I read this book a couple of years ago and while I’ve been on a bit of a LitRPG quest recently, I recently came back to this universe with Shadows of the Fall (Duchy of Terra Book 8) which was quite enjoyable. I thought, however, that before we get into what happened in that book, it made sense to explain everything that had come before so you had a full and complete grounding.

In the Terran Privateer, the Earth is on the brink of a technological renaissance with the discovery of inertialess hyperspeed drives, and compressed matter armor. However, this discovery puts them square in the crosshairs of the universe at large which they realize when an alien armada destroys the UESF (United Earth Space Force) and takes control of the Earth.

While this occupying force is a self-proclaimed benevolent race, the remaining government of the Earth determines their only hope is with Captain Annette Bond. Bond commands the Tornado – Earth’s only experimental hyperspace cruiser & provided with a letter of marque, she sets off to find allies and technology that she can take back to Earth to help remove the occupying force.

Written by Glynn Stewart, the Terran Privateer is a much more ambitious story and universe than the one that I previously read in his book Space Carrier Avalon. In this universe, there are a host of different aliens, each with their own motivations and desires, and the Earth is almost an afterthought to the larger struggles at play.

Characters (4.0)

While there are other bit characters around, from the old French Admiral to the lonely tech genius, this story is all about the lonely Captain Annette Bond and her struggles to save Earth from the perceived tyranny of alien occupation.

Her story actually starts before the invasion when we learn that she was drummed out of the service by other officers when she tried to bring a rapist to justice. While a bit heavy-handed, it does serve to give her a bit of justification and validation, but it is sad that none of the other officers backed her as it’s hard to believe a worldwide navy would allow such corruption to continue.

Now, while I stated the story is all about Captain Bond, I might have been fibbing just a bit. When we talk about important characters, we cannot afford to ignore the alien occupiers themselves. As the story progresses we learn that the A’Tol Imperium truly is benevolent. While they might be occupying Earth, they do so in some respects to help keep humanity safe. For along with the A’Tol, another race of slave trading aliens is also on Earth’s doorstep.

When discussing the aliens of the A’Tol – one we get exposed to over the course of many books is K’Tana. Her introduction helps us understand the A’Tol in a way that would otherwise be impossible. While her inclusion is convenient as a plot device and guide, it is also well done and I can excuse it due to her unique circumstances.

Plot/Story (3.5)

The overall idea of the story is quite good. Earth being taken over by aliens and a single, lone starship captain forced to find a way to help remove the heel of the alien oppressors sounds interesting.

As we gradually learn more about the A’Tol and their inability to lie along with the other aliens in the universe at large, the underlying story becomes even more interesting. In some ways it echo’s the challenges of Battlestar Galactica but perhaps with a mix of Mos Eisley added to it.

As we continue to learn more about the technology and the differences between the core and rimward empires, new mysteries and puzzles are introduced. Bond and her crew do seem to navigate these waters with a bit more aplomb than you’d expect of the first humans to meet aliens, however, I’m willing to give that a pass. Also, the characterizations and motivations of the aliens and how “human” they are, might be a bit too generic also. There were no real motivations that would not make sense to us which was I believe a real miss.

Opinion (4.0)

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book – I’ve read quite a few of Glynn’s books over the years that I hope to review in future posts and this series is one that I’ve enjoyed through 8 books and counting.

I will say that there are some elements of risk that I feel is missing from the book. I do not think any of the key characters are ever really in danger and Tornado itself seems to gradually become a Mary Sue in its own right as she continues to get upgraded and more powerful. In fact, while in the early stages she would struggle to defeat a single vessel from the A’Tol imperium, by the latter stages of the book, she’s become quite capable of defeating a small task force on her own.

Recommendation (4.0)

In the early stages, you’d think this series somewhat similar to Weber’s Honor Harrington books, but you get quickly disabused of that notion in a positive manner. Weber spends chapters and even books on character and world-building which can become excessively tedious. Fortunately, that is not the case here. The book starts off with some decent action and that trend continues throughout.

This book does however offer a bit too easy a path for Annette Bond and her crew though as they quickly stumble across an interpreter and guide. A guide that is able to surprisingly take them to the only place in the quadrant able to upgrade their ship and help them retake Earth. This giant space station hidden away from sight is the Tortuga of space and has technology that can magically retrofit and upgrade Tornado into a force worth reckoning.

