Thursday, July 31, 2014

Train Wreck Syndrome

I have a confession to make. I'm finding this entire D&D controversy fascinating. In the most morbid, guilty-pleasure type way. I think I've read nearly every blog post and G+ post on the topic (I'm sure there's a treasure trove on the forums, but my No Going to Forums Ever Policy prevents me from looking).

I get it now. This is why all those horrible "desperate housewives" TV shows are so popular. It's amazing to watch (supposedly) full-grown adults throw temper tantrums on the internet. It's extremely amusing to see accusations fly fast and loose, like a shootout in a Western film; to watch those accusations fall apart in the face of direct questioning, to see the arguments degenerate from Barely Having a Point to Fuck it, Let's Just Call Each Other Names.

Seriously...some of these posts literally come down to this classic exchange:

"You're a <insert preferred prejudicial term here>."

"No I'm not!"

"Yes you are!"

"Prove it!"

"I don't have to!"

I think the last time I heard this kind of heated debate was third grade recess.

I know there is real shit beneath the surface. I get that. I understand this is a battle (let's drop the PC-ness here and not dignify it by calling it a "discussion" or "debate") with real stakes. Like, inclusiveness, and stuff. And not hating people. Or something.

So it's not supposed to be funny. It's supposed to be real. And dangerous. Right?

Maybe. But I find it all absolutely delicious. 

There are two things that strike me as absolutely fascinating about the whole thing. One is the veiled attacks. It reminds me of Dune, and how in that world, personal energy shields were kinetically charged, so high-impact stuff like bullets were useless. So in combat, fighters had to actually get right up to the edge of that shield, then slow themselves down so that their blade could get through the shield (axes and swords were apparently too high-impact, too, resorting to good ol' fashioned knife fights in SPAAAAAACE!), then commence the stabbing.

Here in this fracas, the opposing sides make their accusations, but they base the accusations on stuff that's so ambigous or convoluted that it basically can't be proven. Because if it could be proven, then it becomes, like, legal and stuff. Both the attacks and the defenses are like this. It's not slander to be an asshole. It's not a crime to be a jerk. So both sides are as assholish and jerky to each other as possible, hoping to make the other side cry without having to resort to something that could actually lead to real-life consequences.

Once again, I'm transported back to elementary school:

"Don't touch me!"

"I'm not touching you!" (waves hand inches away from other kid's face)

And, again, it's delicious. 

The other is the total commitment to offense on both sides. So many times, as I read these posts, I ask myself "WHY DO THESE PEOPLE KEEP RESPONDING TO EACH OTHER?!?!" If and/or when I start getting targeted (I have not ever once weighed in on one side or another, I'm having WAY too much fun to do that), I'll hit that "block" button so fast it'll make their head spin. It's painfully obvious to anyone without a dog in the fight that there can't possibly be a winner here. At this point, I don't think anyone even knows what a winner would look like, in this thing. So why keep doing it? Why keep making accusations and defenses and attacks? Why not just hit the "ignore" button and be on their way?

I guess I shouldn't advertise that idea too much. I wouldn't want people to start actively ignoring each other. Where else, then, would I get my mid-afternoon entertainment from?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Board Games at Lunch, 7/30/14

We're having a going away party for one of our interns on Thursday, her last day. This particular intern was also a regular of my Board Games at Lunch event, so to get one last session in with her, I moved my little get-together to today, Wednesday, instead of its normal Friday.

The intern wanted another crack at Pandemic, a last chance to recover from our heartbreaking loss last week. Her, myself, and two other co-workers joined us. 

We lost. Again. Horribly. So horribly, the game was over in about three rounds. The infamous "Black Plague" hit us. Those of you familiar with Pandemic know exactly what I'm talking about...when a city in the Middle East, such as Baghdad, gets an outbreak, which causes a chain reaction of other outbreaks in adjacent middle eastern cities, resulting in a fast, brutal loss as the black disease cubes run out rapidly.

