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Month: December 2003

WISH #76: Player Role

WISH 76 asks:

A lot is made of the role of the GM in a game, but what is the role of the player?

I’m not really sure if I can answer that one, since so much depends on the game. The single most important trick to master can be summarized as “support interaction,” which covers a lot — sharing spotlight time, making your character sticky, and so on. Most other stuff depends on the game, I think.

Some games really are GM-driven, and I don’t actually have any problems with that. Sometimes I want to be a spectator. Not often, but sometimes. Some games, the role of the player is to be tactical opposition. Some games, the players help drive plot.

Idle question: is the GM playing the game as well? Shouldn’t we call him or her a player?

Second most wanted

Good news, without question. Doesn’t make people on US soil a whole lot safer, but it may make a difference for soldiers in Iraq, and it’s excellent news for the Iraqi people.

I could speculate all day on the possible effects of this. “Aha, now the attacks on American troops will slow down.” “Aha, now the Iraqis won’t feel the need for US protection and will demonstrate against the occupation.” “Aha, there will be a major boom in Saddam bobblehead dolls.” I don’t have any idea what will happen, though, so I’m not going to try and say something authoritative and convincing. I’ll just be happy the guy’s caught.

Josh Marshall can say something authoritative if he likes, though, cause he called this one. And — crap, here comes the cynicism. It’s great timing, capturing Saddam on the same day the Telegraph runs dubious stories about the Saddam/9-11 connection.

Well, chances are it’s just coincidence, anyhow. Still good news for the Iraqi people, either way.

Vague sketch

Credit to Joe Landsdale, Simon Green, and Green Ronin.

God of the Razor: domains are murder, knives, reflections.

God of Satin: domains are lust, seduction, hotels.

God of Twenties: domains are money, fraud, first impressions.

God of Tears: domains are regret, alcohol, and arguments.

They ride, like loas, except full-time until the horse dies. Sometimes it’s mutually agreeable, and sometimes not.

Digital killed the

Everett Ehrlich starts out talking about the basic value of the Internet, which is that it makes it really cheap to gather and transmit information. I’d never heard of Ronald Coase, but the basic outlines of the theory as Ehrlich explains it make complete sense. The Internet allows very focused tribes to form very quickly, because one no longer has to look very hard to find other people who consider bowling shoes to be the pinnacle of modern art.

But that’s just the opener to the article. He goes on to suggest that Dean “is a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party.” Whoa, say I. That makes a surprising amount of sense.

Perot demonstrated the power of the activist center. Dean may have figured out how to fuse that power with the machinery of an existing party. Nice trick if you can manage it. It certainly explains some of the hostility from the Democratic establishment.

William Weld was trying to pull off a similar trick a few years ago, except that he was planning on using the Northeast as his organizational base rather than the Internet. If he’d beaten Kerry in the Senate race, he’d be pulling centrist Democrats over into the Republican tent right now. Jesse Helms managed to torpedo that, though.

I don’t agree with Ehrlich’s long term predictions. The Conservative Party of New York has more or less folded, after all, so I wouldn’t count on them as a model. The pressures which push coalitions together in our Presidential politics go beyond the difficulties of access to information. His basic thesis, however, seems pretty sound.

More dead cops

Hey, look: more right-wing cop-killers. But remember, it’s the left which is the problem. Arthur Bixby is just another exception.

Edit: I’m going to expand on this, because I jotted it off a bit too quickly. If you look at Bixby’s history, you’ve got a pretty iconoclastic guy who doesn’t respect the legitimacy of the United States government. The problem is the violence. The other problem is the strange alternative government people like Bixby make up. Being an anarchist is one thing; inventing new rules and expecting people to live under them is another.

I don’t think you can rationally call yourself an advocate for minimal government if you’re relying on filing hundreds of nuisance suits in order to get your way. Maybe you’re a member of a cargo cult, though.

Biting the hand

We’re restricting Iraqi rebuilding contracts to coalition countries. That’s pretty short-sighted. Bush’s take on it:

“Coalition, friendly coalition folks risked their lives and therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that, and that’s what the U.S. taxpayers expect.”

Actually, I expect Bush to choose the course which results in high-quality reconstruction at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. I suspect that opening the bidding to more firms will lower the costs. I would prefer, thusly, not to exclude non-coalition firms.

I also find it deeply ironic that the latest Halliburton story is breaking today. Seriously. Open the bidding up to everyone. The guys we’ve chosen so far are gouging us.

Now, if I was thinking globally — and I’m told we invaded Iraq for the Iraqis — I’d also be a little bit worried about the best interests of the people who live there. It seems not entirely impossible that, among the companies best suited for this kind of reconstruction work, there might be some French or German or Canadian companies. It seems not impossible that, by imposing this restriction, we might be causing some degree of difficulty for the Iraqi people. It’s almost enough to make one think that the motives behind this war might have had something to do with US interests all along.

I’ll finish up with the always-evasive Scott McClellan’s Wednesday press conference.

