Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Threat Assessment

There comes a point where to remain silent endorses the problem. And so you get a story.

Back in the '80s, we were in the grip of what is now called "The Satanic Panic". The devil was supposedly abroad, sowing suicide among the young people, led by things like rock, videos, and of course, role-playing games.
Jeff gets a death threat.

I was working for TSR at the time, and received hate mail addressed to me at work. All caps. Lot of exclamation points. Suitable biblical verses and extremely graphic descriptions of my inevitable fate as a sinner. I will be struck down. I deserve to die. And the final line was "God will judge you and >I< shall be his instrument".

And of course I handled this with the derision it well-deserved. Well, no. Actually, I beetled into Kim Mohan's office, sounding like Beaker from the Muppets. This guy was coming after me! It was a Wisconsin postmark! He had my address! He knew where I worked! He was god's instrument! (Oboe? Bassoon? Flugelhorn?).

Kim, to his credit, merely opened the bottom drawer of his file cabinet and said "Drop it in, on top of all the others".

So I did, and as I put it together later, this particular chucklehead, hepped up on god and cheeses, went to his local Waldenbooks and pulled down a copy of Monster Manual II and sent copies of his death threat to everyone on the credit list. Nothing further came of it, but in the years that followed, this became my defining line. The point where the discussion just stops being stupid and goes full-on dangerous.

And in the years this has served me pretty well. I work in an industry where it seems that half of its people are mad at the other half at any one time. I have seen personal vendettas and principled stands. I have seen good peoples' names besmirched and scoundrel justifying their crimes, but also justice done, talent rewarded, and good people recognized. I have seen the blistering stupid and the inspired. And for the most part, I don't feel an overriding need to comment or take sides, trusting that truth will win out.

But this. This is way over the line.

Anita Sarkeesian does feminist criticism on a series of youtube videos, most recently a series of Women Vs. Tropes. Go check them out - they're really good. A couple days ago, she was here at ArenaNet speaking to interested members of the company (we have a program where we bring in people to give lectures - yeah, it is pretty damn cool). And she shared not only the history of her criticism but also things she working on. And she provided numerous examples of her points, Numerous. A lot of them are fair cops. And some of them, actually, were really teeth-grindingly bad. Stuff that makes me want to stand up and declare "You have to understand, in the 90s drugs were cheap and readily available".

And I picked up a bunch of things as well, such as the fact that we're STILL engaging in obvious and questionable tropes, but often doing the "ironically". Which is like me "ironically" having another donut - in the long run, its still the same thing as far as my weight is concerned. It was a good talk, and while I did not agree 100%, there was nothing there that made me feel threatened either for my gender or the future of gaming (in fact, I think criticism is good for the future of gaming, which is a good thing since we get criticized all the time).

Anyway, Ms. Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at a college in Utah the next day. And that engagement was canceled when some chucklehead threatened a massacre if she showed up.

So now we're over that line.Way over, into deluded domestic terrorism territory. Such a cowardly attempt to shut down communications is a threat to everyone and poisonous to our industry. Yeah, its one utter nutter and does reflect the bulk of humanity, but hell, it makes the gaming community look like a hopeless bunch of vindictive losers. It reflects badly on all of us. It is reprehensible. It is shameful. And it saddens me that clownballs like this will become the poster kids for our industry. Enough. Debate on the facts. Share your opinions. Keep your death threats in your pants.

There is a point were, to remain silent becomes a tacit endorsement of such behavior. No. You don't get that endorsement. You may think you are the chosen instrument of your particular dogma but you are not, and the rest of us will not let you drag us down.

More later,

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Theatre: Razz-Mah-Taz

The Vaudevillians starring Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales, Seattle Rep through November 2

The Seattle Rep kicks of its new season with a musical revue. Such revues are not ususual for the Rep, but are usually tucked deeper into the schedule and sail safer waters in subject matters. Storytellers with accordion accompanists, old railroad songs, union songs from the depression. This one, not so much. It is an oddball little revue of the new dressed up as the old.

Here's the central conceit - two vaudevillains (Monsoon and Scales) have been frozen in ice since an ill-fated tour of the Antarctic, but have been freed by global warming and now perform their greatest hits, which later artists have covered without crediting them. So we get pop music from the 70s up, all performed in the Tin Pan alley Style.

