Obviously, a normal wrapup each month is ‘hey, here’s the best stuff I did this month.’ Except I didn’t do the normal kind of article this month – it was largely easily-accessible media that you can check out during this month, praise for my friends, and at least one embarrassing story where I look like a cowardly dipshit.
Each year, I look at this chart now and I have a weird moment. Like, hey, this is cool. This is a long, dedicated, protracted practice. This year the schedule has at times gone up to 60 and down to 16. Given the year, that seems pretty reasonable. The average blog post is 913 words, and I get about 100 views a day. I’m at the point where WordPress Dot Com is offering me ways to monetise the blog.
If you haven’t noticed, this year I’ve done more writing about running tabletop games in general and more about D&D in specific. I try to limit myself to two posts about D&D a month – my current method for doing it is to pull a book from each edition out of my bookshelf at random and see what the book reminds me of, and then share those thoughts.
- Oaths, Pacts and The Moral Failure of Trying
- 4e: Claw Gloves
- When D&D Got Horny
- Power Word: Kill
- Utopian D&D
- Murder Hobos Are A You Problem
- In Praise Of ‘You Meet At An Inn’
Magic: The Gathering Stuff
This was a rough year for The Greatest Game or whatever. Lots of bannings and the delays on schedules, cards being kicked out for being racist, an entire mechanic getting rebalanced because it was too strong, lots of problems. Still, I wasn’t playing in those spaces so I didn’t really follow that, and instead focused on custom card design this year.
- MTG: Stop Designing White Counterspells
- MTG: White Ramp
- MTG: Reimagining The Nephilim
- MTG: MTG: Dinobots (Not The Transformers) Commanders!
Game Dev Posts
Despite the great wheel turning slow, and the PhD crawling along, I have still found some time to talk about game development, and some of those posts made it into the top of the heap, or I had a personal reason to want to put them forward.
Posts About Living
There’s not really a good term for these, is there? There’s a bunch of posts I’ve written about emotional issues and about the way we look at our lives. Often these are about queer culture, and about the way we live as queer people. I don’t have a ton of experience with the things we consider ‘queer culture’ – so instead I make do with looking at how we relate to media, and how that media relates to my queerness, and maybe your queerness.
And it turns out that queer folk have slightly weird life experience that relates to odd social behaviours, too! And thinking about that sometimes gets blog posts made.
Then, when all those other categories are covered, what else do we have going on this year? Well, here’s stuff that got decent hits, sorted for the ones that I personally think are the most interesting.
- Top Five Pokemon Gym Leaders That Show This Game Is Incomprehensible For People Over Five
- Just How Bad Is The US State Flag Problem?
- Poison Ivy
- 5 Things That Actually Happen In Ranma 1/2
- The Giant of Kandahar
- JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box
- What’s Fanagement?
- 10 SCPs That Suck Ass
- 10 SCPs That Talen Actually Likes
As for what we’re going to do in the coming year…? Well, check that out tomorrow. Thanks for reading this year, thanks for being part of my year, and I hope I’ve made this year at least a little bit better. For you. This year. Year.
I did not know, until this year, that ‘Cover Youtube’ was a thing. I was vaguely aware that ‘original gaming music’ youtube was a thing, thanks to Miracle of Sound, who I found from the Escapist, and boy, isn’t that a rollercoaster.
Anyway, this year I’ve been enjoying discovering the music of a couple of different Youtube creators. Particularly, this year I found The Stupendium:
The Stupendium apparently considers himself a animator primarily, and like, well, great to have this as a side gig.
I also learned about Annapantsu:
Who in turn got me to check out Cami-Cat;
Where I learned that she also worked with the Stupendium on one of my favourite songs of his:
And also had me checking out Caleb Hyles and Jonathan Young;
And then I learned that these all also intersect with the work of Christina Vee;
Who I also know as a Sailor Moon voice actress, and oh, yeah, also, this:
There is also the work of Calliope Mori, but I’ve only really liked one of her songs, but I have enjoyed seeing bits of her working on music as a vtuber.
So yeah! There’s some stuff I listened to and liked this year! Check them out, subscribe to them and if you can, buy their music or tip them on ko-fi/patreon or whatever if you like their stuff.
Hermitcraft is a thing I kind of discovered, properly, last year. I found some random videos, thought they were interesting, started watching to put it all in context, and I even recommended Mumbo Jumbo and Grian as wholesome sources of good content for people who wanted to connect to kids who are into minecraft and didn’t necessarily have any chance of, you know, throwing out slurs or encouraging genocides like other Big Name Youtube Minecrafters.
As with all such things, after I sampled the main stream, I got over them and moved on to the really cool underground stuff. Now, part of this is that Mumbo Jumbo and Grian have audiences of literally millions of fans and those fans, together, are kind of, uh, enthusiastic children at best, and sometimes, hooting donguses the rest of the time. The great news about Hermitcraft is that when you have twenty four active players reacting to one another, you can have samples of the world and the experiences of it, without necessarily needing to focus on the four or five most popular ones.
Here then are some of my favourite Hermits, who are all under half a million subscribers!
Tinfoil Chef has had a heck of a year. He lost a bunch of weight, but it was because he lost a foot and a piece of his leg as well. TFC started the year living somewhere rural and isolated.
Check him out if you want to watch step-by-step, trial-and-error chill versions of Minecraft videos. How to build things, the kind of person who leaves in his mistakes and explains his process.
Joe Hills. Joe Hills does a lot of long streams. He’s fond of puns and poetry, so you can tune in to him and listen to some of that kind of thing. Two things about Joe: First, he interacts with Zombie Cleo a lot (and she’s great). Second, this season of Hermitcraft, Joe has set himself the rule that he will not use Diamonds. That results in some interesting behaviour.
Zedaph is in my opinion, the Moon Knight of the Hermits. It’s not that he doesn’t get involved in other people’s stuff, per se, but it tends to be more discrete things, like a lava bucket challenge with Tango (who isn’t being covered here, but he’s probably my favourite millionaire league subscriber hermit, wait, no, Etho is a millionaire now never mind this diversion is unnecessary). Zedaph is working on one large project, making a single cave that’s full of weird, interesting contraptions and devices that do interesting stuff.
