CoX: Vent

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


 

“So, are they fire, or rock?”
“Oh my god, they can’t be both,”
“Or something else, in between?”
“They’re going to have to make their mind up.”

It’s tough being a lava-powered enby. Humans can handle the ‘my skin turns into lava’ part but they get all weird about the ‘gender’ thing, like that’s somehow the big deal. Elementals don’t know what the gender thing is even about, but they’re also really bad company when you talk about music and fashion.

Vinn’s doing the best they can, with what they got.

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Queerer City

You know that game I talk about, from time to time, that game I play, that game, you know that game, that lets you play a character that you create, made through an immersive character customisation system, then you get to choose how they look, get to pick their graphical representation, get to choose maybe how they relate to the world, some beloved contacts and friends and factions that mean a lot to them, and how there’s a lot of fanart of characters made in that game and how they’re all about getting to express and explore this element of a wonderful world with this really exuberant kind of approach to expressing yourself? That game? You know? Final Fantasy XIV?

I kid, I kid. Final Fantasy XIV is a fascinating game full of interesting stuff, I’m told, and it’s fun, I’m told, and I should give it a shot, I’m told. It’s definitely got all the makings necessary for this particular phenomenon – though I don’t imagine it will cross the final threshold necessary any time soon.

See, what I want to talk about here is how a game dies, and what rises out of it.

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MTG: Pride

Magic: The Gathering, a Wizards of the Coast product, a Hasbro Partner, is doing things for Pride this month. As they do. As they have done. And it’s hard to grapple with Corporate Pride and this game as a material space doing deliberate actions to include more people.

I think it’s important to remember there are three basic layers of ‘Pride’ at work here. And every detail about Wizards of the Coast as it relates to pride, as a deliberately inscrutable internally silent business, is going to have to be filtered through the fact that this is still the company that treated Orion Black Like This.

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Story Pile: The Old Guard

A long time ago, and by that I mean ‘before 2020’ I spoke to a friend about the Rangers from Babylon 5, where I described the telescoping bo staff for use in combat in space ships where people had space lasers and psychic powers as being both extremely sick and extremely dumb. They then thoughtfully considered that the specific intersection of those two ideas was in fact, the entirety of their jam and I kind of agree with them.

I also have spoken about how ‘queer media’ is in some cases kind of isolated to these spaces where it invokes specific varieties of heavily introspective and personal narratives. It’s your artsy queer films or single moments expanded out into whole narratives, like a repeated argument over a dinner table, that kind of thing. These narratives are not in any way bad, but I don’t like talking much about them. Partly because they are just generally not resonant with me, and partly because they aren’t fun.

I like talking about fun media.

I like talking about the media we engage with because we enjoy it. I like talking about things that excite and inspire, because I don’t think those are separate things. The idea that ‘good’ movies and ‘popular movies’ are opposite elements frustrates me, as a devotee of the subconscious matter of pulp media.

And also, like, good fun media is really hard to make? It’s treated as if it’s a lesser form because big, expensive movies do it and do it a lot, but as with TISM’s expression: pop songs aren’t just more fun, but the constraints of popular media create tension that you can’t necessarily replicate with media that explicitly resists that form.

Anyway, The Old Guard.

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Jolene

Jolene is a 1973 country song by Dolly Parton. Without being overblown about it, Jolene is one of those songs that has its own wikipedia page. In a Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time, it sits in the top half, at 217, and while that entire idea of a list is silly, it shouldn’t escape notice that at least one person with a lot of free time was able to remember it when they tried to compile a list of 500 anythings. That’s too many things.

This song is one of those rare classic soncs that I actually like, but it isn’t exactly one I sing along to or even listen to very often. It’s very mournful and soulful and, as performed originally, it’s a song that’s as much about how much e m o t i o n you can club your audience with. It’s great.

A few years ago, a version of it ‘went viral’ inasmuch as they can, where someone took the original record and played it on a record player at 33 rpm – basically, slowing the whole track down.

This changes the way it sounds, of course. It stays soulful and sad, but now there’s an additional dimension to it. And this did create the feeling of a totally different person with a different sound of voice looking at the song. Sometimes it’s seen as sounding creepy and sometimes it’s seen as scary and sometimes it’s seen as haunting.

And that was a pretty cool find and resulted in a sort of resurgence of the song in my space around me. Suddenly, a bunch of people who weren’t born in the first half of the last century were pointing out that hey, Jolene rules.

