Great, so now I’m scared of schoolgirls.

This entry is gonna have major spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club. If you don’t know what that combination of words means, you probably won’t care. In short, DDLC is a free to play Steam game that presents as a dating sim, but morphs into a psychological horror. It’s all kinds of twisted. If you’re looking to play (or, like me, would be intrigued enough by that short sentence to give it a try), I might ruin some fun surprises.

Okay, so as I said above, DDLC is a psychological horror game masquerading as a cutesy dating sim. Realistically, you’re playing a story with a few options that can lead to alternate endings. A bunch of people online have figured out ways to maximise plot outcomes, etc. YMMV, but I tend to enjoy the experience more organically. I’m happy to make mistakes and see where it leads, even if I’m not on track for the optimal ending.

The game starts with your best friend Sayori meeting you before school. She’s manipulates you into joining her Literature Club at school. There you meet the three other members: Monika (the Club President), Natsuki (a childish first year obsessed with cute stuff) and Yuri (a demure bookish gal). The game progresses, with the only interactive options being making choices or poetry. The poetry mechanic is just choosing words on a page that correspond to the different girls you’re trying to woo. I accidentally kept getting Yuri options, though I was trying to gun for Monika (she seemed cooler). When you get closer to one of the girls you start getting distinct scenes with them. Yuri started sharing her book with me and we’d read side by side, getting physically closer with each session.

Sayori, my best friend, started getting a little distant, while strangely intense phrases would slip from Yuri’s lips every once in a while. She’d say something eerily haunting or perceptive. Maybe she’d identify a little too strongly with a murderous character or something. Still, my poems kept moving me towards her. I was wondering when the game would get creepy. Hints started flowing. After sharing our poetry with one another, Monika decided we’d do a live reading at our school festival. I was paired up with Yuri to work on decorations. Sayori became quiet and solitary. My character made plans for Yuri to come over and work on the decorations. Sayori freaked out and confessed her feelings for me. Her latest poetry had continued refrain of “get out of my head. Get out of my head” or something of the like. In the morning before Yuri was to come over, I went to her house to find her crying in her bedroom. She admitted that she’d been depressed her whole life and at this point couldn’t handle it. She was breaking down. My character told her he’d be there, he’d help her through it always. He asked if she wanted to come over and help with the decorations, but she declined.

So I made decorations with Yuri. She brought her supplies, involving a strangely ornate knife for cutting ribbon. My character touched the end of the knife to see how sharp it was and accidentally drew blood. Her eyes widened and involuntarily started sucking on the finger. My character was taken aback and a little weirded out. Nevertheless, we made all the decorations and she went home (though not without professing she had a large knife collection). When I went outside, I saw Sayori waiting there. She was having a breakdown and I had the option of confessing my love for her or doing nothing. I figured I might as well see where that would go. She said she felt nothing.

The next day she was late for school. I went back to her place to check on her and walked in on her having hung herself. “THE END” came up onscreen. It was a freaky tonal shift.

The screen glitched out and the game restarted. My saves were gone. The game played through as it had before, except without Sayori in it. Glitches started happening all over the place. Dark dialogue options began occasionally appearing in incongruous font. The music became detuned and unnerving. Monika started giving me warnings about Yuri. Yuri and Natsuki would argue and without Sayori to smooth out the conversations, they got aggressive and threatening. Yuri left to go make tea and after a while I went to check on her. I walked into the hallway to hear a gasp and see her with cuts all down her arm. The game glitched, then rewound. The dialogue reoccurred as if nothing had happened.

Every once in a while, characters would reference actions that’d taken place, but other characters would deny knowledge of them. Yuri became more and more unhinged. Natsuki grew concerned. During one scene the game glitched and Natsuki’s eyes popped straight out of her head with blood trailing behind. Then glitched back to normal. The closer my character got to Natsuki, the more she’d let loose about her knives and love of blood. She confessed her love to me and, after I refused, she stabbed herself right there in the classroom. Her dialogue became gibberish and kept repeating. I set the text to “skip” and it went on and on for minutes, just total nonsense and unreadable characters. The light changed, day turned to night, into day and back again a few times. Natsuki walked into the room and asked if I’d been there all weekend. She saw Yuri’s corpse and vomited. Monika walked in and sighed. She apologised and admitted to tweaking the character’s neuroses in order to make herself seem more appealing. A DOS style text box opened up and she ran code to delete the other characters.