Q: In the case of Canada, Canada contributed troops to Afghanistan, lost troops in Afghanistan in an accident by U.S. troops, which politically made it very difficult for them to contribute to Iraq. And they’re being punished for not being able to provide —

MR. McCLELLAN: In the war on terrorism, there are a lot of countries participating in those efforts, and we appreciate that. There is a very large coalition of countries across the world that are fighting the war on terrorism and making sacrifices. There were — there was a decision made by coalition forces on Iraq and there are a number of countries that have been helping from the beginning. There are a number of countries that have been sacrificing on the ground in defense of freedom and in an effort to build a better and safer world. And we’re talking just about the U.S. taxpayer funding here, which is a significant amount of money from the U.S. taxpayers.

Scott! It’s OK with me! Open up the bidding so Halliburton can stop charging way the hell too much for gas…

Crap. The White House isn’t listening.

Crocodile spam

Well, mt-blacklist lasted a good month or so. I’m now getting hit by a clever guy who figured out that by varying the capitalization of his URLs, he can get past the simple filters. Course, I can complicate the regexp some, but it’s still fragile. Second order solution is the distributed spam database, which works pretty well as these things go.

Twenty twenty twenty four hours to go

[Also written while flying home Sunday night.]

Butt-Numb-A-Thon 5 in no particular order except, well, chronological:

Haunted Gold, a very early John Wayne movie about a haunted gold mine. John Wayne hadn’t learned how to throw punches yet. There was much booing of the insanely racist dialogue.

Return of Captain Marvel, an old adventure serial. Cheesy as hell. I was not too unhappy when it was cut short for the arrival of…

Return of the King. Booyah. I talked about this already.

The General. The live band was really good. If you’ve never seen Buster Keaton, you should, cause he rules. Mel Gibson mentioned, during the Q&A session, that he could connect with Keaton in a way he never could with Chaplin, and I think that’s just about right.

Oldboy, a deeply transgressive South Korean revenge flick. It is unclear if it was good once you strip away the transgressive bits. I dunno, I liked it, but I’m pretty sure I liked it for shock value. There’s this trend of sorta torture cinema in Asia, and sometimes it’s good, and sometimes the whole point seems to be watching people suffer.

Nid De Guêpes, a French action flick. Basically a remake of Assault on Precinct 13. Really freaking cool. Good urban combat tactics, tense feel, stereotypes for characters but it’s not the sort of movie where you care. I liked this one a lot; I’m beginning to think I need to get me a region-free DVD player and start some serious exploration of modern French cinema.

Ginger Snaps: Unleashed. I haven’t seen Ginger Snaps, but the guy next to us said this was totally different in feel than the first one. I’ve gotten the impression that the original was more feminist, which I do not mean in a pejorative manner. This was still fun. Goth girl werewolf gets two thumbs up from me.

Switchblade Romance, a French horror flick. Very very tense until the plot twist; then still tense but you’re wondering about the plot holes. The actual French title is Haute Tension, which translates to “high tension,” so god knows where “Switchblade Romance” came from. That kinda bugged me all movie long, but I was getting pretty damned punchy, so you know.

Teenage Mother, a sixties exploitation flick. Don’t be seeking this one out, unless you’re a huge Fred Willard fan. We had a little “whot’s hoppening?” call going on in our row whenever ol’ Fred showed up. Also the Swedish sex ed teacher was a babe. Towards the end of the movie, in deeply explotative style, they cut in an entire five minute educational film reel depicting a real childbirth (with forceps), on the thinnest of pretexts. The bit where the doctor hauls out a pair of scissors to give the kid a little more room to come out was the worst. You may, if you are a woman, mock me savagely for my queasy stomach.

Undead, which is an Australian zombie flick filmed on about no budget at all. It should have ended earlier. I think there were about twenty minutes of endings which made varying amounts of sense and mostly wound up as unimportant anyway. Still, I liked the Australian crazy country boy backflipping pistol firing bad motherfucker.

And, finally, The Passion of the Christ. Again, already talked about this.

Oh — I should also mention one preview, for Sky-Captain and the World of Tomorrow. That movie is going to kick ten kinds of ass. The trailer will be in front of Return of the King, so you’ll all see for yourselves. And while I’m mentioning trailers, I must applaud Harry’s decision to show the Stunt Rock trailer again. Also good: the Bodyguard trailer, the one with Sonny Chiba, not the Kevin Costner thing. The entire theater was chanting “Chiba!” during that one. Booyah!

Anyway. Compared to BNAT 2, the highs were higher — Snatch can’t compare to Return of the King — but the variety of BNAT 2 was distinctly better. There was really a whole lot of gore and violence and pain this year, particularly once we got past The General. Teenage Mother was a slight reprieve after four straight hard-hitting movies, and then it was back to the blood.

Originally, Harry had Return of the King coming last. I think that would have worked better. In a lot of ways, Passion tied together the violence of the preceeding movies; it gave the cinematic gore an odd sort of context. No cheering as the blood flowed. If that sort of redemptive experience had flowed into the uplifting Return of the King, the pacing of the whole thing would have worked better. Mind you, I still would have liked a couple more comedies.

