Texans, Who Are We?

Texas is under intense stress. You know it. You have seen the news – the El Paso shooting at Walmart, the conditions at the border. In the wake of these tragedies, perhaps Texans have forgotten where we originate, and who our state represents. Your history books in grade school had an entire section dedicated to mass immigration through Ellis Island, but did it go into detail about the immigration movements to Texas? Probably not. 

Texas started out as a Republic in the 1830s and did a lot of positive things including taking down a dictator from power in Mexico, setting up schools, making strides for peace between the Native Americans. Texas’s leader in this brief period after the Texas Revolution, Sam Houston, was a proponent of such peace. Even though Texas had established independence and had set up a government, however, this new nation was in a great deal of debt. Houston needed to incite entrepreneurship, so he agreed to immigration plans. 

This wave of immigration brought in a variety of Europeans – contracts included “1,000 families of Germans, Swiss, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Dutch immigrants [to settle] between the Llano and Colorado rivers.”  The most successful of these movements was the one led by the Adelsverein (The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas). With their assistance, Germans settled land people now know as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. I actually descend from one of those immigrants who came through during this movement – an army doctor named Christian Althaus who in 1847 set sail to Fredreicksburg along with many other German immigrants. Althaus was a doctor in the truest sense – helping where help was needed without prejudice. He offered medical treatment to Native Americans and distributed food to them as a government agent.  As stated in the Texas Handbook online, he followed the creed “be friendly and never pull a gun.” He also dabbled in business selling supplies to Forty-niners making the trek to California for gold. 

As noted in the Library of Congress, The Spaniards colonized Mexico and regions within the southwest that are now part of the modern United States. In the mid 1800s the United States only covered so much (highlighted in pink). 

The United States did not annex Texas into the union until 1845. With this land annexation came conflict, and war broke out between Mexico and the nation. Mexico was defeated, and with it came massive land expansion for the United States in a $15 million land purchase. Then another land expansion in 1854 into what we now know as Arizona and New Mexico. With these land purchases, came an adoption of Mexican immigrants into American society.

Mexican immigrants had to struggle through American domestication which included not getting what they were promised – guaranteed safety and property early on because it could not be enforced through the disconnected United States – a disconnection remedied by the folks that included Mexican immigrants who were willing to build railroads to connect our country. By the 1900s, the Mexican Revolution was underway, so immigrants fled into the United States for economic opportunity. They scrambled to survive and returned to Mexico when they felt stable. They have dealt with an American government that has not represented them and assimilation procedures that are arguably racist in nature. Their willingness to do the difficult, thankless jobs for low wages became a stigmatized truth. In essence, their journey and development in America has been one that is most American. They have been able to endure ongoing struggle. It is about time Americans own up to what they have put the the immigrant population through thus far. It has been a cycle of abuse. A cycle that we have the capability to break. 

Instead of seeing immigration as a burden, we could look to it as an opportunity. An immigrant’s path to citizenship means more tax-payer dollars to contribute to public. 

According to data collected in 2017 by the American Immigration Council, over half (59.5%) of all immigrants have a high school education or higher. We cannot assume that these immigrants are not worthy of occupation in the United States. They have been willing to fulfill the hard labor positions that others cannot or refuse to do. They are also involved in administration and other occupations that are not listed in this broad, generalized chart. There are leaders, artists, scientists among them waiting to emerge. If we assume for instance that the Alderverain were dangerous – then Christian Althaus would have never been able to practice as a doctor in Texas – a practice that helped both the Native American and the Immigrant population. It is possible to create a solution that can benefit both parties. Like Houston saw in the 1800s, immigration is an economic opportunity to bring immigrants into the workforce, or provide new services with new insight. Moreover, Mexico is a loyal trading partner. 

The Office of the United States Trade Representative boasts Mexico as the “3rd largest goods trading partner with $611.5 billion in total (two way) goods trade during 2018. Goods exports totaled $265.0 billion; goods imports totaled $346.5 billion. According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Mexico supported an estimated 1.2 million jobs in 2015 (latest data available) (968 thousand supported by goods exports and 201 thousand supported by services exports).”

Our relationship with Mexico matters. It matters to people’s livelihoods. It matters our economy. Together we have the ability to crack down on what Trump hyperbolizes as a Mexican problem – the idea that immigrants coming across the border are all dangerous. He uses inflammatory rhetoric that I dare not repeat. Why would families risk life and limb to come to the United States knowing there is a measure in place against them? They must deem it worth the risk. That is something we must understand. There are issues in Mexico that influence their crossing. We should start a dialogue about those issues in order to solve them. There are those that smuggle drugs illegally past the border, and there are dangerous people that may want to enter into the United States. That does not, however, mean that dangerous and Mexican are synonymous. The moment we believe that is the moment we have let fear win over reason. That is the moment we have negated a history of diplomatic negotiation with Mexico. That is the moment we forget all that these immigrants have already done for Americans, things Americans were not willing to do for themselves. There is an opportunity here for Mexicans and Americans to work together to solve issues around crime.

The Native Americans held land in North America, then Spain held land, then later the rest of the world. We are not a nation of one. We are a nation of many. Immigrants and allies from other nations have been with us since the inception of Texas. I love Texas. I really do. Despite how I may disagree with its current politics, I’ll fight for a chance to work with the place that gave my German ancestors a home so many years ago. I do not believe people are fixed and that we are merely Republican, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarian, Independents. We are reasonable people who see problems and have the ability to utilize diplomacy. Despite what our individual views are we have to see that our conflict at the border and our greater conflict with immigration is a conflict that cannot just be shut out. Shutting out a problem does not solve it. Just like in life when you put up the proverbial wall, it only blocks you from seeing a problem, but the problem is still there. Problems stay until a person, a community, or people come together and decide to do something that actually solves. When we ignore, when we block –  that is when the louder, domineering voices get the say, and their say currently doesn’t actually provide a well-crafted, diplomatic solution. It provides a flimsy bandage while the wound underneath festers. 

Sources

American Immigration Council, “IMMIGRANTS IN TEXAS”, accessed August 08, 2019, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-texas

Handbook of Texas Online, Barbara Donalson Althaus, “ALTHAUS, CHRISTIAN,” accessed August 09, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fal78

Handbook of Texas Online, Joseph Milton Nance, “REPUBLIC OF TEXAS,” accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mzr02

Library of Congress Online, ” MEXICAN – INTRODUCTION – IMMIGRATION,” accessed August 15, 2019, https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/mexican.html

Why Everyone Should Play Dungeons and Dragons

If you already play Dungeons and Dragons, you likely already agree that everyone should play D&D. Maybe you don’t play and you are curious. What is D&D? Maybe the only version of D&D you have ever witnessed were those scenes from Stranger Things.

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Or Freaks and Geeks

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Or Community

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It seems once we graduate from elementary school, move onto secondary schools, and eventually get a job, we forget to put time into stimulating our imagination. Work, Weekend, Repeat. We hit the bar on sixth to blow off steam, but pretty soon that gets too repetitive too. Existing becomes a mindless blur of elevator button dings mixing with front desk greetings and the incessant tapping from typing at desks. You come home exhausted, fix dinner, turn on the television to allow yourself to empty your mind. You get time to relax, yet you still feel unsatisfied, because there is something missing. That something is the ability to think, to let your mind wander into a faraway land or some distant galaxy. Maybe you read fantasy novels and so argue you have a means of escapism. Even when you read a fantasy, however, you are still lacking in creativity. That is, the means to create. You need a safe place to explore the “What if” and the “What happens when.” We are taught to give up on make believe at a certain age. We are taught that it is unproductive, but that is just not true. We desperately need outlets to utilize our imaginations, to explore uncharted territories with our friends, to experiment, and to learn.

