theferrett: (Meazel)

Yesterday, a miracle happened: I read an article in THE WEEK that was universally negative.

In case you’re not familiar, THE WEEK is a magazine that summarizes editorials around the world, usually taking four or five takes on a given news story and boiling them down into a half-page “He thinks/she thinks.”  It’s a great way of getting news you wouldn’t normally get – especially the International pages, where I get to see Indonesian takes on their new leader, or hear what the Pakistani take on Malala Yousafzai is.

And invariably, those boiled-down essays disagree with each other, because that’s the format THE WEEK has chosen.

Except for Gamergate.  The Gamergate essays culled from mainstream media couldn’t find one person in favor of Gamergate, so instead THE WEEK’s essay was “Well, why are they so fucking terrible?”  It was like watching an essay on the problem with ISIS – everyone agreed they had to be stopped, but how?  Not one major newssource really thought that Gamergate was, as they claim, actually about ethics in games journalism.

And what Gamergaters are doing is huddling back in their basements and muttering, “The news media have turned against us.”

Lemme suggest something else: maybe your story fucking sucks.

Look, as a Democrat who’s watched the media constantly overlook and misrepresent things that were vitally important to me, I get how frustrating it is when Your Top News Headline gets buried.  But the central truth about any journalism is that they generally don’t report news, they report stories.  Human beings have a deep-seated, monkey urge for narrative – who’s winning?  Who’s the good guy? – and a chronic allergy to dry facts.

But the traditional narrative you folks peddle whenever your take on the world fails to make world headlines is that the media have been “co-opted,” that they’re “turning against us,” that you can’t trust them because they have been infiltrated by people at every level.

Whereas the truth is simpler: Every news outlet is dependent on the good will of its audience to survive.  If people don’t like what they’re hearing, they won’t tune in. And then, lacking either advertiser dollars or (in the case of outlets like the BBC) voter clout to keep the money flowing, they will close down.

So every news outlet – including the Breitbarts and the Huffington Posts  – has to present stories in a way that pleases their audience.  If you present them with a take that’s too far outside their reality – CNN blaring 24/7 headlines that ISIS are bold freedom fighters, the Drudge Report touting the successes of Obamacare – people tune out, and they lose money.

That requires no far-reaching conspiracy.  That’s the hand of the market, and that hand is on your neck.  The journalists aren’t controlling the message: the audience is.

And that’s not new.  Your Gamergate take isn’t hitting the headlines?  Shit, man, ask gay people who lived through the 1950s how their pro-gay takes played on CBS news.  Ask the Afghanis who are getting mauled by erroneous drone strikes how they feel about things.  The filter of the culture that we live in causes all sorts of biases, and that’s inevitable.

But what you’re gonna tell me is that the media is run by elites who want blah blah blah and fuck that.  What’s happening is that your story, the one you’re trying to sell to the media right now, is not popular.  You’re like the asshole who shows up at black-tie fundraiser in a “NO FAT CHICKS” T-shirt and a beer funnel hat, then concludes that because you weren’t well-liked there, everyone must have conspired to ensure your personal demise.

Maybe your story fucking sucks.

And it might fucking suck that your story sucks, because as I just said, “stories” are not “the truth.”  The George Bush take that “Those terrorists attacked us, so we’ll take the fight to them!” was a great story, right out of the Hollywood playbooks, and it barely had a scrap of truth in it – but by God, the media fuckin’ loved it.  (That turned out to bite Bush in the ass when his promises of bold quick-access freedom didn’t pan out, and then the story became “Loser can’t swing a victory,” but that’s the danger of peddling stories – if you can’t make the facts fit your narrative, the media will devise their own narrative to fit your facts.)

But Jesus, man, don’t mutter “The Colbert Report has turned on us.”  No.  You had a shitty story that wasn’t actually that compelling – yes, I know, you are positive that Zoe Quinn seduced all the judges in the world with her Pied Piper vag, but most people have looked at the evidence and not bought your take on things.  And I know, we didn’t look at all the facts, we didn’t investigate every nook and crevice of email the way that you have, but…

…nobody fucking does that, man.  If “Let’s look over the details” was popular, we’d have a prime-time show on NBC called “This Week’s Paragraph Of Obamacare,” where we’d investigate all the ramifications of each of one of the most complex laws ever.

You’re fighting the fucking tide of human nature, son.

And when I lost my big victory in 2004, when I wanted Kerry to kick Dubya’s ass, I didn’t go, “THE MEDIA STOPPED ME.”  I looked at it and went, “Well, shit, the guy did vacillate, he ran a poor campaign, he wasn’t inspiring at all – he was a bad candidate.  Who can we get to do better?”  So when Obama, for all his flaws, showed up, I went, “Dude can make a great speech!” and voted.  And I won.

But I wouldn’t have won if I took your whiny-ass take of “They’re out to get me!  They suppressed the truth!”  No.  The media is a conglomerate of factors, and there’s little conspiracy aside from “People don’t like to be told things they don’t want to hear.”  You told them something they didn’t want to hear.  Maybe that’s because you’re boiling over with bullshit – don’t rule that out, buddy – or maybe it’s because, like 1950s gays and dismembered Afghani citizens, your truth tells us something that society isn’t ready to listen to yet.

And for all you whine about us Social Justice Warriors, what we did was to change society so that it did listen.  More.  There’s still a lot of stuff that we don’t get through.  But we’re probably more effective because we recognize that hey, the media isn’t oppressing us, it’s simply as biased as the people who listen to it, and how do we change the minds of the listeners?

That’s how we win.

And that, Gamergate, is why we are currently kicking your ass.

Learn the lesson, or not.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Every day, on Twitter and Facebook, I see people saying things like, “Depression is like cancer, man!  It’s a disease.  You can’t just will yourself to be happy.”

And as someone who has to trot out his goddamned bona fides every time I discuss depression (two suicide attempts, annual Seasonal Affective Disorder, a decades-long history of self-harm), I agree: depression is a disease that kills.

But what I hear every time I discuss techniques to battle depression is this:

“Oh, your ‘cancer’ went into remission?  I guess you don’t really have cancer.  Because if you had real cancer, you’d know there’s nothing you can do about cancer except wait around to die.”

I get that depression tells you that nothing you do will have any effect on your life.  But so much of the culture that has sprung up around depression seems to mirror the lies that depression tells you – an inherently defeatist story that screens out any successes. People often seem far more willing to talk about what doesn’t work, sharing endless webcomics about people with awful lives and going, “See?  That’s how it is!  You just don’t understand me!” than they are to share stories of what therapies are effective for them.

Don’t get me wrong: as a depressive, I get the irritation when someone goes, “Just buck up!” and “You should be happy, your life is great!” because frankly, that doesn’t work.  And I even get the irritation of the “You should try craniofeline therapy, it involves gluing a cat to your head, it totally works for everybody I know!” thing where someone takes one approach that helped them battle their disease, and extrapolates that out to “This is the universal cure.”

But depression is an insidious and deeply personal disease.  And there’s often no one thing that solves it – you need a multifaceted arsenal of coping tools, including medications, therapy, routines, friendships, better diets, more exercise, whatever will hand you a weapon to fend off these hideous thoughts flowing into your head.

And I worry that a lot of the culture that arises around depression online basically tells people, “You shouldn’t want to do anything now because that’s the natural response to this disease, that’s the reaction you should have” sends the message: Don’t look too hard for answers.  “Being depressed” is the answer.

During a depressive state, it’s hard to muster the energy to do anything.  Willpower dwindles; it takes a Herculean effort to go grocery shopping, let alone transform your life.  And when someone has as little willpower to spare as a depressive does, I think that telling them, “Well, anyone who copes with this better than you do just doesn’t have it as bad” instead of “Maybe there are better ways of coping you could find?” hands that demon liar in their brain a darned good excuse for them not to seek the treatments that would help them on the days they have the strength.

And the sad thing is, of course, that some people are so depressed that some treatments won’t work upon them.  That’s like terminal cancer, something I have a little bit too much personal experience with these days.  But depression is not like cancer in that for many  – not all – an adjusted attitude can be one of an array of effective approaches, and why do we spend so much time shrieking “Too bad you don’t have it as terrible as I do!” instead of “Maybe that person knows something I don’t, let me see if that works for me”?

Oh, right: because of assholes who think that depression is just a modified form of laziness.  And a lot of assholes do act as though you failing to break through depression and be a shiny happy person is some personal flaw on your part.

It isn’t.  My God, it isn’t.  You’ve been stuck with a horrible, eroding disease, one that kills on a staggeringly regular basis, and you are super brave for having the energy to venture out the door to try to fix this.  And what I am saying is that though there are some days the depression will win and you won’t get anything done – that’s what depression is – on other days you’ll hopefully feel well enough to seek help.

And I hope on those days, you’ll keep seeking out newer and better ways to function during your depression.

Because let’s be honest: functioning during depression is a hell of a lot better than not functioning during depression.  If in the depths of your woe, you can find some trick that lets you go to work, pay the bills, get your medications refilled, then your life will be a lot better than letting all that slide.  So it should be a goal to try to keep up that necessary work during the bad times so that you don’t emerge from a long and crippling depressive bout to go, “I FEEL HAPPY! HAPPY!” and then discover you’re out of work, in collections court, and have no medications.

