Stardew Valley | The Game That (Re)Defines Me

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Audio

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

We’ve been looking to the past with most of these pieces. Sure, we’ve looked at how these games connect to the present, but with the possible exception of wonderful pieces on modern games like Will’s DayZ rumination or Alyssa’s Sims 4 recollection, most of the pieces for this look to the past for insights on the present. As the sites transitions back to normal Normal Happenings (not a typo), I wanted to look at the one game in my library that I can use to look to the future. It’s a relatively recent game – one with personality, distinction, and insights on life.

It is the one, the only…


Game: Stardew Valley
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 6, 2016


1P Start

What would be the best use of my time?
It was a common refrain in the Valley, until one day something fascinating happened. I started asking myself this question in real life, and it changed everything.

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Irrepressible optimism. That’s not the kind of thing I’ve always had to the degree required to fuel my motivation for life. In fact, much of my brooding in the past reflected disenchantment and cynicism. Irrepressible optimism is a learned skill. I’m going to be quite honest, to live life in a consistently positive manner presents a huge number of challenges, especially in a world so seemingly unbalanced in favor of negativity.

What I mean is that the consequences of negative events seem to far outweigh the fleeting effects of sanguine happenings. If there is balance to be found, it is in the possibility that negative events happen far less frequently than positive ones, but it is difficult to convince a person experiencing a mountain of very costly, very adult situations of this notion.

It seems assured, then, that the world is indeed a negative place filled with suffering to some extent or another. And yet, despite appearances, I’m an irrepressible optimist. Seeking this buoyant type of life has lead to more fulfillment than I’ve ever experienced, but I require tools to maintain that optimism. I’ve tried my best to build around me a fortress of positivity — relationships, education, and media all conducive towards making a dark world a little brighter. 

There are plenty of games that resonate with me on an emotional level, from the classic adventures of puff-balling my way across Dreamland in Kirby’s Adventure to the modern cinematic characterization of Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn. We see fingerprints like this all over this collaboration. There is not a single entry in this collection in which a person actively hated the game that defined them. That’s because sometimes a beautiful symbiosis occurs when you love a game — that title begins to integrate itself into your life as part of your identity.

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Stardew Valley is one of those engines for me. It’s no secret I absolutely adore the game, but it means so much more to me than an escapist romp through a farm town. The game has become an integral part of my experience as a human being.

Love in the Hard Times

I think one of the biggest reasons Stardew Valley is so important to me was completely out of the developer’s hands. Timing is everything, and the game landed on the Switch for me at just the right time. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. However, traditionally this cliche evokes images of two people discovering how frustrating it is to live with each other constantly. Not so with us — Nikki and I had almost a decade of dating experience backing us up, so we were pretty well-prepared for what to expect.

No, what confronted us was far more insidious than simple situational adaptation. The Dark Cloud of mental illness cannot be defeated by swords and shields, and we both carried with us a storm of family, cultural, and religious trauma. I believe mental illness is the true final boss of life, and Stardew Valley arrived deep into our protracted conflict with the Dark Cloud.

As many others have expressed, video games provide an adequate refuge from dealing with the constant pressure of real life. Though in the past I worried that using video games as a form of escapism would lead to addiction, that never happened with me. Instead, I simply began to look forward to my short daily commutes into the Valley. Rain or shine, they awarded me an opportunity to alleviate the challenges of real life and offered a glimpse into a future free from this mess. When struggling in a mental capacity, there can be nothing healthier than a little escapism.

Every Day an Opportunity

In Stardew Valley, you’re offered a choice, even if you’re not making them on a conscious level. The halcyon days go by quickly in the Valley, simulating the perception of time as aging sets in if left uncontrolled. As in real life, there no way you can get everything you need to done in a day.

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It’s raining in the fall, so can go explore the mines without fear of losing my harvest. It’s sunny in the spring, so I should harvest some salmonberries! Snow has blanked the ground in winter, so I should try to find some artifacts for the museum.

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What would be the best use of my time?

