Author: Kristen

Book ’em, Nerd-O: Chemistry

Book ’em, Nerd-O: Chemistry

Alright, friends, get ready for some good ol’ fashioned fangirling! Today, I want to talk about my latest book obsession — Chemistry, by C.L. Lynch. As one glance at the book cover will tell you, Chemistry is a parody of Twilight, but with zombies this time instead […]

Book ’em, Nerd-O: Ready Player One

Book ’em, Nerd-O: Ready Player One

During Peder’s and my trip to AcadeCon last month, we spent a lot of time in the car, driving through the largely uninspiring landscape that is the Midwest. And while we filled some of that time with talking, we filled a lot of it by […]

AcadeCon 2017: Kristen’s Recap

AcadeCon 2017: Kristen’s Recap

Peder and I have a second year of AcadeCon under our belts! And I’m happy to report that it was even more fun the second time around. Having a better sense of the Dayton area and what it has to offer, being familiar with the con location, knowing our own limits better, and seeing friends again (and making new ones!) made attending AcadeCon 2017 a great time.

As Peder mentioned, this con is growing, and it felt even more established this year. And since I was familiar with the con this time, I found myself a lot less intimidated by the prospect of playing new RPGs with strangers than I was during our first year. Overall, I had a great time, and really enjoyed getting to try out some great new systems! Here are a few of my highlights:

Highlight #1: Trying out the Cypher System. I loved all of the new systems we got the chance to try (and it was a

Credit: Monte Cook Games

treat to play in sessions run by the system creators themselves–thanks again, Colin and Pete!), but my favorite new system this year was Cypher. You can either play in the cyberpunky vampire/werewolf/magi/alien/technozombie-inhabited setting Peder mentioned in his AcadeCon post, or in a far-future setting that takes place after eight versions of Earth have risen and fallen, with you as a denizen of the ninth. Both are the sort of settings that kick my imagination into overdrive, and it’s so much fun to explore worlds like that and envision the kind of stories that could happen in them. I’m hoping we’ll be able to add the system components to our collection and run a game based on it soon!

Highlight #2: Seeing friends from last year. It was so much fun seeing some the great people we’d met last year, and getting to know them a bit better. Con friendships are great that way — when you see each other the next time around, it’s pretty easy to just kind of pick up where you left off. It was great having a few people we knew we could grab for a random board game session or hang-out time, and it was so much fun to hear about what they’ve been up to with their own websites and podcasts. Who knows…maybe we’ll even convince a few of them to guest-post for us in the future!

Highlight #3: Taking things slower this time. As we’ve mentioned, we planned a really full schedule for ourselves during our first AcadeCon stint, and ended up running ourselves pretty ragged by Sunday. This year, we were older and wiser; we limited ourselves to just a couple of scheduled events per day, and left plenty of open time that we could fill up later or leave open as we chose. This made for a much more relaxing time, which let us really enjoy the events we did choose to partake in.

Credit: Warped Wing Brewing Company

Highlight #4: Checking out new places. Last year, we did a little bit of exploring in the downtown area, and this year, we got to discover even more. We had a ton of fun trying the beer and hanging out with some con friends at Warped Wing brewery, and got the chance to stop at the Destihl restaurant and brewery on the way home as well (it wouldn’t be one of our trips without a couple of brewery stops!). It was nice to feel more familiar with the area as a whole, and great to get the chance to check out some new spots as well.

It was another successful year at AcadeCon, and I’m glad we were able to go again! I’m once again feeling inspired to try out even more new systems, and to see how we can integrate the new ones we played into our current gaming groups. Expect more content on that front in the future!

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Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Board Games

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Board Games

We’re wrapping up this series with one last installment — to finish it up, I’ll be talking about my top 5 favorite board games. As Peder mentioned, we both did a similar list a while back, so I’ll refrain from looking at my previous list […]

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Anime

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Anime

As many of you know by now, my status as an anime fan is kind of complicated. While I really love anime, I’ve seen relatively few series compared to your average fan (or at least compared to the anime fans I’m friends with), so I […]

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Video Games

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Video Games

Trying to nail down my top 5 favorite video games, is, I have to say, a pretty weird experience. I didn’t really get into console gaming until the last few years or so, and I’m still a really casual player when it comes to those games. And though I played a lot of Gameboy in my time and really enjoyed it, those games always felt like more of a fun way to kill time than anything that really stuck with me. Lastly, like Peder, I have a long list of obscure PC games I played the crap out of when I was a kid but that are in a totally different realm than console games. It’s not easy to categorize such a broad and highly varied list, but here goes my best attempt!