(That principle still applies even if you only have bad times.  Perhaps especially so.)

Ultimately, while I get the need to connect with that power of knowing that others are going through what you’re going through – it’s why I blog about my depression – I think it can be toxic to fall back on, “Well, if they’re coping better than I am, I must have it worse than they do.”  What I’m asking you to consider is that someone coping better than you may have a skill – a skill that you can learn.  That skill that won’t vanquish all the sadness in your life – but it may knock today’s black-dog depression down from being 100% debilitating to 95% debilitating.  And though your depression tells you that 5% won’t make any difference, over the years that and a couple of other 5% improvements can improve the quality of your life drastically.

And yes, most treatments and approaches won’t work.  That’s the way of things.  But some do, and they work for somebody, and that somebody might be you.  And I know what’ll happen is that if it doesn’t work, then your depressive brain will take other people’s successes as a club and beat you down with it to tell you “SEE? YOU FAIL AT THERAPY, WHY DON’T YOU JUST GIVE UP?”  And some days the depression will win, and you’ll believe it’s hopeless.

But remember: depression lies.  Depression tells you that you can’t get help.  And yes, maybe you’re one of the terminal ones who no treatment will help – but depression would tell you that you’re a terminal case, even if that’s not true.

Depression is hard.  And I believe it gets harder in the long run when you look at everyone who has managed to keep functioning and decided they just got lucky.  Some of them did, of course, but chances are good that some of them had it as hard as you do and found better ways to cope – which means that you might be able to get there from here.

Hope often sounds trivial or silly in the face of such a withering disease as depression.  Yet hope is a power that you can use to harness, sometimes even on days you don’t believe in it. Perseverance is not an inherent trait; it can be trained, though it takes years.   And while depression will consume an uncanny portion of your productivity, keeping an open mind that there may still be things to learn to help you with this awful fight can sometimes help you find better coping skills.  Even after three decades of battling soul-crushing sadness, I still find new ways of dealing with things.

Because, as I stated, there are no wrong answers.  Therapy.  Medications.  Diet.  Friendship.  Changed lifestyles.  Whatever fucking works for you is beautiful, because lemme tell you – I do suffer from depression.  I want you to have ALL THE TECHNIQUES.  Because as someone who’s stood at the very least pretty damned close to where you are now, all I want is for you to feel as good as you possibly can.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A while back, I was writing a breakup email to a lover of mine, and a friend asked what I was doing.

When she found out, she was horrified.  “Man, only jerks break up via email!” she said.  “That’s the worst!  You have to call!”

Well, I don’t want to be the worst, I thought.  So I vowed to do that via phone.  And then scheduling got in the way, since I can write an email any time but phone calls have to be arranged.  And weeks slid by, and crises on both ends kept intervening, and in the end what should have been a clean break turned into an embarrassing null-zone that lasted for far too long.

(And did damage to what could have been a respectful post-breakup friendship.  I’m not proud of how I handled that.)

Thing is, I’ll break up via the medium I spend most time talking to someone in.  Mostly, these days, I date remotely, and since I loathe talking on the phone (WHY IS MY TEXT-BOX MAKING THIS ANNOYING RINGING NOISE?), that means most of my communication with my long-distance partners is texting or email.  And so is the breakup.

Which might be rude, I guess.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with needing a phone call to break up, and if someone told me “If you ever break up with me, it better be at least via phone,” then I’d do that.

(They’d know they were being broken up with the second their phone rang, as my girlfriend once went into the hospital for emergency surgery and I texted her the entire time: such is my distaste for Alexander Bell’s legacy.)

And I honestly don’t know how the world perceives breakups these days, in a time when it seems everyone meets their partner via online dating and sends naughty selfies.  I know some women think, “God, a guy who breaks up via text is the worst” – but I think those are largely in-town relationships, where the guy’s last six conversations were in her bedroom, and then suddenly he switches to text to avoid a fight.

So I don’t know what the perceived polite protocol is.  I’ve been broken up with via text, and in one notorious case via a Twitter DM, and didn’t think anything of it.  But as noted, I’m kind of a freak.

So here’s your warning: in the unlikely event you decide to date me, the breakup-email is an option.  I have no idea how society views that, but I figure you should know anyway.

(And in the unlikelier event you’re trying to date me now, well, I wouldn’t.  I’m supremely flaky at the moment, dropping out of communication as crisis after crisis hits the house.  My energy reserves are banked for family now, and I’m not trying to be rude, but I fear that’s the end result.  Maybe sometime later I’ll be all about the happy flirting and sweetness, but that time is not now.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This article is called “Peter Jackson Walks Us Through His Battle Plans For The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies,” though it should be called “Peter Jackson Threatens World With Overly Tedious 45-Minute Battle Sequence.”

And in it, he says:

“After making the Lord of the Rings trilogy and two previous Hobbit films, Jackson has learned that epic warfare can be surprisingly boring….”

No, Entertainment Weekly.

No, he hasn’t.

Because if he had learned the lesson, he would have realized that the end of the last Hobbit movie was ZOMG BIG BATTLE sequence that nobody cared about half as much as, say, that first fight to save the Hobbits from the Ringwraiths in Fellowship of the Ring.  And instead of saying, “Wait, small character moments really matter,” instead he has doubled down on his solution to go BIIIIIIIIGGGGGGGGG and devised a solid forty-five-minute action sequence which will undoubtedly be as filled with as much CGI artificial excitement as, say, a greenscreened-in Legolas shooting made-up orcs while standing on an imaginary barrel, or dwarves fighting a huge dragon for-fucking-ever in a forever sequence that could have been replaced by a large placard that says, “THE DRAGON FLIES AWAY.”

The Hobbit makes money, because it’s pretty, and because people are sort of like, “Well, we got into this, we might as well see how it turns out.”  But I’m pretty sure that final sequence will feature a bunch of people I don’t care much about dodging things in what is a quicktime-videogame sequence except sapped of all the excitement of pressing “X” at the right time, and in the end we’ll go home having seen something that fits every possible definition of “exciting” and yet somehow just made us feel weary and ready for this to be over.

Not that I’m snarky.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“If I could just manage to feel happy again, I’d be productive.  I just know it.”

That’s what my friend said to me, and he was entirely serious about this.  He’d been experiencing depressive fits for months, his life decaying at an increasing rate, and he blamed all of his flagging grades and lost friendships and money troubles on a lack of happiness.

See, when he was happy, he could do anything.  He would wake up empowered and DO ALL THE THINGS.  And he’d be productive for a day, maybe a week, before something bummed him out again and he just couldn’t rouse himself to do all these depressing things.

The trick, my friend thought, was to somehow arrange his life for MAXIMUM HAPPINESS, so eventually he’d just be happy all the time and thus productive.

Whereas I told him the trick was to learn to keep working when you were miserable.

“Look,” said I. “Right now, you have a beautiful sailboat.  And it is a glorious thing, with full sails powered by your happiness, and when the winds are blowing strong you can go anywhere.

“Unfortunately, happiness is like the wind in that it comes and goes.  It’s good enough to get you around, but some days dreams will die and plans will die and people will die… and then your sails go slack.  And the happiness will probably come back – it usually does – but by the time it returns, you may have starved to death on a becalmed sea, hoping like hell for the wind to come back when what you really needed was an oar.”

It’s a misnomer to say that anyone can work when they’re happy.  A lot of people don’t want to do the unfun work when they’re depressed because they’re too despairing to go look for work, and when they’re happy they don’t want to bum themselves out by going back out and seeing how terrible the job market.  So as it turns out, they’re actually unproductive no matter what their mood; they just have an excuse that works under any circumstances.

But even if you get ALL THE THINGS done when you’re happy, you gotta learn to work when your lover dumped you, when your dog just died, when that rejection you were dreading just came in over the transom.  Because life has a nasty habit of not giving a shit about how good you feel.  Life usually asks, “Well, did you pay the bills?  Get a job?  Go to work?”  And if the answer is “No,” then life tends to say, “Well, okay, I’m just gonna make your life harder for you then.”

You can wait for happiness to fill your sails, man.  But you might be waiting for a long time.

Get the oar.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

SCENE: The wife and I have snuggled for an hour after a hard week, recharging her wifely batteries.

GINI (not leaving my embrace): I feel so much better.

ME: Aww, yeah. That’s your daily dosage of Vitamin F talkin’.

GINI: Okay.

ME: Which isn’t actually a real vitamin.

GINI: Okay.

ME: Because I’m vaguely worried if you thought it was, you’d divorce me and go get a supplement.

GINI (snuggles closer): Oh, you know I prefer getting my vitamins naturally anyway.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So as a reward for, you know, selling a novel, I finally got a PS4 after months of hand-wringing.  (Yes, I abandoned my good ol’ XBox 360 after years of racking up achievements, and it feels a little sad to have all my Rock Band ‘cheevos gathering dust at the ass-end of a hard drive now.  But looks like the XBone’s a loser in this generation’s console wars.)

Anyway, so flush with triumph, I got two games – Shadows of Mordor, because I was excited about the orc vengeance system, and The Last Of Us, which I was excited about because it was a zombie game.

Both turned out to be stealth games.

Oh Christ, I fucking hate stealth games.

