Tag Archives: Games

#239: A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #239, on the subject of A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild.

Someone recently posted to the Christian Gamers Guild list, in a post called So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, that he would be resigning.  This is not a big deal; members come and members go, and life is like that.  Two things make this event a bit different.  The lesser is this individual has been involved for perhaps as long as I have, perhaps longer, and years ago actively so, and I miss some of those who were involved in the early years who are no longer there.  The greater is that in announcing his departure he suggested that perhaps he was wrong about role playing games, and that maybe the rest of us should consider quitting the hobby as well.

I am reproducing my reply, in substance at least, below; first, I am going to attempt to do justice to his statement without actually plagiarizing it.  I am going to call him “J” here, because I don’t have his permission to use this and don’t particularly want to put him on the spot, and “J” has absolutely nothing to do with his name (it’s short for “John Doe”, if you must know); members of the Christian Gamers Guild already know who he is.

J begins by introducing himself and announcing that he is leaving the group because he has decided not to play role playing games, but he wants to explain that.

Giving his history, he notes that when he first joined the group he was uncertain whether role playing games were compatible with Christian faith, and how that would work.  He had stopped playing when he became a Christian, but encouraged by the guild resumed doing so.  He identifies himself as “a Spirit-Filled believer and as such I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today through the gifts of the Spirit and in the anointing and power of God being alive and active in the Church and in individual believers today.”

He says that as soon as he returned to role playing he knew something wasn’t right but wouldn’t admit it to himself.  He was involved in ministry, but always felt that there was a hindrance blocking his connection to the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, he also felt that his faith interfered with his ability to play the games.  Before he was a believer, he felt that he tapped into something that enabled his games to flow, and once he was a Christian running games became a chore.  He believes that he had been connecting with a “spirit”, and although what he says is not exactly clear as to whether he means that literally he thinks there is a demonic and seductive connection in role playing games.  As a Christian, they simply weren’t the same for him as they had been when he was an unbeliever.

J then tells us that before he was a believer he was involved in the occult, and that Dungeons & Dragons™ played a role in pointing him in that direction.  His occult involvement never produced anything but empty promises and a few frightening experiences, and eventually drove him to Christ.

He wisely tells us that the Holy Spirit is at odds with many things in this world; he says that role playing games are one of them.  The most objective objection he raises is from someone who counseled him against games, who said “…in role playing games you spend your time trying to be something that you are not; what the Holy Spirit wants you to do is be who you are.”  He feels it is necessary for us to ignore explorations of who we aren’t and seek more deeply who we are.  So saying, he recommends that we all leave the fantasy behind, although he recognizes that not everyone is at the same place with God.  He departs with a word of love for us as siblings in Christ, and with the famous closing, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

*****

I am not attempting to persuade J that he’s wrong to leave the group or to give up role playing or other hobby games.  That’s a weaker brother issue, and if it’s a problem for him, I respect that.  I will certainly in some way miss him, even though he has rarely posted recently, just because knowing that there are a few people around besides Christian Gamers Guild President Rodney Barnes and me who have been here from the E-groups days makes me feel better about still being part of it all–and I do feel good about it; it has in some ways become integral to my identity.

Further, I understand the Charismatic/Spirit-filled viewpoint.  I don’t know that I speak in tongues more than you all, but I do speak in tongues, and quite a bit, while sitting, working, driving, writing, washing dishes, and at many other times.  Yet I am also solidly grounded in the more “rational” denominations, with solid connections to the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans particularly, and more casually to quite a few other denominations.  It also should be said that, like Rodney, I was a believer for many years before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons™, and in fact my “gateway” to it was the fantasy literature of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

My problem with what J says is that it’s almost entirely subjective.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  As I discuss in Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance (covered in a bit more detail in my book What Does God Expect?) our lives are very much about balancing the two kinds of direction, each tempering the other.  Sometimes what God wants us to do is delivered entirely subjectively, and we have to trust at some level our own instincts, that this is indeed what God is saying, and not something that comes from within ourselves.  I just get upset about it because I’ve had people say to me that “God told me” the games were evil, and there is then no discussion.  J isn’t saying that; he’s saying that they have been an impediment to his own joy and connection to God, and he thinks it might be so for others.  It is certainly the case that God sometimes asks us to surrender perfectly good things simply because He must be more important in our lives than they are.  Anything that we are not willing to give up for God is an impediment to our relationship with Him.

In the course of the discussion, someone suggested that eventually J will be able to return to gaming, and that’s possible–but it’s also, I think, an idea that itself becomes an impediment.  If you give something up in the hope that God will give it back, you are still holding on to it.  When God wants you to give up something, you need to walk away and not look back.  So I understand that J might never return, and certainly is not going to expect to do so at this point as he is leaving.  That expectation itself would be counter-productive, an indication that he is not really leaving gaming but only pretending to do so for the present.

J is uncomfortable with the magic in gaming because in his mind it is connected to the occult.  I have often argued that one of the best aspects of fantasy role playing games is the magic, that it opens the players to the possibility that there is more in the world than materialistic naturalism.  Of course, when that happens believers need to be there to say, “Yes, and this is where you find it.”  J had the opposite experience, and now for him there is a connection from seeing the supernatural dimensions of the world and moving toward the occult.  For me, the connection is the opposite direction, from seeing the power of God to discovering the fictional exploration of that power in the games.

The games have also connected me to a lot of people who need God, and I think perhaps I have helped some of them along the way.

J’s point that many things in the world are at odds with God is certainly right and important; however, most of us are involved in the world by necessity, working in jobs that are not primarily about reaching people for Christ or building the faith of believers (sales help might be service industry, but it’s not delivering the gospel), becoming part of organizations that are beneficial without having solid religious connections (hospitals are big in this, but I also am aware of groups trying to help the homeless, and drug rehabilitation programs that are not primarily Christian faith based).  Jesus said that everyone who is not for us is against us, but He also said that everyone who is not against us is for us, and while that makes the world seem black and white, it also introduces the possibility that some things can be used both for and against God.  I watch television shows which some think are science fiction of the worst sort, in which I see metaphors for the work of God in the world.  Certainly role playing games can be used in ways that oppose God, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, even some which seem most anti-Christian can prove at the bottom to be strongly Christian.  It is not what we use but how we use it that most controls the impact of our games.  For some, incredibly dark worlds have been a reminder of the amazing greatness of God.

