Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Rants

Jessica Price and James Gunn on Free Speech

Below are Jessica Price’s comment on the firing of James Damore from Google and James Gunn’s remarks on Brendan Eich’s firing from Mozilla.

 

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Operation Roiling Mumble Post Mortem

So, how did it go…?

You know, I’m just not the activist type. My pattern over the years in response to various kerfuffles has largely been to drop out, fall back, and then do my own thing somewhere else. The problem with the politicization of games is that… at this point, there’s not a whole lot left to fall back to…!

Well this was a very modest effort– a very small step up from the usual gimmick of writing an unhinged spittle-flecked editorial that will convince no one that doesn’t already agree with me. (Man, those things are fun to write, though.) The letter writing campaign generated more response than I expected, but less than I wanted. As far as I can tell, there are fewer people that will write a letter to OBS expressing concern about censorship than there are people that will walk out of the Ennie Awards ceremonies in outrage against a successful game designer they detest. The smug people who keep the hobby pure and clean? They appear to be far more motivated than the people that disagree with them on social media.

For people that want to run their own ops, I can tell you a few things based on my very limited efforts here. The breakdown of the kind of responses I got was fairly even for each group:

  • There are the people that get on board and participate exactly as you ask. I really loved this part because I got to see the letters of people that I think are more articulate than me. Even better, I got to see the responses that Steve Wieck made to them. If I was some sort of evil mastermind, this could have been really useful intel.
  • There are the people that don’t necessarily want to participate… but who are sympathetic enough to boost the signal for you by resharing and so forth. This is cool. The morale value of this sort of thing shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • There are the hecklers that show up to use your ops as an opportunity to run through the opposition’s talking points. This is pretty tacky and irritating.
  • Much worse are the “wet blanket” moderates who show up to explain at length that there’s really no need for action and no reason to get excited, etc. etc. I’m convinced that these people really do by far the worst amount of damage to people trying to accomplish something. They really do destroy momentum more than anyone else. Hecklers will sometimes inspire your allies to push back on your behalf. But moderates? They’re a bottomless pit.
  • Finally, there are the “more radical than you” and “better able to run an op than you” types. On one level, this is awesome, but on another… dang, this is frustrating. If these people do not have an actual operation going that you can show reciprocal support to, then they can really take the wind out of your sails.

Each of those groups were roughly the same size, so useful feedback and participation is liable to be dwarfed by the people aren’t really on board with the proposed effort. (I mean seriously, some people spent more time arguing with me about this than it would have taken to write a letter to OBS. Agh!) This sort of thing is completely predictable and an inevitable part of human nature. While my temperament is about as far from “revolutionary leader” as it gets, if I ever do anything remotely like this again I will make a point to head some of this sort of thing off.

At this point, though, this OBS censorship policy is well on its way to becoming a reality. While I didn’t think there was much chance of stopping it, I for one felt it important to at least register some opposition with the people that actually make the decisions. But when the “point and shriek” crowd rolled up to DriveThruRpg, it’s pretty clear that they had a game plan. Watching how this played out… it’s pretty clear to me that their opposition does not. They can threaten Steve Wieck with their standard “guilt by association” routine. Us? We can only “threaten” to leave him alone and let him run his business as he sees fit. There’s just not a lot of leverage in that…!

So what happens next…? Eh, I guess we sit back and wait for the games to start getting banned with greater and greater frequency. Maybe pretty soon we’ll have enough victims that we can set up a yearly “play a banned game” day at the local library. (Librarians hate censorship, don’t they? Surely we can count on them! Heh.) But hey… you all that sat down and wrote a letter just because I asked: thank you. That was cool. Maybe it didn’t accomplish much, but I do think it was more effective than me putting together another angry op ed piece. If somebody else is smarter or more effective in opposing censorship and protecting free expression… by all means, lend them your aid. Or at the very least, cut the wet blanket routine and get out of their way.

OH ANALOG NO

So the 1,000th issue of Analog pulls a cutesy trick by revisiting the cover of the first issue, except this time with the sexes reversed.

