What A&E Does for Me — Jim Vassilakos

There appears to be a certain addiction involved with the APA, an addiction of the contributors to contribute. I mean, there is a compulsion, I think, to take part in some form of community regarding a pastime with which one finds endlessly fascinating. As Patrick mentioned, last issue, there is something special about A&E or else we wouldn’t keep coming back. After all, The Internet is cheaper and is, for most of us, I’d presume, readily accessible. It’s there, 24/7, and the types of interaction are plentiful, from Mailing Lists, to PBeMing to Blogging to other, less common methods. And I’m sure that most of us make use of these to some extent, yet we keep coming back here, to this long-running, paper-and-ink monstrosity. Why is that? Partly, I think, it’s because A&E is an established community of those who wish to take part in it. It has longevity, long-time members, people who return month after month as a sort of ritual of their lives, an activity they found somehow important enough to take part in, not merely once but as a recurring withdraw on the finite time that we all have. That’s quite a thing. Is it merely because we desire to be heard? Or is it because we wish to be part of such a community, to exchange our thoughts… or, perhaps, to confess our sins? Opinions are like sins, I suppose. They detract from that negligible quality we all have aside from them. Indeed, opinions expose everything about us in all our ignoble glory. They announce to others what will often appear ugly blemishes, either because we find someone’s opinion an affront to our better-considered sensibilities, thereby igniting our scorn or, perhaps, even our wrath, or because we simply think we know better, perhaps because of some divine grace that we alone inherently possess. I can see, in part, why people were angry with Ty, because his opinions were stated with such certainty as to be perceived as arrogant. But, I think people who seem arrogant can still have opinions worth considering, and listening to what they have to say can often be illuminating, in part as a consequence of the passion they apply to their arguments. They’re not trying to trick us into believing something that’s wrong. They’re trying to convince us of something that they believe is right. There’s a big difference. So, I think if one passionately disagrees (which is at some point inevitable), that it perhaps makes more sense to reply, “What you are saying is very silly, you know,” than to be genuinely angry, because, for fuck’s sake, we’re all roleplayers, are we not? We’re all roleplayers who deem fit to spend part of our lives writing these zines, for no more apparent reason than to reach out to one another, pontificate and be pontificated to, teach, learn, think, grow. That’s what I think we are doing. At least, it is what I am trying to do. This is why I am pained whenever one of us leaves, particularly one of us who has gotten into more than merely gaming topics, and it is why I grow even more distressed when one of us is being shunned in the direction of the door. It’s annoying enough even when those who shun have a legitimate grievance, but when they are reduced to hurling personal insults…and then when someone leaves as a result… there is a loss that occurs…more than a loss, really…it’s more like a blemish of our collective, a fight that we’ve written down in our own words, some participating, others standing-by, mute, perhaps disinterested…perhaps not seeing the point of posting yet another opinion in what has become an increasingly destructive conversation. But what really burns me most is when that target/victim leaves, not SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS like some in our past have done when they have departed, but rather when he withdraws like a gentleman, tactfully, perhaps with the notion of returning at a later date, and, at any rate, cognizant of there being no point in prolonging an unnecessary argument. Why should this make me angry? What business is it of mine? It’s my business because I feel very strongly that when we let this happen, we are, each of us, culpable. To tell people to leave… to tell them that you hate their humor… that their opinions are idiotic… all the things that get said here… it reminds me of caged monkeys throwing their feces at each other. Now there’s a novel way of expressing one’s disapproval! But in the case of the monkeys, it’s even more understandable because they’re driven insane by their confinement, and, obviously, they can’t talk. All they have are their actions, including their screeches of one emotional state or another. (“Eeeeek-eeeek… you are really pissing me off!”) But we have words, and just as with our actions, we can choose them. We can cultivate, or we can burn. It’s all a matter of choice. And some of us choose the latter. Hence, when someone leaves for these reasons, and they leave quietly, not screaming abuses, it fills me with a feeling of despondence, not because they didn’t fight back, but because they rationally decided that fighting with monkeys is a pointless endeavor, and that life is too short to be wasted here dealing with people who ought to know better but for some reason apparently don’t. Now what were those exact words just one more time? “Could your zine be any more dull?” Joshua, what was it exactly that set you off? I mean, seriously…what was it exactly that you were shooting for? Did you think he’d read your comment and be thinking to himself, “Well, gee…is my zine really dull? Wow. I didn’t realize that. Hmm… thanks, Josh! Your comment is so helpful. Thank you for taking the time and the space in your zine to let me know that I’m wickedly dull and unfunny. You, my friend, are a real pal.” Was that your idea? Or was it something more along the lines of…”I don’t like him (for whatever reason), so I’m just going to vent some abuse in his direction because I feel like it.” I really want to understand what set you off. I mean, you don’t normally hurl abuse at people. What did Louis say that made you so angry? And, of course, I don’t wish to imply that members don’t have the right to criticize one another, because only through criticism can we really be jarred into re-thinking our basic

