2020 IF Comp: Electric word, “life”

October 26, 2020 at 10:41 am (Uncategorized)

I found the title really weird and off-putting, but maybe it’ll make sense later.

My selection process is specific to me. It feels unfair, but logically I figure that if everyone chooses games they think they’ll like then it works out? Personally I choose choice-based games that are under the 2 hour limit (theoretically I can judge it based on the first two hours of play, but that would feel too weird for me), that have not the slightest whiff of puzzles or problem solving, because I am spectacularly bad at that stuff. So not only do I hate it, but I’m well below the average person skill-wise and that feels unfair to the game.

I also choose games that aren’t too dark or scary, and I try to avoid humour too (I admire humour, but tend not to like too much of it).

The title of this one is so weird it made me think the writer doesn’t speak English well. Either that or there’s something else going on. Since the blurb etc seemed fine I’m hoping there’s a reason the title is so bizarre (or, failing that, that it’s the only bizarre part of this tale).

Onwards…

The very first segment shows considerable mastery over language, and I’m already interested (plus, Sanjay isn’t yet another oh-so-white name, which suggests the writer isn’t completely boring).

This is good. Really good. I don’t think there’s any branching at all, but it drew me in with a surprisingly light touch.

I think this will be my favourite game this year (knowing that I’ll only barely get around to my usual 5 games).

For now I’ll say 4.5 stars. I may change it to 5 later.

I still hate the title 🙂

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2020 IF Comp: High Jinnks

October 24, 2020 at 6:26 pm (Uncategorized)

This is a fun, flowing tale full of bickering and humour. The characters are particularly good, revealing their true selves piece by piece throughout the tale. Many choices are meaningless, but often fun all the same. It felt largely like a non-interactive story as it was fairly linear overall, hitting all the same story beats regardless of the player’s choices—but there are plenty of flavoursome bits and pieces to discover.

It is weird and sweet, and I like it.

4 Stars

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2020 IF Comp: Chorus

October 12, 2020 at 10:02 pm (Uncategorized)

The writing throughout is elegant; it runs along well and I didn’t spot a single spelling or grammar issue.

I’d like more choices but the ones I made are major; clearly it is a direct-branching rather than a delayed-branching story, although there are elements along the way that alter the outcome too.

It was a shame the characters didn’t really interact (although I imagine that would have doubled or even quadrupled the amount of work—true branching stories like this are HARD).

I probably did quite badly as my short-term memory is very poor and I couldn’t remember names, let alone species or talents.

Some of it was a little disjointed.

I liked the way it indicated there are three possible endings, and gave a hint for getting a better ending.

This is a well-written game with a well-developed world, but it didn’t draw me in emotionally.

Three stars.

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Expectations, Power, and Gratitude

October 11, 2020 at 3:27 pm (Uncategorized)

We were matched with a family the day after my last blog entry. I am deliriously excited, but haven’t written again since then because… there’s very little I can say.

I haven’t actually met any members of the family yet, and I don’t even know their names. I know their first language, their ages, their approximate location, and a few things about what our group will probably spend our time working on with them. But I can’t share any of that publicly yet.

Last Thursday four members of our core group, including me, joined about a hundred others around Australia to meet some more experienced people who could give us some advice (all via Zoom). One of the most challenging things for me was talking about the power dynamic between a sponsor group and a refugee family. How do we make decisions about what to spend money on? What do we do when a refugee disagrees with our advice (eg. Don’t look for work yet; you need to work on English acquisition first)? How do we say no if a refugee asks for something we think is unreasonable (say, a computer game)? And how do we actually develop a real friendship when all the power is on our side?

Of course the crucial thing is to help the refugees become independent of us as soon as possible, both financially and emotionally. Then they can choose whether to continue spending time with us or not.