The game restarted once more, but focused solely on Monika. She said she got rid of everybody else so we could be alone. She was staring straight at me and said she was in love with me. Not the character, but me, the player who was playing the game. We were in the club room, but outside the window was nothing but the emptiness of space. Her dialogue options were bizarre and rambling. She mentioned having gone into the local files of the game to alter the code. I checked the local files through Steam and deleted her character, then went back to the game. She screamed and glitched out, cursing me for dooming her to the void, but professing that she still loved me. She restored the other characters. The game reset again.

This time there was no mention of Monika. The other characters were back, but Sayori was class president. She said she knew everything that happened with Monika and intended to stay with me forever and ever.  Monika’s stepped in and said she was sorry for endangering me. The game reset again to a black screen. A young woman’s voice came over the speakers. She said she’d written a song for me and wanted to play it. The game’s theme began playing on piano and she sang along while the credits rolled. She thanked me for playing and professed her eternal love for me. It was weird and sorta sweet, nicely capping off a five or so hour playthrough.

The game was such a breath of fresh air. For one, the format made it feel like there was a lot more choice, but really it was all on rails. I played it until the early hours of the morning and for real, it was pretty goddamn creepy. It’s this kind of stuff that makes me so stoked to see how gaming has evolved from its early days. Indie games are pushing the format onwards to bizarre and wonderful terrain. Even if I have spoiled basically all of it, I’m sure it’d still be a blast to experience. If you have Steam, it’s free. What’s holding you back?

I mean, it is legit terrifying, so there’s that.

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I don’t know where we were, but we were driving on the left hand side.

I had too much boredom coffee today, which means one of two things: I’m either high or dying. In any case, let’s get this show on the road!

I had a sex dream last night. It was pretty tame, but if you’re not into going down this route (both those puns entirely intentional), the last exit is on the right.

Coolsville, daddio. I don’t have a heap of sex dreams. Or if I do, it’s rare for me to remember them. I’m not a teenager anymore. It’s not like the sight of an open avocado is enough to send me into an eroticised tailspin. My mind is no longer a rabid howler monkey intent on flinging its shit at whatever sticks. It’s more like a chimp. Closer to human, but still not afraid to flay a face or two. When I do have sex dreams now, they’re more controlled. A tighter narrative than errant flesh and flowing water. Let’s go.

I’m not sure where I was in a geographical sense. I was travelling for work, but I was at a bar for sure. I was chatting with the bartender, nursing a whiskey and in walked Scarlett Johansson. I know what you’re thinking. Couldn’t my subconsciousness be more imaginative? It’s got unlimited pasture in which to run free. Not only did it not need to be a celebrity, but dreams are abstract. It could’ve been a humanoid alien or something. Get creative for (literally) my fuck’s sake. Anyway, in the dream I played it cool and kept sipping my drink and minding my own business. She sidled up to the bar and ordered a vodka on the rocks. We started chatting and it was obviously a dream, because I was not only quippy, but charming. We hit it off and soon enough I had to leave. I said she was welcome to join me. She did.

Two things somehow made even less sense. 1) I knew I was off to do some work. Would I ditch work IRL to spend time with a movie star? I mean, probably. In the dream though, I was resolute in heading for an office. Secondly, we decided to drive. We’d both had a bunch, but in dreamland our intoxication didn’t seem to matter. She had a rental, some smooth black convertible. It was her car, I knew this, but for some reason I jumped in the driver’s seat. We zipped along the highway and got caught up in traffic. Things in the car were steaming up. We were both pretty touchy and started working all up on each other. Hands darted down to laps and grasped hold. It was obvious we were both into it, but neither of us cared to go down on one another in the middle of the highway. My desire to get to work dwindled. Did we want to rent a hotel room? Find somewhere to turn off pull up the roof and get to business?

