Sunday, September 29, 2013

Same and Not

I don't think I've ever been this affected by a second playthough. 

When Mage Jenny saved the world, I went back and watched that ending montage on YouTube, over and over, so I could justify my criticism of it.  So I could say, no really, I checked.  It is NOT ENOUGH.  Because it wasn't just a victory montage, it was an Alistair's death montage, and that aspect was brushed aside.  I felt liked I'd been denied something important to me.

That same montage, when it was no longer Alistair's death scene, was completely transformed.

And then, when Jenny was back in the throne room, rested and cleaned up again, the final scene was not only no-less-affecting because it was my second time, it was actually more important to me because of my first game.

I mentioned before that I once experimented with having Jenny give Alistair a bunch of coal and smelly onions to see what he'd say when his approval dropped.  And after restarting the game so that "never happened," Jenny made out with him a few times just to reassure me that I hadn't actually ruined anything.  See, look!  He's still in love.  It's okay.

I find myself wanting to watch the coronation scene again, and probably again after that, to reassure myself that I can.

Not only can't I think of another game that has done this, I'm not sure how another game could.  Perhaps if I had learned, after playing Apostate Jenny of Sad Consequences through to the end, that if she had been more critical of Anders, he might not have chosen to blow up the Chantry, and that some other terrible event would cause Meridith to call for the Rite of Annulment.  It would not only have been devastating to see the consequences of Jenny's well-meaning actions, but it would have been a relief to fight that last battle with Anders, knowing that he hadn't caused it.  But even that isn't quite the same.  I can't think of another way that the game could end the same way but not mean the same thing.

I know, I know, I just declared DA2 the Best Game I've Played.  I find myself thinking, no, maybe Origins is!  But I don't know how to compare the two.  They succeed so differently, for such different reasons, and on such different levels.  I can go through all the things that could be improved, but what they get right, they get RIGHT.  And it's amazing to experience.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Oh, and for some reason, when I went and actually made a "Dragon Age" tag, Blogger moved a bunch of posts as having been "published" today, which totally gummed things up, so I moved them all to September 1st so at least they'd be out of order somewhere else.  Hmmph.  Also, I finally gave in and made a Dragon Age tag.  That, too.

Teryna Jenny Saved the World

I finished Dragon Age: Origins again this afternoon.  And as Jenny stood bathed in dying-archdemon-explosion-light, her sword sunk deep behind the archdemon's skull, I thought, we won.

It's hard to explain how good that felt.  This is the second time I've beaten the game.  But even though I've won before, it never felt like winning.  Winning was the most terrible thing I'd ever felt in a game.  I watched the end game, went through the motions of conversations, and sent Jenny out into the world again, and the whole time I kept repeating Alistair over and over, in my head. 

For the first time, it felt like I had actually won.  I could see the relief on the faces of the men in the battle below, and not hate them for being alive. 

After the speeches, when Jenny and Alistair have a moment to talk quietly, Alistair says that it's amazing to still be alive, and that Jenny is still alive, and how wonderful that is.  And I think, you have no idea.  

Because I've seen that ending, the one he'd feared.  I know what it feels like to stand in that room alone.  I saw him die, and then I went on in a world where he was dead, and I don't want that world to happen again.  Here Jenny is, talking to Alistair, and making jokes about serving the crown, and I think, this, THIS is what I wanted.  This is what I was playing for.

I think, Thank you, Morrigan.  For giving Jenny this.  That moment in the throne room, and every moment after that in a world where Jenny and Alistair can be together is a gift. 

Dragon Age gives me all the feels.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Oh, and I found out something about Morrigan.  It really makes me want to play Dwarf Jenny again, even though he annoys me, because he's the only one who can woo her.

Eventually, [Morrigan] becomes afraid of the affection she feels for the Warden – to a point where if you raise her approval rating to “love” without having sex with her, she will not have sex with the Warden at all. Her own feelings scare her, and she’s not sure what to do about it, especially because she knows about the Dark Ritual. She knows she’ll have to leave the person she’s falling for, and she’d rather be alone than have that happen.

Everything that Morrigan is, is a defensive mechanism.  She doesn't know how to relate to other people, so she pushes them away.  She doesn't want them before they might not want her.  She always chooses personal gain, even at the expense of others.  Because she believes that's the way the world works.  It's what she needs to do to survive.

See, Morrigan was raised playing Prisoner's Dilemma with Flemeth.  And Flemeth always chose betrayal.  Morrigan assumes that the world punishes the kind and rewards the selfish, because for her it was true.  Now she's playing the same game with Jenny, and no matter what Morrigan does, Jenny refuses to turn her in.  It changes everything.  Morrigan's survival strategies don't work the way they should, not in a world where people like Jenny exist.  After all, the best outcome in an ongoing game of Prisoner's Dilemma comes from being able to hope for the best, being able to trust someone else. 

There is no moment where Morrigan announces that she's changed.  But I like to think that her experience with Jenny makes a difference.  I like to think that she's too smart to not notice that the world is not what she thought it was, that in the long game, kindness and forgiveness and trust and hope can sometimes—not always—be winning strategies.

Adventures in Illness: Home Sick Yesterday

Well, I started out by sleeping, a lot, but eventually I achived coherence again, and at first I tried to stay in bed playing on the ipad or maybe reading with the idea that if I stayed home from work I shouldn't get to play xbox because that's what I wanted to be doing. Except that I couldn't really handle reading, which is why I was home in the first place.

So I played a LOT of Dragon Age!

I started out right before the Landsmeet, finished all the Denerim quests leading up to it, including a few that I hadn't seen before because Teryna Jenny is more thorough and also less rule-following. And then I went through the Landsmeet, got everyone but the bald dude on my side, let Alistair duel Logain, and then turned on Anora and declared myself Alistair's queen. This is what Teryna Jenny was created to do. Every decision I have made in this game has been to get Jenny and Alistair to this point.

And you know what? It was really unsatisfying. I'm so glad I played Mage Jenny first.

Here's how it should have gone: before the Landsmeet takes place, either on the way to Denerim or the first time entering Arl Eamon's estate, Alistair initiates a conversation. He says I don't know if we're going to win at the Lansmeet, and I don't know what will happen afterwards. Eamon wants to make me king, and Anora wants me out of the way. Somehow I've ended up at the center of all this and I never wanted to be, and all I can think is, if I have you with me, we can get through this, whatever happens. Will you? Be with me? I mean—what I'm trying to say is—will you marry me?

See, look! I wrote his speech already.  It's a rough draft, and it's pretty schmaltzy, but I think it's fitting for his character. I missed an opportunity to say something witty and self-deprecating, but I'm not as good at that part. There could maybe also be some complimentary things about how Jenny is kind and strong and knows a bit about ruling, and y'know, the love of his life and all. He's said it before, but, hey, he's proposing!  He can damn well say it again.  And after that discussion, the Landsmeet can continue with pretty much the same script, except that when Jenny announces that she's going to marry Alistair and rule with him, it's not a COMPLETE SHOCK to her new fiancee.

Or, Jenny can change her mind, and crown Anora, or just Alistair by himself, or whatever, and he'll have a lot of feels after. See? Easy fix!

Or maybe Jenny proposes, since she's all player-character and stuff.  Maybe Alistair starts out with his speech, but after the "if I have you with me," bit, instead of asking her to marry him, he says something about how he doesn't feel like it's fair to ask it of her—she'd have to be queen (he'd see that as a downside), she'd be married to someone who might not be able to give her children, etc., and Jenny can respond by asking him to marry her.  It would be kind of sweet, actually. 

Instead there's Jenny's declaration of marriage, followed by Alistair's lukewarm acceptance afterwards.  He says things like, "Don't get me wrong, I like the idea," and "this might not work but we'll talk about it later."

Really, Alistair? I want a little more than that.

