McMillan’s Codex #7: Skyrim


McMillan’s Codex #7 By C.T. McMillan


Norse mythology is the basis for our modern understanding of fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien might have written the book on fantasy, but it was the Poetic and Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson where he took inspiration. Few know elves, orks, and dwarves come from the Vikings, a culture vilified for their attacks on Christianity and unknown for their contributions to exploration and seafaring technology. Their legends are the most enduring and best represented in Bethesda Softworks’ Skyrim.

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As the fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim takes after traditional fantasy and in-series continuity, but barrows more from Norse mythology. From religion to minute details included for reference, everything can be traced back to the centuries old stories that inspired Tolkien. The name Skyrim is derived from Skrymir, the king of the Frost Giants. One of the enemies called Draugr are undead warriors that lived in their graves and guarded treasure. The game even adopts elements from Viking history for some of its story.

Players have a choice of whom they want be by tailoring their character in the traditional roleplaying sense. Skills level up according to how players fight and interact with the world. Using a great sword tempers their ability to perform decapitations, archery allows better shots, and casting spells opens up a chance to use more powerful magic. The open world of Skyrim and the ability to complete quests in a variety of ways allows players to adapt their skills to play how they want.

Though the Elder Scrolls games have an aesthetic of fantasy mixed with Medieval Europe, Skyrim took inspiration from farther north. The most obvious proof is in the region of the same name. Skyrim is mountainous and untamed with rolling plains and snow-covered tundra. The coast is sheeted in layers of ice incasing long forgotten dungeons while southward exists in perpetual autumn. The architecture is derived from traditional Norse structures with an artistic flair. In towns and cities stand long houses and stave churches with intricate designs and effigies carved into wood and stone. The many weapons and armor bear the Norse touch with great axes, swords with small hilts, and rounded shields adorned in complex knots and symbols. The accents of the characters and names are also Scandinavian in origin.

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The religion of the Elder Scrolls is a polytheistic faith of the Nine Divines, but Skyrim has its own belief system. Its pantheon is similar to the Divines in the same way as Greek and Roman mythology. Its concept of the afterlife, however, is a Valhalla equivalent called Sovngarde, a great hall where dead champions eat, drink, and fight for eternity. To earn a seat, men and women must not only be good and honorable in life, but a warrior with many battles to their name. This deification of violence and soldiers is consistent with the Viking way of thinking when it came to war. It is true they were marauders who killed children for fun, but when faced in an actual battle, the Norse people were as honorable as samurai.

The story of Skyrim is centered on dragons, a common motif in Norse mythology. The antagonist is a dragon called Alduin, the World Eater, who has returned after a 1000-year banishment to reassert control over the world. In Norse mythology, there are two prominent dragons: Nidhogg, the Corpse Eater, and Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent. Both are servants of Loki, the catalyst of Ragnarok, an apocalypse scenario where Jormungandr destroys the world and dies at the hands of Thor. The story of Skyrim is very similar as Alduin gathers an army of dragons that the protagonist must defeat.

The political system and history of Skyrim are reflective of the Vikings. Across the game world are a number of cities overseen by a jarl. Under the jarl are thanes, nobles of lower worth. Above the jarls is a king elected at a meeting of the jarls called a moot. One subplot involves a civil war between the High Elf ruled Imperials and the opposing Nords called Stormcloaks. The political schism has caused the jarls to take sides as the factions vie for control. Viking history features many instances of conflict as clans fought one another to supplant control over the whole. The dynamic between the Imperials and Stormcloaks is similar to the Christian encroachment on Scandinavia that brought the Viking Age to the end.

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True Norse mythology and the Vikings were under represented in videogames before Skyrim. From the war-worship to the aesthetic, the game pays respect to the long misunderstood peoples that once struck fear into the hearts of the innocent throughout Medieval Europe. Skyrim broke fantasy convention and portrayed its elements in an unfiltered light that speaks true to the source material. It is as much a good game as a celebration of Norse mythology and culture.


