Parry. Putt. Rub the dogs and pineapples. Watch your lover die, over and over and over. Stare bewildered at the cactus, the only life form you’ve seen in the past ten days. Kick the mirrors off a flaming SUV. Run over the elephant, the clouds, the people, the people, the people. Get the joke. Laugh. Make a wish upon a fallen star.
I played some great video games last year and they all asked me to do some odd, abnormal tasks. Far be it from me to defy the voice inside my television; I follow its bizarre commands and, usually, am all the better for it.
When tracing the themes of my favorite new-to-me games from last year, one common thread became apparent. Last year, I fell in love with non-narrative games.
Of course, non-narrative games have been around since the beginning, but I myself have always been more partial to the story-based ones. I cut my teeth on melodramatic ‘90s JRPGs in middle school. I not only forgave but adored the hilarious logorrhea of the Metal Gear games. I reveled in the tenderly psychotic struggles of the heroes in The Last of Us. Recently, though, I’m looking for the games that do what only games can do, the ones that express their personalities purely through their rules and feel.
These five masterpieces contain little to no narrative, yet they have shown me new portraits of all the beauty and pain life has to offer.
5. Hoshi Saga (Nekogames, 2007-2014)
I must be some kind of idiot or something but Hoshi Saga made me laugh more than almost any game I’ve ever played. All you do in the game is find stars. In the first stage, there are bricks floating around à la Super Mario Bros. and you click them with your mouse until you break the one with the star in it. In the second stage, you click a sheet of paper, punching out different shaped holes, the last of which is a star. In the third stage, you click and hold a reel, then spin it until you fish up a star. In the next stage, you do something else until you find a star, and so on forever, until Kingdom Come.
Hoshi Saga’s genre, if it has to have one, would be ‘puzzle,’ though it’s less like Tetris or something by Jonathan Blow and more like that game where your grandfather pretends to steal your nose. Other influences include (I think) dad jokes and the I Spy book series, because, like them, Hoshi Saga works best when it’s cheerfully literal. It often refuses to use video game shorthand. For example, in the previously mentioned third level, it could just have you hold down a button to turn the reel automatically, but instead the game asks you to turn the reel manually (or as-near-to-manually as you can turn a mechanism which you can’t physically touch). Therein lies the humor. The star isn’t even hidden. You can see it sticking out of the blackness at the bottom and you can see all the machinery connected to it. It’s just a matter of doing the deed. The game waits cutely for you to follow its steps and find that pretty star. What an innocent, childlike concept. There’s a “look what I made for you” quality to many of its quirky contraptions.
Of course, there are hundreds of levels and not all of them are easy. Some of them, to me, seem impossible, even after twenty-minutes of gap-jawed staring. But each level is corny and clever at the same time, which is what makes this game so special to me. That, and the design philosophy. Hoshi Saga’s creator, Yoshio Ishii, never put these games on Steam or any other major game source. He’d just post them up in little batches on his website here and there between 2007 and 2014 at irregular intervals without informing anybody. Nobody seems to know much about the guy or whether he’s still making games, but I hope he’s out there somewhere, a gentle madman concocting new realities and finding stars all around him.
4. Desert Golfing (Captain Games, 2014)
Somewhere in the sands of the desert lies the perfect marriage of formalism and conceptualism.
Desert Golfing works because it has got something to say and it knows how to lure you in to its whisper. Said another way, Desert Golfing works because it has got something to say and would succeed even if it didn’t. You golf. You golf in the desert. And you keep golfing in the desert. Forever.
The setting in itself should cause our ears to perk up. All the golfing I’d ever done before playing Desert Golfing had either ‘Mario’ or ‘mini-‘ in the title, but I did bus tables at a country club back in the day and you’d better believe they had a real, actual golf course there. From what those old blue-bloods said to each other over chicken parm and Heinekens, I’d wager that hitting a golf ball out of sand presents some challenges. People don’t usually like to do it. They only do so as a penalty for their previous shot being poorly placed, but they have to do it to keep the game going, so they hike up their chinos and crawl into the pit, knowing that whatever comes next will not be pretty.