5. The American Girls Premiere

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Okay, guys, you’re gonna have to bear with me on this one. I got this game back in the height of my obsession with American Girl dolls and books (an obsession which…may or may not still exist in some form) — it was among the first of the PC games I really loved, right up there with Oregon Trail II and other such goofy educational games I played ad nauseum in the late 90s/early 2000s. But what the heck was an American Girl-themed computer game like, you might ask? Basically, it was a platform for creating plays starring the American Girl protagonists and the side characters that populated their book series. You would pick your backdrop — say, Kirsten’s farm or Josefina’s sala (living room). Then you could add set pieces like furniture or toys (most of which seemed prone to glitching so that you were constantly having characters walking through chairs and other such nonsense). Next, you picked the characters you wanted in your play. You could tell them where to move and what action to take — digital stage directions, if you will, limited though the selection may have been.

And then came the best part — adding the dialogue. Now, if you were one of those fancy people who had a newfangled microphone setup for your desktop PC (an unimaginable luxury to 13-year-old me), you could record your voice to create the dialogue for your play. But for the rest of us peons, there was the computer-generated voice option — think Stephen Hawking’s speaking computer, but with pitch issues and abysmal pronunciation.

Sound terrible? Believe me, it was not. For me, the true fun of this game came not from creating cute little stories for the characters, but from setting the stage, plugging in dialogue, picking a voice and pitch that came halfway near an approximation of what you wanted, and then listening to the computer absolutely mangle the dialogue you typed in. Oh man…it was great, you guys. The amount of hours I and my friends spent trying to finagle our pixel-y characters into moving where we wanted and devising weird phonetic permutations for our dialogue to force the computerized voices to bend to our will was honestly impressive. There are inside jokes that were created by this process that I still think about and giggle over sometimes.

In short, I loved this game for so many reasons that I’m sure the game creators did not intend — the weird memories and dorky jokes this game spawned were worth the price of admission alone.

4. Super Smash Brothers: Melee

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This is a game I’ve probably spent more time playing than any other (not as much as my brother, who I’m pretty sure earned each and every trophy, but still). This was one of the first ones my brother and I got with our GameCube, and it was always the first one we pulled out when friends were over, or when we just had a free afternoon. I eventually stopped playing it one-on-one with my brother — one can only get sent flying into the backdrop so many times, you know? — but I remember many happy hours of whaling on dear friends with cutesy Nintendo characters, and I get super nostalgic on the rare occasion I pick this game up again.

I’ve played the Wii version of the game as well, Super Smash Brothers: Brawl, but Melee remains my favorite (mostly for nostalgia-related reasons; let’s be honest). It was perfect for so many things — hanging out with friends, playing around with it on your own, tournaments at youth group lock-ins, you name it; playing this game was always a good time, no matter how badly I got trounced.

3. Super Mario Galaxy

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One of the reasons I love this game is because it was the first console game I ever played all the way through, and that sense of accomplishment alone makes me remember it with fondness. There are so many more reasons to love SMG, though; it’s arguably one of the best Mario-centric games out there, both technically and story-wise. It’s got wonderful atmospheric music, gorgeous settings, some really unique gaming mechanics, and one of the more heartfelt storylines of the Mario games.

My favorite aspect of this game is the way it plays with gravity effects as Mario travels around from planet to planet. Sometimes he’s jogging around on a tiny planet that’s almost small enough to fit within the screen; other times, he’s slinging between planets and asteroids using special jumping-off points; still others, he’s activating things that change the way gravity affects him on the current plane. It all just feels so innovative and fun, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. In terms of overall feel and approachable gameplay experience, this game is one of the best as far as I’m concerned; it’s just delightful in every way.

2. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

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Though I’ve never met a Zelda game I didn’t like (aside from some side-eye in Majora’s Mask‘s general direction), this one stands out from the others for me. It has a great premise, with Link as a denizen of a village in the sky, where everyone gets around by riding on the backs of giant, colorful birds. There’s the usual setup — Link and Zelda are close friends, Zelda is stolen away by a mysterious, nefarious entity, Link must rise up to achieve his true calling as a warrior and go out into the unknown world to save Zelda, picking up new weapons and learning new skills along the way.

But though the game follows the usual formula for the LoZ series, it feels fresher this time around. It includes many of the things that have always made the series great, but it has a lot of new stuff, too — in particular, it has some great new mechanics that really enhance the gameplay. Unlike many Wii games, it uses the Wii remote to advantage, making it an integral part of the way Link’s sword works and the different powers it has. And then there’s the flying aspect — I’ll admit it took me a while to get the hang of it, but once I did, maneuvering Link’s bird around Skyloft became a highlight of gameplay for me. And though some of the weapons Link acquires are the same as those from other LoZ iterations, there are several new ones that are totally different than anything from the preceding titles, and it’s a ton of fun to monkey around with them and test the limits of what they can do.

