Friday, November 20, 2015

Why Do Men Commit Suicide In Such High Numbers?

Because November 19th is International Men's Day, I've decided to share one of the best articles I have ever read on the subject of gender. It was originally printed here and here. My highlights ("TL;DR") in red.

If you have a son, chances are very good that he will have to deal with the issues brought up here at some point during his life.

Why Men Kill Themselves
In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female. Will Storr asks why.

Finally, Drummond had everything he’d ever dreamed of. He’d come a long way since he was a little boy, upset at his failure to get into the grammar school. That had been a great disappointment to his mother, and to his father, who was an engineer at a pharmaceutical company. His dad had never showed much interest in him as a child. He didn’t play with him and when he was naughty, he’d put him over the back of a chair and wallop him. That’s just the way men were in those days. Your father was feared and respected. Dads were dads.

It was difficult, seeing the grammar boys pass by the house in their smart caps, every morning. Drummond had always dreamed of becoming a headteacher in a little school in a perfect village when he grew up, but he was only able to get a place at the technical school learning woodwork and bricklaying. The careers tutor almost laughed when he told him of his dreams to teach. But Drummond was ambitious. He earned a place at college, became president of its student union. He found a teaching job, married his childhood sweetheart, and slowly climbed his way to a headship in a Norfolk village. He had three children and two cars. His mother, at least, was proud.

And he was sitting alone in a small room, thinking about killing himself.

Impulsivity, brooding rumination, low serotonin, poor social problem-solving abilities—there are many vulnerabilities that can heighten the risk of suicide. Professor Rory O’Connor, president of the International Academy of Suicide Research, has been studying the psychological processes behind self-inflicted death for over 20 years.

“Did you see the news?” he asks when I meet him. The morning’s papers are carrying the latest numbers: 6,233 suicides were registered in the United Kingdom in 2013. While the female suicide rate has remained roughly constant since 2007, that for men is at its highest since 2001. Nearly eight in 10 of all suicides are male—a figure that has been rising for over three decades. In 2013, if you were a man between the ages of 20 and 49 who’d died, the most likely cause was not assault nor car crash nor drug abuse nor heart attack, but a decision that you didn’t wish to live any more.

In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female. The mystery is why? What is it about being male that leads to this? Why, at least in the U.K., are middle-aged men most at risk? And why is it getting worse?

Those who study suicide, or work for mental health charities, are keen to press upon the curious that there’s rarely, if ever, a single factor that leads to any self-inflicted death and that mental illness, most commonly depression, usually precedes such an event. “But the really important point is, most people with depression don’t kill themselves,” O’Connor tells me. “Less than five percent do. So mental illness is not an explanation. For me, the decision to kill yourself is a psychological phenomenon. What we’re trying to do in the lab here is understand the psychology of the suicidal mind.”

We’re sitting in O’Connor’s office on the grounds of Gartnavel Royal Hospital. Through the window, the University of Glasgow’s spire rises into a dreich sky. Paintings by his two children are stuck to a corkboard—an orange monster, a red telephone. Hiding in the cupboard, a grim book collection: Comprehending Suicide; By Their Own Young Hands; Kay Redfield Jamison’s classic memoir of madness, An Unquiet Mind.

O’Connor’s Suicidal Behaviour Research Lab works with survivors in hospitals, assessing them within 24 hours of an attempt and tracking how they fare afterwards. It also carries out experimental studies, testing hypotheses on matters such as pain tolerance in suicidal people and changes in cognition following brief induced periods of stress.

After years of study, O’Connor found something about suicidal minds that surprised him. It’s called social perfectionism. And it might help us understand why men kill themselves in such numbers.

At 22, Drummond married his brown-eyed girlfriend Livvy. Eighteen months later he became a father. Before long there were two boys and a girl. Money was tight, of course, but he was true to his responsibilities. He taught during the day and worked behind the bar in a pub at night. On Fridays he’d do the night shift in a bowling alley, 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. He’d sleep in the day and go back to do the overnight again on Saturday. Then a lunchtime shift in a pub on Sunday, a bit of rest, and back to school Monday morning. He didn’t see much of his children, but the thing that mattered most to him was keeping his family comfortable.

