Category: Language

Cis, Explained

I’m seeing this one needing some explanation, and I’m also seeing some goofy people talking nonsense about it so let’s give you a nice, easy place to check on this one without TERFs getting all up and angry about it.

The complaints about cis are that it’s a slur, that it’s a made-up word, and that it’s unnecessary.

First things first, slur. Cis is not and cannot be a slur. Slurs are words designed to direct structural power against individuals and other people with the same group characteristics. It’s a threat. Non-cis people do not have systemic power, and the closest they can get is being mean. You’re not going to lose a job or be refused housing because you’re cis. You’re not going to have crimes against you ignored because you’re cis – crimes, not ‘people were mean to me’.

Cis is not a new word. Cis a term from chemistry, where it’s the opposite term to Trans. It’s been used for a century like this, because back in the day, chemists all used Latin terms to refer to technical objects, because that way everyone could use the same language and grammar to talk about them. And since we use the word trans in discussions of gender, cis is a handy opposite.

And cis is totally a necessary word. When you’re talking about relationship to gender, transgender or cisgender if you say ‘transgender’ and ‘normal’ then you’re explicitly calling ‘transgender’ ‘not normal.’ Notice the people who are mad about being called ‘cisgender’ are often people who feel like it’s calling them ‘not normal,’ so imagine how it feels to the trans folk being told they’re not normal.

Cis is not a hard concept to explain. It’s like on and off. Something is cis or it’s not. Open or not-open.

If, at birth, you were assigned a gender, and you decided that gender works for you, you’re cis. If you’re not cis, you’re – linguistically – trans.

Now that’s not to say everyone who isn’t cis wants to be called trans. There are plenty of nonbinary or agender people who don’t call themselves trans, and in that case, saying THE TECHNICAL MEANING IS- isn’t helpful.

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What’s Autoethnography?

Hey, let’s start with an extremely difficult thing to define and unpack it a little.

Autoethnography is a method for qualitative research that focuses on academically exploring the personal experiences and autobiographical records of the researcher.

Okay, now to unpack that a little more. Qualitative research is research that focuses on examining things that cannot be easily or readily reduced into hard values  that’s quantitative research. So qualitative research is about, well, qualities. Qualitative research is very much about asking people questions, divining their experiences, taking them seriously and observing connections and patterns.

You might be familiar with surveys that ask you to rank things in order; that’s quantitative. Surveys that ask you your opinions or feelings, those are qualitative. Qualitative research is generally harder and slower and tends to need a human interpreter, rather than responding to mathematical tools.

Second academically exploring things is to look at things not as an expression but rather as a piece of text that can be related to with other academic tools. It’s bringing to bear analysis tools reserved for examining texts to bear on the the account of the experience.

Personal experience, I hope is pretty self explanatory. Autobiographical records are the things you, yourself, record about what you experience. This is normally seen as pretty shifty in academic research – after all, if you can get an objective measure of something, best to do that, rather than write down what happened to you.

With that breakdown in mind, what’s a way to explain autoethnography simply?

The first way is: There is no clear answer right now. It’s a complicated thing and it means a lot of things.

The second way, the pragmatic way, is that autoethnography is the process of experiencing something; writing about your experience; then interrogating what you wrote –not what you experienced – as an academic text.

Or shorter: You write, then you examine what you write.

Why do we use it? A couple of reasons. One it’s really hard to write about some things with quantitative research. Psychology, psychotherapy, art participation, sociological experiments, and on-the-spot historical accounts are all pretty hard to account. It’s useful for some situations where other forms of research would need larger examinations or complicated data gathering, and you don’t have a lot of time, like the immediate aftermath of an event. It’s also really useful for recognising processes that don’t standardise well, like following an artist or a composer’s work.

It’s not a perfect method at all – it’s got a lot of boundary problems, and if your autoethographic work moves near things that you can quantitatively research, and then don’t, you run the risk of leaving something untethered from more readily provable facts. It’s but one tool in the toolbox.

It’s also a handy practice to know of. If you’re prone to writing about your experience, you can go back and re-examine that writing as if it were academic text. I guess that always comes back to my personal position of take the things people do seriously.

Virtually Virtually

With this talk of Virtual Reality going on, ever sit to wonder what virtual means?

What do you mean when you say something is virtually done?

It’s a weird word, isn’t it? It has some connection to the word virtuous, perhaps, and we use it so freely to describe digital spaces that it has a sort of connotation of the internet, or videogames, or something like that, but that’s not really what it means. When we describe reality, we mean pretty much reality. What makes that really interesting is that for a lot of intangible things in our virtual spaces, they are already virtual reality.

Brendan Keogh wrote about this, in that thesis I’m grinding my way through.In that, he outlines the question of virtuality as it pertains to things that are secretly trying to obscure their connection to the real world, that they are virtually real, and we are prone to pretending they are not. There’s no reason in particular we do this. We don’t file Warcraft goals as more important than Solitaire goals and yet less important than local sports team goals, even though one of those three is much more complex and within our control to influence.

When we say a task is virtually done, we mean that it might as well be done. When we say a thing is virtually real, we mean the same thing. It is real, or might as well be.

This comes back to my idea, the idea I can’t stop circling. We need to take games seriously, because they matter to people.


I don’t know if anyone else is using this term to talk about this, so here we go, my best effort to try and coin this term so I can talk about it easily.

The Procedurality of a game is the degree to which game pieces imply the existence of one another. That is, when you’re confronted with a game pieces, you can probably extrapolate what the other pieces mean. As a player this determines how you learn and study the strategy, while as a designer, procedurality shows you the extent of a design space.

Here are some examples:In this pretty ordinary poker hand, you can look at the cards and glean some information. First, there are cards that number up to ten, and cards that number down to four. There are numbers on most cards, and there are some different symbols – a heart, a diamond, a club and so on.

Based on just this information, if you’d never seen the deck before, you could probably extrapolate what forty of the cards are, maybe forty-four based on the Jack probably not being totally unique. The design of a deck of cards works with this – there are two jokers, but aside from that, the whole design is contained pretty tightly within the two variables of each card: Value and Suit.

These are cards from a packet of Dark Signs. One of them is very much unlike the others, the area pieces that you’ll play to win. But two of the cards kind of imply the values of other cards, while the third shows that there’s at least some cards in the deck that don’t fit that pattern. The basic runes in Dark Signs represent the lowest sort of procedurality – they show some value that the players will have to deal with, but they aren’t the whole of the game. The procedural cards in Dark Signs show a sort of design space, but they aren’t super obvious. Also, and it’s a small thing, in Dark Signs, the basic runes all have prime number values, which makes them just a little bit trickier to make score ties.

