CategoryGames

By now all this is past the point of relevance

But it needs to get written down anyway. On Saturday morning, September 7th, I woke up feeling grumpy about the way nerds had treated my friend Elizabeth and made the following series of ill-advised tweets.

If you see the numbers under those widgets you can see that they became the most far-reaching things I have ever written. I did not plan for that. They were tossed off, poorly thought out, and not particularly intended to stand in the record. This took a while to dawn on me, and when it did, I considered deleting them. I chose not to mostly because it wouldn’t undo anything, and because I should be held to account for my words.

I failed as an ally and a writer in several ways by writing what I did. The most significant and glaring is that I didn’t ask Elizabeth before posting them. That’s enormous. She and I had talked privately about the abuse she was getting, so it was on my mind, and I am so used to violent misogyny being directed at women who point out flaws in popular culture that I failed to consider her public stance about it. But even if she had discussed the hate more openly, I still should have asked. At the very least I should have reconsidered using her twitter handle, which made it even easier for a new wave of garbage to find her.

Also, as several people have pointed out, those three tweets are not exactly an iron syllogism. Elizabeth wrote a strongly worded post taking a strong stance against PAX; all I did was briefly express disappointment. I still think someone with a feminine name and icon would have received more abuse than I did for that tweet, but I certainly am not doing the kind of work Elizabeth does, and should not have tried to accord myself her stature.

There are other things about my phrasing with which one might well take issue, but those two are the most basic and important: I didn’t show my friend the respect she deserves. I can’t undo that, but the least I can do is point out for other people who want to be allies where I went wrong. I hope this helps someone else avoid a similar mistake in the future, especially if that someone is me.

As for the original matter of the controversy, I’ve been wrestling with it, but the simplest way to put it is that I take a version of Elizabeth’s view. I’m not going to PAX in 2014, I’m definitely not volunteering there, and I won’t be back unless and until they demonstrate change from the top down. It won’t be enough for PAX to come up to the standard of games conventions; from here on they’ll have to be twice as good as everyone else to make me consider attending.

I have dear friends in and around the Penny Arcade organization, many of whom work tirelessly to create safe space, and I’m not going to spurn you or your work for being involved with PAX. But I will say that attending any conference without a clear, detailed, rigorously enforced harassment policy is a bad idea. PAX rose to that standard in 2012, but when internal pressure from the volunteer corps relented this year, they failed again. That alone is a valid reason to stay away.

Some people can’t do that. PAX is a big part of how money works in games, and if the choice is between taking a stance and making your rent this year, I don’t have the moral authority to stand in judgment. I hope you’ve got other avenues for promotion too, though. I won’t see you there.

This isn’t even counting BAX, which would technically make this year’s begin in fucking February

There’s this thing called con season. It is mostly called that by people who make and sell things at conventions, which are warm-weather phenomena, beginning in March of each year and winding down in the autumn. I don’t currently sell things, but I find myself talking about it anyway, because con season has been the dictator of my travel plans for several years running.

There’s Gamestorm twenty minutes north of me, in Vancouver, Washington, and then there’s a local house-sized gathering called Nemocon in May. June sometimes has a Fabricated Realities in Olympia and always (I hope) has Go Play Northwest in Seattle. This year, for the first time, I am flying to Indianapolis to go to the nerd-gathering granddaddy, Gen Con. (It’s hard to explain exactly why I’m going in much the same way that it is hard to explain why Indianapolis holds a convention named for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.) And then there’s PAX in September, and Geek Girl Con the month after that, unless I go to Indiecade too–and then at last we rest. Until it starts again.

It’s kind of grueling. I’m going to have to cut back in 2014: I want to travel more outside the US, and save money, and this shit devours that budget. But what do I cut? The answer would be easier if “what” didn’t so easily swap out for “whom.”

There are a lot of variations on the con circuit: some people do tech conferences, some people do sci-fi cons, some people do cultural gatherings or music festivals or films and documentaries. All these gatherings have a rationale for getting lots of people together at a specific time and place, but over time, I suspect, the rationale becomes just that. I used to go to gaming conventions to play as many games as I could fit into a weekend. Now I play games at gaming conventions because that’s what my friends are doing.

Weddings, funerals and cons. You don’t get together just to do the thing, you get together because the thing you do is the way to concentrate as many of these far-flung people as you can. Many of the people I love are locative: available in a specific place at at specific time and then too quickly dispersed. Jackson and Joe and Joe and Ben and Matthew and Chris and Elizabeth and John and Shannon and Paul and Tony and Daniel and Twyla and Andi and Ryan and Lily and Will and Lisa and everyone I’m forgetting and everyone I have yet to meet. We only get so many rounds of this, in the warm season of our lives, and it’s hard to think about missing any of them.

Then God hit me with a baguette

Remember when we talked about Gatekeeper? Thanks to Kickstarter and the mighty game white hole who is Jeremy Penner, you can actually play it now, right in your browser! I bet you can’t beat my score (56) (you can totally beat my score).

