Soft White Underbelly

Last night I discovered an intriguing YouTube channel, Soft White Underbelly. I found myself watching interview after interview – they’re highly compelling.

It features interviews with people who have fallen on hard times: drug addicts, prostitutes, the homeless. Sometimes people who are all three.

What I really like about these powerful, emotive interviews is their capacity to make you empathise with these poor people. The interviews brings out their human sides. They’re not monsters, they’re human beings just like you and I.

Just think for a second – if your own life circumstances had been less fortunate, you might have found yourself living on Skid Row too. Drug addicts are still people.

Many of the subjects are highly relateable… in many cases, you can see how they started off relatively “normal” and/or successful, holding their own in society. But then, through a series of unfortunate and terrible events, they find themselves homeless, addicted to drugs, steadily losing any hope of a normal life.

They felt fine for a while, dancing on a slippery slope. But then, one day they realised they’d fallen into hell with little chance of redemption.

One of the most striking aspects of these interviews is how these poor individuals have come to normalise certain awful things – they become part of their daily lives…

Sexual abuse. Rape. Violence (or intimidation). Getting high every day. Stealing to fund their drug habit. A near total absence of hope. Depression. Losing the ability to even imagine a better life for themselves.

My Own Reflections

I’m a recovering drug addict myself and I’ve been battling depression for most of my adult life.

I danced on the slippery slope of drug abuse, descending into addiction and suicidal ideation.

When I first developed a regular drug habit, I thought I was fine, I told myself I was in control. But then one day I looked around myself and recognised with sudden clarity the madness and misery that now permeated my life. I’d reached rock bottom, without even really noticing what had happened.

I’m lucky – things are going very well for me right now. I’ve been clean from drugs for 18 months. But my life could have quite easily could have gone another way.

I didn’t have an ideal childhood, but listening to the stories of the people living on Skid Row in these Soft White Underbelly interviews, I thank my lucky stars. My childhood could have been so much worse.

Summary

Soft White Underbelly offers a compassionate and empathetic portrayal of people who have been through some really rough times.

Sure, the stories are likely to make you feel sad. But the empathy and compassion you will (hopefully) gain from listening to these people is, in my opinion, well worth a little short-term emotional distress.

Code Miko

Last night I discovered “Code Miko”. It’s kinda hard to explain exactly what it is… realtime CG animation generated from a body suit? And then add in audience participation. Yeah that’s about it.

Code Miko interviews various popular YouTubers as her cartoon avatar. It’s really cool (for tech nerds like me).

If you’re curious, here’s a Wiki about her

And to see Miko in action, check this out…

Isn’t this technology and creativity amazing!


Dark Side

But this has a darker edge to it for me.

When you see someone successful, someone you admire, displaying genius-level creativity, you can react in one of two ways. You can use it as fuel for inspiration to do something in your own life, or you can beat yourself up.

Sadly, in the last 24 hours, I seem to have gotten a little stuck into the latter mindset of being highly self-critical.

I really wish I could be 100% happy and grateful for my life. I have so much to be happy about and grateful for! But unfortunately, being human, from time to time my brain likes to torture me by telling me I’m not good enough. I feel jealous and inferior.

Why aren’t I earning tens of thousands each month like my favourite YouTubers and Twitch streamers? Why aren’t I hard-working enough to produce amazing creative works like Code Miko? Isn’t it a bit pathetic that I have no ambition and I’m content just living a simple life and playing videogames?

I don’t like feeling this way, but I guess most of us (if we’re honest) get attacked by the green-eyed monster sometimes. It’s a part of being human.

Perspective

It’s all about perspective though, isn’t it.

Surely, if there were creative projects I really wanted to do, then I would do them. There’s nothing stopping me. So, I guess I just don’t want to.

And that’s OK.

It’s OK for me to have little ambition, to find joy in small things, to not earn very much money.

If I’m basically a good person and I try to be kind to those around me, I suppose that’s enough ambition.

(I’m actually kinda unsure about that still, I feel like I’m trying to convince myself!)