I can't even blame him too much, because it was a lousy thing for Jenny to pull on him. She used him as a stepping stone to power.  (She did say at the beginning, when he confessed his heritage, that she thought it was thrilling.   I picked that answer at the time because I knew he'd like it, but I felt kind of icky about it. Now I feel even worse.)

I already knew about all of this.  I just didn't think it would be so unpleasant to watch it unfold. I mean, I haven't had quite the same ALISTAIRFEELS this time around.   It's been more like going through the motions of a crush; the delight of discovery is gone. But it turns out I still cared enough to be disappointed in him, and disappointed in Jenny.

And then, because I remember that Shannon Philips writing about her disappointment with the proposal, I went back and read her post again. And then I got to the part about the final battle with the Archdemon:

“You say that like I’m giving you a choice.”

And then—as I gaped at the screen in slack-jawed disbelief—my computer boyfriend grabbed his sword, vaulted heroically atop the fallen form of the Archdemon, drove his blade deep in the creature’s skull, was bathed in an explosion of power, and died.

And I was blown away, all over again. The shock and sadness and anger and bewilderment, all over again.  Alistair!

Damn you, Alistair.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Further Adventures in Medication: Meta Adventures

Now that I finally HAVE my drugs, I have started taking them again, as of this morning.

I remember that, in the past, when I have started my meds after a significant time away, I acquire a temporary anxiety disorder.  The only-sleeping-five-hours-a-night and filled-with-panic-and-a-sense-of-impending-doom kind.  The I-don't-know-what-I'm-afraid-of-but-I'm-sure-it's-happening-oh-shit kind.  I've never had an anxiety disorder, so I don't know if how I feel is similar, but anxiety is the best word I can think of to describe my starting-meds state.  Luckily, it isn't too extreme, and it doesn't last more than a few days at most.  And it only happens when I can't manage to be a grownup and get my refills on time.

So now that I am starting my meds again, I wonder, am I going to get anxious?  Am I anxious now?  I just had a feeling of worry!  Maybe it's the anxiety!

I am anxious that I might be becoming anxious.

No response by now usually means no response coming


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Projects I stopped working on years ago and would like to maybe start again


perfect medium versus imperfect memory, digital modeling best suited to platonic ideals and not real objects, but these objects aren't real anymore and neither are the people who used them, my memory of my grandmother indistinguishable from my idea of grandmother, what she represented and not what she was, the frustration of needing to give exact details when all I remember are vague impressions, a memory of a memory of a feeling—

or something like that, anyway

Where I left off:  I think I was working on a refrigerator.

What needs to happen:  We've upgraded our version of 3D Studio Max twice since I last used it.  I need to watch some tutorials.  There have been big improvements in using normal maps on low-poly surfaces to create details, and adding chamfers as part of the rendering process rather than the modeling process.  In theory I think I ought to teach myself Blender, because then I can work at home.  (That is, if the current version of Blender will run on my old, old, Mac OS.)  But learning Blender is so awkward.  I know that it isn't, actually, limited.  I've seen the Blender galleries.  But because I'm so used to Max, even after years of not modeling anything, that anything else seems like it can't possibly be as good.


I write messages at two-thirty in the morning, half-drunk with exhaustion, and half-drunk with drink, giddy and hopeful. I write them when I wake up, and in the minutes before work or class.   I mull them over for hours or days, typing and retyping the same sentence.  I write them carelessly, thoughtlessly, almost on accident.   I trip and they fall out of my hands.  My computer screen is the first thing I see in the morning when I wake up, and the last thing I see before I sleep.  I keep writing because I can’t imagine not writing. I need the waiting, and the hoping, and the wanting.   I don’t know what to do with myself without it. 

Where I left off:  I was going to film this with live action scenes, but only because I wanted to learn to shoot and edit video since we had cameras that could do it.  I made a mock-up, and never actually shot any footage.

What needs to happen:  The thing is, there's something really cheesy about dramatic re-enactments, and I'm not that great an actor, and I don't want to look at myself that much.  Animation, or freeze-frame sketches, or anything else, would actually fit the essay much better.  I need to learn to animate, to see if that's the way I want to do this, and I should also look into different drawing techniques/styles.  I'm thinking of shooting photos of the scenes, and working from them, maybe directly on them.  Sort of the way I sometimes trace photos to make line drawings for illustrations for this blog.

I might see if I can audit the animation class next semester...


Where I left off:  I got sooooo close to finishing another year of State Fair photos, but not quite enough to add them to the preexisting set.

What needs to happen:  Lay out all my prints, and see which need tweaking.  Each image has a print I'm happy with, by itself, but sometimes they need adjustment when put together as a group.  Then, possibly a little more editing out of weaker images.  If I rebuild my website, I'll need to update the series.  Seriously, there is no excuse.  It's soooooo close.


Number 149 looked, but didn't reply.

Hope is hard.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Oh and Also: Adventures in Medication

Once upon a time, I was on Effexor for depression.  It worked great, in that I wasn't depressed anymore.  Since it was the first drug I'd tried, and I'd convinced myself that if drugs didn't work then there was NOTHING LEFT FOR ME AND LIFE WOULD NEVER BE WORTH LIVING, I do still have some fond feelings towards it.  The problem with Effexor was what happened when I didn't take it.  I could forget a day and not suffer too much consequence, but two days were trouble, and three were hell. Withdrawal symptoms: they're not fucking around.

So I "forgot" my drugs a lot.  Yeah, I know it doesn't make any sense.  But even though I was dependent on drugs in order to not feel all SADFEELS, it was a kind of abstract dependency.  Being dependent on drugs in order to be able to form coherent thoughts and walk a straight line was a very different kind of dependency, and I hated it.  Hating the dependency made me hate the drugs, and hating the drugs made me want to act out against them.  So I would put off eating breakfast, which meant I couldn't take my drugs, and by the time I'd eaten I'd "forget" to take them, or when I did remember I would put it off until later by which time I'd forget for real.  That sort of thing, and all done at the level just under conscious thought so I could maintain plausible deniability.

(The whole having-to-eat-first-thing was another huge problem, because it pitted diets against sanity, and when "diet" is actually an eating disorder, the eating disorder usually wins.  I can't take the drugs that help me like myself because I'm too busy starving in order to like myself.  Duh.)

After a few years, I decided that I was "cured" or something, and just tapered off for good.  A few years after that, I decided that "cured" was probably not in the cards for me, and when I started up with a shrink again, I asked to try different options.  Now I'm on generic Wellbutrin, which seems to do just as well in regards to the sadfeels, without kicking my ass if I forget to take it.  (The biggest problem is that starting the Wellbutrin makes me anxious for the first day or two, so going completely off is still worth avoiding, but not in a too-miserable-to-function kind of way.)

So I don't worry when my pill bottle runs low.  And I don't worry when I don't have any refills left.  I "forget" to take a pill every once and a while, y'know, to stretch them out a little while I'm working on getting more.  And then I call my doctor for a new prescription, but I don't actually check with the pharmacy for another week.  By then I'm actually out.  And the pharmacy doesn't have a record of the prescription.  And it's Saturday.  And the prescription won't get filled until Wednesday.  And then it's Wednesday and I still haven't heard anything but I'm going to see my doctor on Thursday so it'll definitely get done by then.  She pulls up the scrip on the computer.  There it is.  CVS at the Old Capitol Mall, right?  And then it's Saturday, again, and the pharmacy has no record of my prescription, or even a record of the call I made a week before, and do I want the pharmacist to call for me on Monday?

Oh I'm sick

It all makes sense now.

Friday, September 20, 2013

this week

I don't think there's been a day this week when simply being awake wasn't enough to make me want to cry.  Not in a agony-of-the-world kind of way, just a crushing desire to sleep.  I am so fucking tired.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ask me what I'm asking for

Working on a design for new embroidered pillow.

