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Overdue Processing

21st Mar, 2016 | 10:06 pm

So there's a thing I've been overdue to start talking about out loud, partly because I'm not sure whether there's anywhere to go with it and partly because it's a very particular kind of vulnerability to talk about.

See, when there is no remotely acceptable path through other than somehow staying the course? That course will involve being so deep in the river that birthed Egyptian civilisation that the only reason I don't end up drowning in denial is that something inevitably snaps first. Even that's generally because I otherwise have a clear reputation for not taking shit and whoever's been quietly exacerbating it up until now is getting so scared they can't help but act like the puppy that just shat on its human's pillow and doesn't know they don't know that yet.

And while "where's the poop, $name?" has been a sitcom catchphrase, by the time things are that far in practice? Asking is generally going to be seen by everybody else involved as kicking down the house of cards they've built on me.

Only, the 2010s have seen some really horrific examples. And it's embedded in my head since childhood, between LEA conflict and that thing where there's nothing else you can do if you can't meaningfully perceive the relevant parts of the environment you're in even before the denial starts (yay autism!). So other than being a lot jumpier about red flags however much I get isolated by it, the hell do I do?

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27th Jun, 2015 | 12:58 am

What exactly can you do when the entire time you knew someone, you were literally deluded about something that would come to matter intensely to both of you? Other than hope like hell you didn't unintentionally gaslight them too much?

Most likely too damn late by now anyway, of course.

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24th Nov, 2014 | 02:54 pm

So when your brain has to resort to throwing you a nightmare in which you're essentially back at your old boarding school and the kid who assaulted you develops an overtly creepy crush that clearly reminds you of your abusive ex...

...well, for all it sucks for an hour or so on waking up, sometimes things're signs that you're plain getting over shit however much the shit doesn't like it.

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A Quick Thought

21st Oct, 2014 | 06:01 pm

Because we actually need the concept. Because people under a "Social Justice" banner are perfectly capable of fractally replicating every aspect of the kyriarchy they don't care about personally and a fair few they do. Because sometimes we need to be able to call that out. Because the moment we have a group then in-fighting is a thing even if there's a clear aggressor and a clear bunch of people just trying to be left a tolerable environment:

We can't use Social Justice Warrior, much as it's been used for that at times, because it has other meanings. But perhaps Social Justice Crusader carries the extra nuance, that of someone more interested in fighting their holy war as a war than in how it relates to their ostensible cause? I mean, it's all well and good pointing out that trot is a four-letter word, but the problem is wider-spread and often less subtle than that.

There're still problems, like working out when someone's that and when they're just getting shat on too much. But much as anger is important, so is knowing how not to tear each others' throats out as we figure out how to stop all the shit that happens to us. There's a difference between a left that's ever proliferating new ideas, and one that militantly[1] fractures along those lines.

[1] "We're not militants, and we'll fight anyone who says otherwise!"

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From Earlier Today

3rd Oct, 2014 | 10:58 pm

[This was originally a Facebook comment, in response to [personal profile] tim linking Leigh Alexander's Gamasutra post that led to Intel cutting ads with Gamasutra. Tim suggested I post it here. In case anyone needs to hear it from me: fuck gamergate.]

Worth reading, but there are some things worth chewing through in the aftermath too. People like me have found important things in some of the subcultures that sprang up around games in the 90s. As far as actually creating goes, my entire musical background came from there! I can tell you things about what Unreal Tournament stood for culturally compared to Quake 3 that just aren't nerd pissing contests - though how much sense they'd make to most people in the US right now, I don't know. It takes a hell of a lot of explaining why it's a queerer game, and how that got lost in the Unreal series after that point. I don't know if I'm going to get started on the relevant series of DW posts or not, but ye gods some of the things that came out of fighting games and especially those targetting the Japanese domestic market.

Most modern "gamers" have left that behind too, of course - they don't know which scene is meant by "the scene" or they just think of the remnants lurking around BitTorrent, they might have encountered a fighting game that isn't one of Street Fighter 4's incarnations but they don't know what they're looking at. But there's a generation of people to whom "gamer" meant in part the equivalent of belonging to the creative end of one of the big fandoms, who included creativity in that. And it overlapped with a lot of other subcultures that got a bad rap in terms of "does it mean anything?". Our music wasn't white boys with guitars. Attempts at studying "what does all this shit mean?", if limited, were mainstream in the mid-90s - not just in Japan but in the shareware scene (not that it's an example, but tell me the scene that produced Doom wasn't mainstream enough!), or big-budget titles like the original Command&Conquer. JRPGs had got such that many people's introduction to the genre in the West, Final Fantasy 7, is completely missed as a deconstruction of existing genre tropes because Western players weren't familiar enough with them!

