Thursday, February 12, 2015

Serial Thoughts: What the Hell Happened to Hae Min Lee?

I'm a couch lawyer. That's who I call anyone like me who has a keen interest in true crime stories and crime drama shows. We're the ones who always have some theory on hand about any given case. From the safety of my couch, I can state my opinions on cases, suspects, and scenarios without any real consequences. I can be detective, judge, and jury. I can chat with other couch lawyers and exchange ideas freely. With that in mind understand that anything I say in this post should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm no lawyer. I just play one from the plushiness of my couch.

When I first got into Serial, a podcast from one of the names behind This American Life (which I've never listened to), I thought I was getting into a fictitious murder mystery story. I'd been looking around to get some suggestions for podcasts I should try, and Serial seemed to come up fairly often. I'm not sure how I managed to miss the part about this being an investigative piece on a true crime story, though. Over the span of twelve episodes, Sarah Koenig investigates a curious murder case that takes place in Baltimore, Maryland. This is long and spoiler-filled.

Leading into this podcast, there was a brief discussion about people's memories and how events are remembered. If something monumental happened to a person, memories tend to be sharper. If it was just an average day, things were murkier, more general. Kids seemed to have a foggier memory if nothing of note happened. Girls seem to recall things more vividly than boys. This is important because much of this case was based on what did or didn't happen one January day in 1999 as told by a bunch of teenagers. Also, revisiting the case meant asking people to recall memories from 15 years earlier, and memories are tempered with time. Can you recall what you were doing in mid-January of 1999? I asked myself this question.

In 1999, the year this murder happened, I was a high school junior. I was on the cusp of seventeen. What do I remember about that time? I remember that my best friend and I weren't speaking to one another because another mutual friend, whose family had moved a couple of hours away, was angry at me because of a boy, naturally. My best friend felt her friendship with our other friend was more important to her than her friendship with me, so I became good friends with my best friend's archenemy in retaliation. We eventually made up. In other words, it was high school, and I was doing high school things.

The only reason I remember this moment is because it was such a big deal in my teenage life. I remember this happening in January because we'd recently come back from Christmas break. I was still adjusting to a new schedule for the new semester, which turned out to be a blessing because I saw less of my best friend. We didn't have any classes together anymore. The introduction of a Spanish class that I took with her archenemy afforded me time to get to know this other girl. While I was dealing with those "world ending" issues, hundreds of miles away, a group of teens were trying to recall what they were doing when their friend disappeared.

Serial investigates the 1999 murder of high school senior, Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was eventually tried and convicted. He received a life sentence and has been in prison for the past 15 years. You're probably asking: "If her murderer is in prison, what's the mystery here?" Despite Adnan being convicted of her murder, the evidence and circumstances surrounding Adnan's conviction were a bit sketchy with Adnan's convinction resting mostly on the testimony of a unreliable witness and cell phone records that supported the claims but also had large unexplainable holes. Also, during this time, Adnan had maintained his innocence (and continues to do so), but he's not able to offer a real alibi for himself. He can only say that the story presented by the state's key witness didn't happen.

Sarah Koenig is the acting investigating reporter for this story. It took her a year to completely tell this story as she tried to navigate its complexity. The first step involved her speaking with Adnan's family to get a general idea of the case. From there, she speaks to witnesses, experts, and even Adnan himself to attempt to figure out what happened the day of Hae's disappearance. Let me warn you now. If you think this podcast solved anything, you probably don't watch enough true crime television to know that these things rarely give a conclusive answer. However, this podcast does help to expose some huge holes in the case against Adnan.

The state's case rested on one witness--a guy named Jay. Jay sold weed to Adnan and his friends, and he often smoked with them. Jay testifies that he helped Adnan bury Hae's body after Adnan strangled her (an event he did not witness). Jay presents a problem as his story frequently changes about the events of the day. At one point, he makes up a whole excursion where he and Adnan make a stop at another park and waxed poetic about Hae's death while smoking. Never mind that this just could not happen on such a tight timeline. The state had a timeline of events according to them and trips to smoke weed and be poetic did not fit the narrative. Jay eventually removes that excursion from the story and some of the other added details from his various versions of the day. However, some of the important parts of Jay's story never change.