Overall, this game is a great blend of the familiar aspects that make this series great, and some clever new elements that make the game feel fresh and exciting to play through.

  1. Dragon Age: Origins

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This game is honestly the video game I’ve been looking for all these years but had never found until now. I love fantasy RPGs in theory, but they all seem to either have something missing, or have some annoying aspect that I can’t get past. Not so with Dragon Age: Origins — it sounds dumb and sappy to say it’s the video game of my dreams, but you know…it really is. It’s got cool settings that are detailed but nonetheless don’t feel too difficult to navigate. It has amazing characters with complex personalities that you can actually get to know, and with whom your character can have a variety of different relationships, from coldly professional to hostile to warm and friendly to romantic, making the characters and the interactions between them feel  true-to-life. It has a decent fighting mechanic that you can use to hone your characters’ skills in whatever way you like (or even set it on super-easy mode so you can focus on the story, like I’ve done). And best of all, it has a compelling story that gives every gaming session a great sense of depth, and makes it so that you feel like you’re accomplishing something important and weighty every time you play. There’s honestly nothing I would change about this game, and I’ve loved every minute of it that I’ve played so far.

Lastly, we must have some honorable mentions! They are: Animal Crossing (the first console game I really loved–it tends to get boring/repetitive pretty fast, but it still has a special place in my heart) Mario Kart: Double Dash (mainly by virtue of time spent playing it, honestly), Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wario World, Cooking Mama (Gameboy DS version), Oregon Trail II (man did I used to be so impressed by those graphics…), and Virgil Reality (a science-themed video game complete with a goofy protagonist who sang silly songs about science, a couple of which I can still sing most of to this day).

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Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Movies

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Movies

Welcome back to our Know Your Nerds series! Today, I’m taking a stab at narrowing my favorite movies down to my top 5. Making my choices for this list was no easier than for the first two, and at the same time it was different […]

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 TV Series

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 TV Series

If you were around here last week, you know that Peder shared a great list of his top five TV shows. And now it’s my turn! I have to say, I didn’t find this any easier than picking my favorite books, which surprised me a […]

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Books

Know Your Nerds: Kristen’s Top 5 Books

As Peder talked about in his post last week, we thought it would be fun to do a few highlight lists to help you guys get to know us better, hear what we think about our favorite things, and trade recommendations with y’all. Peder shared a great list of his favorite books last week, and now it’s my turn!

As any book-lover knows, narrowing your favorites down to a small list is HARD. I think I’ve managed it, but just as Peder did, I’ve included a couple of series rather than just single books. I agree with his opinion that some series are just too good to separate out, and that it generally makes more sense to look at them as a single unit rather than individual books.

So without further ado–here are my top 5!

5. Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber 

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Some of you may be familiar with the recent Starz show based on this series by Diana Gabaldon, though not as many may have read the books. I’m here to tell you that they’re worth it — with some caveats.

I first started reading these books at the recommendation of a friend a few years ago, and right from the start, they sucked me in like crazy (it helped that I was unemployed and fresh out of college at the time, but still). There’s a lot going on in these books, and they kind of defy categorization — they’re historical fiction, romance, and time-travel sci-fi all at once. What I like most about them, beyond their arresting quality, is the way the characters just feel so real — it’s like they could just jump off the page and start talking to you at any moment. The way they behave feels, for the most part, like the way real people would behave under the same circumstances, and they make just as many questionable decisions and have just as many foibles and failings as those of us in the real world.

However, there’s a reason I only listed the first two books here, instead of the whole series — the first one is fantastic, the second one is quite good, and the third one is decent, but it starts to go off the rails a bit in that one, and meanders off into “let’s explore the daily minutiae of the protagonists’ lives” from that point on. They’re still arguably worth reading, but the first two are definitely the strongest.

Lastly, an important note on these — the whole series has a lot, and I mean a lot, of strong violence and sexuality (not as much as Game of Thrones and things of that ilk, maybe, but…it’s up there), so if those things tend to turn you off, best to steer clear.

4. Ella Enchanted 

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File this one under “best fairy tale adaptations ever.” I absolutely adore this book–my number of re-reads is probably approaching 20 at this point (no joke), and I bought a new copy at one point because my original one was falling apart. As you might guess from the name, it’s a retelling of Cinderella. In this version, our heroine is struggling under a well-intentioned but actually horrible faerie spell that forces her to obey any and every order she’s given, no matter what it is. Ella spends most of the story fighting against her curse and trying to figure out how to finally break it and be free.

