I'm not joking, this is getting spoilered to high hell.
Right. I need to get what I saw of Star Wars: The Last Jedi down into something. I can't do Twitter because it's literally less than twelve hours since release so to say anything approaching spoiler territory, let alone actually spoiling a thing, would be suicidal. Same for Facebook. Needless to say, social media to discuss my thoughts, even brief outside something approaching 'OHMYGODINCREDIBLE' thoughts, is not gonna happen.
With that in mind, I'm gonna write down bullet point thoughts of what I seen last night and just process what I saw. This goes with the caveat that I mostly didn't go into it with a massive critical eye, that there is most likely a lot of recency bias here and excitement pre and post-viewing and a second viewing will happen next week to process what I seen and see things a bit more critically.
But I think I can say this before getting into the spoilered stuff that I fucking adored The Last Jedi, loved it. With that in mind, what you are about to read - in case this hasn't been made evident by now already - will be filled with spoilers. After quite a considerable chance to get out, everything, if not most things, will be spoiled for you. So get out if you want to be preserved before you see it. Or you've already seen it or just DGAF. Well, good for you. All the same, spoiler warning ends after the BB8 and Porg GIFs.
[SPOILER WARNING STARTS HERE]
[FINAL SPOILER WARNING]
[SPOILER WARNING ENDS HERE - BUT HERE'S THE GIFS ONE MORE TIME FOR SAFETY AND ALSO BECAUSE BB8 <3]
- Love they immediately jumped into the action. No waiting about, it went straight into it
- In watching all eight Star Wars movies, I don't think I've seen self-sacrifice done as wonderfully as Rose's sister. It sets up her arc well and gives purpose and meaning to her character
- This was a film which had actually a lot of comedic aspects to it, even down to Luke Skywalker nonchalantly throwing away his lightsaber. That shouldn't have been funny - but it just was. Even Chewie's bondfire dinner and eating a cooked Porg in front of live Porgs is actually a lot funnier than it was
- Me pre-TLJ: I do not get this obsession over Porgs. Stop trying to make them happen, Fetch. Me post-TLJ: I LOVE THE PORGS AND I WILL DIE PROTECTING THEM IF I ABSOLUTELY MUST
- "NO. FUCKING. WAY." I remember saying out loud to myself as I saw the outline of Yoda. Lo and behold, there he was. And I remember just smiling at the end of it after the subsequent conversation with Luke. It was pure fan service and I loved it
- Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamil's chemistry together is just fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. It was evident even in promotional stuff for The Force Awakens, but coming together for The Last Jedi, it just completely clicked off the bat. It was wonderful.
- The force connections at times between Rey and Kylo/Ben was odd to me at first, but as the movie wore on, it actually added more to the possibility of Ben turning - and maybe even the faintest possibility of Rey turning
- I'm going to write this in bold to emphasise this: Kelly Marie Tran is the best thing about this movie. Or at least one of the two leading best things about this film. Rose is as pure a character as they come - grieving at the loss of her sister, but called into action near immediately to help Finn, it's clear she's loyal, caring, funny and . The Monaco-like planet where Rose and Finn head to to get the codebreaker, played incredibly well by Benicio Del Toro, shows Rose not easily impressed with what is going on around her, even disgusted, considering how the First Order ruined her family's livelihood and how those she's currently surrounding herself are those making massive paydays in the weapons trade thanks to the war. I can't stress this enough, but adding Tran was just a casting stroke of perfection and I can only hope whoever made the decision gets a bonus of sorts, if not a pay rise, for casting her. For Tran herself, her star will grow massively after this and it is well deserved considering she puts in a star-making performance. And for Rose, having not only a massive POC character in the Star Wars canon but the first major Asian representation in the films will do incredible wonders for not only little girls in the same way Leia and Rey have done, but for POC children. If nothing else, it's something Tran can truly, truly be proud of
- Snoke getting killed off was actually a big surprise to me. I honestly didn't expect it to happen so soon. Likewise in turn, having it set up by Rey and Ben suggested maybe Ben is being turned
- Holy fuck that lightsaber teamup between Rey and Ben on Snoke's personal unit was brilliant
- In turn, the force fight between Rey and Ben (Kylo from here on out) was rather fun!
- Kylo taking up the mantle of Supreme Leader from Snoke after Hux's objections was a hell of a Vader-like moment
- Finn is underused a bit more than expected in the film, but still gets the job done when it shows with his partnership with Rose. And his battle with Phasma is brilliant
- Saddened Phasma seems to be done now and killed off. It seems pretty conclusive anyway considering how she went out so I wouldn't put money on an appearance in Episode IX. It felt like there was a lot of potential in her character that didn't really get a chance to come out, I felt
- As Finn is racing towards that big ass cannon that's firing up, I genuinely thought at one point they were actually going to kill him off. It actually felt like it was happening. Then Rose comes in with the save and crashes Finn off the path and I think, 'oh thank god' but then think 'DON'T YOU DARE KILL OFF ROSE ALREADY', especially after the moment had in the aftermath of the incident
- Also: that sequence pretty much kills off any chance of Finn and Poe. Although the end sequence suggests the possibility of a love triangle between Finn, Rose and Rey. Hmm.
