alexandraerin: (Default)
...finding out that actual homophobe Orson Scott Card's terrible, terrible version of Iron Man for the Ultimate universe has been retconned to be an in-universe licensed cartoon that everybody involved finds stupid and unrealistic.

There are all kinds of reasons that I don't like Orson Scott Card being involved with the Marvel Universe (any Marvel Universe), but even his politics (I won't say "personal politics" because that makes it sound like he's playing alone in his own sandbox, not hurting anyone) aside, the man clearly had no understanding of comic books, superheroes, or the character he was hired to write about.

Now, this is all from memory because there was no way I was going to pay to own an Orson Scott Card comic and once I'd read it once there would never be a reason to read it again. So I might be off on a few finer points, but the broadstrokes are all there.

First thing he does is basically say that Tony Stark being able to build the things he does (in or out of a cave, with or without a box of scraps) is unrealistic, unbelievable. There has to be a reason. There has to be an origin story for Tony before we get to the origin story for Iron Man. This ignores the fact that Tony Stark is not the most brilliant or unrealistic "super gadgeteer" in the Marvel Universe. So, again: the man has no understanding of the medium or universe he was working in.

So the backstory: Tony's parents were working on a regeneration treatment, to cure damaged limbs. They notice that brain tissue regenerates in a way that the rest of the body doesn't. (What?) So they figure out a way to make a human body that's basically entirely made out of brain tissue. (What what?) And because of convoluted and contrived reasons, they end up testing the formula on their own infant son (Of course.)

So now we have Tony Stark, the invincible Iron Man... who is physically functionally immortal. Any injury to his limbs or body instantly heals, because his whole body is brain tissue (this is why doctors recommend trying to land on your head if you fall, of course.)

Again: the man who will eventually design a force field-projecting suit of powered armor from some of the most advanced alloys on earth is immune to physical harm.

But he's in constant pain, because of all those nerve endings. You know how the brain totally has nerve endings that register pain? Well, it actually doesn't, but Tony Stark's brain-arms do. Because Orson Scott Card's not done yet. He needs to give Tony's parents a reason to invent a synthetic skin that covers his body like an invisible suit of armor, that protects his immortal entropy-reversing,conservation-defying superpowered body from the world.

(Not that I have a problem with superpowers that defy these things. But remember, kids: his goal was to make Iron Man more realistic and less comic-booky.)

Now let's pause a moment. We now have a superpowered Tony Stark who is invincible (regeneration) and covered with an armor shell (like a man of iron). If this were some alternate universe reimagining of the Invincible Iron Man, something like DC did with their Tanget Comics imprint (a universe where creators started with the name of a DC character and imagined a new character, based not on the original character but only what the name made them think of), this would have been a great stopping point. I wouldn't like OSC and I wouldn't approve of Marvel giving him a job, but I couldn't say he'd done it poorly.

But no. He's just getting started. At this point, he's created a Tony Stark he can believe in, and it's time to invent the armor. He takes a different route than the one we're familiar with, unless we're familiar with the works of Orson Scott Card because this route involves a special military-run school for genius children that has a pint sized sociopath trying to kill our hero.

Credit where credit is due: one of his attempts at "realism" that goes better than Stoneskin Salamander Stark (comes with everything you see here! Dolls do not walk or talk.) is having Tony design a moderate-sized mecha prototype version of the Iron Man, with the reasoning that the miniaturization necessary to make a man-sized suit of armor would be one of the trickier parts. Notable, most adaptations (including the movie) since then have used a version of this, making the cave version more of a walking tank than a suit. But, anyway, despite the different route, the final result is the same. You'd look at it and know you were looking at Iron Man.

And so we end up with an Iron Man who is mostly recognizable as a version of the same character we know from the 616 universe (or that even more of us know from the cinematic universe)... but inside, he's absolutely the last man on earth who needs a suit of armor.

I'd say that this was clearly the story that Orson Scott Card was least suitable to write, but since I know what he did to Hamlet, I can't say that. Dunning-Kruger effect in full swing, clearly.
alexandraerin: (Free Speech)
So, a lot of people are still opposed to gay marriage. This is a true thing, and one we have to contend with. But a lot of those people are equally quick to say that they don't support equal rights for gay people. Some of them are just being assholes and will add, "A gay guy can marry a woman just like any other man can!", but I genuinely believe that most of the people who are against gay marriage would not be opposed to gay people deciding who inherits their property, being able to share property jointly, being able to be at each other's bedsides in critical or end-of-life care situations, etc.

If you are one of those people who don't mind gay people existing and having rights... if you're in favor of civil unions or domestic partnerships, or if you're opposed to those things but think that there's nothing wrong with a gay couple designating each other as beneficiaries, co-account-holders, executors, attorney-power-holders, etc., just like any other two human beings can...

Then you have to ask yourself: is your fondness for the word "marriage" as a legal term exclusively referring to something between one man and one woman more important than your belief in equality for all?

Because as long as you're willing to show up at the polls and vote for gay marriage bans and as long as you're willing to sign petitions or answer surveys saying you'd like to keep marriage between one man and one woman, you are a weapon that is being used to take away rights from your fellow human beings.

See, whatever you believe you're voting for or against, the people who are completely against gays having any rights at all are going to take the support you give them and argue against everything. If a gay couple try to change their names to signify that they're a family, someone with no vested interest in their case can step in and say, "The voters of this state approved a ban on gay marriage. If you let these two people both be Smiths, then you're doing an end-run against the wishes of the people." Even if the couple in question is following the statutory name-change process that's open to anyone in their state.

Think no judge would listen to an argument like that? It's happened. Sometimes the judge is the one who puts the argument forward. Here's a news article from three days ago about such a case that references another one. Note that in both cases the initial decision was changed, but these cases show that anyone who thinks that we don't "need" marriage equality because there are other routes to the same rights and privileges is making an unfounded assumption. Note that it was the same judge in both cases... he had to be argued into allowing it twice. This isn't a settled question by a long shot.

And of course we have Wisconsin's governor fighting to balance the budget and create jobs by declaring a civil union law to be unconstitutional. Why? Because Wisconsin has a gay marriage ban. In some cases these arguments are made on the basis that a gay marriage ban implicitly bans something that's just like marriage but with a different name. In this case, the Wisconsin ban also covers "equivalent structures".

Did 100% of the people who were in favor of a gay marriage ban in Wisconsin understand that they were also approving an "AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON!" clause? Did they know that their support was being used to make gays second-class citizens in a way that goes beyond "well, they can't get married" to "and they can't use other laws to do things that other people, even unmarried ones, can freely do if they follow the legal procedures"?

And if they had known, would it have made a difference?

Or is protecting the sanctity of a word so gosh-darned important to small government social consevatives that they will strip away any number of existing rights from their fellow citizens in order to be able to vote for a gay marriage ban?

If you read the comments on any news story or blog post about gay marriage rights in the wilds of the internet, you'll find a number of ban-supporters saying things like, "Let them have civil unions." or "Give them the rights but call it something else." or "Nobody needs to get married. You can accomplish the same thing with incorporation, living wills, power of attorney, name change, and so on. If they cared so much about this they'd be willing to do the work."

Yeah, that's a nice thought (sort of), but it doesn't change the reality that gay marriage bans (or possibly even just the absence of legal recognition of gay marriage in the first place) are used to stop people from doing just these things.

Here is a simple truth, my fellow citizens of the United States of America: if you don't want marriage to be applied to same-sex couples but you are in favor of equal rights in every other way, then you have to make a choice every time you go to the polls.

As long as you're willing to vote for and give money towards the banning of gay marriage, you are aiding in the destruction of civil liberties. Don't salve your conscience by telling yourself that there are other options. You are destroying those options even as you say that.

If you believe in your heart that marriage is between one man and one woman, go on believing it in your heart. But when you put it in writing with the force of law then your voice will be cited as the reason that families are torn apart, that people who are loved die alone anyway, that houses and property are confiscated in the midst of tragedies... all of these things have happened and will continue to happen anywhere that gay marriage has been banned or voted down.

For people who do support marriage equality: remember this when it's on the ballot or on the political radar where you live. Remember that a good chunk of the people who will vote against marriage equality are doing so under the assumption that they're leaving the door open for alternatives, or that alternatives already exist.

Pointing these cases out needs to become a bigger part of the movement's repertoire. We need to be telling the people who think we're all entitled to the same rights but don't believe that marriage is a right that their vote will be used to take away rights. We need to be telling the "Call it something else!" people that when they vote against the word "marriage", they're voting against "Something Else".
alexandraerin: (Default)
So I'm only about to start my second hour of writing but already I'm feeling tremendously productive. When I remind myself that I'm aiming for 3,000+ word chapters, not 5,000+ word chapters, it seems so much more likely that I'll finish Monday's chapter today and then be going into next week with the same advantage I started this week, plus the added understanding that I don't need to make all three chapters in a week be 5,000 words.

