Birthday Trip

A few weeks ago I decided to take a “special” trip for my birthday. I planned to take a generous dose of magic mushrooms, sit out on the patio, and bliss my ass off. It was a lovely warm August afternoon, with blue skies and fluffy clouds: basically the perfect time!

Best seat in the house.

As someone who’s taken shrooms many times, I’ve never done it alone and mostly outside before. Weird, right? And as it turns out, this experience was much different than any I’ve ever had. In fact, it’s changed how I’ll approach my trips from now on. (Note: this is a pretty personal post, but since I’ve been telling myself I should post more personal stuff, I’m kinda on the hook for it…)

Around 5 p.m. I took 3 grams of shrooms, ground into powder and mixed with almond milk and chocolate syrup (to mask the nasty taste). Less than 30 minutes later, I was feeling a giddiness at my core, a kind of rising energy that I always get from these. By the time an hour was up, I was ready to head outside.

For several hours I reclined in a lawn chair and stared up at the trees and evening clouds as the sun began to set. My husband Chris was off to a Pat Benatar concert, so I had the place to myself. It was very serene — the clouds drifted by, morphing from shape to shape, sometimes into faces and animals. I stared in awe at the sky, watching the endless play of motion. The trees and plants swayed and “breathed” in that familiar way that shrooms allow you to see. The evening sun still shone, but it wasn’t intense enough for me to need sunglasses. I sat there listening to music on my new noise-canceling headphones, and when I closed my eyes with the sunlight on my face, I saw strange and beautiful patterns behind my eyelids like bright, melting glass. The light sometimes flickered when distant trees cast their tiny shadows in front of the sun.


Once in a while I’d pop my eyes open, and the full scene of the garden, the sunset, and the pine trees towering over me was almost overwhelming. I had a powerful feeling of reverence for all I was seeing, all the life that surrounded me. Looking up at the trees, with their branches swaying gently, there was a distinct feeling of presence — I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve had flashes of this before over the years, but this time it was stronger than usual. I didn’t even mind the planes which constantly buzzed noisily overhead, something which is normally pretty annoying. This time they felt like just another part of nature, simply people going from place to place. (The headphones definitely helped there.)

Music was a large part of this experience. I went through a few things, mostly low-key instrumental stuff at first. I eventually settled on some Irish music I used to love and haven’t heard in ages, and then settled on Enya who I also haven’t heard in a while. I used to love her music, and somehow it was perfect for this situation. My aunt Helen, who passed away years ago, was a huuuuuge Enya fan and used to sit in her garden (and her bathtub!) blissing out to her music. I suddenly missed her a lot and wished I could call her up and tell her what I was up to. She would definitely have approved.

Once in a while I got up and roamed through the yard, staring up at everything. At one point I was overcome by the music and the beauty of the trees and plants around me, and I broke into tears, not knowing why. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in the last 10 years, and the thought came to me that maybe I should allow myself to do that more often. A teaching moment from Professor Psilocybin.

I began to realize how these mushrooms, combined with music I love, tend to unlock emotions I normally suppress… There have been many times (while sober) when a certain melody or lyric hits me in just the right way and I instantly feel myself begin to tear up, but I always stop myself. Why is that? I decided that maybe I should just let it happen from now on. “I’m not a robot, geez!” I said aloud, probably to the amusement of a squirrel somewhere.

Staring up at the trees and sky with tears inexplicably running down my face, I suddenly missed my parents more than ever and wished I could talk to them again. The people who brought me into this world are both gone, and that’s a void I don’t think I’ve fully reckoned with, even now. It’s an untethered feeling that has heavily influenced this existential thing I’ve been going through. (I’m happy to say that my stepdad, who married my mom when we were kids and fully embraced that father role, is still with us.)

Cathedral of trees.

I eventually decided it was time to go inside, as the sunset was getting murky and the sky was growing darker. I wasn’t really hungry but felt I should eat something anyway, so I made a salad (with an extra large helping of crispy onions, thank you very much) and ate it while watching a bit of a live Kraftwerk video. A few minutes in, though, I decided that I’d rather hear music than see someone else’s visuals for it. “This [watching videos] is telling your brain what images to pair with the music, when the mushrooms are already trying to do that,” I declared to nobody in particular. This is what my husband would call “stoner logic.” It made sense to me, though!

