Instant vacation – just add water

It is often said that when starting a vacation it takes a long time to wind down and learn how to relax again. This year I’m surprised how quickly I got used to not going to work. Vacation began, and as soon as the new week started I had already switched modes. I don’t know if this is vacation mode, whatever that is, but this surely isn’t day job mode.

Perhaps it is because the last couple of months have been pretty far removed from normal work weeks for me anyway. Sure, I’ve been busy working on getting the game ready for its release, but I’ve also travelled around with a group of colleagues presenting the game to journalists. I went to Los Angeles for pre-E3, then London for the BFG event, and then I soon returned to Los Angeles for E3.

It becomes this separate reality where you travel to new places, have these unusual and focused experiences of demoing the game and being interviewed about it, and hang out with a group of people (from other Bethesda teams) that you only ever see in this alternate reality.

I’m in Bavaria this first week of vacation, and this too is its own separate reality. Bavaria holds many of the clichés about traditional German culture, and it does so in stunningly beautiful landscapes, with its hills and valleys and neverending green fields.

But it rains. It rains and it’s cold, and the weather forecast tells us that the climate intends to continue behaving like this for the remainder of the week we’ve planned to stay here. Yet it isn’t really much of a problem. I have my books, and I have my iPad and my wireless keyboard that I’m writing these words on. It’s all I need right now (oh, and Coca-Cola, which I bought a lot of yesterday).

Vacation. It’s good.

The magic of the unknown

After some months of abstinence I’ve gone back to Skyrim. The extra content in Hearthfire and Dragonborn pulled me back, and I realized there are still quite a few things for me to discover amidst the original game’s snow, ice and dragons. The world threatening conflict of Dragonborn adds a bit of much needed energy to the old world, so I’ll probably not finish that quest line quite just yet. You see, once I finished Skyrim’s main quest the last of the tension, the life, the sense that anything could happen, poured out of the setting and it became a less interesting space to be in. Dragonborn mends that a little bit, but only a little.

It wasn’t just finishing the main quest – it was the 90+ hours I had sunk into Skyrim. After so many hours I knew that everything I would do, everything I would encounter, would be variations on a theme. I’ve realized that if I’m to be immersed in Bethesda’s game there needs to be something unknown waiting on the other side of the next mountain. If the world is to feel alive, there needs to be systems I still don’t know, like hidden treasures of potential that could allow me to interact with the world and its inhabitants in new, deeper ways. If that potential would ever deliver was of less importance than the potential itself.

I can’t help but to do draw parallels to life itself. When I was younger life used to feel like an ocean full of unturned stones. But then I grew up and realized that while there were still plenty of stones to turn, I had already seen all kinds of rock – and every stone I’d flip in the future would end up being one of those. I know the mechanics of a life now. Life, death, work, love, family, promotions, redundancies, achievement, failure, disappointment, pride, oceans, mountains, cities, stars and empty space. Tomorrow won’t surprise me, and neither will the next decade.

Perhaps the dreariness this results in is a big reason for why people believe in not only gods, but UFO landings, life after death, magic, conspiracy theories and everything else that spells “faith”. Anything at all that promise an unknown country hiding somewhere beyond the horizon. Something that whispers “there is more” into your ear when the earth beneath your feet is about to give way.

Hope. I used to dislike the concept, but I get it now. We all thirst for it. A vague, shimmering shape in the distance. The magic of the unknown. Some people pursuit it in religion. Perhaps a group of us faithless seek it in game worlds, as some sort of substitute. Did Skyrim show me some of the magic I no longer see in the real world?

The dark sisters

Stress and Sadness. Fear and Longing. Worry and Sorrow. They go under different names, but we know them well. We know their real names. Anxiety. Melancholia. Like dark sisters that never meet. One is our enemy. One our friend.

They seem similar, but they’re not. Both seem to arise from the same dark, hidden place, but one whispers while the other yells. If it was possible to choose between the two, the choice would be a simple one. But it’s not possible. They come and go as they like.

Anxiety is like a predator. She buries her claws deep into your flesh, feeds on you, and leaves you bruised or worse. You want to flee, but this is not the pre-historic savannah and running will take you nowhere. So you remain on your chair as she screams at you, shouting ugly things. You dont want to listen any more, but it was never a choice in the first place, was it?

