This month, I wanted to do some pride themed shirts like last year, a shirt a week, but I just didn’t have a lot of inspiration for them, and, uh…
One of the things I like the most about pride is flags, because I am a huge dork. I don’t go to parades, and I’m a bi dude so Pride is also this common space where I get to watch myself get erased and forgotten and – like, lots of stuff in that space that kinda sucks. But flags, flags are cool!
I also liked my candy hearts design from earlier in the year, and I like the way they’re these like, badly printed, nearly-good representations of the things they’re representing. I like that a lot, and so I made this design that used my candy heart design and some flags I like.
In the Groundbreaking Award Winning Traumatising War Anime That Somehow Only Ever Got Produced As A Series Of Scholastic Young Adult Fiction Science Fantasy Novels, Animorphs, there’s this character, and his name is Ax. Well, his name is Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, which you may recognise in the middle as ‘what you get when you slap your hand on a keyboard and then try to make it look like you actually a word,’ but he’s called Ax, by his friends and cohort of fellow pro-human terrorists freedom fighters, and he’s from the other evil empire of the Andalites, a force in contest with the series’ longstanding villains, the brain-puppeteering Yeerks.
Because everything in this setting is meant to give a teenager some form of prolonged anxiety, rather than being a small slug that crawls in your ear, and flattens across your brain and takes over your body so perfectly nobody will ever realise it’s happened to you, the Andalites are instead, a race of purple centaurs with scorpion tails, the ability to read minds, and developed technology that lets them shapeshift into literally any living creature around you, including dangerous ones and unnoticeable ones, and you just have to deal with that.
Man, Animorphs was a trip.
When Ax joined the group, being a big ole centaur with a scorpion tail and no torso, read the description the cover art is a lie, there were some things he couldn’t readily do, like socialise and visit the mall and wear overalls and scrunchies (as were the style at the time), because his body as structured didn’t have it. In order to partake in Human Society and its Important Social Bonding times, Ax used the Andalite shapeshifting technology to take DNA samples from all the other Animorphs, and merge them together to make himself a new identity that mixed together the phenotypes of all four available humans. The result was someone the story described as –
And I am talking about a teenaged character here, and whose memories and relationships and feelings I have from when I read it, as also a teenager so don’t go getting weird on me here –
in essence, he’s described as hot, but kinda unsettling.
Ax takes on a masculine gender, despite being composed of two human boys and two human girls, and, because I can’t check the books right now one must assume zero hawks. And this is one of those things back in the 1990s that makes no sense in hindsight, because in the 1990s media was doing its damnedest to pretend that queerness existed in exactly one of two ways: A single gay man you could keep at arm’s length but deem yourself enlightened for tolerating, or someone who crossdressed and didn’t get run out of town for it. I’d love to say ‘it was a different time,’ but no, it was that time, and it sucks.
See, okay, it’s one thing to point out that if you were an alien making a human identity out of mashing up four chunks of human DNA, on the spot, by shapeshifting magic nonsense science, the idea that you’d get a strict, simple binary identity is weird. These days it’d be a perfect opportunity to have Ax have a nonbinary gender, especially since so much of gender is social.
But also, and this is now like, a secondary to pride thing about Wasted Opportunity To Express Nonbinary Icon Ax, Ax does a lot of things that uh, kinda just read as autistic? Not to us – not to the readers necessarily – but to other people, he does things like get obssessed with reiterating and replaying words, stimming with the way different words work, or being overwhelmed with eating things – and like, the same specific thing. Ax eats something and then he eats it again and then he eats it again, because he really, really wants to experience that over and over again.
Now part of this is just the nature of a written book. When you read a character’s inner dialogue, one of the side effects is that a character is always describing their thinking as if they are describing their thinking. It’s not visual, it’s typically detail oriented, and it often involves a character working out an explanation for how characters are behaving. Bonus, in Ax’s case, he routinely misunderstands the focus of a question, and needs someone to clarify what they are focusing on.
