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Crime Does Not Pay (but the hours are good)!

This is one of the covers I made for the gaming binders to help me remember what was in which binder.

This is one of the covers I made for the gaming binders to help me remember what was in which binder.

Back in 1981 I decided that what the world needed was a superhero roleplaying game. At the time, there wasn’t much on the market, and the few games that existed barely qualified as a full-fledged gaming system. But I’d been playing in various roleplaying games for a few years, and had been a superhero comic fan for as long as I could remember (my mom was a comics as well as sci fi/fantasy fan before I was born, so I’m a second generation fan). Since the few games I could find weren’t adequate to my needs for playing at superhero, I invented my own game. I originally called in, unimaginatively, Superheroes. And after about a week of writing up some tables and power descriptions, I talked several members of my gaming group into putting together characters. It wasn’t long before I had enough people playing it, that they started recruiting acquaintances. I made changes and improvements to the rules. Over the course of a few months, I typed a couple hundred pages of rules.

By that time I was running three different groups of players on three different nights of every week.

I ran the last game using the system, and set in the same world and continuity, in the year 2000. I want you to think about that for a moment: I ran a roleplaying campaign, a single campaign setting, with a single history, et al, for 19 years. So when people find out that I’ve got a Victorian Steampunk roleplaying campaign that has been running (with the same core players, same core characters, and in the same continuity) for 16 years and they freak out, I have to point out that it isn’t the longest campaign I’ve run.

There was a point where I re-typed all of the rules for my superhero game into a word processor. And I made more updates and changes to the rules, refining things as we ran into situations that within the game. In the early 90s I was thinking that I might still try to publish the system, and I had changed the name to Crime Does Not Pay (but the hours are good)! The problem was that by then, there were several other superhero based role-playing games on the market, and while I still think there are aspects of mine that were superior to those others, there were also aspects that weren’t.

I should mention that I did get the rules well-defined enough that three of my friends who loved to run games set up their own campaigns. So I got to play in my own system and see how it worked from that point of view.

I’m writing about this now because this last weekend I went through some of the shelves in the computer room, and I emptied out all of the three ring binders, pulled out all the spiral notebooks, and so forth that were full of notes and characters and scenario descriptions and so forth, and put them all into recycle. The scary part as I was going emptying all of those binders was how many of the thousands and thousands of pages of material that was in there was handwritten. In my atrocious printing. But usually in pretty colors, because I love unusual ink colors and I had a tendency to color code my notes as I created villains and supporting characters and scenarios. Or wrote up the fictitious history of small countries or crime fighting organizations, and so on.

Several years ago I made a comment to some friends that, since I hadn’t run a game in the system in years, I should toss all those gaming notes. These friends had been players in the game for years. And one of them was horrified at the idea that I would toss all of that history. So I decided not to tell anyone other than my husband before I went through the shelves.

Usually my inner packrat balks at this sort of thing. I expected it to be more of an emotional trial than it was. But the fact that I haven’t actually run a game, nor seriously looked through any of those notes for this campaign, in more than a decade seems to have given me enough emotional distance to just be amused as I recognized some notes in passing.

The collection of empty three-ring binders left over after I recycled the gaming notes. Please notice that several of more the 4-inch thick binders.

The collection of empty three-ring binders left over after I recycled the gaming notes. Please notice that several of more the 4-inch thick binders.

As you can see from the photo, there were a lot of binders. Several of those were 4-inch binders, which hold about 800 pages each, and at least two were 5-inch binders, which hold 1000 pages each, plus a bunch of 3-inchers, which since they usually have O-rings usually only hold about 570 pages each. When I said thousands and thousands of pages I wasn’t kidding. Keeping the notes organized in binders was always a bit of a challenge. Many years ago I got in the habit of making a title page for the binders, so I could remember that this binder was full of villains, while this one had notes on our never quite completed magic system, and another had notes for older games, while another had the notes for the most recent games and things I was planning.

And there were about a dozen spiral notebooks and several notepads all filled with even more notes. I generated a lot of material running that game for 19 years.

The notebook names were often based on Far Side comics. At least two were based on Calvin and Hobbes strips. As the pages of notes and characters and scenarios piled up, I’d have to make new binders, while older binders would become part of the archives, rather than something I’d get out all of the time.

It’s a little scary to think about how much fictional history we created during all of those games. I should add that when I said it was a single campaign, that’s slightly misleading. As I said I had at one point several groups playing at once, and I kept them separate mostly by basing their characters in different cities. But it was one fictional world, and we did cross-overs. Plus, since it is comic book superheroes, there were occasional adventures where the entire world was in danger. I also set some of the player groups in different time periods. at one point I had two side groups adventuring during the World War II time period, while original three sets had been playing in “the present” so basically the 80s and 90s. Then I had another side group playing in the 70s for. But all of the groups were set in the same world. And yeah, since I had player characters in different time periods occasionally involved in big global events and so forth, the continuity of my fictitious world got nearly as convoluted as that of the big comic book publishers.