D&D is a tactical role-playing game which requires spatial reasoning, basic math, and problem solving – skills applicable to your daily life. D&D shows you how to work in a team. It’s a known fact in the D&D universe that splitting up and flying solo could prove fatal for a player. Maybe you are someone who gets anxious at the thought of conversing with that Jim or Jane you just know you will never get along with at work. D&D is a game where you could learn how to deal with those people, and how to deal with people in general if you find you are socially anxious.

As a Dungeon Master, you must craft the world, describing it in detail in order to paint a cohesive picture within the players’ minds. It challenges the DM to question – what might I likely find in this location? How do I describe it? You will tap into your storytelling ability as you craft a series of scenarios for the players to encounter. Anyone who wants to hone their storytelling skills should play this game, because you are building something from the ground up. Moreover, you’re doing it often times on the fly. That can be a scary thought for a writer if you are used to hyper-planning or find you get stuck in writer’s block. The thing that is great about D&D is – the show must go on. There is no time for writer’s block. The game forces you to create. Embrace the “um, uh -” and go with your gut. Pretty soon you will find writing the first draft of anything – be it a novel, a play, a film, a game script will be one hundred times less daunting.

Just like you learn in an improvisation class, D&D also teaches you how to listen and practice “Yes and.” If you are not familiar with the “Yes and” concept, in improv 101 you learn how to accept others’ ideas and bounce off them, elaborate on them rather then cast them down to steal the show for yourself.

From personal experience, I can say the clarity I have in my communication with others has greatly increased since playing this game. I am more open, more willing, more ready than ever to tackle challenges that come my way. Although it is abstract, if you go about your day like a D&D campaign, like how you took down that Necromancer or that oafish Bugbear, dealing with life problems seem a little less frightening. If anything you know you have that one special day of the week where you can kick back and tackle demons. You have a place to vent.

For all you teachers and parents out there, Dungeons and Dragons is a great tool for teaching students. Studying up on lore, demons, rules, etc. is a great way to get kids to learn self-discipline and research. That may sound ridiculous, but when you are calling for a game one day a week (as per tradition for a D&D campaign) and kids have to be accountable for character back stories, leveling up their characters, keeping track of spells, and notes – all of that is great training in time management for school work (provided you tell them “treat your school work like you treat D&D”).

It does not stop with students, though. We should not stop learning as adults. We should challenge ourselves to think. Some of our jobs do not require utilizing the aforementioned skills, and we let exercising that part of the brain fall to the wayside. Maybe we aren’t as quick on the draw as we used to be because of that reason.

At the risk of my preaching D&D as pure pedagogy, on top of exercising your brain, D&D is just plain fun. You get to laugh, pretend, and tell stories with your friends. Did I mention the snacks? A D&D campaign should always be accompanied with tasty treats, and if you are playing on my home team – also beer! So go forth a play some Dungeons and Dragons. You will create deeper bonds with your fellow players than you realize, and it is so worth the journey. You may think it is too nerdy, too complicated, and too childish, but I demand a re-vote on those preconceived notions. It is not. And you are not too old to play it. All you need is some people, some dice, and some imagination.

 

Short Story: The Mouse Named Kidney Bean and the Rat Named Weasel – Part 1

There was a time when the pests of the household lived in harmony – each thriving in their separate kingdom, away from the brooms, vacuums, and pyrethroids. They sat in their little cubbies so damp and dark. The mice would chitter through the gap in the drywall, the cockroaches would skitter through the pipes, the spiders would weave webs in the basement, and the rats…well, the rats were another story. The rats made a mistake. They didn’t know how to live in a house full of humans. They were used to the freedom of the sewers where they could explore for hours on end without a human in sight. They did not heed the warnings from the well-groomed mice to stay hidden. One evening at six o’clock, the human feeding time, one rogue rat snuck out for a late night snack. After a child’s shriek and a mother’s wham of a frying pan, the very rat twitched for a moment, the light faded from his eyes, and he fell limp and lifeless on the kitchen counter.

From that moment onward, things became different for the pests. After the incident with the rat, the humans started to suspect their home had been infested with other things. Then came the sprays. Swathes of mice and roaches grew sick and perished. Only the spiders were able to find refuge and did so in the darkest reaches of the basement in the forgotten corners of antediluvian dresser drawers.

As the mice and roach populations thinned, they began to live in fear, fear that they could not venture out to the human’s domain until they had completely run out of resources. So much fear overtook these mice and roaches that they turned against each other, suspecting that at any moment one pest might get too desperate, sneak out for food, and in that desperation proceed without caution inciting another holocaust. The mice and roaches agreed to close off all entries to the human domain except one. They left one gap in the lower crown molding behind the great, blocky void called the television. To quell such fear entirely, the mice and roach guards stood patrolling the area near the exit to ensure that no more rogue pests passed its barrier. To exit they had to be vetted for their stealth, their loyalty, and most importantly, they couldn’t be rats. No rats were allowed beyond the threshold. They could not be trusted.

The rats possessed an unparalleled toughness. In the days of the holocaust, even though the rat population dwindled, the rats stood fearless against the threat of impending death. They courageously scoured the well-stocked pantries even if some were caught and killed by traps along the way. The other pests, except for the spiders whom continued living in ambivalence, hated the rats for their courage. They thought them foolish, irrational. In their view, their recklessness would be the cause of every pest’s downfall.

“Enslave them” said the mouse king to his court in the mice kingdom. “The only way to ensure our safety is if we keep them under our reign.” And so they did. Word was spread through the mice kingdom that there would be an announcement the following morning. That night the mice and roaches secured some of the human’s supply of rodenticide, and dropped it into the rat leaders’ water supply located within the mice kingdom, for the rats shared their domain with the mice much to the mice king’s annoyance.

The following morning, all pests gathered in the mice kingdom square, even the spiders – though they were present only corporeally – and they came upon a ghastly sight. In the middle of the square sat the lifeless bodies of the of five rats. The pests began to whisper in hushed, frantic voices.

An echoing voice rang out among the crowd “Papa? Papa?!” A young, female rat broke through the crowd and skittered up to a large, brown rat lying on the dusty ground. She sniffed all around his body for any sign of life, but found none.

“Who did this?!” she cried. “Speak! Who did this?!” She looked at the crowd, baring her teeth, revealing her bloodshot eyes.

The mouse king stood on his colonial balcony with a horrible grin upon his face. He addressed the young rat “I did.”

She hissed, the words cutting on each consonant, “How could you?! This rat was my father! He and the others lying here are our leaders! Why would you do such a thing?!”

The mouse king ignored the little rat. He looked up at the rest of the crowd and singled out the huddled mass of surviving rats “Let this be a lesson to those who do not obey. Your leaders are dead. They do not have caution enough to check their own water supply for poison, what makes you believe they have the intelligence to rule your kind? Stick with me, and blunders such as this will never happen. I will keep you safe. I know you think you are brave and stalwart, but even the brave and stalwart get hungry. In exchange for your labor and your allegiance, you shall never go hungry. And your people do not have to die any more. We can not afford another surge of death on the pest kingdoms. I must insist you follow. Or perish.”

“No!” The young rat began to lurch forward toward the mouse kingdom’s front gate. Just as she rushed, the two guards seized her.

