Five Things You’ll Be Told/Asked About Med School And The Truth

So I posted about going to, and subsequently dropping out of, medical school, but I still have some advice for you doctor hopefuls out there. Here are a few questions and concerns you’re going to inevitably deal with from others as a pre-med or early medical student.

 

1)   WHAT KIND OF DOCTOR DO YOU WANT TO BE?

I don’t know grandma, geez! This question will come up all the time from everyone who knows your plans to become an upstanding medical professional. The problem is that most people don’t understand that it’s the equivalent of asking a kindergartener what they’d like to major in in college. Medicine is so far removed from most undergraduate programs that actually getting any real experience in a specialized profession only comes during the later years of med school. Even professors and doctors laugh in your face if you think you have an idea of what you’d like to be. If you’d like to explain to everyone that you’re not sure and you’ll find out in medical school because that’s where the real experiences come form, be my guest. But my personal favorite is to make up specialties and see who notices, much like someone actually put in the position of the kindergarten analogy might. But just be careful, you’d be surprised at some of the weird and gross specialties that actually exist and you don’t want your grams to Google “Butt Cancer Specialist”.

 

2)   WOW YOU’RE GONNA MAKE SO MUCH MONEY!

Sure, most doctors make a really good living despite what the ones paying more than one alimonies will tell you. The problem is that you make all that money after you’ve more than likely borrowed a shit load. I mean A LOT of fucking money. Most medical students leave school with about $200,000 in debt. That’s a rough average so some have even more to deal with. Oh and on top of that, you don’t get paid the big bucks until you are a fully licensed physician. That means going through residency after you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a soul-crushing four-year journey through the hell that is med school. And maybe you’re thinking, “Sure they make 45 or 50k but they get to do cool procedures and see patients!” Yeah, but they do stuff like hold the fat flaps during surgery, or try to figure out how to get rid of a pill-seeking patient to get on to more important things. Most residents also work nearly 80 hours per week for that salary. They work so much a cap had to be set in place to prevent over-worked, over-tired residents from making avoidable medical mistakes. Do that math and they are only making $12 to $15 per hour. Nice.  At least that dude at Target gets to go home and not get called on a beeper. So by the time you get licensed to be a full working doctor with all the benefits, you’re in debt up to your eyeballs, you work almost non-stop, and lucky you just spent at least eight years getting there. So you aren’t actually making any money until you are at least 29… and that’s if you entered school directly following undergrad. Yay medicine!

 

3)   HEY, I HAVE THIS WEIRD THING, LET ME JUST SHOW YOU… 

No. Don’t let them. Seriously. Number one, you’re a pre-med or early med school student, so you’re an idiot. Most fully practicing doctors are still idiots, so you definitely don’t know shit. Also, if you pull your disgusting ingrown toenail or wart out while I’m eating, I will barf on you. Oh and news flash to the maybe five people who haven’t been on WebMD in their lives: nondescript, flulike symptoms are the start of essentially every disease ever. Asking an early medical school student for a diagnosis is basically the same thing as asking, “Hey, what disease have you have been studying this week?” You’ll get the same answers. So many diseases and disorders have similar if not the exact same symptoms it’s ridiculous. This is because your body is not a treasure trove of various responses to foreign invaders. It’s kind of a one trick pony, which is why in medicine there are so many lab tests done to determine causes of disease. Oh you have weakness and a headache, you probably have a cold, or the flu, or cancer, or diabetes, or arthritis, or muscle tension, or you’re just studying for medical school. I understand how excited you are to get asked this like you’re the sage of heinous bodily functions, but you’ll probably do more harm than good if you answer them or pretend to look into it. Just leave it alone and repeat after me, “I’m not a doctor yet, so you should probably just go see one.”

 

4)   WOAH, ARE YOU A GENIUS OR SOMETHING?

Nope, you’re not. Well fine, MAYBE. But probably not. If everyone who went to medical school was a genius then why is your grandma always complaining about her doctor? They are just normal people who decided to devote their entire lives to one very specific area of study. You may think you’re super smart for getting into or being in medical school, but you’re probably not. Most people get in by showing their level of commitment to the process of becoming a doctor. Volunteer work, research, leading and joining clubs are all just as if not more important than great grades. Grades are just a show of hard work anyway. The people who work harder for their grades will do better in med school as a general rule. As someone who barely ever studied in school, I floundered in medical school. If you don’t know how to study, you’ll drown in all the information given to you. That person who got an A on every test so far, ask him or her if they’d like to grab a drink on Saturday night. They’ll probably glare at you with bloodshot eyes and hiss. Or just say, “Can’t. Gotta study.” Just to piss you off more, by the time you do learn to study and do well, you’ll meet that one person who plays videogames all day and still passes classes. They are the genius, and everyone in medical school will hate their guts.

 

5)   YOU’LL GET SO MANY LADIES/MEN NOW IF YOU USE THE “I’M GOING TO BE A  DOCTOR” LINE

Ok, this is sort of true. First off in our unfortunately sexist culture, on average most men find women doctors to be intimidating, so I’m sorry to all the future lady doctors. God forbid a guy should want an intelligent, driven significant other. But the good news for you ladies too is that no one has time to date. Good luck getting your ass to a bar, and when you do good luck being sociable. “Hey, have you heard of that new disgusting disease I just learned about? Hello? Where are you going?” No one wants to talk about your medical school shit besides other students. But it’s your life now, so you have nothing else to talk about. Did you see that new movie everyone’s raving about? Nope, I was busy finding some dude’s pubic symphysis and trying not to grope his balls. Wow, you’d love this new game that came out, it’s right up your alley. I’m sure I would if I wasn’t drinking 10 cups of coffee a day just to stay awake to read one more chapter on the intricacies of the human asshole. But yeah, definitely let a hot girl at that one bar two blocks from your apartment spoil Game of Thrones for you. You’ll never get a chance to watch it anyway, and maybe you’ll get laid! But probably you’ll just go to bed early. After all, you’ve got a test to take every week for the rest of your life! Woo! Don’t worry though; you’ll probably have an awkward hookup with that one cute girl/guy from every class you attend for the rest of your med school career. That won’t get awkward.

