Poets In Hell: Kindling the Flame Till Wildfire

I’m going to warn you, right now, that I will be promoting and talking about POETS IN HELL for some time.

There is still a lot more left to do. The infernal delights of hell are not finished yet and I will definitely keep you all posted on those: or, rather, they will keep you posted.

It’s funny, you know. When I started Mythic Bios about two years ago, I was in an autobiographical head space. Many of my stories were personal, or taken and worked from personal material.

And now? Well now, I find that I have quite a few ideas for story and projects but –with a few exceptions — none of them are really about me anymore. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Before my work in hell (take that phrase any way you’d like), I wrote about my life as though it was pretty much academic at this point: as though many of my greatest achievements had already been put behind me and I was just existing to record and rework what was left. It was a quiet, contemplative core of time within a chaotic sea of workaholism.

But now, it’s less about me and more about the work: if that makes sense. The work will always be a part of me and my experiences and knowledge-base will inform it. Nevertheless, I like working in other worlds … and making my own.

So now, let me finish this post off by presenting to you our first press release of POETS IN HELL:

Poets in hell press release 1

This was created on Friday the 13th on a full moon. I’m afraid that unless it was also made and released on all Hallows Eve, you can’t get more hellish than this. And that isn’t even taking into account the pain, suffering, diabolical delight, metaphysical explorations, philosophical quandaries, myth-making, and maniacal humour found within these pages. And seeing my name next to all of these awesome writers makes it all worth while.

I’m still a workaholic. There is still chaos, but now my core in this madness is active. And, as I said before, there is still so much work left to do.

So please: spread this release to herald the reign of Poets and consider, if you pardon the phrase, helping to kindle its flame.

Sing, Oh Heavenly Daimon, Sing: A Review of C. Anthony Martignetti’s Beloved Demons

“I’d start talking about the dark and darkness, cold, loneliness, aging and illness, money, and how the hell can anybody keep making a living through a whole lifetime? I’d get myself all wound up and just rattle on in my head about the scariest shit I could think of” (2).

It was a cold day in hell when I began reading  Anthony’s Beloved Demons: Confessions of an Unquiet Mind. Literally.

An ice storm hit parts of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area and knocked out our power. For about three days in late December 2013 we had neither heat nor light, but plenty of cold and darkness. I felt absolutely helpless before Nature and my personal demons as my parents’ home became a dark and icy tomb. Suffice to say, this book came to me at a very appropriate time.

DSC00069

It was on the second day that I got Anthony’s book early in the mail: the postman having somehow navigated across the treacherous ice-crusted ground and overhanging crystalline pine hedges to deliver it right to the mailbox on the doorstep of our deathly cocoon. It’s similar to the way I will also have to navigate through this book.

One challenge I really had is that even though I wanted to look at  Beloved Demons  in its own right, in a manner similar to how I examined the theme, interrelation of stories and, of course, what I related to in Lunatic Heroes, this book still remains stubbornly intertextual. What I mean by that is it’s almost as though Anthony’s beloved demons want to war and fight alongside his lunatic heroes and define themselves by this ancient conflict. While you can read Beloved Demons as a standalone book, it has a whole other dimension if you take its predecessor into consideration.

So first off, what does Anthony possibly mean by a “beloved demon”?

It is said that the ancient Greek poets, when singing stories of heroes attempting to find home, war, or both, would evoke the muse  or the daimon — before they began to recite their tale. “Daimon” is also the root of the contemporary words “angel” and “demon.” In addition, daimons are known as forces of nature that pass through and influence human beings.  So it is only fitting, and in keeping with the ancient idea of the daimon, that “Cocoon Talk: Confessions of a Psychology Intern” begins with Anthony singing on the road on a warm summer’s day.

It’s also tempting to mention that demons have traditionally been used to incarnate a particular vice, evil, or negative thought in order to ward off, exorcise, or otherwise purge it from a subject. Certainly, “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” is a pretty good example of an attempted exorcism. However, I feel that Anthony draws on Carl Jung’s idea of the daimon much more and, in doing so, it brings an older mythological resonance to mind.

Genii loci

The Roman equivalent to the daimon is the  genius loci: a very clearly monstrous or non-human spiritual being that protects places and people. These  genii  also tend to embody their spaces: to serve as their souls. And, if you think about it, it can apply well to Anthony’s  Beloved Demons. His short story “Sign” is an example of a space with great emotional resonance to that regard. In other words, places can be spaces, and spaces can be memories. And Anthony evokes their souls like the daimons that they are.

Each one of the nine stories in  Beloved Demons  is like a different and yet interconnected reality. “Swept” is the only story that focuses solely on Anthony’s childhood. Almost all of his stories focus on the aftermath of his youth and how it affected his developing adulthood. The crowning achievements of this process can be found in the narratives of “Cocoon Talk,” “Sign,” and “Feast of the Hungry Ghost”: for just as daimons served as intermediaries between mortals and the divine, so too do these stories seem to function as bridges between Anthony’s past and adulthood.

As such, Anthony’s “Cocoon” is a nice complement to his last book’s short story “Swamp”: except that while Bullfrog was a symbol of enlightenment and the casualty of Anthony’s childhood sense of powerlessness, the butterfly is Anthony’s personal adult casualty. But the thing to understand about this butterfly’s death isn’t so much that Anthony was responsible (he was driving as it hit his vehicle after all), it is the fact that the butterfly, among other things, represents change. It is said that the wind from a butterfly’s wings can utterly destroy a mountain on the opposite side of the world. And while no one ever truly suspects the butterfly, Anthony seemed to believe the potential omen all too well and tried to prepare for the resonance of the change: the change that he ultimately experiences.

In fact, even more so than  Lunatic Heroes,  time seems to collapse faster than a landslide in  Beloved Demons. It’s as though all the experience and time within Anthony that had been contracted into itself, into himself and his inner world back in his first book begins to expand out in extreme, ricocheting vengeance in “Cocoon”: a process that he makes even more clearly explicit in “Feast.” Anthony is breaking out of the confines created from the trauma of childhood: the continued suppression and the emotional starvation caused in “Force Fed” becoming an expansive and terrifying “Feast of the Hungry Ghost.”

Anger and passion are definitely elements of this great change. It is no coincidence that, for seemingly the first time, Anthony reveals his first legal name to be  Carmine (30): the colour of red and fire and blood, of the wine-drenched Dionysian god and associated today with demons.

There is also a sense of space that becomes dilated between certain kinds of individuals, particularly sensitive ones such as Anthony, over time. For instance, I find there to be an interesting parallel between “The Wild” and “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” in which people, from well-meaning and voyeuristic to impatient and completely disrespectful, try to know more about  and even interfere with — the more intimate parts of Anthony’s life. In many of the stories from both  Lunatic Heroes  and  Beloved Demons  this, unfortunately, seems to be a recurring theme — of people wanting to know or control the passion inside him that he has been trained from childhood to avoid, while he is attempting to find and understand it himself in the midst of people constantly violating his personal space.

As a result, his space seemed to be small and narrow at times against a much larger world. At one point Anthony writes “I threw my eyes like an ocular ventriloquist” (18). It was Anthony’s reaction, ingrained from his mother, to avoid looking at people, while at the same time dealing with the perverse reflex to subvert authority and follow his own natural curiosity. Anthony’s account of Jackie not wanting him to look at “the crippled boy” in “Cocoon” is an interesting complement to his short story “Carnival” and his childhood reactions in that one as well.