J also suggests that we need to discover who we really are, not explore fantasies of who we might be.  Yet I think this is an unreal dichotomy.  I often discover more of who I really am by exploring who I am not, and sometimes discover that who I pretend to be is really part of who I actually am.  Playing Multiverser I was encouraged by its magic system to trust the power of God for several things, minor things really but in some sense magical or miraculous in their own way, because my character did so successfully in the game world.  I would not have had the boldness to pray some of the practical prayers I have prayed had it not been that I explored that boldness in character.  Even in playing “unlike me” characters, I learn much about how people who reject God are thinking, and am thereby better able to connect with them and deliver the truth.  The exploration of fantasies is a significant part of understanding my reality.  Indeed, the fantasy literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams have had tremendous impact not only on me but on believers and unbelievers around the world.  Why should fantasy gaming not also have the same potential, used aright?

Some of what I have said is of course subjective, and none of it is a reason for J to stay if God is telling him to leave.  However, if you are considering whether what J says might be true for you, consider also whether being involved in role playing games has had any of these benefits for you:  connecting you to people who need to see your faith; giving you insight into the spiritual battle between God and the devil within the metaphors of the game; strengthening your faith by reminding you that you are on the side that has the power.  I have profited in those ways from game play, and in a sense that’s the tip of the iceberg.  The largest open door for my ministry has been through this group, a group I was reluctant twenty years ago to join, which has encouraged my efforts and given me a platform to reach out to a world not much reached by believers, the world of hobby gamers.

So I say so long, J, and if you’ve gotten any of those fish you mentioned from me, you’re welcome.  I hope you’ll keep in touch through other media like Facebook, but wish you the best of grace in all your endeavors.

#237: Morality and Consequences: Overlooked Roleplay Essentials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #237, on the subject of Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials.

This is nothing new, really; it is more nostalgic. 

I don’t recall the exact date, but late in 1997 or possibly as late as early 1998, when Multiverser was first published, I had been invited to join a mailing list group (remember those?) of game designers, and did so.  I had not been there long when Gary Gygax posted to announce that a couple of guys were trying to launch a new web site for role playing games featuring a forum (remember those?), and they were hoping people would give them articles to publish.  I wrote a draft and e-mailed it to them, asking if something like this would suit them, expecting that they would respond and I would edit consistent with their recommendations; a day or two later I found that the draft had been published on the new site, Gaming Outpost.

It was a long and mostly happy relationship; I was still writing for the site one way or another up to its demise a few years back, including my four-year weekly series Game Ideas Unlimited and my original web log, Blogless Lepolt.  Shortly after the article posted I joined the forum to interact with the response (of which there was virtually none at all).  Because my Multiverser™ and temporal anomalies material and this article were published under the name “M. Joseph Young” (a name I had used for some pieces of satire published in the early 1980s in The Elmer Times here in New Jersey) but my Dungeons & Dragons™ and Bible material was under the name “Mark J. Young” (the name I used on stage as a musician and composer and on the radio), and I thought that “Mark Joseph Young” was too long for a handle, I registered as “M. J. Young”, the first time that name was used for me anywhere, the name subsequently becoming so identified with me that many people who knew me fairly well could not have told you what the initials represented.  I have been trying to obtain data from the crashed site, in the hope of recovering some of that material.  Meanwhile, the editors of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be are always scavanging the web looking for my lost material, and they discovered this through The Wayback Machine and provided me with the link to the original copy (which I have given below).

Although I had already started several web sites (most of which are consolidated now as M. J. Young Net) this was the first time I wrote a piece for someone else’s site.  That became rather common, and I probably write almost as much for other sites (mostly the Christian Gamers Guild) as I do for my own at this point, but this is the article that started that.

Thus with the caveats that even when it was published I had expected to do a bit more polishing on it, I give it to you in its original form, unedited save for updated links:

Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Gaming Essentials

Almost twenty years ago, shortly after I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons and the “grand thought experiment” which is role playing, I was regaled with the arguments of those who believed that this wonderfully challenging and relaxing form of intellectual recreation was the tool of Satan.  Well, if you’re in ministry you’re expected to know these things, and to uphold the true path.  Trouble was, I didn’t know it, and the more I looked at the arguments, the more certain I was that they were mistaken.  I said so, and I won quite a few battles; my responses are still winning that battle.

One of those arguments seemed to me to be particularly spurious.  Critics delighted in citing a few gamers who had said that playing evil characters was so much easier and more fun than playing good ones.  I don’t want to argue about whether it’s more fun to be the bad guy.  But my answer now is the same as it was then, that it shouldn’t be easier, and if it is, the referee is doing something wrong.  And the words and attitudes of a few players who didn’t understand the difficulties of playing evil characters were adding to the evil reputation of a game which, in my opinion, had the greatest potential for exploring and expressing faith of any recreational activity short of smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.

Yet twenty years later, gamers are still saying that it’s easier to play the bad guy, and I find myself wondering why that is.  It was never so at my table.  Villains are particularly difficult to play, for reasons which to me are obvious.  Why are so many referees letting so many players get away with murder?

And that was the answer.  I already had two degrees in theology before I discovered gaming, and I played with college graduates from several fields, with people involved in ministry, with philosophy students and history majors and businessmen–people who knew that you couldn’t get away with murder.  But apparently the typical gamers were still in school, many of them still in high school; and although for years I ran a game for the local high school kids, most of them run their own games.  And therein lies the rub.  A lot of gamers define evil as “I can do whatever I want, and get away with it.”  I’ve had a few gamers come to my table with that attitude.  The problem is, too many referees think that evil means, “he can do anything he wants, and get away with it.”  DM’s, GM’s, referees make great demands of those who would be the good heroes; but they expect nothing of those playing the villain.  Yet in many ways it’s much harder to be the villain, and the referee should make it so.

The referee must always remember that the villain is untrusted, untrustworthy, and untrusting.  He has no friends, only cronies, henchmen and partners in crime who would sell him out in an instant, as soon as his value drops below the asking price.  The concept of “honor among thieves” is promoted by con men who want to lull him into a false sense of security, so that at the right time they will get the first, hopefully fatal, blow.  Evil characters will never risk their own lives to save a comrade; they will risk no more than the comrade is worth, unless they have good reason to want him to believe they are loyal.

One gamer came to my table from a series of games in which all the characters were evil.  In that campaign, as the adventure drew to an end, the closer you got to home the less everyone slept and the fewer characters were left alive.  Never once did two characters have to divide the treasure between them when they got home.  These players knew what it meant to be evil.

But all of this relates to party members; and although non-player character party members are one of the referee’s most valuable tools in running a successful campaign, his ability to influence players into turning on each other may be somewhat limited.  What can a referee do to make a difference?