And where it works, it amuses greatly, though for those of us who learn about new music only when Weird Al does the parody, yeah, its a bit of an uphill struggle. Why yes, I get "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "I Will Survive", but I don't know all the lyrics to "Piece of My Heart" and don't know the rap that Scales leads the post intermission with (which was bloody brilliant, and I really should figure out what it was satirizing).

In fact, the entire conceit is a bit strange, aimed at an audience that both knows Britny Spears and can appreciate a good Madame Curie joke. That said, the audience was appreciably younger (and thankfully more athletic) than the standard greybeards (who are the ones who get the Ibsen jokes, by the way).

Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer) as Kitty Witless tears through the material like her proverbial sobriquet (that is, like a tropical typhoon). Channeling in equal turns Kathy Griffin and Harley Quinn with a dash of Medea, Jinkx swings through the material like a seasoned trooper of the era, dropping bon mots and cozying up to the audience (warning - there is audience participation here - if you're shy about it, head for the balcony).

Major Scales (Richard Andriessen) as Doctor Dan Van Dandy keeps up with Monsoon on the piano, though Monsoon has the stronger and more precise voice, even with the mikes equalizing them. Scales/Andrieseen/Van Dandy does a lot of support work here, but excels at that post-intermission solo rap in full tux and tales that would turn Fred Astaire a little bit green with envy.

And let me digress into the nature of intermissions here - such is always a risk, since some people who step out for a smoke or a bathroom break just keep on going through the exit doors. OK, that comes with territory. But five seats in the center of the theater, dead center, suddenly going empty? During an hour and half revue? You folk just hate theatre. The Lovely Bride and I have stuck out much more questionable material over the years. And we're talking puppet shows, here. Anyway, you wet old biscuits missed a better second half than the Seahawks delivered Sunday afternoon.

OK, back on subject. Yeah, it is irreverent and weird and trippy and don't try to tack it down too much to its original conceit. It is a loud, brassy broad of a performance. Yeah, go see it.

More later,

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Ten Comics

A while back, former TSR colleague Dale Donovan posted one of those challenge things on the Facebook, in this case "10 comics that made an impression on you". Since Facebook is an ephemeral media, I went with the mildly more permanent mode of a blog entry. So. Ten comics that made an impression on me. Most of these are pretty old, because you're never sure how they had an effect until years later.

Legion of Super Heroes (Well, actually Adventure Comics, featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes). Here's the story; I read comics as a kid - Sad Sack and Little Hot Stuff and the Superman and Batman books with the go-go checks. And eventually, as most people do, I stopped buying comics. But the LSH, then living in Adventure was the last one to go (Issue #378, written by Jim Shooter, and I never found out how Brainiac Five cured the Legion of that deadly disease, realizing too late he could use the Miracle Machine to heal everyone). Superboy was the headliner, but it was the rest of the cast (sort of Archies in the Future!) who were cool, including Bouncing Boy and Matter Eating Lad. No, especially Bouncing Boy.

Asterix the Gaul - I took French in high school, and there were collections of the French comic by Goscinny and Uderzo available in both French and English. I fear the text was impenetrable for my non-language specific mind, but the translations kept both the cheeky humor and the pun-filled nature of the original. And in the world that existed before D&D, it had druids with magical cauldrons, super-hero potions, and all sorts of potted history.

Star Wars - In college, this was one of the books that got me back into comics, along with Howard the Duck. These were the Marvel licenses and varied between cool and goofy (sometimes in the same comic - I loved Jaxxon the giant green bunny be even I groaned at the deluded would-be Jedi Knight Don-Won Kihotay). I would buy the comics, then mail them to the woman who would become the Lovely Bride so she could read them. Yeah, there's the start of a beautiful relationship.

Marvel Team-up/Two-in-One - I was re-introduced to the Marvel Universe in full by another guy in my dorm who was a comic reader (Hi, Joe!), and these books were my personal faves. They had an A-lister (Spider-Man or the Thing) who was teamed up some guy from the Marvel Universe you never heard of, but they needed to keep his trademark alive (Like Jack of Hearts, or Captain Britain, or Quasar). The books delved into a lot of forgotten/ignored parts of the Marvel Universe, and were great for filling in the gaps (Plus, the Thing had a regular poker game going).

