On Cultural Appropriation

I started a blog post here and decided it belonged on the Future Proof Games devblog. It’s called “On Cultural Appropriation,” and in it I talk about the phenomenon of cultural appropriation, how critics muddy the waters to try and get people to dismiss it as an issue, how we’re complicit in cultural appropriation in our game Exploit: Zero Day, and how we’re working to make sure we behave respectfully.

If I point out that something in a work is problematic, it doesn’t mean I’m condemning the whole work. Critics of social justice often react to concerns about a work by pretending that people are saying the work is unredeemable. Again, this reframes the discussion in such a way that the concerns can be ignored. Avatar is a great show; how could you question the way it uses Inuit cultural elements? You’re saying it’s a terrible show! End of discussion.

Don’t do that.

Read more and comment at the Future Proof Games Development Blog.

Hot Tin Roof Is Queer

Logo of Hot Tin Roof
Glass Bottom Games‘s noir, mystery-solving metroidvania Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora is queer. Maybe it’s better to say that it queers: it takes the normative and twists it in the direction of the feminine, the feminist, the genderfluid, and the non-hetero. It’s a joyful celebration of subversion.
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Ludus Novus 022: Countdown – A Game For Two Players

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I present a new game, “Countdown,” in spoken word form. Trigger warning for self-injury.

Countdown: A Game For Two Players

The rules are arbitrary in the wherever,
but here, in this circle, they are real.

Of course, this membrane is porous.
It flutters and flows and lets pass
certain realities and unrealities.
The game isn’t the same if the world changes.
And games can change your world.

But the magic circle creates a promise of escape.
At any time, you can step outside the circle.
At any time, you can make this stop.

The music for this episode is “Third Moment – A Road Through the Forest” from Three Moments by Darrell Burgan. It’s available under a ccby3.0 license.

Any feedback is welcome in the comments.

The Perils of a Long D&D Campaign

A map of the campaign setting I’ve been running a Dungeons and Dragons 4e game called “Urgo” for almost five years. All of my original five players have been replaced except one. It was always a high-magic, swashbuckling campaign featuring airships and demigods, and it’s escalated from there. The player characters are level 16 of 30 and we’ve reached a point in the game where it takes some effort to maintain the tone and even more effort to properly prepare. For some background, here’s the current situation:
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The First Cabinet in Gone Home: A Close Reading

I’m part of Future Proof Games. We’ve released the dark dialogue-based satire Ossuary and are working on Exploit: Zero Day, a social cyberpunk puzzle game currently in closed Alpha testing.

Gone Home is an amazing work. Yes, it’s a bit sappy and its ending is a bit pleasant and optimistic, but screw that. “Sentimentality, empathy, and being too soft should not be seen as weaknesses.” Gone Home is sweet, although certainly not sickeningly so; it is the sweet of a “sour” candy where the sour sanding soon fades away.

I’m writing about a single cabinet in the game. This one: 2015-03-08_00001

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Conscious Incompetence

I like thinking and talking about stuff, but when try to I do so I often suspect that I don’t know enough to say something genuinely interesting. It’s not impostor syndrome (though I totally suffer from that). It’s a fear that if I talk about a complex subject that I don’t fully understand then I will come across as foolish (and therefore provide no benefit) to someone who knows it better. I’ve experienced this from the other side: seeing people write naïve things that aren’t even wrong about how software development works.

There are a few topics that I’m comfortable discussing because I know my limits in them:

  • Computer science and software development
  • Game design and development
  • Creative writing
  • Social justice, maybe?
  • Cooking

While there are plenty of topics that I’m sure I don’t know much about (beekeeping), there are a few that I consistently hesitate to write about for fear of creating a naïve argument. Some examples are Discordianism (due to my uncertainty with postmodernism and theology), economics, and narrative. I’m not even sure where to start to learn more; I don’t have much time for learning outside my focus fields, and I don’t even know enough to optimize that time. I don’t want to waste time reading a bunch of poorly-written texts before I gain enough understanding to tell what the good sources are.

I’m part of a mailing list that deals with art in games, and I often feel like one of the least-informed members. There are academics with years of theoretical underpinnings talking about complex things and I hesitate to spend an hour crafting what I think is insight only to discover that I’ve wasted the time and attention of an expert who recognizes my thoughts as that of an underinformed beginner.

Short of learning more (which I’m trying to do, despite the time it takes), I’m not sure how to deal with this dilemma. Any advice? How do you know when you’re well-informed enough to discuss something outside of your comfort zone?

Hadean Lands

Map screen of the iOS version of Hadean LandsI’ve been playing Hadean Lands by Andrew Plotkin, a parser-based interactive fiction game that I backed on Kickstarter in 2010. It was just released; almost four years is a long time to wait for an IF game, but with this game’s complexity I can understand what took so long.

The game is an exploration of alchemical processes. It follows the tradition of steampunk and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, among others, by examining a society in which a form of magic exists from a speculative fiction perspective: it’s set on a “marcher,” an alchemical spaceship, where you are a mysterious “swabbie” after a mysterious accident. At the same time, it’s a stunningly well-implemented work of IF programming.
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The Sublime Bioshock 2

Bioshock 2 is the best Bioshock. It has the best gameplay and story, yes, but it also is the best at being Bioshock. Bioshock games share a fundamental DNA. A lighthouse, a man, a city — okay, sure, but it’s more than such a banal recitation of symbols. Bioshock is about extreme philosophy, parenthood, and the subversion of flesh, mind, and environment. Bioshock 2 is the purest instance of this formula.

I’ll be discussing Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock: Infinite. I won’t be discussing DLC/expansion packs, although Minerva’s Den is excellent and Burial at Sea is impressive if eventually disappointing.

There will be spoilers.
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Awaiting the End: A One-Sheet GM-less RPG

blog_awaiting200x200If you don’t follow our posts over at Future Proof Games, we released a free little tabletop roleplaying game earlier this month.

Awaiting the End” is a GM-less story-focused game for as few as three people where you play people trapped in a Place awaiting a Doom and you tell stories about how you got there. It requires minimal preparation and the rules fit on a tri-fold pamphlet.

If you’d like to get the game for free and read some more about the making of it, check out the release post on the Future Proof Games blog. If you’d like to give us a bit of money, it’s available as Pay-What-You-Want on DriveThruRPG.com.

What is Ludus Novus For?

Over the past year, I’ve put up a single post on this site that’s not directly related to our company Future Proof Games. Everything else has been FPG related, mostly promotional stuff for Ossuary.

I’ve been asking myself what I want Ludus Novus to be for. In the past it’s been rather focused on game design, but I think it’s time to expand that a bit. Games are my life, but I’ll be writing a lot about them for the FPG blog as well. So I hope to use this space for a bit more eclectic set of stuff, including:

  • Personal news
  • Posts about other things important to me like polyamory, feminism/queer issues, and nonviolent communication
  • Feelings about games I’ve been playing
  • Podcast episodes (hopefully!)
  • Brief FPG updates and crossposts

In general, I want to take some of the pressure off of myself, to encourage me to put up stuff that’s less polished and more frequent. I may still post more theoretical game design stuff, but a lot of that will show up on the FPG blog instead.

Is there something you’d like to see in this space that’s a better fit for Ludus Novus than Future Proof Games?