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Michael Godesky
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Some random game design thoughts.

One of the things that's interesting about chess is that there's a limited number of possible moves. And the options available to each player become fewer as the game goes on. Your choices are limited by all of the choices that were made before. Kind of like life in general, which is probably one of the many reasons why chess is so often used as a metaphor in stories.

But then you consider a game like D&D. In D&D, the player characters continue to grow infinitely more powerful the longer they play, and more abilities open up to them as they level up. Which can be a fun, satisfying power fantasy. But I feel like a lot of the trend in indie role-playing games has largely been a reaction to fact that this flies in the face of the way that most of us know the real world to work.

All of which made think about what it might look like if you had a tabletop role-playing game in the style of D&D with a power progression arc that's more like chess. There are a handful of games that do something like this already. Dread, for example, uses a Jenga tower. And so, the longer you go, the more unstable the tower becomes, and the likely it is that a character will die. Or Fiasco, where the outcome of each scene is determined by the die that's selected from a common pool, so that options for the outcome of each remaining scene narrow as the game goes on. But these are both very rules-light games. What if you wanted something with the strategic depth of a game like D&D?

Say you have a D&D style character who effectively starts off at Level 20. When you begin the game, you're as powerful as you will ever be, and you lose power as the game progresses. I'm sure there are more traditional gamers who would balk at this idea, but I feel like it might add a very interesting layer of decision-making. At each step, you have to make hard decisions about how you play your character. Then it becomes a game not just about killing monsters and taking their stuff, but about how much power you're willing to sacrifice to achieve your objective.

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I'm hoping to try out a game of Cryptozoic Entertainment's Almost Got 'Im at GASP Games Day today. Reading through the rules, I like the poker mechanic. It seems like an interesting take on social deduction games. But I can't help feeling a little disappointed. To me, the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im" that this game is based upon isn't really about the poker game, nor is it even about Batman's deception in posing as one of the villains, though that was a fun twist. What that episode was really about was seeing a bunch of great Batman short stories. So when I first heard the concept of the game, before I knew anything about the rules, I imagined something with a storytelling element such as in games like Once Upon a Time or Hobbit Tales.

Now admittedly that's my fault for expecting something out of the game that was never promised. But now I'm wondering if I can add house rules to this game that would introduce more of a storytelling dynamic. Maybe even something as simple as, you can tell the Dealer an Almost Got 'Im story for a chance to recharge a spent character ability. I don't know. What do you fellow gamers think?

The irony of Donald Trump's campaign slogan is that I never really questioned whether America was great until it became clear that he would be the Republican nominee. And today I am absolutely ashamed to be an American. That's not something I say lightly. I've always believed that, despite a few vocal agitators who may claim to speak for us, Americans are basically good people. And yet half the country has voted for a fascist monster. This isn't a situation where a corrupt political party pulled strings behind the scenes to get their candidate elected. The GOP tried to tell us not to vote for him back in the primaries, and people voted for him anyway. And it's not a situation of a candidate lying to us to get people to vote for him. Trump was upfront with us from the very start that he is a racist, a misogynist, an Islamophobe, and a bully. And half the country voted for him anyway. There's no getting around it. The American people chose this.

I realize that not all of Trump's supporters voted for him out of hatred or bigotry. Probably even the vast majority of them didn't. But whatever their reasons, they voted for him anyway, and in doing so they voted to support his racist policies. They decided that their frustrations with "the system" were worth depriving millions of Americans who are struggling just as much as they are of their civil rights. What reason could they have that could possibly justify such a vote? So now whenever I meet someone, I have to wonder if they secretly want to see my friends and neighbors jailed or deported for no just cause. That's what this election has taken away from me.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that in a few weeks, once the shock of this has worn off, I'll be able to see things differently. But today, I don't even recognize this America.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what could possibly make someone support a monster like Trump. And I saw a segment on CNN that I think offered some insight on this. They were looking at how Trump supporters are reacting to the news about his tax return, which the Trump campaign has been trying to spin as something that somehow proves Trump's financial genius. And the correspondent asked these people, "If Trump is a genius for not paying taxes, what does that make you?" And they said things like, "I guess I'm not as smart. I wish I could be as smart as Trump is."

I think this may be the most heartbreaking and infuriating thing I've heard in this entire election. These people have bought into the lie that people like Trump peddle--that financial success is directly linked to personal talent--so much so that they are blaming themselves for not being rich. They don't realize that the whole system is rigged in favor of people like Trump and that he was exploiting loopholes that are only available to the super rich like himself. They honestly think that if they were just smarter, they could be rich too. It was like listening to someone in an abusive relationship make excuses for their partner. And I think I realize now why many of Trump's supporters are so mean and nasty and why they can support a candidate who's so mean and nasty. Because like so many people who have been bullied for long enough, they eventually become bullies themselves.

