The First Few Days with The Last Federation

Another new Arcen game! Time for me to celebrate its singular vision and unmatched breadth, and then lament how much I suck at it. You know the drill.

The Last Federation combines the all-scales-at-once space strategy of AI War with the core concept of Skyward Collapse: managing the balance of power among competing civilizations. But the game gets much deeper into politics (both grand and petty) than AI War does—and whereas Skyward Collapse tasked the player with keeping two asymmetrical human societies from wiping each other out, The Last Federation asks you to manage a eight planets, each populated with a different alien race, each with its own strengths and weaknesses and its own history and its own political system, for Sid Meier’s sake.

To complicate matters further, your goals are a bit more nuanced (and/or nefarious) than simply keeping everybody alive long enough to erect something culturally significant. No, this time around, your goal is to establish a new and preferably everlasting Federation throughout the solar system. This could mean uniting every race under a common banner through cunning diplomacy, or it could mean bolstering the military might of one until it wipes out all of the others, or anything in between.

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But you’ve got to manage politics, and you’ve got to blow shit up in space. I’ve had no success trying to create my space empire just by one means or the other, and indeed, there are plenty of important actions that explicitly involve doing both: once you decide to bring spacefaring technology to some planet that doesn’t currently have it, for example, you’ve then got to physically deliver the goods to your would-be benefices. Between you and them, a whole lot of shit in space that must be blown up.

There’s a Spectator Mode where you can just watch the eight worlds interact, declaring war, reaching peace, holding elections—news crawling across the bottom of the screen in a sort of grand strategy Twitter feed—seeing populations rise and fall, economies flourish and falter, ships swarm from homeworld to frotnlines, swirling around like an incredibly violent and mathy lava lamp.

Observe this spectacle long enough, and you’ll see the planets forming alliances without any help from you—and sure enough, dive back into a hands-on campaign and you’ll find that you’ve got rebel alliances and rival empires to contend with. And from your perspective, rival empires are just rebel alliances grown to unwieldy scale. Anything that isn’t your intended Federation is a roadblock to be removed and dismantled.

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Worth nothing: The Last Federation continues Arcen’s recent attempts to be less impenetrable without sacrificing depth. The default campaign mode introduces new features gradually, slowly dialing up the variety and complexity of tasks—and there are two separate difficulty settings, one for space combat and the other for political intrigue. I tend toward simpler pew-pewing and more complicated diplomatic quagmires, personally. As a rule, I’m all for games letting me say make this harder in this specific way (like the shrine system in Bastion) rather than just make this harder, whatever you think that means. So that helps.

The Last Federation has a propulsive energy (not to mention a pulpy visual sense) that sets it apart from the rest of Arcen’s catalog. It’s a game about the desire to make order out of chaos, and about the grim totalitarian side of that desire, and it explores that theme with rigor, cleverness, and copious gallows humor. I instinctively get the game in a way that I never quite got AI War.

Though I do still suck at it. Let’s be clear on that point.

Jazzpunk as an Object of Unfathomable Density and Consummate Silliness

Jazzpunk is a brief, bizarre spy pastiche (kind of), structured around a few loose, goofy puzzles and packed to an unfathomable density with glorious little jokes. The game’s been published under the rapidly expanding purview of Adult Swim Games, and Jazzpunk does indeed fit in well with the Adult Swim legacy—rapid-fire absurdism, gloriously shameless punning, and assorted nigh-inexplicable hallucinogenic weirdness.

It’s been compared to Airplane!-era Leslie Nielsen movies as well. I buy that. Or imagine if Davey Wreden and thecatamites collaborated on an adventure game adaptation of Get Smart. Or if Gravity Bone took place in the same universe (but had none of the same characters) as Cowboy Bebop. That’s what Jazzpunk is like.