- Luke's fight with Kylo, their final showdown, was fantastic, but kept thinking at first why isn't Luke going for Kylo in the same way Kylo was going for Luke. And then the reveal he actually isn't there but is rather a sort of force-like holographic representation (for lack of a better term) was rad. "I'll see you around, kid," was a hell of a way to sign off as Luke went the way of Yoda in a bit I really should have seen coming in hindsight considering what we seen earlier
- Which brings me to the second best leading thing about this film and, like above, I'm going to bold this: I am going to miss Carrie Fisher so much. Her final appearance as Leia before Fisher's unfortunate and heartbreaking death last year is filled with conviction, joy and heartbreak in equal measure. I felt certain they'd kill off Leia especially at the start of the film. And it felt like they pulled the trigger on it when their ship was bombed our by the First Order and killing everyone onboard (salute to you, Admiral Ackbar *salute*). And yet, she somehow survives thanks to what appears to be the Force. As the end of the film approached, she comes back strongwilled and in need to do something drastic to escape the First Order's pursuit of the Resistance. Her face-to-face with Luke is an incredibly hard-hitting, emotional moment, especially when in light of the Resistance about to seemingly lose everything, and had me welling up hard as Luke kissed her forehead. And as the movie comes to a close, giving one final message of inspiration in that the smallest spark can inspire hope as we see a wide pan shot of the main cast before showing a small boy, seen earlier in the mission Finn and Rose were on, wearing the same ring Rose is wearing indicating she was resistance. And I near fell into tears knowing that not only the final word of the movie would also be the last time we'd hear Leia, but have be something so meaningful too. It hurts even more knowing Episode IX was meant to be Leia's film in the same way The Force Awakens was Han's movie and The Last Jedi was Luke's. There'll be no one quite like Princess/General Leia Organa again. And in turn, there'll be no one quite like Carrie Fisher again. Godspeed, our Princess, our General. May the force be with you
- Rian Johnson proved his worth here and made a movie that was worth the build and more. Episode IX has an incredible lot to live up to, but Lucasfilm's decision to give Johnson a new Star Wars trilogy to be in charge of is looking like its already paid off in spades
- JJ Abrams delivered greatly with The Force Awakens, but he now has an incredible load of pressure to get the landing right for this trilogy with Episode IX. I can only hope he sticks it
- God, I've not even mentioned Laura Dern's turn as VA Holdo. Or Billie Lourd's low-key great performance as Lieutenant Connix
TL;DR - This movie was fantastic and I realise there is an element of recency bias saying that along with blind excitement post-viewing, which is why I'll go have a second viewing next week to go into it with a bit more of a critical eye on things, but I feel absolutely, positively certain I loved this a lot, lot more than The Force Awakens. And I loved The Force Awakens too.
See this film. Now.
[Content warning: This piece features talk of domestic abuse, child abuse and graphic talk of incredibly gratuitous violence. Discretion is advised]
Before I get into this, I should lay my cards out on the table here.
Detroit: Become Human and The Last of Us: Part II are games I am strongly looking forward to and therefore games I have a somewhat vested interest in. I've long been looking forward to Detroit since well before its official reveal at Paris Games Week two years ago, back when it was first shown in 2012 at GDC as a PlayStation 3 tech demo when a game didn't exist at the time. I felt that if Quantic Dream did a game based on that, they'd be onto a winner.
The Last of Us: Part II, well if you know me by now and seen the amount of things I've written on The Last of Us on this blog and elsewhere and listen to me speak of it, you'll know how much interest I have in seeing how this game pans out since its official reveal at PSX last year, even if I've long felt a sequel wasn't really needed and that The Last of Us 1 and subsequently Left Behind were a perfect one and done deal for me. Not to mention the fact that as well as The Last of Us being My Favourite Game™, Uncharted 2 lies in the lower end of my top ten games ever and that in three of the past four years, including this one currently, Naughty Dog's games have all been in my top ten games for the year (TLOU 1 at, well, one; Left Behind at four; Uncharted 4 at three and The Lost Legacy currently within my top five for the year as of writing this).
Needless to say, I am excited for Detroit, despite Quantic Dream's last game Beyond: Two Souls being a very bad game narratively and enjoying Quantic's other games in Heavy Rain (it's actually in my top ten games of the last generation) and Fahrenheit inspite of David Cage's writing and the final third going to shit in the latter. Needless to say, I am excited for The Last of Us: Part II despite the fact that maybe a sequel wasn't really needed in my eyes (even if it actually made business sense considering how much money it made and how many units it sold) or how, rather brazenly frankly, Naughty Dog casually threw off allegations of sexual assault recently.
So lets cut to yesterday at Sony's massive European showcase event at Paris Games Week. Brand new trailers for both Detroit and The Last of Us: Part II, the latter the first sighting of the game since its reveal before Christmas last year at PlayStation Experience.
The Detroit trailer had our first real look at what Kara's story arc will be since the game's reveal over two years ago where she was front and centre of it after the Kara tech demo of 2012. In it, she is an android servant to a man named Todd and his daughter Alice. As the trailer progresses, after a brief setup, Todd becomes more unhinged and lashes out at both Kara and Alice in what is clearly domestic and child abuse respectively. Regardless of the fact that Kara is an android, it's the optics of it that still shows here: a man getting violent towards a woman.
The trailer shows many narrative branches this story beat could take, including escaping from Todd but leaving Alice behind, protecting Alice, taking Alice away from Todd and at the end of the trailer, showing Todd being shot by Alice as he's about to attack Kara.
At first viewing, I felt nothing but excitement seeing the trailer for it.
To close the show, Sony aired out a five minute cut-scene trailer for The Last of Us: Part II. In it, it showed a group of four main characters plus two henchmen for the antagonist of the trailer. At the start of the trailer, you see a female character dragged to where she seems like she's going to meet her death. She has her neck roped and seems like she's about to be hanged for whatever reason before the villain has a knife at her torso and seems about to cut at it when she, the villain, is alerted to another captured character being dragged by other cronies to their position.
When asked where another member of the group is, the second captured character spits in the villain's face. "Clip her wings," the villain says before the second captured character is held down and has left arm graphically broken for all to see and is about to have her right arm broken before the third member in the party volleys off several arrows at the henchmen and kills them before the main antagonist is murdered and eventually cuts to black when a group of clickers show up.
At first viewing, I felt nothing but excitement seeing the trailer for it.
It was after the fact and seeing the reaction to it on Twitter that it had dawned on me. Whilst most people was were rightly critical of the fact, I felt nothing. I was desensitised to these problematic things. Rather, I was just excited to see more from these games I'm excited to see more of and play. And that left me in a kind of spiral in a way.
It felt like double standards too considering, to quote what I said to two people last night on Facebook, if this was any other game, I would be slaughtering it. Instead, I felt like a bad person for having such a massive disconnect with what was shown and reading the room, so to speak, and as a result, feeling guilty for not feeling something else beyond nothing or excitement to what were rather shitty things to begin with with child/domestic abuse and gratuitous violence respectively.
