Well, it’s been a few months since moving here, and I think I can safely conclude that Frisian people just don’t like to recycle. It’s bizarre to me. I’ve spent quite some time cycling around my cargo bike filled with paper and glass recycling, trying desparately to find some manner of recycling bin near me. Keep in mind: we live on the main shopping street. Not near city center. Not around the corner, or in an alley next to it. No, we live on the main street. I have, so far, found one paper recycling bin, near the station. Glass bottles? Same recycling bin. In all fairness, there’s one or two smaller glass trashbins if I cycle a bit. There is no recycling of organics, nor plastics to be found here though. You’d think for as much as people love “organic” and “local” foods here (i.e. they seem to desire overpriced and poor-quality produce), there’d be more interest in recycling! At least living on the main shopping street has the advantage that we can now just dump our paper trash in with the shopping trash that gets picked up on Mondays.
I recently purchased Stoneshard over at GoG, and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. It’s an isometric RPG game that reminds me of Rogue, Nethack, and more modern interpretations like Dungeons of Dredmor. In case you’re not familiar, these type of games have you explore an enviroment (usually a dungeon) in a turn-based way. Every action—be it moving, inventory management, healing, or so on—is a single turn, and you alternate turns with the world around you. You do an action, everything else in the world takes an action, then it’s your turn again, and so on. Along the way, your character gains experience from killing enemies, which allows you to level up its skills and abilities, so you can deal with more things.
Stoneshard intends to be a harsh game in the genre. In many games, your character will be heroic; in some way or another, the protagonist is more powerful than anything around it, and can deal with much more than a regular human. Stoneshard very much goes against the grain and intends to feature realism in the sense that your character is about as powerful as everything around you, and your character suffers greatly from injuries, status effects, and hunger and thirst. The interaction of all these mechanics mean that you spend time managing and balancing many statistics. Your character is hurt, so you have to bandage the wound and splint the leg. Then, to deal with the pain your character is experiencing (giving you negative effects to your stats), you’ll have to use pain relieving methods (such as alcohols). That will increase your inebriation, however. You can see where I’m going: it’s constantly a balancing of effects.
More than other games I’ve played so far, where healing just involves downing a potion and moving it, recovery management seems to be at the forefront of my early experience with the game. Any fight with an opponent so far is a major fight. A single wolf is deadly; a pack of wolves is sure to kill my character. I can deal with a bandit, but I should heal after; if I run into two bandits, I should probably withdraw to town after. In each of these encounters, the chance of death is quite real.
That brings me to the next design choice of the game, which is quite controversial if you look at reviews: the save system. You can only save the game while sleeping at the inn (perhaps in other places, but I haven’t discovered that yet). This leads many people to complain that the save system is “broken”. It’s commonplace nowadays that games have quicksaves and autosaves, and you can basically exit the game at any time and pick up where you left off later. Stoneshard goes against the grain here. If you go out of town, you commit to an adventure that may last quite a while. So far, I’ve stuck close to town, and that’s kept me out half an hour to an hour. I’ve also died every time I’ve went out, because I haven’t learned the game well so far. Often, I can see in retrospect that it’s my poor choices that ended in my character’s death. I can see, however, that if you haven’t bought in to that risk, that it can be frustrating. For me, however, it brings an enjoyable tension to the game. The stakes are high whenever I venture out, and there’s no quick F5-F8 to recover from my mistakes.
The natural effect of this to my style of gameplay is that I also play the game in spurts. I go out and adventure, and either I die and quit, or return and save and quit. That suits my life fine, so far. I don’t feel comfortable playing for hours on end anymore, and this game seems to fit that. It’s like Darkest Dungeon in that respect. A game that I play in brief spurts, and that I would imagine frustrate me, but somehow, perhaps due to its transparency regarding the difficulty level, doesn’t seem to cause frustration. Rather, it encourages me to learn the game well.