The silver lining to losing so quickly was that we were able to get a second game in! Our fourth player dropped out, having "a work project to do" after the loss. Personally, I think he just didn't want to get spanked by the board again...

Anyways, we three remaining set up, played...and won! Lady luck...our enemy in the previous game...became our ally in the second game, as we had a fortituious starting hand of cards. I, as the Researcher, shoveled my entire hand onto the other two players, and within a few turns, we had the cures after suffering only two outbreaks and two Epidemic cards. Now, the intern can add "Pandemic winner" to her resume!

With this intern gone, my regulars drop from four to just three. Out of an office of about 60. Granted, many of them are gone on Friday afternoons due to telework and leave requests, but still...the turnout has been disappointing. This actually worked to my advantage this week, as Pandemic can only handle four players, but the future prosperity of this get-together is uncertain. I am DETERMINED to keep at it, though. Every Friday (or, if Friday won't work, Thursday or Wednesday). I don't care if it's just me, sitting alone, in the conference room. It will become a Thing. 

Why keep at it? Because, as I've said before, sometimes love is work. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to show up, to put yourself out there, to just say "Hey, I'm doing this, who's with me?" and actually face the possibility that in fact, no one is with you. It's a hard and lonely feeling. But, as Gandhi once said, "You have to be the change you wish to see in the world." And, goddamit, I want to see more people playing tabletop games. So if I have to sit in the conference room with just one or two...or zero...co-workers and play something, then that's what I'm going to do.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Purity of Action

I'm not sure why...maybe it's always been like this and I never noticed, or maybe the new edition of D&D has just brought all of this on, like roaches scattering when the lights go on...but there is a lot of extremely acerbic thought going on around the ol' Interwebs about RPGs lately. As I write this, the latest "hotness" (no pun intended) is revolving around a Herd of Assholes who had a D&D 4th edition book burning ice cream social. Or something. The outcry is predicatably emphatic.

My feelings on this, as are most people's I think, are complicated. RPGs, whether anyone realizes it or not, are a very powerful and important little sub-culture/hobby. RPGs provide an escape from reality that technology is only just starting to catch up to. The blend of socialization that necessitates an RPG, combined with the escapism that is present is most RPGs, is a phenomenon unique and potent compared to just about any other activity out there. So from that perspective, it is not at all surprising that social issues, group-think, and other Sociology 101 issues come up all the time in RPG forums, G+ posts, or whatever.

On the other hand, I deeply believe in the purity of action. The "G" in RPG is game. A game is meant to be played. Discussion and emotion and all that happy horseshit is of course going to happen, but at the end of the day, the only thing that should matter is if the game is being played. Not what I think, or you think, or what the game's designers think...but what is actually being done at the table. So from that perspective, all of these social issues and group-think and Sociology 101 topics are just distracting noise from what's really important here...the slaying of monsters in a fantasy world, and the looting of their eviserated, burnt, or otherwise mangled corpses.

So while I understand where all the outrage and emotion and discussion is coming from, I ask myself "Does any of this shit help me play a role-playing game better?" The answer, invariably, is no. Does that make it completely worthless trash talk? Not entirely. But pretty damn close.

Going back to that purity of action, I believe in what you do, not what you say. If you spend your days on the internet saying such-and-such is a rascist fascist weightist neo-nazi asshole, I don't see the person you're talking about. I just see you, yelling and screaming. That's what I judge. If you're better than such-and-such, the most convincing argument you can make is in acting better than such-and-such, not in the yelling and screaming.

Of course, acting is really, really hard to make a good meme out of. Being a good person can't be shared on social media as easily as blind accusations and calling out nonsense. I get that. It's just unfortunate that positive action isn't as sexy as counter-negative action.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Landing at the Landing

On Friday night, I returned to the Landing, my usual weekly stop for boardgaming action. I haven't been in attendence for many weeks, being too tired from a long week of work and class and just wanting to crash at home.

