Monday Recs

  • My priestess gave me a baggie of lavender for my birthday to help me sleep, and I stuck it next to my CPAP’s intake filter. I highly recommend the “put something that smells good and calming next to your intake” method of making sleep better with a CPAP. I’m guessing the thing I did where I tape it on there might be a bad idea if you’re at one of the higher pressures, since it might make it unable to get enough air, but since I’m only at a 7, it works well for me.
  • Kiva Bay draws pictures of feminists and they are wonderful. She’s working on a feminist magic deck. Her work is really sweet and fun and it’s really nice to see someone making something lovely and encouraging and energizing while all the #GamerGate shit seems to show little sign of ever stopping. I follow her on Twitter and she brings me joy.
  • Spellcaster by Claudia Gray is a really fun little YA Urban Fantasy series. It focuses really heavily on friendship and family and one of the protagonists has two dads, which is a nice alternative to the standard Gay-Best-Friend-Who-Angsts trope that so many novels seem to have picked up recently. It’s got a nice small town feel, sort of Sunnydale meets Star’s Hollow. It’s not something I’d recommend to people who don’t devour lots of YA Urban Fantasy stuff anyway, but if that genre’s your cup of tea, it’s fun. Kristine Hvam, narrator of one of my all-time favorites (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), does this trilogy and her voice is beautiful, soothing, and engaging; she really pulls you into the world.
  • Claudia Gray’s dimension-hopping A Thousand Pieces Of You is also a fun read with some really rich and beautiful worldbuilding.
  • I’ve been using Scribd to listen to audiobooks and it’s pretty good. The app doesn’t always work well– it’s not nearly as good as Audible’s– but the selection for both audiobooks and book-books is pretty good; it’s far superior to Amazon Unlimited, where I went through pretty much everything I was interested in listening to in the free trial month. (I get free membership if you sign up using my link, but so do you, and it helps get me access to the giant pile of books I talk about here, so it’s a good deal on all sides.)

In my own news, I made a single-serve website to show what #GamerGate is ruining at any given moment. (If they’re ruining something new and I haven’t noticed, message me on Twitter so I can update it.) I also set up a Patreon in case any of you want to help me figure out how to get paid for this kind of writing, which would be aces; I also have a tip jar.

#NewHugoCategories

BIGOTRY UPDATE: noted racist Vox Day and some of his ilk have decided to attempt to ruin the Hugo Awards and harnessed themselves to GamerGate, and many of the genre’s noted shitheels (Will Shetterly, etc) have been jumping in to talk about how terrible “social justice warriors” are. I’m not gonna link to them all, because they are infuriating and because they’re exercising the same tactic that #GamerGate constantly uses where they flail around with terrible opinions and attempt to waste people’s time and act indignant when they are told that they are not entitled to anyone’s time and attention + sic their awful fans on them for more harassment/threats/etc.

Anyway, the good news is that this has led to hashtag fun over on Twitter. We’ve been coming up with ideas for new Hugo award categories. A bit of them are riffing on the current ridiculous awfulness, but mostly we’re just all making sci-fi jokes. Here are mine!

The View From Thedas: “Find a way forward.”

The following post has spoilers for the ending of the quest “In Your Heart Shall Burn”, which ends the first act of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I’ve been thinking a lot for a while about how the gaming medium can do things that other formats can’t, and one of the major ones is by making things in-game react differently than you expect them to. This is something we see in a big way in Depression Quest, which does a good job of using the UI that we’re used to seeing in games and other programs, to choose what is and isn’t clickable; when the protagonist doesn’t have the mental energy to do some of the things that depressed people are told that they “should” do, those options still show up, but you’re taunted by your inability to actually do them. It’s a really smart way of showing something using gameplay that you wouldn’t be able to just explain.

I’ve been thinking a lot about running in games for several years, because when I was growing up and I played games on the living room TV, my mom always commented on the fact that the game protagonists always ran everywhere. I usually showed her that I could walk, but except in rare games such as Morrowind where the protagonist gets “tired” in a way that makes them less able to cast spells or attack, there isn’t much reason to walk instead of run.

Dragon Age: Inquisition does a good job of using this always-running expectation, plus the way you get used to running animations, to effect your sense of story.

For those who haven’t played it, Dragon Age: Inquisition starts out with the protagonist and their friends/colleagues working out of the poorly fortified mountain village of Haven. The first part of the game ends dramatically with an assault on the village and the council of advisers leading the village’s inhabitants and what is left of the military forces that the protagonist has spent most of the game gathering out of Haven through a series of secret hidden tunnels. Meanwhile, the protagonist and three friends use the one trebuchet that has not been (dramatically) destroyed to collapse the mountain on the invading army, which destroys the village in the process.