Finally we have the most procedural game I’ve ever made:

There are 26 cards in You Can’t Win and 24 of them are immediately obvious the second you look at any given card. The other two are Wild cards. Each card shows a value, and a rule that relates to cards with that value.

Procedural games are a good place to get started. It helps you get your mind in the space of working out how many cards you need, and if you do it right it can help you explore spaces, defining boundaries by how many different permutations you need of an effect.

Term: Dice Pool

A dice pool refers to a resolution mechanic where rather than rolling a dice or a number of dice and summing the results, the number of dice themselves is some part of the mechanics. The simplest version of a dicepool is one where you roll a large group of dice, and then select which results apply to which part of the resolution.

A single dice (or number of dice plus a modifier) is a resolution mechanic that follows a very simple experience: You roll the dice, you do the math, and then you have your result. This makes a dice roll, singular, as a very simple ‘switch’ experience, comparable to pushing a button in a videogame. You press a button, the system responds to the math, you get a result. That’s a really good, robust mechanic I like using for any game where you want some variance in a reliable, regular action – like in D&D, for example.

A dicepool, by comparison, is more of a system for making resolution itself a game. This isn’t all it’s used for! But it’s a simple way to use dice that isn’t just adding or subtracting on top of them.


So one of the most basic things you can do with dicepool systems is you can make players make decisions. Let’s say you have a system where players are setting up a car for a race. You roll a fistful of dice at the start of the game, and select, of those dice, some to be the engine, some to be the tires, and some to be the seating. Then, as you play the game, you prioritise how you drive your car based on those earlier decisions.

One way that Exalted uses a dice pool is that you roll your d10s, and all dice that are 7s or higher are ‘successes,’ and you need a certain number of successes to win. This is a weird bit of terminology that maybe a designer who cared about language might fix but whatever, like in Blades in the Dark the point is that you can use a dicepool to handle a resolution in a system where you want players to succeed, on average, but don’t want the degrees of success to be as varied as the numbers on each dice face.

A dice pool doesn’t even need to be rolled: You can use a dicepool system to have a number of counters that are kept at a particular number, or incremented as appropriate, based on the players’ choices. And even then you can use that these counters are dice as part of the play: Make it so it’s calibrating a computer, and sometimes a virus rolls some of the dice randomly!


Dice pool systems can get pretty weird when you make them success-or-fail. It’s also got a mechanical limit – rolling 1d20+30 is not the same physical question as asking someone to roll 30d6 and count the successes.

Another thing with dicepool systems is that when you add components per player, they get out of hand fast – so if you want a game where each player needs to roll 5 dice, then one player needs 5, and 2 needs 10 but if you wanted 4 players you need 20, and you need to store those dice.

One final thing with dice pool systems is that while rolling big fistfuls of dice is exciting, doing fiddly book-keeping or rules changing or changes to each dice in the pool multiplies irritation. So it doesn’t always work with every type of dice mechanic.


Exalted, Scion, and the other of White Wolf’s other various roleplaying games.

Blades in the Dark.

Emoji Rebuses: FPS!

Hey, here’s a bunch of Emoji arranged to suggest the names of various classic First-Person shooter videogames. Can you guess what they are? I bet you can’t! Oh yeah? Says you! Well I never!


Return To Castle Wolfenstein

Rise of the Triad


Duke Nukem

Legal Tender


Redneck Rampage



Unreal Tournament

Catacomb 3D

Alien Vs Predator

System Shock

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Tower of Guns

🥋🐉✊ 🌽
Ken’s Labyrinth



KISS Psycho Circus



Mirror’s Edge


Originally this was just going to be a short note about this curious term I’ve become used to using and relating the anecdote of when I remembered hearing it, and therefore, where I learned it, because it’s a good word. I like it.

The notion of Hyperirrigation is the idea that it’s something that encourages something that doesn’t need it. It’s like watering kudzu, or fertilising bamboo in the hopes it’ll grow even faster, plants that themselves do not need that sort of encouragement (in the environments I’m familiar with them). It’s a word I thought I learned from Christopher Hitchens, describing his view on American Objectivism – that it was a hyperirrigation of the cultural attitude towards selfishness.

I went to find the quote so I could put it in a neat little sconce and share it and appreciate just the word and its contributary nature as an idea while I was sharing it. You know, removing from the totality of Christopher Hitchens, a man who was pro-Iraq invasion and thought Margaret Thatcher was hot, and instead just showing the interesting word he played with and the idea he used it to express. Because even jerks can use words well (and indeed, understanding the wholeness of the jerks who do is a useful tool for understanding people).

And then I went looking for the quote.

And I couldn’t find it.

I did find something similar, but it lacks the word.

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”

Straight up, I don’t know where I learned this word. What’s worse, is that looking for it, it seems more of a medical term as it relates to nasal irrigation, which is interesting but you don’t want to do an unfiltered google image search for it, trust you me. This puts me in a strange quandrary – because if I didn’t learn this quote from Hitchens as I thought I did, did I invent it? Surely not.

And thus, I share this thought with you. I’m sure as soon as this goes up, someone will happily tell me where they heard it, and it’ll all be solved.

Term: Hidden Role

A hidden role game is one in which a player or players, selected out from the group, have some element of their play goals altered in a way that sets them apart from the group. Hidden role games are not always asymmetrical team games, but they often are.


Hidden role games are most obviously useful for making deducing who is on what team part of the game. This is the basic core question of games like Secret Hitler and The Resistance: Avalon – the gameplay is almost completely about working that out.

Nonetheless, Hidden Role is not a mechanic limited to this. You can use it as part of a larger game, where for example, players are largely competing to put together a set of resources, while one player is trying to prevent that without being noticed. You can even make hidden role games where the hidden role is itself a power – look to games like Maskerade and Coup.

Finally, Hidden Role games can be made co-operative as a way to ensure quarterbacking can’t or won’t happen. Players can’t actually determine an optimal path of what players should or shouldn’t do without literally knowing what they actually can do.


Hidden role games can kinda bottle anxiety. It can be exciting and thrilling to play a hidden role game with your needs and wants a secret, trying to keep from being caught, but it’s stressful.

Hidden role games also tend to be comparable to one another.


Maskerade, The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica.

btw, I have no idea where that header graphic is from but it looks like it’d make a great hidden identity game


There’s this term in art, typically used describing still life, of rhyparography. It’s a discipline that mostly is seen in some medium-poor light, as the term derives from a literal insult, meaning literally, a painter of mean things, or more cruelly, painter of dirt. More commonly it’s used to refer to representative art of fundamentally conventional, unremarkable objects. Some elements of hyper-realism in painting relate to this. Hyper-realism is a real as heck thing, by the way, and you can get a place to start looking by checking out the work of Pedro Campos.

