The Tail of Spite

Back in 2018, Dinesh Vatvani, a python programmer, took a set of analytic tools to the BoardgameGeek top 100. I have said some mean things about BoardgameGeek in the past, like how it’s a site that ‘loves lists as much as it hates women’ or ‘looks like an android’s uterus’ or ‘has a community that are shockingly comfortable with being the worst kind of racists,’ but one thing it’s generally regarded as being pretty solid at is presenting to a general audience a lot of data about whether or not a game might be, in some vague way, ‘good.’ It’s got a ranking system, you see, and that ranking system – well, it’s a system. Systems are right, aren’t they? It’s like algorithms.

The hypothetical idea is that BoardgameGeek, by aggregating a large number of opinions, this analysis avoids having a ‘bias’ and is instead presenting a kind of objective data.

Now, obviously, this kind of analysis is going to be as biased as any self-selecting group, and Dinesh’s analysis seeks to tease out a number of different factors. The full article is definitely worth a read, but in this, he introduces something extremely interesting, which he dubs the Tail of Spite.

The Tail of Spite is the way that:

A curious feature of the graph above is the tail of games of low complexity and low ratings at the bottom left of the plot. This “tail of spite” consists of relatively old mass-appeal games. Every single game in the tail of spite was released pre-1980, with many being considerably older than that. The games that form the tail of spite are shown in the table below:

What fascinates me about this tail of spite is that these are games that, with some degree of objectivity, seem to be successful. Some of them aren’t even exploitative like Monopoly – I mean who owns Tic Tac Toe? Who’s getting rich off kids knowing how to make that game on their notepaper. No, these games are games with wide-spread mainstream appeal, that do their jobs, are largely not broken and rarely poorly produced, but they’re extremely well known. They are not so much rated as they are resented.

I think this idea, that of a ‘tail of spite’ is a useful one to have. Your biases won’t just express in over-rating the things you like – you will also be inclined towards being more harsh on things you have personal distaste for.

Anyway, Monopoly sucks.

 

Game Pile: Keen Dreams

Oh hey, a Game Pile about a Commander Keen game! We’ve done that before! Twice!

And right now, it’s amazingly actually timely, kind of, because unlike how I wrote about Wonder Boy 3 just in time for the announcement of the remake, I had this plan lined up just as Keen Dreams dropped on the Switch.

On the Switch.

What the hell?

Who was seeing that coming!?

Released in 1991 under the Softdisk label, Keen Dreams marked a turning point in Commander Keen design. The first Keens were made as an exercise in smooth scrolling video on a PC – an attempt to replicate the movement of Mario Bros kind of games, and which wound up being – you know what, just go read Masters of Doom by David Kushner (no relation to that one) and learn about the arc that takes from Commander Keen and Softdisk to literally the entire modern landscape dominated by team-based multiplayer shooter games. Suffice to say this is legitimately one of the stepping stones on that path.

If I was a fairer writer, I’d tak about Commander Keen 3: Keen Must Die!, and I guess, here, bonus Game Pile: Keen Must Die is an afterthought of a game and makes the moral weirdness I mentioned about Commander Keen 2 both front-and-centre and obvious. Like it’s pretty much impossible to finish Commander Keen 3 without shooting someone’s mum, which is pretty bleak as a story beat to put in a videogame.

Keen Dreams is a… decent game. It’s fine. It’s alright. It’s definitely weaker than Keen 4 and a little bit better than Keen 3. There’s less game here than you’d think, less spectacle, less fun exploration, and there was a point where this game was entirely available for free, but it’s certainly worth more than nothing.

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Making Fun: Years Later

Starting in November 2017, I decided that, with enough attempts made to explore methods of how, that I would start uploading videos to Youtube. I decided to build on my then-recently-finished Honours thesis as an experiment in seeing what I could create that could suit a rapid-fire fast-talking Youtube content form, and as a direct result, my first video series, Making Fun was made.

It’s been a bit over a full year now, and I thought I’d spend some time to look at these videos and see what I thought of them, what lessons I had learned, and what lessons I would recommend.

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A Low-Value Endeavour

In early January, the Australian government announced a grant of $6.7 million for a 39-stop circumnavigation of Australia in 2020 by a replica of James Cook’s Endeavour, in ‘celebration’ of the 250th anniversary of this colonial murder hobo whose main accomplishment is to get stabbed in the chest with a spear because the king of Hawaii refused to LARP along with Cook’s notion that he was a god.

This is something of a sore point, because celebrating any achievement of Captain Cook’s life is done by recognising that Captain Cook had a life, and that involves talking about Captain Cook and mentioning the much more miserable stuff he did like, you know, the invasion and initiating all the genocides and the colonialism and whatnot.

