Friday, August 31, 2012

Dickbags in the Game Store

So, my friend C works in a high-profile video game retailer. She is a girl, and that comes with some interesting side effects. Most of the guys pretty decent dudes, but once in a while you get a dickbag. And that sucks, because it's your fucking job and you can't go anywhere. In my own personal life, I have a rule about my girlfriends' other lovers: I don't want to meet them at the store because I can't run away.

So C met a dickbag, and he started following her on Twitter.*  An onslaught of posts that assumed a relationship with her far more intimate than one she has with him were what followed, and she felt that this was generally uncalled for. And then she made the mistake of saying something to him. Shit has gone downhill from there, and while I would love to document the whole thing, I wasn't really there for it.

The gist of it: He did not stop communicating with her. Even when her boyfriend relayed that it would be very good for him to stop that. Even when she blocked him. Even when her friends started getting into it with him. This is my reply to him attempting to defend himself to me.

I don't like him very much.

There are a few points you made that I would like to quickly address.

What you did was uncalled for. It was deeply creepy and a huge overreaction to a person you did not know. It clearly made her feel uncomfortable and it has had a direct and upsetting effect on her. Once that was brought to your attention, you attacked the messenger with baseless accusations of jealousy; he wasn't jealous, he was protecting someone he cares about from a person that represents a clear danger to her well-being. By continuing this conversation and harrassing her friends, you are being a dickbag. This is indefensible. This is deplorable. This makes you a horrible person and you should stop.

You can't help people understand a point of view that is clearly wrong and misinformed. What you are trying to do is feel better about a course of interactions that has left someone feel victimized and horrible. That is not what you should be doing. You should be apologizing, and then shutting up. You were a dickbag. That happens sometimes, and we all have to deal with our various occasions of dickbaggery. But the mature thing to do in those situations is not to continue harrassing people; it's to admit it and shut the fuck up.

You are trying to drag her work into your abuse, and that is unconscionable. Any workplace worth working at will take one look at your behavior and then ban you from the premises. If you acted like this to any of my employees, you would be immediately asked to leave, and never, ever come back. Because I will not let my employees feel that work is an unsafe place for them to be. I will not let my employees work in conditions that are bad for their psychological well-being. The fault is not with her. The fault is with you, and if anyone is going to be facing repercussions for it, it will be you.

*EDIT! Apparently she followed him first.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bad Days Make for Bad Blog Posts

I was supposed to write up an awesome blog post about how cool the last day of GenCon was, and I usually wrap up the whole series with a note that talks about my trip in general. I have not written those things yet. I might not. I’ve got a nasty case of Con Crud, and the last week has been pretty brutal for other reasons. I haven’t been in a great place for writing.

So instead, have a picture of my school scarf. I found it while rummaging around in my closet.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

GenCon Journal 2012: Day Three

We started today with the infamous Tracy Hickman’s Killer Breakfast. Now, I’ve never been to the Killer Breakfast proper; I’d been to the inaugural run of the Second Breakfast (which actually happens before the Killer Breakfast), but I’d never been to the actual event before. So I was ready for some awesome treat time with it, but it was actually less entertaining than last year. Tracy seemed really tired and less into it than previously, Laura took a much stronger back seat to their daughter (and I actually like Laura quite a bit, so that was a bummer), and the creativity and energy seemed way down.

Then we hit a seminar called Pink Dice and Pony Dungeons that was supposed to be largely about how to design games for women. The secret, of course, is don’t design games with women, but instead design games that are inclusive of women, and design games that are targeted at an audience that includes women, but not specifically for women as a demographic. Except, that isn’t really what we talked about; the seminar quickly devolved into another discussion of table politics, and as much as I enjoyed the previous talks about table politics, I was looking for something a little meatier on the design side. I’m a System Matters kind of fellow, I make a lot of noise about how system should and can influence and change the social contracts that come into play when we hit the tables.

When that was finished, we did some more Exhibition Hall, but this time I had a plan. We found the Indie Press Revolution booth and bought every book they had that I don’t. That, for the record, always feels really, really good. Then we went and took a big nap. Then, N got a pair of boots she’s been obsessing over for over a year. Which I think is something that is very cool about GenCon; you can see a thing one year and then obsess over that thing for a whole year and then you can come back and buy those things.

We went to the playtesting hall again and played a cool game built with wooden pieces and leather board tiles, and the game itself was actually a lot of fun. It was something of a mixture of monopoly and RISK, bringing in some of the best elements of each and leaving the boring shit out. There was a distinct lack of a catch-up mechanic if things went against you, and the way the cards were built meant that some players were catching cards that were more relevant than others, but the overall theme of the game was pretty sweet and most of the mechanics were really elegant and smooth.

N then went to a Cards Against Humanity tournament and got a trophy. Like so.


I did not win any trophies. Instead, I went to play Fiasco at the Games on Demand room, and was not at all disappointed in that choice. Fiasco is a very different role-playing game from most that I’ve played in that it focuses on two-player interactions and builds stories from a mixture of relationships and conflicting goals. I’m pretty sure I was the only person at the table who really understood what was going on and how the game is supposed to be played. But I get that feeling a lot…

Then we went to the restaurant in the JW Marriot where we got to hang out a bit with A and C, I met a Conservative Christian American business owner who I got along with famously (he bought me tequila, the fine bastard), and we had a great dinner and great conversation for the rest of the night.

Tomorrow is the last day of the convention, and the last day we’ll be in the United States. I would be willing to say that this go at GenCon has been my favourite. I’ve played more games, met more cool people, seen more cool stuff than I have at any of the conventions beforehand, and I would be more than happy to go again. When we were on our way here this year, I was a little on the fence about whether or not I’d want to make the trip out for a fourth go as soon as next year. There are other places I want to visit; I want to get to Asia one of these years. I have dreams of seeing Australia and New Zealand. I want to visit Africa. So do I really want to invest in yet another GenCon in such quick succession?

Yes. Yes I do.

Friday, August 17, 2012

GenCon Journal 2012: Day Two

N and I got off to a later start than normal, which is great because we needed the extra sleep. Conventions wear you out, whether it’s from the constant walking around or the incredible press of people, and most folk simply don’t get enough rest to have a productive day at the Con.

We started off the day with bagels and muffins. Turns out, if you’re a retailer and you paid for a Trade Day badge, you get free bagels and muffins, and there is nothing in the world more beautiful than a free breakfast. Most of our seminars and things were in the Indiana Convention Center today, so moving between them was really easy, which also made the day go by in a weirdly lopsided way. Our morning was super-busy with seminars and Exhibition Hall stuff, our evening wasn’t filled with much at all, and we ended up sitting in the Westin chatting with anime fans about gun control and mail armour.

The first seminar we hit was about realism in medieval and classical combat scenarios. The panellists were well informed, experienced fighters in a variety of styles (one medieval recreationist, one MMA fighter who had actually been in a couple of knife fights, and one fencer), and they broke down how fighting in fantasy literature and games is very different from fighting in real life. Real life fighting is fast, brutal, and really hard work. Fighting in fiction is a lot more convoluted and strange.

