This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices. We’re focusing on the things that support our physical and mental health while practicing social distancing. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!
The short: No pop culture is the right fit for now, but my shotgun weed puller is doing the trick!
Being at home and isolated in my family bubble I’ve found that media doesn’t have the same appeal it did before the pandemic. I am a huge fan of any TV show set in a dark and snow-bound country with a serial killer on the loose. But those shows aren’t what I need right now. Turns out what I do need is my brand new Fiskars Weed Puller.
A year and half ago my husband I purchased our first house in Victoria, BC. She’s a wonderful home near a local waterway built in 1942. She’s also a house that needs a lot of TLC – good bones, the home inspector said – and part of that care is focused on the garden. Our lawn is covered with dandelions and broadleaf plantains. It’s more weed than grass and while my 10 year vision is to have minimal grass and lots of native plants, right now our lawn needs help.
Last week I was on a clear-my-mind-what-the-f**k-is-going-on walk when I saw a neighbour using a long pole and pushing down with her foot to remove dandelions. We chatted for a bit and she told me how satisfying she found the process thanks to her weed puller.
Two days later I owned my very own Fiskars Weed Puller. I try to spend at least 20 minutes every day pulling up weeds. It is incredibly satisfying to push the tool into the earth and pull up the weed complete with root! I’m also getting outside. I’m breathing fresh air. I’m improving my garden. I’m clearing my mind. I’m also connecting with passersby; a number of couples have also asked about my tool.
The pièce de résistance is that dropping the weed off the tool is a shotgun action. I’ve got my own Winchester Rifle: “Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
TL;DR: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an engaging game with gorgeous visuals.
I’m a big fan of platformers or “Metroidvania” style games. They were my favorites as a kid, and I’ve continued to play them my whole life. In fact, one of the things I really like about game stores like Steam, etc. is that you can find so many lovingly made, retro style platformers developed by indie studios all over the world.
A good Metroidvania game combines a great story with exciting and challenging combat that takes place within the confines of tricky level design. It requires the player to perfectly jump, swing, slide, etc. to navigate and reach a destination or “boss”. Usually the games include initially inaccessible areas on the maps that you can go back to later once you acquire some new talent (e.g. a wall bash or double jump).
From my perspective, the great thing about this style of games is that they are usually easy to start and stop. Navigating the levels essentially requires solving puzzles and then executing a series actions near perfectly. If you die, you can try again pretty quickly. If you get stuck, you can turn the game off and come back later, starting from where you left off.
So with that context, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is probably one of the best I have played. This game continues the storyline of the first game, Ori and The Blind Forest (which I also loved). It is really an engaging story and they know how to bring the feels.
The visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Even though this is basically a 2D sidescroller, you really feel the depth of the environments due to the layering of foreground and backgrounds.
I feel combat is better in this version than the first and the developers have provided quite a bit of flexibility in playstyle by giving players the ability to equip different combinations of skills. Each of these skills can be improved and so players can focus on the attacks and navigation abilities they prefer. In some case a special ability is needed to progress, but there is usually more than one way to tackle these obstacles.
There is a decent amount of choice in exploring the world since you can choose the order of which paths to follow, rather than a purely linear progression. This also helps with the frustration factor as you can quickly warp out of an area and try somewhere else.
If you like these types of games like I do, then I highly recommend. If you haven’t played many of these types of games then this could be a great intro. My only suggestion is to start with Ori and the Blind Forest so that you can experience the full story.
In Short: Melissa Hunter writes and stars in 5 min episodes as the grown-up version of the death-obsessed little girl from the Addams Family TV shows/movie.
How this little series made it to YouTube without being pulled by the Addams Family licensees, I have no idea. But it’s brilliant. Follow along as Wednesday applies for a job, goes on a date, walks the dog, or deals with cat-callers on the street. It is a simple idea, take a well known character as a child and observe them as an adult – and in this case through Wednesday’s macabre lens that involves blood, death, and sleeping in a crypt.
TL;DR: Taking my bike out for a spin every morning before working from home has been a lifesaver during this time of self-isolation.
Last August I decided to buy a bicycle and start biking to work. It’s really been great getting in some daily exercise, and although there have been some challenges (so many flat tires, and extremely dark and rainy winter) my route is beautiful and I don’t have to take the bus every day anymore. My route takes me down the Lochside trail past Swan Lake, and then down the famous Galloping Goose trail, over the Selkirk Trestle, and to the scenic Victoria harbour.