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The game is divided into four missions, each with a single central goal and bouquet of wonderfully pointless detours (which generally contain even stranger and even more pointless achievements, Matryoshka dolls of bizarre in-game actions, silliness for its own sake nested in other silliness, equally for its own sake). Affectionate parodies of other games and other styles of games abound, but always in service of the game’s primary goal, namely making it more or less impossible to know what’s going to happen next.

Few if any of the jokes in Jazzpunk are about ludonarrative dissonance or the strangeness of doing game stuff in the midst of a story. Rather, they’re about taking the strangeness of games and running with it. The game revels in the odd and the artificial and the awkward. The dialogue manages to be both clipped and rambling. The often limbless, peg-like characters rubbing up against things and each other in order to interact—tangled up in ambiguous verbs, frobbing forever.

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It’s the funniest game I’ve played since The Stanley Parable (though it’s funny in an entirely different way), and it’s probably yet another one of those games where you’ll get more out of it if you go in cold. (See also: Antichamber, Papers, Please, and every other game ever).

I feel like I’m beating that drum a lot lately, the give-yourself-a-chance-to-have-a-fresh-reaction drum. But that’s only because we’re at this critical, confounding, spectacular moment for games—this moment when there’s all sorts of stuff out there that’s ready and able to really and truly surprise you.

Jazzpunk will surprise you in all manner of silly-as-fuck ways. Go let it.

Unlocking TowerFall Ascension

TowerFall Ascension, that former OUYA exclusive and recent Steam arrival, gets so much of the big stuff right: intuitive controls and mechanics, fathoms-deep gameplay achieved without undue complexity, all that. But the thing I can’t stop thinking about is how right the game gets something small: unlockables.

I used to have a ritual for when I bought a new multiplayer game, and especially a new fighting game: I’d start by unlocking everything. The unlocks that required lonely singleplayer grinding, I’d grind through. The unlocks that required multiplayer stat-pumping, I’d cheat by messing with the match settings as best I could and playing through sham fights over and over, two or three or four controllers sitting on a table in front of me.

It just felt right. I vividly remember doing this with Soul Calibur II, and with Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl. It was a weird, compulsive, antisocial way to begin playing games that were meant to be played socially, and that I myself would in fact play socially—once I’d ritually prepared to do so, that is.

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Games have largely moved away from the opulent unlockathons of old—sometimes because those unlockables are unethically repurposed as paid DLC, but just as often because designers have come to see unlockables less as gameplay-lengthening value-adds and more as tedious homework.

When it comes to unlockables, TowerFall balances social and antisocial play better than just about any game I can think of. Some of its secrets require powering through the singleplayer-only Trials Mode, deciphering game-wide puzzles, and progressing in the new co-op-optional Quest mode. Other secrets are designed to be stumbled upon naturally, through multiplayer.

Happening on a new character or stage through sheer, undirected messing around feels fantastic, as does solitary, intentional puzzle-grinding. TowerFall rewards me for playing it the way it clearly wants to be played, and for playing it the dumb ritual way that I like to initially play games of multiplayer combat.

It reminds me that game design has grown up a bit. Sometimes more than I have.

Preparing for the Yawhg Alone, Together

The Yawhg is a game in which one to four players prepare for the titular, ill-defined, quasi-apocalyptic thing that will hit their town in six weeks. Each week is a single turn for each player, and so the pace is brisk and every choice matters. Dread hangs thick over the whole game, and there are in fact plenty of things that can go wrong before the Yawhg arrives. I’ve had characters who’ve been injured or incapacitated, broken physically or mentally, abducted by monsters or turned into monsters themselves.

But the most persistent and pervasive fear is that whatever quality you’ve been fostering—wealth, charm, finesse, physical aptitude, magical aptitude—will be useless or insufficient when the promised catastrophe arrives. That’s a fear that cuts deep, for me. I know that I find myself wondering whether the ways in which I spend my time really are valuable. I know that I find myself half-wishing, stupidly, that some urgent and decisive crisis would come along and truly test my mettle, once and for all.