As well as the work, Drummond was studying, determined to earn the extra qualifications to become a headteacher. More ambition, more progress. He got new jobs at bigger schools. He was leading his family to better places. He felt like a successful leader. The perfect husband.

But he wasn’t.

If you’re a social perfectionist, you tend to identify closely with the roles and responsibilities you believe you have in life. “It’s not about what you expect of yourself,” O’Connor explains. “It’s what you think other people expect. You’ve let others down because you’ve failed to be a good father or a good brother—whatever it is.”

Because it’s a judgment on other people’s imagined judgments of you, it can be especially toxic. “It’s nothing to do with what those people actually think of you,” he says. “It’s what you think they expect. The reason it’s so problematic is that it’s outside your control.”

O’Connor first came across social perfectionism in studies of American university students. “I thought it wouldn’t be applicable in a U.K. context and that it certainly wouldn’t be applicable to people from really difficult backgrounds. Well, it is. It’s a remarkably robust effect. We’ve looked at it in the context of the most disadvantaged areas of Glasgow.” It began in 2003 with an initial study that looked at 22 people who had recently attempted suicide, as well as a control group, and assessed them using a 15-question quiz that measures agreement with statements such as “Success means that I must work even harder to please others” and “People expect nothing less than perfection from me.” “We’ve found this relationship between social perfectionism and suicidality in all populations where we’ve done the work,” says O’Connor, “including among the disadvantaged and the affluent.”

What’s not yet known is why. “Our hypothesis is that people who are social perfectionist are much more sensitive to signals of failure in the environment,” he says.

I ask if this is about perceived failure to fulfill roles, and what roles men feel they should fill? Father? Bread-winner?

“Now there’s this change in society,” O’Connor replies, “you have to be Mr. Metrosexual too. There are all these greater expectations—more opportunities for men to feel like failures.”

The power of the perceived expectations of others, and the sense of cataclysm when you believe you’ve failed them, emerges in an accelerated form in Asia, where suicide rates can be devastatingly high. Worst-affected in the region is South Korea, which has, by some counts, the second-highest suicide rate in the world. Around 40 South Koreans take their own lives every day, according to 2011 reports. A 2014 poll by the government-linked Korea Health Promotion Foundation found that just over half of all teenagers had had suicidal thoughts within the previous year.

Professor Uichol Kim, a social psychologist at South Korea’s Inha University, believes much of this can be explained by the great miseries that have been unleashed by the country’s rapid move from rural poverty to rich city life. Sixty years ago, it was one of the poorest countries in the world, he says, comparing its post-war situation to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. From a majority living in agricultural communities in the past, today 90 percent of people live in urban areas.

That change has blasted the foundations of a culture that, for 2,500 years, has been profoundly influenced by Confucianism, a value system that made sense of subsistence life in small, often isolated farming communities. “The focus was on cooperation and working together,” Kim explains. “Generally, it was a caring, sharing, and giving culture. But in an urban city, it’s very competitive and achievement-focused.” For a great many, what it means to be a successful self has transformed. “You’re defined by your status, power, and wealth, which was not part of traditional culture.” Why did it change in this way? “A Confucian scholar living on a farm in a rural village might be very wise, but he’s poor,” Kim says. “We wanted to get rich.” The result, he argues, has been a kind of amputation of meaning for the people. “It’s a culture without roots.”

It’s also a culture whose pathways to success can be demanding—South Korea has the longest working hours in the OECD group of rich nations—and rigidly codified. If you fail as a teenager you could easily feel you’ve failed for life. “The most respected company in South Korea is Samsung,” says Kim. He told me that 80 to 90 percent of their intake comes from just three universities. “Unless you enter one of the three, you cannot get a job in one of the major corporations.” (I couldn’t confirm these statistics through English-language sources, but according to the Korea Joongang Daily there have been allegations of bias toward particular universities.)

It’s more than just job prospects that the young of the nation are working toward. “If you’re a good student, you’re respected by your teachers, parents, and your friends. You’re very popular. Everybody wants to date you.” The pressure to achieve this level of perfection, social and otherwise, can be immense. “Self-esteem, social esteem, social status, everything is combined into one,” he says. “But what if you fail?”

