Dec 082014

Dragonmeet-logo-square-300x257-250x250[1] By Paco Garcia Jaen

Well friends, as you know, Dragonmeet has come to pass and, since I am writing this two days after the event, it is positively ancient news.

But this is my blog and I talk about whatever I like, old as it might be. So there.

Dragonmeet also happened to be pretty awesome for many reasons.

Firstly because Ken Hite came to me and gave me a hug. That is not just unprecedented, but totally unexpected and one of those life events that I shall forever remember fondly.

OK, that was a bit hyperbolic. But it was very nice of him and I really appreciate that sort of small gestures. Thank you Ken.

Unlike previous years, this time Dragonmeet for me started a long time ago, when Chris Birch had the temerity to ask me if I’d organise the panels and I had the nerve to say yes. Since a lot of things have happened and those things have given me a much greater sense of anticipation for Dragonmeet. Knowing that I had a small role to play in the biggest RPG convention in London and maybe the whole of the UK, feels me with pride.

And I think they went well. They were well attended, though admittedly that didn’t take much because the room was small with just 60 chairs, which means by the time everyone had used all the space, came all close and cozy near each other and really crumbed the space, there were about 100 people there (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. But not much). Yet the air-con worked and we didn’t feel like we were going to suffocate in each others oxygen-depleted breath. It was very pleasant!

Anyway, forgive me. I am jumping ahead of myself. Before the Saturday, there was a Friday. And that particular Friday I was feeling rather pally. Throat was hurting a fair bit and I hadn’t slept very well the night before. Or the one before that. But we packed the equipment and we commenced our pilgrimage.

We setup and thanks to both the excellent staff at the hotel and the help of Carlone we managed to get the audio setup and ready to rumble the following day. Everything went very, very smoothly. Smoothly enough to make us feel suspicious…

No matter. We went for dinner to the pub at the hotel, bracing ourselves for overpriced microwave reheated burgers and frozen pizzas that would no doubt accompany our pints. Oh joy when Martin took a piece of pizza to his mouth and said “this is nice!”. “Are you sure?” I asked, incredulous. “Yes!” he said “The dough is thin, the pizza is warm throughout, the edges are crispy and the topping is lovely!”. Well, that settled the matter.

My burger was actually blue. Just like I like it. And that doesn’t happen very often. Too many times people over cook burgers for no reason. So I was happy too.

But not as happy as I was when I managed to catch up with Chris Birth and his gang and took a look at Cultos Innombrables, Pequenos Detectives de Monstruos (remember those two titles. You’ll want to buy them soon) and Dreamraiders (you’ll also want to buy that one) and we discussed the mathematical prowess of FATE vs. Hitos (a new system you’ll hear about when it comes out. For now, trust me, it has more mathematics finesse than FATE).

The other joy of the evening was to talk Dr. Who with the always wonderful Lynne Hardy and her husband, Richard. Seriously. She can talk about anything, but her enthusiasm about the good old Doc is just a joy to behold. And they’re wonderful. I mean… who else can look at a photo of Thanatotagua and say “Ohhh… he looks so good in that picture!” That takes some love!

Then I went to bed because my throat was giving up on me. I’ve already had me knees giving up on me once, I didn’t want another body part – specially one I had to use a lot the following day – to go on strike too, so it was time to retire.

The morning started in the hectic way that convention preparations have us accustomed to. Cameras setting, equipment loading, white balancing, sound tests, people coming early, batteries, memory cards, panellists arriving…

And above all that, a surprise that nearly made me cry with joy. For real. This guy taps me in the shoulder and says “I really enjoy your podcasts. Please keep making them because they are very good”. If giving total strangers a big smooch without asking permissions, I would have embraced that man like a bear a pot of honey. Instead I said “Oh my goodness! Thank you very much! I’ll make sure we keep at it!”. I believe it was the right thing to do, but it certainly left me wanting to fully express how much I appreciated his words and “Thank you” doesn’t come anywhere near. So next time I see him (and make no mistake I will see him. You’ll know why in a bit) I will buy him a beer and have a good chat. I will also invite him to come to the podcast as a guest sometime.

The panels started and I was a bit anxious. Someone told me not long ago that panels are “a waste of valuable time at conventions”. I thought he was a bit of an idiot (though I am sure his mum doesn’t agree with me) but the doubt always lingers and I feared people wouldn’t be interested, specially when the trade floor and the gaming tables were *heaving* with people by the time the first panel started. It was for a good reason they had to open the doors early to let the crowds in!