I'm still going to be excited for the games I'm looking forward to playing. That can't nor won't change. I refuse to let that change. But in future, I will learn to temper my anticipation and excitement so I don't feel such a massive disconnect in future when I see such problematic content in games. The thing is it's okay for us to like entertainment which has problematic material.
A few years ago, I wrote how the Metal Gear series is my favourite franchise in games despite the fact that the series has problematic elements and how Kojima's writing of female characters, at least from MGS4 onwards, "is a massively serious problem." Of course, it's mostly moot now Kojima's left Konami and no longer involved with the Metal Gear series, though I will now go into how he handles female characters as an independent creator with a lot more critical eye than I did when I wrote that piece a few years ago, starting with Death Stranding.
We can all enjoy stuff which has problematic content. But on the flipside, we should be judgmental and critical of it. Nothing should be or is off limits to criticism. Whether it's the content or the creators who help make the content. At the very least, lets try and be aware of it, if nothing else, being there.
In the light of day, The Last of Us: Part II cut-scene trailer was brutal and uncomfortable. That, there is no question and was definitely aired out of context. I think that's what annoys me about it now in hindsight, even if the content in question was - again - brutal and uncomfortable. It makes sense in the actual world of The Last of Us considering how dark and grim it is and with more context to it, it shouldn't be as horrifying as it was yesterday, albeit I felt that may have even went a bit beyond what was expected from the series. But lets see how its used in the full game first within context at least.
But Detroit: Become Human's showing of domestic and child abuse towards Kara and Alice in the trailer was met with scepticism because David Cage is not exactly the best writer (again, I loved Heavy Rain and liked Fahrenheit inspite of Cage's writing, not because of it) and not exactly someone who's known to have a deft touch when it comes to most, if not all, serious human issues.
That skepticism has now amplified tenfold. From an interview, conducted at an event to celebrate Quantic Dream's 20th anniversary, by Martin Robinson published on Eurogamer earlier today on yesterday's trailer:
Domestic abuse and child abuse is quite extreme as these things go.
David Cage: Let me ask you this question. Would you ask this question to a film director, or to a writer? Would you?
David Cage: You would ask the same question?
Yes. I'd ask the same question. Why is it interesting to you? Why did you want to explore domestic abuse and child abuse?
David Cage: Why did I want to do this? For me it's a very strong and moving scene, and I was interested to put the player in the position of this woman. I chose her point of view. If I'd have chosen the point of view of the man it could have been a totally different story and with totally different emotions, but in this case I chose her point of view. There's a context in the story, there's a reason for that - where she comes from and where she's going to go. What's important to me, and what's important in Detroit is to say that a game is as legitimate as a film or a book or a play to explore any topic such as domestic abuse.
I'm not disputing that at all. The concern I have is that it's using something like domestic abuse and child abuse - which is a very real issue for unfortunately far too many people - and using it as window dressing rather than exploring the ramifications of those issues.
David Cage: There will always be people thinking that we've used this... But I don't think that's what we do. If you look really into the game and if you play it you'll understand that the game is not about domestic abuse. It's a part of Kara's story - she's not a victim and she has a beautiful story. Hopefully you will be moved by what happens.
This just adds even more to the skepticism even more than it did yesterday. If anything, the Eurogamer interview not only actually significantly lessened my excitement for the game, but more importantly, it actually shows that Cage is putting in these issues of child and domestic abuse just for the sake of it, just for shock value in an attempt to further heighten his attempt on trying to tell a human story with androids when there are stuff out there that has done it better than what Detroit may do. Just look at Humans, Almost Human and Westworld. Even in games, there's Binary Domain and just this year alone, Nier Automata.
With The Last of Us: Part II footage, Naughty Dog and Sony deserve criticism for showing the video with no context, but at least context will be added when the game comes out. At least, that is the hope. But with the Detroit: Become Human trailer, and then today with the Eurogamer David Cage interview, it shows that that while games need to tackle these subjects, they need to be dealt with in a delicate and careful way. Right now, Quantic Dream and David Cage are not sending the best and promising of signals and messages in regards to Detroit.
(For victims of domestic and child abuse, if in need of help, please use these outlets. In the UK, call the 24 hour national domestic abuse hotline on 0808 2000 247 (for numbers elsewhere in the UK such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales plus numbers for LGBTQ victims of abuse, you can find those here). In the US, you can reach the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. For elsewhere in the world, domesticshelters.org has a massive list of resources for you to contact)
Erif klaw htiw em?
[With the return of Life is Strange with Before the Storm, I'm returning to my writing of the series as I did with the first main season of the franchise. Note that each entry, like before, will be spoiler-filled so only read if you've played it (or you DGAF, I don't care).
To read what I wrote about last time in 2015 in its entirety, hit this up.]
Yeah, I noticed it immediately.
Not hearing Ashly Burch as Chloe was jarring at first and it was immediately noticeable. But after a while, I had gotten used to hearing Rhianna DeVries, Chloe's new voice actor, and it was pretty close to what Burch had delivered with her performance at times.
Burch, who'd reluctantly stepped away from the role because of the ongoing voice actors strike, is still involved in the game, remaining as a writer. But as replacements go, DeVries is a great replacement.
The new actors for other characters who were in the main first season two years ago were a lot more noticeable than DeVries' turn as Chloe, however. Joyce doesn't quite have the same twang in her voice nor does David's. Those were the things I found more jarring, actually, than Chloe's new voice actress.
We've dealt with grief in many different ways. We've dealt with it in emotional ways. Angry ways. Even in ways that are unspeakable. For me, when I dealt with that three years ago, it was more emotional to the point I had left myself incredibly vulnerable. It was needless to say hard, as I have written on here a few times.
How I coped with it was games. A lot of games. And Frasier. Because why not.
Chloe's coping mechanism in dealing with her dad William's death a few years earlier is a bit more different than mine: a lot more angsty with a no fucks attitude. As you go through the episode, you unravel more of how Chloe is dealing with that grief whilst simultaneously letting it manifest to the point of letting it boil over, as shown near the end of the episode.
It's an angst, no fucks attitude with a side of vulnerability that comes out when she smashes stuff in the junkyard. First lamenting what happened a minute or two earlier with Rachel Amber (we'll get to her), the leaving of her best friend Max to Seattle and the death of her father particularly.
