The Benefits of Variety

I’m going to have to start this article off with a truly shocking confession: I have never played a Legend of Zelda game.

No, seriously, I haven’t: when I was growing up, I had a PlayStation 2, a system which never had the franchise on it, and, while I was definitely curious to play either Oracle of Ages or Oracle of Seasons as a kid due to seeing them being advertised on the back copy of a comic I used to read, the franchise in general just never really crossed my gaming path while growing up.

Fortunately, this is something which I am aiming to correct sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’ve received good recommendations for Ocarina of Time and will probably already have a copy of it by the time you read tomorrow’s review. I’m honestly pretty psyched to finally give the franchise a fair shot, because I know how beloved it is by so many gamers out there and it’s something that has been long overdue.

Now, some of you might be reading this and going “Well, that’s nice to hear, but what exactly is the point of this ramble?”

Well, one of the things that I’ve slowly come to appreciate over the last couple of weeks is how good it is to shake up your entertainment and try out new things. Now, this isn’t really a deep observation by any measure, but I think that it’s something that has really become highlighted to me in the last bit of time and I want to talk about it a bit more so that people can hopefully see where I’m coming from and decide whether to follow my lead or not.

As I’m sure most of you already are aware, the main thing I do on this site is reviews of metal albums. So, naturally, I listen to it a lot. And I absolutely love it, but it’s easy to get burnt out from doing the same thing again and again. I’ve had it happen myself in the past and it’s something that I am very careful to avoid having happen again.

However, partially as a result of me doing some unusually themed radio shows for my local station, the last month has had me opening my eyes to funk and Latin American music and even made me re-appreciate folk music again after so long away from it. Certainly a strange selection of music in comparison to my metal reviews, I’m sure you’d agree, but here’s the funny thing: I actually feel that listening to those genres of music has actually helped me to avoid a burnout. Why? Well, it’s given me something completely new into my palate to appreciate and it’s all made me fall back in love with music as a result because I’m seeing things which weren’t usually part of metal music being done and offering new ideas which I don’t usually hear in metal.

You’d think that this is the only thing that has changed a bit, but, actually, that’s not the only thing. See, I’ve also decided to finally dive into the Ace Attorney franchise and, while I am not too far into Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy at the time of writing, it has been truly a joy to play, bringing back good memories of when I did the visual novel reviews and (bizarrely) my own law classes in high school, but also offering something to my usual gaming palate which is surprisingly different from what I used to play while growing up. Coming from someone who sucks at puzzle games (which the games technically are, when you think about it: you have to find the clues that help you to defend your client from the charges placed upon them), this is one of the first times in a long while where I’ve not felt afraid to play a puzzle game and have actually really enjoyed the time I have spent with the game so far. I also have been taking a liking to fighting games in the last month, as I briefly mentioned last week.

You might think this new stuff has felt weird in comparison to my usual stuff, but, surprisingly, these changes have actually felt like really fun changes of pace. Let’s be honest, while metal music and platform games are great, after a period of time, one can be forgiven for becoming a bit jaded at them due to them being the only things you tend to focus upon, so these changes have actually felt like really fun alternatives to my usual options and made me feel like my tastes have actually opened up even more, keeping me more fresh and appreciative of how others might look upon what I like.

Now, I am in no way saying that one needs to leave one’s comfort zone if they feel like they are struggling with stuff: after all, there’s a lot to enjoy within just one’s comfort zone. However, what I am saying is that sometimes, a little step outside of the norm can do wonders for you if you feel like you’re forgetting what made you fall in love with something in the first place.

Obviously, this might seem like a really weird suggestion to some people: why try something new if you are losing interest in something else? Surely the problem is that the genre you are losing interest in is just not as good as it once was?

