Category: Media

I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.

Story Pile: Voltron Part III: Best Beeves

Before I get to discussing the final season of Voltron and why it made me happy, I think it’s worth addressing that I don’t think this series is perfect. No series is perfect. In this specific case, there’s a bunch of stuff that annoys me, or things I’d rather they have done differently, moments where in this thirty hour long story, I would rather they have not. These are disagreements, they’re irritations – not quite at the level of a pet peeve, but bigger, and more specific, like a beef. I have beeves.

I try to make sure that my complaints about a series aren’t about what a series isn’t. I’ve talked about extrinsic vs intrinsic factors in television before. An extrinsic factor is things like ‘the budget was changed,’ or ‘this actor had to leave.’ An intrinsic factor is something like ‘this show chooses to be about men’s pain over women’s,’ (for example). And things like ‘this series wasn’t about the things I wanted it to be about’ are pretty extrinsic to me.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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Story Pile: Voltron Part II: Faces Of Evil

Last week I talked about how Voltron: Legendary Defender is a series of archetypes. It’s a story made up of scaffolding, and what holds it together is a consistant moral and thematic outlook. One of the ways the story holds its form is through its villains, and how they, consistently, are alone.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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The Riddler Sucks

I like superheroes a lot but they sometimes hold onto some really weird things.

Last year, Adam West died. And his death brought with it a lot of nostalgia. The Lego Batman movie hit streaming services, so I got to watch it. Twitch advertised the living heck out of a game about Gotham Villains, and in it all I kept noticing people bringing up shots of some real classic heroes. Cesar Romero’s excellent Joker; Eartha Kitt, the most legitimately criminally threatening Catwoman; Burgess Meredith, who breathed new life into the Penguin.

But there’s the Riddler.

This isn’t my critique, not really; it’s an idea that was brought to my attention years ago in a stranger, brighter, more 90s internet, by the infamous Seanbaby. The Riddler, Seanbaby pointed out, was a criminal who was slightly easier to catch than normal.

I don’t really like The Riddler as he’s represented in a conventional Batman story. The purpose behind him back in the Adam West show and early comics was that he could change the kind of story into a puzzle that the audience could try and go along with. That’s why he posited his riddles as really conventional riddles, things that a kid might have read. Here are some from the old Adam West show, for context.


What does a turkey do when he flies upside down?

He gobbles up

What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?

A sparrow with a machine gun

What has yellow skin and writes?

A ballpoint banana

What people are always in a hurry?

Russians

What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?

An egg

How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?

Make applesauce

Why is an orange like a bell?

Because they both must be peeled

There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How do they manage to smoke?

They throw one cigarette overboard and made the boat a cigarette lighter


None of these riddles really are going to give you any insight into what the Riddler is doing. You’d need to be Adam West’s Batman with his level of moon logic intuition to be able to get from the answer to the riddle to the next step in the investigation.

But

But

When the comics or the show put that puzzle out there, and then usually take a break, or give you a moment to consider it, you’re left with the sudden moment when this comic book or tv show becomes a game.

Caillois Indifference

If you’ve been paying much attention to my talk lately, you’ll know I’ve been reading a book called Man, Play and Games by a 20th century sociology academic called Roger Cailliois, where none of that is pronounced the way I thought it was. There’s one thing about this book, though, that isn’t really academically profound but I find funny and interesting.

See, it’s a translation from French to English, and the translation is trying to make sure it uses both consistant wording and academic language. That means that there’s very little vernacular, and we get such wonderful phrases as:

… [Ilinx] inflicts a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.

On the Game Study Study Buddies podcast, Michael Lutz pointed out that this kind of talk is a bit like a Metal Gear Solid villain. I tried that out:

Me, I thought about this. See, my feeling was that the takes read a lot more like something from Neon Genesis Evangelion:

But then, as I read onwards, I saw a phrase that stood out, a phrase that demanded its place in a different game.

It’s not a bad book, except in the ways it’s bad.

But it’s funny when it’s recontextualised.

Story Pile: Voltron Part I: A Series Half-Full

Voltron: Legendary Defender has ended. There is now as much of Voltron: Legendary Defender as there is ever likely to be. The story is done, its themes and story are all there; nothing can come in to change the text that is and we can consider what it means, or what it is about, or what it says to us.

If you’re wondering should I watch Voltron: Legendary Defenders, in the broadest possible way, with the minimum of spoilers, then to be up front: This series is great! It’s a cool adventure story with a bunch of interesting, diverse characters, and a regularly shifting status quo that keeps the story from becoming static. It’s very much an adventure story of big robots and fighting monsters in space, rather than your monster-of-the-week model you got in the original Voltron series, and there’s a lot of really cool different stories that make up the whole of the show.

I like Voltron: Legendary Defender.

And I want to talk about what it was about.

We’re going to talk spoilers, after the fold.

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Story Pile: 2018

It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

Game Pile work is by definition slower and more difficult to do than Story Pile. I can watch videos or listen to audio dramas or digest movies while I’m doing other things. Cleaning the house and playing a videogame at the same time isn’t going to be a problem. Unless a series is remarkably long (looking at you, Star Trek), even if I don’t get it, I can get it more on a rewatch. I don’t tend to be drawn to media that needs multiple viewings, too. Not to sound like a snob but the kind of academic reading I have to do right now really has me filled up on ‘oo but what does that meaaaaan’ kind of fictive experiences.

What this means is that rather than rethinking the Story Pile in my head with hindsight, what I’ve mostly been thinking about has been the general texture of the quality of what I’ve been watching, listening to, and reading this year for my pleasure.

