theferrett: (Meazel)

So there’s been a viral post going around, showing women as Magic cards.  It looks like this:

Great Message, Terrible Magic Card

Problem is, you play Magic at all, this card presents some serious worldbuilding challenges.

See those stats in the lower right hand of the card? 85/85? That means this card has 85 power and 85 toughness. These are numbers used to indicate how big and nasty a creature is.

An ordinary human has 1 power and 1 toughness.

A trained warrior can have 2 power and 2 toughness, sometimes.  (Sometimes it’s 2/1.  Even some low-level vampires are 2/1.)  This is good, because a “bear” in Magic terms is 2/2 – in fact, the 2/2 “Grizzly Bear” card is the classic standard for power and toughness.

A top-tier leader of an army is 3/3, who can beat a bear with ease – but at 3/3, you are literally fighting elephants and small werewolves.

At 4/4, you’re getting into the top tiers of Magic creatures, beings so powerful you sometimes don’t get the chance to cast them before you’re overrun by armies of classically 1/1 and 2/2 goblins.  You want an Angel, summoned straight from  heaven?  Here she is.  Hellion elementals are usually in the 4/4ish range as well.  Mid-sized werewolves, too.

By the time you’re getting to 5/5, well, your generic demon is 5/5.  (Don’t worry, Angels often have heavenly protections to even the odds.)  There’s no earthly creature that can hope to defeat a 5/5 on its own – no, by then you’re talking about crazy monster creatures with intimidating names like Nemesis of Mortals and Polukranos, World Eater.

You want a 6/6?

Oh, you want a dragon.  Dragons are classic 6/6s, though smaller fully-grown ones might be 5/4 if they’re clever.

What’s that?  You want the king of the dragons?  The toughest of the tough, born on a world full of dragons who’s clawed his way to the top through nothing but sheer might?

He’s an 8/8.

If you want creatures larger than 8/8, well, they’re pretty thin on the ground. Wizards spend their whole lives trying to cast them, and usually die before they can do it – which is a fancy way of saying “By the time you’ve acquired enough resources to cast this gigantic fatty, the other player’s usually beaten you.”  But they do exist!  They’re 11/11 Colossuses, or 11/11 Elder Gods summoned from beyond the pale, or a 9/9 archdemon who lords over all the other demons.

The scariest monster in all of Magic, the leader of the gang who’s been the Big Bad in two storylines, a card so potent that you’ll shell out $30 for a single copy of this ridiculously overpowered card?

Emrakul, The Aeons Torn is a 15/15 monster.

But wait?  What about lord dread Cthulhu himself?  Well, that’s basically Emrakul.  But if you want literally the largest creature in all of Constructed Magic, you go for the wrath of Marit Lage, a beast so huge it takes thirty mana to summon him.  (For the record, thirty mana is more than most people have in their entire deck.)  And that huge, terrible, flying rage?

It’s 20/20.

There is only one creature larger than that in all Magic – and it’s a joke, created for an “Un-Set,” which was never intended to be played in serious Magic.  It’s called the “Big Furry Monster,” and it’s a 99/99, and to accentuate how silly it is, it’s literally two cards that you have to draw, and cast, together.  Nobody takes it seriously.

To put it plainly:

According to this Magic card that was clearly created by someone who doesn’t play the game, Harriet Tubman is four times as powerful as Cthulhu.

And while I fully support Tubman on the $20, if she was truly this powerful, I feel frankly that Harriet Tubman, Ender of Worlds, should have done more than rescue slaves when she could have faced down the entirety of both sides of the Civil War and brought the world under her reign of freedom, because this Harriet Tubman could have eaten Gettysburg and never burped.

Which is not to say that I dislike the message.  Go women!  Go “Smash the Patriarchy,” even though that’s not a valid keyword in Magic!  Go you and your unfeasible casting cost of WWWWWUUUUU, which no sane person would ever put in a deck!

I fully admit I’m being a big ol’ wet blanket here, because I play the game.  I know it’s a lot to expect people to make Magic cards templated correctly, but to a lot of us who do know the game – it’s a lot like watching a TV show where the technical guy goes, “Yesterday, Snapchatted with my roommate on Twitter and discussed how to hotwire an IP address!”  You may like the show, but you’re like, “That’s not how that works.  That’s not how any of this works!

Harriet Tubman, I salute you. I think you’re awesome. I think women are awesome.

I’m just not sure all women are literally ten times more powerful in hand-to-hand combat than the king of the dragons.  Call me a misogynist.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My Seasonal Affective Disorder’s got me by the scruff of the neck, which means I am staring at screens for an hour, unable to function. My wife finds me curled up in odd places around the house, trying not to cry loudly enough to be heard.

This time of year sucks.

Yet on Monday, I finished off the final draft of my upcoming book FIX to hand to my editor, and last night I switched back to continuing the work on my spiritual sequel to Sauerkraut Station, SAVOR STATION (105k words in, hope to finish the first draft before the 15th). And people ask, how do I do that?

Lots and lots of bourbon.

No, seriously, functioning during depression is a real thing. Too many people let everything go to hell when they’re down, and when their body stops pummeling them with feel-bad hormones they wake up to discover themselves jobless and friendless. A lot of depressions are chemically induced, but you can get yourself depressed by not maintaining the shit you need to do in your life.

And here’s the trick I use to keep functioning during depression:

I don’t expect to feel joy from what I need to do.

I just do it.

Which sounds really dumb, but a lot of people seem to feel as though everything they do should bring them immediate satisfaction – they pay the bills, and hey! They feel like a grownup, that’s awesome. They mop the floor and ding! They got a chore done, check that off the list!

Which works right up until you’re mired in anhedonia and unable to envision any joy from anything.

Worse, when you’re in depression, envisioning doing Things You Need To Do may make you feel worse – “I’m a shitty writer, I’m going to fuck up this novel.” “I’m a hot mess, everyone at that party’s going to hate me.” So if you’re a joy-driven person, depression makes you a sailboat without wind – you can’t go anywhere because the energy that motivated you has vanished.

And I hate to quote Nike, but ponder the “Just Do It” lifestyle. Grit your teeth and say “This will bring me no satisfaction in any way at all, but I need to do it because this is a maintenance task. If I let this slide, it will make things worse later on.”

I’m not normally a Dark Side guy, but let your hatred flow. Sure, you’re a terrible fucking writer. Sure, you don’t want to mop this floor. Sure, you fucking loathe the idea of going to friendly get-together where your buddies will probably ignore you.

Do it anyway. It’ll probably take you a while – my current run-up to a task is about half an hour of me staring, breathing raggedly, remembering that it doesn’t matter if I feel functional, if I don’t do this then my life will be worse than when I started out the day.

You know you can talk yourself out of shit. Trick is, you can also talk yourself into shit.

Do it crappily, if you have to. Write 200 words and erase them all, go to the party and pretend you’re coming down with an illness after half an hour, mop sloppily.

Get it done when you can.

You won’t, always. Depression means you’re never going to do 100% of what you needed to do – note my “curling up on the bed and crying” times. There will be days you just can’t function, and beating yourself up because of what you’re supposed to do will only make it worse.  But if you make a habit out of separating “satisfaction” from “do it,” you’ll wind up with a fairly rigid habit-structure of Doing The Bare Minimum that’ll get you by until you can actually feel happiness again.

At which point you’ll be in a place to feel happiness. I’ve seen it time and time again where someone emerges from a months-long depressive state where they’ve holed themselves inside a cave and blown off all their deadlines, only to wake up to a post-apocalyptic world that knocks them back into Sadness Villa again. It sucks. If you can avoid it, do so.

And if you’re thinking of using this technique as proof that depression doesn’t really exist, or that willpower can solve every problem, please set your head on fire and shove your face into a pan filled with bacon grease. Some days the black dog wins. Hell, some weeks the black dog wins. That doesn’t mean you don’t fight the dog, but for Christ’s sake don’t peddle that sickening lie that the dog’s just an illusion and if you believed in Tinkerbell hard enough then that rabid Doberman would stop chewing your genitals.

But the thing is, when you’re depressed you cannot rely on “happiness” to make you productive. You can, and should, consider drugs and therapy to help. But you can also get there by removing happiness from the equation.

As clinically as possible, analyze the Shit That’s Gotta Get Done Or Everything Will Get Worse. (Let go of all the stuff you can let go; don’t try to be a superhero now, man.) Then do those things and don’t expect to feel better for doing them or anticipate a burst of joy or even think that you’ll do them well. None of those are necessarily true.

But what is true is that depression lies, and though I’ve written a lot of shitty words during my Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ve also written some gems. I’ve not enjoyed going to many parties, but my friends were happy to see me and they kept inviting me to more parties which I was thrilled to attend when I wasn’t sad. The house wasn’t filled with cockroaches.

That maintenance helps. The more you do it, the more you manage to accomplish on automatic pilot, and lemme tell you, when you can successfully automate yourself to Just Do Things like Work and Friendship during a catastrophic depression, then you are way ahead of the curve.

I don’t necessarily feel good about submitting FIX to the publisher – right now it’s a hot mess and I took big chances with the characters and you’re all going to hate it and my editor is going to savage it and tell me I have to spend months frantically repairing its manifest flaws.

But I didn’t do it for the happiness.

I did it because if I blew my deadline, I would feel a lot worse when June came and Happy-Ferrett looked at the smoking ruins of the fall launch he’d planned.

And so I staved off much more sadness by not trying to foment happiness in my time. It worked for me. And if you’ve not been getting much done, then maybe try it for you.

It won’t feel good. But what does?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

As is tradition, I’ll be at Penguicon in Michigan this weekend.  And on Saturday, I’ll be on several panels, as is also tradition – but more importantly, I’ll be reading the first excerpt from my upcoming book FIX, in which our brave heroes accidentally break up a teenaged soccer game.

They interrupt the Morehead soccer league by inadvertently annihilating the town of Morehead, so it’s a little more exciting than I first promised.

Anyway, if you want a taste of FIX (due out in September), then drop on by.

(SIDE WARNING: I am in severe Seasonal Affective Disorder mode, which is why I’m not quite capable of putting together times and panels on Saturday, but I will be happy to see you.  Feel free to dispense hugs and cuddles at will.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My word is often used to settle debates. Complete strangers will email me with intimate details of their love lives to say, “My girlfriend wants to have bareback sex with Cheer Bear during her Care Bear Stare Cosplay Orgy, is that wrong?” – and, terrifyingly, they’ll wait for my Judge Wapner-like decision to tell them who’s done polyamory wrong.