We like survival tales and post-apocalypses because they’re so definitive. There’s no room for artifice or superficiality. You find out what matters, and what doesn’t. What’s sustainable, and what isn’t. There’s no room for ambiguity, and therefore, we like to imagine, no room for neurosis or anxiety. Dire situations makes the between cause and effect, between choice and consequence, entrancingly minuscule.

We’ll all know what we’re worth to each other soon enough. That’s the narrative, thematic, and emotional space that The Yawhg occupies.

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One of the game’s smartest design decisions is that, even in multiplayer games, the player-characters don’t directly interact with one another. They’re barred from, say, both spending the week in the town hospital treating the sick. They can take turns chopping wood or fighting crime or learning alchemy, and they can even save one another’s lives by doing so, but they can never do it together.

The Yawhg would be a pretty fundamentally different game if the players were an in-group of survivalists— or for that matter, if the game took place in a tiny village, or if it contained a bunch of NPCs with dialogue trees. The Yawhg doesn’t just threaten a handful of narratively relevant people. It threatens the whole town.

Isolating the player-characters’ doomsday preparations make their relationships, and their responsibilities to one another, far more abstract, in that Benedict Anderson kind of way. You get the sense that your actions could save or doom a lot of people that you care about, without having to actually meet very many of them and without anything so trite as a save-the-world narrative being in play.

When we survive the Yawhg’s onslaught, we all do it together. And when we fail, we all fail each other. But what we’re all worth to each other is, ultimately, a measure of who we’ve each individually decided to be, and how we’ve each elected to spend our limited time. That’s heady stuff for a game (or anything else) to express so succinctly, through sheer consistency of tone and design. Which makes The Yawhg a fairly remarkable creation.

Being Lied to in Dark Souls

This post continues my discussion from yesterday, and I should mention that it concerns the ending of Dark Souls—though whether it’s even possible to spoil said ending is frankly up for debate.

As in innumerable videogames before it, Dark Souls casts the player as the Chosen One and blathers about fate—but the game also subverts these expectations. As the game begins, the player is told that the Undead have been confined to a far-flung asylum “to await the end of the world,” and that “this is your fate,” only moments before a stranger gives you the key to your cell and frees you. Once you escape the Undead Assylum, as though making it up as she goes along, the narrator says that it was foretold (by… someone) that a Chosen Undead would one day leave the Asylum for… some reason.

You never hear from the narrator again after that.

And when someone finally sits you down to explain your chosen-ness, the information is spotty and suspect at best—and then another character, visually identical and voiced by the same actor—gives you conflicting information about just what it is that you have been chosen to do. At the end of Dark Souls, you do indeed choose the fate of the world, but you do so without full knowledge of what decision you’re making, or what its implications will be.

It could be that you’re choosing between preserving the old order of ruling gods and monsters (and monster-gods) on the one hand, or on the other, giving human beings a chance to rule an new and darker world for themselves. Or you could be choosing between preserving an imperfect but sustainable world, and claiming sovereignty over a dying one. (Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven, and all that). Or you could simply be casting your lot with one or the other of the horrible “primordial serpents” who outlined your supposed fate for you in the first place. Who the hell knows?

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The uncertainty inherent in the narrative is compounded by the fact that the player-character’s primary (almost sole) interface with the world is violence. The player can talk to non-player characters, and buy things from them, and so on, but all of these can also be killed, some with tempting loot adorning their corpses.

The player can join in-world religions called covenants, but all of these involve fighting the world or fighting other players in one way or another—and one covenant’s deity must be killed in the course of completing the game, and the other deities and prophets and devotees are, again, temptingly mortal. The player confronts the current ruler of the world, but cannot speak to him. A battle simply begins while mournful music plays, because there is no other conceivable way to resolve the conflict at hand.

All of this is commonplace in videogames: the excessively violent relationship to the world, the determinism to which the player gradually becomes aware of being subjected, all of it. The whole beast of videogame production has recently become self-aware, and reflecting on these sorts of structural tropes (and their narrative implications of sociopathy, limited vision, or an outright lack of free will) has become and medium-wide pastime.