As with any good adventure story there are a few twists and turns along the ride but I have to say that the surprise at the end was…well…surprising. There are some overtones of LGBTQ preaching in the book, but in all honesty that didn’t really bother me too much. With the way the world is right now, I don’t really have an issue with it except perhaps to say the sexual natures of any of the characters are somewhat inconsequential to the story as a whole. Having that information in the story did nothing to either add or detract from the story in my opinion.

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While I’ve been writing on this site for years, I’ve recently fallen a bit further behind in my posting duties which I plan to rectify. One reason for my getting back into the game is the inspiration of my daughter. She’s only recently started blogging and writing and her site – Mayas Bookshelves – is doing really well. Of course, as a teenager, she has a bit more time than I do, but I won’t let that stop me!

So without further ado, let’s talk about Life in the North. This is the first book in a still in progress 10 book series. Written by Canadian author Tao Wong it is the quintessential LitRPG and was one of the earliest books in the genre for me. In fact, it is quite possibly the book that got me hooked on LitRPG itself.

With that being said, Life in the North might not initially jump out as a LitRPG as while it does have elf’s and orc’s, they are very different to those from any Tolkein book you might consider as gospel. Within the System Apocalpyse universe dungeon worlds are created when an abundance of raw mana needs an outlet.

This outpouring of mana forces animals to rapidly mutate and change becoming much more dangerous. John Lee discovers this change while on a camping trip in the Yukon. Stuck in an area significantly higher than his basic level, John needs to rapidly acclimate to the changes in the world if he wants to survive.

Plot

John was on a camping trip trying to escape from the problems in his life when the world changed all around him. When Earth becomes a dungeon planet, monsters start spawning all around him.

As a bit of a gamer and geek, John intuitively understands the changes, but his camping location in the Yukon has him starting in a location well above his current level. While this location does afford him with some unexpected benefits and bonuses, his initial survival is very much in doubt.

With very little in the way of weaponry or skills that can help, John struggles to escape the campground and make his way down the mountain to civilization. However, after making his escape he is shocked to find that he has not in fact gone insane as he half hoped for. With death and destruction all around him, the System Apocalpyse has transformed the Earth itself and everyone on it.

Characters

John Lee is our protagonist of choice but is not the only character of interest at all. Along with John we’re introduced to a wisecracking spirit that helps John navigate the changing world.

Along with John and Ali, we get a whole host of other interesting characters which include orcs, elves, and other fantasy tropes. In this case, however, the elf’s, minotaurs, orc’s, and others are actually alien species that have chosen Earth as a new home.

Setting

Dungeon worlds offer lots of rewards but with those rewards comes significant risk. John and the surviving humans have to quickly make their place in this new world. John himself manages to acquire a mecha suit with overtones of Iron Man as he continues to grow in skills and ability.

While he’s advancing, he also understands his limits and knows when it is best to fight and when it is best to cut and run. However, John is the hero you need and not necessarily the one you want. He continues to put himself out there in an attempt to save as many humans as possible.

Unlike traditional LitRPG books with a focus on the fantasy element, with Life in the North, the LitRPG elements are more SciFi in nature. While monsters abound so do lasers, guns, machines and robots giving the story a nice twist.

Writing

As a LitRPG quite a bit of the book covers different abilities and how they work. There is also a lot of focus on the character sheet as individuals advance through levels and grow in their abilities and capabilities.

I will be honest that I often end up skipping the character growth and counting of different levels as it’s not really necessary for me in understanding the story. However, with that being said, it doesn’t take you out of the story too much.

Final Opinion

While I’ve read lots of LitRPG books since this one – check out my review of Land of the Undying for example – it was one of the first and one that I’ve actually read several times.

At this point I’m nine books into the series and while there are some growing pains along the way, this book got me started on the series and I think its a solid and enjoyable read.

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With the launch of the ninth console generation coming in just two more weeks, the excitement that is being felt within gaming circles is palpable. All of the next gen console preorders were sold out within minutes of them going live, and for those lucky few who managed to secure their orders, the week of November 9th will be a busy one. As has been the case for nearly two decades now, the big two competitors will be Sony and Microsoft, pitting their flagship consoles (The Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively) against each other, in a battle for the domination of the holiday market. However, in this generation, Microsoft has introduced a wrinkle into the traditional two console battle; a smaller, less powerful, but more cost efficient console known as the Xbox Series S, which is retailing for $200 less than its aforementioned competitors. 

The backlash to this announcement was sudden and harsh in the gaming community, with many expressing their belief that this console would be holding technological progress back so that Microsoft could enforce parity with the more powerful Series X. Others were confused, wondering why this console, barely an upgrade on current generation hardware, would need to exist at all. Suffice it to say, the general reaction to the announcement of the Series S has ranged from vitriolic to apathetic. However, for my money, this is the console I’m currently most excited about. 