Since there wouldn’t be much of a game otherwise, the protagonist miraculously survives by falling into some of Haven’s tunnels, but this is where the game designers made some interesting choices.

For one, you aren’t able to run at first. You’re injured and tired, and so the protagonist sort of stumbles along and is only able to get up to a light jog as their top speed. There are several stretches of tunnel that you run through doing this, and then you’re thrown outside, where it is obvious that the wind is keeping you from even walking very quickly. The animations change several more times, and the protagonist has to shield their eyes from the wind and snow. There are several scenes of struggling through the snow, and except when you stop to inspect a campsite, you never actually say anything, but there are audible gasps and struggling noises as you attempt to make your way through it.

the Herald struggles through the snow

In games, you’re used to your onscreen character responding in certain ways, and there’s a very visceral component to that. It’s the reason a lot of us end up leaning in the direction we want our character to go in addition to the standard “edge of your seat” type reactions many people experience while watching movies; even though we don’t expect our characters to respond to our movements, we still make them, often without thinking.

That visceral sympathy ends up being why we react badly to characters behaving in ways we don’t expect, particularly in the case of bugs and glitches. But there are ways to subvert our expectations of how our onscreen avatar would respond to certain things, and it’s hard not to feel a little bit of how the protagonist feels when they’re struggling through that snowstorm, since you are used to commanding your character to move forward and having them do so at a run with the same running animations you’ve seen for the past 15-20 hours of gameplay. Of course, the whiteout of the blizzard, the occasional completely black screens accompanied by the barely audible struggle-sounds of the voice actor that you’ve grown used to being your voice are part of it. But it’s almost all in the deliberate slowness of the movement and the walking/jogging animation changes.

The part of the game that comes right after this is basically a series of dramatic cutscenes, and though they’re absolutely beautiful– the cinematography of DA:I is probably the best I’ve seen in any game I’ve ever played– they didn’t give me anywhere near the connection to my character that I got from watching the mighty Herald of Andraste struggle to walk through a blizzard.

Monday Recs

I have decided to try to do a thing where every Monday I recommend a handful of things to you, my readers. What kinds of things? WHO KNOWS! Maybe it’ll be STUFF! Maybe BOOKS! Maybe LINKS!

  1. This Logitech Trackball Mouse: You button with your fingers and scroll with your thumb and I am so spoiled because I have used this for a few years and it’s really nice. I like it a lot for gaming in particular, but I find it a lot more pleasant and less painful on my hands, especially since I can just put it up and use it anywhere without worrying about it being a good surface for mousing on. It goes through batteries really slow, too, which I am amazed by.
  2. Cheat Engine for Dragon Age: Inquisition: If you’re playing DA:I, this gives you a button that triggers banter and a button that lets you wear your armor in Skyhold so you aren’t wearing those hideous beige pajamas in half the game’s dramatic cutscenes. Thank Andraste.
  3. Seraphina and Shadow Scale: I’ve talked a bit about these here before, but I really, really love these books. They’re really well-written, funny, and sweet, with great characters, good social justice themes, some major gay characters and one minor trans character, and incredibly rich worldbuilding. I really like the non-action-hero protagonist and general lack of violence as a default-problem-solving-mechanic, because I’m pretty bored with that in SFF, so it’s a nice change.
  4. poop.bike: it’s a website called poop.bike, what can I say about that really

stuff I wrote elsewhere

I haven’t had much that I’ve felt the need to post here for a few days, but I did recently write a twitter essay about spam, the future, and my fears of being drowned in human-made spammy content and one about why people who say they’re social justice advocates need to stop taking jobs with harassers and bigots. I also wrote a humorous rant about why silver spoons are terrible on MetaFilter.

The phrase “stuff I wrote elsewhere” is shamelessly stolen from my dad. It’s an homage.

some similarities between #GamerGate and the “War on Christmas”

There’s probably a name for the thing where a bunch of members of a sociological majority group develops a weird persecution complex over attempts to:

  • recognize existing diversity and be more inclusive
  • be less socially harmful by promoting marginalizing narratives
  • make more money by expanding your demographic to include marginalized people who might want to see characters like themselves
  • recognize an existing demographic that already is consuming your product and try to make it more friendly to them
  • otherwise not be so much of a misogynist/racist/religiously bigoted/transphobic/ethnocentric/etc dickbag

but dang does this happen a lot.