So I popped the headphones back on, flopped down on our bed, and zoned out to more music. This time I put on some tunes by Scottish band Runrig which I haven’t heard in ages, which really hit me deep in the feels… Even the stuff sung in Gaelic, which I don’t understand at all, was really mashing my emotional buttons. My mom’s side of the family has roots in Scotland, so maybe some of my DNA was having a moment.

I was doing OK until “Running to the Light” came on. That song always gets me, and it packs an especially emotional punch considering its connection with the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy (you can hear and read about the song on YouTube). The opening music is stirring enough, but then the lyrics begin:

Running round the sacred mountain
The rushing stream
Feel the power
In everything
By the water, where the air is clear
Surrender everything

Again came the tears, again for no reason I could think of (and annoyingly bringing plenty of snot with them), but I let them out for a few minutes and it was fine. It felt like something I needed to do.

I then switched to Steely Dan for a while, which is always fun to listen to because their sound takes me back to my 70’s childhood when I’d hear them on the radio. I went back outside for a few minutes and wandered the yard in the dark, staring up at the starry sky and listening to “Aja” (considered to be one of the finest-produced jazz-rock albums ever, with good reason). It was cool and tranquil out, and the trees were still towering over me, though it was too dark to see them swaying and breathing. But I knew they were. “We’re still here,” they seemed to say.

By this time my energy was changing a bit — the trip was still in full effect, but my mood shifted and I felt it was time to go downstairs (into our basement “nightclub”) to do some dancing among the blacklights and lasers. So I did that for about an hour, which was a blast, but then I finally started to feel hungry again. I shut everything down and went back upstairs, fixed myself a Impossible burger, and plopped my ass down to watch the series finale of “Better Caul Saul.” How’s that for a change of pace!

Right when things were getting intense in the show, and with only about 20 minutes left, I got a text from Chris announcing that he was bringing some friends home from the show with him. We all went downstairs, and I somehow had the energy to do another hour of dancing and hopping around like an idiot. I was in a good mood the entire evening, and I was surprised to find that even with unexpected company dropping by, I still was! Normally that really irritates me.

Finally I collapsed into bed for a long, mostly dreamless sleep. The next day I felt refreshed, ready for the weekend and not dreading my return to work on Monday. This trip was just what I needed: some joy, some catharsis, some wonderment and escape. I decided to do this shroom thing once or twice a month from now on.

And you know what? In the weeks since that trip, I’ve felt myself drawn back into the back yard more and more, staring up at the trees and sky. At times where I’d normally flop down on the bed to read the news, or times when I’d be inclined to fire up a videogame, more often than not I’ve been opting instead to sit out on the patio and listen to podcasts, or just watch the trees and clouds in silence. It’s become something I need to do. It’s recharging and re-grounding, which is probably a sign that I’ve been trapping myself indoors too much!

I remember taking this photo because the clouds looked like a spinal column(!). But to be fair, I also saw Mickey Mouse at one point, so…….

(Side note: I feel very fortunate to have this setting in which I can enjoy these experiences. Thinking back to the many years when I lived only in apartments, I would have had to just do my tripping inside, or do it in a public park…and that does not sound appealing. Especially in Seattle’s public parks these days. Nopeity-nope.)

This reminds me of something I’ve heard world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets say several times in interviews: magic mushrooms shouldn’t be taken for entertainment. Yes, they can be fun, but they hold so much more potential than that. He calls them a “sacrament”, and that’s how I’ve begun to view them. I now regret introducing a few people to them via “Hey, let’s take shrooms and see weird stuff!” instead of teaching respect for them first and foremost. I really should have known better.

And they do deserve respect. This last trip has changed me in ways I’m just now beginning to explore, and that hasn’t happened since I first had them in Amsterdam all those years ago. It’s inspired me to look into various worldviews that support this weird, reverential feeling I’ve been describing, which is deeper than just thinking “Oh, what a pretty flower!” I’ve been doing some reading about animism and pantheism, which are both pretty interesting.