As well as all the part-time work he did for money, and the studying for his career, Drummond took on volunteering positions, which stole even more time from his children and his wife. Livvy would complain that he was working too much. She said she felt neglected. “You’re more interested in your career than you are in me,” she’d say. The constant upheaval of moving from place to place with every new school didn’t help.

He was volunteering at a hospital in King’s Lynn when he found out about the first affair. A woman handed him a bundle of papers. “These are the letters your wife’s been writing to my husband,” she said. They were highly sexual. But what made it worse was the extent to which Livvy had apparently become besotted with the man.

Drummond went home to confront his wife. Livvy couldn’t deny it. It was all there in her own handwriting. He found out there’d been all sorts of scenes in her lover’s street. She’d been driving up and down, outside his house, trying to see him. But Drummond couldn’t leave her. The children were young, and she promised it would never happen again. He decided to forgive her.

Drummond used to go away for weekend training courses. One day, he came back to find Livvy’s car had had a puncture and the village policeman had changed the wheel. That, he thought, was extremely generous of him. Some time later, his 11-year-old daughter came to him in tears. She’d caught her mum in bed with the policeman.

Livvy’s next lover was a salesman for a medical firm. She actually left that time, only to return a fortnight later. Drummond dealt with it all in the only way he knew—hold it in. He was never one for breaking down in tears and rolling around on the floor. He didn’t have any close male friends he could talk to, and even if he had, he probably wouldn’t have said anything. It’s not the sort of thing you want to admit to people, that your wife’s screwing around. Then Livvy announced she wanted a separation.

When they finally divorced, Livvy got the house, the children, the lot. Once the maintenance was paid, there wasn’t much left for Drummond. No one at the school knew anything. To them, he was still the impressive man he’d spent years trying to become: the successful headteacher, married with three blossoming children. But then, of course, it got out. A midday supervisor said to him, “I hear your wife has moved?”

By then he was living in a freezing rented room on a farm 10 miles outside of King’s Lynn. As a man, he felt diminished. He was broke. He felt like a failure, the cuckolded man, not the person everyone expected him to be. The doctor prescribed him some pills. He remembers sitting in that place on the fens, and realizing that the easiest way out would be to take the whole perishing lot and be done with it.

If you’re a social perfectionist, you’ll have unusually high expectations of yourself. Your self-esteem will be dangerously dependent on maintaining a sometimes impossible level of success. When you’re defeated, you’ll collapse.

But social perfectionists aren’t unique in identifying closely with their goals, roles, and aspirations. Psychology professor Brian Little, of the University of Cambridge, is well known for his research on personal projects. He believes we can identify so closely with them that they become part of our very sense of self. “You are your personal projects,” he used to tell his Harvard class.

According to Little, there are different kinds of projects, which carry different loads of value. Walking the dog is a personal project but so is becoming a headteacher in a lovely village, and so is being a successful father and husband. Surprisingly, how meaningful our projects are is thought to contribute to our well-being only slightly. What makes the crucial difference to how happy they make us is whether or not they’re accomplishable.

But what happens when our personal projects begin to fall apart? How do we cope? And is there a gender difference that might give a clue to why so many men kill themselves?

There is. It’s generally assumed that men, to their detriment, often find it hard to talk about their emotional difficulties. This has also been found to be true when it comes to discussing their faltering projects. “Women benefit from making visible their projects and their challenges in pursuing them,” Little writes, in his book Me, Myself and Us, “whereas men benefit from keeping that to themselves.”

In a study of people in senior management positions, Little uncovered another salient gender difference. “A clear differentiator is that, for men, the most important thing is to not confront impedance,” he tells me. “They’re primarily motivated to charge ahead. It’s a clear-the-decks kind of mentality. The women are more concerned about an organizational climate in which they’re connected with others. You can extrapolate that, I think, to areas of life beyond the office. I don’t want to perpetrate stereotypes but the data here seem pretty clear.”

Additional support for this comes from a highly influential 2000 paper, by a team lead by Professor Shelley Taylor at the University of California-Los Angeles, that looked at bio-behavioral responses to stress. They found that while men tend to exhibit the well-known fight or flight response, women are more likely to use tend and befriend. “Although women might think about suicide very seriously,” says Little, “because of their social connectedness, they may also think, ‘My God, what will my kids do? What will my mum think?’ So there’s forbearance from completing the act.” As for the men, death could be seen as the ultimate form of flight.