Artwork of three Coke cans, by Pedro Campos.

The typical conversation about hyper-realism in painting is that it’s not rhyparography, because the point of hyper-realism is an effort to elevate the mundane object into a transcendant state. Rather, rhyparography is connected to the mundanity, the unexceptionality of the object. There’s also often some griminess to it – replicating dirt and smudges is a tricky thing.

What interests me about rhyparography is its special presentation in games. Many games are about constructing worlds through visual media, which means that there are people who, in the making of games, construct incredibly mundane unimportant things, sometimes in huge variety. Anyone who’s done texture work or asset packs knows that you’re sometimes asked to represent a huge variety of just stuff. Much of it never gets noticed. Some of it never gets used. There are asset store packs full of unimportant crap.

And they are all crafted.

It is a thing to think about: How much of what we create in games is the normal, unimportant and unexciting. There’s a quiet beauty in that, knowing someone spent time and effort rendering a discarded coke bottle on a counter top, so you could walk into that space and feel like this is a real space.

Term: Deck Builder

A deck builder game is one where building a deck of cards is the core mechanic of how one plays the game in play. This isn’t the same as a game where you build your own deck, like Magic: The Gathering, because in that case, building the deck is an experience you (usually) do on your own. In a deck builder game, you are typically doing something that builds the deck as part of the process of playing the game.


Deck builder games are great, because the mechanical structure of a deck builder lends itself to a lot of very satisfying things, while still being thematically really varied. Some deck builder games use the deck to represent short-term limited decisions and combat, some use them to represent the slow process of economic movement of kingdoms.

Deck builder games have a lot of room for variance. You can have games with a very rigid structure, like Dominion or games that do a lot with keeping things freewheeling like Star Realms. You can play with rarity or commonality, you can involve other elements like dice and boards. Deck building is really one of the easiest game types to approach as a designer who wants to make something really large without necessarily having the resources to make a big project.

Also deck builders, if balanced well, provide a lot of variance. If there’s no single best way to play, you can use a lot of things to make your play experience more varied and fun.


It is one of the most glutted formats of games right now.

What makes this glut worse is that most players don’t need a lot of deck builders in their collection. One good one will usually do the trick, and some players will be dedicated Dominion collectors or Legendary collector, or maybe they just want a single big-box experience like Arctic Scavengers. The point is, everyone’s deck builder of choice tends to have a thing that sets it apart.

The other thing is it’s very, very hard to make a small deck builder. You need a certain quantity of cards, even cards that are very similar, to get the mechanism of deck building to work.


So many! Here are just a few.

  • Dominion helped to establish this archetype recently and it has a really large number of expansions. It’s also not the best-edited game in the world.
  • A Few Acres of Snow uses its deckbuilding to represent military communication
  • Legendary is a hugely expanded franchise game with a lot of high quality art and whole storage boxes and whatnot
  • Star Realms is a head-to-head deckbuilder that uses its cards to represent space ships and space stations.
  • Arctic Scavengers uses the deckbuilding to represent scarcity and garbage, and has elements of player interaction


Term: Roll-And-Move

Roll-and-move refers to a mechanic where players are given a field to move in, and roll dice to determine how and where they can move. They might be moving freely in a grid, or the dice values might determine where they can or can’t go. The basic mechanic is simple, though: Roll any number of dice, and use that information to determine your movement in some way.


Roll and move is effective as a starting point mostly because it’s really, really well known: Most people know a roll-and-move game and they get it quickly. It also has a lot of underexplored space: most roll-and-move games these days tend towards moving in one direction, like Monopoly or Trouble, but there’s a lot you can do with it – roll and move could be useful for representing things like the pull of variable things, or weather patterns, it could be useful for acceleration or deceleration effects.


Roll and Move is a bit of a pariah mechanic in games because there’s been a lot of really bad roll-and-move games made that were distributed. What’s more there are some games that would be pretty good if they didn’t use Roll-And-Move and instead came up with some better, more thematically appropriate scheme to handle movement. Basically, Roll And Move is something of a Default and it shouldn’t have to be, nor should people feel obligated to consider it as such.


Some roll-and-move games include Hero Quest, Monopoly, and Snakes and Ladders. It’s obviously not a well-regarded mechanic but that doesn’t mean you should consider it unusable – it’s also the basis of the game Camel Up, and is explored in Formula D.

Term: Builder

A BUILDER game is simple to explain: It’s a game where you build something. That makes it sound silly to describe, but it’s a place to start. Most games can qualify as builder games. Dungeons and Dragons has you build a character, Betrayal at House on the Hill has you build a house, and Fiasco has you build tension. But those aren’t really games that fit the term ‘builder,’ because ‘builder’ is really a term about how the game feels.

Builder games are games where your primary focus is on building things, and those games tend to be games with a sense of material to them. You’re building a thing that you can look at and watch grow, and the feeling of that thing growing is meant to feel rewarding. In Betrayal At House On The Hank Hill, there’s no personal connection to the growth of the house, and in Dungeons and Dragons the building of a character is of a slightly immaterial thing. Magic: The Gathering requires you to build a deck to play, but unless you’re drafting, you’re not building the deck on the spot.


Builder games are games with a lot of inherently obvious value to them. Making things is very satisfying. You can use building to be part of the challenge of a game, as with Junk Art or you can use it to be the reward for playing, like in Dominion.

There are a lot of things you can use Building for, representing a whole host of different themes. It’s almost too broad a term, but I want to put it in this little dictionary of terms because when I refer to a builder, or refer to builder mechanics, I want it eaisly conveyed I mean a game where making something tangible is core to the experience.


The biggest limitation of builders is that the bigger the thing you build, the more difficult it is to easily mentally parse it. Builder games often inherently increase in complexity! If the building components don’t increase in complexity it can be unsatisfying to watch the builded thing grow!


Games with good ‘building’ feels to them are often deck builders, like Thunderstone, Star Realms or Dominion, or they’re about building up a thing in an empty space. Some games like Dream Home have an element of builder to them, but that’s filling out slots on your board, and may feel less rewarding. Some games like Barenpark have that same effect, but the process of building is more difficult and may feel more rewarding. Same to with Galaxy Trucker, where you’re building within a box. A game that has more of an open builder feel might be something like 51st State or Imperial Settlers or Seven Wonders.


How To Talk To Your Trans Dude Friends About Boobs

One thing that exhausts trans people and wastes a lot of their time is explaining Some Of The Most Basic Stuff. I try to make sure I offer some basic explanations of things, not because I have special insight, but just as a basic footing. And this time, we’re going to real quick talk about how you, a cis boy, should approach talking to your trans boy friends, about their boobs – not boobs in general, but their boobs, this is important.


