The Parody Timeline

It was almost too much like a real board meeting, The American mused.  Several people sitting around a giant table with the holographic screens and tablets and rules of order and nice suits and everyone’s just waiting their turn to speak to brag about what their sector has accomplished, just hoping to get a bit more recognition than the person next to them.  He’s supposed to be listening to all the other presentations so that he can make his own presentation from a position of informed unity, but The American couldn’t see how anything anyone else was doing would make his announcement any better.

While Southeast Asia wrapped up on desalination efforts to provide clean water around the world, The American shifted his weight to lean on the table.  He was next, he needed to look serious, because he was going to drop a bombshell on the table.  Cresting his fingers in front of his chin, he waited patiently for The Speaker to thank Southeast Asia and introduce him.

“It looks like everyone’s on track for the next decade so far,” The Speaker cautiously began, “but we haven’t heard from The United States yet.”  Turning to The American, “Mr. Smith, do you have any good news for us?”

The American stifled a chuckle at the irony of the intro, took a deep breath, and as solemnly as he could manage, spoke.  “They’re not ready.  If our projections are correct, we may have to abandon them and begin the Repatriation Project by 2025.”

Silence filled the conference room, until North Africa spoke up, “What do you mean ‘They’re not ready’?  At the last meeting we were told the US was on track to convert the remaining offshore rigs into geothermal and tidal plants.  Has there been a delay?”

The American looked up from the notes in front of him, casting a glance at The Speaker before settling his gaze on North Africa, “I’m sure everything there is working according to plan.  However, the US populace is not ready to be re-integrated yet.  They’re still operating with a 20th Century capitalistic mindset and no breakthroughs have happened yet.”

North Africa, confused, “What do you mean ‘re-integrated’?”

The American, “No one told you?  Mz. Dembale should have given you the full run-down before you even took her seat.”

“She gave me all the information she said I would need, I assure you.  But I don’t recall any of this being in the files.”

“So you’ve been coming to these meetings for the last decade without knowing anything at all about the forced interdimensional emigration of the US?”

North Africa’s wide eyes answered the question for him.  He could have sputtered some kind of question or defense of himself, but North Africa didn’t get where he was today by not knowing when to react and how to new information, “Perhaps,” North Africa managed, after composing himself, “now would be the time to explain, in detail, what it is that I must have missed in the files.”

“Americans have always been an unpredictable group.  In fact, they pride themselves on it.  But they’re also easy to project, because they have a habit of getting crazy ideas then sticking with them for a long time.  So when Carter lost his re-election against Reagan, we did a bunch of projections and there was a greater-than-average chance that a bunch of public policy would be put in that would absolutely come to bite the world in the ass a few decades down the line if they didn’t flip in the next decade.  This was shortly after The Group was formed, and our projections weren’t as precise as they are now, of course, otherwise we would’ve taken much more drastic steps right then instead of the tenuous ones we did take.”

The American leaned back in his chair, pulling a softpack of cigarettes from his breast pocket.  Fluidly, his fingers acting as only fingers can after years of practice, he shook a single out of the opening and placed it between his lips, while his left hand procured a pack of matches from his jacket pocket.  Eastern Europe cleared her throat, indicating that smoking was a major faux pas and not allowed in the chamber, but The American just stared her down while he lit.  Taking a drag and blowing the billowing cloud above his head, he began speaking again.  “You’re familiar with Project Unending Horizons?  The attempt by The Group to achieve galactic travel by hopping between earths in different dimensions, presumably in different spaces?  Long story short, and lots of engineering jargon later, travel was too costly, but the existence of dimensions in synch with our own proved to be useful.  So in late 1982, we quietly pushed the entirety of the US into a parallel that was mostly indistinguishable from our own.  It was entirely uninhabited, of course, and from that point on, all news to the US from outside was dictated by our projections and all news to the rest of the world from the US was dictated by the goals we needed to be reached.  Literally everything most people have heard from the US, including cultural exports, internet memes, even visiting dignitaries and ambassadors has been faked by The Group, while we waited to see what would become of the actual Americans in the parallel.”  

Dotting the air with his cigarette as he made his points, The American continued, “We’d hoped that after a term or two of Reagan, the people would swing wildly back towards the future and maybe we could push them to stay that way.  Dumb, now, in hindsight, but we had no other options.  We assumed the nuclear crises of the latter half of the century would sway them away from war for fear of annihilation, but even their most liberal members continued military advances across the globe.  By 1992, with the Cold War in the rearview and the promise of a hugely prosperous decade in front of them, nothing much had changed, policy-wise.  A growing partisan divide made it much easier for the few to convince as much of the many as possible to support and demand their political maneuvering to allow them to keep and secure as much of the available resources as possible, while entrepreneurship began focusing on commodifying everything.  Free from the omnipresent fear of nuclear holocaust that the Cold War had ingrained into society, the people began casting around everywhere they could for new fears to hold onto.  The sinister Soviets were now replaced with shady neighbors, political rivals, non-white people, and vaguely imagined strangers.  Soon, there was a perfect storm of influences that their leaders only had to mention to summon an army of support for whatever it was they wanted to happen.  And everything, while looking better from most angles, managed to get worse.”

The American sighed, “So around the end of the millennium, we’d found a new parallel that might work.  We did a load of projections and research on it while doing some tests with the populace to get even better results for projections – mostly involving world ending predictions, which we thought peaked at the Y2K Bug – and began the process of gathering everything we needed to do another dimensional transfer.  This dimension just had to work, we thought.  It’s a dimension where literally everything that can happen does so to the point where it just seems like ridiculous parody.  We assumed with the new dimension and some clever pushes that the absolute ridiculousness of everything happening would shock the populace into seizing control and and demanding a better future.  And so, in early 2001, the dimension shifted again.  Less than a year later, a major terrorist attack happened in New York, Washington, and elsewhere, the US declared war on a country that provided resources to the terrorists, and literally everything’s been downhill from there.  World ending prophecies became so common that they simply became the new joke.  And nothing was being done about the impending climate disaster.”

“Surely it can’t be that bad?” asked Pacific Islands.  He knew the answer, of course, but he always got carried away when listening to the story.

“Well, after electing the first black president, everything got so much worse.  Conspiracy theories took over regular political discourse and racism suddenly got much worse.  And just when you thought you’d seen it all, they elected Donald Trump for president afterwards and that was just greasing the skis for a faster trip downhill.  At this point, I’m not even sure this is salvageable.”

“Nothing’s unsalvageable anymore, though,” prompted The Speaker.  “Surely there’s something that can be saved.”

“The world’s richest man is a man who fooled everyone into thinking he’s some kind of genius because he bought companies and the right to call himself the founder of those countries.  Ever since he started becoming a more-public speaker, he’s proven time and again that he’s an idiot who thinks he’s great.  He’s made pot jokes, dumb memes, prompted investment into cryptocoin, and now he’s just bought twitter because people are mean to him on it and thousands of his fans are exclaiming that he’s going to bring free speech to it.  This is a normal week here now.  Nothing makes sense anymore and it’s all happening so fast that no one can keep up with it all.  I think we’re just going to have to leave them there and figure out what to do with the fake US in our dimension.”

I’d like to thank my Patrons for continuing to believe that I have interesting things to write and would like to remind you that for as little as $1/month, you could be a Patron as well and read this up to 3 days sooner! There’s other stuff as well, I suppose.

A Study of Necromancy (an ongoing research thingy)

It’s probably no secret that I’ve been largely dissatisfied with how magic works in most gaming systems.  I’m not entirely sure how to explain it, it’s just that everything seems too… idunno, firmly defined, i guess?  In D&D especially, there’s a ton of spells in three basic types that are granted to at least 4 dozen different classes.  And while I understand that in games where spells and descriptions take up half or more of the book already that it’s simply easier to keep a full chapter of spells to divvy up amongst the various spell-casting classes, it seems to me that there really should be a better way of dealing with all of this without taking up an entire extra book’s worth of paper and several days worth of mechanics.  And in thinking about it, I decided to actually just take a deep dive into the magical arts themselves and figure out how they operate on a more fundamental level before I even started working on mechanics.  And so, I decided to start with necromancy, because there’s a ton of ideas out there on what it is and what it can do and how it should work.  And also because it’s one of my weird little passions.

The big thing about necromancy, from looking at things across the entire breadth of information that I have access to, is that it’s historically more of a power source, but contemporarily more of a school of magic.  I’ll explain that in a bit, because what I really wanted this paragraph to do is to show all the things I’m going to be discussing before I go on to do their own sections.  In both fiction and historical belief, though, it’s absolutely grouped up as a school, which is largely divided into subgroups of Reanimation, Magic used on spirits and souls, and the Magic of death.  Those of you who have experience with Vampire: The Masquerade’s necromancy system in the By Night Studios LARP edition might have just said “oh, he’s cribbing from that book.”  And yes, in a way I am, since I don’t really find any fault in that system of paths in concept, though I did feel that some of the powers of the ash and sepulchre paths seemed completely arbitrary, but I guess they felt the two paths were separate enough to be their own things, but since they weren’t going to make 10 point paths or whatever, they were stuck with 3 or so powers in each path and then fluffed them out.  That’s kind of a tangent there, but the basic idea is that we’ve got two basic groundworks for necromancy, and one of them has a further three subgroups in it.

Necromancy as a Power Source

I did say I’d explain this.  So, in a lot of historical beliefs, necromancy was a bunch of rituals using and/or defiling the dead in order to make items of power or perform some kind of magical feat.  It would also serve to mention that a “necromancy” is a latin term that was transliterated from greek “nekromanteía”, or dead body divination.  Thus, the main form of necromancy through historical lenses is simply seeing and speaking to the dead.  However, to do most of the rites involved in necromancy, one needed items of power.  And the best items for that were pieces of people who had died prematurely or in violent fashion, as it was believed that those bodies held more vitality than others.  Other known uses would be the Hand of Glory, an artifact that combined the left hand of a man hung on a gallows with a candle made from the same man’s fat.  This artifact, which is weirdly not even a thing, since it was made up because of a translation error with the french term for Mandrake, would paralyze anyone it was presented to and no doors could remain locked in the presence of a bearer of the hand.  There’s also the Necropants from Iceland, which were a pair of pants made from the skin of a consenting dead man from the waist down, with a coin stolen from a widow seated in the crotch.  The Necropants would then guarantee an ever-replenishing amount of coin in the scrotum of the Necropants.