But that deadly form of flight takes determination. Dr. Thomas Joiner, of Florida State University, has studied differences between people who think about suicide and those who actually act on their desire for death. “You can’t act unless you also develop a fearlessness of death,” he says. “And that’s the part I think is relevant to gender differences.” Joiner describes his large collection of security footage and police videos showing people who “desperately want to kill themselves and then, at the last minute, they flinch because it’s so scary. The flinch ends up saving their lives.” So is the idea men are less likely to flinch? “Exactly.”

But it’s also true, in most Western countries, that more women attempt suicide than men. One reason a higher number of males actually die is their choice of method. While men tend toward hanging or guns, women more often reach for pills. Martin Seager, a clinical psychologist and consultant to the Samaritans, believes this fact demonstrates that men have greater suicidal intent. “The method reflects the psychology,” he says. Daniel Freeman, of the University of Oxford’s department of psychiatry, has pointed to a study of 4,415 patients who had been at hospital following an episode of self-harm; it found significantly higher suicidal intent in the men than the women. But the hypothesis remains largely un-investigated. “I don’t think it’s been shown definitively at all,” he says. “But then it would be incredibly difficult to show.”

For O’Connor, too, the intent question remains open. “I’m unaware of any decent studies that have looked at it because it’s really difficult to do,” he says. But Seager is convinced. “For men, I think of suicide as an execution,” he says. “A man is removing himself from the world. It’s a sense of enormous failure and shame. The masculine gender feels they’re responsible for providing and protecting others and for being successful. When a woman becomes unemployed, it’s painful, but she doesn’t feel like she’s lost her sense of identity or femininity. When a man loses his work he feels he’s not a man.”

It’s a notion echoed by the celebrated psychologist Professor Roy Baumeister, whose theory of suicide as "escape from the self" has been an important influence on O’Connor. “A man who can’t provide for the family is somehow not a man anymore,” says Baumeister. “A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.”

In China, it’s not uncommon for corrupt officials to kill themselves—partly so their family can keep the dishonestly acquired bounty, but also to avoid prison and disgrace. In South Korea, former President Roh Moo-hyun did so in 2009 after being accused of taking bribes. Uichol Kim says that, as Roh saw it, “He committed suicide to save his wife and son. [He thought] the only way he could stop the investigation was to kill himself.”

Kim stresses that shame isn’t actually a major factor in suicides in South Korea. This can differ in other countries, though. Chikako Ozawa-de Silva, an anthropologist at Atlanta’s Emory College, tells me that, in Japan, “The whole idea is that by one individual taking his or her life, so the honor is restored or the family member would be spared the shame.”

“Other people’s evaluation adds an additional burden,” says Kim. A person’s shame could leak and stain those around them. Under past Confucian law, three generations of a criminal’s family would be executed.

In Japanese and Korean the word for "human being" translates as "human between." The sense of self is looser in Asia than in the West, and more absorbent. It expands to include the various groups an individual is a member of. This brings a profound sense of responsibility for others that stirs deeply in those who feel suicidal.

In Japan, self-concept is so intensely enmeshed with roles that, according to Ozawa-de Silva, it’s common for people to introduce themselves with their job titles before their names. “Instead of saying, ‘Hi, I’m David,’ in Japan you say, ‘Hello, I’m Sony’s David,’” she says. “Even when you meet people at very informal parties.” In times of failure, the Japanese impulse to take professional roles this personally can be particularly deadly. “Suicide has been morally valorized for years or maybe centuries. It probably goes back to the Samurai.” Because people tend to view their company as their family, “a CEO could say, ‘I’ll take responsibility for the company,’ and take his life. That would probably be reported by the media as being a very honorable act,” says Ozawa-de Silva. In Japan—estimated to have the ninth-highest suicide rate in the world—in 2007 around two-thirds of all self-inflicted deaths were male. “In a patriarchal society of course it’s the father who takes responsibility.”

From having one of the highest rates of suicide in the world in 1990, China now has among the lowest. Last year, a team led by Paul Yip, at the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, found that the suicide rate had dropped from 23.2 per 100,000 people in the late 1990s to 9.8 per 100,000 in 2009-11. This astonishing 58 percent drop comes at a time of great movements from the countryside to the city, of just the same kind that South Korea saw in the recent past. And yet, apparently, with the opposite effect. How can this be so?

