Archive for March, 2011

Hey, all.

This is obviously a ways past PAX East 2011 discussion in most of the world, and in this blog as well (Cynthia’s talked about PAX East 2011 quite extensively.).  I, however, want to talk about both what I feel is the core theme of PAX and the greatest message/lesson I took away from PAX East 2011 (my first convention, PAX or otherwise).  In the last couple months, I’ve had dozens of people end up asking the question of “What’s PAX?” when I try to tell them what I was doing over spring-break.  My answer almost always ended up with “it’s the geek culture convention.”  That is the essence of PAX for me: it’s a place where all geeks/nerds/gamers/whatever can come together and talk about those things we love, principally: gaming.  Whether you’re a tabletop gamer, a video gamer, a card gamer, a LARPer, a wargamer, a cosplayer…  it is the place where you can find others who share that beloved hobby and even more that are anxiously willing to learn about that type of gaming.  It is a culture where people work together, succeed together, play together.  My fellow PAXers were friendly, polite, and earnest in our shared enjoyment.  I could look across the writhing sea of 65,000 attendees (quite a sight for me, when my highschool graduating class was 32 people… Yes, I’m from a truly small town.) and know “These are my people.” It’s strange, even to me, to use this sort of ethnographic terms, but I can’t adequately express it in any other ways.  These are my comrades in arms, my compatriots in crime, my fellow players of games…  I could strike up a conversation with any random passerby and we could, within the first minute, be talking about an aspect of gaming we both loved.  Hell, there were even other White Wolf lovers there.  I’m an introvert by nature, though perhaps not as bad as the old stereotypes of geeks and gamers, but there was this nearly palpable air of commonality that allowed me to be an extrovert for the weekend.  It let, from my observations, everyone be an extrovert for the weekend.  We wore our gaming-hearts on our sleeves, shirts, hats, scarves, everything.  We were ready to be together in this corporeal way that is often so distant from our hobby, but lent an arcane vitality to the orchestration of Great Meta-Being That Is PAX-Attendees.

The message I gained, the lesson I learned, from PAX East 2011 was one that directly connects to this “geek culture.”  Let me first start out by stating, in case I haven’t before, that I am a Philosophy and Religion major at my university, graduating this May.  As a lover-of-wisdom, I’ve had extensive exposure to all sorts of perspectives, particularly ones that deal with social justice (my specialty is Ethics, which I feel is very connected).  I do not, however, always see everything I do in that social-justice light, something I always endeavor to remedy.  Cynthia and I attended several incredibly interesting panels at PAX that brought up issues that I had either never considered or never contemplated in appropriate depth.  Two I will directly discuss here “The ‘Other’ Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter? and “One of Us.”  The former was about (obviously) gender in gaming and feminism.  The later was about various marginalized groups (represented on the panel by gaygamer.net and ablegamers.com and a feminist site I can’t recall off the top of my head, but will put in the comments soon).

The first and most shocking thing about “The ‘Other’ Us: If We’re All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?” was in its description: They asserted that “feminism” was being used as a “bad word,” and, honestly, I have to agree that it often is.  This is perhaps my biggest “what the fuck” moment.  I told you earlier that I was a philosophy major for this very reason.  Feminism is a broad field, containing many different perspectives.  “Feminism” at its heart, however, refers to the belief that women are equals and should be treated as such.  Radical, I know.  If you disagree with that basic premise, I’m tempted to just say “f.o.a.d.”, but will try to just say… “Really?”  Women are a growing percentage of the gaming community, one that needs to be represented in the content that the industry produce.  Strong male and strong female characters are great.  Something like Dead or Alive volleyball is just a pile of garbage.  I expect better.  We as gamers should all expect more.

The latter panel, “One of Us,” was principally about those gamers which do not fit remotely into the typical image of a gamer.  Though I am rather close to the typical image (lanky, dark-haired, bespectacled, introverted, wordy, big into reading), my interest in social justice philosophy and practice made it highly alluring.  Essentially: as gamers, we often identify only as gamers and don’t necessarily associate as disabled gamers or homosexual gamers or female gamers or a number of other marginalized groups.  We, I would like to think, don’t generally like when people throw around language like “fag,” “cripple,” etc.   We do, however, (and, yes, even I, unfortunately, do this) put up with it, silently accepting it.  We need to speak up when this language is used and point out that this behavior isn’t something we’re willing to standby passively and allow anymore.  Those who utilize it will be educated, ostracized, or whatever it takes to make it clear that we will not tolerate that sort of intolerance.  “F.O.A.D.” isn’t the best reaction in the long run, but often ostracization is needed to create the motivation for them to accept the education in why these things aren’t acceptable.