assumptions, but it is to say that there’s a right way and a wrong way, and A&E has occasionally gone the wrong way, and this is particularly true with respect to Louis. He’ll be back, he tells me, but for now he’s got other interests which beckon, and that’s really easy to decide when someone starts throwing shit at you. I cannot really express the depth of my disappointment, aside from writing down my thoughts in this format and discussing what I feel about them, but one unwelcome realization I have come to is that I'm feeling increasingly bitter against the APA for what it does to new people who decide to open up enough to speak their mind about things that matter to them. If that was too rambling, let me put it another way. I think this, what we are doing here, has as much to do with the writing as it has to do with the reading. Patrick Riley asked a really good question in terms of what A&E does for each one of us, but he asked it from the point of view of the readers rather than the writers. He said, if I am reading him correctly, that when it comes to campaign write-ups, what is most interesting to read are those which provides insight into the players’ or the GM’s perspective of the campaign. He also likes system design discussions. “What do you like to read?” he asks. Well, I like that also, absolutely, but I also like Louis’ joke of the month, and I like the monthly picture of A&E’s favorite daughter… there she is like clockwork, each month growing up just a little bit more… and I like Ty when he’s talking about Traveller or ranting about politics, and I like Paul when he’s pontificating about the nature of roleplaying, and I like Spike when he’s being erudite on a topic that he knows very, very well, and Louis again when he’s making predictions… certainty rising in his tone from the phenomena of having been right before. I like Brian Rogers when he’s discussing one of his enviably multitudinous campaigns or when his wife jumps in to say that she’s still putting up with him (was never a better woman save, perhaps, for my wife who is, quite miraculously, still putting up with me). I like Michael Cule when he’s telling us about his employment woes,

the little anecdotes of his life, as well as whatever latest snappy lines emerged from the mouths of his party of perspicacious players. And I like the wealth of material that Misiaszek puts into his zines, whether a campaign write-up or product review or convention report or perhaps all of the above. And to those I didn’t mention, well, it’s because this is already a longish paragraph, and I don’t see the point of going on forever. From the point of view of being a reader, there’s a lot to enjoy, but from the point of view of being a contributor, I’d have to say that there’s a great deal more. As a reader, of course, I prefer what’s usable, and given the segmentation of the market, which I commented to Louis about last issue, what’s most generally usable would seem to be the campaign anecdotes where we can draw, as Patrick indicates, some sort of insight into the players’ or GM’s experience of the campaign, in short, the parts where we can ponder and perhaps learn something. System-related articles, as well, are worth pondering to a degree, because, after all, rules matter. So I agree with everything that Patrick said. But I also think that it’s good just to read about what the other contributors are passionate about, or what they find amusing, or simply what parts of their lives and their inherently unique perspective they feel like sharing. When Louis was talking about politics and history, for instance, or when he’d quote the Bible or perhaps, just as interestingly, some gaming blog, from his choice of topics to the very words that he chose to write, he was telling us about himself. Even from the way he chose to quietly withdraw, he spoke volumes about his good temperament, his reason, even his reasonableness, which is saying a lot for someone who is perhaps even more attuned to conspiracy theories than I. (Which of us is crazier I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader. Try not to have too much fun with that.) I guess this is why I’ve been pleading in vain for some minimum standards. When you tear another down, pointlessly, you diminish us all. And the APA is further diminished when the members simply let it happen, perhaps mutely resigned to

