This year has definitely been a challenge and an adventure all rolled into one. It’s only reasonable to assume we’d all find something to distract ourselves through the months we’re stuck inside. The past couple weeks I’ve been trying to set new goals for myself, find new things to put my energy and attention into, and discover new things I like. Podcasts and Dungeons and Dragons streams have surprisingly been a huge part of it. Somehow I got sucked into watching some DnD games on Twitch and Youtube from DM’s that really know how to build stories and worlds that suck you in. Podcasts wound up becoming a silence filler for me to put on in the background or listen to before I fall asleep. You can find just about anything to suit your mood or interests when it comes to podcasts now, it’s pretty awesome. There’s also been crafts, books, games, and a whole manner of things I’ve been dipping my toes back into. Below are some of my biggest obsessions that have taken up the majority of my time this month.
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The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain remains one of my favorite writers and TV personalities to this day. It really hit me hard when I heard the news of his passing. I loved watching Parts Unknown, seeing him travel to so many different places and cultures and taking the roads less travelled. I loved his philosophy of giving attention to the parts of a country’s culture and cuisine that regular tourists probably wouldn’t seek out. His writing was always really great as well. I was so excited when I heard about his comic series, Hungry Ghosts, that I ordered the hardcover collected edition.
The Nasty Bits is a collection of essays and one fiction piece from the years of writing that Bourdain did for a variety of websites, magazines, and books. It collects some of the best of his articles, from his opinions on celebrity chefs, to food porn articles, to rants about New York City. All of them are entertaining and span a wide range of topics. In the back of the book he has little notes on what his current opinions of the articles featured as he was editing the book since most of them were written years ago. It was interesting to see how some of his opinions tempered or changed over the years. If you’re into food, restaurant, or travel journalism, I would highly recommend checking this one out.
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Modern news and journalism has pretty much always been about the sensational. News headlines are geared towards getting views and clicks even if the article itself isn’t as bad as the headline leads us to believe. Social media leads us down rabbit holes of negative news and conspiracies that influence our beliefs and outlook on the world around us. This year especially has been tough on us mentally and emotionally, highlighting the negative. What I love about the book Factfulness is that it tries to almost debunk this negative thinking by showing us how our perception of the world is skewed the wrong way. Rosling presents facts, statistics, and psychology to prove to his readers that the world is actually moving at a much more positive pace than we think.
I loved reading this book. It can be a little dense for people not used to reading nonfiction scientific-leaning books, but I think it has a lot of insight to offer us especially considering what is going on in the world around us. One of the big parts of the book is these quizzes that look at our perception of the world which he then compares to the actual facts from government and nonprofit agencies, almost always showing that people have a tendency to think more negatively than the truth presents. He kind of makes the argument that it’s the way our societal and psychological make-up predisposes us to think, and offers ways in which we can improve our critical thinking skills to change those biases or get them under control. It wound up being a comforting read that helped cheer me up a bit.
The Blue Period by Tsubasa Yamaguchi
As some of you probably know, I’m a huge art nerd. One of my dreams in high school was to go to art school, but now it remains as a side-passion for me. Over the years, I’ve found so many different ways to incorporate my love of art into my other passions, including manga. I love being able to find manga and comics that deal with the nitty-gritty behind creating art and comics. The Blue Period is one of those. It’s a story about a high-school boy discovering a previously unknown passion for art and setting out on a path to get into a prestigious and competitive art college.
The story and characters discuss various art theories, techniques, and historical artists. It really gets in deep into the various methods and ways in which artists create their works, from perspective, to different mediums, to color theory. I really think that anyone who has a passion for art will love seeing how the main character slowly learns over time to improve his art and techniques and the kind of passion he presents as the volume progresses.
Streaming/ Tabletop RPG’s
The World of Verum by Arcadum
I have always had a vague interest in Dungeons and Dragons but never really had the confidence to join a game myself until a couple years ago when a friend invited me to play. The campaign didn’t last long, but it did ignite an interest in me to learn more and maybe develop some better characters I could play in the future. This past year I stumbled upon Arcadum on Twitch when one of the people I follow joined one of their games. His world and stories really sucked me in and I found myself binging through a bunch of his campaign archives to get a feel for the larger world and lore he has spent years crafting.