But that’ll have to wait for a later post…because as I write this today, I’m about to embark on another trip! 😉

Brain fight!

These days there are two constants in my daily information intake: 1) reading the news, and 2) browsing social media. However, the news is often terrible and social media is always terrible. This means my brain is constantly at war with itself on how to stay informed about what’s going on without feeding into my half-serious fantasies of retreating into a remote cave where the news can’t reach me and social media doesn’t exist.

My first instinct is to stop reading the news to help preserve my sanity. That’s what a lot of alleged experts say to do: “Just stop reading the news! You’ll be so much happier without all that negativity in your life!” But my brain has other ideas. Whenever I ponder this option, my brain says, “Hold up, now. Don’t you wanna be informed? Do you wanna be clueless about what’s going on out there, even if it’s awful?” Of course I don’t wanna live in ignorance, brain! But there’s just so much horrible stuff being said and done by horrible poeple, and more is always brewing on the horizon — is it healthy to keep reminding yourself about that, day after day?

Feeling pushback, my brain tries to compromise. “Maybe you can just read the headlines once a day, then stop. Or even do a news fast by avoiding it completely for a couple of weeks. Then you’ll feel better!” Sounds like the rationalizations of an addict, right? I’ve actually done the news fast thing before, and it does provide some relief. But the moment I start catching up on current events again, I immediately start sinking back into that quagmire of dread that I was neck-deep in before.

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A grim comfort

Things are getting darkly intense, folks. Certain evils are now becoming commonplace in America: denial of provable facts, bigoted attacks on people just trying to live their lives, widespread disinformation literally killing people, the alarming rise of religious nationalism in our government, the weaponization of religion to oppress and control, the increasing popularity of dangerous authoritarian figureheads, the worsening attacks on elections and the rule of law… I don’t do politics on this blog, but if you read factual reporting, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

This stuff is not new, but it’s accelerated in the last decade to a terrifying boiling point. It makes me anxious about the dark times I can clearly see on the horizon, but I also know that anxiety is useless — all we can do is use our voices and our votes to try and slow the bleeding.

This also comes at a time when I’m trying to make peace with the transitory nature of life and decide for myself what really matters — and what I’m willing to obsess about — here at my half-century mark. Existential crisis, ahoy!

Which brings me to this morning as I was lying in bed, trying to motivate myself to get up and begin working. Out of my sleepy mind sprang this thought: sure, my time here is brief and I will eventually be the proverbial dust in the wind, but there’s something I seem to have forgotten.

So will they.

These enemies of truth and compassion will also die. The evil they spread isn’t permanent, and it can be pushed back. We’ve seen it happen! However bad things may seem, there are ebbs and flows to this stuff. We may not live to know the full story, but in the long game I think they’re losing. And their desperation is glaring.

It really irks me that once I’m dead I won’t be around to continue watching this absurd show, because I really, really want to see where we are in 50 years. But I’ve decided that after seeing the impermanence of some of the good things in this country, I choose to take some comfort in the impermanence of the bad.

Grandma and the Medicine Men

Arizona sunsets don’t mess around.

My grandmother Betty, from my mother’s side of the family, had some great stories of strange things she witnessed and experienced in her life. Most of them are intertwined with the Arizona desert, as she lived many, many years in a hilltop house a few miles outside of Winslow, AZ. While some of the finer details of this one are fuzzy (due to nobody ever writing them down), the main bit has always stuck with me.

Everett, my grandfather, was an art teacher as well as a skilled jeweler of desert stones. He was especially fond of Navajo (Diné) jewelry made with turquoise and silver, and through this he came to know some Navajo artists who eventually became friends of the family. They both had great respect for Navajo people and culture.

Sometime early in their marriage in the 1950s, Betty suddenly had some kind of health issue. This is where my memory gets fuzzy, because I can’t remember exactly what was wrong…but whatever it was, it was fairly serious and her doctor’s treatment wasn’t doing much to help. With some desperation, Everett reached out to his Navajo friends and asked them if their medicine men (tribal healers) could help.

