Dumbledore’s Orchy

I kind of already want to apologise for that post title. Moving on.

Writing advice time. Specifically, writing advice about signalling characters of diversity. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to me talking about Harry Potter as a universe, but one of the complaints I’ve had is of what I call ‘Dumbledore Diversity,’ the notion that an author can, post-fact indicate the orientation of a character that is never otherwise signalled in the media, and that isn’t, in my opinion the same thing as writing media that has actually included marginalised people.

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Good For Goodness’ Sake

Motivating a heroic character well ‘is hard.’ I say ‘is hard’ because if I say, up front, it’s easy, and you’re a bunch of shameful, pathetic cynics, I’ll look condescending, even if that’s ultimately how I feel about this bullshit.

Media I watch lately has featured an enormous amount of templated storytelling and one of the template points that’s become worn so deep it’s now basically a groove is the protagonist’s motivation is overwhelmingly linked to someone important dies. It’s usually a woman, either a lover or a child. I considered, briefly, making a little gif supercutting together every single game, movie or tv show I could think of in the past five years or so that used this trope then realised it’s enough of a percentage of the media output I partake of that it’s gagworthy. Even stuff I like a lot does it.

Looking at you, Dishonored.

Anyway, point is, that it’s a really common motivator, to the point where it’s basically unexamined. In the classical arc of the Hero’s Journey, which really is storytelling 101 for people doing a large, multistage production with a three-act structure, one of the key points is the Refusal of the Call – ie, the point where the protagonist declines to go on the journey. This is a useful story device for showing that the narrative has resistance to it, and that there are more complex things going on in the hero’s life than just compliance with the story. It is an opportunity to represent that the call, the heroic action, is a choice, which is more important than destined compliance. It’s also a chance to show that the destind action won’t just happen without them – that the hero’s inaction would lead to problems.

This means that for simplistic writers and boneheads and cynics, clearly, the only option is that heroes don’t want to be heroes and don’t want to do anything. It’s seen as relateable that heroes don’t want to be heroes. That is, when presented with the opportunity to do the hero’s journey, most people would say ‘no,’ until something so dire – the irrevocable death of a beloved one – pushes them into action.

This is dumb, and it paints a worldview of heroes as glum people who don’t have any reason to like what they’re doing. It makes the action of being a hero – of being powerful, capable, survivable, important – as an annoying imposition on a life of happy potato farming. No doubt this plays into a protestant ideal of being content with your lot – heroes are just wishing they could get back to the dull drudgery bullshit of your 9-to-5, let me tell you.

The thing is, the refusal doesn’t have to be ‘I will not do anything at all.’ It can be ‘I will try this other method that won’t work.’ Or ‘I will focus on this different set of priorities.’ Or ‘I cannot make this decision for myself and must comply with an other.’ Or even ‘I can’t yet see a way I could do this.’ They are all ways to illuminate character, arrest the narrative briefly, and none of them require the murder of a woman only to provide motivation.

Interestingly, the movie Hercules does use the murder of a woman but it’s in the third act, in a way to intensify and narrow the focus, to make the stakes that were global personal, and that’s another, different problem. The Last Of Us is similar, though much closer to the end, and the threat of that death. But anyway.

When you paint heroes as being unable to be happy being heroes, and when you create a world where nobody would, with power, act in a way beneficial to others without it instead speaking to some trauma, you first reduce all heroics to emotional selfishness, and dissolve the idea of heroics as meaningful. Second, it’s so fucking repetitive.

There are worlds full of injustice and by creating characters who only care about it when the injustice directly impacts them you are suggesting that we should only care about things that directly impact us. You drag heroic aspirations down to our level, instead of elevating them, and you do it in the name of a cynic’s idea of realism, that there surely could be no reason a person might choose to do the right thing at all.

“That’s Not A Game” The Game

There is a behaviour I see just often enough from game developers or game reviewers that it gets on my wick. It is the habit of referring to a thing as barely a game or not even a game. This dismissive attitude is even there from serious minds like Mark Rosewater, a man I greatly respect, who argues that Candyland is not a game. The argument is that the actions of Candyland are automated and therefore, players don’t have to make any choices.

I would then sagely point out that there is, in fact, a choice, and that is, the choice to continue playing, and act all smug.