 

Well, that’s just a few of the awesome things about the pre-med/medical school life. Think it’s still for you, well then you’re probably a delusional idiot who thinks it won’t be that way for you… or you just really like helping people. That’s awesome. Just don’t let it all go to your head. You’re not Superman, you’re only (almost) a doctor; and pretty much no one cares about that but you.

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Why I Left Medical School

So I haven’t posted here in a while; I’ve been writing over at GamingNexus.com and for a short while for Noobmagazine.com until our EIC got an internship (congrats Kayla). I just wanted to make a post reasoning out why I left medical school. This is really more for me, since as of leaving I’ve had a difficult time finding jobs in general, let alone in the field of my degree (Biology). I also wanted to reassure myself that leaving wasn’t the worst decision in the world, and maybe even conversely that I made a good choice.

 

It all started right during orientation. Most of us were 20-somethings in suits and ties or fancy dresses and slacks sitting in a room listening to people tell us shit we already knew. “You’re going to be in a lot of debt when you leave, probably close to the cost of an imported Italian sports car.”Great, I know that, but I’ll be making a lot of money on my own and I’ve always been a saver anyway. 

More stuff we already knew flooded us over the eight plus hours we spent sitting and walking around to classrooms like a well-dressed group of newly inducted elementary school kids. They drone on, “Medical school is hard, very hard. You’ll have no time for anything else in your life; significant others, outside hobbies, and basically all free time were now subject to the black hole that is med school.”

This I knew, but hearing it from doctors now, who tell you they still have no lives really hit home. I enjoy a plethora of other things outside of medicine. The misconception is that doctors are actually well rounded, well-read individuals. Yes, maybe the very best and brightest are that way, but most of them I found only ever thought and read about medicine. They have no outside interests, even at 50. They have huge houses they rarely enter, beautiful cars they only drive to and from hospitals, and families that miss them at important events. I went home the second day of orientation and when my parents asked how it was I didn’t lie. I said it was fine, they told me all the things I knew already. I neglected to tell them the new revelation that my life, outside of this one subject, was over. I closed my door, took of my tie and dress shoes, and placed my shirt neatly over the back of my chair. Falling face first into my bed, I cried.

The only person I told was my girlfriend. I said I hated it already, but she told me to stick it out and be sure I hated it as much as I thought I really did. Nothing worse than doing the impossible and getting into med school only to drop out and still not be sure. So I stuck it out. I went to early classes and I was all right. There was an insane amount of info being thrown at us daily plus my 45 minute to an hour commute each way wasn’t helping much. But the material was interesting. I do like to learn this stuff, that’s why I decided to become a doctor in the first place. I went to school, came home, ate something and went to the library. That was every day. Not just weekdays. Every. Day. I was ok with it until test time. I had learned the concepts, agonized over how certain pathways worked, looked up extra information to really understand why things were happening. We sit down to take our computerized test and the entire thing is multiple-choice regurgitation. There’s no creative thinking, no reasoning skills required, just pure and simple memorization. This was not what I signed up for. I was always told medicine was more scientific, more question-based and analytical than just “What’s this called?” Anatomy provided a nice respite from everything for some reason. It was memorization but it all linked together. The cutting and removal of organs and tissues resulted in more questions and more answers. It was a really cool process altogether. Again, though, our tests were memorization and I was doing minimally ok to pass. It just wasn’t engaging. 

Add to all of this that our administration had just undergone a huge change. We got a new dean of the medical school halfway through the year before I actually entered the school. I was told this was a lecture-based learning school, meaning all of our learning is done in classroom type settings with a professor telling us what we need to know and look up. It turns out our new dean and his administration wanted to overhaul that and create a more “active learning” experience for us. If you’re not familiar, active learning is giving partial information and having students figure out and look up information on their own. When done correctly it has been shown to increase retention over longer periods of time rather than “know this for this test and forget it almost immediately.” That’s all well and good, but what ended up happening was lectures were just plain cut short. Topics that used to be covered over three hours were now only one and the rest was up to us, which basically meant we weren’t even getting the basics that are supposed to provide the foundation to deeper active learning. I was paying $26,000 per semester to read my textbooks and teach myself. I have seen active learning, as my aunt works in special education, specifically speech pathology. She uses it to reinforce subject matter to kids who have trouble retaining or understanding concepts. It’s a wonderful tool, but you need to provide a foundation for it. Telling students about a microbe and having them look up specific cases and treatments that are interesting is active learning, making students read new material from a book and spit it out word-for-word is most definitely not.

The new admins also wanted to revamp the next year’s class into a DPC curriculum. DPC stand for Doctor Patient Continuum. The premise of this is that you get into small groups with one doctor leading discussion as students look over real cases, picking out small details based on a few subjects. An example: A patient presents with diabetes and tingling in their left foot, then a bunch of vital signs, stats and history. For that day you may be asked to discuss the anatomy involved, the biochemical pathways, and how pharmacological treatments may work. You don’t diagnose or present treatment unless asked to and you study the rest on your own based on the foundations of the topics learned in the room at the time. It’s a decent way to learn if you are a strong self-learner; otherwise it’s trash. If you retain info better visually from a lecture, DPC will be the worst thing for you and vise versa. We had specific forms you could fill out to join these classes and I didn’t do that specifically for that reason. Now our school was trying to combine the two with disastrous results and I wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure.

