After Life: People’s Desire to Believe in Ghosts and the Paranormal

It has almost been two years since I started this blog.  My very first post (aside from the introductory post) was a post about ghosts.  I talked about how, while I don’t believe in ghosts and the paranormal, I find the idea rather fascinating.  Briefly, I mentioned that I believe that ghosts represent a certain desire of people to understand what happens to them after death.  Some people want to believe that the human spirit somehow endures, whether it be in ghostly form or in some other version of an afterlife (the Christian idea of Heaven, for example).  But the question becomes “why”.  Why do people want to believe this so badly?

Death is a scary thing.  The human mind can’t truly grasp the concept.  Even with the concept of an afterlife, the very idea of death is bizarre.  It’s especially strange to those of us who do not believe in an afterlife.  The simple idea of just not being, not existing someday is an impossible thing to comprehend.  The very thought of not being able to talk to our families, our loved ones is a terrifying one.

I believe this is where ghosts come in.

Ghosts are a way to explain what happens to the very consciousness of the human body when one dies.  There is no real scientific basis for it.  There is no logical basis for it.  And yet, it is an idea that has persisted for centuries.  To some, it is a comforting idea.  It is a way to reach into the past.  It is a way to comfort ourselves, to assure ourselves that death is not simply an end.  I am always amazed by the obsession with death that some people have.  It is an interesting thing to think about, but some people go to far, becoming completely enveloped by it.  Perhaps out of fear, they turn to ideas like these, paranormal ideas that give them a reason to believe in life after death.

 

White Lady of Worstead Church

White Lady of Worstead Church

 

The world is a very strange and confusing place.  The human desire to explain everything around us is what I believe leads to ideas such as ghosts.  We have an insatiable need to know everything, to understand everything.  And we are not patient people.  We want to know and we want to know now.  We’re not always willing to wait and thoroughly study something to understand it.  So sometimes, we speculate.  We try to interpret the world around us, even if we don’t have anything to support our reasoning.  And you know what?

That’s okay.  In fact, that’s human.

Maybe the paranormal believers will someday turn out to be right.  Maybe they’ll eventually provide us with some evidence that will concretely prove the existence of ghosts.  And maybe someday they’ll be proven wrong.  This is the reason why I ascribe to the scientific method.  It works.  And if theories are proven wrong, science moves past that to come up with a better hypothesis, a better theory to explain the world around us.

But until then, we’ll just have to keep searching.

 

Well that’s all I have this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

 

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Guilty Pleasures Part 2: Adventure Games

The Black Mirror is one of those games that I would have trouble explaining my fondness of it to anyone.  The graphics have aged, making it look like it belongs back in the era of early Playstation or Nintendo 64 (and considering it was released in 2003 it seems kind of silly).  The pacing is very slow, relying on you exploring the environment and figuring out what to do next to advance the plot.  And then there’s the voice acting.  Which is just…

You know what?  Take a look for yourself.  Here’s a Youtube video (audio only) featuring a dialogue exchange from the game:

 

 

I think we can all agree on it being art of the highest caliber.

But in all seriousness, part of the reason why the voice acting in the game is so laughable is that the company (Future Games) was a Czech-based video game developer.  As fans of anime or foreign language films know, translation dubs of movies or shows can often lead to some very wooden acting.  The same thing happens in video games, especially for games that don’t have a large audience.  I assume that the company responsible for porting it either didn’t care that much because of it or didn’t have a very large budget, so we end up with the above.  I’ve heard that the German voice acting is supposed to be really well done, and I believe there is a setting to enable that in the game’s menu.  So if you do check it out, maybe consider switching it to German and having English subtitles (it’s what some people do for their foreign language shows or movies).

I guess you could say games like this are one of my guilty pleasures.  Because despite all of its flaws (bad voice acting, dated graphics, not to mention that one of the puzzles requires you to know the chronological order of the FREAKING ZODIAC), the game has a charm that I can’t deny.  It’s atmospheric and full of Gothic imagery that evokes something akin to an Edgar Allan Poe story.

Everyone has some kind of entertainment or pastime that they enjoy despite it not being held in the highest of regard.  For me, adventure games fit that bill perfectly.  They are a holdover from the old age of gaming, a genre that most people would consider trite and convoluted.  It’s hard to really explain why I like these games (even though I have tried on this blog…several times).  But I think it comes down to the fact that I find them relaxing.  Some days, when I finish doing work (whether it be on writing or my job at the TV station), all I want to do is unwind.  I don’t always want to hop into a video game that demands fast reflexes or paying razor-sharp attention.  Sometimes, I just want to experience a story.

And The Black Mirror is not the only one.  Dark Fall 1 and 2, ScratchesThe Lost Crown…I have quite a few of these horror-type adventure games under my belt.  It’s just one of those things I latched on to after not playing any for a long time.  I blame Myst.  It being one of the first games I ever played, of course it would inform my choice of video games in the future.

