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26 August, 2014

A Personal History Of Games

(Apparently I'm down to 'I make a post once a year or so'. I should work on that... this last year has been really shit for my being able to keep up with my posting anywhere.)

I was, in my wanderings around the internets, linked to this article on the history of the video game industry. About which I have a lot of odd thoughts.


Scene: the early to mid 80s. I am at a friend's house, and I am playing Pac-Man. I love Pac-Man. I suspect, secretly, that I bore her, because I want to play Pac-Man, or Jumpman Junior, or other games, rather than the sorts of things she wants to do. Sometimes I deliberately suggest other things, even if I'd rather turn on the computer, because I don't want to make it sound like the only reason I come to play is because of the games.


Scene: mid to late 80s. We have Brickles - a Mac version of Breakout - and I am extremely good at it. A single game can last over an hour.

My father knew the people who did Space War! and we have a copy of that. He has stories about playing it with one of the members of the Grateful Dead. At that time, I didn't know who he was talking about well enough to find it impressive.

We get the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game. And the clue book. I get scolded for revealing all the clues with the highlighter pen, but the book was as interesting to read as the game was fun to play.


Scene: maybe the late 80s? I am at my aunt's house, and my (male) cousin has an Atari. He is playing Pitfall. I am rapt; the idea of computer games is immensely compelling to me. My brother has a turn. I do not. Quietly, whenever we plan a visit to that part of the family, I hope that I might have a chance to get a go at the Atari. Sometimes, I get a turn at Spy Hunter, but never enough to get good at it; we don't visit often, and clearly, the Atari is for the boys.

Eventually, my cousin gets a Nintendo, and the Atari - and its crate of games - comes to us. I discover Joust.


Scene: early 90s. I have a friend with some of the King's Quest games and Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, who doesn't mind that sometimes I want to play.

My brother has a friend with a Nintendo and one of the Super Mario Brothers games. Sometimes I wheedle my way into playing with them.

The one friend I have at school after my neighbour friends move away is just as painfully nerdy as I am. Unfortunately, he thinks that being interested in playing Tetris together means we're dating.


Scene: 1993. The whole family is trying to figure out Myst. We never really manage it.


Scene: mid-nineties. My brother wins a colour-screen Game Gear and Sonic the Hedgehog in a raffle, because my brother is the sort of person who wins raffles. He gives me his old Game Boy for Christmas. I promptly learn how to beat Super Mario World all the way through and then get the option to beat it on hard. Then I do the same thing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.

When my brother gets a Nintendo and is playing Mortal Kombat I sometimes lurk in the background and watch him play with his friends.

It never occurs to me to ask my parents to get me a game that I would like to play.

Girls don't play video games, you know.

06 June, 2013

So, the Barbie thing.

Googling "Quiet dignity" "Barbie" does not in fact turn up a new toy line, but rather references to the latest tempest in a teapot among organised science fiction writing/fandom/thing, such as this one, which quotes a rather interesting bit, a part of which is:


She has always been a role model for young girls, and has remained popular with millions of them throughout their entire lives, because she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.


("Role model" is kind of an interesting phrase, isn't it?)

But anyway, the thing that came to my mind when I saw that going around (with its associated "She's a nice girl, she doesn't dress slutty, she doesn't complain to Ken about having things tough, and so on" rhetoric) was that Barbie is quiet because she is made of plastic.

This isn't a far-fetched thing to read when a science fiction writer talks about this kind of thing, it's not like robot housewives aren't a staple in genre and even in the surrounding culture.

A woman should be quiet.

Like an inanimate thing.

A toy, to be specific.

Made out of a manufactured substance.

"The way a woman should."

Dear Unfortunate Implications Fairy: do you think C. J. Henderson noticed your visit at all?  That was a very generous gift you provided.

18 May, 2013

Dis/Ability

Little white pills.
(One and a half of them -
I cut them with a kitchen knife every other day.)

Little white pills
Treating to the numbers
(I never knew to notice but
Maybe when you're fifteen you don't pay the right sort of attention
Or maybe
The kid with the dissociation problem
And PTSD
Is not the best at body awareness.
Ya think?)
They checked my throat,
Little pen marks and a tape measure,
And told me
"Little white pills, one and a half of them."

Eventually
I stopped taking them
It didn't seem to matter.

When I had doctors
I would tell them
"I took little white pills,
One and a half of them.
I want you to find the numbers."
They found the numbers,
And sent me on my way.