Well, now that I have to wait three whole weeks for more Walking Dead, I guess there's time to speculate about that cliffhanger. Anyone else spend a lot of time this summer thinking about who Negan killed? I feel like, from a purely narrative perspective, it has to be Daryl. I'm not saying that it will be Daryl. In fact, if we're making predictions, I think Daryl's popularity will continue to protect him. But it should be Daryl.

The other characters don't really work as well for a variety of reasons. First of all, for this moment to have the same impact as it had in the comics, it needs to be a fan favorite. Which narrows it down to a handful of people: Rick, Carl, Michonne, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Morgan, and Carol. And Morgan and Carol are safe because they aren't even there. It's obviously not going to be Rick or Carl. If it's Glenn, then that just makes an already infuriating cliffhanger all the more bizarre. Why make us wait six months and go to all this trouble to make it a big mystery just to reveal that it's the person we all thought it was going to be in the first place? If it's Michonne, then that's just terrible because you're basically fridging one of the most awesome and iconic female characters in comic books just so Rick can go crazy again. If it's Maggie, then basically everything they did in that entire episode was for nothing. I know a lot of people are saying Abraham. But that doesn't work because he's exactly the sort of character you would expect to die in a situation like this--someone they've built up just enough so that you feel sad when he gets killed off. Whoever it is needs to be more important and more unexpected.

So that leaves Daryl. And with Daryl, it actually makes a lot of sense for him to die here. Daryl's arc from loner redneck asshole to a central figure within the group seems like it's more or less complete. And I think partly as a result, he seems to have not had as much to do in the past season or so. Plus it would be a huge blow to Rick to lose one of his most dependable allies right before the war with the Saviors starts, and it would be really interesting to see how they adapt to that.

It's not that I have anything against Daryl. In fact, it's precisely because he's such a great character that his death would be so meaningful. And for such a beloved character, if he's going to die, why not give him the most highly anticipated death in the whole series?

If it's not Daryl, it will be a cop out that will prove that the show has lost its teeth. I mean, I'll probably keep watching anyway. But I won't be happy about it!

One thing I really like about Marvel's Netflix shows so far is the way that they each seem to take a different approach toward exploring the same theme. Specifically the theme of trauma and its effects. Daredevil is very much about physical trauma, often focusing on how much pain Murdock can endure as his biggest strength. And the action on the show is very gritty and visceral to emphasize that. Whereas Jessica Jones deals more with the psychological effects of trauma. And I hope this is something they continue with Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

With Luke Cage, I can see the show being a very timely statement about the social aspects of trauma and the effects of trauma upon a community suffering injustice. I mean, I'm just a white guy, so maybe my opinion isn't that important here. But it seems to me that given the recent incidents of police shootings, just the image of a black man who is completely impervious to bullets should be a very powerful one. And I hope to see the show get into questions like, how does the world then respond to someone like that who they can't just shoot? And what responsibilities does Luke Cage then have to use those powers behalf of the community?

As for Iron Fist, I don't know. Maybe that one will have to do with mental/spiritual/existential trauma? I mean, there are a lot of possibilities.

Trump said so many terrible and idiotic things on Monday, it's hard to pick out just one thing to focus on. But one thing to come out of the debates that I find particularly appalling is the way that Trump viciously attacked individual citizens. First he had that bizarre commentary on Rosie O'Donnell. Which is similar to comments he made about her during the Republican primary debates, and I thought it was outrageous and inappropriate then. I'm not sure why Trump thinks that Rosie O'Donnell needs to be a major campaign issue in this election. Then there's the whole controversy over his comments about Alicia Machado. And since then, he's been on interviews doubling down on his monstrous behavior toward her. Look, I don't really have much of an opinion one way or the other about either of these women. I understand that O'Donnell is a divisive media personality. But it's important to remember that, on top of that, these women are also human beings, and they're entitled to a certain degree of respect. And it's frankly appalling that a major presidential candidate would use a national debate as a forum for singling them out for mockery.

I know some people may be rolling their eyes because they don't like Clinton. I don't particularly like Clinton myself. I wish we could see a debate where Clinton was really challenged on her positions and that gets into the real issues. But we don't get to have that debate now because the Republicans nominated as their candidate a cruel, immature, thin-skinned man-baby. And so before we can get to any questions of actual policy, we're stuck on, "Is this a candidate who treats people with basic human dignity and respect?" It's pathetic that this is what we're talking about in regard to who our next president will be. This is basic Golden Rule stuff. It's something that most of us were taught in kindergarten. And yet, with Trump, he just doesn't get it. This is not the behavior of a leader. This is the behavior of a school bully.

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Man, I really hope they're just trying to build anticipation for the new season and aren't really going to have Morgan turn back on his "all life is precious" philosophy for good. Since his return, Morgan has quickly become my new favorite character on the show. He's the voice of reason and optimism that this group has desperately needed since Dale died. And he's got some badass aikido moves to go with it.