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Thinking In Two Directions

Some notes about writing and notebooking in the
body of a book as it pertains to fluid thinking
once you get into the habit of thinking of ‘who
told me that,’ you’ll start verifying ideas, of ‘to
me, this makes sense,’ becoming less common.
The problem with much of us these days, with the
world, is a feeling of emotional certainty about what
is not necessarily true or even scrutinised. I’m
gunna admit my own habit of accepting ideas that
roll with how I already think, ideas that tell
me, ‘you are doing okay’ and to be honest
I don’t think that’s necessarily an evil. You
ain’t going to stop your brain doing it, so
the next best thing is to refine your responses to the
sharpest point possible to look at reflection as a
tool for critical self-engagement to make it
in an otherwise unexamind and uncritical world.
The next thing to do is examine the first word on each

this was originally written at MOAB, hand on paper

Term: Drafting

A draft refers to when players make exclusionary choices from a common pool; you’ll see this sort of thing in professional sports to determine where players wind up. In card games, however, a draft usually refers to a mechanism where players each are given a handful of cards, choose one card, and remove it from the hand, then pass their hand on to the next player.


Draft based on cards can put complexity on the cards themselves, rather than in the fundamental structure of the game; the game has a really simple rule of Take A Card, Pass Everything Else Along. That means players can focus on just the cards in their hand, that they can select from, and not need to worry about what else is going on at the table (though they might).

Draft is also simultaneous: Players will all be taking their turn at the same time, meaning that even if one player is markedly slower than the others, players won’t be waiting the entirety of their decision making process, since they have to do some of their own decision making process.


Draft is a super duper complicated way to design your game. In the case of a bigger game where draft is used as a component, like Magic: the Gathering there are thousands of words written every month or so about ways to do it well, strategies for repeating the same game, things you can do to handle the variance and things you can do to capitalise on it.

Players get to see a bunch of the cards in front of them; they get to know what they’re passing, and that can mean that players seeking an edge may feel obligated to remember everything going around the table. You can find this a bit paralysing.

You can make drafts open, where everyone makes it clear what they’re taking each turn, which gives players even more information, and may be even more paralysing. If you do this it’s often best to have a common pool that everyone takes one thing from at a time. I’m less fan of this but it can be a good way to make players hold grudges against one another.


Some drafting games include Magic: The Gathering’s limited format (known as draft, helpfully), 7 Wonders, and Inis.



Recently, I was listening to the Ding and Dent podcast which decided to take a momentary sidetrack into the idea of innovation as its importance to games, and it got me angry enough to sit there and froth at my computer for a little bit and write a very angry, very foolish draft.

Fortunately ‘recently’ means mid August because I try to write ahead on this blog these days, and that meant I had time to cool down and relax on the stance and come back to it to talk about my problem with the position.

So here’s the thing with innovation. For something to be innovative, it needs to be, in contrast to other examples in its type, different in a new way to overcome a challenge. The problem with describing things as innovative is that it inherently positions the speaker as an authority on what is a meaningful contrast.

The thing most people mean when they say innovative is novelty. They mean this does something in a way I hadn’t considered. Why does this give me a bee in my bonnet, though?

Because games are so broad, so wide, happening across so many languages and so many markets right now, the idea that any given thing is innovative means that the games that the speaker understands must be the ‘normal’ that exists. That a reviewer – usually of big box board games from four or five publishers – has a lens that encompasses all the games that are worth considering and therefore, what is new to them in that space is innovative.

This is an important thing to consider!

I prefer instead to talk about novelty – which is to say, this is news to me – because it avoids unintentionally positioning the speaker as an authority, and it helps push back against the idea that the small core of games being examined by reviewers are the general landscape of games.

Rules Glue!

This started out as at first, a treatment of the evolution of the rules of Psionics in dungeons and dragons from its inception through to its incarnation in 4th edition, with an eye towards showing how you can respond to mechanical restructures, but it quickly became clear to me that that was both too huge an undertaking and also one I wasn’t all that qualified for. See, I can tell you about 3.5 and 3.0 D&D psionics, and I can tell you about 4ed Psionics, because I was there, I played with them, and I enjoyed and loved them at the time.

I can talk about how 2ed psionics were broken (sort of) because the mechanics of 2ed were broken (sort of). Thing is, that will be always the dissection of an outsider, someone who misses rules as written or worse, misses rules as experienced. Nobody is under any illusion that tabletop games aren’t done with some sort of rules fiddling around.

Thing is, as broken as some things are in a roleplaying game, you don’t actually test large groups of characters against one another. You test small parties against those same small parties, and against the challenges presented to them. It’s easy for me, a player, to recognise shortcomings between two spells, but fixing the weak spells might not be as high a priority as making sure the overall structure of a game is okay. D&D is a rare example in that we have a lot – a lot – of it to work from and that huge volume means we can hold up a lot of examples to be tested against one another.

What happens to make this stuff work though is, at the table, a person communicates the rules to another person. Then, people trust one another to make their rules work out reasonably okay. And that’s why it’s important to make your rules human interpretable. If you have rules that a human can feel comfortable explaining to another human, even if they explain them a bit wrong, things can still work because a human is involved.

Still gunna do a bit on 4e Psionics, mind you.

The Laziness of A Ghost

Over on Patreon, friend of the blog and Viking Accountant Doc Destructo wrote a recent article on Asshole DNA, a series that seeks to study the way a game can leave you with a certain insight into the person who made it who’s a dickhead. He, naturally, started with Watch_Dogs.

Now I’ve spoken in the past about the Ghost of the Author, which is really just an extension of Barthes’ original idea, the Death of the Author. The notion is that there is no singular, pure entity that is the author, and therefore, the person who may think of themselves as the creator is gone and it falls to us to try and interpret who and what they do. In videogames, I argue, it’s not even possible to call that creature the author – they are the ghost of an author, a creature that came about because so much of the creative process of videogame development is

Now I want to highlight something in Doc’s piece:

This phrase he uses, this is lazy gamedev. And then he goes on to qualify how it’s not you know, laziness, but this is defintiely laziness. In this case I kind of want to chime in and note that there is a laziness here, just not the laziness of lack of energy or work. Rather, it is the laziness that reflects a lack of thoroughness.

The thing with laziness in videogames is that it’s sort of impossible to be actually lazy when you’re in this industry. Everyone is working long hours for lots of work and even the person whose work is vanishing down a hole isn’t actually being lazy – they’re just having their effort wasted by other, mistakenly made management practices.