Some games use this as a twist, a moment of revelatory horror (Bioshock, Eversion, Braid), while others try to create an ebb and flow between rote, unconsidered virtual violence and increasingly unsubtle signals that Something Is Wrong Here (Spec Ops: The Line). The Extra Credits crew has argued that this latter group is actually creating a new genre of videogame, more akin to cinematic drama than any before it.

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Dark Souls, I would argue, is doing something different than that. The game has very little interest in shaming or berating the player for acting violently. Murdered NPCs will cry out or curse you, but that’s tonally consistent with the rest of the game, and a far cry from Bioshock, in Clint Hocking’s famous formulation, “openly mocking the player for buying into the game’s fiction.”

Half of one’s playtime will be taken up by the most wonderfully indulgent considerations of equipment and character growth (with no apparent critique of that pleasure, despite its compulsive nature and wide-openness to critique), and the other half will be a process of feeling out and mastering the world through a series of weightless deaths, rendered weighty by their pedagogical potential.

And yes, there is a Shadow of the Colossus sort of pathos to bleaching the world of its monster-gods, but the game offers no pearl-clutching implication that you should be doing anything other than slaying the monsters. You’re just feeling around in the dark, playing with or being played by forces beyond your comprehension—which is presumably how it would feel to be a Chosen One.

Dark Souls thinks hard about one of the laziest tropes in videogames, and injects it with some resonant and much-needed uncertainty. That’s a huge part of what makes it feel so much richer and ring so much truer than other, otherwise identical Chosen One narratives.

The Unbearable Lightness of Jolly Cooperation

Dark Souls II is out this week. No, I haven’t played it yet. Before I do that, I want to take a moment to revisit what made the first Dark Souls—or the previous game in the King’s Field of Dark Demon’s Souls series, or whatever—so special.

You know what really got me thinking about this again, aside from the impending release of the sequel? Reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. No, seriously. Stick with me on this one.

Kundera tends to approach his stories of love, sex, engagement, disengagement, and revolution with a sort of detached, analytical, almost extraterrestrial reflectiveness. So in that mode, he opens The Unbearable Lightness of Being not with a introduction to a setting, nor to any of the novel’s characters, but rather with an explanation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “eternal return.”

Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return sates that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, or beauty mean nothing.

Life itself is inevitably a sort of first draft. We never get to revise it, and because every situation in life is unique, neither can we go back and retry past decisions in order to see whether we did the right thing. So Nietzsche wants us to imagine that everything we do will, as a direct result of our doing it, be done again an infinite number of times. This gives our actions infinitely more weight, even if that weight is essentially imaginary.

Without wading too deeply into the garbled mythology of Dark Souls: the Age of Fire, wherein human life became viable, is coming to an end. Most of the remaining humans are undead, meaning that they can die again and again and again and still resurrect, lingering between life and death in endlessly repeating and hopelessly overlapping timelines.

Which is of course a very familiar state of affairs in videogames: the idea that events repeat, and that death is frequent but not absolute. To steal Kundera’s terminology, there is a lightness to the death of a videogame character, but the very fact that their short lifespans are repeatable and perfectible—that they are performing some broken version of the eternal return—gives them weight.

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Kundera’s character Sabina memorably says of her paintings, “On the surface, an intelligible lie. Beneath, the unintelligible truth.” Robert Boyd (among others) has made much of Dark Souls’ use of vertical space. Every surface-level location in the game has a world below it (except for Anor Londo, which has an imaginary world within in, which might amount to the same thing).

And beneath these subterranean locales are deeper ones still. You descend into Blighttown and think that you’ve laboriously reached the bottom of the world, and then you descend even further into Quelaag’s Domain, and deeper still into Lost Izalith, the Demon Ruins, and the Bed of Chaos. This process is repeated in the Catacombs, which lead to the Tomb of the Giants, and in an alternate path onward from Blighttown, with the Great Hollow leading to Ash Lake.