I think I'm going with version 3.  Still not sure what to match this with.  The embroidered pillowcases I saw were all made in identical pairs, but I'd rather not do that if I don't HAVE to.  I could just go with "Consent is sexy."

Any other ideas?

I made a thing. I have plans to make more things. I am madly in love with Gabrielle.


Flirting is basically doing a sassy walk up to somebody and going “PANTSFEELINGS?” and having them sassily respond “PANTSFEELINGS!” and then you pretend that you’re communicating about something else while really you’re going “Ha-HA! We are such attractive people."

-Elodie Under Glass, guest post for Captain Awkward


I watched a LOT of Xena this weekend.  Also, I made this:

Next up, I'm planning on sewing a pair of pillowcases.  One that says PANTSFEELINGS? and one that says PANTSFEELINGS!

Also, I'd like to find a nice, scalloped-edge pillowcase to embroider with the phrase, "Ask me what I'm asking for."  And since pillowcases also come in sets of twos, I'm still looking for something to match.

Cassie pointed out that the state fair is a place where embroidery and sewing are the unmarked state.  I can make things out of these materials, and instead of people thinking, "why did she choose to use embroidery," people think, "why did she choose Sylvia Plath?"

I don't want to think of this as a body of work, not yet.  I'm just making things I'd like to make, and seeing if it coalesces into something coherent.

And, no connection to anything at all, but I have just found this image:

It's a Dante's Inferno book/game tie-in cover.


This exists.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Iced vanilla white chocolate mocha, half-filled with off-brand Kaluha and Hawkeye vodka.  Macklemore Pandora station, dance party by myself on a Sunday afternoon.  Oh, and cleaning my room.  Dishes next.  And the thing is, this is fun.  Like seriously fucking fun.

I like a lot of things, and I think I'm pretty good at finding enjoyment even in things that aren't, well, my thing.  But when I make a list of the times I've really been happiest, when I have felt the most myself, and when I have truly believed that "myself" is a great thing to be, most of those times have been by myself.  Driving out to Milwaukee for the Wisconsis State Fair, spending a lazy afternoon with a book and a blanket in my backyard or a lakefront, dancing in my house by myself.

Can we go back
This is the moment
Tonight is the night, we'll fight till it's over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can't hold us
Like the ceiling can't hold us

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 5


I can also tell you the differences between discontinued black and white film developers, and the differences in the way they interact with discontinued films.  I can probably draw you a pretty good map of Xanth or Ferelden.

The point is sort of that I know all of these things.  But the real point is that everyone does.  Everyone has pools in their memory that are much deeper than they look from the surface, that connect to underground caverns of information.  It might be particle physics, or it might be every song on every Goo Goo Dolls album; no matter what the subject, someone is an expert on it.

It also makes me think about the things we don't even consider to be knowledge.  Think about anything you know how to do, like speak English or shop for groceries.  When you break it down into individual steps, and then into the necessary information you must have to understand in order to complete each step, it's an incredible amount of knowledge.  All of the things we learn without realizing that we're learning.

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 4


There are four rounds in mah jong, and each round is made up of four or more hands.  Each player is dealer at least once per round.  If dealer wins, then they deal again, if not, then the deal passes counter-clockwise.  When all four players have dealt, the next round starts.  Each round corresponds with a wind (East, South, North, West).  Each seat also corresponds with a wind.  The seats rotate according to who is dealing.  Dealer is always sitting at East seat.  The seat to the RIGHT of the dealer is South.  (Don't ask me why cardinal directions are backwards.  They just are.)

For example, if it is the first round and I am dealing, then I am at East seat during East round.  This means that if I win and have a pung of East wind tiles, I win two points for them.  One point for a pung that matches the round (East) and one point for a pung that matches my seat (also East).  If I were dealing in the second round and won with a pung of East wind tiles, I would only get one point for them, because they would match my seat but not the round.  If it were the first round and I were sitting opposite dealer, then I would get points for either East tiles OR West tiles, because I would be sitting at West seat during East round.

The flower tiles are numbered 1-4, which correspond to winds.  1=East, 2=South, 3=West, 4=North. 

To start a hand, players begin by mixing all of the tiles in the center of the table.  This is the noisy part.  When the tiles are reasonably mixed and unpredictable, each player begins constructing their side of the wall.  Each side is eighteen tiles wide and two tiles tall.  There is a skill involved in this, if you choose, because experienced mah jong players will construct two rows of 18 side by side, and then, by grabbing one row by each end, lift all eighteen tiles at once on top of the other row.  This is super cool.  You will be super cool if you do it like this.  All the old Chinese ladies and also your ten-year old cousins will be TOTALLY impressed.

Each wall is then pushed towards the center until they meet in something like a square.  It should look less like this:

and more like this:


It represents, of course, the great wall of China.

Once the wall is constructed, the dealer rolls three dice.  Starting with the nearest side, dealer counts that number counter-clockwise around the wall.  A dice roll of five, nine, and thirteen land on the side nearest the dealer.  A dice roll of three, seven, eleven, fifteen, land on the side opposite the dealer, and so on.  Once the side is chosen, starting on the right of the side, dealer counts the same number of tiles towards the middle.  Where the count ends, the wall "breaks."  Tiles to the right of the break are the "dead" tiles, and tiles to the right are "live."

Starting at the break of the wall, and going clockwise, the dealer takes the next four tiles from the live side, then hands out sets of four to the other players.  Tiles are taken from the wall clockwise, but are dealt to players counter-clockwise.  When each player has twelve tiles, the dealer "hops," and takes the next top tile, then the top tile one over from that tile.  Each next player then gets one more tile.  At the end of this, the dealer has 14 tiles, and everyone else has 13.  Dealer begins the game by discarding one extra tile.

When a player needs to replace a tile, for example, because they drew a flower, or made a kung, the replacement tile is drawn from the opposite end of the wall.

In all the computer versions I've played, whenever a player discards a tile, he/she announces what the tile is.  I don't remember if anyone ever did that in my house or not.  They talked.  I never understood anything they said.  Maybe they were saying "three-ten-thousand, bitches!" and maybe they were saying, "did I tell you what my grandson said to me yesterday?"  I have no idea.  But since I'm more used to playing with a computer, I'm used to hearing people announce their discard.  Or, at least, I'm used to mechanized voices repeating in monotone, red dragon, two bamboo, three character.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 3


Let's put some exceptions in!

FLOWER TILES:  Remember I mentioned flower tiles?  They look different in each set, but generally they look like flowers, or seasons, and might be numbered 1-4.  They are not part of your hand, so if you draw one from the wall, you put it aside and draw a replacement tile.  You keep the flower tile, because it might get you points if you win the hand, but it will not be part of any set. 

KUNG:  If you have in your hand, not facing up, three of a kind, and you either draw the fourth from the wall, or someone discards the fourth tile, you MAY choose to make a four of a kind.  This is called a kung.  If you do so, you declare "kung," turn the four tiles face up, and draw a replacement tile.  If you win the hand, your winning hand will be 15 tiles instead of 14.  You can only make a kung from a four of a kind; you cannot make a kung with consecutively numbered tiles.  You cannot turn a previously face-up pung into a kung.

And onto scoring:

Winning hands are scored with a point system.  Each player pays the winner according to the number of points in the winning hand.  The more points in a winning hand, the more money the player gets for the win.  This is where most of the strategy comes in, because higher value hands are harder to get, but winning one really good hand might be worth more than winning several chicken hands.

A hand with 0 points = chicken hand.