Kim believes China is experiencing a “lull” caused by a tide of hope as thousands charge toward new lives. “The suicides will definitely increase,” he says, noting that South Korea saw similar drops in the 1970s and '80s, when its economy was rapidly expanding. “People believe when you’re richer you’ll be happier. When you focus on the goal you don’t commit suicide. But what happens when you get there and it’s not what you expect?”

Indeed, hope in hopeless places can sometimes be hazardous, as Rory O’Connor discovered back in Glasgow. “We asked the question: Are positive future thoughts always good for you? Our hunch was yes.” But when his team looked at “intra-personal future thoughts,” which are those that focus solely on the self—such as “I want to be happy” or “I want to be well”—they had another surprise. O’Connor assessed 388 people in hospital who’d tried to kill themselves, then tracked them over the next 15 months to see whether they tried again. “In previous studies, people who reported high levels of intra-personal future thoughts reported lower suicidal ideation,” he says. “We found the best predictors for repeat attempts were past behavior—not rocket science—but the other one is this intra-personal future thinking. And it’s not in the direction we thought.” It turned out that people who had more of these self-focused hopeful thoughts were much more likely to try to kill themselves again. “These thoughts might be good for you in a crisis,” he says. “But what happens over time when you realize, 'I’m never going to achieve those goals.'”

What Asia and the West have in common is a relationship between gender roles and suicide. But in the West, beliefs about masculinity are far more progressive—aren’t they?

In 2014, clinical psychologist Martin Seager and his team decided to test the cultural understanding of what it means to be a man or woman, by asking a set of carefully designed questions of women and men recruited via selected U.K.- and United States-based websites. What they found suggests that, for all the progress we’ve made, both genders’ expectations of what it means to be a man are stuck in the 1950s. “The first rule is that you must be a fighter and a winner,” Seager explains. “The second is you must be a provider and a protector; the third is you must retain mastery and control at all times. If you break any of those rules you’re not a man.” Needless to say, as well as all this, ‘real men’ are not supposed to show vulnerability. “A man who’s needing help is seen as a figure of fun,” he says. The conclusions of his study echo, to a remarkable degree, what O’Connor and his colleagues wrote in a 2012 Samaritans report on male suicide: “Men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control, and invincibility. When men believe they are not meeting this standard, they feel a sense of shame and defeat.”

In the U.K. and other Western societies, it sometimes feels as if we collectively decided, at some point around the mid-1980s, that men are awful. One result of the battle for equal rights and sexual safety for women has been a decades-long focus on men as privileged, violent abusers. Modern iterations of the male, drawn in response to these criticisms, are creatures to mock: the vain metrosexual; the crap husband who can’t work the dishwasher. We understand, as a gender, that we’re no longer permitted the expectation of being in control, of leading, of fighting, of coping with it all in dignified silence, of pursuing our goals with such single-mindedness we have no time for friends or family. These have become aspirations to be ashamed of, and for good reason. But what do we do now? Despite society’s advances, how it feels to be a success hasn’t much changed. Nor how it feels to fail. How are we to unpick the urges of our own biology; of cultural rules, reinforced by both genders, that go back to the Pleistocene?

As we talk, I confide in O’Connor about the time, perhaps a decade ago, that I asked my doctor for antidepressants because I’d become worried about myself, only to be sent away with the instruction to “Go to the pub and enjoy yourself a bit more.”

“Jesus!” he says, rubbing his eyes in disbelief. “And that was only 10 years ago?”

“I do sometimes think I should be on medication,” I say. “But, and this is awful to admit, I worry about what my wife would think.”

“Have you discussed it with her?” he asks.

For a moment, I’m so embarrassed, I can’t reply.

“No,” I say. “And I think of myself as someone who’s very comfortable talking about this stuff. It’s only as we’ve been talking that I’ve realized. It’s just typical crap man.”

“But you see it’s not crap man,” he says. “This is the whole problem! The narrative’s become ‘men are crap,’ right? But that’s bullshit. There’s no way we can change men. We can tweak men, don’t get me wrong, but society has to say, ‘How do we put in services that men will go to? What would be helpful to men when they’re feeling distressed?’”