My answer’s always the same, though:

They’re not wrong.

They may be wrong to want this from you.

Which is to say that I personally would never be involved in a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” relationship, because for me, it’d be a way of hiding my affections from people who deserve to know who I am. But that doesn’t mean DADT can’t work for specific couples.

I personally would never enter a relationship where my partner dated whoever they wanted with no input from me, but Relationship Anarchy is a thing and many people thrive in it.

I personally would never let my girl hook up with Cheer Bear when Grumpy Bear needs the love more, but hey, a true Care Bear orgy is open to everyone except Professor Coldheart.

Is it wrong? Well, who’s involved? If you asked most people, “Is it wrong to lock your partner in a box at night while they sleep?” the answer would be HELL YES IT IS, but there’s BDSM relationships where the Mistress locks her pet inside their cage and they’re perfectly content.

It’s wrong to ask Overly Attached Girlfriend for an open relationship, but there’s plenty of people out there who want that. It’s wrong to ask pretty much anyone on FetLife for an monogamous fundamentalist “No sex before marriage” relationship, but thousands of people have had such a relationship and have done so happily.

“Wrong” is all about who you’re asking.

Yet that’s not what’s being asked. The question actually asked here is, “I’m upset by what they’re doing. Is it okay that I’m upset?”

And the answer to that is, “Yes. It’s okay that you’re upset. Your demands may be unreasonable for this partner, but you’re allowed to seek what you need.”

Or to put it another way:

You’re not wrong.

You may be wrong to want this from them.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Wizards of the Coast made some really big changes to its Pro program, cutting payouts to its top-ranked players. Basically, if you devoted your life to Magic and played really well, getting to the Platinum Level, you could be guaranteed an appearance fee to cover your hotel costs and plane fare to the next big tournament.

Now that appearance fee has been reduced to $250, which won’t even get you from California to Madrid.

(EDIT: Though apparently, the appearance fee is separate from the travel expenses, which are covered.  Doesn’t matter, as I’ll explain shortly.)

And the Pro Tour players are up in arms about this, because even if you’re really good at Magic, you can lose a lot due to randomness that’s out of your control.  The best player in the world can get land-flooded or face his worst matchup four times in a row.  If you’re trying to devote your life to Magic, well, your incentives just dropped like a rock because attending Pro Tour: Madrid may mean losing cash on plane fares, dinner, and hotel stays if you accidentally 2-5 drop.

The question is, does Wizards care if you make money at the Pro Tour?

And I wonder whether Pros face the dilemma that professional writers face – namely, someone’s gonna do it.

Which is to say that professional writers often experience difficulties getting livable payments from publishers because, well, there’s a million writers desperate to see their name in lights, and it almost doesn’t matter what you do to an individual writer because there’s someone surging up behind you to replace you.

Sure, there’s Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson and Margaret Atwood, but me personally?  I’ve basically stopped writing short stories, and yet somehow Asimov’s and Apex have continued to thrive without me.  Because each of those markets gets literally a thousand story submissions a month, and even if I walk away in disgust because you can’t make a living on short stories alone, someone still wants to be in the big lights.

Big lights for very low wattage, moneywise.

Magic Pros who write articles for Magic websites will laugh when I tell them that a good rate for a short story is eight cents a word, or $120 for a 1,500-word flash fiction.  Professional writers would weep if they knew pros’ column rates for Magic websites, where you can write an article a week and consistently sell it.  (HINT: If you’re a big name, more than that.)

And Magic Pros might be even more astounded to hear that up until a couple of years ago, the “professional” short story rate was five cents a word, which basically hadn’t changed since the 1970s.  Inflation kept goin’ up; the short story market stagnated.

Why?  Well, partially because, like the Pro Tour, there’s an upper limit to the audience.  While the people who love sci-fi short stories adore them dearly, there’s not that many of them – at least not compared to music and movies and other entertainments.  Maybe if they sold two hundred thousand copies an issue they would pay a lot more, but right now Analog and Asimov’s – the top-tier magazines – are around 25,000 copies per issue.

But realistically, the pay is also low because people will accept low pay.

I’d say there are a ton of writers out there who’d write for Asimov’s for free – but it’s worse than that.  Yog’s Law states “Money flows towards the writer,” and that got created because desperate writers will actually pay vanity presses thousands of dollars to be published by people who essentially toss their books into the dumpster.

Magazines get literally a thousand submissions a month.  Slush piles are overflowing.  There’s lots of folks involved.  And here’s my personal paradox….

Writing a short story worthy of Asimov’s or Apex or Clarkesworld is really fucking hard, something that requires intense skill and grinding and, yes, also lots of luck, because sometimes the wrong slush editor sees your manuscript and tosses it, or they just bought a similar story last week, or the editor wasn’t in the mood for military fiction that day.

Like Magic, writing has severe variance baked in.

Yet anyone who’s made a Grand Prix Top 8 or gotten published by Asimov’s has a lot of skill.  Maybe they got lucky, yes, but your skill has to be much greater than your luck to win past those odds.  Everyone at the top is super-talented.

And yet…

My non-egotistic part of me has to admit that if every writer I knew got caught up in the rapture – and I know a lot of writers, including most notably me – the quality of writing in short story magazines wouldn’t suffer all that much, because someone nearly as good would fill their place.

Oh, we’d lose something.  No question.  Unique voices would be silenced when they vanished.  Certain literary greats would never be replaced specifically.  I’d miss a lot of the people I loved reading.

But remember when I said “it almost doesn’t matter what you do to an individual writer because there’s someone surging up behind you to replace you”?

With so many people pressing in, desperate to live the dream of being a writer, other unique voices would swell to fill the gap.  And in a few years you’d have some people mourning The Great Writer-Rapture of 2016, but there’d still be a lot of good literature out there because the folks who’d stepped in would have improved considerably.

Maybe it wouldn’t be as good as it had been, but it’d still be okay for most people.  And it would arguably be better in some ways.

And as it stands, people do stop writing short stories, because they figure out that novels are greater and more consistent pay, or they can’t hack novels and can’t justify spending hours on what’s essentially a loss-leader hobby, and we lose writers all the time thanks to this short pay scale and yet the river keeps on flowing.

So when I hear about pros hating this new tier structure, I wonder how much cash specifically a Big-Name Pro generates.  Yes, Pros sell singles by creating exciting new decks and outlining strategies – but like short story writing, if they stopped, would no one else step up to take their place?  Wouldn’t someone else create a cool new deck to showcase the latest set – maybe someone not quite as good, but still good enough to achieve victory at the PTQ?

Is this the Great Pro Tour Rapture of 2016?

Yeah, part of Wizards’ appeal is The Dream Of Going Infinite, but I wonder how much the PTQ-circuit guys really are invested in the cash.  I mean, they like the cash, just like we writers like getting a hefty check for our efforts.  (Seriously, man, buy my books.)  We’re incentivized by cash, to a large extent.  And yet…

Writing/Pro Tour Magic isn’t great or consistent money, and it’s not likely to be great or consistent money.  Yet people do it anyway because they want to be the best, they want to hold that trophy, and so if you’re a business then how much cash do you want to dump into a revenue stream that’s largely based on dreams and not actual payout?

And it’s not to say that the businesses are greedy jerks – they too often got into this crazy biz because of the love, and they want to see great Magic/writing, and they’ve made friends of Magic Pros/writers, and while they may acknowledge the Great Rapture they don’t want to cause it.  There’s often not as much money churning around in the hopper as people believe.

But even if there was, how much money do they want to give away to things that operate on axes independent of the dream?

And yes, I know that the pros will be like “Platinum is the dream!” – and while I’m not as in touch with the average PTQ grinders as I used to be, I wonder whether most of the low-level guys (who, remember, buy all of these cards the Pros supposedly generate demand for) are incentivized by living on the gravy train or are just desperate to get on the Pro Tour in general.

In other words, Platinum’s a severe incentive to the guys at the top already.  But how much of a goad is Platinum to the duder who’s considers coming in 15th in the Columbus PTQ a real accomplishment?  Is he really going, “Wow, I’ll road trip to three more PTQs this season because hey, there’s $2,750 more in it for me if I somehow get qualified and then top 16 the next several Pro Tours?”

I honestly don’t know.  I could be wrong.  Maybe they are largely incentivized by that, but I suspect mostly the dream is get on the Tour and see if I can be like $PRO_TOUR_CELEBRITY.

The terrifying thing is that, just like the short story writers I fanboy over, it may be that $PRO_TOUR_CELEBRITY may be an interchangeable thing.  Sure, it sucks if a specific PT stanchion goes away, but…

Someone else will Top 8 for a while, and they’ll become the New Celebrity.

And remember: the celebrity himself doesn’t move the cards, it’s all the people following the celebrity.  As long as someone’s making PTQ grinders crack open packs like Veruca Salt to get their hands on $NEW_HOT_CARD, how much does it honestly matter to Wizards who that someone is?

And what I see short story writers doing is going Okay, the money’s erratic and shit to boot, what can we do to leverage our  popularity?  And next thing you’ll see writers doing Patreon and Kickstarter and self-publishing and all sorts of things to supplement a sucky income…

Just like you see Pro Magic players experimenting with streaming incomes and endorsements and writing for Magic sites.

Which is not to say that this Platinum reduction doesn’t suck balls.  It does, for those affected by it.  Nor am I saying it’s a good thing.  But I am questioning whether the storyline of PROS ARE WHAT DRIVES MAGIC is as true as Pros think it is, because the truth may well be that Pros do drive Magic but Magic will always have Pros as long as the game itself is interesting, and though Wizards has shit the bed on a regular basis they’ve almost always improved the quality of their cards and their metagame.

I could be wrong on any or all of these accounts.  I suspect some of my writer-friends will be outraged because the Great Writer Rapture would devastate Fiction As We Knew It and how dare you say we’re replaceable I know I’m not, and some of my Pro Friends will tell me But Ferrett, you haven’t considered these ways in which pros help create the PTQ circuit for Wizards, and they’ll probably all have good points.