This morning I read an article that outlined how the Netherlands has been getting record-breaking (as compared to previous numbers in the Netherlands) cases of COVID-19 in the past five days. There are times when I can be proud of living here, but this is certainly not one of those times.
Because my wife is American, and she moved here to be with me, discussing international and intercultural differences is almost a daily topic of conversation. At my work as well, the topic comes up regularly; I recently transferred from the academies of Commerce & International Business and International Business Administration, to the Stenden Hotel Management School, which hosts the International Hospitality Management programs. Basically, pretty much all of my life is steeped in internationalism in one way or another.
One of the things that my wife and I have spoken of frequently is the behavioral tendencies of our fellow citizens. There are many pros and cons to the average American and Dutch attitudes, but there’s one that’s quite telling in these times. Overall, we’ve noticed that, at least in the south of the USA, people by-and-large tend to take others into account in a lot of social situations. My wife, who is disabled, gets offered room to walk as well as doors being opened to her whenever we are in the US. By comparison, in the Netherlands, it almost seems as if people are irritated by her intrusion in their life—people will sigh and swerve around us quickly, and college-age kids will pretend to be very busy with their phones or whatever is out the bus windows so that they don’t have to get up out of the disabled seats, leaving my wife having to try and find less-suitable seating.
It’s quite an interesting difference, given that on a governmental level, the situation seems mostly reversed when we compare the two countries. While the US certainly does have better access to most buildings (ramps and elevators everywhere!), its overall social programs to support disabled people pales by comparison to what is offered to citizens in the Netherlands. In the USA, providing budgets for healthcare is a political debate; in the Netherlands, it’s a common-sense element of the budget that needs little discussion beyond how much should go where.
We’ve theorized that the latter potentially causes the former; that is to say, we wonder whether the support offered by the government allows the individuals in the Netherlands to alleviate their feelings of social responsibility. We wonder if the state of social care in the USA causes people to feel as though they are in the same boat, so they take care of each other; by comparison, perhaps the average Dutch person feels like they don’t have to care—after all, the government does that for you! That’s why we pay taxes!
Our naive (in the sense of being unscientifically formulated) theorizing about this also applies to what we see around us in how people approach COVID-19. We live in Friesland, which is a northern, rural province of the Netherlands. Over here, you will hardly see a facemask outside of public transport (where it is required to wear one). Tracy and I always wear one when going out, and you can tell it makes people uncomfortable: some people chuckle, others look fearfully at us. There’s also a lot of misunderstanding regarding them. A few days ago, I spoke to a colleague who asked me whether the facemask made me feel more safe. I explained to her that a masks doesn’t protect me much, but it does protect those around me. This was from a colleague who was well-informed about COVID-19, and took care herself as well, but it does show how poorly information about this pandemic is disseminated in the Netherlands.
I believe this might have to do with the general attitude of Dutch people. Call it individualism, call it self-centeredness, but either way it revolves around Dutch people taking care of themselves first and others second. It leads to people thinking things like “Well, I’m not sick, so I don’t have to take care right now” (an argument I’ve heard from another colleague). There’s also some common denial, that I link to a little Dutch arrogance—I’ve frequently heard statements like “Well, it’s not as bad here as it is in X.” It’s a mix of misunderstanding of exponential growth, a lack of information about COVID-19 and the possible consequences, and different attitudes towards risk-management.
But the thing that surprises me most of all is just the utter callousness. The street outside is packed. Almost nobody wears facemasks (when we do have to go out, we can count the number of people who were them on the fingers of one hand). Almost nobody socially distances. I can understand that the individualism leads people to consider the risks mostly for themselves and, apparently, they find them acceptable. But what they ignore is that there are so many people that run a much greater risk of much greater consequences: the eldery, people with compromised immunosystems, people with asthma—the list goes on. I strongly link that attitude to the Dutch sense of individualism. You take care of yourself. If you need something, you should go ahead and ask for it (there is a Dutch expression: “No is what you have; yes is what you can get”). I enjoy how this attitude makes people assertive, but I detest how callous it makes us.