“You there. Young one. What is your name, loud mouth?”

“My name is Willow.” She said

“What was that? Willow? Weasel, I think. You look very much like a small weasel, so I shall call you such. I could use a personal chambermaid. You shall work for me” and with his pinkish digit he signaled the guards to escort poor Weasel into the kingdom.

Weasel bit the guards as they closed in on her, but she could not puncture through their armor. She squirmed to no avail, and in a few moments, in the cacophony of her screams, the guards drug her into the kingdom.

The mouse king looked out at the crowd once more. “Anyone else have something to say?” The rats remained silent with their gazes downcast. “Very well. Glad to see some of your kind still has the capacity for reason. The head guardsman will assign you your duties. We shall not speak of this day again as we move forward onto a brighter, safer future.”

From that day onward, life within the drywall, and in the pipes was much different. Rats no longer ventured into the human domain. They served the mice and the roaches. They dug the tunnels for the mice’s sewage, lifted the heavy objects for the roaches’ convenience, built the buildings for the mice’s comfort, removed the gunk from the pipes for the roaches’ ease of travel all for a measly crumb here and there and the projected safety of others.  The spiders refused to involve themselves with the rats, able to subsist on their own just fine, and not much interested in enslaving others though also not much interested in halting others from enslavement.

One morning the king sent word for a delivery mouse as it was customary to do so on the beginning of each week. The young, nervous, burgundy mouse stood in the king’s doorway looking up at the looming guardsmen towering to the left and right of him. He wore a newsboy cap and bag. He watched as the king sat at his desk pouring through paperwork with his back turned away from him. The king dipped his quill in some ink to the side of him and started to write frantically on the parchment in front of him.

After a moment the king addressed the young mouse whom he sensed was in the hallway. “Yes, yes, enter please. Are you testing my patience?”

“Uh-no-no sir. I would not do that, sir” the frantic mouse removed his newsboy cap and attempted to smooth his unruly tufts.

“Come here, young one. So I can see you.”

The young mouse did as the king commanded. The king looked the young mouse over and sighed for he saw a questionable sight. He did not see the expected fit mouse. What he saw was a scrawny fellow with an unkempt coat, his rear oddly shifted to one side.

“You? You’re the delivery mouse?” The king shouted to the guards “This is indeed the right mouse, is it?” The guards confirmed it was so, and the king asked for the mouse’s name.

“My name is Kidney Bean.”

“What an odd name for a mouse. Why are you called such a name?” the king inquired.

Kidney Bean hesitated, nervously turning his newsboy cap with his two hands as if it were a steering wheel and were desperately trying to turn left. “It’s just my name, sir.” He squeaked.

The king narrowed his eyes, “You are not who I envisioned would take the place of our former, elite delivery mouse.”

Hearing this, the guards entered the room. “Shall we take him away sir?”

The king waved the guards away. “No, no. There’s no time. Deliveries must be made today. You were selected by my guardsmen for this position, so you must be worth something at least.”

“I promise. I won’t let you down, sir.”

“That remains to be seen.” The king seethed. 

Kidney Bean’s head dropped  “Yes sir.”

“You must collect portions for this week and deliver them to the other two kingdoms without delay. Do you understand?”

Kidney Bean nodded frantically and squeaked out an assurance. Just he did, Weasel the rat entered looking hungry and tired and distant.

“Shall I take your bed, m’lord?” Weasel said in a rehearsed manner.

“What a cheeky thing to say” the king rose from his desk. He sauntered over to Weasel and sniffed the nape of her neck. “Why that human perfume I had you put on suits you well.”

In a monotone voice she continued the charade “I mean – shall I take your bedding, m’lord.”

“Oh yes, of course, of course” the king snickered. “And next time, try to behave better around our guest.” Kidney Bean winced as he saw the king smack Weasel in her rear. Instinctively, Kidney Bean felt the impulse to tell the king to stop such harassment, but just as he opened his mouth, Weasel, with a weary, hardened expression, signaled him to remain silent. The king glared at Kidney Bean. “What are you still doing here? I said without delay!” Kidney Bean hurried himself out the king’s doorway and down a long stone hallway. Behind him trudged Weasel with a pile of the king’s bedding. Kidney Bean started to slow down as he heard her pattering behind him. He looked over his shoulder at Weasel whom wavered back and forth, unable to see above the pile in her hands. Kidney Bean rushed to her aid.

“Here. Let me help with that.” He rose on his hind legs to steady the tipping top of the pile, but he only stood for a moment before shrieking in pain. He fell back and the pile fell with him.

“Look what you have done! You have been no help at all.” She huffed seeing the king’s bedding sit in a heap on top of Kidney Bean. “Mind your own business.” She started gathering up the bedding in annoyance. She gathered sheet after sheet only pausing when she heard faint whimpers. She lifted the final sheet to find Kidney Bean softly cooing in pain.

“Are you alright?” Weasel’s face changed. She reached her fore-paw out to Weasel’s face, but he turned his face away.

“I’m…just fine.” Weasel quickly hid his teary residue away from Weasel’s view. “Please. I can do this job. I need this job. Don’t tell them I can’t.”

Weasel took a good look at him. She saw the ridges of his spine protrude outward in a curve, and walked around to face Weasel. “That must be painful. You are the delivery mouse?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“The delivery mouse is assigned every week. I pay attention.” She said, matter-of-factly. “Plus, you have a bag.” Weasel gestured her paw to Kidney Bean’s bag. “That crooked spine of yours may slow you down a bit.”

“I can do this job” Kidney Bean protested.

“I’m not saying you can’t. I’m saying that your spine may slow you down a bit though. It’s dangerous out there.”

“Yeah, well I can do it! And what do you know any way? You are just a-” he paused.

“A rat?” Weasel raised her brow.

Kidney Bean rolled to his feet. “I was going to say chambermaid, actually-”

“Not by choice. It keeps me alive.”

Kidney Bean considered her answer. “I know what you mean. I’m just doing this job so I can eat. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really want the job, but it’s been three days since I have earned a portion.”

Weasel perked up as she heard approaching footsteps, the chinking sound of metal on stone, as a guardsman rounded the corner to where Kidney Bean and Weasel stood.

“Oi. What’s this? You two ‘avin’ a gossip session, or what?” the guardsman crossed his arms. “You shouldn’t be talkin’ to this one. She’s a right dumb wench, that one is. Only good for scrubbing pots and cleanin’ linens.” the guardsman chuckled.

Weasel eyed the guardsman with disdain. The linens in the air flew as she suddenly bounded straight for him. She charged, hitting him square in the chest plate with a resounding bang. The air released from his lungs in one hull. As Weasel impacted, the guardsman fell to the ground, eyes closed. Weasel backed away from him, shocked from her sudden outburst. She smelled around him. As she did she saw the subtle, steady rise and fall of the guardsman’s breathing.

“Not dead. Just unconscious. We have to move.”

Kidney Bean breathed rapidly. Weasel didn’t wait for an answer. She took Kidney Bean by the hand and started to drag him away. Weasel began to shriek “AAAAARRRRGGH! Please! Let me go!”

Weasel released him with a panicked warning, “If we stay here, we are done.”

“Okay, but let me go. The pain is too great.” Weasel nodded. Two guards came around the corner spotting Kidney Bean and Weasel.

