Jonesing for Journey

A few years ago, I bought a PS4 (to play Rock Band 4, a disappointment), and picked up a few other titles, including a couple of walking sims: Dear Esther & Journey.

Dear Esther is gorgeous and emotionally moving. It’s definitely worth playing through a couple of times.

Journey is Zen-like. The graphical design is truly lovely; the musical score is nothing short of remarkable. Playing the game on the PS4 was a wonderful experience, but I didn’t perceive any depth of play that would make it worth playing again.

Until the family got me a Steam Deck, and I tried out the PC version. Not only are there nuances and hidden secrets I had missed, but being connected to Steam online (something I’d used only for backups), I stumbled across another lone traveler making the same journey, and the experience bloomed into something deeper.

Journey is about struggle to reach a mountaintop, and the experience of sometimes coming across a companion to accompany in the struggle is heartwarming. That you’ve no idea who that person is in real life, where they’re located on the globe, what language they speak, makes it even more so. Communication is a simple chirrup, with no more meaning than “Hey!” It’s amazing just how much you can say with one simple sound.

As to my jonesing, at present I’ve achieved 13 of the 14 trophies. The 14th is “Don’t play the game for a week.” With every passing day, I find that more difficult to avoid. In part, it’s that in Journey I can fly much like in my real-world dreams. But mainly it’s how much I miss meeting newcomers, sojourning with them, and guiding them to hidden empowerments.

I miss the simple, nonjudgmental commonality of that online space, in a shared struggle with a stranger to reach a mountaintop. As one online commenter wrote, “To whomever it was who joined me in Journey last night making heart shapes in the sand, I love you!”

 

A Final Evening with Jim Ward

Let me open up even more than usual for a second.

In January, when Jennell Jaquays died, it rocked me more than a bit. I’ve interacted with her since late 1989, when I talked her into letting me write an entry for Citybook IV, a little dream of mine to be in the series. Later, we worked together daily on the Dragon Dice project at TSR, becoming the sort of chummy colleagues that make a point to visit when they’re in your neck of the woods. And more recently, she’d become an online resource for this aging cisgender heterosexual white guy looking to understand and ally with other people.

In early March, my friend Steve Maggi died and, well, I still haven’t recovered. Steve and I were part of a group of cohorts at GDW in the mid 1980’s, along with Steve Bryant and a couple of others. We met regularly after work, usually to watch Kids in the Hall over a bottle of something, to moan and joke about hassles of the job. I was a decade older than the rest, so it felt like an honor to hang with them. Maggi stayed in touch ever since, as our lives and geographic locations diverged. When this focal seizure condition began impeding my natural extroversion, forcing me into retirement, Maggi continued to text and call, keeping the connection alive, making sure his “Sensei” was okay. (I hated when he called me that, but it’s a precious memory now.)

Exactly one week after Maggi, my friend Jim Ward died. Jim had hired me at TSR, kept me occupied with fascinating projects, always believing in me, always treating me as an equal. When TSR flew the two of us to England to introduce Dragon Dice to TSR UK, he took me Business Class right beside him, though I later learned he’d been told to fly me Coach and knew he’d take heat from Lorraine when we returned. When we continued on to Germany for the Essen trade show, he introduced me to Mike Gray and Reiner Knizia over evening board games. It was like taking part in a heavyweight prize fight. Later Jim, Tim Brown, and I partnered as Fast Forward Games, making some long drives together to TennCon, where our investors were located.

Jim and I argued bitterly over Trump on Facebook, but we stayed friends, sharing gifts by mail and conversations by phone, meeting pretty much always when I traveled back from Nebraska.

As I struggled through the shock of his loss at Gary Con, I was also fielding daily IMs from a woman who despised him. Jim could be crass sometimes, and ignorant about changing social mores, but I knew the guy’s inner sweetness, remember the confused innocence in his voice as he once asked me, “Lester, am I sexist?”

So let me be clear: Jim Ward was one of the purest souls I’ve ever known. All the good you’ve read about him in his friends’ memorials are absolutely true. He was warm, nurturing, enthusiastic, funny, and loyal to a fault.

My final memories of Jim are from texting the day after the podcast below. That somehow I had that evening to share with him, along with Steve Sullivan and David Wise, is some comfort.

But I’m at all not okay. Jennell’s loss hurts; the losses of Maggi and Jim are devastating. I’m still flinching away from facing those. Writing this post has been hellish. But the interview is a memory I’ll cherish. And Jim deserves to be honored and celebrated. As does Maggi. And Jennell. The world is so much the richer for their having been here.

Enjoy the video.

Gamehole Con 2024

As of today, I’m registered as a guest at Gamehole Con, in Madison, WI, this September. (It’ll take a few days for my bearded mug to show up on the guest page, so in the meantime you’ll have to trust me.) I hope to see you there!

Memories in High Fantasy

I don’t usually get this excited about an item in the mail, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

Back in the previous century, around 1983 to ’84, I came across an even-then obscure RPG titled High Fantasy. It took a decidedly different approach to fantasy role-play, with no “hit points,” injury instead deteriorating your character’s skill percentile scores. Its character types had a distinctly different feel than D&D or TFT. And its solo adventures were perhaps the best I’ve ever seen before or since.

I bought every supplement available—or so I thought.

Last year I stumbled across mention of another book—Goldchester—and went looking for a copy. The only one I could find was on eBay for about $300, not a price I could justify, though sorely tempted.

Then last week I found a copy on Etsy for $50. It seemed worth it for the nostalgia factor alone.

Today, as you can see, it arrived! And I’m transported back to 1983, starting what would be a 2-year campaign in the Free City of Carse (Midkemia Press).

It’s not just a book. It’s memories.