I suppose my whole point in writing this is to show you that guilty pleasures are not a bad thing.  I hesitate to even call them guilty pleasures because they shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Sure, other people might not understand it, but that shouldn’t matter.  We get so caught up in critical reception for our entertainment that we often forget our own personal feelings in the process.  We read reviews and message boards and newspaper articles, but we rarely feel comfortable going out and saying “this is how I feel” unless we’re backed up by others.  I know I’ve been guilty of that many times before.  But there’s a simple truth that I’ve learned in the last few years:

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed just because you have a fondness for something that isn’t popular.  As long as you enjoy it, nothing else should matter.

 

 

Anyways, that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

If you’re interested, you can check out the first post on guilty pleasures I made here.

Paid to Create: The Intersection of Money and Creativity

Here in the United States, we consider ourselves a capitalist society.  And what that means in the long run is that money makes the world go round.  In some ways, this can be a good thing.  It breeds competition, and the beauty of the human spirit is that competition can bring out the best in us.  To put it another way, we often do our best work under pressure.  I know that’s true.  I once wrote a seven-page paper in high school the night before it was due, and I received an A on it.  Not only that, but the teacher wanted to use it as an example for future classes.

Let’s just say I casually left out the part about writing it the night before…

But not everything is gumdrops and rainbows.  When it comes to any system, there are pros and cons.  While competition can inspire creativity, it can also breed a certain sort of staleness in the market.  Look at video games and movies, and you’ll often find trends.  A while back, it seemed like Hollywood was obsessed with making alien invasion movies.  Then it was dark re-imaginings of classic fairy tales.  And now it’s superheroes.  We can’t seem to go more than a couple of months without a new superhero movie hitting the market.  It’s not that superhero movies are a bad thing.  I happen to enjoy a few of them (although I am getting tired of them these days, especially after the disappointing Avengers: Age of Ultron).  But with success comes imitation, and that’s where my problem with the whole thing lies.

With the way our economy is doing right now, and people’s reluctance to spend a lot of money, we tend to see the same types of movies making all the money.  People like to see what they know they will enjoy.  It’s hard for them to justify going to watch a movie that’s outside their normal comfort zone or that they haven’t heard great praise about.  This is part of the reason why I think Hollywood has fallen into a trend of remaking old movies or adapting stories from books or other sources.  If the old movie or book has a big enough audience, then they can bank on people at least going to see it out of curiosity.

The problem is that this mode of thinking stifles creativity, in that we hardly ever see original plots in movies (by which I mean that we see a plot written exclusively to be a movie, not adapted form another source).  Sure, you could consider Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be an original movie.  But there are two problems with that assertion.  One, The Force Awakens is already part of a large, established franchise that has been around for decades.  And two (possible minor spoilers follow), the movie is steeped in nostalgia.  It hits a lot of the same story beats as A New Hope, meaning that while it features a new story and new characters, a lot of the plot points feel readily familiar.

You can observe the same phenomena in the video game world, although in a different form.  Video games don’t tend to adapt stories from other sources.  Instead, they can suffer from an overflow of sequels.  A good example of this is the Call of Duty franchise, which has been around for a long time and has spawned over two dozen different games.  The general complaint around the series is that most of the games feel the same.  But at the same time, there must be an incentive for them to be so similar.  At the end of the day, they want to turn a profit.  So many franchises get caught in this delicate balance between changing enough of the game to justify a sequel in the mind of gamers, but also leaving enough of its core intact so that people feel at home with it.  This is something franchises like Grand Theft Auto have gotten so good at.  They change with the times, getting more and more advanced in look and feel, but they are loaded with nostalgia, giving the hardcore fans little hints and nods at the older games in the series.

You see this in movie sequels as well.  They have to up the ante with each successive movie, making things bigger (like the explosions…always bigger explosions), but also keeping the core feel of their fictional universe intact.  This line of thinking can end up creating a feedback loop where the same few stories get told over and over again.

But sometimes this drive of competition and money can lead to good ideas in the long run.  Let’s again look to the video game world, specifically at Bethesda Game Studios.  Bethesda, most known for their Elder Scrolls series of video games, isn’t just a game development company.  They are a publisher as well, and one of the better ones to work for from what I’ve heard.  The developers of the game Dishonored were basically told by Bethesda to take all the time they needed to make the game as good as they desired.  Bethesda wasn’t on a time crunch.  They didn’t need money immediately.  The Elder Scrolls games sell like crazy every time they come out.  They’re one of the most trusted game developers in the market, so they can allow themselves to take chances on nontraditional ideas or unproven intellectual properties.