Some stuff this year has been great but the Story Pile has also, in the latter half of the year, taken its time to kick around some utter tosh.

Okay, first of all, good stuff, reviews that I think are good commentary on good media. Stuff where I liked what I saw or read or listened to and I think you’d like it too. I tried not to do too many of these – I didn’t want the whole year of talking media to be about things I already knew I thought were great. This list includes Arrested Development (the first series), Monster, Hello Rockview and Cul De Sac. A TV series, a manga, an album and a newspaper cartoon – pretty odd grouping, really.

Then there’s the stuff that I experienced for the first time this year that I thought was super great: Pacific Rim, Black Panther and Drive. I feel like Pacific Rim got a treatment that’s the closest I get to just boring gushing. Black Panther is a little different, because I mostly wanted to whack at some common public opinions without involving myself in the discussions of how it should be seen.

Some of my media intake isn’t just rewatching things I half-remember, it’s informing myself on the ‘classics’ I completely missed. This year, I watched The Blues Brothers, a movie that’d been cut out of my childhood. I enjoyed Blues Brothers 2000, a movie that was not very good, and going back and watching The Blues Brothers was like taking a hit of something much more crude, more raw, and much more potent.

Of course, there’s been a bunch of crap, almost all masquerading as something that hypothetically I’d like. Arrested Development went on to a second series that is just plain out bad, for example. All flabby and meanspirited and unnecessarily awkward, even though it had a framing device I like.

The superhero space got its fair share of garbage, too, and so you could see me being a giant pissbaby about my superhero stories not being good enough – I went in on Daredevil Season 3, The Punisher, Justice League, and Iron Fist Season 2 (Danny sucks), and even gave Aquaman a stomping, even though it just came out yesterday.

Also, special mention goes to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. My review of that book received an enormous amount of attention, and I think that, in part, it’s because I wrote it in a clever way. Nonetheless, I am glad, because Trigger Warning is a silly book of mediocre garbage that wants to cloak itself in knives.

Then there were the surprises. Stuff I didn’t know I’d like, stuff I was actually willing to ignore at first. The surprises, like Nanette, a truly blistering comedy show that presented the mind and pride of Hannah Gasbdy. Or Sonic Boom, a tie in show for a Sonic the Hedgehog game that has both nothing to do with the game and is really excellent on its own merits.

And who could forget how much I enjoyed Kamen Rider W, a series I’d been stupidly sleeping on for almost two years! These were all pleasant new things I got to experience this year, and I’m really glad I did. Nanette was excoriating and intense and amazing and heartful and wholesome while also brutal, and Kamen Rider W was a whole new genre of energetic love in form.

I liked Nanette enough to make a video about it, and I liked Kamen Rider W enough to make a whole month of essays about the ways it’s a Good Show. Basically I liked Kamen Rider W as much as I disliked Iron Fist. Is that a good metric?

There’s stuff I wish I’d written about – The Dragon Prince, and Voltron: Legendary Defenders, or the manga-and-anime Geobreeders. I wish I’d found the time to read Windblade and make my video about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. But these things will come in time, and now they have time to percolate in my mind, to get better and better as I learn how to make better and better media. I know one thing I want to do is talk about why I dislike Hunk in Voltron so much, or talk about why media like Stephen Universe and She-Ra and the Princess Of Power lost me.

Oh, and go check out Dragon Prince, it’s really good. And Voltron. And watch Korra again!

Decemberween: abad1dea

Last year, I wrote about abad1dea, and this year I wrote about her perspective informing her books. I’d like to just go on about why my friend is really cool –

so I will.

abad1dea is one of those people with a huge wealth of expertise outside of mine. She’s not a card game or board game person, and her love of videogames is for a period and strata of games conspicuously different to mine. I learn a lot listening to her, about not just things that mattered to Americans, but about things that mattered to her.

She’s interested in very specific technical system problems of videogames – the way glitches work rather than just how to get glitches to happen. That’s stuff that can sometimes involve extremely complex computer science, and it’s not just that she understands it, but she understands how to talk about it in common language.

And boy, is that something that computer nerds are awful about.

It feels like every day or so whenever abad1dea talks about anything technical on twitter, someone is there to smarmily ‘correct’ her. It’s alway commafucking too – the kind of more-precise-than-thou unhelpful idiocy that assumes the speaker knows what she should have said, because they know what she should have meant, which inevitably, they don’t, because they’re not listening to her.

Being a woman on the internet, especially a visibly competent one, sucks.

It sucks especially because I’m not in that field of expertise and sometimes when she explains something, it’ll immediately click to me what she’s saying, and then I’ll watch her descend into ‘kindly rack off’ conversations with people who insist that it would be better if her statement had been more obtuse and less useful. That annoys me because it’s bad communication, but it’s definitely not my place to wade in.

abad1dea has focused on her music composing this year, and I’d like to share a link to her soundcloud here. Check it out!

Decemberween: Lucy Morris

Odds are good you might have seen this tweet, if you’re around my circles.

The woman behind it isn’t just a game developer, though. Lucy is an artist, a podcaster, a streamer, event organiser and games educator, and this year she’s been spending time building up her twitch following over at Party Shark.

Talking about a streamer is always tricky because like, mostly, streamers are just people and you just interact with them? But for the particular kind of content Fox and I wanted at several times this year, someone who was available during Australian evenings, actively moderated the chat, and wanted to include the audience in the experience, Lucy’s been a wonderful creator to watch.