He tells me about the time, in 2008, when a close friend killed herself. “That had a really huge impact on me,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘Why didn’t I spot it? God, I’ve been doing this for years.’ I felt like a failure, that I’d failed her and people around her.”

All of which sounds, to me, like classic social perfectionism. “Oh, I’m definitely social perfectionistic,” he says. “I’m hyper-sensitive to social criticism, even though I hide it well. I disproportionately want to please other people. I’m really sensitive to the idea I’ve let other people down.”

Another risky trait he suffers from is brooding rumination, continual thoughts about thoughts. “I’m a brooding ruminator and social perfectionist, aye, without a doubt,” he says. “When you leave I’ll spend the rest of tonight, and when I’m going to sleep, thinking, ‘Oh Jeez I don’t believe I said that.’ I’ll kill—” he stops himself. “I’ll beat myself up.”

I ask if he sees himself as at risk of suicide. “I would never say never,” he says. “I think everybody has fleeting thoughts at some stage. Well, not everybody. There’s evidence that lots of people do. But I’ve never been depressed or actively suicidal, thank God.”

Back in that cold farmhouse room on the Norfolk fens, Drummond sat with his pills and his urge to take them all. What saved him was the lucky accident of one his personal projects being a Samaritans volunteer. He went in one day, and instead of listening to clients, he talked for two hours. “I know from personal experience that a lot of people are alive today because of what they do,” he says.

Drummond has since re-married and his children are grown up. It’s 30 years since his first marriage broke up. Even now, he still finds it painful to talk about. And so he doesn’t. “I suppose you bury it, don’t you?” he says. “As a man you’re expected to cope. You don’t tell anyone about these things. You don’t.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015


misandry (n.): hatred of males

Can you even fucking begin to imagine how sites like Jezebel would react if it were a man making these types of hilaaaaaaarious skits about women, instead?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Halloween 2015!

This was one of the most epic Halloweens in recent memory. Mid-October, Steph and I went to the Muskogee Haunted Castle (it's where the Renaissance Faire takes place in May) dressed as hardcore versions of Link and Zelda; my friend Dani made an awesomely gruesome 'flesh mask' costume. On the second day, Steph pulled off the 'flesh zipper' mask and Dani was an evil clown:



CLICK HERE for the full photo album.

We spent a TON of time on our costumes this year, and I'm pretty bloody happy with how they turned out. One of the Castle workers even said that our costumes were some of the best she'd ever seen.

The idea for mine originally started as the Zelda/Assassin's Creed crossover art that's pretty popular, but I decided to take it in my own direction. And I made sure to include plenty of references to the Zelda series.

For starters, my lower belt held a clip with four 'bottles of potions':

Gotta keep the heart and magic meters refilled, you know.

My armor had a nod to the classic Zelda life meter, and the gems on the pendant I wore were in order of the temples visited in Ocarina of Time:

Light, Forest, Fire, Water, Shadow, Spirit

I added some writing in Hylian (Zelda-world language) to my upper belt and 'shield backpack': the belt says "And Evil Shall Meet With A Terrible Fate" (a reference, with creative license, to Majora's Mask), and the backpack says "It Is Dangerous To Go Alone" (a reference to the original 1986 Zelda). The version of Hylian I used is from Zelda: Twilight Princess, both because it looks the coolest and because it's a 1:1 translation with the English alphabet:

And finally, I even managed to make the back-of-the-hand Triforce from many of the Zelda games, as well as a 'bottled fairy' for Steph's costume:

Another cool thing about these costumes is that they really wouldn't be out of place at the non-Halloween Renaissance Faire in May, either. Which is good, because I already have plenty of ideas for "Mark II" upgrades in mind.....

By the way, this is my new cover photo on Facebook:

As far as the Haunted Castle itself goes, the attractions are totally worth the price of admission. The two indoor haunted houses, the outdoor one, and the Haunted Hayride are all great, but what really steals the show every year is the Dark Castle Zombie Hunt: an atmospheric 'obstacle course' of sorts where players use fake M-16s that fire lasers to score headshots on actors playing zombies, who wear laser-sensing headbands. Hands down, it's my favorite part of Haunted Castle. If only they kept score....