Essentially, though, when you look at necromancy as a power source, you’re basically looking at doing terrible rituals using the parts of corpses in order to attain power.  In a setting where magic exists and is fairly wide-spread but probably secured behind gatekeeping, necromancy provides a route to use magic without having to go through the secret societies and colleges to learn how to do said magic.  Instead of steeling one’s mind against the follies of trying to lever all of physics to one’s whim or pledging yourself to gods or natural forces, fickle as they may be with their endowments, one simply finds ingredients and rituals in foul books and from fouler teachers.  Both of which would get someone hunted by the entirety of civilization for the practice.  Because in most societies, desecration of remains is one of the biggest taboos ever, and that’s where a lot of the power of necromancy would come from.  However, there’s a strong possibility that any of those rituals and spells might not work, and even worse, the universe might get desensitized to the taboo-breaking, forcing the necromancer to go to even greater lengths to achieve the powers over time.  The necromancer might be able to cast fireballs by burning a lock of an orphan’s hair this year, but next year it might require handfuls of that same hair, requiring desecrations on an ever-increasing scale to remain powerful.  It might be that simple powers, like speaking to the dead, require very simple rituals that no one would find much worse than distasteful, but stepping into reality-warping magics that wizards and the like do fairly regularly would require so much effort, time, and taboo-breaking that the cost would outweigh the prize.

Regardless, there’s a lot there that can be fiddled around with when it comes to designing a system or a narrative for a setting that includes necromancy.

The Reanimators

What people think of in classical style as Necromancy is the reanimation of corpses to serve the necromancer.  And I could spend some time telling you how recent that idea is and where a lot of the reanimation stuff came from, that’s not really important to the subject.  The whole thing with reanimation is making dead people walk around and act and react like the living, even if it’s sometimes slow and muddled.

There are, however, a couple of ways this can be done.  We can call them Faux Reanimation and Possession.

In Faux Reanimation, what’s happening is that the necromancer in question is using some kind of power to make the dead move.  It might be application of force, tying together the bits with something else that the necromancer can control (rope?  Vines? A virtual army of ants?), or even just the necromancer doing tricky things with telekinesis.  However it’s done, it’s not done by making the bones or bodies sit up and breathe and go about their day.  It’s external, and if the observer didn’t know better, they’d think it was just necromancy.

In Possession, however, the corpse or part of a corpse or creepy amalgamation of parts fit together as a whole acts as a vessel for a spirit or ghost or other dead, bodiless thing which takes the reins and begins working at the necromancer’s behest.

Reanimation is really simple when you put it like that, and there’s no reason to expound on it further, to be honest.  You’re either forcing a body to act by jamming a sentient dead spirit or soul into it and maintain control over said spirit or you’re pretending to reanimate when you’re actually animating.

Magic on the Dead

This, by far, should be the biggest load of necromantic spells.  Because, you see, “the dead” covers a lot of territory.  But when you look over necromancy at its fullest, there’s a few different categories to cover.  Obviously, corpses are a major thing, but one can do a lot more with corpses other than reanimate them.  Off the top of my head, one could speed up or slow down the natural decay of corpses.  One could change the corpses into other things (usually bigger creatures made of lots of corpses).  One could turn them into bombs.  There’s actually a lot of things that can be done with a corpse that aren’t actually reanimation, and these sorts of things should, in fact, be taken account of.

Further, we have the spirits of the dead, whether they’re floating around waiting to be passed on, or off in the shadowlands where they dwell eternally, or even if they’ve gone to some kind of religious afterlife.  Being able to interact with, command, and force spirits into doing one’s bidding would all fall into this category.

This is All the Time I Have Right Now

My monthly deadline is up shortly and I do feel I have given enough to start with here, which I can later revisit for updates.  I do plan on fleshing out the last couple of sections and finishing the power areas and probably getting into some kind of lore-type stuff to do necromancy with.  Since I’ve been kind of passively working on this for a couple of years at this point, I know I’ve got more ideas, but I’ve been sitting here frantically writing off and on all day and my brain is getting mushy.

Also, huge shoutout to new Patron Marci Ferraro, who’s joined us at the $10 mark.  A few more patrons and I’ll have more money per month than I have in years.

Again, thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for their continued support and let’s just hope this next year doesn’t suck so much. It will, but we can still hope.

A Collection of Reactions I’ve Had to the Russian Invasion

It’s been an interesting week, hasn’t it?  We started off being absolutely disgusted with Texas law that classifies gender transition as child abuse and then Russia just went and started bombing the Ukraine.  I don’t think I need to put anything else here to prep you for what’s covered hereafter.

We’ve Known Putin Was A Dick For Decades Now

Listen, calling putin a dick on twitter is only really novel due to twitter not being a great meme-sharing platform for most of its history.  To put things into some sort of perspective, there have only been 3 presidents of russia:  Boris Yeltzin twice before he resigned in 1999, Putin, starting with his acting president in the wake of Yeltzin’s resignation and then following that with two terms, a one term break in which he put Dimitry Medvedev into the seat while he took the prime minister position, then two more presidential terms, which he’s in the middle of the second one.  The Russian constitution, you see, prevents any more than 2 consecutive terms for any president, but doesn’t limit anyone from having more than 2 terms total, which Putin’s exploited to basically be the only president of Russia in the 21st century.  He was president when George W Bush took power, when Barack Obama gained presidency (for about 5 months, russian inaugurations are in May), became president again during Obama’s second term, was still in his first term of his second run when Donald Trump was inaugurated, and was in his second term with Joe Biden took the oath.  Literally, every American president since 1999 has had Putin opposite them in the world, which is really only attributable to his insatiable lust for power.  To push it even more, during Medvedev’s term as puppet president, he passed an amendment to the constitution that changed the term of presidency from four years to six.  Which means he doesn’t even have to find a new power switch replacement until 2024.

In the early days of his presidency, Putin basically went on a goodwill tour of the world, sparking conversation that Russia would be finally opening up to the world.  The last 22 years has proven that was a lie.  However, at the time of that tour, I was working the graveyard shift at a gas station and literally only had newspapers to occupy my time with, so I could track his progress around the world by noting where he was throwing children now.  You see, when Putin became president, we knew approximately two things about him:  he’s ex-KGB (or whatever acronym is actually used for them at the time) and he’s a high level in judo (i could call him a blackbelt, but that seems cliche and not actually correct, but i also don’t know how judo differentiates the levels).  So when he visited, the host country was always sure to put on a judo exhibition for him.  But he also participated, sometimes fully geared up in the gi and everything, sometimes just taking his coat off.  And for some reason, the AP reporters tended to only submit pictures of him squaring off or throwing an actual child, like age 3 to 5 children.  I spent an entire year wondering why the President of Russia felt the need to show dominance to children who are still learning to wipe their own asses.

Honestly, i think if you googled around a bit, you’d find countless completely petty but absolutely asshole things Putin has done that don’t even match up to “has been running Russia for 23 years now”.  He stole a guy’s superbowl ring and the White House told the guy to say it was a gift because trying to get it back might put international relations in jeopardy.  Like, that’s some petty shit right there, and even worse when everyone knows that the guy would absolutely tank everything over a $25,000 ring.

To sum this up, Putin has and always will be a dick, and this isn’t even a brave stance to take at this point.  It’s like daring to state that water is wet.

Putin Isn’t the Entire Problem

Sure, you want me to point out the oligarchy that exists there.  But ultimately, those oligarchs – the billionaire Russian conglomerate that runs or influences all of Russian government and politics – basically live at the whim of Putin.  They’re disposable, rich pawns.

No, the problem is that there’s a lot of people who agree with Putin and his ideals, who have the power to carry out the demands and orders that lead to and continue the Ukrainian Invasion.  This is basically the same scenario that plays out whenever any nation’s leader decides to do something on this scale.  Putin can say “давайте вторгнемся в украину и вернем ее в союз.” (machine translation, feel free to tell me i don’t know how to Russian language) but a bunch of people have to figure out the logistics, the tactics, the general strategy, how to get everything in place and prepped for invasion, and all of them know exactly what they’re doing and have done nothing to prevent it.  You could argue that insubordination at that level would result in death, but I would counterpoint that all of those people involved were picked for those positions because they would do exactly that.  If Biden chose to close the gap between Alaska and Oregon by forcibly annexing British Columbia and Yukon, the Pentagon would have to figure out how to do it.  Similarly, when the US drone-struck Qasem Soleimani because Trump’s intelligence people presented it as the worst choice in a tasting menu of choices, they literally went through with it instead of blocking the shit out of the action instead.  Sure, they claimed they weren’t down with it, but in the end the Bagdad airport was missiled by a UAV and it sure as hell wasn’t built, placed, and piloted by Trump.

If any progress is ever going to be made in Russia in terms of getting it somewhere where it’s more of a global partner and not an giant oppressive dark force that can be only counted on to make everything harder and more dangerous to everyone, Putin’s not the only person that needs to be removed.  Literally everyone he put into power has to go too, and at the same time and with such glaring swiftness that none of them can react to backdoor their way back into power.  Honestly, the same would hold true of the US, but I’m talking about Russia today.

Both Sides Are Going to Do Some Heinous Shit

“War.  War never changes” is one of the biggest taglines of the Fallout series, and it sticks so well because it’s short and true.  Throughout history, we’ve been engaged in war in so many shapes and forms that we can rely on some things always being true.  Wars kill people.  Lots of people.  Lots of people that aren’t even fighting the war, in fact.

And winning wars seems to require doing the worst things to people, including your own people, because no war has been won within rules and decorum.  That doesn’t mean that war crimes and the like should be ignored or pardoned, just that they’re inevitable.  There really isn’t a light-hearted way of explaining this, but the noble and rightful defenders of Ukraine are going to do some harmful shit in order to attempt to win.  Currently, they’re conscripting men attempting to leave the country and forbidding travel of all men between 18 and 60.  This sounds like regular business, I suppose, but really can you think of someone demonstrating a clearer sense of conscientious objection than attempting to leave the country?  Hell, even our draft laws make exceptions to conscientious objection, even though that status can be challenged by the government and people can simply be declared to be “afraid to fight” or whatever if their case isn’t good enough, but…  I don’t know, I think if I were running an army, I sure as shit wouldn’t want a bunch of guys in it that really don’t want to be there.

I mean, we know Russia’s going to do some terrible things.  That’s been Russia’s MO since the jump, but I think painting the Ukraine and President Zelenskyy as some kind of noble do-gooders defending their land is really going to make the inevitable info-drop of what they felt they had to do and how ugly it was even worse.  It’s a Never Meet Your Heroes feeling except instead of being horrible people, they committed war crimes.

And let’s be clear about something, the idea that rules need to be broken in order to win wars is exactly why pardoning war criminals happens.  You may think that following the rules might put you at a disadvantage, but there’s never really a good case for stabbing injured teenagers after they’ve been given medical treatment (Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, pardoned by Trump).  Wholesale slaughter of an entire village isn’t really excusable (My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War).  Hell, we even abolished the excuse that one was acting on orders when atrocities are committed (Nuremburg Defense, World War II).  At the end of hostilities, we’re going to find out that a lot of people did horrific things that they knew they shouldn’t ever do and chose to do so anyway, and some of those things will come from the Ukrainians, and we should be ready to condemn and persecute those acts, rather than pardon them and clear the way for more of those acts.

The best we can hope for is that the Good Guys do almost no horrific shit and we don’t give more fuel to the All Means Necessary narrative that will eventually crop up, if it hasn’t already.

