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Thursday 17 May 2018

Games Day: LeCraft - Fantasy Combat

Almost all RPGs are focused entirely upon combat, even the ones were there is an attempt to develop internal politics and other non-violent means of conflict resolution, still the inevitable fighting mechanic forms the central core of the game and must be detailed. As these are games and as players are conditioned to play to win, so the swiftest resolution is always with combat and a few dice rolls, "bang bang, you're dead"... "but I built my character with debating skills"... "my character has an M14 rifle and shoots your character in the brain stem. Game over."

Perhaps it's simply the fact that RPGs have developed from war games, perhaps it's the way we play games, perhaps it's our violent natures.

In any case I can imagine that a game or story that did not involve either actual violence (action) or the threat of violence (horror) to be dismissed as 'boring' or 'not realistic'. Let's be clear though, my game/story world is not a passifist utopia.


Not to remove the reality of violence, instead as a story mechanic it's use should not be without danger or consequence, the use of violence is rarely a solution, as it merely creates the potential for other worse situations. The cycle of violence, revenge, permanent injury, the loss of one's identity to that of a corrupt 'other place' (cf. Lynch). Much like magick is this world's literal depiction of the corruption of power, of influence, so that violence here should also be extreme with the possibility of perma-death (what other kind should we think of?), of physical damage (although fixable by magick, this too lends itself to risk), or of mental-spiritual damage, leading to becoming feral, a lesser animalistic being. 

That is, if we consider violence as an animal instict and therefore basic or innate, should it be feared or controlled or denied or embraced?

 Perhaps something we should watch for is the trivilising of this attitude, or the domestication or even the gamification of violence. This is because it can help manufacture the idea that this is what we really are. It makes the assumption through it's repeated use in games and stories that violence is basic is innate is true to what we are. The argument of its inescapability meaning that we must embrace this lust for violence, but this sadistic pleasure in causing pain, in 'getting back', in solution (because surely when they are all dead there can be no more problems), is a social construct, it is the argument of authoritarianism, of Fascism, of the sociopath.

The animal does not love violence.

Innate does not mean always, it is appropriate only with the context. The hawk does not kill without 'reason'.

So, this isn't to disparage those that enjoy the combat aspect of their games. Indeed, as I said, it's obviously a key component for most games for a reason. Might I suggest that it is because it is more directly emotive and more easily generalisable for a wider audience. What I wish to develop is that idea of combat in games being more than just a few 'exciting' dice rolls, I want it to be something that players are actually apprehensive of.

In stories this 'realism' of combat can be described to convey the physicality, the danger, and so forth, but it is unlikely the writer will be as literally descriptive as players in a role-playing game. Indeed, the 'shot-for-shot' description of a conflict from a rpg into a story would be incredibly dull. However, something a rpg can convey is complex multitude of instant decisions that one might make during a fight (albeit they think over these choices for far longer and can strategise).

Dice-rolling mediated by additional factors (skill, environment, equipment) does a reasonable job of depicting the potential randomness of violent confrontation, but due to the gamifying of the event this introduces a level of agency and control to the situation that is inauthentic.

Simply put, it is not random or final enough. The only time I can recall something 'real' occuring in a rpg was the old-style D&D that I first played aged twelve. At first level your character had 1D4 of hit points if a thief or a magic-user. Most basic weapons and animals do 1D6 damage (arrows, clubs, spears and short swords) meaning that you have a reasonably high likelihood of dying in one hit. Even fighters, whose whole class focus is fairly obvious, only start with 1D8 of hit points (although this can modified up to +3 with bonuses), which means that several good hits will kill pretty much every first level character. Also, despite resurrection being possible in D&D this comes with a gold value (hurray for fantasy capitalism, there is no escape) meaning that again first level or low level characters can not afford it and must offer their services for repayment (useful as a plot hook, often exploited).

However, unfortunately, if your characters survive long enough they get to the point were this one-hit-kill possiblity is utterly removed, indeed, at high levels a single player character can overpower entire armies. Note: There is the possibility of high-level spells killing, 'disintegrating', characters but by this point characters are normally able to raise the dead themselves. Making death not the end, but instead a minor and temporary inconvenience.

Monday 14 May 2018

Melancholy Mondays: Amor Fati

This is the year I become forty. Woe is me.

They always tell you that one day you'll look at contemporary youth culture in the same dismissive disparaging way that your parents did and you say, "there's no chance that will ever happen to me, because I'll always remain in touch and up to date with society."

And yet, here we are, it wasn't music that did it (after all pop music has always been mediocre), it wasn't even contemporary entertainment (all those superhero films and endless 'binge-watch' TV series).

No, for you in came in the form of comedy. Something you'd always prided yourself for understanding in a nuanced way. Maybe it's that they remind you of bullies, something that has always been a trigger for you.

Whatever the root cause, this is it, the shitposting edgelords of twitter, reddit and imageboard sites are the thing that makes you go, "what the F💥CK is wrong with young people today!?"

Well done old man.

“A Golden Thread” by John Melhuish Strudwick (1885).