Even after all these years, I can still relate to the frustration I felt when my mum died. It's still something that - and maybe this isn't something I should say publicly admittedly, but fuck it - eats at me in various ways. So seeing that side of grief from Chloe was something that stuck out for me in a scene that was just brilliant.
There's a good chance there are some people who read this have had a friend who they've skipped school with to do shit. I nearly did it once with someone who was then a friend of mine but we only went as far as around the corner from the school. I was too chicken shit, but he wasn't. So I tried to hide around in the school theatre for the remaining 45 minutes left of the school day. It failed.
(Tip: don't return to the scene of the crime)
Which is why seeing Chloe and Rachel skip school oddly bring back memories of me and said 'friend' trying to dob out from class ('dob' or 'dobbing' is a Northern Irish term for skipping class, but who knows what the kids use these days to express such plans) in an oddly refreshing way.
The chemstry between the two immediately clicks and just as refreshing as the relationship between Chloe and Max in the first season of Life is Strange. Equally, Rachel opens herself up to be more vulnerable than Chloe does.
The two truths and a lie game the two play on the train heading out of Arcadia Bay was a heavy test in whether you can trust what someone is saying or not. As the episode goes further and further in, Rachel and Chloe develop more and more where there is something immediately there between them. Whether that is a friendship or something more is something the game actually throws at you as a massive choice at the end of the episode.
You see that there's stuff about both of them that feels like they're fucked up that just makes them feel a perfect fit for one another, no matter what choice you make. The next two episodes will be key in how Deck Nine Games continue to flesh that out, but this lends itself to a promising start.
There was one word I could think of by the end of episode one - fire.
Fire as in the massive forest bush fire that Rachel seems to have started after kicking over a burning bin in a rage with a burning photo of her and her dad she had just set on fire.
Fire as in that weird, kinda supernatural dream Chloe has near the end of the episode where Rachel is somehow on fire.
Fire as in even before the game came out, for better or worse (or even jokingly), this was suggested as Life is Strange's version of Twin Peaks' Fire Walk with Me, only with Rachel Amber taking up the more prominent (and alive) role than the main series in the same way Laura Palmer did in FWWM than the main Twin Peaks.
Having played episode one through now to the end now, there are elements that do remind of that Peaks influence and there does - at least in my view - seem to be a trace or two from Fire Walk with Me. But to outright say Before the Storm is Life is Strange's version of Fire Walk With Me in a non-irony free context is doing it a injustice, albeit with one episode down and two episodes to go.
There's still enough here that it stands out on its own. Here's hoping it stands out from that shadow even more in the next two episodes. That being said, it may not even be so much as it is less Twin Peaks and more a modern telling of Shakespeare's The Tempest (all three episodes are named after it and there are quite a few Tempest references in the episode).
Life is Strange: Before the Storm's lack of time-rewinding makes conversations and choices means the decisions you make have a bit more weight and permanence to them.
Its new talkback mechanic which sees you as Chloe have verbal one-on-ones with characters that also fits with her personality. For example, at the beginning of the episode, Chloe's comes up against a bouncer who won't let her in to see one of her favourite bands at what is otherwise a run down warehouse and filled with some of the shittiest people in Arcadia Bay, including a certain Frank Bowers from the first game.
Some of the responses you give are based on keywords mentioned by the person you're going up against. There are quite a few people in the episode you will have the talkback mechanic utilised, such as David and in a scene that involves Nathan Prescott after.
From this first episode, it feels easy to pick up on certain words and certain choices whereas with the two truths and a lie game played between Chloe and Rachel on the train, the game gave me reasonable enough doubt to pick a certain option. I'd love for the other two episodes to capitalise on that doubt and use it with talkback. But it's an interesting enough mechanic that it still works.
One of the big aspects of Life is Strange's first season was its soundtrack. It has for my money one of the best soundtracks ever in a game - licenced or unlicenced - and the way it used that soundtrack around certain scenes, from episode three's end with Mogwai's Kids Will Be Skeletons to the finale with Foals' Spanish Sahara (depending on what choice you made at the end) to Alt-J and Jose Gonzalez being played on Max's guitar, made it even more iconic.
Before the Storm's soundtrack this time is mostly original, with work entirely composed by band Daughter. That's not to say there won't be licenced works from elsewhere, but it is Daughter who provide the main crux of its soundtrack and score.
And from what the first episode contained in terms of music and samples, it works really, really well. I can't wait to listen to more throughout the series and to delve into the album when it comes out tomorrow (I think it's tomorrow?) but as first impressions go, it fits the tone of what Before the Storm is going for. Moody, dark, vulnerable. Just some wonderful standout stuff already.
It's one episode out of a three-part mini-series. But the first episode of Before the Storm was a home run for me. The story resonated with me big time, Daughter's soundtrack is just fantastic and Chloe's transition of Ashley Burch to Rhianna DeVries is surprisingly pulled off after a few minutes of getting used to it.
That's not to say it's perfect, it isn't. DeVries may have taken to her new role near immediately, but the newer cast for known characters didn't gel as well. And the controls in terms of the camera and character movement feel, for the lack of a better term, stiff.
Nevertheless, I'll admit that while I was excited for Before the Storm, I was still apprehensive about it considering Deck Nine Studios didn't have much narrative experience beforehand (in its past life as Idol Minds, it made PSN title PAIN and Cool Boarders). Not to mention the question that was a prequel entirely necessary?
The latter question is still up for debate, but the first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm near nails it. The season premiere sets up an interesting two episodes to come and I'll be going into episode two with a little less apprehension after this one.
Player statistics correct as of August 31, 2017
Pink. Purple. Blue.
[Hello. I'm a rubbish writer. I've not written on this blog in six months, thus ending my years-long streak of having at least one blog on here a month. Here's a big walloping one to follow up on my last blog posted here!]
A few months ago, I came out as bisexual. And I don't regret that. Except in one instance as part of the coming out period to a very small group of people. But I'll touch upon that further below. Basically put, with Pride Month starting to come to a head, I wanted to write about how I came out, why I ID as bi (and something else) and all the other things that came with it.
