Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weapons aren't really my thing...

I spent a bit of time on the internet today and found out about the chap who went apeshit at the screening of Batman. Now, I'm usually the last one to hear about these things, so I'm just going to assume that you all know about it. It was brought to my attention by the Sydney Morning Herald, then by George Takei and then by one of my lovely neighbours. All three of these sources seemed to indicate that their primary concern was for the victims and their families and the sci-fi/fantasy/comic book fan community. These are responses I can understand and relate to, and somewhat mirror my own feelings when the news started to sink in.

Then I saw a link to a newsblog website which started out fairly sane (in the scheme of things), though I was (and am still) extremely dubious about the authority of the text. It gave great detail about the event to the point where I found myself scrolling up to see who this person was that they should be so in-the-know. Then it started talking about how the gunman was the result of a neurological experiment designed to repress those who hold their second amendment rights dear in the face of the UN small arms treaty vote. Yes. This was all a plot by pinko lefties (and the FBI) to stop people being allowed to carry guns.


And then, from the same person who linked the above article, I see the usual overly dramatic nonsense about how this all could have been prevented or minimised if more people in the audience had brought their own firearms with them to the theatre.


Obviously, the best response to a crazed gunman is for amateurs to start shooting into the darkness! That will solve everything!

So...context is out of the way.

So a facebook friend says:

How many innocents have to die before American voters recognise that the willful misreading of the 2nd Amendment (designed to protext the right to join the National Guard) which allows civilians to purchase military-style weapons is insanely wrong?
And for the benefit of my American friends: Here in Australia we are every bit as free as those on the other side of the Pacific - indeed, with no Patriot Act, rather more so - but we worked out, from the painful experience that no sane civilian needs to own a semi-automatic weapon. As a consequence, Australians are 10 TIMES less likely to die from a gun crime than Americans - while at the same time our armed forces are widely recognised as the finest in the world, with an expertise the US military have come to depend upon.

My response:

I have a few friends in the USA who are very pro-guns. They ask me how I can possibly feel safe without a weapon to protect myself with. I carefully explain that the only reason everyone would need a gun is if everyone else has already has a gun and you're concerned they will turn their gun on you at a moments notice. In this situation, I will die whether I own a gun or not. I'm not John McClane, and when the bullets start flying there's not much that will stop me from getting killed or injured. Owning a gun does not suddenly imbue me with military training for emergency situations. It just makes me more likely to shoot myself or hurt someone else by accident.

They talk about the need to protect themselves and their families in case of home invasions. I think bringing a weapon into this kind of situation only makes things more likely to escalate to deadly violence. I've seen first hand how easy it is to be disarmed by someone with a moderate amount of training. I try to talk to them about how the things in my house are just *things*. They're not important. Then they talk about their sentimental belongings. I'm pretty sure that sentiment doesn't magically imbue objects with additional resale value on the black market and the pics of your grandfather and your mums recipe books are not going to be prime targets of your average home invader. And it is statistically unlikely that anyone is going to climb into your window to rape your daughter. It's just not how these things happen.

It feels like people have been caught up in some dramatic fictional narrative about themselves and they are preparing themselves for the dramatic climax where they protect either their family or the public from some crazed gunman. There are simply not enough crazed gunmen to fulfil all the hero fantasies of all the pro-gun nuts out there.

Apparently (and I don't actually remember where I read this, so take it with a grain of salt) the gunman in Colorado was a role-player. I am now waiting for the outcry against fantasy or science fiction roleplaying games on the basis that they create homicidal maniacs. I've already seen one person bring out the old violent video games trope.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Curb your enthusiasm

I'm actually not a particularly sappy person, and I tend to keep my sentiment to myself. If I feel strong positive emotions about something I keep quiet about it. I don't need some other persons opinion ruining my happy things.

But in the last few years I've learned the value of being enthusiastic and unreserved in my expressions of love for something. Things like tentacles, My Little Pony and cooking have become significant things in my life because I allowed other people to share in my happiness with me.