The second seminar was on how to get women into gaming. There wasn’t anything in this seminar that was new to me, really. I’ve had women in my games for years, and a number of my favourite groups have been composed of a higher percentage of women than men, so I like to think that I have a firmish grasp on the concept of gaming with ladies. There were a few anecdotes about pastry chefs and gaming with boyfriends that I hadn’t heard before, and there were some interesting questions from the audience, but if you have ever gamed with a woman at your table, you probably know everything that the seminar would have taught you. Still, it was a fun sit-through, and the hosts were awesome.

Our trip through the exhibition hall was awesome, if much shorter than our usual span there. We focused on trying to narrow in on purchases and had some luck with that. I picked up some dice for the store from the amazing Game Science, and Natalie grabbed a sweet sword belt that she will be using as her normal belt. I’ll be heading back in tomorrow with an agenda. That agenda will be “Buy all of the stuff!”

We finally made it to the Playtest Arena, which was awesome. We played a deckbuilding game about superheroes that was neat in concept, but lacked a level of interactive play that I think is integral in game design. Sadly, that game was pretty well locked into its current form (which begs the question: why ‘playtest’ it when nothing the players suggest will change the final outcome of the game? There seem like better places to market things). The second playtest I took part in was a zombies-in-high-school game that was actually a lot of fun, despite a number of interesting design flaws. The guys rocking that playtest were really interested in feedback, and they had some really nice things to say about my ideas. I also fixed a tricky wording issue that they seemed particularly thrilled about, so now I’m all proud of me.

The last seminar of the day for us was a Zombie Survival seminar, which was neat in concept but I feel failed in execution. As an introduction to broad concepts of zombie survival, it was interesting. As a practical guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse, it failed rather miserably, as much of the advice given was unspecific to the point of uselessness. While the presenter certainly talked about things like hording water and food, and while he made mention of fortification vs escaping the city, the information given wasn’t nearly down to earth enough to be of any use to a person not already trained in survival. In fact, the best advice given in the whole seminar was “Go out and learn some survival skills.”

Also, this happened.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

GenCon Journal 2012: Day One

Oh man, what a busy day… We woke up at seven in the morning, on time and without delays this time. We caught our bus downtown, rocked Starbucks for breakfast, met up with A and C while we were in line, and hustled to our first seminar: The Cadaver Synod.

Basically, in the 9th Century, there was a pope. He wasn’t particularly great or horrible, beyond being a pope in a rough political time. His successor died after only two weeks in office, and the guy that replaced HIM dug up the first pope’s body, put him on trial posthumously, excommunicated him, and had him sentenced to… execution.

Some time later, one of that pope’s successors held the trial again and exonerated the first. It was a shit storm.

The guy running this one was from the group that holds in-character debates about stuff like the Cuban Missile Crisis. While I’m sure that group of people was awesome, this guy was a bit of a dickbag. He made fun of us for choosing his lecture over doing anything else in that time slot, and complained constantly that his projector was turning his slides purple, which was an issue to him and him alone. While interesting and informative, he was not my favourite person.

Luckily my next seminar was back-to-back with his and I had to eject a little early to get to it. This one was about ballroom dancing and its evolution, from the strict and chaste dances of the Middle Ages to how saucy the tango was, to the deaths of a whole bunch of music instructors during World War One and how that influenced the rise of swing dancing and jazz. It was really interesting stuff, and the guy running the seminar was fun, funny, and the nerdliest nerd of nerdtown, which I found incredibly endearing.

After the dance seminar, I didn’t have much to do for a bit. I tried to hit up the entirely kick-ass Games on Demand room, where you can just sit around and play awesome indie games for a couple of hours, but that required generic tickets which I had yet to acquire. Rather than stand in line for an hour trying to get those tickets, I walked downstairs to the Exhibition Hall. This is what I found there.


That is but a small sampling of the crowd there, and it is fucking crazy. Moreover, I found these things:





Oh, and I totally met GeekyLyndsay in person. Woo!

After puttering around the Exhibition for a while, I made my way to the Retailer Lounge for the first time ever, and I’m super-glad I did. Free muffins? Check. Free coffee? Check. Freedom from the ridiculous press of people? Win!

I spent some time talking to a distributor there before making my way slowly to a panel on the subject of getting women into gaming and making sure there’s a comfortable place for then when they arrive. It was a great discussion and the three panellists (including the lovely Susan Morris, for whom I am developing something of a nerd crush) did an awesome job directing the flow. I was really intrigued by a few of the ideas brought up by the audience, though I think that a few of the gents in the audience were perhaps a touch more vocal than I would have liked. Believe me, I had questions, I had things I wanted to say, but when I’m in a room with a bunch of women who are telling you what they want from the gaming community, I try to focus on listening.

Also, I got to chat more with Sarah Darkmagic and her lovely man-friend, and they are both awesome.

After that panel, N and I spent some time touring around the Exhibition Hall again, looking at some costume pieces for her. I really appreciated having her there with me, because the Hall is great, and I love looking at all the cool-nerdy-weird stuff that people have for sale, but it’s a lot more fun when you have someone to share the experience with. And watching her happily shopping is infectious; it’s hard to be grumpy when she’s talking about how awesome her costume-for-nothing-in-particular is going to be.

I had a long chat with Richard from Wizards of the Coast about their brand and how weird it’s been lately. He’s a good dude, and I’d like to keep in touch with him, I think. I also finally met Tyson, my contact at Wizards of the coast, and I made sure to hug him in the creepiest way I legally could.

After N had to get to her next seminar, she passed me a few Generic Tickets so I rocked a quick game of Dungeon World in the Games on Demand room. The Game Master wasn’t strictly prepared, and I was easily the highest-energy person at the table (and also the only person capable of projecting his or her voice across the full length of the table), but I had fun anyway and died peppered with arrows before heading off to my last seminar of the night, a discussion on travel food in medieval Europe.

The guy doing the last talk had a lot of information, and I learned a TON about medieval food in general. Turns out, the whole Adventure Stew trope is actually totally a thing, and people would often travel with beans, salted meat, and grains, and together they would make a tasty soup. Though, to be fair, you wouldn’t need food on the road often, as there would be a town roughly a day away on any given road. Cool things to know for the future.

After that seminar, we ate, and headed to Hall C for a couple of rounds of “Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow.” N got into two games, I got into one, and I was the first person killed in that game. Still, I had fun, and it’s always entertaining to watch people flail around trying to figure out who is killing them in their sleep.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gen Con Journal 2012: Trade Day

So, we got into Indianapolis last night fairly late and I didn’t have a chance to blog about anything. It was already late when we got in, the cab ride to our residence was far longer than it needed to be, and there were some interesting issues with our lodging. We’d also just flown for some six hours, and were pretty exhausted.

So let’s talk a little bit about yesterday, and then I’ll get into Trade Day stuff.