How I identify and the labels I use
I am a cis-gender white male who identifies as bisexual because it's an all-encompassing catch 22 term. It's better to refer myself as that rather than actual specific labels that suit me better that are under the bisexual umbrella. In fact, when I came out publicly, I remember asking a few fellow queer-identifying friends whether I was within my right to use the term queer despite coming out as bi.
In the end, I found bi was a better fitting label, but they all shared the sentiment that I could choose to identify as queer because it was within my right to choose it as part of my identity. At first, I identified primarily as bisexual and only lightly identified as queer, but now more and more, I'm starting to identify more and more as queer and bisexual - because hey, there's something empowering about identifying as queer (though I know some people still see it as a slur, which is fair game and an opinion that is absolutely and totally valid, but reclamation is a very important thing and for me, queer is part of that).
When I came out, the immediate family I came out to widely assumed that with bisexuality, it was a half-half interest into both male and female. Not quite. If anything, I still have a skewed preference for women. If I had to nail percentages, it's 70-30. While I do identify as bi, the specific label(s) I'd fit under as part of the bisexual umbrella is heteroflexible /heteroromantic. What do they mean? In a sense, it basically means that I am both romantically and sexually interested in women, but only sexually interested in men. That's not to say I won't ever rule out a relationship with a man, and it feels more likely than you may think. But for the most part, my biggest attraction is with women.
(this will also be the first time said immediate family finds out about specific preferences - hi!)
But because I have a preference in who I'd like to be with, romantically or sexually (or both), that doesn't make me any less bi or queer. If I like women more, that still doesn't make me any more straight. If I like men a bit less, that still doesn't make me any less gay.
Realising you finally had a label to fall under should usually be a relief. Obviously, I knew I wasn't straight beforehand - I've known since I think I was no earlier than 11 - and I knew bi would be a label I'd fit under, but I didn't know if I was deserving to have the bisexual label because of the fact I was merely only sexually interested in men, but both romantically and sexually interested in women.
I only discovered of the hetroflexible term and in turn the bisexual umbrella as part of Bisexual Awareness Week 2014 after seeing it posted on Twitter by two people I knew. And that's when everything finally clicked. I had found my label and felt I was more worthy of being a bisexual.
However, this revelation was not exactly something I was jumping for joy at. Not because of the thing itself, but rather outside events that were happening at the same time which affected my thinking at the time and was severely hampering one's mental health - primarily this (yeeeah, that was a fun time).
But the revelation I was worthy of being called a bisexual was a relief, as was the discovery of the specific label I fell under. But still, I was nowhere near ready to come out at that time. Especially with everything going on.
How I came out and the (massive) challenges they provided
It wouldn't be for another two years until I would actually come out to my first person, someone I've known for a long time, but had built a particular bond with over nearly the past year at that time. And I remember telling her and feeling a relief in telling someone. A kind of 'oh fuck' feeling even though I knew this person was going to be very accepting regardless. And she was when I told her on Halloween night last year.
The first two people I told were the two main people I wanted to tell, the others were on a kind of play it by ear basis. The second person I told, over the phone, was the kindest, understanding, accepting person I spoke to in coming out to someone. Out of anyone I came out to before doing it publicly, this person was the most important I had come out to. And I honestly couldn't have found a better person, a better friend to talk to about it.
Afterwards, I had sort of mixed results telling people. They were all kind and loving and accepting, but it was more the tone of what was said from most of them that kinda made me think twice. But there was one person in particular who I told in that group of people that would bite my ass big time when it came to privacy and trust.
To set the scene: from mid-November to mid-December last year, I had an incredible depression relapse. To say it was bad would be an understatement. It was incredibly awful that lots of stuff started swirling my head. I had a really bad depression episode one night. It was helped in part by my sister-in-law who I had an extensive talk to about things - including coming out to her (kinda out of necessity, but even then, I was still fine with coming out to her considering how brilliant she'd been with my mental health stuff) - but I was still kinda fragile that night. After getting some food, I went into see my cousin, who also is also my neighbor, for no particular reason other than to get a hug.
She then came visited me soon after and, in private, I told her I was bi (note: don't reveal super incredible life revealing moments with your mouth near full of food). I felt I was okay in telling her that considering I was starting to rebuild trust with her again after a significant falling out years earlier that only started healing as my other fell ill.
Big mistake. But I'll rewind to that below.
About five weeks later in January this year, considering some situations stemming from the start of the year within the immediate family and something ominous said by my sister (who did not know about me being bi until after the fact) thanks to, lets say, 'outside family' and a really awful dream, it was clear I had to come out for two reasons.
1) - This was starting to have a damaging effect on my mental health greatly 2) - The ominous thing implied was that someone could use something against me thanks to outside family - like, say me being bi (this wasn't aimed at me, but the thought of having someone reveal me being bi was going to happen before I had a chance to do it). Either way, I was going to make sure this wasn't going to have this be taken out of my hands
I called in two people - the first person I had told I was bi last October and my sister-in-law who I told last December - to have a private meeting and discuss how it would happen. What originally was going to happen was I'd separately come out the same day to both my brother and his partner (they also happen to be neighbors) and then later in the evening go to my sister and come out to her (she lives on the other side of the city) and then publicly come out to all my friends and family who I hadn't told the next night on social media.
But somehow, they all managed to congregate in the same place at the same time without prior warning - my brother's - so a on the fly decision was made to do it then and there. After some nerves and a tiny bit of apprehension, I sat down on a sofa and, in front of my brother, sister, two sisters in law (plus respective children) and sister's boyfriend, just spat it out. And then came the gushy shite, through which my first thought was "please kill me". But in all seriousness, they were super supportive. Incredibly so.
The plan was to still come out the next evening still to everyone else on social media to any friends and family who didn't know - including my dad (one, I don't ever think I could have done that one face-to-face because of sheer fucking nerves, but also two, he went off on a holiday to Spain without any warning a few days prior so *shrug*).
The day after I had come out to my immediate family, I found out my brother had actually been telling people beforehand when I said to him the previous day, 'don't say anything until I announce this proper'. He had told two of my uncles. That actually really annoyed me at the time, but whatever, it was a few hours difference (we're talking three or four hours when he told me). But what I had also found out was something more dramatic.