And then…

Look it’s not a long reach to listen to Jolene and notice that the protagonist seems to be very impressed with how pretty Jolene is. We have no idea about the dude. Apparently, he’s worth fighting Jolene for, but… we don’t know what he’s like.

But we know Jolene is pretty.

Anyway, so that’s neat!

Thing is, there’s also this other take on Jolene that was first brought to my attention by Andi McClure of Mermaid Heavy Industries. She pointed out that there was a reading of the text where ‘Jolene’ was the man in question; that is, that Jolene is the feminine identity of the ‘man’ the singer perceives as ‘hers.’ Watching her partner struggle with her identity, she sees it as someone ‘taking’ him away from her.

Anyway, it’s wild because despite the fact this song doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, thanks to years of reiteration and attention, and being recontextualised through modern lenses, it’s kinda neat how the song’s become… pretty queer.

Shacking Up: Queer Compatibility Card Game Ideas

Okay, so, basic little card game idea: I’m thinking about a game about hooking up at cons.

Now let’s be clear, this is not a game about salacious details at cons. I am not, and have not been, a casual con sex haver, and queerness is not explicitly tied to queer sex. But queer sex is a thing many queer people do, from time to time, in between getting milk and playing Fallout: New Vegas. And when it comes to queer furry cons, I understand that a lot of people, without people to connect to in their home places, will take the opportunity to have some low-commitment, experimental and experiential up-shacking with people who make them feel connected and related to. And so, a game.

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Welcome to ERFs

Have you enconutered the term ‘TERF’ and left wondering: Wait, what’s that?

There are some people, TERFs mostly, who think that TERF is a slur. It’s not; slurs are terms used to direct social power against a marginalised group. If you shout TERF at someone on the street, they’re not going to assume someone else is going to attack them because of being so painted. If they are, they’re incredibly paranoid, because TERFs are typically very privileged people who are afraid of being criticised by trans people.

It may sound like I am overdoing it, but I really am not. The typical TERF discourse is an attempt to weaponise outrage at the idea of women facing disagreement from, pretty consistently, other women. But what is a TERF? And what about those other -ERF terms I’ve heard?

So, content warning: TERF stuff! And SWERF stuff! And BLERF stuff! What’s a BLERF? Well, after the fold.

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The Johnlock Conspiracy Conspiracy

First of all this is going to be building off a point first cast into relief for me by Sarah Z’s video on The Johnlock Conspiracy. She is both directly connected with the experience of this space and did the research into the actual history of the people involved, a sort of on-the-spot observer recounting her experiences ethnographically. If you want a longer form deep dive on what The Johnlock Conspiracy is, check out that video. I will be providing a quick summary.

I’m also going to talk about fanagement, which I wrote about last year, which is about the way that fan engagement was seen as being a thing that corporate entities could deliberately engage for commercial ends. Fanagement isn’t necessarily an inherently evil or corrupting thing, but it’s something to know about as something that exists, and knowing it exists can colour your relationship to the media created in response to fanagement.

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People Misgender Our Dog

Our dog is named Elli.

It’s not short for Elliot, or Ellias or Elijah.

It’s just Elli.

We also use he/him pronouns for our dog, because the complexities of gender are unknown to creatures without language, and without any way for him to self-identify, we just use the usuals. He is, of course, a very good boy.

Elli is very important to our lives. He was part of the decisions we made about where to live; his needs are part of our daily routine; we feed him in the mornings and we feed him in the evening. Our house has structures in place that are designed to give him spaces to be, and things to interact with and ways to make his wants and needs known in our house. We have changed the ways we enter our house in part, because of how it relates to our dog.

Point is, a dog in your life is a force that changes the way you live.

Elli is a lovely dog, and Elli is a cute dog. He is long and elegant and skinny and awkward and he transforms readily between a tiny little snuggly bean and an enormous, splayed, haunted bike rack.

And one of the weirdest things to me is just how much people misgender him.

They call him ‘she’ or ‘girl’ when they hear us call him “Elli,” and then after being corrected, they’ll call him he or boy, and then, usually a few minutes later, they’ll call him her again. And that’s weird.

Like, there’s not a powerful gendering force around dogs or anything. Elli isn’t wearing clothes that code him femme. He’s not a feminine looking dog, in any particular way? I mean, he’s not pink or particularly frilly. He’s just a dog.

That implies to me that the thing that drives it, the thing that makes people think they should misgender him is entirely his name. His name which has one syllable different to a common masc-coded name, is enough that people will assert a femininity there, and that femininity is entirely based around that same syllable.