Melancholy is a cocoon. She slowly grows around you until you are fully enclosed and divorced from the world. Inside that cocoon is the entire universe, cold and vast. With her near you are alone, on a mountaintop in the faint light of distant stars, feeling the night’s breeze against your naked skin. The world is an ocean embracing you, and you can feel every inch of the never-ending depth’s ice cold water.

It’s the summer sunrise before the others have waken up. The starry night when they’re asleep.

The madness of a cold

Muscles aching. Head full of snot. Tired. Slightly grumpy.

I got a cold all right.

We’re nearing a milestone at work, so I’m currently putting in a few more hours to reach my goals. But it’s honestly not much of a strain, so why do I feel like I’ve worked a 24 hour shift in a coal mine?

Again, it’s just the cold. Damn you, unescapable facet of being a biological machine!

Here’s a random thought. The cold makes me feel a bit strange, like I was a bit disconnected from the real world. I wonder if something as mild and harmless as a cold has the potential to affect a person’s conciousness during the peak of the sickness. Perhaps that could be useful creatively.

Who the hell is this?

Nothing has been posted here for a little while. With the new name and the new look, it’s all of a sudden like the blog is a stranger. Or a mere aquaintance. It’s no longer Pixel Park, and I don’t know this new character yet. But we shall become friends, of course, me and Instead of Letters.

The truth is that not much has changed, really. I will still write about games and movies, although with more posts about other art forms like literature, theatre, ballet… It all sounds a bit pretentious, perhaps, but the blog is merely an outlet for me to talk about the things I like – cultural expressions that resonate with me on some level, emotionally or intellectually. Both as a consumer and a creator.

Instead of Letters

When was the last time you sent a hand written letter to anyone?

When in Amsterdam a couple of months back, I and Lena spent a rainy afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum. Beyond simply taking in and enjoying a lot of Vincent’s great art, I was struck by the man himself; his determined struggle to be the artist he wanted to be, the confidence that told him to keep working, and the gradual collapse of his mental health as the confidence started to wane. Wall by wall, room by room, you could follow how he developed and changed and became ill. It was fascinating, and after having walked through his life in chronological order, I felt I had a sense of who he was.

Most of the knowledge we have about him comes from his letters. He wrote often and long, usually to his brother who was also an artist.

At the exhibition I realized that private letters have been instrumental in understanding the lives of so many of history’s important individuals; artists, politicians, warriors, believers – people that moved and changed the world. By far, we wouldn’t have the same insights into what drove them, what they desired, who they were, if not for ink and paper. But who writes hand written letters these days, now that the Internet has changed everything? It seems as if we all of a sudden are without an important tool for writing our history.

What do we have instead of letters? E-mail is the supposed replacement, but it doesn’t quite invite you to write the type of long, thoughtful letters that people once composed. Communication is fast, cheap and painless today, and I believe that it makes people sloppy in their written communication. E-mail is also merely one of a large number of ways to communicate today. Using myself as an example, I use e-mail but also a cell phone, Skype, blog comments, Steam, Facebook messages and comments, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr… And that’s just at the top of my head.

The written word of today is simplistic and fragmented, and most of a person’s written output will be lost. Social networks become deserted and go offline, passwords are forgotten, chat logs vanish during the next reinstall, e-mail addresses are changed and forgotten or their accounts closed.

There is hope. One form of communication still require coherent thought (from those who own the ability, at least), is completely public, and will remain mirrored even if the server goes offline or the author deletes the content – the blog. Perhaps blogging is more worthwhile than we usually give it credit for. No one knows who will be determined as “interesting” or “important” by the future – van Gogh was considered a nobody during his life – and for those of us who will never be given posthumous praise it might still be of value for the family we leave behind.

My own blog, the one you are reading right now, started out with the name Pixel Park because it was meant to be about digital culture. I wish to move beyond that rather narrow description. I want it to also be about theater, ballet, literature and that friendly duck I met at the summer house. A greater slice of my life.

These blog posts are my letters to you, whoever you are. This is Instead of Letters. Thank you for reading.

