An Apt Aphorism For Magic

Smoking Gun

 

“Move, and I will blow a hole through your motherfucking head. Where is the fucking money?”

When you have the barrel of a gun pressed to your head, I realized as I sat there in this exact situation, it doesn’t really matter if the person holding said gun is bluffing. I didn’t think that this particular gentleman was very likely to blow a hole through my head if I moved.

He presumably wanted an answer to his question about “the money” badly enough to resort to both the threat of gun violence and profanity to get the answer, and separating large parts of my brain from the other parts would be a good way to make sure he didn’t get that answer. But that possibility is academic. Even if there is a 90% chance that the individual holding the pistol is bluffing, the consequences of being incorrect are sufficiently dire that it isn’t worth the risk to explore that avenue of possibility.

It’s an apt aphorism as applies to magic, as well. If you know that someone is an accomplished magus, there is still a good chance that the amulet around his neck won’t actually turn your testicles into tapioca pudding or strike blind everyone of your bloodline if you don’t do what he says. Accomplish maguses bluff all the time, mostly to each other. Because they can get away with it. You only have to pull the tapioca-testicle trick a few times in front of the right people before word gets around and people start to take your amulets pretty seriously.

“Where is the fucking money?” he said again. “I’m not going to ask again!”

I didn’t know whether this specimen in front of me was bluffing. I couldn’t tell by the cold glint in his eyes whether he’d killed before, or if the way he held his gun meant he was an amateur. To tell you the truth I don’t know much about guns, or the people who wield them. But I do know an awful lot about magic. Which means I don’t really have to worry about either one.

“Ice,” I said.

“What? What the fuck you say?”

“I said ice,” I repeated. “It was a sort of word of power. More impressive if they’re in Enochian or Latin or something, but I’ve never had much of a head for languages and I usually get it wrong and end up with mice or something. But it doesn’t really matter. That’s just for show.”

“What the fuck you…” then he froze. Not literally, although I admit the metaphor is apt. He froze because he glanced down at his gun. He saw the whiteness that crept along the metal as the entire gun transformed into a single piece of ice. An ice gun. I nodded in admiration. If that had been a sculpture carved out of actual ice, it would have been quite impression.

He screamed. “What the fuck?”

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

“Mother fuck yeah it hurts! What the fuck did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything, exactly. Not on a fundamental level.”

“Fix it!” he screamed. “Do something!”

I laughed. “You walk into my house, shove a gun in my face, and demand money that isn’t even here, and now you’re asking for my help? You have to admit, that’s pretty ripe.”

He screamed again. I don’t think he appreciated the ripeness.

“It burns!”

“It burns because your hand is frozen to the ice gun,” I said. “It’s like licking a flagpole. Run some water over it and it’ll be fine. You might not even get frostbite if you work quickly. Maybe.”

“Frostbite!”

“Now kindly get out of my house, or I’ll do the same thing to your underwear.”

I watched his eyes widen and his face contort with fear, as he contemplated what “might not even get frostbite” in that scenario. He turned and ran straight for the exit. He knocked his head on the doorframe on the way out. Just like everyone does because it’s built for my height, only this time I didn’t have to feel bad about it.

I turned around and looked at the clock. 3:34 AM. Plenty of time left for sleep before I had to wake up the next morning. The benefits of self-employment. Still, the old nerves were a bit stretched, so I got up and headed towards the kitchen to fetch a mugful of warm milk. I wondered idly who told this degenerate that I had a pile of money in my domicile that he could acquire through through of violence. Someone who wanted to rattle me, no doubt. Something not terribly formidable, since it didn’t really work.

No, as I finished off my milk and settled down for bed, I felt downright chipper. I could have done a lot worse to that chap. He would have had it coming. But he had a wife and kids, no doubt. Or a mother at least. And there was a good chance he might reconsider the whole “gun violence” option as a solution to his financial difficulties in the future. So a little mercy, though not deserved, might go some small way towards making the world a better place. What more can a fellow ask of a midnight encounter than that?