And what do we call them? Well, at the moment almost all we know (certainly all we can say public) is that they’re a refugee family. But the sooner we STOP calling them refugees the better. (At the same time, acknowledging their refugee status is important for fundraising, and if there is a smiling, successful family to point to as proof that we’re doing a good thing, then that is extremely helpful for fundraising. But we can’t assume that the family is willing to be our poster child, and in fact that role could be actively harmful to them.)

And—this is the bit that hits home for me the most—when are they allowed to stop being grateful?

During the Zoom meeting, a highly-educated dark-skinned man talked about how he came to New Zealand as a very young child, but every time someone discovers this (and people of course ask, “Where are you from?” which is a question that anyone with non-Caucasian skin learns to dread), they say, “Oh, you must be so grateful!”

Why should he be grateful, when those born in New Zealand are not generally consciously grateful to be living in one of the safest, richest places on Earth? Being born in a great country doesn’t make a person morally superior. (Quite the opposite.)

I am what I call “Omo-white” (that is, very very white for several generations… it is not a coincidence that I am descended from a South African man on one side and Brits and Germans on the other). But I have been heavily involved in a bunch of fundraisers ever since I was nine years old, when my family was raising financial support to go to Papua New Guinea as STAs (Short-Term Assistants) for Wycliffe Bible Translators. Leaving aside the various colonialism-tinged implications of missionary work for some other blog entry, I learned young about gratitude as salesmanship.

When people gave us money, we had to be pleased and happy. We also owed them success stories further down the track. My mother wrote regular newsletters that were fun and cheerful, and that told people their money was well spent. We would focus on the stories that people wanted to hear (“This is a photo of a young woman reading the Bible in her own language for the first time”—and of course she’d be attractive, but also just a little bit exotic—perhaps she’s be in traditional clothes for a dance instead of her usual faded T-shirt) rather than the mundane or tragic (“A bunch of your money was spent getting dental work this month”, “We were robbed the other day and had to buy new clothes as a result”).

Missionary fundraising set me up well for when I had to raise $10,000 for stomach surgery. I knew immediately that I should emphasize my umbilical hernia, and call the procedure an abdominoplasty, rather than talking about my sagging belly skin and calling the procedure a tummy tuck. I also knew I needed to be careful not to complain about my health publicly for at least six months afterwards, regardless of my other disabling chronic pain conditions. No one wants to hear that their hard-earned money didn’t give me a shiny happy ever after, but only helped me a little bit.

I’m a chronic over-sharer (and an advocate for others who are disabled or mentally ill or overweight like me) so I often talk openly about my poor mental and physical health. But I’m careful to balance updates like that with humour, cat pictures, and so on. If I have a good day, I’m careful to be public about it, so people don’t get overwhelmed by all my bad days.

But even I am careful not to be ungrateful in front of someone who may…ugh… prove USEFUL in future. (And I hate that sometimes my life is bad enough that people become resources in my mind. I have gone hungry more times than I can count, and if I wasn’t married to someone with a steady income I’d probably still be going hungry regularly. As it is, I often put off necessary medical stuff for months or years because… well, that’s life with chronic illness. It shouldn’t be, but it is. And I’m wealthier than millions of people.)

That veneer of happiness and gratitude must not be something I expect from others. People needing help from others is not a moral failing, and it is not fair to expect those who have suffered more to have to put on a show for those who are more privileged.

May I remember that lesson when I am the one in the position of power.

[sorry about the lack of pics; I’m having technical issues.]

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The Reveal

September 18, 2020 at 10:19 am (Uncategorized)

Things are progressing with the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group. We have a date for our training, and will meet ‘our’ refugee family soon after that—late October or sometime in November.

There’s a teensy chance that I will receive a phone call today telling me about ‘our’ family. How many kids they have, what language/s they speak, where they live/want to live, etc.

I am dying to find out something—anything—everything!—about them.

It’s a lot like being pregnant. I have this big bundle of love stored up, waiting for a target. I’ve already worked so hard, and spent so much time dreaming about how this relationship might go… and I badly, so badly want any little scrap of solid information to make those dreams less hazy.

