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The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "The Ferrett" journal:

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April 12th, 2016
09:18 am


One Addict Needs Another, Or: Why You Should Be Wary Of Advice

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

He needs a friend.

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

Your presence justifies their needs.

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

“Giving advice” can be a kind of drug.

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/532816.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(9 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

April 8th, 2016
10:02 am


A Reminder: Experiences Are Not Conclusions.

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

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

And no.

Not all depressive people come to the same conclusions.

No group ever does.

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

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

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

T’aint true, McGee.

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

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

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

We’re different.

That is, astoundingly, why we make progress.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/532704.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(7 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

April 7th, 2016
11:23 am


Hey, Did You Know Smoking Cigarettes Gives You Cancer? I Know, Right?

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

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

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

That was the end of the discussion.

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

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

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

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

Everything I could tell them was something they knew already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But honestly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then you rework it.

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

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

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

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



Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/532232.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(23 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

April 6th, 2016
10:06 am


You Can Walk And Still Need A Wheelchair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/532152.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(36 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

April 5th, 2016
10:17 am


Why Should We Listen To Anecdotal Evidence Of Harassment In Gaming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, trickier than you’d think.

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

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

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

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

There’s simply not the money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that someplace you’d go to to relax?

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

You just have to pay attention.

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

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

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

He just didn’t like what he saw.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/531828.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(5 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

April 4th, 2016
10:03 am


Why I Don’t Play Magic Any More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all.

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/531654.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(15 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

March 31st, 2016
09:31 am


One Kickstarter I’m In, One Kickstarter I’m Not – Both Danged Cool

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

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

And in other news….

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

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

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


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/531403.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(3 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

March 30th, 2016
11:50 am


How To Leave A Convincing Comment

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

Many of which sounded like total nutballs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanna be convincing?  Brevity counts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/531138.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(22 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

March 29th, 2016
09:59 am


The Vaccination Problem Is The Military Problem Is The Regulation Problem

So here’s the problem with vaccination:

It works.

It works really well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/530897.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(40 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

March 28th, 2016
10:29 am


On Beyond Two Souls And The Fatal Flaw Of Interactive Storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem is the story’s never deep enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t happen.

But I can dream.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/530503.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(20 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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