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Story

10 Jul

papers

Source: http://game-icons.net/

Recently, a friend asked to interview Squiddy and me for his thesis on how RPG players’ characters relate to their real life personas. The topic basically had our names written all over it, and we were happy to oblige.

One topic that we kept skirting around during the interview was what we thought of the act of playing RPGs. What an odd thing to do! What did we think of it? We didn’t have anything interesting to say about that part, actually. RPGs have always seemed like a totally natural and intuitive hobby. Partly this is because (and this is the reason we gave him) we both write and have for a long time. We tend to think of RPGs as a structured extension of fiction.

However, this is also partly because, speaking loosely, we have always been an RPG since the week we met at summer camp.

We were 12 and 13 respectively, and we started writing a funny story together. It had two main characters, and she took one and I took the other. When we went home, we would type out lines to each other over AIM (old school!) or spoke them over the phone. Eventually, it morphed into a serious story. Then we finished it. Then we started it over again, but different. Rinse and repeat a few times. Then we started a different story, with different characters.  Then we did another one.

There were always two main characters and we always each had one that was ours, and split the others between us. Of course, this wasn’t an RPG qua RPG; there weren’t rules and dice rolls. But it wasn’t exactly writing fiction together either. Often these stories never got written down, except maybe piecemeal in chat logs. We didn’t care as much about characters that weren’t our own. The world and the NPCs would sometimes get pretty fleshed out, but other times they were just cardboard set-pieces and they always existed primarily to further the arcs for the main two. Both of us do write fiction, but obviously we wouldn’t write a story that way.

People who spend time in fandom communities will be familiar with the idea of RPGs referring to an activity where people do exactly what I just decribed, narrating actions and lines to each other in the persona of characters from their favorite books and movies. We were doing the same thing, but with our own characters (well, mostly).

We have been doing this consistently since we were kids. There has been almost no point in the last ten years at which there wouldn’t have been an answer to the question, “What story are you doing?” We’re about 3/4ths of the way through one right now. They’ve varied in length-to-tell from a few days to several months, and lord knows they’ve varied in quality, plot, setting, and just about everything else. The only consistent factor has been that the story is about two people and how they relate to each other.

So, as you might imagine, RPGs came pretty naturally to us – just like doing story, but with friends and more rules, right? I don’t know that there is a terribly consistent relationship between our characters, in RPGs or story, and our actual personalities. It’s the relationship between our characters, more than the characters themselves, that says something about us, I think.

It occurs to me that this is probably an extremely odd activity, though it never struck me that way. I mean, on some level, sure, I guess I knew it was unusual. We’ve never talked to anyone about it; it seemed personal. It’s the only hobby (and it’s time-consuming enough to be a hobby) that never makes it onto the list when I’m asked. But really, it’s as much a legibility thing as anything else. How do you describe that in two words or less? At least D & D players are a trope.

But I don’t think it occurred to me until recently that I’m genuinely uncertain what other couples do with that time. I mean, we all (hopefully) talk about our lives, feelings, ideas, hobbies and what have you with our partners. But you still (probably) spend a ton of time together. Is it usually just more of the same, or do other people tend to have Things they do together? Major projects and hobbies that are just for the two of them?

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Radical History

14 Apr

fist_2-

Source: http://openclipart.org/detail/168935/fist-by-rapperklimov

When I was in college, I wrote my thesis on the first Rainbow Coalition, militant namesake of Jesse Jackson’s current organization. Theirs is a lost history of radical empowerment – part of the struggle of writing about it was simply trying to find any sources at all. Many of the websites that put me on the trail of the coalition’s history are gone now. The primary sources I have access to at the moment I can pretty much count on my fingers. James Tracy, who was himself one of Uptown’s organizers in the 1960s and 1970s, is pretty much the only person to have written a book on the subject.

The Rainbow Coalition arose from the least mainstream end of many minority communities in Chicago; the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots, the Young Lords, I Kor Wen, and more. The Panthers, neglected in civil rights history as they are, are easily the most well-known of these groups. Some sources for the history of the Young Patriots do exist, mostly in the form of films and documents obscure except among extreme left organizers. The invention of portable video cameras was the first information revolution – and the activists of 1960s and 1970s Chicago kept their history alive and accessible through film.