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Is pointlessness the point?

I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

Robert Anton Wilson

I vaguely remember when death used to be this abstract, far-in-the-future thing that I didn’t need to think or worry about. These days, at age 50, I think about it quite a bit. People I know and love are dying with more and more frequency (I actually just learned of one today), and eventually it’ll be my turn. I keep having grim thoughts like: “Will I go before my husband? Will he be OK without me? What if he goes before me? We don’t have kids and we don’t live close to family — am I gonna die alone? Will I go peacefully in my sleep, or after weeks/months of pain? Who will remember me 10-15 years after I’m gone? It’ll be like I was never here at all! Like, death is unfair, you guyyyyyys!” (That was my best whiny teenage voice. You’re welcome.)

At the same time, I feel a stab of guilt for even having the audacity to expect my memory to live on. I haven’t done anything great or noteworthy to earn that. And what a privilege it is to be able to contemplate this stuff when so many are suffering in the world, struggling to even survive. Just who do I think I am, anyway? Bad Dobby, bad!! *slap*

But honestly, I think most of us have these thoughts at some point. Contemplating your death can be healthy, or so they say, because nobody escapes it…but if you dwell on it too much, life can turn into a nihilistic “What’s the point in doing anything??” slog. And the past few years I’ve been feeling that way a lot. Probably more than I should. Hell, it’s taken me six months of stopping/starting/rewriting this post to finally finish it, because I keep hearing Bette Midler’s voice whining: “Why bother?” (She really nailed it with that bit, folks! It’s hilariously apathetic.)

It can get more complicated when you don’t believe in God or things like Heaven and Hell, as in my case, because sometimes it feels like your existence boils down to “I’m a bag of meat on a rock hurtling through space.” Which itself may not be 100% terrible, depending on your attitude… But I need more than that. And looking back at the books I’ve been reading the past few years, it’s pretty obvious that I’m searching for a more optimistic view of The End™.

So here are some thoughts I’ve been having on all this stuff. I’ve come to believe that being atheist or agnostic on religious topics doesn’t mean your mind must be also closed to…other things. Just like there are 500 varieties of vegetarians, there are 500 varieties of nonbelievers. Sorry, that’s probably a crappy comparison but you know what I mean.

My philosophizing is armchair-level at best, so maybe expect kiddie pool wading vs. deep dives…

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Gadget graveyard

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at purging junk when things start to pile up too much. Except when it comes to gadgets, that is! Some bring back memories of a certain time of my life, some are oddities that were hot for 5 minutes before vanishing from the market (anyone remember the MiniDisc?), some made an impact on my life in some way…and some I just really enjoyed using. I also think it’s fun to look back at old gadgets and see what made them popular, and what’s replaced them since. It’s a mixture of things, but overall they just appeal to my geek side and I’m not quite ready to get rid of them, even if they’re just sitting in a box in the garage. (Some of them I did get rid of, which I now regret — see “Gone but not forgotten” at the bottom.)

Not my actual gadget pile.

Does this mean I have a gadget hoarding problem? Maaaaaybe.

Anyway, a few years ago I decided to round up all the old gadgets that were sitting in various junk boxes and see what I ended up with, and here’s the more interesting stuff I found. I’ll present them in roughly the order I had/used them, just to be all organized and stuff.

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What happens in Amsterdam…

NOT an exaggeration.

Based on my travel journal from 9/15/2006.

On our way back to the hotel we passed a mushroom shop, and I really wanted to check it out.  The shop was amazing inside, designed to look like the inside of a giant melting tree.  They had just about every kind of mind-altering drug you’d ever want, and the mushrooms were all laid out in a case with little cards detailing what kind of trip you could expect from each.  Some were high on visual effects and energy, others gave more of a “brain high”, and others were a mix of other things.  After talking with the sales guy, who seemed very knowledgable, he recommended “philosophers stones” (psilocybin truffles) since we had never taken shrooms before and they usually gave a smoother experience.  So I bought two packages of those, at 13 grams each.  He fetched them out of a refrigerated case — apparently it’s only legal to sell fresh shrooms in Amsterdam, nothing dried — and we headed out.

