In My Friend’s Story, I’m the NPC to Their High Level Bard

Note: ‘NPC’ means ‘non-player character’ in a video or tabletop game which is contrasted with PC or ‘Player Character’ the avatar of a real person in a game world.

 

I have a friend, let’s call them the bard. The bard is kind, enthusiastic, and playful. They talk a lot about how much our friendship means to them, have given some wonderful gifts, and we’ve had some great times together. And yet, there’s a something there that frustrates me… a way in which this friendship feels unsatisfying that is difficult to wrap in word and explain.

And I think I’ve finally realized what it is: to my friend the bard, I’m an NPC. An NPC they’re fond of certainly, but like all NPCs there is a way in which I’m not truly real. Oh, certainly, the bard will act like I’m real; when they’re interested we’ll go on adventures together or fight monsters. But the moment the bard isn’t interested, they’re fully not interested. We only hang when I’m relevant to the adventure or crisis de jour for the bard; they’re fundamentally bored by the details of my life (as a Player Character in an RPG would be uninterested in the mundanity of an NPC’s farming unless therein lay adventure to be had there).

The bard’s problems are always the bigger issues, the ones that are more pressing and need to get worked on first. There is also the assumption on the part of the bard that I will be interested in whatever the bard is working on/that I’ll be along for the ride; but this never works both ways.

I’ve begun to suspect that, moreso than my other friends, the bard doesn’t quite see me; they see (and interact with) a simplified version of me.

Is this bad? No. Am I being mistreated? No. But it takes work to remind myself that when I’m shiny, when I actually have their attention it can feel amazing; it can feel like we have this amazing depth of connection but that it will always shift off of me when they find something more compelling to focus on. We’ll still go on adventures together now and again, but ultimately I’m increasingly interested in all the work I do tending my shop, practicing my craft, and thus I end up spending my time with people who want to share in all my life; whether we’re adventuring or not.

On Problems

When I was much less mature, I was fond of bandying about with the phrase, ‘The reward for a job well done is a harder job.’ I used the cliché to signal that I wasn’t a sucker; that all the ways I ‘didn’t try’ were indicative of me ‘sticking it to the man/refusing to play his game’ as opposed to the more honest conclusion that I (often) didn’t give my all to ensure that I could dismiss any failure as not ‘real.’ Nowadays, I’m fond of reframing of the phrase. ‘The consequence of a problem well solved is a better/harder/more interesting problem.’ And that’s an outcome I’m actively working towards.

While I’m alive, there will never be an end to ‘problems’ and, most of the problems I/we have now are due to the solutions of the past. Trying to finish a book is a *much* better problem than figuring out how ingest enough calories so as not to starve (which had been largely ‘solved’ by my ancestors). Trying to figure out how to use my limited financial, political, and emotional resources to nudge my society towards being more just and humane is a *much* better problem than trying to figure out how to keep a larger animal from eating me and –again- my ancestors pretty much took care of that. But even though these are better problems… these are still problems.

Likewise, it’s helpful to remind myself that, as I raise my daughter, I can’t actually protect her from challenge; the *best* I can do is to suitably equip her to solve the problems of her life and (hopefully) give her better and more interesting problems than I myself had to deal with. I’ll give my all, and in so doing I’ll solve so many of problems (some with such completion that I’ll risk being able to even recall that the issue was once a problem for me) but the reward is *never* the cessation of growth and change and hardship – it is only the transmutation of these forces into a different form, possibly even one that would be unrecognizable by the standards of the past.

Composing a Life

I decided to type out my first toastmasters speech aka ‘The Ice-Breaker.’ Note: when speaking publically it is my custom to not properly write a speech, but instead outline one to develop a solid skeleton on which I drape an assortment of examples\anecdotes\facts. This helps me focus on what I want to communicate rather than slavishly trying to recreate the words on page. Also, because I’m practiced, keeping the speech ‘loose’ helps me feel more natural, aids in transitions (as, one missed line won’t hobble a segue) and (most importantly) this helps me expand or contract my talk based on time restraints and audience reaction.

 

Composing a Life

 

One of my favorite podcasts is ‘On Being’ and on a recent episode I heard the guest speak about ‘composing a life.’ I appreciated this metaphor; so often it’s been easy for me to fixate on this or that monolithic aspect of my life and view *that* as the arbiter of everything important… defining myself by a single relationship or a job say. What I like about trying to view my activities\life as a composition is that it brings renewed attention & interest in all the little things I do, it relieves some of the anxiety that any one thread has to be ‘all-fulfilling’ and reassures me that I have innumerable options by which to reach better balance. Today, I wanted to discuss three different practices I engage with to compose my life.

First, I practice Continue reading

Pokémon Go and the Invitation to Play

I considered –briefly- writing an essay about why I’m not playing Pokémon Go despite it seeming to be nearly perfectly designed to appeal to me: a breakout, hyper popular Augmented Reality Game (ARG) that is currently dominating the overall geek conversation that all my friends are playing *and* you catch + battle Pokémon? That checks off so many of my ‘interest’ boxes it’s almost obscene. But simply put, I’m not playing because -at this point in my life- I have to be almost Spartan in my selections of past-times & hobbies, and I’ve decided that I don’t want to add any that involve a screen (since so much of my life is staring at one anyway) even if the screen in question is mobile and is actively aimed at getting me to interface with (a mediated version) of the larger world. I can’t do everything, I can’t play every game; and endlessly chasing the new hotness means I’d never get to enjoy anything.

However, I did want to touch upon the great promise of Pokémon Go as the first ARG to hit critical mass and so fully breach into the popular imagination. I also wanted to explain what it is about this promise that I believe makes it one of the most helpful trends I see in the world right now. That is, I wanted to write about Pokémon Go and all the ways we are getting better at inviting ourselves and one another to play. Continue reading