I would like to personally ask anyone reading this: If you see me use marginalizing/derogatory language, call me on it.  None of us can see all of our embedded, ingrained prejudices, we need others to help us make those initial realizations.  I am, by this post, resolving to more actively call people on their poor practices.  I won’t accept it in my guild, in my friends, in my games.  I’m not going to ignore the reality of such things as sexism or racism, they exist and important messages about them need to be discussed.  I’m not going to instantly /boot anyone who crosses a line, but I am going to make it clear, once they do, that I don’t find that acceptable behavior and, subsequently, explain why.  Education is the best weapon against ignorance; compassion the greatest weapon against hatred.  This doesn’t mean, however, that we should passively let the “trolls” of our culture dictate our public image as gamers, geeks, nerds, human beings.

Keep on fighting,

~ Mr. Pacman

(William/Raparth)

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Comic – Week 5

Posted: March 27, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Comic

What Gamer Couples Fight About

Posted: March 27, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

SO sorry for the late post, all. My capstone recital (the culmination of my last four years of study) was on Saturday, and I meant to post but had so much else on my mind, I forgot.
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Aside from the normal things that cohabiting people in a committed relationship bicker about (whose turn to do some chore, who left the living room light on all night, etc) and generic couple fights (forgotten birthdays, annoying habits, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, etc), couples who frequently game together have their own unique list of common disagreements and quarrels.

First, I’d like to mention of few of the more common things William and I get into tiffs about, and then I’ll talk about what we (or given the point of view, mostly what I) do to correct and avoid those situations.

One of, if not the, most frequent tiffs we have is dealing with different playing styles. For us, this is most frequently a problem in World of Warcraft, a game that accommodates a great deal of very different playing styles. I consider myself a rather casual player, who likes to raid, but no more than once per week. William enjoys raiding, and commits more than one time a week to it, and is also very deeply knowledgable and involved in the lore of the game. We very much enjoy playing together, but at times, we can get very short fused with each other. In dungeons, for instance, William has a tendency to (in my opinion) over criticize my errors. It’s frustrating for me, feeling like I’m not doing well enough, and I think it’s frustrating for him that I don’t catch on to things (like boss mechanics) very quickly, and sometimes it will take a couple of tries for me to get more complicated maneuvers down. Another situation is when we both want to play, but we want to do different things. He might want to level some lower characters, and I might want to grind reputation with an 85. That’s not so bad, but the situation is worsened by the fact that I want to play our low level Worgens far less often that he does, and since in order to stay in sync (level wise) he can’t play his unless I play mine, I’m effective limiting his ability to play.

The solution here, for us, is to try to understand where the other is coming from, and compromise. He tries to criticize less, and I try to focus more, and spend a little more time working on my skill (and watching how-to videos on youtube.) I play my Worgen sometimes when I really would rather play my 85, and he’s ok when I don’t. And when we are really at each other some nights, we just play together, but separate (meaning we’re both playing, while sitting next to each other, but we’re not playing “together”.)

Another point of irritation that comes up is frequency of play. I don’t play nearly as often as William, and a lot of times, what keeps me playing so often is that there are times when I really don’t want to play, but I let him talk me into it. I get (admittably unjustly) irritated at William because there are times I feel guilted into playing. He gets irritated, but really more sad, because he enjoys playing with me, and when I have a week or so where I almost never feel like playing, he misses that time that we usually spend together.

The solution to this is very similar to the previous; compromise. I play a little more often, and he tries to give me less crap about it. It’s all about understanding one another. I understand that he’s only bummed when I’m not playing because he wants to spend time together, and he understands that I have reason for not wanting to play (work to get done, or just simply not wanting to burn myself out on a particular game)

Another thing that I think creates problems for couples, but fortunately not William and I, is jealousy. Obviously both people in a couple aren’t going to be equals in every (if any) game. One will always be more skilled. Sometimes this is much more prevalently one person, and I think that’s where the problem usually comes in. William and I are both better at a fairly equal number of games. He is a better computer gamer, and I am better on consoles (this is obviously a generalization.) When one person is better at almost every game, the other person can tend to feel shadowed, especially if the “better half” is rather arrogant.

The first solution for this would be humility, on the part of the more skilled player, but more than that, I think that a couple facing this problem should make a great effort to find something that the other person is more skilled at, even if it’s not a game, and make a point to spend time doing that activity (e.g. a sport, a different console, a board game, etc.)