I’d like to recommend her Vods of the Witchers 1-3, where you can get a solid experience of the whole game without having to play them, as filtered through a squawky New Zealander who knows a lot about user interface and design.

Decemberween: Fox!

Fox Lee, my partner, is an artist, designer, writer and web developer. She manages our websites, writes ad copy, edits rulebooks and creates entire games on her own. Fox has made a free otome game, which is great, and I recommend you go try it. That’s all been true as of last year.

This year, the games of ours that Fox contributed her art to include LFG, with its beautiful vibrant designs, Sparklebutt, which is… in development as I write this but it’s one good day from being done. Fox has had her own projects in the works, too, with Swan X Swan, an otome game modelled on Swan Lake, But Gay, which has had months of work poured into it.

She’s also managed basically our entire convention presence, including a heroic effort to get a presence at SMASH! despite a problem with our booking. She’s gotten us places to sleep, transport and printing and all while also hand-crafting goods like bookmarks and postcards. I know with my blog it’s focused on my work, and my own productivity, but Fox is an amazing creative and her work is fantastic and I love her and I’m proud of her and she’s great.

It’s kind of hard to talk about Fox without sounding like I’m just repeating myself.

Anyway. Happy Christmas Eve!

Decemberween: Calvin and Dee

Uh oh so

So uhhh

One of my friends turns out to kind of be a movie star?

A little bit?

Not really, but not not?

Calvin Wong Tze Loon, or, to me, ‘Calvin,’ is a writer, board game enthusiast, journalist and… in the movie Crazy Rich Asians? Which is pretty odd as a thing to just, you know, have happen in the middle of a year when you didn’t know it was coming. Oh hey, look, there’s the news, and wait why is Calvin sharing this.

But the glitz and glamour of… whoever made the movie aside, though, Calvin and his partner Dee are two very impotant people in the space of tabletop games, games journalism and games culture. They love what they love, but they’re also willing to hate what they hate. But unlike your typical game reviewer who wears those feelings out loud, the things they love are games and the things they hate are fucking racism.

I know full well I don’t have great sources in Malysia for anything. Between a language gap and a contextual hole, there’s a ton of stuff I simply don’t know and can’t get. And that means that when I find someone who is both of a place and willing to talk about it, I want to hear what that means.

This year, with Netrunner announcing its conclusion, Dee and Calvin spoke at length about how much they loved the game. They spoke not about ‘loving the community’ because anyone could do that, they talked about a vision of a future that wasn’t absent of people like them, a future that recognised a world of culture, that drew in everyone all over in the cyberpunk dystopia.

They’re also annoyingly hard to convince they need like official sites or places for their own stuff. But oh well, step by step.

Story Pile: Whatever Kuno’s Watching

Surprise!

I don’t watch a lot of anime. I don’t watch a lot of kid’s anime. I also only ever bring the perspective of an ex-cultist messed up angryboy who yells about cartoons. I’m also, if you’re not inclined to notice, not especially Horny On Main. My perspective is very much that of A Guy, for example. Some lines of dialogue are just not going to affect me the same way they might affect a more obviously queer person.

My brosis Kuno, available here on twitter, tweets at times about the anime they’re watching, in semiregular threads. Now, back when I started on Decemberween I was planning on making a post about some of Kuno’s best threads about anime, but … uh, they’re kind of a mess? Because twitter is a mess, itself. So instead I want to take this Story Pile entry to instead talk about the nature of the twitter thread, and its use as a commentary tool.

Throughout this year I wrote a series of threads reacting to Kamen Rider W, a series that Kuno gave me. In those threads, I made up and repeated a number of jokes – particularly, the model of Nothing Gay Was Happening, or The Sexaphones, or Has Gun, or The Guy Who Sucks.

This is a model of humour that’s very hard to create anywhere else, I feel, because it’s kind of like an MST3k presentation, but much longer form, and with a much more engaging media work. You kind of watch the material, read the thread, rewatch the media, or the thread inspires or reminds you of the media experience, or the thread is this out of context range of very slightly absurd things. At the same time, some of the jokes work best because they are sincere reactions to the show surprising the commentator, unlike the more formally written stuff of MST3k (usually).

And I wanted to say, this is a form of comedy that Kuno is really good at. I feel like trying to live up to their standards and make Kuno laugh made my threads better (and a bit less meanspirited). Because Kuno is incredibly funny and witty in this very emotionally raw and honest and soft way. It’s one thing when a guy like me with my range of privilege and damage can get up and make jokes about being hurt and kicked around, it’s like performatively throwing myself down the stairs. It’s another thing for them, with their context, to be able to make jokes that are both intensely dark but also uplifting and humanising.

If you follow Kuno and watch the kind of comedy they write about the shows they like to watch, you’re going to see stuff I’m never going to mention to you, enjoyed wholly and sincerely. And that’s great and I really think you should keep an eye out for the next time they do a thread on an animes.

Decemberween: The LiteNovelista

On my birthday two years ago, I explaind to ZandraVandra the idea of the lite novel, and how it was a useful format for Zandra’s skillset. Since then she’s released at least three (I don’t keep that close an eye), run multiple kickstarters and had her own work featured in local bookstores.

but

The other thing that’s happened from Zandra’s lite novels is the promotion of the genre in the area around her. Because it’s not just that she writes lite novels, it’s that people around her are realising they can too.

