Adventures 1 and 2. In those games, Sonic and friends were always a few steps behind Dr. Eggman (formerly Dr. Robotnik), but they learned from their mistakes and triumphed in the end.

Throughout the games and comics, I’ve realized that the difference between him and I was that Sonic never ran away from his problems. He made mistakes and miscalculations for sure, but he would always pick himself up and keep running towards a resolution. I on the other hand, would run as far and as fast away from those things, leaving things unresolved and my feelings festering until they let loose. This was especially apparent during a serious point in my first romantic relationship.

My girlfriend and I were in the midst of a pretty big fight around our second year as a couple. We were both teens with charged, flaring emotions and we said some things to each other both on and offline about other people involved in our lives, school and our future with our families. We were teetering on the brink of a breakup because I kept wanting to defer these issues until later instead of dealing with the problems here and now. I was afraid of stirring up conflict and she was getting frustrated at my lack of initiative.

I remember after a particularly nasty argument, storming off onto my bike and going on another training run, all while listening to my music. The track changed to “It Doesn’t Matter,” – Sonic’s theme from Sonic Adventure – and I remember stopping by a lake, sitting on a rock facing the water and putting the song on repeat for a long time. I listened, really listened to the song and I remember saying to myself, “What the heck am I doing? Why do I constantly run away?”

After a long time spent on that rock thinking, I went back home. I skipped studying for the night and went straight to the Sonic comic books, where I made that realization that I needed to run towards my problems and face them head on. Years and years of running away had left me blind and afraid of the obvious solution to what ailed me. After all, Sonic never ran away from his problems and never gave up the fight. So, I decided once and for all that I shouldn’t either.

The very next day, I skipped class (I know, I was a terrible, terrible student) and went over to my girlfriend’s school. I found some of her friends and got them to convince her to come see me at our usual spot during her lunch break. We talked, addressing her insecurities and fears, my tendency to avoid conflict and running away from my problems and a whole bunch of other things in between. We reaffirmed our commitment and love for one another and promised to work on our relationship, which is exactly what we did.

We’ve now been together for over 15 years and have been married for seven of them. All because of one song and a comic book series that jolted me back into reality and forced me to face my fear of addressing problems. Sure, there were still ups and downs and there were times I regressed, but Sonic would always help steer me toward the right direction.

Sonic’s influence to run towards my problems didn’t stop there; it continued into my university years and throughout my career where I received counselling and therapy to deal with my anxiety and tendencies towards perfectionism. It helped me to deal with job and lifestyle changes and it’s even helped me as a dad to my son. Where before I used to be the guy who avoided problems like the plague, today, I characterize myself as the guy who runs in head first and tries to find solutions when problems arise.

If you thought that Sonic only helped me with physical activity, discipline and facing my problems, I’m afraid that you’re mistaken, dear readers. The hedgehog has also been a significant influence in my creative pursuits.

Endless Possibility

As I recall, I wrote my very first fanfiction in the second grade.

It was based off of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear – the very first Sonic game I’ve ever owned. It’s also one of the hardest Sonic games to beat, thanks to the reduced screen resolution on the handheld system compared with the Master System.

At seven years old, I was never able to complete the game properly by collecting all the Chaos Emeralds. OK look, how was I supposed to know that Gimmick Mountain Zone Act 2 had a hidden wall?! Heck, I only discovered that little factoid by complete accident when I replayed the game at sixteen never mind! But still, I wrote the fanfiction with an ending that was fairly close to what the game intended. I even drew illustrations! I remember them being very crude, but still, I did them. And to this day, I wish I didn’t throw it out.

Oh, did I mention that this story was for a creative writing assignment in school? Yep, that’s right: I used to write and submit fanfiction for my teachers to grade! It wasn’t a one-off thing either – I wrote a Super Mario Bros. one in third grade, a Crash Bandicoot superhero comic in fourth grade and one in sixth grade based on one of my favourite Playstation games, Alundra.