Pay attention to societal rules.  There have been very few times and places in history where you could kill someone in public in cold blood and get away with it, yet game characters seem to do this all the time.  Kill one man, and even if you had a good reason and it was a “fair” duel, you’ve got someone after you.  Kill him, and you’ve become a threat to society.  Whether it’s the law, a lynch mob, or a blood feud, the evil character will find that he has a lot of people out to get him.

What will complicate his life even more is the lack of support he gets.  A hero comes into town, and if his reputation precedes him he will be welcomed.  Common people like to have heroes around, because they offer protection and preserve the peace necessary for life to continue normally.  Villains who want support will have to threaten or bribe it out of people.  They will be shunned by all who dare, and probably driven out of town by the townsfolk jointly, possibly based on reputation alone, and certainly if they cause any trouble.  No one wants thieves and killers in their midst.

No, no one wants thieves and killers in their midst–not even other thieves and killers.  The player character makes the mistake of thinking that because he’s evil, other evil characters will be his friends.  He has no friends.  He may flee to the pirate haven or the thieves’ hideaway about which he’s heard, but they won’t welcome him with open arms.  They don’t trust each other, and they certainly aren’t going to trust a newcomer.  He could be the law, trying to get inside and take them out.  He could be a family member of one of their past victims, seeking vengeance on one of them.  He could be a hired assassin or bounty hunter intent on bringing someone back with him.  He could be another thief or killer, one more person to watch, to eliminate before he becomes a problem.  His best hopes are to convince them that he’s useful, and so remain alive as long as they remain convinced; or that he’s too powerful to challenge, and so face only the risks of being killed when he’s not looking or meeting someone bigger than he; or that he doesn’t matter, in which case he’s bound to become the brunt of the fun, the toy, the victim of every vicious sense of humor in the place.

Evil characters are not trusted, not by other evil characters and certainly not by good ones.  They are not trustworthy; they will ultimately betray each other, and they know it.  They are also not trusting.  Evil characters tend to think that everyone else thinks like they do, that everyone else is in it for themselves and will stab you in the back.  It’s a survival instinct among their cohorts, who really will kill them when it is to their advantage.  But evil characters don’t trust good characters, and don’t believe that the good characters aren’t working some “angle” or “game”.  The good character sees good as an end in itself, but the evil character sees the good deeds of others as a means to an end.  The good cleric collects money to feed the poor, but the evil character suspects that it’s filling the priest’s retirement fund.  The good fighter protects the villagers from attack, but the evil onlooker believes it’s a setup for a power grab.  He can’t trust anyone, because he’s sure they all think like him, and he knows better than to trust someone like him.

Players won’t want to play this out.  They tend to work together like good characters even when trying to be evil.  But there’s much that can be done to sow distrust between them.  Here are some ideas.

Whenever they find something of value, make certain that no one is sure how much it’s worth.  It’s easy for a referee to say, “you found five thousand gold coins”; but how does anyone know that there are five thousand gold coins?  Better to say, “you found gold coins, several thousand by your guess”, and require them to count it.  Make it clear to each of them that they don’t know the facts, only the information provided by the others.  If Glag and Scruff count the coins, tell Glag that he counts 2000, and tell Scruff that he counted 3000, and let them decide what to tell each other.  Better yet, create a possibility that one of them miscounted by a couple hundred coins.  Now Scruff counts only 2700, but if Glag recounts it, he’ll get 3000.  Make them acutely aware of how dependent they are on each other, and how vulnerable they are to misinformation.  Never openly tell a character the value of something he would know if the others don’t know it.  Give them the opportunity to distrust each other.

Give them indivisible treasure items.  Nothing causes more grief between evil characters than a horde of a few thousand gold coins and a single magic sword.  Any character who can use the sword will think he should have it and his share of the coins; any character who can’t use it will think that the sword should replace a share of the coins, or better yet be sold to someone else to increase the number of coins being shared.  The same can be done with particularly beautiful (and possibly meaningful) pieces of jewelry, rare technological devices, and other things which can benefit only one character.  And however it’s decided, make it something they will regret.  If one of the characters gets the item, have a non-player character ask someone who didn’t get it if he thinks the character would sell it for such-and-such a price.  If they sell it, remind the player character who wanted it that it would have been particularly useful in some situation which comes up shortly thereafter.

Do the same things in combat situations.  We all know that characters will sometimes be in the thick of trouble and other times be on the fringes.  Point it out when it happens:  “Glag, while you’re fighting these three orcs, you notice that Scruff is still standing in the doorway.”  “In that combat, Scruff took fifteen points of damage, but Glag was unharmed.”  Make them feel the inequities of their situation.  Remember, a good character will generally assume that his companions are doing their best to support the group, but an evil character will generally assume that his companions are trying to shift as much of the danger and hardship away from themselves and onto him.  Encourage that perception in everything you describe.

In short, if your players think that evil characters are easier to play than good ones, it’s time to straighten up your program.  Isolate them, create suspicion.  Pass a lot of notes around; nothing puts players on edge more than the idea that the referee is discussing something with one of the other players about which they know nothing..  If the timing is right, have some party member turn up dead.  You could have your non-player character do the assassination, or you could have the non-player character mysteriously die of what cannot be proved to be natural causes.  You could tell one of the player characters that he doesn’t feel well–suffering from indigestion or something–and then have him die (or nearly die) of symptoms which could have been poison.  Make them believe that they are each other’s worst enemies, and soon they will be making preemptive moves against each other.

If after all that they still believe that it is more fun to play evil characters, let them enjoy the game.  There are good practical reasons why good generally defeats evil in the end, and evil characters should eventually realize that they’re on the losing side.  But it can be fun to lose, even exhilarating, if you play well.

Just as long as they don’t think being evil is the easy road.

–M. Joseph Young is co-author of Multiverser:  The Game and Vice President for Development of Valdron Inc.  His many web pages on diverse subjects from Internet law to infravision are indexed for convenience.

*****

Regretably, the indices no longer exist, although hopefully the web site is organized well enough to find the material that is here.  The Wayback Machine copy of this article is at this link, but is not different from what is published here.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

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#195: Probabilities in Dishwashing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #195, on the subject of Probabilities in Dishwashing.