You know, this might be another one of those “get off my lawn” moments for me, but I’m just not that impressed. And there are any number of things to complain about here: the lack of a beard on the cave man, his waxed chest, his unreasonable muscles. Then there’s the awkwardness of the punch, the dumpy clothing on the space princess, the complete lack of any skin showing on her and (worse) the fact that you can’t even discern the slightest hint of her curves.

This is space fantasy that would evidently satisfy the exacting standard of both the PMRC and the shareef. Seriously, how is that a good idea?

All snarkyness aside, things generally go downhill fast once they pass the point of self-parody. Think how bad the Batman movie franchise got after Michael Keaton left it. Think about how Arnold Schwarzenegger went from being the ultimate heavy to being a running joke.

The attitude here is like a small town kid that comes back from a couple years at college all ready to let everyone back home how they are such hicks. You know… you can go on to bigger and better things if you want. That’s great. But I don’t think it’s necessary to show such contempt for your roots, though. And I know that the editor probably thinks that this might even be a celebration of those roots. I see it as more of a mockery.

As to the Magazine itself? No thanks. Not when there’s several A. Merritt novels left for me to dig into. If there are any others that are on par with Dwellers in the Mirage or Creep, Shadow!, then there’s not much that this magazine can do to compete with that.

And while I would be ecstatic to be proven wrong, I think it’s safe to say that Analog Magazine will never come close to being as awesome as this:

That’s how it’s done.

Update: The editor has this to say: “You may notice that there’s one big difference between this cover and the original–there’s no cowering cave-woman being protected by a two-fisted adventurer; this time, she’s more than capable of handling the bug on her own. Taking the things that work without being beholden to the things that don’t is about as Futurist a concept as there is.”

Obviously, I’m going to have to disagree here. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and E. C. Tubb’s stories all work just fine today.

Check Your Rhetoric, Bro: Charlie Hebdo, Islam, and… Gamergate?

Okay, check this out:

Switch Gamergate in for Islam and what do we get?

Whether you agree or not, Islam has become associated with violence against cartoonists, novelists, filmmakers, women, gays, and people of other faiths. The fact that some Muslims don’t agree with terrorist acts done in the name of their religion is interesting, but doesn’t change the fact that it has been linked with a range of violent and barbaric behaviors.

Here’s another one:

Switch Gamergate in for Islam and what do we get?

Even if 90% of Muslims are good and 10% are bad, the bad are poisoning the message for everyone…. I know that may pain you to hear. You thought you were taking part in a religion of peace that is open to all and pleasing to God. But Islam has been permanently tarnished and hijacked by a handful of people who are not what you would hope.

There it is.

If someone treated Islam the way Gamergate is handled, the person doing it would be overwhelmed with accusations of bigotry and hate-mongering. There are two reasons for this. One, Gamergate is treated extremely unfairly, both in the press and in social media. Two, Islam is something of a scared cow… even in places that aren’t under Sharia law. Now, the internet has lit up with commentary on why that is the case. I won’t go into it here. My point is… Jimmy Wales and most journalists are bigoted towards Gamergate. It’s a fact. And I know people reading this are thinking, “dude… those cartoonists are shot dead in cold blood and you’re talking about ethics in video games journalism!” And y’all have a point. But if we can’t trust the media to handle video games responsibly, how can we expect them to cover something like Islam with any sort of reasonable standard?

Well we can’t. This is typified by the way that The New York Times removed this particularly damning sentence from their coverage:

I’m not going to kill you because you’re a woman, we don’t kill women, but you must convert to Islam, read the Quran and cover yourself.

Just quoting that in a discussion will get you tarred with the label of “bigot” just like saying anything positive about Gamergate will get you labeled as a misogynist. The extent of this chilling effect really is astounding. It’s almost like people are being programmed or something… and they are!