Never forgetting the storms

There are some childhood memories that I’ve thought about quite a bit recently – vivid memories of the storms at the family summer house. I remember that the worst of the storms almost always seemed to keep away from the island we lived on, hammering the lake but sparing us as if there was some hidden barrier protecting our home.

I enjoyed sitting on my own down by the rocks at the shore, watching the lightning over the lake. It poured down, but the rainwear kept me dry and allowed me to just sit there and take it all in. It was powerful and majestic. The warm rain against my face, the wind blowing the treetops, the roaring sea beneath my feet. The air was alive with a million water drops making the sea boil. Lightning cut lines between a grey sky and the horizon, and thunder danced between the islands. It was exciting, but at the same time calming.

I was alone on that rock, but nature itself opened up and embraced me. It was all around me, and it said “This is what I am. I touch everything, and I am the touched. I am the raging sea and the beating heart. And you are part of me.

That was many years ago. If it would rain right now I doubt I’d even notice it. Living in a city is much like being immersed in a cocoon. Protected. Sanitized. Air conditioned. Planned. Life here is homogeneous.

Each and every one of us have the wonderful opportunity of being alive and sentient, and we get to experience this on a fantastic planet. It’s got sunshine and pitch black nights, heat and cold, breezes and storms, rain and hail. Trees reaching for the skies and mountains large as gods. And yet we choose to live in cities filled with asphalt and malls and traffic lights and 7-11s.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the city and everything it promises. But the cityscape has been my horizon for many years, and I think I’m getting ready to face the elements again.

Playing Skyrim

The move to Sweden was an ordeal. It should have been fairly easy – Norway is a neighbouring country, and I am Swedish after all (although with 50% Finnish sisu). But the completely insane housing market in Sweden (good luck trying to find an apartment without renting one from someone already renting it or paying a bribe of half a year’s salary), and the fact that we were defrauded gave us more than one headache.

Yes – defrauded. We we’re royally screwed on an apartment by a sociopath. It’s long story that I might tell another time, but for now I’ll just conclude that the parasite is doing time.

Anyway. Games.

The ordeal meant that most of our stuff waited for us in a warehouse, in the twilight zone between the previous apartment and the next one, and we had to wait until early December until we got it back. That translates to a lot of time without my PC or my Xbox 360. My already intimidating games backlog continued to grow and grow.

But it’s been well over a month since my hardware returned, so the backlog should surely have been reduced by now. Right?

Well, Skyrim happened. It’s not like I don’t want to finish Deux Ex: Human Revolution, it’s not like I don’t want to try out Battlefield 3, but…

I was never that impressed by Oblivion. And Skyrim is not a perfect game. But by god was it a long time since a game captured my imagination like this. When I’ve played it, I keep thinking about it even when I should be sound asleep. I think about the things I might want to try, and potential scenarios that might unfold the next time I enter its captivating world.

The game lives in the mind, and it was years since that happened to me. I remember having games stay with me during downtime when I was a kid, but these days it’s very rare… and I treasure whenever it happens.

Once there was a Hitch

The Hitch is gone. Christopher Hitchens – author, journalist, debater, atheist hero – has died from his esophageal cancer at the age of 62.

A relatively short life, but Hitch lived (at least to an outsider like me) a full and productive one. His death came as I was in the process of reading his book God is Not Great, with his autobiography Hitch 22 waiting next in line. Someone said that the man wrote more than most people read in their life time, and that is probably true.

Still, 62 years. That’s exactly double my age. When I’m that age, I hope to still have aspirations and dreams, and the energy and time to realize them. There is little doubt Hitchens still had the energy, but he ran out of time.

I’d like to think that death belongs to the grey and frail. That death is the territory of those who’ve not known their own fire for years, of those who stumble on their thoughts and memories. We expect the end of our lives to be a foggy marsh it takes long to wander into, each passing year taking us further into the mist where we ultimately succumb to the treacherous morass.

No. Death belongs to those who die, no matter how young or spirited.

Here are two videos with clips of Hitchens speaking, displaying his razor sharp wit in debates, speeches and interviews. I am saddened that there will be no more of this.

Credits

…and as the movie ends and the closing credits appear, the names scrolling by are less real to you than the characters in the film. Like the rest of the audience, they are avatars. Non-player characters. Vague backdrops to the dreams, visions and hopes that populate your aching head.