There are many problems that couples who share a common interest, like gaming, face. However, none of these problems can’t be worked through by a couple willing to make an effort to improve. William and I are constantly looking for ways to improve our relationship and how we interact with one another, and I think it is one of the key components of a healthy and successful relationship.

This week the Leadership series concludes by asking the questions of “How should a Member [of a group] behave?” and “How should someone with a Significant Other also in the group behave?”  These are perhaps the questions least-obviously connected to what people traditionally think of as “leadership roles.”  I, however, like to think that anyone can be and is a leader when they conduct themselves in a certain way in front of others.  (This “in front of” is anywhere where other members/GMs/DMs/anyone can witness, whether visually, aurally, or textually, that behavior.)

As a member of a group, one has a number of responsibilities not often discussed.  These are not as overt as a Guild Master’s handing of raid-group logistics or a Dungeon Master’s creation and maintenance of the Non-Player Characters in their world.  These duties are no less important, however.  A member, as with all of the other leadership roles, must remember the sage words of Wil Wheaton: “Don’t be a dick.”  Little is as simply effective as that phrase, but nonetheless I will elaborate.  A member should be a good citizen and by this I mean that they should endeavor to view the actions of their fellows (be they GMs, DMs, officers, or other members) charitably (though not necessarily uncritically).  A good citizen behaves in ways that are conducive to the well-being of the community as a whole, while still conscious of what helps them flourish and find enjoyment.  In a game this often takes the form of acting appropriately: this is not necessarily your character acting in a way that is “appropriate” in the eyes of other characters.  It does mean that you should act in a way appropriate to the game-play everyone at the table (or in the guild, etc.) has agreed to.  If you’ve all agreed to play a game of working together against a common evil, suddenly turning around and stabbing your teammates in the back prooooobably isn’t the best idea.  There are games where that would be totally appropriate and acceptable, but always remember not to damage the enjoyment of other players and the GM/DM.  Doing so will put the GM/DM in an unfortunate situation: they can either let it slide and have their (and probably other players’) enjoyment suffer (potentially fracturing the group) or they can crack down on you and cause a direct confrontation (potentially fracturing the group).  It also either alienates you from other members (if they still want to stick to the original agreement of acceptable game-play) or might alienate the GM/DM from other members (if they decide to go along with your new behavior).  Lesson summarized:  Be aware of the effect your decisions/behaviors have on others!  And don’t be a dick!

When in a group which contains your significant other, the situation can be even more precarious.  If you are both “merely” members, then one can easily slip into factionalizing the group by interacting mostly with your S.O. to degrees that alienate other members and/or the GM/DM.  If you are an officer/GM/DM and your S.O. isn’t, than there is always the danger of you favoring your S.O. over others.  Even more so, there’s the danger of it looking like you favor your S.O. over others.  Both are damaging, but the latter is actually worse because there may well be nothing you can do to stop others from falsely thinking you’re playing the favoritism game.  This also has serious ramifications if you are the member and your S.O. is the officer/GM/DM, but I feel that Cynthia covered that area better than I could in her last post (The GM/DM’s Girlfriend), so I won’t go into it here.  As the O/GM/DM side, when all things are equal, you need to favor the person not your S.O.  Often, even if your S.O. has the slight lead in deservedness, you need to choose the other person.  This is something I know I do more than I should, overcompensating in ways that, objectively, aren’t really fair to Cynthia.  I will flatly admit that 99%, if you see me picking Cynthia in anything like an even contest, that decision was either principally made by other officers (who I rely on to check my judgment at nearly all times as a GM/officer) or by predetermined randomness (as a DM, I might say “if this d10 lands 6+, Cynthia gets it”).

Don’t get me wrong, though, I really enjoy playing with Cynthia.  Gaming is (as you’ve probably figured out by now) one of our biggest/most commonly shared hobbies.  There are times when I, I hope understandably, will choose to do something with her rather than with someone else.  I just have to make sure that I’m not using any power/position/influence beyond just my own time/effort to make that decision.  If I don’t take care to treat her equally with everyone else, it’s not fair to me (for the consequences of my actions), her (for how other people my react to her “being favored” or otherwise not having legitimately earned whatever she has), or other people.  This might the biggest point in this entire post: It’s not fair to someone to favor them.  If you do, they haven’t really earned what they have.  They may well not be able to enjoy what they’ve been given (or even what they have legitimately earned!) and it’s almost certain that other people will resent them for it.