The desert part of golfing is the part that nobody likes. Making a game about golfing that only lets you play on the sand is, in theory, sadistic, but Desert Golfing manages to be not only addictive but actually fun.* Desert Golfing works because it’s got a compactness that most golf games lack. Each level is one smartphone screen in length, so you can’t have these long, rolling courses that sprawl everywhere like drums of spilled paint. The beginning, middle, and end of each hole has to fit in a smaller space. Therefore, the ball doesn’t roll very much. The grit of the sand slows it down pretty quickly unless you’re putting down a hill, and chip shots tend to settle abruptly. This makes the play in Desert Golfing short, stiff, and punchy compared to some its genre-mates, and I, for one, welcome the difference.
And that’s not to say the holes don’t have layers. To make up for the lack of spread, Desert Golfing introduces verticality to the equation. The better holes force you to putt your ball to the base of an incline, hit a high, angular chip, and then pray that it will settle before rolling off the backside of the slope so that you can strike the final coup de grace. If that chip’s too short or too long, you’re rolling back down the hill and setting up the whole multi-stage process all over again. Not that you have to marry the concept of a long set-up; it’s a testament to the game that only a handful of the (several thousand) holes I’ve played were impossible to hole-in-one. So, if you want, you can try to swish the shot right from the tee every time—and few moments in your life will feel better than actually nailing it when you do—but you’ve got to be willing to pay the piper when you brick the shot.
Desert Golfing feels good to play. The holes have a nice pace to them and you rarely feel that you’re going to be stuck on one for very long. It’s a tasty game that tastes great after one lick or a thousand. That’s what I meant by ‘formalism’ at the beginning of this entry. The ‘conceptualism’ comes next. You might not notice it while you’re lining up surgically-accurate shots over cliffs and crags, but Desert Golfing is one of the most pretentious (in a good way), high-concept games available. It’s a game John Cage could have made. Most people will notice this on hole 19. Most people will notice this because most golf games (and most real life golf courses) do not have any holes past hole 18. The first time you start up Desert Golfing, you’re at hole 1. No company logo, no title screen, no menus, no modes, no tutorial, no hastily-thrown-together narrative sequence. You just start playing the game, and only later will those absences strike you as eerie.
You’ll bump through the first few holes pretty quickly, but after hole 18, something feels a little off. Maybe you try to save your game, bent on figuring this mess out later, but no dice. You can’t pause and there are no menus. Out of frustration, you close the game. Later on, itching for some more of that hot, arid, precision-soaked action, you load up Desert Golfing, and there you are, back at hole 19. You keep playing. It still feels real good. But in the back of your mind lies a thought you cannot banish: “when will it all end?” After hole 50 or so you get the picture. It doesn’t end. Desert Golfing goes on forever.
The implications of this are large and hilarious. The biggest one is the impossibility of new beginnings. There’s no way to return to hole 1, except maybe deleting all the game’s files from your phone and re-downloading it on a new account. Outside of that desperate measure, though, Desert Golfing simply carries on. Nothing can be undone. Nothing can be redone. This game remembers every stroke you’ve ever taken as if it were yesterday, and, like a bitter ex-girlfriend, it will not let go of that precious index of your every weakness. So, remember on the first hole when it took you seven strokes just because you didn’t understand the game’s basics physics yet? Remember how on hole 10 or so you started to get the hang of the game and you vowed to return to that first hole and kill it off in three gentle taps? Remember hoping to play a perfect game only to realize that imperfection itself was part of the game’s core DNA? Of course, you do. We all do, us desert golfers, yet there’s nothing we can do to redeem our former ignorance.
Opening my own copy of the game for the first time in a while, I see I left off at hole 2,300. In my prime (late summer/early fall of 2016), I liked to golf in even blocks, doing 25 or 50 holes at a time. The counter at the top of my game says I’ve put in 6,521 strokes to date. That averages out to about 2.84 strokes per hole, which, honestly, isn’t too bad. Desert Golfing reminds you, at all times, just how much of your life you’ve put into it; as in all of life, those moments are irreversible. All you can do is carry on. Learning to live with your mistakes is this game’s core mechanic.
Strictly speaking, Desert Golfing has an end. I read that the creator put an impossible hole in around number 19,000, but players found a way around it and kept going. Rumors say the real end comes at hole 64,465, when you reach an impassable ocean, but few of us are likely to get there. Until then, we’re still stroking away out here under the neon moon and the paper sun, the Jack Nicklauses of a beautiful, hellish infinity.
