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.

Piles of Piles

I’m going to do a thing this month, where the Story Piles are going to also be themselves, small piles. Each Story Pile this month is going to be, rather than a deep dive on one thing, a handful of quick comments or impressions on some media I have opinions on but somehow didn’t find find so interesting I had a whole longer article about it.

This feels a bit like an expression of defeat for me, where I have long since held the opinion that anything is interesting, that anyone can write about anything in a way that makes it interesting, it’s just a matter of finding the ways to connect it to the audience. Making them into a sort of general potpourri is giving up on opportunities to maybe, one day, later, coming back to these story pile pieces with a good angle on a fresh take.

Yet I’ve had some of these ideas sitting in the wings for a while, and I’ve honestly forgotten about a bunch of them. To clear my plate like this is an act of catharsis, a form of release. If I can spend a whole month talking about Voltron, because I wanted that space for the many things in it, I can spend a whole month skipping clean over things that were Good But Not Great, or Meh But Not Grandly So, or maybe Good But You Don’t Need Me Saying It.

Thanks to services like Netflix and Stan, I can just compile lists of things I’ve watched, and then come back to see that list later. This is a fun exercise in recontextualisation, because it will sometimes show me things I watched very close to one another and how one led me to the other. It shows me what I started but didn’t finish. And most interestingly, it shows me the things I forgot I saw until I looked at the list.

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Story Pile: Nation

It’s kind of sad but as a young man I really had no idea what people did to make conversation. My earliest fumbling attempts to talk to people about things are these cringe-inducing things where as an adult I either waited for them to test me on subjects I understood from school, or, worse, tried to tell them about a thing from church that they had to know.

I was really obnoxious.

Anyway, one of the things I learned people talk about, is media they like. And that meant I had to try and share the things that resonated with me, and inevitably, the one thing in this vein that didn’t wind up bringing more shame on me was the work of Terry Pratchett. The problem with recommending Terry Pratchett is that Discworld, his largest body of work, is 47 books long, the ones at the start are kind of ‘wrong’ at representing the brilliance of the later books, but the later books make reference to a world that the earlier ones define, expanding on the complicated world that even Terry was kinda winging it through. No matter how excellent Discworld is, it’s not a book you can give someone, it’s a homework assignment. There isn’t a really simple, singular work to hand someone and say ‘this is a way to enjoy this author and learn if you like work they do,’ not in the Discworld books.

How wonderful then, is it to have the book Nation to share.

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April Shirt: Etoile League!

I considered doing something special for April on this month of trying to express more of me. At the same time, I just couldn’t think of anything that worked – not really. That stuff doesn’t happen under pressure for me, and for a bunch of my shirts (like Ray of Tsunshine) where I want a copy immediately after making it.

Instead, then, something else. Someone else.

This week would have been the fifteenth anniversary of City of Heroes. I’ve already made shirts that celebrate the universities across Paragon City. If you know that setting, you’ll know that there’s a bias, where four of the Universities were in hero zones, and one in villain zones.

I always found the culture of City of Villains interesting – literally the culture. If you never knew the setting, there was one area, the Etoile, which was known as the ‘City of Villains.’ It was overseen by a corrupt superstate, and had all these different zones with really specific cultural notes. Mercy Island was plagued by poisoned water and a snake cult; Port Oakes organised crime and ghost pirates (seriously). Cap Au was a super-science city with a demon in the reactor powering it up. Sharkhead was a steelworks where the literal ghost of an unjustly slain labor unionist rose up to kill guards. Saint Martial was a casino town, with the wealthiest of jerks in charge.

And, well, based on a conversation with a friend, Jeb Wrench, about the nature of sports in poor communities near America, with limited space, we came to the conclusion that the kids of the Etoile probably play basketball. Where there is play, there is organised play. Where there is organised play, there will, eventually, be branding – even if it’s a bit cheap, a bit weak. And thus… we get this.

There was also Grandville, Nerva, and Bloody Bay but those are tricky and I’m already making five shirts here, dangit.

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Story Pile: Baccano

I so rarely get to enjoy having something I think of as great being one of my favourites.

I’ll often review work that I think of as being excellent, or important, or meaningful, and often with a lens that I try to position outside myself. I am after all, not a particularly useful or meaningful lens for other people to use, and that can often mean that work resonating with me is often a sign that it shouldn’t resonate with anyone else.

I don’t think anyone else was a screaming, terrified mess during The Little Mermaid, for example.

Imagine then my joy at finding a good anime – I know! – that means something to me – oh my goodness – and is actually good in general!