My wife sent me this graphic today…

For me, my ideal pie chart would be a little different, but the principle is still the same.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in ideas of what we imagine our lives should look like. We might imagine that X, Y or Z would make us happier. But is that really true?

Often it’s actually the simpler things in life which make us truly happy, even though we often take them for granted. Things like good physical and mental health

And I have to remind myself that from a global perspective, I’m an incredibly privileged white boy living in one of the world’s richest countries. There’s lots for me to feel grateful for.

And the best things in life are free. Like being loved and cared for by someone special (love you, wifey!)

Do you ever get jealous? How do you handle it?

I’ve Got Keqing!

There’s one 5-star character in Genshin Impact who I really wanted: Keqing (pronounced “ka-ching”). I didn’t have high hopes of ever getting her, she’s very rare.

But last night, against all the odds, it happened – Keqing is now part of my Genshin Impact team. Yay!

Why do I like her so much? She just looks so damn cool, and her ultimate ability looks totally badass and deals HUGE damage.

So there we go – I have nothing interesting or insightful to say, I’m just feeling very happy and very lucky.

Here’s a really cool video all about Keqing, her abilities and her background.

Rushing

Us humans seem to have two quite different states, 1) doing, 2) being.

In doing mode, we’re goal-focussed and working hard. We feel at least a little stressed. I think of To do lists, efficiency, the pressure to do more and to do it quickly.

In being mode, there’s no real goal in mind, other than noticing whatever we notice. This is a much calmer state, associated with mindfulness and meditation.

I don’t think either mode is better than the other. I think we need a balance of the two.

In the West, lots of us seem to be stressed out and overworked – spending 99% of our time in doing mode.

But if you push yourself hard all of the time, you risk burning out, having a heart attack or a mental breakdown.

Equally, I’m not convinced we want to spend all our time in being mode either. There’s something about Buddhist monks spending all day every day meditating which strikes me as… well, a bit useless, if you ask me. What good are you to anyone else if you spend all day naval-gazing?

Here are some examples where I feel people have been too goal-focussed, rushing with tunnel vision towards their destination and not stopping to notice the flowers along the journey.

World of Warcraft

Many years ago when I played World of Warcraft, the general consensus was that the “real” game only started once you reached level 60 and took part in raids with other players. This process of “levelling up” often took many months even for the fastest players.

But I really enjoyed taking my time, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the game world, doing almost all the available quests just for fun. This meant I took a relatively long time to reach level 60. But I didn’t care, I enjoyed myself.

Genshin Impact

This is my current favourite game, which I play almost every day. Again, lots of people seem to rush towards the “end game” content as quickly as possible. They skip through NPC dialogue and try to maximise their efficiency, levelling up their characters as fast as they can.

There’s extra pressure on streamers (on Twitch or YouTube). These people feel like they always have to be at the vanguard of any new content in order to attract the maximum number of viewers.

This can result in something which seems quite sad to me. The other day, one of my favourite Genshin Impact streamers said that he’s getting bored with the game. Well of course he is! He’s played for several hours every single day since the game was released, always rushing to be the best and fastest. It’s his full time job.

Whenever I get close to the end of a favourite videogame, like the Dark Souls games, I tend to feel really sad. That’s because I don’t want it to be over! In fact, I often delay the final section of a game, so I don’t have to feel like it’s all over.

Rather than rushing through quest dialogue, running past beautiful scenery barely taking in any of the details, I much prefer to take my time.

I make time to stop and look at the scenery. Listen carefully to what the in-game characters are saying. Close my eyes and listen to the beautiful music and enchanting environmental sounds.

Genshin Impact is mind-blowingly beautiful, both in visual and auditory terms. I really don’t want to take it for granted.

Self-help / Careers

For many young ambitious people, it seems to be expected that you’ll want to rise up a corporate career ladder, gaining promotions and a bigger salary. Or if you’re running a business, there seems to be an unspoken assumption that you always want it to grow.

And the self-help industry is full of gurus telling people how they might maximise their potential, become more efficient, achieve grander goals.