To Sum Up

I have a lot of thoughts about what’s going on and why and how, but trying to keep my thoughts contained to salient points and easily-readable style means that rather than dumping an entire wall of text that no one wants to read, I ended up just posting my thoughts on three things I’d been mulling over this week.  I’m sure there will be more to come, however, because it’s only been a week.

I’d like to thank my Patrons for keeping my electricity on, and if you’re not a Patron, you could’ve read this 3 days earlier simply by pledging a minimum of $1 per post over on my Patreon.

3 Weird Things About D&D (So I Don’t Have To Talk About Bitcoin)

There’s a whole lot of things going on in the world this month, and too many of them require a lot of explanation to work out.  Truly, things have gotten too complex for me to want to tackle.  And conversely, there’s also too many of them that are really goddamned simple and could be tackled in a single tweet, which I would hate to spend several hours trying to draft and then charge my Patrons for.  So, instead of talking about Spotify and Joe Rogan, instead of talking about our second year of Covid-19, and instead of talking about literally everything that’s being stalled in congress right now, I thought I’d talk about a few things that I find odd or funny or terrible that I often see in role-playing games that I never see anyone discussing elsewhere.  So, here’s 3 Weird things about D&D (and possibly a ton of other games).

Dungeons and Kruger Effect

Attributes, such as Strength and Intelligence, in Dungeons and Dragons have always been scaled as if they were generated by rolling three 6-sided dice and adding the totals.  I know that seems like a very basic description there, but one must always be aware that your audience might not know basic shit for whatever reason.  Regardless of any table’s preferred attribute generation system, the range of attributes conforms to the basic idea that the entirety of variance in characters lies within the 3 to 18 value set, though it’s possible and often likely that those attributes can end up being higher than 18 and lower than 3.  Interestingly though, dice totals like this can also be mapped to the normal curve of statistics, which is how the game came to the conclusion that the average for people in the world is 10 to 11 and that very few people have extreme statistics.  The mean of the possible combinations is 10.5, although one can’t have a fractional number for an attribute.  This also means that the next set of numbers, the 8 to 9 and 12 to 13 fall within the first standard deviation of the mean, which means that a full 68% of all people in the setting have between 8 and 13 for any given stat.  If we map this to a system in the real world, like IQ – which we already know is a flawed system, but it has usable data and is also mapped to the normal curve – we’d know that someone with an Intelligence of 10 or 11 has about 100 IQ.  And the people with 8 to 9 have about 85 IQ, while the 12 to 13 would have about 115.  Once you break down the system like this, it becomes a lot easier to see where people ought to fit into categorization.  For those of you wondering, Forrest Gump had an IQ of 70 in the book and 75 in the movie, which puts him at the bottom of the second standard deviation, at only a few points below the low average.  Because the whole IQ system is designed around the normal curve, though, and not actual intellectual capability, those points aren’t representative of much beyond placement in the curve.

However, the reason I bring this up is that D&D players who are roleplaying their characters with low stats tend to greatly exaggerate how bad they are at activities that rely on those stats.  When the average character has stats that are usually 13 to 14 and up, it seems pretty normal to consider someone with a “low” intelligence stat of only 8 or 9 to be mind-bogglingly stupid.  Indeed, there’s even a tendency to play averages as below average, as if the players of D&D have all gotten together and decided that average people are incomprehensibly stupid and it’s only through our will and guidance that they don’t get everything within reach of them stuck up their nose.  People with low stats in practically any attribute tend to play them as if they’re just incapable of doing those things, which is kind of funny considering that D&D as a hobby encompasses so many people that it’s impossible that all of them are above average in every stat.  In fact, one could wager that a lot of players are actually average or even below average, but the Dunning-Kruger Effect kicks in to make them believe that they’re far better than they actually are.  It’s kind of a weird thing to witness people who fully understand how DKE actually works just falling into it at every given chance.

Universal Sizing Creates Economies

For those of you who have played an RPG in any capacity – tabletop, larp, video game, etc. – you are probably familiar with the axiom of “bring a cart, we’re looting everything”.

If you’re not, then I must tell you that entire economies built by players are centered around the idea of grabbing everything they can get their hands on and selling it to the town’s stores when they get there.  The sheer amount of this looting and selling going on in most games is often enough to fund an entire career of an adventurer and three or four generations afterward.  After all, what kind of DM would punish the players for going to all the work of moving tons of gear from place to place and expecting every shop to be willing to flip their offerings?

One of the big things is often armor, since damn near everything an adventurer will encounter on their adventures is wearing armor and wielding at least one weapon.  So when the party wipes out an entire den of goblins on their way to the Mysterious Castle, they’re going to grab all that armor, because armor tends to have a decent size to value ratio.  Even if every single last goblin is wearing basic leather armor, at the least generous offering of 50% sell rates, that’s around 12 gold per armor, which can add up.  And because D&D is a simple system – even when it wasn’t – all that armor is just small leather armor.  It’s not Goblin Armor, it’s not This Specific Goblin’s Armor, it’s all just Small.  Which means that all of it can be flipped because there’s plenty of “civilized” races that are Small.  The same goes for weapons, because the only material qualities given to weapons usually are extraordinary qualities, like Mithral or Adamantine.

In reality, though, if you showed up with a wagon full of goblin armor, all crusted and covered with blood and whatever else the goblins had gotten into, even the biggest purveyor of armor would just offer you half of the material cost.  Kinda like taking your car to a junkyard, where they’re buying the car for scrap metal instead of buying a car that just needs some work done to get it running, or a spare parts repository for other cars of the same or similar model.  And the local general goods store sure as hell wouldn’t want 600 pounds of armor that they might be able to move after they cleaned it all up.  After just figuring out how much it would cost to turn the armor around, it might even need to be fitted to the prospective buyer.  That kind of reckless buying from even the people who saved the town from a dragon’s wrath would just tank the average business.

But anyone of the proper size can wear the proper armor and use the proper weapons, as per the rules, so any reason to say no to that kind of purchase is generally the DM trying to end your schemes of retiring before reaching level 5.  Even if it doesn’t exactly make any sense.

Exploiting All The Rules Everywhere

Virtually every gamer everywhere has attempted to align the rules of their game with what they perceive to be the real world applications.  Obviously, part of this was covered above with economies, but there’s quite a few things out there that are absolutely ludicrous applications of physics and game mechanics that people swear should work but really shouldn’t.

One example is the Peasant Rail Cannon.  The basic idea is that you line up 100 people or so and have them all pass a 10 foot pole from the back of the line to the front of the line, with the frontmost person throwing the pole.  Since that can all be done instantly with readied actions and whatnot, what you end up with, they say, is a 10 foot pole traveling thousands of feet per second, far into the MACH range, which should be moving fast enough to do enough damage to kill the mightiest creatures in the setting.  It’s a ridiculous idea though, because the game mechanics don’t allow for that sort of acceleration being passed through each member of the line, so mechanically it wouldn’t be thrown any farther or faster than the lead person can throw.  If we use the physics aspect of that idea through the entire idea, the pole would probably explode somewhere in the line and the people trying to pass the pole would not be able to react fast enough to keep it going.  At which point the pole would be loose and headed straight through the line with it’s momentum and velocity, probably killing half the line before it stopped.  But obviously, that wouldn’t be beneficial to the players, so they just take the fun parts of both physics and the mechanics and combine them to do stupid things and swear they should work.

I’m also reminded of the strip club DJ that I knew a while back who also played D&D and successfully argued with his DM that sneak attacks with multishot bows should work because there’s no reason anyone would expect more arrows after the first one hits.  Now, this is actually directly contradicting the rules for the edition in question, but the fact that people can argue these points to success is kinda weird to me.

And let’s not forget the case of Lord Kevin, the Anal Intruder.  At one point on a forum for D&D rules and ideas, someone pointed out that one could squeeze through a hole 2 inches square with a DC 80 Escape Artist check, and that the human anus is approximately that same size.  Obviously, most people took that to mean that one could squeeze into someone’s asshole and then burst out of them like the xenos from Alien.  I could point out how that wouldn’t work in the rules, but the point is that it’s another bit of real physics plus game mechanics minus the stuff that doesn’t benefit you which is the crux of things here.

Really, it seems that a lot of the players in the game are less interested in playing the game as they are manipulating the game itself so that they can win.  Which is a terrible way to play a game, to be honest.  If the game doesn’t let you do the things you want, then find a game that does.  There was a huge boom of RPGs that came out in the late 90’s and 00’s that you could steal mechanics from to play in your setting.  Hell, there’s dozens of sword and sorcery type games like D&D you could choose from, to add the complexity or flexibility you want to the game.

And that was 3 Weird Things About D&D (and other games, probably) that I think you might enjoy.  If there’s anything else you find weird in these games that I didn’t mention, be sure to mention it in the comments.  And as always, thanks to my Patrons on Patreon and a special shoutout to Jo, Rebecca, and Gus for joining the Patreon or jumping up a level or two in membership!

It’s fucking 2022, what have we learned since the pandemic started?

Normally, this is where you’d find a paragraph where I would explain the premise for the article or essay, but then while writing this headline I realized i put more work into a headline that does the same thing with fewer words and this space just serves as a place to work on my prose and add a joke or two.  So instead, I’m going to skip explaining things here and just work on my prose.  I didn’t come up with a joke.

The American Economy Does Not Have A Pause Button

It’s been said so many goddamned times over the past two years that I’m quite frankly surprised that no one in positions of power hasn’t just acknowledged that this is the single greatest problem we’ve faced since SARS-Cov-2 landed in January of 2020.  Like, imagine if the cops in chief came out tomorrow and said “Alright, the problem we’re dealing with in regards to Covid isn’t the vaccination numbers, it’s not the paranoid conspiracy bait screaming at people about mandates, and it isn’t even the fact that even in a lockdown, none of you motherfuckers can stay home long enough to actually change our infection rates.  It’s that without everyone who doesn’t rely on passive income for life going to work every day in stupid conditions and dangerously harmful situations, the whole fucking country just stops functioning.  So please, just go to work and we’ll make sure your families are compensated for your deaths.  Except, we won’t, but that won’t matter as much to you when you’re dead.”

Because, honestly, that’s the biggest issue isn’t it?  Our entire internal economy is designed around this weird fucking capitalistic hell we’ve constructed where the only thing standing between the absolute dystopia of modern living and a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with cannibals and people abusing new forms of heroine while wearing an entire kitchen junk drawer as underwear is the movement of cash from one mcdonald’s worker to several grocery stores and retail centers, for no reason at all besides the fact that we decided it was completely ok for people to monetize every aspect of life and to expect even our own hobbies and relaxations to be part of the money train.  We’re literally dealing with the fact that if the costs of operations for any shitty fucking job out there goes up by even a dollar across the board, millions of people will suddenly become homeless and angry.