Charles McMillan

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

On Top of It #1: The Cube



On Top of It #1 by Lisa Martens

The Cube

I live in half of a living room in Harlem. My room calls it “The Cube” or, more preciously, the “open-plan Japanese-style abode.”

The Cube is roped off by bookshelves and generic Chinese screens, like in massage rooms. Sometimes the room separators fall down, so I have piles of books that I use as curtains. Atop one stack: Jurassic Park, Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl, and Slavoj Zizek’s God in Pain.

The Cube

The above photo of the screens show the view of my cube from the kitchen. The photo with the bed, desk, and painting of a feminine man tied up shows my cube when it’s clean (a rarity).

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The first and only time I had sex in The Cube was when I first moved in and literally just owned a mattress on the floor. I hope I provided a classy experience for that gentleman.

I got a smaller bed for The Cube so I could fit a desk, which is where I am writing from right now.

I moved to New York ten years ago. I lived in Long Island, went to Long Island University, then switched to NYU, moved to Queens, then Hell’s Kitchen (where I also lived in a living room), then back to Long Island, then to Costa Rica for a few months, back to Queens, then Harlem, then Brooklyn, and now I’m back in Harlem. I briefly lived in my old office, on Governors Island, and in the architecture building of CCNY. I’ve been getting through this city as successfully as someone walking through the Grand Canyon on glass bottles.

I’m on top of it.

My short-term goals include working for cash. Keeping my loans out of default is also relatively important.

Getting consistently laid would be nice, but really I want the INEZ by Lelo, which is the Masarati of vibrators.

My ultimate hope is to get Instagram famous and then get a book deal and then fade into obscurity. I also aspire to wear boots all the time, even when naked.

Maybe I’ll adopt a kid or two one day.

Right now, I’m as stable as Wile E. Coyote wearing a jetpack (if he had student loans).

I’m on top of it.

See you next Monday.


12067174_10100962425284175_628850930_nLisa Martens (Episode 22) currently lives in Harlem. In her past 10 years in New York, she has lived in a garage on Long Island, a living room in Hell’s Kitchen, the architecture building of CCNY, and on the couch of a startup. She grew up in New York, Costa Rica and Texas, and she’s still not sure which of these is home. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing from CCNY. Her thesis, What Grows in Heavy Rain, is available on Amazon. Check out her website here. Follow her on Instagram here.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #7: Shakespeare in Love (1998)



The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #7 by John King

Shakespeare in Love

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

Sooner or later, we had to talk about Shakespeare in Love.


This is kind of the British version of a Hollywood-does-Shakespeare treatment.

Joseph Fiennes, brother to Ralph Fiennes, plays Shakespeare.


Rupert Everett plays the playright Philip Marlow. Judi Dench plays an imperious Queen Elizabeth.

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Simon Callow plays the Master of the Revels. Martin Clunes plays the actor Richard Burbage. Imelda Staunton plays the real-world equivalent of Juliet’s nurse. Colin Firth, who graduate students in my day pined over as Mr. Darcy in the BBC Pride and Prejudice, plays the monstrously-arrogant Lord Wessex.

Shakespeare in Love 4

Tom Wilkinson plays Hugh Fennyman.

Geoffrey Rush, who is Australian, plays theatre-owner Philip Henslowe.


From Hollywood, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Viola De Lesseps, and Ben Affleck plays Ned Alleyn, actor extraordinaire.

The premise is that Shakespeare is a scattered genius who stole ideas and lines from the very atmosphere of London, and the plot of Romeo and Juliet from the love affair he was having at the time. For hardcore Shakespeareans, there is an abundance of inside jokes.

Of course, the entire film is an inside joke—the Elizabethan period is both worshipfully recreated and occasionally undercut by a postmodern understanding of history and psychology.