I finally got to crack open my new copy of Panic on Wall Street! In the game, players are either investors or managers. The managers are pitching companies for sale to the investors. The investors are, well, investing, in the companies. Deals are made and broken at a break-neck pace, in real-time, over a two-minute timer. When the timer ends, dice are rolled to determine the value of the companies (red companies are high-risk; blue companies are low-risk, with green and orange companies in between). The investors then make their money (or lose their money!) on the adjusted value of the companies, then they pay the managers. The managers then pay upkeep on their companies. Then new companies get auctioned off to the managers. Then the whole thing repeats four more times. There are two winners: the investor with the most money, and the manager with the most money.

Panic!, much like Space Cadets: Dice Duels, is a frantic game of screaming at each other that's devilishly, chaotically entertaining. It's one of those games you want to play when you want to make a scene; the collective moans of agony and howls of joy when your high-risk investment in red companies pays off; the manager with a monopoly on orange companies who insists he's the place to go if you want to make money; the other manager trying to hide his or her desperation to close on a good deal; the frantic grabbing at the safe blue companies; the wail of despair when an investor finds out that literally at the last second he's been undercut by competitors, and his air-tight investment plan is now nothing. Much like Dice Duels, it's the pure, undistilled chaos of human interaction, blended with a light glaze of strategic planning, topped off with a generous amount of sheer luck. In other words, exactly the kind of game I'm looking for these days.

It was so much fun, we played two games of it, back-to-back. It's always a good sign of a game's quality when the exact same group of people want to play the exact same thing twice in a row. That's not something that happens too often at the Landing (in fact, I can only think of one other game it's ever happened to with me: Arctic Scavengers). The majority of the dozens and dozens of folk who show up at this thing usually regard boardgaming like speed-dating; knock out a game, move onto the next game, knock that one out, onto the next one, and so on, all night.

It's kind of annoying sometimes, really. The next game I wanted to play was Last Night on Earth, the zombie survival classic I've never had a chance to really try out. Two players completely new to the scene...a lovely couple who just moved to the area from Ohio...brought it and were excited to give it a go. But several players, noting that it's running time was well over an hour, turned their noses up at in favor of the usual Landing suspects: Dixit. Coup. Avalon. King of Tokyo. Nothing wrong with those games, of course. But it is a little annoying how everyone treats a game longer than 60 minutes with a certain amount of disdain, as if all that mattered on Friday nights was to get in as many games as possible. On a certain level, I understand the logic...playing with strangers, taking a gamble on spending hours with them, taking another gamble on one game that you may or may not like...but that's a game in itself, right? Much like the stock market game we just played, sometimes you gotta take a big risk for a big reward. The reward in this case was playing a great game and making new friends.

I did stick with Last Night on Earth with this new couple. And I had a pretty good time. I hope they did, too. I hope to see them again next week. As for Panic On Wall Street!? It may be time to bring that game into the conference room for lunch in the office this week...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Boardgames at Lunch, 7/25/14

This afternoon, we played Pandemic. It ended, as it typically does, in disaster.

For those of you unaware of Pandemic, I prominently feature the game in an article I wrote that was recently published in Arlington Magazine.  Click the link to see it!

As you can tell, there were only four this Friday for games at lunch. Four is good, though. A lot of great games can be played with four people. We regularly have five, occasionally six. We're losing a regular next week, an intern who's moving on. To try and shake loose a few more co-workers, I'm thinking of moving next week's session to Thursdays. I know at least one guy who will definitely be in on that...but I also know one of my current regulars who will be out, due to a commitment she normally has on Thursdays. Would Wednesday be too weird?

Last night, this person I don't particularly like came up to me and talked about a trivia game she has that she'd like to bring (despite the low attendence, I have earned a bit of a reputation as "the game guy" around the office). The next morning (today), she dropped the game off at my desk. She then told me that she probably wouldn't be coming but "may stop in."

It was a little awkward, for me. Did she expect me to play this game? Was I giving off some vibe like I NEED more games or something? Worst of all, she hasn't attended a single one of these game-lunches. Not being a gamer herself (presumably), she has no idea what kinds of games we're playing. Coup, Pandemic, and Avalon aren't exactly in the same league as The Worst-Case Scenario Trivia Game. 

