Tag Archive for Random acts of Ranting

Pledging My Allegiance to the Fake Geek Army

There are days when I feel insufficiently geek.

Don’t get me wrong – I do plenty of things that are geeky as hell – I play, on average, 1.5 face-to-face RPG sessions a week, have a semi-regular influx of graphic novels appearing in my mailbox, and the staff at my local Fantasy, SF, and Crime bookstore know me on sight. I can just about make it through an entire week of wearing shirts with pictures of C’Thulhu on them without having to do laundry. When I run out of Lovecraft inspired T’s, I’ll move on to my collection of web-comic shirts without missing a beat. That should keep me going for a month or so before it’s time to hit the washing machine.

Two of my favourite TV shows are Justice League: Unlimited and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I just dropped a whole buttload of cash on the reprints of Larry Hama’s classic GI JOE series from Marvel in the 80s and 90s, and should you feel the need to question *why* I did that, I will fucking school you on why that shit is awesome beyond belief (hint: it’s so not the series you’d expect after seeing the words GI Joe).

The fact that I cannot find volume 7 of said GI JOE reprint series still bugs the hell out of me.

Plus, you know, there’s that thing where I write science fiction and fantasy short stories. And over 200,000 words of imaginary pro-wrestling fan storytelling that’s related to my only real computer game addiction.

By the standards of the rest of the world, I’m pretty damn geeky. I just…don’t feel it.

Now, sure, the list of geek things I *utterly fail to understand* is probably just as long as the things I’m a fan of. I don’t, for example, understand the appeal of CosPlay or Star Trek or, let’s be honest, the vast majority of hard SF. Stargate fans make my teeth hurt. Battlestar Galactica fans too (seriously, people, I’m glad you enjoyed it, but you’ll never convince me that it’s worth giving it another try. Please stop trying).  Geeks who don’t play D&D bewilder me. Hardcore anime fans? Look, I enjoyed a handful of movies in the early nineties, but don’t expect me to be conversant with anything newer than Astro Boy and the original version of Macross that got released into the US.

I can almost wrap my head around collecting figurines – almost – but the sole figurines I’ve got display in my house were either gifts or remnants of my childhood that I’ve kept around for sentimental reasons. Or, you know, gaming miniatures that came pre-painted. The original sculpt of the Huge D&D Miniature’s Behir was frickin’ sweet. I named mine Gomez and he spent years living on top of my CD cabinet.

Now, back to my point. All those things I don’t get? The people who do get it are slightly weird to me. As in, I know that they enjoy what they’re doing and I accept that they’re also a part of the geek subculture, but I don’t feel a bond with them, you know? They’re just people, doing their thing, same as I am.

And that’s cool.

Geek Culture is not a homogeneous thing. People who try to tell me otherwise are usually regarded with a strange mix of pity and bewilderment.

People who try to tell me it’s homogeneous while simultaneously perpetuating the stereotype of geeks as sexually-frustrated losers who are threatened by others get treated with outright fucking contempt.

If people are going to perpetuate the dialogue regarding “fake geek girls” and believe there is truly is such a thing, I hereby asks that I be included in the ranks of the “fake geeks.” I may not be a girl, but I’m totally down with being a member of the Fake Geek army. I mean, I’m okay with sharing a subculture with a bunch of people who don’t share all my enthusiasm. I’m okay with sharing a subculture with people whose enthusiasms leave me cold. I don’t demand that everyone I know understand the history of D&D and know how to translate words like THAC0 into intelligible English.

And I just can’t wrap my head around sharing a subculture whose primary modus operandi seems to be being an unbearable, sexist fuckwit. I mean, seriously, could we just not? I’m a white, university educated, middle class, middle-aged man – the veritable poster-child for privilege and rocking through life on the “easy” setting – and even I’m seriously fucking weary of the inherent sexism some branches of geek culture trot out on a semi-regular basis of late.

So I’m choosing to defect to the ranks of Fake Geeks.

At this point, it looks like Fake Geekery more my speed. I get to enjoy stuff I like without having to devote my entire life to it, plus I no longer have to swing around my geek cred like a club in order to prove my masculinity. This seems like a pretty good deal. Plus – bonus – it seems like I’d get to hang out with a better class of human being.

Now if only someone would offer a Fake Geek and Proud  t-shirt of some kind…

Why I’m a Fan of 2 Broke Girls

So I had a Monday free from work this week and, in the absence of anything pressing on the writing front, I elected to spend the day flaked out in front of the Teev in a blatant attempt to recover from the worst of the GenreCon hangover. My televised tipple of choice – the first season of 2 Broke Girls, newly acquired on DVD by virtue of the fact that my local DVD store didn’t have season 2 of Castle on the shelves.