He was just lucky I wasn’t in the mood for tapioca.

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The Impossible Au Lait Incident

Café con leche - Milchkaffee (CC)
This is a story that has been rolling around in my head for a long time. Or rather, the longer story that this is the beginning of has been in there. I might continue this if it strikes me. I wrote it by hand in a green notebook during a period where I had nothing to do but wait, which is probably why it happened at all.

The Impossible Au Lait Incident

The most impossible thing about what I labelled in my daily journal as The Impossible Au Lait Incident was that I didn’t notice her. No one did. Oh, they noticed her in the absent way you notice other people on the bus. Enough not to walk into her. But she didn’t stand out. No one gawped at the giant metallic gold dreadlocks, the cascades of colored pearls that hung down to her knees. Or those impossible eyes.

I wouldn’t have noticed her at all if not for a specific combination of words, delivered for exactly the wrong reason. It was Monday morning, and I was as awake as that implies. I sat at the counter, flipping through the news stories on my phone’s RSS app without really reading them. I was impatient to get my coffee, and so I couldn’t pay attention to what I was reading. I was only reading so I could ignore the fact that I was impatient to get my coffee.

If I had been functionally awake the paradox might have bugged me. I might have noticed the world around me as something other than zombie drones whose only function in life was to crowd my coffee shop and prevent my caffeination. I might have had the perceptual faculties to read, or to focus on something other than my impending latte. I might even have noticed her. But somehow I don’t think so.

“Peruvian roast raspberry au lait, 190 degrees, no sleeve.” There is was. The beautiful voice of the barista, uttering the only words I currently had the capacity to care about. I bolted up from my chair and marched towards the counter to get my drink.

I reached out to grab the cup, but another hand beat me to it. I watched dark fingers close around the vessel that held my liquid salvation.

“Sorry,” said a female voice. “But this one’s mine.” It sounded like dark chocolate dancing the Riverdance.

I turned and stared at the owner of that voice. The panic I felt about my coffee fled at the sight of the strangest person I had ever seen. If a bookie had popped out from behind the raw sugar at that moment, I would have bet a lot of money that this was the strangest person anyone had ever seen.

“Excuse me?” I said. Because I didn’t have anything useful or interesting to say.

“This is my drink,” she said. She smiled, and her eyes flashed. That’s not a metaphor. She had bright purple irises, and for a moment they glowed like violet cat’s eyes in the dark.

I stared at her for a long moment.

“It’s okay to stare,” she said. “I know how this looks.” She indicated her strange attire. “I mean, no one listens to Soundgarden anymore.”

I wrenched my eyes from their paralytic position and looked away from her face at the rest of her. Sure enough, just visible under what must have been a dozen 6 foot long strings of pearls was a Soundgarden t-shirt, from the Ultramega Okay tour.

All of this overwhelmed me so much that it seemed to knock my brain into a different gear.

“That’s my drink!” I blurted out.

She smiled still wider and shook her head.

“It’s really not. We ordered the same thing. Only I was first.”

I shook my head. “That’s impossible. No one else orders that.”

She laughed. I suppose it was a musical laugh, but I’ve never heard that kind of music.

“It’s not impossible,” she said. “It’s just new.”

I blinked. It was a surprisingly intelligent response given my mental state.

“You look like you have good taste in coffee,” she said. “ The way you glanced at the baristas but not the menu when you walked in. The contented sigh you let out when you scented the specific roasts in the air. So I thought I’d borrow it.”

“My coffee?”

“Your taste.” She picked up her cup and pulled off the lid, just like I would have done. “Am I going to be disappointed?”

“It’s very hot,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You can take it.”

It was true. I think you can really taste the nuances of the roast at high temperatures, but most people’s mouths are too sensitive. I had no such problem. My grandmother believed tea should be drank just off the boil and her children were damn sure going to learn to appreciate that. But what did that have to do with this strange woman?