This is not to say that your great love of stealth games is the work of Satan’s anal warts, but I fucking hate every aspect of stealth games. Because it’s like programming.  Because it’s like writing.

Look, in my day and my night job, I spend many hours painstakingly mapping approaches to complex problems.  I have to do a lot of tedious research to scout out the landscape, looking carefully ahead for hidden problems, analyzing the pros and cons of whether this methodology would be more effective, everything proceeding at a snail’s creep.  And when I’ve set up the plan and want to explode out of the gate, I still proceed at a dim crawl, because every line is critical and I need to get each of them right.

It’s nice when I finally triumph.  It is.

But when I settle down to game, I want to blow shit up.

Plus, most stealth games are actually incredibly tedious puzzle games.  “But you can approach the guards in any order!” you cry.  Well, kinda.  You can have your take of one of two approaches, through this corridor or that tunnel, maybe branching to three if you throw a brick to distract them. In actuality, what you have is an incredibly constricted experience, where there are basically a handful of strategies that work and infinite strategies that won’t.

Plus, I never feel like the guards are humans, because they’re incredibly fucking stupid – oh, hey, I’ll just walk in the same circles all the time, what’s that, I guess everything’s normal, UURRK MY THROAT.

I don’t feel like I’m outwitting a bunch of clever opponents.  I am patently fighting a modified computer AI, where if I step one foot here then I am VISIBLE and all the guards will converge on me at once, and if I am here then I am the THIEF OF THE NIGHT.

So when I do win, I get little sense of triumph.  I don’t feel like I’m Batman – I feel like Ferrett, sitting on a couch, having vanquished a bunch of arbitrary and maddening rules to achieve a marginal result.

That is my day job.

I hate being weak enough that any time I annoy two guards, I’m all but dead.  I hate having to manage ammunition.  I hate having to crouch everywhere when what I want to do is LEEEEROY JENKINS my way to success. There’s nothing wrong with stealth in general, but my preferred game mode is charging in with some limited strategy, maybe a minute’s worth of scouting the field before going, “Okay, reflexes, you can take it from here.”

I almost returned The Last Of Us to GameStop, even though I was really enjoying the story, because the bullshit one-hit-kill Clickers were really pissing me off.  Then Gini said, “You paid for it, you should enjoy it,” and after wrestling me to the ground in a no-holds-barred match, ultimately convinced me to -

- and I am loath to admit this before a group of gamers -

- lower the difficulty.

I had never lowered the difficulty this early in a game before.  (I did once before, on Dragon Age, on the final level, just because yes I could win the final battle against the fire-resistant dragon with my fireball-slinging mage, but it was taking forever and I was getting very very bored.)  But I did with The Last of Us because I really did like the story, and so I basically treated The Last Of Us like a very slow and clumsy movie, where I ran past a lot of zombies (who, on the lowest difficulty level, were no challenge at all) to be treated to snippets of cinema.

It was good cinema.  But the gameplay was highly unsatisfying.   Now we had something where stealth was clearly the way you were supposed to go, but if you want to screw up then fine, kill seven soldiers with a brick while standing in the middle of a field, whatever, do what you like.  It felt, honestly, pretty condescending as a gameplay experience.

And I realized that part of the reason games work is that you do feel the tension along with the characters.  When it was hard slipping past the fucking clickers, I felt a horrible fear for everyone involved in the game, and when I got to the next segment of the story I felt both triumph at having propelled myself to the next objective, and fear because I knew just how hard it was for them.  For the first time, I understood Roger Ebert’s criticism that videogames were just bad movies, because once I actively disdained the gameplay, well, The Last of Us was about as good as it gets in a videogame storywise, and the fairly lengthy cut-scenes were padded by these even longer annoying segments of what I can only describe as violent paperwork.

And I realized: I need to go out there and get back into a style of videogame that rewards what I like to do.  That is not a stealth game.  A stealth game is just a continuation of the most frustrating things in my life, and so this weekend I’ll probably seek out Infamous: Second Son or play the new Civilization (which punishes imperfect strategy, but one can play quite profitably against computer AI up to Prince level without thinking too hard) or anything that involves blatant power plays and not sneaking.

I do not like to sneak.  Plotting and planning is my life, and I wish to escape my life.

Hand me the gun.  Leave that barrier behind.  I’ma charge into battle, because today I want to be a superhero.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I hadn’t been planning on watching The Flash, because, well, I’m a little tired of superhero TV shows.  Agents of SHIELD just hasn’t floated my boat this season, and Gotham has been getting such mixed reviews we haven’t even started it, so even though The Flash is one of my great childhood heroes, I didn’t start it.

No.  That’s wrong.

Because The Flash is one of my great childhood heroes, I didn’t start it.  I’m attached to The Flash.  If they got him wrong, it’d just make me sad that this grim-and-gritty misfire was the face of one of my favorite superheroes.  So I tuned out.

Until my friend Guthrie emailed me to say, “Please tell me you’re enjoying The Flash as much as I am.” I trust Guthrie.  He’s a Green Lantern guy, I’m a Flash fan, so we obviously have our differences, but the Flash and Green Lantern can still team up to be buddies.

And I was all like, Well, if Guthrie loves it, I’ll give it a shot.

So we sat down last night and I fell in love.

It’s rare that any show nails what I consider to be the heart of a comic book character, because any long-running comic book character has many hearts.  Like when I saw The Dark Knight with my friend Dana.  I thought it was a brilliant interpretation, but Dana’s Batman-heart was “The World’s Greatest Detective,” a dude who relied more on intellect than raw might, and yeah, that Batman wasn’t there.  Likewise, for many Batman is an avenging devil, as portrayed by Frank Miller, this gritty guy who’s just a hair better than his enemies – a valid interpretation, but not how I view it.  Or Batman’s the goofy 1960s Adam West version, all clean-cut and surrounded by art deco.

They’re all valid.  Some interpretations are more popular than others, but each of those Batmen are a Batman that someone grew up and idolized.

There’s no right and wrong here, but there is disappointment if someone emphasizes the wrong character traits.

But no!  This Flash is heroic.  He is a literal do-gooder – a little naive, but who would risk his life for others like this if he weren’t?  He is incredibly smart, but he needs his friends in a way that other superheroes don’t.  He is likeable, wisecracking, the kind of superhero you’d want to have a beer with.

My favorite scene in the entire DCU hands-down is where Wally West has the opportunity to beat up a supervillain at the bar, and instead he quietly asks if that villain has been taking his medications, and the villain admits shamefully that he hasn’t, and Wally gets him into treatment.  That’s this Flash.  He cares.  He fights because there aren’t better options, but he’ll cheerfully try to talk if he can.

Now, this Flash is a little heavy on Daddy issues, but I suppose they gotta give him something to work past.  We’re only three episodes in.  I’ll live with that.

But the action sequences are spiffy and the dialogue is relatively good and I love the simple, bold way they humanize people.  There’s not a lot of subtlety in this, but I don’t want deep characterization in my Flash media.  I want big damn heroes, and I am hooked.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So if you’ve been paying attention to Gamergate, it’s been death threats a-plenty for the women in the gaming industry.  But don’t worry, women!  Men are getting death threats, too!

Yesterday, the developer of a game death-threatened Gabe Newell, the founder of the Steam game delivery platform, after the game was released marked as “Early Access” instead as a finalized game.  Steam found out about the Tweets, terminated his account, and the game he’s worked on for a year has currently sold only 12 copies.

And I think this is an example of Guy Culture at work.  Where when a guy gets mad, it’s seen very much as “boys will be boys” and he can scream at whoever he wants because heck, we all know he doesn’t mean it.  You see that kind of repellent work in Scorcese movies – the guy-heaviest of guy films – where men routinely humiliate other men.  (I’m thinking in particular of The Wolf of Wall Street, wherein the salesmen were routinely abused by the charming and competent leads, and the salesmen loved it because these men were rich and smart and hey, you just expect a little creative abuse, amiright?)

So you have these hothouse cultures where competency matters for everything, and tact matters for nothing – well, actually a lack of tact is frequently seen as proof of competency, because who could possibly dress down someone that harshly unless they were really certain?  So you wind up with an atmosphere where intellectual issues are hashed out in screaming matches, and incompetency is met with streams of over-the-top swearing.

What we’re starting to see is that clash of cultures – where programmer dudebros, conditioned by years of condoned hothouse-flower environments where losing your shit is just Part Of The Process, are running into other cultures where threatening to cut someone’s balls off is seen as the cheap intimidation tactic it is.

And what you’ve got is this weird mess.  Because afterwards, you’re going to get some weird mix of “Okay, I probably shouldn’t have done that” followed by “But he should know I wasn’t really going to kill him!”  Yet what you never get to is the truth of “I wasn’t actually going to kill him, but I just wanted to express all my murderous rage without any filters, because a lot of the time threatening people actually works for me.”

We have this idea that women are the crazy emotional ones in this society, led around by their soft estrogen-producing wombs, just crying at the drop of a hat.  And frankly, I’d prefer we didn’t stereotype any gender with the label of “They’re the ones who can’t control themselves,” because frankly I think any sort of lack of control comes down to culture and mental health, not gender.