But a lot of the time I think to myself, “What’s the point?”

I mean, I get it – having a sense of progress and achievement is important. It can be healthy psychologically to have goals and ambitions.

But do we really need to be going full speed ahead, all of the time? Shouldn’t we take some time to appreciate how far we’ve already come?

There’s so much joy to be found in admiring the scenery along the journey.

Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.

Summary

So… rather than always feeling anxious about reaching our next goal, how about we take some time to just relax and feel grateful for what we already have, right in front of us?

I can’t think of anything worse than rushing through a game (or real life), only to reach the “end goal” and then feel bored, sad and empty because we’ve finished everything there is to do.

I don’t want to get to the end of a game (or life itself) and feel regret because I didn’t take things more slowly and truly appreciate the present moment.

Being fast/busy/efficient all the time really is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Remember to stop and smell the flowers. Pay attention. I bet you’ll notice much more than you ever realised was there.

The Illusion of Purity

My friend Tim and I share our favourite music with each other on a regular basis. We’re both very passionate about music and it’s hard to imagine going a full day without listening to at least one track.

It helps that Tim and I share broadly similar tastes: we both love dance/electronic music. But even then, there’s plenty of tunes which one of us likes and the other hates.

Tim and I both really enjoy Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist. It uses some secret magical algorithm to analyse what you’ve listened to in the past to make some guesses about music you might like in the future. By and large, the algorithm does a good job.

The other day, it dawned on me that the more music Tim and I share with each other, the more that’ll influence Spotify’s algorithm.

Rather than Discover Weekly finding me new music based purely only on my own tastes, some percentage of music will be influenced by Tim’s tastes, which are often quite different to mine.

Do I want that to happen?! Do I want Tim’s music tastes to contaminate the purity of my future listening experiences?!

And this then got me pondering about the sanctity of the self…

We usually think of ourselves as having hard borders around our personalities. We believe that we only change our personality if we decide we want to.

But that’s an illusion. In reality, everything and everyone that you come into contact with will influence you, and vice versa.

Don’t believe me? Here’s 2 examples…

  1. Advertising. Companies spend a huge proportion of their budgets on marketing and advertising… because it works. Adverts influence your purchasing decisions, but we often don’t notice it happening.
  2. Derren Brown. Think of those elaborate illusions Derren Brown plays on his willing participants. Often Derren is able to influence the decisions people make on a subconscious level, without them realising. For example, just by exposing them to the colour green repeatedly, or ensuring they hear the same musical jingle in the background.

Additionally, you’ll have probably heard it said that, “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

What’s amusing about that idea during these pandemic times is that most of us are pretty isolated right now… so if I’m hanging around with nobody, does that mean I’m basically becoming a nobody? (LOL)

On a serious note though, it is well worth consciously curating the influences you’re exposed to on a day-to-day basis. Some examples:

  • The people you interact with. Are they a net benefit or a net drain on you? Do they demonstrate that they actually care about you, or are they just soul-sucking energy vampires?
  • The advertising you allow yourself to be subjected to.
  • Newspapers, television news, gossip magazines.
  • Educational books / podcasts / magazines / YouTube videos.
  • The websites you spend the most time on.
  • The music you listen to and share with your friends.
  • Jokes and memes (hopefully spreading joy and laughter, without offending people).

Rather than passively just accepting whatever influences come your way, it’s worth checking in with yourself every now and then to curate what you allow into your life… and what you don’t.

And, looking at the other half of the influence equation, what about the influences you exert on others?

Do you spend a lot of time moaning, complaining and criticising? Or do you try to bring a little joy, kindness and happiness into the lives of those you interact with?

No man (or woman) is an island. We’re constantly “leaking” into each other, whether we intend to or not.

So let’s try to make our leaks positive ones.

