July 29, 2012

How about a lady nerd talks about lady nerds?

A friend of mine actually introduced me to a bit of a controversy in the blogosphere via facebook.  It started on CNN's Geek Out with an article by Joe Peacock, called Booth Babes Need Not Apply.  Peacock is tired of sexy ladies taking advantage of men's engrossment of the female form.  How dare women dress up in nerdy costumes merely seeking attention and not actually give a rat's ass about high scores or critical hits or comic book artists!  You need to earn the right to play dress up around male nerds and seek their attention.  You can't just claim to be a nerd because you look good dressed as Laura Croft.

How dare you be attractive when you don't know the master cheat code to Contra!
In comes John Scalizi. and he's here to save all geeks from this vile persecution.  Peacock doesn't get to choose who's a geek.  Nobody does!  Ladies can be geeks if they dress up for attention, and no one should give a fuck!  All you need to do is share the geekitude, spread the love, and you'll be a geek.  No one can tell you otherwise, no one!

Be free to be sexy and nerdy without judgement,  pretty lady!

Alright, stop it.  Stop it with the circle jerk of I AM THE DEFENDER OF MY PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET.  Both writers are guilty of this.  Peacock is trying to defend his fellow geeks from being assaulted by others who don't get it.  That's fair.  Nerds are used to having to explain themselves and having people tell them they're weird or a freak or need to lay off the magic cards.  Geeks can easily get  defensive.  Part of the reason I wear my nerdy hobbies on my sleeve is the anticipation of being the weirdo.  Luckily, things have gotten better overtime, and if my kids are as serious of Star Trek and dice rolling as I am I doubt they'll get nearly as much grief as I have had, let alone what my mother dealt with.

The era of having to be over protective is over.  Sure, there are still jerks out there.  But with the internet and conventions and main stream acceptance of quirky hobbies, you are never alone.  So when a woman is paid by a company to look attractive as your favorite sci-fi character, it's not an attack on you or a way to trick you into trusting the wrong person.  It's a sales tool, which is never anything against you.  If anything take it as a compliment.  It's something that any person in any hobby or walk of life experiences deals with when they're considered important in this capitalist era we live in.  Everyone deals with it, and anyone who can should have the right to earn money for looking good in (little to no) clothing.

I do agree with Scalizi for the most part.  There is no hierarchy to decide who is a real nerd and who's a poser.  If you have a hobby that you love and like to share your enthusiasm with other people, then it shouldn't matter what the technical labels are, just have fun.  I just don't like the way that it had to be him to swoop down and defend women in the geek world.  More importantly, I don't like that it had to be a him to have the legitimate voice.  It had to be another male saving women from male persecution.  Well, okay, it's not really persecution, no one's rights are at stake or anything like that.  But still a man had to be the one to say "It's okay for women to do things!"

This just might be my little inner feminist (by the way, feminist is not a dirty word) coming out and saying that this is one of those instances where we need the "patriarchy" to say what is okay for women to do inside the "patriarchy".  Although I've seen the gender disparity in the geek world lessen in the short time I've been participating in it, it's still a male dominated set of hobbies.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that.  What's frustrating is that since it's mostly guys in that world, it's mostly guys having to justify not only when a gal is "good" enough to participate but also call out other guys for being assholes.  And you know what, Scalizi is right.  No one should care who's doing whatever fun activity in their own little nerd sphere anyway.  In turn, no man should ever has to disqualify or requalify a woman's right to do something nerdy.

I wish there were more women in better positions, or even just more willing, to swoop in and call out the assholes.

We nerd women need to be the ones to tell people, mostly men, to back off and let us enjoy our hobbies.  We shouldn't need to have some guy to say it for us.  We need to be the aggressive defenders of our hobbies.  There are some of us out there that are responding to Pecock's article, and that's exactly what we need to do.  Stop picking on us, we'll bite back.  We need to do it in full force.  We need to do it at the same time.  Part of the reason that some people pick on a certain group in a hobby is because they don't take the group serious.  Well dammit, we nerd ladies are seriously into our nerdiness.  We'll be happy to let you know.

Finally, for any person that has been in the real world, we should ALL know that there will ALWAYS be people seeking attention.  Yes, sometimes that's sexy cosplay, and it works, but there are plenty of men and women who do many things because they crave the attention of others.  If you haven't encountered this, you're a hermit.  This is one of those frequent personality types you'll meet and have to accept.  The best thing to do is note it and move on.  Some things in life you can't change.  One of them is that attention seekers exist.  If you don't like, how about you stop giving them attention.  At least then they'll stop pestering you for it.

July 24, 2012

My brother plays Settlers of Catan? Why I'm a little shocked.