You can even take this internalization a step further. In fact, “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” does take it further when the Devil and she-devils, which were seen as secretly forming and liberating within Anthony’s subconscious in Lunatic Heroes‘ “Carnival,” now become fraught with anxiety and desire: with a fear of judgement.

This leads Anthony to all but come out and describe the creation of a kink in “Feast”: or at least his kink. He seems to hypothesize that a combination of familial shame, religious fear, and suppressed desire culminated into a need for submission and masochism on the BDSM spectrum: with a particular focus on a darkly eroticized female archetype and a craving for punishment (144-45). After explaining how it is a feeling of wanting to get away, but eventually give into the fantasy scenario, he then describes a sensation in his stomach that he calls “‘the sugary feeling,’ which was both weakening and wonderful” (145). It is a striking description: particularly the latter aspect because it, above everything else, portrays a bridge between something that is both loved and feared: a beloved demon.

As I write this, I feel as though I am analysing themes in English class, and the very sense of my life depended on it. Whereas my review of Anthony’s  Lunatic Heroes  looked at many of his possible influences or what his tone at times sounds reminiscent of (I compared it to Will Eisner’s unsentimentality), it now really feels like Anthony’s own voice resonating throughout this entire series of linked narratives.

That said, there is one intriguing idea I would like to note. When Anthony talks about his cat Java mourning the death of his old dog and rejecting the new (110), it is very reminiscent of the narrator in Neil Gaiman’s  The  Ocean at the End of the Lane  being “enraged” at having his pet die while some adults, in their ignorance, attempt to replace him. It is interesting to consider that Neil seemed to have created this particular story around the same time Anthony was working on  Beloved Demons‘ predecessor. In any case Neil’s novel, according to Amanda Palmer, seems to have “dialed down” the setting on his own “creative blender” — of that place in an artist’s mind where their personal experiences and imagination intermix to make a story — and I can’t help but wonder if reading and working with Anthony might have influenced this in some part.

Certainly, this can be seen even more overtly when you consider that Neil actually wrote an Introduction to  Beloved Demons  in which he’s not only very candid about death, but he even writes out the Buddha’s entire quote on self-conquest (xxii) to which Anthony alludes in the conclusion of the book (193). And make no mistake: while  Lunatic Heroes  was obviously a personal narrative, an autobiography through-and-through,  Beloved Demons  delves deep into the personal and adult aspects of not merely “an unquiet mind” (which is one of the biggest understatements I’ve seen in Anthony’s work) but a forming mind attempting to find its individuation or, rather, its own sense of centre.

It is a dark and grueling process. I think that out of all the narratives, and aside from “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” coming to some kind of revelation through pain, pleasure and eventual acceptance, it is “Sign” that presents that unsettling feeling most of all.

Whereas “The Wild” was merely a hint of Anthony facing the primal part of his nature  his “Other” long controlled, vilified, alienated and chained as an animal  it’s in “Sign” where it truly comes to the fore in the form of power. It is very disturbing, to know that passion can be warped into the capacity for violence and the desire for control over another, and that this struggle is within all of us. But Anthony spells it out in himself and … it is unsettling.

I suspect it is meant to be so. This is something that wants to be free from all constraints: from his family’s expectations, societal duties, and his wife at that time. There are patterns  and dynamics that Anthony finds himself bound by and wanting to fall back into. But there is more at work in “Sign”: a greater work if you’d prefer. You begin to realize that all of these impulses and thoughts in his mind are reaching a state of at least narrative transformation. As he finds himself back in his childhood home, it’s as though he is attempting to find stability amid his own change and he goes back to the place where he sketched out the sign of a crucifix — a cross — on a door frame so long ago.

And this, here, I believe captures the essence of why Anthony writes. The crux of it, I believe, can be seen when he asks himself: “I wonder why I made that mark? Perhaps to save something of myself from that time? Or to create a future a memory? To say I was here … To see the sign. Or perhaps I only carved into the soft, painted wood with my thumbnail, and that’s it … nothing more; then, all those years later, made a story of it. Just to make a story. The world isn’t created of atoms and molecules, but of stories” (88).

It becomes very apparent here that not only are Anthony’s books his “cross” for us to see that he was here  that perhaps all autobiographical stories function in this capacity to help us remember who we are, who we were, and perhaps to see where we are going by comparison — but it also hits home another crucial point. Dominance and submission war inside him, and these are forces, within him which he can neither deny nor completely surrender to, he attempts instead to master: that he does to the point of transcending his own sense of self and stating something very important about his book, autobiography and literature itself:

“Making stories from memories … I think it has something to do with looking back and fabricating meaning in events that, at the time, just happened. Maybe writing stories is the same as the tiny sign of the cross in the molding. Perhaps that was my first story, my first memoir, to be known about and read only by me. Now, it seems, I mark the entrance to my childhood with these symbols on paper and share them so others will know I was here, understand me, and help me understand myself, before I’m gone and can’t return” (88-89).

Any way you look at it, however, Anthony’s stories have become his beloved demons, even as he understands now that he is his own.

I am about done here. Now that I have talked about the symbolism and interlinking of stories in  Beloved Demons, I want to write out some quotes that I think are very interesting and that found sympathy with me: you know, as if I haven’t already.

Anthony talks about love and perspective: “I loved her in the only way I could love then” (51).

At the beginning of “Cocoon Talk” Anthony makes a statement about the origins of human conflict: “I was always babbling, always unsure of what I was saying yet revealing nothing, and never truly trusted people who said they knew themselves or suggested that they knew me. Never really wanted anyone to see me” (3). It strikes me that the root of all problems and conflicts within relationships is that people claim to understand others and their intentions without actually doing so. No one ever truly or fully knows anyone, and the very act of proclaiming that “You don’t know me” is not only an act of anger and defiance in and of itself, but also a reminder that in all of our connections with each other we are our own sovereign spaces and should be respected as such.

In addition to the spaces in ourselves, Anthony writes about personal demons and how they can begin as weaknesses and become our strengths: “Through fantasy, we enter the screening room of an obsessed mind. And in our private theaters, we watch the show through the projector of our damaged narcissism — where the phantasmagoria transforms weak pariahs into prevailing superheroes, the shamed and the shunned into the celebrated, and places us, the marginalized extras, right at center stage … And here, we come not merely to tolerate, but to accept and finally embrace our demons — as if we willed them into life out of passion and the need to survive” (150).

I think my favourite quote, however, is the one that seems to describe how Anthony envisioned himself interacting with his desires. He states, “Nothing was nearly as captivating as this special pursuit, along with my role as undercover superhero- disguised as a pale and twitchy kid, foisting a dazzling subterfuge on a coterie of torment-skewed girls. A superhero, whose special power is getting his covert muscle charged by girls without their knowledge — surreptitiously slipping Kryptonite into their hands in order to feel his strength deliciously melt away” (152).

This last statement has a great affinity to me not only due to the “superhero” reference and how he applies it to his kink, but also in how it is different from my own personal vision of myself. Whereas Anthony seems to describe his childhood as him pretending that he is powerful and giving that power to others for his own enjoyment, I have always liked the idea of seeming to be mild  of actually being mild and kind — while underneath entertaining the fact that I can bring to bear great fury and power on everyone and everything around me. And even then, I’ve always considered what I am doing now, slowly building up my connections and experimenting carefully with that core of energy within me, as exercising that power in careful and clever ways until I can gain what I want: to take what is rightfully mine.

So if Anthony is a “superhero,” then I am definitely a Dark Lord of the Sith. Perhaps Anthony’s story “Swept” and what he learned from his father might have come in handy with my own education to that regard.