It was a common refrain in the Valley, until one day something fascinating happened. I started asking myself this question in real life, and it changed everything. You’ve probably seen this blog transcend from periodic posts to routine (hopefully high-quality) content. It happened in other aspects of my life too, but I credit my time in Stardew Valley for this paradigm shift. I am hoping it can help me conquer my fitness goals heading into 2019.

The Future is Beautiful

While it may seem cursory due to existing as a video game, the choices you make in the Valley uniquely impact the future. Every decision made has a butterfly effect, impacting life in unforeseen ways.

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I used to be scared of the future, envisioning scenarios in which catastrophe could spirit us away from the life we’ve dreamed. I used to be terrified of death, but even that doesn’t cause incapacitating dread as it used to. I am here to make the most of my time — to live and love, and to try impact the present and the future for the better. I am, after all, an irrepressible optimist, and the future is full of beautiful choices. Let’s make it all it was meant to be.

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This is, umm, not a baby announcement. It’s just a good example of future choices.

If Sonic the Hedgehog 2 defined my childhood, Stardew Valley defines my adulthood. Sonic 2 is the game that defines me. Stardew Valley is the game that redefines me.

Future Collaborations

Many of you have been asking about future collaborations on Normal Happenings.

Going forward, I plan to facilitate four collaborations per year. Big, month-long, epic ones like this are hard (but very enjoyable) work, so I only plan to do two per year. One will be in the summer, the other in the winter. I already have an idea of what the winter collab next year will look like, but as of now summer is completely up in the air.

In the in-between, spring and fall, I will be putting on mini-collaborations, similarly formatted to Hyrule: See the Sights! Hear the Sounds! If you want an idea of what to expect, that’s currently your go-to publication. I call the collaborations “mini,” but they’ll consist of ten to twenty pieces, weaved together into a one-post grand experience.

I intend to revel the identity Spring 2019 collaboration on New Years Day — January 1, 2019. Past contributors will get first dibs, but I definitely intend to reserve at least four or five slots specifically for newcomers.

What Happens Next?

Next, I’m taking a break… just for about a week or so. I just want to unplug and normalize after posting for 35 days straight. Doing so will refuel my creativity in the long run. I’ve got a drafts folder full of great ideas for posts, as I haven’t been able to craft any “normal” pieces for quite some time.

I’ll still be on Twitter, albeit probably a bit less than I have been for the past two months. I’ve got a collection of Daily Inklings scheduled to post as well, so this place will still be plenty active. I intend to be back in action on Monday December 17 with an important update post on Dysontopia and the Normal Happenings Patreon, so stay tuned for that.

And on that hopeful note, we’ve reached the conclusion of the most epic thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of facilitating. I want to thank all of you by name:

Thank you Megan, Ian, GG, Kim, Jan, KT, Moses, Victor, Shauna, Heather, Alyssa, Luke, Justin, Chris, Pix1001, Will, Murr, The Gaming Diaries, Amanda, Alex, Ruubin, Khinjarsi, Matt, Kathy, Mr. Backlog, Michael, Ellen, Ryan, Zerathulu, Imtiaz, Teri Mae, Skylar-Mei, and my beautiful wife Nikki for making this all possible! You all have done more than I ever dreamed.

And of course, thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read our thoughts. Always remember that you are awesome!

And The Credits Roll…


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form.

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!
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Faxanadu | The Game That Defines Hungrygoriya

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Audio

GG says “a lot of this music could be played by a band at a fancy dinner or something.” We concur, and it would be awesome. 

 

 

 

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Welcome back to day two of The Games That Define Us! We hope you enjoyed the first post, and are excited to launch ourselves through the decades of both our lives and gaming history.

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Today’s writer, GG from Hungrygoriya, has been a supportive blogging colleague since Normal Happenings’s inception. I’m so glad we got this mythical writer back after composing such a creative piece during Hyrule: See the Sights! Hear the Sounds! After reading this post, I highly recommend checking out their piece on Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. Similar to this piece, it’s full of personal exploration of the impact of a game, and well worth your time.

I’ll admit, before organizing this collaboration, I had never heard of the game Faxanadu. It turns out I overlooked it on the Wii Virtual Console. I thought I had a good grasp on all of the classics of the NES, but this one slipped through the cracks. However, upon reading GG’s insights on the title, I find myself begging for Nintendo to bring it to the Switch online service.