But what we’ve seen lately are a lot of men who are used to getting their way, and they lose their shit if anything goes wrong.  That’s a culture that’s trained them to be that way.  And so you have a bunch of very machismo men who have translated their bad-boy private outbursts into embarrassing online outbursts, and it does not go over nearly as well online.

They will see this as proof that Men Can’t Be Men!  Whereas I – a man – see that as proof that Some Men Can’t Be Men.  They can only be modified toddlers, screaming the worst things they can think of whenever they don’t get their way.  Worse, there’s whole cultures where that behavior is rewarded, and encouraged, and respected – and seen, internally, as the only real place where smart men can thrive, these constant Darwinistic showdowns where tearing each other apart is the only true way to find optimal solutions.

Nah.  There are other ways of doing things that get you results just as good.  But you don’t get the catharsis of yelling at people.

Maybe it’s time you admitted you value the catharsis over actual results.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had an essay geared up in my head for tomorrow’s posting on doxxing, and why I have weirdly mixed feelings about revealing someone’s name (not their address or other identifying details) because while in theory, anonymity is used to shield the weak from the predations of the strong, in practice anonymity too often allows people to exist as harmful assholes without any drawbacks.

Then Robert J. Bennett went and wrote everything I was going to say, except, like a thousand times better.

So read what he had to say.  He’s a smart dude.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

On Saturday, the Internet lit up with a horrifically embarrassing story: Kathleen Hale confronting her online critic.

I would advise you to read this article in full before continuing, because it’s probably going to be the most interesting thing you’ve read all week.

But interestingly, a lot of people seemed to miss both sides of this.

Many didn’t see Kathleen Hale as an obsessive stalker, which she clearly was – she tracked her reviewer back to her house, for God’s sake, and still just wants to talk to her.  This is deranged behavior of the worst sort – I don’t think Kathleen would hurt her critic, but boy howdy is this beyond the pale.  (Plus, “Catfishing” is incorrectly used – catfishing is when you lure someone into a romantic relationship under false Internet pretenses, and her critic was merely using a pseudonym.  Kathleen is attempting to misuse the term to imply that hey, I had a relationship with my bad reviewer!  But she didn’t.  She really didn’t.)

But those who condemned Kathleen roundly also missed the fact that her critic (at least as presented here) was kinda dickish, a bully of the tawdry sort you find everywhere on the Internet – the sort of person who rallies folks to her cause, derails arguments, and has no problems trying to insult her detractors into silence by repeatedly mocking them.

I’m all in favor of bad reviews.  If you don’t like something, say so.  Anyone who’s watched me deal with my comments threads will tell you that I’m generally pretty tolerant of people going, “Jesus, Ferrett, that was awful and stupid and you shouldn’t have written it.”  Authors are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to bad reviews, which is patently stupid, because shit, man, Shakespeare isn’t universally loved and you won’t be.

Be grateful for most bad reviews, painful as they are.  They serve a purpose.  They tell people what to expect, so they don’t buy your book and hate it personally.  If you can’t deal with the fact that some people won’t like your book, don’t publish.  Authors are far too willing to call someone with a consistent dislike of their output a “bully.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t bullies out there, though.

Because there does come a point where a bad review steps beyond the boundaries of bad reviews and into power plays.  Kathleen’s portrait of the heckler as someone who wants to have their own show is correct, and some very small but very damaging subset of reviewers have found that bashing creators in entertaining, malicious, and personal ways is a great way to attract attention without really having to show that they can do better.

The instructions we give to authors – and they are good ones – is DO NOT ENGAGE, which is why you’ll notice Kathleen Hale blitzing past Goodreads and her very wise friend and, well, everybody saying to not engage.  But that’s not because there’s some sort of moral imperative involved here.  That’s because, if you are an author, there is no good way to interact with a negative review and not come out looking bad, even if the reviewer is a catastrophic jerk.

That’s why this is all really pitiful.  Kathleen is insecure, and unwise, and ultimately unhinged.  But in a better world, we wouldn’t have critics like Kathleen describes – I’m not necessarily sure whether Kathleen’s portrait of her critic is accurate, given her lack of self-reflection here, but I do know of many authors who’ve endured vitriolic personal attacks as part of the show.  There are certainly critics who are like that.  (Also and people who go, “Well, you wrote a book, you deserve whatever nasty feedback you get!  That’s the price for seeking fame!”)

To me, man, authors shouldn’t go so nuts as to show up on their critics’ doorsteps, and reviewers shouldn’t go so nuts as to think of an author as their White Whale, relentlessly pursuing them for sins both real and imagined, making it a personal crusade to pillory anyone who enjoyed what they didn’t.

These are just books, man.  Nothing’s that important.  And it’s sad all around, watching critics and authors drown in these thimble-sized seas of ego.  That’s all.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When Cherie saw what Liz had done
A Cthulhu mashup tale she spun

You may remember Lizzie Borden from the jumprope rhymes of your youth, but as with most things you heard on the playground, things weren’t that simple.  Turns out that the trial had some evidence that Lizzie might, in fact, have been innocent – certainly her doctor thought she was.

So naturally, you’d think, “Well, clearly Lizzie chopped up her father and stepmother because they were turning into sea monsters, right?”

Well, you would if you were Cherie Priest.

In the Borden Dispatches, Lizzie Borden is a steampunk scientist and monster-hunter, chopping up hideous creatures with her axe.  Her sister, more classically trained, helps.  And their doctor suspects things are going on in the town of Fall River.  Events draw them together, and Bad Shit happens.

The fascinating thing about this book is that it is simultaneously predictable and compelling, which is one of the hardest tricks to pull off.  This is one of those horror books where the first time you think “Uh-oh,” well, yeah, that’s going to turn out exactly as bad as you think it’ll be.  Pretty much every suspicion you have gets borne out.  And yet the characterization is so wonderful that you keep reading, mainly because Lizzie and her shut-in, sick sister are furiously sympathetic characters – trying their best to help their town, loyal to a populace that thinks they’re murderers, brave and bold in all the best ways. It helps that everyone’s smart, acting in their best interests, even as those interests might be skewed by the call of the Old Ones.

Every chapter is a letter to someone, or a diary entry, each from a different character – and each character has their own distinct voice.  I usually get irritated by missive books because I get confused as to whose viewpoint we’re in, but Cherie cues us in with style.

The biggest problem with the book, sadly, is that the ending left me hanging for a sequel.  Which I don’t have a problem with per se, as this is a two-book series, but the ending is a little anticlimactic and it makes me vexed that I now have to wait some time to find out what’s happening with Lizzie and her sister and the sea monsters.  Still, if I think of it as a series and not a standalone book, I can tolerate a little hang-time for something as entertainingly murderous as this.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I picked this up as a quick-read, a sort of amuse bouche between heftier courses, and stumbled into a happily goddamned deep book for kids.

The plot of this book is inherently silly: the meat-packing plant accidentally creates cow zombies (and eventually people zombies) in an effort to save cash, and only the local little league baseball team can stop them.  So, you know, not expecting much aside from gloriously stupid zombie shenanigans.

But this is actually a surprisingly deep look at race and corporate greed in America.  One of the character’s families is made up of the illegal immigrants who work at the meat-packing plant, though he was born here, and so there’s some great character-rooted looks at what happens when you work illegally.  And the meat-packing plant itself isn’t cartoonish – Paolo actually uses the lawyer’s tactics that actual meat-packing plants use to cover up outbreaks of e. coli.

I thought the focus would be on zombies, or even baseball, but what I got was a happily cogent window for kids into just how realistically shitty corporations can be.  Not that there’s not a lot of beating the crap out of zombies with baseball bats, because there is, but there’s an *ahem* meaty tale wrapped inside this candy-happy cover. Seriously recommended.  (Thanks to Netmouse for recommending it.)

D&D Players Guide, Fifth Edition
I, like many players, did not like the way D&D Fourth Edition got D&D back to its roots, because D&D’s roots kinda suck.  D&D 4E removed most of the roleplaying, and yoinked us all the way back to wargaming, where there was much emphasis on character placement and grids.

The problem is, in 1970, we didn’t have ready access to computers.  Now we do.  So basically, what they wound up making despite their best intentions was a slower, clunkier videogame.  It didn’t go over well in the long run.

D&D 5E is attempting to bring that happy blush of roleplaying out again by having, you know, spells that don’t affect combat.  And they’ve gone balls-to-the-wall on this one; this is by far the most evocative D&D players’ guide yet, with gorgeous illustrations and lots of emphasis on what kind of character you’re going to play.  Not what class; character.  Because there’s an extensive section comparing two fighters with similar stats, except one is a cold, withdrawn assassin and the other is a family-loving freedom fighter.  And each section is introduced by an excerpt from one of the many D&D novelizations to show you what an elf/dwarf/tiefling looks like in the wild, a slam-dunk bit of cross-marketing that’s so effective I don’t know why anyone didn’t think of it before.

And there’s some nice touches.  I like the new advantage/disadvantage system, where if you have an advantage you roll two d20s and take the better roll, and if you’re at a disadvantage you take the lesser roll.  I like that multi-classing is back.  I like that feats seem to allow for a bit more character customization this time around.  I like that you’re heavily encouraged to ask “Why are these people hanging around together, killing monsters?” and to create reasons for that.