I wasn’t really expecting much from 2 Broke Girls – it’s been routinely panned by pretty much everyone I’ve seen discussing it – but after mainlining all twenty-two episodes of Seasons One I think I’ve come to adore the show, just a little.

Lets be clear – my adoration has nothing to do with the quality of the humour. There are sit-coms that I actually find consistently funny and worth-while (Community, Rosanne seasons two through four), sit-coms that are occasionally brilliant but often problematic (glares daggers at Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother), and there a sit-coms that I regard as a guilty pleasure for reasons I don’t particularly care to examine (early seasons of The Nanny).

2 Broke girls fits into neither category. Instead, the quality of the jokes in 2 Broke Girls is pitched at the level I’d associate with, say, Everybody Loves Raymond or Two and a Half Men, where everything is largely based on the clash between stereotypes that range from the clichéd to the outright insulting. Not  really my thing, or the thing of most TV critics, but you cannot deny the smashing numbers those shows do in terms of drawing an audience.

If this is all the show did, I would have turned it off after the second episode. Instead, I kept watching for two reasons.

One: Kat Dennings

For a long time I kept stumbling over films that Dennings had been in and, almost universally, they were both better and more interesting than I’d expected. Not always brilliant, mind, but they pulled off the mix of entertaining and surprising that usually endears me to a creative work.

Thus, somewhere along the way, she became one of those performers whose presence in a film or TV show was usually enough to spark my interest.  The fact that she’d become a regular in a sit-com meant I was at least a *little* interested, especially once I learned that the series also featured Jennifer Coolidge (who has been increasingly typecast in recent years, but is still awesome).

I have a friend who, when we discuss my (many) problems with The Big Bang Theory, will point out that the main reason for watching the show is the cast performances. Good performers can make even average things watchable, even if you spend the entire time wishing they were given something with a little more substance (or, in the case of BBT, less ass-hattery) to work with.

Two: The Meta-Plot

The first episode of 2 Broke Girls features a disgraced rich girl and a snarky waitress meeting and becoming friends, deciding that they’re going to start a business selling cup-cakes. It’s your classic odd-couple pairing, and I quickly expected the business to quickly disappear into the background – a conceit to keep the character’s together while they went off and had whacky sit-com-esque adventures that would inevitably, feature a string of disposable boys and dating and romantic entanglement.

And sure, that happens, but…less than you’d think. Maybe one third of the series is about that, kinda, and even then it’s only really a concentrated theme in a handful of episodes.

Throughout it all, the dream to start a business remains front-and-centre and is actually charted by the recurring motif at the end of every show, where the last thing you see before the show goes off the air is a running total on how their attempts to gather seed money has fluctuated as a result of the episode’s events.

And that…that charms me. I mean, yes, there are many things that are horrible about the show and plenty of reasons to find it classist, racist, sexist, etc. Even the methods with which the girls attempt to make money are kinda farce-like and forced, especially since one of the character’s knowledge of business seems…well, haphazard and utterly at the service of the plot.

On the other hand, 2 Broke Girls is a sit-com aimed at a wide-spread audience that features two young women who are actively trying to build a business. Where the genre teaches you to expect the characters to be defined by their relationship to the men in their lives, they’re increasingly defined by their relationship with each other and the friends/mentors/co-workers that surround them.

It’s a show with two female leads who passes the Beschedel test and shows characters whose lives don’t revolve around romance.

And seriously, that’s kinda awesome, even if there are other parts of the show that are problematic. Much as I’d like the world to make a wholesale change and embrace a future where misogyny is gone, I’m also a fan of small battles getting fought on contested ground. After years in which sit-coms have kinda relegated female characters to some fairly reprehensible character roles, there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see this small battle being fought.

There are times when I find myself hoping this is much like the first season of Roseanne, another series with a rocky start that blossomed when they ejected the original show-runner and gave it over to Roseanne Barr. It’d be really fucking nice to see something awesome stomp the hell out of the various shows run by Chuck Lorre the devil on our airwaves.

Four Words All Creative Practitioners Should Live By

RESPECT YOUR GODDAMN AUDIENCE.

Okay, here’s your warning. I’m going to rant my fucking pants off in this one, ’cause I’m mightly passionate and this post has been sparked by something that really pissed me off. If you’d prefer to skip the rage, feel free. Go read something else. I won’t be offended. Just remember those four words, ’cause everything else is just a cautionary tale explaining why they’re important.

Respect your goddamn audience.

There’s plenty of reasons to follow this advice, but here’s the big one: if you don’t, there’s pretty good odds I’m going to hunt you down and carve out your fucking spleen with an ice-cream scoop. Especially if I’m part of that audience, and you’ve contrived things so I don’t have the option of leaving when it becomes obvious that your fucking lack of respect is wasting my goddamn time.