That fourth one was written as a creative writing assignment submitted as part of the standardized testing that all sixth graders in the province of Ontario had to undergo. Needless to say, I don’t think those responsible for grading the creative writing segment particularly enjoyed my story, given my sub-par marks overall…

So, what’s the purpose of starting this section off with listing all of the terrible fanfiction I did as a kid? Well, it’s to show how my creative journey started in the first place. And once again, it all began with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic helped me to unleash a well of inspiration that was locked within me for practically my whole life. Not solely on writing though, but through art and through music as well.

I started tapping into my artistic side in the seventh grade – arguably the worst year of them all. I won’t go into details, but the only silver lining in that year was the fact that I, apparently, could draw. I remember my dad telling me how proud he was that I actually had some talent within me. His words, not mine. Look, he’s not all that bad, but he does have a tendency to speak without thinking at times.

Anyway, I started out by drawing using a reference (drawing by looking at a picture). I took game manuals and would draw either the cover art or artwork within the manual itself. I started drawing from Mega Man and Final Fantasy games before coming to Sonic Adventure 2 in the eleventh grade.

null

I remember this one specifically, because after I finished drawing and colouring my work, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I learn how to draw him from scratch?”

So, I found a tutorial online and practiced and practiced over and over again until I could draw him in my sleep.

null

null

Over the years, from high school to university and beyond, I’ve drawn him and the other characters in various scenarios, as shown below:

null

null

null

When I graduated from my engineering program in 2010, I got lucky and landed a job right out of school. On my first day in a corporate setting, I found on my desk a pad of sticky notes, a blue and red pen and a pencil. With those items, I drew the version of Sonic that I was most familiar with and stuck it onto my work PC. It stayed there until I was laid off six months into the job.

When I finally landed my next job in 2011, I drew a new version of Sonic on a sticky note on my first day, in pencil only. And I did the same for the next job I got – a year and a half later, with both pencil and ink. It eventually became a ritual that whenever I started a new job, I’d draw Sonic and put him on display in my cubicle. I even started to notice that the quality of the drawn Sonic would reflect just how long I would stay at the job for. The first was crude and rushed, the second less so and the third was one of my best, considering I was at that job for almost four years. The only time I didn’t do this was on my fourth job. I somehow had the feeling that I wouldn’t be staying long and thus didn’t draw one.

In my previous job, I had to say that the version I drew was probably the best I’ve ever done.

Thanks to this drawing, my new coworkers clued into my love for the blue hedgehog. So, they dropped this on my chair in April, right around the same exact time my debut on The Well Red Mage was posted. To this day, I still have no idea who gave me this.

And what was my debut post? Oh, it was only an in-depth, 8-Bit Review of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear. Funny how things come full circle, is it not?

It’s sad of me to say that despite the awesomely drawn Sonic above, I didn’t last long at this position. I was laid off six days into 2020, barely two years and three months into what was the best job I ever had. I’ve felt very bitter about it and it still stings to this day. When I eventually started a new job, I refrained from drawing a new Sonic. Partly because I didn’t have a designated desk that I could display the drawing and partly because I realized that I only needed to keep Sonic in my heart. I didn’t need to draw him for the corporate world to see.

The last Sonic-related piece of artwork I did that had no relation to my place of work was a crossover with my mobile gaming obsession, Clash Royale. This was pencilled and inked in late 2017. I have to get around to finishing it one day. I have to say though, I’m pretty impressed with it.

In terms of music, my cousin introduced me to Fruity Loops, or FL Studio as it’s commonly called, in my last year of high school. For those not familiar with it, FL Studio is a program designed to make music using all kinds of digitized sounds and instruments and the possibilities are literally endless. I mean, Tee Lopes of Sonic Mania fame uses FL Studio to make his music, which is amazing! Alas, I’m rambling.

So anyway, my cousin had a demo set up on his PC and invited me over to check it out. Hilariously, the very first thing I tried to make on that demo was a recreation of the boss theme from Sonic 2 on the Genesis. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt something stir within me while I was playing with the various options on the software. I also had developed a knack for whistling, thanks both to my dad teaching me and years and years of practice whistling to video game music. Those two things combined led me to create and produce music of my own in my post-secondary years.