I said some stuff at the time, some of which turns out to have been incorrect, but mainly also this gave me an excuse to talk about boats which is subject near and dear to my dad’s heart, which is pretty weird, now I say that aloud, because I don’t actually care that much about it.

Nonetheless, this is a chance to correct myself a little and phwooar. Look at that… skimmtren. Ain’t that impressive.

(I have no idea what I’m doing)

First things first: The Endeavour replica this story is about is an absolute marvel of engineering. There are some modern components of it, mainly an engine that’s kept in the old Hold where you stored rotting bad food full of worms and also any people you wanted to ha ha, transport (probably never happened don’t worry about it) but those things are there to basically make this boat something other than a coin-flip death trap when taken out to the open seas. When you set that engine and its requirements aside, though, the boat, is made period-appropriate, down even to its eyelets in its sails, using woven cord, rather than metal eyelets.

The Endeavour was being developd in honour of the bicentennial in 1988, and finished in 1993, 26 years ago. It is an incredibly impressive, technically amazing achievement. I’ve been on it, for a school trip. It’s really, genuinely amazing, not a word of a joke, that it exists.

The journey itself is a bit of a swizz. Cook didn’t circumnavigate Australia (he did circumnavigate New Zealand, which both Australians and New Zealanders will firmly explain is not the same thing), that task was done by by Matthew Flinders in the Investigator or possibly by Chinese Junk traders. They were traders in Junks, a type of boat. Not that they came here to sell the Indigenous peoples their miscellaneous crap.

The circumnavigation of Australia is, let us not kid ourselves, about getting it to Perth, then back to Sydney, and filling the time in between with a bunch of school trips and the nebulously-hoped-for tourist dollars? it will? bring??

That 6 million dollar sum is important because if you don’t remember this boat exists that headline makes it sound like it’s 6 million to get a replica of the Endeavour and go on a tour for a few months, which is almost reasonable. But it’s not.

That’s the ship’s travelling upkeep cost.

The Endeavour is a period appropriate boat. Just travelling around the country costs about 6 million dollars. It is expensive to move because it is a period boat and it’s meant to be kept in pristine condition because it’s a historical replica piece. Now, you might not pay attention to historical replica boats from a period of history you don’t care about in a country you don’t care about, but I fortunately am cursed with actually remembering my abusive school environment, so I do remember this boat.

Back when I first wrote about this, I mentioned that the boat had been ‘sold’ multiple times, or rather that they’d tried to sell it multiple times and it turns out, with deeper research, that wasn’t the case. It’s not that they’ve tried to sell the Endeavour. It’s that they’ve tried to sell an Endeavour.

In England, there’s a second Endeavour – and that doesn’t have the same largesse ours does. The Australian Endeavour has been financed by government grants and private donations from various businesses, and the thing is, by all observation, a money pit. Simply put, the Endeavour exists by people paying money to keep it existing, and people pay it because the alternative is letting the Endeavour go around unfinanced. I can’t tell you who donates to it (beyond the Bond corporation, who paid for it to get made then donated it to the country).

Still, the thing is…

Nobody cares about this boat.

It’s going to travel around, conspicuously land the most times in the most racist state, be the subject of a lot of school trips, some well-meaning positive historians are going to try their best to wed the event to actual discussions of Cook, and that’s pretty much it. It’s too expensive to keep and it’s too important to junk and it’s too worthless to sell.

And yet if they scuttle it, I would be genuinely sad and I don’t have a good reason why.

I mean it’s not the boat’s fucking fault Cook was a monster.

Crokinole And Doing Just Enough

Few things are going to go  so well as to make broad, sweeping statements about what you can derive from a culture from observing its games. Roger Caillois offered that idea, and he was a shocking all-purpose super-racist, like a Voltron of racism, bolting together orientalism and exoticism and a kind of intellectual academia that formed The Head(lessness).

Caillois was so convinced that the destiny of cultures could be seen in the games they played that he dedicated a book to the task, a book that I have had gleeful fun making fun of lately but which also has some terms that we’ve kind of gotten very used to using, terms like ludic and paidic in terms of game design. His model of games as forms of engagement was to see them in terms of how people got involved with them and what that meant they got out of them, and then from that, to try and draw broad, elaborate strokes about what this meant for cultures that just happened to align with western Europeans and mostly French academics just being the best people, and clowns were evil.

Now I don’t think that you can’t draw some conclusions about cultures and their games, particularly in that when I think about Canada and games, the three that spring to mind are curling, crokinole, and ice hockey, and of those games, two require you to have a ready supply of ice in fairly large spaces. When a game can be played with commonly available stuff in common spaces, and doesn’t need a lot of speciality equipment, it becomes more likely that people will play it, and it can spread through a culture more readily. There isn’t a big curling scene here in Australia, a place that hasn’t had common ground ice in its capital cities or residential areas since those places ever existed. It’s kind of doable to look at Canadian games and think ‘the attributes of Canada as a physical space helps to encourage these games.’