I later found out that we also had a new president in addition to our Dean of Medicine. I found out from my girlfriend’s doctor, who went to my school, that she is a “Med School Killer”. More concerned with the kind of money they make than the type of students they produce, she was notorious for making medical schools a lot of money but dropping them in rankings due to her practices. Now I knew why they were eliminating labs and classroom time. Less time and materials means less money for them to spend per student. The more we have to do on our own is less they have to do for us. It’s kind of deplorable. The doctor my girlfriend spoke to also mentioned the school used to be in the running with some of the top medical education institutions for pharmacy and anatomy knowledge and they were dropping off fast.

At this point I had been there nearly two months. I was miserable. Creative thought was put on the back burner and replaced with “remember this, regurgitate that, ok now move on.” Learning on your own required school for three to six hours and then study for a good eight per day on average to keep up with material. Fall behind and you’re better off just skipping something and having a gap than catching up. I had spoken to a few classmates who expressed similar problems with administrational change and classroom upheaval. We were all suffering because of it, but some were ok with where they were. Complaints were even given to the higher ups only to hear, “well you didn’t try this ONE thing so you’re just not doing enough to keep up with the information given to you.” We even had whole classes and packets that were downgraded to CPGs, new class material you were to teach entirely to yourself, or VPGs, which at least offered a video to watch before you dove headfirst into a giant new topic you’re expected to master in a day.

Many of the students there have wanted or been pushed to become doctors for their whole lives. They couldn’t see themselves doing anything else. I was not that way. I could see myself doing a number of other things. I have varied interests and maybe being indecisive is my downfall, but medical school was killing me creatively. I hadn’t touched my guitars in months, I hadn’t turned on a TV more than a half hour or so, and I had to cancel so many plans with friends and family to study up on some boring disorder or pathway that our professors skimmed or skipped because of their new time restraints.

I was even getting sick. I was depressed and forgetful. I was hazy and unaware, which is seriously unlike me. I actually backed my car into my sister’s in the driveway because I was so oblivious. I have never been in an accident before in my life. I knew something had to change. I had slowly been giving up on school and knowing that failing two blocks of systems would result in an expulsion from our current year, and that I had already taken out so much money to go here, I kept attending anatomy lab and some classes I found interesting but I left everything else to fate. When asked to submit a letter for reinstatement in the next fall to complete school a year later, I handed in a signed piece of paper simply stating, “I do not wish to appeal for reinstatement.” and I walked out of the office. 

I have never felt a weight lift like on that day. I smiled. Really smiled. Not a fake “meeting with a standardized patient” smile, or “student made a lame anatomy joke” smile, but an actual “I am happy and content with my choice” smile. I was hoping I would find a job quicker than I have at this point and I wouldn’t be basically begging for things even in the minimum wage, retail sector (not that there’s anything wrong with those areas), but I think I would still make this choice again. I have driven around and thought, “I could have stuck it out and finished school and just become a doctor and had a good job waiting.” But the time and effort required to do something I would hate later on just was not worth it. Maybe eventually I’ll go back to school, but this time for an MBA or science masters or possibly Ph.D.

What I’d like anyone who decides to read this to know is that med school is not for the creative. You have to be creative to get in and have a great application, but it all goes away when you enter, but if you’re willing to push through all that, then all the power to you. That being said, doctors are not encyclopedias. They are not all-knowing, all-seeing magicians. They are humans. Many of them at my school used the word “bro” unironically and thought certain fad diets were relevant and healthy ways to lose weight. Some of them obsessed over the new iPhone 5S colors and couldn’t pronounce scientific terms, let alone learn them for their actual content outside of single word memorization. Most of the future doctors I met were completely self-absorbed, trust fund babies. But some were genuinely there to make a real difference. To help others for the sake of helping others, no matter the money or prestige. This is exactly why second opinions are so valid. Why questioning your doctor is not only good but I encourage it. Many of them are seriously poor listeners and have awful personal skills, no matter how many patient encounters they get graded on. Doctors are not judges, or kings and queens; they are people without authority. YOU have authority over them and your treatments. I don’t mean the anti-vaccine movement (awful) or drinking tea instead of chemo, but just educate yourself as much as possible. Most doctors still have to look things up and research to know what’s going on, and you can do that too. Find a doctor who is truly compassionate before anything else and the rest will probably follow.

The same goes for med school. Doctors think they own the world and know everything in it. Ph.Ds think you’re idiots for only learning the basics of their field of science to diagnose, that you’ll never be “real” scientists, and other M.D.s and D.O.s will make you feel stupid for not knowing a medical fact relevant only to their practice. Some will help you and understand the struggle, but most feel this kind of hazing is a rite of passage. If it’s really what you want no matter the cost, both monetary and psychological, keep on trucking through, but know that there is no shame in saying you tried and leaving it behind. Better that than a life where you’re only qualified for one job you hate.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps at least one person who has no idea what they are doing in med school right now. Know that I still don’t know what I’m doing in life, but I’m glad I had the experience.

And even more glad that it’s over.

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Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Preview NYCC

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Inside the crowded Nintendo demos booth were mostly games you would expect from the legendary company. There was the new Zelda 3DS game, Donkey Kong, and Super Mario 3D World for WiiU. In the midst of all this Nintendo power (R.I.P.) was Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate for 3DS. I decided to sit down and finally see what this game really had to offer.