Technoir

Matthew is running a cyberpunk story game called Technoir for Harry, Alex and myself. It’s very good, and I’m not just saying that because it cites Brick in its inspirations. Here’s part of the mechanic for healing damage: when your character has been tagged with something that describes permanent physical, emotional or social harm to them, you have to get surgery to implant a piece of cybertech that “replaces what has been lost.”

Left implied is that of course it fucking doesn’t, nothing does, that’s not how loss works. But it is how cyberpunk works, in one elegant sentence that happens to be a functional rule. That is brilliant game design. Well done, Jeremy Keller.

The Great Brendan Hunt

Link to the big picture of my route.

So, when I got the aforementioned iPad at a delicious Moroccan dinner with Kara’s family, I thought I had had a lovely thirtieth birthday and now all that nonsense was over with. She and I had planned to go get lunch and see Meek’s Cutoff with our friend Arlie yesterday, and I thought that would be a neat Saturday. When we parked near the theater downtown, though, she kept insisting we had to go meet Arlie at Pioneer Square a few blocks away. Okay, I thought, whatever.

Except when we got there, I saw someone else I recognized. Hey neat, I thought, Kellie’s here too! And so are a lot of our other friends! Wow, this is a weird coincidence. Why are they holding signs and shouting at me?

Kara had been planning a giant pervasive game involving everyone we know–even utilizing international design services–for a month behind my back. I was completely unaware of this until well after she started explaining the rules. It was basically a version of Journey to the End of the Night, except during the day, and also the only person being chased was me. I had to run around, getting the signatures of people stationed at five different checkpoints on the “happy” side of my birthday card. Each checkpoint had a small safe zone around it, but outside those, everyone else would be chasing me down; if they tagged me they got to sign the “unhappy” side of the card, and the person who did so most often got a prize. (Spoilers: no he didn’t.)

Herein follows the narrative of my desperate attempt to evade my relentless, sadistic friends. You can follow along on the big map I drew. It’s color-coded by time: my route to the first checkpoint is in blue, then red, then green, then orange.

We started in Pioneer Square, where I took off in an attempt to get a head start before I had completely finished reading the handout. THIS WOULD BE IMPORTANT LATER. I circled around down off the bottom border of the map and made my way up along Naito Parkway to the first checkpoint, the fountain at Saturday Market. I got into the safe zone just ahead of Kellie, in plenty of time to get my card signed by Tony and Mandy, then successfully lost any pursuers in the crowd.

Unfortunately, in doing so, I also dropped the card and couldn’t find it even after repeatedly retracing my steps. I ended up paying three bucks at the Market for a little card with an engraving of a cat holding a fish on it just so I could continue the game. I headed up to a good place to take the measure of the second checkpoint, the Chinese Gardens, and even from blocks away I could see a cluster of chasers just waiting for me.

“Aha!” I thought, as the stealthy Matthew Schuler walked right up and tagged me from behind. “I have clearly tricked these poor saps into thinking I will hit each checkpoint in order, which is not required by these rules that I have not read all the way through! I’ll just skip up to checkpoint 4 now and double back after they get bored and wander off. Good thing I have limitless endurance and it is not hailing!”

I was wrong about many of these things.

I actually used the hail as cover to get into the fourth checkpoint, the Blue Room at Powell’s Books, cleverly evading the nonexistent people I was convinced were waiting at THAT entrance. I then wandered around the Blue Room for ten minutes, wondering where the hell my signatory was, before Susan finally deigned to arrive and inform me that the window for her checkpoint had yet to open.

“Window?” I said.

“Did you read the rules?” she said.

I had already missed my chance to hit checkpoint 2, by dint of sheer idiocy, but I had maybe enough time to still make it to checkpoint 3 if I really hustled. This is why the red segment on the map is the longest one! I did hustle, and made it to the ticketing counter at Portland Union Station with a minute to spare, though my desperate, wheezing jog meant that I had no time for stealth and got ambushed by a whole group of fuckers in the driveway.

I threw off most of them by sneaking out a side entrance and hiding behind a bus, but just as I was thinking I’d sneak up the stairs to the Broadway Bridge and take that back down into the Pearl, I saw Matt Nolan tripping eagerly down them. I was still very annoyed at having my tag-count increased fivefold at the entrance, and I decided right there that Matt was NOT going to get me. No way! ALL I HAD TO DO WAS RUN INFINITELY FAR.

You will note that after the point labelled “MATT ATTACK” on the map, the green line travels around to the far side of the bridge entrance ramp, then up it, across traffic, to the top, back down, and into the Post Office. I only got that far because Matt was lugging a giant bag and a belly full of Indian food, and because I hid in the passport office with my gut sucked in and the lady at the postal counter heeded my desperate finger-to-lips silence gesture. I probably should have gotten arrested.