I ended up getting a full licensed copy of FL Studio from a friend of mine in freshman year who noted my interest in music production, and set off to work. Even though I was practically on the verge of failing my mechanical engineering program, I still carved out time to experiment with the software. I eventually reached a point where I could create and master full songs to post.

In 2008, after some hemming and hawing, I bit the bullet and started posting my music to the public. I posted my work to a site called Newgrounds – a website popular in the early 2000’s serving up Flash-based games and animations. It also acted as a portal for content producers who wanted to put up their artwork or music to be used by others for games or animations within the site. As I had already frequented the Audio Portal to get new tunes to listen to on my way to class, I figured, why not put my own work there for others to listen to as well?

I found some moderate success in the scant four years I’ve been active as a producer of music, under the name Warrior-STH. I specialized mainly in mixing music from different games into one, combined track. You’ll be surprised at how well certain songs sound together!

Of the 20 or so songs I made, a track I titled Shamarian Nights is up there as one of my favourites. It’s a combination of the Arid Sands Day Stage (Shamar) from Sonic Unleashed and the Agrahba town and battle themes from Kingdom Hearts, all done under a hip hop beat. How this mix came about was an interesting story: It happened during a trip to my wife’s (back then, my girlfriend) family cottage to rebuild a deck. A whole slew of family members came down to assist with the rebuild, including myself. I also brought my laptop with the intent to do some mixing after we finished the work.

My wife’s younger cousin was with us at the time and he accidentally stepped on a rusted nail sticking out from a discarded piece of wood. Injured, he retired to the cottage and spent most of the time moping and being miserable.

Knowing that he also had a fancy for music production, I decided to cheer him up by asking him to help me produce a new beat. So he and I holed up in the room he was recovering in and made a few beats, one of which eventually turned into Shamarian Nights.

The best part of this experience was that I made a great friend who not only supplied me an updated version of FL Studio, but collaborated with me on a bunch of Sonic-related songs. He was a kid from the West Coast who went by the name DJ Sonik. He sought me out after he took a listen at one of my earlier tracks, said it had so much potential and offered to collaborate. Being new and wanting more experience in music making, I accepted and both a partnership and a friendship began. One of the best we did was a Halloween themed track that combined elements of “A Ghost Pumpkin’s Soup (Sonic Adventure 2)” and “Mystic Cave Zone (Sonic 2)”. It had all the trappings of a creepy carnival, but was interlaced with killer EDM beats. It was bloody awesome.

I ended up reconnecting with him fairly recently after years without contact. He goes by Dreameaterism now, is still making music and his new stuff is pretty good. Better still, he remembered me.

And though I was dabbling in art and music, my passion for writing never ceased. While I noticed that my style had evolved from the days when I would submit fanfiction for creative writing assignments, a further evolution occured around the time I was writing, drawing and making music all at once.

One day, just before I hit my twenties, I was supposed to be writing an essay for my Philosophy class. Instead, I decided to replay Final Fantasy VII for the gazillionth time. During the playthrough this time around though, something clicked in my head.

I noticed that there were striking similarities between the personalities of Zack Fair and Sonic the Hedgehog. I also noticed similarities between Cloud Strife and Miles “Tails” Prower. Struck with a stroke of inspiration, I dropped everything and started writing up a character analysis of those four individuals and how they were interconnected to one another.

From there, I began to see new connections between the RPG and the platforming series. Materia and Chaos Emeralds. Robotnik and Shin-Ra. Meteor and Space Station ARK. The Lifestream and The Source of All from the comic books. As I joined the pieces together, I found that the coincidences between the two were both strange and mildly convenient.

The more I investigated, the more I found myself wanting to write this as something more than an analysis. And thus, I decided to retell the story of Final Fantasy VII using elements from the larger Sonic the Hedgehog universe that exist within the games, the animations and the comic books.

