My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the category “Feminism”

Trash Magic and Queer Love at Trashmance.com

Trashmance.com is now live!

Trash Romance is a serial romance fiction available for free at Trashmance.com. However, in order to keep it free for everyone and keep new updates rolling in several times per month, I need the support and patronage of folks like you.

From the patreon page:

The coolest thing about magic? Duh, it’s magic. The worst thing about magic? It’s magic. No one understands how the fuck it works. Yet for Mackenzie Chen, whose magic power is limited to manipulating the broken, cast-off junk of society, it’s hard to not feel the world owes her an explanation. Or an apology. But when she meets magical girl-turned-barista Natalie, she learns just how valuable broken things can be.

Contributors get access to a DRM-free monthly digest in any eReader format, as well as free copies of my other short fiction: “Mercy Killing the Dragon”, “The Last Warband”, and part 1 of “Parts: A Steampunk Tale of Love and Mechanomorphosis”.

Player 2: A game by Lydia Neon

Play Player 2

Play Player 2

Player 2 is a game about resolving conflicts with others that involves the real experiences of the player as an experiment into exoludic games.

Player 2 was created for the “Your Enemies Don’t Have To Die For You To Win” #CreativeConflictJam

 

Play Player 2 here

 

Update 8/30/13: Player 2 shirts are now available!

Creative Conflict Jam Games

Your Enemies Don't Have To Die Game Jam June 7 to June 11

 

 

The Entries

 

Choice by Matt (@MatthewWWillard)

Free Balloons by STREAM KING CNIAngel (@CNIAngel)

Laika by Misty De Meo (@MistyDeMeo)

Player 2 by Lydia Neon (@LifeInNeon)

Projection by Zoya Street (@rupazero)

Pure by Devon (@lalanl)

Resolving Conflict By Acquiescing To The Overwhelming Violence of Time by Cameron Kunzelman (@ckunzelman) and Tara Ogaick (@inspectorbeans)

Waiting In Line by BaguetteShark (@baguetteshark)

 

Thank you to everyone who participated!

If you participated but didn’t finish in time, just link it below and I will add it to the list!

If you participated but you don’t see your game on the list, please let me know!

 

“I am Zelda, and I’ll be fighting for my own kingdom!”

How a sprite swap changes the story

Yesterday, Leon Arnott dropped several links related to gender-swapped games. Among them was this gem.

(The Legend Of ) Zelda Starring Zelda by Kenna W

According to Kenna, this came in reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Videogames – Part 1: Damsels in Distress. (If you haven’t seen it, open it in a new tab and make that the next thing you do today.) In it, Sarkeesian deconstructs the “Damsel In Distress” narrative trope, which is very nearly a defining characteristic of The Legend of Zelda series. Zelda is captured by Ganondorf, Link grabs a sword to rescue her, rinse, repeat.

Yet, this is all in retrospect. When I was a kid, I had no concept of any of the gender issues* with the game; this was just a really cool game. I do recall asking why the title was The Legend of Zelda since it was about Link, and in fact, I discovered the secret Second Quest because I named Link “ZELDA” in order to make the title make sense in my 6 year old head. My most powerful memories of the original game weren’t related to gender theory, my most powerful memories were of playing side by side with my father as we mapped out each dungeon ourselves because I was still getting terribly lost. (For the young’ns, we didn’t have GameFAQs in the 1980s) I learned my right hand from my left hand by telling my dad which rupee to pick in the rupee gambling tree.

(*I recognize that its transparency was due to the normative nature of dominant gender categories, not because I was somehow immune to that indoctrination.)

"I am Zelda, and I'll be fighting for my own kingdom!"

“I am Zelda, and I’ll be fighting for my own kingdom!”

So when I sat down to play the romhack and saw Zelda hoist the sword above her head for herself, ready to take back her kingdom, I cried.

Already, this is not the same game I played as a child.