I was going to call this, What Are the Odds?, but that’s too useful a title to use for this.  Actually, almost every time my bill rings up to an exact dollar amount, ending “.00”, I say that to the cashier, and usually they have no idea, so usually I tell them.  But I’m a game master–I’ve been running Multiverser™ for over twenty years, and Dungeons & Dragons™ for nearly as long before that.  I have to know these things.  After all, whenever a player says to me, “What do I have to roll?”, he really means “What are the odds that this will work?”  Then, usually very quickly by the seat of my pants, I have to estimate what chance there is that something will happen the way the player wants it.  So I find myself wondering about the odds frequently–and in an appendix in the back of the Multiverser rule book, there were a number of tools provided to help figure out the odds in a lot of situations.

And so when I saw an improbable circumstance, I immediately wondered what the odds were, and then I wondered how I would calculate them, and then I had the answer.  It has something in common with the way I cracked the probabilities of dice pools decades back (that’s in the book), but has more to do with card probabilities, as we examined in web log post #1:  Probabilities and Solitaire, than with dice.

So here’s the puzzle.

At some point I bought a set of four drinking cups in four distinct colors.  I think technically the colors were orange, green, cyan, and magenta, although we call the cyan one blue and the magenta one red, and for our purposes all that matters is that there are four colors, A, B, C, and D.  We liked them enough, and they were cheap enough, that on my next trip to that store I bought another identical set.  That means that there are two tumblers of each color.

I was washing dishes, and I realized that among those dishes were exactly four of these cups, one of each of the four colors.  I wondered immediately what the odds were, and rapidly determined how to calculate them.  I did not finish the calculation while I was washing dishes, for reasons that will become apparent, but thought I’d share the process here, to help other game masters estimate odds.  This is a problem in the probabilities of non-occurrence, that is, what are the odds of not drawing a pair.

The color of the first cup does not matter, because when you have none and you draw one, it is guaranteed not to match any previously drawn cup, because there aren’t any.  Thus there is a one hundred percent chance that the first cup will be one that you need and not one that you don’t want.  Whatever color it is, it is our color A.

In drawing the second cup, what you know is that there are now seven cups that you do not have, one of which will be a match.  That means there is one chance in seven of a match, six chances in seven of not matching.  This is where I stopped the math, because I hate sevenths.  I know that they create a six-digit repeating decimal that shifts its position–1/7th is 0.1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅7̅, and 2/7ths is 0.2̅8̅5̅7̅1̅4̅, and in each case the digits are in the same sequence, but I can never remember that sequence (I don’t use it frequently enough to matter, and I can look it up on the table in the back of the Multiverser book as I just did here, or plug it into a calculator to get it).  So the probability of the second cup matching the first–of drawing the other A–is 14.2̅8̅5̅7̅1̅4̅%, and the probability of not drawing a match is 85.7̅1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅%.

So with a roughly 86% chance we have two cups that do not match, colors A and B, and we are drawing the third from a pool of six cups, of which there are one A, one B, two Cs and two Ds.  That means there are two chances that our draw will match one of the two cups we already have, against four chances that we will get a new color.  There is thus a 33.3̅3̅% chance of a match, a 66.6̅6̅% chance that we will not get a match.

We thus have a roughly 67% chance of drawing color C, but that assumes that we have already drawn colors A and B.  We had a 100% chance of drawing color A, and an 86% chance of drawing color B.  That means our current probability of having three differently-colored cups is 67% of 86% of 100%, a simple multiplication problem which yields about 58%.  Odds slightly favor getting three different colors.

As we go for the fourth, though, our chances drop significantly.  There are now three colors to match, and five cups in the deck three of which match–three chances in five, or 60%, to match, which means two in five, or 40%, to get the fourth color.  That’s 40% of 67% of 86% of 100%, and that comes to, roughly, a 23% chance.  That’s closer to 3/13ths (according to my chart), but close enough to one chance in four, 25%.

A quicker way to do it in game, though, would be to assign each of the eight cups a number, and roll four eight-sided dice to see which four of the cups were drawn.  You don’t have to know the probabilities to do it that way, but if you had any matching rolls you would have to re-roll them (one of any pair), because it would not be possible to select the same cup twice.  In that sense, it would be easier to do it with eight cards, assigning each to a cup.

I should note that this math fails to address the more difficult questions–first, what are the odds that exactly four of the eight cups would be waiting to be washed, as opposed to three or five or some other number; second, how likely is it that someone has absconded with one of the cups of a particular color because he likes that color and is keeping it in his car or his room or elsewhere.  However, the first question is an assumption made in posing the problem, and the second question is presumably equally likely to apply to any one of the four color cups (even if I can’t imagine someone taking a liking to the orange one, someone in the house does like orange).  However, it should give you a bit of a better understanding on how to figure out the odds of something happening.

For what it’s worth, the probability of the cost of the purchase coming to an even dollar amount, assuming random values and numbers of items purchased, is one chance in one hundred.  That, of course, assumes that the sales tax scheme in the jurisdiction doesn’t skew the odds.

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#189: An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #189, on the subject of An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience.

This should be prefaced with the admission that I was quite trepidatious about attending the AnimeNEXT convention as a “guest” this year, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the convention itself.  To provide a brief background, I was invited to attend AnimeNEXT in 2014, when it was still in Somerset, New Jersey, at the now defunct Garden State Exhibit Center (it is now in the Atlantic City Convention Center), and I accepted and went and had a good time, running Multiverser for quite a few people most of whom had no experience with it, and seeing a couple of people I knew from Ubercon (a convention which I attended as guest for all but the first).  I was invited to return, and planned to do so despite the fact that it falls on the weekend of my birthday.

One week before the 2015 convention we lost our electric, and were without it up to the Friday the convention was to start–leaving me with refrigerators and freezers filled with garbage that had to be cleaned and taken to the dump on Saturday.  I did not make it to the convention, regretably.  Then in 2016, the night I was supposed to be driving to the con I was instead driven to the emergency room, where I was admitted to emergency surgery and kept in house for a week.  I joked that for my birthday I was given a hernioraphy and bowel resection, gifts I would use for many years to come.  (The joke was on me, because in March I was back to have the hernia repair repaired, and I’m not entirely certain that the repair is holding.)

Thus with the 2017 convention looming I was superstitiously worried about what sort of disaster would befall us preventing my attendance yet again.  Mercifully none did, but I was still on edge as on the Thursday night on which I was supposed to check into the hotel the person who was to drive me got sick.  I was as much concerned that I would get there as that I would not, not having run any live Multiverser games since the previous con and not having run any online since Gaming Outpost crashed, and hoping that the materials still packed in the box of books and papers from the last time were going to include everything I needed this time, without ever having a moment of preparation time to check them.  Fortuitously everything on that count worked.  I arrived Friday, too late for breakfast but in time for lunch.