Baccano is a light novel series by Ryōgo Narita that was subsequently turned into an anime, and that anime is one of my three favourite anime series of all time. Set – mostly – in 1930s Prohibition-era America, Baccano! is told as a series of disconnected, out-of-order scenelets that keep three time periods going, and in each of those stories, sometimes two or three or even five stories going on all at once.

There’s a rollicking pace to Baccano! which splits its time lines across multiple light novel stories transpiring at the same time, almost all designed that knowing the end of one of the three stories will illuminate all of them, and therefore, rather than tell you in chronological order (which would probably still be plenty of fun) it instead ping-pongs you from moment to moment when characters are largely aware of things differently to you.

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Term: Narrative Adventure

I need a term for something, so let’s invent it.

The term is going to use some language to represent a thing, and that language is going to need some history. That history is going to need some context, and some caveats, some asterisks, etcetera. Also, some of what I’m going to talk about can be seen as a polite disagreement with Ian Danskin’s videos on The Death of Guybrush Threepwood, essays from 2015.

Way to strike while the iron is gone.

What I want to talk about today is a particular family of games, or what we might know as a genre of games. Genre’s a beast of a thing to nail down, and I’ve said so in the past – it’s a well-established canard that ‘JRPG’ and ‘FPS’ are both genres even though one is defined by a country of origin and the other by a camera angle. Still, genre’s the term we have, so genre is what we must use, I guess, I’m only trying to invent one thing at a time here.

There is a type of game, and we don’t have a good term for it, right now, or at least, I haven’t seen one. I can’t tell you what I mean by naming the term we use for it, because if I do that you’ll immediately think of those games and only those games that are closest to it, and we want to keep our minds open here. We want to maximise the coverage of this terminology.

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Story Pile: Young Justice (But Really Just ██████)

Young Justice is a 2010 animated TV show made by a collection of animators, artists, storytellers and writers that we tend to front with Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman, for the Cartoon Network and at this point it seems that it’s something of a meme about just how very, very good it is. Talking to you about it like it’s some forgotten gem that is actually secretly amazing and great and you’d never have heard of it feels a bit silly. This show is on Netflix, it’s widely distributed and available and you, dear reader, almost definitely can check it out.

I’m not going to tell you anything you didn’t already know or couldn’t find out on your own and I get all itchy and awkward when I think that I’m putting on airs of liking something more obscure than it really is. After all, people like me grew up acting like we were the oppressed minority because we didn’t like what ‘the man’ put on radio, and instead listened to the things that were put on another, slightly different radio station, showing that we were, in fact, rebellious and different.

This self-feeding dialogue that there’s something countercultural about buying things from a slightly different multinational corporation always makes me uncomfortable about acting as if talking about a tv show or videogame is in any way illuminating of some obscure classic or enlightening you about some sort of fascinating garbage. I try to be as direct and honest as possible about my personal reactions to these things. With that in mind, I think Young Justice is really great. It’s got one great season and one kind of awkward season; as with almost all 2000s era animation it could have afforded a better budget and more chances to plan. You know, the Korra problem – if it’d been better made it’d be a better show.

Nonetheless, Young Justice is a story set in the DC universe, with its superhero crew, that doesn’t need any other series as context, explains itself directly, gives fresh takes on a bunch of the characters if you already know them, and it’s basically one of the best ways to enjoy something that’s about the DC Superhero Universe without being mired down in ten miles of lore.

But we’re doing something a little different this time. I don’t want to talk about this series as much as I want to talk about something in this series, and I want to talk about the challenges of talking about it.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be heavy, this is just a lot of preamble for a lot of gushing.

But because this is different and because it’s nonstandard, I have a sort of special request. If you’re a woman interested in comics and superheroes, or if you’ve had The Genders, if you’re nonbinary, and if you’ve been on the fence about watching this show, wondering about whether or not there’s anything you want to see in it, I would ask you to check it out and come tell me what you thought about it.

Because there’s something I see in this, and I’ve seen someone else see it, but now I want to see who else sees it.

Okay, good? Good.

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Making Light Novel Covers

Hey, you know those Light Novel covers I make?

I started making them as a joke, and that joke showed a receptive audience. Since they were so easy joke for me to make, and making them helped to inspire the creation of the kind of Light Novel they suggested, I figured it might not be a bad place for you to start on that kind of thing if you want.

