Assorted Geeky Things

As promised, a non-ranty post!
Here is an epic quiz of geekiness, courtesy of Facebook:

http://a6.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/562816_10151089706509588_457126820_n.jpg

My answers:

1) Earthbender

2) Ravenclaw

3) Unicorn Pony

4) Wonder Woman — I’m not a big comics fan (see below) so I just picked the first female superhero that came to mind.

5) Elf (again, see below)

6) Vampire

7) Blue

8) X ALL THE Y!

9) Dark

10) Mage
Gef’s Geeky Confessions

  1. I have never watched the following shows: Doctor Who, Firefly, the vast majority of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the X-Files, Star Trek, Supernatural (I watched one episode for a school project, that’s it), and pretty much anything that isn’t Criminal Minds, the Food Network, anime, the ATLA franchise, or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
  2. I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy or watched any of the movies.
  3. I’ve never played an FPS
  4. I’ve never played Psychonauts
  5. I played Final Fantasy VIII before Final Fantasy VII. Also, Sephiroth is not hawt, he’s psychotic
  6. I enjoyed Final Fantasy X-2
  7. I hate Pinkie Pie so, so much. (Rarity FTW!)
  8. I paid full price for the CE of Hellgate: London (Yes, that was very, very, VERY stupid of me!).
  9. I came to the Elder Scrolls franchise with Morrowind
  10. …..and I thought Skyrim did a great job of fixing the issues in Morrowind and Oblivion
  11. I’m not a big fan of superhero things in general.
  12. …..I mix up Marvel and DC all the time.
  13. I actually read game manuals.
  14. I don’t like Disgaea….
  15. ….or Final Fantasy Tactics (Fire Emblem all the way!)
  16. I prefer Chrono Cross to Chrono Trigger
  17. When I say “I will play an evil character in this game”, I’ll still end up making “good” choices because I’ll feel bad for the characters/they won’t give me stuff.
  18. I like to go solo in MMORPGs
  19. …which is why I don’t play any MMORPGs
  20. I don’t have any current gen consoles
  21. I still use the Master Ball to catch MewTwo
  22. I see movies because I’m interested in the story, not because the hottest actor in Hollywood is in it
  23. I can’t recognize most celebrities by sight and only a handful by their voice
  24. I liked Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines even though it was sexist and racist as fuck….
  25. I also liked Vampire: The Masquerade — Redemption even though it was cheesy as fuck.
  26. I’ve never played a tabletop RPG, ever.
  27. I’m definitely not a math person, I just barely passed physics in high school, hated chemistry and astronomy, and the most advanced programming language I know is HTML (which isn’t really a programming language).
  28. I like to watch walkthroughs on YouTube for games I will never play just for the witty commentary.
  29. Remember how I ranted about slash pairings? My personal favourite slashy crack pairing: Soma Cruz/Genya Arikado from Castlevania (Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow). I know, I’m a terrible, terrible person. Bad Gef! Bad!
  30. I liked Jar Jar Binks (yes, seriously, I thought he was cute! Stop looking at me like that! STOP IT!).

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Note: The following review is definitely NSFW, full of snark and a discussion of all things kinky, and is potentially triggery for abuse. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so I’m going to cut the post. If any of the things I just listed make you uncomfortable, please stay tuned for Post #51, where I will return to talking about geekdom or Paganism or something. If you would still like to read this review in it’s entirety, hit the jump. (There will be lots of snark.)

Read More »

UPG vs. BS

I was going to post a response of sorts to one of my co-religionist’s post on “Pagans and Purity”  (everyone who reads this blog for Vanir-related stuff should follow Wane Wyrds, seriously, Cena is awesome) but she just posted something interesting on Facebook and I can’t not respond to it.

The link Cena posted was to this post. To be honest, I didn’t find the majority of this post to be problematic–until I saw this at the bottom of the second last paragraph:

“Frey will work with men or women, so long as the latter are masculine, willing to shapeshift to male astrally before he arrives.”

