Positive Mental Attitude

Probably not the Old Town I’m talking about in the anecdote below, but close enough.
And strangely, the only Old Town photo I had in my photo library.

It’s 2017, and our last night in Malaysia. In the morning, we start the journey home, back to Australia. Just as we’re about to turn in for the night, one of our cousins decides to take us out. It’s one part last hurrah, seeing as it’s been a few years since we’ve been together, and one part long goodbye, given that we have no idea when we’ll be back or when we’ll see each other again.

We end up going to a little coffee shop, part of a chain called Old Town. It’s not super late, maybe 9 or 10pm, but your guess is as good as mine why there’s a coffee shop open that late. In Australia, most coffee shops would have closed by now, even though they would have opened at 7 or earlier. But in Malaysia, everything opens much later (10 or 11am), and stays open a lot later, too, so I guess it all balances out. Chalking it up to cultural differences, we order. The conversation is slow at first, given that it’s just the three of us and the only reason we’re back anyway is because of grandpa’s funeral, but eventually we get talking.

Because we’re all getting to that age where some of us cousins should start thinking about getting married, settling down, and starting a family, we start wondering who will be getting married next. It’s a topic we’ve covered before, and like last time, we come to the same conclusion: there just aren’t that many of us that have been in the kind of long-term relationship that could lead to marriage, so the chances of any one of us getting married any time soon are pretty low.

Eventually our cousin mentions that it’s unlikely one of our other cousins will get married soon, partly because of their general attitude and overall negative demeanour towards life. You know the type — always complaining, always lamenting how unfortunate their own existence is. Never happy, never content, a real pessimist in every definition of the word. Miserable.

I’ve thought about that a lot.

There’s a lot to be said for your own attitude towards life. We all know that life happens, but what happens if you start thinking about things in a positive way? Instead of focusing on the negatives, what happens if you start remembering all the good that’s happened, instead of all the bad? I’m not telling you to ignore or otherwise trivialise all the bad stuff that happens; it’s all important. But by choosing to think about things in a certain way, by choosing to find the good in every situation you find yourself in, can’t you improve your own perception of how things have panned out, whichever way the cookie has crumbled?

I’ve been calling it positive mental attitude, although it takes many forms. Positive thinking. Optimism. Glass-half-full. And the most recent one I’ve heard of, useful belief. Whatever you call it, the concept remains the same: by choosing to think a certain way about everything, your outlook on life changes. And when you choose to put a positive spin on even the worst news, it changes your perspective in a subtle way. Soon enough, you’ll start to notice the upside to everything, the proverbial and figurative light at the end of the tunnel.

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The Liked List, 2019

Instapaper has this concept of publicly-viewable profiles of everything that you’ve liked via the read-it-later service. Mine is here. They’re good for seeing the kinds of reads I’m “liking” from around the world wide web, but the problem with them is that there’s often no context about why I liked a particular piece. Did I think it applied to my particular circumstances? Or did it strike a chord and resonate with a certain part of me? Or was it simply well-written?

Two years ago, I started a thing where I posted a dozen or so of my favourite reads of the year, out of all the stuff that I liked in Instapaper over the course of the year. The idea is that they’ll give you a little extra context about reads I think are worth your time, that you may not have discovered yourself via your own organic sources. Blogging may be dead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find extremely compelling reads on the internet. So without too much more preamble, I present to you: The Liked List for 2019. In somewhat reverse chronological order of when I liked it, and excluding extremely popular stuff you’ve probably seen elsewhere, or stuff that I don’t think is noteworthy enough to write about…

  • The Art of Dying
    I don’t read about death all that often — I certainly don’t go out of my way to read about the dead and dying — but when I do, I read extremely eloquent pieces that manages to nicely unpack an entire lifetime into a 40-ish minute read. On the one hand, that’s kind of sad, that one brilliant, amazing, human life can be condensed down to a single piece on a website, but on the other hand, it’s a really great read. I can only hope my life’s summary is as well written.
  • 30 Years of Depression, Gone
    After reading pieces like this, I have to wonder whether mental issues like depression are all “in your head”, as some say, or aren’t at all, as others — mostly present and former sufferers — proclaim. Maybe both are true, to some degree, and while there may not be a particular silver bullet for whatever condition you suffer from, there’s definitely anecdotal evidence out there that says there’s no end of things to try.