Finally there is the fact that, apparently, Anthony’s dog Poochy is “a food-operated boy” (72). Yes. He went there.  He went there. If you want a hint of what to expect from  Beloved Demons  beyond what I’ve written, here is a video  of its book launch in which not only do we hear Anthony reading “Sign” and “Dog,” but we also get to listen to Neil read his Introduction to the book and Amanda … basically making you feel. Her song Bigger on the Inside (an appropriate title for more than one reason) certainly made me do so.

You can also find  Beloved Demons on Kindle  as well as  Lunatic Heroes  if you are so inclined. Finally, and in reply to a Tweet Anthony sent me a while back:

Anthony Martignetti@DRAMARTIGNETTI @MKirshenblatt  MK, Looking fwd 2 ur review. And if u give me 4 stars again for not telling more, i’m coming 2 c u in Canada & hanging a rat

I finally understood  where the statement originated from  and what it means. It will give you all more background on Anthony and perhaps on both of his books. As such, and in no way due to any implied threat, I give  Beloved Demons  a  five out of five. The fact of the matter is that what I said about his quote on his dog Poochy applies to the rest of his book.

He went there.

He went there into the cold and the darkness, melting the warped and stratified ice of his surface interactions,  singing like a rat,  and I have to give the Devil his due … just as Anthony gave his demons their own.

My Depression is a Ginosaji

It was Winston Churchill that called depression his black dog. I never thought of actually personifying or embodying my depression into its own form before. I suppose I’m really talking about the subject of depression due to my absence away from Mythic Bios and having thought about the matter at some length.

But there are different kinds and variations of depression depending on the situation or the person. So, after really thinking about it and with Gaming Pixie’s unintentional helpfulness in the matter in attempting to get me back for sending her a disturbing video, I give to you my loyal readers what my depression would look like.

Yes, my depression would be Richard Gale‘s Ginosaji.

A Ginosaji (which apparently means “silver spoon” in Japanese) seems to be this grotesque, dark, awkward, lurking, creeping thing that beats you with a spoon. Eventually. At first, it’s the little details that simply irk you. And you try to ignore it, or dismiss it. But then the spoon beatings keep increasing and they never stop. You can’t power through it. You can’t kill it. You can’t ever completely blow it up. You can’t become it.

You don’t know why it is even there. And just as a shovel can slowly erode a mountain given time, so can a spoon beating begin to bruise and wear you down. And it is so ridiculous. It offends your pride. It is laughable that something like this can challenge your sense of self-worth and peace of mind. It embodies all the little things that shouldn’t bring you down: the bureaucracies of the world, getting your passport, preparing your trips, even responding to potential incentives … All of these things are just one ridiculous, banal spoon blow at a time.

And when you apply this to sufferers of chronic illness, the symbol of the spoon gains a whole other kind of connotation: the irony being that while you run out of spoons, the depression always seems to get them all.

But, unlike the main protagonist of the above short film, I have my methods of dealing with this particular demon. I can at least laugh about it. Sometimes. I suppose that is the function of the Ginosaji: a ludicrous symbol of the humour in, and the parody of, human suffering and existence.

That, or he is just a douchey demon with one too many spoons.

What? Did you think I could honestly resist another reference?

What If Comics Had Been a Place Without Codes? Would We Live as Air?

I’ve been having some technical issues these past few days and time hasn’t really been my friend but what I’m going to write here past most reasonable people’s sense of sleep is another down and dirty, and therefore ad hoc, article on comics.  So if anyone out there is an expert or has done their homework, by all means, please correct me if need be.

As some of you already know Sequart created and is now in the process of editing, a Kickstarter called She Makes Comics: a documentary on women in the comics industry and the culture surrounding it. One element in particular that it has focused on is the fact that long ago there were more female readers of comics than they were male. Now, I wrote a short article on what will soon be called GeekPron in which I found some of my own assumptions to the question, well, questioned.

I believed that it was the Comics Code Authority, inspired by the fear of McCarthyism “witch-hunting,” blacklisting, the detrimental testimonials by psychological experts such as Frederic Wertham, and a loss of business that had comics publishers eliminate most of their different genres of comics and focus mainly on watered-down stories about superheroes. All the horror, revenge, gore, westerns, romances, and sexuality all went the way of the dodo at the time because of fear. Anything that challenged the rules of the Comics Code, of authority always being right and just for starters, could not exist in mainstream corporations that published for money.

But the comic book editor Janelle Asselin also mentioned that this female readership of 55% over 45% of male readers changed as the superhero genre became more mainstream. Think about that: the idea that after a time the superhero not only reduced a female readership, but also eliminated or greatly marginalized a whole body of stories and genres that made the medium different. I realize now, looking back on what I wrote earlier, that these two statements are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I mean, if you are afraid of losing your business and your liberty in telling stories for which you want a certain pay cheque and livelihood then eliminating anything that could be construed as an overt challenge to your culture’s status quo or even subversive to it, it unfortunately makes a horrible kind of sense.

The godfather of manga Tezuka Osamu once said that “Now we are living in the age of comics as air.” And while he was most likely referring to the influence of manga in Japan as becoming more widespread, its connotations can be applied to the comics medium in general. According to Paul Gravett, in Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Tezuka believed that comics without passion or originality can become damaging and even create pollution. It took me a long time to figure out what this meant. When I first encountered the quote and the explanation, I thought that it referred to the potential damage to the morality of the reader but now I realize that the quote can definitely apply to comics as a medium and what occurred during the heyday of the Comics Code Authority.

The age-old notion of the superhero ghetto that we are so used to hearing about with regards to the comics medium: the notion of an immature all-boys club with shallow depictions of sexuality and simplistic violence with no consequences is damaging not only society’s concept of the medium but also that of its readers and future creators.

I’m not, by any means, saying that the comics that existed before the Code and its predecessors were the fonts of enlightenment for gender or, really, humankind. But there was a lot more experimentation before the Code and it just makes you wonder: what would have happened if these vigilantes and superhuman beings in tights had just remained one of many genres and there had been no Code?

I mean, there is always the scenario that Alan Moore presented in Watchmen: that if masked heroes and one a superhero had been in existence then no one would have paid attention to Wertham and the horror comics of Bill Gaines and friends would have dominated the medium from the fifties all the way into the eighties: becoming darker and more grotesque with time while also innovating itself much like our comics have done.

But that is just one creative interpretation. Who knows? Maybe a flat period of unoriginal and recycled stories would have followed regardless. Perhaps female readership demographics would have changed or something else would have challenged the “morals of comics:” for or against the status quo. Or we could have had another Golden Age: where comics became, earlier on, a widely accepted form of beautiful art and every great artist might have tried their hand at one. Maybe comics could have become widely accepted and mainstream coffee table or instructional as manga has in Japanese society to an almost ubiquitous degree. Instructional comics even had their place in North American society and to some extent they still do.

Of course, those latter thoughts are just me playing at utopia and I’ve never been really good at that. Maybe if there had been no Code comics would have, earlier, been just another form that challenged conventional morality much like any work of great art or literature should. Of course, again, this also happened in the Western world through the advent of what we understand as Underground Comix defying the establishment during about the late 60s: about that same time frame that Asselin gave when she talked about the female comics readership majority existed from the 1950s to the 1960s. Or perhaps the comics medium would have burned itself out as a fad and amateurs such as myself would be wondering, even then, what if: what if it had been different.