Pardon me, but LOL WUT?

So Freyr only works with “masculine” women? What about “feminine” men? Does his wife know about this? You know, Gerda? The woman he gave up his sword for? Are those the actions of a He-Man Woman Hater? I mean, if he prefers men, that’s cool, there’s no problem with that, but Freyr, dude, the closet is not a good place for you, man!

Okay, seriously now. I know what some of you will say: “But it’s my UPG! WHY ARE YOU ATTACKING IT?!” You have the right to say whatever UPG comes to mind, I have the right to evaluate that UPG and call it bullshit. The fact that “me and my friends have found this to be true” does NOT make it the One Truth, nor is it an excuse to check your critical thinking skills at the door.

I have “feelings” about certain deities, and people have called these “feelings” BS. You know what, if I put something out on the interwebs, some people will read it, and they will comment and say “This is bullshit, Gef. Where did you get this idea?”

It doesn’t matter if they’re a well-known author who says “Skadi doesn’t deal with disabled people” (yes, I have seen those exact words) or someone who says “My UPG says the Aesir are a bunch of bullies” or “Loki gave me an astral pregnancy,” I’m still going to evaluate that UPG and measure it against my own experiences, and sometimes our UPG will match, and other times I (or the other party) will say “The Hel are you smoking?”

And that’s okay.

Addendum: The examples I’ve quoted are all 100% real UPG that people have posted on the interwebs. I’m not going to name names, I have a feeling some of you know exactly who said these things in each case. Please, if you choose to comment (I love comments), don’t name names.

Confessions of a Former New Ager

In one of my earlier posts, you might recall that I posted my religious progression from Catholicism to Vanatru. You might also recall that the spot after “Roman Catholicism” but before “Eclectic Wicca” was occupied by “New Age”.

Yep, I was a card-carrying, chakra-activating, aura-cleansing, love-and-light-and-violet-flame-believing, angel-therapy-ing, dolphin-obsessive New Ager.

I first became aware of the New Age movement in high school. My grandma had just died and my math tutor (one of our neighbours) had given me $20 and told me to buy something nice with it. I remember how my dad picked up a book with an angel on the cover and said: “Here, buy this in memory of your grandmother.”

That book was Messages From Your Angels by Doreen Virtue.

At the time, I was looking for comfort, as grieving people tend to do, and this book gave it to me in spades. I find the “channeled messages” corny now, but at the time, they really spoke to me. As an adopted child, it was comforting to learn that children like me had “extra angels” to help and guide them throughout their lives, and, well, dolphins were “enlightened beings”, what more could a dolphin lover ask for?

I think that even before I realized how appropriative the movement is (especially towards First Nations people), I was driven away by how material objects seemed so necessary to this “anti-materialist” movement. Open up a random New Age text and you’ll find some mention of how (Western) society is so “materialist” and “Ego-centered” (the Ego, BTW, might as well be renamed ‘the Ebils’ because it is blamed for, well, everything)–while pointing you to all the books and tapes they’re offering. Doreen Virtue alone has all her books, cassette tapes, CDs, and at least one oracle deck to accompany every book. At the local psychic fair, they charge $60 for a quartz crystal that’s supposedly “cleansing” and every “psychic” will charge (at minimum) $60 for a reading (more if you want a longer reading), that’s not even going into the cost of  aura phoros, magical crystal skulls, and chakra wands.

I won’t even start on the issue of appropriation, how “Native Americans/East Indians are so spiritually enlightened–not like us Westerners,” white guilt narrative, let’s-take-things-from-other-cultures-completely-divorce-them-from-their-context-and-sell-them-back-to-white-people, thing, because that’s been done. What I want to talk about is something so vile and disgusting that I STILL remember it clearly even though it happened three years ago.

Three years ago, I went to the local psychic fair with a friend to take advantage of the tarot vendor who was selling decks tax free. We goofed around a bit and bought a cheap aura photo just to say we did, but then we sat down to listen to a couple of the presentations.