It’s not like my opinions of games is coming from a space of serious expertise, either; Canada is a really big country, and those three games are trying to represent four hundred years of history across literally the second largest country in the world. The game of ear pulling has been played in Canada for literally three millenia and Ice Hockey is relatively recent by comparison.

Still, when I look at these three games, something that strikes me about them all that they have in common is that these three games are not about doing something to the limit of one’s ability. They’re all about, or have rules to encourage, you to do just enough.

This isn’t unique! After all, games like bowls and blackjack are also games about not doing too much but neither of those games are about dealing with the dynamic, slippery surface of ice, or the crokinole board and its skiddy polish.

Is there more to this? Is it a secret insight into Canadian culture?

Have I cracked some Cailloisian code?

No.

It’s just a coincidence. An interesting coincidence, but a coincidence.

But it’s fun, sometimes, to notice these things, and think about how you might do things differently.

Story Pile: Bleach (The Movie)

Conventionally, I open discussion of media for the Story Pile in a pattern. It’s literally a template – I have it laid out in front of me right now. Here, the segment is titled introduction and that’s where I put something that snappily sets the tone for the whole thing, but,

but

how.

Just how do you introduce this? There’s the technical – Bleach (2018) is a live-action movie based on the anime Bleach, based on the manga Bleach. Great, that’s a start. It’s also really useless.

There are, right now, five basic ways to know of Bleach, a sort of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Weebs. You have the absolute bottom tier, where you have no idea what Bleach is. You are the majority of the world, blissfully safe and ignorant of this strange story. This is the outer realms.

Then there are those who know Bleach primarily as a punchline. Then there are those who know it, and who wish to tell themselves – falsley – that Bleach is good, has always been good, and any complaints from people disliking it is a sign of an inadequate anime fan. Then, there are those who know Bleach, who were there for Bleach, who were part of Bleach and when Bleach failed them, they were angry. They speak of Bleach as if it was never good, and they are mad.

Finally, there is the top tier. Those of us who know Bleach, and know how Bleach is bad. We know that Bleach failed, but know that at the same time, Bleach was failed.

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Broken Fridge Light

The light in our fridge doesn’t work.

It hasn’t worked, literally ever. Our fridge was second hand, and it is great, and I am so glad to have it. It has a good energy rating. It has been a reliable, workable, completely great fridge. And it has never, not ever, had a working light.

Tonight, I got up, as I could not sleep, and I wandered out to the kitchen to have a drink of milk.

I opened the fridge, and looked inside, squinting, thinking, oh. the light’s broken.

I have this thought about once a month.

I am so used to the idea that fridges have lights in them despite having had a fridge without a light for over FIVE YEARS, I am still somehow completely expecting the light to work when I open the door. Human brains are weird.

Top Dog

Games are filled with opportunity for discovery. When you’re exploring a device with low stakes, you are in that time, playing with it – seeing the boundaries of what it allows. It is the play of a gear, more than the play of an actor. Play is how we find the limits of things.

Okay, rewind. A story. A story of a specific thing in a specific place.

Back in the day, in City of Heroes, when you first made a character, you’d complete a short little tutorial, and be dropped in front of the steps of the Atlas Statue in Atlas Park. It looked like this.

It’s a common thing for players to talk about, the first moment the got a flight-related travel power.  It was usually hover, but sometimes it was a jetpack. However you did it, when new players gained the ability to leave the ground, one of the most common things they’d do is use that power to fly up to the top of the Atlas Statue and look at what was there.

What was up there was an exploration badge.

These badges were a bit like achievements. You could put a badge on your character and it’d display under your name. More important than what this badge could do, though, is what this badge did.

When you explore, one of the most disappointing things to find is nothing. I have memories of struggling up mountains in World of Warcraft and New Vegas and finding blank textures and no reaction to my presence, a sign that I hadn’t actually achieved something difficult but just had done something the developers had never expected. That taught me to stop trying those things, to stick to the path, to give up on exploration and excitement. I turned the gear all the way in one direction, and the game didn’t react well to it, suggesting I never do that again.

In City of Heroes, you tried something, and the game found you when you got there, and said hey, yeah. This kind of thing works.

The Top Dog badge encouraged players from the earliest point to always look on top of things, around things, to think in terms of what counts as worth exploring. It was a good idea, and I think that it rewarded players for being playful with the world.

Game Pile: Braid

Braid, the 2008 videogame by Jonathan Blow, widely heralded as the first Xbox Arcade indie game and the dawn of a new era of artistic expression in videogames and the newly democratised marketplace, is in an uncited claim on its Wikipedia page, in contention as ‘one of the best videogames of all time,’ which suggests that this little indie game is very important and smart and deep, like other best videogames of all time on the wikipedia list, like Ninja Gaiden.