But both the Pro Tour and short story markets have endured a lot of churn over the past decade.  People go, new people fill their place.  And I wonder if that’s due to so many people wanting to do this thing that they don’t need that much incentive at the lower levels – and by the time you get to the top-tier levels and money starts becoming more critical than the dream you’ve already largely accomplished, the people in charge don’t necessarily have to satisfy you.

They just have to satisfy the people with the dreams.

And I don’t know how to fix that market imbalance.  I really don’t.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So there we were, roleplaying Call of Cthulhu: there was a haunted graveyard where Bad Things happened at midnight.  Two of the PCs had boldly decided to wait among the tombstones, cameras and guns in hand, to see what happened.

My wife and I were at the bar.

Oh, we were playing in this game – but she was a historian and I was an ex-jock who owned a sportswear chain, and we had decided we were not equipped to handle spooky tentacles in the witchhouse. So while the other two nuts had gone off to bold adventure, we guzzled gin and tonics.

Which was one of the greatest decisions, as it turned out.  We got to rescue the poor schmucks in the graveyard by dint of not being inside the magical sigil when it fired up in the moonlight.

Now, our PCs weren’t cowards – obviously, we charged in boldly when we heard our friends torn to death by witches! – but they were people who didn’t know they were the heroes of the game.  They feared unknown danger.  They didn’t metagame to know that this was the first session of a longer campaign and the GM would go easy on us. They didn’t go, “Oh, that’s a cultist, I know how many hit points they have.”

They were ignorant, and it made for beautiful roleplaying moments.  That bar became a watershed moment of the campaign; it changed our goal from “BEAT THE BAD GUYS” to “Explore these people, see what they’d do in weird situations.”

Because beating the bad guys, well, that’s a very similar path: you gain power and knowledge, you level up, you confront the bad guy, and you beat them.  I mean, it’s a satisfying enough path, as witnessed how many times it shows up in cinema, but…

I think of how that bar led to my wife’s PC becoming a rampant alcoholic in the face of the trauma of, well, being the hero in a Call of Cthulhu campaign.  I think of my ex-jock hero desperately trying to manage a chain of clothing stores while his sanity fragmented.  I think of both of us getting into a severely dysfunctional relationship, where we had absolutely nothing in common at all except “monsters kept finding us,” and how in some ways the squickiest thing in the entire campaign became how we unhealthily clung to each other simply because we had no one else who understood.

None of that would have happened if we thought tactically.

We played ignorance, because even though we knew things, our characters didn’t.  We made terrifically unwise decisions.  We ran when we could have fought.  We fought when we should have run.

Which, to me, is what makes a roleplaying game a roleplaying game.   I’ve been in too many combats where the PCs played as though they saw everything on the board – they knew the bad guy had retreated because the GM had said so, they counted hitpoints, they acted with a perfect knowledge of all the spells and powers everyone possessed.

And those decisions propelled us towards victory, but they never led to anything interesting.  We won.  A lot.  But the winning never revealed anything about the people we were pretending to be aside from “We like winning.”

Me, I think the gold standard of a roleplayer is when someone knows all the tactical moments on the battlefield and says those important words:

“My character wouldn’t know that.”

That choice opens up whole worlds of exploration.  Your character wouldn’t know she’s slated to win tonight. Your character wouldn’t know that after emptying seven rounds of clips into this gelatinous beast, the eighth was going to finish the job.  Your character wouldn’t know that dragon’s breath attack, wouldn’t know why she should get involved with this crazy scheme, wouldn’t know why she should like the other PCs.

Once you start asking and acting “What doesn’t my character know?”, then you get to see what happens aside from victory.

That’s often way more unique than another bad guy dead at your feet.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“You silly person!  You were just downstairs!  Why didn’t you get the movie we were going to watch while you were down there?”

Those are not words that should bring tears to my eyes.

They are not words that should cause me to go hide in the bedroom for fifteen minutes while everyone else watched television, trembling with anxiety and fear.

Hello, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Right now is my annual trip into severe mental illness, where my self-doubts swell and the slightest criticism becomes a hidden message for “FERRETT WE HATE YOU PLEASE DIE.”  All my suicide attempts have occurred during this time frame, and most of my self-mutilations.  I’ve learned how to navigate these waters thanks to years of experience, but it’s never easy.

So I’ve been quiet, and probably will be quiet for a bit longer.  (The fact that I’m polishing up the final draft on Fix doesn’t help, either, as that’s a lot of time spent bringing Paul and Aliyah’s story to a close.)

Still.  As a sweetie of mine said last night, without this depression I don’t know if I’d have as much compassion.  For three to six weeks out of the year, I get a window into what serious mental illness feels like.  It’s a humbling reminder that my baseline mental acuity and health is, largely, luck of the draw.  I can, and should, work as hard as I can to continue to function, because that’s my best chance at getting ahead of a stacked deck – but some people get dealt worse hands than I do.

Given that I suffer from mild depression on my best of days, I might well have gone around swaggering that I beat depression and it’s all a matter of attitude and if you can’t beat it that’s because you didn’t really care and the similar bullshit that many people fulminate about.  But for a month out of every year, the game changes for me, and my brain makes a serious attempt to kill me, and I get reminded that the effort I put in for eleven months out of the year is completely insufficient when the real SAD comes knocking.

And again, the effort I put in helps.  It keeps me alive.  It keeps my wife from leaving me and my daughters from hating me.  It’s useful.

It’s just not a panacea.

I know, deep in my bones, that what works for me does not necessarily work for other people, because during this horrid season, what works for me does not work for me.

So I don’t know. I look for blessings.  This is a hard cloud to mine for silver, but I try, and if the lining exists then that’s it.  It gives me humility.  It gives me compassion.

But right now it’s giving me an urge to harm myself, so I’m retreating for solace.  If I’m not responding to your emails or texts, I’m sorry, but there’s a good chance I’m trying to not talk to people while I’m in a state where I have previously fucked over good friendships before.  (And don’t tell me I don’t owe any explanations to people, it’s my fucking journal and giving explanations is what I do.  You should know that by now.)

I’ll be back.  I usually am.

Just not today.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I chose not to see Batman vs. Superman when I heard that a) Jimmy Olsen gets shot in the face, and b) Batman brands criminals to let other criminals know it’s okay to shank them in prison.

That did not sound like a Batman I would be happy seeing, no matter how awesome the spectacle was.

So I stayed out.  Yet I’ve been fascinated watching how BvS went from DC boldly claiming “This one might be Oscar material!” to 28% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Charting its box-office performance drop from “We’re going to beat Avengers with $1.5 billion” to “We’re still making a billion” to “We’re going to release the R-rated version in the hopes that we’ll crest $900 million” has been a guilty pleasure of mine.

Which, don’t get me wrong, if any of you would care to gift me with $900 million, my PayPal is open to you.  But if Avengers had made only $900 million, we might not have seen the Marvel Universe Stage 2.  Adjusted for movie and marketing expenditures, Batman with Superman made less profit than Superman alone.

And it’s a weird thing to watch, because:

On one level, this is a tremendous success.  Millions of people paid money to see it.  Marketing did their job supremely well getting asses into the theaters.

Yet asses did not stay in the theaters, witnessing from the steep week-over-week drop.  People went in, and did not recommend.  The folks stayed home.

Friends of mine have told me that Batman vs. Superman is not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be – and some have been mad that the media narrative became “It’s terrible,” which drove fans away from a good movie.  But that didn’t happen.  Literally millions of people went to go see it.  If they had all thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, then it would have kept going.

Instead, what I generally hear is “It’s not as bad as they say!” – and when you’re looking at an expensive movie ticket, “It’s servicable” is not what gets people’s asses to the theater.

I think what we’re seeing right now is a rejection of grimdark, which I find to be secretly beautiful.  People aren’t particularly inspired by a Superman who is trapped in a world that punishes heroism, nor a Batman who is murderously angry.  I don’t doubt that some people really get off on this idea, because they like the change of pace –

– and maybe in time, Batman vs. Superman will be hailed as a masterpiece.  That happens to a lot of movies that flop.  Expectations play a critical part in how audiences initially react to movies.  The reason some films perform terribly initially is that people wanted Harrison Ford to play Han Solo and he gave them Deckard from Blade Runner.  They thought Brad Pitt was a boxer, and instead they got Fight Club.

And what I suspect happened is that people went in hoping for fun heroism and got a faceful of gritty anger.  And they went, “Nah, not what I wanna see.”  And maybe in time, we’ll warm up to this newer, more murder-happy Batman, and this Superman who can fly halfway around the world to save Lois but can’t save Congress from a bomb in the same room, and the doubtlessly dark-and-gritty Wonder Woman.  Maybe in time, we’ll come to appreciate this movie for what it is, not what we thought it was.

Or maybe it’s an overambitious film that reached for greater heights than it could actually climb to, and the notion of heroism it peddles to people is as repellent as I find it, and the truth is it’s not very good.

Which is not to say someone won’t love it.  Once enough people see a movie, it will always acquire fans who adore it.  M. Night’s The Last Airbender has some rabid admirers.  Whether a movie is “good” for somebody inevitably comes down to “Does this movie hit my personal movie-kinks?” (note that I will personally adore any movie that has logically consistent time travel, which is why I’ll stand by both Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Primer) – and “Are the flaws of this movie ones that don’t bother me?” (maybe Charlton Heston’s overacting seems overblown to you, but by God I love him, so when Leo and Kate went the full Heston in Titanic, I said, “LET MY PEOPLE GO.”)

Batman vs. Superman has the advantage of “It’s a really unusual take on the characters” and “It’s really pretty,” which will attract some people, and lots of people don’t care about plot holes or pacing or the murderverse or any of the things that personally bother me.

And Batman vs. Superman opened up so big that the question is not, “Did anyone like it?” – because if you suckered a Batman vs. Superman-sized audience into seeing “Catwoman,” I guarantee you there would be a thousand folks touting the genius of Halle Berry – but “What percentage of people liked it?” and “Will that percentage grow, or shrink, over time?”

At this point, nobody knows.

I suspect BvS’s future looks a lot like Man of Steel’s past: People saw it.  Some people liked it because it was pretty and things went boom.  Some people really found the themes compelling and now it’s their favorite version of these heroes.

Most people watched the pretty go by, and forgot about it in a year, and maybe they’ll pick it up in the $5 DVD bin because hey, it was easy on the eyes.

But come the day they want comfort watching, most people are gonna choose the Avengers.

See ya, Supes.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, grabbed a reporter’s arm.