And yet for all of that… I’m just not that excited about running a campaign.  Or playing.  There was a time when I fetishized each D&D release, reading every spell, thinking, “Oh, that’s how I could build a cleric.”  But I’ve played too many clerics in my time, and fighters, and wizards, and so I skimmed a good half of this book as I went, “Okay, big list of character stuff, sure, sure.”

What would excite me, probably, would be an interesting world for me to play in – something a little less time worn than Greyhawk and Waterdeep and all the old standbys – but that’s always been D&D’s strength.  It doesn’t have a setting.  You can bolt one on if you want, but the joy of D&D is that kids all over can just say, “Okay, you meet at the inn, you’re in a dungeon” and get down to what they wanted – namely, kicking a dragon’s ass.

It’s power play.  And I’m a little beyond that right now, and after thirty years of imagining the power of fireball spells, that fantasy is a little threadbare for me.  So it works for what it’s supposed to do, but I’m no longer the target audience.

That’s fine.  It’s like Doctor Who these days.  It’s appealing to somebody, just not me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If I refuse to argue with you, that doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument. It means I’m not choosing to engage with you personally at the moment.

There is a difference.

The Internet is the refuge for people with too goddamned much time on their hands, and in general that’s glorious.  Do I have time to create, say, a full-on Transformers costume that lets you actually transform?  Or spend time mastering the art of making Walking Dead pancakes?  Hell no.  But I get to turn on Twitter every morning and watch a stream of awesomely unproductive people work their magic for me.

But for every dude/ette who’s spending hours relentlessly filming ping-pong balls, there’s someone who’s devoted their full time to arguing with people.  And they have packed themselves full of facts.  Or things that look like facts, anyway.  They’re certainly taken from web pages on the Internet.

And here’s the thing: they all want to interface with you directly.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had this argument somewhere else on the Internet, or even have a separate thread on this very blog entry where you’re refuting their points, they just got here and by God they won’t be happy until you personally have debated with them extensively.  And so if you’re not careful, if a blog post gets even a moderate bit of Internet attention, you’ll wind up having the same conversation with a hundred different newcomers, each certain that they will be the sole person who changes your mind on this topic, each much like a cut-and-copy of the ninety-nine other people who’ve come before them.

Worse, this is their version of “too goddamned much time on their hands,” and so they have many facts.  Why is it so hard to debate evolution and make it convincing to laymen?  Because the anti-evolution people have entire encyclopedias worth of factually wrong content that sound convincing until you dig deeper, these scientific “studies” couched in tech-talk, and refuting them isn’t that hard but boy does it take time looking up each link and finding the counter-argument and summarizing it and posting it.

99% of what the creationists are spouting is bullshit, whereas 99% of the evolutionary arguments are factual hypotheses. But again, when you take someone who considers it their full-time job to push this view forward, and they aren’t particularly scrupulous about where they get their data, then eventually refuting them point-by-point becomes like stamping out cockroaches.

Or worse yet, they have actually good data, but you feel their interpretation is skewed, and now you have to read the studies and discuss what you think that really means.

And keep in mind, I believe in interfacing with these people, if you’ve got the energy for it.  Yes, ninety-nine out of a hundred of them are intransigent, and are merely here to spout whatever extensive talking points they’ve scraped up – but if even one out of a hundred is reachable, then converting that extra 1% is the sort of math that changes elections.

Yet my point remains: if you’re a blogger of any significant size, you could spend all the rest of your days arguing with replies on the Internet.  And to quote Mitchell and Webb, “The football will never stop!  The football is officially going on forever!  It will never be finally decided who has won The Football!”

At some point, you have to say, “I might be able to convince this person of the error of their ways, but I have a lover and work and and a fun game to play and other more interesting blog posts to write.”

And you leave.

That decision does not mean that the other person has won the debate.  It means that you refuse to engage, because you have other priorities that individually convincing each person who shows up in your life of the correctness of your decision.

This is the Internet.  There are people with infinite time on their hands, people who will spend an entire week doing nothing but rabidly posting rebuttals.  But “infinite spare time” is not the same as “good logic” or “well-sourced credentials” or, in fact, any of the things that make for a compelling argument.  There are plenty of writers with infinite spare time, endlessly churning out stories, who never get good at writing fiction, because they’re just writing the same story over and over again and never listening to feedback.

“Spare time” is not the defining factor of anything: “quality of effort” is.

And when you go, “Ha!  They weren’t willing to engage me, so they lost!” what you are actually saying is, “The person who has the most time to waste discussing things will inevitably be the victor.”  In which case I’ll just hook you up against an Elizabot, who never tires of arguing Gamergate, and tell you she’s the winner.

“But that bot is stupid!” you cry.  “She always says the same thing!  There’s no chance of changing her mind!”

Yes.  Precisely.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Just got the notification that my Soylent is on its way.  So we’ll be drinking goop for a week any day now.

You’re in for a treat.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The article refers to him as the “Railway Romeo,” but actually this dude who has picked up over 500 women on the subway is more like the “Subway Stalker.”

But the bigger problem is that he is terrible at dating.

Note that the dude has met over 500 women, and is still not in a relationship.  That’s because his shtick contains this absolutely terrible advice:

“Always war (sic) a suit and carry a briefcase — it communicates strength and security, even if you live with your mom.”

“Wait 60 hours before contacting her. Most men text/e-mail immediately. Throw her off, make her wait.”

Which, summed up, basically reads:

“Pretend you’re someone you’re not in order to get her phone number.”

The problem is, what you get is… her phone number.  And maybe a couple of dates.  And then, because you’re working your ass off to appear more successful and wittier than you actually are, they get two dates behind your canned banter, and you’re back to sucking on straps to try to find that next hit.

Yet this is not unique advice in dating.  There’s all the gags: “Don’t ever fart!”  “Dress up super-nice!”  “Clean up your apartment!”  “Get your small talk good and polished!”  “Stick to noncontroversial topics!”

Yet I, the Tyler Durden of the dating universe, tell you not to do any of that stuff.

The goal of dating is to find out who is compatible with you, as quickly as possible.  Obscuring your central personality traits will get you to date the wrong people for longer – possibly up to and including a hideously dysfunctional marriage – but what it will not get you is someone who is actually good for you.  And you’ll waste months, years, maybe even decades, with someone who doesn’t actually like you but instead has generated affection for this papier-mache facade you have so carefully constructed.

But that facade is not you.

I say, show up to dates dressed nicely, but nicely for you.  If you’re only gonna wear T-shirts to fine dining, well, your date oughtta know that right away.  If you don’t brush your teeth on a regular basis, that’s fucking icktacular, but again – better to find a woman who’s okay with halitosis than to chew gum for a few weeks and then slowly have her realize your raw-onion-chomping habit is a dealbreaker.  If you’re a strident libertarian, don’t downplay that – it’s gonna come out!  Discuss the all-soothing balm of the free market!

And yes.  Many dates will be disasters.  This is not a failure, but a feature: you have successfully discovered that this person is not for you.  Many people will not be for you.  You need to get in, and get out.

Which seems insane, but dating is a lot like trying on clothes in the store.  You don’t put on a pair of too-tight jeans and go, “Well, if I suck in my gut all the time and ignore the tingling in my legs and try not to look at the unflattering things these jeans do to my ass, maybe this will be the perfect fit!” and then wear the jeans for three days straight, trying not to get lasagna stains on them just in case you need to return them, really trying out these terrible terrible jeans before you walk away.

The reason you don’t do that is because a) this would be a hideously uncomfortable way to live, and b) using this “Let’s drag this out as long as possible” approach would take you about four months of trying on jeans before you found a right pair.

No, man.  Dating is about experimentation.  Most dates don’t work out!  So the solution to a failed date is not to present some artificial front to extend the life of a terrible date, but to find more dates.

The subway stalker has 500 numbers and no solid relationships.  That’s because he’s gotten very good at lying to people in order to get them interested in him.  But that’s a lot like saying, “This new soda tastes better than Coke!” and you open it up and find a dead turtle in a can.  Sure, the advertising got them to open it up, but in the end they’re tossing the turtle.

It seems crazy to go, “CANNED DEAD TURTLE, FREE TO GOOD HOME.”  But it’s big fucking world, man.  Have you looked at what sells on Craigslist?  If you’re honest about your deceased reptile status, it may take longer to sell than a nice refreshing Coke, but by God when you find someone who opens your can they will want the dead turtle that is you.

Be honest about your tortoisy status.  Be unafraid to be rejected for who you are.  Because in the long run, it’s a lot better to be rejected for you who are than to be accepted as someone you’re not.

(Written on Fet, cross-posted here.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“She dates a lot of guys!” they cry.  “So why does she freak out whenever I get intimate with someone I like?”

That’s because “dating someone” and “sitting at home while your lover’s out dating” are two entirely separate skillsets, chum.

Both are worth having in any poly relationship.  But when you’re dating, you’re the recipient of all the good times.  You’re getting romanced, you’re getting smooched, you’re having all the fun new conversations of “Oh, I love Smashing Pumpkins, too!” – and the trick is not to get so carried away with New Guy that you forget to come home when you said you would.