For obligatory game-as-game-context, Braid is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer game with your classic runny-jumpy-climby, a beautiful hand-painted art style and puzzles that focus on an engine that can do endless, smooth rewinding of every game entity all at once. This has a lot of clever design in it, and thanks to the endless rewinding, you can design the whole game around really challenging puzzles knowing you can always reset them and try again.

It’s decent.

It’s fine.

It’s regularly quite cheap, and it definitely isn’t overpriced.

Spoilers for Braid, ahead.

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Blocking out a Card

Hey, here’s a thing I was working on in February. You may have seen it on twitter.

Here’s a cut link because this is going to show full images of cards and those things are loooong. Oh and pre-emptively, these cards have been munged by Twitter because I could not be hecked to re-export these progress shots.

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Form Informs Function

I’m looking at this game, Yamatai.

It’s this big, bulky beast of cardboard, a real classic Euro of dear god, there are how many bits? At its root, it’s a game of laying paths and fulfilling economic requirements. In fact, you can almost punctuate Yamatai as a sentence with a lot of asterisks – you place boats* on a map* to fulfill goals* that earn money* to build structures* to earn victory points*. And every single * indicates a place where the game has a specifically designed system meant to make that particular action more complicated.

If you remember me talking about alignment systems as plumbing, then this is the kind of game where you work with a lot of plumbing to make it work. It isn’t a bad idea, most games are simple systems rendered difficult by complications after all, Bernard Suits and the willing overcoming of optional difficulties and what not, but anyway, in this game, there are these tiles that determine special game actions you can take and how fancy your faction is regarded, known as Specialists. They look like this: This is how they actually look. They have these names. The rulebooks specify what they do, but never who they are, and while we can talk for a bit about mechanics informing character, it does feel a bit like a swizz to turn these people into these tiles that represent actions. These people aren’t reduced to what the can do, they’re reduced to one action only, which is good for a big and complicated game that already has too many bits going on.

Why are they people, though?

These could be machines, or flags, or they could be brokered trade details (and maybe even decorated to look like them) or faction histories or – there are lots of things these tiles could be. They’re not. They’re people. They’re named like they’re people.

To spin this around to one of my own designs, I’m working on this small game (at the moment – it’s probably long done by the time this goes up) where there are only eighteen cards, and they each represent parts of a plan. What’s tripping me up at the moment, though, is the challenge of what verb form to put the card names in.

I’m not trying to bag on Yamatai (here) for reducing Asian People To Objects (again, here). I’m thinking about the ways we talk about mechanical objects and their purposes. How we choose them. How to make them consistant.

Janet Murray once expanded Caillois’ model of gameplay with its agon and alea and mimicry and ilinx and described a form that Caillois hadn’t considered, of rhythmos. Her idea was that some forms of rules satisfaction came from making rules that worked cleanly together as rules, and that helped drive gameplay. This is a very real effect, and one that you’ll notice if you miss it.

And so, here I am, up late, worrying away, like a beaver at a twig, thinking about conjugation and the card-tile non-people of Yamatai.

MTG: Tiny Cube

Let’s assume you’re familiar with Cube.

Okay, no wait, let’s not assume. The basics of Cube is that it’s a pool of cards and you draft them and play Magic: The Gathering with what you’ve drafted. An in-depth discussion can be read here.

Now, let’s assume you’re familiar with Winston Drafting.

Wait, no, that’s a bad idea. Winston Drafting is the idea of a format for drafting cards between a small number of players – two or three is the usual numbers. You Winston draft by slowly generating piles that become more and more desireable. You can read an in-depth discussion about that here.

Now, let’s talk about Tiny Cube.

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Story Pile: Castlevania

If you’d told me that Netflix were putting together a Castlevania series by Warren Ellis and it was an Anime I’d have to have assumed you were working through some sort of nerdy fanboy madlibs, like the output of a twitter robot designed to generate quote-tweets from people inclined to go ‘omg that’d be great.’

It’s such a confluence of edginess; the game is not obscure, but it’s sub-mainstream enough to seem a little edgy. Netflix are by no means a small production house, but Netflix original animation is certainly not on the level of houses like Disney. Making an anime as a specific, separate genre of thing, is also, again, not actually not-mainstream, but seems non-mainstream. And then you throw in Warren Ellis, a man who’s produced tons of comic books and the licenses for tons of movies, and even a TV series, a man who has been kind of all about being the not-the-mainstream version of mainstream comics for large chunks of his career.