Adnan's cell phone records were a bit strange as well. While they seemed to support the timeline somewhat, there's also moments where this question is posed: If they're supposed to be at point (A) at a certain time, then how in the world was his cell phone hitting a tower at point (B), which is quite a distance away from (A)? Adnan insists that he allowed Jay to use his car to pick up a gift for his girlfriend who happened to a good friend of Adnan's. He also left his phone with Jay so that he could call him to come pick him up after track practice that afternoon. Jay says that Adnan left the car with him, so he'd have a reason to ask Hae for a ride. He says that Adnan later calls him from the Best Buy parking lot, and that's where Adnan shows him Hae's dead body in the trunk of her car.

Confusing, right? Well, add to that that evidence wasn't explored by Adnan's attorney, some evidence wasn't fully investigated by the police, and Adnan can provide no useful information for his whereabouts, and you have a case burdened with frustrating  conundrum.

To be honest, I don't believe that Adnan doesn't know anything about Hae's murder. Even with some of the evidence being shaky at best, the evidence that does hold up seems to indicate that Adnan has to know something. Did he kill her? Maybe so, maybe no. There's plenty of reasonable doubt there. What parts are true from Jay's story and what parts are fake (other than the obvious lies he told) is anyone's guess. I can't say that I would be entirely comfortable with convicting someone of murder largely based on Jay's testimony.

Before I go any further, I did want to mention how frustrating it was as a black woman to hear the detectives and even Sarah trying to rationalize how Jay could be so scared of the police that he decided it was better to help dispose of the body than turn Adnan in to the authorities (assuming Adnan did it). No matter what lies Jay may or may not have told, one thing held true. I feel like he was being mostly earnest when he tried to explain his distrust/fear of the police, how he'd been harassed in his own neighborhood, in front of his own house even.

I know the detectives are well aware of the sentiment that many minority communities have toward them, even in 1999, and I feel like their derision of the Jay's excuse was probably more of a police tactic. Sarah trying to "make sense" of that really felt like someone saying the experiences of people of color with the police aren't legitimate unless they can reduce it to terms that satisfy them. Never mind that they'll never know what it's like to be a PoC living in this country and that PoC experiences don't have to be rationalized and validated by them to make it true. Minority communities have historically been wary of the police. This isn't something new. While Jay could've been lying through his teeth about his fear of cops, I do feel that he voiced an important aspect of the relationship between PoC and the police.

Why would Jay implicate himself in something that didn't happen? I think that question is what made jurors believe the important parts of the testimony. I think there's some truth in Jay's testimony. I do think that he helped to bury Hae body. I do believe him when he says that he got rid of the tools and clothing from that day. I think I even partially believe that he buried the body with Adnan. However, I can't say who might've killed her. Maybe Jay did it. Maybe Adnan did it. Maybe some third party did it and they tried to dispose of the evidence for whatever reason. Maybe Adnan paid Jay to help him. Maybe Jay made the whole story up and it's an unfortunate coincidence that the cell phone records match the timeline in places, but the timeline could theoretically have also been wrong and only used because it fit what prosecutors say happened. Jay never confirms Hae was actually killed when the prosecutors say she had to be killed (which is actually not concretely when she had to be killed) and then shoehorned the cell records to fit their narrative. I don't know. I just feel like they, even Adnan, know something regardless of who's lying and who's not. The Universe would have to have been saying, "And fuck you in particular, Adnan," for me to believe he knows absolutely nothing.