The 2.5D sidescroller/action game takes place three months after Batman: Arkham Origins for consoles and I was playing through a part where Batman meets Catwoman for the first time. I booted up the game, listened to Batman and Catwoman banter a bit, and then the chase was on, running over rooftops and following R button prompts to grapple onto ledges. The movement was a bit clunky feeling but once you knew what you were doing it wasn’t as bad, so I attribute some of it to the tutorial bits and my not knowing the controls well enough. Soon enough we came to a clearing where Catwoman sits atop scaffolding and yells at you while you fight six unarmed men. The combat was as you’d expect: hit Y to punch and X to counter, but it felt slow and a bit watered down. The 2D aspect didn’t help either as it was hard to tell who you were going to hit if the baddies were all bunched up in a single spot on the screen. It wasn’t bad per se, but it didn’t seem as tight as the Batman games I know and love.

After I beat the thugs to a pulp, I chased Catwoman some more, swinging up fire escapes and running across construction scaffolds. I was asked to tap and hold a button on the lower screen that activated my detective mode to search for a climbing spot. The function is actually pretty cool since it doesn’t take up the entire screen like previous games. You hold the button down and a small scanner appears which you control using the circle pad to look for clues.

After finding my way up a ladder that I dropped using a well-placed Batarang, I found myself in one of the game’s stealth situations. I was curious if they would put these in and how they worked if so. I pulled one off a ledge (which was essentially mandatory to continue) and climbed to a n outcropping that acted as a gargoyle would in Arkham Asylum or City. From here I tried to drop down and choke out an armed thug but I was spotted by the other two and quickly shot to death. Continuing from my checkpoint I tried waiting and observing. This proved more fruitful although I ended up beating the other two up in succession because I only appeared to be able to glide kick, silent takedown, or outright fight them. The lack of special stealth moves was disheartening, especially since they are some of my favorite parts of the last two games; essentially living AI stealth puzzles. Hopefully, the later pieces of the game give you more abilities and options in those encounters.

Upon beating the armed men I finally had to fight Catwoman. Now, I’m not sure if it was short due to the demo and time constraints, but the fight was really easy. Dodge a few of her slow-mo swipes and then hit her a bunch. I did this twice and the fight was over. A disappointing conclusion to such a huge ordeal chasing her down, but the following cutscene, rendered in still comic style, was a really cool addition and fit well.

Despite some of it’s apparent flaws I’d say this is still on my list of games to watch. As a parting note, the developer watching us play the demos told us that the game allows you to beat bosses in any order, although specific abilities gained from certain bosses will help you more easily beat others. I’m hoping the difficulties I experienced were just attributed to early demo gameplay and not indicative of larger failings, but it seems like the game still has a lot of potential.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate comes out October 25th for Playstation VIta and Nintendo 3DS.

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Hannibal Lecter Sends A Letter To Walter White and Friends

Actor Anthony Hopkins, best known for his portrayal and Hannibal Lecter and more recently Thor’s father, Odin, sent Bryan Cranston and the cast of Breaking Bad a letter commending their brilliant show. The letter is as follows:

Dear Mister Cranston.

I wanted to write you this email – so I am contacting you through Jeremy Barber – I take it we are both represented by UTA. Great agency.

I’ve just finished a marathon of watching “BREAKING BAD” – from episode one of the First Season – to the last eight episodes of the Sixth Season. [Ed note: There are in fact five seasons of Breaking Bad; this might have been wishful thinking.] (I downloaded the last season on AMAZON) A total of two weeks (addictive) viewing.

I have never watched anything like it. Brilliant!

Your performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen – ever.

I know there is so much smoke blowing and sickening bullshit in this business, and I’ve sort of lost belief in anything really.

But this work of yours is spectacular – absolutely stunning. What is extraordinary, is the sheer power of everyone in the entire production. What was it? Five or six years in the making? How the producers (yourself being one of them), the writers, directors, cinematographers…. every department – casting etc. managed to keep the discipline and control from beginning to the end is (that over used word) awesome.

From what started as a black comedy, descended into a labyrinth of blood, destruction and hell. It was like a great Jacobean, Shakespearian or Greek Tragedy.

If you ever get a chance to – would you pass on my admiration to everyone – Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Steven Michael Quezada – everyone – everyone gave master classes of performance … The list is endless.

Thank you. That kind of work/artistry is rare, and when, once in a while, it occurs, as in this epic work, it restores confidence.

You and all the cast are the best actors I’ve ever seen.

That may sound like a good lung full of smoke blowing. But it is not. It’s almost midnight out here in Malibu, and I felt compelled to write this email.

Congratulations and my deepest respect. You are truly a great, great actor.

Best regards

Tony Hopkins.

So apparently even Academy Award winning actors binge watch their favorite TV shows.

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South Park: The Stick of Truth NYCC Hand-Off Preview

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The gang’s all here.

At NYCC there was a set up like the south park main street town background all the fans know from the show. There was even a Tom’s Rhinoplasty sign. It wasn’t until someone pointed up that I actually saw the spinning South Park: The Stick of Truth banner above us. The line was pretty short so I hopped on and waited to get in to the closed doors viewing of 10 minutes of the game. First, I’d like to say I thought it was just the show at first. The animation style is exactly as you’d want it to be, which makes cut scenes to gameplay nearly seamless. I was in a room with probably six or seven other people and from the beginning to the end we were all giggling. In proper South Park fashion, the game even takes jabs at gaming itself, making jokes about wizards and bards.