  • Harnessing the Power of Shower Thoughts
    I’ve been going on walks, and pieces like these reinforce my decision to do so. As it turns out, there’s plenty of evidence to support the theory that the most effective learning strategies involve both focused and diffused thinking, and walks/showers/rest — any activity where you’re not actively thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve, or the thing you’re trying to learn — can be as effective as concentrated effort. The two combined? You have a new superpower.

  • Is it iPod shuffles or iPods shuffles?
    From 2005, comes this piece which is now more timely than ever, now that AirPods Pro are a thing. Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller tweeted one never needs to pluralise the names of Apple products, but it seems the jury’s still out on whether it’s AirPods Pro, or AirPods Pros. Use whatever feels right — it’s 2019, and language is now more fluid than ever.

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Work, Part II

Unlike last year, I’m working through this year’s Christmas/New Year period. Mostly because I don’t mind working through what is one of the most chill (work atmosphere-wise, not temperature wise now that we’re in the middle of a hot and sweltering Queensland summer) periods of the year, but also because I really have nothing better to do, and no one to spend the time off with.

Anyway, I’ve been working full time for about four and a half years now. It’s not that long, when you think about it, but at the same time it’s also the longest period that I’ve ever worked full time, outside of a few weeks during school holidays and whenever I wasn’t too busy with university. And for the most part, it’s pretty great. Sure, work occupies most of my time, but it also gives me some degree of freedom, a degree of being truly independent that’s hard to put into words. On some level, there’s a part of me that enjoys the routine. Working full time has brought a certain degree of structure to what was previously a very haphazard arrangement of the things and events that made up my life.

But there’s a couple of things about corporate culture that I don’t really understand. For starters, what’s the deal with the unwritten law which says otherwise normal people who work full time have to hate weekdays and express this constantly to their colleagues? Everyone’s all “yay, hump day” and “finally, Friday” all the time, and I’m like, OK? Or maybe “yeah, haha”. I get that having a break from work is important, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking forward to the weekend. But can’t you be enthusiastic about being at work and doing cool, interesting, meaningful stuff? Unemployment is hardly what it’s cracked up to be, especially when you have kids to feed, a house to pay off, and whatever other adult commitments/drug addictions you have. Hey, I don’t judge.

It’s as if all of these people who look forward to the weekend want time to go faster or something. As if they’re in some kind of a hurry to experience the weekend, their next big holiday, or whatever else they have to look forward to that isn’t work, instead of living in the here and now. On some level, I can see where they’re coming from. If I had some big holiday planned, or time off with my significant other, I probably wouldn’t want to be at work either. But here’s the thing: I don’t think looking forward to the weekend and wanting a few extra hours in the day so you can finish just one more thing at work are mutually exclusive. It’s entirely within the realms of possibility to enjoy what you do at work, put that little bit of extra effort in, and still be able to relax and enjoy your weekend/holiday/time off.

So, every time someone laments at how the week is going slowly, or how they wish it was Friday, I smile and nod. I don’t always agree with then, but then again, I haven’t been working full time for nearly as long as they have. Maybe in a few years I’ll be in their position, wishing time would pass faster so I could be doing what I really want to do. I doubt it, given that I already feel as though time is already passing fast enough, most of the time, but I digress — that’s for another time.

Like everyone else, I’d love to not work and get paid for it. But unless I somehow get extremely lucky, the realist in me says I’ll probably have to work until I’m old or dead, one of the two. Just like everyone else, really. And if I’m working, I might as well try and make something of it, right? I might as well try my hardest and put a little effort into what I’m doing, because what’s the downside here? It seems unlikely that I’ll get fired for trying my hardest, because that’s not really how capitalism works. Or so I’m led to believe, anyway.

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Time, Part III

I’ve been going on walks.

Mostly in the evening or late at night, when it’s not 30 degrees outside, and walking outside isn’t liable to result in death from heat stroke, but I’ve been going on walks. Crazy, I know.

Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I think the answer is complicated.