Here’s a breakdown of what goes into the making of this cover:

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Story Pile: Transformers Animated

As a boy of my age I feel it seems only natural that I would be a fan of Transformers, one of the franchises from my youth that somehow managed to be acceptable in a landscape of anti-fun fundamentalism. Perhaps it was something about the fact that they were all robots-that-turned-into-things, or maybe the fact that the toys were honestly really expensive for my childhood experience, but somehow, I was able to get into Transformers, in the fashion of someone who read all the lore he could find in the dollar shops and salvo stores.

The actual TV show was screened at times I missed, and the movie was important to my upbringing, but it wasn’t really until I hit adulthood that I was able to watch the TV series that Transformers had as their extended commercials. This meant that I got to see the best one.

Transformers Animated was the last pre-Bayformers animated series, and there was, at the time, some rumbling that the series got kicked in the neck because it was trying to clear toy shelf space for the movie tie-ins. This is probably nonsense, but it still helped to fuel some resentment towards the (actually also quite bad) live-action movies. And that’s a shame, because my first feeling about Transformers Animated when I bring it to mind should not be, if I had my preferences, any kind of spite or sadness about it.

It should be joy, joy at this wonderful, fun series.

Transformers Animated had a teen sidekick, people of colour, a technofuturist vision of Detroit, shapeshifting superheroes, at least one examination of war crimes and the loss of identity, and the best Grimlock ever put to Transformers media. It’s a punchline for its art style and that’s a damn shame because it’s absolutely excellent.

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Making Big Things Small

It’s easy to make bigger things into smaller things.

Sometimes when I talk about a movie or a book or a tv series I’ll do it in a way that makes the content of that thing pretty insignificant to some other point I want to make. You don’t learn a damn thing about how to play Hyrule Warriors from me, but if you read the book you know some fundamental postmodern theory. In that, a big idea is crunched down into a smaller thing.

This has presented an awesome and dreadful problem for writing about two things I wanted to write about this month. First, the Animorphs series, a set of 64 books published over 7 years, and which mean an awful lot to me. It would be hard, if not impossible, for me to write an article about that series without discarding the enormity of what that series means to me. Animorphs is, to me, a very important series of books, and the importance of them involves a lot of quietly glossing over, let’s say, weaker bits, and the Very Different Time.

But if Animorphs is too big to talk about in one article, there is a vastness to the impact on my life of the work of Terry Pratchett. It is an embarassment perhaps to those of you who believe people shouldn’t be getting valuable life lessons from young readers’ books about gnomes and wizards, but I owe an enormous amount of my actual human character, the metaphors for my own existing to the work of this man. Do I discuss every book, one by one? That’s too much for a month – hell, the task of rereading every Pratchett book over the course of a year asks for a book a week, which is a pretty heavy task.

I could have filled this month with my favourite Pratchett books. With weeks of discussion of the Animorphs. But even then, doing that would feel, in a weird way, like a waste. They deserve more and better. They deserve to be enjoyed and approached without being a way to understand me. These works are, in my mind, a sort of holy writ: Not because they were rendered by the divine, but because they were so clearly not, and they gave me tools I needed to make me.

We’ll talk about some Pratchett stuff this month. I couldn’t not. But narrowing it down to two Pratchett books to talk about would be a hard task, to give you perspective on this.


Funny-odd not funny-haha but maybe funny-snort-through-the-nose-at-the-momentary-irony is that the role of someone who shows you the big things in small things is sort of the purpose of this blog. There are so many huge interesting things out there and so often we hide them from ourselves and think they have no relevance or interest to our lives. It is not even that I am capable of doing this to everything, or that I should be your font for all lineages of the vast, it’s just that I love to do it, love to show the vast in the small like it’s a kind of personal magical trick.

And when I sit down and seriously talk to myself about the excellent, the truly wonderful work that I love so much I cannot help but share it, I find myself lost.

There is simply too much that is too good.

I Like: Mystery Funhouse Tournament

This started with a friend of mine: abadidea. She’s been interested in the speedrunning community for a few years now, and as of this year, after AGDQ, she’s been putting effort into becoming a speedrunning commentator. The place she’s started is with the Mystery Funhouse Tournament channel, which if you’re not familiar, is a place that does blind speedruns of short games.

The Mystery Funhouse does a lot of different kinds of content; there are speed-run races of big games that are too big to fit in spaces like GDQ or normal Hotfix tournaments. There are blind speedruns of indie games, and there are to-a-goal speedruns of extremely difficult-to-speedrun games as well.

Now this is a bit more General Twitch than I normally recommend! But thanks to having a friend on commentary, I can feel a little more reassured that this place isn’t going to drop the occasional Heated Gamer Moment. It’s interesting stuff to watch, open for public submissions, and a good way to get into Speed Running in a position where the community are engaged and the stakes could not be lower.

