Thomas Nielsen

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Something From Every Medium

November 8 2020

As of last October, I have been alive for twenty years, which sounds like an incredibly long time to me (probably because it’s the full duration of the time I’ve been alive, but I digress). In those twenty years I’ve of course been exposed to all sorts of people who have shaped my life in immeasurable ways, but as I grow into creating more and more of my own artistic works, I’ve decided it’d be interesting to create a log of what works I see as influential to me at this point in my life to be able to come back to. And now I’m writing this!

Saying that I’ll be listing a work from “every” medium is stretching the truth a bit. I can’t say I’ve immersed myself in, for example, visual art nearly enough to say I have a favorite piece that’s inspired me any more than any other. I’m going to focus on the mediums that have had the most impact on me as a person: literature, film and television, music, and of course video games. These aren’t necessarily my favorite of each of these types of art, but I can say that they’ve stuck with me over the years. I’ll include some honorable mentions, too, for the things I can say heavily impacted me but weren’t the single most impactful.


Reading is something I’ve always enjoyed, but I’ll admit that my time spent reading for fun has fallen off in recent years. That isn’t to say there haven’t been books that I’ve enjoyed or even loved recently (in fact my current favorite book Sula by Toni Morrison was one I read this year), but instead that this is the least explored of the mediums in this post for me. Being well-read is a goal of mine for the next decade of my life.

I read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien in the tenth grade for my English class, and it’s stuck with me in a way that most things do not, especially books I read for class in high school.

I think of this book as a story about stories. Not only does it deliver impactful narratives about the horrific nature of the Vietnam War, a war in which the author was a soldier, but it caused me to think about what a story is and how it functions. The narrator often reflects on which parts of the short stories were true to life and which were entirely fictional, reaching the conclusion that if fictionalizing helps a story get to the emotional truth of an event, then any untruthfulness is justified. This stuck with me as the first time that the decision making process behind writing became clear. Suddenly, stories weren’t effective because there was some magic, secret formula that made them that way like talent or luck, instead it was a craft that could be refined. This book led to me thinking about books – and eventually media at large – in a more critical way. And I owe it a lot for that.

Honorable Mentions: Sula by Toni Morrison, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Film and Television

Film and television are the two mediums whose history I have the least knowledge of. Most of what I’ve experience tends to be more recent releases, and even then I don’t keep up with everything. I know film and television could be seen as distinct enough for two distinct sections, but for my purposes I’ll be lumping them together here.

Labyrinth is a strange thing to exist. It’s a musical fantasy movie starring David Bowie, bankrolled by Lucasfilm, directed by Muppets creator Jim Henson, and of course featuring the Jim Henson Company’s signature puppets. It’s bizarre, and I love it.

When I list this movie as one of my favorites when talking to people, people who’ve seen it are often confused. After all, the movie isn’t good in the traditional sense. The writing can be clumsy, and the acting is admittedly pretty corny. But it manages to be something that not every movie can be: fun. Sure, the plot is silly and the pacing is messy, but who cares when this movie is so clearly enjoying having its story told. The movie feels like no stone was left unturned in the writer’s room; if an idea had any merit at all, it made it in. It’s messy, but it has heart and spirit. I find that really admirable.

Honorable Mentions: Spirited Away, Cowboy Bebop, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia


My relationship to music developed in an odd way. Prior to around 2016, I didn’t really listen to music beyond video game and anime soundtracks (yeah, I know, I know). I chalk this up to a lack of exposure to music beyond what my parents listened to or pop songs at school dances. Based on these, I figured that music just wasn’t for me. I played in my middle and high school jazz bands, so I listened to jazz, but I saw that as a way to get better at performing rather than listening for enjoyment’s sake. It wasn’t until I was tasked with driving my brother and I too and from school every day that I became interested in listening to music for music’s sake, and (surprise surprise) I loved it.

One act above all others has affected me in more ways than I can count: Car Seat Headrest, and more specifically, the album Twin Fantasy.

I was introduced to the group through NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series. I was watching one for another group I liked at the time (Superorganism, if you’re curious), and YouTube autoplayed the Car Seat Headrest concert after I finished the one I came to see. I didn’t have any reason to stop it from playing, so I let it. I was captivated from the first song.

Twin Fantasy embodies many of the goals I hope to achieve when making my own art. It’s personal, yet holds true to so many of our own lives. It’s methodically crafted, and still retains the charm of something homemade. It feels epic at times, but shrinks down when it needs to. I adore this album.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of it all is Twin Fantasy’s dual nature. The original version was recorded solo by front man Will Toledo in 2011, and then rerecorded in 2018 after he formed a full band and signed to a label. The tweaks between the two versions are well worth exploring, and together the two tell an even greater story than either could alone.

I’ll leave this section with a passage of lyrics from the last song on the album, Twin Fantasy (Those Boys):

“This is the end of the song, and it is just a song. This is a version of me and you that can exist outside of everything else, and if it is just a fantasy, then anything can happen from here. The contract is up. The names have been changed. So pour one out, whoever you are. These are only lyrics now.”


Honorable Mentions: Plastic Beach – Gorillaz, A Love Supreme - John Coltrane

Video Games

I left this section for last because video games are without a doubt my favorite artistic medium. Even given one hundred pages to fill, I’m not quite sure I could ever fully articulate why. They’re such a beautiful intersection of every discipline.

I’ll cut to the chase: Undertale has been the most impactful game on my life because of its strength in nearly every area of games, but especially because of its gorgeous story that is still as, if not more, poignant each time I return to it.

The game is comfortable in a way most art can only dream of being. Lovable characters are brought to life through Toby Fox’s excellent writing, and not only do I care about these characters, in a weird way I feel cared for by them. It’s a strange thing to say, but the way the characters are written exudes concern for the player and the experience which is unrivaled by other art, let alone other games.

Upon finishing the game for the first time around a month after its release, I refused to admit how much I liked it. I was still clinging to my phase where I refused to admit that anything popular had any merit at all. But after experiencing it in full, it was hard to deny how much of an impact it had on me. After all, I was in tears for the last twenty minutes. Undertale wormed its way into my heart in 2015, made a cozy home. It hasn’t left since, and I can’t see a day coming where it will.

Honorable Mentions: Kingdom Hearts, Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, EarthBound


It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m twenty years old, but in those twenty years I’ve gotten to experience some great things both in my life and through the works mentioned above. That being said, reflecting on this has shown me that I need to work harder to experience art from a more diverse set of people. I’ve already been trying to put that into practice, but this exercise has reaffirmed my commitment to it.

Art rules. I’m so blessed to have had all of these wonderful works touch my life. I hope that one day, I can make something that will touch people in the same way.

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