I'm also finding that I really like having multiple chapters "open" at a time. Writing the follow up to chapter 5 when chapter 5 has yet to be posted is helping me realize what chapter 5 needs that it doesn't yet have.

Also, I'm profoundly gratified at the way other commenters are responding to the literary musings of my "favorite" one, the one I mentioned this morning. (Who came back again and left a comment so predictable that I was basically able to rebut it four hours in advance.)

I was recently given a link to an article about "participant inequality" on internet discussions, and while this was brought up in reference to a completely different situation it really sums up why it bothers me the way certain posters on Tales of MU dominate the conversation with what I suppose could be termed "fringe readings". It also gives me cause to evaluate my own typical behavior in internet forums, but that's an issue for me to work on another time.

...ugh, and now the dude is starting "friendly debates" with other readers. He's a philosophy student. Oh, joy. I've just warned him. We'll see if it takes. I started writing this post a few minutes before two and now it's pushing 2:20. This is why I'm constantly on the verge of banning this guy... not any one thing he does, but the fact that his behavior eats up so much of my brain-time.

I've got a blog post in me inspired by someone else's post about engaging with reviewers/critics (don't remember whose) and the fact that hosting a comment section on my story seems to mean my choice is either to ignore the comment section or to engage with my critics, and basically I'm starting to feel like maybe the purpose of the comment section needs to be more strongly defined. The proud tradition of artistic criticism has never before included the notion that the critic is entitled the use of the artist's stage and audience.

I'd love to see more discussion of the events of the story, more speculation, that sort of thing... I suppose trying to encourage those things would go much further than trying to discourage the sorts of comments I'd like to see less of. I've got some ideas for how to do that.

You know, I am completely out of my writerbrain now so I think I'm going to work on site improvements for a couple of hours. I'll do another hour of writing before the close of the business day, and then tomorrow I'll just be finishing up chapter 6 (after posting chapter 5, naturally) and the OT.

Edit: My muse, she is mercurial today... I started opening up site work stuff and now I'm starting to feel writerly again. I think I'll just try out this one plugin and then get back to it. Oh, and I have to post my flash for the day.
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, one of my favorite commenters in the whole world dropped by the latest chapter of Tales of MU to let me know that he thinks I'm doing a good job in fleshing things out but he's concerned about the lack of clear antagonists.

Because, you see, you need to have an antagonist to have conflict and you need conflict to have drama and you need drama to have story and you need story to keep people interested. Right? I mean, those are the rules. I didn't make them up. That's just how things are. Right?

...

Okay, let me back this truck up a bit. You see that word up there, "drama"? I used it in the preceding paragraph. The word "drama"... like most words... has a bunchload of different meanings, but all these ideas about storytelling conventions, these rules of thumb that we more or less rely upon... they come from "drama" as a medium or genre of storytelling. That's what I'm talking about here, and there are two things that must be said about it:

1. Drama is important. Very important. Its importance to the development of western literature... of western civilization... cannot be overemphasized and should not be underestimated.

2. It is not the be-all or end-all of storytelling.

That whole "five act structure" thing that if you've had enough literature-related education someone at some point in your life has probably told you all stories follow, or should follow? It was created as a tool for analyzing certain kinds of drama. It can be useful tool for constructing a drama. It's not a necessary prerequisite for telling a story. It's a way of helping to make your drama is interesting, but it's not required for interest.

And not all stories are dramas. For some stories, the five part dramatic arc is just downright cumbersome, if not inappropriate.

The essence of story is not conflict. The essence of drama may be conflict, but the essence of story is ...and then something happened. To be a good story, the events have to be of interest to the reader. The interest can come from drama, yes, but this interest can be rooted in another emotion besides those inspired by conflict and/or suspense. It can be rooted in identification with a character or the events. It can be rooted in humor.

Four years of telling the story of Mackenzie has given a pretty good idea what readers are interested in. I don't think introducing a "villain" to the story in the next three chapters could do more to draw readers in and fire up their excitement than the chapters will already excite all by themselves: a chapter about magic, a chapter about the world, and a chapter with Callahan.

This is where I think our over-reliance on the strictures of structure has misled us, as artists and as audiences. The Harry Potter series told a story about love triumphing over hate, mature embrace of life triumphing over destructive fear of death, etc., but what drew readers in from the start is OMG THE WORLD IS MAGIC AND THERE ARE HIDDEN WIZARDS AND A SCHOOL OF MAGIC.

That's what was interesting, in book 1. That's what got people coming back from book 2. Not to see what happens next with Voldemort, or what villain would take his place if his defeat proved to be permanent... to see what Harry's second year at Hogwarts would be like, what it would bring. Not what puzzle pieces would be slotted into a dramatic structure, what magical things he would learn and do and what insights into the magical world he lived in we would get as readers. Over time the focus shifted more and more to The Conflict, of course, but the early days of the series shows that The Conflict need not be the essential hook of a compelling story.

And the web shows us the same thing, too. Look at how many webcomics with an ongoing story keep people coming back without a clear antagonist. Questionable Content and Girls With Slingshots are two in my mostly-remember-to-check-daily list that fit that. Sure, both strips might be classified as being plot-light or mostly gag-a-day style, but that doesn't weaken my point... it illustrates it.

Humor can keep you coming back. Pathos without external conflict (i.e., people's emotional problems) can keep you coming back. This is a very general "you"... anybody could reply to this saying, "Humor doesn't do it for me without _______." or "Plots based around emotional issues just drive me away." These things aren't universals. Few stories will "work" for everyone.

And that's where and why and how the rules of thumb for drama have come to be seen as the essentials of storytelling... traditional publishing demands works with broad (if not universal) appeal in order to have a chance of paying off, so it expects authors to play it safe with accepted and familiar formulas. A little innovation is good, yes. A little subversion now and then helps you stand out. A little, but not too much.

But those aren't the only stories worth telling, or worth reading. The common denominators (no value judgment as to whether they are high or low) of the mass market are not the only tastes worth appealing to or the only needs worth fulfilling.

And at the end of the day, I would rather be read by people who take my characters as they are than ones who try to shove them into boxes marked "prot" and "ant" and who can only make sense of their actions and motivations and reasons for being in the story in the first place based on something they learned in a high school lit class or from a page on TVTropes.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I really wish there were a gracious and graceful way to tell people that while I really do appreciate having mistakes pointed out, mini-lectures and explanations of why they're wrong are unnecessary and tend to wear me down.

There really isn't, though, and even if I successfully conveyed to one commenter that there's no need to do this, it wouldn't stop the next commenter from doing the same thing.

The personal bane of my existence is when someone spots an extra period and tells me that one dot is a period and three are an ellipses, but two is never correct. I can understand someone thinking I might need help with subject/verb agreement if I changed one part of a sentence but forgot to edit the other part, or thinking I need help remembering the difference between affect and effect if in haste I use the wrong word, but who thinks that two periods is An Actual Thing? I swear I've received a comment to that effect ten times now and it makes me feel like I'm being schooled on the difference between a napkin and a shirtsleeve.

</vent>
alexandraerin: (Writing Dirty)
When I was learning how to type, I was taught to double-space after a period, a convention that dates back to the days of typewriters and computers with monowidth fonts and one-size-fits-all spaces. A lot of people learned to type that way, and many still do, even though the internet tends to strip it out when rendering their output.

It is no longer the convention, though. People aren't taught to type that way anymore.

So I ask my fellow Americans: why are we still putting commas inside quotes that they don't belong to? Because if my friend the internet is to be believed, this is likewise an artifact of obsolete technology.

If you have a sentence that has a "phrase in quotes", like this, that occurs right before a comma... why should the quotes swallow the comma? The comma is not part of the quote. What the quotation marks signify is that the contents are exact and literal. They should be the same no matter where they're placed. The comma is a part of the structure of the sentence as a whole, not a part of the structure of the phrase.

In my experience, computer science folks and mathematicians get this. A lot of people who don't have much formal training in writing get it. And people who have formal training in writing outside the United States get it. It's obvious and intuitive. Once someone understands the structure of a sentence, they don't have to be taught this. Putting the comma inside the quotes, on the other hand, goes against natural inclinations. It has to be beaten into people's heads. In my opinion, that's probably why it's taken so long for this aberrant rule to die. It's a combination of cognitive dissonance--"I wouldn't have learned to go along with something so obviously wrong if it weren't actually right, would I?"--and sheer cussedness of the "I learned to put up with this and so can you!" variety.

See how I put the question mark and exclamation points inside those quote-enclosed sentences? That's because they're part of the material being quoted. They belong to the quote. Now, I've got my poor man's dash there, the double hyphen. Let's try remixing this a little:

It's a combination of cognitive dissonance--"I wouldn't have learned to go along with something so obviously wrong if it weren't actually right, would I?--"and sheer cussedness


See that? The dash inside the quotes? See how absurd that is?

Well, that is what you're doing. When you put a comma inside a quote, you're doing the same thing. It doesn't belong there. It just doesn't.

So why do we put them there?

Laziness.

No, really.