Saw this guy at the conWe got up pretty early in the morning. I was actually up earlier than N because I’m a lot easier to wake up than she is, and I was super excited to get to Indianapolis and the meat of the vacation. I got up, packed up all of our stuff, and was ready to go even before the first wake-up call came in. N took a little extra time getting up, which was fine, and we managed to grab some breakfast at McDonalds before we got going. At the airport, she started feeling a little sick, and the US Airways process proved to be entirely too much bullshit for her in that state. It’s ridiculous. You have to sign into the little automatic kiosk thing, then you have to go and check your bags with the baggage check-in people, who are also the agents who can check you in if something goes wrong with the kiosk. The line-up was insane, filled with people who didn’t get their stuff processed properly, and everyone (I mean EVERYONE) was confused and upset by the whole thing. Why not just let the agents deal with your shit? Because technology. I guess.

Anyway, after a good half hour of fuckery, we got our stuff, and then got rushed through the security line. Twice! We got randomly selected for hand-wipe-bomb-duty, and the nice lady doing that let us cut in line to the fastest security station. Then the guy in front of N killed the Radiation Machine of Death that everyone’s so upset about and we got to go through a normal metal detector. And they didn’t even touch my junk! A winrar is me!N doesn't dig the Spouse Activities

Then I won some money at a slot machine. The lady beside me hid her jealousy not at all.

Charlotte airport is not nearly as horrible as Phoenix, and the land around the city was simply gorgeous. It reminded me of what Edmonton would be like if Edmonton sucked less at city planning. All the buildings lined up really nicely.

We ate some burgers, got our gate changed on us again, and got on the plane to Indianapolis. Like all of the flights on US Airways, this one sucked, but it sucked less by only being two hours.

There was no Big Awesome Dragon in the lobby this time around, which was disappointing. Because we’d decided to stay with some locals instead of at a hotel, we couldn’t take a shuttle-bus to get where we were going; we hired a cab, who then quickly screwed us out of $25 while taking us roughly the distance I walk to get to my job. The place was a bit run down, but there was a multitude of cats, which made me more inclined to like it.

We paid our rent. We got shit sorted, which took forever because the lady I’d made the arrangements with had forgotten we were coming a day early, and we got to our accommodations for the week. They were crap. It’s an attic. It’s barely a proper attic, even; it’s roughly a third of the attic, with a busted window and a ceiling so sloped you can’t properly stand upright. It’s not the worst place I have ever stayed, but it’s certainly not my favourite. Still, we showered, brushed our teeth, and quickly fell asleep.

This morning, we got up a little later than planned. We had hoped to be out by seven to get an early start on the day and get our badges and such figured out. That didn’t happen, because the new alarm-clock app I put on my ipad didn’t go off. So we got up fifteen minutes late, caught a bus to the Convention Center, and halfway there I forgot my ID back at the house. N tried to pick up my badge without me, but couldn’t, so I had to go all the way back to the house, all the way back to the Con, and by then the seminars I’d wanted to see early in the day were over. We went shopping instead.

N bought a hot new pair of jeans. I bought a $50 data package that won’t work in the device I brought because of our Advanced Canadian Technology. We are too Advanced. Which sometimes sucks.

We got back to the Convention and sat in on a seminar about getting games into schools by theI took a picture! lovely Susan Morris (a person I believe should write more games), and another about how to use games to encourage literacy. The former was brilliant, the latter a little more scattershot and strangely paced. Don’t get me wrong, I learned things, but the lacking presentation made me much more aware of it than it should have.

We met up with A and C, who are both awesome, and went out to eat some food at the nearby Steak & Shake. We headed back to their hotel for some scintillating and sinful… CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY, which N won by an incredibly narrow margin (namely, haiku). The game was a lot of fun, the company was awesome, and I finally got to meet Sarah Darkmagic and DavetheGame face-to-face. Apparently GeekyLyndsay will be in tomorrow after some interesting complications with her flights, so I didn’t get a chance to meet her yet, but it’s a long convention and I still have hopes.

Buses in Indianapolis, for the record, suck balls.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Tournament of Kings

If you’ve never read any Arthurian Legend, and if you’ve got an appreciation for World Wrestling Entertainment, the Tournament of Kings would be pretty great. Having read quite a few books on Arthur and his court, and not really digging on WWE, it was awesome.

N and I were prepared to have a nice night in. We’d decided against the Tournament mostly because we were running a little short on cash prior to her getting paid – and there seems to be a hiccup in that direction – and because the guy at the desk told us it would have been $150. My boss, the incredible Dave Bryenton, insisted we go, using money he’d given us for purchases for the store if need be. Turns out, we didn’t really need it, because the guy at the box office desk was a total sweetness and gave us the Staying at the Excalibur Discount because we seemed sweet. He even tried to get us some seats together through the Talk to My Boss pointer. While we weren’t able to sit next to one another, he was still awesome.

So Dave, Kevin, you guys rock. Horses, you suck, and you are not allowed to eat my flesh.

So we sit down, me on the stairs, N at her seat, me on the stairs beside her until the food gets delivered. I was seated next to two lovely ladies, one of whom was on her fourth go at the Tournament, and one who was there for the first time. Both were pretty great, and we chatted for a bit while we waited for the tournament to start. I let them know about my phobia, and they were even sweet enough to check in on me when the action started.

Merlin came out and made some announcements, introduced Arthur, and then introduced us to some crowd participation stuff. Then our “kings” came out. Ours was Ireland, as we were seated in the green section of the stands. One of the more entertaining aspects of the Tournament was that England was not represented anywhere. N and I chalked this up to American independence issues. It’s interesting to note that the Tsar of Russia was also a douchebag. A hold-over from the Cold War? Maybe. I dunno. Regardless, Ireland was a hot Maori dude, and easily the most personable of the fellows. We cheered as loud as we could while he was competing, and he returned the favour by being awesome and interacting with us freely and charismatically. He kind of reminded me of one of the store’s Magic guys. N didn’t see it.

The first bit was a song and dance bit during which some Gypsy Whores came out and danced seductively for the kings, and it was ridiculous and racially insensitive and weirdly fun. The the evil Dragon King (Mordred) came out and made some threats, and then we started the tournament itself. There was a race, there was a bashing of heads on sticks, and a joust. Out of all of them, the jousting itself was the most interesting to me; it was so fast. Faster than I have ever thought it would be. They filed up on the ranks, and then BLAM! Crazy action! Shit exploding! People falling off of horses (shudder)! Sword fights!

The sword fights were easily the most WWE part of the whole thing. Clearly choreographed and performed by people who know every move. It’s quick-paced and practiced and professional. It’s also clearly fake, and that’s part of the charm. Much like the action in WWE, the awesome isn’t the fight itself, the awesome is in the athleticism and the scale of the things they’re doing. Every move may be already planned and practiced, but those moves aren’t easy to do, and to perform them is clearly difficult and requires years of training. These guys are incredible stunt people, and they do some amazing work.

The mythology on show is utterly ridiculous. Did you know that King Arthur had a son named Christopher? I sure didn’t. And Mordred apparently has a bunch of dragons or something. And those dragons are dudes in ridiculous rubber suits. Also, Arthur apparently had dominion over France and Hungary and Ireland and Russia… And Britain only as long as it isn’t called Britain. They called it Albion, which is cute.

