Archive for April, 2008

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30 years in the making

April 30, 2008

I’ve been generally geeked about D&D 4E, but this statement right here?

Since D&D lacks a competitive or deck building element, it’s silly to hide bad choices in the rules.

FILLS ME WITH JOY.

I’ve spoken about the pointlessness of bunk choices before, and I’m just glad to hear other folks also get it.

Even moreso because the idea of poor choices hidden in rules has been around since the beginning (mostly in the form of sub-optimal weapons and spells, but 3E kicked it into chargen in a big way) and that infected other traditional rpgs.

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“Why are they all white?”

April 28, 2008

There’s this interesting question I hear a lot of times in regards to manga and anime- “Why are all the characters white?”

This question always fascinated me, because there’s so much anime with POC characters in it. Oh, sure, there’s Sailor Moon and a disproportionate amount of blonde haired, blue eyed characters in both manga and anime, but definitely not much different than what I’d expect from Japan post WW2 and occupation (see also…oh, Latin America?!?). No, what always gets me about the question is that the people asking it are almost always coding ALL the characters -as white-.

The usual point most of these folks like to bring to the table is that all the characters have big eyes. At the same time, none of these people turn and ask of American comics, “Why are they all steroid/silicone breast enlargement junkies?” Oh, that’s right, they’re able to parse and comprehend that this is a style factor of the genre, not a literal representation.

But why is that?

When I look at American comics and cartoons, I see the fact is that all POC are very clearly defined, both in appearance and role. Panthro, Barbecue, Roadblock, Jazz, Blaster, Quickkick, Power Man, Black Panther, Shaman, Warpath, The Mandarin, etc. All simplifications, all filling easy to identify roles- “The black one”, “The asian guy”, tokenized in concept from the get go. (Pixar’s Cars had shown even in 2006 we were going to fall back on easy stereotypes.)

Certainly, though, cartoons and comics are built on the idea of simplified roles- good guys and bad guys are clearly marked, characters are generally as they are portrayed, though it’s interesting to see genre conventions and ethnic markers are put in the same category. This is, in part, because in America, the story being told is from a white perspective- of course the other ethnicities are “roles”, they are spokes added onto the hub of the white narrative which is the assumed heart of the story. The whole affair basically says, “There’s a place for you (in these narrowly defined roles)”.

Coming back to manga and anime, naturally the roles aren’t going to fit, because the Japanese aren’t exactly coming from the same place (though certainly they’re informed a lot based on the white narrative, as keeps cropping up with their images of black and NDN folks). I mean, for step one, very few characters actually fit the asian stereotype of the quiet submissive character. Yet, in many stories, the majority (or entirety) of characters are Japanese, appearances notwithstanding.

Second, it became clear to me over these conversations that for many of these people, if a character wasn’t brown, and otherwise wasn’t clearly marked “asian” (via stereotypical images), they defaulted to white. Nevermind that asian people DO dye their hair “these days” (these days being a couple generations now).

Even with the really fucked up throwback images coming out of Japan, they still produce even non-Japanese POC characters who exceed American standards for breaking stereotypes. The case was, basically that manga and anime remains one of the few places you can find a brown character who is brown NOT to fulfill a stereotype, but simply as a character. In other words, the characters either fall into the worst of stereotypes or not at all, and the latter is so rare in US media I find it nearly impossible to find.

For example, Robotech remains one of the few cartoons (or shows in American television period) in which you had interracial dating AND a relationship of equal power. Many stations cut scenes between Claudia and Roy Fokker, because, in 1985, clearly we couldn’t have our kids minds tainted with the idea of miscegenation. The Japanese would do us one better in 1989 and embrace a brown Egyptian heroine as a beloved tv series icon in Nadia, Secret of Blue Water… While it’s 2008 and Disney is finally getting around to having a black princess.

For me and a lot of my friends, it was a great time to grow up- anime and manga just hit while we were in our teens, and suddenly we had a wealth of stories that involved asian folks who existed outside of sex fetishes, submissive workers, nerds, or martial arts masters. We actually had characters who, like us, came in all types. By the time the later 90’s hit, more and more anime and manga started including brown characters, not enough for sure, but at least they existed outside of being defined by physicality, “sassy” attitude, or violence.