Not ours, though. According to this post... which astonishingly enough acknowledges the illogicalness of the rule, examines the origins of the rule in a footnote, and still somehow concludes that it's proper. Any sensible discussion of how and why we ended up in this state of affairs would end with all involved realizing the so-called "rule" has been utterly discredited and should never be taught or enforced again.

It was printers, you see. In the days of hand-set typing, the smallest pieces were the most prone to being knocked out of position when they ended a line, so printers would tuck them inside other punctuation when possible. It wasn't that they always got knocked out of alignment. Printers outside the U.S. apparently had a good enough success rate that they did not throw out the actual meaning of the punctuation, the established rules regarding it, and all semblance of logic and reasoning in order to avoid the chance of error.

But our illustrious forebears? They were lazy

And for the time being, it seems we're stuck with their mistake.

Well, some of us are. I'm not. This is one of the smaller but still very precious perks of the way I manage my career. I don't have to be bound by the mistakes of past generations or the limitations of past technology. And this is the hill I will die upon: no work of mine will ever be published that follows such an outdated and erroneous convention.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Yesterday (that is, Sunday) I had a moment of thinking that it was unwise to go into the week with nothing built up in the way of story-padding when I'd announced a chapter for Monday. I've already demonstrated that under normal circumstances I can produce a chapter in a single work day, but what about unusual circumstances? What about days when I'm in pain or tired, or when something's on my mind, or when there are external disruptions?

In the end I decided not to work ahead on Sunday, because my goal here is to get a regular five day work week and I didn't want to set the precedent of violating that. And after I've done this schedule for a while, I should be able to get ahead and stay ahead by working more days than I post. Some people will bellyache about this, but I've learned that trying to do specific things to stop the chronic complainers only changes what they complain about. But I digress. The point is that the only reason I didn't have a cushion for this week is that I haven't been doing the schedule long enough to build one up that lasts more than a week.

And of course, what happens today? There's a big brain-eating blow-up in the comment section. And yet, I push through with the chapter. I'm not 100% happy with it. It's not the chapter I would have had under other circumstances. But it's there, it advances things a bit. It provides a framework for events. It gives people something to read. I'll look at the response to it. If it's better than I would expect then I'll shrug and move on. If people are underwhelmed, then if the situation comes up again I'll hold off on posting for a few more hours even though it's technically not "Monday" any more by the time I'm finished, and I'll point to this chapter and its reception as the reason why when (when, not if) people complain that I'm not keeping to the schedule.

But again, if I'm keeping the work schedule then this shouldn't come up again, because I'll have the backlog.

But then people will complain that I could be posting more than I am.

But... and here's the big but... I can't write for the complainers. I can't run things for the complainers. I can maybe stop them from using my space to complain where I have to hear it... maybe, though ultimately trying to block people on the internet can be a time-consuming arms race which is why I've taken to just asking them to stop.

Nobody read too much into this post, please. I'm just letting these chains of thought run their course, getting them out of my head so I can move on.

Oh, and note to self: get writing done tomorrow before checking reception of today's chapter. Or just don't check the reception. Yeah, that's probably the better idea. I enjoy reading most of the comments I get. But the other ones... they make the whole experience of direct feedback so not worth it.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...is that I started writing it with no intention except to highlight the description of "Human" as a positive step in D&D. But once I started writing it I started thinking, "I can't in good conscience write this without addressing some of the fail." I'd been meaning to write a blog about the Redeemed Drow for ages. And so the post ended up being mostly about fail.

Man, my hobby sucks.
alexandraerin: (Free Speech)
I've decided to change how I handle comments on this journal. Comments will be "screened" for moderation before they're posted. On my run-of-the-mill "movies I've watched"/"what I'm up to" posts, I'll probably just go down the line and approve everything that comes in, as long as it's not a random flame or bash. On more serious discussion posts, though, I'm going to be more discerning about what I feel is actually adding to the conversation and what is just a kneejerk defense of the status quo or is otherwise not contributing anything of value to the conversation.

If you're interested in knowing what sorts of comments are likely to vanish into the ether, please check out Derailing For Dummies. Remember that "derailing" is not a matter of your intentions but the effects that what you're saying (in aggregate with everybody else saying similar things) has on already difficult conversations dealing with oppression, privilege, and power.

If you're interested in knowing what sorts of comments are likely to vanish into the ether, please check out Derailing For Dummies. If your goal is honestly not to enforce the status quo or if it is to actually challenge the status quo and be an advocate or ally people who are oppressed by it, then it's worth it to check yourself every once in a while against sites like that.

Please remember that "derailing" is not a matter of your intentions but the effect that what you're saying has on already difficult conversations dealing with oppression, privilege, and power. Your points might seem fresh and new to you, and thus in serious need of addressing, but chances are they're actually so firmly entrenched in our culture that people who deal with racism on a far more frequent basis than I do have put them on a bingo card.

(This goes for any systemic -ism, or anybody who's arguing against the status quo.)

If you're angry or confused by my position, take heart! I've prepared the following visual aid to explain the change and how it impacts you:




I expect a couple of people to scream about free speech and how I stifle dissent, but you know what?

People did that to me before I ever deleted a single comment or banned a single person. On Tales of MU and on every blog I've ever had.

My original approach was to let anybody say anything and then tell them if I disagree. I still do that more often than I touch any admin tools, and yes, I still have people who use this as evidence that I'm controlling or restrictive or something.

Again, what they're complaining about is the fact that I let people post stuff I disagree with and then proceed to disagree with it.

That is some mighty entitled thinking, the idea that you aren't free enough to express yourself unless you can go into someone else's space with their name on it and everything and say whatever you want without being disagreed with. I'm not going to put up with it any more.

If anybody wants to cry about free speech to me, they're going to be shouting to an empty room. I could write a big long screed about how I'm not going to base it on who agrees with or disagrees with me or who I like or dislike... but you know, I expect anyone who's interested in facts will be able to see comments posted that disagree with me and I expect it won't matter to people who feel like they're being wronged by this somehow.

I've got stuff to do.

I've got stories to write.

And if you'd rather read my stories than hear my thoughts about the problems facing society... if you'd rather I spent more time writing fiction than dealing with this stuff... then why on earth would you come here to argue with me about it?

Sheesh.
alexandraerin: (Default)
...that the post two spaces down this page, where I spent much time and energy and spoons engaging with someone who was trying to be "helpful" in steering the anti-racist conversation to "more productive" channels by avoiding words like "racist" that might hurt people's feelings and cause them to be less receptive to, you know, justice and tolerance and junk didn't even call anybody "racist". The post used the word "racist" exactly three times, in only two sentences, both of which dealing with the idea of racist actions arising without racist intent.

Apparently we can't even use the word "racist" to describe how much racist intent we think people in general don't have without it hurting people's feelings to the point that conversation about racism is pointless.

Ugh.

Well, I'm done with it. Not with blogging about social issues, but about engaging with derailers. I have a tendency to give a lot of slack in not assuming the worst, especially since I know that unlike dedicated social issues bloggers my audience is often not going to be immersed in the conversation to begin with... but... I just don't have the time or energy to say something meaningful and then deal with this kind of shit and also do anything else, like write the stories that I enjoy writing and people enjoy reading.

There was a mod post up on Shapely Prose recently called "We Are The Boss Of You" that was restating and expanding on some of their comment policies over there, in particular the "this is not a democracy" aspect. One of the things that I really appreciated was reading the commentary form the site moderators (and they have like 5 of them now) about how hard it is, how draining it can be, to moderate online discussion.

It really is.

If you let an iffy comment stand because you're afraid of looking like the bad guy or because you don't want to assume the worst, chances are you've already invested more time than it deserves in arriving at that conclusion. Multiply that by a few dozen times... and then there's dealing with people who don't accept your decision when you don't let a comment or a line of discussion stand.

You're either second-guessing yourself and letting the lowest common denominator run roughshod over everybody else, or you're being a "tyrant", a "control freak", a (would you like a side order of misogyny with your point-missing today?) "bitch"*.

All very true. I sometimes go weeks without looking at the Tales of MU comments (which means some languish in moderation queue for weeks) just because it burns me out so badly dealing with them.

And on this post that was basically "We are in charge, there is no court of appeals.", what was the response? There were a couple (or at least one) flounce and damned near four hundred people saying words to the effect of "Thank you! This is why your site is the only one where the comments don't make me headdesk!"

This post doesn't really have much more of a point than 1) I needed to vent and 2) I need to rethink my approach to comments, on here and elsewhere. I mean, even while I crack down on the worst things I've always let some pretty heinously gendered/misogynistic language slide on the MU and MoarMU comments and I know that this sort of thing drives away other commenters who might have something more interesting to say... I know this because this is the most common thing people tell me when they meet me in real life.

Not "_____ is my favorite character! Can we see more of _____?" Not "I love your work." No, "I hate the comment section. I love your work but I don't know how you can stand to look at them." The fact is I can't. At one point I let the comment section die completely and left it off the site for months. Not a week goes by that I don't think about doing that again... let it be someone else's problem.