the fact that monkeys will be monkeys. Not that I want to start a huge flame war where everyone is taking sides; I’m just saying that there should be some minimum standards of decency. And the only way that this might ever happen, I suppose, is if more contributors are disapproving when someone clearly and needlessly crosses the line (wherever they might think that line ought to be drawn). What A&E does for me is it gives me a sort of family, so to speak, of people who are gamers…it’s a gaming family, essentially, people who stick around for what is hopefully a really long time, people who identify themselves as role-players and who offer comment on whatever happens to be going on, gaming-related or otherwise…but yes… let’s do try to keep it gaming-related. That is our purported focus, after all. But let us also be demanding of a certain level of consideration. We are, after all, a sort of family, unless, of course, you disagree.

Comments on A&E #400:
Myles Corcoran: Please email me the link for the music archive if it is still available. I have some music freely downloadable from PureVolume for you as well, if you’re interested. Re the hijack with a timer: Interesting idea. I’ve only used a timer in combat situations where the players were taking too long discussing strategy in situations where the PCs would not have time to plan. In those situations, I might say, “I’ll give you all fifteen seconds to tell me what you’re doing…starting now,” and then try to keep up as they all start talking at me at the same time. Michael Cule: Very much enjoyed your reflections on the lucky the unlucky. Ah, saving Carrot in the nick of time, good write-up. “To fight fiercely, like Harvard, and then lose,” seems perfectly apt. And, on top of it all, you’ve reminded me that I need to try out that program Louis mentioned. Robert Dushay: Will reply to you on my blog. Please see http://jimvassilakos.livejournal.com (1/21/09) Lee Gold: Re: grace under pressure: I’ve always heard it attributed to

Hemingway, but as a quote, not as part of a novel. Thank you for mentioning the Yezidi. Re: morality being erroneously coupled with success: Good point. I’m not should how this ought to be handled in the context of children’s stories, as I’m not sure if children have an innate knowledge of morality or if this must be taught by example. My guess is probably the latter, but I don’t know. Nonetheless, how might martyr tales be perceived by children? I have no idea. Re technology: it seems that we’re into semantics, but as I said before, habitability, marginality, and nonhabitability are really a continuum rather than hard & fast classifications. Kimberly Marshall: Thanks for mentioning Eternal Lands. I’ll definitely have a look-see when sufficient time presents itself. Also, loved The Effects of Toadstool Consumption on the Elven Brain. More, please… Paul Mason: It’s good to see you back again, even if it is to be only briefly, and congratulations on the novel. You write, “With gamebooks, I think there is a form of dislocation which comes from being confronted with choices.” I would argue that although this is probably true to some extent, what intensifies the dislocation for me is having to search for the next event (item number) as though it were some word hidden in the middle of a dictionary. However, if the effort involved were reduced to the level of say, pushing a button, I think the experience of the game book would be greatly enhanced. This was, to some extent, what they did in Wing Commander, the CRPG with Mark Hamill among others, and it was also used in Star Control II. Likewise, I’ve played a number of what used to be called Interactive Fiction programs, Zork, of course, being perhaps the most famous, although there were lots of individuals, hobbyists in essence, who were doing the same using various adventure creation programs. Most of these adventures are sort of lame, but there are some good ones. Also, I’m to understand that there’s now something called hypertext