He went to jail for this.

Now, the charge he’s going to trial for for is simple battery, which is defined as “1) Any actual and intentional touching or striking of another person against that person’s will (non-consensual), or 2) the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person.”

And some of you are going, “Jesus, he just grabbed her arm, that’s a lot to go to jail for.”

Yet if you’re smart, you can learn a vital lesson about consent and BDSM from this.

Because depending on who you talk to it was a hard arm grab or a trivial one, it left deep welts or it didn’t, it was meant to hurt her or it wasn’t, whether he’s a serial abuser or whether this was a genuine mistake.

Which is a lot like any BDSM consent violation: there’s always a swirl of conflicting facts after the event, with people debating precisely what happened and whether the victim should (or should not) be upset by this, and hauling out the credentials that “X is a good person, they’d never mean to hurt someone.”

That’s the usual storm of uncertainty. It comes standard with any consent violation – and you can debate whether it should be society’s modus operandi, but at this point in time this is how humans currently operate.

Yet what isn’t in dispute is that after it happened, Lewandowski denied anything bad happened, saying that Michelle Fields made it up. Trump’s campaign denied anything bad happened. Trump denied anything bad happened. And when presented with video evidence that something happened, they doubled down and said, “Nothing happened, and even if something did happen, she’s crazy.”

And a funny thing happens when your first reaction is “WE DID NOTHING WRONG NOTHING HAPPENED WE’RE GOOD PEOPLE SHUT UP YOU’RE NUTS”:

The people you’ve tried to erase will sometimes go to great fucking lengths to prove you wrong.

And so Michelle Fields got angrier and angrier at watching her pain get written off. As the Trump campaign rebutted her denials with “NOTHING HAPPENED,” she was left with a choice: quietly agree she was as irrational as they claimed, or go balls-to-the-wall to prove that yeah, something happened.

She found enough evidence to make Corey Lewandowski’s life hell.

Which, again, is a common failure mode in the BDSM community – something bad happens during play, the top screams “I’M NOT A BAD PERSON ONLY BAD PEOPLE VIOLATE CONSENT THEREFORE NOTHING BAD HAPPENED,” and the victim of the consent violation is faced with a choice: stay quiet and agree that they’re a liar, or to go to great lengths to refute the person who injured them.

It usually doesn’t end well for the top when the victim goes volcanic.

Which leads us to the actual lesson:

Do you think Corey Lewandowski would be in jail if his initial response had been “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to injure you, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again?”

My answer is, “No.” He’d have people calling for him to be fired, of course – but this is politics. You’ll always find someone calling for someone’s resignation.

And I’ve watched enough consent violations happen to watch the difference between the Big Domly Doms who believe their reputation rests on perfection, and the folks who went, “Aww, man, sorry you got hurt, are you okay?”

Now, nothing’s a guarantee. Your apologizing doesn’t mean the person who got hurt is obliged to accept your apology, and anyone who thinks that apologies equal forgiveness is generally a manipulative person. Sometimes you apologize and someone still escalates and yes, that’s a reality no one should deny.

That said, in practice, most people will accept an admission that something went wrong, whether you intended it to or not.  A “Sorry you got hurt. I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again” often prevents someone from escalating to, you know, bringing the cops in.

Sane people understand that BDSM involves risk, and bad things can happen when good people misread one another.

Yet what happens in the Big Domly Dom world is what happened in Big Domly Trump world: there is a huge hubbub about how much of an injury is necessary before you should apologize, and really isn’t this so-called “victim” a big baby, and nothing really happened anyway so why are we discussing this?

I personally think that apologies aren’t so precious that they should be doled out according to a perceived need. If I intended to do nothing bad to you and you wound up hurt, jeez, I’m sorry. (And particularly if I’m doing a BDSM scene with you, where I intended to bring you satisfaction in some way and you instead experienced trauma, then yes, I am very sorry.)

But if you have to be the hard-edged Domly Dom who refuses to apologize unless there’s good reason to, ponder this:

The good reason is that apologizing, even for incidents you consider trivial, is often the best way to defuse potential drama coming down the line. Maybe you don’t think you did anything wrong – but someone is hurt regardless, and if you choose to erase, belittle, or undermine their hurt, *they may decide that you are their enemy*.

That “I’m sorry” often protects you.

Which is, as so much of my advice is, giving practical reasons to be a nice person. You can debate all day exactly what happened between Corey Lewandowski and Michelle Fields – but his refusal to acknowledge that anything happened, even if it was trivial, was a factor in Michelle going to the cops weeks later.

A trivial hurt can still be worth an apology.

And I predict a slew of Domly Doms going, “Nah, she woulda gone to the cops anyway! Women like that are hysterical! They’re out to get us!” At which point I will suggest, gently:

Next time someone tells you, “You hurt me,” try leading with “I’m sorry” and “I’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” (And then, for optional credits, instead of blustering about that crazy person, look at your habits and determine what might have gone wrong to bring this person pain. For optimal results, start with the assumption that the hurt person is not a vindictive wuss.)

Try apologizing when someone complains.

You might be surprised by what happens when you’re not an asshole.

(Inspired by this excellent FetLife Writing.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One guy alone is an addict. He’s toking up, drinking up, shooting up by himself, and that’s not good.

He needs a friend.

Because if two people are toking up, drinking up, shooting up, then suddenly it’s social! You’re not there because of the drug; this is a convivial event, where you’re enjoying each other’s company and surely your buddy would tell you if you were getting out of line with your habit.

Your presence justifies their needs.

So a lot of the times, an addict will be very aggressive in getting people to try whatever the hell it is they’re hooked on – not because they necessarily think you’ll enjoy it, but because if you do buy into the thing they’re pushing then it makes their lives easier. You become proof they’re not that bad. After all, someone else is doing it with them!

“Giving advice” can be a kind of drug.

You’ll see people pitching these horrifically broken philosophies, ones that are cruel and dysfunctional and seething with drama underneath the shiny surface – and they’re pitching these philosophies hard, because every person they can get on their side is one more person they can hold up as evidence.

Like the drug-pushers, they’re not overly concerned if you’re happy – they’re enlisting you to justify their life choices, and it’d be nice if you were happy, but their main goal is trotting you out to show, “LOOK, MY WAY WORKS.”

Which is why you have to be careful, taking advice. Some people give advice not to help you, but to rationalize the fallout from their bad decisions.

Some advice is good, natch. But if someone’s informing you of yet another One True Way where if you just follow their advice and never deviate from it you’ll become a flawless and wonderful person just like them, look closer.

Chances are, you’ll find some sad schmuck desperately trying to amass an army to look like a bold leader.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Every so often, I’m forced to haul out my two suicide attempts to justify my opinions on depression.  I’m glad I have them.  If I didn’t have the hospitalization and sleeping pills under my belt, I might be unconvincing.

Thing is, I’m told that if I had real depression, I’d automatically agree with this random depressive person’s viewpoint.  Because all depressive people “know” this to be true.

And no.

Not all depressive people come to the same conclusions.

No group ever does.

There are people raised in evangelist households who believe fiercely in Jesus and others who became staunch atheists – sometimes different outcomes from brothers and sisters who slept in the same room.  There are combat veterans who’ve concluded that wars are useless, and combat veterans who believe war is the only way, and sometimes they’re from the same unit.  There are disabled people who have bottomless pity for anyone who shares their symptoms, and disabled people who have come to believe that the other disabled people are whiners.

Yet too many people argue that “If you walked a mile in my shoes, you’d understand!”  And that’s erasing all of humanity’s glorious and contradictory messiness.  That’s a subtle way of saying all minorities are this hive mind who  all vote Democrat and anyone who votes Republican can’t actually have been raised right.

It’s an explicit way of saying that everyone is secretly a carbon copy of you, and they’d all be like you if they’d been raised as you.

T’aint true, McGee.

Which isn’t to erase your experiences.  I think it’s critical to understand other experiences as best we can, which is why I so frequently draw your attention to other people’s viewpoints.  If you’re a guy, trying to understand what a woman goes through as a member of society is useful.  If you’re a woman, trying to understand the guy’s perspective is useful.  And if you’re binary, understanding what the genderqueer and trans and other folks on the spectrum experience can expand your perspectives.  Speaking out without contemplating whether your situation may differ from other people’s is hurtful and thoughtless and should be rectified.

But what occasionally happens when people from the same background clash is an immediate war of credentials.  “Hey, did you do this?”  “I did that, and better!”  And the next thing you know everyone’s snarled in a gigantic game of one-up because the person with the worst experiences is the one who has the “real” viewpoint.  You wouldn’t think that if you’d been through my hell!

They might think that.  Your experience is not someone else’s conclusion.

We’re different.

That is, astoundingly, why we make progress.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I was always disappointed when I met a new friend who smoked.  And after watching ’em light up for the first time, I’d say:

“Hey.  You are aware that smoking can give you lung cancer, right?”

They’d look at me like I was crazy.  But when they saw I was mostly serious, they nodded.  “Yeah.  I know that.”

That was the end of the discussion.

I didn’t agree with their nicotine habit, but I figured that they’d been bombarded with anti-smoking messages and doctors’ warnings and people berating them like Baby Jesus was suffocating in their lungs, so… I did my due diligence.  I made sure.

And once I knew they had access to the information, I gave them the credit for having weighed all the factors I’d seen and deciding upon a different conclusion.  It was not, I thought, a wise conclusion – but if a lifetime’s worth of haranguing them hadn’t budged them from standing out in twenty-below weather to fill their lungs with poison, certainly I wasn’t providing any new information that was going to help.

They’d either do it or they wouldn’t.  And I wouldn’t help ’em – no smoking in my car, no smoking in my house, pop a breath mint before smoochy-times – but I gave them the respect of understanding that they either didn’t care, or didn’t have the willpower or genetics or whatever the fuck it took to drop a habit, and let it go.

Because I wasn’t bringing them anything new.  I didn’t have some freshly-conjured trick for quitting smoking, or a fresh twist on hoary medical statistics.

Everything I could tell them was something they knew already.

Which is why I have such disdain for most evangelism.  Hey, have you heard the word of Jesus?  Who fucking hasn’t?  How arrogant is it of you to assume that someone’s missed out on literally the most popular religion in the Western World?  How fucking stupid do you think I am to think that I’ve never had an opportunity to hear what Jesus said before your dumb ass came along?