Watch Zedaph if you like goofy British comedy. Lots of Goodies-league style comedic attitudes.
Stressmonster is… a lot.
Look, I like Stressmonster, I really do. I don’t tend to watch her videos regularly; I am more likely to see something odd that happened in another video, then go back and watch four or five episodes of Stressmonster back to back. I do it that way because she’s very high energy, but she also has a schedule that gets interrupted by life a lot.
Stress is honestly a really cool Youtuber, in that she has done and tried a lot of things, which, unfortunately, have not succeeded as much as Hermitcraft. But it’s great to see the different things she’s tried and if you can, throw her a subscribe to see what she tries next.
XBCrafted. Extremely oldschool as far as Hermitcraft goes, he’s been around for a long time. He’s doing a big project too, much like Zedaph is, where he’s building a post-apocalyptic district. One thing I like that he does is perching a camera account, and just watching himself as he putters around building something, out of bits and pieces. If you like the sort of slow, meditative crafting of Minecraft and seeing how it looks when people make.
Oh holy heeeeck, it’s Zombie Cleeeeooo I love Cleeoooo she has a great sense of humour, she has an amazing affect, she works on all sorts of projects with armour stands. In Hermitcraft they run a data pack that adds all sorts of in-game-doable stuff with armour stands, by using special commands through a book. It’s really cool, and Cleo is doing these amazing things to work on them to make a zoo. She’s very funny, I love what she builds, and she’s got a very sensible, teacherly kind of timing.
Oh and she got all the Hermits to slaughter one another this season early on.
Hypno! Hypno is one of the earliest Hermits to return, and I really like how his videos don’t tend to intersect with The Big Names. Hypno is engaged in the hermitcraft space, he’s talking with friends like Beef and XB and Cleo, but you’re not going to see him roping in on the latest Great Big Event that’s going on between the Big Name Subscriber folks that are happening over there.
Hypno is also patient in a way that other bigger names aren’t. One of his projects in this season was to build a little island home – and when he found that island wasn’t properly lining up with the biome he filled it in and rebuilt the entire island. That’s really cool!
FalseSymmetry! You probably see her in other Hermit videos a fair bit because she has the strange reputation of being a PVP Battle godddess, which also, based on this season… seems to be true? She’s just very good at competitive Minecraft, and I don’t know how to explain that, or what that means? But she’s also doing a lot of big builds and the kind of farm design that isn’t elaborate redstone contraptions and is much more about making big objects that do their job properly. She does great stuff, you should check it out.
For this year’s Story Pile articles, there’s a lot of rich reading to do. Turns out that this was the year of I Had A Lot of Free Time To Watch Long Things And A Reason To Keep Myself Distracted, so instead of wasting a month on Hannibal or Longmire or American Horror Story I watched things that were interesting and then wrote about it.
Here then is a reader’s guide to some of 2020’s best Story Pile article, whether they be because the work is good and interesting and I want you to check it out, or because the work is absolutely buttcloaks and I want you to join in with me in feeling pain about these things existing.
First of all I did an in depth watch of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (parts one, two, three and bonus memes), which seems to be heralded as one of the best Trek series ever. The more time that passes, the more I look back on what held in my memory, the more convinced I am that it isn’t very good at all; it was novel, it was doing a kind of storytelling Trek couldn’t do much of at the time, and there were great ideas in it, but the show’s ambitions were failed by its executions. I do think it has probably one of my favourite episodes of any Star Trek ever – In the Pale Moonlight is great, and then immediately I think of four or five other really great episodes, which makes me doubt.
It was really enjoyable and it had some great ideas and great episodes. It’s just hard to get over the ways it was bad, because they were pervasive and permeating.
I also finally tackled the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, something I’d been on-and-off promising myself I’d do for a few years now. The series is big and it’s sprawling and it’s made up of four ‘equal’ components (though that’s not counting the games): the manga, the first anime, the second anime and the live action movie. This one was a little harder to really nail down – fact is, the worst of them is the movie and it’s still going to fill two hours… fine.
I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, and my article on it is as much about that excellent sequence of Mahjong playing in the last act. I thought Douglas was an unexpected and excellent gem of a comedy show by a wonderful comedian, Hannah Gadsby. I also went over the ‘horror’ series Black Spot, which was about the intense and beautiful horror that came from an environment that feels to me completely alien.
There were some Story Piles that were just things I loved and wanted to talk about. Sort of raw enthusiasm, boiling away in me for sharing these stories or movies or series or characters or just good stuff so you could enjoy it during this time of Things Not Being Great. In that space, there’s John Wick 3: Para Bellum, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Lower Decks, Logan Lucky, andOcean’s 8. Just stuff I liked, with simple, no-nonsense articles explaining what I liked about them or why they were interesting. Sadly, my Durarara!! article has lost its fight with copyright robots that mean the music no longer shows up between the paragraphs. Tragic.
I also finally wrote a long form piece on Bleach, a series I still love and kind of feel I want to return to to explain interesting ideas in it, perhaps in the same way I did with the Fullmetal franchise. I also wrote about the Hatsune Miku phenomenon with Odds And Ends.
I watched The Thing for the first time this year and would you believe it, that movie? It’s really good. So was The Big Short, which mostly was me wondering: How many of the same actors are about to go unpunished?
Then there are the articles that are focused on things that I thought were real bad but where the articles were satisfying or fun to write. I didn’t do a lot of that this year, though! It may surprise you to realise it, but I’ve tried to keep pretty positive, even if there are a few Story Piles about throwing something bad into the sea.
Of this, there’s of course my article on Tall Girl, which was terrible. There was my article about Tomb Raider, a movie sneering at the idea of it ever being good. But the absolute crowning jewel of my ‘holy shit, oh no’ kind of articles this year had to be my piece on The Sonic The Hedgehog Movie (But Not Really), which is of course, about the 1990s kung-fu anti-drugs ad, Sidekicks, and the awful millionaires involved in its production.