It all started when I was arriving home late at night. I might have been coming back from trivia, or maybe I had stayed back at work for some reason. I stepped into the lift, joining a guy who lives on the same floor as me. Just as the doors were about to close, another guy I had seen walking along the street 30 seconds earlier also jumped in. From the way his hair was dishevelled and how he was drenched in sweat, I suspected he had been running — a suspicion that was soon confirmed after he told the other guy that he had just run seven kilometres.

I thought to myself: if this otherwise normal-looking guy can do it, why can’t I? Not that there was anything wrong with the guy, but for some reason, that’s where my mind went. It said that if this guy can do it, I’m probably capable of doing the same. Not running – every time I pass a runner on a bike path on my electric skateboard, I remind myself that running isn’t my thing, at least not while walks exist as the next-most attractive alternative — but walks? I can do walks.

So, spurred on by a piece I read recently that said walking is a superpower that leads to better health, more happiness, and might even make me smarter, I’ve been going on walks.

I’m sure it has something to do with my Apple Watch, too. I’ve seen so many other people post their activity streaks, and here I am, having only achieved a perfect week of all activity goals just the other week. I’ve owned an Apple Watch for over four years, and yet I’ve only managed to have a perfect week of hitting all my activity goals just once, and it happened just last month. That’s terrible, by any definition of the word.

I’m not naive enough to think that somehow closing my Apple Watch rings every day will suddenly make me incredibly buff, but what’s the downside here? It can’t hurt, right? It’s the ol’ climate change argument, only instead of asking what happens if we change the world for the better for no reason, I’m asking myself why I can’t get a little more exercise every day, especially if it only costs me a little time that I was probably just going to waste sitting in front of a computer on the internet anyway.

My parents have been telling me to exercise for years, so all of this should be a plus, as far as they’re concerned. They tell me all the time that because I have a desk job, I need to be getting some sort of exercise, so going for a walk is really the easiest, least-effort thing I can do. It’s the lowest-hanging fruit, in terms of fitting some regular exercise into every day goes.

While all of those are great, excellent reasons to go walking, I think the real reason is even more selfish. If that’s possible.

It’s time. Or a time thing, anyway.

When I lived in Hobart, work was a 90 minute round trip away. That meant I had 90 minutes, every day I worked, all to myself. A lot of the time I’d put my in-ear headphones in, cue up whatever playlist I felt like listening to at the time, and tune out the world. I’d stare out the window of the bus and let my mind wander. Other times, I’d read something from my Instapaper queue, or go over whatever blog post draft I was working on at the time, re-reading it, and maybe even adding a sentence here or there.

But now? Now I don’t get that kind of alone time any more, at least not in the same way that I did before.

Now, work is an all-too-short 10 minute commute away. That’s hardly enough time to catch up on Twitter in the morning, much less think about anything deep and meaningful. And now that I ride an electric skateboard to work, I’m usually thinking about how not to get run over, more than I am about how I should have said something different than what I did (or said something at all, as is often the case).

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Trivia, Part II

Ever since that one work trivia night a few months ago, I’ve been doing pub trivia with a guy from work and some of his friends.

It’s been really good. We’ve been going to a different venue every time, and so far, we’ve won twice out of the seven times we’ve been.

The first time we won was at The Boundary, in West End. My teammates said it had been recently-renovated, but for whatever reason, there wasn’t a huge turnout. Team Two looked to be one of three teams participating in trivia on that very quiet Wednesday night, although a team of two guys joined late, bringing the total count to four. It was by far the least-populated venue we’ve been to. The Boundary’s trivia differentiated itself by featuring per-round prizes comprised of various brewery company merchandise and vouchers for discount drinks, and seeing as we managed to win three out of the four or so rounds, it was probably no surprise we ended up winning the whole thing. That earned us a nice $50 voucher, which we promptly spent on drinks to end the night.

The Boundary is also notable for being the only place I’ve drunk alcohol at. Partly because it was free, partly because I felt like I had to celebrate our first trivia win somehow. But, like most of the times I’ve drunk alcohol, I regretted it not too long afterwards. I had two drinks (a rum and coke, and a vodka cranberry) and that was it — after that, I just wanted to sleep. I had planned to walk back to the train station, but I ended up ordering an Uber, and might have even shut my eyes for a few minutes during the ride home.