Of the six friends who created characters for my first couple of weeks of playing, three have passed away. Of the others, I still have some contact with two on Facebook. I last ran into the sixth player at a science fiction convention around the year 2000, and he had an absolute melt down when he found out I was gay. My friend, Mark, moved to the town where I lived before moving to Seattle in 1983, I think it was, and joined the campaign. He played various characters for nearly 10 years, I think, with some interruptions since he moved to Seattle about a year before I did. And we’re still friends, now. Maybe I should make him a certificate, because I think he might hold the record of the longest player in that game.

I had a lot of fun, and as far as I know the players did, too.

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Evil Captain America and other bad writing hacks

The cover of the very first appearance in any comic of Captain America shows him punching out Adolf Hitler, in case there was any doubt whose side he was on.

The cover of the very first appearance in any comic of Captain America (March 1941) shows him punching out Adolf Hitler, in case there was any doubt whose side he was on. (click to embiggen)

So, in the latest edition of the official comic book adventures of the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, the writers (and editors and surely a few other powers that be at the comic book subsidiary of the massive Marvel/Disney conglomerate) decided to publish the shocking plot twist that Steve Rogers has been an evil double agent all along! And by the initial reactions they have had to the less-than-happy reaction of at least some of the public, they seem to be taking great glee in this “amazing” and “clever” twist which they had to take in order to keep the story “fresh” and “relevant.”

This twist is neither fresh, clever, nor amazing. The most polite way to describe it would be as click-bait. And as Jessica Plummer pointed out in a post on Panels.Net (ON STEVE ROGERS #1, ANTISEMITISM, AND PUBLICITY STUNTS), it’s not just ordinary click-bait, it’s using the deaths of the 11 million victims of the Nazi Holocaust as click-bait, which means that it is a bigoted publicity stunt, at that.

I’m not saying that the writers intentionally set out the make an anti-semitic (not to mention homophobic and white supremacist) statement. What I’m talking about is the thoughtless bigotry of people who don’t recognize their own privilege nor the inherent unconscious bigotry that permeates our culture at large. The only people who think that someone who is admired as a hero being revealed to actually be a villain is a surprise are people who have never personally experience systemic prejudice. As Sashayed pointed out in a blog post a few days ago:

There is a particular kind of shock that comes with discovering that someone you care about holds a belief or set of beliefs that is dehumanizing to you personally, if not actually – LOL!! – inimical to your existence. Many if not most women have suffered and weathered this shock. Many people of color have. Many LGBT people have. Relevantly to this specific discussion, MANY Jewish people have. It is not Shocking to anyone in an unprivileged cultural position that someone you like, someone you care about, someone who is a “hero,” even someone you thought cared about YOU, can be revealed to have been metaphorically Working Against You All Along. Nobody thinks it’s fucking SURPRISING that you CAN’T TRUST ANYBODY to be on your side! Of course you can’t! You just adjust to that and try to get through your life in spite of it. No shit, white dudes.

From my own personal experience, I would amend “Many LGBT people have” to “nearly every single LGBT person ever.” As Solarbird commented, elaborating on Sashayed’s observations:

I’ve had three people – three people – that I thought were various degrees of friend start posting things from anti-queer groups just this spring. This “ha ha really evil” thing is fucking routine. One of them was even one of the tiny, tiny number of Christians I’ve always brought up to myself whenever I’ve tried to tell myself, “they’re not all like this, they’re not all like this, remember, there’s X and Y and Z” and SURPRISE! X IS TOTALLY WILLING TO POST ANTI-QUEER MEMES AND DEFEND THAT! so I’ve just been through this again recently.

Hell, I’ve been through this so many times it almost – almost – doesn’t even faze me anymore. (Well, okay, X did, and I have now learned that lesson.) It’s more a matter of, “okay, move this one to “Surprise Explicit Enemy” category, and two more to add to the absolutely do not trust list.“

If you’re queer in this society, you have to keep lists like that, you see. It sucks.
So yeah, this is not new to my life, and more of it is the opposite of shocking. It’s more just…

…one more goddamned disappointment. Of which I have had enough.

In case the message wasn't clear in issue #1, the creators of Captain America, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, had Cap attacking Hitler on the cover of the second issue of the comic, as well.

In case the message wasn’t clear in issue #1, the creators of Captain America, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, had Cap attacking Hitler on the cover of the second issue of the comic, as well. (Click to embiggen)

One of my experiences along this line was a friend who had been arguing emphatically on a particular public forum for a law that would “quarantine” all gay men in “medical camps” (this was back in the late 90s or early 00s); when other people pointed out she was being homophobic, she actually named me as one of her gay friends whose existence proved that she wasn’t a bigot! She didn’t hate me, she just firmly believed that every single gay, lesbian, and bisexual person was deeply and incurably mentally ill, and that we needed to be locked up for our own good. But she wasn’t a bigot.