It has now been a full year of How To Be. These articles are fun to make, they’re interesting to play around with, and I have more of them ready to go, so I fully expect to keep doing them. What I do think, though, from all of those articles I’ve made this year, I was frustrated to find that Twitter and Jetpack, two of the ways I promote this blog, don’t present my hilarious book covers in the thumbnails consistently. That means it’s possible that you might not see these book covers and may not have gone looking for them.
Also, since it’s December, and I am tired and you are tired and everyone is tired, how about I show off this year’s How To Be covers, and let you check them out now, as some long-form throwback reading of the rest of the blog.
The best sign of media is when a line, or a phrase, or an expression of an idea transforms the way you think about things. These two youtube channels both, this year, gave me a nice, tight, clear way to grapple with some big ideas that I already knew, but which had not yet been crystallised, been turned into memes for me to easily and readily share.
First up: Atun’Shei Films. Dude is a history nerd and former tour guide who makes videos about the Civil War, about American war history that isn’t just the civil war, about the history of places that are often obscured because of the simplified language of the civil war, about Nazi ideology informing our views of history and also makes fun fictionalised public performance things like going to Mardis Gras roleplaying a witchfinder general. He’s a real nerd’s nerd. Oh, and a fun video about cannibalism.
In this video, after the break from the kayfabe, he lays out a simple, excellent phrase that I feel does an great job of breaking the mind from a need it had to justify a connection to our figures from history:
These old dead racists are not your friends.
There is a need, a yearning, to put ourselves in a connected thread to our histories. There is a want to see people whose lives led to our lives, who were related to us, to be humanised to be people, but people as we can handle them. And when you remember that no, old dead people are old and dead and not your friends, you can more easily handle the fact that yeah, they were pretty abhorrent.
The other person who did something in this vein is Quinton, of Quinton Reviews:
Now, as a non-American, the hagiography of American foundationalism is just… odious as hell to me. It’s basically one country jerking itself off about how its founding was a unique and interesting story when it was, largely, just a rearrangement of the fancy chairs at the big tables. Still, Americans, largely, love Hamilton and they love the mythology of Hamilton and they love the idea of there being, again, a connection to that meaningful legacy of people borne by high ideals and not just the latest upper class ponces.
The crystalliser in this one was: I wonder what Alexander Hamilton would say, if he could see this, and all I can think is that he’d say something extremely racist.
It’s a bit, it’s a gag, it’s a punchline for a paragraph, but it is also extremely interesting when you’re thinking about the narrative we tell ourselves about these characters. It helps you shake the brain a little, and remember that these people lived and breathed and ate and they were okay with the racists in their midst. If you met an actual slave owner and you had the right to shoot them if you felt offended by their presence, wouldn’t you? Or would you just be okay with them and just hope they never brought it up at your mutual fancy dinners?
Both Atun’Shei and Quinton are working on building subscriber counts. So hey, go check them out. I like their work.
EDIT: There are four times in this post that I used Quinton’s name, and somehow I did not notice when I originally posted this that literally none of them were spelled correctly.
Obviously, of all the articles I wrote this year in the Game Pile, they are all good. You should read all of them. Still, there are some that stand out as I think super cuts of the kinds of writing I like to do. Rather than just reiterate the entire category, because I trust you to be able to press navigation buttons, here are some highlights that may make it easier for you to find some stuff to read.
First of all there are some Game Piles that deserved special mention because they were about games I really enjoyed. It’s hard sometimes to write about great games because my typical methods for game analysis is to nag at something the game does that’s interesting, and I feel that lens is best set to give games that didn’t get attention the first time around a shot.
Still, there are a handful of games where I was just flummoxed by how great they were, and so the writing was about writing around them, or about their interface, or about the experiences of watching other people play them. For those, check out my articles on Lanterns, Spaceshipped, and Purrlock Holmes.
Halloween Forever was one of my game videos this year, and the game itself kicks ass and it was a good avenue to talk about something weird from my childhood that is, in a way, super weird. The thing about this one that I love in hindsight is just how charming the game was, and how, when I played it, I just had a simple thread of something weird to talk about. I played it, then recorded the audio, then stitched them together. It was a really great little gem to find in the Black Lives Matter Itch bundle.
I also got to use this year as a chance to talk about the Ur-Quan from Star Control 2. That’s something I want to do more of, with the Game Pile being a platform for some in-depth examinations of game lore of games I really love.
Volume, I learned about this year. I mean I bought it years ago and got around to playing it now and holy crap this game got to be really timely considering. It’s such an excellent stealth game, it deserves special attention. It has such wonderful voice acting, great characters, and also it’s about actual corporate fascism and stagnation of upward mobility.
There was and an expansion to a card game I love, Star Realms Frontiers. This was a really interesting one because I committed to buying all the expansions for the phone game – because hey, I knew I loved Frontiers – and then came to realise that I had hit the wall on how much Star Realms I wanted. Frontiers is great, get it and the base game, it’ll do you fine – but the rest? Just get them on the phone game, and let it handle storing them.
So yeah, there’s a bonus review: Star Realms? Two great box products… the rest probably just a great app.
There are some articles where I think they serve as examples of things that are deeply important to the conversation about games. One example is my article about Overwhelm. That article is about a game that just whips ass, which is great, then it brought in a friend’s advice about how players relate to games, and then it got to show how good its accessibility tools are when you actually use them to make the game more accessible. It was a valuable lesson to me about how I approach games, and how I let my ego waste my time.
I also had a bit of a weird thing with Metroidvania games this year, of open world exploration games that keep you engaged and build on your skillset, where I tried Hollow Knight, but simply didn’t get attached enough to the game to finish what, the third, or fourth boss? Which was a shame, and I thought at first I had just lost something of myself that works for Metroidvanias.
Then I played Carrion.
Carrion was excellent. I at first thought I wasn’t going to even play it, because everyone I knew had already played it, I had limited time and energy, and like, what am I going to say that beats Cass’ oh no now they’re going to eat meeee post over on Polygon?
Then my sister Rachel told me to play it, and I played it and I kept playing it, and I went to bed at 5 am and I woke up and played it and then I put it down and wrote one of my favourite articles about the way this game encourages you to relate your body to the world of it, and the philosophy of meat.