Little Things

Reminders for when I’m feeling low…

  1. You don’t need an amazingly successful career to have a satisfying and enjoyable life.
  2. Remember to be present. Pay attention, slow down. There’s no “over there” which you should be rushing towards. There’s only “here and now”.
  3. Listen out for the small sounds which pull you back into the present moment: rain falling outside the window, rushing water in a stream, birdsong, the wind in the trees.
  4. Be open. See where your curiosity leads.
  5. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Remember you’re just a small child inside, pretending to be an adult.
  6. Extend that same kindness to others, even those who you feel have done you wrong. Don’t allow room for bitterness or resentment in your heart.
  7. Breathe. Relax. You are worthy, you are lovable. Everything’s going to be OK.

My Fat Attitude

Back in August 2020, I started the Carnivore(ish) diet. It’s basically a diet featuring high protein, high fat, low (but not zero) carbs.

The first few months I did pretty good at limiting my carb intake. But things went slightly awry over Christmas (way too much sugar!) and I’m only just getting back on track now in February.

Throughout this whole process, I’ve repeatedly reminded myself of a few things:

  • Excess sugar makes me feel terrible, physically and mentally.
  • The more sugar I have, the more I want. It’s highly addictive, in fact sugar may be even harder to kick than the drug DXM, which I was properly addicted to for a long time.
  • By contrast, I feel really good after only a few days with low carbs. I feel happier, have more energy and generally feel better about myself and my life.
  • I hardly ever feel hungry or have cravings after a few days on a low carb diet.

And my relationship to dietary fat has been getting challenged too. I guess I can sum it up like this…

When I look at big pieces of fat on food, it’s often very off-putting. However, when I actually eat the fat, it tastes delicious and I really enjoy it.

How strange is that?!

Before cooking, I can look at my homemade chicken soup, cold and slightly gelatinous, and not find it appetising at all.

But then when it’s heated up and spooned into my mouth, it’s the tastiest thing ever!

It’s struck me as quite strange that I seem to have this mental aversion to fat before eating it, but when I actually eat it, it’s a completely different story.

I think this maybe goes back to childhood. I remember as a child being forced to eat some fatty meat and almost vomiting it back onto my plate.

Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, the prevailing dietary wisdom was that fat is bad for you. Even as a kid, that message sunk in subliminally, as we were bombarded by advertising on TV for low fat products, marketed as “healthy”.

As a teen, I remember going through a phase where I took almost all the fat off bacon before eating it. And it was only years later when someone said that the fat is the tastiest bit that I started to feel a bit more positive towards fat.

It still strikes me as odd that even now, after nearly 6 months of (sort of) following the carnivore diet, I still seem to have these negative attitudes to fat and I have to consciously challenge them.

“Fat isn’t bad for you,” I find myself repeating over and over again, both to myself and my wife, as I try to retrain my brain to stop seeing fat as the enemy.

The truth is that when I eat a diet high in protein and fat, I feel full (satiated). I don’t crave snacks. And I think this is huge for anyone wanting to lose weight.

Why give yourself a really hard time trying to restrict your calories using willpower? Why put yourself through that much stress?

Why not just choose a diet where you don’t feel nearly as hungry – you make your life a lot easier.

(Caveat: low carb diets aren’t for everyone. In fact, the best diet for losing weight seems to vary between individuals, possibly due to genetics. Basically, pick whatever diet works for you and feel free to ignore me if low carb doesn’t work for you.)

If You’re Struggling Today, This Is For You

If you’re feeling sad, lonely or unhappy, here are some thoughts which might ease your suffering.

I Can Relate

The first thing I’d like to say is that I know what it’s like to suffer, to feel sad. Maybe I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but I’ve felt those feelings which make your heart ache.

It hurts, and you want the hurt to go away.

This Too Shall Pass

It’s natural to want the pain to go away. But remember it’s only temporary.

Nothing lasts forever, and the way you’re feeling right now will pass too, in its own time.

What You Resist, Persists

Sometimes, the harder we push against or resist a feeeling, the stronger it gets.

Sometimes, it’s better just to allow a feeling – just notice that it’s there, without trying to change it.

Dropping our urge to fight can bring about a kind of peace, even if it doesn’t immediately make the pain go away.