Now that Canada is pretty much in lock-down mode with the COVID-19 pandemic, the “new normal” is to work from home. My first week of working from home took some getting used to in terms of carving out my personal “office corner” and trying to keep a routine. After about 5 days though I turned into a stiff blob from not moving much, so I decided to treat the mornings like I’m still going in to the office. I wake up early, make a coffee in my Hydro Flask, and I bike my usual route downtown. Then I’ve been having my coffee in an empty plaza overlooking the harbour and the Blue Bridge, and then going back home!
In the pre-self-isolation days this tiny routine may have been a silly thing to mention. I think the pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to the little things in life that we are grateful for every day, and because of that I wanted to share my pick of my beloved bicycle. I am grateful for the chance to work from home, grateful for having a home at all, grateful for being “cooped up” with my other half and not being alone, grateful for my bicycle which starts my day off right, and grateful for my beautiful city and the great weather.
TL;DR – Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch is the perfect way to spend your days self-isolating, with adorable characters, a bit of humour, a rewarding gameplay loop, and a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful music.
I’ll be honest, this is my first time ever playing a proper version of Animal Crossing (other than the mobile Pocket Camp game). But when I saw all my friends and video game critics raving about New Horizons, I knew I wanted in (hooray peer pressure!). In fact, I bought a Nintendo Switch mainly for this game alone (and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). What strikes me about Animal Crossing: New Horizons is its simplicity. Like I said it’s my first go at the franchise but I immediately knew what I was getting into. The character models are cute – nothing fancy, but functional and fits the aesthetic. The music is relaxing and immediately got me feeling a bit zen. And the visuals overall are great! Again, nothing special since the Switch isn’t exactly a powerhouse console, but it’s charming and easy to look at.
But the thing that REALLY got me hooked was the gameplay. For reference, I’ve recently being playing a ton of Destiny 2 and Division 2 – you know, games where your character constantly dies and you have people online yelling in your ears. Needless to say, it’s all a bit stressful during these weird times we find ourselves in. Enter Animal Crossing. The game where, at worst, you faint from getting stung by bees or bitten by a tarantula, only to wake up at your front door ready to go off on another adventure. The goal of the game is to terraform a deserted island that you’ve been dropped onto with a few new pals, with more to join you as things develop. You collect materials found in nature, craft tools like fishing rods, bug catching nets, axes, etc. Then you do it all over again! You can honestly do whatever you want. Got a green thumb? Plant a garden and some trees! Keen on home decoration? Better Homes and Gardens, here you come (at a price, resident capitalist Tom Nook will keep you up to your nose in debt if you’re interested in home ownership)! Up for a little runway modelling? Treat yourself to a fancy Starfleet outfit (looking at you, Roxanne). The world is your oyster.
And one of the best parts is that the game syncs with your real-life timezone. The days advance as your day advances. A lot of the capabilities in the game are limited to what you get done in a day, but there’s also no rush. You can jump in for 10 minutes every morning, or for a few hours here and there. It doesn’t discriminate or punish you. It just wants you to have fun. And honestly, with the way things are right now, if we have to isolate ourselves on our own little islands then why not make it a more enjoyable experience? Plus, with the ability to have your real-life friends who own the game visit your island, I can’t think of a better exercise to put the social in social-distancing!
In Short: Wonderful! Is a podcast about good things and the things that make them good.
When I’m craving a little shot of positivity and goodness, I make a cup of tea, curl up on my papasan chair and put on the podcast Wonderful! Hosted by husband and wife Griffin and Rachel McElroy, Wonderful! journeys through all that is good, lovely, and well, wonderful in the world.
Each episode begins with Griffin and Rachel’s “small wonders”, like open-window weather (episode 80: Jarpin’) or the Zamboni driver who filled in as goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes (episode 123: Nasty Jupiter). They then share their “big wonders”, delving deeper into what makes that particular thing so wonderful to them.
I absolutely love Griffin’s absurd sense of humour, and Rachel’s dulcet tones (especially when she recites one of her favourite poems during the recurring Rachel’s Poetry Corner segment). The chemistry between the two is a treat to listen to – this podcast just oozes love and happiness.
Don’t know where to start? Try episode 93: The Ghost Ship McDonald where Rachel details the rich history of the McBarge, a floating McDonald’s restaurant built for Expo ’86 in Vancouver or episode 71: Baby Like It Sweet where Griffin deep-dives into video game preservation.