While coronavirus threatens our lives and livelihoods, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the new norm. Suddenly, our nation is filled with people asked to stay home and cut off most casual interactions with the world outside. In this environment, the art, hobbies, rituals, and entertainments we love have become ever more vital to our mental wellbeing. As a new, and (hopefully) limited new series on Lewton Bus, Isolation Nation aims to give our editors and contributors space to talk about the things that are giving them a little comfort in this isolated world, for your social distancing entertainment.
Zach Luna – God of War
I’ve been playing a lot of God of War recently.
Actually, scratch that, here’s what I’ve been doing: I played through God of War (2018) once, and then I started over and proceeded to do EVERYTHING that there is to do in God of War (2018). Then I did it again. I completed every favor and side mission, I released every dragon, conversed with every wandering spirit, maxed out every skill tree, defeated every Valkyrie, defeated the Valkyrie queen (twice), completed every version of Surtr’s hidden trials in Muspelheim, closed every realm tear in Niflheim, and listened to every boat story until the game completely ran out of stories to tell in the boat. I did everything.
I mean, alright, I didn’t destroy all of Odin’s ravens because searching for them is really boring. But still! I loved playing this game, it was a comfort to me during some difficult weeks where I really needed it, and I kept on playing it until I’d so thoroughly wrung out the towel of gameplay that it had nothing left to give. I will miss this experience. I’ll miss God of War.
As most of the regular Lewton Bus contributors know, I haven’t kept up with the modern videogame scene at all until now, and I finally got my own PS4 during this pandemic, which is why I’m fixating on a game from two years ago as if it’s somehow new.
So I get it! If you had a pulse in 2018 and were even casually into videogames, you already know the conceit of the new God of War and don’t need to hear about it from me. You don’t need to hear about the depth of the combat system, or about Norse mythology, or hear any more jokes about how often Kratos says “Boy.” But if you didn’t get around to playing it then, or you haven’t picked it up in a while, maybe you’d appreciate hearing that I found it really rewarding at this moment in time, specifically. When even my go-to comfort shows haven’t been very good at comforting me, God of War managed to do so. Something about the alchemy of the setting and story and gameplay mechanics and music and mood and voiceover and tactile feedback meant that I could always hunker down, focus on an objective in the game and release my anxiety for a bit.
Cuz it’s REALLY goddamn satisfying to throw that axe at stuff, boy howdy. It goes, like, THUNK and THWACK and you can call it back into your hand whenever you want! Holy shit, it’s the best1.
Now, could I squint and find a lens through which to view our current crises refracted and reflected in the premise of the game? Is there something to chew on there in terms of playing a father whose spouse dies suddenly and unexpectedly of an unknown malady, a man who is later evicted from his home, roaming a largely deserted landscape where any encounter with another living being threatens his safety, and the safety of his son, a boy struggling with a pre-existing lung condition that would serve as a comorbidity if he were to fall ill again?
But I’ll leave that to smarter people than me. Mostly what I know is this: when my boy got extremely sick and a lonely Vanir goddess in the woods told me the only way to heal him was to travel to Hel itself and bring back the heart of the monstrous Bridge Keeper who lords over the Bridge of the Damned and prevents the living from entering the Underworld, I knew that ugly beast was doomed the moment she spoke the words. I knew there was no force in all the nine realms that could stop me. The task sounded impossible, sure, but the way forward was crystal clear, and I wasn’t helpless to right things when my loved ones were in danger. Far from it.
I was a god, after all.
Tanner Volz – Army of Shadows
I feel a closer kinship to the WW2 Parisian insurgents than I have before. Not because the violence here in 2020 Portland (so far) can in any way compare, but after the cold nightly repetition of abductions, tear gas and rubber bullets, it’s quite easy to imagine my city in, say, 2023 mobilizing to dissemble Donald Trump’s unranked, unsanctioned combat machinery. It’s also easy to imagine our local analog being far less inclined to fight because the enemy, in this spec-script, is a litter of fools that routinely shoots itself in their collective ass.
So Jean-Pierre Melville, he of the great wide brims, released this ambitious back-alley thriller to nearly universal fart noises. Or at least in France; the French are well known to hurl berries at anything they deem to have too heavy a crackle or too salty a Beignet. This is a propulsive, even exhilarating drama, its cruel shocks tempered by flashes of dry situational comedy. I love the way it surfs perspectives to gradually reveal to us the dimensional handshakes that it takes for history’s engines to start. We begin with a Parisian dungeon, then follow circumstance as it wrangles together one after another resister, most of whom are doomed—if not by torture and firing squad after NAZIs arrest them, then because they have betrayed each other. In any occupation, collaboration is the only option for many whose families and constitutions are at risk, but it is also unforgivable and, if we are to believe our fictions, invariably and swiftly met with corporal punishment. Melville circles round revolutionary cells in their off-grid locations, still years ahead of the Liberation of Paris and the loud awful sex of street skirmishes. The closest we come to the famous daylit fever of that days-long final battle is at the start of it all, both film and occupation: a horrific line of dozens of Nazi troops goosing across the Champs-Elysees.