We stopped and tried to work out a strategy. I said that we clearly weren’t the only people who’d have these qualms. How often did people want quick and easy places in public to take some down time? What if, I posited, there were hidden locations you could access purely for having sex? She pulled out her phone and made some calls. We turned off the highway and headed to an office somewhere. We were in a boardroom chatting to the small team she’d assembled. There were engineers, architects, lawyers and accountants. I laid my plans out on the table. We talked specs and locations. There was agreement all around. This was not only a solid idea, but had long lucrative legs.

Cut back to the highway. We were both back in the car, but she was driving this time. We took a left exit that led down to a secluded swamp. I pressed a button on the remote and a hidden tunnel opened up. We drove through and saw a large cavern with hundreds of little alcoves. We drove into one of the alcove and a door closed behind us. Lights sprung on and we were in a private room with a bed, cross and a bunch of toys. I looked over to her and raised my eyebrow (it was a dream, so somehow this wasn’t seen as seedy and reprehensible) and asked her “so should we road test the equipment?” She grinned and hopped onto my lap.

If only this was as feasible in real life.

Am I too contrite to make an Aziz An-sorry pun? Looks like I’m just trite.

I want to talk about the Aziz allegations, because I think it’s worth putting thoughts out there. I’d like to emphasise that I’m not aiming to grandstand, to throw out some pointed think piece to put people in their place. My experiences aren’t relevant enough for that, there are better voices to listen to. Still, some conversation (is that what it’s called when I put words out into an echo chamber?) is better than none.

With all the allegations flying around right now, I’m sure everyone has a list. Some desert island top five of celebrities who you’re only wanting to hear squeaky clean things from. That may not even be the best way of putting it, ’cause frankly we all want to continue to believe that our faves are beyond issue. However, this ever-relevant piece by Ijeoma Oluo stands true. Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of dudes that I really, really don’t want to hear shit about. Aziz was on my list, as I’m sure he was for most. He’s made some great television, written a well-received book on dating, had compelling stand up bits and half-staked his career on the notion that he’s one of the good guys. It’s to the credit of his work that a bunch of people likely responded to his allegations with oh, is that it?

Pieces like this from the New York Times: Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader. Seeking to find fault in the victim’s behaviour, her lack of verbal rejection or conviction in getting the fuck out of an uncomfortable situation. Making it her problem that she wasn’t more direct in avoiding an unpleasant interaction. I get it. I want to keep on enjoying his material guilt free. The most prevalent reaction I’ve seen online has been that’s not assault. It’s just bad sex. I get it. I understand this reaction 100%. Why? Because I’ve been Aziz before.

I can recall a number of times in my early sexual experiences where I entirely ignored clues of disinterest. Whether this was out of ignorance or wilful desire, there’s no question that I was placing my wants over the comfort of others. Taking a soft “no” as a “not right now”. Slipping my hand between a partner’s legs and being rebuffed, only to try again ten minutes later. Pushing for sex when I got the sense she wasn’t interested, but I was. I don’t think I ever pressured a partner enough that she relented and gave in to get it over with. I did, however, fail to create a sexual environment where enthusiastic consent was imperative. I’m certain that I’m not the only guy who could admit as much. In fact, I’m quite sure that similar stories are likely more of the norm than we’d care to admit. I’m sure many guys wouldn’t even see fault with my behaviour. That’s why there’s fault in how Aziz acted. That’s why the culture of sexual consent in our society needs a major restructuring.

My initial response to the Aziz allegations was resigned frustration. As I said above, I’ve been there before. I’d hoped that someone like Aziz would be better than that, which clearly was hoping for too much. I was embarrassed that Aziz, who was 33 at the time, was behaving like a 21 year old. I was embarrassed that this behaviour in my mind was classified as that of a typical 21 year old. Unlike most of the allegations that’ve come out, this one has resonated with me the most. Why? Because these aren’t the shocking actions of a serial abuser like Harvey Weinstein. According to many of the female voices I’ve heard, they’re pretty run of the mill. That’s why it’s important men listen to what’s being said and swim in how it makes them feel.

If they’re not embarrassed or frustrated, maybe they should look at why that is. This movement marks a departure from what we all considered normal and a necessity to explore past experiences for egregious activity. We need to look at what we’ve done in order to learn how to be better. It’s important to sit with guilt, to use it to recalibrate both expectations and behaviour. The system is broken and fixing it is gonna take wilful intention and education.