I was immediately in the game room, and soon entertaining players.  Regan and Kaseeb (I hope I got those spellings right) dove right into my Tropical Island setting–the one all convention players know because I start everyone there and then blow the volcano and kill them all (that is, their characters) so I can scatter them to other worlds in the multiverse.  Both players saved me that trouble.  When Michael di Vars was explaining what had happened to them, and that whenever they were killed they would awaken in another universe, Kaseeb called him “crazy”, which as a clear expression of disbelief demands proof, and the proof is that di Vars shoots him with a gun big enough to be instantly fatal.  Regan thereafter was not so skeptical, but chose to explore a cave into which a stream poured and from which steam arose, and when he fell on the slick wet polished volcanic glass streambed he decided to attempt to crawl deeper into the cave, resulting in an abrupt slide into the boiling pool at the bottom.

Both players returned on Saturday, and I’m not certain exactly where the break was in their games.  Kaseeb landed on the bridge of the Starship Destiny, where after being beligerent and getting locked in the brig, he became cooperative, started requesting equipment he recognized would be valuable in the long term (such as a water purification system), and made himself part of the crew.  He went on a raid of a Federation listening post under construction, but got killed by security when things went wrong.  I’m afraid he tended to roll particularly bad general effects rolls, so when he needed things to go well for him the dice said they went badly.  He awoke in a forest, but I’m not going to say more about that in case he does contact me to continue play, other than to record for my own sake that he is in the same world in which Derek Jacob Brown started in the fourth novel–so those who follow the novels will probably know what world that is in a few months, if all goes well.

Meanwhile, Regan landed in Ruritania’s royal game preserve, where he was discovered by Colonel Sapt and Fritz Tarlenheim–Prisoner of Zenda, where he was as near the exact duplicate of King Rudolf as one could ask.  He pulled the rug out from under me, though–when in the morning the king had been drugged or poisoned and could not be awakened, Regan tapped his medical and herbalism background to purge the drug and revive the victim.  The king thus made it to the coronation, very sickly but adequately, and Regan was smuggled into the royal suite in the Castle at Strelsau after dark, to attend to the continued treatment of the problem.

I also started a game for Glen on Saturday afternoon.  Oddly, all three of us working in the game room–Ahmetia, Kevin, and I–felt ill after lunch.  I excused myself for a while when Regan and Kaseeb had left, but when I returned Glenn had also departed.  He did stay on the island until it exploded, although he was trying to build a raft to escape it when it happened.  He drowned, but I was still trying to decide where he would awaken when I took my break.

I had no players on Sunday, but sat in on half a game of something called Fiasco that Kevin was running–an excellent story-driven game that I would probably recommend but that at just about the halfway point two of our players had to leave and the game could not be continued once players had left the table, so I don’t really know how it plays out to the end.

Outside the RPG room, I made one run to the dealer and artist showcase room–combined in one large area with little distinction between the two.  It was larger than I could even bring myself to run through, but apart from the rather pricey and common dice (all the standard polyhedrals, but no d30s and nothing unusual like the tiny dice or the d24 I got at the last Ubercon) I saw nothing that interested me much.  That’s not really the fault of the con–it’s that I’m not the best target audience for it.  Kevin is an expert on the paranormal, frequent lecturer on the subject, but his expertise is focused on Western phenomena.  At AnimeNEXT panels address either anime or Japan, and outside our game rooms nearly everything at the convention is about one or both of those subjects.  As Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild I have several years attempted to connect with someone about hosting a non-denominational Christian worship service on Sunday morning, but have never been able to figure out who that would be, and suspect it is partly because Christian worship services are not really thought to fit into their overall program.  There is also an extremely high level of cosplay here.  The few other cons I’ve attended were mostly people in plain clothes with occasional costumed characters.  Here the plainclothes attendees are more the exception, and many of the cosplayers look like cartoon characters peeled from the celuloid.  I am very impressed by their skills in this regard, and they clearly impress each other–it is typical to find a crowd of photographers surrounding a well-costumed individual.  I even saw someone I thought would make an excellent image for my Lauren Hastings character, but she was down the escalator before I could react, and I was rushing late to dinner, and I never saw her again.

I have a couple times mentioned food, and I reluctantly have to say it was disappointing.  I say I am a guest of the convention, but I’m technically listed as staff in the tabletop games section.  I don’t attend staff meetings because they’re generally held (seems like every week) more than two hours away from where I live, and although in theory one can attend via online video conferencing I have no microphone or camera on my computer.  I consider myself more a special guest, like the professional wrestlers they had performing some exhibition on Saturday afternoon.  As “staff” I get free room and meals.

It is difficult to assess the Sheraton.  Upon my arrival, there was a freak incident in which the bellhop, who was apparently required to bring my luggage to my room, spilled my coffee on the rug and promised to get housekeeping to clean it.  I never saw housekeeping, and the stain remained through our entire stay, but it was mocha so it probably stains pretty well.  A moment later I noticed that the drain cock on the bathroom sink did not open.  He promised he would have maintenance fix that as well, and it was fixed by the time I returned to the room that evening.  However, at six in the morning when one of my roommates, Paul, tried to take a shower, the tub drain was clogged.  He called the desk, and we had someone there by six thirty waking the rest of us but getting the drain cleared.  Obviously there are going to be such problems, and the response was swift, but it is passing strange that we had two bad drains in the same room.  It causes me to wonder about the plumbing and other maintenance of other rooms in the hotel, but it might be simply that we had a bad general effects roll.

I hate to say that the meals were a disappointment.  Three years ago the food was wonderful, breakfast and dinner buffets worth good money.  This year, breakfast was continental, and while the donuts, bagels, loaf cakes, and other basic bread products were good quality, and the coffee excellent, I had been eagerly anticipating eggs and meat and hot cereal.  Friday’s dinner included one entree, chicken parmesan, which was passable.  I was ill Saturday and lay down over dinner time, but others at the convention described the meal of pizza and pasta salads rather derisively.  Lunch all three days was hoagies and wraps, and I was fairly happy with the roast beef on Friday and the tuna on Sunday, but on Saturday I forced myself to eat half an Italian hoagie and half a roast chicken sandwich with the roasted peppers pulled off (I do not do well with spicy foods), and probably made myself ill trying to eat it.  (Kevin and Ahmetia ultimately decided that their infirmity arose from lack of sleep, having stayed up too late Friday night and arisen too early Saturday morning.)  Of course, it was food, and it was free.  The cookies were good, the homemade potato chips got mixed reviews.  Coffee, tea, and orange juice were available with breakfast, but lunches and dinners were served with Nestle’s Pure Life bottled water in tiny bottles (eight ounces each).  The coffee was swept away very quickly at the end of breakfast, but Kat and I were able to prevail upon the polite and helpful catering staff to provide us with cups to go from the kitchen mid-morning Saturday.

