I previously mentioned the Max Brooks books, World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide, on this blog. I just found out that the World War Z movie (starring Brad Pitt) will be out in July 2013. My friend Jon C. has been so excited to see this that I wonder if he will be able to stand having to wait that long? I also wonder if I’ll be able to convince Annie to see it with me? She hates scary movies.
The preview looks like it was inspired by Brook’s book rather than a straight translation to film, mostly because the book is really just a series of anecdotes from different people in different countries following the zombie plague — recollections of people in China who saw the first outbreak contrasted with stories from Frenchmen who exterminated zombies in the catacombs beneath Paris, for example. It looks like the film makers stitched the different vignettes together with Pitt as a central character; he apparently is some sort of U.N. crisis specialist who is jetting around the world while they try to deal with the whole ‘Z’ situation. Hopefully Pitt is better at his job than that Brownie guy from FEMA was during Katrina.
The preview doesn’t tell me much, but, wow, rivers of people surging forward instead of the usual shuffling hordes of rotted zombies is a welcome change… it looks like this film might manage to make zombies scary again! With ‘The Walking Dead’ on T.V. and movies like this coming out, zombie fans are getting a lot of entertainment. What makes us love this zombie stuff so much?
I have a theory. I think one of the things people love about zombie movies is that these films allow us to imagine ‘killing’ people without moral consequences. I remember hearing about how the rationalist, Rene Descartes, used to say that animals didn’t feel pain; he claimed that if a dog howls after you kick it, the ‘pain response’ of the dog was of no more significance than a squeaking of a wheel on a cart. I have no doubt that Descartes was wrong; I believe animals do feel pain, but maybe Descartes was actually seeking to excuse how horribly people treat animals by saying that it didn’t matter. And maybe that’s part of the appeal of the zombie fantasy. Descartes statements about animals have (thankfully) been mostly discredited and Hollywood has discovered that Americans actually don’t like to watch people killing animals (just ask artist Tom Otterness; he was videotaped shooting a dog in way back in 1977 as an ‘art project’ and a lot of people (including me) still think he’s a douche). We hate to see animals getting killed, but we do like to watch people killing other people (well, at least simulated versions of people killing other people). One of the advantages of ‘deactivating’ a zombie is that it is not potentially immoral in the same way that shooting another human in the head might be immoral simply because you are not actually ‘killing’ the zombie; it is supposedly already dead. In fact, by ‘deactivating’ the zombie, you are performing a public service since that zombie will just wander around trying to infect other humans, right?
I think another reason that the ‘zombie apocalypse’ has common appeal is that most of us live fairly trammeled lives in which we travel back and forth between work, home, school, etc., and little that we do in our day to day lives has much significance. Whatever else one might say about a world in which the social order has been destroyed, zombies shuffle or surge up and down the streets while the survivors seek to live just another day (or even another few moments), at least it wouldn’t be boring. Romero had his zombies shuffling up and down the escalators of a shopping mall, and the appeal of that image probably said a lot about how many members of the audience felt like they were not really living, either. The survivors, on the other hand, need to be quick and clever and resourceful. The irony is that in television shows like ‘The Walking Dead,’ the priciple characters spend a lot of time saying how horrible life after the zombie event is — they are always on the run, dirty, hungry, scared and afraid of losing their humanity — but I can’t help thinking they will also never have to sit in traffic or listen to a mind numbingly boring sales pitch/teacher’s lecture/sermon/power point presentation again. The zombie apocalypse takes away a lot, but, at least in it’s fantasy form, it appears to give a lot too — bursts of adrenaline as we try to outrun the shuffling hordes, a ‘first person shooter’ experience that would be more immersive than any video game and the chance to remake yourself in a brave new world where the old social order has been swept away and the population is defined in one of three ways: dead, undead and still living. Basejumping and other more pedestrian thrill seeker activities pale in comparison.
More is better: First things first — I no longer feel obligated to post on every Old School Renaissance event or outrage, but in my web wanderings I frequently come across people expressing the sentiment that when hobbyist gamers sit down to write their ‘own’ rule book, they should write something new and different from what has come before. “Don’t give us another cut-and-paste job!” the masses scream en masse from the internets with the same rage that others reserve for dolphin killers and child molesters.
