Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Their registration system is awful, but they've got a cute mascot!
So we're back from Origins. Matt covers some of the general stuff that he did as well as the administrative headache stuff we experienced here in his blog. I'm not going to retread a lot of that, because I lived it once and my stress levels don't need to repeat the experience at this point. I am deeply sad my "All My Circuits: A Tragedy in Five Acts" hack didn't get any players -- I chose the theme for the game to be in keeping with the theme for the con, and it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun.

Now, that being said, what did we do at Origins? I worked the booth a lot, spent a lot of time I wanted to socialize off in my room by myself, which makes me sad too (stealthy pine nuts, I abjure thee! Cigarette smoke, my bronchitis-affected lungs abjure thee as well!). I didn't get to do anything like as many things or talk to as many people as I wanted to. That said, there were some successes that happened.

1) +Amanda Valentine  and I worked with +Evan Torner to salvage our hoped-for Kids Track that was harpooned by Origins and work it in with Games on Demand. As a result, for the first year Origins GoD had a kid's track that featured young GMs running games for both adults and kids, and adult GMs running kid-appropriate games. It was a small start as we were so late getting it together, but the results were really positive and we're going to move forward with it for next year as well. Our young gamers deserve to have options that aren't D&D or Pathfinder, there are wonderful indie games available for them, and the next generation of GMs needs a chance to practice their craft in a supportive atmosphere. It's a win all around!

2) I got to play Baker Street, a Sherlockian RPG set during Holmes' disappearance after the Reichenbach Falls incident. You're all Londoners who've been recruited by Watson to help solve the problems of people who haven't gotten the memo that Holmes isn't around anymore. Watson can't do it himself, but with enough smart people on the job, maybe they can make up the difference. It's got a fun investigative mechanic and a lot of ready-made cases you can run. The GM was great and I really enjoyed my character. My one complaint was that of the female pregens available, one was a prostitute, one was a flower girl who explicitly addresses the fact that she's not a prostitute, one was a street urchin, and one was an opera singer. This is compared with all the upper class and professional male characters. I enjoyed my Eliza-Doolittle-knock-off character, but a greater attempt at parity and/or not having all the women in "professions" that were or were often confused with sex-workers would have been lovely. BTW, I don't think this was at all intentional -- they were pulling from literary sources from the period, and if there was anything in Victorian Britain that was problematic, it was its gender issues. (Also, Woman GM! Whoo!)

3) I got to play in an alpha playtest of Pillars of Fire, Cam Banks' upcoming game (also woman GM! Woo!). +Renee Knipe ran a lovely intro adventure with lots of conflict potential to keep us moving. It's an attribute (which I think might need its name changed, because they really aren't like your standard set of attributes) and a drive (there's about 10 of them -- love, loyalty, justice, curiosity, etc.). They form a dice pool of d6s, with 1-3 counting towards successes and 4-6 counting toward powering up your special powers. This encourages action on the part of the characters early in the game, which is really nice. You can also help each other out, which raises the difficulty slightly, but pays off on more difficult actions when teamwork is more important. I really enjoyed this game, and I'm looking forward to playtesting future versions of it. I loved the setting and the multi-faceted nature of the characters, as well as the fact that they all have some built-in blind spots that are easily incorporated into play.

4) Con food has steadily improved over the years, and this year was no exception. BareBurger is awesome. The number of delivery options that are a) tasty and b) not pizza is vastly improved. The Brazilian BBQ place (all the meat, all on skewers) is very tasty and a good time. The Happy Greek is worth the walk down into Short North, as is Jeni's if you miss the Market hours, and North Market is still worth its weight in gold. Even the food court, which is a Columbus Convention Center staple, is improving in some ways -- I look forward to seeing it after the renovation is complete.

5) Our sales (the IGDN and Growling Door respectively) were up slightly, though it didn't feel like it. One big problem is that, particularly with indie games, sales and having people play in your events have very nearly a 1-1 correspondence. If people enjoy playing your game, then you'll like have 2 our of 5 people purchase it -- sometimes more. Word of mouth counts for a lot, and if no one plays, no one talks. Our events getting fubared meant fewer sales than we expected for the companies who were running events, at the same time as our expenses were up because we brought materials and even personnel to run games that didn't happen. Games on Demand took in a couple of our orphan GMs to run stuff through them, but that's not what they're there for, nor is it something we could or should rely on. It's problematic, and I'm not sure what it's going to mean for next year.

In short, I like Origins. I wish it was easier to work with reliably. I know we're not the only people with horror stories from this year, particularly as it relates to events, and that worries me. I would like to continue participating as a vendor and in running events, but doing the math on it gets harder each year, and that's a problem I don't have a solution for.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bronchitis and Game Chef (or not)

I did not Game Chef this year. I wanted to, and thought I might, but then this whole bronchitis/hives/low potassium/dissertation thing happened and I was like, yeah, maybe not. And so I didn't. No one in the McFarland household did, although my stepdaughter at least came up with an idea. From what I've seen on G+, a lot of people were really taken with the theme and ingredients, though, and there look to be a number of fun entries to come out of it, which is awesome. 

One of the things I've been musing on since I decided not to do Game Chef this year, though, is how high the bar to entry actually is for making room in game design for new designers. I mean, on the face of it, it's simple. Anyone can design a game, any time. But in reality, game design is a time sink. You need free time to think, to plan, to come up with mock-ups, to play, to write. You need stability and space and a way to find at least an hour every few days to yourself when you're not so exhausted that you can't see straight. If I were working a regular 40-hr week, I don't know if I could do it. If I were still seriously poor, I'm pretty sure I couldn't do it. If I were still a single parent, I don't think I could do it. If I had more serious or ongoing health issues on top of any of that, I definitely couldn't do it. There just aren't enough spoons.