I don't know. I'm going to go take a bubble bath and then I'm going to write.




*The Conversation We're Not Having On This Post: how "bitch" is or isn't misogynistic, how you and/or all your friends call yourselves "bitches", any cutesy acronyms about what it stands for.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Apparently, the internet is destroying our brains by denying us the ability to appreciate and comprehend a story.

That's the message of a review on the website DoubleX of Douglas "Generation X" Coupland's new novel Generation A. I don't know how much of the reviewer's take would be supported by the novel itself. I haven't read it. So to be perfectly clear, I'm addressing the content of the review here.

It opens thusly:

You know the feeling. You sit at your computer, a dozen windows open on your screen, skipping and clicking among them. You read a paragraph of an article, check movie times, and skim a few news headlines, all while chatting with a friend about your take on last night’s Mad Men. An e-mail pops up and you click over only to find it’s another Amazon promotion. You think for a second that you should unsubscribe, but didn’t you already try that and maybe you can’t unsubscribe from Amazon, and didn’t you mean to buy that book your friend just mentioned?! Suddenly you hit an overload moment and screech to a stop. Wait a minute, you wonder. Is the Internet destroying my brain? It’s not that the information you’re taking in is necessarily trivial—you might be reading about, say, climate change in one of those windows—it’s the way you’re receiving it, in fragmented bits, that frays your consciousness.

More and more, we’re allowing fragments of information to fill our brains, instead of the extended narratives that have long sustained our imaginations and our intellects. Of course, the history of culture is rife with such warnings and often they utterly missed the point of whichever creative development (the novel! photography! movies!) they reviled. And it’s possible to go overboard.


Now, I know that despite what I do for a living, not everybody sits there and reads "stories", per se, on the internet... though that certainly is one of the oldest and best-established uses of the internet, which grew out of primary textual mediums and grew into An Actual Thing during an age when most people didn't have the pipes to make really effective use of pages that were heavy on any medium besides the written word.

However, this seems very much to be "going overboard". The mention of Mad Men is almost a perfect (if likely unintentional) winking example of what Steven "Berlin Is Not A Nickname" Johnson wrote about in Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. TV shows are increasingly giving us complex, multithreaded, ongoing narratives, and they aren't alone. We live in an age of increasing narrative complexity and sophistication... though that's not saying anything exceptional about our age. It's simply the arc of history. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, for instance, is a more sophisticated work of literature than anything attributed to Homer. It contains greater levels of detail in a single scene than the Book of Genesis affords the entirety of creation. It does this not because it's an uh-maaaaay-zing book but simply because it employs more complex narrative devices than the "And then, and then, and" style that characterized much of the history of human literature, before folks like Geoffrey Chaucer started getting frisky with form.

Isaac Asimov wrote some amazing books that are very readable, but their length and depth of detail seems paltry and their writing style seems primitive scant decades later. Mark Twain did not aim his writing at an audience of schoolchildren, but that's primarily who reads his work today.

I hope nobody thinks I am faulting Mr. Clemens or Dr. Asimov. I am doing that no more than I am praising Ms. Meyer... I regard each of those men as possessing of a distinctive and peculiar genius, but each generation of humanity is limited to what they can build on the accomplishments of those who came before. Each time a writer successfully increases the sophistication of the state of the art of writing, each time one helps to push the envelope in some small way, that writer increases the appetite of the audience for more sophisticated narratives and also helps show the way to them.

So what does Generation A, a modern novel with what we can presume to be a modern level of sophistication, have to say about modern reading habits?

“Amazon increases the need of humans to own books, but not necessarily to read them.”


The reviewer quotes this without context. The book is set in a recognizable near-future. Maybe Douglas Coupland has invented (I won't say predicted) a future where people buy commercial pop lit out of an obligation to have them on their shelves, much like some people allegedly do with Great Works Of Literature. (I don't know if anybody actually does. In my family, we read them.) I don't know. The author of the review, though, describes it as a "zingy" indictment of modern commercialization and its ills.

As they say dans la belle internet, "Lolwut?"

I can be a little out of touch with the dominant culture, but do people really order the latest hot release from Amazon because their email tells them to and then not ever bother to read them? Who has the money to do that? I'm sure there are people who are honestly that mindless in their buying habits, but the stuff people are getting rich selling them ain't books.

Amazon has its faults and its failings, but one of them isn't somehow destroying literacy and the ability to coherently follow a narrative by selling books.

And as for the rest of the internet... or the rest of culture... I can't believe that humanity is losing its ability to follow narratives. We are strangled by this ability on a daily basis. It's why we see conspiracy theories. It's why the news media refers to its focus as "stories" rather than "events", why it focuses the way it does, why it follows people who aren't really that relevant until the constant focus has made them relevant and then long past the point of relevancy. They aren't following the person, they're following the story, because that's what they've found keeps their audience interested.

Or look at American Idol. I don't watch it, I don't like it... but the narrative is an inherent part of its formula and its appeal. If it were just a talent competition, nobody would care nearly as much, and they wouldn't become so invested in its participants. The producers frame it all to help bring the narrative to light, and the media and the bloggers and the people at home all work together to shape the story.

The review suggests that the book depicts a world where stories have given way to anecdotes, because of the internet. That's silly... people don't follow personal blogs for the bite-sized anecdotes that make up each entry. If that were the case, there wouldn't be any reason to keep coming back to the same blog. Suggesting that they do is like worrying that the novel, being made up of individual scenes that are not usually complete stories, is going to destroy our ability to understand a story.

Narrative is all around us, even when it isn't. Our need for narrative has driven the development of written language from tally marks and arbitrary symbols to phonetic alphabets that could be used by almost anyone. The internet's development has been shaped by that need and will continue to be shaped by it. It's not going anywhere.
alexandraerin: (Free Speech)


This has been making the rounds for a while now, but I feel that liberal/progressive/decent human being/healthcare reform blogs should be blanketing the interwebs with this recording... this is the "private option", folks. Healthcare is rationed right now. The free market is a rationing tool, but right now it's being rationed artificially by the need to support the profits of layers of management and middle men. Right now, our collective ability to afford health care is being impacted by our ability to pay for panels of non-medical people who make life or death decisions for us*.

If the government operates a public insurance plan as a tax-supported non-profit entity, those same decisions will be made, and while money will come into it, it will not be with an eye towards maximizing profit, pleasing shareholders, filling corporate coffers, etc., which is how it's made now.

This isn't Underpants Gnome territory. HMOs and private insurers maximize their profits in two ways: by increasing the money they take in and by decreasing the amount of money they pay out. The free market will thus tend towards higher cost for less service. What are we going to do? Negotiate with them? Boycott? We have no real options which is why there is no real competition.

Thanks to Richard Nixon's odd combination of crippling paranoia and overweening arrogance, we have the tape where he listens to John Ehrlichman laying out the model of our current health care system: charge people money and deny them service. That's what we have now and as they say dans la belle tech industry, it's not a bug, it's a FEATURE. This was planned.

This was done to us, and we're all suffering for it.

Even if you've got health coverage now, even if you feel you can afford to pay for your own medical care, a healthy population directly benefits you.If your neighbors are healthier, you're healthier. If everybody's healthier, the nation is stronger. Right now we're dealing with diseases when they become outbreaks and dealing with chronic health problems when they become life-threatening.

This puts all of us in danger and it costs all of us money. Think about everybody who doesn't go to the doctor when they get flu symptoms because they can't afford to go if it's just the sniffles, think about everybody who has a preventable heart attack or stroke or seizure while operating a motor vehicle. Prevention is cheaper than cure, and safer for society.

Some Republicans like to inject the image of Ronald Reagan into this conversation and say that government is the problem, not the solution. Well, I'm willing to concede a point when they have one, and they do have one... because the government's fingerprints are all over this one. It's time to hold them accountable and make our government undo this heinous crime that was perpetrated against us. The late Senator Edward Kennedy fought this, he fought for public health care in the 70s, and he lost... on the rightwing blogs right now, there are people who are saying--in response to the push to pass healthcare reform in his name--that we can lay the creation of the HMO system and the current flaws at his feet.

Folks, there are an awful lot of sentences one can start with the words "Ted Kennedy was not a good ____________.", but this is not his doing... and even if it were, that shouldn't matter. We know the system doesn't work as it is. Seriously ill people who can't afford pain pills are being told in breathlessly horrified tones that if we went so far as even adding a public health plan then they'd be given pain pills and be told to go home and tough it out.

And a lot of people are buying it.

Way too many.

Canada's ongoing management problems do not flow inevitably and naturally from their decision to make sure that all the citizens of a modern, first world economy with a first class economy have access to doctors for preventive care. People point to the fact that the UK lags behind the US in cancer treatment like this is some damning blot on their system.

People, we are the United States of America.

It shouldn't be remarkable that Britain lags behind us in cancer treatment. It shouldn't be worth mentioning because they should be lagging behind us in everything. We should be leading the world instead of lagging behind it. The fact that this statistic exists and gets bandied about so much is itself a symptom of how sick our system is.

