29 June 2015

ramblings on digital life and death, in second life

Earlier this year, I received the news that a member of the steampunk community in Second Life had passed away; the typist (i.e., the person behind the avatar) had declined and passed away due to a form of cancer.

I did not go to the funeral.

First off, the typist in question had been from England - he was a proud Englishman both in Second Life and outside of it, and I could not afford to fly out. Besides, the real world funeral was for his family and friends there - so what could the friends and acquaintances he had made in Second Life do at all?

There was a memorial service in Second Life, also.

I did not go to that, either.

Not because I didn't mourn. I remember, in my days as a DJ in the steampunk neo-Victoriana community of Caledon in Second Life, doing a set for him before his diagnosis - to all everyone knew, he was quite well, if obstinate. And he was pleased that I had done a set themed around him, even though we had only talked in passing; after that, it led to asking how I was doing, how me-the-typist was doing, I talked with him even over Skype a couple of times. The avatar taught my avatar - and me behind the screen - how to craft tiny, tiny virtual jewelry using the basic building "blocks" called "prims" that made up user-created content in Second Life. It took patience, and attention to detail, but he was patient.

So I mourned. But I mourned in private, wanting to hold on to my memories of him as he had been, a crotchety but good-hearted yellow-haired avatar with a jewelry shop known for crashing entire regions. It is only recently - months after the fact - that there is a need for sharing in this as well; that we are not alone in our mourning.

But what is it to mourn someone whom we know from a game? People interact all the time in massive multiplayer settings: from World of Warcraft to EVE Online and more. And in MMO settings, especially those with a high emphasis on user created content, guilds and corporations and players occasionally hold fundraiser or charity events to help fellow players (whether personal events or organized through charities like AbleGamers), or even memorial services for fellow players who had passed away. 

 It's not just MMOs, either. We interact on Twitter, we interact on Tumblr, we interact on Twitch and YouTube and other social media channels, often with people we know only through digital means - digital recordings of themselves, or avatars, or a social media / game handle. When it is someone we do know more, we try and search for ways to come together; when all these factors combine, it seems that online memorials and ways to celebrate lives online would be easy to find.

But they aren't. Not yet.

We try, though. Dealing with loss is nothing new.

Dealing with loss - in an increasingly digital context, with people we may have only interacted with through a digital lens - is, however, something that we have to find ways to deal with, ways to approach, new rites and rituals of memory and moving on.

We'll try. We are human - we'll find a way to meet a human need.

Until then, celebrate and love those around you.

 Dedicated to the memory of Alistair, who was always a gentleman.

For more information, check out:

How MMO Communities Memorialize
After a Death, Celebrating a Life Online (Wall Street Journal)

14 May 2015

the little con that could: in remembrance of BAMcon

Conventions come and go, be it through luck or mismanagement, or any other factor that can drop attendance or cause any event to suddenly no longer be viable. Its just part of the game, one that anyone who chooses to run a con has to contend with. Success has a weird barometer these days, and sometimes “sure things” grow like crazy, or just fizzle out. This is the story of my time spent at BAMcon- the Berkshire Anime Manga convention- which felt like it was on the verge of explosion, but ended up a footnote. 

“The convention was the dream child of Jon Wynn, founder of the Berkshire Anime Club,” said Amelia Ritner, BAMcon’s guest relations social media promotions guru. “He and fellow club member Crystal Howcroft had begun planning the early ideas of the con, along with a couple of other anime lovers, just as I joined the club. 

“The goal was simple: to create an anime convention for Western Massachusetts.  Crystal had experience helping run other conventions before, Jon had the love of anime, business sense, and the money, and I had enough time on my hands (as a stay at home mom at the time) to do most of the legwork.  We started to plan in July of 2011 for a convention to be held in May of 2012.”

10 May 2015

(primordial) Mother's Day

Well, it’s Mother’s Day, and in keeping with my new promise to write down every moment of inspiration I get (so as better to discipline myself...thanks Mom!) I’ve decided to share with you something I’ve spoken about many, many times in the past. Today, as we celebrate our Mothers and the profound impact they’ve had on us, I want to talk about the Primordial Mother, an archetype that pops up in a lot of folklore, but which often gets ignored because, let’s be honest here, a lot of those primordial parents weren’t the best role models, but they did offer us something powerful by which we can live our lives. So give you moms a hug, or some flowers, and be glad that they’re the Mother goddess, and (hopefully) not the Primordial kind. 