This fanfiction passion project eventually formed the basic structure for all of my future writing from that point onward, including this very piece you’re reading right now. It didn’t stop there though. With my art experiences, I found that I could better visualize entire scenes, as if a movie was playing in my mind. The visualizations would help me write scenes with painstaking attention to detail. In fact, the first draft of this fanfiction contained so much detail within it that it was one of the positive comments my friends and family would tell me whenever they read my rough work.

My dabbling in music production allowed me to imagine what songs would work for the scene I was writing and how it would affect the actions and emotions of the characters. Using the music, I found that I could bring expression to my characters and prevent them from being too wooden and robotic.

I got pretty far into writing the first draft until I read it out loud to my wife when she was sick and wanted me to read something to her so she could sleep. When I read it out loud, I found that I didn’t like the amateur way I wrote it. It felt more like an exact retelling of the story, but with Sonic characters in it. So, I decided at that point to rewrite the entire story in a way that emphasizes the Sonic elements while maintaining the overall plot from Final Fantasy VII.

During this rewrite, which spanned the last seven years, I learned how to outline and worldbuild. I learned how to make better fight scenes. I did tons and tons of research into Sonic lore, learning more about all the different characters through various lenses of media. I played and consumed anything related to Final Fantasy VII so that I could better modify it to my own purposes. I read books and stories by other authors and took notes about how they approached certain scenes, which I then tried to apply to my own work.

All of these exercises had more than one purpose; not only were they helping me to write my current work, they were also getting me to understand how to create and write better stories overall. Now, I’m using all of what I learned to help plan and build a story of my own. How this original tale came to be is another story (which may have involved some divine intervention from a certain Hindu Goddess), but I believe that all of this would’ve never happened without Sonic’s help.

And finally, after over 14 years, the first part of my epic retelling of the Final Fantasy VII story in the Sonic the Hedgehog universe has been completed, with the first three chapters going up on my blog this coming Friday. I had started it, stopped it, rewrote it, stopped it again, lost my nerve and I even gave up at one point… until I found almost two years later that I couldn’t move on with my life and start anything new until I slayed this white whale of mine. Despite it being only the first of many parts, this will be the first time I’ve ever fully written and completed a novel-sized story. It’s basically proof to myself that I can go the distance.

With Sonic, I found that the creative possibilities for me were endless. Even though I may not fully excel in my career as an engineer, I’ve gained the confidence to say that the creative side of me is pretty damn awesome, if I do say so myself.

Reach For The Stars

A wise man once said: Be content, but never be satisfied.

I can say that I presently have a lot going for me. A new job, a family, a home, time to play games, good company both online and offline and some hobbies to entertain myself with.

Except I’m not wholly satisfied with what I got right now. It sounds selfish, but I want more from myself.

I want to reach for the stars with my writing, with my work, with my family and with everything else I do in this life.

Fittingly, “Reach for the Stars” is the title theme song from Sonic Colours, an absolutely wonderful addition to the franchise. This game used Sonic’s daytime stages in Unleashed as its base and refined and updated the mechanics to make them even better. The song itself, performed by Cash Cash, sends a tremendously powerful message and I can’t help but feel inspired whenever I hear the hook:

“I’m gonna reach for the stars /
Although they look pretty far /
I’m gonna find my own way /
And take a chance on today.”

Everytime I hear it or think of it, I tell myself, “I want to be stronger. I want to face my fears and problems head on. I want to create something one of a kind, something that no one has ever seen or thought about before.”

“I want to Chase The Impossible and never look back while doing so.”

“Chase the Impossible” has been a mantra that I’ve been saying to myself over and over fairly recently for inspiration and strength. However, after thinking about what to write about Sonic the Hedgehog for “The Characters That Define Us,” and then looking back at my own history, that phrase has also been a metaphor for my whole life.

People have told me in the past that I couldn’t do certain things. Like that I couldn’t focus on anything beyond video games, or that I couldn’t excel enough in school to get into university. Or that I couldn’t finish my degree and that I should drop it and take something else. Or that I couldn’t start a blog or finish writing a story or differentiate myself from the hundreds of millions of writers out there.