But people came. Jon Hogson started his panel on art direction and a few artists and non-artists alike asked questions and Jon showed a hole lot of things that were really cool, like early prototypes of Dr Who card game cards and some other cool stuff I can’t tell you about because… because Dragonmeet was a long, long time ago now.

Anyway. Then started the second panel. That one was very important to me because it was about a subject I am very passionate about and I was going to host it with two people I am very fond of, Lynne Hardy (yes, her again) and Sarah Newton (who is a genius and wonderful and all things nice including Mindjammer). The subject was “Diversity in games”. We discussed why diversity is important and why companies should make more of an effort to get diversity on board. Not just in their games, but also in their staff.

Kat Tobin, Ken Hite, Simon Rogers, Robin Laws and Rob Heinsoo took on the stage for the next one but for that one I didn’t stay because I needed a break and, quite frankly, there was no space for me to stand on. Any panel with Ken and Robin will do well and this one did *very* well indeed.

The rest of the panels seemed to go just as well and something fun happened. The Kickstarter panel we had planned was looking like a no go area as we couldn’t secure enough people, but, somehow, Gerry Lively, the director of the two last D&D movies was around and he was kind enough to agree to a short QA session and that was quite interesting. It did give a very interesting insight on the shooting of the movies and the outcome (you have to watch them… I’m not going to tell you what I think of them here).

Soon after the seminars were over. The rather amazing Joe Dever gave a very good presentation of what his professional career had been like. It was quite something to hear him say “For legal reasons I can’t berate them” when talking about a former publishing partner. Feelings seemed to be still very much there… in the open!

More things happened that I didn’t get to see, like the recording of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast, or Cat Tobin’s talk on Disobedient Games. I also missed Modiphius and Cubible 7 panels, which is annoying because it’s always good to know what products I have to save money for in the following year.

The trading floor was properly packed and it wasn’t easy to move around, something that can be improved for the future, but the selection of traders was amazing and much better than I expected.

I know there were some issues with the volunteers not turning up or not being enough of them at any given time, so I am told some things weren’t as smooth as they could have been, so something else that next year will make the event even better.

Maybe see you there?

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Dec 082014

A while ago I asked some people if GG had affected us, the tabletop crowd. Some people said no. In fact, most people said no. I quietly disagreed with them and moved on to another conversation.

Today it has been made very clear to me that I was right.

I started  thread in to discuss the topic of ethics in tabletop journalism. Nothing to do with GG (mostly because GG was nothing to do with ethics anywhere, or with journalism).

Yet there have been two overwhelming reactions to the thread.

One: People are not taking the conversation seriously. They think it’s some sort of satire joke. Because GG.

Two: People don’t want to talk about it, or think it’s unethical to talk about the topic. Because GG.

Really sad to think that the incredible pile of shite that GG is has actually made people weary of talking about a topic so important as ethics.

How sad that, even people who claim to be on the side of “GG is nothing to do with ethics in journalism” will associate the topic of “ethics in journalism” with GG. If it didn’t have anything to do with it, why are you associating it?

Are we really going to let a bunch of misogynists and assholes take away from us the chance to discuss the ways bloggers, podcasters and the like communicate and behave?

Are we going to let them take that from us?

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Nov 262014

TheApprentice-300x207[1] By Paco Garcia Jaen

Beware, this open letter is an opinionated rant about games in large department stores.

Last night, after our holidays, we decided to watch the only episode of The Apprentice I could have possibly had any interest in. The episode in which they have to design a board game from start to finish in 48 hours and then sell it.

Let’s not go into the issues of asking a bunch of self-serving, up-their-own-asses, pompous, arrogant cretins to create something none of them have a freaking clue about (I am sure their mum think they are wonderful and that if I took time to “get to know them” they would look or sound so bad; but the fact is that they sound that bad and that’s all I have to go with. Sorry).

Let’s not go into the fact that one of the groups designed – more like put together, but never mind – a game that children were actually enjoying even though it was Pictionary for geography without maps and ugly as hell. Geogeek, I think it was called. At least that one had hope of becoming something better if someone with 1/2 a brain took a look at it.