I think that the Series S has the potential to serve a number of underappreciated, niche audiences, but for now I want to focus on a couple of key factors that I think will give the system a place in the new generation. To begin, consider the world that these consoles will be launching in. It’s one in which many people, especially in the West (one of the largest markets in this industry) are facing unemployment, eviction, and a loss of healthcare. While it is much too late to be pushing back the release of these consoles, both companies are being forced to market them as luxury products in a time where many don’t even know where their next paycheck is going to come from. By offering a much lower price point (almost half of the $500 price tag on the Series X and PS5), Microsoft is providing people with a way to enter into the next generation without bankrupting themselves on a flagship console. 

This ties in with a broader approach to the new generation that Microsoft is attempting, which is to get people invested in the Xbox ecosystem at any cost. According to a rumor floating around the internet, the company is taking a big hit on the production costs for these units, especially on the Series S. This indicates that they think the trade off is worth it in order to have an Xbox console be the one that occupies the most homes by Christmas. While there is a conversation to be had about corporate consolidation and the dangers of monopolies in any industry (especially given how large Microsoft has grown over the last two years), this means that there is a huge market that will be invested in the new generation that might otherwise have been ignored for several years. By extension, that means huge growth for an industry that will inevitably be hit hard by current events.

This should be reason enough for the existence of the Series S, but there are other factors that will contribute to its success. The price point at which it is launching is low enough to compete with the current consoles, despite the increase in power. This means that when current hardware inevitably breaks, it will be roughly the same price to upgrade to a newer generation, which will mean new sources of revenue for Microsoft. This, combined with their commitment to backwards compatibility with old tech and games, means that there will be more people than ever invested in the newer generation, and that’s something that anyone with even a passing interest in the industry, or medium, should be excited about. After all, what purpose is there in trying to exclude others from an industry that is making such strides towards inclusivity? There’s room for the Series S in this medium, and there’s room for new competition too.

In a massive stroke of luck that seems uncharacteristic for this year, I managed to secure pre-orders for two consoles over the last few months, and this last week, I’ve put in time with both the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series S. While it’s likely to be a few more months until people who missed out on pre-orders can get their hands on either of these new machines, we now have a very good idea of what the next 6-8 years of console gaming are going to look like. There are things to be excited about, things to be cautiously optimistic about, and things to be just plain old cautious about. So, without any further preamble, let’s take a look at what the ninth generation of consoles has to offer. 

First Impressions

What immediately struck me in the months leading to these console launches is that this generation seemed much more focused on the experience of the consumer than the last one was. I’m sure many people still remember the infamous reveal of the Xbox One, and this time around, there was nothing so blatantly anti-consumer as that. Instead, we got two vastly different approaches to the way in which each console was advertised; with Microsoft, it was all about getting people invested in a familiar and increasingly ubiquitous Xbox ecosystem at any cost, while Sony went for a more traditional focus on more powerful hardware and a ton of exclusive games. Both approaches had merit, and both offered a particular experience for the consumer. I got my Xbox Series S so that I could continue to play all the games I’ve spent the last 12 years accumulating on a more powerful machine, not so that I could play the newest and shiniest games on the market. To that point, I haven’t been disappointed in the slightest. It feels like an iterative upgrade on the Xbox One, and for the price point of the Series S, that’s a great value to me. On the flip side, I got a PS5 to be my flagship console for the remainder of the generation, giving me a way to play new releases over the next few years the way they were intended to be played, and I haven’t been disappointed with it either. The technology, which we’ll get into soon, is genuinely  impressive, and I’ve had a blast diving into the launch games for it. 

Unfortunately, the lack of launch games is the biggest issue with the new consoles. Microsoft made the questionable choice to advertise the fact that there would be no exclusives to the Series X/S for a few years, and many of the games that Sony was promising were delayed until 2021. As a result, neither console has a particularly robust launch lineup, and much of what I’ve been playing on them since I finished the Demon’s Souls Remake are last-gen games. Granted, this isn’t a terrible thing; on the contrary, I love that both consoles have a way to access a back catalogue of games for a small subscription fee. It negates that ancient problem of unpacking your new console, finishing whatever game you got with it, then allowing it to gather dust while you wait to expand your library. However, there’s only so many times I can play Fallout 4 and Bloodborne, and unless you’re looking to play Demon’s Souls (a remake of a game that’s over a decade old) or replace a previous generation console with a new model, there’s no real reason to buy any of the new boxes yet. 