Those of us who belonged to that often did because there was no other space for us. A hell of a lot of us were culturally oppressed, and this was the only voice we had. Some of us got lucky, we can at least use "scener" for the demo scene, tracking etc. But what do we call those who weren't part of that particular sub-subculture? When Leigh Alexander writes that it may be hard for some older men, she's either forgetting that it wasn't just guys there, or she's ignoring just what it meant, had to mean, to some of us.

I don't need the whole damn industry by any means, I've watched major aspects I care about die off and sometimes come back, I've seen one of my favourite companies go bust and manage to claw its own IP back in renewed form continuing to write games that talk about stuff that even people who play games're surprised that genre would discuss (it's amazing what you can do with 10 games' accumulated canon...). But maybe, just maybe, "gamer" is as inseparable a part of who I am now as "aspie" is, not just how I kill time and keep myself sane when I'm barely functioning.

I can promise you, I never had any chance worth a damn to curate the space occupied by more than ten or fifteen people who keep running across each other more than a decade later (Edward's tied to one of those spaces, btw). This ain't my first semantic war, as I'm sure you realise (when do you reckon it first became acceptable for me to call myself genderqueer?) - but when people are left with nowhere to go, that hurts. There are only so many ways I can say "gamer, but not that kind" before that kind have tried them all in the hope they can still get laid.

While I'm here: anyone seen good critiques of how the (obviously bloated, utterly mainstream etc etc) Assassin's Creed series interacts with notions like anarchism, authoritarianism, cells, cults and revolution? I haven't gone looking, I've played far enough through (part way through AC3) to know the series is clearly both trying and fluffing it somewhat, but I'd like to know it's being done somewhere out where all the "game reviews" are busy talking about whether the combat mechanics are fun or it's more fun to be a pirate...

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To Follow in a Game's Footsteps

3rd Oct, 2014 | 10:08 pm

Okay, so suppose I wanted to develop a spiritual successor to Unreal Tournament? (I don't: no way in hell to I have the resources to do it competently) What might I want to do, or do differently?

  • Find a way to emulate the mixing style of the original's soundtrack rather than the successors, so that the dynamics don't mess up psychoacoustics for gameplay. Make audiolocating sound effects a priority over flashy reverb, because it's an accessibility issue - knowing where the opposition and/or their shots are is part of gameplay!

  • Emphasise area control vs hitscans. So the original UT's six-rocket load comes back, and the rocket-loading sound is maybe more audible and arenas have a few more subtle ramps to exploit as counters. Careful nerf of the sniper rifle - the one I always had in mind was to add scatter proportional to the player's momentum, so if you take your shot half-way between zig and zag it's spot on. Unless some bastard put a momentum-inducing projectile there, of course, which they will. More playing with opponents' momentum as well as your own.

  • Find a way to borrow 2D fighter-style gauge mechanisms and make it work rather than producing UT2k3/4's awful adrenaline system. I'm thinking of borrowing from both Capcom and SNK here - mobility options that chew gauge but some of them are free if you sustain a certain level, for example. And anyone who's ever seen Geese Howard's Raging Storm super just knows there needs to be a ground-pound-nuke super that blows all your gauge.

    But the variant that really appeals is two gauges - one that's aimed at rewarding/enabling high-energy high-mobility shenanigans, and one that's aimed at cold, precise counters. The latter would require finesse to use, but things that build the former (fragging the hell out of everyone!) tend to build the victims' "counter" gauge. I have this trailer in my head where someone all powered up makes an impressively flashy run on a flag base in a 5-a-side CTF match, only to have someone calmly blow some counter gauge and calmly pop his head with the basic hitscan before he reaches the mid-ground.

    So I guess: I want interplay between positive and negative feedback loops, and I want it to be complex and capable of generating fun stories on a regular basis.

  • Here's perhaps the most important part for me. A single-player mode with a plot and characters and stuff, and I don't mean "fridge the sister" per UT3. No, I have a setting in mind and it's somewhat different from UT's. No nominal dystopian-SF excuse, hopefully fewer outright stereotypes...

    ...instead, I fancy going post-human - think the Culture except people're uploaded. The game really is a game, and those who play it are kinda oddballs in their wider society with their own range of reasons for finding it attractive. And I've got a character and a plot beat waiting to happen, too.

    One of the characters is almost-stereotype gamer. All about the aggro, fantasises about the days of real conflict. Doesn't really have anything else. And one day, the other characters (or a subset thereof) offer him a real deathmatch - he gives the game permission to delete/kill him if he dies in it. One life last man standing rules. And the player plays, and part way through the character gets fragged. Just another 'obit' on screen (unless you went first)... then win or lose, you end up in the chatroom. Where it turns out the game was never set up to kill the guy in the first place, though it did 'pause' him for a while. There and then he's pretty pissed off about it.