Tom Stoppard co-wrote Shakespeare in Love with Marc Norman, a mysterious television and film writer who wrote an episode of Mission Impossible in 1970, and directed three episodes of White Shadow. Marc Norman has a decade-long gap in his career from 1985 to 1995. In that mid-nineties return, he wrote the Geena Davis pirate-epic Cutthroat Island.

Cutthroat Island

Shakespeare in Love won the best picture Oscar for 1998. I like it anyway.

What I want to know is how Stoppard and Norman collaborated on the script. The idea that Shakespeare was not some absolute literary deity was put forth in Stoppard’s 1976 play, The Fifteen Minute Hamlet (filmed in 1995), and one is inclined to believe that Stoppard did most of the work. It is that witty, despite the occasional Hollywood flourish and old-fashioned mores that one might be inclined to assign to Norman.

Then again, if the thesis of Shakespeare in Love is correct, then perhaps Norman is responsible for much of what was good in the screenplay, and dignified and ennobled Stoppard’s contributions, whatever they are.

shakespeare in love 4

The occasional Hollywood moments make the film seem momentarily trite, or too contrived, but the climax of the film, and the major moments of the film, manage to be compelling work.

And the acting is top-notch. Even the Americans perform well, including Ben Affleck. Especially Ben Affleck.

Shakespeare in Love 1

If you have watched Romeo and Juliet lately (a good version, say Franco Zeffirelli’s, and not Baz fucking Luhrmann’s), then Shakespeare in Love is a fine film, better than many more serious, straightforward adaptations of the bard’s work.

The idea of Shakespeare being a horn-dog and a playwright capable of sublime affection is a dialectic that feels about right. And its thesis—that if we are imaginative enough, we can survive love—is an impressive one.



John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 173: A Roundtable Discussion About Edgar Allan Poe


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Episode 173 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, we have a roundtable discussion of Edgar Allan Poe.


Present for this discussion were Jared Silvia,



Shawn Whittington,


Dianne Turgeon Richardson,


Matt Peters,


and Teege Braune,



Jared, put THAT damned knife away.


So you’re saying my thesis isn’t solid? Really?



Check out the sweet swag in The Drunken Odyssey‘s fundraiser here.

Tom Lucas Sporting a TDO T-shirt

Check out these Burrow Press events. Literary Death Match will be judged by Billy Collins.


Saturday October 3rd  |  Functionally Literate Presents:

Lowndes Shakespeare Center  |  812 E. Rollins Street
7pm  |  FREE  |  No ticket necessary.

Wednesday October 7th  |  Literary Death Match Presents:

Mad Cow Theatre  |  54 W. Church Street, 2nd Floor
Doors at 7pm  |  Show at 8pm
$12 pre-sale  |  $15 at the door.


Episode 173 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #106: The Last House on the Left

The Curator of Schlock #106 by Jeff Shuster

The Last House on the Left

The story is true…


 It’s October again, the time of year where your Curator of Schlock transforms into the Curator of Shock!

Cue the lightning strike!

With the recent passing of Wes Craven, your curator feels it’s his duty to pay tribute one of The Masters of Horror. Funny how he never directed an episode of Masters of Horror, that short lived Showtime anthology series where they’d get a different horror director to direct a “one hour movie.” I remember that one John McNaughton directed where this woman has sex with zombies. Really? I don’t mean to sound like a prude, but really?

Our first Wes Craven movie is The Last House on the Left. The movie starts out with the claim that the events being depicted are true. I remember when I first purchased The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on DVD back in 1998 (I’ve bought it 4 more times since), my mom flipped out saying, “How can you buy a movie that celebrates those people?” The people she was referring to were the Sawyer Family, a group of cannibals that terrorized Texas in the 1970s. The trailers for that film stated, “The Story is True.” My friend Emilio from Dallas swears they caught one of them and before they gave him the chair, Mr. Sawyer blurted out, “Bubba’s going to come for you. Bubba’s going to come for all of you.”

Of course, there never was a cannibalistic Sawyer family and there never was.