I argued with one,
"These are the wrong numbers.
Here are my printouts.
This is what the new standards are,"
And she told me
My numbers were fine.
The one time they weren't,
She checked again,
And they'd changed.

Sometime in my late twenties
I found a bentwood cane
In an antique shop.
"Necessary tools should be beautiful," I said.
It was about the right height,
Red and knobbly and wonderful.
I didn't usually need it
But it was nice to have.

I took little white pills
For a while
They made me feel stoned
When I changed my dose
But the world didn't hurt so much
In my mind
And that was nice.
I had to stop
When I was pregnant
Though.

My knees never recovered
From the pregnancy
And stairs were hard.

I got a new doctor
And I said to him
"I had little white pills
One and a half of them
And I want you to check my numbers."
And he did.

And he said, "I don't treat numbers,
But your numbers
(The lab would say they're fine
Like your other doctor did)
They aren't good.
I would give you little white pills
Just for this
But look --
This other number --
Those are antibodies
And they shouldn't be there."

And he gave me little white pills.
Half of one a day, to start,
And I went home with a scrip
And told everyone I knew
"I have an autoimmune disease!"
And some of them understood
Why I was so happy.

One day
There was a truckful of rocks to unload
And I took the kids outside
And I helped
Because I had little white pills.

The little white pills
Don't change my body
Into a body that isn't nonconsensually suicidal
But they start to take away its weapons
And I didn't notice
All the ways I felt better
Until the little white pills
Went away.

And then I noticed
That my knees hurt again.
That I was so tired
Too tired to think.
I noticed
All the things I knew before.
(Fatigue, depression,
Constipation,
My appetite is gone because
My metabolism is fucked
It didn't go long enough
For my fingernails to shatter
But I bet when they grow a little more
They will.)

I noticed I needed that
Bentwood cane
And I hadn't remembered
The last time
I needed it to make it through a day.

"I need new little white pills,"
I said
While trying not to want to die
In a body that was trying to kill me
Because somehow
Having it all come back
The chills
The acne down my jaw
The way the pain kept me awake
And my ankles felt like tennis balls
Of flaking, brittle skin
With the fatigue
And all
(At least my heart didn't go flipping out
Like it was doing before I got
Little white pills
This time
That scared the fuck out of me
And I couldn't say
"I think I'm going to die"
I have kids
I can't leave them like this
I couldn't even tell the doctor
Which was stupid
But it was all the same damn thing
My life a ruin for a lack
Of little white pills
I suppose
But I digress)
It broke me
Hard
And I could barely get out of bed
The day I was going to see the doctor
Who could give me
Little white pills.

(My grandmother took the pills
I don't know if they were little and white
I wonder sometimes
If that was why--
Or part of why--
But no matter.)

He gave me little white pills
I gave him blood
To check my numbers
He said "I'll call if they're really bad"
And I took my scrip
And yelled at the pharmacist
Until they gave me
Little white pills
Just one at a time
To replace
The ones that didn't work.

Today I had to have a beer
To make the pain stop.
I will take my little white pill
And hope
To be more than a little better than I was
Tomorrow.

01 March, 2013

Runnin' Down a Dream

Last night I dreamed my teacher told me to get to know a goddess.

I thought that was interesting, so I did a little research.  (The goddess in question has an odd intellectual presence in my life, so it's not totally random....)

That research was increasingly interesting.

And then I turned up that in her native territory, it is customary to burn offerings for her the first Friday of the month.

And I looked at the calendar....

So then I started looking up what gets burned.  "Herbs", the internet tells me.  I grumble a lot.

Then Little Foot comes home from the grocery store and hands me a pot of basil.

(I looked it up.  Basil does grow there.)

I don't even know, man.

So I got my liege's assistance with applied pyromania and set up a little something.

Religion is weird.

21 February, 2013

The Yellow Wood

I was thinking about this before I read Dver's post on Choice, but I think I have it articulable now.


People talk about the price that comes of doing intense spirit-work, the obligations and taboos that accrue if one pursues that as a lifework.  And it gets talked about because there are people who will treat their community's medium as a public service, who are enraged that the local witch needs to pay the electric bill, who are consumed by fits of jealousy and want to know why someone else can pierce the veils between worlds and bring back messages and not them.

And a while back when people were talking about god-slavery as a practice/calling, there was one coming in with a great deal of, "Well clearly my gods do this much more seriously than yours," as if there is only one way to do it, and only a particular set and flavor of framework for devotion (one tending towards the ascetic, the henotheistic, the heavily taboo-bound) was relevant.  (I was a touch nonplussed by running into subbier-than-thou-by-proxy, but such is the nature of religion at times?)