fiction. In any case, my point is that several of these have done a good job of telling their story even though they gave the user some leeway in determining his/her own, or at least creating an illusion to that effect. Regarding railroading feeling to some extent like a game book: Yes. Regarding role games being defined as you say, active intervention of the participants (I think Fine called it shared fantasy) and how this is fundamentally different from other forms of entertainment: We already know this. What you’re saying is selfevident to anyone who’s ever roleplayed. Regarding rollercoasters and dreams: I don’t seem to have dreams in quite the same way that you do, judging from what you’ve described. You write,“…they rarely offer us any conscious choice or input.” I remember very few of my dreams these days, but for a short while I kept a journal of my dreams. This was many years ago. I guess what I was going for was lucid dreaming. Somebody told me that if you kept a journal of your dreams, you’d remember more and more of them, and that gradually, in time, you’d even be able to control your dreams. I ended up passing through the threshold of what they call… I can’t remember what they call it, but it’s basically where you realize that you’re fully asleep even though you’re deep enough under that you can’t wake up without some willpower being put into it. There are different sensations that can go along with this. In one case, my whole “body” felt like it’s was vibrating, almost like somebody flipped a switch and my spirit was buzzing with energy. Or maybe that was just me snoring. How the hell should I know? In another instance, much more recently (which was odd, as I was not keeping a journal at this time), it felt more like a dream within a dream where everything took on a tremendous amount of detail, a sense of actually being there in a place that I knew could not possibly be real. I ended up getting distracted by some writing on an imaginary tee-shirt hanging from the wall, and eventually went looking for my wife (who was sleeping right next to me, which caused me to suddenly awake).

In any case, I’ve long stopped trying to record my dreams. Probably I am just too lazy to put out the effort of trying to write before becoming fully awake…of trying to push my memory further and further back into the dream events, all the while wanting to creep back under warm blankets and let my head go thud on the pillow. What can I say? I’m a slug. Nonetheless, what I discovered was that my dreams often ended at a moral crossroads, almost as though different parts of me were being tested: my courage (or rather lack thereof), my patience (or instinct to reason before succumbing to anger), my…well…all my virtues and vices, I suppose. I discovered that many of my dreams contain moral tests, and when the end would come, I would have to make a split decision… a gut-level choice on what to do… and I didn’t always make the right one. I could go on about this at greater length, but suffice it to say that while dreams may not offer us conscious choice or input, they do offer us subconscious choices, and perhaps those choices that we make are closer a reflection of our true selves than we would like to admit… that is assuming that we can even remember having made a choice. If for no other purpose than your own exploration, I would encourage you to try. Regarding the unification of “good” novels and how rough edges would make their story feel more like real life: Consider for a moment the possibility that life has no rough edges but that every moment of it has some potentially unifying meaning… just kidding. Regarding the possibility of wholly unexpected events occurring within our form of roleplaying and this being the drawing factor: Yes, once again with the obvious, but you do say it nicely. And you make a very good point at the end, about the feeling of reality not necessarily coming from the proverbial infodump. However, it may be worthwhile to note that any sort of art can be admired on different levels, and if the players are able to look back on the story and draw inferences and conclusions and basically discuss the events and the characters and their multitudinous connections as much or more than they actually play the game, then

perhaps you’re doing something right as a GM. And if the game is written out as a PBeM, then the possibilities for analysis and revision are no less than those for novels. In this sense, perhaps, the PBeM is a sort of crossover artform. In short, if I were you, I don’t think I’d be too eager to downplay all aspects of roleplaying save for the one upon which you are currently focused, although I agree that this surprise at the unexpected is certainly central. I was reading a novel recently, Diving Rod by Michael Knight, and it strikes me that not all authors do the infodump the same way (it’s now apparently my turn to say the obvious). I mean, some do it more artfully than others. Sometimes it’s intrusive, and sometimes it’s not, and sometimes not only is it not, but it’s told in such a way that it significantly adds to the story beyond merely the information that is being conveyed. Regarding the artistic impulse of the GM running counter to the shared creativity of the group, particularly in railroaded campaigns: Yes, but only beyond a certain point. Think of the GM as creating a kite, and each of the players adding something on the end until the kite ends up resembling one of those bizarre, oriental dragons. The GM has to create the first part, but he or she also has to know when and where to let go and let somebody else take over for a bit, and a lot of this, as we both know, is more art than science. And what often happens, as you indicate, is that the GM often falls too far on the side of controlling things, limiting the players’ capacity to reinvent the campaign. A great many probably believe, “Hey, this is my story,” and they couldn’t be more wrong. And, just as in my dreams, I haven’t always made the best call as a GM. Every time, in fact, it has been a new learning experience, and there’s always this question over how much I should lead versus how much I should follow, and I think we just end up doing it however feels right, and that’s likely to be different for different people. I’m reminded of the first half of my essay in A&E #363 (not that you necessarily need to dig it up in order to understand what I’m saying). Regarding “online games”: What, exactly, are you talking about? Do you