Every time I heard the phrase “You couldn’t or can’t,” uttered from somebody who truly didn’t know me, I’d give them a look similar to the ones Sonic would when it looked like all hope was lost, when the task of saving the world would be impossible. It’s a look that said “Just watch me.”

Reach for the Stars. Chase the Impossible. They are more than just words. They are the engines that have and will continue to propel me into a brighter future. And I know without a doubt that Sonic would and always will be the stalwart supporter by my side (Again with the Alliteration!), come what may.

Dear My Friend

All that I’ve written above expresses but a fraction of how much Sonic has done for me, and continues to do for me today. I’m more than grateful and more than thankful; I’m fully convinced that Sonic the Hedgehog saved my goddamn life, pardon the language. He’s given me a purpose and a drive to get me moving towards the things that I initially thought would be unattainable, like writing a blog about video games, making so many valuable and worthwhile friends, travelling the world, being a loving father and husband, becoming a streamer and even writing a complete story.

Sonic has even convinced me that I can reach for things that I thought would be impossible to attain, like one day regain my running form, or one day attending gaming conventions and expos as a member of the press, or even one day becoming a bestselling author. Heck, if I can do the things I’m doing right now with Sonic by my side, then the things I just listed would also be within the realm of possibility, right?! So the thinking goes.

I kid you not, it’s bloody insane just how much one single character has done for me. I mean, I talked a lot about Cloud back in The Games That Define Us collab and how he’s improved my life significantly, but Sonic? Damn. That’s on another level altogether.

Now, my son is starting to learn what makes Sonic so special to me and he’s starting to become a fan in his own right. I have an old, smaller Sonic plushie that I got working a summer job at an amusement park. One day, it was sitting on my bookshelf in my room and he reached out for it and now he never lets it out of his sight. He sits quietly with me when I’m playing Sonic games and cheers him on when he sees him running at top speed. He dances when he hears the music (in particular, Stardust Speedway Present – PAL version and more recently Windmill Isle Day from Unleashed). He even pulls me to the TV and says “Play SEGA, Play Sonic Hedgehog!” and it’s freaking adorable. My absolute favourite thing is when I start up a Sonic game and the SEGA logo comes up and he does the SEGA chant out loud and in perfect key. It’s literally the best.

I’m both extremely grateful and proud to have been a part of the epic undertaking that is The Characters That Define Us. Throughout the experience, I’ve made new friends and forged stronger bonds with the friends that I’ve already made in the past. Though Sonic is personified as a lone wolf whose always seeking adventure as he zooms across the planet, he also understands that friends make the journey even more exciting. In my case, the many friends I’ve made here within this collaboration, within The Well Red Mage family, through my writing and even while streaming The Sonic Sunday Power Hour on my Twitch channel, has made my personal journey way past cool.

To SEGA and Sonic Team. To Yuji Naka-san, Masato Nakamura-san, Naoto Oshima-san, Hirokazu Yashuara-san and those others who were involved in the hedgehog’s creation: Thank you. Thank you so much for bringing Sonic the Hedgehog, my true blue friend and my constant companion even on the darkest of days, to life.

To Sonic: Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for the joy you bring to me, to my family and my friends. And finally, thank you for helping me find the happiness that I’ve been searching for my whole life.

Oh wait, hold on. I do have one last short story to share before we go. Bear with me:

Before COVID-19 became the pandemic that it is today, I went to an advanced screening of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, the day before its Valentine’s Day release and I LOVED IT. It was not a perfect movie by any means, but to me, it was what I needed to see. On my way home, I reflected on this piece that you’re reading right now. I reflected on everything that Sonic did for me. And I’ll admit, I ugly cried. For a good five minutes. A random person reading this now would probably think “How in the world does a fictional character, a video game character of all things, make you, a grown man, cry?!

My answer is simple: Because he has and always will be The Character That Defines Me.


quests

Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*