Today was an exercise in contained glee. I received a job offer, which I have accepted, that I am very pleased about...but I don't want my current workplace to feel that I have not enjoyed my time there or that I don't feel that my time there was worthwhile. I have enjoyed it for the most part, and it has been very worthwhile. I've met some really cool people and I've done some awesome things. But I feel like it's time to move on. My current position was the beginning of my career...but I never intended to make it all of my career and it's time to find new challenges and learn new things in a different environment.

The organisation I am moving to has indicated that they are planning to conduct research and publish in my field and that they want me to be a part of that process. They've indicated that my future plans of going back to uni to finish my masters is something that they will support. They want me involved in information literacy programming and seemed impressed with my proposition that information literacy should be a fundamental aspect of a holistic learning experience, not a separate and easily forgotten class held once a month in the Library. They want me to expand the learning community of the school to include parents and caregivers. And I will be the first person in this role. I am excited.

But I still feel like it's disrespectful to talk too much about the new position. I want to make it clear to my current workplace that for the next three weeks I will be preparing the position I am leaving so that it is in good working order for the next 3 months in case it takes a while to fill. I want to make sure that I am committed to doing a good job in the job I am in until the day I leave. I am looking forward to the new job, but I am trying to do it in my own time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

These boots are made for...crushing Tokyo

In my early 20's someone I cared for very much took me a little too much for granted and my health was jeopardised as a result. I got angry and I cut the abusive bitch out of my life. This felt incredible because up until that point I had spent an enormous amount of time making sure everyone around me was happy. Often to my own detriment.

I would do some incredible mental and emotional acrobatics to try to see everyone in the best light possible. If I was being hurt I would try to look at the person who hurt me and see why the actions that were hurting me were necessary for them in some way, even to the point of blaming myself for being hurt in the first place. I don't need someone with a psych degree to tell me that's a bad idea.

Since then I've cut people out a few more times. Usually they have this highly amusing reaction of utter confusion followed by a fear/rage tantrum thrown in my general direction through the careful use of bitching behind my back and pretending they've done nothing wrong.

Apparently, despite my abject fear of confrontation and my annoying level-headedness, I have a widespread reputation as a big, scary mofo. I understand this to be a fear of the unknown. Most people have never argued with me. I don't really like arguing. It's not a thing I enjoy and, like Texas hold 'em poker, after a while I get bored, stop caring and either walk away or fall asleep. So most people don't have first-hand knowledge of exactly how an argument works with me. If I confront someone about something, it is usually after having thought about it long and hard and deciding that really, it's probably not too much of an imposition to ask this person to stop doing the thing that is bugging me.

Let's call this person Steve...I don't know any Steve's personally but it's a convenient name for a person you don't really like (sorry Steve). So, I'll go up to Steve and say "that thing you do, it makes me are some other options for things you could do instead. We should talk about this."

I know, right.

Though I must admit, there have been times when I have simply decided that I don't care any more. Then I'm not interested in building bridges. I don't feel the need to burn them as such, but I'm not going to sugarcoat the extent of my anger, frustration and boredom. If I feel this way it is usually best for Steve to find a new friend. Talking to me will not result in happiness and good will. It will usually result in a point by point list of the things that Steve has done to make me so incredibly ambivalent to his wellbeing. This feeling is the result of trying to fix the problem several times with no success and deciding that now is as good a time as any to just walk away.

It's not that it won't end well. It's that it's already ended badly and Steve just needs to catch up.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The benefits of being a little kid

So, this year I am having a "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" themed birthday party and I am turning 27 years old. This is less of a confession and more of a declaration. I've always been a take-me-as-I-am kind of person, so it's not like I was ever going to ask social permission for this kind of thing. But I feel it's important to document this kind of nonsense as it occurs.