The Lite Novel is a format I like for a lot of reasons. It’s mixed media, it plays with its own format, and because it preloads a lot of what you’re getting going on, the stories have to decide what they can cut. It’s a good format for if you have one basic part of a story and you want to build on that part. It’s especially good for first writers, because you can build your technical skills by sharing with an audience, and what is going to draw that audience is direct and actual emotional resonance.

Which means that a lot of these stories are about gender feels, being written by people who want to look at and play with that idea space. So I’d just like to point to a small number of these creatives who deserve attention and feedback:

  • Ashlyn! Ashlyn helped organise the LiteNovelember jam, the  November based Lite Novel jam that I was recommending you try back then
  • London Snow! I’d like to highlight them and their work in particular, because there’s a lot of this Lite novel work that focuses on the girl experience of gender feels, and Snow brings an enby perspective.
  • Félicie! Another different perspective, Félicie brings along feelings about bodies, helplessness, softness and a kind of horny that you might not even realise is horny (which she insists is PERFECTLY WHOLESOME HORNY).

These are all creatives who want an audience and want feedback, and are mostly playing in the space of stories about feelings with magical realism and a lack of high-stakes tension. If you want to read some stuff about monsters and feelings and not be afraid that the story’s going to leap out with some transphobic nonsense at you, check them out!

There were also two Lite Novel jams this year, and there’s a bunch of free stuff you can check out if you want to read this kind of stuff! Please, give them a little of your time, and a little attention.

If you’re not interested in lite novels, though, you should still check these things out, to see how low the boundaries on ‘finished art’ need to be. You might think your creative project doesn’t have enough ‘stuff’ to qualify as worth sharing, and I want you to check out work like this and realise that no, maybe you can.

Decemberween: The Curiosity Show

Something weird that happened in my life the past few years is just how much the stuff I’ve been watching and reading lately has been contemporary. I’m used to a childhood where everything I saw was five years old, where the music I listened to was at most recent from just before I was born, where you saw one new movie a year. Thanks to this, now, I tend to watch media that’s either relatively new (like the last ten years) or well beforehand, before I was even born.

Back when I was a kid, things that got shared in the cult were either old (especially in the case of books) or several years out of date. Television was never really new stuff that I could watch, it was mostly reruns – just the nature of the beast. I didn’t really think anything of it, I mean, I was seven, what new content am I going to be yearning for?

One show that I watched on the rerun loop through the 90s was The Curiosity Show, a show that I was surprised to learn was not a universal touchstone amongst my peer group. Turns out that Fox didn’t like anything that wasn’t a cartoon (not even the Muppets), and most of my other friends had more up-to-date stuff to watch or did things like ‘hang out with friends’ on the weekends.

When it stopped being a thing that happened on Saturday mornings though, on the boring channel that didn’t get the cartoons that I wasn’t allowed to watch, The Curiosity Show or sometimes just Curiosity Show faded from my memory mostly only sticking around as one of those shows with a really awful theme tune that I thought deserved to mention in complaining about awful theme tunes.

Anyway, turns out the show ran from 1972 to 1989 which is ridiculous. It was a show about a pair of dorky scientists in bad sweaters talking about home-makeable experiments, and while I love the charm of it in hindsight it’s so incredibly weird to look back on it. They filled hours of programming with this? Really? And why is it so engaging? And why do I keep watching segments of it, if not just to make fun of the sweaters?

Curiosity Show is on Youtube – not in its entirety, but piecemeal, and seemingly, officially. It was Youtube before Youtube, a series of five minute videos on something being presented by someone who probably made the video in his shed. And it was lovely and charming. I’ve watched a bunch of it this year and some of it has been wonderful to see how science has moved on, and some of it just presents good or clever arts and crafts. It’s great stuff!

I am kinda bummed out to learn that one of the hosts, Dr Deane Hutton, is a Christian Scientist, a horrible religious organisation that gets babies killed. Bit of a downer to end on, but hey, I learned it, so I guess so do you now. That’s what curiosity’s all about.

Decemberween: Growth

Last year, last Decemberween, I wrote about my friend Cae. Cae is great. Cae is also why I have in my life, Dani, who is also great. These two friends this year dedicated to do something special.

Cae is a regular creative. You may know some of her work in Caves of Qud, or her piece Bloom. She’s active on twitter, does microfiction threads, and busks for change as a writer.

Dani, on the other hand, is a little more obscure. They’re not the same kind of heavily productive creative that Cae is. Dani is a code wizard and a pilot and an explorer and a napper. They care about a lot of the same things and the same themes as Cae does, and so, the two of them together, got together this year and they wrote a book. A book, called Growth, that you can now check out the preview as they go through the process of editing it.

Growth is about superpowers, about change, about transformation and transition. It’s also about flower people and roommates and social spaces that we grow into even as we build them.

Decemberween: Dogs (Not The Netflix Series)

Dogs are just great.

Yeah, I know, that’s not exactly hard hitting games journalism or nothing. I don’t care. This has been a year featuring a lot of stressful and sad things and consistantly I find that one thing that can usually pull Fox or me out of a bad mood is seeing a new dog.

Sometimes they’re just big chonkers sitting outside the mall patiently waiting. Sometimes they’re super smiley friendly pups who want to make friends at the park. Sometimes they’re sitting in the back of a ute as it whizzes past, seemingly smiling into the wind as it whips around them.

And of course, we have Elli, the lovely spindly bike-rack of a dog.

We have rearranged out living room this year. GDQ and Desert Bus convinced us that we do want a shared screen in our living space, finally, and so we set one up. That means I spend more time on the floor, in our beanbags, where Elli can walk over and flumph on me while I work and write.