As for me, if you really want my honest opinion I will say this. I think that if there had been no Comics Code or anything like it children would have still been influenced by Tales from the Crypt, and Archie, and The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and all of those others. And some girls and women would have had Wonder Woman and Black Fury. Many things would have continued on, but sometimes I think about that idea of all people–young, old, straight, LGBTQ, male, and female, different ethnicities, different classes–making their own comics and showing them to their friends and the world. They would realize how different they and everyone else are but also how many things they have in common.

And when you wipe away my pseudo-utopia of a whole loss of potential for a readership of intensely intelligent men, women, and sentient beings, when it comes down to it I do like the idea that without the Code and the forces behind its development, the medium of comics would have been considered more than just silly laughter and transparently hidden BDSM parodies. Those things would have been a part of the kaleidoscope. I think that many more people might have seen comics as a medium that tells all kinds of stories: a space inside and outside of us that is pictures and words. I think many more people may have been more accepting that the medium of comics as that place of sheer variety, like film, between both art and literature.

There is another way to look at Tezuka’s quote about “comics as air.” If you take the pollution of censorship and unoriginality away, what you might ideally have is a fluid art-form that anyone can learn and use. And if you consider that we all live in the continuing Age of Information and in societies that utilize wireless Internet and you include webcomics into the medium … perhaps we can all fly where only superheroes used to tread: up, up, out of the ghetto and away.

Miracleman Balloons

My Creation, My Past, My Challenge

It’s a strange thing to encounter your past, even when it is a fictionalized past.

Especially when it’s a fictionalized past.

In about 2001, I started playing a homemade table-top role-playing game with some friends of mine. Before that, I was more interested in playing the customized Star Wars game we had going on that took place many years after the Old Trilogy. But this particular game, the one I was invited to participate in, had been going on for a very long time. This time around, it was in the fantasy genre.

I was hesitant. I had played a few games of Dungeons and Dragons before this point and, more often than not, we spent more time arguing about the rules and I had very little time to play as I had curfews back in the day.

In the Star Wars game, I was a master manipulator and I destroyed my opponents or undermined them with indirect attacks and insinuations. As other players died, I got stronger and the ones left me alone, I left alone or made alliances with. Here, though, I was treading into a universe I wasn’t familiar with. I didn’t have a lot of in-world knowledge and I was cautious. But, after hearing a bit about its history, lore and the games that the previous players had I decided I’d find it fascinating to be a part of that story.

Now, at this time, we used to roll our backgrounds as a matter of course. I decided to play as a dark elf wizard. Unfortunately, my roll was low and he started off as a slave.

That was the beginning of Vrael-Saar.

Vrael-Saar was actually the name of an ancient Sith Lord I made in a juvenile fanfic long ago, or a character in a Computer Paint choose your own adventure game with the same idea. But I applied it to my character because I already knew what he would be like. He grew up in a society and family that believed in survival of the most cunning. He had siblings who actually killed each other and he barely proved himself to his own master: only to be enslaved by humans.

Vrael-Saar was like my Sith character in Star Wars. He was manipulative, vengeful and clever. He started off from Level 1 and only had the rags on his back and a broom to channel his magic. Almost anyone could beat the crap out of him. One friend made that very clear as he wanted to establish dominance right away.

But the most important thing about Vrael-Saar that you have to understand right off the bat is that he was, even as he advanced, never a power character. What I mean is: he never flat-out went into a mystical slugging match unless he absolutely had to. Because, you see, Vrael-Saar was one other thing too.

He was clever.

I admit that Dragonlance‘s Raistlin influenced me and, consequently, Vrael-Saar himself. He would often wait and let his allies expend themselves or allow his enemies to overextend themselves. He was also not adverse to using the powers of Light or Darkness or Chaos to advance himself, or have them do a lot of the work for him before he would take advantage of a situation. He was patient, mostly, and he waited.

Of course, he took some major risks: including a bid for immortality that could have ended quite badly for him had he rolled anything below a 16 on a D20. And he succeeded. One humid rainy night with some lightning in the sky, as I walked home from my friends, I gave Vrael-Saar immortality: the one thing he had sought for ages while constantly studying their lore.

Even though he suffered setbacks, he was almost Level 20 by the time that game wound down in about 2004. He had learned how to spirit-walk and see the ghostly reality underneath the material facade of things. He also learned how to enter people’s souls.

He changed in other ways too. Vrael-Saar started off as a being with no regard for other peoples’ feelings and cared very little for sentient life. He only looked out for himself. Ironically, it was only after he carried out a Demon Lord’s orders to butcher an entire village and feed them to demons, and when a betrayal and a mutation changed him into something far less than humanoid that he began to change. It’s ironic that the more monstrous he became, the more “human” the character was becoming as well.

Vrael-Saar didn’t like to serve masters, but Demons and Dark Lords used him in their own agendas: even as he learned how to subvert them and use what was given to him to his advantage. He liked to be independent. One day, he even had a companion: a former enemy whom he helped corrupt for his former master, but who ended up becoming one of the few people who actually understood him. I wrote some stories about that. In the end, he saved the life of another immortal whose soul was being corrupted: and whom he healed at risk to his own essence and the Demon taint inside of it. Whether he did it out of a sense of compassion, leverage, or as a way to create a further blood debt between potential enemies who would be better disposed to him and his own plans for independence is open-ended.

That was where I left Vrael-Saar in 2004. I had almost four years of Journal Notes–The Chronicles of Vrael-Saar–before my travel drive died and I lost all of it. Even my friend, who was DM, kept track of matters with those Journals: though we still have yet to see if any survived.

It is now 2014. This homemade world, which I ended up contributing a lot to based on my actions and my own writing, got rebooted and there are new rules and histories now. However, it’s much in the way that mythologies can be retold: the details might be different, but the essence of the narrative is still the same. I am now a human Imperial Alchemist named Marcus Arctrurian: who is also the Baron of Wrengardt. As we did long ago, I rolled my background class and made out a little better than that first time years ago.

The Baron is a character I am fleshing out now, but he and his companions have infiltrated a secret stronghold where some cultists are performing some terrifying experiments on captive farmers. And after he defeated one of their leaders, a corrupt town guard, we found a parchment with a skull and a snake coming out of it.

A little before this, we played another game that was another variation of our homemade universe. Many of our old characters either long since passed or, if they had been immortal or particularly powerful, had become demigods. My DM friend informed me then that Vrael-Saar had become one of these gods, but we only encountered him peripherally: as followers to another character I created (as a story character or NPC) were using one of his artifacts. In that world, he was called The Snake Tongue.

But this time, in this game, in another variant of that world, we are dealing with a massive network of Demon-worshippers and agents known as The Cult of Saar.

I created Vrael-Saar, long ago, from a lot of young adult frustration, anger and general angst. He grew over the years and became something else. While this is another reboot, there are some characteristics about him that I would imagine to be exactly the same. He is also called The Snake Tongue in this world, but he has another epithet.

He is called The Lord of Lies.

And he is basically a Demon Lord now, if not the equivalent of a demon god. Essentially, I have come face to face with my creation as an idea transmitted overtime and taken to the nth degree from what I had been planning to do with him. And while I even wrote a new story about him as a Demon Lord, for all my educated guesses even I don’t know what he is planning.

And that frightens me: even as it thrills.

For over a decade, my group of friends and I created a mythos. It will continue for as long as we do. It is a legacy in a way now. While our own bodies age and our own possibilities are a little more limited than when we began, with some potential to grow from there even now, our game grows with us.

I’m a different player now than I was then, though I am still more than capable of being evil when I need to. The question is: can I defeat what I created so long ago?