But that’s enough from me — let’s get to the good part. We hope you enjoy the next chapter of The Games The Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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starring

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GG @ Hungrygoriya
Twitter: @hungrygoriya

For the unknown wanderers returning home

 


Game: Faxanadu
System: NES
Release Date: November 16, 1987

1P Start

I don’t really have a mantra per se, but the idea of being mindful and staying in the moment rather than fretting about things I can’t control has really helped me in all areas of my life.

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I wish I could remember the first time I played Faxanadu. My family bought an NES in 1990 when I was just four years old, but if I’m being completely honest, I don’t even remember how Faxanadu made it to us. It could’ve been a birthday or a Christmas, but many of my memories from that time are a bit foggy.

My parents were always pretty divided on gaming. My dad had bumped into that first goomba in Super Mario Bros. and never picked up a controller again, while my mom absolutely loved the challenge of games like Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3. My siblings also enjoyed gaming, but I was the only one who would regularly pop longer games like The Legend of Zelda and Faxanadu into the console. Usually they were stuck onto the trusty Game Genie to ensure I had a fighting chance to make it past the first parts of the games without meeting death too soon.

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Faxanadu was different from many of the other games I had been playing up until that point. It was not cut from the same cloth as the bubbly, colourful platformers of the NES era. Though I enjoyed the Mario games and Adventure Island II, Faxanadu drew me in for different reasons. The music was questy yet dissonant, and the graphics were based more in reality than imagination — as realistic as the setting of a giant tree can be, I suppose. There was something about the game’s dark and gloomy atmosphere and the nameless hero taking up a dire cause that I could relate to at that point in my life. My childhood was not particularly bright, and the dark setting of the World Tree was a great escape for me while I hacked and slashed away at unidentifiable enemies to raise my experience and rake in the gold. I especially appreciated that there was no option for a second player. It gave me an excuse to be alone once in a while.

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I should’ve disintegrated far more often while playing Faxanadu, but with Infinite Magic and Infinite Power by means of the Game Genie, I was unstoppable. After finally giving up the cheating machine, dying in Faxanadu was very frequent for me. Thankfully it wasn’t all bad, since one of my very favourite parts of the game is the message that’s shown when you die. It’s my one go-to phrase for when I need a pick-me-up:

Don’t have negative thoughts. Remember your mantra.

Those words are sometimes all I need to put one foot in front of the other when I’m feeling a little glum. I don’t really have a mantra per se, but the idea of being mindful and staying in the moment rather than fretting about things I can’t control has really helped me in all areas of my life.

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Faxanadu was the first proper role-playing game I ever played. If you know much about me or my taste in games these days, it’s all RPGs all the time, and Faxanadu is solely responsible for that. I will never forget the day I beat it on my own without the Game Genie for the first time. I was well into my twenties and had decided to stream the game in hopes to garner some interest from others, having spent most of my life not knowing anyone else that enjoyed the game as much as me. That night I think I played Faxanadu for one or two people that came and went throughout the evening. I was vanquished over and over again, and after about five hours of struggling, I finally defeated the anticlimactic final boss. My enthusiasm post-win was met by silence, since most people watching had given up on me long before I had made it to the end, but it was a quiet victory and I reveled in those moments completely. I’ve felt accomplished finishing other games, but none bring me as much satisfaction as Faxanadu. Nothing beats seeing that rejuvenated World Tree and watching our nameless protagonist go off to his next adventure.

On the surface, Faxanadu looks like your average action RPG. In many ways it is, but I’ve never been able to find the same sense of urgency and adventure in other games like it. Though there’s not much to know about that game’s main character in terms of his story or motivations, his shoes are an easy pair to step into and walk a mile in, and the game and its challenges therein shaped much of my sense of self-reliance and determination. I’m so glad to have been able to experience such a wonderful game in my youth, and I’m even more grateful that I can continue to enjoy it as an adult.

adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative bloggers. Help us with the resources to make even greater collaborations in the future. We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about finding optimism in everyday life. Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place.
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Adventure Map | The Games That Define Us

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introduction

Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Welcome to The Games That Define Us, the second Normal Happenings collaboration! Starting on November 1, you will be embarking on a 34-day long journey through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. These contributions go beyond mere game conversation, though each of these artists have proven time and again their ability to think critically about game mechanics and presentation. One need only view their blogs to see they are well-versed in the art of critique.

