What is Roll With It?

When I was a kid, I thought I loved books.

Now, alright, that’s sort of strange phrasing, because I do love books. But what I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is that my love of books is only a part of something a lot bigger and more complex than the simple idea of loving books.

I focused on reading from a young age. I can still remember the first actual word I ever read – ‘tractor.’ I was sitting on my mom’s lap, looking at one of those easy reader books full of… I don’t know, farm equipment, I suppose? My mother was reading it to me and I was following along, focusing on words instead of pictures, and suddenly I knew what the next word was just by looking at it. I hadn’t yet been taught to read, but I was read to very often, and I guess at some point I sort of figured out how some of the letters worked. I wasn’t reading for real yet – I couldn’t read every word on the page, and though I don’t remember much beyond that one perfect ‘tractor’ I would guess that my comprehension was pretty low. But I could read a little.

I kept improving, and throughout my middle school days my reading prowess was a point of pride for me. I read a lot, and at a high level. That might sound like I’m bragging, but I don’t mean to – I’m just explaining why books became so important to me. Reading wasn’t just something I liked; it was something I was good at. That was important. I wasn’t popular, or athletic, but I could grasp the English language in a way that only a few of my classmates could match.

I liked video games a lot, too, though I wasn’t good at them the way I was good at reading. It was the nineties, so I played a lot of great stuff – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VII were early favorites of mine. I was good enough to get through most single-player games by myself (though I can’t even count the number of times I got frustrated and quit FFVII before finally beating it in high school). However, when it came to anything competitive… well, I wasn’t racking up the wins in Mario Kart 64 or GoldenEye.

Regardless, I spent years thinking of video games as a fun distraction. They had plots, yes – sometimes even good ones – but I was mostly there for the gameplay.

Then I found Final Fantasy Tactics.

It was almost an accident. A close friend of mine had Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on the Game Boy Advance and loved it; when I came across FFT in a local GameStop bargain bin, I bought it mostly because I thought my friend would be interested. Then I actually played it, and it completely blew my mind. The gameplay was stellar, sure – to this day, the tactical role-playing game is my favorite genre, and even after all these years I’d be hard-pressed to name one I like more than the original Final Fantasy Tactics – but beyond that, the story was incredible. It crafted an intricate medieval fantasy world, with layers of political intrigue that would give Game of Thrones a run for its money. The characters were complex and fascinating (in particular the protagonist’s childhood-friend-turned-rival, Delita), and the game’s meditation on themes of class, wealth, and religion was far beyond anything I’d experienced in a game before.

It was, I thought, the kind of thing you only found in books.

From that point on, I was a staunch proponent of video games as a storytelling medium. This belief in the power of games only grew as time went on and technology continued to improve – these days, it’s easier than ever to find games that tell amazing stories. Look no further than the sci-fi epic that is the Mass Effect trilogy – a feat of incredible narrative skill that empowers the player to shape their own unique story through a variety of choices spread across three separate games. I was told by a college professor once that video games aren’t ‘art,’ but I defy anyone to look at the beautiful post-apocalyptic vistas of Horizon: Zero Dawn, with its animalistic machines and ruined cities reclaimed by nature, and tell me there is no art there. Even Monster Hunter World, which has a pretty threadbare plot, is capable of moments of incredible narrative significance on a personal scale: the player spends time – sometimes hours – learning how a new monster moves, how it fights, what weapons are effective against it, what items to craft for that extra edge, all leading to the euphoric moment when they slay the beast. I don’t remember the actual plot of MHW, but I certainly remember my own progression through it, going from a total franchise newcomer to a seasoned hunter. I can recall with fondness the time my friends and I, still in our early days, had to flee in terror from an Anjanath we accidentally crossed in the forest, as well as the first time we slew the iconic Rathalos.

Many years after I stumbled across Final Fantasy Tactics, I found a new medium to champion – comic books. I’d always been interested in comics – I grew up watching cartoons and movies based on X-Men and Spider-Man, and in the rare event I was near a comic book store, I begged my parents to let me buy a few issues or a trade paperback. I didn’t start reading them regularly until I was in my 20s, though, when my wife and I started a pull list at a nearby store. Again, I was blown away. It wasn’t that I thought comics were incapable of telling great stories – I’d learned not to judge based on medium. What astounded me was how few other people had absorbed that lesson.

When I mentioned to people how much I loved comics, the common response was a dismissive “Oh, I don’t really like that superhero stuff.” People didn’t seem to realize that there’s so much more out there than superhero comics! There’s the intergalactic drama of Saga, the dark fantasy of DIE, the post-apocalyptic western mashup of East of West, the small-town horror of Harrow County – there’s a comic book for everybody!

All of this has been my long way of saying that I love stories. I always have. I love stories anywhere I can find them. That’s what this blog is going to be about: the books, video games, comics, board games, movies, and television shows I love. I’ll be doing reviews, retrospectives, and more about all kinds of media, three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

One of my favorite things to talk about is the Gundam franchise, which is why I’ll kick off every week with Mobile Suit Monday: an in-depth watch and review of an episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. After that, any topic is fair game: Wednesday and Friday could be movie reviews, some Dungeons & Dragons tips, or a look back at a video game that influenced the medium.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be doing this, and I hope you have as much fun reading as I will writing. I’ll see you soon!

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