There are many ways to win points, some of them more common than others.  The ones I know are:

A. If all the sets of 3 are chow sets = 1 point
B.  If all the sets of 3 are pung sets = 3 points
C.  If one of the sets of 3 is of dragons  = 1 point
D.  If one of the sets of 3 is of a wind that corresponds to the seat of the player* = 1 point
E.  If one of the sets of 3 is of a wind that corresponds to the wind of the round = 1 point
F.  If the player drew a flower tile that corresponds to the seat of the player = 1 point
G.  If the player drew a flower tile that corresponds to the wind of the round = 1 point
H. If the winner drew the last tile needed to win from the wall = 1 point 

Points are accumulative.  If a hand satisfies more than one criteria for points, then it wins points for both those criteria.  For example, if the winning hand was all sets of pung, AND one of the sets was a green dragon, that would be 4 points total.

The winner is paid 2N in chips, where N=points.  Thus, a zero point hand is paid 1 chip, a 1-point hand is 2 chips, etc.  The winner is paid by the other three players.  If the winner drew the winning tile from the discard pile, then the person who discarded that tile pays double. If the winner drew the winning tile themselves from the wall, then all players pay them double.  (Since drawing the winning tile from the wall is already worth a point, this is really good.)

There are lists of prestige hands that I don't know.  These hands are special, named combinations that give you lots and lots and lots of points.  To give you an idea, it might be something called "Four Blessing Spring" and consist of "3 green dragons, 3 one-bamboos, 3 one-circles, 3 east-winds, and 2 south-winds."  And it would be worth, like, 12 points.  I made that particular one up, but they look sort of like that.  There are lists, somewhere, of the prestige hands.  I've never seen anyone get one.

*Don't worry, I haven't explained seating and winds yet.  I'll get to that.

ETA: OH HEY I've been reminded of more ways to win points:

I.  If the player did not have any tiles from their hand revealed prior to winning = 1 point
J.  If the entire winning hand is one suit plus honors tiles = 3 points
K.  If the entire winning hand is all from the same suit = 6 points

Hong Kong Mah Jong, PART 2


Mah jong is a game for four players, generally set up on a card table so that all players can reach the middle of the table, and each player has a side of the table to put their tiles so that other players can't see.

There are three areas of a mah jong table: the wall, the discard pile, and player's hands.  The wall is made up of tiles that are face down and have not yet been played.   The discard pile is in the middle of the wall, and the tiles are generally played face up when discarded.  (A more difficult version of the game involves the discard pile being face-down, so players must remember what has been played.)  Each player has a hand of tiles at the edge of the table facing them that no one else can see.  At various points in the game, players may need to show parts of their hand.  These tiles are generally placed, face up, in front of the player.

A mah jong tile set is like a deck of cards.  There are two main kinds of tiles: suits and honors.  Each suit consists of a tiles numbered consecutively from 1-9.  Honor tiles do not have numerical value.  There are also flower tiles, but they are set aside and used for scoring, rather than being part of gameplay.  I will get to them later.

There are three suits: bamboo, circle, and character.  The bamboo are represented by sticks of bamboo, the circle are, well, circles, and the character are the Chinese character for 1-9 followed by the character for ten-thousand.

There are two types of honor tiles: winds and dragons.  Wind tiles correspond with cardinal directions.  Dragon tiles are the characters for luck, middle (kingdom), and a blank tile.

Each tile appears four times in a mah jong set.  For example, there are four copies of a three-of-bamboo tile, and four copies of a north-wind tile.

The one-bamboo tile is illustrated with a bird, rather than a single stick of bamboo.  The white dragon tile sometimes has a decorated border around the blank white middle.

(My mother refers to the tiles by what the words say, rather than the names listed here.  For example, she will say "two ten thousand" and "luck" instead of "two character" or "green dragon."  Every other instruction set or game I've seen calls them "character" and "dragon")

A winning hand consists of four sets of three tiles, and one pair (called an "eye.")  A tile set consists of either three of a kind of the exact same tile (e.g. three North tiles, or three five-bamboo tiles) or three consecutive tiles within a suit (e.g. 2-3-4 bamboo or 4-5-6 circle).  Three of a kind is called "pung" and three consecutive tiles are called a "chow."  Sets can only exist within a suit. 

The top set is a correct "pung" of two-circles.

The top set is a correct "chow" of bamboo.  (3-4-5)

Because the honor tiles do not have numbers associated with them, they cannot be used in a chow.  They can only be used to make a pung.  An eye must be two matching tiles.

Here is an example of a winning hand:

From left to right: 1-2-3 character, 6-7-8 circle, three of a kind (south wind), three of a kind (5 circle), pair of 8-circle

Each player starts with 13 tiles in their hand.  A turn consists of drawing a tile to add to your hand, and then discarding a tile into the discard area.  Then the turn moves to the next person on the right.  (Game plays counter-clockwise.)

There are two ways to draw a tile: 1) on your turn, and 2) as an interrupt.

1.  ON YOUR TURN: you can either draw a tile from the wall, or, if you can use the previously discarded tile to make a set, you can take that tile from the discard pile. 
A.  You can only pick the tile that was most recently discarded, all other tiles in the pile are unusable. 

B.  You may only pick from the discard pile to complete a set of three or complete a winning hand.  If you do pick a discarded tile, you must then put the set you make face up in front of you.  Once your tiles are face up, you can no longer re-arrange them into different sets.

2.  INTERRUPT:  If a player discards a tile that you can use to complete a pung (three of a kind), you may declare "Pung" and take that tile.  Then put the set you just made face up, discard a tile, and play continues to your right.  You can do this no matter whose turn it was next.  You may also draw a tile as an interrupt if it is the last tile you need to win.  You may only claim the most recently discarded tile, and only before the next player draws.

If more than one player claims a discarded tile (for example, the player whose turn it is to draw claims the tile to make a chow, AND another player claims the tile to make a pung, AND another player claims the tile to make a winning hand), then the first priority goes to a player who has a winning hand, the second priority goes to a player who is making a pung.  If there are two players who both claim the tile to win, then the player whose turn was coming up sooner takes priority. 
The game continues in this fashion, drawing and discarding tiles, until a player draws the last tile they need for a winning hand.  The player says "mah jong," and flips all the tiles in their hand face up.  There is no discard at this time, as a winning hand is 14 tiles.  When a player wins, then a new hand begins.

How to Play Hong Kong Mah Jong, as Much as I Remember, at Least


Moohaha on flickr

My Chinese grandmother—which is the only name I have ever known her to have—came to live with us for two years while I was in high school.  During those two years she played mah jong nearly all day, every day.  Sometime she went to a social club, sometimes they came to our house.   Mah jong tiles are very loud.  I remember that.

When my grandmother, or her maid Amy, was winning, sometimes they would let me play their seat for a hand or two.  No one spoke English well enough to explain the scoring to me, so at the end of each hand, I would hold out a bunch of chips in my hand, and the other players would drop chips in and take chips out, and when they were finished, we'd play another hand.

My father used to explain the scoring by saying, "If a Chinese person wins, it's a big win, lots of points.  If a white person wins, it's a chicken hand." Chicken hand means a winning hand that doesn't score any points.

It wasn't until some time after college, when I downloaded a computer mah jong game, that I actually learned how the game was scored. 

Damn you, Joe Cheung!  I wanted that six bamboo.

That's pretty much the story of my life.  Most of the things I know about my mother's culture I have learned as an adult, from computer games and cyberpunk novels and recipes on the internet. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Putting Art up in the New House

For a while after college, I was obsessed with pictorialism.

The original pictorialists were photographers around the start of the 21st century. When the art world criticized photography for its scientific exactness, its mechanical creation, its ease of replication, pictorialists responded by creating dreamy, painterly, images.  They used techniques that emphasized the human hand and emotional engagement with the subject. Pictorialism went out of fashion in the twenties, and by the time I took a history of photography course, the movement was taught as a necessary but embarrassing part of photography's evolution. Pictorialism was the teenage rebellion of the camera. Which, I suppose, made it perfect for me.