I approach the food issue with mixed feelings.  I am reminded of a Mad Magazine mock of a movie entitled Marooned (which perhaps presciently told the story of three astronauts stranded in space before the Apollo 13 fiasco), in which at one point Ground Control replies to the stranded astronauts, “Hey, we had to cut the budget somewhere–we couldn’t have wall-to-wall carpet and a back-up life support system.”  There are a lot of expenses involved in running a convention, and the people at the top want to see it turn enough of a profit that they have money ready to do it again the next year.  I think it unfortunate that some of my fondest memories of 2014 were about the food, which was the basis of my worst memories of 2017.  On the other hand, I had money in my pocket and there were places to eat in the neighborhood, so the fact that I did not eat well proves ultimately to be my own fault.

Ahmetia is already expecting me to return next year, so although I have not been formally invited I’m guessing at this point that’s a formality.  Hopefully this year will go well enough that I will be in better shape in every way in twelve months, so I’ll start planning for that.  I understand that there were about two thousand people (give or take a couple hundred) through the gates, and that there were some there that I know who never came by to see me, but there were some who remembered me from three years ago who know me from nowhere else, and that was an encouragement.  So perhaps I will see you there in 2018.

I also promised Regan and Kaseeb, and maybe Glen, that if they contacted me I would find a way to continue their games online.  I am contemplating adding a forum to this site for that purpose, but have not yet heard from any of them–although I expect that if I decide to do this, I will be innundated with players from previous games wanting to continue online, who are probably already thinking that I should do this.  I am considering it.  No decision has been reached at this point.

#188: Downward Upgrades

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #188, on the subject of Downward Upgrades.

I have been playing a game on a “smart” cellular phone for the past few months–obviously not constantly, but in spare moments when I am stuck somewhere like waiting for the washer to finish or for the dog to decide to come back inside.  I’m going to name it, because this complaint is in some sense specifically their fault, although they are certainly far from unique in this.  The game is called My Singing Monsters, and it’s a sort of time-eating building game with some interesting twists, the best of which was that eventually I got to create my own songs using their tools.  I reached something around level forty-three or forty-four, which was far above anyone else I ever saw playing the game, the best of whom stopped playing around level thirty.

Then the game stopped working, and I know exactly why it stopped working, and in a very real sense it is the fault of the designer, and in another sense the designer is just doing what everyone does:  I was forbidden to continue playing unless I installed the latest upgrade, but the latest upgrade was too big for the memory space on my phone.

It’s not as if my phone is filled with junk.  I have seven “apps” (that’s short for “applications” but it means “programs”) that did not come as part of the original software–Netflix, but no saved video, Kindle with only two books at a time saved locally, a remote control for my bedroom television, my bank’s access program, a voice recorder for making quick reminder notes, a program that cleans junk off the phone and monitors its functionality, and a very small program that tells me what my phone number is when I look.  I had a couple other games, but I deleted them, and very much for the reason that I just deleted this one:  without me adding any new functions to my phone, the existing functions kept using up more and more resources.

This has been a habit of the software industry for a generation (well, in software terms that’s probably twenty generations, but it’s only a few decades).  Once upon a time making a program “better” involved writing it such that it used less space, had fewer command lines, and did as much with less resources.  Now it seems that making a program “better” means bloating it with more code to provide features the user never requested–if I’m using my phone for directions and I plug it into the power supply, that cleaner program shuts down the running map program and locks the screen; it did not do that when I first installed it, but included that “feature” which I consider a “bug” in one of the upgrades (and there is no option to disable it).

Of course, the hardware manufacturers are even more supportive of this practice in connection with phones than they were with computers.  At one time when the resource demand grew too great you could upgrade the computer–install a larger hard drive, more on board RAM, faster processor, better sound or video card.  With a cell phone, you can’t even add memory–oh, you can put in an SD card, but the system is designed to prevent you from running programs from it, so you can only store media there (I have a thirty-two megabyte card hosting a dozen photographs and a lot of empty space).  Ultimately if you run out of room on the phone you either have to delete programs or you have to buy another phone.  Industry hardware executives are of course hoping ultimately you will be forced to the latter.

So I hope that the My Singing Monsters designers hear that they lost a player because they upgraded beyond his phone’s capacity, and give some thought to whether it’s really worth making the program bigger to add features no one requested, and also that the rest of the cell phone software industry might take to heart the idea that in many cases the best way to improve a program is to make it smaller, remove worthless code and features, and have it accomplish what it is essentially made to do with a much lower use of system resources.

I’m also hoping for world peace, the brotherhood of all mankind, and a perfect hot fudge peanut butter sundae.  I might get one of those.

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#184: Remembering Adam Keller

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #184, on the subject of Remembering Adam Keller.

Some of you know who Adam Keller is (that is a link to his Facebook profile).  Indeed, some of you know him better than I, although I have known him for over a decade, having met him at Ubercon (I do not recall which number, but I’m betting on III), gamed with him online and at conventions, and exchanged visits to each other’s homes.  Still, he was much closer to my second son Kyler and our perennial houseguest John, both of whom lived in his home for a while, probably more than once.  I knew him, but never very well.  But then, I know very few people very well.

img0184Keller

However, I was notified of this, and ultimately found it on that Facebook profile (dated April 24th, 2017, posted by someone from Adam’s own personal account):

I regret to inform all of Adam’s friends and family that he passed away last night at 11:20 pm at home.

We are looking for any family members of Adam. If you are family or have contact information for family please call….

As we make arrangements for Adam I will post them here.

Thank you very much.

Digging through threads on that page I learned that he died of pneumonia.  Co-workers say he was sick and in some pain for most of a week, but refused to go to a doctor.  Some attributed this to his fear of the high co-pay on his (Lockheed) company employee health coverage policy, and so some blamed the Affordable Care Act.  That is more than I know.  I do know that many excellent company health care plans have been eviscerated to avoid the tax penalties of that law, and there are claims that it is discouraging people from obtaining needed medical care.  If that is the case here it makes the event the more tragic, but it’s also not the point.