We don’t get cannibals in The Last House on the Left, instead having to settle for bunch of degenerate thieves, murderers, rapists, and pedophiles on the run from the law, the kind of criminal lowlifes Paul Kersey wouldn’t have wasted a second bullet on.


Come on, there’s one guy named Junior who croaks like a frog.


He’s also addicted to drugs, obviously. The other gang members are named Krug, Sadie, and Weasel.

The movie starts out with 17 year-old Mari Collingwood who’s going out to a concert with her friend, Phyllis. Before she heads out, her parents complain that she isn’t wearing a bra, and she retorts that the bras her mother wore back in the 1950s were shaped like torpedoes. The whole conversation made me very uncomfortable, a prelude of things to come. Mari and Phyllis try to score some weed before the rock concert, but their plan goes awry when that sadistic gang I mentioned earlier kidnaps them.


Bad things happen to Mari and Phyllis from here on out. It doesn’t end well for them, and we’re left to believe that this gang will get away with what they’ve done until they arrive at the house of Mari’s parents, who take them in for the night.


What will happen to the gang once Mari’s parents figure out what they did to their daughter? Let’s just say that Mari’s dad let’s his chainsaw do the talking.

Is this a sick movie? Yes. I remember hearing Joe Bob Briggs comment on how audiences back in the day shouted at the projectionist to turn the movie off. I wonder if the projectionist did. Is there a code projectionists live by?


Jeffrey Shuster 4

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

McMillan’s Codex #6: Bloodborne


McMillan’s Codex #6 By C.T. McMillan


It is not often cult authors like H.P. Lovecraft receive such a following in today’s world. His stories of cosmic horror and beings so incomprehensible they drive men insane have captivated young and old readers a like. Over the years entertainment media has used Lovecraft as an inspiration with varying degrees of success. The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness, Prometheus, and even Pacific Rim are good movie examples, while videogames struggle to embrace Lovecraft beyond clever references. Game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, however, took the challenge and made Bloodborne.

Bloodborne 1

Miyazaki is known for the Souls series, action RPGs renowned for their difficulty. Each game is a spiritual successor to the other, and Bloodborne is no different. Even the animations and story telling are the same, with the exception of its combat.   Bloodborne is a fast character action game with an emphasis on offense. The player is encouraged to attack due to the lack of a defensive option and you can only regain health by attacking. Along with the fast combat are aspects of role playing that allow you to level up and build a character suited to your play style by gaining points called blood echoes.

The world and its mechanics are designed around a combination of cosmic and body horror. As per Lovecraft, the world slowly goes insane and undergoes a transformation. A staple of body horror is what you cannot see is affecting you on the inside. In the story, a plague is turning people into monsters and forces unseen twist flesh into grotesque abominations. Mosquito-men hover on buzzing wings, human enemies suddenly sprout snakes from their heads, and animated piles of corpses drip and ooze grime as they crawl. It is implied the player is infected with the plague and sets out on a journey to find a cure.

Bloodborne can be enjoyed on aesthetics alone with its mix of gothic and Victorian styled architecture. Pointed spires atop cathedral-esque buildings reach into the perpetually night sky, streets and alleys fold in on each other as they descend deeper towards the depths, and statues line walkways and bridges. As the game progresses the aesthetic becomes as morphed and grotesque as the enemies. Statues turn into monstrous beings and on the walls of buildings effigies of people stare out in frozen horror as if absorbed by the masonry. The game’s tone is also reflective of the style. After men of science tamper with powers unknown, madness and plague consume the world on an apocalyptic scale. As a Hunter, it is your job to right the wrongs and expunge the monsters to bring light to the darkness.