There’s a special mention in all of this of Ai: The Somnium Files, which also followed a pattern for this year where a friend asked me to play it. It was particularly important in this case, though, because she wanted to talk to someone about it, and was stymied by her problem with the extreme level of content warning problems it had. I checked it out, thought ‘oh a visual novel? don’t expect to like that,’ but I could see a chance to play it, so I played it.
And I loved it.
I loved it so much that I redid my schedule to play the game and make a video about it and promote it. I loved it so much that I made fan merchandise of the characters. I loved it so much that there’s someone who uses a character from it as their twitter avatar and it just makes me more inclined to check that they’re doing okay which is patently silly.
It isn’t a game I’m going to replay a lot, because it’s very good about making sure you get most of the content on one thorough play through. But it’s such a good game I’m going to recommend it, and look to games by the same people for the same kind of wonderful experiences.
It has now been four years of this little exercise in using December as a month to focus on my friends. This year, I’ve been focusing in particular on one friend, who has been with me, and who I have seen, every single day of this year.
Once again, on the day closest to Christmas, I want to talk to you about Fox.
2020 has not been a fun year. One of the elements in that for me is that in the context of our early warnings about COVID19 was that the disease presented an increased risk for three categories of people; elderly people, pregnant people, and people with a pre-existing respiratory difficulty. What this meant was that even when people around me in Australia were umming and aahhing about whether or not this was a problem problem, I was locking stuff down and creating plans for how to minimise my contact with everything.
Fox has asthma, and that means that for me, the potential risk presented by my passing this disease (that I probably? would survive? even if it sucked immensely?) to her was unacceptable. I think this year, Fox has literally only left the house a dozen times or so, and a number of those trips were to the doctor.
I have spent this year in more constant, everyday contact with Fox than I have any time in my life. There is no time I’m leaving the house for work, nor she for work. It’s a time when you’d expect – I mean, based on media – for this to be a thing that works us raw and makes us even more tense about our relationship, all those little things that never get a chance to cool down, building up in a pressure cooker.
And I have yet to feel it.
I know there are ways I’m not easy to live with. I forget details when there are four or five things to do. I might be able to knock over one through three, but four or five gets lost and once again, there’s another bread tag on the countertop (sorry). But through the whole time, I haven’t ever felt ‘oh god, Fox is such a pain in the ass.’ I’ve noticed the tensions and the stress and the sadness and the pain and all the things we’re having to do because we’re afraid and we’re being cautious.
But it’s never a problem with Fox.
Every day is a gift.
Thank you, Fox.
Look, I’m going to tell you up front a harsh truth: Your Australian accent sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a chance you’re an Australian and you’re reading this, okay, you know I don’t mean you. I mean, my Australian accent sucks, but that’s a weird cult artifact. Point is, for the majority of my audience, that think they do an ‘Australian accent,’ no, you don’t, and your attempts to do so don’t sound like an Australian accent. I can be very confident about this, statistically.
It means when you do hear an Australian accent in other sources, it often stands out. Now, you might know already that Brady Haran, who I will always know by his Google Name that I use to find that surname, “Brady Numberphile” is Australian, but most of his work in his establishing days was being done up in Nottingham University and surrounds. That meant chemistry work and physics works with an array of United Kingdom accents, and of course, people who came to Nottingham to study.
And then, I saw that he did videos with Simon Pampena.
Now look, I don’t know Simon. Not personally. It’s a big island, we haven’t bumped into each other. He’s an Australian Mathematics Ambassador. It is literally his job to make media that gets people interested in mathematics, to see how numbers and systems relate to one another, and… I just really like his work? There’s a range of stuff he does, podcasts and presentations and TV shows and whatnot, and like…
This is just something I find really fun. Interesting stories about events in mathematics (like the Legend of Question Six, presented here) and ways that straight lines can slowly be transformed into circles and ways that primes and sets can be manipulated around one another. He does stuff with Brady Google The Surname Again over on Numberphile, he does long form explainers, and he’s really interesting.
Plus, you probably won’t hear an accent like his very often.
In a year that’s been full of not a lot happening, I have been spending time making sure I contact people, share my time with them, and just generally reassure them that they’re doing okay, even if they’re not doing a lot. This means a lot more small conversations.
Freyja did help inspire one of my shirts this year, but a lot of this year has mostly been small conversations before I go to bed and just before she does, two people effectively on opposite sides of the world sharing a few minutes of a shift. Freyja’s working on her projects, I on mine, and we both do a lot of our work in public. That can be interesting and sometimes it means we both look at the other’s work, shrug, and go ‘eh, not for me, but whatever.’ Freyja’s always just been good to talk to all year.
Also, her audience are really engaged? If she shares a link, it gets clicked.
I want to forward to you that Princess Mononoke is this year’s perfect Christmas movie.
Hey, remember this cool lady?
This is Cae! Cae is my friend. Cae has been my friend for, like, actual literal years now. And this year, Cae has had a pretty wild successful shift in her life, in that she’s… now… a modestly successful Vtuber attached to a notable and successful indie game?
Which is wild.
This is (a shot of) Gra. Gra has a longer name, that I cannot remember and do not trust me to romanise properly into English. Gra is a snapjaw, a type of trash mob from the game Caves of Qud. Now, Gra exists in part because turns out that if you’re a queer woman on the internet, showing yourself is going to attract you terrible people, and that means Gra serves a degree of defensive protectiveness. That is a noble and worthwhile thing Gra does.
But you know what else Gra is?
Gra is an amazing performative tool.
Gra is a fluid, immensely flexible and spontaneously creative form of puppet that Cae can make interact with the game, with the screen she’s in front of and also with … just… whatever random bits of emoji, graphics, anything that can be slapped on a screen or a layer in front or behind of Gra.
And Cae plays Gra. Gra is a character and refers to her ‘voice actor.’ In fact, I’m actually kind of unsure if Gra uses she/her pronouns just because Gra is so distinctly a separate character to Cae, her actor, and that’s really interesting. Because she’s live performance, a character played to play another game. And that’s really fucking interesting.
Oh and check her out on Twitch.
I watch a channel of ads.
I cannot wrap my head around this.