Do people think we're going to lose all our cutting-edge cancer research and experimental treatments and highly trained specialists if we change the layer of finance-arranging entities that stand between us and our doctors? No. All the stuff that makes us better on cancer is still going to be there.

Anyway, listen to the audio... and please post, link, share. This should be everywhere. This should be the answer to talk of rationing and talk about the power of the marketplace... I believe in the power of the marketplace, but once of its biggest powers is generating money, and that's what's being done now.

If food or shelter or clothing or water or any other basic human necessity were being controlled the way health care is right now, we'd be rioting in the streets...but because our need for health care is seen as sporadic and something we can avoid the need for if we're lucky or make the right decisions, we put up with the intolerable.

Share this audio. If you're active on any major progressive blogs, push it. If you engage with conservatives, push it... don't let it die until Richard Nixon is the voice and face of the "private option".

Let's do it to it, folks.




*Note to self: think of a snappy name for those panels of people who make life or death decisions for us... I bet if I could come up with an ominous-enough sounding sound byte for them, I can whip up all kinds of furor.




Edit to add, now that I'm more awake - before bed last night I went looking for any clip of the audio recording and posted what seemed like the best one. This is apparently actually footage from the Michael Moore film Sicko, which could form a natural "rebuttal" to it: "Oh my God you're quoting a Moore movie."... but the truth is the truth, it's not tarnished by association.
alexandraerin: (Default)
It's 3:30 and I'm awake and not writing... but I have noticed something. The person who'd been messaging me about D&D did it again and this time I recognized them as being an old troll who knows how to push my buttons, who probably isn't even a member of the forum he keeps sending me links to... he must have just gotten the address from when it came up months ago and decided to set me off again.

I'm not proud of having buttons that are so big and obvious and easy to push, but I think I've got more reasons to be proud than the person who pushes them for fun. :P

So, I'm going to make one last venty, ranty post about 4E bashing and then I'm done. Not done talking about D&D, but I'm going to keep it positive after this post. The rest of this post might just seem like more of the same grousing, but it's helpful to me in getting the fuck over it to take a look at and identify the sheer ridiculousness of it all. If you don't want to read it, you don't have to. I'm making it for my own benefit.

Cut for ranty rant )
alexandraerin: (Default)
Now I'm clicking around on links on the forum... they have multiple threads predicting the deathknell of 4E being various things, the latest being the "disastrous" hybrid class rules. They track whatever stats they can find, never realizing that roleplaying itself is a cyclical hobby that spends most of its time declining from a spike, but I think a lot of comes down to the kind of insularity that cliquish groups get. It's like in politics... no matter who's elected, there will be some people who go, "I can't see how that's possible. Nobody I know voted that way.", never minding the fact that they're only associating with people who share their opinions.

A direct quote:

They made a huge mistake when they made the Warden and the Invoker - they made classes that no one gives a fuck about. That's not somethng the game can well withstand when you still can't play a small spearman or a necromancer because the classes to do that shit haven't been written yet.


Do you hear that? No game product line can WITHSTAND coming out with classes that J. Random Internetguy, Esq. doesn't want to play before they bother to come out with classes he does want to play. Oh, wait. It's not about J. Random Internetguy. It's about what "everybody" wants to play, and "everybody" is interested in necromancers more than they're interested in wardens and invokers.

The same guy who supplied that quote (I'm not linking because I think I get enough grief from these quarters without sending any grief back) also opined that it would take him three weeks to hammer out classes for the Psionic and Shadow power sources and have freelancers fill in the blanks, but that it wouldn't be very interesting or playable because they'd be generic rehashes of existing classes.

I'm sure he's exactly right, but I'm not sure how this translates into a knock against 4E, since they're not doing that... their somewhat more reflective efforts result in classes like Warden, who plays way differently from a Fighter, and the Invoker, who plays differently from a Wizard.

And he also said: "I mean, am I the only one who remembers their discussion of how they chumped out on redesigning death and dying into something that wasn't shit?", and as evidence, he linked to this post from Andy Collins, the development and design manager... which does nothing of the sort. But he links to it and he quotes from it, as if

Eventually we got it through our heads that there wasn’t a radical new game mechanic just waiting to be discovered that would revolutionize the narrow window between life and death in D&D. What we really needed to do was just widen the window, reframe it, and maybe put in an extra pane for insulation. (OK, that analogy went off the tracks, but its heart was in the right place.)


were a confession of malfeasance, when it's nothing more than an admission that they spent a lot of time looking in the wrong direction before they got it right. You can agree or disagree that they did get it right, of course, but Mr. Collins is not saying he "chumped out". The solution fits the goals he outlined. The write-up there doesn't really follow up on the way that the new rules make capture a viable option for DMs, but the actual rules work just fine for that: all it takes to subdue someone is to say that you're subduing rather than killing them. No separate damage tracks for subdual and lethal damage.

If you want a battle's lose condition to trigger more story instead of everybody rolling new characters, that's all you have to do. Of course, any edition could have done that by DM fiat, but now it's canon.

It's simple, elegant, and playable. Is it "realistic"? Meh. See the big long rant below about immersion... no, the hobgoblins did not run all the PCs through with spears and then tie them up. The initial hits were wearing them down to the point where they could be defeated (again, "almost no HP" != "almost dead", it equals "almost to the point where you can't fight any more"), and then with the last blow they knocked them out. If that's not realistic, then any player who wants to roll percentile to see if the hobgoblin soldiers accidentally killed them while trying to capture them is welcome to set odds and roll against them. :)
alexandraerin: (Default)
So, I got an answer to my previous D&D post about broken mechanics... this one concedes that I have some points about the numbers actually working but says the real problem is that the rules, even if they work, "make no sense from an in-character perspective". I got linked to a couple of threads on a forum (the same one I got linked to before) that deal with 4E's lack of "immersiveness".

I find this ridiculous, because immersiveness is not a function of the system but of the DM and the players. That's why I love 4E and it's supposedly "Nothing But Combat" rules system. But the message and the forums contained several specific criticisms I'm going to take the time to address, since it's being claimed that they represent such shockingly ridiculous departures from reality that they make it impossible to forget you're playing a game.

Cut for teal;megaloceros )
alexandraerin: (Default)
Man, I'm trying to get D&D stuff out of my head, but this just keeps charging around up there...

I keep being told that the rules are broken. The polite ones tell me in comments, but I get more LJ messages when I post about D&D than anything else. It's about to make me turn them off.

The examples I've been shown are stuff like the "orbizard" that aren't actually broken mechanics, or they're the stuff that got fixed in errata, which might seem like a black eye on the system until you remember that we all shelled out an extra $75 bucks to buy three books of errata on 3E because it was so completely broken at launch.

So what's left, then? "The roles don't do what they say?" Bullshit they don't. See also, "We Tried Baseball and It Didn't Work".

The idea that Defenders are broken or that a Striker's damage dealing capabilities aren't worthy of a role can only be put forth by someone who hasn't ever actually seriously seen them in action, outside of a "Baseball Doesn't Work" scenario where a bunch of people who don't understand the point of the roles try to prove something by playing with them.

Oh, it also helps to be really bad at math... as I mentioned before, a difference of 1 on a d20 roll translates to a 5% difference in probability. Some people look at this and go, "So if a Swordmage with leather armor and 20 Intelligence and Swordmage warding has AC 20 and a Rogue with leather armor and 20 Dexterity has AC 17, the Rogue's only going to get hit 15% more often than the Swordmage."

Yeah, that would be true, if monsters had 100% chance of hitting AC 17 and an 85% chance of hitting AC 20. But a typical level 1 monster's going to have a +5 to hit, which translates to a 45% chance of hitting AC 17 and a 30% chance of hitting AC 20. "So? The difference is still 15%." Yeah. But if one person gets hit 45% of the time and the other person gets hit 30% of the time, the first one isn't getting 15% more hits... but 50% more. As in, every two times the Swordmage gets hit, the Rogue gets hits a third.

Before adding in any HP differences (and with neither class being known for high Constitution, that might not be much), that's a significant difference right there. Two hits versus three hits, at level one, where four or five good hits can take you out.

That's mechanics.

Actual math!

That's as crunchy as it gets.

Fighters are more likely to have AC 19 than AC 20, but they also have more use for Constitution, meaning they'll have more HP and more healing surges. Actually, I think Fighters might have one more healing surge than Swordmages by default. The differences in HP among characters are very slight in this edition compared to previous ones, but that's because most of your character's ability to absorb/resist physical injury and damage is represented by healing surges.

Of course, not every monster you fight at level one will be level one... but the more higher level monsters are put into an encounter, the fewer opponents there will be overall and the more the Defender's "sticking" abilities can come into play.

Of course, a lot of the specific scenarios I've been shown that are supposed to demonstrate how broken the game is start with an encounter that was thrown together without following the encounter-balancing mechanics. Oh, big surprise! If you ignore this part of the system, some other part of the system designed to work with it doesn't work!

