Friday, September 23, 2011

Life In The Future and the Lessening Scarcity of Awesome Stuff

IN THE FUTURE-ture-ture...
I should use that for a thesis title.

I am, at heart, a collector.  I learned from collecting toys that whatever awesome thing I just found at Target might not be there tomorrow or, in fact, ever again. Working at a used book shop I was in an environment where the most interesting, most desirable items were effectively one of a kind. If I passed something up someone might bring another one in to sell later, but unless what I was wanting was moldy Stephen King paperbacks those chances were slim. I am therefore, to put it lightly, prone to impulse buys.

Two weeks into owning it, my Nook is already changing the way I think about collecting books. By divorcing them from their finite physical medium, by making so many of them, even (especially!) older out-of-print classics available whenever I have a wifi connection, I feel less compelled to stockpile books I may never get around to reading but which I buy just in case I do. (The Long-Suffering Roommate applauds this change.) I am content knowing that someone out there in the ether has cataloged the book and made it available, and it will continue to be available until I want it.

This isn't a 100% certain thing, I realize. Publishers can revoke ebook rights and make something no longer available, and if that original book was DRMed it effectively kills it. A paper book, once out of print, is still a physical thing that can be obtained, but a DRMed ebook is not. Though I'm usually an early adopter, that fact kept me wary of the format for a long time. A non-DRMed ebook, however, can be reproduced infinitely, which is excellent and amazing. I don't advocate piracy, but I do consider out of print and unavailable things a gray area. That is why I chose the Nook over the Kindle: ePub support and a more open overall attitude. I'm sure the books I buy from the B&N online store have whatever DRM the publisher insisted on including, but I can still add books that have none.

I don't plan to give up on print books anytime soon, but I already see myself showing more willingness to wait until I'm ready to read something rather than going out and immediately purchasing it the moment the idea hits me because of worries that it might not be available later. It's not all wine and roses, but being able to download E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novels whenever I want instead of waiting for one to turn up in a used book shop is a nice perk of Living In The Future. (Though I already have the paperbacks from the 60s I picked up in high school, and those nice UK-published paperbacks that showed up at Half Price Books, and...)

Monday, August 22, 2011

World of Warcraft has Jumped the Undead Shark

Just a little emo.
World of Warcraft has been hemmoraging players since the last expansion, and I was one of them. This week, though, I decided to take them up on a free week of "Please please please come back!" game time, and in doing so I've discovered why I really left.

I am a roleplayer. I know this puts me in a minority of players, so I don't consider my reasons for leaving to be universal. I, personally, can't keep playing a character in WoW unless that character has a compelling story. I like to compare it to romance novels: As a woman, I like a little backstory with my sex gaming.

I'm also a Forsaken roleplayer. I've dabbled in other races, but all the way back to vanilla WoW my mains have been Forsaken. Their history as a race is fraught with terror and psychological trauma. They are dark and maybe a wee bit evil, yes, but it's because of what's been done to them. Their lore is a gold mine of the kind of angst and drama I adore in my own characters. They're an excellent medium for exploring themes of loss and morality and humanity. What's more post-human than sentient undead? The Forsaken are driven by a need for revenge against their former prince and the army he commands, the army that destroyed their home kingdom and enslaved them all as undead monsters. In the Wrath of the Lich King expansion they pushed that drive into the frozen continent of Northrend.  They constructed their own architecture for the first time instead of just squatting in the ruins of their old kingdom. Their leader Sylvanas Windrunner was at the forefront of an all-out assault on their undead prince-king's citadel. There was even betrayal and intrigue as the leader of their Royal Apothecary Society unleashed a horrible toxin called the Blight not only against the Lich King but against both Horde and Alliance forces fighting him as well, turning the Forsaken in pariahs among their allies. It was a good time to be a Forsaken roleplayer.

And then they succeeded.
And the new Lich King is too busy to bother the Forsaken.

There comes a time in the life of a roleplay character where their story arc has reached its end. They may not be dead, but they have reached the personal goal for which they've struggled and are now, to some degree, at peace. The Forsaken as a race reached that point at the end of Wrath when Arthas was defeated. There's a battle raging over Gilneas in Silverpine, but unless you plan to spend your whole endgame in the Gilneas PVP battleground that only motivates your character through level 20 or so. There are still Scourge holdouts in the Plaguelands, but that only gets you to about level 45.