What’s even more bothersome to me is how much of our economic infrastructure is based entirely on the model of employees being idiots who will destroy your business or thieves that will run it into the ground for staplers, and even more troubling is how much those ideas are just fucking ingrained into the cultural mindscape of work.  After six months of work-at-home, suddenly every company that could’ve offloaded all their costs of operations for their employees directly onto said employees by allowing them to work remotely, because there’s an entire section of their workforce who exist to corral and police employees whose jobs were suddenly at risk because they couldn’t remind people to send in their TPS reports.  And the reason those people didn’t have to go find new uses for their degrees and talents was because the companies in question believed, against all data pointing to the opposite, that those middle management types were absolutely necessary for successful work.  CEOs were telling the world that office building culture of their companies was important even though employees left to their own schedules and their own spaces in their own homes were being as productive and often more productive without that office space and culture.

Meanwhile, every place that hires people based on “Will you put up with all this bullshit for the least possible amount of money the company will offer you” stayed open for most of the serious parts of the pandemic because if they weren’t churning out big macs and selling people toilet paper or yarn, they were just going to wither up and die.  Or, more likely, they realized that business was going to be even bigger because suddenly everyone was going to need to use their services and goods more often because they weren’t spending 12 hours of their day away from home.  But sure, as soon as they could, they dumped the “hero bonus” for the people working those “essential jobs” and began lobbying for states to drop unemployment payouts and lockdowns.  We actually convinced ourselves that the end of lockdowns happened because a few hundred people got greedy, but the reality is that so much of our economic infrastructure relies on people doing shitty jobs for not enough money and the thousands of people and companies that operate in that sphere had spent the last few decades fine-tuning their systems to the point that natural disasters could literally destroy them if they couldn’t convince people to drive through wildfires and blizzards to come to work.

The Best Way To Get What You Want Is Actually Throw A 18 Month Long Temper Tantrum Like A Giant Baby

That’s it, that’s the tweet.  It’s been two fucking years and we’re still losing people left and right to a disease we could avoid by playing it safe and following medical advice, but it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?  Instead of reaching vaccination herd immunity, we’re just going to do full-population exposure because a bunch of people are so fucking angry that they have less control over their lives than they thought have invented entire narratives and picked the fucking worst hills to defend in the name of ideals that literally don’t matter of there’s no fucking society to adhere them to.  Congratulations, you fucking rat-licking chuds, you fucking won and now all of us have funerals to plan.  Thank goodness you got to eat at Waffle House in the middle of a pandemic with giant phallus-substitute guns slung over your shoulders, just like the Founders intended.  Hope the next global calamity just kicks you so hard in the taint that you’re shitting blood out of your mouth for the rest of your life.

The Grand Experiment Has Been Nothing But An Abject Failure For The Past 20 Years And It’s Only Getting Worse

250 years ago, the founders of the United States of America, a representative democracy with elements freely cribbed from the Haudenosaunee and patterned around the Greek and Roman states from a millennia before, set forth a system where white male land-owners would choose the smartest white male land-owners in the territory to represent their interests in the federal government.  Granted, there was no way for them to foresee a future where people who weren’t white male land-owners might have an opinion that mattered.  Hell, they didn’t even foresee a time where African descendents would not be considered property.  Or that women might have a useful opinion.  Or that the vast majority of people in the country would actually have access to enough information to be informed voters.  Or that quartering soldiers wouldn’t even be an issue that would be studied by anyone but historians.  Or that a bunch of civilians with the best firearms around wouldn’t be able to pose a real threat to the federal government as a whole (honestly, if the Jan 6 insurrection had succeeded, the pentagon could’ve just wiped out the building with a drone strike and rebuilt it with the remainder of the budget in less time than the commission’s taking trying to prove that the insurrection was, in fact, and insurrection).  But you know what?  Our forebears made it work.  Damn near 200 years of progress and stuttering baby steps towards a bright future were in the bag until someone read Orwell’s books and said “You know what, other than the socialism aspect, this could work!”

Now, we’ve managed to let party politics completely take over all aspects of government, including and especially the parts that aren’t at all supposed to be politically biased.  SCOTUS has been a political battleground since at least the 80’s, but it’s never held a candle to the McConnel/Obama showdown.  Everything’s so fine-tuned that a clear majority in the Senate is impossible for the foreseeable future, which means that we’re going to be stuck in deadlocks on literally everything unless a lot of changes to legislating at that level take place.  Right now, a senator can hold the entire country’s future hostage because the corporations in their state will be holding their campaign funding hostage.  And literally none of us even had a choice in that senator’s election.  I can’t vote for Idaho’s representatives, even though they might have more of an impact on my life than the people running in my district due to this fucked up quagmire.  Hell, right now, millions of people don’t have real representation in congress or the presidency because their choices are limited to who the parties want in those positions.  Hell, we were used to politicians lying to get into power, but now John down the street is trying to sell me on the asshole on his party’s ticket with some bullshit that I’m told I have to accept because the opposition party is forwarding literally Satan on their ticket and if I don’t vote for Not-Satan, then it’s my fault Satan won.  And we’re being told that “Well, let’s just get him in office then put the pressure on him to lean your way” and suddenly we’re halfway through the term and literally nothing has pressured the asshole to represent me or the future of our country and to make it a full shit sandwich, the issues he’s pushing on now are literally the opposite of what we want and need.  But yeah, this is totally the fairest and best way to choose representation.  Deprive millions of people of actual representation, present them with lack-of-choice pills to swallow, then do exactly what we’ve been saying would be the worst possible things to do.  No need to, you know, revise how things are done because we’re operating within a system that was conceived before the industrial revolution, let alone the internet age.  This, my friends, is perfection and to look at how LITERALLY ANY OTHER DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY ON THE PLANET IS DOING THINGS AND SOMEHOW NOT FALLING INTO AN ANARCHIC CIVIL WAR THAT KILLS OVER HALF THE POPULATION is just you saying you hate America and don’t believe in American Exceptionalism.

Seriously, though, for the foreseeable future, nothing can move through congress unless it falls outside the voting procedures and forum rules of the Senate, and there’s literally nothing we can do about it short of armed revolution – which I pointed out before can literally be stopped with a couple of drones that’ll be firing missiles from farther away than you can aim your klashnikov at.  Good job, democracy!

Cops Literally Don’t Care If There’s An Emergency Because Laws Are Only Rarely Applied To Them

I could point out that the biggest citizen action since the pandemic was the George Floyd protests, where a cop strangled a black man to death on camera while staring down the lens in equal parts boredom and challenging the viewer to do anything about it.  Actually, I just did, and now I’m just hanging a lampshade over it.  Seriously, we were in the midst of a global pandemic with lethal consequences which should’ve at least brought us to consider how our lives impact others, and the cops just went out and murdered a dude like it was a Tuesday and then got super mad that we decided to protest this as if what they’d been doing was somehow wrong.  Thousands of people took to the streets to protest police brutality and demand new concepts of policing to stop making this thing keep happening every week.  To which the cops responded with, um… tear gas, riot suppression, baton rounds, and brutality.  I guess we should be high-fiving them for not coming out and just dumping live ammo on the crowds?  Good job, Bastards!  Given the chance to murder thousands of people at once, you managed to just terrify, brutalize, and prove their points!  Oh, and before we forget, since cops aren’t at war or considered soldiers, they’re allowed to do things that would, anywhere else, be considered a violation of international law and cause our own government to threaten sanctions on them.  You know, like attacking and destroying medical stations and medics.  Attacking journalists.  Like, there were wartime journalists at some of those protests who literally said they’d been in the shit in some of the scariest places on earth and hadn’t felt as close to death as they did while covering the Floyd Protests.  Anywhere else, we’d call them Security Forces to villify them and demand they cease their activities.  Here, they’re called heroes and attempts to curb their actions are met with death threats against city officials.  Which they weirdly didn’t investigate.  Hell, in Norman, where I live, a resolution to reduce funding for the police was met with a prominent council member’s address being publicly posted online and her neighbor’s house was broken into and the neighbor sexually assaulted practically the next day.  The local PD, of course, didn’t do anything wrong because that information was already public knowledge, so the cop that doxed her wasn’t in violation of anything.  I’m not saying that our entire law enforcement system is literally a bunch of terrorists who exist beyond the reach of the laws they’re supposed to be holding, but i’ll be damned if that shoe doesn’t fit.

But hey, let’s back it up a little, since the Floyd Protests were over the summer.  Lots of states and municipalities put masking mandates into effect in an attempt to slow down the spread of SARS-Cov-2 while they tried to figure out how to get us all to not care that hundreds of thousands of people were going to die the minute the money ran out to keep them at home.  You’ll never fucking guess who were the first people to just openly ignore those mandates.  Right, the same people who also said they weren’t going to enforce those mandates.  Good job, cops!  You figured out how to kill thousands of people without firing a single round or choking them to death with your bare hands!

So it was during and after the Floyd Protests that serious talk was given to defunding and divesting the cops of responsibilities they were completely incapable of serving.  Lot of cops and copsuckers thought it was pretty funny that we thought social workers would be able to take psychotics who’ve missed their meds off the streets safely, but that’s kind of literally their job.  And having been on the receiving end of a welfare check where people were concerned that I was suicidal, I can tell you that the cops who showed up didn’t do any of the situation any favors.  I know that cops are basically allowed to murder people any time they’re afraid, and opening my door to two of the most scared-looking cops I’d ever seen was literally the last thing I ever wanted to see.  Thank fuck I wasn’t in a position where I might have been a danger to myself, because I’m pretty sure they would’ve just killed me to protect me from me.  But aside from that, we had to listen to a bunch of cops declaring that they were going to just stop working if we didn’t want them to work and all of us saying “well, good, that’s kinda what we were aiming for” was not the response they wanted.  So they threw their tantrums all over the place.  Such a good thing there was a sudden uptick in murders in 2020, because now everyone from Biden down is willing to dump millions of dollars more into the cop coffers because apparently if they have more money, regular people won’t kill each other as much.  Literally no one said “whoah, wait a sec, 2020 was kind of a fucked up year all-round, do you think maybe you’re jumping the gun on this over-funding thing from one years’ statistic?” except for those of us who’re just never going to be heard because we don’t own vast tracts of land from which we draw or redistribute resources from.

What’s happened since then?  I literally don’t know.  I’m so worn down by everything exploding that I didn’t even know we had a mass shooting recently until almost 4 days later because it’s just the background noise of life anymore.  I could go look up the statistics to find out how many cops have murdered people since then, but why bother when i can just predict that it’s been at least one a week and probably still be low-balling it.  We’re so used to this violence from cops that we cheered when a cop who murdered a man on camera got convicted of actually fucking murdering that guy.  The bar is pretty fucking low, and any time we try to raise it – you know, by defunding or adjusting/eliminating qualified immunity, things like that – the cops literally throw the biggest screaming tantrum, scream “I hate you!” and then threaten our lives like mobsters running a protection racket.  And they just get away with it every time because there’s a ton of people that literally think that we’d fall into some kind of mad max-like chaos if they weren’t there to stop it (dunno if any of you remember, but Max was actually highway patrol in the original movie, so that makes it an even weirder analogy).  Weird, though, that there’s cops in literally every other stable nation that somehow manage to keep the peace without murdering people.  I mean, maybe that’s what we should be shooting for?  Peace keeping rather than public executions?

