Homo scribens

I have been writing as a form of creative expression for some time. As a child, I created stories to amuse myself before bedtime. A story I wrote for English class was published in a school feature section released by the New Zealand Herald. The story was a science fiction short about a conscious plant arriving in seed form from space and adapting to life on earth. As I wrote it I was aware that it was derivative in that it was influenced by Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. When I discovered it had been published I was annoyed. I knew I could have developed the idea further.

I’m by no means in the very first round of bloggers. I was very active on bulletin boards and USENET in the late 80s and early 90s but none of those activities involved writing for an audience* or personal journalling. It wasn’t until receiving an invite to Livejournal from friends that I started using that site to blog in earnest.

That’s when I started blogging as seanfish, and that’s when I started really connecting with other people online outside of a gaming environment. I discovered how to discuss and share vulnerabilities in a safe space, leaving some posts for the general public (whoever they were) and using LJ’s sophisticated friend grouping tools to control how and with whom I shared more private reflections. It’s fair to say that my ability to weather the mental health difficulties previously alluded to was supported in large part by the group of friends I gathered in my time on the site.

WordPress was where I started blogging for an audience in earnest. Writing was a way to manage excess mental energy and paying attention to the craft – doing something I felt was done well – had become important to me. I transitioned away from the closed circle of livejournal and chose the banjosinthestacks domain name to reflect my use of the banjo in my library work. This blog became a space to vent, to create meaning, to define the world and in some ways to hide from it.

The hiding from it didn’t work. My writing style – overly varied, sometimes too wordy, often obsessed with minutiae – is in some ways designed to try out the reader. I’m not interested in gaining wide readership so much as seeing who will stay along for the ride. I’m interested in writing well for a particular reader, but also in finding out who on earth that particular reader is, and perhaps in doing so finding out who I am.

In 2011 I joined #blogjune. During that time I gained a number of friends, but one in particular. She’s sitting at the other computer in our office doing some marking work, and knowing her has changed my life completely and irrevocably for the better. We got to know each other as friends and developed in that process a communication capable of more honesty than any I’ve known, even though we’re simultaneously given to nearly unending flights of fancy.

One of the themes of this year’s #blogjune has been blogging about blogging. The question has been asked – is it still relevant?

My answer is that we live in a massively plural world. We live in a world where dressing up as a plush animal is relevant. We live in a world where waiting in line for a new phone is relevant. We live in a world where participating in a fandom based around ongoing updates released free for a 20 year old videogame with a miniscule user base is relevant.

Blogging has sustained me in dark times, and changed my life in light. Is it relevant? It’s entirely up to you.

*unless trolling is writing for an audience, which perhaps it is.

Meme: In which we revisit the first expectation setting meme. Oh dear.

So let’s revisit the five things I was looking forward to:

Working structure

Well it was there, sort of. Doing blogjune while processing details on the house conveyancing and helping Fi look after a broken-legged Ró was just impossible, to be frank. At a certain point my reserves dropped and I had to choose to prioritise my family, the move and getting by at work. My plan was there at the back but keeping in line with it was impossible. It did give me some cues for posting on those rare times I did have the energy to post more than a cheeky quip and a video, so I was grateful for that. I’ve still got two weighty topics I’d like to examine and a review of the game we played yesterday. They’ll happen.

Reporting good news

Going unconditional was good. Then came more paper work with conveyancing details to be tied up. I’ve the sense at the moment of having been waiting for “one last thing” for some time now. I do think the move will be the start of moving towards a life-as-usual type of arrangement, but I won’t hold my breath. Happy to be in the here and now.

Kind ribbing

Well, I hardly had mention at all from my colleagues after all that! I have to admit I have a prime ribber (no pun intended) so maybe that person was off their game this month. Another person *did* rib last week – they commented that if people weren’t careful I’d just go ahead and blog about them to teach them a lesson. Naturally I wouldn’t… except now, as it turns out. You know who you are!

A sense of belonging

Yes, for a bit before the tide of life went over my head and reading 400 articles (admittedly 100 of which were selfies from Kim :P) became just another part of the too hard mountain pile.

The end

Well I guess so. It’s not like I’m going to stop blogging.

Improve your references, one reference at a time

Hey there! Wishing to make a subtle insult?

Why not refer to your opponent as a follower of Duns Scotus.

Not only will you get away with a sharp jab, you’ll also prevent workplace accidents.

By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was on this tonight

Well that's just insanity! #RedcliffeShow

A video posted by Fiona Doyle (@feebstagram) on

Game playthrough: Shattered Planet

I discovered Shattered Planet during a steam promotion of roguelike games, my favourite genre. The best thing about them is the possibility of short playtimes making for progress, a must for a new father.