The food was also pretty decent. A small roast chicken, some potatoes, and a McDonalds apple pie. Woot!

Game Stuff

I don’t have any game stuff for this entry yet. Give me a day or two and I’ll come up with something.

Travel Days: Las Vegas

I love busted shit. I’m not sure why exactly, but I find some joy in things that aren’t exactly what you would expect. Versailles has squeaky floors. The Mona Lisa is tiny and ridiculous. My plane’s wing was obviously experiencing some technical difficulties.

That isn’t to say I ever felt unsafe; I love flying and I trust that they would not let the plane fly with a flap that they knew wasn’t working. And I can’t be the only person to have flown in that plane and seen that the flap was clearly blowing in the wind. It’s just not something I think about often. How busted can my plane be before I need to worry about it? When I think about airplanes, I almost always think about the jets in an idealized, pristine form. I’ve never worked with planes as an occupation, I don’t get to see their guts or deal with them in anything approaching a real way, so when I get into one, I just assume that everything is top-notch.

My plane was not top-notch this time around, and that’s sort of interesting for me to see. LikeLet's DO This! checking out the inner workings of a cruise ship, or staying in a hotel room that is set to be refurbished soon, it’s a cool look at the inner workings of the travel world. I’m usually so detached from that industry – even when I worked in the travel industry, it was at a remove from the nitty gritty bits – that to see something very clearly real on the trip is a strange sort of exciting for me.

The Phoenix Airport is shit, by the bye. I’ve been to a remarkable number of airports in the past five years, and Phoenix is the second worst of the bunch so far. Understand that the worst airport I’ve been to was worse by an incredible margin (do not go into the washroom in a Cuban airport, guys; it left me shaken), but the experience I had there was pretty stupid.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but when the airport is starting to fill up with people, I put my bags in front of me, or under my seat, or both if I’m travelling heavy. Often, I’ll put them there anyway, because I don’t feel like my bags deserve a seat of their own. They’re bags. People need those seats.

Phoenix Airport’s patrons included Gucci and Oakley bags. One lady had bags taking up two adjacent seats. N and I had to sit on the floor, which was more comfortable for me than it was for her. She gave me a nice massage, which was awesome because I was functioning on an hour or two of napping and trying to sleep on the plane. I can’t sleep in moving vehicles. It’s a curse. Still, we shouldn’t have had to sit on the floor. There were dozens of seats available, if people would just put their fucking bags on the floor. We weren’t the only people on the floor, either. And people got mad at us for taking up too much space.

I take up a lot less space when I sit in a chair. Just sayin’.

Getting into Vegas proper was a lot like coming home. I’ve been here three times in the past five years, and it hardly feels like a vacation spot anymore. It’s more like going to my parents’ house, if my parents’ house was filled with gambling and strippers. We got in and had aN! Being adorable! horrible/awesome buffet before heading up to our rooms and sleeping until the middle of the day. I played some poker and lost. N and I drank some vodka and watched Shark Week and the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Today, we were going to go see the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur, where we’re staying, but they want $75 per person to see it, and food, getting to the hotel, and one night of gambling has completely sapped our Las Vegas budget. Instead, we’re going to do nothing.

The convention itself is going to be a gong-show, and I fully expect to stress out while I’m there. I do every time I go, even though I’m having an incredible time. Having some time to wind down and chill out for a couple of days before hand is going to be necessary, I think.

I’m really looking forward to Wednesday.

Game Stuff!

On Imperfection in the World

We have a tendency to make things perfect in our fantasy, which makes sense because by its nature, fantasy is a glorification. It’s a way to make things brilliant and over-the-top and ridiculous, but still inherently believable and true. Perfection is something we’ve come to expect in our fantasy worlds; palaces are immaculate, swords are without flaw and glint in the sunlight, and when something is poor and dirty, it’s poor and dirty in just the right way.

The floors at the Palace at Versailles squeak. Take a This is what we see out the window!moment to think about that. In the world’s most incredible symbol of opulence and privilege, the floors squeak. Almost nothing in the world is perfect, and that makes perfection all the more remarkable when it’s found. The mark of the greatest artist is the ability to free-hand a perfect circle, if you believe the myths. A perfectly balanced weapon carries the same weight of legend that a magical sword might.

Work imperfection into your world. The floors squeak, the rafters are dusty, the lacquer on the tables peels, the glasses have water spots and the chairs are comfortable but shift a little uneasily when you sit in them. The dungeon walls are made of hewn stone, cut well but with years of wear; the magical sword you’ve picked up has two notches in the blade from use, and the hilt has been covered by worn leather because the original is too smooth for proper use. The dwarf-king’s throne bears a mark of chiselled graffiti three hundred years old, carved during the last succession war. The floorboards are uneven; no secret compartments or anything, the floor is just fucking uneven because it’s old.

This makes the world more inherently believable, because our own world is riddled with imperfection. And if you make perfection rare, you can give it impact that it might not otherwise have. A masterwork tool is a thing to behold, in a world where perfection is a rarity.

Have a chart!

Imperfection Chart for Indoor Places!



The floor is uneven


The door squeaks


The door closes faster than expected (slam!)


The corners of the walls don’t match up quite right, resulting in a gap


The floors and the walls don’t match up quite right, resulting in a gap


The ceiling and the walls don’t match up quite right, resulting in a gap


A piece of the furniture has uneven legs


A piece of the furniture’s varnish is peeling


A piece of the furniture’s varnish is cracked


A piece of the furniture has a sizable chip in it.


The wall has a large dent in it.


The floor has a large gouge in it.


The floor has old scrapes and scratches in it, from furniture being moved.


The ceiling has a large discolored spot from a persistent leak. If it’s raining outside, it’s leaking.


The ceiling is a little bowed.


There is a spot on the wall that’s a different color where a painting was recently hanging.


The rug is fraying in a corner.


The furniture is recently broken and there is blood on the floor. There was a fight here recently.


The furniture is recently broken and there’s a pile of bones in the center of a charred spot on the floor.


Everything is a little too clean, like someone is trying to hide something.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Wee Poem

Someone left behind their game notes, and I slipped this into their binder.

A billiant day and sithine goves
sumbled oér sumps and meather
Sithered into surious hoves
slimbering together

Beware the frumious hitersitch
teeth that clather, jaws that smach
A skit a scather a bumblehitch
many a warrior's match

He took his allful spear to hand
a fortnight sought his umbred foe
Once rested on the seaside sand
and dreamt of vengeance owed

A huffle heard through hinderbrush
a snip of twig a silent twirt
The danderbolt came trumbling crush
to snick the boy's chain shirt

A day and night, a night and day
the allful spear went shick and bloom
The creature died, the singers say
while whispering our doom

Our hero slewt the danderbolt
but bought us only endless night
The doom the creature spuck at death
will soon be brought to light

A billiand day and sithine goves
sumble oér sumps and meather
Sither into surious hoves
And pray...

