Monday, September 3, 2012

Why "The Fastest Man On No Legs" Scares the Crap Out of Me

I don’t really care about sports. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I have respect for most athletes (the ones that don’t do notably bad things, at least) because of the time they put in and the lengths they often go to for their chosen sport, but I have no real interest in playing them, nor do I care who is currently doing the best at them. As a result, the Olympics mostly passed me by without a second thought. Sure, America’s swimming and gymnastics teams did fantastically, but we’re one of the wealthiest nations on Earth; of course our athletes are going to be among the best. The one story that really did jump out at me was that of Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter who made it into the semifinals and then finished that semifinal dead last. Why did he jump out at me? Because he was born with no legs.

Friday, August 10, 2012

D&D Post Op: Design Philosophies (Or: Can Someone Come Up With A Better Name For These?)

So in my last post (which no one who values their free time has any business reading) I examined these editions of D&D from a purely mechanical standpoint. I made that obnoxiously long post so I could make this one and have something to cite. This is largely hypothetical, as I didn’t really follow the development cycle of either edition of the game and am not particularly inclined to research them too thoroughly. I don’t want to talk about what the designers SAID they were aiming for, I want to talk about what they actually DID aim for.

Once again:

DISCLAIMER 2.0: I’m not unbiased in this; I prefer 4th edition to 3.5 for reasons I SWEAR I’ll elucidate by the end of this piece, but I’m not going to let my opinions color my commentary at all if I can help it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

D&D Post-Op: 3.5 and 4th

Finally. Almost a full year since this blog was first established, and I’m just now getting to the subject I was going to tackle day 1. I need to step it up around here. Anywho, in this post I’m going to do an autopsy on two editions of D&D that have officially ended their runs. (Yes, 4th edition is soon to be a thing of the past, since since 5th Edition is now in development.) The transition from the former to the latter was one of the most acrimonious in RPG history, to the point where it adversely affected the sales of 4th. The 4th Ed Essentials line was, in part, an attempt to recapture some lost players by rolling back several of the changes made in 4th. Not popular stuff.
SUPER-MEGA-DISCLAIMER: I am personally a fan of 4th edition over 3.5. I’ll end this piece with my explanation for why, but I’ll do my best to avoid letting that bias interfere with the examination itself.
This first part will examine the two systems from a mechanical standpoint, comparing the rules of the two systems to see the kind of games they build. To prevent ruining the nice formatting, I've implemented a handy dandy jump-off below:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Asexuality and the Pedant (Or, lookit me bein all pretentious and crap)

An average night of me trawling the internet:

Me: Hmm, I wonder what’s on 9gag tonight?

9gag: Hey, let’s taunt McKinney with a blatantly-incorrect representation of his sexuality and provoke him into writing a boring blog post about it on his boring blog.
So here we are.
As the title of the post states, I am asexual. I experience no desire to have sex with anyone, regardless of their appearance, gender, personality, or philosophy. You’d think this would be an easy concept to grasp, but you’d be wrong. I’ll be using this post to clear up a few common misconceptions about asexuality, because I’m sure everyone will enjoy that.
And the rant: an asexual relationship is NOT the same thing as being “friendzoned” The very concept of the friendzone is founded on butthurt men and women on the internet not grasping that not everyone everywhere who wants to be on friendly terms with them also wants to sleep with them. Asexuality is not about love or an inability thereof. If someone is asexual it can mean a variety of things but generally means they simply have no desire to have sex.
The simplest way to explain it is in terms of a linear scale: In a similar manner to the way Kinsey described the spectrum of human sexuality (from purely heterosexual to purely homosexual) the scale can be expanded into two dimensions to account for the spectrum of hypersexuality to asexuality. This does not cover the entire breadth of what asexuality is to different people, however. For some/most people (indeed, when one immerses oneself in so-called “non-standard sexualities” as I have, it’s easy to forget that I’m talking about a relatively small fraction of the population here.) their desire to be romantically involved with their gender-of-choice is intimately tied to their desire for sexual intercourse with them. For many (though by no means all) asexuals, this tie is still present, so a lack of sexual drive results in a lack of romantic drive. For others, this tie is negligible if even present at all, which leads to a more active romantic life. And there are certainly some who don’t even think about dating in those mechanistic terms! Thus, our newly-2D Kinsey scale (Kinsey Scatter Plot?) must necessarily be expanded to include a 3rd axis: romanticism.
Sex is NOT the universal end-goal for relationships. One can have a wonderful, fulfilling relationship with another person without ever being physically intimate with them in any way. Love is an emotion; what people do in their romantic unions is as unique to them as the couple itself. I’d certainly like to think that if I can maintain a relationship for over a year, then my non-sexual relationship is a bit more emotionally-founded than Joe Blow’s one-night-stand. Dating is like a huge, many-layered cake; some people like the top layer, others like the bottom (Insert dom/sub joke here) and others like different layers in between. Making the assumption our unfortunate example has (that if a guy likes a girl and isn’t boning her six ways to Sunday) belies a sad lack of emotional depth. They assume that the dating cake only has one layer. And a one-layer cake is still going to be delicious, but it’d be remiss of me not to at least understand what the other layers have going on.
I guess the most important thing one should take from this is: love who you want to love, in the way and circumstances you want to love them. Just don’t trash talk other people’s relationship paradigms without learning anything about them. You know who else does stuff like that? Homophobes. And homophobia is not welcome here. And another thing, asexual relationships are not the same thing as friendzoning, and the friendzone isn’t even a thing, and- *is shot*
Well I guess the friendzone rant will have to wait for another night. I hope that this is at least slightly coherent, dear reader. Until next time!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