I watched as she took a sip. She closed her eyes and her face melted into contentment. Was that what I looked like when I took my first sip?

“I chose well,” said the woman. “This is wonderful.” She raised her cup to me as if in salute. “Much obliged.” Then she turned and began to walk away.

“Wait!” I called after her.

She swivelled to face me and raised a golden eyebrow. Set against her dark skin that eyebrow seemed to raise a mile into the air. It just kept going.

I froze. I had no idea what to say. I had no idea why I called after her. A moment earlier it seemed like the most important thing in the world. Like we weren’t done. There was something I was supposed to ask her. Something I was supposed to say. But I didn’t begin to understand what it was.

She grinned.

“Next time,” she said.

What did that mean? I opened my mouth to ask her, but then I heard a voice. It came from behind me, and it spoke a very specific combination of words.

“Peruvian roast raspberry au lait, 190 degrees, no sleeve.”

I turned and saw the barista place my coffee on the counter. All of a sudden I could remember the strange woman ordering my coffee drink, three places ahead of me in line. Why hadn’t it struck me as strange? I heard the words. I saw the whole incident, and I understood it. But I hadn’t. Not really.

I picked my cup up from the counter and felt the comfortingly excessive heat burn my fingers. It was like Excalibur. Too hot even for the baristas to handle without a bar towel or a coffee sleeve. The heat made it delicious, but it also made it special. No one could drink it but me. Me and her, now.

I lifted it to my lips and took a long, slow sip. The scalding liquid trickled down my throat. I closed my eyes and sighed.

It wasn’t until I walked over to my table and had a few more sips that I put the coffee down and noticed the name written on the cup.

Flyndra.

Most definitely not my name. She had ordered first. I was sure of that. But still, somehow, she really had taken my cup of coffee. Or, just maybe, I had taken hers.

Don’t Thank The Chef

 

Daily Disney - Octopus Sushi Chef

I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls the other day which opens with Sookie, the chef at the inn where some of our main characters work, is standing over a table full of plates of food. She is freaking out because the guests sent back all of these plates because they tasted bad. One was too salty, one had no flavor, and one was “sewery.”

Sookie says that she tasted them all, and had her staff–ten people standing behind her–taste them. They’re all fine, so what is the problem with these jerk customers? She asks Lorelai, another character, to taste the food and tell her if she is crazy. Lorelai takes a bite of rice and says that she  now understands the word “sewery.” The food is terrible, and the staff were too scared to tell the chef about it. It turns out that there is someone wrong with Sookie’s pallet, and that’s why the food she served is all bad.

It made me want to put my foot through my TV screen. And I was watching this on a computer. But it was so infuriating that I blamed the entire medium of television, and in my rage I lacked the rationality not to blame the electronic device most commonly responsible for delivering it. Plus, I’m not going to mess up my computer. That’s nuts!

But anyway. This moment, and many similar ones on this mostly-good show, convey a common misconception that drives people in the food industry nuts. Not just because it’s inaccurate, but because it is poisonous and has genuine consequences. The misconception is this:

The chef cooks your food.

It’s not bloody true. Not only is it not true, it’s ridiculous. In this very scene of Gilmore Girls, we are shown the large staff of cooks in this kitchen. There are at least five or six of them, always running around making food while Sookie spends most of her time piping frosting onto elaborate cakes or hanging out with Lorelai. At least this show has a kitchen with a full staff. Most shows seem to think two or three people is enough to run a busy high end kitchen. This show has a full staff, although apparently all they do is peel potatoes.