This idea of a woman doing it for herself brought to mind something else:

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where simply seeing Zelda with the sword is enough to cause such intense feelings to well up? Well, with regards to The Legend of ZeldaSarkeesian makes this point:

“Over the course of over more than a dozen games spanning a quarter century, all of the incarnations of Princess Zelda have been kidnapped, cursed, possessed, turned to stone, or otherwise disempowered at some point. Zelda has never been the star in her own adventure, nor been a true playable character in the core series.”

The eponymous character in a series of save-the-world adventure games has never saved her own kingdom. All of her power as princess, as guardian of the Triforce, and as a person with agency are swept aside every single time. In fact, the very idea that all of her power is useless compared to a boy with a wooden sword makes me doubt every claim made about her ability, wisdom, and magical power. Instead, those sound a lot more like selling points, things that make her a more valuable prize to whichever man (Link or Ganon) has control of her when the clock runs out, and a lot less like reasons to think she’s a person in her own right.

She’s not just any girl, she’s a rich girl with a kingdom and a magical trinket! But don’t worry! She’s not actually powerful enough or willful enough to be a threat to your rule once you capture her.

That pattern of disempowerment and the refusal to give the title character a playable role in the main series can’t possibly send any other message.

More than just pixels

It’s easy think of this as just a simple flipping of the script, or to look at what Kenna W did and write it off as just shifting pixels around. But in fact, flipping the script works as a tool to highlight sexism precisely because it puts front and center the way men and women are regarded and treated differently. It is not, itself, a solution to sexism, but the very idea that a story’s meaning and spirit can be changed by such a simple thing as a sprite swap shows that the language of gender and its related norms are infused into every aspect of our lives.

What changes when it is Zelda firing the silver arrow into Ganon’s heart at the end?

The Legend of Zelda becomes a story about her deeds, not about what men around her do. Perhaps this is too facile, but it really does change the game on a visceral level. No longer are you a boy conscripted by an old man to save a princess from another man (pig-man, I suppose, in this first incarnation of Ganondorf). You’re a woman on a quest to save her own kingdom, her own people, with her own wits and skill.

All those people you meet throughout the game are your people. They are looking to you to save them from Ganon’s tyranny, not to save their helpless, ineffectual princess. It’s easy to picture them not as simply ill-thought game mechanics (why are all these people hiding in caves?) but rather as secretive resistance, hiding in caves to avoid Ganon’s grasp. They’ve squirreled away these items to help you reclaim your homeland, their homeland. You aren’t some knight errant fighting someone else’s battle out of misguided chivalry; this is personal. This is your battle.

It’s easy to picture that old man in the cave as one of your family’s advisers, who spirited you out of the castle just in time and offers the one last thing he can: a wooden sword. It’s not your family’s heirloom blade, it’s not sufficient for the battles you have ahead, but it’s all he can offer. It becomes a physical token of hope. It may seem a trivial thing, since it was just as much a symbol of hope when passed to Link, but in investing that hope in Zelda herself and not Link, it changes everything about the meaning.

That way it changes the context tells us something about what the original story really was.

I'll be taking my Triforce piece back now, thank you.

I’ll be taking my Triforce piece back now, thank you.

When Zelda takes back the second piece of the Triforce from Ganon at the end, she’s reclaiming the power he took from her. When Link does it for her, we see it as a noble gesture that he returns her stolen Ultimate Power That Apparently Isn’t So Ultimate. When she takes back her own power, we see her as deserving in a way that she wasn’t before. When the Triforce was reduced to a bauble to be given to her as a gift, it tells us that it wasn’t anything special to begin with. Or it tells us that Link is that much more chivalrous for magnanimously returning something he has no obligation to return. After all, he did even more than Ganon did to get it. We can rationalize it with magical woo that by keeping it for himself he’d be somehow undeserving blah blah. But that’s an incredibly broken metaphor compared to the unity provided by Zelda proving herself worthy of its power by reclaiming it for herself and by extension, for her people she’s fighting to protect.

Another thing it reveals is just how unnecessary Zelda was to the original story. Being a sprite swap means that the pre-scripted ending sequence just features Link in her place. But now that we know that Zelda has been fighting to save her own kingdom, to reclaim her own power, and to save her own people, who the hell is this dude at the end? She wasn’t fighting to “get the boy.” The purpose of the adventure wasn’t to “win the heart of the prince”, it was to save her fucking kingdom from a tyrant. He’s not a prize, he’s an afterthought.