And if you do, Satsuki has methods for dealing with them.
Mythology has no shortage of mother figures: the Greeks had Gaea, Rhea, Demeter, and Hera (and Hestia, she who knew compassion, mercy, and sacrifice in the name of one’s children); Isis ruled the Egyptian court for some time; half the Celtic goddesses were known for being fiery defenders of their progeny; Frigga and Freyja embodied dueling concepts of fertility, hearth, and protection; and we can’t forget every single Mary in the Bible. And by and large they all had something to do with the same core concepts: home, love, and fertility. They were the strength by which their respective pantheons and heroes drew their resolve and noble deeds.

08 May 2015

bandwagon jumping: thoughts on cards against humanity

Given the sheer number of shares I’ve seen relating to this, I’ve decided to break my writing drought chipping in my two cents about “Cards Against Humanity.” And at the same time boost for a game I feel is far superior, that doesn’t get enough love as far as I’m concerned. You may direct criticisms of my rantings to me in person through the creative application of pies and/or homemade soup. 

my favorite is Italian Wedding, btw

I first discovered Cards Against Humanity at ConnectiCon 2012, when I was drawn into a game with some friends and fellow geeks. We took over the Starbucks inside the convention hotle for about two hours, during which time I laughed at a lot of the cards, and began making up a fantasy list of my own, in the event I ever managed to score a set. Three years later, have a massive custom set of cards chock full of weird in-jokes (Baron von Schaftenrectum, The Floating Head of Henry Rollins), references to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (Getting Blasted In The Ass, Pretending to Have Cancer So A Girl Will Have Sex With You), political topics (Things Conservatives Want to Eliminate From the National Budget), and other, more strange collections of words, all run off at my local Staples and shared with anyone who requested a copy. 

09 April 2015

throwback thursday - elegia eternum

Kit here, doing a retro gaming post for once.

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, and retro gaming, I want to talk about a game that has been with me since (roughly) 2002-2003 when I first discovered it.

It was a module for Neverwinter Nights, created by Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne, called Elegia Eternum. This is its official description:

It started out as such a simple quest... there you were, a bold adventurer, seeking a magic staff. There was an inn on the edge of nowhere, with a group of friendly locals willing to help... and then matters got more and more complicated, more horrific. A maze of sorrow and despair unfolded before your very eyes, enveloping all... a maze that sang a song of lamentation for those who have passed away. An elegy. 
(You can see more information, and get the module if you have Neverwinter Nights, here.)

Elegia Eternum used the tileset from Neverwinter Nights to turn a high fantasy setting into a setting of psychological horror; investigating the causes of the sorrow and despair around you, and making decisions that carried emotional weight. The music also stands out: I remember an incident playing it once where I had to go away from my keyboard, and the person I was playing it with (there is local co-op play available) had to listen to soft wails for minutes on end, alone there in the dark, embers flying amidst broken wooden boards and despair reaching out to pull them under.

While Elegia is a short module - I've gone through it in an hour and a half - it does have a sequel called Excrucio Eternum, which delves heavily into more of the psychological side of horror and examines fears like isolation, speech (and not being able to be coherent), sexual violations and objectification, and the fear of death. Excrucio also examines the possibilities of change;  the player character can overcome their own past and their own horrors, and become a healer instead of a destroyer. I used to play these games to help me face and battle my own fears and insecurities, and to help people understand a bit about trauma: this was before interactive games like Depression Quest or dys4ia appeared, and so it was the best tool I had at the time. Fantasy is good like that: in fantastical tales, we realize that even though there might be dragons, we can defend and do battle against them, or come to understand their pain.

These modules - games in their own right - heavily influenced our game of Die Nachtblume, and will particularly influence Chapter 2. It also influenced Crossroads, which is a Twine game you can play at my own personal site (donations encouraged).

If you have time, go and get Neverwinter Nights if only to play these modules for it.

And face your own fears.