If the ghost of an author is the collected information, behaviour and effort of the entire crew making it, this person can view the allocation of resources as effort. That is to say, while there is no actual laziness from any individual in the organisation, it can be said that having the opportunity to spend resources on a particular field of the game’s development and choosing not to, especially if those resources are being spent in a way that leaves large, unpleasant gaps in the work’s sense of reality.

Nobody on this dev team was lazy. But the author, this ghost of an author, chose to not allocate energy and effort to making sure this world’s gangs and its image of race and racism in Chicago were meaningfully well-thought out. They were done as simply as possible, using shorthand, using a general, broad method that didn’t involve spending more resources on second drafts or rewrites or double-checking narratives or implications or sensitivity testing.

No developer, writer, individual worker, creating this vast project was lazy. But the author of this work was lazy.

Samurai Pizza Cats’ Missed Joke

Hold up, time to complain about something deeply inconsequential.

Back in 1990, back when rebadging/retheming already-made anime with extremely minimal alterations to on-screen animation, Saban – yes them – picked up a Tatsunoko series and revamped it quickly and with minimal actual relation to the original material, resulting in a product that, uh… I guess the nice way to phrase it is it’d be a very different work.

Now I’m not going to talk about the remix culture of it, the thematic transformation, the characterisation of the adults doing the remake, the meta-awareness of its jokes, the winky way it handles the audience, the trans narrative inherent in an odd character decision, the plot arc about the extra rangers, or even the fact that the opening spells Samurai wrong, and nobody seemed to notice,  but rather, this is about something I only just noticed recently.

This is Speedy Cerviche. Without getting too deep into it, he’s sort of the central character of the Samurai Pizza Cats. This is a series where characters commonly have punny names – Polly Ester, Jerry Atric, Seymour Cheese, for example. The thing is, for the longest time, I was convinced Speedy’s name, while pronounced ‘seh-vi-chey’ was spelled Service. I thought that was the joke. You know, his name put emphasis on the wrong syllables.

Well, turns out that no, his name is a reference to ceviche, which is a totally fine thing to reference but it’s somehow both more wide a reference and also not the really clever joke I always thought it was about ‘Speedy Service’ from a pizza delivery boy.

Remakes: Reboots, Remasters and Recreations

In the age of the easy remix, the re-use, the recycling of media concepts and design spaces and cultural concepts. It’s a space where we have a lot of different terms being used for different kinds of media. For my own purposes, I feel I need to define the meaningful differences between Remakes, Reboots, Remasters and, with new and fresh examples, Recreations.

The Remake is a global term, here. It’s just used so vaguely that it’s hard to really pin down what a ‘remake’ is. Was Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood a remake of Full Metal Alchemist? Sort of. Basically, in this case, I’m going to use remake as a way to refer to any new work that’s a new form of an existing work that’s designed to not require previous experience with the work. Each of these other terms refers to a specific type of remake.

A Reboot serves as a way to restart the work, a new point for someone who had no experience to start experiencing the work. A reboot wants to build something out of similar space, wants to use the iconography, it definitely wants to evoke the original, but a reboot is notable for showing you what the rebooter thinks matters to the original.

Here’s an example of four different reboots in one series: Each one was meant to accommodate major changes in the environment the franchise wanted to exist in.

Reboots are really at their best when there’s not a lot of there there, or when you’re making a work move from one form to another. While you might not consider an adaptation a reboot, they both use the same tools. It’s about taking away as much of what doesn’t work in your new form.

A Remaster is more like a translation: Conceptually, you are trying to make the thing again, that functionally works the same way, but with the new tools for presentation. It’s better audio quality, it’s more sound channels, it’s higher resolution images. In the case of some material forms, like film, a remaster can be just taking the production-quality materials and using them to create a new consumer-level version.

The recent trend towards remastering Lucasarts properties – or perhaps just a few classic examples like the Monkey Island games has had different variations on this. In the case of Full Throttle, pictured, the overall spirit is very much preserved, probably because they could work from a lot of similar sources.

One possibly controversial example of this usage of a Remaster is Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, a shot-for-shot recreation of the original Alfred Hitchcock movie from 1960. While this Remaster didn’t involve any of the original footage in creation, it nonetheless sought to be a version of the original in as high a quality as possible, with almost no deviation from the original.

And finally, the most challenging to do well: The Recreation. A recreation, for the sake of this conversation is something above and beyond what a Remaster or a Reboot can do. Recreations are reboots, but, they aren’t just about starting the continuity of the series over; recreations can be about the new continuity and about replicating the story beats or narrative components of the original.

The thing I need this term for, however, is Voltron: Legendary Defender.

Voltron: Legendary Defender isn’t just an attempt to tell the story of the original Voltron series, any of them. It’s not an attempt to update the same plot beats and introduce us to that story. Galaxy Defenders is a recreation of a feeling of the way the original series worked out. It’s a series that takes the same basic idea and ideology of the original story and tries to tell a new story with the same pieces.

The issue I have is that if you simply call it a remake that can miss the basic premise of what the series does. Voltron: Legendary Defender is a series that wants to be the Voltron series you remember and know isn’t there if you ever went back to look for it. It’s tight, dense, and it uses a the set of storytelling tools, animation tools, and trope frameworks we’ve developed in the twenty-five years since Voltron was new. There is, simply put, a lot of stuff in Voltron: Legendary Defender that wasn’t at all in the original Voltron.

Maybe this is all a bit unnecessary. Maybe I just want to tell you how cool Voltron is. Maybe I should just dedicate some time to that. Well, listen, you.

Do Daddies Dream Problematic Dreams?

I’ve written about Problematic in the past, with the simple premise that there are no non-problematic faves, and the baked-in nature of the colonialist world we live in is fundamentally damaged. Recent events (a hot take shot from the hip) put the term in stark relief and so, since you’re all so very interested in telling me what I should think about it, clearly you’ll be interested to hear me expound. Right? Right? You’re not just looking to complain at a stranger?

This is spurred in part by recent reading about Dream Daddy. Because that’s a thing I started caring about despite having literally no interest, whatsoever, in wanting to play it, for any reason, at all, gosh dangit. With that in mind there’s going to be a minor spoiler to a thing I don’t care about but let’s take it under the fold anyway. It also involves the genders.
Continue reading

2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #9: 81-90

81. Find Where You Have To Limit Players

In RPGs, players are using your system to create and express. The more tightly you limit that, the more you cut off their options. A DM of ours, @ExManus is fond of the phrase ‘your thematics are your own. ‘ and it’s proven absolutely invaluable. Do you have the right mechanical interactions that make sense? Then fuckin’ wonderful. I don’t care if you call it Nature Magic or Fae Soul.