That disparity between Zelda’s motivation and Link’s should tell us everything we need to know about the Damsel In Distress trope.

Check out Anna Anthropy’s interview in Gamasutra

I never thought 3-4 years ago I’d see my name on Gamasutra in any context, but of the list of gaming related things for which I might imagine it happening, “Making an interactive fiction game about queer trans cyborg D/s relationships in a transhuman future” wouldn’t have even been a possible thought to have, let alone utter.  And yet my name was just mentioned by Anna Anthropy (creator of Dys4ia among many other fine games) during an interview.

Roundtable: The Interactive Fiction Renaissance

LA: What do text games do that other games can’t, and what do you think traditional developers should learn from the current IF community?

AA: How about: Don’t be such fucking cowards. While mainstream games like Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami are tiptoeing up to the idea that maybe violence is something we should be worrying about while continuing to let the player inhabit the role of an armed dude acting out fantasies of violence, Twine games are talking about identity, alienation, abuse, sexuality, dysphoria, sexual assault, depression, self-discovery, loss, and D/s dynamics in the cyber-future [Reset]. Look at these games and be ashamed of how small you’ve allowed your world to become.

You should check out the rest of the article. That savaging blow directed at the industry is just a taste of it.

 

The Neon Test – A Transgender Bechdel Test

This is a repost from my old blog

Inspired by yesterday’s Guardian article, I propose this reinterpretation of the Bechdel Test for trans people:

  1. It must feature a character that the audience knows is trans
  2. In a non-principal role
  3. Where their trans status is neither the source of comedy nor tragedy

Reset: Code Snipets and Source

Node map of your apartment

Your apartment, as seen from above

“So, can I trust you with my source code?”

In the interest of sharing resources with others using Twine to create, here’s the code snippets for all the things that used javascript in Reset:

Color Changing

This is what is used to create the color changing effects. The passage they were placed in was called “Style Changer”. The macro layout here was modified from the Timer script by Stefano Russo (right click to download).

The macros were then called by <<display “Style Changer”>> <<typical>>, <<redgreen>> etc…

<<silently>>
<<set $StyleChanger = 
function()
{
 macros['typical'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
 }

 }
 macros['redgreen'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
 }

 }
 macros['cb'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="LightSteelBlue";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="DarkSlateBlue";

 }

 }
 macros['badcolor'] =
 {
 handler: function(){
 document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#b38201";
 document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#009900";
 }

 }
}>>
<<print $StyleChanger()>>
<<endsilently>>

Prompt Box

Rather than just show off how to create a prompt box, this is the segment in which the result the user types in is actually used immediately to determine which of the color schemes should be displayed. Since the user is given one of the Ishihara plates and asked which number they see, the two common answers are 29(typical) and 70 (red-green deficiency), and I also included a guaranteed answer in case either they saw nothing or entered something other than the two options. This is from the “erozha gnuj” passage.

<<set $numberSeen = prompt('#?')>>Not-you see you. Not-noise.
<<if $numberSeen eq 29>>[[Two touch things. Five-and-four touch things.|typical]]<<endif>>
<<if $numberSeen eq 70>>[[Five-and-two touch things. No touch things.|redgreen]]<<endif>>

The useful thing to note about this is that you can use a variable collected in a prompt on the very same screen the prompt appears.

Alert Box

For the alerts, I wasn’t able to find a macro to simply display the alert. So I set it to dump the result into a variable which means it has to be evaluated as JS. You can find this in the “Plug it in.” passage.

<<set $alert = alert('Warning: Attaching device could allow unauthorized access to digital as well as biological function.')>>

I think(?) the value  $alert will evaluate to is true if the player clicks “Ok” and false if the user escapes/closes the box without responding. But I’m not certain on that.

Confirm Box

Ah, yes. Turning yourself over to Alison’s control. I wanted to use this moment to mimic the normal experience of having to explicitly permit a different user to use administrator or root privileges.