That whole “not getting swept up” is a skill.  It’s really tough, remembering that you have existing partners you’ve made commitments to when someone who smells really good is nibbling on your neck.  And yet a lot of people have mastered that.

But suppressing the waves of joy is an entirely separate thing from “Sitting at home, watching Netflix, feeling pangs of loneliness as your partner’s off gallivanting.”  It is an entirely separate thing from “seeing your partner give his lover that special smile that you thought was only meant for you.”

And some people need to train up to that.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, “compersion” should not be the base value of polyamory.  It’s great when you’re all psyched for your partner’s date-times… but for most of us there will inevitably come a day where you’re feeling “bleah” and unattractive, and yet that’s not quite enough reason to say, “Okay, you guys were supposed to go to the U2 concert, but instead you should stay at home.”

So you sit home and suck it up, buttercup.  And learn to realize that “I feel jealous” and/or “I feel insecure” is not a valid reason to HULK SMASH all of your partners’ happytimes.

Yet I occasionally see the pattern of “Well, s/he just freaked out when I had a relationship, so I’ll shove them out the door to get their own partner – and that will solve everything!”  And what you often get is this rancid stew of “ZOMG now my partner has a new boyfriend and they’re so caught up in NRE that they’re punching all my worst buttons, *and still* they are so possessive of me that I can’t date!”

That’s because, as the header of this little essay says, “dating someone” and “watching your lover date someone happily” are not identical skillsets.  If you want to work on your partner’s jealousy issues, then yes, absolutely, do that.  But don’t do it by pressuring them to date someone now, now, now, on the assumption that once they get their own they’ll be perfectly okay.

The danger is, sometimes that is what they need.  But sometimes, that “get ‘em hooked up” puts you into a frantic death-spiral where you’re only good as long as each of you are spinning your own separate relationship-plates, forcing you to pressure the other partner into increasingly bad relationships because fuck it, it doesn’t matter who they’re dating but they have to date *someone* or else I can’t keep sleeping with Luanne.

At some point, most poly folk are going to stay at home to do boring homework while their partners are out watching the fireworks.  That’s how life works.  And the sooner you can learn to be okay with that, the better.

(Written on FetLife, cross-posted here.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This Saturday, I got together with my friend Eric to be extremely manly.  This was not our ostensible goal, of course – the end result was to make a custom-planned bookcase that would fit into an alcove in his attic.  Still, we were hauling out all sorts of power tools and indulging in very focused destruction and resting our hands on our hips as we debated how to approach the next step.

It’s weird for me, being a guy.

I have a lot of hobbies, and most of them aren’t really masculine in the traditional sense.  I write, of course, which is a field sadly dominated by men (also see the need for Women Destroy Science Fiction), but alas, “dominated by men” is not the same as “manly.”  Writing stories was the sort of thing that got you beaten up in sixth grade. As was having pretty pretty princess fingernail polish.  As was playing D&D.  As was discussing fine dining.

But operating limb-severing equipment to make something useful with your bare hands?  I would have been the envy of every sixth-grade bully.  (And those bullies were very concerned that I acted and dressed and looked like A Real Guy, to the point where they’d corner you in the gym and purple nurple you if you weren’t totally heteronormative.  They were society’s underaged enforcers, telling me that real men didn’t wear corduroy pants, they wore fuckin’ jeans.)

My woodworking is but one of several hobbies I have, but it is the one where I am most acutely aware of society’s expectations – mainly because I’m fulfilling them, albeit inadvertently.  I’ve learned to operate independently of society’s desires, because frankly so many of the things I adore are things that mainstream America considers a little freakish.

But when I power up the circular saw and start cutting shelves, a weird thing happens: my happiness at what I’m doing gets layered with a pride that I can discuss this with just about anyone, and have them laud me for my actions.

When I built my arcade cabinet, guys of all stripes said, “Aww, man, I wish I was that handy.”  Because there’s an encoded signal in American society that says, “Men should be handy,” and on some level most dudes feel a little unworthy when they have to call in a repairman.  We are the ones expected to fix and build things, and though that’s a bullshit sexist assumption that closets men into roles and denigrates the myriads of other talents that dudes can have yet not get credit for, it is kinda nice to do something and feel that glow of collective approval.

Yet still I had people going, “Oh, you’re, making, uh… an arcade cabinet?  Okay.”  Once again, I tumbled into the “nerd” role and felt that tiny sadness of confounding people.

But when I make a bookshelf with Eric, I don’t have to apologize for my hobbies for a while.  I can slot it into my “small talk” repertoire, the kind of harmless thing that goes over well anywhere.  Strangers on the bus think this is an awesome thing.  I’m who people think I should be, and having that pivot into alignment with what I naturally do is an intoxicating experience.

For this slim sliver of life, I did not have to answer the question, “Why would you want that?”  And oh God is that a glorious freedom.

And I wonder if the “traditionally” manly guys, the ones who go fishing and hunting and watch football and love cars and do all the things that Budweiser ads quietly imply that they should do, are aware of how much society covertly aligns with their loves.  I feel strangely buoyed when I quietly walk alongside of societal expectations, but that’s because most of what I do is so at odds with them.  Do they feel weighed down when they do something outside of the quote-unquote masculine sphere?  Would they even be aware of that pressure, except as some vague discomfort that they’re not supposed to be doing this?  Or are those guys so confident in what they do that they have ceased to give a damn altogether?

I don’t know.  I don’t walk in those spheres.

But I do know that thanks to having spent the last two Saturdays struggling with a circular saw, there’s a whole breed of guy that I can now carry on conversations with.  I can say, “Jesus, because my table saw only has a rip width of 12″ – twelve fuckin’ inches, man! – we had to spend two hours measuring and clamping down a fence to get one perfect cut with the circular saw,” and have them sympathize as we both indulged in a bit of societally-approved tool fetishization.

I can connect with men I had no interfacing point beforehand, and now we can grasp calloused hands for a brief period of time and discuss how somehow, that board cups or bows or blows out and you have to jury-rig a way to fix it.  I’m expected to be able to discuss that.  And I can.

Then I go back to nerding out on Twitter, and they back off a bit.  Dudes shouldn’t be too into Twitter, you know.  That social network thing.  Being super-into it is a little weird.  And I’ll still be here blogging, even though maybe when I bring up my blog on the bus you can see people struggling to find common ground with you, mentioning that they write posts on Facebook sometimes, even though they don’t really, they just don’t get it.

And society will step back just a little bit, as it always has, befuddled by my desires, unsure what to do.  Until the next time I build something.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The Escapist just posted their editorial stance on “Gamergate,” which boiled down is essentially this: There’s a difference between “Someone who plays games” and “A gamer.”  Gaming’s gone mainstream, and lots of people twiddle about with Candy Crush – but there’s a difference between dispensable games like that and the sort of deep richness that you have to devote to World of Warcraft before you become a Level 70 Warlock.

So The Escapist focuses on stuff that Gamers care about, man.  The hard-core segment.  The gearheads.  And they will be unapologetic about loving Gamer stuff.

Except I’ve read The Escapist on and off for years, and I don’t recall them devoting one fucking word to Scrabble tournaments.

“But Scrabble isn’t hard-core gaming, man!” to which I say, “You clearly don’t fucking know the hard-core Scrabble players.”  Watch Word Wars.  These fuckers memorize entire dictionaries, spending their days hitchhiking from tournament to tournament, living off the spoils of their gaming – cursing the luck-based segment of this game, trading bad-beats stories, dreaming of the world championships.

What did you do for your World of Warcraft, man?  Sit in a room?  These guys spent $300 they didn’t have on a trip to New York, hoping like hell they’d win the $10,000 prize so they could not lose money on this week’s tournament.  And some of them went home broke.  Some of them couch-surfed for months so they could keep chasing their dream.

That’s hardcore gaming.

…oh, wait, that doesn’t have anything to do with videogames.  And as it turns out, The Escapist will discuss Scrabble, but only if it’s related to videogames.

See, and the issue with co-opting the Gamer tag, as though playing lots of videogames somehow elevates your goddamned soul to the next level of Bodhisattva, is that people are trying to covertly reduce the world of “gaming” to “videogames only.”  If you’re a Gamer, you play lots of videogames.  Because, in this myopic fucking world, videogames are really all that exist.  We get to covertly erase all the other styles of gaming around, to act as though Gaming only involves the shit we want to play.

…except it’s not even really videogames that exist when we’re discussing who gets to be a Gamer.  It’s the right kind of videogames.  Depression Quest, some nerdly little text-based thing, isn’t a videogame!  It doesn’t have bearded guys stabbing people.  No, videogames only really count if they involve hulking dudes slaughtering lots of people in a constant stream of bloodshed, relying on quick reflexes and a smidge of strategy.  You can’t be super into the Sims and be a Gamer – if it’s not violent, it’s not counting, man.

…but wait.  You not only have to play these games, but play them in a certain way.  Because shit, you can’t just pick up Call of Duty with your bros and be a Gamer.  You have to play hard-core – no, not hard-core like Scrabble, but hard-core as in “dedicating a certain amount of your time to beating the game in socially-acceptable ways.”

All these hierarchies and narrowed definitions to become a term that encompasses all of gaming.