“They must have heard your scream. We must hurry!” And Kidney Bean and Weasel hurried down corridor after corridor as the guards chased behind. They ducked under castle’s kitchen counters, leapt over the visiting mice touring the kingdom, and weaved around the grasping mouse guards. They made it to the outside of the kingdom. As the guardsmen sent word of an escaped rat, the head guardsman ordered the gatekeeper to lower the gate. The guards encircled Kidney Bean and Weasel in the castle courtyard. Weasel saw their moment of escape fade as the gate dropped to a close. She looked closer at the array of bars that made up the main gate.

“I think we can still climb it!” She yelled to Kidney Bean. Kidney Bean barreled after her and the two of them together leapt onto the gate, and climbed for their lives. The gatekeeper at the top of the castle fumbled for his crossbow. He shot it, and it sunk into Weasel’s leg. She faltered, bending in pain, but used her adrenaline to lift Kidney Bean from the gate onto the wall. Seeing the wound in Weasel’s leg, Kidney Bean jumped onto the gatekeeper. Having seized the crossbow from him, he held it to the gatekeeper’s face. The crossbow trembled under his nervous, untrained paws. Even with his trembling, the tip of the crossbow hovering only inches from the gatekeeper’s face instilled enough fear in the gatekeeper that he backed away. Kidney Bean stood paralyzed with fear at the sudden power he held over another creature.

Weasel grabbed the folds of Kidney Bean’s collar, “No time to waste! We have to jump – into that pile, there!” Off to the side, near the shadowed end of the drywall, she gestured to a mixed pile of candy bar wrappers and chip bags below them on the other side of the castle wall. She pulled Kidney Bean to the edge to prepare for the descent. Though Kidney Bean fought back against her tugging, for that was a long way to jump for a mouse with a degenerative spine, Weasel’s grip was strong and reassuring. In her face, he saw a focused, furrowed brow, the resoluteness of her kind, and with it the promise of her protection. Weasel lifted him onto her back, “hold on, tight” she said as she jumped with from the castle wall in agony. The arrow in her leg cut further into her muscle as she sprung. Arrows pelted after them from the guards who managed to scramble up onto the wall, but their arrows were frenzied arrows who missed their targets.

Down, down, down, down, much farther down than she anticipated she would go, Weasel and Kidney Bean went. With a great thud, they landed on a musty surface taking an empty chip bag with them on the way down. Weasel grimaced, taking the brunt of the fall, saving Kidney Bean from injury. Kidney Bean slid off her back as Weasel took a breather.

“Thank you” he said.

“It was nothing” Weasel attempted a smile, but as she did she revealed blood-stained teeth.

“You’re bleeding!” Kidney Bean exclaimed. He rushed to her side. She held a hand out to his chest to stop him. She spat blood from her mouth onto the musty surface.

“I’m fine. It’s just a little bit of blood.” She reassured.

“What about your leg?” He asked. He reached out a hand to the arrow sticking out of her leg.

“Don’t!” She cried turning her leg. She promptly broke off the stick of the arrow, so it would no longer prove a hazard for traveling. The point, however, stayed within her tissue.

“But it’s still in there. Hurting you!” Kidney Bean looked at Weasel with concern.

“I’ll fix it later!” She protested.

“It could get worse!”

“What do you know about it? Are you a medicine mouse?!”

Kidney Bean backed off, “No. I was only trying to help.”

“I can tough it out.”

“You don’t have to!”

“Well, unless you have some great idea on how you get this arrow out of me without my bleeding to death, that is the way it is!” Weasel crossed her arms and eyed him with that same self-assured, furrowed brow.

“Fine!”

“Fine!”

They turned away from one another, silently seething. Where could they be? Were they down Alice’s rabbit hole? It was hard to make out the surroundings. The darkness was heavy and unforgiving. But a crack from above, the above that they fell through, let in enough light to see some of the surface beneath their feet. Kidney Bean noted a dust-covered page beneath his feet covered in script.

“I believe we may be upon a book.” Kidney Bean said in a measured voice. He then blew the dust from the page beneath him. After a moment, Weasel began to laugh. Kidney Bean swallowed the impulse to awkwardly laugh along. “What’s so funny?” He asked.

“In the brief period we have met we have become outlaws, fallen down a great hole, landed on a book, and I don’t even know your name.”

Kidney Bean chuckled. “You’re right. My name is Kidney Bean.”

“Mine is Weasel”

Kidney Bean replied “That’s an odd name for a rodent.” Weasel dropped eye contact for a moment.

“It’s not my birth-given name, but I don’t go by that any more. I am no longer that little girl.”

Why hello. It seems we have a visitor.

Kidney Bean looked around into the darkness. “What was that? Did you hear something, Weasel?”

Into the light emerged a primordial looking-creature with searching antennae and a few pairs of cerci. The light glimmered off its metallic hued exoskeleton giving it an omniscient glow. Why have you come here my children? The creature did not speak in the normal way others spoke with sounds. Rather he gave off a sense, a feeling within the mind.

“We are not children!” Weasel said defensively, but just as she did, Kidney Bean skittered behind her for protection much like a child would.

We did not mean to offend. We are a peaceful kind.

The creature spoke of we even though there only appeared to be one creature present. It is not often that we see others. We are grateful for your company. Its antennae drew close to Weasel. Our eyesight is limited. We must also sense. May we sense you? And to Kidney Bean’s surprise, he saw Weasel slowly nod for she sensed their peaceful nature. Even she, though, as tough as she was, closed her eyes and held her breath at the tickle of antennae quickly reviewed her form. You are not from here. You have fallen a long way down. Weasel felt she should respond. She opened her mouth to speak, but the truth was she didn’t need to speak. She only needed to feel. She felt tears well up in her eyes. You are afraid. You are somewhere distant and you are afraid you may not find your way out. She fought back her tears as she so often did in the kingdom when she and the mouse king played out  their charade time and time again. You have been through a great deal. You are injured. Let me help you. Weasel backed away, no longer able to hide her tears, they rained down heavy. The creature backed off sensing Weasel’s apprehension.

Kidney Bean addressed the creature “Don’t take it personal. She wouldn’t let me help either. She has some real trust issues, I guess.”

The creature turned to Kidney Bean. I do not know what it is like. She shared some of her story with us, however, so that we may better understand. She is a brave rodent.

“What are you?” asked Kidney Bean. “I’ve never seen anything like you before.”

We are the silverfish. We are a private kind, so it’s no wonder you have not heard of us. We are of the arthropods. We think as one. We do not venture into the human domain but few times a year.  We do not need much food. We can subsist off cloth, papers, and the occasional sweet.

Weasel wiped the tears from her eyes. “How can we trust you?” She asked.

Your trust in us is up to you. We can mend you with our sweet.

Weasel didn’t answer. She just looked into the silverfish’s myriad of eyes like those which you might find on a fly and searched for honesty. After a few fidgets of its antennae, the silverfish scurried away out of the light and disappeared into the darkness.

“Wait, come back. She doesn’t mean it!” Kidney Bean cried. He moved to Weasel and shoved her shoulder slightly. “What did you do? He was going to help you!” Weasel said nothing, only sunk further into her own depression. “Before you were so confident. What’s happened to you? We will find our way out. We will. And we’ll find you help!” With one large grunt, Weasel attempted to rise from her seated position. She set her injured, left leg on the book and attempted to stand. The torrential pain triggered from her leg traveled to her brain and she cried out, louder than she ever had before.

“I can’t!”

“Yes, you can! If I can move, you can move!”

