Jupiter Challenge

I forgot to do a Monday Recs because of reasons, but I want to draw attention to the Jupiter Challenge. It’s inspired by Jupiter Ascending, AKA what would happen if that story you wrote at 12 got a major movie’s budget, and encourages its participants to create a story or art or something else based on an idea they had before they were 16. I’m planning on participating and it looks like it’ll be an all-around good time.


So a friend of mine in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was having the frustrating experience of feeling like her therapist was just giving her random DBT skills to try and thought it would be funny to have a bot do that, so I hacked together something from the orcwanker code. It’s kind of like a conceptual cross between the Oblique Strategies and the 1966 therapy-bot ELIZA.

I present the DBT Strategies Generator, or “DBTwanker”.

More information about the DBT skills can be found in the official manual; there’s also some information in WikiBooks.

Monday Rec: Daredevil

I went to see Age of Ultron and it had some really shitty parts and some good parts and I’m really excited about the new Avengers team and whatever, I’m not gonna tell you to go see it because if it’s your thing, you’re gonna see it, and if not, you’ll do fine to wait for the dollar theatre.

I’m gonna tell you to go on over to Netflix and watch Daredevil, because it is incredibly well put-together and because it is about emotional intimacy between men who cry sometimes and when they do, they really go full-out ugly crying, with their faces all scrunched up, and that’s refreshing as hell.

Okay, so I know that comparing any show to Teen Wolf and saying “this is better” is a pretty low bar, but there’s something that Teen Wolf did that I thought was total bullshit but Daredevil completely pulled off. In Teen Wolf, the werewolf characters are constantly using their superhuman hearing powers to listen to heartbeats and then tell people that they’re lying, and I 100% did not buy it when they did that. In Daredevil, they just let you listen to the heartbeats themselves and let you draw your own conclusion, and it feels totally different. The whole show is like that: they have to be showing what it is that the protagonist is focusing on, because he’s blind with enhanced other senses, and they do it really well. There are scenes where they slowly focus on a single object, or where they “zoom in” on a certain sound, pulling it out of a chaos of noise, and all of it manages to pull you into the character’s perspective really well.

It’s still a superhero show, but the simple “there are enhanced senses” thing is pretty much Daredevil’s entire gimmick; it’s frankly a lot more about organized crime and corruption than about anything related to superpowers; the main villain is just a regular human being who happens to run the mob. And while there are nods to the rest of the Marvelverse, this is as far from the crossover-heavy Agents of SHIELD as you can get while still being in that world; aside from the whole “New York City got pretty fucked up when shit went down in the first Avengers movie”, there’s not much difference between Matt Murdoch’s version of Hell’s Kitchen and ours.

Age of Ultron revealed some pretty exciting stuff that’s going to happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future, and I’m psyched as hell about the new Avengers lineup, but Daredevil is doing some really cool stuff right now. Plus, there’s not a lot of shows that feature one dude beating up lots of other dudes AND ugly-crying with his best friend, so that’s pretty good right there.

Seeking feedback

I’m posting this looking for feedback on what my readers want to see on this blog. (All, um, 10 or so of you.) I’m hoping to eventually be able to ask these questions in survey form from people who contribute to my Patreon, but since right now I seem to just be getting tips in PayPal form (thanks for that), I figure I’ll open it up to all of you.

I have a handful of essay ideas, most of which will probably end up getting made eventually, and a few longer term projects that I’m thinking of doing if people are interested in reading them.

The essays include the following topics:

  • Dolores Umbridge is the best villain of all time and why, with possible sidebars on Rita Skeeter and Snape
  • Why Leliana has my favorite arc of any video game character ever
  • How (and maybe why) Google results are getting less useful
  • Worldbuilding in Morrowind and why it’s still the best I’ve seen even though it’s over a decade since it’s come out
  • Joss Whedon: bad at feminism in some really creepy and specific ways
  • Tony Stark vs. Steve Rogers and competing visions of America
  • How Daredevil balances “grittiness” with actual heart
  • My Bisquick biscuit recipe, which features excessive swearing, is written in all caps, and has best results when made by someone who is very drunk
  • I just realized I’ve been reading webcomics for over a decade, holy shit, there’s probably an essay in that
  • Dragon Age 2 as telling a sort of zeitgeist story

The projects include the following:

  • Figuring out cosplay with the Social Justice Warrior costume, which I’m making anyway but haven’t been documenting
  • A series of essays on a game or game series that I’ve played before and have a lot of things to say about, with possible options for game(s) including the Mass Effect series, Tales of the Abyss, Skies of Arcadia and the Dragon Age series
  • Something between a diary and a series of essays on games that I’ve never played but that I would likely have interesting things to say about, possibly including Planescape: Torment

I’m open to other ideas– I know a lot of you found me via my MetaFilter comments or Twitter feed, so if there are topics I’ve talked about there that you want to know more about or would find interesting in a cleaned-up essay form, I’d like to hear about it.

Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Monday Rec: What If

The best thing that the Harry Potter series gave the world, or at least my little internet corner of it, is its fandom, which is an endless font of creativity and love and magic.

I don’t have much new stuff from the past week to recommend, but this alternate universe Harry Potter story (found via Seanan McGuire’s tumblr) lays down groundworks for a world without both Harry and Neville and basically reduced me to a sobbing wreck. Excerpt:

Professor Flitwick had vanished when Dumbledore had. He spent more than a decade snatching up children like he was a Pied Piper, taking whole families to safe spaces, new lives.

Some of the Muggleborn families took their magical children and ran, to Australia and New York and Amsterdam. Flitwick gave them cards for private, honorable tutors in every place they fled to and books on magic for self-study. But others stayed.

Their school was held in the basements of sweet shops and the attics of old Hufflepuff families and bespelled rooms in the backs of public libraries. Flitwick taught Charms; Molly taught Potions, Remus taught Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Sirius taught Transfiguration. Members of the Order cycled in as visiting lecturers. They all taught Silencing Spells and how to make Polyjuice Potion, how to lie, hide, run, and how to pretend to be wizardborn.

When Mr. Goldstein found out that wizarding curriculum did not include an education in mathematics, he was horrified; he had been an accountant with his own firm, before Death Eaters had come for his youngest son, Anthony.

“They never learn how to balance checkbooks?” Mrs. Creevey asked, shocked.

“I’m not sure they learn to add,” said Mr. Goldstein, concerned.

“We learn how to add,” said Mrs. Cohen-Goldstein, who had graduated Gryffindor before marrying Muggle. Her husband looked relieved, but he insisted on joining the teaching staff anyway and introducing the kids to fractions.

The wizarding staff taught the parents and the siblings how to slink through Magical Britain, how to navigate Knockturn and avoid Muggle turns of phrase. The Muggle parents taught the wizards how to drive a car, dress Muggle, how to slip out between the worlds and lose Death Eaters in the bright lights of a supermarket.

The children levitated tea cups, played Exploding Snap and gin rummy, read Diana Wynne Jones and Roald Dahl alongside Beedle the Bard. Watching Muggle children run and whisper with Muggleborn wizards, at-risk halfbloods, and blood traitors, you couldn’t tell them apart.

an open letter to the dude who honked at me and my friend with his kid in the car

Dear Asshole,

What the fuck is wrong with you, you human piece of garbage? Your kid looked about ten years old and you’re driving around honking at women? We were walking to the Thai restaurant and we literally were on central for less than a quarter of a block and we got honked at twice, once from you and once from some other asshole, and once when we were leaving the restaurant. That’s, like, a 45 second window for you shitheads to engage in street harassment, and you just HAD TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT, didn’t you?

You couldn’t wait to aggressively assert your right to comment on and control women’s bodies until you aren’t teaching this shit to your goddamn child, either. You had to do your best to assert that the next generation turns out to be as infected by rape culture and disrespect of half the human fucking species as you are.

I hope your kid covers your entire house in Legos and rats destroy all of your shoes and you have to walk around on them in the dark. I hope next time someone like you does this to me I remember to carry a rock so I can throw it at you and fuck up your car’s precious paintjob.


Nora Reed

What is #GamerGate Currently Ruining

So I did an overhaul on whatisgamergatecurrentlyruining and threw a blog on there to keep track of past ruinings. I’m gonna try to keep the summaries of what’s going on to a paragraph or so in length, because there are a ton of people doing long-ass writeups on GG and their tantrums, and sometimes you don’t want to bury yourself in all that shit, you know? But since I’m reading it anyway, I’ll summarize it and give you some more links, if you want ’em. So far I’ve done Calgary Expo and the Hugo Awards, but let me know (here or on Twitter, I turned off comments there because of reasons) if there are other things you want quick summaries of and I’ll throw some more entries together.