Plot Blocks

This was written two years ago, and it wasn’t the thing I was hoping it would be.

So I wrote this. It’s what I was hoping it would be. Having read it over, it feels a lot like what skill challenges were really trying to be.

Friday, July 13, 2012

D&D, The Classic Car of Role-playing Games

I was having a chat with Friend Ian and Friend Zak about Dungeons & Dragons today. Mostly, we were looking at how to make a better D&D, which seems like a pretty difficult thing to do. See, they made a pretty great D&D when they put together Third Edition. While it wasn’t elegant and seemed to lack focus, the game was well loved for its incredible flexibility, it’s adherence to the game’s roots, the much streamlined system (when compared to Second Edition), and a community-first approach (the OGL in specific) that really made the game shine.

One of the things I’ve been talking about a lot lately is tech constriction. Basically, it works like this: when White Wolf created Vampire: The Masquerade, they had a really cool goal – “Make a story-based horror role-playing game” – but they didn’t have the technology they needed to make that goal a reality. You see this a lot in early attempts at narrative-heavy role-playing games, with my favourite example being Skyrealms of Jorune. They did the best they could with what they had, and what they managed to squeeze from the systems of the time was pretty spectacular. It didn’t really lend itself to story-telling horror, but it did provide a cool avenue for Awesomer than Thou “superheroes with fangs” role-playing, and a lot of people really dug on that.

When a bunch of years passed, and it was time to look at relaunching the game, the technology available to the designers was significantly advanced to be able to handle more narrative games. But, rather than build a game that leveraged that new tech, they built a game that was a lot like the first version with some streamlining and some clever twists.

No one liked it.

Now, I personally prefer the New World of Darkness to the Old World of Darkness. But I don’t look at a game with the same eyes that most folk do. I look at games with the eyes of a designer and a retailer, and I can really appreciate the direction they were attempting to drive their line. But it didn’t work for most of the fans of the original game because it was “too different.” Imagine the shitstorm that would have come if they’d actually scrapped their whole system and designed one that was actually well-built for telling stories of personal horror.

This is tech constriction. When you publish a popular role-playing game, there is an expectation that future editions of the game are going to be very similar to that game. And that’s fine, it’s an understandable expectation to have, but it really ties designers hands when building a new edition of a game. If you don’t innovate, the game becomes stagnant and no one appreciates the new edition. If you innovate too much, it doesn’t “feel” like the previous editions of the game, and people get upset at having their expectations dashed.

Fourth Edition D&D suffered from innovating too much. The game took a new and unexpected direction, moving from comfortable simulation-heavy role-playing into a much more game-centric focus, and that move was jarring to a lot of people. I thought it was a brilliant move myself, because Wizards of the Coast has already exemplified simulation-centric play with Third Edition, and indie games have filled the niche for narrative games to the brim. Still, it wasn’t enough like previous editions of the game, and people railed against that.

So what’s the answer? How do you build a better edition of Dungeons & Dragons? How do you build a version of D&D that holds true to everything D&D is about, how do you utilize new technology without alienating your core audience?

In Friend Ian’s opinion, the solution is to exemplify the old tech, to give players a reason to love the old busted tech. The comparison he made is that, right now, D&D is a clunky jalopy held together with tape and hope, but what it needs to be is the shiny, perfectly restored classic custom. The 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. The 1971 Barracuda. Shine the old rules up, make them really count, and focus on those things that make D&D what it is.


Most modern role-playing games aren’t using levels as an advancement system. The vast, overwhelming majority of games designed in the past ten years are designed with point-allocation systems, or a system by which use directly affects advancement. Some games, notably Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, use parallel advancement, by which I mean the character does not become statistically better, but instead grows in personality and that new personality changes how the player will play their character. (If you haven’t read Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, I suggest you go buy it immediately, because it’s incredible).
Levels are archaic and they tend to make about as much sense as Save vs. Magic Wand. Why does gaining X amount of experience make me universally better at everything I’m good at? Wouldn’t the skills I’m not using fall behind those I’m exercising constantly?

But that’s part of this exercise, right? Making all that is old new again. How do you make levels matter more? The team at D&D next have flattened the curve, making each level less statistically important while opening new choices and options for your character. We’re still not really sure what that looks like, exactly, but it’s probably a strong step in the right direction. I need a reason to want to be level 13 as opposed to level 12. So give me those reasons. Give me something at every level that makes me go “What? Really? Really?” Give my fighter a castle at level 10. Let my warlord field armies at level 6. If my mage can’t lift an island out of the sea and build a tower on it at level 12, there’s no reason to be a 12th level wizard.

Now, these are obviously just spitballing, but seriously, if you have to do levels, and each level is supposed to be an achievement, you need to make every level a really big deal, and make them something I want to work towards. And that doesn’t just mean cool new attack powers. You need to build systems that are going to make those levels sweet. Like I said, let the warlord field an army, because at level 6 that’s something you seriously need to consider occasionally. Don’t get me wrong, that should definitely cost something. You shouldn’t be able to field an army just because these 13 orcs are kind of fucking with your day without it costing you a small fortune. But we’ll get to wealth in a minute.

Hit Points

Hit Points, even as the abstraction they’re made out to be, are sort of dumb. Like many of the weirdest mechanics in role-playing, hit points are a holdover from their wargaming roots, and in a larger-scale combat scenario, they make a fine abstraction of a unit’s ability to take damage and continue to function. A few people die, but it’s not enough to hinder performance. A whole bunch of people die, and the unit dissolves into a scattered rag-tag barely capable of hindering a healthy military force. Even in this case, I think it’s something of a stretch, but if you’re talking large-scale, unless a general dies, your armies should keep ticking away without too much difficulty if they take some casualties.

As a measure of an individual’s health, hit points are utterly ridiculous. Let me illustrate with an example. When you’re slicing something that you’re about to cook, and you cut yourself, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re not acting like a huge tough-person, your reaction is very likely “stop everything you’re doing, cover the wound, swear a lot.” This is a normal reflex, and everyone does it (unless they’ve been trained not to, and even then, if you’re not in a scenario where the training fits, you’re still probably going to jump, cover and grumble). This is a shock reflex. In small amounts, shock will keep you alive. In a rough situation, it can kill you.

Another illustration! I was watching a great video of a Krav Maga instructor talking about self-defence. I don’t remember much of the video, but there was one thing that really stuck out for me. “No matter how well trained you are, no matter how many martial arts you learn, a fifteen year old with a knife can kill you.” This is a paraphrase, of course, and I have no idea who the original instructor was, but it’s a really interesting point when talking about how much damage a human body can take before it dies.

A lot. And not much at all.

You’d be surprised what you can live through, and you’d be equally surprised what can kill you. People have survived falling a thousand feet without a parachute. People have survived being shot a dozen times. People have survived horrifying animal attacks and stabbings and hangings and getting hit by lightning three times. And a fifteen year old with a knife can kill you.