All of the games he runs all take place in the same world and happen simultaneously. This means that one campaign’s actions can affect another’s and characters from different storylines have a chance of meeting up. It’s like one giant crossover series, and I love it. The world is so well crafted and the lore is really engaging, from the various gods who like to interfere in the lives of their subjects to the overarching evil that threatens to wipe out everything. I really do think this is one of the best DnD campaigns I’ve watched, and I would highly suggest checking him out on Twitch and Youtube if you’re interested in DnD as well.
The World of IO by BrettUltimus
The World of IO is another great DnD world that incorporates multiple campaigns and storylines into one ever-growing world. I found BrettUltimus when a Twitch streamer I follow was added to one of his games. It wound up being super entertaining, and I stuck around to see what else he would come up with. I would say he’s not as good of a DM as Arcadum, but then again Arcadum has had a lot more time to perfect his skills in voices, story, and game mechanics. So far, Brett’s campaigns have all been pretty interesting concept wise. The stories so far have centered around pirates, magic school students, and a troop of goblins.I especially love the Goblin and Pirate campaigns, and will probably check out the other ones soon.
Dungeon Daddies is an extension of my DnD obsession that has spilled over into the podcast realm. Basically the podcast is about a group of dads who are taking their kids on a camping trip but wind up being transported into another dimension and their kids getting kidnapped by slave traders. So they now have to work together and discover their new powers to get their sons back and escape back to the real world. It’s a super entertaining podcast that has collected some interesting actors/players that really make the characters stand out.
What I love about this one is how they crafted their dad characters to be so different from one another. Each of them has their own strengths and personalities, like the crunchy-granola Druid dad or the uncaring stepdad who never wanted to be a dad. The personality clashes make for some really interesting dialogue, and I love how the DM plays their kids in the first episode as just really shitty pre-teen boys. If you like DnD and podcasts, I would highly suggest checking this one out.
The Ghost Story Guys
This is a podcast I only recently started listening to, and another one I mainly listen to before bed. As the title suggests, it’s a show about ghost stories as told by the hosts. What I like about this one is that it’s a show that tries to incorporate a conversational feel into the episodes. They will read the stories very seriously, but will provide humorous commentary or get into a discussion about what might be happening in each story. Each episode has a few stories that they read to keep it interesting, so if you don’t wind up liking one story in the episode, you can hang around for the next. I wind up liking shows about true happenings more than fictional horror story readings as they feel a lot more creepy because you can imagine them happening to you at some point. The Ghost Story Guys have collected a lot of really interesting stories and the episode list is up over the 100 count so if you’re into podcasts that creep you out, you’ll be sure to find something you’ll like.
You’re Wrong About
You’re Wrong About is a podcast that fills my need for some educational content. I usually like listening to these while I work or when I have some downtime. I am constantly feeling like I should be using my time more constructively to learn more things, and I like how easy it is to throw on a podcast and learn something new while doing the dishes, taking a walk, or plugging away at the computer. This particular one is interesting because it takes a look at events in history and discusses how our perceptions of them or the discussions surrounding them could be wrong or misleading. One of their biggest and most recent series has been on the death of Princess Diana, the perception of her while she was alive, and the mysteries surrounding her death. It also deals with some big topics covered in school that may have been taught in a misleading way. If you like educational podcasts, I would check this one out.
“Virgin River” is a series created by Netflix that I would categorize as a small town medical drama/romance. It has a vague Hallmark-esque feel but I think deals with a lot more serious topics than Hallmark likes to delve into. I decided on a whim to put this on because the concept of a big-city nurse going to work in a small town boarding the illegal weed capital of the US, Humboldt County, appealed to me. There is only one season so far, but I really enjoyed it. Each episode deals with a medical mystery or issue, a romantic dilemma, or an issue from a character’s past that comes back to haunt them. A couple episodes are especially heavy and deal with death, miscarriages, violence, or threats of violence from the drug gangs in Humboldt. Over the course of the series, we also see more and more of what prompted the main character to move here, and the kind of trauma she is dealing with, and how her patient’s issues affect her as she is trying to deal with these traumas. I found the series to be really good and would recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a small-town drama to watch.
