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.


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: Echoes in the Dark

Last year one of my earliest Decemberween entries was the work of my friend Leastwise, aka Erik, aka Big Scrumples Downtown*. If you don’t want to click that link (and well, hey, who has the time), I talked about how we met playing The Secret World and more specifically, in its player-driven roleplay fiction space. Leasty showed in this case that he had both an appreciation for weaving the mystical with the real, and a historical leftist perspective that was a little more conducive to recognising just how much of our world’s bastardry was directly connected to extremely bastard people getting what they wanted, and how many interesting stories there were in a history that wasn’t written by the winners.

Leasty and I bemoaned how The Secret World didn’t really have an audience interested in our kind of storytelling and roleplaying, and while I went about my business here, Leastie was doing something about it.

Leastwise made a Blades in the Dark hack, called Echoes in the Dark. It’s a system, it has lore, and it’s designed to focus on desperate efforts in desperate times, but instead of the fixation on how that’s traumatic and breaks you, Echoes in the Dark wants to focus on how small groups of individuals against impossible forces can still make change, make things good, and lift together.

The principle borrows from the urban fantasy origin of The Secret World; you have these large conspiracies with their competing interests. They’re much like the factions of Blades, but instead of a dozen small groups of potentially varied character, these conspiracies are large and powerful but fractured into their many groups.

I think Leastie’s idea is great and I want you to check it out if that sounds interesting to you at all.

* Nobody calls him this

Game Pile: Axiom Verge

Alright, look.

This game, Axiom Verge, is a Metroidvania. Do you know what that term means? Do you know that term in a way that makes you use it instead of the term ‘exploration platformer?’ Okay, cool, good. If you don’t, there’s this great genre of interesting platform games and I’ve covered a few of them in the past; particularly, I really like Shantae, if you can handle a game that’s pretty horny and Cave Story, if you can handle a game that’s pretty hard.

I’m not saying that Axiom Verge is a bad game by bringing up these other, more approachable games. Axiom Verge is really pretty damn good. But as a game it feels to me that you probably need to have experience playing a Metroid game specifically to get your head around the way this game handles its spaces, enemies and resources. You want to know how videogames can glitch, about how things can fail in a way that games largely don’t do any more, except when it’s done deliberately. And you want to know how big a world can be, how to remember seeing things you can’t quite make work yet. It’s not even assumed knowledge – it’s just that Axiom Verge builds in a genre like few games I’ve ever played.

Axiom Verge is, as a game, a game for people who like Metroid games, and I feel like it’s pitched at the kind of player who can appreciate what this game does differently. It feels like a game that wants literacy in what it’s doing, because it can’t explain itself to you the same way other games in the genre do.

So, there’s your Videogame Review spiel. Axiom Verge is a videogame/10, I’ve mentioned Super Metroid and maybe implied that the game has enemies and resources and such. You can go buy it here, if you want to.


Now then.

Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

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.

MTG: Kamigawa Revamp, Part 3: Legendary

Wizards of the Coast Employees, this article is going to feature custom card designs.

We’ve talked about the structural problems of Kamigawa 1.0, but just to recap, the whole set is about six conflicting factions – five mono-coloured groups against the five-coloured omnishambles that is the Spirit faction. With that problem ‘examined’ last time, it’s time to attack the next structural problem: Legendary.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

MTG: Kamigawa Revamp, Part 2: The Kami War

Wizards of the Coast Employees, this article is going to feature custom card designs.

When you want to dismantle a set and fix it, it seems to me you should want to get down as close as possible to the basics of what went into that set. Strip it down, examine the central principles, and see what you can do to fix them. You need to find the things that made the set feel the way it did without, hopefully, carrying forwards the things that made it feel bad. Which means that you want to represent the same general factional struggle and strife, you want things to broadly still have the same boxes they can land in and in Kamigawa that means addressing the big flavour underpinning the whole thing:

The Kami War. Continue reading

Decemberween: Big Stevie Dee

First up hand on heart, I like Steve Dee‘s games. That’s a weird thing to disclose, because it’s normally the other way around. They’re not the kind of games I play, but I have bought some of them, because I like having them and they have good mechanical ideas that I can use for my own projects. That doesn’t reflect on my opinion of him as a person, though.

There’s this idea I have as a game developer that I want to hear from people who have something going on other than games development. Games Development As Identity is kind of how you wind up with these small, insular groupings of games that feel similar, even if they have huge or small budgets. There are lots of Games Developers who got into Games Development by being Games Developers.

Steve Dee came to my house this year, and he spoke to me about dogs.

He spoke to me about dogs, because he was here to give us lessons in understanding and helping our dog. Elli, who is a beautiful but somewhat silly dog. And in one afternoon, Steve was not only able to explain to me behaviour from our dog that bore out as true, but he was able to do it in a way that made sense to me.

That’s an under-appreciated skill in game design. You’re trying to communicate a way things work to people through rules, through game play. Steve has it, but crucially, Steve works at it.

Decemberween: My PhD Supervisor

This PhD scares the hell out of me.