On the day of Halloween itself, we went to the KATT's Haunted Forest (with Dani dressed as the Grim Reaper) this time. We played some Call of Duty while waiting for the staff to set up the attractions: namely, another 'zombie laser tag' game, and an outdoor haunt that involved walking through an actual forest-ish area. This zombie laser tag was nowhere near as atmospheric as Haunted Castle's, BUT they actually do keep score for this one. Guess who won, with a total of 54 zombie kills? :D


We spent the rest of the night drinking and playing board games. The next day, Nov 1st, we decided to go to the Oklahoma Science Museum, because why the hell not? That was a ton of fun, too. CLICK HERE for that photo album!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Game Reviews: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Luigi's Mansion, Kirby's Return to Dreamland, Super Mario Maker, Halo 5


Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad is a cutesy, but very clever game that involves guiding Toad (the first time he's ever been the star of a game) through about 70 different levels, each of which is small 3D puzzle cube of sorts, to collect gems and stars. The catch is that Toad, unlike Mario, cannot jump – so you have to carefully waddle around each stage to figure out all of its impressively clever quirks and puzzles in order to beat enemies and find the well-hidden collectibles. It's a simple premise, executed quite well and full of Mario-themed items and enemies and throwbacks. Toad himself is, admittedly, somewhat annoying as a character – although to put it as IGN's Nintendo podcast did, he's also kind of "endearingly pathetic". But it's Nintendo signature charm and cleverness that keeps this game fairly entertaining from start to finish.

Overall: 7/10

Luigi's Mansion

Since it's almost Halloween, and I since got this game's 3DS sequel for my birthday, Steph and I decided to replay this old gem (she had never played it before). For those who don't know, Luigi's Mansion is a cross between Super Mario Bros, Ghostbusters, Clue (the board game), and, er, fishing. It sounds very strange, but it blends together in a pretty great way - I had almost forgotten how much fun it was! I'm not sure you could consider this game a full-fledged "classic", but it holds up surprisingly well over time. The graphics aren't stellar at all by modern standards, but the art direction has so much charm that they don't need to be; I hardly even noticed that the game wasn't in HD or 1080p or 60 frames/second or any of that jazz. It just feels good to solve puzzles and capture ghosts, even if the controls are a tad clunkier than they should have been (Why are the aiming controls inverted?! And why can I not change them back to the way they should be?!? </micro-rant>). In any case, I'm definitely looking forward to starting the sequel in the next few days.

Overall: 8/10

Kirby's Return to Dreamland

"Kirby's Dream Land" for the original Game Boy was one of my first video games. As Nintendo characters go, Kirby is the most obnoxiously cute one of them all – which can be said for most aspects of most Kirby games (and there have been a lot of them). And like its predecessors, most aspects of this game – graphics, controls, story, gameplay – are very simplistic. Which isn't to say it's not fun at times: sometimes a beginner-friendly, low-stress game is all you really want. And to decrease the stress factor even more, this game also lets up to four people play at once. It really is the polar opposite of games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne (which, again, is not necessarily a bad thing!). But the game overall blends into one big pile of "meh".  It's not bad, but it doesn't particularly excel in any one area, unless (A) you're just looking for an easygoing, candy-colored, low-stress experience, or (B) you're playing it alongside a little one, as kind of a "my first video game" experience. In which case, for the love of all that is good and holy, buy it on the Wii U's eShop (i.e. Virtual Console), rather than spending $70+ for the limited-print disc-based Wii version.

Overall: 5/10

Super Mario Maker

Holy damn. HOLY DAMN, this game is pure joy. For those who still don't know, this video explains what this game is all about: creating custom 2D Super Mario stages, uploading them to the internet, and playing stages that other people have made. You can make stages with the aesthetics and mechanics of one of four eras: the original Super Mario Bros (1985), Super Mario Bros 3 (1988), Super Mario World (1990), or New Super Mario Bros U (2013). This game makes level creation so incredibly simple that making the stages is just as much fun as playing them. And yet it also gives you enough options and depth for making wildly complicated stages that border on being works of art.