The View From Thedas: On Preferring Kirkwall

Okay, so I’ve been replaying Dragon Age 2, and I’ve played Inquisition through a couple of times, and I need to get something off my chest: Dragon Age 2 was more fun than Inquisition.

By most gaming standards, Inquisition is a better game. Its fights are more strategically interesting and its battle system is at least original by Western RPG standards, its world is huge and ambitious, and its characters are quite pretty. Your Keep, Skyhold, is marginally customizable, huge, and changes over time in a way that reflects the story’s progress. Etc, etc– there’s been enormous amounts of e-ink spilled on Inquisition already, and I don’t think I need to beat that dead horse.

Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, repeatedly uses the same dungeon layouts. The manor layouts are so repetitive that one assumes the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild must own Kirkwall’s equivalent of KB Homes. The whole game rarely leaves Kirkwall and the Greater Kirkwall Metropolitan Area, and you could probably fit all of its settings within any of Inquisition’s 10 or so explorable areas 4 or 5 times over.

Dragon Age 2, though, for all of its flaws, told a story that dealt with topics I’m deeply interested in and did it well. Everyone in DA2 had an established relationship with everyone else, and that story was told through cutscenes and banter both. It was likely that a visit to Isabella would show her talking with another party member; they all seemed to drop in on each other fairly regularly. More than that, they all seemed to hang around Hawke for little reason other than friendship after the first act, and because of the 3-year gaps between Acts 1 and 2 and again between 2 and 3, they all have between 6 and 7 years to get to know each other.

In Inquisition, though, most of the conversations between party members seems to just be them feeling each other out, figuring out how to get to know each other. Part of this is because the banter system isn’t very good and doesn’t fire often enough, so players don’t always get all the banter that the game actually provides. But the cutscene part that you get in Dragon Age 2 just isn’t there. Sure, there are a few times where you walk in and the advisers are talking to each other, and there’s that time Dorian plays chess with Cullen, but it’s clear that their relationship is mostly one of coworkers.

I think the most telling place where the differences between the characterization, storytelling and interpersonal relationships in DA2 and Inquisition is shown is with Varric. In DA2, we have Varric as the somewhat unreliable narrator of the whole game, and no matter who you romance, his relationship with the protagonist, Hawke, is the beating heart of the narrative. Varric’s exaggerations, his jokes, and his affection and love for Hawke shows through every time the game breaks away from the main narrative to show him telling the story.

His relationship to the Inquisitor is never really that well-defined, nor is his relationship to the rest of the Inquisition. The main person we see him interacting much with is Cassandra, and generally they just fight; the only relationship that his personality really shows through in is with the human-formed spirit Cole, who he sort of adopts.

The moments we get to see in Inquisition are spaced far apart, because the game is paced so slowly compared to Dragon Age 2, and though many of them are fun, they don’t have the richness that the interpersonal relationships in the previous two games had.

It almost seems like the scope of Inquisition means that there’s less room in it for what really made the Dragon Age series feel, well, like a Bioware game. Maybe there is as much of the interpersonal writing in it as there is in other games, but if there is, it’s stretched thin. A lot of the game content is in the kind of boring sidequests that I expect more of an Elder Scrolls game, and while some of those have the kind of interesting worldbuilding reveals that nerds like me adore, few of them were all that interesting ways to get to know the NPCs better. Even many of the quests done for the party members and advisers were just fetch quests.

I think one of the major problems with Inquisition is that it’s trying to be too many things at once. It adds in a totally new fighting system, horseback riding (and a full mount system that includes a few dozen different critters you can ride), the entire War Table mechanic, the entire system for customizing the base, and a really ambitious set of places to explore. It really feels like it’s trying to be a regular RPG that gets sold to people who like to play regular RPGs and not just the kind of weird character-loving romance-drooling-over fan-nerds who are so into the first two games, and I think maybe they’re trying so hard to figure out how to do all of this new stuff that they’re letting themselves slide on what makes their games so much fun.

Every time I step back into Kirkwall and am greeted by Varric’s sarcasm, Merrill’s wide-eyed amazement and Isabella fighting with Aveline I remember why I love these games: they’re stories about a bunch of dorks who love each other and sometimes help fight evil or whatever. In the end, I’ll take that over customizable castles and dracolisk mounts any day.