Do I think Aziz is a monster who deserves to be stripped of his career? Honestly, despite what I’ve said today, I don’t. I think his story deserves to be out there as a cultural learning moment. I think he needs to have a long look at his past experiences and create meaningful change from here on out. I think if his heart is really where he’s made it out to be, that he should use his platform to admit fault and be a role model for the great many men who think he did nothing wrong.

As for me, I’ve spent years trying to unlearn what I took for granted. I’m not done yet. The movement may be called Time’s Up, but for a bunch of us it’s just begun.

More like High Confide-lity.

It’d hardly be an exaggeration to say that “nostalgia” was one of my six senses. It’s likely on a higher rung than smell. My nose is a fickle friend, but my brain is so laden with memories that touching, seeing, hearing or tasting something is enough to make me tumble back in time. My friend recently started a dating podcast. It’s in its infancy, but both episodes released so far are fantastic. Of course they are, she’s a real life matchmaker. In the most recent episode, she has a conversation with her husband. It’s great. He’s a wonderful dude and he so eloquently and systematically lays out perceptive analysis of himself and his dating experiences. At the same time, so much of what he said resonated intimately with my own experiences. It was like being 20 again, but with the filter only meaningful life experiences can provide.

I was a different person back in my 20s. Naturally some core attributes were still the same. I’ve always loved words and puns, been obsessed with pop-culture. I’ve been fiercely passionate about the things I’ve cared for since I knew how to form an opinion. At the same time, ten years ago I was still very much learning who I was. Hatching from the shelter of an educational system and crawling out into the adult world meant some harsh lessons were incoming. I had to grow and change in order to truly be my own person.

Yeah? I’m sure you’re asking doesn’t everyone? Sure they do. My particular struggles focused around one thing: Confidence. In some areas I strutted by comfortably. I knew I was smart, capable and likeable. Dating though? I had all the experience and wisdom of a child. Years of being overweight had crippled my self-confidence. I questioned why anyone would find me interesting or attractive. I’d say that I crashed and burned, but frankly it was so rare for me to put myself out there that I rarely had the chance. I’d get these deep and debilitating crushes where one conversation was enough to make me obsessively swoon. I’d waste an alarming amount of emotional energy fretting about how to navigate my interest, how unlikely it was that there was reciprocal attraction, etc.

Po, my friend in the podcast episode I linked above, addresses this well. He mentions how outward approval can become your sole motivation in dating. This hit hard. I used to care so much about how the other person thought about me that I’d disregard how I felt about myself. Clearly I didn’t matter, only they did. If I wasn’t the kind of person they wanted, I needed to be. I’d have to change myself to be commensurate with their desires. Po also talks about pedestal-ing, or infatuation causing you to build up the subject of attraction to a level of idolatry. This would happen to me constantly. I’d see myself as some kind of lower life form, which ironically is the least attractive thing a person could do. My response to my own feelings were directly pushing away the people I wanted to get closer to.

Worse, this had a negative impact in any relationships that followed. By seeing the object of my affection as more important than myself, I developed the habit of forcing myself to mould around their desires. While it was great to invest in someone else and care about them, the unfortunate side effect was disregarding my own needs. I’m sure you can see how this would effect long term relationships, right? Of course they all imploded. Unhappiness does that. I’d become gradually more wound up and embittered and that would seep into my view of the relationship. By exclusively catering to them, I also divested them of the opportunity to give back. People who love each other enjoy being able to help their partners and I was stripping them of that recourse.

I’m on the precipice of my 30th year, and certain things are becoming abundantly clear. Time is a gift. I’ve learned that piece by piece with each passing solar cycle. Each rotation only drives the point home. Perspective is everything. It not only helps us understand why the past occurred the way it did, but how better to shape our future. Dwelling with dread doesn’t serve us one iota, but reflection can help us better see the best path forward.

Or am I blatantly trying to justify watching High Fidelity for the 80th time?

It was gorge-ous, in case you were quarry-ous.

Adventure day! After many days in a row stuck in Toronto, escape was on the docket. Destination: Elora, a little town maybe 90 minutes out of the city. Where do I start? Well, nothing could keep us from repeating the town’s name in a sing song voice à la Master of None.