I’ll start with the funny one so you can prepare for being filled with RAGE later.

One of the presenters, we were told, was a psychometrist. Psychometry, for those who don’t know, is psychic-speak for people who can find out things about objects just by touching them (ie. that photographs inside an envelope documented a house fire).

She started with a couple of people (one of whom was going to be traveling soon, “near water”) and then she looks at me. Our conversation went something like this:

Psychic: You, I think I’d like to talk to you.

Me: Okay *gets up to go stand at the front*

Psychic: No, no, sit down, it’s okay…. *after I sit, she continues* Now, I definitely see some educational opportunities in your future, either you’re going to school or you’re going back to school….

My friend: *trying so hard to keep a straight face*

Me: Actually, I’m out of school and I don’t plan on going back, I’m just looking for a job right now.

Psychic: Oh, while I’m sure you’ll find the right job soon. You like people so it will all be fine.

Here are some things you need to know about me:

1) At the time, I was out of school (not planning on going back) and looking for work

2) I am short and often mistaken for someone who is much younger, several people have mistaken me for a high school student (or younger) including at my graduation when I received my M.L.I.S.

3) I’m such an introvert I probably exude a chemical that repels people

So now that you’ve had a chuckle, here’s the rage-inducing bit. The other lecture that we attended was by a “medical intuitive” who said such gems as these:

“Alzheimers means that you struggle to keep control of your life,”

“Diseases have physical as well as spiritual symptoms, if you change your way of thinking, the disease will go away.”

What is this I don’t even

Basically, it was the idea that every disease is really caused by hurt feelings. Do you have lung cancer? Maybe you’re talking to much and not listening enough. A fever? You probably have anger issues.

I don’t think I have to explain how fucking dangerous and WRONG this idea is, right? This is more than just flaky love and light and crystal spires of Atlantis stuff, these are diseases that are debilitating and oftentimes fatal. It is EXTREMELY disrespectful to people who have to live with these conditions to victim-blame by pointing the finger at them and saying “If you would only change your way of thinking, you would be cured!”

NO, NO, NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO!

You can’t rid yourself of a condition just by clicking your heels and WISHING it to happen (provided there is a cure at all), but the worst part is the people who were agreeing with her. I hope that no one would be so stupid as to not seek a doctor’s help when they had a medical emergency, but that’s the really chilling part: THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY BOUGHT HER BULLSHIT. It’s one thing to scam gullible people out of $60, spouting all this bullshit when it’s HUMAN LIVES that are at stake is just….completely irresponsible.

Now, before I let you go to do whatever it is you like to do to help with all that rage you’re probably feeling, a note about calling people “New Agers” (this means you, my Pagan and Heathen friends).

Stop it. Right now.

In my experience, the majority of Asshattru Pagans who call other Pagans “New Age” (or, to use a term I’ve seen a lot “newage sewage”) don’t know anything about actual New Agers beyond that they believe in “love and light”. These people delight in calling my co-religionists “fluffy bunny new age crystal crunchers” because they aren’t hardcore reconstructionists FUCK YEAH! don’t believe the exact same things they do. You can say a belief sounds “New Agey”, that is fine, but to say everyone who isn’t like you is “a new age crystal cruncher” won’t make you sound smart except to your Internet Tough Guy buddies it just makes you sound like an asshole and a sloppy researcher.

You may now go let off some steam.

Review: Ghosts and Spirits Tarot by Lisa Hunt

I’ve been following the development of the Ghosts and Spirits Tarot ever since Lisa Hunt announced the project on her blog. For those of you who have never heard of her, she’s done the art for the Celtic Dragon, Shapeshifter, Fantastical Creatures, Animals Divine, and Fairy Tale decks–the first three in collaboration with D.J. Conway (and Sirona Knight for the Shapeshifter), the latter two were entirely her own work. I own all of these except for the Fairy Tale Tarot.