It’s a turnbased scifi discovery game set on world of isometric squares. I’m going to share my first impressions.

The game is introduced with a friendly narrating voice. Apparently I’m a clone that was released too early. I might die… but that’s ok.

Interestingly, I found that reassuring. Where normally a foreshadowing comment on death can be sinister, I found this the opposite. Death happened, and was just a part of the world I’m in. Good writing on the part of the developers.

Initial exploring brings no surprises. The game has range of vision mechanic, most squares have dead ends in the first stage making the exploration consist of a series of islands linked by small straight chains of land. Tiles are mostly grassy, with some white mushrooms as impassable barriers

I see a helmet. I grab the helmet! A message flashes up describing the helmet. “New entry discovered. 15 more entries until reward.”

More friendly voiceover. No explanation of what the reward might be.

I see a green bug. It’s on the screen with me, but not really interacting. The voice warns I might die! I’m advised to attack the bug. The bug hits me for very minor damage and I squash it like a… bug. Bye bye bug. New entry discovered. 14 more entries until reward.

I notice red eyes on screen in unrevealed areas of the map. Evidence of other bugs. Sparkles reveal location of gold triangles – presumably money.

I track down some money and bugs. Get money, more relatively painless fights. No healing mechanism detected. Hmmm.

I notice eyes on part of map I’ve already discovered. There’s a “fog of war” effect. I move closer. The eyes turn out to be purple bugs. They look angry and move with purpose. They start chasing me from across the map. I run. I lose one but have to fight the other. More damage received, but still alive. I receive reward progress for meeting the purple bug. Fighting the unknown is good in the long run.

Next I find an object that turns out to be a burrow for bugs. I encounter a sleepy bug just waking up. This time I’m given option (in text on the screen) to fight it or feed it. Tired of fighting, I choose to feed it. The bug decides to be my friend, but is attacked by another bug for the food. I’m not able to intervene in the fight. When it’s over, I’ve got a new, albeit weakened, companion. I’ve also got reward progress, naturally. Trying out new things is good in the long run.

My bug and I explore some more. We run into no more fights. Shortly I find a white square with a metallic edge, which I find to be a teleport space. My chatty friend mentions he’s proud of how far I got, and that he knew I could do it. I’m really starting to like the guy. I also get reward progress for finding teleport space, and promise of an undefined other reward (possibly money) for amount of squares discovered. Go through the teleport into into… an underground lab.

In a way, this is more of the same. It’s the same exploration process with a different tileset. This time I’m making my way through square rooms with occasional patches of wild thorny growth to suggest a disappeared civilisation. I find the teleport very soon. I resolve to explore more before stepping through. After all, I want to earn that reward, whatever it’s for!

I find gold. I find a square with a gun turret, which ignores me. Insulted, I attack the turret with my bug’s help. The gun vaporises the bug. The gun vaporises me. My chatty friend congratulates me as he(?) was sure I was going to die 2 minutes ago. I feel comforted. I’ve done a good job. I reawaken in what chatty voice describes “our beautiful ship”.

On the ship is a range of tools to improve my abilities and buy equipment before venturing down to the planet again. My friend is standing at a console and smiling in a distracted fashion. I’m excited to explore and wonder whether my next trip will be the same or very different.

Long term, Shattered Planet is a series of visitations to the planet, which is different every time. Landscape textures change and different enemies appear. Each landscape will tend to have a set of usual inhabitants, but there are always a few unpredictable wild cards. If I have a complaint, it’s that there’s a complete lack of emotional tension. Sure, I’d like to survive but as my green friend says – it’s ok if I don’t. I’m always interested in the way games frame their challenges. Admitting death is at best is a minor inconvenience is a brave notion, but I’m not sure it works as a motivation for play. If death is ok, why should I work to survive?

In my teens, a friend and I played with the random dungeon generation tables in the back of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. We didn’t really have a regular playing crew, so we’d spend hours rolling up rooms, encounters and treasures on random tables, playing our brave adventurers through each situation until we died. This was a very enjoyable pastime for a couple of nerdy kids, and Shattered Planet reminded me of those days. I can’t say anything significant happened during the play, but I had a good time. For a dad needing a few minutes of downtime between helping put the baby to sleep and sleeping myself, what else do I need?

2015-06-25_00001

In which I partake in the Monday Meme: “Six Word Story”

Big blog brewing. Today? Afraid not.

Nearly there

I’m still regenerating. Tonight I’ll play dj.

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