It is sad and pretty damning that foreign media can provide better options in terms of coding than our “melting pot” which only seems to put the heat on one way. Maybe part of the boom is that white folks can code the characters as white, while asian kids can code the characters as asian.

Are the characters all white? Maybe that depends on who you ask. Sort of like this country, maybe it’s not as white as you think.

Update:

This article from Nichi Bei Times echoes the issue re: the Speed Racer movie.

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April geekdoms

April 27, 2008

My good friend Naamen loaned me the brilliant and beautiful Orphan’s Tales, which moved me many times whle reading both volumes, which I was stuck on deeply. I have yet to read any of the Imaro books, but Dossouye is something a few folks I know have been waiting years to see, so I might have to check that out soon.

In a few weeks, we should finally coordinate for the Artesia game we’ve been wanting to play. I’m also expecting some more playtesting of The Emperor’s Heart, as well as possibly a Skype game using the Orcs & Ogres playtest rules.

I saw The Forbidden Kingdom, which was mildly entertaining. I put it about the same level as Mortal Kombat… Homagery was cute, but I was irritated with the “romance for the sake of asian fetish” and the really, really bad dialogue (there is an acceptable level of bad dialogue for action movies… beyond that…).

Avatar the Last Airbender continues to be incredibly awesome, though I think it’s interesting the way in which folks code the characters as white. I’m busy writing a piece on anime, manga, and coding called “Why are they all white?” for the 9th POC S/F blog carnival. I may post that up here later tonight.

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Where our voices go

April 27, 2008

For many months now I’ve been reconsidering what I want my blog to be, who I consider my community to be, and for whom I’m writing.

This month, two powerful writers, BrownFemiPower and Blackamazon have both decided to remove their blogs and disengage from the toxic online atmosphere. I completely get it. Disengagement is not defeat. And there is a limit to how much hate you can take, whether we’re talking endless racist/sexist bullshit, plagiarism or straight up death threats.

Their fearless, tireless, and brilliant efforts have kicked me in the face (in a good way) many times, and I realize this: Speaking half of the story is no story at all.

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Dear Geekdom,

April 23, 2008

Why aren’t there more women in our hobby/at our gatherings?

Who knows?

Why aren’t there more people of color in our hobby/at our gatherings?

Couldn’t say.

Geekdom is fun. Lovable even. But asshat behavior is not. And every social scene has levels of crazy and stupid in it. The question is how does the community as a whole deal with it?

The thing is, when a community that generally is willing to get up in arms over (a game design idea, a lame plot twist, the death of a fictional character, a piece of comic book art, whatever) is completely silent when it comes to certain crack-headed behavior towards some of it’s members, it becomes clear that the silence is either an assent and agreement with the crack, or else that you just don’t care about those members enough to protect them from the crazy. It’s even worse when you defend the crazy behavior.

Guess what happens then?

People leave.

And in the end, you are left with nothing but the few you’re willing to protect and the crazy, having successfully driven out the middle ground and narrowed your doors. And then you wonder why certain people are absent for mysterious, unfathomable reasons.

This is a truth in any social circle- music, poetry, martial arts groups, and in human resources.

All those absent people are making a choice, one that you should ask yourself as well:

Do you want geek or crackheadedness?

ETA:

The whole boob thing I linked? A couple of my friends are talking about the fact that as women of color, they have already been dealing with people coming up touching their bodies even without this magically stupid “movement” powering the invasion of space and body rights.  One even pointed that out as the prime reason she stopped doing conventions.

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Roleplaying 101

April 15, 2008

A friend of mine asked me to talk about what this hobby is, as she had no clue about it.

So what is roleplaying?

Roleplaying games are games where you and a group of friends sit down and tell a story together.

The story you create can be any time period, it can be a romance, a tragedy, a comedy, an action adventure epic. It might be less of a story in the classic sense and more of a game- where the focus is on strategizing on how to win.

In any case, the activity is pretty much storytelling- you sit down and tell each other pieces of this story of imagination until you either decide to end the story or the rules of the game you’re playing bring it to an end.