There’s a lot of complicated questions about what ‘male’ in one culture means vs ‘male’ in another culture, so it by definition is pretty challenging to say that, in our society, what Ax is what we would assign male at birth or assign female at birth, because Ax was Andalite Centaur At Birth (ACAB).
There’s a question about what kind of hormonal or environmental changes that are allowed to happen to the body that morphing can inherit, too? Like despite the fact these kids are shifting back and forth out of human bodies all the time, there’s no notable difference in how they age, which suggests that these bodies are maintaining some sense of what’s happened to them, their overall age and the like. But also we know that shapeshifting lets you regrow lost limbs (because this is a series that gets metal as hell), which also implies that the bodies are able to differentiate between some changes like injuries versus epigenetic changes like the byproduct of quantities of hormones distributed across the body. We also know that allergies can get involved, so systems on the layer above DNA are doing stuff. And we also know the people that mix up the soup that makes Ax includes a black girl and a biracial Hispanic kid.
Anyway, point is that Ax has every room to be a nonbinary trans autistic culture mix alien icon and we missed it because the culture was wasting its time with ‘a gay teenager? What would that even be like?’
No doubt your favourite professional full-time know it alls have told you that dual wielding is unrealistic and bad and sucks and deprives you of a shield, but my counterpoint is shut up nerd. And when I’m thinking about extremely cool things where the realism doesn’t matter, I think about Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition–
Which is the best edition.
Here then are five different ways you can wield it both ways:
Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose. This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.
“So, are they fire, or rock?” “Oh my god, they can’t be both,” “Or something else, in between?” “They’re going to have to make their mind up.”
It’s tough being a lava-powered enby. Humans can handle the ‘my skin turns into lava’ part but they get all weird about the ‘gender’ thing, like that’s somehow the big deal. Elementals don’t know what the gender thing is even about, but they’re also really bad company when you talk about music and fashion.
Vinn’s doing the best they can, with what they got.
You know that game I talk about, from time to time, that game I play, that game, you know that game, that lets you play a character that you create, made through an immersive character customisation system, then you get to choose how they look, get to pick their graphical representation, get to choose maybe how they relate to the world, some beloved contacts and friends and factions that mean a lot to them, and how there’s a lot of fanart of characters made in that game and how they’re all about getting to express and explore this element of a wonderful world with this really exuberant kind of approach to expressing yourself? That game? You know? Final Fantasy XIV?
I kid, I kid. Final Fantasy XIV is a fascinating game full of interesting stuff, I’m told, and it’s fun, I’m told, and I should give it a shot, I’m told. It’s definitely got all the makings necessary for this particular phenomenon – though I don’t imagine it will cross the final threshold necessary any time soon.
See, what I want to talk about here is how a game dies, and what rises out of it.
Magic: The Gathering, a Wizards of the Coast product, a Hasbro Partner, is doing things for Pride this month. As they do. As they have done. And it’s hard to grapple with Corporate Pride and this game as a material space doing deliberate actions to include more people.
I think it’s important to remember there are three basic layers of ‘Pride’ at work here. And every detail about Wizards of the Coast as it relates to pride, as a deliberately inscrutable internally silent business, is going to have to be filtered through the fact that this is still the company that treated Orion BlackLike This.
A long time ago, and by that I mean ‘before 2020’ I spoke to a friend about the Rangers from Babylon 5, where I described the telescoping bo staff for use in combat in space ships where people had space lasers and psychic powers as being both extremely sick and extremely dumb. They then thoughtfully considered that the specific intersection of those two ideas was in fact, the entirety of their jam and I kind of agree with them.
I also have spoken about how ‘queer media’ is in some cases kind of isolated to these spaces where it invokes specific varieties of heavily introspective and personal narratives. It’s your artsy queer films or single moments expanded out into whole narratives, like a repeated argument over a dinner table, that kind of thing. These narratives are not in any way bad, but I don’t like talking much about them. Partly because they are just generally not resonant with me, and partly because they aren’t fun.