Most people are apprehensive about the stage creation, until they actually try it. I have to physically shove the controller into their hands and tell them to have at it, but then it almost immediately clicks for them. Friends at my birthday party have made stages; my girlfriend has made stages; my dad has made stages; and I've made about 13-14 stages myself, including one remake of a classic Yoshi's Island stage, a stage themed around defusing a bomb, and a Batman-themed stage called "Gotham City". And I've got room for plenty more ideas, since the game gives you enough storage space for 120 different levels.

I always knew I was going to love this game, but I didn't think that it would actually compete with Arkham Knight and Halo 5 for my Game of the Year. It does.

Overall 10/10

Halo 5: Guardians

To make a point, I'm going to do something I've never done before, and break this game's score into sub-categories:

Sound/Music: 10/10
Graphics: 10/10
Gameplay: 11/10 (!!!!)
Story: 6/10  ( ☹☹☹ )


Aesthetics, Gameplay, and Multiplayer: As far as these components go, this is easily the finest Halo game so far, which in turn makes it one of the finest shooters in existence. The graphics are top-notch, and the music is excellent, even incorporating classic Halo themes (CLICK HERE for a perfect example). The controls are slightly different from any other Halo shooter, but after just a few hours of practice, they're almost as second-nature as the original controls were. The new mechanics contribute greatly to the feeling that the Spartan you play as is faster, stronger, and more lethal than ever before, in both the story campaign and in multiplayer. Everything is fast and buttery-smooth, including the connection times for online games: in contrast to The Master Chief Collection's disastrously glitchy launch and current mediocre state, Halo 5's online matchmaking is so fast it even rivals Splatoon (a game that's only ever 4v4, with matches last only a few minutes). Halo 5's new Warzone mode (12v12) is a unique take on multiplayer, that combines objectives, AI-controlled enemies, and classic player-vs-player Halo into one massive package (which often involves me scoring upwards of 30 kills per match). All of these aspects of the game are so borderline perfect, I have zero doubt that this game will take up even more of my free time than Mario Maker does.

That said, Halo 5's story is actually pretty cringeworthy at times. For starters, you only play as Master Chief (the badass hero of most Halo games) about 20% of the time. The other 80% of the time, you play as Jameson Locke: an almost-but-not-quite equally badass character trying to track down the Chief, who has gone AWOL. A lot of people disliked the character of Locke due to his blandness; I did find him bland, but somewhat likable. More egregiously, Locke isn't the only bland character: for the first time in the Halo series, we get to see Blue Team: three other Spartans, who are the closest thing Master Chief has to a family. There was opportunity for some great interplay between the characters, but it never really emerged. There are other Spartans aiding Locke, as well: Nathan Fillion returns to voice his character Buck, who turned out to be one of my favorite characters in this game: not only is he hilarious and grounded, but the game's developers (343 Industries) managed to throw in a few subtle Firefly references, as well.

But even aside from not giving Chief enough screentime, and not fleshing out the new characters, the most egregious mistake of all was the story's ending (again, spoilers). The cliffhanger ending for Halo 2 was one of the least popular moves the series has ever made, SO WHY THE BLOODY HELL WOULD YOU REPEAT THAT MISTAKE FOR THIS ONE?! I started playing the story at midnight, and finished it at 5:38am. When it hit me that the story is just a cliffhanger that sets up Halo 6, I quite literally threw my controller down in disgust. After all of this epic buildup, and I have to wait two more bloody years to figure out how it ends? Are you kidding me? That frustration with the story alone was enough to yank this game's score down from a perfect 10 to a 9. And I'm not the only one with this opinion: IGN's review came to almost the exact same conclusion.

Kvetching about the story aside, I could NOT be happier with the core gameplay, especially in multiplayer. My last major gripe is the removal of split-screen multiplayer, which has already been commented on endlessly, and will hopefully be making a return in Halo 6. But until then, I have zero doubt that I'll still be playing the ever-loving crap out of Halo 5 for the foreseeable future.

Overall: 9/10

Monday, October 26, 2015


I don't even know what to say about this weekend. I'm at a loss on multiple levels.

Started off great, then got horrible, then got great again, then got horrible again.

Fuck you, Adacia Chambers.

I'm just glad Halo 5 comes out tonight, and that I took tomorrow off, so that I can just shut off my brain for 30 hours straight.

I love OSU.

You are not Neo in the Matrix. You are Yosemite Sam.

The analogy was off-the-cuff, but I'm actually pretty happy with how this turned out.