This one irritates me enough that it probably should have been a conversation with the spokesbear entry, if only so I can present the illusion of having an even keel, but the truth is that this is one of those things really pisses me off. I’m firmly of the belief that anyone who takes their audience for granted should be herded into an open field and hunted for sport, preferably by the audience members who were utterly ripped off by the creator’s complacency. There is no leeway there. There is no reasonable part of me when it comes to this. An audience is a privileged, not a right. Treat them as such.

This is not to say that you need to be brilliant all the time. I recently went to an open mic night that was marked with a steady streak of performers whose approach to the audience seemed to be a hearty fuck you, you’re stuck here and you have to listen to me. People were permitted to tell long, rambling stories without time-limit or, in many cases, a point. At least once I considered throwing a beer bottle at the performer on stage, on the theory that I’d either hit them and they’d shut up, or I’d miss and get ejected from the venue. Either way the night would be over and I’d be fucking free.

Instead I just sat there chanting Skip to the Fucking End when it became obvious that the rambling wasn’t actually leading to a point, it was just rambling. The whole demeanor of their performance said they didn’t give a shit about the people they were performing for, and it wasn’t just a case of nerves. If they’d rehearsed, they hadn’t rehearsed enough to be comfortable with their material. If they’d given their material any thought, they hadn’t really given it enough. Listening to them was excruciating, because the venue was cramped enough that there was no way of getting up and walking out until intermission was called.

It wasn’t all bad. There was one guy who’d rehearsed his piece and actually had some idea of how to work a crowd. His performance was great. Polished, entertaining, short. I’d go seem him read or perform again in a heartbeat. It was the performance of someone comfortable in front of a crowd.

But my favourite was actually the least showy performance of the night. It was the most nervous, verging on hesitant, and it consisted of a woman who stepped up to the microphone and told a story she’d obviously written and memorized. Occasionally she stumbled, occasionally she’d pause and struggle to remember what came next. It wasn’t polished in any way, but it was rehearsed and it was shaped and it was personal and it drove towards a poignant point. In short, they’d taken their brief for the evening and thought about the audience and respected them enough to prepare.

It’s about being good. No-one is good all the time. Everyone starts somewhere.

It’s about respecting your audience enough to show them that you’ve put in effort, even if you’re nervous as hell. It’s about showing up prepared and willing to do your best, not a half-arsed facsimile of your best.

You don’t have to be good at what you do, but you have to show your audience that you’ve respected them enough to deliver something you’ve put effort into. You have to appreciate the fact that they’re giving you their time and their eyeballs and their money. You owe your audience, your audience doesn’t owe you.

And if you forget that, then you’re in trouble, ’cause I’ve only got a vague idea where the spleen is located and I’m perfectly willing to keep digging around with that ice-cream scoop until I find it.

Everything is Artifice

Years ago, when I first started my never-to-be-finished PhD, I had one simple belief: everything is artifice.

I suppose it’s a natural enough conclusion to come to when you’re twenty-two years old and reading Lyotard’s theories on the post-modern condition during the bulk of your waking hours, and it certainly seemed to explain an awful lot about the things I didn’t quite understand about the world. That any attempt at authenticity was but a carefully constructed stratagem to create the illusion of authenticity made sense to me. After all, I lived on the Gold Coast. Trying to deal with the concept of authenticity on the Gold Coast is fucking confusing, since the whole damn city embraces artifice as its default state.  You make sense of it as best you can, or you get the get the hell out.

These days I’m older and dumber and I have about thirteen years of additional experience to process, and I’m still not entirely sure that my twenty-two year old self was wrong. The performance I put on for the world is less involved than it used to be – there’s fewer feather boas and trenchcoats and nail polish, more writing and submitting and getting things done – but there’s a part of me that’s consistently aware that there’s a performance going on.

This is one of those things that dominates my decisions to embrace the kinds of art I embrace: I distrust any art that offers up authenticity or meaning as its primary virtue, unless it’s coupled with a self-awareness about the artificial nature of the work. Serious cinema – by which I mean big, Award-winning dramas about big and serious things that are primarily naturalistic in their approachsets me on edge. I’d much rather watch noir, with its obviously artificial camera angles designed entirely to evoke mood. I’d rather watch cartoons, which embrace their lack of realism with a fervor that few other mediums could match. Hell, I’d rather watch soap operas, ’cause at least they looked like they were having fun.