“NO – I can’t! It hurts too much. If I stand, it cuts me deeper.” Kidney Bean looked into her face and saw helplessness. He thought of his crooked back, and how helpless he had felt when he stood on his hind legs. He sat by her side and placed a hand on her shoulder. His tone changed to a soothing volume as he said, “We will wait then until you are ready.”

As they waited, they saw the familiar buggy antennae approach into the light.

“You’re back!” exclaimed Kidney Bean.

We are back with the sweet. On his back they saw a gooey, gold, gelatinous substance.

Kidney Bean turned to Weasel. “Did you do this somehow? Did you tell him to come back?”

She only had to trust and I would know. She decided to trust. And with that, the silverfish moved to attend to Weasel’s wound. Do you accept us? Weasel confirmed that she accepted it. This is going to feel strange, but you must trust us. Weasel felt that she trusted it, and so the silverfish arched its back and dug a pair of cerci into Weasel’s wound. Kidney Bean suddenly grew anxious. He wondered if the big bug was hurting her. He was content that this was the right thing to do though when he saw Weasel give him a slight nod to ensure him everything would be okay. The silverfish withdrew the arrow tip from Weasel’s leg. Both it and the cerci were coated in blood. The silverfish commanded Kidney Bean. Apply pressure to the wound. Kidney Bean did as commanded as the silverfish fixed a honey salve from the gelatinous substance on its back. The silverfish rubbed the salve into Weasel’s wound. She started to sigh in relief, and a slight smile appeared on Kidney Bean’s face. He was happy to see her pain relieved. It will still hurt, but it will heal.  Weasel thanked the silverfish.

After some lighthearted conversation, Weasel felt ready to stand again. The silverfish thanked them for their company and wished them well on their journey. Then it was gone.

She spoke to Kidney Bean. “It’s time we find you some food.” Kidney Bean remembered that he was indeed hungry. He had forgotten from being so worried about Weasel.

“Yes, we should find food.” Kidney Bean patted his growling tummy. 

“And you still have a job to do.”

“Don’t be silly” Kidney Bean joked. “There is no way that they will let me into the pest kingdoms now. Like you said, we’re outlaws.”

“Our other option is that we escape. But why escape alone? Why not take those who wish to live in freedom with us?” Weasel’s eyes appeared big to Kidney Bean as she spoke, so full of opportunity. This frightened Kidney Bean. He began to pace frantically.

“It sounds dangerous.”

“Sometimes doing the right thing is dangerous.” Weasel stood now, and walked into the darkness. From the darkness you could hear her voice growing distant as she asked Kidney Bean if he were coming with her.

 

Short Story: The Townhome

The art gallery in Midtown, New York swarmed with bees. Not the kind that sting, per say, but the kind that buzz. They buzzed about how this symbolized that and how this actually was a metaphor for capitalism and how this color scheme meant to evoke that emotion and how this paint stroke had been painted purposefully for that effect. She hated bees. All bees ever seem to do was make honey and buzz.

Everyone’s a goddamn patron. She thought. She laughed softly, sloshing her pinot lazily in her glass, already way in with five servings.  Is every guest at the gallery too scared to be a contrarian? She wondered. It’s art. It’s subjective. Isn’t that the point?  On a sleek, maroon couch – the kind with cold, unforgiving, sharp edges – she sat slouching in her plain trench coat she never bothered to shed. She felt contained in her trench coat, and it was always easier to feel contained than exposed for Judith May.

“Excuse me” chirped an unfamiliar voice.

Judith looked up, away from the buzzing to find a woman. “You can sit here. There’s room.” Judith replied.

“Oh no, that’s not it.” After a brief pause, “Are you…Judith May? It’s just – I’ve been to all your exhibits. I feel like I would recognize you anywhere” gushed the fan.

“Yes, I’m – that’s me.”

“I’m sorry. If you’re trying to stay under the radar, I can just go-” but the fan sat down beside Judith anyway much to Judith’s dismay. “I just now had the courage to come and speak with you. I had to down two glasses of wine just to do it. You probably don’t know what that’s like.”

Judith chugged the rest of her pinot. If I don’t know what it’s like, I certainly know what it’s like now. She looked around for an end table on which to set the glass, but found none. She resolved to awkwardly place the glass on the floor while slyly looking for an escape route. 

“If you had a moment, I was wondering if I could talk to you about your paintings?”

“Which ones?” she said as if the prospect of being congenial felt tedious. 

“The series with the townhome. Shall we walk over?”

Judith looked once again for an exit, but the art gallery was packed with bees. The noise was incredible – an incessant hum from the ones who wish to be closer to culture but have too much money and too much time – time spent on the fleeting, the material, the instant gratification – the ones who would rather pay to have culture made for them then make anything for themselves, the ones who blindly praise culture for fear that their negative opinion may make them come across uncultured, the ones Judith found were a necessary evil, the ones who could help sweeten the world as long as she didn’t piss on their patronage. Their honey kept her fed, but the pollen in the air from their propagation caused her throat to swell.

“I suppose” Judith said flatly. “I can’t leave just yet.”

The fan laughed as if the two of them were best friends  “I hear you, girl. I need time to settle from the drinks too.”

Judith veered her gaze from the woman, aloof, as the pair walked over to a series of paintings entitled Home. Each panel featured a single townhouse, and each panel showed the same single, solitary townhouse in progressive stages of decay. The townhouse was gray, painted in expressive brushstrokes the way one felt it more than saw it clearly. A partly cloudy sky surrounded the townhome, enveloping it in a familiar but otherworldly backdrop for the entire town home floated in this sky – suspended, yet still feeling the constraints of time. In each panel the house chipped away until the last panel featured only a barren foundation.

“What’s the meaning behind this series?” the fan inquired.

Judith guided her to the plaque on the wall describing the series, “You can read the description here on the wall.”

The fan laid a hand on Judith’s shoulder. “Oh, but I wanted to hear it from you. What does it mean to you?”

“I think what it means to you, and how you interpret it for yourself is far more important” Judith cut their conversation, and started to lean out, the type of leaning out one does when one has reached the climax of a conversation, when there is nothing left to talk about, and all time beyond the point feels stalled.

“I was told it was something…personal” remarked the fan.

And in that woman’s eyes, Judith saw burning. She saw a reflection of flames in her irises. Fire. The inescapable heat. Judith’s lungs burned and her skin began to shrivel up as if de-atomizing, an instantaneous combustion into nothingness. She tried to yell out, but only choked instead. If only she were able snuff herself out like a wick and suffocate the flames, she might stand a chance. It was all going away so fast. From squinted eyes she saw all that was before her aflame in a hellish tableau, the building collapsing around, its occupants flailing in chaos all with no sound except for the incessant ringing in her ears.

She closed her eyes, accepting death.


With a gasp, Judith popped up from the angular couch. Breathing heavily, she checked herself for burns, but found none.

A slender, chic woman approached Judith dressed in black appearing just as angular as the maroon couch. She was taller than most women with broader shoulders than most too, and muscular arms. She spoke with a low, but lightweight, feathery voice, “Honey, you need to go home. I called you a cab.”

Judith looked around to find the guests filing out of the gallery. I slept through the whole thing. She looked up at the gallery owner. “Yes, thank you.”

The owner spoke thickly with a hint of smugness, “Next time, if you want to sell some damn paintings, don’t drink so much damn wine, and talk to some damn patrons. Are you okay? You look ill. You better not throw up in that damn cab, or they’ll charge you, girl.”

“I just had a bad dream” Judith said softly as she rose from the couch.