I cannot, in any sincerity, imagine even in the most preposterous of dystopian cyberpunk-ass future, envision this scenario that came into my life. I know my dad watches long, meaningless streams of seemingly interchangeable interactions between overpaid white blobs, and occasionally talks to the television about what a good or bad job they’re doing. That’s cultural. That’s a game. That’s sport, I know that shit.
In Demolition Man there’s a gag about the idea of characters listening to old retro jingles for the fast food chains that are all that remain of 20th century culture, the only pop songs on the radio being the ads. That feels like it has some stunning boomer energy, really, when you consider it’s basically ‘oh, the ads are becoming so much more of the radio these days!’ which, sure, whatever, I don’t even listen to the radio itself.
But right now, on Youtube, there is a channel that is literally just ads, and I am subscribed to it, and I put it on when I need something restful that isn’t headphone-required. Because it’s a channel about stationery supplies.
JetPens is a store. It is a business, in California, that sells pens and pencils and pencil cases and sharpeners and card dies and obscure book stuff and backpacks and so many things and the store doesn’t serve Australia.
I mean I can order from it if I want but I don’t need to. There are local stores in Australia that can probably handle the products, if I want them, but what’s more, I don’t really want to buy them. I have my needs met, here. But instead, I watch this channel of gentle, interesting, upbeat and completely friction free ads, and sometimes, thanks to them, think about the kinds of problems I see in the material objects I work with, and the ways I might work on them going forward.
Oh, and it’s great for gift ideas for Fox.
Hey, it’s another Game Pile video!
This is another conversation video; sharing with Positronic Woman, Rachel S, about her game of choice, Destiny 2. Due to copyright reasons and not wanting this interrupted with ads, I went with the simpler ‘bunch of wallpapers footage’ than using Destiny 2 ad footage.
If you’d like to check out Rachel on Twitter, she’s @PositronicWoman.
Earlier this year I got some thoughts out there about how communal writing on an internet platform is a type of Videogame (nyah Miri), and used as my example the horror wiki, The SCP Wiki. This involved doing a bunch of research into the platform, which I didn’t do by just mashing the random or top ranked buttons – I went to TVTropes (which can be a bit dire) and checked out Youtube. Some of those Youtube sources I find extremely unpleasant, and won’t link for various reasons, but I did find this pleasantly straightforward, relatively clear explainer series, the SCP Universe Explored.
It isn’t by any means a perfect listen; the topics the channel focuses on are sometimes those I find the most boring, like pataphysics or the Oroborous Cycle and X-men-a-like canons. But it still does cover a breadth of topics, and does a reasonably decent job bringing together posts that reference the same ideas without requiring you to do a spiderweb hunt through the whole wiki.
It’s pretty weird that youtube has people on it whose whole contribution to the format is essentially podcasts made up of simplified reading of a free wiki service, but here we are.
If you want a way to check out the SCP universe in a fairly broad way, this channel does a good job at being a podcast covering the topics.
I talked about this podcast a long time ago – back in 2015 when it was reasonably new. At the time I’m writing this, the podcast has been shut down since July 2019, meaning that there’s about four years of content, spread across 35 episodes that cover a range of the history of the WCW (World Championship Wrestling).
The WCW is a wrestling company, which means it’s obviously actually fanciful nonsense, and it fell apart and failed, Unlike most other ridiculous Wrestling folly, where analysis is a sort of moving target, doing a crime scene investigation on a hit-and-run in progress, the story of WCW is instead an autopsy, where the subject lays sprawled out. What’s more, the hosts are people who didn’t just read up what happened when the event was over, nor are they industry insiders who lived their way through the whole fiasco and have their stories to tell about how they were treated.
Instead, this is an exercise in dismantling their own past, the media that was presented to them, as they reach inside the black box of history, and see what makes it scream.
I was listening to it, more or less, as it was being released, and then, late in 2019, I pulled it out and listened to it again, knowing I missed a bunch of episodes, and vaguely aware that I hadn’t heard about it launching new episodes in a while. I wasn’t going to really say anything about it, at first, because I know many projects are set aside for a number of reasons, and that the people who made it may not be happy with how it ended or that it ended or whatever.
I don’t know.
I don’t feel comfortable asking.
But this project, the story you get out of these episodes is fun; it’s funny; it’s heartfelt in both how it loves this media form and the period of history it examines. It’s fascinating in that it’s very rare to see an expensive business collapse and fail as a function of its own honest-to-god hubris. And it’s an interesting examination of a cultural space that seems to be deliberately retrograde continually setting itself on fire.
Check it out, I liked it a lot and I hope you will too.
This is her twitter avatar as of… like… when I wrote this. If she’s changed it, well, now you can date this blog post like a fuckin’ coin in a coal mine.
Anyway, hey, Nixie. Nixie is my friend. Nixie is also one of those many folk who I think of as ‘unqualified experts,’ on two major fields, with a lot of related knowledge in other, connected fields. Like a girl who knows firearms and watch repair probably knows a thing or two about lockpicking, or at least, knows who to ask. The areas of expertise I talk to Nixie about are planes and guns, with an occasional consult about elegant gothic lolita fashion, because if you haven’t been around my friends, this is an extremely normal overlapping set of interests.
Nixie is hard to promote.
It’s hard to promote her because she has all these fascinating interests and these great ideas and these cool projects, but, due to Life and Brains and How They Interact, they’re not like, stored up in a great big blog spot where you can just jam there, or a youtube channel. Instead, I have a huge fragmented pile of conversations and a patreon (that I do currently pay into), but I can’t exactly do much more beyond point you at her twitter.
Nixie, this year, has been bounced around through a lot of rough stuff – both happening to her directly, and happening to her friends and partners around her. It’s not ‘private,’ in that she’s spoken about it in public, but I don’t mean to go over this in a big public way.
Nixie is a wonderful, thoughtful, interesting person, someone who I can talk to about a lot of topics that I don’t normally have a handle on, and she recommended to me the excellent Ai: The Somnium Files. Plus, she understands the way anxiety affects the brain, and how important it is that we hang together, you know?
