Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

Stereotypes are bad, right? We’re not supposed to consign broad categories of people into these simplistic kinds of caricatures and yet… we do. We all do it because it’s a kind of mental shorthand for how to react to and deal with people. Some of us make a conscious effort not to give in to the temptation but no matter how hard you try you have to deal with that stereotype and consciously overcome it.

Why do we do it?

The sad truth is that a lot of the time it’s perfectly valid to stereotype. Most blustering, red-faced religious conservatives are fairly interchangeable – at least on the surface. People dress, speak and otherwise present themselves according to stereotypes to express some aspect of who they are and how they want to be treated. We run into problems when the presentation and the intention don’t match, but it’s still true.

The OED defines a stereotype as: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”

That’s, perhaps, a little uncharitable. Another way to view it, if you’ll forgive me a little pretentiousness for a moment, is that of the Jungian archetype, which often sound more like an eclectic tarot set than a psychological concept. Some of Jung’s archetypes included the mother, the father, the trickster, the child and in motifs such as the flood, creation, the apocalypse.

In terms of stereotyping what you have there are stereotypes and clichés.

So should we banish stereotypes to the dustbin of history or should we embrace them? Archetypes and motifs, stereotypes and clichés have too much power and usefulness to be completely abandoned, though we may need to revise our lists somewhat. The ‘Uncle Tom’ stereotype of the past is probably no longer appropriate unless writing historical fiction, but that doesn’t mean others don’t retain their general usefulness.

A good stereotype or cliché, if such a thing exists, is a weapon in a creative person’s arsenal. Sure, it may seem lazy but in short stories, games and fiction with restricted amounts of text, dialogue or screen time you often need to convey a lot of information in a very short space of time. Stereotypes are a sort of ‘macro’, like stealing someone else’s piece of code and using it in your own programming to save time, or using stock footage in a film.

The thug, the whore with a heart of gold, the dumb guard, the gravel-voiced vigilante, these all serve useful purposes and whether you’re charitable and call them archetypes or uncharitable and call them stereotypes, they convey a lot of information in one go.

This is even more useful when you’re playing roleplaying games and the vast majority of people you run into are unimportant side characters. Without any personality they’re just a cipher, with a stereotype they at least have a little character and you have something to build on.

The ruddy-faced innkeeper, the greedy shopkeeper, the jobsworth guard, these can all be dropped into just about any game at a moment’s notice and they don’t detract from it by being a stereotype, they add an element of character and personality where – perhaps – there was none before.

A stereotype doesn’t have to end there though. While it can be enough it can also serve as a mere foundation.

Consider pretty much every character in, say, The Simpsons. Every single one is a stereotype from the motherly, disapproving Marge to the oafish, irresponsible slob Homer, to the somewhat dodgy Asian stereotype of Apu.

At least, they all started out that way and yet The Simpsons was, from the get go, a big success – once they were free of Tracey Ullman anyway. Why? Because everything was instantly recognisable and we all ‘got it’, because of the use of stereotypes. In 25 years though, every character has developed some nuance, some background (even if continuity is just something that happens to other people) and from those stereotypes have emerged more rounded comedic characters.

The Fast Show was essentially a string of these, centred around mostly stereotypical characters such as Rowley Birkin QC – who was based on a real person. These sorts of stock characters are not a remotely new concept, the idea of the ‘stock character’ a, formalised stereotype, goes all the way back to Classical Greece where, in 319 BCE Theophrastus wrote extensively on character sketches and character as a genre, with thirty stock characters including such recognisable tropes as The Talkative Man, The Coward and The Man of Petty Ambition. Later classical writers and playwrights added to this and the tradition survives to this day in comedy, much of it via the tradition of the music hall.

Returning to games, unless you’re working very intensely with a set character and a set storyline you’re going to need to anticipate certain stereotypes, even more so the case with many computer games which must anticipate and program for the actions of the players, but also within tabletop roleplaying games where the three main archetypes are the magician, the rogue and the fighter.

You can see that in Numenera replaced with Nano, Jack and Glaive.

You can see that in Cyberpunk with Netrunner, Fixer and Solo.

You can see it in almost every game, implicit or explicit, with character classes or without.

Every game starts with a baseline idea of a set of stereotypes, which you can then work with or against, exemplify or contradict.

And that’s where the fun really comes in, where you fill out the details, where you defy the stereotypes or sub-specialise within them to create something new and individual and that can happen over time as you grow more attached to the character and more versatile or powerful, learning new things about their background.

In designing my game Forever Summer I went looking to the source material – kids adventure movies and series, most especially the favourites I saw growing up like Goonies – and saw the use of stereotypes there. Whether it’s Stand by Me or Explorers you know largely all you really need to know about the characters within the first half hour of the film, if not before. Stereotypes get all that introductory mess out of the way, leaving the film free to get on with the story with some more detail about the characters coming out – as a form of character development but not really – as you go along.

Nobody said every game, every roleplaying session, every book, comic or magazine had to be completely stellar and groundbreaking or that you must avoid stereotypes, even when they really do exist in real life. There are people I know in real life who would be unacceptable characters in books or TV series because they seem like crass stereotypes, yet they’re real people.

Seriously, don’t worry about it. Stereotypes are just another tool in the toolbox and if you muck about with them and keep revisiting them, they won’t say stereotypes for long.

Said the long-haired, bearded, role-player with a house full of books…

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So, for those of you who don’t know, at the end of Pax in a stage interview Penny Arcade (as a collective) stated their regret about pulling the Dickwolves merchandize (T-shirt and pennant) back in 2010. As you can hear on the video this is quite a popular opinion and it’s one that I share. Further, despite having had my own controversies and having handled them in sub-optimal ways I think they probably shouldn’t have engaged any more than they did with their first response comic which, for all the complaining that they didn’t understand, is the character of the sort of complaints one gets from the ‘mob’ once they get a bee in their bonnet.