the "I" in iPod

A lot of literature has been produced on why my generation is so spoiled. Some blame so-called helicopter parents, hovering over their children, obliterating anything that could challenge or hurt them. Others blame media schilling the message of specialism, or snowflake syndrome. I blame music. Specifically, mp3 players. It’s hard not to feel like you’re going someplace important when you’re listening to this while walking there:
On the flip side, few things can exacerbate a feeling of isolation like listening to a playlist full of this for hours on endless repeat:

And with an mp3 player, you can listen to that as much as you want, whenever. You’re in control of the music and no one can make you change it, as long as you’ve got some headphones. Your will is all that matters. The preceding generations had to wait for songs they liked to play on the radio, find a way to record them, or buy their cassette tapes. (and on long car rides it was all down to what the people in the front seat of the car wanted to listen to) The generations that came before THEM had to hope they had friends who could play music or hope for the money to buy a phonograph and records. We are the first generation to grow up with the power to choose the soundtrack of our lives for ourselves. More to the point, we are the first generation that -for good or ill- has the opportunity to truly lose itself (and thereby its perspective of the rest of the world) in its music.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I remember when the Edition Wars split the Skies

Dungeons & Dragons has been around for 38 years. This is a LONG time. It’s older than me, almost all of my friends, and some of their parents. It’s outlasted wars and whole political administrations. It’s stayed fairly popular through media firestorms, scandals, changing fads (anyone want to reminisce about 90’s fashion?) and a whole host of cultural changes that have swept away hordes of other pop-cultural milestones. It’s here to stay. But just as it is unusual in its tenacity, it has its own set of problems. It’s true that most of these problems are common to roleplaying games, but as D&D is by far the most popular and well-known system these unique challenges are most strongly apparent among its dedicated community.
            Foremost of these challenges is the concept of an “Edition War”. Every decade or so, TSR (now incorporated into Wizards of the Coast, itself a subsidiary of Hasbro) would revamp the ruleset, fixing a number of fans’ longstanding gripes with the current rules, and invariably creating a new set of gripes once the fans had a chance to kick the new rules for a while. This also had the happy-for-TSR side effect of rendering a great deal of the books these gamers invested in obsolete. As with any large group of people, audiences inevitably split when faced with the possibility of change. Some groups chose to stick with the system they’d grown comfortable with, while others would try the new version and see if it worked better for them.
            Remember how I said D&D was a long-runner, lo a whole paragraph ago? Well, D&D is officially on its 4th Edition, but by my count it’s at least had 11 revisions over the years. (And that doesn’t include 5th Edition, in development as I write this!) That’s a LOT of disagreements. To this day you’re likely to find people still running adventures and whole campaigns in the old 1974 rules, for a variety of reasons. Each new edition has had to balance the inevitable splitting of the fanbase that exists with drawing in new players. The more the edition skewed toward courting one group, the more the other shied away. Case in point: the transition from 3.5 edition to 4th. (Hah! So even by the system’s own count there are at least 5!)
 For the record, the D&D releases have been tied to the following edition changes, in order:
·      Dungeons & Dragons (classic, purely a child of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, inspired by the Chainmail fantasy combat system) (1974)
·      D&D Basic Set 1st Revision (1977)
·      Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977. Yes, I know. There was a split in rules-heaviness.)
·      D&D Basic Set 2nd Revision (1981)
·      D&D Basic Set 3rd Revision (1983. This was to be the last Basic set. The Basic Sets were discontinued after this stopped selling well, the devs reasoning that there was no reason to split the fanbase further. Predictably, the later editions split the fanbase even more.)
·      AD&D 2nd Edition (1989)
·      D&D Rules Cyclopedia (1991)
·      D&D 3rd Edition (2000, also the first edition published and developed by WotC rather than TSR, which was acquired and discontinued in 1997)
·      D&D 3.5 (2003. A more incremental update, a far cry from the radical changes made before and since, and the most significant base-breaker in D&D history, until…
·      4th Edition, the (current) most controversial RPG system on the planet. (2008) This was followed up in 2010 with the beginning of D&D 4E Essentials, which was part simplification and part attempt to draw in older players who might have abandoned 4th edition over the radical changes.
We’ll get into just WHY 4th was so controversial in my next post in this series, which will compare it with and contrast it against the edition that came before it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