On a certain level, I was actually a little offended (no wonder I don't like her, huh?) I started this damn thing. I have a embarrassingly huge collection of boardgames. I don't need help with this! I got this! If she herself were attending and was requesting to play the game, now of course that's a different story. But she drops this thing off at my desk like this whole thing was her idea and I was just running it. Bullshit! She did show up, just as we were getting started on Pandemic. To her credit, she didn't seem put off at all that I totally ignored her game.

Anyways, we had a great time (despite the crushing defeat) and we're looking forward to it again next week!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Other Side of the Table

This Sunday, one of my friends is GMing a game of tremulus for a whopping seven (7!) people. I am fully confident my friend will deliver the goods on Sunday, and we'll all have a great time. However, I also feel his pain; seven can be a daunting number, especially when you're playing a horror game like tremulus. All other things being equal, though, I love having this problem. There are thousands of gamers across the world who wish they had this problem, of having too many gamers at their table. I look forward to being a part of the problem!

This Sunday will also be my return to the player side of the table. I literally cannot remember the last time I just played in an RPG. Though I typically prefer GMing, I'm really looking forward to this. I do believe that having some player experience will not only be fun in its own right, but will give me valuable insight on how to be a better GM, overall.

I'm also really stoked to be playing tremulus again. As I have written before, tremulus is my all-around favorite "Powered by the Apocalypse" game. My opinion appears to be in the minority; most people heap their praises onto Dungeon World, with a little splash over to Monster of the Week, Monsterhearts, and Apocalypse World.  In fact, I've seen some pretty negative criticism of tremulus across the Interwebs. As you may expect, these opinions are wrong. Read that previous blog post if you want to get into it more, but the bottom line is, tremulus is a worthy and potent addition to the PbtA games. It plays very differently than its brother and sister games. That, plus the fact that all PbtA games play a little differently than any other conventional RPG, makes tremulus a bit of an odd duck. But it's an awesome game, make no mistake about it. And, judging by its four Ennie nominations, I am not the only one who believes so.

Speaking of people on the internet being wrong, hating on D&D is starting to get really old. From the people mentioned in its acknowledgments, to the quality of the cardboard on the starter box, to its use of examples in a throwaway graph on gender, literally every piece of what little of D&D's fifth edition has been released so far has been picked apart and bitched about by someone somewhere on the internet. Heavy wears the crown, indeed. Listen...you like Dungeon World? Okay. Fine. It's a great game. I like it, too. You like FATE? Okay, cool. I do, too. But you don't have to put down one game to put up another. I know, I know, because Internet. Because that's what we do. Because D&D is the champ, and everyone wants to take on the champ. I get it. But, please, Internet, buck the trend. Be classy. Don't hate on The Other Game. Stick your chest out, hold your head high, and represent Your Game for all the greatness that it is. That is how you affect hearts and minds. Leave the mud-slinging for the politicians. We're better than that.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"I Am," "I Do," and the Space In Between

Several weeks ago, I passed the 100-post mark on this blog. That, to me, is a really big deal. Not as a blogger, or as a gamer. It's a big deal to me as a writer. This is, by far, the most I've ever written on one topic, at any time in my life.

I've known that I was a good writer since I was 13 years old. In my late teens and early 20's, I lived under the mistaken assumption that, because I'm good at writing, then writing must be what I was passionate about. I tried to envision myself as Eminem in Eight Mile, this scrappy young kid who was going to make it because he just had so much damn passion for what he did. I built my entire academic career on the idea that I would be a writer when I grew up.

But when you're passionate about something, you don't need to psych yourself up for it. You just do it. You cannot conceive your life without it. It's just a part of you. Writing wasn't a part of me. I can get by without it. But you know what I can't get by without? Games. Particularly the table-top kind. I had an inkling of this when I was young, but there was no way I could do gaming as a career. It required skills I had no interest in getting, connections I had no way to build, all for a payoff that was far less than what I wanted.