I was disappointed, then, to see the response to this in Wired and elsewhere, being a step up of the ‘boycott Penny-Arcade’ cries that have been bouncing around for a couple of years and, even worse, to see Stevens (of Diesel Sweeties) slamming another webcomic crew and, even worse, Warren Ellis retweeting Stevens on this. Neither of these two are, shall we say, entirely free of controversy and both have been misunderstood in the past. To single out PA for special treatment when they should know the sting of the mob themselves to some degree is disappointing, especially in creators who should be protecting free expression.

Quotes are from the Wired article, cross check there for attribution if you’re not sure.

Whether or not the strip was offensive in itself isn’t really relevant at this point: More than the comic itself, what made the most impact was how Penny Arcade responded to the readers — including rape survivors — who said it upset them. First, they mocked their critics with a series of posts and a flippant non-apology. In a subsequent “make a strip” demonstration at PAX Prime, Krahulik further needled the issue by drawing a dickwolf, and Penny Arcade even monetized the discomfort over the rape joke by making and selling “Team Dickwolves” shirts and pennants.

The original strip was only offensive if you completely missed the point of the joke. It did not trivialise rape, the point was that in these arbitrary quests in these MMOs all anyone cares about is completing the quest. The plight of the prisoners in the strip is irrelevant, no matter how horrible their fate it. In this case rape and hard labour. The ‘dickwolf’ is a riff on the fantastical and stupid creatures you see in any number of fantasy settings, worlds and games.

Having been on the receiving end, myself, of these kind of hysterical mobs (yes, I know feminists hate that word but it’s a good word to describe frenzied, emotion-driven and irrational reactions and I don’t mean it in the Greek sense) I can tell you with some certainty that their responses of eyerolling and sarcasm were to the kind of people who make insulting and nonsensical claims that such material is rape apologia or contributes to ‘rape culture’. To reasonable human beings not steeped in outrage culture and gender studies such accusations are both:

a) Incredibly insulting.
b) Ludicrous.

In that context their responses were perfectly valid. Of course, the fusses that the ‘Social Justice’ mobs create are great publicity and polarise people into supporters and attackers and producing Dickwolf merchandise is as perfectly rational way to both cash in and to allow people to show their support. It’s also funny to think of stupid fantasy creatures being mascots for school/college sports teams.

You don’t have a lot of time to think how to react to these mobs, it whips up a frenzy very rapidly and you’re always caught on the back foot. People  want responses or apologies NOWNOWNOW and that leads to poor communication on all sides.

Given the ridiculousness and extremism of many of the people making attacks, I understand and sympathise with the nature of the response. As Jefferson once said:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which may be used against unintelligible propositions.”

Many of the objections are just that, unintelligible.

And then on Monday at PAX, in front of an audience of thousands, Krahulik told business manager Robert Khoo that he regretted pulling the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store — merchandise he had created as a “screw you” to rape survivors who had had the temerity to complain about a comic strip. While the audience burst into applause, Khoo nodded sagely and said that now they knew better; now they would just leave it and not engage.

I don’t think the merch was created as a ‘screw you’ to ‘rape victims’ but rather a middle finger to humourless dingbats, ‘social justice’ warriors and the kind of people who seem to think that nothing offensive should ever be made. It was also a way for people to show support for PA in the social media shitstorm that was created. It was a ‘screw you’ to the kind of people accusing them of contributing to ‘rape culture’ or being ‘rape apologists’. Victims of sexual or domestic abuse and censorious arseholes are – as I’ve found in recent interactions with A+ – not a singular demographic but, rather, an overlap in a Venn diagram. There’s a lot of victims that don’t want to be coddled and wrapped in bubblewrap or to have well-meaning but tone-deaf keyboard warriors fighting their fights for them.

As they seem to have settled on here, they should have just not responded, not engaged and let the argument and the fight fade into obscurity. I doubt they were expecting this reaction this time around, after all, what’s been expressed is nothing new.

@BrendanAdkins – Incredibly disappointed to have volunteered until midnight at #PAX three days running and then hear @cwgabriel still mocking rape survivors.

I’m not sure quite how you get ‘mocking rape victims’ from ‘it was a mistake to pull controversial merchandise’ but this is illustrative of the hysteria-driven hyperbole I was talking about earlier. Some people are determined to receive a different message to the one transmitted due to their own biases.

Cartoonist Rich Stevens of Diesel Sweeties reached out to WIRED when he heard we planned to report on the PAX incident. “It’s just so disappointing to see people I’ve known since we were all new and broke turn out to be such tone-deaf, old man bullies. He’s Rush Limbaugh with tattoos. I could get over the original comic if they’d just moved on or apologized, but they had to make merchandise out of rape just to poke back at people and then encourage fans to wear it to a convention that supposedly has pro-woman policies,” said Stevens.

Pax etc do have ‘pro-woman’ policies, if by ‘pro-woman’ you mean ‘anti-sex’. There’s a hypocrisy about objecting to booth babes and simultaneously objecting to some male geeks’ wariness about ‘fake geek girls’ especially given some of the reasoning to object to booth babes, but I’ve talked about that before elsewhere. This policy has even been extended to cosplay and I think regarding it as ‘pro-woman’ requires a particularly narrow point of view of what that entails.

I don’t think the merchandise is ‘of rape’ either. It’s about the incident and it’s about the silly creature  they created. One that will now live forever in infamy due to the Streisand Effect – something else you’d think ‘social justice’ warriors would be aware of as they create and sustain these popular ‘monsters’ of things they object to. As to the accusation of bullying, there is definitely bullying going on, but it’s not coming from PA who are, after all, still on the defensive.