mean PBeMs, or are you talking about something else? I’m going to guess that you’re talking about MMOs. Regarding “the dungeon” as a durable symbol: Let us not forget that it also gives us that warm sense of nostalgia. Overall, good essay. There’s lots of food for thought, as is always the case with your essays. This is the reason I love your zines so much, so I do hope you decide to stick around. Now for something completely different. RYCT Ty Beard regarding his assertion in #398 that objections arose to his politics rather than his demeanor: Actually, I probably said this before he did. I don’t want to make this overly long, but you’re coming into this after what I hoped would be the end of the discussion. Hence, in order so that you may catch up, please see Joshua’s comment to Louis in #391, Myles’ comment to Ty in #396, and my zines in #393 & #394. This will give you more background so that you can at least consider in greater detail what you believe to be the truth of the matter. If, after reading all this, you still believe that the discussion has nothing to do with politics and only has to do with Ty’s demeanor, please let me know. As for Robert Rees, I’m to understand that the episode involving him had something to do with Everway, although please correct me if I’m mistaken. I was not paying much attention to that particular flame war. In any case, and again please correct me if I’m wrong, he went down yelling in retaliation, which isn’t to necessarily say that he was wrong about his views, but he didn’t defend them so much as he attacked his attackers, and so I didn’t have as much empathy as I might have had otherwise. As for you being attacked in the past, well, of course you were attacked, you rude bastard, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love you. But, seriously, I don’t recall you being attacked like Ty and Louis were recently (and that both were attacked and so close to the election seems to me somewhat revealing), and the nature of the attacks was so personal that I don’t think the attackers were really reasoning as fully as they might have done.

In short, I don’t think it is Ty’s or Louis’ or your fault that these attacks happen. I honestly think we should blame the attackers, and at this point, after being moved to ridicule by something that I doubt you’ve fully researched, that includes you. But don’t feel bad… we still love you. Or, at least, I hope Ty still does. (Is this his first experience with you? If so, nice first impression.) Pum (Paul Holman): Re demons and “brutal hierarchy”: I tend to veer this way as well. In the Jinx campaign, the difference between demons and devils is social, not racial (being that “physical form” is arbitrary). Devils are simply demons that fall under the hierarchy of the Emperor of Hell, while demons that don’t (those who fall under competing hierarchies) are simply called demons. But they’re all under brutal hierarchies of one form or another. Simon Reeve: RAE Mondarron’s Monocle. Re Vampires in London: I’m currently reading Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly. So far, it’s pretty good. Eugene Reynolds: Re “Pirates rock, but parrots rule!”: Sounds like a good t-shirt slogan. Also, thanks for mentioning Shock: Social Science Fiction. I just ordered a copy. Brian Rogers: RAE Turtling, although I can’t remember ever hosing a party so badly that they started doing this, however, there was a point in the Jinx campaign (that I have yet to share, but I’ll get around to it), that Jinx did feel pretty hosed in terms of what “the administration” was doing to her (and we’ll get to that soon), but her player’s reaction is usually to try something… anything, actually… rather than hunkering down as good sense might otherwise suggest. Steven Warble: Thanks for mentioning FreakAngels. I apparently must have gotten into it, as I read the whole dang thing. Here’s another webcomic that you may enjoy (http://well-of-souls.com/outsider). I don’t know if I heard about it here or elsewhere, but it’s also a decent read, although, like FreakAngels, it’s a work-in-progress.

Out of time & space. TTFN…