The Technology

Something that’s really stuck out in this generation is that it seems as though the obsession with realistic graphics is finally over. Make no mistake, the games on the PS5 look fantastic and are incredibly detailed, but I think the general public has stopped being impressed by games trying to visually emulate real life, and the main innovations in the new consoles reflect that shift. From the marketing to the games themselves, it seems that Sony was less interested in showcasing the graphical power of their games, and more on how the PS5 would impact the experience of playing them. The SSD has enabled lightning fast loading times, and while that may not be a feature that’s immediately apparent to a spectator, it has completely changed the way I play. As I went through Demon’s Souls, I stared at the iconic “You Died” screen countless times, and more than once I caught myself reaching for my phone while I waited to respawn. It never took more than a second and a half. In fact, I was usually back to gameplay before I could even reach over to my phone. As someone who’s a big fan of Bethesda and From Software games, I’ve had to contend with some truly egregious load times over the years, and with their elimination, I can already tell I’m going to have trouble ever going back to old consoles. Even from the PS5 home screen, it takes less than ten seconds from the point in which I open the game to the point of having control of my character. Longtime PC players will talk about how they’ve had these kinds of load times for years, but having it on something as accessible and budget friendly as a console is going to fundamentally change game design in the coming years. 

Another huge innovation is the DualSense controller for the PS5, and it is something that Sony has boasted about to no end. To their credit, it is incredibly impressive technology, and despite my reservations about how it would actually feel to use, I was more than impressed. The adaptive triggers feel really satisfying to use, the haptic feedback was used to great effect in the handful of games I played, and from an ergonomic perspective, the design is the best that Playstation has ever had. It also feels a lot sturdier than the Dualshock 4, and given that it’s an expensive replacement, that’s reassuring. With all this being said, my biggest concern is still very much alive; outside of first party Sony exclusives, how many games will actually utilize these features? Even in Demon’s Souls, a game which you’d think could find all sorts of use for something like the adaptive triggers, the only controller function that it took advantage of was the haptic feedback. It’s really cool tech, and I’d love to see it put to good use, but only time will tell if it actually will. 

You might notice this section has been largely focused on the PS5, and that’s not an accident. The Series X, which I was not able (or particularly interested) to get my hands on seems to be largely the same in terms of performance to the PS5, and it’s good to see that they can keep parity with each other, but it lacks the big controller innovations that have defined the the move from PS4 to PS5. On the other hand, the Series S doesn’t have 4k support, a disc drive, or a few other key features of its stablemates, but for the functions I need it to serve, it serves them admirably. The one big new feature is the ability to have multiple games open at once, something that I’ve taken huge advantage of, as I tend to get bored of some games quickly. It’s nice to be able to switch between games in seconds, and while the PS5  doesn’t have the feature (at the time of writing at least), load times are so quick that it barely makes a difference.

As for the new Xbox controller, it’s more of the same, and that’s also not a terrible thing to my mind. As far as I’m concerned, the Xbox One had the best standard controller design of all time, and the Series S/X controller is almost identical, albeit with a better d-pad, more texture on the grips and triggers, and with a dedicated share button. There isn’t anything that will blow your mind like with the Dualsense, it’s just an all around well designed controller with few bells or whistles. 

And yes, 60 FPS seems to be the standard for everything I’ve played.

The Console War


Even when the consoles had just been revealed over the summer, people on the internet were declaring which side had won the console war for this generation. As always, this idea of some great battle of the brands is ludicrous; at best, it promotes unquestioning loyalty to a brand and corporation, and ultimately just serves to deepen divisions in the community. That being said, despite having owned and played primarily on an Xbox One last generation, I think in hindsight most people will recognize that the PS4 was the better piece of hardware. In this generation though, I think both sides have pretty equal footing, they just both serve very different spaces in the market. While Xbox tries to make gaming more inclusive and accessible to everyone through services like Games Pass and products like their accessible controller, Sony has pushed the technology for playing games farther than we could have imagined it would go this generation. Which one you want to play on will depend entirely on what you’re looking for in gaming, and that’s great. There will be a lot of healthy competition over the next few years, and I can’t wait to see what kind of innovations that competition will give rise to. For now though, I have both consoles sitting on my entertainment stand, and I think they’ve both done enough to earn their space there.

Gaming has introduced endless hours of entertainment by yourself or with friends. However, it’s not always a harmonious interaction when it comes to online play. This article discusses the harsh reality of online harassment/bullying through the lens of a young gamer who is rather familiar with toxicity.