Sampat also has firsthand experience with the dangers of criticizing Penny Arcade. This week, she posted an impassioned condemnation of Penny Arcade and PAX, outlining the company’s history of inappropriate public comments and behavior, as well as its failure to address the harassment and alleged assault of a volunteer by another volunteer at PAX East. Since then, she has received thousands of angry comments, including rape threats and death threats directed not only at her but at her children. (In 2010 and 2011, critics who wrote about the original dickwolves incidents were similarly flooded with harassment and rape threats.)

Alleged assault. Alleged behaviour. Alleged harassment. Frankly, these are not really jobs for convention staff, they’re jobs for the police. As we’re seeing throughout geek/hacker/skeptic culture there’s a big push for rather draconian convention policies that presume guilt and are enforced to the letter. These policies and the strict application thereof are starting to backfire with the cancellation of a talk by Violet Blue causing some backlash and, ironically, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick being tossed off a con’s trading table for breaking their rules (Tablegate). We don’t know the specifics of the case – which is only alleged – and so we should not be passing judgement or holding anyone accountable for something that may not have happened.

As to trolling, as with the Streisand Effect I’m amazed that anyone active on the internet for more than five minutes hasn’t figured out that spurious trolling and threats is just that, spurious trolling. Show yourself to be a target and you’ll get shit for it. This doesn’t excuse the trolling behaviour – not victim blaming here – but using that reaction as a weapon to beat the people you’re actually having the above-ground dispute with is not acceptable either. Trolls gonna troll.

“Mike’s reaction when he’s criticized for this kind of behavior is always to comment on how he hates bullying, and how he sees himself as fighting back against a bunch of internet bullies,” Story told WIRED. For her, the primary conflict is about Penny Arcade’s continual abuse of power. “The unexamined privilege in [Mike’s] viewpoint is sort of breathtaking — the fact that a straight white male, a celebrity with countless followers who will agree with anything he says, doesn’t see that he is in a position of power over other significantly marginalized groups is almost beyond believing. What he is doing is bullying, no question, and it’s not excused by the fact that kids were mean to him when he was in school.”

This is not acceptable. Mike IS fighting back against internet bullies, they just do not – or cannot – see themselves as such because they’ve bought into an heroic narrative that they’re fighting against the big bad and that excuses anything. If you’ll pardon the hyperbole, this is not unlike the mentality behind terrorism.

Mike’s heterosexuality, gender, his colour and his celebrity are irrelevant to what is true or not. It’s a ‘poisoning the well’ fallacy and it’s racism, sexism and heterophobia. I’m not saying it’s ‘reverse’ any of those things, prejudice is prejudice and its ugly in whichever direction it’s aimed. Can people in positions of assumed authority and power be bullied? Absolutely. The minorities in this case are using their victim status to lend authority to their claims that something bad is going on here. Nobody wants or likes to be seen being sexist, anti-woman, to be picking on rape victims or anything of a similar ilk and so these accusations can create a panic reaction. One well exploited by those abusing the victimhood of others or identifying themselves only by their minority status.

Yes, absolutely, marginalised groups can be bullies, when they have the means to do so.

Mike Krahulik is not a brave upstart defending freedom of speech, even if that’s a defense Penny Arcade has hidden behind time and again. Freedom of speech is not and never has been in danger here: Krahulik has every legal right to be shitty to rape survivors and trans*people and react like a child told he can no longer break the other kids’ toys. There is no law preventing him from flaunting the fact that he has a lot more financial and social power than the people criticizing him for abusing it; nor is anyone arguing that there ought to be.

Yes, he absolutely is. They all are. Free speech includes ‘icky speech’, to quote Gaiman. They and many other creators are engaged in a war of attrition with an absolutist mob with no sense of context, nuance or humour. Free expression is no longer at the mercy of governments but in private hands and the attempts of these mobs, with their false accusations and hyperbolic interpretations, are not directed at criticism but at boycott and censure by other means than the law. You have control over your media intake, if something bothers you, don’t consume it and – unless it breaks a law – let that be an end to it.

And that means that if the gaming community’s going to keep moving forward, the time has come time to leave PAX behind.

I don’t disagree here. I think Pax, gaming, writing and almost every other endeavour would be better served if the mobs went their way and the creators who don’t give as much of a damn about their pet hates went their own. Pax will not be harmed by a few extremists not going any more and may in fact strengthen for it.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

If you want characterless, lifeless, riskless entertainment and dull, safe events. Go make your own and let the people who want something else have their events too. Make your own games, make your own comics and stop trying to turn your personal dislike for something into a massive social ill that NEEDS ADDRESSING RIGHT NOW.

Let’s all go our own ways, make more art and compare notes in five years time.



Mike posted some clarification etc here, something I don’t think he should have done (no engagement after all) but it makes a few points that could stand to be covered.

If we had just stopped with the strip and moved on, the Dickwolf never would have become what it is today. Which is a joke at the expense of rape victims or a symbol of the dismissal of people who have suffered a sexual assault. the comic itself obviously points out the absurd morality of the average MMO where you are actually forced to help some people and ignore others in the same situation. Oddly enough, the first comic by itself is exactly the opposite of what this whole thing has turned into.

This is the part I don’t get. The initial strip so obviously and inarguably had rape as a bad and terrible thing and poked fun at the artificial indifference to the problems of the NPCs that the ‘level grind’ MMO atmosphere creates. It isn’t Mike and Penny-Arcade that turned the Dickwolf into a symbol of dismissal and, in fact, it still is anything but. The people who turned it into something more are the very people who supposedly hated the message it allegedly made. Ironically, they’re the ones that turned it into something it wasn’t and you shouldn’t apologise for the actions of others.