We stopped by New York Pizza for dinner (piping hot and ridiculously huge slices), and then went back to the hotel and took a nap before launching into hyperspace!

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Learning to say “nope”

Quick note: this isn’t the same grandma from my earlier post. This grandma is from my Dad’s side. Grandmas everywhere!

When we were kids, my brother and I had a weekly routine. Rather, it was our parents’ routine: they’d drop us off at our grandparents’ house every Saturday evening, where we’d have some Grandma & Grandpa time, stay the night, and go to church with them on Sunday morning. More accurately, they would go to church and we would go to Sunday School. Afterwards, my brother and I would walk home and enjoy the rest of our weekend. It worked out well — our parents would get Saturday nights off from the kids, and our grandparents would get some time with us. (Our parents were what we’d call “spiritual but not religious” today, and definitely not the go-to-church types.)

This was the weekly routine for years, until one morning when I was 10 or 11. I woke up and just didn’t feel like going to Sunday School. The thought of getting dressed up and sitting in the church basement doing Bible-centered “activities” was suddenly the last thing in the world I wanted to do. So I informed my grandma that I was just going to hang out and wait for them to get back from church. And boy, she was not pleased with this development.

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RuPaul’s new song “Smile” is a rake dragged across the chalkboard of my soul. It’s pure, cold-pressed, thrice-distilled, artisinally-autotuned peepeecaca. And that’s what I get from just the first minute. I didn’t get further than that before furiously closing the tab, bleeding from both ears. Somehow this song manages to encapsulate everything I loathe about a lot of today’s popular music, which is pretty impressive, so…congrats? Even the video (linked in the article) is kinda lame, looking like someone shot it live on Zoom. What happened, Roople? Also, get off my lawn!

Anyway, NPR recently featured this song on “Now Listening” and read it to absolute filth. They listened to it so you don’t have to! I do love a good public service.

RuPaul, ‘Smile’

The most egregious rip-off comes in the form of the third track, “Smile,” a song that could be mistaken for a karaoke version of Charli XCX’s “anthems” if I heard it from outside of the club. To say the song is exactly the same would be an insult to Charli: It’s like if Mamaru’s producers heard how i’m feeling now and tried to recreate it from memory after a blackout-inducing hit of poppers. Everything feels lifted, from the overprocessed Auto-Tune to the jittery synth riff in the chorus.

Note: I sometimes call him Roople just for fun. We’re big Drag Race fans, despite the very real possibility of burnout from all the international variants…

At last, my petty annoyance has been validated

For at least a decade, whenever I see an article/blog post/whatever ending with “Wait, what?” I feel two things: 1) Contempt for the writer’s lazy, clickbait approach to headlines, and 2) sudden, irrational rage.

I can’t really explain why, but there’s just something about seeing that stupid phrase tacked to the end of a headline that makes me roll my eyes hard enough to see the back of my skull. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it done LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF TIMES, and it stopped being amusing after the first two or three.

But after so many years of personal anguish, I finally know that someone else out there feels my pain! Behold: the 2022 list of misused, bullshitty words and phrases that everyone (including you) should stop using:

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So…real-life Quidditch is a thing

I should say this up front: I’m not a sports guy. I don’t follow sports at all, it’s just nowhere on my radar at any time. I’m the guy who never knows when there’s a Big Game™ on, and I don’t know what team is from where, or what they even play. And if asked, I honestly couldn’t give two shits about this team leading that other team in the 4-3 zone at the bottom of the whatever while the backcourt defense runs offensive interference for the tight-end shortstop with 7 hours left on the clock. I played a few when I was younger, though — leading up to high school, my parents made me play at least one season of baseball, football, and soccer before they finally relented and just let me be the band nerd I was meant to be.