The most baffling aspect about Tony Xiao’s essay on toxicity in gaming is that the writer is only 15 years old. However, despite being a decade and some change in years, Xiao already has a firm understanding, and presumable first-hand experience, on the hostile side of online gaming. He is quick to note that most insults thrown in online game chat rooms mostly consist of racist or homophobic remarks, slurs that inflict severe hate with just an ounce of a breath.

These derogatory phrases evoke real anger without any consideration of the recipient’s side. When it comes to online trash-talking, there is no such thing as off-limits. No punches are pulled and there are definitely no officials or moderators present to defend you.

Online battlefields

Players will hurl the nastiest offensive words in their arsenal, all without ever fearing real-world consequences. Xiao realizes that the reason ill-advised players are so open to talk in such derogatory terms to others is because there is hardly any punishment to worry about. In addition, there are easy ways to bypass censors that are supposed to stop profanity and slurs.

“But in most cases, these measures are perfunctory, amounting to a slap on the wrist. Players evade censors easily by omitting letters or adding numerals to ethnic slurs written in game chats,” Xiao writes. The 15-year-old illustrates an example in which a victim of online toxicity today may gradually, in a few months or so, become the bully themselves in online chat rooms, almost as if it were a tradition or ritual.

Hatred breeds more hatred and that is also part of the toxic cycle that Xiao knows all too well. The advice most given to those who are recipients of online bullying would be to mute the assailant as well as themselves to prevent further instigating. This cuts the source of toxicity directly and allows the player to refocus on the task at hand, which is whatever the objective of the game is.

Mute won’t solve all the problems

The title of Xiao’s essay makes reference to this but it ultimately does nothing to stop online gaming from being cesspools for rude and offensive remarks. In fact, I would argue and compare it to someone witnessing a crime, but instead of reporting it or assisting in whatever way possible to prevent or stop the culprit, the witness simply closes their eyes and walks away.

It does wonders to get you out of immediate danger, but it does close to nothing to deter the criminal from doing another heinous act. To truly stop toxicity from going rampant on video games that are, at times, intended for children is for developers to enforce chat room rules and punish those who feel the need to throw cheap shots regarding genders or ethnicity. Hate among the differences of people is a deeper problem that society has been a victim of for centuries, but the unnecessary bigotry that manifests in online gaming could be contained and be put to a swift halt.

One person can make a difference

It ultimately falls on the shoulders of gaming studios and, to an extent, the players to “[understand] that they have a responsibility to stem the spread of hate on its platforms,” and to recognize that there are actual people, with real feelings and emotions, at the other end of the screen. Words carry a lot of weight behind them and toxicity in online games could absolutely cause serious and lingering damage.

I applaud Xiao for putting this seriousness into the centre stage for a broader audience via The New York Times. Still, I cannot help but feel an alarming concern that someone of his age, and perhaps younger, have already experienced or witnessed these acts of belligerence carried out by unpleasant individuals who hide by their online anonymity. It is unfair that the children of now are at the peak of online gaming and inevitably in the frontlines of gaming toxicity.   

The Higurashi franchise returns with a new rendition of the classic 2006 series. Most of the original Japanese voice actors reprise their roles once more to finally settle the mysteries of Hinamizawa. This article contains no spoilers.

After a grueling long three month delay, the latest adaptation of the horror-drama Higurashi franchise, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou, has finally made its debut for the fall 2020 anime season. Despite the horrific story that takes place in the fictional Hinamizawa, fans of the franchise were more than willing to relive those dire moments, this time in high-definition.

It has been long speculated whether the new season would be a reboot, remake or potential sequel of the original Higurashi anime that aired back in 2006. Regardless of the outcome, the amount of hype that surrounded Gou’s debut made it abundantly clear that fans were excited and wanted more Higurashi, regardless of rendition.

Long waited reunion

The first episode was a sigh of relief as they brought back all the familiar faces and lovable characters of the original series. The personalities and interactions with one another were all too familiar, like reuniting with an old batch of friends after countless years. Keiichi still pretending to be aloof, Rena’s overwhelming obsession with all things cute, and Shion always acting like the geezer of the group, were all the very same unique traits that encompassed who they were in the original adaptation.

An even more delightful surprise, perhaps, was the reassembly of the original Japanese voice actors from nearly 15 years ago. Gou managed to bring most of the cast back, with all of them reprising their original role. Although most of the cast are now well into their adult years, like true professionals, they portray their younger counterparts without missing a step. Yukari Tamura, Yui Horie and Mai Nakahara, all of which have since become renowned voice actors and singers in Japan since casting for Higurashi, will also be returning.