One of the reasons we’ve been going to a different place every time is that we haven’t found a place that ticks all of our collective boxes. Either we’ve gone somewhere with great trivia, but a terrible atmosphere, or we go somewhere with a great atmosphere, and awful trivia. Or some of us like the trivia, but others dislike the atmosphere. Although we place pretty highly most of the time, there are just some places that we know we’ll never win at, only because there’s so many other teams that are doing just as well as we are (or better). The very first pub trivia that I went to with the current squad was at Stones Corner. There were 24 teams in attendance that night, which was crazy and made for some very tough competition. So, week after week, our search for the ideal pub trivia location continues.

As someone who doesn’t drink, and therefore has no real reason to frequent pubs or bars in the traditional, Australian-drinking-culture sense, it’s been really interesting seeing the variety of different venues. By going to a different place every time, I’ve now seen the inside of quite a few places, some better than others. Some quieter, some cosier. Every place has been unique in some way, but I’d say my favourite places have been the ones where the patrons skew towards my demographic. That is, young adults enjoying a drink with a few friends after work, answering a few questions here and there. Not that I have something against the older generation, but they’re usually far too good at trivia. And besides, aren’t they supposed to have their own families or something? Kids to look after at home? What are they doing muscling on my territory that I only claimed a few short months ago?

No, the thing that makes any pub trivia attractive to me, are ones where young adults gather to socialise within their own circles of friends, and compete against others doing the same thing. But good trivia helps with that as much as location does, I’ve found.

It turns out, there are a few companies that do organised trivia in Brisbane.

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Twenty Eight

We’re having a small departure from the usual Fallout-related images for birthday posts, because this shot of being killed by a well-known Escape from Tarkov streamer (and fellow Aussie), 28 seconds into the raid, while I was level 28, was too good not to use.

I’m not getting any younger.

Those were the exact words I said to a colleague — a whole seven years my junior — the other day. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but it must have been related to our age difference, and/or differing accumulated life experience.

I often think that I’ve had a pretty sheltered life so far. It happens, especially when you grow up in a Christian family, go to a Christian school, and have somewhat-conservative Asian parents. And because I’m a bit of an introvert, it’s not as if I was going out and getting blind drunk every other weekend, like plenty of other people around my age. I don’t drive, lived at home until I was 24, and have only really been independent these past couple of years, all of which has really limited the shenanigans that I’ve been able to get up to.

Whilst I could argue that circumstances have meant that I’ve had less life experience than others, I have a sneaking suspicion that the reality is that my sheltered life has been much of my own choosing. By choosing to spend a lot of time alone in front of a computer, it’s possible, even likely, that I’ve had less exposure to “real life” than others.

Which is fine. Not all experiences are nice, after all. There’s definitely evidence to say that experiences that fall into the category of being “life experiences” often aren’t, more often than they are. At the very least, they often have some distinct reason to be memorable and can therefore be called an experience, and that experience isn’t always positive.

A few years back, the work Christmas party had a few gambling tables set up. The theme was Casino Royale, so gambling fit the bill. Everyone was given a set of chips on arrival, and it was up to you how you used them. Given that my exposure to real gambling at that point was more theoretical than practical, consisting of whatever I had seen on TV or in movies, I followed the lead of a few colleagues and played whatever they did.

I had just put it all on black at roulette, and was making small talk with one of my managers, when they asked me if I went to the casino often.
“No, I’ve never been”, I replied.
“Never?!” they responded incredulously.
I nodded yes. I might have then mumbled something about living a pretty sheltered life, but they didn’t press the issue.

It’s not as if I have some issue with gambling that has meant I’ve never done it, it’s more that I can count the number of times I’ve stepped foot onto a gambling floor at a casino using both my hands. I’ve never pulled the lever on a pokie machine, never gone all-in at poker, and never rolled the dice at craps. The only reason I know about any of these things is by sheer coincidence, either from reading about them online, or watching them being played in a movie or TV show. Sure, I’ve played video game equivalents — never with any real money on the line, mum — but it’s not really the same thing, you know?

Like I said, less life experience.

Which brings up an interesting point: do you think you can distill life experiences down to their essence so you can say you’ve been there, done that, even if you really haven’t? Or do the details matter enough that playing video game poker isn’t the same as the real thing?