Which is not to say that I believe you should be silent about Jesus.  Remember, I am a believer.  But if I talk about it, it’s by putting it out there in a highly personal sense – here’s the prayer that helped me – and I don’t offer religion-as-comfort unless someone comes to me and wants to know how I do this.

I make myself known as a Christian, when I can.  But I give people the respect of assuming they’ve seen Christianity in many forms, and if that was something that appealed to them, then they’d have investigated it by now.  The guy who converted me to Christianity didn’t do it by shoving Bibles down my throat – he did it by having his shit so together that I eventually asked him, “Hey, how do you keep so calm when everything’s going crazy?”

Which happened because he didn’t treat me like I was a problem to be fixed.  He didn’t look down on me because I was a hot mess at 20 and flailing and stupid, and for God’s sake boy how could you not know the healing power of Jesus?  How could you be so foolish as to overlook this solution that works for everybody?

Instead, he told me what worked for him.  And what worked for him didn’t work for me – Bob was big on churchgoing and ritual – but enough of it stuck that it really helped.

Which I bring up because I wrote about people who need wheelchairs yesterday, and this dude said, “Hey, you know, some people have truly degenerate diseases and they can’t walk… but have the rest of you considered working really hard at physical therapy?  I mean, like really working?  Some of you could walk all you wanted if you put the effort in, have you thought about that?”

Which is, honestly, a valid concern on some level.  There are some folks out there who might lead a better life if they put more effort into physical therapy, and some percentage of folks who are disabled are partially handicapped by their own inability to put the effort in.

But honestly?

What are the fucking odds that nobody’s ever told these people, “Work harder!

I tend to assume that, like my smoking friends, who routinely got hissed at by anti-smoking factions and doctors and all sorts of people, folks in wheelchairs have heard “Try harder.”  In fact, I happen to know they get called lazy all the time, even with people who I absolutely know personally are not.   I know that every last one of them has heard an inspirational story from some formerly-atrophied person who fought and battled and got out of their chair and got to the Special Olympics and became a world-class athlete…

Yet somehow, all of that has failed to budge the needle.

And it’s highly unlikely that you coming along and snapping off the moral equivalent of, “Hey, have ya heard about Jesus?” is going to be that moment that lifts them up.  It’s more likely that you’ll come off as a total fucking asshole to most people – because the people who are genuinely disabled will feel like shit because you’re essentially telling them “Hey, you don’t know you’re disabled, have you tried it my way?” and the people who maybe could help themselves with more effort have already been bombarded with your generic inspiration porn before and hey, that didn’t bring them to a realization either.

In other words, you’re basically a spammer – I don’t give a shit who wants my message or not, maybe 0.0001% of the people will be moved by my relentless inability to shut up, and who cares if this irritates them?  I’m the TROOF!

Whereas I honestly think if you’re the shining paragon you claim to want to be, you accept that the tactics you’re using haven’t worked generically on these people until now, and raise concerns gingerly, and take great care when pointing out “You know, there are other ways” not to do so in a way that essentially accuses your audience of not being as smart as you are.

Because if you were that smart, you’d know how well “insulting people’s intelligence” goes down.

Look.  There are always people who aren’t trying hard enough – whether that’s hard enough to quit smoking, or hard enough to find the philosophy that brings them peace, or hard enough on their own physical form.  But there is a distinct difference between a “Hey, this works for me, maybe it could work for you,” and the preening “HEY LOOK WHAT I FOUND IT’S CAUSE I’M SOOOO SMART HOW COME YOU’VE SEEN ALL THIS AND AREN’T AS SMART AS MEEEEEE.”

I think if you’re really smart, you give people the credit that they’ve heard things just like your message before, and it failed to convince.  And you start picking apart the subliminal message you send that “Hey, if you were only as talented/willfull/smart as I am, you could join me up here on my throne.”  And you think, “I have a valid message, but are there less insulting ways to get it across?”

Then you rework it.

You know.  If you’re really smart.  Like my friend Bob was.  Because he changed my life in a way a thousand evangelists couldn’t.

…but one more thing.  If you’re unconvinced by this, you may have picked up on the hidden meta-message in this essay – namely, that if you were only as smart as I am, you’d alter your communications patterns!  And I’d like to suggest something subtle, here:

The less you find this convincing, the more you may need to read it.

Because odds are good it may be a variant on the message you’re pushing.



Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m lucky enough to have infinite steps.  I don’t even count ’em when I wake up in the morning: I take the dog out for a walk, and my legs keep working for as long as I want ’em to.  I go to the museum and I pay no attention to the distance between galleies.  However many steps I need to take, they’re just there.

Most of you don’t even think that’s a blessing.  Trust me, it is.

Some of my friends have zero steps: their legs stopped working.  They’re “traditionally” disabled, because their muscles or their nerves don’t respond, and no amount of effort can get them walking.  It sucks, and sucks hard, but at least that step count is predictable.

Unlike my friends who play the Step Lottery every day:  How many steps do they get before their body gives out?

That variance is huge.  Some days, they’ve got so many steps they can walk everywhere and have steps left over at the end of the day.  Other days, they get a paltry thousand and give out in the middle of the grocery store.

And they don’t have some magical step gauge that counts down to zero: they wake up, they feel great, and they only discover today’s Step Lottery gifted ’em a slim 500 steps  when they’re halfway to Wal-Mart.

Wherever they give out, they’re done.   It’s like an old D&D wizards’ spell; they’re not getting any more steps until they’ve rested for eight hours.

And when you run out of steps three blocks from home, you’re fucking screwed.  If you didn’t have the energy to walk, you sure as hell don’t have the energy to crawl.  So if you’re lucky, you sit on a bench for hours and hope your body somehow considers it restful.

If you’re not lucky, you’re stuck there until a friend picks you up.

If you’re really not lucky, you don’t have a friend.  Hope you can afford a cab!

When able-bodied people see a wheelchair, they think “That person can never walk.”  And if they see that person getting up out of the wheelchair, they often think, “That person’s cheating!  They’re not really disabled!  They were fooling me!”

Nope.  That wheelchair is their insurance against the Step Lottery.  Because they can walk now, but at some point during the day their body is all but guaranteed to give out on them… and it’s a hell of a lot easier to bring the wheelchair when you don’t need it than it is to be wheelchair-less when you do need it.

They’re not fooling you at all, buddy.  Their bodies slip between “walking” and “not walking” with frightening speed, and they can’t predict when that wheelchair is going to be the only thing that gets them home today.  So be gentle.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“I see far too often now people reading articles like ‘Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem‘ and just going along with the narrative as if anecdote were somehow evidence.”

That’s some random dude’s Facebook comment in response to my “Why I Don’t Play Magic Any More” piece, where I spoke about how I stopped playing Magic because a) I play Magic because I like hanging around with fun people slinging cards, and b) a lot of those people were That Guy who cracked gay and sexist jokes, so c) since I really fucking hate that guy, I wasn’t incentivized to show up.

But he’s got a good point.  Why should we listen to anecdotes when it comes to harassment in gaming?  Why don’t we get formal data?

Why doesn’t this guy ask his female, gay, and minority friends what they’ve encountered to start turning anecdote into data?

What I’ve noticed about the guys who shrug and go, “Well, that’s just anecdotal” is that they never seem much interested in checking to see whether these experiences are common or not.  They have access to friends, presumably, so it’d be as simple as posting something on their Facebook wall: “Hey, my female gamer-friends, have you had similarly negative experiences to this?”

And then you could start seeing what percentage of your female buddies had endured harassment or negativity in gaming stores.  Data incoming!

(Some percentage of them would doubtlessly tell you they’d experienced harassment and so what, that’s just what happens in gaming, grow tougher skin – but that’s a separate issue.)

But no.  Generally, “That’s just anecdotal” is a synonym for “I’m about to write this off because it seems unbelievable to me” – as, in fact, this dude did later in the same thread, saying, “I find several of the points made patently absurd and quite frankly I see no reason to believe that the stories mentioned are even true.”

I checked his Facebook wall and he didn’t bother to explore it further, just wrote it off: This experience of a woman, which I am not, seems hyperbolic. As such, I reject it.

But hey!  I heard you complaining several paragraphs back, and I’m getting to you – the plural of “anecdote” is not data, am I right?  Why don’t we do a scientific survey to find out how widespread harassment in gaming is?

Well, trickier than you’d think.

The problem with trying to determine the levels of harassment in gaming is that the most-abused people are probably no longer gamers at this point.  It’s like taking a survey of people who live in a city and asking, “So how many of you have moved out due to the crime here?”   Sure, if Wizards of the Coast did a big poll to ask about my personal gaming experiences, I’d see that poll because Magic is still my full-time job.  (Buy from!)

But someone who’d stopped playing Magic would not see it.  They wouldn’t be heard.

We could use that Very Scientific Survey to convince ourselves that things are just fine.  And if you’re big into honest data, like the dude concerned about this sad prevalence of anecdotal data, then you should be equally concerned about people being overlooked.

And sadly, Wizards of the Coast is about as big as it gets when it comes to gaming.  It’s not like RPGs are this multi-billion dollar industry where focus groups sit down and R&D pours thousands of dollars into scientific polls before rolling out their latest game store chain.  Most card and tabletop games are at best a couple of hundred thousand dollars dropped into Kickstarter, and most of that is covering costs.  Polls cost between $1,000 and $10,000 to take, and again, you’d have to be comprehensive in catching the people who have stopped playing games to know how bad the issue is.  Most game stores are mom-and-pop industries.

There’s simply not the money.

But wait!  What if there was a way – not entirely scientific, but better than nothing – to see whether harassment existed?  Let’s do a thought experiment!

Let’s say I’d written a post entitled “Tabletop Gaming Has An Anti-Vaccination Harassment Problem,” wherein I detailed my endless sufferings at the hands of loud anti-vaccination people screaming at me for my love of medical science whenever I walked into a store.

Or I’d written a post entitled “Tabletop Gaming Has A Suit-And-Tie Problem,” wherein I discussed the scorn I got from nattily-dressed gamers in Brooks Brothers suits mocking me for my incorrectly-tied ascot.

Or I’d written a post entitled “Tabletop Gaming Has A Vegan Problem,” where I lamented the lack of fatty, meaty foods available at gaming shops.

Can you honestly say that you believe these posts would have been passed around as widely?