The moment a film takes itself seriously, it’s dead to me. What I want is a sense of fun. What I want, more than anything, is the ability to see the performer inside their performance, and get a sense that they’re both enjoying  themselves and they’re willing to let their audience in on the fun. In the argument between style and substance, I’ll go with the work that has a sense of style every time. At twenty-two I had serious, deathly art-crushes on David Bowie, Andy Warhol, and Oscar Wilde. On William Gibson and Kathy Acker and Poppy Z. Brite. At thirty-five I still have serious, deathly art-crushes on those same people, and more yet who have come along since.

Everything is artifice.

This has been on my mind a lot this weekend because I’ve been re-reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art after having a discussion with my friend Kevin about it’s relative flaws and merits as a guidebook for artists. I have enormous amounts of problems with Pressfield’s book – it’s a core of good advice wrapped up in a package that’s so “authentic” it makes my teeth hurt. Pressfield believes in things, and he believes in them strongly. He suggests that creating art can cure cancer. He suggests that teaching the world to avoid procrastination will result in a drop in crime, sickness, domestic abuse, and other unpleasant things. It’s the kind of po-faced, manipulative “authenticity” that appears in self-help books everywhere, and it fills me with rage.

Big, unpleasant, bone-gnawing rage.

The weird thing about all this is that I do believe there is magic in art. I didn’t for a long while; for about ten years I was firmly in the camp of those who wanted writing to be craft, something that can be taught and respected and disassociated from myths about muses and the magic of creativity. These days, though, I’m back in the camp that says there can be a space where art is transcendent. Where it can take you and reshape you and make the world a better place. Where it can make you feel and recontextualise the world in exactly the way you needed it recontextualised.

I just don’t believe the magic of art is a big magic anymore. It’s smaller and quieter and it affects each person differently. Ordinary, everyday magic. Ordinary, everyday miracles. Quiet moments where art makes your fingers tingle.

Everything is artifice, but that’s all magic has ever been anyway. Ritual. Mis-direction. The world given context by performance.

And so we keep writing, keep creating, keep doing the things we do. And we hope it finds the people who need it in the times when they need it most.

Hanging with the Spokesbear: Avatar

Spokesbear: You awake?

Peter: No.

Spokesbear: You sure.

Peter: Very.

Spokesbear: And you’re paying utterly no attention to what I’m saying, right?

Peter: None. Fuck off.

Spokesbear: No need to be hostile. I just wanted to make sure you were docile before I told you this.

Peter: *sleeps*

Spokesbear: James Cameron’s said he’s going to make nothing but Avatar films until he dies. Apparently everything he wants to do, he thinks he can do inside that universe.

Peter: *keeps sleeping*

Spokesbear: Seriously, dude. James Cameron. Avatar.

Peter: I heard you.

Spokesbear: But you’re not ranting.

Peter: No.

Spokesbear: Come on.

Peter: No. I’ve made my peace with Avatar, and the fact that there will be an Avatar 2, and that it will likely keep going, ad infinitum, until James Cameron finally passes from this world and into whatever fucked up version of heaven he’s imagining.

Spokesbear: But people have been sending you links. They want to see a response.

Peter: They want to see me rant, it’s not quite the same thing.

Spokesbear: I want to see you rant.

Peter: Seriously, dude, I’m not your performing monkey.

Spokesbear:

Peter: Okay, fine, I am your performing monkey, but I’m still not doing it. I vented my rage a few years back. I’ve already revisited it. I don’t need to revisit it now.

Spokesbear: You’re no fun anymore.

Peter: Sure I am. I’ll rant about plenty of things in the future, it’s just… Look, just agree or disagree with this statement – Avatar 1 was a fucking pile of shit.

Spokesbear: Agreed.

Peter: Then what more needs be said?

Spokesbear: Something that will convince all the people who liked it that they’re wrong?

Peter: Ha.

Spokesbear: That amuses you?

Peter: There’s a whole damn internet full of people trying to convince people that the Avatar films are wrong. I know, because I made one or two posts about it and there’s already a disproportionate amount of web-traffic that finds there way here by Googling the words Why Avatar Sucks.

Spokesbear: And you don’t want to inform them?

Peter: I don’t want to encourage them. About the only thing that depresses me more than Avatar traffic is the sheer number of people who find their way here googling shit about the Big Bang Theory. I mean, I made one post decrying the damn show, and then…

Spokesbear: Right. Shit. I see your point.

Peter: Thank you.

Spokesbear:

Peter:

Spokesbear:

Peter:

Spokesbear: You realise this post won’t help with either of those things, right?

Peter: Dammit.

Spokesbear: Just sayin’.