So how do you make hit points cool? How do you make hit points jump out at me and scream that they need to be a part of a game’s design? Well, D&D Fourth Edition did some things very right with hit points, but didn’t quite hit the mark. First of all, Fourth Edition gave you a lot of hit points compared to other games, because you’re supposed to be a badass. Second, the minion rule was a brilliant stroke that told a very simple story: minions are unimportant; they are mooks that you don’t need to worry about, and shouldn’t feel bad killing; and by extension, the player characters are goddamned heroes because they take a beating and don’t die like normal people.

Hit points have been sold, typically, as an abstraction for health, and I think that’s the wrong track. They’re not an abstraction for health, they’re not an abstraction for ducking and dodging and defending yourself and getting worn down (because if that were the case, they would have an affect on your abilities as they depleted). They should be an abstraction of how badass you are. When you take a hit point of damage, you get a wicked Bruce Willis cut on your chin. A single stream of blood runs across your forehead. Your armour dents, your sword chips, you get that single line of red cut across your cheek that is a dire insult to your honour and must be addressed.

If you want to make hit points matter, it’s imperative to make them an important part of the game by utilizing them in both flavour and mechanics. Wizards came close to this with the idea of marking a “bloodied” value, a mechanical middle-point to your hit points. Where I think they failed in this endeavour is making the bloodied value really mean something. As it currently sits, being bloodied is something you complain about to your healer and your healer zaps you with some healing. Being damaged is, at current, universally bad. This leads to a proliferation of healers and the horrible “five minute work week” that Game Masters have to constantly struggle against.

I want fighters to be rewarded for getting damaged. I want to see paladins and warlords at the hottest when they’re cut up and bruised. I want to see player characters getting pushed to the line and then coming back in a big way. Incentivize getting hurt. Make me want to jump into the fray and get bashed around a little, because I’m at my strongest when I’ve been tossed around a little. Add another tier of damage (Broken, 1/4 total hit points) that unlocks the big moves, the big bonuses, and huge damage.

And reverse that for wizards and sorcerers and warlocks and the like. They don’t want to get hurt, they’re not jumping into frays, they need to be protected while they’re slinging their spells or those spells are going to be less effective at Bloodied and catastrophically weak at Broken. It’s not easy to concentrate when you’re bleeding out. We’ll talk more about that when we get to classes.

Gold and Wealth

Once upon a time, you got an experience point for every single gold piece you acquired. Seriously. It was a big deal to find a dragon’s hoard, because that meant you were probably going to hit your next level (not that levels really meant anything beyond an achievement unlocking; see above). Gold mattered to the mechanics of the game in a very real way, and that meant that adding up all of your gold pieces was actually sort of fun.
Most modern role-playing games have done away with recording every penny on your character sheet.

More popular in the current stretch of games is an abstracted “resources” or “wealth” stat that you can use to purchase items you want or need. A few games still keep track of individual credits (Shadowrun, for instance), but if your character sheet has a “resources” score on it, the game is probably new school.
Greed is huge in D&D. The First Edition cover is famously a pair of adventurers prying a gem from the eye of a statue they probably shouldn’t be fucking with. Adventurers are in the game for the gold and the experience. But more recent editions of D&D have turned wealth into a way to get that magic item you want than an ends unto itself.

I say, bring back the gold/experience track. Make people crave gold itself because it makes you rich and helps you out mechanically at the same time. Add your current gold pieces (not your silver, not your copper, not your electrum, but your GOLD pieces) to your experience. Keep a separate track for experience from gold and experience from adventuring, and add them up at the end of each session.

Perhaps more importantly, change the economy of magic items. In specific, take the gold piece cost off of them, because magic items should be damned near priceless. No more the +1 sword, because that shit be whack, yo. More on that when we discuss “equipment.” But, seriously, make it impossible to walk into Ye Olde Magick Shoppe to buy a +2 dagger of slaying. Make buying magic items difficult and incredibly expensive. Make buying potions difficult and incredibly expensive. Make it clear that a peasant could never, with a thousand years of toil and saving, afford a simple +1 ring of protection, because players will think twice about dropping their experience count to buy one, and we want that tension in the game.

Then make it matter in the flavour. I live in Canada, so I think I have a better understanding of this problem than some of my southern compatriots. We have yellow dollar coins in Canada. We call them loonies, because we’re funny that way. The picture to the right is a stack of loonies. That’s $17, which isn’t a ton of dough. Each coin is about an inch across. What you’re looking at is a literal handful of money. You could fit seventeen dollars more-or-less comfortably in a single hand. Now, for the sake of our discussion, let’s say you and your crew take down a juvenile red dragon. Looking at the D&D 3.5 stats, a juvenile red dragon is a CR 7 creature, and it usually has three times the treasure of a normal creature of the same level. A normal treasure at seventh level would be 1d12x100gp. I’m going to roll a d12 now. Came up ten. A normal encounter would have 1000gp sitting here, but this is a dragon, so it’s triple that at 3000 gold pieces.

That is 176 handfuls of coins. That’s actually more coins than I can imagine with any sort of accuracy. And you’re going to stuff that into some sacks and drag it home? Man, I’ve had a pocket full of loonies before, and it’s not comfortable. Trying to drag home my share of thousands would make me a grumpy dude.

Moreover, where the hell are you going to keep all of this money? You can’t just carry it around, because it’s thousands of fucking gold pieces. You have to keep it somewhere, and if a young dragon couldn’t guard it from four asshats like your party, how are you going to make sure that the money stays yours?


I love the words “alignment system,” when applied to D&D, mostly because it doesn’t really exist. Early on, it seemed like a good way to figure out whose team everyone was on. Are you part of the chaos team or the order team? Good or evil? I have a spell to find out for sure.

Later, it became a flavour point. A good character acts in different ways than an evil character at least some of the time, and the guidelines set out in the books tell you what sorts of things people in each alignment do. But boiling complex ethical questions down to a nine point grid is always going to be problematic. Moral relativism is entirely ignored for absolutism, which in itself is problematic because the D&D morality system assumes that the absolutes can be found in North American cultural values.

Democracy and personal freedom are not “good” in a society that values adherence to a strict code of conduct and absolute loyalty to one’s liege lord. Indeed, encouraging democratic rebellion eschews the divine right to rule entirely and in such a society would be a heinously evil act of treason. But, because we largely live in mostly democratic nations, we assume that democracy is good and tyranny is evil.

Still, it’s a hallmark of the game, and one of its most clearly recognizable symbols. There have been internet memes built around it. People like it. With Fourth Edition D&D, it was made to matter even less than in Third, with spells no longer affecting specific alignments and alignment restrictions being removed from even the clearest example of them (a paladin can only be Lawful Good). Fourth Edition also stripped the system of Chaotic Good and Lawful Evil, assuming that Evil is the Lawful version and Good is of the Chaotic sort unless otherwise specified. Where once there were some minor systematic overlaps in alignment, there are almost none, now.