The actual gameplay was also funny and, more importantly, looked really fun. It is a simplistic turn-based RPG system that utilizes moves like igniting fart clouds to induce burn status effects on enemies and throwing feces at opponents to gross them out; which is something I can only assume is like flinch. The most surprising thing is how the RPG elements don’t weigh down the experience in stats and menu systems. Obsidian, who made the game, is known for Knights of the Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas, which are a far cry from simple to understand RPGs. The fact that they can seemingly meld RPG elements into a game targeted at a mostly less hardcore audience is an achievement. They get what is going to make this game work and what isn’t.

The simplicity isn’t too entrenched though as there are many elements that seem to make the game engaging and fun. Enemies are clearly on screen before you run into them and start a battle and you can kill them using the environment, stun them with preemptive moves, or just rush in head on. I’d like to assume that later on in the game some more complex strategies are required, even if they aren’t all too difficult to execute.

Overall, the 10 minute hands-off demo was able to show off the story, humor, and gameplay in enough detail to have me even more excited for this game. It has definitely moved this game from the edge of my radar to a significant blip on the screen and I’m excited to see the final product.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is slated to release in North America on December 10th, Australia on December 12th, and Europe on December 13th  for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

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My First Time At New York Comic Con (or How An Awful Day Became Awesome)

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This past Friday was my first time ever at NYCC. My girlfriend had gotten us one day passes andI was super stoked. I’ve seen the live streams of panels and the coverage of cool comics and games related news, but I had never actually gone myself despite living less than an hour and a half outside of the city. Anyway, I’m going to recap my entire day for you the best I can to give you an idea of what it was like.

I had gotten up early that morning because a few days prior I received my second block schedule for medical school. It turns out I not only had a mandatory lab from 9AM to 12PM, I also had a mandatory luncheon with the dean from 12 to 1. Great. I had tried to email the woman and explain that I had plans that I made a while back, but without a documented, acceptable excuse I had to go. So I looked up the train schedules into the city from where I was since I really wanted to make it there for the Beyond! podcast panel. The lab was annoying since I knew that I could be having an awesome time in the Javits Center instead of stinking like formaldehyde in my anatomy scrubs. To boot I could have technically skipped the lab because we didn’t have a group quiz and my classmates would have covered for me, so the only thing holding me back was this luncheon that was so important I couldn’t possibly switch with another student’s designated time. I got changed and went into the conference room where we were given wraps and salad for lunch and asked to fill out a very short five question survey that could have easily been emailed to us. Then the dean proceeded to ask us to go around and introduce ourselves and say something “interesting or special”. This really got me mad. We had done this almost two months prior at orientation and to boot, this was the same group I was in for orientation. When that was over with he started talking about al the new changes the curriculum would undergo next year, from large lectures to small group workshop type classes. It was after he finished talking about this and himself for about 45 minutes that he explained none of this would affect us because we would be second years and our curriculum is already set. I was furious. He kept me there for an hour to tell me what next year’s students would be doing? I couldn’t reschedule this?!

The pointless luncheon ended at 1PM which meant I had to run to my car and book it to the train station so I could make it to NYCC before 3PM and get into the Beyond! panel. I ended up going into the wrong parking garage and having to take the 1:55 train into Penn. I didn’t get in until about 2:30 and by the time I met up with my girlfriend and got to the Javits Center it was too late. People had been turned away from the room and it was 3PM. I was so mad. It was my most anticipated event of the day and it was ruined so I could learn about nothing for an hour.

This is where my day gets better, however. I started walking around the show floor with my girlfriend and all my worries went away. This was exactly where I wanted to be. It was everything I loved crammed into one building full of people who shared my interests. Amazing. First, I walked by some of the comic shops that had back issues and 50 cent comics. After this, we made our way over to the game demos. It was really cool to get my hands on a game that wasn’t even out yet. I had never had the chance to play a preview version of a game before, and I plan on writing separate pieces on each one soon. I got to play Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!, Dark Souls II, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. I even got to see a South Park: The Stick of Truth hands-off 10 minute demo. I would have loved to play more but the WatchDogs line was very long and the Nintendo booth was getting seriously crowded.

My girlfriend and I then decided to walk to the other end of the con and we saw some of the lesser-populated booths. We ended up finding an artist by the name of CJ Draden. His prints were so cool; a very scratchy feel with minimal colors. The pictures really stood out to me and I just had to get a few. I’ll put his info at the bottom of this post for those interested in checking it out.

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Carnage and Venom having a tickle fight.

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Darth Vader lookin’ badass as always.

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Gannondorf and Link just hangin’ out.

After we grabbed some cool artwork we decided we wanted some souvenirs from our first con that we could wear around too. Heading over to some of the t-shirt and toy shops I found two Batman shirts, one I’ve wanted for a long time (Batman Beyond) and one of a recent Batman cover by Greg Capullo that I just had to get. I also got a Finn sword because why the hell not?

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Burning Man

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Bed, Bath, and Batman Beyond.

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It’s SUPPOSED to come like that, mom! It’s called ‘vintage’!

When the show floor was beginning to close, we decided to charge our phones at the stations by the entrance and I was finally able to get some pictures of cool cosplayers as they were leaving. Some of the costumes had to have taken weeks or months to make and probably cost a fortune, which makes me admire their work all the more.

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Who do you think would win in a fight between… oh nevermind, they’re friends.

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Pulling his hood down for the paparazzi.

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“I said no pictures, bub!”

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Her sword is her first weapon, but her wispy bangs are a surprisingly close second.