And the thing is, for as much as people keep talking about how Morgan's philosophy doesn't work in the world they live in, Morgan has pretty much always been right. That thing with the prisoner escaping and taking Denise hostage? The incident that Carol and Rosita kept blaming on Morgan for some reason? Yeah, that was totally Carol's fault. Morgan had the situation under control until Carol screwed everything up by being a psychopath.

What I'm saying is that I need one of those X-Men t-shirts that say, "Magneto Was Right." Only I want mine to show Lennie James' face, and it will say, "Morgan Was Right."

Even if he's willing, as we saw in the season finale, to kill to protect someone, that's still a far cry from simply abandoning his philosophy altogether. He could just kill only when absolutely necessary to protect the life of another and continue advocating for not killing the rest of the time. Like all of the many, many times on The Walking Dead when someone has been like, "We need to murder this guy," even though there was absolutely no logical reason why they had to do that. TWD really needs someone who can step in and say, "Do you really need to kill this person? Or are you just using that line to justify doing something crazy because you're a crazy person?"

Here's the other point on which I question the relevance of Star Trek today. The social commentary of Star Trek. This is something that people talk about all the time. About how the show uses science fiction as an allegory to talk about social issues.

Even as a big Trek fan in the 90's, I couldn't help feeling like Star Trek spent a little too much time patting itself on the back for that. Maybe it was that in 1966. But to me, watching Star Trek: Voyager in 1995, I honestly felt like the show played it safe a lot of the time.

People are still talking about the first interracial kiss on "Plato's Stepchildren." And that was great. But when was the last time that Star Trek had a "Plato's Stepchildren?"

A great example is the ongoing discussion of when Star Trek would have a gay crew member. We finally got one earlier this year with Star Trek Beyond, when they revealed that Sulu is gay. And I don't mean to downplay the importance of that. That's great. But at the same time, it's hard not to think that it's way too late. There have been a lot of other shows and movies at this point to feature gay characters. So Beyond just feels like one more. Why didn't Star Trek have a gay character on Next Generation back in 1987 when it could have made so much more of a difference? Star Trek should have been the ones leading the charge on this front.

I've read stories about people who worked on Star Trek trying to convince Gene Roddenberry to feature a gay character. Tribble creator David Gerrold even wrote a TNG script called "Blood and Fire," which would have dealt with people's fears about AIDS and featured openly gay crew members. That episode was never produced. Roddenberry didn't want to risk the backlash.

And look, I get it. TV is a collaborative process, and you have to pick your battles if you want to stay in business. But at the same time, you can't say that your show is about social commentary if you're not willing to take a stand on the issues that matter.

If Star Trek is going to continue, I don't want to see them keep rehashing episodes about how segregation is bad or about how fascism is bad. We're all already agreed that those things are bad. I want to see them push the envelope. I want to see episodes that explore the issues that people are dealing with today. Let's see episodes about how we treat refugees. Let's see episodes about police brutality. I want to see episodes of Star Trek: Discovery that are so controversial that they're banned in some parts of the world.

So now that the 50th anniversary of Star Trek is upon us, I find myself thinking about the show. And it makes me wonder, is Star Trek still relevant today? Maybe that's a controversial thing for a sci-fi fan to even ask. But I think there are two big issues with Trek today.

The first issue is the type of future that Star Trek envisions. It was a bold and unique vision of the future in 1966. The problem is that we now live in a world where that vision has been around for 50 years. It's not unique any more. If anything, it's become cliche. If a sci-fi show doesn't know how to depict the future, they default to Star Trek. Many of the sci-fi tropes we have now either started or were popularized by Star Trek.

And it's become so much a part of the culture that people take it for granted now when we talk about the future that it will look like Star Trek. Even with fantastic elements like warp speed, people will talk about it like it's just around the corner. And I'm like, "Yeah, I like Star Trek too. But it's a TV show." It seems that many of our conversations about the future now have to start with getting past assumptions that people have from watching Star Trek.

I think if Star Trek is going to continue, whether it be in the form of more movies or the new Star Trek: Discovery series, I would like to see it start to question some of the fundamental assumptions that the series has held from its beginning. I was excited for Star Trek Beyond because I had read about Simon Pegg talking about doing that in the new film. But that was really a superficial attempt.

I'm saying let's really dig deeper. Is this really the best future we can envision? Is the Prime Directive a good thing? Is Federation expansionism a good thing?

I know some people weren't fans of the episode, but I think one of the most interesting things TNG ever did was the episode where they found out that all this warping around that they've been doing was actually damaging subspace. And so they had to implement a warp speed limit. Unfortunately, as often happens in Star Trek, that episode was forgotten shortly thereafter. But I thought that was a really cool idea. There was this totally ubiquitous thing that this world had been built upon and that we had all taken for granted that turned out to be having far more serious effects than anyone had realized.

I'm not saying to tear down Star Trek. I'm just saying, these ideas have been around for 50 years. Let's question them. Let's really question them and see how well they actually do hold up. What's great about Trek? What sucks about Trek? And be really honest with the answers.
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