gaming, Humour, life

How Hearthstone lifted me out of depression

Hearthstone Screenshot 12-11-17 23.55.16
Before I begin, I must proclaim that this is NOT an advertorial for Blizzard.
This is a true life story. This is my story.
Before I moved to Shanghai in 2014, I installed this game called Hearthstone on my laptop. Prior to that, I had never played fantasy card games. But my friend Gene convinced me that this was a lot of fun. I thought I’d just give it a try. After all, it’s free-to-play.
Woah! Free and fun? Surely you can’t really go wrong with that.
In a nutshell, each player in Hearthstone starts with 30 cards of his choosing and 30 HP (Health Points). You place cards with minions on the board to attack your opponent or his cards. Some cards allow you to cast spells too. Reduce the opponent’s HP to zero and you win.
What makes the game amazing is the myriad number of combos you can execute using different cards that synergise with one another. You have to earn most of the cards by purchasing card packets using in-game gold or real cash. Some cards are more powerful than others. But they never guarantee you victory.
The period of my life when I played Hearthstone the most was when I was out of a full-time job in Shanghai.
I was depressed (I reckon even clinically). I knew that I left behind a good career in Singapore to try my luck in a different city. That feeling of failure tormented me for months as I desperately scrambled to earn whatever I could from freelance writing gigs.
I spent time most of my time feeling sorry for myself, binge eating, getting drunk and playing Hearthstone.
Perhaps a part of me was trying really hard to prove to myself that I wasn’t a loser for being in such a state, because for an entire week I was obsessed with trying to attain a Top 10 ranking in the game (Rank 1 is the highest, Rank 23 the lowest).
I got so obsessed that I even started writing down the cards my opponents played so that I could determine how I could best play my other cards.
I won some. I lost some. I never made Top 10.
I still remember the night I almost smashed my laptop. It was 12.30 am. I was home alone. The lights were off. I was on a massive losing streak, be it in Casual or Ranked mode. It felt like a reminder of what a loser I was in life.
I wouldn’t say that I had a bad deck of cards. After all, I had gone on a winning streak with the same deck on previous occasions. But on this night, everything was just against me.
For most of the games, I was getting dealt a really bad start of (big mana) cards. The next few cards I got were equally bad. I never stood a chance.
I was livid after losing the 6th consecutive game. I was screaming at the screen and taunting the opponent. Blinded by rage, I started making mistakes. I lost. Again and again.
I was exhausted by Game 10. I just wanted to go to bed. But I continued to click on the PLAY button simply because I believed that I could not possibly continue losing.
Well, I did. I mean, I wasn’t even thinking straight anymore.
And then there were a few utterly frustrating games when the opponent turned the tides and won even though I was on the cusp of victory.
I can’t remember exactly how many games I lost.
I think it could actually have been 13.
Bleary-eyed and furious, I shut the laptop down, poured myself a whisky, and started to think about what was happening. This was when I realised how Hearthstone is really like life itself.
Sometimes life just deals you a bad hand
My first job in Shanghai was just a bad draw in life, and in that dark moment, all I could do was rage about how unfair life was. To me, the game was over. My life was over. I was trapped in a never-ending cycle of self-pity. I just wanted to blame everything and everyone else.
But you see, shit happens. It happens all the time. To all of us. And there’s nothing we can do to fucking change it. We know this. But yet we refuse to accept it.
The solution? Accept what is happening. Get on with your life. Stop harping on shit you cannot change. 
Sometimes we are so consumed by emotions that our judgement gets clouded
Okay, it’s only natural that we get overly emotional in some instances. I mean, how do you think you’d react if you caught your girlfriend in bed with another man?
For most people, the first reaction would be to beat the shit out of the bastard.
I doubt anyone would calmly say: “Hey darling, cheating on me ain’t cool. Why are you doing this? I think you need to get dressed and we need to talk this out in the living room. Hey Mr. Big Dick, please see yourself out of my home. By the way, nice tattoo. Where did you get that from?”