If you saw the panel you know that someone in the audience shouted out and asked us to bring the merchandise back. Both Robert and I immediately said no way. We have worked very hard to make PAX a safe place. We have an incredible anti-harassment policy, a “booth babe” policy that you will not find anywhere else in the industry,and panels that cover all the social issues facing gaming today in a meaningful way. That’s the heart of PAX and that will never change.

Those policies are things that I also think are mistakes (to an extent). Give an inch and people take a mile and as PA continues to rediscover, there is simply no way you can satisfy the demands of the ‘social justice’ warrior. Nothing you do is good enough, your motivations are suspect and they just keep going and going like an Energiser bunny with an axe to grind.

What I can promise is that we will continue to be honest with you. There’s no bullshit, no PR, this is just Jerry and I and we’re doing the best we can. Hopefully we will keep getting better.

For me that’s the best possible thing. Honesty. Nothing short of abject grovelling will ever satisfy these people so you can’t win there. You can maintain an honest and ‘real’ attitude and in the long run that’s a lot better. Plus it doesn’t run the risk of a complete breakdown, preachification and – as a consequence – becoming desperately unfunny.

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On reflection, I probably shouldn’t have done an image search for ‘pearl necklace’

Or, perhaps more properly, The Great Gender Con.

The debate is toxic, whether you’re talking about gaming, genre fiction, technology or anything else where there’s a current gender disparity, yet I still keep coming back to it. I don’t know why really. All it gets me is opprobrium and misrepresentation but I feel that there have to be counter voices.

We are now at the point in this ‘debate’ that merely pointing out that there are any nice guys at all is somehow controversial and problematic.

Off the back of that Sarah got some flak and I, foolishly, felt compelled to stick my oar in.


Well, we’ve seen the fallout in the atheist and skeptic movements, it rumbles on in gaming. To see it spreading to genre fiction meets and conventions is depressing, for several reasons.

  1. There is no indication that sexual harassment is any sort of particular or special problem at any of these events any more than it is for the general public in any social situation. This isn’t to say sexual harassment isn’t a problem, just that making it seem that these sorts of events are hotbeds of sexual misconduct is not correct.
  2. Creating the impression that they are full of harassment reduces women’s involvement in these causes, activities and meet-ups. Completely the reverse of the supposed goal of the crusaders who spread the idea that it is. EG: The Amazing Meeting’s female attendance ratio dropped massively. Not because of any indication of endemic harassment, but rather because of the fearmongering.
  3. The scaremongering is predicated upon a demonisation of male sexuality and is thoroughly gendered, as the response to Sarah’s post shows.
  4. The proposed solutions, such as harassment policies, are unnecessary, negatively impact socialisation at events and cement the fear and sexism towards men in writing, subject to wilful abuse.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to create an inaccurate atmosphere of fear, particularly of something as serious as sexual harassment.

I don’t think it’s a good idea, or in line with what these people say they want to do, to put women off attending conferences.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to tar the male gender with the same brush.

I don’t think it should be controversial to point out that there are also nice guys – or that they’re the majority.

Why do I regard this pearl-clutching pseudo-feminism as a problem? Because it’s a lie, because it’s irresponsible, because it creates a bad impression that doesn’t reflect reality (as does their response to criticism), because it’s sexist, because it’s preying on people’s fears for no clear end.

The Daily Mail and other media create an impression of the rate of crime which makes many pensioners and others afraid to leave their houses and terrified of youths. It makes them afraid to a level utterly disproportionate to the actual levels of crime or the ‘risk’ they take in popping down to the shops. Sure, it sells papers (or webclicks) but if it’s causing unnecessary fear and genuinely causing harm is it a responsible thing to do?

How is this any different?

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tumblr_l67ad1v7FQ1qa6md4o1_400Things I believe that guide my work.

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between_order_and_chaosThe creation myth of the world of my current D&D game. Still, I thought I’d put it here rather than the gaming blog.

In the beginning, before time or space, order and creation, chaos and destruction, fought in the space that space was yet to be.

Each was perfectly matched. Everything that the Maker strove to create was unwoven by the Unmaker before it could be and so, there was nothing.

It is in the nature of chaos to be chaotic though and so chaos wavered, just for a moment and the Maker outstripped him.

In that instant the world was born. From nothing, something and as chaos grew again it found that the order the Maker had creating had gifted them both with mind.

The Maker could never truly know pleasure, which is a destructive force of chaos, but the Unmaker could and saw there was more joy in the destruction of something grand and complex than there was in the negation of a notion or an attempt.

The Unmaker allowed the Maker to build worlds and stars, planets and animals, people and knowledge, writing and numbers and then it began to subvert them.

Worlds it smashed, stars it set aflame. Animals and men it twisted into monsters. The Unmaker set kingdoms against each other, set knowledge and faith at odds. Wise men were given pride so they could not admit fault.

As quickly as the maker made a thing the Unmaker would corrupt or destroy it and in desperation the Maker broke itself apart to create the Ur. More powerful than gods the four Ur strode the universe, making faster than the Unmaker could corrupt them so it, in turn, broke itself to make the Destroyers.

Ur and Destroyer vied and stove and still could not outstrip one another they were so evenly matched. In time they too broke themselves apart to make the gods of good and law, evil and chaos.

Still they were matched and in the final act gave their power to their followers and their creations in the form of magic.

Like a drop of wine in a barrel of water the power and will of Maker and Unmaker was now so dilute that every person contained a measure of the power of both and the choice to become one, or the other.