Look.  I get the issues we’re dealing with here, because to be honest, beating Shadows of Mordor involves more skill than getting to a high level on Candy Crush.  And if you’re worried about your style of gaming not being catered to, well, shit, I feel you.  I’m a huge pen-and-paper RPG fan, and I’ve just spent a decade watching that hobby die.  It sucked, not having anything new published – and thank God to Kickstarter for reinvigorating that process!  Nobody should have to love a game style and see no one new creating it.

But… Gamer?

That’s the word you’re self-identifying as?

Get the fuck out of here.

The Escapist defensively goes, “Well, look at gearhead culture with cars!  That’s the same thing as gaming!”  And it isn’t, mainly because they’re calling themselves “gearheads.”  They are not walking around accusing each other of stupid goddamned terminology like, “You aren’t a real Driver, man.”  They aren’t, in general, trying to wave off the very existence of all the other people who just get in cars and bop around by claiming they’re second-class citizens who don’t deserve to discuss what they like in cars.

But Gamers?

Oh, they fucking are very much waving off the existence of all other game styles.

See, when I discuss Gamergate and why I don’t think it’s about journalistic ethics – especially since, you know, the core “scandal” that kicked off Gamergate was supposedly about a woman sleeping with a guy to get a good review of her game, even though that guy never reviewed her game, and wrote literally half a sentence in his entire career about her game and that was before they started dating – I have people telling me, “Well, you don’t understand Gamergate because you’re not a Gamer!”

And that’s how Gamer gets used.  To exclude.  To go, “You’re not as deep into this culture as I am, so I am better than you are.”  Except, you know, I just purchased the Ps4 after months of anguishing between that and the XBox One, because I have like 25,000 achievement points on the Xbox that I didn’t want to lose (or 35,000 when you count my adjusted True Achievements score), and I made the wrong choice in purchasing the Atari 7800 way back in the day and so I didn’t want to pull the switch too soon, and I’ve been gaming for the better part of thirty years and apparently I just don’t count.

Look, you wanna call yourself something that indicates a distinction, like “Achiever” or something like that, okay, fine.  But your very terminology is poisoned.  You’re standing in the center of a vast and broad continuum, one that literally spans human history, of all the games that have ever been played, and trying to do a land-grab for that one term so your pathetically myopic vision of How Gaming Works can own everything.

You’re not.  You are inherently a subset.  There is nothing true about your insistence that you are a Gamer.  What you are is a dude who’s decided that these kinds of videogames are the best, and that’s perfectly fine – but you’ve become increasingly strident whenever someone suggests that maybe, just maaaybe, there are other ways to enjoy games and they are just as fulfilling for people.  Even equally as valid.

Except you’re so tied up in your self-worth, because videogaming in this style is really all you have to offer, that the concept that someone else might be having fun in a non-approved way challenges you.  You don’t see other people having fun; you see other people threatening this teetering pillar of your sad accomplishments, because if they haven’t strived all their lives to beat Dead Space on the hardest level, they’re not as good as you are.

To which I say, fuck your definition.

Though I have often lived the Gamer lifestyle (as witness the many hours I put into beating “Green Grass and High Tides” on Rock Band Expert), I reject the hierarchy you’re offering.  I reject this embedded idea that if I can’t game the way that you like to play, then my enjoyment is somehow lessened.  I reject this toxic nerd idea that love is somehow measured in obsession.

I realize that magazines make money off of catering to their clients, and the Escapist is no different.  The Escapist claims that hey, all games are just as good, but then proceeds to devote a lot of time to the sadness of how it is that this culture cannot last as it is, and talks about how great these Gamers are.  And in doing so, they perpetuate the soft idea that hey, This Gaming is the way things should be, just the way that gearheads in car culture are the true worshipers of the flame of fandom, and you should be proud to be here.

No.  You should be happy to be here.  You should be happy to find fellow people who share this narrow-minded vision of how you view games, and can share your opinions with them.  But you shouldn’t be proud, any more than you should be proud to stand next to a guy who also drinks your brand of beer at the bar next to you, because you drinking beer indicates a preference and not a superiority.

Now get off my damn lawn.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So a lot of people hated the ending to “How I Met Your Mother.”  And what I find fascinating about that is that in the abstract, the ending was a good one.  It’s just that the storylines they’d been pushing that whole final season did not match up with the ending they wanted to sell – and so a lot of people, quite reasonably, rejected it wholesale.

Which is fascinating to me as a writer, because when writers talk about “the revision process,” they make it sound like you just cut out a scene or two, punch up some dialogue, and you’re done.  (Certainly Stephen King makes it seem that way in On Writing, which is otherwise a stellar book on the craft.)

But the truth is that in revision, what you’re doing is making sure that the individual scenes add up to create the story you’re trying to tell.  And How I Met Your Mother is an extremely great idea of this, because individually, the episodes of the final season are good, well-plotted, and heartwarming.  They’re the writer’s worst curse: these are good scenes, dammit, I shouldn’t have to cut them.

A lot of the episodes in that final season sum up the maxim of “Kill your darlings”: they’re clever, they’re funny, they work in isolation, they’ll even be great in syndication when someone who doesn’t know the show tunes in, and they utterly work against the ending the writers were trying to go for.  In a sane world, a lot of those episodes would have been jettisoned to devise something that actually did work, but…

…okay, this is your last chance to leave before I start kicking up How I Met Your Mother spoilers.  Get out if you need to.

So if you’ve never watched How I Met Your Mother, the overall storyline is that Ted is telling his kids about how he met his mother.  Ted is the worst kind of romantic douche – well-meaning, but so in love with love that he’d marry a lamppost if it looked at him sideways.  The Big Twist in the opening episode is that Ted finds Robin, a strong-willed and career-driven newscaster, and falls in love, and then at the end of the episode when you think this is going to be all about Robin, Ted tells the kids that he was dating Aunt Robin, not their mother.

Setting up the big twist of “Who Is The Mother”?

That “Ted is going to meet the Mother any moment now” was dragged out through eight seasons, with all sorts of contrivances, but eventually he did meet the Mother in Season Nine – which was all about the wedding of show breakout star Barney and Robin, who had fallen in love.

Barney is an unapologetic womanizer, who had tried to date Robin before in a disaster, and he is infamously selfish and oblivious to others’ concerns.  (Though because the writers are wise, he has just enough good qualities that you understand why the gang keeps him around – most notably, him saving Lily and Marshal’s relationship anonymously.)  Robin and Barney were either, depending on how you look at it, either disastrously suited for each other (as Barney, who treated all relationships like a game he must win, frequently destroyed people), or really amazingly suited for each other (as frankly, if Barney and Robin were polyamorous, they would have been an amazing teamup, albeit a bit disturbing for mainstream America).

Ted meets the Mother at the wedding, and various flash-forwards show how well suited for each other they are.  And they are highly compatible, which is a strength of the show; I was, actually, rooting for Ted and the Mother to get married.

The penultimate episode of the show has Barney and Robin getting married in a heartwarming ceremony, Ted meeting the mother we were so rooting for him to get together with, and all is happy.

Then in the finale, the mother gets terminally ill and dies, and Barney and Robin turn out to be just as terrible as you’d have suspected, and get a divorce a couple of years later.  Ted grieves for the mother for the better part of six years, dating no one – until his kids tell him to go date Robin, and he shows up on her doorstep in a callback to the first episode.  Roll credits.

And if you look at it, it’s actually a good plot, but the individual episodes kept pulling the punch.  Because the producers of HIMYM didn’t ever want a downer ending, only bittersweet ones at best (and happy ones being the default), and so every episode was contorted to make it seem like Barney and Robin were going to make it.  The Ninth Season was full of “Barney and Robin run into another dealbreaking issue” – which is good!  if Barney and Robin aren’t going to make it, then that needs to be seeded so we’re not surprised! – and then kept backing off by having a big schmaltzy romance with Barney and/or Robin doing something romantic to show us how this wedding would be good for them.

So you had the entire season going, “Hey, maybe you’re a little worried about Robin and Barney – don’t be!  Feel good by the end credits!  We don’t want you to leave this episode feeling bad!” And every scene (with a “scene” being an “episode” here) was actually actively misleading the audience as to what was happening.  If you were rooting for Barney and Robin (and I was), then seeing them crumble in the last episode after so many sweet moments of them kissing was like getting slapped in the face.

And I know that’s the point: that some marriages, no matter how much you want them to work, don’t.  And that’s realistic.  But you don’t serve us well by showing us an entire season of them working out their issues and then having it all collapse in ten minutes of mostly off-screen ugliness.

HIMYM had to do the brave thing of raising the specter of “Is this marriage really going to be good?” and leave that hanging… but then they would have a couple of bad scenes (read: episodes that ended in ways that would have been unsatisfying as the ending of a sitcom episode), and they were fucking terrified of that.  So instead, they inadvertently kept bait-and-switching their audience by making them feel faintly uneasy, and then reassuring them.

Then the “mother dies” aspect of the plot was poorly done as well.  Because we were attached to the mother.  We liked her.  We wanted to love her.   And just as we meet her, and savor the fruit of this long-delayed union, she dies.  And again, because it’s an hour-long finale, she dies in fifteen minutes.  Which is too much.