Adam was a gamer, and an outstanding one.  He was a champion Hackmaster player (I understand he held a national title thrice) and ran the game at conventions, in some capacity on behalf of Kenzer & Company.  It was while he was running a Hackmaster game at Ubercon that he heard me running a Multiverser game at the next table for Kyler, and became interested enough to inquire about it and test play it.  He became an avid fan, player, and supporter, coming sometimes to company meetings, trying to advise us on our hopeless financial situation, and promoting the game to his gaming friends.  He was one of the best power players I ever ran, and he has left behind a couple of characters who genuinely earned their superhero status and abilities through game play, whom I will seriously consider how to use as non-player characters in the future.  I will not forget him.

Because I am the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, I am often asked whether I believe a particular departed individual is in heaven.  I try not to speculate, but I realize that it matters to people, particularly in regard to those I have at least briefly known.  The only person besides Jesus that I am completely certain will be in heaven is me, because I have that promise from God; for everyone else, there are some that it would shock me were they not there, and probably some that it would surprise me if they were, but I am not the one who makes those decisions.  Regarding Adam, I can only say that I have insufficient information.  He never talked about spiritual matters, but he was generally quiet and with me he rarely spoke about anything other than gaming.

(Just because people will ask, and some (notably Timothy and Anne Zahn) have asked, I am reasonably certain of Gary Gygax, and very sure of Dave Arneson.)

Multiverser gamer John Cross has several times said that he believes that when I created Multiverser, God revealed to me what heaven was going to be like:  that we would leap from world to world becoming involved in adventures of all kinds forever.  I deny it on every level.  God revealed nothing to me; the concept of leaping between universes was not new with us, and most of how it worked came from Ed Jones, not me; it is not the heaven which I am eagerly anticipating.  However, somehow I think if it were so, Adam would like that.

Rest in peace, friend, and whatever adventure you find beyond the grave, may God have mercy on you.

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#167: Cybergame Timing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #167, on the subject of Cybergame Timing.

I’ve played a few games which I am calling “cybergames”.  “Computer games” would suggest they are considerably bigger than they are.  These are “Facebook games” and cellphone games.  What usually happens is a close friend or family member will be playing a game and will “need” another player in order to get certain in-game benefits (a recruitment tool used by the game designers to get people who are playing to coerce their friends to play), so I will join the game and become involved, and then they will stop playing and I’ll realize, gradually, that I’m the only one I know playing this game, and eventually will realize that I’m wasting a lot of time on something that was supposed to be a way of interacting, in some small way, with this other person, and now is about interacting with a central processing unit somewhere.  However, along the way, being a game designer and gamer from way back, I notice things about these games, and one of them has begun to bother me.

img0167Game

Many of these games have timed processes.  That is, for example, you’ll say “build this here”, and it will tell you that it has started building it and the building will be complete in exactly this period of time, a countdown timer beginning.  That sometimes limits what else you can do (or requires you to spend resources to do some other things you normally would be able to do “free”), but its primary function seems to be to induce you to return to continue playing the game later.  The time units are often intuitively logical–for example, it is often the case that these will be twenty-four hours, or twelve or eight or six, fractions of a day.  With the twenty-four hour unit, you think that means you can play the game once a day and hit the button to restart this for the next day–but therein lies the rub.

Assume that you are playing such a game, and there is one task that can be done every twenty-four hours–collect a specific resource.  Let’s assume you are playing this game every morning before work and again twelve hours later in the evening after supper.  Both of those times are going to have a bit of fluctuation to them, of course, and that’s part–but not all–of the problem.  So at seven o’clock Monday evening you collect the resource, and that restarts the clock.  Of course, there are other things to do in the game–you don’t just collect the resource, you do other game play things at the same time.  So on Tuesday at seven the flag pops up to say that you can collect the resource.  Odds are against the notion that you are simply waiting for that flag to appear and immediately hit the button, so it will be at least a few seconds–let’s say a minute–before you do.  Sure, some days you are going to hit that resource in the same second, but those are the very rare ones.  By the end of a week, you are going to have shifted the time that the twenty-four hour resource renews by several minutes–so the next Monday you come to play at seven, but the flag doesn’t appear until five after, or ten after, or some time after the hour.  That’s not a problem–presumably you are playing the game for more than ten minutes at a shot, or it wouldn’t be much of a game.  However, you can’t make that clock go backwards–by the next week it will be quarter after, or possibly half past, before the flag appears.

Probably it’s not a game that you play for half an hour, at least not every night.  At some point, you give up waiting for that flag, and it “appears” in the program after you’ve shut down the game.  When you restart the game at seven in the morning, there it is.  And now you repeat the same process in the morning, until you have to quit the game and leave for work before the flag appears.  You lose a day of resource generation, and it returns to an evening task.

Not a big deal?  However, this same problem affects all tasks of length, whether twelve, eight, six, four, or even three hours:  no matter how frequently you play the game during the day, eventually the task will be unfinished twenty minutes before you are going to bed, and you will have to choose whether to stay up and hit the button late or go to bed and pick it up in the morning.  What seems like a game mechanic that pushes you toward a regular play schedule actually prevents a regular play schedule, because it shifts against the clock slightly each time.

The obvious solution to this problem is a game design correction:  replace those seemingly intuitive chunks of turnover time with rather unintuitive shorter ones.  Have the resource renew in twenty-three hours, eleven and a half, eight and two thirds, six and a three quarters, four and five sixths, three and seven eighths hours.  This lets the player show at a regular time and find the task complete and waiting for replay.  It avoids the frustration of having to wait until tomorrow morning simply because it’s not worth waiting another twenty minutes tonight.  It’s a better game design.

Anyway, that’s my suggestion.  I would probably find these games a bit less frustrating (and really, do you want your game to be frustrating?) if that were fixed.

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#162: Furry Thinking

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #162, on the subject of Furry Thinking.

If you are in the gamer community you probably have already heard or thought most of this.  Ridiculous news travels fast.  For those who are not, well, it’s worth getting you up to speed a bit.

A British company known as Games Workshop publishes a game under the name Warhammer 40K.  The “40K” part means that it is set in a far-flung (forty millennia) future in which, perhaps somewhat ridiculously, primitives fight with mechas.  The game makes significant use of miniatures, which the company produces and sells.  These miniatures are entirely made of plastic, but some of them have designs that include the image of fur clothing or covering on people or machines.

PETA, that is, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is protesting this.

Image by  Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/
Image by Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/

I am tempted to join the chorus of those who assert that PETA has lost it–it being at least the last shreds of credibility that the organization had.  I would prefer to think that they are intelligent people who have sound reasons for their position, and so I would like to attempt at least to understand them.  I do not agree with them, because of what I think are some fundamental issues, but in order to discuss those issues I think it is important at least to attempt to grasp their view.