I think Nixie is great, and while she hasn’t made a ton of content this year that you can easily grasp, the stuff she’s making, physical props and extensive threads on ideas like the importance of empire or the way guns actually work, are valuable reading in atypical forms. Sometimes the only way you can tell someone you love them and you’re proud of them these days is to make it really obvious in a third person kinda way.
She’s also a very good writer. Just to explicate that.
I’d never seen Back To The Future.
This year, I watched it, which, you know, I kind of imagine this year I’d have watched more stuff? Seen more series? But I’ve been working non-stop at home, focusing and being exhausted and that means that I have a surprisingly small amount of time and energy to dedicate to watching movies.
Still, Nixie told me she liked it, so I thought: Hey. Let’s have a look.
I watched it, and then I had to decide what I was going to say about it.
Get a load of this Ettin guy!
Ettin has had a weird year, from what I can say observing him at a distance, through a telescope and several layers of masking and that’s before we got the pandemic going.
Ettin is a creator who hovers in this really weird space for me in that we can both recognise that we are immense dorks, but somehow I’m always left wondering if I’m his boring uncool friend. Like he’s successful on a level I’ve never dreamt of, yet he comes to talk to me sometimes.
Ettin spent most of this year doing what he could, under lockdown, obviously. There’s been a lot of weird stuff going on, and that means that some projects, like Hard Wired Island kickstarted last year, have been getting done and worked on, as best they can when there’s a literal actual global pandemic.
There was also some legal stuff this year? But it was the kind of legal stuff where you go: Oh, what a fucksmith. So some fucksmith sued Ettin and that led to Ettin doing something weird. Don’t know what to say about that. Moving on.
Ettin is someone I’m still very proud to know and proud to help when I can. The entire project, the idea of the project, has had this sort of delightful ridiculousness where he can use his ongoing project as a reason to make fun of people who are getting paid much more than him to deliver a project with a weaker soul.
I talked about him last year, but I felt like it deserved mentioning this year that Ettin’s pretty cool. Not because he’s doing something amazing or revolutionary or even something I want. I just appreciate the kind of person Ettin wants to be and the things he wants to stop doing as he works on making his projects as excellent as he can.
So, Ettin? Ettin’s still a cool bean.
Okay, look, not everything I’m going to bring up is going to be something deeply enrichening or uplifting. It’s not all about necessarily learning an extra language or promoting artists of colour in a marginalised field. Sometimes, what you want is some brain-off youtube content that you can tune in and tune out of, and that does something to remind you of stuff you like, without necessarily demanding you put that thing straight in the forefront of your attention.
And to that, I offer the work of one Certifiably Ingame, who, unfortunate name aside, seems to be one of those wonderful nerds who wants to talk about science fiction a lot but is doing it with a pause and mute button on hand.
The work presented by the channel has a bunch of different types of feature. If you want something to mull over after watching some new Trek but don’t want to like, go to reddit or anything like that, Rick’s channel produces a bunch of stuff about the shows, but it’s all done through a fairly affable ‘I liked this’ or ‘I didn’t like this’ lens. Despite being a channel about overwhelming attention to detail on Trek Lore – and there are playlists of this stuff – the channel is very firmly in the ‘it is a story told by people for money, and things change’ camp.
I find that sometimes there’s something very comforting about these lists that remind me of things, and it’s a really good way to approach an enormous continuity that’s mostly available on streaming services. The episodic nature of Trek means that if I want to go look for ‘the good episodes’ of a thing, there’s just an enormous list of readings that people want me to do. But if instead, I, say, put on a listicle of ‘ten big creatures in Star Trek’ and I get two episodes from Voyager, one from TNG, one from TOS and so on, that’s an interesting linked list to kick off a bit of a watch.
I dunno, it mixes stuff I know and remember with stuff I don’t yet, and I think that’s pretty cool. It’s certainly more approachable an a holistic, top-down approach when it comes to Trek lore.
Last year when I spoke about games in Da Ween, I talked about games that could be played in a group, or a family environment, in ways that didn’t need you to spend much money, and also could last for a few minutes more before some stupid asshole said ‘let’s play Cards Against Humanity.‘
Nowadays, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be doing your family gathering over discord or god help you, Zoom (augh). If that’s the case, then you might want to look into some game you can play, in a shared space that doesn’t require people to install games, or manage network settings, or click on ‘join’ and wait a lobby and we all know how long it can be to wait for Grandma to decide what her draft bans are on the way to the Rift.
Still, there’s a game you can play, on the internet, with your family, and if someone disengages or isn’t interested and you have other people still paying attention it won’t hold things up long.
This is a free game you can play in your browser, with your friends. At its core, it is a pictionary-style game, where you can draw with your tablet, your mouse, or your phone or whatever, and draw a picture, or guess at what someone else is drawing.
I’ve talked in the past about drawing games, and how they’re communication games? How the core of what you’re doing is trying to understand someone. With skribbl, the game you’re playting incentivises you to guess correctly quickly, so there’s a reason to want to engage people, but also, rounds are fast, so that if you’re struggling with guessing, there’s a push to start guessing together. You’ll see other people’s guesses, too, and, Wheel-of-Fortune style, you get some text to fill in so you know the size of the word, or breaks in the word, that you’re gunning for.
It’s a great little game, it’s free, it’s convenient.
Two years in a row now I’ve been offering roundups of ASMRtists I listen to. It’s Summer now, and does that mean I need more careful help fighting off the way the weather makes me feel so I can calm down and sleep? Well, sure does.
In September this year, this article about the overwhelming whiteness of ASMR culture was published on Huffington Post. At the time, I didn’t have much to say about it, because the problem looks different to me than to the people involved. Particularly, in my experience, ASMRtists are things where my moods and needs shift around a lot. There are some artists who are a sometimes food; some artists where I’ll watch one video over and over again; some artists whose work I like but I still only partake on it irregularly, and some artists where I only follow particular plotlines.
Yes, there are plotlines.
The article is right, though, there’s definitely a bias in ASMR videos that get randomly promoted by Youtube towards whiteness. It also is biased heavily towards promoting women, particularly photogenic women, and it’s biased towards women with active update schedules and online presences that can be interconnected. Lots of successful ASMRtists are doing three hour-long uploads a week, many have existing instagram or off-site video services. There’s lots of Replicating Privilege structures.