    The plot isn't about any grand evil. It may be screwed up, but it's fundamentally slice-of-life, and it's about the characters bringing meaning to each other. As if you're playing Azumanga Daioh - the FPS. I'm not up to writing this, but I think it needs to exist, perhaps more than any other story I see being told with "classic" FPS.

  • Musically... that's complicated. But I want to see well-written dance/electronic music as the dominant element, and that's because it's naturally music about things like tension and the dynamics thereof. That doesn't mean we can't have influences from all over the place, it'd better do.

    Half of me even wants to see the game capable of doing some DJing, just... that sort of thing so often fails to work. But maybe setting some things up on top of pre-existing work that'd already stand as stage soundtrack would work - I'm reminded a little of Jet Set Radio, but I'd like room for much bigger emotional sweeps than that.

I don't think anything like this is going to happen any time soon. Even writing a coherent design for it's a pretty massive undertaking, and I know on the characterisation front it's effectively competing with Team Fortress 2. But hey, so it goes.

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Why Unreal Tournament is Queerer than Quake 3: Arena, and Why It Matters

3rd Oct, 2014 | 06:50 pm

[I appear to be having some formatting woes resulting in excess whitespace around the embeds - readers' patience and any help appreciated!]

So, a bit of a change of pace for today. I've been known to give forms of this ramble for a few years now, but there's been a bit more of the backing material available online recently.

Quake 3: Arena (Q3, Q3A) was arguably Id Software's ultimate expression of what multiplayer FPS meant to them. Unreal Tournament(UT)... probably wasn't for its developers, but for a number of reasons it hit an important sweet spot that highlights some major cultural differences.

Aesthetically, UT follows partly after the original Unreal, a mostly-single-player game that makes most sense played as a game of exploration with mandatory shooty/dodgy bits. While often appropriative in a highly '90s manner, the one thing it isn't is a big metal/gothfest. Instead, it often takes its lead from the demo scene of old, from people who were often too busy creating art with computers and programming to bother describing themselves as cyber-anything.

Lots of discussion, embedded musicCollapse )

UT could be treated as a game about kicking your mates around, but in one of the most macho gaming spaces of its era it was fundamentally about creativity and about the intimacy of rivals, using what were often the aesthetics and the non-verbal languages originated by queer communities to do it. Somehow, Q3A coming out of Austin just doesn't cut it like that. I gather the FPS scene is, um, having a tough enough time that rebooting UT on PC may be the only way to truly see something of its ilk again - there's something sad about that.

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Work/Care/Life Balance

30th Sep, 2014 | 10:31 pm

So there's this thing about relationships between disabled people. Some of us can work, some can't. Those of us who can work, to some extent must - welfare systems etc are set up to be plenty coercive on that front. They're also set up to seriously punish couples where both can't work and eg separate bedrooms are needed or the relationship straddles the "do we count it as marriage-like?" boundary or you've not got as much evidence for what needs one of you has.

Can't talk about when you can both work, never been there. Can talk about being the one who can't work when a partner can, though. And there's this pressure that comes with it.

Your partner needs to be able to work or everything goes to shit. It may not be immediate, but it's an access-to-food-water-and-shelter grade issue in exactly the way that me spending a couple of weeks fknackered after pulling off the sort of stunt that leaves abled people's jaws dropping isn't at all. A couple of weeks fknackered is a couple of weeks fknackered, either I can handle that or I'm in deep shit regardless. But a partner's career crossing a certain threshold of not-being-careerlike is doom.

So if it ain't gonna kill me, my physical well-being is genuinely in second place to keeping my partner able to work - and they absolutely must not attempt to reciprocate, or they'll use the spoons they needed to work in trying to do heroic shit to look after me.


So there're some important things to note about this. One is that yeah, no shit is there a major power imbalance assuming we want to be involved on a more-than-trivial level. Another is that this is not inherently abusive on the part of the working partner (indeed, it would be quite possible for me to worm my way in such that they become dependent on me to meet their ongoing commitments). Yet another is that this doesn't mean a working partner can't abuse a non-working partner in a situation like this - let's face it, it's got some distinct analogies with the supposed 50s stereotype marriage (so what if the butcher one's the "wife"?)

And there's where it gets weird, because the role is... the most professional-sounding is "Personal Assistant", but we're not talking far off, say, butler. One that requires keeping an eye out for your partner's needs, not just as they occur but to some extent in anticipation. One that requires, because it's a matter of sodding survival, subsuming many things in your life to keeping them intact enough - you just hope like hell enough of your coping mechanisms are compatible and companionable.