Warren Ellis is almost perfectly positioned as everyone’s second favourite comic book author; excellent and creative, but also so aggressively Very Online that you could be forgiven for thinking he’d sprung from the fever dreams of the internet itself. Ridiculous and posturing, energetic and digital, he’s also somehow managed a career as long as his without actually massively embarassing himself on issues that comic book authors didn’t seem to realise mastter that much. There’s no lingering false vision of his work like Mark Waid has, no uncomfortable sensuality of magic that Grant Morrison has, and unlike Akira Yoshida, Ellis exists.

He is the Patrick Swayze of comic book authors; great but so often overshadowed by excellence. You need to know comics to know Ellis and you need to know why Ellis hates comics to love them like he does. Ellis is a great big pink sparkly mullet of an author in an industry peopled by people trying to get themselves taken Very Seriously when they write about the spangly man in the cape with the funny knickers.

This set of factors, coupled with people talking about how brief the first season of Castlevania was pushed me away from it – it seemed that three episodes of NES-era narrative via Ellis might be the perfectly sized dose to completely blow the minds of people who had no real familiarity with any of these factors, that the sheer surprise of the series would set people off, have them curious for more, without it actually being in any way a necessarily good or enjoyable experience for those of us who knows what it’s like to wait six months for a comic issue that’s been A Bit Delayed.

Then I watched it, and…

Oh boy, is this the Good Shit.

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Why Does Christian Media Suck Ass?

One of the most dangerous things to fundamentalism is a desire to be good.

This post was in part spurred by relistening to the absolutely dreadful Camp Kookawacka Woods by Patch the Pirate, a subject so dreadful I feel a bit like I should do a rewatch podcast just so I can impress upon people just how utterly yikesy the whole franchise is at its core. Listening to it, though, with Fox, I had to let her know that some of the songs (that were performed pretty well) were hymns, and some of the songs were based on old campfire songs, and some of the songs were rip-offs of pop songs, and how the whole thing was just so cheap and hacky.

This is a pattern.

If you’ve ever gone looking for what I call Christian Replacement Media, you might have noticed that it’s kind of bad? Not necessarily remarkably bad, no glorious-trainwreck The Room style hubristic excess, it’s just that the best of these movies tends to crest a Pretty Alright level. Probably the best Christian Media Escapee band is Five Iron Frenzy, which is to say that the entire right-wing music machine was able to produce a single good ska band of leftists, which considering the number of times they’re rolling that dice is not a great average. The movies, the branding, the graphic design, almost everything you see in the Christian Replacement Sphere is a slightly shit version of whatever it’s replicating.

Oh, they’re often expensive. Yet even the things that are expensive in this space tend to be gaudy, or overpaid for. When it comes to art and media these stories are almost always just slightly inferior, confusingly weak versions of things that aren’t actually that hard to get right. There are bestselling Christian authors whose work crests the quality of maybe a decent fanfiction.

This is weird though! It’s not like being in the Christian cultural space asks you to be bad. Assuming a random selection of the Christian media space is an equally random selection of the culture of the world, you have to assume that a certain percentage of them are just going to pick up decent artists.

What gives?

I have a theory.

No, wait, I have a hypothesis.

The hypothesis is built out of my experience, and the experience of a few ex-fundie friends. We’ve talked about it, about the things that pulled us away from the faith, and how those things that pulled us off the path were not the fun, excellent temptations we were warned against, but inevitably, a drive to be good at something. I didn’t learn my eschatology and biblical foundational theory because I wanted to prove it wrong. I learned it, because I wanted to be able to prove it right. Nonbelievers would come at me with arguments, I was told, and so I wanted to understand those arguments so I could show how they were wrong. One of my friends wanted to do excellent work rendering graphics for their church, and so they wanted to study how graphics worked and how to convince people with the icon rendered in front of them. Another was driven by a desire to Make Computers Work.

None of us set out to fall.

The basic idea is this: To be good at something requires context and practice. Gaining either of these things inevitably exposes you to the ways in which fundamentalist church spaces fail.

It’s not that church seeks out awful artists. It’s that the modern American church is a sorting algorithm that wants to throw out the good artists in the name of keeping the people who are content to be average at things. Oh, they may want the numinous and the excellent, but if you ask a preacher to choose between a ‘faithful’ artist vs a ‘troubled’ one, they’re going to plomp for the pious one every time.

Plus, the faithful don’t tend to charge what they’re worth.

Examining 3 Wishes

If you’re bothered by seeing designers scrutinise other designer’s designs explicitly to change them then you might want to check out now. I personally advocate for this practice very hard, since it’s both important to demistify the lie that games spring out of the aether, but I know that some people are both more precious and more sensitive to the idea of ‘idea theft.’ Since I put a ton of my design work out there on this blog, you can probably guess that I don’t have that same fear.

In the simplest sense, what I’m doing here is play. I am playing with this game, with its design. It is more akin to the play of a gear than to the play of an actor, but it is still play.