There is no way for the chef to make all of the stocks, sauces, starches, sauteed items, grilled items, and other components that would have contributed to all of the food that went out being bad. Nor could she possibly taste and alter the seasoning of every single dish that they served. Especially when she also appears to do the baking. Sookie is shown as a very hands-on chef. Even a micromanager. But even if she paid special attention to each food item that went out, she wouldn’t have cooked it all, and she certainly wouldn’t have tasted each one. Are we supposed to believe that every time they serve a steak she cuts a hunk off and throws it down the old gullet to see if it has enough salt?

A chef is a manager more than anything. Even someone like Sookie who is always in the kitchen involved in the cooking, which is not the standard way of doing things, but it does happen. She is portrayed as the “genius chef” archetype whose food is a direct result of their ability to invent and execute amazing dishes. Those types of chefs do exist, but a lot of the reason their kitchens put out such great food is that they are good at training and managing a staff of excellent, professional cooks.

These cooks are the people who actually make the food. Not only that, they’re usually better at the actual execution than the chef who gets all the credit. The person who works the grill has thousands and thousands of hours of recent experience cooking steaks, of seasoning and sauces and preparing them in this exact way. That cook has more practice at the specific dishes on the menu than most people ever get at anything, because it’s a repetitive tasks. In a high end restaurant, the high standards and constant striving for perfection means that a good cook isn’t just practicing, they’re deliberately practicing. Which means they are always getting better.

The chef almost certainly can cook a mean steak. Once upon a time they may have been as good or better than the guy on the grill. But now the chef is almost certainly a little rusty. They aren’t in the trenches all the time like the cooks. Their priorities are different, as they should be. And they rose to that position not by being the best cook. At least, not necessarily. There’s a good chance the best cook in that kitchen is on that grill, and has been there for over a decade. The chef got the throne and the big paycheck because they can manage people, because they can make hard decisions, design menus, haggle with produce suppliers. And, a lot of the time, because they speak better English than the guy on the grill.

So yes, the chef is important. But they didn’t make your food. They ran a team of talented badasses who made your food. And they made a whole hell of a lot more money doing it, partially because the people who cut the paychecks have the same misconceptions as a lot of other people. The guy on screen with the great hair and the winning smile gets a lot more credit than the people behind the camera, even though their parts are equally important.

So don’t thank the chef. Everyone thanks the chef. The chef doesn’t need any more thanks. Find out who cooked that wild salmon so perfectly, and who made the almost impossibly delicate sauce, and thank them.

There’s a pretty good chance it’ll be the first time anyone ever did.

 

Thirty One

adorn

 

 

I haven’t written a story in a long time. I’ve been working on a novel, but I recently got into a high fantasy phase and it’s making it tricksy to work on my very modern and not high fantasy novel. Also I’ve been sedentary and depressed or something. In any case, I wanted to get some of this fantasy mumbo malumbo out of my system. So I started to write and this is what came out.

 

Thirty One

 

 

Thirty One. That’s the only name she has, because she came with no name.

She cracked out of a crystal seed nearly a month ago, and things are still changing. Everything is changing, and no one knows what to do. The others look to me and I have little to give. They look to me. I was always the last one anyone looked to for truth. For real things. For solutions. The poet, the dreamer, the storyteller. Who has need for stories in a world like this? A world where we know and understand and can touch everything?

Not anymore. Krakow has the final say about how to distribute the hot nectar that flows from the broken mountains, or who is chosen to be painted by the juice of the nefilfruit each bloomtime. But Thirty One came, and Krakow is silent. The others are saying that the silver has melted and dripped from his tongue, and he does not wish to open his mouth and let us see.

Amandrius’s word takes hold when the flatlings come forth from the darkened places on the other side of the spiked mountains, or a violent storm births too many lightcaws to be felled by the rains and they fly down to scratch at is. We gather our frozenfire spears and our thunderslings and follow Amandrius’s bellow out to do battle with our enemies. We do not know if Thirty One is an enemy. She is one of us, and yet she is not. We all turned to Amandrius for council. To see if he would blow his horn. He did not. We do not know if he is unsure or if he is afraid.