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The religion of Bloodborne is very much inspired by the Cthulhu mythos. The gods, known as Great Ones, are inter-dimensional aliens whose influence is inescapable and omniscient. The Healing Church, the in-game ecclesia, worships the Great Ones and conducts experiments on ordinary people to be closer to them. The town in which they are located, Central Yharnam, is a parallel to Innsmouth, rife with crazed fanatics. In their pursuit of seeking their gods’ wisdom, disciples of the Church are driven mad and it is believed they might have caused the plague. The Hunters are a response to the Church and it is alleged they were created by the Great Ones to put a stop to their activities.

Some of the bosses bear a direct resemblance to Lovecraft’s infamous creatures. Ebrietas is similar to Yog-Sothoth, a mass of tentacles with wings and a bristled mouth that shows a portal to the cosmos. Throughout the game the protagonist gains an item called Madman’s Knowledge that when consumed, reveals giant multi-armed Amygdala monsters clinging to the game’s buildings. Amygdala has a lot in common with Cthulhu with its beard of tentacles on a face of many eyes. Mergo’s Wet Nurse is less obvious about its inspiration, wearing cloth over its body and arms. Its face is uncovered but invisible, creating a sense it is too otherworldly to comprehend.

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Bloodborne is a game Lovecraft fans will enjoy. Though no directly based on his work, it was certainly inspired. From the fully realized world of death and decay, to the slow encroaching madness that seeks to consume it, never has cosmic horror been faithfully applied in a videogame. Hidetaka Miyazaki knew better than anyone how to do Lovecraft right and exceeded all expectations. If you can adapt to the difficulty, it is worth getting used to dying few dozen times.


Charles McMillan

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

Episode 172: Michele Roldán Shaw!



Episode 172 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to chronicler of the rambling life, Michele Roldán Shaw,

Photo by Pressly Hall Giltner Photography.

Photo by Pressly Hall Giltner Photography.

plus Nancy Caronia reads her essay, “Deserving Angels.”

Nancy Caronia


Check out the sweet swag in The Drunken Odyssey‘s fundraiser here.

Tom Lucas Sporting a TDO T-shirtCheck out these Burrow Press events. Literary Death Match will be judged by Billy Collins.

fund-slideSaturday October 3rd  |  Functionally Literate Presents:

Lowndes Shakespeare Center  |  812 E. Rollins Street
7pm  |  FREE  |  No ticket necessary.

Wednesday October 7th  |  Literary Death Match Presents:

Mad Cow Theatre  |  54 W. Church Street, 2nd Floor
Doors at 7pm  |  Show at 8pm
$12 pre-sale  |  $15 at the door.


Episode 172 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #105: The Substitute 3


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The Curator of Schlock #105 by Jeff Shuster

The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All

There’s no substitute for Treat Williams. Yeah, we’re stuck with him again!

Look, I like Treat Williams. I just don’t know that he was the best pick to play a hardcore mercenary turned high school teacher. How many hardcore mercenary turned high school teachers have you met in your life, Mr. Curator? Well, I’ve met three and they all resembled Tom Berenger, so I don’t want to hear it! Anyway, we continue Back to School Month with The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All from director Robert Radler, if that is his real name.

I have to give credit where credit is due. The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All is a mean movie where mean people do mean things to each other. Treat Williams returns to the role of Karl Tomasson…that’s an odd last name. Is it Nordic? Son of Tomas? Anyway, the movie starts out with Tomasson being held prisoner by some of Slobodan Milošević’s goons. His mercenary partner is beaten into paralysis below the neck so Tomasson suffocates him to death as any good friend would, kills the guards, and skips back to the United States to deliver the guy’s necklace or Medal of Honor or something to that effect to the man’s daughter.


It turns out his friend’s daughter teaches English Literature to a college football team named the Rams. They’re kind of rude in her classroom. They toss the football around when they should be paying attention to the lesson about Thomas Wolfe. She says they’re going to fail the course, which results her getting assaulted after hours by the team and sent to the hospital.

Here’s what I don’t get? Why is this delinquent football team even showing up to class? They don’t want to be there, so why not just intimidate the teacher into keeping their attendance in addition to passing them? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say their attendance is just an excuse to let Tomasson play the role of English Professor. Apparently, he has a Doctorate in Contemporary American Literature.