These three journeys down share two important features. The first is topographical: the more confined and labyrinthine spaces come first, and then, once you have found your way through the curving passageways of the earth, then you open up into huge, continuous, high-ceilinged spaces, taking Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of compression and release to a ghoulish extent.

Secondly, past a certain point, going deeper means making it less and less possible to find someone to talk to. Quelaag’s sister is (usually) unintelligible, and Gravelord Nito, the Everlasting Dragon, the Four Kings, the Bed of Chaos, and Lord Gywn are entirely mute. Even if you could get to the heart of the world and manipulate its workings, the game’s topography seems to argue, you would never have any hope of understanding what you were doing.

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There is the encounter with Darkstalker Kaathe in the Abyss, true, but that’s the exception that proves the rule. He appears mysteriously, the conversation takes place not so much at the bottom of the world as nowhere, and never is it clearer that you are being lied to, or else that you have been lied to previously. The conversation takes place in the dark in more ways than one. (Also, Siegmeyer appears once in the Demon Ruins, and again with his daughter at Ash Lake, but these appearances are intentionally uncanny, disruptive, and potentially tragic: There shouldn’t be other people down here!).

The significance of being lied to and misled in Dark Souls is damn near impossible to overestimate, so I’ll save that for a separate post tomorrow.

Hopefully this is helping. I’m trying to get my head straight about the meaningful intangibles in Dark Souls before beginning the inevitable discussion of whether its successor is a worthy one.

It’s a Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad World, with Phil Tibitoski

ETAO Podcast, Episode 10.


Phil Tibitoski stops by to talk about Octodad: Dadliest Catch, the upcoming update and PS4 release thereof, and what’s next for the Young Horses team.

We also discuss the dissonance and melancholy of review scores, the perils of balancing games without letting outsiders play them, and Twitch Plays Pokémon (which may serve as the inspiration for Young Horses’ next project, though not in a Twitch Plays Octotdad kind of way; that would be sheer unbridled chaos, and probably not the right kind of sheer unbridled chaos).

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———

• Other classics of the unwieldy-controls-as-comedy genre include QWOP, its sorta-sequel CLOP, Surgeon Simulator 2013, and Probably Archery.

Receiver takes the same basic idea and plays if for intensity rather than yuks.

• If you haven’t seen All of Me, consider doing so. It’s really good.

• Here’s Polygon talking about impostor syndromes in Octodad.

• And here’s Kill Screen pretending that they’re using reviews scores again for some purpose other than getting more clicks (which miffs me mainly because they’ve been so thoughtful and transparent about the topic in the past, and also because review scores really are kind of fucked up and broken).

———

“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“I’m in the Mood for Love” by Vera Lynn with The Casini Club Orchestra.
“Octodad (Nobody Suspects a Thing)” by Ian McKinney.

We’re on iTunes. We’re also on Stitcher. And let’s not forget Podbay.
You can also subscribe using good old-fashioned RSS.

Feeling Properly Powerless in The Castle Doctrine

Jason Rohrer makes games about big ideas and universal themes. But also, Jason Rohrer makes games entirely about the hyper-specifics of being Jason Rohrer.

The characters in his games are him and his family, as they are and/or as he imagines them. He tackles a theme as massive as a whole human lifespan, from birth to death by depicting a straight white man who kind of looks like him, and who (optionally) gets married to a woman who kind of looks like his actual wife, and who lives to a ripe old age—by no means a reflection of everybody’s life, but a pithy summation of what he, Jason Rohrer, expects from his own.

Or, he depicts the difficulties of balancing creative ambition with family life with a scenario that includes a pixel art rendering of his actual daughter, Mez.

He doesn’t claim to speak for everyone. Instead, he tries to reach something authentic—and counter-intuitively, accessible—by speaking only for himself.