The way this works is that clicking “Ok” sets the value returned from confirm() to true, while clicking “cancel” or “X” sets it to false.

<<set $confirm = confirm('You are about to grant user [Administratrix] ALL access privileges. Are you sure?')>>
<<if $confirm eq false>><<display "wrong">><<else>><<display "surrender">><<endif>>

Again, just like with the prompt box, you can use the result of clicking “Ok” or “Cancel” right away. In this case, I have two other passages, and whichever gets displayed depends upon whether the user accepts Alison’s control or not.

Full Source

You can download the full source of Reset here.

With regard to the license, this was a tough one for me. 99% of the work of this lies in the writing, not the code, though the interaction between JS and Twee code makes some obvious things in JS not so obvious in Twine, which is why I wanted to share those insights here. As far as the “code” stuff, I don’t really have any particular attachment to it. Use the JS stuff as you see fit, since much of this is so trivial (from a development standpoint, not necessarily a learning standpoint) that protecting a function call under copyright seems a crass assertion of that power. The CC license is meant to protect the prose, setting, and story arc from unattributed use before I turned it loose.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Complete nodemap of Reset

Complete Nodemap

Reset: Post Mortem

Rediscovering My Art

So, I can’t even start this without mentioning CYBERQUEEN by Porpentine. There’s really nothing I can say specifically besides this: it pushed all the right buttons in just the right order at just the right time to remind me of something terrible I had forgotten: I actually really love games and writing. For the past two years, transition and school have taken up so much of my focus that I, essentially, forgot why I love them.

Frankentwitter’s Game

This is the fateful tweet that started this game:

LifeInNeon: In the future, "I'll let you play with my source code" will be the ultimate offer of dom-sub trust

“I’ll let you play with my source code”

See, Reset started out as a bunch of ideas cobbled together from mostly-sometimes-joking replies to Porpentine on twitter. My usual conversations with her go something like this: Porpentine posts some decontextualized short-form genius, I invent a context and reply with an equally decontextualized statement that presumes we’re inhabiting the same context. Powerful emotions ensue, one hopes. Or just laughter, camaraderie, and the erotic validation that only nice hard faving can supply.

Then I have a moment of:

Other Lydia: Hey Lydia.

Lydia: Yeah, Other Lydia?

Other Lydia: We just came up with something really cool.

Lydia: *Blink* *Blink* *Scrambles to find a pad to scribble an idea fragment down*

The words are scrawled at an angle to the lines of the paper. It feels proper. It's your way of signaling to yourself that this was an idea you wished to be reminded of so you could develop it further in longer, with-the-lines writing.

Reset: the Crumpled-up note

In fact, there’s a scene in the game that reflects this:

I actually have a bin in my cube shelf just for collecting notebooks, note pads, torn notes, and all the other things on which I have scribbled idea fragments. (Fun trivia fact: the text of the note is from an idea I had nearly 7 years ago for a different story. It fit perfectly, and also foreshadows the situation the character is trapped in before the player realizes the nature of the trap.)

The inclusion of the note the character couldn’t remember the significance of was yet another idea fragment spawned by twitter banter:

 

The emotion of finding something you had written down but realizing it no longer means what it meant then

A very complex emotion

 

The Horror of the Transhuman World

My relationship to my body has changed a great deal in the last two years, but in doing so, it has also changed my relationship to the transhumanism movement. I grew up on stuff like Neuromancer, and the fastest way to hook me into your story was to provide a world where body replacement was feasible and accessible. Now, don’t get me wrong: I only see this as a trans thing in retrospect; back then, transsexual was not something I even remotely associated with myself—I just wanted to be free of my bodily limits entirely. However, these days, now that my body is sliding into alignment and *gasp* I actually like it from time to time, my pressing “need” for settings to include body replacement is gone, but in its place is a different need:

I don’t need body replacement to like your story, but if you include it, you must also tell a more mature story.