On the other hand, this is nitpicking about the color of the icing on a tasty muffin. I had a blast of a time, and I sincerely hope I don’t have to wait three years for the next one. This was absolutely unquestionably all kinds of fun.

Did I mention Peter Jackson and Mel Gibson showed up? Holy shit.

The big surprises

[Written while flying home Sunday night.]

Ah, Butt-Numb-A-Thon, thy name is really hard to explain to friends when they ask you where you’re going for the weekend. It’s all worth it, though.

I think rather than do the strict chronological rendition, I’ll talk about the two insane surprises first.

Yes, we saw Return of the King. It was absolutely unquestionably magnificent. It was head and shoulders above Fellowship. It’s not perfect; in my eyes, Peter Jackson didn’t quite resolve the Eowyn/Arwen/Aragorn triangle cleanly. But that is quite literally my only caveat. Everything else was perfect, perfect, perfect. At the time I write this, I still haven’t slept. I’m sure there are better words for this movie. I just don’t have them, right now. I counted seven ovations during the movie, and as it wound to a conclusion, all you could hear in the theater were people crying. Perfect.

Then Harry brought out Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens.

Yeah, no shit. The minds behind the trilogy, right there up on stage in a little 250 person auditorium. This surprise was met with serious approbation. The three of them answered a few questions and then settled down with the rest of us to watch The General with a live band providing music. That was pretty awesome too. Afterwards, Peter Jackson gave Harry the smoke grenade that Robert Armstrong uses to take down King Kong, and the New Zealanders all flew off to Berlin for the next stop on the press junket.

For the record, Peter Jackson thinks Bombadil fans are dumb. He also regrets leaving out the barrow-wight scene. He thinks the extended versions and the theatrical versions are both valid, and he doesn’t prefer one or the other; he cuts the theatrical versions for movie theaters and the extended versions for DVD viewing, because he thinks the experience is different. He appears to be kind of tired of talking about leaving out the Saruman death scene. And some goob asked if Peter did the battle scenes while Phillipa and Fran did the emotional stuff. The women explained pretty gleefully that Peter’s really a chick and is the most emotional of them all.

OK. About sixteen hours after that, for the final movie of the evening, we got our other huge surprise. Everyone in the theater was convinced we were gonna finish up with Kill Bill Volume 2. Tarantino’s a friend of Harry’s, it’d been a night of revenge movies and gore, so what else could Harry show?

Answer: The Passion of the Christ, by Mel Gibson. I believe we’re the first secular audience to see the thing. It’s a work in progress; he has special effects to add, and the music was temporary, and so on. Still, it was the complete story.

I’n not really competent to judge the accuracy of the controversy swirling around this movie. I was falling asleep all through it, waking up and seeing Jim Caviel as Christ being scourged on the screen, wounds covering his body. Surreal experience. He certainly depicts the Jewish leaders as cruel and merciless. I don’t think, based on what filtered through my brain, that I’d call it anti-semitic. You can’t tell that story without the corrupt establishment and the suffering of Christ. Gibson didn’t, in my eyes, use that corruption as evidence that the Jewish religion is corrupt. It’s not a preachy movie, either. It’s very much a movie about his faith, and I admired it’s honesty and conviction more than I thought I would.

After Passion, Harry brought Mel Gibson out to do a Q&A. 250 person theater, right there up on stage, yeah. I’d been more or less awake for 24 hours, and I’d just seen a brutal unflinching picture of the suffering of Christ on the cross. And Mel Gibson was up there answering questions. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.

He seems like a really nice guy. He’s really religous, and he’s not afraid to show it, but he didn’t preach. He talked about how everyone’s been wounded sometime in their lives, and he’d certainly been wounded, and he healed his wounds through meditating on the wounds of Christ. Passion is his meditation. He didn’t want to preach, he just wanted to talk about things that matter to him, and his God happens to matter to him a lot. And he can afford to talk pretty loudly.

Someone asked if he felt like he was getting too old for this shit, and he grinned and said it sure felt like that sometimes. I gotta say, for a deeply religious guy who’s finishing his core statement of belief, he did a great job of connecting to a pretty cynical atheistic crowd. It took balls to show us an unfinished print of his movie, but he did it.

There’s a lot more to be said about this movie and Mel Gibson. There’re plenty of things about him that disturb me. However, I am damned well going to give him credit for bringing his unfinished movie to a skeptical secular audience and volunteering to answer our questions about it. He wasn’t there to push his views on us and I can’t help but think that talking is one of the most important things we can do to bridge the gap. If Gibson has anti-semitic beliefs, he’s not going to change his mind because of the ADL. He’s more likely to change his mind because of honest conversations. OK, my preaching is done; I may write more about this later.

A while into the Gibson Q&A, me and Jamie had to sneak out to get to the airport on time. The sneaking didn’t quite work, so now I can say that Mel Gibson has made a wisecrack on my behalf.

Hm. This is intensely long, so I’ll move my play by play of the night into a separate post.