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The Castle Doctrine is still fundamentally a game about being Jason Rohrer, or about what it’s like inside Jason Rohrer’s head—but it goes to a darker part of Rohrer's psyche than we've seen before. It’s a game about paranoia, insecurity, helplessness, and fantasies of violence. But of course, it’s more specific than that: it’s about Jason Rohrer’s paranoias, insecurities, and fantasies of violence.

The rules are simple. Every player starts with a house, a family, and $2,000. The player is always a man, and the family always consists of a wife, a son, and a daughter. The house is always the same size, and it always contains a vault, which always contains half the money. The wife always holds the other half, assuming that she’s alive. Money can only be spent on (1) tools for robing other people’s houses, and/or (2) materials with which to build a security system to keep one’s own house from being robbed.

Now, from these basic facts alone, it’s easy to assume that The Castle Doctrine belongs to the space of heteronormative power fantasies: a lunkheaded admixture of the legal principle after which the game is named and sheer dadification. Cameron Kunzelman wrote this thing about why he refuses to play it, and it’s easy to see why he’s grossed out by the premise, and by Rohrer’s exceedingly candid interviews. In principle I’m not that interested in anyone’s opinion of a game they haven’t played, a book they haven’t read, or a film that haven’t seen—but in this case, I do get it.

And yes, there are some very weird aspects to everyone in this world being Jason Rohrer. Chiefly, everyone is therefore white, and no honest depiction of 90s-style crime paranoia can reasonably exclude race as a factor. Fear of home invasions is all wrapped in in fear of the other, fear of invading barbarians, fear of neighbors you don’t understand. Making everyone the same (complete with randomized, predominately Anglo-sounding names) simplifies the dynamic immeasurably.

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That being said, though, the game’s politics are a hell of a lot more complicated than Kunzelman gives them credit for. First and foremost, what appears at first to be a game about power quickly reveals itself to be a game about powerlessness. You’re never home when someone robs your house, nor are they ever home when you rob theirs. This means that there’s no direct confrontation between men, ever. There’s only buying and selling and booby-trapping and sneaking around. Only a closed economy running on criminality, arms races, and just-plain-meanness.

The fact that the player is never home during a robbery also means that, if anyone is going to be Standing Their Ground against a burglar, it’s going to be the player’s NPC wife, not the player. She’s the one who can wield a shotgun and take up arms against invading criminals.

And while you can watch these sorts of confrontations play out on security tapes, you can only do so after the fact. Before you see what happened, you’ll see the aftermath. You’ll be richer because you’ve bagged a bounty, or some portion of your family will be dead. Either way, you’ll have had little directly to do with it. It’s in that sense that the game is a reflection on the futility of father-as-protector fantasies, rather than an attempt to indulge those fantasies.

A quick story: I had set up a security system that I was pretty happy with. My family had a panic room, with a hallway leading directly from that well-fortified room to the exit. The door to the hallway would swing open only when the intruder stepped on a pressure-sensitive plate deep inside the maze that was my house. This would allow my wife and kids to escape safely and without confrontation. I did buy my wife a shotgun, though, just in case.

I was testing out this new setup, and after stepping on the pressure plate, I doubled back toward the door to see if the escape tunnel was working properly.

It was. My wife came running out of it and shot me.

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What I thought my wife would do—protecting our home by confronting and possibly killing a burglar— is a much fantasized-about thing that does not in fact happen very often in the real world. What she did instead—shooting a family member by mistake—is a thing that happens much more often. It was an entirely avoidable tragedy, and I failed to avoid it. For all its mad, abstract, hallucinatory aspects, The Castle Doctrine is full of sobering moments like that.

The Castle Doctrine is indeed a clearing house for one particular (straight, white) guy’s anxieties, but it doesn’t flinch from the troubling implications of those anxieties. It doesn’t propose its titular doctrine as a solution to anything; making one’s house into a fortress is a doomed errand at best, an elaborate form of suicide at worst. It doesn’t peg anyone as an easy hero or an easy villain, unless you sort of think of everyone as both (which you kind of have to, since everyone is kind of playing as Jason Rohrer and all).