And it is healing and nice and good.

Here’s a picture of Elli.

Decemberween: ASMRtists

Hey, I have a hard time sleeping. I experience the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a pleasant effect in the back of my head caused by a variety of audio effects. I’ve taken to listening to ASMR audio this year in order to take control of my sleep schedule and to manage my stress levels. This has so far been better than my standard Be Angry All The Time Forever policy.

Anyway, I’m going to link some ASMRtists I listen to because their format works well for me and what I use it for. First of all, I like ASMR Glow‘s sci-fi roleplay videos. They’re deliberately unreal but don’t go too over the top and don’t make me feel embarassed.

I also like listening to ASMRequests, who has a quirky sense of humour I like a lot. She doesn’t do a lot very actively right now, but her ASMR work has featured some really interesting 360 VR stuff (not my thing), some very sincere product inspections, and she has the character of Salmon. Salmon is adorable and shady and awkward, so if you want that kind of work it’s very good.

He’s not technically ASMR, but David Bull‘s youtube channel features lots of long-form restful videos of things like wood carving. I don’t find his work triggers the response, but it’s all very sweet and wholesome so it can work to keep me restful.

The ASMRtist Ephemeral Rift produces both a lot of content, usually an hour or so long, and often with long, restful pauses on particular soundscapes. Not everything he makes is for me, but he uses ASMR to both create a fictive space (such as his Arkham Asylum stories) and to contextualise gentle conversations. He’s also a male voice that doesn’t bother me, which are not too common in the landscape.

Lastly, there’s Goodnight Moon, who I want to highlight because her work is very aesthetically interesting. She’s done long-form essays (?) on things like local landmarks; videos about explaining the process of makeup, hairstyling, and even making ASMR videos. Also, Goodnight Moon has some very subtle queer coding that might make it more comforting for those massive gays amongst you – she occasionally references a girlfriend, and talks to the viewer with only the occasional expectations that they are femme.

Here are some. You might like ’em, if you don’t, it’s not a problem.

Decemberween: Homestar Runner!

What’s something from when you were young that’s still good?

I don’t mean something that when you go back to it still has something to it, still gives you nostalgia. I mean something that when you reach back to share it with someone makes you laugh now even though you’ve changed. Most of my early life is this smear of false memories, confused experiences and violence. The time I feel confident about my memory doesn’t really kick in until my teenage years, and one of the cartoons I love from that time, one of the things I still revisit and quote and use as an example for other things is the wonderful, imaginative, nonsense world of Homestar Runner.

I’ve talked about it before – in my MASK review and my review of the Homestar Runner videogame. This year, I started watching it again – in large passages, too. See, now I have nephews. And you know what works out really well for connecting with them? Helping them understand your sense of humour and your frame of reference? Sharing it with them.

If you haven’t partaken of the Star Runner Homs, consider this a recommendation to check them out. They’ll probably bounce off you, if odds are anything to go by. Maybe you tried them a little but they weren’t your thing at the time. Maybe you need to have been an imaginative and embarassing dork to click into the mindspace of a kid who thinks he’s the coolest supervillain ever. I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. But I don’t care if you don’t enjoy it, because Homestar Runner has been so formative to me, it’s been able to both sarcastically codify ideas in my own mind and help me appreciate the joy of playing and being a dork for its own sake.

There’s a pure joy in Homestar Runner. A handful of ideas that have just echoed with me; ideas like Decemberween, Buy All Our Playsets And Toys, Don’t Play With 2 Many Knivez, about making things that can be bad, the dynamics that look bad forced, Do You Has The Times, I’mma, and – just a host of ways my language and mind have been guided by loving this series. Hell, Homestar Runner made a recurrent joke about realising when a funny comment isn’t actually funny years before Twitter.

But I mean, I call this month of celebrations of things I love Decemberween for a reason, and this is where I got it.

Decemberween: JK Rockin’

Jenn is a friend I made at a convention, a few years ago. Our first major interaction was one where I was being called upon to judge a panel about fanfiction and queerbaiting and her first line in the whole event on the mic was, as I remember, an angry ‘LET THE QUEERS FUCK.’

Jenn is great and great in one of those ways where I don’t want to provide description myself. Proud and angry with absolute reason, she is fearsome and powerful and I want to encourage you to follow her on twitter.

Jenn did something this year really cool that I wanted to highlight. There’s this problem we have where we tend to think of some forms of creation as ‘lesser’ because of how they’re made. The twitter thread is basically the babby essay, for example. I wanted to bring to your attention the absolutely heroic twitter thread that Jenn made this year, following her audiobook reading of the Harry Potter series.

This thread is thirteen thousand words. It’s not just an essay, it’s almost a thesis. This many words is basically a book. It’s easily a commentary track for the entire series of books, but it’s also got something thanks to Twitter breaking up the thoughts. It isn’t meant to be long form reading but rather serialised commentary, and thanks to the text it references setting the timer, you’re going to be buoyed along with the reading as you listen.

I really like this. I don’t follow it well, because I haven’t listened to these books, but this is a really cool, interesting medium for critique and reflection on a work. You should check it out, and if you want to start on media critique or talking about media forms that really matter to you this can be an interesting good start.

Story Pile: Good Will Hunting

I don’t really like chess.

I mean I don’t play it. I never have. Not really. Played a few games, sat down to try and learn it, pushed pieces around, failed to identify a way to win, lost a lot, never really got into it. Chess isn’t very fun. Being good at chess is, from what I can tell, pretty great. As an actual game though it’s really basic and there’s this huge investment of research to be good at it and the people who play it tend to include some really tiresome people.