I like talking about fun media.
I like talking about the media we engage with because we enjoy it. I like talking about things that excite and inspire, because I don’t think those are separate things. The idea that ‘good’ movies and ‘popular movies’ are opposite elements frustrates me, as a devotee of the subconscious matter of pulp media.
And also, like, good fun media is really hard to make? It’s treated as if it’s a lesser form because big, expensive movies do it and do it a lot, but as with TISM’s expression: pop songs aren’t just more fun, but the constraints of popular media create tension that you can’t necessarily replicate with media that explicitly resists that form.
Jolene is a 1973 country song by Dolly Parton. Without being overblown about it, Jolene is one of those songs that has its own wikipedia page. In a Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time, it sits in the top half, at 217, and while that entire idea of a list is silly, it shouldn’t escape notice that at least one person with a lot of free time was able to remember it when they tried to compile a list of 500 anythings. That’s too many things.
This song is one of those rare classic soncs that I actually like, but it isn’t exactly one I sing along to or even listen to very often. It’s very mournful and soulful and, as performed originally, it’s a song that’s as much about how much e m o t i o n you can club your audience with. It’s great.
A few years ago, a version of it ‘went viral’ inasmuch as they can, where someone took the original record and played it on a record player at 33 rpm – basically, slowing the whole track down.
This changes the way it sounds, of course. It stays soulful and sad, but now there’s an additional dimension to it. And this did create the feeling of a totally different person with a different sound of voice looking at the song. Sometimes it’s seen as sounding creepy and sometimes it’s seen as scary and sometimes it’s seen as haunting.
And that was a pretty cool find and resulted in a sort of resurgence of the song in my space around me. Suddenly, a bunch of people who weren’t born in the first half of the last century were pointing out that hey, Jolene rules.
Look it’s not a long reach to listen to Jolene and notice that the protagonist seems to be very impressed with how pretty Jolene is. We have no idea about the dude. Apparently, he’s worth fighting Jolene for, but… we don’t know what he’s like.
But we know Jolene is pretty.
Anyway, so that’s neat!
Thing is, there’s also this other take on Jolene that was first brought to my attention by Andi McClure of Mermaid Heavy Industries. She pointed out that there was a reading of the text where ‘Jolene’ was the man in question; that is, that Jolene is the feminine identity of the ‘man’ the singer perceives as ‘hers.’ Watching her partner struggle with her identity, she sees it as someone ‘taking’ him away from her.
Anyway, it’s wild because despite the fact this song doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, thanks to years of reiteration and attention, and being recontextualised through modern lenses, it’s kinda neat how the song’s become… pretty queer.
Okay, so, basic little card game idea: I’m thinking about a game about hooking up at cons.
Now let’s be clear, this is not a game about salacious details at cons. I am not, and have not been, a casual con sex haver, and queerness is not explicitly tied to queer sex. But queer sex is a thing many queer people do, from time to time, in between getting milk and playing Fallout: New Vegas. And when it comes to queer furry cons, I understand that a lot of people, without people to connect to in their home places, will take the opportunity to have some low-commitment, experimental and experiential up-shacking with people who make them feel connected and related to. And so, a game.
Have you enconutered the term ‘TERF’ and left wondering: Wait, what’s that?
There are some people, TERFs mostly, who think that TERF is a slur. It’s not; slurs are terms used to direct social power against a marginalised group. If you shout TERF at someone on the street, they’re not going to assume someone else is going to attack them because of being so painted. If they are, they’re incredibly paranoid, because TERFs are typically very privileged people who are afraid of being criticised by trans people.
It may sound like I am overdoing it, but I really am not. The typical TERF discourse is an attempt to weaponise outrage at the idea of women facing disagreement from, pretty consistently, other women. But what is a TERF? And what about those other -ERF terms I’ve heard?
So, content warning: TERF stuff! And SWERF stuff! And BLERF stuff! What’s a BLERF? Well, after the fold.