For me, it’s Jason Rohrer’s most resonant game yet. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s also his most uncomfortably personal.

The Game My Dog Designed Needs a New Name

Late last year, I found myself wondering whether my dog Pixel had designed a game. I came to the conclusion that Pixel and her co-designer had in fact agreed on some consistent rules of play, which were as follows.

      1. There is always one stick in play.
      2. Whichever dog has the stick is It.
      3. The dog that is not It chases the dog who is.
      4. If the pursuing dog gets the stick, that dog takes the stick and becomes It.

Pixel, being a dog and all, couldn’t really name the game herself, so I took the liberty of dubbing it Stick Tag.

That both dogs understood and abided by the rules (and that those rules made Stick Tag subtly but significantly different from more standard dog game fare, like chase or tug-of-war) seemed pretty certain. What I wasn’t sure about was whether Pixel would try to teach the game to other dogs, and whether they would understand (and/or, you know, care).

Looks like the answers are yes and no, respectively.

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Pixel has been trying to teach her game to other dogs, and so far there have been no takers. In her various attempts to spread the good word about Stick Tag, she’s shown me that I shouldn’t be calling it Stick Tag, because the stick could just as well be a ball, or some other toy. The object isn’t valuable for what it is, but for what it represents. She runs with the object, the token, in her mouth, and then when the dog pursuing her touches it, she drops it right away and gestures expectantly in some new direction: OK, your turn. Now you get to chase me.

So far, no dog other than her co-designer has understood that key rule.

Now, she is of course at a pretty serious disadvantage, having to communicate the rules wordlessly. But since the game was co-designed—or negotiated, or spontaneously imagined, or something —without the use of words, I think it’s fair to hold out hope.

So, to summarize, the rules are:

      1. There is always one stick token in play.
      2. Whichever dog has the stick token is It.
      3. The dog that is not It chases the dog who is.
      4. If the pursuing dog gets the stick token, that dog (hopefully, presumably, sometimes) takes the stick token and becomes It.

Given that revision, I wonder what to call this thing. Pixel Tag?

I’m open to suggestions. Stay tuned, fellow Somethingorother Tag fans.

Making Sense of the Macklemore Backlash, Part 2

ETAO Podcast, Episode 09.


Unproductively hating Macklemore: It’s not just for Kendrick Lamar fans anymore! Last week, we talked about the backlash against Macklemore in the hip-hop community—which meant we also talked about cultural appropriation, race, and the surprisingly slippery issue of who’s more mainstream than whom.

This week, we talk about the backlash against Macklemore in the queer community (and why we consider the topic such shaky ground for two marriedstraightcisfellows such as ourselves).

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Is “Same Love” a well-meaning misfire at best, and a cynical fame-grab at worst?

Is it unseemly for a straight white cisgender man to be the public face or marriage equality in hip-hop when there are queer rappers doing amazing work outside of the Top 40 limelight?

And speaking of queer rappers, did Macklemore and/or Ryan Lewis brazenly steal a beat from a (really damn good) artist by the name of Le1f (pictured above in the midst of being really damn good)?

(The answers are, respectively: no, yes-but-that’s-not-really-Macklemore’s-fault, and pretty definitely not).

———

• There’s the L again, and other assorted room noise. Double-d’oh.

• The Ugandan anti-gay bill did pass, but without the death penalty provision. The penalty is now life in prison instead.

• For those who’d like an update on the sorry state of gay rights around the world.

• For those who’ve been lucky enough to have never encountered the vicious lunacy that is the “gay recruitment” myth.

• For those who doubt that an apparently functional adult human could possibly believe in (and act on) the “gay recruitment” myth.

• For those who aren’t familiar with “The Black Page”.

———

“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and “Wut” by Le1f, as cut by this helpful YouTuber.
“The Purple Lagoon” from Zappa in New York by Frank Zappa.

We’re on iTunes. We’re also on Stitcher. And let’s not forget Podbay.
You can also subscribe using good old-fashioned RSS.