The same thing is true of books.  Unlike movies and games, books aren’t constantly driven by this idea of success and money, although it still plays a role.  Take Stephen King for example.  He may be known for his horror stories, but King has also written a fantasy series known as the Dark Tower series, which is a blend of different genres including western, dark fantasy, science fantasy, and horror (of course).  When you have a stable reputation and income, you can feel free to experiment and try new things.  But this experimental mindset is still tempered by the idea of competition, in that you want to make your creation as good as possible so that people will enjoy it.

In the long run, money might be more of a detriment to creativity than anything, but like all things in the world it isn’t a simple black and white situation.  People won’t be inclined to try making something new when they can make something they know works.  But at the same time, trying new things can lead to unexpected success.

After all, trends have to start somewhere.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

This blog just hit one hundred posts!  It’s an incredible milestone for me, one that I wish I had prepared for a little better.  I honestly didn’t realize I had hit it until I started writing this post.  It amazes me that I’ve come this far.  And I haven’t missed a single week since I began this blog.  Every week, on Wednesday, I have made a post.  They might not have all been good (I am particularly disappointed with my story analysis posts…I never did manage to shape those into something I was satisfied with), but consistency is one of the greatest habits you can get into.  You will only get better at something as long as you keep doing it.

So thank you all for following me this far and for reading my weekly ramblings.

Once again, have a wonderful week!  See you next Wednesday.

Do New Year’s Resolutions Matter?

Well it’s the new year.  2015 has made way for 2016.  And you know what that means?  Time to destroy all your illusions of security and make you question whether everything you thought you knew was wrong.

But not really…mostly I want to ask the question “do New Year’s resolutions actually matter?”  It’s almost a bit of a running gag these days.  The end of the year approaches.  You decide that next year, you’re not going to be the same, stupid lazy person you were this year.  You’re going to shape up.  You’re going to fly right.  You’re going to exercise and get healthy.

And then three weeks into the new year you completely drop it and forget all about your resolution.

It’s the stuff cheap comedy is made of.  With that being said, here’s a quick comedy video about it:

 

 

Fun stuff.  But we’re getting off track.  If you scroll around on the internet, you’ll come across many posts saying things like “how NOT to fail your New Year’s resolutions” or “how to do New Year’s resolutions right”, so on and so forth.  But I’ve always felt like the concept is a little bit of a cheat, like it’s a way for people to appear more self-conscious than they are.  At the same time, I feel like resolutions are forced on people, that pop-culture seems to demand that you make a resolution because we should all better ourselves.  They go “oh…you’re NOT making a resolution this year?  What do you NOT want to be a better person?”  I just have one question:

Why aren’t we making resolutions all the time?

Why is it that only during this one point in the year do we look at ourselves and say “I should change this” or “I want to be better at this”?  I’m not saying wake up, look at yourself in the mirror and count all the ways you suck every single morning or anything, but it seems to me that New Year’s resolutions just don’t work the way that they should.  It’s this strange cultural thing that’s forced on people more than anything (like how you have to say what you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving…but never any other time of the year).

And here’s the thing: I actually like the idea of resolutions.  I like the concept of setting goals for yourself.  They’ve just become so cliché nowadays that people tend not to take them seriously.  Everyone has made the “exercise more” resolution at some point in their lives.  And then just weeks into the new year they drop it and give up.  It’s such a common trope that it eventually became the fodder of sitcoms and the like.

Let me tell you a little story.  Last year, on my birthday, I made a decision.  For the longest time, I’ve wanted to write.  I started out writing short stories as a way to hone my craft, and I thought that maybe I could use them to break into the writing world in a way.  I was afraid to try writing an actual novel because I didn’t want to face the possibility of failure.  So I started off small, telling myself that I’d start writing a book once I got myself published.  But I realized something: short stories are not a very good market anymore.  They’re good practice, don’t get me wrong, but the demand for them is rather low.  There’s just not many places that tend to publish them anymore unless you collect them in an anthology, and even then most people only read anthologies by already acknowledged writers.

So on my 25th birthday, I made a decision.  I started writing a book and I told myself I would see it through to the end, for better or for worse.

And that’s why I find the idea of New Year’s resolutions to be a bit hokey.  It seems like such a lazy way to do things.  Once a year people sat back and say “oh I suppose I should try something new this next year…uh…I guess I’ll exercise or try to paint or something…I don’t know whatever.”  And then next year rolls around and things hardly change.  Maybe they stick with the resolution for a while, but often they get dropped at some point during the year.  It’s been said that over half of the people who make resolutions fail to keep them by the end of the year.  Which is why I say that instead of setting one goal for yourself once a year (which is far too easy to shrug off), why aren’t we constantly setting goals for ourselves, even just little ones?  At the very least we should keep ourselves aware of the things we don’t like in our lives and try to change them.

You can never fail more than if you don’t try.  But you can always try to be better.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Check back next Wednesday for another post and have a wonderful, fulfilling new year!