Peter: I was better off staying asleep.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Let me put this out there from the beginning: I’m a totally fucking cranky cinema goer. I find it very hard to discuss films, even films I like, without veering into the territory of ranting. It’s not that I dislike film – quite the contrary – but the result is this kind of terminal disappointment as I encounter film and after film that just doesn’t quite excite me. It gets me into considerable trouble when I discuss films with people at work, because it frequently looks as though I dislike everything, when really I’m just perpetually disapointed by films that take no chances or lack a visual aesthetic or even, god help me, decide to go 3D.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of realism. The more a film tries to simulate reality, the less interested I am. I will watch  some utter dreck and adore it simply because it’s trying to do something interesting, even when the story fills me with towering rage (Speed Racer, I’m looking at you).

Which is all a means of putting things into context when I say this: I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with my dad on Sunday and, honestly, wow. It’s one of those films that reminds me why I actually like the medium of film, which seems to be a rarity in this day and age of 3D digital effects. I have loved exactly three films in the last five years, in the sense that I walked out of them thinking wow, that was fucking awesome, which means TTSS joins the ranks of Bright Star and Scott Pilgrim Versus the World as reasons the human race should be permitted to keep on existing after allowing fucking Avatar to become one of the highest grossing movies of all time.

My favourite part of TTSS is the way it finds the cinematic way of mimicking LeCarre’s writing – it’s a sparse film that plays its cards very close to the chest in terms of narrative, letting all the meaning come through in carefully constructed shots and subtext. And it’s honest-to-god subtext, not the usual cinematic approach in which you are BEATEN OVER THE HEAD WITH A MIGHTY FUCKING SUBTEXT STICK in order to make sure you get it.

Go see this film. Give the film makers lots and lots of money. They totally deserve it.

Sunday

It’s generally a bad sign when the cleanest room in my flat is the study, but it appears I’ve reached that point. I predict a day of epic tidying and cleaning in my future, but right now I’ll settle for getting the washing up done and putting away the clean laundry.

That’s next hour’s problem, though. Right now there is coffee and bloggery and answering some emails. Possibly some toast while I try to work out whether the toaster is really broken, or just bitching about the cold. It feels like that kind of afternoon.

#

Every now and then I come across people who really, really like the idea of creativity. It drives me crazy. Otherwise ordinary conversations are derailed by statements like “writing? Wow, it must be nice to be so creative” or “I’m a writer and creativity is one of my strengths,” mostly because I then froth at the mouth and stomp around until someone gives me a cup of tea and tells me to have a lie down.

Creativity is one of the most ill-defined words in our culture, with a myriad of different meanings that all rely on understanding the context in which it’s used. And unlike other context-driven words – like, say, love – you can never be entirely sure which context people are using when they deploy creativity. It’s too bound up in myths about muses and inspiration and the idea that somehow creativity is automatically a transcendent thing.

Near as I can tell, creativity is just training yourself to see the connections between things sooner than other people. Or doing it naturally, in an “inspiration” driven rush, and never questioning how it is you just did what you did.

Everything after that is process, actually sitting down and making things, and once you’re at that point there’s very little creativity can do to help you.

#

Toast with ginger marmalade for breakfast, confirming that the toaster is either on its last legs or simply unable to cope with winter. Even turned up to its highest setting, the best it seems to manage is “lightly browned”.

It seems to be the month for appliances going wrong around these parts. My mobile phone is starting to develop some of those hiccups that occur when you’ve owned a mobile phone for a a while. Not enough to be unusable, but enough to be occasionally annoying.

#

Here is a thing I’ve discovered this week: the version of Claw in my head no longer resembles the (unfinished) draft version of Claw I was writing before my dad’s illness last year.

This isn’t a huge surprise. The news of my dad’s heart attack basically hit like a depth charge to the subconscious, blowing apart the various stories and projects under construction, and it’s only recently that I’ve had the brain-space to go back and start trying to fit things together. But the opening scene for Claw that I wrote this week looks more like one of the closing scenes I’d planned for the first draft, a couple of sub-plots have been dropped away, and the book seems to be drifting towards the darker side again.

Still not sure whether it has a happy ending or not. I’m not even sure if the new beginning is right, but it feels more like the beginning of the book than the older one did.

And it’s becoming a fun book to write again, which is a good sign because, for a while there, I thought it was unlikely I’d ever find Aster stories fun to write again. At some point tomorrow I’m going to get to the first corpse in the book, and I’m unexpected excited about figuring out how to put the scene together.

Emotion, Attachment and Video Games

So one of the things that happened at Swancon was this: I found myself double-booked on Friday night and sided with the Gentleman’s Etymological Society event rather than the Emotion, Attachment, and Video Games panel. This wasn’t really intentional – originally they’d been scheduled to go one after the other – but such things happens in cons and decisions must be made.

I do, however, have several pages of notes I put together in preparation for the panel I didn’t make it too, and since I’m a waste-not, want-not kind of guy, I figured I’d torture the rest of you with a more formalized write-up of the argument I would have made. Turns out I had rather a lot of material once I started writing things up, so it’s probably going to happen in three or four posts over the next couple of days. Consider yourselves warned.