Oh sure, there’s always a couple of gullible people who’ll go “That’s horrible” and post any old booshwah – that’s what Snopes is for – but in general, people post articles like this because they match up with their personal experiences.  When I saw people posting “Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem,” it was mostly women and trans people discussing how unwelcome gaming stores had made them feel in the past.

There are plenty of articles complaining about gaming.  Someone’s always got an axe to grind.  Most of these axes are nerf axes.

Whereas this one took off because it sounded plausible to the people who shared it.

If someone wrote about the problems with gamers and their obsessions with tuxedos, that article would have died on the vine because it didn’t reflect a reality they saw.

These articles catch fire because something in them indicates a problem that people have seen with their own eyes.  And again, if you asked the people who posted it whether they’d had similarly off-putting experiences, you’d generally find that most of them had.

(One woman  I saw posted the “Terrorist” article and had an acquaintance comment, “This couldn’t possibly happen, she’s making it up,” only to have his female friend document her history of abuse in gaming, year by year.  He stopped arguing shortly thereafter.)

And, I note, the dude writing about how these things couldn’t possibly exist had to work fucking hard to ignore the evidence in the thread he was posting in, because the friend of mine who’d posted my essay said that he’d seen female-unfriendly stuff he didn’t like, and other people in the thread said “This is what I still have to deal with at my home store(s),” and yet somehow the dude blazed right on past the evidence of people who spoke to him to go, “…nah.”

Keep in mind that it’s entirely possible people are wrong or misguided about what they feel.  I mean, yeah, there are people who post about the War on Christmas, and the very personal denigration they’ve felt from clerks who’ve wished them “Happy Holidays.”  But if you’re smart, you don’t tell those people, “Well, that doesn’t really exist,” but rather, “You’re overreacting to minor incidents.”  Which would be kinda dickish to women who’d complained of being groped in gaming alcoves, but at least you’d be honest about your real viewpoint.

And also keep in mind that gaming does not have to be a universal cesspool for this to be an issue to be concerned about.  Some folks pulled the “Not all men!” canard to defend gaming, and I’d agree: there are a lot of female-friendly, queer-friendly, minority-friendly shops out there.

But let’s say you go to a restaurant you love, and one time in twenty there’s bird shit in your burger.

Is that someplace you’d go to to relax?

Yeah, it’s not quite data, and there’s always going to be someone shrieking about how terrible things are, because this is a big messy world and someone’s going to get fucked over by some insensitive clod somewhere.  Hell, there’s feminist enclaves with incidents of harassment on their records, because the rule is that sadly, someone’s always going to be a dick.  Yet you’ll note a subtle distinction in these sorts of hubbubs, because there’s often a difference between “God, that’s terrible that happened over there!” and “This terrible thing is similar to my experience!”

You just have to pay attention.

And gaming is getting better.  Creators like Monte Cook and Shanna German and Mark Rosewater and hundreds of others are trying to create a more inclusive place.  Stores are being opened because the owners hated that old, dingy, hateful store and wanted to create alternatives.  It’s way better than it was a decade ago.

But while the anecdotal method has its issues, the more formal analysis you’d seem to crave doesn’t exist, and really honestly can’t.  Again, it’s really hard to find enough ex-gamers and put them in with gamers to get an accurate picture of things – and even if we could, are you crowdfunding $5,000 to find out?

You’re not, unfortunately.  Because the truth is for this dude, he looked at something he didn’t like and went, “This doesn’t happen.”  And he didn’t really care about the evidence.

He just didn’t like what he saw.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s a really painful post going around called Tabletop Gaming Has A White Male Terrorist Problem, and it’s one of those essays where you think “Oh, that’s a clickbait title” and then the more you read, the more you walk away with this unsettling feeling that it’s not a clickbait title.

But basically, it deals with the fact that a lot of gaming stores have That Guy – or Those Guys – who really make it a rude and unforgiving place for women, and blacks, and gays.

Running into That Guy is a large portion of why I don’t play Magic any more.

I no longer have friends in the area who play Magic – so for me, going out to throw down some cards means hauling my socially-anxious self out in person to hang out with complete strangers.  (If you don’t have social anxiety, imagine Friday Night Magic as going to a four-hour long job interview where occasionally they play games.)

And when I’ve gone, there’s about a 70% chance I run into a bunch of dudes making gay jokes or some other really Not Cool gag.

And I’ve gotten so used to finding this sort of badness at the heart of Magic that it’s not fun for me to go.  I am, as noted, nervous as fuck among strangers anyway, and waiting for the nerve strike of Oh, will these nice people turn out to have the nasty underside is like being at the dentist knowing the guy has a bad habit of drilling right into the nerve.   It makes it even harder to relax.

So I don’t go.  And I’ll note that of the three shops I’ve been to that had the stereotypical Comic Book Guys making crass jokes, two of them have shut down, and I like to think that is in part because I refused to hand these schmucks money.

Now, I should add that the last prerelease I went to was perfectly fine, and from everything I’ve seen Magic has gone a long way towards cleaning up its act.  Magic’s had its first trans character, and gay couples, and has been working hard to expunge the usual boob-armor from its art.  Major Magic tournaments have gotten a lot more female-friendly from everything I’ve heard, and that makes me really glad.  The people at the top are very concerned about this sort of alienation.

But what I want is a local place I can go to to draft on a weeknight, and find people that I want to hang out with, and the local places tend to have a wider variance.  For me, Magic’s never been so much about the cards as it is the fun of hanging out with people playing the cards, and so going to various card shops in the hopes of finding buddies is kind of like auditioning for bands – yeah, I could play drums anywhere, but I want to play drums with people who make the kind of music I enjoy.

And there’s a grim part of me that goes, “Well, you should go to these wayward stores and change them!”  I should put on my Social Justice Warrior armor and get the fuck out there and if these people make the wrong jokes I should snap the fuck back at them and become one of the regulars and set the environment for the store until it’s friendly in the way I’d want to hang out with…

But the point is that I want to play Magic to blow off steam.  That sort of effort would be a job on top of the jobs I have now, and it wouldn’t be a hobby so much as a crusade.  I’d need another hobby to relax from the crusade.

(Some call that privilege.  Damn right it is.)

And you know, I’m not even the target.  Again, read that woman’s experiences – they’re not unusual, from what I’ve heard.  (Such tales are less common these days, thankfully, but they’re also not unheard-of.)  Some women thrive in some gaming environments, and I’m glad for them, but there’s also a lot of women and minorities and gays who have to endure the lovely experience of chewing tin foil in order to “enjoy” the game they love.  That sucks way worse than what I have, because when I get zapped it’s because I don’t like hearing insults directed at other people – when they get zapped, it’s insulting or harassing them directly.

Again.  For me, Magic’s about the experience of playing with people, and part of this is that I am a severe introvert and it’s hard for me to open up.  But given that, it’s not hard for some off-handed slur to make me think, Okay, I’m having enough problems talking to strangers, talking to stupid strangers isn’t worth my time.

Which isn’t really a problem to be fixed.  I’m writing for two to three hours a night to put out my next book, and I don’t have a ton of time for hobbies anyway.  I can get by without Magic – I miss it occasionally, and I watch the streaming Pro Tours like an old high school jock watching the game on TV, but for me the best stories involved people, not winning PTQs.

And not all people in gaming are bad.  Not all game stores are bad.  But enough of them have problems that it’s hard for me – someone who’s slow to make friends with strangers anyway – to know which ones have the folks I’d like to hang out with.

Saying otherwise is like knowing that one in ten McDonalds is going to serve you a snotburger and going, “Not all McDonalds!”  It is, factually, a true thing.  But if there’s no way to know whether this is the good McDonald’s before you unwrap the burger, then chances are you’re not encouraged to sign up for snotburger roulette.

Basically, racism and sexism and all the isms in gaming continue to be an issue.  It doesn’t tear me apart, because I have other hobbies I can get by with – but for others, who really need to get their RPG on, that’s a significant loss for them.

And I suspect that for many like me, there’s this soft tide pushing people away from gaming – yeah, we’d like to be a part of the local community, but some parts of that community are repellent and there’s no good way of knowing which places make us feel comfortable until we’re right in the middle of what could be a very unpleasant experience.

I don’t have a sweeping conclusion here. I feel like I should offer some grand, practical solution that rallies everyone to my glorious banner. But sometimes, it’s enough to go “Yeah, this is real, I’ve experienced it, and it affects me.”

It’s real. I’ve experienced it. It affects me.

That’s all.

(And if I had to recommend a game store I knew would be good, I’d go to Critical Hit Games – which is, unfortunately, 45 minutes away from me on the other side of town.  But on the occasions I’ve been there I’ve met the manager and his girlfriend and seen a really nice mixture of all sorts of people there, and I’d trust ’em.  If you’re closer to there, I’d give ’em a shot.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So my story “Shadow Transit” – the tale of a desperate mother trying to play games with her government-interred psychic child – is reprinted in Shadows of the Abyss 2, which is currently Kickstarting right now and damned close to funding.  They have all kinds of cool rewards tiers for fans of H.P. Lovecraft, including shotglasses, Shoggoth posters, and Miskatonic University stickers.

(Also, my college-ish buddy John Palisano is in it – we both grew up in the same town, and he went on to be a Stoker-nominated horror writer, also blooming in his late thirties.  Must be something in the water. GO NORWALK CREEPINESS.  But I’m happy to finally be sharing a table of contents with him!)

And in other news….

If you liked the magic system in my novels Flex / The Flux / Fix, you may remember that it was heavily influenced by roleplaying games.  Unknown Armies was the seed of inspiration from which ‘mancy, flex, and flux all grew, because in Unknown Armies magic is literally made entirely of obsession and ritual.  I guarantee you you’d never have seen Paul Tsabo, Bureaucromancer, if I hadn’t read about UA’s pornomancers and dipsomancers.

And now UA is rebooting with a phenomenal Kickstarter.  I’ve pledged, of course, because frankly I owe these guys big – but I’ve had people ask me, “If I was going to run Flex as a campaign, what system should I run it in?”  The answer: Unknown Armies, no question.

So, you know, I can’t encourage you to pledge to this one enough.  If you like roleplaying games or the ‘Mancer series, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this one (even if the rewards tiers boil down to “Get book, get more of book, get book in alternative format”).  So, you know, go check it out.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

For some reason, I decided to write an essay that took on both anti-vaxxers and libertarians.  Unsurprisingly, I was flooded with, er, spirited comments.