The Facebook invite:
To celebrate my birthday this year, and to share the magic of friendship, I am having a celebration of all things pony. To help me celebrate, and to make the event more magical, I'd like everyone to bring or wear a cutie mark representing your special talent.
What is a cutie mark? A cutie mark is an image on the branding area of a pony that depicts a significant aspect of the personality of the pony. It may indicate a special talent or something that pony is particularly known for. For more info head to the MLP Wiki
What kinds of cutie marks are already out there? MLP Wiki has a pretty good gallery of available cutie marks that you may want to use or adapt. If you're not sure what your cutie mark would be, why not mention it here and get some suggestions. :)

The cutie-mark extravaganza was an idea than snuck into my brain many months ago. I was feeling sad and alone for whatever emo reason, and I thought of a My Little Pony Cutie Mark party as a way of celebrating all the little things that make us unique. I had tossed the idea around in my head for a while but mentally almost written it off because I just didn't feel like I should be doing this sort of thing as an Adult, and I wasn't sure anyone would actually want to indulge me. Then I went to the 30th birthday of a friend and a whole bunch of people asked me what I was doing for my birthday. After I stopped being gobsmacked that they remembered that it was my birthday this month, I mentioned the cutie mark party as an idea and suddenly people were really enthusiastic.

I think it's important to be a kid every now and again, an not to forget that. Even though work is busy and it feels like the only time you have to relax when you're at home is when you're waiting for your washing to finish in the machine.

Suddenly the planning process of the party is something that I am looking forward to at home. I've been making lists of things to make and preparing myself for my Rainbow Dash birthday cake and the cutie-mark cookies. I've planned a super childish Pinkie Pie themed Guess How Many Lollies in the Jar competition and, since I lack Pinkie's wonderful Party Cannon, I'm making up small party bags that people will get when they arrive, including stickers, temporary tattoos, a party popper and other things I haven't decided on yet.

My 27th birthday party will rock so much more than any party I had as a kid because I'm old enough and I've been through enough and I'm stressed enough and I've been sad enough now to appreciate the special level of childish glee that comes from putting up streamers, blowing up balloons and nomming fairy bread with friends and getting really high on sugar.

This isn't the first time I've done something like this. For my 25th birthday I had a cookie party. Everyone was to bring a small tray of cookies. They didn't have to be home made, but in these things sometimes people want to expend that extra bit of effort. Some people made special home recipes, one person made a massive pizza-sized cookie, someone else made no-bake cookies in the shape of tentacles (!!!) and some people bought cookies from the Cookie Man, and they were delicious as well. My best friend at the time made me a cake with a marshmallow and snake octopus on it. It was pretty frickin' special.

Last year it was my first birthday after a fairly epic social fallout, so I kept it small and timid. This year, though. This year will be wonderful.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Help me, I'm feeling unstructured

So, this little bit of web is the place where I say the things that I think. Often I don't think things that are particularly charitable, but I try not to write those down because I know that someone out there is going to get upset, and I'll get over what made me want to rant well before they get over how upset I made them by talking about it and it's really a lot of bother for a little bit of public venting. This is not to say that I won't make snide comments. I am only human.

I haven't kept up a regular blog since I was a chronically whiny late-teen with a livejournal (which I shall not link to) and a mistaken belief that I was a beautiful and unique, albeit misunderstood, snowflake. For a while after that I posted with obsessive regularity on an online forum, but after a while I found myself less and less tolerant of people who are the source of their own problems and a flamboyantly bitchy side of my personality awoke with the kind of fire and fury that is often reserved for villains in fantasy epics. And so I left before I did too much lasting damage.

However, lately I've had an urge to have my opinion heard, my feelings known about and my knowledge shared. Perhaps it is the very human narcissism that afflicts all of us, or perhaps it is because I alone am really that self-involved.

So, in light of my fascinating personality, my roguish charms and my charming ability to turn a phrase, I am going to assume that people are honestly interested in what I have to say. So interested, in fact, that they will ask me questions, give me topics, begin a discussion with me etcetera. I will answer you, invoking the "none-of-your-business" clause of online communication as little as possible. A regularly updated blog will be born. I will grow more confident in my writing skills and and you will get the opportunity to bow down and worship at altar of my narcissism. A win-win situation if ever I saw one.

So yes. Ask me the things. I will talk about them. It will be good.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Literary Superiority

So there I was, reading books like Persepolis and Mao's Last Dancer and thinking "I'm glad I don't read brainless twaddle. I'm so much better than that".

And then my book club assigns Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty as this months book. A quick scan of the blurb and I thought that all my literary concerns had come true in what appeared to be some ditsy, plastic teen girly book that doesn't address any real issues. And until 2/3 of the way through, the book did nothing to change my opinion of it. The main character, Jessica Darling, was self-absorbed, stuck-up, and whiny.