Lisilia peers into the nexttime to tell us what the clouds would bring, when it would be hot enough to hide in the shades so our skins would not burn. All of us listened when she spoke or sang, even Krakow. Even Amandrius. But Lisilia did not see Thirty One coming. She is something new. There has never been something new.

No one listens to me. They never have. Or, they listen, but it is idle. A fancy. I sing of hidden kingdoms in the clouds. Of a rare blue strain of hot nectar that grants the drinker golden wings that fly a hundred times as fast as our own. Of scaly beasts that slumber beneath the ground atop great piles of impossible objects the likes of which we cannot imagine.

But there are no kingdoms in the clouds. We have flown around and through them many times. There is no blue strain of nectar, and wings are never gold. There are no scaly beasts beneath the ground, or anything else that we have not seen and touched. We have been everywhere. We have seen everything. The imaginings of my fancies are hallucinations of an otherwise useless mind.

Always there have been thirty of us. At the dawn of things the crystal seeds cracked and we emerged. That was thousands of cycles of the world ago. We have been everywhere. We have seen everything. There was nothing new.

Then a new seed began to grow. It was nothing we could understand. Nothing we had ever seen before. It grew and it grew and finally it cracked. And she emerged. A new person. A new person for the first time in the history of forever. The thirty first. She had no name. We all had names, when we emerged. We knew them. Our own and each other’s. But we did not know her name, because she had no name.

No one could name her so they turned to me. I called her Thirty One, and so she is. She is here, now. And everything is different.

It Is In Your Self-Interest Not To Be A Dickweed

Weed

I recently read an article about the plan to turn Galaxy Quest into a TV show. The writer mentions in the article that the central conceit of the movie was that the cast of a fiction Star Trek-style TV show are taken by real aliens into space. One of the comments of the article was as follows:

 

 

 

Conceit

 

I  am happy to say that this commenter was suitably shot down by others. Now, most of the reasons society gives us not to be huge dickweeds center around the idea that it is the right thing to do. Do Unto Others and all that rot. But here we have a perfect example of how Not Being A Dickweed can also be act according to your self interest.

This poster doesn’t understand the multiple meanings of the word conceit. That’s an honest enough mistake. Had he said “Um, I think the word you’re looking for is “concept,” not “conceit,” he would have looked a little dumb. But it would have been a pretty forgivable mistake.

Instead he chose to be self-righteous and obnoxious about it. So instead of being harmless, he came off as a total and complete jackass. He was trying to score points by being sarcastic and superior. You can get away with that when you are correct about things. But the fact is, no one knows everything. Occasionally you are going to slip up, and if you are a dickweed about your own knowledge and superiority you’d better believe people will pile up on you for it.

And others will laugh and applaud as they do so, because you totally had it coming.

So feel free to correct people online when they make mistakes. It’s a worthwhile thing to do. But be nice about it. Be humble about the possibility that what you think is a mistake might actually be completely correct, using a word or a grammatical rule that you don’t currently know or fully understand. Even if it isn’t, an attack won’t make you look as smart as you think it does.

Not Being a Dickweed isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s in your best interest as well. I’m looking out for you.

You dickweed.

 

Where Chipmunk Song Is Beautiful

Rainier'14

Right now there are tears covering my face. The reasons are almost as beautiful as they are dumb and embarrassing. I wept because of beauty and sadness and the wonder that is in the world. And I wept because I am very silly. And because of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The day started off rough. I couldn’t wake up. I cut myself in a dream and it hurt dramatically for a dream. I woke up nursing the finger, wondering how it could have hurt so much when it didn’t really happen. Then I hit the snooze for an hour and a half.

When I finally got up my back hurt fiercely. The upper back, right between the shoulder blades. I took some pain killer and sat down to write, but nothing calmed down.

For the last few days I’ve been in an okay place mentally, but unstable. Liable to get angry or sad with only a tiny stimulus. Worse than that, I’ve had no motivation at all. I’ve wanted motivation, but my ability to give a fuck about anything is completely off. Nothing seems to matter.