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Storm keeping the weather nice for NYCC. (Don’t tell her it was supposed to be sunny anyway)

So I left NYCC and decided to head over to Dave & Busters in Times Square where Greg Miller and friends were having a meet and greet. I figured if I couldn’t attend Beyond! I would at least get to meet the guy whose articles, podcasts, and videos have entertained and informed me since high school. I saw him come in but there was a huge crowd of people so I figured I’d try and let things cool down around him before I went to say hi. My girlfriend and I got a few beers and a play card and decided to shoot our way through some House of the Dead 4 (a game that will forever haunt me since I lost only on the last boss once by a hair). Finally the crowd died down and I found myself actually at a loss. I couldn’t bring myself to go say hi. I have grown out of my shyness for the most part and am rarely flustered, but here I was with the opportunity to meet a guy I see on my computer screen and listen to on my commute basically every day and I just stood there. Finally, after a few minutes of back and forth I went over and waited for him to finish talking and he asked my name and shook my hand. I spoke to him about how my girlfriend loves Oreo Oration and is sad he never posted any more of them and he joking yelled at her for not sharing it with her friends. He even took a picture with me. He is exactly as nice and outspoken as he is in his videos. He really treats all his fans like friends and I wish I would have stayed longer to hang out and talk, but we wanted to head over to Nintendo World before we caught our train back to the city.

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Left: Greg Miller being awesome.
Right: Me in serious need of a haircut and my own signature photo pose.

Sidenote: Follow Greg Miller on basically every social media site and youtube @GameOverGreggy, you won’t regret it.

Nintendo World was packed because it was the midnight release of Pokemon X and Y. We were hoping to maybe score from Pokemon codes or something but the most we got was a few 3DS meetings. It was still fun to see how Nintendo was holding a huge event for the release.

After our trek to the Church of Mario we walked back to the train station just in time to catch one back to where my car was parked and drive home. I didn’t get home until about 2:15AM and for the first time since I started school I was happy and not even tired. I was so excited I had actually forgotten that earlier that day I found out I had failed my first block of medical school.

With all that being said, I think I’d like to possibly pursue a career in writing, specifically of the video game world or thereabouts. Why not make a career out of something I love instead of killing myself for something I hate? Life is too short to do anything you’re not 100% invested in. I enjoy writing here actually and wish I had more time to do it. So I’ll do my best while still in school to get some freelancing clips here and there and maybe build up a decent amount of work from it.

So all in all it was an upsetting, amazing, awesome, and eye-opening day. And next year you can bet your ass I’ll be getting a 3-day pass and loving every damn minute of it.

And with that I’ll leave you with this insanely cute picture of my niece:

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Mario cat ears with a back up tanooki power up, that’s what I like to see.

CJ Draden info: CJDraden.com CJdradenstore.com CJDraden@gmail.com

Went to NYCC? Saw something cool there? Like and comment and thanks for reading!

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Troy Baker Is No ‘Joke’ In This Clip From the Batman: Arkham Origins Panel At NYCC

Troy Baker, the voice of the Joker in the soon to be released Batman: Arkham Origins , assuages any fear that he can’t fill the huge shoes of his predecessor Mark Hamil by reading a monologue from The Killing Joke. 

Spoiler Alert: He absolutely kills it. (sorry)

http://www.ign.com/videos/2013/10/12/nycc-batman-arkham-origins-killing-joke-monologue?utm_campaign=fbposts&utm_source=facebook

I was never worried about his portrayal of Joker before this, since he has gone well and above proving himself as a mainstay voice actor in games, but this video further proves his vast range is even wider than we thought.

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Growing Up (Handheld) Gaming

Handheld gaming has been around for quite some time now, with the release of the original “fat” Gameboy in 1989, it’s no wonder it has grown so much. One this that has changed drastically, besides the obvious size and graphics, is the audience who plays handheld games. Gameboys were targeted towards a very young audience. One that maybe couldn’t yet set up a console without supervision but could easily pop cartridges in and out and play Tetris, Mario, or Pokemon on a whim, or during a long car ride.

While many of these handhelds are still based around a younger audience, the original one has grown up and still wants a handheld experience for commuting or traveling, but maybe wants one that is more challenging or suited to their now refined interests. We’ve seen this in the 3DS with the release of Mature rated titles like Call of Duty, more difficult titles like Fire Emblem, or a combination of the two such as Virtue’s Last Reward. Granted I’m sure many adults, including myself, still play and enjoy Mario, but our polished taste in gaming over the years also brings with it a certain level of pickiness. I know when I want a very simple platformer versus a story driven, intricate RPG experience.

The Playstation Vita seems to want to fill this void specifically. Where the 3DS tries to cater to all ages, it still has a very obvious young aged target demographic. For every Tales of the Abyss or Resident Evil: Revelations, there are five or six games in the vein of Spongebob Squigglepants 3D. The Vita obviously caters more to the adult crowd who grew up gaming. The price point and design are obvious signs that this is a portable system for gamers with jobs and lives; even the design of the home screen is set up like a real home console. It’s exactly what we want as older gamers who have seen handhelds and consoles evolve too: a portable console experience. With games that even blur the line between home and portable play (or cross-play as Sony calls it) it’s even more obvious whom they want to target with this. You can play your MLB The Show at home and then take your team on your commute the next morning , afternoon, lunch, or when the boss isn’t looking. It’s obviously not meant to be a handheld system that holds your attention for short spurts; it’s meant to engage you in your larger experiences when you can’t be at home. Even games that are strictly portable or not cross-play still manage to be experiences that feel much deeper than the normal handheld game. In addition to all of this, the addition of trophy support, online access, and linking of console profiles makes this seem like a more fleshed out and mature platform.