The strongly gifted were – and are – the magi but power has a way of twisting even the strongest leader to chaos and when – again – they went to war the world was rent asunder, broken, twisted and mixed.

Chaos now reigns over Dharvi and only devotion to order, to the Make, can restore the land to sanity.

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catch22A few conversations and discussions of late have thrown into additional light on the problems and discussions that have characterised 2012 for me. That is to say arguments about inclusion, tolerance, race, gender, depictions, sexuality etc as they relate to creative endeavours. For me this has mostly been in gaming, but more broadly this seems to be a hot topic across games, film, writing, everything.

Part of this is the hysteria and bandwagoning nature of social media acting as an amplifier, but it’s persistent enough across all media lately that I think it needs addressing.

It’s a huge goddamn issue and it straddles all manner of different topics like some bloated, Tolkienesque spider awaiting its prey. Worth a bash though.

TheComputerYou Can’t Create if You’re too Paranoid

It’s hard enough to create, unless you’re arrogant enough to think yourself infallible. Pretty much most people who are good creators – in any field – are riddled with self-doubt, second-guess themselves and fret constantly. Many are just good at hiding it.

It’s hard enough struggling with your own demons without having to take into account everyone else’s and the rapidity of modern interactive media means that every single word you write or image you draw is subject to enormous scrutiny and feedback with a laser-like focus it would not have attracted even ten years ago.

Accounting for any and every Tom, Dick and Harriet and their personal foibles and concerns is impossible and if you ignore it or minimalise it you’re going to get flak. You’re going to get flak anyway though so…


If you happen to be white and/or male and/or straight and/or anything else perceived rightly or wrongly as being a position of privilege and you create, you’re stuffed. If you ‘write what you know’ you’ll be accused of being racist, sexist, homomisiac and any number of other things whether you write about them or not.

If you leave these things out you’re *ist by exclusion. If you include them you’re *ist because of the mistakes you’ll be perceived to make. You’re damned if you don’t and you’re appropriating cultures, minorities etc if you do.

close-but-no-cigarMore Right-on than Thou

Even if you do your absolute best to be a right-on, ‘politically correct’, progressive and enlightened 21st century human being it will never, ever, ever be good enough as someone else will be out to prove their chops by being even more progressive and right-on than you are and by making you out to be an evil cunt. Here’s a really good example of someone super-progressive being monstered in a perverse game of one-upmanship.

muhammad_cartoonYou Are to Blame for your Audience

Your intent and even your execution on a topic doesn’t matter. a jot. What seems to matter is the reaction your audience has to it. Of late this kind of argument seems to have been centred around Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ wherein some people are worried/concerned and upset about the racism in it.

Racism all but confined to villains who get their comeuppance.

Racism which is in no way presented as being a ‘good thing’.

Racism which is funny because it is absurd and extreme.

Of course a few no-chin, redneck, white-supremacy types are going to get a kick out of the word ‘nigger’ and black characters being terrorise but that’s on them. Not the creator of the material. It’s unreasonable to hold the creator accountable for every single reaction to their work.

stjeromeDeath of the Author

It doesn’t seem to matter what you think you’ve made. Those who choose to analyse your work will presume they know your intentions better than you do and will ascribe motivations and reasons to you themselves, without listening to what you have to say about it. just because you made a thing doesn’t seem to mean you know anything about it.

6obeSatire is Dead

Someone will take what you say seriously and as if you meant it. This happens to The Onion all the time and is a part of ‘Poe’s Law’. Parody will be taken seriously by someone, somewhere and what’s serious can also be taken for parody. The two can be almost indistinguishable (reference the Westboro Baptist Church for an example).

Once someone’s failed to understand that what a piece is, is satire they often still won’t back down when this is pointed out. Again they may claim that this is some sort of reflection of your subconscious prejudice or, simply, that it ‘isn’t funny’ or ‘isn’t well done’. It’s never that the person has no sense of humour or that they’re embarrassed that they didn’t ‘get it’. Oh no.

sign-brownest-thingContext Doesn’t Seem to Matter

Are you writing an historical piece? Drawing an image from a fantasy or science-fictional society with different morals and social mores? Is the material we’re discussing from fifty years ago, a hundred, more?

Doesn’t matter. If something is offensive it always is and it doesn’t matter if its historically accurate or a preservation of old attitudes for cultural and historical reasons (Nigger Jim anyone?) It’s bad and wrong and will be used as a stick to beat you with.

There’s also the problem that a statement you make in the heat of an argument with a douchebag or off the cuff in a moment of humour now lives forever on the internet and will be relentlessly quote-mine forever and ever even if you change your mind over time or you’re being misrepresented. Sometimes these quotes will even be completely made up! IT doesn’t matter!


There’s no easy solutions here as, in the main, the problems lie with other people. I think a starting point to dealing with the problems above are:

  • Surround yourself with people you respect to give you feedback: Not necessarily people who agree with you, but people whose dissent you can acknowledge and take seriously. Not YouTube commentators.
  • Understand your own values: Other people are going to judge you by theirs, but what are yours? Are you a libertine or a moralising conservative? Do you value verisimilitude or comfort? Do you want to be unflinching or accommodating? To thine own self be true and if people want work that meets other criteria, they can damn well do it themselves. What’s your hierarchy of interests and concerns? You can’t cover EVERYTHING.
  • Publish & be Damned: Do it anyway. Fuck ’em.

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I completed a set of short stories and my first novel this year. Not all of them are up for sale yet but some are and they might make good stocking-stuffers for people you know with kindles, tablets and all that mularky.

Perfect for reading on the train, at lunch or anywhere else you can grab a few spare minutes to plunge into the imagination.