But, I’m pretty sure we’ll soon have a reason for new mass protests and we’ll just stand here and watch all the war surplus gear just get delivered to all the local police, like the cops of Des Moines might have some need for a mine-sweeper with mounted guns.  It’s just not enough that we have the biggest and best-funded military in the world, we also need to have the third biggest and best-funded military in the world in our police forces.

Am I Forgetting Anything?

Nope, I’m just not talking about everything.  I turned 42 this year and I’ve literally never had so much of my life taken over by impotent rage at people I can’t even confront.  If you hadn’t heard, I quit playing World of Darkness games in 2020, and it’s entirely because the options for playing it are “somehow make the world darker than it already is” or “try not to fucking traumatize everyone in the game by adhering to setting design ideals” and it looks like I’m going to be continuing that hiatus for another few years.  I just can’t fucking do it, the world literally sucks too much for a new season of Black Mirror and that’s not even a joke.  None of us were built for this and we still have to figure out how to get to the other side of this?

We’re just not going to survive intact.  And I hope I don’t have to go to any funerals this year.

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The Infinite Choice Paradox

If you’re new here, you probably don’t know that I have been gaming in most formats for 30 some years, and have a ton of experience in lots of different play.  If you’re not new, you can skip the previous sentence.  As experienced as I am, and how my brain tends to function in an analytical state, I feel like I’m in a great position to provide observations I’ve made for gaming as a whole in an attempt to explain or grow the knowledge of the community.  However, I realize there’s going to be gaps in my knowledge, like whether or not someone in a more scientific field has actually already written papers about the thing I could’ve just linked to, so if it’s actually the case that my writing coincides with other articles and/or studies, that’s purely coincidence and I’ll feel bad about not just saving some time and throwing a link up on my social media.

What I’m going to talk about this month is choice, if you happened to skip the headline.  Generally, people like choice.  You can tell this because people really hate it when the illusion of choice is revealed to them.  Hell, this is half the reason that magicians hide it.  When they offer a fair choice and the gimmick is a force or a magician’s choice instead, people are more mad when they find out the magician cheated the choice than they are when the magician somehow cheated the reveal.  However, there’s this weird thing where as you add more choices to make, more and more people seem to drop out of the whole choice-making system.  Let me give you a couple of examples to show you what I mean.

When I was playing WoW seriously, it was the middle of Wrath of the Lich King (yeah, I kinda played up to the early parts of Cataclysm, but I fell out).  At the time, WoW had a talent system that relied on skill trees, and you got talent points when you leveled up to invest in them.  All the choices you could make were cumulative and had small incremental effects for the most part, but by the end game you had like 71 points to invest among three trees which would allow you to get to the end of one tree at least.  However, at the end game of WoW, like most MMOs, everything put on your character is so multiplicative that small points here and there ended up being magnitudes of difference in effect while raiding and fully buffed.  And while there weren’t a lot of choices to make at any given tier of the tree, and some of the choices were obviously designed for different parts of the game, enough players were unwilling to do the effort of calculating the best builds and most efficient point expenditures that entire website economies existed just to give players top builds and best-in-slot gear choices.  Everyone I knew in the scene lived and died by Tankspot builds and videos that I don’t know that anyone could’ve raided if they didn’t exist.  When given a hundred choices to make, almost every player in the game cut it down to a single choice of listening to Tankspot’s recommendations instead.

More famously, there’s Magic: The Gathering.  Thousands of cards available in every format, thousands of strategies and builds to discover and build, and the vast majority of players choose instead to go see what the best decks being listed are.  And so this means that the vast majority of cards being printed by WotC are simply being ignored by most players, because they just need between a dozen and a hundred cards based on the format being played, making booster packs literal gambling devices where you wager a small amount for a chance at a card you want in the hope that you can get the cards you need for your build for far cheaper than buying them as singles.  Now, to be fair, there’s enough format variance that you could possibly find all the cards you need for any format in a pack, but if you’re only interested in a single format, you might as well either get used to playing your decks against the proven list decks over and over again or build your own list decks and see how five or six decks per rotation fare against each other in that format.

In a slightly more abstract version, when I was playing Crimecraft, which was a tourney arena shooter with MMO style hub and crafting, there was always gearing and weapon dominance for most of the time I played.  When I started, you couldn’t win PVP games without a full incendiary set, because no matter your weapons, nothing could beat someone dropping fire dots while weaving back and forth to dodge fire.  It was endemic.  The devs tamed that down, but all they really did was nerf fire stuff.  Well, actually, they boosted most other stuff to make it competitive with fire builds, but it felt like a nerf to everyone else.  But then the Bulldog shotgun took over the game for a few months.  The Bulldog was a 5 shot auto shotgun that was only useful at really close ranges, but it turned out that if you just rushed people and magdumped them in the center of mass, it didn’t matter what they might do to avoid the shots, they’d be taken out.  And it was super effective, and everyone was mad about it because they couldn’t get their hands on Bulldogs, mostly because the vast majority of players never bothered with the crafting side of things after a certain point (this was so normal for people playing that my team got accused of being p2w players because we had top tier chems on all of our toons.  I was a top tier crafter in guns, mods, and chems, so we literally didn’t need to buy chems, even with in-game currency).  So, everyone knew someone who could build them a lower-tier Bulldog, but they wanted a top tier one so they could put all the mods on it and stomp around matches.  Since I was tired of being the frequent target of bulldog rushes and felt they were overpowered, I obliged, and spent a month just filling the in-game market with as many top tier Bulldogs as I could craft until everyone had one and the devs finally had to do something about it because there was no variance in the gameplay anymore.  It was literally just Bulldog rushes all day long.  Because with a ton of choices in weapon and gearing – 5 Assault Rifles, 2 Snipers, 3 Shotguns, 2 Grenade Launchers, 3 or 4 Pistols, and 4 LMGs just in weapon choices alone, it was easier for people to just gear up and skill out for Bulldog rushes than it was for them to find other ways of playing.

In virtually every other aspect of gaming, in every format from tabletop RPGs to miniatures to coop loot’n’shoots to competitive MOBAs and even free MMOs, you can find entire forums filled with builds and gearing and skill trees to get the most out of your characters.  Why is that?  Are people just exhausted from looking at so many choices and worried that they’ll make the wrong moves when it’s necessary?  Do people not even like those parts of the games?  Or are people just too busy to put in the work the devs imagine would be necessary to do these systems justice?  Is it a combination of these factors?

For me, the maxim seems to be that as choices approach infinity, decisions made approach one.  Which is to say, the more choices players are given, the more likely they are to choose to listen to someone else’s recommendations instead of working it out for themselves.  And I suppose there’s several factors involved with this mentality, which means if you asked 10 people why they use lists instead of planning their own builds, you’ll get 3 to 10 different reasons for doing so.

First of all, a lot of people out there see their build as a tool, and their ability to use that tool is more important than whether they bought the tool or handcrafted it.  If they were into street racing and could just ctrl+c the winner’s car and then learn to drive it, they would.  And in a lot of games, not only is that possible, but it’s completely acceptable.  If a build is putting out an extra 500 heal per second over everyone else, it makes a lot more sense to copy that build than it does to try to squeeze out that much blind.  There’s no difference whether the player came up with the build themselves or not, because it’s the end result that matters.  In fact, it might even be required in some instances because builds can be so optimized that building in any other way is letting down the rest of the team.

Some people legitimately don’t want to worry about the numbers or spreadsheets involved.  Not all of them, obviously, because over the years I’ve seen far more people arguing over single points than people arguing over which Star Wars is best.  But enough people don’t want to bother with it, or don’t feel like they can do the work themselves, or don’t feel like they have the time or resources needed to do all the work.  For whatever reason, they’re happy just having the best possible build for their playstyle without doing any of the work involved with finding out how that works.  This is a lot like the previous entry, but it feels different.  While the first one is concentrated on being the best, this one is concentrated on not having to worry about things.

Finally, there’s the people who legitimately just want to play the game but don’t want to do anything else.  Maybe they’re also worried about being left behind because they don’t update well or adapt to new rules and rulings, but in the end, they just want to play the game and nothing else.

There’s probably several other viable reasons for this paradox, many that might be in regular psychology and game theory conversations, but I can’t really speak to them because I’m neither a psychologist nor a game theorist.  Hell, I’m barely capable as a mod developer, there’s a lot of things I just don’t understand about players, but I always know they’re going to annoy me.

If you have any good insight on why this seems to keep happening, feel free to leave a comment below.

I’d like to thank my Patrons over at Patreon for keeping me sweating on the final day of the month to try to get something on disc so i can afford my power bills, and I’d like to remind you that for as little as $1 per month, you too could be giving me an incredible amount of deadline anxiety every month just to keep my lights on.

Grift and the American Concept of Healthcare

Since we all know the American concept of healthcare is completely fucked, and there are too many people who think this is how healthcare works, we don’t actually have to discuss how badly everything is actually fucked.  But we can, however, discuss how some ideas might have come into play, and one thing I don’t think we discuss enough directly is how much the grift and quackery industries have changed the way we think about healthcare.

Now, grift and quackery aren’t new at all, you can probably find aspects of it as far back as history goes.  But other than creating some true believers and some angry people who weren’t pulled by the sunk cost fallacy after they bought a bunch of fake cures, most of the time someone selling a solution to medical problems that either didn’t exist or those solutions didn’t actually work didn’t change a whole lot of what was going on in a society’s understanding of how things worked.  Granted, there’s been some really weird times in history, like when everyone thought phrenology was a real thing or that time when someone coined the three races of man and we still somewhat prescribe to that notion?

But, the 20th century saw a lot of interesting gains in two things that probably should never have been combined.  The advances in medical technology brought the possibility of great healthcare to everyone, but the advances in commodifying everything brought the possibility of great healthcare being denied for costs to more people than ever before.  As healthcare moved from a public service provided by private sector people to a private service with cost-tiered care guidelines, it became more and more imperative for people to find alternate forms of healthcare.  A lot of effort was placed in preventative healthcare, often by healthcare providers who could reasonably say “if you’d just fucking take care of yourself, some of these problems wouldn’t exist”.

Unfortunately, that gave new angles for grift in the healthcare economy.  Now people could sell snake oil without making a pitch about it to start the show, they could tell you a bunch of stuff that everyone else was saying was good and sneak in their products as the solutions.  Doctors say you should do some light exercise and eat well and get enough sleep, right?  Well, here’s some studies that support that.  Also, wouldn’t you know, here’s a bunch of products that will help with that, which aren’t medical by nature in order to avoid FDA classifications!  Buy our all-natural stuff and our machines to make exercise easier!  It’s what doctors recommend!