I think my brother is letting his inner nerd out more often. It might be because he's now at a school where you can be smart and cool at the same time, not just a party school. But he's always had it in him, it's just nice to see it come out again. He was actually the one to first get into video games. Our aunt had received a SNES from her boyfriend (now husband) and wasn't into it, so passed it on to my family. From age two my brother would play Super Mario World for HOURS. From then all the way through highschool he was a huge video game fan. Nintendo has been our roots, and my brother was the one to completely embrace that. He was a serious Mario and Zelda fan. At the same time he was ridiculously into SimCity on the console, which possibly harbored his love of urban planning. Actually, that combined with of living down the street from a famous architect's home and studio are probably the reasons he even considered that line of work, when of course he's not laying down some ridiculously entrancing beats as a DJ. In college he still did play, more toward the Xbox, but he is not the hugest fan. He still plays the Civilization series like a mofo though. Not many other nerd pursuits, at least that I knew he did. Until today.

 His nerd cred has just recently grown. It was his idea this year to go to Medieval Times for his birthday. I don't know why, he just decided he was going. Fortunately, I live near it so it's easy to coordinate. I call him today to let him know I got the tickets and how we'll meet up and he mentions he's waiting to catch up with a friend so they can play Settlers of Catan. 

I was kind of taken aback. Settlers of Catan, if you haven't played it, is a nerd staple in the board game world. You establish rival towns and cities with your fellow players, managing resources and essentially making your country the best country ever. It can take hours with strategic people but is something that's really fun. My core nerd friends in college played it a lot.

So to hear my brother, who has kind've been the cooler of the two of us since high school, is actually anticipating to play this ridiculously nerdy game. I knew there was a bit of a geek in there for the longest time, but it's kind of nice to know that I'm not the only geeky sibling. Sure, my parents can be huge dorks, but different generations geek out to different things.

My brother was surprised that I was surprised. He just assumed that since he was a fan of Civilization that it was a given he'd love Settlers of Catan. Maybe that's on me, but I don't think I could assume he'd hang around with the kind of people who'd love to introduce that kind of board game to him.

At least this makes his birthday gift shopping easy. I'm getting him a board game of his own.

July 18, 2012

Two ideals that help me plan an RPG game.

Getting back to planning a game as a Dungeon Master is fantastic.  Part of the joy of running a game is that you get to see people directly react to your writing, and then add to it.  It's a storytelling conversation, that's really an art form.  It's improv with statistics and stricter structure.

By the way, if any of you visit Chicago and you have a chance, do the walking tour at Second City.  It's definitely fun and funny and you learn some things about Chicago and improv as an art form.  Did that yesterday with a college friend and it was fun.  Sorry about that interruption.  Back to the RPG talk!

The writing skills you need to create a great game for your players are a little different than the ones used for a standard fiction piece.  As a writer you should create a linear path for your reader to follow as your main characters go through a hardship and overcome it.  But when the person enjoy your story is also producing the main character of your story, there are a couple of things you have to consider when writing.  These two rules tend to guide me, and a couple of friends of mine who also run games, into making a game a fun venture for everybody.

1. You must know where you want to go.
My friend who runs my Obsidian game always reiterates this tip.  Specifically he says "If you run the scene you're in without knowing where you want it to end, you have already failed."  He's absolutely right.  In college we though having an open game without railroading the players meant presenting 1 piece of a puzzle and expecting the players to build the rest.  But with any game, you have to establish a thread for the players to follow.  Whether they know it or not, most players spend the game looking for that thread.
Games that don't do this dwindle fast.  When I first started running my D&D day, I built in days where nothing would happen thinking my PCs would go do their own thing those days.  But most of the times my players were just waiting for something to happen.  As the DM/GM/ST you are in charge of the action, and you know what's coming.  Your players don't.  Sure, you may want to give them some time to investigate something, and some games you know for certain that they will, so you'll set aside that time.  But you can't assume they'll have motivations of their own every single game, especially when you first start.  Set up that thread for your players to follow.  They are trying to see where it is, and will at least like to know where it's going.

However, at the same time,

2. The players will decided where you really go.
You have to be ready to set up a ton of things for the players to do, but you also have to be ready to be directed by their responses.  Just because you think that your players will hold on to one clue or be captivated by one situation doesn't mean that they absolutely will.  They may find a certain NPC worthy having as a friend or a lover.  They may decide that certain monsters can be trained for good.  They may even decide to start a taco stand on the side.  You will never be able to 100% predict what a character my want to do.  And you don't want to deny them something that they'll find fun.
The great thing about this is that this process is how you can add to the thread that you start.  Sure, you may have wanted to have your players explore the catacombs of the city, but certainly you could tie in your plot points for when they try to raid the local sheriff's office.  Maybe that NPC noble your players like to antagonize is actually helping them out where they least suspect it.  The players pursuits are a tool for writing the plot.  You have to be flexible enough to go with the flow.