(OHAI. So, this was supposed to go up almost six months ago, but I couldn't figure out how to make video embedding work. So I left it alone for a while, and then the semester happened. Anywho, pretend you're reading this in the tail end of Fall 2011. I've found that listening to someone yammer about the Mayan Apocalypse helps.)

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I, as many who know me have likely guessed, am not a large person, and thus not MANLY. I cannot bench-press cars, crush steel chains in my teeth, set off chemical-weapon sensors with my body odor or any other such MANLY things. I love to dance, my taste in movies tends toward the nerdy and in some cases slightly girly (I liked the Princess Diaries, ok?), and I play roleplaying games with other sissy, unMANLY nerds all the time.

For the longest time, I was fairly convinced that no company had any idea how to advertise to a guy like me. Every commercial I saw aimed at my sex was trying to convince me that it would make me irresistible to women. If I didn't know better, I'd think that congress passed a law (As if!) banning products for men that weren't aphrodisiacs for use on their women. (Because the women in these commercials are "their women." They belong to the men in these commercials by dint of their owning the product being advertised.) This seems disingenuous to me. Women (and men, for that matter) aren't going to suddenly swarm you and give you lots of sex just because you used Axe. (Just the opposite, I've found.) I was lost, adrift, un-advertised-to. Then came The Old Spice Guy:

THAT is how you advertise to men. He's so masculine it's almost parodic, but the video is so ridiculous that you know OSG's in on the joke. He's also (importantly) classy, and shows he knows how to treat a woman right. The message this commercial sends is that this is a product used by men of class, and not just MEN. For a while, it seemed as if advertising was taking a turn for the better (or at least less annoying) even if ad companies took the wrong message from the OSG campaign's success. Namely, that clever, handsome guys speaking directly at the screen make all ads better. (There were HOTEL COMMERCIALS using this gimmick for a while!) Hell, even the Old Spice ads with Terry Crews were funny in a bizarre, slightly disturbing way. And then this happened:

Some numbskull ad agent saw how ridiculous manliness was selling a product aimed at dudes, and decided to aim a FRIGGING DIET SODA ad at what he thought was that audience. However, there's a very important difference between the guys that buy Old Spice to smell nice and please their ladyfriends (Note, I'm not getting paid to endorse OS, so I won't endorse them. I will, however, say that I have had THREE girlfriends since I started using it. Take that for what you will.) and the lunkheads who go along with this soda commercial: OSG is aimed squarely at classy dudes who want to smell nice for themselves and/or their S.O. This Dr Pepper commercial is aimed at guys who apparently still think girls have cooties. This particular ad misses the point of Old Spice's ad campaign completely by being so thickheadedly MANLY that it borders on offensive, and the others in that series aren't much better.

Come on, advertisers. If you want me to buy your product, try not to make me think you see me as a testosterone-poisoned Neanderthal. Flattery breeds loyalty. This primitive caveman view of masculinity is NOT FLATTERING.