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”.
Another in the series from my old blog. This pertains to a paper I wrote as a teen in my early college years.
I used to own the comfiest pair of sandals ever made. They were these cheap, $10 things hanging on an aisle end cap that I bought on a whim. I have yet to find more comfortable footwear.
During a performance of the play Prometheus Bound, I was playing the role of Hermes, and so I volunteered my sandals to be part of the costume. I figured, hey, they were $10 and I can replace them pretty easily. (I was totally wrong there, they were sold out and I never found anything like them since.) But it involved painting them with glitter and adding wings. After the show was over, the wings came off but the glitter paint was permanent.
That’s when I said: fuck it; these are the best sandals ever made. I’m not gonna stop wearing them just because of some glitter. People made jokes about it, but my attitude was always one of, “Yeah, there’s glitter on them. And?” And that usually shut it down.
Then, in first semester of my sophomore year of college, I was taking a human sexuality class. I don’t remember what the assigned topic was anymore, but I wrote an essay about the sandals and what they say about gender roles.
While packing to move this past week, I came across that essay:
My first lucid moment on my way to full, conscious memory came when I was less than a year old, standing naked in Nana’s sink, taking a bath. I was still too young to be bathed in a full size tub, so Carol, the next door empty-nester who took care of me while my parents were at work and I called Nana, would use the sink instead. I don’t remember much more than the image of her kitchen as it was two decades ago, being delightfully naked and thoroughly enjoying splashing water all over her counter tops. That would be the last time I was comfortable with my body for a number of years to come.
Children have a way of discovering one’s greatest flaw, whether it was in fact a flaw or not, and amplyfiying it to a size that can only be described in two places: an astronomy lab and an elementary school playground. Physically speaking, I was significantly larger than the other boys in all proportions, and I had a lack of coordination to match. This gave my would-be taunters the advantage of teasing with impunity, for no matter how large I was, I could never catch them. The object of their scorn was my stomach, and I still carry the mental scar of five years of relentless playground harassment.
It was no surprise, then, that my closest friends tended to be female. From R— that lived upstairs in the duplex to J—r, my neighbor, I socialized with girls more than boys. I was fascinated by my babysitters’ skirts, and earrings. For a long time I dreamt of actually being [emphasis in essay] a girl. I wondered why boys couldn’t wear dresses, like pink, or have long hair. My staunch Catholic mother explained that it was because boys just didn’t do girl things, and that pre-adolescent and adolescent girls have a language of their own that boys could never possibly understand. I was suddenly one without a place in schoolyard society. I had earned the boys’ scorn, but I had one penis too many to be one of the girls.
I was not completely without friends, however. One boy that lived on the end of the block named J— was the first to sate my sexual curiosity. I had seen my mother naked before, and knew girls didn’t have a penis, but until J— came along I didn’t know what they did have either. As soon as I heard it, I set about burning the word vagina into my mind so that I could be the one who knew what no one else knew. Knowing the word alone, though, brought a barrage of questions, the most significant of which was: What does it look like?
My physical insecurities plagued me in middle school. The one time I was not keenly aware of my stomach sticking out that unacceptable inch further than everyone else’s was when I was with my girlfriend of ten months, L—. It was an astonishing length of time for a relationship, and what drew us together was that we were both outside our traditional gender castes. She was the tomboy who was always regarded as dirty, or in some intangible, ephemeral way wrong. So we celebrated our relationship in secret, knowing well the social implications it would have for both of us. Our relationship ended when she moved to Ohio, but I knew what I strong relationship was, and suddenly wanted it again very badly.
I saw high school as my chance to start over with others that never knew me as the big kid with the bad temper in elementary school. [“Reaction to harassment?” This was the note my professor marked in the margin on this line. I’ve said elsewhere in this blog that yes, that is indeed the case. No one sees the first punch, they see the second one.] For the most part it was a success, and my freshman year was a year of many firsts. My curiosity was never sated though. Health class was fine if you wanted to know how to conceive a child, but sex was solely for reproductive purposes. When I gained access to the internet, however, things changed significantly. Suddenly I had access to all the information I wanted, uncensored. Sexual health websites offered all the insight I had been looking for all along. While my parents would always have been willing to explain things, they were clearly uncomfortable with the topic, and very biased toward Christian ideals. It was also around this time that I turned away from the Catholic Church, which had a surprisingly large impact on my decisions sexually.
No longer was I confined to strict rules mandating that sex should only take place within marriage. Armed with my new-found data, I was free to form my own opinions, and make quite a few decisions I still adhere to today. I can say “no” to sexual intercourse, even when presented with the opportunity, and I can offer a stronger argument than just simple religious opposition. More importantly to me, though, is that I can say “yes” as well, and for my own reasons.
