Experiments in Ontological Relativism

and Other Brain Farts

Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category

Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Rules (First Draft)

Posted by Jason on April 10, 2012

In a previous post, I discussed my thought process and inspirations for designing an asynchronous, collaborative, semi-competitive worldbuilding game played using a wiki. Now it’s time to get down to the delicious crunchy bits and actually lay down some rules.

But first, fun with caveats! This is my first draft of these rules. They haven’t been playtested or reviewed. They’re probably full of holes and bits that don’t work as well in real life as they do in my head. Also, though I’m a long-time avid gamer, and rules make me squeal with boyish delight, this is my first attempt at writing a game of my own. Parts of it may not make sense to you and may need further refinements, but that’s what the comments box is for, right? Last, I also tend to over-caveat everything. Uh… hm. Maybe I should have put that one first. Anyway…

Setup

1. Accumulate a group of players.

You don’t want too large a group, as things will quickly become difficult to keep track of, but more players means more opportunities to build on. I’m going to guess you need at least 3, and probably no more than 10.

2. Set up a wiki.

This isn’t terribly difficult, and there are lots of good instructions around the interwebs. If you don’t have your own hosting site, there are a number of very good free wiki hosts (e.g., PBWorks, Wikia, Wikkii).

3. Decide on a genre and general theme.

I was tempted here to steal adapt Microscope‘s palette creation rules here, but I’m not sure that something that formal is necessary. If you are familiar with Microscope and wish to use those rules, please feel free! The important thing, though, is that the group collectively decides on a genre for the game — for example, science fiction, high fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, space opera, pulp, noir, spy thriller, and so on.

If there are any specific elements that anyone would or would not like to see included, note those too. I’d also recommend choosing a general theme or mood for the game, whether that be serious, silly, gritty, tongue-in-cheek, dispassionate, or some combination thereof. This gives everyone an idea of what to expect and can probably help avoid problems later on. This may also affect whether you…

4. Choose In-Character or Encyclopedic style.

See below for more information on these two styles of play. I had originally envisioned the Encyclopedic option as being the default, with In-Character as an optional rule. But the more I considered it, the more I realized that there is a lot of fun to be had either way, and it’s largely a matter of preference. Choose as a group which one you will pursue. Alternately, if some players strongly prefer one and others strongly the other, it is possible to mix and match with some players writing in one style and others in the other. Again, it’s up to group consensus as to whether this is allowed.

5. Generate the seed text.

The seed text is a sentence (or a few sentences) which gives a jumping-off point for the players to begin writing. Let’s look a little bit more at that…

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Posted in Games, Non-Fiction | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

My Suspension of Disbelief while Reading The Hunger Games

Posted by Jason on March 26, 2012

So I’ve finally started reading The Hunger Games. Yeah, yeah. I’m slow. Oh well. I’m about halfway through the first book (as an aside, does anyone else occasionally find it confusing when “The Hunger Games” is used to refer to both the title of the first book as well as the series as a whole?) and so far, I’m finding it very good… for the most part.

There’s one thing that I find keeps consistently destroying my suspension of disbelief, one thing that keeps pulling me out of the story and setting off the “that just could never happen” bells in my skull. A flying snowman moment, if you will. It’s only one thing, and maybe I’m the only one bothered by it, but it’s sort of central to the story.

It’s the children.

See, I just can’t buy that a society, any society, would tolerate watching children killing other children for entertainment without revulsion and protest at the very least, and armed uprising at the worst. True, there are some explanations given for it in the novel, but I don’t find them satisfying. Now, I freely admit that this may be my problem and not a problem in the novel itself, but that’s part of the point of writing this. I want to try to explain why this bothers me so much, and see if I’m the only one who thinks this is an issue.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, Reviews, Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

On Kindness

Posted by Jason on March 8, 2012

I know, I know, I still owe you guys the rules for my new wiki game. I haven’t forgotten; they’re about halfway written, I just haven’t finished them up yet. Mostly due to laziness. But that’s another post.

I was having a conversation the other day on the topic of… well, just generally being nice to people. Later, thinking back on it, I came to the realization that there are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to kindness to others:

  1. Being nice is the default state, but niceness can be revoked; or
  2. Not being nice is the default state, but niceness can be earned.

I realize I run the risk of oversimplifying here, but it seems to me that option 2 is probably the most natural for humans in general, but most systems of ethics and morality are basically trying to get people to go with option 1.

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Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Background

Posted by Jason on February 10, 2012

For a while now, I’ve been kicking around ideas for an asynchronous, collaborative, semi-competitive worldbuilding game played using a wiki. At this point, I suspect you’ve either gone cross-eyed or else have gotten really interested. For the non cross-eyed among you, I’m going to take a stab at creating just such a game. I’ll put the rules in my next post, but first let me talk a little bit about my inspirations and goals–because I know how much the ladies love that.

To put first things first, I should give credit where it’s due. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using a wiki as a gaming platform since I stumbled onto Lexicon years ago. For those who are not familiar with it, Lexicon involves the players taking the role of scholars writing an alphabetical encyclopedia on some fictitious topic. Each round is indexed to a letter of the alphabet, and the entries for that round must start with that letter. There are also rules for linking back to other articles and adding “phantom entries” for others to fill in. I’m not going to go over those in depth here, largely because I will be stealing adapting some of them for my own game.

Perhaps even more influentially, I found a competitive variant called (I believe) Smacktalk that since seems to have disappeared from the web–or at least which my Google-fu is not strong enough to find. As I recall, after each Smacktalk round, the audience voted for their favorite entry of the round, and the player with the fewest votes was out. This was repeated until there was one person left, who presumably then took a victory lap around the wiki.