Many of which sounded like total nutballs.

Maybe they had a good point.  But these folks left a comment, then came back and left another comment unrelated to the next comment they left, then left another comment with a link to some obscure site, and then left another comment….

They weren’t replying to anyone.  They just were so incensed they kept coming back with more information – but on the Internet, continually leaving stream-of-consciousness comments is a lot like that crazy guy on the subway who collars you for five minutes about how the Gold Standard was undermined by the Illuminati, gets up, leaves, and then comes back to go, “Oh, yeah, I forgot!” and harangue you some more.

I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I doubt most sane people will be convinced by anyone leaving twenty comments in response to their blog post.

(One guy is up to thirty-three unrelated comments, including “If Donald Trump gets in office the chances of all people of color being sterilized becomes a possibility,” which doesn’t make you sound like a whackjob at allllll.  That came around comment #25, which is just proof that you should stop while you’re ahead.)

(Though alas, there were three separate anti-vaxxers, each returning with a minimum of six comments apiece, each of which reads like a blustery “…And another thing!”)

So that’s Tip #1 For Leaving Convincing Comments:  Leave one and only one comment, unless you’re replying to someone else’s comment.

Tip #2 is be short.  The fifteen-page essay is something people are going to skim.  Figure you start with two paragraphs max, and then maybe expand to three if you can’t fit it all in.

This is actually scientific, weirdly enough. OKCupid did a study of what sorts of mails people respond to – and being a writer, I was shocked to find that “wall o’text” actually had next to a nil response rate.  But looking at it from the perspective of someone who receives emails, when I get a wall o’text email I think, “Okay, I should get back to them, but there’s sooooo many things to address,” and I mean to get back but then I forget.  And if I remember, it always takes more time than the people who I can reply to with a quick paragraph.

Wanna be convincing?  Brevity counts.

Tip #3 is go easy on the hyperlinks.  You’ve got people who seem to think that hyperlinking every fact lends them an air of believability, but in the absence of credibility it makes you look like a paranoid nutball.  You may think this gives you the appearance of a scholarly professor, but half your links are probably from heavily-biased sources anyway, and you don’t look like a professor so much as you look like that serial killer who’s got a corkboard full of pictures and newspaper articles connected by thumbtacked string.

If you’re making a point, linking to one serious article will be more widely read than fifty billion links.

Tip #4 is read carefully.  Before you get all outraged, read it again to ensure that you read it right.  If you’re going to argue against someone, be sure they’re saying something you actually oppose.  Too many people read a headline and miss nuance, and then wind up getting destroyed in the comments because, well, the article doesn’t actually say what they think it did.

Finally, Tip #5 is if you’re going to be a dick, be a clever one.  Calling someone an asshole is never going to convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced already – and hey, if that doesn’t bother you then you’ve shifted from “I want to leave convincing comments” to “I want to leave harassing comments,” in which case you should die in a fire.

See?  That totally didn’t convince anyone who didn’t already believe “Calling someone an asshole is bad behavior.”

No, if you’re going to be snide, be subtle: undermine their arguments, not the person.  Point out the oh-so-obvious flaws in their logic and how a man of normal intellect should have noticed that.  Unbury all the facts they omitted.  For extra style points, bring up their inevitable rebuttal and dismantle that.

But if you stick to the argument, you’ll do a lot better, because one of the core lessons of writing is show, don’t tell.  Saying “Ferrett is an idiot” doesn’t work because people don’t meet you halfway.  But if you take apart my arguments line-by-line, demonstrating my incompetency, then you have led people to the conclusion that I am an idiot and they will then believe it with much greater vigor.

None of this, of course, ensures that you are correct.  But the sooner nerds can recognize that “being correct” and “convincing other people that you are correct” are two separate skills, the better off the world will be.  Donald Trump is quite excellent at convincing (certain swathes of) people that he is correct, but he is lying 75% of the time.  Whereas the global warming people were correct about, well, global warming, but their ability to convince people of that is sub-par.

(As my friend Bart pointed out, if these scientists were persuasive, they would have never started out calling it “global warming,” because sure enough, every time we have a cold winter you have dumb people going, “Yeah, right, this isn’t global warming.”  The proper term, which they’ve tried to switch to too late, was “climate change” or maybe “your weather gets fucking terrifyingly erratic,” but too late.)

So!  Maaaaaybe you’re correct about Donald Trump using vaccinations to sterilize Mexicans and the injection internment camps that will inevitably flow from his election.  But remember, your being correct about this is not the same as appearing to be correct, so leave better comments!

Oh, and actually, you’re wrong about that Donald Trump thing.  Sorry.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So here’s the problem with vaccination:

It works.

It works really well.

It works so well that there’s not enough residual problems left to remind people Hey wait, this will make our lives miserable if we stop doing it.

It’s not like fighting terrorism, where even the best anti-terrorism campaign slips up occasionally and then we get a bloody reminder of The Need To Stay Vigilant: no, a successful vaccination program is defined by the absence of kids in wheelchairs, of zero deafened children, of not watching 10% of the five-year-olds at your local pre-school get mangled by measles.

Vaccination is so goddamned successful that people forget what the pre-vaccination world was like.

So they start to think, “Well, all this health is the baseline.”  They forget that vaccination is the reason for all this health, and come to believe that somehow, naturally, in the wild, things would just go fine.

Which is the logic of a six-year-old believing that everybody just gets a house to live in, and it’s so terrible that Daddy has to work for nine hours a day because if he just quit his job then they’d still have a house and everyone would get more time with Daddy…

But that’s what happens when people are shielded from the downsides.  Most six-year-olds haven’t been close to the realities of being homeless.  Even if Mommy and Daddy are working overtime to try to stop their landlord from kicking them out, the kid’s clueless – they just see the stress of working so much, and they’ve always had this apartment, so why is everyone so concerned about losing it?  You can’t lose a home, that’s silly, it wouldn’t happen.

So the anti-vaxxers start dismantling vaccination.  Because they have no concept of what the alternative is like.

Which is a lot like regulation.  Regulation works.  It works disturbingly well.  Yet you see tons of libertarians asking not the sensible question of “Why do we need these particular regulations?” but the more terrifying question of “Why do we need regulations at all?”

And these libertarians haven’t read up on their history, because the 19th century was exactly what they wanted – almost no taxes, practically zero regulations, things mostly handled by private industry – and if you want a glimpse at what this glorious future brought us, read The Poisoner’s Handbook for a solid compendium of nonregulatory horrors that the free market failed to solve.

(Spoiler: things were bad enough that the voters demanded these regulations.)

But it’s the same problem.  Because this new and safe generation have never dealt with butchers putting sawdust into putrid meat to sell it to you for cheap, or personally watched a tenement burn because a cheap home-owner built his fireplaces out of wood – no, that happened – they think that businesspeople will just miraculously be nice to their customers because the customers have infinite time to research and infinite alternatives to buy from and the business people certainly won’t indulge in propaganda to muddy the waters.

Your restaurants are sanitary because regulations force business-owners into actions they wouldn’t normally take.  And it’s fine to argue to reduce regulations if there’s too many to follow, because regulations do start choking business after a time – but when you start saying, “Hey, business would just fix this stuff on their own if we left them alone, why do we need regulations at all?” then you’re back to the vaccination problem.  You forgot history.

And it’s the same way that American liberals seem to think that the military is just this frippery we keep around for no good reason, and all the other countries would just miraculously be nice to us if we sold all of our F-18s off in bake sales, simply because America’s in a comparatively isolated area and the military’s been good at keeping local revolutions down.  (And you may be like, “I don’t like it when they suppress our revolutions,” but then you look at the way the National Guard got brought in to keep the civil rights movement safe from the locals who’d overrule the law, and realize that it cuts both ways.)

That’s a problem.  If a solution works really well, within a few generations we have naive idiots who think that this new, hard-won order of things is just how things are naturally.

And they start looking at all the downsides of this solution and come to the foolish conclusion that the downsides outweigh the upside because there is no upside, things would be exactly the same if we removed the solution, so why not get rid of the military or regulations or vaccination?

How do you convince them when they refuse to look at the past?

And that’s an insolvable problem.  It’s frightening to think that our future may be this continual battle for civilization, because things won’t collapse all the way.  The people who remember how bad things are won’t let them collapse all the way.  And the forgetful idiots won’t see the problems they’re causing – because remember, to them, all the goodness is just what happens naturally.  So when more kids get measles, then a microscopic-and-also-totally-imaginary chance at autism is worse than the school-wide pandemics they don’t realize they’re causing, and when businesses have their regulations taken away and yet still mysteriously choose to fuck over their workers and customers, that’s because something else is blocking these job-creators from unleashing the kindness that’s clearly present in their hearts.

The truth is, we’ll probably be battling naive idiots all our lives, and these people will never understand that they’re actually agents of total fucking chaos.

I don’t know how to solve it.  The only way I can think to solve it is to start with almost propaganda-like levels of schooling – long curriculums showing kids the horrors of the days before vaccinations and regulations and a sturdy military.

The problem is, if that worked, then eventually some idiot would start saying, “Come on, man!  Who wouldn’t understand that regulations and the military and vaccination were good things?  People just know that.  There’s no need for these classes.”

Next thing you know, it’s another battle. And there we go again.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I played Beyond Two Souls this weekend, and I absolutely adored everything about it. It had a strong storyline that justified just about every quirky narrative choice, a female lead who my heart ached for, and a large-scale story that ended solidly.

My daughter and I also mocked it relentlessly over the entire weekend.

The problem is that Beyond Two Souls is a videogame in the new “Interactive Storytelling” genre, and the failure mode of Interactive Storytelling is that you wind up pressing buttons to do the most trivial of tasks. (Heavy Rain, in particular, features you using the controls over the course of ten minutes, to get the protagonist off the bed, maneuvering him to the bathroom, working the joystick to shave him properly, turning on the shower, drying himself off, choosing his clothes, during which it is impossible to fail.)

So Amy and I kept shouting things like “Press X to coffee!” and “Press X to shiver from cold!” and “Press X to battle this ever-encroaching sense of ennui!” and “Press X to baby!  Baby harder, Jodie!  Baby harder!”