Or the many times my aunt who regularly posts articles and memes and so forth saying that god is going to destroy america because of marriage equality or queer rights or trans people using public bathrooms, and then sends disappointed messages wondering why I and my husband don’t visit more often. And how can I say she’s bigoted? She loves me and all of her gay and lesbian friends, and has said so many times.

So, yes, don’t color me surprised by this shocking and tone-deaf development.

And there’s more. I reblogged some observations on Tumblr that it is very telling that the producers of Captain America are quite willing to make him a Nazi or Hydra double agent, but remain adamant that the character couldn’t possibly be bisexual. Equally telling is that the same fanboys who come out in angry droves when someone posts fan art or fic that depicts Cap as bisexual, have remained completely silent at this revelation that Cap has been secretly a Nazi all along. Someone felt the need to admonish me about that, because “making this about queer representation is dismissive of the persecution of Jewish people.”

No. No it is not. First of all, we can be upset about more than one aspect of an egregiously bad storytelling decision. We can point out that it is both anti-semitic and racist towards various people of color. We can point out that a situation is anti-semitic, racist, homophobic, and sexist all at the same time. Mentioning one or more of the problematic aspects doesn’t erase or diminish any of the others.

Furthermore, reducing a comment about homophobia (and the linkage between it and other bigotry) to the phrase “representation” is a form of erasure. It’s playing oppression olympics, saying that one group is more oppressed than another. It’s saying we can’t talk about homophobia until all other “more important” issues have been utterly solved.

And that’s pure B.S.

Besides, I hate to have to be the one to point this out, dear anonymous Tumblr commenter, but those 11 million victims of the Nazis you mentioned? That included between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men. In fact, homosexuals were among the very first groups targeted for internment in the camps by the Nazis in 1933. Even worse, when the allies liberated the camps, while prisoners who had been locked up because they were Jewish or Roma or biracial and so forth were set free? The homos were transferred to regular prisons.

The death toll of the Nazi camps also included nearly a quarter million Roma (who were targeted as an ethnic group), tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the denomination was identified as an enemy of the Aryan race relatively early because of its public resistance to the racist policies of the Nazis), biracial people, and pretty much every ethnic group the Nazis didn’t consider Aryan. They also locked up a lot of white folks for the horrific crime of being married to someone that wasn’t Aryan, having had children with someone who wasn’t Aryan, and so on. This gets to the real reason I made the link between the refusal to consider that Steve Rogers might be bi and anti-semitism:

The bigotries tend to go hand in hand. If someone is homophobic, that’s a very good indicator they are also sympathetic to misogynist ideas, racist notions, and yes, anti-semitic assumptions, too. If supposedly heroic people being bigots comes of no surprise to many of us, the fact that people who are homophobic are bigoted toward a lot of other groups should come as even less of a surprise.

I understand this is a comic book, and that comics have a long tradition of rescinding storylines or retroactively changing continuity whether it be telling us in a few issues it was all a clever plot to trick some of the bad guys, or that it is really a Skrull shapeshifter pretending to be Captain America, or some other hand-waving. If that’s what they had in mind all along, that makes it even more of a cheap trick. It’s a publicity stunt that tramples on the history of a character that was created by two Jewish men: Joe Simon (born Hymie Simon) and Jack Kirby (birth name Jacob Kurtzberg) explicitly as not merely an anti-Nazi symbol, but as the embodiment of what they thought were some of the most noble aspirations of the human heart.

I’m not saying the writers don’t have a right to tell this story. I’m not arguing for censorship. I’m simply pointing out what it was a bad choice. I’ve tried to explain why it isn’t a clever or creative plot twist, but rather a dickish stunt. It’s disrespectful of the audience. It is using the horrible murders of 11,000,000 humans as clickbait. And it is a bad choice artistically. As Pablo Picasso said:

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

This is trampling the hopes of some people in the dust of mockery in order to try to make yourself look clever. That isn’t art at all.

Hugo Ballot Reviews: Graphic Story

Designed by Kathy Sanders for the 42nd World Science Fiction Convention, aka LA Con II, held in 1984.

Hugo trophy designed by Kathy Sanders for the 42nd World Science Fiction Convention, aka LA Con II, held in 1984.

This is another post in my journey of reading the Hugo nominated stories before casting my ballot. I have attempted to read all the nominees with an open mind, rather than cast a No Award vote for anything that had made it onto the ballot due to the bloc-voting scheme of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. The Short Story and Novella categories were extremely disappointing, while Novelette category contained one great story, one good, and the rest dreck. However! I want to point out that this set of reviews is much more upbeat. This was a fantastic and fun category to review!

This time I’m reviewing Best Graphic Story. This category is awarded to a science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic. So, what did I think of the Hugo-nominated comics? Read More…

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