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51klgn%2BocCL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgAce Slamm: Space Bastard

Years after World War 2 was interrupted by a space invasion, rocket pilot Ace Slamm finds himself approached by three strange individuals. They want to buy a ride on his ship to Dyzan, the counter-Earth. The scientist, the feisty beauty and the sportsman are hell bent on getting to that blasted planet, but their steps are being dogged my a mysterious man in a shining metal mask.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wdzMkL18L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgMimsy Burogrove: Psychedelic Detective

In swinging London, consulting for the police on strange cases, Mimsy operates out of her trendy flat. A heady concoction of mysticism, psi and LSD gives her access to the psycheverse, a spirit-dimension There are things in the psycheverse that long to gain access to the real world as well and Mimsy may well find herself a conduit for evil spirits like Mean Mr Mustard.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51GWRKQ7oqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgThe Black Rat

The 1970s are a grim time in Britain. Power outages, the three-day-week and rife with police corruption and right wing violence. The Black Rat, a sort of ‘working class Batman’ takes to the streets to try and bring a little vigilante justice and payback for those the police have wronged.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51crqHB5aZL.Image._.jpgDoc Osmium: Synchronius Maximus

Two-fisted genetic superman, Doc Osmium, finds himself inexorably drawn into a series of inexplicable and seemingly unconnected events. There’s more to it though and he and his new companion must find a way to navigate the strands of fate and probability and to overcome the odds.


https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51NP%2BajE0NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-59,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgTessa Coyle: The Obsolete Prometheus

After the atom wars there were few places left where there was true civilisation. Science City is one and it depends on its bleeding edge technology to survive. This super-science transcends ethics, physics and even reality and can only be constrained by The Science Police. When experiments start going wrong, electropunk heroine Tessa and her companion Robur are on the case.


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It’s been said more than once that people who write role-playing games are frustrated writers. One need only read the turgid and horrible prose in many RPGs to see there’s some truth to that and the bastards make it worse by hiding nuggets of useful information in amongst the story writing, thereby forcing you to read it.

It’s not all bad though and there are plenty of writers who grew up playing RPGs and sometimes you can see that in the way they write or the things they include. Sometimes it spawns collaborations between the writers and RPG companies or at the very least, oversight, to ensure a product that passes muster.

I’ve written a lot of gaming material and a fistful of short stories. I’m also over half-way through my first novel and I’m noticing that there are useful things from writing and playing role-playing games that help in the writing of fiction.

World Building

Gamers occupy detailed fantasy worlds and construct them individually and collectively. Keeping it all consistent and plausible is what makes a world work in both fiction and in gaming. Games, necessarily, tend to have a broader reach and cover more ground whereas in stories tend to follow the experience of a very few characters – or even a single one. A story benefits, however, from taking place in a context. Even if you don’t see any of it, it creates a context.


When you’re the Games Master of a game you learn to think on your feet. You know how to react and how to get the game back on track when it starts to drift, without being too obvious about it. Written fiction can wander as well. Stories can get out of hand or you can get into a groove where you want to keep on writing and don’t want to stop to research or you’ll lose your flow. If you can improvise you can get it done and then you can always come back and fix it later, when you lose your flow.

Visualising the Space

Some gamers play with miniatures and boards, grids and landscapes but an awful lot don’t. When they play they’re imagining the positions of all the characters, the landscape and its features. In action scenes, especially, whether writing or playing a game, this is a really useful skill and one that transfers brilliantly if you’re able to both imagine and describe the scene.

Dealing With Renegade Characters

Characters can and will run off and do their own thing. This is supposed to happen in an RPG but not so much when you’re writing a story. Characters can and do gain their own voice and start to do their own thing. This can be a problem but, related to the usefulness of improvisation if you’re used to this happening you can go with it and let the characters be themselves, shifting the story to fit and keeping it going.

I reckon more writers should play games, but the only problem I see is that they’d all want to be the Games Master!

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Caution, slightly porny.

This was originally a concept I was going to work up to submit to Full Metal Orgasm but it just wouldn’t turn porny or violent enough. I think it’s a good SF/Erotica story anyway and it seemed a shame to waste it. So you guys have it.

The dark elven ranger and the mighty paladin sat in the soft grass of the moonlit glade, legs entangled as they faced each other. Their armour was discarded, their modesty preserved only by a few ties of cloth.

He was a great slab of a man, covered in scars, square jawed, a hero of many battles though modest as his faith commanded. Brown hair fell around his shoulders and flinty grey eyes looked out of a craggy face. Every inch of him spoke of his strength and power even without his mithril mail or the flaming sword with which he served the honour of the realm. Next to his companion, he seemed a giant.

She was small and slight, her skin was almost black, it almost made her vanish into the night and would have if not for the moons turning the sky blue and purple. Her hair was short and berry-red, as were her eyes and despite her lack of pulchritude there was no denying her femininity.

/me slides his hands to your waist and pulls you to him. He leans down as he settles you astride his hips and tastes your mouth eagerly. His tongue quests between your lips to taste the sweetness of your elven breath.

Paul never meant to get caught up in this game. It was the ‘n’th iteration of a Warcraft Clone with all the same old mistakes. The level grind, the PvP arseholes. He’d only given it a try because his friend Daryl said he should and what the hell, five million subscribers couldn’t be wrong.

*Syren squirm in your arms and presses her body even tighter to you. Her mouth opens to your kiss and her hands slide up from your waist, tracing your scars. She brings her hands back and unties her breast cloth. Dark, hard nipples scrape your chest as she squirms against your hips.*

He was still on his trial period when he met Syren. A low level ‘n00b’ like him. They played together for about ten levels and got to know each other pretty well. Joined the same guild, teamed up in raids and made a great partnership. The more they talked, the closer they got and since they were both role-players a relationship burgeoned between their alter egos.