If you simply project modern day forward and add this one aspect, I want to hear the stories of the people who don’t have access to all the cool stuff because capitalism has prevented them from getting it, or the ways in which enhancements become tools of exploitation to serve the needs of the still-at-the-tops. I want to hear the stories that don’t just sweep disability away by saying “we fixed that”, but rather the stories that talk about the new disabilities created by technology when someone comes a long that it doesn’t work for (after all, every disability arises in a social context) .

So I spend a lot of my time these days fantasizing about the nightmarish horrors of the transhuman future, not the idealized dreams. Dreams are easy. Horrors are hard to face, and if we don’t, they’ll be what we get.

But there’s another aspect of meditating lovingly on the horrors. For some of us, the belief that we can overcome these nightmares keeps us looking forward to this future. This game is not meant to be a Luddite warning that brain hacking is too scary of a possibility and therefore we should halt all progress (impossible, but folks try). I do not raise the spectre of the worst that can happen in the hopes of frightening others away from the future. If I’m being candid, in this hypothetical future, I imagine the absence of scarcity will remove much of the threat of unwanted violation, such that violation as expressed in the game becomes an erotic and dangerous but ultimately recreational act engaged in consensually,  not a selfish or criminal one.

Simultaneously, I’ve been playing a lot of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So I have a lot on my mind regarding the shortsightedness of Get Augments -> Become White Upper-class Demigod Corporate Enforcer in a setting beset by racism and poverty, and virtually defined by the way everyone except the player needs a drug, Neuropozine, just to survive. I had a very involved conversation recently with Merritt Kopas about that very shortcoming. So that genre was already tumbling around my head when the Big Chaos Twine Jam came along. (I’ve also been working on another game that deals with this: Cuts, which I hope to finish by the end of January, that deals directly with the issue of access and affordability in the era of print-on-demand organs.)

The Mechanics of Sensory Control

One thing I wanted very much to include in this game, as fitting with the “mind got wiped in a cyborg kink scene” theme is the idea that when a person’s brain computer got switched back on, it would need to be recalibrated. With a text based game and no 2D art talents to speak of, I had a limited palette of senses to play with. I chose to focus on two: color vision and language.

Luckily, one of the themes of the challenge was CSS formatting, so I decided to use some fun javascript to alter the colors on screen throughout the game. I chose to make the text onscreen deliberately difficult to read before the calibration takes place, and the color scheme makes it even harder for people with red-green color deficiency to play without highlighting the text on screen. Very early in the game, I alleviate this strain (I made it the first recalibration so as not to go from immersion to punishment of the player), and I do so using one panel of the Ishihara test. A pop-up box appears asking for what number the player sees, and depending upon either of the typical answers (29 for full color vision, 70 for those with r-g deficiency, nothing for full color deficiency) it recolors the game to something more tolerable.

The macro for the color changing:

<<silently>>
<<set $StyleChanger = 
 function(){
     macros['typical'] =
     {
          handler: function(){
          document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundColor="#333";
          document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ddd";
      } 

}>>
<<print $StyleChanger()>>
<<endsilently>>

The CSS for anchors (links) and backgrounds were set to “inherit” from the body and from the passages, so changing one background and one text color overhauled everything relevant. Since Jonah loads the page once and just fills in the passages <div> each time a new passage is loaded, styling it once each time does it for the entire page until the next time the player hits a style point.

Update: For those looking for more code snippets from the game, I made a followup post here.

I used a reversed rot-13 cipher to garble the text and simulate aphasia. I chose a cipher instead of simply random text strings because language has a structure, and just because the character doesn’t understand the language being used doesn’t mean that structure disappears. I have auditory processing problems; occasionally people speaking to me sounds like wordless babble. I could even repeat the words back to them, but they have no meaning. So I occasionally have to ask people to repeat themselves even though they might be the only person in the room with me and no other sounds to distract me. But there’s still some sense of meaning that gets through: I still understand tone of voice, I still understand that I am being spoken to and not the wall, I might have an inkling of the subject being discussed. But the words themselves are incomprehensible for a few seconds. Like a mental hiccup. So I leaned on another test: the Rorschach test, to “re-align” symbolic language processing, allowing the player to freely input whatever they saw in the ink blots.