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Tweeting TI9 as @WeAreBrisbane

I spent the last week shouting into the void as the @WeAreBrisbane rotation curation Twitter account, telling the good people of Brisbane (and everyone else that follows the account) all about Dota 2 and The International Dota 2 Championships, which also happened to be taking place that week. I thought it would be nice if I had some kind of record of what I said that was a little less ephemeral than a rotation curation Twitter account. Of course, rocur accounts being what they are, in terms of having a different host every week, and not wanting to embed the tweets directly with a different profile picture, what follows is a near-direct transcript of those tweets, with only light editing for layout and clarity.

Hello, Brisbane! It’s your new tweeter for the week, @bdyling. Long time follower of the account, but I’ve never thought of actually being Brisbane… until this week (more on this in a sec).

About me: I’m a late 20-something guy that works and lives on the north side. We’ll get to all of that over the course of the week, I’m sure. But strap yourselves in, because this week we’re going to talk about V I D E O G A M E S. Well, one video game in particular. Everyone has their passions, and one of mine is Dota 2, because I hate myself. Which brings us to…

As for why I’m curating this account this week instead of any of the hundreds that I’ve followed the account for, it’s because this week is special: it’s the week of The International Dota 2 Championships. And I promise you, it’s a real thing. Look, we get our own Twitter emoji and everything, which is how you know that It’s A Big Deal™: #TI9

Unfortunately, Twitter’s tweet embeds don’t show these custom emojis. Don’t ask me why, just click here to see it.

But what is The International? It’s one of the world’s biggest esports tournaments. For Dota 2 fans, TI is a true celebration of Dota 2. That it happens to feature some of the best Dota you’ll ever see is a fringe benefit, as far as I’m concerned.

To people who don’t follow the Dota 2 scene, the one thing that blows their mind, every time, is the prize pool. That a video game can have a a $33.4 million (and counting) prize pool is crazy enough, but that’s not even the craziest part. No, the truly crazy part is that of that $33.4m, players like me (and maybe even some of you?) have contributed $31.8m. And that’s only 25% of the total amount of in-game cosmetic sales that have happened since May, which means we’ve given Valve ~$127m in 3 months.

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You know that feeling when the name of something is on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t remember it? Or when you know you read an article about something that happened in the last few months, but can’t remember the exact detail that was just asked? Or how about when you know the exact lyrics to a song, but not the name of a song itself? Or can describe the plot of a book or movie in its entirety, but can’t remember the name of the author, or the name of the movie? Of course you do. Everyone does, and trivia nights are great for it.

It’s the 1st of June, 2018. For the life of me, I can’t remember what question was asked, but I remember it had something to do with Moana. I think it might have even been one of those “name this picture”-type rounds, and the picture was the character The Rock voices in the movie. You know, the big muscled guy? The one with all the tattoos, and the long curly hair? Wait, what was his name again? Maui! That’s the guy.

Anyway, I didn’t remember his name at the time, even though I had obviously watched Moana before. No one else in my team did either, so I knew it was up to me to rack my brain, remember the name, and write it down. In-between rounds, I quickly looked up the Moana page on IMDB, knowing that it would be the fastest way to tell me the name of the character. I did so, and it maybe took me 10 seconds. 15, tops. I whispered the name to someone else my team, as a kind of lament I couldn’t remember it when it needed to be remembered.

They immediately admonished me for cheating. Somewhat taken aback, I offered up the explanation that I just needed to know, and that I wasn’t going to write it down or submit it as an answer. In my mind, I was in the clear: sure, I had “cheated” and looked up the answer. But was it really cheating if I didn’t use my newfound knowledge to my advantage? Was it really cheating if I didn’t confirm or deny whatever answer my team submitted as the answer to that trivia question? I didn’t think so at the time, and still don’t. Sure, it might have been wrong to look up the answer then and there, instead of later that night after trivia had ended, but how wrong that is could be debated, too.

Benny and the Jets ended up winning that particular trivia night by one point, and I’m proud to say we didn’t do it by cheating.

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Assertive Confidence

There was this one time, at band camp, when a customer brought in a working Macintosh Classic. We just had to display it next to the mid-2010 (?) iMacs for a few days. Wouldn’t be able to do that an an Apple Store.