On top of that, most new Forsaken were never Scourge at all. They're humans who were killed in Silverpine or Gilneas or Hillsbrad and trucked north to Deathknell to be raised by Sylvanas' new val'kyr allies. Rather than being freed from the army that killed and raised them, they're now part of it. Apparently they're supposed to be okay with this. Barring those who were a touch evil to begin with, beyond those who just hated their lot in life and their families and their neighbors, why are they okay with this? Perhaps a Gilnean who was killed by worgen before being loaded up on the corpsewagon might be willing to join the Forsaken in assaulting the worgen in Gilneas, but Hillsbrad farmers? I'm not seeing it. If you want to get creative your Forsaken character could be a defeated Scourge minion who was brought to Deathknell, but I never got the impression they were bringing them in from other parts of Lordaeron. They could also be a Forsaken who was once a civilian but has now decided to take up some kind of military training, but really, if you were going to do that, why now? Why not before Arthas was defeated? Forsaken don't exactly come of age. It's not like your character was too young before.

There are still threads dangling out there. What will become of the Scourge under Bolvar Fordragon's control? Will he be able to muster them as a force for good, and if he does, will the Forsaken be willing to work with them? What will become of poor Koltira Deathweaver, tied in Sylvanas' basement? What will be the repercussions of Silvanas' use of necromancy and the Blight in direct opposition of Garrosh's commands? I want to see something come of all this, but until that happens, my account is likely going to stay lapsed. What good is being able to raid in RP armor if I don't care enough to raid?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Give Prime a Chance

That's just...oh, you get the idea.
Transformers Prime had a lot to live up to. Transformers Animated garnered a huge following, many new to Transformers as a whole, due to its creative pedigree. The less reasonable in the fandom (and come on, it's a fandom) have held its premature cancellation against Prime. Even over halfway through the season there are people who refuse to give it a chance, finding any niggling reason to hate the show when its real crime is simply not being Animated.

Well screw them.

Though a little slow to get cranked up, Transformers Prime has developed into a show on par with Beast Wars. I admit to my own prejudices against the show: I was worried that it would hew too close to the movies thanks to the involvement of Kurtzman and Orci, and as a result it would be just as much of a poorly-written mess. I could feel that melting away, though, the moment Bulkhead demanded that Miko look away as he tore a Decepticon apart - and Miko gleefully refused. The show has been full of moments like this: Raf trying to explain to Ratchet the difference between being related and being family, Arcee giving in and racing a bully when he insulted her, June giggling over Optimus Prime, Bumblebee's expression upon finding Arcee beaten by Starscream after being unable to restrain her anger, and Starscream, oh Starscream... Scheming, conniving, simpering Starscream, everything the character is supposed to be distilled down to the essence and played by Steve Blum in one of his best performances.

Okay, okay, I MAY have a crush.
One of the brightest spots for me in Prime, however, is a character who isn't played to type: Arcee. Far from being the Girl Robot, Arcee's only real concession to her "gender" is her body type. She's everything a female character should be and nothing they so often tend to be. Arcee's taken something like the role of (Furman's) Grimlock in this cast, an angry Autobot brawler who walks the line between good and evil, who too often lets her anger get the best of her. One could say she's emotional, but it's an emotion so few female characters get to show. And that anger is justified by the losses she's faced. Far from just being "The Girl", this Arcee has deep, developed characterization that has nothing to do with gender casting.

Another place where they did gender right - and the whole show benefited for it - was forgoing the common assumption that the female characters be paired together and putting Arcee with Jack and Miko with Bulkhead. I couldn't see any of them with anyone else. I can't help but think that Arcee has been a better influence on Jack that any other character could have been, even when she's not being a terribly good influence at all. Jack paired with a male character - say, a Hot Rod/Shot sort of character - would have been boring at best and volatile at worst. And Bulkhead gives Miko a partner as big as her spirit. She's a tiny girl who wants to do everything and be everywhere, and in reigning her in Bulkhead has to reign himself in a little as well. They're at first glance unlikely pairs, but they compliment each other perfectly.

I'll admit it's not a perfect show. Bumblebee and Raf can be a little bland, though they're the perfect pairing that truly is perfect together. Much of that can be blamed on the one conceit that did carry over from the movie, which has left Bumblebee's moments of true characterization few and far between. I was extremely disappointed at seeing a Wheeljack who acted more like Drift and did not at any point Try Science. Optimus Prime is a bit too Optimus Prime at times, to the point where I called ahead of time that he would believe they should give Starscream a chance to change. On the occasions his dialogue doesn't have a swelling of heroic music behind it, it seems like it should. But Transformers Prime has become a show I look forward to, and one of those lately-rare Transformers shows I'll eagerly watch in reruns.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Can't Tim Drake Be Gay?; or, In Defense of Late Bloomers

As a lead-up to the upcoming DC Universe reboot/non-reboot/sales ploy, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan Didio did an interview with the LGBT news site The Advocate with plenty of positive things to say about LGBT characters in some of the upcoming books. One comment, though, has whipped up a bit of a fuss in the more progressive parts of comics fandom:
DC has several popular teenage heroes such as Robin, Wonder Girl, Superboy and the other Teen Titans. With gay teens becoming more visible in the media, can readers expect to see a teenaged gay superhero in the future?
One of the things we’re very focused on doing for these types of stories is rather than [change an existing] character, we want to make sure that this is the basis of who that character is right from the start. So if we’re going to introduce a gay character in Teen Titans, we want to make it a new character and make sure that is an iatrical part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really lean and grow with her or him.
 There have been plenty of people pointing out the contradiction of making massive changes to characters all the time but declaring their sexual orientation to be off the board. That is absolutely a valid point. But here's another one: Are gay people really so inherently different that it has to be established at the moment the character is created, that a character who has up to now had romantic relationships with one gender can't start having them with another?