It’s not that chess is a bad game really, I just find it really boring.

Gotta know the basics of chess, though.

That’s what smart people do.

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Decemberween: Desert Bus

This year, I contributed a print-on-demand game, The Pipesm’n Conspiracy, to the Desert Bus for Hope 2018 event. I’ve shared some pictures of this game, both in development and once it was finalised.

The game was made over the course of a month, and printed at Gamecrafter, then sent to the LRR folks. I have never handled a copy of this game, but I’ve tested a prototype I made myself.

It was made into a silent auction, where it it raised a thousand dollars for Child’s Play, with a bid of $987.65. This obviously blows my mind and I’ve spent the intervening time processing the feelings as a result. I’m confused, I’m stunned, I’m honestly ashamed – because I know the work that went in to getting that stuff in place.

To tell you the story, briefly, of how this happened; I made the game, in my home, on cards and in GIMP. I then exported the files and sent those to The Gamecrafter, and had them print and send them to Vancouver, to my friend Hazel.  At this point, expected delivery was within the week, but something went wrong, and instead they were delayed on the way to her.

That means they arrived at Hazel’s place late. Hazel is in Vancouver, which for the Munchlaxen amongst you is basically the next city over from Victoria, its destination.

Hazel received the games, then bagged them as per Desert Bus requests. Then, with the deadline ticking down, as we fumbled through the records for address information, we did our best to find our shipping options that would get it to the right place at the right time. We almost got it right, but I want to shout out to Hazel here – she was willing to personally get on the ferry right there and detective work her way to the right location to hand the game over to people personally to make sure it got there on time.

She didn’t have to do that, as we got her the address, but I messed up on the information, and that meant the prize got there but wasn’t labelled for Desert Bus and went into general Mail Time.

What happened after that point was, thanks to encouragement on the Discord when my prize wasn’t showing up on the Desert Bus page, I contacted the Prize people, who then – while they were very busy– went digging through packages for my mislabelled one, found it, put it on the website, put it on the schedule, and that’s how it got to happen.

I feel awful about putting people out like this.

I want to thank Hazel so much for her part in this – she did nothing wrong, she executed on the information I gave her perfectly. She gave me tracking information which was invaluable for getting the right package. I also want to thank the hard work of Fugi (Foo-Jee) and Ashley Turner (and anyone who helped her, who I cannot name by name), in getting the prize into the pool. Everyone involved was doing other stuff, they were busy, and I made everything a bit harder, and a bit more complicated. I’m so embarassed by this messup and I’m sorry that it went the way it did.

I’ve been trying to approach LoadingReadyRun with my games for a while; you might remember the ridiculous way I got excited when they opened some of my games on Mail Time last year. Except thanks to a cock-up on my end, they arrived without boxes and therefore, without rulebooks, a point of unprofessionalism that also hugely embarasses me. I don’t like twitch chat very much, so I feel very bad being this person @-ing people on twitter like I’m an exciteable fan going oo oo Mr Stark, Mr Lauder, please pay attention to me!

Desert Bus is an amazing charity that does things that matter to me a lot; it aims to be inclusive and respectful and indulgent, which is what I want out of my games. This year they passed the $5,000,000 lifetime earning mark, brought in dozens of amazing people, and in a tiny way, in the tiniest of ways, I was part of that. Not only was I part of that, but people involved in that worked to keep my contribution from falling away. They didn’t need my thing to raise that money, they didn’t need it. They could have kept it for next year, or told me sorry, you messed up, or sorry, we’re too busy.

They could have and they didn’t.

I feel ashamed that it’s necessary, but I am so, so grateful to the people who spent their time and effort in such an incredibly busy time to make something like that happen, to let me and Hazel be part of this.

Desert Bus is wonderful and good and as much as I hate the way I lose a week of my life just paying attention to this stream, I am so blessed by the work and actions of the people involved to be included in it.

Thank you, Desert Bus.

Story Pile: Star Trek: The Next Generation

At the start of this year I was in a really weird space when it came to free time. I was at the time, technically unemployed, because I had work contract coming, with the next semester, but at the same time, I didn’t have a job (or my PhD project yet). This meant that I has an absolute void of free time, and I sought things to fill it up.

And let me tell you.

There’s a lot of Star Trek.

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Say Your Name

I have beef with superheroes that wouldn’t ever use their own name.

Given the way I’ve been complaining about the Iron Fist series for the past two years, it really should stand to reason that I have a fine example of why a character wouldn’t use their superhero title, because Danny looks like a stupid asshole every time he says it. Now, the answer to why that’s a problem is because, as I’ve said many, many times, is that Danny sucks, but the real problem is that, right now, superheroes are being written and conceived as if they are too cool for hero identities.

Cool in this case not actually being a quality – you know, Luke Cage is super cool, for example. No, cool meaning aloof, possessed of a certain removed quality. That quality means these characters often don’t want to think about themselves as people others see them. Heroes who are tangled up in their own heads, but aren’t interested in being a public figure, aren’t interested in what their hero identity means to people around them.

This is the complex problem, and it’s complex because it often requires you to write a character with an inner life that is at odds with the simplified version of the superhero we see. In Daredevil, Matt Murdock does not call himself Daredevil – other people refer to him as the Daredevil. The identity is an observational one, and it doesn’t connect to the way the hero sees themselves. Sure, the Netflix Marvelverse is a fine place for this – you have basically five superheroes, and they are Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, The Iron Fist (Danny sucks) and the Punisher. Two of them are street names, one doesn’t like the title, one is Danny, who sucks, and whose use of the name is a literal joke, and the Punisher doesn’t go by his name either.