My only answer is that we will see how long this game will last, and how far we will go. It has really come full-circle now. Let us see if we can triumph over what we have helped to make.

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Disappointments and Achievements in the Year 2013

This was the year in which we apparently cancelled, or postponed, the apocalypse.

So I said I was going to make a post before the New Year and here I am. I’ve started this post three times already and I trying to find the best way to continue it.

I suppose I will start off by stating one of my greatest disappointments. After all the fanfare on my part, and the reading, and the note-taking, and the hints, and the story sketches I did not end up sending an entry to The Dark Crystal Author Quest.

The fact is, after all that, I just took on too much. I went as far as writing a crude introduction, far too late, and then I realized that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring the energy and attention to a world that deserved more. So, I’m sorry to everyone who might have been eager to see what I could have brought to the world of Thra but the only things you’ll see now are my story sketches and perhaps the introduction I made when it’s not so fresh. And I also offer my apologies to The Dark Crystal. You deserved better. And you will get it. After spending time on the Community Forums, I know at least that you will get far better than me.

It wasn’t a total loss. I made some friends and acquaintanceships on the Forums, and the task of writing notes and questions to myself about Thra kept me from going insane this summer and onward. That, along with my other story project and this Blog for a time kept me busy and feeling a certain sense of accomplishment roughly ninety percent of the time.

So while I failed my Challenge, I did learn a lot from its failure. For starters, I am never going to work on two major projects at the same time again. The second is that if I do again, I will type up all my notes first and then figure out what to do. The third will be to go out during the more temperate climate to do some writing and not get bogged down by distractions: to give myself a sense of space. In the end, it is one thing to work on a major project and then some minor ones, it is a whole other thing to juggle multiple ones at once. I am no Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman to that regard and even they have had issues with that. Anyone would.

With that unfortunate, but necessary news out of the way I’d like to talk about what I have actually managed to do this year. I went to my first ever Toronto Global Game Jam and made a working board game with some collaborators, and I also attended my first ever 12-Hour Comics Marathon at the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery and completed something there too. I began writing for Sequart and, later, G33kPr0n as well. I got to cover events like the CanZine Ghost Arcade, the first WordPlay Festival, and Bento Miso’s Bit Bazaar Winter Market. I even wrote a review of the first day of the Toronto Afterdark. I wrote an article on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Overture #1. I met Neil Gaiman before that. I’ve tweeted with Amanda Palmer, Anna Anthropy, Christine Love, the Gaming Pixie, I wrote a review of the creative process behind Broodhollow and tweeted a bit with its creator Kris Straub, I travelled all the way to Quebec to meet some friends, and I created my first three Twine stories Level-Up, Haunted, and The Treasure of La-Mulana. I made the acquaintance and friendship of Andrez Bergen and I geek out with Julian Darius sometimes. I began reading the books of Anthony Martignetti and started to see more examples of how to incorporate one’s life with mythology to tell a story.

I’ve probably missed a whole lot of other events, but suffice to say I have been busy. It hasn’t been easy and sometimes I still feel as though I haven’t accomplished nearly enough. I know where I want to go, but I don’t always know how to get there.

But look above. I wasn’t totally useless, not everything was completely futile, and I actually did some very cool things, while I also went to many more. So there is that. I’d say, if I had to sum up 2013, I basically did a whole lot of Work. And I don’t see this coming year being any different.

So I will say right now, goodbye 2013. You had your annoyances and stresses, but we had some challenges together as well. Perhaps we planted something together that will begin to show some fruit by the time of your successor.

As for the rest of you, I will see you all, in some form, during the New Year and hopefully back on track. You know, it’s funny. The parting image that I’m going to leave you with is something that was taken in 2007 by a friend of mine I haven’t really talked with in ages, during a time of great transition in my life. There was so much I didn’t know then and I was only beginning to learn.

It seems that, to this regard, nothing ever really changes.  Until next time, my friends.

Looking Outward

Time Travel and Retconning: Revisionism and Reconstructionism in Doctor Who

Just as the New Year is approaching, so is “The Time of the Doctor.”

Time of The Doctor

I’ve come out of hiatus again, essentially, because this is another thought that just won’t leave me alone. After I was exposed to Julian Darius of Sequart’s distinctions between Revisionism and Reconstructionism with regards to comics, I applied it to my article In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes? Of course, I should have realized it was not going to end there.

I mean, come on: I already mentioned space and time in the aforementioned article’s title. And after a while of gestation and trying to stave it off, I knew what was going to happen. I was going to provide the distinctions of Revisionism and Reconstructionism, taken from Julian Darius, the latter term apparently coined from Kurt Busiek, to the development of the Doctor Who series. Let’s face it: this was just going to happen and, if we’re going to be honest with each other, it probably has in no so many words and in ways that have been covered far more exhaustively than I am going to be.

So let’s get to the point and quote River Song, as I tend to with a lot of the Doctor Who articles I’ve written, to say, “Spoilers.”

This is really going to be a brief case of looking at parallels between the development of the superhero comics genre and Doctor Who. Like the early comics versions of Batman, Superman and others, The Doctor as a character starts off as a relatively morally ambiguous character: someone who isn’t necessarily evil, but not always good. Certainly, they all have the power to impose their will on others whom they don’t agree with, or are quite willing to let someone destroy themselves as opposed to interceding on their behalf. The Doctor himself, in his very first incarnation was more than willing to abandon people to their deaths if they became “inconvenient” to his or his granddaughter’s own survival.

And this was in the 1960s. Superhero comics themselves, especially the ones I mentioned, existed from the 30s onward: from that Golden Age period where superheroes were still trying to get past their “might is right” mentality to reveal at least some of the heroism that we recognize. The Doctor, however, had an even more interesting challenge: in that he was a character in a science-fiction program that drew on a tradition of science-fiction programs and stories. He wasn’t exactly a hero then and never quite fit that mould well. He and his Companions were more explorers and, as such, the program was one of exploration that bordered on a weird sort of horror: the kind of horror that, well, basically came from the spectacle of science-fiction B movies, comics, and pulp stories before it. Even the early Doctor Who episodes, from I’m given to understand, have a very pulp and serial feel to them: with constantly interrelated chains if episodes making a story followed by standalone episodes and “monsters of the week.”

Of course, things changed for both superhero comics and Whoniverse respectively. It was the Comics Code Authority that greatly white-washed many of the darker elements away from superhero adventures. Some of them simply didn’t survive and became silly caricatures of their original selves. This wasn’t always the case and some stories managed to be told well even in the midst of not being able to question authority-figures among other things. Towards the sixties, however, there were many campy and downright silly elements amongst this genre of comics: particularly with regards to Batman and such.

Doctor Who, which started in the sixties, always had an element of the uncanny and the weird in itself. It also had elements of camp and strange, tangential adventures. For some time, the BBC had a low budget so they basically had to utilize B movie props and effects to make their monsters and their stories. And The Doctor himself became a lot more of a swashbuckling character or archetype: embodying different ideals but becoming somehow more human as time went on. The humanization of The Doctor, which began with his Companions from his early days, contributed to this and probably in no small part due to the fact that the program began as a children’s show.

But just as there were so many disparate elements and strangeness in the Silver Age of superhero comics, this was definitely the case with the original Doctor Who series. What is interesting to consider with regards to Doctor Who however is that many “silly costumes and props and styles” have become iconic in themselves and even popular in a vintage, classic, nostalgic sort of way among fans. The books and audio dramas also helped to expand many of these elements and add more to the quantum branch of reality that was the Whoniverse.