But everywhere is a complicated network of choices, and I can trace back through mine, and see each decision, each angle, even at times when there was no choice possible, no other option: to do otherwise would be a betrayal of myself or my vows or some other principle I held dear.

I recall a night looking Neb.y in the eye and seeing before me the grand fork, one way towards Little Foot and family and the life I was urgently trying to build and had been seeking for a long time, the other towards ecstasy and transformation and vast unknowable deeps on the far side of the dark.

I reached into the future and put my arms around my child, and I said, "You cannot have this."

And the god laughed at me, a long and hearty laugh, and He said, "Prove it."

So I did.

And that has made all the difference.

20 February, 2013

Nome for the Holidays

I've been thinking a lot about nomes.

There's this illusion, you see, of a unified religion in discussions of ancient Egypt, usually a variant on the Heliopolitan cosmogony, with Amun-Ra instead of Atum-Ra, and sometimes with bonus Ptah in around the edges.  The different myth cycles of each nome vanish in a kind of vague, generic lens of past culture unification.  (Much like, I imagine, the particular mythologies of Athens dominate discussions of Hellenic culture, though for different reasons in that case.)

But each region had its own myth cycle, its own stories, its own emphases, its own take on things.  A book I'm reading at the moment had a Roman-era mention of a fight breaking out between delegations from two different towns on the subject of crocodile veneration or crocodile smiting - the subtext of which was "honor Set" vs. "execrate Set".  And that isn't, as is usually handwaved, the "Oh, Set's reputation tanked as one went on in Egyptian history", that's two contemporary groups with profoundly different theologies.

And every so often I run into someone who is deeply agitated about some bit of myth - often Set, not always - and I am coming to think that the perspective of "You have to be okay with this god, here's why" is a bad idea.  Or at least an unnecessary one.  The ancients certainly never sorted that shit out, if they were having slapfights about it while bemused Romans took notes.

Here's a complete approach, entirely supportable by mythos:

The regular workaday patterns of the world are a seamless whole which must be preserved.  Into that smooth fabric of being, disruptions are introduced, things that do not need to happen: the storm blows your roof in, or someone dies, or some other needless and painful moment happens.  This happened in the sacred stories, too, and restorative justice only goes so far: Wesir was not returned to his wife and family, but was established in the Duat.  Set becomes the beast of burden, confined to the polar stars so that he may not threaten the fragility that he created, one whose name is cursed.

Not only is this or something like it functional, supportable, and findable in multiple places, it's something that satisfies most people's needs.  Wrestling with the question of those unnecessary disruptions does not require tangling with grey areas; they did harm, so we cast them out, we curse them, we make wax figurines of donkeys to go with our wax figurines of snakes, trample them and burn them.

Here's another complete approach, also supportable by mythos:

An unchanging system is a stagnant one, a vulnerable one, and its weaknesses will reveal themselves in time.  To be powerful, it needs to be tested, prove itself, and overcome that which challenges it, and thus the function of challenge is essential to the health of the system.  Whether it is Heru-Sa-Aset winning the potency, cunning, and self-determination required to become an archetypically powerful king, or Wesir himself learning the secrets of rebirth rather the hard way, the road to revealed power cannot go the easy route that has no conflict.  The workings of Set, while not necessary to the functioning of an ordinary stable reality, are signposts marking the way to a change of condition.

This is a road for revolutionaries, for kings, for spirit-workers in the shamanistic style who are torn to pieces and put back together by the spirits, for those who can afford to imagine a different world and for those who can't afford not to.  Those are the people who need Set, or something like him.

I tend to figure most people don't fall into either group, and they can choose which they feel more aligned with - or something else entirely.  Theological conformity isn't that important.

19 February, 2013

The Physical Possibility of Gender In The Mind of Someone Watching

Last week my liege and I took the kids and went to visit his grandmother.

This is always an exercise in barely-contained chaos, really, and at one point the three adults were sitting in the kitchen while the kids chased each other around the loop of the house, shrieking and bellowing with glee.

"They're so girly at this age," commented his grandmother, perhaps because Little Foot - upon hearing a comment on her shock of hair - paused in her orbits and brushed her curls forward into her face to show them off, before of course whooping and charging off again like a very perky hound of hell.

At least, that's our only possible guess as to what might have been meant.

It's stuff like that that makes me feel like an alien anthropologist.  "Tell me about the customs of your quaint little planet...."