If that didn’t bring back nostalgic memories for previous watchers, then maybe the familiar soundtracks will. Not only does Gou feature soundtracks from the older seasons, devoted fans will quickly notice that it also includes music from the original visual novel game that was released way back in 2002. As simple as they were from a composer’s point of view, they helped put together everlasting scenes and moments that players and watchers would remember years later.

Future like no other

Fans of the franchise will quickly notice the vibrant new art style of the anime, courtesy of studio Passione. The rural village of Hinamizawa looks more alive and vastly colourful than all of its predecessors put together. Although the layout of the village looks the same, the sharper animation and brilliant colouring make it feel much more immersive and memorable. The characters’ newly drawn style should draw some comparisons to another popular anime known for their subtle yet terrifyingly accurate portrayal of facial expressions, Nisio Isin’s Monogatari series. That is because the lead character designer for that anime, Akio Watanabe, is also the lead designer for Gou.

Less than halfway through the first episode, it should come as no surprise that the same events from the original anime were unfolding, this time with some additional new scenes. Keiichi is still regarded as the new kid on the block while he learns more about the history of Hinamizawa as well as his friends, Rena, Shion, Satoko and Rika. As secrets slip out, trickles of doubt and mistrust begin to cloud Keiichi’s mind and long before he begins to even realize, the warm sunny days spent hanging out with his most precious friends are that of the past.

From the mastermind himself

To the resounding joy of many, Gou begins its story by retelling the first arc, Onikakushi-hen, only this time being more faithful to its original source material, the visual novels released nearly two decades ago. After the premiere of the first episode, the original creator of the Higurashi series, Ryukishi Zero-Nana or more notably by his pen name Ryukishi07, shared his thoughts and insight on it for an interview with Funimation.

It was Ryukishi’s intention to find a perfect medium that would appeal to both those who’ve seen Higurashi before and for those who are first time watchers. He ended the interview by thanking his longtime supporters and reminding everyone to tune into the next episode. “Things are finally going to start moving with the next episode, so I hope you watch carefully from episode two on,” he concluded.

Regardless of how episode two will unfold, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou has managed to bring back warm yet chilling memories of the past, and has us tense in excitement for the unexpected outcomes of the next episode onwards. It matters not whether Gou is a remake, reboot, sequel or anything else in between, studio Passione has done a phenomenal job bringing these illustrious characters back to life and the staff have done well to incorporate everything the fans have cherished in the previous seasons back into this one.

With the gifted mind of Ryukishi at the helm of the production staff, there is no doubt that Gou will become a series that longtime fans can adore, while also serving as a gateway for new fans to explore the frightening beauty of the magnificent Higurashi universe.

Video games have always been an outlet that many people seem to enjoy. Perhaps lost in our own excitement, we tend to forget the issues that overly obsessive gamers are faced with. Using a recent article from the New York Times, let’s explore a first-hand account of video game addiction and the underlying problems that may arise from younger audiences.

With the release of the PS5 earlier this week, I think it’s an appropriate time to look back on Ferris Jabr’s Can you really be addicted to video games? submitted for the New York Times. Jabr introduces the readers to a late 20-something-year-old video game addict Charlie Bracke and recounts his history of playing video games for an obscene amount of time, all while crumbling under the stresses that society has thrown his way.

Jabr paints Bracke’s story like somewhat of a drama motion picture, but without the part where it elicits a sense of empathy or sadness. Instead, Bracke’s supposed sob story sounds like the tale of someone who did not even bother to fight through adversity when challenged, but rather succumbed voluntarily. It is made apparent that Bracke used video games to escape from the realities of society and not because of the games themselves. Where I found similarities in Bracke’s story with my own was the lengthy gameplay sessions that would easily proceed well past 12 hours in one day. In my case, I played those ungodly hours until my mind became distorted because of the joy and sheer satisfaction of seeing my progression right before my very eyes.

Titles such as Runescape, Elder Scrolls Online, and Call of Duty, excellent games that are still relatively popular today, were a few franchises that rewarded good players with items or experience. It is also worth mentioning how much more enjoyable it was with friends. Time would escape us and I would only have myself to blame when it came to missed deadlines or a lack of sleep. With that being said, I regret absolutely none of the time I spent playing video games when it was in my best interest not to because the games were tremendously gratifying.