In RPG design, consider what restrictions are necessary to make the game work. Some games have very strict, regimented settings, such as military ones. But more creative, expressive settings benefit from letting players come up with their own explanations for things. Look at where you’re using a theme when you should be using a rule, and when you’re trying to treat theme as if it is rule.

82. Knockouts Aren’t Always Bad

Knockouts – where you remove a player from the game somehow – are seen poorly, especially amongst the Euro-gaming, victory-point counting gamer crowd, but they serve the valuable purpose of freeing people from a game they can’t win any more. If you think being knocked out of a game early sucks, try being stuck playing a game you’re completely unable to win for the full duration

83. TERM: Victory Point Salad.

Some games let you do a bunch of things to accumulate ‘victory points’ and the game just checks the count of them. These games are honestly kind of best for representing big complex economic systems where things are all of dubious total value, and goals are sort of there for players to pursue individually? But a better way to follow this is using a Victory Point Salad design is best for games where you have a lot of different systems and want to give players things they can avoid.

84. TERM: Victory Point

Call them something other than Victory Points, I mean come the fuck on, VP is the most thematically dead term by now.

85. Examine your Base Assumptions

When we code symbols in games we bring a raftload of assumptions. Maybe reconsider them and open other spaces. Bats, wolves and rats are typically ‘bad’, but bears often have a nobility to them as if they’re not all just eating the same idiots.

86. Content Vs System

Games can be broken into Content and System. Some games need a lot of System and comparatively little Content (D&D, frex). Some games are system light and compensate with an enormous volume of content (Billionaire Banshee, Elevator Pitch). If you make a lot of one, you can make less of the other. Note can; that’s not to say it’s a simple 1:1 divvy.

87. Don’t Follow Fads For Fads’ Sake

I’ll use real-time play as an example but the principle holds. Real Time is the latest thing to try doing with card games, and it’s not a bad place to go but it’s also got a big problem: Many people drawn to card games are doing so because they don’t want real-time decision making. They want a turn-based pace. So there’s a quantity of board gamers who react to games like Captain Sonar as if you’re asking them to ride a rollercoaster that’s on fire

Remember, there are some people who want games to give them reliable components. Some folk wanna shuffle up some cards and maybe make a ninja dude fight someone.

88. The Easy Seat

In team games it is 100% okay to design team roles whose job is Be Boring But Useful. Some players don’t want the stressful decisions. Don’t make it essential – don’t make it so some player has to have the dull role? But let someone who wants to take an easy job get it.

89. Players Have Material Needs

Respect your players, but do so wholly. Recognise they need breaks, have other interests, have limited space and money. If I could give up on half the content of Kalash-Tar in exchange for fitting it in the Resistance box I’d take that fucking deal

90. Build Skeletons To Know How Things Run

Try and make a deck builder, a bidding game, and a hidden role game, at least just in concept space versions. If you can explain the basic rules of how those three types of games work, well and coherently, even if you never make one for real, good.

This isn’t even vaguely hard, as it is; there are tons of examples you can look at, and it’s not like boiling Resistance down to its bones is hard.

I Could Care Less

Hey, you know this phrase that gets language nerds kinda mad?

“I Could Care Less.”

I really dig it.

I know! I’m not meant to! It’s American and Wrong! It implies that you still care a little bit, and therefore, it doesn’t convey what the right phrase, I Couldn’t Care Less conveys! And that’s wrong! Clearly you mean to convey that you couldn’t care less when you say you could care less, right?

See, for me, the joy of I Could Care Less is that there’s a threat in it. It’s a response to when you’re engaged with a thing at a very minimal level, but if someone really wants to push your enthusiasm, it’s going to go away rather than grow. The implication is You could make me care less. It’s a different phrase for a different time. I couldn’t care less is definitive. I could care less has potential. I mean, it clearly indicates there’s some small space between ‘not caring’ and where you are, because you wouldn’t define how little you could care if the amount you cared was obvious.

Some people get really mad because they see only one way I could be meaning what I say. The gift of idiom is to ignore what is said, and I suppose nitpicking idiom is the way to pick on the things someone didn’t even say. It doesn’t bug me too much when people make jokes about this, I suppose. I mean

I could care less.

Man, Photons, Sir, Ma’am, Y’all

Yesterday, editing the podcast, I caught myself saying five-man dungeon. It’s a common phrase, used in World of Warcraft discussion. It grows from a common phrase for crewing things – man the cannons – and basically it means the same thing as five person dungeon.

I thought about this turn of phrase, as yet another little bit of everyday sexism that’s worn into my mind, and where the alternative isn’t just unfamiliar, it’s linguistically kinda worse. Without trying to sound like a whiner on this, five-person and five-man are two terms that have distinctly different flows; the consonant stop in the middle is a distinct thing and it shapes the term differently. This isn’t to say I want to keep using five-man – I corrected myself both times.

I also kept in that I made the mistake.

There’s a strangeness that comes from hearing yourself, played back, regularly. My podcasting compatriots don’t hear it, unedited, the same way I do. They don’t hear the raw audio, over and over again. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s manner of speaking, but I am responsible for my own. My language is not just embedded with the signs of the typical intersectional overlay of kyriarchic bullshit that we all deal with but I have an extra bonus layer coming from my fundamentalist upbringing. Even the way I swear, explicitly a rebellion against that kind of thing, reflects that upbringing. I learned to write and read under an American regime, then had Australian corrections amend it in some superficial ways dating back from before modern spelling. I learned to spell ‘waggon’ and ‘gaol,’ words of no practical application in the modern day but as strange curiosities.

I feel a need to be honest about these mistakes. I mess up. There are others I don’t catch. Editing audio – especially hours and hours of it – is really hard. There’s stuff that slips through. Sometimes, hugely embarassingly, sometimes not.

Lemme tell you about socialised speech.

You learn a lot of how you talk from the things around you. A lot of kids learn slang and shorthand from one another. Swears and other language, things that have meaning that they share with one another. I didn’t have many friends – I very rarely ‘socialised’ with other kids. Not just awkwardness, but also the divides and factionalism in our church, and the, you know, violence. Common public media wasn’t okay either – and any words that were ‘wrong’ were met with a pretty consistant punishment.

I remember reading Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and seeing Zaphod Beeblebrox use the word ‘photons’ as a swear. He used it like the word ‘heck’ or ‘dang.’ It was a good word, it had that nice ‘t’ in the middle and it wasn’t a word, as far as I could tell, that was rude at all. It had something to do with laser guns, I think? And so I used ‘photons’ when I was hurt, when I was frustrated, when I fell off things or when I touched my chest and felt the bruise spreading. “Ah, photons.”