This is an examination of how a game can give you ideas for another game, it’s not about things the designers ‘should’ have done, or things that they should have presciently known better about.

Onward!

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Vancian Magic Is For Posh People

In most editions of D&D, there’s this system for magic that treats all magic as a sequence of ‘spells.’ In 3rd edition, the idea was that a wizard would have a certain number of spell ‘slots’ available, and each day they would choose the spells to put in those slots. This is known as Vancian Magic. Contrary to what some folk think, this magic system was not made to be a game system, but it just happens to work really effectively as a game system.

Originally devised by Hugo Award winner and joyous sailboy Jack Vance for his Dying Earth series, this system tends to be tied to spellbooks. The wizard encodes most of a magical spell at the start of the day, using a spellbook to handle all the complex work and memorisation, and completes the magic spell at a later point. It’s an interesting idea, and it sort of feels like electrical engineering played a part in its conception.

Vancian magic tends to be entwined with books. If you look for the phrase ‘fantasy art wizard’ on google, you’ll find that almost all your most prominent hits are going to feature some kind of bookshelf, library, or spellbook. There’s a historical trend for this, of course; in our stories about power, power tends to be about the things we regard as powerful. In the days of history that fantasy wants to use as its framing, books have a power to them, because the people with power were also the people who had books. Often for no related reason.

I’ve talked about this, but it still carries out – these days, intellectuals want to be framed in front of books. People arrange their bookshelves to bear in mind not convenience or access but rather the image of what that bookshelf says about who they are. The gamer of youtube puts himself in front of a bookshelf (a place of power) and fills it with the signs of his gamer power (usually consumable merchandise or purchases that show his good taste).

There’s something else about how Vancian magic travels, though. See, if the wizard does the spell in the spellbook, in the morning, why can they do things later that complete that spell, in a different location? Why does that power move from place to place?

The idea is that power can travel, which may seem weird to bring to attention, but it kind of is because it’s not travelling in anything. The wizard isn’t making potions that have the power and then using them (though they can – and that wizard tends to get called an alchemist). The wizard isn’t putting the magic in something. Is the power in the wizard? That doesn’t seem right either, does it – if the power was in the wizard, why wouldn’t they just call it up on the spot (like sorcerers do).

I think that the magic being able to travel, as the wizard moves, is kind of an unconscious representation of ideas like ether, which you could consider as a kind of pre-internet idea of wifi. It’s not just the idea of a universal binding force, or an energy that flows through everything – I mean, that’s an idea that sounds almost like eastern mysticism when you say it like that, isn’t it? Monks do that! Druids kind of do that. The wizard interacts with it in a way that’s about a triumph of knowledge, of being smart.

Look at the base assumptions of work. Think about why things are chosen to be the way they are. There are often interesting ideas waiting to be considered there.

I Like: The Technical Difficulties’ Citation Needed

I’ve spoken about these lads before. Haven’t I? Surely I have. Anyway,

The technical difficulties are, kind of technically, a podcast, who’ve tried a bunch of formats but all rely on the central game of someone knowing things and the others trying to learn about it. It’s a really interesting, good game, and one I recommend you try with your friends, especially after watching this, because Tom Scott, the host, does an amazing job of keeping everyone on point.

There’s a lot of Citation Needed, it’s very funny, and it’s very approachable, you-can-do-it kind of fun making stuff.

MGP: Children’s Games

Starting January 2016, I made a game or more a month for the whole year. I continued this until 2018, creating a corpus of 39 card or board games, including Looking For Group, Senpai Notice Me, and Dog Bear. Starting in 2019, I wanted to write about this experience, and advice I gained from doing it for you. Articles about the MGP are about that experience, the Monthly Game Project.

Making games for kids is a challenge.

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Story Pile: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

This show rules.

It used to be when I wrote these articles I felt the need to build up to the verdict as if the purpose of this kind of article is to tell you whether or not you should try it, and that kind of review treats my opinion like a magical trick. There’s a structure to these kinds of things, a meter, there’s position and flow and there’s all this stuff about the science of listener attention, like the way this sentence is starting to sound breathless in your head, and making reviews like that is a kind of game.

It’s a kind of game where the prize is only imagined – I sit back and think to myself boy I bet that person reading this is having a great time and now they’re surprised. It’s a type of structure that I learned from playing games with good arcs, where it was obvious that things started out easy, got harder, and then there was that sharp moment of relief where your expectations and the facts lined up, boom and there we are. Crafting such a review is a puzzle.

These days, I’m not interested in doing that because I’d rather talk about what a series does than whether or not you should check it out. Let’s not, then, spend time talking about whether or not this show is good, and instead make it nice and clear up front.

Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego is a really good adventure story, which uses the format of an educational heist program to tell stories about a cool thief who opposes bad thieves. The main cast features an international conspiracy of criminals, a troublesome anti-criminal organisation that operates outside of Interpol’s laws and a lot of reasons to every episode describe the culture of an area while presenting a villainous plot that is worth thwarting.

Some of these villainous plots, by the way, are just breathtakingly petty. It’s really good Bond-villain stuff, and the whole setting is kind of built around this silly question of where do Bond Villains come from, and what stops them from just being caught?

Then in between these forces of ACME and VILE, you have Carmen Sandiego, who is doing her best to keep a step ahead of the criminals, with her unique knowledge, but who knows she can’t just go to the police with the solution to the problem, because what she opposes, VILE, doesn’t really properly exist.

I think this show is great.

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Meta Is Boring

I understand that not everyone partakes of media at the same pace. There are things that, for you, are brand new. Someone out there is experiencing, for the first time, a work that feels like Coyote Gospel, or their first time a webcomic literally leans on the panels of the comic. I know, no matter how much I may feel a thing, it doesn’t make it a universal rule. You are not, in any way, beholden to my tastes.

But god I find meta boring.

This shows up when you google image search ‘meta comic’ and ‘labelled for reuse.’ Bonus: The source explaining it is in Italian, so I have no idea about the context. The good news is, it doesn’t matter, because I’m recontextualising this work.

‘Meta’ is a memetic shorthand. It isn’t really about postmodern commentary, not really – the kind of people who ‘use meta’ are also the kind of people who dislike the word ‘postmodern’ or who dismiss the idea of postmodernism, often without necessarily understanding the term or its meaning. Meta is a particular kind of wisecracking too-cool, disaffection, and it’s often used in videogames and tabletop games as a sort of get-out clause for failures in their own fiction.

This isn’t to say I don’t like ‘very meta’ works. I after all, really enjoy Portal, which uses its deliberately puzzly structure to talk about how puzzle games work. Meta can be fun. What bothers me, though, is that there’s a lot of modern ‘meta’ work, especially in games, that cares more about using the meta-ness as a get-out clause for the fiction it wants to construct. Indie videogames are rife with videogames that want to draw your attention to the fact you’re playing a videogame…

And it’s so flipping boring.

If your world, if the story you’re telling me, isn’t interesting enough to keep my attention, maybe take it back to the workshop and go for another round or two? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, since I heard of the plot and structure of Glass, the movie, about how it’s a movie that’s mostly about being a screenwriter masquerading as a movie about being a supervillain.

Maybe the story doesn’t need to be clever, per se. Maybe you can learn a lot by making your story fun.

March Shirt: GEN 8 STARTERS!

Woop woop let’s back this up!

If you’ve been following the schedule I’m trying to keep to (and why, why would you do that), you’ll notice I’ve been putting out one shirt design, every month, and I post that shirt late in the month. No real reason to post it late, I just thought ‘eh, sure,’ and put it there arbitarily. That’s why I showcased my Lovin’ Smoochin’ Journey Referencin’ shirt about a week ago.

But last night (for me as I write this), Pokemon Direct showed off the next generation of Pokemon, and showed us three starters and look at that, I did fanart reasonably quickly, and – well, dangit, here we go, three shirt designs. Plus, since they reference Pokemon, there’s a non-zero chance they’ll be gone in a few days, so heck it, here, check them out.

Here are the designs:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles, go check them out! You can get these designs on Redbubble or on Teepublic (Grooky, Scorbunny, Sobble)!

Should go back to the normal schedule next month!

I Like: Now Kiss

This February we’ve spent a lot of time looking at Visual Novels. You might have wondered why I didn’t, given how easy the kind of content is, do a let’s play of one of them. Well, the short answer is that I can’t get Renpy games and my recording software OBS to look at each other, but the longer answer is why would I do something so unnecessary when there’s the excellent Now Kiss! to follow instead!

Now Kiss! is a streaming show over on the mighty Loading Ready Run streaming network, in which Kathleen DeVere, renowned goth and misanthrope plays her way through visual-novel style games and dating sims, looking for waifus and husbandos and whatever she can.

This is very long form stuff – we’re talking about reading out each line at a time, and giving characters voice, and commentating on the games as they play. I don’t normally like this format, but this format’s length makes it good passive material while you’re doing other things, like household chores. It’s also good, though, because these people in this stream love this genre, but are not uncritical of it.

It’s good stuff, check it out.

Smoochin’ Algorithm Blues

This isn’t the kind of thing I wanted to do for Smooch Month, but I figure it’d be just a kind of lie if I wasn’t willing to admit it. Finding stuff to Story Pile for Smooch Month has been really hard.