But that’s not what The Games That Define Us is all about.

This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

What does it mean for a video game to define you? It can be hard to tell at first, but here is a good starting point: close your eyes and just think “video games.” What games pop into your head? Maybe there is only one – if so you may have already discovered the one that defines you. If there are several, ask yourself which one is the most meaningful to you. We think that is where you should look, and we would love to know what game defines you in the comments. Perhaps it’s even one of ours, and if so, you’re in for a treat.

This adventure map will serve as a guide through each day’s pieces – a table of contents, if you will. There will be a mini-version affixed to each post, but you can treat this as a table of contents or a launch point. We recommend reading each post in order, as they are arranged by game release date. However, feel free to dive right in to your favorite games. With these incredible bloggers, you simply cannot go wrong no matter where you start. And with that, let us begin The Games That Define Us!   

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

adventure map

patreon

This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative bloggers. Help us with the resources to make even greater collaborations in the future. We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about finding optimism in everyday life. Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place.
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Let’s Call It a Learning Experience

As a blogger, some things just work. Nice Job Badges just work. Super Specific Award responses just work. Some things just do not work, and Pixel For Your Thoughts just does not work for me.

Oh Pixel for Your Thoughts, let’s call you a great experiment. We shall look upon you as an incredibly good idea, critically wounded only by ways in which Matt’s brain works. I am big enough to understand that not everything functions the way I’d like.

Allow me to explain. Let’s take a look at some of the questions coming down the line:

  • What game series will you never play?
  • What game destroyed you emotionally?
  • What game made you feel like you were playing a genre for the first time?
  • What game do you love to play with friends?
  • What game can you tell have had a LOT of passion put into it?

These are the types of questions that, for Normal Happenings, require well-thought-out responses beginning development days, even weeks in advance. They each deserve at least a thousand words of expressive, well-formulated wordsmithing devoted to them. For me, the need for a long-form personal exploration of a topic is what drives me. Continue reading “Let’s Call It a Learning Experience”

Tetris Haunts My Dreams

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Music No. 10 | Poyo Poyo Tetris

This is my favorite version of the Tetris theme, and it’s the one that gets stuck as the blocks keep falling from the top of my brain. It just keeps repeating… forever.

Q. Woah woah woah, what happened to my Sleeping at Last music?
A.
I’m sorry, but it just wasn’t working quite as well as I’d hoped. This challenge drifted away from the reflective ruminations I had initially planned, so I’ll be going back and retrofitting the previous posts with different tracks. Except for the Animal Crossing one — that was great!


There’s something you should know about me: I’m probably way better than you at Tetris. I think of all the competitive video games in all the land, from the fighters of Super Smash Bros. to the survivalism of Fortnite, I consider myself best at the humble puzzle games. Maybe it was all the years of playing Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as a kid. And of all the puzzle games, I’m best at Tetris. Don’t believe me? Ask for my Switch friend code in the comments, and we shall duel in:

Poyo Poyo Tetris | Switch

Continue reading “Tetris Haunts My Dreams”

How is Fi NOT the Most Annoying Character in Games?

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“Pacific” | Atlas: Year One · Sleeping at Last

Each post this month is set to a different track from this amazing album. “Pacific” is purely here to keep us all calm while we have flashbacks about these annoying characters.


Who’s the most annoying character in all of video games?

I initially was exploring alternative options to the obvious, including Mr. Resetti from Animal Crossing, Issun from Okami, and, of all things, the Advisor from Sim Theme Park (US) / Theme Park World (EU). Other contenders included Amy Rose from Sonic the Hedgehog, who is awesome, as well as Big the Cat, who is awesome in his own way.