The same could be said for the situation I was in. I was in a dark phase in my life where I was constantly admonishing myself for being a failure. I knew I had to get back my career back on track but I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much of a failure I had been. I was so focused on the shit I was drowning in I didn’t even see the escape ladder that was just beside me.
The solution? Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Clear your head. Think.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself on the verge of success, only to fail spectacularly
I had a pretty decent life back in Singapore. I managed three magazines. I liked my job and my colleagues. I moved to Shanghai with hopes of expanding my horizons. But I fell flat on my face. I found it incredibly difficult to deal with this. I couldn’t stop wondering how my life would’ve been if I just played it safe and stuck to my previous life.
But then I realised that I could not possibly always succeed at whatever I do. No one does. People have to fail to learn. It’s just the way things are. There is no sure-fire way to winning in life. You just have to find your way around.
The solution? Embrace failure. Treat each mistake as a lesson.
Sometimes life is just fucking random
Most gamers share the same religion. We believe in RNGesus. You know, this entity is kind of like Jesus, but a little different.
Jesus says we’d go to heaven if we believe in him. RNGesus says we might go to heaven, we might go to hell, or we might just end up becoming a frog. It really depends on his mood.
Anyway, RNG means Random Number Generator, which kinda means some of the things you get in the game is down to pure randomness. You could get 200 gold from the chest. You could get a pair of soiled undies. At least in terms of the loot in a chest, nothing is guaranteed.
And, again, that’s life for you. Just like with the creation of a good deck of cards in Hearthstone, we spend so much time in life determining the best combination of things to do to achieve success. Some people combine their talent with hard work to get a promotion. Some people combine working out at the gym and banging the boss to achieve the same goal.
But because life is so fucking random (I mean, how else would you explain getting bird crap on your head?), there’s really no 100% guarantee that we will succeed even if we do have the best cards in hand.
Of course, we can’t just sit back and expect things to be done on their own. We still need to proactively plan for our futures. We still need to try.
As a freelance writer, I don’t get a steady volume of jobs. Some months are packed with assignments. Some months are quiet. It’s pretty darn random.
The solution? Keep the faith. Put in the effort to try. Remind yourself that nothing is impossible, even if you think it is close to impossible.
Sometimes we take life a tad too seriously
I was telling a friend about this losing streak and he said: “Relax man, it’s just a game.”
I think the same could be said for life – we really should learn to relax and slow down from time to time.
I used to be so caught up in the rat race. I wanted to climb the career ladder quickly. I would constantly look for ways to make more money than my full-time job paid me. I saw contentment as a weakness. I believed in being worked to the bone. I saw this as passion. But it was merely greed.
I’ve since come to realise that we don’t always have to be running in overdrive and aiming to reach the top. Life isn’t just about earning lots of money and being successful, just like how Hearthstone isn’t all about winning. We often get so obsessed with getting what we think makes us successful that we forget that there is so much more to life.
The solution? Relax. Remind yourself it’s okay to slow down and smell the roses. Explore pursuing what you truly love doing. 
I’m glad to say I’ve emerged from that dark period a more enlightened individual.
I also play Hearthstone a little differently now – I just aim to have fun, as illustrated in this screenshot.
For those of you who don’t know what this is about, let me briefly explain what’s happening:
1. I’m the player at the bottom of the screen.
2. I have two 30/30 The Ancient One cards on the table. (I used Faceless Manipulator on the first one).
3. You get one of these crazy 30/30 cards when you end your turn with two “9/9 Blood of The Ancient One” cards.
4. It took me four games and some tweaks to my card deck to pull this off.
Yeah I created a deck just to make this happen. You know, just for shits and giggles. Yeah, I won after this turn (the opponent was sporting enough not to concede). But winning or showboating was never the objective.
I just wanted to see if the my deck would allow me to do something like that.
Because I now find more satisfaction from the journey than from the end result.