Remember when I said I came out to my cousin in December last year? Yeaaah. Turns out I really shouldn't have. Despite implicit warnings of disowning her if I found out she told anyone before I came out, considering the trust being built between me and her again, it turns out her dad - my uncle - actually knew of me being bi before anyone else in my family, telling my brother he already knew. And I certainly didn't tell him. Either she told him or she told her mum (we'll get to her) who then told him. And without knowing for sure admittedly, I wouldn't put it past her to have said it to other people as well before I came out.
Anyway, that evening, I came out publicly (the first link at the top of the post is the same text I used to come out to people on Facebook as well as using that blog post primarily for Twitter). And that was that. The reaction was incredible and positive. Me, I was in a massive anxiety spiral after posting with numerous panic attacks during the night, but it all cleared the next day.
The only negative response came six weeks later.
My aunt - the mum of that cousin I shouldn't have come out to - called me two homophobic slurs, gayboy and the f word (I ain't repeating it) after, long story short, verbally getting into it basically with said cousin's fiance.
To date, thankfully, it's been the only instance of homophobia I've had. But I realise there are others, particularly women and POC in the LGBTQ family, who've had it worse off than me. I'm trying - and going to keep continue trying - to support them. Not just out of solidarity, but because it's the most basic human thing to do - queer or not.
The aftermath and how being bi/queer makes me feel
In the six months since I've come out, what have I learned? I've learned that it does get easier with time as a few people pointed out. That coming out was one of the best things I've ever done and that I don't regret doing it at all, if albeit I would have done some things differently (like have tighter control on who I told). That seeing fellow friends and acquaintances talk of being queer on Twitter and Facebook genuinely makes me super happy and in a way kinda excited, knowing there is so much love in it. And that talking queer stuff with friends and other people makes me happy and excited in the same way games and other things I like do. It's wonderful.
If I can end this on one final note - it's this.
If you have a fifty-fifty split on liking both men and women or have a certain split ratio such as liking men more than women as a man and vice versa as a woman, whether you like the opposite sex more than same sex or whatever, you are valid enough. You are bi enough. You are queer enough. And how you choose to identify as such is yours to choose because, no matter your sexuality, you matter.
Note: The following below is the same thing I've just posted on Facebook. I'm too nervous to write two different things for social media and a blog, so here it is.
The rush as you get dressed, just 90 seconds earlier getting the phone call at just before 6:30am on a Thursday telling you to come up, quickly put your jeans and shoes on, to rush to wake up your oldest brother and tell him it was time. The nerve-wracking ride up the hospital and trying to find a parking space before entering the hospital and eventually the room. The anxious wait as you sit there with your family, waiting for the moment to come. The silence killing you more and more as each passing moment goes, listening to the machines whirling away keeping someone alive despite being in a partial coma. Even the sound of tears and crying from other people in the room is the smallest comfort to you, knowing you don’t have to, at least for a few seconds, listen to the background noise of respirators and breathing equipment.
The smell of toast and tea filling the room, the breath of smoke too. The former you love, the latter you hate. The sterile smell of hospital, however, is much worse, so you accept both of them at least this once. The rustling of paper as you flick through that day’s copies of the Daily Mirror, the Sun, even the Daily Star and one of the local papers in an effort to distract yourself from what was about to happen at some point. The mindless yonder of going through phones and reading Facebook and Twitter and Instagram for that same reason. The need to distract yourself by any means is strong and you take it, whether it be another dozen baby pictures on Facebook or reading right-wing newspapers, where Indyref was in the not too distant past and Brexit and ‘President Trump’ were still things in the far flung future.
The need to escape the room for ten or fifteen minutes as you sit with your second oldest brother, who called you earlier to come up, in his jeep and sitting in near absolute silence, the only thing breaking it is the sound of the rain lashing down on the roof and windscreen. The thoughts going through your head as you sit there, thinking what you could have done differently. Could you prove to her you’d be alright if, God forbid, the worst happened? Could you have done more to show her how much you cared? Was she proud of me? Could you have been a better son?
The influx of people outside immediate family starting to come into the room and - whether in minutes, hours or even days - sit and wait as the inevitable happened. The mood suddenly changing from sombre to a bit more jovial as people reminisce memories and stories, making things a lot more bearable than the silence of earlier in the morning. The smell of smoke is heavier than earlier, however. The worry is there, though, on whether the head nurse will kick people out for there being too many people in the room at once, even if these are people who have a case for being there anyway.
The smell of mashed spuds, beans, sausages and other food in the hospital canteen as you and your sister-in-law go and gather lunches for most of the immediate family and those who hadn’t eaten at all and have that be a nice distraction, perhaps slightly jovial with a bit of banter. The mood dramatically dropping as you walk back in the room with said food and find the priest just start giving, for the second time in two months, Last Rites. The emotion on display is a lot more evident than this morning, though there’s more people in the room than this morning. The sound of tears and sobbing minutes earlier is filled after by eeery silence. The humming of medical equipment, the nurses and doctors talking and walking up and down the ward, the sound of televisions in other rooms are the only other noises in the background for approximately twenty minutes.
The weariness, the exhaustion and the lack of energy are all starting to creep in. The waiting room down the hall is your only sanctuary right now to get some sleep. The jacket you wear is your only blanket, nothing else being around you. The best you can manage is one hour or two hours at a time. The Big Mac with just red sauce and chips from McDonalds you asked for dinner is the only sustenance you can manage, barely able to eat the food from earlier in the day, and even then, you can’t even finish that. The waiting room empty again, you try and get more shut eye, during which, a non-immediate family member Snapchats your sleeping carcass (you’re not told of it until after the fact). The sound of being woken up again by a family member asking if you want supper back from the chippy, to wit, you get curry, chicken nuggets and chips which you barely eat not in the waiting room, but in the actual patient room, which you go back up to now fully awake - to your disdain - and find there’s still a packed room of family members on both sides of the family passing around stories and just talking about the family business.