*Despite being used together often, I’ve found that ‘fun’ and ‘addicting’ rarely coincide. It probably says something about our consumerist culture that we’re trained to believe otherwise.*
3. Passage (Jason Rohrer, 2007)
Ok. This game has gotten heaps of love and hate since it came out ten years ago; I understand why. It’s a game that you can beat in exactly one trip to the bathroom, and, for the most part, it doesn’t even seem to be a game in the typical sense. It’s not fun, you can’t win, and nobody learns anything.
Here’s what happens. You start the game. An 8-bit dirge bellows hard, minor key fragments out of your smartphone. You push right and a primitive clump of squares representing a human male moves to the right. He will probably intercept another clump, this one representing a woman, and she follows the man. You keep holding right and both man and woman keep walking right. Soon boxes appear. You will try to find ways to direct the man and the woman around the boxes, finding passages so that they may continue walking right. You do this for a few minutes. The man and the woman age. Their clothes fade; their hairs gray. You let them walk some more. Soon enough, they both die, with the woman—curiously—dying first every single time.
That’s it. There are, however, a couple of twists. First, you don’t have to pick up the girl. You can walk around her and go through the whole game as a bachelor. It’s certainly a more lonesome experience, but it does make you more maneuverable, which leads us to our second twist. The boxes that appear have gaps in between them and you’ll waste years of your characters’ lives trying to get around them. Not infrequently you will see gaps that one person could squeeze through, but not the two of them together. You can read this as a statement on the difficulties of going through life while caring for another, and maybe it is that, but I don’t want to boil the symbol down too much. Whatever it means, it hurts, and that’s when I know this game is good.
We can elevate Passage to the status of a holy artifact or we can dismiss it as pretentious nonsense, though I recommend neither. Why not just enjoy it for what it is? I don’t think every game should be like Passage, but I do think there should be more games like Passage. Yes, it’s short. It can’t say what a longer game can, but a longer game couldn’t say what Passage says. The brevity of the experience places our existence within a small, lonely frame and asks that we simply look it at for a while. Nobody talks. Nobody tells you what it means. It is a Zen koan of a game. It is a haiku of a game. It might be a playable poem. It breaks silence just long enough for you to notice its existence and it’s gone.
2. Street Fighter III: Third Strike (Capcom, 1999)
Not many people know this, but for a brief time the Criterion Collection carried an edition of John Woo’s seminal gun-fu film Hard-Boiled. Why would the United States’ premier distributor of art films and world cinema—an organization that fills its shelves with films by Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Dreyer, and Godard—stamp its coveted logo on a movie that largely consists of men in collared shirts shouting Cantonese swear words and dumping endless magazines of low caliber handgun rounds at each other?
Because if you push any form or genre far enough, it begs to be considered art. I’m not saying it always becomes art, but I do think that if you get enough guys firing enough guns at each other in a movie, it’s not even about those guys or their guns anymore. A spade is a spade, but what about two spades? Three? Ten? One hundred? When have you ever seen one hundred spades at the same time, in the same place, in real life? If you have, you either work in a shovel factory, or you, my friend, are navigating some deeply symbolic territory.
Hard-Boiled, after the first few insane minutes of gunfire, isn’t even about violence anymore. That choreography of violence only serves as a medium for something more expressive, a poetry of bodies and movement. Blood flies out of those beautiful men only to remind us of what’s lying inside of us at all times.
The same could be said of Street Fighter III: Third Strike.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know the guts of this game the way an educated person should. (If universities ever decide to teach video games they way they ought to, students will be memorizing Third Strike frame data and the historiography of its tier lists during their second or third semesters.) Alas, my experience with this game (most condemningly of all, via its PS2 port) consisted of running through the single-player mode a bunch of times and pummeling a friend who barely knows Street Fighter from his arse. Not many fighting game heads out my way and I don’t have a means to play Third Strike online. . . yet. Still, three facets of this game stuck out to me and proved that Third Strike is more than just a pile of ethnic caricatures beating each other senseless with fake martial arts moves.
#1. The characters.
