This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices and, as things begin to reopen here, our office office too! 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!
TL;DR: Zombies, Run! is a zombie apocalypse themed augmented reality app that will get you up and running.
I appear to be fixated on experiences that somewhat amplify our current pandemic situation. This month my PCP is the mobile app ‘Zombies, Run!’, a combination of running/fitness app, episodic podcast, and interactive game with a bit of augmented reality thrown in.
‘Zombies, Run’ is set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies where the last bits of humanity are holed up in isolated bases. You are ‘Runner 5’ and your job is to head out, running around to gather supplies and perform other jobs for your base. Each episode is a ‘mission’ that you need to complete.
When you start the mission, a radio operator or other runners talk to you over your headset (headphones), revealing the overall story arc that each mission is a part of. As the mission plays, you run and the app tracks your pace and route — just as any other running app would but with a few extra elements. As you run you will get notifications of various supplies you have picked up along the way, these can be used to upgrade your base. You may also find clues and other story elements that you can inspect after the mission.
At various points there is also a ‘Zombie Chase’, in which you are required to sprint for a minute to avoid being caught by Zombies. If you don’t maintain at least a 10% increase in pace you will be caught and lose supplies. Even though the worst outcome is loss of supplies, these chases will definitely get your heart racing as you hear the zombies getting closer and closer.
If you are looking to add some flavor to your current runs, or looking to get into running I recommend checking this app out as great motivator.
TLDR; Huge but complex JRPG for the Switch. Highly recommended for fans of the genre, but beginners beware.
My first ever pop culture pick was for the original Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, way back in February 2018. The original pushed the Wii to its absolute limits, but with the Wii not being known for its huge adventure games and the game not being as readily available for purchase as it could have been, meant was more of a cult classic than a best seller. A re-release for the New 3DS was decent but not amazing, with graphics even worse than the original due to that machine’s limitations.
So finally we have the definitive version of Xenoblade Chronicles, and it really is definitive. The graphics, in particular the character models, have been given a nice facelift, and the UI has been given a nice overhaul, making some of the game’s trickier elements (the combat, for example) easier to understand and less of a hurdle for first time players.
Also there’s just something wonderful about holding a massive gaming world in your hands in the way that the Switch allows. The game’s world is set on the back of two massive monsters (or Titans) and the game is, at times, breathtaking as you explore the vast playing areas provided. The game can still be confusing at times — there’s a lot to take in. The combat is complex, plus there’s armour, skill trees, gem creation, city building, item collection, sub quests and more to get your head around, which may be off-putting for first time JRPG players.
But if you’re after an immersive, complex but rewarding JRPG experience, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is the game for you. In many ways it is THE definitive JRPG experience on the Switch to date.
TL;DR: Chromatica is an awesome album which is full of dance beats, like the good-old-days, and emotional growth and expression
I love Gaga. I’ve been listening to her from Day 1, and would definitely call myself one of her Little Monsters. I have fond memories of my spouse and I going out dancing (a decade ago, “back in the day” haha), and whenever Lady Gaga came on those were “our songs”. Her versatility in covers and duet performances is incredible – from The Sound of Music to singing with Metallica.
I had to listen to Chromatica a few times when it was released this past week. My first impression was definitely “ok, this feels like a throwback to those clubbing days with those beats”. After a few repeats I can say I LOVE this album! It does have that feel that this is an ode to the early days, but this time she’s filled it with her experiences and growth, and a more confident feel to say what she wants. The songs with the big club beats are easy to sing along to, and these days being stuck at home (thanks, 2020) it just feels good to belt one out.Rolling Stone’s review said it better than I ever could:
“Although she initially had reservations about putting out Chromatica at the start of pandemic shutdowns, there’s something comforting about the way the album captures the feeling of banging your feet on a sweaty dance floor and bumping into strangers during the loneliest, most isolated moment in history.”
The songs “Alice”, “Enigma”, “911” are fun dance beats that really demand I crack out my beloved extra-bass headphones. The duets – particularly “Rain On Me” with Ariana and “Sine From Above” with Elton – are also songs that I really enjoyed in the album. The standout emotional songs “Fun Tonight” and “Replay” feel like Gaga is using her lyrics to work through her experiences in a simultaneously sad and catchy way. The album as a whole is a hit and I will be listening to it as a great pick-me-up this month. The goal has been the same all along… JUST DANCE
TL;DR – Floating Grip is a minimalist wall-mounting system for any gaming console, with great design, easy installation, and 360 degree venting.
Taking joy in the smallest wins these days, the thing that’s making me incredibly happy is a tiny wall-mounting system for my gaming consoles. Look, I’ve got two little kids who like to get their hands on EVERYTHING. Doesn’t matter what it is, but if it’s expensive and has electric components, you can bet they want it even more. Which is why having my PS4 Pro and Xbox One S sitting at ground level in a TV cabinet was a terrible idea, not to mention the fact that the cabinet doors had to stay open during play sessions so my consoles didn’t melt from the inside out.
Enter Floating Grip – a simple wall-mounting system that takes about 2 minutes to install and keeps my consoles off the ground, arranged more like art (honestly) than a gaming platform. Bonus points awarded because everything fits nicely behind my TV (also wall-mounted), and because there’s a small gap between the hardware and the wall that allows for a full 360 degree venting area. Imagine playing cat’s cradle with the console using some reinforced “rope” (instructions included thankfully, but their 1 min YouTube tutorials are even better). It’s all out of sight and out of mind when it comes to the boys breaking stuff, and it cleans up my previous mess of cables running up to the TV, especially since I added a power bar to the wall behind the TV too.
The design is minimalist, ease of installation is welcome, and it doesn’t break the bank – all in all, HIGHLY recommended. Keep in mind that you need to buy one per console, and they’re made very specifically per console. Now to reverse engineer it and build my own controller mounts…
In short: Houseplants transform your living space into the cozy hipster retreat you’ve always dreamed of and support mental health and well-being.
I think my obsession with indoor plants started with re-watching Jenna Marbles’ plant tour during quarantine. I already had a few succulents in my kitchen window (courtesy of friends who have way more confidence in my plant parenting abilities than I do), but the idea of filling my apartment with luscious greenery appealed to me.
If I’m going to spend the majority of my time inside, I want to live my life in sunny rooms, surrounded by quirky and eclectic furniture and bountiful house plants (this is basically my dream room, credit: Curbed). Why not make my living space beautiful? And hey, indoor plants may also benefit mental health as well — big thumbs up from me for self care!
So I began researching which green amigos would suit my lifestyle. I didn’t want particularly fussy plants and, most importantly, all my plants have to be pet-safe because my boy Owen loves chewing on green things.
Within a very short period of time, I have accumulated 3 plants for my living room.
Here are my leafy buds:
- PepperAnn, the Peperomia obtusifolia (aka pepperface peperomia)
- Wally, the Peperomia argyreia (aka watermelon peperomia)
- Grimace, the Maranta leuconeura (aka red-veined prayer plant)
Grimace was actually supposed to be a Calathea Medallion, but there was a mixup at the plant store I ordered from. Fixing this happy mistake just means I end up with more plants in the long run – which is, of course, the goal.