Genders are social. There is no reason anyone should gender this dog except how they observe him being spoken about socially. He does not care about getting his pronouns wrong, but we do, because those aren’t his pronouns. And it gets under my skin particularly because it’s just this core evidence that people don’t listen to the immediate when it comes to gender. The pressurs from outside, the general trend, are more important than the specific answer they’ve been given.

But what makes this even weirder, is that people apologise for misgendering Elli. They recognise that what they did is a mistake, that they did something wrong, but they won’t, usually, argue with me about it. There’s a clear embarrassment, which is even weirder because Elli doesn’t care. They didn’t hurt his feelings. They didn’t really hurt my feelings watching it, though I probably did feel that they were a little silly.

(Don’t get me wrong, someone did once assert ‘nah, it’s a girl’s name’ and kept misgendering him, and that was one of those reminders that I probably shouldn’t waste my time talking to them)

 

 

Anyway, Elli is in my life because of Fox. And it’s Fox’s birthday, so Happy Birthday, Fox.

Pride Month 2021

Hey it’s Pride Month! Hey everyone, it’s Pride Month, get a load of this here Pride Month!

June is Pride Month in the United States of America, to commemorate the anniversy of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 (nice, but not nice, but nice). It’sa month that the United States uses, and therefore, the entire English-speaking Internet uses, to talk about queer causes, queer ideology, and inevitably ask ‘why isn’t there a straight pride?’

So this blog is going to be about Pride Month stuff this month!

The plan is that this month we’re going to talk about queer stuff in general, some stuff about language, some queer games and some queer game design ideas. Note that this isn’t necessarily smoochy stuff – so we’re not necesarily going to be focusing on media about say, gay relationships, per se, as much as we talk about queerness in media in a bunch of different ways.

Particularly, this tends to be a time where I’ll talk about things that people outside of LGBTQ communities might think of them or understand them, ways things are communicated, or the way queerness in media and culture gets represented. I’ll probably wind up talking more about gender stuff and fundamentalist stuff than I’ll talk about necessarily romance this month.

Expect some fandom studies, some queer indie games, some not-queer not-indie games that get called queer games, and some reflections on things like you know, how we celebrate and share the works of one another.

It’s Pride month, remember that every day we live is one we’ve stolen from a system that seeks to make us no more.

Story Pile: The Detectorists

This is one of those British series that I think people like saying they like more than they like.

The Detectorists is a 2014 British sitcom, one of your six-episodes-a-season shows made by Mackenzie Crook, who you’ll recognise as The Office Dullard from the British The Office Series that existed, remember? Anyway, The Detectorists is a well-researched sitcom based in some part of the lovely English countryside with twinkly folk music background following a pair of what you can only call nerds whose hobby is going out into the fields and parks of their area to look for interesting stuff you can find with a metal detector.

Discovered, it seems reasonably recently thanks to the attention of, I dunno, Netflix or the Internet or The Algorithm or Lockdown or something, people talked about it, said it was better than the Office, and Netflix recommended it. With that in mind, I watched it, and, like,

Yeah I guess it’s better than the Office.

That doesn’t make it good though.

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May 2021 Wrapup!

May is over, and we are now in the last part of the first half of the year that is 2020 Bonus Round. What’s been happening on the blog?

 

As the Game Pile has matured, there have been a lot more articles about games that are contemplative or not about just plowing through my Steam archive. I’ve come to abandon the idea that every game in my Game Pile should be talked about – not because they don’t deserve it, but because there’s a lot of stuff where I don’t have anything interesting to say.

I did finally make a video about Hyperintertextuality as expressed by Hyrule Warriors, something I’ve been intending to do for a few years now. The video itself was reasonably easy to make – I wish I’d dedicated a little more time to it, to trim out some sections of the background imagery that aren’t interesting. There’s some menu-ing in the video that I would have cut out, and in the later half I might have made more diagram overlay if I’d thought about it more.

I wrote about Usurper, a game that I can’t in good faith recommend because I can’t give you an opportunity to buy it, and therefore, I had to look at as a game design teacher. I also looked at Pixelmon, a mod for Minecraft just because Fox is playing it. Finally this month, I got to look at Hard Wired Island, a game made by a couple of friends of mine that I was planning on skipping entirely.