Humour, life, Writing

I was born a gamer. I will die a gamer.


A moo-dy selfie.

I played my first computer game when I was around five years old.

It was one of those puzzle games that ran off MS DOS.

Grandpa often played the game on the IBM desktop in the study room. He usually did so when Grandma was busy preparing dinner. I suppose that was the only time he had a reprieve from her constant nagging. But as precious as those quiet moments were, he never once refused to let me take over. He’d place me in his lap and teach me the ways of beating the computer.

I have been a gamer ever since.

When I entered primary school a couple of years later, my parents bought an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System to keep my younger brother and I entertained. The console came with a game cartridge containing 40 games. It was awesome.

Battle City, Bomber Man, Ice Climber, Kung Fu and Tag Team Match MUSCLE were among our favourites. We would spend most of the day playing different games during the school holidays, to the point when everything because a little blurry.

After all, that was the only time we were allowed to play the NES.

Mummy later bought us this game called Cobra Triangle where you control a speed boat that could fire big grey pellets. It was a very challenging game and we really enjoyed taking turns to play it. We never got to complete it, though. It just stopped working. I remember how we would say a little prayer before puffing into the bottom of the cartridge. Nothing worked.

The next console we got was a SEGA 16-bit. It was a long-term loan from our uncle. My brother and I always played Bare Knuckle (Japanese version of Streets of Rage) together. Though we were a little older then, and the sibling rivalry had gotten stronger, those two-dimensional streets where pixelated gangsters roamed was the place where we could put our differences aside and work toward a common goal.

“Hey, you’re running out of life. Eat that chicken! I’ll eat the apple instead,” I would tell my brother.

“There are too many bad people! Should I use the special power?” he would ask.

We must have completed the game more than a dozen times. But each play-through felt like a new adventure.

Our gaming exploits were not limited to the SEGA. There was a PC game called Uncharted Waters which we were crazy about. I once accidentally saved over my brother’s game in which he had amassed a fleet of ships armed to the teeth with the best cannons.

Nearly on the verge of tears, he yelled at me and stormed out of the room. He did not talk to me for two days.

When I entered secondary school in 1994, the Playstation became one of our main sources of entertainment. Every one in school loved playing King of Fighters. Mortal Kombat was fun, too. I especially enjoyed Ace Combat.

When my close friends went on a trip to New Zealand during the school holidays, I spent most of my time at the home of another friend playing Resident Evil. We would take turns controlling the character and reading the game guide he purchased. We laughed and screamed and cheered. Fuck, that game was scary. Especially when the lights are switched off.

We became pretty good friends.

Back then, Winning Eleven was a far better game than FIFA, even though the names of the players were in Japanese, which we did not understand. Every Saturday, a whole bunch of friends would come to my place to play virtual and real football. Those were great times.

I hardly played console games during my polytechnic and national service days. During this period, I mostly played PC titles like Warcraft, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Counterstrike and Battlefield with my pals at LAN centers.

As an officer in the army, I was given charge of the e-learning lab in camp. It was probably one of the most embarrassing postings to be given. After all, most people wanted to be able to train or command a platoon of men. But here I was, assisting a captain with his training duties and making sure the computer lab ran smoothly.

It was a great job to have, by the way. The corporals under me knew their stuff so I never had to check on them. The only time I was required to step in was when I caught wind of an imminent inspection.

“Guys, the captain will be coming to check on us this week. Make sure you aren’t playing Winning Eleven or Command and Conquer in the server room. And stash those controllers,” I would tell them.

“Yes Sir! By the way, we just installed Tiberian Sun. You wanna have a go at it later tonight?”

“Fuck yeah. Count me in.”

Many of those who had to stay in camp during the week days tried to get chummy with me in order to get access to the computer lab. I was a friendly dude. I allowed everyone to play whatever they wanted after office hours. Sergeants, lieutenants and captains from other wings all came to join the party.

To me, gaming during these times was all about bonding.

A 13-year love affair
My first year in university marked the start of a love affair with World of Warcraft (WoW). It was probably not the best time to start playing such an addictive game – I spent more time playing the game than studying, and as a result nearly failed one module. While I didn’t make many friends in Sydney where I studied, I made a number through the game.

I was a Tauren Warrior. I thought it was silly to pick a cow but that was the biggest character available. Everything else just seemed scrawny and squishy. I chose to be a warrior because I like charging into a crowd of enemies and smashing their faces in.

The first guild I joined was Absolute Dragons, which was started by a group of Asian American dragon-boaters based in San Francisco. I thought it was pretty cool to have an Asian woman as the guild leader. She played a shaman and seemed really authoritative over Ventrilo. Her sister seemed like a much nicer person. Maybe it was because she was a priest.

There was also a female huntress in the guild that I thought was gorgeous in real life. But every time I tried to chat her up in the game she would just feign death.

What I loved about vanilla WoW was the 40-man raids. That was seriously intense. The learning curve was pretty steep and almost everyone needed to bring their A-game if the raid group was to kill the boss. I remember trawling through the Auction House in search of fire resist gear. Because we need a minimum amount to qualify for the Molten Core raid.

I really enjoyed the teamwork and the boss fights. The one thing I hated was how those Pauldrons of Might never dropped for me. I had saved all those damn DKP points just to buy it, but when it did finally drop, I wasn’t in the raid.

“Wait for five sunders. Don’t pull aggro if you’re not the tank,” the guild leader would always call out before the boss fight. Back during those times, the tank determined the pace. These days, the new kids in WoWjust pull everything and expect the tank to deal with the mess. Self-entitled brats. Fuckin’ millennials.

When damage output was found to be lacking, the raid leader would call out: “More dots, more dots.” I loved that phrase. It made me imagine bosses to be covered in polka dots. It made me chuckle.