I think that’s dumb advice. I think if someone sits down to write their own rule book, they should write it exactly the way they want to write it. If that means that the only difference between your new ‘Towers & Trolls‘ and the original game written by Gygax & Arneson is the name and just enough of the text to stave off a cease and desist letter from Wizards of the Coast, then so be it. In the scheme of things, who cares if ‘Towers & Trolls’ sells only 3 copies and never gets played? I’m under the impression most people in the OSR do this for fun and love rather than money… and, for most of us, if we make enough $$$ to buy a pizza and a sixer we can consider it a job well done. Like collecting stamps or building ships inside bottles, rewriting games is a niche hobby.
I realize that producing yet another clone is probably not the winning strategy if your goal is to support yourself by selling games, so the true entrepreneurs who are out to sell books and games in order to make big money might want to avoid tossing yet another undifferentiated clone onto the heap of available games… but the few OSR-ers I’ve met via the internet who are doing this for money already seem to have figured that out, anyway.
One of the reasons why I think this is so cool is I have been reading these posts on A-Plus’s “Outland” game and think it is just the shiznit. I wish I was in his group.
Who Cares?: Paul Jaquays is now a woman named Jannelle Allyn Jaquays (sp?). If you follow that link and read the responses, you will find out that the fact that he is now a she makes some people mad — which is really fucking weird. What are the angry people angry about? I imagine them saying things like, “I played ‘Dark Tower’ back in 1982 and loved it… and Paul Jaquays wrote ‘Dark Tower’ so now I feel like my world has been rocked… how could he betray us by becoming a woman!?!”
One poster wrote something like, “This cannot be true because I know he is a conservative.” I didn’t know there was a single specific conservative viewpoint on gender reassignment. Is there?
I’m reasonably certain Jannelle Allyn Jaquays will not read this, but, if you do, I hope all this works out for you.
If you are one of the people who is made mad by Paul Jaquays becoming Janelle Allyn Jaquays, please post why in comments. I want to know why someone else changing their gender harms you.
What is the proper response?: A few days ago I posted something stupid about new years resolutions and old fruit cakes selling for big money at auction and how I ought to invest in fruit cakes since I could either sell or eat them if worse came to worse. One person responded to tell me something along the lines of, “For your new year’s resolution you could try being less of a douche bag,” or something like that. I deleted the response. In your opinion, what is the proper etiquette in this case?
I don’t generally find myself perturbed when other people believe or don’t believe in a god (or any sort). I only mind when other people insist that I have to live my life according to the values presented by them by their god. If I ate bacon, I wouldn’t mind that people who kept kosher didn’t eat bacon. And if I were to be at their home for a meal, I would eat whatever they were serving and be grateful for it. And if they uttered a prayer or lit candles or spilled some mead on the floor for Thor, I wouldn’t object or interfere. And if they wanted me to hold hands or sing Kumbaya or shout ‘Amen,’ I would do so. When in Rome and all that. But I wouldn’t tell them, “Yes, I believe in your god.” And I would find it rude if the devout insisted that I HAD to believe in their god or accept being proselytized to.
Similarly, I have to admit that I get kind of sick of some of my atheist friends who feel the need to respond with snark and mockery whenever they encounter someone else who believes. Some people’s certainty that there is no god can be as irritating and smug as some people’s certainty that there is a god and everyone who does not believe in THEIR god is gonna fry.
I find talking about religion with both militant atheists and militant believers to be exhausting and boring. I don’t know if there is a god, nor do I care. I think if there is a god and I am going to go to some sort of punishment after I die for not having managed to pick the right god out of the thousands available to believe in, then it is probably just another lottery that I didn’t win. Besides, I wouldn’t like a god that plays such a rigged game with his/her/its followers.
Zak S. from Pornstars wrote a really interesting blog post the other day on some musings about what ‘cool’ was and where our concept of cool might have come from… including ruminations about ‘coolness’ being connected to a kind of otherness that a teacher of his associated with African art and religion. I’m not doing it justice; go and read it for yourself. For clarity, we are talking about ‘cool’ as social currency, not temperature (although I think the premise presented on Zak’s blog connects the two).