Grah.

But let's say that a Swordmage working with a Rogue marks a level three brute, who's the linchpin monster in a fairly typical first level encounter. Now the brute's forced to choose between attacking the Swordmage or having the Swordmage's mark ameliorate most of the statistical advantage it would get from attacking the lower AC Rogue and triggering the Swordmage's ward and either way, the fact that the Swordmage is sticking to the brute means the Rogue can get a Sneak Attack on it pretty much every round, meaning the brute's going to go down before the Swordmage can get killed.

The Defender is mitigating the offensive capabilities of the brute while the Striker does the most damage. Is that not what the two roles are supposed to do? Are they not doing it?

Assuming they've got a four person party with every role filled, the Leader can lower the brute's hit chances even more and throw out a heal if needed and the Controller can keep minions and goons off the pair while they finish off the main threat. If it's a five person party with Bonus Missile Striker, Striker #2 can either help pick off the main enemy faster or mop up the ones the Controller's area effects weaken. Of course, there will be one more level one monster's worth of enemies to fight if there's a five person party.

What's broken there? Every role is functioning as intended. The Defender is engaging a dangerous foe to keep him off of everyone else, the Strikers are hitting more often for more damage and thereby taking foes out of the equation faster, the Controller's doing crowd control and the Leader's helping whoever needs help.

I would like to hear some specific examples... something less ridiculous than "DOING DAMAGE IS NOT A ROLE!" or "THERE'S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CONTROLLER AND A DEFENDER!"

Everyone does damage, yes. But not like the Striker does. Watch a Barbarian's player pull out a calculator and the DM say "Um, you can stop adding now." when she's halfway through and tell me that damage-dealing isn't a role.

As for the Controller/Defender split, to use a Quidditch analogy... and I can't believe I'm about to use a Quidditch analogy, but considering the number of D&D posts I've made in the past week, I guess it was inevitable... saying a Controller and a Defender are the same is like saying that a Beater and a Keeper are the same because they both try to keep the other team from scoring. If you've ever watched combat in a serious game of D&D 4E unfolding, where you've got your Wizard scattering enemies with Thunderwave and chasing the minions away with a sustained Flaming Sphere while the Warden is keeping the kobold soldiers from shifting away and attacking the Wizard... totally different dynamics.

Everybody's free to ignore the roles, players and DMs alike. In my experience, if you do that, the system will seem broken... it sure seemed weirdly unbalanced the first time we played, before we understood roles and when I thought it was just a bunch of peptalk fluff to help newbies figure out something to do in combat every round. You don't even have to stay strictly constrained by the roles... you can take feats and "Big Gun" powers that let you cross over a bit... because it's the class features and at-will powers, the things that come into play almost every single turn, that shape a class into a given role (exception: Controllers. Their encounter and daily powers tend to be even more Controllery than anything they can do every round, but then, the dailies tend to stick around and continue to shape the combat.)

Just the simple act of using your character's abilities to best effect will put you into the role to some extent. If you want to do your extra Striker damage, you'll move into position where you can get Prime Shot, Hunter's Quarry, Warlock's Curse, combat advantage and Sneak Attack, a charge, etc., and you'll end up using your extra mobility options to do so. If you want to use your Defender's interdiction ability, you'll be marking foes when you get a chance to do so and you'll be sticking to them. Controllers will be herding enemies away from themselves and towards those who can help keep them off or put them down. Leaders will end up leading naturally, because if their at-will gives a -2 to the enemy's defense or a +2 for an ally to hit, who's going to pass up free bonuses?

This is all part of the mechanical stuff. The natural style of gameplay flows from the mechanics. But if you set out to "prove" that it's all broken and you all, including the DM, ignore the roles to "prove" that oh hey if the DM decides to ignore the Fighter and kill the Wizard no matter what then the Wizard is dead... gah.

I'm sorry. I keep wanting to call people stupid, but I don't think it's even that. I think it's immaturity. Some people like 3.5, or 2, or even Original Flavor. That's fine. I loved the inventiveness of 2E's settings, 3E was a marvel of modularity, and if I can get a copy of the Rulescyclopedia, I might be running an OD&D campaign just for nostalgia's sake. They all have their good points.

But it feels like there's this kindergarten mindset that says your favorite game can't just be your favorite because you like it... the games other people play have to suck.

So, really, people... if you're going to tell me that the mechanics are broken, let's hear some specific examples. I shudder as I type that, because I know that it's going to be a lot of the following:

1) Stuff that's already been errata'd.
2) Stuff that's unbalanced but is only in playtesting. Funny how people who can't stand the edition stay so on top of every little advancement.
3) Things where someone's looking at the Level Xty Wizard powers and going, "Look, Phinagle's Phoney Phirebawl has such a clear advantage over the other powers that there's no reason to ever pick anything else! The designers were clearly stoned when they wrote that level content, because they basically wasted a lot of space." Yeah. Okay. Considering that this whole argument boils down to people thinking their personal preference for one thing is proof of the inferiority of all other things, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they mistake themselves having a favorite spell for a flaw in the system.
4) Stuff like the orbizard.

Anyway, that's more time than I meant to spend on a D&D post today. On to some Star Harbor.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I can't think I've ever seen anybody really say they like the new alignment system, but I'm just going to say this straight out: the double axis alignment system that came out of AD&D made for a lousy game mechanic and I'm glad 4E ditched it.

Sure, it made for great fun in terms of abstract intellectual exercises. Trying to classify people, real or fictional, along the nine alignments it produced, was entertaining and so were the debates this exercise produced. But in that regard, it wasn't really all that different from using astrology or tarot cards to classify people: if you have enough arbitrary symbols that are broad enough and loosely defined (or ill defined) enough, then you have a system which can be used to classify anyone and the attempt to fit them into the system might reveal a few things about them but at the end it's all a matter of perspective.

AD&D inherited the Lawful-Chaotic axis from classic recipe D&D, which had it as the single axis of alignment. This was a nod to the pulp fantasy roots, where "chaos" was frequently used as a stand-in for evil for various reasons: because it was the more exotic word, because it seemed to imply a more mature sensibility about cosmic theology that is above such petty relative concerns of mortal morality, or simply because it sounded cool. Nobody ever talks about the banality of chaos.

(The fact that the absence of an evil alignment meant that you couldn't play as an explicitly evil-declared character while you didn't have to be a good one might have been a factor in the design decision, depending on how mindful roleplaying's early adopters were of the moral guardians from the outset.)

However, no matter how often they declared "lawful is not always good and chaotic is not always evil", it really became apparent that 90% of the time they were, if only because there was no other way to tag someone as being bad or good. So another axis was added to the game to specify moral alignment, and we got the nine element system: lawful good, lawful neutral, lawful evil, neutral good, true neutral, neutral evil, chaotic good, chaotic neutral, and chaotic evil. And it was a halfway workable system... if you turned your headways and squinted.

The squinting was really important, because it really was so much newspaper astrology.

I'm going to talk first about the lawful alignments to demonstrate the problem. What does it mean to be lawful? The problem is that as the alignments were originally conceived, the word "lawful" changes meaning depending on whether or not the character's also eeeeeeeeeevil.

Think about it. Imagine a lawful neutral character. Not a construct designed to hold no ideal in higher regard than the law, not an extraplanar exemplar of a dimension of Pure Order, but a mortal character who is of the lawful neutral alignment. Classic examples include soldiers, officers of the law, bureaucrats, and so on who believe in the rule of law (duh, it's there in the alignment title) and thus believe lawfully created rules and lawfully given orders should be followed, even if the immediate affects in a given instance might not seem to "good" or might seem to be "evil".

Okay. That's why they're lawful on the one axis and why they're neutral on the other. That makes sense, right? Except, stop and think: why do they believe in following orders even when the immediate result isn't "good"? Remember, this is not a magically enabled creature of Pure Law And Order (Special Victims Unit) we're talking about. This is a person. There are some personality types that are just inclined to find a place within an orderly structure and work to maintain it, but that doesn't account for the vast majority of lawful neutral characters. Why do they believe in law? Well, to be more precise, they believe in the benefits of law... they believe that the law serves the greater... wait for it... wait for it... good.

The law may occasionally inflict an evil, but this is nothing compared to the evils it redresses and prevents by its existence, so lawful "neutral" characters give it their support. A lawful neutral character who does not have special circumstance behind their lawfulness is implicitly good.

So what exactly is the difference between lawful good and lawful neutral? If you've got a 2nd edition AD&D handbook lying around, open it up and read the descriptions. The one for lawful good says "Characters of this alignment believe that an orderly, strong society can work to make life better for the majority of people. To ensure the quality of life, laws must be created and obeyed." and the one for lawful neutral says "The benefits of organization and regimentation outweigh any moral questions raised by their actions." The rest of the lawful neutral description explicates the fact that it doesn't have to be what we would think of as a "good" government, but look at the first two words of what I quoted there: "the benefits".