This carries through to the DC movie universe where Superman doesn’t have an S on his chest for superman, it’s the Kryptonian symbol for hope. Batman is Batman, but Batman is a symbol of terror, who brands people (though they seem to have quietly dropped that plot point). Wonder Woman introduces herself as Diana of Themyscira, Cyborg is a cyborg that calls himself Cyborg, while also being actively ashamed of being a cyborg.

Now why does this matter to me?

It matters because the ability to construct an identity, the ability to make a brand of the thing you are, is both empathetic and indicative of an inner life. You can’t create an illusion of what you are, you can’t make an identity if you’re not capable of considering how other people are feeling. You can’t create an identity, then inhabit it, without showing not only what you think, but how others think about it. That requires some empathy. That shows us some of your values. This is often drawn at a long series, that moment when a character finally dons their outfit, finally picks up their weapon, or maybe, just maybe, finally refers to themselves with their name.

He’s a character I regard as a complete tit, but I really like how Iron Man – the movie, not the guy – handle this. Tony is able to look at himself, look at the way people think of the identity of Iron Man, and makes the snap decision to be okay with wearing that identity.

In the end, these identities are created and assumed. These identities are the byproduct of empathy and values.

Many of these heroes don’t have those.

The irony is that of the lineup I’ve listed, the one who has the most values, the one who has shown the most concerted ideology of what he’s doing, and therefore the one constructing an identity is Luke Cage. He wants to be a symbol, he wants to matter to the people around him, and he wants that person to be someone the people around him can respect and look up to.

Anyway, this is just something that makes me mad. If your superhero would never use their name, they don’t belong in a story with that name in it. Just write a story that doesn’t use that word and stop pretending you want to write about superheroes.

Story Pile: Iron Fist, Season 2 – Danny

Joking aside, the fact is, I think Iron Fist Season 2 deserves some consideration as an object lesson for writers. It’s a series that has a structural problem – something is wrong in the way that the series is made, there’s a brokenness in it, and that break means that everything that connects to it is itself, in some way, sharing in that brokenness.

Spoilers, in a broad sense. I’ll tell you some of the plot points, but not in any kind of specific way.

The problem with Iron Fist, Season 2, is that Danny sucks.

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Friggin’ Venom

I’m seeing a lot of Venom fanart.

Some of it’s being shared by people genuinely horny for it, and we’ll just set that aside for now. Some folk are amused by it, who like the transgressive comedy in treating Venom and Eddie as if they’re boyfriends. It’s a fairly widespread thing, which has both a broad texture (in that there are lots of fairly specific opinions and niche representations of both symbiote and Brock), and almost entirely generic taste (it all kind of feels the same).

Mostly, I hate it.

In amongst this, someone pointed out that it’s weird how, in all this fanart, nobody can draw Tom Brady. He doesn’t look the same in any of them, sometimes not even from the same artist. They all wanna tell a story or show a moment, and yet, despite all of it, none of them seem to be able to represent the person they’re supposedly so driven to draw.

This is the kind of thing I’d normally find as kind of concerning. It’s not quite like how in Overwatch, where every artist brings their own style to the characters they draw and inevitably, the way they represent the unknowable or flexible facts of those characters’ bodies. That’s fine, that’s normal. What’s really strange to me about the Venom fanart is how utterly unable they are to ever represent anything of the character they’re trying to show.

But it doesn’t matter, because they don’t care. They don’t need to show him, because by being the guy with the Venom parasite he’s talking to, you know it’s Eddie Brock.

This is both excellent character design and terrible character design. Eddie is literally nothing, a vessel for Venom to exist next to; he can be anything, do anything, and there’s no reason to doubt or expect anything of him. There can be no out-of-character behaviour, and therefore, no really in-character behaviour. There’s nothing there to get wrong.

This is pretty saddening, really. Because people love this character, even though all he is is a set of fenceposts they can put whatever they want in the middle.

I’d love to put some sort of high-minded, positive coda here, some sort of ‘and isn’t it great that everyone can have that space to create in’ but, like, no. No, I actually find it super annoying that when critics point out problems the movie has, the work of criticism and analysis is discarded because The Venom In My Head Is Better Than The One You Saw, and therefore the critic must be clueless. I hate that a multi-million dollar movie franchise being made by someone who apparently doesn’t have a flipping face is given so many special breaks and given so much love not because of what it is but because of things it absolutely and definitely is not.

And as someone who makes things, who makes things for people to love, it makes me sad.

Because I can’t do that.

And I probably never will.

And that’s just how it goes.

Sorry about hating Venom. I’m sure not all you fans are just monster-frickers.


I’ve been informed that Tom Hardy is the actor I mean when I say Tom Brady and you know what, I’m willing to let that mistake stand because that’s how little of an impression Tom Buckley makes.

Story Pile: Iron Fist, Season 2 – Mary

Let’s get the bookkeeping out of the way. Here’s your spoiler warning, I discuss a character and their backstory and if you somehow wanted to go into Iron Fist for the surprise, then you want to skip out now. Mild content warning for mentioning traumagenic mental health issues.

Iron Fist has been cancelled, but I don’t really believe that. I think it’s much more likely that these shows have been shut down for a point of soft continuity with Netflix and Disney’s upcoming streaming service. There might not be any more of this Iron Fist but there almost certainly could be more if Disney decide it’s worth their return on investment.