It’s very much like the excitement of finding out the gender of a baby. The gender doesn’t matter, but I just want to KNOW.

[The obsession with a baby’s gender is extremely harmful to trans people and even more harmful to people born intersex. But I understand that desperation and excitement all too well.]

So. I’m waiting by the phone, practically panting with excitement.

And here is a completely unrelated picture.

Poor post-operative Zoom.

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5 Most Profound Moments in the MCU: Infinity Saga

July 4, 2020 at 1:46 am (Uncategorized)

After years of watching our heroes go through incredible hardship, risk their lives repeatedly, and sometimes lose their lives, there are some moments that stick in the heart and are never forgotten. Here are my top five.

5. Fat Thor

Yeah, the fat jokes suck (I’m mollified only very slightly by the fact that Chris Hemsworth clearly found it all hilarious). But in a genre defined by physical perfection, having a character emotionally collapse to the point that they lose control over their physical form shows a surprisingly real understanding of the human condition.

Even gods can fall.

4. Iron Man’s Heart

Okay, we’re really talking about Stark’s arc reactor, but the audience easily picks up what the writers are laying down. If it was spelled out any more, or handled with less delicacy, it would make people groan. But it isn’t spelled out, and it is handled with delicacy, and as a result it provides an extra layer of tragedy for this character who is so emotionally cool and witty in order to hide his pain and fear.

We begin the film with Stark abruptly finding himself (and specifically his heart) in an incredibly dangerous, vulnerable position. We see the strength of his character as he rebuilds his heart even as his circumstances are as grim as could be.

Later, we see his utter trust (even as he utterly fails to ask permission before asking a considerable favour—because of course he’s far too damaged to frame the request in a healthy manner) as he has Pepper swap out one arc reactor for another. This, to me, is the most powerful scene in Iron Man.

 

The most powerful image of Iron Man 2 is the horrifyingly toxic, corroded rectangle(s) that are necessary to keep Stark’s heart running but are also poisoning him. It’s no accident that his dad (who Stark remembers as cold and unfeeling, but who laid plans for his son’s life for many years) gives him the information that fixes the issue and saves him. But I don’t think it’s truly Stark Sr that saves Tony; it is Tony’s new understanding that his Dad did the best he knew how to do. (I once did a course that was all about the concept that it’s not the bad stuff that happens to you that leaves you with permanent issues, but your own reaction to it. NOT that the actual bad stuff is your fault at all.)

At the end of Iron Man 3, a Stark who has been experiencing PTSD, mania, and panic attacks finally accepts that he can’t control everything and at the same time gets surgery to get his heart properly fixed. Yes, a lot of this progress is undone in other movies (most notably Age of Ultron) but that’s profound in its own way too: psychological healing doesn’t happen in a single moment, even if considerable progress is made. It’s a bumpy journey that hopefully trends upwards.

Stark does get more and more psychologically healthy, and even manages to live the dream of being married to Pepper, doing a reasonable job of raising a child, and living on a hobby farm. Even though we see only a glimpse of that life (because psychological health gets dull fast in fiction), it’s astonishing that this damaged, mentally ill character manages to actually calm down enough to live a normal life. His death doesn’t in any way diminish the fact that Stark grew into a reasonably healthy human being over the course of the films.

3. Killmonger’s Death

Killmonger, as a child, found his single father murdered in their crummy apartment. His own relatives had killed him, and knowingly left the child behind. And that’s not all he has to deal with.

His apartment is crummy because he’s black. Sure it’s technically possible for an African immigrant to get a great job and live in a wealthy neighbourhood. And sure, it’s technically possible for an African America to get a great job and live in a wealthy neighbourhood. . . but they’d need an extraordinary run of good luck to overcome their own inborn disadvantages.