Let’s not go into the fact that the other game was a sexist piece of shit game in which people were giving a multiple choice question and they had to choose the answer. Questions like “What do women like more in a man? A smile, great clothes, lots of money”. Exactly. Let’s not get started on “The Relationship Guru”.

Instead lets get started on how the buying process from Waterstones and Toy R Us went. And for fairness’ sake, let’s assume this was all staged and it might not resemble reality, though by looking at the selection of games they have in those stores, it is safe to assume also that reality is not too far from that program.

During that process, the sellers pitched their “games” to people who looked like generic buyers and not games specialists (first mistake, dear department stores!) and were only interested in whether the game would sell or not, not if the game was any good or not.

And I know that because none of them played the game. None. A few times they asked the “apprentices” to play and explain the game in front of them, but that was it. No real interest in experience what their customers would go through or how much enjoyment they will derive from it. Nothing.

Still, they sold a lot of copies and even Toys R Us got some copies of the detestable Relationship Guru. That left me totally speechless, but I guess when you don’t have to worry about how much your game costs to produce because we, the TV licence payer is actually subsidising that, you can afford to sell a game for £8 even if it costs £12 or £15 to produce.

To say that I was dismayed is an understatement.

Today I went by the games section of WHSmith and then the shop window of Waterstones and suddenly it all made sense.

The rather poor selection of Monopolies, Boggles, Scrabbles, Risks and the like are there because the buyers are not interested in games. They are not interested in their customer’s satisfaction. They just want to make a quick buck.

And quick is the key word here.

If they were prepared to nurture a selection of customers who will come back time and time again, they’d be prepared to have games that might cost them a bit more than £8 to buy, they’d feel the benefits. If they had someone in the shop able to give an overview of a game that involved more than “roll two dice” or “draw a card and read from it” they would feel it.

But most importantly, if they actually had people who understand games running their games’ sections they could, probably would, become the next wave of games store in every single town with all the benefits that entails. Probably most of the people reading this article would be able to restock the shelves of any major store with a better games selection that could attract more customers.

Imagine this. Go into Waterstones in Brighton. They have a Costa cafe on the third floor. The games are on the ground floor (first floor for you American friends). Buy your game. Sit down with a coffee and start to play.

How could that possibly be a bad thing for any business?

So shops of the world, please get your act together. Hire people to the job who understand the product and, most importantly, the customer. Find a way to balance your need and your ability to sell to promote good games, not the same old tropes. It really doesn’t take much and the long-term benefits will be much, much bigger.

And if you need any help, let me know. I know people who know people who’d be delighted to help you too!

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Nov 092014

Dragonmeet-logo-square-300x257By Paco Garcia Jaen

When Chris Birch told me he had taken over the organising of Dragonmeet and asked me if I’d like to organise the panels I jumped in right away. I love panels, what can I say?

But why do I like them so much? While some people consider panels a waste of valuable time, and to each their own, I personally consider panels the perfect opportunity to learn and understand not just the games I play, but also the people behind the games and issues that surround games.

From the way the rules are created, to the thinking behind those rules and the genesis of the setting where they’ll go. All those aspects of gaming that are less discussed and less talked about than the rules and the setting themselves, are the things that make me tick and help me become a better player and a better GM.

So for me to be able to help organise panels that can bring a new layer of knowledge and understanding to some gamers who find it useful is an opportunity I can’t let pass me by.

One of the beauties of organising panels for Dragonmeet is that everyone is always willing to help. Ideas are proposed, people step forward to be part of the panels, ideas are thrown away after discussions and basically, it becomes a team effort to make sure there is variety and diversity all over the place.

And this is another reason I like organising panels and I feel panels are important. They give a voice to creators and gamers that otherwise would never be heard. Indie game developers and publishers, less well-known writers and artists in other media would never be heard. And that matters a lot.

Diversity, not just in gender, sexuality, ethnic and cultural background, but in level of exposure and expertise is a vital and integral part of what keeps the gaming hobby fresh and developing new ideas constantly. And it cannot be stressed enough how important that is.

Without diversity in our games and in our games creators pool, we would all end up playing in the same old setting. We would all be eating the same candy with a different wrapping. And let me assure you that is really, really bad.

So that’s my philosophy when I start to organise panels: Diversity. Diversity of games, diversity of panellists, diversity of topics.

In other words, richness.

So if you want to attend a bunch of panels that will certain have something to offer to the most curious minds, head to Dragonmeet this December, sit back and enjoy.