So I was pretty bummed out for many of my younger years over this. All I wanted to do was play games all day, but I didn't think it would be a skill that would provide for me. Instead, I had writing skills, and no motivation to use them to get the success and satisfaction I wanted from life, because all I wanted to do was play games all day.

Given all of that, I guess it should come as no surprise that RPGs, the fusion of creativity and gaming, is something I am really, really drawn to. And given that, it should be no surprise at all that the longest written work I've consistently done is a blog about tabletop gaming.

What this blog has helped me realize, though, is that I can be two things at once. Now I know that my personality, who I am as a person, can be defined in part (if not in whole) by these two statements:

1. Writing is my skill.
2. Gaming is my passion.

Since discovering that my skill and my passion are two different things, I have had a lot more peace of mind. When I was younger, I was absolutely terrified I was not going to have a novel published before I was 30. Now, I realize I don't care about having a novel released. I never did. Hell, I don't even particularly like to read that much!

When I was younger, I'd often feel guilty about the time and money I spent gaming. I was always worried if the time would be better spent working on my writing. Maybe joining a writing group instead of a gaming group. Now I realize that no, this is exactly what I want to do with myself. The money, the prestige, the self-satisfaction...whatever the hell it was I felt like I needed when I was younger...that would come from embracing my passion, not turning my back to it. And if it never comes? Then maybe I never needed it in the first place.

Now I'm a writer/editor for the federal government. On the evenings and the weekends, I am a gamer, with great gamer friends, and a vast array of great games to play. My life is far, far from perfect, but by understanding this very important balance, I am able to, maybe, find just a little bit of peace amidst all of life's chaos.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Firefly RPG, Episode Five: "Hillfolk"

Yesterday, our season of the Firefly RPG continued with the fifth episode, "Hillfolk."

The episode was named after this week's "signature" mechanic: stealing from the excellent Hillfolk role-playing game, I had the players create their own scenes. I set up the basic situation: whilst traveling the 'Verse, the Serenity had a little engine trouble and crash-landed on the planet Dakota. The crew had to go into town looking for parts for repairs. From there, I cut the players loose: each player created two scenes (except Enzo's player; since it was his episode, he created three). For each scene, the players decided who would be in the scene, where the scene would be taking place, and what the general situation was.

There were some great scenes. Here are some of the highlights:

-Enzo, Q, and Peaches had to enter a square-dance contest in the town before they were allowed to purchase repair supplies They won the contest, earning them the Asset Dance Champions of Dakota Colony D6;

-Several character building moments between Kitt, Peaches, the new guy Ira, and others;

-Enzo's epic DeathMule! Basically the Serenity's mule rigged with all kinds of jiggered-up tools from wherever to create this warmachine that crashed into a bandit's camp to rescue a captured Q...and Jack...and Peaches.

-An accidential homage to Fiasco in a scene where all the players role-played as the bandits who kidnapped the crew members previously mentioned. The bandit leader had been more or less driven insane by Q's psychic whisperings about various betrayals in his gang. The confrontation climaxed with a game of Russian roulette.

Overall, the game was another hit. Firefly continues to make a case for the greatest RPG campaign I've ever run. In the "Roses & Thorns" critique session at the end, here were some of the positives mentioned:

-The freedom Cortex Plus gives me to experiment with different adventure structures continues to be a point of great excitement and fun for the players. From the reverse adventure in the pilot to the "adventure turducken" in last session's episode "Breakout," the players have had a blast all the way through.

-The players came up with some scenes that I never would have thought of (Dance party? Really?) and they were pulled off with great delight.

-The players once again prove to be incredibly skilled and enthusiastic role-players. Last session, they were skeptical of portraying Q's psyhic friends in "Breakout." This session, they readily jumped into repeated NPC roles, creating several memorable characters in the spur of the moment (one player helpfully created an end-boss in a mutant with a gun for an arm!) This particular trick has proven to be very useful, and I fully intend on bringing it to other games.