I’ve been thinking about the thing that Fox News types do every year where they flip their shit over the “war on Christmas”, as if attempting to be religiously inclusive is an attack on them. It’s this weird thing majority groups do where they co-opt a bit of social justice stuff and act like not being the only group being catered to is an attempt to persecute that group. I’m pretty sure it’s disingenuous; the alternative is that it’s just plain ignorant.

Anyway, if you hadn’t figured it out, I’m talking about how #GamerGate and its ilk react to cultural criticism of video games and video game companies choosing to make more diverse games. They do it a bit differently than the War on Christmas types, who lose their shit in somewhat different ways, but it’s a very similar conservative backlash. The War on Christmas people claim that they’re being religiously oppressed because their faith isn’t catered directly to; the #GamerGaters claim that they’re being oppressed by female characters who don’t all have improbably large breasts without support. War on Christmas people pretend that calls for inclusive language are government censorship; #GamerGate does the same thing.

It’s possible that #GamerGate is better at harassing its ideological opponents (IE, people who are reasonable and think that their terrible opinions are awful) and threatening them into silence, but I’m not sure exactly what the backlash ends up being on people who get called out on Fox News by one of their popular pundits than what happens when TotalBiscuit or Adam Baldwin does the same thing on Twitter; the bigot backlash is clearer on Twitter since the hatemongers and their mobs are using the same medium as their targets, and they’re able to coordinate more effectively. But it’s still a pretty similar type of conservative backlash that happens when people have their privilege challenged, and it’s depressing that it manages to claim so many adherents who fuck up so many lives.

TWO weirdly fitting articles of clothing in ONE garment

These seem to be for sale pretty much everywhere. 2 styles in 1 garment isn’t really a bargain if both of the styles look kind of weird. The abundance of sites making videos of models wearing their clothes makes it really easy to throw together a fake ad for this kind of crap and get away with it under fair use, though, so I did that today.

Chris Mancil compares using an anti-harassment blockbot to McCarthy-era blacklists, acts like a tool

Electronic Arts game dev Chris Mancil posted a disingenuous load of shit on his blog today, but it was sort of a platonic ideal of the kind of disengenuous shit written by boring cishet men who think their opinions matter, so I’m gonna take that shit apart, alright?

I’m just not a fan of collective punishment, or guilt by association.

It is not punishment for people to protect themselves from harassers. Collective blocking is an attempt to keep assholes out of our mentions, because no one is entitled to our time.

These two tactics in real life usually lead to terrible results by stripping individuals of their agency and humanity. In warfare, dehumanization and ‘othering’ allows more flexibility for the troops, and their administrators, to you know – temporarily abandon ethics and morality, for the greater good, and other such mindless rationalizations. A dangerous but all too familiar historical phenomena in war, but also with strong roots in our entertainment history – such as the Hollywood Blacklists for communist sympathizers.

This manages to combine the first geek social fallacy with a conflation of the actions of private individuals and government. It’s something you see a lot with people who think they are entitled to audience because they have freedom of speech or that they should be free of the consequences of speech, such as getting fired from your job for being racist on the internet, which isn’t how free speech works. This is the same kind of logic that leads people to those conclusions.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a misogynistic, transphobicopportunistic  douchebag with shady business dealings working for an extremely unethical “journalism” website. Deciding to follow this dude, retweet him, or take his work seriously is a pretty big sign that even if you aren’t an outright misogynist, you really don’t give a shit about women, because this guy is awful about us. But even if you don’t care about sexism for whatever reason, he’s an unethical, shitty dude with really bad opinions who hates gamers, and both his jokes and his rhetoric are pretty stale, so it’s kind of a sign that you have pretty bad taste and/or judgement, which is a good enough reason to unfollow/block you.

The idea that a piece of technology that allows individuals to not have to block every gamergate sea lion and his 100+ sockpuppet accounts is comparable to McCarthy-era blacklists is ridiculous.

In any event, good-bye 2,355 gaming twitter followers whom I shall miss.  I will happily be buddies with all of you again, but I won’t unfriend anyone, to be a friend of yours. And I would never ask you to do the same.

It is a perfectly reasonable request to ask that people stop being friends with your abuser and to choose not to keep people in your life if they will not do that. GamerGate is an abusive movement and Yiannopoulos is one of its ringleaders; he has helped create and foster that culture of abuse.

I skimmed a bit more of Mancil’s blog and Twitter: unsurprisingly, he identifies as a libertarian, loved American Sniper, and I think it’s possible that The Scarlet Letter is the only book he’s ever read. His ex-followers aren’t gonna be missing much.