The sound of silence reverberating around the ward as all the non-immediate family have all gone home for the evening whilst others patients get their sleep while the only people left in the room is a rotating cycle of immediate family while another sleeps down in the waiting room. The best you can manage in regards to sleep again is, at best, half an hour in an uncomfortable mattress on the floor in the room before heading out the room to go to the now-empty nurses desk, sitting next to the entrance of the ward. The only noise which emits during the night being the buzzer to let someone back in if they went out for fresh air. The tedium of reading the previous day’s papers is compounded even more by reading weeks or even months old gossip magazines. The desperation for time to pass if sleep isn’t to happen is strong when all your reading materials from weeks and months ago get you through three or four hours to at least 6 or 7am.
The relief when you are told you can go home is palpable, albeit bittersweet and majorly guilt-ridden after feeling that brief bit of said relief. The awareness of you knowing you should still be there, but you’re so exhausted, so anxious and so sick of being in the hospital for 24 continuous hours by that point that you’ll take any time you can to get out of there, selfish as it is. The additional half-hour you sit waiting in the room and reading the day’s papers to pass time even further before you finally get to go home. The instruction you lay out before you leave - call if there’s any updates - is said with a lot more authority than anything you’ve ever said to anyone you’ve ever met in your entire life to that point. The kiss you leave on her forehead, not knowing if it’d be the last one she’d ever get from you alive rather than the two additional ones she got before the end came.
The small relief you have in sitting at home, alone, is telling, the small bit of happiness you get in seeing your dog climb all over you having not seen another human for 24 hours - or at the very least, someone in his family - is knowing and the respite you get from being in that hospital - a building you never ever want to be in again for a sustained period of time - is of a tiny bit of comfort to you.
Because the next four days are going to be hard for you, so take all the time you can get.
Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock.
(For the sake of disclosure, there's one part in the video I took out which I thought I was ready to reveal, but I'm not quite there yet to talk about. I will at some point, though. Sorry about the length by the way)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 4:00pm (the appointment)
All I could think of beforehand was the nerves. Why was I so nervous when this is something I had wanted and actively sought out for? Yet, sitting in the waiting room of the GP's office - for the record, I had my sister-in-law there too with me for support (actually my brother's partner's sister, but I usually go with in-laws because it's easier and because of the amount of time my brother and his partner have been together) - was perhaps one of the most anxious things I'd had ever felt and certainly one of the most dread-filled days of my life.
"Jonathan P Cullen - Room 3, Dr Doherty," the electronic sign then flashed up. Given final words of encouragement by said defacto in-law, I went to the door, took a second or two to take a few breaths, knocked and in I went.
After a few minutes back and forth on stuff and why I may have what I have, I got the diagnosis: depression and anxiety.
Since the start of the year, I've been in a rough spot. mentally. Next month (a month today actually as of this going up) will be two years since my mum died. As I wrote last year, I wasn't exactly in the best place then, but this year has severely taken its toll on me mentally.
I've not had the passion in me to write as much as I wanted to, whether personally or professionally, and I've had little to no need to do the things I love. Even playing games, the one thing I could usually hold up as the thing I could use whenever I needed them for both fun and as a thing to help me cheer me up, wasn't attracting me anymore. That was perhaps the first sign something was majorly wrong.
Not only that, I was not who I was as a person anymore. I've become more and more closed off to the world. I was shutting myself away from the world and becoming a massive reclusive shut-in. I'd only leave my house if and only if I absolutely had to. Now I've always been a reluctant person when it comes to trust. I don't trust a whole lot of people thanks to two people: a major family fallout with a cousin of mine a few years ago (we've since made up, but the relationship isn't as it was back in, say, 2010 or most of 2011) and someone within the games industry in 2012 - I trust my main family only by necessity and I could count on one hand the amount of people I trust outside my family - but more than ever, this year was especially hard for me to open up to people.
And also because of my closed off nature, I was becoming more anxious, depressed, lonely and certainly a lot more grumpier and angrier than I was ever in the old trope of 'Old man yells at clouds' thing. I am 25 years old turning 26 in January. Something had to give.
Monday, October 3, 2016 - 12:40pm (the first tablet)
I was prescribed anti-depressants by the GP the day I went to see her and was planning to start taking them the following morning. Except... I couldn't. As silly as this sounds, I wasn't ready then. This wasn't painkillers or a course of antibiotics over a two week period.
This honestly felt like a big deal to me. I was then asked by several members of my family that day who knew of my prescription if I had taken my first tablet. While I did answer in the negative, I was also annoyed with that question. Mainly because it's no one's business whether, when or if I take it nor should it be anyone else's business in regards to their meds (if you're open with yours, fantastic, but I'm not that sorta person who's open with the exception of this blog and subsequent video with this sort of thing). I remember saying something along the lines of 'I need space' so I can be ready.
After an otherwise decent if not okay remainder of my Thursday, I had planned on the Friday being a mental health day: seeing a movie in the cinema, buy a game, buy silly treats for myself that make me happy. Instead, I got a text from someone: it was my defacto sister-in-law who was there with me in the GP telling me to start taking my medication. That and then having my head screamed off by another family member really made me feel like shit that morning, followed by subsequent anger that near enough ruined my self-care day.
No-one should never - and I mean NEVER - tell you this in any way at all. I knew I'd have to start at some point and I knew once I started, I couldn't suddenly stop. But I had to will myself up to it and at that point in time, that text completely soured my mood to the point I had to delete it because every time I looked at it, I was just pissed off.
The following Monday was the day I decided to start taking my meds. I remember looking at the tablet for what felt like forever, thinking once I started, I couldn't just stop if I wanted to and go cold turkey (don't do this, it's massively dangerous - if you're looking to get off antidepressants, talk to your GP first). This felt large to me. After five or ten minutes looking at the damn thing willing myself up, I took it and down it went. Done.
Sometime in April, I remember having a kind of mental health breakdown on Twitter just spewing stuff about anxiety and knowing at that point I really should go and see someone, a professional. But I was so spent in a sense - not necessarily of energy, though it's still kind hard to explain what I mean by that in writing really - that I just didn't have it in me to go see someone.
I remember the same night I got a Twitter DM from someone. They had sent a message saying how they went through the same thing I did in trying to will up the strength and energy to see someone before they eventually ended up going. That message has been in and out of my head for a while whenever I think back upon the middle half of this year.
But it was only in July where things got to the point of hard times.