And here were some of the things I'd like to keep in mind for the next session:

-This was supposed to be Enzo's episode, but due to the scattershot structure of the game, his backstory got virtually no highlighting. I must remedy this in future sessions!

-One concern I always had when reading Hillfolk was that the games wouldn't be structured enough with a group of players who didn't fully buy into it, which would then cause the game to fade quickly. This seemed to be the case here; most of the players expressed a desire to see a more focused story, and wished their scenes were more character-development oriented, rather than carrying any of the plot with it. Part of this was simply in the haphazard combining of Hillfolk with the Firefly RPG. Hillfolk does in fact have several mechanisms in place to make sure the game's collaborative style doesn't sputter out so easily. A lot of if also falls on just needing more experience running a game in this style. However, the biggest takeaway for me is collaborative gaming needs clear narrative structure, just like any other kind of storytelling gaming! 

-As I noted in the last session, one thing I want to continue to work on is to experiment more directly with the Cortex Plus system. I want to reread the various Cortex Plus games and look into new ways to use the concepts within those games. I had some fun with this during "Breakout" when I toyed a little with power sets from Marvel Superheroic, but that wasn't entirely me.

Anyways, it was a good game with great friends, and I look forward to the next adventure!




Friday, July 11, 2014

More Boardgaming at Lunch!

Having done this four weeks in a row now, I can safely say that I have started something in my office. For that, I am very grateful. It's still something very small, but I've got a strong base, and as word of mouth spreads, I think my Friday lunchtime boardgame sessions in the conference room will pick up steam. 

Last week (on a Thursday because the office was closed on Friday the 4th), we played four games of Coup. We had five players, one of them being new. The new player, he told me, was very excited about this idea but can't normally attend because he teleworks on Fridays. So he was very happy to be there. He even won one of the games of Coup, and loved it so much he promptly purchased the game for his family after lunch. 

This week, we played one game of Avalon and three games of Coup. We had five players again, though the aforementioned new guy was on telework. 

Avalon, quite frankly, sucks as a five-player game. Without the ambiguity of numbers and the chaos of interpersonal politics, the game degenerates into a logic puzzle. That may not be a bad thing for people into puzzles, but Avalon is at its best when paranoia and scheming are in abundance. Worse still, with the numbers at three good guys and two bad guys, the Assassin has a fairly-decent one in three chance of just randomly guessing Merlin. I suppose you could take out both Merlin and the Assassin, but it seems like that would just make the game boring. 

Coup once again made a strong argument for being the best small group game I've ever seen. I am about a dozen games into it, and no one, including myself, seem to be growing tired of it. As I've said before, it's a fairly-deep though simple-to-grasp game that plays in about ten minutes. It's complex enough that a hardcore tabletop enthusiast such as my myself can be satisfied playing it, but simple enough that a random office co-worker can wander into the conference room, learn to play in minutes, and play several complete games within a single lunch hour. 

I do want to expand the selection, though. Everything...including Coup...grows old in time, and if I want to keep this office experience flourishing, I'm going to need a stronger rotation than just Coup and Avalon. As I've said before, I've also got Panic on Wall Street, but that plays optimum with 6+ players. A game that's ideal in the 4-6 range is what I need. I've done some research and am looking into the following candidates:

Space Alert: This is a cooperative game specifically designed to be played in 30 minutes, real-time. It sounds tense and exciting, and plays up to five (six, if I sit out and teach). The quiet conference room would make a good place for the sounds that apparently are needed while playing it, too, which has always been my objection to purchasing it in the past (the Landing, my main venue, would be way too loud to play this game). 

Libertalia: This game looked great to me from the moment I put eyes on it. The rave reviews from Sit Down & Shut Up, plus its pirate theme, would make it a very spirited game, I think. 

Tokaido: This game looks goddam gorgeous, plus I don't have a whole lot of experience with Japanese games, so this might plug a whole in my collection for me. This game also has the same reputation of being "simple on the surface, complex once you dig into it" that Coup has. 