First of all this is going to be building off a point first cast into relief for me by Sarah Z’s video on The Johnlock Conspiracy. She is both directly connected with the experience of this space and did the research into the actual history of the people involved, a sort of on-the-spot observer recounting her experiences ethnographically. If you want a longer form deep dive on what The Johnlock Conspiracy is, check out that video. I will be providing a quick summary.
I’m also going to talk about fanagement, which I wrote about last year, which is about the way that fan engagement was seen as being a thing that corporate entities could deliberately engage for commercial ends. Fanagement isn’t necessarily an inherently evil or corrupting thing, but it’s something to know about as something that exists, and knowing it exists can colour your relationship to the media created in response to fanagement.
We also use he/him pronouns for our dog, because the complexities of gender are unknown to creatures without language, and without any way for him to self-identify, we just use the usuals. He is, of course, a very good boy.
Elli is very important to our lives. He was part of the decisions we made about where to live; his needs are part of our daily routine; we feed him in the mornings and we feed him in the evening. Our house has structures in place that are designed to give him spaces to be, and things to interact with and ways to make his wants and needs known in our house. We have changed the ways we enter our house in part, because of how it relates to our dog.
Point is, a dog in your life is a force that changes the way you live.
Elli is a lovely dog, and Elli is a cute dog. He is long and elegant and skinny and awkward and he transforms readily between a tiny little snuggly bean and an enormous, splayed, haunted bike rack.
And one of the weirdest things to me is just how much people misgender him.
They call him ‘she’ or ‘girl’ when they hear us call him “Elli,” and then after being corrected, they’ll call him he or boy, and then, usually a few minutes later, they’ll call him her again. And that’s weird.
Like, there’s not a powerful gendering force around dogs or anything. Elli isn’t wearing clothes that code him femme. He’s not a feminine looking dog, in any particular way? I mean, he’s not pink or particularly frilly. He’s just a dog.
That implies to me that the thing that drives it, the thing that makes people think they should misgender him is entirely his name. His name which has one syllable different to a common masc-coded name, is enough that people will assert a femininity there, and that femininity is entirely based around that same syllable.
Genders are social. There is no reason anyone should gender this dog except how they observe him being spoken about socially. He does not care about getting his pronouns wrong, but we do, because those aren’t his pronouns. And it gets under my skin particularly because it’s just this core evidence that people don’t listen to the immediate when it comes to gender. The pressurs from outside, the general trend, are more important than the specific answer they’ve been given.
But what makes this even weirder, is that people apologise for misgendering Elli. They recognise that what they did is a mistake, that they did something wrong, but they won’t, usually, argue with me about it. There’s a clear embarrassment, which is even weirder because Elli doesn’t care. They didn’t hurt his feelings. They didn’t really hurt my feelings watching it, though I probably did feel that they were a little silly.
(Don’t get me wrong, someone did once assert ‘nah, it’s a girl’s name’ and kept misgendering him, and that was one of those reminders that I probably shouldn’t waste my time talking to them)
Anyway, Elli is in my life because of Fox. And it’s Fox’s birthday, so Happy Birthday, Fox.
Hey it’s Pride Month! Hey everyone, it’s Pride Month, get a load of this here Pride Month!
June is Pride Month in the United States of America, to commemorate the anniversy of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 (nice, but not nice, but nice). It’sa month that the United States uses, and therefore, the entire English-speaking Internet uses, to talk about queer causes, queer ideology, and inevitably ask ‘why isn’t there a straight pride?’
So this blog is going to be about Pride Month stuff this month!
The plan is that this month we’re going to talk about queer stuff in general, some stuff about language, some queer games and some queer game design ideas. Note that this isn’t necessarily smoochy stuff – so we’re not necesarily going to be focusing on media about say, gay relationships, per se, as much as we talk about queerness in media in a bunch of different ways.