Actually, let’s start with those ethnic caricatures. Third Strike’s grandfather, Street Fighter II, is famous for many reasons, one being its stereotypical cast. You know what, though? Street Fighter II’s cast rules. Sure, the characters are silly, but rarely in a degrading way. The manual tells us that Zangief, the burly Soviet, wrestles bears for fun. Maybe this represents Capcom’s barbarized vision of the Russian people, but find me one person— male or female, Russian or otherwise—who would just loathe having the physical strength required to headlock a Kamchatka brown bear and laugh while doing it. Also, should we ever consider a country’s fighters a fair indication of its national dignity? Have you ever watched a Mike Tyson or Ronda Rousey interview? When you knock people out for a living, it only follows that you’d be a little strange, so I see no problem with Street Fighter games rolling up their sleeves and getting playful when it comes to character design.
Third Strike’s cast isn’t quite as legendary as SFII’s, probably because it isn’t as obvious. Some of the archetypes return, with Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li feeling as solid and intuitive as ever, but after that the roster gets a little weird, in a good way.
We’ve got a Japanese tomboy (Makoto), an African capoeirista (Elena), a mid-boss from a largely forgotten beat ‘em up series (Hugo), Inspector Gadget (Q), a one-armed Muppet-hag guru (Oro), and a few post-human fashion models who would probably fit better in a Guilty Gear game (Twelve, Necro, Gill). Even the characters that do fall into stereotypes manage to do so in a more interesting way than before. Dudley, for example, is a British gentleman-boxer, but—in a fun twist—Capcom made him black to connect his country’s mannerly past with its modern diversity. We’ve also got a female ninja and Guile reincarnated as an androgynous, French rock star, so no complaints there.
What a glorious mess of characters.
#2. The animation.
Third Strike looks gorgeous. It’s a Dutch Master in motion.
Too many video games—fighting and otherwise— look like the inspiration ran out in the sketchbook phase. The characters and worlds in said games look well enough at first, but once they start moving, everything falls apart. You want to ask ‘Have the designers ever watched a human walk before? ‘
Street Fighter III: Third Strike, on the other hand, looks better in motion than it does in screenshots. The character designs themselves look great, but it’s only once they start moving that the talent of the artists becomes inarguable. The punches bite and the kicks snap; every frame comes together in a crisp, fluid fashion. Even the standing animations can mesmerize.
The animation matters for two reasons. One, if people are going to talk about video games as an art form, then games might as well look like art. Since video games move, they need to be beautiful when they’re moving, not only when they’re standing still. Ergo, beauty in motion. Two, these impeccable frames serve a practical purpose. Third Strike, when played well, requires a jazz drummer’s sense of timing and the unflinching nerves of a knife fighter. Entire matches sometimes depend on single frames, so it matters that this game runs smoothly and shows all the little movements and sub-movements that let a good player know exactly what’s going on without clipped animations or too many unnecessary color flourishes flying around. The animators included every image necessary to read the game perfectly in real time and nixed every image that might distract from the beauty of the combat for the sake of being zazzy. It’s somehow maximalist but unembellished, not unlike a real fistfight.
Good players seem to tune their breath and heartbeat into synchronicity with their Third Strike characters’ and such a ritual is only possible in a game with a pulse, a game that moves to the beat of human blood.
#3. The parry.
The parry is probably the best risk-reward mechanic to happen to fighting games since the hadouken. Gosh, does it open up the action.
Normally in fighting games, you have a few options for defense. You can try to get out of the way, but most 2D fighters tend to be fairly dodge-sparse and Third Strike’s wonderfully chunky character sprites and thick-cut hit boxes leave little negative space to hide away in. Your better choice is blocking, the textbook defensive move since SFII. Blocking gives you a generous response window and covers all attacks, as long as you adjust for high and low strikes. The drawback to blocking is the chip damage; even if you block a move an hour ahead of time, you still take a tiny portion of its full damage. In theory this works fine, but in practice it leads to some hokey endings. If you only have a shred of health left, even a sloppily telegraphed super combo will do you in because there’s no real way to defend yourself.
The parry mechanic takes that cheese and exiles it to lesser games. Parrying is like Bruce Lee’s version of blocking. The technique requires much greater precision than blocking, but if successful means you take zero damage from attack. Now the player with the advantage can’t just get an early lead and coast it to the finish line. Every inch—even the last—must be earned. What’s more, a successful parry—unlike a successful block—affords the defender near-instant retaliation. If you nail the parry, you’re almost guaranteed a follow-up attack before your would-be attacker can do a blessed thing about it. It raises the stakes of every attack because tables can turn—and often do—on a single, poorly-placed strike. Great players will even bait you into attacking when you think they’re not ready, just so they can parry your attack and batter your skull. That, to me, is wonderfully nasty.