I heard a lot of people saying, “Oh, Ted learned nothing in the final episode!  He was still a stupid, flighty romantic!”  Which is patently untrue; Ted didn’t date anyone for years, he was so heartbroken by his wife, just concentrating on his kids and making sure they were all right.

But we didn’t see that.

And in truth, as an audience, we needed to see both halves of that – but again, those would have been fucking depressing episodes.  We needed an episode where we got to see Ted and how he handled his wife’s disease, showing us as an audience how Ted had changed, how he wasn’t the dumb romantic, how he’d finally understood the difference between love and infatuation.

Then we needed – and I’ll defend this to the death – another episode where we see Ted grieving.  Just a half an hour of Ted trying to make sense of his life, rejecting random attractions because they’re no longer satisfying to him, living his life without Robin, us seeing the space that Robin would fill – and fill well, now that she was divorced – but Ted missing it because he’s moved on and doesn’t understand that he and Robin could actually work together.  We needed to feel that time the way that Ted did, not a single flash-cut but a long emotional journey that took us along the way from disbelief to grief to the wandering unsurety of “What do you do when you found your great love, and she’s gone?”

And again, that would not play well in syndication, and be hard as fuck to make full of snappy gags…

…but the point of this essay is that if you’re writing a story, all things have to serve the story.  HIMYM had a mandate that every episode was mostly heartwarming or bittersweet, and what you needed to sell this plot was a couple of downer episodes where we got sold, and sold hard, on Ted’s Life After Mother.

No story is more important than a single scene.  But HIMYM kept doing the bad revision error of prioritizing individual moments over cumulative impact, and as such wound up with a finale that was, largely, poorly reviewed…

…even though if they had done that work, and convinced us that Ted was a new guy now, and this wasn’t just a rekindling of the same annoying issues we’d loathed in Ted since the premiere, that ending with Robin would have worked and worked well.  It didn’t work as it was shown, of course, because Robin and Barney were presented, repeatedly, as a Good Couple – but if you want to understand how writing works, you have to strip away the “What actually happened” and look at the bones underneath of how you could have shifted this story around to make Robin and Barney’s wedding not a culmination of happy love, but that uncomfortable moment where two friends you love dearly should not be saying their vows today, and you all have to stand stiffly and pretend it’s all right because you can’t convince them otherwise.

And yes, you could argue that the show needed an entirely different ending… but that’s not what I’m discussing here.  If we’re talking about How To Revise A Story, then what we have is the ending we’re striving towards, and sometimes as a writer you realize you have a great ending, but the individual moments in the tale thus far don’t actually Voltron together to fit to make that ending work.

This ending could have worked.  And worked well.  (Not universally, of course, but that’s a danger in any show; the moment you say “These two people worked out, these people didn’t,” you’ll have rabid ‘shippers who would never be happy unless Ted and Barney got together in a gay romance and did high-fives over massive orgies.)  And if you want to dig how writers think, it’s an interesting exercise to not go with “I hate this ending, I’ll rewrite it” and instead ask, “So let’s assume this ending is good, how could we rewrite the lead-up?”  Because honestly, you do that a lot, too.

Anyway.  It ended.  The ending worked for some people, and for those people, I think they felt that journey of Ted from douche to mature guy and got the implications without having to see it.  But again, that’s what revision is for; you give it to your beta readers, they tell you “I don’t see why Ted’s any different,” and you realize Oh shit, I need a big long post-death scene here to show Ted, without Robin, focusing on the mother he lost.  And you scrap some other scene and shim that one in.  And then more people get what you were going for, although as noted you’re not gonna please everyone.

But yeah.  I maintain the ending, as plotted, could have been a fine ending.  They just needed to build to that ending – which, given the complaints, they didn’t.

Comme ci, comme ca.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Yesterday, I wrote about the game of “Cruel or Incompetent,” where I said that for certain core needs of your personality, it doesn’t really matter if someone meant to transgress those rules or not.  If someone needs to be told “By the way, buying a blowjob from a sex worker counts as cheating in our monogamous relationship,” then chances are really good that they’re full of other hurtful behaviors they’ll need to have explicitly programmed – and are most likely not a good fit for you.

To which I got some concern from people about how bad this was for people with Asperger’s, who often need to have the rules told to them.  The folks with Asperger’s people can’t read emotions, goes the worry, and sometimes they need to be told things.  So if everyone took my advice and abandoned these poor Asperger’s people when it turns out the aspies did not inherently grok their needs, people with Asperger’s everywhere will die alone and unloved and abandoned.

I have good news!


I’m not recanting on my idea that there are some basic considerations in a relationship that you shouldn’t have to explain.  But the people concerned that “You should consider leaving someone if they don’t instinctively get these core values” are missing one vital fact:

Everyone has different core values.

For some people, buying a hummer at the massage parlor doesn’t count as cheating!  And that’s the glory of people: there’s fucking billions of squishy humans, each of them totally different in every way.  If you don’t get the core values of someone you’re dating, well, sucks that you don’t get to stay with that person, but that doesn’t mean that you’re condemned to a lifetime of isolated anguish.

It means you have to find someone whose needs are more in line with your instincts.

Yeah, your aspie friends may have to date more people to find who they’re looking for… but just because one person would find it stressful and harmful to have to explain their fundamentals (and all the ramifications thereof, as I’ll explain in a bit), that doesn’t equate to “There’s nobody out there for them.”  Because everyone has slightly different fundamentals.  Including your aspie friends, who doubtlessly have their own rules they need to feel safe and beloved – and you wouldn’t tell them, “Well, stay with this woman who doesn’t understand what makes you happy because, well, it’d be rude to her to reject her for that!”

Plenty of Asperger’s people date, and find love.  That’s because the truth is, there aren’t that many core fundamentals that need explaining.  Someone commented, “Well, you had to educate Gini on your core fundamentals,” and the answer is that I really didn’t.  We both agreed that people in love who make reasonable complaints to each other should be listened to, and loved. What we disagreed on was the definition “What is a reasonable complaint?” and that’s a debate that, fifteen years later, we’re still having.

But the minute the other partner becomes convinced the complaint is reasonable, no matter how mad they are, we drop everything to fix it.  That’s why we’ve survived.  And that’s something, thankfully, that we’ve never had to explain, we just agreed on it.  Hell, it took me a moment to actually pinpoint what this fundamental was, because in a decade and a half of almost-constant analysis, we have never once argued about that.

The thing about fundamentals is that they seem like one fact, but actually they unpack all sorts of other vital information about you that are also necessary to your functioning.  There are some people for whom really trivial stuff is a core fundamental to them – “You have to call if you’re going to come home late.”  For most people that’s a nice-to-have as opposed to an I’m-leaving-if-you-don’t-do-that-without-asking, so it seems silly to just contemplate walking out if someone forgets to call a time or two.

But wrapped in that single fact are all sorts of other assumptions that people who want to be with you intimately should probably get – “I worry about things,” “I’m big on protocol,” “Unknowns will drive me crazier than any known fact,” “I drift towards worst-case scenarios.”

The thing that differentials these core fundamentals from a one-time lesson is that explaining them to people often means all the cascading lessons that stem from that core value don’t get learned.  If you have someone who goes, “Oh, right.  Okay, I’ll call,” and marks that off, there’s a really good chance they haven’t understood the other things that will drive you nuts – like how you worry, like how you require a certain politeness in your lovers, like how leaving you in the dark will drive you batshit – and because they don’t comprehend all the ramifications they will accidentally step on your worst fears time and time again. You may be in for months of your lover stepping on your nuts with stiletto heels and going, “Oh, crap, kinda forgot you had those.”

Whereas it’s not a guarantee – nothing is – but if one of your core values is “Call when you’re running late,” and the guy calls without being told to, you’ve got a far better chance of having someone who’s synced with you on a really critical level.

And yeah.  It’s totally fucking tough to figure out what your core values are, as opposed to just a thing that can be hammered out in discussion.  Because these dealbreakers vary for everyone.  It’s all fine and well to say “If you’re dating me, you have to realize my kids come first,” but there’s plenty of parents for whom that doesn’t apply at all.  It’s all fine and well to assume that core value of “If we’re monogamous, you have to be faithful to me,” but for many people that actually reads as “You have to not get caught.”  (Heck, there’s plenty of people for whom fidelity and their children aren’t core values at all.)

Unfortunately, that means you have to date around enough to understand which aspects of partner-ignorance can be worked out with a little education, and which things are the sign that whoah, this means we’re not really suited for each other.

And to repeat: if someone rejects you, that means you’re not suited for that one person.  Which sucks, it really does.  But there are thousands of other people in your city, each with different personalities, and with luck you’ll find someone for whom your natural instincts don’t clash with their fundamental needs… and their instincts line up with yours.

Being ill-suited for one person does not mean that humanity is a mass of cookie-cutter ideals and to be bad for one of us means you will be cast out from the herd.  People with Aspergers find love.  Depressive neurotics like me find love.  People with all sorts of really unusual crooks in their psyche find love, and that’s because we should all thank God that no two people are perfectly alike.  You’ll rejected by one person.  Almost certainly several.

But in time, if you work at gaining understanding of who you are and how you interact with other people, you’ll find the partner that works for you.

Or maybe you’ll just stumble accidentally into love.  That happens a lot, too.  Because wow, are there a lot of us, and luck happens.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


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