7 Wonders: Hailed by many as the king of quick strategy games, I've played it several times and can personally attest to its quality. However, I have two small problems with it: one, being a pseudo-Euro game, I'm afraid it may turn off more casual gamers; and two, on a meta level, many boardgamers in my groups have this game, so I'm afraid buying my own copy would be redundant, something I try to avoid when adding new games to my collection.

Dominion: Another common game that gets thrown around in discussions of quick, casual strategy, I have been very close to pulling the trigger on this granddaddy of deck-builders for a long time. I have two problems with this game, too, however; one, with a hard limit of four players, that's a little awkward since my average group size is five; and two, I've recently gone cold to card games because I don't like the maintenence involved. Anyone who's played my boardgames knows I can't be bothered to do simple things like keeping the box neat or the cards together. In a game of nothing but cards, that box will turn into a disaster quickly (as my boxes of Legendary, Arctic Scavengers, and Thunderstone will attest). I've gotten to the point where I'd rather just play something with easier setup, takedown, and maintenence, than setting myself up for failure with a game that requires that kind of TLC when I'm not willing to do it. I'd rather just let some of my more anal-retentive friends buy it and play their copy!

Anyways, that's all I've got for now. I'll blog about next week's session...well, next week!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Devil's Choice

When I was about 13, a friend of mine suggested a little book called Ender's Game. I loved it. To this day, it's one of the few books I've read multiple times. I read the rest of the series through high school and college. Back then, I was normally a fantasy geek; the Ender books were one of my few forays into science fiction. In that sense, you could say Orson Scott Card was the author who introduced me to sci-fi.

Then, once this whole internet thing became big, I decided to look up some info about my favorite sci-fi author. And I discovered that he thinks homosexuality is a disease. I remember thinking, "are you fucking kidding me?" This brilliant man who wrote this book about children and war and intelligence and love and empathy...and he thinks homosexuality is some defect? Come ON!

Around 2010, a new Ender book, Ender in Exile, was published. I tried to read it, but all I could think of was "in this universe, gays are considered diseased, and those who think otherwise are just flat-out wrong." I couldn't get past that. I couldn't get more than 50 pages into the book. The sad part? I was liking the book. Yet I still couldn't bring myself to read another word.

Two questions haunt me when I look back at all of that. One is "If I knew then what I know now, would I still have liked those books so much?" The other is "If I still like those books now, what, if anything, does that say about ME?" It's been over ten years since I last read them, so I can I don't know how well they've aged...but I do know that there is absolutely no way I can give them an objective read now, regardless of whether or not I still find them captivating.

When the whole controversy reached the national stage during the movie release of Ender's Game, I stayed suspiciously quiet. I didn't know then...and, honestly, I don't know now...how to feel about it all. I can't deny that I really, really liked those books. But I also can't deny that Card is a homophobe...an articulate one, perhaps, but that almost makes it worse. The accepting side is supposed to be the one with all the wit and intelligence and creativity!

I don't want to spiral too far out of control here, but fucking internet, right? How many great books, movies, songs, or works of art would have never received their acclaim if the internet were around to expose how flawed their creators were? Conversely, how many truly talented people might have had a chance at fame and fortune and success if the internet weren't around to damn them for their beliefs?

That last bit right there, that's the toughest pill for me to swallow. Prejudice in the opposite direction is still prejudice, isn't it? Hating someone for hating someone else is still hatred. That whole two wrongs don't make a right, or whatever. You don't get a free pass to discrimminate against someone just because they're on the wrong side of history. Given what we know of psychology and subconsciousness and how the human brain works, we could even argue that people's beliefs aren't even a choice. How fucked up is that? I don't know if I'd go that far, personally, but the implications are pretty scary to me.

So we're left with a devil's bargain: enjoy content created by bigots, or become bigots ourselves.