The type of cool I am thinking of is calm and collected. Nothing disturbs the composure. Perhaps that related back to the quality of ‘unnaturalness’ that Zak’s teacher saw in some African art. I don’t know. But back in the Pleistocene era, there used to be a show on TV where Henry Winkler played a ‘cool’ dude named ‘The Fonz.’ The Fonz was like a cartoon of cool in a sitcom about the 1950s that never was. For one thing, I don’t remember any racism or cold war paranoia on “Happy Days;” the show mostly concentrated on sock-hops and who was taking who to the high school prom. When it was on the air, I only watched it when my sister had charge of the channel changer because it was a “girl’s show” (like ‘Love Boat’ or ‘Fantasy Island’). I much preferred ‘Batman’ or ‘The Six Million Dollar Man.’
Although I don’t know much about African art and religion, I’m not sure that I’m buying Zak’s former art history professor’s theory about the origin of ‘cool.’ Even discussing it is hard since these days people use ‘cool’ to describe anything vaguely positive… so while many might say the character portrayed by James Dean in ‘Rebel without a Cause’ is a ‘cool’ guy, getting a discount on a haircut or a box of cornflakes might also be ‘cool.’ For the sake of discussion, let’s stick to cool as having a certain social cachet.
It is strange because when I was a youngster, many of the things I liked were considered ‘not cool’ by my peer group… but now they are somehow considered ‘nerdishly cool.’ So spending my Friday nights playing D&D and killing balrogs and orcs was not cool in 1978… at least not in my neck of the woods… so I find myself a bit baffled that these things have become more socially acceptable in some circles. Did and interest in dorkish pursuits like D&D become cool over time? Did it become cool because people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became rich and famous and everyone wants those sexy little devices like iPads and smart phones… so, somehow having ‘nerdish’ interests has suddenly become “cool” because some of those nerds suddenly made a lot of money and people were admiring them in publications like Wired magazine?
If cool is being distant and unemotional, I’ve never managed that.
My S.O. and I have been discussing getting another freezer for food storage — we are putting away vegetables from the garden for winter consumption. I have a spot for the new freezer chest in our ‘junk room’ but she will have to clear out a shelf of her books to make room for it. This, coupled with a few other home improvement projects that usually start with me trying to clear out the space in which the project takes place, makes me realize how much crap we own. It is a fucking nightmare.
I don’t think I’m a hoarder. I’m just often too lazy to make a decision about whether or not I ‘need’ something anymore — so I stuff it in a closet or stick it on a shelf and forget about it.
Inevitably, this leads to thoughts of, “If, by my own admission, I have too much stuff, why would I want to make more stuff?” And when I say “make more stuff,” I am thinking about making all of the books, drawings, paintings, etc., that I find myself involved in either as the primary creator or as a contributor. Variations on the theme of, “We already have more games/adventures/source materials/etc., than anyone can possibly use, so there is no point in making more,” seems to roll through the blog community or OSR discussion with the same regularity as the tide. And many who voice this criticism often share a single point: Who needs a clone when we still have the original?
Limited storage space aside, I think many people like making stuff. Not everyone has the same degree of creative drive and ambition; a few people might love a certain edition of a rulebook and want to make a few small changes, or rewrite things that they felt could have been more clearly stated. Everyone seems to be using computers and the internet to do this, so print-on-demand and .pdf have made publishing easy and cheap. Editing a text document on a computer and saving the changes is easy. Back when Gary Gygax was putting together Original D&D boxed sets in his basement, everything had to be typed up on a typewriter, then pasted out by hand, taken to the printers, folded, bound, etc. Expensive and time consuming. If you found a typo on page 4 sometime late in the game, more than likely you just said, “Fuck it — the readers will be houseruling the shit out of this anyway...” rather than redoing it.
I enjoy the creative enterprise (both on my own and in collaboration). Since most of the OSR producers are doing this for the joy of it, they don’t really need to spend all of their time worrying about, “What will the overwhelming number of consumers buy in order to make my OSR publishing venture as profitable as possible?” I suspect if OSR producers were really out to chase the dollar, they wouldn’t be in the OSR game anyway — more money is to be made creating the next ‘Angry Birds’ app or selling groups of ‘Potemkin’ followers on Twitter. When I look at many of the more ‘mainstream’ products on the game store shelves from the bigger companies like WOTC, I don’t feel tempted. I put a little bit of money in my pocket creating illustrations for a small number of publishers who are willing to pay me for my work, but it isn’t enough to live on… I have to do a lot of other things to make ends (barely) meet.