There are two things going on here. The first is… that R. Crumb was basically right when he said that, “you don’t have journalists over there anymore, what they have is public relations people. That’s what they have over in America now. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.” Gamergate exposes this. The coverage of Islam in the news illustrates this. And this sort of thing didn’t just happen, either. All of this was predicted by C. S. Lewis way back in The Abolition of Man. And you can’t talk about this stuff anywhere without facing slander and social sanction.

What you’re witnessing is the breakdown of the West as it is hollowed out from within by cowards and traitors. As Robert E. Howard said, “when a nation forgets her skill in war, when her religion becomes a mockery, when the whole nation becomes a nation of money-grabbers, then the wild tribes, the barbarians drive in… Who will our invaders be? From whence will they come?” Our invader is indeed from East. The barbarian is in fact screaming “Allahu Akbar” and murdering cartoonists. And though my outrage has not particularly cooled in the intervening days since the shooting, I nevertheless come to realize that it is not Islam that is the problem here. It will be what it will be, and to some extent it can’t really help what it is. No, my anger is at the enemy within: the one that wages a non-stop war against the sort of values that make Western Civilization what it is. They are the ones that made us into a soft target. They’ve done all that they can to invite this sort of thing. They are the ones that hate not just free expression but due process and even “innocent until proven guilty.”

I’ve had it with them. I’ve had it. And it really ticks me off to think of what we’ve been missing after all these years of tiptoeing around the sensibilities of these sorts of cretins. Stuff like this:

More and more to me, it seems that practicing free expression “responsibly” is a really dumb idea. Never before has it been clearer that yes, protecting unpopular speech is kind of where you have to draw the line if you are really serious about a free society. All those newspapers are unable to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons right now because they’re too scared to do it. Yeah, I’d be scared some barbarian would want to cut my head off, too. But I’d like to think that I’m not the sort of person that would betray my own people just so I could come off as being morally superior to the rednecks in Deliverance and Duck Dynasty.

Maybe it’s not enough to go read a banned book, play a banned game, and set the First Amendment right next to mom and apple pie and all those other things we pretend to revere. (To which the average knucklehead will reply that that the First Amendment protects us from government censorship, not from brutal Islamic jihaddis. Thank you, cretin, for clearing that up.) Maybe it’s time to give these bastards so many targets that they can’t hope to get us all.

After all, as gaming journalist Leigh Alexander would put it:

Islam is over. It’s just a dated demographic, a relic of the dark ages. These obtuse misogynists, these murderous barbarians, these thinskined bufoons that can’t take a joke — they are not my audience. They don’t have to be yours. There is no ‘side’ to be on, there is no ‘debate’ to be had. There is what’s past and there is what’s now. There is the role you choose to play in what’s ahead.

Je suis Charlie.

Troll Questions are Trollish

I know we’re all supposed to be mature enough to set the edition wars aside. Role playing is such a small segment of the gaming scene anymore, it’s pretty ridiculous to even start down the path of sussing out some sort of one true system to rule them all. The last thing we need at this point is an internecine struggle in the old school camp. Shouldn’t us crusty old dungeon masters be able to stand back from all this and just say “whatever works for you and your group” is cool and then keep on rolling?

Well I can’t, for one. And why should I? Like this guy, for instance. You’re going to open up your answers to some troll questions with the insinuation that anyone that takes a fairly strict approach to the game is some kind of fundamentalist…? Wait, what?! Oh, what you really mean is that how we answer these questions is our chance to show each other how fundamentalist we are. Keep digging there, fella. I mean… you say “fundamentalist,” I think some sweaty overweight dude in a cheap suit haranguing the mobs. How kind you are in regards to folks that play a bit different from you!

But if you’re going to invoke some religious terms in mixed company, let me take this line of thought to its logical conclusion and get Old Testament on it. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Dig it, bro. The application of this verse in game design is that there are plenty of simple, obvious rules changes that people love to make in their games… and that they might never think to do it any other way… that they maybe even don’t know are actually against the “real” rules… that if any stuck up fuddy duddy ever told them to do different, they’d just sneer and scoff at the idea of anyone being such a party pooper. And all that time… they could be playing games in ways that completely break the intentions of the designer or that otherwise undercut the point of the play experience.