Check it out!

Invisible Ink

I like this metaphor.

I’ve always liked invisible inks. As a young boy, my culture came through 1950s annuals and second-hand-store copies of adventure stories, where rather than having ‘arts and crafts’ techniques there were things like ‘be an international spy.’ This taught me knots (which I’ve largely forgotten but for a few handy ones) and cryptography (which I’ve largely forgotten but for a few entertaining ones) and because if you’re being a spy, you need some invisible ink.

And there were techniques about writing in lemon juice and writing in water and writing in dissolved metals and things that were, at some point in the 1950s, household items, and inevitably those instructions let me craft messages to put on paper, completely ignoring that as a child, in my tiny closed environment, there was literally nothing I could write on a piece of paper that the people around me would be interested in reading, let alone anything I needed to keep secret. Maybe they’d find one of my pieces of paper with moist lines of probably-dried-fluid on them, and decide it was time to get to the bottom of the kind of secrets a nine year old who literally never went anywhere but church or a small wooden box at school.

A friend did a writing course, just after the end of City of Heroes. There, he read the book Invisible Ink and took notes, sharing them with me, because I didn’t have a copy for the book. Since then, I’ve used the term invisible ink to refer to story elements that the story puts forwards, in ways that the audience can experience, but without ever needing to state.

Sometimes, you’ll see people confused by a story, because the story assumed you’d know something that the story never told you. That can sometimes be a sign of a disjointed story, and it’s worth considering why that happened. Sometimes, though, sometimes, it’s a sign that the audience can’t see the invisible ink. Why does this super queer text read obviously queer to queer people, and not to het people? Why does this Australian character enrage Australian audiences when they seem fine to Americans? What’s the appeal of Kath and Kim and why did it fail?

I think about this, because one, I think that the invisible ink we leave behind is more interesting than our deliberate choices. Two, and perhaps more damningly, is because I remember being without any of the way to see these invisible inks. Imagine getting into culture in the year 2001 without any idea at all about the common metaphors of film.

I’ve had to do a lot to construct myself, and a lot to understand invisible ink.

Story Pile: Lilo & Stitch

A measure, to some extent, of the quality of a work is the degree to which the moments that matter to that story stay with you. This isn’t my observation; it was first brought to my attention by Cracked when they asked a character (and by proxy the audience) if they could name a single line from the 2009 movie Avatar. Most people I’ve asked can’t, and this doesn’t seem to be atypical.

But this month, I’d like to look at some things that matter to me – in some cases, a lot – and rather than run down a bad (garbage, awful, not good, not interesting, waste of money) movie like Avatar for its failings, I instead want to speak to a movie for its virtues, and a movie that has given me a quote that I can bring to mind easily, and love deeply.

Let’s talk about Lilo & Stitch, a Disney family movie – that is, the best Disney family movie. Spoilers ahoy!

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D&D Memories: Shen Marrowick

We do this these days, right?

We talk about our D&D Characters?

Okay.

I am a firm believer in the idea that when you present a character to the players at the table, they need a handle on the character. They need to be able to grasp the character quickly so it’s often best to start with a basic archetype or story point. You want to occupy the space in the story, you don’t want to have to explain that place you want in the story.

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Story Pile: Touhou

Oh, yes really.

We’re doing this.

Touhou Project, Touhou, or Project Shrine Maiden, or whatever you want to call it, is a set of characters coexisting in a somewhat loosely aligned storytelling space first originated from the work of Team Shanghai Alice, which is to say, the entire staff of Team Shanghai Alice, which is to say, one person, ZUN, who has made (at least) 27 Touhou games since 1996. While the conventional vision of these games is bullet hells, and ZUN’s work definitely features that, there are Touhou games that ZUN didn’t make, and these include puzzle platformers, dungeon crawlers, RPGs, even a one-on-one fighting game.

The Guinness Book of Records, as of 2010, has instituted Touhou Project as “the most prolific fan-made shooter series,” which I think is a really stupid description because it suggests that ZUN is somehow a fan and not a creator in their own right, but it’s not wrong because a large body of the work that ‘is Touhou’ is not made by ZUN, and that collected third party stuff includes professional products.

This is extremely weird: It’s weird because conventionally, the vision of how work like this gets made has a certain degree of ownership and permission.

You can’t just make a Touhou game, I assume, you have to ask if you can.

At least, that’s how it works in the places I’m used to working.

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Making Fun: Years Later

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

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

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Story Pile: Bleach (The Movie)

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

but

how.