I started getting angry at the author for writing such a terrible character...and then I thought about it a bit and realised that she wasn't doing it without reason. After a while the endearing nature of Jessica Darling started to shine through. She was whiny, she was self-absorbed and she was very very full of herself, but then again so was I when I was a teenager. But, just like I like to think I did, Jessica has some endearing traits. She is stuck up, but she's also incredibly intelligent. She's whiny, but until about 2/3 of the way though the book she doesn't have much opportunity to do anything about the most pressing and immediate of her issues. She's self-absorbed like any teenager, but spends most of her time thinking of her best friend. And it hit me.

She's just like I was at her age.

In fact, all teenagers are like this. Most people are still like this well after they stop being teenagers and they don't have the added benefit of being particularly entertaining for an outsider. And unlike a lot of whiny, self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-satisfied people I've met, Jessica actually goes through phases of personal growth. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she doesn't make the same one twice.

On Friday night I stayed up after midnight (le gasp) finishing this book. I was disappointed. I felt that Jessica Darling still had a lot of learning to do. And I wanted to get past the stage where I was nodding my head saying "Yes! That is the way of life, young Padawan!" and get into the stage where I would be able to say "I'm so glad she learned these lessons so I didn't have to go through the trauma of doing it myself!" So I went and acquired the other 4 books in the series and stayed up reading (and exercising and dying my hair) until 5.30am. I'm about to finish the second book and she's still got a long way to go, so I guess I'll keep reading. I'm hoping she'll catch up to me soon and teach me those important life lessons about the little things that I missed while I was reading about the big things.

Monday, February 27, 2012

D&D in Public Libraries seminar, February 2012

Last week I organised and presented at a workshop on getting Dungeons & Dragons into public libraries. I figured I'd reproduce my talk here just because apparently people liked it, and it seems sensible to share that sort of thing. I got a lovely compliment from one of the volunteers that I will share later when I stop blushing.
You may remember me from last year, when I presented at the R U Game symposium. Since then Ellen Forsyth and I have worked hard to bring you this workshop, showing you some of the cool things you can do with the nifty kit that HASBRO were kind enough to donate to public libraries in 2010.

Last year I explained a little about what D&D is and some of the ways you can make an in-depth program with little to no budget. Today I’m going to tell you about the things my library has done with little to no budget and about some of the things we’ve learned along the way. Hopefully by now your libraries have your own experiences to draw from as well.

There will be 3 basic questions that you’ll need answers to if you’re going to run a D&D program for your library. First of all, you’re going to need to know what this whole thing is if you’re going to be able to talk to your patrons about how much fun it is and convince new players to give it a shot.

Second of all you’re going to need to know exactly what to do to prepare for a role playing session. How many players, how to be a dungeon master (DM) or how to find someone willing to dungeon master for you, what snacks to provide, what equipment you’ll need, what kind of space to use, and all the other little things that you only realise you need when it becomes clear you don’t have them.

Thirdly, you’re going to need to know what on earth D&D has to do with libraries and literacy so that you can justify running these games to your library manager (and any crotchety busybody patrons who have set ideas about just what libraries are supposed to be about).

Will Chan from Wizards of the Coast will be able to tell you much more than I can about D&D specifically, and you’ll hear from him in a short while, so I won't bore you with the history of D&D or the mechanics of the game.

As librarians, we are panhandlers of stories, distributers of everyday fantasies that people read and get lost in. We give people books so that they can experience things through the authors' or the characters' eyes that would otherwise be outside their realm of experience. But the limitation with books is that you cannot change the outcome. You cannot decide that you don’t want to hero of the story to battle the main antagonist and perhaps what he’d rather do is join forces with the big bad guy and subjugate the peasant population in order to fulfil his life-long dream of building a giant statue of a dragon carved out of the bones and teeth of the innocent. It’s just not going to happen that way, whether you like it or not.

With a roleplaying game, you can do this.  By its nature, it situates the players within the story to act it out as participants rather than as observers. Players are required to figure out for themselves where the story should go, who they should talk to, how they will interact with each other and whether the giant dragon statue made of bones is really a good idea after all, or if perhaps they would be better served by making it out of stone instead.