I love the poem The Guest House by Rumi, which is all about this kind of acceptance of feelings.

Look for the Joy

Sometimes pain can bring us to a place of real joy, a kind of purity which speaks to our heart and which we might not reach without the pain.

The music of Porter Robinson is a bit like this for me. It’s so innocent and pure, speaking to my inner child.

When my life is going well, it’s easy for me to dismiss or overlook Porter’s music as overly sentimental.

But wow, when I’m feeling sadness or pain in my heart, that’s when Porter’s music is best at talking to my soul, transforming the pain into something beautiful, pure and innocent.

Here’s a beautiful piano cover of Porter’s Look at the Sky.

For me, this music helps ease any pain I’m feeling. I hope it does the same for you too.

If not, then perhaps there’s a different musical artist or genre which helps improve your mood when you’re feeling low?

Summary

Whatever you’re going through right now, no matter how painful… you’ll get through this. Eventually the clouds will part.

Sometimes, the best opportunities are born from the most difficult of problems. Look for the diamond in the rough.

And be kind to yourself.

Always Wanting More

It’s a part of the human condition, isn’t it – to always want more. We start to feel dissatisfied with certain aspects of our lives. And from there, it’s natural to try to “fix” whatever feels like is wrong.

Maybe the excitement’s gone from your relationship, so you start wondering whether you should look for a new partner. Maybe the day-to-day frustrations of your job are overshadowing the parts which bring you joy.

However, I’d argue that many of us (including me) have a tendency to misdiagnose the root of why we’re feeling so bad. And, even worse, the steps we take to try to make ourselves happier often fall flat.

For me personally, I sometimes find myself lying in bed, not wanting to get up. I can’t immediately think of anything which motivates me… so instead I choose to go back to sleep and dream.

I love dreaming, escaping from reality.

In fact, for the last few mornings now, I’ve not wanted to get up and face the day.

Now, this not wanting to get up – it’s a warning sign that something is not right in my life.

By default, my problem-solving brain jumps straight to thoughts about my career (or lack thereof). Am I engaged in work which feels fulfilling? Am I reaching my potential? Am I doing enough with my life, or am I merely wasting it?

Whilst I think these questions can be useful and motivating, for me they often just make me feel worse.

Those questions are grounded in lack. They assume there’s something I don’t already have, and that I can’t be happy until I achieve whatever’s missing. It feels like there’s a hole in my life that needs filling, urgently.

I feel like I won’t be able to shift this heavy, unpleasant feeling which permeates my body and mind unless I make some drastic changes to my life.

But wait a minute – I’ve been here before. This is a familiar path I’ve walked many times, even though it always feels like it’s the very first time I’ve been through this.

This feeling has quite a lot to do with depression. But even though that explains a lot, it’s not the whole story…

My Other Battle

When I think about the great struggles in my life, two in particular stand out: yes, there’s depression as I mentioned above, but also there’s addiction.

Depression and addiction – lots of people think they know what those terms mean, but they’re two words which I feel are often misunderstood. I think it’s very difficult for most people to truly understand what those diseases are like unless you’ve actually experienced them yourself.

I find it hard to know when to stop. That’s been true all my life. Among my oldest friends, I was known as the guy who always took things too far.

In my head it was a simple equation: if X is good, then more of X is better.

Most children learn the importance of moderation and delayed gratification. For whatever reason, those skills have never really embedded themselves into my head properly.

Even at age 43, I still often binge on sugar, especially late at night. It gives me a huge rush, but then the next day I feel awful.

There’s a pincer movement of pain from two angles: there’s the physical symptoms of the sugar hangover, foggy thinking and depression; then there’s the psychological pain of feeling like I’ve let myself down again.

For most people, changing bad habits is really hard. Just look at the number of people who try to diet and fail… or they diet successfully for a while, but soon afterwards fall back into old habits.

For many of us, controlling our food intake is really difficult, even when the negative consequences involve serious diseases.

For me, excess sugar directly causes depression and increases my risk of suicide. There’s hardly a more severe consequence than that.