Here, for example, is a screenshot of what happened on Youtube when I searched for ‘ASMR Xhosa’. When it ran out of suggestions from AFRICAN XHOSA ASMR, the first suggestions were well-established, verified, extremely white-looking, conventionally photogenic ladies. The Youtube Algorithm isn’t doing anyone any favours on this front.
There were two bummers for me about this, though. One, it sucks that this space hasn’t done anything to push back against the existing problem. Two, it sucks a little bit more for me that I can’t help much about it, because I’d seen a lot of the black artists the article puts forwards and I don’t like what they do. That sucks, because I’d love to be able to add to that momentum – hey, friends who read this article, here are some good suggestions all rounded up, etcetera.
So, I went to my subscriptions and here’s a roundup of ASMRtists I have subscribed to, who Aren’t More White Folks.
ASMR Power Of Sound: I know I mentioned this guy last year. He’s still more or less the same, and he does do some ‘negative energy’ stuff and chiropractic stuff, whatever. I do like his work, and I’ve been listening to him consistently in the remaining year. There are some weird things, to me – he’s done ‘homeless man ASMR’ and a few of his plotlines veer into dark places suddenly and surprisingly, so it can be a bit much if you’re fragile.
ASMR PPOMO: I always feel nervous recommending ASMR channels in languages I don’t speak. Like, I don’t know, this person might be a total shitbird. But this channel has lots of those long-form, sound-variety stuff.
ANNURA’S ASMR: Annura arranged a big collaboration amongst other black ASMRtists to do a big compilation, a ‘try all our stuff’ video. It wasn’t to my tastes, and neither was Annura’s stuff in general (I’m just not one for your fast-flickers, really). But, she also made this video, which on its own, I find very useful for concentrating, but also: It’s really funny. Like, the video itself is just really witty.
NEFERTITI ASMR: I am nervous about this one, because the videos from this channel I’ve seen have been in French, which I don’t speak. I’ve watched a few of these videos and found them very nice in that kind of ‘sound with texture’ that I like. Props are very elaborate, whole process is very calming.
WILDHEART ASMR: Jamaican-centred ASMR, with videos themed around Jamaican culture. I like language lists, so those videos are great for my needs.
SE-YA ASMR: Language barrier problem again: for all I know this guy is recommending you stop watching anime and have babies. But I liked his fan videos and his doctor stuff has been a nice background for studying time.
So yeah! There are some recommendations!
2020 was the year of the archive binge for me. It meant looking into spaces where I’d considered checking something out, and not really delved and see what worked out for me.
Youtube archives are always awkward because now the site is so old and channels are similarly vintage, you can run into channels where, at start six or seven years ago, the people who made content for them may have been shitlordy.
Fortunately, in this case, Overly Sarcastic Productions aren’t shitlordy; five years ago, they were just less-elegant in their generally good attitudes about, like, people. Mythology is a fraught space full of conservative takes and tangled up visions of how we record history, and uh, so is history, so a channel full of those things where they’re happy to mention how rapey and creepy things were in the past without dwelling on it is appreciated.
They’ve been at it for a long time and I love the animatic style of simple, personality-driven, wonderful art, and also Blue is there.
Go check it out. Particularly I like their Dionysus explainer:
Which feels like a blueprint for the kind of ‘innocuous-seeming, deeply terrifying’ characters I love to play and read about.
So far Erik has been a feature of two other Decemberweens. The first time, it was talking about a Blades in the Dark hack that explored the chance to tell stories like we used to RP in the Secret World, just with fewer nazis. More recently, it was about the upcoming project Brinkwood, Blood of Tyrants, a Blades in the Dark hack that had potential to expand up to a full blown game expansion that was coming to kickstarter soon.
Then it came to kickstarter.
This year, Brinkwood earned $70,000 on kickstarter.
I interviewed Erik during this time, and gave the article the now-in-hindsight bad-for-SEO ‘An Interview About The Vampires‘ where Erik was able to discuss not just the game, but deeper themes and why the game was meant to feel the way it did.
I don’t have a lot to say at this point, I just wanted to underscore that Erik spent basically two years making a game and kicked the living shit out of his goals during a pandemic and then immediately looked for ways to make that kickstarter benefit as many comrades as he could.
Go check out the playtest kit for Brinkwood, it’s good stuff.
Enola Holmes is a one-off, self-contained movie about Sherlock Holmes’ perfectly rad little sister, when she discovers her mother disappeared, decides to try and find her. This starts by recruiting her two supposedly impressive brothers, and when they aren’t useful, she instead decides to go to London, follow her mother’s trail, maybe thwart an anti-democratic plot of the nobles, possibly discover her own connections to domestic terror groups, and kill a man with kung fu.
It’s a fun little movie, where Enola delivers direct narration explaining her position in the story, which I understand may be seen as a bit twee or a bit untidy for a movie aimed at adults, but you know what, this is Da Ween and this movie absolutely feels like it’s trying to hold the attention of an audience who sees Enola as a peer.
The movie features Henry Cavill, aka Zack Snyder’s Superman, aka the worst Superman in two of the worst Superman movies ever made, and in this movie, he is charming and he laughs and he smiles and it’s like, oh yeah, this dude is made out of Iconically Handsome Movie Man Pieces, why is he so bad at Supermanning? This one casts him as a less-asshole counterpart to Mycroft, but then underscores that both of them are privileged assholes. That’s neat.
This is largely fine.
There’s this weird standard that Sherlock Holmes media gets held to, where they get compared to one another, or to the books, or to whatever most recent best version of it that exists is going around. Given just how much permutation there is of Holmes Media, or Sherlockians or Bakerstreetskin or whatever they want to call themselves, it seems to me to be pretty difficult to even make a quality statement about that.
What I can tell you is that Enola Holmes is a fun adventure story that seems to be complicated enough that any given kid watching is not going to be able to guess the way the story ends, but also not so complex that a kid is going to struggle with following what happens. There’s not a lot of adult humour, and it holds out the idea that hey, maybe young people doing their best and trying hard to make things better is good.