To make alignment important, to make it a focal point of the game’s system, will require something of an overhaul of the way we look at alignments in general. While I desperately hope we never see alignment restrictions ever again (I mean, a paladin is just a warrior for the cause of a god, yeah? There are evil gods. You don’t need a separate class for that.), I think that bringing back alignment-specific effects would be a solid step in the right direction. This should be especially true of the “holy” classes like clerics and paladins, who should deal damage typed to their alignment. Demons should be forced to occasionally take 10 points of “good damage,” while angels should eat “evil damage” for dinner once in a while. In fact, the more closely related you are to a specific alignment, the more damage you should take from its opposite. Make a whole bunch of creatures that are vulnerable to Good Damage. Keep radiant and necrotic damage, because both of those are awesome, but don’t use them in place of damage.

Alignment specific bonuses should be applied to gear, as well. Magic the Gathering has this shit locked down, because card colour is basically alignment. One of the cycles from the newest core set gives a creature a strength and toughness bonus for being the right alignment, and also provides an ability typical to that colour’s effects. That’s cool business, and could easily the be ported over to role-playing games.

For the record, Neutral shouldn’t get a damage type. It’s also the stupidest of the alignments, and one of the few areas in which I agree with Kevin Siembieda is that “selfish” is a much better description of that alignment set.

Vancian Magic

There are two things I hate about Vancian Magic. The first is the forgetting of spells at inconvenient times (like right after I’ve cast the damned thing). The second is the idea that the level of the spell is not the level of the person casting it. Both of those problems got fixed in Fourth Edition, and it’s one of the things people complain about the most readily. “My wizard is too effective. He should be way more horrible than this,” say the grognards.

A lot of people have talked at length about Vancian Magic and why it’s good and why it’s horrible. I’m not going to retrace over that conversation. Instead, I’m going to try and find a way to make Vancian Magic the best magic it can be.

First of all, going back to levels a bit, if I’m going to lose my abilities after I use them, those abilities are going to need to be really cool. And they’re going to need to be way cooler at every new level. Now, when I say that a spell needs to be cool, I’m not suggesting that it needs to do way more damage or whatever, it just needs to do something that is awesomely flavourful and also useful. Some damage-dealing spells are great, and you can’t build a Vancian magic system without staples like Magic Missile or Fireball. But I need a reason to cast spells that isn’t combat. Or if it is in combat, it shouldn’t be roughly as effective as the ranger’s arrows. A mage’s spells need to do something weird and cool. At first level, it’s not enough to just throw some force at a guy and have him get knocked back a square. I want to throw a mystical orb of glowing green power at him and have his face covered in three fighting squid for a turn. At tenth level, I should be able to turn a castle into a peach that I can carry around in my pocket for a day. At fifteenth level, I should be able to rearrange continents into shapes that please me, and damn the ecological considerations. At twentieth level, I should be able to carve my own face into the moon, where I will smile upon those who make me happy and scowl angrily at those who’ve wronged me. And my scowl should cause your genitals to turn into sea anemones that whistle annoying songs all the time.

Seriously, the whole concept of magic in D&D needs an overhaul. Magic shouldn’t be a tool, it should be fucking weird. It should do weird things more often than it does Magic Missile. If you have to have fireballs, have those fire balls carve the runes of my future into the bodies of my enemies, easily readable by wise bison and children, but not by me. If you have to do rope trick, have the portal cut a hole in the meat of the world where we will be warm and safe, but marked forever by our crime (thank you to 7th Sea for that one).

This is what magic is, it’s filled with strange flavour and weird concepts that can’t possibly be replicated by current technology.

And it’s really time that wizards, sorcerers, warlocks et al get different flavours of magic. When a wizard casts a spell, it’s refined, perfect, as pristine in form as it is in function. It’s focused, simple, elegant, but lacks power, flair, or pizazz. When a sorcerer casts a spell, it’s wild, weird, doesn’t really know what it wants to be until it’s finished, and might not go off properly at all. When a warlock or a cleric casts a spell, it’s not a spell of his or her choosing. No, the choice is left to his or her benefactor, which makes a warlock’s spellcasting effectively political.

Make magic cool and weird again. And build the powers of the people who use it with some thought to what sort of magic they wield.


I like the freedom of a point-buy system, and I love the flavour that comes pouring out of a lifepaths system like Burning Wheel. I absolutely adore the Aspects of FATE and the similar traits of Dogs in the Vineyard. I don’t really dig on classes all that much, because they restrict the focus of my character to whatever settings were determined best by the folk who wrote the class. They certainly have their uses, and they increase grokability in a big way, but what they gain in recognition from the players is lost in a lack of flexibility and real customization.

Classes in D&D need to be rethought from the ground up, I feel. Each class needs to find a unique way to interact with each facet of the game. Fighters need to fight, but they should also get better at fighting the more beat up they get and they should get better at their skills while they’re in combat and their equipment should be at its peak in the middle of a brawl. A wizard casts spells, which is neat, but they’re not well suited to combat and should do their best to stay away when the swords swing. They are, however, incredibly useful in a library and their skills get much more relevant when they have a rich pool of knowledge from which to draw. Their equipment works best in universities and labs and their feats give them all sorts of bonuses to knowing stuff. Thieves steal stuff, and sometimes that means getting your hands a little dirty, but the less you’re noticed the better. They get better at fighting when the chips are down, but they look their best when everything is going their way. Their skills work best in silence and darkness; they don’t perform well under bright lights, or when anyone has noticed them. They are incredibly useful in cities and do their best work in dark alleys. These are simple things to talk about, but making them matter in the course of play can be a lot more challenging. Situational bonuses should be built into characters to exemplify what it is they do, where they do it best, and how they get it done.

Make fighters better at what they do when they’ve had the crap kicked out of them.
Make wizards better at what they do when they have some time to think and a cup of tea,
Make thieves better at what they do when they’re on the rooftops and in the alleys.
Make clerics better at what they do when they’re facing down the enemies of their church.

Give people a situation in which they are better at doing the things they do, and encourage players to work to those strengths. Reward your players for doing things outside of combat that their characters are good at (except fighters, because fighters excel at combat, hence the name). Build role-playing hooks into your characters from the get-go. Build abilities that encourage non-combat situations and enhance exploration. Instead of looking for four basic ideas of what player characters do, look at what each class does, find a way for them to excel at that thing in different circumstances, and build the class around that. Let’s take a look at the fighter and the ranger, for instance.
The fighter fights. Fighters are at their best in combat. The fighter gets better at things the more damage he or she has taken. The fighter’s skills get better when in a fight. The fighter’s equipment thrives on combat and combat situations. Fighters look their best when they’ve been beaten up.

The ranger hunts. Rangers are at their best in the forest. The ranger gets better at things as he or she fells enemies. The ranger’s skills get better after a fight. The ranger’s equipment thrives in the wilderness. Rangers look their best when they’re travelling.
These are very different character builds for two martial style characters. Neither is magical, both of them “fight,” but these are two completely different sorts of characters who excel at very different things. The fighter doesn’t care if he or she’s in a forest or a cave; he’s going to fight and fight well. The ranger cares about where he or she is, but only cares about fights after the fact. Building classes this way provides a lot of avenues for archetypes that haven’t been explored a lot, and can help in finding the specific niches between similar characters (wizards and sorcerers for instance).
The wizard casts spells. Wizards are at their best surrounded by books. The wizard gets better at things as his or her resources improve. The wizard’s skills get better while preparing to cast a spell. The wizard’s equipment thrives in places of learning and knowledge. Wizards look their best when well-rested.