Regardless of your handheld choice, the portable gaming market has definitely evolved to allow more adult friendly titles into the mix. While it seems Sony is gearing their Vita towards more of the hardcore adult base than Nintendo, they both offer some seriously great portable experiences that transcend anything I could have imagined on my non-backlit, brick-sized original Gameboy. I’m excited to see what is next, especially with the remote play from the Vita with PS4 and hopefully the 3DS will continue to resurrect old, beloved franchises on their handheld.

Love handhelds? Hate them? Think they are still only for kids? Let me know below!

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Could Revitalize The Franchise

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Assassin’s Creed has grown exponentially over its franchise history. This is surprising considering the original gained a fair amount of attention for its cool concepts and unfortunately more for its poor execution. It is probably due to the studio’s decision to actually listen to gamers. No, not the rabid, “I FUCKING HATE YOU” bunch who plague social media and gaming sites, but the actually constructive criticism of both gaming media professionals as well as the people who just use games as a stress relieving, fun activity. Ubisoft’s vision didn’t even need to be revamped, since most people agreed that was the coolest part of the entire game. Rather, they had to change the gameplay. Fighting needed to be more fluid to feel like a real assassin and AI needed to be programmed better to not make stealth feel like an insanely boring chore. 

Lucky for us, they took that to heart and churned out Assassin’s Creed 2; a game so fun, it remains the only game where I bothered to get every achievement (I have platinum’d other games). Lucky for Ubisoft, gamers were also willing to give them another chance and the game currently sits pretty with 5.46 million copies sold worldwide. That’s a serious chunk of change. Unfortunately, Ubisoft is also a large company who, upon seeing such numbers, decided their franchise needed to be a yearly one. So came Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood, which still followed our charismatic hero, Ezio from the game’s predecessor. This was fun and added new elements to the gameplay like training assassins and even a new multiplayer that was surprisingly fun. True problems started with AC: Revelations, where we followed an older Ezio to Constantinople. A welcome change from our usual excursions across Italy, but the gameplay remained largely the same with only minor improvements as you’d expect from a yearly franchise (See: Call of Duty) and the story was beginning to falter. People were also becoming increasingly less interested in continuing Ezio’s story and wanting to finish Desmond’s. Ubisoft had already told gamers that the franchise story would end in 2012 with AC3 but it seemed they were intent on hamster wheeling Ezio into spin-off after spin-off.

Finally, an announcement was made about AC3 and it was to be set during the American Revolution. People went bananas. How could this work? Weren’t there more guns? How did the Desmond bloodline get to America? All of these were answered in time and through the game, although AC fatigue had possibly set in too much and the expectation of drastic change has clouded our vision. AC3 was a fun and polished game, don’t get me wrong, but it was far from the experience many wanted. There were innovative and cool concepts, but the story was a bit strange and convoluted and Connor was kind of a bland, cookie-cutter version of what you’d expect from an assassin, especially following the fully fleshed out Ezio.

So with the announcement of Assassin’s Creed 4 following the story of Connor’s grandfather, a pirate in the Caribbean, many people were upset. For some, the naval combat of AC3 was a fresh and fun addition to an otherwise pant by numbers action game, while others thought it was thoughtlessly tacked on. I thought this was going to be another thoughtlessly put together piece of the franchise as well (and I enjoyed the naval combat and missions) but then I saw some of the articles about the development of the game. It seems the team is going back to its AC2 roots and revamping their entire thought process once more. They are using naval exploration and combat as a more integral part of the Connor’s pirate grandfather’s life and the world is extensive and full of varying locales. My hope for this game comes from the apparent new ideas that are going into making the naval combat both more fun and more complex in the game and in the addition of partially populated islands as existed in that area at the time. This will hopefully give rise to a more realized version of what Ubisoft tried to use to invigorate the franchise in AC3, which was to add natural climbing and exploration sections to the repertoire of assassin’s instead of them just being relegated to climbing buildings and being lost anywhere else: a la Spider-Man in the suburbs.

The piracy aspect also brings with it a cool conflict that could make this character less of a paint by numbers personality under the “badass killer” banner. Pirates, although romanticized in Hollywood and media, are actually ruthless monsters in the true history. They raped, killed, and of course stole from all who crossed them. This is at odds with the assassins since their creed very intently states the killing of innocents is strictly forbidden. This could add an interesting moral wedge between a trained assassin and his assassin brothers, as we’ve actually seen before, and possibly even one within himself.  

Another great aspect is actually a subtraction rather than a new addition. With Desmond’s story over, we can now focus on the best part of the AC games, the stealth & action mix within real, researched historical locales and events. The Desmond pieces of the games always seemed to leave me either wanting more in the way of explanation or just made me want to get back to playing as a long lost blood relative again. The only thing those sections ever managed to do in my eyes, was take me out of the immersive fun. With these parts of the story and gameplay (hopefully) behind us as of the end of AC3, we can fully focus on the real meat of the gameplay that brings everyone in from the get go.

While I still have a ways to go to be truly convinced that this title will be worthy of my very limited money, Ubisoft is definitely doing a good job so far. If the promises they’ve made up to this point hold true, I have no doubt I’ll be very happy with this game.

 

Thoughts on AC4: Black Flag? Thoughts on my post? Think I’m totally wrong? Let me know below and thanks for reading!

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How The Last of Us is the Breaking Bad of the Video Game World

There is no denying Breaking Bad is one of the best television dramas ever put to screen. The characters are all complex shades of moral greyscale, the story is consistently unpredictable, and the writing is always tight even when the budget is tighter. The Last of Us touts the same level of amazing writing combined with the intimacy of interactive storytelling. Here are just a few of the ways in which The Last of Us and Breaking Bad left us cheering, crying, and wishing there was more.