“This horse walks into a bar,” I respond, attempting to affect the simultaneously nonchalant and manic delivery of Sheckey Greene and failing utterly. “Bartender says, ‘Heya pal, whats with the long face?’ Bud-ump-bump-tish!”
“Never gets old, does it?” she responds, having heard that tired joke many times before.
“Try the whitefish,” I repond, “I’ll be here all week!”
“Why did they say that?” she wonders aloud. “Were they trying to get rid of it?” (it=whitefish)
“I have no idea,” I reply. As a midwestern kid, we all told jokes with all of these Borscht-belt references… and I doubt we even knew where the Catskills were. Annie grew up in Denville, just outside N.Y.C., but, even if she were Jewish, she would have been too young to know about the Jewish supper clubs in the Catskills. By the time she came on the scene I’m guessing those clubs were long gone. And I grew up in Missouri; pretty far from Milton Berle’s stage. I guess we grew up listening to commedians who admired the work of Berle, Greene and the other commedians of that time and place. “Try the whitefish,” is something we say after having repeated an old joke. Growing up, my friends and I repeated it endlessly, as well as cribbing lines from Marxs or the Howards/Fines (“If you moved any slower, you would be walkin’ backwards,” or, “Roy Rogers never met you, did he?” and the like). We admired the unflappable wise guys who were never at a loss for words.
It wasn’t ‘our’ culture any more than ‘Gangsta Rap’ is really the culture of my 13 year old solidly middle class private schooled nephew… but we sucked up and regurgitated those jokes from Three Stooges routines the same way he soaks up Grand Theft Auto and we dropped references to trying the whitefish like he mentions ‘loading the nine.’ We also watched Looney Tunes cartoons, many of which dated back to The Second World War, so we had access to references to coupon books, rationing, blackout regulations and Carmen Miranda without really understanding those things. It’s really strange when you think about it.
In an interview, Robert Crumb says he thinks he internalized all kinds of ‘cultural junk’ when he was a kid — like ‘Little Rascals’ serials, Bazooka Joe cartoons and the like. Recently I’ve been thinking of all the crap I’ve absorbed (or steeped myself in) over the years, and wonder how it ‘comes out’ in how I view the world and what I do.
I don’t think I am really a member of the ‘gamer’ subculture. I don’t really care about super heroes (but I like the way Jack Kirby draws). I get bored with video games and board games. I don’t like reading rule books. Electronic gadgets, Cthulhu references and debating the merits of the ‘Sci-Fi’ (or ‘SyFy?’) channel does not float my boat. I don’t collect anything.
All of this means I don’t really know what to do with my interest in ‘old school’ D&D. I have a bunch of old lead minis that I like, and my old books and all kinds of ‘adventure materials’ that I have made up, but no one I know seems to share my enthusiasm for such lowbrow role playing. I think my interest in D&D is, to a large extent, probably mostly nostalgic.
I don’t particularly want to play a new and improved version of D&D or some other game. The way I used to play it, with a few house rules and misunderstandings and simplifications, sounds great to me. I suspect that is probably unattainable. Maybe you can’t go back.
This quote from Ethan Gilsdorf on Salon seems a pretty good description of what I am thinking:
‘Pure and simple, for many, D&D represents a lost age: It was an individualized, user-driven, DIY, human-scaled creative space separate from the world of adults and the intrusion of corporate forces. As Allison rightly noted, D&D recalls that day “before orcs and wookiees were the intellectual property of vast transmedia corporations.” Back when you had lots more free time than money — before girlfriends, job, kids. Life.’
The other day, Christian at Destination Unknown posted about what happens when the game you have is not the game you really want (OK, so I’m mangling his premise, but to read what he really wrote, just follow the link… I really just wanted to use his post to blog about ME, anyway). This seems to be a familiar problem… perhaps because there are an embarassment of choices and opinions.
Frequently, conversations about ‘what gamers want’ becomes an exercise in comparing different rule sets OR comparing different play styles or a little of both.
Rules: I’d love to say that ‘rules don’t make a difference,’ but think that position is naive. I’m afraid that I find 3.5 and Pathfinder versions of D&D unappealing — this is my opinion and not that interesting so I won’t go into it here (other than to say, yes, I think I did give the 3.5e game a fair shot, playing it and 3e for a number of years both as a player and a DM).