There's an old critique of that stereotypical marriage that it's essentially un-negotiated 24/7 BDSM. I'm naturally one of life's switches, and I care about people. This kind of situation is one that unavoidably will render me increasingly submissive over time (not necessarily in bed, but since when is that what matters?). There seems to be an upper bound on that, I think we've established that "I would rather glass myself than continue with this shit" is a thing I can in fact act on even if clearing my head out took much, much longer. But it's there, and it's not gonna go away if I ever want a live-in relationship because I can't for the life of me imagine how one might work with someone who's actually flat-out abled. And I can't ask them to care for me as much as I care for them, and it's not enough for someone to care about me as much, and working out how to handle it is seriously tricky territory.

So here's the thing. If I want a live-in relationship like that - and honestly, the last decade has made it clear that I want as close to live-in as I can manage - then I'm pretty much going to end up owned by my partner. There might be ways to shake it up a little if others are involved in large parts of the 'care loop' that I act within, but ultimately it's going to be there. It's there without actually living together, too - I got real good at the Birmingham commute, my partner's local enough to spend plenty of time together and ultimately the combination of that and being in a position to carry out care is sufficient.

Isolated or owned, and I'm supposedly a sodding switch. Woo-hoo!

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When Communicating May Be Abusive

30th Sep, 2014 | 08:24 pm

So there's another aspect of my current situation that's, well, starting to resolve but was a major mess. My ex has serious issues with people forcing communication when she's not up to it - which on one level is fundamentally fair and understandable, when you don't have the spoons to spare that shit is draining and the odds of saying something you'll regret or failing to understand what's being said go up and it's not uncommon to be required to perform understanding even if you haven't a clue.

Yeah, uh, that relationship was always going to go well, wasn't it?

Some hard problems just can't be handled on the spot as they arise. I say this as someone who's practiced enough at that kind of stuff to be able to replan at the drop of a hat, someone who has to make a point of slowing down to avoid scaring people who aren't used to that kind of thing. But some things are not only systemic (and thus repeating), but too severe to handle that way because one way or another, the resources to handle it aren't adequately available when you need them. Not enough spoons, not enough patience, not enough sodding sleep.

So any mechanism for approaching those things systematically is, well, something that involves to a lesser or greater extent reshaping your responses in the long time - hopefully it's small and subtle, but to some extent reshaping your entire life.

An engineer might start to suspect I'm talking about (voluntary, consensual) control systems for humans.

Which is kinda the problem, because on top of them requiring a degree of communication, there's that word "control". Gone "out of control", there's massive scope for such a practice to become horribly abusive. A degree of power certainly goes to whoever's better able to make themselves heard, and working out whether you have things tuned right is hard enough from outside the system, let alone as one of its components.

You can use email or blogging as means to discuss objectives etc etc, and certainly that shift in medium and perhaps tone can help with the in-practice details. But that fundamental nagging issue is still there.

And here's the thing: on some level, it's bullshit. I don't mean that it's impossible for abuse to arise this way, it clearly does. But that's not an excuse for not sodding talking, not figuring out what the problems that need addressing are. That's just assuming you're going to fail and deciding you'd rather do it that way. But it's pretty much taken me a year to get past the point of not merely acknowledging that might be a thing but that I might actually need to be establishing some systematic communication in one of my relationships.

This ain't exactly a new insight, but hey: it's amazing how much power the threat you might end up abusing has as a tool of abuse, intentional or otherwise.

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Service No Longer Available

20th Sep, 2014 | 11:58 pm

So there's this thing I used to do in some of the spaces I'm part of. Software folks might jokingly call it (Justified) Anger as a Service. I was the person who got visibly angry about stuff while calm enough to neatly deconstruct why, and in doing so I let the people whose stuff I was getting angry about know that their own anger was justified.

Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. Often I'd point out the things I'd be considering doing in their situation and why those things were justified too. Not infrequently with all the flair of someone who learned to write flames growing up on usenet. Now I know it wasn't "I love you", I know the most important words I said to anyone in 2012 were "fuck that shit" - and knowing their significance, I think I still have some pride in that.

It's been... shifting for a while, though. And then a close friend asked me (not for the first time) to read through an email, offer an opinion. And... I should have been incandescent, I could deconstruct the most fucked up parts, I could tell you what was wrong if needed - even at stupid o'clock in the morning - but actual anger, not so much.

That, I think, I am angry about.

I don't know if it's the fact I've been on benzos for the bulk of the last year, or just the necessity of curbing off my own anger until I could function at all. It is fair to say that starting from late April I was very much not the most peaceable of bunnies, and that the 'peace' I have now is not that of having grown or moved past it. I know what that feels like, this ain't it. This is the 'peace' of relocating defences so that they're not suffering so many false positives, so they're harder for others to probe. That ain't peace at all.

I guess on the bright side it's September and I don't have any self-defence stories for the year yet. And I know that as I change, friends who're aware of the changes are finding new roles for me - ones that often require more trust, not less. But hey, it's a process, right?

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