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Oct 222014

basic-pack-walk-to-jesus-150x150[1] By Paco Garcia Jaen

At Spiel I saw a game called “Walk to Jesus”. Yeah, it is a very Christian game with a Christian theme, Christian teachings and Christian people behind it.

To start with I was indifferent about the game. I am not into organised religions, have no affiliation with Christianity whatsoever and I respect the choices people make to believe in whatever they want. I just don’t care.

Unless anyone tries to impose their religion on me or do something in the name of their religion that affects me, like trying to stop me from marrying my husband or tell me that being gay is immoral or sinful. Then I care. A lot. Because bullshit.

Anyhow. I let this game pass me by but I decided to tell a friend of mine during lunch as I know he’s religious and thought he’d appreciate it. Funnily enough he wasn’t interested either. That surprised me!

His reason was a pretty good one, I have to say. If the game is a bad one, people will not just be put off the game, they could be put off religion too. If a bad experience with a bad game is all people have to relate to the theme with, then I can imagine that to be true. And all the games he’s tried with a Christian theme have been pretty bad.

“But what if it was a good game?” I thought. I spoke to my hubby about it and we decided it’d be a good idea to go around their booth and check the game. Also, as I thought about it, it got to me that they had to be very passionate and devoted to take the risk of creating the game and coming all the way to Germany to promote it. Although I don’t care for their religion, I do respect people who have a passion and a belief and put their necks on the line for it (without doing stupid things…)

We headed to the booth to find when we arrived that the game was, in fact, pretty crap. A roll and move dice with a “help the opponent to win the game because that’s the moral of Christianity” sort of gameplay.

I actually got a bit angry. Not enough to say anything, but enough to walk away and not do the interview or talk with them.

That wasn’t a game. That was propaganda wrapped up as a game. Nothing but an attempt to recruit people into religion without a care for the game they were meant to promote. They could have been giving away motivational postcards just as they were selling the game. It would have made no difference to what they were trying to do.

Now that I have a problem with.

They were trying to manipulate people who are into games to come to their religion by disguising said propaganda under a veil of game. They weren’t interested in giving a good gaming experience or even a good game. They didn’t care about the people enough to make the effort to create a game worth playing. They just wanted to get more acolytes.

That’s unethical. Half truths and devious plots to attract people is what I expect from politicians, not from people who pretend to uphold the flagship of morality and virtue.

I don’t care if people want to talk about their religion through their games. I don’t care if you want to put your religion on my table and have a game or two; I would play your game. But at least have the decency to create a good game. Create an experience in which your religion is not the only thing that matters and at least attempt to care about or for me if you want to talk to me through your hobby.

Otherwise you are wasting my time. That and also reinforcing a lot of negative stereotypes.

If that is all your religion has to offer… thanks but no thanks.

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Aug 272014

stop_harassment_v_Variation_1[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Sorry dudes, we need anti-harassment policies at conventions. And I’m afraid that’s not the only thing we need.

I’ve been battling with this for a while now and gathering my thoughts after listening/hearing both sides of the argument. After a lot of thinking, I have reached the conclusion that yes, we do need them.

And I think we need something else that is often overlooked and is probably as important, if not more, than the anti-harassment policy: The code of conduct policy.

You see, in any hobby there are bound to be assholes. The gaming hobby is not without its assholes and said assholes make a mess of things when they decide to assault a woman during Notch, or someone decides to harass a games industry veteran, or many of the incidents referenced in the Geek Feminism Wiki.

It is true that most of the people who are into gaming are not assholes. More often than not gamers are a friendly bunch and very easy to get along with. Contrary to popular belief we tend to be socially adept and know how to establish and maintain relationships and friendships with all sorts of people.

But there are assholes. And the problem with assholes is that when they show their face, the whole place stinks. Because what comes out of an asshole is shit.

One of the “reasons” people give to be against these policies go in the lines of “an asshole will behave like one with or without the policy”, and that is true. Other people say “harassment is covered by the law, why do we need to remind people? If they behave in a manner that’s not appropriate then we’ll kick them out.” And others say “but nothing has ever happened here. Why should we implement it now?”