When it comes to sports scenes in movies or T.V., I’m just as indifferent. (I do enjoy those Ninja Warrior shows, especially the UK and Australian ones. Do those count?) Even fictional sports like quidditch or pro-bending on “Korra” are pretty ho-hum to me. It just feels like an interruption in the story, you know?

However! When I spotted some recent headlines about quidditch teams, I had to stop and read more to make sure I wasn’t just having a senility moment.

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Paging George R.R. Jordan…

We recently watched an old episode of the fantastic and sorely-missed “@midnight”, and there was a joke about George R.R. Martin still not having his next book finished.

This episode aired OVER SIX YEARS AGO.

We’re never getting that book, folks. I have a feeling he’s gonna pull a Robert Jordan and leave us all hanging!

Bomb threat pranks: what could go wrong?

Ridiculous video “challenges” have been around for years, mostly on Instagram and YouTube. Remember people eating detergent pods and poisoning themselves? And choking to death trying to swallow mouthfuls of cinnamon? And licking public surfaces to get COVID? And pouring boiling water on sleeping friends? And “surfing” on top of moving cars? Good times! For idiots, I mean.

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Grandma and the merchant

One evening, while visiting my grandma at the age of three or four, I ended up on her lap (as I often did!). I began to feel a little drowsy, and as she rocked me and stroked my hair, my eyelids began to droop. I wasn’t sleeping, but somewhere in that in-between place. My grandma, being open-minded and curious, chose that moment to gently ask me if I remembered who I was…before.

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Twitchin’ your life away?

Here’s the story of a guy who makes millions of dollars by streaming his videogames every day for 10 hours. He has no other life to speak of. No friends, no relationships other than a girlfriend and a mom he pays to bring him dinner every night (seriously). Just gaming and sleep, and trips to the gym so he doesn’t turn into a mouse-clicking blob of biomass. And depression, and paranoia, and exhaustion, and stalkers. But apparently allllll the attention and huge paychecks make it worth it. Kind of. Maybe?

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From the mouths of bears

Well, that can’t be good.

I am not easily scared by a movie these days. I went through my teens on a steady diet of horror movies and Fangoria magazines, and over the years I’ve absorbed tons of scary movies/books/shows, so few things really get to me anymore. But a scene in one particular movie really hit me a few years ago, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such a visceral reaction. Not only was it terrifying in a visual sense, but on an existential level as well.

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Music formats: a journey of inconvenience

Warning: rambling ahead.

Memory time!  In the 70’s, my dad was a DJ at the Los Angeles mega-station KFI (his call name was Roger Collins — he passed a few years ago but his legacy lives on via his Facebook page).  My brother and I still lived in Arizona, but my dad would mail promo LPs to us when they went out of rotation — so as kids we had a steady stream of cool records coming to us, which was how we enjoyed a lot of music that was otherwise hard to come by in our little country-music town.  We had a lot of records by a lot of popular bands, but I remember The Bee Gees and Donna Summer most.

This is exactly what I had. ‘Cause I was classy.

I mostly grew out of LPs when tapes came along. I loved buying them, but I loved recording them more. I kept them in those ugly-ass plastic cases with the fake wood look. Several of those were needed, mostly because of all my horrible mixtapes… It’s kinda funny to think about this now, knowing I’d later be listening to so much music in so many new ways, and also having to find a way to store (and re-store) it all.

Side note: even after getting to tapes as a teen, I did still listen to a lot of records when I discovered 12″ remixes.  This was long before the 90’s came along and ruined remixes for me almost forever — they’d take a song you loved and completely annihilate it, leaving barely a lyric or two to remind you of the original.  But I digress…

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Game savin’

Videogames, especially on home consoles, have had a massive impact on our culture for decades. If you’re old enough, you remember when they suddenly came onto the scene and forever changed how we use our T.V.s. If you’re young enough, you’ve never known a time when videogames didn’t exist. Knowing all this, why wouldn’t we want to preserve older games for future generations to enjoy, as well as appreciate for their historical value? Predictably, two of the main obstacles to this are rights-holders and money. But gaming geeks have been finding workarounds for quite a while, and they’re finally getting some support from one of today’s biggest gaming companies. It’s about damn time!

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