Play Style: Current discussion on blogs and forums seems to set up the ‘sandbox game’ and the ‘story driven game’ as the two opposite ends of opinion, and both have their champions. As the years go by and I muse on it, I think I’d like to find myself somewhere in between with a few caveats related to how the game is managed. As a player, I find myself chafing under the game masters who have decided ahead of time what will happen in a given session. I remember playing under one DM who would simply decide that X, Y or Z would happen that session… and if the players did not cooperate, then the DM would simply announce that whatever he had planned would happen anyway. I found it frustrating because it did not seem to matter what we did or what we attempted… as an example, if the DM had announced that a flood was about to ravage the land, the players often had to play guessing games until we lit upon what he wanted us to do before the game could go forward. So if the DM had cooked up the flood because he wanted to convince us to head for higher ground, if we tried to reinforce the levee with sandbags or build an ark or do ANYTHING other than what he wanted, our actions were doomed to fail until we did what we were supposed to so what the DM wanted to happen would happen. He never rolled dice for wandering monsters — monsters just appeared when he thought it was dramatically appropriate or when he was bored or when he thought the players were not paying enough attention. And he saw his way of running a game as a virtue.
I suppose my ideal game would have a lot of options for the players, and chances to go off into unexpected directions and the events that occur in the game could, ideally, be created by both the players and the DM. The players could describe actions and the DM (witht he help of the dice) would choose reactions. If the DM wished, larger events in the fantasy world could follow some predetermined course which could be altered by player action (for example, if the pre-determined course is upset by the players eliminating an important NPC, then so be it, the players have had a hand in creating the history of that fantasy world). I’d also love to have ‘game within the game’ events, like the occassional minis battle to decide the course of kingdoms… a practice I tried to interest players in years ago but failed to catch fire (ah well, perhaps my presentation was lacking). When I was high school/junior high, I wanted to give each player a ‘chunk’ of the fantasy world consisting of a kingdom or two and let them design it as they saw fit — then players could wander from one DM’s kingdom to the next and different people take turns DMing. This, unfortunately, never came to pass.
Unfortunately, time and energy for these pursuits are lacking… and I don’t think I have a crop of enthusiastic collaborators to draw from.
Today I was looking at a post on James’ “Grognardia” blog about the art for a Spanish RPG called “La Marca de Este” or something like that. It’s that pic on the right, there. The artist is Antonio Jose Mazanedo.
James says he likes the landscape as well as the realistic narrative touches — the details like the armor, a woman who seems more than just ‘eye candy,’ and the fact that the adventurers are not posing for the camera and have brought along a pack horse and a guard dog. To judge by the comments left on James’ blog, a lot of his readers like the picture too.
And I have to agree with him. Mazanedo has a level of skill in portraying light and atmosphere that would, with the proper subject matter, allow his paintings to hang side by side with such greats as Albert Bierstadt. I wish I had a fraction of that skill.
But I just don’t. I can’t paint like that… believe me, I have tried. And I can see that Mazanedo’s picture shows us everything; I can practically hear the water splashing as the horse hooves clop through the stream.
But the picture is also represents a kind of a philosophical/artistic wall for me. Despite the detail and the perfection, I don’t find myself going much beyond the surface of a picture that gets looked at by me. Mazanedo’s picture isn’t static feeling and lifeless (which is a sense I get from much of Elmore’s work), but I guess I find myself wanting something else — something that shows the artist’s hand a bit more.
It feels weak to simply say, “not my cuppa tea,” nor do I feel entitled to challenge what others may like or want in the art for their fantasy stuff. But I guess I’m just hoping for something other than ‘the illusion of reality’ as a potential visual aesthetic in the art of the imagination. The above picture is very good… and better than anything that I could ever do. But I guess I feel like as long as we are taking liberties with the subject matter (i.e.: dragons and hobbits and whatever), why not take some liberties with presentation as well?