So now we come to her latest offering, the Ghosts and Spirits Tarot. I was so excited for this deck that I decided to take advantage of a special promotion and order one of her “Spirit Drawings” as a birthday present. It’s hanging on my wall right underneath my Inanna print, also by Hunt:

My Spirit Drawing

But that’s enough about me, you want to know more about the deck, so here are some specs:

Card size: 2.75″ x 4.75″ (pretty standard for a U.S. Games deck)

Reversible? Yes

Borders? Yes, a light brown border (think parchment paper) surrounds each card)

Renamed cards? Yes, the Hierophant is the High Priest and the Devil is Chains

Strength is 8, Justice is 11.

Thematically, the art features ghosts and spirits from all over the world. Unlike in the Fantastical Creatures Tarot, Lisa includes ghosts and spirits from literature as well as mythology. You’ll find Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare rubbing elbows with zombies and poltergeists. Some of the entities will doubtless be familiar to you (Poltergeists, Zombies, Vampires) others might not (like the Duppy from Jamaican folklore or the Moss Maidens). Norse mythology buffs will be surprised (and perhaps pleased) to learn that a fair amount of these ghosts and spirits are Germanic: Valhalla, Groa, the kobold, Glam (from Grettir’s Saga), the Wild Hunt, and Herne (who is English in origin but honored as a hunting deity by some Vanatruar) are all represented in this deck. The art itself is gorgeous if a little macabre in places (well, it is a deck about ghosts and spirits) and very detailed. In fact, it’s so detailed that the fact that the cards aren’t bigger is almost a crime against art (my hands, which are small, are grateful though). The colour scheme is notably muted–lots of blue, white, and grey, but it suits the theme and not every card is like that (particularly in the suit of cups).

Unfortunately, the deck suffers from an issue that affects many of Lisa’s decks, and that is that this is definitely not a deck for those who are sticklers for tradition. For the most part, the cards do attempt to stick to the Rider-Waite school, but some of the imagery and/or meanings came straight out of left field for me. The Danse Macabre for the World card was spot on, but I couldn’t help but think that some cards would have worked better if they were switched with other cards in the deck. A good example of this is the Ace of Cups (Giselle) and the Two of Cups (Isabella and the Pot of Basil). The former is a story about love and forgiveness, the latter is about a woman who, mad with grief at her lover’s death, cuts off his head and buries it in a pot of basil, which she then nourishes with her tears. The imagery as well as the story would better suit the cards if their positions were swapped, IMHO, but I’ll leave that to you to decide:

Ghosts and Spirits – Ace of Cups
Ghosts and Spirits – Two of Cups

Other cards were simply puzzling to me. For instance, the Justice card is the Snow Ghost (Yuki-onnaand I find it puzzling that, out of all the tales of angry ghosts out for vengeance, the spirit that was chosen to represent Justice is the sort of spirit who leads travelers astray in a blizzard. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Snow Ghost painting (I even voted for it to appear on the front of the box art) but it just doesn’t say “Justice” to me. If I was going to pick a Japanese spirit for Justice, I probably would have chosen Kuchisake-onna (Watashi wa kirei? 🙂 ) for the slot, but I suppose I’ll just have to make my own. I think you could make an entire deck out of Japanese ghosts and spirits alone.

What this all adds up to is a deck that is beautiful to look at but potentially hard to read and definitely not beginner friendly (for a deck that is, I recommend the Celtic Dragon Tarot, which has gorgeous art by Hunt but is basically a Rider-Waite clone, and dragons). Speaking of which, how does it read? Well, I actually haven’t tried to read with it yet, but now’s a good time to do a deck interview spread:

Deck Interview Spread

Tell me about yourself. What is your most important characteristic?

15 – Chains (Jacob Marley)

I’m not going to play around with you. Your other decks will tell you what you want to hear, you won’t get that with me. Ignorance is as much a chain as the ones that Jacob Marley drags around behind him.

What are your strengths as a deck?