Then, I had a crazy theory that maybe it did happen mostly like Jay described, but maybe there was a method to his madness with the story changes. Maybe he kept changing his story, hoping they'd realize he was an unreliable witness, then Adnan would walk. There doesn't seem to be much malice between the two men. Adnan mentioned trying to stay emotionally neutral. However, he freaks out when Sarah asks him about stealing from the mosque, but can't be motivated into some kind of response toward the man who helped to get him convicted. Add to the fact that Jay never served time even though he was considered an accessory after the fact for his part in helping to bury Hae. Even if I wasn't banging the phone against the wall, I'd have some choice words for Jay. It just feels suspicious, but this is more of a conspiracy theory explanation at any rate.

Thanks to Sarah's digging and bringing this case to a very public platform. Adnan's case has been taken up by The Innocence Project. During an episode of Serial, she talked to Deirdre Enright and her group of students from the University of Maryland Law School, who work with the project, purely to get a speculative theory on how strong the case against Adnan was. (Not very for his murder conviction, they said.) In the end, the case interested them enough with its inconsistencies that they taken the case on as one of their actual projects. They're having the items from the case DNA tested and following another lead they've found independent of Sarah. It'll take five months before they know the results of the DNA test. This podcast wrapped up in December of 2014, which is also when that bit was revealed, so I'm going to assume we won't hear about the DNA results until April or May, if we hear about them at all depending on what that team discovers.

I can't imagine how harrowing this podcast must've been (and still must be) for Hae's family. Hae's family didn't talk to Sarah, but they are aware of its existence. They seemed pretty convinced the justice system did its job. To have this possibility thrown out there that maybe Adnan didn't do it has to be a burden or maybe no amount of evidence about reasonable doubt could change their mind that he's guilty, but they still have this burden. You have complete strangers dissecting Hae's death all over again and dredging up old hurts in the most impersonal of ways. Sure, many podcast listeners express sympathy, but much of it is directed toward Adnan. The feelings come from what their friends and acquaintances say about the murder, whether Jay is lying, whether Adnan is lying, and not from the fact that Hae was murdered and that is tragic. Sarah didn't do a very good job at making Hae seem like more than a prop in an investigative story about her very own death. Where is the sympathy and reverence for the true victim of this story?

Serial was an addictive listen regardless of some of my issues with it. Sarah came out with an overall feeling that Adnan didn't murder Hae. I can't say that I felt the same. I agree there is enough doubt there, but I do believe he factored into her murder somehow and we may never know how. Even though Sarah had an obvious bias toward believing Adnan, she didn't necessarily make it seem like her listeners had to share this same idea. She presented facts that may point to Adnan being guilty. She pointed out the holes in his story. She allowed her listeners to be on the fence or disagree with her assessment of Adnan's guilt. Serial has been funded for a second season, and I'm curious to see how they'll follow this case.

Update: It looks like the court has reopened his appeal
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Monday, June 9, 2014

<3 Gaming Laptop

I haven't done significantly much in the way in gaming or posting about gaming. I'd planned to knock out quite a few games since January, but time constraints with work and other obligations have kept me from following through on that. Gaming isn't my only pastime activity that has suffered due to real life, and this makes me sad. It's hard being a grown up with actual responsibilities, but I digress. I was supposed to write about my experience with Star Wars: The Old Republic in this post, which I started playing around late February/early March, but this turned more into a post about my recent BIG gaming purchase, which was for a "real" gaming laptop. My current specs are:


Processor: i7-4700MQ (2.4 GHz - 3.4 GHz)
Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 8970M RAM: 32 gb DDR3 1600MHz Dual Channel Memory
Primary Hard Drive: 120GB Crucial M5 Series SSD
Secondary Hard Drive: HGST Travelstar 2.5-Inch 1TB 7200RPM
OS: Windows 8.1 (Boo!)

I'm a gaming laptop person. I have desktops that I have built specifically for heavy gaming, too, but I like the portability of laptop gaming. I can often take my laptop to work and set up my command center and do things during lunch and slow hours. I also take my laptop on trips and use it when I have down time. To be fair, I do use my laptop for business/other purposes as well. It's great to have in my office for work. However, let's not kid ourselves. Its main goal is for gaming. Everyone knows it.

I know that some people have their issues with laptops not being idea for gaming, but it has been the idea solution for me. Also, laptops have come such a long way in terms of gaming, even though gaming laptops have been around forever. I feel like some people hold on to a very Neolithic view of laptops and gaming that need some dispelling. My laptops have held up just as good if not better than most desktops that I've owned, but I will concede they're more a pain to get repaired if something goes wrong with them.

The first gaming laptop I got was about three years ago wasn't specifically for gaming. It was a laptop that could handle games very, very well. It was an Acer, and it was my baby. This is significant because this also marked my foray into playing PC games seriously. I'd built a PC with my husband that was powerful, but my main goal there was to be able to play my favorite MMO of all time (the now defunct City of Heroes/Villains) with no lag and great graphics.

I'd played other PC games, but I wasn't ever really serious about any of them. I preferred to play games on my consoles because, at that point, I was more comfortable with a controller in my hands than using a keyboard and mouse. I just always felt so awkward playing with a keyboard and mouse. Even playing CoH, I had a weird keyboard setup to make it more comfortable for me.

Then, I got my Acer. The goal was never to be able to play games on it. I actually just needed a new laptop for productivity reasons. I had no idea the power that it possessed could play games at medium to high settings (ultra at times, depending on the game). Around this time, a friend mentioned that I should check out Mass Effect 2. I'd heard about Mass Effect, but hadn't been interested since I thought it was just going to be some space war game that I couldn't get into. Another reason I hadn't tried it is because the first game was only PC or Xbox. I didn't have an Xbox at the time only a Playstation 3, and I do not like to start a game series on the second (or later)

game if I can help it. I have to start from the beginning. So, checking out Mass Effect presented a dilemma. Since I didn't have an Xbox, my next question was: Could my laptop play it?

I installed Mass Effect, not expecting a whole lot to be honest. I knew I had a decent CPU and RAM, but I wasn't so sure about the graphics card. I was really surprised when not only could the laptop handle it, but it could play it at high settings. This started my first step into gaming on a PC almost exclusively. Mass Effect made me a better PC gamer. It was a little bit of a learning curve getting accustomed to default keyboard/mouse setup (nothing too terrible, but still), but now, I have no problems jumping into most PC games without worry. I actually prefer to game on a PC now days.

I upgraded my 15-inch Acer to another Acer computer with a 17-inch screen and more RAM after about a year. I gave my old Acer to a relative whose in college to use for classes and gaming. Even after 3 years, it still handles most games awesomely, which is truly a testament to how reliable a laptop can be for gaming, even heavy gaming. In the Acer I bought after my initial one, I changed out the CPU to a quad core. After having that one for about 18 months, I was finally ready to make the leap to an actual laptop that was for gaming and not just a laptop that could handle gaming. Around mid-February, I finally got a brand new gaming laptop from XoticPC. Initially, I'd wanted the Sager 8295. However, I debated for over a month about whether to spend the money or not before I actually ordered it. After ordering it, I got an email saying that it was out of stock and that they could offer me a build with similar specs (the Sager 8275) but with some cosmetic differences from the 8295.

After debating, I decided not having some of the cosmetic features wasn't a big deal, and I didn't want to wait until mid-March, which was the expected ETA on getting the specific model I wanted back in stock on both XoticPC and the Sager official site. I managed to order the last 8275 before it was out of stock on both as well.

Let me just say that my experience with XoticPC was a great one. There were a few hiccups in my journey to getting this laptop that I felt they handled well including one really infuriating moment with my bank not wanting to allow the purchase. There was a representative communicating with me every step of the way.

In fact, this same representative was one I'd been speaking to a month prior. I'd been bugging him with all my questions, and once I decided to purchase, he became my contact person, as well. I appreciate that there was one person that I could communicate with at all times instead of being bounced around from person to person, and it kept the experience consistent since he was familiar with the situation and could offer answers based on what we'd gone through previously.

I would highly recommend buying from their site, and I'm sure my future purchases will be made from them. I even received my laptop earlier than planned and a $50 refund I wasn't really expecting from a service that I added that they felt they hadn't necessarily provided. So, they get a thumbs up for me for making a process that could've been a pain relatively easy, even with some of the problems I had.

(Note: These models I mentioned have since been updated to newer models on the site, so you won't find these exact models for sale anymore.)

I added my own secondary hard drive which is why I linked it in the specs above. The new laptop isn't as sleek and mean as my old Acers, but I don't mind. What I love is that I can upgrade just about everything

on this machine with relative ease. I don't anticipate having to change the RAM any time soon since what I have is already overkill, but I know I'll want to upgrade the processor in the very near future. I don't plan on getting a new laptop for quite some time thanks to this one.

I'm mostly happy with this purchase. I felt a little awkward spending so much money on myself for one purchase. I blame this on being a mommy and feeling as if I could've did something different with the money like spend it on my family, even though I know I am still going to spend money on my family. I've had to remind myself that this was "me" money and not "family" money that I spent.

There have been a couple of games that have acted a little weird on the system, but I'm sure that is Windows 8's fault. Some games are very laggy with low FPS when I play in full screen, but this problem seems to correct itself in full windowed mode for whatever reason. Also, there was one point where I was stressing out and thought that Skyrim wasn't using my dedicated graphics card (I have an onboard graphics, too, making the system switchable), but it turned out that my game was crashing because of a mod that was conflicting with it.

My old laptop has gone to my husband who is learning the joys of PC gaming now, though I doubt he'll ever be a predominantly PC gamer. He's recently started playing Borderlands 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and SWTOR. All of which he plays with me, but we're getting there.
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mini Double Review: Amanita Design - Botanicula and Machinarium

Continuing on my journey to whittle down my "to-be-played" pile, two Amanita Designs games, Botanicula and Machinarium, unassumingly eased their way on to my play list. Botanicula was part of one of the recent Humble Bundle Indie Sales, the same one that I acquired Thomas Was Alone from, and Machinarium was part of the free games for Playstation+ members. I have to say I'm impressed with the simple way they presented both games. I wasn't sure if I'd really like their games,

Amanita doesn't start their games with lengthy instructions or even a general overlook. Instead, you're immersed in the gameplay, immediately clicking your way around and unlocking the new worlds they have dropped you in. This worked very well in their case--probably more so for Botanicula than Machinarium, but both games were very fun to explore. I enjoyed the unimposing approach they've set before you. You understand what you're supposed to do, even if you don't have instructions set before you, and you're tasked with figuring out how to achieve that goal.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Papo & Yo

My first completed game of 2014! I'm on a mission to clear my PC backlog. I'm not sure how successful I will be since I keep acquiring new games from the Humble Bundle and the Steam sales (though I am pleased to report that I behaved myself during the holiday sale) faster than I can actually play them. I used a website to pick five random numbers based on how many PC games I own, and the five it picked would be my first plays of the year no matter what they were. The five games it spit out were L.A. Noire, Papo & Yo, Risen, I Am Alive, and Tomb Raider (the reboot).

Initially, I started with I Am Alive, and while I was enjoying that game, I allowed Papo &  Yo to tempt me away because I loved the look of the game from screenshots I'd viewed, and I expected it to be something light and fun as opposed to the depressing darkness of I Am Alive. I finished this game in one night, soldiering way past bedtime to finish. This game isn't particularly long. I think it took me roughly three hours to complete. However, I'd started the game late with all intentions of going to sleep after a little play time. Instead, I found myself emotionally invested in this boy's journey. Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: LIMBO


It's been a while since I updated. Life has had me pretty busy these last two months. I did manage to get in a few shorter indie titles, though. LIMBO will likely be the last game I complete for 2013 unless I play one of the other short indie titles in my library. This was another of my Humble Bundle finds whose style made me curious enough to start this game without really knowing what it was about.

LIMBO is a side-scrolling, puzzle platformer that I mistakenly thought would be simple. I was wrong, very wrong. The game is simplistic in its approach, but it also presents many challenges for the player to figure out how to continue forward in various situations using whatever the environment provides you such as crates, traps, etc. Much like The Binding of Isaac, the simple appearance of this game is deceptive. It's not until you've died your nth death that you realize you're dealing with something more challenging than it let on.
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Friday, November 29, 2013

Grimm Season One: Portland Is the New Hellmouth

I just delved into the (not so) wonderful world of Grimm. My husband and a few of my friends have been dedicated followers of the show for quite some time. I'd seen bits and pieces of it, but I'd never watched an entire episode. I love retellings of stories like fairy tales, and I'm not sure why I didn't give this a chance sooner than this.

The basis of this story is Detective Nick Burkhaldt is a homicide detective and Grimm. Contrary to popular belief, the stories told by the Grimm bothers are not legends. The monsters, called wesen, in the stories have taken on human appearances and live among ordinary humans. Many seem to have reformed their ways, but just as many seem to flirt with lawlessness whether that's giving in to the crueler/mischievous parts of their animal nature or committing more human-like crimes.

The monsters are very good at hiding their true identities from normal humans, but Grimms are able to see them for what they truly are. Grimms are tasked with doling out punishment to wesen who break the law, as well. Most of the magic community is afraid of the Grimms, even the naturally "good" types. There's mutual fascination there between Nick and the wesen community, as well. Just as Nick has never seen them before his Grimm senses manifested, many of them have never seen a Grimm before either.

A skalengeck.
At the beginning of this series, Nick has no idea that he's a Grimm. He had started to see strange things, but doesn't learn the source of it until his aunt reveals they're monster hunters. His aunt meets an early demise, and Nick is left to fend for himself by using the information she left him. He learns more about this new world after gaining a confidant in the form of a blutbad (a wolf), which such a team-up is unheard of. I appreciate that the show doesn't just outright tell us that Grimms are feared, even hated, by much of the wesen community. Instead, we learn this through how they respond to Nick.

However, Nick has no idea how Grimms are supposed to behave. His clean slate is allowing him to shape himself into a Grimm who doesn't automatically assume that a wesen is the bad guy. He's on the side of fairness and justice, and as far as he's concerned, that extends to wesen as well.

The show mixes just the right amount of dark fantasy and cheesiness to melt my heart. There are times when it's a little over-the-top and has me arguing with my television. It's a serious show, but it's not serious. The writers know just how to write this to balance out the serious and non-serious aspects of the story. The monsters are interesting, and I'm always anxious to find out more about the "monster of the day." Many of the monsters have strict regimens they follow to control their animal, such as a blutbad becoming a vegetarian, but they still exhibit some personality quirks that can be attributed to their beast like the need to mark territory or an attraction to certain colors and objects.

The characters... Okay, I like the characters in this series, but they're still a little flat for me. Right now, they're not showing too many dimensions, especially the two prominent female characters. The men are starting to display more facets (although it still feels like superficial facets). For me, Captain Renard has shown the most interesting possibilities as a character goes, but the women still seem to be there to only add conflict and nothing else. They're barely visible or important to the story.

Juliette is treated little better than the blindly devoted, sweet girlfriend who endures her relationship with uncanny understanding. She doesn't argue with Nick or voice her concerns with how he's spending less and less time with her. She's the perfect, benevolent girlfriend. I understand that her role shows how dangerous her life with Nick is, especially since she isn't aware that he's a Grimm, but there has been very little done to make her seem like more than that. She's kind, and that's about all we know about her.

Adalind Schade is another female character that seems more of a cardboard female to serve exactly one purpose in the story. I cut her a little more slack since she is supposed to be this mysterious figure who's motivations the viewers are questioning. It makes it hard for me to like or dislike the character because there's nothing that stands out about her (or Juliette) that makes them memorable as characters. I'm hoping that changes as the series progresses, though. This overall character flatness hasn't deterred me from watching because I think the combo of story and character helps to make up for that weakness.

I'm a little past midway for season one right now, and I'm pretty sure that it's going to make it on my "must watch" list as long as subsequent episodes don't get wonky. I won't start watching the current season airing (which has a new episode tonight... so tempting...), though, until I'm caught up with the first two seasons.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Game Haul: Steam Halloween Sale

Inspired by the book haul posts done by my co-bloggers on our book review blog Bibliosanctum. Click on the image to be taken to the game's store page for more information, screenshots, and videos.

alive  darksiders dd lucius soul soul 2defiance blood omen 2edna zafehouse
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Friday, November 1, 2013

Tempest Plays Zafehouse: Diaries - We're All Gonna Die!

In searching for zombie games that I actually want to play, I stumbled on Zafehouse: Diaries. It stayed on my Steam wishlist for a while before I bought it during Steam's Halloween sale. I know I've said it a hundred times that I usually don't care for survival horror, especially zombie survival horror. However, lately, I've been enjoying more of the story, character-driven survival horror games such as The Walking Dead: Season One. I just care more about the characters and story than chasing down a bunch of zombies.

Zafehouse: Diaries is much more difficult than I thought it would be initially. I wasn't necessarily expecting something easy because the description of the game mentions that tenuous relationships and personal prejudices of the characters would play a huge part in this, but it just takes much more careful planning of the interpersonal relationships than I thought. There's some simulated combat and tense situations due to the zombies, of course, but that is so much easier to handle than these people and their issues. We're supposed to be finding a car that a scavenger told us about and finding parts to make it work. I guess the goal is to escape the town. I don't know where they're supposed to be going, but whatever. I have a mission.

It's a simple enough task that requires scouting and planning by using the resources we can find in the town, but the dispositions of the group members have made it feel like this has been a slow process. I knew it wasn't going to be a quick run to gather everything we needed and just get out, but I've been dealing with so many petty emotions in the group. I've thrown my hands up more than a few times at some of these characters and their antics. I feel like I need to gather my little group together, make them sit down, and have a chat about all these feelings they're having. This is a zombie apocalypse we don't have time for you "not liking someone's look."

I've actually played two groups. The game crashed on me the first time after I made some progress, and I had to start a new game because I hadn't saved. However, I think I got far enough with my first group to kind of make some general comparisons between it, my second group, and general game play aspects.

[caption id="attachment_1536" align="aligncenter" width="520"] Lines indicate relationship strength. The more broken the line, the worse the relationship. The darker the solid line, the stronger the relationship.[/caption]

Before settling with this current group, my group consisted of four women and one man. Two of the women were uncomfortable around men, and the man was uncomfortable around women. There weren't any "not racist, just doesn't like [x]'s look" characters, as in my current group, but I had quite a few that didn't care for poor people despite being mostly uneducated and poor themselves. My current group consists of three women and two men. Two of them are racists, and one might be an undercover drug addict. I have a feeling this new  group is going to give me many more problems than my first group would have. We're probably all going to die. I accept this.

While feeling my way around the game play, I tried to keep characters together who had good relationships, but quickly found out that, even if they liked each other, if they were doing something together that one character was skilled at and the other was only "okay" to "subpar" at, their relationship would deteriorate quickly if the better party felt the other wasn't doing their part.  Likewise if you put characters together who are suited for the task but hate one another, even though they have the complementing talents to get things done, things can quickly come to blows because they hate one another.  And I mean literal blows.

In my first group, I had two characters (the man and one of the women) trying to secure the house together because they were both suited for it, and they would always fist fight. She'd end up with injuries. Sure, I could've had one of them completing another task, but it was quicker and more efficient to have them both working on it while other characters performed other tasks such as watching for zombies, searching the house for supplies, etc. I actually started wondering if I could somehow orchestrate the man's death because he wasn't getting along with any of the women (possibly due to his discomfort around women) and he was actually physically attacking many of them. I'm playing the mode where you can't actually get rid of survivors unless they end up dying, so I was seriously thinking about sending him out alone on a suicide mission. Sometimes, we have to make these hard choices, and I was about to make it. I was going to send him into the most zombie infested building I could find. Luckily for him, my game crashed.

[caption id="attachment_1540" align="aligncenter" width="520"] "She claims she isn't racist, she just doesn't like the look of Erik." Right.[/caption]

On the flip side of that, when you have characters who like each other and whose skills work well together, you really have something great. In my current group, I have two characters who I always send scouting and breaching together (Kelsey, one of my racists, and Catherine, my possible drug addict) because they have synergy. They're able to handle a fair amount of zombies together with what they have on hand, and I haven't had them to run into any real problems that they couldn't handle together. Their relationship with one another seems to have strengthen because of this.

When assigning tasks, there is a little star indicator that tells you how successful someone will be at certain tasks. There character bios will also mention things that they are good at, but just in case you don't want to keep going back and forth between the task list and the bios, the star indicator is a good enough marker. However, people may still get into conflicts even when you've done the best you can. (Alternatively, it is acceptable to have a character do things alone for the least amount of problems, but beware if it's something that has a high chance of putting them in harm's way.)

You can work on the characters' relationships by spreading rumors. These rumors can be used to strengthen or weaken their relationships. You have some limited control over the aspects of the rumor, as well. However, rumors can backfire. Using Catherine and Brad from my current group as an example, I spread the rumor that they were related, but they lost contact due to a family feud. Suddenly, they remembered being related, but their relationship deteriorated more because of the "family feud" part. There were other options I could've gone with such as saying they lost contact due to family moving away, but I just stuck with the feud part. This made one member of the group become more supportive of Catherine while the other two didn't really care. So, rumors can do more or less than the intended effect when using them.

In another attempt to get Brad and Catherine to tolerate each other, and I think this became a thing because they were starting to argue a pretty good bit, I seeded another rumor about Brad being charitable and helping people. This seem to work to improve the relationship a bit until he found Catherine with the pills.

Aside from trying to patch things with rumors, characters seem to have the ability to gain skills, if that makes sense. In both groups I played, I had one person that was noted not to have any significant skills that might prove helpful, which was the cause of much arguing since I can't really put these people with anyone because they lack skill. However, I noticed that when things such as a chess board and dumbbells were found, the characters who lacked would use them and their strength would increase (by lifting weights) or they'd become mentally sharper (playing chess), so I'm hoping I won't have to sacrifice them--in the case of my new group, it's Erik--to the zombie apocalypse gods in order to keep everyone else alive. Hopefully, this will also help to improve improve relationships, since Erik can prove his worth.

Also, no one seems to trust anything Sandra says. There was a zombie attack and instead of taking her advice and going to a secured area of the house, they all ran in the bathroom and defended themselves with a hockey mask and a motorcycle jacket. I'm not kidding. I wish I was. I laughed so hard when that happened, but they managed to survive somehow. This group needs help.

Anyhow, I'll see how this drama plays out and if I can manage to keep this group from falling apart completely. I'm not completely optimistic at this point, though.

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aries. married. mommy dearest. optimistic cynic. gamer. upfront. voracious reader. geek. teetotaler. friendly. headstrong. opinionated. liberal. sexual. writer. open-minded. loving. sarcastic. fannish. spiritual. not religious. protective. observant. detached. reviewer. erratic. nocturnal. deliciously deviant. a breathing incongruity.

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