The benefits of being lawful. They believe that being lawful has benefits for society. Obviously, lawful neutral characters "believe that an orderly, strong society can work to make life better for the majority of people. To ensure the quality of life, laws must be created and obeyed."

As they were defined as of 2nd edition AD&D--and remember, this alignment system came from AD&D--the definitions of lawful neutral and lawful good included each other. Implicitly. The only difference between them were in the extreme examples: the typical stick-up-the-ass paladin who wasn't really good so much as lawful annoying, and the fantasy equivalent of the WWII German soldier/scientist who is "only following orders".

For the vast majority of realistic, fully fleshed out and fully realized characters who were either lawful good or lawful neutral and living in fully realized societies, there would not be a difference. Only an evil society is at its base enforcing the rule of law for a reason other than preserving the common weal and serving the greater good.

Which brings us to lawful evil. As the 2nd Edition PHB puts it, "Lawful evil characters believe in using society and its laws to benefit themselves." It says later, "Lawful evil characters obey laws out of fear of punishment." and "Because they may be forced to honor an unfavorable contract or oath they have made, lawful evil characters are usually very careful about giving their word."

Does anything there sound like a description of someone who believes in law? A lawful good or lawful neutral character believes that the rule of law naturally benefits all, but a lawful evil character sees the law as a neutral tool that can either help or harm them.

Is there really an alignment difference, an ethical difference, between an Evil Villain who finds a mystic gem of great power and learns the exact limitations of its abilities and figures out how to exploit its powers to the fullest effect, and an Evil Villain who does the same thing with a society? In each case the villain is simply making use of what is available to them as a tool.

Lawful Evil therefore boiled down to the same thing as Neutral Evil, meaning the two of them were both Just Plain Evil.

By 3rd edition, of course, all of this had already been hashed out and so the alignment descriptions rephrased "lawful" to mean something more like "honorable". Lawful neutral went from being the German soldier/high inquisitor alignment to being the alignment of honorable monks and such, which has the effect of making its distinctions from lawful good more playable but also has the effect of cementing lawful as being "another shade of good". Your lawfulness is implicitly a good code of conduct. You can't be lawful neutral and say, "My sense of honor demands that I light puppies on fire if they annoy me." or "I follow a rigorous code of conduct that requires I take all unattended gold and valuables for myself, to ensure they're used for lawful purposes, such as ensuring the comfort level of myself, an important lawful character."

Lawful evil becomes the villainous Honorable Man, thus giving it a characterization trait to distinguish it from Evil By Other means. It still falls into the "order and heirarchy are something that can be used" trap a little, but at least "lawfully aligned" means the same thing across the board now: honorable person.

Though of course, the same edition where they codified lawful evil into something interesting and internally consistent was also the edition where they adopted the stance of treating the evil alignments like drugs or STDs and their descriptions like a PSA aimed at middle schoolers (ONLY LOSERS PICK EVIL ALIGNMENTS, KIDS!), which somewhat muted it.

Okay, so 3rd edition rescued the concept of law a little bit... which still leaves chaotic, neutral, the other neutral, and neutral-neutral as problematic.

Neutrality. Originally, if you weren't aligned towards any of lawful, chaotic, good, or evil, you were true neutral, The Alignment That Makes No Fucking Sense among Alignments That Make No Fucking Sense. 2nd edition even gives the example of a true neutral druid who helps the authorities fight gnolls, until the authorities start winning because of the druid's help, at which point the druid switches sides. Um... that's not "balance". That's decided unbalanced. They at least make the point that it's a rare alignment, but that's undermined by it being the required alignment for a character class.

3rd edition does away with the "true neutral" alignment, simply calling neutral-neutral "neutral" and making the point that few people are philosophically committed to the concept of being absolutely neutral, so most neutral people are simply not strongly committed at all.

However, it goes on to make the point that a neutral character still favors good. This is a good point to make. I'm glad they pointed it out, because it belies the problems with the idea of a neutral ideology.

You know the "Cake or death?" routine that Eddie Izzard does? It could have been called "Good or evil?", because that question is the same sort of no-brainer.

New ruler comes to power, he's not strongly committed to good or evil, and neither is anyone in his kingdom. It's the Land of Basically Neutral People. So the king walks down the road on his triumphant coronation march to his new castle and he stops to ask his subjects what kind of ruler should he be: "Um, I hate to bother you, but would you rather I was sort of a generally good monarch, or more of an evil one?"

What do you think the people are going to say to that?

Of course, this is why a lawful neutral character is still essentially good: because people who are not evil tend towards good. A chaotic neutral character who is not being overplayed in the same manner as the Knight Templar Lawful Good Paladin and the WWII German-Style Lawful Neutral Soldier will also tend towards good. I don't know if anybody's ever played a chaotic neutral character who wasn't an excuse to be "zany", but you know what? The "my character is completely out for himself/my character is completely random and crazy" chaotic neutral character is usually really just fucking evil. If you burn down a tavern or stab someone in the eye because you felt like it and you're not constrained by society's rules, you're being evil.

The fact that it's specifically "society's rules" you like to say you're not constrained by instead of "conventional morality" is immaterial if the things you are using that lack of constraint to do are fucking evil. In fact, the fact that "society's rules" and "conventional morality" have such broad intersections in the things they absolutely do not smile upon really underscores the whole point.

I mean, imagine a ruined village. It has just been randomly sacked by two separate forces at the same time. As the leaders of the force are busy skewering the skulls of the fallen with their spears to make sure they don't get up, they strike up a conversation:

"It's great not being shackled by conventional morality. I mean, we're able to totally sack this village because we believe the lives of these people have no value, and the power to take what we want gives us the right to do so."

"Oh, I don't know about any of that. I just sacked this village because I wanted to, and because the rules of law hold no sway over me so there was nothing to stop me."


The bottom line is that there is no real chaotic neutral alignment. A chaotic neutral person is one who follows his or her whims and natural inclinations, you say?

Exactly whose whims and inclinations do you suppose all the other characters are following?

You want to be chaotic neutral? Okay. Tell me, your whims and inclinations tend to be good ones? Evil ones? Usually selfish but a sense of enlightened self-interest keeps you from being completely destructive or out from yourself? Whatever you answer, you have your alignment, and it's not chaotic neutral. And if you say you have a philosophical belief in chaos as the force of primal destruction/creation, entropy, etc., and because of that you just enjoy tearing down the structures of orderly society (or orderly existence, if you're a primal being)... evil. Full stop.

Your character might not believe the label has any meaning or value (how many evil people do?), but it fits. You can tear down an unjust society because it's unjust, but if you're tearing down any society simply because it's there, you're being evil, because, again, the default meaning of "lawful" is implicitly good. You are doing harm to everybody that society supports and protects.

(Some people have grumbled about slaads, formerly being "chaotic neutral incarnate", are now listed as chaotic evil. They spread madness and destruction through their sheer existence. Do good things happen when they show up?)

The description for chaotic neutral given in 3.5's PHB is intelligent enough to recognize that if a chaotic character is tearing down society because of a belief of the benefits of freeing others from its tyranny, that makes them good at least in their motivation and if they're doing it just because they can that's eeeevil, but in recognizing this, it relegates chaotic neutral to essentially being just plain neutral. The sample character is not committed to chaos, he is effectively an unaligned/neutral character.

And then we have chaotic good. A chaotic good person who sees starving urchins just outside a wealthy market place is not going to start unilaterally redistributing wealth, unless there's some characterization reason where they don't understand commerce or the local laws or the consequences of flagrantly breaking them.

(And if they really don't understand all that, they don't have to be chaotic good to do so: think of Princess Jasmine taking the apple from the market stall to give to the orphan in Disney's Aladdin.)

So why make a hard and fast distinction between Good Without Any Particular Regard For The Importance Of Order And The Natural Rightness Of The Rule of Law (neutral good) and Good With Outright Disbelief In The Importance Of Order And The Natural Rightness Of The Rule of Law (chaotic good)?

Both a neutral good and a chaotic good person is still going to follow good laws, neither of them will casually oppose the rule of law without a good reason, and they'll both fight unfair laws when they think can do something about them (and depending on how idealistic and committed to good they are, maybe even when they know they can't).

So 4E pares things down: good, evil, unaligned, and the two special cases of lawful (therefore) good and chaotic (therefore) evil.

If you're unaligned and not an ineffable cosmic being, an animal, or a mindless construct... mortal nature being what it is, you're still apt to favor the larger cause of good (because it's beneficial to live amongst good people in a good society) while perhaps erring a bit on the selfish ("evil") side for things that involve you.

Really, the new Unaligned alignment perfectly defines the average hero/PC behavior: yes, you want the raiders to stop burning the fucking kingdom, because that's where all your friends live and all your stuff is there and maybe even because it's just the right thing to and even if it's not your kingdom they're burning to the ground you can empathize with the people because you can imagine it happening to your kingdom, but also yes, you are going to keep the gold they stole for yourself, which you deserve because you were the one who stood up and drew a line in the sand and did something about it.