And yet, even though I know how high the stakes are, I still struggle to moderate my behaviour. And I struggle to understand why I behave this way.

It’s so frustrating… I know that I prefer feeling healthy, having more energy, thinking clearly, feeling happy… and yet I struggle to make the right choices.

Tying Everything Together

Earlier I mentioned I’ve been finding it difficult recently to get out of bed. And my first instinct is to decide there must be something major wrong with my life… but I miss the wood for the trees.

In actual fact, the cause(s) of my low moods are almost always the same. It comes down to 3 fundamentals which are almopst embarrassingly basic…

Food, sleep and exercise.

How boring is that?! Maybe that’s why my problem-solving brain overlooks them – they don’t seem very interesting.

Food – if I consume excessive amounts of sugar, I get depressed. And that makes me need more sleep, I find it harder to get out of bed, I lack of energy, have no motivation etc.

Sleep If I have too many late nights, I build up a sleep deficit, which again contributes towards depression, low mood, lack of energy etc.

Exercise If I’m not getting enough exercise, it increases the likelihood of depression, especially in conjunction with poor eating habits and insufficient sleep.

It’s Occam’s Razor isn’t it – the correct answer to a complex situation is often the simplest one.

I don’t need to turn my life upside down and embark on a whole new career in order to feel motivated to get out of bed… I just need to eat sensibly and go to bed at a reasonable time.

Why Do I Overeat?

I think part of it comes down to that innate desire to push things to extremes. It’s a part of my personality… if X is good then more X must be better.

And I think perhaps it’ll just be a continual retraining process where I have to negotiate with myself. I need to train myself into having better habits.

And my “inner child” has a lot to do with this too. The impulsive behaviour, the lack of moderation… those are quite childish. And I don’t mean “childish” in a derogatory sense…

The usual way of looking at children vs adults is to see that one progresses into the other: We start as children, then we transition into adults and leave all childish things behind.

But it seems to me that this is a false dichotomy.

In reality, we never really leave the childish parts of ourselves behind. In fact, all we do is wrap our inner childs with a veneer of adult-like behaviours.

Think of yourself like an onion. The core is your inner child. Then, as we grow older, we add layer upon layer of supposedly adult behaviours which help us to navigate society.

That inner child never goes away. We can choose to ignore it, but I think that’s a mistake.

Our inner child seems to control a lot of our behaviour, and sometimes it doesn’t make much sense to our adult way of viewing the world.

I think that for many of us, including me, it’s important recognise and accept our inner child, and practice negotiating with them.

We need to ask ourselves: what does our inner child want? How can “adult us” help our inner child to achieve its desires in healthy and sensible ways?

Last night, I felt the familiar urge to take a trip to the supermarket and buy armfuls of icecream and cookies. The supermarket would be closing in 30 minutes, adding to the sense of excitement.

But this time, rather than give in to my impulsive urges, I turned inwards, to my inner child. I asked him what he was trying to achieve here.

What was it that 5-year-old me was looking for, which he felt the sugar binge would solve?

My inner child answered clearly: it’s about excitement, it’s about short-term pleasure and feeling good.

“But are there other ways to get that excitement and feeling good which aren’t so harmful?” I asked myself.

I already knew the answer.

The urge to rush out to the supermarket faded and was replaced with a kind of sadness.

I realised I didn’t really want ice cream itself. I just wanted to feel excitement and happiness.

The ice cream was a proxy for happiness.

So then I asked myself what’s a better way to achieve happiness. Again, I already knew the answer. I’ve been here many times before.

The best way to consistently experience those positive feelings is to be sensible… to make responsible, adult choices around food, sleep and exercise.

My inner child felt sad, but he also knew that avoiding sugar and going to bed was the right decision.

Summary

Does this mark a watershed moment? Does this mean I will never again stay up stupidly late or have ridiculous sugar binges?

Whilst I wish that was the case, I’m realistic enough to know that this retraining process is difficult and it takes consistent effort.