Then one day, my dad grabbed me, by the side of the head, and yanked me out of the flow of traffic. He looked me, very seriously in the eyes, and told me to stop saying that.

“Is it a rude word?” I asked, terrified. Had I been doing A Wrong?

You know what you really mean,” he growled, and that was all the explanation I got.

I was lost. I was confused. That… what did I reall mean? Was Photons a dirty word in another language? Was it in the Bible somewhere? This prompted a little research project that took me six months before I finally gave up. The guilt of the action wracked me.

Another source of my language flowed from the god-awful media I had access to. There were these strange 1970s nostalgia pieces my dad and mum kept, the videogames that slid in, but ultimately, what I read and saw was from that particular Christian media bubble. I read a lot of fundamentalist Christian literature, and the ‘cool’ edge of that (trust me, you’ve no idea). Narnia, But Written In 1990 America To A Word Count.

One of the hallmarks in that kind of story of the protagonists? The character you were meant to emulate?

He called people sir.

Oh, he called women ma’am, too, that was definitely part of it, but the sir thing stood out. When I left that media bubble and called teachers sir they looked at me confused. When I called strangers sir on the street, they gave me the same look. When I called a woman a few years older than me ma’am, I got a filthy look.

As a teenager, it was weird. As a young adult working service industries and low-skill jobs, it was old-fashioned. Now, in my life, a ‘sir’ at the wrong time can be an act of violence.

This is scored in deep on my mind. This is etched in my brain. It leaps out of my mouth barely passing my conscious mind, and not doing so sets me on edge because those terms are tied to respect in my life, they are tied to politeness and in refusing to do them, I am in some way, preparing a defensive or offensive posture. They are words meant to reassure that have stopped working, but my urge to be kind, my want to be nice to be people tries to re-apply these broken tools.

I’ve taken to using ‘y’all’ a lot. It has the nice side effect of also being a word that can be used to obliterate ‘you guys’ or ‘guys.’ That sort of substition is something my brain can handle. When the ma’am comes up I can replace it with y’all – “How are y’all” somehow sits right in place of “How are you, ma’am?” Of course, now, I’ve traded the chance of upsetting strangers and misgendering people for instead, a familiar conversation with people who want to know why I’m using it. It inevitably results in someone cleverly pointing out that they are not multiple people. My efforts to expunge harm have instead exposed me to pedantry, and boy hoy howdy do I love me some pedantry. The concern about it usually comes from people who only deal with me in text, and what’s weird there is it’s not like any of them have any idea how I do talk, or how I should talk.

That in particular is weird, because I don’t talk like an Australian.

I mean I barely ever say the word ‘c*nt.’

I think about this sort of problem a lot. And I think any time someone retweets or shares a tumblr post that ends with “THIS ISN’T HARD PEOPLE.”

It’s hard for me.

That’s Not A-

A few things before we get into full swing though: I am not a trained linguist. I am as with all sorts of things, a sort of general-application nerd, interested in a lot of things, and what I know is not based out of a serious linguistic degree. I’m a media studies student and not even a qualified one at that. This is going to be dealing with words, and how defining them is really ambiguous, too! Not a content warning, I just imagine this will be a little bit boring.

Here’s a jump: Continue reading

The Obligations In Words

I muse about words we use for sexuality for about 900 words and probably say something wrong. Here’s a fold so you can scroll past it easily.

Before you read this though, please remember that I am, broadly speaking, a grumpy, miserable person who muses about a lot of things in an ethereal way. I don’t live in San Fran or the Deep South, where a lot of these things are centred in my personal space. I’m not, as I’ve been told, particularly queer, or affected by -phobias. So what annoys me or seems weird to me?

Not necessarily interesting.

Continue reading

Bronership Of Spaces

I kinda hate the word Brony.

I know there’s a certain culture of boys and men for whom that term is important. I don’t really want to disrespect the sensitive group of people who enjoy the show Friendship Is Magic: My Little Pony. There are kids I know who needed something they could watch that espoused positive ideas and ideologies, that wasn’t tied to toxic masculinity that they knew was harmful to them, and they took to it. I remember a kid singing Winter Wrap Up at school for his performance event and relaying his feelings about how things were okay about it, and nothing terrible had happened.

I don’t even mind the smut and sex stuff. Hey, knock yourself out, if you can be so kind as to keep it out of the spaces where children googling for their favourite characters might find. Fetishes are fetishes, I ain’t going to give people crap for what they respond to if they don’t make that an issue of greater policy.

Heck, I don’t mind people thinking I’m a Brony, meaning ‘person who watches that show.’ I watched two (maybe three? I’m not sure) seasons of it. I don’t have a problem with people thinking I’m a fan of that show. I’m not really in that culture, because I have a hard time being in any culture. I reject the label usually for the same reason I normally reject other labels – I feel it’s a failure of ego, a sin of self, to label myself. It’s something I do gingerly.

I don’t dislike bronies.

But I do hate the word Brony.

I hate the word Brony because the word wouldn’t exist if we lived in a sensible world. A dude can like Corner Gas without being a Brenty, a guy can like Supernatural without being a Supery, a guy can like 24 without being a Torturey. A guy who likes this one show, this one – very girly, but high quality show – has a special term. A shield, an identity, an element of himself that he can wear to say that he is okay with this media form, and that that is something about himself to be proud of. If he was a girl, it would not be a thing worth a title. And then it’s masculinised and comes with this baggage of defensive self-aggrandizement. You get bronies looking down on other men (who don’t appreciate the emotional depth of the show) and bronies looking down on women (who of course they’d like this show, it’s girly). It’s a term that comes with superiority and a persecution complex, and it comes into existence because boys are both insecure about liking things, and because a girls’ show property has come along that they want.

What fascinates me is that this follows with an effort to erase the girliness. As if the show’s good qualities are secondary to it being girly. This is kind of true – most girly media is bad because we don’t fund it, test it, or listen to women, meaning that most of girly media is first-draft ads targeting done by buffoons. Lauren Faust put her finger on it proudly – the reason most girl media is bad is because we make bad girl media, not because being girl media makes it worse than ‘boy’ media.

Brony is a term of Media Brolonialism and I hate it.

Just like things, dudes! You’re allowed! Stop inventing shields to protect yourself from the horrors of liking things that aren’t coded as mascluine! Women have to do this all the time after all, and there are all these other people as well who don’t even have that luxury!

The Accent

Okay, now there’s reasonably large amount of recordings of my voice available online, I figure it’s reasonable to talk about one thing about me that has been thrown into sharp relief this past decade of my life. That is, my parents somehow raised me, in Australia, surrounded by Australians, speaking only Australian English, and yet, I don’t have an Australian accent.