Then with the rise of the take-over of the healthcare system by insurance middlemen and their for-profit model that requires paying as little as possible for as much as possible, and achieving that by fucking over both sides, healthcare went from a middling expense to unaffordable real quick.  Suddenly it’s in everyone’s best interests to do preventative care, and we leaned on the mantras that have always existed:  eat right, exercise, and get good sleep.  But now we work more than we used to, which makes literally all of those things harder to accomplish.  And makes selling us shortcut products a hell of a lot easier.  And with the rising costs of healthcare and insurance and the reveals of industry collusions and conspiracies, we get the angle of “They are trying to keep this secret, but it’s because it would drive them out of business!  Drink heavy metals today and cure your everything!” as the grifts move towards just straight up selling people anything they want to because no one trusts anything anymore, except when those things are telling them that they’re right not to trust the other things.

But what’s all this have to do with our modern thinking of healthcare though?  Other than the conspiracy-based rush to alternative treatments because of mistrust of government and pharmaceutical companies that don’t need to fuck with us to get rich because we have to buy their products anyway.  Well, this is where our weird need for control meets our rugged individualism and classism.  You see, we don’t like the feeling that bad things can happen to anyone regardless of circumstance, so we put a bunch of emphasis on preventative care, individually.  If someone gets sick or whatever, it’s likely because they weren’t doing anything to prevent it, we reason.  Easier for us to chug our vitamin C and take our vitamin gummies, and get our steps in and stick to our weird fucking diets and detox and boost our immune systems if we believe it helps us, and nothing will shatter that belief like someone also doing all of that and still getting sick.  Or getting sick ourselves.  The poor are more prone to disease and whatnot because they can’t afford the multivitamins and salads, and therefore deserve our pity.  But if they wanted better healthcare, they’d just improve their lot in life, just like that dude over there who lifted himself out of the ghetto and is now running a multinational company.  All of this to maintain a sense of control over one’s own life, which is only achieved by buying all the products that are for health so that one doesn’t have to visit the doctor’s very often. And why do we buy all the products?  Because advertising works.  Well, it used to.  Apparently Generation Z are incredibly resistant to advertising and it’s driving the entire industry mad.  But that’s kind of beside the point.

The point is, had a whole lot of people not spent a whole lot of time selling us a bunch of curatives and preventatives for far too long before we could tell them to stop doing that, maybe a lot of this could’ve been stopped before everything just kind of slid out of control.  And since we’re all freedom-first here, almost nothing gets regulated until after it’s too late for many people.  Seven people were killed by poisoned Tylenol before tamper-proof packaging was considered.  OSHA regulations were often written after accidents, the same with fire regulations.  We have this idea that people are likely to be reasonable and responsible until everything they do proves the exact opposite.  Which is fine and dandy the first few times, but it’s been decades now and we’re still being subjected to it.  “No reasonable person would believe this” is still being argued in courts regarding products by major producers, when tons of reasonable people totally believed these things because we’ve been lied to for so long that we’re just accepting anything that sounds good and fits our worldview.

Is there a way forward out of this mess?

Nope, not as far as I can see.  We can let the kids sort things out by making sure they have access to all the things they need and giving the keys over when it’s time, but for many of us we just have to wait for people to die off because they’re just gripping the steering wheel as hard as possible because they just don’t have enough yet.  An entire goddamned generation that’s fucked up everything for decades now insisting that they can’t give up control of things because they’ll get fucked up without them there.  It’s gross, but hopefully we can get some stuff done before they finally pass on so that we’re not so fucked when that time comes.

As always, thanks to my Patrons

A Spooktober Anthology of Horror Movie Thoughts

Every year, around this time, all of our thoughts go towards Halloween, the holiday, and probably pumpkin spice flavoring. The reasoning for this is simple, however, and for once it’s not the general fans’ fault. Consumer culture has long been driving people to think about holiday purchases for entire seasons rather than simply days, which has lead to holidays stretching out for weeks and often entire months in order to produce and overproduce niche commodities that can be put out for as long as possible. Now, it is true that advertisers have succeeded in turning fandoms and interests into full personalities and now we have full fandoms of holidays that spend a lot of time proclaiming their love for these holidays, but we’re going to ignore that for the moment because there’s a lot of unpacking there that I just don’t have the spell slots for. Instead, I thought I’d fight my current bout of writer’s block by writing several small bits and fitting them into one of the best formats for horror cinema, the anthology. Instead of one feature-length film of horror and depravity, you get several short films instead that are just as good, if not better, while bound under a single narrative framework. So, without further ado, here’s Four Questions I Felt Like Answering About Horror Movies.

Who Was The Thing?

Look, I get that the ambiguous ending to The Thing is an important moment of cinema, since the movie’s been out for nearly four decades and we’re still arguing about whether Childs or McReady were the Thing in that final scene. Or even if neither of them were. I’ve never actually seen a take where someone said no one was The Thing, and that might actually be a much better take than anything we’ve ever come up with, but I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about the ending shots just to suddenly come up with a new take about how The Thing could have won after its own death anyway.

How-the-fuck-ever, when this question comes up, and it comes up more often than you’d expect, my answer is always going to rely on what John Carpenter shows us, not on what he didn’t intend to show us or in hypotheticals or whatever. What he shows us is two things: first, earlier in the action, McReady filled bottles with gas for later, and then, when the scene actually happens, he makes a big show of McReady’s cold breath. A lot of the arguments against the breath involve actor positioning, but let’s assume that Carpenter’s not a moron and if he wanted Childs to look cold, he would’ve made him look cold. If he wanted Childs to look warmer because he was scant feet closer to the fire – the two of them are within arm’s reach when McReady passes the bottle – he would’ve made him look warmer. Instead, he framed Childs against the backdrop of the burning wreckage, which effectively masked his own cold breath, which wasn’t much to begin with. In fact, most people didn’t even notice he had cold breath until high-resolution versions of the film made their way to home viewing. McReady, on the other hand, is blowing so much vapor that it looks like a weird commercial for Juul. There’s so much vapor coming from his mouth any time he does anything that it’s impossible for him to have been that cold and still performing, so the reasonable solution would have been to gimmick his breath. That’s a deliberate action on Carpenter’s side, he could’ve just made McReady look cold and uncomfortable, but he decided to really highlight his breath, particularly with the lighting that reflected off of it to make it even more noticeable. Then, when he gives the bottle to Childs, he doesn’t react or laugh until after Childs drinks it, almost as if it’s a knowing reaction instead of a reaction to what he’d said. This supports the idea that he gave him a bottle of gas and The Thing really doesn’t know it’s not supposed to drink that. I really only mention this because, again, Carpenter made a point of showing us that the bottles had been filled with gas. When you look at the movie and how he constructed it, he did a lot more show than tell, and I think it’s important to dissect how things worked based on that rather than speculation and physics. We’re talking about an alien, for fuck’s sake.

Should We Watch Rosemary’s Baby?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer:

I get and fully comprehend that Roman Polanski is a giant bag of shit that has no justifiable presence in the world. I don’t think he can be redeemed by his works, I don’t think we can forgive him because of his art, and I am not interested in supporting him in any way. I really feel like I need to get that out in front of anything I say about the movie simply because Roman Polanski has tainted everything he touched and we live in an age where choosing to consume things from assholes and shitbags is the same as supporting them. And it’s true, especially now, that buying art from shitbags effectively keeps their voices and livelihoods intact so they can continue being shitbags. What’s also true is that in this day and age, there’s very little art that is so entirely unique that you can’t find something else that makes you feel like Drake does, or reminds you of your youth like JKR does.

Rosemary’s baby is iconic though. It’s frequently cited as being on the top 5 horror films of all times, and is practically a genre-defining movie for psychological horror (or suspense, if you want an academy award) movies. Without a single bit of gore, without a single bit of schlock, the movie presents a framework that’s been replicated to this day and unlike a lot of the major influential movies from decades past, spoiling the twist at the end does not diminish the movie in the slightest. Every moment in that movie is calculated and designed to make you uneasy and to question what is and isn’t actually going on. If there were movies like it before it debuted, we don’t know them, and there are tons of movies like it since then that were constructed based on the template that was presented there. It’s a very deliberate movie, and one of the most important movies of the broader horror genre. You can’t just go to the store and get a generic or alternative version of this movie, you can only really get copies of it. So it really is a must-see movie.

But, in case of trepidation in supporting Polanski by viewing it, there’s still some things to consider. Polanski already made the bulk of his money from the movie, decades ago. You’re not helping him live out his self-imposed exile anywhere near as much as his Hollywood friends are by watching the movie. I could mention the “no ethical consumption” argument here, but I don’t think it should really apply. But, if you’re completely unwilling to put even a portion of a cent near him for his work, there’s plenty of options still. The artist and studio and entire system gets no money from secondary market sales. So you could pick it up off Ebay for cheap and watch it that way (you can do that with all great materials from shitty artists, by the way). If you really want to stick it to people though, just pirate it.

Which Jason Was Best?

Now, there have been 8 different people in the Jason Costume over 10 movies, if we skip the first movie since we’re not concerned with which child Jason was the best. Of those 8, Kane Hodder is the only one to appear in more than one film as Jason, and was, in fact, Jason from Part VII to Jason X. One cannot overstate how much influence Kane had over the role, even though he was late to the movies and really did all the movies after fans had decided the series shark-jumped. But to really understand his reach, you just have to go back to any of the previous movies and realize how weird it is that the Jason in those movies doesn’t move or act like the Hodder Jason. Hodder really embraced the role and brought his own understanding of Jason’s unending quest of revenge and anger to the scene, and when you look at all the other Jasons, there’s not much going on there. Hodder transformed Jason from a cold, calculating slasher villain into a rage-filled undead monstrosity who punished everyone and everything in his way. In fact, his portrayal being so iconic is one of the reasons he was replaced for Jason vs Freddy, because the director wanted a deliberate and inescapable menace instead of what Hodder had brought to the table.

Now, we could spend time arguing about the qualities of Jason which make him great, but in the end it becomes a matter of opinion as to what and which is best, doesn’t it? So in the face of opinion, I offer my own: My favorite style of Jason is, in fact, the inescapable menace, the impending doom that will find you and kill you no matter where you are or what you’re doing to escape him. The slow, deliberate, emotionless monster that will destroy everything around it like a poisonous fog of undead violence. And for that, the best Jason is Ken Kirzinger, who played Jason in Freddy vs Jason. Ken brought a sort of feeling of stillness in action to the role. His Jason could hide in plain sight because his Jason never moved until it was necessary. The cornfield party scene in particular stands out for its framing and film work, but also because it really showed that this Jason will not be bothered in his pursuit. This Jason will pursue, and this Jason will win, because this Jason cannot be distracted, he will only choose new victims. This Jason is death.

Fast Zombies or Slow Zombies?