It was in the 1980s that things began to change for superhero comics. This was when Revisionism came into play. Writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller asked themselves the question of what a superhero would be like, with the powers and abilities they possessed, in a realistic situation. They were also mindful of the pessimism, cynicism, and fear around in this particular time period and wondered how the hero would function in such a world: and what they would do to that world. This is the period in which the superhero really got dissected. Writers in this time and onward seemed to draw on the ancient classical designations of “hero”: of a person of spectacular power and skill that bordered on, or were totally amoral, to reshape the heroes of the 30s and 60s. This allowed much in the way of character development and the creation of truly epic story-lines. Of course, the danger was also created: that the dark grittiness of Revisionism would become a form onto itself and not a vessel to tell a carefully thought out story. Darkness for darkness’ sake, as it were.

With Doctor Who, I argue that its Revisionism came in 2005 with the beginning of the new series. After a gap from 1989, and television movie in 1996, The Doctor returned in 2005 under a very different premise from his earlier adventures. It is almost like producer and screenwriter Russell T. Davies created his own Crisis on Infinite Earths and destroyed much of the quantum and tangential branches of the old Whoniverse in order to create a very centralized, dark, and Byronic reality: as though he and others believed that the only way the program could survive would be to “mature” into this new spirit. It is as though they expected viewers to want something less silly and more “realistic.”

So there was a Time War, the Last Great Time War, that seemed to have obliterated many loose-ends (and cause no small heap of trouble in the loose-ends that did, in fact, continue to exist for the Universe) and leave a Doctor that was more gaunt, more lonely, and far angrier than many of his other incarnations before him. The children’s show origins of program seemed to have been burned away by rage, an attempt at a more serious tone, singular purpose, and Revisionism.

Even the inclusion of David Tennant as the next Doctor, who was a marked contrast to the sullen leather jacket-wearing Doctor who somehow began to lighten up a bit towards the end, only accentuated this kind of Miltonian grandiosity. He might as well, in a ridiculously sublime way, have been an angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost sailing through a perfect clockwork Universe skewed by Original Sin, or perhaps as a far livelier Virgil figure in a kind of Dante’s Inferno of wonders. When Steven Moffat took over as producer and the Matt Smith incarnation of The Doctor came in, the youngest depiction there has ever been (he is about my age), the dark elements were beginning to wear a little thin.

But there is something truly wonderful that was forming with Doctor Who, and its spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures. Despite the darkness and the angst of The Doctor being “the last Time Lord,” there has been a great depiction of wonders. I’m not just talking about the more advanced CGI or sophisticated props and costuming provided to the program. I’m also talking about its embrace of diversity: about its inclusion of different cultures, race and even sexual orientations. And it doesn’t seem to display them as novelties but as givens. As science-fiction that, by its very nature, encompasses the future and its possible sensibilities in addition to all of space and time it is extremely encouraging to see. It might have something to do with the fact that Russell T. Davies is gay himself and wanted to include diversity, but there is also the fact that Doctor Who is the longest running science-fiction show in existence and it changes with the times and the attitudes in each era in which it finds itself.

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But the sense of wonder that is, in the words of the program’s first producer Verity Lambert, “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas,” is so much older than this and it wins out over the darkness every time. It is similar to the sense of nobility and kindness from Superman or the sure sense of justice from Batman. You can also call that sense of wonder hope.

By the time of Steve Moffat, whose episodes are strong in a self-contained short story fashion but whose overall structure begins to unravel the strong Miltonian clockwork of Davies with plot holes, much in the way that the Cracks in Time began to appear, or how the Weeping Angels feed off of temporal rifts and die from paradox-poisoning (which is ironic when you consider how Moffat created them in the first place and that his stories have many plot-holes), you may be witnessing a change beginning to happen. From 2005 and onward, most of Doctor Who has taken place on Earth or has focused almost solely on humans and has maintained a relatively linear story line and premise.

But then Moffat did something. By 1995, Julian Darius argues that Revisionism in comics began to change. Writers such as Grant Morrison began to look back on superhero comics before Revisionism and draw on the idealism and hope of those periods. They took the character-writing and plot development of Revisionism and combined it with the light-heartedness of heroes against the darkness. They, arguably, contributed to the creation of Reconstructionism.

And Morrison himself was known to have really liked the strange and wacky DC elements that existed before what he considered to be a cynical Crisis plot: perhaps much in the way that some of The Doctor’s fans might view his present “gritty and realistic” situation.

Now look back at Steve Moffat. In “The Day of the Doctor” he took the premise of The Doctor having destroyed the Time Lords and, in a typical time-travelling fashion, changed and retconned time. He had The Doctor and his previous incarnations save Gallifrey. Now The Doctor has to go and find it. In one stroke, however it was executed, Moffat eliminated the heart of The Doctor’s modern angst. And in the next episode, in the Christmas Special “The Time of the Doctor” we are going to see him fall to his lowest as he is apparently on his “last incarnation” and is going to die. But we know that isn’t going to happen. We know he will survive. We know there will be a new Doctor.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this is Moffat’s attempt to apply Reconstructionism to Doctor Who. Certainly the inclusion of Tom Baker, the former Fourth Doctor that represented The Doctor’s kindliness, affability and wisdom, into “The Day of the Doctor”–representing what could be another future incarnation of the Time Lord–can be interpreted as a sign of that return to some the weird, and wacky adventures that possess no small amount of hope.

But whatever the case, we are going to see Peter Capaldi as an older, but perhaps wilder Doctor: someone who is not a soldier, a traumatized war veteran, a hero with an anguished dream, or a lonely boy but an adventurer and traveler. He is going to look for where he put Gallifrey. He is going to go out again. Perhaps he might even leave Earth in all time lines and we can see how the rest of the Universe has been doing, how other worlds and newer beings live, and how he will interact with them. Maybe after all the time that Davies has reforged the content of the program it will open up back into larger vistas beyond just Earth and the human.

There is just one last Battle of Trenzalore, a Regeneration rule to work around, and then perhaps the potential for some reconstruction, for something new, for something old, and for something new again. Either way, I look forward to the journey.

My Second Twine Game: Haunted

Me and my Head

I am apparently now in the habit of posting late. So a week or so after the WordPlay Twine Workshop with Christine Love, and exploring Faerie Dark’s world of interconnected Twine games and stories–essentially the progression of a universe-seed in progress–I felt compelled to make another Twine.

My first Twine game was mostly an experiment to see what I could apply in a very basic way to the software medium. I wanted to see if I could tell a story and use the medium to mimic page-turnings, or panels, or–if you prefer–punctuation. With this game, I wanted to do two things.

First off, I wanted to make sure what I did before wasn’t a one-off and I wanted to keep up the practice for when I create some of my more involved works. Luckily I have the template of “Level-Up” to work off of as well as some Twine tutorials and the instructions of Anna Anthropy and Porpentine as well as Gaming Pixie’s advice to go off of too.

But the second reason I made “Haunted” is because I wanted to make both a longer story and something personal. And this story is personal. I don’t just mean that it is based off of some of my life experience, which it is, but it really taps into feelings. I wanted to make sure that I could do this. It feeds into part of a feeble excuse in which I didn’t edit the text or anything, just because it was something I wanted to say and express while it felt real and fresh and, more importantly, tangible and cohesive in my mind. So, in part, I am basically taking Twine and telling a story as flat-out as I can and I admit that process is rather cathartic, if nothing else.

This also gave me an opportunity to explore the boundaries of my own ignorance. Right now, I am at the stage where I am basically taking basic Twine hyperlinking and knowing how to make titles and attribute my name and nothing more. I don’t know how to grey-out or eliminate links once they are chosen. I don’t know how to affect the game when certain items are chosen or not, or when certain places are clicked on or not selected. I have to be mindful about what words I will be using to click from one plot box to the next.

Sometimes I have made mistakes. In my old Twine story, I didn’t even unload it to Philome.la, a free Twine Twitter-based hosting site, properly. It took a few tries and I succeeded thanks to the very prompt and patient guidance of one Colin Marc. This story, such as it is now, is structurally limited but it is more of a game than the first one is. There is more exploration and you will have some–albeit simple–options. I am still focusing on story and expression, this time more personal expression, but I hope to eventually make a stronger game mechanic to make that exploration more potent … with editing, I assure you.

That said, I can see some “dictatorship of the narrative” going on here and I don’t know how well a more generalized audience will be able to relate to this game, but as I have said many times this is a story and I am working on one thing at least that might be a bit more inclusive. At very least and if nothing else, I made an experience and a story.

So here is my answer to the question of whether or not you can haunt the places of your own life. I hope you will appreciate it, and take it for what it is. Until next time, my friends.

For now, become Haunted.

ETA: Based on scraps of what I can remember from Christine Love’s Workshop, I believe I recall what the vertical bars, the |s do. They actually create Headings so that you can Rewind your game to that point and start off from there again instead of doing it all over. I will keep that in mind next time once I figure out how to utilize it properly.

How You Can Help Me

Remember my post where I Am Asking For Your Help? Well, this follow-up post is both late and a long time coming.

I have been insanely busy. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it feels like I’m in a Time War of my very own. I am trying to find that balance between having a life and using my art to support that life. It’s hard. When people tell you that attempting to become a published writer, especially a published writer that makes money off of your creations, they are not exaggerating. I have attempted to get published “legitimately,” and while I have still not ruled it out by any means, and I have one work in particular that I want to send by those channels, there is this one hard fact to consider.

I am working hard to make content and I am not getting paid for it.

Don’t misunderstand. I enjoy writing for Mythic Bios and being given the opportunity to contribute to the other online magazines in which I publish articles. I write much better when I get to focus on the matters of Geek Culture and other areas of interest.

This not about them or any of that. I just can’t ignore the facts. I am on social assistance, and I am working hard to write articles and stories that are not making me any money.

And this has been bothering me for a very long time. To be perfectly honest with you all, I know I’m talented. I know that I have accomplished a great many things in this past year alone and I continue to make myself believe “in as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” which is a far cry from the one or two I barely had energy to concentrate on back in the day, but despite my efforts and my audience I am quite simply not getting paid for any of it.

So I have thought about a solution to this issue. I’ve realized that this is no one’s responsibility but my own and I am now going to take steps to deal with it. The fact of the matter is that throughout my entire life, I’ve never done anything through orthodox channels, and even when I’ve been in established institutions I have had to find my own methods of dealing with them, and creating my own learning path. And now that I’m outside of academia and those established places I realize that I have to apply that same mentality to life. That said, I didn’t even know how begin to deal with life on those terms.

Until now.

Anna Anthropy, through her own quests to support herself and her work, made me aware of a new crowd-funding platform called Patreon. It is essentially an application that allows an artist’s supporters to become their patrons: to donate money to their art. It is a lot like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but while the former are made to support larger projects, Patreon is created to fund artists on a smaller and yet potentially longer term monthly scale.

So now this is the part where I finally get to the point. While Anna Anthropy was the one who lead me to this platform, Amanda Palmer introduced me to the Art of Asking: to the power of crowd-funding, of trusting in the goodwill of your fans, and to simply asking for help.

And here is how you can help me.

I have created a Patreon Profile. I would like you, my loyal friends and Followers to read over what I have written on this Profile and do one of two things: become my Patrons and donate whatever amount of money you feel comfortable paying to my art, or spread word of my art and my Patreon Profile to the people that you know.

I go into a lot of detail in the Profile, so please read it closely, but allow me to clarify a few other matters first. I am not charging money for anyone to view my work on Mythic Bios or anywhere. Aside from the fact that I lack the authority in those other places, I do have the authority to state that Mythic Bios’ content will always be free to the public. If you’d like, think of it as what the name suggests: you are patronizing me (hopefully in the positive sense of the word) for the work that I already do and if you do become my Patrons in addition my Followers you will get to see some Patron-Only work, or be the lucky ones to get a first view of it before I launch it more publicly. And I am also willing to undertake research and creative commissions.

I am not begging you for charity and most of you already know this. I am asking you for the opportunity to work for pay doing something that I love doing and making that connection with you.

Now, this will be a learning process for the both of us. I myself am still figuring out the details with regards to Patreon and it will undoubtedly change over time. Also, I just want to state that if you ever want to stop funding me for whatever reason, you can easily cancel your donations. I am simply hoping for a modest cumulative monthly donation of some kind which I plan to share the results of with you.

The thing is: this is both really hard and very easy to ask this of you. What Amanda Palmer espouses, asking for help, is something that has been ingrained in me ever since I was diagnosed as being learning disabled. The very term “extra help” is indicative of asking. But as I said, I have challenges but I will not beg and if you can’t or don’t want to donate anything to my work I understand and, like I said I hope you will keep following it and let other people know about it and my Patreon.

There has always been a stigma to asking for extra help, or even just asking someone for help in society. But here is where I began to realize the difference. I am not asking a bunch of strangers for change. I am asking you–my friends, peers, colleagues, and loved ones–for help. I am letting go of the negative part of my stubbornness: the pride and the fear of change that does not want to admit weakness or, in this lexicon, vulnerability.

I am trusting, all of you, to help me in some way. Even if it is only in the form of suggestions, questions, concerns, or advice about the contents of my Patreon please let me know and I will treasure what you tell me.

So I am going to re-post a picture I’ve been using for two posts now, and with good reason. This was me looking at the horizon a few years ago: wondering what was going to happen next. And this time, not only am I doing exactly the same thing but I hope to see you all there with me. I will keep putting myself out there. I promise you that. I owe you that. I owe that to myself.

Thank you for supporting me: in any way that you can. You already are.

*Hugs*

sincerely,

Matthew Kirshenblatt

Looking Outward

P.S. I am going to pay this attempt at good will forward. Gaming Pixie is an excellent reviewer, graphic artist, site designer, and video game creator. She is one of those that already believes in six impossible things before breakfast. But due to life circumstances, she needs more help than I do at this moment. Please consider donating some money to her art on her website and seeing what she can truly do. Because just as I believe in her, I also believe in all of you. Please encourage her to believe in a seventh impossible thing.

And check out Anna Anthropy’s Patreon as well. She cannot have enough support for the work that she is doing: not only being one of those creating games with her own voice, but advocating the creation of means for other people to do the same.

Life and Identity, Eden and Hell: The Twines of a Gaming Pixie

The following will talk about–and accordingly link to–games of a graphic nature: if you will pardon the unintentional pun. Reader’s–and player’s discretion–is advised. Do not say that you have not been warned.

It was around February when I discovered Gaming Pixie. Less than a month before, in January, I finished Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and participated in my first–and so far only–Game Jam. After really hearing more about Twine, I began searching for more information on Anna Anthropy’s works and other Twine games.

I’m not sure how I found Gaming Pixie exactly. Perhaps it was through one of her creative YouTube video game reviews, or I found her Pixie’s Sketch Book before or after. I do remember, however, playing one of her only two Twine games at the time: specifically What’s In a Name? Seeing this really personal Choose Your Own Adventure text game really hit home for me the fact that I wanted to make something similar: something that to this very day along with everything else. Then I played her first Twine game–The Choice–and at the time I stopped playing once I got the good ending. It’s strange that I remember the second game more than the first, but even though I could relate to both of them in some way, I really felt more akin to What’s In a Name? and what I felt that Gaming Pixie was attempting to portray.

But I am getting ahead of myself here. Originally, after getting to know Gaming Pixie more, I was only going to write about her game Eden. However, I know feel compelled–in some way–to trace the development of her game-making, and its content even as both continue to evolve.

As I stated before, Gaming Pixie was best known for her own video game reviews. If you click on the above link, you will see an analytical mind that engages with the mechanics of the games she’s plays: accompanied by a sense of wry bemusement, her personal reactions to the game, how she related to it, and her liking to break the Fourth Wall a lot and interpose herself into the games. She rarely, if ever, indulges in profanity (though there are times it seems as though she is coming close, but instead settles for the tongue-in-cheek), and she has a wide assortment of costumes.

A little girl

But in addition to this past, she is also a talented artist–creating many lush and vital comics and storybook-like illustrations–as well designing a really immaculate website or two. By the time I found her, she had more or less transitioned away from reviews, planning to create some comics, then Flash animations, but ultimately choosing the medium of video games to work in: with Twine as her first tool. She had so far created two games: two very personal games.

The Choice: by Gaming Pixie

Her first Twine game, The Choice, is about suicide. You play from the second-person perspective and, after choosing which way you want to die, a part of you attempts to stop you. And that part of you is tenacious. Let me tell you. When I replayed it recently and made a determined choice to kill myself off, that embodied part of me was relentless in asking me whether or not I was sure I wanted to do this.

And playing The Choice made me also re-examine the perspective I want my games to be from and why. Because, you see, I automatically stated that the game was from my own perspective because of the second-person “you” that the narrative addresses the player from, yet it can also be an attempt to make a player see into the mind or the situation of another person. There is this fine line there. And despite the bleakness in this text-based game, there is hope in it too, and the ornate, story-book illustrative graphics complement it well.

Also, when I was searching through Gaming Pixie’s Sketch Book to get more insight into the game, I also came across a review and link to this really interesting Indie game by Daniel Benmergui called Today I Die: which according to her Sketch Book greatly inspired her to look at the issue of a game being a medium for art and emotional expression. It is a truly brilliant and beautiful game about seizing your life back from depression, and so much more. I wonder if it inspired some of The Choice, but either way I, for one, am really glad that Gaming Pixie’s entry led me there, that I played it and that it gave me a little more insight than I had before.

What's in a Name: by Gaming Pixie

By What’s In a Name? … I think this is where it all begins. While The Choice dealt with a feeling of suicide and either overcoming or giving into it–with an emphasis of the strength of life–this game is about futility. It is that second-person perspective again: except whereas you could argue that the previous game gives you more lee-way in projecting your own identity into the game, this one is very concrete and autobiographical. The character or the perspective is that of a woman who is struggling to understand her bisexual feelings and in a situation where no matter how she reacts to an issue of identity, she always loses: finding herself and her burgeoning sense of self becoming de-legitimized and trapped in a place of pervasive biphobia.

This game must have come at the height or the beginnings of what is called The Twine Revolution, or perhaps there was just a niche that formed there because both Kotaku and The Border House as well as Anna Anthropy made mention of and even reviewed this game. Please look at The Border House’s IF Game of the Day: What’s in a Name? by Gaming Pixie, Patricia Hernandez’s A Game About The Confusion And Difficulties That Come With Being Bisexual and Lana Polansky’s Nameless with regards to how she related to the game’s content for a little more information: but please consider playing the actual game first.

I will admit: when I played that last game I really, really wanted there to be a third option and a “screw you to everyone else because I will live my life the way I want to” ending. The fact is, even though the game was not about me, it touched that place in me, and I’m sure in many of us, where I remember trying to figure things out and having other people and forces tell me what was right: with changes in their treatment towards me if I didn’t comply with their spoken or unspoken views. It is a similar feeling and perhaps, one day, I will go more into it: and you can thank Gaming Pixie–at least in part–for at least reinforcing that possibility.

And then things began to really change. I’d lost track of Gaming Pixie for a while, but by the time I came back I saw that she was working on a much longer and more ambitious Twine. The Twine plot outline chart for Eden is a spider’s web of complex activity for me and I’m amazed that Gaming Pixie could keep track of all of that.

Some Twine source code for Eden. SOME.

[It makes me really think I have my own work cut out for me with my own Twine novel.]

What’s more is that this is the point when her game-making changes. Whereas What’s in a Name? is minimal in terms of graphics and both games are silent, she starts to utilize the royalty-free music of Kevin MacLeod as her soundtrack. In addition, she creates a great many more graphics: lush, colourful, finely lined and utterly beautiful pastel images. One thing I should definitely note here is that she has moved past the short and personal into something larger and far more fictional.

And yet, sexuality and gender play a great role in–and with–Eden. At the beginning of this game, you are asked to choose a name and a gender. You are also asked what your sexual preference is. Unlike The Choice, where you have one or two endings, or What’s in a Name? that is ultimately one ending no matter what you do, Eden has multiple–multiple–endings. It looks at beauty and it examines your morality and just how far you are willing to go to maintain what–and who–you believe in: an element that Soha Kareem, in her Haywire Magazine article Soha Kareem shares four more games made in Twine also points out.

What is even more interesting is that Gaming Pixie has managed to place a lot of randomizing elements into the narrative: so that upon future playthroughs the game and its text do not always react in the same exact way. There is even one ending that happens almost simply by chance.

In a lot of ways, if The Choice is choosing life and What’s in a Name? is a grim coming to terms with one’s identity I feel as though Eden was an answer to What’s in a Name?: that third option that branches out from one persona into so many other choices … so much so that if I had to answer What’s In a Name? as a question, I would reply with Eden. In fact, in one Blog post before she reveals her game, Gaming Pixie goes into further detail on the matter.

Shadow of a Soul

And now, we shift gears from a potential and fragile utopia, into–quite literally–Hell. For Halloween, Gaming Pixie decided to do something different yet again. Shadow of a Soul is a horror game in which you have to make some pretty macabre, and yet strangely erotic, and BDSM-themed choices. It starts off the same way as Eden does: asking what your name is, your gender, and your sexual preference. You can see something of a pattern here: in which your sexuality–particularly bisexuality–has an impact on how you experience both of these text games. However, it is more than that. In addition to an open-ended possibility of a third gender or something beyond binary gender, both games present bisexuality as a valid orientation: and that is a great assertive against the spirits of The Choice and What’s In a Name?

Shadow of a Soul has fewer endings and some of the randomization and knowing how many resources you have can mean all the difference between … being in different states. I will not spoil it further than that except to add that it is very hard to win this game: even when the answer stares you right in the face … or if you choose it: just for the, if you will pardon this pun too, hell of it.

It is fascinating to see someone with clear creativity undergoing the transition point between reviewer and artist, then text game-creator, and now going into the realms of programming beyond Twine. So please keep your eye on Gaming Pixie Games: which you can either click on here to view or find on my Blogroll: because Gaming Pixie can obviously explain her process far better than I can and, trust me fellow Clappers, she is one fairy that you should definitely believe in.

Pixie-art