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Final Verdict: Dankula - Who Means and Who Memes

So, as mentioned, here is my own final verdict concerning the case of Markus Meechan. To be very brief, it is both better and worse than I had first considered. Something I was already aware of, however, was the fairly reprehensible behaviour of the British 'free' press. Whose style is more about sensationalist entertainment over objective facts, in short, it is an approach that is more tabloid.

James Matthews, Sky TV Reporter: You said 'Gas the Jews' 23 times, what's funny about that?
Markus Meechan AKA Count Dankula: The context of it. It's the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar.
MM: That was the entire point of the joke. Have you seen the video?
JM: Do you accept you committed a crime?
MM: Have you seen the video?
JM: I have.
MM: Alright again, so I've explained the context of it so why are you asking me that again?
JM: Well, the context is that you've been fined £800 for a crime that you've committed?
MM: No, report under the context of the video. Don't try and move on me.
JM: We have in court that you committed gross offense against a large community of people.
JM: 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
MM: You just said the statement a couple seconds ago.
MM: Why should I consider your context if you're not concerned with mine?
JM: You've broken the law, do you regret breaking the law?
MM: You just broke the law two seconds ago when you said the phrase.
MM: Remember context matters mate.

Above is a transcript of a journalist attempting to perform a 'gotcha' interview on Meechan just as he was leaving Court after sentencing. Meechan's point isn't particularly earth-shattering, but it's telling that the journalist has no comeback. Mainly because he really isn't that interested with the 'news' he is reporting, just doing his job of humiliating people for entertainment.

Here's my brief comeback to Meechan on the above point, but just be crystal clear I'd like to point out that I think the 'journalist' is behaving shamefully. Context, however, is not just the structure of an idea (in this case, the 'point' of the joke), it also refers to the 'social' environment. This is, after all, what the judge felt was sufficient grounds to find Meechan guilty, the social environment of anti-Semitism. Whether this was a correct assessment is another matter, and one we'll return to.

Below is a video of Meechan giving his response to; the trial, the sentencing, and the situation around it. I think he comes across as a fairly observant and thoughtful, if flippant, person.

[After watching the video, I left the following comment directed at Meechan]

Did I like the joke? No.
Do I think you should have been arrested? No.
Do I think this is a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech? No, not really.

Here's why. You said that the court disregarded your 'context and intention'. I don't think that's correct. They heard your version of context and intention and the judge disagreed, now perhaps this is a sign of a conspiracy to stop free speech, but I think it was just one legal decision. I mean, they haven't changed the law in response have they? A different case would be treated as that case.

So, do I defend your right to make s****y jokes? Yes.
Did you make a mistake publishing the video on YouTube? Possibly, but people make mistakes.
Do you deserve to get punished for people being 'offended' by that? No. YouTube does, if anyone does. All they needed was a 'click-through' warning.

This should be unifying people of all political beliefs not dividing them, but it is also not the case for allowing ALL speech. Free speech doesn't mean saying what you like without consequence, but we all mostly know this. As you say, Context matters!

Does this mean that governments should police individuals on the internet? F*** no.
Police the companies instead. Maintain the context itself.

Although I can say whatever I like in private without fear of repercussion, it doesn't follow that I should be able to say the same thing in public UNLESS we are using our free speech to criticise; the corruption of institutions and public figures, societal structures and injustices. This includes satire, art and comedy in general.

I think the real problem is that the lawmakers have no idea how the internet operates and so we get this reactive nonsense right now. I think that in a few years when those setting the laws and policies are 'like us', that is, grew up in this internet age that it will all (hopefully) quieten down. Doesn't mean we should be silent though, they don't know it's wrong or over-reaching if people don't tell them.

[I've edited out my own 'jokes' from the comment because they're not that funny. Below, is a response that although making incorrect deductions is representative of the general feeling]

A man made a joke and was fined 800 pound[s]. So it's a very dangerous precedent for freedom of speech. It's as black and white as that - if we start policing what people say then eventually the only space you'll have is the four square inches in your head.

[I wrote a reply to the comment, which if I get another response that is similarly useful I will also include and reply to, but here's my first answer]

Well, that's the thing isn't it. You say, "made a joke" and the problem is, comedy is an art form and therefore subjective. Law deals with facts. What were the facts of the case? That some people found it "grossly offensive?" I'd argue that this reaction is as subjective as the definition of a joke and is therefore not the grounds for a legal case. The legal grounds would be that it "incited racial hatred" or something along those lines. And did it? No. Could 'comedy' do this? Yes. Nazis make jokes too and they are bigoted lies masquerading as jokes. Being comedy isn't and shouldn't be a 'get out of jail free card'.

It's not a black and white issue, indeed, I'd suggest that almost nothing ever is. Just because you agree with something doesn't make it right. How is this a dangerous precedent? Do you really think this is the first step to an automated totalitarian police state? We already police what people say, that's why Abu Hamza was arrested or do you think we shouldn't have done that? (It took long enough as it was) Total freedom is impossible, it's about deciding what should be allowed. Should 'bad taste' jokes be allowed? Yes, I think we should be able to make them. Context depending, of course.