Down the path of no return

Bracke could not keep up with his university studies or maintain a relationship with his girlfriend. These troublesome affairs eventually led him down a path of heavy gaming, in which he could drown his sorrows away in the virtual world while further neglecting his duties in real life. Video games are highly credited for their ways to alleviate the burdens of everyday stress, but when used to completely replace someone’s world, as was Bracke’s case, it should be no surprise that health, career and relationships with others would surely deteriorate.

Fabr then goes back and forth questioning whether gaming is an actual addiction or a symptom of another underlying issue, perhaps depression even. Sure enough, there were many medical professionals that have come to the conclusion that gaming can be an addiction. The World Health Organization went even as far to add a new disorder to the section on substance use and addictive behaviours, citing that “gaming disorder, which it defines as excessive and irrepressible preoccupation with video games, resulting in significant personal, social, academic or occupational impairment for at least 12 months.”

Some of gaming industries biggest leaders, like the Entertainment Software Association, were in complete disagreement with the diagnostic, claiming that it may stigmatize future products that they would release, thus endangering the entirety of the gaming entertainment industry. There are even medical experts who would also disagree with the notion that video game addiction is a real disorder. Andrew Przybylski of Oxford Internet Institute says, “the whole thing is an epistemic dumpster fire,” while Fabr adds that “people enjoy and sometimes form all-consuming passions for countless activities: fishing, baking, running, and yet we don’t typically pathologize those.”

As mentioned before, Fabr does an outstanding job bringing the facts outright for the readers to gather as much information before deciding a conclusion for themselves. Perhaps the most damning evidence to suggest that video game addiction is a legitimate disorder is disclosing studies that “indicate compulsive game play and addictive drugs alter the brain’s reward circuits in similar ways.”

Living through adversity

As technology continues to advance, so will the complexity and immersion of video games. There are titles out there that can take thousands of hours to complete, and some that, technically, cannot be beaten as there is no end game. Regardless, in this day of age, games are built to be addictive. It is simply part of the business route that all studios inadvertently instill in games to make a profit. There is no point blaming the developers for someone developing an unhealthy obsession with their game. If anything, it is a testament to the game’s exceedingly successful replay value.

Bracke would eventually go to rehab to treat his gaming addiction where it yielded positive results. During his time recovering, he would make lifelong bonds with friends who were treading down the same ill-fated path. Together, they fought against their addiction and gradually came back to society with healthy levels of gaming in mind. The conclusion whether gaming addiction should be considered a disorder is still at the centre point for debates among gamers and medical professionals alike, however we should, at the very least, accept that gaming can serve as an infinite sponge to harbor depression or other mental health issues.

Bracke is one of the few extreme cases that made great leaps in recovery and self-awareness. It goes without saying that there are millions, who do not have the luxury to appear in feature articles, that are coping with life’s struggle through video games, resulting in addictions that further adds fuel to the fire.

Video games have and will always be an undying passion of mine, but to claim that it is a hobby, passion or lifestyle without deep-rooted issues would be a slap to the face of everyone who has ever dabbled in the virtual realm. Gamers could easily find themselves insulting others as if there were no repercussions to have on the other side. Insults and trash talking have been prevalent in competitive online games since their inception, it is almost revered as a tradition rather than blatant bullying.

Over in the competitive scene, children as young as high schoolers have admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs to propel their gameplay to the next level. It is a twisted scenario that is unfortunately the reality that we live in. Gamers feel the need to perform at unprecedented feats to the point where sabotaging their life is a risk worth taking.

The truth of video game addiction

Performance enhancement usage to get an unfair advantage in traditional sports has been well documented for decades now, but never would I expect it to apply to online esports as well. Last but not least, the addictive side of gaming is a troublesome issue that many slip into, some without even knowing. They are too caught up in the immersive atmosphere the game has simulated to ever be bothered with real life consequences. In most cases, however, it is used to suppress problems or uncertainties experienced in the real world.

Games are rather amazing when they are played as intended and within moderation, but of course that is easier said than done. Video games have transformed to become more than just comfy entertainment devices. They are alternate worlds for some, a form of relief for the majority and actual careers for others. A lot of people take up the controller, or the mouse and keyboard, for different reasons but we should all remain vigilant of the surrounding issues that are inherently bundled with gaming. Again, gaming is a passion of mine that will never burn out, not even in the slightest, but it is important to remember that it never has been a beacon of purity or a bastion of peace, and it more than likely never will be.

Iwa Kakeru!: Sport Climbing Girls introduces Konomi Kasahara to the up and coming sport of climbing. Using her background of puzzling gaming, she transfers her innate ability to problem-solve on the climbing walls.