Full disclosure for anyone reading this who doesn't already know me well: I'm a late bloomer myself. I didn't figure out until I was 31, when I finally gave being single a try after a few failed relationships, that just because I liked to hang out with guys didn't mean I actually wanted to sleep with them. I love how Peter David has handled Rictor in X-Factor because he took an existing character and acknowledged that sometimes it takes you a while to accept that you're different - even when you've already accepted other ways in which you are! I love Rictor because his coming out has been most like my own.

That's the problem with Didio's view here: It assumes everybody has everything figured out about themselves the second they hit puberty, that they don't have any societal expectations/familial expectations/opposite-sex friends wanting to date them confusing the issue until they're a little older, and that this makes them significantly, inherently, inextricably different from straight people. Teenagers are increasingly declaring themselves gay or lesbian or bisexual in high school, but those are the lucky ones. Most people don't figure it out that quickly. So why can't Tim Drake realize that's why he was so despondent over losing Connor? Why can't he grow as a character? And how would realizing he's gay make him any different from who he already is?

Everyone is Gay recently posted about writing gay characters. Maybe Dan needs to read it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why I Play Dark Eldar

Eat your heart out, Professor Membrane
Warhammer 40K, as a hobby, is pretty new to me. I've always been aware of it, and my general Anglophilia has made me mildly curious, but it wasn't until my roommate Zack fell in love with it that I had an excuse to pick it up myself. My first inclination was to play Necrons, because c'mon, robot zombies, but they don't have a lot of units yet and they're a bit lacking in individual character. (Some of that may change soon, as they're rumored to be getting a new Codex.) My true fate was next to them on the shelf of my favorite Local Game Shop: the Dark Eldar.

I used to gravitate toward goody-goodies. I'm still a vehement supporter of the Autobots. My first World of Warcraft character was a (female!) dwarf paladin.  Five years in tech support has rotted my soul. I'm only a little more irritable and misanthropic in my day-to-day life, but these days I like my fictional cultures as evil (or at the very least amoral) as possible. The Dark Eldar are the most over-the-top evil culture I have seen pretty much anywhere. As a race they literally feed off pain. They're drugged-up body mod junkies. They were the flayed skin of those who opposed them as loincloths over their armor.  Their leader dropped a starship on a guy who dared to question his command. In a setting already full of over-the-top concepts and characters, where there are no real Good Guys, they are Villainy Incarnate. Reading through their Codex reveals details so ridiculously evil as to be comical. Their alignment is Chaotic WTF.

Though the Dark Eldar are really just Evil Space Elves, one of the more interesting unit types is the haemonculi and their fleshcrafted minions. My own personal body modifications may consist of two rarely-used pairs of ear piercings and an eyebrow barbell, but I love it in fiction.With cyberpunk a dying subgenre, I often have to get my posthumanism (posteldarism?) from fantasy. As part of a race that embodies all the worst things about traditional elves, the haemonculi exist to fulfill whatever ridiculous vain whim the others entertain. You want wings? Here you go. We'll even hollow out your bones for you. Got killed in battle? No problem, we'll pop your remaining finger in a tube and regenerate you, feeding you on a steady diet of pain from our experimental subjects. Horrible disfigurement is the latest fashion? Lovely!
Equal opportunity silly armor

They also have women, which a lot of the other races are lacking. The Codex specifically says "Little distinction is drawn between the sexes, for an individual's skill and cunning is far more important than physical traits such as height or gender." (Yes, I know, "gender" is not physical; I'm gonna chalk it up to not wanting to use "sex" twice in the same sentence.)  Vanilla Eldar have a lot of female characters in their fiction, but not so many as actual minis. To be fair, being elves, the Dark Eldar have little sexual dimorphism anyway, and when assembling minis it really doesn't matter whether most of the heads are put on male or female bodies. Yes, there are female torsos with cleavage windows, but only in units that don't wear full armor, and those have male companions with exposed midriffs. The women from the "warrior" unit have full body armor. Everything but the torsos are unisex. I get a kick out of that androgyny.

So to any of my like four readers: Do you currently play or have you previously played Warhammer? What was your favorite army, and why?