Particularly, this tends to be a time where I’ll talk about things that people outside of LGBTQ communities might think of them or understand them, ways things are communicated, or the way queerness in media and culture gets represented. I’ll probably wind up talking more about gender stuff and fundamentalist stuff than I’ll talk about necessarily romance this month.
Expect some fandom studies, some queer indie games, some not-queer not-indie games that get called queer games, and some reflections on things like you know, how we celebrate and share the works of one another.
It’s Pride month, remember that every day we live is one we’ve stolen from a system that seeks to make us no more.
This is one of those British series that I think people like saying they like more than they like.
The Detectorists is a 2014 British sitcom, one of your six-episodes-a-season shows made by Mackenzie Crook, who you’ll recognise as The Office Dullard from the British The Office Series that existed, remember? Anyway, The Detectorists is a well-researched sitcom based in some part of the lovely English countryside with twinkly folk music background following a pair of what you can only call nerds whose hobby is going out into the fields and parks of their area to look for interesting stuff you can find with a metal detector.
Discovered, it seems reasonably recently thanks to the attention of, I dunno, Netflix or the Internet or The Algorithm or Lockdown or something, people talked about it, said it was better than the Office, and Netflix recommended it. With that in mind, I watched it, and, like,
May is over, and we are now in the last part of the first half of the year that is 2020 Bonus Round. What’s been happening on the blog?
As the Game Pile has matured, there have been a lot more articles about games that are contemplative or not about just plowing through my Steam archive. I’ve come to abandon the idea that every game in my Game Pile should be talked about – not because they don’t deserve it, but because there’s a lot of stuff where I don’t have anything interesting to say.
I did finally make a video about Hyperintertextuality as expressed by Hyrule Warriors, something I’ve been intending to do for a few years now. The video itself was reasonably easy to make – I wish I’d dedicated a little more time to it, to trim out some sections of the background imagery that aren’t interesting. There’s some menu-ing in the video that I would have cut out, and in the later half I might have made more diagram overlay if I’d thought about it more.
I wrote about Usurper, a game that I can’t in good faith recommend because I can’t give you an opportunity to buy it, and therefore, I had to look at as a game design teacher. I also looked at Pixelmon, a mod for Minecraft just because Fox is playing it. Finally this month, I got to look at Hard Wired Island, a game made by a couple of friends of mine that I was planning on skipping entirely.
See the thing with Hard Wired Island, is, I don’t actually think I want to play the game. It does not interest me. It has never interested me. I backed it in the kickstarter to support my friends, and figured that was it. I was going to let this game that did not interest me let go, and that be that. Except then Discourse started around this game and it was fucking boring. The discourse was ‘hey, is this huge book with lots of work and well paid contributors worth its price tag of about as much as a D&D book?’ and like… even if you don’t think it’s worth it, that conversation is really dull. That conversation wants to reduce the things the book is saying to a kind of word sludge, like alphebitising all the text in it and determining ‘too many es.’
Thus, a conversation about the game that isn’t about its price tag.
Weirdly, it was a sour month for Story Pile stuff. I talked about Moneyball, which seems to be a movie about a pretty cool moment that decides to centre itself on just a total dickhead, on Tenchi Muyo, the Star Wars Merchandising of anime, Toy Story being boomer reconstructionalism and The Detectorists, which sucks. And I also talked about BNA, focusing on the way that media chooses to create villains. My take didn’t land for everyone, though; I still like the series, but it’s definitely possible to read the narrative of a secret shadowy culture of elites pulling all the strings as playing into antisemetic tropes.
Thing is for me if you mention ‘posh elites who pure breed themselves for superpowers’ my natural inclination is to see European Royalty, not Jewish stereotypes.
This month I made a shirt because I wanted it. It’s about a pair of Pokemon I really like – Gligar and Gliscor.
I hurt my leg late this month, which sucked basically all the energy out of a whole week. That sucks! It does mean that I feel like this month just kind of blipped past me, which I may be a sign of something else going on – like as you get older, you start to notice the time flowing faster?
