Okay, so you remember those Amerimanga covers I sometimes make as a joke? Turns out that someone took those jokes to suggest they were My Thing, and that meant she, very kindly, this year for my birthday, made me a manga cover –
-which I have wasted time making look like an actual book, because it’s the afternoon and I’m not good at managing my life. This image then led to people who followed her asking why it’s not a real book. this then led to her, as a lark, making a light novel. This then led to her selling that light novel, and people liking it and people asking for more and –
Zandra’s a light novel author now.
It is very, very hard to not be jealous, I’m not gunna lie.
Zandra is enthusiastic, creative and energetic. She seeks to do things that make people happy and promote a kinder world that is more conducive to people being able to make good choices about what’s good for them. You should check out Zandra’s work.
Yes, Christmas is passed, but that doesn’t mean we’re done with Decemberween. C’mon. Decemberween is a spirit, Decemberween lasts all the way to July.
Also, one thing this exercise has shown me is how few people I like and respect keep good online portfolios or presences. How many of us treat our twitter page like it’s our dang home page? That’s weird. Anyway, SAV FERGUSON!
Sav is a game developer, writer, radio presenter, and – albeit I believe amateurly – philosopher, who I met I think three times before finally, at GaymerX AUS 2017, we finally had a moment where I could finally remember who the hell I was talking to, because my memory is garbage.
A few weeks later, a Event in Games happened, and it hit close to my knuckles – and I angrily spat about how the people talking about it had no idea about the experience, because it was something I lived, and nobody I knew was talking about it from that perspective…
And Sav popped up and said ‘yeah, I know what I’m talking about.’
And then we talked about it and dissected the discourse going on around us.
Now I want you to understand how hard that particular exchange is for guys. Because I had just effectively challenged him – heck to you, you don’t know what you’re talking about – and he very legitimately shot back, saying that actually yes I hecking do. We could have just clashed against each other and stopped – but Sav’s more mature than that, and we were able to find our common ground and talk about a deeply troubling thing. I was impressed, genuinely so, especially in the middle of a time when everyone around both of us was shouting about a thing that upset us.
The most recent game release from Sav is That Boy Is A Monstr, a game about being queer and dating on a website. Check it out.
Awww, yeah, yeah, yeah. Duh.
Of course I’m going to spend some time this month talking about Fox.
Fox Lee, my partner, is an artist, designer, writer and web developer. She manages our websites, writes ad copy, edits rulebooks and creates entire games on her own. Fox has made a free otome game, which is great, and I recommend you go try it.
This year, we released a game called Cafe Romantica, and I want to underscore of this 120-card, big card game, I did so little of the total product it is dizzying. Fox did the art, the backgrounds, the card faces, the wording structure and wrote the rulebook – even up to the night before the game launched.
Fox is great. Fox works hard, Fox holds work to a high standard, and Fox is often sharply contrasted with my positions – where I’ll work hard to get a product finished, she’ll hold things back to make sure they get done right. I love Fox, and you should check out her great work so you can send us money for how great she is.
Obviously I had to put this one up here, today, on Christmas Eve – because Fox sharing her life with me is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
I make games using cardboard, paper, dice and tokens. I try to make spaces out of things that aren’t spaces. When I was young I would draw videogame maps on paper and describe how you fought through them. When I was older I would write up plan files and documents for
I have, my entire life, been invested to some extent in the transformative ability of representation in everyday objects. Simpler: I have always loved blank pieces of paper.
When I grew up in the church, there were a lot of conventional things we couldn’t have. Lots of conventional TV was monitored, group sports and play were limited access, and I didn’t have any friends who I could socialise with. I did however, have access to paper – blank paper that I could turn into things.
One of the things I loved to turn them into was paper airplanes. I was really lucky that at some point my parents bought me a soft-cover book called Fold Your Own Dinosaurs by a guy called Campbell Morris, and another book, later, The Best Advanced Paper Aircraft, by a dude called Carmel Morris. I read these books and their sequels obssessively, and I practiced and practiced and practiced. Ironically I rarely, if ever flew the planes – that would be disruptive. But I was always fascinated with the way paper could be made to make locks and keys into itself, the way you could make a structure that wouldn’t deconstruct on its own.
This year I bothered to google Carmel Morris, wondering if he was still alive, and if I could email him thanks for the childhood books.
Turns out that my entire life I’d been mistaken. Carmel Morris was a woman, and she was still making books about paper airplanes.
The last news story I found about Carmel Morris, she was auctioning her electric car off to raise money for environmental charities. Now there’s a message about the way that my upbringing hid the influence of women who were important to me, but that’s for another day.