Thursday, October 6 - just before 9:00pm (the near panic attack)
I woke up from a nap drenched in sweat, near pins and needles on my arm and my chest slightly tightened. I could sense that a panic attack was coming. I couldn't really sit through it by myself nor did I want to. So I seeked out my brother's partner, who is also my neightbour, and asked if I could sit with her for half an hour to an hour, just in case anything did happen.
Perhaps watching an episode of The Fall didn't help in easing said fears, but otherwise, there was no panic attack. Unfortunately, it only delayed it approximately eight hours.
For most of July and August respectively, I was in a really, really bad place mentally. To be crystal clear here, I was not suicidal, but at the same time, such was my mood, my energy, my outlook on life in that period of my life that I felt like I wished people would leave me be and just let me wither away in peace. I had no positive outlook on my life at that point.
I had no desire to do things I love like write professionally (I've not written anything games related to date this year and I'm taking a break from games writing until I'm ready to go again) or personally on this blog (most of the blog posts you've seen on here since the start of the year has felt phoned in because I felt I had to hit a quota in my head of posting at least one blog on here a month), no further desire to make more episodes of My Favourite Game (I'd planned to make a few additional episodes that weren't a full season for the end of the year, but those aren't happening anymore - instead Season 5 will drop next year as is), no further desire to do things I love like playing games, going for a looping walk around the town centre of Derry across the Peace Bridge, no further desire to do near anything beyond looking after my dog and feeding myself. That was it.
At that point, something had to change. I had another mental health breakdown on Facebook when someone came to me in PMs who has since become one of my biggest go to people if I ever need to vent about stuff. And considering my untrusting nature, that was a bit of a win for me. Even moreso when considering we've never been in the same place at the same time (though we will eventually - that's a promise). In one such message sent to me, I was asked if I had ever thought about seeing someone. It wasn't the first time someone asked. And it was of course something I had thought about a lot before. But it was the first time where I felt like I'd gotten to a stage where I felt it was time to seek help after being asked the question.
I was finally on the cusp of doing such a thing, finally at the point where I was starting to will myself on to get the help I wanted and needed. But then, something happened which dragged up feelings of two years ago that were still a bit raw for me.
Another round of the grieving process began: my mid-90s grandmother had passed due to illness. And while I managed to get through that a lot better than, y'know, perhaps the month-to-six week period after I lost my mother, it still made me think a lot of that time when I had to go through that unspeakable period.
Friday, October 7 - around 6:50am (the actual panic attack)
I woke up roughly around 6am with what still felt like pins and needles in my arm with my chest slightly tightened, but moreso than it was a few hours beforehand. I went outside to get some air and to take a small walk around my house and the 100 metres it took to get to my gate in my PJs (it was 6am and considering how shit I was feeling, I think I could get away with it).
But it didn't help. I tried breathing out as much as I could from my chest, but it was laboured. And every time I did it, my chest got tighter and tighter. Just as I got to the back of my house and outside our kitchen windows, I basically went dizzy in the eyes and just collapsed on my back and just remained there for a good five or ten minutes, giving way to my first major panic attack in well over a year. Whereas a year ago, I figured out why I got the panic attack then, I still don't know why now I got the attack I had this past Friday.
Needless to say, a fun experience.
Around the middle of last month, I had an unexpected talk with my sister, at that time set to head to Mexico on holiday. It was a lengthy chat, moreso than I expected. It was something in the ballpark of half an hour long. It was just the two of us standing outside her car talking family stuff and me and how I've been these past four or five months especially at that time.
It was a surprisingly encouraging and gratifying chat to the point that I decided to call someone who I trust immensely and have known for nearly the better part of a decade and talk to on the phone for an hour. Beforehand, I wouldn't have reached out to anyone if I hadn't had that chat. I'm not very good at that, in fact, very bad. But if it weren't for that conversation earlier in the day, I wouldn't have had that cathartic phone conversation. And if I hadn't had that, I wouldn't have had enough in me to finally get an appointment sorted to see my GP.
Today is World Mental Health Day. I was not aware of this fact until earlier this morning. And while I knew that I definitely wanted to share my story sooner than later, I had planned on waiting a few more weeks considering the GP visit was only two weeks ago.
But if this story helps anyone at all and it encourages them to go see their doctor or GP about depression on World Mental Health Day, it'll be worth it.
Seeing the GP to get a diagnosis for depression and anxiety was one of the hardest things I've ever had to in my life. It is such a life-changing moment and somewhat bittersweet. But I don't regret it one bit now. I asked for help. And I'm glad I did.
Right now, I'm on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Citalopram specifically. I also asked if I could be put on the list for CBT and counselling, though I was told it'd be a few weeks before I'd hear anything back on that. As of writing this, I still haven't heard anything on that.
I'm also starting to take in more mental health resources online through websites (I have Buzzfeed's mental health section and a Twine-made self-care checklist sent by a friend already booked) or Twitter. Following Esquire's Sammy Nickalls has a god send to me about my MH. She's been open about mental health to the point it started making me feel good seeing other people be open about their struggles with mental health using #TalkingAboutIt. I'm still gathering resources and I feel like I'm barely just starting, so if you're reading this, please by all means, send some stuff my way on Twitter.
There will never be a time where I will feel cured of depression and anxiety. You just have to treat it as best you can. And lets be clear here, you will still have bad days. But if you manage it well and treat yourself well, the bad days will reduce significantly in number.
A few years ago, a friend of mine and someone who has been the biggest influence on my career, posted a video that perfectly represented depression and anxiety on Facebook. I see it now and then and is a perfect analogy for mental health. I've posted it below.
If you have the black dog of depression, don't let it control you. Manage it and become you again.
Thanks to Korina Abbott, Kristin Knillmann and my sister Joanne for finally giving me the push and inspiration to finally go see my GP and get an official diagnosis.
If you feel you need to talk to someone, reach out to family or friends. Or in lieu of that, in the UK, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (in Northern Ireland, the number is 0808 800 8000 or call 116 123 in the Republic) or Mind on 0300 123 3393. If you're in the US, call the US National Suicide Hotlines at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For mental health help services for the rest of the globe, please visit this guide here.