Emotion, Attachment, and Video Games
Part One: The Confession of a Computer Game Tragic

I live in fear of computer games. I am, at my core, one of those gamers – the kind who lacks the self-control to say ‘now is the time to walk away.’ Once the game is started, I have about half an hour to turn it off and get back to my real life; beyond that, I’ve committed. I want to figure out how to win, or how it ends, or even what the next cut scene might be, and then it’s three days later and I haven’t slept and I’ve burned through the bulk of my sick leave in an attempt to try and stop the dark spawn from taking over Ferelden. The game itself doesn’t seem to matter – I can spend three days trying to figure out how to beat an online flash game like Dice Wars or take my promotion to the top in my favourite wrestling sim just as easily as I’ll get sucked into high-profile, gaming wonders with state-of-the-art CGI and thousands upon thousands hours spent in development.

My only defence against this obsessive impulse seems to be refusing to play in the first place, so for the last seven or eight years I’ve refused to let computer games into my house. Mostly this is pretty easy, because I control the technology around me. My computers are low-budget machines, utterly incapable of running state of the art games; I’ve refused to own a gaming consol since I picked up an original NES system at an op-shop in my twenties and lost six weeks to beating the original Super Mario Brothers games; my despair when I upgraded my mobile phone and it came with computer games was considerable, but I found the resolve to delete the ones I liked and now play the ones I don’t when stuck in an airport.

Yet despite my best effort, technology creeps forward. Computers die and get replaced, and suddenly all those games I would have played a few years back if the technology had been up to it are available to me. And occasionally I’ll slip. I’ll break out the copy of Blood Bowl, which I justified as an online game that has a set time-limit to prevent me from going overboard, or I’ll fire up my favourite wrestling sim, which is by nature unbeatable and therefore unlikely to set off my need to achieve.

These are, of course, convenient lies I tell myself because I can’t quite kick the computer game habit, but at least I’ve grown familiar with the cycle of playing both games over the last few years. After a day, maybe two, I’ll realise that my promise that I’m just firing it up for an hour or so is shot and pull myself to a halt.

It would be easier if my friends gave up gaming as well, but they don’t. People will rave at me about their new favourites from time to time, rattling off the cool features, and I’ll find myself tempted. Very occasionally I’ll break and ask to borrow their copy, and I now thank the digital gods that most people now have Steam accounts and aren’t in a position to loan me their actual discs. With the delivery of games via disc becoming outmoded, I am safer from computer games than ever before.

Except when the games are cool enough that people really want to make sure they never lose their copy to hard-drive failure or power surges. Apparently there are still some games worth picking up, old school-like, and thus remain available for being left out. Which is how, six months ago, I found myself playing Dragon Age: Origins. Before I began, I was told three things: play it all the way through, once; play all the introductory stories; be prepared to spend the majority of your time talking to people in the camping site.

While I never managed to reach the end of the game – it’s crack-like qualities were sufficient that after the first week of playing I gave the discs back and asked that it never be leant to me again, for fear I’d stop writing altogether – I did play several of the introductions and the camp proved to be the most fascinating part of the game-play. I also know how it ends – my frustration with the gameplay interrupting the narrative led me to checking out walkthroughs and cheat-sheets, which ultimately led to me shrugging and realising that I was less interested in the game as a game once I knew all the alternative storylines.

This is not the first time this has happened. Many years ago, back before I realised me and computer games didn’t really mix, I started playing Starcraft. My interest in the game ended the moment a friend said “you know, I have this DVD full of cut scenes”, whereupon I promptly watched the story without the game and went on with my life.

Here’s the brutal truth of my relationship with computer games: I’m interested in their narratives, but can’t engage with the narrative because of the game play. As soon as you establish conditions of victory or submission, I’m hardwired to try and win. This, more than anything else, kills my interest in the game the moment it becomes apparent that victory will take days or weeks to achieve.

Computer games aren’t stories, and in this respect their attempts to manipulate emotions always feels like a bit of a cheat.

To be continued…

“There’s so much I could’a done if they’d let me”

Today, because I’m in such a cheerful mood, I’m mainlining Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album. Somewhere in my CD collection I’ve got a copy of his b-sides and rarities triple-disc thingy, which includes a four-part, extended thirty-minute long version of O’Malley’s Bar. That’s going on next, ’cause sometimes, misogyny be damned, you just need a series of songs about killing every mother-fucker in the room in an unrelenting and utterly debauched fashion.