Anyway I left the post office, now running late for my RETURN VISIT to checkpoint 4, and immediately got tagged by Arlie, plus Matt finally caught up just outside the door to Powell’s. So much for all that. Despite my pulling moves which might humbly be described as “Bourneian” within the confines of Powell’s, I got tagged repeatedly in there too before I finally got Susan to sign my stupid card, and Grace (whom I hadn’t even met before!) pursued me doggedly through Whole Foods and in front of more speeding cars. It was only then that it occurred to me that Kara really should have gotten everyone to sign a waiver.

I limped up across the overpass, got ambushed, and lost the card AGAIN, though this time when I backtracked I actually did find it. That didn’t keep me from getting tagged like a brick wall on a street named after a civil rights activist, particularly by Jonathan (whom I’d faked out earlier) and Matt, who were out for blood. Not even sneaking through a parking garage under a building could throw them off. I finally staggered up to the fifth checkpoint outside the stadium with minutes to spare, and everybody got Oreo cupcakes and went back to a bar for beers and war stories.

I measured that route against the scale on Google Maps and, by that rough math, I ran about fifty-six thousand kilometers altogether. I was tired and the leg I pulled last week was throbbing. I had also lost the game by every measure possible. It was awesome! Thanks to Laura, Amy, Arlie, Jonathan, Matt, Matthew, Matthew, Harry, Harry, Grace, John, Casey, Kim, Greg, Susan, Marie, Mandy, Tony, Jeremy, Holly, Kevan, anybody else I forgot, and especially Kara for pulling off the most ridiculous tailored birthday stunt I can imagine.

As long as I’m plugging things my friends did

Jake Richmond has a great new webcomic called Modest Medusa! Based on true life events! Except the part about the medusa.

Josh Timonen, quantum coworker, made an iOS app called FaceJack! It is essentially the executable form of this:

Well you go like this: duhh dahh dahh duhh!

And it’s an instant hit at parties. I recommend it.

Imperfection

Remember last year when I told you about Joe McDaldno and his foolish ambitions? Well, the game he was trying to fund is actually coming out now! It’s very exciting! I already have my beautiful copy of the PDF, but don’t worry: it’s only because I’m perfect.

Bruce

These days I carry around most of the information in the world in my pocket. Ten years ago I was still thrilled to have my dorm-room connection and a Dell desktop. But a few years before that, I didn’t have anything you could really call the Internet. Instead I had Bruce.

Bruce was my eldest cousin, fifteen years my senior, and I revered him. I was interested in sci-fi and fantasy books; Bruce knew about them. I liked board games; Bruce won them all. He had the sharpest wit I have ever encountered, but he was also unfailingly kind, and I never heard him use it to be cruel to anyone.

That included me, even at my most juvenile and annoying, when he spent a while living in our basement and attending classes at EKU. Remembering those days now, I would have been unable to stand me. Bruce listened, and laughed at my jokes, and gave me things.

That was another thing about him: he was never attached to material possessions, and generous with them almost to the point of carelessness. At one point he gave me what must have been nearly his entire collection of gaming books, obviously something in which he’d invested years and hundreds of dollars. He was offhand about it, as if he’d found an odd thing I might like in his pocket.

I treasured those books. For years I could reliably be found in a corner paging through a banged-up hardback with monsters on the cover, spending far more time reading them than actually playing, and blissful to be doing so. I’m sure I didn’t thank him enough, but I hope he saw how much they meant to me.

But if Bruce helped doom me to geekdom, he also rescued me. I was undersized for a long time, and at one point I lagged so far behind the curve that Mom was consulting growth-specialist doctors. When he heard about that, Bruce took a long look at me, then told me to finish my dinner every night instead of leaving most of it on the plate. I listened, and that was when my growth spurt finally hit.

It shames me to say that Bruce and I drifted apart. He waited most of his life for a kidney transplant, and got one, only to have his body reject it a few years later; his health was never the same after that, and his illness frightened me (I had another male role model who got very sick, you see). We had political differences, and the geographical distance between us grew as well. But his patience, kindness and generosity never changed.

I didn’t find the time to see Bruce on my most recent trip back to Kentucky, a few weeks ago, and I will spend the rest of my life regretting that.

When somebody you love dies you’re supposed to put together all the good words you can about him, and assemble an image for your memory that omits their shortcomings and sharp edges. But I can’t do that, because I see now that I was always the one coming up short. All my memories of my cousin are of a man who was better to me than I ever deserved.

I’m sorry, Bruce. I miss you.

Stories We Tell, The

My dear friend Joe Mcdaldno–writer, game designer, and fascinating Renaissance human–was kind enough to interview me about Anacrusis for his nascent radio show/podcast, The Stories We Tell. This marks the third podcast to feature me, and my second time on Canadian radio. Soon, listening to my nasal drone trail off in the middle of half-baked jokes will be completely unavoidable!

Incidentally, the term I can’t think of at around 16:45 is syllepsis (and more generally zeugma).

Someday I will get around to organizing something like this for Portland

Hey, remember Journey to the End of the Night, a game I played with the London crew and subsequently wrote an enormous blog post that I just linked to about? (It’s okay if you didn’t parse that.) Anyway, Newsweek did an article on urban exploration that includes it. Thanks to Mink for the tip!

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