Thank you for helping to instil in me a love of blank pieces of paper, Ms Morris.
EDIT: I was contacted by Ms Morris’ cousin, who confirmed for me the suspected narrative – that Ms Morris did indeed first publish under a masculine name, because publishers didn’t think boys would buy… a book with a femme name on it about folding paper airplanes.
Man, publishers are the worst.
As with Rachel and Clay before them, I once more turn to point to someone I know, and love, and care about, who hasn’t had a fair shake.
Melissa Elliott, two ls, two ts, is one of those people who, if the 17th century wasn’t just the most awful, would have been one of those academic thinker types we sit around now wondering where they find the time. She’s done infosec research, drawn comics, built a twitter brand, built videogame AI, done some work on videogames, reverse engineered some things, won a My Little Pwnie award for her work in information security –
er, specifically for writing a silly song –
Now, none of these are raging successes, by the standards we use to determine success. This is in part because none of us grew up in cultures that value artistic expression, and I know that moreso of Melissa’s upbringing because she and I shared a particular horrorshow that was American Fundamentalism. This is not an experience and a place that, let me tell you, does much to encourage the creative efforts of young women.
I am grateful this year that Melissa has been part of it – the whole way. I feel like a walking firework alongside her, where she needs some degree of quiet, some emotional space, and I, with my big loud idiot elbows smack into spaces that can distress her without even trying – but despite it, she still shares with me what she makes, and what she wants, and what she’s interested in, and that means a lot to me.
Incidentally, she hates card games, and that’s okay – because when I share what I do with my friends, I don’t do it because I want them to feel obligated they should like them.
The mighty Maximum Fun podcasting network may host the entire McElempire, with both MBMBAM and their related shows of which there are roughly a fifty hojillion fold (and I like that, that’s cool), but there is one show I found from an ad in My Brother, My Brother and Me, and it’s Can I Pet Your Dog.
Can I Pet Your Dog is almost impressively nothing. It is a short podcast of two people talking about their dogs (in early episodes, they did not both have dogs). They are not exceptionally or exquisitely funny. I mean, they’re funny, but it’s not uproarious comedy; I don’t find myself quoting it or recommending it (except here, I guess).
Can I Pet Your Dog is, however, inoffensive, sweet, and comforting. It is funny without reminding me of gross comedians; it does not feel I’m about to stray into realms of vile jokes or random political stuff about this person or that person and how dare they. It is, when I do find the time to sit down and tune in, a balm of comforting, simple, pleasures of owning a dog.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m fond of someone I record a podcast with. To counter the claims of nepotism, I want it known that I love Clay despite him routinely making fun of me for being related to a ventriloquist.
Now, Clay’s situation is such I feel reluctant telling anyone how great he is. I don’t feel comfortable waving my arms in the air and shouting about the glory of this wonderful friend, this thoughtful man who has had to learn twice as much as I did in half the time with worse handicaps.
As Rachel, Clay is someone who makes me sure the world would be better if people like them just had the freedom to make things, to tell stories, to care about the things they care about and not deal with malarkey like the right change for the drier and washer.
Three years ago I was told it was important for men to foster stable, emotionally mature relationships so they didn’t rely on women to take care of them. I tried that, I joke, then it turns out they were all girls. Despite all that, standing out from that, there’s Clay – who has had his own path through life from similar spaces as me, making him one of the few people I know who can get a lot of the things I normally need to spend so long explaining.
This year has been our most active convention-going year. We have gone to almost a convention every two months – and every time, this year, we have done it with the company of Pendix, of Ex Manus Studios.
Now obviously I like Pendix. We’ve been friends for years, almost since high school. But it isn’t just that Pendix is reliable, and kind, and thoughtful – gee, I like a lot of people with those traits. What I want to highlight here is that Pendix is a person who craves to create.
If you sit around Pendix, idly, if there’s a table on hand and there’s just free time, he will have plastescine in his hand, and he will be sculpting. There’s a drive, an energy, a want to create going on there and I really admire and respect that. I work with fast media, I can see the results of what I do, and yet at the same time I can save almost everything I do. Pendix works in a medium that is slow and at times impermanent. If something goes wrong, the entire thing has to be destroyed.
It might just be that the man is patient beyond the measures of saints. I mean, he’s put up with me for years.
There is however, a lesson from him I want to impart: Wanting to create is enough reason to create. Pendix spent a lot of time practicing his craft before he started making models he could sell – I mean, like a decade of just hobby practice, doing things to see if he could do them. Your hobbies grow, and help you grow. They give you skills. And if you want to make things, you can just make them. Maybe one day they’ll take you places, but it’s okay if they never do.