The story can literally go anywhere. My lovely friend, Robert, who some of you will have the benefit of meeting later today, created a campaign in which a single cataclysmicly disappointing event defines the setting and simply lets his players wander around in it. They have, throughout the campaign, been married, set themselves up as saviours of the meta-races, begun to bring back the cruel dragon overlords who once ruled the lands, started a war with a small city of giants and murdered the local messiah (several times)...but apparently they've buried him in ice so if they need to they can resurrect him later. If another group of players was to enter the same campaign, there would be a vastly different story to tell. Through roleplaying games (RPG's) we give our patrons the power to make the stories instead of just reading them.

And unlike writing and publishing a book, D&D is dead cheap. You already have the rule books, so the biggest expense is already out of the way. Dice sets can be obtained from your local gaming shop for between $5 and $20 depending on just how sparkly and pretty you want your dice to be. Apart from that your main cost will be snacks, printing and promotion.

In order to play you will need a space with a table and some comfortable chairs. You’ll need tokens to push around your map so everyone can visualise where they are. You’ll need pencils and paper in order to jot down important clues, treasure or hit points lost and you’ll need snacks. Some players are surgically adhered to their laptops and won’t be able to play without a pdf of every rulebook open at the same time and an electronic dice-roller. It’s easier not to argue, so make sure there’s a powerpoint available for them.

Now, when I started running D&D in the library, it wasn’t the only thing I was new at. I’ve been gaming on and off for 10 years now but in that time I had never, ever been a DM. I was also new to libraries and library programming, so I modeled the roleplaying group on the other programs the library had on offer. Our book club, youth consultants meetings and our manga group all met on a monthly basis, so I decided that monthly would have to work. It fits in with the roster, it’s easy to plan around other activities and it’s a standard period that the teens should be used to from other activities. The only main difference between this and other teen activities was that this was held in the evening on a night the library opens late. Which means that I was on a night shift, but not available for a desk shift during that time.

Also, like other activities, it was librarian-led. I chose to DM a group of new players. This was partly because of how the other activities that the library offered were modeled and partly because none of the teens knew how to play. Later, when I had to stop DMing myself due to time constraints, I handed the mantle over to the teen who had picked up the rules the quickest so that they could keep playing without me.

Each month I sent a detailed story email to the group indicating who they had spoken to, what they had learned and done, who/what they’d killed and what experience and loot they had gained and the effect this had on the party. I included the failures and the botched rolls as well as the successes and triumphant moments.

I used these emails as a way of publishing content about the game and the players in a variety of ways in the library. I introduced the characters on the teen blog, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses and their personalities. I also introduced them using our printed teen newsletter. And I posted facebook notes to the group using material from the campaign to flesh out the story and hold their attention between games.

Now, I’ll remind you that this was not just my first time DMing, but also my first time developing a regular teen program from scratch. It’s not perfect, and there was some trouble along the way.

First off: once a month is not enough. After each game there was a collective whine from the group “But can’t we play next week?” and it was always a little sad when I had to answer “no”. Despite the emails and the facebook posts and the newsletter articles there was always a period of time at the beginning of each session where the teens tried to remember where they were up to, who they were and what on earth the main quest was all about. This means that time spent playing gets cut down dramatically as everyone reads through their character sheet again, asks questions and generally faffs about while they settle down.

They loved the story refreshers! It reminded them when the next game was on and they were written in a theatrical style so they got into the mood of the game in time to start playing. They were sent on the Friday before the Tuesday game so they had the weekend to check emails and remind their parents when they had to be picked up. If I sent it on the Monday, they didn’t read it or didn’t get it in time. If I sent it earlier, then it was too long before the game and they forgot.

They loved seeing their game, their characters and their stories in print. They’d come into the library with some friends, they’d see the article and they’d show their friends what they’d been doing. Suddenly a bunch of geeks sitting around a table rolling dice looks cool and other people want to join in.