Ha! He tussles with one of the football players in class when a discussion of Graham Green’s The Quiet American falls on deaf ears. Tomasson comes to the conclusion that the football team is on steroids


Tomasson has his own team this time around. There’s a guy with a ninja sword and another guy that gorges himself on M&M cookies. I don’t know which is more disgusting, the one mercenary who chops arms off with a ninja sword or the other mercenary who slobbers his cookies with split before downing them. That’s what milk’s for!

Claudia Christian plays a mercenary named Andy who Tomasson sends undercover to a wannabe Hooters restaurant so they can find the connection between the evil football team and their connection to the mob.


Tomasson and the cookie monster have her under video surveillance during a wet t-shirt conference. Seeing Treat Williams and some sweaty guy shoving spit-laden M&M cookies in his mouth while they comment on silicone breast being splashed with water in a van that looks like it belongs to a serial killer is not my idea of a good time. The sacrifices I make for this blog!

5 Things I Learned from The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All

  1. Steroids shrink your testicles.
  2. Steroids give you an inflated ego.
  3. Weights can kill!
  4. Eyeglass lenses can kill!
  5. Cars can kill you especially when Treat Williams is behind the wheel and pinning you to a warehouse wall while he steps on the gas.


Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

McMillan’s Codex #5: The Last of Us


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McMillan’s Codex #5 By C.T. McMillan

The Last of Us

Conveying emotion in videogames is difficult. Taken at face value they are toys, superficial things that do not require deep thought or examination outside of times in which players want to escape reality. The fun factor alone makes most games worth the purchase, but some developers make a conscious effort to do more. Naught Dog, a company known for platform adventurers, went outside their usual haunt to make a game unlike any other: The Last of Us.

The Last of Us 1Employing classic survival horror elements, Last of Us puts players in an environment where choice and resources are vital to success. It is possible to complete most sections without being detected or loud with all the enemies aware of your presence and both affect the number of health items and ammo. The louder one plays, the more they spend clearing a section to move on. The stealth option is best to conserve resources, but is more challenging as players must evade, distract, and takedown foes without arousing suspicion.

Enemy intelligence plays a big role in the difficulty. Whenever a body is discovered or disturbance detected, enemies go on alert to seek you out. They move slow and can surprise you if not careful. Players can also throw objects to coax enemies into an opening for a quiet kill. When engaged in a firefight, some enemies draw fire while others move in from the flanks to finish you off. Both outcomes are dependent on player skill.

Like most post apocalyptic worlds, the resources available are precious and must be exploited for what little worth they have left. The game utilizes a crafting system where health items, knives, and bombs takes a number of components that are worth only a small part of each item, encouraging players to explore levels for every available piece. Upgrade points can also be found to increase the stats of items and player abilities.

The Last of Us 2Last of Us is a tad overrated. At face value, its story and what it does with emotion is no different from an episode of Walking Dead or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Both works are very dark in their subject matter and present a side of the apocalypse genre not often seen. They emphasize the survival element in a dystopic environment and the human cost of what must be done. I believe Last of Us is so revered because it was the first videogame to do what those titles did in their respective mediums.

The emotion comes from the relationship between characters Joel and Ellie. The story is similar to Children of Men where Joel must escort Ellie to a location while trying to stay alive. Outside of cut scenes a lot is learned about who they are through casual interactions. The player will stumble upon a derelict arcade cabinet or the wreckage of an ice cream truck and Ellie will ask Joel what it is. He represents the past, a survivor who has been changed by decades of living in this dystopia, while she is the future, born behind walls, and must learn the ways of the world.