One of my theories about video games suggests that we do the form the most justice by considering games not as novels-with-buttons but as ‘moment machines’ or ‘moment generators.’ It’s already been expressed, in different words, by greater minds than myself, I know, but I owe the concept its own essay-length reflection anyway. That’s for another day, though. For now I’ll keep it brief. Street Fighter III: Third Strike is an expressive artwork not because of any narrative structure it might have*; it’s an expressive artwork because it provides gamers with an air-tight, irreducible, and singular grammar which itself will never run out of things to say, which forever unfolds as an infinite poem of digital fists.
*When you beat the arcade mode, you do get to see your player character’s ending, which I guess technically counts as narrative. These endings are pretty ignorable, though, not to mention vapid and insane. Someone (maybe me?) should write an essay on the narratology of fighting game stories because they often try some crazy schlock, but, again, that’s a topic for another time.
1. Katamari Damacy (Namco, 2004)
I have a friend who I’ve known since pre-school and he eats and breathes video games. He doesn’t really like Katamari Damacy all that much, but he’s important to this story because late one night he asked me a crucial question.
“What’s something you don’t see enough of in games these days?”
I had to chew it over for a second, but my eventual answer had to do with Japan. When I was a kid, buying a video game was like getting a love letter from another planet. This was probably because nearly every game that mattered from my childhood and adolescence came from that strange and beautiful island that I knew so little about. I loved how weird they were. The entire Super Mario franchise centers on a plumber who fights dinosaur turtles. What? Gradius has a spaceship that shoots at giant brains and, occasionally, the Easter Island statues. Okay? Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon has malicious space-thespians who ride around in a flying peach until a blue-haired man who fights robots with a tobacco pipe and his obese ninja friend. . .yeah, you get the picture.
In the late-‘90s, some nerds in Osaka could have thrown together a plot about time-travelling, androgynous clones who fall in love with robots and piles of sentient slime in order to save the predecessor of all Mankind from talking squirrels, shove it into a game engine stolen from directly Dragon Warrior III, and expect to sell half a million units.
That doesn’t happen so much any more. Most of the hits (and indie hits) in video games don’t come from Japan anymore; the hits that do come from Japan are almost invariably sequels. I miss the days when you could find Japanese games that both completely defied classification and came out as full-priced titles on the most important consoles of their day.
I miss the days of Katamari Damacy.
Katamari Damacy was pretty popular when it was first released and even ended up being something of a sleeper hit in the U.S. I think the reason for that is because the game’s so darn simple. Pretentious game critics and obscurantists of all stripes like to believe that only the select few can enjoy a game about, say, The King of All Cosmos replacing missing stars with a massive clumps of trash that his awkward son rolled together on Earth*, but—in all actuality—regular folks can enjoy just such a game, if the mechanics are fun and intuitive.
Katamari Damacy is that game. Katamari Damacy plays as if its creators considered accessibility a form of sacrament. It begs to be touched and held and toyed with by anyone who has hands. I’ve seen it fixate people dull and brilliant. I’ve seen it dominate a room of men and women who consider themselves above the act of video gaming. I’ve seen it brighten the hearts of calloused, hurting individuals.
Somehow I only got around to playing this game last winter. Don’t ask me why I dodged it for so long. I think I missed it during the first few years it was out because I was playing other games and shortly after that I had a phase where I barely played any video games at all for almost five years. By the time I came back to gaming, Katamari’s time in the spotlight had mostly passed; people were onto new and quirkier things. Honestly, though, I don’t regret saving dessert for later, because this game has only sweetened with age.
I’m guessing anybody reading this will know the basic premise of Katamari. You roll a ball into and onto any objects you can find. So long as your ball is sufficiently larger than these objects, it will absorb them, adding them to its bulk. You continue rolling the ball, picking up larger and larger objects until you’re uprooting office buildings and stripping the Earth of its major landmasses.