On the other hand, the picture at left (by an artist named Skinner) brings a seriously weird and different vibe. There is no pretense that those ‘mountains’ in the background are supposed to look like the Grand Tetons… and even if that guy in the foreground didn’t have trees growing out of his head, green skin and five eyes, he would still be strange looking. Skinner’s imagery is a visual stew of comic books, psychedelic silk screens, native art and god knows what else… but it looks different enough that I don’t just feel like I’m looking through a window at “wonderland;” I’m looking through this particular artist’s window. That’s part of what I love about some of the artists like Trampier and Otus who did fantasy art back in the day — looking at a good example of their work often felt to melike I was seeing more than the objects in the frame portrayed in as convincing a manner as possible… I was seeing that artist’s particular visual take on it.
My own work is troubling for me sometimes. It often looks and feels ‘too derivative’ of stuff that has come before (on some days I feel like my work looks like it came from the studio of a downmarket Otus or talentless Trampier rip-off). I want to draw something different but it comes out looking the same old way. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to shake old habits and push my own envelope (but first I have to find my own envelope). I want to be able to toss one of my pictures into a pile and have people be able to pick out the one I did just by looking at the other stuff I have done.
Meanwhile, I have mosaics to do, a book to finish, some other illustrations to do, etc.
If you didn’t hear, the latest ‘economic determinism’ movie puff piece, “Atlas Shrugged (part 1!)” opened in a very few select movie houses last night. Perhaps the more conspiracy minded are correct and the Liberal Elite of Hollyweird have actively sought to supress the film in order to prevent the masses from seeing it and learning the truth… or perhaps it is actually just another shitty movie made by people with an axe to grind. There may be something to the conspiracy; nothing has prevented Hollywood from promoting the fuck out of a shitty movie based on a crappy book which describes the virtues of a rather shallow pool of populist philosophical posturing disguised as ‘philosophy’ or ‘religion’ or both before… Hollywood encouraged us to go see Battlefield Earth… why would they not want us to see Ayn Rand’s objectivist parable unless (GASP!) they* don’t want us to learn the truth!
Unfortunately, adherents of this pernicious ‘philosophy’ can be found on Aldeboran. In a high mountain pass in the county of (location as of yet undetermined) lies the isolated settlement known as ‘Ouray‘ or ‘Galt’s Gulch.’ The town is surrounded by a massive stone wall without gates (the inhabitants bricked up the gates of the town when they moved in, years ago).
The town was founded by Johann Galt, a philosopher and visionary who preached the gospel known as ‘Objectionism.’ Galt felt that all of the world’s ills sprang directly from ‘opportunism’ by the ‘parasite classes’ and the poor who leeched off and dragged down the true leaders and innovators and visionaries. Decades ago he attempted to secretly recruit all of the greatest inventors, visionaries and artists to join him in ‘Galt’s Gulch,’ but most of them were too busy inventing, creating and doing to join him. Having gathered, however, a sufficiently large cadre of leaders, investors and the wealthy and privileged (who made up for a lack of useful talents and skill by the zeal with which they embraced Galt’s Gnosticism), he set out to found his perfect society. Their motto is, “You will miss us when we are gone!”
Unfortunately for the Objectionists, most of the rest of the world didn’t notice their absence. Since the Objectionists recruited only the ‘cream of the crop’ for their society, there were no common workers to do things like grow food, cook meals, make clothing or do any of the other things… thus almost 90% of the supplies continue to require to be imported, placing considerable strain on the stockpiled wealth of the Galtians and causing considerable deprivation and misery. The less ideologically consistent members who questioned the vision of Galt or suggested that the town charter be adjusted to allow some good cooks or gardeners in were tossed off a high precipice to fall screaming to the rocks below. Since the time of this ‘Great Purification,’ no one questions Galt’s pronouncements and all loudly declare with nervous sideways glances that they are quite happy in their mountain “paradise.” A few enterprising merchants still bring mule trains of food, clothing, firewood and other necessities to the village where the Objectionists lower baskets filled with coin from the high walls by ropes in exchange… but the proportion of copper to silver and gold in the baskets has been growing greater as the stored wealth of the elites is continually depleted, so the merchants are less eager and visit less often, leading to a certain ragged, hollow-eyed desperation on the part of the Galtists.
*If you are an objectivist, they=anyone who isn’t an objectivist. If you are Mel Gibson and you have been drinking, they=Jewish Hollywood Elite. If you are Mel Gibson and you are sober, then some of your best friends are Jewish. If you are a card carrying liberal, then you are a part of the problem.