Most of my friends are still female, and I admit to having quite a number of so-called “effeminate” habits in my daily life such as the amount of time I spend on my hair in the morning, crying at movies, or choosing female avatars in computer games. However, I am still confidently heterosexual, and I wear sandals covered in glitter to prove it.
I came right out and said I wanted to be a girl. Seriously. Read it again if you missed that.
I am indescribably reassured to have hard copy evidence that yes, it’s not in my head, I have always been this way.
The wording is a bit clumsy. This was written almost a decade ago while I was still a college sophomore.
There’s an awkward transition that could be misleading. I tied my desire to hang out with girls to the bullying by the boys, but my desire to hang out with girls went back much further than that. So the cause-effect relationship I hint at with that transition phrase simply didn’t exist. If anything, it was reversed; I was bullied because I didn’t identify with the boys.
There’s a lot of this that I could clean up and make more clear. It reads like a first draft, and I’m pretty sure it was.
One other thing that has always been this way? My love of commas.
I forgot the gender flipped relationship I had with L—. I remembered the relationship, I forgot that she was bullied for being a red-haired tomboy, and how we had bonded over that.
I didn’t really come out and say this in the essay: my sexual curiosity really was one of wonder and longing, not sexual desire. I wanted to experience vaginas first-hand because I was lacking one of my own, not because of some innate sexual desire to stick things in them. This is one thing I know I’m not playing revisionist history with. I really did spend hours reading womens’ health websites to find out everything about the female pelvic region. I spent hours reading about how the clitoris worked so that I could please a future partner. This was in 7th or 8th grade, contrary to the implication in the essay that it was in high school.
Clearly, I was still confusing sex and gender. But c’mon, it was ten years ago and this class was my very first dip in the academic gender studies pool.
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!”
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 Zelda, Sarkeesian 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.
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.
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.
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.
Friend Defense is a tower defense game centered around the circle of friends and supportive acquaintances I’ve made over the last two years, particularly the last few months. It’s got a definite slant toward those I interact with on twitter. I tried not to censor by “is this person actually a friend, or just someone I know, or a friendly acquaintance, or something else?” because even for those who aren’t friends in the traditional sense, I tried to acknowledge that even non-specific good will can have an impact.
<3 each and every one of you. You’ve done your part to make the last couple years amazing.
Friends and supporters in game (in alphabetical order):
Given there’s such a wide net being cast for who is being included, please don’t take not being listed as commentary on how close of a friend you are! There’s a sharp bias in favor of a very narrow group: people I’ve interacted with on Twitter in the last 24 hours. I also selectively didn’t include some folks who I suspected wouldn’t have wanted to be included. I tended not to use FB pictures, preferring avatars used on Twitter, simply for the matter of only wanting to share peoples’ faces if they have put them out there. So if we only talk on FB, that’s probably why as well. There’s already so many I know I left off. Jenna, Ozy, Thorin, Jen, Nat, Zoe, Avory, Susan, the AV collective, Claire, Tess, Monica, this list would never end! <3 <3 <3
2) Choose one of these three nodes as branch points: “your apartment”, “wrong”, or “turtles 2”.
turtles 2: If you choose this node, you are going to write an alternate loop. Essentially, this means the player will play through an entirely new loop designed by you that will in turn lead to “recurring”, closing the loop and continuing to the ending. The first node in your submission will be where a link in “turtles 2” (that I will add, don’t worry about this) lands.
your apartment: If you choose this node, rather than following the Alison breadcrumb, choose one of the other breadcrumbs and take the plot that way. Your first node in your submission should be where you land after clicking a link from your apartment to your first node.
wrong: Branching from here means allowing the player to refuse Alison entirely. Your first node will be reached by a link in “wrong” that provides an alternative to the forced acceptance.
3) You must end on “Turtles all the way down” in some form, whether kink or not, in order to kick out of the loop you’ve created.
4) Do not modify any of the existing nodes. Instead, create your nodes below the existing nodemap.
5) You do not need to worry about scripting anything fancy, but you may if you wish. If you have something minor that you can’t figure out, feel free to simply include an explanation of what you think the code should do.
6) Style Guidelines: Italics are reserved for first person memories and communications with and via headware. Communication follows the format //[ message ]//. Use single brackets, double brackets will create links and we don’t want that.
7) I encourage you to expand beyond the realm of kink.
I reserve the right to make edits as needed to ensure the story flows and is able to be completed.
Completed submissions can be sent to AUTUMN (at) LIFEINNEON.COM
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.