I started to write this morning and it just wasn’t happening. I tried a writing prompt. It told me to act like a two year old. So I wrote for ten minutes as an unnecessarily articulate two year old with an evil older sister named Anna who stole her bunny and a nice even older sister named Girl. I don’t think she was actually named Girl. I think I was going for something nuanced there, but I didn’t write long enough to find out what it was.

I gave up on the prompt and went back to my writing journal to wax about how uninspiring I found that prompt. I clicked over to my countdown timer. It moved very, very slowly. It does that when I’m in these moods. Like it knows.

I came up with a plan to get some work done today, even despite my mood. And I kept writing even though I was in a lot of pain and every keystroke bored and annoyed me. I didn’t care about anything and it annoyed me that I didn’t care and I didn’t care that I was annoyed and that, too, was pretty annoying.

Then it happened.

I had put on a children’s music station to get inspiration for the prompt. It mostly played Phineas and Ferb music, and it wasn’t helping. Then came that voice. That beautiful, silly, ridiculous voice.

It was Alvin. It was Alvin of Chimpmunk fame. I recognized the song but I could place it. But it tugged at me. Right from the first few bars of that squeaky voice it moved something in my chest. It made me Feel Things.

It was a cover of Daniel Powter’s Bad Day. By the time Alvin stopped singing the song was so intense I had to keep it going. I went to Youtube and loaded the original video for the song. A video I had never seen before.

It’s about two people in a city who are having bad days while everyone around them goes about not caring. They are sad and lonely and disconnected. Throughout the video, they come together, through tiny moments and coincidences. It ends with them standing in the rain, huddled under an umbrella.

Now I’m covered in tears.

I’m sensitive, right now. In this place where nothing matters. Because when nothing matters I no defenses. I get angry when something goes slightly wrong. I become deeply sad when I hear about the tiniest suffering.

And beauty annihilates me.

If I see Mount Rainier on a clear day through by car window while I am in this place, sometimes I have to pull over because the feeling in my chest overwhelms me. In this place, every silly love song with a hint of power fills me with life and longing. I become a teenage girl who bawls at romantic comedies because they prove true love can exist in the world. I might go to pieces if exposed to too many Hallmark cards. I don’t know. I’ve never tried it, and I never will, because eventually the state will end and I’d have to live with that.

This is a place with no ironic distance. Where poetry has the power to reshape reality and bring me to my knees. Where clichés like “bring me to my knees” have all of the strength they had when they weren’t clichés. When they were just beautiful.

Some people live here. People like me make fun of them for being simple, or pretentious, depending on the flavor. But this is a beautiful place. Beautiful and painful and inspiring and terrible. I can’t exist here for long. The air is nectar and I nearly drown with every sublime lungful of breath. This is where Artists come from, and the intensity of every raindrop is why they cut off their ears. How could they do otherwise, when the world is like this?

I can’t stay here for long. The more beautiful it becomes the more difficult it is. I have to leave. I always have to leave.

But hopefully, I can always bring something back.

Choice of Water

Molten Waters

I have to choose what water looks like. I have a lot of choices. I’m not sure what to do.

Let me explain.

I am about to play Thief 2 for the first time. This is an old and very important game from the early 2000s. It is the sequel to Thief, which was as important and influential a game as anything that isn’t literally a household name. I wouldn’t put it up against Pac Man, but almost anything else. Thief largely invented serious, well-implement stealth in computer games, and as such was responsible for a great deal of the fun I have holding a mouse over the last 15 years that didn’t involve an adorable but sadistic feline.