The player controls Joel as Ellie tags along, creating a mentor/student dynamic enhanced by their interactions. The player knows what is going on and what to do, but she remains mostly in the dark. It gets to a point where being separated becomes unnerving, especially with encroaching bandits or infected enemies. It is the implication that is truly dire as when the player dies, Ellie is left alone with those who want to kill her or worse. Eventually she learns to take care of herself, but the devotion remains. For about 12 hours you get to know her and Joel and you do not want the experience to end.

A key element that makes the relationship feel real is the performances. Veteran voice actor Troy Baker assumes a gruff Texas accent for Joel, sounding old and clearly affected by the years of doing what he has to. He has great chemistry with newcomer Ashley Johnson as Ellie, whose performance reminds me of Ellen Page from Juno if the character did not make me want to sterilize the human race. Ellie’s naivete has a major cute factor, but her resilience as a survivor with some semblance of hope and innocence makes her more sympathetic.

The Last of Us 3The Last of Us does what games like Silent Hill 2 used to do. With deep characterization through gameplay and storytelling, we witness the struggle of survival from the perspective of two very different people who come to depend on each other. We feel their anguish, understand their plight, and want to see them overcome the hardships of the apocalypse. If there is any testament that videogames can convey emotion, it is certainly The Last of Us.


Charles McMillan

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

The Global Barfly’s Companion #19: The Alaska State Fair

The Global Barfly’s Companion #19 by Benjamin Toche

VenueThe Alaska State Fair

Location:  2075 Glenn Highway, Palmer, AK 99645


Alaska recently breached headlines, not for the inane blathering of one time vice presidential candidate and local doofus Sarah Palin, but for President Obama’s visit to the state to discuss boring old climate change. Few outside of the region’s press affiliates bothered to care. Instead, the residents of the 49th state busied their faceholes with one of their favored yearly indulgences: the Alaska State Fair. I set forth into the madness: the crowds and lights and rides and greasy, flash-fried things and, obviously, strong drink.

The fairgrounds occupy a chunk of appropriated farmland next to the railroad tracks that run through Palmer, a sleepy-ish farm town reminiscent of the upper Midwest. Some would call the place idyllic: ringed by jagged mountains, cut by glacial rivers, choked with wildlife. There’s a reason visiting the state is one of those bucket list items. Palmer has a certain charm and for the occasion of the fair, she dons her best act of being true, salt of the earth Americana.

Each time I go to the Alaska State Fair, I’m floored anew by the powerful need for alcohol in order to cope with the enormity of everything here. A 70-pound rutabaga. Pumpkins weighing a half-ton. Llamas. Clanky rides administered by stereotypical carnies. Who can soberly face osuch terror?

The fair does not disappoint.


The fair is home to seven watering holes. In the early afternoon, after a rousing set of pig races wherein the combatants were named after fictional characters (e.g., Lord Voldepork), I visit the swankiest of the AK fair’s booze-marts: a log style building that once upon a time was a church. A sign draped over the entrance proclaims the joint, Wine Bar.

The setting is gussied up with gauzy drapes and “art” strung with Christmas lights as if outside it was already descending into evening. Round tables with votive candles in cut-glass jars clutter the center of the main room. Love seats and low coffee tables crowd along the left hand wall. The bar sits to the right and offers a selection of wines from around the globe: Malbecs from Argentina, Riojas from Spain, Chardonnays from Napa, a wholly unexpected Veuve Clicquot – available for only $80 per bottle. Patrons hunch along the bar with long stemmed glasses, swirling and nosing and muttering about their drinks before taking small, appreciative sips. Truly, Wine Bar is not the typical image people conjure when confronted with the scale of Alaska. It’s a strange place, an attempt at culture at an event otherwise devoid of any such pretension.