The last major inspiration came when I stumbled onto Microscope. Microscope is a game of collaborative worldbuilding, where each turn a player adds something new to an existing timeline. It’s essentially an elaborate variation of “Yes, and…” but with a focus toward developing a fictitious history. One of the things that particularly struck me is its non-linearity; on your turn, you can expand on any point in the timeline, leaving you free to jump around in your chronology at a whim. The things you create can vary in scale from an entire era down to a particular scene, which is role-played by the group.

Each of these games is great in its own right, but still not exactly what I was looking for:

Posted in Games, Non-Fiction | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Thoughts Spurred by the Recovery of the Dune Encylopedia

Posted by Jason on September 3, 2010

This is a comment I originally posted on this article at tor.com. The article, in brief, points out that the incredible–and incredibly neglected–Dune Encyclopedia has emerged online. If you haven’t already, go download it now. Now! I’ll wait.

Alright. So anyway, the mention of the canonicity (or lack thereof) of the Encyclopedia set off more than a little nerd rage for me, and I spilled the below thoughts and memories. It occurs to me that I might have been a bit unfair. But then, only a bit.


I came here to say more or less what’s been said. I consider the Encyclopedia to be more canon–or at least truer to the original works–than the horrid schlock now clogging SF shelf space.

I remember that I bought House Atreides when it first appeared, and was incredibly enthused at the idea of new Dune material. I breathlessly read the introduction, with its mention of Herbert’s newfound Dune 7 notes, and became even more excited.

Then I read the rest of the book.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Review – Angelology, by Danielle Trussoni

Posted by Jason on August 13, 2010

As promised, here’s another review. This one’s a bit longer… but then, so was the novel!

Also, what do you think of the reviews? Should I do more? Less? Other?

Angelology, by Danielle Trussoni

Cover of Angelology, by Danielle TrussoniThere are lots of kinds of logic floating around in our brains. There’s the true/false of Boolean logic, sure, but there’s also narrative logic, musical logic, and, for many of us, a big dose of movie logic. This novel contains an awful lot of movie logic.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Review – The God Engines, by John Scalzi

Posted by Jason on August 13, 2010

In lieu of actual content, here’s a review I wrote recently on Goodreads. I might also have another one up later today. Also, new fiction, coming soon!

The God Engines, by John Scalzi

Cover of The God Engines, by John ScalziOverall I really enjoyed this book. My biggest problem with it is one that I often have with novellas: it felt too short and left me wanting more.

The setting was, for me, the most interesting part. I feel like a lot was just hinted at, and much more of this world exists in Scalzi’s mind. I hope he returns to it one day.

The ending, though it flows logically, left me feeling a bit… cheated. As I said, I was just growing to really like this setting, but the end leaves it changed irrevocably.

Overall, this was a good, quick read. The illustrations are beautiful as well. I’d recommend it to fans of space opera and dark fantasy.

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On Hipster Irony, -isms, and Sea Monsters

Posted by Jason on December 14, 2009

In her review of Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, Jaymee Goh made a wonderful, precise summary of a trend that has been bothering me very much lately:

“Modern humour apparently requires some jaded, cynical worldview in which we are to say something we know is an -ism in order to show how in touch we are with the bad, horrible world. But you know what? Knowing something is racist, and saying it while knowing it’s racist doesn’t make it any less racist. Or sexist. Or ableist. It’s still an -ism, no matter how you wrap it.”

Context is an amazing tool, to be sure. It can entirely change the meaning of a word, a phrase, an entire text. But context is a funny thing: it can be easily missed, and it can be changed. And I think the ironic hipster “oh-I’m-being-offensive-but-not-really-because-I-know-I-am-and-see-how-enlightened-I’m-being-by-acknowledging-it?” is on the verge of falling afoul of both.

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Posted in General, Non-Fiction | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

On the Virology of Thought

Posted by Jason on September 29, 2009

[This post started as a comment on Mur Lafferty’s post for Banned Books Week. As it grew, I realized it was probably too long for a single blog comment, and probably deserved a home of its own. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!]

Ideas are dangerous. In a way, most of the last 2,500 years (and especially the last 500 or so) has been nothing but a war of one idea against, or occasionally alongside of, another. Whether that idea is a religion, a scientific principle, an economic theory, a philosphy, a system of government, or something else entirely, people in recorded history have done more harm and good in the service of ideas than for any other reason. It’s little wonder, then, that so many people feel that society needs to be protected from these dangerous, intriguing ideas.
And the best way to remove a danger is to eliminate the threat, right? So if we ban all these strange radical ideas, then they’ll go away and not bother anyone ever again, right? Right?
Well, no.

Ideas are dangerous. In a way, most of the last 2,500 years (and especially the last 500 or so) has been nothing but a war of one idea against, or occasionally alongside of, another. Whether that idea is a religion, a scientific principle, an economic theory, a philosphy, a system of government, or something else entirely, people in recorded history have done more harm and good in the service of ideas than for any other reason. It’s little wonder, then, that so many people feel that society needs to be protected from these dangerous, intriguing ideas.

And the best way to remove a danger is to eliminate the threat, right? So if we ban all these strange radical ideas, then they’ll go away and not bother anyone ever again, right? Right?

Well, no. Those who think this way profoundly misunderstand the nature of ideas. Ideas, as anyone who has spent much time on the Internet will tell you, are viral.

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Posted in General, Non-Fiction | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Geekiest Thing I Have Ever Written

Posted by Jason on August 21, 2009

Courtesy of the #songsincode meme on Twitter, I bring you the geekiest piece of text I have ever produced in my life:

String JungleLove(){
     String str = "";
     for(i=1;i<=5;i++){
          if (i/2!=0)
               str += "O";
          else
               str += "E";
     }
     return str;
}

If you get this, you can rest comfortably in the fact that you are at least as geeky as I am. If you don’t get it, then you’re probably happier that way.

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