The question that keeps coming up is why do this?

One might wonder why I feel the need, after consideration, to turn to the second Iron Fist season and engage with it critically. After all, the series has been cancelled; there will be no more of it. It’s gone, I’ve won. Right? That’s what critics do, they engage with media purely as part of a way of exerting their power on the object. Stop, stop, I won, it’s already dead! And what if someone out there really liked it? By criticising a thing they liked, am I not hurting them, am I not reflecting upon them and maybe making them feel bad, because my opinions and theirs disagree?

And here, I want to offer you comfort. Even if it was somehow meanspirited to kick this series while it was down, it is a multi-milion dollar project and everyone involved is doing fine. If you, personally, feel attacked by my talking about this series being bad, please, don’t read this article and go elsewhere. Live your life.

I want to talk about Iron Fist Season 2 because I like stories, I like this kind of story, and I want to talk about ways to do this kind of thing well. That means, when the time comes, recognising when something bad does something right. With that in mind, I want to talk about the best thing in Iron Fist, Season 2.

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Story Pile: Something YOU Make

Hey, there was meant to be an article here and there wasn’t, and so now you get this, which is me flying by the seat of my goddamn pants because reasons. Hey, no, you don’t get a big important Story Pile about Meaningful Themes because it’s NOVEMBER, which means people are doing NanoWriMo, and I wanted to take a moment to take you, and encourage you to make something.

I write Story Pile posts because I like looking at and thinking about the things stories tell us about ourselves and other people when we partake in them. I like stories, a lot, and I like it when a story does a good job of expressing itself, where the things that the story cares about are shown to matter to that story. It’s one of the most jarring things to watch a story that preaches nonviolence and truth to an ideal decide to chicken out and use a rules loophole, ala Avatar: The Last Airbender, or for a story to build itself around a central character who’s a Very Important Person that Everyone Cares About but the story presents that character as a thoughtless unlikable dick, like in Iron Fist.

What I want to encourage you to try instead is something that is thematically resonant, much smaller, and expresses something you want to exist. And I want you to make it despite the fact that there isn’t a big important genre legacy for it. I want you to make it despite the fact there aren’t millions of people taking part and getting mad at it and being insufferable to their friends. I don’t want you to spend November writing 50,000 words.

If you want a writing project this November, I want you to try out writing about 8,000 to 20,000 words, in the form of a Lite Novel, for Light Novelember 2018. But this isn’t the only thing you can make. You can offer to make illustrations for someone else’s story idea. You can make fake covers for books you want to see get made, but don’t know how to make. You can make the story for someone else’s cover! The point is not to get hung up on word counts and the novel as it is to express yourself in a way that means something to you. Something fun. Something indulgent.

Here are three basic reasons to do this instead of NanoWriMo.

1. NanoWriMo Encourages Volume

Hey, I may just be talking as someone who just marked 50,000 words of essays but do you know what’s really hard? Conveying good stories in small spaces. Know what’s comparatively easy? Waffling on and creating lots of excessive words while you watch a word counter go up because you can at least construct a coherent sentence while you’re following around this little buzzing bee in the back of your head.

The drive for word counts is the same thing as the drive for an aggressive update schedule, which is why Instagram hasn’t got any novels on it but it does have lots of boobs, and why Fifty Shades of Grey has so many pointless arguments between two people over nothing in spaces that are pretty much meaningless to the conversation. Once you get past the basics of how to commit to a story structure of beginning-middle-end, padding that word count gets easier and easier. Just introduce a new character. How about a twist and now it’s cyberpunk. Oh but now there are zombies!

This won’t get you a story. It’ll usually get you six or seven stories which individually, could be polished up into something pretty good, if you allowed yourself to leave them as small stories.

2. Small Stories Teach You

You may have a big epic trying to get out of you and that’s good. I don’t want to dissuade you. But big epic stories take a lot of time to make, and if you’ve never made anything else you’re going to make mistakes, mistakes that you won’t notice until you’re well along, and that may be too late to fix them, or it may make the whole project fall apart.

Small stories can change a lot. They can fix themselves. They can even be released, with their mistakes, because they didn’t take up months of your life. They can be learning experiences, and what’s more, when you make a small story, and share it, you’re sharing it with other people who may be scared to try stories too. They’ll see what you did, and recognise that it’s not so hard, and maybe they’ll make something as well.

If you think the first step to being a writer is writing a novel, you’re going to falter so many times before you can get there.

3. Nobody Will Make What You Make

There aren’t going to be people telling the stories that sing to you the same way as you do. Your stories may appeal to others in ways they weren’t expecting, but if you want to tell a story about nagas or tonberries or sentient talking strawberries or whatever, the easiest way to see that story come into existence is to make it yourself.

And I wouldn’t have thought of it.

It’s true!

You might find common ideas with other people, you might find inspiration in common, but in this space, there’s room for all sorts of oddball ideas, for your specific wants, to give voice to your specific desires for a story.

And it’s okay, because we’re here to tell stories and have fun. Make a story about smooching, or about rayguns, or about the bold trans dude biologist who saves the day by deducing the way to communicate with dragons through the bone structures of their jaws. This is a time to write something indulgent and not worry about if it’s serious enough or good enough or important enough to be treated ‘seriously.’

I have written about how to write a Lite Novel in the past. Here’s the guide to that. If you want to talk to me about this on Twitter, please do. This here is an unscheduled, off the cuff announcement, so I probably missed something.