8 – Strength (Mummy/The Ka)

I may be forceful, but I also temper that force with gentleness. As the Ka searches for its body, so I can help you in your search to find your own inner strength.

What are your limits as a deck?

Four of Cups (Davy Jones’ Locker)

My ability to teach you is dependent on your level of complacency. Our relationship won’t work if you choose to ignore my messages or choose another card because you don’t like what I have to tell you (I know you do that with other decks, don’t try it with me).

What do you bring to the table? What are you here to teach me?

Page of Swords (Black Dogs)

You were hoping for the Ten of Cups, eh? That I could help you get in touch with your ancestors? Yeah, right, what a stereotypical use for a deck about ghosts! I can help you cut through deception and see the truth about yourself. I can give answers that are clear and honest (even though they aren’t ones you always want to hear).

How can I best learn from and collaborate with you?

Nine of Cups (The North Wind)

I know you might be hesitant to use me now that you know I won’t beat around the bush, but trust me and soon you’ll be flying as high as the boy in the picture. Wishes do come true, you’re just going to have to work for them!

What is the potential outcome of our working relationship?

Six of Swords (Gilgamesh and Enkidu)

That depends on you, you might be a little disheartened after reading with me (like our friend Gilgamesh) or you might enter a new frame of mind, see things from a different perspective, go on a journey of self-discovery. Which path do you choose? You need to make the decision for yourself.

So there you have it, a deck that won’t screw around or spare your feelings. At least, a deck that won’t spare my feelings. This seems like it will be another good “shadow” deck. If anyone has a different opinion of this reading, please let me know in the comments!

Identifying with Characters

If any of you are fans of Western RPGs, you’re likely familiar with BioWare. They’re the people behindthe Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age franchises. Besides being known for their great writing and recycled plots, BioWare is also pretty well known for being one of the few companies that allows players complete a romance side quest with a member of the same sex, some options being more problematic than others.

Which brings me to the plight of the Straight Male Gamer….

In a post that is both very hilarious and so, so sad, one fan accuses BioWare of “neglecting their main demographic: the Straight Male Gamer”. What would cause them to say such a thing? The fact that all four potential love interests can be romanced by characters of either gender (there’s a fifth character who can only be romanced by women, but he’s a DLC character so he doesn’t really count). Oh, and the fact that one of the male love interests DARED to make the first move without the player prompting him to do it.

Needless to say, he was pwned hard by lead writer David Gaider, you can read part of the original post (note the OP’s blatant sexism) and Gaider’s amazing response here.

This sort of response to same sex relationships in general is by no means alien to the gaming community. I used to participate on BioWare’s forums (before they became a nesting ground for trolls) and before Dragon Age: Origins came out someone started a thread to ask if it was possible to kill their party members if one of the men ever flirted with his male character, not just kick out of their party, no, this player wanted to KILL their companions for the great crime of FLIRTING with him!

Now, before I descend into a frothing rage from all this rampant homophobia, what I wanted to talk about was something that Straight Male Gamers (and others) scream about whenever someone brings up the issue of diversity in games, and that is this phrase:

“I can’t play as [minority] because I can’t identify with them!”

Bull. Shit.

This excuse is such a big steaming pile that I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start simply: How many games can you name which only give you the option to play as a male character? How many only give you the option to play as a female character? Of the ones that let you select your sex, how many only show male characters in the promotional materials for the game? If the game has a sequel, is the “canon” character of the last game assumed to be male?

Looking at the games on my desktop right now: three only give you the option to play a male character, two a female character (from the same developer: Hanako Games) and the rest let you pick. Of the games that let you pick your character’s sex, all of them only or mostly showed male main characters in promotional materials (although the one game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, showed a much greater ratio of female main characters to male main characters, and Mass Effect 3 had one commercial and box art design that featured femShep).

Identifying with male characters is something that women who play games are FORCED to do on a regular basis (swap “male” and “women” for any majority/minority position and this statement will be just as true), and somehow, we manage to identify with our characters. Hel, all of us manage to identify with non-human or superhuman characters. If you really can’t identify with someone because of their naughty bits or the colour of their skin, I feel sorry for you, I do.