Interactive Storytelling is both glorious and ridiculous, and as such it is polarizing in the videogame community.  How can you call it a videogame if the game itself is an appendage, this sad dotting of Quicktime events?  I’m usually down for a good challenge in videogames, but I put BTS on “Easy” mode because frankly, I’d made a character choice to beat up this faux-Somali on this mission, and I didn’t feel like watching my heroine fail dismally because I forgot which button was the triangle.

Yet there is something compelling about being part of a story.  Yeah, you can watch movies, but when you’ve made the decision to either forgive or flay your parents, you get engrossed.  I couldn’t wait to see what happened next in Beyond Two Souls, just as I couldn’t wait to see what happened next in Until Dawn, just as I’m itching to complete Heavy Rain even though the controls suuuuuuuck.

The problem is the story’s never deep enough.

See, the issue with all the storytelling games I’ve played is that they promise “Interactive choices!” – by which they mean to imply you can change the plot.  But because these videogames are big-budget adventures, graphically beautiful, every genuine plot divergence is millions of dollars put into branching paths you may never see.

So after you’ve played through once, you realize that there’s never any real variance.  Heavy Rain is a mystery, but the murderer is always the same person.  Beyond Two Souls is a science-fiction action adventure, but it’s filled with lots of dramatic chokepoints of But Thou Must where you’re obliged to kill this bad guy or sneak out of this Navajo home.  You control who lives or dies in horror game Until Dawn, but the same sequence of events will play over and over again, with plot-dependent characters being immune until the final scene.

The Interactive Storytelling allows you to make choices.  And those choices can affect some of your emotional shading – if I decide to choke my father in Beyond Two Souls, well, he’ll be mad at me.  But my dad is leaving forever in that scene regardless of what I do, so the effect is that I feel bad but no events change.

And I think Interactive Storytelling will be forever stunted until they figure out a way to fuse plot and choices.  You can be furious at Ryan or you can be in love with Ryan or you can be indifferent to Ryan, but you can never leave Ryan.  And they give you all sorts of good rationales for that, because Ryan is your CIA partner and the missions need you, but past a certain point you realize that the stories they tell are constricted because they can only tell stories where you can’t alienate or leave certain people.  Every Interactive Storytelling tale in this has people in boxes, and after you play through for the first time you see the rails.

What would really blow the genre way open would be the introduction of true plot-changing decisions.  Like Ryan?  You keep doing CIA missions for him, and you have a plotline that blossoms into global politics.  Don’t like Ryan?  You branch off into another storyline where you go it on your own and never see the global politics thread.

Ah, but budgets are tricky, and it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on visuals that you’ll never see.  If they design a setpiece, they need to justify that you’ll see it, and pouring the cash into a scene that at minimum 50% of the game’s players would never see on the first playthrough because they told Ryan to go to heck is hard to swallow.

(And that assumes you don’t get the usual heavy videogame abandonment rate issues.  Lots of people never finish a game.  That “50% don’t see it” number might be closer to 80% when you count in the folks who never got that far.)

Yet if you had a true plot, well, you’d have more than one branching plot choice – you’d have this glorious iceberg of a game where 90% of it was hidden from you because you made choices that took you away from fully-fledged levels.  One decision early in the game would wall you off from 50% of the levels, and then another crucial decision an hour later would wall you off from 50% of the remaining levels, and so on until you talked to your friends and realized that hey, they played an entirely different game than you did.

That would be a game people would play in droves – assuming the storytelling was equally compelling in every segment, and you’d have to write dialogue and quality controls and graphics for each of these levels that were different, and economically I don’t think it’ll ever work.

As it is, I loved Beyond Two Souls.  But I don’t think I’ll play it again.  All the differences converge in 24 different endings, and hell, I know what happened until those final ten minutes of the game, I’ll just watch it all on YouTube.

But I long for a game I won’t see.  I want a game where my psychic character can walk away from The Institute and evade the FBI and have some plotline utterly unrelated to the ones where the character went to boot camp and became a psychic soldier.

Won’t happen.

But I can dream.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Hard Work Does Not Equal Talent.
It helps, to be certain. The more you write (as long as you’re writing with the idea to improve), the more you better your chances of creating something magnificent.

But every writer knows some prodigy who writes rings around them.  Someone whose talent blossomed much younger.  Someone who doesn’t work nearly as hard as you do, yet creates stories of beauty and majesty that you can’t touch.

What sucks about this business is that all you can do is cultivate your own talent.  Some people just write better than you do, and you can drive yourself crazy wondering why they’re so good and you’re so struggling.  There’s this myth that the person who puts in the most effort magically succeeds – yet just like there are gifted athletes, there are gifted writers, and most basketball players have to come to terms with the fact that no amount of practice will give them Michael Jordan’s instincts.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be on the All-Star Team, though.  You just have to remember that every moment lost to envy is a moment you’re not bettering your own skills.

Talent Does Not Equal Success.
What is success, anyway?  Is it awards?  Money pouring through your door?  The adoration of people who admire?

Whatever it is, every writer knows an exception.

There’s always some immaculately-reviewed writer who, somehow, never makes the awards ballot.  There’s always some critical darling with a cancelled series and friends wondering why more people aren’t reading them.  There’s always some bestselling author fuming about bad reviews.

Look, if publishers knew how to generate bestsellers on demand, they’d do it.   But as William Goldman, the guy who wrote The Princess Bride says, “Nobody knows anything.”  Publishers buy a bunch of manuscripts because honestly, nobody in the world knows why one novel takes off and another one sits on the shelves.  Publishers have thrown million-dollar marketing campaigns at books that landed with a thud, whereas self-published books with an initial print run of 200 copies turned out to be bestsellers.

And then there’s the luck factor.  Fun fact: a few months ago, a prominent agent read my book Flex and raved about it.  I know that agent has recommended Flex to their friends, because some of their friends have written to me and told me how grateful they were that this agent told them about it.

I sent Flex to this agent.

They were one of the first three people who declined to represent me because they didn’t think Flex was good enough.

But that doesn’t mean the agent is terrible: it means they were in a different headspace that day, or that some minor change I made to the first chapter really made a difference, or that their assistant read it that day instead of them.  So much of success involves the right person reading your book on the right day that it can drive you crazy.

All you can do is write the best book you’re capable of, and hope to hell it resonates with the public.  It may be a brilliant book, one that broke the hearts of your agent and your publisher and all your friends and all your author buddies, and even then it might flop.  And then Fifty Shades of Grey will outsell you a million to one.

The alchemy of writing is mysterious.  Success is elusive.  And while we’re talking about that…

A Talented Writer Does Not Produce Consistently Talented Works.
The late great Jay Lake had a theory he called The Bathtub Theory, and I’ll quote it in full here (his site has illustrations):

Think of the publishing world as a bathtub.

In that bathtub there is a line which represents the level of professionalism one must reach before one can begin selling pro stories.

Into that bathtub flows the water of your talent and effort.

It fills over time, as you practice your craft, learn new techniques, refine existing ones, submit to markets, apply consistent effort to producing new materials and generally do all the writing and writing related program activities which your favorite pros spend their time at. Note that the waterline is wavy, like a child’s drawing of the ocean. This is because while you have a baseline, or mean, level of quality in your output, at any given point in your career path some work will be better than other work. Variability within an established range, so to speak.

So, as the water of your talent and effort continues to flow into the bathtub, the waterlevel rises up.

At first you sell one or two stories over a span of time. The peaks of your waves have touched the “pro line.” Then you begin to sell with some consistency, still missing sometimes. The midline of your waves has touched the “pro line.” Eventually, if you are smart, persistent, lucky, and most of all consistent in your practice, even the troughs of your waves will rise to the “pro line”.

Think of success not as a point which you pass, but as a state which you enter with increasing frequency.

The point of this is that people seem to think that a Good Writer writes A Good Story.  And the truth is, some stories you write are brilliant because you’re on fire, and some stories just aren’t that great.  Good writers have a baseline level of talent, yes, so when Stephen King writes a bad story it’s like sex and pizza – which is to say, pretty good even when it’s not good –

– but some stories you write will be wonderful, and some won’t, and damn if you know the difference.  Which leads to the next myth…

Love Does Not Equal Quality.
A friend of mine told me that the third book in my series had to be good because she knew I loved these characters so much.  “You can tell when an author doesn’t really love what they’re working on.”

Sadly, no.

Again, history is rife with authors churning out classic works they didn’t really care for – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle most notably came to loathe Sherlock Holmes and actually killed him off in the hopes of shedding light on the works he adored more.  (It didn’t work.)  Those stories were still golden.

Whereas every author has a story they adored that never got the success they’d hoped for.  And most writers have a story that fans liked way more than they, the person who actually wrote the story, did.

There is no steady correlation between “the amount of adoration you poured into this work” and “how much people like it.” We wish this was so – but according to Stephen King, Lisey’s Story is his best work, not IT or The Stand or The Dark Tower.

You may be sensing a theme here – that there’s no guarantee in publishing.  This may seem frustrating.  I assure you, it is.  But there’s one benefit to it all…

We Are Not In Competition With Each Other.  
I graduated from a Clarion class with seventeen other writers.  My classmate Monica Byrne’s The Girl In The Road debuted to fantastic reviews. My classmate Emily Jiang’s book Summoning the Phoenix won awards.  My classmate Kat Howard’s upcoming book Roses and Rot got personally blurbed by Neil Gaiman.

Their success does not eclipse my own.

Look.  My ‘Mancer series is a crazy urban fantasy series about obsession-based magic and the love of donuts.  Monica’s Girl In The Road is a cross-cultural science-fiction journey about a woman who flees assassins by walking across an energy-harvesting bridge.  Emily’s book is a children’s poetry book of Chinese music.  Kat’s book is fairy tale magic.

None of us are writing for the same audience.

And frankly, even if we were, there’s always room for good stories.  J.K Rowling’s success did not mean Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Scott Hawkin’s Library At Mount Char got squashed, even if they were basically all the same concept.

People want to read fascinating tales, and if you write one they will buy them.

Yeah, it’s sometimes a little intimidating looking at other authors’ sales numbers, but they’re not stealing from my pocket.  Rowling got a lot of kids into reading, and chances are a couple of people who were spurred to a love of books by Harry Potter picked up Flex.  What matters is the story, and yeah, maybe other authors write better or have bigger sales or are more beloved by critics…

But as always, all you can do is make your own space.

That’s the truth about writing.

Good luck.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


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