With the fall 2020 anime season being jam-packed with popular shows and highly anticipated sequels, it’s rather common for some series to go under the radar or even completely forgotten. Iwa Kakeru!: Sport Climbing Girls unfortunately seems to be following in this trajectory. That, however, is to be expected given the anime’s relatively short-lived manga and mediocre ratings.

This will also be author Ryuudai Ishizaka’s first manga to get an anime adaptation. Although that is a tremendous accomplishment for Ishizaka, it won’t help that he has no other past works to attract existing or new fans. Despite Climbing Girls’ underwhelming reception among the anime community throughout the first five episodes, it is still a worthwhile show that explores the up and coming activity known as sport climbing through the lens of a charming group of girls.

Rocky Puzzle

The anime begins when high school junior Konomi Kasahara stumbles upon a climbing wall right outside of campus after her first day of class. She was initially drawn into it because of the many different shapes and colours the holds of the climbing wall had. To Kasahara, it reminded her of a puzzle video game, a variety of gaming that she was all too familiar with. Despite being extremely skilled in video games, so much so that she has even won national tournaments, Kasahara wished to move on from her stay-at-home lifestyle and to embark on a new ambition.

Due to her background in puzzle gaming, Kasahara instinctively climbed the wall in a strategic manner. Using the best route available, she made it all the way to the top, hooking the final anchor. As the three members of the climbing club looked on, thoroughly impressed at her first attempt ever, they welcomed Kasahara with open arms and told her about the upcoming sport climbing tournament.

Climbing Girls offers a new perspective on the sport of rock climbing and highlights the athleticism, precision and strategic prowess needed in order to ascend or send a wall. Right off the bat, the anime is quick to dispel any narratives that suggest rock climbing is solely an upper body dependent activity. As the show progresses, we begin to learn more about the subtle techniques and finesse climbers must utilize in order to conquer their wall or route. The climbers are drawn with detailed muscles, especially the abominable section, and glossy sweat that illustrate the sport and its athletes to perfection.

Perfecting the craft

The anime is a delightful surprise for those who aren’t knowledgeable of climbing and quite a refreshing take on a relatively niche sport. Kasahara learns the hard way that arm strength alone will not bring her to the finish line, a great deal of commitment and effort is required, much like any other sport would. Hours upon hours of training are needed to swiftly and safely ascend towards the top, and the anime makes certain that viewers understand this. As she continues her training, she learns how to properly mount holds with her feet, take advantage of her body’s leverages and the best way to assess a route even before taking the first step. Kasahara’s journey from a beginner whose arms gave out after the first climb to a specialist who can contort her body in seemingly any position, is a truly motivating experience that would leave most viewers grinning from ear to ear.

The other girls in the climbing club are still leagues above Kasahara and push the newcomer to her limits every now and then, but all of it is with good intentions as they prepare for the tournament. The girls make sure to give their due diligence in nurturing Kasahara to meet and exceed her untapped potential, even if that comes at her dismay. The friendship the four girls share is the kind of bond many would be envious of, a spiritual connection that allows them to learn, grow and prosper from one another, whether that be in sport climbing or life in general. To the untrained eye, rock climbing is nothing more than using your arms to grab the next hold in front of you.

Not only does Climbing Girls offer an endearing story about four girls competing for a national tournament, but it also provides us a glimpse of the mesmerizing art form known as sport climbing. Regardless of the tournament’s outcome, viewers will be sure to finish the anime feeling satisfied learning about a less than traditional sport, Kasahara’s character development and the unwavering friendship she obtained along the way.

A growing sport

Although rock climbing’s relevancy is still miles away from mainstream sports, such as basketball or baseball, its community continues to grow. For the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, sport climbing was set to make its debut as an official event for the summer games. The new format would introduce three disciplines of the sport, lead-climbing, bouldering and speed climbing.

Climbing Girls combines the appeal of sport climbing with a down to earth main character who every viewer can relate to one way or the other. It brings us into the crafty and newly refined world of climbing and practically teaches us the sport from the ground up. The only thing more entertaining than learning the mastery behind climbing is watching Kasahara get teased relentlessly from her fellow club members.

Climbing Girls may be overshadowed by the other, more popular, anime that headline the fall 2020 season, but there is nothing about it that makes it any less inferior in terms of production, characters and story. Overall, it is an anime that stands completely fine on its own and is certainly worth a watch for those who enjoy the competitive nature of sports, or for those who relish in watching a group of friends strive towards a common goal.