“Crazyhead” is another Netflix show that caught my attention awhile ago but I only just got the chance to watch it. I put in on my watchlist on Netflix because it looked interesting and I was coming off watching some Buffy and Charmed and was on a supernatural show kick. I recently started watching it this month after being bored one day, and it really is hilariously good. The show centers around a couple girls who can see demons, and after a botched exorcism kills one of her friends, the main character joins up with a mysterious demon-hunting girl to track down and fight the demons coming after them. It’s full of British humor and wise-cracks that really added character to the show and kept me coming back. I wound up wondering what these crazy girls were going to do next and laughing along to their antics. I would highly suggest picking this up if you’re interested in supernatural action shows and British humor.
I think everyone has been talking about “Queen’s Gambit” lately. It is one of the hottest shows on Netflix right now, and for good reason. I started this show on a whim one night, and it sucked both me and my husband in within the first couple episodes. We could not stop watching and kept coming back for more. I’m even considering writing about it at some point, it made that much of an impression in my mind.
The story centers around a girl in the 50s whose mother dies and is put in a girl’s orphanage. It’s there that she learns to play chess from a kind janitor, and finds that she has a real aptitude for it, on the level of a genius even. Chess becomes her life, and the more she learns the better she gets, even playing college-level boys at the age of 9 and winning. The only problem is that the orphanage introduced her to tranquilizers and she eventually developed a dependency that sticks with her throughout the series. She is eventually adopted by a couple and starts pursuing competitions around the world to make money for herself and her mother after her parents divorce.
It’s a fantastic series that talks a lot about the nature of genius, substance abuse, mental illness, loss, friendship, and especially women in the chess field during the 1950s to 60s. It’s super interesting to see her playing against other chess masters, traveling all over the world, and finally ending up in a huge match against a Russian master. It’s definitely a show you need to experience for yourself, and I would even say that if you’re a fan of something like March comes in like a lion, this might be up your alley.
It’s only recently I’ve gotten back into gaming, especially with the holiday season giving me more time and better options to pick up games from the Steam and Nintendo store. Wingspan was something that I stumbled on by chance while looking through Steam for anything new and exciting. It struck me as interesting because of the ecological focus of building a bird sanctuary through a competitive card game. Basically, you play against two or more people to build up the number of birds you have in your sanctuary in various habitat types. Each bird has a value, a cost, and an action associated with it that allows you to earn points to win.
It can be fairly complicated, and to date I haven’t been able to win any game yet, but I generally enjoy it. The art is pretty detailed and fantastic, and I love seeing all the different types of birds that pop up in the deck. I’m still working out all the different ways to win and gain points, but I’ve been enjoying it so far as something I can easily play on my laptop without too much stress. I’ve mainly been playing against bots so far, but there is a multiplayer and online mode to check out that I’ll probably hop into when I get a bit better.
Graveyard Keeper was a game I picked up when it was still in early access. I saw one of my favorite Youtubers playing it, and thought it might be right up my alley. It’s basically a simulation game where you play as a graveyard keeper and Church deacon whose goal is to improve the quality of the church and graveyard. There is also the overarching fact that you were transported here from another world and need to find some way to open a portal home. The game is part macabre, part typical simulation crafting, and part mysterious isekai. All of this combines into a simulation game that is just different enough to intrigue me.
One of my favorite genres of games are farming or crafting simulations, and I love how this game adds a fun twist to the genre through dissecting bodies, decorating a graveyard and church, and fiddling with magic and alchemy to find a way home. It’s dark, intriguing, and fun in a twisted sort of way. Perfect for a long winter’s night shut inside.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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