As I write this, Black Lives Matter protests continue in the USA, focusing on police violence against black people. There are so many murders of men, women (especially trans women), and children because they have dark skin. According to a recent poll, over 60% of US people surveyed are sympathetic to the protests, including the destruction of statues.

Killmonger has grown up in the US, and he is deeply aware not only of the institutionalised and direct racism towards dark-skinned Americans, but the fact that Wakanda is wealthy and advanced, and yet doing nothing for suffering people around the world. He has overcome so much to be a brilliant soldier and fighter, because he is incredibly driven and self-controlled. And you can’t help understanding perfectly well why he believes that violence is the only path to racial justice.

After weeks of real-world protests, his viewpoint makes more sense than ever.

In the films, Wakanda decides to step up (non-violently) and help African people around the world, starting with Killmonger’s childhood neighbourhood. But here in reality, there is no Wakanda, and there is precious little justice.

Killmonger fights T’Challa and, eventually, loses. I wrote out his dying words on the main review page, but they are well worth repeating.

“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”

2. Cassie Worships her Failure of a Dad

Cassie Lang’s father has been in jail for quite a while, and then he shows up at her birthday party without consulting with her mother in any way. He can’t hold down a job, and rapidly gets back into crime. For some reason a brilliant scientist gives him an extremely expensive piece of technology so he can steal from the government instead of random people or banks. Soon he’s back on house arrest after very publicly causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage during a pointless fight that also paralyses an innocent man (in Civil War). He gets put on house arrest, and when he breaks house arrest little Cassie lies to the police in order to cover for him so he doesn’t go to jail and miss even more of her life.

Throughout all this, Cassie worships her dad.

Scott Lang screws up over and over and over again, and Cassie just doesn’t see it. That is the glory and the terror of parenthood.

Honorable mention:

When, after five years, Spider-Man returns from magic dust land and runs into Stark, he is unharmed and for him it is as if only a moment has passed.

For Stark, however, it has been five years of having failed utterly. His nightmare came true, and he failed that poor innocent kid that he knows perfectly well should never have been brought into the dangerous world of the Avengers.

So then Spider-Man appears, literally out of thin air, and Stark is desperately relived. You can see all those five awful years in his face as he embraces Parker.

Once again, the kid character is cheerful and fine while the adult is all kinds of broken.

1. Morgan Doesn’t Understand her Dad is Gone

Stark risked his life, not just because he couldn’t resist a fight, but because he felt responsible for Peter Parker.

He hesitated to risk his life because of Morgan.

Leaving that sweet, brilliant child fatherless was the cruellest thing Marvel has done to us.

After a-l-l the terrible fathers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and yes, there’s a “Worst 5 Dads” list coming), losing Stark just as he’s become the best version of himself is awful.

And the grief piles up and up: War Machine, Spider-Man, Pepper, Captain America… the funeral. The video of Stark saying goodbye just in case, and “I love you 3000″… it just gets sadder and sadder. But the worst is yet to come.

Morgan is sitting on the porch fidgeting with her black dress next to Happy. He asks how she is, and she’s not old enough to be sad, or angry, or even to imagine what a difference the loss of her father will make to the rest of her childhood, to her teenage years, to her wedding if she has one, to her experience of motherhood if she has kids. She says she’s hungry, and wants a cheeseburger.

Happy immediately remembers that Stark asked for a cheeseburger as soon as he got off the plane from his ordeal in Afghanistan, and says, “Your daddy loved cheeseburgers too.”

He knows what Morgan doesn’t: he knows there will be waves of pain hitting her and her mother at surprising times for the rest of their lives: When they sit down to dinner, and only set two places. When Mum now needs to do all the chores that used to belong to Stark. When they hear a noise in the night and Daddy’s not there to be big and manly about it.

“I’m going to give you all the cheeseburgers you want,” says Happy.

And our hearts break all over again.