Cerebus the Aardvark - One of the first books I started picking up in direct sales shops, starting with issue #8. It in black and white, and was a paean/pastiche of the old Conan tales, but with a drunken funny animal as its protagonist. The first hundred issues remain absolutely fantastic, but the creator slowly lost his mind, and I switched to buying the in collections (and getting very, very depressed as I read them). The thing is, while the creator is a proud, ranty, and self-admitted misogynist, he created female characters that were deeper and more interesting than most of his male figures.

Elfquest - The other direct sale book I picked up early, black and white in magazine format, this was a very different type of elf than what evolved over in D&D - savage tribal elves with strong contacts to their wolves. The opening bits, showing the introduction of these elves to the more advanced Sun Elves, were great, and the Cutter/Leah relationship was fantastic.

Baker Street - This one you probably never heard of, but it was a black and white Sherlock Holmes series by Gary Reed and Guy  Davis where Holmes was a gothpunk woman. At a time I was working through a lot of comics created by diverse hands, the idea of a personal, quirky book really appealed to me.

Xxxenophile - Yes, it is a porn comic, and not only did I read it, I still have copies somewhere in the 90 long boxes of comics in the downstairs room (hey kids, treasure hunt!). It was a collection of short strips by Phil Foglio which were light, humorous, and most of all sex-positive. I don't think any stone or sexual preference was left unturned in the book, but it was full of the kinky and the consensual, something that was missing from a bunch of other "adult comics" of the day.

Jonny Quest - Wow, I just loved this one, because it was pure nostalgia. I was a fan of the original cartoon, and the book (with covers by original cartoon artist Doug Wiley) was a lot of fun. In times where returns to classic characters were often grim and gritty, the book captured the excitement of the original.

Watchmen - This book represents the turning point in the comic book business, a time when the direct sales shop both freed US comics from the spinner rack at the local drugstore and with that, went to a more mature audience. Originally written for the Quality comic heroes, it was too caustic, and so was switched to a new team of heroes. It took a very dark view on the superhero tropes that, through its success, altered the way stories were told.

Honorable Mentions: Love and Rockets, Lt. Blueberry, Bean World, Dark Knight Returns, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (the Jack Kirby/ Action Olsen period), Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Sixth Gun,, Epicurus the Sage, The Clairmont/Byrne X-Men, the Roger Stern Doctor Strange. Ask me tomorrow and I'll give you a different ten.

More later,

Monday, September 15, 2014

Public Service Announcement

I will admit this freely - I am a homebody. I like nothing better than curling up with my laptop and working, or, if the weather is good, sitting on my back porch, watching the hummingbirds and nursing a cuba libre. Getting me out of town takes something major, like visiting family or promoting the big game I've been working with. However, I am not the quite J D Salinger of game design, and actually DO make public appearances on occasion. And I send out a warning, so people can gather up the children, lock up the horses, and hide the good silverware.
GrandCon panel from last year

I WILL be at GrandCon this weekend, September 19-22, at the Crown Plaza at Grand Rapids. This is a bit of an old reunion weekend, since other guests include Ed Greenwood, Steven Schend, Matt Forbeck, and Stan! (OK, Stan! lives out here in Seattle, and it looks like we'll be sharing the flight out, but still, its a big get-together). Check it out!

And, on November 5th, a passel of us writer types (I believe that is collective noun - a passel of writers? A gaggle? A despair?) are going to be at the University Book Store for the roll-out of the Kobold Guide to Combat. Joining me will be such luminaries as Wolfgang Baur, Steve Winter, Chris Pramas, Wolfgang Baur and masterful editrix Janna Silverstein. for a book signing.

If you can't make it to either location, well, you can catch my dulcet tones on the Dead Games Society podcast, where I talk about, well, practically everything.

And just so you know, there is no truth to the rumor that I am only getting out of the house just so the Lovely Bride can do major home repairs while I am gone. None at all.

More later.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sometimes the Whale Wins

When last the kids from Kent engaged in a "culinary adventure" in Seattle it was into the hot (as in spicy) territory of Joule up in Wallingford. I mentioned that the restaurant shared a building with another hot (as in popular) spot, The Whale Wins. Both places did tartar, both were in the same location, both were covered in Bon Appetite, so yeah, we had to do both.

But after our inflamed experience with Korean fusion barbecue, we were a bit reluctant. We still meant to get to the other half. We really did, but time passed and we had other things and finally, only finally, we got there on the excuse of my birthday (thanks for all the well-wishing, Internet!).