One of the biggest problems I had getting my thesis idea approved was in answering that most fundamental of academic questions, why does this matter? Why is this group influential? How does this fit into the literature? I managed to answer these questions well enough to convince my advisor to give me the go-ahead, but with distance I can tell you that my answers were pretty thin. An activist can say, these people mattered because of what they tried to do, not how well they succeeded. The fact that you don’t know about them is in itself a reason to write about them. But that’s not a very academic response. In retrospect, I view that paper as a failure not just because it wasn’t terribly good, but because it split the different between academia and activism. I tried much too hard to bring aloof intellectualism to the history of a group that was meaningful because it wasn’t run by aloof intellectuals.

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The Marriage Post

1 Apr
Wedding_dress_princess_seams

Night of The Living Brides.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wedding_dress_princess_seams.jpg

Given the recent cases before the Supreme Court, I figured now is as good a time as any for the marriage post. I’ve been trying to edit it up to my satisfaction for the last day or two and I’m officially giving up and just posting it before the moment’s past and I’m eaten by camp nanowrimo anyway. This post is pretty near and dear to my heart, so I may try to do a revised version of it one day. Or it may just stay here in all its sprawly glory.

This decision of Squiddy’s and mine to get married has actually been rather controversial in our circles. Our friends in Altlandia have a variety of reasons for being uncomfortable with and suspicious of the institution of marriage. My mom isn’t crazy about it either; my parents got married by a judge (by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actually) almost a decade into their relationship, pretty much only because they were about to have a kid. Though my parents weren’t really Altlander parents per se, my mother is as marriage-skeptical as the best of them.

Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg

How married are my parents? So married. The marriedest.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg.jpg

So it seems reasonable for me to try and explain why Squiddy and I want to do this.

First off, I think there are two major kinds of marriage that get conflated – marriage (legal) and marriage (social). Squiddy and I want both, but I’m going to start with the one that I think is easiest to explain. I don’t think I need to tell you that marriage opens up a wonderful world of legal protections and connections between two people. Taxes, property ownership, medical decisions, child-rearing, you name it, marriage makes it easier and safer.

Let me get this out of the way right now and say that in my perfect world, marriage as it stands would not be the only way to get allthese legal rights and responsibilities with someone(s). I’m not even going to try to encapsulate all my problems with how our governmental bureaucracy categorizes people and relationships – in my utopian fantasy its role would be descriptive rather than prescriptive anyway. In my universe, when you came of age it would be de rigeur to march off to a lawyer and explicitly state who’s making your medical decisions if you’re incapacitated and who’s getting your money if you die. There would be a family registration form of some kind and it would be totally possible to register with whoever you liked. You could register with more than one person – poly families could have the same advantages as monogamous ones and sexual/romantic/familial relationships wouldn’t get automatically privileged over all others. Squiddy and I happen to be monogamous and romantic in a way that pretty much fits the current standard model, but it shouldn’t be everyone’s default.

Wow. I am...never googling rainbow unicorns again. I got some weird shit in results.

Wow. I am…never googling rainbow unicorns again. I got some truly weird shit in results.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HappLand!.jpg

However, that’s not the world we’re living in and in these matters I’m rabidly pragmatic. I’ve had a lot of experience with the intersection of law, medicine, and family. I am viscerally aware of what it means for you and your loved ones to have a medical power of attorney and a written will when shit hits the fan. Even ignoring my qualms about marriage in general, the marriage Squiddy and I will be having doesn’t come with the full suite of legal protections yet. The legal security blanket of gay marriage is pretty thin. But does the inadequacy of those advantages mean we shouldn’t go get them anyway? Really no. The perfect, in this case, is the enemy of the good. Squiddy and I whatever chunk of security we can get for each other and practicality trumps everything in that area for us.

Practicality! Safety! Worrying about sad things! Real romantic. So why haven’t we moved somewhere gay marriage is legal, tied the knot in a judge’s office, and called it a day already? I think the explanation for why we want a legal marriage is pretty clear-cut, but why do we want a wedding?

This part’s more complicated.

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