This discussion, or [hopefully not] rant, seems to be complete.

 

Keep gaming!

~ Mr. Pacman

(William/Raparth)

Comic – Week 4

Posted: March 20, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Comic

The GM/DM’s Girlfriend

Posted: March 20, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

You undoubtably have heard, or perhaps experienced this anecdote; a group of people (guild, dungeon party, etc.) are at odds because one member is being treated as a favorite by the leader. Anything they want, they get, and nothing is ~ever~ their fault. This is very clearly a problem.

There is, however, another underlying problem here. If everyone were treated perfectly fairly, someone being personally close to the GM or DM is still going to, at times, be accused of being favored. The unfortunate truth, that both the leader and their significant other have to understand, and accept, is that in order to keep things from getting dramatic, the odds have to actually be against (slightly) the significant other. For instance, if there are two equally able players wanting the same raid spot, and one of them is the guild master’s girl friend, the spot has to go to the other player. I’m not saying that this has ever happened to me, as William’s S.O., but it is something we’ve discussed in case the situation ever arises, so that no feelings are hurt. If a decision comes down to me or another player, I understand and support that William’s choice would have to be the other player.

Another situation that comes up is disagreements. When a guild member disagrees with a leader’s decision, they usually verbalize that disagreement, and I’m no different. The difference is that when you’re talking about someone that the GM/DM loves, there’s a little more weight in the opinion. It’s yet another situation where the GM and his/her significant other have to be cautious not to over step boundaries of a GM to player relationship. William is the GM; I’m not. So when I have opinions about how things should be done, William and I both have to treat that opinion like any other. Otherwise, you end up with a backseat driver for the guild/party, and a lot of built up resentment from other players. I have no more authority over the guild/party than any other player.

One of the most burdensome things responsibilities I’ve noticed, as the girlfriend, is knowing what is discussable, and what is meant to be kept unsaid. As someone who lives with their GM/DM, and plays on side-by-side computers in the same room, I hear things I’m not necessarily supposed to hear. I do what I can to miss most of these conversations (I didn’t originally, and it made certain situations awkward for me) but there are times when I realize what I’ve been listening to is actually a private conversation. It’s not hard (for me) to keep secrets, and to keep other people’s opinions to myself. The caution here is to watch what you say in response to the GM/DM, which for me is usually nothing at all. If someone has a private conversation with William, it’s up to him how to deal with it, and unless he specifically asks for my input on a situation, I don’t give any comment or opinion. I have, on occasion, over stepped those boundaries when I felt very strongly about something, but I try to keep myself in check. There have been occasions when William is in a very heated conversation where I find it hard to help myself from telling him what I think he should say/do, which is why I find it easier to keep headphones on and music playing to more easily avoid ever even knowing the conversation took place.

The reverse of that is also true, and I’m sure that some significant other’s experience it more than I do myself, but it has happened a few times. What I’m talking about is a situation where a guild member has something to say, but they feel more comfortable telling me, and so I’m expected to relay their concerns to William. This is certainly an irritating situation for me, as it makes me feel like I’m being pitted against William. The comments are always negative, and usually quite subjective. For instance, Player A decides they don’t like a particular decision by the GM/DM, but they don’t want to confront them, or cause a scene. So instead they whisper/talk to me, the gf, about their concerns in a way that makes it obvious they want me to alert William to their concerns, and a lot of times, to do so in an anonymous way. My first reaction is alway, “talk to William, not me.” but sometimes this isn’t enough. If they refuse to confront William, I usually do it for them, but I have never done so in an anonymous way. Honestly, that’s not my job. I’m not the guild/party suggestion box. If there was a growing request for such a person, well, that would be fine, and I wouldn’t mind filling the role, but everyone else should have equal opportunity to fill the role. I don’t like being expected to be the barer of bad news, or to go off on William for someone else… especially if I don’t hold the same opinion. Mostly, this is because no matter how hard he tries, William is going to react to the comment toward me. So something that evokes a strong negative reaction, is going to have him yelling at me (even though I know he’s not angry with me, just what I’m saying.) Please don’t put your GM/DM and his friend or partner in that situation. We don’t like having other people’s fights for them.

I do enjoy being the GM/DM’s girlfriend. So, I thought I’d end my post with a few perks of the position (if you can call it a position). First of all, because William plays so often, I am more likely to play more often. Also, being a GM/DM is a very immersive position, and I feel more involved in the game and the other characters as a result. I also enjoy being easily recognized and remembered because I’m directly associated to the GM/DM.