See the thing with Hard Wired Island, is, I don’t actually think I want to play the game. It does not interest me. It has never interested me. I backed it in the kickstarter to support my friends, and figured that was it. I was going to let this game that did not interest me let go, and that be that. Except then Discourse started around this game and it was fucking boring. The discourse was ‘hey, is this huge book with lots of work and well paid contributors worth its price tag of about as much as a D&D book?’ and like… even if you don’t think it’s worth it, that conversation is really dull. That conversation wants to reduce the things the book is saying to a kind of word sludge, like alphebitising all the text in it and determining ‘too many es.’

Thus, a conversation about the game that isn’t about its price tag.

Weirdly, it was a sour month for Story Pile stuff. I talked about Moneyball, which seems to be a movie about a pretty cool moment that decides to centre itself on just a total dickhead, on Tenchi Muyo, the Star Wars Merchandising of anime, Toy Story being boomer reconstructionalism and The Detectorists, which sucks. And I also talked about BNA, focusing on the way that media chooses to create villains. My take didn’t land for everyone, though; I still like the series, but it’s definitely possible to read the narrative of a secret shadowy culture of elites pulling all the strings as playing into antisemetic tropes.

Thing is for me if you mention ‘posh elites who pure breed themselves for superpowers’ my natural inclination is to see European Royalty, not Jewish stereotypes.

 

What about other May articles?

I made an article explaining the way I made my unscripted videos. I used my Heretic video as a template to work as an example. There’s also a month’s worth of Daily Cephalid Card Design, a piece on the wonderful Australian animal now known as a Rakali, and a piece on Mind Control in D&D, specifically as it relates to 4th Edition’s better way of handling it. We looked at Megatron and the bodies he’s had, and ways to manipulate tests when you know you are being tested. I even went out of my lane and made fun of Star Wars a bit! And while I am making fun of the House of Mouse, I looked at the way I reacted to the Simpsons episode about Whacking Day.

This month I made a shirt because I wanted it. It’s about a pair of Pokemon I really like – Gligar and Gliscor.

I hurt my leg late this month, which sucked basically all the energy out of a whole week. That sucks! It does mean that I feel like this month just kind of blipped past me, which I may be a sign of something else going on – like as you get older, you start to notice the time flowing faster?

Oh lords, I hope not.

T-Shirt: Nondescript Flying Scorpion Creature

Who are my shirts for?

Like, that’s the question you ask with anything you make, if you think about it, enough. Who would want this, and being able to conceptualise your audience is a skill that I try and impart on my students. Who then, are these designs for?

On one level, what I’m doing is graphic design for sometimes as few as one or two people that might enjoy the joke. Sometimes I’m making shirts that I want to wear to class. Sometimes, I’m making shirts for people who aren’t me. For example, I don’t need a they/them pronoun shirt.

This shirt is a shirt that’s very much for me.

You’ve maybe seen this kind of shirt before. Normally, this design is focused on starter Pokemon – three form pokemon that get soooo much attention and merch.

And here’s a shirt of a Pokemon I’m very fond of – Gligar, and the silhouette of the Gliscor it one day will become and terrorise metagames that are afraid of a beastly physical wall.

Here’s the design, on a shirt:

You can get it on Redbubble.

Rakali!

Back in the 1990s there was a TV series here called Water Rats. It starred nobody and was about nothing. Cops on boats, or something. The thing is, growing up I had it kind of in my head that a ‘water rat’ was just a term for a rat, or a rat that was on a boat, like something that came over on the First Fleet. Essentially, I had no idea that a water rat was its own species of a thing.

This is even more strange when you consider that one of the few times my dad ever read me anything from a book, and eventually deferred to the TV cartoon of it, was Wind in the Willows and its quote, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” This is said by Ratty, who is a Water Rat, which further builds on the idea that Water Rats exist.

Well, Ratty doesn’t.

I learned that the ‘Water Rat’ that Ratty is meant to be is in fact a water vole. This distinction is very important, because it first of all underscores that all of the roles and positions presented in Wind in the Willows are constructions of British aristocracy, and undermines the position that there are ‘rightful’ owners of property when a rich idiot endangers people with his sports car and then tries to evict a large body of squatters through violence.

That said, Water Voles do have gigantic forepaws compared to what I assumed and that makes this picture of one nursing a blackberry even funnier.

Silly vole. You can’t receive phone calls on that.

Anyway, Australia doesn’t have water voles, or if we did, they got eaten by the local spiders or something. We do have something that we did call a water rat, back in the 90s, but thanks to recent pushes to try and ensure that we don’t treat the country we live in like we’re the first people here, we’ve started using the traditional terms for these animals.