In the cab, Judith pecked her hand through her shoulder-bag purse, a suddenly hyperactive hen. She pulled out a crumpled stack of money, every bit that was left in her purse, and waved it near the driver’s right ear.

“Take me to Jersey” She said.

She spelled out the address to the man. Together they drove in silence. It was late, almost midnight, as they approached a small, sparsely populated neighborhood in Jersey. As the taxi driver approached the residential area, he passed one young man on a bike. The bicyclist stopped and stared at Judith.

“Know that guy?” the driver inquired with a gruff accent.

“No” Judith replied, concerned. She stared back at the young man, and her breath caught in her throat. 

“He’s sure looking at you like he knows you.”

Judith looked closer at the young man’s face, far too closely to be considered polite. Something was not quite right. She cocked her head forward, giving into innate childlike curiosity, pressing a hand to the backseat window. As the taxi turned the corner, the young man took a few measured steps forward into the wash of a nearby street lamp. And then she saw it, the thing that was not quite right, for this man was missing both eyes.

Judith turned swiftly back into her sitting position, and took a deep breath. It’s late. You saw shadows. She slowly peered back out the window to find the young man wheeling his bike home in the opposite direction. She could no longer see his face, only the back of his head.

The cab driver finally approached to a ramshackle, ashen townhouse at the end of the neighborhood with boarded up windows. He pulled the taxi over to the curb directly in front of the house.

He hesitated before he asked “you sure this is the place?”

“Yes” she answered as she exited the car.

The cab driver stalled by the curb watching Judith walk up the front porch steps. Once she unlocked the door and stepped inside, the cab driver took off. Judith stood in an empty entrance-way looking at an emptier living room off to her right. The floorboards creaked as she walked toward the fireplace above which sat an old painted portrait of a couple lost in time. Somehow the woman looked familiar. She knew her, and yet maybe she didn’t. But maybe one day she would. As for the man, she didn’t know him either. However, she felt the similar sensation of deja vu if deja vu could be reversed or manipulated by time and space. That is, if one could feel deja vu for something they will experience rather than something they have experienced.  She brushed her hand lightly across the mantle, rubbing the forgotten dirt between her thumb and fingers. The dirt lingered on her fingertips along with something else, something much more sinister in nature.

“Soot” she whispered to herself.

A snap. A flash. She lit up again, burning, screaming. Then she was back.

Beep. Beep. Beep. She heard it like a metronome never skipping a beat followed by whirring, and the faint image of something. People? Moving about with some kind of equipment?

She gasped as her focus returned to the mantle. She held onto it as if to ground herself to it indefinitely. What’s happening to me?

She heard a stern knock on the door. Three times. BANG. BANG. BANG. She released her grip on the mantle, and backed toward the corner of the living room. BANG. BANG. BANG. The knocking persisted, impatient.

“Leave!” She commanded, yet the incessant knocking continued. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

“Please stop!” Then there was silence.

Just as Judith released her held breath, the front door handle began to vibrate with great ferocity. Judith tried to leap, to block the door, but it was too late. The door eased open in an ominous fashion. What stood in the door frame was what looked to be a human on its last limb of life somehow remarkably standing where it stood with a gaping hole where the heart resides. The woman raised a hand at her. In a panic, Judith slammed the door in the woman’s face offering her just enough time to head toward the back door, which she somehow knew the location to, though, she didn’t know how or why.

She ran.

As she opened the screen door to the back, the teenage boy with no eyes walked up the steps, and for the first time he spoke.

“Give me your eyes so that I may see.”

She scrambled away from him back toward the front door, sandwiching herself between two creatures of mysterious origin.

The woman spoke, “Give me your heart so that I may love.”

They reached their arms out for her, for what was inside of her. What was her. They were too fast. It was all too fast, and with his bare fingers he plunged into her eye sockets to take what he deemed his. The woman dug through the flesh and bone to get to the life-giving organ deemed hers. And in that moment, there was peace. Time. What was time? It felt as if in that moment, time was suspended, everything was suspended and floating on a cloud, and she would be floating on that cloud, forever to be disassembled. In this twilight, she began to understand what she was and what she would be. 

The flames came back, engulfing her into the present light, a fluorescent light which hung above her as she laid on a gurney. She saw people in face masks and white uniforms crowding around her. There was a man by her side. She thought of the townhome. It wasn’t her home, but maybe someday it could be and would be. In the twilight sleep between life and death she saw that someday she would be something people would admire, but it would make her bitter, cold, and alone. And for the first time in a long time, she reached out to a nearby hand…

Until her hand began to spark and the buzzing filled her ears.

The Lessons of Livestreaming

We all have our hobbies. My new hobby is streaming. I am among a vast community of streamers who for their own individual reasons decided to capture themselves playing a game and broadcast it to the world.

Streaming is an interesting hobby. You meet people from different parts of the globe. I met someone from Finland who solved a Sudoku puzzle for me in a mystery game! When does that happen? The internet makes this seemingly vast planet seem oh so small. I think what makes streaming entirely worth its many hours on the computer is the connections you will make. You may never get to meet each other in person, yet you know each time you get on the computer, people will be there for you. No matter what happened at work, in your life, your fellow streamers and viewers will be there to greet you throughout the day.

For that reason alone streaming becomes a kind of addiction. I still consider myself new to the twitch community, but if livestreaming has taught me anything, it has taught me that we desperately crave connection. We don’t connect enough in our daily lives. It can be hard to find the right people in our immediate social circles. Once we open ourselves up to the world, though, we find the people that make us want to tell our stories, open our hearts, or just meet up for a laugh.

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I love connecting to the world. I feel richer, yes monetarily – I am so grateful to have subscribers and people who give me tips – but also richer in mind, richer in perspective. I love getting to know you all. If you haven’t felt enough love on my stream, let me tell you now that I appreciate you. More than I can express in a silly blog post.

Not only has livestreaming forged friendships, but it has also made me a better communicator, improved my focus, my ability to multi-task.  Livestreaming has lit a fire under my butt and fueled my creative spirit.

Though I will always have goals of making my stream more professional, more organized, connections will always be first, because that’s the stuff of quality. Livestreaming teaches all of us the importance of reaching out, listening, supporting others, growing, and encouraging others to grow. For that alone, it is an irreplaceable experience.

So reach out both into cyberspace and your immediate social circles and make things happen. Open up, fall, grow, change. Repeat. Reach out your hand. You will eventually find the people who will take it, and go on a walk with you. It will be worth it. Just don’t give up.

 

 

 

 

Fear is Not the Solution

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I am still trying to wrap my head around this, and put all the pieces together. But from what I have seen, a trend of nationalism has arisen. To use an example  – Britain has separated from the European Union to gain control of its borders. Moreover, the insurgence of refugees from Syria has led to xenophobia in countries like France and Austria. Austria’s election did not fall to the far right populist movement, however.

I try to pay attention to the news. I feel like I am sometimes grasping at what I do not understand. It can be a challenge to keep up with what is going on worldwide, but when you open your heart and mind to the world, I believe you become a better person in empathy, in intelligence, as a communicator. You start to see the world less as a series of states and more as a population of humans.

Currently, you also  see a kind of pattern evolving in government across Europe. The pattern I see is fear.

It is easy to fear what we do not understand. For instance, it is easy for me to hide in my shell and forget what is happening in the world. It can be even harder to talk about. You think — if I am concerned about worldly affairs — does that make me annoying? Is it hopeless to care? Or at least I pose these silly questions in the back of my mind as someone who works in entertainment.  I do not profess to be a genius. A historian, a politician, or a journalist is probably more suited to write a piece like this. I am simply someone who is trying to understand.