It’s not a rational fear, by the way. From what I can tell the biggest part of the PhD is doing a lot of cataloguing so I can put my – fairly interesting but not groundbreaking – idea into a greater historical context. What I’m doing, the reason I want to be doing it, that’s clear to me – I want academia to be able to talk about games better, in terms of them as media objects, as things that let people see the world, heal themselves, understand complex problems, and solve bigger problems.

PhDs are not a small amount of work. I’m okay with the work.

What scares me about it is the idea that any minute now someone, anyone, will turn to me and say “Okay, but who do you think you’re fooling?” and I’m back in an ACE school where there’s a right answer and I picked the wrong one. This has never happened. It never will happen. It’s a persistent fear nonetheless.

But my supervisor recognises this messed up part of my head, and is kind enough to keep reminding me that I don’t need to think this way. Pushing me to build not just what I’m working on, but the tools and habits that are going to make me better at building it. Recognising very real things – like my grandmother dying and the importance of marking – while still driving me to expanding and improving where I’m weak.

It’s something that’s really helped on this incredibly weird journey.

I really appreciate it and I just wanted to say it’s very nice to have the feeling someone is in my corner. And I don’t want to let them down.

Announcing: Decemberween 2018!

I liked Decemberween last year. Just as how I try to spend October being spooky and April being self-indulgent, I wanted to spend December just celebrating things. December is a month of minimal-bummers, positive boosting and just straight-up gratitude and encouragement for the people around me. It’s a time to reconsider the things that have happened around me, boost other people’s projects and work in a non-urgent way, and reflect, hopefully, on the things that have happened this year that are good. I won’t be talking about my projects this month, downer topics or weirdo theories until the new year.

Game Pile, MTG, and Story Pile articles will continue – don’t worry about that!

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.

Continue reading

Project: Casino Worker Placement

The Pitch: It’s a wallet worker placement game, where you’re commanding a gang of The Suits inspired thieves hitting a casino, avoiding guards, and trying to have the best score at the end of the night, in a high contrast black-white-red style.


First up, I wanted this game to use a small number of cards, some tokens and to fit entirely into a gamecrafter style bag. That meant trying to use a small number of cards to create a space. What I got was when I looked at cards like this, it wasn’t just nine rooms, it was also a series of hallways between them.

hey look maw, I’m vaporwave.

These are nine rooms, and players can move any amount, but there are guards that block hallways – and you can move them, too, with the right game action. That means that in addition to trying to put your thieves in some rooms, the guards also limit where you can be, but they also let you block your opponents’ movement or make it less convenient.

Each room has a value like a poker card, but also a type and a special rule. So there might be a room that pays out to everyone in it, or a room that pays out to the player who pays the least, or whatever. So it is a worker placement – you put in a worker, you get a thing. At the end of the game, though, your workers’ positions represents a poker hand and that determines your share of the final payout from the heist.


The biggest barrier to this is … well, stuff on gamecrafter is harder to sell at conventions. People tend not to buy my stuff on Gamecrafter, and this would want to be Gamecrafter for its tokens-and-cards style, as well as the small bag.

Think there’s a demand enough to continue on this idea?

Queued Down

Well this is weird.

See, one of the things that this blog has been doing now for over a year now in its Daily Blog Adventure, is pretty much posting constantly, thanks to coordination from a bullet journal system I’ve gotten very comfortable using. Story Pile posts are usually a month or two out in advance.

It may surprise you that these Story Pile posts are in some cases very thoroughly researched. I double check the things I want to talk about. Sometimes I cut them down, sometimes a whole point of an article is removed because I simply don’t want to be mean. I was pretty harsh, I feel, in my final assessment of The Punisher series, but that final assessment was mild compared to the positively blistering rage I had for the series. I was genuinely offended that The Punisher wanted to try and represent itself as a series that could have an opinion about the question of gun control. That had chunks of talk about American attitudes towards guns and about what it means when you esteem a symbol of violence more than the lives of children, and… I cut it. I cut all of it because it wasn’t really that important. I don’t think everyone who watched The Punisher is watching it to make something of it, I think most of them watched it because they liked the character in Daredevil or somewhere else and they were curious.

Earlier in the month, my queue ran out.

Not entirely. There were still a lot of queued posts. I just haven’t done much in October, in part because it was the final month of the semester, and its closing argument was marking every student’s work as quickly as possible. This is non ideal. It also means that over the course of four days, I have been reading roughly two books worth of text, then double checking that to existing media and texts I know, conferring with other tutors, then providing feedback in a way the student can grapple with.

Simply put, I’ve been pretty fried.

Then I look at the things I could Story Pile About. I was looking forward to the end of October and the Spooky Month because it meant I could Story Pile about anything again. I could write about whatever cool thing seized me. I had a list! I have a list! There’s Netflix shows and movies and albums and books and I have really, really enjoyed reconnecting with older stories as I share them with my nephews. But important to all this is that my Story Pile posts are actually pretty hard to just hammer out. Even when I’m talking about something I know well, I still need to spend time referencing it, still need to spend time checking it out.

That’s something I hope you appreciate. I don’t shoot from the hip with my Story Pile posts. They’re meant to be interesting and thoughtful. To some extent I want to be able to justify what I have to say about a piece of media even if I’m being a sassy jerk.

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.