Tranquility in the Wasteland: The Sobering Impact of Mad Max‘s Photo Mode

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This piece was originally written for Haywire Magazine, go check them out!

For me, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, Mad Max was not a thinking game. At least, not at first: what I wanted most from Avalanche Studios’ 2015 open-world action title was a pretty pastime with dopamine-inducing resource collecting and vehicular combat. Mad Max‘s solid gameplay loop of driving, bashing, punching, searching, gathering, and upgrading meant the violence easily lulled me into a flow state, but instead of stacking tetrominos I was attaching a monstrous bullbar to increase my car’s attack stat. 

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Fragmentation 2: From the Outside Looking In

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I wrote recently about the power and perils of wasteland photography in Mad Max, and it got me thinking on death and the immortality of images. I can’t help but think of the slow march of climate change and wondering how our planet will be remembered. How will Earth be photographed? What, as Susan Sontag puts it in On Photography, will “testify to time’s relentless melt”? I can imagine a flotilla of cumulus clouds over stretching plains, a pair of crumpled sedans wrecked in the middle of an intersection, and an aerial shot of the Amazon all hidden away in some wasteland bandit’s glove compartment.

I began writing that piece without a clear sense of direction, only re-positioning towards interesting landmarks after cresting over dunes and circumventing jagged rocks breaching the ground like enormous teeth. I never expected an essay on the video game world of Mad Max would bring me to such an introspective place.

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40 Photos from Ireland

021We took an early morning bus out of London and watched the shapeless countryside ebb and flow in the dark. When we got to the coast, our vehicle was swallowed by a ferry. From the tight-quarters of the cargo hold we ascended onto the lodging floors and collapsed on any free surfaces available, sleepy ooze still clinging to the corners of our eyes. We didn’t book a room, so a firm restaurant booth had to do if you wanted to go horizontal.

Then the world churned beneath our bodies and we knew rest and relaxation was out of the question. Our landlubber inner ears bobbed like buoys and our stomachs forgot about breakfast or even the concept of food. Luckily there was a small theater playing Pixar’s Brave; the uneven tale of witchcraft and womanhood proved an effective distraction.

When we reached Dublin, the first thing I did was throw up. The ferry station restroom stalls were a peeling cobalt blue scattered with graffiti. My vision blurred with welling tears, and I choked down what I could. From there we rolled our suitcases to a two-story McDonald’s where I got further acquainted with the toilets of Ireland.

The next stop on my porcelain tour was the local hostel where we rendezvoused with the rest of our excursion group. While matching t-shirts were being passed out, I was searching for the nearest drug store. With a jumbo shot of slow-moving Pepto on my tongue, I started panicking. I didn’t want to be the sick kid on the field trip.

I’ve always held anxiety in my gut. Some people experience joint pain or excess sweating, but my mood and tummy are inexorably linked and rise and fall together. When I’m anxious, my insides churn and splash like the waves beneath the Cliffs of Moher. While walking back in the cool November air I entertained the idea of bailing on the whole trip. The thought of sloshing in a bus cresting hill after hill was enough to make me miss my quiet flat in London.

But I’m thankful I stuck with it. At our first stop I slowly made my way through a pack of crumbly butter crackers, and washed them down with bottled water and deep, calming breaths. The trip lasted several days and I saw a lot of beautiful country, an Irish music jam enlivening a street of neighborhood pubs, and some really cool rock faces. Continue reading

22 Photos from Costa Rica

531408_468359006509702_1501962542_nWhen I remember Costa Rica I think of rain. My bangs forming into icicles. Droplets swelling on my eyebrows, pooling in my eyes, leaping off the tip of my nose. Rain drumming off distant roofs and smacking against giant green leaves bowing like penitent monks. When it wasn’t raining, the atmosphere was sweet and sticky with potential energy. The heavy clouds descended to swallow us. It was a shared ritual, a communion of heaven and earth. Continue reading