This is my alternative to curling up on the floor of my bedroom and having a temper tantrum, ’cause really the closest I’m getting to articulating my mood these days is the ability to randomly shout “Hate! Hate! Hate!” at the top of my lungs. There are very few things in my life that aren’t filling me with loathing at the moment, from my less-interesting dayjob (which puts Fight Club into all kinds of interesting new perspectives for me) to my more interesting dayjob (which I hate, primarily, because it’s kinda awesome and not my primary dayjob, which just makes the other dayjob even worse) to my neighbor (seriously, *turn down your fucking stereo at 4 AM*) to myself (which, really, is a let me count the ways kind of thing).

None of this is particularly new – anger has probably been my default state since I was thirteen or fourteen – but I usually have a better grip on it than I do right now. I can cobble together a mask that more or less resembles a civilized human being and go out and function in civilized society. Normally I can swallow anger and work at it rationally, figuring out solutions, or I can vent at the things that are making me less than pleased through the medium of fiction. Or I’ll catch up with friends and rant at them until the anger burns itself out and I’ve overused the words fuck, at which point I’m more clear-headed and able to behave myself a little better.

The anger’s rarely directed at specific people, except for myself, since it’s really just a general pissed-offness at the world. I’d actually be more worried if I woke up and I wasn’t pissed off about something, because the world is a terminally unfair place and I continue to exist in it, which means I’m going to keep finding things that make me angry.

For all that it’s got a reputation as a negative emotion, I actually think anger is important.

Anger is, after all, where writing comes from.

It’s possible this isn’t a universal thing for all writers, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. I vaguely remember Ray Bradbury talking about stories coming from a place of anger in his Zen and the Art of Writing collection of essays, and there’s any number of writers with overtly angry or political stances being displayed in their fiction. The artistic myth of the angry young man is almost as predominant as the artist driven crazy by the muse, and of the two I find the angry young man more palatable (at least, once man is switched out for person). At least the AYM/W is in control of his/her artistic practice, rather than sacrificing it to some unnameable entity and refusing to take responsibility for what they do.

Really, that’s all window dressing. The real reason fiction comes from a place of anger is this: all stories are revolutions.

It’s one of those ideas that’s ingrained in the very structure of the story – whether you spend a thousands words, five thousand words, an entire novel, or a three-book trilogy – you are building towards a climax. One of the best descriptions of the climax came from a film lecturerer I worked with a few years back, who described it as point where the most important moral decision of the book is made, the one that changes the character’s world forever. The good are rewarded, the evil are punished. As a writer you establish a new status quo, correcting whatever flaw in the world existed in the opening of the story, and so there’s a series of political decisions being made about what’s incorrect and what isn’t*.

And really, if you’re not angry about something, why bother going to the trouble? Whenever I’m stuck on a story, or I look back on something I’ve written and don’t really feel satsified by it, it’s invariably because the anger isn’t there. Whether it was never ther, or if I simply lost it, is occasionally unclear, but it’s certainly gone in that particular reading.

*Want an example? Lets take, say, Star Wars. For all that the original Star Wars ends with a bang at its climax, the actual destruction of the Death Star actually pales next to the two big decisions made just prior – Luke Skywalker turning off his computer, rejecting the technology (which, in Star Wars, is the tool of the Empire since they’ve got the big death machine) and embracing the spirituality of the Force, and the sudden return of the Millennium Falcon to save the day and align the morally gray Han Solo with the white hats from there forward. Destroying the Death Star is really just the reward for those decisions. Destroying the Death Star is a physical victory, but the emotional victory of these two moments

What I Did on My Weekend

So, by my standards, it was an awesome but crazy-busy weekend.

Often, when my weekends are quiet and sedate, I feel like I’m letting the side down and I find myself thinking, “man, I wish I had a crazy-busy weekend, you know?” Then the crazy-busy-weekend comes along and I go along with the flow and then Monday comes and I wake blinking like a stoned raccoon wondering why I’m so tired.

I need coffee. I need to catch up on the writing that didn’t get done. And I really do need to schedule some more crazy-busy weekends in the near future.

The weekend itself is kind of squished together, a little, in my head. Things bleed into each other.

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Okay,  I guess the first thing is that I’ve been shortlisted for some Ditmar Awards this year, in both the Short Story category for One Saturday Night, With Angle, and the novella category for Bleed.  I found this out while having Breakfast with some friends on Sunday morning, largely ’cause I’d been light on the internets over the weekend, and on the whole it was a rather pleasant surprise.

So thanks to all the people who nominated me, and congratulations to the various other people who have been shortlisted. The full Ditmar short list can be found on the Natcon Fifty website and it’s a frickin’ awesome list this year.