It’s enough to love, for now, the doing of the act itself.
I am loath to be too nice, too quickly. I worry sometimes if this means that my first impression to Ettin was that I was a standoffish dick. In my defence, Ettin likes Death Note and FATE, two things I’ve been noisome about making fun of.
As a peer, Ettin is impressive. He has built community, and interest and fanbase for his work; he’s monetised it successfully, and he’s proven that he’s capable of repeating the success. He’s got good advice for anyone trying to do that and he expresses himself directly, honestly, and fairly.
He’s also done sterling work pushing back against pro-harrassment elements of the tabletop games industry. Without going into specifics, Ettin has tried to get rid of broken stairs in the industry as best he can, even when that involves endangering his own online space and infringing on his own potential for success. No, not everything is fixed, but I at least know where Ettin falls when there comes a time to Say Nothing And Get By or Tell Evil To Go Fuck Itself.
When I approached Ettin with ‘I’m thinking about X-‘ his immediate response was to try and set up a plan. He wanted to enable what I was trying – and even when it wound up not working out with the timetable we had in mind, it was still done helpfully and enthusiastically.
Ettin may have this form of deliberately self-deprecating humour that resists praise, but seriously, I’m glad Ettin helped me out this year.
How to lead into a discussion of Ted… oh. Okay.
My Ordinary Life, Ep 535 –
Betrayed by Betrayal at House on the Hill pic.twitter.com/rzGKRGTxQ3
— Ted (@teioh) June 18, 2017
Ted is many things. Ted is an artist. Ted is an academic. Ted is a father, a fishmonger, a mormon, a missionary, and a friend. Ted is a person who, by the sheer mathematics of my own upbringing and perspective, I should not have become friends with. I’m a militant (!) anti-theist atheist (booo, throw rocks at him), and even then part of my upbringing included a section on hunting the cult of Mormon.
I am so glad none of that took.
Ted is a wonderful person. I talk to Ted most weeks. We talk about marking or students or research or applications, or we talk about anime, or, more often than not, he expresses incredulity at the utter ridiculousness of the latest thing I mentioned. Sometimes he consults on Asian history for game design. Sometimes he reality checks me. Sometimes we console one another about the way things are that shouldn’t have to be.
Ted is a good person, noble, and someone I am proud to know.
And okay, while I have an older sister, I kinda have a younger sister, too.
Rachel Stevens is a writer and designer, though much more world design than game design. Rachel’s writing work is over on Women Write About Comics, a website which kind of explains itself just fine.
What I love about Rachel – well there’s a lot about Rachel I love, but one of the things I love about Rachel is she’s an enthusiast. She cares about books and movies and pulp and webcomics and transformer toys and gunpla and about her Vivian and about people being kind, and about fighting Nazis and about – even considering the state of things – doing an okay job.
Rachel is a modern tragedy in that if we had universal basic income, if she wasn’t stuck working the way she is for the work she’s got, she’d be running five goddamn series and making TV shows and graphic novels and videogames and so on. There is no meritocracy where Rachel is doing anything but being able to effortlessly, constantly create the visions of a better future she wants the world to have.
I got help from Rachel this year. In Sector 86, I asked her to name all the spaceships. Not all of the names she gave me got used – you might know if you recognise them – but here’s the sheet of initial notes she gave me.
Hey Rachel. I love you, and you are wonderful, and you matter. Thank you for being part of my life, you gigantically hopeless lesbian with teen tiny hands.
I don’t do a lot of information leaking on the internet. I don’t put things out there that can connect you to People Around Me. If I take photos of people it’s either at an event with their permission and permission to share, or it’s without identifying marks. I have been, therefore, pretty careful about giving out information about my family as much as I can. It may be news somewhat to some of you that I have an older sister.
My older sister has a pair of sons.
Those sons, my nephews, are great.
They are not remarkably great. Alright? I have to level with you. They do exactly what kids do, which is they shout and they jump from idea to idea, and they don’t listen to you and they’re prone to forgetting what they’re doing in that way that, let me tell you, I would be super annoyed if a coworker did it, I mean just my word how irritating. Their fashion sense is also just awful, and they haven’t read any of the classics. Shout out to my sister for having the stamina to support the little goons.
On the other hand, they love games.