But the real issue is that saying things aren’t games is a delegitimising tactic that can be used to shut out certain components of games media, suggesting that some ideas or concepts for the ways games should work don’t exist, or that some choices or our own subconscious desire to participate in rules structures, aren’t real game mechanics or tools. It’s not like a game needs a lot of rules, or components, to be a game. A number of games are improvisational or purely paratextual – games that exist in response to other things that exist, like word games, or conversational puzzles.

Bernard Suits, in The Grasshopper: Games, Life And Utopia, defines games with a wonderfully intricate, encapsulatory phrase: A Game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.

This definition means that lots of things are games. Don’t-step-on-the-crack is a game. Cup-and-ball is a game. Fetch is a game. The problem people tend to have with this definition is that they’re left unable to say, more broadly: I don’t like what this game does, and keenly feel what it lacks. Which is okay.

If your definition of games is this broad, it means your acceptance of what games can be and can do can be suitably broad. It will give you oddball ideas and weird extra options. And it will also mean you’re a bit less likely to be condescending to games whose crimes are mostly being boring or simple.

A Year Later: Game Design

I guess it’s been a year.

It’s been hot today, so it’s hard to write when the sun’s up, and then there’s a few hours after the sun sets where you need to do all the chores. But today I’ve been stewing on the challenge of being a game designer.

So.

I have not been a game designer in the context of ‘getting into the industry.’ I’ve just been making games now, for a year, and there was always a tacit thought in the back of my mind that, eventually, some point during the year, it would pick up the market and I’d slowly be building on having a job in game design, or at least, a portfolio game designers would want.

Not… really how it works. Anyway.

Here are some things I wish I’d known beforehand:

  1. Lead times are important. It takes about a half of a month to get a game sent from the printers to here in Australia. Expensive, too. Smaller games are cheaper to send, so designing for a small number of cards, leading to games like Werewolf, or Love Letter or the like, is easier and faster.
  2. Booklet games are really important. People are more likely to drop a bit of cash on a game they don’t know they want if there’s no delivery time. Buying a booklet is cheap and fast. Buying a printed cardgame has delivery time.
  3. Reddit and bloggers are super important! The two most sold products we have, online, are Simon’s Schism and Dog Bear, booklet games. The former is mentioned on a Venezualan game blog for people who need cheap games that don’t cost anything to import, which is awesome and lovely and I’d love to help get more games to people in that situation, and the latter is a goofy game that’s had the most time to sell, but was mentioned on Reddit.
  4. People buy my stuff when it is convenient. Face to face? People very rarely come to my booth at a convention and don’t at least show interest in maybe buying something. People want the product. The products are good. But getting people to know that, online, and then getting them to buy them… that’s the trick.

Please don’t feel guilty if you never bought anything. This isn’t about you. This is about useful things to learn. And hopefully, you won’t have these problems: Your product or game will be a wild, runaway success, if my hopes for you hold.

The Day Without Crime

I almost feel like it’s not worth saying this all over again.

But in my personal little lexicon, it’s one of three important dates at the start of December. First, it’s a friend’s HRT birthday. Second, it’s the Applerversary, the year anniversary of #ApplesForEmi.

And third… the end of City of Heroes.

It’s been four years, which is to say, I’m halfway towards having had more time after City of Heroes than I had in City of Heroes. I can remember elections held while I was playing that game. I can remember important events, meeting people, losing people, the arc of my personal life and growth, the way that I shifted and moved around that game.

… and here I am, thinking about this place that disappeared at the flip of a switch.

Huh.

The fact I barely advertise the products I make – or rather, the designs I give to the people who make products in the hope they give me a tiny fraction of the total cost of the product – means I’m periodically struck by just what the natural shakeout of the internet leads to people buying.

Particularly, someone has bought, from one of the sites, an XL version of the GENERALLY ADEQUATE DAD t-shirt design

marked as a gift.

Tony Vs Chester: Lessons In Branding

When you create a brand, specifically a brand to try and sell a product, it depends on how you position yourself in the media landscape so people can know how to react to you. In the past, we’ve seen Coca-Cola position itself as a standard, loved, traditionalist piece of our lives, while Pepsi tried to make itself an aggressive, reckless, new-hip-and-cool opposition to that stodginess. The same is true of Mario and Sonic (and later Crash Bandicoot), and this can be now seen in the way that both Chester Cheetah and Tony the Tiger are engaging with their thirsty, thirsty fanbases to best-

You know, sometimes you get stuck into a draft and realise you probably should just stop.