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On Saturday night I sat down to watch the Evening With Kevin Smith DVD for the first time, which was basically as entertaining as I’d expected it to be after catching bits and pieces on youtube. Except for this one stretch which was profoundly uncomfortable, which is largely when a young queer member of the audience brings up Chasing Amy and how it contributed to a culture that made her life difficult as a younger woman.

The response is uncomfortable to watch. This is not to say that Smith doesn’t have some good points (Does no-one ever notice that the character who says “All lesbians really need is a good, deep dicking” is the idiot who is wrong about everything throughout the movie) and some that are straight off the back of the white male privileged bingo card (my brother is gay) and at least one that explains why he at least attempted the film that’s interesting (I once had a conversation with my brother about the fact he isn’t represented in narrative, and I try to change that).

But mostly  it’s just uncomfortable because there’s no real attempt to engage with the question before bulldozing through the answer. It’s one of those real I-had-good-intentions style responses that argues that good intentions excuse the faults.

And really, when you’re a geek, there are times when that does actually count as a victory, ’cause there are portions of geekdom that are scarily entrenched in their white-male-privilege and don’t want to let it go.

Which is why, a few hours later, I was really, really happy when a friend sent me the link to Bioware telling a white-straight-male to Get Over It when he complained about the possibility of female and queer relationships being given equal weight in Dragon Age 2.

There are exactly three computer games I’ve bothered to play for longer than 2 hours in the last six years: Total Extreme Wrestling, Blood Bowl Online, and the first Dragon Age. The mindset exhibited by Bioware above is one of the reasons why I got sucked into DA Origins for as long as I did. I’d talked myself out of Dragon Age 2, not because I don’t expect it to be awesome, but because it’s likely to be narrative crack that ’causes me to stop writing and lose my job.

That one response, linked to above, is probably going to change my mind.

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Okay, what else.

Saturday afternoon I did errands. I bought new jeans for the first time in about five or six years (which is one of those facts that’s readily apparent if you’ve seen the current state of my jeans, most of which have holes in them somewhere). In fact, since they were on sale, I bought a whole lot of jeans, which will cost even more to have hemmed (since I am not-so-handy with a needle and thread and thus happily pay professionals) than I did for the jeans themselves.

I bought some books at proper bookstores – Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres; Heist Society, by Ally Carter – then I went to my local Borders and watched the gleeful gutting of the stock by people who were all omg-the-bargins. It made me kinda sad, because I really liked my local Borders despite it’s flaws, and it made me feel sorry for the various people who worked there.

I still remember when they first opened the Borders at my preferred shopping center, and how awesome it was to be able to shop for books I actually read before picking up my weekly groceries.

I’ve already burned through Heist Society, which is just as awesome as Tansy Rayner Roberts promised it would be when she reviewed it on her blog. I would have burned through Burn Bright already, but this copy is a gift.

Sunday I went to Avid Reader and bought more books – the Collected Stories of  Gabriel Garcia Marquez (so I can read it at the same time as my dad), Motherless Brooklyn, and Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan.

There is something blissful about acquiring new fiction. Which probably explains my out of control To Be Read pile that’s taking up two bookcases at present.

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On Sunday afternoon I gamed with my Sunday Night Cthulhu group.

We’ve missed a bunch of games recently – due to illness, travel for work, celebrating the birth of one member’s son, etc – so there was something very comforting about slipping back into the Sunday Night Cthulhu routine, even though we’re not actually playing Call of Cthulhu at present.

One of the realities of being a RPG gamer in your thirties (and older) is that weekly gamers are supposed to be impossible, but at this point we’ve been gaming every Sunday for so long that it barely even registers as something as something remarkable. I can’t even remember when we started, although I’m sure it was prior to the first Gen Con Oz and a quick perusal of the blog sees things like “we kicking off the weekly Cthulu sessions after the xmas break” appearing in February of 2008.

Which means we’ve been going for about four years, I think. We’ve lost a player in that time, and recently gained a new one, but for the most part a  core group of four people has been there the entire time.

We played Cthulhu pretty much eclusivly for the first two or three years, hence the fact that Sunday is permanently branded as Cthulhu night despite the fact that we’ve slowly added more systems to the mix (Space 1889 for a while, currently Classic Deadlands which is proving to be 9 kinds of awesome).

Last night’s game, though. Man, it kinda reminds me why I enjoy gaming, you know? Undead revenants kicking the crap out of solitary gunslingers who got caught unawares; the entire team getting caught in a firefight against desperado’s who have the advantage of cover upon the ridge; a mad scientist coming to realize his blueprints are haunted because things keep changing while he’s asleep; the same mad scientist unleashing his flame-thrower for the first time, going a little crazy as he does so.

There is nothing quite so awesome as knowing I get to game with these folks every week, especially since we’re largely in agreement as to the kind of game we want to play.