At its peak, the Australian Apple Premium Reseller called Next Byte had more than 20 stores nationally, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was a decade ago. Borne off the back of the smartphone era and being one of the biggest companies in the world, we now have more Apple retail stores than we ever had Next Byte stores. In a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and an unparalleled customer experience from the Apple owned-and-operated retail locations that’s extremely difficult if not outright impossible for any reseller to match while maintaining some semblance of profitability, any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city CBD besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online presence and general electronics resellers. The latter of which are all too eager to carry products from one of the most popular brands in the world; even if that’s not where they’re making the majority money, it’s yet another drawcard in their fiercely competitive deck.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. The one I want to tell today is about some of the stuff I learned while working there, and the confidence that came from some of those experiences.

In every sales role, there’s always some sales-specific training. Whether you’re a sales consultant1, associate, specialist, or whatever title your corporate overlords have decided to bestow upon you, chances are, at some point, you’ll get some training on sales technique. If you’ve been in the role long enough, you might even see significant changes in your organisation’s sales strategy, which usually goes something along the lines of attempting to move as much product as possible regardless of cost, focusing on metrics like conversions, to something that’s a little more nuanced, while still prioritising metrics like average invoice amount that prove you’ve really listened to the customer while selling them as much as possible. Then you’ll definitely have some sales training.

It’s a normal day in 2014. Probably. I mean, I could have made that up, but I think it sounds about right, if I think about the rough timeframe that I think these events occurred in. It was during one of these aforementioned sales training sessions that I learned about closing the sale and handling objections. You know, the business end of the sales conversation that you usually have. The part where you get to find out what, exactly, the customer has a problem with what you’ve sold them on, or perhaps that they’re just not interested in buying today.

This particular training session was big on roleplay, so we were paired off and practiced closing sales and handling objections. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the recommended approach to handling objections was2, but I can tell you that it didn’t match up with my own. If I had spent the last 15-20 minutes talking to a customer about a new MacBook Pro, for example, and they had been extremely non-committal about taking it today, then apparently you’re not supposed to straight-up ask the customer exactly what they’re hesitant about.

I know, right? News to me too.

But as it turns out, asking the customer about their hesitation is frowned upon. At the time, I didn’t really get it, and the people delivering the sales training were incredulous, mixed with curiosity: why would you directly ask a customer about their trepidations, instead of backing down, accepting their uncertainty, handing them a business card, and letting them go about their business?

As I explained, I thought that if you had determined that they were in the market for whatever they wanted to buy, answered all of their questions, assuaged their fears and concerns, and otherwise completely performed the full sales process, you had some right to know why they weren’t willing to take it then and there. I said that if you had done your job as a sales consultant, listening to their needs and wants, then pairing each of those up with a solution, then why couldn’t you know why they didn’t want to take it home today? It’s not as if that simple question removed their right to give you a perfectly valid reason in return, in which case yes, I would absolutely give them a piece of paper with my name on it, and then let them get on with the rest of their day.

And sure, I get that people have their own reasons for not wanting to drop a few thousand on a new Mac, especially at the drop of a hat. But if, during our sales interaction in the time they were in the store, I had correctly worked out that they were in the market, and was confident enough that I had done everything in my power, and given them all them all the information they needed to be more sure about their own decision, then I would have thought I have some ground to stand on when asking them about their reasons for not whipping out the plastic.

I think I remember the trainers agreeing with me. Perhaps somewhat begrudgingly, but agreeing nonetheless.

I like to think it was this same assertive confidence that let me approach every customer with aplomb. Safe in the knowledge that I would be able to handle every interaction, even if it were slightly technical or needed me to quickly demo some great new feature that was the best thing since sliced bread. I knew that as a fresh teenager and/or awkward unit student, even if I didn’t have the interpersonal skills needed to to quickly secure some kind of rapport within the first five seconds of our interaction, I would be able to nail any kind of product-question they threw my way.

I knew that sometimes, all it took was a enthusiastic attitude and a slight grin to connect with the customer in those first crucial seconds. But knowing when to ask about a customer’s objections? Knowing when to push and how? Now that’s assertive confidence.