(It should be obvious, but just in case: SPOILERS FOR BOTH BREAKING BAD AND THE LAST OF US FOLLOW)

The Last of Us Breaking Bad

CHARACTERS

Breaking Bad’s 5 season run has brought about some of the best character development ever seen on a television drama. Bryan Cranston’s Walter White transcends the screen and turns into someone you actually believe is a New Mexico kingpin of methamphetamine. At times I half expected to hear about him on the news or read about him in the paper. Not only is the acting phenomenal though, but the character himself is something to behold. A truly tortured man even before the illegal activity begins, we can really begin to feel for Walter and why he would turn himself from a loving father and husband into a ruthless, greedy monster. All of this is conveyed without having anyone say it or explain it to the viewers. The emotions are written on their faces in short, truly human bouts of dialogue.

In much the same way, Joel is also a tortured man. His previous life is only shortly shown and even then we’re not sure what he even does for a living before the outbreak. None of this matters though, as we see him try to provide lovingly for his young daughter while he argues on the phone about a presumably blue-collar job. In the short beginning sequence even before his daughter is killed by the rampant military trying to control the infection, we can see the life of a man who works his ass off just so he and his daughter can get by. The jump to 20 years later only helps solidify his tortured nature. All this time later and he is a true, gritty survivor. He has killed and he knows he will again when someone stands in his way. His moral compass is safely out of sight and one could argue, eventually completely broken as the game progresses.

Both of these men led completely average lives before their respective turning points. For Walter it was his diagnosis. As if his life wasn’t hard enough when he is healthy, now he has to suffer through, and pay for extensive treatment. Joel in much the same light, is transformed from loving father to hardened smuggler and his transition back to a father figure only serves to prove how his new traits have permanently changed him. Both men are selfish, greedy, and eventually ruthless in their pursuit of personal gains, be it piles of dirty drug money, or the longing to be a father again.

Jessie Pinkman is also a surprisingly good complement to TLoU’s Ellie. Naivety and inexperience cloud their minds, and yet they are the only ones who hold on to shreds of morality and the true objective right and wrong of the situations they are in. And while they may participate in some of the less savory actions we come to know of the hopeless wanderers, they never lose the sense of what they did was wrong. Jesse may kill and fight and scrape his ways out of situations but he never justifies his actions by backwards survival logic. Ellie, in much the same way, will commit acts of abhorrent violence, but the act seems to haunt her and make her only question further how Joel does this so regularly. Even when Joel and Walter try to explain to their younger counterparts what they are doing is for the best, Jessie and Ellie never stop questioning the true morality of it all in the grand scheme of their lives and the lives of others around them. Although Jessie’s ending is arguably more messy than Ellie’s you still can’t argue that next to Walt, he’s basically a goddamned saint.

STORY

Walt’s cancer diagnosis and Joel’s daughter getting killed/the world going to hell are synonymous as the catalysts (see what I did there?) of each real character change respectively. Both of the stories revolve around our main anti-heroes trying to keep family, whether it be real or newly founded, safe and together while inevitably pulling it all apart themselves.

Walt’s journey begins with his diagnosis, but even before that you can tell something is off about his life. Slowly but surely we see that his cancer was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Basically a genius version of the Bad Luck Brian meme, we figure out that Walter’s life has been slowly spiraling down for some time now. With the threat of only living for six more months and leaving his family, the most important aspect of his life, with nothing but debt and medical bills Walt sees a way out of his nightmare through the pursuit of money. And how else would a chemistry genius handle that but to use his skills to cook a little meth with a drug addicted former student? However, diving into this endeavor with the best of intentions, he soon lets his true demons out. Trapped for so long inside his mind, he’s finally able to find an outlet for all of his greed, anger, and lust for power, and he’s good at it. What he never admits until the bitter end, is that he loves every minute of it, which is the sentiment behind his horrid actions that makes him the true monster we love to hate (to love).

Joel is much the same as Walt in this respect. Joel’s life was turned upside-down years ago. With trouble even before the world fell to a frightening fungal infection, the death of his daughter, and the military take over of quarantine zones Joel is already living his life in the grey zone of morality. You can tell his hardened nature by the way he refuses to transport a little girl across the country to save her life or anyone else’s besides himself. Over the course of his journey though, as we see Joel become more close with Ellie, he becomes more volatile and instead of facing his actions, he begins to justify them. This only leads to the same hubris as Walt, thinking everything he does is actually for a good cause and therefore, must also be good.

These types of actions and thoughts are where the real monsters are made in the two men. Their horrible actions alone are bad enough even when they realize how bad they are, but the justifications of why they do it allow them to circumnavigate their own consciences to complete further terrible deeds.

Of course The Last of Us and Breaking Bad are two completely different animals in many regards also, but the similarities stand out to me. They call to the kinds of stories that really draw me and have me talking (or writing). The stories that don’t show the one in a million hero against all odds, but the real middle ground where greed, anger, and a plethora of other cardinal sins can, and often do, get the best of the everyman are the stories I love to watch unfold. We all love James Bond and Indiana Jones, but what makes a character really special is their ability to convey that they are just like us in so many other ways. We find ourselves justifying Joel and Walt’s decisions because we truly love to watch them develop, even if it is into something just short of a monster with blood-drenched fangs, and we know that maybe in a similar situation, we wouldn’t really be the angels in white we’d like to think we’d be.

Think there are more similarities.. or that I’m just full of it? Maybe you just liked my post? Sweet. Leave a comment below and let me know.

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