Anyone who's been following tabletop gaming news for the past week probably knows where this post is coming from. The latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out last week. In it, the book acknowledges the presence of people (maybe just one, I'm not too sure) who have allegedly said some really terrible, hateful things on the internet. This has caused what we in the community call a shitstorm. And, most tragic of all, very, very little of the conversation about this new edition of the Biggest RPG in the World is revolving around the game itself. It is instead revolving around these few people, and what they may or may not actually believe.

I want to say it's stupid. I want to scream "WHO GIVES A SHIT? LET'S JUST ROLL UP SOME ELVES AND SLAY SOME FUCKING MONSTERS!!!" But then I remember 13-year-old Ed. I think about how disappointed he may have been if he was told "Hey, that author you love so much? He thinks being gay is wrong." I think about how he may have just thrown that book in the trash, if he knew that.

Listen...you gotta do what you gotta do. If you can't get over what some dude said or didn't say, that's on you, Dear Reader. I won't judge you, either way. Just one request: please, please, shut up about it.






Thursday, July 3, 2014

Everywhere I Go...

...gaming is there.

This morning, I got off the Metro outside of the National Archives building to pick up my new Federal ID badge. It's July 3, late morning. The skies are partly cloudy and its hot, though not unbearably so (yet). There are tourists everywhere already, traveling in packs of families, staring at everything with that tourist-y blend of fascination and confusion. Right in front of me, maintenence men are working on the Navy Memorial, this beautiful fountain right before the majestic yet intimidating, vault-like fortress that is the Archives.

It takes me a few minutes as I begin walking to the Archives, but immediately the thoughts begin entering my head...

"...This would make a great scene in a zombie apocalypse RPG..."

"...The players, as robbers, could plan their heist right at the Navy Memorial, ready to break into the Archives and make off with the Declaration of Independence..."

"...That homeless guy asking for change isn't homeless at all, but in fact a secret agent protecting the building..."

"...Deep beneath the Archives, in a secret chamber in the basement, documents unknown to humanity are kept. The records of the first alien autopsies...reports of the crash landing...documentation of what we really did find on the moon..."

This happens pretty much every time something outside of my regular routine happens to me. I "case the joint" wherever I go, but instead of trying to find out when the security guard goes on break or who has the combination to the safe, I'm wondering how a fight scene would work, what kind of monsters would "look good" in this setting, little details about everyday life I should be sure to include in my descriptions, and so on.

This happens on the boardgaming side of my hobby, too. Based on a story my wife told me once, I began wondering about a boardgame where the players are all employees in an office and have to peer review each other. You need positive reviews to get a promotion, but there are only so many promotions. So you have to try and wheel and deal your way into getting your co-worker players to give you a good review, but knowing full-well there are limited promotions, you can't give everyone a good review. The reviews are always anonymous, so you just have to trust that if someone is going to say you're a good worker, that they did. So there's politics and backstabbing and stuff. I didn't go further than the concept, but still; that all happened within seconds of my wife telling me this story about peer reviews at her office.

This, to me, is why having a hobby is so important. It gives life color. It makes the unimportant shit important. It makes you care about things you would never normally care about. It makes you look for patterns in the chaos.

It's not all good, though. A certain degree of discipline is involved. Not every idea that pops into your head is a keeper. You also can't let yourself get so absorbed in new ideas that you abandon old ones. You have to learn what to stick with and what to let go. As the old saying goes, there's nothing more common than people with talent. It's the drive to do something with all of those ideas that matters, in the end.

My problem has always been talk. Talk is cheap. Everyone has ideas. Go ahead and post on G+ or Facebook about the great new idea you have. Ideas are always great, when they don't exist in the real world. I'm not saying you can't share your ideas...but I think an important part of cultivating one's hobby (especially a hobby as wildly creative as tabletop gaming) is to make the distinction between a good idea and something you're actually going to do. It's hard to do that when you bring every idea to the table as "potentially" the next big thing. Your own common sense has to be the first barrier to entry.

Anyways...I love that I do this. I don't talk about it much for the reasons I just brought up in the last two paragraphs, but this is a great little perk to being a tabletop gamer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting to go to...and I'm wondering if the conference room will make a good barricade against zombies...