My photos were full of glowing landscapes, soft and indistinct. People with shining hair and featureless faces. All of it rendered lovingly in shades of gold, pale peach, warm browns and creams.

At the time, of course, everything was real and tangible and right in front of me. These were people whose small details and mannerisms were intimately familiar.

But that was more than ten years ago. I look at these photos now, and I am amazed at how well they capture, not what was there at the time, but how little I remember. Two girls, posing by a tree, faceless except for my fading memory.

I didn't know it then, but I was photographing the future.  I was photographing, not that moment in Central Park, but another moment, miles and years away, when I would open an old box of photos under my bed and try to remember their faces.

Appropros of nothing in particular (Started yesterday in my head as I was putting together cameras for the lab)

I don't know about the new models, but back when I sold cameras, Nikon manuals would warn you to be careful when adjusting the diopter because you might poke your eye out.  That was after they told you to avoid putting the camera strap around your neck because it could cause strangulation.  Obviously, Nikon discouraged using the term "neck strap."  Call it a "camera strap."  Safer that way.

I wear glasses because for the first 12 years of my life, my mother said that if I wore contacts I would get an eye infection and be blind for the rest of my life.  By the time I stopped caring about my mother's opinion on the subject, I could no longer imagine myself without glasses.

It's easy to make fun of warning labels, of hazard signs, dire predictions about faces freezing in impolite expressions.  What will happen, really, if I remove the tag from my mattress that says DO NOT REMOVE?

Sometimes, though, I look at all the cautionary symbols around me and think, there aren't nearly enough.

I look at all the times we accidentally hurt each other: the jokes that came out wrong, the gratitude never expressed, the obligations elsewhere, the feelings not returned.  We should all be covered in warning signs. 

Oh, Facebook.

To be clear, I'm not unhappy to miss this particular dinner party.  It doesn't, actually, sound like fun.  And it's not like it's the first dinner party for only married couples in the history of ever.  I'm quite aware that this happens around me and I never see it because I'm not on the invite list.

But seeing the invite reminds me that there is a club that I can't join, and whether or not it's a meaningful distinction to me, it's meaningful to the world.  And because it's meaningful to the world, it has an effect on me.  It reminds me that there are people my age who continue to sit at the "kids table" during family holidays because one becomes a "grown-up" by getting married.  I mean, at least I don't have to put up with that, right? 

I am reminded of a friend telling me that once she got married, suddenly her married friends and relatives started telling her all these stories they had never shared before.

And I wonder how much I believe in marriage as validation.  As much as I'd like to deny it, do I still believe that marriage is what makes a relationship real?  Do I still believe that a real relationship is proof that I am worth something?  Sometimes I think that I'm proud to have been engaged, because it means that I can say that being unmarried is a choice I made.  Someone wanted me.  I have proof.  As if my entire adult life were validated by that one moment.

I tell people that I wish I'd kept the ring, like a badge or a scar.  I am proud of myself for leaving him.  It wasn't easy.  But I wonder if I wish I'd kept the ring for other reasons.  If I think of it as a kind of achievement, an award I won for being desirable.  When I was eighteen years old, there was a boy who wanted me.

Hyperbole-and-a-Half, as always, gets everything right.

I don't know where this is going.  I went to bed feeling lousy.  For entirely other reasons, I woke up feeling lousy.  I've been feeling lousy a lot these days.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Half the Battle

Huh.  My first time being not-invited to something because I am not married.  In an explicit kind of way, not just the sort of general, unspoken social expectation that I'm getting used to seeing more and more often.  In the "FB event for married people" kind of way.  It's y'know, marriage-themed and stuff.  I guess I always knew it was coming.  Didn't think I'd actually feel shitty about it.  I didn't know that part.

In the Kitchen

I have been learning to make char siu.  It's not quite there, but it's getting really close.  I still need to tweak the times a little.  I bake it in a covered dish first, so it stays moist and tender, and then re-cover with sauce and bake on a rack at a higher temp, and much closer to the heating elements to braise the outside a little.  The last two times the bigger pieces were still a little undercooked in the middle.  But the smaller ones were perfect.  I mean, seriously.  My pork brings all the girls to the yard.  Or at least, all my housemates to the kitchen.

Not exactly fabulous food photography, but you get the idea.

When I get it totally right, I'll come back and tell y'all how it's done.  It's not particularly difficult, although there's a lot of waiting involved. 

And speaking of kitchens, I finished my first Sylvia Plath tea towel!

I am in the sort of state where all I can see are mistakes, but I understand that this says more about me than it does the towel.  I wanted to photograph it hanging in the kitchen, but the only place for it to hang flat is from the oven... which I did.  And then I felt like a terrible person and deleted it.  This is it on the kitchen table, instead.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Jenny

tl;dr:  I made a new DA:O Jenny yesterday, but couldn't figure out her character/motivations and didn't know what to do.  If I didn't understand her as a character, I didn't know how to make any choices at all.  Which was weird because I'm not used to actually roleplaying RPGs.

Friday, September 6, 2013

State Lines

My first instinct is flight.

When I fight with my boyfriend, and I can't even anymore, I flounce out of the apartment and take a walk somewhere.  The flouncing is important, of course, but escape is still the point.  I want distance between me and the thing I don't want to face.  Literal distance (although it pleases me to see that dictionaries have redefined literally to also mean figuratively) is best, and the more distance the better.  State lines matter.  (Another reason to love the East coast.)

When I have sex with a girl on the first date and only afterwards realize that I can't stand her, and I don't have the backbone to use my words and instead spend a week terrified that I might run into her in the pedmall, I think, if only my car were working.  If only I could make it to Missouri, I could text her.  "O HAI"  I could say.  "I've left the state!  Bye!" Distance is power.

I didn't apply to any colleges that were closer than 1000 miles to home.  I picked a college 2,700 miles away.

(I like comfort.  I like stability.  I like knowing that my life will continue, as is, without much effort on my part.  I like having a default setting.  Really, I love these things.)

I told a story once, because I had a microphone and an audience and I thought I was going to tell a good story, but it came out all wrong and instead I bad-mouthed a guy I used to like.  I mean, first and last name, and uncommon enough to be the top result in a google search.  It was a shitty thing to do, even if no one but me remembers.  There might be a recording, who knows?  It exists in the world, this thing I said, and I am shamed by it.  So I never went back.  Because someone might know me, might remember what I said.

I have never been to karaoke night at Studio, because on that first date, she told me she went often.  I ended up running into her, four years later, at a reception for an ex-classmate.  I'm not sure if she recognized me or not.

It's much easier to draw lines across distance than time.  Distance is forgiving.  Distance is something I can cross by myself.  Distance lets me leave things behind.  Time, on its own, is never enough.

It's not that I've never had a history before, it's that I never had to live in the same state with it.  Not for long, at least.  Even if I hadn't moved away yet, I knew that I would.

I don't like all of the people I've been.  I'm not proud of all the things I've done.  I think, if I could just get away, to Michigan or Tennessee.  I have a new car this time.  I can escape.  But I don't.  I'm still here.

Repeat as necessary:

It's not about me.

It's not about me.

It's not about me.

Let it go.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Less Good

Part 1:  Old Times  

I had a dream this morning about ordering cardboard from a vendor, and then finding, somehow, a report or internal document or something from that vendor that complained about and mocked my participation in this transaction.  My response in the dream was a kind of angry glee.  That, I think, is the revealing and embarrassing part: I liked it.

But after the righteous anger faded, because there was nothing to be angry at, because it was a fucking dream, I was left with an empty space where that feeling used to be.  I still kinda felt like I'd been criticized, but not in a way I could respond to, because it didn't actually happen.  And now, as if I need to justify this feeling, I am calling up all the critical voices that linger in my memory.  I am inviting every accusation, the fair and the unfair, over to my place for drinks, so we can reminisce about old times.