What makes this activity compelling, at least in the game’s main levels, is the timer. You’ve only got a certain amount of time to get your ball from one size to another. To people who only saw screenshots of the game in magazines, it might have seemed facile and bloodless. Far from it. While Katamari won’t appear on any list of toughest games, the timer gives the game just enough grit to instill in it a sense of purpose. You have to keep the ball moving and you have to move in meaningful patterns. Most areas of the game contain objects of mixed sizes. If you’re smart, you’ll follow lines or circles of like-sized objects and build a gorgeous, unstoppable rhythm. If you roll around willy-nilly, you’ll find yourself bumping into objects that are too large for you, knocking off a few recently-acquired pieces in the process. This burns up clock time, and, more importantly, it burns up fun time. Even forgetting the clock, Katamari just feels so nice when it’s going well—when you’re keeping your momentum up and rapidly scooping the items that give you the most mass possible for your current ball size—that any interruption of that flow pricks at the nerve-endings of any player (or onlooker) engaged with the game. Now we’re beyond mere goal-following. The clock is important to keep the game dynamic, but Katamari‘s basic feedback loop is even more primal than that. Play well and you’ll feel good. Play poorly and you’ll feel bad. Each decision serves as its own punishment or reward. This sensation is what really makes the game tick.
Katamari Damacy—more than any other game on this list, possibly more than any game I can think of— understands feel. Roger Ebert once said that films delight him most because they can contain all other art forms—story-telling, visual art, music, dance, etc. If I wanted to be cheeky, I’d say that games can contain all the art forms films can—including films themselves—as well as (at least) one more element that films can’t contain: feel.
Game feel is an elusive concept, but I’d say—with the exception of more abstract titles like turn-based RPGs, strategy games, and point-and-clicks—most of a video game’s success rests on the shoulders of its feel. Super Mario 64 rules because of its physics, its inertia, the sense of weight you feel in the hero’s body as you fling him around a room. Likewise, Katamari lives and dies on its feel. The game engine describes your ball, always, with the perfect heft and friction as you roll it around the map. As it gains mass, it handles differently. The objects you absorb have shape and weight; when newly absorbed, they cause your ball to roll unevenly, to bobble and bump in strange ways. When you jerk your thumbs back on both sticks to rein your careening ball to a halt, it screeches and stops tight, but not quite instantly. It’s tactile magic.
Of course, every other aspect of Katamari Damacy follows the wonders of its feel. The visuals have a bright, nerdy, pop art flavor to them, with lots of blocky people and animals crawling around. The soundtrack, one of gaming’s best, balances schmaltzy jazz, minimal techno-pop, and frantic swing with a goofy, anthemic theme song, all of them somehow complementing each other rather than clashing. There are so many harmonies within harmonies to this game’s aesthetic.
Thematically, I’m always tempted to read Katamari Damacy from a cynical perspective. Your goal-giver, the King, obsesses over size and growth in ways that seem unhealthy and possibly sexual. When he says “My, Earth really is full of things,” I hear a satire aimed at mankind’s vacuous and destructive love of material objects. Even the game’s main objective could be read as a horrific extinction event**, as that gorgeous, velvety game feel we just finished discussing invites you to envelop cities full of humans and launch them helplessly into space. I’ll admit, I feel a little guilty playing it sometimes.
In the end, though, I think my cynicism misreads the game. Katamari takes its inspiration from a child’s view of the world, and it’s all just a wacky expression of that innocence. The King marvels at size not for Freudian reasons; as children, we know that the vastness of nature is itself awe-inspiring and beautiful. The game loves objects, but I think it’s more mono no aware than mall materialism. And the rolling up of all mankind might best be read not literally but as a metaphor for the togetherness and simple fun sought by every living being.
Of course, I’m glad that the game kind of baits me into darker readings, but, ultimately, purity conquers corruption and the simple wishes of a child alleviate the pains of life. What could be more beautiful than that?
*Once again, I’m cheating a bit by including a game that does, in fact, have a narrative, but if you care more than a tiny bit about the plot of Katamari Damacy, you’re either drunk, pre-pubescent, or both.
Hmm. Ok, I’ll open up. I like Katamari’s story a great deal for its fable-like sweetness, but it’s ultimately not that important in the larger scheme of what the game is doing.
**I get echoes The Blob, Godzilla, and, oddly, Tetsuo, the Iron Man.
Joseph Restacia is a sometimes-poet from the U.S.A. Other interests include: world religions, video games, music, movies, philosophy, Japan, the outdoors, and pro wrestling.