The stated issue is that the appearance of fur on the models, even given that it isn’t even faux fur but just molded plastic in a roughened pattern that looks like fur, sends a wrong message.  That in itself is a bit ridiculous–as one father of a gamer reported his daughter asking, how can PETA tell whether the plastic molding representation is supposed to be real fur or fake fur?  However, we should give PETA the benefit of the doubt.  They could reasonably object to the use of fake fur for much the same reason:  it is popular because it looks like real fur, and in looking like real fur suggests that killing animals for their fur is an appropriate human action.  People should not kill animals for fur today, and suggesting that it will be acceptable to do so forty thousand years in the future is just as unacceptable.

In its argument, PETA includes some detail about the inhumane ways in which animals are either trapped or hunted and killed, or raised and killed, for their furs.  Within the context it’s a bit ridiculous–for all we know, in the Warhammer world such furs might be grown in vats of cultured skin skin cells that have no innervation and no central nervous system, and thus no real pain.  Fur might grow on trees, genetically mutated or modified.  They might have devised completely painless methods of hunting, trapping, and killing fur-bearing animals.  Extending an argument based on the details of actual modern treatment of such animals to the distant future is indeed silly.  However, it is probably not the distant future with which PETA is concerned.  If they still exist in forty millennia they will undoubtedly argue whether any of those methods are truly humane; their real argument is not whether these are appropriate actions in the future, but whether they convey an appropriate message to the present.  Their position in the present is that it is fundamentally wrong to kill animals for their skins, and so the suggestion that it will be permissible in the distant future is a wrong message, because it always will be–and by implication, always has been–wrong for people to do this.

That is where PETA and I part company on this issue.

Somewhere I have seen, probably in some natural history museum, a montage of a group of primitive men dressed in furs using spears to bring down a Woolly Mammoth.  That display, to my mind, communicates something of the reality of the lives of our distant ancestors.  Yet if PETA is to be taken seriously, that display sends the same kind of wrong message as is sent by the Games Workshop miniatures:  humans have killed animals so as to clothe themselves in the furs, and are engaged in killing another animal.  It might even be argued in their favor that one of the theories for the disappearance of the Siberian Mammoth from the world is that it was hunted to extinction by primitive humans (although in fairness it has also been suggested that they died due to the decline of their habitat at the close of the last ice age).  Yet wearing furs and killing animals was how those humans survived, and thus the means by which we have come to be alive today.

I think that PETA would probably assert that the humans had no higher right to survive than the bears and wolves and deer and other creatures they killed for those furs, or the mammoths they hunted for meat and skin.  PETA has an egalitarian view of the creatures of the world, as I understand it:  all creatures are created equal, and have an equal claim to continued life.  People have no right to kill animals for their own purposes, whether for clothes or for food or for habitat.

One reason this view is held is that people believe there are only two possible views.  The perceived alternative is to believe that humans have no obligations at all to other creatures, and can use them however we want, kill them with impunity, torture them even for no better purpose than our own entertainment, eat them, and wear their bodies as clothing and jewelry or use it to adorn our dwellings.  Put in its extreme form, this position is indeed reprehensible, and I object to it as much as PETA does.  However, these are not the only two positions.

Still, that “reprehensible” position is at least defensible.  PETA can argue that the human species has no better right to survive than any other creatures, but it is equally true under that argument that our right to survive is not any less.  Other creatures do not, by this fundamentally naturalistic argument, owe us their lives, but neither do we owe them theirs.  If our survival is enhanced at their expense, it cannot be asserted that we have less right to survive than they.  In the abstract the claim that we do not have a higher right sounds good, but if the issue were to be whether you or I would survive, it is very likely that you would choose you, and if it went to court after the fact and it was reasonably clearly apparent that it was “you or me”, the courts would undoubtedly exonerate you for choosing your own survival over mine.  The simplest form of that is the self-defense defense, but it’s not the only situation in which this is a factor.  Our ancestors killed animals and ate them and wore their furs because in a very real sense it was “them or us”, either we kill these animals and protect ourselves in their skins or we die of exposure.  Certainly I think that killing for furs that are not needed for our survival but merely decorative is selfish, but under a naturalistic viewpoint I can find no basis for saying that it is wrong to put the needs and preferences of other creatures above our own.  Further, I would not condemn an Inuit for his sealskin boots–it is part of his survival, and it is not clear that modern boots are either as easily available to him or as effective for the purpose.

Yet I do not intend to defend that position.  I think there is a third position that covers the concerns of both PETA and the Inuit.  Man is neither the equal of the other creatures in this world nor the owner of them.  We are their caretakers; they are our charges.

That means that sometimes we have to kill them, responsibly.  The best example is the deer of North America.  In most of the continent, and particularly most of the United States, deer thrive but the predators that kept their numbers in check have been decimated.  Without wolves and mountain lions in significant numbers to kill and eat the deer, their natural reproductive rate (geared to replace those lost to predation) quickly overpopulates the environment.  Certainly we have the selfish concern that they will eat our gardens, but even without that part of the problem they will starve in droves, because there is not enough food to feed them all.  The lack of predators is our fault, but only partly intentional.  Certainly we took steps to protect our children from creatures that would recognize them as a potential meal, but it is also the case that we frighten them, and so as we expand they retreat.  That means that deer will die, and their bodies litter the wilderness–and the alternative is for us to maintain managed killing of the overpopulation.  Licensed hunting is an effective and economical approach.  There might be other ways–such as rounding up herds into slaughterhouses and selling the meat on the market–but PETA would find these at least as objectionable.

It also means that we have the right to kill them when in our view it meets our needs–such as taking cattle and pigs and fowl to slaughterhouses to put meat on our tables.

The issue of whether we should refrain from killing animals for clothing is a more complicated one.  After all, in Genesis 3:21 we are told that God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve when they were inadequately clothed in leaves, and we take that to mean that it was the skins of animals, and that thereafter we dressed ourselves in animal skins following the example God gave us.  On the other hand, we have other materials now which are at least as good, and we have a shortage of animals, at least measured against the number of people we have to clothe.  We can provide for our needs without killing a lot of animals, and so we should prioritize our responsibility to care for those we still have.  That does not mean we cannot use fur or leather as part of our clothing; it means that such use should be limited to situations in which it is the best choice for the purpose.

It also means that in a distant future in which animals, including predatory animals, are plentiful and humans are struggling to survive, our present standards about killing creatures for fur or wearing the skins of animals who died or were killed for other reasons simply do not apply.  Most of those who are intelligent enough to be able to play complicated miniatures wargames are also intelligent enough to understand this, even if PETA is not.

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