When I bring this up to Americans, I often hear the immediate response of Oh, really? I think you have an Australian accent, which is nice, but. But but but. See, the thing is, that sort of thing happens in a moment of priming. It’s like if I handed you the image of a clock’s back and said ‘can you see the face in that?’ You know what you’re looking for. If you hear my voice and I’m saying ‘I don’t sound Australian’ you’ll be inclined to check it against ‘Australian’ in your mind.

Further to that, American listeners, broadly speaking, do not deal with Australian voices a lot. There are some of you, and that’s fine, I don’t want to sell your experience short. But you know what group of people do hear Australian accents, regularly, and think that my voice stands out as ‘wrong,’ routinely? Australians.

It actually made me fairly selfconscious at bus stops. It’s an odd experience, to have a Vietnamese girl and her mum sitting next to me on a bench after a little chatter about the weather, and have them both ask me ‘when I moved to Australia.’

Now, thankfully, an Irish linguist with an amazing accent of his own once listened to me for a little while and offered an explanation that made some sense. I don’t use nasal pronounciations for many common words, and I have very distinct diction – which is in keeping with an upbringing full of correction, and archaic media like recordings of hymns and historical preachers. Choir practice, where we were drilled very hard by a British woman to sing our Australian national anthem with a British accent, played into it, too.

This isn’t a big deal, it’s just odd.

Rando Identification Guide

We’re all familiar with randos – uninvited assholes brigading into our conversations in shared communal spaces. Randos exist in a whole range of contexts. They are sometimes in real spaces, but more often than not, randos are enabled by online spaces, places where they can be independent of their actions, and those consequences. Randos can often be harmless, but they do represent a drain on your time and resources. Try to bear this in mind if you ever go out of your way to identify and define the randos in your environment.

For the purpose of this discussion I will be using the word ‘he’ to describe all Randos. Note this is not an absolute gender thing, I am sure there are people who do not use ‘he’ who could be randos. But every rando I’ve dealt with has been a he. Which is I’m sure, just coincidence.

Ayn Rando: Well, he says, I don’t see why I should have to do things for other people. What’s courtesy and kindness do for me?
Marlon Rando: Insists on offering you his time, which you, of course, do not want. This does not seem to perturb him. This is an offer you can’t refuse.
Rando Calrissian: Seems to be your friend. May even have some signals to indicate camaraderie. Then he’ll tag the conversation into some complete dickhead and suddenly you’re off to the races.
Rando Lee: Starts a conversation and is quite obnoxious, only to disappear around the fifth or sixth response. The account is deleted. They are never seen again.
Rando Munroe: Doesn’t seem to have any opinions of his own, but really likes quoting XKCD comics that tangentially relate to what you’re talking about. Ha ha, yes, someone is wrong on the internet, yes.
Rando Newman: You can tell there’s a cohesion there to their thoughts and arguments, but they’re just stating them in this pointless, stilted way that just doesn’t have any useful or meaningful connection to what you’re saying.
Rando Paul: Like the Ayn Rando, but thinks the real reason you don’t agree with him is because you haven’t heard all the evidence.
Rando Savage (Macho Man variety): Doesn’t seem to have anything to say except Oh Yeaaahh. Harmless and in its own way, kinda charming.
Rando Savage (DC variety): Jesus christ, where did this asshole come from? Believes in neanderthal population dynamics, and ‘it’s just biology,’ he’s convinced he’s the superior human because he’s embracing ideas that haven’t been useful since the development of agriculture.
Rando von Winkle: What year is it? Where are we? What’s ‘third wave’ feminism, even? Somehow this Rando wants to talk about current events or recent history without having an awareness of anything that’s happened at all in easily either of your lifetimes.
William Rando Hearst: Convinced he is the real source of news, wishes to inform you about current events as he understands them. Especially in speciality fields like science or videogame journalism where you may, in fact, be quite confident and familiar. Still, without his valuable insight, how would you ever know that Videogame A is better than Videogame B even though you weren’t talking about either of them?

These are not all the kind of Randos you might encounter! There are quite a lot of randos out there in the world. Be sure to document any that you spot, and maybe you’ll find a totally brand new type of rando*!
* You won’t, these tired chore behaviours are representative of a very limited set of social parameters.

The Singular They

There are more than a few of you who I consider friends, who I consider to be dear friends, wh ohave never heard me speak aloud. Aside from one video up on Youtube where Iw as off-the-cuffing all the answers to the questions I was being asked and trying to avoid filler-words and ‘um,’ I didn’t necessarily dedicate a ton of thought to what I said as much as how I said it. Really, that one video was the single thing I was the most proud of in the Hackagong experience.

Nonetheless: I’m something of a stickler for my manner of interpersonal communication. That’s a sentence I would say aloud, just to prove the point. I go through these articles and read them aloud to test if they convey the pace and rhyhtm of what it is I want to say, to make it easier to absorb my point. I was schooled in formal grammar – one of the only things that the ACE system did decently well, if not for the fact those ironclad grammatical rules are themselves, much more fluid and meaningless than the rules wanted me to think as if this clause isn’t enormously overstating my point – and this has informed my manner of speech.

The word ‘they’ is a word that my father, for example, will resist ever being used as a singular personal pronounce; this is because people like my father feel incomplete if their lives have to deal with ambiguity or nuance. I’ve been thinking about this in light of Holland, in the story I’ve been writing this year, and trying to avoid using the word ‘he’ or ‘she’ – or any other gendered pronouns. In the stories, I don’t use any pronouns to describe Holland, because Holland is meant to be one gender, transitioning from an assigned one, and I don’t know which of the two Holland is.

How’s that work when I talk about Holland to you know, people? I say ‘they.’ I say ‘they,’ and I have been saying it for about a year and not even realised I’ve been doing it.

Today, shit’s going down because someone said he, was told to say they, told someone else to fuck off, and decided then was the time to get picky about it. This was brought to my attention four times, with the fifth time coming up because someone, angry about the implications of He Vs They, decided the best way to improve technical word usage was to call someone a Nazi. I’m not going to tell programmers their way around language in code – they know how to make Pythons dance with the Rubies and Web Up The Code Cowboys or whatever. I can, however, as a seasoned asshole, offer these two pieces of advice about how not to be an asshole:

  • The word ‘they’ is easier to use; you already use it; and it’s more inclusive. So just, you know, use it.
  • Calling someone a Nazi only ever helps if the person is actually a self-identified Nazi.

Addendum: Let me add this. Just have some damn sense of perspective, for the love of fuck.