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Farting My ABCs: Chapter 13

April 21, 2020 at 3:31 am (Uncategorized)

I am staying awake until The Floating City is ready to submit. It’s 3:30am at the moment…

 

Art of the day: Cat videos! And here’s one with TJ and Zipper, from a year ago.

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The Virus Diaries: My Mum

March 31, 2020 at 11:00 am (Uncategorized)

I mentioned earlier that my Mum finished painting the copper signs for my escape room business (… the one that’s not currently running). Here they are, isolating outside before getting the all-clear and coming inside.

That copper is gorgeous, isn’t it?

As a chaplain, my mother has been declared an “essential service” at the nursing homes where she works, since visitors are not allowed. I have mixed feelings about that, but at least my mum thrives in a crisis.

While visiting as many people as possible in the nursing homes, she’s also been making masks. These are the ones she made for our family:

Pretty, aren’t they? Obviously they’re just cloth: good mainly for reminding us not to touch our faces and/or to ease the fears of other people if for some reason we venture outside.

Since I needed to pick them up from her porch, and since I knew my sister’s trampoline was currently in her backyard, and since she’s my mother… the kids and I paid my mum a visit. We stayed in the yard (avoiding even the deck, since it has furniture on it) and I chatted to my mum from a safe distance while the kids jumped on the trampoline and looked at her fish.

Visiting my mum is, as far as I understand, an “orange” activity. It’s allowed, if I’m super careful. I certainly won’t do it often because there’s too much at play: my diabetes; small sticky children; both my parents over 60; my mum coming into contact with dozens of high-risk people.

But it was nice.

In other news, a long time ago, I wrote a book. This particular book was called Farting My ABCs. It was never published, because it’s too long for the fart-oriented age group and too farty for the chapter-book set.

A lot of people have been reading books aloud on video for other people to watch. It’s abundantly clear that TJ is smack bang in the fart zone. Here’s the final evolution of “The Lion Sings Tonight” (which he’s since stopped singing, presumably because the experience had reached its height):

I swear this happened before I started reading the book to him.

Anyway, so the Secret Project I’ve been working on is reading that book. But instead of sitting in a chair and reading to camera, I kept the camera on the kids. Boredom, confusion, disgust, delight: it’s all in their faces. And each chapter will be released on a different day throughout the school holidays. They’ll all be in different locations, too, because I know we’re all bored of walls by now.

Hey look! I managed to stay under 500 words today! (Nearly.)

Resource of the day: Playschool did a special “Welcome to Country” episode with a bunch of parent and educator resources. It’s here. Learning about Australia’s indigenous peoples is a vital part of a balanced education. They’re also doing a series on “Same but Different” including lots of visibly disabled presenters.

Recommended ‘donation’ of the day: I know a woman who makes amazing wings for both adults and children, including gorgeous miniature wings for hearing aids. Her etsy page is here.

Personal action of the day: With normal routines screwed up, you’re in danger of forgetting bin night. Set a weekly alarm.

Hoarding item of the day: Extra garbage bags/plastic bags just in case a lot of garbage collectors get sick and there is a minor disruption in services. If it happens it’s most likely to happen in Winter, so you can hopefully just double-bag rubbish and stick it outside as needed without it rotting too badly. Don’t buy a ridiculous amount though.

 

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A Beautiful Dream

January 30, 2020 at 3:48 pm (Entries that matter, Fully Sick, Uncategorized)

I wrote this blog entry on November 29th 2019. It was fairly obvious I was having a manic episode, so I didn’t post it right away. I still don’t fully know if I’m going to pursue this, but although the idea has evolved considerably (more on that in another entry) it is still very much with me. So, without further ado…

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Not that long ago, I wrote about the injustice of the developed versus the less developed world, and my ongoing struggle to find a solution to my own white guilt (ideally one that is actually just and fair on a global/moral level, rather than just making me feel better… but also one that made me feel better because why not?)

I may or may not write an article about the other side of that—how I’m marginalised as a woman, as a disabled person, etc. But I won’t write about that today.