Like, that’s the question you ask with anything you make, if you think about it, enough. Who would want this, and being able to conceptualise your audience is a skill that I try and impart on my students. Who then, are these designs for?
On one level, what I’m doing is graphic design for sometimes as few as one or two people that might enjoy the joke. Sometimes I’m making shirts that I want to wear to class. Sometimes, I’m making shirts for people who aren’t me. For example, I don’t need a they/them pronoun shirt.
This shirt is a shirt that’s very much for me.
You’ve maybe seen this kind of shirt before. Normally, this design is focused on starter Pokemon – three form pokemon that get soooo much attention and merch.
And here’s a shirt of a Pokemon I’m very fond of – Gligar, and the silhouette of the Gliscor it one day will become and terrorise metagames that are afraid of a beastly physical wall.
Back in the 1990s there was a TV series here called Water Rats. It starred nobody and was about nothing. Cops on boats, or something. The thing is, growing up I had it kind of in my head that a ‘water rat’ was just a term for a rat, or a rat that was on a boat, like something that came over on the First Fleet. Essentially, I had no idea that a water rat was its own species of a thing.
This is even more strange when you consider that one of the few times my dad ever read me anything from a book, and eventually deferred to the TV cartoon of it, was Wind in the Willows and its quote, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” This is said by Ratty, who is a Water Rat, which further builds on the idea that Water Rats exist.
Well, Ratty doesn’t.
I learned that the ‘Water Rat’ that Ratty is meant to be is in fact a water vole. This distinction is very important, because it first of all underscores that all of the roles and positions presented in Wind in the Willows are constructions of British aristocracy, and undermines the position that there are ‘rightful’ owners of property when a rich idiot endangers people with his sports car and then tries to evict a large body of squatters through violence.
That said, Water Voles do have gigantic forepaws compared to what I assumed and that makes this picture of one nursing a blackberry even funnier.
Silly vole. You can’t receive phone calls on that.
Anyway, Australia doesn’t have water voles, or if we did, they got eaten by the local spiders or something. We do have something that we did call a water rat, back in the 90s, but thanks to recent pushes to try and ensure that we don’t treat the country we live in like we’re the first people here, we’ve started using the traditional terms for these animals.
That means that we no longer call them water rats.
We call them rakali.
A rakali is a creature that to my raised-on-european media eyes looks like what happens when you try to create an otter without having any otter parts. There’s most of the shape, there’s some of the components that are recognisably not otter, but the overall affair is different. It’s like how Wolverines don’t look like wolves, or tangerines, but we still evoke them both with the name.
Now, I thought this story would end here, with this discovery of a new name for an old thing and how cool that was. But.
But but but.
I learned that the Rakali are also one of the few Australian animals that has successful strategy against Cane Toads. And now, I just want to say;
CONTENT WARNING: Animal Fighting and also METAL AS HELL Marsupial Behaviour
Okay, so if you’re aware, the Cane Toad is an invasive species here in Australia and like all things invasive, it’s white people’s fault. We introduced sugar cane, that brought cane beetles, and then we introduced cane toads to try and deal with them. The cane toads became a problem, now they’re a plague and we are trying to come up with a possible solution to them that doesn’t cause another plague.
Cane toads are poisonous – eating them makes you sick. They have large, poisonous bulbs on their back that if you bite them or damage them you can get uh, poison on you. That’s bad. This means that predators have learned to leave them alone.
Except the Rakali.
Cane toads don’t fight. They just kind of wander around and rely on the fact that they are tough and horrible to get things to leave them alone. Which means that hypothetically, if you could consume them they’d be a great prey animal. And Rakali have worked out a way to do that: they flip the toad over, then tear its chest open and yank out its heart and eat it.
I mentioned this to a friend who’s a zookeeper, and his take?
In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:
This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic
When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.
Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.
Now, are you prepared?
No, you are not prepared.
We’re going to talk about how you can become Illidan Stormrage.