  1. Bonus round: given that a lot of my employment at Next Byte was on a casual basis, I took great pride in putting Casual Sales Consultant in my email signature. Not only did it serve as a useful indicator to customers that I wasn’t a full-time employee, on the rare occasions I would email them, but a part of me liked the play on words. Was I a sales consultant employed on a casual basis, like many would think, or a consultant of casual sales? I liked to think the latter, even though the former was probably closer to the truth. 
  2. Ugh, this is going to bug me now. I know it. 

Return of the Obra Dinn

I’ve played a lot of video games in 2018. I got a taste of the grind in Destiny 2 when it was free, fought in the frontlines in Battlefield 5, taken down other drivers in the Burnout Paradise remaster, constructed mining ships of my own design in Space Engineers, explored a vast universe in No Man’s Sky, and even tried out the DayZ 1.0, alongside my usual staple of Dota 2. But besides all the well-known games that I’ve played, there have been exactly two indie games which have been great enough to capture my attention, and this post is about one of them.

Return of the Obra Dinn is from Lucas Pope, who you might better know from the immigration paperwork game Papers, Please. Return of the Obra Dinn is slightly different, in that it’s still about paperwork, but this time around you play the part of a insurance investigator. Officially, your job is to determine how much should be paid out to the crew of the good ship Obra Dinn, which in turn means figuring out all 60 crewmembers, and their fates.

To aid you in doing so, you have a magic pocket watch. And a notebook, but we’ll get to that later. One of Return of the Obra Dinn’s core gameplay loops involves finding a dead body, standing over it, and then using your magic pocket watch to go back to the moment of that person’s death. These death scene freeze frames don’t allow you to interact with anyone or anything, with the idea being that you can walk around, observe, inspect, gather clues, and hopefully identify who was present and what was happening, all from a few voice lines and a still frame of the exact time they died. Sometimes, one death scene will lead to the discovery of another body, which is another scene, and so on, until you have a little series of events.

These events, in turn, make up “chapters” within your notebook, which describes itself as the catalogue of adventure and tragedy that befell the Obra Dinn. By going around the ship, discovering more and more bodies, and more and more scenes, you’ll start to build up a depiction of the characters so you can start putting names to faces — no easy task, given the one-bit graphics and often obscure clues and hints that you’ll need to pick up on.

Make no mistake, Return of the Obra Dinn is hard. The game warns you fairly early on that in your quest to identify all 60 passengers and crew and their fates, definitive information that will let you decisively identify someone and their fate is rare. While you’ll usually have some idea of how a person died thanks to your magic pocket watch, working out who they are based only on contextual clues — what they’re doing in any given scene, what they’re saying, what they’re wearing, who they appear with — is challenging in the extreme. The game helps by blurring faces in the notebook until it thinks it has revealed all the information you’ll need to positively identify someone, but you’ll still need all of your powers of observation to do so. At times, you’ll need to jump between different scenes in order to work out who someone is, taking a look at where they are, what they’re doing, and so on.

It’s all very murder-mystery. Only instead of trying to work out who (or in some cases, what) did the deed, the real challenge is putting names to faces.

Unfortunately, that’s also where Return of the Obra Dinn falls short. There’s basically no replayability, given that once you’ve figured everything out, that’s how it is for the rest of time. It’s for this reason that I don’t recommend doing what I did and looking up a guide, no matter how stuck you are. The problem with this kind of game is that it’s hard for a guide to point you in the right direction, and they may end up just spoiling a few characters or two. Instead, I recommend using all the available clues; the game provides you with all of the details that you need to identify someone, even if they’re obscure as all hell. Once you’ve unlocked every scene, go through and review all of the scenes an individual appears in and try to work out who they are based on what they’re doing, who they’re with. In any scene, there’s usually something that gives away who someone is, even if you have to use a different scene to know what that is.

Return of the Obra Dinn is currently $28.95 (that’s Australian dollars to you, pal) on Steam, and you should absolutely buy it if you’re at all a fan of putting your observational skills to the test, feeling like a right Sherlock Holmes when one of your inferences pays off, or just lucky when you guess the identities and fates of people you have no idea how to otherwise identify. It’s a masterpiece.