As I said, I think the problem is that those making the laws are so out of touch with the internet, the culture on the internet, and the sense of humour on the internet.

Is this part of a larger conspiracy? No, calm down, it's not. Doesn't mean that people should remain silent in the face of unjust decisions like this, but let's not start another moral panic. The internet's a great place for ramping up irrational concerns, sometimes people just need to stop and think, like they would in a 'real world' situation (paranoiacs notwithstanding).

I like the idea of a protection body for free speech, because it's the 'small' people that are getting done by this. They picked on Meechan because they thought he was small, they hadn't counted on the support he'd get. There were 'moral panics' (from the press mostly) that threatened Frankie Boyle, Chris Morris and other comedians before, but they backed down because of the public outcry.

But then, are we talking about ALL free speech or just comedy/satire?


This Forbes article is by far the best that I've read on the subject, as it offers constructive criticism of the law and Markus' own behaviour, which I also claimed wasn't helping his case. It also details the judges own lack of knowledge of internet culture, even of the basics of how the technology operates.

In a reply to the author, Fruzsina Eördögh, Meechan spoke of,
"a huge discussion in our circles right now" about the notion of "who means and who memes." To explain it in the context of this post, how popular Internet memes have been co-opted by hate groups and the mainstream and it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell who is being ironic and who actually means it.

Whether this 'discussion' is to be truly believed depends on how much of a conspiracy theorist you are. I have some faith in human nature and therefore hope that both the Scottish Courts and Meechan's circles are not actually part of a convert plan to undermine democracy via totalitarian thought control or by fascist infiltration into mainstream. It's worth keeping an eye on however...


Thanks to the UK's internet super-bureaucracy I was able to find the judge's sentencing comments in the Meechan trial.

The document contains several interesting comments, not least this statement in the closing section,
This trial, unusual though some aspects have been, was therefore concerned, ultimately, only with the narrow fact-based question of whether the Crown has proved beyond reasonable doubt that your using a public communications network on one day to post the video onto your video channel, constituted an offence contrary to section 127(1)(a) of the Communications Act 2003. I found it proved on the evidence that it was. My finding establishes only your guilt of this offence. It establishes nothing else and sets no precedent.

So, we can take the Sheriff Derek O' Carroll at his word as a member of the judiciary of Scotland, or we can consider him a conspirator in a devious plot, as I say though, I remain hopeful about human nature.

What struck me, and this is mainly due to my lack of attention to the nature of the case itself, was that the sentence was under the Communications Act 2003, Section 127, which is not about 'freedom of speech' or 'hate speech' but instead related to the 'improper use of public electronic communications networks' and has typically been used to prosecute people who make threatening or offensive comments on Twitter and Facebook.

Below is the legal definition from the UK Government website.

And here is an article on the Communications Act, detailing some of the cases (including Meechan) and some of the ongoing problems with the law. Most notable the definition of 'public' in the public electronic communication network. At this stage, the use of public is to describe that they are free to use and open to view, although this has already be disputed and is open to interpretation.

For me, this raises some issues with the Meechan case itself, as I had previously thought he was being tried under hate speech laws (Crime and Disorder Act) and although disputable that at least made some sense. By using the Communications Act 2003, I am immediately drawn to the parallels with the Paul Chambers 'Twitter Joke' Case in 2012. Chambers was also first convicted and ordered to pay a fine (also losing his job in the process) and he subsequently successfully appealed his conviction in the High Court (albeit at the third attempt). So, things are looking good for Meechan. Although perhaps he should go for the support of people like Stephen Fry and Al Murray (who supported Chambers), rather than Alex Jones and 'Tommy Robinson'.

Concluding Remarks

1. As I said before, it's not illegal to choose 'bad company' or to be a rude c*** nor should it be illegal to make jokes in 'bad taste'. Meechan achieves all of these things; he is unlikeable (from my POV), he associates with 'less reputable' YouTube personalities and 'activists', and he makes crass childish 'jokes' at the expense of others. None of these things are against the law, thankfully.

2. Eventually, we'll come to see that too much internet usage is a bad thing, like drink or other drugs, and maybe this generation of sh*tposters will be the ones to teach us that.

3. We do need to be able to challenge laws that are being badly executed or improperly used. We also need to watch that our challenges are brought about by logic rather than a moral panic. If we look at the law and how it is being implemented, I would hope that it would alleviate the concerns of the UK becoming a police state or any other far-reaching rumour mongering, but such analysis would also show that there is an absence of a decent conversation about freedom of speech in public and that sometimes the law makers are acting without sufficient thought or knowledge of the area that they are dealing with. This reminds me of this statement by O'Carroll in his summing up, "although I invited both legal representatives to make legal submissions during the trial about the law on freedom of expression, that was done only to a very limited extent. In the absence of focused submissions on that topic by either the Crown or the defence, all I can say is that, while that right is very important, in all modern democratic countries the law necessarily places some limits on that right."

So, rather than finding this case as a reason to further spread irrational fears on the internet, let it instead be a reason to ignite a public debate of what freedom of speech means to us all and why that might be important and not just another piece of sensationalist entertainment 'news' that will quickly be forgotten.