That means that we no longer call them water rats.

We call them rakali.

A rakali is a creature that to my raised-on-european media eyes looks like what happens when you try to create an otter without having any otter parts. There’s most of the shape, there’s some of the components that are recognisably not otter, but the overall affair is different. It’s like how Wolverines don’t look like wolves, or tangerines, but we still evoke them both with the name.

Now, I thought this story would end here, with this discovery of a new name for an old thing and how cool that was. But.

But but but.

I learned that the Rakali are also one of the few Australian animals that has successful strategy against Cane Toads. And now, I just  want to say;

CONTENT WARNING: Animal Fighting and also METAL AS HELL Marsupial Behaviour

Okay, so if you’re aware, the Cane Toad is an invasive species here in Australia and like all things invasive, it’s white people’s fault. We introduced sugar cane, that brought cane beetles, and then we introduced cane toads to try and deal with them. The cane toads became a problem, now they’re a plague and we are trying to come up with a possible solution to them that doesn’t cause another plague.

Cane toads are poisonous – eating them makes you sick. They have large, poisonous bulbs on their back that if you bite them or damage them you can get uh, poison on you. That’s bad. This means that predators have learned to leave them alone.

Except the Rakali.

Cane toads don’t fight. They just kind of wander around and rely on the fact that they are tough and horrible to get things to leave them alone. Which means that hypothetically, if you could consume them they’d be a great prey animal. And Rakali have worked out a way to do that: they flip the toad over, then tear its chest open and yank out its heart and eat it.

I mentioned this to a friend who’s a zookeeper, and his take?

“Well yeah. Easy protein.”

Ain’t that wild?

How To Be: Illidan Stormrage (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Now, are you prepared?

No.

No, you are not prepared.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Illidan Stormrage.

 

Story Pile: Toy Story

Toy Story is a 1995 animated feature film by Pixar Studios, distributed by Disney, that serves as one of those iconic examples of early 3d Animation that ‘holds up’ over time by people who haven’t gone back and looked at any of the humans in it. With the voice talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Toolman, it follows the narrative of a pull-string cowboy doll competing with a kung-fu action grip spaceman toy for the attention of their gigantically towering owner, whom they must never allow to know that they live, breath, and know his name.

For kids!

Look, classic yada yada, groundbreaking yada yada, wholesome yada yada. I actually got to see this one while inside a controlled christian media bubble, and if tomorrow I found out all copies of it had been deleted I would react like that ‘oh no, anyway,’ meme. It is not a movie for which I have an enormous amount of affection. I don’t want to talk to you about the narrative, though, not of Wilson’s Best Friend negotiating with the Last Man Standing about which of them will be more validated by an actual literal child and the ontological questions of why aren’t the parts of Mr Potato Head independently alive?

I want to talk to you about the humans of Toy Story. Specifically, about Andy, and Sid, and the weird world they live in, and the weird world they’ve created.

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4e: Mind Control

Content Warning: I’m going to discuss some mind control stuff in ways that violates consent. Not any specific outcomes from that, but if you find the whole vibe icky, that’s what this is about.

Also, other, I guess, content warning: This isn’t about the horny topic of mind control, so if that’s the vibe you’re hoping for, sorry?

Rather what I want to talk about here is the way Dungeons & Dragons uses Mind Control across its multiple iterations and how, as tends to happen when I talk about it, 4th Edition did it in the best way.

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CoX: Boss Rush

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


All the power in the world doesn’t matter if your mind can’t bring it to bear. There’s this whole study of the way brains ‘chunk’ information, neuroheuristics, the way the brain sets up tools for learning and managing what it’s learning about.

Rush was able to make the system containing the hardlight point nanites – but she needed a heuristic to manage the information. The result is her immensely powerful, immensely flexible tech rig, a kind of super suit made to be lightweight, transportable, and heavily adaptable, as long as the wearer can manage to explain to the device what she needs.

The gamer nerd and the tech geek collided, and thus, the hero identity Boss Rush was born.

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Game Pile: Hard Wired Island

Disclosure: I backed this book on kickstarter, and contributed art to it. I designed the flag of Grand Cross. I was not paid for this work, and asked for my payment to instead be given to charity. I’m friends with the developers – like, we know what kind of anime one another likes.

You can go get Hard Wired Island on itch.io and DrivethruRPG.