Personally, I think that’s a bullshit question. Zombies are one of two things: they’re either a stand-in for other fears and dangers, like mindless consumer consumption or disease or a dangerous obstacle that can be lethal for all of humanity to overcome but a good contrast of the deadly effects of nature versus the actual evil that can be perpetrated by people against other people, or they’re simply a handy villain one can use as a backdrop to some other story you’re trying to tell. In either scenario, whether they’re fast or slow is meaningless, because they can and will kill anyone at any time regardless of how prepared they are.

Really, I feel like the question is, “What kind of zombies do you find scarier?”

And for me, the scariest zombies I’ve ever seen in a movie are the ones from White Zombie, a movie that came out in 1932, and is what Rob Zombie named his band after. Some of you might be wondering if there’s racist undertones in that name, since it’s from before Romero made zombies a genre of its own and from the time where rampant racism was normal and you would be absolutely incorrect. There are no racist undertones in the title of the movie. The racism is right there and the name is it’s own tone. Because, you see, the movie is about the shocking use of voodoo magic by white people on other white people to make compliant servants. You see, when the villain of the piece, Beaumont, decides he wants to lure young Madge away from her fiance, he turns to Bela Lugosi’s Legendre, a local “witch doctor” who runs a sugar mill. And there’s this fantastic scene where Beaumont walks through the mill to meet Legendre. As he moves through the mill, you ssee all the workers in the mill doing their work. Completely silently. They do not speak, they do not grunt, they make no noise other than what the machines they’re operating make. It’s eerie as hell, to be honest. And the big wheel of the mill has a squeak to it, which comes up every few seconds as the wheel reaches the same point. And we see the wheel, and the workers, and we realize the squeak comes at the same point in every cycle, and you can set your watch by it because it’s so regular. Not only that, but the entire time Beaumont and Legendre are talking in Legendre’s office, you can hear the squeak in the background, reminding us of the zombies piloting the machinery there, and that nothing has changed on the floor the entire time we’ve been away from it. That, my friends, freaked me out more than any other zombie has ever freaked me out.

I’d like to thank my Patrons: Alysen Casaccio, Savannah, Bill, Connor Garrison, Erik Peters, Althea Peters, Rebecca Fegan, and Hoyt Fischbeck, and remind you that you could become a patron for as little as $1 per month and get exclusive access to things I put on Patreon, which is not limited to this blog.

It’s Been 20 years since 9/11, What Do I Remember

Since we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, you’re about to see a whole hell of a lot of retrospectives, especially since a large chunk of the adults in the US today were not really aware of things that happened in the first decade or so. It’s not their fault, though, there’s a ton of things I missed in my teenaged years because they really didn’t affect me in the slightest. There’s also a ton of things I’m missing right now for the same reason. Also, we, as a consumption block, love retrospectives. I, in fact, considered doing a retrospective as well, but I realized that while I could put forth a good or at least decent version, I was really the only person who could give and introspective retrospective from my point of view.

Of course, that’s an idea born from egotism. While literally everyone can give an account from their own perspective, what I’m talking about is an account from my own perspective because I firmly believe that my outlook is important enough for everyone to read. Sure, I can rationalize it by saying that my experiences can absolutely benefit others and that there’s plenty of people with similar experiences that could use my insight, but there’s that ego again, saying that my ideas and thoughts are super fucking important. But all that aside, maybe what I need to do is let some of this shit out and maybe I’ll learn some things? Who even knows anymore, the world is ending and digital media won’t survive the upcoming apocalypse.

So, 20 years ago. I’m sure I’ve told this story, but on 9/11 I was asleep. My roommate woke me up to tell me the towers were hit and my first response was “Was it Osama?” because I’d been doing some reading on Al-Queda, mostly due to the USS Cole bombing the year before. I went back to sleep, because it was like fucking 8:30am and I worked at 4pm that day. I woke up around 2ish and went to the local music store because Slayer’s new album, God Hates Us All, dropped that day. It was a few days before I figured out why the counter guy was a bit moody after he saw my purchase. Then I spent a couple hours explaining to high schoolers at Pizza Hut that gas prices will be back down tomorrow and that whoever is gouging is likely to be in legal trouble. And that Osama, who was worth millions and whose family were involved in the oil business, was not powerful enough to jack up our prices by himself. Otherwise he would’ve done that instead. It’s not a great 9/11 story, I know, and it only makes me look slightly cool, but it’s how everything went down as I remember it. For me, the big thing was not the day itself, but the stuff that came after. Yes, thousands of people died in an unprecedented attack on US soil, as long as you consider it a terrorist attack done by foreign agents, because we’ve been attacked before, we’ve been terrorized a lot more, but it was definitely the biggest attack and biggest targets to be successfully taken down.

For what I remember as a solid month but what might’ve actually just been a couple of weeks, we were all one, very scared and unsure, people. Couldn’t have been much longer than that though. Long enough for Enya and an album of patriotic songs to top the charts. Long enough that manufacturers of US flags that clipped to your windows to become a major industry, along with flag pins. But that feeling gave way to anger really fucking quickly. Attacks on Muslim people went up, not just physically but bullying as well, and we all suddenly supported the USA Patriot Act to get rid of all those hidden terrorists in our borders. We went from “Fuck, I need some comfort” to “Fuck those people, let’s turn the whole area into a glass parking lot” real fucking quick.

Now, something you may not know about me. Or maybe you do? One of my primary motivations in life is the desire to fit in and be cool. Like, that shit’s been part of my psyche since I was a child, probably because I was terribly socialized and didn’t have a lot of friends. And often to achieve this, I’d chameleon. I’d adopt mannerisms, opinions, memes, ideologies, whatever I can grasp to fit in, while somehow leaving room for me being “unique” in the setting so that I can stand out. I hate that, but I have a real hard time not doing it. It was really hard in my early 20’s, right when all this was popping off, to not chameleon, because I had no idea who I was other than “the weird gross guy of the group”. So anyway, the people I was hanging out with at the time were conservative punks. I’m sure you’ve run into those types before, the people who used to be super punk and in or around bands but grew up and got haircuts and still kept some of their ethos but it turns out a big chunk of their ethos was conservative rebellion instead of anti-authoritarian? You know, the guys like Lee Ving or Johnny Ramone who were kinda more libertarian than left and probably voted for Ross Perot in ’92 and don’t regret it? So anyway, I’m hanging out with these guys – most of whom I no longer talk to because holy shit – who are saying things like “greed is good, actually” and “war is great for the economy” and nowadays it just doesn’t seem that far-fetched that I spent like a good year totally on-board with the war and probably saying things like “the islamofascists hate us for our freedom and only understand violence and there’s no other way to deal with them except by making a giant fucking example of them.”

It wasn’t a great year, to be honest. I’m sure I had fun that year, but honestly, those first few years of the millennium are what I look back at as one of my low points. I had other low points, but at least I owned those, I didn’t spend them thinking I was doing ok only to look back later and go “the fuck was I doing?!”

You know what though, there’s a lot of stuff that’s been almost entirely forgotten around that time, because it happened before 9/11. seriously, there’s almost 2 years worth of stuff that just got wiped away except from memories because 9/11 was such a huge event. So let’s just wind things back a little more and talk about them, shall we?

In the run-up to the year 2000, or Y2K as we called it, it became known that modern computing systems, which were involved in a hell of a lot of our civilization’s infrastructure, weren’t ready for a 4 digit year. The so-called Y2K bug was the fact that programs were only accepting the last two digits of the year and assuming the 19 ahead of them, so when the calendar rolled over to 2000, they would think that it rolled over to 1900 and everything would just go wrong. Programmers and other computer folk spent 3 years, from 1997 on, fixing all these systems and programs so that they could safely enter Y2K, and it was a tremendous effort and the entire field should really be remembered and praised more for fixing 30+ years of programming in just 3. However, there was a not-insignificant number of people who weren’t really paying attention to all of this who just kind of assumed that civilization was just going to end shortly after Y2K and began doomsday prepping. Shortly after Y2K, they had all the bunkers and guns they needed and nothing to prep for, so they moved on to other paranoid delusions. A lot of them got into 9/11 truther conspiracies, which lead to the birther movement which lead to… yeah, there’s probably an entire line of conspiracy descendants that were born out of the Y2K preppers and they’re probably leading the charge in eating apple-flavored horse paste right now.

After Y2K, of course, was the Gore v Bush presidential election, where we suddenly realized how absolutely shitty a lot of our voting measures were. It was the first hotly-contested election most of us had ever seen, but unlike 2020, it was hotly contested because the votes were so close, not because an ego with a cult following decided he wanted to keep the office regardless of the counts. We learned a lot of interesting terms during that time, like “chads” and their chiefly problematic forms of “hanging chads” and “pregnant chads”. Chads are the pieces of paper that are cut out by a paper punch, if you were unaware, and in many voting systems, particularly in Florida where the vote was so close that a manual recount was necessary, you could screw up the counting machines by having issues with your chads. Hanging Chads were those chads that were stuck by the tiniest bit of paper because the punch just wasn’t exact enough. Pregnant chads were those where instead of punching the paper, it dented it. Machines had issues with these ballots so they had to be hand-counted. If I remember right, the Florida vote was within 5000 votes difference, which is incredibly close when you have millions of people voting. We also learned about Butterfly Ballots, which were confusing ballots that were designed to look like butterfly’s wings instead of a ballot for some goddamned reason. People had issues with those and it was thought that a lot of votes were miscast because of that. This whole thing is what spurred the nation to electronic voting systems, which immediately became suspect when it was convenient to do so.

Culturally, though, we were right in the middle of a predicted change of the guard, and right before the time where geeks won the culture wars they’d been fighting their entire lives. Now, we all knew that the music, movies, and culture were going to change right about then, because literally every decade found its footing within a year or two of its start. And every decade, everyone had been surprised, because they thought they could lead the kids who were the culture creators into the stuff they were trying to sell and were absolutely blindsided by what the kids actually latched onto. Of course, this is also complete bullshit. I was fully aware of my surroundings through the entirety of the 90’s and I can attest to the fact that there were really 3 stages of cultural development there. The early 90’s were dominated by the Seattle Scene, which we called Grunge, and the slacker mentality. Obviously, other things were happening, like Garth Brooks bringing country back to arenas and the Conscious vs Gangsta Rap riff, but history is written by the cool white people for the time being. The mid-90’s were post-Grunge, when everyone finally got on board because the stuff coming out was more palatable but kinda the same sort of thing. Then the late 90’s hit and suddenly skater fashion took over, rap metal was awesome, strippers were great, and women were shiny and weirdly fake-looking. Like, I was there and I loved all of it and I couldn’t tell you what happened between post-grunge and late 90’s. I can tell you, however, that most of the 90’s nostalgia people post about is late 90’s.