Part 2: Hush

There is a game that keeps coming up when I blog surf about gaming and social justice, an indie, definition-bending game called Hush.  I want to play.  But it starts with an empty text box and this directive:

And I can't do it.  I start by writing about sex, but that's too easy and obvious and wrong.  Sex =/= intimacy.  And then I try to write about some other experience of intimacy, but I can't think of one that feels right.  The more I look through my memories, the less I know what I'm looking for, until I think that I have no idea what intimacy is or what it feels like. 

Part 3: List

I'd like to see someone make a list, a la McSweeney's or the fun page of the DI, except instead of "Porn Star name or Vin Disel character?" it's really, really obvious.  Like, "Sylvester Stallone movie or Babysitter's Club book?"
1.  Boy-Crazy Stacey
2.  Logan likes Mary Ann!
3.  Rambo
4.  Claudia and the Sad Goodbye
5.  Rambo III
6.  Demolition Man

Part 4: Away

I want to be somewhere else.  I want to be someone else.  I want to drive somewhere that no one knows or expects anything from me, where nothing means anything and I don't have to live with anything that happened another city, another life, away. 

I can't do that, so I put on Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the car as I drive to Gilbert and back.  I play it loud enough to stop thinking. 

(Babysitter's Club book: 1,2,4.  Stallone movie: 3,5,6.)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Another Long Post About Gaming, But Not as Long as the Last One

So I started Dragon Age 2 last night.  Obviously, I have expectations and opinions, and I don't quite know where to start. 

I guess a few little things:

1.  They've exaggerated Jenny's walk so that she sways her hips more dramatically which is fine when she's walking, but when she runs, it's sort of wiggly and silly-looking.

2.  I'm not a huge fan of frame stories, but this one isn't terrible.

3.  Loading screens and general graphic design are blah.

4.  Flemeth!  She's fantastic. 

5.  They're really getting to the uncanny valley here.  I mean, video games have been in the valley for a long time, but this is particularly weird because the face textures are so much more developed but the expressions and movement are way behind.  It's eerie.

6.  The "getting you started with combat" bit is more intimidating than I'd like.  I understand the appeal to other people, but for me, even if the enemy difficulty is dumbed way down, just having my first fight be a horde of darkspawn makes me cringe and not want to keep going.  It wasn't actually hard, it just felt like it would be.  And it's that feeling that they're going for, I know, the action-movie-feel.  But I'd much rather start the game by exploring and talking to people, then having a one-on-one fight while I get the controls figured out, and then moving on to battles. 

7.  So many terrible hairstyles to pick from!  (And a few good ones.  I ended up liking default Hawke better than anything I could make, so I'm going with that.)

Criticism of DA2 seem to focus on two main changes from Origins: dialog and combat.  And those are not minor elements.  That's pretty much the entire game.  Well, plot, character development, and all that, yes.  But dialog and combat are incredibly important, and both have significant changes from Origins.

COMBAT:  I played Origins with more of a hack-and-slash style than a turn-based-tactics style.  This is mostly because the console interface made it difficult for me to control more than one character or manipulate the battlefield.  For example, there was no way to tell a character "go here."  I had to take over them, and run them over in real time.  During that time, everyone else would be on autopilot.  So if I wanted Jenny to cast Hex and then Drain Life while Alistair was running to the middle of the room, that was really hard to do.  I could pause, tell Jenny to start Hex, then switch to Alistair and start running, but keep an eye out so that I could pause again as soon as she was done with Hex and tell her what to do next.  I couldn't tell a rogue to "move behind so-and-so" without controlling them in real time while they moved, and while I'm in real time, I can only do one thing at once.

The changes in the combat interface for DA2 have made it much easier for me to control a full party.  I can, actually, tell someone to go somewhere.  It's also much easier to select a target, especially for regular attacks.  The game stays paused while you cycle through your party's actions, and then they execute them when you unpause, rather than unpausing as soon as I make a selection for one character, and then needing to pause again if I actually wanted to order more than one.

On the other hand, as many RPG gamers have complained, the majority of battles in DA2 are with enemies who appear in waves, from seemingly random locations, so I can't plan out a battle.  If it's almost over, I might decide to risk someone dying because I have more injury kits than health potions.  But I have no way of knowing when the battle is almost over.  I can't place my mage out of the way, because an enemy might spawn directly behind her.  So, on one hand, they gave me better tools to strategize, but then took away the information I'd need to do it well.

DIALOG:  In DA:O, the NPCs are fully voiced, but Jenny's part of the dialog is strictly text.  I pick a line of dialog, and then the NPC voices a response.  In DA2, like in Mass Effect, all of Jenny's responses have been voiced, and what I am choosing from is a short paraphrase of the actual line.  For example, a dialog choice in ME might say, "don't study me," and the actual conversation line will be, "I'm not some artifact you can take back to your lab, doctor."  I loved the dialog in ME, and so when I saw people complaining about that system in DA2, I wasn't worried.

But here's the thing about voicing the main character: it's a risk.  And when it works, it works really well, but when it doesn't it's terrible.  And this isn't working for me.  It's not exactly the voice, and it's not exactly the lines, but something about the two together just rubs me the wrong way.  "Funny" options are almost never actually funny, and "charming," just sounds like someone trying and failing at sexy.  And I keep picking the "funny/charming" options, even though I always hate the result, because I can't quite believe that Bioware can be this bad at witty dialog.

And choosing a line feels like so much more guesswork than it was before.  I don't have any examples, but somehow I was never that surprised in Mass Effect.  This time, every time I say anything, I feel like I should save first in case I don't like what comes out.  And I know that the game doesn't really respond to the specifics of the line, that if I pick the "diplomatic" option, then characters will respond as if it were a diplomatic thing to say, but it's frustrating and annoying because I feel like I'm not in control.  I pick options by thinking, huh, wonder what this will be?

In DA:O, there were multiple lines that might be funny, or direct, but with different import.  One might humorously accept or reject a romantic overture, for example.  The actual words mattered.  In DA2 it feels as if all that matters is the tone of voice, because that's all I have to go on.

According to the wiki, "diplomatic/helpful" choices generally result in positive NPC responses, and "aggressive/direct" choices generally result in negative responses.  It sounds like party members become friendlier to me when I'm nice and more hostile when I'm aggressive, regardless of the context or the personality of the party member in question.  Morrigan and Sten didn't like it when Jenny was helpful in Redcliff, but Alistair and Leliana wouldn't have liked it if she wasn't.  That is soooo much more interesting and dynamic than a simple "nice/mean" scale that all NPCs feel the same way about.  When I was having a dialog with Morrigan, choosing the "sympathetic" or "understanding" option might piss her off.  She doesn't want your damn sympathy, thankyouvermuch.  And using humor with Alistair goes very differently than using humor with Sten.  Although it depends on who the humor is directed at, of course. 

I'm trying to remind myself that the game has just started, that I need to give it a chance to be what it is, and not a copy of another game.  I'm trying to remember that I didn't love all my NPCs immediately, that they grew on me over time, and I wasn't in love with Origins right away, either.

Also, here is a totally unrelated screenshot that amuses me.

Mystery Plot

I don't actually know what the plot of Dragon Age 2 is.  I mean, I know it's the story of the rise of Jenny, Champion of Kirkwall, but that's rather vague.  That's not a plot, really.  I know that the story ends with a cliffhanger.  I know that the Chantry is going to get pretty upset with Jenny.  I know the Qunari are involved.  But I made it past the introduction, I've set up home base, and I've been running around in the sandbox picking and choosing quests, and I still don't have an overarching quest.