Not necessarily. While part of me still clings to nostalgia, I will freely admit that there have been some truly incredible releases this year which I think have ranked among my favourite pieces of art (though I’ll keep the details on that a surprise until the end of the year) and some godawful crap from when I was growing up which I’d rather pretend never happened (anyone else remember that song “Babycakes?” by 3 Of A Kind? No? THANK GOD!). But, when you’re hearing the same basic thing on a frequent basis, it can be easy to take it for granted and start to hate stuff for not deviating from the cliches that you can spot a mile away. This, I think, is part of what can cause professional critics to seemingly develop the whole “true art” logic: because it isn’t following the cliches of the genre, surely that must elevate it above that which isn’t original, right?

That is why the swap can be helpful: by trying something new, you can learn so much about both your own favourite genre and the genre you are exploring. Let me present the example of a metal fan trying out folk music: the overlap between the two is nonexistent (well, technically, folk metal means there is an overlap, but the point I was aiming for is that you won’t find much of an overlap between the core features of both genres), but one can learn a lot about one’s own taste through taking the time to listen to each genre and seeing what stands out to you about each one. Even if you don’t necessarily enjoy both genres, there can be a lot to gain from trying out a new genre and seeing what features you like about it.

Obviously, trying something new voluntarily can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you’re very ingrained in your comfort zone. Indeed, I myself used to be someone who outright refused to listen to rap and pop because I could not tolerate them (although the fact my pre-teen years were me listening to that sort of music and being ashamed to admit it didn’t help). Now, however, even though I don’t necessarily LIKE most rap or pop, I can at least see why people would like them and can often explain why I enjoy certain songs in those genres in enough detail to show that I’ve not just made a knee jerk reaction towards it. It also bleeds through a little bit into my own reviews: one of the reasons why I’ve taken such a shine to funk is that, much like progressive music, the genre places some emphasis on good bass playing (albeit to different extents in each case) and Latin American music, much like folk (and, to an extent, old fashioned country), is the music of the people of Latin America, which helps you to appreciate the musical climate that people from, say, Chile come from and which sounds normal to them. This, in turn, can help you to realise what might make bands like Iron Maiden so popular in Chile as a result!

Similarly, playing fighting games has made me appreciate the challenge behind them and appreciate why other people who are used to fighting games might not appreciate the likes of Ace Attorney: after all, fighting games demand a degree of immediate challenge and strong reflexes while demanding an understanding of what an opponent can throw at you and how to counter it (especially when it comes to games like Tekken or Dead or Alive), while Ace Attorney places an emphasis on demanding the player to consider a lot of factors at their own pace, put together the pieces of a puzzle in their own time (or in the time the game demands of them, whichever comes first) and whose only real skill is in figuring out the puzzles to allow for the further advancement of the plot. Not really much of an overlap between the two, I’m sure you’d agree!

That’s more what I’m getting at with the whole “trying stuff out of your comfort zone” discussion. In a way, it isn’t what you know you like that makes you a more rounded person, but finding a way to understand what you don’t like and respect it that does. Let’s be honest, anyone can say that they think something is awful, but being able to say EXACTLY why you don’t like something, give it respect for the stuff it does right AND be able to appreciate what elements of the stuff you like won’t appeal to people on the opposite side of the debate? That’s a surprisingly difficult thing to do well, for it requires critical thinking skills, huge amounts of knowledge on the core features of both the subjects you like and the subjects you don’t, the patience to not make knee jerk reactions and a healthy respect for that which isn’t to your personal taste. Sounds easy on paper, but try listening to something in a genre you don’t like that much (or, heck, something that is a part of a genre you like which can be difficult to appreciate, such as extreme metal) and you’ll see how difficult it can be to do it at all, let alone doing it well!

My personal bit of advice, if you are reading this and feel like trying something a bit different, is this: look at the stuff you like, ask what aspects of it you like and then try to find something which has enough elements of what you like to not feel like too drastic a jump, but is different enough that it actually feels like a difference. Like your music loud and heavy? Try hardcore punk! Like your games slow and strategic? Try a visual novel! Like your anime to be gorefests? Try something like Highschool of the Dead! After a while, you’ll eventually start to figure out what definitely doesn’t work for you and what does and know what stuff will probably be worth trying based on those factors.

And hey, if nothing else, you’ll probably find out about some cool stuff which might not have normally crossed your path, which is a plus any way you look at it!