So, knowing all of that, we all wanted to get ahead of the New Thing before it happened. If you ever wondered how we got Hipsters, that’s the whole thing right there. Everyone was trying to be a hipster, but not the Hipster scene that erupted later. We were all trying to get ahead of what was going to be big so that we’d have the proper investments in place. Sure, for most of us it was the investment of being there first or knowing the new scene best, but media was changing rapidly and there was a lot of money investment as well. So first we assumed it’d be stripped-down garage rock, because that’s what seemed to happen in previous decades, right? Everyone started listening to those bands that were all named The [Plural Noun]. We tried to pinpoint where the next scene would erupt from. We speculated a lot. Then System of a Down dropped Toxicity and holy shit everything went weird. The kids, of course, were tired of our shit and went their own way and invented super-irony to make fun of us and decided to get into things that were long-dead or stupidly ugly just to spite us and that became the Hipster Scene. Some kid with a deliberately bad haircut, a stupid hat, an iPod generation 1, a fixed-gear bike, three Kraftwerk albums, and Arcade Fire. Needless to say, we fucked things up by trying so hard to be cool before it was cool that the kids rebelled by being uncool. Also, weirdly broke, even though, like most scene leaders in previous generations, a good number of the folks leading the charge were trust fund kids who didn’t need the money they pretended not to have.

Honestly, everything between 9/11 and the beginning of 2 Iraq 2 War is kind of a blur to me nowadays though, there was a lot of shit going on and not all of it was great. Lots of emotion that didn’t need to be there, and at frequencies that just weren’t healthy for me. Also lots of drinking. I turned 21 in 2000, and I lived in Nebraska, so drinking was what I did, like everyone else. By the time Iraq War: The Revenge started, I’d already swayed back to my more default stance of “This is fucking stupid, why are we bombing people who can’t even fight back?”, and Bush had just spent years being a fucking moron to the extent that I couldn’t even stand behind him anymore. Not that the rest of the decade was peachy-keen or that I became the very model of a modern major keyboard general; that didn’t happen until my late 30’s to be frank. At the very least, I’d stopped hating people for their religion or the weird places they tended to be born or for being mad that some country dropped bombs on all their friends and family, so I guess there’s that. But it was kind of a long trip from 9/11 to now, and just writing about who I was and what else was happening at the time took up three goddamned pages already, so I don’t think I’ll be able to document the rest of that decade alone just tonight.

In the end though, I think I wanted to show that we spent the previous two years in confusion, trying to find ourselves and our place in the world. Most of the US supported going to Afghanistan because we simply didn’t know and we were incredibly angry. We didn’t know Afghanistan was Vietnam, but with mountains instead of jungles. When we were lost and confused in the aftermath of 9/11, our leadership told us that Afghanistan was where the attackers were, and we wanted vengeance and purpose again. The last major war any of us had seen was the first Iraq war which was over in a matter of months, and we thought this would be basically the same thing, just go in and bomb them for a few months until everything changed and be home for Christmas. Show those Taliban that America Wasn’t To Be Fucked With, you know? And then, it wasn’t. It was a long, protracted war where we kept making everyone and everything over there harder simply by being there, and we couldn’t just leave because we’d be abandoning the mission, we’d be abandoning our allies, and we’d be making enemies out of everyone we’d left there, complicating everything. So we couldn’t leave, not until it was done. And now we have to leave, because we can’t finish the job because the only way to actually finish the job is to colonize the country and institute new martial law that would continue to create more guerrillas and more terrorists and more animosity there and everywhere around it. But even still, we have to remember that we were all culpable because the state couldn’t move to war there without our implicit support, and we gave that.

If nothing else, please remember that the people we were then are not necessarily the people we are now. There’s absolutely a whole lot of people who didn’t change much in the last 20 years and they deserve to be mocked off the face of the planet. There’s absolutely people who got worse and weirder in the last 20 years and they deserve to be thrown into the sun by your favorite wrestler. But a lot of us kind of quietly changed over the years and feel really guilty about who we were then, and I just hope that in 10 years I’ll be able to point to that period and say “That’s not who I am, I have advanced, I have progressed, and I have done things that matter, and if you’re going to dig that far back to try to find the Real Me, then you’ve missed all the real me that’s right here.”

I’d like to thank my Patrons over on Patreon for their continued support and suggest that you, too, could support me monthly for very little money.

The Journey of the Unmasculine Through the World of Gender Policing, or Toxic Masculinity is Bad For Everyone

Hi there, if you’re just now reading this blog, probably due to the fantastic headline I put up there, you should know that I’m a cisgendered white guy who spent his entire childhood being bullied for not being enough of a guy. Which, in retrospect, is weird because I have all the parts for it (not to say that parts are necessary, but they’re definitely one of the criteria that chuds claim are requirements for gender), the identity for it, and have never not been a guy. Also, I have no interest in writing in any way other than how I want and will probably fill entire paragraphs with NSFW language.

Anywho, I grew up in small towns in rural Nebraska, which you may recognize as The Places Where Football Is The Most Important Thing or That Area Under The Plane When I Visit The Other Coast, depending on your view. What’s important to know about these areas is that social policing is so incredibly standard that it’s not just the kids who bully you for being different. Yes, the vast majority of it is coming from your fellow children in your public schools, but also damn near every teacher, principal, cop, and anyone else in an authority position is not only enabling it, but also participating. Sure, they might not pants you or call you a queer all day long, but they do go out of their way to punish you and humiliate you for not fitting in. So anything I did or said or didn’t do or didn’t say that wouldn’t fit into what they would classify as right and proper was absolutely punished from every angle, while some were doing it because kids are fucking bastards, some, particularly adult authority figures, were doing it in the hopes that it would cause me to become a model person. Spoiler alert: I did not become a model person. I left, and they thought they were better off without me.

The thing that was most often brought up though, was how non-masculine I was. Or how anything I did that wasn’t right was proof that I was non-masculine. And we should probably take a moment to discuss what that actually means. Gender is performative, and it’s a social construct. Genital, hormonal, and other bodily configurations have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’re performing your gender. Honsetly, think about it. The stereotype for gay men in the 20th century in the US has been effeminate flamboyancy and a host of unmasculine behaviors. Yet, weirdly, gay men all have male body parts, so if body parts dictated personality and gender performance, none of that would be true. In fact, it’s such a well-known “fact” that gay men perform their own version of male gender that we’ve kinda internalized the idea that gay men aren’t really men, which lead to new and terrible ways of bullying children who might not be performing male well enough. Now when failing to perform adequately, not only can one be performing actions like a girl, but they could instead be doing it like a queer (note, I may use the word “queer” a lot, i’m using it instead of the f-word, which I refuse to use).

And you might be wondering how gender is a social construct. That’s easy enough to prove, because there’s a lot of societies where gender roles are different from what you’re used to. In Norse societies, which some have decided to be the epitome of masculinity, men would be the explorers and fighters and defenders and all that. But they were also fastidiously well-groomed and obsessed with personal appearance. And women owned the land and money and were the ones who could initiate divorce proceedings. That’s just a single example, if you look across all societies over time, you’ll no doubt discover that gender meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and an incredible number of those societies felt that more than two genders were a thing and should be respected.

And this is why bullying works, to some extent. If one doesn’t want to be bullied, then they can choose to perform their gender more in-line with what’s socially expected. Not to say that bullying is good or even close to warranted or necessary, just that it works to some extent. It still fucks up everyone who is exposed to it, oftentimes for decades or even the rest of their lives, and causes mental stress that can result in self-harm and suicide. But I guess if it gets one weird kid to turn in their homework on time or sit “right”, all that harm and death will have been worth it? And it’s not like harm and death was just something that happened other places, one of the loser kids I was friends with shot himself one summer after years of this sort of abuse. Didn’t change anything, except for one weekend a whole lot of people pretended to be really sad while they attended his funeral. Next week, it was back to everything being normal, as if they hadn’t literally bullied someone to death. The only good part of all this in my life was that it was in the 90’s and all the bullying only happened during the week, and generally at school, leaving the rest of the week free to be absolutely traumatized and thinking that if I just changed one thing, I could be cool or something.

So imagine spending 11 fucking years with nearly-constant bullying, people either trying to push me into conforming to their ideas of maleness or just making themselves feel better or part of the group for picking on the same targets they are. 11 years of finding out that there’s wrong ways to sit, wrong ways to enjoy things, wrong haircuts to have, wrong ways to talk, wrong ways to spend your free time, that not liking all sports was wrong, not being good at sports was wrong, trying to be better at all those things was wrong, and that I’m destined to just be a complete waste of space and energy because I just wasn’t male enough, attractive enough, not-poor enough, and a variety of other things that I had only marginal control over while slowly drowning in a society that inherited all its rules from generations already passed. 11 years of hell while people wondered why someone so smart as me was just not doing well in school or why I just hated going. Imagine spending over a decade of the most important development point of your life with all of your peers and some of your authority figures basically telling you that you are not the gender you are. If you’re ever wondering why I’m such a huge supporter of trans rights, that’s it right there. I spent most of my childhood being told that I wasn’t a man, even though I totally was. And there wasn’t any gross mistake happening, I hadn’t been assigned not-male since birth, I hadn’t been treated as not-male by my parents and other guardian figures. I was a guy this entire time and yet everyone around me was telling me that I really wasn’t, because I was different than them.

And that’s one of the instances where Toxic Masculinity severely harms men. Not only does Toxic Masculinity insist on men being in a dominant gender role and using everything in their power to maintain that role, it also requires that dominance be used against other men, demeaning, insulting, bullying and even physically attacking the “weaker” men around them so that they know and understand and keep to their place. Toxic Masculinity finds that if traits in men that don’t fit it’s paradigm of manliness are appealing to others, than those traits must be eradicated to reduce the threat to itself. Toxic Masculinity kills children, bullying them to death in the pursuit of ultimate dominance.

One might be tempted to ask me after all this, whether I am still a man, or have become some other identity. Truthfully, I decided a long time ago that I was a man, just not That Man or The Typical Man. And every time the question’s occurred to me, I find myself coming back to that conclusion. Sure, there’s plenty of days where I don’t feel like a man and might actually be somewhere on the non-binary spectrum, but the important thing with gender is that I get to decide what my gender is and how I perform it, regardless of how it fits into a societal context. And I keep picking Male, even though I don’t often think about it. Like, sure, there was a time in my life where I had “I’m a guy” as a constant choice for any decision I made, but that was my 20s and I was a shithead back then. I’m still a shithead, but I am trying to be a better shithead, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. But lately, what my gender is isn’t on my mind as often as it used to be. I can go weeks, even months, without considering it. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but consider that I spent my entire childhood thinking about it, then a lot of the next decade doing so, so I think it’s a pretty good indicator of progress. It only took 20 goddamned years to get over childhood bullying to the point where I could calmly sit down and write about it for the handful of people who read my blog, and possibly the world.

So if you’re ever finding yourself thinking that kids get over these things, the fact is that most of them can, albeit over several decades of adulthood, and that some of them just never get the chance to because they’re fucking dead.