I wanted to simulate that experience of aphasia: the words being said by the doctor still have a structure and a meaning; there is still a purpose and if the player chooses, they can actually use a translation tool to decipher the text. It’s just like I have to in my real life: I think about what was said to me, playing it back from memory like a recording, and “re-hear” it, just as the player must (if they are dedicated) re-read it to translate it.

Likewise, the narrative has a greatly reduced vocabulary palette to choose from: concepts like “touch-thing” for finger, or “not-you” substituted for any person that you recognize isn’t yourself. It felt incongruous to use a full linguistic spectrum when simulating a scene in which the character-as-player-as-character has no access to their words. “What would it be like to be reduced to the vocabulary of a 2 year old?”

The color vision one is dipping into dicey territory because unlike the language, I do have full color vision (and from what I’ve been tested, on the high end of my ability to discriminate colors). So I absolutely could not go forward with that in the game without providing a safe way out: there is a color-fuckery-free way to play the game because as hard as it is on those with full color vision to look at the absolutely garish color palette, it’s even harder on those with color deficiency. Likewise, the intended compensation mechanic—using the mouse to highlight the text—is not available to players who play on many touchscreen devices or who have difficulty manipulating the mouse. (Full disclosure: as a stimming method, I compulsively highlight and unhighlight any text I am reading, so it still forces players to play as I would in a roundabout way.)

The Kink Metagame

Both of these things constitute a metagame layer: the game is playing with the player as much as the setting is manipulating the player character. Since the second-person article “you” is used throughout, it seems appropriate.

That makes the kink scene a lot more complex, because I’ve already established a dialogue with the player that they are in fact the one experiencing what the character is experiencing. I wanted to provide incentive to keep going with the kink scene: the further you go, the more the story gets revealed in memories. Likewise, to emphasize the submission and control held by the Administratrix, I realized I could undo the re-calibration done at the beginning. This also bookends it, giving the sense that it was a scene like this one that led to being in the hospital in the first place. Indeed, one could end the game on that belief when it loops back to the beginning.

The Safe Words and the True End (SPOILER ALERT)

Because of that metagame layer, because the game was telling the player they were experiencing the kink, I wanted to provide the player as much as the character a safe way out. So I made the choice to make everything from beyond the beginning of the kink scene entirely optional. Like kink off-screen: it’s there if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, no worries, mate. Likewise, it ends when one of the players says it ends.

Therefore: the safe words are always available to the player from the initiation of the kink scene to the end.

If a player ends at the initial loop back, thinking the Administratrix reprogrammed their head and put them in the hospital, I think that is a satisfying-ish ending as a story, but it says some deeply fucked up things about kink (or what folks might think I feel about kink).

It was very important to me that the game actually end without it being some nefarious plot: there was no murder, no jealousy, no cheating, no revenge fantasy, or any of that. It ended when the player/character said it ended, and reaffirms the trust placed in the Administratrix. If anything, I feel I was a little rushed with the ending and may not have provided enough aftercare in the form of confirmation that the player/character is back in the “real” world.

Recursion, Foucault, Soc1ety

Obviously recursion is a big deal in this story. The player/character is breaking out of consecutively deeper loops until they arrive at the real world. This is echoed by the very safe phrase used: turtles all the way down, a concept of cosmic recursion when one postulates that the universe rests on the back of a turtle. What’s the turtle standing on? Well, it’s turtles all the way down.

If you haven’t read anything by Foucault, you probably should. If you enjoyed this game enough to reach this line of this post mortem, you ought to know what the man had to say about the nature of power and control and structures to maintain them. Even if you can’t get through his full-length works (guilty), get the notes from someone who has. And grab a strong drink and prepare for some soul-searching on how to get by in such a deeply fucked up world.

Soc1ety is, of course, a panopticon qua social network service accessed through one’s headware. The analogues to it in our present world should be obvious. But I had to include it, since this entire game was spawned by a transhuman version of “Hey everyone, I lost my phone. PM me your number!”

Thank you

I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Much love. Take care of each other. <3

_-*

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