~Ms. Pacman

Cynthetic

The Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller, Story Guide, Hand of Fate… Whatever you call the position, it’s an important and powerful one.  You are, in effect, the world.

This position, subsequently called “DM” for shortness though it does not exclusively indicate Dungeons & Dragons, is the one that is the hardest to fill.  It’s the one many people will never fill.  It’s the one that many of us end up filling permanently, never truly returning to being a normal player.  There are many ways that one becomes a DM and many ways on acts while a DM.  I will try to talk about a few brief examples I’ve seen before, and then end up with what I think is what I do (or what I’d like to think I d0).

The Rules-and-always-Rules DM:  This is DM has a counterpart in players as well.  This has been in mostly D&D from my experience, but can happen in nearly any system.  This DM, and the same type of player, know everything about the rules and how to exploit them, without breaking them, to the fullest.  They are the masters of min-maxing and power-gaming.  I am not fundamentally against this sort of play, I just don’t enjoy it.  This can, in fact, be very challenging, since it  is two parties utilizing the rules as best (and creatively) as they can to get things done.  The world is (often) as canonically close to the game setting as possible, within the rules.  All parties always understand what sorts of things to expect.

The “Rule Zero” DM:  For the games run by this DM, Rule Zero is supreme.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it, “Rule Zero” is either “the DM is always right” or “the only rule is the DM’s will.”  This is a very autocratic sort of game where things cannot be expected to go according to the system’s rules.  To give an example, I had a DM in several games of D&D that would have extremely difficult puzzles.  That the DM had no solution for.  Oh, and often themselves had no solution.  After so long of floundering around trying to do things, we’d get the saving graces of Plot Device to get us out of the situation.  Some players are fine with this, but I don’t like not having any vague stability.

The “for the lulz” DM:  This is really popular among some “roleplayers.”  They do any and everything that seems funny at the time.  There is a significant, if not a majority, player base for this sort of game.

The Canon DM:  A DM who plays by the rules of the setting, but in a lore-based rather than mechanics-based way.  They know a ton about the lore and want everything to fit.  They probably even know how to make everything fit.  They don’t often look kindly on those who slaughter lore.  I will admit to occasionally being part of this category.

The Co-Author DM:  The DM who does what the players enjoy, adapting to the changing nature of the party.  They really like when players help create parts of the story, and facilitate roleplaying between players.   I try to be in this group, but I’ll admit I don’t always do it perfectly.

DMs have to do a lot of work (some more than others) to get things ready for a game session.  They generally love it when players are willing to take an active part in the story and making the world a living, breathing, evolving thing.  Players are co-writers of the narrative of the game, giving significant parts of the direction of the story.  A DM, as much as anyone else, is there to have fun.  In a very real way (though many players and DMs will disagree with me), DMs are also players.  They just happen to play the part of NPCs, of Fate, and Story.  The DM does a lot of the heavy lifting of story-planning and world logistics, but that doesn’t mean they want to bear all of the weight.  Players who create characters, towns, plots with their history and (desired) future are great to have.  Everyone gets to throw something into the world/story and everyone gets something out of it.

Game play is, to beat the dead horse, a collaborative effort.  A DM should thus think of everyone in those terms.  The DM may do more logistics than anyone else, but everyone is doing some work.  Everyone should be respected for it.  As the DM, you have to be the arbitrator for disagreements and for chance.  It is important to keep valuing player contribution.  If players aren’t feeling engaged, they’ll not enjoy the game.  Talking with players outside of group sessions is great for this.  Figure out what their past/family/dreams/hopes/aspirations are like.  Reward roleplaying even outside the session.  I give XP for character backstories (at least one page) and little bits of XP for what amounts to in-character journal entries.  Both get players thinking of the game in a broader sense.  They also provide great sources of continuing inspiration.

In effect: Foster the sorts of behavior you want by offering people carrots, and resort to the stick only in extreme cases.  Make players love to come and roleplay.  Make it so they love to talk about their characters and the sessions outside of those sessions.  Have fun with the party and the party will have fun with you.

Next week I’ll talk about gaming leadership in relation to being a friend/member in a group and being a significant other of someone in the group.  This latter will be more from the “member/member” or “GM/member” and “DM/member” side of the relationship.  Check out Cynthia’s next post for the “member/GM” and “member/DM” side.  I might talk about PAX a little next week, too.  We’ll see.

 

Always remember to roll for SAN.

~ Mr. Pacman

(William/Raparth)