With no aux capabilities on the stereo, my girlfriend was forced (enabled?) Into bringing out her teenage CD wallet. We zoomed along the 401 highway cranking a Much Dance compilation and Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill. We weren’t merely travelling, but time travelling. It was interesting getting used to a) driving again, b) driving in snow and c) driving again in snow on the other side of the road. I’m not gonna be melodramatic enough to say that everything changed, but some things threw me off a little. First off, right hand turns on a red. I can’t even remember if there was an equivalent rule back in New Zealand, but it felt like stealing bases. A free pass! The left side being the driver’s side was odd. Mostly when reversing. Every time I had to back up I’d instinctively turn to my left and end up facing the door. Then I’d turn to the right, grab the headrest of the right seat and turn my wheels the wrong way.

Elora was small, walkable and cute. A ton of niche stores with the kind of stuff adults buy to make a house look well travelled. First stop was the Elora Brewing House. It was exactly what you’d expect from a brewery, which I mean only as a compliment. Tasty pub style food and a range of beer on tap. I had a chicken sammy with bacon jam, lettuce and tomato. The home made tomato sauce was super flavorful with a strong ginger taste. The hot sauce was potent and I’m bound to feel it again later.

We checked out a couple of the boutiques around town. The Mermaid Emporium had heaps of inexpensive and nice looking jewelry. Not merely that, but an extensive collection of custom door knockers, handles and coat hooks. Have you ever had a hankering for hanging your coats on a line of dog butts? If not, we wouldn’t connect on any wavelength and I question why you’re reading this. My girlfriend and our travelling buddy bought a couple of things and we set out to see what else the town held. We looked into a bunch of windows, then settled on a cringeworthy looking gift store. It had more than the usual complement of Live Laugh Love placards and some eerily targeted divorce wine glasses. I guess there’s a market for everything.

The gorge and quarry, two local attractions we’d been keen to check out, were in opposite directions. People had suggested the quarry would likely resemble a large hole filled with snow, so the gorge sounded slightly more promising. In the summer it offered zipline routes, but covered in snow there were instead just empty tracks. We walked through them, playing in the snow like witless children. We stood on the zipline platform and witnessed the beautiful vista of the frozen gorge. We followed the track to a walkable over-bridge and saw an even better view, lit by the pink hues of fading sunlight. The cliffs were steep, indebted and chipped away through time. A small river ran through the mostly icy depths, opening up as it ran past the bridge. We messed around in the snow a bit more until frostbite threatened to claim our appendages. We hopped back in the car back towards home, content with a fun day out. So fun, in fact, that I forgot how much I wanted a fish sandwich until we were too far to turn around. Well, well, well, Elora, I guess you haven’t seen the last of me!

Sleighing it.

This place has descended into chaos and I love it. It’s a total mess, which couldn’t be more indicative of our frenetic and magical cohabitation. It feels like Christmas, but more so it feels like our Christmas. We have our weird little blue tree with its Star Lord topper. The central heating is causing our hand drawn pictures to periodically fall to the floor (blue tak and all that). Our sense of time has fallen away after a night out at a friend’s place. There’s no structure and bedlam is the word of the day. Bedlamham?

No festive ham, but we are having ribs. This recipe, to be exact. We had an 11am Skype date with my girlfriend’s mum, so waking up at 10am I got to work prepping the ribs. I lathered them in garlic, salt and pepper, then mixed the sauce. It couldn’t have been easier, just a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq sauce and 180ml of coke. Put the ribs in the slow cooker, drenched them in the sauce and left them on low. They’re five hours in and smell divine. They’re gonna be unbelievable flanked by sweet potato fries and maybe some broccoli if we’re feeling sporty.

My girlfriend got me a nice little stay at home kit for Christmas. It had dark hot chocolate mix and home made cookies/marshmallows that one of our baking-ly gifted friends put together. We started the morning off with special hot chocolates, mixed with a liberal application of Baileys cherry chocolate. If this all sounds idyllic, keep in mind that it involved me accidentally tripping one of the fuses in the kitchen. The guy who lives downstairs (and thus has access to the fuse box) is away for some amount of time (hopefully just today) so a section of our place is without power. Oopsies. I had to plug the microwave/kettle into the hallway. Accordingly, making my breakfast meant crouching down on the floor in my giraffe onesie, taking my porridge out of the microwave to stir in peanut butter, then putting it back in. Looking around I saw the stack of pictures that’d fallen down, the kitchen table used as storage space, the microwave and kettle on the hallway floor, our weird little tree. I smelt the ribs cooking away. I don’t know that I’ve felt more at home in a while.