I take a seat outside. Wrought iron chairs and tables with fat umbrellas sprouting from their centers offer a view of a nearby stage where dancers cavort: flamenco performed by real, and sveltely beautiful Latin Americans followed by pounding cloggers, daughters of hearty farm stock, who jiggle in not an altogether unbeautiful way themselves. The flamenco you’d expect as you nibble at $11/plate dips (white bean, olive tapenade, feta pepper served with warm, sliced baguette), but the cloggers call for an appropriately local microbrew. There are several on tap, along with your characteristically terrible macros, and the Twister Creek IPA from the Denali Brewing Company matches the cloggers’ kitsch perfectly in its crispness. Later, a local lady from Fairbanks seats herself at my table and eats a weird open-face-and-cheese-covered sandwich before she attempts a conversation, which makes me excuse myself in favor of another of my favorite fair boozeries: the beer garden.


Housed tabernacle-style in vinyl sheeting, the Oasis Beer Garden offers inside and outside seating. Rigged with green picnic tables and awash with an ambience of frat-boy charm, this place is not antithetical to what Wine Bar strives for, but it’s certainly a leap down the cultural ladder. Patrons mug for photos behind a board painted to resemble a crab fisherman from the “Deadliest Catch” series. There is a gigantic Jenga game, with 2x4s for pieces, operated by some hipsters who stumbled in from the rides that abut Oasis. A lady with a stroller arrives while a busker serenades the crowd with a washboard strapped to his chest.

I take my refuge within the tent. Shrieks issue from the rides, punctuating the general hubbub of machinery and children and their milling parents, shelling out so many dollars for rigged carnival games offering cheaply-made Chinese prizes. In Oasis, all of us drink beers. Coors Light is a popular choice. The clients are studious drinkers, bracing themselves before heading out again.

If Wine Bar was an attempt at culture, Oasis is a filling station. I have a few drinks here: Pumpkin Ale seasonal from the Alaskan Brewing Company and a couple more Twister Creeks. As I start to feel buzzed, the Jenga tower falls for the fifteenth time, startling me anew. I head out into the fair before a stop at the day’s ultimate destination.


The Sluice Box. Aptly named for that is what happens to bodies here. If Wine Bar was upscale and Oasis was too bro-tier, Sluice Box is the incarnation of what people perceive as real Alaska. Everything here screams ragamuffin and jury rig. The building is squat, ugly: a longhouse with rude wooden columns supporting open A-frame rafters; clapboard exterior but nothing to hide the place’s snaking electrical conduits. A sign above the bar proclaims, IN DOG BEERS I HAVE ONLY HAD ONE.

The barkeeps dress motley, one of them sporting a camouflage blouse about three sizes too large. She dances with her fellow keep, a slow turning step, up and down the bar back, as she waits for the head of my beer to settle. The floor is gravel and a stage at the far end holds a local act, The Voodoo Blues, whose youngish lead singer sports a floral print push-up dress as she belts out soulful tunes to the accompaniment of her crew. She’s either pretty good or passable enough due to the beers I’ve ingested. Doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s giving it her damnedest.

The Sluice Box is the place where people end up at the fair. It’s where the true believers of Dionysus aggregate at the end of their day. It’s beer on tap and they’re running a special, Heineken $5 a bottle, the cheapest you can get on the grounds. Beverage Enforcement men, stern looking beefy dudes in polos and cargo pants and boots, make sure none of the riff-raff get out of line. A palsied man enters, carrying a cheeseburger, and sits by himself at one of the low picnic tables near the live music. He eats. I watch. Later, he’s joined by an older lady who brings him a beer. He dresses in touristy clothes and an LL Bean hat, but he’s right where he belongs. This is it, and maybe it’s the beer or the dying sun or the lead singer whose pipes just can’t quite reach Robert Plant in “Whole Lotta Love” or the guitarist who doesn’t even try to imitate Page’s signature slide on the same song, but I’m swept with the feeling that this, of all the low down places of the world, is the one to visit at the Alaska State Fair.

Outside is sunset, 10PM-ish. The sky is golden and terrible. The fair begins its rumbling closing activities. I head for home.



Benjamin Toche

Benjamin Toche is an author living in Palmer, Alaska. He reads and writes when not suffering from self-induced psychological and/or interpersonal relationship problems.


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