Most of the fear I see seems to stem from the refugee crisis in Syria. History has shown that when an influx of immigrants flock to a country, xenophobia arises. We, meaning the collective who take in refugees, fear  we are letting our guard down. That if we do not shut our borders, we could let in terrorists. We fear that refugees will take space we presume is reserved for ourselves, and that refugees will take our resources. Where do we house them? Will they just live in tent cities? We do not have the space.

On the extreme level, fear escalates to hatred, in particular, a heightened fear that one group is somehow superior over the other, and we should relinquish the inferior.

Perhaps some like self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis are a lost cause. Do not mistake my words as a free pass. Any action they make which causes harm to others is completely intolerable, and we should remain vigilant that they do not harm others. What I am saying is that perhaps they have reached a level of xenophobia that cannot be changed.

What we can do is encourage others, those that have not reached the heightened, extreme level of fear, not to fear. Such a task is not easy. But bravery is always the harder decision. To make things more complicated, I do not believe simply accepting refugees is the brave decision. Yes, we (in the global sense) should accept innocent civilians into our countries that are trying to wait out war. In viewing their fleeing as a humanitarian crisis, it is a must. But logistically there is only so much space countries have for other people. We must also realize that refugees were also forced to leave. Conditions were bad enough for them to want to flee their own home

But imagine if they had lived in a home that was safe originally? Imagine if the U.S. could be the type of country to instill peace and democratic values in Syria and other countries around the globe?

This is not an easy, uncomplicated decision, and maybe sounds a bit too much like imperialism on the surface. It also likely means warfare and other potential diplomatic and economic issues that I would need to read way more information on before I could begin to make an informed stance.

But I do not think it is wrong to believe people should be able to speak their minds across the globe. I do not think it is wrong to believe people should feel safe no matter where they live.

In any case, fear is not the solution. Fear is what is easy. Fear is what is familiar. And more importantly, fear is only temporary. It does not solve a problem at its core.

 

 

Ready Jet Go!

This past summer I worked in Los Angeles for Wind Dancer Films on a television show called Ready Jet Go! The show teaches kids Earth and Space science and it airs on PBS Kids February 15. Check out the website to learn more!

Ready Jet Go! was created by Craig Bartlett (creator of Dinosaur Train and Hey Arnold). The show is about two kids – sci-fi-lover Sydney and aspiring astronaut Sean – who happen to befriend an alien boy named Jet Propulsion and his family who are from Planet Borton 7. Sydney, Sean, Jet, and a younger friend from the neighborhood, Mindy, go on adventures together in order to understand our planet and surrounding solar system. I should also mention – there is an adorable space pet named Sunspot who helps them out along the way.

It was a pleasure to work on an educational kids’ show. I think kids and parents will learn bunches together. The characters are fun, each with their own unique personality. The education is also equally fun and approachable. I hope everyone else will enjoy watching it as much as I did working on it!

Just This Once

I made a short film in the Spring of 2015 entitled Just This Once. This short film is a dark comedy about a girl who skips her medication. As a result her untreated psyche manifests in human form, and to her surprise, may wreak havoc on her romantic date. The film stars the talented Emma Van Lare, Ian Walker Price and Sean Tecson.

If you are interested in this project please share your support through liking the Facebook page. #JTOfilm

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A Little Bit About “Writing For Video Games”

It’s 2016. New Year. New goals. To bring in the new year, I have a book review on this gem I came across called Writing for Video Games (© 2006) by Steve Ince.

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Steve Ince is an acclaimed game writer and designer from the United Kingdom with 22 years of experience. He currently resides as the Video Games Chairman for the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. He is most readily known for his work in the games Beneath a Steel Sky (1994), The Broken Sword series (1996, 1997, 2002, 2009, Remastered in 2010), but he possesses even more credits including In Cold Blood (2000), Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure (2004), Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (2005), Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso (2006), and recently Survivors: The Quest (2015). That’s still only to name a few. As an assiduous artist, incessant writer Ince proves himself as a worthy adviser to take you into the world of gaming in Writing for Games. He shows you what it takes to work as a professional game writer in an approachable manner. It’s easy to tell that Steve Ince has a true passion for the creative arts, and seeks to encourage and shape those individuals who have the gusto to spread their own wings, achieve their own goals to be a game writer, and maintain the work ethic to do so.

Writing for Video Games paints broad strokes at its beginning with the history of gaming, the overview of game types, and the story building blocks; but Ince then moves into the specifics of how to write for genres and offers tips for writing dialogue. He even offers templates for how to structure scripts in terms of Boolean (i.e. True/False) variables when writing (i.e. fundamental game design logic).  In addition, Ince isn’t finished when the script is over. Instead, he moves on to discuss other forms of post-script writing. Post-script writing includes helping in the voice recording room once the script is locked, localisation, technical writing, and even writing strategy guides and manuals for games. In the appendices, he even offers up design documentation, a sample game script, a list of further reading, websites, must-play games, and a glossary of video game jargon.

From the first part in his book, Ince stresses the importance of interactivity in gaming. Interactivity is a basic concept that separates old media from new media. This concept has been around for a while now (though keep in mind this book is ten years old), yet as Ince outlines – it is really important for any person working in the video game industry to grasp. Video games allow a person to enter into a story as either a predefined main character, or a character that the player personalizes. Either way the outcome is the same. The people playing will discover or decide their character’s identity as a game continues. Games possess freedom unparalleled in movies and novels. People cannot interact with a movie or novel’s environment on screen or on the page, respectively. People can only passively absorb what is happening. As Ince states, that is not to say passive absorption is a bad thing. Interactivity is simply what separates movies and novels from video games. For a game to stay a game, maintaining interactivity throughout is essential.

Gameplay is the first selling point of a game, and it should go hand-in-hand with writing. That means that the game writing is integral to game design. The writing is not just an accessory to be tacked on at the end – granted some projects may require heavier writing than others. For the most part, though, writing – to be valuable writing – should coincide with gameplay and enhance it. People primarily buy games based on the fact that they like the gameplay style, but they will love a game that has the right gameplay style with a great story, memorable characters, and snappy dialogue. According to Ince, a good writer knows the games in the genre – or gameplay type they are writing for – and knows how the structure of said games work. For instance, if you are writing an adventure game, play games like The Longest Journey or if you are writing a First Person Shooter play Call of Duty. Only by first knowing a genre can you seek to enhance it, or effectively break its rules. Writers must also keep up with game development as it progresses.

“At all stages of working with the design team, the writer should keep accurate notes to keep track of the game’s progress…also write up and summarise meeting notes, e-mail communications should be archived and any design or story changes clearly flagged.” (Ince 42)

Keeping track of these things may sound tedious, but it is a necessary precaution in case a previous draft or comment needs to be referenced later on. These are not the only things a writer is responsible for on top of a script. There is more:

“The types of documents a writer will be expected to create will depend on the project and where the writer is brought in. Some typical documents could include but are not limited to, the following: pitch proposals, story overview, full story, character profiles, story and game background, story and game timeline, dialogue scenes, help files, and instruction manual.” (Ince 42)

If you didn’t notice, that’s a lot of work. And that is what game writing is – a lot of hard work. Luckily for readers, Ince hasn’t left you in the dark as to what these documents should look like, but instead he discusses formatting and offers up examples. He also has diagrams of the varying narrative structure from linear to controlled branching. I will not post these documents on here. If you are interested though, I recommend you check out the book.