The sorcerer casts spells. Sorcerers are at their best when celebrating. The sorcerer gets better at things as his or her emotional investment gets more intense. The sorcerer’s skills get better when surrounded by strangers. The sorcerer’s equipment thrives on new experiences. Sorcerers look their best at parties.
Obviously these are just examples, but they build character classes in a direction that creates cool and interesting niches and ties characters to the situations in which they find themselves, which I think is much more important than making sure the party’s meat shield is sticky enough to pull aggro.

Kill all of the classes in D&D. Build them up from scratch. Look at what they’re good at, look at where and how they want to be good at it, and find ways to represent those preferences mechanically, and you’ll end up with characters that are much, much cooler in the long run.

Obvioulsy, all of this is just my opinion (and, to some extent, Friend Ian’s). But by sanding the rust off the chassis and rebuilding the transmission, D&D might have a lot of life left in her. Rather than looking at ways we can redesign the Mustang, why don’t we see if we can make this one pretty again?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Building a Career in the Games Industry

I saw this on Youtube and thought it was pretty great. Marcelo Figueroa is a veteran of the Edition Wars, an AEG alum and knows what he's talking about. It was an enlightening talk (even if I'm sort of late to the game, seeing it some three years late), and it hopefully has something in it that will appeal to you.

Also, as an industry professional who is looking to further his career in sales, marketing and management, if someone in the know could fill me in on the Weasel List and Gamer High - assuming these institutions still exist - that would be great. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

GenCon 2012: Why “Spouse Activities” is the Worst Thing

This is my first-ever guest column. The young lady who wrote it doesn’t have a blog of her own, but expressed her concern regarding GenCon’s off-putting programming for non-gamers, and I agreed to share her thoughts on my little corner of the web. I hope you find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I do.

So I guess I should start by introducing myself. My name is Natalie, I am 20 years old, a child and youth care worker and a nerd. I’ve attended Gen Con once, had an absolute blast and I just bought my badge for this August. There is, however, one thing that still sets me off in a red-faced rage: the “spouse activities” (SPA). Seriously, I’ve screamed in the faces of strangers about this, something I’m not too proud off. What enrages me even more is that in my courtesy Google search I found a few bloggers who were displeased by the issues, frustrated even. But not pissed off. I saw a gap and I plan on filling it.

Gen Con is amazingly diverse in its attendees and from what meager programing I attended out of the 2+ inch activity book it’s clear to me that the organizers did a damn fine job of providing for every kind of nerd. From table top gamers of all breeds to zombie lovers, anime freaks and LARPers; you name it there was a seminar, class, tournament or show about it. There was also a good selection for maturity/age level. Hit up the hentai cafe or chill with your younglings at the training grounds. No matter who you are or what you like, pull-ups to Depends Gen Con has something for you. Unless you’re female. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is good stuff for the nerd ladies, please refer to the 2+ inch program book. I’m referring to the Con Widow, the poor chick that gets dragged along by their boyfriend/husband to the biggest tabletop geekfest in North America. Upon arriving these ladies aren’t directed to Gen Con, instead they are provided with spouse activities. And what do the organizers think a non-nerd lady wants? Knitting.

The section for those, mostly female, who are not at the con for the con is full of activities like scrapbooking, beadwork, belly dancing and self-defense. Oh, and then there is “Crochet for Your Gamer” where you can “learn to crochet… so you can make fun little things for the gamer in your life.” The D 20 Girls project is running this event. They are also running “The Red Light District” and “Killer Bunnies: Quest for the Golden Carrot” among others. But not for the Widows. Rather than learning about a Dr. Who RPG (a free event, no experience required) or playing a Killer Bunnies game (always a recipe for fun times) the Widows get to crochet things for their gamer partners. Some, if not most of these events are things I can see being worked into the regular programming. They may not be inherently nerdy but as a family focused con it makes sense to have non-gamer activities for people to attend. And with some creativity any nerd can integrate their new self-defense knowledge into a RPG experience. But nope! Instead the randoms are labeled For Spouses Only and gifted to the partners of nerds in assurance that there is a space for them. A nice, safe and quite space away from all the hustle and bustle of the unwashed masses, not to mention their partners, where non-nerds can pass the days until they go back home. Which is just dumb.

So, ladies, if you’re at the con with your nerdy lad and you don’t want to game at all, have no fear for there are many other things to do. Into making or watching films? Maybe you could check out a seminar like “Film Budget and Finance” or “Trailer Park Jesus”, one of many featured films. Like anime? Learn with “The Guide to Anime Tropes” or watch with a room full of fellow fans with “Epic Battles of Amine”. Like crafty things? There are classes like “learn to make chainmail” and “21 days to a novel”. Have kids? Take them to the “Peter Pan Dress Parade” or “Create a Game” which as you may have guessed will teach your young geek how to create their very own game. Not to mention a whole butt load of child care giving you the freedom to check out all these events. And then there is the Misfit events section which has “Spot the Geek” a cosplay photo scavenger hunt and “BattleTech: Firestorm Tesla 11 Virtual Reality Cockpits”. That’s right ladies and gents, for 7 minutes you can command a battle mech on a 31st century battlefield. These are all event sections that require no playing of games and many of the events themselves involve less then nerdy things like watching movies or writing a novel. Yet none of them are marketed to Con Widows. So why have a completely different section for Widows full of non-gaming programing when there are already a few non-gaming activity sections?

If SPA was just another non-gaming category I think it would be pretty damn cool. Learning how to make your own yarn, taking a haunted walking tour of the city and learning the Thriller dance are all fun things that nerds and non-nerds can enjoy. The problem is this: the SPA is girlfriend daycare. Not to be left alone in the con to find the many non-gaming options the lowly Con Widow is dropped off at the SPA center to be entertained until the men folk return home. It is an unnecessary segregation of a group who could be having just as much if not more fun without the penned-in safe zone. There is no need for this category. It perpetuates the misconception that women lack ability or interest in gaming, and more annoyingly that they lack interest in peripheral nerdly pursuits. The insistence that women who do not want to game will be soothed by traditionally feminine hobbies is both condescending and rooted in a strange sort of sexism. For a convention that encourages families to attend it should be reaching out to those with less experience or exposure to the world of geekdom not shutting them up with zumba classes. One massively simple way to fix this would be eliminating the SPA.

It’s an easy solution; all they have to do is integrate the programming. Have an icon for non-gaming activities instead of activities for non-gamers, any overflow can go towards filling out the Misfit section. Design the programming so that gamers are invited to take part in knitting just as much as non-gamers are invited to take part in a D&D game. Don’t make it so that a person coming into the scene for the first time is shown the door to their roped in section of the party while their partner is off riding in a mech suite simulator.