Finally: teens can’t organise themselves. This is an unfortunate fact of life. After I let them take responsibility for their own character sheets and 3 of the 5 sheets were lost by the second session, I decided that I was going to have to lower my expectations. The one time I forgot to send out a reminder email only 2 of the 5 turned up and even then one of them was late. Because the sessions ran during the evening and tended to take me out of action for a few hours once a month I was asked if the teens would be able to run the sessions themselves so that I could have more time for the pressing concerns of day-to-day work. I put it to the teens and they said “Yes! This means we can play every second week!” and then remembered I was standing right there and said “but we’ll miss you, too!” And so I handed over the reigns of DM-ship to one of the teens and told him to let me know when he needed the books. And it was great. They all turned up, it was well-run, and everyone was happy. The first time. After that it just didn’t seem to be able to keep going. Without a regular time and someone stern to tell them what to do they floundered and it all fell apart.

We’re in the process of starting the games back up again, recruiting new players to replace the ones who can’t come, sorting out a time when they can all be there. I’m still not able to run the games personally, so we’re looking for an outside DM who can run the games and let me know what needs doing behind the scenes.

So, what tips can I give based on what I’ve learned?

First off, remind players where they’re up to in advance of the game. This should reduce the amount of time wasted at the beginning of a session playing catch up.

Keep players on track. A little joking around and being silly is fine. It is a game, after all. But don’t’ spend too much time making half-orc jokes when you should be saving the world.

Be flexible. If one of your players wants to do or craft something and you don’t’ know the rule for it. you have 2 options. First, you can rummage through the rule books, look up the tables and work out the best skill check to apply and what modifiers should be used and how much money it shoud cost, thoroughly disrupting the game and dedicating an unwarranted amount of time to a single player with an esoteric and ultimately pointless customisation. OR…you can wing it. Take a guess and it’ll probably all work out okay. Then get back to the game.

Provide food and drinks. Especially if the game goes for more than 2 hours. People are going to start getting hungry, and there’s been many an epic roleplaying session that’s been railroaded by everyone deciding to stop and get lunch. Things never quite get back on track after that. So provide some food, or order pizza if it’s a big one-day event. That way you can eat and keep playing and the world doesn’t have to stop just because the group gets the munchies. Careful with the caffeine, though, or pretty soon even the most mundane of failed rolls will devolve into gigglefits.

Be theatrical. You can tell the story like you’re calling roll in 'Ferris Beuller’s Day Off', or you can inject some life into it. Most of you will have done children’s storytime before, and you’re basically using the same skills. When there’s a bear that attacks in the middle of the night, don’t say “it roars”, actually roar and scare the bejesus out of the group. If a player is wounded, don’t just say “you take 5 points of damage”, say “he thrusts the point of his spear into your chest, but you turn at the last second and it’s deflected by your armour and scrapes under your shield arm. You’re hit, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been! Take 5 damage”

Which leads to the last point. Have fun. Yeah, I know it’s work, but who says work can’t be fun? If you’re DMing and you’re not having fun, chances are your players aren’t having fun either. They’re probably bored or distracted or confused about what’s going on. So laugh with them, make friends with your patrons and enjoy yourself.

Now…all this talk of “having fun” is probably making you think that D&D is not serious business. And in the back of our minds we’re all thinking “Our focus right now needs to be on the NYR2012. I don’t have time to do frivolous programming right now. Fun sounds all well and good, but what’s it got to do with libraries?”

The answer: D&D satisfies our literacy requirements more than you would think. Hands up who has tried to decipher the core rule books. Now keep your hand up if you can honestly say you know the rules. (at this point only the volunteer Dungeon Masters kept their hands up) These books are hard to read, and yet kids with comparatively low literacy levels will sit and pore over them for hours. You know what they’re doing? They’re making characters by combining information from several sources. They’re putting forward an argument about why their character should be able to shapeshift as a free action while referencing the rule books and citing their sources. They’re learning to skim read for relevant keywords. They’re learning how to use books.

And I’m not the only person who writes down the exploits of my party. I write comparatively little about my campaigns compared to some. A friend started a facebook blog about the exploits of his party from the perspective of his character, making sure to leave out the information that his character didn’t know, making certain to include his characters opinions of the situation and the other characters. Another friend has written literally thousands of pages of text from his 10 year campaign giving details of exactly who did what, where, how and to whom. People want to tell these stories. And as libraries, you should be there for it.