Today, I want to talk about my new shiny dream of the future.

This has started because of the above thought trains, combined with the fact that I have a very hefty trauma insurance plan that it seems must surely, somehow, net me some big money sooner or later (just as soon as one of my many chronic illnesses ticks the right set of boxes).

One of the contradictions of my life is that I live in a really nice house, with air conditioning and everything. So I’m rich. But heat above about 20 degrees literally makes me sick. So I “should” have air conditioning… right? But so many people don’t… I’ve personally met many people without plumbing, or a roof, or walls. . .

So here’s my shiny new thought-bauble: If I do get a massive insurance payout (and, to be honest, the maximum amount I could possibly get wouldn’t come close to being enough for this but might be enough for some of it), I would like to buy the house immediately next to ours, knock it down, and rebuilt it as not just one dream house but two, one on top of the other, designed in such a way that the two houses can be divided in a multitude of ways

eg the bottom house is for one family and the top house is for another family;

the bottom house is for two single people living completely independently (ie with their own kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms) and the top house is for me and Chris to retire in while also caring for an elderly relative or two;

Half the bottom house is for a married couple, and the other half is studies for the family living upstairs;

Louisette and Tim house-share the top house, and Chris and I live in the bottom house, but the garage (currently both Chris’s study and Louisette’s bedroom) is converted back into a garage;

…and so on.

So it’s a fabulous, big, health-helping house for me AND an investment property at the same time.

But this is the part that is really awesome: Having effectively three houses, we could use the other two (or part/most of the other two) to house Indonesian refugees for 6-12 months each. During that time they could pay a proportion of their income (zero when it’s zero) and I could help them with English, with schooling, with getting a visa, getting a driving license, etc etc.

I used to speak fluent Indonesian and both Chris and I have teacher-ish brains so we’re well suited to help people transition into Australian society. Which is extremely helpful, useful work—especially as climate change will be making more and more refugees in the near future.

If I (or any of our parents) got sicker and we needed rental income or more space, we’d have it. Hopefully we could coordinate things so two Indonesian families were part of our mini-community at the same time (I’m a benevolent dictator, but I imagine it would be a blessed relief for anyone living here to have someone else they could talk to in Indonesian).

So if this dream came true, I’d have more space in my house (and perhaps a secret passageway or two) and I’d also be fulfilling the long-dead dream of being someone who helped low-income Indonesian people (by lifting them up to my financial level, rather than lowering myself to their poverty level as per 12 year-old me’s life plans).

I’m not publishing this article, but I’m writing it at 2am on Friday 29 November 2019. Chris and I just had a little chat about “If we were billionaires, we could….” including the above, and he was quite positive about my ideas (“Sure, if we’re billionaires”). And about having a book-lined TV room/basement. Which was enough to send me into manic mode. And here I am.

I mentioned I was manic, yes?

Right now I honestly believe with all my heart that I’ve found my true and ultimate purpose in life (this, plus writing, plus napping, plus being a loving mother and wife and friend).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I wrote the above, I knew that Climate Change was bad, and coming soon. I didn’t know I’d be buying P2 masks that my sister brought from Queensland because there were none to be had in all of Canberra. I also didn’t know that I’d be seeing golfball-sized hail smashing windows and cars in my suburb in the same suburb.

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Best interactive fiction of the decade

December 27, 2019 at 12:52 pm (Uncategorized)

My 10 Interactive Fiction Games of the Decade:

-Howling Dogs

-Counterfeit Monkey

-Cragne Manor

-80 Days

-Superluminal Vagrant Twin

-Choice of Robots

-Hadean Lands

-Kerkerkruip

-Birdland

-Depression Quest

(For influence, innovation, and skill)

 

This is a cut and pasted tweet from mathbrush/Brian Rushton, who is the most generous reviewer in a field where there are a lot of incredibly generous reviewers.

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