Normally when I approach a topic it’s easy enough to start because I want to talk about things I find interesting. That means I have things already in mind for interest. If I wanted to talk about overrated RPGs, for example, I’d think ‘are there any games I think are bad but are critically acclaimed, oh, TWEWY, FFT and Undertale and that’s most of a month’s content done right there, no problem.’ When it comes to Smooch month though, I explicitly wanted to get out of my comfort zone.

Part of why is because I don’t watch a lot of smoochy media, because it mostly makes me unhappy, or reminds me of being unhappy. There was a time in my life, I, no joke, seriously sat on the verge of tears because of an anime opening theme subtitle, and the series it was from was DearS, which, if you don’t know it, good. It’s bad. Don’t watch it. It’s real real bad. Avoid it. Anyway, the point is, the times in my life when ‘romantic’ media hit me the hardest were some supremely messed up times, and that meant I responded to some dreadful garbage, movies that today I think of as actively bad, things that spoke to a person I’m not any more, and am supremely grateful that I’m not.

That meant that I’m both starting pretty fresh and, since ‘boy grouses about genre he doesn’t like’ is supremely dull, I wanted to take the chance to watch some Smooch Media that I could both talk about and maybe connect people to their new favourite thing but also broaden my tastes and horizons.

First I asked friends. I got some good suggestions, but not things I could use – Australian Netflix and Stan, after all. I wanted to avoid anything that needed shipping to make it good – so the Tangled series was right out, even though I like it a lot. I wanted to avoid movies that treated their audience like they were stupid, which meant a lot of rom-coms I knew were gone (Sarah Michelle Gellar has starred in some bunk). I also didn’t want to just watch action movies that had a romance in them, because it felt like cheating. No. This was about Smooch Media! That’s when I started looking at lists online, google searching ‘good romantic movies,’ and, well, that’s when I ran into the maw of the algorithm.

Did you know Kristen Stewart’s done a Tragic Lesbians Movie About Theatre? I did. It’s called Clouds of Sils Maria. Not going to talk about it here, it’s depressing as hell and is really more about the transient nature of fame and the disposable vision of women. How about Snow White And the Huntsman? Well, that’s an action film, and it’s really bad too, which is maddening because how hard can it be to make Snow White not garbage? Also didn’t write about Blue is the Warmest Colour because it’s really steamy and gay and that makes me really uncomfortable and exploitative. I read all of My Dragon Girlfriend, too which is also super steamy and gay, and that made me feel even more intrusive because it wasn’t a multimillion dollar international production. Mixed in amongst all these movies and series, though, there were all these things that the Algorithm thought I’d like, things like thrillers and horror movies and suspense movies which were all masquerading as Smooch movies, with the general message of Maybe Don’t.

This subject has been really hard to cover! And part of that is that when you ask the internet about ‘romantic media’ you get ten thousand answers that aren’t very helpful.

Story Pile: My Dragon Girlfriend

First up, a link! This is a bit of a different Story Pile than normal, because the work in question is available free on the web. Normally, I break up my writing on a series or movie with screencaps, which I happily do under the idea of fair use (for commentary purpose). In this case, though it feels a little more close to the wire; that work is Patreon sponsored, after all, and it’s – it’s just there. It’s there, you can go read it, it’s free.

I could just approach Fawnduu to ask her permission to use her pictures for this blog review, but that would necessarily draw her attention to it, which is bad, and brings with it the hypothetical conception that she should care about what I have to say about her comic, which is also bad.

With that in mind, I’m not going to use pictures from the work to break up this review, beyond this one isolated screencap of Danni’s doofy dragon grin. This work is extremely low stakes (so far?) and therefore I might spoil some stuff in order to talk about it, but don’t worry. This isn’t a series about dramatic twists, so far.

This is a series about lesbians, and dragons, and lesbian dragons.

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February Shirt: Shippin Lovin Smoochin

This month I wanted to celebrate smooching. I didn’t talk much about fandom and shipping, though, and that’s kind of a bummer. I did some other designs about specific ships, a bit of snarky references to things that weren’t very smoochy, and generally got meanspirited. I instead decided to rededicate my design to something that was very pure, very sweet, and very nice looking, and what resulted is a festival of pink and pastel.

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. If you like the look, I can see about making the individual badges into stickers.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

4th Edition’s Space Problem

Normally you’ll hear me be pretty positive about 4th Edition D&D. I’m a strident defender of the game, which is made easiest by a number of the complaints about the game being entirely fake. It’s easy to be a righteous defender of something against blatant lies.

Still, there are flaws with 4th Edition D&D, which shouldn’t be any kind of surprise and yet here we are. Let’s talk about one of them. Heck, let’s talk about a big problem, and it’s a problem that’s structural. It’s so structural it doesn’t even relate to a specific class, as much as it relates to the way that classes get made.

Classes take up too much space.

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