The volume of game writing is often times 5-10 times more than that of a regular movie script. A great deal of writing is involved in video games, and it doesn’t stop when the script is written. Writers can still be helpful when it comes to the recording studio if for instance the voice director doesn’t get the intention of a line. Or perhaps a line needs to be fixed; the writer can make an adjustment right then and there. Writing also has to be tailored to other regions of the world through a process called localisation. During localisation a writer combs a script line-by-line in order to translate words, convey the same meaning but in different languages, and edit for cultural differences, so that a game is as welcoming to play in one region as it is in another. Ince even highlights how to do technical writing and the Technical Design Review (TDR), which was a new concept to me personally:

“The…TDR is a collection of documents that outline all the technology – hardware and software – that will go into making the game the best ever. It should cover, where appropriate, the player interface, the use of simulated physics, the audio system specifications, graphics rendering techniques, the use and incorporation of middleware, outlines of various target platform differences and how they will be resolved and many other details specific to the project.” (Ince 122)

Lastly, Ince moves onto tips for writing strategy guides, and ends with a lot of practical advice on how to market yourself and put your name out in the world as an aspiring game writer.

Writing for Video Games is only 140 pages long – not counting the appendices. As a person who is really interested in this field, I don’t think a 140 page book should be the end-all resource for all things needed-to-know about video game writing. On the other hand, it’s a brilliant overview of the field, and a fantastic starting point for anyone interested in this field. If you don’t know anything about games, you will learn a lot. If you know some, reading this book will be good refresher in the beginning, and I promise you will learn something new as the book continues.

On a personal level, I have a new-found respect for Steve Ince. I admire his service to aspiring creatives and game writers. I love that he doesn’t joke around when it comes to professionalism, and I see him as a model of discipline. I am definitely looking forward to following his work in the future; I encourage others to do so as well.

 

Works Cited

Ince, Steve. Writing for Video Games. London: A. & C. Black, 2006. Print.

 

Here is a link to his website and his blog Game Writer Bites:

http://www.steve-ince.co.uk/index.htm

https://gamewriterbites.wordpress.com/

 

Zoombinis: Welcome Back

A wave of childhood memories washed over me today when I looked up one of the first video games my parents bought for my sister and me: The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis ©1996, a puzzle/adventure computer game. Over recent years, I have periodically searched for this game, because my sister and I unfortunately lost our copy.  But the game is extinct; you can’t buy the original game to play on today’s technology. The closest I could get to the original game was watching a “Let’s Play” on Youtube from somebody who kept their copy from years ago — or so I thought. Today I realized there has been a campaign on kickstarter for a reboot of The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis to match the original game.

TERC, the game creators, have already released the iPad/tablet version of the game; the desktop version for Mac and Windows will not be released until later this year. As you can see from the kickstarter video, the reboot contains updated designs for the landscapes and characters, but everything else from the music to the voices is on point with the original game. I will admit that I am going to miss the original designs. Still, I can understand why the old designs cannot be used. As stated on the Zoombini kickstarter page:

“…we are updating the graphics for modern devices. The original art was just not scalable. All our characters were pixel-based sprites, and the background art was a fixed resolution….[Now] The game will…work with tons of different devices and screen resolutions.”

This graphic update allows a greater chance for more people to play the game – which is the the most important thing.

Why is it important to play this game? 

To answer this question, let’s back track (as well as look forward) to the game’s original designer, Scot Osterweil. In a podcast quote from Osterweil snagged from the blog of Henry Jenkins, media scholar and professor, Osterweil stated regarding the creation of the game Zoombinis “instead of putting math in the game, we tried to find the game in the math.” There seems to be a fine line in edu-tainment games between fun and learning. You either have one or the other, but you can’t have both; it’s either a bunch of fun with some math tacked on, or it’s the equivalent to lifeless math worksheets from school.” With Zoombinis, you can have both. You learn sorting, probability, and most importantly how to use logic and critically think – the key to all learning.

Almost more important than how you learn in the game, ironically, is how fun it is. Adults may get jaded and think that hard work can’t be fun, but it can. Also, because the game is fun even if it is hard work, the player keeps coming back for more. Moreover, each time you play, it is a new experience; the solutions to problems will always be randomized.

Scot Osterweil currently works at MIT and he is also the Creative Director of the Education Arcade. He believes that play and playing games can make a true impact on people.

“what games do that’s different from freeplay is give us a structure and give us a set of proximal goals…we have a sense that maybe we will get a little better…and we tend to rise to the challenge…” (Osterweil)

People enjoy interesting, authentic challenges and setting goals with the hope of achieving those goals. This idea is supported on a scientific level as well.   In his goal-setting theory, Psychologist Edwin A. Locke outlines the importance of goals. His theory reveals that goals motivate people in daily life and in the workplace. Think of it this way: when you were playing those Bowser levels on Mario 64 or you were in the middle of that basketball game, why did you keep going? It seems obvious; you wanted to win, of course! Even more so, you enjoyed the anticipation of winning, or else why would you go through all the trouble? Now what if we applied that mentality to school? What if students tackled math problems not as a chore, but as a puzzle where at the end you could receive the winning solution? Looking at how seemingly difficult subjects like math and reading can be played rather than just regurgitated is looking at ways we can really learn and have fun doing it.

What about the story?

Another reason to play this game is The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis has a good story.

The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is the story of blue creatures who are similar, but have differences in appearance. They had a thriving mercantile society until the Bloats invade and take over their land. The Bloats promised the Zoombinis prosperity in life and business if the Zoombinis joined forces with the Bloats, so the Zoombinis allow the Bloats to help. Unfortunately, the Bloats end up taking over and essentially enslaving the Zoombinis. Therefore, the Zoombinis escape on a quest for a new home, one they will call Zoombiniville. Before they get there, the Zoombinis must go through various destinations (i.e. Allergic Cliffs, Stone Cold Caves, Pizza Pass, Captain Cajun’s Ferryboat, Titanic Tattooed Toads, Stone Rise, Fleens, Hotel Dimensia, Mudball Wall, The Lion’s Lair, Mirror Machine, and Bubblewonder Abyss), each with a complex logic puzzle to solve in order to get each Zoombini safely across.

None of that description is what got me personally attached to the game, however. What did get me emotionally attached was the fact that I could lose Zoombinis along the way. The player didn’t just loose a life, and see their avatar reappear. The Zombinis experience perma-death! When I first experienced the loss of Zoombinis, I thought it was my ethical responsibility to get them to their new home in Zoombiniville safely.* Moreover, after each Campsite checkpoint for the Zoombinis, if I didn’t have 16 Zoombinis with me, I couldn’t continue the game. I would have to go back to a previous checkpoint. If there were no previous checkpoints with Zoombinis, I would have to get more Zoombinis at Start and get them through each destination again.

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Perhaps it seems absurd to care about blue dots with faces and no post-cranial anatomy besides legs and feet – or bike wheels or a spring or a fan. These creatures may not look like people, but we can still relate to their story and their struggle to find a new home. Trust me when I say, after all the work you put into this game you will be proud of your own logical reasoning skills, and even prouder if you can say you got your original 16 Zoombinis across the map without a scratch.


**Just to be clear, there are no  Zoombini killers. If the player looses a Zoombini, it either goes to a checkpoint or Shelter Rock. This is after all a kid-friendly game.