Of course, one does not get to Wallingford without adventure! Like getting to the South end of Seattle in a half-hour during rush hour, followed by an excruciating trip across town, from south to north through cross-traffic. Said trip involved a number of blocked cross-streets, a map program leading us into the worst part of the mess, a couple of  illegal road maneuvers on my part that I would never normally consider, and culminated with the Fremont bridge being up (which was actually the most pleasant diversion during this part of the trip). Also, Parking: tough in the area, and while we ended up parking in the neighboring EVO lot, we didn't think anyone from EVO was watching since a sketchy character was breaking into a car in the lot even as we parked.

So, the venue. Open, light framework, with tables laid out close to each other (why yes, we ended up talking to our neighbors about what we had ordered, and there was a wedding being planned nearby). The patio was open, but the challenge at the relatively early hour was that half the seats faced the setting sun. I placed myself between the Lovely Bride and the fiery sky-orb, so that her eyes were shaded and I was surrounded by a nimbus of flame.Other diners were holding menus up to protect themselves from the lumens.

The food, of course, was superb. We split a tomato/ricotta salad and a large order of clams, then two separate orders of the lamb tartar (one with egg, one without) and bread and butter. Yeah, for those Olive Garden-types, they charge for bread and butter, but it's REAL good Columbia City bread and butter. The tomato/ricotta salad was fresh and luscious and the best fresh tomatoes the LB has had all year - she almost ordered a second one for desert. The decision of the clams was split - I thought the addition of corn overpowered the clams, but Kate really liked the sweetness it added (oh, and we didn't need to order a large, though we created a jenga-tower of discarded shells by the end of it). The lamb tartar, with lemon, mint, and capers, was the main event, and was perfect melt-in-your-mouth good. Service was prompt and friendly and easily at hand (I did a quick count and found ten members of the waitstaff on the floor for this relatively small space, none of which were standing around). Good food, good service, and good ambience.

The Lovely B's verdict? "We have to come back here again, and just get double orders of the tomatoes and lamb". And I have to agree with her. If I can find parking.

More later,


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beijing by Drone

I talked briefly about my very short trip to China earlier. It was a short trip - fly in, two days of interviews with the media on GW2's release in China, an impressive party, a day of playing tourist, hitting the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, and then out. Hardly enough to frame any definitive opinions. But I didn't mention the drones.

Drones?

Yeah, the GW2 celebration started with a reception with a cover band, models posing by GW2 exhibits, and a lot of fans, including ones ignoring the cover band and the models and playing GW2 at computers set up around the perimeter of the huge patio area. The entire shindig was in a former industrial area turned art district, so we were surrounded with old gas works and cement storage facilities. And in the middle of this, I heard a burring noise, and looking up, saw a trio of mini-helicopter drones hovering at the edges of the property.

And I did a mental blink. This was no the first time I was filmed in a public place, but probably the first time I was in a public place being filmed by a drone. Definitely the first time I was aware of it. It felt a little odd, in part because I had not experienced it before.

In any event, the party went well and I forgot about the drones with everything else that was happening. And then I came across a video by Trey Ratcliff, a gifted photographer, who was taking pictures of Beijing by drone. And while the video is titled "Beijing From Above, AKA the Story of How I Was Detained By the Police for Flying My DJI Quadcopter", the video doesn't mention the detaining, the story of which is instead found here.

In any event, it a series of shots of various Beijing locations, many of which I did not get to visit. It does capture the grandeur (and to my mind, impersonal nature) of the Forbidden City and the beauty of the Summer Palace (which you should go to, but be prepared to hike). And then, about the 3:09 mark, there was something that, to quote the clickbait sites, "Blew my mind".

Rytlock Brimstone.

I mentioned that the GW2 party culminated in the unveiling of a huge 40 foot Rytlock statue, which, I had been told, would be an installation in this art district. Yet I was still surprised when I came across a picture of him, in all his charrish glory, taken by a quad-copter, no less.

Check it out. It's pretty cool.

More later,



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Meanwhile, 200 years ago...



Here's an interesting history bit about the burning of Washington - the conventional wisdom was that it was a reprisal for the burning of the Canadian town of York (now Toronto). But here's an article that makes the point that taking Washington was not a British goal, and the the burning of the public buildings was more the result of someone firing on the Brits expecting a traditional surrender, and in the process killing the commander's horse.

Of course we don't agree on history - we can't even agree if the song was recorded by the Arrogant Worms or Three Trolls in a Baggie.

More later,