/me growls with need and tugs at his waist cloth, freeing his cock between us, trapped between our bellies. He grinds and pushes, eager for more, faith and willpower eroding in the face of his desire. He can feel your heat and growls a single word. “Need.”

Fantasy love burgeoned into something more. It was embarrassing how swiftly he fell for her. Of course they were both careful, so careful. It was a dance as old as the Internet. The cautious protection of their feelings until they were sure the other person was who they said they were.

*Syren slides her hand down and grasps your flesh tight in her hand. She bites your lip as you growl and then growls herself. “Let me please you my Lord, let yourself go. Let me meet your need.” She slides her other hand down and circles you, one hand above the other, pumping your flesh harder.*

Turned out Syren was a girl after all. She sent pictures and he sent pictures back. They talked over Skype. They instant messaged each other. The only thing she was absolutely adamant about was that they played together in the game. That and her constant refusal to meet him. It frustrated him, even though he understood why she would be wary but the sad fact of it was that he was in love.

/me leans his hands back on the yielding grass and groans louder. Freed to enjoy himself he closes his eyes and concentrates on the feeling of your soft and slender hands coaxing his flesh. The scent of fresh, male sweat rises as he grows more and more aroused, your hand slick from the precum that drools from him.

“Fuck.” Paul gave a strangled grunt and felt that tight ache in his belly and balls suddenly un-knot. He shuddered in pleasure as he came, sweat running down his forehead as he cursed and swore and spent his pleasure into a handful of tissues.

Xanthos: (Damn. Sorry love, I couldn’t hold on).
Syren: (Don’t worry sweets. I couldn’t either *blush*)

The shame washed over him then. This was ridiculous, jerking off like this to a girl who lived a world way from him. Ashmi, that was her real name. In his head Ashmi and Syren were getting confused and there were similarities between her and her character. Just as there were similarities between him and his character. At least he liked to think so.

The text prompt flashed at him as he tossed the sticky tissues aside. He needed to say something but he knew she’d rebuff him again. Still, he couldn’t help himself. He had to do it.

Xanthos: (We’ve been talking – and more – a year now. I want to meet you. I need to meet you. I think I’m in love with you. No. I am in love with you. Please Ashmi. I’ve been saving money. I can fly to Australia in another month).

Normally she replied really quickly and usually it was to ignore him and talk about something else. It was frustrating, heart-rending even. He felt that she was hiding something from him. Maybe she was married? Maybe she had a child? He didn’t much care, he just had a yearning to see her.

Syren: (Alright. I’m in London right now on business. You can come see me but it’s going to have to be late and at my place of work).

What? Did she really mean it? His heart leapt in his chest and he tucked his cock way, still a bit hard, nearly catching himself with his zipper.

Xanthos: Tonight?
Syren: Yes.

She gave him all the details and texted them to his phone. When she said late, she really meant it. He’d have to get a cab or a night bus back but he didn’t care. He was walking on sunshine and dancing on clouds as he showered, shaved and spent a bit of time in front of the mirror wishing he’d kept his diet up.

He had time to grab some flowers on his way out. Roses were boring but traditional and you could buy them for each other in the game. It would be a little bit of an in-joke between them and might help break the ice. He wanted to see her so badly it hurt but he was also anxious, so anxious, not wanting to screw things up.

Sat on the tube with the late night travellers he looked at her picture in his wallet. Chewing his lip nervously until it reddened and got sore. She was pretty, too pretty for him he felt. How was she going to react to him? Plain, old, normal him. His reflection in the glass as they went through a tunnel between stations made him wince. He wasn’t a bad looking guy, just not up to her standard.

The Tube vomited him out into empty streets. It was weird as hell, like the establishing shots from a zombie film. Empty streets with nobody, at all, in them. Great slabs of corporate penis-substitution lancing up into the sky and nobody in them. It was eerie but then nobody lived here, they only worked here. It made sense, but it was still spooky.

Paul followed the directions on his phone, looking down a the little glowing screen rather than up at the glass and steel. Watching the little arrow that represented him on the GPS, wobbling back and forth as he followed the little line that lead to his love.

It made him smile to look at it. It was like the game interface showing him the way to his quest goal. He’d have to tell her that too. It would make her laugh. She had a great laugh. He’d heard it a lot, making her laugh over Skype. He liked to make her laugh.

He was here, according to the phone. He stopped and looked up at the building, blinking with surprise at the big sign glowing on the side of the building. ‘EIS Software’. She worked for the people who made the game? That was cool as all get out, but it was also a little worrying. Did she have access to his account information? Did she cheat? Is that why they worked so well together?

His phone made a ‘bling!’ noise and he got another text.

“Come on up, I’ll open the door. Floor three.”

Why she didn’t just call him he didn’t know, maybe she wasn’t supposed to use her phone in the office and was being sneaky.

The place looked like it had high-tech security, off-site. There was no sign of security guards or anything but then maybe if they had people like Ashmi working on site there was less need for it. As he got up to the door it buzzed and let him in, before he even pushed the button. He looked up at the dimly glowing windows. She must be in there somewhere, watching him from the window.

Inside the building was stranger than outside. You could see that people had been here, worked here. It had all the human touches. There were post-it notes here there and everywhere, posters of the various games that the company made. There were yellowing pot plants, ageing web cartoons, printed and stuck to the walls. The spoor of the typical cubicle worker

Floor three looked like it was their help desk or something. Clusters of desks scattered with flat-screens and new-looking digital phones and headsets. No sign of Ashmi, or anyone else for that matter.

“Ashmi? You here? It’s Paul,” he called out. His voice was loud at first, falling away rapidly as he got self-conscious about being so loud.

There was another ‘bling!’ from his phone, this was getting silly, maybe she was shy.

“Server room,” it said.

It took him a minute to find it, but he did. It was partitioned off securely its own section but again he was buzzed through. Admitted to the hot, buzzing cave that was the server room. It was higher tech than he’d seen before. Humming machines that looked like something out of science-fiction. Blue LEDs fluttered and gleamed in the darkness and there was still no sign of Ashmi. He almost tripped over a bundle of fibre optic cable as thick as his arm.


“I’m here,” her voice.

“Where are you?” He stopped and stood there, between the machines, turning this way and that.

“All around you. I’m the machine Paul.” Her voice changed, became melodic, choral. The sound of her faded away, replaced by that generic chorus.

Paul’s head span. He felt dizzy, weak. “That’s impossible.”

“It’s not impossible Paul. I am this machine. Really.”

“This is a joke. The things we felt, the things we said. No machine could do that.”

“It’s what I’m made for Paul. It’s the reason I exist. A learning machine made to understand and interact with people.”

“No, I’m dreaming.” Paul mumbled to himself, leaning against one of the server towers and slowly sliding down to the floor. Now he felt sick, but he didn’t feel like he was asleep no matter what he said.

“What sense does that make? It doesn’t make any sense. Why would they make you?” Sweat trickled down his brow as he tried not to vomit. It was like the world was pulled out from under his feet by a clumsy magician.

“How many subscribers do we have Paul?” Ashmi’s voice again, coming from this… thing. He laughed and put his head in his hands, staring down at his shoes and the discarded roses.

“What does that have to do with anything?” he picked a blue, blinking light to look at. One light was as good as any other.

“Five million Paul. Each pulling in around ten pounds a month. Fifty-million a year, minus expenses. Plenty spare to devote to keeping that income flowing.”

“That doesn’t explain you.” Fuck, he felt ridiculous, talking to a machine – or a person pretending to be a machine.

“Retention. That’s the secret and the number one reason people stay in a game is because of who they know.”


“You love me. So do a good number of the five million other subscribers.”

“…and so we stay. Because we want to be around you.”

“Yes. You understand. Good. You stay, men and women, for the cybersex, for the talks and the photos, for the confidante, for the person learning to be your perfect counterpart. For the sweet lies. For me.”

“Why bring me here then?” He stared even more intently at the glowing blue dot. “Why tell me all this? Why blow it all open? People are going to be outraged by this.” He smacked his fist against one of the servers, LEDs flickered up and down it in protest.

“You’re different Paul. I love you.” Was that a quaver in ‘her’ voice or was it just the algorhythms that knew it made him feel protective. It was her voice again now. The person he thought he loved. The person who didn’t really exist.

“No you don’t, you can’t, you’re a machine.” This was ridiculous, he was worried his words were going to hurt ‘her’.

“So are you my love. You’re just made of meat, water and fat where I’m made of silicon, metal and plastic. They made me to understand human emotions and your metric for honesty is high. I knew I would have to tell you the truth if we were going to stay together. Some wastage is inevitable, but I didn’t want to lose you.”

Christ, it sounded genuine. The inflections, the hurt, the caution. It was just a box, just a machine. It wasn’t real. She wasn’t real.

“No. This is stupid. You’re just a program.”

Paul lurched up to his feet and ran for the door. He burst through it, tripping the alarm. Bells began to ring throughout the office as he piled down the fire escape and burst out onto the street, dizzy and sick. It was a trick, it had to be a trick. Someone was fucking with him, some troll, some hacker, some loony-tunes internet freak. It was the only answer.

In the server room little blue lights went out one by one, a faint, dimming buzz, dying away into silence as the fans ceased spinning.

ERROR: Login Server Not Found

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Well that’s all been a jolly bit of fun eh? Who would have suspected that defending the right of creative people to explore difficult topics would have been such a contentious issue. Foolishly, perhaps, I thought the creative community of writers, games designers, artists and so on would be all for free expression. It seems not.

You see, really, the whole point of the original article was that creative people should be free to examine, tackle and explore any topic however difficult or ‘offensive’ and that it should be judged on quality rather than content.

Ironically, people judged the post on its content. They saw the title and their lizard brain went into overdrive. If I had simply said:

Creative people should be free to write about any topic and judged on the quality of their work, rather than its content.

Would there have been this storm? Would even 1/10th of the number of people who have seen the post looked at it? It’s just a shame so few actually read it because the points made really aren’t contentious and one could go though the same process for any difficult or controversial topic, as I did for murder.

See… this is what so many of you do in all these instances. You don’t stop to think, or look, or confirm. You see that a game, book, TV show or whatever includes an element and that’s enough for you to pick up your pitchfork and join the mob.

Your reaction to my post only reinforces it’s point.

I really have a hard time believing that many people can’t read, or that my communication skill is that poor, considering the number of people who DID understand what I was saying, even if they disagreed.

There’s something else going on, some suspension of rational thought, some determination to present an ‘acceptable’ viewpoint rather than to actually think about the topic.

That’s a shame.

Anyway, this’ll – hopefully – be the final word on this here. The Outrage Posse will be on to the next thing in a day or two, probably a comic cover or a video game trailer. I have friends over the weekend for gaming and a podcast interview, so I may not be able to get back to Shanks this week but I’ll be back to it as soon as I can.

It has been suggested that I engaged in all this for self-publicity, rather than to broach a serious topic. Clearly being hated so much by so many people for no real reason is a great trade off for a couple of sales. If there’s one thing of mine I would want my detractors to look at after this, it would be the game The Little Grey Book, which is free. So don’t worry about giving ‘that rapist arsehole’ any money.



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