Of course we have the “freedom of speech” evangelists. They want to be able to say what they want and if we are offended, then is on us because we don’t have the right not to be offended. You know, that is true. No one is immune from offense. And no one is immune from freedom of speech, so let me tell you and you’re not free from my freedom of speech to call you on you being an asshole. Freedom of speech goes both ways and I can’t imagine *for a second* why you should have the right to be offensive and I shouldn’t have the right to tell you you’re behaving like an asshole.

Also there is the point that if someone says “hey dude, that’s offensive, tone the language down a bit” it’s only a matter of manners to tone the language down. There might be children around, or maybe – just maybe – your sexist, racist, homophobic shit is simply not welcome. And just because you can’t see it’s racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever doesn’t meant it isn’t, or that you can’t be called out on that one. So giving a code of conduct guideline that says “be mindful of not offending people” is not infringing on your freedom of speech. It’s touching on your right to behave like an asshole.

Then there are those who say that people who complain about harassment are just exaggerating or seeking attention. I consider those being in the “asshole” category and thus won’t even address them.

One thing that we don’t often consider is that people don’t need to harass someone to make another person feel threatened or uncomfortable. Telling someone “your costume is shit because this hero had a different scarf” is not really harassing. It’s just rude and idiotic, though. And proper of assholes.

Sitting close to someone on the same bench without asking permission is not harassment, but it is rude. And yet some people just see a seat and take it without asking “Is this place taken? Do you mind if I sit here?” You know… common courtesy.

Harassment takes things one step further. Harassment also carries some form of intent: the intent to disturb or upset. Also is usually repetitive. Not all inappropriate behaviour carries that intent and it doesn’t have to be repetitive, though it can indeed be. If someone insults someone’s costume, or game, or whatever, what makes us think they’ll think twice before insulting someone else’s costume? Or game? Or whatever.

No. Exactly. They remain none-the-wiser and thus all-the-asshole.

And I think this is where conventions don’t go far enough to make sure the space is a safe as it can be. There should be a very clear code of conduct AND an anti-harassment policy. Yes, both.

Firstly it protects the organisation and it ensures the event is run consistently by all employees and volunteers. Alas, is not just attendees who can behave like assholes, volunteers and staff can too. It set clear rules and guidelines about what is acceptable and not acceptable. And if anyone were to take the organisation to court, the event could prove they’ve done all they can to make sure people knew how to behave.

It is also necessary because not all conventions need the same guidelines and code of conduct. A convention heavy on cosplay will probably have more emphasis on photography rules and conduct. One that’s purely about writing might need something different.

Secondly is necessary because, unfortunately and as it can be seen by many incidents, not all people know how to behave and having a reminder is not a bad idea. Ever.

Thirdly they are necessary because code of contact and anti-harassment policies don’t have to be just about the law, but about safety at the convention. It is about creating an environment in which people can feel protected and safe from actions and behaviour that is not necessarily illegal. Behaviour doesn’t have to be illegal to be unwelcome.

And it’s necessary because sometimes one has to remind people that they are not meant to be an asshole.

But most importantly they are necessary because providing people with a behavioural frame they can refer to so they can identify when behaviour is not acceptable is paramount for a lot of people. To give that code of conduct enables and empowers people to stand up and ask people to stop. They are told, in no uncertain terms that they do NOT have to accept certain type of behaviour and that the organisation is behind them to help and protect.

And whether you like or not, my dear asshole, they matter more than you. The people who feel threatened, bullied, upset, disturbed, harassed and put-off our hobby because you can’t be bothered to behave like a human being, matter more than you.

For every assault, every report, every incident, our hobby is made to look like a pool of shit, even if it’s just one asshole spewing that shit.

It only takes one.

So we need code of conduct. We need anti-harassment policy. And we don’t need assholes.

So if you are against them, please stop. Stop and wonder why you are against them. Are you going to behave like an asshole? No? then you don’t have to worry about it.

You don’t like to be told how you can behave or not? Then stay at home because you’re likely to not know how to behave.

You don’t know if you’re going to be called out for harassing anyone? Then follow the guidelines and people saying you’re harassing them won’t have any ground.

There is no logical reason to want to stop code of conducts and anti-harassment policies in conventions.

These policies have been in place at the workplace, clubs and organisations for decades. They are not new and they are not exclusive to the gaming hobby. So any reason you might have to want to see them gone is probably just your own insecurity.

Well… man-up. Or woman-up. Whichever, just up yourself.

Or stop being an asshole. That would work too!

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