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

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

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

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

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Story Pile: Castlevania

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

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

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

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

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

Then I watched it, and…

Oh boy, is this the Good Shit.

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Why Does Christian Media Suck Ass?

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

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

This is a pattern.

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

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

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

What gives?

I have a theory.

No, wait, I have a hypothesis.

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

None of us set out to fall.

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

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

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

Vancian Magic Is For Posh People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Like: The Technical Difficulties’ Citation Needed

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

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

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

Story Pile: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

This show rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this show is great.

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March Shirt: GEN 8 STARTERS!

Woop woop let’s back this up!

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

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

Here are the designs:

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

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

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

Should go back to the normal schedule next month!

I Like: Now Kiss

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

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

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

It’s good stuff, check it out.

Smoochin’ Algorithm Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Pile: My Dragon Girlfriend

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

February Shirt: Shippin Lovin Smoochin

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

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

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

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

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Accent Bullshit

I’m a bit sore about accents.

One of the problems is that my accent is one of those ones that’s kind of definitively seen as a joke. You don’t hear an Australian accent, and when you do hear it, it is almost never done by an actual Australian. The most famous Australian actor in the world right now puts on an Olde English accent most of the time.

In part this conversation was spurred by Olly of PhilosophyTube, who is a perfectly fine chap and I don’t mean any disrepect by, but he recently did a video that was presented as a riff on ‘How I’d Fix [Franchise]’ videos, during which he did the whole thing in a very artificial American accent.

The purpose behind it was that this voice was both meant to be playing a character, and to help hook people into a way of viewing ‘the housing market’ as a thing that doesn’t actually do what it’s presented as doing. Plus it played within an existing Youtube genre of extremely tired, annoying fanfiction that’s just jam-packed full of extremely ordinary white guys. It was affect, right? That was the point. It wasn’t meant to sound good, so what’s the point?

The point is that the overwhelming thought I had, through the whole video, was not ‘Oh hey, clever use of the genre’ or ‘good point there, Olly me old chum, maybe we should eat the rich,’ but rather the much more constant ‘jesus christ this accent sucks.’

Which isn’t new, he’s done this before. He’s impersonated an Australian accent, For Hilarious Effect, which touches on one of my raw nerves.

I have some sympathy for voice actors on this front. After all, in the United States, the most common form of voice acting is the way that almost all news presenters adopt an identical locational affect – it’s really specific in fact. Numerous voice actors take on roles that aren’t true to their own backgrounds, and voice acting can be much more about projecting an affect that can communicate a lot through a very small amount of experience.

Plus, I don’t want to stand here and talk about this like it’s a form of cultural intrusion. That’s a much more chancy sphere, and the last thing the world needs is a white guy standing here telling other people how they should communicate. That’s super obnoxious (and part of why it angers me when Americans do it to me).

If you want to look at the way this sphere of media is fraught, in Downsizing there’s Hong Chau’s character Ngoc Lan Tran. Tran spoke in that movie with a really heavy Vietnamese accent and broken English – an accent she said she derived from her own family.It was something of a hot topic for people to complain about this accent and even flat-out call it racist, for her to have it. I’m not here to defend the movie or how the movie depicted it, but people were saying that the accent Hong Chau chose that evoked her own Vietnamese heritage was ‘wrong,’ and made her sound like a joke. People criticised the accent, and then they asked her about where she got it from.

That’s part of the problem with this sort of cultural imperialism: You’re made to feel your own voice is inherently non-serious. That you’re not a person, you’re a comedy prop.

You know we were going to get to this.

I hate Junkrat. I hate that Junkrat is meant to be Australian. I hate that he’s voiced by a Californian. I hate that other Australians love him. I hate how Overwatch treats Australia, because, boy howdy, is that some extremely racist stuff. But even if I didn’t hate all that, even if I didn’t hate who Junkrat is meant to be and what Junkrat is meant to be about, his accent would still suck.

And that means whenever I hear Junkrat talk, I don’t hear an Australian accent or a New Zealand accent. I hear an American, projecting to other Americans, an accent that’s meant to be about my part of the world. And all that time means every time I hear Junkrat talk, I’m pulled out of whatever fiction he’s meant to represent and just reminded that, oh yeah, this voice.

I personally feel that an accent is one of those things where we forgive you if you’re good enough. If I can’t tell your accent is fake, then it doesn’t matter that it’s fake. It’s basically diegetic, and that’s pretty interesting and weird.

Also, Olly’s like, on Patreon and Blizzard are one of the highest-paid gaming companies in the world. That’s a factor too.