I have to keep reminding myself that massive sugar binges might make me feel better temporarily, but the negative consequences far outweigh any short-term benefits.

If I don’t want my inner child to dominate my behaviour, I have to patiently engage in dialogue with him, again and again.

I can’t be a tyrant to myself. I have to negotiate.

Sometimes “adult me” will lose those negotiations and I’ll give in to being reckless and impulsive.

But that’s OK. I’m a work in progress.

Sure, I will keep forgetting. I will keep making mistakes.

But as long as I keep aiming to head in the right direction, that’s what life is all about.

Now pass me that piece of raw brocolli 😉

I Don’t Need Nobody

I’ll admit – even before the pandemic I wasn’t exactly Mr Sociable. I’m generally pretty happy with my own company, or just being in the same room as my wife. I have a small circle of good friends and that suits me fine.

My gaming habits are similar: mostly solitary. Other people are hassle, aren’t they. They get in the way, they’re annoying, they don’t want to co-operate and work as a team.


Resurgent Cryo Regisvine in Genshin Impact

I’d been stuck on this particular boss for a few days. “It’s impossible,” I declared, thoroughly dejected. And this is coming from someone who has completed all 3 Dark Souls games – I may not be the most skillful gamer ever, but I’m nothing if not persistent.

The boss took the form of a big nasty blue flower, stuck on the side of a freezing mountain. And it was in my way. And I couldn’t kill it. The event was time-limited and I wouldn’t be able to fully upgrade my special sword, Festering Desire, unless I killed this damned blue flora.

Then something unexpected happened.

Rather than press the button for starting yet another solo fight against the evil blue pansy, I accidentally started the mission in co-op mode.

That meant I was joined by 3 other players, all of us needing to take down this boss.

It was so much easier as a team, it’s not true. We beat it easily… and then we beat it another 20 or so times to fully maximise our potential rewards.

It felt amazing to work together with other real people. I’d forgotten how much fun co-op play can be, at its best.

That was a few weeks ago. Then I immediately went back to playing solo. I didn’t need anybody else’s help, I can beat 99% of this game on my own.


The Chi of Guyun Quest from Genshin Impact

Fast forward to today. I had just one single mission left. I’d already tried and failed many times to complete it solo. Just like that big blue flower a few weeks ago, this mission was way too difficult for me.

The game’s being updated to version 1.3 in a few hours, bringing lots of new content and missions. But it’d be kinda nice if I could finish that one final mission before the update.

This afternoon, whilst I was busy minding my own business, farming Violetgrass, a material I need for upgrading one of my characters, another player sent me a Join Request. People usually ask to join each other’s worlds just so they can farm any materials they need. It’s not really about being sociable… or so I thought.

I’m in a good mood today so I made an effort to start some friendly chat with the guy who I’d just allowed to join my world. As expected, he merely wanted to farm my materials, not play together. *Sigh*

But then he asked me politely if it was OK for him to harvest my world’s flowers. I was struck by the fact he was polite enough to ask first.

“Sure, go ahead,” I replied.

We got chatting about a few game-related things, sharing our enthusiasm. Turns out he’s Russian, though with passable English ability.

Once he’d collected his flowers, he asked me if I needed any help in the game. I wasn’t expecting this! I eagerly accepted.

We took on that final mission on my list together. What had been impossible on my own was much easier with help, plus it was a lot of fun.

“I’m so happy!” I declared, as we mopped up the piles of treasure awarded for finishing this super-tough mission. I meant it. This moment felt better than almost anything since… the last time I’d worked with others to take down a challenging boss.

My Russian companion left soon afterwards, no doubt with his own missions and goals in mind.

Then I did something I never do. I tried to work out how I could add him as a friend so we might adventure together again in the future.

And what did I find? He’d already sent me a Friend Request, before I could send him one. Nice.


Will I keep playing solo? Probably… most of the time, anyway. I’m unwilling to alter my hermit playstyle completely.

But these recent events have changed my mind a little, made me feel more positive about co-op play with strangers.

Other people can be annoying, for sure. But they can also be a great source of joy.

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