A roleplaying game can be involved in any genre, from the stuff you see on tv, like lawyers and doctors and human drama, to science fiction, fantasy, or horror. As a geeky hobby, it generally favors the latter, though there are games for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, or the Lord of the Rings, and other popular franchises.

(Most roleplayers prefer to create their own characters and tell their own stories set in the same “world” as such a franchise, though a few will use the characters who were featured, in which case, the game is much closer to collaborative fan fiction).

Example

A small bit of play might look like this:

Ben: “The Nobles’ Ball has begun, and the music fills the hall…”
Chris: “The prince strides confidently across the hall, his eyes locked on the lady of the house…”
Nina: “You would dare?”
Chris: “Of course.”
Nina: “Then together the two dance until the morning star rises…”

You’ll notice that the players can switch between talking as a storyteller and speaking as a character at will. They might also switch to first person (“I stride confidently down the hall…”). In any case, though reading it seems strange, in play, it flows very seemlessly without much trouble.

Players are often assigned a single character or protagonist which they control in terms of the story. There may be a player whose job is to set the scene and describe the actions of many characters, in which case they are often acting as a director in this massive improv story. (In the example above, Ben fills that role).

Playing as a group

Roleplaying games are generally built around the structure of a long boardgame, like Monopoly- you’ll be playing 2-4 hours with a group of folks, usually 3-6 people. A single sitting is called a session”. Most games assume that the group will be telling a very long term story, over many sessions, called a run, or a campaign.

Longer term play is typically harder to organize- how often can you get all of your friends together to hang out for 4 hours regularly? For most of us, it’s actually kind of tough. For this reason a lot of newer games are intended to be played with shorter runs or even for a single session.


Game Elements

Most roleplaying games involve special rules for certain things. These rules might be used to add random elements to a story- like determining whether a character succeeds at lying to another or not, or if they get hurt in a fight. Depending on the game, these rules might be used to give plot twists and such, in other games, they might be the point of play- things to strategize over. These rules often use dice or cards to determine the outcomes.

Depending on the game you’re looking at, these game elements might be very easy to understand, or insanely complex. Roleplaying has generally favored the latter, rather than the former, though a lot more entry level games are appearing.

Getting into Roleplaying

So what if you’re interested in trying out this thing called roleplaying? Well, there’s a couple of ways to go about it.

First, you can buy a few roleplaying games, teach yourself and some friends, and play together. (If you have questions, you can usually email the author and get more help). Some games I might recommend:

– Prime Time Adventures by Matt Wilson
– Breaking the Ice by Emily Care Boss
– One Thousand and One Nights by Meguey Baker

Second, you can try going out to a roleplaying convention. You’ll get to play a lot of games with a lot of people. The quality of play can vary drastically, as conventions bring out the best and worst people around. You can also try playing one of the “organized play” games that happen around the country, which include RPGA games for stuff like Dungeons & Dragons or Star Wars.

Third, you can try to find some groups around you to play with. A lot of groups play completely differently from each other, and may expect long term commitment for play. Though you might learn something -about- roleplaying, most groups generally only play in one style and imagine it to be the best or only way. Like a convention, you’re playing the odds on what kind of play you’ll be getting.

I’m allowing comments here, but only for folks who have never roleplayed before or else are -just- getting into it. If you’re interested in knowing more about this hobby and how it works, please ask questions.

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A community built around…

April 11, 2008

Listening to Theory from the Closet’s Toxicity of Status podcast, it’s interesting to me because I think the discussions going around in the indie communities (and yes, I’m using plural in this), are about definitions of what a community gathers around.

Are we gathering around play? Design? Theory? Fanboyism?

I’d like to say it would be easy and clear cut, but given the roleplaying hobby’s history and even current culture, these things are muddied. Often just to have good play you end up diving into theory or design just to make things work, whether we’re talking about rules as written or the group you’re dealing with. So it’s not a matter of isolation, it’s a matter of prioritizing.

But the real question to ask at this point is this: As much as you have to ask what you want from your gaming, you also have to ask what you want from the community, and culture around it that you choose to participate in. As people come up with different answers, you’re going to get different communities growing from that. If you’re not getting the community you want, as much as if you’re not getting the kind of play you want, you need to ask yourself why and what needs to be different.