Category: Language

Innovelty

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.
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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.

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