In every other game I've played, by now I should be finding the water chip, or rescuing my teacher, or finding clues to the Sith Doom Device, or gathering allies to defeat the darkspawn, or finding the rogue special agent and bringing him to justice.  I'm not doing anything like that.  I'm just running around the city, saving up for an expedition into the deep roads.  And the motivation for that is purely financial at this point.  The darkspawn are on the retreat so it's a good time to go looting.

One of my first "main quests" was a search for a missing templar.  Along the way I discovered templars who believed that the Knight Commander was conducting mysterious initiation rites to weed out those who might question her orders.  I met Knight-Captain Cullen, who shared his superior's zealotry.  When it turned out that the templars were kidnapped by mages hoping to destroy the Chantry by raising demons in ordinary people, I killed the mages, rescued the templar, and the quest was over.  It didn't lead to anything else happening.  I got some money and went away.  The quest seemed to function as world-building rather than plot-advancing.  I wonder if this is the kind of storytelling risk that reviewer was talking about. 

And while this lack of focus on a single questline might have disengaged me from the story, the way that Skyrim did, I'm still very invested.  I think that, partially, it's because I believe that there will be something, so I'm invested in finding out.  It's less like a lack of story, and more like a mystery story.  I just don't know what it is yet.


I want to talk about Aveline.

I'm only about 10 hours of gameplay into this so far (I started over when I realized that if I wanted to play Lawful-with-a-touch-of-Chaotic-Good, then I really should have signed on with the mercenary instead of the smuggler.)  There is a lot more story and character development yet to come.  Here's what I've seen so far.

Aveline Vallen is Lawful Good, Warrior-Class, Sword-and-Shield.  Gameplay-wise, she is a lot like Alistair.  She likes it when Jenny is nice to people and upholds the law, and she keeps enemies distracted while Jenny does fun magic stuff.  But she is not Alistair.

The first time you meet Aveline, she's beating the crap out of the darkspawn who was about to kill her husband Wesley.  You will not have him, she says, before she grabs its sword and takes off it's head.  This is Aveline: fierce, protective, determined.  But even though she saved Wesley from the attack, she couldn't save him from the darkspawn taint.  When Wesley asks her to save him from a slow, agonizing death, she puts her hands over his, and uses her strength to drive his blade down.

It's hard to not look at Aveline as a Strong Female Character(tm).  She is physically strong, and physically tough.  She fights with strength rather than speed or finesse.  She continues fighting in the face of personal tragedy and heartbreak.  She killed the man she loved because it was the right thing to do for him.  But Aveline isn't strong because she's rejecting traditionally feminine traits.  She has a maternal protectiveness towards her friends, she cares more about relationships than sex.  When she presents a stoic face, she makes it clear that it's because she isn't ready to share her feelings, because her feelings are important to her, rather than because she's too tough to have feelings.

And, unlike so many badass women, she is believably physically strong.  She's not a waif with a sword bigger than her waist.  And she is believably strong without being a butch caricature.  She isn't stereotypically sexy, nor is she de-feminized.  She has a prominent jaw and a wide but not overly full mouth.  She has broad shoulders and muscular arms and thighs.  She is neither flat chested, nor can she store all her inventory in her cleavage.  Sometimes, I think she's beautiful.  Sometimes, I don't.

In Origins, Ser Aveline is a legend about a woman with no choice or agency, whose life only matters in the way she affects the men around her.  In DA2, Aveline Vallen is a woman who rejects that legend.  Her femininity is neither a weapon that defines her, nor something to struggle with, to reject.  Isabela is the standard femme fatale, who bares a lot of skin, uses her sexuality to manipulate others, fights with acrobatics rather than brute strength, and likes sex but avoids feelings.  I'm sure that Isabela will develop a backstory that gives her more depth, but there are so many Isabelas in the world already.  Aveline is herself.

I was so glad to see that Aveline was a romance option.  Having Jenny pursue a romance with Aveline would show that Jenny finds her attractive, that Aveline isn't any less of a woman for being a different kind of woman.  I was so glad to see variety in the kinds of masculinity and femininity being modeled.  But it turns out that I was wrong.  Neither Aveline nor Varric will enter into a romance with Jenny.  The dwarf and the lady-soldier.  As if they didn't count. 

Apostate Jenny

1.  I'm starting to think as Apostate Jenny.  I'm starting to get annoyed when people talk about The Hero of Ferelden.  Like, kid-sister-annoyed.  As if the subtext was why can't you be more like her?  They are, actually, related.  Mage Jenny is Apostate Jenny's second cousin.

Mage Jenny was happy in the tower, and from talking to other mages, that seems like the exception, not the rule.  She was always a special snowflake.  She was the teacher's pet.  The templars flirted with her.  She grew up in a gilded cage, and while I can't dismiss the cage part, I can't dismiss the gilded part, either.  She was never cold or hungry.  She was adored.  And now she's The Hero of Ferelden and everyone loves her.

You can see how Apostate Jenny, who has spent her life running from the Chantry, never settling anywhere for too long, learning her abilities in secret, through trial and error, who barely escaped Lothering alive while the Warden was off gathering allies to save everyone else, might be a little bitter. 

And what's really weird, is that part of this comes from knowing that I bent over backwards to give Mage Jenny a happy ending.  She got everything she wanted.  So, when I'm feeling prickly and defensive on behalf of Apostate Jenny, part of it is because I know that Mage Jenny got special treatment, not only from the people around her, but from me, as the person sitting in my living room with a game controller.  I'm sort of jealous because

I'm going to give that a little space so we can all awkwardly walk around it.

2.  Every child starts out as an apostate.  Unless the child is born in the Circle tower, which happens very rarely, a child with magic is an unsupervised mage.  But children are sent to the tower rather than hunted and killed, otherwise there would be no Circle.  So at what age does a child go from being "someone who is sent to the Circle," to "someone who is hunted down and killed? 

3.  I need to start paying attention when I play, but from promo images and what I think are non-modded screenshots, it's looking like DA2 has finally moved away from boob plate armor.  I even found a thread where someone complained that the female armor wasn't skimpy or "feminine" enough.

Check this out:

 I love it.

Two Weeks Left

I am thinking about the significance of the first person in writing, of the personal, the confessional, the ways that Silvia Plath and Anne Sexton are framed in the cultural narrative, the jealousy I feel towards Michelle Tea, the beauty of worms on the sidewalk after it rains.  I'm thinking about games as Art, about that damn question that gets asked over and over again.  Is it Art?  Can it be Art?  I'm thinking about the intersection between miniature dioramas, like dollhouses and terreria and train sets, and life sized dioramas, like natural history museums.  How are they related?  How are they different?  How do we interact with them, and why, and what does it all mean?  I'm thinking, always, about Dragon Age.  I am watching myself play, and now I am watching myself watching myself play.  Meta is my superpower.  I am stressed about work and life.  I haven't paid any of my bills for August yet, except rent which goes automatically, thank god.  I found this illustration of Anders, which is the very best fan art ever.

Sirinne at Deviant Art

I am thinking about the Iowa State Fair and how it felt to go, for the first time, with only my iphone for a camera.  I am thinking about how strange it is to be part of a vanishing category, the single person, how any gathering of friends will contain very few single people.  The strange part is how this was foretold to me in Bridget Jones' Diary.  Briget was 33 years old, too.  And, like Bridget, I am thinking about being fat.  How I hate being the fat person who eats more than everyone else, but if I don't then I'm the fat person who is ashamed and dieting, which isn't any better.  There is no unmarked way for a fat person to eat.  I am thinking about Merrill, who I have written about, but only in relation to her relationship with Jenny.  I want to write her a post of her own. 

Sadly, she only gets this awesome outfit if she has a romance with Jenny.

I am thinking that the coffee I had this morning wasn't enough, even though I'm not sleepy at all.  I'm thinking that I had ambitions for today.  I am wondering if it would be possible to entice Naamah_Darling to make me a Merrill pony.  I mean, she always makes her own characters, I don't know if she'd be willing to make a pony interpretation of someone else's character.  But I found this and now I WANT.