Melville’s tight focus on a handful of antifa as they rush from cellar to cellar gives us a surprisingly hushed story; but, such is their lives, mostly waiting in dread and darkness until new orders remind them that they are still alive, and must continue to fight. “Army of Shadows” is intimate and gut-wrenching, and I do not understand how anyone, unless out of fatigue or spite, could see it as any less than one of the pinnacles of the art.
Brannon Moore – Dragon Age: Inquisition
Over the last few months, some people have been using their extra stay-at-home time to catch up with things they’ve missed: watching that movie or binging that series they hadn’t gotten around to before, or finally picking up that book they’d been meaning to read. But many more people, it seems, have been doing the opposite: going back to old favorites, taking a well-worn novel off the shelf or pushing play on a beloved DVD.
I’m hardly the first to make this observation, either. In a time of uncertainty and fear, it makes sense that many would want the comfortable, predictable security of familiar entertainment. With every passing day, the world seems to double down on the crazy, so lots of people are choosing to wrap themselves in stories they already know and understand.
For my part, I’m with the apparent majority in leaning mostly to the comfort-food side. I’ve tried to be conscious of this, and add at least a bit of new media to the diet, but the balance definitely tips toward repeat experiences. I’ve rewatched most of Deep Space Nine 2, I’ve re-read all the Lumberjanes comics, and more.
And a few weeks ago, I decided on a big indulgence: a complete replay of Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition.
I have three previous completions, but it’s been a while (four years, probably) since I’ve picked up the game. And none of those prior playthroughs was really complete; I finished the story, but I didn’t bother with some of the side quests or most of the collectibles. In the years after, I would occasionally consider firing it up again, but I never did, because it’s an enormous game, demanding dozens of hours of commitment.
Until now, when I realized that dozens and dozens of hours was exactly what I wanted.
This time around, for the first time, I’m checking every single box. I’m putting my Inquisitor’s foot on every square meter of accessible map. I’m talking to every active NPC, looking for side missions and fetch quests. I’m picking every plant, trying to complete my seed collection. I’m hunting down every last locked door and mosaic piece and book fragment, and I’m visiting every shop searching for every last high-ranking schematic. And I’m crafting like a crazy person, creating specialized weapons tailored to the requirements of different missions, and obsessively farming silverite looking for the fade-touched variety so I can turn everyone in the party into a tank.
My main realization as a result of all this? Dragon Age: Inquisition is freakin’ huge. Like, mind-bogglingly enormous. If you just focus on the main storyline, blowing through all the primary milestones without doing anything else, you can probably finish in a reasonable, if rushed, 30 hours or so. To make it a little more satisfying, you can add the companion quests and some of the major side business, and bump it up to 60-70 hours. In video-game terms, that’s pretty rarefied territory.
But in my current “do everything” playthrough, I’m approaching 300 hours, and I still haven’t gotten into the endgame. Sure, a lot of that time is crafting, but even so, it’s an insane amount of content.
It would also be interminable, except that I’m really enjoying the very deep dive into the world, and seeing all the work that’s been done developing the history of Thedas and the relationships between the characters. The lore is endlessly fascinating, with lots of little in-jokes for nerds of various stripes (the throwaway nod to early D&D modules cracked me up). And I discovered, to my enormous surprise, that if you consistently keep Cassandra and Iron Bull in your party for dozens and dozens of hours, their occasional banter starts with semi-formal chit-chat, respectful but uncertain and distant, and slowly evolves into open bawdy flirting.
Some of the bigness, it has to be said, really is too much. Trudging endlessly from point to point across the Hissing Wastes remains just as boring as it was the previous three times. But what can you do, besides grind it out?
And playing as a qunari mage, seeing all the little ways the game adjusts the dialogue and the narrative seasoning to reflect my Inquisitor’s outsider status, is incredibly satisfying. It will make me sad when I finally get to the end of the final DLC Trespasser, and have to say goodbye to my horned spellcaster.
But then again, maybe I’ll start over with a devout dwarf warrior, to see what changes. I’ve never played Inquisition as a dwarf…
Adam Bumas – I, Claudius
Diane C. – Fall Guys
I am a real human bean and a real hero – if I don’t get yeeted into the sky by this goddamn pink propeller blade that’s spinning so fast and tossing my fellow bean brethren to kingdom come. I’m talking, of course, about the hottest new gaming craze; Fall Guys. It’s an addictive, cute, joyful battle royale game where you and 59 other bean people race through an obstacle course to qualify for the next round, until the final round where you must grab onto a big golden crown and win fame and glory.
My record so far, after a few days of play, is not good. I can’t beat those aforementioned pink propellers and I have only qualified a handful of times. As a bean, my powers are slight. I can jump a little and lift myself up to a higher ledge, and that’s about it. It could be a reminder of my own limitations as a person but I’m just going to focus on it as a clever distraction from the horrific and seemingly never-ceasing existential dread and death around me.
That’s it for this week’s edition! We hope you enjoyed it and found some new direction to point that endlessly turning cranium of yours. We also hope you’ll check back as we publish new pieces in this regular column, and give some inspiration back to us in the comments!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.