The Thanksgiving Entertainment I’m Grateful For This Year

I don’t know why the holidays always bring this extra level of busyness, even when they should be times to slow down and unwind. Maybe it’s the traveling, or the shopping, or the decorating that ends up taking more money and time than expected… but that’s all part of the fun too. I love the buzz of the holiday season, and I have a lot to be grateful for this year!

Thanksgiving weekend is wrapping up, and I hope everybody who celebrated here had a great time whatever they did (or didn’t do, because just sleeping in is one of the best things about any holiday!). This year was a big year of change for me, as I started a new job and got engaged. I’m thankful for my family, my fiancé, and my job — but after those most important things, here are a few of the little things I’ve been thankful for this season: a TV show, a video game, and a movie. =)

Stranger Things

37269.jpgWhile I enjoyed the first season of Stranger Things last year, it was this new season that really got its hooks in me. Created and written by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, the series is part mystery, part supernatural thriller, with tons of 80’s cheese as it follows middle and high schoolers around a small town.

The first season presents a mystery when a boy in town, Will Byers, goes missing — to another dimension, a world of monsters, that mirrors our own. This season, we learn more about the monsters, and the characters from season one are growing up.

I think it’s the improvement in characterization that really struck me in season two. The writing has always been great, but you can tell that this cast’s chemistry has had time to marinate by now. Besides the humor, some of the arguments between characters like cop Jim Hopper and Jane/Eleven, the young girl he’s trying to protect, ring very true. There are moments that made me laugh and others that broke my heart. Winona Ryder continues to be this half-unhinged, totally loving mom to Will, while still being believably smart about how to help him — even if that means causing him some temporary pain. I was also genuinely scared when the crew of middle schoolers and their new ringleader, high schooler Steve, go after the monsters with makeshift weapons and traps. And newcomer Bob (Sean Astin) is a dorky Radio Shack employee who wins you over as an unconventional hero — at one point, he hacks computers to keep the monsters out of a lab, like something out of an old video game.

Several intriguing themes and motifs run through the episodes, along with identifying hero items like Steve’s barb-wire baseball bat, Jane/Eleven’s new punk outfit, or the bikes the middle schoolers ride. There is so much to appreciate and analyze in this show, it almost makes me want to rewatch the series to dust off every little gem. If you are at all into supernatural stories or John Hughes movies — or ideally both — Stranger Things is a must-watch.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Assassins-Creed-Origins.jpgThis year has been a win for video games. For me, it was all about playing my very first Wolfenstein game, some Mass Effect Andromeda entertainment — as thin and drawn-out as the game was, I still enjoyed it overall — and the totally original world of Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn.

But right now, I’m leaning towards Assassin’s Creed Origins as my favorite video game this year, because it takes place in one of my favorite time periods and places: ancient Egypt. For me, growing up as a history nerd, Assassin’s Creed games have always intrigued me with their ability to transport gamers to the past — but this time, taking me to ancient Egypt, they’ve captured me on a whole new level. My heart is so invested in Bayek’s story, and I love his kickass wife (and partner in crime) Aya too. The gameplay also offers a little more leniency if you want to play in a more aggressive way, which is great for when my attempts at stealth don’t work out.

Swinging around a spear in the desert, riding on my dressed-up camel, petting cats, and exploring ancient tombs and bazaars is like my dream video game vacation. I’m totally in love with this game right now.

Coco

coco-movie-image-2.jpgOver Thanksgiving weekend I watched Pixar’s new movie Coco, which depicts Mexico’s Day of the Dead tradition with equal parts heart and spectacle. The story follows a boy named Miguel who wants to become a musician, but his family — having had a musician walk out on them years back — wants nothing to do with music. In accidentally ending up in the Land of the Dead, Miguel goes on a crazy adventure that teaches him more about his family and dreams.

I have to admit, I’m not big on animated movies anymore, although I know I shouldn’t write them off as being just for kids. Coco definitely proved that I should watch more of these movies, as it was a visual treat and a truly heartfelt story. I recommend it for all ages, no matter where you’re from, and especially if you’ve lost someone in your life. Bring tissues!

— Ashley

N7 Day: Reflecting on My First Experience with “Mass Effect”

I still remember the day I first picked up Mass Effect.

I’d already played Dragon Age: Origins and loved it, so diving into BioWare’s science fiction universe felt like the next step. I was still pretty new to video games, so every new adventure felt especially exciting as I got used to just how immersive this medium can be. Compared to the books and movies I spent more time enjoying back then, playing a game felt very visceral.

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What’s New — November 2017

I’m so happy it’s November, guys. November is always a great month for me. For one thing, it’s the beginning of fall — which comes a little late to the Bay Area where I live. It’s also when one of my favorite holidays occurs, since I love reconnecting with family and doing a little cooking for Thanksgiving. It’s also a tradition to start decorating for the holidays this month. And writing like crazy during NaNoWriMo. So, here’s what I’m up to these days…

Over the weekend I started playing Assassin’s Creed Origins. It’s easily my most-anticipated Assassin’s Creed game ever, because of the ancient Egypt setting. I was a huge ancient Egypt nerd when I was a kid. In fact, my mom recently moved to a new house, and in cleaning out and packing up my old bedroom, I found a heap of books on Egyptian history and King Tut. That’s why I couldn’t wait to explore this setting in such an immersive way.

So far, Origins is extremely fun and very pretty. I’ve barely scratched the surface, so it may be way too early to judge, but I feel that the story hasn’t grabbed me in the early hours the way most Assassin’s Creed games do. Fortunately, that’s balanced by the fact that this one is so open-world. Which can be both good and bad, for me. We’ll see how far I make it with this game — for now, I’m enjoying the exploration of this gorgeous place.

star trek discovery romance.jpgI’ve also been watching CBS’s new Star Trek series, Discovery. While the first episodes had me on the fence, I found it entertaining — just not quite Star Trek-y. Fortunately, the series has picked up, and last week’s episode — which involved the return of a very entertaining bad guy, a really cool time-loop, and lessons in getting outside your comfort zone — was the best one yet. It kept me invested and guessing the whole time. The deep-dives into both the main character’s emotional life and time travel were perfectly interwoven, too. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a little romance. If you have to watch just one episode of Star Trek Discovery, make it this one!

Finally, this month is National Novel Writing Month, which I like to jump into every November. It’s just so crazy how fast it creeps up on me every year! I’ll admit I’ve been so busy with personal stuff, wedding stuff, my-mom-moving-to-a-new-house stuff, and Paris Games Week work stuff that I haven’t prepared for NaNoWriMo at all. But I’m excited to participate again all the same, so I guess I’ll just wing it this year and have fun.

What are all of you up to this month? I’m always interested to hear what games you’re playing, shows you’re watching, and anything else big in life. =)

— Ashley