I’ll use one of my favourite characters as an example: Kanji Tatsumi from the amazing RPG Persona 4. (Spoilers ahead!) When he’s first introduced, he fits the “tough guy” character type to a “T”–he skips school, swears like a sailor, and all the other tough guys in the area are scared of him. In short, he’s not someone you want to mess with. The very first time you see him is in the context of a news report involving a fight between Kanji and a biker gang.

Why does Kanji beat the snot out of a biker gang? Because they were making too much noise at night and his mother couldn’t sleep because of it.

Maybe you’ve never beaten up a biker gang (and if you have, there are probably some embassies who could use a badass bodyguard), but surely you can understand the kind of love that drives someone to do anything if it means their loved ones will be happy. Kanji’s major issue in the game involves coming to terms with his sexuality, but regardless of whether you’re straight, gay, or whatever, you’re honestly going to tell me that you’ve never had identity issues? Never known what it’s like to try and “fit in” with a group? There are many ways that you can identify with a character that don’t involve their bits or their skin colour or the type of people that they find attractive. Love, joy, loss, despair, these are emotions that pretty much everyone has experienced, so that even though most of my characters are male, I can still step into their shoes and find something about them that speaks to my own experiences. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want the option to play my characters as lesbians, but that I can at least deal (and complain to the devs) if those options aren’t available to me.

Minorities and Stereotyping

A long time ago (back in like, 2004) I took a women’s studies course called “Girls, Women, and Popular Culture”. I remember little about this course, other than it seemed to like judging works by their promotional materials (instead of, you know, watching/reading the example in question) and I received a crappy mark for a project I spent weeks working on because I don’t even remember why.

The other thing I remember, quite clearly, was the declaration by one of the few men in the class that no one, under any circumstances, should ever write characters that are in any way different from them.

I’m not going to tell you why I think this person is wrong and that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, because anyone, writer or not, should be able to give me several reasons why it’s wrong and a dumb idea. What I will say, though, is that I think this person’s comment is pointing at a bigger issue:

People (but especially people who belong to a majority group) are generally terrible at writing characters who are different from them (especially if they happen to be part of a minority).

Seriously, go look at a website like Fangs for the Fantasy, which reviews urban fantasy books from a social justice perspective. They have dozens of examples of straight, white authors who attempt to write POC and GLBT characters and completely, utterly FAIL at it. If your bookshelf is anything like mine (stuffed to the gills with mainstream fantasy titles) you will have seen this: characters who are annoyingly stereotyped who have a habit of dying by the end of the story.

I would like to take a moment to say that I don’t think white people, or straight people or whatever shouldn’t write POC or LGBT+ characters. I think, if anything, we need to see more of these characters in mainstream titles. What I would like to see is a lot less stereotyping and actually LISTENING to minorities when they have issues with how you portray your characters.
I know your first instinct will probably be to jump to the defense of your babies, crying IT’S NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL YOU HAVE IT ALL WRONG! Don’t do this, for the love of everything, it won’t help your case if you pitch a fit. It’s easy, as a member of the majority (and I myself am a member of several majority groups) to forget about how we are privileged in so many ways, and not just when it comes to characters (are you a white author? Congratulations, you stand a much greater chance of ever being published by a mainstream publisher than your POC counterparts!).

At this point, some of you are probably wondering why an unpublished aspiring author is lecturing published authors about writing, but the thing is, I’m not just a writer, I’m a reader, I’m a prolific reader, and I do care about the kinds of characters that I see published authors putting out day after day, and I see fellow readers going “OMFG SO INCLUSIVE AND AMAZING!” and I say “Really, fellow readers, really?”

On the subject of publishing, I’m writing a short story that’s a cynical look at vampires in urban fantasy. I’d like to post it here, so that everyone can see my terrible writing everyone can see that, yes, I don’t just write these blog posts, I do “real” writing.