I never finished Thief when it came out. I played it and loved it but I got stuck the place where a lot of people got stuck: the level where sneaking through a stronghold populated by human guards with clever dialogue is replaced by crawling through caves and fighting monsters. The game loses its focus and its charm in those levels. However, it was still such an amazing experience that I never lost my resolve to go back and finish it. I’ve tried a few times over the years. Finally, a few months ago, I did it. It was a glorious experience. The gameplay has really held up. There are a few clunky interface issues that no designer would implement these days. The industry have learned and moved past them. But they aren’t as bad as lot of the clunky interface issues that the industry hasn’t moved past.

The visuals are another matter. Thief came out in 1998, in a time when rendered polygon graphics were both ubiquitous and hideous. The levels and a lot of the objects in Thief looked good. The characters looked terrible then. They look worse now.

But so what? Right now is an amazing time to play old games on PCs, especially if those games were popular or influential. A game as big as Thief is nearly guaranteed to have a player-designed mod that replaces all of the textures in the game and makes it look better. And it does. I installed it, and the game looks much better.

I should add at this point that I don’t care how it looks. Not really. Visuals don’t matter that much to me, and to the extent that they do I am more moved by art design than technology. Gabriel Knight is still a gorgeous game despite being 22 years old. Chrono Trigger will never not be beautiful, any more than Ancient Egyptian art will stop being beautiful. Limitations of technology, even when they are obvious, are not aesthetic poison unless you believe they are.

So why bother with the extra aggravation of installing  a mod? Immersion. Graphics are a threshold issue for me. Some old games look old, but it’s easy to lose yourself in them because they still look good. Some old games shove their ugliness in your face. Usually those games weren’t that impressive visually in the first place.

The same way some old movies and books come across as painfully dated. As much as I love The Terminator, if I could install a filter on my digital copy that would update the color and remove the 80s hair I would do it. That way I wouldn’t have to focus on those things. I would still respect anyone who wanted to watch the movie in its original form, and I wouldn’t want to thrust my version on them. But what an amazing situation to be in to have the choice.

So I played Thief with the HD texture update, and it was marvelous. Now it’s time to play Thief 2. There is a fan patch to fix bugs, an HD texture mod, and some other  visual enhancements. It’s a bit of work to install them, but worth it.

Except now I have a problem.

It’s not a real problem. Not something to complain about. All of these mods are free. This is enormous benefit to me for no cost but a little extra work. So I present this “problem”more as something to think and ponder about than as a real complaint.

I have to choose my water.

The visual enhancement includes a few other mods people have made, all packaged together. You get to choose between them. This includes the water mods. That is, mods to change what water looks like in the game. There are six of them. So when I play this game I get to (have to?) make a choice between six different styles of what the water looks like.

Nothing in my life has prepared me for this.

In The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz explores how getting to choose between 50 different mustards and 200 varieties of soap every time we shop causes us more stress than it does joy. Our brains didn’t evolve to have that kind of choice, and although we believe that more choice just makes us happier–the standard neoclassical economics approach, to be sure–it often isn’t the case.

Video games crank this up to 11. Those of us who are indecisive can lose a lot of time and tear out a lot of hair on the most irrelevant decisions. Some games let you adjust hundreds of variables when designing your character’s face and body. Often times this agonizing and fairly irrelevant process–since in many of these games you barely see the character much after the initial design process–is followed up by a painstakingly complex set of screens where you then pick your character’s statistics, again with hundreds of  variables.

I’ve spent hours or days on this process. I’ve gotten so stuck on this stage that I never even started the game in some cases. I am not remotely alone in this.

So here we are. I’m ready to play this game. It’s a simple game, as these things go. You play one character, with no stats, and you only ever see his shadowed face in cut scenes. The mods are installed. It’s all ready to go. All I have to do is pick my water-style, which I care next to nothing about. It is literally the least important decision in my field of awareness at this stage in my life. Which of my  toenail clippers to use matters more. What angle to scratch my back at matters more. Which brand of tissues to buy when I run out in the next few days matters much, much more. It’s just a game. It’s just water. I don’t care about it at all.

Sigh.

This could take a while.