There are a lot of assumptions that go into our game design communities, and one of them is that you have the time to carve out of your life and fashion into a game. If we were to make a list of demographics who have that time and energy, I think we'd find that a lot of people who might otherwise be interested do not have the real world support and stability to engage. For that matter, they may need to know that eventually something tangible could come from this endeavor in order to justify it. For the fun of it may not be enough to let them focus on something that doesn't necessarily assist in the rest of their lives.

I am very fortunate in my life and situation. I was not always so fortunate, though, and so I look at people who are in the situation I was in a few years ago, and I wonder how I could help broaden the game community to those people. I try to do it by being visible in my community and working with games, teaching others to play and design and incorporate gaming into their professional lives, and finding ways that games and game design can be made accessible by those who are hesitant to commit scarce resources to an endeavor that may take investment on their parts. I also do it by paying a fair rate to freelancers in my own business, and encouraging others to do so as well. Lastly, I try to lift up people whose voices and ideas might otherwise be drowned out. It's not much, but it's something. That's the game I play.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My son lives with me now.

In what is undoubtedly the biggest change in my life in years, my oldest son (now 18) has moved in with Matt and I. He's going to finish high school here with us, and then we'll see where he ends up for college and whatnot.

It's strange having him here, but good. Like most teenagers, he must be lured out of his room with food and activity, drawn back inevitably like the tide when these things are finished. Between being introverted and having his own room for the first time in ages and ages, he's busy inhabiting his space and has little time for anything else if given his druthers.

As for me, I have assumed the mom mantle again like a familiar robe, slipping it on even as I attempt to treat him more as an adult. Some of my efforts to do so are made more difficult by the issues that brought him out to me again, admittedly, issues that have to do with his ability to handle adult life and school and time management and environments too full of sound and fury, to be poetic about sensory issues for a moment. The fact is that for all that his birth certificate declares him to be 18, he is not quite ready to be 18 yet. He does not have the skills for 18 yet. So we walk a line between teaching him skills most people his age have picked up by osmosis and giving him the respect due to someone for making it to the age of legal majority without any significant hiccups.

One of the things that's both familiar and challenging is trying to give him the tools I've developed for coping with stuff over the years in ways that a) don't seem provoking and b) are useful to him. I don't know if he's had any support for dealing with his autism while he's been living with his dad -- I suspect not. So we're revisiting a lot of the skills he learned back when he was seeing a therapist -- breaking tasks down, trying to imagine things from multiple perspectives, figuring out where communication isn't happening with the outside world but needs to, getting a grasp on how long things take and how to track them to make sure they happen.  There's also issues with getting in better touch with his body -- we're working on mastering shaving, for example -- and figuring out routines that will stand him in good stead and how to establish them again once they've been disrupted.

Also also, there's all the medical/dental/vision stuff to be caught up: he was behind on a scheduled immunization for Ohio, he needed to see a dentist, he needs new glasses. All of which we can handle, but which requires oversight and which he is not prepared to see to himself yet. He's been looking for summer jobs and had some interviews, but he's figured out that yes, his social anxiety is getting in the way, and we're now working with a therapist to figure some of that out.

In the midst of all this, I find myself oddly both overwhelmed again and content. I know this pattern; I know this routine. He is my gentle, funny, punny son who lives largely in his own head and reminds me so much of me as a kid. I have missed having my children with me. I have missed my sons. I still miss my other boy, who is having a hard time without his brother, and who I am there for as much as I can be. But having this again... it is more than I thought I would have again, and I will cherish it. I have not lost my son -- he has found his way home again.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Robinson Crusoe's Stuff, pt. 1.

So I'm doing this taxonomy thing, and I have an urge to post progress somewhere so I won't lose all sight of it in the morass of sadness that is this particular form of archive creation. I have finished the object/term listing for what I consider the opening section of Robinson Crusoe, wherein he is a man-child trying to go to Sea in defiance of God and Father and everyone with sense.

I am now into parsing his time as a slave, which goes much faster. I'm pretty sure I'm recording things that aren't anything like the objects I'm supposed to be focusing on, but honestly... rather do it and not need it than need it and have to go back and do it, right? And I know that making an archive is a pain, but even the work I've done this far tells me that it's necessary to do. I also did one for Swift's "Lady's Dressing Room," but as that's a not-overly-long poem, it wasn't too taxing (hah hah). In addition to potential objects, I'm listing out things like references for time and distance and communication and society and different types of people and economic concepts, etc. It's possible these could count as objects, in the greater scheme of things, but I'm pretty sure they don't. It's tempting to just list every capitalized noun, but I'm trying to avoid that. I'm also trying not to list things multiple times in the same section unless there's some distinction to call it out. This might be a problem later.

I am color-coding the sections, so that I have a notion about what portion of the book things will be in. I may, lord help me, eventually need to go back and count the number of times something shows up, but I don't THINK I will and I REALLY don't want to. If that comes up, surely I could track down a concordance that someone else has made, right? Or just do a search? Lord I hope I don't end up needing frequency or page references to examples. I think I can use the color coding to narrow down any searching I might need to do.

In any case, I'll pop back and discuss this more as I move through and sort of discuss the findings I come up with.