None of them, however, captured the spirit of “annoying” as much as “amusing.” However, there is one character in all of video games who is so notoriously annoying, so frustratingly irritating, she even overcame my instinct to be slightly-but-not-too-different than everyone else.

Fi | The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Continue reading “How is Fi NOT the Most Annoying Character in Games?”

The Unexpected Collision of Media and Identity

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“The Projectionist” | Atlas: Year One · Sleeping at Last

Each post this month is set to a different track from this amazing album. “The Projectionist” is about the bravery and insight that can come from fictional works.


Though truth is heavier than fiction
Gravity lifts as the projectionist rolls tape
And it makes us brave again


I recognize that, compared to the rest of the world, the American education system can be a maze of confusion. If you’re part of my amazing European audience, you may want to consult this handy Wikipedia article in another tab if you have any terminology questions. Also, you can always ask me any questions in the comments.

I’d like to take a break from talking about specific games to have a conversation about one particular topic — recommending media such as games, movies, and music to friends. I thought we might do something a little different and reminisce. For day 6 of her 30-day video game challenge, Megan asks what game recommendation I’ve tried this year. What she didn’t realize is that’s a bit of a loaded question. Believe it or not, this can be a challenging, highly personal activity worth of the same self-contemplation rendered of the more serious topics in our lives. Continue reading “The Unexpected Collision of Media and Identity”

Just a Boy, Nothing More

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“East” | Atlas: Year One · Sleeping at Last

Each post this month is set to a different track from this amazing album. “East” is a contemplation of the mindset of a child and what the world turns the into as an adult.


I set out to rule the world
With only a paper shield, and a wooden sword
No mountain destined in my way
Even the oceans tremble in my way


I make no secret of the fact that Link from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is my favorite character in all of video games. He’s even the character I main in Super Smash Bros. On a superficial level, that may come as a surprise. He’s just a young kid — a very awkward, expressive kid at that. I’ll admit I was shocked in my moment of self-discovery about my favorite video game character. The more I think about it, however, the more it makes sense.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker | GCN

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Wind Waker is a game for kids. By featuring a protagonist so young and applying the notoriously cartoony cell-shaded graphical style, the designers did an incredibly effective job of hiding the mature and nuanced story within. Simply put, this is a game with themes squarely directed at grown-ups. Continue reading “Just a Boy, Nothing More”

The Park Bench on Main Street

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“I’ll Keep You Safe” | Atlas: Year One · Sleeping at Last

 

Each post this month is set to a different track from this amazing album. “I’ll Keep You Safe” is about taking comfort in the world around you.


The sound of the branches breaking under your feet
The smell of the fall and the burning of leaves
The bitterness of winter or the sweetness of spring
You are an artist, and your heart is your masterpeice


Every Animal Crossing player suffers the inevitable fate of losing interest in or getting too busy for their town. When that happens to me, I always feel the need to write a letter of apology to Isabelle. I think it is time, however, to write a letter not of sorrow but of reflection.

Animal Crossing Continue reading “The Park Bench on Main Street”

It’s Only an 8-Bit Moon

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“Overture” | Atlas: Year One · Sleeping at Last

Each post this month is set to a different track from this amazing album. “Overture” is about the birth of the adventure of life.


We claim our lands
We tame our seas
We carve our names
On the surface of history


It’s Only an 8-Bit Moon

One of my favorite pieces of imagery in this gorgeous game is the moon, it’s gradient yellows hanging large at the end of a long journey. I’m not sure why, but it symbolizes more than anything else of the first video game adventure I ever had.

Kirby’s Adventure NES 

Despite the retro gloriousness of accomplishing that level of detail on 8-bit hardware, nothing compares to the real thing. When I was a child, maybe nine or ten years old, I remember a prolific fall night with a chill in the air. I was visiting my grandparent’s farm in rural Georgia, U.S., and I had walked outside to see the biggest moon hovering there above the fields. It must have been the size of a quarter held right in front of me. I could count every crater on its surface, and it was so bright that the light actually reflected off the crops which were ready to be harvested. It was on that night I felt an inspiration that to this day has never gone away. Continue reading “It’s Only an 8-Bit Moon”