KageTakaiDoragon at Deviant Art

Not this exact pony, because I would want to give her more freedom than that.  I'd want to show her lots and lots of images of Merrill and describe Merrill's personality and history and everything and let Naamah Darling interepet how to translate that into pony.

I am thinking about ways to extricate myself from Bacon Sushi Guy, who sent me a text on Saturday, expressing disappointment that he couldn't make it to breakfast to show me his finished hat.  I am thinking about the way my experience with authority affects how I interact with video games.  The police always let me go with a verbal warning.  I follow rules, and expect to be rewarded for it. 

Romace updates, mostly imaginary

Alternate title: Swooping Is Bad

This is going to be rambling.  And long.


I restarted my OKC account so I could message someone and give them my email address, but I have to wait a week before I can disable it again.  And here is Bacon Sushi Guy, again, saying hello.


At some point in DA:O, as I was going back to camp yet again, after a plot point or experience gain so I could see if anyone had new dialog, I wondered just how much time I've spent doing exactly this.  Going back to camp, or my ship, running around and having variations of this dialog:

NPC: Hello
JENNY:  I'd like to talk about something.
NPC:  Okay.  What do you want to talk about?
JENNY: Oh, nevermind.
NPC: Yeah, bye.

Every. Damn. Game.  It's not just DA:O, it's every other Bioware game I've played (including the non-Bioware sequel).  I really like the party member relationship arcs, romance or not, so I look forward to new conversations.  And since there's nothing that signals "new dialog," the only way to find out is to keep trying, over and over.

It is, in terms of gameplay, only slightly more fun than chopping wood.  But only because chopping wood takes longer.  (Worst use of day/night in a game ever.)

There is also a distinct lack of fat shaming in DA.

So I am glad that Bioware finally noticed how much of an annoying timesuck this part of the game can be, and found a way to avoid all those neverminds and goodbyes.  In DA2, when party members have something new to say, there's a quest notification.  Go to house, have dialog, quest over.  The dialog may or may not be particularly quest-like.  Sometimes it's just "Hey how's it going? You settling in okay?"  I don't love the framing, but it works out fine in gameplay.  Mostly it just means that I can't repeat conversations.

(I will admit that in DA:O Jenny and Alistair repeated conversations more often than strictly necessary.  After all, there are conversation options that involve kissing and sexing, and he says cute things when you initiate them.  Like, "Aha!  I see talking isn't what you had in mind.  Right then!"  And there was this one time when I experimented with giving him coal and rotten onions until he didn't like me anymore, to see what would happen to the relationship.  He was mad.  It was upsetting.  So afterwards I restarted my save game and we made out a few times to reassure myself that I hadn't actually broken anything.)

But, overall, the value of being able to rehash the same dialog is pretty minimal.  Which is too bad, because I'd really like to blame my last few hours of gameplay on the new dialog system.

I went through the Anders romance last night.  It was so bad I don't even.  And at first I tried to attribute the badness to DA2's conversation mechanics.  Maybe it was because the quest-dialog structure made for fewer conversation opportunities.  If Jenny and Anders had spent more time talking, joking, getting to know each other in more than one dimension, maybe the Very Emotional Declarations of Love woudn't seem so ridiculous.  If I had an emotional connection to Anders, maybe I wouldn't cringe so much when he gets all SRS BIZNZ.

But the thing is, I have an emotional connection to the rest of my party.  I think that there have been fewer conversations between Jenny and her party members, but not by a lot.  And the party banter is still one of the highlights of the game.  I can't blame the bad on changes in dialog structure.  Anders fails all on his own.

I dislike linking videos, so you should imagine these lines being read by a high school drama student trying to channel Dr. Frankenfurter:

You've seen what I am… I've tried to hold back, but I'm still a man.  You can't expect me to resist forever.

This will be a disaster, but I can't live without it.

If you're with me, we'll be hunted!  Hated!  The whole world will be against us!  If your door is open tonight, I'll come to you.  If not, I'll know you took my warning at last.

For three years, I have lain awake every night, aching for you.  I'm still terrified that I'll wake up.

(I wanted to make the quotes as purple as the prose but fuchsia was closest I could find.)

First of all, WHY THE FUCK is it NEVER mentioned that Jenny is ALSO an apostate, and ALSO running from templars and leading a double life and if her secret gets out she'll be hunted and hated and all the rest?  Secondly, all those cheesy oh I can't but I must lines, the don't tempt me's wouldn't be so obnoxious if they came from someone like Fenris, who seems to have a similar opinion of romantic entanglements.  But Fenris would say them with fewer exclamation points.  And a lot more smolder.  Anders just sounds angsty.  I keep expecting him to toss his hair or something.

(Part of me worries that Anders bothers me because he isn't performing masculine appropriately, that I'm attributing traditionally feminine traits to him and criticizing him for them.  But I think it's a boy/man issue for me.  I don't mind him being all FEELINGSFORYOU, I just want him to have some reason for them and some backbone about it.  Some self-confidence.  Some lines that aren't delivered with pity-me-eyes.)

The only good parts of the Anders romance scenes are the parts where he isn't talking.  A good heavy breathing can be a lot sexier than words.  I'm not sure I would have added the actual kissing noises, but the uhs and mmms were nice.  And the sex scene was pleasantly non-gropey.  It wasn't The Unstoppable Hand vs. The Unsquishable Boob.  Just a camera panning away while the two of them lie together, and then the screen fades to black before it gets embarrassing.   

But, dear god, as soon as the sex is over, that terrible dialog comes back, and it's like the dramaz is contagious, because Jenny starts saying things like, "I want you right here!  Until the day we die!"  And I'm looking around trying to figure out where the hell all this came from.  They never even talk!  Where does all this "love" come from?

I'm not saying that friendship has to come before romance.  There doesn't need to be a deep and meaningful connection before sex.  Jenny slept with Isabela without any deep, meaningful, conversations.  But love isn't romance, and it isn't sex.  Love doesn't just swoop down like that.  Love builds.  Maybe unawares, at first, but the pieces are there even we don't see them: the conversations, the emotional connections, the intimate moments.

It happens with everyone else.  Banter with Isabela becomes, "hey, you're a good person and I like you."  Fenris, after being helped and supported by Jenny, feels close enough to confide in her.  So does Merrill.  They talk about themselves.  And even though there are relationships forming, no one else has declared FEELINGS.

So, yeah.

I didn't save that particular game.


I'm also having problems with the romance with Merrill.  Because I actually like Merrill a lot, and it bothers me that Jenny doesn't seem to take her seriously.  Jenny flirts with Merrill by treating her like an adorable child, someone "sweet" and "pretty."  She never praises Merrill for her strength of belief, her bravery, her kindness and caring.  I know that Merrill has a childlike appearance.  Her voice is high pitched and unsure, she's got a child's big-eyed face (and the graphics people went to town on the whole shining-elf-eye bit).  But she is not a child.  I hate that Jenny treats her like one.  And it's even worse when "treating like a child," is part of "flirting."  It's gross.  Merrill, you deserve better.

Hmmm… who do I want to ship Merrill with?

Someone grumpy and stoic, I think, like Fenris or Sten.  Or—wait.  She actually might be able to get Anders to grow up.  Get him to think about something else besides his revolution.  It's not like Anders has a monopoly on "oppressed and hunted."  Merrill has a big goal for herself and has sacrificed a lot for it, and she still likes sun and flowers and stuff.  Question is, what does he bring to the table?  I can see why she'd be good for him, but would an improved Anders be good for her?  I'm not going to ship her as someone's manic pixie dream girl.

I need to think about this…


Also?  I soooooo want to read this: