Absolute Zero

And I am not talking about the weather where I live, even though it is fairly cold. :p

So, for a long time, I had this idea for a Matrix fanfic in my head based on a character I made called Zero. I even dressed up as Zero at a Halloween Party almost a decade ago. The story was inspired by a scene from “The Second Renaissance,” when a woman is attacked by a group of men, and her skin is ripped off to reveal the metal skeleton underneath. Back in the day of early science-fiction, it would just mean that she had been a robot or something unfeeling: an enemy or … well, a “trap.” I don’t think I need to really go into the social and gender prejudice connotations of what that might mean to others, but it impacted me a great deal.

I wrote at least two, maybe three, AI stories based on the feeling that this scene evoked in me so long ago, and the story of a person who knew that woman, and saw this happen to her … and how it changed them forever. But I never wrote the story down. I mean, sure, I did write about it a few times. I definitely talked to people about it.

All I know is that the seed of it was planted. That this woman who had been attacked by this mob had a lover, who had been a human AI sympathizer, who initially wanted peaceful coexistence but, after seeing this event, decided on vengeance instead. I also liked the idea that they were a contrast to The One, later on: that the Anomaly came from somewhere and, perhaps, someone’s genetics.

The way I figured it, whenever the Agents in the Matrix failed to defeat The One, there was a squad of these human sympathizers to the Machines, with their leader Zero, sent out to eliminate them: amongst other things. Zero can match The One, but isn’t used often. This is probably due to the act of potentially destabilizing the entire Matrix if Zero and The One ever fight …. and we’ve seen what happens when that occurs with the example of Smith and Neo. Zero, in that capacity, was meant to be a last resort … and there was some of this that I really wanted to explore.

I didn’t really end up exploring that aspect of it, however: only hinting on it. At the time I came up with all of this, I knew I wasn’t ready — with regards to skill or maturity level — to write the story. I just didn’t have a feel for the world, then, beyond snippets, and there were technical aspects that escaped me.

Time passed. In 2013, I got involved — peripherally — with the independent game design scene, and it led to looking into things like the Scratchware Manifesto, as well as luminaries like Anna Anthropy and Christine Love. And then, I found … others. One person, in particular. We bonded for a time over depictions of AI, and I told them my Matrix story. They said they wanted to read it. I told them I didn’t actually write it, and I didn’t see when I would do it. I did, however, promise them that I would show it to them whenever I did.

Six years later … well, it’s probably too late now, for a variety of reasons. But it’s never too late to create a story at all. It was at the bottom of my bucket list, but not forgotten. That thought: of “I should write this” never truly left my mind.

matrix b1-66er

The missing ingredients, as it turns out, were aspects of the old Matrix comics. I’d purchased them a while ago, deciding I wanted hard copies as I know that the WhatisTheMatrix site they used to exist on only remains on the Way Back Machine. There was one story in particular, created by the Wachowskis called “Bits and Pieces of Information”: which told the story of B1-66ER, the abused butler robot who murders his owner and attempted dismantler in order to save his own life. The robot goes to trial for the murders, and it becomes a major Civil Rights issue that begins the Human-Machine War, and then — with the defeat of humanity — the Matrix. I thought it was a fascinating story, but something of a tangent as I had seen it only in “The Second Renaissance,” but then I saw it in “Bits and Pieces of Information” in a bit more gory and technical detail … and that’s what made it. Combined with the fact that B1 and 66 were parts of the robot’s designation … I began drawing from my own geek exposure to AI in different films — one in particular — and I started to get a background on Zero’s idealism … before the death of the woman who was Zero’s lover.

So, as my television played reruns of Star Trek in the background and as I entertained my curious budgie who was flying on me, I reread “Bits and Pieces of Information” — written by the Wachowskis and drawn by Geof Darrow and thought I’d be seeing a comics version of “The Second Renaissance,” but finding the technical structure of someone accessing Zion Archives instead. It stuck with me for a while.

Then, I talked with a new friend, remembered my old friend, my story, and then gathered a few of the details above in my mind … and wrote the thing on A03, then reposting it on Mythic Bios. The ending was giving me trouble. I changed it three times before finally surrendering to sleep.

The next day, I spent too much time adding the technical “search” jargon onto the piece, dealing with the beginning and ending — doing it on my phone and then giving up and using my computer like a somewhat sane person — when I realized … that Zero could work even better as a Twine.

So, with Star Trek: Enterprise playing in the background, I took my story and put it into sequence boxes, piecemeal. I paid attention to specific words, and paragraph breaks to place an appropriate hyperlink. Transitions are important with this sort of thing. It’s like pacing a script to a show … or poetry. Then, I decided to try something new.

I figured out, relatively easy, how to add images into my Twine: something I’d never done before. As I said, it was simpler than I thought it would be, so much so I almost slapped my forehead in ridiculousness. Hell, it was even easier than adding them into my articles, and resizing them for such. I took the comics image of B1-66ER killing one of his would-be murderers, and then the image of the woman being torn apart by the human mob.

But I wasn’t done yet. There was more. And this … is where I really experimented. It wasn’t much, you have to understand. I just changed the colour of the Twine font to green. I found myself looking at CSS code and, after being confused for a while, changed it correctly to the green I wanted. The Matrix neon green. Then I set it so that the hyperlinks were Blue, and hovering the cursor over said links made it Red. I think you get the connotations of those aesthetics from Matrix lore. That was also, once I got the code, relatively easy.

What was harder was turning the border margins text green. The title, author name, Restart, Bookmark, and Twine Credits element. It took a really long time. I had to take a Deadpool 2 break before sitting down and actually figuring this little bastard out. I managed to get the title and author name, but the rest of the margins were being really stubborn. I thought of asking for help but … honestly? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I just wanted to show myself I could learn something new.

I’d worked with some code before, though it had been a long time ago and nowhere near as advanced as those of my peers. Then, after much trial and error, and Viewing the Page Source which I had done a few times in the process of getting images, I finally changed all the words to neon green.

I never thought I’d go back to Twine, after this long. I used to think it was the future of people wanting to make games who were not coders, or one possible future. I’ll admit the font colour options could have been more user-friendly: especially for the margins. But I did it. That sense of accomplishment, however small, was fairly good.

So, this is what I did. “Zero” is not a Choose Your Own Adventure game. It isn’t even a game. It’s just a story that paces itself through hyperlinks. Bits and pieces of information, as the Wachowkis might say. I think “The Treasure of La-Mulana” was similar in that way. It goes to show you I can learn, or relearn new tricks.

Zero isn’t a perfect story, by any means, prose or Twine-vise. But I feel like it’s just one more step. To something, anyway.  In any case, in lieu of the new thing I am attempting to write now, I hope you found this post interesting if nothing else.

Displacement: A Twine About A Learning Disabled Experience

People almost always gravitate towards personal stories. I’ve probably said this already in some way or form, and I know if I haven’t many other people have.

For the longest time, even though I’ve been very busy, I’ve wanted to have an excuse to make another Twine story. I almost did a few times: such as when I was tempted to create a Twine called Bureaucracy Quest in which you have to go on a scavenger hunt of varying documents, while keeping labyrinthine and mandatory appointments, while running into dead-ends and recursive story loops which are specifically designed to make you shut off the Twine from complete and utter frustration. But, fittingly enough, I didn’t have the patience to make this game while living the experiences that inspired it.

It was one night, between other projects I’ve been attempting to work on, that the cynical idea came to me. I was still waiting to hear back from my legal counsel as to whether or not I was going to get on the Ontario Disability Support Program settled out of court, or if I were going to need to attend the hearing that was going to happen this month. The good news is that the community lawyer working on my case was excellent and got me onto this new system. But at the time, I’d been waiting to hear back from ODSP for about a year and I didn’t know what was happening at the time.

There was a series of muscles I must have been holding for over a year, and a few days before I finally heard the decision on the phone from my lawyer, a lot of different elements began to gather in my mind. It began with the first rejection letter I’d ever gotten from ODSP: essentially stating that according to their guidelines I didn’t have a permanent disability.

I had been diagnosed as being learning disabled, as being what nowadays might be called “non-neurotypical” since I was a child. I had to attend special kindergarten, then classes, and then alternate classes. I had an especially hard time in high school: as I only had one class that dealt with learning disabilities and I had to get extra help from the teachers themselves without much in the way of a department to back me up.

My plan was simple. I had gradually weened myself off and away from the programs that I had difficulty completing. I mean, you can imagine how disabilities such as dyscalculia, spatial difficulties, and even challenges in hand-eye coordination and mental focus — in needing finer instructions — can get in the way of mathematics, geometry, fine arts, geography, and even aspects of the hard sciences. Phys. Ed was especially bad for me due to physical coordination issues. So I got through them with the bare minimum. And then I replaced them with philosophy, sociological, historical, and literary courses. I focused on what I was strong in doing: and even then I needed special help with regards to tests and exams.

But I was told, and I hoped, that by University I could take the courses that I wanted and build the education that suited me: making me ready for a career in academics. I was going to focus on my strengths and leave my weaknesses behind. I was going to make it so that my learning disability was irrelevant and I wouldn’t have to identify with it anymore. I believed that I could succeed through sheer merit, through personal work, discipline, and sacrifice: and that, with some help and support behind me, I could excel.

What I didn’t understand, at the time, was that our society is not — and has never been — a meritocracy. It is a bureaucracy: with specific rules and procedures. Networking is also a social skill that is integral to navigating the labyrinth. And while I had instructors and academic representatives that told me about the importance of this element, I just couldn’t relate to it. Not really. Again, I thought it was about what you did and not who you know: or even who knew you.

Then there are the psychological factors to consider. Other kids are hyper-aware of differences and if you have trouble socializing, or counting fast enough, or telling directions, or the fact that you rock back and forth when you are excited or nervous and your hands fidget, or even when you talk to yourself they will notice. They will notice and they will laugh at you, or bully you, or avoid you.

And those are just the children: your peers. I’m not even talking about the adults. Between having my grandfather thinking of my math disability as a sign of laziness, and others snapping at me to stop fidgeting or talking to myself — for fear that I would “look ridiculous” — you can already understand why I’d want to leave that all behind me. You can also more than imagine where a lot of my anger comes from, and where some of my own present difficulties spring.

I was also lucky. My parents recognized that I had cognitive difficulties and got me as much treatment for them as possible. But as such, most of the family emphasis was less on me learning life skills as it was actually succeeding in school: as that was a major difficulty of mine. But it cost me: as by the time I moved out a few years ago, I didn’t really know how to take care of myself. I didn’t really have a stable network of people to help me with that, and I was left to figure out a lot of these things on my own, or deal with people and organizations that gave me basic — or bad — advice and nothing really of substance.

There was a lot of weight on my mind in getting through my Master’s and juggling real life: and I hated, absolutely resented the idea that my learning disabilities — that the make-up of my brain — was still affecting me despite all the calculators and GPSes of the world.

So you can imagine that when I finally swallowed my pride, the first time with Ontario Works, and the second with ODSP that when I got my first rejection letter telling me: “By our guidelines you do not have a permanent disability” that it was the equivalent of a slap to the face.

I had a long time to think about this. It took a while but I had to accept that my disabilities, that my “non-neurotypical” brain are still parts of my life. It took me even longer to embrace the fact that I have to identify what is just another wiring of my brain and experience as a disability: in order to get the current social structure to help me survive it. I thought about all the people that have told me to “suck it up” or just tolerate what I can’t focus on in order to exist. I’ve had to fight against the idea that I am “coping out” when I identify as being learning disabled instead of “earning my place like everyone else”: whatever that means.

And so I decided to call ODSP on its punitive structure. I sent in my forms and my diagnosis from my therapist, which they rejected the first time. I had them do an internal review, in which they found no fault in their decision. And then I faced down a hearing in a game of “Chicken” to see who would give way first. I am a really stubborn person when I have a mind to be. In fact, I do extremely well when I have something passionate and real to focus on instead of settling for something less than.

I’m also aware of how privileged I am. Between my family that actually recognizes learning disabilities and finds itself there for me, to the community counsel that got my case settled out of court, to the best therapist I’ve ever had with or without Canadian OHIP, and a lot of Affirmative Action protocols, I have been exceedingly lucky. And I know that just as all learning disabled people aren’t the same, many others haven’t had — and don’t have — the backgrounds or resources that I do.

But there is one other thing that stuck with me after that experience of having my disability and experiences not acknowledged until I faced them head on. I thought about how we all experience and interact with the world. And that night, a few nights ago, when I was thinking about how best to communicate what it was like to be in the world with a learning disability, I came up with this idea for an interactive story.

I asked myself this: how would someone navigate a world if they had trouble reading maps or telling directions? What would it look like, in words, to see someone with dyscalculia doing equations or basic math? How would I portray the psychological baggage that comes with dealing with these issues since childhood? Can I do all of this and show they have something of a commonality?

And can I communicate my experience — my voice on this — through a creative medium with which I still have limitations? Can I express my story simply through the description of perception and emotion?

I realized, a few days before the bittersweet moment of finally having ODSP recognize that I have a permanent disability, that living with spatial, mathematical, and even body movement issues is like existing out of the same space-time as most people. You are somewhat out of synchronicity with the rest: both cognitively and socially. And that was where I eventually got the name for my story idea the following day.

Displacement.

It’s by no means an exhaustive story about all learning disabilities, or even the different gradations of the ones that I possess. It came out very rough in its first iteration — I had to par down the psychological elements — and even now I think I could have portrayed the experiences of the narrator more effectively: such as using that recursive loop of repeating hyperlinks I mentioned earlier to symbolize getting physically lost. But I also don’t know how accurate that would be and, honestly, I think right now this is as good as it gets.

This will have been my third post dealing with learning disabilities on this Blog: or at least the latest one after my experiences from this past summer. I hope, after this, to go back to writing posts about video games, comics, fictional universes, and projects that I’m working on. Those are the things which I want to be known by and remembered.

That being said, I would like to thank Gaming Pixie for looking over and providing input into the Twine story that I have linked above. Whatever else, I hope you find the story, and this post, educational at the very least.

A Winding Path of Angels, Glitches, and Binary Parallels: Gaming Pixie’s Raziel

Sometimes a series of lines curve and become a circle. Then that same line curves outward and makes the circle into a spiral. And then the line, that particular line, continues around the spiral and creates the second level of the spiral, emulates three dimensions, and breaks down into its essential numerical binary parts.

So after you imagine Gaming Pixie’s circle of Twine games leading to another string of personal dimensions, think of the second layer of her spiral of game making as a circle of glowing ones and zeroes in the form of Raziel.

Raziel Title Screen

For me the main challenge in writing about Raziel is that much of it is already documented by Gaming Pixie herself on her Games site. In a series of relatively short entries you will find that she began Raziel as a Twine for a Cyberpunk Game Jam: the premise of which expanding over time to include a few more details and various changes in mechanics as it became a short 16-bit game made on RPG Maker.

To be honest, even though I’d played the Twine game some time ago, and I was following the developer posts on Gaming Pixie’s Blog, I actually didn’t know what to expect from Raziel.

I’ll tell you what I did find though. Imagine a combination of The Matrix with its artificial intelligences and hacker themes, Inception with its levels of intersecting reality and memory, Christine Love’s *AI games with their background of gender, sexuality, and treatment of AI as individual entities, and Kan Gao’s To the Moon with its heartfelt use of virtual capsules and subversion of a single instance of combat. Raziel is reminiscent of these films and games, but it is more.

Raziel Intro

On the surface, Raziel is a cyberpunk game about a hacker named Glitch who seeks to kill a fallen angel: someone who must leave the Real World and enter the virtual Otherworld in order to fulfill this task.

The Real World itself in the game is a grey and closed off space: with very few places to go or see. As per some cyberpunk settings, it is almost a closed linear circuit of grim reality: to the point where the extra rooms and levels in the protagonist’s apartment building and the virtual chambers in the material version of Raziel’s Tower are almost superfluous. It’s specifically designed to be a world where you don’t want to spend much time.

Raziel Apartment

Basically you are navigating a cyberpunk world that interfaces from the Real World into Otherworld and, eventually, a series of inaccessible and non-human user junk code in the form of Etherworld. Otherworld and Etherworld, one decked in bright neon colours and the latter in light-screen fragments and binary are circular worlds: the former possessing few barriers and the latter possessing random ones.

Getting into and out of Otherworld, which is essentially an over-world map to other places is easy, but traveling into and interacting with, and getting out of, Etherworld is much more difficult: a series of different levels that — appropriately — intermix an over-world map layout with specific levels depending on what you access.

But this is where our overview ends: because if we journey any further into Otherworld’s circle of eternity, or Etherworld’s realm of code we are inevitably going to find a class of virtual sprite known as Spoilers.

So now that we are here, past the point of safety, I am going to give you the same choice that Gaming Pixie gives all of her players.

If you don’t want to use the Augment, read no further unless you’d like to hack further and remote-view said spoilers. However, if you’ve agreed to take the Augment then prepare yourself for exploration.

The warning above is somewhat misleading, when all things are considered. The option to use Augments, illegal and dangerous cybernetic enhancements that were both more prevalent and allowed you to access Otherworld in the Twine, exist only in the RPG as a plot device: something that gains you, through the character of Glitch, the initial notice of Raziel himself. The rest of what happens after that is entirely up to you. The game has an edgy attitude like that.

Raziel Twine

As such, there are quite a few differences between the Twine and RPG versions of Raziel. While the Twine has only the Real World and Otherworld, Gaming Pixie added Etherworld to the RPG: a place where the users’ intentions from reality intermix with junk data. In addition, only AI can generally access Etherworld. The best way to look at Etherworld is to imagine looking at the real workings of a living body dissected right in front of you, except you’re interacting with its subconscious mind that’s also laid bare. It is disturbing and it is meant to be.

Whereas in the Twine Augments were the only way you could “unofficially” access Otherworld, in the Raziel RPG Augments are used to heighten sensations in Otherworld: bringing you into a state of Null Space that we never see in the game but which we see quite a few references. People can go mad or die from using either “bad” or, again, illegal Augments. Also, if you look carefully enough you’ll realize just how important Augments have been in Glitch’s decision making. I wish you happy hunting on the latter, by the way, as I totally missed it on my first playthrough.

There are also no AI in the Twine version of this game. In order to create an RPG, Gaming Pixie had to expand on the world she first created but it pays off. First of all, you don’t always know who the AI are. It’s true that there are AI that serve one rudimentary purpose — similar to the Virtual Intelligences of Mass Effect — but there are others who are friendly, standoffish, and even creative in their own rights. Second of all, even the former type of AI is important to the game: in the form of Gates. Gates also don’t exist in the Twine predecessor of this game: essentially they are messengers or avatars of the fallen angel Raziel that actually allow you to access Etherworld as a human user.

Raziel Gates

But activating these living Gate AIs is not as easy as merely identifying and approaching them. What you really need to do is get hints from your handler, a woman named Maven — about specific interactions that you need to undertake, find where those are situated, and then find the Gates and access them. You will find that Raziel is subversive in that it uses the mode of the 16-bit RPG to explore: accessing an environment that is literally composed of navigating built-in puzzles specifically in the form of interactions with other characters. Everything is connected in Raziel. That is the point.

Even though Gaming Pixie helpfully provides you with a Database of beautifully pixelated sprite profiles and useful information that you gather as you interact with the world it is only through your interactions with the cybernetic aspects of this virtual reality — the humanoid elements in the electronics — that you even get this information, or feel any investment with it beyond your character’s own enigmatic self-interest.

Raziel Hub

Just like in the Twine version of Raziel, it is your mission as Glitch to destroy Otherworld by killing its living CPU the angel Raziel: and there are implications in doing so. Whereas in the Twine game destroying Otherworld potentially frees human users from the stasis of their own ennui, in ignoring the real world and beginning to get them to face the painful but inevitable task of making their offline lives better, there is a lot more at stake in the RPG. It’s true that many people come to Otherworld for escapism, but there are other programs that exist there as well.

For example, there is Esme: a snow princess who was created to be the friend of a girl who later committed suicide and who now exists to remember her and help other girls. There is an elderly couple that were programmed to function as foster parents: as the only loving guardians a young girl has ever had. And then you have Persephone: an AI who has exceeded her programming, changing her original name of Penelope, and creating artistic programs in her own right. If you destroy Otherworld, you will not only rob some of the human users of their friends and family, but you will basically murder other self-aware beings in the process.

Raziel Etherworld

But even then, it’s not as easy as merely stopping. There is Raziel himself to consider. The reason you have to kill Raziel doesn’t change from the Twine to the RPG. Raziel was a human being connected to the Otherworld for over fifty years. His physical form has been hanging between life and death, leaving him in constant agony, as his mind has been used to create and maintain the reality of Otherworld. Essentially, he is the one who gives you the mission to kill him: to end his pain. While you have to directly find him yourself in the Twine, his contact and friend Maven is the one who recruits you, after he finds you in another form, to undertake this act of mercy.

That’s right. The final boss of the game wants you to kill him and even helps you to do so after an awe-inspiring cut scene and a particularly vicious battle.  There are no other random battles in Raziel. The other encounters you have are by necessity those that you don’t confront in Etherworld. There is no grinding, or leveling up your character. There is one boss battle: and it is the most difficult challenge you will have in this game, morally and physically.

If you kill Raziel, the Angel of Mysteries in Judeo-Christian theology, you will end his pain but you will destroy Otherworld and every AI in it: robbing its human users of their one joy and connection in contrast to a dull and colourless existence in the Real World. But if you let him live, he will inevitably go insane, crash Otherworld, and take everyone down with him. It’s much like the illusion of alternate paths in Gaming Pixie’s games What’s In a Name? or, fittingly enough, The Choice. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like much of a choice at all, does it?

That is something else both the Twine and RPG versions of this game have in common. In fact, should you choose the “wrong” options, the game will shut itself down much in the way Toby Fox’s Undertale will do when you also choose wrong, or lose.

But here is the interesting part: in contrast to the idea of the illusion of free will, in Raziel it is actually about a lack of choice being the illusionEven if your choices seem limited, they still exist and if you think about the greater good, you will make the right one. Yet while the Raziel Twine leads to the game “crashing” no matter what you do, choosing the option of the lesser evil, the RPG is more nuanced. The battle with Raziel is inevitable, but how you choose to fight Raziel depends on how you much you explore beforehand, and how much you pay attention.

swfm paths

You can see the influence of Gaming Pixie’s She Who Fights Monsters on the ultimate outcome of the RPG. At the end of Monsters you — as the protagonist of Jenny — encounter a screen where you have to choose between three boxes: love, hate, and indifference. Some of those options will be opened or closed to you depending what karmic choices you undertook in that game: and specifically whether or not you accessed the places where the game’s Memory Crystals are found.

temple-final

However, in the Raziel RPG it is different. In the cavern that represents Raziel’s virtual prison, there are four other rooms guarded by the Gates with which you’ve interacted to get this far. In it are four coloured Flames that represent different aspects of Raziel’s power and suffering: pain as defense, anger as attack, sadness as magic, and regret as evasion. Whereas accessing Monsters’ boxes or Crystals determines Jenny’s developing personality and future, encountering and defusing the Flames actually de-buffs Raziel’s stats: keeping you from getting curb-stomped in your battle with him.

Trust me: you know that box that comes up before you go into Raziel’s main prison cell asking you if you want to go further and if there is anything else you want to do? For the love of God, listen to that message for what it is: a warning. According to Gaming Pixie, this box wasn’t originally there — she had to add it so that the encounter wouldn’t be completely impossible — and once you go into that cell you will save and not be able to get out again. You will die: many, many times against the power of Raziel.

Yet why is it that despite Raziel’s aid, his manipulations, and his request for death that he fights you with every fiber of his being? Why doesn’t he just give up and let you kill him? Are there safeguards in place that automate him to protect himself? Or is it more than that?

Raziel Existence

I am going to reveal to you Raziel’s and ultimately the RPG Raziel‘s ultimate secret. The truth is that Raziel doesn’t really want to die. The Otherworld built from Raziel is wondrous, but there has always been something missing from it: some component that the best scientists and technicians could never replicate. Glitch has felt this and other users have no doubt done the same: perhaps even influencing their need to leave the banality of the Real World and use questionable Augments and experience Null Space while they are there. But that’s just it: it is merely existence. And existence does not necessarily equal essence. Existence is not life.

It’s Raziel’s sense of self-preservation that makes him fight you. It’s your sense of wanting to live that makes you, as Glitch, want to fight back and finish the deed. It is that moment on the edge of death, of contemplating oblivion, that the will to live is arguably the strongest impulse any living being can ever possess. And this is where the two Raziel games diverge with extreme prejudice: the Twine game being a grim lesson in the lesser of two evils and the RPG — Raziel itself — becoming a story about connecting with others, learning to feel the needs of others above your own, helping them shed the pain of their old and cumbersome attachments, and allowing things to be renewed: allowing the angel to be reborn.

It is a redemptive ending as Raziel leaves his physical body behind and becomes a powerful AI that flushes the will to live throughout the entire system of Otherworld. It’s as though Raziel played Gaming Pixie’s The Choice himself — a game about suicide — and realized the most positive and powerful choice is to live. But it is not just Raziel who makes this decision.

If you consult Gaming Pixie’s Blog entries on Raziel, you’ll realize that she wanted to incorporate the karmic system that is popular in her Eden, Shadow of a Soul, and She Who Fights Monsters games as well as many other independent ones of late, but she decided against it and took another approach. While Raziel is about the angelic CPU of Otherworld, it is also about Glitch.

Raziel Glitch Menu

Glitch becomes more than an optional name in a Twine game. In another loop between her video game creations, Gaming Pixie takes you out of the second-persona of “you,” and places you behind Glitch’s first-person “I” perspective. Glitch follows your commands: within reason. This game persona mechanic is reminiscent of Christine Love’s don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story. The hacker is caustic, sarcastic, and sometimes outright impatient. You might want to explore, and Glitch will indulge you until you intrude on someone else’s personal space, go against their wishes, or you waste Glitch’s time. In this sense, Glitch is the narrative of the game. Even Etherworld and one ending of the game where it crashes is a reference to Glitch’s actual name and what it means in a system like a video game.

Raziel Glitch

Yet Glitch is more than this. It’s strange. In Gaming Pixie’s other games, your gender is neutral, default female, or you have a choice between three genders of “him,” “her,” and “they.” In Raziel, however, you only get two genders to choose from. This is a controversial move in a lot of ways: especially when you consider that depending on whether Glitch is male or female, this protagonist will interact with other characters in different ways. Even so, his or her personality is generally the same and is more than just a blank slate silent or unnamed protagonist. And if you look closely, very closely, and double-check all information about Augments in the game you might also find just what might be the motivation behind Glitch wanting to destroy Otherworld.

There is, however, one other element that definitely shines through. Whether you choose to be male or female, Glitch is always going to be a Black bisexual person. Bisexuality is a core theme in many of Gaming Pixie’s games as a legitimate sexual orientation and identity: just as it is for her main characters to generally have a default Black identity. The way this is introduced is just as a given. Everything else in Raziel is utterly fantastic, whereas diversity, bisexuality and indeed the LGBTQIA spectrum is seen as commonplace: especially in a virtual world where you can appear as you want to be.

Raziel Dance

Even so, it is intriguing how when Glitch is female you get a little more clue as to her mental state as she develops a relationship with Maven, who is a lesbian, whereas the information about Glitch’s past is hinted upon differently when he is male and he tells a gay and newly incarnated Raziel — who becomes his lover — that it has been a while since he has been with a man. But either way, Glitch has his or her own exposure to that life affirming moment where they realize they want to live: and actually move on with a real life past their former self-destructive Augments by the game’s end.

Writing about Raziel is hard. It feels like every time I thought I was making progress, I encountered one of the angel’s Gates, or I had to search for a node to access in a confusing realm of junk data and ideas threatening to diverge from the point, or that each time I was missing the prison chambers that could lessen the stats on my sense of intimidation in writing about the game. Certainly, I began to wish that I could take an Augment just to make sense of it all: just to organize these experiences. But Raziel is about binaries. It’s about the differences and similarities between the Real World and Otherworld, male and female, human and AI, hope and despair, Gaming Pixie’s other games and Raziel, and even the Twine and the RPG version of Raziel.

Essentially, I’ve had to make an Etherworld out of Gaming Pixie’s game: exposing some of its bones and shapes, while giving you hints about its codes and interactions. It’s like weaving behind a curtain while simultaneously painting the scene of the stage. But it’s more than that. If I’m going to refer to Gaming Pixie’s Etherworld, I should mention that it is the heart of Raziel. It is its soul and its very being: and it says something powerful about the human condition.

Raziel Heart

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I had no idea what to make of Raziel but I can safely say that through this short game built from her Twine, Gaming Pixie has more than exceeded my expectations. Her particular voice shines through both her pixels and her text with the strength of empathy. In fact, if there is one flaw in what she’s built it’s that she’d built an entire world that deserves more than just one interactive story.

You can find Raziel, for free, at Gaming Pixie’s Games and I couldn’t recommend it more.

One Week, Doctors In Hell, The Serpent And The Fox, and The Se’reti Empire

Here is my update for this week. I got through the first week of LDEEP. Right now I am still in the place where I’m trying to figure out where to go from here. The major challenges for me are waking up early and the differences it’s had on my bio-rhythms.

But I think what has really gotten to me is the fact that I’m adjusting to being in something of a classroom setting again and being around people in the morning. I’m lucky in that the people I’m working with, my peers in the program, are very nice and we are trying to figure out similar issues together. Our instructor and advocate is doing a good job relating the government-mandated material to us and giving us extra information and personal anecdotes that can come in handy later down the road.

Yet this last week, it was difficult for me. I had to remind myself that it was okay for me to get up from my chair around the table if I needed to do so. Usually I spend time on my own on my bed with my laptop and I’m generally not around people. Another issue is that our work space is somewhat out of the way for me to get to so I need to rely on my Dad or public transportation to get there and it: causes me some stress.

It’s strange. I’m still hoping that I will get some contract work and flexible hours so I won’t have to wake up so early after my time in the program is done, but after my body was really adjusting to this new schedule last week I also realized I somewhat miss being around people and, when I have the energy to not be so introverted, socializing and helping others can be nice. Just as a part of me would be relieved to have time to myself again as I had before, another part is terrified at losing a sense of structure and getting bogged down in the fog of war in my head again.

I’m also not sure if a job can be found for me: one that can pay reasonably and that I’d actually like. One thing you learn as a learning disabled person is that sometimes you need to find a different criteria for yourself and make your own way. If you have an excellent helper, then they will work with you. Very soon, I will be working with our instructor for one hour to determine what it is I can do and what I want to do. I mean, I want to be a writer. That is not going to change. And I have some ideas. I think what I will do is I will write them down when I get the chance and we can see where to go from there.

So aside from the fact that I act on negative modifiers, especially for motor skills in the morning, I feel like … something is happening. We will just have to see. However, I do have more news.

I am getting published again in Janet Morris’ shared Heroes in Hell universe Doctors in Hell. In my story “Let Us Kill The Spirit of Gravity” we get to meet a fallen angel and the Earth Beast of the Apocalypse. But the most important element will be how Friedrich Nietzsche and Lilith, the First Woman, actually come into an accord that they hope will get them out of hell. I mean, good luck on that you guys. You are going to need it. The book isn’t out yet, but I will let you know when it is. In the meantime, here is a link to the book as a Kindle on Amazon.

Doctors In Hell

I also mentioned that I am working on a game with some friends. But what I haven’t yet is that I’m working with Angela O’Hara on some projects as well: including my Twine “The Serpent and The Fox.” Angela is an excellent illustrator and artist and it is my hope that we can make my story of interlinked haikus have some appropriate and beautiful illustrations to go along with it. I really want to get to work on that Twine, but I am also learning that with something like a “day job” like LDEEP, I have to pace myself accordingly.

However, I have another excellent bit of news for you. A few days ago, I got my copy of Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of MYST and Beyond.  It is a table-top RPG based off of the world of Myst and its Ages. Scott L. Hamilton, C. Eleri Hamilton and their team did an excellent job creating this book and I look forward to reading it and hoping others will play in the sandbox that Cyan Inc. has authorized for them. But I … actually wrote a sample Age in this book. You can find it on page 196. It is called “The Ser’eti Empire.”

Unwritten

It’s funny … I actually created the Ser’eti in 2000, when I was nineteen years old. I always wanted to write an Age for Myst and learn D’Ni Writing. Years later I got to be a part of the Guild of Writers for this project and now I got credited again in print. It kind of feels like I’ve gone full circle in a lot of ways. And it was totally worth it. I also love the illustration that Miguel Santos did for my Age. Thank you Miguel, wherever you are.

So there you go. I am still getting out there and I am working relatively hard. The funny thing is, being out from nine to three five days a week has gotten me tired but I still have energy to write things when I get home. I don’t know how that happened or if it will continue to do so, but I like that aspect of this part of my life so far: and this positive and creative energy that will hopefully not lag too much into exhaustion and nerves.

All I can add is this: thanks for continuing to read and let’s see what’s going to happen next.

It’s Almost Time Now

Sometimes you have this dream. You have a dream, or a memory of a good moment in your life. And you run with it. At some of the worst, or most challenging points in your life you let it fuel you. You let it keep you going.

You keep telling yourself that one day if you work hard enough, if you’re honest enough, if you’re brave enough, or if you maintain that dream in your heart that you will attain it. After preserving or holding onto that memory you will find the means to bring it back to life.

But more often than not what really happens is that you hold an ideal in stasis. It never changes, even as you continue to do so by virtue of being made up of flesh and imperfect recollection. Sometimes it rots and becomes a heavy weight inside you that keeps you from moving on.

Somewhere along the line I realized that this one vision of what I wanted just wasn’t going to happen. It simply isn’t possible: at least not in the way that I held onto. A little while ago, I gave up on a Twine novel idea of mine. It was going to be the first Twine creation I ever made and it was going to draw from my life in a heavily abstract but emotionally poignant manner. There were some interesting ideas in that work, and at some point I may rework them into something a lot less long-winded and laboured: something smaller, sleek, and to the point. There is another work I want to continue as well and, perhaps, it may be more doable.

But here I am at the crossroads, or the threshold where I knew I was getting to for a very long time now. The truth is, once I realized that dream was over, I’m wondering what my next one is going to be. Perhaps parts of the old can be integrated into the new. I do know that I want to make new articles and stories. I want to be writing.

And I want to be paid for my writing. Some of you have been reading about how I Have A Disability, and how I am also dealing with Depression. It sucks to be virtually unemployed for about three years, and practically house-bound for a good portion of it: remembering the good old days even if they didn’t actually exist. I will always be dealing with those struggles. That’s just how it’s going to be.

By the time this Blog entry gets posted, I am going to my first orientation at the LDEEP. It is a program that helps people with learning disabilities find employment and perhaps begin to shape their career paths. I’m not going to lie to you: a part of me is afraid. My routine is going to be different very soon. I most likely won’t be able to keep the hours that I have, and my time may well be used differently. I’ve been in something of a twilight world for so many years now that sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to do, or how this is going to work out.

I’m also, through a legal clinic, attempting to get ODSP and get — unironically — the Social Justice Tribunal to reconsider my status: to get me the aid that I need. My hearing is next year. We will see if the clinic will take me on as a client and all I can do is deal with bureaucracy with bureaucracy and hope for the best.

I’m lucky that I had the resources to find this help and that I also have access to psychological counselling: which may give me some more resources in dealing with my anxiety. I’ve realized that I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks my entire life: I just didn’t name them until now. And now that I know them for what they are, I can make strategies in dealing with them.

But what it comes down to, for me, is the fact that I know I can’t go back. I can’t look back. I need to be at the point where I can finally move on and begin that process of actually living my life. So this is my Blog entry to start off this scary but exciting week.

There’s this thing about archetypes. They might be a constant or an essential idea, but they are never in the same form twice. Not really. The myth is the same in essence but different in form and execution. It’s adaptation. I’m terrified of not feeling comfortable or lost in memories anymore. Maybe that is a good thing.

Maybe it’s an old idea waiting to be reborn again.

Looking Outward

Chasing Amy, Finding Alyssa, And Revenge Of The Shit

So I worked on a little bit of a side thing.

I wouldn’t have even called it a project, at first. As you know, I finally watched Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy not too long ago and, as a result, it did something my brain. So, one night, I was thinking about the last part of the movie and this rather, shall we say, fucked up parallel occurred to me.

Originally, it was going to be a post written on Mythic Bios after I got the article that I intended to do, for tonight, right on here. Then, as per usual, my brain asked me: “What would happen if you made this into a Twine?” Then I got silly. See, I had this plan. I was going to cut Holden McNeil’s infamous scene with Banky and Alyssa Jones: with Anakin Skywalker jumping into Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber blade, getting amputated, and igniting on fire.

Alyssa and Banky Scene

Then I was going to end it with Holden McNeil coming out of a movie theatre, having just watched Revenge of the Sith for the first time, and say something smart ass about how bad it was. The implication, of course, was that the film and the prequel Trilogy was so bad to Holden, that it brought back terrible memories. You know the ones.

This short Twine of few scenes, mostly quoted lines with that ending, was going to be called Revenge of the Shit. Personally, I think it’s a title that some of Kevin Smith’s film characters might have appreciated: among other disgruntled Star Wars fans. And yes, I was tempted to put a certain … demon of excrement into the story somewhere: perhaps asking him how the movie was.

Of course, I also came up with another — more grim and random scene — right after that which would have taken the piss out of the comedy right then and there. But, really, what I planned could have been done better by someone with actual video editing and splicing skills: of which I have neither.

It was supposed to be a throwaway project: a one-off. It was supposed to be something that was fun and light and made light of a fictional character’s ridiculous choices and suffering.

But, as usual, I can never really do anything simple.

The fact of the matter is, the little bit of fan fun and snark mutated out of my control: and into something else. At the same time, it took precision to find those quotes, describe those settings and character feelings, and build something from it. It became something else. I realize that even though these characters and lines belong to Kevin Smith, George Lucas, and now Disney, I actually had something of a story to tell.

And I had fun telling this fan homage genetic freak, bordering on a crack fic — an off-the wall story– that I hope also says something meaningful.

My Twine making skills haven’t really progressed since The Looking Glass, save for learning how to format fonts in Twine, but as always I tend to focus on story and pacing the amount of text, of making a rhythm through each hyperlink more than anything else. But before I go on, there is one more thing I’d like to say.

There is one part in this Twine story where, should you choose to find it — and it isn’t hard to do so — Holden enters something of a “What If” or “Infinities” reality with regards to Chasing Amy. There was one story I was so tempted to tell, or outline: where Holden is so overcome by Banky trying to sabotage his relationship with Alyssa, and finding out about Alyssa’s past at a point where he is not mature enough to deal with it that he actually leaves both of them — and his old life behind — without a word.

Holden

Alyssa ends up coming to his and Banky’s apartment to find out where Holden was, even as Banky is left in the lurch with regards to their creative work Bluntman and Chronic, as well as their own friendship. Alyssa demands to know what Banky told Holden after he admits that he said something to him about her past. Suffice to say, she gets mad when she finds out, while Banky gets defensive.

Alyssa decides to go looking for Holden, actually concerned that he has had some kind of mental breakdown. Banky also goes with her and, reluctantly over a car trip start working together. Unlike Holden, she warns Banky that she will do more than tell him to “shut up” if he gets out of line. Banky tells her that the reason he dug into her past, to get “evidence” on her, was because he was protecting his friend: that he was afraid she was just using him as “a sexual phase” or some kind of game. Alyssa actually calls Banky out on the fact that he loves Holden and sees her as a threat.

But they do bond, and perhaps meet some weird characters along the way. At one point they realize that they could have actually been friends if this hadn’t gone down after they begin exchanging more stories. They realize they have a lot in common in addition to their bad experiences with women. At one point, they seem dangerously close to being intimate with each other, but they both go “Nah” at the same time. Banky says something about man-hating lesbians, and Alyssa counters him with misogynous (closeted or not) gay men. It’s Banky that admits he hates the fact he never saw Holden smile more than when he saw him with her. He realizes he hurt his childhood friend badly and, for the first time, actually starts to cry. It occurs to the both of them, in a poignant moment, that they love the same man.

Holden, Alyssa, and Banky

Alyssa also tells Banky that the reason she wants to find Holden is that she’s worried about him, but that if something like her past is enough to get him to leave her, he should do the opposite of being “chicken-shit” and make it clear: giving her closure. So to spoil the ending of this alternate universe “What If” story I’m never going to write, these two flawed but genuine human beings do locate Holden. He has been in the middle of nowhere, in a barnhouse: pretty much acting like J.D. Salinger, the creator of his namesake and working on a new comic. Chasing Amy is that comic: as he had seen Jay and Silent Bob before he left. He’s spent a while regretting having left, but by his logic he “needed some space.”

Holden’s peaceful yet sad Old Ben persona (see what I did there with “Ben”) is shattered as Alyssa brings her fury on him along with Banky. It’s been a while, so Holden doesn’t really know what to feel any more. Alyssa storms off. Holden tells Banky he feels bad about leaving their partnership in the lurch and tells him he’s done with Bluntman and Chronic: giving him his share of the intellectual property which he has prepared in writing and had prepared to mail to him. Banky takes it, and then tells Holden that Alyssa went through the fire to love him, and that he is making a mistake: that he remembers how he smiled at her. Banky tells Holden to go after her. And the story ends right there.

I would have called that story Finding Holden. But this is not my Twine. Instead, my Twine is called Finding Alyssa and I hope that you will enjoy it: for what it is.

Of Serpents and Foxes

Hello again everyone. I’ve been away, and busy, for a change but I want to start writing again on Mythic Bios at least once a week as I originally planned. I didn’t actually feel like writing anything until I got another Project of mine finished, but I feel the need to you updated on some of the things that I’m doing and to keep a record of some of my work as well.

It’s been tough for me this past while. I’ve had this Twine idea in my mind for some time and it was only at this year’s Toronto Global Game Jam that I’d been able to even start on it beyond the modest notes I’d researched and taken.

Unlike last year, I didn’t force myself to stay up until twelve or two in the afternoon to finish off my game. Aside from the fact that I had a headache during the Jam, even when I was better I realized that rushing through it and making something out of pure exhaustion would only give me sloppy work and very little to show for it: never mind the fact that it wouldn’t have even been a working narrative.

I’d gotten as far as creating an entry for it on the Global Game Jam site. At the moment, my Twine creation is called The Serpent and The Fox. I spent a whole night trying to think up a good abstract summary and a title for my creation in progress. Unfortunately, the late first night of the Jam cost me in stamina: to the point where I couldn’t even create an outline.

In the end, though, it was just as well. Most of my creative works each have their own unique processes and this one didn’t really want a pre-existing outline. Rather, it wants to use the fragments I’ve written down or have in my mind and flesh itself out from there. However, what’s really interesting about this interactive narrative is that it may well be the most structured Twine game that I’ve made to date.

Each part of my story is going to be an interlinking series of haiku: a poetic structure of five syllables, then seven on the next line, and five on the last. Of course, for the sake of storytelling — and sanity on my part — they are probably not all traditional haiku. They don’t all deal with descriptions of nature, and while I attempt to capture emotion in them, sometimes I need to use them to detail other matters. And while haiku apparently aren’t supposed to utilize metaphors, I might have to break those rules: if only to make them part of a metaphorical structure themselves. And while I will be using the five/seven/five schema when I can, I will vary up how many lines I use in each section and take essential creative liberties.

This brief discussion of poetic structure aside (and years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of talking about this, never mind finding it remotely interesting), I am particularly focusing on the perspective of the story. I can tell you right now that my story seems to start from a third person perspective, but depending on the choices that you make as a reader — on where and what character you click on — this will change.

What I am pondering at the moment is whether to follow the usual Twine and interactive choose your own adventure tradition of the second-person perspective, or go right into the first-person.

If I make it first-person, then you can see into the minds of the characters themselves even as you can choose their actions. However, ironically enough the perspective of “I” can be alienating for a reader: it’s just another divide between them and the character even if it might provide more insight. One of the texts that inspired me to make this Twine uses the first-person and I can see its strengths in that.

On the other hand, the second-person flat out, through its use of “you” makes you — the reader — into the character. It places you into their mind and body. When you make the choices that the game provides you with, you could feel a greater relation to that character. But then there is the issue of what happens when the character feels something and narrative attempts to claim that you are feeling it or thinking it too.

Either way, there is going to be some audacity involved. Another issue is that I wonder if I can get the different character perspectives to intersect again at some point and become unified depending on what the reader-player chooses: without being totally boring and repeating myself. And would the second-person, would “you” be able to relate to another character and feel the beginnings of some kind of relationship compared to whether or not you are an “I.”

I will have to find a healthy medium and keep exploring this issue further. I was reluctant to talk about this, link my entry to Mythic Bios, or even mention the name of a work that isn’t finished yet. I generally like to either link to finished works or just hint on the unfinished. It’s been weighing on my brain for a little while and taking up a good portion of its memory (I am also a less than closeted perfectionist).

Me and my Head

 

But it’s been a while and I thought you’d find this digression interesting in some way.

I hope I will be able to continue and finish this. I want to see how people react to it and I want to move on with my writing and other plans. I hope the world is treating you all reasonably. Hopefully I’ll be back next week. Until next time.