If you truly believe in the benefits for society of the rule of law and work to preserve them, that makes you lawful and also good.

If you revel in chaos to the extent that you sow it everywhere you go, you're contributing to suffering and destruction, making you chaotic and also evil.

But the task of figuring out a working system of fine distinctions among such combination sas lawful neutral, neutral good, chaotic good, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, and neutral evil has been taken out of the game and relegated to the place it belongs: internet forums. You can now define your character's code of honor (or lack thereof) yourself and work out from that whether you're especially good, especially evil, especially lawful (and thus also good), or especially chaotic (and thus also evil).
alexandraerin: (Default)
I promise that at some point in the near future I'll start posting a bunch of inane rambling reviews of Dungeons & Dragons products again, but in the mean time: yet another post about Cat Valente.

Actually, this one's not entirely about her. I mean, this whole thing isn't entirely about her... she's the crux, the fulcrum, of the matter, but it's about the publishing industry, it's about authors and artists and performers, it's about new technology, it's about our ability to create and control our creations and to interface with our audience and to reach audiences without a filter in between us.

She's started to receive a bit of a backlash: people telling her to suck it and up get a "real job", people telling her she's selfish, people telling her that what she's doing isn't "grown-up behavior".

And what is she doing?

She's creating something of value and expecting people who benefit from it to compensate her for her work.

That's basic grown-up behavior right there.

It doesn't look like grown-up behavior because it doesn't involve putting on a hideous uniform or wearing a name tag or signing away any rights, literally or metaphorically... it doesn't look like grown-up behavior because instead of putting a price tag and a bar code on the output of her soul, she's asking people to pay what they can and what they will for it.

You know, I had a day job, a year and a half ago. I quit it to do this, to produce reader-supported, cyber-funded stories when I was sure that I could support myself this way... and I almost fucked that up, in no small part because I let myself be insecure about the fact that I do deserve compensation for what I do and so I went through a period of being shy about reminding people that I do know money to get by. Other than that hiccup, it's gone pretty dang well.

And you know what? In the time since I quit, my day job was downsized. The department was shrunk in half and then folded into another one. If I had been there, I would have been another body fighting for a chair... which means I would have been out of work or somebody else would have been.

Why do I need to be a body in a chair? What benefit would I provide to society by doing that? Here, I'm not taking anybody's place. I've made my own. It's uniquely suited to my strengths and weaknesses. I create things for the enjoyment of thousands of people, and some of those people are able to pay me a dollar when they can or five dollars a month or fifty dollars one time or whatever they can give me, whatever value they feel I've provided them.

Is this a rip-off? My actual output varies with my circumstances, but people just pay what they think I'm worth, with no obligation to keep paying. How could that be a rip-off? My dad once told me I should tell people to pay me half what they think I'm worth, so they feel like they're getting a deal and they'll keep coming back for more... if anybody's worried about being ripped off, they're welcome to do that. Treat yourself to a 50% off coupon. Treat yourself to a 75% off coupon if that's what it takes for it to be "worth it". You pay what you feel like. That's how it works.

I mean, if everybody who read my work paid me a dollar for every novel's worth of material they read, I'd be rich and they'd all be getting a huge discount compared to any other book out there. Think about that. And most people aren't even paying a dollar. They're paying nothing.

Who's getting ripped off?

What Cat's doing is the action of a mature mind. She's taking responsibility for her situation and she's doing something about it. Her plight is not her fault, but like everybody else, it's her responsibility to support herself and her family, and that's what she's doing. It's easy to miss this fact, with the initial frenzy that was whipped up on the twittosphere... the somewhat desperate tone of which she had very little to do with... but what she's doing is taking control, of her talents and her rights and her resources.

And it's going to work. That's the thing.

It. Is. Going. To. Fucking. Work.

What she's doing is a proven moneymaker: taking a talent and a unique vision and going online with it. It works. All the naysayers miss the point... they probably look at the internet and they see the one trillion amateur animators that don't make any money, the one quadrillion little webcomics, the googol of hobby sites and blogs that don't go anywhere and they say "There's no money on the web." But the same things that let anyone succeed offline work online as well: talent, dedication, hard work, willpower.

It doesn't matter how many folks are doing it at the amateur-level. They don't take money away from the successful ones, and the qualities that bring success shine... and Cat Valente possesses all of these in spades.

I'm not going to compare our talents... we're way too different. We both have a fairly complicated relationship with the concept of "plot" and nontraditional approaches to structure, but she is at heart a poet and I primarily write dialogue and monologue. Okay, well, I am obviously comparing our talents, so let's do it:

I started Tales of MU with nothing but a name, "MU Tales", which I changed quickly because my mind wanted to read it as faux Spanish "mutales". I made it up as I went along, just to see what I could do, and I published it as is.

And I made it work.

As is.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, I am that fucking good.

That's my talent. I can sit down and I can write and people will read it, rough. Even people who hate what I write about will sit there and tell me that they wish I would write about more sensible things because they love reading it. It comes easily, naturally. For me, the hard part of why I do isn't writing, it's keeping my shit together, keeping my life together even when the parts of my brain that don't write aren't talking to each other, keeping track of the plot of day-to-day life the same as I do with my stories.

But Cat Valente is the hardest working person I know. I only met her briefly but that was obvious. She researches. She plans. She workshops. She vises and she revises and she retrovises. All those little foreign language puns I scatter in character's names are just things I have bouncing around in my brain, but she translates things.

And the results...

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you she is that fucking good, too.

The talent is there. The drive is there. The willpower is there. Everything it takes to succeed, she has... and she's proven it offline. A dozen books. A deal with Tor, I think, though I might be making that up. Of course, the reality is that "success" as an author in traditional publishing is nothing like money in the bank.

But online... she pays bandwidth and hosting, maybe hires out webmastery and graphical artistry if she can't get it donated... but the pie is only split one way. If she sells 20,000 books the Olde Way at $20 a pop, she ain't getting anywhere near $400,000. It doesn't work like that. But if she sells a hundred ebooks at $10 a pop, she is walking away with something that's within a phone rebate of $1,000 even after PayPal takes their fees.

Do you haters and doubters not realize how huge that is? What a profound cosmic shift that is for authors?

Anyone else just starting out... someone like me... would have to do something to become a proven quality before they could hope to make a living. Free samples. Heck, if I hadn't twisted Cat's ear as much as I have already, I'd tell her to increase the excerpt size of ebooks. Give a whole chapter's worth. Or forget about arbitrary breaks and give 'em as long as you think it takes to get them hooked. Give a whole first section of each book. She probably won't have to do that because she is a known quantity with even greater known quantities vouching for her, but it's a viable strategy.

(It's also a viable strategy to give all the books away for free to begin with, but people who don't understand what she's doing will never grasp that.)

This was going to happen sooner or later, that a traditionally published author would go this route and attract a lot of attention. I'm so sorry for the circumstances that forced her into it, but I'm glad it's Cat because I love her work so much and because the conditions are perfect - she's a cult author with wide but non-"mainsteam" appeal as defined by the industry that decides what to market to the mainstream, she's got the support of notable literary lights with large web presences, she's friends with an author who's explored this path before and who won't fucking shut up about it.

So this is going to work for her. Okay, there are no guarantees in life... but that's true about "real jobs", too. This could fail just as jobs can be downsized and companies can fold. But she has everything she needs to succeed, everything that's essential.

Why should she take a spot at a Starbucks that somebody else could fill? Why should she occupy a spot in a phone queue? Who would ultimately benefit from that?

The fact that she gets to do what she loves for a living might gall some people, but it's not a failing on her part. The fact that she's found a way to for herself instead of doing for seventeen layers of middlemen and then waiting in line every second Friday to hold out her hands in hopes that they'll do for her might threaten the composure of everybody who's still sucking it up and swallowing their pride every time they get out of bed in the morning. The fact that she's proving that you don't need to wend your way through the apparatus of The Industry to get paid for your art might be offensive to the sensibilities of those who are in the process of making compromises they hate in pursuit of a brass ring that they're terrified might turn out to not even be real brass is not ultimately her problem.

And, y'know, when Fairyland is a going concern, some of the naysayers and the doubters will say that she couldn't have done it if she hadn't already been a published author, if she hadn't had the support of folks like Neil Gaiman... never mind that some scatter-brained nobody living smack dab in the middle of flyover country already did the same thing... but a lot of the naysayers and doubters will just ignore her success and keep saying it won't work no matter how long it does.

We know this happens, because we see it all the time: "nobody makes money in webcomics", they say, and what [livejournal.com profile] s00j has done with her music for the past five, six years is clearly impossible.

Gah.

It works.

It has worked, it is working, it will continue to work.

The print industry's not going to go away... people like books, and I don't think Cat's doing this because she's pissed off at the world of paper or anything... but the publishers are going to have wake up soon and notice that authors now have another serious option to explore when it comes to paying the bills.

They need to notice it, because I can guarantee that more and more authors will.

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