But why should you make a path that your players are going to veer from anyway?  Because then you know better is is off the beaten path.  If you know what you would like to have happen, then you have a better idea of what will happen if your players make other choices.  And that helps you more if they through you a curve ball.  I've had many a times where characters pursue flavor text, but because I had at least made the time to include flavor text, it was easier for me to think up something on the fly.  That helps game flow and consistency, which make playing in a particular universe more fun.

In the end, you still have to write a story with a path, but willing to continue in a different direction when the players introduce it.  That makes the most successful RPG campaigns fun and memorable.

July 11, 2012

My (delayed) Response to the Expanded Endings of Mass Effect 3

Right when I just spoke to you guys about writing more and making time for it, my boss at work quit so now we're severely understaffed.  Woo!

Anyway, now we're talking about the ending of Mass Effect 3, which many of you know about but for those of you who don't, be aware that there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

So, what did the extended endings actually do?  Well in almost every option we now have available at the end, we have choices that do make somewhat of a difference to the universe that is no longer in complete and utter shambles.  The Mass Relays can be repaired, all the races can rebuild their worlds, and Shepard is considered a hero in every ending.  There is still no concrete way to officially save Shepard, the Destroy Option merely hints at it, but we don't have to sacrifice a lot to get an ending where the legend lives on and Shepard did officially save the day.  Also, you now have the Refuse option, which unfortunately dooms the current cycle but gives hopes for the next one.

What does it fix? You do get your cathartic moment.  You can say "Yes!  I did save the galaxy!"  And you get to see how the rest of the galaxy is coping and rebuilding together.  You don't have to assume the worst. You get to see the final big choice you made actually mean something as well.  Each ending has a slightly different montage, noting what your choice meant.

What does it not fix?  There are some counter arguments from the Space Child now, but the Space Child still seems out of place and unnecessary.  If they had replaced it with almost anything else that would've been relevant, I would've been okay with that.  The Synthesis ending, although appealing to my ideals of unity, does NOT make any sense, so you will have to be okay with the idea of Space Magic(tm) for that ending to work.  Considering that mass effect fields essentially filled that purpose before, it's not the hugest leap I've ever been asked to make.  Also your EMS score now means diddly squat, which is super annoying because many of us would've liked a Refuse ending where the EMS score mattered. You can't just ignore a mechanic in the game after it's released in my humble opinion, because the player will always remember it's there and remember the developer totally ignoring it.

In my opinion, this extended cut fixes the biggest problems with the original endings, and hence giving us a conclusion that in the long run makes the fans go "meh" rather than "what the hell?!".  I think a good amount of us gamers expect horrible endings because we're not used to good writing.  That's part of the reason why there was such an uproar about a well written series like Mass Effect ending on such a disastrous conclusion.  It was above average in many different ways, and that's why it had such a strong fanbase that wanted to fight for a better ending.  We now have something better, thankfully.

However, there is still a bitter taste in my mouth.  I think that this new extended cut ending should've at lease been in the game originally.  It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but if I had received this ending instead of the bullshit slung at me months ago, I think I would've been okay.  I don't think I would've spent weeks disappointed with the hours and money I invested in BioWare.  Part of me will never understand why the fans had to practically pull teeth to get an ending like this.  I'm not going to forget it.  I'm going to remember what happened, and now for certain companies, I know for sure I'll NEVER preorder.  It's not worth it.  It's better to wait and see what happens.

Soon, I will replay the game and figure out which ending I want to give Desdemona Shepard.  In the meantime, if anyone wants to meet me up on Mass Effect multiplayer, feel free to hit me up--d20Sapphire is my handle of course!

July 4, 2012


To my U.S. based readers, happy Fourth of July!  When you think about it, the idea of a new world is something that sci-fi focuses on a lot, and I think the founding fathers would've loved to write or read some speculative fiction.

I also want to apologize for not writing enough to you guys on the blog.  There is always a lot to talk about and time is really the issue.  It has been said that one needs a room of one's own to be able to write.  One also needs time to be in that room.  And I am looking for that time.  Some of it is coming up, but I think some other things will have to change to make that time.

Someone told me that the writing is the real job.  I'm going to do my best to remember that.

Expect in the future some more Mass Effect rants (did you notice the extended endings came out?), some continued RPG sheenanigans, and more gender analysis.  And if you ever have something you'd think I should take a look at, email me at d20sapphire@gmail.com.  Suggestions are welcome.

And thanks, everyone!