This story is YA at its best — it has a spunky heroine who manages to be her own person in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and who is both likeable and believable in the bargain. This book hits all the sweet spots for me, and I can’t get enough of it, even now, a good 13 or so years after my first reading of it.

3. Pride and Prejudice 

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I’ve read quite a few great classics by now, but this one consistently rises to the top. I have a hard time picking my favorite Austen novel, to be honest, but in the end, this one is it, even if it’s a bit of an obvious choice.

Strangely enough, I fell in love with this book by seeing the movie first. I watched the 2005 adaptation soon after it came out, and, well — I may have liked period pieces before that time, but after, I was a goner. And I think knowing the story somewhat before reading the book was a good idea — I often find that this helps me understand classics, especially ones with more unfamiliar language, better than I would have otherwise, and I end up getting more out of them because of that.

Such was the case with Pride and Prejudice — however, it still took many years and several re-readings before I truly understood and appreciated this book’s greatness. As any seasoned Austen aficionado will tell you, Austen’s M.O. is to present a seemingly benign tableau of everyday life in the English countryside but slowly reveal that it’s just a veneer that hides the sheer ridiculousness of people who value propriety and strive to keep up appearances above all else — even at the expense of those around them.

P&P is no different. Amid the varied cast of characters, nobody — not even the protagonist, Lizzie Bennet — is safe from the vagaries of polite society and its ability to make fools of everyone. Beyond being a great social commentary that still manages to be relevant 200 years later, it’s full of some of the most wonderful and memorable characters in literature. On top of that, the story is just straight up funny — once you get the hang of Austen’s writing style, you start appreciating the constant jokes she makes at her characters’ expense, both lovingly and otherwise, and you’ll notice more every time you re-read it (believe me, you’ll want to).

2. The Chronicles of Narnia 

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I had to go with another series for this one–when it comes to these books, I’m notorious for always saying, “oh, I like this one best…no wait, that one’s my favorite…no, wait, hang on…”. There’s something I like about every book in this series, and since it’s impossible to pick which one I love most, I’m looking at them as a unit.

Quite simply, this was the first book series that really changed me, the first that made me realize just how transformative and inspiring books can be. It’s the first set of books I can think of that let me understand things I had always sort of thought but had never been able to articulate before. I first started reading them when I was about 9 or 10, and they’ve never moved from the top of my list of favorites since then. Beyond the groundbreaking fantastical elements and great characters, there are just so many great takeaways from the stories. I consistently find myself thinking of the courageous, comforting, inspiring, and convicting moments that the books are full of. To me, the mark of a good story is one I can fall back on when times are tough, and I find myself doing so with these books without even trying.

The series have (rightly, for the most part) gotten a lot of flak for being full of heavy-handed allegory and having some problematic aspects in terms of the way they deal with race and gender. It’s important to be aware of these elements, but I don’t think they ruin the series. Of course, since I come from the same faith background as the author, I resonate with the allegorical aspect, though some might find it grating. The problematic elements are tougher–some of it can be explained by the fact that C.S. Lewis was a product of the time in which he wrote, but it’s still troubling. However, I don’t think books with this kind of content should be avoided — even if I didn’t love the series, I’d think it was important to engage with it in order to be fully aware of what things used to be like, and how far we’ve come since then.

In short, like all series, it’s not perfect — but it’s always called out something me that didn’t have a voice before, and I’ll always hold these books in high esteem because of that.

1. Lord of the Rings (with The Hobbit riding in a sidecar) 

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I know I’m overlapping with Peder here (it’s like we’re married or something, jeez), but there’s no way this series can occupy anything else than the top spot in my book-loving heart, so here it stays.

I love this series for so many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that, like any great story does, these books tell me the truth about life, love, and everything in between. Not the truth in the sense that this stuff really happened (I wish…), but in the sense that it helps the reader to better understand reality through the lens of a legendary fantastical world. No series has more lines in it that I just want to carry around in my brain at all times and the overall story is just full of so much depth and wisdom. Some shy away from these books because of Tolkein’s somewhat meandering, overly descriptive way of writing, but these things have never bothered me — as far as I’m concerned, it just means more to love. I get something new out of the plot and the character development every time I read these books, and I look forward to many more re-readings in the future.

——-

Like Peder, I couldn’t quite narrow my list down to five — so, a few honorable mentions: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Impossible by Nancy Werlin, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

So which of these have you read? Did you love them as much as I did? What are some other books you’ve read and loved?

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The Benefits of Being Late to the Party

The Benefits of Being Late to the Party

If you’ve been around the site recently, you may have seen my posts about fandom bandwagons I’ve jumped on way after everyone else (and if you’ve read any of my other stuff, you’ve almost certainly seen me allude to my tendency to do this). For […]