To truly go with the theme, we’re gonna have our own little home made Jewish Christmas. We’ve still got Kill Bill: Volume 2 in the chamber ready to fire off at will. In lieu of ordering Chinese food, we’re gonna cook up a stir fry and pig out (before pigging out on pig ribs later on). We have no reason to put on clothes for hours and only leisure on our schedule. It may be lawless chaos, but I have no complaints.

Wherever you’re at, whatever you’re up to. I hope you’re double-fisting merriment and cheer.

I guess you could say that it’s my cup of tea.

I wish someone would bottle the feeling of a long anticipated experience paying off. There’s something so satisfying about having hopes come to fruition, so gratifying to have adroitly placed your faith. While so many dreams never grow legs, seeing those that do gives birth to the notion that they can.

Let’s bring the grandeur down a notch. I played a video game and it delivered on everything it promised.

For context, let’s jump back a bit. Last year I was dating this gal who was a professional artist. Her current project was doing watercolour backgrounds for this video game called Cuphead. A side scrolling platformer modelled in the manner of Gunstar Heroes, Contra, etc etc. Stylistically it was taking its cues from early Fleischer Brothers cartoons, Steamboat Mickey, and Betty Boop. It looked awesome. I was floored. This was exactly the kind of game I loved playing as a kid. Fast twitch style gameplay, power ups and two player co-op. I was excited right from the start. As we dated, I saw so much of the work she and her partner were putting in. Modelling props for a combination of CG and video, endless watercolour world maps, shop backgrounds. So much creativity going into each frame. She took me through a bunch of the animation influences. We watched classic Popeye and Bimbo. I learned about the techniques used, and how Fleischer Studios invented rotoscoping. I saw little Easter Eggs strewn around the game. I never saw gameplay or got hands on experience, but watching everything come together was such a thrill, imagining how the final product would look.

The game was getting a lot of press. She showed me fan art that people had submitted an entire year before the game was even released. Whenever I mentioned the game around game dev friends they’d perk up. The trailer was released. I saw international gaming sites talking about it. Conan O’Brien featured it on his Clueless Gamer segment. I realised that this game was a Big Deal.

Cuphead was released and the reviews were great. It sounded like the difficulty level was right where it needed to be. People were digging the art direction, the soundtrack and all the love that’d gone into curating the experience. I was pumped to play. I wanted to find a gaming friend who’d commit to playing through this thing. I wondered who of my friends had the controllers and wanted to invest the time. I asked around and got some vaguely interested parties, but I never followed up or went through and bought the game. It’s been out for a month (exactly) and I still hadn’t played it. Note the change of tenses? It was intentional, I’m not that shitty a writer.

I had lunch with my friend today. We hadn’t hung out in a while so catching up was très nécessaire. While we were eating, I asked about the game and how she’d enjoyed playing, how the controls worked out and whether it’d fulfilled all of her expectations. She was over the moon with it and so pleased that everything had come together. She asked if I wanted to come over and play. I did. We did. It was exactly what I’d hoped for. The controls were fluid and intuitive. The animation followed suit. The world was gorgeously colourful, cute with hints of menace. The soundtrack was perfect, evoking the moods of the era. The gameplay was hard. Very hard.

At the same time it never felt too much. Dying happened frequently, but wasn’t oppressive. The levels weren’t too long, so restarting never set you back to the point of frustration. Power ups helped so much. The boss fights were fun and involved several transformations, so once you got used to a certain attack pattern they changed up. It felt dynamic and exciting, fast paced without being overwhelming. Even in the midst of battle, little details really stuck out. The enemies were incredibly creative and so well tied to the theme of their levels. Playing with her was a blast, as she’d explain cool behind the scenes tidbits as we advanced. I’m so excited to get the game myself, buy a controller and get stuck in.

Let the games begin.