I have told this story and will tell this story many times more, but I’m putting it here. There are three games in our catalogue that I made explicitly because I went to my parents’ place and hung out with my nephews and they learned I made games. We talked about it, we talked about what that meant, and they talked about things they thought games should be about, what games should do.
Then I went home and I made those games.
Some games I couldn’t make. I couldn’t make the game called GOOD COP, LOLLY COP – which conspicuously, came about when I told them we couldn’t play GOOD COP, BEAR COP, because they were too young and wouldn’t understand it. But these kids are part of my life and I am happy to be part of theirs.
This year I made a protracted plan to try and visit my family every month – at least once. I didn’t do it every month – but the point we knew was we tried. We knew we wanted to go every month, we knew we expected to. There was one embarassing day when I turned up at my parents’ place and nobody was home, and I just piled into the bus and went home.
This year has featured an effort to draw together tighter the love and the need of my family to be connected. To shoulder the people closest to me and to know they are willing to shoulder me. There are unfortunate choices ahead of us, but I’d rather face it together.
I have this friend – Caelyn – who is an absolute sweetheart. She’s thoughtful and smart, and willing to share her experiences and her storytelling whenever. Her stories, the things she wants to tell are often about change, in some way, but the content of the stories aside, she has this wonderful sense of technological possibility. Cae spends her time, when she’s working on things, testing the limits of what she can do with a form. Sometimes that’s just a document, sometimes it’s Twine, sometimes it’s moving things from format to another. Sometimes she’ll write fanfic of games, and sometimes she writes games that are fanfic – and she does it all, with this endless, wonderful sense of exploration
Cae is a good friend, but even that aside, she is creative. She makes things I like to try out and look at and even those things she makes that don’t click with me hard – because hey, let’s face it, I am still always going to be a Cis Boy Who’s Never Had An Attack Of The Genders – are always worth experiencing because they are interesting. Cae is a person who tries things, and when they don’t work perfectly, looks at what she got out of what she tries.
Cae is great and you should check out her stuff:
I love some dorky superhero roleplay. Ever since City of Heroes I got in the habit of just enjoying the stories I could tell, the ways I could play in story universes that care about superheroic elements and the tropes of superheroes. I like sidekicks. I like superfamilies. I like doom robots and death rays and I like capes and costumes and I like all of these things.
I love Generation IV, which is a roleplaying setting ran and maintained by a handful of friends. Gen 4 hasn’t been super busy lately – in part because some of the major players have had major life shifts and vacations – but it’s something that I’ve really loved to be able to go to throughout this year. It is a thing that my friends made and for which I am grateful.
If I want to tell you about my roleplaying character, that’s dorky. If I want to tell you about my friend’s roleplaying character, that’s inspiring.
This time last year I was involved in the beleagured RP community for the Secret World, which is urban gothic horror. In TSW, you had these global conspiracies based on particular varieties of fictive representations of ancient conspiracies – awkwardly in the representation of Asia, but pretty great as it pertained to Roman era stuff. Particularly, there was an enemy faction that showed up at the end of the game, to represent a threat for all parties, the Phoenicians.
There was a lot of work done by fans to build roleplay stuff, and in this space, one of my friends, Leastwise, came up and one day started playing a character going by the name Hannibal, who spoke about the sea and empires and overcoming great odds. He was urbane, he was stylish, and he crystallised the Phoenician characterisation into a space that let a lot of us other players latch on to it. Hannibal was a humanising element to the faction and with it came such a wonderful personality. The twist? It wasn’t just Hannibal The Name, he was Hannibal Barca, the actual warlord of Ancient Carthage. And under that jovial, fatherly frame, Hannibal boiled with rage at the Empire, at the people who had taken his home from him, and he had spent centuries nursing that grudge. The player wove this wonderful mythology in the empty space of the game, and created a really interesting, engaging faction building on real histories.
At one point Hannibal, the player, by a series of successful negotiations and people operating on incomplete information, successfully took control of the city of Las Vegas, during a RP event with over thirty players involved – resulting in a coup for the Phoenicians that the player just pulled off by just listening and talking.
I don’t play TSW any more, and I miss, so badly, being able to play alongside Hannibal.
I had a whole month of writing planned about December, which has all just been bumped to January. I don’t think anyone’s going to be spending their December trying hard to crack some personal puzzle about how to make paper look torn, or looking for a project that’s just waiting for the right artist to bring it to life.
In this month, we’re going to continue Game Pile, weekly TV and weekly MTG articles, as normal – but in the intervening days? It’s all going to be me telling you about something a friend does that I think is cool. No long-form articles or big goofy work, just sincere, honest appreciation for the work of people I love.