The classic of example of that sort of thing is in Monopoly where people put all the Chance, Community Chest, and Income Tax money in a pot to give to the next person to land on Free Parking. The thing about that seemingly innocuous rules change is that it keeps just enough money in the game so that the weakest player never really goes bankrupt. But hey, whatever floats your boat, right? But here’s the kicker: these same people will complain that Monopoly takes forever to play… when they’ve insisted on a house rule that means practically no one can ever go bankrupt. When winning (and thus ending the game) requires someone to bankrupt the other players.

I guess that’s the thing that really sticks in my craw with this. It’s not that they’re playing it wrong. It’s that the house rules that they take as being unassailable and self evident cause them to have such a horrible a play experience that they end up slandering an otherwise well engineered game design.

Which brings me to all the usual “fixes” people take to their D&D’s. Why is it that people feel so compelled to pull the teeth out of the consequences in the game? Why can’t energy drain actually cost someone a level’s worth of experience? Why can’t people just die when their hit points reach zero? Why can’t you bring yourself to let someone roll “save or die” when they drink the poison? Why do you have to give the clerics a cure light wounds right away at the first level? (Can’t you live without it for a few sessions?) Why do you feel compelled to let people reroll their “hopeless characters“? Why are you spending so much time tinkering with alternate ability roll sequences that make it almost impossible to create a below average character in the first place? Why can’t you just let the default character generation system be the baseline for the sort of resources players are going to start with? Why can’t you let a dangerous world be dangerous?

And I realize that even Gygax himself fell prey to most of these, but you’ve seen what happens to Monopoly when people take the bankruptcy out of it. Do you really want to spend all of your session time exploring a D&D without average, below average, death, and failure? Ah, but no…. You’re not that wimpy. You’re old school. You just want to make a few changes, that’s all. Eh, okay; whatever. I’m sure you have the perfect house rules, the ultimate distillation of decades of old school play. And I’m sure your players have more fun than mine. But I seriously doubt that all these rules changes that you consider to be essential came out a serious attempt to play by the rules as written. (Of course… until Moldvay, there really wasn’t a comprehensible set of rules-as-written to go by! But never mind that for now….)

The point is… maybe you’re missing something. Your buffing of those first level characters is just moving an arbitrary starting point that everyone in the session will ultimately just recalibrate around. Yet at the same time you’re also sending a message that the players should be able to look outside the bounds of their own ingenuity in order to succeed in the game. And that stuff you’re doing to nerf level drains and poison– sheesh, it’s like you’re toddler proofing your game world or something. And when the players screw it all up, what’s it going to be? The fact that you’ve already gone this far down these paths means that their failure is your responsibility. You didn’t give them enough perks and you didn’t give them enough second chances. Creep.

However you play, and whatever you run… you are at some point going to have to exert your authority as a dungeon master. Unless you’re playing the “everybody wins, nobody dies” game I see at most cons, you’re going to have to be the bad guy sooner or later. In that moment… you’re going to have to look impartial. Sticking to the rules at the arbitrary points will help you seem far more impartial when you do have to make the tough calls. Just sayin’.

The greatest tragedy of these troll question style fiddlings is that they aren’t actually the focus of the game: the rules are not the game. But your constant tweaking gives the impression that they have something to do with what goes on at the table. Instead of chasing some impossible Zeno-style paradox, why not adjust the game with all those other, much more fundamental dials? Why not… let the players adjust their play based on the known risk and reward ratios of the actual rules? Why not adjust your scenario designs, your pacing, and your delivery around those same rules? Ah, but don’t mind me. I’m just the unhinged fundamentalist that plays Monopoly in the R.A.W. And hey… it’s all arbitrary, yeah? And maybe it is. But if it really was arbitrary and if it really doesn’t matter which way you do it… then why are you futzing around with the rules in the first place…?