It has been 13 years since WoW was released. I’m still a subscriber. I don’t have any friends I play with anymore, but I still enjoy the game. It’s no longer about getting into raids to get the best gear or making new friends. These days, it’s all about discovering the storyline and just decompressing.

Before I got married and was living with my parents, my mother would often come into the room when I was raiding and exclaim: “Aren’t you a little too old to be playing computer games?”

“Would you rather I be out drinking and smoking and doing drugs?”

Yup, always worked.

A few months ago, a Taiwanese friend who was at my apartment saw WoW running on the laptop and said: “Playing games at this age? You’re really quite a zhai nan (宅男) aren’t you?”

I think that terms refers to being a geek. Well, I’m not a geek.

You know, gamers are really misunderstood people. Those who don’t game on a regular basis think that we are:

(a) socially awkward
(b) nerds
(c) losers
(d) immature
(e) all of the above

And that’s really the furthest thing from the truth. I might be a little bit of an (a) at times but I generally love having a few pints while meeting new people.

I’m certainly not (b), while (c) and (d) can be pretty subjective term.

Am I immature? Well, how do you even define maturity? The size of my epeen? The wrinkles on my face? The fact that I play games? It doesn’t even make sense.

One can never be too old to be a gamer. Many people seem to think gaming is something only kids do. They believe that being a certain age means having to do certain things that fulfills the criteria of being that old.

Oh, you’re 28, it’s time to be a husband.

Oh, you’re 30, it’s time to be a father.

Oh, you’re 33, you should be focusing on your career and making lots of money.

Oh, you’re 50, time to think life after retirement.

No. We don’t have to follow these goddamned pre-determined routes in life in order to be happy. If you like gaming, you like gaming.

Gaming is a religion. RNGesus is our God. You don’t need to be a certain age to accept a religion.

My wife doesn’t find joy in playing games. That’s cool. Her psycho-motor skills suck anyway. The only game she was decent in was Candy Crush. When she tried to play WoW all she ever did was spend my gold on new clothes.

She told me that reading is a much more enjoyable hobby. She’s really good a reading. She can blitz through a 500-pager in one day. Me? Sony would’ve released the Playstation 10 by the time I’m done with a book this long.

Reading doesn’t appeal to me that much because I find it hard to get immersed. I always feel like a spectator.

Some people get satisfaction from completing a book. I get satisfaction from that glorious ache in my hands after an intense boss fight.

The beauty of gaming
I also love gaming because I love a good story. I mean, I’m a writer. Or an aspiring one, anyway. Gaming allows me to experience a story differently.

It allows me to be in the story. Sometimes, I am the story.

As such, I can still vividly recall all the scenes that took place in the games I have played.

I remember shaking my head in disbelief at how beautiful the ending to The Last of US was.

I remember sobbing when Mordin Solus sacrificed himself in Mass Effect 3.

I remember gasping in horror when Sephiroth impaled Aerith in Final Fantasy 7.

I remember feeling a mixture of sadness and awe when Thrall killed Garrosh in Warlords of Draenor.

I remember getting a hard-on when Morrigan bedded my Warden in Dragon Age.

More importantly, games have showed me what good storytelling should be – emotional, honest.

A reflection of life
When I was feeling depressed in the months followings my big move to Shanghai, Hearthstone taught me some important lessons about the RNG-ness of life. Like how sometimes you’re just dealt an atrocious starting hand and there’s little you can do about it.

Really? Drawing three 6-mana cards when I only have three 6-mana cards in the deck? Seriously, RNGesus. What the fucking fuck?

On other occasions, the cards you start with allow you to win within four moves, because everything just connects, and because the opponent just so happened to have a really crappy draw.

I once lost 12 ranked games in a row. Nothing I did went right. I could knock someone down to 5 HP only to lose in the next three moves. Shit happens. And that’s the world for you. Everything is uncertain. If RNGesus decides to fuck you up with a bad draw, you just learn to deal with it. When you lose, all you can do is pick yourself up and just go at it again.


What we can do, though, is set ourselves up for success; maximise our chances of not fucking up. Build a deck is suited to your ambition, your play style. Determine if this play style is suitable for the context you are in. Anticipate what the opponent might play. Have a contingency plan.

When you’re done building your strategy to life, experiment with it. Win a couple. Lose a couple. Go back to the drawing board. Revise the deck. Improve on it. Go out there again and play.

No, this isn’t what gaming or a fantasy card game is about.

This is what life is about.

My name is Alywin. I turn 35 in October. I am a gamer. And I’m damn proud to be one.

So, why do you game?