If you have Netflix, and you’re looking for something to add to the queue, and you have kids to entertain because school is over for the month, check this one out. It’s certainly better overall than a Potter movie, and it’s apparently a good introduction to an interesting series of kids’ books.
We live our lives surrounded by stuff. It’s something of a rule that you don’t understand how the stuff that surrounds you works. That’s okay, you don’t have to be into it, you don’t have to want to, but there are interesting side effects of this.
There’s this idea that capitalism engenders innovation. That a lot of different people competing for attention will try different ways to earn our attention, and that effort results in a greater variety of quality products at the lowest, competitive price. Good ideas become expected parts of standards and over times, the markets form an idealised optimal vision of the best products possible. Always forward, always advancing ideas better and better.
This is, of course, fantastically stupid, because it clearly doesn’t. Advertising mostly hammers on the same four or five ideas and is done by companies that are rolling the dice endlessly, and when they roll double sixes, proudly proclaim that that was what they meant to do.
Capitalism doesn’t give us better products. We know that because all the best versions of products seem to have been made, then their great ideas were ignored and discarded, because greater profit could be extracted from them being worse. One great way to learn about this story, about the ways that toasters, microwaves, rice cookers and headlights work, and were made better than we can buy now, and those improvements were discarded.
Technology we live with is made by people and those people make choices. Understand them and understand what they think of you. This channel, Technology Connections is a lot of gentle, very positive, mildly-funny in that exhale-through-the-nose huh-never-thought-of-it funny way, but never gutbusters, presents an educational vision of things that get made.
What I’m saying is that you should let your microwave radicalise you.
Bob Ross was an American thing. I don’t ever remember seeing him on TV here, in Australia. He was also a sort of proto-ASMR media format where the man’s gentle voice and soothing style was prone to giving people a sort of relaxation space even if they never joined in and painted. Then you throw in that there were VHS artefacts and analogue TV distortion creating more of the stuff we associate with lo-fi ASMR, and you get a dude who you find out about if you get into ASMR, no matter what.
The thing is, this guy’s work isn’t just about being relaxing, it’s also depicting a hobby, an artistic practice, and it’s a practice that was, formerly, in the day of Bob Ross’ lifetime, involved a bit of work ahead of time; he popularised a form known as wet on wet, where you start with a canvas that’s already slick with a base colour, meaning that colour you introduce has a medium to melt through.
You know what medium can handle that kind of deformationreally easily? Almost all drawing tools on your phone and tablet, and a number on your computer. Put down a blob of colour, then use the smudge tools to get that same wet-on-wet effect.
It’s December. You might like me have free time around friends and family. You might want something you can try out while the family are interested in using tech like tablets and videogames, and still want to work on something together.
So…? Check out Bob Ross’ channel on Youtube. Give it a shot. Make some happy little accidents.
Hey, this December, I’m going to try and make sure that I talk a little bit about games that you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to play. I liked how I did some folk games last year and I thought this year, since social distancing is a thing, that it was worth my while pointing out some ways you can have fun, online, and ideally socially.
This is obviously not the easiest thing in the world, but the good news for me at least is that just in the tail end of November, City of Heroes: Homecoming launched a whole new issue, ‘Issue 27’ and that makes it a great time to talk about that, and how to get involved if you want to.
This year, lots of stuff didn’t get finished.
There’s a way to frame this post, a sort of meanspirited ‘hey, my friend wrote a whole book under lockdown, what did you do with your time,’ but that’s not really helpful, nor is it interesting, nor is it reasonable. We have all worked at our own rate, with our own complex relationships to pressure and isolation.
One of my friends finished a book.
Now, Nothing But The Blood is basically a story about ‘what if the people who think they’re Jesus’ biggest fans and the defense against the devil met the actual devil?’ If you’re looking for something to read, you can totally do that, and should go check it out over on the author’s tumblr.
Hey, I know I normally do the T-Shirt designs at the end of the month. This time, there’s a reason that maybe you want some product of mine for the end of the month? I don’t know why, but maybe you do, and because of that, I’m doing this month’s t-shirt designs up front, early.
This is a year that’s been, all told, pretty bad. At first I was working on a design that showed a range of the many ridiculous things that happened this year, informed by resources like is2020over.com. The problem is when you look at the things of 2020, most of those things are total bummers.
With that in mind, and figuring I don’t want to give you depression on a shirt, I thought, let’s cover some of the weird stories this year that didn’t have a chance to be even one of the worst things.
There are three designs, about Murder Hornets, boring UFOs, and The Monolith found in Utah, and you can check their collection here.
Holy ding dang doops, we made it.
It is now December. That means it is Decemberween. Decemberween, for those of you unfamiliar, is a month-long celebration where I try to spend an entire month just praising people I know, things I like, and stuff you can check out for free or cheap, during this time when you may be isolated from your normal resources, or looking for things to safely fill free time.
This year, I am operating on the assumption as I write this that ‘normal’ Christmas isn’t going to happen. Some of us are going to be lucky and have only small, minor family gatherings, where we have a natural reason to avoid interacting with the people we don’t want to interact with, because, yes, it’s Christmas, but maybe, hey, how about a discord call instead? I assume this December, you’re going to run the risk of being time-rich and energy-poor, needing things that you can use to keep people occupied or share with others that aren’t demanding. It’s a month for softness, for kindness, and for finding things on Netflix that may make us go ahhhh instead of aaaaaaaaaaaaa.
If this year has done much for my life it’s made it clear to my family how much ‘the internet’ is just life; that the friends and family I made on the internet are friends and family, and they matter to me and connect to me, and that they are all people on the end of those lines. Let this year be a thing that has drawn us together.
Decemberween is an exercise in gratitude and open sharing. It’s about showing you things that influenced me and I enjoy; it’s about sharing with you things that you may not realise I like, the works of friends that have sustained and enheartened me. It’s a time to be grateful and to hold close to those of us who got here.
Some of us didn’t.
Some of us might not make it much further.
So let’s spend this month doing our best to not be angry and to instead try to share and be happy with one another, our friends and families across these internet spaces. There’s a very real purpose for things that help you recharge, re-energise, and do good in the world, a line I learned summarised as you need spoons to make shivs.